Tagged / BEIS

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

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

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

International student visas

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

The Secretary of State and the Minister for Universities speak

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

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

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

And then the “but”.  It starts nicely:

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

But…

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

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

Michelle Donelan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonfire of the metrics (and general reduction of bureaucracy)

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

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

Starting with the Office for Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UKRI and BEIS

UKRI are being asked to make a lot of changes

Selection

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

Assurance and outcomes

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

Other things

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

NIHR

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

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

Reductions in providers’ internal bureaucracy

What could this mean?  Well:

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

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

Brexit

Have you missed it?

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

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

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

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

The Institute for Government have a short blog here:

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

So that answers that question.

And also:

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

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

So what is the issue?

From the BBC:

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

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

From the BBC again:

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

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

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

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

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

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 18th October 2019

Nationally, of course, this week has been dominated by Brexit and the Queen’s Speech. The biggest HE story has been OfS’ launch of their Value for Money Strategy.  We have missed out Brexit because it is dating too quickly and other sources are available!

NSS – more change to come?

The OfS have announced that they are reviewing the NSS (again).

  • In the next few months, detailed analysis of recent trends will be published: areas for which levels of satisfaction have increased, and where the survey results indicate that more work needs to be done to improve students’ experience. We will also be looking at some of the key themes emerging from the student comment sections, which offer respondents the opportunity to comment on an open-ended question.
  • Like all such surveys, however, the NSS has its limitations. It only surveys final year undergraduate students: those on shorter courses, or in other years, are currently excluded.
  • The survey also has its critics. There have been mixed views about its role in the TEF, with some querying whether NSS provides a proxy for teaching quality, and others disappointed that it doesn’t carry enough weight in the TEF. Some have questioned the design of the survey – for example, its use of a five point ‘Likert’ scale. Others have queried its timing. Students are asked to complete it at a stage in their final year when many will be doing their assessments.
  • ..this review…will include:
    • Plans to pilot an expanded survey for all undergraduates – not just those in their final year, as at present – phased over the next two years. Expanding the NSS in this way will give a voice to all students and will provide a much richer picture of the student academic experience.
    • Comprehensive review and testing of the survey questions (and scales) to ensure they remain fit for purpose, making changes where appropriate.
    • Plans to explore new survey questions around student mental health and wellbeing provision – something we are hearing strongly from students they wish to see.
  • There will be opportunities for you to have your say in the course of a consultation to be launched in spring 2020. More detail on the consultation will follow later this year.

Outcomes for Disabled Students

The OfS have had a busy week. They have published a new Insight Brief on outcomes for disabled students.

  • Disabled students are now a vital and significant part of campus life. However, challenges remain. Disabled students are less likely to continue their degrees, graduate with a good degree, and progress onto a highly skilled job or further study. This Insight brief asks what universities and colleges are doing to rectify these problems. What can the data tell us about the extent of these access and participation gaps? Are teaching and learning practices inclusive enough? Are funding changes exacerbating the difficulties that disabled students face?
  • The OfS is concerned about persistent gaps in access, success and progression for disabled students. We are looking to ensure that universities and colleges close these gaps through our regulation of providers’ access and participation plans and our funding and promotion of effective practice.
  • Teaching and learning in higher education is becoming more inclusive, but these positive developments are uneven. Universities and colleges could go further by, for example, offering alternative formats of course materials as standard, and ensuring more buildings are accessible.
  • Through the Disabled Students’ Commission, we will bring together a range of experts and educators, including a student representative, to highlight the barriers which remain and explore ways to dismantle them.

The brief cites “Effective practice for universities and colleges [taken from the Institute for Employment Studies, ‘Review of support for disabled students in higher education in England’, p5]

To better support disabled students and progress towards a more inclusive environment, universities and colleges need:

  • their senior management to commit to inclusive practice and culture
  • to involve all university staff in encouraging students to disclose an impairment.
  • more comprehensive written policies detailing inclusive support
  • to take a whole institution approach to inclusive support
  • build considerations of inclusivity and accessibility into curriculum design and programme review
  • to offer alternative formats of lectures and course materials as standard practice
  • to build considerations of inclusivity and accessibility into purchasing of services and equipment
  • better sharing of good practice internally and across the sector
  • better advice, guidance and training on digital accessibility for staff.

Queen’s Speech

Her Majesty has read her speech, wearing full robes and crown (last time she was in a suit and hat). You can read the Speech in full and the background briefing which provides a bit more detail and sets out a summary of the 26 bills. Not all the changes are legislation. The contents page contains links (useful because it is 130 pages long).

There is a nice explainer from the Institute for Government.

  • The Queen’s Speech can be voted down. This would be of major political significance, as it would clearly call into question the ability of the government to command the confidence of Parliament. Historically, a defeat on the address has been treated as an implicit loss of confidence in a government as it suggests that there is no majority to be found in the Commons for its programme for government.
  • It is rare for the government to be defeated on the address in the Commons – as governments usually have a majority in the House. But it has happened – most recently in 1924, when Stanley Baldwin’s minority government was defeated. Baldwin then resigned as prime minister, and the opposition went on to form a new government.
  • As no government has been defeated on the address since the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) in 2011, it is unclear what would happen if such a situation were to arise. This is because a defeat on the address would not meet the requirements under the FTPA to trigger an election. But any defeat might encourage the opposition to then table a formal vote of no confidence, under the FTPA, in the government. There would also be intense political pressure on the government.

The PM has already said if the Government is defeated on the Queen’s Speech vote he does not intend to step down.

On HE specifically, the briefing notes say:

  • We are committed to making sure that higher education funding reflects a sustainable model that supports high quality provision, maintaining our world-leading reputation for higher education and delivering value for money for both students and the taxpayer.
  • We want to ensure we deliver better value for students in post-18 education, have more options that offer the right education for each individual, and provide the best access for disadvantaged young people.
  • We want to establish the UK as a global science superpower, building on our existing world-excellence. We will boost public R&D funding, launch a comprehensive UK Space Strategy, introduce a fast-track immigration scheme for top scientists and researchers and develop proposals for a new funding agency.
    • Backing a new approach to funding emerging fields of research and technology, broadly modelled on the US Advanced Research Projects Agency. We will work with industry and academics to finalise this proposal
    • Reducing bureaucracy in research funding to ensure our brilliant scientists are able to spend as much time as possible creating new ideas, not filling in unnecessary forms.
  • The R&D funding plans we will unveil in autumn 2019 will help accelerate our ambition to reach 2.4 per cent of GDP spent on R&D by 2027. This boost in funding will allow us to invest strategically in cutting-edge science, while encouraging the worlds most innovative businesses to invest in the UK.
  • There will be a Medicines and Medical Devices Bill to “Allow the UK to take a lead role in global research to find cures for rare diseases and improve treatments for patients around the world”.

Other relevant highlights:

  • An immigration bill, ending free movement, will lay the foundation for a fair, modern and global immigration system. My Government remains committed to ensuring that resident European citizens, who have built their lives in, and contributed so much to, the United Kingdom, have the right to remain. The bill will include measures that reinforce this commitment [Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill]. 
  • Measures will be brought forward to support and strengthen the National Health Service, its workforce and resources, enabling it to deliver the highest quality care. New laws will be taken forward to help implement the National Health Service’s Long Term Plan in England, and to establish an independent body to investigate serious healthcare incidents [Health Service Safety Investigations Bill].
  • My Government will bring forward proposals to reform adult social care in England to ensure dignity in old age. My Ministers will continue work to reform the Mental Health Act to improve respect for, and care of, those receiving treatment.
  • My Ministers will ensure that all young people have access to an excellent education, unlocking their full potential and preparing them for the world of work. 
  • A white paper will be published to set out my Government’s ambitions for unleashing regional potential in England, and to enable decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level.
  • My Government is committed to establishing the United Kingdom as a world-leader in scientific capability and space technology. Increased investment in science will be complemented by the development of a new funding agency, a more open visa system, and an ambitious national space strategy.
  • My Government will take steps to protect the integrity of democracy and the electoral system in the United Kingdom.

Plus: criminal justice, longer sentencing, sustainable fiscal strategy allowing investment in economic growth, post-Brexit regimes for fisheries, agriculture and trade, financial services, domestic abuse, divorce, pension regulation, national infrastructure strategy, a Drones bill, railway reform and broadband, environmental protection, animal welfare, defence.

During the parliamentary debates on the Queen’s Speech this week Labour’s Angela Rayner (shadow Education Secretary) called for the restoration of university maintenance grants and the implementation of a system of post qualification admissions. There has been a reinvigorated wave of parliamentary questions surrounding research and outward mobility programmes. And the Royal Society published their analysis of Brexit’s harm to UK science research. Finally, Wonkhe dissect the mention of research funding within the Queen’s speech.

OfS Value for Money Strategy

I think I was expecting something new.  But no.  Read their news story here

According to a 2018 survey commissioned by the OfS, just 38 per cent of students believe their course offers good value for money.

The value for money strategy, published by the OfS today, identifies the ways in which the OfS will deliver better value for money for students and taxpayers – in line with the priorities identified in the 2018 student survey. The strategy also defines the OfS’s regulatory role in these areas and outlines how it will measure its success.

Among the priorities identified are:

  • improving teaching quality – over 90 per cent of students responding to the OfS survey felt that the quality of teaching, assessment and feedback are very important in demonstrating value for money
  • promoting transparency around fees and funding – 88 per cent of respondents said that seeing a breakdown of how fees are spent would be helpful in judging value
  • protecting students as consumers and improving consumer information – 24 per cent said they were not informed or prepared for the level of costs that came with being a student
  • securing positive employment outcomes – 65 per cent of respondents said getting a job and earning more were important factors in judging value for money.

The OfS will continue to survey students and graduates to measure student perceptions of value for money, the outcomes of which will form one measure of its progress in this area. The OfS will also consider measures of student experience and outcomes, including the National Student Survey, the Graduate Outcomes Survey, and data on graduate earnings.

The actual strategy is here but you’ve pretty much got it in the bullets above.

This is their definition of value for money:

  • Students receive value for money when they experience the full benefits of higher education – both during their studies and afterwards – in exchange for the effort, time and money they invest.
  • Taxpayers receive value for money when higher education providers use public money and student fees efficiently and effectively to deliver graduates, from all backgrounds, who contribute to society and the economy.

In the document, they also say:

  • We recognise that value for money means different things to different students. Tracking students’ perceptions of the value for money of their education will allow us to monitor progress without imposing our own definition on students.

So they are going to measure something that is not defined, when they know it means different things to different people at different stages?  And if it doesn’t improve they will hold universities to account for not improving something that is not defined? Is that unreasonable?

To be fair, they are also going to

  • assess value for money for students and taxpayers by analysing data on the benefits that have been delivered – for example positive student outcomes – and comparing this with data on the costs incurred”.

And this:

  • While our focus is on student outcomes, we make sure that providers use any income from taxpayers appropriately in delivering these outcomes. Providers receiving funding from the OfS or UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) must comply with our conditions of registration. This includes demonstrating that they have adequate and effective arrangements in place to manage public money appropriately and in accordance with the principle of value for money – it must be used economically, efficiently and effectively. These requirements apply even if a provider passes funds to another entity to deliver teaching or research. We will issue further guidance for providers about how they can meet these requirements.
  • We collect Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) data from providers in receipt of OfS funding to establish the cost of their various activities18. The data is benchmarked so providers can understand the cost of their activities in comparison with other similar providers. This helps them to determine where they can improve the value for money they offer to students and taxpayers.

How is BEIS getting on?

The National Audit Office has published a Departmental Overview for BEIS, describing what it does, its spending, recent and planned changes, and what to look out for across its main business areas and services. A summary of their overview prepared by Dods is below – it acts a good lookahead for certain projects and the likelihood of targets being met.

Specifically of interest are details on delivering an industrial strategy and investing in science, research and innovation. It recommends keeping an eye on whether the Department is stimulating additional investment from private sector companies in research and development to support the government’s target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027. This has been a key area of concern, given that the uplift required from Government to reach 2.4% without private sector support would be huge. It is widely expected that reaching 2.4% will rely very heavily on private sector investment. Key developments identified in this area are as follows:

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

  • The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is a key part of the government’s Industrial Strategy. The Fund, which is administered by UKRI, provides investment in projects that seek to address the grand challenges. The Fund is organised in waves.
  • In 2018-19, £325 million was invested across Waves 1 and 2. The Fund is also a key part of the government’s aim for 2.4% of GDP to be spent on research and development by 2027.

Productivity review

  • In May 2018, the Department launched a call for evidence to review the actions that could be most effective in improving the productivity and growth of small and medium-sized businesses. The Department has yet to publish the results of its review.

Things to look out for:

  • How the Department is monitoring the progress of the projects that were awarded funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and the extent to which they help to address the four grand challenges.
  • Whether government support is stimulating additional investment from private sector companies in research and development to support the government’s target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027.
  • Whether the Department and other government departments are coordinating effectively to deliver the Industrial Strategy, including the actions taken by the Industrial Strategy Council.

The report outlines the 5 objectives of the Department:

  1. Deliver an ambitious industrial strategy; increase UK economic performance and earning power, whilst promoting scientific innovation and local growth.
  2. Maximise investment opportunities; increase investment and employment following Brexit and maintain business and investor confidence amidst deal preparations/ exiting the EU.
  1. Promote competitive markets and responsible business practices; Secure better outcomes for consumers by creating a more competitive environment for businesses and improve corporate governance.
  1. Ensure the UK has a reliable, low-cost and clean energy system; Provide clean, secure and affordable energy supplies for consumers and businesses and support clean growth and promote global action on climate change .
  1. Build a flexible, innovative, collaborative business-facing department; Elevate the Department to an exceptional standard and enable digital, data and technology to deliver services for staff, people and businesses.

Education Statistics

The DfE have released lots of statistics

  • Destinations of KS4 and 16 to 18 KS5 students (2018) remains static with 94% of pupils were in sustained education, employment or apprenticeships in the year after key stage 4, unchanged from 2016/17. Overall, 88% of students (who took mainly level 3 qualifications) went to a sustained education, apprenticeship or employment destination. Students taking qualifications at level 2 and below were less likely to have a sustained destination overall. However, they were more likely to enter apprenticeships and employment.
  • A level and other 16 to 18 results (2018) – A level attainment increased for students at the end of 16-18 study in comparison to 2018.

A schools funding announcement was also made this week.

Other news

Brain retain: An early day motion in Parliament congratulated Glasgow which resume.io have recognised as the top graduate destination.

Commuter Students: HEPI have a blog on commuter students arguing that a student centred model is essential for both residential and commuter students. However, the blog, written by the VC of Manchester Met says three overarching strands of support would compensate commuter students for their lack of residential experience:

  • The first is to ensure that we use data on the journey of individual students to inform the support that we give them. We are investing in a Student Journey Transformation Programme that aims to ensure we have a clear picture of each student and their needs. The approach uses technology in an innovative way to support students and enable staff to identify any potential issues at an early stage.
  • The second dimension is campus design, where even simple things such as lockers can make a difference. Lockers mean commuter students do not have to carry around a day’s worth of materials. This removes a practical barrier to taking part in activities and events. Access to plug sockets means they can charge laptops and phones, supporting them to work on campus.
  • We are also working to provide more areas for students to spend time between timetabled sessions and to build their academic community. If the only options are studying in the library or sitting in a catering outlet where there is an expectation to buy something, there is a greater likelihood that students will drift off campus.
  • Thirdly, clear, sensible timetabling helps students plan their week, including travel, work and family commitments. While we have long provided personalised timetables for each student, we are looking at what more we can do. In one faculty, we have identified programmes with high numbers of students with caring responsibilities and scheduled lectures for a restricted number of days with start and finish times that accommodate these responsibilities. We need to understand the effects of this pilot, especially how well it supports students, before extending it.

Student Carers: Wonkhe have a new blog: Carers need more visibility in HE.

Student Votes: Wonkhe detail a piece by i News reporting that the number of students and young people registered to vote has spiked by around 50 per cent when compared to a similar period before the last general election.

Apprenticeships/Disability: HEPI have a blog on the new apprenticeship system and whether it works for disabled students.

Trust: The OfS blog on how leaders can rebuild public trust.

Lecture alternatives: The Wonkhe blog Is the lecture dead? considers an alternative learning model.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

Science Research and Innovation Policy – new calls from government

In November, the government published its ‘Industrial Strategy‘.  This includes science, research and innovation being central to driving productivity and is therefore one of the five key drivers.

As a first step, Government has committed to increase public funding of R&D from around £9.5bn in 2016/17 to around £12.5bn in 2021/22.  They are also developing a ‘roadmap’ in partnership with industry and other partners.  There are four Grand Challenges, which seek to galvanise action across disciplines and different sectors of the economy.  They include:

  • Putting the UK at the forefront of artificial intelligence and data revolution
  • Maximising the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth
  • Becoming a world leader in shaping the future of mobility, and
  • Harnessing the power of innovation to meet the needs of an aging society

In order to make progress with the Grand Challenges, the UK needs to increase collaboration further and in a number of ways:

  • Collaboration between disciplines
  • Collaboration across the economy – including between universities, research and innovation bodies and businesses
  • international collaboration

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Collaboration between different academic disciplines is required, as well as innovation across business and industrial sectors.  The establishment of UKRI is in recognition of this.  In addition, the introduction of the Strategic Priorities Fund further demonstrates this.  This is a ‘common fund’, supporting multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary programmes (to be announced shortly).

Collaboration across different institutions and economic actors

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aims to bring together the UK’s world-leading research with business.  Investment of £725 million will be in new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund programmes to capture the value of innovation.

Impact on local growth from research and innovation is greater in areas where there are strong institutions that collaborate together.  The Industrial Strategy has announced the Strength in Places Fund.  This will fund  R&I projects which build on a local strength, demonstrate a strong impact on local growth and productivity, and enhance collaboration between local institutions.  Calls are expected shortly.

International collaboration

The UK is currently agreeing science and technology strategies with the US and China and will be published later this year.  The Industrial Strategy includes an additional investment of £300m in world-class talent from 2018/19 onwards.  This supports the flow of people between industry and academia and interdisciplinary and cutting-edge research and innovation.  Support will range from KTPs and PhD programmes with strong industrial links, to prestigious awards that support rising stars and the top talent from both the UK and overseas.

If you would like to read the full statement from BEIS please click here: BEIS industrial strategy collaboration statement

If you would like to discuss potential research collaboration with industry, please contact Ehren Milner, RKEO, Research Facilitator – Industrial Collaboration.