Tagged / admissions

HE Policy Update for the w/e 9th July 2021

The expected deluge of summer regulatory news is still a trickle, but one outstanding consultation has reported  – the one on monetary penalties, which no-one hopes to have to deal with. The Skills and Post-16 Bill began the Committee stage with interesting debate and the continued criticism of what is lacking; Lord Storey’s essay mills bill was warmly received in its second reading by a small group of attending Lords; UCAS data shows growth in applications and offer making for new entrants; Nicola Dandridge remains as Chief Executive of the OfS (for now); there is Life Sciences news; and the Government announcements unlocking the Covid restrictions permit face to face teaching, for now, anyway.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill entered the Committee stage. You can read the full debate or we bring you the most relevant HE discussion below. All amendments debated were either withdrawn or not moved, however, the content of the discussions is useful and interesting and Government advisers will have taken note of the points raised and general feeling within the Lords chamber.

  • Amendment 1 sought to ensure that the interests of students whose needs were not encompassed by local employers were included within the Bill…a strong link between local business and local skills provision were a good idea, but the interests of potential students were missing.
  • A request that providers of distance learning were taken into account when creating local skills improvement plans…the likes of the Open University had been “a life-changer for many who could not study residentially.”
  • Amendment 22 (Lord Addington) aimed to ensure special education needs provision was included in the initial planning of courses and training…a key benefit…would be in helping them to identify those in high-needs groups, and provide the relevant support. And Amendment 26 sought to ensure those with SEND would be supported to look further afield than their local area, to find appropriate careers that were more comfortable to them.
  • Baroness Fox of Buckley’s major concern with the Bill was that “it focuses too narrowly on the skills required by local employers,” which she said could narrow the options for students. She stated that agreed with the Chief Executive of the Workers’ Educational Association who has stated that Bill was “quiet on support for any qualifications below Level 3″, which “offer many adult learners key progression routes.” Also that the Bill did little to support subjects outside a narrow band of technical disciplines.
  • Defending the Bill on behalf of the Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (DfE and DTI), Baroness Berridge, said the Bill was much wider than just the technical education part that formed the “central plank” of the local skills improvement plan… the Bill did not exclude any particular level of qualification. The limiting was the technical education section of what the providers in a local area would have due regard to when they considered the local skills improvement plan.
  • Lord Aberdare (CB) cited a 2019 report by Future Founders that revealed that 51 percent of British young people aged 14 to 25 had thought about starting, or had already started, a business. He said that the Bill should address their needs, and not focus only on the skills need of existing employers.
  • Lord Young (Lab) said he was fascinated to learn that students applying to UCAS were not just given the opportunity of university places but directed towards apprenticeships.
  • Baroness Berridge (Government representative) added that the designated employer body would need to engage and work closely with providers, which included the Careers and Enterprise Company, local careers hubs, the National Careers Service, area-based contractors and Jobcentre Plus. She continued that they were currently contemplating two study programmes specifically designed to prepare young people for employment: traineeships and supported internships.
  • Baroness Hayman (CB) moved Amendment 3, which would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training was “material” to a specified area, consideration had to also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities or expertise align with the UK’s net zero She added that an estimated 3.2 million workers in the UK needed to increase their skill level or retrain in a new qualification if the UK was to meet its net zero target, and if they were to get the jobs that would be available.
  • Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) moved Amendment 4 (to Amendment 3), which would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training is “material” to a specified area, consideration must also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities and expertise aligned with biodiversity targets.

The above two points illustrate the frequent criticism that the Bill did not offer more content linked to the climate and ecological emergency. Moreover:

  • The Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change, Lord Oates, stated that the local dimension was often missing from thinking on net zero. Baroness Wilcox of Newport, there was currently not a single reference to climate considerations in the Bill. Baroness Berridge offered assurance that the Government took net zero skills seriously, and there would not be a green gap in the guidance. She stressed that net zero, green technology and decarbonisation were common themes in the proposals that Government had received from the employer representative bodies seeking to lead the local skills improvement panel trailblazers. She added that the expectation was that the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under Clause 1 would reflect zero-carbon goals as businesses and employers responded to climate change and the biodiversity agenda.
  • Opposition Spokesperson for Education Lord Watson of Invergowrie warned – Although we fully support the principle of employers playing a more active role in driving certain aspects of the skills system, as well as a more specialised role for FE colleges in delivering higher-level technical skills, that must take place within the context of a holistic and objective overview of the whole education, skills and employment support system, to guard against introducing further complexity.
  • Baroness Berridge (Government representative) told the chamber that the local skills improvement plans would set out the key changes needed for post-16 technical education training, and make it more responsive to employers’ needs. Addressing some of the amendments, she said that “the relevant providers will play an important role, working with the employer representative bodies to develop these plans. We have not taken them out of the picture; the duty is there to co-operate.”

Wonkhe explain about the Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs): Though the committee was not divided, speaking on behalf of the government, Baroness Berridge confirmed providers (including distance learning providers like the Open University) will be able to participate in multiple LSIPs. We also learned that the six-to-eight “trailblazer” LSIPs, from 40 bids, would be announced later this month and will run until 2022.

The Bill will be debated at Committee Stage again on 15 and 19 July.

Contract Cheating

Lord Storey’s Private Member’s Bill (PMB), the Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill, completed the second reading stage on 25 June with support and warm words from a small group of peers and the Minister.

Lord Storey currently has an amendment lodged to the Skills Bill, it wasn’t chosen for debate this week. We’ll wait to see if it comes up in the two remaining days of the Bills’ Committee stage. If it is it’ll give us an indication of the wider parliamentary mood for the abolition of essay mills. If his amendment succeeds (in some form) he’ll likely withdraw his PMB. Or it may go the other way, and the amendment be dropped in favour of another measure.  PMBs rarely make it onto the statue book because of shortage of time, but this time government support may help it go further.

The second reading discussion also clarified that while contract cheating may also be taking place during A levels the Minister favours confining the Bill to HE. Whilst the tone of the second reading was favourable there is still a long road the Bill needs to traverse.  You’ll also note in the Minister’s response below that emphasis is placed on HE institutions to addressing contract cheating.

Excerpts from Minister’s response:

  • It is clear that there is a strong case for supporting institutions to address this matter robustly. We have much sympathy with the noble Lord’s aims through his Bill and would welcome further discussion with him about it.
  • Some of the Bill’s provisions need careful attention…he has brought forward the Bill in the spirit of seeking to find a solution to the problem…It has the potential, particularly as part of a wider approach, to reduce the number of essay mills in operation. It would also send a clear sign to students and the companies themselves that this activity is illegal.
  • Some noble Lords mentioned the international action that has been taken…Emerging evidence in both those jurisdictions suggests that those laws are deterring essay mills from providing services to students, and regulators there have reported that having the legislation has provided them with more tools to engage students, higher education providers and cheating services, and that it has given them additional routes to tackle the problem.
  • It is an important and timely Bill that needs to be considered carefully to maximise its effectiveness but, alongside a continued and collaborative effort with the sector to deter, detect and address contract cheating, it is one that could enable us to face the problem head-on.

Meanwhile Research Professional states that universities have been warned that essay mills are targeting institutions’ websites in a bid to reach students, which could put the “reputation and integrity” of universities at risk.

Research

UKRI Chair: The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee supported the appointment of Sir Andrew Mackenzie for the role of Chair of UKRI (report). The Committee concludes that, on the basis of the discussions during the pre-appointment hearing, its consideration of his CV, and the answers he provided to the Committee’s questionnaire, Sir Andrew’s career provides him with the professional competence and many of the skills required for the role of Chair of UK Research and Innovation. The Committee raises concerns that a robust process should be put in place to manage any actual or perceived future conflicts of interest between the role of Chair of UKRI and Sir Andrew’s part-time role as Chair of Shell.

Life Sciences: The Government published a new UK Life Science Vision setting out a 10-year strategy for the sector to build on successes achieved during the pandemic. The Vision outlines 7 critical healthcare missions for Government, industry, the NHS, academic and medical research charities:

  1. Accelerating the pace of studies into novel dementia treatment
  2. Enabling early diagnosis and treatments, including immune therapies such as cancer vaccines
  3. Sustaining the UK’s position in vaccine discovery, development and manufacturing
  4. Treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases and its major risk factors, including obesity
  5. Reducing mortality and morbidity from respiratory disease in the UK and globally
  6. Addressing the underlying biology of ageing
  7. Increasing the understanding of mental health conditions, including work to redefine diseases and develop tools to address them

A central component of the vision is that it contains a focus on cultivating a business environment which will allow UK life science firms to access finance to innovate and grow; and are incentivised to onshore manufacture and commercialise their products.

To support the vision, the Government has launched a £200m Life Sciences Investment Programme and expects the programme to leverage further private sector investment. Dods tell us that new funding will also come from Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company, which has committed to invest £800m to the life sciences industry, working with British Patient Capital.

The Minister may have changed but the content of the speeches hasn’t – new Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: We have made immense strides in health research over the past year – the discovery of the use of dexamethasone and our vaccine rollout have been crucial to saving hundreds of thousands of lives and tackling COVID-19. It’s crucial we continue to harness this enthusiasm and innovation, and map out a new route as we build back better. Today’s bold vision commits to putting the lessons we’ve learnt into action to transform the UK into a life sciences superpower.

Life Sciences Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: We want to bottle up this scientific brilliance, and the Life Sciences Vision provides a roadmap for how we apply this innovation at the heart of our NHS helping to solve major health challenges such as dementia and obesity – all while ensuring the UK remains a global leader in life sciences.

Research Professional blog: Focusing life sciences policy on medicine would miss huge opportunities in other fields, says Neil Hall.

ARIA: Recruitment for the first Chair of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) has begun with a focus on management over research experience. In their scrutiny of the full Bill text, MPs were keen to ensure clear measures of transparency were in place for the head of the new agency, and that there could be no room for conflicts of interest. The chair will act as a “custodian for Aria’s mission and objectives,” and be responsible for supporting overall direction and management, ensuring that the board takes an effective governance role. It adds that it is vital that any applicant is an “experienced board member”, among a list of other management-focused essential criteria. But “experience in public or private sector R&D” is only listed as desirable. It is a 4-5 year appointment (2 days a week, £60k). The ARIA Bill itself is still awaiting a Second Reading date for its procession through the House of Lords, so far a one month delay.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said whoever is appointed “will have the opportunity to make history” as the holder of one of ARIA’s pivotal roles: “We are looking for someone who commands the confidence of academic, business, higher education and policy communities, promote[s] effective stakeholder engagement, guide[s], and challenge[s] the development of Aria’s organisational approach.”

Ethics Appointment: Felicity Burch has been appointed executive director of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

Admissions – applicant data

UCAS released interactive data for applications made to the 30 June 2021 deadline highlighting increased offer making and application levels. Searches for apprenticeships also continue to rise. There were 456,190 18 year old applicants to English institutions. Overall, a total of 682,010 applicants (+4% on 2020) made 2,955,990 applications (+6%), resulting in 1,998,690 offers (+3%).

Also reported is that UCAS’s CareerFinder, which helps students find jobs and degree/higher apprenticeships, saw a record 1.35 million searches in the last 12 months, up 37% from 986,000 in 2020. These searches have resulted in 225,000 job applications, an increase from 181,000 last year (+24%).  You’ll want to play with the data as it offers all these additional granular options.

Research Professional’s Admission Control interprets the data excellently. The piece quickly reminds us of the history of how students bear the financial burden for funding HE institutions and the associated decline in the teaching grant over the year; it touches on grade inflation in school results, explains the jump in applicant numbers, and that applications to the higher tariff and more selective institutions increased – reminding that some institutions will likely be losers despite the greater numbers intending to enter HE. Also:

  • The bigger problem may be shifts within institutions, with healthcare, for example, a growing part of the post-1992 portfolio; while the arts and social sciences are retreating into high-tariff institutions, with corresponding departmental closures elsewhere.

Confirmation and clearing are expected to be different this year:

  • With more cautious offer-making this cycle, higher-tariff universities may well be filling their places with applicants who have made them their firm first choice, and have less room for recruitment of school leavers in clearingIf awarded grades are much closer to predicted grades than in a year when in-person examinations were held, we might anticipate more school leavers’ places being settled in confirmation than in clearing.

Data HE also make an interesting point: because the main Ucas deadline in January was disrupted and moved to a later date, the figures this year give “a fuller picture of demand” than in previous years…while total offers were up, the offer rate to 18-year-olds appeared to be down—which…would be “the first fall of the post-2012 era”…This was “driven by a five-point collapse in the offer rate from higher-tariff providers, probably back to levels we last saw seven or eight years ago”. “These universities are responding the best they can to the twin pressures of surging applications and unprecedented uncertainty in the [A-level or equivalent] awarded grades…Even with their trimming back of offers, and probably harsher offer conditions too, many will be on full alert for results in August, where another strong increase in grades could be hard to honour in full. With no reason at the moment to expect demand to recede in the 2020s, this downward turn in the offer rate might well be the first chill wind of a harsher world for university applicants. Where the balance of supply and demand is no longer in their favour, and greater flexibility on universities and subjects might be needed to get in.”

On this Wonkhe conclude similarly: Last year saw a sizable increase in applications to higher tariff providers, and this trend continues into 2021. However, even though the number of offers made has also grown, the effect is that the offer rate (the proportion of applications that result in an offer) has dropped – from around 73 per cent in 2019 and 2020 to 68 per cent in 2021. My proposed explanation for this would be capacity – many high tariff providers are already above capacity for 2020, taking too much from the fertile pool that is 2021 starts to put serious pressure on estates and available accommodation.

What the coverage doesn’t raise is the Government’s agenda to divert a proportion of students away from HE into a higher technical route which they believe will be more controlled and meet local and national business and skills needs. The government are also very concerned about the rising cost of the student loan book. If record numbers enrol for September the sector will likely need to brace itself for a fresh wave of criticism from Government as they seek to assert more control and value for money.

Wonkhe offer blogs by UCAS – Rich O’Kelly breaks down the data and says the rise in applications is not all down to Covid-19; and everyone’s favourite HE data guru David Kernohan: More eighteen year olds from China have applied to start a UK undergraduate course in 2021 than eighteen year olds from Wales. And just what is happening with Nigerian mature students.

Excerpts from David’s blog: With youth unemployment at a historic high, you’d be wise to expect an uptick in applications to undergraduate higher education in 2021. And you’d be right. It’s testament to the continuing attractions of university study after a sustained period of barely-disguised ministerial attacks – the application rate in England has hit 43.9 per cent. It also notes the continued decline of EU domiciled applications.

And on the best approach to teaching and the student experience the blog says:

  • Playing into a captive market – there’s not many jobs about, placement-related learning and apprenticeships are tricky, travelling is unlikely – we should be wary of complacency regarding the experience of students in a likely Covid-filled autumn. There’ll certainly be no help from government. We should by now have learned what works online and what doesn’t – the planning of contact hours should be the key thing course teams are looking at right now.
  • I would argue that the instinct to shift large lectures online is the right one. A combination of the increasing demand for recorded lectures from students, and the still-a-thing pedagogic trend of the split classroom both play in to shifting the mass transmission of information online to prevent the mass transmission of Covid-19.
  • The trouble will come in… A sensible pedagogic and public health decision can also look like a decrease in value for money. This effect has already played a part in the “contact hours” debate, and it has certainly been the main colour to the arguments about the lack of face to face this year. In person teaching in small groups is what we should be looking for – ditching the big lecture hall events will have a reputational but not a pedagogic impact.

Access & Participation

Importance of Place: Research Professional report – Chris Millward returned yesterday in a blogpost looking at the impact of “place” on university access. Using an analysis of the OfS’s “associations between characteristics of students” measure, he found that “more than 90 per cent of the lowest-participation group are white students who have been eligible for free school meals or come from the lowest-participation neighbourhoods”. “So income is important, but so is place,” he concluded. You can read the blogpost here. It’s an OfS blog.

Wonkhe: The Office for Students blog has a transcript of Director of Fair Access Chris Millward’s contribution to a Sutton Trust webinar on the factors that affect access to higher education.

And you can read the latest about Chris Millward below in Other news.

Parliamentary Questions:

How to be an ally

Our own Toluwa Atilade (SUBU Vice-President Welfare and Community) and Roshana Wickremasinghe (SUBU Policy Adviser) have written a blog for Wonkhe “Where are the black squares now?” on allyship.  They note:

  • With the press coverage of the recent Freedom of Speech Bill, it was clear that students’ unions still have a reputation for upholding “cancel culture” through no-platforming, or the use of safe spaces.
  • Our commitment to creating a culture of allyship hopefully shows that this is not the case, and that we understand that students and staff are willing to learn more and work on their own biases. 

You can find the SUBU allyship hub here.

Post Graduate survey

Wonkhe: The Office for Students has finally published some details about the 2019 trial of a PGT student questionnaire. The regulator learned “valuable lessons” about how the survey operated and how to obtain a robust sample, and has indicated that it will refine the questionnaire to make it more relevant to distance learning and part-time students via some workshops with provider and student representatives. A news story adds that students are keen to share views about course experiences, and that further information will be available by the end of Summer 2021.

More detail is available on the OfS blog: Developing a survey of taught postgraduate students.

International

A parliamentary question: Q – Munira Wilson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will make it her policy to grant cost exemptions to students who need to extend their visas to complete their course in the UK as a result of the duration of their courses being extended due to the covid-19 outbreak.

A – Kevin Foster: We have no plans to exempt students from paying an application fee where they require further time to complete a course of study.

Wonkhe tell us that The Independent has a piece from Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran on support for Hong Kongers arriving in the UK on the British Nationals Overseas scheme – including helping them access higher education.

Covid unlocking

The Government announcements on progression with the Covid roadmap was followed by a House of Commons parliamentary debate on Covid-19 in Education Settings lead by Education SoS, Gavin Williamson. Operational guidance for HE providers was also published. As you’ll likely be aware of the announcement we’ll cover them as quickly as possible. If you’d like more detail do read the transcript of the debate or this Commons’ Library research briefing.

  • From September no restrictions on in-person teaching at universities, unless students were told to isolate or were impacted by local outbreaks.
  • Williamson said a “more proportionate set of controls” would apply to early years, schools, colleges and HE institutions, and that these would maintain their baseline of protective measures, while minimising disruption. Settings will continue to have a role in working with health protection teams in the case of a local outbreak. Where necessary, some measures may need to be reintroduced.
  • Williamson: looking towards 2022 and assessment and the awarding of grades. It is our intention to move back to an exam system, but we recognise that we must ensure that mitigations are in place for pupils taking that assessment in the next academic year. We will look at sharing more information about what those mitigations are before the summer, and we will update his Education Committee and the House accordingly.
  • Emma Hardy (Labour) asked What are the Government doing to prevent the chaos of last year by ensuring that all higher education students can receive both vaccinations before moving around the country to their university? How will the Secretary of State ensure that those turning 18 late in this academic year are offered both vaccinations before they move to university? Williamson stated they were working closely with the university sector to “get the message through about how important it is for youngsters—students—to be out there getting their vaccine: it protects not only them, but their friends, their family and their community.”
  • Williamson: I want to encourage all teachers, educational staff and eligible students to get their vaccines
  • Christian Matheson raised that exam changes were made at the last minute, with very little time for schools and pupils to prepare. If the Secretary of State is considering changes to the exam system, will he have an open consultation with school leaders and teachers, and will he get the plans in place as early as possible, so that there is not the sense of teachers being dumped on at the last minute? Williamson responded: we talk continually to school leaders, teachers and many in the education sector on these issues. I can assure him that…we will be sharing further information on assessment in the next academic year.

A related parliamentary question asks about the resumption of face-to-face lectures in September 2021, Donelan responds, excerpt:

  • There will be no requirement for social distancing or other measures. Providers are, therefore, able to shape their courses without restrictions to face-to-face provision.
  • During the COVID-19 outbreak, many providers have developed their digital offering and, as autonomous institutions, some might choose to retain elements of this approach. However, they will not have to do this because of COVID-19 restrictions, and our expectations are very clear: universities should maintain the quality and quantity of tuition and ensure it is accessible to all students.
  • We expect providers to have contingency plans to deal with any identified positive cases of COVID-19 or outbreaks. HE providers should communicate clearly to their students what they can expect from planned teaching and learning under different circumstances and scenarios, so that they are able to make informed choices.
  • We will continue to keep these measures under review, informed by the latest scientific evidence and advice.

And another parliamentary question this time on Vaccinating young HE starters: If the Government will consider prioritising 17-year-old students [who are classed currently as children and not eligible for the vaccine] planning to start university in September 2021 to receive their first covid-19 vaccine so that those students will be able to be in receipt of two covid-19 vaccinations prior to the start of the 2021-22 academic year. Answer – we’ll be told in due course.

Wonkhe describe the media coverage:

  • The BBC, the Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Independent cover Williamson’s statement, focusing on schools, and the Telegraph has an opinion piece wondering how Gavin Williamson still has a place in the cabinet.
  • The Times also has a comment by the columnist Sarah Ditum that argues students are right to ask for face-to-face teaching in September, while the Mail covers OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge’s comment to universities that lectures should only remain online where “standards are not being compromised”.

Wonkhe also have blogs: Jim Dickinson runs down how the guidance will change after 19 July and David Kernohan looks at the group of students most affected by vaccine age disparities ahead of the new academic year.

Research Professional have a good write up picking out and analysing key points in No limits, for now. Including:

  • In effect, responsibility for infection control is being passed from the Westminster government to higher education institutions in England. The devolved assemblies have yet to announce plans for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • After 16 August, under-18s and fully vaccinated people who come into contact with a positive case of Covid will not be required to self-isolate. What could possibly go wrong? No chance of a general flouting of the rules. It all feels a bit like the prime minister has for now run out of road with his backbenchers—but that we will all be back in lockdown come the autumn.
  • We hope we are wrong. It would be heartbreaking to see another cohort of students recruited on a promise of open campuses only to spend the winter locked down in their rental accommodation.
  • Perhaps the reason a plan for the next academic term is not forthcoming from the Department for Education is because there is no plan for the country.

In addition last Friday Research Professional reported that

  • Johnson released a social media video to students graduating this year. He said that while “most of you faced, in fact, a very low personal risk from the coronavirus…the impact on your studies and on your lives, and in many cases the toll on your mental health, has been immense. I know in many cases it’s not what you signed up for.”
  • In his Twitter commencement speech, Johnson thanked graduating students for the “resilience” they had shown, before urging them to get vaccinated against Covid-19. He concluded by saying: “Thanks to your amazing spirit and dedication over the last 18 months, I know I can count on a whole generation of fantastic people with all the grit and determination and moxie and mojo and general oomph to make [‘building back better’] happen.”
  • Johnson failed to mention the modelling underway in the Treasury and the Department for Education with the aim for graduates to make larger student loan repayments to help cover the post-Covid national debt. Something else that they didn’t sign up for when they started their degrees.

Research Professional say:

  • What it means for universities is that come September, when students are returning to campus to form new households in shared housing and halls of residence—frequently identified as vectors of transmission—there will be little in the way of national planning for infection control. Despite the extension of the rollout to 18-year-olds, it is clear that vaccines on their own are not enough.
  • We still do not have a track-and-trace system up to the job, or financial support for isolation, or adequate border controls, or a strategy for effective local lockdowns. The prime minister and his new health secretary seem to be solely relying on vaccines as an emblem of the UK’s apparent status as a science superpower and are neglecting all the other elements necessary in a comprehensive and coherent strategy for public health.
  • The irreversible roadmap to freedom could yet unravel for the UK. It will certainly test universities this autumn.

Wales – university issues

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee held a one-off session on issues facing the Welsh University sector. It turns out that lots of the issues facing Welsh universities are similar to those facing English universities. Content included Erasmus, Horizon Europe, casualisation of staff, attractiveness of universities and the implications of the immigration system.

Graduate careers

Parliamentary question: Graduate work support and working with local employers to support new graduates into employment

Graduate training: Wonkhe highlight – report published today by the Learning and Work Institute and NOCN found that graduates are four times more likely to have received job-related training than those with lower level qualifications.

Blogs

Wonkhe: In the absence of a steady career ladder and predictable monetary returns for graduates, Zahir Irani says the HE sector will need to rethink how it delivers value for money.

HEPI: Careers Education for the ‘no-collar’ worker.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

As the first part of the regulatory deluge we have been expecting this summer (so far more of a trickle), the OfS have published the outcome of their consultation on monetary penalties.  Hopefully of minority interest, and with no surprises:

Following a thorough consideration of the consultation responses, the OfS has decided:

  • as a general principle, to calculate a monetary penalty by reference to a provider’s ‘qualifying income’ (which broadly includes all relevant fees for relevant higher education courses and OfS grants received by a provider for the relevant year)
  • to apply a five-step approach to the calculation, which takes into account a range of factors, including any mitigating and aggravating circumstances, before deciding on an appropriate penalty
  • to allow a provider to request a ‘settlement discount’ (leading to a discounted monetary penalty) in certain circumstances, where the provider agrees that it has breached a condition and accepts a monetary penalty
  • to recover the OfS’s costs in relation to the imposition of sanctions where appropriate.

Other news

Languages: Research Professional – The University Council of Modern Languages and the British Academy published (kind of) a report on granular trends in recruitment to higher education courses. To read more on Research Professional’s analysis and the limitations of the report scroll to part way down through this article.

OfS leaders: Nicola Dandridge’s contact as Chief Executive of the OfS has been extended for 1 more year until December 2022. Research Professional has the story here. Dandridge was originally appointed on a four-year term in 2017…  Education secretary Gavin Williamson has the option to extend Dandridge’s contract for 10 years, but the OfS said her contract could be extended again at the end of June next year.

Meanwhile Chris Millward Director for Fair Access and Participation will leave his role in December (when his contract ends) however Research Professional report he’ll be taking on a different role in the OfS. Research Professional: Millward has been busy in recent weeks, telling universities to stop using their Teaching Excellence Framework awards to promote themselves, heralding the number of women taking artificial intelligence postgraduate conversion courses and responding to a call from MPs for universities to be targeted on the number of white working-class students accessing higher education.

Open Access: Wonkhe tell us that Jisc has announced a two-year open access pilot agreement with the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Under the agreement, Jisc member institutions will be able to access and publish in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences without incurring any charges.

Decentralisation: Research Professional talk about the artificial divide between FE and HE in England and what more devolution (decentralisation) might offer.

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

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

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their recommendations which are most relevant to HE are:

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

Parliamentary Question: STEM skills shortages

Research and knowledge exchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB, said:

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

Quick News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click into this link to view the chart more easily.

Parliamentary Questions

Admissions

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

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

Contract Cheating – Essay Mills

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

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

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

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

You can read more and explore further charts here.

Mental Health

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

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

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

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

Work UCAS is undertaking:

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

Rosie Tressler, CEO of Student Minds, said:

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

Wonkhe have blogs on the topic:

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

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

Covid

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEF

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

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

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

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HE policy update for the w/e 28th May 2021

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

Policy impact and influence

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick news

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

Fees and funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reasons for the change:

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

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

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

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

On fees she was to the point:

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

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

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

Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halfon didn’t give up though:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graduate outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

The summary lists the speakers quoted from above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levelling Up

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

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

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

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

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

Assessment

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

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

Disabled Students

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

The principles are:

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

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

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

International

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

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

Higher Education Credit Framework

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

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

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

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

Covid

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

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

UPP – Student Futures Commission

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

The polling results found:

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary News

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

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

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

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

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

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

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

Queen’s Speech

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

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

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

Professional Qualifications Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to:

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

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

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

The main elements of the Bill are:

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

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

Turing Scheme

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

Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions – another very political one

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

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

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

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

Draft Online Safety Bill

The purpose of the draft Bill is to:

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

The main benefits of the draft Bill would be:

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

The main elements of the draft Bill are:

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

Education Recovery Plan

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

The purpose of the Bill is to:

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

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

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

The main elements of the Bill are:

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

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

Regional R&D

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

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

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

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

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

Quick News:

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

Admissions

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

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

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

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

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

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

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

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

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

The main elements of the Bill are:

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

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

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

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

The main elements of the Bill are:

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

There’s a lot to say about all this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary News

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

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

Online learning

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

What matters? Reaffirming the role of outcomes-based approaches

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

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

Queen’s Speech speculation: Free Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levelling Up White Paper

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appointments

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

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

Admissions

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

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

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

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

Work Experience

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

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

Research Professional give a more detailed description on the report.

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

Research Professional continue by exploring what employers value:

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

International

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

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

HEPI

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

Student Loan Overpayments

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

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

Research Professional provide the in depth version:

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

Covid

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

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

Student Complaints

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

Complaint numbers and outcomes

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

Complaints received by domicile

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

Complaints received by level of study

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

Nature of complaints

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HE Policy Update w/e 30 April 2021

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

Government Direction for HE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

Wonkhe summarise:

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

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

Government

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

 Industry

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

Racial harassment

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

Wonkhe tell us:

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

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

Sex and Relationships

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

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

The Times Higher also covers the consent test.

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

Admissions

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

Wonkhe: DK has taken a look on Wonk Corner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEPI blogs:

Access & Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turing

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

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

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

Research Professional have more details on the QS poll.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Quick News

Covid

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

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

Questions

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

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

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

AI in Education

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

FUNDING

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

Aid funded projects: Previously UKRI stated most of its aid-funded research projects are unlikely to be funded beyond 31 July as a result of the Government slashing its overseas aid development budget (from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (BNI) exacerbated by a fall in GNI as a result of the pandemic). UKRI wrote to universities with further details about the impact of its £120m budget shortfall. The letter appears to confirm that grants which have been awarded but not started will be cancelled.

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

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

The full UKRI ODA letter is here.

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

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

QR funding: Research Professional report that quality related (QR) funding will be cut by £60 million. This is in addition to the cuts to the research relating to the aid budget and the uncertainties surrounding how Horizon association will be funded. See this RP article for far more detail on the various cuts, changes and uncertainties to research related funding streams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Bureaucracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More detail here.

Mobility

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

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

The full written statement from the Welsh Government is here.

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

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

Turing Troubles

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

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

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

Turing is not the popular replacement scheme the Government intended.

Parliamentary News

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

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

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

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

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

Augar: Research Professional:

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

Admissions

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

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

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

Wonkhe writes:

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

You can read the HEPI essays here.

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

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

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

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

There is a set of recommendations too.

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

Access & Participation

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

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

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

Mental Health

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

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

Prevent

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

William Shawcross, Independent Reviewer of Prevent, said:

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

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

Industrial Strategy

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

Immigration

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

Transnational Education

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

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

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

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

Cyber Security Workforce

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Academic Engagement in Policy

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

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

Other Opportunities

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HE Strategic Priorities – Williamson’s letter to OfS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here we go.

Quality and Standards: The biggie.

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

And he means business:

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

And related to quality:

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

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

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

Funding:

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

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

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

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

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

All this whilst reducing the regulatory burden:

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

Free speech & Academic Freedom:

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

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

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

International recruitment:

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

Those other letters:

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

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

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

Research

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

The letter proposes 6 recommendations focused on 4 areas:

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

The PM’s response welcomes the Council’s recommendations (which sit well with current Government policy) and mentions BEIS development of the UK Research and Development Place Strategy:

  • The Place Strategy will set out how the Government can build on existing initiatives (such as the Strength in Places Fund) to support research and innovation excellence, and build new centres of high-value economic activity outside of the South East… We also need to get the local governance and delivery structures right so that responsibility and accountability sit at the right level for delivering local growth priorities.
  • And: BEIS and UKRI will continue to engage widely with industry, the scientific community, and civic organisations from across the country to help develop a strategy that supports the priorities of areas and communities across the UK. The new Ministerial R&D Place Advisory Group, which had its inaugural meeting last month, will propose, challenge and test potential policy options.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund: The National Audit Office has published a report on UK Research and Innovation’s management of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund examining the Fund has been set up in a way likely to optimise value for money. By January 2021 the Fund was supporting 1,613 projects, contributing to one of the 24 approved challenges. To date, UKRI has spent around £1.2 billion of the Fund’s eight-year budget of £3 billion.

The report examines:

  • the establishment of the Fund, in particular whether it has attracted sufficient good-quality bids, whether the selection processes have been efficient and whether the budget is managed effectively (Parts One and Two); and
  • the approach to monitoring and evaluating the Fund’s performance, as well as its performance to date (Part Three).

The report finds that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have worked well to generate interest from industry and academia in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (the Fund). However, more needs to be done to reduce the time taken to consider requests for support, so applicants are not deterred from bidding for funding and projects are not delayed.

  • Over the period, government has enhanced its engagement with industry to seek out challenges which might benefit most from taxpayer support.
  • UKRI’s own assessment shows that the Fund’s key components – challenges and projects – are broadly performing well. To sustain this position, the Department and HM Treasury, working with UKRI, need to place more emphasis on the outcomes and impact its funding secures at the Fund level. The increasing number of challenges supported by the Fund, each with their own objectives, and range of different objectives at Fund level risk obscuring priorities and will make the assessment of value for money in the longer term more difficult

R&D Roadmap: Catapults: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report asserting that the Government’s ambitions for research and development are not supported by a detailed plan or sufficient investment in innovation. It details how the Government needs to provide more detail about how it will deliver its R&D Roadmap, including how it will attract substantial private sector investment to meet its target of 2.4% of GDP by 2027. It states the UK’s research and innovation system has the necessary components to be successful, but there is insufficient collaboration between organisations and insufficient scale to deliver the required levels innovation and commercial success.

  • Commenting on the Catapult Network it states it is an integral part of the UK’s innovation system. And that the Government should expand the Catapult Network to support technologies in which the UK excels and that can bring substantial economic benefits – including to assist in the levelling up agenda.
  • Changes are needed to remove barriers that limit the Catapults’ effectiveness: universities, Catapults and industry need to be encouraged (and permitted) to interact more deeply; and rules governing innovation funding should be reformed, to allow greater flexibility for Catapults and their partners.

The Committee set out a range of recommendations for the Government, UKRI and Innovate UK to help deliver the UK’s R&D ambitions, including the changes to enable the Catapults to more effectively achieve their objectives:

  • A clear plan for how public sector resources and private investment can be made to match the scale of ambition in the R&D Roadmap.
  • Prioritisation of scaling up the Catapult Network.
  • Assurance of long-term continuity for the Catapults—including longer-term certainty over funding and a commitment that reviews will be limited to once every five years, to match the five-year funding cycle.
  • Enabling Catapults and universities to work together more easily on innovation projects, and fostering closer links between industry and universities to assist researchers to work at the interface between the two.
  • Allowing Catapults to bid for Research Council funds where there are clear advantages in terms of both research and innovation; more flexibility in permitting public sector bodies to have a larger share of collaborative R&D funding; and supporting translational research and transformative innovation more effectively, including by reducing risks to industry.
  • Supporting the levelling up agenda by developing a more strategic approach across policies for innovation and regional development—such as broadening access to the Strength in Places Fund.

Quick News

  • UKRI has advertised for a new Chair of UKRI. Given the recent spate of appointments where the Government has been criticised for lack of impartiality this, by Research Professional, raised a chuckle this week: The way public appointments have gone under this government, you may be forgiven for wondering if the post might go to the spouse of a Conservative MP who once owned a chemistry set. It will be up to the assessment panel to come up with a shortlist from the applications.
  • The Times dug up an article on research degrees from the depths of their archives. It’s a short and light read. The similarity to a current theme is surprising – that of other nations squeezing out ‘natives’ by taking up their university places: British universities since the war have had much ado to find room for native-born students, but it is to be hoped that they will make all efforts to attract the graduate research students for whom the new degree was instituted.
  • Healthcare knowledge provider the BMJ, and technology provider Jisc, have agreed a publish and read pilot as part of their commitment to help promote knowledge and speed up discoveries to improve healthcare across the UK. It grants Jisc members full read access to the BMJ’s standard collection (28 specialist journals) and offers researchers at the member institutions the opportunity to publish funded articles on an open access basis in the standard collection journals. Under the agreement, research funded by UKRI, Wellcome, and key medical charities in the UK can be published open access, to help to make the research more accessible and sustainable.
  • The Government has set up a new independent body, the UK Cyber Security Council to boost career opportunities and professional standards for the UK’s cyber security sector. Funded by DCMS the organisation will provide a single governing voice for the industry to establish the knowledge, skills and experience required for a range of cyber security jobs, bringing it in line with other professions such as law, medicine and engineering. The council was developed following a 2018 consultation on Developing the UK cyber security profession which showed strong support for the government’s proposals to define objectives for the profession to achieve and to create a new, independent UK Cyber Security Council to coordinate delivery. Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: The fact we are launching an independent professional body for cyber security shows just how vital this area has become – it makes a huge contribution to our thriving digital economy by safeguarding our critical national infrastructure, commerce and other online spaces. The UK Cyber Security Council will ensure anyone interested in an exciting career tackling online threats has access to world-class training and guidance. It will also champion diversity and inclusion, driving up standards while helping the nation to build back better and safer.

Admissions

2021 Admissions juggle: Research Professional has a good romp through the exam related admissions issues for 2021. Here are some excerpts but there is more content in the blog (e.g. on over recruitment).

  • Setting aside for a moment the challenges involved in running an appeals process based on evaluating a teacher assessment without recourse to an externally validated examination, this raises an issue: If students achieve their results directly and the university hasn’t had confirmation through the awarding bodies and Ucas of what those results are, how long will it be before those students are on the phone, email or turning up on campus to request confirmation of a place? And what does the university do? Take each student’s word for it? Ask for validation from their school? Wait for the results to eventually arrive through Ucas?
  • As things stand, we risk receiving Welsh, English, Northern Irish and international A-levels on different days (and several weeks apart), with BTEC and other vocational awards also somewhere in the mix. While we typically get international qualifications over a span of several weeks (from late June through to mid-August), the relatively small numbers are manageable. But to receive the main bulk of the results in a haphazard fashion raises important questions about the fairness and transparency of admissions decisions.
  • The danger is an outcome in which the fastest nation to get its results out will gain a significant advantage in securing places. It is notable that in the many discussions about a post-qualification admissions process, one of the prerequisites for an effective system will be an alignment of UK results; without having a common date for receipt of results this year, we run the risk of having a fragmented and unfair admissions process.
  • No-one underestimates the challenges we face in this admissions cycle to run a system that is fair to applicants and also ensures that students avoid considerable uncertainty and stress in a situation over which they have no agency. 

Student Numbers Cap: Towards the end of last week Research Professional also asked if the student numbers cap should have remained in place for the 2020/21 intake.

  • The data show a 13 per cent rise overall in numbers of students recruited by high-tariff universities—way more than the 5 per cent (plus forecasts) rise that would have been allowed under the proposed number controls, even allowing for generous forecasting. Some research-intensive institutions accepted a third more UK and EU students than they had the previous year, while other institutions saw recruitment slump by more than 15 per cent.
  • Several non-Russell Group institutions also grew their recruitment significantly: at Leeds Trinity University, Buckinghamshire New University, Liverpool Hope University, the University of Buckingham and Soas, University of London, increases in UK and EU student numbers topped 20 per cent. More than 50 universities increased their UK and EU intake by more than the magic 5 per cent.
  • There were no high-tariff institutions among those that saw major falls. And while overall recruitment was up nearly 30,000, for more than 30 institutions it was down—for some substantially.
  • …The original idea for introducing student number controls last year was to protect post-1992 institutions from exactly this kind of trouble. The controls were dropped not because the danger had entirely gone away—as the Ucas figures show, it hadn’t—but because the government had made such a mess over A-levels that it had little choice.
  • …needs are likely to be substantial in September as students arrive at university without normal levels of learning and social interaction and, in some cases, traumatised by an exceptionally tough year.
  • That will put pressure on some high-tariff institutions whose welfare systems are likely to creak under the strain of larger-than-planned-for numbers of students with multiple issues.
  • But there will also be different kinds of pressures on those institutions that would normally be dealing with a proportion of these students but have missed out because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic. It will be ironic if both groups end up struggling to cope because of government-sanctioned grade inflation.

You can read the full blog here.

Harassment

You may recall that about this time last year the OfS launched a consultation on preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct. This was paused during the pandemic and won’t be reopened. Instead the OfS are considering this matter alongside their wider work to review and reset our regulatory requirements. They intend to

  • Publish a statement of expectations relating to providers’ systems, policies and processes to prevent and respond to harassment and sexual misconduct by Spring 2021. The statement will set out the OfS’ expectations and give universities and colleges the opportunity to review and renew their systems, policies and processes before the beginning of the next academic year.
  • Right now the OfS are engaging with student and sector representative bodies and other stakeholders…to understand specifically how the events of this past year may affect the proposed statement of expectations. e. the additional challenges faced by some students because of the pandemic, including online harassment and domestic abuse.

Turing – Student Mobility

The Turing website is live. Research Professional cover the basics:

  • Applications for bids to Turing will open in “the spring”, which in Whitehall speak can run as late as the end of June, although the website promises a March announcement with a window of six weeks for submissions and results known in July. The call will include “higher education projects”, with funding available for “placements during the period from September 2021 to August 2022”.
  • Any student at “an officially recognised higher education provider registered in the UK”—which we assume means registered with the Office for Students—can participate in the scheme, regardless of nationality. The students will be able to attend a non-UK university as well as “any public or private organisation active in the labour market or in the fields of education and training”.
  • This includes businesses, public bodies, research institutes, foundations, non-governmental organisations and “a social partner or other representative of working life, including chambers of commerce, craft and professional associations and trade unions”. Beyond that, details of the scheme are relatively scant, with visitors to the website encouraged to sign up for email alerts
  • We do know that “successful applications will receive funding towards delivering placements and exchanges” and “the rates provided will be broadly in line with what has been on offer under Erasmus+”. Placements can be of any length between 4 weeks and 12 months. Further guidance on specific elements of funding and a list of destination country groupings for cost of living will be published shortly, the website says.
  • Destinations with a high cost of living will attract a £136-a-week or £380-a-month maintenance grant. Countries with a medium or lower cost of living will be funded at the rate of £120 a week or £335 a month.
  • Students who can demonstrate a disadvantaged background will be funded at a higher rate of £490 a month for expensive destinations and £445 a month for less expensive ones. There will also be tariffs for travel based on distance, ranging from £20 a head for projects less than 100 kilometres away to £1,360 for those taking place over 12,000km away.
  • …Some £315 a head for the first 100 participants will be made available for the administration of projects, with that declining sharply to £180 for the 101st student. It would seem that each individual exchange project should be applied for annually, in contrast to Erasmus+ in which partnerships are rolled over from year to year.
  • Turing is being described as an “outward student mobility scheme”…What Turing does not seem to do is fund exchange students to come in the opposite direction, which makes it a hard sell to prospective international partners while also reducing diversity in UK classrooms.

More details are expected in March.

Wonkhe have a Turing blog: For Janet Beer, it is time to accept the opportunities and flexibility that the new Turing scheme can offer.

International

International Education Strategy

The DfE published the 2021 update to the International Education Strategy including measures to boost international study and global opportunities. Press release here. It includes attracting more overseas students, boosting access to global student exchanges for thousands of people, and supporting international education partnerships. reaffirms the Government’s commitment to increase the amount generated from education exports, such as fees and income from overseas students and English language teaching abroad, to £35bn a year, and sustainably recruit at least 600,000 international students to the UK by 2030. For research and development, the strategy confirmed that the UK will participate in Horizon Europe, as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU, subject to finalisation of the programme regulations. The Turing social mobility scheme is also mentioned (more on Turing here). Lastly the Secretary of State’s recent guidance letter also warns institutions to balance recruitment with thought for national security and not to develop an overreliance on recruiting from particular groups or countries.

The Strategy update proposes several areas to help increase the value of education exports and international student numbers:

  • The International Education Champion: this update sets out the priority countries and regions in which the International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, will focus his activity. Sir Steve’s immediate priorities are India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Nigeria. His role will focus on growing export opportunities in these countries. Other important regional markets for the International Education Champion will include: Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China and Hong Kong. The government will also work with Sir Steve and the British Council to identify and resolve barriers which prevent the recognition of online and blended (a combination of offline and online) learning internationally
  • Building lasting global partnerships: there is an important role for the government to facilitate partnerships across the world, including in the Champion’s priority countries, but also beyond these. This includes Europe, the Indo-Pacific region, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Our new Turing scheme will also help ensure we improve mobility between UK students and all regions of the world
  • Enhancing the international student experience from application to employment: the government will work with sector bodies such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Confederation of British Industry on areas such as:
    • the student application process for international students
    • graduate outcomes and employability
    • the academic experience of international students
    • alternative student finance
  • A new international teaching qualification, ‘International Qualified Teacher Status’ (iQTS): the UK government propose to work with teacher training providers to establish a new teaching qualification that will provide an opportunity for teachers around the world to train to world respected domestic standards. There’s a consultation on it here.
  • Increase export opportunities for UK chartered professional bodies and UK special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) providers: DIT will support UK chartered professional bodies and SEND providers to find opportunities to increase their education exports

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan stated: In these unprecedented times, having a proactive global education agenda is more important than ever so we can build back better from the pandemic. Our world-class education is a vital part of our economy and society, and we want to support universities, schools, colleges and all aspects of the education sector to thrive across the globe…I am also pleased to launch initiatives to enhance the experience of international students at our universities, from the moment they apply, to the first steps of their careers.

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, said: I am very supportive of the International Education Strategy, which represents the next step in a joint effort by Government and the education sector to build on the international success of our education system and our attractiveness to international students. This approach has delivered real benefits already, including the introduction of the graduate route, and improvements to the visa system. Despite a very difficult year, interest in UK study has grown as a result…We look forward to continuing to be partners, working with our members, Government and others across the sector, to deliver the strategy.

HESA data: Colleagues with an interest in international matters will be interested in the HESA 2019/20 HE Student Data release mentioned above. There is a sub section exploring recruitment areas for incoming HE students here with useful charts. The transnational data is here.

Access & Participation

Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Education Committee continued to take evidence for its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ministers Nick Gibb and Vicky Ford were questioned. While much of the content focussed on schools it was interested as it touched on several aspects of disadvantage. I was interested to learn that academic resilience (the ability of a child to excel academically regardless of their socio-economic background) has fallen for students from a disadvantaged background. You can read a summary of the session by Dods here.

Meanwhile the Public Accounts Committee have launched a new inquiry into Covid-19: Education. They intend to question DfE Officials on how well the DfE managed its overall response in the first lockdown, including whether it effectively supported schools and pupils in England during this period, whether it managed the move to mainly home-learning effectively and whether it effectively supported vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Questioning revolve around the current National Audit Office assessment.

Care leavers: TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) published an evidence review: Supporting access and student success for learners with experience of children’s social care.

The literature review finds that activities and interventions aimed to support care leavers are not robustly evaluated: From the 57 studies under review, about half focused on the evaluation of actual support activities while the other half explored potential barriers and facilitators affecting the target group’s trajectory into post-secondary education. However, the small numbers and gaps in data involved with this target group mean establishing causal impact is trickier than evaluating other inventions. Classification of who to include and exclude were also a problem (such as interlinking because care leavers likely to enter HE as mature students). Many studies relied heavily on self-reported evidence through focus groups and interviews (which leads to a self-selecting sample), however, the review concludes that these approaches to support care leavers into and whilst at HE seemed promising:

  • Mentoring activities which also provide positive role models and build a sense of belonging with peers
  • A social network to support, guide and advise care leavers considering HE: A key part of this network is often a trusted adult or mentor who can provide encouragement towards academic and personal goals and emotional support on the journey into and through HE. Several interviewees emphasised the importance of building relationships with a trusted figure, especially in the context of a group of learners who have often built an innate distrust in large bureaucratic institutions.
  • A single point of contact within a provider who can help learners navigate the institution and access the support they need pre-application to post-graduation. The review mentions that HEIs with higher progression and success rates for care students had this role as their sole focus.
  • Links between local authorities, carers, schools and HE providers. In studies where this collaboration was felt to be successful, staff and carers reported better managed transition support, relevant sharing of information between inter-organisational staff and learners who reported of feeling less alone and isolated.

Equality Remit: The Government’s new Equality Hub is explained following a parliamentary question asking about the relationship between the new Equality Hub and the Equalities Office:

  • The new Equality Hub, in the Cabinet Office, brings together the Disability Unit, Government Equalities Office, Race Disparity Unit and, from 1 April, the sponsorship of, and secretariat to, the Social Mobility Commission. The Government Equalities Office’s remit related to gender equality, LGBT rights and the overall framework of equality legislation for Great Britain. The Equality Hub reports to Ministers who have other portfolios outside of the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss.
  • The Equality Hub has a key role in driving Government priorities on equality and opportunity. The Hub has a particular focus on improving the quality of evidence and data about disparities and the types of barriers different people face, ensuring that fairness is at the heart of everything we do.
  • Key to this is looking beyond a focus solely on statutory protected characteristics to ensure we understand how different issues interact, including in socio-economic and geographic inequality. In this way, the Equality Hub is key to driving progress on the Government’s commitment to levelling up opportunity and ensuring fairness for all.

Other recent care leaver relevant resources

OIA – Complaints

In related news the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published revised draft Rules for Large Group Complaints. Undoubtedly driven by Covid, the proposed Large Group Complaints process builds on their existing approach to group complaints by developing a bespoke approach to handling complaints from large groups of students. The proposed process is intended for complaints from large groups of students at a single provider where there is a high degree of commonality between the complaints and where the complaints could be considered collectively.

However, while the process the OIA proposes would be more streamlined than the current process for group complaints, they say their approach to decision making would be the same. I.e. they would still consider what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

The changes require an amendment to their existing Rules and additional Rules for Large Group Complaints so final comments are invited before the change takes place (deadline 12 March).

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

HESA

HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) published the 2019/20 HE Student Data (which includes the first five months of the coronavirus pandemic). Here are HESA’s headline findings:

  • UK students from ethnic minorities made up 27%of all students studying for a first degree in 2019/20 – among students studying for a postgraduate taught qualification (such as a Masters) this proportion was 24% and for postgraduate research qualifications (such as a PhD) the figure was 19%
  • 6% of all students were from a Black African background, but this group represented only 3% of postgraduate research students
  • Students from an Asian Pakistani background were also less representedamong postgraduate research students (2%) compared to representing 4% of all students
  • 17% of UK domicile students reported having a disability, including 5% who reported a mental health condition – within these statistics there was also a difference at different levels of study, with 18% of first degree students reporting a disability compared to 15% of postgraduate taught students
  • 41% of UK domicile students studying medicine and dentistry subjects were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds compared to only 6% in the veterinary science and agriculture, food and related studies groups
  • 5% of all students were studying psychology, and that 81% of psychology students were female
  • The subject groups with the most students in 2019/20 were business and management with 412,815 students (52% male) and subjects allied to medicine with 295,520 students (79% female)

Colleagues may be interested to delve further into the HESA data which includes some great charts and visualisation to break down the student data in these areas:

David Kernohan of Wonkhe doesn’t think the data answers the big question about continuation this year.

Parliamentary News

Students – urgent questions: Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister answered 39 questions relating to HE students as part of an urgent question session on Support for University Students: Covid-19. It covered familiar topics such as rent rebates and tuition quality. The Minister stuck to the party line and there was no new news.

Poor ratings for SoS: Secretary of State Gavin Williamson continues to be perceived negatively by Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home. His net satisfaction rating is -48. We think he’ll be hanging in there though.  Changing now would be unlikely to change much substantively in policy terms anyway, although you have to think that it might improve the ways of doing things and if nothing else, communication (although that’s a problem for the Universities Minister as well as the Education Secretary).

OfS Chair

As expected and following the Education Committee green light, the DfE officially confirmed Lord Wharton’s appointment as Chair of the OfS replacing Michael Barber. He starts on 1 April for a four year period (approximately 2 days per week). Wharton has declared his Conservative interests and party membership within his role as a Peer but not resigned the whip.

  • The Education Committee endorsed the appointment just before it was confirmed. You can read the report here. Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said: The Chair of the OfS has a vital role to play in standing up for the rights of students and ensuring opportunities for all. I congratulate Lord Wharton on his appointment. I look forward to seeing the new Chair use his position to genuinely open doors for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensure that the access and participation funding delivers real change, use his independent voice to rocket boost degree apprenticeships and guarantee everyone has access to high quality skills that benefit both themselves and employers. Halfon’s statement highlights several of his own passions for education, such as the expansion of degree apprenticeships. He seems to be giving Wharton a public steer – interesting as the appointment process wasn’t without controversy.
  • Responding to the appointment, Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, said: This latest appointment adds to the Conservative Government’s growing catalogue of cronyism. Students have been forgotten by this Government which is more concerned about securing jobs for their friends. It’s ridiculous to think James Wharton could make independent decisions while continuing to sit as a Conservative Peer. He must resign the whip without delay. It’s vital for public confidence that concerns surrounding senior appointments are urgently looked at.
  • While Wharton doesn’t commence until April Williamson has written to both Wharton and outgoing Chair, Sir Michael Barber, vehemently stating his strategic priorities for HE.

Research Professional interview Paul Blomfield MP, (Labour, Sheffield Central, Chair of the APPG for Students) who doesn’t mince his words.

Students

The Guardian report that the Government plan to allow some additional university students back to campus when the schools reopen, so potentially from 8 March onwards.

  • The education secretary is expected to announce on 22 February that final-year students in practical subjects will be able to return to face-to-face teaching, with students taking other subjects to follow soon afterwards…Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said universities would follow the same roadmap as schools for reopening
  • Priority is expected to be given to final-year students on undergraduate courses or taught postgraduate degrees in practical subjects including performing arts and lab-based science courses. But many students may struggle to be allowed back before the Easter holidays at the end of March, when teaching in effect ends for many courses before exams.

It is likely this is part of a move to damp down on fee and rent complaints with the Government shifting the onus onto HE providers.

  • While the new higher education timetable was welcomed by senior leaders, they also fear that the education secretary’s waning influence with Downing Street means the Department for Education’s plan may be ignored in favour of other concerns.
  • Some institutions, such as the London School of Economics, have already said students will be taught remotely for the rest of the academic year, but Donelan said the government “will be giving them the option to alter those plans”.

The University and College Union stated: The priority right now must be to keep as much teaching as possible online for the rest of the academic year, and putting staff and student safety first.

And the article suggests that some students are returning anyway:

  • In defiance of the government’s orders to stay at home, several universities report that students are “returning to campus in droves”, even without the prospect of face-to-face teaching or the use of university facilities.
  • One university is said to have about 70% of its usual student numbers on or around campus, in part due to high numbers of students on exempt courses such as nursing. Most others estimate that 30% to 40% of students are back, and some have more than half.
  • “Some students have voted with their feet, it’s been reported by just about all the universities I’ve heard from, Russell Group and elsewhere. It’s interesting, it reflects the fact students start to identify university as their new home,” he said.

TEF

Wonkhe ran a feature on TEF this week with a blog written by Dame Shirley Pearce (who led the TEF review). Wonkhe say:

  • … the government, while claiming to have accepted the majority of the Pearce review’s recommendations, has failed entirely to engage with the spirit of that review, which posits enhancement of the quality of teaching as a delicate balance and interplay of accountability between regulators, providers, and students, and between nationally comparable data and locally produced evidence of quality. Today on the site, Shirley Pearce urges the higher education sector and the Office for Students (OfS) to engage with the recommendations the review makes, and to take seriously the review’s finding that far from being merely burdensome, the subject TEF pilots have sparked useful conversations inside universities, and offered levers to drive enhancement.
  • The Pearce review is grounded in a theory of change that says that if there is to be public confidence in quality, providers must evidence it, but that providers and their students must be empowered to do the enhancement work on the ground according to their distinctive mission and, importantly, at subject level. The elegant proposal that institutions be provided with subject-level data, split by demographic, and be asked to account for differences in outcomes, but that the subject data would not be published as rankings, is characteristic of the balancing act the review executes.
  • The government does not evidence its grasp of this balance in its response, instructing OfS to ground TEF ratings in nationally comparable data, while at the same time taking account of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) critique of the limitations of said data in drawing accurate conclusions about the quality of learning and teaching in higher education providers – and good luck to the English regulator in squaring that circle.
  • In the relatively few years of its existence, the TEF has won few friends, and many enemies. There may be satisfaction to some in seeing the TEF reduced and downgraded. But the version of the exercise that appears to be currently on the table, as Paul Ashwin argues, risks rendering the TEF entirely irrelevant. Better, then, to have a larger exercise that directly engages with the processes of enhancing learning and teaching quality, than a light-touch exercise that does not – and redirects institutions’ energies to gaming the metrics.

Three Wonkhe blogs tackle TEF:

As you’ll have read in the section covering the Secretary of State strategic priorities letter to the OfS Williamson has tasked the OfS to resolve how the TEF will move forward.

Brexit

Dods have summarised the DfE’s research on the effect of Brexit on HEIs in the UK. EU exit: estimating the impact on UK higher education looks at:

  • the effect of changes in the level of tuition fees on international student enrolments at undergraduate and postgraduate level
  • the potential impact on EU student enrolments and associated tuition fee income resulting from:
  • the removal of tuition fee loan and grant support for EU students
  • harmonisation of tuition fees charged to EU and non-EU students
  • changes to post-study work rights for EU students
  • changes to the rights to bring dependants

Across all HEIs, the analysis suggests that:

  • Removing the tuition fee support for EU-domiciled undergraduate students would reduce demand for UK higher education by approximately 13,090 (21%34 of all EU student enrolments) first-year students per year, equating to a loss of £80.7 million in tuition fee income.
  • Removing the Home fee status for EU-domiciled (undergraduate and postgraduate) students would generate additional fee revenue of approximately £114.6 million. That is, the increase in fees charged to EU-domiciled students would more than offset the loss in fee income due to falling demand amongst EU students (15,220 students, 24% of EU-domiciled student enrolments in 2016/17).
  • Restricting the right to work in the UK post-graduation for EU-domiciled students would potentially result in 6,640 (11% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer EU student enrolments, corresponding to a reduction in fee revenue generated by UK HEIs of £88.0 million.
  • Restricting the right to bring dependants for EU-domiciled students would further reduce tuition fee income by approximately £8.4 million, with 590 (1% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer enrolments.
  • Taken together, the estimated combined impact of all of these policy changes would be to reduce tuition fee income from EU sources by approximately £62.5 million, with 35,540 (57%) fewer first-year EU enrolments. However, the aggregate impact on fee income masks significant variation by university cluster (and level of study). In particular, HEIs in Clusters 1 would benefit in aggregate; whereas institutions in Clusters 2, 3 and 4 would be worse-off.
  • The results on student enrolments are insensitive to changes in classification of HEIs by clusters, with the reduction in demand varying from 34,555 (55%) to 35,750 (57%). The total financial loss ranges from £42.5 million to £66.5 million.

There is also the impact assessment here, which Dods summarises below:

The DfE have published an assessment of the effect that changes made to higher education student finance regulations will have on groups with relevant protected characteristics.

  • Expect the proposed amendments will most likely have a negative impact on EU nationals on the basis of their nationality, if they are domiciled in the EEA and Switzerland
  • They will also have a negative impact on older EU national students who are not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements, with those studying at postgraduate level proportionately more affected
  • Do not expect EU students who are female (who are slightly overrepresented as a result of these changes) or who have declared a disability to be significantly impacted by these changes
  • There is a lack of data to predict the impact on other EEA (Norwegian, Icelandic, Liechtenstein) and Swiss students
  • Other EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who do not fall into this category (or one of the other eligibility categories), and who do not have settled status, are not eligible for home fee status and student finance
  • While those not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements will therefore be impacted on the basis of their, or their family members’ nationality, the number of those currently benefiting from student support is very small and as such, the equalities impacts are assessed to be insignificant
  • With regard to EU nationals resident in the overseas territories, their assessment is that although protected groups of EU nationals who will be affected by our proposed position are slightly over represented, namely gender/sex (females), the impact of the amendments will not differ on the basis of these protected characteristics
  • Given the limited numbers of students involved, the equality impacts are likely to be insignificant

Concluding, they say that since these amendments will remove access to student finance for EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals not covered by citizens’ rights, there are number of routes such individuals may choose to adopt:

  1. Proceed: Undertake HE study in England without receiving home fee status or any student support from Student Finance England, but potentially in receipt of funding from other sources such as their own Governments.
  2. Go elsewhere: Take up HE study outside the UK where access to education can be obtained on the same basis as domestic nationals e.g. their own, or another state within the EEA or Switzerland, or the EU overseas territories, or other international countries.
  3. No go: Choose not to participate in HE study

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

  • Intergenerational Fairness: Dods published an interesting briefing on intergenerational fairness.
  • Games degrees: The number of UK graduates in computer games subjects has risen for a seventh consecutive year.
  • Fee Variability: You may remember that last year Australia changed the Government support and fee regime to prioritise support for certain programmes (such as STEMM) and charge more for lower priority courses. The change attracted much interest in the UK because the current Government has long been flirting with the idea of differential programme funding stemming all the way back to Jo Johnson’s tenure as Universities Minister and the introduction of the Higher Education and Research Act legislation (including TEF). Interestingly this week the Guardian have reported that demand for arts and humanities courses is still high in Australia despite fee increases,
  • LGBT+: UUK have a blog: Going the extra mile to embrace LGBT+ equality in higher education.
  • Pensions: HEPI have a trio of blogs on university pensions and in particular on the USS.
  • Dementia Research Funding: The latest news on dementia funding from a parliamentary question response: The Government’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 contained the commitment to spend £300 million on dementia research over the five years to March 2020. This commitment was delivered a year early with £344 million spent on dementia research over the four years to 31 March 2019. We are currently working on ways to significantly boost further research on dementia at all stages on the translation pathway including medical and care interventions.
  • Paramedics ELQ rules: The debate on whether to waive the ELQ rules for paramedical science continues. The Government response states: A decision will be dependent on business planning for the 2021/22 financial year following the outcome of Spending Review 2020.
  • Mental health animation: UKRI report that academics have partnered up with Aardman to tackle the current mental health crisis with the campaign: What’s Up With Everyone? funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The press release states: Although around half of all lifetime mental health problems start by the mid-teens, intervention typically starts much later. Issues include rising suicide rates among young people and unprecedented challenges for young people at school, university, college or the workplace. This points to an urgent need to rethink mental health education to reach and engage young people.
  • What’s Up With Everyone? is a series of five new animated films created with and for young people about dealing with life’s challenges before they impact mental healththe films link to vital information and signposting for how young people can help themselves or seek help for the issues raised through the project’s website. One wonders if it will link to the OfS’ mental health platform.

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

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

New OfS Chair

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

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

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

Research Professional also cover the story here:

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

ARPA

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

JISC – Support research & innovation 2021-23

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

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

Quick News update

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Admissions

There was UCAS data released on 4th February.

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

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

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

Key findings and trends:

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

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

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

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

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

Free Speech

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

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

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

The Minister speaks (and writes, to everyone)

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

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access & Participation

Social Mobility Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disability – price fixing

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

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

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

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

Lost learning

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

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

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

Students in the pandemic

Financial woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions: No detriment

Student Experience – retaining some online learning

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

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

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

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

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

In the blog Pearson say:

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

And on a quality experience:

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

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

Moving forward – continuing to teach remotely during Covid

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

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

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

Pearson say:

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

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

Programmes

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

Augar

Inquiries and Consultations

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

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 28th January 2021

The media and sector are still digesting last week’s policy onslaught. You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

There are new student statistics out, a new independent reviewer of Prevent, the international students’ graduate visa is still unclear and remote learning must continue for most students.

Online teaching continues

Restrictions remain in place for universities who are only permitted to offer remote learning until 8 March at earliest. Students on ‘critical courses’ such as medical, clinical and healthcare subjects will continue with their Covid-secure face to face teaching. Students and staff on campus are instructed to continue to take part in twice weekly testing on offer to help limit transmission and identify asymptomatic cases. The Government’s press release is here.  The position will be reviewed on 22nd February.

Parliamentary News

Former Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, comments on the recent raft of HE policy documents issued by the Government. Chris says:

  • …it is tempting to think that something is happening in the education world. That temptation should be tempered, for nothing really will—or indeed can—happen until the sound of the Treasury till ringing open at the Spending Review later in the year. Samuel Beckett might have titled this particular ongoing saga, ‘Waiting for Rishi’.
  • Still, enough morsels—consultations on consultations—have been thrown out there to keep the higher education policy world busy for now. And those with learned, occasionally bitter, experience of these matters know that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, as the history of white papers and their eventual chrysalis into legislative butterflies demonstrates.

Tuition Fees & Student Loans:

The latest petition to reduce the maximum student fee from £9,250 to £3,000 has been rejected by the Government with this rebuff: Tuition fee levels must represent value for money and ensure that universities are properly funded. Government is not considering a reduction in maximum fee levels to £3,000. There is a full Government response here which closely follows the established party line and ticks all the HE policy bingo boxes you would expect it to.

The Government also confirmed there are no plans to cap the income repayment threshold for student loans.

Research

R&D Roadmap: The Government published the results of their consultation on the proposed UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap.

During the November 2020 Spending Review the Government committed to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing £14.6 billion in R&D in 2021/22, supporting the R&D Roadmap commitments and helping to consolidate the UK’s position as a science superpower on the road to spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027.  The Government report the research community was overwhelmingly supportive of the ambitions set out in the R&D roadmap (published July 2020). The Roadmap proposals included setting up an Office for Talent and creating an Innovation Expert Group to review and improve how the government supports research; the proposals are expected to be developed into a comprehensive R&D plan.

Dods summarise the responses:

  • Responses emphasised that the sustainability of funding was an important factor in achieving bigger research breakthroughs and for strengthening our research infrastructure and institutions. Specifically, support for a balanced portfolio of research and innovation activities, with a diverse range of funding mechanisms was considered “important to increase the effective application of new knowledge and encourage innovation.
  • Responses also suggested that place-based funding—which is a major priority of the government—could build upon local expertise and existing strengths using both new and existing mechanisms. Increased funding for both research and innovation activities, as well as for public engagement activities, was viewed as important to inspire and support the new generation.
  • The need for an improved research and innovation culture was also emphasised. Responses indicated that improving research and innovation culture through promoting greater diversity in the R&D community, making R&D a more attractive career, and reducing bureaucratic processes were vital factors in achieving bigger research breakthroughs, encouraging innovation, and attracting, retaining and developing diverse people and teams.
  • Responses also suggested that research must be informed by, and partnered with, a wide range of relevant stakeholders to achieve real-world impact. Other key themes that emerged from the survey included greater support for collaboration and knowledge exchange across the R&D landscape, a strategic and long-term approach to set a clear direction for the UK and continued support for education, training and skills.

You can read all the responses in detail here.

Whilst discussing the next steps the Government have committed to publishing a new places strategy for R&D (including the devolved nations). They also continue to explore how we best create an environment where diverse and talented people from all over the world are enabled and encouraged to work to the best of their ability and fulfil their potential in their career of choice.

Innovation slump: The National Centre for Universities and Business published a report on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on how universities contribute to innovation. It found that:

  • nearly 90% of UK universities reported a significant proportion (I.e. over 10%) of their innovation projects had been delayed due to the pandemic.
  • 48% of the universities surveyed reported that the scale and scope of innovation projects were being reduced.
  • 36% reported that more than 10% of their innovation activities and projects with external partners were cancelled. With 45% recognising a decline of at least a 6% in the overall level of innovation activities they have with industrial partners. Aerospace, automotive manufacturing and within the creative industries experience bigger adverse effects.
  • Institutions stated that the lack of financial resources to support collaborations, insufficient government funding to such activities and the inability to access the necessary facilities and equipment for work to continue were the reasons behind the reduction in innovation.
  • It was also recognised that the roles of universities in driving innovation may change as the UK confronts the economic recovery

On moving forward the report finds:

  • Government schemes helped universities continue to contribute to innovation through the crisis
  • More needs to be done to enable universities to contribute fully to economic renewal
  • More funding for core knowledge exchange services, translation and commercialisation, and challenge & outcome driven programmes
  • Supporting place-making
  • Targeted support for place and sector recovery from Covid
  • Improve flexibility, bureaucracy and terms of funding
  • Ensure metrics capture diversity of contributions and reward diversity of universities
  • Ensure long-term sustainability of the university system and its ability to contribute to innovation and economic development

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

  • Covid-19 has brought the importance of collaboration between academia and industry firmly into public awareness. Indeed, breakthroughs such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are only possible because of the advent of collaborative partnerships. This is why the new survey data released today is so worrisome. Nearly 90% of universities have been forced to delay a significant proportion (more than 10%) of new innovation projects with external partners, and over a third have reported that projects have been cancelled.
  • Maintaining these types of innovation projects is vital if we are to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery. Innovation requires collaboration. And we see time and time again that collaboration requires strong partners. We are therefore urgently encouraging all businesses and UK universities to continue to form these vital partnerships. What’s more, we are also calling on the Government to take proactive steps to help companies stay afloat and investing in R&D through the crisis. This includes extending Covid-19 support schemes and postponing repayment of loans until lockdown restrictions are significantly eased. In no uncertain terms, for the UK to emerge from this crisis stronger, we need to encourage innovation. Driving an innovative economy, through tax incentives, effective regulation and well-targeted support schemes must be a fundamental component of the March 2021 Budget. We need to see action now, before it’s too late.

Tomas Ulrichsen, Director of the University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the study and authored the report said:  The new findings released today show that Covid-19 has had a hugely disruptive impact on universities and their ability to continue to contribute to innovation through the current health and economic crisis. We have seen the transformational effects of universities and businesses working together in finding practical and innovative solutions to wicked societal problems. This is why the findings of our study are so worrying. A strong, resilient and sustainable system of universities, research institutes and technology development organisations, working in close partnership with the private, charitable, and public sectors will be crucial to driving an innovation-led economic recovery and tackling other critical and urgent global challenges. Unless we proactively tackle the many challenges facing universities and their innovation partners to reverse these worrying trends, we risk not only hampering our economic recovery but also the UK’s longer-term competitiveness in key sectors.

Research Professional comment on the significant proportion of innovation projects delayed due to Covid: This is not surprising given that most institutions are still imposing bans on ‘non-essential travel’, labs have been closed periodically during the pandemic and industrial partners have been making extensive use of the furlough scheme. There is a limit to the innovation you can do on MS Teams—it doesn’t even have a ‘breakout rooms’ function, for pity’s sake.

Research Funding Subsidy: Last week’s funding letter cut the additional teaching funding that London institutions receive to cover the additional costs relating to teaching within the capital. This prompted fears from London institutions that they may also lose research subsidies associated with their higher costs (12% inner and 8% outer London) – which would run to significant figures and threaten some London institutions’ stability. Research Professional explore this concern in London Waiting  and explain that Research England have stated they haven’t yet received the funding allocations for 2021/22 so cannot consider the impact on quality related funding.

Quick News

  • Sustainability: The University of Exeter have launched the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Hub (CE-Hub). The hub will work with the five centres