Tagged / apprenticeships

HE policy update for the w/e 8th March 2019

And it’s a bumper version this week, with a lot of really interesting new data, a super-critical TEF response from the Royal Statistical Society and we continue the speculation on fees and funding and Brexit.

Mental Health

Damian Hinds, Secretary of State, for education has launched a new taskforce to help students with the transition to University within these areas:

  • independent living (budgeting, cooking, managing living independently)
  • independent learning
  • healthy relationships (including new peer groups)
  • general wellbeing

The taskforce will be known as the Education Transitions Network and Universities UK, the Association of Colleges, OfS, NUS, Student Minds, and UCAS are all expected to be involved. Sky news covers the announcement. UUK have a blog from UWE’s VC, Steve West, on supporting students through the transition and risk factors. This excerpt highlights resources available:

The more that universities can do to get students prepared before they arrive, the better. Student Minds, in partnership with Southern Universities Network, has published a guide to the first few weeks of term, designed to help students prepare through workbook activities and practical case studies. At UWE Bristol we have developed an enhanced induction programme for new students, which signposts available support and includes a new parent and carer advice section on our website, to advise on how best to support loved ones while at university.

And Wonkhe have several blogs to contribute to University Mental Health Day:

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, has been tweeting about a mental health charter with Student Minds and acknowledge the student voice is essential as universities look to improve the provision from student mental health. Welsh Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, announced £2 million new funding for Welsh Universities to support mental health initiatives.  And there is new guidance out on preventing student suicides.

IFS report on the cost of HE

An IFS report was issued on 4th March on the cost of different degrees.  There’s an IFS blog here with the predictable headline “Creative Arts degrees cost taxpayers 30% more than engineering degrees”.  It’s long but it is complicated and important, so worth setting out in some detail (sorry):

These are among the results of new analysis which for the first time estimates the distribution of government spending, taking account of grants and unrepaid student loans, across subjects studied and institutions attended. It is important to understand these are not estimates of returns to the different degrees: some subjects and institutions may therefore receive large loan subsidies even if they are positively impacting the earnings of their graduates, because they happen to attract students that have very low earnings potential. Since the final costs will depend on actual earnings over the next 30 years, there is inevitably uncertainty about these estimates. But they are based on new administrative data giving precise details on actual earnings of previous cohorts of graduates and are likely to be the best estimates possible at the current time.

Our main findings include:

  • There is considerable variation in loan subsidies by subject. For many subjects the government expects to write off around 60% of the loans it issues. For economics, however, write-offs are likely to be just a quarter of loans issued and for medicine and dentistry only a fifth. For creative arts, write offs are likely to amount to around three quarters of the value of loans issued. This variation in loan subsidies is primarily driven by differences in repayments rather than differences in loan sizes.
  • The highest government spend typically goes towards graduates of the subjects with the highest loan write-offs, as loan write-offs account for more than 90% of total government spending on undergraduate HE. The cost to government is around £11,000 per economics student who borrows from the government to help with tuition fees and maintenance loans, while it is more than £35,000 per creative arts borrower. Medicine is an exception – despite its graduates repaying most of their loans, it is one of the highest-cost subjects, at £45,000 per borrower, due to large teaching grants.
  • The government cost per student also varies by institution type. While total funding received by universities is extremely similar, the government contribution per student at each institution varies massively. Each borrower at Russell Group institutions – where graduates are typically high earning – costs the government less than £25,000. Costs are more than 20% higher for ‘post-1992’ and ‘other’ universities, where the average graduate earns much less.
  • The reforms since 2011 have shifted the allocation of spending from high-cost degrees to those with the lowest graduate earnings. Spending per borrower on students doing economics and engineering degrees is likely to have fallen by around £8,000 as a result of reforms between 2011 and 2017, while increasing by more than £6,000 for creative arts degrees. Similarly, spending on borrowers at Russell Group universities – which tend to offer more high-cost subjects – has fallen by £6,000, while increasing by more than £2,000 for borrowers at ‘post-1992’ and ‘other’ universities.
  • Consequently, the share of total government spending on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses has fallen from 57% to 48% as a result of policy changes between 1999 and 2017. If we had the 1999 system in place today, only 30% of spending would go to arts and humanities (AH) subjects. Under today’s system, this figure is 37%, and roughly 13% of the £9 billion the government spends on HE per cohort now goes to creative arts courses.

The report also considers what these figures mean for policy options:

  • Lowering the fee cap from £9,250 to £6,000 could give the government more flexibility to target spending. This would free up around £7,000 per borrower to be targeted more directly towards priority areas, with the savings coming mostly from subjects that have low-earning graduates. Any cuts to tuition fees would, however, benefit the highest-earning graduates most.
  • Variable fee caps would be another option to regain flexibility in targeting spending. Reducing the fee cap for AH subjects to £6,000 would reverse some of the increase in funding these subjects have seen over the last couple of decades. This policy may, however, increase demand for those courses, or perversely reduce funding for STEM achieved through within-university cross-subsidisation.
  • One policy that might resolve some of these issues would be for government to charge universities a fee for charging tuition fees above a certain level in areas where it wants to reduce spending. A ‘negative teaching grant’ of £3,000 for AH courses would mean government allocates less money to those courses, without affecting the fees students face or their repayments. Savings could be targeted towards priority areas. However, the impact on, and responses of, universities are unpredictable.

You can find the full report here.

It is important to keep in mind that this variation in government subsidy is not the same as variation in funding levels. This is because graduates also contribute to the cost of their education by repaying their student loans. Once this is accounted for, the variation in overall funding per university is very small due to the lack of variation in tuition fees.

Fees & Funding – what is the state of play?

With the Chancellor’s Spring Statement due on 13th March, which might give more detailed timing for the Comprehensive Spending Review (he said “summer” on Radio 4 on 7th March), we thought it would be helpful to summarise the state of play…like Brexit, this is getting harder and harder to call….although the IFS report noted above will no doubt be considered carefully.

We don’t know when we will know more, because the advisory panel chaired by Philip Augar, originally due to report in November 2018, has delayed its report again – the latest official statement is “Spring” – which could be anytime from now (according to the Met Office, although 21st March is the usual first day of Spring) to June.  Research Professional suggest June and cite a BBC insight that it the final outcome could be in the Autumn.

One of the challenges is that this is a two stage review – the “independent” advisory panel report and then the DfE led review itself.  The final DfE report (in the form perhaps of a green or white paper, accompanied by a consultation) will be when we see what the outcome really might be.

Philip Augar has said that he wants to make recommendations that will be accepted (presumably by the department/government, rather than the sector?) and it may be getting that consensus which is causing the delay. Research Professional today report that there is a draft doing the rounds in government but not everyone likes the recommendations.

The timing of other things is important – when it was originally announced, the Augar recommendations were due in November 2018, with the final report due out by the end of March – even at the time that sounded unlikely given the coincidence with the UK leaving the EU.  Now of course Brexit may be delayed until May or June, and the effort involved in Brexit may be one of the reasons for the delays with the review.  It has also been suggested that the government may be waiting because they want some big policy announcements to make after Brexit.

The most relevant dependencies are linked to government funding priorities.  The outcome of any review of fees and funding needs to be affordable.  The terms of reference say “its recommendations must be consistent with the Government’s fiscal policies to reduce the deficit and have debt falling as a percentage of GDP”.   The first delay to Augar was because of the Office for National Statistics review of accounting for student loans that came out in December 2018 (You can read about this in more detail in our analysis in the HE policy update for the w/e 21st December 2018).  The latest delays may be linked to the Chancellor’s Spring statement (due on 13th March 2019 – a day when other things are happening).  But the Spring statement is only a holding position – partly because Philip Hammond has said it might all change depending on what happens with Brexit, and partly because the real story about spending is the comprehensive spending review.  This is a full review of all government spending but the dates have not been confirmed.  They may be confirmed as part of the statement on 13th March.

All this matters because while there are lots of other things at stake, including the “young vote” and perhaps more importantly, the votes of parents and other contributors to student budgets and the government’s social  mobility agenda, this review is largely driven by money.  Many have called for investment in FE, in support for disadvantaged students and, in particular, for maintenance grants.  Against the other pressures on the economy, and a narrative of bad news about the sector (grade inflation, pay differentials, free speech, poor quality courses etc.), an overall increase in investment in HE looks unlikely.  The ONS accounting changes on student loans don’t change the cost of HE but they increase its visibility in the deficit.

So just a quick reminder – what are the possible recommendations of Augar and/or the final DfE report, whatever form it takes?

Tuition fee cuts – widely trailed as a leak from Augar, repeated again last weekend.  Apparently the original figure that Augar will propose of a cap on tuition fee loans of £6500 a year has been increased to £7500 because of sector resistance.  Such a cut would be likely to have far reaching consequences in terms of services and SSR.  It might mean drastic cuts in spend on WP activities, now financial targets will not form part of the OfS review of access and participation.  It could mean changes to the profile of programmes offered across the sector as institutions abandon high cost subjects in favour of lower cost subjects, increasing competition in these areas at a time when we are still approaching the bottom of a demographic dip (and when EU student numbers are falling).

Of course there might be top ups.  If they happen at all they would almost certainly be conditional. They might be linked to certain subjects or meeting access or other targets.  They might be linked to student outcomes (defined in terms of employment, probably), or to regional needs (such as value add in regions of low employment or access).  It may be that there would be continued support for STEM subjects, for example, or additional grants to institutions seen to be making a substantial difference to their regional economy by helping social mobility.  After all, the terms of reference for the review say that it must “support the role of universities and colleges in delivering the Government’s objectives for science, R&D and the Industrial Strategy”.

It might be that employers could provide top-ups to the capped fees – directly to institutions or through some sort of centrally organised fund.  Again, if organised centrally, this funding would most likely be conditional – probably linked to certain subjects and outcomes.  If done directly it would essentially mean growth in employer sponsored degrees.  There is a real conflict with the apprenticeship agenda there – how do employers choose?  And how do small and medium sized businesses get involved?

Student numbers cap/limit – another way to reduce long term costs is to reduce numbers.  The terms of reference for the Post-18 review rule out a direct cap on numbers.  But there are other ways of doing it.  Alleged leaks about the proposal to stop students with grades lower than DDD at A-level from accessing student loans have been widely discussed.  See our policy update for 21st December 2018 when this story first broke.  Current comment includes a blog from Nick Hillman on the HEPI website.

The headline focusses on A levels.  Many students enter HE with other qualifications.  Unless, as some have commented, there is a plan to not only have a floor on a-level results but also say that only students with A-levels can go to university then there would have to be an equivalent system for BTECs and other qualifications.  Messy but surely possible. Given the government focus on technical education, it is not impossible that they would try to force more people down a technical route – but using entry to university as a lever would surely have the opposite effect, pushing students back to A-levels, at least in the short term if only to keep their options open.

The big focus has been on how this (like a reduction in the fee cap) would be bad for social mobility.  It is also potentially bad for some universities with a large proportion of lower-grades students – ironically, these are likely to be the universities with a big impact on their region and on social mobility.  This sort of rationing as social engineering just doesn’t seem to make sense, but of course it plays well with those who like to talk about “mickey-mouse courses”, “bums on seats”, and “too many people at university”  – whose conclusion is usually that “other people’s children should do technical qualifications”.

So what next?

  • The Minister was on Twitter over the weekend to say:  “Worth stating today that the Augar post-18 review is an independent one which will reach its independent conclusions. We will then consider these when published—working with HE/FE sectors on an evidence-based approach to deliver a joined-up post-18 education landscape.”
  • He went on to say: “But I have always been clear that the government’s priority is to ensure that we focus efforts on widening participation and access, across all communities and WP groups, centred on value and outcome for the learner journey. We want to build bridges—not pull up drawbridges.”

So back to where we started – we don’t know what or when.  But the story will run and run and provide a distraction from Brexit in the meantime…

And more lobbying on fees

Alistair Jarvis (Chief Exec) wrote a UUK blog expressing his belief that Augar is finished – but awaiting a good launch date:

  • “I have good reason to believe that the ink is rapidly drying on the Augar panel’s recommendations, though the date of publication of the report itself is subject to the ongoing vicissitudes of political events.…when parliamentarians and educational experts judge the panel’s recommendations it must be on the basis of what is most likely to enable Britain to thrive, not on political ideology or electoral expedience. With Brexit mere weeks away, and our collective economic future uncertain, the country simply cannot afford to risk damaging universities, our most reliable source of innovation, skills and global connections.”

He goes on to say there are five tests that can be applied to the Augar recommendations – all of which highlight elements of strength, excellence or aspiration within the current HE system. In short the tests are:

  1. Whether Augar’s proposals will enhance or impede access to HE (widening participation and social mobility) – whereas the talk of reintroducing student number caps or perhaps a minimum DDD grade threshold would create access barriers
  2. Graduate skills gaps – Jarvis argues Universities need to expand and provide more highly skilled workers, not cut back and downsize.
  3. The combination of in-depth subject knowledge, co and extra curricular provision, 1:2:1 academic support, online learning, engagement in current research, all backed by robust regulatory system are strengths that should be maintained. “Cutting the fee level, without a commitment to make up the shortfall with public funding, will see bigger class sizes, poorer facilities, and less advice, support and choice for students.”
  4. Cuts will hit the local communities and civic life: “Any MP knows intimately how their local university is woven through the fabric of civic life, contributing to health, sport, culture, charitable endeavour and local economic growth. Much of this activity is not formally funded; universities do it because it matters and because they have a responsibility to their local community. In areas where traditional industries have declined the university is always at the heart of regeneration efforts, providing the research, innovation and skills to stimulate business growth and attract external investment”.
  5. Students should be free to make their own choices on what to study and where Our current system is shaped by students’ choices by design. To suggest that a civil servant in Whitehall knows better than a prospective student what sort of course they should study and where, is clearly nonsense…fundamentally we should respect and support students’ choices – as it is they who will have to live with the consequences.” Jarvis does go on to acknowledge that IAG could be better, and the funding system needs to be clearer.

During this week’s Science and Technology Committee session examining the work of the Universities Minister Skidmore responded that any reduction in fees for universities would have to be mitigated through alternative measures and the voice of universities properly heard.

Meanwhile the Stephen Hammond, Minister of Health and Social Care, remains adamant nursing bursaries will not return:

  • The Government has no plans to reinstate the bursaries for nursing degrees and is committed to increasing uptake of the additional places these reforms have made available.
  • The intention of the funding reforms was to unlock the cap which constrained the number of pre-registration nursing training places, and to allow more students to gain access to nurse degree training courses, creating a sustainable model for universities and securing the future supply of homegrown nurses to the National Health Service. In support of the reforms, we announced additional clinical placement funding to make available 5,000 more nurse training places each year from September 2018 and 3,000 more midwifery training places over the next four years.
  • Students on the loans system are at least 25% better off than they were under the previous bursary system. In recognition of the additional costs that the healthcare students incur in order to attend the mandatory clinical placement, the Government introduced the Learning Support Fund, a £1,000 per student, per year for child dependent allowance, reimbursement of all travel costs above their usual daily travel and up to £3,000 per year for exceptional hardship. These payments are in addition to the allowances on the student loans system.
  • On 7 February, the University and College Admissions Service published full-time undergraduate nursing and midwifery applications made by the 15 January deadline. This data showed a 4.5% increase in applicants to undergraduate nursing and midwifery courses at English providers. We are working with Health Education England and the university sector to ensure students continue to apply for these courses this year and in future years.

TEF, metrics and more

As you are aware, last week was a big week for TEF as the call for views closed.  You can read more in our policy update for w/e 1st March here.This week we have seen more about the metrics used for TEF.

The Royal Society of Statistics wrote an explosive submission., which builds on their previous submissions to the year 2 and subject level consultations (there are links in the document), which they say have been largely ignored.  They say:

  • the TEF “appears to transgress…the..UK Statistics Authority Code of Practice for Statistics
  • the data is potentially deceptive and misleading for students – it should be communicated to students that “the TEF is observational in nature and that TEF differences are likely not solely due to teaching quality differences”
  • “The use of the same TEF award, and the same TEF logo, for all types of university seems highly misleading. The literature and communication around TEF should make it clear that TEF awards are not comparable across the board.”
  • the presentation of data in the TEF and the way that is benchmarking may encourage game playing by universities (eg to improve their metrics)
  • the TEF benchmarking is flawed from a statistical point of view and many flags will have been awarded incorrectly “far too many flags are being raised, erroneously alerting the downstream human TEF panels to effects that are just not there. Our conclusion is that the previous TEF awards are not valid”
  • It shouldn’t be called TEF because it doesn’t assess teaching quality [that’s an old chestnut, but one that Dame Shirley will hear a lot]
  • And this: “TEF also does not appear to capture the time series nature of teaching quality. We have made this point previously in our consultation responses. What is the evidence to say that a teaching quality mark now will result in a student getting a good experience in several years’ time?”
  • TEF is oversimplifying the data, in a way which is unhelpful – and misleading. Students should be able to assess the detailed data themselves on a more granular basis through a revamped unistats. “…. It might be argued that the TEF’s philosophy that distils diverse institutions into three categories, underestimates the intellectual ability of prospective students and other stakeholders”

Some more detailed quotes below because they really are worth reading:

On uncertainty:

  • Ultimately, the RSS judges it to be wrong to present a provider/subject as Gold/Silver/Bronze without communication of the level of uncertainty. The current TEF presentation of provider/subjects as Gold, Silver, Bronze conveys a robustness that is illusory. A prospective student might choose a TEF Silver subject at one provider instead of a TEF Bronze at another institution. If they had been told that, statistically, the awards are indistinguishable, then their choice might have been different and, in that sense, TEF is misleading.
  • The uncertainty is likely to be higher for subject-level assessment than for provider-level assessment….
  • Accurate and coherent uncertainty assessment is also vital to understand the value and cost-effectiveness of the TEF. If it turns out that the uncertainty swamps the mean level award (Gold, Silver, Bronze), then this calls into question whether it is even worth continuing with the TEF.

On comparability

  • Is a TEF Gold at one university the same as TEF Gold at any other university? The answer has to be no. …Statistically, TEF Gold at one institution can not necessarily be compared with TEF Gold awarded to another. This is potentially deceptive and misleading for stakeholders, particularly students…The use of the same TEF award, and the same TEF logo, for all types of university seems highly misleading. The literature and communication around TEF should make it clear that TEF awards are not comparable across the board.

On benchmarking

  • We are extremely worried about the entire benchmarking concept and implementation. It is at the heart of TEF and has an inordinately large influence on the final TEF outcomes. (i) The RSS has referred to benchmarking in the past as a ‘poor person’s propensity analysis’…. differences in TEF metric scores might be due to unobserved characteristics unrelated to teaching quality. So, attributing the differences to teaching quality is unscientific and wrong
  • TEF benchmarking does not include important characteristics such as amount of course content, diversity (in its broadest sense) or difficulty/challenge of material. Surely, this has an enormous effect on what is measured? This seems wrong in itself. We are concerned that omissions of this sort will lead to game playing by institutions. One might improve NSS scores, for example, by ‘dumbing down’ the syllabus and there is strong anecdotal evidence that this is already happening in the sector.  (Indeed, OfS already has evidence of unexplained grade inflation which might be evidence of ‘dumbing down’ or related behaviours. How much of this is stimulated by exercises such as TEF or NSS?)
  • …At Dame Shirley’s listening session, the RSS enquired of the DfE/OfS representatives whether multiple testing without adequate size control was occurring and the answer seemed to be yes. Since this seems to be the case, then this lack of overall size control is a serious statistical mistake and means that many (previous) TEF flags should not have been so flagged.

Transparency and reproducibility

  • At a minimum, we would expect the entire TEF data process pipeline to be published, including as much data that can be released ethically. We have reports of people (in and outside the RSS) trying to understand the TEF data release, but find the accompanying instructions impenetrable. There is a lack of transparency, which is fuelling a perception of lack of integrity.

Conclusions

  • Fundamentally, do the metrics input to TEF measure quality of teaching? Do the provider submissions measure teaching quality? We are sceptical. There may be some distant indirect association, but what robust research been carried out to assess this? Alternatives might be to rename TEF (to remove ‘teaching excellence’), or actually carry out some evaluation of teaching quality (which would be expensive).
  • We do think it is useful for students to see the metrics that underpin TEF, relating to their potential course choice. The Unistats website already does this and seems to be useful and well-used by potential students. The RSS could imagine an upgraded Unistats site containing well-chosen and well-communicated metrics being valuable for prospective students and other stakeholders.

Continuation data

And HESA have published experimental data about continuation, one of the metrics used in TEF.  As we have written before, non-continuation is linked to a whole lot of different factors, but in the TEF of course the implication is that students leave because the course is poor quality or they do not believe that carrying on will make enough difference to their employment prospects afterwards.

Arthi Nachiappan and David Kernohan from Wonkhe have helpfully looked at the data to see what it says about who leaves HE.  Of course there are interactive data views to play with too.

  • We tested a common variation on the above theory – that non-continuation rates are lower at the Russell Group and higher at post-92 institutions due to the latter taking higher proportions of first degree young undergraduate students from low participation backgrounds…
  • Among Russell Group institutions, students who didn’t continue were more likely than average to transfer to another provider than to leave higher education altogether. Russell Group institutions tended to have a lower proportion of students from low participation backgrounds than the average provider, but non-continuation rates for those students from low participation backgrounds at Russell Group universities tended to be lower than 8%.
  • The equivalent figure for post-92 institutions is in the range of 5-20%. When we look at students from other backgrounds, this range narrows to between 4 and 12% at post-92 institutions, while at the Russell Group it is between 1-7%, but generally – with the exception of Queen Mary University of London – below 4%. The proportions of those from low-participation backgrounds who do not continue in their studies is higher at both groups of institutions than the equivalent figures for students from other backgrounds.
  • ….But any idea that alternative providers are currently reaching students that would otherwise not access HE, much less offering them a successful student experience, should be abandoned.

They also look at subject level:

  • … the overall rate for all students leaving computer science (for instance) is 9.8%. But among students who enter following a HE foundation course, the rate is 4.2%. What students come in with is a huge predicting factor of their course outcome.
  • Among students entering with at least some tariff points, mass communications and documentation sees the largest percentage of non-continuation (20.40%), but the largest number of students not completing their course (6,341) are on social studies.
  • For those with BTECs – to give another example – the subject area with the largest number of non-completions is biological sciences (5,738), but the subject area with the highest percentage of non-completions is engineering and technology. The overall preferred subject of study for BTEC students is business and administration.

And what’s next?

  • … once again it is Damian Hinds rather than Chris Skidmore that supplies our comment. Inflammatory “bums on seats” language will do little to endear him to the sector, and once again the threats of Office for Student action are wheeled out.
  • His substantive point is unlikely to surprise anyone: “No student starts university thinking they are going to drop-out and whilst in individual circumstances that may be the right thing, it is important that all students feel supported to do their best – both academically and in a pastoral sense. Today we have announced a new taskforce to help universities support students with the challenges that starting university can involve, but universities need to look at these statistics and take action to reduce drop-out rates.”

Apprenticeships

It’s been National Apprenticeships Week with lots of news and releases. The Federation of Master Builders published their survey which states that (marginally) more parents in the UK want to see their child undertake an apprenticeship than a university degree.

  • 25% preferred their children to undertake apprenticeship
  • 24% preferred their children to study a university degree
  • 50% had no preference

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “We’re finally seeing the shift in attitudes with more people understanding the value of undertaking a vocational apprenticeship rather than a university degree. For too long, apprenticeships were looked down on and seen as the alternative route if children weren’t bright enough to follow the more academic route. With university fees in England going through the roof, and with apprenticeships offering an ‘earn-while-you-learn route to a meaningful job, it’s no wonder that the penny has finally dropped.”

These findings contrast (slightly) with the Sutton Trust findings below (note these only asked about degree apprenticeships – parents seem to be preferring the traditional degree model rather than a degree apprenticeship for their children with the capability to study at this level).

The Sutton Trust surveyed parents (with children aged 5-16) about on degree level apprenticeships. Key Findings:

  • 27% said they would advise their child to take a degree level apprenticeship over a universities degree course, with 31% indicating they would make the opposite recommendation, Of which:
  • 68% intimated that this was because they believed it offered better career prospects, whilst 29% said it was because they lacked knowledge about apprenticeships in general

The National Audit Office published a report assessing the apprenticeship programme considering  whether it provides value for money, addresses poor productivity, and employer investment in training. It wasn’t great news for the Government. Key conclusions:

  • The DfE has not set out clearly how it measures whether the programme is boosting economic activity
  • Since funding reforms were introduced, apprenticeship starts have fallen substantially.
  • Employers are not using the apprenticeship levy to pay for new apprenticeships (just 9% of funds used, £191 million of the available £2.2 billion)
  • The average cost of training an apprentice is double what was expected, as employers are choosing more expensive standards at higher levels than expected. This could inhibit the growth in the number of apprenticeships once frameworks are withdrawn and all apprenticeships are on standards.
  • To meet the target of 3 million new apprenticeships by March 2020, the rate of starts would need to double for the remainder of the period
  • The Department’s targets for widening participation among under-represented groups lack ambition and levels of apprentices from the most disadvantaged areas are actually going down.
  • The introduction of standards has increased the number of higher-level apprenticeship starts, and the trend looks set to continue. But its not all good news some levy paying employers are replacing professional development programmes with apprenticeships – meaning no additional value to the economy.
  • Inspection grades are still low with many inadequate or requiring improvement and the 20% off the job training rule doesn’t appear to be adhered to across the board.

Just a few of the most relevant recommendations:

  • The Department should set out clearly how it measures the impact of the programme on productivity, and indicate the level of impact that it is aiming to achieve.
  • The Department should strengthen the programme’s performance measures relating to participation among under-represented groups.
  • The Department and the ESFA should assess whether they would secure better value for money by prioritising certain types of apprenticeship, rather than delivering a programme for apprentices at all levels, in all sectors.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: Today’s report confirms what employers already know – that the Apprenticeship Levy is not yet working as intended and is holding back the Government’s welcome efforts to modernise the skills system. Companies are committed to apprenticeships, so what’s needed now is a second wave of reform. The Government must use its review of the apprenticeship levy to work with business and the sector to build a system that supports, rather than frustrates, employers offering a first step to people in their career.’

The OfS have released one of their Insight Briefs on degree apprenticeships to try to raise awareness and increase both supply and demand for degree apprenticeships. This link also has the data on level 6 and 7 apprenticeship starts (2017/18) and this looks at the disadvantage profile of young apprentices on higher level apprenticeships. The chart below highlights that as the level of apprentice rises more places are taken up by the more advantaged students (quintiles 4 and 5).

Research

Research Professional have an interesting article on the government’s plans to prepare for the impact of no-deal Brexit on research.

  • With three weeks to go before Brexit day, the UK government is in talks to create an international research funder to mitigate the loss of access to the coveted European Research Council….As reported by Cristina Gallardo, a project to craft a UK-based global research agency is being led by Adrian Smith, director of the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national centre for data science.  …In the spirit that hard problems are not to be shirked, today’s Playbook draws attention to three questions that will be high on Team Smith’s list of considerations.
  • Size matters  How much funding should researchers expect? That’s the billion-pound question and one in which UKRI chief executive Mark Walport, BEIS secretary Greg Clark and chancellor Philip Hammond have shares. According to data compiled by the Royal Society, in the previous European Framework programme (2007 to 2013), the UK received €1.67 billion in ERC grants, around a fifth of the entire budget. The UK also received just over €1bn in Marie Skłodowska-Curie grants, a quarter of the total.  Former Royal Society president Paul Nurse reiterated last week that the UK receives between £500 million and £1bn more in European grants annually than the government puts into the EU science budget, and he isn’t confident that this extra funding will be replaced. Assuming that the government pays separately for the UK to associate to eligible parts of Horizon Europe, the new global fund should still be worth at least in the region of €350m to €400m annually, and likely more if it also absorbs the Global Challenges Research Fund and what remains of the Newton Fund….
  • Housing decisions  We know that the new funding agency cannot be a like-for-like replacement for the ERC, as it is designed to support UK-international collaborations. But that prompts questions about its institutional home and its organisational architecture. It will almost certainly sit inside UKRI. But what happens if UKRI chooses to reduce or streamline its nine-council structure? …A permanent home will take time to decide on. In the interim, BEIS and UKRI could potentially extend their relationship with outside bodies such as the British Council and the British Academy. ..
  • What price autonomy The ERC’s great attraction for researchers—something that the UK fought hard to achieve—is that it is both generous with its funding and unashamedly investigator-led.   Nick Talbot, a plant geneticist at the University of Exeter, told us in an interview that his success in obtaining an ERC Advanced Grant was down to his track record as a scientist and the power of his idea—not necessarily the foremost criteria for conventional grant schemes. But we’re in a vastly different world from 2004, when Ian Halliday, then chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, was happy to remark: “There is an awful flavour in Europe of: ‘Let’s give everybody something.’ It has to be possible for the best guy in Cambridge to run away with all the money.” It isn’t possible today to establish a funding agency without proper regard to equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion. Funders can no longer disregard the importance of place as well as public engagement in how they make decisions. Creating a wholly new research funding body in the midst of the Brexit drama presents plenty of challenges and it should not be rushed. The chance to create a global research funding agency doesn’t turn up every day.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, responded to a parliamentary question to highlight the Government’s hopes for Horizon Europe:

  • The Department has worked closely with UKRI and engaged with wide range of stakeholders on no deal planning for the Horizon 2020 programme. This includes via the High Level Group on Science and Research. Further updates will be provided on Horizon 2020 no deal planning in due course.
  • The Government remains committed to ongoing collaboration in research and innovation and wants to work with the EU on a mutually beneficial outcome beyond 2020. The Government wants to have the option to associate to Horizon Europe, depending on the outcome of negotiations.
  • In the event that the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, the Government is committed to continuing to back UK researchers and innovators by supporting measures to enable world-class collaborative research, including support for small businesses. We will be seeking independent advice from Sir Adrian Smith on these measures.

He also includes research within his top priorities when he spoke within the Committee meeting that scrutinises his work:

  • Skidmore informed the committee that the UK was rated one of the most innovative nations in the world and was home to three of the world’s top ten universities. He argued that 2019 was a critical year for science and innovation due to Brexit and the CSR. It would be pivotal to establish a clear roadmap that demonstrated where public investment would be made as well as demonstrating how private investment would be leveraged to reach the new target of research and innovation spend at two-point four percent of GPD.

He went on that

  • it was important to maintain close ties with European institutions after Brexit, including participation in programmes such as Horizon 2020, Euratom and the European Space Agency.
  • His priorities, Skidmore advised the committee, were to ensure maximum certainty on relationships with Europe, ideally through a deal on Brexit, meeting the target of 2.4% spend and to maintain strong international collaboration.

Meanwhile Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Advisor, who was also examined informed the committee that he had been focused on [amongst other work] improving the absorptive capacity of science among policy makers. Perhaps good news for those academics hoping Parliament will take their research on board within policy development.

SUBU says: Gender in HE – graduate outcomes

Here’s the latest from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield.

As its International Women’s Day, it’s interesting to take a brief look at gender in Higher Education; specifically graduate outcomes. There are lots of factors that can influence outcomes and this update only looks at gender, but when you add characteristics such as ethnicity or disability alongside gender, the picture changes again.

First a caveat; I was disappointed when researching data that the most reputable sources only separate graduates by sex and not gender or perhaps they have even confused the two; so on a day where we are actively celebrating gender equality, I’d like to share the Genderbread Person, which is a great infographic to understand the concept of gender and why it’s important that we don’t use it interchangeably with sex.

The number of graduates has increased steadily over the past decade and it is widely known that females are more likely to enter Higher Education than their male counterparts (see UCAS applicant figures). However when looking at the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report on Graduates in the UK labour market, the outcomes of female graduates compared to male graduates highlight a disparity in employment attainment after leaving Higher Education.

The research defines a graduate in broad terms as: “a person who is aged between 21 and 64, not enrolled on any educational course and who has a level of higher education above A level standard.” With this definition, it looks at all graduates and not just recent graduates, therefore using a data set of 14 million people in the UK who were graduates from July to September 2017.

Delving deeper into the report, employment rates differ between male and female graduates, with 86% of male graduates in employment compared to 79% of female graduates (figure 13a). Further to this, the research also finds that male graduates are more likely to have high or upper-middle skilled employment (figure 14a). It’s important to note that in this research, high-skilled employment involves use of skill acquired from a degree or equivalent; upper-middle skilled employment involves skills developed from post-compulsory education but not degree level; lower-middle skilled employment involves skills developed from compulsory education with a combination of work experience; and low skilled employment involves skill attained from compulsory education.

The data shows female graduates are almost twice as likely to have lower-middle skilled employment compared to male graduates, which goes some way to explain why the median gross hourly pay differs, with male graduates receiving £17 an hour on average, compared to female graduates receiving £14 an hour.

33% of female graduates work part-time, compared to only 8% of male graduates (figure 14b) and 47% of all part-time workers are employed in lower-middle skilled jobs (figure 14c). The statistics show that the lower-skilled jobs seem to offer more opportunities to work part-time; which is a need that can be influenced by a number of factors including family commitments, which as 11% of female graduates, compared to 2% of male graduates, are ‘inactive due to looking after the family and/or home’ (figure 13b), is a factor which has a greater impact on female graduates than male graduates.

Figure 11 shows that STEM degrees lead to higher salaries and Figure 15b shows that the subjects that lead to the highest average salaries are mainly dominated by male students. According to WISE: “Women make up 23% of those in core STEM occupations in the UK”. Because of this, there are fewer female role models working in these areas and/or going on to teach STEM subjects; something which is vital to move towards a gender-balanced workforce and also increase the earning potential of female graduates.

There are initiatives such as Athena SWAN which seek to address gender equality in Higher Education and you can read more about how this is working in the recent Wonkhe article ‘No more steps. It’s time for a leap on gender equality.

Ultimately, despite females making up 58% of the overall figure of applicants (see UCAS), they are less likely to apply for the subjects that lead to the greatest earning potential and are also less likely to achieve employment utilising the skills developed from undertaking a degree. This is something that needs to be looked into if we want to achieve this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #BalanceforBetter.

Failing Universities

A new HEPI poll was released showing student attitudes to financial concerns at their institutions

The survey of over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students, undertaken for HEPI by the polling company YouthSight, shows:

  • most students (83%) are confident their own institution is in a strong financial position;
  • over three-quarters of students (77%) believe government should step in if their university were threatened with closure;
  • more than half of students (51%) think fees should be refunded in the event of their university closing, while only one-third (32%) back merger with another institution;
  • nearly all students (97%) want to know if their university is in financial difficulty – in contrast with current practice which hides financial problems from students;
  • most students (84%) say they would have been less likely to have applied to their university if they had known it was in financial difficulty; and
  • the overwhelming majority of students (89%) do not know what Student Protection Plans are, while even more have not seen their own university’s Plan (93%).

Lots of renewed media interest in the financial sustainability of universities and the polling results:  BBC, iNews, FE News, and Mail Online.

Brexit

We have a big week coming up for Brexit, maybe, but in the meantime…

The Institute for Government have published a report on Immigration Post-Brexit. This criticises the Government’s “incoherent position” over student migration, with the DfE on the one hand wanting to increase education exports to £30 billion by 2020, but simultaneously counting students in the net migration target. “The policy remains simultaneously to reduce student migration while also wanting to boost it”.

This, from James Blitz in the FT, summarises the position nicely.

The Russell Group are calling on the Government to change their post-Brexit immigration plans as the salary threshold is too high for mid level scientific, teaching and technician posts, and it discriminates against part time posts (many of which are taken up by women). ITV news covers the story.

Student Loans – another way of presenting them

MoneySavingExpert.com and the Russell Group of universities are piloting a proposed redesign of the student loan statement and are calling on parents, students, graduates and those in the higher education sector to test it and give feedback.  The consultation runs until 12th March

  • MSE and the Russell Group, which represents 24 UK universities, believe that this change should substantially enhance understanding of the student loan system for graduates and their families. We plan to present our findings to Government in the hope it will change the current student loan statements.
  • Currently, students simply receive a statement of their outstanding ‘debt’ and the interest that is being added. As an example, a low-earning graduate on a Plan 2 loan (for students in England and Wales who started university after 2012) would receive a statement with £50,000 of ‘debt’ on it, and would see it growing by £1,500 a year in interest. But in reality, a graduate earning under £25,000 would not have to make any repayments at all.
  • Instead, the redesigned Plan 2 statement focuses on the actual repayments that students have made, and what they are likely to repay in the future.

You can see a full pilot of the proposed redesign on this link.

Consultations

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

Other news

Health dominates part time provision: Wonkhe report that an independent report published by the OfS which tackle part-time provision for underrepresented students finds that allied health subjects are the most prevalent part time subject area. The report argues that decline in participation among part-time students is driven partly by cost of study and partly by lack of provision. It goes on to notes that the proportion of disadvantaged students has remained at around 10 per cent. Wonkhe go on to explore a second independent OfS report focussing on mature allied health students. They highlight that although applications from mature students have declined, enrolments have stayed stable, and the report recommends improvements to information provision and diversification of pathways into allied health courses. As ever, the questions surrounding the decline of part time provision, and the dominant programmes and part time groups remain a question of chicken or egg. It is hard to sort cause and effect out from one another.

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HE policy update for the w/e 1st March 2019

It’s a big week for TEF and new guidance is out on access and participation.  No real news on the post-18 review but it’s apparently coming “in the Spring”.  Policy watchers will remember that these terms are flexible in government circles – optimists enjoying the recent sunshine and the daffodils will think Spring is upon us but officially we’re still in Winter (and all the snow last year was in March)– and Spring could mean June….when Brexit may still be a big distraction….

With that in mind, we’ve saved Brexit for the end – and it’s only a short comment.

Independent Review of the TEF

1st March was the deadline for the call for evidence for the Independent Review of the TEF.  BU submitted a response which you can read here.

The UUK submission was widely covered in the press, mostly because they were very critical of subject level TEF. Their press release says: In this report, UUK – representing 136 university members – states that overall the TEF is having a tangible effect on the sector, but there is still some way to go to improve the system. In particular, UUK calls on the government to reconsider plans for subject-level assessment following the challenges arising from pilots in 89 universities, and to look again at its value for students, universities and taxpayers.  In it, UUK concludes:

  • The TEF is having an impact on the sector, in teaching and learning strategies and the monitoring of outcome measures.
  • It is however hard to gather conclusive evidence of its contribution to teaching and learning experience and outcomes.
  • Its definition of excellence is weighted heavily towards employment outcomes, without full consideration of a student’s overall study experience and the wider benefits of teaching and learning for students and society.
  • Awareness of the TEF is still low among students while gradual and piecemeal changes have made it complicated for them to understand or to use it most effectively.
  • New governance arrangements should be made to ensure the government, the Office for Students, students and providers have a clear stake in strategic decision-making.
  • A year into piloting subject-level assessment, there is considerable doubt over whether this will drive real value for students, while it is adding significant complexity and cost which could divert resource from other student-focused areas.

UUK believes that plans for subject-level TEF should not proceed until the limitations of the methodology, its resource impact, and the actual value of its contribution to student decision-making, have been fully considered.

Estimates from UUK put the cost of taking part in year two of the TEF at £4 million for participating universities, a figure which would increase significantly with a full roll out of subject-level assessment. UUK is calling for further consideration to be given to whether the aims of subject-level assessment could be met through existing or alternative information sources such as Unistats, university websites and league tables. Further work into this area should also look at the risks of the subject-level TEF; including concerns around the quality of the data and metrics, and their ability to support students in important and complex decisions.

William Hammonds of UUK writes about the UUK response on Wonkhe here:

the focus should be on ensuring institutional TEF makes a positive contribution to teaching, learning and student decision-making before significantly increasing the complexity of the exercise. Our concerns are:

  • Subject-level assessment will be large, complex and costly and won’t produce reliable judgements.
  • It won’t support good quality teaching and learning and instead will encourage universities to chase rankings.
  • It won’t help student decision-making, only adding to the volume of information already out there.

David Morris, formerly of Wonkhe and now of the University of Greenwich, writes on Wonkhe about how to rescue the TEF and make it worthwhile

  •  Part of the government’s problem in persuading the sector, students, and wider public of the need for TEF has been its insistence that it is about enabling better student choice. This is clearly complete tosh, and is being borne out by early data we have on students’ general unawareness and indifference about an institution’s TEF rating.
  • Long-time readers of Wonkhe may well remember that the real genesis of TEF (and indeed the entire new regulatory regime) came as much from government officials’ belief that universities were held insufficiently accountable for teaching quality under the old quality assurance regime, particular compared to research, as much as it came from any Tory ideologues’ insistence of creating a market for student choice.…Greater honesty about TEF’s role in asserting the public as well as student interest in university accountability would also better reflect what we have finally acknowledged about higher education funding: ultimately, the taxpayer is footing most of the bill. Acknowledging this fact, as well as the wider limits of marketisation, could lead to an accountability exercise with greater scope for nuance, recognition of diversity, and more conducive towards actually making teaching and learning better.

He defends benchmarking (which we agree with – although we have concerns about forced differentiation)

  • But we shouldn’t overlook the instances where TEF has pointed us in the direction of a more progressive and fairer assessment of the state of the UK university sector. This is most notable in the instance of benchmarking TEF metrics, by far the biggest leap forward in assessing UK universities’ quality of student experience upon their actual merits rather than irrelevant and archaic qualities such as ancientness, research power, or international prestige. Benchmarking is what distinguishes TEF from the traditional media league tables, by acknowledging that different institutions’ student characteristics give them a different starting point from which to be evaluated.
  • I really hope that the Pearce Review does not abandon this approach. If TEF abandons benchmarking and moves in a more qualitative direction, the spectre of the early-nineties teaching quality assessments might begin to emerge, with judgements on the quality of teaching being made almost concurrently with perceptions of prestige and research quality. This would be a huge step backwards.

And urges the review to drop LEO (something we also agree with – it is interesting but the data can’t tell you anything about current courses, if it can tell you anything about courses at all….what it tells you about is the economic and employment situation of students who graduated a number of years ago, which may or may not have much to do with their university studies…)

  • Regular readers of Wonkhe will know that I am far from a LEO cynic. Indeed, I am really enthused about the power that richer data about graduate employment outcomes for better policy making in higher and further education and about the youth labour-market efforts to make society more just.
  • But beyond ideological objections (which are well documented elsewhere), on a practical level, TEF is not the right place for the DfE to play with its sparkly new toy. The piloted inclusion of two new supplementary LEO metrics in TEF appears to have produced bizarre results. Upon brief examination of the national data, the spread of outcomes once benchmarked across providers appears to be very narrow, with few providers securing either a positive or a negative flag. Under the current flagging system, if a new TEF metric does not show a sufficient spread of performance, it is hard for me to see how it will aid panel decision making or provide much value.
  • Then there is the lag effect of LEO’s inclusion in TEF. If TEF 2020-21 goes ahead as planned, it will include assessment of the graduate employment and salary outcomes of students who entered university in 2008 (i.e. my own fresher year). It will also assess those graduates’ employment outcomes in the 2014-15 tax year. This seems nonsensical, both in fairly assessing institutional performance, and in providing information to applicants.

Post-18 review

After we trailed the Augar report it didn’t come out – and we aren’t now sure when it will.  The PM answered a question about it in PMQs this week – “Philip Augar and his panel are working on the report and we will look seriously at the proposals they bring forward”.

The House of Commons library has published a research briefing on the post-18 education and funding review. The covering note:

  • says that the review is due to report I the Spring 2019 – so presumably that is still the plan.
  • confirms that the Review recommendations will be consistent with the Government’s fiscal policies to reduce the deficit
  • says that the recommendations will not place a cap on the number of students who can access post-18 education.
  • This briefing paper discusses the Review process and gives an outline of the post 18 funding system in England.
  • It includes helpful links to some of the mission group and other influential responses to the original call for evidence – ours is here
  • It suggests possible options for reform that the Review may propose, such as the lowering of higher education tuition fees and analyses the impact of these proposals in detail, including looking at the Treasury Committee and House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee reports, which we have reviewed in this update previously.
  • It includes a summary of impact

The BBC have published this story suggesting the reasons for the delay are Brexit plus a disagreement about the outcomes of the review – which may have pushed it back to the drawing board…

  • But it seems increasingly likely that the all-consuming politics and economic uncertainty of Brexit have pushed back the review.
  • There are also claims of significant differences in what 10 Downing Street, the Treasury and the Department for Education want from the shake-up of fees. According to sources, a headline cut in fees is seen as important for the prime minister’s office – described as being the “retail offer” needed to respond to Labour in a general election.
  • The Treasury does not want to commit to extra direct funding while there is such uncertainty about future public finances. But at the same time, the Department for Education is reluctant to go ahead with a cut in students’ fees until it is clear how that income could be replaced.
  • The debate is said to be “stuck on the roundabout” – and even when the Augar review publishes its findings, there could be delays before the government responds with any decision.
  • This might not be until the autumn or later – in a political calendar full of uncertainties about budgets, elections and leaders.
  • However, other senior university figures say the prime minister might want to push ahead with changing fees as soon as Brexit has been achieved, as a way of showing the government still has a grip on domestic policy.
  • There are also arguments that when the review is so strongly linked to Theresa May, any change at the top could see it disappearing into the long grass. Charles Heymann, a higher education consultant who formerly worked at the DfE, says: “It wouldn’t be the first education review to end up gathering dust on Whitehall shelves.”

In the meantime, the lobbying continues.  Shakira Martin, the NUS president, wrote for Wonkhe.

  • I’m still adamant that maintenance grants need to return, so we support working class students and put an end to the obscene situation whereby they graduate with the highest student loan debts. The Diamond Review in Wales shows this can be done in a way that really ensures the poorest students are properly supported, and we know that the Augar has looked at the findings of Diamond in detail. On top of that, just about every voice in the sector, including UUK, the Russell Group and Million Plus argues they should return, so I remain hopeful.
  • We also need to provide better funding for those on part-time or distance learning courses, or otherwise support flexible learning – this should include targeted support like childcare funding for part-time students and travel grants for commuters. The decision to scrap NHS bursaries for nurses, midwives and other healthcare professions needs revisited as it has clearly failed those students and the health service.
  • There are lots of other changes we have suggested that would make a huge difference to students such as monthly student support payments monthly to help students budget or increasing the threshold for maximum support from £25,000 for the first time in over a decade. And all this is not even to start on adult learning – student support is inadequate in HE – but at least it exists. We need to radically improve the offer for those in FE and I think the Augar panel will recognise that too.

And HEPI have a blog by Andy Nicol, Managing Director at QS Enrolment Solution about a student survey about the perspectives of prospective students:

  • This year’s survey (of 1,700 respondents, mostly aged 16-18) sought to unpack what they believe to be the appropriate balance between their individual investment in their degree and that of the state.”
  • 39% of respondents say that the debt they will take on makes them less likely to apply to university than they otherwise would. It is perhaps not surprising then that overwhelmingly (88%) survey respondents believe that Government should be funding at least half of the teaching cost of an undergraduate degree. These prospective students also said that their tuition fees being spent on student accommodation, course facilities, careers support and links to employers would represent a return on their investment.
  • HEPI’s own research last year found that 74% of students want more information on where their fees go. According to university accounts, the research also found that typically only around 45% of each student’s fee goes on the direct costs of teaching – such as staff salaries. The majority of the remainder is also spent on areas that benefit students. After teaching, the next biggest cost is buildings. Then come other high priorities like information technology, student support services (such as counselling and careers advice), widening participation activities and the students’ union. 
  • … Now is the time for Government to work more closely with universities to ensure it communicates how potential new funding arrangements will represent value for money. With political, economic and demographic challenges facing the sector, it is more important than ever that institutions understand how to engage better with potential recruits. That’s why as part of this report we have published an Action Plan for Domestic Student Recruitment in 2019to help universities and Government do just that.

Widening participation

The OfS published guidance for institutions to produce their new Access and Participation plans for 2020/21. Key points include:

  • The removal of the guideline percentage of how much of the higher fee income an institution should spend on widening participation, success and progression activities.
  • The OfS has stated institutions can expect increased scrutiny, rigour and challenge on their plans, in part to kickstart the stagnation of social mobility. Including consideration of whether institutions are at risk of breaching their conditions of registration with the OfS.
  • Focussed, evidenced, analysis of an institution’s current performance will link with the institution’s strategic aims and priorities for rectifying inequalities in access, student performance and attainment, and progression. The OfS will assess the feasibility of an institution’s aims and the appropriateness and challenge within the chosen targets.
  • All targets should be outcomes based, rather than measuring outputs.
  • A greater focus and breakdown on ‘investment’ (spend) is required for access measures. This fits with current Government rhetoric on ensuring widening access spend is effective and focussed towards the most efficient and successful outcomes (supported by robust evidence of impact).
  • Evaluation, impact and research of widening participation interventions remains important.
  • All providers are expected to use the POLAR measure (number of young local population that progress to HE) to provide a level of consistency and comparability. A national Access and Participation dataset is also expected to be published shortly.

The OfS has also set itself national key performance measures which address the inequalities they are most concerned about – the gaps that remain the most challenging to tackle and affect large student groups. In order to meet these measures all institutions are expected to have a target which contributes towards improving outcomes in these KPI areas.

  1. ENTRY GAP – Eliminate the gap in participation at higher-tariff providers between the most and least represented (POLAR) groups, from a ratio of 5:1 to a ratio of 3:1 by 2024-25.
  2. DROP OUT GAP – Reduce the gap in non-continuation between the most and least represented groups (POLAR) – eliminating the unexplained gap by 2024-25, and eliminating the absolute gap (the gap caused by both structural and unexplained factors) by 2030-31.
  3. ATTAINMENT GAP – Reduce the gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between white students and black students, eliminating the unexplained gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between white students and black students by 2024-25, and eliminate the absolute gap by 2030-31.
  4. ATTAINMENT GAP -Reduce the gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between disabled students and non-disabled students by 2024-25.

The OfS acknowledges that other non-KPI measures remain important too – addressing the decline in the number of mature students in higher education and access, success and progression for care leavers.

Sarah attended a parliamentary reception this week at which Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, emphasised the scrutiny and rigour with which the OfS will be examining the new plans, pushing for ambitious (but realistic) progress, and setting out a commitment to tackle underperformance early on. At the reception there was much discussion of the US universities’ Princeton model of admissions with Chris Millward calling for more English universities to step away from grade based entry and make far more use of contextual admissions, including assessing the personal qualities of grit and resilience which he felt were sure indicators of graduate success within disadvantaged students. Chris confirmed that the OfS’ powers didn’t extend to direct interference in an institution’s admission policy and that the Access and Participation targets would be one of their key methods to push the sector to solve the disadvantage gaps.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, gave his first speech on access and participation on the day the guidance was launched. He spoke during a tour of Nottingham Trent University and praise the institution for its work in advancing social mobility. He announced that Nottingham Trent, alongside Kings College London and the Behavioural Insights Team  have been awarded the OfS contact for the WP Evidence and Impact Exchange. The Minister said: I want to use this occasion today to outline my own five-part vision for the access and participation agenda – to help set a strategic direction for the sector and support the OfS in holding providers to account on these vitally important issues.

  • His speech acknowledged the importance of the removal of the student number caps, spoke about the narrowing of the gap with more disadvantaged young student applying to university, whilst acknowledging: All this is good news and a welcome move away from the days when going to university was just for the fortunate few. Yet, we all know that behind the positive headlines lies a much more complex picture of inequality and progress is not as rapid as it should be. And that takes me on to the first point in my plan – namely that we now need a more nuanced approach to ‘access’ and a greater recognition of the true access gaps. Major themes I want to see the sector and the OfS addressing are geographic disparities and widening access for specific groups, including White working-class as well as Black and minority ethnic students.
  • Sam Gyimah, the previous Universities Minister, wanted disadvantaged young people to aspire to and enter the highest tariff institutions. Chris continues this challenge to the high tariff institutions to become more accessible and think beyond entry grades whilst acknowledging that high tariff doesn’t necessarily mean best: I also want to reverse the trend of students from currently under-represented groups being less likely to apply to high-tariff universities. In 2018, 17% of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7% of them enrolled at high-tariff providers. Now, I’m not saying that high-tariff institutions are necessarily the best option for everyone. Plenty of excellent lower-tariff providers offer students a first-rate education with exceptional graduate outcomes, and are the right choice for many. But what worries me is that some people may not be considering high-tariff providers even when they could clearly benefit from them – showing how prior social and educational experiences can all impact on an individual’s life choices. I am genuinely saddened when I hear people hesitating about applying to one of our world-leading providers because they simply don’t believe that going to a university like that is really for people like them… The UK is blessed to have a diverse, multi-cultural society, and it is simply not right that, despite displaying obvious talent, some people still feel a ‘top’ university education is out of reach for them… This is why I also welcome the fact the Duchess of Sussex recently added public prominence to this issue when expressing shock that too few professors in the UK are from diverse backgrounds. She is right – as she herself said, “change is long overdue”, and if we want our student communities to reflect our wider population, then we have to start thinking seriously about the role models and examples we are setting them.
  • Chris spoke about the Secretary of State for Education’s guidance letter to the OfS setting out the Government’s expectations. They called for greater and faster progress in access and participation, including at the most selective providers, as well as for key target groups, including disabled students and care leavers. He also spoke of the Race Disparity Audit initiative when he called for the OfS to hold universities to account for attainment disparities through their Access and Participation plans and, if necessary, to use its powers to challenge any provider failing to support equality of opportunity.
  • Chris was stern on the effective use of WP monies, particularly making better use of evidence to inform spend:  £860 million [the combined planned spend by universities on WP in 2018/19] is not an insignificant sum and, so, I believe it is essential that this money is used well, and that any future spending is underpinned by clear evidence and evaluation. Although some providers already do this, for too long the sector as a whole has been too slow in using evidence to inform its approaches and to understand what really works.
  • He also wants to see more collaboration across the sector: Despite numerous providers undertaking excellent work in the access and participation space, by and large, the sector has been too piecemeal in its approach and too many providers have got used to doing their own thing. I will be the first to admit that this may well be a logical consequence of policy development – with an emphasis on market-style activity, a lack of data-sharing, and too little infrastructure to encourage collaboration. But now is the time for this to change.
  • Finally, he turned to the importance of data and consistent, reliable measures to track progress in tackling disadvantage. When it comes to data, I know there is a saying that ‘what gets measured, gets managed’…higher education providers have focused less on the outcomes of their disadvantaged students than they should…Differing approaches have not helped. The key measure to drive widening participation in higher education has traditionally been POLAR…The POLAR system has many strengths, and the insight it has provided has helped lead to genuine progress in opening up access to university. Yet, it is also known that POLAR doesn’t always overlap well with other measures of disadvantage – such as eligibility for free school meals…the principal measure used in schools and forms the main basis for extra support and funding. He spoke of UCAS’ work to find new and better predictors of disadvantage in higher education that take account of much more than just where someone grew up. It’s also why I welcome the OfS’s commitment in its access and participation strategy to work with providers to look not just at POLAR, but other aspects of disadvantage to ensure this work can really transform the life chances of young people.
  • He also welcomed the Transparency Duty which requires institutions to publish data on the application, offer, acceptance, completion and attainment rates of students, divided by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background: And on this, I further welcome the OfS’s requirement that providers set out their ambitions for improving access and participation for up to five years and report annually – something which I hope will keep everyone’s eye on the ball and prevent us from becoming complacent. He also spoke about the newly announced formation of a Data Advisory Committee stating it would help me ensure we are not only using the right data to shape the access and participation agenda, but are using it in the right way. I therefore look forward to working with the OfS, this Committee and the wider sector to find ways to refine and advance the data we use.
  • Interestingly he also mentions the (delayed) Augar Review and attempts to reassure the sector as a counterpoint to the leaked snippets and speculation of disastrous cuts for HE within the past press: I know many in the sector have been critical about what could emerge from the Review’s recommendations and its potential impacts on access and participation activities. Let me reassure you today that progressing access and successful participation remains a top focus for this government and it will be a key lens for me and others in government as we decide how to take the Review forward. My key outcome for the Review is that we create a truly joined-up system, which is even better at promoting social mobility and countering childhood disadvantage. I also encourage us to view the post-18 Review as an opportunity to think again about how we view disadvantage, to ensure we are putting our energy and investment where it is most needed. Reading between the lines I’m not sure this is quite as reassuring as Chris intended!

Disadvantage starts early – Universities Minister Chris Skidmore is a believer that disadvantage starts at birth and has committed to working with Nadhim Zahawi (Minister for Children and Families) to tackle disadvantage. He has announced they will be working together to improve support for care leavers throughout the whole education system, noting that only 6% of care leaver attend universities and are the most likely student group to drop out. He urged the OfS to do all they could to support care leavers. Nadhim also announced an additional 1,000 health visitors will be trained to support children’s early language and communication needs this week. Noting that children who start school with poor vocabulary are twice as likely to be unemployed as an adult. The health visitors will detect early signs of speech and language delay and take early action when it can have the most benefit.

Level 4-5 Qualifications Review Outcomes

The DfE have published a research report on the Level 4-5 Qualifications Review. Key points:

  • L4-5 qualifications support a diverse mix of students. The qualifications are undertaken by a slightly higher proportion of ethnic minority and male students than other HE and FE programmes, and there is also a relatively high proportion of older learners and learners with disabilities
  • Nearly all FE colleges (97%) and most HEIs (88%) provide L4-5 qualifications. Nearly 200 private and adult community learning providers deliver L4-5 providers, which includes 48 alternative providers in HE that are not FE colleges.
  • The L4-5 market is diverse. There were 3,368 different L4-5 qualifications that were available to learners in 2016/17, of which 2,633 were developed by HEIs and delivered by FE and HE providers.
  • The size of the L4-5 market is relatively small, compared to HEIs and FE providers’ overall offer. There were 111,420 learners that studied an accredited L4-5 qualification in 2016/17, which comprises only 2% of all vocational qualifications awarded. In HE, there were 75,632 learners that undertook L4-5 qualifications in 2016/17, which accounted for 3% of all HE learners.
  • L4-5 programmes not delivered through apprenticeships are most commonly taken for subjects in health, public services and care (composing 23% of all L4-5 learners); business administration and law (17%); and Engineering and manufacturing technologies (12%).
  • Just under 40% of learners on HE-accredited L4-5 programmes progressed to full-time employment and 26% progressed to full-time further learning. This reflects the dual aims of L4-5 qualifications. The proportion of learners that progress to employment does, however, vary significantly by subject area and qualification type

Recommendations:

  • Support the promotion to providers and learners of L4-5 qualifications that provide direct entry to the labour market, by being actual or de facto licences to practise. Awareness of these qualifications can be low among learners, which reduces take-up.
  • Incentivising HEIs to recognise L4-5 qualifications as providing exemptions from the first or the first and second year of a degree programme and encouraging joint working with HEIs and AOs to harmonise content with degrees and L4-5 provision.
  • Stimulating FE providers and HEIs to expand their L5 provision, as this appears to be provided less comprehensively than L4, despite having higher learner take-up.

Apprenticeships

The DfE have published Apprenticeship and Levy Statistics for February 2019

  • As at 31 January 2019, 122,700 commitments had been recorded for the 2018/19 academic year (114,000 fully agreed and 8,700 pending approval). This compares to 98,000 commitments recorded for the 2017/18 academic year at the equivalent point last year
  • Of the 122,700 commitments recorded so far for 2018/19, 60,800 commitments were for apprentices aged 25 and over. 38,200 commitments were intermediate apprenticeships, and 52,000 were advanced apprenticeships.
  • In 2017/18, there were 48,150 higher level (level 4+) apprenticeship starts, compared to just 3,700 in 2011/12.
    • Between 2015/16 and 2016/17 higher level starts increased 34.7per cent from 27,160 to 36,570.
    • Between 2016/17 and 2017/18 the higher level starts rose 31.7 per cent to 48,150.
  • In contrast, both intermediate (level 2) apprenticeships and advanced (level 3) decreased between 2016/17 and 2017/18 by 38.1 per cent and 15.9 per cent, respectively.

The DfE have published an Apprenticeships Study on non-completion. This is NOT about degree apprenticeships but FE learners and apprentices – but still interesting

  • Non-completers commonly lacked information about the content of their course and how it would be delivered before they began.  Whilst motivated, a lack of upfront information before they started the course meant that expectations tended to be limited to an expectation that the course would be organised, run smoothly, and enable them to work to pass. 
  • Non-completers reported mixed experiences of their courses and apprenticeships. However, they had commonly experienced challenges such as a lack of sufficient flexibility, loss of child care, and employers not allowing them enough time to do their coursework.
  • Non-completers dropped out when one or more of three key areas were not satisfied. They dropped out when core personal issues took priority over learning; with family, health, and finances commonly taking priority. Drop out occurred when learners did not see their course as valuable, meaning the content and level were not appropriate to enable them to pursue their career goals. Finally, learners dropped out when their course or apprenticeship failed to meet their expectations for functional delivery.

This is interesting because of course many of the same issues arise with university non-completions.  Non-completion (or continuation as the TEF calls it) is a key metric for TEF, precisely because the DfE believe that the value of the programme and the functional delivery of it, to use the terms above, are key indicators of the quality of a programme and so continuation is a proxy measure for quality.  Of course that ignores the personal issues.  The report says: “Although learners were generally tipped into non-completion by an issue aligned to one of these areas, they tended to be facing multifaceted issues which overlapped across two or more layers”.  So it’s not that simple.

Key Recommendations:

  • More comprehensive and accurate information up front about the content, structure and expectations for a course
  • Proactive and holistic support and flexibility to ensure they can continue to manage their course alongside their personal priorities
  • Improvements to course delivery so that courses and apprenticeships are more consistently delivered across the country.

The Sutton Trust have conducted a survey of parents with children aged 5-16 on degree level apprenticeships.

  • 75% of parents said they would be confident offering children help and advice were they to apply to a degree-level apprenticeship
  • 27% said they would advise their child to take a degree level apprenticeship over a universities degree course, with 31% indicating they would make the opposite recommendation
  • Of those parents who would advise their children to undertake a university degree course, 68% intimated that this was because they believed it offered better career prospects, whilst 29% said it was because they lacked knowledge about apprenticeships in general

Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)

The DfE and ONS have published statistics on the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training.

  • For quarter four (i.e. October to December) 2018, 11.3% of 16-24 year olds were NEET, a slight increase of 0.2 percentage points from quarter  four of 2017.
  • The age 16-17 NEET rate was 4.2%, an increase of 0.6 percentage points. The 18-24 NEET rate was 13.1%, increasing  by 0.2 percentage points.
  • However, none of these annual changes to the NEET rates were statistically significant

Brexit

It now looks increasingly likely that there will be a short delay to Brexit unless the deal, perhaps amended in some way with concessions from the EU, is passed on 12th March in the newly scheduled meaningful vote.

Resignations and the formation of the Independent Group of MPs don’t really change the arithmetic yet. The shift of the Labour party’s position on a second referendum also does not make much difference either while the vast majority of MPs continue to vote along party political lines.

There will need to be many more resignations or radical changes of position on the deal if it is to pass in March.  That is still possible, but a good number of Conservatives, from both the remain and the leave side, will need to find a way to support it, supported by a good number of Labour Brexiteers seeking to avoid a second vote.  Remember that more than 100 MPs need to change their view on the deal for it to go through.

However, UK citizens worrying about their plans for travel to the EU may therefore find that they don’t need an International Driving Licence or private health insurance for an Easter trip.  No deal is still, however, firmly on the table, so you may need them for the summer.  The overwhelming flood of information from the government has included reissuances for EU colleagues and EU students about travel to the UK after a no deal Brexit – but of course the continued uncertainty is unhelpful. And it’s sobering to note that whatever the result of the current flurry, even if the deal is signed we will have to go through it all again before the end of the transition period in December 2020.  There won’t be proper certainty about anything for a long time.

A delay beyond June still seems impossible – although it might seem a lot more possible by the time we get there.

Consultations

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

Other news

OfS Student Panel: The Office for Students (OfS) has announced five new members of its student panel, which advises the OfS board to ensure student interests are reflected in OfS’ work. Georgia Bell is President of the students’ union at the Northern School of Art; Rose Bennett is Student Experience officer (postgraduate) at the University of Birmingham; Samuel Dedman is vice-president education at the University of Southampton students’ union; Joshua Sanderson-Kirk is president of the student association at the University of Law and Sabrina Mundtazir is a student nurse at the University of Huddersfield.

University enterprise zones:  The Treasury and BEIS have announced a £10 million fund to help develop proposals for up to 10 new university enterprise zones in England. Treasury Minister Robert Jenrick and Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore launched the fund during a visit to Nottingham University, which has piloted a University Enterprise Zone that is supporting start-ups and enterprises in the East Midlands. Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, stated:

Our universities are among the best in the world, and when they join forces with our ambitious and innovative small businesses, they have the potential to meet the grand challenges of the future.

HESA have published stats on staff employed in HE providers for 2017/18

Student sexual harassment/violence: Dig-In have published an infographic on sexual harassment and violence experienced by students based on a survey.

They say:

  • 56% of students have experienced unwanted sexual behaviours (such as inappropriate touching, explicit messages, being cat called, followed and/or being forced into sex or sexual acts)
  • Only 15% of students believe that they are the victims of sexual harassment
  • And only 8% have reported an offence.
  • Only 25% of students who were forced into having sex reported it
  • 53% of incidents were perpetrated by another students and 30% took place on campus

They also say that only 52% of students understand that it is not possible to give consent if you are drunk

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

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

Universities Minister speaks out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They continue:

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

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

Post-18 review

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

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

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

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

Key Findings:

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

Accelerated Degrees

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

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

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

Unconditional Offers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions  – and access to HE

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

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

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

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

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

The carrot and stick measures include:

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

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

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

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

Preparing and supporting students in the transition to University

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit

From Research Professional:

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

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

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

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

 From HEPI:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And separately:

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

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

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

Science Salaries

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

Temporary leave to remain

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

Here is the detail from Dods:

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

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

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

The main features of European Temporary Leave to Remain

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

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

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

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

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

Those who don’t need to apply

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

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

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

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

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

Settled status and no-deal

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

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

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

Further reading

Erasmus & Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

Timeline:

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

Wonkhe discuss the key changes:

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

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

Consultations & Inquiries

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

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

We have recently submitted responses to:

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

The CBI’s report’s key recommendations include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A – Chris Skidmore:

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

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Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

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

Post-18 review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And concludes:

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

Grade Inflation

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

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

Brexit – just because…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The House of Commons library said on Wednesday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

and for connected purposes.”.

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

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

OR

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

Accelerated Degrees

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

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

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

Research Professional say:

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

Apprenticeships

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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HE Policy update for the w/e 4th January 2019

Happy New Year to all our readers! There was a flurry just before Christmas…some of that is here along with the first news of January

Value for money

To start the new year off on the right foot, as we await the Augur recommendations on the post-18 review, Wonkhe have some analysis of a recent poll.

“A poll conducted by YouGov for The Times, and published on January 2nd, sits very much in the instrumentalist camp. It takes the near universal sticker price of £9,250/year, and then cuts and shuts “the standard of education” and “the wages graduates earn” as the things that either do mean it’s “worth the money”, or don’t “warrant the cost”.”

“Do you think too many children in Britain go to university, not enough go to university or the number is about right

  • Too many go to university (40%)
  • Not enough go to university (19%)
  • The number is about right (21%)
  • Don’t know (19%)

“In England, universities can currently charge tuition fees of up to £9,250 a year. Do you think this is or is not value for money?

  • Is value for money – the standard of education and the increased wages graduates earn mean it is worth the money (17%)
  • Is not value for money – the standard of education and the wages graduates earn are not enough to warrant the cost (64%)
  • Don’t know (19%)”

Wonkhe’s view:

  • Looked at internationally the (world class) QAA judgements would suggest that the UK compares well with other national systems of HE. But if you look at individual student experience, the picture may be mixed – though it is difficult to disentangle personal aspects (did said student actually do any work?) with institutional failings (was the teaching actually up to scratch?)
  • We’ve been over many of the return on investment arguments in our coverage of LEO data and related releases. Suffice it to say that the earnings of those who graduated up to a decade ago are of questionable relevance to those starting their study in 2019. Even if you discount the way that the graduate labour market (and the wider economy) has changed in the past and is likely to change in the future, institutions and courses are almost certainly taught in different ways, by different staff, to students from different backgrounds, than they were a decade ago.

And:

  • We could have guessed most of the above already – it’s why May overruled DfE and called the Post 18 review in the first place. The question is whether the sector has the wherewithal to fill in some of the detail – the absence of which allows sloppy polling to fill in the blanks.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any research that asks whether £9,250 a year for a degree place represents good value for money regardless of the balance of the contribution between student (graduate) and state – surely a missed opportunity for the sector to protect (and justify) the unit of resource?
  • We’re still pretty much in the dark about the true “costs” of HE for most undergrads – rent, food, books and travel. How many students are going to take a positive value for money message into their twenties if they couldn’t afford it in the first place?
  • And as long as we have a repayment system whose subsidies only reveal themselves if you are at the end of your career and economically unsuccessful, we shouldn’t be surprised by a negative reaction to a VFM question.

Our view: given these perspectives, and there is no reason to think that the poll is wrong, even if we could argue with the assumptions behind it and the way that the questions are asked, how likely is it that the government will respond to the £12m deficit hit from the accounting changes to student loans (however illusory it is) by saying “oh well, if we’re in for £12m we may as well do the thing properly, and reintroduce maintenance grants, find extra money for FE and adjust the student loan terms further to benefit WP students”.  Not very likely?  2019 will be fun…..

OfS report –evaluation of access and participation outreach interventions

This OfS report – Understanding the evaluation of access and participation outreach interventions for under-16 year olds was published on 13th December

HEPs generally identified similar challenges and barriers to effective evaluation as those highlighted by earlier work (Crawford et al., 2017a; Harrison and Waller, 2017) – e.g. resources, data availability, senior buy-in and staff skills. The principal distinction was that outreach with the pre-16 age group was felt to be considerably harder to evaluate than outreach with post-16 groups due to the long time-lag between activities and desired outcomes (i.e. application to higher education (HE)), including the following epistemological issues:

  • Concerns about the validity of self-report data on long-range attitudes to HE, especially when collected within or soon after an activity;
  • Difficulties collecting meaningful data from younger age groups, especially in primary and lower secondary phases;
  • A shortage of robust metrics or approaches to identify modest learning gains (e.g. below a whole GCSE grade) and their attribution to specific activities;
  • Disentangling the unique contribution of outreach in the complex social field inhabited by young people, with multiple influences and school-led activities;
  • Understanding how individual outreach activities combine over time to influence young people and whether their effects are genuinely additive.

 In addition, the project team identified several potential concerns within the reported evaluation practices, including (a) an over-reliance on descriptive statistics and low use of inferential and/or multivariate analysis (where appropriate), (b) a continuing emphasis on ‘aspiration raising’ as the guiding purpose of outreach activity despite its questionable role in influencing attainment or HE participation, and (c) a conflation of evaluation, monitoring and tracking data, with an unclear engagement with causality.

Evaluation practice was overall found to be somewhat stronger within the third sector organisations (TSOs). In part, this was due to the more focused portfolio of activities provided by these organisations – often a single activity or year group. However, there were also clear elements of good practice that could readily be adopted by HEPs:

  • A clear prioritisation of evaluation as an integral element of delivery, with a culture in which evaluation is foregrounded: well-resourced, with expert staffing and a clear role in both evidencing impact (summative) and honing practice (formative);
  • The use of ‘theory of change’ as a thinking tool to understand and plan how changes in knowledge, attitudes or behaviours might be achieved through specific activities and to challenge underpinning assumptions;
  • A preference for measuring impact through ‘intermediate steps’ towards HE participation (e.g. increased self-efficacy, confidence or career-planning skills) over a focus on long-range aspirations for HE;
  • A stronger engagement with the research literature, especially in evidencing the value of forms of activity (e.g. mentoring) and the use of validated and cognitively tested inventories to measure psychological or sociological constructs.

The project team recommend that the Office for Students (OfS) should promote the elements discussed in point 5 above to guide the future development of evaluation practice. The team believes that these dovetail well with previous work on standards of evidence (Crawford et al., 2017b) by providing a framework for evaluation practice to achieve stronger forms of evidence.

To this end, a separate report for HEPs includes (a) a development tool to suggest incremental improvements to their current practices, and (b) a brief collection of contextualised thinking tools to extend their critical engagement with evidence of impact. An evaluation self-assessment tool has been developed and delivered to the OfS for further development and piloting. These are not intended to form a ‘final word’ in guidance to HEPs, but rather a resource to help to frame the ongoing discussions that the project team have witnessed within the sector.

Major recommendations for the OFS

  1. The OfS should continue with the second phase of work as outlined in the original invitation to tender, comprising work to determine which ‘intermediate steps’ are most appropriate for HEPs to use to plan and evaluate pre-16 outreach activities.
  2. We recommend that HEPs be encouraged to benchmark their evaluation practices against those of their peers with a similar organisational mission and profile of expenditure on access. A proposal for a self-assessment tool has been put forward to the OfS for further development and piloting.
  3. The OfS should make the following changes to its guidance to HEPs about their future Access and Participation Plans:
  4. HEPs should be required to provide separate details through the OfS regulatory processes, covering both pre-16 outreach activities and how they are evaluated;
  5. A minimum expectation of evaluation practice should be made of HEPs based on their overall access spending – this might be based around the 10 per cent ‘rule of thumb’ used more generally in the field of evaluation;
  6. Data on HEPs’ spending on evaluation should be collected, whether or not a minimum expectation is established.
  7. The OfS should encourage HEPs to engage with the tools provided in the accompanying document and especially to promote the use of a ‘theory of change’ approach for planning and evaluating pre-16 outreach.
  8. The OfS should consider working with an HEP to develop a postgraduate certificate (or similar) in outreach evaluation that becomes an expected standard for staff working in HEP outreach teams.

Apprenticeships

The Government have published their response to the Education Select Committee Inquiry report into the quality of apprenticeships and skills training. The Education Committee’s report made a series of recommendations to boost apprenticeships and deliver high quality skills training, including an expanded role for Ofsted inspections and a training cap on new providers. The report also called for more support for apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds, through measures such as the creation of bursaries and help with travel costs.

There were 27 recommendations so we have picked out a few here:

Quality

  • Recommendation 1: Government should monitor bodies responsible for quality and ensure they have requisite resources.

Response: To reflect the growth in the apprenticeships provider market, we agreed additional funding of £5.4 million for Ofsted to undertake monitoring visits of new apprenticeship training providers within their inspection remit (Levels 2 – 5), within 24 months of the provider’s funding start date.

  • Recommendation 6: The Institute should make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority.

Response: We disagree that the growth of degree apprenticeships should be treated as a strategic priority in isolation. We do not prioritise degree apprenticeships over other apprenticeships because the reforms are employer-led, so the apprenticeships developed are those that employers have said they want. This makes sure that the apprenticeships we offer are responsive to the needs of business.

  • Recommendation 9: The Government should conduct pilots with apprentices and businesses to explore the effect of introducing greater flexibility in the amount of off-the-job training required by each apprenticeship standard.

Response: Although some employers would like more flexibility on this, many employers are supportive of the 20 per cent minimum requirement. The 20 per cent minimum requirement is in line with international best practice.

  • Recommendation 10: The transition from apprenticeship frameworks to standards has been mismanaged by successive Governments. Employers have been let down.

Response: Standards are being taken up with enthusiasm by employers across a wide range of sectors, and we are already hearing from employers, providers and apprentices how they are creating a real step up in the quality of apprenticeships across the country.

  • Recommendation 12: The Government should increase the top funding band to better match the full cost of delivery for some apprenticeships. It should also double the time employers have to spend their funds to 48 months and allow them to transfer more of these funds to firms in their supply chain.

Response: There is little evidence to suggest that the maximum funding limit is restricting starts, and while we currently have no plans to change the limit, we will keep funding bands under review. The Committee will welcome the fact that we have already announced an increase to the level of funds an employer can transfer to organisations including those in their supply chain.

  • Recommendation 15: The Government should tighten the requirements on providers who subcontract their provision.

Response: The accountability for outcomes and delivery against the funding contract lies with the main contractor and that is who needs to be held to account. That is why Ofsted cover quality and management of subcontracted provision when they inspect directly funded providers.

Social Justice

  • Recommendation 16: The Government should increase incentive funding for small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises who recruit young and disadvantaged apprentices

Response: We believe that the current model of funding for disadvantaged apprentices provides the most effective means to achieve the recruitment of young and disadvantaged people.

  • Recommendation 18: The Government should introduce bursaries for other disadvantaged groups modelled on the care leavers’ bursary.

Response: We will keep all aspects of apprenticeship funding policy under review to ensure that those from disadvantaged groups are not deterred from starting an apprenticeship for financial reasons, or because their employer is concerned about the cost. Funding alone cannot tackle the disparities in apprenticeship starts.

  • Recommendation 19: The Government should create a social justice fund, using money from the apprentice levy, to support organisations that help disadvantaged people become apprentices.

Response: The apprenticeship levy has been set at a level that raises sufficient funds to support apprenticeship starts; widening its scope would risk our delivery of the target of 3 million high-quality apprenticeship starts.

  • Recommendation 20: The Government should continue to raise the apprentice minimum wage at a rate significantly above inflation. In the long term, it should move towards its abolition.

Response: It is important that the level of the apprentice rate, which applies to those aged under 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship, does not dissuade employers from investing in skills training and realising the benefits of apprenticeships for their businesses.

  • Recommendation 22: The Government should strongly support existing measures to establish a kitemark for good apprentice employers.

Response: Work is ongoing to develop a kitemark indicating a signal of quality for apprentice employers. Using existing quality measures and working with stakeholders, criteria will be developed and, if met, employers will be able to showcase the kitemark.

  • Recommendation 23: The Social Mobility Commission should conduct an immediate study into how the benefits system helps or hinders apprentices. The Government should act on its findings.

Response: Government would welcome the views of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) on how we can continue to develop our policy in this area, though any decision on whether to conduct a review remains a joint decision for the Department’s ministers and the Chair of the SMC.

  • Recommendation 24: The Government must stop dragging its feet over apprentice transport costs. It must set out how it plans to reduce apprentice travel costs.

Response: The Departments for Transport and Education will continue to work together to support discounted travel for apprentices, including through existing apprenticeship funding mechanisms, but given the additional cost to the taxpayer, the focus of this work will now turn to preparing proposals for consideration at the forthcoming spending review.

  • Recommendation 25: The Equality and Human Rights Commission should conduct a monitoring review of apprenticeship participation by gender, ethnicity and by people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities every three years.

Response: The Department is carrying out broader activity to encourage more young people to recognise the value of a STEM career path. To support the Government’s commitment to increase apprenticeship starts by learners from BAME backgrounds by 20 per cent by 2020, we launched the ‘5 Cities Diversity Hubs’ project in February 2018.

  • Recommendation 26: The Government should introduce a proper UCAS-style portal for technical education to simplify the application process and encourage progression to further training at higher levels.

Response: We have carried out extensive research to explore how we could introduce a UCAS-style portal for technical education that works for employers and apprentices alike. While the research indicated that young people would value a central source of information as they make decisions about their next steps, it did not show that they found the current application process challenging.

  • Recommendation 27: Too many students are still not receiving independent and impartial careers advice and guidance about the routes open to them, including apprenticeships. We recommend that the Government, with Ofsted’s support, properly enforces the Baker clause.

Response: Following the introduction of the clause in January 2018, we issued statutory guidance to schools, clearly setting out what is expected of them. A review in the summer of 2018 showed mixed compliance with this guidance by schools. The Department is prepared to intervene in cases of serious non-compliance.

The Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP has commented on the Government’s response:

  • While we welcome the direction of travel from the Government, clearly much more needs to be done. We need to get tough on subcontractors and poor provision. The Government insists its priorities are to ensure more funding makes it to the front line and to improve transparency. But to achieve this, they must strengthen the rules on subcontracting and ensure a more prominent role for Ofsted in inspections to safeguard training quality.
  • We’re not convinced that the Government recognises that degree apprenticeships are special and different to other apprenticeships. They bring together technical and higher education when the two are too often entirely different worlds. We cannot rely on employers alone to drive this forward given the key role which degree apprenticeships can play in fighting social injustice and taking the best from technical and academic education.   
  • Ensuring proper support for apprentices is crucial to delivering social justice. But there are no firm proposals from Government on how to break down the barriers faced by too many young people who would like to take the apprenticeship route. The Government continues to drag its feet on how it will reduce the cost of transport and it must now act on its manifesto commitment and deliver on the promise of significantly discounted bus and train fares.
  • It is not enough to say evading paying the apprenticeship minimum wage is ‘unacceptable’. The Business Secretary has said that the Government has doubled the enforcement budget, but clearly there is more to do to ensure employers comply. Until there are stronger sanctions and tougher enforcement, companies will get away with the mistreatment of apprentices who are making significant financial sacrifices to better themselves.

Brexit update

If you missed them (and who could blame you) the BBC have a useful summary of New Year’s messages from Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable and Nicola Sturgeon

The next few weeks are critical, of course, with a “meaningful vote” in Parliament due in the week commencing 14th January.

So if the government wins the meaningful vote, and Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before 29th March, we leave with a deal and a transition period. If the government wins the meaningful vote and Parliament doesn’t approve the Bill then we leave without a deal.  This is possible but unlikely – although there will be a fight about the Bill, and attempts to amend it, if the government wins the meaningful vote they are likely to get the Bill through eventually.

If the government loses the meaningful vote, then they have to make a statement about their intentions within 21 days and then there is another vote by Parliament.  What could the government propose in this statement?  It is another opportunity to persuade people to support the original deal with some more concessions or reassurance.  Or this could be the moment to ask for an extension to article 50.

If the motion (whatever it says) is not supported, it is then too late for any other major step (such as a second referendum) before we leave without a deal in March.  Everyone has said that the EU takes negotiations to the wire – there may be last minute concessions after the meaningful vote, if the government loses, in which case the government can just try Parliament again.  Or even without EU concessions, as no-deal panic rises, they may try Parliament again.  Or Parliament could revoke Article 50, as was discussed extensively before the holidays.  That seems unlikely – an extension is far more likely.  And presumably the EU would agree to that.  But remember that the withdrawal date is built into UK law so as well as agreeing to an extension, Parliament would also have to approve regulations to amend that legislation – another opportunity for arguments, amendments and disagreements.

The existing EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018:

  • exit day” means 29 March 2019 at 11.00 p.m. (and see subsections (2) to (5));
  • (2) In this Act references to before, after or on exit day, or to beginning with exit day, are to be read as references to before, after or at 11.00 p.m. on 29 March 2019 or (as the case may be) to beginning with 11.00 p.m. on that day.
  • (3)Subsection (4) applies if the day or time on or at which the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union is different from that specified in the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1).
  • (4)A Minister of the Crown may by regulations—
  • (a)amend the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1) to ensure that the day and time specified in the definition are the day and time that the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom, and
  • (b)amend subsection (2) in consequence of any such amendment.

Change of government

Labour have been threatening a no confidence motion “when the time is right”. Before Christmas there was talk of a no confidence vote in the PM – which is not at all the same thing.  In the Independent on 28th December 2018 Jeremy Corbyn was talking about “when, not if” and “signalling” it will be after the meaningful vote.

So what does happen if Parliament pass a motion of no confidence in the Government?  The Parliament website says:

“A motion of no confidence, or censure motion, is a motion moved in the House of Commons with the wording: ‘That this House has no confidence in HM Government’. If such a motion is agreed to, and a new government with the support of a majority of MPs cannot be formed within a period of 14 calendar days, Parliament is dissolved and an early General Election is triggered. A motion of no confidence is one of only two ways in which an early General Election may be triggered under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011”

The Labour party believe that they could form a minority government, and presumably would then hope to persuade Parliament to vote for an extension to give them time to renegotiate.

As we wrote in December, if they fail to form a minority government, we are then in a difficult position, because we could be left with no Parliament to vote for an extension or approve the regulations to the Withdrawal Act, leading back to a no-deal Brexit on 29th March with a general election to follow.  Of course at least some of those potentially voting for the no confidence motion might actually want to leave with no deal….

So, we could leave with the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal, and then hopefully progress will be made on turning the political declaration into a formal agreement.  That won’t be much fun either and it needs to be sorted by the end of the transition period (due to end December 31st 2020 unless it is itself extended – on this see the actual draft Withdrawal Agreement, pages 195 and 206). There are some conditions for an extension, including a contribution to the EU budget to be established by the committee.

Article 126: There shall be a transition or implementation period, which shall start on the date of entry into force of this Agreement and end on 31 December 2020.

Article 132: …the Joint Committee may, before 1 July 2020, adopt a single decision extending the transition period for up to one or two years

Or we leave without a deal.  There has been a huge amount of discussion about this, and we shared the Home Office guidance on mobility in our policy update on 21st December 2018. The official government website is here.  It includes things (many published on or around 21st December) including:

  • Studying in the EU after Brexit
    • The draft EU Withdrawal Agreement means that students in UK-based organisations will be able to continue to participate in Erasmus+ exchanges and placements post-exit until the end of the current Erasmus+ programme in December 2020.
    • In the event of ‘no deal’, the government underwrite guarantee already made(13 August 2016) still stands and successful Erasmus+ bids that are submitted and approved while the UK is still a Member State will continue beyond the point of exit.
  • Preparing for changes at the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit
  • Health and care system operational readiness guidance
  • Providing services as a qualified professional
    • EEA lawyers will be able to practise in England and Wales under the regulatory arrangements and rules that apply to lawyers from other third countries. However, this change will mean:
      • EEA lawyers will no longer be able to provide legal activities normally reserved to advocates, barristers or solicitor under their home state professional title in England/Wales and Northern Ireland. (Reserved activities are: the exercise of a right of audience, the conduct of litigation, reserved instrument activities (conveyancing), probate activities, notarial activities and the administration of oaths)
      • EEA lawyers will no longer be able to seek admittance to the English/Welsh or Northern Irish profession based on experience
    • Guidance for UK nationals
    • Clinical trials
    • Environmental standards
    • Workplace rights
    • Data protection
      • The EU has an established mechanism to allow the free flow of personal data to countries outside the EU, namely an adequacy decision. The European Commission has stated that if it deems the UK’s level of personal data protection essentially equivalent to that of the EU, it would make an adequacy decision allowing the transfer of personal data to the UK without restrictions. While we have made it clear we are ready to begin preliminary discussions on an adequacy assessment now, the European Commission has not yet indicated a timetable for this and have stated that the decision on adequacy cannot be taken until we are a third country.
    • More guidance here

Of course the big argument by Brexiteers is that no deal would not be so bad.

It would certainly involve “some” burden on businesses and individuals – if you look at some of the links above especially on those importing or exporting goods and services.  There have been warnings about gridlock in port towns (including Poole) with a knock on impact on services), shortages of medicines and food.  The government’s planning includes fridges and ferries.

The Week says:

  • There are many senior Leave supporters who think that no deal “would be perfectly acceptable as long as sufficient preparations have been made”, according to the BBC’s Chris Morris.
  • Backbench Brexiteers have sought to present a so-called “cliff edge” Brexit as an opportunity rather than a threat and dismissed criticism as Remainer scaremongering.
  • “It’s Project Fear mark two,” one MP told The Guardian. “Do they think we can’t see that they’re trying to alarm people?”
  • Liz Bilney, CEO of Leave.EU, argues that a no-deal Brexit should be seen as a positive. “It is at worst, benign, at best, a fabulous opportunity for a fairer, more prosperous Britain,” she claims.
  • David Davis even claims there could be advantages if the pound were to fall sharply in value following a no-deal Brexit. 
  • “[The Pound falling] is not a bad thing. The pound’s always been too high from the point of view of industry because of the effect of the City. So, our competitive position with vis-a-vis Europe would be dramatically better even if there are tariffs,” the former Brexit secretary told parliamentary magazine The House in a recent interview.

Or there is an extension to article 50 and we don’t leave in March.  Then what happens?  The current government would be attempting a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement and possibly some advance negotiation of the final trade deal based on the political declaration with a view to getting a version of the withdrawal agreement through before whatever deadline would have been agreed.  As noted above, Parliament would also have had to approve regulations to amend the exit day consistently with whatever the EU had agreed on article 50.

And what could that year or so be used for?

  • A Tory leadership election – only if the PM chooses to stand down as she is now safe from challenge for a year. She might do a David Cameron and fall on her sword if “her” deal is finally voted down in favour of an extension.   Then someone else could try and renegotiate, leading up to a rerun of the current process in 2020 perhaps after another referendum (unless the referendum result was remain).
  • A Labour minority government having another go at the negotiations? As described above, following a no confidence vote in the government, the PM could resign and Jeremy Corbyn could be invited to form a minority government.   He would then try and renegotiate and re-run the current process in 2020 perhaps after another referendum (again, unless the referendum result was remain).
  • A general election? We wrote about this in our policy update on 14th December 2018
    • Remember that the fixed term Parliament legislation requires a 2/3rds majority for an early election. It is very unlikely that Conservative MPs will vote for that unless they think they would win a strong overall majority (and look what happened last time they tried). They will be pressing for a renegotiation. But it will happen automatically if a minority government cannot be formed, or falls, after a no- confidence vote as described above.
  • Go straight to another referendum. This requires Parliamentary support.  The big question that would need to be resolved is what the question on the referendum would be, and whether it would actually need to include a set of different scenarios, transferable votes, a requirement for a super majority etc.  The problem is that many people oppose the current proposal for many different reasons, and so getting all those who don’t want a no-deal Brexit to agree on the alternative would be very difficult.  Options for a referendum question include combinations of the following:
    • The PM’s deal (with whatever changes might have been agreed in the meantime)
    • Remain on current terms (a possibility from an EU perspective, as noted above, if we just revoke article 50)
    • Leave without a deal
    • A different deal? It is hard to ask people to vote for something that is not on the table.  Canada/Norway style deals would have to be negotiated with the EU.  So to get these on the table there are some steps that would need to happen first – postpone article 50, change of leadership/government/approach, attempt to negotiate a completely different deal with the EU and THEN have a referendum.

What is really interesting about this is the discussions about choices and bias.  You’ll remember the debate about the question the first time around.  For more on this:

In a Guardian opinion piece, David Van Reybrouk proposes a “preferednum”

  • The Eurovision song contest uses a similar procedure: rather than picking out the best song, juries are invited to give points to a range of artists, so that the cumulative effect of individual voting gives a final ranking of competing candidates.
  • This procedure could be applied successfully to the UK. In the polling station people would not just receive the classical yes/no question, but a list of 30 proposals on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. They might include ideas such as: “The status of Northern Ireland and the UK should be the same, even if that implies a harder border with the Republic of Ireland”; “Only Britain should be able to regulate who enters the country”; “Migration can only be tackled if Britain works with its European partners”; “Travelling to the EU should not require a passport.” Et cetera.
  • In the run-up to the preferendum every voter would receive a brochure with the arguments for and against each proposal, as is already common practice in Switzerland. In the voting booth citizens would be invited to rate the proposals (to show how strongly they agree or disagree) and rank them (pick a top three).

Peter Kellner in Prospect Magazine in early December offered 7 options focusing less on the possible outcome and more on the question of democratic legitimacy of the process.

So while we can’t see much further than a few days into the future on this one and predictions have been hard this last year or so, here are, we think, the two most likely scenarios.  We are being massively cynical here – this is based on an assumption that no-one (remainder or leaver, left or right) actually really believes that they can do a better deal than the PM has with the EU, or wants to be the person who tries and fails.  Or enough Brexiteers believe that if there is a delay, there might ultimately be a vote for remain.

  • Politicians return from the break having been thoroughly scared by the no-deal guidance and harangued by their local businesses etc, and/or the EU come up with some weasel wording on the backstop at the 11th hour, and Parliament approves the deal.

OR

  • Chaos continues, Labour doesn’t make up its mind and the UK leaves with no deal, leading in the short-ish term to a vote of no confidence and a general election, perhaps in 2020 if no deal turns out to be as bad as people think it might be.

And the university perspective?

On 4th January, the news was that UUK, the Russell Group, GuildHE, Million plus and University Alliance had sent an open letter to all MPs.

Dame Nancy Rothwell was on Radio 4. 

Professor Janet Beer wrote in the Guardian.

  • We have just weeks for the UK government and parliament to find a way to avoid a no-deal scenario. Without this, it is no exaggeration to suggest that this would be an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take our universities and our country decades to recover.

The BBC have some of the inevitable backlash:

  • But the journalist and educationalist Toby Young, who says he backs a “clean Brexit”, dismissed the warning as “the usual ultra-Remainer hysteria”, accusing vice-chancellors of “fear-mongering”.
  • “In the event of a no-deal Brexit, I’m sure the government will use some of that £49bn windfall to compensate British universities for any short-term losses,” said Mr Young, associate editor of the Spectator magazine

And while the coverage seems to focus on research funding, Wonkhe cover the student recruitment story with data from the Russell Group:

  • On average, this data shows a 3% decrease in enrolment, which is the first time a decrease in the overall number of EU students starting courses at Russell Group universities has been reported since 2012-13, when tuition fees increased. And while it’s important to note that this is aggregate data and growth will vary between institution and level of study, it indicates a worrying downturn in appetite from the EU to study in the UK – and will be a concern for the sector.
  • When we performed this data collection exercise across Russell Group universities last year, we saw marginal growth of 1% in EU enrolment between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Before that, HESA data shows that growth in the number of first year EU students at Russell Group universities grew by 5%, 4%, 4% and 7% in each consecutive year between 2012-13 and 2016-17 (latest available data).
  • For us, what was striking about the data on enrolments this year was the decrease seen at postgraduate level: while there was a marginal increase of 1% at the undergraduate level, there was a 5% drop in the number of EU postgraduate taught students and a 9% decrease in the number of EU postgraduate research students.
  • The 9% decline in postgraduate research students enrolling at Russell Group universities this year follows a 9% drop reported by our universities in 2017-18. This means there has been a significant decrease in EU postgraduate research students enrolling on courses at Russell Group universities since the referendum.

The Independent led with the financial risk:

  • A predicted fall in EU student numbers and a potential loss of research funding due to a no-deal Brexit could hit universities’ finances.
  • It is understood some institutions could be forced to seek a government bailout to stay open.
  • …. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) think tank, said he was concerned about the financial future of the university sector because of the negative impact of Brexit, as well as a fall in the number of 18-year-olds and the government’s review into tuition fees.   
  • “A no-deal Brexit would mean even more upheaval than other forms of Brexit for the sector,” he said. Analysis for the think tank has predicted a 57 per cent drop-off in incoming EU students. 
  • … Robert Halfon, Conservative MP and chair of the Education Committee, said: “With the UK leaving the EU, there is all the more reason to ensure that our universities are fit for the future and focused on meeting the country’s skills needs. “Our committee’s report on value for money in higher education outlined how they can play a significant role in filling skills gaps and boosting productivity by promoting degree apprenticeships and improving access for disadvantaged students. “By focusing on a more skills-based future, our universities can ensure they remain among the world’s best performing institutions.”

Taking a longer view

It is easy to be dragged by current uncertainties into taking a short term view of all of this.  But assuming at some point we stop going round in circles on Brexit, what might a future deal with the EU look like for research? Whether there is a deal or  no deal by March, eventually there will have to be at least an attempt to form a future relationship of some sort on research.  We’ve gone taken the circular analogy a bit further back in time to look forward to what might happen next.

There’s an article (by a European) on Research Professional here:  [from November 2017]  In its September 2017 Future Partnership paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation, [the UK government] stated: “Given the UK’s unique relationship with European science and innovation, the UK would also like to explore forging a more ambitious and close partnership with the EU than any yet agreed between the EU and a non-EU country.”

Assuming we don’t end up in EFTA or staying in the EU, the article suggests the obvious options for the UK were either associated status or third country status.  The government of course has always said it wanted a custom deal. The article therefore suggests something different:

  • A possible solution for this dilemma was mooted by the League of European Research Universities and picked up more explicitly by Pascal Lamy’s High Level Group, which recommended in its report that international cooperation be made “a trademark of EU research and innovation”. It suggested that the EU should “open up the R&I programme to association by the best and participation by all, based on reciprocal co-funding or access to co-funding in the partner country”.
  • The official narrative is to bring strong research countries such as Canada and Australia on board for the Framework programme, but it is clear that this also opens the door for a global research power such as the UK. So instead of trying to fit the UK into one of the three categories that would give it associated access, let’s change the rules to ‘association by the best and participation by all’.
  • Obviously, this will lead to a financial contribution from the UK to the EU budget, the use of European Commission contracts, the authority of the European Court of Justice and the decision-making power of the EU 27 concerning research policy. Suggesting a kind of “association +”, whereby strong research countries from outside the EU also have a formal say in EU policy development and decision-making processes, will probably be a bridge too far for the EU 27, but it certainly could have added value in the case of the UK.
  • Anyway, last Friday’s agreement [the one that meant we moved on to the next phase of negotiations in autumn 2017, remember that…] clearly states: “the UK states that it may wish to participate in some Union budgetary programmes of the new MFF post-2020 as a non-Member State.” So we can be hopeful for FP9, although we must remain aware of two basic premises of the negations: no cherry picking and no deal on anything if no deal on everything.

So maybe there is scope for a special deal, one that isn’t just special for the UK but also for Canada and Australia and others too?

The end of the article provokes a wry smile, in the light of current news, though: Surely, UK vice-chancellors, with the explicit support of their continental colleagues, must increase the pressure in the following days, weeks and months to reach an acceptable Brexit deal by autumn 2018. After all, they are one of the few societal forces left that can speak up and guide the country in these extremely challenging times. I guess the news stories this week suggest the sector is still working on that….

That was in November 2017.  What has happened since then?

An article on RP in May 2018 said that our participation in FP9 was dead in the water

  • The UK government needs to make clear that the default position is at least associate membership of EU R&D programmes. It must then reach agreement with the EU over the size of the UK’s financial contribution and level of influence. Researchers should be lobbying strongly on these issues, on which little progress has been made since the referendum in June 2016.
  • Instead, science and universities minister Sam Gyimah has argued that the UK will not participate in the next EU Framework programme, dubbed Horizon Europe, “at any price”. According to the minister, the government’s position paper published in March simply outlines its views on how any future programme could be improved.
  • The European Parliament’s Brexit steering group believes the UK cannot be a net beneficiary from EU research funds post-Brexit, and is unwilling to give the UK a decision-making role in Horizon Europe. Coming from what is arguably the EU’s most democratically representative institution, this is bad but not irreversible news.
  • The government needs to make a move and offer something substantial to the EU in return for the UK’s participation. An attractive financial offer could still make the UK an appealing partner in Horizon Europe. However, with the Commission proposing a €20 billion budget increase compared with Horizon 2020, the UK might need to increase its contribution accordingly.
  • This would mean paying more to participate than it does at present—with no say on the programme’s direction, and no guarantee that it would see a return on its investment. Such a commitment would also have to compete with other post-Brexit spending priorities.

Of course we then had a change of Minister. Vivienne Stern of UUK International was quoted on RP in December urging the new Minister to do something about it:

  • “Deal or no deal, the UK should seek full association to [the EU’s next Framework programme for research and innovation] Horizon Europe as swiftly as possible, to end uncertainty in academic communities across Europe as well as in the UK,” said Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International. “If there is no deal, the minister will need to prioritise planning to mitigate the impact on universities, and press ministers across Europe and the European Commission to decide how they will act to preserve collaboration and student exchange.”

And the Government’s Chief Scientist also intervened (also from Research Professional in December 2018):

  • Appearing in front of a committee of MPs, Patrick Vallance said the government’s desire “is to be fully associated with the European programmes going forward, that’s obviously dependent on a deal”. …EU leaders have repeatedly stressed that a withdrawal agreement must be approved before the EU and the UK can start negotiating their future relationship—to the frustration of the former science minister Sam Gyimah, who told Research Fortnight in October that he wanted to reach a deal on research and innovation at the very beginning of the Brexit negotiations.

And then the European Parliament on 12th December 2018 agreed its position on Horizon Europe (also from Research Professional) – but this didn’t include a position on openness. See this article from 4th December 2018 which suggests it doesn’t look good or that the proposal above will be adopted:

  • The Council agreed on a “partial general approach” to the 2021-27 programme on 30 November, with “promote scientific excellence” listed first in a set of objectives for the programme.
  • Another major issue to be resolved is the budget for the massive research programme. The European Commission originally proposed a budget of €83.5 billion in 2018 prices for Horizon Europe, but the Parliament is seeking €120bn. The Council’s stance has yet to be determined by finance ministers and national leaders.
  • …The Council has also not taken a stance on the participation of non-EU countries, which it says will be part of its budget negotiations. This has added to the fears of Norwegian and Swiss researchers, who were already worried about the position adopted by the Commission on limiting access to parts of the programme, and by MEPs, who want to put greater emphasis on restrictions. Both countries can participate fully at present.
  • …Gunnar Bovim, rector of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told Research Europe that Norwegian researchers are afraid they will be shut out, and that this could fire up Eurosceptic sentiments.  “We look upon ourselves as inside that fence,” he said. “Some voices have been raised saying why do we send this money to Brussels and leave some of it there, why not just divide it in the Research Council of Norway. To me that would be a very bad decision.”
  • Swiss participation could be limited even more, as the country is not in the European Economic Area. Martin Müller, head of Switzerland’s Brussels R&D liaison office SwissCore, says he hopes politicians do not forget that his country has close economic ties with the EU.

Although there is still hope – see this from 4th December:

  • Moedas had a working lunch meeting in Brussels on 3 December with ambassadors and other representatives from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. He said on Twitter that they discussed future international cooperation in Horizon Europe, and that there was a strong commitment that the programme would be “open to the world”.
  • The European Commission has proposed a new way for countries outside the EU to join the programme as associate members, which would give more countries the opportunity to participate substantially. This would be based on them having qualities such as “a good capacity” in R&D, and policies to promote social wellbeing.
  • However, the Commission has proposed caveats, such as that the countries would have to pay in what they take out. Countries that associate via the new route are also likely be excluded from parts of the programme.
  • The European Parliament looks set to demand a further tightening of these proposed restrictions, after its research committee backed a report in November that called for association via the new route to be “based on an assessment of the benefits for the EU”.

So in conclusion, something could be done, but the UK will need to ask, and pay, and the EU will, as they have through all the negotiations so far, put their own interests first.  And it is not all about the UK.  If more openness in research programmes suits the EU, then they will agree to it, not just for the UK but more widely, but expect conditions including contribution to budgets.  Whether the UK can negotiate concessions that put it in a better position than others, or can join with other countries around the world to negotiate on these conditions for everyone’s benefit, remains to be seen.

We might expect that leaving with no deal would put us in a more difficult position for these discussions, although it shouldn’t rule anything out, especially if we end up paying the divorce bill anyway….Just on that:

We think all that suggests that we will end up paying it…if not as part of a withdrawal deal, then as part of a future deal that seeks to sort out some of the mess.  Because why would the EU not insist on that as part of a future arrangement?

You might have missed

Our update from 21st December, covering the Immigration White Paper, grade inflation, accounting for student loans and more.

Consultation on the cost of the Teacher’s Pension Scheme

Nick Gibb, the Minister of State in the Department of Education, announced in a written response on 27th December 2018 that “The Department for Education is launching a consultation in early 2019 to seek views on the impact of the changes to employer contribution costs on state-funded schools, independent schools, further education (FE) colleges and other public-funded training organisations, and universities and other Higher Education institutions (HEI) in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, including which sectors should receive additional funding from the Government. Once the consultation has closed, the Department will make an assessment on the viability of the scheme and the number of institutions participating in the scheme.”

Consultations

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

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HE policy update for the w/e 15th June 2018

A busy week for publications this week, while the government have been busy with Brexit votes and there is a positive story about immigration rules.

The Economics of HE

Commons Public Accounts Committee – The Commons public accounts committee published its report on the higher education market on Friday. After some interesting evidence sessions, Research Professional report that the outcome is disappointing:

  • “Rather than providing an analysis of the problem and proposed solutions as we saw in the Lords economic affairs committee’s report [see below], the PAC report takes the form of an exam question and moves rapidly—after two pages—to conclusions and recommendations. The recommendations mostly involve asking the Department for Education to return to the committee.
  • Those who work in universities will be familiar with complaints from students about the lack of detailed feedback they receive after going to all the effort of submitting a considered piece of work. The PAC might want to reflect on whether this report is an adequate response given the public concern over whether the fees and loans system is fair on students….
  • It’s all a bit vague, which is terribly disappointing given the very good evidence the committee received in this area. The recommendation is formulaic and is drawn in a broad way that lets the department off the hook. It will be quite easy to provide evidence of how the department is putting pressure on universities.”

The conclusions and recommendations are here.  No new news – please define the market, set up an evaluation framework for careers (a CEF?), evidence of success in WP and put pressure on providers, guidance to help students to change institution and a performance framework for the OfS (OfSEF?).

  • The Department treats the higher education sector as a market, but it is not a market that is working in the interests of students or taxpayers. There is greater competition for students between higher education providers, but no evidence that this will improve the quality of the education they provide. Higher education providers have increased their marketing budgets in order to attract students rather than compete by charging different tuition fees. However, the amount of funding for higher education (primarily via tuition fees) has increased by 50% since 2007/08. It is therefore critical that the higher education market is delivering value for money, both for individual students and the taxpayer. The new sector regulator, the OfS, has a primary objective that students “receive value for money”. But neither the OfS nor the Department has articulated well enough what value for money means in higher education, or how they will seek to monitor and improve it.

Recommendation: The Department should write to the committee by October 2018 to explain what it expects a successful higher education market to look like.

  • Young people are not being properly supported in making decisions on higher education, due in large part to insufficient and inconsistent careers advice. The substantial financial commitment required and wide variation in outcomes from higher education mean prospective students need high-quality advice and support to make decisions that are right for them. The complexity of the market and the volume of information available makes it difficult for prospective students, most of whom are teenagers, to assess the quality and suitability of higher education institutions, raising questions over whether student choice alone will drive up the quality of provision. A wide range of other factors influence students’ decisions, such as marketing by higher education providers, the reputation of institutions and their perceived prestige, a student’s family background, as well as the location and costs of travel and accommodation. High-quality, impartial careers advice is critically important, but the support available to students in schools is not good enough. The Department acknowledged that it needs to improve the quality of careers advice for young people. It told us that its Careers Strategy, published in December 2017, will have a “real impact” on young people’s lives and help students make choices which best fit their own aptitude, skills and preferences, but it is not clear how or whether the department will ensure high quality careers advice at school level. It is too early to judge its success, but action is needed quickly and the strategy should be robustly evaluated to ensure it is achieving its aims.

Recommendation: The Department should write to the Committee by October 2018 with details of progress it has made with its careers strategy and the impact it is having. It should set up an evaluation framework to enable it to assess progress.

  • The Department does not have enough of a grip on actions to widen participation in higher education, and is over-reliant on the actions of some universities. The Department’s reforms are designed in part to ensure equal access to higher education, regardless of a student’s background. However, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are still far less likely to enter into higher education than those from more advantaged backgrounds. There have also been substantial drops in part-time and lifelong learning, which are critical to social mobility. The Department told us that it has introduced a Social Mobility Action Plan to address inequalities across the education system, and one of the roles of the OfS will be to ensure best practice in reaching out to students from disadvantaged background is being applied across the higher education sector. However, we are concerned that the incentives in the higher education market do not sufficiently support widening participation. Outreach activities are primarily conducted by universities and while there are areas of good practice, some universities who find it easy to recruit students are not pulling their weight. The OfS told us that each higher education provider will set targets for widening participation and improving outcomes for disadvantaged groups, and it will oversee these Access and Participation Plans, which will be a condition of registration. But it remains to be seen whether the plans to improve performance will have an impact on the life chances for disadvantaged groups.

Recommendation: The Department should provide us with evidence of how it is widening participation and opening higher education to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Department should demonstrate how they will maintain pressure on providers to measure success.

  •  Students have limited means of redress if they are unhappy with the quality of their course, even if they drop out. The relationship between students and higher education institutions has changed substantially since tuition fees were introduced, with a much greater emphasis on whether a course or institution offers value for money. An effective market requires empowered consumers who can switch provider if they are dissatisfied, but this is not the case in the higher education market. Across the sector, only 2% of students transfer provider each year, and students are more likely to drop-out altogether if they are dissatisfied with their course rather than switch provider. When students do switch providers or drop out, they are unlikely to get any of their fees back unless they can demonstrate that they were misled in some way. The OfS will require universities to demonstrate what arrangements they have in place for facilitating transfers, and it will have a responsibility to make sure there is better use of transfers where appropriate. However, given the relative weakness of students as consumers, it is vital that the OfS uses its full powers actively, and works effectively with other regulators, such as the Advertising Standards Authority and the Competition and Markets Authority, to ensure the market functions in the interests of students.

Recommendation: In developing the new regulatory framework, the Department and OfS must ensure students’ interests are protected. The OfS should include clear guidelines to enable students to shift courses or institutions more easily.

  • The new Office for Students has not yet articulated how it will support the varied and complex interests of students. It told us that, as the sector regulator, its role is to regulate universities and colleges “on behalf of students”. However, it is clear that these interests are varied, complex and often competing. The OfS told us that it has established a student panel, although it has chosen not to work with the National Union of Students, to inform how it makes decisions and to ensure that its definition of the student interest is defined by students themselves. It also told us that it plans to develop a student engagement strategy to clarify what the interests of students are so that it can feed these into its regulatory framework, which would include quality of teaching, feedback and graduate outcomes as key areas of focus. But until the OfS has sufficient clarity over what it is trying to achieve in the interests of students, it will not be able to effectively monitor and evaluate the success of its regulatory approach.

Recommendation: The Office for Students should report back in six months to set out in detail how it will measure and report on its performance in regulating for students, and be clear about what its priorities are in protecting student interests.

The summary of the summary is this bit: “We spoke to the Office for Students at its inception and hope that it will set a clear marker that it really is acting in the interests of students from day one. It is still unclear how it will gauge the real concerns of students and ensure that institutions are delivering and sanctioned when they let students down.”

House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee – The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Economics of higher, further and technical education inquiry has reported. They find that the system of post-school education in England is unbalanced with too much emphasis on full time university degrees, and as a result offers poor value for money to individuals, taxpayers and the economy – and they stress the need for immediate reform.  As an official Committee the Government are expected to take note of, and respond to, the report – although it’s not binding on the Government. The current HE Review will certainly include these findings within its deliberations. There is a short summary pamphlet issued by the Committee here.

The report notes that undergraduate HE studies dominate post-school choices. They attribute this to the HE Finance system making it an easy option, alongside the lack of alternative viable, consistent and quality alternatives. The report notes this is not in the country’s best interest.

The key recommendations are:

  • Other post-school options need more funding – Funding for post-school education is too heavily skewed towards degrees. Public funding across all forms and institutions in higher and further education should be better distributed. There should be a single regulator for all higher education (Level 4 and above – the Office for Students is noted) and a single regulator for other post-school education (Level 3 and below).
  • Reversing the decline of part-time and flexible learning – The decline in part-time learning in higher education is a result of restrictions around accessing loans for students who already have a degree, the increase in tuition fees in 2012 and the lack of maintenance support for part-time students (which will be available from 2018/19). Funding restrictions have also led to a decline in part-time study in further education. A credit-based system whereby people can learn in a more modular way and at their own pace should be introduced.
  • Apprenticeships – The Government’s target of three million apprenticeships has prioritised quantity over quality, and should be scrapped. The Government must renew its vision for apprenticeships, concentrating on the skills and choices that employers and individuals really need. The Institute for Apprenticeships should be abolished and replaced with a new regulator for Level 3 and below qualifications, and the Office for Students should take responsibility for those at Level 4 and above.
  • Reforms to student loans and widening maintenance support – The Government claims the high level of interest charged on student loans makes the system progressive, but it is middle-earning graduates who end up paying back most in real terms. The interest rate should be reduced to the 10-year gilt rate, currently 1.5 per cent, from the current rate of RPI plus 3 per cent.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Chair of the Economic Affairs Committee, said:

  • “The way we expect students to access higher and further education is deeply unfair. We must create a single system, including apprenticeships, that offers more choice and better value for money.
  • Maintenance support should be available for all students studying at Level 4 and above. The means-tested system of loans and grants that existed before 2016 should be re-instated, and total support increased to reflect the true cost of living.
  • We recommend that the interest rate charged on post-2012 student loans should be reduced to the level of the ten-year gilt rate. This would mean reducing the interest rate from around about 6 per cent today, to 1.5 per cent. No student should incur interest while studying.”

The report also noted:

  • The statistical claims made by the Government about the relationship between higher education and economic growth are oversimplified. Whatever relationship may or may not have existed in the past, the assumption that sending increasing numbers of today’s young people to university to study undergraduate degrees is the best option for individuals and the economy is questionable. The evidence suggests that there is a mismatch between the qualifications and skills provided by the higher education system and the needs of the labour market. A substantial proportion of current graduates may have been better off pursuing other higher education qualifications in areas where there are skills shortages.
  • The aim of the 2012 reforms to create an effective market amongst universities has not been achieved, as evidenced by the lack of price competition. We have seen little evidence to suggest that the higher education sector is suitable or amenable to market regulation. We are concerned that the replacement of nearly all grant funding by tuition fees, coupled with the removal of the cap on student numbers, has incentivised universities to attract prospective students onto full-time undergraduate degrees. This may also explain the striking increase in grade inflation.
  • The combination of incentives to offer and study for undergraduate degrees has had a negative effect on the provision and demand for other types of higher education.
  • The Teaching Excellence Framework will not impose sufficient discipline on the sector to ensure the quality of the ever-increasing provision of undergraduate degrees. The framework is based on metrics which are too general to relay much information about the quality of an institution or course and are too dependent on unreliable surveys. Risk is borne almost entirely by students and taxpayers rather than the institutions.

With this in mind, there was a parliamentary question on TEF this week:

Q – Gordon Marsden: T what external organisations he plans to consult to take forward his Department’s commitment to appoint an independent reviewer of the teaching excellence framework and its criteria of operation.

A – Sam Gyimah: My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education will appoint a suitable independent person for the purpose of preparing a report on the operation of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), in accordance with the Higher Education and Reform Act 2017. In taking decisions about the TEF, he will take account of advice from partners in the higher education sector. That includes the department’s TEF Delivery Group, which is comprised of representative organisations from the sector plus the Office for Students and the devolved administrations, and gives advice on the design and development of the TEF.

Wonkhe have an analysis of TEF year 3 grade inflation data:

  • “Every institution where data is presented showed evidence of grade inflation [Ed: or just improvement in outcomes?] when comparing the most recent year of first class awards with the supplied historical comparator, in some cases up to a 20 percentage point difference. Most institutions also showed a steady increase over the most recent three years, all of which were substantially above the earlier figure.
  • Every institution showed a rise in the number of first class degrees, and a fall in the number of 2:2, third class or other honours degrees.
  • What doesn’t the data tell us?  Resits, basically. We don’t know to what extent degree candidates are simply not accepting lower awards, and instead choosing to resit elements of their course to achieve a higher award. We also do not know to what extent institutions are encouraging this – in light of the continued idiocy of certain parts of the rankings industry in including “percentage of first class degrees” in league tables, or in the light of student care (and a weather eye on DLHE metrics).
  • The simple proportions are also less reliable for smaller institutions, where you would expect to see a greater fluctuation year on year and cohort by cohort. And we don’t (yet – this may come in future years when the data is derived centrally from HESA) get any splits – of particular interest here would be prior qualifications, but we already know that various student attributes are a good predictor of final grade.”

And the BBC has cut last week’s IFS data and has an interactive tool – adding “But remember, there’s more to life than money…” and the all-important qualifier: “Earnings for different professions may vary over time. The figures are based on students graduating between 2008 and 2012.”  Read last week’s policy update for some critical perspectives on the relevance of this data for current applicants.  Past performance is not really a guide to future performance – and some graduates may end up doing a different job to the rest of the cohort….

Research funding

There were two Parliamentary questions about research funding, one in the context of Brexit

Q – Kemi Badenoch: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps his Department is taking to ensure the maintenance of funding for (a) universities and (b) research projects after the UK ceases to receive European Research Council funding.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The UK is eligible to fully participate in all aspects of the Horizon 2020 programme, including the European Research Council (ERC) while we remain a member of the EU. The Joint Report, reflected in the draft Withdrawal Agreement, envisages that UK entities’ right to participate will remain unaffected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU for the duration of the programme and the lifetime of projects funded under Horizon 2020.
  • If necessary, the Government’s underwrite remains in place. This guarantees the funding for UK participants in projects ongoing at the point of exit, as well as any successful bids submitted before the UK leaves the EU.
  • As part of our future partnership with the EU, the UK will look to establish a far reaching science and innovation pact. The UK would like the option to fully associate to the excellence-based European research and innovation programmes, including Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020. The UK intends to play a full and constructive role in shaping these proposals and we look forward to discussing the detail of any future UK participation with the Commission.

Q – Rebecca Long Bailey: When the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy plans to publish a roadmap for meeting his target of increasing investment in R&D to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027.

A – Sam Gyimah: Since the publication of the Industrial Strategy, we have been speaking to businesses, academics and other stakeholders to develop the roadmap. Through this engagement we are exploring the barriers to increased R&D investment by business, the greatest opportunities for R&D growth over the next decade, and the key policies Government should prioritise to reach the 2.4% goal and deliver economic and societal impact.

Immigration & International Students

EU Students – This week both Layla Moran (Lb Dem Education Spokesperson) and Universities UK have been pressurising the Government to clarify the fee status of EU students for the 2019/20 academic year, warning of a further drop in EU numbers. The Scottish Government confirmed the fee status for EU students in February this year.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “Students from across the EU, who bring great economic and academic value, are already enquiring about 2019 study, but face uncertainty on the expected financial costs of doing so. We know from research that the majority of international students start their research about studying abroad more than 12 months in advance of actual enrolment…there is now an urgent need for clarification to be provided across all parts of the UK. It is critical that action is taken to prevent a drop in EU applications next year.”

Non-EU Doctors and Nurses – Immigration Relaxation – The Government have announced a relaxation on the Tier 2 visa cap which currently limits immigration of non-EU skilled workers to 20,700 per year (see Politics Home) to ensure that non-EU doctors and nurses will be outside of the cap.

The Telegraph reported that a much wider review is expected: “businesses and employers will be able to recruit an extra 8,000 skilled migrants a year from other professions including IT experts, engineers and teachers, effectively increasing the cap by 40 per cent.”

Changes to the immigration rules were announced on Friday that come into force on 6th July that do not seem to go that far:

  • increasing the number of countries that benefit from a streamlined Tier 4 student visa application process – 11 additional countries including China have been added
  • leave to remain for children under the Dubs amendment – including study and healthcare for children who do not qualify for refugee or humanitarian protection leave
  • changes applying to Afghan interpreters and their families that were announced recently
  • the change relating to non-EU doctors and nurses who will no longer be in the Tier 2 visa numbers cap
  • including fashion designers and TV and film professionals in the exceptional talent visa

Opposition to Theresa May’s immigration policies, including whether international students should be included in the overall net immigration target, has been widely reported in the press over the last couple of years, including a lack of support for the current approach from Cabinet members. The change in relation to the NHS may be the start of something bigger. The promised Immigration White Paper was postponed due to the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) investigations into workers within the UK labour market and the impact of international/EU students (due to report in September). Meanwhile there have been pressing calls from the sector (notably from HEPI following the publication of their research into benefits of international students) for the MAC Committee to report ahead of September.

The Immigration White Paper is now rumoured to be scheduled for release in July, to allow for consultation prior to the European Council leaders’ summit on the 18 and 19 October (the target date to agree a withdrawal treaty). The Immigration Bill is expected to be presented to Parliament before 2019.

‘Start up’ Visas – The Home Secretary has announced that people who want to start a business in the UK will be able to apply for a new “start-up” visa from Spring 2019. This is aimed to widen the applicant pool of talented entrepreneurs and make the visa process faster and smoother for entrepreneurs coming to the UK. It will replace the previous visa for graduates, opening it up to a wider pool of talented business founders. It will require applicants to have acquired an endorsement from a university or approved business sponsor, including accelerators.

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:

  • The UK can be proud that we are a leading nation when it comes to tech and innovation, but we want to do more to attract businesses to the UK and our migration system plays a key part in that.
  • That’s why I am pleased to announce a new visa for people wanting to start a business in the UK. This will help to ensure we continue to attract the best global talent and maintain the UK’s position as a world-leading destination for innovation and entrepreneurs.
  • This initiative builds on other recent reforms to the visa system – including doubling the number of visas available on the Exceptional Talent route to 2,000 per year – and shows the government’s commitment to making the UK a dynamic, open, globally-trading nation.”

International Students – During an American Senate hearing the US confirmed they will limit the study visa of Chinese students studying in ‘sensitive’ fields (robotics, aviation, high-tech manufacturing) to a one year duration with an option to renew and extend study into subsequent years after consideration.   The hearing, Student Visa Integrity: Protecting Educational Opportunity and National Security, (originally titled ‘A Thousand Talents: China’s Campaign to Infiltrate and Exploit US Academia’). A spokesperson from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated the policy decision was not driven by race or ethnicity but by the need to safeguard American Intellectual Property in the face of “the fact that China has a publicly-stated policy goal of acquiring sensitive information in technology around the world …that they seek access and recruit global experts regardless of their nationality to meet their science and technology aims.” In opposition to the visa limitations testimony was given on the value of international students at the hearing. What is most interesting is the difference in attitude between the US and UK in the consideration of the benefits of an international student population that the hearing revealed.

In the UK international students are welcomed for the diversity they bring, the further invigoration and internationalisation of the curriculum, the income boost through tuition fees, the levels of postgraduate students, and the significant economic ‘side effects’ benefiting the geographical community (see HEPI). There is also an assumption that (due to the visa system) most international students will return home,  having originally chosen to study here to enhance their own international career standing or bring fresh skills back to their own community (a personal motivation).
Yet the opinion expressed in the American Senate hearing was that the international students should be contributing to American society (and paying for the privilege of doing so):  “Most students and visiting scholars come to US for legitimate reasons. They are here to… contribute their talents to [the US].” Senator Cornyn (Chair of the hearing).  Most likely American academia would have alternative viewpoints to Senator Cornyn on the valuing of international students. Also this appears to be a niche policy decision to infuse intellectual property security concerns into the visa approval process rather than a blanket policy.

Britain and America are two of the major world players in attracting international students and both now have elements of unwelcome emanating through policy decision. It’s notable that Chinese student numbers are the biggest international group to access UK universities; in 2015/16 1 in 4 international originated from China..

Widening Participation and Achievement

There were several parliamentary questions within the widening participation sphere this week.

Part Time Students – Q – Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the effect of changes to higher education funding on student numbers at the Open University in each year since 2011.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The government recognises the decline in part-time study within the sector, and is aware of the impact this has had on the Open University. That’s why the government is committed to supporting part time students and since 2012, it has paid the tuition fees of students studying on part-time courses up-front through a system of subsidised fee loans.
  • In addition, new part-time students attending degree level courses from August 2018 onwards will, for the first time, be able to apply for up-front loans to help them with their living costs. Subject to the development of a robust control regime, these loans will be extended to students on distance learning courses from August 2019.
  • The government continues, through the Office for Students (previously Higher Education Funding Council for England), to provide direct grant funding to support successful outcomes for part-time students. This was worth £72 million in the current academic year (2017/18), and the Open University received a sizeable amount of this funding.
  • This funding reflects the particular costs associated with recruiting and retaining part-time students and includes funds to support successful outcomes for part-time students. The Open University received £48 million to support teaching activity in 2017/18.

Effective Deployment of WP – Q – David Lammy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that the widening participation funding is deployed effectively. And Q – David Lammy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to increase the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds attending university.

The following response covered both questions: A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Widening participation in higher education remains a priority for this government. We want everyone with the potential to have the opportunity to benefit from a university education, regardless of background or where they grew up.
  • University application rates for 18 year olds to full-time study remain at record levels. The proportion of disadvantaged 18 year olds entering full time higher education has increased from 13.6 per cent in 2009 to 20.4 per cent in 2017. Building on this our major review of post-18 education and funding will consider how disadvantaged students receive maintenance support both from government and from universities and colleges and how we can ensure they have equal opportunities to progress and succeed in all forms of post-18 education.
  • We have set up the Office for Students (OfS) with powers to drive forward improvements in access and participation and we have asked the OfS to do more to maximise the impact of spending in this area. In their business plan the OfS plans to evaluate the return on investment on access and participation. We have also asked the OfS to set up an Evidence and Impact Exchange to improve the impact and value for money of providers’ access and participation expenditure.
  • In addition, through the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, we have introduced the Transparency Duty requiring registered higher education providers to publish data on application, offer, acceptance, dropout and attainment rates of students by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This will hold the sector to account for their record on access and retention of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and shine a light on where they need to go further

Targeted Outreach – Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with (a) the Director for Fair Access and Participation and (b) the Office for Students on strengthening university programmes aimed at potential applicants between the ages of 11 and 16 from disadvantaged black, working-class white and other communities. And Q – Gordon Marsden: what discussions he has had with universities and their representative bodies on extending their outreach activities for disadvantaged groups of young people between the ages of 11 and 16.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • In our first guidance to the Office for Students (OfS) we have asked them to challenge higher education (HE) providers to drive more progress through their Access and Participation Plans. Prior attainment is a critical factor in entering higher education and we are asking providers to take on a more direct role in raising attainment in schools as part of their outreach activity. The OfS have also established the National Collaborative Outreach Programme to target areas where progression into higher education is low overall and lower than expected given typical GCSE attainment rates.
  • Through the Higher Education and Research Act, we have introduced a Transparency Duty requiring higher education providers to publish data on application, offer, acceptance, dropout and attainment rates of students by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This will hold the sector to account for their record on access and retention of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and shine a light on where they need to go further.
  • Officials and I are in regular contact with the OfS, including the Director for Fair Access and Participation, and the higher education sector to discuss issues around widening access.

Disabled Applicants – Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Office for Students on encouraging university applications from potential applicants with disabilities.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Widening access to higher education among under-represented or disadvantaged groups is a priority for this government. In our first guidance to the Office for Students we have asked them to ensure that higher education providers include, within their access and participation plans, those students that have been identified as requiring the most support. This includes students with disabilities.
  • Higher education providers have clear responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 to support their students, including those with disabilities
  • Through access agreements – in future known as access and participation plans – higher education providers expect to spend more than £860 million in 2018/19 on measures to improve access and student success for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is a significant increase from £404 million in 2009.

Change in turbulent times

HEPI released Policy Note 7 – Change is coming: how universities can navigate through turbulent political times. It focussed on three key drivers for Universities: internationalisation, the impact of disruptive technologies, and changes to education delivery – the power not only to change the way we teach and learn, but also how we manage information and collect data.

Rebooting learning for the digital age?  As shown by HEPI report 93, improvements across the world in technology have already led to improved retention rates and lower costs:

  • in the US, technology-enhanced learning has produced better student outcomes in 72 per cent of projects and average savings of 31 per cent;
  • in the University of New England in Australia, student drop-out rates have reduced from 18 per cent to 12 per cent via learning analytics; and
  • at Nottingham Trent University, 81 per cent of first year students increased their study time after seeing their own engagement data “

 “Demand for higher education to 2030 As HEPI report 105 uncovers, universities in England should be preparing themselves to  take on at least 300,000 additional full-time undergraduate places by the end of the next decade. This is good news in the long-term but the scale of the transformation that is required now – in terms of increasing capacity – is substantial.

Many universities are already concentrating on the long-term picture. This is best shown by the improvements to university estates. Yet, with a smaller pool of prospective students being relied upon to fill these resources in the short-term, we can expect competition between institutions to increase sharply over the coming years – particularly if it becomes more common for students to switch providers of higher education mid-course under the new regularly landscape of the Office for Students (OfS).”

To steer effectively through the troubled waters the policy note suggests:

“On the one hand, this involves coming together to:

  • learn from each other’s experiences in the global context;
  • identify common challenges;
  • develop appropriate fixes; and
  • present a collective voice in the sector against current political sentiment.

On the other hand, this also involves enhancing the distinctiveness of higher education institutions to:

  • ensure they make a real difference on the ground in other parts of the world;
  • ensure challenges specific to different institutions do not get lost in the general policy debate;
  • develop appropriate strategies for success; and
  • get ahead in an environment of increased competition.

Coming together in unity to learn from one another and develop appropriate strategies, while still maintaining the diversity that is unique to UK higher education, is what will help universities to overcome some of the biggest emerging policy challenges of our time – posed by the pressures of internationalisation, advancements in technology and domestic political developments. Universities today ultimately have two obligations on their hands – the first, to ensure their own individual successes and, the second, to preserve their part in a healthy, wider higher education sector, complete with variety and choice, for generations to come.”

Student experience – what students really want and why it matters

BU hosted Dr Diana Beech from the Higher Education Policy Institute on Wednesday morning for a policy breakfast, part of this year’s CELebrate symposium.  In a packed room and despite the early start, we had a great discussion about student perceptions, value (and value for money). You can read about it and find links to the survey, her slides and other HEPI reports referred to elsewhere on the research blog here.

Student loans – the numbers

The Student Loans Company have published their statistics for England for the financial year 2017-18.

  • The amount  lent  in financial  year 2017-18 to  Higher  Education borrowers was  £15.0billion,   an  increase  of 11.9%  when  compared with 2016-17. A total  of £222.3m was  lent  to  Further  Education borrowers.
  • The amount lent  in financial year 2017-18 for Postgraduate Masters was £582.9million.
  • Net repayments posted to customer accounts within Higher Education amounted to £2.3billion in the financial year 2017-18, an increase of 16.0% compared with 2016-17 (including £399.2million in voluntary repayments).
  • The balance outstanding for Higher Education (including loans not yet due for  repayment)  at  the  end  of  the  financial  year 2017-18 was £104.6billion,an  increase  of 17.0%  when  compared  with 2016-17.
  • With the entry of the Higher Education 2018 repayment cohort into repayment in April 2018, there were 3.8 million borrowers liable  for repayment  and  still  owing  (an  increase  of  4%  compared  to  April 2017).  There  were  a  further  1.2  million  borrowers  not  yet  liable  for repayment bringing the total still owing to 5.0 million.
  • The average Loan Balance for the Higher Education 2018 repayment cohort on entry to repayment was £34,800. This is a £2,380 increase on the previous year average of £32,420.
  • 880,400 (18.6%) of the Higher Education borrowers who had become liable to  repay since  ICR  loans  were  introduced  in  1998 have fully repaid their loan.

Student Drug Attitudes

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and University of Buckingham have released a YouthSight survey on attitudes towards drug use based on the responses of 1,059 full-time undergraduate (UG) students.   On the number of students who have never (71%) or regularly (11%) use drugs the findings contrast slightly from the April 2018 NUS report which noted higher usage. HEPI explain that the NUS sample was targeted and believe this report is more representative of full-time UG students.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI said:

  • This survey provides an important corrective to some of the wilder ideas about today’s students. They are more hardworking and less hedonistic than is often supposed… Our survey shows most students support their institutions taking a tougher, rather than a more relaxed, line on the use of illegal substances by fellow students.’

The survey explains student drug use as attributable to:

  • 47% peer pressure
  • 81% took drugs for recreational purposes
  • 6% took drugs to cope with difficulties with exams

When considering if their HE institution has a drug problem the respondents split with 39% identifying a problem, and 44% stating there wasn’t. The students were concerned about the impact of drug use personally and in society. 88% were concerned drugs negatively impacted mental health; 68% felt it contributed to crime; and 62% were concerned about the cost of the health care burden caused by drug users. Many students recognised excessive alcohol consumption as a serious threat (87% considered alcohol overuse as very serious or quite serious compared to 64% on drug use). The report stated 62% of students want their university to ‘take a stronger line’ on drug dealers and ‘students who repeatedly use drugs’.

Consultations

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

There is still time to contribute to the industrial strategy topical blogs because they’ve extended the deadline until 21 July – yippee! Get your thinking caps on and get in touch with Sarah!

Other news

Local MPs: Richard Drax (South Dorset) used his prime minster question this week to call for her to support a grant for Weymouth’s harbour wall. The PM responded that there were various options that grant funding had to look at carefully, but said that this project was on a list of potential recipients. She anticipated a decision by the summer.

The House of Commons library have let an AI programme loose in Hansard looking at Brexit.

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HE Policy Update (w/e 20 April 2018)

A week of intense debate over fees, artificial intelligence, student nurses and the decline of part time provision. Enjoy!

Fees, fees, fees…and the HE Review

HEPI’s Free and Comprehensive University

HEPI have published a new blog The Comprehensive and Free University by Professor Tim Blackman (VC Middlesex, but writing personally). In essence it argues for free fees and a greater focus on the comprehensive university model (institutions that service their regional community with less focus on entrance requirements, generally less research intensive too).

Blackman commences by tackling the current HE Review. He highlights that because the Government have informed the ‘independent’ panel conducting the HE Review that abolishing tuition fees isn’t an option there is already a political bias. He addresses the arguments against abolishing fees (unfair – non-graduate taxpayers footing bill for those that will become higher earners and unaffordable to the public purse) and raises cross-generational fairness (older graduates had no fees and maintenance grants). Instead he feels the simple solution is to raise income rates within the higher and additional tax bands (effectively raising the repayment threshold to £45,000). He notes approx. 66% of graduates are within these tax bands (so 34% are non-graduate high earners that would contribute). He states the cost of abolishing fees is £7.5 billion per year and that increasing the higher rate tax from 40% to 45% (and the additional rate from 45% to 65%) would fully cover the £7.5 billion.

This approach would see the Treasury holding these taxation purse strings. So a pertinent question is – how much of this funding would actually reach universities and who would be the winners and losers from the Government’s allocation method? Currently the funding going direct from students to Universities is a neater, perhaps fairer, system from the University prospective and one that many within Government appear keen to retain. As the tax would be retrospective we could question whether student number controls be reintroduced, at least until the Treasury was confident the public purse would be repaid. And surely there would be even more focus on graduate outcome earnings?

Returning to Blackman, he isn’t a fan of writing off the loans of existing graduates, despite the unfairness of their being the only paying meat within the chronological free tuition sandwich. He feels those paying off their loans will “know that new cohorts paying no fees will still contribute if and when they become higher earners”. He also doesn’t propose the re-introduction of maintenance grants (as the tax income wouldn’t cover this) and states its right for students who chose to move away from home to study to take out a loan to do so. Blackman believes far more students should study locally and the costs commuter students incur to study at their nearest university could be partly met by public transport discounts funded by reducing the subsidy away from the over-60’s away free travel. Note, adjustments for rurality or areas without public transport aren’t adequately addressed.

At first Blackman’s suggestions that only students that are willing to take loans and pay fees should attend a distant institution appears socially regressive. After all it seems to close down student choice – preventing selection of an institution dependent on whether the course content best fits their interest, selection for the perceived quality of the institution, or attending a prestigious institution for the reported employment outcome boost. There is a clear hit to social mobility in expecting those in the poorest areas, who may be most debt adverse to only attend their nearest institution. What if their local institution doesn’t deliver their programme, e.g. medicine. Is Blackman suggesting the choice would be loans and fees or abandon their career aspirations? Blackman defends his localism by explaining that moving away to attend university residentially is a colonial legacy, and happens less in other countries (America, Australia). He sees moving away as a perk which would only continue via the loan system. He states:

A policy of encouraging local study has many benefits. It is less costly to students and taxpayers, greener in transport terms and would take pressure off many local housing markets. It also offers an option for phasing in free higher education. Just as going to university ‘in state’ in the United States means considerably lower fees than studying out of state, free higher education in England could at least initially be restricted to studying ‘in region’, based on the Government Office regions abolished in 2011. Studying out of region would mean paying a regulated fee, at a level to be decided, but similar in principle to how students from Scotland pay fees to attend English universities.

He does go on to address the social mobility elements:

…of course, [its] potentially an argument against this idea if local study becomes the only choice for many people from low income households because they cannot afford the out-of-region fee or lack the resources to maintain themselves away from home. This would only really be an issue of educational disadvantage if the effect was to narrow the choice of types of university or course, but this choice is already narrowed by ‘top’ universities using academic selection in a way that excludes many such people, whose prior attainment tends to be significantly lower than those from better-off households.

Blackman feels the answer lies within requiring all universities to have more diverse intakes – socially, ethnically and by ability: Institutional quotas incorporating a required balance across entry grades and social background – basically an elaboration of current access benchmarks – would provide a basis for the diversification I advocate even without initially confining free higher education to local study. But it would enable such a policy to be managed so that there are enough free local places for the range of prior attainment in any region.

Above all, at a time when young people are under pressure from so many directions, and the number of part-time adult learners is collapsing, abolishing fees and using higher rate tax bands to pay for it would be an important statement about those who are successful in their careers and businesses investing in young people and adult learning.

Blackman pushes back against HE sector criticism that it is seen as the only way and discredits other vocational routes by weaving in the Government push for more flexible methods of degree delivery:

It also seems possible that with this review we will see the progressiveness of student loans for degree study being criticised as a market distortion, tempting students who would be better opting for shorter vocational courses or apprenticeships. Not only does that threaten to undo the progress made so far with widening access to degree study, but it fails to address far more important issues about what we are teaching and how, such as replacing outmoded academic years and credit with more flexible competency-based learning and assessment.

Blackman does believe there is a risk that student number controls could be reintroduced, even with the current fee loan system by noting that the Treasury’s purse isn’t unlimited. The expected future rise in the number of young people aspiring to enter higher education (as outlined in HEPI report 105) will challenge any funding system, but loans no longer mean that student number controls are off the agenda given the level of taxpayer contribution to settle unpaid debt and support high-cost subjects. The idea that fees and loans would guarantee university autonomy and funding has also worn thin with the Office for Students’ new regulatory regime and a further fees freeze.

Loan Interest Rates

The RPI inflation rise created renewed criticism this week as it means student loan interest rates will increase to 6.3% in September (up from 6.1%). Much of the controversy stems from the use of RPI which has been denounced as inappropriate method for student loans (RPI is no longer used as a national statistic). The Government now uses the consumer price index for many calculations and there have been calls for it to be applied to student loans.  The Guardian ran with the story: Ministers under fire as student loan interest hits 6.3% on Wednesday. To put this into context re-read Martin Lewis’ explanatory article for his clear explanation of why (for 83% of students) the interest rate rise won’t mean they ever pay more. Here’s an excerpt:

The interest doesn’t change what you repay each year

You become eligible to repay your student loan in the April after you leave University.

From this point, students must repay loans at a rate of 9% of everything they earn above £25,000 each year (or more technically £2,083 a month). So if you earn £30,000, as that’s £5,000 more than the threshold, you repay 9% of it – which is £450 a year.

This means the amount you owe (the borrowing plus interest) never has an impact on what you repay each year. I know people really struggle with this, so let’s pick out of the air a current salary of £35,000 (purely done for maths ease as it’s £10,000 above the threshold) and look at how different levels of borrowing impact your repayments – though the same principle applies whatever you earn.

  • Student loan & interest: £20,000. Your earnings: £35,000.
    As you repay 9% of everything above £25,000 your annual repayment is £900.

 

  • Student loan & interest: £50,000. Your earnings: £35,000. 
    As you repay 9% of everything above £25,000 your annual repayment is £900.

 

  • To get silly to prove a point: student loan & interest: £1 billion. Your earnings: £35,000. 
    As you repay 9% of everything above £25,000 your annual repayment is £900.

 

As you can see, changing what you owe – even to the absurd level of £1 billion – simply doesn’t impact your repayments (you may find it easier to listen to my BBC Radio 5 Live student finance podcast to understand this).

 

HE Review and Fees

At UUK’s Political Affairs in HE Forum on Thursday HE fees received frequent mention. A wide range of personal views were stated: Conference Chair Stephen Bush (New Statesman) opened by declaring the days of £12,000 fees are gone. Katie Perrior (previous Director of Comms at No 10) highlighted how if the Government can only make a measly concession on fees its better ’not to go there’ with the nuance the review should focus on wider issues instead. Her take was that the review outcome would tackle loan interest rates and perhaps address maintenance grants. Speaking officially in the session on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding Philip Augar (Chair of the HE Review panel) set out to bring the audience ‘up to date’ and provide an ‘inking into the panel’s current thinking’. The official word on the HE Review is that it will be much broader than a review of fees, covering far more ground. The review has to fit with the Government’s objectives to reduce the deficit and the national debt, and decisions must be taken based on evidence.

The panel are approaching the review based on two questions:

  1. What should the tertiary education system be doing for the country (what are its objectives)?
  2. How does the current system match up to this?

The panel are subdividing the evidence between economic and social objectives.

Economic requirements for tertiary system:

  • Skills
  • Innovation (expectation for the tertiary system to create innovation)
  • The assertion that FE and HE is crucial for economic dynamism
  • Value for money (one of the biggest issues)
  • The premise that all must be done transparently and in the most official manner
  • There must be a balance of contributions between state and employers

Social elements:

  • Improving life chances
  • Accessible education and training
  • Cultural issues – education fostering good citizenships and interaction
  • Excellence – any changes must not risk the sector’s academic excellence

Philip confirmed workstreams matching and measuring against these criteria were currently in progress, including reference and focus groups across the range of students, employers and providers. He stated he felt there was ‘room to improve value and coherence’, and then promptly left the conference for a pressing parliamentary engagement before questions could be asked.

Other members of the panel were:

Rt Hon Lord Willetts, former Universities and Science Minister​ (Conservative)

Professor John Denham, Professor, University of Winchester and former government minister (Labour)

Each went on to give their opinion of the HE Review.

Willetts presented a supportive stance for Universities and felt the problems and challenges within tertiary education mainly lay outside of the University sector. He felt the review should tackle:

  • The underfunding of FE
  • Strengthening non-university routes
  • Part time and mature HE opportunities

He felt the current fees model was the best way (for young, full time, undergraduates) – but that the grievances over the interest rate should be addressed. He was clear that fees were over-debated and echoed the need to move away from fees to tackle the more pressing above three issues he described. On part time and mature he felt an entirely different funding model (non-loan) is needed.

An interesting point he highlighted is that public spending on apprenticeships now exceeds public spending on Universities.

 

John Denham presented a range of more complicated messages questioning whether the HE system is actually producing what the UK economy and students need, specifically on graduate underemployment. He felt how an institution responds to the funding system is pivotal – more than what the funding system is.

Although Denham is a Labour party member, and while he conceded that abolishing fees is attractive, he doesn’t feel it’s the answer. He noted if fees are abolished but everything else stays the same the result will be a costly system that delivers exactly as it does already (and doesn’t tackle any of the systemic problems – widening participation, achievement gaps, graduate outcomes). Denham’s argument was that the HE system can be made cheaper. He also noted that the investment in FE is ‘pathetically low’ and requires addressing [although presumably not at the expense of the HE sector – which the current system of direct fee payments from student to institution provides a limited safeguard against].

Quality of Apprenticeships & Skills

On Tuesday the House of Commons Education Select Committee met to consider the quality of apprenticeships and skills training. Witnesses called to provide evidence were:

  • Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, Association of Employment and Learning Providers
  • Lady Andrée Deane Barron, Group Education and Central Skills Director, Central YMCA
  • Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy and External Affairs, Chartered Management Institute

The session focused on apprenticeships and what support could be offered to apprentices who were struggling. There was discussion about entry level requirements to apprenticeships and whether they would be able to recruit the kind of able candidate who could not suit or afford university.

Dawe was sceptical of the idea that everyone should be a level 3 or level 4 apprentice. He stated there was a lack of level 2 apprentices and the UK really needed more of these.

Degree-level apprenticeships were discussed with Lucy Powell (Lab/Co-op, Manchester Central) explaining that the committee had met a lot of degree-level apprentices, and despite the impressive quality of candidate, many had needed an A grade in their maths exam to win a place. She questioned what this meant for social mobility.

Dawe responded that high grades did not necessarily differentiate between different social classes. However, many organisations were considering different ways of assessing potential candidates, e.g.  Dyson has an “amazing programme” full of “incredible applications“. Dawe argued the more high-grade students who moved in, the more tertiary education would transform. Petra Wilton presented statistics to argue that apprenticeships were supporting social mobility: 49% of apprentices were aged 30, 52.5% were female, and 51% were from disadvantaged regions. She went on to say the all age process means that those that did not get a degree the first time round, had access now and ‘failed graduates’ found it opened their career prospects in ways “they had never imagined“.

It was also noted that travel cost support for apprentices would particularly benefit those living in rural areas and could improve attendance at face to face delivery sessions.

More generally it was argued that the external evaluation of apprenticeship quality requires improvement to support employer deliver and stronger progression pathways are needed.

Other apprenticeship news

DfE’s Apprenticeship and levy statistics note a drop in apprenticeship starts – down by 31% (25,400 starts in Jan 2018 compared to 36,700 in Jan 2017). The Independent covered the story noting ‘the structure and implementation of the apprenticeship levy has acted as a barrier and brake to skills development’.

Artificial Intelligence

The House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence has published AI in the UK: ready, willing and able? following their recent inquiry. The inquiry concluded the UK is capable of being an AI world leader and a great opportunity for the British economy. Excerpts:

As soon as it works, no one calls it AI anymore …

Artificial intelligence has been developing for years, but it is entering a crucial stage in its development and adoption. The last decade has seen a confluence of factors—in particular, improved techniques such as deep learning, and the growth in available data and computer processing power—enable this technology to be deployed far more extensively. This brings with it a host of opportunities, but also risks and challenges, and how the UK chooses to respond to these, will have widespread implications for many years to come.

‘Access to large quantities of data is one of the factors fuelling the current AI boom.’  The report describes how balancing data gathering and access with personal privacy needs careful change. To do this means not only using established concepts, such as open data and data protection legislation, but also the development of new frameworks and mechanisms, such as data portability and data trusts.  A nod is made to safeguarding amid the recent scandal too: ‘Large companies which have control over vast quantities of data must be prevented from becoming overly powerful within this landscape’.

The report calls for:

  • Government and the Competition and Markets Authority to proactively review use and monopolisation of data by big technology companies
  • To ensure use of AI does not inadvertently prejudice the treatment of particular groups in society. Government to incentivise the development of new approaches to the auditing of datasets used in AI, and to encourage greater diversity in the training and recruitment of AI specialists.
  • Create a growth fund for UK SMEs working with AI to scale their businesses; a PhD matching scheme (costs shared with private sector) and standardisation of a mechanism for spinning out AI start-ups (based on University research).
  • Increasing visas for overseas workers with valuable skills in AI.
  • An AI Council is formed to rationalise the hopes and fears associated with AI and to inform consumers when artificial intelligence is being used to make significant or sensitive decisions.
  • Government investment in skills and training to mitigate the digital disruption to the jobs market that AI is likely to exacerbate. The National Retraining Scheme may be vital, needs to be developed in partnership with industry taking on board lessons learnt from the apprenticeships scheme. More AI in children’s curriculum. Conversion courses (3-6 months) to meet needs of researchers and industry.
  • The Presenti-Hall Review (intellectual property management in AI) recommendations be endorsed and the government commit to underwriting, and where necessary replacing, funding for European research and innovation programmes.
  • Law Commission should provide clarity regarding the adequacy of existing legislation should AI systems malfunction, underperform or otherwise make erroneous decisions which cause harm.
  • AI developers to be alive to the potential ethical implications of their work and the risk of their work being used for malicious purposes. (This was discussed on Monday 16th’s Today programme on Radio 4). Funding applications should demonstrate consequential understanding of how the research might be misused. 5 principles were proposed to form a shared ethical AI framework.

Read the report in full here.

The report has been heavily criticised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (see their press release) who state: The recommendations on how the UK can become a global leader in Artificial Intelligence are off the mark. While the report contains numerous uncontroversial and welcome suggestions on such topics as increased use of AI in the National Health Service, more visas for talented technologists, and the need to make public sector data sets available to the private sector, many of the recommendations would hamper the development of AI domestically and antagonise foreign innovators.

The report acknowledges the need to make it easier for universities to form “spin-out companies,” which are effectively startups with university ownership of intellectual property. Reform of the current spin-out procedure is necessary, though that is only a small part of the large amount of regulatory barriers for startups in the UK. It is not enough to care only about university research when the large American companies criticized for being too large were not university spin-outs themselves. 

 

It is helpful that the UK’s Parliament is examining the opportunities that artificial intelligence creates. However, it would do better to focus on removing the barriers currently in place, rather than developing new ones.

 

Do read the short press release for critique on other elements of the Lords report if you have an interest in this area.

UKRI – Interim Executive Chair

UK Research and Innovation have appointed Dr Ian Campbell as the new interim executive chair of Innovate UK. Campbell will take over from 4 May until a permanent Executive Chair is appointed. His background is within aging, life sciences, medical devices and diagnostics.

Dr Ian Campbell said: “I am absolutely delighted to be appointed as interim Executive Chair of Innovate UK. Our role as the business-facing arm of UK Research and Innovation is more important than ever as we seek to meet the target of spending 2.4% of our GDP on research and development. Innovate UK, working together with all the research councils has a key role to play in realising that ambition through flagship programmes such as the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. I am really looking forward to working with and leading our fantastic team to make sure that businesses have the support they need.”

Here is the press release on the interim appointment.

 

Widening Participation & Achievement

HE’s influence on life and death

Nora Ann Colton (UCL) blogs for Wonkhe to explore the link between lack of HE provision and high rates of mortality within cold spot areas. Excerpt: In 2014, HEFCE published maps that revealed “cold spots” in higher education provision across England. These maps revealed gaps in subject provision, student mobility, and graduate employment. Though this work was significant in providing useful information for higher education providers and local authorities, there is more to the question of educational “cold spots”. There has always been an understanding that a lack of employment opportunities, poverty, and deprivation lead to higher mortality rates, but recent research suggests a link between a lack of higher education provision and high rates of mortality.

Nora highlights Blackpool as an example of ‘death by no higher education’ where demand for professional occupations is increasing and fewer and fewer jobs are available for lower skilled workers. Nora discusses the research demonstrating that better-educated people live in less-polluted areas, tend to be less obese, are more physically active, are less likely to smoke, and do not as frequently engage in risky behaviours. She argues against an economically focussed reductionist approach to HE:  A reductionist approach to higher education, its mission, and its impact fails to recognise the profound effect that it can have on an individual in terms of shaping their quality of life, health and life expectancy. Nora calls for the sector to re-consider their messaging:

If a university education is the best signifier of future good health and high earnings, the higher education sector needs to get its messaging right. This approach requires that we recognise that higher education and the missions of universities are more than simply getting a student a job. Institutions must work with the government and the health sector to ensure these life changing outcomes. The higher education sector needs to start adopting this approach to fulfil its role in ensuring that we not only have a better-educated working population, but a healthier one as well.

 

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

Disabled Students

Q – Sir Mark Hendrick: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the introduction of the £200 self-contribution for disabled students who are in receipt of disabled student allowances on (a) the take-up of the equipment needed to study independently and (b) trends in the level of participation of disabled students; and if he will make a statement.

A – Sam Gyimah: The most recent data show that, for full-time undergraduate students domiciled in England, 4,600 fewer students were in receipt of equipment Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) in 2015/16 than in 2014/15. The main reason for this fall is that the £200 student contribution to the costs of computer hardware took effect from September 2015.

This government remains committed to supporting disabled students in higher education, both through DSAs and through supporting higher education providers’ efforts to improve the support they offer their disabled students. Alongside this commitment, we are keen to better understand the impact of DSAs on eligible students, including that of recent DSAs reforms. We have commissioned a research project to explore this – we will respond to the research findings when they are available in spring 2018.

WP Statistics

HESA have released their statistical UK performance indicators for 2016-17 using the Polar 4 measures. This link gives a good summary, or for a brief insight Wonkhe note:

6.6% of UK-domiciled full-time first-degree students received Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).

On the non-continuation rates of part-time first-degree entrants, and rates of resumption of study after a year out – of the 31,155 full-time, first-degree entrants who did not continue into their second year in 2015/16 10% resumed study at the same provider the following year. The release also shows that, two years after entering higher education, around a third (33.5%) of part-time students had terminated their studies. The Open University accounted for 83% of these students.

Lifelong Learning (House of Lords)

On Tuesday the House of Lords debated Lifelong Learning. Baroness Garden of Frognal (Lib Dem) opened the debate by discussing the huge decline in part time degree uptake and stated the higher fee system was “undoubtedly one of the major factors that prevents adults from upskilling or reskilling” She asked the minister to comment on fee changes and its impact on disadvantaged groups. Shadow spokesperson for education, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, agreed that fees were a cause of decline and raised questions on the Government’s target for apprenticeship starts.

The impact of technology creating changes within employment and employment opportunities was raised and the Baroness called on the minister to comment on the Made Smarter review (proposes to digitally upskill 1m people over the next five years through an online platform). Lord Knight of Weymouth (Labour) stated a lifelong learning culture was vital as technology will force multiple career changes within an individual’s life. He concluded that radical reform was needed and “not just tinkering with a redundant system“.

The Baroness stated craft and creativity had “been squeezed out” of the school curriculum in favour of academic content and she asked the Government to discuss their engagement on this topic, along with how the Government were encouraging adults to learn languages.

She said that Government should recognise that lifelong learning was critical and explicitly give the recommendation that all universities should “consider how best to support this educational provision, either through developing a more flexible curriculum or producing open educational resources.” Lord Addington (Lib Dem) added the importance of lifelong learning and skills for those with dyslexia and other hidden disabilities.

Baroness Bakewell (Lab), a member of the Artificial Intelligence Committee, asked if the post-18 review of funding would confront the fourth industrial revolution.

Lords Spokesperson for Higher Education, Viscount Younger of Leckie, discussed the points made throughout the debate and stated that ‘lifelong learning was becoming increasingly important due to a number of trends and challenges that are shaping the future of work in the UK.”

He outlined the various Government schemes and initiatives that aided in the development of skills throughout life which included the national retraining scheme, career learning pilots, the flexible learning fund and the outreach and cost pilots. He stated that the response to the T-level consultation would be released “very soon.”

On barriers to part-time learning he said that the review of the post-18 education-plus funding would look at how we can encourage flexible and part-time learning to allow people to study throughout their lives.

Nursing Students

Earlier in the academic year some nursing students were overpaid on their student loan.

Helen Jones asked a parliamentary question to follow this up:

Q – Helen Jones: what estimate he has made of the number of nursing students who have received incorrect payments from the Student Loans Company and who have been told that money will as a result be deducted from their future payments.

While the parliamentary question hasn’t been answered yet (due on Monday) the Government have responded on how they intend to recover the funds from nursing students who have been overpaid on their student loan. Additional payments of up to £1,000 and a deferred re-payment scheme have been set up. The Government says affected students can apply for this additional, non-repayable, maintenance support for the rest of this academic year if they are facing hardship. The Student Loan Company will also defer the recovery of the overpaid funds until affected students have finished their courses and can afford to repay. Overpaid students will be eligible for normal support as per usual in the next academic year.

Sam Gyimah stated: “My priority has been to ensure none of the affected student nurses should suffer hardship as a result of an administrative error. These short-term, practical steps will provide immediate help for those who need it so they can concentrate on their studies and their future careers without concern.”

The Royal College of Nursing have responded:

“This is a small but welcome recognition of the problem. But it does not go anything like far enough. Student nurses will still struggle to pay bills and childcare costs and they must not be forced to turn to loan sharks or even quit their studies as a result. 

“This was not a problem of their making and we will not let them pay the price. The overpayment mistakes must be written off and they need money this month without a bureaucratic nightmare.

“This announcement lacks detail and we will keep asking the difficult questions until students have the answers.”

Parliamentary Questions

Student Loans – Appointment

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education when he plans to appoint a new permanent chief executive of the Student Loans Company.

A- Sam Gyimah: The Student Loan Company’s (SLC’s) Shareholding Administrations (the Department for Education, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Irish Executive) are working closely with the SLC Board on the appointment of a new permanent CEO. This appointment will take place as soon as possible.

TEF

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education when he plans to appoint the independent chair of the review into the Teaching Excellence Framework.

A – Sam Gyimah: My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State is planning to appoint a suitable independent person to report on the operation of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework by autumn 2018. The department is currently engaged in a process for identifying people who have both the required experience and can command the confidence of the sector.

 

STEM

Q – Gordon Marsden: what discussions he has had with the (a) Home Secretary and (b) Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the European Union on universities being able to continue to recruit academics to teach STEM subjects after the UK leaves the EU.

A– Sam Gyimah: The government recognises that the ability to continue to attract Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) academics from across the EU post-exit is a priority for the higher education (HE) sector. That is why departments are working to ensure the interests of the HE sector are represented in EU exit planning, and the government has been clear that the UK will remain open to academic staff and researchers from Europe and beyond.

To help provide certainty to current and prospective EU academics, in December 2017 we reached an agreement with the EU that EU citizens living in the UK when we exit will be able to get on with their lives broadly as now, and enjoy rights such as access to healthcare, benefits, and education. We will extend the December deal to those that arrive during the implementation period, but EU citizens who arrive here during this period must register with the Home Office after three months residence in the UK.

We are considering the options for our future migration system and a crucial part of this work is the government commissioning the Migration Advisory Committee to assess the impact of EU exit on the UK labour market. Their report in September will help to inform our thinking.

Elsewhere, the government is taking steps to increase the supply of important STEM skills, including by supporting new institutions such as the New Model in Technology and Engineering and the Institute of Coding, where a consortium of employers and universities will ensure HE courses meet the needs of the economy.

Contract Cheating

Q – Stephen Timms: what assessment he has made of the prevalence of fraudulent dissertation-writing services for university students; and what plans he has to address that practice.

A- Sam Gyimah: Higher education providers, as autonomous organisations, are responsible for handling matters of this nature, including developing and implementing policies to detect and discourage plagiarism. To help providers tackle the issue, we asked the Quality Assurance Agency, Universities UK and the National Union of Students to produce new guidance, which was published in October 2017.

This guidance is the first set of comprehensive advice for providers and students on the subject. It makes clear that where providers are working with others to deliver programmes, such as through validation, care should be taken to ensure that partner organisations are taking the risks of academic misconduct seriously. Providers are also encouraged to consider steps to scrutinise potential partners’ processes and regulations when developing validation arrangements. This is in line with the wider expectations set out in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education which all providers must meet. The code establishes the fundamental principle that degree awarding bodies have ultimate responsibility for academic standards and the quality of learning opportunities, regardless of where these opportunities are delivered and who provides them.

Going forward, I expect the Office for Students to encourage and support the sector to implement strong policies and sanctions to address this important issue in the most robust way possible.

2019/20 EU student fee levels

Q – Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether non-UK EU students starting university courses in the UK in academic year 2019-20 will be charged home student fees for the full duration of their course.

A – Sam Gyimah: Applications for courses starting in 2019/20 do not open until September 2018, and we will ensure EU students starting courses at English Institutions in that academic year have information well in advance of this date.

 

Consultations

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

Other news

Social Media: a new All Party Parliamentary Group has launched on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing. It will be chaired by Chris Elmore MP (Labour).

Disadvantage: An Education Policy Institute report comparing educationally disadvantaged pupils within England with other nations has concluded England needs to double the number of disadvantaged pupils achieving the top GCSE grades to match the performance of the best nations.

Industrial Strategy: Ministers have announced £8 million for innovation to tackle global climate change and prepare for natural disasters as part of the Industrial Strategy for Commonwealth countries.

Transition to work: Stephen Isherwood writes about the stark differences between academic and working life in Communicating the university-to-work transition to students.

He states we underestimate the difficulties of the transition that students have to make when they start full-time work. That it’s a myth that employers expect fully work-ready hires who don’t require any development, but the spectrum of experience ranges from the student who hasn’t even had a bar job, to those with a one-year placement and more. The biggest development need is found in the complex areas of working with others. “Teamwork” is vague – a term used to describe managing up, dealing with conflicts, and working across complex team structures – University group exercises don’t match up to this. Real on the job experience is valued most and graduates with meaningful work experience are more employable. Isherwood states employers think that interns are much more likely to have the skills they seek than those without work experience:

But not all work experience has to be gained via a city internship in a gleaming Canary Wharf skyscraper. Work experience comes in many forms. Pulling shifts in a restaurant often involves dealing with demanding people. A student on a supermarket till can see around them the business decisions that companies make on a day-to-day basis. The fact that fewer and fewer young people are now working part-time during their school years is a problem.

Students who interview well demonstrate how they proactively developed relevant skills. A problem with course-related group work examples is that everyone has them. Employers are more likely to hire the student who has done more than they were told to, and can explain how they overcame difficulties and got stuff done.

He concludes:

It’s in the interests of employers, universities, and the students themselves to improve transitions into work. The more students gain meaningful experiences to develop the skills that will get them started in their career, the deeper their understanding of their strengths, and the easier and quicker they will transition to the world of work.

The Guardian ran a related article this week: Working while you study: a means to an end or a career opportunity.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

 

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

 

HE Policy Update w/e 9th March 2018

While we’re all excited about Sam Gyimah’s visit to BU next week, policy continues to develop in HE.  If you haven’t booked your ticket for Sam’s audience yet, please do.  Here’s your weekly summary.

Universities Minister visiting BU!

On Thursday 15 March Sam Gyimah MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation will visit BU. During the evening he will host An Audience with Sam Gyimah MP. This is a rare opportunity for students and staff to quiz Sam through an interactive question and answer event. Sam will take questions from the audience on HE matters and wider political areas that are of interest to students. He will then invite the audience to discuss and engage with him on topics he will pose. There will be food and refreshments served after the event to enable networking and discussions to continue.

We are pleased to invite staff members to book onto this event – click here to book your place.

Doors open for the event at 17:30, the event will commence at 17:45 and finish for refreshments at 19:30. Colleagues and students must book a ticket to access the event and bring their ticket with them.  Please circulate the details of this event to your colleagues and the students you interact with – all BU staff and students welcome!   Please also encourage students to attend – Sam really wants to hear from and engage with students   – you will have seen he has described himself as the “Minister for Students”, so this is a chance to inform his thinking.

Earlier this week Sam gave an interview to The Student Room, it’s a lengthy 12 minutes, but very interesting to hear Sam’s responses to the student posed questions on a good range of topics. Last week Sam spoke at the Office for Students’ inaugural conference. The contents of his speech come under fire from Andrew McRae (Exeter) in Where’s the minister’s vision focused? The article implies the Minister is looking at  the obvious rather than getting to grips with complex HE issues. Come and find out for yourself when Sam comes to BU.

Sam was also criticised in the news this week because he declined to attend the Commons Science and Technology Committee research integrity inquiry. He did subsequently attend. Colleagues interested in the research integrity inquiry can read the proceedings here or watch the session on Parliament TV here.

Non-continuation rates

HESA released non-continuation performance indicator data this week. There are yearly fluctuations in the data, and in general there is a downtrend trend across the years. However, non-continuation has been increasing since 2012-13 and the most recent data published shows a further slight rise in the rates for young, full time first degree students. Part time mature students also have higher non-continuation rates than the part timers aged under 30.

View the HESA tables here.

WP student non-continuation rates dropped slightly. OFFA welcomed this but urged caution as it’s only a slight change (8.8% in 2014/15 to 8.6% for 2015/16). Press interest has mainly focussed on the Scottish Universities and their slightly lower drop out average (BBC, Times). Wales and Northern Ireland continue to perform better than Scotland and England.

HESA also released HE income and expenditure (16/17) details this week. In England tuition fees accounted for 52.2% of the sector’s total income. Across the whole of the UK 54.7% (£18.9 billion) was spent on staff costs. Read more in Research Professional. 

International Women’s Day

Wonkhe interview four leading HE women. Hear from: Clare Marchant, Valerie Amos, Maddalaine Ansell, and Alison Johns.  Jess Moody of the ECU blogs in a personal capacity encouraging us to Look again at International Women’s Day. And Shân Wareing (LSBU) reflects on the moment she became a feminist and what it means for the proportion of women in senior HE roles today.

U-Multirank announced a new ‘gender balance’ indicator on International Women’s Day. It notes that imbalances can be seen in the ratio of women to men studying in Europe across nine subjects. This gender gap widens as students move from bachelor and master studies to PhD. In all nine study subjects, women dominate at the bachelor/ master level at 60-80% (varies across the nine subjects) but at PhD level female representation is 39-63%. At PhD females within the fields of nursing, political science and social work all fall below 50%. In commitment to International Women’s Day U-Multirank pledged to press for women’s progress in HE by analysing the gender balance across all subject areas. They state:

“the new indicator on ‘gender balance’ in higher education will be a ranked indicator. It will measure the share of women studying in higher education across various study subjects, levels as well as the gender make-up of academic staff. It aims to give an insight into the university’s overall gender balance.”

National Apprenticeship Week

We’re all familiar with the Government’s stance on vocational alternatives to HE study, degree apprenticeships and shifting thinking away from a HE ‘default’. This week was national apprenticeship week and a plethora of case studies and articles have reinforced the Government’s messaging.

HEFCE have blogged Why degree apprenticeships are vital to the local economy

Anne Milton, the Skills Minister, speaks passionately of apprenticeships as a real alternative for students of all abilities.

Disappointingly the case studies tend to focus on FE level training. Adam Evenson, law graduate, talks of his apprenticeship with Gordon Marsden (shadow minister for apprenticeships) while he completes his level 3 in business administration. And Jack Brittain talks of his engineering apprenticeship.

Clamp down on Alternative Providers

The Public Accounts Committee published Alternative Higher Education Providers calling for improvements in the regulation of alternative providers. This is set within the regulatory context of the OfS removing the ‘Basic’ category from the HE register.   Here are the headlines and recommendations:

  • The Office for Students must prioritise action on malpractice and honour their commitment to protect students’ interests.
  • There are still too many students dropping out of their courses.
    Recommendation: The Office for Students should set out what more, beyond the existing approach to imposing sanctions, it will do to ensure that non-continuation rates reduce further year on year, and confirm by when it expects to reduce non-continuation rates for alternative providers to the same level as for the rest of the HE sector.
  • How, in practice, will the OfS protect and promote students’ interests at the centre of its regulatory system?
    Recommendation: As the OfS develops, we will be looking to see it demonstrate that protecting student interests is indeed central to its approach, effective representation for students on the Board, mechanisms for consulting students, and raising standards for students across the whole HE sector, irrespective of whether they study at traditional or alternative HE institutions. The OfS should set out a clear strategy, with timescales, on how it will promote student interests.
  • The Department isn’t producing sufficiently timely data to allow robust oversight of providers. It has also failed to recover student loan payments it made to ineligible students.
    Recommendation: By September 2018, the Department, the SLC and the OfS should develop a more ambitious plan for what data they will collect to monitor provider performance and to avoid further ineligible payments. This plan should set out how they will collect data including the development of better data systems akin to those used in other parts of government and in the private sector.
  • The Department doesn’t have sufficiently effective systems in place to identify promptly where it needs to intervene to address fraud or emerging issues.
    Recommendation: By the end of 2018, the Department and the OfS should develop a more systematic and proactive approach to identifying problems emerging in the sector so that it can take prompt action to deal with failing providers and protect the interests of learners.
  • By the end of 2018, the Department and the OfS should develop a more systematic and proactive approach to identifying problems emerging in the sector so that it can take prompt action to deal with failing providers and protect the interests of learners.
    Recommendation: By the end of 2018, the Department and the OfS should develop a more systematic and proactive approach to identifying problems emerging in the sector so that it can take prompt action to deal with failing providers and protect the interests of learners.
  • The alternative provider sector still presents too many opportunities to fraudsters.
    Recommendation: As one of its first tasks, the OfS should set out how it will investigate and clamp down on recruitment malpractice, faking attendance records and coursework, and opaque arrangements for validating degrees, and produce a robust plan for remedying these problems across the sector.

Parliamentary Questions

The pension strikes continue to be major news this week. Sam Gyimah responds to a strike related parliamentary question and a wide selection of other topics.

Strikes

Q – Jo Swinson (Lib Dem): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the effect on students of the loss of teaching hours as a result of the university lecturers’ pension strike.

A – Sam Gyimah (Con):

  • Universities are autonomous institutions and it is for them to assess the impact of the strike action on their provision. While the Department for Education has not made its own assessment, we remain concerned about any impact of the strikes on students and expect universities to put in place measures to maintain the quality of education that students should receive.
  • We note that the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which represents UK higher education organisations as employers, polled the 56 universities, which were the focus of strikes on 22 and 23 February 2018. Results of this polling indicate that the overall impact in four out of five institutions was between ‘none’ and ‘low-medium’.

School leavers progressing to HE

Q – Douglas Chapman (SNP): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what proportion of school leavers have participated in higher education in England in each year since 2010.

A – Sam Gyimah (Con):

  • The department has two principal sources showing participation in education and other activities by young people as they transition between ages 16 and 19. Destination measures show the activities of young people in the year following their completion of key stage 4 (GCSEs) and key stage 5 (A-levels and other Level 3). The 16-18 Participation Statistical First Release (SFR) shows snapshot estimates of participation in different activities at each of academic ages 16, 17 and 18.
  • Destination measures show the percentage of students with sustained participation in education or employment over six months following the end of their phase of study. Information on pupil destinations is published annually on GOV.UK at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-destinations.
  • The table in attachment one shows the proportion of students in sustained study at higher education institutions since 2010 following their completion of 16-18 study (state-funded mainstream schools and colleges in England). See table NA10 in the ‘Key stage 5 –national tables: SFR56/2017’ document for full breakdowns: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/652777/SFR56_2017_KS5_National_Tables_1516.ods.
  • Estimates of national participation rates in England at academic ages 16, 17 and 18 are provided in the department’s SFR ‘Participation in education, training and employment: 2016’ published here https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/participation-in-education-training-and-employment-2016. These differ from the destination measures estimates provided, because they are not linked to previous study and provide estimates for the whole population, and they are based on a snapshot of activities at the end of the calendar year (rather than over a six-month period).
  • The table in attachment two shows estimates of the proportion of young people participating in full-time education, by institution type, at academic age 16 and 18, at the end of 2016.
  • Proportion of students in sustained study at HEIs (Word Document, 13.88 KB)
  • Participation in full-time education by age (Word Document, 12.8 KB)

Video game art & animation

Q – Justin Tomlinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate his Department has made of the number of students who have graduated with a degree in video game art and animation in each of the last three years.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) collects and publishes statistics on enrolments and qualifications obtained at UK Higher Education Institutions. The Latest statistics refer to the academic year 2016/17.
  • The table attached shows the numbers of first degree qualifiers in computer game design and graphics subjects.

Full-person-equivalent1 First degree qualifiers in computer game design and graphics – Academic years 2014/15 to 2016/17

Academic Year Number of qualifiers in computer game design2 Number of qualifiers in computer games graphics2 Total qualifiers in computer game design and graphics
2014/15 240 45 285
2015/16 430 60 485
2016/17 550 95 640
  • Counts are on the basis of full-person-equivalents. Where a student is studying more than one subject, they are apportioned between the subjects that make up their course.
  • We have included qualifiers in Computer game design (I620) and Computer games graphics (I630) as the most appropriate JACS codes for “video game art and animation”. More information on JACS codes can be found at the following link: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/support/documentation/jacs.

 

Mental Illness

Q – Richard Burden (Lab): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate he has made of the number of people who left their undergraduate degree course for mental health reasons in each of the last five years.

A – Sam Gyimah (Con):

  • Mental health is a priority for this government. The Children and Young People’s Mental Health green paper outlines the government’s plans to set up a new national strategic partnership focused on improving the mental health of 16-25 year olds, encouraging more coordinated action, innovation and robust evaluation of mental health services. One recommendation in the green paper is for the partnership to provide a systematic strategy to improve what we know about student mental health by encouraging improvements in data linkage and analytics. Data is available from the Higher Education Statistical Agency on the number of higher education students who leave their course early for health reasons, but the data does not make it possible to distinguish mental health reasons specifically.
  • The department is working closely with Universities UK on the programme of work on Mental Health in Higher Education, which has included work with the Institute for Public Policy Research to strengthen the evidence-base on mental health in higher education.

Brexit and Overseas (EU) Students

Q – Daniel Zeichner (Labour): To ask the Secretary of State for Education:
(Q1) whether the Government has undertaken an assessment of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the ability of universities to attract EU students at (a) undergraduate and (b) postgraduate levels.

AND (Q2) whether EU students starting courses in English higher education institutions in 2019-20 and 2020-21 will be eligible for (a) home fee status and (b) student loans and grants under the current eligibility criteria.

A1 – Sam Gyimah (Conservative):

  • The government is undertaking a comprehensive and ongoing programme of analytical work across a range of scenarios for EU exit. As part of this, we are engaging closely with the higher education (HE) sector, including through my High Level Stakeholder Working Group on EU Exit, Universities, Research and Innovation.
  • The UK is a highly attractive destination for EU and international students, second only to the USA in the numbers we attract, and we recognise that student mobility is a key issue for our world-class HE sector. The government has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to provide an objective assessment of the impact of EU and international students by September 2018. This provides an important opportunity for the sector to share evidence, and the MAC’s independent advice will help inform decisions on the future migration system.
  • To help provide certainty, we have also announced that EU students starting courses in England in the academic year 2018/19 or before will continue to be eligible for student loans and home fee status for the duration of their course, and will remain eligible for Research Council PhD studentships on the current basis. These students will also have a right to remain in the UK to complete their course.

A2 – Sam Gyimah:

  • The government has taken action to provide greater certainty about student funding for EU students. We have confirmed that current EU students and those starting courses at an English university or further education institution in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 academic years will continue to be eligible for student loans and home fee status for the duration of their course.
  • Future arrangements for EU students starting courses after 2018/19, and who are not settled in the UK or on a pathway to settled status by the specified date, will need to be considered as part of wider discussions about the UK’s relationship with the EU.
  • Applications for courses starting in 2019/20 do not open until September 2018, and we are working to ensure students applying have information well in advance of this date.

Sharia Compliant Student Finance

Q – Lyn Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether a sharia-compliant alternative student finance system will be available for people beginning university courses in September 2018.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • We understand the concern that some prospective students may be deterred from pursuing higher education because they are unable to use loans that bear interest.
  • We are therefore continuing to work on an alternative student finance product that would avoid using interest. We have appointed specialist advisors from the Islamic Finance Council to help design a new system that can make maintenance and tuition fee payments and collect repayment contributions in a way that is both equivalent to the current system and compliant with the requirements of Islamic finance.
  • This a complex area requiring careful consideration of a range of technical issues, including the nature of the accounting for the new arrangements, the degree of legal separation required for any fund, the treatment of cashflows, the nature of the commitments that a student will make under the new system, and the method for establishing equivalence of outcome, amongst others.
  • This work is being undertaken at pace and we will be in a good place to provide an update in the summer. I will set out our planned timetable at that time. I note that it typically takes two years to introduce a new student finance product, which would rule out launching for academic year 2018/19.

Post-study Work Visas

Q – Stuart C. McDonald: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what assessment her Department has made of the effect of ending the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) visa on the ability of businesses to recruit people with the necessary skills.

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The Tier 1 (Post Study Work) route was closed in April 2012.
  • A published assessment of Tier 1 migrants in October 2010 found that three in five users of this visa were in unskilled work and we also saw a large number of fraudulent applications. This undermined our work routes and damaged the reputation of our education system. We have no current plans to re-introduce a post study work route that does not lead to skilled work.
  • We already have a comprehensive offer for graduates seeking to undertake skilled work in the UK after their studies. Students studying courses lasting 12 months or more are given 4 months leave at the end of their course to look for a job and those with an offer of a graduate-level job, paying an appropriate salary, may take up sponsored employment through Tier 2. Many of the requirements for a Tier 2 skilled work visa are relaxed or waived for those applying to switch from the Tier 4 student route within the UK. This includes exempting switching students from the Tier 2 cap of 20,700 and allowing employers who wish to recruit them to not carry out the Resident Labour Market Test.

Widening Participation & Student Success

The All Party Parliamentary University Group met to discuss fair access this week. Chris Millward, the incoming Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students stated success in widening access to higher education would depend on how universities and colleges work with schools and employers, and how they support students “through all stages of the lifecycle”.

Scotland continues to be vocal on WP matters. Scottish Higher Education Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville launched a major speech on Tuesday expressing her support for contextualised admissions and bridging programmes and calling for systemic change:

  • “..for anyone in the sector who may be thinking that there is a short cut to achieving our targets through a drop in demand elsewhere then let me be very clear.
  • There is no short cut. .No silver bullet. Widening Access will require systemic change.”

Other news

STEM: The Guardian analyses the STEM gender gap. The article cites data to negate the biological and social/cultural answers instead looking at the influence of ‘social belongingness’ and childhood gender stereotypes.

EU Research News: Research Professional describes this week’s EU research news here.

Spring Statement: If you’re interested in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement that will be delivered on 13 March political monitors, Dods, have prepared an overview of what to expect. From their overview:

“There will be no red box, no official document, no spending increases, no tax changes,” a spokesman for the Treasury told the Financial Times last month. “The Chancellor will publish updated economic forecasts; we expect the speech to last between 15-20 minutes.” … Ministers have repeatedly stated that the Statement is not a “fiscal event” so few are expecting many policy announcements, however the Chancellor should set out some thinking about longer term economic priorities.

The statement is expected to focus predominantly on the economic outlook for the country, and the review panel on Land Use (chaired by local MP Sir Oliver Letwin) will report before the economic outlook is delivered.  Dods also note:

Public Sector Leadership Academy – The taskforce is due to provide an initial update with a full report on their remit and responsibilities due for the Autumn Budget 2018. The Cabinet Office have indicated a chair has been selected and will be formally announced shortly.

Grade inflation: The Conversation have a clear and balanced article setting out the reasons behind increased number of good degrees, explaining the Government criticism and considering the way forward.

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JANE FORSTER                                                            |                              SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 9th February 2018

Parliament is now in recess, returning on Tuesday 20 February. There won’t be a policy update next week. We’ll bring you all the latest news on Thursday 22 February.

Technical v higher education

Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Commons Education Committee gave the keynote speech at the Centre for Social Justice this week and called for an end to the UK’s obsession with academic degrees and demanded a dramatic increase in the delivery of basic skills and technical training by the Further and Higher Education sectors. Robert argued that rebalancing FE and HE were crucial to delivering social justice and eradicating skills gaps. He saw degree apprenticeships which blend technical and academic education as the jewel in the crown of a revamped FE/HE sector.

  • “We have become obsessed with full academic degrees in this country. We are creating a higher education system that overwhelmingly favours academic degrees, while intermediate and higher technical offerings are comparatively tiny. The labour market does not need an ever-growing supply of academic degrees. Between a fifth and a third of our graduates take non-graduate jobs. The graduate premium varies wildly according to subject and institution. For many, the returns are paltry.”

He proposed the following:

  • Fine-tuning the Apprenticeship Levy to help disadvantaged apprentices with a smaller contribution taper for employers employing disadvantaged apprentices addressing skills shortages.
  • Cutting grants to universities unless they offer degree apprenticeships. Ring-fencing a significant portion of the enormous public subsidy of universities so that it can only be accessed if the university offers degree apprenticeships.
  • Challenging the Russell Group’s reputation where they don’t deliver value for money. Particularly the sometimes undeserved reputation of Russell Group Universities where they rank highly because of their research (rather than employability skills, quality teaching, and value for money for undergraduate students).
  • Protecting and ring-fencing funding of flexible, online and part-time Higher Education by ring-fencing the Part-time Premium element of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Widening Participation funding allocation.
  • Closer integration of the FE and HE sectors on delivering higher level apprenticeships and offering flexible and local options for those who need it.

Halfon’s comments around the ‘enormous public subsidy’ and cutting grants are interesting. It’s unclear if he includes student fees within his public subsidy comment or if he is aware that the HEFCE funding elements are a mere drop in the ocean for most universities. For example, at BU the full HEFCE contribution for teaching, WP elements, and research was less than £11 million in 16/17. Nationally in 2017/18 across all universities HEFCE provided a total funding allocation of £1,320 million for teaching purposes. Halfon’s speech was covered in the Express.

International students

Parliamentary questions

Q – Robert Neill: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what plans her Department has to further expand the student visa pilot scheme [AND] what criteria universities were required to fulfil in order to take part in that pilot [AND] how many representations the Department has received from universities wanting to take part in the expanded student visa pilot scheme

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The Tier 4 visa pilot, helps to streamline the visa process for international students looking to study on a Masters’ course, in the UK, of 13 months or less. The pilot also helps to support students who wish to switch into a work route and take up a graduate role, by extending the leave period following the end of their study to up to six months.
  • 23 additional institutions were selected to participate based on having the consistently lowest visa refusal rates for their region or country. The evaluation of the pilot is ongoing, with an interim report due to be published in the summer of 2018. The primary focus of the evaluation is to assess the impact of the Tier 4 visa pilot on UK education institutions’ competitiveness in terms of attracting international students and the ability of international students to switch into a work route. Engaging more sponsors to participate in the pilot will provide additional evidence for the evaluation to ensure it more accurately represents the diversity of the sector. Once evaluated, we will consider whether to introduce the offer being tested with the pilot into the Immigration Rules and make it policy.
  • We regularly engage with the education sector on student migration policy, including the Tier 4 visa pilot. We hold a quarterly Education Sector Forum with key representatives from the sector including the devolved administrations.

Q – Catherine West: To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade, what steps his Department is taking to support UK higher education exports.

A – Graham Stuart:

  • The Department for International Trade supports the international aspirations of the Higher Education sector through its Education team in a range of ways, including Government to Government engagement and support to Trade Missions. The team has recently helped, amongst others, the University of Birmingham in its plan to open a campus in Dubai. The UK Higher Education sector will also be a focus in the GREAT Festival of Innovation, to be held in Hong Kong in March.
  • The recently formed DIT Education Sector Advisory Group brings together relevant sector partners, including Universities UK and Independent Higher Education, to co-ordinate efforts to boost education exports.

HE funding review

Parliamentary question – Q – Layla Moran: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what the reasons are for a review of funding across tertiary education that focuses on post-18 education rather than post-16 education.

A – Mr Sam Gyimah:

  • The internationally recognised understanding of the term tertiary education, in line with the International Standard Classification of Education, corresponds to English qualification levels 4 and above, which are typically taken by those aged 18 and over.
  • The government will conduct a major review of funding across tertiary education to ensure a joined-up system that works for everyone. As outlined in the Industrial Strategy, the review will consider a range of specific issues within post-18 education.
  • The government is already fundamentally reforming the post-16 education system to give all young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential and deliver a better future for our country. A key principle of the reform agenda is to improve the quality of technical education provision to deliver young people with the skills employers need both locally and nationally. New T-levels, with content designed by employers, will support them into skilled employment or progression to higher education. T-levels will be backed by over £500 million annually by the time the programme is rolled out fully, and we are implementing apprenticeship reforms to continue to improve the quality of apprenticeships for all. Our commitment to the 16 to 19 sector has contributed to the current record high proportion of 16 to 18 year olds who are participating in education or apprenticeships.
  • The government will set out further details on the review shortly.

The Lords Economic Affairs Committed continued their investigation this week. Overall there was quite a focus on FE. The witnesses were questioned on issues relating to disparities in the treatment of Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE), including funding and perception. The funding gap between FE and HE was discussed with FE as the poor relative, although it was noted that FE state funding provides more stability than HE sources. When questioned on how to reduce the disparity between FE and HE a witness expressed that there would have to be control on HE expansion. Some way of redistributing funding would have to be found however both private and public sectors would also have to change their attitudes towards recruitment.

Poor schooling was discussed and a witness highlighted how technical studies and ‘catch-up’ education can be conflated. Later witnesses described how schools were almost entirely incentivised to send people to university and how in some parts of the country young people who went to colleges were seen as failures.

On apprenticeships Lord Tugendhat (Conservative) asked how the quality and quantity of apprenticeships could be improved. Witness, Gravatt, stated there was a danger that the apprenticeship target and its levy would mean people may lost sight of what apprenticeships were for. Government and colleges needed to work with the system as it was and make sure colleges and employers were not using them in a short-term manner.

Lord Turnbull (Crossbench) questioned how FE and apprenticeships could be portrayed in a more positive light. Witness Milner stated FE needed to brand itself in the light of bridges to opportunity. She said the focus on the value of a university education had diminished the perception of HE. Witness Husband stated lots of employers were using apprenticeships as a way of widening participation.

Degree apprenticeships – Lord Burns noted Treasury announcements of a proposed four-year degree-level apprenticeship program, which he said did not appear to be what apprenticeships were about. In response, Husband said the core of an apprenticeship was to have a job where they gained knowledge and skills to become competent. She said there were skills gaps at Level 4 and above, and such apprenticeships were meeting the needs of employers.

Mature students – Lord Darling asked how responsive the FE sector had been to those who lost their jobs or needed skills training later in life. Witness Francis said the main problem was that those people were not eligible for funding provision in colleges. Witness Atkins said funding for adults was now simpler from the supply side, but from the demand side rules for eligibility were very complex and required a learner to have additional funding.

In the later session it was noted how maintenance loans are not provided for all FE students as in HE. Instead FE colleges are expected to provide discretionary support.

T-levels: Lord Burns (Crossbench) queried T-Levels and Institutes of Technology. Witness, Gravatt, said they were a good opportunity but were still at an early stage. He said he had concerns they had been ‘done on the cheap’ and that unrealistic expectations had been put on them.

Tertiary Education Review – no new news: Mucklow stated he could not provide further details than what had already been set out in the industrial strategy. He said the review was likely to be announced soon. He said the Government was beginning to recognise there was a gap in provision. A cohesive all-tertiary funding system was questioned. Witness Eileen Milner recalled that 30 years ago some parts of FE and HE were funded in the same place but she didn’t feel this was a joined-up system from the perspective of FE. No real answers were given to the question of a combined system.

FE Week covered the evidence session and noted the FE Commissioner’s statement that Funding for Institutes of Technology is too modest.

Widening Participation

The OU called for the OfS to lead the way in improving the chances of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university. They set out five steps to reverse the student number decline in some disadvantaged groups attending university.

The five point plan calls for:

  • National targets for access, participation and student outcomes, supported by regulation and funding decisions. To promote fairness for all, targets should include students of all ages and take in other factors such as ethnicity and disability.
  • Collaboration between universities to ensure that the UK Government’s social justice objectives are met, encouraging the sector to work together to improve success rates among the most disadvantaged groups.
  • Funding and results to be aligned so that students who need the most support are offered it and that fewer are put off by the thought of high fees and debt.
  • Informed choice for students offered through a single portal that gives them comprehensive advice, guidance and information covering all their options for a higher education.
  • Flexibility for students to be able, if they wish, to pick and mix courses, take study breaks, transfer between universities or learn in bite-sized chunks.

OU Vice-Chancellor Peter Horrocks calls on universities to work together to improve the success rates of students from disadvantaged areas.

Parliamentary question – Q – David Evennett: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to close the attainment gap between boys and girls.

A – Nadhim Zahawi:

  • This government is determined that all children and young people, regardless of their gender or background, have the opportunity to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them. Rather than implementing policies that focus specifically on the educational performance of boys, the government has introduced far-reaching education reforms that set the highest expectations for what all pupils will achieve. The department has put in place a stretching national curriculum and world-class qualifications, so that more pupils study to age 16 those academic subjects that most enable progress to higher education.
  • The latest statistics show that between 2016 and 2017, the proportion of boys achieving the expected standard in GCSE English and maths rose by 1.2 percentage points (to 60.3%), compared to a 0.5 percentage point increase amongst girls (to 67.6%).

Q – Baroness Hussein-Ece: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to address the findings of the University Partnerships Programme Foundation and Social Market Foundation report “On course for success”. Student retention at university with particular reference to the conclusion that students from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to drop out.

A – Viscount Younger of Leckie:

  • The government is committed to ensuring that everyone with the potential has the opportunity to benefit from higher education (HE), irrespective of their background. Entry rates to full-time HE for 18 year olds from all ethnic groups increased in 2017, reaching the highest recorded numbers.
  • There is, however, more to do to ensure that students, including disadvantaged and black and minority ethnic students, are supported both to access higher education and also to participate and succeed. That is why we have taken a number of actions on this.
  • From April 2018, Access Agreements will be extended and become Access and Participation Plans. This recognises the importance of HE providers supporting both access and participation, including non-continuation and non-completion of courses, and student success for disadvantaged groups. Additionally, the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework will use non-continuation rates as a core metric when ascribing Gold, Silver or Bronze status to individual universities. This can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teaching-excellence-and-student-outcomes-framework-specification. Furthermore, the new Transparency Condition created by the Higher Education and Research Act will require many HE providers to publish their completion rates broken down by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background. Making this data public will expose those providers who are underperforming in this area.
  • The new regulator for HE, the Office for Students, will also have a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to the whole student lifecycle for disadvantaged and traditionally under-represented groups, not just access.

Employability

UUK is partnering with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to consider whether HE can introduce more flexible methods of learning to meet the changing needs of students and employers with a weather eye on the part time student number decline. Part time students have dropped by a third since 2012 and the UUK project will consider which sectors have been most affected by the part time decline and which have the greatest future need of high level skills. The project will identify the main issues and develop policy recommendations that will feed into the government’s planned review of university funding and student finance in England.

Neil Carberry, MD of CBI, stated:

  • “Speak to any business and before long the conversation turns to skills challenges. With the world of work changing, developing additional and alternative routes to higher skills will matter more than ever. That is why the decline in part-time students is so alarming…for many prospective students, other commitments, such as work or caring responsibilities, mean that being able to have a flexible approach to studying is essential and university provision will increasingly need to be tailored to meet people’s needs.”

Julie Lydon (VC, University of South Wales) writes a blog post on disappearing part-time and mature students for UUK.

UKRI

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have ratified Sir John Kingman’s chairmanship. You can read the full report here. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

  • “We were fully satisfied that Sir John Kingman is a suitable candidate to be Chair of UKRI. We are pleased to recommend that the Science minister proceeds with the appointment. We wish Sir John well as he transitions from interim chair to permanent chair, and we look forward to working with him in the future.”

Freedom of Speech

On Saturday the Conservative party called for the public to support free speech after disruption at a university event: “Last night, Momentum-supporting thugs broke into a university event and tried to silence Conservatives. Wearing balaclavas, they tried through violence and intimidation to stop the ideas that they disagreed with from being heard. Help us back free speech by signing our petition today. Momentum, the left-wing campaign group, was set up after Mr Corbyn’s initial victory as Labour leader to keep the spirit and politics of his campaign alive. Young people have a right to hear all sides of the political debate. So we’ll protect free speech by stepping up our speaker programme – making sure Conservative voices are heard in universities across the country.”

The Independent and iNews have coverage.

On Wednesday the Human Rights Committee reconvened to continue their discussion of freedom of speech in universities. The witnesses giving evidence were Ben Wallace MP (Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime), Sam Gyimah MP (Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation), Jacob Rees-Mogg MP and four representatives from the University of the West England, Bristol.  At the time of writing we haven’t seen the transcript, but it will be tweeted by the Human Rights Committee, and you can get a flavour of the debate from their twitter feed (@HumanRightsCttee).

And Wonkhe notes the Prime Minister slipped the free speech campaign into her attendance commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s votes. She said:

  • In our universities, which should be bastions of free thought and expression, we have seen the efforts of politicians and academics to engage in open debate frustrated by an aggressive and intolerant minority”.

Admissions high

Last week’s UCAS news continues to be discussed. Key points:

  • Application rates from English 18 year olds have reached a record high, increasing by 0.4 percentage points to 37.4 per cent. The picture varied in the devolved nations, however, across the UK as a whole, 18 year olds are more likely than ever before to apply to higher education by the January deadline, 1 per cent more likely than in 2017.
  • However, the overall application rate shows a 0.9 per cent reduction in the total number of people applying to higher education, to 559,000, compared to the same figure in 2017. This figure reflects a 2.5 per cent fall in the 18 year old population in the UK, and falling demand from 19 year olds and the 25+ age groups.
  • The differences in application rates between 18 year old men and women in 2018 remain high across the UK, with young women more likely to apply than young men. In England, young women are 36 per cent more likely than young men to apply to higher education, a small increase from last year.
  • The number of applicants from the EU increased by 3.4 per cent to 43,510, and the number of international applicants increased to its highest ever number, by 11 per cent to 58,450.
  • Applications from all age groups to nursing courses in England has fallen by 13%. UCAS started reporting on these figures following a switch from NHS bursaries to tuition fees for nursing subjects at English universities and colleges in 2017.

Consultations

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

Other news

  • OfS Student Panel: Nicola Dandridge (CE of OfS) blogs for Wonkhe on how the OfS student panel is taking shape
  • Trust and accountability: Wonkhe also have two guest bloggers who explore the current political inter-relation of the erosion of public trust in HE and the changing landscape of public accountability requirements.
  • Student mobility: UUK International have joined forces with the UPP Foundation on a student mobility project – details here
  • Student mental health training: The Student Minds (16/17) annual report details delivery of training sessions on student mental health to 1,248 students, supervisors and staff across the sector.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 17th November 2017

Welcome!

There’s a veritable feast of HE policy for you to enjoy this week – lots on the budget and fees and funding, another section of the OfS consultation including quality, consumer protection, student protection plans and student transfers, and an update on engagement with schools.

Fees, loans, funding – and the Budget

Philip Hammond’s imminent delivery of the Budget on Wednesday 22 November has caused a mini flurry of organisations releasing reports and evidence aimed to influence. Here’s UUK’s.

It may be too late. Speaking at Wonkfest on 6 November Jo Johnson’s tone of certainty suggested plans were already ready. Of course it wouldn’t be the first time Johnson’s opinion has diverged from the government on expected policy, nor the first time the Prime Minister makes a last minute policy changing decision….

A Budget snippet that Johnson trailed at Wonkfest, to the consternation of the audience, was the suggestion that universities may pick up the tab for the repayment threshold reduction in the student loan repayment rate. While it may be unwise to speculate, your fearless Policy team will once again have a go:

Option 1: The Government could cut all tuition fees down to a lower level without replacing the lost income universities receive.

  1. This reduces the Government’s subsidy for student loans, however it is socially regressive, because it mostly helps those students who go on to earn most. .
  2. However, that is a purely economic analysis – there are many in the sector and politicians who believe that the impact of loans is not purely financial but has effect on behaviour, discouraging those from poorer backgrounds or who don’t expect to have high earnings from applying at all. That argument is of course countered by those who rely on the data that shows that student participation from low income backgrounds is going up steadily – and that at least until last year, there was a strong upward trend in applications overall (which may now have stalled). Note that OFFA do not support direct financial help as a method for increasing participation (they are usually talking about bursaries but the same may hold true for grants)

Option 2: The Government could reduce or abolish tuition fees for a specific group, such as students most in financial need.

  1. This would reduce the Government’s subsidy for student loans
  2. It is a socially progressive policy which supports the Government’s social mobility aims by tackling the debt adversity of the most disadvantaged students. It would help them to attack Labour’s (regressive) 2017 general election promise to abolish tuition fees – and winning back lost voters is of paramount importance to the Conservatives.
  3. It would be easy for the Government to implement this change quickly – as soon as the 2018/19 intake.

Under this scenario it would unlikely that the Government would replace the lost income to universities – so the impact of this would be to force efficiencies within the sector (Johnson is renowned for saying that HE institutions haven’t experienced austerity and have ‘had it good’ for a long time).

In effect, the fees from richer students would be subsiding the poorer students. Universities with the largest number of low income students would be most affected (with the Russell Group relatively unscathed).

This may be a well-planned long game – the Office for Students will have increased power to interrogate and publish admissions statistics to highlight “gaming” and the new Director of Access and Participation can sanction universities through the TEF for a fall in recruitment of low income students. The use of contextual admissions has also been debated widely in the media in recent weeks.

Option 3: The Government could decide to differentiate tuition fees based on subject, allowing subjects with the highest graduate earnings, employment rates and value added to charge the highest fees. The subject level TEF pilots have recently commenced (over 2 years), so such a decision would seem to be premature. However, a consultation in conjunction with the subject-level TEF outcomes ready for swift implementation in 2019 seems plausible. This approach might also mean that high cost subjects (e.g. STEMM) could remain at the highest chargeable fee, but the government could remove the current funding top ups and so reduce the overall cost (and reduce university income still further). See this Sunday Times article on differentiated fees per subject and institution.

Option 4: There have been suggestions of controlling the number of places for certain subjects based on the jobs needed by the economy. The Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee has been conducting a series of oral evidence sessions to investigate The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education. There is much more from this debate in the section below but this exchange is interesting:

  • Willetts: Essentially, there is a group of high-earning courses: law, economics and management. There is a group of middle-earning courses, mainly STEM subjects. There are less well-paid graduates. The worst paid are in the performing arts. That is another reason why it proves very difficult to get into differential fees. We could charge more for graduates doing courses with high pay but how then would we exempt fees or justify charging higher fees for skills shortage areas such as STEM or medicine.
  • Adonis: Tiered fees of that kind are precisely what the Australians have.
  • Willetts: Yes, and it is not satisfactory. Australia is in a mess; it has static levels.

Option 5: Continuing in this vein the Government may reconsider the original TEF proposal to set limits on which institutions can charge the higher tier of fees. You will recall that the TEF proposal was to let Gold and Silver rated institutions raise their fees each year- linked to a percentage of the inflation cap, but this idea was postponed in response to feedback from the House of Lords. Using new employability and earnings data (to be included in the TEF from this year) the argument may now be that students studying at an institution likely to result in a highly paid job could reasonably be expected to pay more upfront. And a recent student opinion surveys suggest students would be willing buy into such a ‘guarantee’ (see UPP, page 17). Earlier in the term some institutions within the Russell Group were lobbying for this. However, given that far fewer WP students currently apply or are admitted into the Russell Group institutions this would negatively impact the Government’s social mobility agenda. Of course the government may believe that the OfS provisions on WP will address this.

Option 6: And of course other options that do not hit tuition fees are also available. The Sutton Trust (see later in this Policy Update) would like to see a return to grants. The IFS have published a paper on “options for reducing the interest rate on student loans and introducing maintenance grants” – as two key options for the government, which are being called for – including by UUK. they conclude that both of these options could be done at a reasonable cost in some circumstances but that both would benefit high earning graduates most and make very little difference to the rest. As with an across the board reduction in fees (see above) this would therefore be regressive, but might have a beneficial effect in terms of increasing participation.

Option 7: The current Office for Students regulatory consultation (see below) considers the future use of the teaching grant (the grant to universities topping up high cost subjects, specialist support and innovation). It states the OfS will continue the current approach “but it will also wish to deploy the teaching grant strategically, taking into account Government priorities. This will enable it to influence sector level outcomes…” Could this mean government inadvertently pushing institutions to conform to a similar set of ideals (to attract the money) at a time when institutions need to differentiate themselves to compete successfully for students in a squeezed market? If so it could also be contrary to the regional specialities (responding to place) within the industrial strategy.

And more: Differentiated caps and varying loans might seem unattractive to Government due to its complexities to both administer and communicate to the electorate. It is also poor timing given the significant press covering Steve Lamey’s dismissal from the Student Loans Company after claiming it was a “mess” and badly run.

In last week’s policy update we wrote about HEPI’s paper which revealed the extent to which it can be argued that tuition fees from all students, but particularly international students, subsidise research costs. Jo Johnson has long been rumoured to be vexed at the cross-subsidisation that exists within the sector. So will we see a shake-up aimed at research funding too? Given the instability associated with Brexit, the Government’s focus on industrial strategy to boost the economy, in particular their aim to capitalise on innovation and the commercialisation of research, and the recent cash injections announced for R&D might research survived unscathed? It is not a stretch to imagine that this would disproportionately benefit some institutions more than others given the current rhetoric around outcomes (outputs) and institutional status.

Lastly, Conservative think tank Bright Blue have proposed that universities themselves should contribute financially to the sustainability of the student-loans system by repaying the Government subsidy for student loans. This subsidy is currently estimated as 20-30p for each £1 lent. Bright Blue is quick to remind that the cost of such a subsidy wouldn’t be so high if universities didn’t all charge the highest fee. Bright Blue continues:

  • “Certainly, there are an awful lot of expensive institutions producing graduates with earnings that mean their student loans must be subsidised, costing the taxpayer a lot of money…Thanks to the new Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset., which uses HMRC and Student Loans Company data to accurately link nearly all graduate salaries to institutions attended, it is now possible to expose such universities. Institutions producing a disproportionate number of graduates who will need their student loans subsidised should contribute a levy to government.”

They go on to suggest that should universities charge less/contribute financially to the write-off subsidy this would enable the Government to better fund lower (FE) qualifications or more modular methods of study.

Delve into the detailed background and some other options in Jane’s blog on the Lighthouse Policy Group: Fees, loans and debt – an Autumn update.

In retrospect, after our dark musings on the Budget, Jo Johnson’s repeated reminder that the sector should not clamour for May’s announced review of HE (as it risks a less advantageous settlement than present) seem like wise words.

IFS – student loans and maintenance grants

As mentioned above, The IFS have published a paper on “options for reducing the interest rate on student loans and introducing maintenance grants” .  Key findings are (our emphasis added):

Interest rates

  • Positive real interest rates on student loans increase the debt levels of all graduates but only increase the lifetime repayments of higher-earning graduates. Removing them does not affect up-front government spending on HE, but it does slightly increase the deficit (due to the slightly confusing treatment of interest accrued on student debt in the government finances). More significantly, it also increases the long-run costs of HE due to the associated reduction in graduate repayments.
  • Reducing the interest rates to RPI + 0% for everyone would reduce the debt levels of all graduates. Debt on graduation would be around £3,000 lower on average, while average debt at age 40 would be £13,000 lower. However, because of the link between income and interest in the current system, this cut would reduce the debts of the highest-earning graduates the most: the richest 20% of graduates would hold around £20,000 less debt at age 40 as a result of this policy, while the lowest-earning 20% of graduates would be just £5,500 better off in terms of debt held at the same age. This policy of switching to RPI + 0% would have no impact on up-front government spending on HE, but would cost the taxpayer £1.3 billion per year in the long run. It would be a significant giveaway to high-earning graduates, saving the richest 20% more than £23,000 over their lifetimes.
  • A less costly policy would be to reduce interest rates to RPI + 0% while studying and leave rates unchanged after graduation. This would reduce the debt levels of all graduates at age 40 by around £5,000. It would be a significantly cheaper reform, costing around £250 million per year in the long run. Again, there is little impact on the repayments of low- and middle-earning graduates, while the highest-earning graduates would be around £5,000 better off over their lifetimes.

Maintenance grants

  • Reintroducing maintenance grants in place of loans also has no impact on up-front government spending on HE, but it results in a large increase in the government cost of HE as measured by the current deficit, due to the differential treatment of loans and grants in government accounting. The long-run cost of this type of policy is typically much lower as a large proportion of the loans that grants would replace are not expected to be repaid anyway.
  • Reintroducing grants of £3,500 under a similar system to that before 2016 would increase deficit spending by around £1.7 billion, but the long-run cost is only around £350 million. This reform would reduce the debt on graduation of students from low-income backgrounds taking a three-year degree by around £11,000.
  • The beneficiaries from this change in terms of actual lifetime loan repayments are students from low-income backgrounds who go on to have high earnings. We estimate that students eligible for the full maintenance grant who are in the lowest-earning 60%of graduates would experience little or no change in lifetime repayments, while those who have earnings in the top 10% of graduates would save around £22,000.

Sutton trust – fairer fees

In contrast to the IFS paper above, The Sutton Trust, a social mobility foundation, has released Fairer Fees which proposes using a sliding scale of means-tested fees and the reintroduction of maintenance grants. This focuses not on the economic effect of changing the structure (which the IFS says is regressive) but on the psychological impact of reducing debt.

They state that implementing these measures would cost the Treasury the same amount as October’s reduction to the student loan repayment threshold. The benefits of the approach are that they would cut average student debt by 50% (psychological benefit encouraging the debt adverse to reconsider HE) but with the greatest beneficial effects on students from low household income backgrounds “it would slash debt among the 40% poorest students by 75%, from £51,600 down to £12,700, and mean those from the poorest backgrounds emerged with two thirds less debt than their better-off counterparts”. The report claims changing to the proposed fee policy would also benefit the Treasury as it would reduce the proportion of graduates never repaying their full loans from 81% to 56% with the overall proportion of debt not paid back to 35%. However, the Treasury may consider these figures in a different light as there would be fewer graduates required to repay their loans because of the reintroduction of maintenance grants. The report makes the following five recommendations:

  1. The government should implement its promised review of higher education funding. While the October reforms were welcome, there needs to be a thorough review of deeper reforms to the system. In particular, the crisis in part-time numbers should be addressed and bespoke solutions explored.
  2. Our proposed solution would be to introduce a system of means-tested fees which waives fees entirely for those from low income backgrounds, and increases in steps for those from higher income households. Significant ‘cliff edges’ between income bands should be avoided as much as possible.
  3. Maintenance grants, abolished in 2016, should be restored, providing support for those who need it most and reducing the debt burden of the least well-off, so that they graduate with lower debt than those from better-off backgrounds.
  4. Losses to higher education institutions through lower fee income should be replaced by increased teaching grants. While this involves greater upfront costs to the Exchequer, it also provides a lever by which government could promote the provision of courses in certain areas such as STEM. This teaching grant compensation would be adjusted to ensure that universities admitting intakes with lower average fee levels would not suffer any drop in income.
  5. Reducing access gaps to university, especially top universities, should be at the heart of government higher education policy. There needs to be a joined-up effort to tackle the persistent access gap for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds across all aspects of higher education, from student finance to the UCAS application process to the use of contextual data by universities in admissions.

Returning to the Sutton Trust’s recommendations it is interesting to note that it doesn’t tackle Lord Willetts’ (ex-Universities and Science Minister) calls for a differentiated loan system for mature and part time students. Willett believes an alternative loan scheme coupled with more diverse degree models would tackle the part time and mature falling student number crisis by ruling out both psychological and financial deterrents. We’ll await the Budget with baited breath to find out if the Sutton Trust (and their accompanying press attention: Huff Post, Independent, Metro) will influence Government spending.

The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education

The Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee has been conducting a series of oral evidence sessions to investigate The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education. The aim of the investigation is to consider whether the funding of post-school education is focused sufficiently on the skills the British economy needs. The transcripts of a particularly interesting session held on 10 October were released this week revealing a stimulating debate. The witnesses were Lord Willetts, Lord Adonis and Paul Johnson (Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies). Some interesting bits are below:

One third of graduates won’t end up in a graduate job.

  • Willetts: while they may not be in graduate employment when young they have a higher chance of securing graduate employment eventually..   Jobs considered non-graduate in the official standard occupational classifications are becoming more demanding, furthermore graduates seem to change the nature of the work they do just by virtue of their additional skills

Does what the HE system is trying to achieve match labour market outcomes, and how does it relate to other routes people could take?

  • Adonis: due to high fee levels some careers that previously required graduates are now moving to take non-graduates. [Examples given were big accountancy firms and the Civil Service who are recruiting high-level apprentices into graduate roles]. Graduates who previously would have gone to university are “now seizing prestigious high-level apprenticeship opportunities as a way of going straight into careers without having to take degrees and take on debt. I see no reason in principle why that could not go a lot further.” “I see no reason in principle why accountancy, and even the law, which, if you go back two generations, were not graduate careers for many of those participating in them, could not once again become much more vocational careers, where people can train on the job, get qualifications that are recognised in their profession and not have to take on high levels of debt. That is much more the case in German-style economies where the number of graduates is much lower to start with.”

Is student debt discouraging people from attending university and will our economy suffer?

  • Adonis: If you talk to sixth formers and those making decisions at 18 or 19, it is undoubtedly true that they are looking at alternatives to university in a way they were not a few years ago. As the number of high level apprenticeships increases they will become increasingly attractive. I suspect that we will see trends in both directions over the next few years. It will not by any means be just a trend towards more graduates.
  • Paul Johnson: there is no evidence in the data that the fee system has had much effect on the numbers of people going into higher education. There may be an effect later on, and a group of young people may be making different choices, but overall, as far as we can tell, the numbers have not been affected.

Given that many graduates will not repay debt is there any argument to forgive debt in public sector shortages areas (teachers, doctors, nurses)?

  • Adonis: “I tried hard to persuade the Treasury of the virtues of that argument. I did not get very far because it was convinced that… it would be left with almost no debt to collect.”
  • Baroness Kingsmill: In the US debt is forgiven relative to the number of years worked in the dearth sector – for 5 years work you’re forgiven half the debt; for 10 years, you are forgiven the whole lot.
  • Paul Johnson: rather than forgiving debt it’s more effective just to pay them more. Why do it in a roundabout way by forgiving debt?

On technical and vocational training – see the apprenticeships section below for more on this

University – seen as the only option

  • The discussion turned to suggesting young people choose university because it’s the most obvious and easiest to understand route, that there is limited information or advice to support young people who might choose an alternative route.
  • Willets responded: I agree with your point that other routes need to be clearly signalled, but I expect that in a modern western economy the managed transition to adulthood via three years of higher education is the mainstream route people will take. The danger of some people going down the alternative route is that I know who they will be. Eton will not be sending 25% of its kids on apprenticeships. You will reopen the social divide in participation by advantaged and disadvantaged groups.

Discussion of university place number controls was peppered through the committee hearing.

  • Adonis argued against controlling numbers based on the jobs needed by the economy (referencing Robbins): How should we think of universities? Should we try to predict the jobs that people are going to do in 20 or 30 years’ time and allocate places at university in accordance with our predictions? He said, “No, we cannot know”. Instead, he wanted an open, flexible system, heavily influenced by the number of people with the capacity to benefit from higher education.

Decline in part time students – a different loan system needed

  • Willets stated the decline in part time students was one of his greatest regrets in his time as Minister. He continued: The lesson I learn from it is that, rather than the seductive idea that you can have a single pot per person to pay for their education, you need different models for different groups. We extended loans to part-time students thinking it would have the same beneficial effect on them as the loans for full-time students, and all would be fine. The evidence is that the loans for part-time students have not worked. There has been low take up and people have been put off. We need new mechanisms for helping adults to study part-time, and I accept that the loan model has not delivered for them… If at any point we were looking at how to spend limited public money and what public spending would do, rather than spending it on compensating universities for a general reduction in fees, I have a list of things where I think there is a need. Certainly, a public spending package for adult learners, including helping mature students with the cost of tertiary education, be it university or not, would be a high priority.

International Students Fees/Cross-subsidisation

  • Discussion on whether it was right to charge international students a greater fee took place -asking whether the international students were getting value for money.
  • Adonis: if we were overcharging international students they would quite rapidly start to go elsewhere. We seem to be pretty price competitive with other major international education providers, and less expensive than many of the providers in the United States.

Charging differential fees – see the fees section above for this bit

On sandwich courses:

  • Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted: We often hear from companies that the graduates they recruit are not job-ready…do we have the right approach in what we are looking for from university education? Is it delivering?
  • Willetts: I have a sneaking regard for…the extra year sandwich course. We should remember that, now, about half of all university students are doing vocational technical training courses that include time with an employer. We could have taken a different route, but Britain has ended up with a large amount of our professional and technical education now happening in a university context, and that is why university students are absolutely entitled to know which of those routes lead to good, well-paid jobs.

Flexible Degree Models

  • Baroness Harding of Winscombe: How do we get more flexible university education. It feels better with one year or two-year courses and courses you can dip into through a decade, not just three years. That seems to me, from a business perspective, to be a more effective means of building the skills we might need in the modern economy than assuming that all institutions doing three-year courses from the age of 18 to 21 is the right answer.
  • Lord Adonis: The failure to offer two-year degrees is a serious one on the part of universities. One of the effects of stuffing their mouths with money, which is what we have done over the last five years, has been to reduce significantly the incentives on them to do so. The Minister for higher education, in what I think was a very surprising change in the rules, is now allowing universities to charge the equivalent of three years’ worth of fees, taking out state loans over two years, as a way of encouraging them to offer two-year degrees when, surely, the rationale for two-year degrees ought to be that they should be at lower cost and at lower fees for the students.

Evolution of Apprenticeships

Wonkhe have published the blog: How apprenticeships can help productivity and social mobility which considers the evolution of apprenticeship policy. The article favours current government apprenticeship policy and on social mobility states: we have a unique once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop exciting work-based apprenticeship routes for new and underrepresented cohorts of learners. This will call for new patterns of apprenticeship delivery, new partnerships and new thinking.

There was some debate at the Economic Affairs Select Committee on this (see above for the rest);

  • Willets: Sometimes the higher education debate is just the lightning rod for a debate about what kind of structure we think the British economy should have. The German educational and industrial models are closely linked. In a highly regulated labour market, with a large amount of licence to practise that you need to secure to do a whole range of jobs, and apprenticeship routes into those jobs, and provincial banks funding the companies that protect those jobs—in other words, a much more corporatist model—you can also have a whole series of regulated training routes into specific types of vocational employment.
  • Adonis: “…if you are pretty clear what you want to do and which direction you want to go in and it is a commercial occupation, it is better to learn on the job and not accumulate between £60,000 and £100,000 of debt and be less work-ready at the age of 21 than you would be if you started at 18.”

And later on:

  • Lord Layard: I should declare that I work in a university, and I know that the rate of return for university education is reasonable, but the rate of return for apprenticeship and further education is generally found to be a lot higher. Is it not peculiar that we have not put more resources and effort into developing that side of it?…Failure to develop the non-university vocational education route, both at lower and higher levels, is a major cause of the inequality of wages in our country. What is being done about the alternative?
  • Adonis: I do not think that, somehow, we have a weak apprenticeship stream because we have a strong graduate stream. We have a weak apprenticeship stream because the state has not devoted resources, energy and commitment to creating a strong apprenticeship stream. Many of the countries that have them also have very strong universities. It is not a question of regulation; it is a question of proper funding streams, proper qualification systems and a commitment by employers to foster skills among their workforce, which historically has not happened here.
  • Willetts: It is absolutely right that we should promote technical education; we find it in universities, and, by and large, around the world the places that do it well tend to seek university title in the end.
  • Paul Johnson: We still do a very poor job for too many young people in vocational education. We need to focus more on apprenticeships. A serious issue is that Governments have tried, to some extent in the past, and have continually failed serially to make changes happen in an effective way. The serious question is why. Is it about political focus? Is it about resource? We certainly put a lot less resource into apprenticeships than we do into the university system.

Widening Participation – Schools

School Sponsorship

UUK have published Raising attainment through university-school partnerships, a good practice booklet of case studies detailing successful collaborative partnerships between universities and schools to raise pupil attainment and appetite for HE. The case studies are diverse and the booklet concludes that preserving flexibility of arrangements is a key aspect of the sector’s drive to raise standards in schools and remove the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils. Two recommendations are made:

  • focus should be on ends rather than means, with great flexibility over how HE can support schools based on local context and need whilst meeting the Government’s objectives
  • universities and their school partners need access to information on ‘what works’ – the Evidence & Impact Exchange (proposed by the Social Mobility Advisory Group) would support this by evaluating and promoting the evidence on social mobility, and assisting the direction of future partnerships to support attainment, access and student success

At the UUK Access and Student Success summit on Tuesday a Government representative made clear that broader (and effective) forms of partnership working are welcome but that they expect more universities to be involved in a school sponsorship style model.

Background: In December 2016 the Government made clear that they expected universities to be more interventionist proposing that all universities sponsor or set up a school in exchange for charging higher HE tuition fees. The Schools that work for everyone consultation garnered responses to the Government’s aim to harness universities’ expertise and resources to drive up attainment through direct involvement. (Note: the Government has not yet published a response to the consultation feedback.) When the snap election was announced the school sponsorship agenda featured in the Conservative’s manifesto. However, recently there has been little additional push from Government.

Working quietly in the wings throughout this period, OFFA have been urging institutions to make progress against a more diluted version of the Government’s aim – that universities take measures to support school pupils’ attainment and increase school collaboration through the Fair Access Agreements. In this they are acting on the strategic priorities the Government set out for them (originally in February 2016). While the push from OFFA has been to consider school sponsorship they appear to concur with the sector that this ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate. Furthermore, it may run counter to social mobility objectives as encouraging an institution to focus the majority of its required WP spend on just one local school disadvantages pupils in other schools who will no longer receive the university’s support. This approach has faced much criticism from the education sector and from some MPs.

OFFA’s 2018-19 strategic guidance to institutions: It is now imperative to progress and scale up work with schools and colleges to accelerate the sector’s progress….[we are] asking you to increase the pace and scope of your work with schools to raise attainment, so that the teaching and learning outcomes for schools that work with universities are enhanced.  The guidance went on to request detailed information on the specific attainment-focused cohorts, success criteria, and how the work is planned to grow over time.

What will the New Year bring?  It seems unlikely that Government intend to drop the school sponsorship agenda. In spring/summer 2018 the Office for Students will come into its full powers, with a new Director, Chris Millward, at the Fair Access helm. We’ll see of this is a priority then.

Office for Students regulatory consultation

Continuing our series of updates on the OfS consultation – three weeks ago we looked at widening participation, this week we look at quality and standards, and protecting students as consumers. This section includes extensive quotes from the consultation document, reordered and edited to make it easier to follow.  BU will be preparing an institutional response to this consultation. Policy@bournemouth.ac.uk will work with colleagues across BU and collate our response. (Wonkhe have helpfully grouped them all on one web page)

  1. Objective 2: all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
Consultation question:: Do you agree or disagree that a new Quality Review system should focus on securing outcomes for students to an expected standard, rather than focusing on how outcomes are achieved?

Consultation question:: Would exploring alternative methods of assessment, including Grade Point Average (GPA), be something that the OfS should consider, alongside the work the sector is undertaking itself to agree sector-recognised standards?

The quality conditions are:

  • B1: The provider must deliver well-designed courses that provide a high quality academic experience and enable a student’s achievement to be reliably assessed.
  • B2: The provider must support students, including through the admissions system, to successfully complete and benefit from a high quality academic experience.
  • B3: The provider must deliver successful outcomes for its students, which are recognised and valued by employers, and/or enable further study.

Quality code: “In parallel to this consultation, the UK wide Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) has issued a consultation on revised expectations for the Quality Code.. The UKSCQA is working to conclude its consultation, and to finalise a revised set of expectations during Spring 2018. ….The new Quality Review system will provide a sound basis for the assessment of the quality and standards conditions, and be able to evolve with the increasing diversity of providers.”

New providers: “To facilitate greater diversity in provision and student experience, the OfS will make it easier for high quality providers to enter the sector. ….The OfS will also reduce the emphasis on a provider’s track record, which risks shutting out high quality and credible new providers.”

Grade inflation: “The OfS will annually analyse and arrange for the publication of information on grade inflation, directly challenging the sector where there is clear evidence of grade inflation”.

It was recently announced that the TEF will also include a new grade inflation metric on the proportion of students awarded different classifications over time. ….The TEF will therefore provider a counterweight to traditional ranking systems, some of which inadvertently encourage grade inflation by giving providers credit for the number of high-class degrees they award without further scrutiny.

A new condition will address this: C1: The provider must ensure the value of qualifications awarded to students at the point of qualification and over time, in line with sector-recognised standards.

Freedom of speech: Much heralded in the press around the launch of the consultation, there is actually very little about this (and it is not mentioned at all in the student summary). There is a lot more detail about the public interest proposal (see the section on the Public Interest Principles below), but this bit is relevant in this context:

  • the provider has set up a code of practice to ensure compliance with the statutory duty in section 43 of the Education (No.2) Act 1986 and compliance with any other applicable obligations in relation to freedom of speech
  • the provider ensures that its governing documents consider its obligations in relation to freedom of speech, and do not contain any provisions which contradict these obligations
  • the governing body abides by its governing documents in practice with respect to any issues around freedom of speech

Objective 3: that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure

“Consumer rights are not limited to protecting students from the very worst situations where their provider or course closes entirely. It is also important that students understand what they can expect of their providers in terms of issues such as teaching hours and support available.”

  • Condition D: “The provider must be financially viable and financially sustainable and must have appropriate resources to provide and fully deliver the higher education courses as advertised ….and enable the provider to continue to comply with all conditions of its registration.”
  • Condition E4: “Providers must demonstrate in developing their policies and procedures governing their contractual and other relationships with students that they have given due regard to relevant guidance as to how to comply with consumer law.”
  • Condition G: “The provider must cooperate with the requirements of the student complaints scheme run by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education including the subscription requirements and make students aware of their ability to use the scheme.”

Consumer law: “The provider is expected to submit a short self-assessment, describing how, in developing its policies and procedures governing their contractual and other relationships with prospective students (and relationships once those students have become current students), it has given due regard to relevant guidance about how to comply with consumer law.”

“In terms of the initial students’ contracts and consumer rights registration condition, the OfS will look at steps taken by providers in relation to prospective students i.e. it will look at policies and procedures governing contractual and other relationships with students who are commencing their studies from the academic year 2019/20, ensuring the policies and procedures are sound to govern the contractual and other relationships with those students once they have become current students.”

“The provider’s self-assessment should be accompanied by supporting evidence, demonstrating how it meets the condition. “

“In order to determine whether or not a provider is complying with the students’ contracts and consumer rights registration condition on an ongoing basis, the OfS’s judgement will be informed by the provider’s behaviour, information submitted by the provider, and any other information available to the OfS, such as whistleblowing / public interest disclosure reports submitted to OfS, or information from other relevant bodies, such as OIA, CMA or Trading Standards.”

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree that a student contracts condition should apply to providers in the Approved categories, to address the lack of consistency in providers’ adherence to consumer protection law?

Student transfer: “Students should have, and be aware of, the option to transfer. For individual students, like the new parent changing to a part-time course so they can spend more time with family, or the carer who needs to move to another part of the country, but doesn’t want to give up their studies, transfer has the potential to improve their lives dramatically. For students collectively, the availability of student transfer empowers choice and helps drive competition. The OfS will work to ensure students are able to transfer fluidly within and between providers wherever it best meets their needs and aspirations.”

Condition H: “The provider must publish information about its arrangements for a student to transfer. If the provider lacks such arrangements, it must explain how it facilitates the transfer of a student.”

“The OfS will monitor whether providers have procedures in place to facilitate student transfer, along with information about students transferring into courses delivered by their institution …The OfS will use this reporting to raise the profile of student transfer for students, and highlighting successes, best practice, and areas where further work is needed for providers. If necessary, the OfS will go further to promote student transfer and raise awareness among students to help individuals make the choices that are right for them, or even commission research into the means by which transfer could be most effectively encouraged.”

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree with the proposed general ongoing registration condition requiring the publication of information on student transfer arrangements? How might the OfS best facilitate, encourage or promote the provision of student transfer arrangements?

Student protection plans

“The OfS will be a market regulator, and as such it should not have to be in the business of having to prop up failing institutions, and neither should Government. The possibility of exit is a crucial part of a healthy, competitive and well-functioning market, and such exits happen already – although not frequently – in the higher education sector.”

“However, the OfS’ regulatory framework, and in particular the financial viability and sustainability condition and the OfS’s early warning approach to monitoring, are designed to prevent sudden and unexpected closures. This does not mean departmental, campus or even institutional closures will never occur. Higher education providers are autonomous institutions, and as such are entitled to make their own decisions about any future business model or viability of any particular course or subject.”

“The OfS’ interest is in ensuring that such changes and closures do not adversely affect students and their ability to conclude their studies and obtain a degree. This is why it will be a registration condition for all providers in the Approved categories to have an agreed student protection plan in place (see condition F) – the core purpose of which will be ensuring continuity of study.”

Condition F: “The provider must have in force a student protection plan which has been approved by the OfS (which sets out what actions they will take to minimise any impact on the students’ continuation of study should the provider discontinue the course, subject, discipline or exit the market completely) and the provider commits to taking all reasonable steps to comply with the provisions of that plan.”

“Student protection plans will set out what students can expect to happen in the event of course, campus or department closure, or if an institution exits the market. The plans must be approved by the OfS, and be easily available to current and prospective students. Providers with a low risk of unplanned closure would be required to have light-touch plan “

“Any measures must be feasible and practicable, and be backed up by clear implementation plans. When agreeing SPPs with the OfS the provider may be expected to provide some sort of reassurance on the financial position, which may include additional measures such as financial guarantees, or escrow type arrangements where a higher risk of market exit specifically is identified.”

Electoral registration – The HERA included a provision that the OfS could require providers to take steps to facilitate electoral registration. This is a provider level requirement that does not fit easily under the headings. The consultation says that:

“A healthy democratic society is one which has social justice at its heart. It is also dependent on the active participation of its citizens. The Government is, therefore, committed to helping ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote is able to do so, including students. However, people cannot vote until they have registered to vote and higher education providers have a major part to play in achieving this.“

“The condition will require higher education providers to cooperate with EROs, in accordance with such steps as the OfS considers appropriate. The Secretary of State will issue guidance under section 2(3) of HERA…subject to the outcome of this consultation, we expect this Ministerial Guidance is likely to:

  • reinforce the requirement for higher education providers to co-operate with EROs’ requests under Regulation 23 of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 for information on students for the purposes for electoral registration. We want providers to understand that they have a legal obligation to co-operate with these requests
  • include a direction for higher education providers to work in partnership with their local electoral services team to actively promote electoral registration amongst their student populations”

“The Government proposes to review and evaluate the overall effectiveness of this condition, once it has been implemented over a sufficient period to facilitate the gathering of appropriate data in terms of numbers of students who have registered. The evaluation will examine how effective the condition has been at helping increase successful applications from students to join the electoral register. “

More to follow on other aspects of the consultation

Brexit – Parliamentary Question

Q – Dr Matthew Offord: What assessment he has made of the capacity within UK universities and research institutes to continue to investigate the European geo-political area after the UK leaves the EU.

A – George Eustice: The Department has made no such assessment but the Prime Minister explained in her Florence Speech that the UK will continue to take part in those specific policies and programmes which are greatly to the UK and the EU’s joint advantage, such as those that promote science, education and culture.

Other news

Advertising Standards: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld disputes with six universities claiming to be top or within a top percentage for student satisfaction, graduate prospects, academic discipline, and global or national ranking. Leicester, East Anglia, Strathclyde, Falmouth, Teesside and the University of West London have all been instructed to remove their misleading content. The ASA has stated universities should substantiate such comparative statements by ensuring that the data behind the claim is sufficiently robust and can stand up to impartial interrogation. New guidance for universities on the required standards has been published here.

Press coverage of the ASA’s decisions: BBC, Guardian, and the Times.

Wonkhe have a guest blogger, Charles Heymann, who argues for universities to radically rethink their marketing straplines focusing on the institution’s values.

It remains to be seen if the ASA decisions, which threaten all top claims, will affect the sector’s preoccupation with rankings or influence student and parental opinion of the validity of such rankings.

Undergraduate employment: The Office for National Statistics has been researching undergraduate students’ employment whilst studying. In 2014/15 72.7% of students were in paid employment. Interestingly the South West had the highest employment percentage (77.6%) and London the lowest. Particularly notable for BU is that in East Dorset 9 out of 10 students were counted within the employment figures.

Konfer: This week saw the official launch of phase 2 of Konfer – a collaborative initiative from the National Centre for Universities and Business, the Research Councils, and HEFCE. It aims to open up research, researchers, and services within UK universities to businesses and other organisations looking for collaboration or new ideas, and to translate the research into jobs, innovation and economic growth. Described as ‘Google meets LinkedIn for university collaboration’ it utilises a search facility (search for an expert, a paper, a piece of equipment, a business or charity partner) to connect with the supplier.

David Sweeney, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE and Executive Chair Designate of Research England, said: “konfer promotes stronger commercialisation, business and policy links and wider societal engagement with publicly funded research. It opens out what universities and research institutes do to a wider audience and I’m delighted to see it reaching full launch stage following development work with universities and businesses of all sizes.”

BU’s Research and Knowledge Exchange Office engaged with Konfer during its early development and continue to develop our involvement.

Immigration: The Home Office has doubled the number of Tier 1 visas, available to those with exceptional talent or promise in the technology, arts, creative and sciences industries. Two thousand visas will now be made available for those endorsed by Tech City UK, the Arts Council of England, the British Academy, the Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Engineering. (WONKHE)

Policy Research Principles: The National Audit Office (NAO) has published their review Cross-government funding of research and development concluding that a more joined up approach is needed for some science based cross-departmental research areas within leadership, research principles and coordinated, prioritised funding arrangements. It concludes that BEIS and UKRI will play leading roles.

Government needs a coherent view of the UK’s research strengths relative to other nations and analysis of funding in key areas of research, so that it can prioritise areas where activity is lagging behind and ensure the UK is investing in the right areas…there is a risk that funders do not have coherent data across research areas on capability, funding gaps, or outcomes of research and development to inform decisions on national priorities and strategic direction..” (Amyas Morse Head of NAO)

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HE Policy update w/e 31st March 2017

This week has of course been all about Brexit with the Article 50 notice formally served on Wednesday.   Bu published information for staff and students on Wednesday.

Then the White Paper setting out the plans for the Great Repeal Bill which will deal with arrangements to make UK law work once the UK has left the EU – a challenge given how much EU law has been incorporated into UK laws and regulations. The Bill itself has not been published, but the approach it will take is set out in the White Paper:

  • “In order to achieve a stable and smooth transition, the Government’s overall approach is to convert the body of existing EU law into domestic law, after which Parliament (and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures) will be able to decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal once we have left the EU. This ensures that, as a general rule, the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as they did before….
  • The approach outlined in this White Paper is designed to give businesses, workers, investors and consumers the maximum possible certainty as we leave the EU: but it also needs to provide the flexibility necessary to respond to all eventualities of the negotiation process.
  • This is a separate process from that by which the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement to be voted on by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded.
  • The Great Repeal Bill will not aim to make major changes to policy or establish new legal frameworks in the UK beyond those which are necessary to ensure the law continues to function properly from day one. Therefore, the Government will also introduce a number of further bills during the course of the next two years to ensure we are prepared for our withdrawal – and that Parliament has the fullest possible opportunity to scrutinise this legislation”.
  • The most controversial part of the proposal relates to powers to make secondary legislation. The White Paper says “This will enable corrections to be made to the laws that would otherwise no longer operate appropriately once we have left the EU, so that our legal system continues to function correctly outside the EU, and will also enable domestic law once we have left the EU to reflect the content of any withdrawal agreement under Article 50.”

So will there be any changes to UK law linked to Article 50 – there are some clues in the White Paper:

  • Customs bill
  • Immigration bill
  • And on consumer protection, the Government intends to bring forward a Green Paper this spring which will closely examine markets which are not working fairly for consumers

What the White Paper says won’t change:

  • Environmental protection
  • Worker’s rights and equalities
  • Participation in European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), but not the EU Charter on Human Rights

Read more about the process for Brexit here.

Universities are not mentioned in the paper (except in the introduction where it is noted that the government acted fast to reassure applicants about fees) – there are on-going calls for the question of EU citizens in the UK to be settled fast, along with fee guarantees for students starting in 2018/19. UUK’s priorities for Brexit are set out in their short paper here and there are some interesting views written for the Universities All Party Parliamentary Group here.

Fake Research – UUK has a new blog on fake research following comments in the news about it. The blog helpfully brings together the latest reports and information in this area including the Research Councils UK guidance issued recently.

Higher Education and Research Bill – this will have its third reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday No more amendments have been added since the debate was postponed following the Westminster attacks. However, we know a little bit more about the government’s approach to the opposition and cross bench amendments made by the Lords. The bill will go back to House of Commons (to start its “ping-pong”) after Easter.

For example, of the 5 non-government amendments, one related to the requirement that universities should share information with local authorities to ensure that students are registered to vote. Jo Johnson has written a letter to HEFCE requesting that they do more to encourage institutions to support students to register to vote. They ask HEFCE to develop a best practice model and then encourage universities to use it. This amendment this therefore likely to be removed in the House of Commons

Another provided that the OfS could not approve a provider unless it has been validated for at least 4 years (as now) or has been approved by a Quality Assurance Committee as being full able to maintain the required standard for the duration of its authorisation and that it operates in the public interest and the interest of students. It seems unlikely that this will survive in the House of Commons:

  • A letter dated 22nd March from Jo Johnson sets out the government’s position that the student protection arrangements should cover this and that there will be a consultation on this as part of a Regulatory Framework consultation in the autumn of 2017.
  • A letter dated 8th March from Jo Johnson sets out why the government believes that the current validation arrangements do not work and explains why it should be easier for new providers to be authorised.

The other 4 amendments were:

  • Requiring UKRI to encourage international collaboration, not allowing students to be treated as long term migrants and not allowing more visa restriction on student or staff immigration more stringent than the day the act is passed – this is likely to be removed in the Commons pending the wider consultation on immigration policy which has been delayed since November
  • Removing the TEF clause and requiring the OfS to introduce instead a scheme to provide information about quality, which is approved by Parliament and which cannot be used to create a single composite ranking – This is likely to be removed in the Commons but it will be interesting to see if any concessions are made about the TEF. So far subject level TEF has been postponed for a year to allow for 2 years of pilot, but other changes may be forthcoming
  • A statement that the TEF (or its replacement) cannot be used to rank institutions as to the fees that they charge or the number of students they recruit, in the UK or overseas – this seems unlikely to survive – the student number/immigration issue will be dealt with as above, and the fee issue is so key to the government’s position on fees that it seems very unlikely to be dropped. There has been surprisingly little pick up on this issue – see the VC’s blog on this. There is a blog by Professor Mark Smith here.
  • The grounds in which institutions can appeal the revocation of their authorisation, so that instead of being on the grounds of an error of fact, a decision being wrong in law or unreasonable, it now just says that institutions can appeal on the grounds that “the decision was wrong” – this seems unlikely to survive – see the letter from Viscount Younger and Lord Young dated 20th

Apprenticeships – The Commons Select Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy have published a report on apprenticeships which raises a number of concerns about the focus on quantity over quality.

Social Mobility – Justine Greening gave a speech on 30th March on social mobility. She set out three priorities:

  • tackling geographic disadvantage
  • investing in long-term capacity in our system
  • making sure our education system as a whole really prepares young people and adults for career success

This speech refers to the plans for schools to work with universities but doesn’t give any more information (we are still waiting for the response to the consultation), technical education and widening access to universities.