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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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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.

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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 17th September 2021

Mid-week parliamentary excitement as Boris reshuffles his ministers. Williamson is out…

The UPP Foundation have a new report challenging the Government’s metrics which work against the regional levelling up agenda. The Free Speech Bill continues its march through the Commons and …

Cabinet Reshuffle

After months of on/off speculation about a reshuffle, we finally got one last week.  It started slow, with just three high profile ministers moved or removed – Gavin Williamson out completely (now that this year’s exam cycle is finished), Dominic Raab moved to Justice from the Foreign Office after the Afghanistan chaos, and Robert Buckland out, seemingly to make way for Raab.

But then it got more wide ranging with a lot of moves at a more junior level. The Institute for Government website has a chart showing the extent of the moves (they also have lots of analysis of experience, gender etc).

But the headline for us is that Nadhim Zahawi is the new Education Secretary, Michelle Donellan has stayed in place and added post-16 education and skills to her job and will also attend Cabinet, and Amanda Solloway has also gone (to be a whip) and has been replaced by George Freeman.

You can read the Wonkhe article about the new Secretary of State here and the Research Professional one here.

Free Speech

The HE Freedom of Speech Bill was treated to three days of evidence and debate this week. Various amendments were considered and written evidence has been published.

Wonkhe blogs;

The potential for confusion, duplication, conflicting rights and remedies for the same issue does not appear to be being addressed.  What will result is a lot more guidance and probably not a lot of change.  Not that it is clear that change was needed…..

Staying local post-graduation

The Bridge Group and the UPP Foundation published Staying local: understanding the value of graduate retention for social equality. Set within the context of the Government’s focus on LEO data (longitudinal education outcomes data) and the current Government focus on defining the value of courses by the salary the graduates earn this report highlights the failing of both the aforementioned metric – the local context. Both metrics fail to acknowledge the regional salary disparities, socio-economic background of the area in which a HE institution operates, and the students for whom other factors are more important that moving to a lucrative position in a big company in a big city.

The report tackles the definition of a successful graduate outcome. It makes familiar arguments over the geographic-social role of a university – stemming the graduate brain drain away from the area, providing talent for economic and cultural growth, improving the health and wellbeing of the area. The civic agenda is as expected, after all the UPP Foundation did set up the Civic University Network which brings the place based agenda and values the role of universities as anchor institutions.

Universities cannot simply be job factories, important though their role is in creating the workforce of tomorrow. To focus on graduate salary alone as a benchmark for success has the potential to create the perverse outcome of incentivising graduate mobility away from the very towns in which they were educations, and have the potential to contribute to.  Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP (former Universities Minister).

As you’d expect the report has much to say on the importance of the retention of the graduate workforce for levelling up of workforces and opportunities across the country. And it predicts:

The importance of commuter students and addressing their needs, often overlooked in salary data, will also be a key policy agenda for the future.  Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP (former Universities Minister).

  • 51% of graduates remain local post-graduation. This includes commuter students and those originally from another area, although some were from the wider regional area.
  • Graduates who stayed on in the region post-graduation were more likely to be from lower socio-economic backgrounds, more likely to be first in family to attend university and more likely to be a mature students.
  • Commuter students who stay within the same area share the same characteristics as described in the bullet point above and are more likely to be from a Black, Asian or other ethnic minority background.
  • The report states that graduates who stay in the region have different priorities and think about success in alternative ways than are captured by the current performance metrics. Salary was not their first consideration in choosing where they work and live.
  • Wellbeing, financial independence and health were all important considerations to graduates who stay on in the region. Capitalising on lower living costs and using social networks to achieve social mobility and secure graduate employment were reasons to stay. Interviews also revealed graduates were pursing meaningful employment and living in environments that appealed to them.
  • Staying in the region of study post graduate was an active choice. Although some remained because they could not afford to undertake unpaid internships or risk not being able to cover living costs in higher earning/higher cost of living areas.
  • The report states that a university agenda which aims to encourage social mobility should be wary of using metrics that inadvertently weight the success of graduates from higher socio-economic backgrounds over the successes of graduates from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
  • The report states that the LEO salary metrics can act as a disincentive for universities to support their graduates from staying on in the region – which is contrary to the Government’s levelling up agenda.
  • The report also makes recommendations for employers encouraging them to challenge their assumptions that the majority of graduates want to move away from the area.

As you’ll have spotted above former Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote the foreword for the report and he has separately blogged about the findings for HEPI: Now is the time to recast universities’ relationships with their local areas.

Research Professional have excellent coverage of the report:

  • failing to account for differences in regional salary levels could make certain universities appear to offer students poorer value for money. “[We want to] ensure that when someone who went to the University of Leeds moves to Sheffield, their value-for-money score isn’t damaged—because at the moment, if they went to London, their value-for-money score is going to be far higher
  • the use of graduate salary metrics “fails to capture the broad ways in which graduates understand their own success stories” and “needs to be addressed, if universities and their graduates are to increase their contribution to the levelling-up agenda”

Richard Brabner, UPP Foundation Director, said: Universities have been criticised for pulling talent away from the regions and towards metropolitan cities, but the reality is much more nuanced. All universities play a key role in their local economies, and should be judged on the basis of meeting the values and expectations of their graduates, rather than simply crude salary data.

Research Professional conclude: With the spending review now set for the end of October, to be accompanied by the government’s full response to Augar, it would be an optimistic gambler who put any money on the government moving away from crude salary data as a proxy measure of course quality. Expect more references to ‘pockets of low quality’ rather than a celebration of those hard-working graduates who are doing so much for their local communities.

Research

  • ESRC will continue to fund the Administrative Data Research UK project with a further £90 million investment. The project provides access to accredited researchers to de-identified data from government departments, local authorities and health authorities. It aims to enable better-informed policy decisions that address major societal challenges and improve public service provision across a range of areas including education, healthcare and crime, ultimately linking policy and research more closely. See more on ADR UK.
  • Research Professional (RP) – The UK’s national research funder has responded to an open letter, written over a year ago by 10 prominent Black female academics and campaigners, criticising its approach to the representation of Black researchers and their participation in research.
  • RP – The Campaign for Science and Engineering publishes a five-point roadmap to make the UK a science superpower.
  • Better science communication and public engagement push spearheaded by ECRs (RP article).

Students

Suicide: The OfS published Working together on suicide prevention in HE. There is a compilation of resources and a  topic briefing which draws out some of the advice from the Suicide Safer Universities guidance and presents examples from providers detailing their approaches to suicide prevention. The examples also highlight the benefits of working with the local community, including involvement in regional suicide prevention networks and community response groups. The briefing draws on the 2018 Office for National Statistics suicide research. Data:

  • The number of identified students in higher education who died by suicide between 2000-01 and 2016-17 was 1,330.
  • The rate of deaths by suicide in the higher education student population remained at 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students between the 12 months ending July 2015 and the 12 months ending July 2017. The number of suicides in the higher education population in the 12 months ending July 2017 was 95.
  • The rate of suicide for female students was significantly lower than the rate for male students. This was observed when looking at overall student suicides, as well as looking at the difference in studying part- or full-time, whether studying at undergraduate or postgraduate degree level, and the undergraduate year of study.
  • 83% of deaths by suicide (1,109) were among undergraduates and the remaining 17% (221) were among postgraduates.

The ONS data also analysed student deaths by suicide compared to the general population and found:

  • For each age group, the suicide rate was significantly higher in the general population than in the student population
  • For the 12 months ending July 2013 to the 12 months ending July 2016, higher education students made up approximately 37% of the general population for those aged 20 years and under, 17% in those aged 21 to 24 years, 6% in those aged 25 to 29 years, and 2% in those aged 30 years and over.

Tax: Research Professional have an interesting article on the implications of the Government’s national insurance increase of 1.25%. Here are the implications for graduates:

  • From next April, anyone with a student loan and income above the repayment threshold will see 49.8 per cent of any increase in pay from their employers taken away in income tax, national insurance and student loan repayments, as a Financial Times analysisshowed last week. In other words, any pay rise for graduates will now be taxed at nearly 50 per cent.
  • That is an extraordinary position for a Conservative government to find itself in. It’s not so great for graduates, either.
  • This is before we consider a likely lowering of the loan repayment threshold as a result of the comprehensive spending review. Imagine being a young lecturer or early career researcher looking at increased national insurance and pension contributions plus bigger student loan repayments.
  • Let’s take the example of a lecturer in their first job on a starting salary of £33,000 who, after years of graduate study, is finally able to start repaying their loans [the example pretends they don’t have postgraduate loans to repay]… Should their salary go up by £1,000, they will have to pay £200 in extra income tax, £132.50 more national insurance, and £90 in additional student loan repayments. Their university employer will also have to pay £150.50 in national insurance, making a total tax grab of £573, or 49.8 per cent, on the combined £1,150.50 of employment costs. That is a level of taxation that previously only applied to the personal allowance for those earning over £100,000, at which point every £1 in £2 earned is taken in tax. 
  • One of the justifications for the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees by the coalition government was that graduates earned on average £100,000 more than non-graduates over their working lifetime. In the example above, that ‘graduate dividend’ would be entirely dissipated in additional tax take—and then some—over the 30 years of student loan repayments.

Admissions

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) published a report on the narrowing of the 16-19 curriculum breadth and employment outcomes. The proportion of students with A and AS levels from at least three of the main subject groups such as humanities, sciences, maths and languages, has halved since 2010. Despite the narrowing graduates with greater subject diversity at A level saw a boost to their earnings in their 20s. The report notes that England has one of the narrowest curricula in the developed world as students specialise in only a small number of subjects from age 16, the specialisation then continues as the student progress into HE.

EPI state:

  • The research also reveals those groups of students who are more or less likely to study a broader range of subjects. Students who perform well at GCSE are far more likely to go on to study a greater mix of subjects at A level. Conversely, disadvantaged students are much more likely to narrow their choices.
  • Students from Chinese and Indian backgrounds are shown to study the broadest range of A level subjects, while Black Caribbean and Gypsy/Roma students study the narrowest range.
  • Reforms introduced by the government around 2013, such as the decoupling of AS and A2 levels, are likely to have contributed significantly to the narrowing of A level choices seen today.
  • The fall seen in funding for 16-19 education also seems to have played an important role. Falls in real terms funding for sixth forms and colleges since 2010 may have led to fewer qualifications being taken, which in turn have contributed to narrower student choices.
  • To prevent a further narrowing of 16-19 education, the report calls on government to undertake a wholesale review of 16-19 funding, including reducing cuts, offering more targeted support for disadvantaged students, and ensuring that the funding system no longer discourages the take up of smaller qualifications, such as levels.

Also this week –  the Independent Assessment Commission  has published a report on the future of assessments and qualifications in England

Parliamentary Question: The effect of the high level of A*s at A-level on university admissions for students – this received a factual response.

Access & Participation  

Deaf Students: The National Deaf Children’s Society released data over the summer highlighting the gap between deaf and hearing students.

34% of deaf students received two A-levels or equivalent in the 2020 exams compared to 55% of hearing students. The gap has increased from previous years.

The National Deaf Children’s Society stated that deafness is not a learning disability and the gulf between deaf and hearing students is an injustice now ingrained in the education system; they call on the Government to act swiftly.

Care & Estranged Voices: Portsmouth University produced the ‘From Our Experience’ podcast miniseries.  Each podcast was created by current students with their own lived experiences of care or estrangement, the podcasts are all about the student’s own voices. The students chose the podcast topics and content. A rare opportunity to listen to the student voice in an easily accessible format.

Graduate Outcomes

During the summer the Higher Education Statistics Agency published HE graduate outcomes: open data 2018 to 2019. The difference in earnings between men and women remains stark, at 15 months post-graduation:

  • 5,075 women earned £45,000 (7,410 men).
  • Only 5.2% of women were in the three highest-earning categories (men 10.8%)
  • 60% of women earned salaries below £27,000 (men 50%)
  • Graduates earning between £24,000 to £26,999 most strongly felt their work was meaningful (58%).

The statistics are caveated by noting that the response rate for the Graduate Outcomes survey isn’t as high as would be liked yet (c 40-50% response).

Meanwhile, this week, the Behavioural Insights Team have published updated evidence on what works to reduce the gender pay gap for employers.

International

Two new HEPI blogs:

Parliamentary Questions

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

Creative diversity imbalance: Wonkhe – The All Party Parliamentary Group for Creative Diversity has launched a report in partnership with King’s College London and the University of Edinburgh examining equity, diversity and inclusion in the creative sector. The Creative Majority finds that those from middle class backgrounds are twice as likely to be employed in the creative sector than those from working class backgrounds. The report presents policy options for how to address this imbalance such as not using unpaid interns.

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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 – 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

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 18th June 2021

We’re still in the mid-June lull before the July storm we mentioned last week, however, the Skills and Post-16 Bill was debated at length in the Lords with disgruntlement over the lack of substance and missing details. Lord Storey’s Essay Mills Bill has a twin introduced by Chris Skidmore in the Commons. TEF awards have been extended, but are so out of date for some (most) institutions that the OfS has told the HE sector to stop promoting their awards. And Horizon Europe opened for business alongside Committee concern that the Government’s Horizon commitment is more mothballs than moolah.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

We have a summary of the Second Reading debate within Parliament on the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill here. It was a long (6 hour) session so look out for the bold type in the summary where we highlight the most interesting points. In brief influential points were made in relation to:

  • Questions about the role of local skills plans within the Bill and their interaction with a wider range of training providers other than FE colleges
  • Loan funding (and funding cuts) being part of the reason for the decline in adult learning
  • The Bill shouldn’t separate creative subjects and the humanities from technical subjects and the sciences.
  • Caution about how modular learning connects together in practice.
  • Careers advice and support including regular face to face support. It was also noted that careers hubs were included in the White Paper but do not feature in the Bill.
  • Calls for the lifetime skills guarantee to be made law with automatic funding rights.
  • Calls to limit apprenticeship funding for those aged over 25 to a quarter of the total pot.
  • Criticism that while the Bill was aspirational, the Government have not provided detail on the funding, nor long term commitments.

Wonkhe contemplate the discussion in this blog: Peers wanted to discuss policy, but had to debate a skeletal bill. The blog highlights some important points:

  • David Willetts [former Universities minister] referred to an “artificial conflict” between vocational and academic sectors, noting that there were many universities that have more than 70 per cent of their students studying work-linked courses that met standards and requirements set by professional bodies and employers.
  • Jo Johnson [former Universities minister]… cautioned against the likely attempts to limit access to creative courses – which would “starve the supply of talent” to a range of economically and socially important employment sectors because of a preference for other sectors that offered higher salaries.
  • …Tellingly, Johnson described the Treasury habit of assessing educational value by loan repayment rates as “reductive”, but few expected him to take aim at a “bewildering” range of regulatory bodies with responsibilities in post-16 education. Having given life to the beleaguered Office for Students, he seemed surprisingly keen to bring about a single – joined up – regulator.
  • On the crucial ‘local’ aspect: What’s curious (especially post-Covid when we are all statistical and administrative geography nerds…) is that “local” will be self-defined – the vision seems to be that groups will spontaneously form and apply to the Secretary of State for approval. The expectation is that bodies active in that local area (mayoral authorities, councils, LEPs…) would be involved.

Wonkhe summarise the overall feel of the outcome well: It is clear that we shall see a number of amendments at committee – Mike Watson noted these might include bringing other stakeholders into the “employer centred” LSIP process, and limiting some of the powers given to central government to control what is taught and where. Aims were welcomed, detail was sought.

Wonkhe also commented that pushback can be expected at further stages of the parliamentary process on the sheer scale of powers over provision centralised around the Secretary of State. They also tell us that Politics.co.uk has an opinion piece arguing that inconsistencies and exceptions in the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill could grant space for extremists to thrive.

The debate triggered several media pieces on highlighting the Government’s key messaging around the Bill.  A Prospects opinion piece is anti-HE expansion, pro-apprenticeship, and argues that successful arts graduates have failed as they could have earned more studying something else. The article continues along the current Government party line:

  • the rapid expansion of creative courses in recent decades is one of the main reasons why more than three-quarters of students will now never fully pay back their student loans, leaving the Treasury with an expected write off of taxpayer liabilities worth £28.8bn in 2049-50, according to current forecasts.
  • Of course, higher earnings are not the only reason why people study and creative arts courses offer society much more than just an economic dividend. This is particularly true in a place like Falmouth… that produced some of the best British artists of the last century. But it did so well before it converted to university status and sextupled the size of its student body compared to 1990s levels. The mistake is to think that artistic endeavour, or a whole other panoply of vocational pursuits, are best served through university expansion and funded by debt.

One wonders if the same arguments about value for money will be made once degree apprenticeships attract the same debt as a standard undergraduate degree.

THE also covered this angle in Local peopleIn the UK, Conservative MPs’ backing for new universities in their areas, despite Tory criticism of expansion at national level, has been seen as affirming that higher education must stress its local economic impact if it wants to build a “common dialogue” with the governing party.

Funding: Last Friday Gavin Williamson announced funding aimed for adults to access more, high-quality alternatives to university degrees under new measures to boost the nation’s skills and job prospects.  He confirmed £18 million new Growth Funding for FE & HE – providers bid for funding for equipment and to develop business links leading to skills training in certain sectors.

Tied in with the announcement are the previously announced £10 million for Institutes of Technology and £2 million of modular training aimed at future skills gaps. Overall the three funds try to jump start higher technical skills training for adults. Some of the sector rhetoric around the announcements talk of diverting students away from degrees and into higher technical provision, however, Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, suggests the Government needs to focus on the capable adults that did not progress beyond level 3.

UUK said: Expanding higher technical courses is a positive move which will increase choice for learners of all ages and help employers meet their skills needs as the nation looks to rebuild from the impact of COVID-19. Universities have been involved with developing these qualifications and many universities are ready to scale up their alternatives to the traditional three-year degree. UUK is working closely with government, employers and local partners to help make these qualifications a success.

Engineering Recommendations for local agenda: The Institution of Engineering and Technology have published Addressing the STEM skills shortage challenge exploring the ways local authorities can help train and equip people with the skills their region needs.

Their recommendations which are most relevant to HE are:

  1. UK Government should work more closely with the higher education sector and training providers to ensure funding is allocated on the quality of courses available, not the quantity of students on each course.
  2. Local authorities should initiate discussions between academic institutions and industry to ensure the right skills and training are available for adoption of new technologies as they emerge.
  3. Local authorities should take a lead in encouraging a diverse mix of people into the profession through locally targeted schemes.
  4. Professional engineering institutions (PEIs) and industry bodies should work with local government to ensure there’s a wider and updated provision of careers advice, particularly around engineering. This should include information on the variety of routes into engineering, such as vocational study.

Parliamentary Question: STEM skills shortages

Research and knowledge exchange

Business value and performance: At the end of last week HESA published data showing how HEIs interacted with business and the wider community in 2019/20. Including:

  • business and community services
  • social, community and cultural engagement
  • intellectual property, start-ups and spin offs
  • regeneration and development
  • strategies, approaches and infrastructures

You can see how BU performed compared nationally and within the south west region.

And this week the National centre for Universities and Business found that universities’ interaction and engagement with business and external partners grew despite the pandemic (Aug 2019 to Jul 2020).

  • UK university income from interactions rose compared to the previous year, totalling £5.2 billion
  • 3067 patents were granted – up by 14.6% from 2018-19
  • 16505 licenses were granted – up by 29.8% from 2018-19
  • 174 newly registered spinouts – up by 4.2% from 2018-19

However, University income from knowledge exchange activities with businesses fell compared to the previous year to £909m

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB, said:

  • The new HE-BCI survey results released today show that despite the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, universities’ have put significant effort into supporting and maintaining their partnerships with their communities and businesses. They have also continued to boost their research commercialisation activities. Across a range of indicators, universities have ramped up activity and engagement in a clear sign of their centrality in combatting the crisis and leading recovery.
  • Though the survey results showcase the resilience shown by universities and their important contribution to the economy and society, there are still challenges ahead. Universities did report declines in their interaction with both large businesses and SME’s in 2019-20, almost certainly driven by the pandemic. This is concerning, as university-business interaction is key to economy recovery, to keeping the UK competitive in global markets and to meeting decarbonisation and health-related goals. Experience from the 2008 recession shows that nations that invest in R&D are able to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery. To help build back better, now is the time for Government, businesses and universities to invest in, not away from, collaboration, research and innovation.

Quick News

KEF: UKRI presented at a recent Universities Policy Engagement Network event on KEF: What next? If you missed the event you can view the slide deck here.

Horizon Europe applications opened. Meanwhile the Commons European Scrutiny Committee has highlighted a £14 billion gap in funding for the UK’s contribution to the Horizon Europe research funding programme. Questions had been raised by the Committee to Amanda Solloway[who] estimates…the up-front cost of the pan-European fund to the Treasury to be £15bn over the seven-year programme. The programme will then invest the majority of this back into UK science projects. However, the report found that just £1bn of this has so far been committed following correspondence with Ms Solloway.

At the G7 the UK and America agreed to strengthen collaboration in science and technology through a new partnerships and a new era of strategic cooperation in the field:

  • The partnership will explore a number of areas for cooperation including research, innovation and commercialisation; defence, security, law enforcement and intelligence; and making sure technology is used as a force for good around the world. Officials from both countries will work to develop the partnership over the course of the next year.
  • It aims to strengthen cooperation in areas such as the resilience and security of critical supply chains, battery technologies, and emerging technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) and to improve the accessibility and flow of data to support economic growth, public safety and scientific and technological progress.
  • It will see the countries work towards a new statement of intent to help realise the full potential of quantum technologies, which use the properties of quantum physics to dramatically improve the functionality and performance of devices, develop proposals on future technology such as 6G and strengthen collaboration on digital technical standards.
  • The two nations have also committed to continue to broaden collaboration on science and technology to help facilitate world-class research and influence the rules, norms and standards governing technology and the digital economy.

Former universities minister, Chris Skidmore, writes for conservative home: To keep up with our G7 colleagues, we must increase our spending on innovation and research. The success of “Global Britain” now depends on matching countries that have transformed their economies towards innovation and research. I would now go further— and suggest if we wish to keep up with our G7 colleagues, the forthcoming Innovation Strategy should set a definite timetable for three per cent, and beyond to 3.5 per cent of GDP being spent on R&D. To fail to achieve this in contrast to the other major world economies be setting ourselves up to fail.

Cutting the aid budget is still news. Polling company Savanta ComRes reveal public perception showing support for the cuts.

Click into this link to view the chart more easily.

Parliamentary Questions

Admissions

Research Professional’s Sunday reading discusses tracking the CAG cohort. The CAG cohort are the subgroup of home undergraduate applicants for 2020 entry who only secured places at their firm choice institutions after the algorithmic adjustment (which originally had them missing their grades) was removed.

  • …tracking the CAG cohort might help inform future debates about merit and fair admissions. We believe that the CAG cohort provides a unique opportunity to test the robustness of algorithmically adjusted grades versus those determined through centre assessments and, consequently, to provide insights into higher education’s admissions practices and decisions.
  • institutions are well positioned to monitor the CAG cohort relative to the ‘mainstream’ cohort, to enable a better understanding of the extent to which A-level grades—both the initial algorithmically adjusted and subsequent CAG-only ones—are proving to be a good predictor of students’ ability to succeed and thrive in their ‘firm choice’ institution.
  • We should also gain insights into the impact that these late admissions decisions had on applicants’ emotional connection to the institutions to which they had applied, visited and perhaps prepared to attend and, ultimately, how this might have affected their sense of belonging. And we will develop a better understanding of what additional support—if any—has been or will be required for this cohort to succeed.
  • As always—and particularly during the pandemic and beyond—a multitude of factors will contribute to the student experience, retention and success, but might it be possible to isolate the impact of factors associated with entry grades and context? While the complexities involved may mean that any conclusions are tentative and nuanced, tracking the experience and outcomes of the CAG cohort has the potential to inform the evolution of fair admissions to higher education.
  • Should the prospect of a minimum tariff entry standard re-emerge…then there is an even greater imperative to assure ourselves, our applicants and the wider public that, in the light of emerging evidence, these well-established practices remain fit for purpose.

Contract Cheating – Essay Mills

You’ll be aware that Lord Storey continues his crusade to ban essay mills in his latest Private Member’s Bill on the Lords. His Bill is scheduled for a second reading (a debate) next week.  Chris Skidmore (former universities minister) has introduced his own private members bill on the topic. It has raised the profile of the issue but the Bill is last in a very long queue for parliamentary time (and PMBs in the either the Lords or the Commons rarely make it into law).

The volume of PMBs on this topic over the years is interesting as they have provided several opportunities for the Government to support the ban on essay mills. Moreover, the Higher Education and Research Act was an ideal opportunity to change the law incorporating it within the wider changes for the HE sector and legislative amendments were proposed to this effect. However the Government repeatedly stated they’d prefer a non-legislative route (tasking QAA and NUS to tackle it including providing guidance). Given the Government’s focus on quality of teaching and education and on value for money it is a little surprising they don’t seem willing to take a stronger stance. The House of Lords Library have produced a briefing note on essay mills to inform the debate. It is an excellent paper and contains the history and key points in short form. Give it a read if you want to understand or catch up on this topic.

We remind you in this context of a Paul Greatrix blog from March for Wonkhe on banning essay mills – it’s time to act and has interesting content on how the legal ban in Australia has worked. It is a good quick read, and the comments to the article are a must.

Times Higher Education has an article – Monopoly fears: The UK’s competition regulator is to investigate Turnitin’s proposal to buy out its last major rival in global academic integrity services.

Access & Participation

Outreach: NEON published The outlook for outreach stating that from 2022-23 the total invested in activities to support those from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter HE will fall unless there is continued funding provided for the national Uni-Connect programme. They also highlight few HE institution’s APP contain specific targets for certain underrepresented groups and comments on the lack of collaboration between providers for shared targets. The NEON press release contains a short summary.

Social disadvantage impact on educational outcomes: The Centre for Progressive Policy published Re-examination Expanding educational opportunities for every child stating it maps the ways in which social disadvantage affects educational outcomes among children and young people, impacting their progression through the education system and ultimately their employment prospects.

  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are nearly twice as likely to fail to achieve a level 4 in their maths and/or English GCSE compared to students from non-disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • 38% of those from non-disadvantaged backgrounds continue into higher education (HE), while only 25% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds will do the same.
  • 58% of students with low prior attainment at GCSE will continue into a further education (FE) college or other FE provider, where funding fell by 24.5% between 2010/11 and 2018/19.

You can read more and explore further charts here.

Mental Health

UCAS published the student mental health report Starting the Conversation stating there is still more work to do to smash the myths and stigma around mental health, and to highlight the support available to students in higher education.

  • 250% increase in the number of applicants who report their mental health condition to UCAS. (3.7% of all UK applicants declared a mental health condition in their application to study in 2020 – up from 0.7% in 2011.)
  • Despite the above increase UCAS estimates that over 70,000 students may enter HE every year with a mental health condition, but 49% do not disclose this.
  • UCAS suggests a common reason students do not disclose is due to a lack of understanding about what the data will be used for, and the belief it will impact on their chances of receiving a university offer.
  • UCAS are keen to promote positive disclosure and highlight OfS information which finds students with mental health conditions tend to have lower rates of continuation, attainment, and progression into skilled work or further study.
  • Women are 2.2 times more likely to declare a mental health condition than men.
  • Alongside engineering, medicine and dentistry courses have the lowest declaration rates with only 1.4% of accepted applicants sharing an existing mental health condition.
  • Some LGBT+ students are around six times more likely to share a mental health condition, and care experienced students are almost three times as likely. UCAS state this underlines the value of recognising how mental health intersects with other characteristics and support needs.
  • One in five students research support specifically for an existing mental health condition before they apply, and more than one in four look at the provision of general mental health and wellbeing service.

UCAS sets out next steps in fostering an environment of positive disclosure in the report.

  • A joined-up, cross-sector communications campaign to unify messaging – to promote the benefits of declaring a mental health condition, create a culture of positive disclosure, align terminology, and address lingering misconceptions and knowledge gaps.
  • Targeted action in subject areas with low declaration rates to reassure students that sharing a mental health condition will not affect their chances of receiving an offer. Particular emphasis should be given to medicine and dentistry courses so students feel confident that sharing this information will not have implications for their fitness to practise requirements.
  • Continued implementation of the Stepchange framework and the University Mental Health Charter in universities and colleges, with UCAS to develop good practice in collaboration with Universities UK and HELOA to support this work.
  • Student mental health to be a key consideration in discussions around admissions reform – UCAS’ proposed variation of the post-qualification offer model would allow for the early transfer of information, give the student time to develop a trusting relationship with the university or college, and start the conversation about support ahead of transition.

Work UCAS is undertaking:

  • Reviewing how UCAS collects information about a student’s mental and/or physical health conditions and other support needs, including ongoing collaboration with sector bodies and expert organisations.
  • Implementing additional fields in the applications (e.g. caring responsibilities, estrangement) to facilitate a greater understanding of students’ support needs, and how these may intersect with mental health.
  • Improving fluidity in the UCAS application to allow students to share information at any point during their application journey.
  • Enabling students to select multiple impairments and conditions so they can provide universities and colleges with more accurate and meaningful information about their support needs.
  • UCAS to undertake further research in 2022 to understand the experiences of students who follow different routes for sharing information regarding their mental health

Rosie Tressler, CEO of Student Minds, said:

  • Once you’re at university or college, asking for help with your mental health needs to feel as simple as saying you’re trying to find the right book in the library. We know that universities and colleges are working towards comprehensive whole-institution approaches to mental health, which will support and enable disclosure of health conditions at any and every stage of the student journey.
  • The more our future students see how ingrained a mental health and wellbeing strategy is within and across an institution, the more confident they will feel that they are entering an inclusive environment that celebrates difference as a strength. 
  • I’m encouraged that our sector is heading in the direction in which this is the reality for all. This long-term investment is crucial especially as we know that many challenges will have been exacerbated by and will outlast the pandemic. For any student that is looking for support through this difficult period, we encourage you to visit our Student Space, where you can find out about the services at your institution, access guidance and a range of services.

Wonkhe have blogs on the topic:

  • The gap between those suffering from mental health problems and those declaring it is still too large, says Clare Marchant.
  • David Kernohan talks a lot of sense in What should we take from new figures on student mental health? He tackles the criticism levelled at the sector about why university students wellbeing ratings are below that of the wider population:
  • …So, if you took a sample of young (largely female) humans who are not (yet) educated to degree level; and then put them in rented accommodation where they felt lonely and isolated, and then ensured they had limited earning and spending power – you would expect to find a lot of people with depressive symptoms. And you do.
  • I make this point at length to emphasise that higher education itself is unlikely to be the problem – the demographics and living conditions of those studying in higher education are all massive risk factors. And this is why it is essential we get students to share underlying problems…as soon as possible – ideally at the application stage.

Mental health is also touched upon in the ONS recent data below.

Covid

2021/22 students: Many Covid questions about the 2021/22 academic year remain unanswered however Research Professional meander through the key points in So close, far away tackling what the start of term may look like, whether students will be vaccinated, the chaos that might ensue relating to students received the second jab in a different location, the start of term migration, and speculating what the Government may have in mind.

After the PM bungled his response to a question on student vaccination at the big press conference on Monday (asked about students getting two jabs in time for next term, he didn’t seem to have any idea, despite having just announced that all over 18s will have had one jab by 19th July, which would seem to be a good start, and was the response in fact provided by Sir Patrick Vallance).  Anyway, 18 year olds can now book that first jab.  And the PM, perhaps stung by accusations that he is ignoring the young, has taken to youtube (radical) instead.  Wonkhe’s Jim Dickinson has a take here:

MPs protesting about Covid restrictions: A familiar set of Dorset MPs are amongst those continuing to rebel against the latest Covid restrictions.  Conservative Home note that [at 49] “That’s the biggest Covid rebellion since December 2, when 53 Tory backbenchers opposed the tiering plan. The number of those who would vote against a further extension would almost certainly rise.”

Research Professional delve a little deeper in university finances amongst the turbulence of the pandemic: Till debt do us part.

The Office for National Statistics published the latest experimental statistics from the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey (the impact of coronavirus on HE students) for the period 24 May to 2 June 2021.

  • 29% of students said they had engaged with mental health and well-being services since the start of the Autumn 2020 term; among the most frequently specified services used were GP or primary care (47%), online university services (40%), and NHS or Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme (29%).
  • The most frequently specified mental health and well-being services students would use in the future, in the first instance, were GP or primary care (25%) and online university services (10%).
  • 61% of students who were in HE prior to the outbreak of the pandemic reported that the lack of face-to-face learning had a major or moderate impact on the quality of their course; 52% said that the pandemic had a major or significant impact on their academic performance.
  • Most students (81%) said that they were living at the same address as they were at the start of the Autumn 2020 term; this has statistically significantly decreased since early May 2021 (86%).
  • There was a statistically significant increase in the proportion of students reporting that they had at least one COVID-19 test (even without symptoms) in the previous seven days (38%) compared with April 2021 (30%).
  • The proportion of students who have already received at least one vaccine dose (33%) also significantly increased compared with April 2021 (28%).
  • Average life satisfaction scores among students continued to increase at 5.9 (out of 10) in late May 2021, following the improvements seen in April 2021 (5.8); average scores remained significantly lower than the adult population in Great Britain (7.1).

TEF

Last week the OfS announced a pause to the TEF while they consult and consider changes. Current TEF awards have been extended (again) and universities were told to remove TEF references from their marketing and campus promotions after September 2021 (a late decision as many universities have already published their future student material). Given that people (including us) have been pointing out that something would need to be done about the TEF awards expiring this summer, this late notice announcement is disappointing.

Here is what we wrote on this blog on 27th November 2020.

  • So what is the situation with the TEF? The current awards were all extended to 2021. The OfS announced in January 2020 that they would not run a TEF exercise this year. But what is going to happen when those existing awards run out at the end of this academic year? It’s all a far cry from September 2019 when the Secretary of State was encouraging the OfS to get on with things and run an extra TEF in 2020
  • … Will there be a gap? Or will the existing awards be extended again – at which time the year two awards given in Spring 2017 based on data from the three previous years start to seem a bit long in the tooth.

Concerns about timing remain.  The OfS haven’t launched the consultation on it yet  – and the recent OfS blog said that we should not expect this until November.  Even with an institutional only process (no subject level), in order to get results before summer 2022, the time for the new exercise will be very short if the framework is only settled in the new year.  Anyone involved in writing their previous submissions will be anxiously recalling the challenging December/January 2017/18 and not looking forward to the repeat. Or another extension is on the cards.

If you are wondering what the new TEF might look like, the 27th November blog set out our ideas pre the release of the Peace review, and we summarised the Pearce review and the government response, and possible next steps in our blog on 21st January 2021.

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.

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, spoke at the at the British Council’s Going Global Conference galloping through the Government’s current policies and international student matters in short order. The speech itself is unremarkable.

STEM diversity: Dods tell us new findings from an external evaluation of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science postgraduate conversion courses funded by the Office for Students (OfS) shows a high proportion of enrolments from women, black and disabled students. 

The data showsthat nearly half (46%)of the total UK students are women, compared with 27% on computing postgraduate taught masters courses previously 23% are black students (12%) and 20% are disabled (16%). This is much higher than the tech workforce as a whole.

£13.5 million funding was allocated to the programme, consisting of £3.5 million to assist with course costs and £10 million to deliver 1,000 scholarships worth £10,000 each, aimed at women, black students and disabled students, among other groups considered to be underrepresented in higher education.

 The programme aims to enrol at least 2,500 students by autumn 2023. At the end of the first year, the programme is over halfway to achieving that target with 1,315 students enrolled on courses. Of the 170 scholarship students who were from the UK, nearly three quarters (74%) were women, a quarter (25%) were disabled and 40% were black.

Antisemitism: UUK published Tackling antisemitism: practical guidance for universities. The guidance makes recommendations on actions universities can take to tackle antisemitism. The briefing suggests there is limited understanding of antisemitism and that is can be under reported alongside issues with complaints processes. It also explores online harassment and provides four case studies.

Nursing & Health professions: A parliamentary question on Clinical knowledge and skills training (nurses and health professionals).

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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 28th May 2021

Last week was busy week, so there’s a lot to report.  There were more ominous rumblings about the future, but the Minister dismissed scaremongering on fees, and the muddle continues on free speech, with the government trying to draw a line between what it is desirable to protect in the name of free speech, and speech that is legal but undesirable that shouldn’t be allowed.  Announcements have been made about research funding for next year, and it isn’t as bad as some were predicting, but neither is it as good as the statement might suggest.  And there is another difficult political debate about apprenticeships, as the government seek to support the ”right” sort of apprenticeships and finding ways for the “right” young people to get onto them.

Policy impact and influence

The policy team have set up a new mailing list for academic and professional service colleagues who are interested in using their expertise or research to influence UK policy. We are keen to share timely information and encourage participation from a wider and diverse range of colleagues. We intend to send out opportunities in (usually) one email per week (less when Parliament isn’t sitting). This will include:

  • expert calls
  • specialist or committee advisor opportunities
  • areas of research interest issued by the Government (topics they want to hear from you about)
  • fellowship opportunities (including for PhD students)
  • specialist inquiries and consultations that may be relevant to BU colleagues’ research interests
  • requests for case studies
  • Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) opportunities (such as POSTnotes, briefings, and reviewer opportunities)
  • internal (BU) and external training opportunities in the policy field

Contact us to sign up to the new policy influence mailing list. If it isn’t for you – please – do share this information with your academic colleagues. There are so many opportunities for policy impact out there – we just need to get the message out.

In the meantime keep an eye on the policy tab of the research blog where we are posting some of the opportunities.

Research

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published its research and development (R&D) budget allocations 2021 to 2022.

  • Our allocations reflect government’s priorities of supporting the foundations of our world leading R&D system to ensure it is able to help lead the recovery from coronavirus (COVID-19), whilst also investing in strategic outcomes for R&D investment including innovation, net zero, space and levelling-up.
  • Government spending on R&D in 2021 to 2022 is £14.9 billion, its highest level in four decades, demonstrating progress towards our target to increase total public and private R&D investment to 2.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2027. We are investing more money than ever before in core research, in line with the announcement at the Spending Review in November 2020 that government will increase investment in core UKRI and National Academy funded research by more than £1 billion by 2023 to 2024.
  • As part of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) published on 24 December, the UK has agreed to associate to Horizon Europe and other EU programmes including Euratom Research and Training. This will ensure UK researchers and business have access to the largest collaborative research and development programme in the world – with a budget of c. €95 billion. We want to make the most of association to these programmes and are encouraging UK researchers and companies from all parts of the UK to take advantage of this opportunity.
  • The government will be prioritising innovation as part of its Build Back Better Plan for Growth published at Budget 2021. We will publish an Innovation Strategy in Summer, which will outline our plans for boosting innovation which will be a key part of our plans for reaching the 2.4% target by 2027.
  • We have also allocated up to £50 million in 2021 to 2022 for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), which we expect to be established later this year and will focus on high risk, high reward research. The government is committed to investing £800 million in ARIA over its first 4 years.

There are a lot of numbers in the report and it is hard to unpick what has changed, so we are grateful to Research Professional for this summary:

  • UKRI has been allocated a total of £7,908 million for the 2021-22 financial year.
  • This is a drop of £539m compared with the last financial year, when UKRI was allocated £8,447m, with its eventual budget ending up at £8,668m in 2020-21.
  • But UKRI says that once last year’s one-off £300m World Class Labs funding scheme investment is deducted, the year-on-year drop is only £403m or five per cent.
  • This year’s drop is primarily accounted for by a reduction of £284m in UKRI’s official development assistance programmes, the funder said. This follows the government’s decision to cut UK aid spending from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of gross national income as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Science infrastructure capital has also dropped by £301m, from £1,235m in 2020-21 to £934m in 2021-22, while funding for strategic programmes is down slightly from £1,369m to £1,354m.
  • Meanwhile, the breakdown shows that UKRI’s core research and innovation budgets have increased by £218m from £5,475m to £5,693m.
  • Of these research and innovation budgets, Research England has been allocated the highest budget at £1,772m, with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council allocated the second-largest settlement at £946m.
  • ….In its summary of the allocations, BEIS hailed its £14.9 billion R&D budget for the year ahead as the “highest in four decades, demonstrating progress towards our target to increase total public and private R&D investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027”.
  • However, the breakdown of allocations reveals that £1,293m of its budget will go towards the UK’s contribution to European Union R&D programmes. Before Brexit, this money came out of the UK’s EU membership fee. When that amount is deducted, the rise in public R&D spending from last year’s £13.2bn is only around £400m.
  • UKRI confirmed to Research Professional News that the UK funding towards the EU R&D programmes will not be coming from its budget: “Funding for UK participation in EU programmes, including Horizon Europe, is additional to UKRI’s budget and that the funding won’t be coming through UKRI.”

Safeguarding Research: The Government announced the establishment of a new dedicated team which will offer researchers advice on how to protect their work from hostile activity, ensuring international collaboration is done safely and securely.

The new Research Collaboration Advice Team (RCAT) will promote government advice on security-related topics, such as export controls, cyber security and protection of intellectual property to ensure researchers’ work is protected, and that the UK research sector remains open and secure. The Government say that such behaviour left unchecked can leave the UK vulnerable to disruption, unfair leverage, and espionage, and that the threats to science and research in particular – primarily the theft, misuse or exploitation of intellectual property by hostile actors – are growing, evolving and increasingly complex. The team will respond to requests from British universities who have identified potential risks within current projects or proposals. Advisers will also proactively approach research institutions and support them to implement advice and guidance already on offer.

The written ministerial statement highlights the other mechanisms that apply in safeguarding research against international threats:

  • guidelines published by Universities UK, on behalf of the sector and with government support, to help universities to tackle security risks related to international collaboration;
  • the Trusted Research campaign, run by National Cyber Security Centre and Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure in partnership with BEIS and the Cabinet Office;
  • one of the toughest export controls regimes in the world, including guidance recently published by the Department for International Trade specifically for academics;
  • the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s Academic Technology Approvals Scheme, a pre-visa screening regime expanded to cover a wider set of technologies and all researchers in proliferation sensitive fields;
  • guidance from the Intellectual Property Office on protecting Intellectual Property known as the Lambert Toolkit; and
  • our work with partners and allies, including the G7, to create international frameworks that support open, secure science collaborations.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: Researchers need to take precautions when collaborating internationally, and this new team will support them as we cement our status as a science superpower.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President, Universities UK said: International collaboration lies at the heart of excellent research, delivers huge benefits to the UK and helps to ensure that we are recognised as a global science superpower. We have a responsibility to ensure that our collaborations are safe and secure, and our universities take these responsibilities very seriously. Together with UUK’s guidelines on Managing Risk in Internationalisation, the work of this new team and the specialist advice and support it provides will help to ensure that the public can be confident in our research collaborations. We particularly welcome the creation of a single point of contact in government, which builds on recommendations made by Universities UK and will provide valuable insights for institutions and researchers.

Research Professional have a write up on the new team and safeguards which they are finding a little bit odd.

There is also a parliamentary question on links with China and informed decisions on international research collaboration.

Quick news

  • Green tech: The Government has announced a £166m cash injection for green technology and development, as part of its ambitions for a Green Industrial Revolution. The funds will be awarded to innovators, businesses, academics and heavy industry across the UK, aims to build on ambitions set out in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. The Government says it will accelerate the delivery of game-changing technologies needed to drive the UK’s climate change ambitions.
  • Unicorns: An interesting quick read on Scotland’s unicorns (private tech companies valued at $1bn+). There were 8 in 2010, 80 in 2020 (91 across the whole of the UK). These numbers demonstrate the extent to which the UK is catching up with the US and China in tech, with London now fourth behind the Bay Area, Beijing and New York, when it comes to the number of start-ups and unicorns created. No other European country has been able to grow at such a speed.
  • ARIA: The Advanced Research and Investigation Agency (ARIA) Bill which was carried over from the last session of Parliament will progress to the report stage and third reading on Monday 7 June. Amendments have been tabled.
  • Levelling up: Policy Connect’s Higher Education Commission is calling for evidence into its inquiry covering university research and regional levelling up. Contact us to contribute to BU’s submission.
  • Racism perpetuated through research: Nature published Tackling systemic racism requires the system of science to change. Excerpts: Racism in science is endemic because the systems that produce and teach scientific knowledge have, for centuries, misrepresented, marginalized and mistreated people of colour and under-represented communities. The research system has justified racism — and, too often, scientists in positions of power have benefited from it. That system includes the organization of research: how it is funded, published and evaluated… One essential change all institutions can make today is to put the right incentives in place. They must ensure that anti-racism is embedded in their organization’s objectives and that such work wins recognition and promotion. Too often, conventional metrics — citations, publication, profits — reward those in positions of power, rather than helping to shift the balance of power…A second change institutions should make is to come together to tackle racism, as some already are. At the very least, this means talking to and learning from a wide range of communities, and transcending conventional boundaries to team up. Funders, research institutions and publishers must work together to ensure that research from diverse scientists is funded and published
  • Spinouts: Sifted have a blog University spinouts: the system isn’t broken questioning whether the commercialisation systems do really stymie growth and hold back entrepreneurs.
  • Overseas development: The Government’s decision to slash the overseas development budget created a large backlash which still continues weeks after the announcement. Wonkhe describe the latest parliamentary altercation highlighting that the Government have undertaken to bring the spending back up to previous levels – but at an unspecified point in the future when the UK’s finances are healthier. A concession to the complaints with little real chance of an increase anytime soon. At BEIS questions in the House of Commons Labour’s Kate Osamor tackled Kwasi Kwarteng over the impact of the £120m cut to overseas development assistance research funding – the Secretary of State emphasised the government’s commitment to returning overseas development spending to 0.7 per cent of GDP “as soon as the fiscal situation allows.”   Read the debate on Hansard.

Fees and funding

In last week’s update we talked about the stories about plans to implement Augar’s recommendations later this year. This week there have been lots of follow up stories.

  • Guardian: ‘Horrific’ cuts in pipeline for English universities and students – Treasury fights with No 10 over options to reduce student loan burden
  • Financial Times: English universities face upheaval as financial strains hit jobs – Pandemic costs and ministers’ focus on vocational training set to cause departmental closures. And a quote from Graham Galbraith (VC, Portsmouth University) who stated the bigger danger to universities was a “utilitarian” government view that they existed only to train workers in “skills the government decides are needed”. “Our broader role in producing well-rounded graduates...is being lost,”
  • Research Professional: Trouble Ahead – The degree loan book may be squeezed to make room for the ‘lifetime skills guarantee’ Universities have long had their suspicions that this government doesn’t really like them very much.
  • The Times: Students face bigger loan repayments to aid public finances – Student tuition loan repayments could rise or be extended under plans that are being considered by the Treasury. And yes if you look closely at the picture Gavin Williamson still has that whip on his desk.

While this is still mostly speculation the Government’s advisers will certainly be watching the sector’s reaction to the predictions made.

Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, soke at GuildHE this week and dismissed the more dramatic claims.  Research Professional reports:

  • Media reports in recent weeks have said the government will reduce the maximum universities can charge—and which most do charge—in line with recommendations made by Philip Augar’s review of post-18 education funding….Michelle Donelan said these stories had not come from her department.
  • “There have been a few media stories about a potential fee cut as of the last few weeks. I just wanted to bust this myth—this is a media story, and we haven’t made any such announcement,” Donelan said.
  • Donelan did not rule out a fee cut, but said, “We aren’t consulting on this, we’ve always said that we will respond to the rest of Augar in full with the spending review, which we anticipate to be in the autumn. So this is, just at the moment, an idea and a story that has not been issued by a government.”

For BU readers we did a little summary of how we got here and what might come next. From the reports, the Government is said to be considering:

  • Cutting the maximum tuition fee from £9,250 to £7,500 – probably with a system of teaching grant top ups for subjects which are high cost and strategic and possibly also with grant top ups linked to “quality” (i.e. outcomes) or social mobility.
  • Extending the student repayment window beyond 30 years to increase recovery rates – although this would obviously have little impact on government (or graduate) finances in the short term.
  • Lowering the income threshold below £27,295 so repayments start sooner. This would be a reversal of the policy behind Theresa May’s decision in December 2017 to increase the threshold, and would have an immediate impact on recovery and on cost to graduates in the shorter term (if they are earning above the threshold).
  • Already in process is the cut to what was known as the teaching grant – the small top up institutions received on some courses. Now called the strategic priorities grant it allows the Government to axe any top up on courses it doesn’t value (usually those leading to poorer graduate ‘outcomes’) and only top up those it favours such as healthcare, some STEM, and industry skills deficit areas. The cut was small in real terms but it demonstrates the direction of travel on tops ups, and also has an impact on high cost subjects too if institutions are cross subsidising them with income from subjects with lower costs.
  • Removing the London weighting from courses taught in the capital.
  • Limiting recruitment – reducing the number of student loans given out by introducing national minimum entry requirements for university degree programmes.
  • Limiting recruitment – reducing the number of student loans given out by reintroducing a student numbers cap (which limits how many students each institution can recruit) by institution. Or capping numbers on non-priority courses across the sector or at particular institutions. One suggestion in Augar was that this might also be  linked to quality (i.e. outcomes) measures at the relevant institution.
  • Reducing numbers on non-priority courses by advocating for students instead to take up courses in priority subjects (like the ballerina encouraged to become a computer scientist) or to do technical programmes (which themselves could be part funded by industry or local initiatives, reducing the Government’s outlay).

Research Professional speculate that the changes to loan repayments could affect current students too (a political hot potato as these students have experienced disruption, remote education and are graduating into a changed worldwide labour market).

All of this looks like systematically under funding non-priority courses through a range of mechanisms. So far the Government has stated reductions in funding will be applied to performing arts and media and archaeology.

The reasons for the change:

  • The Government needs to spread the money further to pay for the lifetime skills guarantee and the technical and skills programme expansion. Also to fund FE at a higher rate and provide capital improvements. The Government has been vocal about fewer students going to HE and choosing other routes instead – effectively redistributing the funding.
  • Of course, bringing more tertiary under the auspices of the loan book makes the Government’s RAB charge look exponentially worse – but also means less money is provided to training providers as grants and more is ultimately liable to be paid back by the student. Don’t forget that apprenticeships are currently tuition-fee free – the changes could also see students following this route paying for their higher level education.
  • Several media sources point the finger at the RAB charge as the straw that broke the camel’s back. It can be hard to understand but simply the RAB is an accounting convention which identifies the amount of student loan funding the Government provides that is anticipated will never be repaid in real terms. It is seen as a financial black hole and uncomfortable for a Government who were elected on their policy line to reduce the country’s spending deficit and which has had to borrow at crisis levels to fund the country’s needs throughout the pandemic. Research Professional (RP) tell us that the Government’s exposure grows by around £10 billion each year and that the Government has forecast the RAB charge will exceed 50% for 2020/21. The RAB is the ultimate policy pressure point and you may have noticed that the Government’s campaign for value for money in HE dovetailed the change that brought the RAB deficit to public notice.   Quite a lot of the cost of the overall loan book is made up by maintenance loans as you can see from this response to a PQ from Portsmouth MP Stephen Morgan.
  • It’s imminent. The Government is long overdue in its final response to the Augar report. A funding policy paper is due within two months, the autumn spending review is only 3 months away and the Skills Bill will progress through Parliament as quickly as the Government can push it.   A panel member from the Augar review writes for Wonkhe noting that over half Augar’s recommendations have been implemented already in a piecemeal fashion.

The Times have an example loan repayment scenario by Martin Lewis, the finance expert, [which] estimates that to pay off a loan fully under the existing terms a graduate completing their course in 2022 would have to start on a salary of £55,000 and have that rise to £177,000 within 25 years. The balance of their debt is written off after that time. Such a student would have repaid £163,000 — more than three times what they originally borrowed. The comments to the Times article are interesting – heavy on the opinion that the interest rate for loans is excessive and that this is where the problem lies. There is also a good thread from a parent who asks what their child can do when they are excellent at humanities and English but not good at STEM and don’t want to go to university – the answers responded go to university or join the forces. It highlights an interesting alternative viewpoint – the Government believes young people progress to university because they have dominated the market culturally and because there aren’t enough technical alternatives…but there are a lot of young people out there for whom technical isn’t an option – are these young people to be classified non-priority too?

Research Professional also have a revealing piece Tory-splaining exploring Rachel Wolf’s (who co-wrote the 2019 Conservative manifesto document) statements on the Government’s intentions behind its policies and legislation. Free Speech is to pursue the values of the Enlightenment that universities were set up to pursueThey would consider themselves to be entirely on the side of the principles of universities. And what they are trying to do is help universities defend those principles.

On levelling up Rachel stated universities should push their civic role less in terms of how they shared facilities and more in terms of teaching and research, which tended to resonate better with local people. So they should talk about how they are helping to raise attainment in schools and supporting economic growth or the NHS. And that if the government thinks it is doing something new, telling it that you are doing that thing already is unlikely to be a persuasive argument.

On fees she was to the point:

  • While the government feels that it is in a strong position politically, she said, it also feels that it has no money…the spending review will be a “zero-sum game” in which universities will be competing not only with other departments, such as the NHS, but also within the education budget. Here, the government has other priorities such as paying for pupils to catch up on learning they have missed as a result of the pandemic, and increasing spending on skills training and adult learning.
  • The government is also concerned about wage returns after Covid. Here, what appears to be changing rhetoric on social mobility, she suggested, is really more a response to fiscal constraints.
  • These constraints—and the Office for National Statistics’ reclassification of student debt so that it now appears on government balance sheets—are behind intimations that the government wants fewer people to attend university.
  • The upshot of all this will be an increasing focus on attainment, she predicted, with “interesting tensions” in the debate about whether to relax requirements to accept people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or not.

Nothing in this was new but it is rarer to hear it spoken frankly.

Student Finance: The Education Secretary has reappointed Jonathan Willis, Peter Wrench, Michaela Jones and Naseem Malik to serve third terms as independent assessors for student finance appeals and complaints from 1 May 2021. Each of the reappointments is for a further three years. None of the appointees have declared any political activity or conflicts of interest. Independent assessors provide an independent review of appeals or complaints made to the Student Loans Company (SLC).

Skills

Skills Bill: The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is scheduled for its Second Reading in the Lords on Tuesday 15 June. This will be the first real debate for parliament on the Bill. We’ll be keeping abreast of the debate.

Degree Apprenticeships: Robert Halfon (Chair) gave Gillian Keegan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills a fine grilling on the Government’s intention to push degree apprenticeships at the Education Select Committee accountability hearing.

Keegan is actually the only Parliamentarian who has a degree apprenticeship, yet she toes the party line in discouraging their widespread adoption (as opposed to lower level apprenticeships), perhaps due to concerns about subject coverage and the fact that they potentially increase funding to universities. The Government wants degree apprenticeships but only the “right” type i.e. those that meet the country’s future technical skills gaps and innovation needs (see the section on funding and the implications of these priorities above) and they want young people to undertake them who wouldn’t otherwise have progressed to higher level study. In the past degree apprenticeships boomed whilst lower level (2-3) apprenticeship starts dropped off. HE institutions were seen as taking up too much funding and squeezing technical courses out of the market.   The risk for the government is that students take them instead of degrees (avoiding student loans) so they have less impact on social mobility.  Lower level apprenticeships are less likely to appeal to those would otherwise go to university anyway.

  • In the session Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon, continued his push for hard targets for degree apprenticeships: Why not establish proper degree apprenticeship targets set by the OfS and make departmental funding conditional on universities providing these opportunities?
  • Keegan: I definitely have that mission. We have spoken about this a lot. It is about making sure that, first of all, they are more widely available…What we want to do is make sure that they are accessible to everybody…You are absolutely right that there isn’t enough done in this area, which is one of the reasons that we are introducing the skills Bill and the skills White Paper. It is recognising that young people don’t get enough broad careers advice. We need to offer better careers options.

In previous Committee sessions, they’ve also resisted introducing requirements for degree apprenticeship targets within the Access and Participation Plan specifications.

  • Chair: That is great, but what are you doing specifically? Why not reinstate the degree apprenticeship development fund? It cost £4.5 million, which is a relatively low cost in terms of spending, but it had quite a big impact by working with universities to create new courses. What are you doing specifically to boost degree apprenticeships and takeup from disadvantaged would-be apprentices?
  • Keegan: As you say, they are increasing…It is not about the universities coming up with a degree apprenticeship; it is about the employers, with universities, coming up with something that meets their needs. Obviously the Institutes of Technology is also an important bridge to that, as it offers level 4 and 5 apprenticeships, which are highly valued by a lot of businesses. …but the very important point is how we make sure they are more accessible to more disadvantaged groups.
  • What we are fearful of is that a lot of people suddenly see degree apprenticeships are a very good option, and people who would have gone to university anyway will just choose that route and squeeze out the people like me, sat in a Knowsley comprehensive school at 16 with nowhere to go, thinking, “How do I get on in life?” The degree apprenticeship route is fantastic, mine in particular, so absolutely. We do a lot around that.

So the Government doesn’t want students to switch from paying for a standard degree to undertake a degree apprenticeship. If we were ungenerous we could say this is the old story about ‘apprenticeships are for other peoples’ children’.

Halfon didn’t give up though:

  • Chair: I just want to know what the substantive policy is to rocket boost degree apprenticeships and whether or not you will reinstate the degree apprenticeship development fund, which had low costs but quite good results. Yes, of course, it is employer-led, but at the end of the day, if universities that are registered as providers aren’t even encouraging people to do degree apprenticeships and it is Government policy, surely a lot should be done. You need a bit of carrot and stick.
  • Keegan: The skills White Paper sets the direction of travel. The whole system has to work. I am not a big fan of intervening in different things.
  • …Some employers are switching from graduate programmes to degree apprenticeships because they have seen they get better results. It is starting to happen. You quite often get unintended consequences when the Government intervene in various bits of this system. This is about getting a system that transforms technical education in this country, that makes sure everybody is aware of it, that makes sure it is accessible to everybody, wherever they are in the country, whatever their background, whatever their ethnicity, whatever their life journey. That is a much bigger action.

Keegan does give a hard no to the degree apprenticeship development fund being reinstated though and says: Every time there is an option for employers, it is not like they are having a problem finding somebody to work with them. There is no problem at all. Which is contrary to the Government’s rhetoric on skills gaps and the need for funding programmes at different rates based on national priorities.

  • Chair: What you are saying is that there is no specific policy lever to encourage degree apprenticeships. Keegan responded that there is a policy level for all levels of apprenticeship.
  • Chair: Even though those individuals under the age of 19 from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are five times less likely to undertake a degree level apprenticeship, you are saying no targeted measure is needed?
  • Keegan: I am saying there is no targeted measure needed for universities to be incentivised to develop degree apprenticeships with employers. Getting access to them, making sure people are aware of them and they are available in their area, there is.

The Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE) has a blog: Access and Participation Plans and Higher and Degree Apprenticeships – excerpt:

  • It is now time that higher education (HE) reflects on what should be considered for inclusion in APPs in respect of skills, technical education, apprenticeships and adult learning provision. A key question for every HE provider is how their Access and Participation Plan should be developed and delivered in a post Covid-19 economy, in particular how they should maximise opportunities for underrepresented groups to access and benefit from HE through technical education including higher and degree apprenticeships. 

Interesting that this topic of degree apprenticeships comes up time and again in relation to the APPs – despite the Minister dismissing the notion of setting targets for degree apprenticeships within the APP.

Graduate outcomes

Grade inflation: New chair of the OfS, Lord Wharton, spoke at GuildHe and raised his concerns about grade inflation, which is something we haven’t heard about for a little while. Interestingly this was one of the things that Gavin William did not mention in his February list of priorities for the OfS (read more about that here) – so in theory it was meant to be off the table in terms of the OfS spending time on it.   However, it’s a perennially attractive stick for the media and the regulator to beat the sector with and ties in with their quality work so they don’t need a separate instruction on this.  No signs either that the new chair is going to step away from the hands-on, interventionist approach of his predecessor as chair.

Research Professional were there and cover his remarks and the (not very) veiled threat:

  • Conservative peer James Wharton ….. told the GuildHE Spring Conference that he had “concerns” about the “increasing numbers of students getting higher and higher degree classifications in recent years”.
  • He conceded that last year’s results—which came after many universities implemented so-called ‘no detriment’ policies to ensure the pandemic did not negatively impact student performance—were an anomaly. However, he added that there was a “long-running trend” that needed to be addressed. 
  • “I do have the view that if everyone gets a first, then no one gets a first, and we run the risk of devaluing the very thing that makes our higher education sector world beating,” Wharton said. “We have an obligation…to ensure that the degrees and qualifications that people get from the time that they invest in their education have real meaning and value and rigour standing behind them.”
  • Data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in January this year revealed that the proportion of students achieving first-class degrees in 2019-20 rose to 35 per cent, a jump from the 28 per cent recorded in the previous two years. In 2008-09, just 14 per cent of undergraduates were awarded a first.
  • “I think it’s a real concern,” Wharton continued. “If we continue to go down this path, there are going to be real problems, and I think we have an obligation to ensure that the qualifications people get have real meaning.”
  • The OfS chair said there “isn’t a simple answer”, and that universities would have to work “collectively” with the regulator to stem the rise in firsts. 
  • “I guess what I’m saying is, please can we work together and solve this, because otherwise…I may try and solve it myself, but that may not be the right answer.”

Wage gap: Hired have reported on their new survey which highlights the wage gap and workplace discrimination within the tech industry. The press release is here or contact us for a summary of the survey findings.

Graduate Outcomes Coding: HESA has published updates to its 2017/18 Graduate Outcomes employment statistics using the new Standard Occupational Classification SOC 2020 coding frame. It shows a small increase in the proportion of graduates in occupations classified as ‘high skilled’ but the proportion of graduates in occupations classified as low skilled remained the same after the coding change. More detail and the statistics here.

Longitudinal education outcomes:  The DfE published the LEO postgraduate outcomes for students graduating with a masters or doctorate. The outcomes are broken down by subject studied and domicile.

Free Speech

Free Speech Bill: The DfE published a memorandum on the HE Freedom of Speech Bill which addresses issues arising under the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). Research Professional also have an opinion piece stating that the free speech law will make university debate harder, not easier.

There is a parliamentary question asking specifics on free speech using given examples. Donelan’s response highlights the judgement tightrope the proposed new law may become: In many cases, this should mean that they do not feel a need to investigate where an individual is clearly expressing lawful, if perhaps offensive or controversial, views. Some examples will be less clear-cut, and some investigation will be needed to ascertain the facts. It will remain the responsibility of the provider (or students’ union) to balance their duties when considering the issues, having particular regard to the importance of freedom of speech.

And Research Professional has a report of MD’s answers on this at a GuildHE conference.  It’s still a muddle:

  • Research Professional News asked Donelan how universities should respond if a Holocaust denier were set to speak on campus. Is it a choice between no-platforming the individual and potentially paying them compensation, or allowing them to speak?
  • “Absolutely no,” Donelan said. “Universities will not be placed in a position where they are asked to protect a Holocaust denier. The free speech bill is not a right to a platform, it does not mean that a university has to invite such a speaker at all—and I would argue that no university should be inviting a Holocaust denier, because it is such an extreme and dangerous viewpoint.”
  • She added that antisemitism is “absolutely abhorrent and has no place…in any part of our society and in any university”.
  • It has yet to be confirmed how the bill, which is currently going through parliament, will make allowances for speech that is legal, but not protected by the legislation.

Finally did you realise that the Free Speech Bill will only apply to England (not the devolved nations) as education is a devolved matter.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) has published a report on free speech at universities. They examine the challenges to free speech in universities, particularly given the current focus on the topic by the Government. It brings a different flavour to the current is there/isn’t there a cancel culture tone of discussion. The IEA summarise their main points:

  • There is currently much concern with questions of freedom of speech and expression, much of it focused on the appearance of so-called ‘wokeness’ and its manifestations in corporate life, the media, and (most notably) the academy.
  • Historically the idea of free expression was seen as dangerous or a heresy. But this has changed over the last 250 years, as a combination of technological change and active campaigns for free expression established the principle of a right to free speech. This led to the emergence of an infrastructure or ecology of places and institutions that supported it, of which the university was one but by no means the most important.
  • An absolute and unlimited right to free speech and expression has never existed because that right is always qualified by other ones, including notably the very ones that also sustain free expression, such as private property, freedom of association and freedom of contract (including contracts of employment). Historically universities were not centres of free expression but were concerned with the articulation, exploration and defence of orthodoxy.
  • The current problems with free speech at universities are real but overstated (as this is actually a problem primarily found in elite institutions and only in the Anglosphere) and come primarily from the lack of intellectual diversity in the sector as a whole and between institutions rather than in any one institution.
  • They reflect a wider problem in society – the decay of the ecology or infrastructure built up in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This decline was caused not so much by technology (which commonly gets the blame) as by the growth of both government and certain kinds of private funding, the corrupting effect of the predatory and dysfunctional US legal system, and the increasingly intense intra-elite status competition produced by the combination of meritocracy and elite overproduction.
  • Direct measures by governments to impose on universities a duty to provide a platform for speakers are an unwarranted imposition on private bodies. This illustrates the problems with government funding and the lack of genuine university independence and variety within the sector.

Access & Participation

The Education Select Committee continued their inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. You can read a summary of the session prepared by Dods. The eagle eyed will spot several comments that fit behind the Government’s current policy ideals. Here is some of the key content:

  • Steve Strand (Prof Education, Oxford):…those communities that experienced inter-generational unemployment and the closure of heavy industries had a less strong belief in the transformative power of education… The overriding principle behind this paradigm was class.
  • Family Hubs placement: drill low at a local level to identify pockets and disparities in the performance of children, and the family hubs should be placed in those areas.
  • Diversity of the workforce: The Chair referred to evidence from the USA, and asked if the Government should incentivise a more diverse teaching workforce so as to increase attainment levels in pupils. Sewell explained that organisations like Teach First should focus more on attracting high performing ethnic minority graduates. Strand added this was a high quality and high status profession, which meant that universities could play a role [through diversity in recruitment to teaching programmes].
  • Funding for interventions: Johnston also asked the witnesses how much funding would be needed to support the interventions necessary, from the early years all the way through to careers guidance for older students. Sewell spoke of the £800m that currently went into the wider participation activities of universities. In his opinion, part of this resource should be moved into schools, so as to drive pupils into higher education. This would offer much more targeted in-school support, he suggested.
  • Aspiration levels: Strand added that the higher achievement by many minority groups could be explained by their aspirations, their parents’ aspirations, the number of nights a week spent doing homework and their self-assessment of their performance. It was important to consider when to allow young people to choose a curriculum for themselves, as for some young people subjects like history and geography were not as attractive as more vocation-oriented subjects.
  • Sewell said: parents were key to educating and inspiring young people to take up apprenticeships or go on to universities.
  • Mearns commented that quite often the challenges pupils faced were related to their parents and families… Oliver agreed that this was a challenge. He believed that provisions like extended school days could allow children to get involved in sports and culture activities. Moreover, such initiatives could expose children to other adults, and help build a different type of discipline.

The summary lists the speakers quoted from above.

Pupil Premium: This article covers pupil premium. Excerpt: A total of £118 million for disadvantaged pupils could be lost from school budgets in England this year due to a government change in how Pupil Premium funding is calculated. The controversy stems from the use of a previous census meaning pupils who became eligible through the deprivations of the pandemic will not receive funding until a future year.

Uni Connect: Wonkhe summarise: The Office for Students has published an analysis of youth participation rates in England in the areas targeted by the Uni Connect programme. The report finds no evidence that the gap in participation reduced for those pupils who experienced at most two years of Uni Connect outreach, and instead finds that lower rates of entry to higher education are highly associated with lower rates of application. OfS has also published a formative evaluation of Uni Connect phase two from Ipsos Mori, an emerging insight report into how Covid-19 has affected outreach and a third independent review of evaluation evidence.

APP comment: Wonkhe’s student union site has a blog on the independent student submission to the OfS commenting on their institution’s Access and Participation Plan. They’re in favour of the student comment – as long as the OfS show they’re reading and acting on it.

Social Mobility: The All Party Parliamentary Group for Social Mobility took to Twitter to launch its priorities for an education recovery plan. The thread gives the top level details behind the plan and is in favour of more support for the transition to HE alongside closing the digital divide.

More Blogs: The Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE) has a series of new blogs-

  • Access and Participation Plans and Higher and Degree Apprenticeships – excerpt: It is now time that higher education (HE) reflects on what should be considered for inclusion in APPs in respect of skills, technical education, apprenticeships and adult learning provision. A key question for every HE provider is how their Access and Participation Plan should be developed and delivered in a post Covid-19 economy, in particular how they should maximise opportunities for underrepresented groups to access and benefit from HE through technical education including higher and degree apprenticeships. 

Interesting that this topic of degree apprenticeships comes up time and again in relation to the APPs – despite the Minister dismissing the notion of setting targets for degree apprenticeships within the APP. Once again we’re reminded of Jo Johnson when he was Universities Minister cautioning the HE sector to be careful of what it was calling for.

  • Personal tutoring – excerpt: The entire HE teaching and learning experience was changed by the pandemic and now, more than ever, it is important to recognise how vital the relationship between Personal Tutor and student is for engagement, academic success and progression.

FACE are also running a free event on 24 June – Is First in Family a good indicator for widening university participation in HE?

Social Leveller: Engineering: The Engineering Professors’ Council have released a new report finding that studying engineering gives a greater boost to social mobility than other subjects. Combining data relating to graduates’ earnings, backgrounds and entry qualifications suggested that the gap between the incomes of engineering graduates from different socio-economic backgrounds was significantly smaller than for other graduates. The Engineering Opportunity report reveals that, ten years after qualifying, the average salary of engineering graduates is £42,700 – which is £11,700 more than the average of other graduates and the higher earnings were relatively evenly spread across the country.

The EPC’s Chief Executive, Johnny Rich, commented:

  • Our findings demonstrate that not only is Engineering higher education critical to the future of our economy, our regions and our environment, it is also a great social leveller, providing a more equal chance to succeed for all students regardless of their background.
  • Aspiration among young people is not lacking, but opportunity is. We need to build a system – through education and into employment – that engineers opportunities for all who want to realise their potential.

Admissions

Disabled students: See the section on disabled students below which includes the Disabled Students’ Commission’s view on how PQA need to take into account the interests of disabled students.

HEPI have a blog from Dan Benyon on “What do university applicants want from their higher education institutions?”.  The answer, it seems, is:

  • Face to face interaction at the physical campus of the universities they apply to
  • More personalised virtual experiences and interactivity.
  • Different communications channels such and Q&As and webinars and just more communication.

Level 3 exams: Last week NEON picked up on the Guardian article which highlighted a common bias against disadvantaged and SEN pupils in the assessment processes which will determine their grade, and ultimately entry to HE.

HE stats: The DfE published data on students going into apprenticeship, education, employment and training destinations. Progression to higher education or training (more detail here):

  • The proportion of level 3 (e.g. A levels, Tech levels, AGQs) students progressing to a sustained level 4 or higher destination was 64% – this was 2 percentage points higher than the previous year’s cohort (2015/16).
  • Of the 64%, their destinations were as follows:
    • 59% were studying for a degree (a level 6 qualification)
    • 3% were studying a course at level 4 or 5 (e.g. Higher National Certificates and Diplomas)
    • 1% were participating in an apprenticeship at level 4 or higher

Levelling Up

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published a new release on mapping income deprivation at a local authority level. It’s interactive – you select the local authority area, then keep scrolling down for short informative commentary.

Generally urban local authorities with a higher level of overall income deprivation that have the greatest internal disparities, both in terms of deprivation gap and income deprivation clustering. The map showing the least deprived areas is revealing. Dorset crops up in the ‘n’-shaped profile – neighbourhoods that have close to average levels of income deprivation – it is mostly dominated by rural and coastal areas. As you scroll closer to the bottom there are details of areas with the greatest income disparity between least and most deprived. It then goes on to explore how mixed the populations of lower/higher income are within the area. Rural areas generally have lower levels of deprivation clustering.

The ONS state this detailed information revealing local circumstances is of increasing importance because of the current focus on levelling up.

Committee: Meanwhile the House of Lords Public Services Committee has sent its position paper on ‘Levelling up’ and public services to the PM (read more detail here).

  • The Committee warned that ‘left behind’ places will be “short-changed” and inequality will grow if money for the NHS, schools and councils is not protected and ‘levelling up’ plans are not better targeted.
  • It called for Ministers to use the promised ‘levelling up’ White Paper to refocus their strategy to improve health, employment and skills and better prepare children for school if it wants more jobs, productivity and pay in deprived communities.
  • During the inquiry, witnesses accused ministers of favouring prosperous rural areas with funds ahead of deprived communities. “Without full transparency and political accountability local areas will continue to question why they have missed out on ‘levelling up’ funding while others have benefited.”
  • The Committee also warns that if ‘levelling up’ investment neglects social infrastructure – such as community centres and childcare – and public services it will not help the most deprived areas.
  • The Committee called on the Government to work with local service providers and users to set targets to improve, for example, life expectancy, employment, literacy and numeracy of children starting school and the number of entrants to higher education.

Assessment

Jisc and Emerge Education published Rethinking Assessment finding that the recent adjustments to assessment methods are better for disabled students, those with mental health challenges, and students suffering from digital poverty, as well as building the digital skills needed by students for future jobs.

  • The report, which looks back at a year where education has mostly been online, describes ‘a widespread explosion of experimentation’ since the pandemic began, with universities now offering exams that are flexible, adaptable, and relevant to students, which is a far cry from what one contributor describes as ‘sitting in a sports hall for three hours’
  • Andy McGregor, Jisc’s director of edtech, said: We’ve seen a flurry of just-in-time innovation in assessment as teachers have responded to the pandemic. It would be a shame if that just disappeared as life approaches normality. If universities can find the time to prioritise assessment redesign, we can deliver significant benefits to students, staff and ultimately employers, by providing a digitally skilled workforce of the future. 
  • Paul Cowell, lecturer in economics, University of Stirling, writes in the report: One thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is that there’s a lot of creativity within us. We can do things differently, as a sector and as individuals. We need to make sure we take the best from that rather than reverting. Just because we can get everyone back in the exam halls again doesn’t mean we should. 
  • Nic Newman, Emerge Education partner says: Of course, delivering this transformation will require significant resources, and universities are still dealing with huge changes. Taking the time to reimagine assessment will require senior management to make it a top priority. The positive stories in this report are shining examples that illustrate the wider benefits of overhauling assessment, and point to an opportunity for universities to create a competitive advantage for themselves in the short and long term.
  • Chris Cobb, chief executive of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) says: The rapid drive to digitise assessment has raised opportunities and challenges in equal measure, in parts making assessment more relevant, adaptable and trustworthy. We hope this report serves as a timely manner of lessons to be learned for the future of assessment, and indeed, education as a whole.

Disabled Students

The Disabled Students’ Commission have published their guiding principles for ensuring the needs to disabled students are taken into account if PQA is adopted.  When we responded to the PQA consultation we raised concerns about students with disabilities, as well as those with caring responsibilities and those from under-represented backgrounds, who we think are may be particularly disadvantaged by the proposals, because of the practical issues such as finding suitable and affordable accommodation, arranging support, and making decisions in a short time frame without access to support and advice.

The principles are:

  1. All relevant agencies need to work together to ensure key general information, advice and guidance is provided during the admissions process and developed in consideration of disabled students who are eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowances and those who are not.
  2. Higher education providers need to provide easily accessible information that is publicly available, detailing the support provided to disabled students in teaching and learning delivery, accommodation provision and through student services. They should also encourage disabled applicants to discuss their requirements with them in advance of commencing their course.
  3. Some disabled applicants will have multiple and complex requirements. The application process needs to allow higher education providers time to put in place reasonable adjustments.
  4. The process needs to encourage disclosure of disability from the outset and proactively encourage disabled applicants to communicate their requirements to the higher education providers to which they have applied.
  5. The application process needs be completed at an early enough point to allow applicants sufficient time to apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances.
  6. Education, Health and Care Plans should be accepted as evidence of having an impairment and trigger an assessment to identify the reasonable adjustments required in higher education.
  7. The process needs to enable appropriate transition and orientation support following the acceptance of an offer, and to allow sufficient time for higher education providers to meet the transition requirements of successful applicants with a range of impairments.
  8. The process needs to be structured in a way that enables any reasonable adjustments to be in place before the applicant starts their course

Meanwhile, on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the OfS’s Head of Strategy Josh Fleming and Piers Wilkinson, Student Voice Commissioner at the Disabled Students’ Commission, emphasised the importance of listening to disabled students.  The full report can be accessed here.

  • Prior to the pandemic, some disabled students faced challenges not experienced by students without a known disability. The rapid shift to remote teaching over the past year meant that many of these issues were exacerbated while new challenges emerged.
  • Accessibility needs were not always considered as fully as they should have been. Disabled students who rely on assistive technology sometimes faced compatibility issues with the hardware or software they were using.
  • Some disabled students found that learning materials were produced in inaccessible formats. Others faced delays to diagnostic screenings for the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) and disruption to DSA-funded specialist services and support networks.
  • As we enter exam season, many disabled students continue to face accessibility challenges – such as issues with the compatibility of assistive technology and the software being used to conduct exams remotely.

International

The regular parliamentary questions asking whether international students can quarantine in their university accommodation when they arrive in the country continue. The Government continues to say they must use the quarantine hotels at cost with a repayment plan in place for those evidencing hardship.

Early this week the Home Secretary published a written ministerial statement on the New Plan for Immigration: Legal Migration and Border Control. It describes a House command paper (CP 441) that will be laid including a strategy statement will set out the Government’s programme for 2021 and 2022 with further reform to the points-based system, a new graduate visa, new routes to attract top talent to the UK, and a new international sportsperson route alongside further simplification of our Immigration Rules to streamline our systems and reduce complexity.

Higher Education Credit Framework

QAA have launched the second edition of the Higher Education Credit Framework.  Advice on Academic Credit Arrangements contains the 2021 Credit Framework table, while Making Use of Credit offers advice for providers on how they can use credit in practical ways. The two publications introduce guiding principles for the use of credit and give an overview of how credit can work within a range of emerging aspects of higher education, like micro-credentials.

The Credit Framework for England can be used as the basis for the design of qualifications for Level 4 and above, alongside sector credit level descriptors. The revised documents consider stakeholder benefit, how credit is used and how it might be used in the future. Operating alongside the regulatory framework in England, the Framework allows higher education providers the freedom to adopt and adapt elements as appropriate to their needs and circumstances.

The revised Credit Framework publications offer advice to higher education providers on how credit can be used to support flexible pathways such as premised in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.

Wonkhe have a blog: David Kernohan takes a closer look at the framework and explains how it could become one of the more influential documents in higher education.

Covid

The Office for National Statistics published the latest experimental statistics from the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey covering 4 -12 May 2021.

  • Over half (56%) of students who were in higher education prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic reported that the lack of face-to-face learning had a major or moderate impact on the quality of their course; around half (49%) said that the pandemic had a major or significant impact on their academic performance.
  • The majority of students (86%) said that they were living at the same address as they were at the start of the autumn term 2020; this has statistically significantly increased since March 2021 (76%).
  • Most students (71%) stayed in their current accommodation over the Easter break; however, around one in five (22%) students travelled to stay with family or friends over the Easter break, with the majority (84%) of those staying for more than two nights.
  • Almost half (47%) of students that left the house in the previous seven days reported they had met up with family or friends they do not live with indoors; this was more than double those who reported the same in March 2021 (21%).
  • Of all students, almost two in five (39%) reported that they had had at least one COVID-19 test (even if they did not have symptoms) in the previous seven days; this was a statistically significant increase compared with April 2021 (30%).
  • Average life satisfaction scores among students remained stable in May 2021 at 5.8 (out of 10) in May 2021 following the improvements seen in April 2021; however, average scores still remained significantly lower than the adult population in Great Britain (7.0).

UPP – Student Futures Commission

On Sunday Richard Brabner from UPP wrote for Research Professional – Social Reboot – on the immersive student experience. It packs a lot into a short article – student extracurricular, how it is valued when unavailable (pandemic), barriers to participating in extracurricular, community involvement, and the access and participation agenda. Including:  ways to ‘nudge’ students from lower socioeconomic groups to take part in activities and adopt behaviours that build social capital. One of their main findings was that—perhaps counterintuitively—messages that linked participation to building friendships and belonging were more successful than ones that focused on employability for widening participation students. The piece was a teaser for the full launch of the Student Futures Commission and their recent polling.

The polling results found:

  • 59% of students feel a return to face-to-face teaching in September 2021 in a top priority
  • More than half of students had not participated in extra-curricular activities this year (not even virtual ones) despite 8 in 10 intending to do so
  • The shift to digital learning has its advantageous and students are interested in a blended teaching model. On course structure
  • 45% would like a mostly in-person method of delivery with online teaching once or twice per week
  • 29% face-to-face only
  • 21% wanted to study mostly online
  • 6% all online

The survey also reported 63% of students believe they are below where they would expect to be academically because of the pandemic. However, 48% don’t think they’ve missed any aspect of teaching and 72% aren’t unhappy with the way assessment has been managed. Despite the pandemic 65% think their university experience will help secure them a job. Also: Students are placing greater importance on job security, training, and career prospects when thinking about a new job– but the  location is less important. This offers opportunities for firms and students who may not want to move to major urban areas, and could form an important part of the government’s levelling up agenda.

Mary Curnock Cook CBE, Chair of the Student Futures Commission, said: These findings point to a need for the whole sector to mobilise to help improve students’ confidence in themselves, in their job prospects and in the richness of the student experience that comes from physically joining the university community. This is the key aim of the Student Futures Commission – everyone wants our students back, and we want them to put the pandemic behind them and get the full benefits of a university education. Mary also blogged for Wonkhe to introduce the Student Futures Commission and expand on the polling results.

Richard Brabner, Director of the UPP Foundation, said: Universities have gone to extraordinary lengths to support students this year, but as the polling shows nothing beats a proper campus experience. More than anything else students want in-person experiences and face-to-face teaching. As university life returns to something like normal in September, this is the least we can do.

Parliamentary News

PMBs: The Commons Private Members’ Bills (PMBs) ballot results were issued at the end of the last week. The first seven are guaranteed parliamentary time (but not guarantees they will succeed to become law). Of these, Carolyn Harris is most likely to submit a Bill related to BU’s research interests as she has been vocal about gambling reform. You can read the interests and speculation on what the ballot winners may introduce legislation on in this Dods summary.

Last week we told you that Lord Storey had been successful in the Lords PMBs ballot and planned to reintroduce his Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill again (for the fourth time). It received its first reading in the Lords this week – which basically means the title was read out. The Bill aims to make it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services for Higher Education assessments. At no point has Lord Storey’s Bill made it past the first stage, which is a shame given its aim shouldn’t be controversial. The full text (one page) is here.

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.

New consultations and inquiries this week:  University Research & Regional Levelling-up Inquiry

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

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

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

Queen’s Speech

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

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

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

Professional Qualifications Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to:

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

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

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

The main elements of the Bill are:

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

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

Turing Scheme

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

Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions – another very political one

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

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

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

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

Draft Online Safety Bill

The purpose of the draft Bill is to:

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

The main benefits of the draft Bill would be:

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

The main elements of the draft Bill are:

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

Education Recovery Plan

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

The purpose of the Bill is to:

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

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

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

The main elements of the Bill are:

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

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

Regional R&D

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

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

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

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

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

Quick News:

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

Admissions

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

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

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

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

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

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

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

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

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

The main elements of the Bill are:

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

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

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

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

The main elements of the Bill are:

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

There’s a lot to say about all this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary News

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

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

Online learning

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

What matters? Reaffirming the role of outcomes-based approaches

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

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 7th May 2021

We’re a little bit late this week, but we hope you enjoy the latest update.  If anything exciting crops up in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday we will let you know.  In the meantime we are all looking forward to the next set of Covid announcements  – with hugging!

Queen’s Speech speculation: Free Speech

You’ll have noted the policy team enjoy a good Commons or Lords Library briefing. This week’s offering from the Lords Library explores the education announcements that may be made through next week’s Queen’s Speech. The Queen’s Speech sets the tone and the agenda for the Parliamentary session. For HE there isn’t expected to be much (the really big things like fees and funding are being saved for the Spending Review in the Autumn).  But we can expect announcements on the skills agenda, which is directly not about HE, but is relevant to us – partly because it is about the government focus on alternatives to HE.  Otherwise the most relevant content is likely to be announcements on free speech.

Dods have their own little speculation on the free speech Government agenda:

  • Looking ahead, the briefing predicts what I’ve already been hearing from sources: First, that there will be something substantial around higher education, with a particular focus on freedom of speech. Second, that the Government will legislate for skills provision, based on the blueprint laid out in the recent White Paper.
  • The second option is more likely to make it into a full Bill, due to its prominence within Whitehall and as part of the post-pandemic recovery. The HE changes are more likely to take the form of amendments to the existing HERA and other legislation, although we shouldn’t rule out a HE Bill either. It all depends how much political capital the Government are willing to use on what is becoming known as ‘culture war’ moves, such as the free speech champion.

If the free speech agenda doesn’t float your boat you can read the speculative briefings on a myriad of other areas too – justice, digital, housing, biodiversity, alcohol harm, international development, NHS staffing, LGBTI+ and much more. The topics are displayed across multiple pages so keep clicking through to find out what is coming up in your interest area.

Meanwhile Wonkhe tell us that Conservative Home has an opinion piece, which argues that instead of creating additional legislation to protect freedom of speech in universities, the government should instead review the harassment provision within the Equality Act 2010.

Neither the Student Loans (Debt Discharge) Bill nor the Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill completed the parliamentary process before Parliament was prorogued last Thursday and were not “carried over”. This mean both Bills have been dropped and would have to be reintroduced (not as easy as it sounds) and start from scratch in the new Parliament to proceed. Neither Bill had made much progress through the stages which highlights both the little time available for private members bills and that they were not of great interest to the Government.   We’re not expecting them to be in the Queen’s Speech.

Levelling Up White Paper

The Government announced they will publish a Levelling Up White Paper later this year. It will articulate how new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, levelling up and ensuring that the whole UK can benefit from the same access to opportunities remains core to the Government’s vision. The Prime Minister intends to lead on the White Paper and has set up a new No 10 Cabinets Office Unit and appointed Neil O’Brien MP as his Levelling Up Adviser. The proposed policies will focus on challenges including improving living standards, growing the private sector and increasing and spreading opportunity. Also work being undertaken to repair the damage done by Covid to public services, with backlogs in hospitals and courts prioritised alongside school catch ups and jobs.

Neil O’Brien MP said: Levelling up has been a real passion of mine for many years, and I’m incredibly excited by the Prime Minister’s agenda. After such a challenging year, there has never been a better time to unite and level up the country. It’s absolutely crucial that we bring opportunity to every single part of the UK by making sure our spending, tax, investment and regeneration priorities bring about meaningful change.

Wonkhe have a blog: Downing Street has announced a new white paper on the levelling up agenda. Jim Dickinson asks if the MP leading the work can define it, explain it and achieve it.

Research

Industrial Strategy Challenges – The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report on UK Research & Innovation’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) was set up to help address some of the complex issues the UK economy faces, including long-term low productivity and living standards. It was designed around four ‘grand challenges’: future mobility; clean growth; artificial intelligence and data; and the ageing society. Below are a summary of conclusions and recommendations within the report, compiled by Dods.

  1. UKRI’s Challenge Fund is insufficiently focused on what it is expected to deliver in terms of benefit to the UK. Recommendation: UKRI, working with the Department, should clearly set out, by October 2021, what it expects the Fund to deliver. This should include its impact on jobs and economic impact in the short, medium and long term.
  2. We are not convinced that UKRI’s and the Department’s approach to intellectual property generated by the Fund adequately protects taxpayers’ interests. Recommendation: UKRI should re-examine its current approach of not holding a claim on intellectual property generated through the Fund. It should write to the Committee by July 2021 setting out the results of its review and explain how it intends to best protect the taxpayers’ interests and maximise the value from taxpayer investment in the future.
  3. The Department has not yet made clear how it will make sure the UK will meet the target to spend 2.4% of its GDP on R&D by 2027. Recommendation: The Department should develop, and then publish, by October 2021, its plan setting out the steps it will take to meet the 2.4% spending target by 2027.
  4. Despite its focus on collaboration between companies of different sizes, the proportion of smaller companies benefiting from the Fund has declined. Recommendation: UKRI should, by October 2021, set out how it will increase SMEs involvement in the next wave of support from the Fund.
  5. UKRI is not doing enough to make sure the Fund is attracting successful bids from across the country. Recommendation: The Department and UKRI should, by October 2021, set out: the factors that are inhibiting more widespread participation in the Fund; and the steps they are taking to attract more interest in the Fund from across the UK.
  6. The elongated time taken by the Department and UKRI to provide funding to successful bidders risks putting off businesses from applying for the programme. Recommendation: The Department, HM Treasury and UKRI should set out by October 2021 how they intend to speed up the time taken to approve challenges and projects.
  7. Powers currently delegated by the Department and HM Treasury to UKRI do not strike the right balance between the governance necessary to support efficient decision making and unnecessary bureaucracy. Recommendation: The Department and HM Treasury should, by July 2021, review the conditions they place on UKRI to manage the Fund with a view to supporting more efficient decision making.
  8. The Department and HM Treasury should write to the Committee to explain the changes they have introduced together with their intended impact.

Research Culture – The Russell Group published Realising Our Potential – Backing Talent and Strengthening UK Research Culture and Environment – a report examining the current UK academic research culture and environment, including the system drivers and incentives which can create challenges and unintended consequences for researchers.  The Russell Group’s report is here

Through interviews with researchers and case studies of their own universities, the Group have compiled a Research Culture and Environment Toolkit containing practical suggestions. The report highlights the need for a more stable, long-term funding system for research. This, it says, will enable researchers to focus on what they do best: tackling challenges such as net zero, improving health and social outcomes across the UK and translating research into innovative new solutions with business. To foster ambitious, creative and innovative research the report says universities need a well-resourced and supportive research culture and environment which:

  1. Provides stable and appealing career paths, with equality of opportunity for all
  2. Values rigorous and open research, delivered through high-quality methods and high standards of research integrity
  3. Recognises and rewards the wide range of activities that contribute to an internationally excellent research environment
  4. Provides an inclusive, respectful and collegial environment in which researchers feel supported through their relationships with colleagues
  5. Prevents and addresses negative and unacceptable behaviours fairly and efficiently where they occur, including bullying and harassment.

The report is accompanied by a toolkit of practical ideas for universities, funders and publishers, including:

  • Improving long-term contractual job security for researchers, including through boosting quality-related ‘QR’ block grant funding for universities (and its equivalents in the devolved nations), and considering options to lengthen research grant funding periods and academic contracts.
  • Support for career progression, recognition and reward, including sufficient time for professional development, improving feedback provided by managers, funders and publishers, preparation for a range of career options, and ensuring evaluation, recognition and reward systems consider the wide range of activities that contribute to an internationally excellent research environment.
  • Enhancing the experience of working in research, including more recognition from funders and employers for management and leadership skills, reduced bureaucracy for researchers, access to support networks, and involving early career researchers more actively in decision making.
  • Creating inclusive and respectful environments, including dedicated schemes for those from underrepresented backgrounds and appropriate EDI-related training for decision makers, transparent reporting and investigation processes, and trialling alternative models of research groups with flatter structures.

There’s a blog on Wonkhe by Grace Gottlieb, co-author, excerpt:  A recurring theme in the interviews was the importance of broadening what we value in research. There’s a growing appetite to recognise the rich variety of contributions that individuals make to the research endeavour – hiring, promotion, and grant criteria are a good place to start. The Principal Investigator who puts supporting colleagues before publishing papers deserves recognition. The PhD student who has ideas for how to make the institution work better should be listened to. The postdoc who gains experience in another sector should be celebrated.

Amanda Solloway, minister for science, research and innovation, welcomed the new report, saying:

  • R&D will be crucial to helping the UK build back better after the effects of the pandemic and in building a bolder and brighter future for everyone. Therefore, it is vital that those seeking rewarding careers in working on the most important global challenges, feel empowered and enthusiastic about doing so.
  • The government has made R&D a key priority and as part of the R&D Roadmap committed to developing a People and Culture strategy that will look to ensure the UK is the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and innovators.
  • That is why I am really pleased to see the Russell Group are taking steps to look at how we create conditions for researchers to thrive, to collaborate, and to succeed – making sure the UK continues to lead the world in research and innovation.

Research Professional explore the Russell Group report. The article is worth a quick peruse. Snippet: …it seems to bear little resemblance to the lived reality of being a precariously employed researcher in the fiercely competitive environment of a research-intensive university, beset by the need to publish and capture grant income, create impact and keep ahead of the paperwork, while simultaneously seeking long-term career opportunities driven by cycles of the Research Excellence Framework..

Appointments

  • Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has announced the appointment of Indro Mukerjee as the new CEO of Innovate UK. Mukerjee is described as “a highly experienced technology executive and business leader with a track record of leading innovation and technology commercialisation at businesses of all sizes across the world – from publicly listed and multinational corporations to new venture and private equity backed technology companies. He will take up the post immediately and will be tasked with transitioning Innovate UK from a grant funding body to an agency focused on driving economic growth by working with companies to de-risk, enable and support innovation, while unleashing private sector investment into research and development. As part of this, he will develop and implement strategies for investments that promote the UK as a global leader in R&D and technologies of the future, while cementing the UK’s place as a global science superpower. More info and a biography is available in the Government’s press release.
  • Chris Grigg has been appointed as Chair of the new UK Infrastructure Bank, which will launch in an interim form on 17 May 2021. Grigg will lead the Bank’s board and set the strategic direction of the organisation during an initial three-year term. The UK Infrastructure Bank (UKIB) – headquartered in Leeds – will receive an initial £12 billion of capital and £10 billion of government guarantees, which will enable it to unlock more than £40 billion of financing for key projects across the UK. It will prioritise investment in projects that help tackle climate change to help the UK to meet its net zero target by 2050, and level up the country by supporting regional and local economic growth.
  • The Prime Minister appointed Lord Browne of Madingley to the Council for Science and Technology (CST) as its new independent Co-Chair. The CST is the government’s highest-level advisory body on science and technology, advising on issues that cut across the full range of the government’s responsibilities. Members of the council are leading figures in the science and technology community, including representation from academia and key high-tech businesses. Presidents from the national academies and the Chief Executive of UKRI participate as ex-officio members. Lord Browne will co-chair the council alongside the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
  • Dr Alison Cave joins the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as Chief Safety Officer. Alison is a pharmacologist with a PhD in biochemistry. Her long career includes significant academic and regulatory experience, the latter initially at the Medicines Control Agency and then in senior roles within the Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicine Group at the MHRA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Most recently she was an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Director at UK Research and Innovation.
  • Professor Trevor McMillian, Vice-Chancellor of Keele University, has been announced as the new chair of Midlands Innovation (MI). MI is a partnership of eight of the region’s research-intensive universities that collaborate on research, development and innovation.

ARIA – The Public Bill Committee finished its scrutiny of the ARIA Bill and has reported without amendment. The Bill will be carried over into the next Session of Parliament.

Admissions

PQA: the Department for Education consultation closes this week and we preparing to submit our response.

Exams – Ofqual confirmed that students who receive a teacher assessed grade this summer will be eligible to take GCSE, AS or A level exams in the same subject in autumn 2021.

  • exam boards will have to offer exams in all GCSE and A level subjects and AS exams in biology, chemistry, further maths, maths and physics; exam boards will be able to offer AS exams in other subjects if they wish exams will be in their normal format, with no adaptations made
  • grades will be determined by a student’s performance in an exam for all subjects, except for art and design qualifications
  • AS and A level exams will be held in October, while GCSE exams will take place in November
  • For Vocational and Technical and Other General Qualifications Ofqual has confirmed the details of the framework, which will require awarding organisations that normally provide assessment opportunities between September and January, to make those assessments available to learners who were eligible to receive a result through a teacher assessed grade if they wish to improve on it.
  • as assessments, progression and grades (including requests for additional consideration).

And another blog: Wonkhe: Demand for higher education is up. But with so much uncertainty surrounding this year’s exam cycle, how can universities select students in a way that’s fair? Mark Corver runs the numbers.

Work Experience

Luminate & Prospects published the Early Careers Survey 2021: Work Experience During a Crisis  report highlighting that work experience has been scarce during the pandemic and students undertaking opportunities are more likely to have been unpaid and worked in person.

  • Since a quarter of students lost their work experience opportunity as a result of the pandemic, just 17% of students have undertaken work experience in the last year.
  • University students said that the biggest barrier to finding work has been having the required work experience for the vacancies they were interested in.
  • Internships were most likely to have been face-to-face (44%) while 21% were blended (virtual and in person) and 35% solely online.
  • Nearly two-thirds (59%) of students said they had not been paid for their work experience with 83% of sixth form/college students working unpaid compared to 52% of university students. Female and BAME students were more likely to work unpaid.
  • More than half (51%) of unpaid work experience lasted for at least four weeks and one in six worked without pay for more than six months.
  • Students are being asked to work for longer lengths of time without pay. Sixty two per cent of university students worked unpaid for more than four weeks in 2020/21 compared to 41% in the 2018 survey. The trend was similar in the sixth form/college group with 27% compared to 18% in 2018.
  • Despite the majority of students finding work experience useful for developing skills, how programmes are delivered, the duration and whether they are paid have an impact on how much value students get out of them with paid, face-to-face opportunities the most useful. Generally, the longer a student spends on a programme the more value they deem it to be for developing skills.

Research Professional give a more detailed description on the report.

  • Surprisingly, despite the pandemic and despite many employers moving online, when students did manage to secure work experience, much of it was face to face. This was particularly true for first-generation students: 43 per cent of these students worked in person, compared with only 36 per cent of those with two graduate parents—a finding that the report suggests could be to do with digital poverty.
  • But what really concerned the report’s authors was that most work experience was unpaid. This was true for 52 per cent of university students who responded and was particularly the case for women and students from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.
  • Comparing the data with stats from 2018 also suggests that students are being asked to work for longer periods without pay. Some 62 per cent of university students worked unpaid for more than four weeks in 2020-21, compared with 41 per cent in the 2018 survey. One in six students worked unpaid for more than six months.
  • As the report points out, this raises ethical and legal questions about asking young people to work for free (particularly face to face during a pandemic), as well as concerns about fairness. When work experience opportunities are particularly hard to come by and particularly important for a graduate jobs market that looks likely to be tighter than ever, should they really be open only to those able to work for free?
  • It is especially worrying since students from low-income backgrounds are also less likely to take part in other extracurricular activities that are seen as helpful for boosting employability, as two reports from the social mobility charity the Sutton Trust revealed earlier this year. The charity called on universities to offer bursaries to fund work experience and offer more employability skills as part of their courses.
  • Pressure on universities to do more in this area is likely to increase as attention turns from online learning to what students have missed out on more broadly and how to make it up to them—and deter them from demanding refunds as they make the kind of links between their higher education experience and job and salary prospects that this government has long encouraged.

Research Professional continue by exploring what employers value:

  • …another piece of research on work experience—with a smaller sample size—published by Prospects and carried out by the University of Edinburgh’s careers service.
  • This found that employers valued long-term and varied extracurricular activities and cited work experience as one of the most important factors in recruiting, while students reported that their work experience had enabled them to test out different work environments and to clarify their personal values and career aspirations. The past year will have lessened these benefits for both sides.
  • But the report also found that employers valued creativity, problem solving and critical thinking, and they cited self-management, flexibility and resilience as key attributes. In many cases, these attributes will have been strengthened rather than weakened by the challenging year just gone. Crucially, though, the report identified the importance for students of reflecting upon what they had learned from their experiences.
  • It may be that universities could help mitigate some of the losses in opportunities that students have had this year by developing ways for them to reflect on the different experiences they have had during the pandemic.

A parliamentary question on graduate career support: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce an employment support scheme for recent university graduates.

Access & Participation

The Equality Hub has begun recruitment for the new Chair of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC). The interim co-chairs, Sandra Wallace and Steven Cooper, will cease their cover role by October 2021 at the latest. The chair will lead the SMC in promoting social mobility both within and outside Government, oversee work to strengthen the evidence base and improve public understanding of how opportunity is created and made accessible to all. We can expect an announcement on the appointment of the new chair by the summer.

Catch up: Figures released in response to Parliamentary questions reveal that just 93,000 pupils across England have started to receive tutoring under the Government’s catch up programme (equivalent to just 1% of school pupils). Among those eligible for pupil premium, who are most likely to have struggled to learn remotely during lockdown, 41,850 are receiving tutoring – equivalent to just 2% of those eligible for pupil premium. The figures also show that just one in 8,277 pupils are being supported by an academic mentor under the scheme, with mentor support so far reaching just 23,000 children.

International

Colleagues with an eye on the international situation may wish to follow the APPG for International Students meeting next Wednesday, 12 May.

Graham Stuart MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade, and the Minister responsible for the International Education Strategy, will update the APPG on the Government’s progress

HEPI

You can read the latest HEPI blogs here, or follow the selected links below:

Student Loan Overpayments

The Guardian reports that the Student Loans Company is sitting on more than £18m in overpayments by nearly 60,000 graduates and other former students since 2015. The SLC has said it cannot make refunds without correct contact details. But the Higher Education Policy Institute says responsibility to avoid overpayment should not fall on graduates.

The short version is that SLC rely on graduates to repay by direct debit in the final stages of repayment, otherwise they overpay. Once overpaid the SLC struggle to reach the graduate to repay the sum as contact information is out of date.

Research Professional provide the in depth version:

  • Thousands of graduates are still owed millions of pounds after overpaying their student loans…Overpaying is one thing…The scandal, though, is that so much of the overpaid money has not been refunded to its rightful owner.
  • Two years ago, Research Professional News revealed the extent of the problem in England. According to data we eventually obtained on appeal after our initial freedom of information request had been rejected, more than £28 million in overpaid student loans had accumulated in government bank accounts between 2009 and 2018, unclaimed by its rightful owners.
  • Our investigation was followed by two years of reform at the SLC—including the launch of an online repayment service designed to make it easier for customers to manage their student loan and to help avoid over-repayment. So have the changes worked? The short answer is probably ‘sort of’. But there is still much to do. 
  • in the two years since our last investigation, a further £5.45m in unclaimed overpayments has amassed in government bank accounts. This is not exactly what success looks like. …What the data tell us is that the SLC has steadily improved in terms of the amount it is collecting in overpayments per person. For example, the 26,840 people who are owed a refund after overpaying in 2019-20 are due an average of £78. In contrast, the 7,650 people who have had unclaimed overpayments resting in government accounts since 2015-16 are owed an average of £671 each. The average amount owed declines each year for which we have information.
  • The unfortunate reality is that many people will never be reunited with their money. For example, two years ago, our figures showed there was £6.3m in unrefunded overpayments made in the year 2015-16. This year’s data show that £5.1m—or 81 per cent—of that money remains unclaimed. 
  • Likewise, data from two years ago showed that £5.9m of overpayments made in 2016-17 had not been refunded. That amount is now down to £4.4m—meaning that three-quarters of the money from 2016-17 that lay unclaimed in 2019 is still sitting in government bank accounts. 
  • Clearly, all of this money is not going to be returned to its owners. Because loans can take years to pay off, and the overpayments are taken at the end of the repayment process, the SLC simply does not know how to get in touch with the people owed the money. Say it takes 15 years to repay a loan. How often did you change your home address, email address and phone number in the 15 years after you graduated? Did you tell the SLC each time? 
  • A spokesman for the SLC told Playbook that improvements made in the past two years had “resulted in a 38 per cent drop in the amount over-repaid since 2018”. He added that the SLC was contacting “every customer two years prior to the end of their loan [to] urge them to switch their repayments to direct debit during this period”, which reduces the risk of overpayment.  
  • “In addition, we now automatically refund customers, and last year we automatically refunded £3.5m, but we can only do so if we hold up-to-date contact information,” the spokesman added.

Covid

The Office for National Statistics have published the latest experimental statistics from the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey which explores the pandemic impact on HE students. This data relates to the period 15 April to 22 April 2021.

  • The proportion of students who reported reducing the number of people they met with statistically significantly decreased from 94% in March 2021 to 56% in April 2021; as lockdown restrictions had been eased in England.
  • More students left their accommodation to go to the shops for something other than groceries or the pharmacy (61%), to spend time outdoors for recreational purposes or exercise (81%), to travel to different areas (34%) and to study indoors (27%) compared with previous months
  • Average life satisfaction scores among students continued to improve, increasing from 5.2 (out of 10) in March 2021 to 5.8 in April 2021; however average scores still remained statistically significantly lower than the adult population in Great Britain (6.9 out of 10).
  • The proportion of students reporting a worsening in their mental health and well-being since the start of the autumn term 2020 continued to fall, decreasing from 63% in March 2021 to just over half (53%) in April 2021.
  • The proportion of students reporting feeling lonely decreased to 22% in April 2021; however, this is still greater than the 6% of the adult population in Great Britain reporting the same over a similar period.
  • Almost half of students (48%) reported they had met up with family or friends they don’t live with indoors; this was more than double who reported the same in March 2021 (21%).
  • The proportion of students who were living at the same address as they were at the start of the autumn term 2020 increased from 76% in March 2021 to 82% in April 2021; the number of students who said they were currently living with their parents dropped between March 2021 (41%) and April 2021 (36%).

Student Complaints

The Independent Adjudicator for HE published their annual report on student complaints.

Complaint numbers and outcomes

  • Received 2,604 new complaints in 2020, 10% more than in 2019 (2,371) and their highest ever number.
  • Closed more than 75% of cases within six months of receipt.
  • In total, 25% of cases were justified (5%), partly justified (10%), or settled in favour of the student (10%). This is slightly higher than in recent years.
  • The remaining 75% of cases were either not justified (42%), not eligible (19%) or withdrawn (14%).
  • In addition to the practical remedies recommended, the OIA made Recommendations or settled cases with financial remedies totalling £742,132.
  • They also made Recommendations totalling £264,142 on complaints arising from the closure of GSM London, which are recorded separately. The highest single amount recommended was just over £30,500.

Complaints received by domicile

  • 67% were from Home students and 9% were from EU students
  • 24% were from non-EU students

Complaints received by level of study

  • 56% were from Undergraduates
  • 36% were from Postgraduates and 7% were from PhD students
  • Despite PG and PhD students making up 25% of the student population, they accounted for 43% of complaints

Nature of complaints

  • Complaints about service issues increased significantly (43% of complaints received compared with 29% in 2019) – these related to issues such as facilities, course delivery, teaching hours and research supervision, and included complaints about disruption caused by industrial action and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Received fewer complaints about academic appeals (33% compared with 48% in 2019). This is likely to be largely due to the use of “no detriment” or safety net policies during the pandemic. This category includes complaints about academic matters such

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

Mature students: Advance HE published the article What mature-age students need from online higher education it has an Australian focus so we’ve not included the statistics here but it is worth a very quick read.

EPI comparison: EPI research A comparison of school institutions and policies across the UK compares schools policies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, analysing major changes since devolution.

  • School spending per pupil is currently greatest in Scotland (£7,300), followed by England and Wales (£6,100), and Northern Ireland (£5,800) – with Scotland’s higher level driven by a recent boost to teacher pay.
  • England has the highest level of funding for disadvantaged pupils of the UK nations through its Pupil Premium policy.
  • Schools with more disadvantaged pupils in Wales are most likely to struggle with resources.
  • Pupil-teacher ratios are lowest in Scotland, at just 16 pupils to every one primary teacher, compared to 21 pupils per primary teacher in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • While in theory schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have more power to shape their own curriculum with less government involvement, in practice schools in England report the least government involvement.
  • Devolution has generated significant benefits for the UK nations – but researchers warn the continued divergence also presents challenges for comparing education systems, and could put pupils moving between countries at a disadvantage.  

Changing health: Future Health report How the healthcare sector can support the UK economic recovery has a series of recommendations on how the Government should shift the healthcare policy environment post-Covid. The recommendations have implications for R&D investment, skills and apprenticeships.

  • The Covid vaccine development and rollout is testament to the strong UK life sciences and health innovation base built up over successive Governments.
  • Recommendation 1: The Government should refresh the life sciences strategy post Covid and Brexit to set out an ambitious, co-ordinated future healthcare and life science sector strategy to attract inward investment, growth and jobs to the UK
  • Recommendation 2: The Government should explore expanding and reforming R&D tax credits to ensure that the UK remains competitive with other global markets in life sciences
  • Recommendation 3: The Government should increase the national proportions of R&D investment in centres of healthcare research excellence across the UK; seeing these centres as hubs for regional growth and playing a central role in levelling up. It should also look at incentives to attract private sector investment into the UK’s regions that supports the healthcare sector
  • Recommendation 4: Government should set ambitions within accountability frameworks for public services to demonstrate an active role in the delivery of economic growth in their areas
  • Recommendation 5: The Government should run a well-funded ‘Armed Forces style’ campaign to inform and encourage people into the full range of healthcare sector careers. The NHS should be able to hold the apprenticeship levy at a regional level to invest flexibly in apprenticeships, skills and training opportunities for healthcare sector staff
  • Recommendation 6: The Government should utilise the new ONS Health Index to set targets for delivering on its ambitions for improving healthy life expectancy
  • Recommendation 7: Central funds assigned for ‘levelling up’ should include a role for the healthcare sector and have an ambition to improve the nation’s health and reduce regional health disparities
  • Recommendation 8: Changes to Public Health England should be used to create a co-ordinated and dynamic health and wealth agenda within Government that seeks to unlock the potential of the healthcare sector to drive economic growth and reduce population health inequalities

Schools: Education Minister responds to Petitions Committee request for more information on diversity in the curriculum

Online: Times Higher has a collection on safe and ethical online teaching offers advice on responsible data handling and learning analytics as well as on ensuring respectful conduct online and providing help to students from a distance. And a contribution from BU’s Andy Phippen on why cybersecurity should be taught across universities.

Tender success: Research Professional report that the firm owned by the peer embroiled in Boris Johnson’s flat redecoration row won a Student Loans Company tender.

Civic Universities: Research Professional – how to spot a civic university.

Quack: And if you’ve had ‘one of those weeks’ here’s a story about a HE big duck.

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HE Policy Update w/e 30 April 2021

Parliament has prorogued at close of business on Thursday, returning for the State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday 11 May. Despite this it is likely the news will continue apace particularly with the post qualification admissions consultation responses coming in thick and fast. This week’s policy update has NEON’s admissions response. HEPI have a paper out on student sexual consent, and there was significant parliamentary activity in the HE sphere with oral questions, topicals and the Universities Minister in front of the Education Committee.

Government Direction for HE

Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, was questioned in the regular accountability session by the Education Committee this week. The committee examined the Government response to the Covid challenges for HE, particularly learning, job-seeking and mental health. They questioned the minister on antisemitism, race hate and Islamophobia in universities. They also heard the Government’s plans for widening the scope of HE and their programmes to tackle levelling up. A summary of Donelan’s responses, prepared by Dods, is here. The session was illuminating when reading between the lines to see which policies the Government’s ardour for has cooled, which they’re in a pickle about (but determined to continue to intervene), and which they will continue to push.

In short (topics in bold so you can pick out your interest areas):

  • Donelan refused to consider student compensation for the Covid changes to their educational experience.
  • Donelan would not state whether the Opportunity Areas would continue after 2021. However, on the contentious matter whereby some of the most deprived areas of the country were not selected as opportunity areas she responded that these areas would get investment and other initiatives dedicated to them, not just from the DfE but from other Government departments. Wonkhe say the Opportunity Areas announcement will be made between May and the summer.
  • Careers support – the DfE is preparing a package of measures (developed in conjunction with universities) for the Covid graduates facing a hostile job market.
  • Donelan also stated that employers would take into account that graduates had missed out on placements and course content when making their hiring decisions.
  • Donelan evaded a response on whether Access and Participation Plan funding should be contingent on universities offering degree apprenticeships but assured the committee that there would be more on offer across the country.
  • Sector stability – Donelan said that no institution was “imminently about to go into financial liquidation” and “not one single university” had accessed the Government’s “restructuring regime” safety net.
  • Donelan provided a woolly response on post qualification admissions: she acknowledged that there were different opinions on the efficacy of the initiative and encouraged everybody to get involved with the consultation before it closed on 13 May 2021 because the Government wanted to engage with people to make sure they got this right.
  • On free speech Dods summarise the exchange:
  • Hunt cited research by Policy Exchange that had said “almost 50 per cent of right-leaning academics in non-STEM subjects self-censored their work” because of pressure and asked what the Government meant to do to ensure these academics felt comfortable to conduct their research.
  • Donelan agreed this was a concern not just for academics but also for students and visiting speakers and said that the Government had recently published a paper on this which had proposed creating “a champion of free speech” and establishing “a statutory tort”.
  • Citing a 2018 OfS board paper that had found “no evidence of free speech being systematically suppressed” in universities, Kim Johnson suggested this creation of a free speech champion was just “an intensification of Tory culture wars”. Donelan did not agree and insisted this was a measure to encourage free speech for all students and academics.
  • Kim Johnson asked Donelan to explain why it was appropriate for someone in her position to describe “decolonising the curriculum” as “a Soviet Union-style censoring of history” and asked if she would apologise for her remarks. Donelan replied that she was happy to email Johnson the podcast of her comments and defended her position.
  • On Universities who do not wish to sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism Donelan stated the DfE would “continue to urge all universities to sign up to this” and said that the Government was looking at whether it should be “potentially mandating universities to publish incidences” to “highlight whether the definition is having an impact on the ground”. Sacking individual academics who did not conform to the definition was also discussed.
  • Wonkhe reported that Halfon (Committee Chair) discussing the University of Bristol antisemitism investigation into an academic’s comments asked Donelan: Why would you not intervene, to deal with this and tell Bristol, the Vice Chancellor that enough is enough, and that we’re not living in 1930s Germany, and that they should deal with this problem and make sure that Bristol University is not a hostile environment to Jewish students.” Wonkhe’s daily briefing also stated the heated language fuelled stories in several newspapers…The Guardiani News, the Telegraph, the Evening Standard, and the Mailreport on the call for greater consequences for universities failing to tackle antisemitism.

Wonkhe also have a good blog delving into the accountability session which is worth a read. It begins:

  • Maybe there was never a golden era of select committee scrutiny, when members had actually read up on their brief and held ministers to actual account for their promises. Either way, much of the session felt surface-level and shouty – eminently clippable for Twitter, but not actually serving the public in any meaningful way.
  • The committee never really got close to exploring some of the potentially uncomfortable contradictions inherent in the government’s free speech agenda and its views on antisemitism, but it did at least get near to a related issue – that the government is intending to legislate over free speech (where there are already specific legal and regulatory duties) but is not intending to legislate over campus racial and sexual harassment and misconduct (where there are no specific legal and regulatory duties).
  • Underpinning the whole discussion – from an antisemitism perspective, a mental health perspective and from a gender based violence perspective – is the ongoing, undefined sense that universities have a “duty” to provide a safe environment and a “duty” of care over students – without ever properly establishing those duties, or providing sanctions for those that don’t exercise them.
  • Contrast that with the agenda over freedom of speech. Both Tom Hunt and Jonathon Gullis highlighted, exaggerated and embellished some of the dodgier stats from that Policy Exchange report, with the latter demanding to know why the “woke mob” is “ruining higher education”…
  • It was left to Fleur Anderson (Lab, Putney) to gently point out some of the potential contradictions:
  • You mentioned that you would be considering or actually bringing in free speech work as to be tied to universities’ registration conditions. But before when we were talking about the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, and about sexual harassment conditions, you said you wouldn’t be bringing that in as to tie that into universities’ registration conditions, and you’d be waiting for consultations and seeing how it goes – why is it that you would bring it in for free speech, but not for those two other areas of high concern for students?”
  • Ian Mearns (Lab, Gateshead) wanted to know why there’s not been an immediate inquiry – given that in schools there is to be an urgent review of the situation:
  • Why don’t you mirror that in universities and where, in universities victims of harassment and assault often complain of being left in the dark about the outcome or the progress of university investigations and quite often feel that their disclosure has been a waste of time, traumatising, but fruitless? So is it not requiring more urgent ministerial action than a statement of expectations from the Office for students?”
  • Donelan said that UUK will be publishing a report and that she’d be meeting with OfS, which does make you think her theory of change might be faulty.

Minimum entry requirements to HE: Finally Wonkhe’s data guru, David Kernohan, provides modelling to demonstrate that there’s a clear relationship…demonstrating that a minimum entry qualification rule would disproportionately affect young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (no levelling up here!) and that we have a problem in retaining students from disadvantaged backgrounds anyway.

Research

Advanced Research and Invention Agency – here’s the latest progress on ARIA.

  • The grouped amendments to the Bill have been published.
  • The Bill has now completed the Committee stage and will be returning to the Commons for its Report stage and Third Reading. No date is currently scheduled but it will be during the new parliamentary session as Parliament will prorogue at close of play on Thursday.

Government response – Meanwhile the Commons Science and Technology Committee published the government response to their report on the proposed new high-risk, high-reward research funding agency (now known as ARIA).

Wonkhe summarise:

  • It sees further push back on the idea that ARIA should have “explicitly defined ‘missions’ or ‘challenges’ … set by central government”, confirming that the new agency will see the research focus set by programme managers rather than ministers.
  • It is revealed that these programme managers will be paid outside of usual public pay restrictions, pending approval with HMT. The response demonstrates further commitment to the wording on the face of the bill on a separation from UKRI – I went through the bill (almost) line by line at the time. The response also covers work underway to examine any “bureaucratic constraints” on UKRI.

Hancock Speech: Matt Hancock spoke at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry annual conference. He spoke of the UK becoming a life sciences superpower and stated three things the Government and, separately, industry could do to realise this ambition.

Government

  1. Examine regulation and trial design: “research and clinical research and regulation, how it’s regulated, making sure that it is dynamic, modern, fit for purpose, where we have a big role to keep constantly making sure that we regulate for science and safety, and not for bureaucracy”.
  2. Get investment right: through the likes of the Life Sciences Investment Programme
  3. Developing skills: noted the Life Sciences 2030 skills strategy

 Industry

  1. Manufacturing and the location of manufacturing: Spoke about the importance of fostering homegrown manufacturing capabilities. The Government has established a new Manufacturing Transformation Fund as an incentive; and Hancock has asked the Life Sciences Council to lead on this work.
  2. Backing genomics: The Government has asked the Medical Research Council to develop a proposal for a UK Functional Genomics Initiative, through this initiative Gov want to make the UK a world leader in new approaches to understanding how genetic changes cause disease, and through that, the validation of drugs targets, later this year they’ll be launching our genome UK Implementation Plan.
  3. Clinical research: wants to make the UK the most advanced and data-enabled clinical research environment in the world. Said he set out the next steps with a £20m investment in the new data-driven Find, Recruit, and Follow-Up service for clinical trials.

Funding Cuts – here are some excerpts from oral questions with Universities Minister Donelan which bring home the impact of the Official Development Assistance budget cuts:

  • Kirsten Oswald: The Universities of Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Coventry have all been leaders in the global challenges research fund. With the cuts to ODA, they are now having to find additional seven-figure funding to keep life-saving research going. Is this really the Tories’ fabled levelling-up agenda?
  • Michelle Donelan: The Government recognise the importance of supporting international research partnerships and the UK research sector, especially our universities. Our commitment to research and innovation was clearly demonstrated by the recent Budget announcement that we are increasing investment in research and development to £14.6 billion. International collaboration is central to a healthy and productive R&D sector and, as a result of the policies of this Government, UK scientists will have access to more public funding than ever before.
  • Stuart C. McDonald: Twelve flagship research hubs were supposed to run projects lasting five to 10 years in support of the sustainable development goals. Some of those projects are midway through clinical trials on humans but, thanks to the recent cuts, might not be able to continue, thereby jeopardising both the research and research jobs. How on earth can the Government justify funding cuts to research projects in the middle of human clinical trials, in clear violation of medical ethics?
  • Michelle Donelan: The hon. Gentleman might like to take up his question with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is ultimately responsible for research. On 1 April, BEIS set out an additional £250 million of funding for R&D—as a result of which, as I have said, UK scientists will have access to more public funding than ever before—taking the total Government investment in R&D to £14.9 billion in 2021-22, despite what the Opposition would have the public believe.
  • Alan Brown: Because of the ODA cuts, universities have reported that research contracts have been terminated, sometimes with just a few hours’ notice. This has undermined trust between researchers, universities and UK Research and Innovation, and it also means that research commissioners now require a risk assessment on the UK Government’s ability to honour contracts. Why does the Minister think it is acceptable that the UK Government’s promises mean so little that they need to be risk assessed?
  • Michelle Donelan: On the actual ODA allocations, BEIS is currently working with UKRI, all global challenge research funds and its Newton fund delivery partners to manage the financial year 2021-22, including by determining which projects will go ahead. Its delivery partners have been communicated with, and award holders will set out the next stages of the review of ODA funding next year and explore the options available for individual programmes.

Separately, Wonkhe report: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has written to Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to urge action on government funding cuts to scientific research. The committee recommends that the government ensures adequate funding for UK’s participation in Horizon Europe, maintains funding for research in developing countries, and recommits to spending £22bn on research and development by 2024-25.

Parliamentary Questions

Racial harassment

This week there was a BBC3 documentary on racism in universities with interviews with students who experienced racial incidents or harassment whilst at university.

Wonkhe tell us:

  • The programme explored the students’ experiences of making a complaint to their institution, suggesting that none had found that the process offered the redress they were hoping for.
  • David Richardson, vice chancellor of the University of East Anglia and chair of the Universities UK advisory group on tackling racial harassment, who was interviewed for the show, put the view that universities are systemically and institutionally racist, and invited Adey [the documentary journalist] to follow up in the summer of 2022 when Universities UK plans to review progress on its racial harassment work. His comments are coveredin the Guardian. The documentary received reviews from the Guardian, the Telegraph, and i News.

Also there is a Wonkhe blog from November 2020 – David Richardson explained why he believes universities are institutionally racist – and what can be done about it.

Sex and Relationships

HEPI published a new poll and a report on sex and relationships among students (shorter content here). Dods provided a summary of the report – contact us if you wish to access this. Or read on for excerpts from Research Professional’s coverage here and here:

  • Hepi surveyed just over 1,000 students, 58 per cent of whom strongly (26 per cent) or slightly (32 per cent) agreed that students should have to pass a quiz on sexual consent before beginning their studies.
  • Some 59 per cent of students asked said they were “very confident” about what constituted sexual consent, but just 30 per cent said they were confident in navigating consent issues after drinking alcohol. Only 6 per cent of students said they strongly agreed that their previous education had “prepared them for the reality of sex and relationships in higher education”.
  • The findings of the research are split into three sections: knowledge and attitudes; experiences and behaviours; and other issues.
  • It is a wide-ranging report that covers freshers’ attitudes to sex (“Only 16 per cent of students say: ‘When first going to university, I was excited about having sex’”); the challenges of higher study (40 per cent of female students “report that symptoms of their periods may have stopped them from doing their best effort in academic assignments”); and safety (36 per cent are only “fairly confident” about “who and how to contact someone” if they are concerned about an aspect of sex such as bullying, coercion or regret).
  • universities are under pressure to improve how they tackle complaints of sexual harassment…Recently, the Everyone’s Invited website, which publishes accounts of sexual harassment in education, released the names of more than 100 universitieswhere students alleged they were sexually harassed or abused.
  • On our news pages yesterday, we also carried comments from Jess Phillips, shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding. Speaking at a Westminster Higher Education Forum event earlier this week, Phillips raised concerns that institutional autonomy had left a “patchwork of provision for victims”, and that national standards and guidance were needed to tackle sexual harassment in higher education.
  • During the conference, Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, called on universities to make sure they were offering “proper support and care” to victims. She said they also needed to explore “how we actively prevent perpetration in our institutions and how we deal with perpetrators”.

The Times Higher also covers the consent test.

HEPI blog: The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report and disaggregating BAME in higher education

Admissions

report, published by the University and College Union (UCU) and National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) ,says “a move to post-qualifications applications (PQA) is essential in creating a fairer, student centred university admissions system. It also shows how the move could lower excessive workloads for school, college and university staff.”

Wonkhe: DK has taken a look on Wonk Corner.

Dods explain the thinking further: the case for PQA is presented as three-fold:

  1. Enabling widening access by removing application via predicted grades: Over 80% of these grades are incorrect leading to students being potentially ‘under-matched’ to courses they could apply to.
  2. Enhanced performance of students at Level 3: Removing unconditional offers and predicted grades will enable teachers and students to focus more clearly on Level 3 studies.
  3. Improving graduate outcomes and the student experience: Nearly half of all students who enter HE via clearing or who are from a BAME background are unhappy with their choice of course or institution. This level of dissatisfaction is unacceptable and shows that reform of how students make HE choices is required.

The student-centred PQA model describes HE admissions as a three-phase process. Drawing on the evidence regarding how young students make HE choices, admissions is defined as beginning significantly earlier than in the PQA models outlined in the government consultation document. These three phases are:

  1. Supporting choice: Year 10 to A-Level/Level 3 examination results announced
  2. Application and decision making: HE application week early August to end September
  3. Entry in HE: From the first to the final week of October when term starts for year 1 students

The student-centred model has 7 distinctive features that address the challenges associated with moving to post-qualifications applications:

  1. Strengthened information, advice and guidance (IAG) on HE
  • Fundamental to making a PQ applications model feasible is a significant strengthening in the IAG offered to learners before they apply to HE.
  • It is proposed in the report that this strengthening would have five elements:
  • an entitlement to 10 hours per year of HE IAG from year 10
    • in addition to the entitlement, a national student futures week at the end of year 12 when students would focus solely on learning about future post-compulsory education options through visits to HE, sessions with students etc
    • revising the present Gatsby Good Career Guidance benchmarks related to HE IAG
    • a national collaborative outreach project such as the Uni-Connect programme
    • a ‘study choice check’ where students undertake online course focused questionnaires to better understand course(s) they have expressed an interest in and their fit with them.
  1. Expression of interest point to engage students/HEIs pre-application
  • A strength of the current system is that students need to engage with HE choices whilst in school/college in order to apply for HE.
  • To retain this strength students would, via UCAS, ‘express interest’ in up to five courses in the January of the year of examinations. This information would be passed onto HE providers.
  • Expression of interest would meet the following challenges in a post qualifications applications system:
  • Completion of the application form accurately by students – at this point students would register with UCAS and upload personal statement, reference and background information reducing the need for support in HE application week.
  • HEIs understanding future course demand – this will give valuable information to HEIs on potential course demand which they can then use in their planning.
  • HEIs engaging with students who wish to enter their institutions – enabling greater support for potential applicants in particular those from specific groups e.g. disabled students and refugee/asylum seekers.
  • Making A Levels a less ‘high stakes’ examination – transparent use of other assessment mechanisms including references, personal statements and interviews/tests will help alleviate the focus on examinations only that may be heightened in a PQA system.
  1. Flexibility to allow interviews/auditions before application
  • Delivering interviews/undertaking auditions is seen as a major challenge in a post-qualifications applications system due to the compressed window available for this activity.
  • This report shows there are at least six options available for HEIs wishing to deliver interviews/ auditions in a post-qualifications applications system. These include:
    • delivering interviews/auditions for all students who express an interest in before examination results are announced
    • delivering interviews/auditions utilising digital technology after examination results
    • using admission tests to either replace interviews or to enable filtering of students who can then be interviewed before examination results are announced. Such additional testing is common in other countries.
  • For those institutions/courses where interviews are deemed essential, the report illustrates that it is still possible to deliver these before examination results are announced.
  • The report does discuss though the need for a more in-depth discussion regarding the role of interviews in HE admission and the extent to which they may undermine attempts to contextualise admission to high-demand courses.
  • Another option discussed for policymakers here is to reintroduce AS Levels which to allow prior potential to be gauged more accurately and hence enable filtering for high demand courses
  1. A greater focus on transparency
  • At present the HE admission system does not meet the principle of transparency which is one of the five principles from the 2005 Schwartz review of fair admissions to HE.
  • Students are not systematically informed of the relative importance placed on the different forms of assessment of their potential used by HEIs.
  • In the SC model students would be told exactly what weight is placed on references, personal statement, interviews/tests/auditions and examination grades in percentage terms by HEIs in deciding whether to offer a place to a candidate.
  1. More targeted support for widening access students in HE application week
  • The risks that additional burdens would fall upon schools/colleges to support students, in particular from widening access backgrounds, at the point of final application are real and must be addressed.
  • Improved IAG and the expression of interest point would help but greater support for students from widening access backgrounds is required.
  • This support could come via an enhanced Uni-Connect programme, personalised contact via email/letter/face-to-face and HEIs using the experience they have gained from delivering clearing to offer support during the final application and decision phase.
  1. Fewer course applications processed to improve efficiency and choice
  • In 2019 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there were:
    • 1,965,090 applications made to HE providers via the UCAS main scheme
    • 1,444,795 offers made to students
    • 428,610 acceptances.
    • Of these applicants 73.6% of students accepted the offer from their first choice provider.
  • There are over 1.5 million applications that do not lead to any productive outcome in a system where the vast majority of students enter their first choice provider.
  • For administrative efficiency and to aid students in their decision making, in the SC model the number of applications released to HEIs could be reduced to three from the five applications, with the other two only released if candidates are not placed via their first three choices. Alternatively, they could be just reduced to three.
  1. More flexibility in when the academic year begins
  • At present the timing of the academic year is not uniform. It can begin from mid-September to mid-October depending on the provider and can finish from late May to early July.
  • The timing of the academic year should remain the decision of HEIs. It is feasible though, as shown in the report, to deliver the academic year beginning with an induction week that starts in late October and finishes mid- June.
  • A late October start is therefore a possible option for HEIs to explore in a post-qualifications applications model to give greater time for HEIs to process applications and students to prepare for HE entry

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: After years of campaigning by UCU and others, we are finally on the cusp of tackling the unfairness in university admissions. But too many organisations seem wary of the bold reform that will end the use of unfair predicted grades. This report shows the blight of predicted grades must end if we are to remove the disadvantages students currently face. It also shows the impact of changes to the admissions cycle on universities and staff can be easily overcome, and highlights the benefits to both staff and students that a post-qualifications applications system will bring. The time has come for a truly student centred approach to university admissions, and we must not settle for half measures.

NEON director Graeme Atherton said: A post-qualifications applications system is a gateway reform that can assist in widening access to higher education, improving graduate outcomes and providing the impetus for a long overdue focus on the information, advice and guidance that students receive on their journey to higher education. The report outlines a roadmap to how we build this new system.

We’ll see more commenting on post qualification admissions over the next few weeks as the consultation on the topic is set to close on 13 May.

HEPI blogs:

Access & Participation

Hardship Funding: Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, has written to the OfS to provide guidance on the distribution of hardship funding. She writes that the OfS should use the existing student premium funding mechanism to distribute the funding, taking into account the following priorities:

  • That funding is targeted towards those providers who recruit and support high numbers of disadvantaged students, reflecting where this funding is needed most to enable students to continue with their courses and achieve successful outcomes.
  • That full-time and part-time students will both be at risk of experiencing hardship resulting from the pandemic, but full-time students may be particularly affected, e.g., due to changes in their location of study.

Donelan also outlines details of payment, terms and conditions, and monitoring, e.g. the funding must be fully spent this academic year.

COSMO Study: A new study to follow the outcomes – educational, career and wellbeing – for 12,000 year 11 students across England will be the largest study of its kind to find out how the pandemic has affected them.  The study, called the COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) Study, will receive £4.6 million from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It will be led by researchers from the UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities and the Sutton Trust.

The Sutton Trust has commissioned an additional sample of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who showed academic potential before the pandemic, to look in more depth at the impact on their chances for social mobility. This work will be funded by XTX Markets.

Quick News: Published a few weeks ago – a description of the constant adjustment a first in family student experiences.

Turing

On Monday oral questions covered an exchange on the Turing scheme. It shows the Government as steadfast in their decisions and unmoved by the reduction in funding available under the scheme:

  • Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): The Government have stated that they want more disadvantaged students to participate in Turing, so how does the Secretary of State assess the success of this scheme for disadvantaged students, and will he commit to an annual report to Parliament on these figures?
  • Gavin Williamson (SoS Education, Conservative): We have already seen a really high level of interest from both institutions and, most importantly, students in the new Turing scheme. They recognise that they want to seize the opportunities on a global scale as against being constrained by the European Union. That is why I have every confidence that we will have such an enormous success with the Turing scheme and it will be truly transformative to young people’s lives.
  • Matt Western (Shadow Universities Minister, Labour, Warwick and Leamington): This is a Government of illusion. The Prime Minister said that there was no risk to Erasmus, then it was gone, replaced with the Turing scheme, which Ministers said would improve opportunities. But a quick look at the scheme shows that for cost of living, Turing offers just £490 of support—£140 less than Erasmus—while for travel costs, only a fraction of students are now eligible whereas under Erasmus+ all students were eligible for up to £1,300. In tuition fees, there is no support, whereas it was guaranteed under Erasmus for free. Could the Secretary of State just be straight with students and confirm that Turing equals Erasmus minus?
  • Gavin Williamson: I am afraid the hon. Gentleman obviously is not very familiar with the scheme. Actually, there are a number of slight inaccuracies in what he stated. I would be happy to send him the details so that he can undertake some homework and understand it a little bit better in future.

Exchange: Turing+ (Erasmus): Prior to this, on Sunday, Chris Skidmore wrote for Research Professional to turn the tables and put the onus on universities to find solutions to the Erasmus demise. He writes:

  • Higher education does not have to wait for the government to step in. It should flex its autonomy by demonstrating its ability to create an exchange scheme—not in the mould of Erasmus+, but one that will allow European or international students to study for, perhaps, a term rather than a year. The creation of modular-based provision should help, although such a scheme still needs to be financed.
  • There are two options worth exploring. The first is to use the Turing scheme almost as a down payment on establishing reciprocal agreements with universities abroad that admit Turing students, so that UK universities act in return as host institutions for their students, creating, in effect, a Turing+. The second, possibly more radical, option would be to explore how an exchange scheme might be created together with industry, so that students from abroad could come to the UK to study first for a term or a fixed period before taking up a placement in a company. The company might then help fund the cost of the exchange.
  • Many details would need to be worked through and many barriers overcome to deliver this, but the idea is worth exploring. After all, how did the Erasmus scheme begin?
  • UK universities have the chance to be bold rather than wait timidly for the government to deliver. After all, what is autonomy for if not to benefit students and teachers?

Skidmore also offers to work with any university to create such a scheme, and states: I’ve already had conversations with several academics and understand that, with final Erasmus+ funding ceasing by 2022, an exchange scheme would be needed from September 2022. This gives time to begin creating a pilot scheme. After all, Erasmus started small and so could a new scheme that allows for inbound mobility. If its success is proved, and companies are able to come on board, who knows where it might lead?

International

A QS poll reported in the Guardian finds 47% of prospective international students would choose to  study in the UK because of the rate of vaccinations in the country. 17% of respondents said they thought the government was handling the rollout better than anywhere else; the UK was more popular than the US, Canada, Australia and Germany. 17% also stated the vaccine had made them bring forward their plans to study abroad, while more than half (56%) said they were focusing their search on countries in which a successful vaccine programme was being implemented. However, 45% didn’t believe the UK had handled its broader pandemic response effectively.

  • Nearly two-thirds (58%) of the students also thought the UK was becoming more welcoming to international students thanks to the reintroduction of post-study work visas, following several years of immigration policies seen as hostile to overseas students. However, European students perceived the UK to be less welcoming since they will have to pay higher international fees from September as a result of Brexit.

Wonkhe: The fourth instalment of the IDP Connect International Student Crossroads research finds that of the more than 6,000 prospective international students polled 64 per cent are prepared to comply with a requirement for a vaccine passport, but 30 per cent say they want more information before making a decision. 29 per cent would be prepared to pay the full cost of quarantine, and 43 per cent to pay some of the cost.

Research Professional have more details on the QS poll.

Universities to manage red list quarantine push: The Government avoided responding to concerns raised in oral questions over the quarantining of international students at high cost: International students are hugely important to our universities. With India added to the red list, there is real concern that the cost of hotel quarantine will be a deal breaker for some. Can the Minister tell us whether universities will be allowed to manage the quarantine system for themselves, which they are well qualified to do, and how soon could that be resolved? If not, who or what is the obstacle? Instead Donelan stated that international students are eligible for hardship funding.

Following this the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary University Group, Daniel Zeichner has written to Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, on government plans to allow individual universities that have the capacity and capability to manage the mandatory quarantine of international students arriving from red list countries to do so, and whether this has been discussed with colleagues in the Department for Health and Social Care. Wonkhe summarise:  Zeichner expresses concerns that requiring these students to self-isolate in hotels will reduce capacity in the wider quarantine system and affect the student experience of students arriving in the UK, who might be better served self-isolating in university owned accommodation.

Wonkhe summarise: i News says that universities in Scotland are in talks to pilot a hotel quarantine scheme to allow international students from red list countries to self-isolate upon their arrival to the UK while also reporting that many students from India are cancelling their flights to the UK due to the cost of hotel quarantine.

Also a parliamentary question asks what plans the Government has to support international students enrolling onto HE courses at the start of the 2021-22 academic year within the covid-international travel framework.

Another question asks whether Red list incoming international students can quarantine in their university accommodation. The Government have issued a holding response stating it isn’t possible to answer this within the allotted timescale. The final answer will pop up on the same link once it is released.

China: Wonkhe: The think tank Civitas has published a report on the relationship between the UK and China and the challenges posed by China’s growing centrality in world affairs. Noting the economic reliance of the UK and others on Chinese exports across a range of industries, the report points out China’s aspiration to remodel its economy around major high tech industries. The report cites concerns that the Chinese state engages in intellectual property theft and warns that UK universities may be producing research that is of use to Chinese military. Recommendations include that the UK makes science and technology a core policy priority, screening of Chinese foreign investment, and more robust protections against research abuses and intellectual property theft

 Quick News

Covid

The Government have released new HE provider data on coronavirus reporting for the Autumn and Spring 2020/21 academic terms. There were a total of 75,546 confirmed coronavirus cases from 1 August 2020 to 7 April 2021 (estimate: autumn = 59,596 cases; spring = 16,950)

  • Of the total 67,571 were confirmed student cases (estimate: autumn = 55, 291; spring = 12,352)
  • 8,975 confirmed staff cases (estimate: autumn = 4,377; spring = 4,598)
  • In the week to 13 January, there were 2,854 confirmed student cases and 1,227 confirmed staff cases.
  • In the week to 7 April, there were 71 confirmed student and 21 confirmed staff cases, representing falls of 98% for both staff and students compared to the week to 13 January.

Questions

A parliamentary question confirmed that students planning to study abroad in 2021-22 will not be prioritised for the vaccine and will have to wait for their age group to be vaccinated. This week’s topical questions tentatively touched on whether students are wise to expect to be resident at universities from the new academic year starting in September:

  • Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con): Although I do not have a university in my constituency, I do have many young people who travel to universities up and down the country. They are concerned—financial concerns, accommodation, freshers’ and concerns—about going back to university in September and October. What are the Government doing to ensure that there is a smooth return for those who have already attended and a welcome for those who are new to university?
  • Gavin Williamson (SoS Education, Conservative): I think we are all very much looking forward to welcoming all university students back, and we very much expect to be seeing that as part of the next step. I would like to thank universities for the work they have been doing to ensure that universities are covid-secure, including extensive testing of students in universities and the greater availability of the home testing kits that we have been able to deliver on. We will continue to work with Universities UK, the Russell Group and the whole sector to ensure that students are able to return to university safely at the earliest possible moment and that we are able to welcome a new cohort of students in September.

Empathy: Wonkhe: Ben Vulliamy interrogates social media commentary on the student experience during the pandemic and concludes we should try to understand, rather than just react.

AI in Education

Jisc published AI in tertiary education – A summary of the current state of play. The report aims to summarise the types of AI applications that are available in education today and provides impact case studies. It also considers legal and ethical issues and briefly speculates on what AI applications might be available in the near future. Press release here.

The National Centre for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Tertiary Education also launched this week. It seeks to embed immersive technologies in university and college education. The initiative – which has been welcomed by global technology companies including Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft – is led by Jisc and supported by innovation-focused universities and colleges throughout the UK. It will initially be staffed by a dedicated team of seven AI experts, plus consultants and partners from industry and education.  The National Centre aims to deliver AI solutions at 60 colleges and 30 universities within five years, (supporting the Government’s AI strategy) as announced by Digital Secretary, Oliver Dowden, in March.

Jisc’s Director of Edtech, Andy McGregor, says: Universities and colleges are at a critical juncture. COVID showed the possibilities technology offers in delivering courses remotely. AI offers the chance to help every student reach their highest potential by offering highly personalised education. However, this will only work if AI is used to augment the important role teachers play in education, and if ethics are at the forefront of implementing AI tools.

Parliamentary Questions

  • Quality: What steps the Office for Students (OfS) has taken since the Secretary of State for Education wrote stating that the OfS should not hesitate to use the full range of its powers and sanctions where quality of provision is not high enough”.
  • Nursing: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what support is planned to provide to universities to meet the additional (a) educational workforce and (b) physical capacity requirements that will result from the increased number of students embarking on nursing degrees in the 2021-22 academic year. Donelan responded that they proposed to reform the Strategic Priorities Grant for 2021/22 to ensure that more of taxpayers’ money is spent on supporting higher education provision which aligns with national priorities. This includes the reprioritisation of funding towards the provision of high-cost subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy (which includes nursing), high-cost STEM subjects, and subjects meeting specific labour market needs. Specifically on capital funding, we want to be assured that capital funding is adding real value and that investment is focused on key government priorities, such as nursing, and supports provision with excellent student outcomes. In 2021/22, this funding will be allocated through a bidding process that will target specific high-impact projects and activities that offer better value for money for students and taxpayers

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

Field studies: The QAA has published updated guidance on the ongoing implications of the pandemic for placements and practice-based courses to include field work.

G7: the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and European Union have agreed to the G7 Digital and Technology Ministerial Declaration and Annexes which set out the G7’s commitment to working together across: Internet Safety; Data Free Flow with Trust; Electronic Transferable Records; Digital Technical Standards; Digital Competition and critical digital, telecoms, and ICT supply chains.

Knowledge Exchange: Evaluating academic engagement with UK legislatures was a recent event offered as part of the universities policy engagement network. You can read the report here.

Essay Mills: A slightly shocking Wonkhe blog – Essay corruption on an industrial scale – about the 1000 essay mills that are available to students!

Graduate prospects: Wonkhe –  The Institute of Student Employers has declared that graduate recruitment is bouncing back, as it released the results of a survey of graduate employers, which found that the majority of top recruiters have either stabilised or increased their recruitment in 2021. Of the 135 employers surveyed, 48 per cent are recruiting at the level as last year, while 36 per cent have increased their hiring.  Research Professional tell us: There is, however, “considerable shrinkage” at retail and consumer goods employers, with 38 per cent cutting graduate recruitment in the aftermath of a year of on-and-off lockdowns.

Mental Health: Advance HE has been commissioned by Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, to design an impact evaluation framework for the new University Mental Health Charter Programme.

  • The Charter framework was created with thousands of staff and students to support universities across the UK to adopt a whole-university approach to mental health and wellbeing. The Charter Programme brings together universities committed to university mental health to share practice and create cultural change.
  • Advance HE’s impact evaluation seeks to capture and review the perceived outcomes, process and experience of participating in an intervention encouraging settings-based approaches to improving mental health and wellbeing. The framework will detail an overarching strategy for assessing the long-term impact of the Charter, and will translate the impact at individual universities into an index of impact at programme level.
  • In addition to the impact evaluation framework, Advance HE is conducting a baseline assessment of those interested in participating in the Charter programme and Award, to understand their views and perceptions of the Charter, and to identify within areas such as university culture, policies, process and practice where change is likely to happen.

Prosperity Plan: The Covid Recovery Commission, which consists of the UK’s leading business figures, has published the report –  ‘Ambition 2030: A Partnership for Growth’ – which sets out a blueprint for a National Prosperity Plan. The Plan is designed to help create globally competitive industries in every part of the UK, deliver on the government’s net zero commitments and reduce the economic and social inequalities that have been widened as a result of the pandemic. Key to the Prosperity Plan is the creation of a National Prosperity Scorecard. This would set specific metrics against the Government’s ‘levelling up’ plans to assess and track progress on a key set of social as well as economic indicators including employment and benefit dependency rates as well as health and educational outcomes. Local leaders would also be tasked with developing their own Local Prosperity Plans to help drive growth in every part of the UK

Influencing Policy: A great blog on why influencing policy means a different way of working to academia.

Civic Universities: Colleagues can access this (free) conference by the Civic University Network on 18-20 May.

HEPI also have their usual prolific offering of blogs. Including:

Queen’s Awards: The winners of the Queen’s awards for Enterprise have been announced. These are businesses, not universities, but interesting due to the categories of:

  • innovation
  • international trade
  • sustainable development, and
  • promoting opportunity (through social mobility).

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

 

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

Welcome to your catch-up edition of the policy update. We bring you all the news from last week and from this week so far – it’s doom and gloom for research funding.

Parliament rises for Easter recess on 25 March so the Policy Update will be back to its regular slot from w/c 19 April. If there are major HE happenings during recess we’ll bring you a short Easter special!

Research

There’s been a lot of research news in the last ten days. The biggest announcements follow.

FUNDING

The House of Commons Library have a useful research briefing: The future of research and development funding; the webpage also summarises the recent Government funding commitments and announcements made in relation to research funding.

Aid funded projects: Previously 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) exacerbated by a fall in GNI as a result of the pandemic). UKRI wrote to universities with further details about the impact of its £120m budget shortfall. The letter appears to confirm that grants which have been awarded but not started will be cancelled.

Dods report: Christopher Smith, UKRI’s international champion, wrote that the funder will work with the institutions “to maximise the benefits from the limited funding we have available” but that it is “unavoidable that some grants will need to be terminated”. He also said that by reprofiling and reducing grants, UKRI would look for ongoing longer-term awards to remain active. But the situation looks bleak for a many grant holders. “It is our current assessment that we would be unable to provide funding for the majority of awards beyond the amount currently agreed up to 31 July 2021,” Smith wrote, adding that UKRI “will not be liable for the cost of new activities entered into after receipt of this letter”. “The reduction in Official Development Assistance spend also means that we are unable to initiate any new awards where proposals have been submitted but have not reached the grant award stage,” Smith added.

Even the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which provides ODA funding for UKRI, had its allocation halved by the foreign secretary Dominic Raab, from £1.4bn in 2020-21 to £706m for 2021-22. UKRI’s allocation has been almost halved to £125m for the upcoming financial year, despite Raab saying R&D funding is ringfenced. The cuts will also affect large numbers of researchers and project staff overseas who collaborate with UK institutions on ODA-funded projects.

The full UKRI ODA letter is here.

Research Professional report that 10 more UK R&D funders will also see their aid budgets slashed, including:

  • Royal Society
  • Academy of Medical Sciences
  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • British Academy
  • British Council
  • UK Space Agency
  • Met Office

QR funding: 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.

Funding cuts overall:  Greg Clark, ex-BEIS Secretary of State and the current Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Chair, has written to the PM expressing his concern over the funding cuts to scientific research. He states that it is deeply concerning that at the very moment when the whole country recognises the importance of scientific research and when a Government has been elected with a promise to double the budget for research, that the science budget should be facing immediate and substantial cuts involving the cancellation of current research.

He states that leading scientists have expressed alarm at the consequences of:

  • The suggestion that Horizon Europe (£2 billion per year) will be funded from the BEIS science budget instead of additional to the budget as it was whilst the UK was a member of the EU. He highlights it would reduce the UKRI budget to a quarter which would reverse two years of intended increases and mean that the ambition for Britain to be a Science Superpower would be deferred for much of this Parliament
  • The reduction of the ODA budget and that this would have whole-system impacts in the UK and overseas
  • The lack of support for medical research charities suffering fundraising income falls of 41% as a result of the pandemic (other non-research frontline charities have received Government support). He states: It is clearly of huge public importance that medical research that can save millions of lives should not have to be cancelled. The Association of Medical Research Charities proposed a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund to use the Government’s existing commitments to increase science funding to allow these research programmes to continue, but the Government has not yet taken this or something similar forward.

He concludes: In the midst of a global pandemic, where we owe so much to science, and at a time when the Government has rightly chosen to double our national commitment to science, it would be paradoxical if science funding were cut. Knowing how personally important the UK’s strength in science is to you and to the Government, and at this moment of maximum recognition of its impact, I would appreciate your personal attention to resolving this urgent situation.

2.4% GDP research funding target will be missed: Dods: The UK is likely to miss its target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027, analysts have warned, as funding cuts cast doubt on a key pillar of the government’s strategy to rebuild the post-pandemic economy.  A new study published today, accompanied by a blog from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) has shown that governments consistently fail to hit R&D targets linked to GDP and suggested economic uncertainty and progress so far showed the UK was on course to do the same.

BEIS Oral Questions – a non-update on research funding but telling in its own manner. At Oral Questions both Carol Monaghan (SNP Spokesperson for Education) and Chi Onwurah (Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Digital) asked when the UKRI budget would be confirmed, and if funding for association with Horizon Europe would come out of this budget, or a separate pot. Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway, stated that details would be announced “in due course”.

Research Bureaucracy

The Government launched a new independent review into UK research bureaucracy aiming to identify new ways to free up researchers to pursue world-class research by removing unnecessary red tape that wastes the time of UK researchers. It will look to identify practical solutions to bureaucratic issues faced by researcher such as overly complicated grant forms that quire in-depth factual knowledge, a lack of clarity over funding available to researchers, and having to provide the same data multiple time in different formats to different funders. The review will be led by Professor Adam Tickell, VC at University of Sussex. The system-wide review will conclude by early 2022, with interim findings due to be published in autumn 2021. It will involve broad engagement with the whole UK research community, with a particular focus being placed on research undertaken in higher education institutions. Tickell has stated that he is open minded about the outcomes of the review but he does not expect it to result in the abolition of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). We anticipate a call for evidence will be issued as part of the review process. Here are the review’s terms of reference.

Research Professional dive in with their usual welcome irreverent analysis and unpicking of the review details in greater depth here. Their piece begins: Sophocles’s tragedy of Oedipus is the story of a man who sets out to discover who committed the terrible crime that has brought misery to his city, only to find that he was the perpetrator of the deed. The Westminster government has announced a review of university research bureaucracy—could it be about to discover that excess bureaucracy might have something to do with the party that has been in government for the past 10 years? Read on here.

Amanda Solloway, Science & Research Minister, said: As we build back better by unleashing innovation, it’s crucial that we create a research environment that harnesses this same scientific speed and endeavour. This review will identify how we can free up our brightest minds from unnecessary red tape so they can continue making cutting edge discoveries, while cementing UK’s status as a science superpower. The Minister’s words are interesting as they sound more suited to the ARIA announcements.

Ottoline Leyser, CEO of UKRI, commented with warm words too: UKRI welcomes this independent and system-wide review to enable a reduction in unnecessary research bureaucracy, wherever it is found. The goal is to free up time for researchers and innovators to devote to their many vital roles at work and outside it. We are already making strides within our Simpler and Better Funding programme, which aims to make the funding process as user-friendly as possible for applicants, peer reviewers and awardees, as well as those who work with them. We look forward to supporting BEIS in delivering this review and working with them to create a research and innovation system that delivers for everyone.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of UUK: We very much welcome the opportunity to challenge the parts of the research system which can restrict university staff and students from delivering impactful research.

ARIA: The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published the rationale and intended purpose for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) outlining its design principles and financial backing. The new funding agency aims to cement the UK’s position as a science superpower. The full report is available here. The ARIA bill will travel through 3 more hurdles of parliamentary detail before you read this update (there’s even a Library paper summarising the Bill). And the Government means to see this one through as they have even tabled a carry-over motion which would allow the Bill to be carried over to the next parliamentary session if not completed in this session (Parliament is due to be prorogued due to the local elections). So far ARIA has received its second reading and will now be scrutinised line by line at a Public Bill Committee. A shorter summary can be read here.  The Committee will report by 27 April 2021. The Government have not announced where the new agency will be located.

Well worth a read is Wonkhe’s reading-between-the-lines content analysis on what was said during Dominic Cumming’s appearance before the select committee during their examination of ARIA last week. And former science and universities minister Chris Skidmore writes in ConservativeHome advocating for the high-risk-high-reward ARIA model and stating that the shift in the UK’s research model is overdue. He says that projects will undoubtedly fail and there will be accusations of money being wasted, but that these are crucial for the UK’s advancement toward being a science superpower

It is clear that MPs from both sides are broadly supportive of ARIA but questioning where the cost (cuts) will come from to fund the new agency. Research Professional have succinct pithy coverage of this, excerpts: Ed Miliband (Shadow Business Secretary): “[Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to the prime minister] was also at the select committee meeting…saying that Aria would solve the problems of civilisation. That is all very well, but I fear that these cuts seem to be coming right here, right now; and we cannot launch a successful moonshot if we cut off the power supply to the space station.” And: “We support Aria but it deserves clarity. These are people’s jobs. This is incredibly important work and I hope he is fighting with his friends in the Treasury as hard as he can to give people that clarity and avoid the cuts.”

Clinical research: Matt Hancock announced the Government’s vision for the future of clinical research delivery. The NHS will be encouraged to put delivery of research at the heart of everything they do, making it an essential and rewarding part of effective patient care. This means building a culture across the NHS and all health and care settings that is positive about research, where all staff feel empowered and supported to take part in clinical research delivery as part of their job.

More detail here.

Mobility

Welsh Erasmus: The Welsh Government has announced plans for their own new scheme to replace Erasmus+. The new International Learning Exchange will start next year and aims to enable 15,000 participants from Wales to go overseas over the first four years, with 10,000 reciprocal participants coming to study or work in Wales. The Welsh Government is backing the scheme with a £65 million investment starting in academic year 2022/23 with commitment to 2027. The scheme will be developed by Cardiff University in collaboration with education and youth sector partners ahead of its launch. The Welsh programme is intended to:

  • Enable reciprocal exchanges (whether based on physical mobility or co-operation remotely) between educational and training institutions as well as youth work settings in Wales and internationally
  • Support, as far as possible, the entire range of activities which have been available to learners in Wales under the EU’s Erasmus+ programme 2014 – 2020
  • Build on the success of Global Wales in developing links with priority countries across the world, including the US, Vietnam and India, and supporting an ambitious range of scholarships that will attract the best and brightest students from across the world to study in Wales;
  • Ensure that opportunities are available to the widest range of learners and young people, including underrepresented groups, those with additional learning needs and protected characteristics
  • Include additional flexibilities, notably allowing for shorter exchanges involving higher education and support the capacity building necessary to facilitate a wide range of participation.
  • Potentially, it will also support exploratory exchanges to broker international research partnerships
  • Align closely with the Welsh International Strategy

The full written statement from the Welsh Government is here.

So while Welsh institutions will be able to participate in the Turing Scheme in 2021-22, they will also continue to benefit from Erasmus+ exchanges deferred from last year due to the pandemic and the new scheme. The Welsh Government said its scheme would fill the gaps Turing leaves. There is a comparison of the schemes on Twitter which makes the similarities and contrasts stark. Of course Scotland has been particularly vocal in their consternation of the Turing scheme and has been campaigning to rejoin the EU Erasmus+ programme. However, the EU appear to have turned Scotland’s hopes away  with Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen stating that as a “constituent nation” of the UK, Scotland could not associate independently with the scheme.

The BBC, the Guardian and the Independent cover the Welsh scheme, and Wonkhe have a blog –  replacement for Erasmus puts Welsh higher education firmly on the map.

Turing Troubles

The Friday before last the window for institutions to apply for funding for 2021/22 through the Turing scheme opened up. The programme guide is here. Grumbles abound for the financial (lack) of coverage for the scheme – see the Independent, and the latest programme guidance from the Government notes that there may be less financial support overall through Turing than there was through Erasmus.

Meanwhile last week English universities floundered at the complexities involved in drawing down the Turing funding within the very short window of opportunity – this Research Professional article highlights the difficulties:

  • [After the release of information and webinars]…leaving just 16 days to complete the form, including one weekend and the Easter holidays—it’s actually nine working days, including the day of submission.
  • Only one submission can be made per institution. The application form requires some poor soul to list every single student exchange activity across every discipline in their university for the next 12 months. So, for example, if one student in geography is heading out to Prague in October, that has to be logged alongside the cohort of 40 engineers heading to Toulouse in December. It all has to be based upon projections—including coming up with a number for how many disadvantaged students will be involved—and will be subject to revision during reporting of how many of those engineering students actually made it on to the plane.
  • It would be fair to say that there were more questions than answers at the webinars. As one clearly frustrated participant posted in the Teams chat: “The whole application seems like an enormous amount of work. The word count for the first section is 8,500 words, plus 500 words for every month students start, plus a breakdown by country. This was advertised as less administratively burdensome than Erasmus, but that doesn’t seem to have been the outcome.”
  • … Apart from the obvious weakness in the scheme—it does not have much of the functionality of Erasmus and will fund fewer people—the rollout of the scheme is proving to be both a rushed job and a burden for universities.
  • That is not unexpected. It is an obvious outcome of trying to replace a genuinely ‘world-class’ international exchange scheme with a cut-price domestic alternative in three months

Turing is not the popular replacement scheme the Government intended.

Parliamentary News

New Shadow Universities Minister: Research Professional (RP) have interviewed new shadow universities minister Matt Western. Confirming the job offer was a surprise and acknowledging his lack of professional HE prior focus. However, RP state they see evidence of passion from the shadow universities minister. Read the interview in more depth here. Some excerpts:

  • “I have a real concern about where this government wants to take the higher education sector,” he says. “The question is: What is their ideology? What is the belief about the value of higher education?
  • He questions the recent research cuts – I’m extremely worried about it, because we have a sector which is not just regarded globally as excellent but which actually has huge scientific research, cultural and social value—and which makes a massive contribution to us as a nation. In all those senses, it’s something we should be building on, not cutting,” he says. And goes on to confirm support for ARIA but fears a zero sum game: “The government wants to put money into the Aria scheme, which I’m not against—actually, I’m positive about the Aria scheme—but my concern is that this is going to be a substitutional [investment] and the money is going to be found from elsewhere.”
  • He criticises the Government’s obsession with free speech on campus as poor prioritisation: “This is a government that seems to be unable to get its priorities right, other than making attacks on ideology,” Western says. “[Williamson] is a secretary of state in a government that has no appreciation of the value of our universities and has decided to go on the attack in some sort of culture war.”

The article states Western is cognizant of student concerns (Warwick University and many students reside within his constituency) and he wrote to private landlords to urge leniency in rent rebates (to no effect), is a supporter of the blended learning approach universities have provided throughout the pandemic, worries for student mental health and believes more hardship funding should be provided by the Government. He confirms Labour’s manifesto position to abolish tuition fees.

On Turing: “The Turing scheme sounds…like not even a half-baked idea at the moment,” he says. “The amount of coordination and work that needs to go in to deliver it…It is almost as if the government has deliberately designed it so that they’ll get very few people taking up the scheme.” And on Turing’s short deadlines: “How on earth you’re supposed to turn that round in [such a short time], goodness only knows,” Western says. “Just the administration and bureaucracy of it will, I think, impact very negatively and you could see very few people taking it up as a result—and I think that is shocking.”

Adult Skills & Learning Response: The Education Committee  published the Government response to its report on adult skills and lifelong learning (A plan for an adult skills and lifelong learning revolution).  The Committee called for an ambitious and long-term strategy and identified four key pillars to revolutionise the adult education system. In short, the Government response mainly defers to the Skills for Jobs White Paper, and Lifetime Skills Guarantee. Big recommendations, such as retaining the Union Learning Fund, or removing restrictions on ELQ funding were a ‘no’.

Augar: Research Professional:

  • The government has published letters exchanged late last year between the Council for Science and Technology and prime minister Boris Johnson on implementing the 2019 review of post-18 education and funding.
  • The letter from the council, signed by its co-chairs Patrick Vallance and Nancy Rothwell, declines to comment on the funding aspect of the review but notes that any reduction in funding would “seriously damage the government’s important goals in research and development” and warns against “unintended consequences”.
  • It suggests the government should focus on building incentives that support greater diversity and coherence in the education system. “The government should aim for complementarity and mobility between the further and higher education sectors,” it says, with “well-aligned pathways” that are easy for students to navigate and employers to understand.
  • Johnson responds by saying the government wants higher education to “focus relentlessly on outcomes for the individual, on skills for the nation and on rigorous academic standards”.

Admissions

The OfS have published stern words on admissions and confirmed that unconditional offers are still banned:

  • We expect universities and colleges to do their part to admit and support the most disadvantaged students by continuing to meet commitments in their access and participation plans. In some cases, this will mean looking beyond grades to identify potential by understanding the context in which those grades have been achieved.
  • All prospective students should be able to make decisions that are right for them. Last year we banned ‘conditional unconditional’ offers – offers which only become unconditional once an applicant accepts them as their firm choice instead of offers from other institutions. This was to ensure that students were not being put under unfair pressure to accept offers which may not be in their best interests. Universities have started making offers to students who will start courses in the autumn and this ban remains in place for this year’s admissions cycle.
  • We have already seen potential evidence that some universities and colleges may not be complying. For example, cases have been drawn to our attention where large numbers of unconditional offers are being made or where offers are based solely on predicted grades – rather than the grades students go on to achieve. We will be investigating these instances further and have powers to impose fines where our rules have been breached. I welcome the update Universities UK has made to their agreement on fair admissionspractices which will help guide universities and colleges in this admissions cycle.
  • Most importantly, it is vital that students starting this autumn do not face further disappointment because the quality of their course is reduced by over-recruitment and poor organisation. Universities and colleges need to plan wisely to ensure that all students have a high-quality experience. The Office for Students (OfS) will also use its powers to step in where this is not the case.
  • The burgeoning demand for higher education is a vote of confidence from students in the potentially life-changing benefits that – at their best – universities and colleges can provide. Universities and colleges must not abuse this trust by sacrificing quality for inflated intakes. 

There is a trap in here for universities, not linked to unconditional offers but more generally.  We mustn’t be “swamped” at the cost of quality, but we must also make sure that we admit high potential disadvantaged students who might not get the grades.  In other words, if the Government’s policy on exams this year again results in disadvantaged students getting lower grades and privileged ones getting higher grades, it will be the sector’s fault if we don’t somehow stop that playing out in university admissions.

Wonkhe writes:

  • Office for Students (OfS) chief executive Nicola Dandridge has written to inform the sector that the regulator still keeps a gimlet eye on admissions practice. There have been reports of an increase in unconditional offers made to avoid the coming examnishambles 2.0, and some naughty providers are making offers based on barely moderated teacher-generated predicted grades available in January rather than unmoderated teacher-generated actual grades available in June. You may well laugh, but OfS can and will intervene. Jim Dickinson got into the detailon Wonk Corner.
  • The forced removal of the all-important final level 3 exams would, in a normal world, have prompted serious questions about the seemingly inevitable march of post-qualification admissions of some sort. Deciding to put all of our admissions eggs in a single basket is a curious choice in a year when the basket is on fire. Last week also saw an important intervention from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), in the form of a collection of essays that cast doubt on the simplistic idea that post-qualification admissions would solve equality problems. And, in the OfS board papers, we learned that the OfS consultation on admissions could yet be reanimated.

You can read the HEPI essays here.

Research Professional expand on the OfS Board papers element: board papers from the Office for Students have revealed that 67 institutions asked for extra cash to help them cope with an increase in student numbers following the exam results chaos last summer. Wonkhe have a helpful short dissection of the recent board papers here.

More generally on admissions Research Professional also have a blog from a vice-chancellor which argues that shifting university admissions to be based on actual rather than predicted grades is likely to be impossible in the window between A-level results day and the start of term. He states A-levels  “simply don’t work” as a university entrance system—should be replaced with an SAT-style system, involving studying more subjects and being assessed at more points throughout the course than with A-levels. This would give students more time for learning and offer greater breadth and depth than A-levels. What is needed is a bolder approach which would transform learning, assessment and university admissions.

In the meantime, UCAS have published a report on the latest admissions cycle “Where next?  What influences the choices schools leavers make?”.  The executive summary sets out some conclusions:

  • The age at which students start thinking about HE varies: One in three applicants report first thinking about HE at primary school. Disadvantaged students are more likely to consider HE later, which can limit their choices, especially for more selective subjects and higher tariff providers. This suggests that careers information, advice and guidance (CIAG) should be embedded within primary education.
  • Students choose their degree subject before they think about the university or college they want to attend: 83% of students told us they decided on their degree subject before their university or college. This highlights the role of subject-specific outreach.
  • Decisions are most influenced by enjoyment, but employability is increasingly important post-COVID: 99% of students report making choices at school based on their enjoyment of a subject, and this is also the primary driver of degree choice. Over 50% report that high graduate employment rates have become more important to them since the start of the pandemic. Understanding what is important to individuals will help improve support for their decision-making.
  • Some HE subjects require more forethought than others: One in five students report they could not study an HE subject that interested them because they did not have the relevant subjects for entry – with medicine the most commonly cited. Students should be made aware of how choices made in school can affect later options.
  • Post-16 choices strongly influence students’ futures: 49% of English 18 year olds with post-16 vocational qualifications enter HE, but are significantly less likely to attend higher tariff providers than those with general qualifications (entry rate of 3% vs. 27%). As the roll-out of T Levels accelerates, it is vital that students know where all pathways lead when making choices in school.
  • There is a need for earlier, broader, and personalised careers information, advice and guidance (CIAG): Two in five students believe more information and advice would have led to them making better choices, and almost one in three students report not receiving any information about apprenticeships from their school.

There is a set of recommendations too.

2022 Exams: In Wales, changes will be made to how A-levels, AS and GCSEs are assessed next year, but Qualifications Wales say they hope exams can go ahead in summer 2022.

Access & Participation

Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission published a guide for disabled students on applying for postgraduate courses in the UK. The guidance covers decisions over where to study, how to pre-empt barriers students may face in applying, and provides information on available funding to ease transition into postgraduate study. For successful applicants, there is also guidance on providing information on a students’ condition, help for assessments, and advice on maintaining good mental wellbeing.

Wonkhe also talk technology in outreach: …the impact of widening participation initiatives driven by the use of technology. An attempt to support local schools around Lancaster by providing laptops and internet connectivity only started to bear fruit after schools began to provide wrap-around support services including technical support. Before this, school participation rates – as monitored by the University of Lancaster – stayed at the same rate, and only a quarter of mobile internet connections were set up.

Nik Marsdin at Lancaster and Alex Blower at Portsmouth conclude that moving outreach work to online workshops failed to take into account the disparity in digital participation. They found that work based on an understanding of community needs should support student ambassadors to provide support to help young people get online, and partnership working with other organisations can help to offer wrap-around support. Their blog: technology is not a simple fix for complex societal needs, and does not benefit participation by itself.

Mental Health

UUK describe how university mental health services are plugging the gaps that the NHS doesn’t address. Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

  • Universities have worked extremely hard to transform support services to meet the challenges of the pandemic, moving counselling and advice online, building digital communities and developing new services to meet new needs. However we are continuing to see significant increases in demand for university-funded support services, which were already plugging the gaps resulting from the lack of NHS resources and funding.
  • The differing level of mental health support for students depending on their location remains a concern. We need a substantive focus on students’ mental health and wellbeing from the government, alongside student-facing NHS services to match the commitment made in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Prevent

The Government have published the new Terms of Reference for the Independent Review of Prevent.

William Shawcross, Independent Reviewer of Prevent, said:

  • These Terms of Reference will enable me to lead a collaborative and evidence-based examination of the Prevent programme to help ensure we have a robust and effective strategy to protect vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism. I am grateful to those who commented on the previous terms of reference. Those views are reflected in these new Terms of Reference.
  • I want to find out whether there are any parts of the Prevent strategy that need particular focus or change, and I want to ensure this Review is both broad and non-partisan and engages a wide range of opinion. I look forward to assessing how Prevent works, what impact it has, and what can be done better – or differently – to safeguard individuals from all forms of terrorist influence. I look forward to hearing from many voices, particularly those who have had experience of Prevent in practice.

There is opportunity for colleagues working in this area to comment on the review.

Industrial Strategy

While the current Government are stepping away from the Industrial Strategy developed under Theresa May’s premiership it still remains influential among some parliamentarians.

Immigration

The Home Office published their New Plan for Immigration and invited views on their proposals through a consultation. The proposals include the asylum system, modern slavery, and addressing the criminal networks behind people smuggling. Dods have a short summary including Priti Patel’s introductory statement in the Commons.

Transnational Education

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) have published the new handbook for the enhancement of the quality of UK transnational education (TNE).

QAA also confirmed that the three countries participating in the QE-TNE programme for the 2021/22 academic year will be the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Germany. These countries were selected based on criteria stipulated in the new handbook including factors such as the existing strong links they have with UK universities, as well as the size or growth of their higher education systems.

Fundamental to the new method is collaboration between QAA and local HE bodies. The approach to the quality evaluation and enhancement of UK TNE provision outlined in the handbook applies to all degree-awarding bodies across the UK on a voluntary basis and operates over the academic years 2021/22 to 2025/26.

The method maintains a UK-wide approach to the quality enhancement of TNE and supports the UK Government’s International Education Strategy, which seeks to grow the opportunity and support available to UK TNE as a key UK export.

Cyber Security Workforce

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published Understanding the Cyber Security Recruitment Pool research report, which quantifies and explores the supply of cyber skills in the UK. It covers:

  • The size and geographic location of the recruitment pool
  • The types of skills and experience that are prevalent in the pool
  • Recommendations on how employers can effectively recruit from the pool

DCMS also published Cyber Security Skills in the UK Labour Market 2021. The report explores the nature and extent of cyber security skills gaps (people lacking appropriate skills), skills shortages (a lack of people available to work in cyber security job roles) and job vacancies in the UK.

You can read a summary of the key findings and recommendations for both reports here.

Parliamentary Questions

Many of the parliamentary questions over the last two weeks repeat the same themes we’ve brought you recently with no new answers. Here are those we promised you answers on previously:

Academic Engagement in Policy

The International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO) is advertising for topic specialists for their new social impact observatory. They hope to develop a network of topic specialists who can advise on, review and author IPPO’s various content streams – ranging from blogs and ‘rapid answers’ to in-depth evidence briefs and systematic reviews. If you wish to join the IPPO topic specialist network, or sign up for its newsletter and other communications, colleagues should fill in this very short survey  by 30 April.

The IPPO is a collaboration of UK academic institutions and other global networks, established to help policymakers throughout the UK address the social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other Opportunities

  • International Conference on Science Advice to Governments (30 Aug – 2 September). Register for this virtual and free event here.
  • BEIS Consultation survey– Get your voice heard on energy policy – BEIS are keen to understand how to more effectively engage experts and stakeholders in policy making process.
  • 27 April – Universities Policy Engagement Event: Academic engagement with UK Legislatures – register here. The event will be based on a report by Dr Marc Geddes and Dr Danielle Beswick on Evaluating Academic Engagement with UK legislatures, and supported by the University of Edinburgh.
  • The latest select committee inquiries are here. Colleagues are asked to engage with the policy team when preparing their response to a select committee inquiry.

Blog: The hard labour of connecting research to policy during COVID-19 (LSE Impact Blog) – Professor Annette Boaz and Dr Kathryn Oliver. Read

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

LEO data: the Department for Education have published the Longitudinal Education Outcomes data for 2015 to 2016

Nurses: The DHSC announced a £25m investment in nurse training, for a new national critical care qualification for nurses and expanded virtual training:

  • Up to £15m will go to universities to invest in new simulated training facilities and technology. This will be in the form of virtual reality technology, manikins, computers and tablets, all to help nursing students practice clinical skills.
  • £10m will go to help develop a new, nationally recognised critical care qualification for qualified nurses. This will be rolled out immediately so to increase the number of people able to work in critical care.

Minister for Care Helen Whately said: We are committed to training more nurses for the NHS and supporting professional development, and this £25 million investment will provide more innovative training opportunities for nurses. Whilst there is no substitute for face to face training on wards, simulated training is a vital part of the curriculum and provides a safe space for students to develop their skills. Thanks to our investment, more nursing and other healthcare students will be able to benefit from the latest innovations and new technologies to better support their learning at this time. The funding will also recognise our critical care nurses, who have played a crucial role during this pandemic, with a new nationally recognised qualification.

Student Protests: Jim Dickinson (Wonkhe) reviews the threats to student protest posed by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Harassment: Research Professional’s blog Harassment at home considers the erosion of professional boundaries that can occur through online teaching.

UUK: Professor Steve West has been elected as the next President of Universities UK (UUK) following a members ballot. Professor West has been the Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol since 2008. He will succeed the current President, Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, from 1 August 2021 and will hold the post for two years. Alongside being a vice-chancellor, Professor West has served on the Boards of HEFCE, UUK and the Office for Students, and Chaired the University Alliance, South-West CBI, West of England Academic Health Science Network and West of England Local Enterprise Partnership. He has chaired UUK’s Health Policy Network and continues to champion the sector’s work to address a wide range of mental health and wellbeing issues as chair of UUK’s mental health in higher education advisory group.

OfS Board Papers: Wonkhe provide real insight into the OfS Board papers in a very short and digestible form.

Wonkfest: A virtual Wonkfest is taking place on 9-10 June, colleagues planning to attend should be aware they are eligible for the lower Wonkhe Plus/partner rate. Please let us know if you are planning to attend! Here’s the blurb: We’ll have sessions about the changes that universities have had to make at speed – what’s worked, what hasn’t and what we want to keep after the pandemic. From the leadership challenge, to the digital pivot to the many innovations in teaching. Inspired by our amazing community, we’ll learn from some of the best ideas that have already shaped universities for the better this year, despite the circumstances. We’ll have journalists and politicians from outside the sector to help put it all in context. We’ll look to the next several years of higher education policy – from skills to fees to quality and try and work out what’s going to happen and how to influence it. And much, much more besides.

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

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

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

HE Strategic Priorities – Williamson’s letter to OfS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here we go.

Quality and Standards: The biggie.

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

And he means business:

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

And related to quality:

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

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

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

Funding:

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

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

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

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

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

All this whilst reducing the regulatory burden:

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

Free speech & Academic Freedom:

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

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

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

International recruitment:

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

Those other letters:

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

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

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

Research

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

The letter proposes 6 recommendations focused on 4 areas:

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