Tagged / admissions

HE Policy Update for the w/e 9th October 2020

The virtual Conservative Party Conference took place – we’ve coverage of the relevant fringe events below; the Science and Technology Committee ran an interesting session on ARPA, and university adoption of the definition of anti-semitism is back on the agenda.

What next for HE policy?

Jonathan Simons of Public First writes Ambitious Minds for Research Professional aiming to provide insight into the Government’s thought processes behind their HE agenda. The quick read is illuminating (even if you aren’t a policy geek).

Technical education

The Lords debated the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education on Tuesday (we mentioned Boris and Gavin’s announcements for this in the policy update last week). Debate followed similar lines as last week plus University Technical Colleges and parity of esteem were discussed.

Lord Storey triggered a chuckle in his enthusiasm for extra funding for FE colleges:  My Lords, this is very good news. I do not have to sit on the Bishops’ Bench to say hallelujah. Later he raises: There is no mention of university technical colleges, which have done an excellent job. Does the Minister see an enhanced role for them?

Lord Baker of Dorking echoed this:  I am very grateful for the mention of the colleges that I support, the university technical colleges. At the moment, they are by far the most able and successful technical schools in the country. We are having a record year in recruitment and we have incredible destinations. Last year, one of our colleges on the north-west coast of England produced 90% apprentices, which is absolutely incredible when the national average is 6%.

He continued: The trouble is that, since 1945, there has been a huge drive to send people to universities, which is good for social mobility but it means that graduates have had disproportionate esteem, disproportionate political influence and disproportionate reward compared with those who make things with their hands. This is the time when we have to elevate the intelligent hand: to train not only the brain but the hand as well.

Baroness Berridge (Minister for Schools): My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that there is no snobbery in the Department for Education; we want to promote parity of esteem for vocational and technical qualifications across our sector. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are behind this.

Maintenance Support

Meanwhile the Centre for Progressive Policy has published Beyond hard hats – What it will take to level up the UK and some of the recommendations chime with delivering the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. The report calls for a Learners’ Living Allowance to support those undertaking part- or full-time training, as an equivalent to maintenance loans available for higher education students, to be paid back under the same conditions upon employment.

HE at the Conservative Fringe

There was a Conservative Party fringe event: Back in business: what can modern universities do to support Britain’s recovery? (sponsored by HEPI and MillionPlus). Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, was on the panel. The event discussed changes within the FE and HE, the recent Lifetime Skills Guarantee announcement, and how universities can provide quality education in a post-Covid world. Also: technical qualifications, up-skilling and re-skilling, the Augar review, and institutions’ roles within their local community.

The Education Policy Institute (and Sheffield Hallam University) ran Higher and further education in post Covid recovery: Competitors or Collaborators?  Former HE minister Jo Johnson was on the panel along with the CEO of the Association of Colleges (David Hughes), the public policy editor of the Financial Times (FT), Sheffield Hallam university, Sheffield College and EPI.

The level 4 & 5 ‘regulatory jungle’ was discussed, FE & HE working collaboratively, the FT pointed out that the forthcoming demographic bulge meant there was no shortage of students to go around, and suggested that ensuring a blend of FE and HE was the best way to meet the rising need. Skills were discussed with Jo stating he’d pushed for both credit transfer and modular funding during his HE Minster tenure, but neither are easy to achieve nor implement well. He also called for the removal of the ELQ rule across all subject areas. You can read the rest of the session coverage in this summary.

Wonkhe report specifically on Jo Johnson’s speech: Speaking on an Education Policy Institute panel yesterday, former minister Jo Johnson reported that snobbery about further education was an “artefact”, and there was currently an “aggression” towards higher education in the media. He also noted he had experienced “push back” from some more established universities in developing a national credit transfer framework. TES has the story. The recognition of the media aggression was a welcome acknowledgement from a former minister.

There was also an event on engineering.

Education Committee – HE Minister

The Education Committee held two accountability sessions this week (these are a regular occurrence and question a Minister or senior public figure on the handling of current business). Colleagues interested in disadvantaged school children, catch up, county lines, and educational inequalities will be interested in the summary of the first session here (prepared by Dods).

The second session questioned Michelle Donelan, sadly it was more watery than juicy. She stated that she did not know how many students were currently under lockdown at universities in England instead highlighting that C-19 rates were still relatively low at universities. Donelan said that most students were abiding by the guidelines but that a minority were socialising in a way that was driving spikes in infection. She confirmed the Government was committed that all students could return home at Christmas and various measures were under consideration as to how this would be achieved. Recent sector press has speculated that the DfE were completely unprepared for the guidance the Secretary of State promised would be issued to the sector guiding institutions on how to achieve this. And Wonkhe have confirmed the DfE will launch a Covid-19 helpline for both institutions and students. Donelan was unclear if this would be an automated system or a real person on the end of the line. On the guidance Research Professional report that Donelan was reticent, stating it was being drawn up and will contain a “robust” Q&A session, but it is not quite ready for publication yet….but that one approach being looked at was the quarantining of students in the two weeks before the end of the winter term

Donelan also commented on the perennial fee refund topic stating it was a matter for individual universities, rather than the government, to determine whether students should receive refunds, however she stated that online and blended learning was working well. She also took a strong stance and stated that universities that had not yet adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism would ultimately be forced to do so by Government (more on this below).

Wonkhe have a blog covering the Committee session and considering some of the aspects arising within a sector context. David Kernohan writes: the hearing was just more evidence that DfE is not on top of the situation when it comes to keeping students safe. Guitarists will find fine resonance with the beginning of the blog.

Drop the boo boo

Labour didn’t want to drop the Secretary of State’s mistaken statement last week (that £100 million was available to universities for digital access – it isn’t, it’s for schools) and raised a Point of Order because the mistake hadn’t been corrected in Hansard. Gavin Williamson managed to weasel out of outright confirming he’d got it wrong instead he said: As the House will know, the Government have made available more than £100 million for electronic devices. Those youngsters who are in care and going on to university can access that funding to enable them to have the right type of devices, whether that is a laptop or a router. If a student’s family circumstances change while they are at university, they can go to the Student Loans Company to have their maintenance grant re-assessed. Although the original record hasn’t been amended Kate Green has raised this enough now to have made her point about Gavin’s mistake.

Anti-Semitism Definition

The House of Commons debated universities (not) adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism on Tuesday. Ahead of the debate the Telegraph reported that only one fifth of universities have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Sarah has added some key snippets from the full debate below. You’ll spot from the summary that parliament were disdainful of the reasons the sector has given for not adopting the definition.

  • …in January this year, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local …(Robert Jenrick) wrote to all universities demanding that they adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism or face funding cuts…. This debate—and, indeed, previous requests by Members to universities—is intended not to be a stick with which to beat the higher education sector… (Christian Wakeford)
  • I am disgusted that we stand here today, in 2020, to condemn the ways in which universities have not only refused to engage with or listen to students…The institutional hijacking of freedom of speech that is currently being used as a façade for universities and professors to scurry behind is appalling. (Jonathan Gullis)

Vicky Ford (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State) stood in for Michelle Donelan to give the ministerial perspective on the debate:

  • Universities have a big role to play. We expect them to be welcoming and inclusive to students of all backgrounds, and the Government continue strongly to encourage all higher education providers to adopt the IHRA definition, which would send a strong signal that higher education providers take those issues seriously. However, they are autonomous institutions and that is also set out in law. As such, the decision on whether to adopt the definition rests with individual providers… The Government will continue to call on providers to adopt that important definition. It is a decision for vice-chancellors, but I urge them all to listen to their staff and students, as well as to the wider community and, indeed, our proceedings.
  • Without doubt, the university experience of many Jewish students is overwhelmingly positive. However, the number of antisemitic incidents in the UK remains a cause for concern…in the first six months of this year, the number of incidents of antisemitism involving universities rose by an alarming 34%…That is absolutely unacceptable and shows how much further the sector has to go to tackle the issue.
  • Our universities should be inclusive and tolerant environments. They have such potential to change lives and society for the better. I am sure that our universities are serious in their commitment to tackle racism and hatred, but much more work remains to be done

At the end of this week’s Education Committee session Chair, Robert Halfon, stated:

  • It was “strange”, Halfon said, that so many universities had not adopted the definition when they were so quick to “pull down statues” that were deemed offensive. He posited that many institutions “seem to turn a blind eye” to antisemitism. 
  • There was no lack of clarity in Donelan’s response to this. “I want every university to adopt this definition. So did my predecessors, who have written several times to universities on this matter.” Williamson had also written, she said, but it had “not shifted the dial”.
  • “We are not seeing enough…universities adopting the definition and it is simply not good enough,” Donelan continued, adding that she and her department were looking at “other measures…to make it happen”.
  • “I urge universities to do this,” she said, or the Department for Education will find ways “to ensure that you do so”.

Research news

ARPA – The Science and Technology Committee held a particularly juicy session on the potential new ARPA style research funding agency. A summary of the two sessions is here and the full session content will shortly be available here.

In the first session the witnesses thought it right that Government should set broad strategic goals and research direction for the agency, particularly those centred on specific challenges (such as health, energy and defence policies). A witness suggested there was no need to wait for consultation outcome on ARPA – that set up could run parallel. Neither witness felt UKRI should run ARPA – that it should sit at a high Government cross-sector level, and that UKRI don’t currently have a challenge-setting role. Walport railed against this statement in the second session stating UKRI could be guided towards a more ARPA-like model without the need for a new body by giving UKRI more freedom and money to work on specific challenges.

The second session witnesses were Sir Mark Walport (UKRI’s previous CEO) and Jo Johnson (previous Universities Minister). Both were responsible for setting up UKRI and both were concerned that an ARPA body would be beneficial. Johnson stated a new body could work but it would have to complement the existing organisations. Furthermore, that there was still no clarity over what purpose a UK ARPA would serve and a new green or white paper should establish this. Overall, he was in favour of ARPA becoming a part of UKRI. Hosting ARPA outside UKRI could fragment the coherence and oversight of the UK research sector. The geographical location of where to locate ARPA was discussed.

Do read the summary here as the above only touches on part of the discussion.

Life Sciences – Two Conservative party fringe events touched on Life Sciences. Here are the summaries:

The Future of Life Sciences – panellists spoke on levelling up in the context of life sciences and the future impact that the sector could have the on the health and wealth of the UK. Data access within the NHS and speeding up access to new and innovative medicines were also mentioned.

Healthy Boost: Putting Life Sciences innovation at the heart of Levelling Up – panellists discussed the need to effectively integrate the life sciences in any future plans to rebuild the UK economy. The unequal effect of Covid on areas was discussed, alongside improving health outcomes and living healthier lives through prevention and Government investment. Manufacturing within the life sciences was mentioned alongside maintaining progress with medicines and medical devices. Universities were mentioned as anchor institutions.

Research Professional also cover the Life Sciences sessions.

REF Review – UKRI have publicised the REF Review which will consider researcher’s perceptions and experience in preparing and submitting to REF 2021. It aims to understand attitudes towards REF 2021 and the affect it has on the academic environment. It also intends to capture views on the challenges and opportunities; whether REF is a driver of research behaviours and culture; and reflection on the practical preparations for REF 2021 at the institution, including lessons learned and changes from REF 2014.

REF Modifications Survey – During lockdown REF was put on hold while new dates were agreed and a survey proposed modifications to the REF exercise. REF have published the summary of the 164 responses to the survey which examined the appropriateness of the modifications for outputs, impact and the environment. A majority of respondents were happy with the modifications although many felt further detail was needed.

REF have also updated information on:

Global Research – Wonkhe tell us about the Wellcome Trust’s Global Research report:

  • The Wellcome Trust has released a new report – “The UK’s role in global research”. Among 24 recommendations to government, it calls for the full implementation of the BEIS R&D Roadmap, an increase in QR and other funding that promotes research flexibility, and measures to improve the experience of international researchers and collaborators in working with and in the UK.
  • Research Professional also covered the report (from half way down this link): The terms ‘science superpower’ and ‘Global Britain’ are now used frequently by the government as a shorthand for its ambitions for research.
  • International collaboration is not restricted to universities…and must also hold for industries with a strong research focus, such as the pharmaceuticals and aerospace. This is how Global Britain will stay competitive.
  • The UK must also be strategic and not waste resources on duplicating infrastructure that is available elsewhere. The country should use its reputation in science “for good”, combining research and diplomatic strengths to work with multinational organisations such as the UN, the World Health Organization and the G7.
  • To put it bluntly, if not upfront because the reference appears 10 pages into the report: “Full association to the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme must therefore be at the heart of the research strategy for Global Britain.” However, the country should also forge partnerships beyond Europe, says Wellcome, and this could be financed out of quality-related funding dedicated to international collaboration.
  • The research funder wants to see the government “commission an ‘international’ equivalent of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s R&D Roadmap that sets the overall vision for Britain’s place in the world for research. This should become the ‘North Star’ for government decision-making, based around clear goals.”
  • There is a lot to unpack in the Wellcome report, including the idea of a “single front door” for investment in UK science; bilateral funding schemes; and making the UK a champion of “regulatory diplomacy”. The funder wants to see the cost of visas reduced for researchers and provision for research collaboration written into free trade agreements.

Postgraduate Research Students – UUK, OfS, UKRI and Vitae have published their collaboration – Supporting mental health and wellbeing for postgraduate research students which consider the 17 projects addressing PGR wellbeing that were supported by Catalyst funding. They describe the programme reach: The 17 successful projects covered a wide range of activities targeted at PGRs and supervisors, including workshops, mentoring programmes, peer networks and training embedded into induction events. Co-production was a positive theme, with 171 PGRs directly involved across 11 projects… A variety of resources have been developed for use by the sector available on the OfS website: these range from training materials to wellbeing apps, blogs, online hubs and videos… Fifteen projects have provided case studies that outline their activities, impact and challenges.

Two-thirds of the projects reported improved mental health from their PGRs involved including that PGRs were more aware of how to support and improve their own mental health, and had improved knowledge of where to get help and support. You can read more on the projects here, and the recommendations are on pages 8-9. The report concludes that while the quality of the supervisory relationship is key, all university and college staff have a part to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of PGR students.

This week’s research related parliamentary question:

Areas of Research Interest to policy makers

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) have released a new opportunity for research colleagues:

In April POST ran a survey of experts on the COVID-19 outbreak expert database that resulted in the publication of syntheses about the future effects of COVID-19 in different policy areas. From this survey POST developed Parliament’s first Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) which are lists of policy issues or questions that policymakers are particularly interested in.

Currently only the ARIs which are linked in some way to Covid have been released. However, they are not all health based and touch on a range of themes from Crime, economics, inequalities, trade, supply chains, mental health, education, sustainability across several sectors, and so on.  Do take the time to look through the full question list to see if it touches upon your research area. Non-researcher colleagues can share the list with academic colleagues within their faculty.

Alongside the publication of the ARIs is an invitation to experts to add current or future research relevant to the topics to a repository that Parliament may use to inform future policy making and Parliamentary work. Research with relevant research across any of the disciplines are invited to submit their work.

BU colleagues are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this rare opportunity to present their research to policy makers The Policy team is here if you need any help.

R&D Place Advisory Group

The Government have announced the R&D Place Advisory Group that will advise Ministers on the R&D places strategy which will build upon the R&D Roadmap and deliver the levelling up strategy across the public, private and voluntary sectors. The press release states that the aim is to build on local potential so that all regions and nations of the UK benefit from a R&D intensive economy. The Place Advisory Group support this by:

  • proposing, challenging & testing potential policy options to make the most of R&D potential to support local economic impact in areas across the UK, including how best to increase the place focus in public R&D investment, factor place into decision-making across the R&D system, and foster greater local and national co-creation and collaboration to make better decisions on R&D
  • contributing to the evidence base, including identifying priorities for long-term development
  • exploring other relevant issues as requested by the Minister

The press release also states the group will advise the ministers in confidence. So proceedings may be hard to come by.

The group will be chaired by Amanda Solloway as Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. You can read her speech launching the group here. The secretariat function will also be provided by her department – BEIS.  The group is expected to meet monthly while the Government develops the place strategy.

Admissions – Level 2/3 Exams

In Scotland the National 5 exams are to be cancelled for 2021 and replaced with teacher assessments and coursework. Higher and Advanced Higher exams will go ahead but will commence 2 weeks later than usual on 13 May. The BBC explain it as: like using coursework and tests for GCSEs while carrying on with slightly later exams for A-levels.

Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney stated that going ahead with all exams during the continuing Covid pandemic was “too big a risk”…it couldn’t be “business as usual” for exams but also “there will be no algorithm”. And if Highers cannot be taken, there would be a contingency plan to use grades “based on teacher judgement”.

There are rumours the Government is less certain that exams will go ahead in England. This week they stated universities could start later in Autumn 2021 to accommodate a delay to A level exams. An announcement from the Government on exams is expected later in October. This was confirmed in response to a Parliamentary Question calling for clarity before students submit their UCAS applications.  Donelan also confirmed a statement was forthcoming. During her Education Select Committee hearing when she commented that it would be inappropriate if she were to pre-empt and “steal his [Williamson’s] thunder” by making any announcement. And on potential disruption to the start dates for the 2021-22 academic year, the minister added that “if term time needs to be moved slightly to accommodate any potential change in examinations, that is something that can be done quite straightforwardly”. (Source.)

In their article the BBC pose the two key questions:

  • How can exams be run fairly when so much teaching time has been lost because of the pandemic?
  • And how do you make a definite plan for such an indefinite situation – where it’s impossible to know how much more disruption might lie ahead?

Concluding that the Government really does need to get its skates on!

International

Wonkhe report that: Government information on sponsoring an international student has been updated to reflect the new student visa route. There’s also detailed technical guidance on the new route, and a guide for sponsors with material on English language requirementscertificates of sponsorship and record keeping provisions.

UUK also blogged on the topic: Government must act now or risk losing European students for years to come outlining 5 steps they want policymakers to adopt to stabilise demand for UK HE:

  1. Continuing to promote the new student route so that all international students are aware of the changes being introduced. This is particularly important for EU / EEA students.
  2. Improving and extending the Study UK campaign into key markets in Europe by coordinating existing campaigns currently in European markets and increasing investment in Study UK to £20 million a year.
  3. Providing targeted financial support for EU students such as through an expanded or newly developed EU scholarship offer.
  4. Lowering immigration route application costs so they are in line with the UK’s international competitors.
  5. Committing to continually reviewing immigration requirements in light of the Covid-19 pandemic

Disability

The Higher Education Commission convened by Policy Connect have published Arriving at Thriving – Learning from disabled students to ensure access for all. It highlights that despite higher numbers of disabled students accessing HE the barriers they face when they get here are still numerous and unacceptable in today’s inclusive society. The report makes 12 recommendations to improve disabled students’ experience of HE and have a positive knock on effect on their attainment, continuation and graduate outcomes. The report states:

  • Many of our findings make hard reading, and we cannot shy away from the fact that our evidence demonstrates an unhappy situation for many disabled students. Much progress has been made over the past few decades… However, our findings make clear that the road to progress has not ended, and it is vitally important to continue to call attention to the needs and experiences of disabled students.
  • There are numerous practical changes that HEPs can and are implementing themselves to improve disabled students’ experiences…the focus of the majority of our recommendations is on what the government and the Office for Students can do to create and ensure improvement across the HE sector.

In setting out the key information here we focus on what is lacking, however, the report contains case studies and examples of success too aiming to share and spread good practice throughout the sector.

Key findings:

  • Teaching and learning isn’t accessible enough – e.g. regularly being physically unable to get to or sit in lecture theatres or other academic spaces; unable to access learning materials; not receiving lecture capture where it has been promised; and not receiving other reasonable adjustments set out in their support plans, including adjustments to assessments. Student support services professionals are frustrated at the lack of change and adjustments they can enact within their institution – and not for lack of trying. Some students reported they felt there was no accountability, including at senior level, for ensuring access to learning.
  • The bureaucratic burden of applying for funding and support is too much – the Disabled Students’ Allowance admin and timeliness was particularly criticised. Complaints processes were also seen as working against some disabled students. Funding doesn’t cover enough of the additional costs a disability entails when studying at HE level.
  • The lack of accessibility occurs across social activities, clubs and societies too. The report finds there is a widespread lack of awareness or care among the wider student cohort for the existence of disabled students and their needs. Although some Students Unions are recognised for their awareness and culture changing work.
  • Disclosing the disability to the HE institution remains a barrier which impedes the transition to HE.

The report concludes:

All of our twelve recommendations – and we could have made many more – require implementing in their own right if we are to achieve lasting change. The ideal would be for this to take place as part of the system transformation we set out in recommendation five – for the government to create a new system to support disabled people from the classroom to the workplace.

Former HE Minister Chris Skidmore, who set up the Disabled Students Commission in 2019, blogs for Wonkhe to launch the HE Commission’s report. He states:

  • This report provides welcome evidence for the Disabled Students’ Commission’s work, not just by illuminating the obstacles that exist, but also by promoting the wealth of good practice already taking place in the sector. During this time when it has become necessary to rethink modes of higher education delivery, the sector must harness the opportunity to embed accessibility into course design, and to make consideration of disabled students’ needs the norm.
  • I know that many of us share a vision for disabled students to have a positive experience in higher education, able to expand the horizons of their knowledge and to develop social capital which will support them to succeed in life. To achieve this, we must break down the barriers which have been uncovered by this inquiry, and work to create a future of equal access and inclusion for all students. I hope that this report will help to provide the momentum needed to carry us into that future.

Professor Geoff Layer, Chair of the Disabled Students’ Commission, praised the report. He stated:

  • The Disabled Students’ Commission welcomes the findings of this report. The issues and challenges raised in the Disabled Students’ Inquiry report are consistent with the work of the Commission and highlight the need to improve access to higher education and the experience of disabled students.
  • The Commission will be using the findings of the report to move forward with plans to inform and advise higher education providers about improving support for disabled students.

Students

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS Vice President for Higher Education spoke at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students on Tuesday warning MPs not to repeat previous mistakes by ignoring students during this pandemic. She raised the safety of students returning to campus, being locked into tenancy contracts and a lack of access to online learning. She called on the Government to give students the right to leave their course or accommodation without financial detriment and address the financial pressures within the education system (see this). Hillary said:

  • Students have been ignored time and time again during this pandemic, whether it was not providing them with hardship funding when they were in financial need or denying them the A-Level grades they deserved because this government were more concerned with grade inflation than social justice.
  • And now we are in the worst of all scenarios. Students are being forced en masse to return to campuses across the UK, without adequate procedures in place to keep them safe and coronavirus infection rates rising. It seems like every day we hear a new report of a mass outbreak on a university campus. But this is not the fault of students, who have been following the advice they have been given and abiding by the rules. This is the failure of government and university leadership to keep us safe.
  • I want you as MPs, and even those of us that are student leaders and students here to reflect on 2010, for a moment. Students were outside parliament marching together because they felt let down and betrayed by the government of that day. They were a generation who felt unheard, unseen and uncared for. Students today are feeling the same. They are fed up of being ignored, but now, just like in 2010, they are unmistakably fired up. Students are more politically engaged than ever and they are willing to take action to fight for the education they deserve. Students deserve better.

The APPG for Students Twitter feed highlights the other issues that were raised including digital poverty and the shift to online learning, Muslim students concerned about Test and Trace, and quality of teaching on courses which don’t suit digital delivery.

Student Fees

Research Professional talk of the continued policy intent to not charge HE fees or a graduate contribution in Scotland.

On calls for fee refunds due to Covid teaching changes the Office of the Independent Adjudicator has published an update. The key message that a blanket ban on fee refunds is unacceptable continues and the site has FAQs for students on whether a partial refund might be appropriate or not.

Also making news this week was the decision by the University of St Andrews which means first-year students can leave at any point before December without paying any course fees (accommodation fees are still accumulated). Research Professional speculate the decision could lead to a string of similar demands at other UK universities.

Governance

Advance HE published Diversity of Governors in HE. (Press release here.)

  • 9% of governing board members were women, compared to 54.6% of staff members overall.
  • Around nine in ten governors were white (89.2%), 5.3% were Asian and 2.6% were Black.
  • 4% HE governors were disabled, and a long-standing illness or health condition was the most commonly reported impairment among disabled governing board members.
  • In general, the age profile of governors was higher than for staff overall, but a higher proportion of governors were age 25 and under (reflecting the inclusion of student members on the majority of HEI boards).
  • A higher proportion of HE governors were UK nationals compared to staff overall (93.2% compared to 79.0%), and nearly 1 in 5 BAME governors (18.9%) were non-UK nationals.
  • A fifth (21.7%) of boards had 50% women members or more. In over two in five, 41.6%, women made up fewer than 40% of governors.
  • A fifth (21.1%) of governing boards had no BAME members, and over a third (35.6%) of boards had no disabled members

 PQs

Please note – several parliamentary questions haven’t been answered within the required Parliamentary. If a link is not showing an answer check it again in 3 working days. The link is good, the Government are just slow in responding this week.

Students

Covid

And from Prime Minister’s questions this week:

Matt Western (Lab, Warwick and Leamington) said that universities were struggling to contain the coronavirus, with 5,000 cases reported in recent weeks. More local and immediate access for communities was needed, he said. In Leamington, he was told that Deloitte would not deliver testing facilities until the end of this month, weeks after students would have arrived in the town. He asked the PM if the Government was not expecting students to return to universities.

The PM responded it was important that students returned to universities and praised students for complying with the new regulations. There were particular problems in certain areas and the Government would be pursuing measures to bring the virus down, he added.

HE Sector

  • The affordability and availability of academic ebooks
  • Potential merits of introducing an immigration checking service for Student Finance to check student eligibility similar to that of the employer checking service.
  • Whether funding is available for new applications from students or education institutions for support with digital access. (Emma Hardy, Shadow Universities Minister, asked this one so it is probably just a political point score after the Secretary of States gaffe on the tech funding last week.) And a similar one here.
  • If you’re interested in the number of study visas granted in 2020 the answer is given as a link within this parliamentary question.
  • The Government will present the TEF report (and their response will be published at the same time) in due course.

On social mobility from Prime Minister’s Questions this week: David Johnston (Con, Wantage) said that just 12% of journalists and chief execs came from a working class background and  just  6% of  doctors and barristers.  He called for a renewed focus on social mobility to make better use of all of the country’s talent.

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 no new consultations and inquiries relevant to HE this week.

Other news

Midwifery: The Royal College of Midwives has published a report on supporting midwifery students through a global pandemic and beyond.

Mental Health Nursing: Despite 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental or neurological condition at some point during their life mental health nursing remains an unpopular profession (despite making up one third of the UK mental health workforce). A new research report Laying foundations Attitudes and access to mental health nurse education by the Nuffield Trust considers how to attract more people to study mental health nursing and the reasons behind why numbers are currently limited.

C-19 student test results: The BBC raises the issue whereby new students C-19 test results are going to their home GP rather than the university area in which they now reside. This topic has been mentioned several times in Parliament this week with the Opposition pushing the Government to respond.

Dyslexia: The Data & Marketing Association (DMA) has published an employer guide to inclusivity in the workplace. They highlight that dyslexia in the workplace remains misunderstood and the guide aims to help employers support a diverse workforce. They state:

  • Our Dyslexia Employer Guide is the latest instalment in our neurodiversity guidance series, offering organisations free advice on how to create a positive, supportive, and flexible workplace culture that permeates all levels of the business.
  • The guide provides comprehensive guidance and recommendations on reasonable adjustments that employers can make to recruitment processes, the workplace environment, support networks, and most importantly, how to treat employees as individuals.
  • In addition, it features case studies offering advice for dyslexic people written by dyslexic professionals, from junior marketing executives all the way to managing director level, on useful coping mechanisms they apply on potentially problematic areas and how their skillsets have helped them to thrive in the creative industries.

Balance: Wonkhe report that The Women’s Higher Education Network has published research into the experiences of parents working in higher education professional services during the lockdown. Drawn from a survey of 1074 parents, the report found that traditional gender roles still influence the division of domestic responsibilities. The report recommends that employers provide guidance to parents on workloads and expectations, and encourage them to work flexibly.

Similarly, HEPI has a piece on the difficulties student parents face studying at home during the pandemic.

Teaching via social media: Wonkhe have a blog about the wins and pitfalls of utilising the tech that students prefer and teaching through sites such as WhatsApp with notifications through Twitter. The comments are a must read for both sides of the discussion.  There are also two other blogs on the adjustment HE lecturers underwent to teach online during Covid – one from a healthcare educator and one charting the human experience.

DfE: The Information Commissioner’s Office reviewed the DfE (who cooperated fully) and have found them in direct breach of data protection law. A DfE spokesperson said:

  • We treat the handling of personal data – particularly data relating to schools and other education settings – extremely seriously and we thank the ICO for its report, which will help us further improve in this area.
  • Since the ICO completed its audit, we’ve taken a number of steps to address the findings and recommendations, including a review of all processes for the use of personal data and significantly increasing the number of staff dedicated to the effective management of it.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 2nd October 2020

We’re in October already! This week has been busy in Parliament, and we had some Ministerial engagement too.  Boris unveiled a skills pledge and Gavin Williamson made a statement regarding students returning to universities (and was subsequently slammed for inaccuracies).  And angry parents have taken issue that their children might be prevented from returning home from university for Christmas if they are in isolation or caught in local lockdowns.

BU welcomes the Minister for Universities

Michelle Donelan MP paid a short virtual visit to BU this week.  You can read more here.  It is good that the Minister is making time to make these visits and the conversation was wide ranging and interesting.  Thanks to all involved, especially as these things are always short notice and subject to last-minute change.

Comprehensive Spending Review – and all its ramifications

No one knows quite what form (or if) the comprehensive spending review (CSR) will take. However, sector organisations continue to lobby the Government with their wish lists to be included within the CSR. The Association of Colleges have published their 37 pager much of which aligns with recent Government ambitions on skills spending, higher technical education, apprenticeships, levelling up and addressing disadvantage. Specifically they call for higher rates of FE funding, expanding provision to accommodate the 2024/25 young population surge (plus IT infrastructure investment), a 16+ pupil premium, and the favourite old chestnut – reducing oversight, bureaucracy and compliance costs.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published Spending Review 2020: COVID-19, Brexit and beyond. Pages 3-5 summarise the key findings succinctly and ultimately the report advises the Chancellor not to plough ahead with a full Spending Review. It concludes:

  • Even if Mr Sunak makes the sensible decision to set only one year of spending plans, the process will be fraught with difficulty, with many delicate trade-offs. Perhaps the most important question is the extent to which the extraordinary funding increases provided in response to COVID-19 need to continue into future years.
  • [With Covid likely to] swallow up much of the increase in funding pencilled in between now and 2023−24. Whatever is left would likely be allocated to priority areas such as the NHS, schools, the police or the ‘levelling-up’ agenda. The Chancellor has rowed back from the spending envelope he committed to in March, but his emphasis on the need for ‘tough choices’ suggests that it could become less, not more, generous. Other public services could well be facing a further bout of austerity

No one is expecting good news. And the Government’s intentions following the Augar report are expected to be laid out as part of the CSR. Even HEPI warn of impending doom when they consider Augar in the context of recent events below.

Research

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee Greg Clark has written to the minister for Science, Amanda Solloway, relating to research and development investment.  The letter is available here. He asked for:

  • Further detail for example on the terms of support for higher education institutions announced by the Government.
  • The Government’s plans to address research funding & cross subsidisation in the long-term to ensure that university research funding is sustainable.
  • Further details on the R&D roadmap

Match funding change: On Thursday the Government suspended the 50:50 matched funding requirement for industrial research applications to the Aerospace Technology Institute programme. This is to mitigate the effects of Covid on the industry.

Research parliamentary questions

A selection of Wonkhe blogs relevant to research interests:

Off topic – but interesting – Sellafield have released a report in the name of sharing the importance of science. It highlights how R&D has transformed their organisation & safety. Short press release here, report here.

PM’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee

Boris announced the Lifetime Skills Guarantee scheme (full speech here, press release with stakeholder support here). Main points:

  • The Lifetime Skills Guarantee is a system where every student will have a flexible lifelong loan entitlement to four years of post-18 education. Boris stated this will promote real choice – at the moment many young people feel they have to go for the degree option. They feel they have only one chance to study, and to borrow. They might as well go for the maximum, and get a degree. It launches April 2021 in England and is paid for through the National Skills Fund.
  • Adults without an A-Level or equivalent (a level 3) will be offered a free, fully funded college course, to learn skills (those valuable to employers) and the opportunity to study at a time and location that suits them. The list of courses is expected to be released shortly.
  • The funding model will change with more flexibility to study in bursts (so an individual can spread it across their life period) and easy access to loans for higher technical as well as degree programmes. Politico state there will be a push to massively expand vocational courses. The government will provide finance for shorter-term studies in areas such as coding to help train workers for jobs of the future, rather than the typical three or four year university studies.
  • Alongside studying in segments students should be able to build up credits and transfer between different providers both colleges and universities. This in itself is expected to enable more part time study.
  • Boris pledged to:
    • invest in skills & FE (£1.5 billion for college capital works)
    • expand apprenticeships (as mentioned above) and make them more portable to move from company to company
    • expand digital boot camps (£8 million, programmes in four new locations)
    • from 2021 boot camps will also be available for construction and engineering – supporting the national Industrial Strategy
    • 62 additional courses will be added to the free online Skills Toolkit
    • end the pointless, nonsensical gulf… between the so-called academic and the so-called practical varieties of education… now is the time to end this bogus distinction between FE and HE. (Not all Conservatives agree with this – see this blog in Conservative Home.)

Boris also said:

  • The post-18 educational system is not working in such a way as to endow people with those skills…lab technicians, skilled construction workers, skilled mechanics, skilled engineers, and we are short of hundreds of thousands of IT experts
  • …And look I don’t for a second want to blame our universities. I love our universities, and it is one of this country’s great achievements massively to have expanded higher education.
  • But we also need to recognise that a significant and growing minority of young people leave university and work in a non-graduate job, and end up wondering whether they did the right thing.
  • Was it sensible to rack up that debt on that degree? Were they ever given the choice to look at the more practical options, the courses – just as stimulating – that lead more directly to well-paid jobs?
    We seem on the one hand to have too few of the right skills for the jobs our economy creates, and on the other hand too many graduates with degrees which don’t get them the jobs that they want.

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, commented:  A week ago Labour called for a National Retraining Strategy fit for the crisis Britain faces, but what the government proposes is simply a mix of reheated old policies and funding that won’t be available until April. By then many workers could have been out of work for nearly a year, and the Tories still think that they will need to take out loans to get the training they will need to get back in work. These measures will not reverse the devastating impact of a decade of cuts, and will not give workers the skills and support they need in the months ahead.

Association of Colleges responded to the PM’s speech:

  • We believe that colleges should play a bigger part in a more collaborative education and skills system that allows people to train and retrain throughout their lives. Today’s speech is a strong sign that this thinking will form much of the foundation for the upcoming FE white paper and develop a system that works for all adults and not just those fortunate enough to go to university. 
  • A new entitlement to a fully-funded Level 3 qualification and more flexibility built into L4 and L5 are important steps forward as the government begins to implement the Augar Review. There is a lot more to do to stimulate demand from adults and employers and to support colleges to have the capacity to meet needs.
  • We must get this right to ensure our education and skills system is fit for purpose – I hope the Prime Minister’s words are just the beginning on the road to a fairer and more accessible post-16 system for everyone who needs it.

The Institute of Economic Affairs is less convinced:

  • …The speech lacks specifics.
  • The Prime Minister has made a time-honoured distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘practical’ skills, although there is little here to explain how exactly this shift will occur. Successive governments have made the same noises.
  • Extra funding for people without A-levels may be sensible, but it is not clear that there will be a massive demand for lower-level qualifications from either students or employers.
  • The offer of more flexible support for higher education and spreading study over longer periods is welcome in principle, but again there is little to suggest how this will work in practice. There is no evidence of a more fundamental change, such as linking a university’s funding to the success of its graduates, which might incentivise new forms of provision.
  • This speech is worthy, but it amounts to neither a convincing response to rising unemployment nor to a radical change in adult education.

Skills Productivity Appointment

With the FE sector and skills focus holding significant traction within Government a new appointment is significant. Stephen van Rooyen will head up the Skills and Productivity Board. His Chairmanship will have an influential role in driving forward the Government’s FE reform programme. The Board is responsible for advising on the skills that employers need for the future and that will help grow our economy post C-19, alongside how to ensure the courses and qualifications are high-quality. Stephen’s background is here, including his support for apprenticeships.

Stephen stated: The work of the SPB will be carried out by a panel of five leading skills and labour market economists, supported by Department for Education officials. The panel will undertake independent research and analysis in response to questions set out by the Secretary of State and Chair. Applications for panel members closed earlier this month and appointments will be made in due course.

Education Committee session

Following Boris’ pledge the Education Committee session focussed on adult learning schemes and mechanisms questioning Gillian Keegan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills. Direct HE relevant content was limited to whether there would be any maintenance grant support for more disadvantaged students. Keegan replied that there were already discretionary funds to support disadvantaged students, or those facing additional barriers to learning.

Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Committee pointed out there was nothing on community learning in Boris’ announcements. Keegan responded that the announcement was focused on economic outcomes for individuals, and, that the focus is on learners and helping them access more modular and flexible training. While this isn’t about HE it reveals the depth of emphasis the Government is placing on flexible learning at all levels and that adult and skills budgets aren’t altruistic – just like Government intent for HE – support focuses on the key skills needs for the country to support economic prosperity. So no fluffiness on the route to levelling up!

Keegan also showed interest in the concept of a skills tax credit to incentivise employers to provide training to low skilled employers, however, she conceded it hadn’t worked well in other countries.

On the social care sector the Government intend to professionalise this employment area initially through T-Levels and apprenticeships. Keegan felt this might be a route to higher pay in the sector.

Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education

On Thursday Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, made another oral statement, this time on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education. There was much overlap with and reiteration of Boris’ Skills Guarantee speech with a little additional detail.

Here are the key points in brief:

  • A White Paper will be published later this year on how to re-balance further and higher education.
  • FE has been overlooked for decades resulting in lost opportunities and businesses with unfulfilled skills gaps.
  • Everyone must have the opportunity to upskill and retrain – both young people who do not want to attend university and those who are forced to retrain following redundancy.
  • Linking with Boris’ skills pledge speech from Tuesday he called for closer alignment of FE and HE and re-announced the lifetime skills guarantee and greater flexibility in the educational system for people of all ages. There will be a consultation on the flexibility and transferability of credits during 2021 and the Government will legislate as needed in this Parliamentary session.
  • Williamson stated that these announcements will support the country’s recovery from Covid, however, they are also a continuation of the commitment to levelling-up. He reminded that the skills guaranteed means adults without A levels can re-train. He also reiterated that there would be funding for alternatives to degrees e.g. loans for higher technical education.
  • The apprenticeships programme will be expanded and barriers that employers face in taking on apprentices addressed. This will include allowing larger businesses to transfer their unused levy to fund smaller employers and ensuring redundant apprentices have the opportunity to continue their education.
  • T-levels (equivalent to 3 a-levels) have now commenced (in autumn 2020).
  • Williamson also announced funding of £111 million for the expansion of traineeships, £32 million for recruiting careers advisers, and £17 million for work academies in England. He restated previous funding commitments of £170 million which intends to establish 12 Institutes of Technology (IoT), with £120 million following on to develop a further 8 IoTs. The funding competition for the next 8 IoTs will open shortly.

Skills Gaps

Incidentally The Migration Advisory Committee published a review of the shortage occupation list this week.   The key reasons given for wanting to be on the SOL were:

  • A lack of a suitably skilled workforce in the UK
  • An unwillingness of the UK workforce to consider certain roles due to: physical demands; unsocial hours; an unwillingness to relocate; or seasonality of these roles;
  • That training alone is not a viable solution due to the time it takes and lack of long term certainty.

The Committee also warned Ministers to urgently address low pay in the social care sector in order to avoid a staffing crisis in January.

Augar Review

Having detailed the rise and Government zeal for FE and technical skills alongside the announced flexibility in funding and the comprehensive spending review speculation we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Augar, particularly the fees aspect. Fortunately HEPI covers the interpretation of Augar within the recent context in a discursive manner here. The blog is titled: As the Government begins implementing the more popular elements of the Augar report, we shouldn’t forget the rest of it (including what it said on fees)…

Excerpts:

  • …no one could have predicted how much change would happen between then and now. When the Augar report was published, Philip Augar said it was a take-it-or-leave-it package. In other words, he said it was a carefully calibrated model, not a pick-and-mix. I suspect the goal was to disincentivise policymakers from banking any proposed savings and then rejecting the counterbalancing proposed new spending. 
  • after the COVID crisis began…[Augar]… writing in the Financial Times that his most high-profile recommendation – reducing the headline full-time undergraduate fee cap from £9,250 to £7,500 – should perhaps be junked while others should still be implemented.
  • Now it has been confirmed by the Prime Minister that some of those other recommendations are indeed now to be implemented. For example, the Augar report’s first two recommendations were for ‘a single lifelong learning loan allowance’ and access to student finance ‘for modules of credit’, and these ideas have now been accepted. The devil will be in the detail…
  • But such tweaks cost money and, now that the Treasury is beginning to finalise its plans for the Spending Review, it is time to focus again on that most famous of all of the Augar report’s recommendations, the one on fees… In the COVID crisis, we may all have paid too little attention to the fact that the actual proposal for a lower fee cap remains on the table… There will be voices urging the Treasury in the run up to the Spending Review to cut spending on universities (either to reduce borrowing or to spend more on other priorities, including other educational priorities)… Cutting fees could play well in the culture war. It would be at one with some of the negative coverage of universities in recent times. And universities are typically in larger towns and cities that are less likely to be represented by a Conservative MP… But cutting the income of universities now is an objectively terrible idea… it nonetheless seems clear that severe cuts to the main income stream for universities in the midst of a crisis, while failing to replace the lost income, would make the Institute for Fiscal Studies’s dire warnings about the number of universities that could go bust during the pandemic much more likely to come true.

Student loans

In a week where there has been a constant focus speculating on the CSR and with the Government making announcements about flexibility in student loans and new spending pledges fresh attention has fallen on the student loan outlay figures which were published at the end of last week.

The Government changed the way it accounts for certain things, including the student loan, in the last Parliament and we now have the RAB – the Resource Accounting and Budgeting charge which predicts the proportion of loans that have been paid out to students that are expected to never be repaid back into the Treasury.

The RAB has now hit a whopping 53%, yet the DfE target for unpaid loans is much lower at 36%. Uncomfortable figures particularly with the Government’s claims that not enough students are accessing graduate level jobs at the end of their degree and that too many young people are choosing to go to university over other routes. And all within the landscape of unprecedented Government borrowing to fund the pandemic and economic needs (and dare I mention it – Brexit). In addition, there is also the forthcoming population boom to consider with 2030 expected to require a significant increase in availability of provision – all of which would have to be paid for. However, the Government may be hoping to redirect some of this boom demand into more technical or hop on – hop off higher level provision.

A current forecast suggests the Government will have a £20 billion outlay by 2024-25 for student loans.

The great annual migration

Gavin Williamson made a statement and responded to questions regarding students returning to universities. Below follows a summary of the main points in the full statement and questions session. For a shorter version you can read the press release which just covers Williamson’s statement here.

  • Students will be able to return home for Christmas should they wish to. The Government will work with universities to ensure this can occur safely. DfE Guidance will follow however it may include ceasing face-to-face contact two weeks early to provide time for students to self-isolate before returning home. Universities must ensure students who wish to remain within their university accommodation over the Christmas period are safe and well looked after. However, Williamson didn’t directly address a later question by Mark Harper MP who asked for reassurance students would not be trapped in their university accommodation for the period of self-isolation. [Many have pointed out that this ignores the fact that many students go home (or elsewhere) much more regularly than this….]
  • Labour (Yvette Cooper MP) asked if the Government was proposing all students self-isolate at the end of term to return home and pressed for mass testing Williamson stated that different cases, local circumstances and term end dates mean they envisage the self-isolation will cover only a very small number of universities. Later Hilary Benn pressed Williamson on whether students may go home to isolate again. He responded: We will be setting out clear guidance in terms of students and making sure that that fits within the broader guidance right across the country that is available for the wider population as well.
  • Blended learning should continue with face-to-face contact where possible. Teaching should not be solely online. The 11 September tiered approach guidance balancing learning requirements against the C-19 risk and local restrictions continues to apply.
  • Students who isolate must be properly cared for and the university should ensure they can access food, medical and cleaning supplies. Confirmed that universities are doing this. Students living outside of the campus or university housing should also have access to advice and support. Williamson was challenged during the questions by Sir Edward Leigh who was opposed to an enforced whole halls of residence lockdown. Williamson stated: Students follow the same rules as those in society and: We always want to ensure that there is a sensible and proportionate response to ensure that students are able to go about their business and continue their learning online and, importantly, face to face.
  • Universities need to provide additional mental health and practical support to students during these difficult times, particularly those new starters. The Minister stated he was pleased with universities efforts in this regard – Many universities have bolstered existing mental health services and offer alternatives to face-to-face consultations. Once again, I would like to thank staff at universities and colleges who have responded so quickly and creatively to the need to transform those essential services.
  • Later Damian Hinds MP planted a friendly question asking Williamson to talk about the great work done by universities and the likes of Student Minds – the support available and how it is being stepped up. Williamson responded: An amazing amount of work is done by every single university, but there has also been a recognition by the Office for Students that there may be gaps. That is why the Office for Students has stepped in to ensure that where students find that there is not that type of provision, something is provided for them, so that no student is in a position of not being supported. It is incredibly important that all students understand that support is available to them for them to be able to enjoy their time at university and succeed in their studies.
  • Acknowledged Universities hard work to make reopening as safe as possible. Feels both universities and students have followed the guidance. Students only subject to the same restrictions as the community in that area. Stated C-19 cases occurring in universities is inevitable, just as it is in the wider community, however, he believes universities are well prepared to handle outbreaks as they arise. Expressed that he was impressed with the way universities have worked with local authorities and local public health teams to safeguard students and staff.
  • The Department for Health and Social Care are working to make sure testing capacity is sufficient and appropriate for universities. They continue to make more tests available, more local testing sites and more processing laboratories. However, demand outstrips supply so staff and students should only request a test if they have symptoms or are advised to by an official.
  • Universities are also able to call on £256 million provided by the Government for hardship funding for students who have to isolate. Williamson also mentioned this money later in relation to chi Onwurah MP’s question which stated the only financial support the sector has received is to address the shortfall in scientific research funding, which is critical but does not have an impact on the learning experience. [The £256 million isn’t additional or new money and actually it was decreased in May from its original allocation so this has been criticised as misleading – see below]
  • The Government have taken a conscious decision to prioritise education…We will never be in a position where we can eliminate all risk, but we will not condemn a generation of young people by asking them to put their lives on hold for months or years ahead. We believe that universities are very well prepared to handle any outbreaks as they arise. 

Later in the discussion he stated that: We must not forget, however, that hundreds of thousands —almost a million—students have safely returned to university over the last few weeks. They will start their studies and benefit from a brilliant, world-class university education.

During the questions the Government was critiqued for:

  • Not doing things soonerwhy did it take the Secretary of State and the Health Secretary until last Wednesday to write to local directors of public health about the return of university students? (Kate Green). Answer: they were updating from the last advice SAGE produced, acting on the issues and suggestions made by SAGE.
  • Test & trace ineffective -self-isolating students live in particularly difficult circumstances (e.g. room size, no family support, living with a group that are practically strangers). (Kate Green). Later others used the shambolic privatised test and trace system to press for students to have access to tests to travel home safely (Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi).
  • Remote learning – students without digital access or a device; and additional support for students with SEN. This is where Williamson got himself in hot water. He stated: The hon. Lady raises an important point about digital access. I am sorry that she missed the announcement that we have made £100 million available for universities to use to ensure that youngsters have digital access, including students from the most deprived backgrounds, who would perhaps not be in a position to access courses. It is vital that if we are in a situation where people will have blended learning, all students are able to access it. We are taking seriously some of the challenges that all students and universities will face, which is why we have made £256 million available to make sure that where students are facing real hardship, universities can access funding to help them. [However, the £100m for digital access was for schools, so he has been criticised for that too as well as the £256m claim]
  • Lilian Greenwood MP picked up on disabled students accessing equipment and support Williamson stated it was the universities responsibility: under equalities legislation there is a duty on universities to ensure that there is proper and fair provision for all students. That is what we would expect from all universities. He also mentioned the £100m fund again (which is for schools).
  • Williamson side stepped and didn’t respond directly to Carol Monaghan’s call to address the fee-paying structure of (English) higher education by reducing fees and increasing Government funding to universities. Williamson stated: I thank the hon. Lady for putting forward policy suggestions for future Conservative party manifestos. We want to ensure that universities are properly funded, so that they are able to have world-class facilities that can beat other universities anywhere in the world. Laura Trott MP also addressed fees –  in some cases students will be paying full fees for what are now only online courses – and she called on the Minister to advise and ask the OfS to confirm that university bonuses not be paid unless fees were lowered. Williamson stated: I will be asking the Office for Students to look at this and give very strong and clear steers on this matter to ensure that no bonuses are going out as a result of this crisis. [Incidentally if you can stomach more on the fee refund debate Wonkhe have an excellent article debating the latest here. ]
  • Dame Cheryl Gillan MP called on Williamson to champion two-year degree courses. Williamson sorted the accelerated offer and reiterated there were other routes apart from university, including apprenticeships.
  • And on white working class boys (following a question from Robert Halfon, Chair Education Select Committee) Williamson stated: On why not enough youngsters on free school meals or white working-class boys are going to university, that is a real issue. We need to see change. We need to look at different options to ensure that those youngsters realise that they can succeed as well at university as all the other youngsters who choose to go. We will ensure that we deliver it as we level up across the country over the coming years.
  • The session concluded with Williamson confirming if Covid student numbers rose substantially the Government would review its position – We will constantly work with the sector very closely to ensure that we adapt and support it if the pandemic means that we have to make changes.

Labour issued a press release after the statement: Williamson’s blunders in the chamber further evidence serial incompetence. It covers the £100 million digital mistake and a second – Williamson said: the “Student Loans Company also offers a system whereby extra maintenance support can be made available through individual assessment.” Labour have critiqued this stating Students can change their maintenance loan applications if there is a change in their household income, but this does not allow the Student Loans Company to provide additional maintenance support simply because of increased needs for students. Labour raised these aspects as a point of order and called for the record to be corrected. It was refused but the Deputy Speaker acknowledged that the opposition had successfully made the point on the record.

Wonkhe dissected the statement mistakes too and added:

  • That Williamson encouraged the Office for Students to forbid the payment of bonuses to university staff – the Office for Students does not directly have this power.
  • They also clarified what we mentioned above on the £256million boost to student hardship funds. Wonkhe state: These already existing funds were initially allocated to universities to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds as “student premium” funding, and were actually cut from £277m last year by Gavin Williamson back in May.

NSS to LEO

With the launch of the NSS review Emma Hardy, Shadow HE Minister, wrote for Research Professional to voice concerns on alternative judgements of university quality:

  • Ditching the NSS with no replacement would put greater emphasis on Longitudinal Education Outcomes data, which only tell us how much graduates earn. This appears to fit with this government’s notion of ‘value for money’ and ‘value to the taxpayer’, and this is no doubt how it will be presented. However, what it can’t be said to measure is ‘value to the country’ or even ‘value to the economy’.
  • Covid-19 has underlined the importance of key workers and there are many graduate jobs, including those of nurses and health workers, that do not carry big salaries. LEO data may be able to tell us which graduates go into the best-paid employment but, because wage levels are geographically influenced, they discriminate against universities in deprived areas that support local economies by training the graduates those economies need.
  • Worse, the data discriminate against higher education institutions that recruit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds, because a significant determiner of postgraduate income is still students’ socioeconomic background before they attend university. As the main measure for judging universities, LEO data can only embed inequalities—the exact opposite of ‘levelling up’.

Her article goes on to suggest that this definition of value looks like a proxy for an attack on the numbers going to university. And after noting past cuts to technical education Emma states:  the government has tried to blame the crisis in further education on the success of our universities. Universities should not allow this to continue unchecked… 

And the implications of the virus….

It’s unlikely that you’ve managed to escape the tug and thrust of student Covid news over the last week. We’ll cover it here as speedily and painlessly as we can.

Mass testing continues to be central to the Opposition’s calls. Earlier in the week Kate Green (Labour’s Education Secretary) pressurised the Government on Sunday’s BBC Breakfast calling for a commitment to test every HE student before they return home at the end of term. She also stated we should pause the student migration now until an “effective, efficient testing system” is put in place.

Next in the saga was Amanda Milling MP, Co-Chair of the Conservative Party, who stated: There are no plans to keep students at university over Christmas and Labour is deliberately creating unnecessary stress for young people to score political points.

Finally Williamson put us out of our misery on Tuesday when his speech confirmed the Government and universities would work together to save Christmas allowing students who wish to, to return home. The details surrounding isolation and plans for those with active Covid symptoms are to follow in DfE guidance. And in Thursday’s Covid briefing the PM paid tribute to students who were studying in these unprecedented times.

Kate Green also wrote a letter to Gavin Williamson which included students access to remote learning. She stated:

[On remote learning]…To do this, they must also have access to the right equipment, connectivity and environment. The “digital divide” has been raised with your department on numerous occasions, including in a recent report from the Office for Students which showed its impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. What urgent steps are you taking to bridge the digital divide…?

Leaving home to go to University should be a momentous and exciting step for young people and their families. It is deeply distressing that so many will now not get the university experience they deserve, and face the appalling prospect of being locked in their rooms with no chance to make new friends.

Universities have done all they can to prepare for students’ safe return to campus, but the government has failed to play its part. You let young people down with the exam fiasco over the summer, and now many of those same students are being let down again. These young people deserve better than your incompetence.

Previously she has stated that students should have the choice to remain in the family home:

We do think it is important that students have a choice. If they feel they are going to be safer at home then they should be able to stay at home and conduct their learning remotely.

OfS Edicts: The OfS have commented on the student situation as they return to university and expressing their expectations for the HE sector to meet:

  • Universities have worked hard to make campuses safe, and have developed programmes that mix face-to-face and online learning. However, our guidance says that is essential that they provide students with as much clarity as possible on what they can expect. Where the situation changes universities should provide regular information updates.
  • Where students need to go into isolation, universities have to be clear about how courses will continue to operate in these circumstances and what welfare, resources and support are available. Universities should provide information about how testing can be accessed where it is expected by the health authorities and ensure that such students can access food and other essential provisions. We will be following up with individual universities and colleges where we have concerns about the arrangements they are making for teaching and academic support. 
  • Students have a right to good quality higher education – whether that is taught online, in-person or a mixture of the two. Where they feel this is not happening they can raise concerns with their university, escalating complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator where a resolution cannot be found. They can also inform the OfS, and we can and will investigate if we believe that universities have not taken all reasonable steps to protect standards or where quality is slipping for groups of students.

Finally, here is a small selection of this week’s coverage on students & Covid.

Scottish Pact: Scotland’s Universities have agreed a Consistent Core of Care – a package of 10 measures – to support student wellbeing for the first semester in response to C-19. Three measures specifically address students who are quarantined or isolating such as very regular check ins with the student/household.

Student Spread: The New Statesman has used Office for National Statistics local neighbourhood classifications (he granular output areas) of student areas to compare Covid cases.

They found:

  • 1.15 confirmed cases per student neighbourhood in England
  • compared to 0.36 cases per non-student area.
  • Student areas are also more likely to be represented among those recording the highest case rates.
  • The effect is greater within cities with substantial student districts and particularly in the north.
  • The number of cases is rising faster in student areas than non-student areas.

The article acknowledges that:

  • not all of the cases within the student classified areas will have been students
  • as a whole, there are still more Covid-19 cases outside of student neighbourhoods than within them
  • Also: cases were rising in workplaces across the country before students went back to university – indicating they were not the cause of the rise in cases, but rather accelerated a pre-existing trend.

The Times Red Box has a piece calling for immediate mass testing in every university town. They believe students and staff should be tested twice per week and look to Illinois which has a campus tracing team who support with tracking and immediate testing so no one isolates unnecessarily. They also suggest using the universities laboratory capacity to process the tests (40 in the UK have the facilities the article suggests, others could use a mobile facility on site). Acknowledging that rapid testing can be inaccurate in identifying a lower viral load makes the retesting a key part of the approach. The interesting aspect of this article is that it makes the case not just to stop the spread of the virus but for the mental health of students – it sees regular mass testing as unlocking an almost normal experience.

Research Professional have coverage of student mental health in Top priority – How serious are universities about student mental health?

LBC have a short piece on the human rights lawyer who has stated the Manchester residence lockdowns were legally dicey.

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

The BBC published University entrance: The ‘taboo’ about who doesn’t go primarily looking at the barriers and alternate motivations of young white working class males.

The OfS has released TUNDRA data which measures the frequency with which people living in a more granular area have accessed HE over a series of years. Wonkhe have a very short blog with some charts utilising the new data.

UCAS have a new blog considering the aspects which may encourage care experienced students to disclose their care background in their application personal statement.

Lord Hunt championed several parliamentary questions on ensuring care leavers have access to the internet and a digital device this week – see here, here, here and here.

The Sutton Trust has published a report on school closures and lower social mobility

Exams cancelled?

The VC’s of Birmingham and Sheffield Hallam have a thoughtful piece in the Times calling on the Government to cancel the 2021 A level exams:

  • Decisions need to be made now to give teachers, universities and students certainty. The coming year will be unpredictable. Local lockdowns will have a differential effect on learners who have already faced massive disruption. Making that up would be tough anyway; making it up through further local disruptions to teaching will be almost impossible. The danger is that next summer’s results will be as chaotic as this year’s, with students having had much less time to learn.
  • There is a simple solution for assessment. This year, government rightly allowed teacher grades to stand. The problem was no effective grade moderation. Government should ask examination boards to use the time we now have to develop a robust moderation approach. It’s a method which works in almost every other advanced educational system.
  • Our approach would have huge benefits. It would give students certainty and remove the worry that learning would be interrupted by a local lockdown. It would give universities certainty about assessments. It would ease progression from school to university for learners whose education has been so interrupted. There is also another benefit: it would open up a route to more effective university admissions, fit for a post-Covid world. 

This parliamentary question confirms the Government does not intend to implement predicted grades in 2020/21. And this one questions the steps the Government are taking to ensure schools have clear guidance on exams in summer 2021 before students have to submit applications to UCAS.

NAHT also have grave concerns about the 2021 exam series, they’re particularly concerned about the impact of a compressed time period with back to back exam conditions:

  • we remain concerned about proposals that next year’s summer exams should be pushed back. While that initially sounds like it would help students have more time to learn and prepare, it could have a disastrous effect on students’ experience. Delaying the exam series, while still needing to generate results in time for university offer deadlines, would necessitate a compression of the exam series, meaning more exams for young people in a much shorter space of time. Given how high stakes these tests are, this could only add to the unfairness and inequity of the situation, could lead to further disadvantage for some students over others, and would certainly have a negative impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing.
  • Ongoing teacher assessments could end up being crucial this year – we should be looking at how we use a range of measures rather than assuming things can be fixed by simply delaying the exams. If 2020 has shown us nothing else, it is that relying solely on a series of high-stakes exams means that we are left with no other options if things go wrong…Unfortunately there are currently few signs that the authorities who presided over this year’s chaos have learned the right lessons or are acting quickly enough to avoid another mess.

And the TES cover calls from Lord Baker to cancel the 2021 GCSE and A level exams.

Currently the media focus is on assessment methods and arrangements but over the academic year increasing focus is likely to build on universities admissions arrangements and timescales.

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

Degree Apprenticeships: Ofsted are now solely responsible for the inspection of apprenticeship training provision at all levels – including degree apprenticeships delivered within HE providers and all level 6 & 7 provision. There is a partnership aspect in that the OfS will continue to provide Ofsted with relevant information to inform inspection judgements. Gavin Williamson’s letter to Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector, is here. It also instructs Ofsted to build capacity and capability for the new responsibilities upskilling existing staff and:  the recruitment of additional inspectors with suitable expertise including knowledge and experience of higher educationOfsted should also work closely with [Government Education] officials and the Office for Students in preparing the apprenticeships sector for this change, particularly… those providers who are not already familiar with Ofsted inspection. I expect Ofsted to work collaboratively to ensure that the circumstances of the sector are fully understood.

Remote working within HE Sector: Wonkhe tell us about a new report from SUMS consultancy into higher education working practices during the pandemic finds that line management support, team cohesion and institutional communications were most important in supporting staff wellbeing during the initial stages of the pandemic.

SUMS consulting have published: Working well – during and beyond Covid-19: A report into staff health, general wellbeing and remote working enablement in the HE Sector

  • The HE sector is not on its own in having to adapt quickly to changes in work location and practice. Many of the observations set out in this report transcend industries. However, this research has specifically sought out the perspectives of those working in UK higher education…The resulting paper identified eight critical success factors to support good change management in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis; and learning points for the future… This study reflects on initiatives put in place driven by remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic and poses questions around the potential for these initiatives to be sustained and embedded in the long-term employee experience.

Wonkhe also covered the report and have highlighted: line management support, team cohesion and institutional communications were most important in supporting staff wellbeing during the initial stages of the pandemic.

Engineering Careers: a new digital platform for engineering outreach (online and in person) activities (aimed at schools) has been launched – Neon.

Levelling up: The UK2070 Commission have published Go big. Go local – a new deal for levelling up the UK. The blurb: There are deep-rooted inequalities across the UK. These are not inevitable. However, we lack the long-term thinking and spatial economic plan needed to tackle them. Included in the 10 point plan (page 2):

  • Creating New Global Centres of Excellence harnessing increased investment in research and development to create ‘hub and spoke’ networks of excellence and growth across the country comparable to the economic impact of the ‘golden triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge
  • Future Skilling the UK tackling the historic under-performance of the UK on skills through national plans to raise attainment levels, especially in those skills needed to achieve the levels of the best performing places.
  • a powerful ministerially-led cross-government committee needs to be established with a dedicated team, to oversee delivery and embed levelling up, supported by spatial analysis, flexible funding and new measures of success…
  • Page 48 lists the top 24 most deprived Council areas in terms of access to services, skills and education & levels of social mobility.

You can read the full report here.

Travel & Transport Guidance: The updated guidance for higher education providers in England on when and how to reopen their campuses and buildings is available here. The updates relate to travel and transport.

International: Wonkhe report that The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will announce later today expanded vetting for overseas applicants to university courses relating to questions of national security. This comes amid concerns around students from China collecting information for the People Liberation Army. The Times has the story.

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HE policy update for the w/e 18th September 2020

Hi all, there is very much of a “what will the new academic year hold” feel about this week.  Will there be another national lockdown?  Is the rise in virus cases a second wave or a small bounce?  What will university students do when they are not learning or socialising online?  In the “find someone to blame for everything” environment that is so prevalent (and so disheartening), students are the latest group to be targeted for vilification.  But there is other news too…

Research news

The Minister speaks

Science Minister Amanda Solloway spoke this week to promote researcher wellbeing and push for changes in the sharing and evaluation of research.

The Minister spoke of the barriers to sticking with a research career – little chance of secure permanent employment, a hamster wheel of short-term funding alongside publishing in the ‘right’ journals, alongside a focus on bullying and harassment. The Minister said:

  • it was an enormous shock… to learn that nearly two-thirds of researchers have witnessed bullying or harassment at work, and almost half have experienced it themselves…. As government, it is our duty not to condone the behaviour of bullies, no matter how talented they may be as individuals.
  • Institutions with widespread bullying and harassment problems should not benefit from the taxpayer’s support.

Career Path

  • we should make sure that we create real longevity in careers. Employers should provide clear career paths, and the stable employment contracts to match… for those that wish to pursue a career in R&D, we should provide clear routes to progression, including routes between academia and other places, and between technical and research roles
  • Having a casualised research workforce where the vast majority of people can’t develop a proper career is no way to build our status as a science superpower.
  • Because research is inherently creative – it’s about finding out new things, taking risks and venturing into the unknown. Nobody should live in fear that, if they don’t play exactly the same game as everyone else, according to the same narrow set of rules, they’ll lose their jobs.

Funding System

  • we must do whatever we can to put diversity at the heart of everything we do… promoting diversity should never simply be reduced to a tick-box exercise – just one more thing you have to demonstrate to win funding.
  • We must look seriously at whether the system of short-term grants for projects is really working… Or whether it’s instead promoting a monoculture of bureaucracy and risk aversion.
  • This means supporting sustainable and well-funded teams, units and institutions. With support for everyone involved in our R&D vision – from top scientists to postdocs to PhD students and doctoral apprentices, from technicians to professional support staff. From leaders, managers, governors, and people working in our funding agencies. To people interested in science, engaging with research, or considering a future in research for themselves or their children. Our R&D People and Culture Strategy should support the whole system – backing everyone to do their best.
  • And when we do provide funding, we should do it properly and sustainably.

Evaluation & Access to Research

  • it’s so baffling to me that scientists and researchers seem to evaluate each other in such strange ways – by obsessing over spurious metrics or narrow indicators of prestige…the pressure you feel from things like grant income targets or the impending Research Excellence Framework (REF)… I of course recognise that the ‘publish or perish’ culture in research is not unique to the UK
  • So I have today written to science ministers across the world, to invite them to join me in looking closely at this dependence on publications and to find out what we can collectively do about it….an outdated [reliance on]… closed-access journals which locks scientific discoveries away, tragically curtailing their usefulness. An important part of the solution must be to make research more openly available.
  • So let me restate this government’s commitment to full and immediate open access to all publicly funded research. And let me give my full backing to UKRI for the work they are doing to develop a new open access policy, working alongside international partners.
  • We should embrace, and encourage, new ways to share research – the exciting, diverse ways to communicate research… We should value datasets, code and open methods, just as much as we value books, journals and conferences… let’s celebrate the exhibition, the performance, the roadshow, the website and the wiki. The television programme, the community engagements, the patient involvement and the citizen science programme.

UKRI

New UKRI Chief Executive Ottoline Leyser presents her Viewpoint blog: We must reshape the system so it genuinely values and supports difference. It begins:

  • The data are clear. There are pervasive problems with equality, diversity and inclusion in research and innovation, which impoverish the system, stifle creativity and deny opportunity to people who have so much to contribute.
  • It is equally clear that there is huge appetite for change. We have reached a turning point in the debate…

Research Parliamentary Questions

  • When and how regularly the Government plans to publish diversity statistics for the UK’s research sector. (The next harmonised diversity data release is due early 2021.)
  • UKRI also committed to expanding their data collection and analysis capabilities including Innovate UK grants. And that they would publish other diversity data more regularly, e.g. the detailed ethnicity analysis of grant applications.
  • Whether BEIS plan to reform the REF to reduce admin, incentive collaboration, and focus on assessing groupings and teams. Answer – the Government will examine the mechanisms and agree a set of reforms – it is worth reading the full response
  • What assessment they have made of the reduction in research funding available to universities as a result of reduced charitable giving during the COVID-19 pandemic; and what plans they have to increase funding to compensate for any such reduction. (Answer references the SURE fund.)

The Lords Science & Technology Committee held a session debate on the report into Science research funding in Universities late last week. Excerpts:

  • The Committee registered surprise that the Augar review did not consider the impact the  recommendations  would have on universities’ ability to conduct science research—one of the key roles of universities: if  Augar  recommendations are implemented, it will seriously affect the Government’s ambition to make UK a science superpower …  Stagnation in QR funding for over a decade, a decrease in full economic costs to 70% from funders and a shortfall in support funding from government in relation to charities’ research grants leaves universities to have to cross-subsidise costs, mainly from international student fees. Added to these ongoing funding issues, there is now the significant and unknown effect of Covid-19 on university finances and research…The biggest threat to universities from the reduction in funding is a reduction in research talent. (Lord Patel)
  • On the Government’s response, Lord Patel noted it was positive but did not go far enough: The Government R & D road map sets out the framework, but now it needs the Government to engage with the university sector to get the details right.  
  • The issues of a decrease in funding and the long-term impacts this may have on R&D and medical advances were discussed.
  • Lord Willetts (Con), argued it would be a mistake to think that we can get anywhere near 2.4% if our research activities are concentrated in a small number of elite universities.
  • Lords from across the Chamber agreed that Scientific Research across HE needed to be prioritised.
  • Lord Callanan stated that the future global talent visa would help this skilled cohort of individuals to access the UK, empowering them to significantly enhance our knowledge base and make critical contributions to scientific and medical research.  And: Research, innovation and knowledge are the drivers of our global competitiveness and a key source of economic advantage. I assure noble Lords that we remain committed to maintaining the UK’s position as a global science superpower, and that we will continue to invest in our universities and in the science and research that will deliver the long-term economic growth and societal benefits.

The Secretary of State speaks

In Tuesday’s Education Committee accountability session Gavin Williamson answered questions on Covid related disruption of school and exams including a focus on grades and the system selected. There was no HE specific content. If you have an interest in the topic but do not wish to view the full session contact Sarah for a summary (ref: Thurs D1502).

International (Visas)

The House of Commons Education Committee has published the letter from the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration on the changes to the points-based student immigration routes. We mentioned this in last week’s update; here is all the detail from the letter:

  • The Government welcomes international students and places no limit on their number. This will not change under the points-based system. We are committed to increasing the number of international higher education students in the UK to 600,000 by 2030 and the new Student route will support us in achieving this aim.
  • From 5 October, all prospective international students, including those from the EU, coming to study in the UK after the end of the transition period will need to apply to the Student route before coming to UK. To help prepare EU students who will need to apply through the points-based immigration system in order to commence their studies here from January 2021, we have created tailored guidance, which can be found
  • The main differences between the new Student route and the previous Tier 4 are outlined below:
    • EEA nationals will be incorporated into a global application system. EEA nationals will be required to meet the same requirements to study within the UK as non-EEA nationals and will need to apply under the Student rules;
    • There will be a new set of simplified Immigration Rules for the Student and Child Student routes, in line with the recommendations made by the Law Commission;
    • Students will be able to apply for permission to come to the UK six months before they plan to travel;
    • There are increased switching permissions within the Student route and increased switching between routes within the new points-based immigration system. Students will be able to apply for further permission from within the UK, provided they meet the academic progression requirement and the new course of study commences within 28 days of the expiry of the current leave. This enables clearer pathways for students studying at all levels;
    • The eight-year time limit on studying courses at postgraduate level has been removed. There is no longer a limit on the time an individual can spend studying postgraduate courses;
    • Those applying for permission to stay in the UK on the Student route will not need to demonstrate funds if they have already been here with valid permission for 12 months or longer at the point they apply;
    • Students applying for leave as a Student Union Sabbatical Officer or to study on a recognised Foundation Programme will not be required to prove evidence of maintenance funds, as it is accepted these individuals will be earning an income during the validity of their visas;
    • Students at higher education providers with a track record of compliance will not routinely be required to provide evidence of academic qualifications used to obtain the offer of sponsorship;
    • Students who have passed relevant qualifications in English language or literature in the UK whilst studying under the age of 18 will be able to meet the English language requirement; and
    • EEA and Swiss nationals, and nationals of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, will be exempted from having to apply for an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate to study certain sensitive subjects in the UK.
  • To recruit international students, educational institutions must have a Home Office approved sponsor licence. Institutions who are already Tier 4 sponsors will automatically become Student sponsors.
  • To retain the brightest and the best students to continue to contribute to the UK post-study, we will launch the Graduate route in Summer 2021. This new route will allow those who have completed a degree at a UK higher education provider, with a track record of compliance, to stay in the UK for two years (three years for PhD graduates) and work at any skill level, and to switch into work routes if they find a suitable job.
  • There will be new rules on how applicants meet English language and finance requirements in immigration applications. These rules will only apply to the Student and Child Student routes initially, but will in time apply to all immigration routes. Guidance will be published in the near future.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report on Immigration enforcement this week.

International Parliamentary Questions

Graduate work visa: The potential merits of extending the duration of the graduate work visa. Answer – no:

  • We believe that 2 years (3 years for PhD graduates) is a fair and generous amount of time to allow international graduates to have unrestricted access to the UK labour market, enabling them to gain valuable work experience and to kick-start their careers. We also believe this will help to ensure that the UK continues to be an attractive destination for international students. We will of course keep the operation of the graduate route under review once it has been implemented.

Recruitment: What discussions have been held with the British Council on the number of international students expected to enrol in UK universities during academic years (a) 2020-21, (b) 2021-22, (c) 2022-23; and what support his Department has offered to the British Council to help attract international students for the academic year 2020-21.

The Secret Life of Students

Wonkhe ran a two day event – The Secret Life of Students – this week. Nicola Dandridge (OfS) presented and included some news:

  • The admissions review that was launched before lockdown is to remain on pause to allow universities to deliver the 2021 cycle first (and tackle any difficulties that arise). So while it is possible that the government will want a new approach (PQ offer making?), they are not going to try and inflict it on us straight away – especially as there may be challenges next year from delayed exams or further waves of the pandemic.
  • Whether the NSS will run during 2021 will be decided shortly. Communication to the sector is expected after the next OfS Board meeting. ICYMI we covered the government’s plans for NSS in last week’s update.
  • The anticipated consultation on student outcomes will follow very soon. This will be an important set of changes because it is strongly linked to the government’s agenda on value and quality.
  • An OfS and Research England joint funding competition addressing diversity will be announced presently.

Wonkhe’s weekly podcast (The Wonkhe Show) promises to cover the highlights from the two day event. Info on how to subscribe to the podcast is here.

Digital Teaching & Learning

Research Professional report on a Jisc survey (mainly carried out pre-lockdown) in which 23% of students stated their digital teaching and learning was poor quality. 28% also said the university didn’t facilitate access to online systems from any location. Michael Barber, Chair of the OfS, is conducting a review into digital teaching and learning for the OfS before he steps down from the Chair’s role.

  • The survey also revealed that only around half of students said they receive guidance on digital skills from their university, which Jisc said showed “the higher education sector must up its game to deliver the high-quality experiences students deserve, and the skills they need to thrive”.
  • While 93 per cent of students said they had access to a laptop, Jisc said the fact that many universities had offered laptops or bursaries to students when lockdown began “implies that the devices some students owned did not meet their requirements”.
  • Sarah Knight, head of data and digital capability at Jisc, said the pandemic had “has highlighted the urgent need to address digital poverty” among students as more teaching is carried out online.
  • “Universities and colleges must do what they can to ensure all students have an equitable experience, whether they’re learning face-to-face, remotely, or through a blended approach,” she added.

You can read more on the OfS Digital Review in this Research Professional article and this is the OfS’ call for evidence.

Returning students – Covid concerns

With a nationwide jump in Covid cases attention continues to focus on students who begin to travel to their universities. Wonkhe have a series of articles discussing the latest:

The time for a nationally coordinated response for higher education to Covid-19 has passed – what matters now is how well organisations collaborate locally.  What might need to be in place to make that happen?

With the R number back above 1 in England, what data is useful for responding to C-19 risks?

As the UK cracks down on socialising will a heavy-handed interpretation damage students’ education and community safety?

The government has published its guidance for universities in England on reopening campuses but is it too little, too late?

Slightly off topic but related Wonkhe have a blog asking if league tables are pointless given they will rely on data collected during the pandemic – Has C-19 infected university league tables?

And from Research Professional (RP): several UK universities are launching their own efforts to test their students and staff for Covid-19, rather than relying on the highly criticised national system.

RP also cover the University of Bergen which has shutdown following 230 students contracting Covid.

University Wales have a joint statement setting out the shared responsibility to keep communities safe.

Wonkhe report that: The Department of Health has urged universities to prepare for the NHS Covid-19 app – due to launch on 24 September – by creating and displaying NHS QR posters from a government website. The app will automate checking in to a location, and the notification process where an outbreak has been reported.

Politics Home has an article stating Universities are launching their own C-19 testing regimes because the Government test and trace programme is descending into a shambles.

Some parliamentary questions:

Finally Wonkhe cover the Public Health England blog –

  • Student life in the time of Covid-19 advising students that their “household” will consist of housemates or flatmates who share a student home, or if living in university halls “your university will let you know what makes up your household”. Framing all students as people who live in student accommodation, it says that student housing “will be a key part of how you will be able to socialise” and indicates that opportunities to meet new people outside a household and socialise safely at university can still take place under social distancing rules – adding further confusion for universities who are working through the implications of the new “rule of six” for student social activity.

Free Speech Legislation targeted at Students’ Unions

Times Higher have an article stating the Government is considering legislating on free speech within universities with students’ unions under the microscope through extended statutory duties and threatening fines. Excerpts from the article:

  • Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said the government was “exploring a range of legislative and non-legislative options” to protect free speech on campuses, following the Conservative manifesto pledge to “strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities”. 
  • There have been discussions in the government about teeing up the issue of campus free speech in the further education White Paper, expected this autumn, then introducing legislation subsequently that would extend statutory free speech duties – already imposed on those who run universities – to students’ unions, sources told THE.
  • The Department for Education is also believed to be examining the system of block grants directed by universities to students’ unions.

HNCs & HNDs – in partnership with FE only?

EDSK (a thinktank) have published Further Consideration: Creating a new role, purpose and direction for the FE sector. The report focuses on the 16-19, FE and Institute of Technology sector and gets behind the Government’s current passion for FE with the aspiration that vocational and technical routes be of equal prestige as university academic studies. Its sets out a number of recommendations of how this could be delivered in practice. Including that:

  • Higher-level technical qualifications should be funded by government if they are publicly endorsed by employers, professional bodies or Institutes of Technology. Each awarding organisation should also be restricted to offering one qualification per level in each subject. (Recommendation 12)
  • Aside from the approvals process for technical qualifications, there is a longstanding issue regarding the institutions that are responsible for providing qualifications at Levels 4 and 5. FECs deliver just over half of the qualifications at these levels, with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) such as universities delivering about a third of them. The list of qualifications available at Levels 4 and 5 is a mixture of academic and vocational courses of different sizes and with different purposes, such as Foundation Degrees, Higher National Certificates and various Awards, Certificates and Diplomas offered by a wide range of AOs that can last anything from a matter of hours up to two years. The problem is that HEIs currently compete with colleges to offer technical qualifications such as HNCs and HNDs, leaving learners and employers uncertain about who to engage with should they wish to pursue a higher technical pathway.
  • To reflect this report’s calls for greater collaboration among education providers within each locality, it is counterproductive for HEIs to be able to colonise the higher-level technical education space without any regard for similar provision available at nearby FECs. As discussed throughout this report, the advent of new ‘Technology Colleges’ will put the FE sector in a strong position to drive forward skills development and economic growth in their local areas, but this will only be possible if they become a ‘hub’ for higher technical courses that employers recognise and utilise.

And coordinating provision in a local area quickly moves to not permitting HEI’s to deliver these qualifications independently:

  • The provision of Level 4 and 5 technical qualifications should be led in future by Technology Colleges. This means that HE providers such as universities should not be allowed to offer these qualifications unless they deliver them in partnership with local FE institutions. (Recommendation 13)

Of course where there is partnership there is also top slicing as each institution attempts to cover some of the admin and quality assurance costs on top of the actual delivery and associated student services.

Recommendation 15 gives a (perhaps unintentional) nod to Labour and the Liberal Democrats repeated calls for individual learner accounts:

  • All learners should be given access to a new ‘lifetime loan limit’ of £75,000, which they can use to engage in education and training at any time throughout their career after the initial funds in their IEB have been used up. This lifetime loan system would cover both tuition and maintenance costs for university, college and apprenticeships.

So if you go to a University which charges higher fees you are looking at a one time hit. Of course, this is the case now for most learners, with only certain courses in key areas (such as STEM) which mean a student can access funding to study a second degree/equivalent level course.

The EDSK report reminds that there will be a white paper published in the autumn expected to address FE and particularly the technical skills agenda modelled on the admired German system.

HE Code of Governance

The Committee of University Chairs has published the Higher Education Code of Governance. It aims to identify the key values and elements that form an effective governance framework. Yet is also recognises that good governance practice is complex and goes beyond the adoption of the Code; that it requires an organisational culture which gives freedom to act; establishes authorities and accountabilities; and at its core fosters relationships based on mutual respect, trust and honesty.

The Code’s objectives are to:

  • determine, drive and deliver the institution’s mission and success in a sustainable way (financial, social and environmental)
  • protect and promote the collective student interest and the importance of a high-quality student experience
  • ensure student outcomes reflect good social, economic and environmental value; and effectively manage opportunities and mitigate risks to protect the reputation of the institution, ensuring financial sustainability and accountability for public funding
  • promote and develop a positive culture which supports ethical behaviour and equal, diverse and inclusive practices
  • promote excellence in learning, teaching and research, monitoring institutional and governing body performance
  • publish accurate and transparent information which is widely accessible
  • lead by example, being flexible and adaptable to create a resilient future
  • ensure arrangements are in place for meaningful engagement with relevant stakeholders (especially students and staff) locally, regionally, nationally and globally

How lucrative is postgraduate study?

The DfE and IFS have published The earnings return to postgraduate degrees in the UK. It analyses the earnings of postgraduate students by subject and institution type using LEO data and controlling for individual and background differences (including prior attainment). They compared the postgraduates’ earning against a control group who didn’t undertake further study. The study compared earnings by age 35 (to give sufficient time for employment and labour market experience post-qualification).

Page 6 gives interesting facts and figures on who undertakes a postgraduate degree and what they are studying

Here are the key points on earnings:

  • For both men and women, masters and PhD graduates earn more on average than those with only an undergraduate degree, while PGCE graduates earn less on average. In particular for men this last gap is large, with PGCE graduates earning around £38,000 on average at age 35 compared to nearly £51,000 for those with only an undergraduate degree. For both genders earnings growth through the thirties is largest among undergraduates and PhD graduates and smallest for PGCE graduates.
  • Earnings inequality varies widely across qualification groups, with very few PGCE graduates experiencing very high earnings, but also many fewer experiencing low earnings compared to those who left education after their undergraduate degree. As a result, despite the large differences in mean earnings, median earnings of PGCE graduates are very similar for men, and even somewhat higher for women, than those of undergraduates.
  • Once we control for differences between students, the earnings gap between undergraduate and masters and PhD graduates drops significantly: we estimate returns of 2% (women) and -2% (men) for masters and 8% (women) and -9% (men) for PhDs.
  • Our estimated returns for postgraduate degree are considerably smaller than previous estimates from the UK, which have been consistently positive. We believe this is because we have much richer data than has previously been available which allows us to much better control for differences between postgraduates and undergraduates.
  • PGCEs are a relatively ‘safe’ choice for both women and men: they reduce the chances of not being in employment, as well as earning less than £30k, but decrease the probability of earning more than £40k. We see quite similar patterns for PhD degrees, as well as for masters degrees for women. Perhaps this is because these degrees tend to result in people pursuing specific interests, such as research, where salaries are reasonable, but which are not necessarily the most exceptionally lucrative careers. For men masters degrees do not offer this insurance value.

Page 8 summarises how the returns vary by subject, institution and prior qualification. In short the return varies across subjects (see PhDs in maths and psychology – it’s not what you might expect); the institution means a difference between a negative and positive effect for masters (but its tangled up with subject choice too), prior study remains an effect with better returns when the masters subject diversifies away from the UG choice (except for high pay areas – law, economics, etc).

The report concludes:

Masters

  • The most striking finding, perhaps, is that while masters graduates on 55 8 average have higher earnings than graduates without postgraduate qualifications, once we account for differences in attainment and background characteristics we estimate a very low average return for women (1.5%) and even a small negative return for men (-2.3%). This average result masks important variation… Masters degrees in law, economics and business are particularly lucrative.
  • For students, the average returns to postgraduate degrees are perhaps less rosy than previously thought. However, more positively, for virtually all students there are some masters options they can do given their undergraduate subject that lead to positive earnings returns.

PhD

  • Our returns estimates suggest that PhD degrees boost earnings for women by around 7.5%, but reduce earnings for men by 9% [except for business]. One important point about the returns for PhD degrees is that there is some evidence that the returns continue to grow after age 35, as individuals gain more work experience. This suggests that the outlook might be more positive (especially for men) at later points in the life cycle. More generally, future research should consider the full life-cycle effects of postgraduate degrees.

And on disadvantage:

  • We also investigate access to postgraduate study and find that while large raw participation gaps do indeed exist, these are almost entirely explained away by prior attainment. This does not necessarily mean that if prior attainment were to improve amongst students from disadvantaged backgrounds then postgraduate fees would not generate barriers to access; it simply suggests that, currently, gaps in attainment in school and undergraduate degrees seem to be the binding constraint in terms of access to postgraduate courses among students from less well-off backgrounds.

Students as consumers

You may recall the student petition calling for a tuition fee refund due to Covid-19 disruption to their education and university experience. The Government dismissed it, however, it was reopened by the Petitions Committee and ran an inquiry to investigate the impact on students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from ‘hands on’ courses (the Committee’s report here). The Government have now responded to the Committee’s report (as they are required to do).

The Government’s response stated students have rights under consumer law but the exact circumstances in which a student might receive redress are not clear. This is because the question of whether an individual student is entitled to redress will depend in part on the specific contractual arrangements between them and their provider. It will also depend on the student’s individual circumstances, given that the move to online tuition will have been different for students on different courses and at different universities. The result is that each student’s situation is unique, and each case will depend on particular facts…. It is a matter for providers to determine whether a refund is appropriate and, if so, how such refunds should be paid. In other situations, including compensation paid in response to complaints arising from industrial action at universities, this has taken place via direct refund. Any refund is a matter for providers, so the Government is not considering writing off or reducing tuition fee loans.

The Government also refused to coordinate the matter: due to the individualised nature of student contracts and student circumstances, a new centralised system to support students seeking tuition fee refunds is not a preferred option at this time. Any such system would risk depriving institutions of the opportunity for early resolution of complaints with students, in situations where remedies other than refunds would be more helpful or beneficial to a student. Any centralised system would also be unlikely to be able to sufficiently take into account the circumstances an individual student has faced without detailed input from their institution, thereby replicating the first step in the established process for complaints – students in England and Wales first follow their institutional complaints process, and if they are not satisfied with the outcome can take their complaint forward to the OIA.

They also agreed students should be aware of their rights and how to make a complaint and… The Government is working closely with external stakeholders including UUK, NUS, OfS, CMA and OIA to explore existing communications channels and how these could be used to improve students’ understanding of their consumer rights…. More must be done to ensure that students know their rights and can play an active part in holding their provider to account, to ensure that they are receiving the value for money which should be expected of our world-leading universities.

In short, there has been no real change.

Wonkhe report that The Department for Education has set up a working group to consider whether existing guidance on consumer rights can be brought together or added to. They also discuss the Government’s response in this blog.

HEPI – student voting

HEPI has released another report on student voting, from another nuanced angle. This one looks at student voting within the last 4 general elections (2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019) asking Student voters: Did they make a difference? Focussing only on the 25 constituencies where well time students constitute at least 17.5% of the voting electorate. Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) states:

  • Our research confirms that student seats lean left, though perhaps to an even greater degree than previously thought. In constituencies in England with lots of students, Labour scored 25 percentage points more, while the Conservatives scored 25 percentage points less. The student vote has proved decisive in seats like Portsmouth South, Leeds North West, Canterbury and Coventry South. Labour also outperform the Conservatives in student seats in Wales and Scotland, though it is the SNP that tends to win in student areas in Scotland.
  • Our research highlights some common fallacies. For example, minor parties, such as the Green Party, have not generally done particularly well in student seats. Moreover, the common idea that the voice of students will be louder if they vote at their term-time address rather than their home address is often wrong – as students can sometimes just help stack up even bigger majorities in safe seats. While the Liberal Democrats struggled to maintain their previous performance after entering Government in 2010, they continued to do better in seats with lots of students than in England as a whole until 2019.

Nick also speaks directly to students:

  • As the new academic year begins, I urge students who move away to study to keep their options open by making sure they are registered to vote in their place of study as well as at their home address.

…and to and parliamentary candidates:

  • I would also urge policymakers not to take the student vote for granted. While students are interested in so-called “student issues”, such as student finance, they are also motivated by other issues, such as climate change, the state of the NHS and the UK’s place in the world.
  • We also all need to avoid the simplistic assumption that going to university makes people left-wing, as this idea is increasingly being challenged by academics with hard evidence.

The NUS have responded to the report:

The report confirms many things that NUS have previously asserted including:

  • Students have a significant impact in General Elections and should be considered as a key voter group
  • Students care about so-called ‘student issues’ such as student finance, but are also motivated by other issues such as climate change, the NHS and the UK’s place in the world
  • Whilst student seats lean left, it’s also important to remember that students are not a homogeneous group and students hold a wide range of political beliefs

The report comes at an important time as students prepare to organise around key issues for the 2021 May local elections and national elections in Wales and Scotland.

Social Mobility Commission

The Social Mobility Commission have released The long shadow of deprivation – research carried out by IFS, the UCL Centre into areas with the lowest social mobility. It links educational data and HMRC earnings information to identify young sons from disadvantaged families (entitled to free school meals) who attended state schools. The research tracked them from age 16 to 28. The press release states the results show a postcode lottery for disadvantaged people.  In areas with high social mobility, disadvantaged young adults earn twice as much as those with similar backgrounds in areas with low social mobility… . In the “coldest spots” those from disadvantaged backgrounds, entitled to free school meals, have little chance of making a better life for themselves or their children. 

  • Education, often blamed for social mobility differences, is only part of the answer. In areas with high social mobility, gaps in educational achievement account for almost the entire pay difference between the most and least advantaged sons. On average it accounts for 80% of the difference.
  • However, in local authorities where social mobility is low it is much harder to escape deprivation. In such areas, up to 33% of the pay gap between the highest and lowest earners is down to non-education factors, like local labour markets and family background.
  • Disadvantaged workers are restricted by factors including limited social networks (fewer internships); inability to move to more prosperous areas; limited or no financial support from family; less resilience to economic turbulence due to previous crisis such as 2008 financial crash and less developed soft skills.
  • The [social mobility] commission is now urging regional and community leaders to use the findings to help draw up tailored, sustained, local programmes to boost social mobility, building on the approach in some Opportunity Areas. The commission will also ask the government to extend its current Opportunity Areas programme – which gives support to 12 councils – to include several more authorities identified as the areas with the most entrenched disadvantage.

Steven Cooper, interim co-chair of the commission said:

  • These findings are very challenging. They tell a story of deep unfairness, determined by where you grow up. It is not a story of north versus south or urban versus rural; this is a story of local areas side by side with vastly different outcomes for the disadvantaged sons growing up there.

PQs

A financial focus runs across our remaining parliamentary questions this week:

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

Unpaid internships: There are currently two Private Members’ Bills before Parliament on unpaid work experience/internships (prohibiting them). You can read the summary of the debate from the Commons Bill here.

Online events: The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee are running a series of online events on specialist topics (free to BU staff) see this link for the areas covered.

Degree Apprenticeships: Wonkhe report on an FE Week  article stating that the Office for Students is to be stripped of its role (held since June 2019) in overseeing degree level apprenticeships, with Ofsted taking on the responsibility alongside its existing role in inspecting apprenticeships up to level 5. This was a recommendation made by the Augar report.

Policy revamp: Labour have begun revising their higher education policy. Research Professional speculate on the topics that are being discussed behind closed doors. Spoiler:

  • In truth, it is unlikely to be very much different from the plan Labour offered to the electorate in 2019. The same issues are driving the higher education agenda: training and lifelong learning, and the contribution of universities to national recovery and productivity.
  • We can expect Starmer’s Labour to back lifelong learning and the integration of further and higher education. The bigger question that Labour needs to answer is: How should the country respond to the growing demand for higher education in the next decade?

Deferrals: The DfE have announced a support package for students who were forced to defer their entry to university this year. Some of the support mechanisms will also be open to students who elected to defer. The press release states the support package will provide opportunities to gain new skills, undertake work placements in the public, private and voluntary sectors, undertake additional learning and support their career development. This includes support that the higher education sector will offer those students during the year ahead, including free courses and access to careers advice. It signposts to healthcare support roles, paid tutoring roles, the National Careers Service, the Skills Toolkit, University Officer Cadets, work experience with Network Rail, placements within the Courts and Tribunals Service, Special Constables, BEIS have an industry seminar programme, and the Civil Service are offering a 1 week virtual work experience. Read further down the article for Private and Voluntary sector opportunities.  On HE support the press release states all HE providers have committed to:

  • maintain regular contact with students who need to defer, and explore a range of means of supporting them over the coming year
  • offer greater transitional support to these students to support their enrolment in 2021
  • some online content will be made available to these students, at the appropriate level
  • where possible and appropriate, they will be offered online mentoring and access to careers guidance
  • they will receive guidance on what further options for study in preparation for their degree are available, with many providers supplying free online courses and/ or resources

UCAS will directly contact students who had to defer their place to inform them of the scheme.

Business Barometer: The Open University (OU) published their Business Barometer. It finds employers report continued skill shortages despite the growth in the pool job candidates. Management and leadership and digital skills are stated as the most difficult skills to fill. The OU recommends that businesses focus on their own workforce to grow the internal talent for future skills needs.  

  • Organisations spent £6.6 billion plugging short term gaps this year, up from £4.4 billion in 2019
  • 56% of UK organisations report they continue to experience skills shortages
  • 61% of organisations say that they are not as agile as they need to be because of shortfalls in their skills
  • 48% of employers stated that apprenticeships and work-based learning initiatives will be vital to their organisation’s recovery over the next year

Jobs outlook: The CBI published its annual survey stating half of UK firms plan to reduce their recruitment during the next 12 months (half plan to increase). This means the overall proportion of businesses planning increased recruitment has dropped compared to last year.  The BBC also cover business redundancies due to lower consumer demand following an Institute for Employment Studies (IES) Freedom of Information request.

Education Sector: C-19 and the classroom – Working in education during the pandemic has been published, it covers the impact on education professionals’ mental health and wellbeing during this unprecedented times.

Home working: Not remotely policy related – but there is a YouGov poll identifying what Brits working from home miss about the workplace

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HE policy update for the w/e 10th September 2020

We thought it might be a quiet week, this week, but we were wrong.  The DfE has started the new academic year with a bang, and the Ofs are going to be busy.

So we are back properly to our weekly schedule although with a bit of flexibility on days of the week.

International student visas

The Home Office have made an announcement about student visas.  The new international student immigration route is opening early, from 5th October to allow the “best and brightest” to apply for a visa under the new points based system.  That includes EU students.  This will mean that “as a result of coronavirus, some overseas students are choosing to defer their entry onto courses in the UK until the spring semester of 2021. Introducing these new routes now means that students will be able to benefit from the new streamlined process whilst still giving sponsors time to adapt after their autumn intake”.

The Secretary of State and the Minister for Universities speak

Gavin Williamson has been speaking to UUK.  He starts with a bouquet of praise and thanks for the sector and almost an apology for the extra work on admissions this year, although not quite.  There was always going to be a “but…”.

First he wanted to “land three key messages” related to the pandemic:

  • Keep going – and he looks forward to working with us all as the situation evolves over the autumn term
  • The importance of collaboration – specifically with local authorities.
  • And to stay alert, which includes comms to students and keeping them at uni rather than sending them home if there are local restrictions

And then the “but”.  It starts nicely:

  • Too often, there can be an implicit narrative that every university needs to measure itself against Oxbridge. That if a university isn’t winning Nobel prizes and taking in triple A students it is somehow second rate.
  • In reality, it is the diversity of our sector which will drive the levelling up agenda that is central to everything this Government does.

But…

  • There are still pockets of low quality. One only has to look at the Guardian subject league tables to see there are too many courses where well under 50% of students proceed to graduate employment.
  • But more fundamentally, in order to create a fairer, more prosperous and more productive country, we need to reverse the generational decline in higher technical education.
  • We have already announced that, over the next few years, we will be establishing a system of higher technical education where learners and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses that provide the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, whether they are taught in a further education college, a university or an independent training provider.
  • Of course, a large proportion of this will be delivered in our great further education colleges, but what I also want to see is for universities to end their preoccupation with three-year bachelors’ degrees and offer far more higher technical qualifications and apprenticeships. These would be more occupation focused and provide a better targeted route for some students, and benefit employers and the economy.

Again, none of this is new, he has been completely consistent.  It will be interesting to see how the sector responds.

Michelle Donelan

There was a double act at UUK this morning, as the Universities Minister also spoke.

Again, lots of thanks and different examples too.  I want to say a special thank you. Thank you for bending over backwards to unlock the dreams and opportunities of this year’s cohort.

Her speech is mostly about the bureaucracy reduction announcements set out below.  But in return for this her speech also has a “but”.  Her but is also consistent with what we have heard before.  She wants:

  • readily accessible bitesized learning for people looking to upskill and reskill…. and also foster a culture of lifelong learning”.

And it comes with a carrot – or a stick – hard to tell which:

  • You will remember that the Augar review looked in detail at flexible learning and argued for widespread changes to the organisation and funding of higher education to enable that flexibility. And we will respond in parallel with the Spending Review. Rest assured, the global pandemic has not and will not throw us off course.”

Her last point was about mental health, and the need for on-going support.

Bonfire of the metrics (and general reduction of bureaucracy)

The OfS were due to review the NSS this year, and of course we are also waiting (and have been waiting for ever, it seems) for the government response to the Pearce review of the TEF.  But the DfE have gone early.  In a move which confirms what we and everyone else has been saying all summer, the DFE have confirmed that they only really care about outcomes (and continuation) and asked the OfS to do a serious review of the NSS by the end of the year.

The announcement is here.  It is much broader than just the NSS, and there are some really interesting developments, so we will set them all out by area.

Starting with the Office for Students

The measures outlined below are a combination of decisions taken by the OfS to help achieve those aims, and changes that DfE would like the OfS to implement. DfE will be following up this policy document with strategic guidance to the OfS,”

  • Enhanced monitoring – the OfS intends to report to the DfE within 3 months on how it is reducing its use of enhanced monitoring
  • Data futures – OfS has agreed to review the proposed termly data collection to make sure it is proportionate – also looking at making data collection more timely. Due by end October with final decisions alongside an OfS data strategy in April.
  • Random sampling – the OfS has suspended this
  • No further regulatory action on student transfers – this was a “big issue” in the original Jo Johnson Green/White Paper – students were being prevented or discouraged from transferring, apparently. The OfS has decided to review their current requirements for monitoring and consult on changes – but the headline suggests they won’t get more onerous.
  • The announcement welcomes the already announced decision to make estates and non-academic data collected by HESA optional.
  • Review of TRAC (T). The Transparent Approach to Costing for Teaching.  This data was used by Augar to attack fees and the announcement recognises that the government have used it to look at efficiency.  The OfS have been asked to review it because the sector have said that it is “disproportionately burdensome”.  This year’s return has been cancelled.  A “way forward” for the review is due by October alongside the UKRI review of the other stream of TRAC (see below).
  • Review of the transparency condition – this is the monitoring data provided to the OfS relating to offers and acceptable, completion and outcomes, including by gender, ethnicity and background. The OfS have said that they will explore if the amount of information requested can be reduced and replaced by other sources, and the DfE are “pleased” with that.  Due by end October.
  • Reduction in OfS fees – the OfS have to review their own efficiency with a view to reducing fees, and to help them along the government’s review of fees (which are set by the Secretary of State) will take place this Autumn instead of next year. The QAA and HESA are expected to reduce their fees too.

So, the NSS.  Hold on to your hats – these statements are bold!

  • We have asked the OfS to undertake a radical, root and branch review of the National Student Survey (NSS)…..Since its inception in 2005, the NSS has exerted a downwards pressure on standards within our higher education system, and there have been consistent calls for it to be reformed. There is valid concern from some in the sector that good scores can more easily be achieved through dumbing down and spoon-feeding students, rather than pursuing high standards and embedding the subject knowledge and intellectual skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace. These concerns have been driven by both the survey’s current structure and its usage in developing sector league tables and rankings. While government acknowledges that the NSS can be a helpful tool for providers and regulators, we believe its benefits are currently outweighed by these concerns. Further, its results do not correlate well with other, more robust, measures of quality, with some of the worst courses in the country, in terms of drop-out rates and progression to highly skilled employment, receiving high NSS scores. Accordingly, the extensive use of the NSS in league tables may cause some students to choose courses that are easy and entertaining, rather than robust and rigorous.
  • The government shares concerns raised by some in the sector that, in its current form, the NSS is open to gaming, with reports of some institutions deliberately encouraging their final year students to answer positively with incentives or messaging about their future career prospects. Academics have also criticised the cost and bureaucracy the NSS creates, arguing that the level of activity it generates can be a distraction from more important teaching and research activities. There is a sense that the level of activity it drives in universities and colleges has become excessive and inefficient. For example, we are aware that some providers employ analysts to drill down into NSS performance, in some cases at module level, and investigate any sub-par performance.
  • Student perspectives do play a valuable role in boosting quality and value across the sector, but there is concern that the benefits of this survey are currently outweighed by the negative behaviours and inefficiencies it drives. Universities must be empowered to have the confidence to educate their students to high standards rather than simply to seek ‘satisfaction’.

Now, many people will agree with at least some of that.  The sector blows hot and cold on the NSS – heavily critiquing its use in the TEF, then worrying that there was no voice for students when it was diluted in later iterations.  Many have criticised it for being subjective and unhelpful (so not so much a criticism of the survey as a tool for driving improvements, as a criticism of its inclusion in the TEF and league tables) – but that was a case of the TEF using the metrics that they had, because there wasn’t anything else.  Lots of people have criticised the methodology, despite the reviews that have been carried out before.  Some universities have had consistent boycotts (Oxbridge).

But don’t think that abolishing it will mean that we can stop worrying about the underlying issues.  The OfS have been asked (by the end of the calendar year!) to:

…undertake a radical, root and branch review of the NSS, which:

  • reduces the bureaucratic burden it places on providers
  • ensures it does not drive the lowering of standards or grade inflation
  • provides reliable data on the student perspective at an appropriate level, without depending on a universal annual sample
  • examines the extent to which data from the NSS should be made public
  • ensures the OfS has the data it needs to regulate quality effectively
  • will stand the test of time and can be adapted and refined periodically to prevent gaming

Expectations are high.  No annual survey and yet reliable data….that reduces the bureaucratic burden, and prevents gaming and avoids lowering standards and grade inflation.  Notably there are no positive suggestions about what a new approach actually will achieve other than “reliable data on the student perspective”.  You might ask perspective on what?  Not satisfaction, it seems, or even experience, but “quality and value”.   It sounds like getting rid of it completely is on the table, replacing it with something else that isn’t a survey at all.  But what?  So this is your moment.  What is the best way to get “reliable data on the student perspective”.  We look forward to engaging with staff across BU on the inevitable OfS call for evidence.

Obviously the OfS have responded to all this.  They seem to think that they will be keeping the survey.  Maybe the requirement to avoid an annual universal sample means just that – not annual, not everyone, just a sample?

  • ‘On the NSS, our review will seek to reduce any unnecessary bureaucracy, prevent any unintended consequences and gaming of the survey, whilst ensuring that the NSS stands the test of time as an important indicator of students’ opinions and experiences at every level.

UKRI and BEIS

UKRI are being asked to make a lot of changes

Selection

  • simplify eligibility criteria for bidding
  • streamline grant schemes
  • streamlined two stage application process for grants – only necessary information provided at each stage
  • single format for CVs
  • “brand new, fully digital, user-designed, applicant-focused and streamlined grants application system with the first pilot launched in August”
  • single information document for a call rather than lots

Assurance and outcomes

  • harmonising reporting
  • reducing the number of questions and making it “minimally demanding”
  • enhance risk based funding assurance approach to reduce the burden and assure an organisation not individual projects
  • review end of award reporting

Other things

  • provide additional independent challenge (on costs and bureaucracy)
  • Stop multiple asks for information that already exists
  • review TRAC (as mentioned above)

NIHR

The NIHR are congratulated for already taking a number of steps to reduce the burden on researchers.  Now there are a set of new commitments to take this further.

  • Will consider ways of making peer review more proportionate
  • “will immediately delete clauses which place obligations on research institutions which add limited value to the general research endeavour and end user from the standard NIHR contract”
  • “review eligibility criteria for all funding streams including requirements for compliance with charters and concordats”
  • Will drop the requirement for Silver Athena Swan – but instead “We will expect organisations that apply for any NIHR funding to be able to demonstrate their commitment to tackling disadvantage and discrimination in respect of the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act (2010). These are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation” [that sounds like more not less bureaucracy….]
  • “NIHR currently obliges researchers, through a standard contractual provision, to notify DHSC of all publications associated with their research. ….This contractual clause will be deleted for almost all new contracts from 1st August 2020 “

Reductions in providers’ internal bureaucracy

What could this mean?  Well:

  • We …expect providers to ensure reductions in government or regulator imposed regulatory activity are not replaced with internal bureaucracy. In addition, we want them to go even further to enable academics to focus on front line teaching and research: stripping out their existing unnecessary internal bureaucracy, layers of management and management processes. [now that interesting, we flagged it a few weeks ago because it featured in the introduction to the financial restructuring document as an objective…but it is still unclear how this should be implemented – and one person’s internal bureaucracy is another person’s sensible internal control measure]
  • There are a wide variety of organisations which offer voluntary membership awards or other forms of recognition to support or validate an organisation’s performance in particular areas. …. Such schemes can be helpful but can also generate large volumes of bureaucracy and result in a high cumulative cost of subscriptions. Where a university believes that membership of such schemes are genuinely the best way of addressing a matter, it is of course free to do so, but in general universities should feel confident in their ability to address such matters themselves and not feel pressured to take part in such initiatives to demonstrate their support for the cause the scheme addresses. [from the points made above, that probably includes Athena Swan – what else?]
  • We will engage with the sector, and in partnership with research funding bodies across the UK, to tackle the broader issues that are often causes of unnecessary bureaucracy. [Like what?]
  • This is also an opportunity to shift the research sector to more modern methods of research, which will help cut red tape too. This means embracing modern methods of peer review and evaluation. It also means tackling the problematic uses of metrics in research and driving up the integrity and reproducibility of research. Crucially, we must embrace the potential of open research practices.

David Kernohan was quick to respond on Wonkhe.  One thing he points out is that the government are correct that the NSS does not correlate with highly skilled employment or outcomes.  But he points out that the government’s favourite two metrics don’t correlate with each other either  – and of course why would they.

Brexit

Have you missed it?

As you know, the trade deal with the EU has to be done by the end of the year because that is when the transitional period ends.  It could have been extended, but the deadline to request an extension was 30th June 2020 – and there was no way this government (with its large majority all signed up to a possible no deal Brexit) was going to ask for an extension.

The deadline for a deal has similarly been a bit flexible – of course, and despite all the talk of dates, the most real deadline is 31st December.  Originally it had been suggested that the deal needed to be done by July to allow for ratification – now both sides are saying that the EU leaders’ meeting on 15th October is the deadline.  But no-one will really be surprised if it carries on after that.  The withdrawal agreement was sorted in October last year, as you will remember and was then approved by Parliament in December 2020, receiving royal assent in January, just days before the UK left the EU on 31st January.  It was close.  The draft legislation wasn’t even published during all the backwards and forwards before the election, because it was such a hostage to fortune for the May government.  Then Boris negotiated changes to the withdrawal agreement and “got it done”, just in time.

So, the government are getting ahead.  Hence all the fuss about the new draft bill. Press coverage has been very excitable, especially as the NI Secretary confirmed in Parliament before it was published that the new law will “breach international law in a specific and limited way”.  As many are saying, that is not usually a defence (“sorry officer, but I only [insert criminal offence of choice here] in a specific and limited way”).  You can read the Hansard extracts here.

The Internal Markets Bill was published yesterday.  If you want to read it, it is here, which is where you will also find all the amendments etc. as it goes through.

The Institute for Government have a short blog here:

  • The bill would give ministers powers to make regulations about state aid and customs procedures for trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and would allow ministers to make regulations inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • The existence of those powers is a breach of Article 4 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which provides that the UK must use primary legislation to give full effect to the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law.
  • However, unless the powers were actually used, the UK would not be in breach of the state aid and customs provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol.

So that answers that question.

And also:

  • Perhaps more extraordinary than the bill’s provisions on international law are those on domestic law. Under s45(4)(g) of the bill, regulations made by the minister on state aid or customs declarations would have legal effect notwithstanding their incompatibility with “any rule of international or domestic law whatsoever”.
  • This appears to be an attempt to oust the jurisdiction of the courts to review the legality of ministerial decisions under these powers at all.
  • Such clauses are rare, and they rarely work. The courts have repeatedly found ways of reviewing government decisions even where similar clauses have tried to keep them out of the picture.
  • That is because the judges consider them an affront both to the rule of law and to parliamentary sovereignty. “It is a necessary corollary of the sovereignty of Parliament,” the Supreme Court said in a case on this issue last year, “that there should exist an authoritative and independent body which can interpret and mediate legislation made by Parliament.”
  • Section 45 of this bill will make uncomfortable reading for anyone who believes in the principle that governments are subject to the law, at home and abroad. It requires careful scrutiny in parliament.

The other concerns are about timing.  We can look forward to the arguments being aired in full over the next two weeks.

So what is the issue?

From the BBC:

  • The UK and EU settled on the Northern Ireland Protocol. This would see Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU customs rules after the transition period – meaning customs declarations would be needed for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, as well as some new checks on goods going from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.
  • It was unpopular with some sections of the Tory backbenches and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which had been supporting the government until that point. But the agreement was passed through Parliament and the Northern Ireland Protocol became part of the international treaty.

You will remember all this, because the PM said there would be no checks, and then the government said well actually there would, etc…..

From the BBC again:

  • Downing Street said one thing it would do is allow ministers to unilaterally decide what particular goods were “at risk” of entering the EU when passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and therefore subject to EU tariffs.
  • The law would also give ministers the powers to scrap export declarations on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and would make it clear that EU state aid requirements – where governments give financial support to homegrown businesses – would only apply in Northern Ireland.
  • But the government insists the bill only introduces “limited and reasonable steps” to “remove ambiguity” – not “overriding” the withdrawal agreement, as government sources had suggested on Sunday.

We will see.  Maybe they are just making sure that there is time for proper Parliamentary scrutiny this time, by publishing something technical in good time rather than waiting for October when the deal is finalised and there is no time to discuss it properly.  Or maybe it is sabre rattling.  And why might they need to sabre-rattle?  Because, apart from the NI border issue, there are also a couple of (unsurprising) issues outstanding in the main trade deal negotiations with the EU.

One is fishing rights, which was always going to be tricky.  You will recall that at one point it nearly derailed the discussions last year when France and Spain demanded extra concessions at the last minute.  There is an Institute for Government article from March and a  Guardian article (from June).

And the other issue is state aid – the rules about supporting domestic businesses, which are seen as anti-competitive.  There is an FT article on that.

We can expect a lot more rhetoric, bitterness, and positioning over the next few weeks.  It is clear that the deal won’t be done until it is done, and also that all the other bits, like research collaboration and participation in Erasmus, are dependent on there being a deal at all.  So we’ll just have to wait and see.

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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.

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 3rd September 2020

So it’s back to school for pupils and teachers, and Parliament is back (although still mostly virtually). What’s in the news?

Ofqual fight back

The House of Commons Education Committee grilled Ofqual this week in a fascinating session – the transcript is here. Before the session, Roger Taylor, the Chair of Ofqual, submitted a written statement, which you can read here.   We thought we would summarise the good bits for you.

Before you skip, though, the obvious question is “does it matter” – or is it all just a witch-hunt?  Clearly it does matter, because some of the same issues that led the government to cancel exams this year still apply – missed school time, uneven opportunities to learn, the implications of a second wave.  In our next segment, we look at the hints about next summer.

If you want to skip the next bit, the conclusion seems to be: Ofqual were handed an impossible brief by the Minister, who made it harder by changing policy on the hoof without asking them, they had a solution to it all in the form of a better appeals process to address outlying results (like high performing students in schools with poor previous performance) but never got a chance to roll it out because of the mocks fiasco, that they always thought exams should have gone ahead, and that the algorithm was fair and has been unfairly criticised by people who don’t understand the data!  Gavin Williamson is giving evidence soon, so that will be worth reading.  And Ofqual are going to publish correspondence so everyone can see that it wasn’t their fault….

David Kernohan has written about it for Wonkhe here.

The written statement  starts with an apology to students, teachers, and HE and FE providers.  As widely reported on the news channels yesterday, it confirms that Ofqual didn’t want the exams to be cancelled – they wanted them held in a socially distanced way.  Gavin Williamson decided to cancel them because of concerns about lost schooling and the risks with getting students back into schools.  So the well known solution and the well known moderation process was adopted. 

You will recall this decision was announced on 18th March – which was very early – and might be said to have shown decisiveness and the desire to provide certainty in a complex situation.  But of course that assumes that the alternative was going to be a good and not a mutant one, which we all hoped it would be…..

In the evidence session, Roger Taylor said that after Ofqual offered advice on options:

  • It was the Secretary of State who then subsequently took the decision and announced, without further consultation with Ofqual, that exams were to be cancelled and a system of calculated grades was to be implemented. We then received a direction from the Secretary of State setting out what he wished Ofqual to implement.

In the statement, Ofqual say:

  • The principle of moderating teacher grades was accepted as a sound one, and indeed the relevant regulatory and examination bodies across the four nations of the United Kingdom separately put in place plans to do this. All the evidence shows that teachers vary considerably in the generosity of their grading – as every school pupil knows. Also, using teacher assessment alone might exacerbate socio-economic disadvantage. Using statistics to iron out these differences and ensure consistency Written submission from Roger Taylor, Chair of Ofqual looked, in principle, to be a good idea. That is why in our consultations and stakeholder discussions all the teaching unions supported the approach we adopted. Indeed, when we consulted on it, 89% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with our proposed aims for the statistical standardisation approach.

And they knew there were risks but on the whole the averaged out effect was correct:

  • We knew, however, that there would be specific issues associated with this approach. In particular, statistical standardisation of this kind will inevitably result in a very small proportion of quite anomalous results that would need to be corrected by applying human judgment through an appeals process.
  • For example, we were concerned about bright students in historically low attaining schools. We identified that approximately 0.2% of young peoples’ grades were affected by this but that it was not possible to determine in advance which cases warranted a change to grades. That is why the appeals process we designed and refined was so important. But we recognise that young people receiving these results experienced significant distress and that this caused people to question the process.

In the evidence session, Roger Taylor was asked about this and he said:

  • It was clear that to make a valid judgment would require a degree of human judgment and therefore a form of appeal would be necessary to make this work, but we were also exploring with the exam boards how we could implement a system of outreach to those students through the exam boards to let them know on the day, “Look, we think you’ve probably got a very good case for appeal.” That was the direction we were moving in. When the mock appeals route came in, that question became less relevant.

And they are still defending it:

  • The statistical standardisation process was not biased – we did the analyses to check and found there was no widening of the attainment gap. We have published this analysis. Indeed, ‘A’ and ‘A*’ grade students in more disadvantaged areas did relatively better with standardised results than when results were not standardised.

They were challenged on this in the evidence session.

  • Robert Halfon, the chair, asked about it: The Department for Education confirmed on 14 August that pupils from lower socioeconomic groups were more likely than their peers to have their centre assessed grades downgraded by Ofqual’s algorithm at grades C and above. The difference between Ofqual’s moderated grades and teacher centre assessed grades for lower socioeconomic groups was 10.42%. In contrast, the difference between Ofqual’s moderated grades and teacher centre assessed grades for higher socioeconomic groups was 8.34%.
  • Michelle Meadows, Executive Director for Strategy and Research, replied: We had done a full equalities analysis, looking at the grades not just by socioeconomic status but by other protected characteristics such as ethnicity, gender and so on, and what we were able to see and we were very confident about was that any fluctuation in outcomes seen for these various groups this year was extremely similar to the small changes in outcomes we had seen in previous years. In other words, there was nothing about the process that was biased.

And when challenged about the impact on individual students, Roger Taylor said in the evidence session:

  • I disagree with the notion that this algorithm was not fit for purpose or that a better algorithm would have produced a different result; but I strongly agree with your statement that to say this was fair just fails to recognise what happens to students—just the level of accuracy that was fundamentally possible with the information that was available was too low to be acceptable to individuals, and we recognised this right at the outset. We identified this as a risk.

And on small class sizes etc

  • However, the impossibility of standardising very small classes meant that some subjects and some centres could not be standardised, and so saw higher grades on average than would have been expected if it had been possible to standardise their results. This benefitted smaller schools and disadvantaged larger schools and colleges. It affected private schools in particular, as well as some smaller maintained schools and colleges, special schools, pupil referral units, hospital schools and similar institutions. We knew about this, but were unable to find a solution to this problem. However, we still regarded standardisation as preferable because overall it reduced the relative advantage of private schools compared to others.
  • Ultimately, however, the approach failed to win public confidence, even in circumstances where it was operating exactly as we had intended it to. While sound in principle, candidates who had reasonable expectations of achieving a grade were not willing to accept that they had been selected on the basis of teacher rankings and statistical predictions to receive a lower grade. To be told that you cannot progress as you wanted because you have been awarded a lower grade in this way was unacceptable and so the approach had to be withdrawn. We apologise for this.

And here is the killer statement:

  • With hindsight it appears unlikely that we could ever have delivered this policy successfully.

And whose fault is it?

  • Understandably, there is now a desire to attribute blame. The decision to use a system of statistical standardised teacher assessments was taken by the Secretary of State and issued as a direction to Ofqual. Ofqual could have rejected this, but we decided that this was in the best interests of students, so that they could progress to their next stage of education, training or work.
  • The implementation of that approach was entirely down to Ofqual. However, given the exceptional nature of this year, we worked in a much more collaborative way than we would in a normal year, sharing detailed information with partners.
  • We kept the Department for Education fully informed about the work we were doing and the approach we intended to take to qualifications, the risks and impact on results as they emerged. However, we are ultimately responsible for the decisions that fall to us as the regulator.
  • …. The blame lies with us collectively – all of us who failed to design a mechanism for awarding grades that was acceptable to the public and met the Secretary of State’s policy intent of ensuing grades were awarded in a way consistent with the previous year.

Autumn exams:   It was clear to everyone that autumn exams would be a problem for those intending to start university this year.  No plan or proposal was made for this, apart from ministerial exhortations that universities should be flexible, and vague references to a January start.  Put on top of an absolute prohibition on unconditional offers, it was hard to see what universities were meant to do. Ofqual say:

  • “the original policy was adopted on the basis that the autumn series would give young people who were disappointed with their results, the opportunity to sit an examination. However, the extended lockdown of schools and the failure to ensure that such candidates could still take their places at university meant that this option was, for many, effectively removed. This significantly shifted the public acceptability of awarding standardised grades”

I have no idea what that means….but it looks like blaming the context for the problems.  Roger Taylor clarified it in the evidence session:

  • When the decision was originally made, there was a strong belief that the autumn series would be the compensation for that—that people would be given a chance and that university places could be held open for them that they could take in January, and that that would limit that damage. At the time, it was felt that it was a fair offer, but of course, over time, schools did not reopen; there were no arrangements for late entry to university; and by July, it was clear that the autumn series did not represent any sort of reasonable alternative that candidates felt would make up for being given an inaccurate calculated grade. At that point, we were in a situation where it was difficult to see how people would accept it as a fair way to have their grades awarded.

Autonomy and influence

  • Roger Taylor: The relationship is one in which the Secretary of State, as the democratically accountable politician, decides policy. Ofqual’s role is to have regard to policy and to implement policy, but within the constraints laid down by the statute that established Ofqual. Those constraints are that the awarding of grades must be valid, it must maintain standards year on year, and it must command public confidence. We can decide not to implement a direction from the Secretary of State if we feel that it would directly contradict those statutory duties, but if the policy does not directly contradict those statutory duties, our obligation is to implement policy as directed by the Secretary of State.

There was a bit more about this in the evidence session when Roger Taylor was asked about the mock appeals policy (see below) and he said:

  • It is important, in trying to manage public confidence, that we do not have a Secretary of State stating one policy and Ofqual stating a different policy. It also struck us that the way to resolve this was to move at pace and it needed to be negotiated and managed in an orderly fashion. But we were acting with full independence.

The comings and goings about the use of mock results in appeals were discussed at length:

  • Roger Taylor:the Secretary of State informed us that, effectively, they were going to change policy. Until that point, the policy had been calculated grades plus an appeals process. The Secretary of State informed me that they were planning to change this policy in a significant way by allowing an entirely new mechanism by which a grade could be awarded through a mock exams appeal. Our advice to the Secretary of State at this point was that we could not be confident that this could be delivered within the statutory duties of Ofqual, to ensure that valid and trustworthy grades were being issued. The Secretary of State, as he is entitled to do, none the less announced that that was the policy of the Government.
  • That having been announced as the policy of the Government, the Ofqual board felt—I think correctly—that we should therefore attempt to find a way to implement this in a way that was consistent with our statutory duties. We consulted very rapidly with exam boards and other key stakeholders. We were very concerned that this idea of a valid mock exam had no real credible meaning, but we consulted very rapidly and developed an approach that we felt would be consistent with awarding valid qualifications. We then agreed that with the Department for Education and, to our understanding, with the Secretary of State’s office. We then published this on the Saturday. We were subsequently contacted by the Secretary of State later that evening and were informed that this was in fact not, to his mind, in line with Government policy.
  • ….It was published about 3 o’clock on the Saturday. I think the call from the Secretary of State was probably at around 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock that evening. The Secretary of State first phoned the chief regulator. …
  • The Secretary of State telephoned me and said that he would like the board to reconsider. ….given the Secretary of State’s views, it felt appropriate to call the board together very late that evening. The board convened at, I think, around 10 o’clock that evening. I think at this stage we realised that we were in a situation which was rapidly getting out of control—that there were policies being recommended and strongly advocated by the Secretary of State that we felt would not be consistent with our legal duties, and that there was, additionally, a growing risk around delivering any form of mock appeals results in a way that would be acceptable as a reasonable way to award grades….

Grade inflation

  • Ian Mearns asked: This is the problem: Ministers are regularly telling us that we have more good and outstanding schools, with the most highly professional teaching profession that we have ever had. Given that process, that improvement and that continuing improvement, should there not be some increase in the levels of achievement by youngsters year on year that cannot be put down as grade inflation?
  • Roger Taylor replied: On your point about grade inflation, we were very aware that being very strict about grade inflation would only make this situation worse. That is why, in the design of the model, at every point where we could reasonably do this, we erred in the direction of making decisions that allowed grades to rise. Consequently, the final result of the moderated grades did allow for between 2% and 3% inflation in grades which, in assessment terms, is very significant and larger than would represent the sorts of effects that you talked about resulting from improvements in teaching, but we felt that that was appropriate in these extremely unusual circumstances, given the disruption happening in people’s lives as a result of the pandemic.

Issues with CAGs:

  • David Simmonds MP said that he has had more complaints about the u-turn and the fairness of the CAGs than the original grades. There is concern about the lack of opportunity for students to appeal these grades.
  • Roger Taylor said: It goes to the nature of the problem: there is not an independent piece of information that can be used to determine between these two competing claims. That is why the lack of any form of standardised test or examination makes this a situation that people find very hard to tolerate.

On private students (who have to take exams in the autumn):

  • Roger Taylor: I have huge sympathy with these people. Clearly, they have been some of the people who have lost out most as a result of the decision to cancel exams. I will hand over to Julie to say a little bit more about this, but once the decision had been taken to cancel exams, it was very hard to find a solution. We explored extensive solutions, but ultimately the situation was one in which, once exams had been cancelled, these people had lost the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in a way that would enable them to move forward with their lives. That was the situation we were in.

On the tiering problem (students getting a higher grade than permitted by the exam, i.e. foundation students at GCSE who can’t get higher than a 5, who got a 6, for example):

  • Michelle Meadows: In the absence of papers this year, we felt that the fairest thing to do was to remove those limits on students’ performance. So there were a very small number of cases where, for the tiered qualifications, less than 1% of foundation tier students received higher grades and, for the higher tier, less than 0.5% received lower grades than they would normally achieve. We felt that it was a decision in favour of students—that they would not be constrained in the normal way.

And on BTECs:

  • Roger Taylor: It was not inevitable that there would be a domino effect, because the use of calculated grades inside the BTEC system was completely different from what had gone on with general qualifications. They were two completely separate pieces: one Ofqual was closely involved with and where we had the authority to make a decision; and the second was one that Pearson were responsible for and where we had no authority to determine how they were going to respond to the situation. That was their call.

And did the algorithm mutate?

  • Ian Mearns: At what point did the algorithm mutate?
  • Dr Meadows: I don’t believe that the algorithm ever mutated.

So what about next year

There are already discussions about delaying the exams, some elements have been changed, there are discussions about having an online option with open book exams, etc.  Ofqual have now made it extremely clear in the evidence session referred to above that they didn’t want to cancel exams this summer and they certainly don’t want to next summer, but also that they don’t want to rely on moderated CAGs again.  So some form of formal assessment seems likely.  But this one has some way to run.

For what was announced in August, Schoolsweek have a nice round up of the changes to A levels and for GCSEs here.  The Ofqual statement about A levels, AS levels and GCSEs is here.

In their statement referred to above, Ofqual confirm that amongst the lessons learned from this year are some things that will influence next year:

  • any awarding process that does not give the individual the ability to affect their fate by demonstrating their skills and knowledge in a fair test will not command and retain public confidence
  • a ‘better’ algorithm would not have made the outcomes significantly more acceptable. The inherent limitations of the data and the nature of the process were what made it unacceptable

And there should have been better comms and not just by them.

In the evidence session, Roger Taylor said:

  • I think we have been very clear that we think that some form of examination or standardised test, or something that gives the student an ability to demonstrate their skills and knowledge, will be essential for any awarding system that the students regard as fair. We have done some consultation, and have published the results of that consultation, but it is obviously a fast-moving environment, and the impact of the pandemic remains uncertain over the future, so it is something that we are keeping under constant review……I want to be really clear that, absolutely, we raised it in our initial consultation, and we are very conscious of the enormous benefit that would come from delay. We recognise the value in trying to find a way of making this work.

And Julie Swan said:

  • Content for GCSEs, AS and A-levels is of course determined by Ministers, and Ministers, as I am sure you will know, have agreed some changes to content for a couple of GCSE subjects—history, ancient history and English literature. We have published information about changes to assessment arrangements in other subjects that will free up teaching time, such as making the assessment of spoken language in modern foreign languages much less formal. …..as well as allowing, for example, GCSE science students to observe practical science, rather than to undertake it themselves….We are working with the DFE to get to conclusions within weeks, rather than months.

Gavin Williamson’s position

Gavin Williamson gave a statement to the House of Tuesday, on the first day back.  He said very, very little, really.  He apologised and then moved on quickly to talk about schools going back.  David Kernohan has written about this for Wonkhe too.

  • The problem with having a Prime Minister who will only sack officials is that we are forced to watch senior politicians descent into near-Grayling levels of farcical inadequacy without hope of respite. Williamson’s haunted soul screams for release, but still he has to field questions about next summer while struggling to get through the next five minutes.

Research Professional cover it here.

Meanwhile in HE

The Office for Students have today launched a call for evidence into Digital teaching and learning in English Higher Education during the pandemic.  It closes on 14th October 2020.

The review will consider:

  1. The use of digital technology to deliver remote teaching and learning since the start of the pandemic and understand what has and has not worked.
  2. How high-quality digital teaching and learning can be continued and delivered at scale in the future.
  3. The opportunities that digital teaching and learning present for English higher education in the medium to longer-term.
  4. The relationship between ‘digital poverty’ and students’ digital teaching and learning experience

If you are interested in contributing to a BU institutional response please contact policy@bournemouth.ac.uk as soon as possible.

Inquiries and Consultations

Have you contributed to a Parliamentary Inquiry?  Many colleagues from across BU have done so over the last year, and inquiries can be relevant for both academic and professional services colleagues.  Your policy team (policy@bournemouth.ac.uk) can help you prepare and submit a response – there are some important rules to follow about content and presentation, but a good submission might result in a call to give oral evidence (by video, these days) or get people talking about your submission.

You can find the list of open Parliamentary inquires here.  They include (just a few examples):

  • Police conduct and complaints (accepting written evidence until 14th September 2020)
  • Digital transformation in the NHS {(until 9th September)
  • Reforming public transport after the pandemic ?(until 24th September)
  • Biodiversity and ecosystems (until 11th September)
  • Black people, racism and human rights {(until 11th September)

And you can also find Secre – a small selection (these have longer dates):

  • A call for evidence on a future international regulation strategy
  • Pavement parking
  • Marine energy projects
  • Distributing Covid and flu vaccines
  • Recognition of professional qualifications
  • Marine monitoring
  • Deforestation in UK supply chains
  • Waste management plan for England
  • Front of pack nutrition labelling
  • Review of the Highway Code to improve road safety for cyclist, pedestrians and horse riders

Let us know if you are interested in responding to these or any others.MinisSecre

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To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk.

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.

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.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update 20th August 2020

Well, things happened while we were away!  This is a results and admissions special, with some research news too.  We’ll see what happens next before committing to our next update.

Results!

The withdrawal of BTEC results at 4.30 on Wednesday evening when L1 and L2 results they were due to be published alongside GCSEs on Thursday morning, was “just” another spin in this chaotic results cycle.

With the DfE having (finally) learned that it helps to address obvious concerns before issuing results, GCSE results were issued today with students seeing only the upside from the Ofqual algorithm.  As for A levels, this is not the promised “triple lock” but a double lock  -with students getting the better of the algorithmic grade and the centre assessed grade (CAG).

Hot off the press for university admissions, the caps on numbers for medicine and dentistry are being abolished (although placement and other restrictions may mean it doesn’t make that much difference).   The Minister has announced extra teaching grant for universities with more students on high cost courses.  And in a letter to universities (for once issued during the working day instead of late at night or at the weekend) she promises lots of “working together”.  It all seems a bit late.  The Minister has also published a letter to students.

And there is another story, about the impact next year on the current year 12.  Deferrals will reduce the number of places available next year. Although there can still be appeals, there are expected to be fewer, however there will still be some students choosing to take their exams in person in the autumn – and despite requests for flexibility most of these students will need to wait until 2021/22 to start university, unless they can find programmes with a January start.  This will include private and resit candidates who did not get CAGs.

And it is all so inconsistent with recent government positions and ministerial announcements.  After suggesting that disadvantaged students shouldn’t bother going to university because they are being ripped off, the Minster has told universities to prioritise these students when allocating remaining places on over-subscribed courses.  That’s a good thing, of course, but it demonstrates that the government is worried about the impact of the grades fiasco on the stats next year, so they have realised they do care about WP after all.  And after abandoning the 50% participation target (again) and pressing the “too many students go to university” line (again), the Minister and Secretary of State are now urging universities to be as flexible as possible and let as many students as possible in.   So much for them all doing vocational courses in FE colleges.  Oh, but that was for other people’s children – not the constituents who have written protesting about their children losing their chances to go to university.

Those arguments haven’t gone away, though.  Predictably with no story about GCSE unfairness, the story today is therefore about grade inflation and the risk of students who will struggle to succeed in whatever they do next because they have done better than they “should have”.    There is a similar line for A levels too.  There is already a government and regulatory focus on continuation and outcomes but it will be particularly charged for the cohort of 2020/21.

But it’s all going to be ok, because the Minister has established a task force.  Having failed to consult the sector while all this was playing out, a task force was set up on Wednesday, meeting daily.  UUK wrote to Gavin Williamson on Tuesday to set out the potential problems in all this. The result is a letter to students and VCs, and a press release.  To quote, the action taken so far:

  • Yesterday’s (19 August) daily meeting of the Government’s Higher Education Taskforce agreed to honouring all offers across courses to students who meet their conditions this coming year wherever possible, or if maximum capacity is reached to offer an alternative course or a deferred place.
  • To support this commitment, the Government has lifted the cap on domestic medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and undergraduate teacher training places. Additional teaching grant funding will also be provided to increase capacity in medical, nursing, STEM and other high-cost subjects which are vital to the country’s social needs and economy.
  • ….There are no Government caps on university nursing places, and the Government is working rapidly to build capacity in the nursing sector to support recruitment to the country’s vital public services.
  • On Monday, the Government also confirmed it intends to remove temporary student number controls for the 2020/21 academic year to build capacity to admit students this coming year.

We will see what they do next.  UUK have responded to the first set of announcements.

Meanwhile the blame game is continuing with officials saying they warned Ministers weeks ago, with allegations that Ministers were not on top of the detail, with Ministers at least hinting that it is all Ofqual’s fault because they said it would all be ok, officials at the DfE coming under fire, and the Office for Statistics Regulation announcing a review.  The House of Commons Education Committee also raised these issues in early July.

Further reading:

  • UCAS update from Wednesday evening:
    • Our initial analysis shows approximately 15,000 of these students who were originally rejected by their original firm choice university with their moderated grades, will now meet the A level conditions of their offer with their centre assessed grades (CAGs).
    • Approximately 100,000 students who had their grades upgraded were already placed at their first choice university on A level results day last Thursday.
    • Of the remaining 60,000 students with higher grades from CAGs, around one in four (approximately 15,000) will now meet the A level offer conditions of their original first choice university. 90% of these students made their original firm choice at a higher tariff provider.
    • UCAS has conducted further analysis into these 15,000 students, and found 7% of this group are from disadvantaged backgrounds (POLAR4 Q1). This follows a record breaking year for disadvantaged students gaining places at high tariff providers, which at this point in the admissions cycle stands at 6,090 (compared with 5,290 at the same point last year for UK 18 year olds).
  • Coverage on Wonkhe: today’s update on “a great new deal for universities and applicants” with analysis (of course) of the impact of the grade changes.
  • There’s an IfS blog about what went wrong:
    • The method used to assign grades makes some sense. Schools were asked to rank their students in each subject. Then information on earlier grades within the schools, and earlier attainment at GCSE, was used to assign grades to each student this year. The resulting distribution of grades looks comparable to the distribution in previous years. Indeed, there are rather more higher grades than in the past.
    • There are two obvious problems with what Ofqual did. I suspect that there are more, but it will require many more hours of study to discover them.
    • First, and most obvious, the process adopted favours schools with small numbers of students sitting any individual A Level. That is, it favours private schools. If you have up to five students doing an A Level, you simply get the grades predicted by the teacher. If between five and fifteen, teacher-assigned grades get some weight. More than 15 and they get no weight. Teacher predictions are always optimistic. Result: there was a near-five percentage point increase in the fraction of entries from private schools graded at A or A*. In contrast, sixth-form and further education colleges saw their A and A* grades barely rise — up only 0.3 per cent since 2019 and down since 2018. This is a manifest injustice. No sixth-form or FE college has the funding to support classes of fifteen, let alone five. The result, as Chris Cook, a journalist and education expert, has written: “Two university officials have told me they have the poshest cohorts ever this year because privately educated kids got their grades, the universities filled and there’s no adjustment/clearing places left.”
    • Second, the algorithm used makes it almost impossible for students at historically poor-performing sixth forms to get top grades, even if the candidates themselves had an outstanding record at GCSE. For reasons that are entirely beyond me, the regulator did not use the full information on GCSE performance. Rather than use data that could help to identify when there are truly outstanding candidates, the model simply records what tenth of the distribution GCSE scores were in. There is a huge difference between the 91st and 99th percentiles, yet they are treated the same. There is little difference between the 89th and 91st, yet they are treated differently.
    • … Then there appears to be a more general lack of common sense applied to the results of the model. If it predicts a U grade (a fail) for a subject in a school, then some poor sucker is going to fail, deserved or not. That’s why some seem to have been awarded Us despite predicted grades of C.
  • Education Committee report on 7th July. The Ofqual response is here.
  • You will remember the Royal Statistical Society for their heroic critique of the TEF in their response to the Pearce Review (as a side bar, the TEF metrics will be very peculiar next year – benchmarking will be an interesting process). They offered to help but refused to sign a restrictive non disclosure agreement and so were not involved.  Their CEO is quoted in the FT and the article is worth reading.
  • Jo Johnson in the Spectator being pleased that the numbers cap has been abolished:
    • Before the exams meltdown, universities were losing both friends and influence on the Tory benches. They were deemed to be on the ‘wrong’ side of the referendum and then enemy combatants in a low-level culture war. The ministerial message to young people was shifting from the sensible ‘you don’t have to do a degree’ to the openly discouraging ‘too many go to university’. The high watermark of uni-phobia perhaps came last month when cabinet ministers denounced Tony Blair’s target of 50 per cent of children going to university and warned that any institution finding itself in financial difficulties would be ‘restructured’. To say our universities feel unloved by this government is an understatement.
    • But the furore over the botched exam results has shown that most people are still very keen on universities. MPs have been besieged by thousands of families worried about their children’s future and enraged by grade downgrades and missed university offers. Are ministers really going to respond by telling kids (other people’s obviously) to take short vocational courses instead? Does any MP seriously relish the failure of a university in his patch? I doubt it.
    • There’s another IfS blog about the impact:
      • …it looks like amongst UK students holding offers at Oxford or Cambridge, around 10% more than expected (or around 500 extra students) may now have achieved their offers. 
      • Lower down the rankings, the effect on numbers is less clear: more applicants will have met their offers, but fewer will end up going to their insurance choice or finding a place via Clearing after missing their offers. But it seems plausible that for most higher-ranking universities, domestic student numbers will be higher than they expected.  
      • To allow for this, the government has lifted the student numbers caps that it had temporarily brought back for this year in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. But universities will still face physical capacity constraints in teaching and housing students. These constraints may not bind if many international and EU students do not take up their places as a result of the COVID-19 crisis: extra domestic students could just take their spots. But universities still don’t know how many of these students will turn up. They have made offers and will have to honour them if the international students do come.
      • … These problems were entirely avoidable. A Level results should never have been released before being subject to scrutiny beyond Ofqual. The government should not have had to rely on shocked 18-year-olds on results day to realise there was a problem. And the allocation of places should not have happened immediately – the government should have released the results in advance and allowed an appeals process on grades before allowing universities to finalise places. 
      • Allocating A Level grades to students who did not sit exams was never going to be easy. But the government’s solution is a clear fail. This will have repercussions for universities and students, now and in the coming years.
    • Pearson update on BTECs from Wednesday afternoon:
      • Following our review and your feedback we have decided to apply Ofqual’s principles for students receiving BTECs this summer.  
      • This means we will now be regrading all the following BTECs – BTEC Level 3 Nationals (2010 QCF and 2016 RQF), BTEC Level 1/2 Tech Awards, BTEC Level 2 Technicals and BTEC Level 1/2 Firsts.  
      • BTEC qualification results have been generally consistent with teacher and learner expectations, but we have become concerned about unfairness in relation to what are now significantly higher outcomes for GCSE and A Levels.  
      • Although we generally accepted Centre Assessment Grades for internal (i.e. coursework) units, we subsequently calculated the grades for the examined units using historical performance data with a view of maintaining overall outcomes over time. Our review will remove these calculated grades and apply consistency across teacher assessed internal grades and examined grades that students were unable to sit.  
      • We will work urgently with you to reissue these grades and will update you as soon as we possibly can. We want to reassure students that no grades will go down as part of this review.  
      • We appreciate this will cause additional uncertainty for students and we are sorry about this. Our priority is to ensure fair outcomes for BTEC students in relation to A Levels and GCSEs and that no BTEC student is disadvantaged.  

    Meanwhile….

    The IfS have a report on the impact of school closures:

    • Learning time was dramatically lower during the lockdown than prior to it. On average, primary school students spent 4.5 hours learning on a typical school day during the lockdown, down from 6.0 hours before the lockdown (25% reduction). For secondary schools, the absolute and proportionate drops are even larger, from 6.6 hours a day before the lockdown to 4.5 hours a day during the lockdown (32% reduction). 
    • Learning time has also become more unequal, especially at primary school. Figure 1 shows the changesin total daily learning time, including both time in class and time on other educational activities, during a typical term week between 2014–15 and the lockdown period. It compares children from the poorest, middle and richest fifth of households (in the case of the 2020 data, based on their pre-pandemic earnings).
    • For primary school children, the lockdown has created new inequalities in learning time. Before the pandemic, there was essentially no difference between the time that children from the poorest and richest households spent on educational activities. But, during the lockdown, learning time fell by less among primary school children from the richest families than among their less well-off peers. The end result is that, during the lockdown, the richest students spent 75 minutes a day longer on educational activities than their peers in the poorest families – an extra 31% of learning time.  
    • At secondary school, though, the picture looks very different. While the size of the gap between children from the poorest and the richest households during the lockdown, at 73 minutes a day, is almost precisely the same size as the gap for primary students, this inequality has much deeper roots; even before the lockdown, secondary school pupils from the richest fifth of families spent almost an hour a day more time on education than their worst-off peers. And, unlike at primary school, this is not just a story about the rich and the rest; the inequalities between the middle and the bottom are just as pronounced as those between the middle and the top.
    • Existing research has shown that extra learning time leads to better educational outcomes. The widening of the socio-economic learning-time gap during the lockdown therefore suggests that the lockdown could worsen educational inequalities between children from poorer and richer backgrounds, especially among primary school students.

    Research news

    UKRI have announced that international students can apply for UKRI funded postgraduate studentships in the next academic year.

    Dame Ottoline Leyser, the new head of UKRI was interviewed in Nature:

    • The thing that I think is most important is the focus on people and on research culture, because the whole research system critically depends not just on researchers, but on all the people around them who support the research endeavour. [Research] is also a system now which is in a lot of stress. There are lots of bad behaviours, which are arguably driven by the huge stress and we need to think hard about shifting that.
    • Poor cultural practices are a real problem in terms of bullying and harassment, research integrity and keeping the widest range of people in the system, to drive the creative and dynamic system that we need. Getting to a place where people are enjoying the work that they’re doing, where they’re all appreciated and valued, to me, is crucial. Many of those other things I think will flow from that.
    • … We put a huge emphasis on a researcher’s publication and funding record, for example. We have put much less emphasis on things like their care for the next generation, leadership skills and the wider contributions people are making to the research system — which are absolutely essential for the system to function — and how they are engaging more widely. I think those are things that every researcher should be doing. It’s a whole range of things that we need to try to address to make research fun again, because it really should be.
    • .. The way we’ve typically thought about equality, diversity and inclusion has been that you collect up the numbers and then you try to put in place things that ‘fix’ the minority in some way — for example, you make it easier for women to work in a system. To me, that’s not going to work. You have to create a system that genuinely supports diversity, and what that means is something quite uncomfortable. True diversity and inclusion is about valuing difference, not about creating some level playing field and pretending everybody’s the same and therefore they can all succeed on that playing field.
    • Particularly in research, difference is where all the good stuff is. Disagreement is where all the new and exciting ideas come from. We have to build research cultures where difference is considered a good thing. In our funding portfolio as UKRI, we need to ask ourselves, are we funding a wide range of different types of thing or are we just funding more of the same?

    And she also did an interview in the THE:

    • Many hope that Dame Ottoline – known for her critiques of the research excellence framework and science’s failure to introduce more family-friendly policies – will provide a more robust challenge to government policy, having been far closer to the science coalface than most long-serving administrators.
    • Will she continue to be as forthright as she has been? “I’m certainly not going to pussyfoot about,” said Dame Ottoline on her upcoming dealings with the key players in government.
    • That said, the recent pro-science moves by Boris Johnson’s administration, which last month reconfirmed its ambition to double research spending to £22 billion a year by 2024, mean that an adversarial stance is probably not the best approach, she explained.
    • … She was not, however, keen on the idea of forcing institutions to adopt certain practices by making them a condition of UKRI funding in the same way that, in 2015, the chief medical officer, then Dame Sally Davies, made an Athena SWAN diversity award a prerequisite for receiving NHS medical research funding.
    • “Mandating particular approaches will not deliver the diversity that we need,” insisted Dame Ottoline, who said many scientists felt the decision to make Athena SWAN mandatory “undermined some of the core principles [of the scheme] and how institutions think about diversity”.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 16th July 2020

This week we have more from the Universities Minister as the post-Covid policy direction becomes clearer, as well as that speech from the Secretary of State abandoning (again) the 50% target for HE participation , some Committee views on the impact of the virus and what to do about it, and in case you have forgotten about Brexit and the new points-based immigration system, we had more detail this week.  There is the NSS  and some other survey news too.  Brace yourself – it’s another bumper edition.

The Universities Minster speaks

A two-for-one offer this week.  Below we will talk about Gavin Williamson’s speech on FE (and related attack on HE).  But before we get to that, we want to share Michelle Donelan’s latest on 15th July when she was questioned by the Education Select Committee.

As we write this the transcript of the session isn’t available, but there is plenty of media coverage.

You should read the Research Professional article in full, but in case you don’t have time we offer some highlights:

  • Donelan was answering a question from Conservative committee member Caroline Johnson, who wanted to know which groups of young people were least likely to go to university, why that might be and what was being done to encourage them.
  • “First of all I want to say that we don’t necessarily want everyone to go to university—that was very much the essence of the secretary of state’s speech last week,” she said [see below for our summary of that]
  • …Whether you are advantaged or disadvantaged, higher education is not necessarily the best route to get to where you want to go in life,” Donelan said. “I really think we need to move away from this focus of how many students get to university because it is such a blunt instrument that isn’t actually very accurate in terms of social mobility,” she added. “If a student gets to university and drops out after year one and has a year’s debt, what does that achieve for their social mobility? Nothing. In fact, it sets them back in life. “It is about them completing high-quality, academically rigorous courses that then lead to graduate jobs—and that is the important measure we should be looking at.”
  • Johnson did not miss the fact that the universities minister had not really addressed her question, so she went back in for a second go. “The question was: Which groups are currently least likely to go to university and is there much talk about helping those groups…to consider it as a career [choice]?” she said.
  • Donelan trotted out the well-worn line about “record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university” (missing out the word “young”, which is crucial here given the decimation of the mature student body) but acknowledged that there were “still challenges within different sections of society, including white working-class students”. “But I actually don’t think it is a good measure to look at,” the minister continued. “It is the wrong question, if you don’t mind me saying, because it doesn’t matter about looking at which groups don’t get to university. It is about making sure that those groups that do go complete, that [their course will] lead to graduate jobs, but also looking at what is in that student’s best interests.”
  • …Donelan’s declaration that this “doesn’t matter” will be confusing for the great many people who work in widening participation. Johnson seemed taken aback, too. “Does that mean no university will be required to have a target of any particular demographic of student?” she asked.
  • Donelan’s response that universities were “individually accountable” for their access and participation plans, and that there were “different issues in terms of demographics” for different universities, will not do much to address that confusion. Nor will her repeated message that “access and participation is not just about getting the student in; it is about making sure they can complete their course” and then go on to get a graduate job.
  • “We need the sector to actually look at their offer…and their messages to prospective students, because they do tend to promote courses too much that don’t offer those graduate outcomes,” the minister concluded.

Jim Dickinson has also done a summary for Wonkhe and we pick out some different points although of course he includes the access and participation stuff too:

  • Remember all that stuff about bite-size, modular learning in Augar? It sounds like that will make it into the response in the Autumn. Donelan said: “Some of the work I’m doing at the moment is looking at potential for modular learning and how we can expand the part time offer as part of our response to Augar, which we will be responding to in line with the spending review.” Whether that Augar response will tackle the widespread disbelief this time last year that the SLC would be able to handle the complexity of loans for tuition and maintenance at module level remains to be seen.
  • That “other half” of the bailout – the “restructuring regime” yin to the research funding yang, if you will, is coming. And we got a preview of the length and thickness of the strings that will be attached here: “So I can’t obviously pre-empt a report that’s going to come out. But what I can say is the driving force behind all of my work and all of the department’s work in HE is to prioritize quality provision that is fit for purpose and that unlocks opportunities for individuals that are making, at the end of the day, a massive investment in their future and one that they do want to see pay off in some form or another. I think too long we’ve let far too many students down by pushing and promoting courses that don’t have that value, don’t lead to those graduate outcomes and jobs. But at the same time, get them into tens of thousands of debt, which I just don’t think is good enough.”  Any funding from DfE would surely have to come through OfS, which was already busy with a funding review and a look at its minimum thresholds for quality. 
  • Lots of people have been concerned about student hardship during the pandemic, and so were the committee. Here the minister stretched credibility beyond all usual limits in her framing of the ability to spend some student premium in a slightly different way – an issue we’ve picked Donelan up beforeon the site: “Students have been affected by the pandemic in terms of finances, that’s undeniable. So most institutions have their own hardship funds and assistance already. And then they receive money every month for access and participation, which we worked with the Office for Students to remove the restrictions around so that they could unlock twenty three million pounds per month for April, May, June and July.  So 23 million pounds each, which is a considerable amount of money that they were able to then access to top up their hardship funds. And we promoted the use of that for things like accommodation, technology costs, system connectivity costs, all of these things. And that’s had a really fantastic impact in terms of trying to direct that support. I think it was right that we channelled that through universities who had these relationships and could identify those students most in need.”  We’re very much looking forward to seeing the evidence for the claim for the “a really fantastic impact” line, which surely must be coming given how much we all like to focus on “what works” and “outcomes” these days.

Levelling up and higher technical education

On Thursday last week Gavin Williamson gave a speech with the Social Market Foundation and then on Tuesday this week, a press release with more of the detail.

The speech set out the Government’s intentions to refocus FE, raising its profile and establishing the higher technical route as a genuine alternative to a degree. The announcement was well trailed in advance as the sector anticipated that the government would abandon Tony Blair’s target for 50% attending university (of course this wasn’t actually the target and it had already been dropped – Blair’s target was not about universities and l technical education for people under 30, as explained by former Minister Chris Skidmore here ). Given we have had several weeks (months?) of anti-HE rhetoric we had an impending sense of doom as we waited for Williamson’s speech. However, while there are the usual digs, it focussed enough on FE to be balanced.  And there is an opportunity for universities. For years the Government has urged HE institutions to work with their local schools and FE provision and received a lukewarm response, and universities will be able to access the higher technical qualification funding in collaboration with FE providers.

There was lots of interesting content in the speech, browse through the below, summarised in places to shorten it:

  • There is so much right with our education system but when it comes to further education, too many people here don’t value it as much as they should.
  • It exasperates me that there is still an inbuilt snobbishness about higher being somehow better than further, when really, they are both just different paths to fulfilling and skilled employment. Especially when the evidence demonstrates that further education can open the doors to greater opportunity, better prospects and transform lives. We must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job.

The Minister mentioned the following sources of financial support mentioned in the budget last week (read more in our update from last week).

  • When I first came into this job, I was firmly of the belief that there needed to be a major shift in how we treat further education. Not just because of its importance in levelling up. But because further education is vital if we want our country to grow economically and our productivity to improve. We need fundamental change, not just tinkering around the edges.
  • …Further education is central to our mission of levelling up the nation. Or quite simply, giving people the skills that they need to get the jobs that they want. If you want to transform many of our left-behind towns and regions, you don’t do it by investing more money solely in universities. You invest in the local college – the beating hearts of so many of our towns.
  • But unfortunately, we’ve not been providing as many of our young people with this opportunity as we should….Since becoming Education Secretary, I was shocked to discover that while the number of people going to university has increased, the total number of adults in education has actually fallen.
  • So what’s driven that fall?… There has been a systemic decline in higher technical qualifications… Within Higher Education Institutes, foundation degrees have declined from a high of 81,000, to approximately 30,000. Undergraduate part-time study in higher education has also fallen significantly, from nearly 250,000 in 2010 to under 100,000. Together, these more than outweigh the increase in young people going to university. And for those who haven’t achieved the equivalent of A-Levels by age 18, the chances of proceeding to higher levels of qualifications is, as Philip Augar’s report puts it, ‘virtually non-existent.’… Only 10% of all adults aged 18-65 hold a Higher Technical Qualification as their highest qualification. This compares to around 20% of adults in Germany and as much as 34% in Canada…We’re writing off people who have a tremendous potential to contribute to our society.
  • For decades, we have failed to give further education the investment it deserves. Of course, we know universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture. But it’s clear that there are limits to what can be achieved by sending ever more people to university, which is not always what the individual or our nation needs. 
  • In February I got sent a copy of the Oxford Review of Education’s special edition, about Higher Education and the labour market…Consistently across countries, there is evidence of filtering down in the labour market. That means that graduates are competing for jobs that used to be – and could still be – done by non-graduates. And a significant proportion of graduates fail to gain much advantage from going to university at all…It reinforces what we already know…that 34% of our graduates are in non-graduate jobs, more than any other countries in Europe except for Ireland and the Czech Republic. And employers say that too often, graduates don’t have the skills they need, whether that’s practical know-how or basic numeracy and literacy. [Here you may wish to read Wonkhe’s alternative take on the 34% underemployed.]
  • ….Skilled trade and professional occupations, in sectors such as manufacturing and construction, report some of the highest skills shortages. Many of these occupations require intermediate or higher technical qualifications – precisely the things that we are not teaching. Simply as a nation we seem to have given up on them when these are the skills we need most to have a chance of competing against other nations.
  • And let’s not pretend these qualifications are in any way inferior to a degree. The outcomes speak for themselves. Five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. I’d like to pause on that point just for a moment. A work-based, technical apprenticeship, lasting around 2 years, gives greater returns than the typical three year bachelor’s degree. For too long, we’ve been training people for jobs that don’t exist. We need to train them for the jobs that do exist and will exist in the future. We have to end the focus on qualifications for qualifications sake. We need fundamental reform: a wholesale rebalancing towards further and technical education. And across our entire post-16 sector, we need a much stronger alignment with the economic and societal needs of the nation.
  • My personal commitment is to put further and technical education at the heart of our post-16 education system. Like the Prime Minister, I believe that talent and genius are expressed as much by the hand and by the eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay.
  • We need to create and support opportunities for those who don’t want to go to university, not write them off – or drive them down a path that, can all too often, end with graduates not having the skills they need to find meaningful work.

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

  • Apprenticeship level and move to employer-led standards
  • Introduction of T levels
  • But, we need to go further, we need to go further and we need to go faster: to remove qualifications that are just not fit for purpose; to tackle low quality higher education; and to give colleges the powers and resources that they need to truly drive change.

Germany…

  • This autumn I will be publishing a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities. This will not be about incremental change, but a comprehensive plan to change the fundamentals of England’s further education landscape, inspired by the best models from around the world.
  • It will be centred upon two things. Firstly, high quality qualifications based on employer-led standards. All apprenticeships starts will be based on those standards from August this year and we will be looking to place such standards at the heart of our whole technical education system. Secondly, colleges playing a leading role in developing skills in their areas, driving an ambitious agenda that responds to local economic need and acting as centres for businesses and their development.

The Minister pledged to review the 12,000 level 3 qualifications simplifying the system into a consistently high-quality set of choices with a clear line of sight to study at higher levels.

  • …following our consultation last year we will be bringing forward plans to reverse the decline in higher technical education so that we can begin once more to train people for the jobs that the economy actually needs…And we want to do much more to open up more flexible ways of studying, including better support for modular learning.
  • Reforming and growing higher technical education will be a long-term endeavour. We want to see our great further education colleges expanding their higher technical provision. And although this speech is about further education, universities can be an important part of the solution, if they are willing to significantly step up their provision of higher technical qualifications.
  • Of course, qualifications are only half of the picture. Equally important is where they are taught…how our colleges should look in the future…They should be led by great leaders and governors who are drawn from local communities and businesses, and teaching staff who have already have experience working in and with industry…They should have industry-grade equipment and modern buildings which are great places to learn in and which act as centres for business development and innovation…They should deliver courses that are of the highest quality and which are tailored to the needs of employers and their local economies…They should work with small, local businesses to support the introduction of new technology and processes, and offer training in emerging skills….And there should be a robust system of governance so that every college is financially secure, flexible and dynamic. [That’ll keep the Government/ESFA busy then!]
  • We are also driving forward our network of Institutes of Technology. They will lead the way on delivering higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths – skills that will give this country a competitive edge not just in the industries of today, but, just as importantly, those of tomorrow. The first 12 are being rolled out across the country, ready to deliver the next generation of technicians and engineers, and more will follow soon. [Later this year the government plans to launch a competition to ensure that all of England is covered by an Institute of Technology.]

I think a lot of thought went into Williamson’s speech as he even attempts to change the rhetoric:

  • Some people say that further education and apprenticeships are for other people’s children. Let me be clear: I don’t. I’d be delighted if my children went to college or did an apprenticeship.
  • …No longer can we persist in the view that university is the silver bullet for everyone and everything. The revolution and need for change is long overdue. Education’s purpose is to unlock an individual’s potential so they can get the job and career that they crave. If it fails to do that then education itself has let them down. Today I have laid down a marker for change. A commitment to stand for the forgotten 50%. [You may recall that it was Ed Miliband who first coined the ‘forgotten 50%’ phrase in this context.]

Responses

The Guardian have an article from Berlin Bureau Chief – Philip Oltermann –  Importing Germany’s dual education system is easier said than done stating the German set up is fundamentally different to the UK (for a start it’s a federal nation, and a lot bigger) but also because it has the same ‘issue’ with HE being a preferred option. The Guardian states:

  • it involves complex coordination between the different actors, which the UK would at present struggle to reproduce, but also because it is threatened by the same cultural factors that have made universities so popular in the UK.  
  • ..the German dual system requires a high level of complex coordination between the employers who pay the trainee’s wages, the federal states that fund vocational training schools tailored to the needs of local industry, the unions that feed into the curriculum, and the chambers of trade and industry that carry out the exams at the end.
  • Previous British attempts to build up German-style dual systems – New Labour’s “14-19 Diplomas” and David Cameron’s ambitious apprenticeship targets – struggled to build up the educational infrastructure required to go with it.
  • Most British unions don’t have the capacity to feed expertise into training programmes… there isn’t an equivalent tradition of employers’ umbrella organisations developing training programmes for their entire sector.
  • In addition, not just Britain but Germany too is experiencing a gravitational pull that draws more and more young people towards universities rather than apprenticeships.

And the key point is this –

  • One reason for the trend, labour market experts speculate, is that academic degrees promise more flexibility, which is one of the downsides of the dual system.
  • While Germany’s dual training programmes produce highly specialised workers that can be perfectly matched to a sector’s current needs, they can struggle when digitalisation or globalisation throws that sector into crisis, as German printers, tailors or photo laboratory technicians have discovered in recent years.

Williamson’s speech is all about training young people to fit within specific fields of work, particularly addressing skills gaps – but those gaps will close and educational programmes take longer to respond. Flexibility really is the key here as people expect to need to change professions 5-7 times during their working span (Careers advice online, Financial Times, although this source takes issue with the ‘job hopping millennial’).

Before the Minister made his speech ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote for Conservative Home agreeing with Williamson’s speech but also using his piece to remind about:

  • Step-on, step off, credit based learning, that allows for a personalised education for the 100 per cent, not one that seeks to divide between two systems.
  • we should not turn the clock back – but equally let’s make sure we give everyone, regardless of background, an equal chance to learn. More part-time, flexible learning for adults of every age can help achieve this.
  • My greatest objection to the 50 per cent headline grabbing figure is that it masks some of the truly horrifying, persistent divisions in our country. Still just nine per cent of white boys on free school meals living in the North East access higher education; only six per cent of pupils who have been in care will do so. These divisions are even more acute when the type of university institution is taken into account. In 2018, 17 per cent of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7 per cent of them enrolled at high-tariff providers.
  • It is not acceptable for money to be handed over to institutions without delivering the necessary qualification. So called ‘non-completions’ are an unacceptable waste of talent and resource – which is why we need to create a learning system that prevents young people from dropping through the net.

In what will likely be an interesting summer for policy twists e should not dismiss Skidmore’s remarks simply because he is a backbencher. Currently Donelan is overshadowed by her two predecessors and their recent frequent media pieces…’ as if they are trying to influence from the side lines as they scent the change on the wind.

On the speech Wonkhe say: There are also serious doubts about the government’s capability and capacity to deliver meaningful reform in this area. It seems perennially confused about what it wants from higher education… And the fact that ministers can’t seem to support further education without attacking universities has left many on both sides of the old tertiary divide scratching their heads.

Wonkhe also sum up some of the media and sector responses for us: Greg Walker, CEO of MillionPlus said that some of the rhetoric in the speech missed the mark “as it appears to see HE and FE as alternatives, which they are clearly not”. University Alliance CEO Vanessa Wilson added that it was wrong to suggest that higher education “rarely offers technical qualifications and training”. The speech is covered by the BBC, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independenti News, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Mail. The Spectator also runs an opinion piece from the Social Market Foundation’s Director, James Kirkup, on the “genuinely important” speech, while the Guardian’s Education editor muses on what might come of Williamson’s education “revolution”.

Writing before the speech was released Research Professional made some good points:

  • How the government will actually stop school leavers choosing “popular-sounding courses”, as Donelan put it, remains to be seen.
  • Scarcity of places and repurposing the course offer of universities that get into financial trouble are two tools available, but they are unlikely to have much impact in the short and medium term while the demographic of 18-year-olds in England is at its lowest for several decades and supply outstrips demand.
  • It would seem that not even the coronavirus can dim the desire of young people to go to university, or of their parents to see them there. So what makes the government think it can do what Covid-19 cannot?
  • Even after the government has trebled tuition fees, cut grants and created a market of alternative providers, young people still want to go to university in numbers that continue to grow. The expansion of university participation is driven by the desires of students and their parents, not by irresponsible vice-chancellors looking to put bums on seats, as a former universities minister once put it.
  • …Williamson may rail today against a previous emphasis on increased entry to university, while on the other hand this government might end up making good on New Labour’s 50 per cent participation pledge. That target … was always supposed to include students experiencing higher education on HND and HNC courses. An investment in further education, with a push on lower-level qualifications, might just result in the Conservatives finally realising the ambition of Tony Blair’s government.
  • A canny education secretary who wanted to get things done would incentivise higher education in a further education setting and enable partnerships between universities and local colleges. An education secretary hidebound by ideology will seek to erect obstacles to university attendance, which will prove to be ineffective and counterproductive in the long run.
  • How Williamson chooses to pivot in his speech today will tell us a lot about what the legacy of this government will be for universities. Will it be five years of lobbying against restrictive measures or will it be a period of contributing to national recovery through joined-up thinking across the education system?

Post-speech Research Professional focus on the poor state of the FE sector and suggest that the Government’s reforms are the reason for the numbers decline within the mature population.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of The Sutton Trust, said:

  • Further educationandapprenticeshipshave a crucial role to play in widening opportunity … We would also like to see many more degree and degree-levelapprenticeshipsavailable to young people. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to earn while they learn, graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants. 

Tim Thomas, Make UK Director of Labour Market and Skills Policy said:

  • This is a welcome move to parity between academic and vocational education. For too long vocational education has been seen as the second class option for those who don’t make it to university. An employer-led vocational training system is the only way that we will meet the skills needs of the future and properly train the next generation with the future skills needed by business.
  • High quality engineering apprenticeships can offer better careers than university education and are often seen by employers as a better source of talent and supplying the right skills required by business. We look forward to working with government on their white paper and producing the fundamental changes need to our vocational trading system needed to make these objectives a reality for employers and learners alike.

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

Higher technical quals consist of HNCs (Higher National Certificates, level 4) and HND (Higher National Diplomas, level 5) effectively plugging the levels between A level (level 3) and Degree (level 6). Unlike A levels and degrees they usually have a technical focus and the Minister intends for them to focus on the skilled professions particular where the UK needs additional manpower to service industry gaps. The Government intend to:

  • Introduce new higher technical qualifications from as early as September 2022 [digital quals in Sept 2022, health science and construction in 2023] with a Government branded quality mark certifying the qualification as delivering the skills employers need (and using the same occupational standards as T levels and apprenticeships will sit within).
  • Work with Ofsted and the OfS to ensure the course quality is consistently high across HE and FE providers and building on the Institutes of Technology. Wonkhe speculate that the regulatory role will sit with the OfS as the original consultation highlighted an assurance role for the Office for Students that focused more on inputs than outputs – we’re expecting to see a move away from that level of active intervention to a reliance on existing OfS registration requirements in the full announcement.
  • Raise public awareness through a national campaign supported by employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of opportunities that studying a higher technical qualification can open up and making sure students get the right information, advice and guidance to make informed choices. Also: we will raise the profile and understanding of the best higher technical education courses through a government-backed brand, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice and guidance.

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

The Government certainly means business with the speed they intend to introduce the new qualifications. Many complained that T levels are not ready, and they had a far longer lead time and are being introduced piecemeal. The higher technical qualifications will continue  the Government’s vocational and technical route after T levels, alongside the intended expansion of the Institutes of Technology.

It is expected that the new higher technical quals will focus on STEM and manufacturing at first. What haven’t been mentioned are degree apprenticeships nor topping up a HND to a full degree. It is somewhat conspicuous by its absence as this has always been the focus of previous Government efforts. However, given the current rhetoric about degrees and criticism of the cost of the degree apprenticeships, the absence isn’t surprising. Yet it does create a hole between the Government’s ideal for more applied research to take place in situ within businesses and industry, including PhDs, which need that top up to the full degree and the advanced research skills often learnt on the level 6 top up.

The biggest question is what fee regime the higher technical qualifications will be subject to.

Finally the Government’s press release states the measure announced today will complement the Government’s review of post-18 education to ensure the system is joined up, accessible and encourages the development of the skills the country needs. The Government did review the higher technical level 4 & 5 space last year (it bumbled along quietly against the tertiary education and funding review). The Augar review was Theresa May’s baby and the Government has delayed its response and forthcoming changes for an embarrassingly long while. The Government may also think the lure of the technical route will result in a drop in degree applications – that remains to be seen, particularly given points made earlier about young people wanting flexibility over career choices rather than being channelled into a particular skill set and there is the forthcoming young population boom to accommodate.

Wonkhe have an interactive chart showing where the existing higher technical courses are offered. It describes approximately 1,000 courses currently exist with FE colleges delivering slightly more than HE institutions. Sadly it doesn’t geographically map where these courses are to show national coverage or patchiness, although you can browse through the provider names to get a feel for the national distribution.

There was a parliamentary question on difficulty for young people travelling to their T level placements from rural areas. The Government responds on increased funding to sources that could support the individual.

Finally, Mary Curnock Cook (ex UCAS CEO) blogs for HEPI stating that the technical curriculum needs to be on offer at secondary level too. Excerpt:

  • while I support the government’s aims to overhaul tertiary education options I fear their current approach will further divide society, lethally levelling up the already privileged middle-classes while sorting off the less well off, lower-attaining rest into what will forever seem like poorer options in lesser occupations. If levelling up is the aim, then we need to create broader and meaningful technical and skills pathways for all students, not just for those that do less well at academic GCSEs.

Admissions – use of calculated grades

Much of this week’s education-related parliamentary chatter has been about the use of predicted grades to determine GCSE and A level results. It is slightly surprising it has taken until now – given one of the main reasons for considering an alternative to HE admissions are concerns over the inaccuracy of predicted grades, particularly that disadvantaged students may be underpredicted (reducing their chances of reaching a higher tariff provider), BAME bias may result in underprediction, and SEN children can perform higher than expected in final exams (and mocks may not have incorporated the adjustments they would expect in the finals).

The Education Committee’s latest report Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades addresses the issue. 

  • We consider exams to be the fairest form of assessment, and any alternative will inevitably be an imperfect replacement. Ofqual has stepped up to the immense challenge of devising these exceptional arrangements,
  • We have concerns that the system described by Ofqual as the “fairest possible in the circumstances” could be unfair for groups including disadvantaged pupils, BAME pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND.
  • …We believe it is reasonable to remain aware that the potential for human bias in predicted grades may be replicated in the calculated grade system. We note that teachers and support staff themselves appear sceptical of the fairness of this year’s system of awarding grades
  • We are unconvinced that safeguards—such as additional guidance and practical recommendations—put in place by Ofqual will be sufficient to protect against bias and inaccuracy in calculated grades. In particular, given research evidence on unconscious bias, we are concerned that groups including pupils from low-income families, BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, and children looked after could be disadvantaged by calculated grades.
  • We raised our concerns about fairness for pupils with special educational needs to Ofqual, emphasising the importance of ensuring SEND specialists feed into calculated grades. We are pleased that Ofqual produced guidance on considering evidence from SEND specialists during the calculated grade process. We are concerned, however, that there was no accountability mechanism for ensuring this happened consistently
  • Given the potential risks of bias in calculated grades, it is clear that standardisation will be a crucial part of ensuring fairness. We are extremely concerned that Ofqual’s standardisation model does not appear to include any mechanism to identify whether groups such as BAME pupils, FSM eligible pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups…have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards.

On appeals the report says:

  • We took evidence on the system Ofqual has devised for appealing grades. Sally Collier assured us that Ofqual has “spent many hours with very many people trying to come up with the fairest possible appeal system in the circumstances”. Tom Bewick told us that given the circumstances, the 2020 system “is effectively the least worst option”.
  • We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint about their grades. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination. Such a system also favours more affluent pupils and families with resources and knowledge of the system.

Recommendations:

  • We call on Ofqual to make a transparency guarantee—a commitment to publishing details of its standardisation model immediately to allow time for scrutiny. Ofqual should not be afraid of scrutiny or open debate over whether its model offers the fairest outcome for every pupil and provider
  • Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups such as BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligible pupils have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards. The Government must extend catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils to ensure this is not a lost generation. This should be done by doubling the disadvantage element in the 16–19 funding formula for pupils in Year 12, for at least the next year.
  • Ofqual’s evaluation must include comprehensive data on attainment, by characteristics including gender, ethnicity, SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligibility, providing full transparency on whether there are statistically significant differences between attainment this year compared with previous years.
  • It is right that pupils should be able to appeal their grade if they believe bias or discrimination has occurred, but Ofqual has not given enough thought on how to make this route accessible to all pupils. [The section within the report on appeals states The appeals process: a process for the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed?] …Without support, proving bias or discrimination would be an almost impossible threshold for any pupil to evidence. Disadvantaged pupils, and those without family resources or wider support, risk being shut out of this route. Ofqual must urgently publish the evidence thresholds for proving bias and discrimination, clearly setting out what evidence will be required. AND Ofqual must collect and publish anonymised data at the conclusion of the appeals process on where it received appeals from, including, as a minimum, type of school attended, region, gender, ethnicity, SEND status, children looked after (including children supported by virtual schools), and FSM eligibility
  • Ofqual must ensure gold-standard advice and support is easily accessible for all pupils unhappy with their grades. Both the helplines provided by Ofqual and the National Careers Service must be freephone lines. These must both be staffed by dedicated professionals with the training to provide sound and impartial step-by-step advice and support on options and appeals.

Paragraphs 30 onwards tackles calculated grades for vocational and technical qualifications.

A HEPI blog, Halfon is right: Ofqual has more to do, agrees with the Education Committee’s outcomes and urges for action to be taken. It make interesting points about the autumn exams too:

  • In the understandable rush to introduce a completely new system, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on 20 March, it probably seemed reasonable at first to invent a system in which dissatisfaction could be tackled by an opportunity to take an autumn examination. Over time this choice has unravelled. If initial results match the allowed national distribution and autumn exam candidates succeed in achieving higher grades, then grade inflation is bound to follow – unless other candidates are downgraded, which is unthinkable. Are autumn exam candidates being set up to fail? Or will the August results be scaled down to allow some headroom in the national distribution?
  • Furthermore, students sitting autumn exams face a compulsory gap year, because the exams will be too late for a 2020-2021 start. This in itself may be discriminatory, especially for disadvantaged students. The impact of autumn-awarded grades on admission prospects for 2021 is uncertain. Some universities are refusing deferred entry for 2021, others will honour offers but with added conditions. The competition for 2021 entry is likely to be much more intense as 2020 students reapply, a larger 2021 cohort apply for the first time, and international students from 2020 and 2021 return in much larger numbers.

Admissions – numbers up

UCAS announced a rise in application numbers last week – up 1.6% on last year and is the highest figure in four years. They state a record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied to HE (last year – 38.9%) despite there being 1.5% fewer in the population because of the birth dip. (And 2020 is the bottom point in the population dip.) Just over a quarter of young applicants were from disadvantaged backgrounds (25.4%) using the participation measure. There is a small drop in EU student applications (down 2%).  And UCAS highlight that nursing applications (between January and June only) was 63% higher than the same period last year. Universities will be keen to ensure these applicants convert into enrolments once the results are out.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: At this moment, we’re seeing an encouraging picture emerge out of national lockdown, with currently more applicants than last year keen to expand their mind, stretch themselves, and seize the opportunities that higher education can offer.

Research Professional comment: This is great news for universities because it suggests that in the teeth of a fierce recession and with the prospect of gap-year travel off the table, even the model of blended learning on offer in institutions next year is proving to be more appealing to young people than continuing to be locked down with mum and dad.

Nursing

Every week the Government receive several parliamentary questions urging for leniency on nursing tuition fees both to cut tuition moving forward and refunds as a response to the coronavirus support work they undertook in hospitals. The House of Commons Library have published a briefing paper exploring the current funding systems for healthcare students, plus medicine, dentistry and paramedics. The nursing section includes the recent impacts on applications to study and the September 2020 new bursary offers. The Government also issued a press release to celebrate that applications to nursing courses are up by 16% (at end of June) and that the NHS is currently employing a record number of nurses and midwives (the largest ever annual increase):

  • Around 18,370 more nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s permanent register to work in the UK compared to a year ago, bringing the total number to 716,607 by 31 March 2020. The number of people trained in the UK leaving the register has also fallen to a five-year low.

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

  • This is the second year in a row that applicant numbers have risen. In 2019 there was a 6.4% increase in people accepted onto nursing and midwifery courses in England compared to 2018.

However, the Royal College of Nursing responded to the increase in nursing applications stating a much larger increase is required if the government is to come anywhere close to its commitment of having 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in England by the end of this Parliament.

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

  • “Application numbers for the nursing degree in England have reduced by 17.4% since 2016, the final year of the bursary. This means even if the all of the latest applications are turned into acceptances and ultimately registered nurses, the large workforce gap will still not close.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the contribution that nurses, and in particular student nurses, make to the entire health and care system. The effort they have shown has to be met with investment in our future nurses.
  • The government must invest properly in our domestic nursing supply and ensure patient need is met in the long term. To achieve this, it must wipe the debt of those who’ve had to take this on to study, provide full tuition fee support for all students and ensure maintenance support reflects students’ actual living costs.
  • The government should aim for an oversupply of nurses to strengthen our profession and keep patients safe.

Tuition fee refunds

Remember that mass petition for tuition fee refunds that was reopened by the Petitions Committee in Parliament? The Committee heard oral evidence and engaged 28,000 students through a survey and online forum (wider inquiry details here). The Committee has reported (key findings here) concluding that there should not be a universal reimbursement but that individuals can claim refunds on an individual basis in certain circumstances. The Committee stated:

  • While students do have a right to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course if the service provided by their university is substandard, we do not believe that there should be a universal refund or reimbursement of tuition fees to all university students.

However, as the Guardian reports, Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP who chairs the petitions committee, said:

  • “Despite the hard work of lecturers and support staff, some universities have been unable to provide courses in a way that students feel is good value for money. Therefore, while we do not consider that a blanket refund for all students is necessarily required, we believe that the government has a role in ensuring any student whose university experience has fallen short is compensated.”
  • The report calls for refund procedures to be streamlined and better publicised, saying the existing complaints process or use of the courts places too much of a burden on individual students and are likely to be overwhelmed by a flood of cases.
  • The MPs also said the government should pay for tuition fee refunds this year, “given the importance of the higher education sector to the UK economy, and the exceptional circumstances”.

Wonkhe have a blog it starts: Should students get a refund? Some should, says a committee – but they won’t. The House of Commons petitions committee is clueless on consumer law and student rights.

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

  • work with universities, the Office for Students, and Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to produce guidance on when current and future university students may be entitled to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course;
  • establish a new system which enables all students to easily seek a full or partial refund of their tuition fees, or to repeat part of their course;
  • ensure that all students are advised of their consumer rights and are given clear guidance on how to avail themselves of these if they feel their university has failed to provide an adequate standard of education;
  • consider providing additional funding to universities to enable them to pay any refunds university students are entitled to as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak;
  • consider alternative means for reimbursing students, where an independent process has found that they are entitled to a refund;
  • consider making additional funding available to students who might want to extend their education after the outbreak, and to provide ongoing employment advice and support beyond graduation in what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

  • NUS has been calling for the Government to provide a Student Safety Net since the scale of the impact on students became clear. The Petitions Committee’s recommendations would go a long way in achieving this aim, with targeted fee reimbursements and debt write-offs. We also welcome the references to support for further study or to redo elements of the course.
  • Although the report highlights some of our key asks for education leavers, the recent Treasury announcements for graduates do not go far enough and we would like to see an extended economic support package put in place.
  • Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated the cracks in a broken higher education system, and hit students from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities the hardest. It is critical that the Government acts on these suggestions, but they must also go further. We are calling for universal compensation, and for the Government to protect our education sector from the failed project of marketisation before they lose the faith of millions of students.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has been on the ball throughout this process and in light of this week’s announcement they have blogged for Wonkhe:

  • We think it’s reasonable to expect providers to try to agree any significant changes with students as this is in everyone’s best interests. Where this is not possible, it’s important to explain to students what their options are. From our perspective, we would not be prescriptive about what this looks like in practice but we would look at whether the provider has taken reasonable steps to consult with students and enable them to make informed decisions.
  • Now that providers have had some time to plan for the longer-term effects of the pandemic, it is in our view unlikely to be reasonable for providers to rely on exclusion clauses that allow the provider to make significant changes to what it has promised, or not to deliver it at all, in the new year.
  • Where it’s not possible to deliver something that is at least broadly equivalent to what was promised, or to meet an individual students’ needs, the provider will need to think about how to put that right. It’s best to do this proactively without waiting for formal complaints to be raised.
  • There are groups of students whose studies are particularly badly affected by Covid-19 disruption and where significant changes are needed to their courses. It’s important to identify those groups and try to address their issues.
  • Providers will also be aware of and looking out for students who are vulnerable or less able to access replacement provision. Some of these students too may feel unable to continue with their studies, for example because their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or very anxious.
  • In such extraordinary times we think it’s reasonable for students to be considering deferring or interrupting their studies, although this may not be their best option. We think providers should be considering requests sympathetically, helping students to understand their options, and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so.
  • We don’t think it’s reasonable to have blanket policies such as refusing to give tuition fee refunds in any circumstances or refusing all requests for deferral, or not engaging with individual students’ concerns. We have already seen a worrying example of this among the first coronavirus-related complaints that have reached us. 
  • When we review a student’s complaint we look at whether the provider has followed fair procedures, and whether it has acted reasonably in the circumstances. We always take into account relevant legislation and guidance… A student’s contractual terms and conditions are important but we look more widely than that, at what is fair.

Research Professional have a short article on the Petitions Committee decision mainly focusing on restitution for students such as a tuition fee loan refund.

International Students

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) published a roadmap for a world-class international student experience. It calls for further visa flexibility, delaying the immigration health surcharge, and aims to build a stronger evidence base of current international students’ experiences, to drive future policy development and support policy asks. UKCISA also hopes to develop an International Student Charter.

Research Professional report on a survey suggesting that a fifth of potential EU students who considered studying in the UK plan to start their course earlier than they originally intended because of the tuition fee changes (the removal of home status).

Pinsent Masons (legal firm) run through all the recent Visa status changes. The Tier 4 content is just below halfway on this link.

Scotland have confirmed they will also end the free tuition for EU students from 2021. HE Minister Richard Lochhead explained it as a Brexit decision made with a heavy heart. He stated the £19 million  (per year) EU fee saving would be retained within Scotland to support more Scottish residents to attend University. To support Scottish universities internationalisation he aims to put a scholarship programme in place to continue to attract EU talent.

Despite last week’s urging from ex-Universities Minister Jo Johnson and Shadow HE Minister Emma Hardy the Government’s response to the international students in the US (who will have their visa rescinded due to their institution offering online study only during the pandemic) will not take a proactive stance. Current Universities Minister Michelle Donelan simply reiterated all the ‘welcoming’ measures for international students that are already in place such as the online study visa exemption and the post study work visa system. No attractive marketing campaign will be launched. This isn’t surprising from the viewpoint of international relations with an America determined to take offence at slights, however, given how well the Government’s aides have been listening and responding to sector chatter recently a warmer response might have been anticipated.

The second half of this Research Professional article gives the perspective of a German student who is anticipating their visa will be cancelled. It reminds that there is more to it than an undergraduate student forced to choose between deferral or switching countries of study:

  • simply studying online at a US institution from Germany is not feasible for many who had plans to stay in the United States for an extended period of time and have made arrangements accordingly, including uprooting family. 
  • “Anyone who—sometimes accompanied by relatives—is completing or planning a stay of several years in the United States, and has temporarily given up his or her centre of life in Germany for this purpose, is faced with existential questions.”

Happily for those international students the point is now moot. Following immense pressure from the Harvard and MIT law suit (which was joined by the tech giants, e.g. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the US Chamber of Commerce) President Trump has dropped the visa cancellation.

Whether international students will be exempt from the mandatory C-19 quarantine period of 2 weeks.  Whereas this IDP Connect survey suggests 77% of international students would happily quarantine if it meant a quicker return to face to face on campus teaching.

Points-based Immigration System

A policy paper on the points-based immigration system was published this week with more detail on the Student, Graduate and Skilled Worker route. There are lots of items with a little more detail, however, the key points remain as we’ve mentioned in previous policy updates. For those with an interest you can read the main elements here. One key change is that universities will need to do more than just monitor attendance – they will need to confirm (keep records as evidence) that international students have fully engaged with the course. Research Professional have a short write up here.

Graduate Outcomes

HESA released the next set of Graduate Outcomes experimental statistics data, this time looking at graduates’ subjective wellbeing. They asked about how anxious/happy the respondent felt, whether they felt the things they do in their life are worthwhile, and whether they are satisfied with their life. The charts are here. The second set of charts examines the above questions by subject studied. Education and subjects allied to medicine stand out as happiest/most pleased with their life currently.

The third chart shows that there isn’t a lot of difference on the questions from students across the range of degree outcomes from pass to first. The fourth chart looks at gender differences – females stated more anxiety but also rate high on the worthwhileness of their life. You can also cut the data by domicile in the final chart.

Wonkhe’s data guru interprets the findings further in a specific blog.

Social Mobility Commission

Sandra Wallace (lawyer) and Steven Cooper (banking) have been appointed as interim chairs of the Social Mobility Commission on a job share basis. Both currently serve on the Commission and will fill the role temporarily until a substantive chair can be appointed. You can read more on the appointees background and the details of the appointments in the Government’s press release.

Bailout push

YouGov have undertaken a poll examining the 30 marginal constituencies (those which swing between parties at the election and aren’t a safe seat) which all have a (10%+) student population and a university within their catchment. The results of the poll aren’t publicly available (currently) so we rely on the reporting in the UCU press release for details. UCU report that voters in these constituencies support additional Government funding to protect their university from the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic. These constituencies MPs include PM Boris Johnson and Science Minister Amanda Solloway. The bottom of the press release contains a table detailing the constituencies and their elected MPs.

  • 76% felt their local university was important in creating local jobs
  • 79% felt the university was important to the local economy
  • 72% university is key in brining in outside investment to the local area
  • 75% the university supplies key skilled staff for local services such as schools and hospitals
  • 33% of those polled who were employed stated the university was important to their own job
  • 42% knew someone studying or working at the university
  • 66% believe there would be a negative impact on the local economy if student numbers dropped at their university due to C-19
  • 75% were concerned of a negative local impact if their university went bust
  • 55% supported a temporary increase in Government financial support for their university to maintain courses and jobs (20% opposed the idea). [Hardy overwhelming support for this question!]
  • 43% want their local MPs to campaign for increased support for universities

NSS Analysis

The OfS have issued a press release on the 2020 National Student Survey additional analysis which examined the impact of the coronavirus on the results. They state that student satisfaction is stable and students continue to be discontented with course organisation and communication of changes.

  • The additional analysis acknowledges variations across the data but no evidence the results have been significantly impacted by the pandemic: The OfS used a statistical model to determine whether there is a significant difference between responses made before and after the 11 March (an ’11 March effect’) when other factors are taken into account. The model found that there is a difference for the majority of questions, but similar variations are also present in 2018 and 2019, so cannot be attributed solely to the pandemic.
  • 83% of students are satisfied with their course (2019 was 84%)
  • 67% feel their course is well organised and run smoothly (2019 = 70%; 2018 = 69%)
  • 62% felt students’ course feedback had been acted on (but only 49% of part time students did)
  • 2020 response levels were lower than in 2019 and 2018
  • Overall comparing against 2019 there is a small negative shift in the agreement rate for some questions.

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

  • This academic year has come with unprecedented challenges for both universities and colleges, and their students. Notwithstanding the impact of both industrial action and the coronavirus pandemic on the students responding to the survey, the results remain remarkably positive.
  • However, for several years, students have reported comparatively lower satisfaction with the organisation and management of their courses, and how effectively changes are communicated. Now more than ever, the survey results demonstrate how important it is for universities to communicate changes effectively, run courses as smoothly as possible, and listen carefully to student feedback. This is even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic …

 Student Number Controls

This week Jo Johnson writes for the Evening Standard. The piece tackles how student number controls and, reading between the lines, possible changes to the funding of certain degree programmes that the Government might be considering (remember Jo himself was in favour of differential fees and tried to bring in through the HERA legislation linked to the quality of the TEF judgement – but the Lords protested) could negatively impact on arts programmes.

  • Up until the Coronavirus struck, they [the creative industries] were growing at five times the rate of the economy and generating around 15 per cent of national gross value-added. Enabling historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema to access emergency grants and loans while their doors are closed is a no-brainer.
  • For policy to be fully joined up, however, the Department for Education must take care over how it operates recently re-imposed domestic student number controls. This risks turning into a crude process to allocate places – and therefore funding – on the basis of flawed measures of graduate earnings. This would unfairly penalise creative arts courses already in the cross-hairs of higher education sceptics in Parliament fired up by Gavin Williamson’s denunciation of the Blair-era target for 50 per cent of young people to go to university. If we have learnt anything lately, it is to value socially useful but lower-earning professions.
  • It would be incoherent to open the door to international talent to work across our economy, while restricting opportunities for domestic students to prepare themselves for careers in the arts. An economic nonsense too: the creative industries were generating £13 million for the economy every hour before Covid-19 – enough to repay the subsidy to arts courses in the student loan book many times over.
  • Our creative industries will only recover if we supply them with the skills and talent vital for their success.

Research

  • A parliamentary question asking whether HE institutions can combine all the sources of Government support.
  • Covid-19 researchers will receive visa relaxation measures.
  • An answer to a parliamentary question we mentioned last week has revealed that UKRI administers 70% of the research public funding (UK sources).
  • Establishing an effective coordination and oversight mechanism to serve the R&D spectrum in the UK – a Science for the Justice System Advisory Group has been established working with UKRI to coordinate forensic science in the UK.
  • Direct air capture R&D funding
  • Institutions eligible for research funding (influence of REF award)
  • Wellcome have a new blog – How could COVID-19 change research culture for the better?
  • Research Professional (RP) report that participation in Horizon Europe is dead in all but name – there are concerns over the terms on which the UK could associate with the EU’s research funding schemes and the cost of the joining fee plus the operational contribution is described as eye-watering. Cost estimates range from 600 million Euros to 12 billion Euros – way beyond the costs UK researchers could win back in funding. The article states that Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, said EU academia remains firmly behind UK association, and said British institutions must pile pressure on their government. If you’re not going to push anymore, nobody is. And that the European Commission has clearly indicated that this [terms/contribution] is still up for negotiation. Deketelaere implies it is the UK Government who are balking at joining Horizon Europe not the European Commission. However, there are question marks over the joining charge – the UK’s fee is being set out whereas it is unclear if the EU will charge other non-EU countries for association. RP report that the Treasury also expect the costs to come out of existing research budgets (previously it was going to be in addition to the science budget) because of the generous sums announced recently (and due to the cost of the pandemic for the Government). RP state:  Government sources now question whether the UK research community will be willing to blow a multibillion-pound hole in research budgets for the sake of access to the prestigious European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Awards.

RP continue:

  • While there are now clouds on the horizon for the UK’s participation in EU research schemes, all of this is subject to the caveat that negotiations over both a Brexit trade deal and the terms of Horizon Europe are still ongoing. Everything could change, but all available evidence suggests that the UK government is now preparing an exit strategy and has its excuse lined up already.
  • Playbook suspects that as Brexit trade deal talks intensify after the summer, UK universities will be presented with a choice between paying over the odds to play in Europe or settling for beefed-up domestic schemes administered by UK Research and Innovation. For vice-chancellors, the wallet will say UKRI although the heart may say EU—is it a price worth paying?
  • But, in the end, this is not a decision that will be made in universities.

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

Disadvantage: The OfS has published their latest briefing note which considers outreach to disadvantaged students during the coronavirus. It describes online outreach including two case studies of a blended summer school type model, and other approaches targeted towards BAME, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families, mature learners, and other vulnerable or underrepresented groups.

HE Sector Financial Health: The House of Commons Library have published a briefing Coronavirus: Financial impact on HE. It covers the financial health of the sector, the impact of reduced international student numbers, the Government support packages (fee payments and research funding) and the R&D roadmap.

Student Loans: The SLC have launched a new online repayment service – it calculates a student’s up to date remaining loan balance. It aims to avoid over payments as students near the end of their repayments.

Prevent: Wonkhe report on the latest report reviewing Prevent. Wonkhe say:

  • The government’s Prevent strategy has led to the persistence of negative stereotypes of Muslims and “a culture of mutual suspicion and surveillance” on campus, according to a new reportled by Alison Scott-Bauman at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). “Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: perceptions and challenges” recommends that there is a “strong argument” for Prevent to be discontinued in its current form, having curbed freedoms of speech and expression on campus.
  • Though there is ample evidence of widespread tolerance for all forms of religious activity among staff and students (with 88.1 per cent of students agreeing that “The experience of university encourages respect and mutual understanding among people who have different perspectives on life”), the research found a close link between belief in a “narrative of suspicion” about Islam, support for Prevent, and patterns of Islamophobia. The report recommends building awareness of Islamophobia via training and development, consultation, representation, and the encouragement of interfaith dialogue via free and frank debate based on the principle of mutual respect. The report is covered by the Guardian(along with an opinion piece by the report’s author) and the Telegraph.

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

Chinese relations: HEPI published UK Universities and China a series of essays on the challenges and complexities of the relationship between UK universities and China. It includes self-censorship; the importance of UK-China scientific research; and the recruitment and integration of Chinese students

Separately there is a recent YouGov poll which asks about UK/Chineses relationships. The interactive version of the chart is here.

Not just Brexit: Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) writes for UKandEU.com –  Universities and Brexit: past, present and future. It doesn’t just cover Brexit, but highlights that UK students get far less out of Erasmus than the incoming EU students studying in the UK, it even mentions this week’s bingo winner – the Blair 50% target. A longer read and some interesting points.

Student Experience: Pearson and Wonkhe have collaborated to examine students’ experience of learning during C-19 and their expectations for next year (shorter blog here).

  • 41% struggled to manage their wellbeing without in person contact with friends and university staff.
  • 34% found the new ways of learning challenging.
  • 34% struggled to manage their time without an enforced timetable.
  • 29% found the isolation difficult.
  • 34% struggled with lack of space or a quiet enough environment to study within.
  • 49% felt less confident to progress to their next step in their education or career –
    • with 13% of the 49% attributing this to external (non-university) factors (economy, jobs, research funding).
    • The factors relating to university were loss of industry experience, loss of practical skills development, lack of academic contact time, a lower sense of quality of learning experience.
  • 43% (of current students) plan to defer the next academic year to take a year out or look for work experience
  • 20% plan to leave education entirely (its unclear whether these were already final year students)
  • Of those planning to defer/leave 28% was because they didn’t want another semester of online study or the loss of practical experience reduced the value of their degree or because the logistics of travel, accommodation and teaching were too uncertain.
  • 47% of those who felt they had missed out (e.g. lab or studio based work) believe they should receive a fee reduction or refund as compensation. However, a quarter want to make up the missed experience at a safer later date, and 15% were willing to experience online. 10% didn’t feel it was the university’s responsibility to atone for the loss of experience.
  • On welfare the blog states:

One key message from the survey is that while students are clear that their wellbeing is suffering, the action they want universities to take is in the teaching and learning domain, rather than the welfare domain. Responses throughout the survey suggest that wellbeing issues are not simply the result of students being at home and the concerns over Covid-19, but that the way that universities have managed interactions and online learning has increased their anxiety, and had a negative impact on their wellbeing. It’s not simply about putting support mechanisms in place to help students with their wellbeing; it’s about stopping the causes.

  • 59% want universities to offer high quality online teaching as their priority for September rather than social interaction, well being support or access to learning resources.

Graduate outlook: Wonkhe report that research from Adunza finds that the number of graduate jobs available this summer has fallen by 73 per cent since the start of the year. Because larger employers are delaying graduate schemes due to the pandemic just 3,993 jobs are currently available, meaning that 100 graduates could be competing for each available job. FE news has the story.

HE Student Numbers: The House of Commons Library have published a paper on HE student numbers. It states: Headline student numbers have increased to new record levels in recent years following a short dip related to the 2012 reforms in the sector. There have been continued increases in entry rates for different groups of students, including those from disadvantaged areas/backgrounds where rates have also hit new record levels. However, headline numbers tend to focus on full-time undergraduates and there are ongoing concerns about student numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive. This includes part-time undergraduates, particularly those not studying first degrees, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries, especially Nigeria and Malaysia, mature students and some disadvantaged groups.

There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 9th July 2020

A lot about skills and employment in the “mini-budget” this week.  There is quite a lot on the “poor quality courses” debate, and on the financial impact of the virus on young people and on universities.  Plus some regulatory changes that are starting to look ominous…

A Universities Minister who thinks people shouldn’t bother going to University?

Amidst ongoing rhetoric over allegedly poor quality courses and poor student outcomes (we reported on the Minister’s speech last week) and we report on the debate in the House of Lords below which included some strong lines, including this one from Lord Blencathra:

  • .. we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid.”

This week Wonkhe have made it their mission to find these courses – they conclude the data doesn’t bear this out.  Not least because past performance isn’t necessarily any indication of future performance in the jobs market or at a university.  A course whose students may indeed have had poor outcomes 10 years ago might, or perhaps would almost certainly, have changed by now (or what have the QAA, OfS etc been doing all this time and where is the impact of the TEF?).  Of course, the rhetoric muddles institutional outcomes, subject outcomes and the outcomes of particular courses.  It ignores regional disparities in employment opportunities and he different demographic of the students who attend each university.  It also (my pet peeve, as you will know if you read this blog often) assumes that you can look at courses this way because the progression between courses and jobs is linear and therefore all social sciences students go on to have (potentially low earning) careers in community work, so it’s easy, just stop subsidising social sciences.  In fact some of them become Secretaries of State for Education – strange how they forget. Would it have made a difference to his career earnings if Gavin Williamson had studied engineering?  If you think that’s a silly question, that’s my point!

There have been numerous social media and newspaper blogs addressing Michelle’s unfavourable speech last week (delivered at a disadvantaged access conference too).  One does wonder if it was just the clumsiness of her speech writers but it’s probably unfair to blame them. Did she really intend to suggest universities were dumbing down so they could admit disadvantaged students – or was it a general ‘bums on seats’ dig gone wrong?

Wonkhe have long said that Whitehall dislike their Ministers cosying up to the sector – think Chris Skidmore, David Willetts, and even Sam Gyimah did try (though it didn’t really work for the self styled Minister for Students). Donelan is certainly keen to show herself to toe the party line, and we know the refocus on technical education and FE support is coming (and contrary to Augar’s recommendations) will likely result in some level of defunding of HE.

So where does this leave the widening participation agenda? If we listen to the Government or media it seems the sector is to blame, despite the new, stringent Access and Participation Plans rigorously overseen by the OfS (whose golden status also appears to be slipping). Shifting the focus away from the prospective students themselves and shoving them into a deficit model where universities must ‘do’ to correct the disadvantage in their lives. …  Are they planning to stop contextual admissions (note they are still allowed under the new OfS licence condition)?

Just one example,, of the sector push back against Donelan’s speech is found in the gently disappointed Guardian article penned by Chris Husbands (VC Sheffield Hallam)

  • My personal history, and my family’s experience, make me very worried when government ministers lose faithin the power of universities to transform lives.
  • When pushed, very few politicians or journalists can actually identify these courses which “do nothing” or are “low value”.
  • They are odd lines, because they contradict the government’s own ambitions. Michael Gove laid it out for them just a few days before: a future built around “big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and further automation, 3D printing, quantum computing”, along with “genetic sequencing and screening, gene editing and other life science and biotech advances”.
  • The 21st century world is a knowledge-led world. Value is generated not through low- or mid-level skills but economic, social and technological transformation. It’s universities which are our best bet for the future because they produce advanced knowledge and research. That’s why all the world’s advanced economies are investing in higher education.

Wonkhe tell us that “Gavin Williamson is expected to give a speech designed to flesh out the government’s post-18 strategy. But don’t expect to like what you hear.” 

Budget

You’ll have read the analyses of the mini budget in the press.  Apart from stamp duty, green homes vouchers,  “eat out to help out” and the VAT cut for food and non-alcoholic drinks, it was mostly focussed on jobs – retaining and creating new ones, with a particular focus on young people.

It was not expected that there would be any announcements about HE, so we should not feel disappointed – this is all about skills and jobs for those who were not planning to go to university in September and face unemployment.

Apart from the headlines, the details are here.

  • Job Retention Bonus – The government will introduce a one-off payment of £1,000 to UK employers for every furloughed employee who remains continuously employed through to the end of January 2021. Employees must earn above the Lower Earnings Limit (£520 per month) on average between the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the end of January 2021. Payments will be made from February 2021. Further detail about the scheme will be announced by the end of July.
  • Kickstart Scheme – The government will introduce a new Kickstart Scheme in Great Britain, a £2 billion fund to create hundreds of thousands of high quality 6-month work placements aimed at those aged 16-24 who are on Universal Credit and are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding available for each job will cover 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.
  • New funding for National Careers Service – The government will provide an additional £32 million funding over the next 2 years for the National Careers Service so that 269,000 more people in England can receive personalised advice on training and work.
  • High quality traineeships for young people – The government will provide an additional £111 million this year for traineeships in England, to fund high quality work placements and training for 16-24 year olds. This funding is enough to triple participation in traineeships. For the first time ever, the government will fund employers who provide trainees with work experience, at a rate of £1,000 per trainee. The government will improve provision and expand eligibility for traineeships to those with Level 3 qualifications and below, to ensure that more young people have access to high quality training.
  • Payments for employers who hire new apprentices – The government will introduce a new payment of £2,000 to employers in England for each new apprentice they hire aged under 25, and a £1,500 payment for each new apprentice they hire aged 25 and over, from 1st August 2020 to 31st January 2021. These payments will be in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the government already provides for new 16-18 year-old apprentices, and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan – where that applies.
  • High value courses for school and college leavers – The government will provide £101 million for the 2020-21 academic year to give all 18-19 year olds in England the opportunity to study targeted high value Level 2 and 3 courses when there are not employment opportunities available to them.
  • Expanded Youth Offer – The government will expand and increase the intensive support offered by DWP in Great Britain to young jobseekers, to include all those aged 18-24 in the Intensive Work Search group in Universal Credit.
  • Enhanced work search support – The government will provide £895 million to enhance work search support by doubling the number of work coaches in Jobcentre Plus before the end of the financial year across Great Britain.
  • Expansion of the Work and Health Programme – The government will provide up to £95 million this year to expand the scope of the Work and Health Programme in Great Britain to introduce additional voluntary support in the autumn for those on benefits that have been unemployed for more than 3 months. This expansion will have no impact on the existing provision for those with illnesses or disabilities in England and Wales.
  • Job finding support service – The government will provide £40 million to fund private sector capacity to introduce a job finding support service in Great Britain in the autumn. This online, one-to-one service will help those who have been unemployed for less than three months increase their chances of finding employment.
  • Flexible Support Fund – The government will increase the funding for the Flexible Support Fund by £150 million in Great Britain, including to increase the capacity of the Rapid Response Service.1 It will also provide local support to claimants by removing barriers to work such as travel expenses for attending interviews. 2.21 New funding for sector-based work academies – The government will provide an additional £17 million this year to triple the number of sector-based work academy placements in England in order to provide vocational training and guaranteed interviews for more people, helping them gain the skills needed for the jobs available in their local area.

More detail is also provided on measures announced by the PM on 30th June.

There are some research-related announcements.

  • Office for Talent – The government will create a new Office for Talent based in No.10, with delivery teams across government departments. The Office will focus on attracting, retaining and developing top research and science talent across the UK and internationally.
  • Direct Air Capture – The government will provide £100 million of new funding for researching and developing Direct Air Capture, a new clean technology which captures CO2 from the air.
  • Automotive Transformation Fund – Building on the announcement last year of up to £1 billion of additional funding to develop and embed the next generation of cutting-edge automotive technologies, the government is making £10 million of funding available immediately for the first wave of innovative R&D projects to scale up manufacturing of the latest technology in batteries, motors, electronics and fuel cells. The government is also calling upon industry to put forward investment proposals for the UK’s first ‘gigafactory’ and supporting supply chains to mass manufacture cutting-edge batteries for the next generation of electric vehicles, as well as for other strategic electric vehicle technologies.
  • World-class laboratories – The government will provide a £300 million investment in 2020-21 to boost equipment and infrastructure across universities and institutes across the UK

Guardian report on the new Office for Talent.

NHS investment

  • NHS maintenance and A&E capacity – The government will provide £1.05 billion in 2020-21 to invest in NHS critical maintenance and A&E capacity across England.
  • Modernising the NHS mental health estate – The government will provide up to £250 million in 2020-21 to make progress on replacing outdated mental health dormitories with 1,300 single bedrooms across 25 mental health providers in England.
  • Health Infrastructure Plan – The government will provide a further £200 million for the Health Infrastructure Plan18 to accelerate a number of the 40 new hospital building projects across England.

And on the education estate (not HE):

  • Further Education (FE) estate funding – Building on the £1.5 billion commitment for FE capital funding made at Budget 2020, the government will bring forward £200 million to 2020-21 to support colleges to carry out urgent and essential maintenance projects. This will be the first step in the government’s commitment to bring the facilities of colleges everywhere in England up to a good level.
  • School estate funding – The government will provide additional funding of £560 million for schools in England to improve the condition of their buildings and estates in 2020-21. This is on top of the £1.4 billion already invested in school maintenance this year.
  • School rebuilding programme – The government has announced over £1 billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme in England. These projects will be confirmed in the autumn, and further detail on future waves will be confirmed at the Comprehensive Spending Review. Construction on the first sites will begin in September 2021.

LEP funding for local infrastructure:

  • Local infrastructure projects – The government will provide £900 million for shovelready projects in England in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to drive local growth and jobs. This could include the development and regeneration of key local sites, investment to improve transport and digital connectivity, and innovation and technology centres. Funding will be provided to Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Budget context

A slightly different response to a PQ about supporting graduates through the gloomy economic outlook from the Universities Minister:

Douglas Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has to support graduates looking for employment (a) during and (b) after the covid-19 outbreak.

Michelle Donelan:

  • Our economic priority is to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our economy as far as possible. This is an incredibly difficult period for everyone, and we understand that graduates are likely to feel concerned as they enter a far tougher job market than those before them.
  • Some universities are going above and beyond to support those graduating this summer, providing extensive online careers advice, including webinars offering interview and CV-writing tips and skills and follow-up one-to-one calls. However, we need all universities to step up and play a key role to help graduates take the next step, whether into work or further study.
  • The recently announced National Tutoring Programme creates an opportunity for graduates to apply for tutoring roles providing support for pupils and schools in the most disadvantaged areas. More details of the programme will be available shortly.
  • We know that post-graduates often secure employment in higher skilled and higher paid employment than graduates and non-graduates. The government can support with the financial burden of accessing a master’s degree with a loan of up to £11,222. Where graduates are considering a career in teaching, tax-free postgraduate bursaries of up to £26,000 are available for trainee teachers starting initial teacher training in 2020/21, depending on the subject in which they train to tea

The Institute for Fiscal Studies have published COVID-19 and the career prospects of young people and a report on the ‘Prolonged cost’ to young people from COVID-19 career disruption.

The new IFS research, funded by the Turing Institute, shows that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to severely disrupt the career progression of young workers, suggesting that negative economic impacts on this age group may last well beyond the easing of the lockdown. The new research finds that:

  • Over the last decade, young people starting out in the labour market have increasingly been working in relatively low-paid occupations, many of which are in sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis – for example, hospitality and non-food retail.
  • The growing importance of those ‘lockdown sectors’ as employers of workers at the start of their careers is primarily due to an expansion of the accommodation and food industry. The share of workers starting their careers in this sector increased by about 50%, from 6% to 9%, between 2007 and 2019.
  • As other sources of wage growth have dried up, young workers have become increasingly reliant on moving into higher-paying occupations as a source of early-career wage growth. Around 28% of wage growth over the first five years of the careers of workers born in the 1970s could be attributed to moving into a higher-paying occupation. This had risen to 50% or more among people born in the 1980s.
  • The pandemic threatens to have a prolonged negative economic impact on young people by reducing demand for the jobs that are typical among early-career workers and making it harder for workers to find better opportunities than their current jobs.
  • The government should have a particular focus on the challenges facing the young as it attempts to manage the labour market impacts of COVID-19 in the coming months.

IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research has published a report, Guaranteeing the Right Start, Preventing Youth Unemployment after COVID-19.

  • There is a strong case for bold policy interventions to prevent youth unemployment. Becoming NEET results in a ‘scarring effect’ that lowers long-term employment prospects and earning potential (Gregg and Tominey 2004). Furthermore, those from the poorest backgrounds and with the lowest qualifications are likely to be the worst affected (Henehan 2020). Each person that is out of work and education for six months or more costs on average £65,000 in direct lifetime costs to public finances and £120,000 in wider lifetime costs to the economy and community (Coles et al 2010). But ultimately becoming unemployed is a deep personal crisis with impacts on health, self-worth, identity and status.
  • We recommend the creation of a new ‘Opportunity Guarantee’ for young people: the government should ensure that every young person is either in education or work. The government’s main aim in the short term should be to prevent a rise in youth unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. But, looking beyond the crisis, they should be aiming even higher: to eliminate all but the most temporary experience of being NEET amongst all young people. This will require government to keep young people in education for longer – but more radically, it also demands a fundamental rethink of labour market policy in the UK (the focus of this paper). This programme should be spearheaded by the prime minster as part of a campaign to inspire businesses to ‘do their bit’, by hiring young people during the crisis as part of an ‘investment in the future of our nation’.
  • Fulfilling this promise will require a new, more active, approach to labour market policy. In recent decades, the UK has embraced a liberal welfare regime, meaning a flexible labour market with limited government intervention, and a welfare system designed to promote ‘work first’ through low replacement rates, conditionality and sanctions. This approach is always questionable, but it is particularly problematic in an environment of high and persistent unemployment. We must now take a more empathetic and interventionist approach, drawing on the Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) used more extensively elsewhere. If the UK spent the same proportion of GDP on these policies as other advanced European countries, we would invest £8.5 billion more a year in preventing unemployment. Some of these measures are outlined in this paper but government must also take action for older people as well, for example, through reforming and extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Financial sustainability

And continuing the financial theme, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a briefing entitled Will universities need a bailout to survive the COVID-19 crisis? The briefing note examines the resilience of university finances to the likely consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak and the public health response to it.

  • The total size of the university sector’s losses is highly uncertain: we estimate that long-run losses could come in anywhere between £3 billion and £19 billion, or between 7.5% and nearly half of the sector’s overall income in one year. Our central estimate of total long-run losses is £11 billion or more than a quarter of income in one year.
  • The biggest losses will likely stem from falls in international student enrolments (between £1.4 billion and £4.3 billion, with a central estimate of £2.8 billion) and increases in the deficits of university-sponsored pension schemes, which universities will eventually need to cover (up to £7.6 billion, with a central estimate of £3.8 billion). In addition, the sector faces lockdown-related losses of income from student accommodation and conference and catering operations, as well as financial losses on long-term investments.
  • Large sector-level losses mask substantial differences between institutions. In general, institutions with a large share of international students and those with substantial pension obligations are most affected. These tend to be higher-ranking institutions as well as postgraduate and music & arts institutions. Some of the least selective universities, which rely largely on domestic fee income, will also be badly hit if higher ranked universities admit more UK students to make up for the shortfall in their international enrolments. While recently introduced student number caps will constrain some of this behaviour, there are still likely to be falls in student numbers at the least selective institutions.
  • Universities are unlikely to be able to claw back a large portion of these losses through cost savings unless they make significant numbers of staff redundant. In our central scenario, we estimate that cost savings could reduce the overall bill by only £600 million or around 6% without redundancies. The potential for cost savings varies across universities: institutions with a larger proportion of temporary staff will likely be able to make larger savings, but this may impact teaching quality
  • For the university sector as a whole, net losses in our central scenario are only slightly larger than five years of surplus at the pre-crisis level. Assuming that the underlying profitability of universities remains unchanged, the total financial reserves of the higher education sector could still be roughly the same in 2024 as they were in 2019, even without a government bailout.
  • Whether COVID-related losses put a given institution at risk of insolvency largely depends on its profitability and its balance sheet position before the crisis, rather than on its predicted losses from COVID-19. The institutions with the highest predicted losses all have large financial buffers and are therefore at little risk of insolvency. The institutions at the greatest risk tend to have smaller predicted losses, but had already entered the crisis in poor financial shape.
  • In our central scenario, 13 universities educating around 5% of students would end up with negative reserves and thus may not be viable in the long run without a government bailout or debt restructuring. A very tightly targeted bailout aimed at keeping these institutions afloat could cost around £140 million. In comparison, a one-off increase in teaching grants of £1,000 per UK/EU student would cost £1.8 billion but in our central scenario would only push three institutions above the line of zero reserves.
  • There is considerable uncertainty over actual risks to institutions and a trade-off between highly targeted and more general support. And additional support might not be aimed purely at preventing insolvencies. But there is a big gap in cost between a very targeted bailout costing perhaps less than £200 million and the more generalised bailout proposed by Universities UK, which would cost £3.2 billion and at the same time provide very little support to most universities that appear to be most at risk of insolvency; according to our modelling, only two institutions would be pushed above the line of zero reserves by this proposed policy. Government will need to be very clear about the purpose of any bailout package and design it accordingly.
  • Lightly regulated Alternative Providers educate around 3% of all students in the higher education sector. Many of these providers have low reserves and rely almost exclusively on tuition fees for their income. Alternative Providers with a large share of international students are at a significant risk of insolvency, potentially leaving students unable to complete their degrees.

Further to this, the Higher Education Policy Institute has published a response to the report. Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

  • “The IfS report is as lucid and clear as we have come to expect from them. They are right that universities with more international students and bigger pension liabilities are more directly affected by Covid than others and also that institutions which were financially weak before the pandemic are the ones most at risk of actual insolvency. They are also right that the arguments for extra support for universities in the crisis are strong. But that doesn’t mean they’re right overall.
  • “There are three important points to note.
  • “First, the range of projected short-term financial losses for universities, which the IfS calculates at between £3 billion and £19 billion, is so enormous that it’s pretty meaningless in terms of planning ahead. It’s such a huge fan of uncertainty that it doesn’t help either universities or policymakers know where they stand.
  • “Secondly, there are too many reports around at the moment that take old opinion polls of how students might behave as the gospel truth. We know from when tuition fees in England went to £9k that polls which ask students how they might behave are a woeful guide to the future, and the IfS’s figures on student numbers should therefore be taken with a lorry load of salt.
  • “For example, the IfS are assuming there will be 10% fewer UK students, yet the latest UCAS figures show the opposite trend. Who would choose to have a gap year at the moment, when travel and job opportunities are so limited? The IfS are also predicting a 50% drop in EU students as a result of the pandemic, even though 2020 is the last year when they will be treated like home students. Unless there is a major second wave of Covid-19, the IfS’s “central” estimate for the short-term financial losses would be better labelled “pessimistic” and their “pessimistic” estimate would be better labelled “extreme”.
  • “Thirdly, the oddest feature of the IfS report is how very little it has to say on university research. When universities have less income and face big deficits, they can opt to stem the financial losses by doing less research as research generally loses money. Less research would be terrible for the UK as it would hamper the post-pandemic recovery. So the quantity of research that institutions can afford must be a bigger part of the wider conversation about university financing.
  • “There is a strong case for continuing government support for universities of all types because of the jobs they provide, the education they deliver and the support they provide to employers as well as the research they undertake.”

David Kernohan looks under the bonnet.

But it’s ok, because Lord Willetts says foreign investors will be keen to help out, as reported by Research Professional.

University Admissions

The Office for Students finally unveiled their new licence condition on admissions practices at the end of last week, after a very long delay. The consultation results can be found here.

They have changed the time frame from the original proposal so that it is no longer retrospective to 11th March. It is in place until September 2021 so covers next year’s admissions cycle. 

There is a general catch all:

  • This condition…. prohibits a provider from engaging in any form of Conduct which, in the reasonable opinion of the OfS, could be expected to have a material negative effect on the Stability and/or Integrity of the English Higher Education Sector

This is interesting because it doesn’t just mean things that any one university does that could on its own have a material negative effect – but takes into account the cumulative negative effect if lots of universities were to do the same thing.  Deciding what might be covered by this vague and subjective definition will be an interesting process for anyone planning creative recruitment strategies.

To help the sector they have clarified some things that are definitely banned, and some things that are definitely allowed.  As you will see, the gap in the middle is quite big.

Banned

  • They have banned all conditional unconditional offers.
  • They have banned “false or misleading” claims to persuade people from going to another university (surely this would have been subject to action by the ASA in any case).

Allowed

  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already attained particular academic achievementswhich are at, or equivalent to, level 3 or above of the Regulated Qualifications Framework;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in connection withadmissions policies and criteria which wholly or mainly require a prospective or existing student to demonstrate abilities in a practical way (including, but not limited, by any type of live performance or submission of evidence of abilities through videos, drawings, paintings, photographic pictures, audio recordings, or any other tangible object);
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already accredited prior learning (APL), or prior experiential learning (APEL), that can be accredited under academic regulations that were made and brought into force by the provider before 1 September 2019;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who meets all of the following requirements: the student was a private candidate registered to take examinations for A-level qualifications(or other qualifications which are equivalent to level 3 qualifications for the purposes of the Regulated Qualifications Framework) in 2020; and  was unable to take examinations for such qualifications before 31 August 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic or obtain grades for such qualifications on an alternative basis as a result of arrangements put in place by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (or, as the case may be, the equivalent body in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland); and iii. is seeking admission to a higher education course which will commence before 1 September 2021;
  • the use of a Contextual Offer in connection with implementing any policy which could reasonably be considered as having the primary aim of promoting Equality of Opportunity.

It seems fairly clear that the OfS are intending to restrict unconditional offer-making in all but these cases, although they haven’t actually spelled that out.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • We have previously highlighted that unconditional offers which are conditional on students accepting a university or college as their first choice put pressure on students and distort their decision making. Widespread use of unconditional offers also risks destabilising the system. Our concerns are even more acute in these exceptional times with the shape of the next few months and years still very unpredictable, and information, advice and guidance less readily available than it may normally be.
  • ‘However, we have ensured that the condition explicitly permits unconditional and contextual offers that are clearly in students’ interests, and which support the transition into higher education for the most disadvantaged students.
  • ‘Students can also be reassured that they should not expect to have any offers that they have already received withdrawn, and where there are good reasons for them to receive an unconditional or contextual offer in future, there is no reason that this cannot go ahead.
  • ‘This condition is designed to avoid instability during the current uncertainty, and to protect students and the higher education sector in these extraordinary circumstances: it will not continue past September 2021. This should allay concerns that we wanted to extend our powers permanently, which we have no intention of doing.
  • ‘The condition is a necessary and proportionate means to ensure the stability and integrity of the English higher education sector, to protect students’ interests and to preserve a diversity of choice for students into the future.’

An anonymous senior figure in an English university has responded in a HEPI blog:

  • Conditional unconditional offers are explicitly ‘prohibited in all circumstances’ but the condition applies to: conduct … which, if repeated by other providers, is likely to have a material negative effect on the stability and/or integrity of the English Higher Education Sector (whether or not there is any form of express or tacit coordination, and whether or not a provider is able to anticipate the actions of other providers).’
  • Except for cases where applicants are required to ‘demonstrate abilities in a practical way’ – which are explicitly exempted – I think we can predict the end of all unconditional offer making.
  • As the OfS says, a ‘provider needs only to consider the possible negative effects on stability and integrity if other providers did follow suit.’ As the conceptual universe is overflowing with what is possible, it is unlikely that any university will argue that it is not possible that their unconditional offer-making will have negative effects.
  • Many within and outside the sector will not lament the passing of unconditional offer-making. Whatever your views on their relative merits, they had become a stick with which to beat us long before the pandemic hit. But hang on; that’s a problem. The original consultation stated that ‘the conduct that the condition seeks to address is specific to the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic’.
  • No one can plausibly claim that the problem of unconditional offers is ‘specific’ to the pandemic. And while there have been worries about the alleged 30,000 unconditional offers made in the first few days of the pandemic, the OfS’s power will not be retrospective. So these will stand.
  • Indeed, given the current stage of the recruitment cycle, the new power will have marginal effect on 2020 recruitment. However, as it will last until 30 September 2021, it will apply through next year’s recruitment cycle. And, unless the OfS know something few others do, the new power will apply outside the pandemic.
  • One cannot help feeling that the bucket of ordure that was poured over the OfS in response to their original consultation so staggered them that it has taken this long to think of a face-saving way to rescue something from a poorly-argued consultation. Even with grade inflation, it would have warranted no more than a 3rd.
  • Still, one should not be ungenerous. The OfS may have done the sector a great favour. Unconditional offers are very much a collective action problem – if one university offers them, so must others. So a centrally-imposed rule is almost certainly the right approach.
  • However, one can still legitimately worry about the consultation outcome. The OfS was not consulting on the acceptability of unconditional offers; it was consulting on pandemic-specific conduct. The OfS seems to have used the exercise as cover to do something it has wanted to do for a long time.

Research

REF & Roadmap – Following last week’s announcement on the R&D roadmap which promises to investigate and reduce bureaucracy (and UKRI’s intention to consider overhauling REF after 2021) Wonkhe have a nice blog on how they do it in the Netherlands.

The roadmap also contained public funding pledges which intended to attract domestic and international private investment. BEIS have issued a report describing the ‘leverage’ that can be expected. They’ve also published the analysis of the economic modelling behind the 2.4% R&D target under the Industrial Strategy banner.

And the roadmap itself is still subject to much comment and articles continuing to analyse the nuance behind the words. Daniel Zeichner Co-Chair of the Universities APPG stated:

  • [the document was] a curious roadmap—much more of a ramble through a complicated landscape where everything gets a mention.
  • Measures to make the UK more attractive to international researchers are welcome, although whether they will undo the self-inflicted harm caused by leaving the European Union, and ill-considered immigration policies, remains to be seen.
  • Anyone following this roadmap will doubtless recognise much of what is described but will wonder about the destination—little surprise that at the end, we find that we have finally arrived at the start of a conversation.

Research Lottery – THE report on a consortium (including UKRI) who are experimenting to judge whether funding certain types of research project by random selection would reduce unconscious bias. Professor Wilsdon, Research on Research institute, stated:

  • When you are sitting on panels, you can often easily spot the really outstanding applications – or the stuff that isn’t much good – but there is also a middle level of proposals that will probably lead to valuable research where it is very hard to choose between candidates. The distinctions between them are so fine-grain that it is sometimes quite hard to defend why you chose one over another – it is this area where grant funders can be susceptible to implicit bias, whether that is linguistic, institutional or gender bias.
  • [Another]…big motivation is making the process more efficient and whether lotteries can be designed that make the application process faster and lighter touch.
  • However, the “killer question” about lottery-based funding systems is “whether they help to fund better research”. We have no idea about this so far, but we will begin to look at this in the study.

The consortium are also tackling whether grant application criteria lead to inequalities in research funding, whether new definitions or alternatives to excellence can be found, and a six-country study in how research cultures can be made more diverse and inclusive.

ECRs – HEPI has a new blog analysing the R&D Roadmap which draws out the 5 points most relevant and positive to the Early Career Researcher experience:

  • Focusing on the person and attributes (more than uncontrollable citations, grants won, publications achieved)
  • Addressing negative research culture
  • Improving diversity and inclusion within research
  • Addressing the instability of short term grants and contracts
  • ‘New Deal’ for PhD student funding

Of course, these are all intentions and it remains to be seen how to tackle the trickier aspects, particularly in a post-pandemic financially squeezed world, however it is a start.

Parliamentary questions:

Student Number Controls

The Lords debate of the regulations which will bring the student number control into being covered the usual topics, including the limits on the devolved nations recruitment of English students, impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds,  whether there were other incentives that could support universities.

The Lords comments are interesting because we get some different viewpoints. Here’s a little selection.

Lord Blencathra’s comments were notable:

  • First, I am appalled that many universities are ripping off students by refusing to refund part of their fees for non-existent teaching. Over the last six months, university lecturers were on strike for five weeks—more than 1 million students got no teaching whatever. Now, there is no teaching because of Covid-19, and still universities are running the equivalent of Ponzi schemes, like Bernard Madoff racketeers, taking money for a non-existent product while paying themselves huge dividends. I am sorry, but they deserve to be lambasted. Any commercial company which failed to deliver on a contracted service would have to pay compensation. I hope my noble friend can compel our universities to behave honourably.
  • Secondly, I see that the department is considering changing to post-results applications and university courses starting in January. This change is long overdue, and I commend it. It is nonsense to offer conditional places based on predicted results. I hope that the Government will push on with that excellent initiative as soon as possible.
  • Finally, I know my noble friend will not say so, but we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid. We desperately need more technical colleges and more skills training, as the Prime Minister said on Tuesday. Will my noble friend look to convert these back to good polytechnics which could do good for the country and real good for young people, rather than them playing at being poor-quality universities?

Lord Chidgey (LD): 

  • My Lords, in the context of this higher education SI on fee limits and student support, Michelle Donelan MP, the Universities Minister, said yesterday: “ higher education should be open to all … who are qualified by ability and attainment.”
  • True social mobility would put students, their needs and career ambitions first—be that in HE, FE or apprenticeships—and must be funded accordingly.

Lord Desai (Lab)

  • My Lords, I find this regulation a little strange. We have faced a surprising pandemic, and some universities have tried to defend themselves against possible losses by recruiting more people than they are supposed to. As far as I can understand these complex things, the universities which have offered more places than they are supposed to will be punished, not this year but next year. That is the kind of Stalinist rationing I do not understand.
  • If universities are taking the initiative to defend themselves against the adverse effects of the virus, they should be rewarded, because they are looking ahead. At least next year, if you are going to punish them for this, please punish them mildly, spread the punishment over more than one year and, if possible, do not punish them at all, because they are doing good work and we need good-quality higher education. Therefore, this is the time not to be harsh on universities but to be kind to higher education, just as the Government are very kind to companies that are going bust and banks which are failing, and so on. If you are being kind to everyone, why not be kind to higher education as well?

Lord  Blencathra  (Con)  said he was “appalled” that universities would not refund students for lost teaching as a result of strikes and then the pandemic. He supported changes to post-result  applications. Finally, he said there should be more technical colleges, and that the bottom 30 universities should be converted “back to good polytechnics.”

Baroness Altmann (Con) asked whether there would be an appeal process for institutions who felt they were treated unfairly by regulations; about the impact of the use of student loan data; and whether smaller specialist higher education institutions could be exempt from these controls.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay:

  • Regarding the consultation period, that the Universities Minister had meetings with representatives across the sector, including Universities UK. The research package announced recently by the Government was UK wide.
  • With regards to devolution, Parkinson said the problem was acute in England; and there was not an intention to interfere with devolution. He said that the ” funding of English-domiciled students is not a devolved matter “; and that devolved nations would be able to continue setting their own fees.
  • On the point of disadvantaged students, Parkinson said the Government expected higher education providers to support such students; and that the Department of Education was seeing to identify steps to assist this.  Apprenticeships would be excluded from number controls.
  • Parkinson said that the issue of the quality of providers was a condition of registration with the Office for students. Appeals for providers regarding controls would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • For students from  migrants  families, Parkinson clarified that individuals who had spent the previous three years in the UK could access support equal to most other students.
  • The Government cared about the HE  sector  and the opportunities it provided to all whom use it.

The regulations were approved.

Post-pandemic recovery

The Department for Education published guidance entitled Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses.

This document is designed to help providers of higher education in England to understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and provide services to students, keeping as many people as possible self-isolating and out of educational settings if they are symptomatic, practising good hand and respiratory hygiene and keeping 2 metres apart from those they do not live with wherever possible. From 4 July, where 2 metres is not viable, reducing the distance down to a minimum of 1 metre can be used but only if appropriate mitigation is in place.

The House of Commons Library have published Coronavirus: Easing lockdown restrictions in FE & HE in England exploring the student number controls, re-opening campuses, graduate employability and lack of catch up funding for FE colleges.

EU Students and Student Mobility

Student Mobility – The Times have an opinion piece discussing the building blocks that the UK alternative to Erasmus should incorporate.

EU Students – An Oxford academic is calling for a Government funded EU scholarship scheme to attract high quality European students into British universities. Research Professional report on a survey by a European student website (Study.eu) where 84%  of potential students said they would “definitely not” study in the UK if their fees roughly doubled to the same amount paid by non-EU international students. 60% of the respondents would have begun university in the 2021-22 academic year.  Study.eu Chief Executive Gerrit Bruno Blöss stated: It is unfortunate that the political process leads to such negative consequences for students and universities…UK’s universities have a lot to offer, but they are facing strong competition on the continent.

T levels

Ahead of the skills and training announcements set out above, Gillian Keegan, Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships had already announced a new package of support to help employers and FE providers deliver high-quality industry placements for T-levels.

  • T Levels – high-quality technical alternatives equivalent to three A Levels – have been created in collaboration with industry experts so students gain the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and so businesses can access the workforce they need to thrive.
  • A unique part of a T Level will be the completion of a high-quality industry placement – of at least 315 hours, or approximately 45 days – where students will build the knowledge and skills and develop the confidence they need in a workplace environment.

The package includes:

  • New guidance setting out the key roles and responsibilities for providers and employers, and a new guide for students to help them prepare for their placement, with hands on support and advice so everyone can get the best experience possible.
  • Additional delivery models for employers and providers including new models for the way industry placements can be delivered in the Construction and Engineering & Manufacturing routes, to reflect modern practices, and allowing Capacity and Delivery Fund placements to be delivered over two academic years, to bring them in line with T Levels, with a reduced delivery target of 25% for the 2020/21 academic year, to reflect the impact of the coronavirus on employers.
  • In recognition of the impact of coronavirus on employers, the government will extend the Employer Support Fund pilot, launched in September 2019, to offer financial support to employers in selected regions where funding is a barrier to them hosting high-quality industry placements. The Employer Support Package, a suite of online guidance, case studies and workshops to help employers to host high-quality industry placements, will also continue: and
  • The government will also procure an organisation with the appropriate expertise to support 2020, 2021 and 2022 providers to help them deliver high-quality placements in line with the delivery guidance.

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills said:

  • The first three T Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction, Digital Production, Design and Development and Education and Childcare will be taught from September 2020 with more rolled out gradually between 2021 and 2023. The new qualifications will play a key part in rebuilding the economy after the coronavirus outbreak, boosting access to high-quality technical education for thousands of young people so they can progress to the next level, whether that is getting a job, going on to further study or an apprenticeship.

Other Parliamentary questions

There were a lot of questions on tuition fees for healthcare/nursing students.

Other news

Skills: The EU have set out a 5-year Skills Agenda with policy priorities and targets bringing industry, education and employment agencies together. While this focuses only on EU states it is interesting to note the similarity to the UK context with the increased focus on skills and tackling employment gaps. Including a Council which will make recommendations on vocational education and training.

Force Majeure: If you like a short technical read there is a blog from Shakespeare Martineau on the force majeure clause which allows for extraordinary occurrences in relation to delivery of contracts. The blog takes apart the OfS expectation that it won’t apply to students commencing in 2020/21 questioning whether the OfS position is correct:

  • While all providers have been planning and making strenuous efforts to deliver programmes in the wake of the pandemic, the OIA’s view presupposes that they can simply now return to the status quo ante in September, any deviation from provision as originally promised being a matter of expedience or discretion for the provider and therefore subject to students’ consent.
  • Students who will enrol for the first time in September 2020 will have been made offers which reflected the delivery models of a pre-COVID world, and they will have accepted their offers on those terms. The pandemic nevertheless continues, the threat of transmission subsists, the spectre of a second peak looms larger with each easing of the lockdown, and there is no clear guidance on whether and how providers can resume delivery as promised and safely. Pubs and restaurants, which are permitted to re-open from July, are doing so but in a way that is significantly different from the services we all enjoyed consuming until March.  Why are HE providers different?
  • The OIA clearly believes that, given the passage of time since the outbreak, providers have had time to mitigate its effects.  That may well be the case, though some providers would argue otherwise.  Mitigating effects now for September enrolments, however, does not mean that providers can fulfil promises made pre-COVID without any changes from offers originally made and accepted.  The OIA’s dismissal of force majeure reliance is therefore hard to understand and unhelpful to providers facing an increase in student complaints.

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HE Policy Update 1st July 2020

There’s been so much news recently we had to delay our two most recent ‘tomes’ to bring you coverage of the full debate. With this policy update being issued two days after the last we were hoping you’d breeze through a light read. However, Parliament has other intentions. Apprenticeships and FE have been big mentions this week, so far UK students aren’t deferring in droves, there’s new LEO data, the PM’s big speech wasn’t just about buildings, and – much fanfare – the R&D investment roadmap has been published (scarily it almost seems as if the writers have been paying attention to sector reports and campaigners recently). And the Minister for Universities thinks first in family children shouldn’t bother, at a stroke undermining huge efforts to widen participation in HE.  Where next for that agenda, particularly given what the PM said?  Levelling up doesn’t mean what you might think, it seems, or at least, not for other people’s children.

Parliamentary News

Kate Green was appointed as Shadow Education Secretary, she was the Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions (Child Poverty Strategy) and had previous parliamentary roles related to equalities and disability. Pre-parliamentary career she was a magistrate and a professional campaigner for children and single parents.

Boris’ Speech: The PM’s big economy speech on Tuesday covered schools, FE and the new blue-sky research agency but with little mention of HE. Here are the excerpts most relevant to our sector:

  • We have umpteen fantastic, globally outstanding universities and yet too many degree courses are not now delivering value and for a century we have failed to invest enough in further education and give young people the practical training and further education they need.
  • [Levelling up]…this moment also gives us a much greater chance to be radical and to do things differently to build back better to build back bolder and so we will be doubling down on our strategy we will double down on levelling up
  • …to make this country – a Britain that is fully independent and self-governing for the first time in 45 years the most attractive place to live and to invest and to set up a company with the most motivated and highly skilled workforce and so we are investing massively now in education [schools details] and a vast £1.5 bn programme of refurbishing our dilapidated Further Education sector – dilapidated in many places, but not here of course because it is time the system recognised that talent and genius are expressed as much by hand and by eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay…
  • …so when I say unite and level up, when I say build up people and build up talent, I want to end the current injustice that means a pupil from a London state school is now 50 per cent more likely to go to a top university than a pupil from the west midlands and that is not only unjust it is such a waste of human talent
  • We will unleash the potential of the entire country and in those towns that feel left behind we have plans to invest in their centres and with new academy schools, new green buses, new broadband and we want to make them places where people have the confidence to stay, to raise their families and to start businesses and not to feel that the action is all in the cities or the metropolis
  • we know that [jobs] is our biggest and most immediate economic challenge that we face and so we will offer an Opportunity Guarantee so that every young person has the chance of apprenticeship or an in-work placement so that they maintain the skills and confidence they need to find the job that is right for them
  • this summer we will be creating a new science funding agency to back high risk, high reward projects because in the next 100 years the most successful societies will be the most innovative societies and we in this country have the knack of innovation we lead the world in quantum computing, in life sciences, in genomics, in AI, space satellites, net zero planes, and in the long term solutions to global warming wind, solar, hydrogen technology carbon capture and storage, nuclear and as part of our mission to reach Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050, we should set ourselves the goal now of producing the world’s first zero emission long haul passenger plane – Jet Zero, let’s do it
  • and though we are no longer a military superpower we can be a science superpower but we must end the chasm between invention and application that means a brilliant British discovery disappears to California and becomes a billion dollar American company or a Chinese company and we need now a new dynamic commercial spirit to make the most of UK breakthroughs so that British ideas produce new British industries and British jobs

Greg Clark MP, ex-Secretary of State for BEIS, responded to the speech:

  • I welcome the prominence of science and innovation in today’s speech from the Prime Minister. My Committee’s ongoing work relating to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how indispensable, and how world-leading, science, research and innovation are in the UK. Innovation across every scientific discipline will play a critical role in economic recovery, making its place at the centre of recovery plans more essential than ever.
  • My Committee has already launched an inquiry on the Government’s plans for a new science funding agency and we will hold oral hearings in the weeks ahead.

Research Professional comment on the speech: The BBC fact-checking service has looked at the prime minister’s speech in detail and has identified most of its spending pledges as either previously announced or inaccurate.

Value

Chris Skidmore wrote for Research Professional in his official capacity as a regular (monthly) columnist welcoming his co-Chair role of the Universities APPG and lamenting that universities still aren’t recognised for their value.

  • It seems a cruel irony that the institutions which are at the forefront of research into how we escape out of the Coronavirus crisis, are also the ones which will be most badly hit by its impact. That irony extends to how poorly sometimes it seems we value our universities: unlike workers in the NHS, university staff and teachers have gone unrecognised in the remarkable efforts that they have made over recent months and still face hostile stories in the press.

He calls on Government to be clear about universities valuable role in the future [whereas currently they are tinkering with the mechanisms]:

  • We cannot simply pay lip service to ‘our world-leading universities’ without setting out how they must play a role for the future, and without creating a financially sustainable model of funding teaching and research that ends once and for all the curate’s egg of university funding, split across departments, both in Whitehall and on campus. 
  • A long-term vision for what our universities are for, why they are needed, and what they can achieve for the future is essential.
  • That does not mean, however, that it should be the responsibility of government simply to bail out universities so that things can continue unchanged…We need a new settlement upon which both the sector and the government can agree.
  • Education will inevitably play an essential role in retraining and reskilling those who have lost their jobs in the economic downturn; the potential for higher education to create modular, step-on step-off, courses that blend with further education learning and to establish new forms of training is huge. But the wider importance of relationships and networks that universities bring together for the benefit of society, should be better explored. 
  • One obvious link is that between higher education and the NHS, which should be strengthened where possible. 
  • And the ‘civic university’ approach has massive potential to demonstrate and prove what universities can contribute to regenerating their local communities.
    Much of this work is already underway at an institutional level, which brings me to my plea to institutions: just because you know it is happening, don’t assume that everyone else does

Disadvantage

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, spoke at the NEON summit on widening access and social mobility. BU’s Schools Liaison & Partnerships team ‘attended’ the full summit and hope to bring you full coverage of the juicy details of the event in next week’s policy update. Meanwhile Michelle:

  • Praised the innovation the sector had shown in responding to the pandemic stating it was more important than ever to share good ideas and good practise
  • Highlighted UpReach’s virtual internships
  • On social mobility she said:
  • But today I want to send a strong message – that social mobility isn’t about getting more people into university.
  • For decades we have been recruiting too many young people on to courses that do nothing to improve their life chances or help with their career goals.
  • True social mobility is about getting people to choose the path that will lead to their desired destination and enabling them to complete that path.
  • True social mobility is when we put students and their needs and career ambitions first, be that in HE, FE or apprenticeships.
  • Whatever path taken, I want it to lead to skilled, meaningful jobs, that fulfil their ambitions and improve their life earnings
  • universities do need to do much, much more to ensure that all students – and particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds – are recruited on to courses that will deliver good outcomes and that they have the confidence to apply and the information they need to make informed choices.

She goes over similar points later:

  • Since 2004, there has been too much focus on getting students through the door, and not enough focus on how many drop out, or how many go on to graduate jobs.
  • Too many have been misled by the expansion of popular sounding courses with no real demand from the labour market.
  • Quite frankly, our young people have been taken advantage of – particularly those without a family history of going to university. Instead some have been left with the debt of an investment that didn’t pay off in any sense.
  • And too many universities have felt pressured to dumb down – either when admitting students, or in the standards of their courses. We have seen this with grade inflation and it has to stop.
  • let’s be clear – we help disadvantaged students by driving up standards, not by levelling down.

And here reappears that old Theresa May chestnut of Universities ‘sponsoring/intervening’ in schools:

  • But the onus must also be on universities to go further too, not just admitting disadvantaged students with good grades, but focusing even more on helping them to achieve and complete courses. And going the extra mile to raise standards and aspirations in schools.
  • One of the most successful initiatives in this area has been specialist maths schools – which are sponsored by and attached to universities. 
  • Whether its science, languages, engineering or the humanities, universities should be doing all they can to raise attainment for the less fortunate and work with schools.
  • That can be sponsoring schools, supporting a robust curriculum or running summer camps, universities have the potential here to make a tremendous difference in opening up opportunities.
  • So, I want your access budgets not to be spent on marketing but on raising standards, providing the role models, the information, encouraging aspiration and highlighting the high quality opportunities available.

And just when you thought you’d hit the pinnacle of speech writers’ bingo we match a full house with the levelling up agenda and ‘transformation’ mention…

  • …this Government was elected on a mandate to level up Britain, to deliver greater opportunities to every person and every community in the UK.
  • Universities must play a vital role in helping to achieve this mission and helping to achieve the transformation of lives.
  • So, today I’m calling for change, to start a new era on access and participation. One that’s based on raising standards, not on dumbing down; on putting prospective students and their ambitions and their needs first; on results and impact, not on box ticking and marketing; and on delivering graduates into jobs that really will transform their lives.

This looks like a potential huge change to the regulatory agenda on access and participation as well as setting the context for the TEF/Augar updates to come.

FE & Apprenticeships

The weekend’s news emphasised building the FE sector and apprenticeships alongside the additional rescue research pot news. Robert Halfon (Education Committee Chair) called for changes to the focus and use of the apprenticeship levy, alongside pushing for a guaranteed apprenticeship offer:

  • Government should utilise the apprenticeship levy close the skills deficit primarily focused for young (16-24 years) apprenticeships from disadvantaged backgrounds and degree apprenticeships – not middle-managementMBA apprenticeships.
  • Where possible, all new recruits to the public sector should be offered an apprenticeship
  • The cost of the £3bn National Skills Fund should be redirected “towards the cost of funding the training of apprentices for non-levy payers. Alongside this, a wage subsidy for small and medium businesses — be that paying wages for the first year, or a lump sum upfront.”
  • Universities should work towards 50% of their students undertaking degree level apprenticeships, using the levy and wage subsidies. The £800bn they spend on access and participation should be allocated to universities and grow their degree apprentice student numbers.

Research Professional have a good write up speculating on Halfon’s position on apprenticeships (before he made the guarantee speech). Including a quote from Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI,

…many universities have stepped up to the plate to help deliver apprenticeships, and with difficult economic times to come, we need more good opportunities for raising skills and keeping people off the unemployment queues. But the common tendency to attack traditional higher education when lauding apprenticeships is very unhelpful he added, criticising Halfon’s quote. It wrongly implies that we need less of one and more of the other. In fact, we need more opportunities of all sorts if this generation of school leavers are not to be scarred for the long term.

And this Guardian article (on admissions reform which we covered in Monday’s policy update) contains FE content in its conclusion: The new post-18 education policy proposals came as Williamson wants to move beyond the coronavirus pandemic aftermath, with measures to improve the status and attractiveness of further education, which it regards as a more cost-effective means of meeting the UK labour market’s skills shortage.

There were two meaty Education Committee sessions examining the impact of C-19 focussed on FE and apprenticeships last week, with mention of the FE white paper. You can watch both sessions here, or read the transcript.

An interesting survey (pre-Covid) carried out by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board on apprenticeship report found:

  • Mixed views towards the apprenticeship levy – 32% employers were positive; 19% negative.
  • Only 16% of those surveyed in England said the apprenticeship levy had increased the number of apprentices in their business.
  • SMEs surveyed had a more positive perception (45%) of the Apprenticeship Levy than large companies (29%).
  • Employers also identified a number of challenges facing apprenticeship recruitment, with a lack of suitable work and no current need for apprentices cited by 81%, and a preference to hire graduates or experienced staff over apprentices expressed by 18% of respondents.
  • Other barriers were lack of flexibility in off-the-job requirements (19%) and distance from training providers (29%).
  • Many of those interviewed saw apprenticeships as a way of ‘giving back’ and providing an alternative to those who were not suited to or interested in further academic study, favouring a more technical approach with real work experience.

They made several recommendations to improve apprenticeships:

  • Apprenticeships need better representation by Government, employers and in the mainstream media. Apprenticeships should be included as a destination at both 16 and 18 in school leaving measures and performance tables to bring them on par with further academic study and in media commentary as a destination at relevant school leaving ages.
  • Apprenticeships need to be more clearly defined because the current definition lacks detail and makes it difficult to distinguish between new entrants and apprenticeships used for upskilling and reskilling existing staff.
  • Apprenticeship delivery needs to be decentralised and led through collaborative, regional partnerships which include employers so the pipeline of new recruits aligns to local industrial strategies and skills shortages.
  • Apprenticeship recruitment needs to be more inclusive to improve the diversity of the workforce. Employers should actively reach out and appeal to a wider community rather than relying on traditional recruitment processes.
  • In England, more flexibility is needed around the requirement for 20% of training to take place off-the-job; more support is needed to allow courses to run with lower numbers of apprentices and to pay for apprentices to travel to and from both the employer and the training provider; and more alignment is needed with the upcoming T Levels to allow T level students to transfer into relevant level 3 apprenticeships.

And the APPG for Apprenticeships has called for evidence on how the sector has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and what further work is required to improve apprenticeships policy for the future.

Student Survey

HEPI have a new survey of 1,000 undergraduates addressing their pandemic HE experience:

  • 1 in 5 students (19%) say they have had ‘very clear’ communications on Covid-19 from their higher education institutions (down from 31% in March);
  • 44% feel they have received clear communications about the next academic year from their HE provider
  • 63% are satisfied with the way their HE provider has handled their remaining assessments for this academic year
  • Fewer students are satisfied with the online learning replacement of face-to-face teaching than they when surveyed in March – 42% are satisfied, compared to 49% in March
  • 44% are satisfied with the delivery of support services, such as careers and mental health support, during lockdown
  • 57% are living away from their usual term-time residence. 30% have received a refund on accommodation costs or early release from a contract.
  • Thinking about measures implemented ready for next year HEPI highlight a hierarchy of expectations
    • 75% expect increased hygiene
    • 71% expect some learning online
    • 71% expect social distancing measures
    • 26% expect limitations to courses
    • 25% expect a delayed start to term
    • 18% expect all learning to be online

Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

  • The results show that students are realistic that the next academic year is likely to be radically different to the norm. They understand that some level of social distancing is likely to remain in place and blended teaching will combine online and face-to-face teaching. However, it is concerning that less than half feel they have had clear messaging from their university about the next academic year. While it is difficult to predict exactly where we will be by September, it is important universities are as clear as possible in their communications to students.
  • Staff are working their socks off to get their campuses ready for the new academic year and we hope these results will help them prepare.

Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy responded to the report:

  • These figures show that whilst universities have responded quickly and largely successfully to problems, there are still significant numbers of students not getting the support they need. Not all of this can be laid at the door of universities, which have had to meet the challenges with no meaningful help from government.
  • It is paramount that the government provides the support needed so universities can feel confident in dealing with students over the impact of COVID-19 during the next academic year. The government must also provide increased support to students regarding their mental health and wellbeing and providing well-sourced and sufficient hardship funds to universities so no student gets into further debt because of the pandemic.

Graduate Outcomes

The latest provider level LEO (longitudinal education outcomes) data highlighting graduate outcomes was released late last week. The exciting development in this release was for the first time the inclusion of graduates who moved overseas. This new tracking feature had little impact on the overall outcomes but it highlighted, unsurprisingly, that languages students were most likely to move overseas. Next most likely to work outside the UK were physics and astronomy graduates.

The chart below shows the median earnings distribution per subject studying 5 years post-graduation.

Business and management had the widest range of earnings variation – from £17,900 to £75,900. With law incomes also varying greatly.

If you scroll down to the charts on earnings by subject and sex you’ll spot that male salaries (their median earnings) are more than female earnings in the majority of institutions except for Veterinary Studies and Performing Arts.

Wonkhe’s data guru provides his interpretation and some interactive charts on the LEO data release in this blog.

Research

R&D Roadmap

On Wednesday Alok announced the R&D roadmap (with accompanying written ministerial statement). The roadmap aims to chart a course to science superpower status (which Research Professional argue the UK already is) through public investment (£22 billion by 2024/25) attracting private investment, making science and talent central to tackling the major challenges facing society whilst being green, closing the productivity gaps and harnessing technology to transform everything (work, health, people, process, services). The Minister says:  We can only make the most of the UK’s science superpower strengths by working with partners in government, academia, industry and charities across the UK. The roadmap marks the start of a conversation on what actions need to be taken and how to ensure our R&D system is fit for purpose now and for the future. We are engaging with the devolved administrations and other Government departments to ensure this is a cross Government and UK-wide discussion and will be undertaking a broader programme of engagement in the run up to the spending review this autumn.

Brief points from the roadmap (including those already announced):

  • Increase R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027; public funding of R&D to £22 billion by 2024/25 – with the investment intended to leverage further domestic and international business investment into UK R&D.
  • Diversity features frequently throughout the roadmap– access, workforce, innovation, international outlook. Our mission is to inspire and enable people from all backgrounds and experiences to engage and contribute to research and innovation and show that science is for everyone.
  • Celebrate our successes far and wide, showcasing our strengths, and promoting the UK as a destination for talent and investment, and a partner of choice.
  • Checking on the system to ensure the structural barriers aren’t impeding progress:

World-class research and dynamic innovation are part of an interconnected system; they depend on talented people and teams working in a supportive and diverse culture across multiple sectors, with access to the right funding, infrastructure, data and connections – locally, nationally, internationally – to do their best work. We will examine how this system is working across government, academia, universities, research institutes and technology organisations, businesses, charities, domestic and international investors, global networks and partners…

…we will make the bold changes needed to ensure our system is fit for purpose now and for the future. This will require tackling fundamental and challenging questions about our R&D priorities and addressing long-term problems in the system. It seems the Government has taken note of recent publications such as access to and diversity in doctoral research and a potential research bullying culture.

There’s an indicator of timescale …We will not be afraid to make tough choices to achieve this ambition. Many of these are for the UK Government and we will address these as we prepare for the Spending Review.

There are two full pages entitled being honest about where we need to improve (p9-10) covering bureaucracy, unhealthy work culture, Golden Triangle, national security issues, third party funding dependencies.

Similarly, in relation to innovation, the Government intends to: review how we fund and assess discovery and applied research, to cut unnecessary bureaucracy, pursue ambitious “moonshots”, and ensure that institutional funding and international collaboration can support our ambitions. More from page 49 onwards on this.

  • An Innovation Expert Group will review and improve the system including strengthening the interactions between discovery research, applied research, innovation, commercialisation and deployment (and juggling the devolved elements).
  • Focus is key – We will exploit competitive and comparative advantage where the UK can lead the world in key industries, technologies and ideas. And we will ensure we have the best regulatory system to support research and development. This includes supporting start ups and entrepreneurs and their access to finance.
  • A new R&D People and Culture Strategywe will increase the attractiveness and sustainability of careers throughout the R&D workforce – not just for researchers, but also for technicians, innovators, entrepreneurs and practitioners.
  • Set up an Office for Talentwhich will take a new and proactive approach to attracting and retaining the most promising global science, research and innovation talent to the UK. Research Professional highlight that this will need to work with the points based immigration system.
  • The Global Talent Visa (launched in Feb 2020) will be extended to allow highly skilled scientists and researchers from across the globe to come to the UK without needing a job offer.
  • International PhD students will be eligible for a three year work visa (from summer 2021 onwards); undergraduates and maters students remain at the two year visa level (Government has been listening again – you’ll recall Jo Johnson called for a four year visa recently).
  • A new R&D Place Strategy – to unlock local growth and societal benefit from R&D across the UK (due later this year), which will likely involve building on the Strength in Places Fund. Page 32 onwards tackles Levelling up R&D across the UK. Commenting on this section of the report Research Professional state: But for all the noise the government makes on levelling up, there is nothing new in the roadmap about what this might mean in practice.
  • Interestingly, the Government plans to: Provide long-term flexible investment into infrastructure and institutions. This will allow us to develop and maintain cutting-edge research, development and innovation infrastructure, with agile and resilient institutions able to play their fullest role. We will build on the UK’s system of universities, public sector research establishments and other publicly funded laboratories, developing our large-scale infrastructure, facilities, resources and services to make them world-leading. (See more from page 47.)
  • A new funding offer for collaboration to ensure the UK can further benefit from the opportunities of international scientific partnerships. Be a partner of choice for other world-leading research and innovation nations, as well as strengthening R&D partnerships with emerging and developing countries. This will create new opportunities for collaboration, trade, growth and influence. We aim to maintain a close and friendly collaborative relationship with our European partners, seeking to agree a fair and balanced deal for participation in EU R&D schemes. If we do not associate to programmes such as Horizon Europe, we will meet any funding shortfalls and put in place alternative schemes.
  • Creating the ARPA style body (‘at least’ £800 million) to set up a unique and independent funding body for advanced research, modelled on the US’ Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). This body will back breakthrough technologies and basic research by experimenting with new funding models across long-term time horizons. The new body will collaborate internationally, championing bold and transformative R&D. Research Professional (RP) note that Boris promised ARPA would be created during the summer, however, as the new body will require legislation to create it and there are only three sitting weeks of Parliament left it seems likely it’ll begin to form in the Autumn at the earliest. RP also state that there isn’t a firm commitment to joining the European Innovation Council, which under Horizon Europe will be an Arpa-inspired funder of deep-tech-based innovation and entrepreneurship.

Specifically on HE the roadmap states:

We will refresh our relationship with universities in England to ensure that their research activities are sustainable and delivering even greater impact, and that their diverse roles in innovation and regional growth are supported and strengthened. We will review how we fund university research, ensuring that we support the highest quality research areas to grow efficiently with the minimum of bureaucracy

We will work with the higher education sector in England to agree a set of reforms to support university research and knowledge exchange to become more resilient, more efficient and ensure better outcomes from public funding. A new ‘compact’ between government and universities in England could strengthen accountability for discretionary funding, potentially bringing together existing separate higher education research concordats, reducing bureaucracy for institutions and their staff. We will work with the devolved administrations to ensure coherence of approaches across the UK.

Alongside this, we will be reviewing the mechanisms which we use to support university research in England and the incentives that these create within the R&D system. This includes the core block grant funding known as Quality-related Research (QR), which is used at universities’ discretion to fund a broad range of activities, including the work which universities undertake with businesses and other partners, and the nurturing of higher risk and emerging areas of research – especially early career research. We will continue to work closely with UKRI and the devolved administrations to achieve a healthy balance between QR (and its devolved equivalents) and the more directed funding that we provide to projects and people, ensuring that we maintain a vibrant and diverse research base which can respond flexibly to economic and societal challenges. And when we evolve the Research Excellence Framework after the current exercise is complete, we should aspire to run a system which is fair, unbureaucratic and rewards improvement.

In addition, we will work with other funders to consider opportunities to fund a greater proportion of the full economic cost of research projects in universities. This includes asking whether government should fund at a higher rate, to safeguard the sustainability of the research we fund. We must balance this with the need for research funding to be efficient and to protect universities’ ability to deploy their own resources strategically on research issues of particular importance to them. (Has the Government been listening to the Russell Groups’ lobbying for full economic costing?)

The roadmap receives the expected criticism for lack of detail and is best viewed as a series of policy commitments with Treasure backing (it is similar in approach to the Industrial Strategy). It states This Roadmap is the start of a big conversation on what actions need to be taken and how…Over the coming months we will develop the proposals in this Roadmap in a comprehensive R&D plan working very closely with the devolved administrations where plans cover or impact on their devolved policy responsibilities. This plan will only be effective if it is developed with people and organisations across the UK. We welcome responses to the high-level questions (survey).

Research Professional dissect the Roadmap is their usual entertaining way and have an article introducing the Roadmap from Amanda Solloway (Science Minister).

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec UUK, stated:

  • We welcome recognition of the role that university-based research and innovation activities will play in driving the UK’s social and economic recovery post Covid-19 and the particular focus on tackling climate change, developing new medicines, attracting the best scientists and researchers from around the world and addressing longstanding challenges around the sustainability of research activity.
  • The news that the new Graduate Route will be extended for PhD students to allow them to remain in the UK for three years after study is a bold policy move which will increase the UK’s competitive edge in the global competition for talented research students. The announcement of the Graduate Route is already having a huge impact on the UK’s attractiveness as a destination. It will give a competitive offer to some of the brightest minds from across the world who bring huge benefits to university campuses and local communities and can help to build the economy. The commitment to excellent customer service across the immigration system, so that it is simple, easy and quick recognises the benefits of attracting international talent and students to the UK, is a positive and welcome move.

Strength in Places Projects Alok Sharma, Business Secretary, announced a £400 million boost to regional R&D projects across the UK by funding 7 projects across the UK through the Strength in Places Fund. The Government (£186m) and industry (£230m) supplied funding forms part of the commitment to invest 2.4% of GDP in R&D and the Fund itself aims to drive local economic growth. The projects include zero-emissions tech for maritime vessels, smart-packaging to cut food waste, understanding and addressing financial behaviours, selecting medicines based on a patient’s genetics, and new health products to combat infections.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma stated:

  • Today’s announcement will ensure some of our country’s most promising R&D projects get the investment they need to take off and thrive. Working with the private sector our world-class universities, we’re backing new and innovative ideas that will create jobs and boost skills in every part of the UK for years to come.

There was also an announcement on the extension of the Future Fund for businesses.

Letter Outgoing Chief Executive of UKRI, Sir Mark Walport, wrote an open letter to the research and innovation community setting out UKRI’s achievements during his tenure and praising how the research sector has been instrumental in responding to the C-19 pandemic.

REF 2021 The REF team ran a webinar and are consulting on further changes to REF 2021 to adapt to the pandemic disruption. Also the nomination window to sit on the sub-panels is now open.

C-19 Research Funding The NUS are concerned the Government’s additional research rescue proposals (contributing to the loss of international student fees which often subsidise research) will increase inequalities:

  • The concerns of university leaders are clearly being heard in government. However, we are extremely concerned that only a select group of universities will benefit from this package. To offer funding to the research intensive parts of our education system, while only offering restructuring for teaching intensive universities and colleges, threatens to intensify inequalities in our education. It is the institutions which have the largest proportions of disadvantaged students which could suffer the most, turning back the clock on access to higher education.
  • Students, graduates and their families will be deeply disappointed to see another government announcement of funding for universities with no thought given to money for students. Students have been left jobless. Many are reliant on food banks, without access to Universal Credit. We need hardship funding that every single person in need can access right now.

Parliamentary Questions

Disability

The OfS have been prolific publishers during the pandemic. Their latest briefing note addresses the impact of C-19 on disabled students and applicants.

  • Many disabled students already face challenges during their time in higher education that students without a known disability do not…disabled students are less likely to continue their degrees, graduate with a good degree, and progress onto a highly skilled job or further study.
  • …there is a risk that the pandemic may be exacerbating these challenges and creating new issues, particularly if students are unsure of how to access study support or financial aid. It is also particularly important that disabled prospective students can continue to access advice and guidance to help them to make informed decisions about their higher education options.

The briefing note responds to concerns directly raised by disabled students and highlights good practice from HE institutions. It also looks forward discussing – the potential for the current expansion of remote learning and inclusive assessment processes to benefit disabled students if incorporated into longer-term teaching approaches.

Graduate Internships

UUK have published We are together –  Supporting graduates in a Covid-19 economy calling for a one-year paid internships scheme to be on offer for 2020 graduates to help them get a foothold on the employment ladder. UUK believe the internships would support graduate employment prospects and help businesses get back on their feet post-lockdown. UUK see the LEP (local enterprise partnerships) as integral to the creation of the internships both targeting businesses most in need and channelling recent graduates into the local community. Key points:

  • Targeted support for universities and businesses to set-up paid internship opportunities for graduates.
  • Greater support to co-ordinate graduate internship opportunities including better communication of existing schemes.
  • An in-study interest break on the Postgraduate Master’s Loan to encourage more – including those from poorer backgrounds – to consider postgraduate study.
  • Policy change to support a growth in modular and bitesize learning opportunities to help meet immediate business needs.

Joint working with universities, LEPs and businesses with support from the UK government could create fair and meaningful opportunities for young people and ensure this crisis does not lead to a rise in unpaid internships – and reverse the hard-won progress the sector has begun to make on social mobility. UUK is happy to work with government, the Office for Students, and other relevant bodies on the different ways any additional support for this scheme could be provided and allocated.

Professor Julia Buckingham, UUK President and VC Brunel University, stated: Universities have been offering widespread support to help this year’s graduates find jobs and, while some employers are still running recruitment programmes online, the fact remains that there are thousands fewer jobs this year. Government support to incentivise and grow paid internships would benefit both graduates and employers, creating impactful opportunities for these young people and supporting the economic recovery.

Mark Bretton, LEP Network Chair, said: LEPs are already working with HE and FE partners on their LEP Boards to build the recovery and invest in the future lives of local young people. The graduate paid internship proposal from UUK is a logical extension of that work and would prove an effective way to support new graduates, help local businesses, boost the local economy, and contribute to the national recovery.

We look forward to discussing the design and details with UUK and the government, and hope to explore how we can widen the initiative to include other areas like the FE sector. Our partnership with UUK on the Graduate 2020 programme is a natural fit, ensuring funds are targeted based on the needs of local businesses, particularly SMEs, and the priorities identified by LEP Skills Advisory Panels and Growth Hubs as part of economic recovery planning. The partnership clearly demonstrates how LEPs and universities can work together, not only to support business, but to help young people build their lives in one of the most economically challenging periods of modern times.

Liam McCabe, President of NUS Scotland, said: We welcome these proposals from UUK and urge government to implement them. In particular, investment in widening access to postgraduate study and more modular and bitesize learning opportunities will be essential to graduates’ and the UK’s future.

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), commented: The current crisis is likely to have a long-term negative impact on the career prospects of the 2020 and 2021 graduating cohorts. Employers facing significant financial challenges, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, will struggle to provide internships and entry level jobs in sufficient quantities to meet students’ needs.

A government funded stimulus package that encourages businesses to invest in young people will boost both the employment prospects of students and the skills base of the UK economy.

Matthew Percival, People and Skills Director at the CBI, said: Graduates face a challenging labour market due to the impact of coronavirus. Businesses will do what they can to ensure that young people have opportunities as the economy restarts, but a new partnership between companies and government is needed. Financial incentives to create jobs and training opportunities earlier in recovery will be vital to reducing youth unemployment.

Admissions

UCAS have confirmed a rise in the number of students accepting places to start HE in September 2020 start. UK applicants accepting a place are up by 1% (2,200 more) compared to 2019. EU acceptances have fallen by 6% with UCAS stating this needs to be seen alongside the overall dwindling EU application numbers. Overall for UK applicants less have deferred their university place than in 2019. With 290 students less opting to defer (2% less overall). However, applicants from outside the EU have increased in number choosing to defer, up by 21% (200 more deferrals). UCAS suggest this deferral rate should also be set in the context of the increased volume (+15%) of non-EU applicants this year. While less UK applicants overall have chosen to defer unfortunately there is a disadvantaged element. UCAS have also examined the POLAR data showing a small increase in applicants from the most disadvantaged area (quintile 1) selecting to defer (+60 applicants, up by 6%)

Parliamentary Questions

Students

HE Sector The importance of good indoor ventilation.

Student Number Controls

Some parliamentary questions provide new content on the student number controls:

In case you missed it previously – confirmation that degree apprenticeships are not counted within the student number controls.

On the reasoning behind the thresholds set for the student number controls Donelan explains:

  • The intention is that it is simple, competitive and places minimal burden on higher education providers.
  • The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) Year Four data was used…It is publicly available and requires no additional aggregation or calculation, ensuring transparency. Other data sources are or will be available, but do not average across multiple years of data as is done in TEF.
  • The…minimum qualifying thresholds, ensures that the 5,000 places are awarded on a competitive basis, by restricting eligibility to only the top performing providers.

Deferring students – Donelan dials back on last week’s pro-student choice rhetoric stating: If students do want to defer, it is a matter for individual providers and not the government, so students should speak to their providers directly to determine what flexibility exists.

And the competition for the 5,000 extra healthcare places has been reopened (after institutions had already made their bids and after the original deadline closed). Nursing Times say this is because the Government are planning to free up further funds to increase the places above the 5,000 limit due to ‘significant demand’. It will also provide more time for universities to ensure there are enough clinical placements for increased numbers of new students. As reported last week UCAS have confirmed there are vacancies on all nursing specialism courses, despite applications being up by 6%.

Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary of State, said:

  • Following the fantastic news last Thursday that we have over 12,000 more nurses working in our NHS compared to last year, we have seen huge demand from universities for the additional places we’ve made available on nursing, midwifery or allied health courses.
  • This pandemic has demonstrated just how important our healthcare professionals are, and the demand for places shows that there are thousands of prospective students looking to train for rewarding careers in our NHS.

HE Sector Finances

Research Professional report on a [leaked] briefing note written by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, seen by Research Professional News, explains that several government departments are working together “to develop a process through which higher education providers at risk of closure will be able to apply to government to access a restructuring regime as a last resort”

There will be “attached conditions” wherever the government decides restructuring is needed, BEIS wrote, and the regime “will look to support teaching intensive institutions where there is a case to do so and where intervention is possible and appropriate.

There is nothing unexpected in this, the mood music throughout the pandemic is that the Government will not bail out providers who are financially insolvent. Although there has been suggestion they will step in and intervene ensuring changes relevant to the Government’s agenda are made in return for keeping the institution running (in the short term) – leading some to suggest institutions would be unrecognisable after intervention, including the sale of properties and land.

Lords Debate

The Lords debated the parliamentary question: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to universities to assist them in dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In essence the Government representative (Lord Parkinson of Whiley Bay) received quite a grilling whilst he maintained the party line of stating the range of support methods the Government has put in place for the HE sector. Just a few indulgent excerpts here to highlight that Lords are fighting the HE corner:

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, the Government’s recent announcement provides little new money, and 75% of that will be in loans. Universities’ research is heavily subsidised by international student fee income, which is predicted to drop by £2 billion this year. Many universities have made massive contributions of equipment, research and staffing to the fight against coronavirus. Does the Minister accept that they now need a much more ambitious package of support, because they are making research and staff cutbacks at this moment?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay :The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point out the vital contribution that universities are making to solving the pandemic, which is putting pressures on them as well as on everybody else. She referred to the further package of support which the Government announced this weekend. In addition to bringing forward the tuition fee payments which I mentioned in my Answer, the Government are providing a package of support to universities to continue research and innovation. That includes £280 million of taxpayer funding available to sustain UK Research and Innovation and national academy grant-funded research, which is available immediately. From the autumn, there is a further package consisting of low-interest loans with long payback periods and supplemented by a further amount of government grants. I am therefore not sure that I accept what she says about the Government’s response being inadequate.

The Lord Bishop Of Winchester: My Lords, universities make a significant contribution to their local communities and economies, particularly smaller institutions that attract a larger proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These make a significant contribution to their local context, particularly in this pandemic…How will the Government work with higher education institutions to maintain the widening of access and retention of students, especially those preparing for key public service roles that have been so important during this pandemic crisis?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: …I am pleased that higher education providers can draw on existing funding, which is worth around £23 million a month at the moment, to provide hardship funds and support for disadvantaged students who are particularly affected by Covid-19.

Lord Craig Of Radley: My Lords, many university students in England have been missing tuition and access to libraries, laboratories and other university facilities, and may face financial hardship. The Minister says that the Government will not cut the amount paid to universities in tuition fees, but will they reduce sums to be recovered from formerly affected students in later life?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: The noble and gallant Lord is right to point out some of the many ways in which the university experience is being affected by this pandemic with regard to access to libraries, laboratories and so on. I am pleased that universities across the sector have responded swiftly and creatively to ensure that they remain open and that students can continue to avail themselves of high-quality education. Universities are autonomous and responsible for setting their own fees, and of course, as they approach the forthcoming academic year, if they decide to charge full fees, they will want to ensure that they can continue to deliver courses which are fit for purpose and which help students to progress their qualifications. However, any matter regarding the level of those fees and refunds is first and foremost for the providers and those who apply to them.

Vis Count Chandos (Lab): In the absence of more appropriate emergency grant funding to compensate for irrecoverable loss of revenues, the Government have encouraged universities to apply for business interruption loans. How does the Minister think these loans, designed for profit-making companies, can be repaid by non-profit HE institutions, other than at the expense of the quality of courses for future generations of students?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay:…he is also right to point out the wider societal benefits that universities bring, which is why the Government brought forward the additional package of measures which I outlined in my Answer.

Baroness Garden Of Frognal (LD): My Lords, what plans do the Government have to reform student and university funding to enable a greater number of people, especially mature learners, to undertake short higher education courses and build up to a full degree in a way that suits them? That will be increasingly important as individuals reskill post Covid.

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: The noble Baroness is absolutely right that many mature students and others may wish to consider courses of different lengths and varieties, and the Government are glad to see that wide range of courses offered. As she says, that will be particularly important over the coming months. The package of support which the Government have announced is of course available to providers irrespective of the length and format of the courses they offer.

Lord Norton Of Louth (Con):… Given how crucial that export is and that from next year EU students will no longer be subject to home fees, will the Government consider extending the new graduate route post-study work visa to three or four years to ensure that the United Kingdom has a competitive offer to international students?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay :My noble friend draws attention to the new graduate route which comes into effect from next summer, which allows people graduating from UK universities to stay here in work of any level and any remuneration for up to two years— an increased and very generous offer. That is part of the Government’s ambition to increase the number of international students coming to study here in the United Kingdom.

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

Online: Open University VC Tim Blackman writes about digitally rendered online learning, how selectivity has become a misnomer for prestige, and their new thrust to attract young learners.

Easing lockdown: The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper discussing the impact of the easing of lockdown restrictions on the FE and HE sectors in England.

EdTech: Articles on edtech are a dime a dozen during lockdown. This week’s offering is in a similar vein.

Lockdown placements: Wonkhe have a blog exploring how universities need to adapt content, assessments and requirements where placements have fallen during lockdown because the employer hasn’t offered a remote alternative.

Staying at home: The Guardian have an opinion piece on commuter students.

German HE: Research Professional report that private HE institutions have doubled their student numbers in the last decade in Germany. 8.5% of the student population attend a private university; they are particularly popular with part-time and already employed students. Of all German part time students nearly half (48%) chose a private provider and 41% of distance learners also opted for this type of provider. The most popular subjects were economics, law and social sciences.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 29th June 2020

The government are apparently planning a radical overhaul of admissions (maybe), they have found some funding for research support, EU students will face higher fees in 2021/22, Education Questions in the Commons kept the Ministers on their toes, there’s the latest on student complaints, a brief mention of the B word and the sun has been shining.

University research support package

In coverage of the so called bailout deal announced earlier in the lockdown – which consisted of bringing the second instalment of student loan payments to universities forward by a few months and vaguely threatening proposals for a fund for restructuring universities that fail – it was made clear that no more would be forthcoming. But the government have reached down behind the sofa cushions and found a bit of extra money to support research, although like the additional student numbers (more on that later), it is limited and strings are attached. It was announced late on Friday night so made for a busy Saturday for pundits. You can read David Kernohan’s piece for Wonkhe here, Research Professional here, and THE cover it here.

There will be grant extensions to cover researchers’ salaries and other running costs for UKRI and some other grants, which will be very welcome, as there has been great concern about covering extensions to projects with no extra money. More details are still to be announced.

The main announcement, however, was of a new package of support for research-active universities. It looks odd on the face of it, to those outside the sector and unfamiliar with the weird cross subsidies that exist in the HE market:

  • low-interest loans with long pay-back periods, supplemented by a small amount of government grants. In sharing responsibility for the future of science and research with our world-leading university system the government will cover up to 80% of a university’s income losses from international students for the academic year 20/21, up to the value of non-publicly funded research activity in that university.

So if you have a lot of international students who aren’t coming this year, you can get a loan or a grant (maybe) to cover your income loss, capped by how much funding you normally get from sources other than the government, i.e. businesses and charities as well as the university itself. Complicated?  Yes.  Targeted at a very particular small number of universities, yes, indeed.  This sentence demonstrates the strangeness  “Support is also capped at the level of an institution’s non-publicly funded research to ensure that funds are being directed towards universities conducting research.”  What it is really saying is that there will be support for universities who fund their own research from the fees paid by international students, or from businesses or charities who won’t have any money this year.  That’s not quite the same thing as “universities who do research”.

  • So this: The international student metric when combined with the measure of ‘non-publicly funded research’ is a good proxy for overall Covid-19 losses to research revenue. In return for support, Government will be asking for universities to demonstrate how funds are being utilised to sustain research in areas typically funded by charities and business. We will also take into account the income HEIsreceive from business and charity research.
  • And there is a catch: Universities will be required to demonstrate that funds are being spent on research and on retaining research talent. Universities will be expected to show they are taking their own steps to make efficiencies, in line with the rest of the economy, to protect their research bases. Precise metrics and outputs/outcomes will be developed as we develop the details of the policy over the next few weeks. There will be separate requirements for grant extension proposals.

Some universities will have limits on their borrowing.

And for the institutions (that the information calls “teaching intensive”) who don’t qualify – we’re back to the vaguely threatening restricting fund:

  • The DfERestructuring Regime will look to support teaching intensive institutions where there is a case to do so and where intervention is possible and appropriate. The Government recognises the important role that higher education providers make to regional and local economies through the provision of high-quality courses aligned with local, regional and national economic and societal requirements. This will be within scope of the decision making process for intervention. Further detail on the Restructuring Regime will be announced in due course. 

Radical overhaul of admissions?

Saturday’s Guardian had a headline about a leaked draft report on admissions changes.  As the OfS have recently confirmed that they will be restarting their normal activity, presumably with the “paused” admissions review near the top of their list, it is not surprising that options are being considered.

The Guardian said: The models include:

  • Exams results published in August as is currently the case, but with university and college terms starting in January, allowing five months for processing applications.
  • Moving exam results forward into July and the start of the university term back into mid-October, allowing a 12-week window for students to apply.
  • An unchanged timetable, with only a five-week window for the application process to run between exam results in August and the start of the university term in September, as now.
  • University applications made before A-level results are received, but offers of places to students not released until after results are published, with no change to current timings.

Potential A level exam delay: Consistent with the story above in last Monday’s Oral Education Questions it was confirmed that the DfE is discussing moving A level exams to July 2021 to accommodate some of the C-19 disruption. The BBC and the Times covered the story. The Times noted:

  • some head teachers suggested that a delay risked creating more difficulties. “It would mean either exam boards having a narrower window in which to mark millions of scripts, or results being published later, which would potentially run into the autumn term,” Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL union, said. “This would affect progression to further and higher education. It’s important that the approach to next year’s exams supports pupils without creating more problems than it solves…” 

The article goes on to note the Government have confirmed full funding for the virtual Oak National Academy suggesting that it is preparing for some disruption in the full return of pupils to ‘normal’ schooling. It also highlights that some of the support funding usually available has been cut (e.g. the year 7 catch up in English and Maths for weaker pupils). Alongside the announcements last week of the £1 billion funding programme to help schools support initiatives to bring children back on track after the home schooling disruption to their normal studies. There are likely to be implications for some disadvantaged children in the cuts alongside sharing the newly funded initiatives amongst a wider pool of pupils. It is raising further concerns for an access disadvantaged generation.

Admissions Report

Recently EDSK (a think tank) published Admitting Mistakes: creating a new model for university admissions calling for a fair, transparent and equitable admissions process. It takes issue with the current system:

  • This admissions system has remained almost unchanged for the past three decades, but this inertia should not necessarily be interpreted as an indication that the UCAS system is working well.
  • Politicians from both major parties have raised serious concerns in recent months about university admissions practices, while the Office for Students (OfS) has launched a review of the entire admissions process in its capacity as regulator of the Higher Education (HE) sector. Given this intense pressure, maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. The new rules on admissions proposed by the OfS last month to ensure that universities demonstrate a ‘socially responsible approach’ during the COVID-19 crisis shows that it is perfectly feasible to change the admissions system – even at short notice. It is now simply a question of which changes ministers and regulators wish to make once the crisis subsides.

It also takes issue with the current practices tackling the use of predicted grades for university applications; the growth of ‘unconditional offers’ from universities; and the barriers facing disadvantaged students.

It concludes:

  • In recent months, both the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and the OfS have referred to the importance of ‘trust’ in the context of university admissions because they realise how crucial it is that students, parents and teachers trust the admissions process when so much money and so many hopes and aspirations rest on its shoulders. In light of this, it is deeply concerning how wealth and privilege continue to unduly influence who gets accepted onto university degrees, particularly at the most prestigious institutions. This inevitably results in an overwhelming sense of unfairness as well as risking a catastrophic loss of trust – not just in the admissions process, but in the education system as a whole.
  • The reduction in autonomy over admissions proposed by the OfS in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 is intended to prevent universities from undermining students’ interests and threatening the stability of the HE sector during the crisis, yet the protection of students and maintaining the stability of the sector should be permanent features of our admissions system rather than temporary measures. A fundamental change is therefore needed to make sure that the admissions system prioritises the interests of students, not universities, after the current crisis is over. To this end, it is necessary for universities to give up some of the autonomy they have in relation to how they attract and select applicants each year.

Finally it recommends that in return for the financial support that they are receiving from government to mitigate the impact of COVID-19…universities should be required to accept a new model for the whole admissions cycle. It seems the authors are under the impression that the C-19 financial support is a sufficiently worthwhile and substantial enticement.

While the aggressive language in the press release may rile some in the sector many of its recommendations such as a national contextual offer are already being discussed. The difficulty with such blanket policies is that some students still fall through the cracks as drawing thresholds always results in winners and losers. For example, the report’s recommendation 5 doesn’t include student carers within their definition of greatest disadvantage, and there is little mention of ethnicity throughout the report.

Nevertheless they proposed a nuanced version of post qualification admissions. No predicted grades will be submitted to institutions (although presumably level 3 teachers will still have to produce them) and prospective students instead chose 10 degrees ranked in preference order. On results day students achieving the required (fixed) grade level are automatically placed based on preference order. Where courses are oversubscribed all applicants who are eligible are entered into a lottery. Where courses are undersubscribed still only those who reach the level will be admitted. It sounds simple but when you sit quietly with the concept for a moment you begin to realise it the cracks, for example removing the choice for a student to change their mind – or trade up if they perform better than their teacher predicted (which itself has long been a disadvantage conundrum). There’s also the gaming of the system – if you want that place on that popular oversubscribed course and you’re certain of the grades there will be ways to maximise your likelihood of achieving it based on your preferences…and who will advise prospective students on the game – parents, social networks, teachers and careers staff (again resources which some disadvantaged students lack). The report isn’t to be dismissed and provides a welcome interjection on the admissions system which is due for overhaul in some shape or form, however, it doesn’t offer all the answers it claims to. Perhaps because there isn’t a system which is flawless and which can guarantee equity, particularly for those prospective students with the least support and resources.

Wonkhe have a good blog on the report considering it fairly and offering critique where they see holes. The comments at the end are worth a read too, while most establish serious points Sarah smiled at this one: Think tanks are supposed to think from outside the box.

Diversity in HE

UCAS have highlighted that

  • nursing and social work degrees have the most diverse pool of applicants compared to other major undergraduate subject areas. Health and social care courses are among the subjects attracting the highest proportion of applications and acceptances from black applicants, mature students, and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Other key facts:

  • For all subjects allied to medicine, 16% of acceptances are from students from the black ethnic group (the highest proportion for any wider subject group), followed by social studies courses, with 13%.
  • 42% of students accepted onto social work courses are aged over 30, the highest proportion of any subject. Nursing courses are second, with 29% of acceptances from students in this age group.
  • Social work is the only subject (with more than 150 applicants) that has more students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying (1,055 applicants), than from the most advantaged backgrounds (1,000 applicants). This a ratio of just 0.94 applicants from advantaged backgrounds for each disadvantaged applicant – the lowest ratio of all subjects.
  • Nursing follows with a ratio of 1.12, with 2,100 applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, alongside 2,350 from the most advantaged backgrounds. Both subjects have similar patterns of accepting students from a wide range of backgrounds.
  • While male applicants remain in the minority, the number of men applying for nursing grew by 8.5% to 5,370, with the number of acceptances also growing (by 7.1% to 2,700).

UCAS are using the welcome news on diversity to urge more prospective students to apply for autumn 2020 entry. They state Around 40% of adult nursing and social work courses are still accepting applications…with some universities having up to 50 places available. The vacancy level seems slightly surprising on several counts. First the Government are offering bursaries for specified courses, second they are employment gap areas (and the Government has an additional 5,000 places not yet allocated to institutions), third the positive and high profile PR generated for key services such as nursing through the pandemic was predicted to increase demand for nursing, finally demand from mature students (who make up a bigger proportion of the cohort) could be expected to increase if lockdown has prompted a career re-evaluation. UCAS do note that mature student apply later in the summer months than school leavers and that at January nursing applications were up by 6%.

Postgraduate BAME data: The UK Council for Graduate Education have published a policy briefing summarising the access and participation of Black, Asian and minority ethnicities in UK postgraduate research. Key points:

  • BAME students participate in postgraduate research at a lower level that those enrolled in undergraduate studies.
  • Between 2016/17 – 2018/19 the proportion of BAME postgraduate research students (PGRs) grew by 0.13% however, this rate of growth means it would take 51.8 years for BAME participation in postgraduate research to reach the equivalent proportion at undergraduate level.
  • 15% more white PGRs received financial contributions for their tuition fee than BAME PGRs
  • More white PGRs (19%) qualified in 2018/19 than BAME PGRs (16%)

Disadvantage:

Wonkhe have two blogs on access and disadvantage:

There is also the promised report from the Social Mobility Commission: Apprenticeships and social mobility: fulfilling potential. It raises concerns over the structural barriers within apprenticeships and concludes that they are not fulfilling their social climbing potential.

Key points:

the introduction of the (2017) apprenticeship levy led to a “collapse in overall apprenticeship starts that hit disadvantaged learners hardest”

  • a 36% decline in apprenticeship starts by people from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with 23% for others
  • just 13% of degree-level apprenticeships, the fastest growing and most expensive apprenticeship option, goes to apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • more than 80% of apprenticeships undertaken by learners from disadvantaged backgrounds are in enterprises in the services, health, education or public administration sectors
  • on average, apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds earn less than apprentices from more privileged backgrounds
  • there is a 16% boost to wages for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds who complete their training, compared with 10% for others

The report calls on the Government to address concerns and channel resources directly where it can have the greatest social benefit.

There was also a slight FE emphasis in one of Donelan’s PQ answers (reminding us the FE remains an underfunded sector and the Government has plans, even if they aren’t sharing them yet):

Q – Mohammad Yasin: In addition to maintaining current commitments to widen participation and extend bursaries for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, will the Minister make sure that the necessary extra funding is provided so that universities such as the University of Bedfordshire can play a key role in retraining and reskilling young and mature students to meet the serious employment challenges ahead?

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that access and participation are key priorities for this Government, and the Office for Students has launched access and participation measures for every institution. Higher education plays a key role in filling the skills needs of the economy, but so does further education, and our priority is to ensure quality provision and that students can make informed choices that are in the best interests of their career destinations.

EU Student Fees Decision

Very unsurprisingly, Michelle Donelan issued a written ministerial statement confirming that EU, EEA and Swiss national students will no longer be eligible for home fee status or Student Finance England financial support from 2021/22. The rules also apply to FE and apprenticeships. EU students starting in 2020/21 will continue to be classed as home students. Irish nationals will be preserved as home student status under the Common Travel Area arrangement.

The announcement may encourage some EU students to take up UK study in September (despite online blended provision being the main method on offer). Likewise the sector anticipates a drop in EU student numbers from 2021/22.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, responded to the announcement:

  • Universities would have preferred the certainty of current arrangements for EU students in England being extended for those starting courses in 2021/22. However, it is important to note that EU students starting courses in autumn 2020 will continue to pay home fees for the duration of their course and be eligible for the UK’s EU settlement scheme if they arrived before the end of this year.
  • The government’s new Graduate Route – starting next summer – also means that students who are not eligible for the settlement scheme will have the opportunity to stay and work in the UK for two years after completing their studies. This will apply to those who initially have to study by distance or blended learning because they are unable to travel to the UK to start in autumn due to Covid-19. Universities are committed to working with government on further measures to support international students to study at UK universities.
  • Our message to international students is that UK universities are ready to welcome and support you through your studies. Whether you choose to study in the UK this year, or in the future, you will receive a high-quality education and learn skills that will benefit you for years to come.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, puts it plainly:

  • Today’s announcement will be seen as bad news inside universities. To date, EU students have benefited from lower fees and access to student loans that are subsidised by UK taxpayers. Together, these have lowered the financial obstacles to studying in the UK. My message to any EU citizen wishing to benefit from the current arrangements is that it is not too late to apply for entry in 2020, before the new rules come into force next year.
  • In the past, we have shown that higher fees and no more access to student loans could risk a decline of around 60% in the number of EU students coming to the UK to study. If that happens, our universities will be less diverse and less open to influences from other countries.
  • However, it is morally and legally difficult to continue charging lower fees to EU citizens than we already charge to people from the rest of the world once Brexit has taken full effect. So today’s decision is not a huge surprise. Moreover, history suggests that the education on offer in our universities is something people are willing to pay for. So, if we adopt sensible post-Brexit migration rules and if universities work very hard to recruit from other EU nations, it is likely that many of our fellow Europeans will still wish to study here.
  • Above all, we need to make it abundantly clear to people from the EU and beyond that our universities remain open to all.

Research Professional have a write up on the fee changes.

Michelle Donelan also answered oral questions specifically on international students describing her

  • two-tier covid response to attract international students: first, by working across government to remove and reduce the logistical barriers faced by students, including visa issues; and secondly, by communicating that the UK is open for business via advertising and open letters to international students, our embassies, and international media.

She also reminded Parliament about the International Education Champion appointment.

Since the parliamentary question session Donelan (and her devolved counterparts) have composed a 6 page letter to international students. It sings the praises of a British education, urges them to apply for the 2020/21 recruitment round (for which visas will be ready in time) and reminds them of their eligibility for the 2-year graduate visa. Excerpts:

  • Although admissions processes and modes of teaching might look slightly different this year, the UK’s world-class universities are continuing to recruit international students and you are encouraged to apply even if you are unable to travel to the UK to meet usual timelines. Universities will be flexible in accommodating your circumstances where possible, including if you are unable to travel to the UK in time for the start of the academic year. We have seen some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning being delivered by institutions across the UK, and the sector is already working hard to prepare learning materials for the summer and autumn terms.
  • The UK cares immensely about the health and wellbeing of international students, and ensuring they are safe is our number one priority… To keep number of transmissions in the UK as low as possible, and to protect UK residents and international students in the UK, all international arrivals are now required to supply their contact and accommodation information and self-isolate in their accommodation for fourteen days on arrival into the UK. We have been clear that universities are responsible for, and must support their students on arrival to the UK. We are proud that UK universities are already demonstrating how seriously they are taking this responsibility, in ensuring that their students are safe and well cared for both upon arrival and for the duration of their stay.
  • In addition to support from their universities, NHS services are available to both domestic and international students. International students will always be able to access treatment that clinicians consider is immediately necessary or urgent at no upfront cost. No charges apply to testing for coronavirus…

Graduate Outcomes

The second batch of data from the 2017/18 Graduate Outcomes survey has been released, there is even more to come on 9 July. The tables are interactive allowing you to look at employment rates for different qualification levels (e.g. undergraduates, foundation degrees, doctoral research, taught masters and all the others) at HE or FE, full or part time.

There are also salary bands that are adjustable to look at the characteristics of the students within them. For example the below looks at pay levels by subject studied in HE institutions. It shows a clear salary gain in the high skilled roles but little difference in pay between low and medium skilled jobs.

The pay bands can be examined by age, ethnicity, gender, and disability. Below demonstrates the impact of gender for undergraduates, the postgraduate picture shows more clustering at the higher pay bands. No matter which level of qualification is selected males always number more than females earning the highest pay band.

There is a chart illustrating the proportions of students who are satisfied with their current activity, its fit with their future plans, and whether they are using what they learnt. It varies greatly when you adjust for low medium or high skilled roles, with the low skilled employees feeling least satisfied. And this page breaks down the three elements of satisfaction (meaningful, fit future, useful) even further looking at it by degree subject area, degree classification, salary and by provider.

And at the bottom of the page you can view BU’s student opinion on meaningful, fit for future plans, and useful (it is too large to display here). BU had a response rate of 51%, with higher numbers of postgraduate research students responding.

All the tables are interactive and able to be cut by different parameters – go ahead and have a play!

Wonkhe have a good blog digging into and interpreting meaning from the latest data.

In Parliamentary Questions, Graduate outcomes also received a mention with the stock answer referring to T levels and promoting technical routes. Also:

Q – Neil O’Brien: The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that for 30% of students, the economic return on their degree was negative both for them and for taxpayers. Surely with such clear economic evidence that so many young people would be better off if they took a different route, it is time to rebalance from just higher education to a stronger technical education system?

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • It is important that students make as informed choices as possible from a range of high-quality courses, and university is not the only or the best route for certain careers. Some students may be better placed if they do higher technical qualifications or apprenticeships. That is why the Secretary of State is spearheading a revolution in further education in this country, including the introduction of T-levels.

Research

HEPI have published PhD Life: The UK student experience. It highlights that for UK students:

  • the average PhD student works 47 hours per week, which is over 50% more than the average undergraduate and three hours less than the average academic
  • meaning PhD students earn less than the minimum wage (if they are on the basic Research Council stipend)
  • 78% of PhD students are satisfied with their degree of independence
  • 63% of PhD students see their supervisor for less than one hour per-week
  • 23% of PhD students would change their supervisor if they were starting their PhD again now
  • 80% of PhD students believe a career in research can be lonely and isolating
  • over one-third (37%) of PhD students have sought help for anxiety or depression caused by PhD study
  • one-quarter (25%) of PhD students feel they have been bullied and 47% believe they have witnessed bullying, and
  • one-fifth (20%) of PhD students feel they have been discriminated against and 34% believe they have witnessed discrimination.

The data informing the report is based on two surveys taking place between June and November 2019 by the Wellcome trust and Nature.

The report includes testimonials capturing PhD students’ perspectives on their situation:

  • Due to being [funded] by a stipend and not through student finance, and not technically being employed by the university means that I am not eligible for childcare funding. The cost of childcare is around £11,000 per year, my stipend is £14,200.
  • ..almost all the staff I meet from different universities are “pals from [insert elitist uni here]”. As such they have very little understanding of the challenges someone from a “normal” or disadvantaged background faces, especially financially, giving the overwhelming impression that your skills are secondary to your class.
  • The higher up you go, the more male and white-dominated the environment becomes. There’s only one full female professor in my whole institute, and I have genuinely never met a black PI [Principal Investigator] or professor since starting my PhD.

Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, commented:

  • Too often, people taking PhDs are regarded as neither one thing nor the other. They are not seen as students the way undergraduates are and they are not seen as staff the way academics are. Sometimes, PhD students receive excellent support but, too often, they fall through the cracks, making them demoralised and unhappy. When that happens, we all lose because the world desperately needs people who push forward the frontiers of knowledge.
  • We know far more about undergraduates than we used to and we now need similar levels of research on the student experience of postgraduates to help policymakers, regulators and funders improve their lives.

In the Foreword to the new report, Dr Katie Wheat, Head of Engagement and Policy at Vitae, said:

  • This report makes an important contribution to current debates on research culture by presenting the views of doctoral researchers in the UK extracted from the recent Wellcome Trust and Nature reports. It highlights several areas of concern, including working conditions, wellbeing, supervision and incidents of bullying and harassment…The findings chime with growing recognition of the need to improve research culture.

Student Numbers Cap

The deadline for universities to apply for additional places expired on Friday.

Emma Hardy questions the reasoning behind the threshold levels set for continuation and graduate outcome rates which determine whether a provider can bid for some of the 5,000 non-healthcare course additional places for the 2020/21 recruitment round. She also asks why these indicators were chosen rather than using the TEF, whether an equalities impact assessment was undertaken, and if the DfE considered a HEIs social intake and the communities served when setting the rates (because they appear to discriminate against certain types of provider).

The additional 5,000 biddable places within the student numbers cap restrictions allow the Government to exert a small measure of control over which courses they wish to see more (or less) of within the UK. In this vein Research Professional had an interesting narrative on Monday covering Australia who intend to more than double tuition fees for some arts subjects, raise fees for business and law, and lowered fees for some in-demand courses which contribute to national gap and growth needs. The reforms will be implemented in 2021 – if they pass the parliamentary hurdles.

The increase/decreases:

  • +28% law and commerce studies
  • +113% arts and humanities (making a three year degree roughly £24,150 in UK terms)
  • -62% maths and agriculture
  • -46% teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, and languages (including English)
  • -20% science, health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering
  • 0% (no change) for medicine, dental and veterinary

The price rises are per unit of study so it encourages students who might study history to also consider teaching too, or to add in a language.

The changes are designed to incentive students to follow the career growth areas that Australia needs. They aiming to get 39,000 students on skills shortage courses by 2023 and 100,000 by 2030 to produce the ‘job ready graduates’ that Australia needs.

The Australian Government also intends to increase support for rural and indigenous students through the reforms. They will direct fund universities to run bespoke programmes with local significance to attract indigenous students from the lowest participation rate areas and guarantee a place at public universities. Other reforms include a $48.8m research grants programme for regional universities to collaborate with industry, and $21m to set up more regional university study centres to provide tutoring and IT support for students in remote areas.

Research Professional highlight that the UK Government could utilise the LEO data to set price variation in the levels of student loan that would be offered to priority and non-priority courses. Also that if more students took courses with higher salaries the repayment levels of loans would be higher – ultimately saving the public purse. Although one does wonder whether so many of these high paid roles are standing vacant or whether such a policy increasing the volume of graduates following some programmes would simply displace the current holders of such posts. Nethertheless, it is food for thought for the Government who love a decent worked example from elsewhere. Particularly with the response to the Augar report (which advocated cutting humanities tuition fee/loans down to £7,500) not due until the spending review.

Ant Bagshaw (ex-Wonkhe, now working in Australia) has a blog on the proposals and what this might mean for UK HE. As ever there are some interesting comments to the blog. And the Guardian have an opinion piece taking issue with the Australian proposal for job ready graduates.

Returning to the UK student numbers cap there is an interesting piece from a specialist institution explaining how the student number controls will reduce access for those from certain disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Government has also released the latest information on how the student number cap will be run. Wonkhe summarise it:

  • It suggests that the controls will apply to fee-loan and self-funded full time undergraduates, with exemptions for new providers and students retaking A levels in the autumn. Franchised provision will count towards the cap of the registering institution, and this will not change if the agreement is terminated. It appears that number restrictions will apply to providers that do not recruit via UCAS, though we get little information as to how this will work in practice.
  • According to the same document, the list of specified subjects for additional places will not be changed, and includes subjects which relate to skills or professions at risk of shortage in the economy, or that “generate positive economic returns for the individual and the taxpayer”. This marks the first time longitudinal salary data has been used in higher education policymaking.

Student Complaints

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has published a second briefing note on their approach to complaints arising from C-19. These excerpts make their approach to complaints clear:

  • Consumer protection legislation has not been suspended for students. This means that providers still need to deliver learning and other services that are consistent with students’ reasonable expectations. 
  • What students can reasonably expect, and what providers can reasonably be expected to deliver, is likely to change and evolve as circumstances change and evolve, especially if restrictions are tightened again. But providers should be planning to deliver what was promised – or something at least broadly equivalent to it – and to ensure that learning outcomes can be met. It’s unlikely to be reasonable not to do that, especially now the initial crisis period has passed.
  • Where providers have not or decide they cannot deliver what was promised they will need to consider how to put that right. A blanket refusal to consider tuition fee refunds in any circumstances is not reasonable. There may be groups of students that are particularly affected, and providers should take steps to identify those groups and address their issues. But they also need to consider concerns raised by students about their individual circumstances.
  • Some students may feel unable to continue with their studies because the way their course will be delivered has changed materially, their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or are very anxious. Providers should consider requests for deferrals sympathetically and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so. [This is interesting in light of recent media reports that second or third year students wish to defer for a year rather than continue with online teaching in subjects such as theatre studies.]
  • We can look at complaints about what was promised and what was delivered, but we can’t look at concerns that involve academic judgment such as the quality of academic provision.
  • We can consider (for example) a complaint that a provider did not cover subject areas that it said it would; that a student’s supervisor was unavailable; that a student didn’t benefit from teaching because they could not access it, or the delivery method did not work for them; that a provider did not support its students adequately; or that the provider did not follow a reasonable assessment process.
  • But an assessment of the quality of what has been delivered is likely to involve academic judgment, which we can’t look at…This means that we can’t look at a complaint that teaching was not of an adequate academic standard; that an online teaching session was just not as good as it would have been face to face; that the student’s work was worth a higher mark; or that a postgraduate student did not get the right academic guidance from their supervisor.
  • We will look at whether what the provider has done is reasonable in the circumstances – so reasonable delivery in the middle of lockdown is likely to look different to reasonable delivery in a more managed and planned environment.

The lack of judgement over quality of academic delivery slams the door on the Universities Minister’s claims to contact the ombudsmen if students aren’t able to resolve concerns directly with their provider.

There is also clear emphasis on individual student differences:

  • Some students are more seriously affected than others…Arrangements that might work well for many students may not work for all and providers should be proactive about identifying and supporting students who may need additional help. Students are likely to encounter all sorts of accessibility issues. Online teaching arrangements may not work for some students with learning or processing differences. Some students will be shielding or have caring responsibilities that continue even after lockdown restrictions are eased. Some will have poor internet connection – some will not have access to IT equipment at all. Some will simply not be able to work effectively from the space they are living in.
  • Careful thought and planning is needed to address these issues in advance, whenever possible. Planning that starts with meeting the needs of those likely to have accessibility issues is more likely to result in arrangements that work for everyone.

And a pro-active approach is urged:

  • Providers also need to seek out students who are not engaging with online delivery, and those whom they know may find it difficult because of their individual circumstances.
  • Some students such as those who had planned to study abroad or take up industry placements may be facing additional uncertainties. Providers may need to give those students more support and advice, for example on accommodation and financial issues.
  • A rigid adherence to regulations and processes is unlikely to be fair: empathy and flexibility are key.

Mass Action

Meanwhile the NHS is encouraging students to join their mass action complaint chain to win the chance to REDO, REIMBURSE, WRITE-OFF  (compensation funding for reimbursements, a debt write-off, or the chance to redo the year at no extra cost). Research Professional report that

  • the NUS estimates that around 20 per cent of students have been unable to access their learning at all during the pandemic and 33 per cent do not believe it to have been good quality. Particularly badly affected, the union says, are the many disabled students who have not received reasonable adjustments remotely, those who have lost access to studio, lab or workshop space, and students on placements.

Claire Sosienski Smith, VP HE at NUS, stated:

  • We know the scale of the disruption has been so vast that we need a national sector-wide response from government for this, including funding from Westminster… even if students complain to their individual institutions, how will universities afford it when the UK government haven’t announced a single penny of additional funding to support them? Our plea to the UK government is clear: you must offer tangible help to students who can’t access their education right now.

On the Government’s insistence that students individually take up their complaint with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS President, said:

  • We were told students were going to be ‘empowered consumers’ but actually, when something like this happens, we feel we’ve got less rights than if we’d booked an Airbnb. The UK government are desperate to reduce this to a series of individual problems. It’s a total betrayal of trust to the thousands of students who are now facing lifelong debts for a once-in-a-lifetime education they haven’t received.

Online learning

HEPI have a guest blog – Learning from lockdown: harnessing tech to improve the student experience. It begins:

  • The recent transition to online learning has been as rapidas it has been impressive. Many universities have put very large elements of their curricula and assessments online in just a few short weeks.
  • Things that would previously have taken years to plan and execute have been designed, developed and implemented with alacrity. In short, there has been a huge amount of digital acceleration in universities since the advent of the pandemic.
  • However, let’s not kid ourselves; what has been achieved recently is mostly basicand will be largely ephemeral. I’ve heard it said that the transition is more about remote learning than online learning – about adding new tools to old pedagogy, rather than digitally enabling education across the board.

Next it considers the levels at which universities engage most fully with online learning. It concludes with a plug for Jisc and states:

  • The big effort that many universities are embarking on this summer is to develop more extensive, robust and higher quality online learning experiences for their students. Those that created a digital strategy a few years ago and invested in digital infrastructure, skills, content and applications must be feeling a little smug – and relieved. But it’s never too late to start on technology enablement and now is an ‘opportune’ time.
  • I suggest that there is more than enough technology and written experience out there about what works well. Universities need to harness both to capitalise on the newfound energy and goodwill among staff and students.

OfS

It has been a season of high-profile step downs. The latest is Sir Michael Barber who will not seek a second term as Chair of the OfS, meaning he will step down in March 2021. Like most of those relinquishing roles he still has a parliamentary to do list before he can return to his garden and long walks – he has agreed to lead a review into digital learning. The review will consider how universities and other higher education providers can continue to enhance online teaching and learning for the new academic year, and explore longer term opportunities for digital teaching and learning.

The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, commented on Sir Michael’s decision to step down:

  • I have hugely valued Sir Michael’s leadership, insight and advice during his time as Chair and I have enjoyed our working relationship.
  • I am very thankful to him for his work leading the set up and transformation of the OfS, and particularly for his work tackling unconditional offers, senior executive pay and grade inflation.
  • As the higher education sector emerges from the pandemic, I look forward to the findings of the review into ways of enhancing the quality of online learning and driving innovation, which will be critical for the future of the sector.

Let’s hope Sir Michael’s review receives ministerial attention quicker than that of the TEF or the Augar reports.

Brexit

We haven’t mentioned the ‘B’ word more than in passing recently. However, we’re halfway through the transition period and the Government is adamant it will end without extension on 31 December. Little progress has been made in talks and businesses are fearful of no deal particularly following the economic downturn associated with the pandemic. Dods have a Brexit briefing examining the key areas of contention in the talks, the possibility of an extension, and the implementation hurdles that need to be overcome before the end of the year.

Easing Lockdown

The House of Commons Library have issued a briefing paper on the impact of easing lockdown restrictions within the FE & HE sectors (in England). The paper covers the expected issues including re-opening campuses, prospective student numbers (2020/21), and temporary student number controls.

Parliamentary Updates

APPG Universities: Ex-universities minister Chris Skidmore has been appointed co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary interest group for Universities. Daniel Zeichner continues to also co-chair the APPG.  Chris states: I look forward to continuing to make the case for why our world leading UK universities can drive innovation, lift social mobility and regenerate local economies- and why they deserve support. Chris has also committed to a monthly spot writing for Research Professional too. Between Chris and Jo Johnson it seems Michelle Donelan’s time in the spotlight will be harried by two ex-Ministers who are willing to speak out. This is likely good news for the sector (for now) as Donelan has been keen to stick closely to the party line to date.

Parliamentary Questions

Contract Cheating; If you’ve been following this topic in the policy update for a while you’ll be aware that Lord Storey continues his campaign to stamp out essay mills and academic cheat services. He often asks nuanced parliamentary questions on the topic and this week he got an encouraging answer. Here it is in full:

Q – Lord Storey: Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on academic performance in those countries who have banned contract cheating services; and what plans they have, if any, to adopt similar policies. [HL5328]

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • The government is aware that legislation has been introduced in several countries to ban contract cheating services, including in New Zealand, several states in the USA and, most recently, Ireland. It should also be noted that a bill was introduced in Australia in December which, if passed, would make it an offence to provide or advertise academic ‘contract cheating’ services in higher education.
  • We would be willing to consider supporting any legislation, including a Private Members’ Bill, that is workable and that contains measures that would eliminate essay mills in ways that cannot be delivered through other means, provided that the Parliamentary time permitted.
  • Ministers have called on universities, sector bodies, educational technology companies and online platforms to do everything in their power to help eradicate academic cheating of any kind from our world-class higher education sector. We have set a clear expectation that the Office for Students (OfS) should take a visible lead in challenging the sector to eliminate the use of essay mills. We expect the OfS to work with the members of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment to ensure that the sector has the support it needs and that it is taking firm and robust action to ensure that this threat to the integrity of the higher education system is being tackled.

Other Questions

  • Financial and educational support for postgraduate students whose education is now online.
  • This question is about schools rather than HE but it reminds us that young/student carers may be more disadvantaged as they may have had to self-isolate throughout lockdown to protect the vulnerable condition of those they care for.

Oral questions in the House of Commons on Further and Higher Education covered a range of topics this week (no new news). Some are covered in other sections.  The student number cap, international students, support for students and the economy all featured.

Research Professional cover all the major HE oral questions and add a little entertainment value in their descriptions.

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 aren’t any new HE consultations or inquiries this week. However, if you are interested in the bigger picture you may like to be aware that:

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Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

Reopening campus

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

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

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS stated:

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

Research Professional cover the guidance here.

Wonkhe have four offerings:

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

On the curriculum the guidance states:

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

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

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

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

Wonkhe report on Life interrupted! Report 4 stating that

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

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

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

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

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

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

Students Parliamentary Questions

Student Academic Experience Survey

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

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

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

Continuation, participation and attainment

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

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

Effect of Care

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

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

Effect of Free School Meals

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

Effect of Parental HE experience

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

Effect of Sexual Orientation

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

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

Effect of Socio-economic background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions and student number controls

Student Number Controls

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

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

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

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

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

International Student Outlook

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

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

British Council report author, Matt Durnin, said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions PQs

Widening Participation

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

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

Research

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

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

Parliamentary Academic Fellowship Scheme – Open call

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

Research PQs