Tagged / Brexit

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 16th July 2020

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

The Universities Minster speaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levelling up and higher technical education

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

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

Germany…

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

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

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

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

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

Responses

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

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

And the key point is this –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

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

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

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions – use of calculated grades

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

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

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

On appeals the report says:

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

Recommendations:

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

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

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

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

Admissions – numbers up

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

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

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

Nursing

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

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

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

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

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

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

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

Tuition fee refunds

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

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

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

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

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

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

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

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

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

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

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

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

International Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points-based Immigration System

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

Graduate Outcomes

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

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

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

Social Mobility Commission

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

Bailout push

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

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

NSS Analysis

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

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

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

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

 Student Number Controls

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

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

Research

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

RP continue:

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

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

University research support package

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some universities will have limits on their borrowing.

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

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

Radical overhaul of admissions?

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

The Guardian said: The models include:

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

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

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

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

Admissions Report

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

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

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

It concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

Diversity in HE

UCAS have highlighted that

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

Other key facts:

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

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

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

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

Disadvantage:

Wonkhe have two blogs on access and disadvantage:

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

Key points:

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

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

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

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

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

A – Michelle Donelan:

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

EU Student Fees Decision

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

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

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

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

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, puts it plainly:

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

Research Professional have a write up on the fee changes.

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

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

She also reminded Parliament about the International Education Champion appointment.

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

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

Graduate Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A – Michelle Donelan:

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, commented:

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

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

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

Student Numbers Cap

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

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

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

The increase/decreases:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Complaints

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

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

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

There is also clear emphasis on individual student differences:

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

And a pro-active approach is urged:

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

Mass Action

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

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

Claire Sosienski Smith, VP HE at NUS, stated:

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

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

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

Online learning

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

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

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

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

OfS

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

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

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

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

Brexit

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

Easing Lockdown

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

Parliamentary Updates

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

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

A – Baroness Berridge:

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

Other Questions

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

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

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

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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 1st May 2020

Hi all – we are bit late against our Wednesday deadline this week, we’re sure you’ll understand.  Still lots going on and some of it doesn’t even relate to the crisis – KEF concordat high on your priority list, anyone?

Students in the lockdown

Minister under the spotlight: Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has responded to several parliamentary questions this week, and come under fire for some, perhaps unintentionally misleading, answers during interviews. Most widely reported in the media was her statement responding to a question on supporting student rent costs that students had not been told to return to the family home (as a C-19 distancing safety measure) – “I can assure you that we never instructed students to return to their permanent addresses.” Also causing raised eyebrows were the implications within some of the Minister’s responses putting the onus on universities for certain decisions and support measures – such as blanket hardship support and IT funding (see the parliamentary questions below).

Q – Richard Holden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that university students in their final year receive the support they need during the covid-19 outbreak.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The government is doing all it can to keep staff and students at our universities safe in this unprecedented situation, while mitigating the impact on education. I have written to students to outline the support available and we continue to work closely with the sector, putting student wellbeing at the heart of these discussions…
  • My clear expectation is that universities should make all reasonable efforts to enable students to continue and complete their studies; for their achievements to be reliably assessed; and for qualifications to be awarded securely…The Office for Students has also recently confirmed that providers are able to use the student premium to support students to access IT equipment and internet connectivity where needed. Students will continue to receive scheduled payments of loans towards their living costs for 2019/20. Both tuition and living costs payments will continue irrespective of closures or whether learning has moved online. Many students will be feeling uncertain and anxious and it is vital that students can still access the mental health support that they need. Many providers are bolstering their existing mental health services and adapting the delivery of these services to means other than face-to-face. These services are likely to be an important source of support to students during this period of isolation.

And:

Q – Peter Kyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to support online learning for disadvantaged university students.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • As my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have both made clear, the government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID-19. Despite the significant disruption being felt across the higher education (HE) sector, students rightly deserve the appropriate support and recognition for their hard work and dedication. HE providers take their responsibilities seriously and are best placed to identify the needs of their student body as well as how to develop the services needed to support it. Many HE providers have moved rapidly to develop new ways of delivering courses through online teaching and alternatives to traditional end-of-course exams. When making changes to the delivery of their courses, HE providers need to consider how they support all students, particularly the most vulnerable. This includes students suffering from COVID-19, students who need to self-isolate, international students and students who are either unable or less able to access remote learning for whatever reason, as well as care leavers, students who are estranged from their families and students with disabilities. The Office for Students (OfS) has recently published guidance setting out the actions that it will take to support providers to maintain standards and teaching quality. It highlights flexible models for teaching, learning and assessment that will most likely satisfy OfS quality and standard conditions. On 23 March, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education published the first in a series of good practice guidance notes that are available to all UK HE providers.
  • HE providers should make all reasonable efforts to enable students to complete their studies, for achievement to be reliably assessed and for qualifications to be awarded securely. Many HE providers will have hardship funds to support students in times of need, including emergencies. The expectation is that where any student requires additional support, such as access to the Internet, providers will support them through their own hardship funds. The OfS have stated that providers are permitted to divert more of their student premium funding to their hardship funds to support students, including through the purchase of IT equipment. Providers should particularly ensure that students in the most vulnerable groups are able to access this support where needed.

On Friday Wonkhe reported that Paul Blomfield, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Students, blasted Universities Minister Michelle Donelan for “failing to acknowledge” concerns raised by 110 MPs from across Parliament – arguing in a fresh letter that the issues “have only become more pressing” over the last three weeks. Reflecting concerns about some institutions’ refusal to adopt “no detriment” policies, Blomfield argues that plans on exams “vary widely” and, for that reason, “create a sense of unfairness” among students.

Student connectivity : HE organisations have called on the Government to provide parity of online access for HE learners during the current crisis. Chief Executives from JISC, the Association of Colleges, Universities UK and UCISA ask the Minister to work with telecoms providers and Ofcom to make all relevant online education sites free for access for UK further education and higher education students and that they be considered a priority group of vulnerable consumers in discussions with telecoms providers. The letter states:

  •  ‘With campuses closed, thousands of students are now learning online at home, where both broadband and access to mobile devices is prohibited by availability, connectivity and cost. The further education (FE) and higher education (HE) sectors have worked very hard to successfully ensure the continual provision of teaching and learning online but, put simply, this is unaffordable and inaccessible for many learners. Not only does this prohibit their education, but it is damaging for their overall wellbeing.’

MPs calling for support for students who usually work throughout their degree and are ineligible for universal credit continues – see this Guardian article. There is another Guardian feature giving the student perspective on hardship (including university hardship funding).

Accommodation: Last Wednesday the Office for Students published a briefing note for universities on how to help students with accommodation problems during the coronavirus pandemic, including worries over rent, access to kitchens and bathrooms shared with self-isolators, and signposting to sources of information. Research Professional cover the guidance here.

Student Loans: The Student Loan Company updated their FAQs with COVID19 content.

More parliamentary questions:

Q – Barry Sheerman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what representations he has received from disabled students on access to assistive technology via the disabled students’ allowance due to the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak; and if will make a statement. [37453]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) provide for the additional costs that disabled students may face in higher education because of their disability. A basic computer is a mainstream cost of study and students are therefore expected to make a £200 contribution towards the cost of any computer recommended as part of their needs assessment. The contribution is for computer hardware only; students are not expected to fund recommended specialist software or training in how to use it.
  • There are currently no plans to suspend the requirement for disabled students to contribute £200 towards the purchase of a computer. The department has not received any representations from disabled students on access to assistive technology through DSA support in relation to the economic effect of the Covid-19 outbreak. It is too early to assess the effect of the Covid-19 outbreak on the employment opportunities for disabled students. These are rapidly developing circumstances; we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.

Q – Tommy Sheppard: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when she plans to respond to Question 30815 of 17 March 2020 from the hon. Member for Edinburgh East. [38568]

A – Will Quince:

  • Students who do not ordinarily have entitlement to Universal Credit (UC) and who receive a maintenance loan or grant through the student finance system, will continue to be able to draw upon this financial support until the end of this academic year.
  • Those who do not receive student finance and who would ordinarily not have entitlement to UC, such as those undertaking a part-time course which would otherwise not be considered as compatible with the requirements for them to look for and be available for work, will have entitlement to UC. We have disapplied UC and both legacy and new style JSA work preparation, work search and availability requirements and related sanctions. This will initially be for a three-month period. After three months, consideration will be given as to whether a further extension is required.

Q – Emma Hardy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on enabling students that are unable to (a) work and (b) be furloughed to claim universal credit during the covid-19 pandemic. (37820)

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Students with a part time employment contract should speak to their employer about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which has been set up to help pay staff wages and keep people in employment. HMRC are working urgently to get the scheme up and running and we expect the first grants to be paid within weeks.
  • Students suffering hardship should in the first instance contact their provider. Many universities have hardship funds to support students most in need and contact details are available on university websites. Undergraduate students studying on full-time courses will continue to receive their maintenance loan payments as planned for the remainder of this academic year, 2019/20. Eligible students who need to undertake additional weeks of study on their course in the current academic year may qualify for additional long courses loan to help with their living costs.
  • Certain groups of students eligible for benefits such as lone parents will continue to qualify for Universal Credit in addition to their maintenance loans.

Universities and the crisis

Student number controls: you will recall that this is part of the UUK package of measures – a cap on forecast numbers plus 5% (which doesn’t sound like much of a cap anyway given that the OfS keep saying that the forecasts are unreasonably high and suggest a problem with financial sustainability because they won’t be achieved…) –Wonkhe have a blog by Mark Corver suggesting they would cause more problems than they would solve.  Some extracts below:

  • The case for quotas is that by restricting student choice they can divvy up fee income across universities in a way that can offer financial stability. But quotas make a fundamental mistake in placing little value on what students want, assuming that their personal aspirations can be redirected around the system as required. This could well lead to many students opting not to go to university, making quotas of very limited use in helping stability this cycle.
  • The best response to uncertainty is flexibility. Imposing quotas strips both students and universities of the ability to respond to events.
  • A more reliable approach to securing stability is the same as what government is considering across the economy. If a large, but likely temporary, change risks destroying productive capacity then the government considers support until the temporary conditions abate.
  • For some transport operating companies they have done this through partially compensating for the loss of passengers their finances reasonably assumed. They have not proposed offering potential passengers a take-it-or-leave-it offer to buy tickets for journeys they don’t want make to places they do not want to go. Because it would not work.

Remember that UUK bailout package? UUK and Millionplus came out with an additional specific one for the key worker sectors this week.  Working with universities, the government could take a major stride towards mitigating against future capacity shortfalls with a simple three-pronged approach:

  • Supporting students and graduates to become key workers in public services, by offering a maintenance grant of up to £10,000 for all students in training, removing any recruitment caps, and providing fee-loan forgiveness for those remaining in the relevant professions for at least five years.
  • Strengthening and enhancing key public service HE capacity in universities by increasing the funding to the Office for Students to reflect the added costs while creating a new Public Services in Higher Education Capital Fund to enable universities to invest in simulation equipment, additional staff costs and other infrastructure.
  • Retaining and developing key workers in public services, by increasing general staffing budgets and creating a new professional development programme focused on enhancing skills of current key workers in public services and the new NHS volunteer reserve.

Flexible Learning: Advance HE published guidance on flexible learning accompanied by a blog stressing the importance of flexibility: Flexible learning comes of age.

Ex-Ministers speak: Research Professional cover an excellent session in which three past university ministers (Willets, Johnson, Skidmore) discuss the dangers of allowing a Government imposed temporary student numbers cap and instead urge the sector to agree its own self restraint version. International students are also mentioned. The Express also cover Willetts’ comments.

Discussion and speculation over Government’s thinking on university bail out/support measures continued this week.

HEPI have published the blog: Don’t panic…yet? Explaining their perspective as to why Ministers wouldn’t immediately jump to support the HE sector. It contains a couple of fresh perspectives alongside reiterating reasons already stated. In essence the statement:  “Frustrating though it is, it is not unreasonable for officials to want to see this play out a little before making firm decisions that could cost billions of pounds” sums the blog up.

The Guardian ran Ministers split over bailout package for universities.

The Times have a piece explaining that Universities that would benefit well from a rescue package based on research funding are also some of the richest universities. The article reiterates familiar messages including Ministers wanting to wait to find out what the real situation is in September rather than jumping the gun unnecessarily. Excerpt:

  • Smaller, newer institutions are getting the scraps from the table. Yet they can reasonably argue that they will be the ones to spearhead an economic recovery, being in many cases the biggest employers in their areas. They are now doing their own lobbying.
  • “Frustrating though it is, it is not unreasonable for Whitehall officials to want to see this play out a little before making firm decisions that could cost billions of pounds,” Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and a former government adviser, said.
  • The danger is the Treasury, where officials are not short of self-belief, think they know more about the sector than everyone else and can direct any bailouts to, for example, universities already in financial trouble to make sure they do not go under, rather than seeing the bigger picture of protecting Britain’s research prowess and global reputation.

New Normal

Wonkhe have a lot to say on the ‘new normal’:

  • We’re being asked to consider what living with Covid-19 in the medium to long term might mean.
  • Most universities now think they have this term under control, but it’s September that poses the biggest headache. Universities have done their best to shift the rest of this year’s teaching and assessment online – but it’s starting to become clear that this hasn’t worked for some students and some courses. A big debate about adequacy is coming, as is one about which emergency adaptations, both to teaching and to assessment, will be scrapped or retained (and when). Some of the compromises made mid-crisis may be harder to justify – and charge full fees for – in the autumn.
  • Learning and teaching teams are working around the clock to plan for a full or mostly online student experience from September. This will require much more careful thinking about remote student engagement, and in many cases a full redesign of existing courses…But delivering change on this scale at pace is bound to tax universities to the very limits.
  • If the institutional approach to dealing with this tension is truly in the student interest, then students will at the very least need to be involved in the debate. At the moment, they, like the rest of us, would love to return to a normal that isn’t on offer.

And Wonkhe offer a plethora of new blogs on the topic of what change is to come:

Parliamentary Business/Updates

Select Committee Chair elections – 6 May: The process for election to the coveted BEIS chair has been confirmed. Nominations will open (by email) on 17 April and close on May 4 and must be accompanied by 15 letters of support. Select committee membership is representative of the proportion of MPs elected at the beginning of the Parliament and a balance of Conservative, Labour and members of other parties are agreed in advance of the Committees reforming. This includes which party will chair which select committee. BEIS is chaired by Labour so only Labour MPs will be nominated to stand. The (outsourced) online ballot will elect the chair on 6 May. Chair of the Standards Committee (to replace Kate Green who was appointed Shadow Minister for Child Poverty Strategy) will also take place on 6 May 2020 again only members of the Labour Party may be candidates.

Employability after the crisis

HEPI continue to talk about new graduate career anxiety although the latest offering suggests students feel confident they will find work in Open for business? Students’ views on entering the labour market. This publication was based on a survey of 1,000 full time undergraduate students. HEPI highlight:

  • 79% of graduates feel confident of getting a graduate level job once they graduate
  • However, when asked about their feelings towards entering the labour market:
    • 28% cite anxiety, ahead of confidence (23%), uncertainty (16%) and feeling overwhelmed (16%)
    • 14% selected excitement as their primary emotion, 3% felt relaxed
  • 29% say the Coronavirus pandemic has altered their feelings (71% no feeling change)
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) have a specific career in mind for when they graduate, compared to 18% who do not and 17% who are unsure.
    • 72% intend to go into a career directly related to their degree subject
    • Work experience is seen as important (61%)
  • Students think there are four main factors that make for a successful career: doing something they are interested in (49%), being happy and fulfilled (48%), having stability (47%) and having a high salary (41%).
  • 35% of graduates to be intend to spend up to 2 years in their first role; 24% plan on staying for over three years (19% pumped for 2-3 years; 18% intend to stay less than a year and 3% intend to spend less than six months!

Rachel Hewitt, HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

  • ‘These results show students feel confident about finding work, but anxious about starting their career. This anxiety has been there since before the current pandemic for many students, but for almost a third the current circumstances have exacerbated these feelings. Universities need to provide as much support as they can for students who are entering the labour market in such uncertain times and employers need to be mindful of these results in their hiring processes.
  • The polling also shows a number of misconceptions that students have about the labour market. Most expect to go into a career directly related to their degree subject, while employers tend to see subject of study as less important than the skills they have gained. Students expect to only spend a short time in their first graduate job, when research shows that many stay in their first role for longer than expected. University careers guidance should seek to tackle these misconceptions, so students are better informed about their future careers.’

In the Foreword to the report, Jonathan Black, Director of Oxford University Careers Service, writes:

  • Students graduating this year could, perhaps, be forgiven for thinking they have lived against a backdrop of uncertain and threatening events: the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent wars, the 2008 financial crisis, the turmoil and division of Brexit, and throughout the period, an increasingly obvious climate crisis. Now, along comes a global pandemic that is beginning to make the previous environment look almost benign and limited.
  • This HEPI report confirms that students’ familiarity with uncertainty is measurable by the fact that the majority of respondents say their perceptions haven’t changed solely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They remain generally positive about their future – perhaps the optimism of youth who either don’t know or don’t believe the predictions or maybe they see opportunities in the changes to come.
  • ‘This report forms a useful benchmark of how much the pandemic is changing students’ views of their career. The extent, scale, and life of this pandemic and its accompanying economic shock are only just emerging, and there could be a very long way to go before we return to a “new normal”’

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Office for Students responded to the HEPI paper:

  • Coronavirus will clearly have a profound impact on the economy, so it is unsurprising that students are anxious as they enter the next stage of their lives after graduation. However, the skills and experiences of graduates will be crucial to the economy as we rebuild, and there will be many opportunities for well qualified graduates to embark on rewarding careers.
  • The careers services that universities and colleges provide have a crucial role to play in helping to equip students with the confidence and skills they need to find professional employment. Their expertise will be particularly important during these difficult and uncertain times.’

Research

REF: The REF team have published a set of FAQs covering adjustments to the REF (timetable still under discussion) following last week’s webinar discussing the changes needed to adapt for C-19.

Academic Travel: HEPI have a blog considering how conducting PhD vivas online would be a forward step in reducing emissions and make a positive impact on carbon reduction supporting both universities environmental policies and national goals – Conducting PhD vivas online is working fine: there will be no need to return to excessive flying habits. It was inspired by the change in practices forced by lockdown.

Similarly HEPI have another blog on universities achieving carbon neutral status and what this means for academic travel.

Research Professional published Alarm as Covid-19 recovery plan neglects to mention R&D discussing how research and education has been left out of EU roadmap just two days before discussions were due.

Knowledge Exchange Concordat

The Knowledge Exchange Concordat was published on Friday. Research Professional covered the publication announcement here. It was a slight surprise to the sector as originally it was anticipated to be delayed and launched alongside a process allowing providers to explicitly sign up to the Concordat high level implementation plan (which won’t happen until later in 2020). And as Ivory Tower (tongue-in-cheek Friday comedy HE column) so eloquently imagine, lockdown seems a strange time to be launching an outward focussed process – excerpt from Ivory Tower imagined diary of Trevor McMillan, vice-chancellor Keele University:

  • This is definitely the right moment to release the knowledge exchange concordat. I’ve been working on this for a decade.
  • Now is the time to find out how staff in universities are getting out into their communities and interacting with people. Oh, hold on… can I start this again?

(Trevor McMillan is the Chair of the Concordat Committee on real life.)

Wonkhe have a short blog from Trevor McMillian himself  The Knowledge Exchange Concordat: published but not yet activated explaining a little on the concordat and timing:

  • Universities all have different strengths and we are committed to applying them to maximise their impact. When we are through the acute stages of the Covid-19 pandemic there will be the need for an enormous recovery programme to turn around the social and economic deficits that will be left by the current crisis. Universities will have a critical role in this, by engaging staff from right across our disciplinary base.
  • Hopefully, the Knowledge Exchange Concordat will provide a framework in which we can, as universities, ensure that we have the approaches in place to facilitate our staff and students to continue to have a major impact.

Dods explain the basics on knowledge exchange for those less familiar with the purpose of the concordat:

  • Knowledge exchange includes a set of activities, processes and skills that enable close collaboration between universities and partner organisations to deliver commercial, environmental, cultural and place-based benefits, opportunities for students and increased prosperity. This KE concordat therefore seeks to provide a mechanism by which universities can consider their performance in KE and make a commitment to improvement in those areas that are consistent with their priorities and expertise.
  • UK universities received £4.9 billion from knowledge exchange activities in 2018-19, helping fund activities to boost scientific, technological, medical and cultural breakthroughs. More effective knowledge sharing between universities and businesses will be essential in underpinning the Government’s target spend of 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027.

David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England, said: I am pleased to see the publication of the KE concordat and very much welcome that its development has been sector-led. The concordat provides the means to continuously improve institutional KE performance and I see it as critical in assurance of our funding, especially driving efficiency and effectiveness.”

Joe Marshall, CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Business, said: “Universities’ knowledge exchange activities play an incredibly important role in attracting, supporting and enhancing businesses and other organisations. The Concordat is an important vehicle for universities to proactively show their commitment to collaboration with others and demonstrate to external partners that through self-improvement they want to build better and deeper partnerships.”

And our view: it doesn’t look to have changed much from the version that was consulted on. It still includes aim 3 “to provide clear indicators of their approaches to performance improvement”. They have added more language to the guiding principles. “Working effectively” has become “working transparently and ethically” but the language underneath it is the same. It still includes “continuous improvement” and “evaluating success” as principles. The list of examples is hedged about with more “could” language but we still under the final commitment have to commit to producing an action plan for improvement and consider and respond to feedback from their panel. It still feels more like a regulatory framework than anything else.

Social Mobility and Widening Participation

Care Leavers and Estranged Students: The Care Leavers Progression Project shared several links aiming to support the vulnerable community of care leavers who are disproportionately affected by the crisis:

Disadvantaged school pupils: Education Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon, is reported in iNews as suggesting retired teachers, graduates and underemployed Ofsted inspectors could support the reduction of the gap in the attainment of disadvantaged children by volunteering to tutor them post-lockdown. Halfon suggests they could be assigned to their local school. TES also covers Halfon’s volunteer army plan, excerpt:

  • “I’m really worried that the left behind pupils get left further behind because they aren’t able to learn during lockdown. So I’ve been proposing a catch-up premium and also a nationwide army of volunteers – including graduates and retired teachers – going in and helping the schools…The research shows if you have half an hour of mentoring three times a week you can advance by about five months.”

The Nuffield Foundation and Bristol University have also published a report highlighting how children in England who have been supported by a social worker at any point during their schooling fall behind educationally by at least 30% by the age of 16. Other findings include:

  • Young children, who needed a social worker before the age of seven, achieved better GCSEs if they had experienced a long-term stay in care than those who had not.
  • Children in need and children in care were more affected by other forms of disadvantage, such as poverty, socio-economic status, special educational needs, and disabilities, which led to lower educational attainment
  • Absence, temporary or permanent exclusions, and changing schools at the age of 15 or 16 were other factors shown to worsen academic performance.
  • A quarter of all children who had ever needed a social worker were still receiving a social work service in the final year of their GCSE exams.

Many parents of children in need interviewed as part of the study said they were living in poverty and struggled to pay for their child’s school needs, such as uniform, computers and internet access. Older children interviewed indicated they liked primary school but regarded secondary schools less favourably, due to their size, complexity and difficulties with teachers.

Recommendations:

  • Make support available for children in care applicable to children in need, such as Pupil Premium Plus payments provided to schools and Virtual Schools which oversee their education.
  • Teacher training for pupils’ well-being.
  • Measures to address the affordability of schooling are cited as other necessary changes.

The report has led to a national call to action, appealing for more comprehensive and coordinated support.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Too many children in this country are growing up in disadvantage, struggling at home and at school. The educational prospects for many thousands of children in need are, frankly, terrible. Many leave the education system without even the basic qualifications. The government has promised to ‘level up’ across the country, and this must include properly-resourced, cross-departmental strategies for tackling the issues that blight the life chances of the most vulnerable children. The response to the coronavirus shows that coordinated action and political will on funding can have a transformative impact. The ‘new normal’, post-coronavirus, is an opportunity for similar brave action which gives help and support to vulnerable children from their early years and throughout their childhood and tackles the generational problems that have held back so many.”

Brexit

Dods report that the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier has stated that there has been a “disappointing” amount of progress made between the UK and EU in post Brexit talks. Speaking after talks with his UK counterpart David Frost, Bernier said that the “clock was ticking” and warned that “genuine progress” was needed by June if there was to be an agreement reached on the UK/EU future relationship by the end of the year. Despite talks stalling, and having to be reduced due to Coronavirus, the UK Government is still insisting that it will not request or accept an extension to the transition period beyond 31st December 2020. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the transition period can be extended by up to two years if both sides agree by 1 July 2020. Barmier told the press conference a joint decision would be taken on 30 June about whether to extend the transition period. “The UK cannot refuse to extend transition and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas,” he said. The UK and EU are failing to make progress primarily on the areas of level playing field arrangements, fisheries and justice. The next round of talks are due to be held the w/c 11 May and 1 June.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

People News: Stian Westlake has been appointed as Chief Executive of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS). Stian was previously policy advisor to Universities Ministers – David Willetts, Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah. RSS describe Stian’s previous roles:

  • As an executive director at Nesta from 2009 to 2017, Stian ran the organisation’s think tank. Under his leadership, the team launched a range of initiatives on data and evidence, including the Alliance for Useful Evidence, the Innovation Growth Lab and the Innovation Index (in partnership with ONS), as well as significantly increasing its external income. After this, Stian served as policy advisor to three successive ministers for universities and science. He is co-author of Capitalism Without Capital, a book about intangible investment and the economy. He is also a governor of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research and advisory board member of the Institute for Community Studies.
  • At the RSS, Stian will lead on a programme of activities that take forward its strategic goals, including the Society’s Covid-19 Task Force, Data Manifesto and National Lottery-funded initiative, Statisticians for Society.

Skills Toolkit: The DfE have launched a Skills Toolkit for the public. SoS for Education Gavin Williamson describes it in his written ministerial statement: a new online platform giving people access to free, top-quality digital and numeracy courses to help build up their skills, progress in work and boost their job prospects.

NHS Visas: The Home Affairs Committee has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel seeking further clarification on issues relating to NHS visa extensions.

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HE Policy Update as at 25th March 2020

Welcome to your new mid-week update! If you missed our admissions special last week, you will also not have seen that we are moving away from Friday afternoon e-mails because we want to support your wellbeing. Nothing much has changed on admissions yet, by the way, so that one is still worth reading.

 Government Updates

Parliament is commencing recess early today (at close of business on Wed 25 March). This will allow MPs to return to their homes and self-isolate with their families. In normal circumstances, recess would end and parliamentarians would return on Tuesday 21 April, however they are not expected to return this year. The Houses of Parliament are ill-equipped to continue normal business remotely. The beautiful, old buildings are crumbling and do not have the high-tech infrastructure to manage remote voting systems. There was much talk of a need for electronic voting in the tight votes over Brexit (with MPs coming in from hospital in wheelchairs or appearing a very few days after having babies) but they haven’t found a way yet. Select committees may be able continue remotely via video link. Home broadband is so much more reliable than trying to get a Wifi signal in Parliament!

The Coronavirus Bill 2019-20 has completed its stages in the House of Lords (just after 4pm on 25th March) and has gone for Royal Assent. The Coronavirus Bill gives the executive wide ranging and unprecedented powers, which will allow them to continue to govern without Parliament over the next few months if necessary.

The House of Commons Library has published a research briefing covering the education provisions in the Coronavirus bill in more detail. The Explanatory Notes and Impact Assessment explain more on the financial implications of the Government’s powers to close educational institutions. Should the government decide to compensate providers, it may be able to provide funds to “approved (fee cap)” institutions using powers under s39 of the Higher Education and Research Act (“Financial support for registered higher education providers”). For “approved” providers these powers could not be used – it is assumed that wider powers for the government to deploy public funds would apply, but this is not certain.

The impact assessment also suggests that, should a provider be sued for breach of contract or under customer protection rules regarding the provision of accommodation or education, force majeure is believed to apply. The Bill also gives the Office for Students a specific power to disregard its conditions of registration for providers.

Research Professional report that the Government’s response to the Augar review:  “has been kicked even further down the path after chancellor Rishi Sunak told cabinet that the 2020 comprehensive spending review, due this summer, would be delayed because of the pandemic. The Augar response is expected to be published alongside the review.

University education in the pandemic

Monday night announced the lockdown for the UK population, meanwhile three Ministerial letters winged their way to English HE and FE institutions and apprenticeship providers. The Universities Minister wrote (link on Wonkhe here):

  • to curtail the practice of unconditional offers
  • to offer DfE support as institutions move towards online provision
  • clarification on Tier 4 visa issues which will arise from shifting to online provision
  • mitigation for enrolment difficulties (with support from the Home Office, the British Council, UCAS, and Ofqual)
  • student residences and support services particularly for students who are unable to return ‘home’ such as care leavers, estranged students, and international students.

Within the FAQs it was stated that DfE will be working closely with the HE sector and OfS, as regulator, to ensure that we understand the potential financial implications of the issues and risks Covid-19 is bringing to bear on the sector, and to keep abreast of developments.

Summer Exams

The Minister issued a Written Ministerial Statement on the impact of Covid-19 on summer exams. Below is the sector stakeholder reaction to the impact of summer exam cancellations: 

The heads of University Alliance, the Russell Group, GuildHE, and MillionPlus  put out a joint statement confirming that universities will do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to university:

  • We know many students are anxious about what the cancellation of exams and assessments might mean. Our message to students is: we understand and universities are here for you. Universities are committed to doing all they can to support students and applicants and ensure they can progress to university. This will involve being flexible and responsive in their admissions processes. We want to reassure students who have applied to university, or are thinking of doing so through clearing, that every effort will be made to ensure they are not disadvantaged in any way by the decision not to go ahead with exams this summer.

Association of Colleges (AoC), Chief Executive, David Hughes said:

  • “The cancellation of the 2020 summer exam series is the right decision. However, it will have unsettled the many thousands of students who were preparing for exams and assessments in the full range of qualifications and they will need reassurance about alternative arrangements which support their progression plans. The whole education system will need to work together to ensure that no young person is disadvantaged as a result of the cancellation. There are many challenges to overcome to achieve that, but this is also an opportunity to reconsider some aspects of our high-stakes exam regime. We are working with the Department for Education and Ofqual to ensure that the particular challenges faced by colleges and students are understood. Any decisions about assessment and accreditation for the students affected need to take into account the college context because nearly two thirds of all 16-19 year old students study in colleges. Colleges are determined to play their part in helping to safeguard the educational and progression opportunities of every student affected.”

The AoC also made the following recommendations:

  • The guarantee of a place in post-16 education for every student affected by the cancellation of the 2020 summer exam series.
  • Additional resources to increase teaching time for all 16-19 year olds in 2020/21, make up for the lost teaching time in 2019/20 and support catch-up classes and skills development.
  • A national record of achievement and reference system for recording students’ capabilities and achievements in a common and comprehensible way as they transfer between institutions.
  • The development of national online tests in English, maths and other subjects, to support receiving post-16 institutions in advising and guiding students to make appropriate choices for 2020/21.
  • A revision of the English and maths condition of funding in light of the cancellation of GCSEs this summer.
  • Employer agreed skills standards and accreditation requirements for entry-level employment in various sectors and the use of nationally approved skills tests to provide the evidence of students’ skills that employers need.

Teach First wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, calling for:

Support for disadvantaged children to learn at home

  • Internet providers to lift data caps for vulnerable households.
  • Technology firms to provide safe devices for children most in need to be able to study.
  • Energy companies to provide electricity for disadvantaged pupils to learn from home.

Fair exam grades

  • Many young people face uncertainty about their exam grades and futures. We must ensure that steps are taken to award grades fairly and prevent further increases in inequality. Marks linked to past performance could disadvantage hard working pupils, teachers and improving ‘turnaround’ schools.

Long-term support to recover

  • When schools return support must be weighted towards those serving disadvantaged communities. This must be a priority to prevent the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils from growing.

Finally HEPI have a blog – School performance tables are cancelled – should university league tables be cancelled too?

Unconditional offers

On unconditional offers, the Minister’s letter on 20th March followed our update last Friday and, as predicted, criticised those providers who had switched offers to unconditional in reaction to the news about exams.  It was followed by a request on 23rd March to put a two week moratorium on any unconditional offers.

As Research Professional report the Government was unprepared for this quick response from some within the sector. During the pause period the DfE will continue to develop the methodology of how grades will be awarded to students not sitting exams and consider how the application process should be run. The Minister has threatened that any institutions not complying with the ban will undergo regulatory interventionWe will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.  UUK have supported the intervention.

On practical matters UCAS have extended the admissions deadline. Students usually have to decide which university offers to accept by early May. UCAS have confirmed the deadline will be extended by two weeks. UCAS states: Universities and colleges will also have additional time to assess applications and adjust their processes in these unprecedented times… We will email students this week with information on their new May decision deadline, and ensure they understand they have additional time over the coming weeks to make their decisions.

Research Professional (RP):

  • The government is clearly not on top of the situation. On 18 March, rather than mandate the closure of universities, Williamson said that he would support the decisions of vice-chancellors. Less than a week later, universities are being threatened with regulatory action… Vice-chancellors will have acted not out of malice but with the best of intentions to offer comfort to anxious applicants—that’s what comes of sending mixed messages.
  • Donelan says that switching offers to unconditional “risks destabilising the admissions system, increasing financial uncertainty and volatility for all institutions at a time when universities are already facing significant pressures”. The minister wants universities to “avoid actions which might not be in students’ best interests simply to maximise their intake over other universities”.
  • That was probably not the idea behind the switch to unconditional offers, but in a sign of how quickly the world is changing…

The Government’s edict that no new unconditional offers can be made has stimulated debate. Some speculate they may capitalise on the pause to take future action banning all or most unconditional offers (the OfS Admissions consultation has been understandably paused for now). Many lament the impact of the ban on the disadvantaged students who were always intended to be the main recipients of unconditional offers to alleviate some of the turbulence in their lives.

Meanwhile the DfE has reminded students and parents that they are not obliged to accept an unconditional offer and even if they have they can release themselves to explore other options during clearing. DfE state that the release process was introduced last year to support student choice and promote flexibility, and nearly 30,000 students used this functionality.

The OfS press release language is very interesting – they have assumed right up front that NO unconditional offer is in the best interest of a students – they may relax that when they come up with their guidance, but we shall see.

  • ‘Universities and colleges must stop making offers that are not in the best interests of students. They should not make any unconditional offer or amend existing offers for at least two weeks while Ofqual develops the details of the new system.
  • ‘Many universities and colleges have been responding to the enormous challenges of coronavirus with innovation and ingenuity. But it is critical that every university and college puts the student’s interest first in these difficult times. 
  • ‘So, I want to make it very clear to any university or college – and its leaders and governors – that if any university or college makes unconditional offers or adjusts any offer to students during this two week moratorium we will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.

So although they have not done anything about it yet, except issue a review and now a short-term suspension – you could read this as them having already made up their mind and expecting to judge the sector retrospectively against the outcome.

We will let RP have the final word: As higher education pauses admissions activity, it is time now for the government to come up with a workable solution. No more mixed messages: some clarity is needed. As the government has realised on the economy and social distancing, a laissez-faire approach will not see us out the other side of this crisis.

Media coverage: The BBC, The Times and FE Week.

Research in the pandemic

The Under-Secretary of State for Science, Amanda Solloway issued a letter thanking the HE sector for the Covid-19 research and urging institutions to prioritise supporting colleagues (employment terms and conditions) who are working on mitigating this crisis. Skills Minister Gillian Keegan wrote to colleges and training providers and Scottish HE minister Richard Lochhead also issued a letter.

REF 2021 will be pushed back to adjust for the effects of Coronavirus. Currently, the 31 July 2020 census date will be retained. However, the final submission deadline will be delayed. No date for the submission has yet been set but universities have been told they can expect an 8 month notice period when the new date is announced. BU is continuing with the mock REF exercise but will review future timelines as appropriate.

Student Loans

The Student Loans Company has confirmed third term payments will be made as normal even with most teaching moving online.

Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS National President, commented:

  • NUSis pleased that the Department for Education and the Student Loans Company have responded to the strong concerns that we and our member students’ unions have raised in the last week by confirming third term payments will be made as normal, despite the many changes to teaching arrangements made by universities in response to the pandemic. We will continue to work with them to ensure clear communication to students and to ensure students are treated fairly. 
  • Where a students’ family income falls significantly in the year of study, they can ask for a reassessment of their student finance if they are not already receiving the maximum levels of support, and so students should contact the relevant student finance agency as they may be able to receive more support.
  • Students’ income will already be affected as many rely on part-time jobs in hospitality and retail – while we welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to support those who lose employment income we are concerned that those students who are self-employed or who work in the gig economy will not be supported, and most full-time students cannot claim benefits. We need to ensure a safety net is in place for these students, either by extending the wage protections or ensuring access to hardship funding in universities and colleges.

Several parliamentary questions relating to student loans repayments were asked this week. Most have already been superseded in the Government’s announcement that repayments will continue as normal but be reassessed and cease if an individual’s income drops below the repayment threshold.

Last, Peter Lauener was appointed as Chair of the Student Loans company. He replaces Andrew Wathey who was in the role on an interim basis.

The Student Loans Company has announced the temporary closure their contact centre. They state:

  • [We are] closing our customer contact centres temporarily for new and existing students, and for any customer in repayment.
  • The closure of our customer contact centres will not impact summer term maintenance payments to students or tuition fee payments to education providers. These payments will be made as normal. New and existing students in England and Wales can continue to apply for student finance and we will continue to process any applications that have been received as quickly as we can.
  • We are working to restore service at our contact centres as soon as we can and we will provide further information on this over the coming days.

Brexit

A poll on Coronavirus set out to measure the public’s support for the Government’s actions to limit the spread of the virus. It shows favour for a practical potential policy U turn on extending the Brexit end of transition phase. You Gov say: despite it being one of the most dramatic debates in British politics just weeks ago, a majority of the public (55%) would now support extending the Brexit transition period as negotiations have now had to be delayed. A quarter (24%) are still opposed, while 21% say they don’t know.

You can read the full poll analysis here.  An interesting further point is made about the need for the Government to appeal to the young to ensure they understand the seriousness of the crisis and follow social distancing (and now lockdown) requirements. You Gov say: While Boris is still divisive, the public are warming to Rishi Sunak and Chris Witty. Because of this, the Government needs think carefully about its messengers to make sure they are best cutting through with the public.

Parliamentary Questions

Covid-19 Support for Universities

Q – Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support universities during the covid-19 outbreak. [32182]

A – Michelle Donelan: The Department for Education has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

Covid-19 – Student Accommodation/Online Learning (both due for answer on Thursday)

Q – Rosie Duffield: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will take steps to ensure that universities allow students to terminate their accommodation contracts early without incurring financial penalties during the covid-19 outbreak.

This is due for answer on Thursday – here is the link to follow the response. If you have trouble accessing the response (sometimes they change the link when they add the answer) contact us and we’ll locate it and send it over to you

Q – Stuart Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he is taking steps to ensure that online access to learning is put in place for pupils and students at schools and higher education institutions that have not developed online resources; and if he will make a statement. [34409]

Disability: Q – Sharon Hodgson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect on the health and wellbeing of students in higher education with visual stress of the removal of colorimetry funding for those students.

A  – Michelle Donelan: The department is in discussion with the Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education as to whether any additional types of assistance would be appropriate for students with a diagnosis of visual stress.

And there is one on brain injuries disability funding.

Access: Q – Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Viscount Younger of Leckie on 6 November 2018 (HL10959), whether they are now in a position to ensure that higher education providers have access to free school meals data at the start of the undergraduate admissions cycle as part of measures to widen access to higher education.

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • Everyone with the talent and capability to succeed in higher education should have the opportunity to benefit from a high-quality university education, regardless of age, background or where they grew up.
  • So that providers are identifying talent in areas of disadvantage, they need to use good-quality and meaningful data. We encourage higher education providers to use a range of measures including individual-level indicators, area data (such as Participation of Local Areas, Index of Multiple Deprivation or postcode classification from ACORN), school data, intersectional data such as Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’s (UCAS) Multiple Equality Measure, and participation in outreach activities.
  • We are actively considering how we can make available free school meals data, taking in to account relevant data protection legislation, and will continue to work closely with UCAS and the Office for Students to this end. In general, we are looking to make data as illuminating as possible.
  • The government believes that every young person with the potential should have the opportunity to access higher education, if it is right for them. A person’s background or start in life should not determine their future.

Disability Employment Gap: Q – Marco Longhi: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps she is taking to support people with mental disabilities (a) into and (b) to remain in employment. [30042]

A – Justin Tomlinson:

  • The Government is committed to reducing the disability employment gap and seeing a million more disabled people in work by 2027.We help disabled people, including those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities, return to and stay in work through programmes including the Work and Health Programme, the new Intensive Personalised Employment Support Programme, Access to Work and Disability Confident.

Mental Health: Q – Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, pursuant to the oral statement of 18 March 2020, what steps he is taking to ensure that children and young people whose educational institution is closed are able to access mental health services provided through those institutions. [32157]

A – Vicky Ford (Chelmsford):

  • The department is working with NHS England and Public Health England who are providing guidance on seeking mental health support, including guidance for parents and carers of children and young people on addressing mental health and wellbeing concerns during the COVID-19 outbreak. Where in place, mental health support teams are also actively considering how they continue to deliver a service to support children and young people.

Industrial Strategy: Q – Alex Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what progress has been made on meeting the objective in the Ageing Society Grand Challenge to ensure that people can enjoy at least 5 extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035. [29943]

A – Helen Whately:

  • Delivering the Ageing Society Grand Challenge (ASGC) mission will require complex systems thinking across a number of areas and we are already working closely across Government, industry, academia and the voluntary sector to do this.
  • We have invested £98 million through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Healthy Ageing programme to enable businesses, including social enterprises, to develop and deliver services and products to support people as they age. We have also announced Andy Briggs as the ASGC Business Champion and our plans to establish the UK Longevity Council.
  • In 2019, the Department published the consultation document ‘Advancing our Health: Prevention in the 2020s’, which has the ASGC mission at its core and sets out the commitments to contribute towards achieving it.

Skills Gaps: A question on skills gap vacancies and whether qualifications and apprenticeships can fill the gaps.

Free Speech: Q – Marco Longhi (Dudley North): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to protect freedom of speech and promote diverse debate within universities. [30031]

A – Michelle Donelan (Chippenham):

  • This government has committed to strengthen free speech and academic freedom and ensure our universities are places where debate can thrive. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education has made it clear that if required he will look at changing the underpinning legal framework. We have made it clear that if universities do not uphold free speech, the government will.

Student Accommodation

Safely managing student accommodation through the crisis is a tricky process for the HE sector. Thorny issues include: ensuring adequate safeguards where students are self-isolating and moving back to the family home is not possible or inappropriate; requirements for students to continue paying for accommodation or pay retainers whilst not in residence; student evictions as providers close down student residences; concerns over 2021-22 contract pressures. Here are two blogs on student accommodation. On Research Professional Fiona McIntyre reports that universities have been told to pressure firms in charge of private halls of residence to make sure no student is left without a place to stay during the coronavirus epidemic, while the Student Loans Company has said that third-term payments will proceed as planned.

And on Wonkhe Eva Crossan Jory from NUS describes the crisis facing student rents resulting from coronavirus, and what universities, private halls operators and government should do to avert it.

Wonkhe also report that: Student accommodation providers Unite and Liberty Living have promised not to charge students for accommodation for term three if email notification is received before 10 April. Arrangements will be made to support students who need to stay on in accommodation through term three and beyond.

Student Trust

HEPI have a blog from Mary Curnock Cook on Connectedness, Trust and Student Engagement. Excerpts:

  • A new report from Enlitened, part of the Student Room Group, looks at how ‘connected, engaged and supported’ undergraduate students are in the UK. In a classic virtuous circle, the report suggests that feeling connected is highly correlated with trust, and trust increases with awareness of and confidence in university resources. Addressing these areas quite directly could help universities significantly improve theirstudents’ overall experience, as well as helping prepare them better for the world of work. It goes without saying that in the current coronavirus crisis, universities resorting to remote working and online learning will soon feel the pinch if they don’t have some connectedness-credit in the bank.
  • The research suggests that only just over half of students feel ‘connected’ to their university. Connectedness is a wider and more nuanced concept than student experience because it signals a whole range of propensities from supporting the university more generally, being prepared to help it out or give it the benefit of doubt when things go wrong, to getting actively involved in the university’s success. But it goes further than this because this new research indicates that connected students are more likely to trust their university, and when they trust their university, they will be more likely to seek support with emotional and wellbeing issues as well as more prosaic issues such as academic or financial support. 
  • Feeling connected and trusting the university will also help overcome the lack of confidence and shyness that respondents cited as some of the key barriers that stop them from accessing support. This is important as 63 per cent of respondents reported to have kept their mental wellbeing concerns to themselves in the last year, without seeking help from their university. With the findings showing that third year respondents are more likely than both second and first year students to keep concerns around anxiety, stress, depression, and academic and financial issues to themselves, trust and self-confidence seems to erode rather than deepen as students progress through their courses. Unsurprisingly, students with disabilities are even more likely to hold back from asking for help.

Also buried in the report is an astonishingly low engagement level with student unions (which also score relatively poorly on the National Student Survey). Given that peer support is often the first port of call for students in distress, it’s worrying that only 12 per cent of respondents said they trusted their student union and only 3 per cent would go to them for information and support.

Friends and family remain the most trusted source of support for students for a range of anxieties and concerns but it’s worth noting that students are also likely to turn to online resources. The anonymity of online help is often a draw for students shy or lacking in confidence to seek face to face help… With universities across the sector reporting huge increases in demand for student support services, online resources and apps can be vital in making sure that students know about and connect with their university services when they need help.

BU has two 24/7 anonymous online platforms and support services – the Employee Assistance Programme for staff and Big White Wall which supports staff and students. There is also a wellbeing section on the staff intranet.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

Student Nurses: Next week student nurses will join the ‘front line’ to support the NHS as the nation battles Covid-19. The Times covers whether they should be paid.

Home Working: As the majority of the nation converts to home working on a more regular basis than usual the Office of National Statistics have published their research which investigates to what extent different people within the labour market work at home, either on a regular or occasional basis (pre-crisis).

Of the 32.6 million in employment, around 1.7 million people reported working mainly from home, with around 4.0 million working from home in the week prior to being interviewed for the survey.

  • Around 8.7 million people said that they have worked from home; this is less than 30% of the workforce.
  • Some industrial sectors, such as transportation and storage, accommodation and food services, and wholesale, retail and repair provide relatively few opportunities for people to work from home.
  • Other industrial sectors, such as information and communication, professional, scientific and technical activities, financial and insurance activities, and real estate activities, provide far more homeworking opportunities.
  • Occupations requiring higher qualifications and experience are more likely to provide homeworking opportunities than elementary and manual occupations.
  • Younger workers are the least likely to be working from home, whereas those who continue to work beyond State Pension age are increasingly likely to be working from home.

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Participation in Horizon 2020 following EU Exit

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has published new information about UK scientists, researchers and businesses’ ability to continue to participate in, bid for and lead projects in the European Union’s (EU) flagship programme Horizon 2020.

Following the Second Reading in parliament of the Withdrawal Agreement on 20 December, the UK has now stepped down its preparations for leaving the EU without a deal, with confidence that it will ratify the EU Exit deal by 31 January.

This means that EU award holders should continue to participate in their projects in the same way as they currently do, in line with the terms of their grant agreement.

The full article is available here – UKRI News

HE Policy Update for the w/e 24th January 2020

There are five reports touching on social mobility this week, lots of education statistics released, and we’ve almost Brexited.  After all the focus on Parliamentary process over the last two and a half years, the ping pong was over before it really started.  There is scope for more before the end of the year, although given the government majority are seemingly united on Brexit, we are going to have to look elsewhere for Parliamentary excitement.  Perhaps HS2, Heathrow’s third runway and some of the other big projects up for debate in 2020 will have us all watching Parliament TV again.  Or maybe not.

Research policy developments

There have been a lot of announcements over the weekend and the Minister gave a big speech on Friday, so for BU staff we have summarised the latest developments for you here.

Global Talent Visa:

  • “A new Global Talent Visa, increased investment in mathematical sciences and commitments to strengthen and simplify the research and innovation funding system have been announced by the Prime Minister.
  • A new fast-track visa scheme to attract the world’s top scientists, researchers and mathematicians will open on 20 February. The bespoke Global Talent route will have no cap on the number of people able to come to the UK, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to supporting top talent.
  • It replaces the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route and UK Research and Innovation will endorse applicants from the scientific and research community.”

Maths funding:

  • “Also announced by the Prime Minister was a significant boost to the UK’s world-leading mathematical sciences community, increasing support for this key discipline and expanding the pool of trained mathematicians.
  • Up to £300 million of additional funding will more than double the current funding for the mathematical sciences delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)”.

Research Professional say:

  • It is also “subject to business case”, so it might never see the light of day. Nonetheless, the £60m commitment in principle is to be welcomed, and will provide £19m of additional funding for PhD studentships (double the existing funding, ministers say). There is also £34m of additional funding for “career pathways and new research projects”, and £7m a year extra to be shared between Bristol’s Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research, the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge and the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Edinburgh.

Reduction of research bureaucracy

  • “In line with the commitment to reduce administration for researchers and innovators, UKRI has also announced that applicants to UKRI will no longer be required to provide a ‘Pathways to Impact’ plan or complete an ‘Impact Summary’ within grant applications from 1 March 2020.
  • The impact agenda remains incredibly important and UKRI exists to fund the researchers who generate the knowledge that society needs, and the innovators who can turn this knowledge into public benefit.
  • Pathways to Impact has been in place for over a decade and we recognise the research and innovation landscape has changed since its implementation and impact is now a core consideration throughout the grant application process.
  • The move supports UKRI’s ambition to create a stronger research and innovation environment that is focussed on supporting talented people and realising the full potential of their work.”

Research Integrity paper: See the paper here:

Research Professional say:

  • Universities should be doing more to ensure the integrity of their research and to retain the trust of society at large, says a paper from League of European Research Universities.
  • The Leru paper published on 24 January is co-authored by Antoine Hol, a law professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and Inge Lerouge, an ethics and integrity coordinator at KU Leuven in Belgium, with an input from its thematic group on the issue.
  • “Universities should be at the forefront of developing and implementing new approaches to research integrity that will maintain and strengthen the confidence of the public, governments, research funders and end users,” say Hol and Lerouge in the paper.
  • Among their recommendations are that universities should devise and share research integrity guidelines, appoint specialist personnel on the issue, and make integrity education mandatory for students.

Chris Skidmore speech on research and innovation (24th Jan)

Parliamentary News

  • Education Appointments  – Scott Mann (Conservative, Wadebridge) has been appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Education Minister Gavin Williamson. Previously he was a PPS within the Dept for Work and Pensions. Chris Green (Conservative, Manchester Withington) retails his pre-election role as the DfE PPS. Innes Taylor has been appointed as Gavin Williamson’s SPAD (special advisor).
  • Labour Leadership Contest – Jess Phillips dropped out of the Labour leadership contest this week. Lisa Nandy has been endorsed by the GMB union and already had the support of the National Union of Mineworkers. Scroll halfway through this article to read the BBC’s analysis of all the candidates chances (spoiler – Sir Kier Starmer is still in the lead).
  • Brexit – The Lords amended the Withdrawal Bill this week starting the ping pong process. The Government threw out the amendments and the Lords acquiesced, so passing the Bill. So 4 years on from the referendum, after 2 general elections, 3 Prime Ministers, 3 extensions, and 4 exit days…The European Union Withdrawal Act 2019 has now had Royal Assent and is on the statute book. Boris has (almost) delivered (phase 1 of) his Brexit and the UK will leave the EU on 31st January 2020 (next Friday).

Longitudinal education outcomes  (LEO)

The Department for Education has published experimental statistics showing employment and earnings outcomes of HE graduates by provider and current region of residence based on the LEO (longitudinal education outcomes) data.

  • Graduates earn a median annual salary of £19,900 one year after graduating, £23,300 after three years, £26,000 after five, and £30,500 after ten years.
  • Graduates in all regions of the country earn on average around 20% more than their peers in the same region who did not go to university.
  • After adjusting for region, there is still variation in the median earnings outcomes between HE institutions, with 25% of institutions having average adjusted graduate earnings of £23,200 or below and 25% of institutions having adjusted graduate earnings of £28,500 or above.
  • At the individual institution level, controlling for regional destination can make a significant difference for some institutions; 16.9% of institutions see a change of 10% or more in their median earnings.
  • When looking at HE institutions whose graduates now live in London, half had median earnings of £29,400, five years after graduation – the highest across all current regions.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

  • It’s great to see that all over the country, it pays to have a degree from our world-leading universities, and they are bringing benefits to all of the regions. This data is a milestone for the thousands of future students, helping them to work out whether university is for them, and where to study and work. I hope this will particularly help students from disadvantaged backgrounds to see the benefits, who are often more likely to stay in their home region. Of course earnings potential is just one factor for students, but we believe they should have all the facts to make their decision. It is important for young people to know that they will not only get a rich education at university, but that their degree will be good value for money.

Wonkhe have an analysis by David Kernohan:

  • The region a graduate lives in has an impact on provider level medians. DfE use a weighted median in their top level data (which I haven’t plotted here for reasons that will become clear), and gleefully reports significant differences between median salary by provider even after a graduate region-based weighting is applied.
  • Of course, a gold standard LEO would absolutely need take into account subject of study and provider alongside current region (or indeed, local authority) of residence – alongside the sex of a graduate, their GCSE performance, and a suitable measure of inequality. However, such a nuanced examination would provide numbers too small to publish without identifying individuals.
  • There is hopefully a point in the middle, where LEO gives us enough information to be usable while remaining publishable. This release is not at that point, but I feel like we are gradually iterating around it.
  • The publication itself is clear on the limitations:
  • It should be noted that the data presented here does not control for many other factors that can influence graduate outcomes e.g. prior attainment, subject studied and other characteristics. It should also be noted that a higher education will have a range of personal and societal benefits that extend beyond earnings, which by its nature are not captured in the statistics presented here.”
  • So how useful is the weighted median? If we’re not controlling by subject or by sex, not very.

David has, of course, done a chart and you can play with where students studied (by region) and where they are currently based.  How useful is it – well, as with all these things, it depends what you are looking for.  What will be interesting will be to see what it means for the new TEF, where they included LEO as additional data in the last pilot and have long said that they would like to reflect regional differences in the metrics, but have previously only supported that with some high level maps and an opportunity to make your case for regional differences in your provider submission.  So we’ll see.

Staff in HE

DfE and HESA released the Higher Education Staff Statistics 2018/19. Key points:

  • There were 439,955 staff (excluding atypical staff) employed in the HE sector, showing an increase of 2% from 429,560 on 1 December 2017.
  • HE staff employed on academic contracts made up 49% of the population. This percentage has remained the same since 2013/14.
  • There were 296,185 staff employed on full-time contracts. This is an increase of 2% from 289,730 in 2017/18.
  • The number of staff on part-time contracts increased by 3% from 139,830 in 2017/18 to 143,765 in 2018/19.

Again, Wonkhe were quick off the mark with analysis from David Kernohan looking at data about senior BME staff in HE following headlines that there are no Black senior academics” – it seems it’s a rounding issue:

  • “..in the 2014/15 academic year there were between 0 and 2 Black senior academics in UK HE – a state of affairs that continued until 2016/17. At that point there were between 3 and 5 Black senior academics in the UK… which continued until 2018/19 when the number once again dropped below 3.
  • As Chris Skidmore put it: “It is unacceptable that the number of black academic staff in senior positions has fallen, as this does not represent our British society. Universities need to make more progress and I urge all vice-chancellors to address the barriers that are holding back black and ethnic minority staff from senior positions.”
  • He actually worded that fairly well – others in and around the sector went for the shocking (if less accurate) “no Black senior academics” framing….
  • So where does this leave Chris Skidmore (and the many journalists that have gone along with the ministerial line)? He’s right to be concerned about the poor representation of Black academics at the top of our academic providers, and he’s right that the situation needs to be improved.”

The Times Higher Education chose a different angle:

  • Teaching-only contracts up again as REF approaches.  Almost a third of staff in UK higher education are now classed as teaching-only
  • The Hesa data were released as Research England published figures showing that 22,500 more academics – measured by full-time equivalent – are set to be entered into the 2021 REF because of new rules that require all staff with “significant responsibility for research” to be submitted.
  • In practice, anyone with a teaching-only contract will not have to be entered, a key reason why it has been suggested that institutions are moving staff perceived to be underperforming in research to teaching-only contracts.
  • Last year, an analysis by Times Higher Education based on 2017-18 figures found that about a fifth of universities had substantially increased their share of academics on teaching-only contracts, while 12 institutions had a quarter of full-time staff on teaching-only terms.
  • Elsewhere, the latest Hesa staff statistics showed that the rise in the share of professors who are female increased by a percentage point again in 2018-19 to reach 27 per cent, while for “other senior academics” the female share rose to 38 per cent from 36 per cent. Overall numbers of black academics grew by 11 per cent, but they still represent just 2 per cent of all academic staff.
  • …The number of part-time contracts was up a percentage point more than full-time contracts, while the share of full-time academic staff on fixed-term contracts also rose slightly, to 25.3 per cent from 24.9 per cent.
  • The number of staff classed as “atypical” – which includes those employed for one-off tasks, for a short amount of time or in roles “that involve a high degree of flexibility” – also increased, by 2 per cent, after having fallen in previous years.
  • But specific figures on the number of zero-hours contracts, which include only “typical” staff, showed a drop, from about 11,400 in 2017-18 to 7,000 in 2018-19.
  • With Brexit now imminent, the data also showed that the share of academics from other European Union countries remained stable in 2018-19 at 17.5 per cent of total numbers.

At the same time, Wonkhe report: The REF 2021 team at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) reports that nearly 75,000 academic staff are expected to be submitted to REF 2021, a 43 per cent increase, according to the results of a preliminary survey. All subject areas are projected to increase, especially the social sciences. This is due to the implementation of the recommendation of the Stern review that all research-active staff should be submitted to the exercise. A reduction in the number of outputs to 2.5 appears to have ensured that the overall number of outputs to be assessed remains roughly the same as the 2014 REF.

And Research Professional focussed on gender:

…What is the problem?

  • First, it’s money. While women, as a majority of students, are contributing a large part of what institutions get in fees, the salaries those fees help to fund seem to be going, in large part, to men.
  • The median gender pay gap was 13.7 per cent on average in UK universities in 2018, with men working in higher education earning £7,220 more on average each year than women.
  • One reason is that while the overall number of staff working in higher education may be mainly female, the number working in (more highly paid) academic roles is mainly male. The HESA stats show that 27 per cent of professors are women—just one percentage point higher than last year—and women comprise just 38 per cent of staff employed on other senior academic contracts. These numbers have been improving, but at a glacial pace.
  • More women are also employed part-time, including 55 per cent of employees in part-time academic roles.
  • Recent studies have also shown gender gaps for researchers in success rates for grant applications and in amounts awarded.

The other problem is that it is not just about numbers of women or the size of their salaries. Speaking at yesterday’s conference, Ruth Sealy, associate professor in management and director of impact at the University of Exeter, said it was also important to consider the nature of the roles women were taking on.

  • She cited the problem of the “glass cliff”—the idea that women tend to be offered leadership positions at a time of crisis, when it often turns out to be a poisoned chalice. (Think Theresa May after David Cameron’s resignation as prime minister following the Brexit referendum.)
  • …Another speaker at the conference, Norma Jarboe, external adviser to the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University, has been studying diversity among university boards and their chairs, vice-chancellors, leadership teams and heads of academic departments. She has found that 55 per cent of higher education institution boards are gender balanced, compared with 19 per cent in 2013. More than 27 per cent of university governing body chairs are now women—more than twice as many as in 2013, although still low—and in 2018, women made up 29 per cent of vice-chancellors and 37 per cent of all executive team members.
  • But she said that pairs of female vice-chancellors and board chairs were still rare, and her greatest concern was the low number of female heads of academic departments—31 per cent—and the fact that this had not moved in the past two years.
  • Jarboe said a major problem was the low number of female professors, as a professorial role is often a prerequisite for gaining positions of senior responsibility. “We aren’t going to shift in a big way the numbers in executive teams unless we do something about professorial roles and paths to head into that,” she argued.

Meanwhile, the culture in some university departments remains one in which female staff and students find it difficult to thrive. Launching a consultation on harassment and sexual misconduct earlier this month, Dandridge said the OfS felt that while many institutions were improving their policies in this area, more needed to be done.

  • Writing for HE, Antonia Sudkaemper, a researcher at OCR Cambridge Assessment, suggested that men were crucial to creating a more inclusive departmental culture for women.
  • What makes all this important—beyond simply being fair—is that higher education has a particularly transformative effect on women.
  • Yesterday’s release of post-university earnings data, which focused on how median earnings vary for graduates from different institutions by the region in which they end up working, did not include a breakdown by gender. But previous releases of Longitudinal Education Outcomes have shown that the graduate premium is significantly higher for women than for men—a 28 per cent boost to salaries, compared with just 8 per cent for men, when moderated for social class.”

A levels and progression to HE

DfE released A Level and Other 16 to 18 Results.

Attainment is lower for disadvantaged students compared to non-disadvantaged students across all level 3 qualification types

  • The average grade for A levels was C for disadvantaged students (increased from C- in 2018), and C+ for all other students (the same as in 2018).
  • The average grade for Tech Levels and Applied General qualifications was Merit+ for all students, regardless of their disadvantage status. This is an increase from Merit to Merit+ for Tech Level disadvantaged students compared to 2018.

English and maths progress increased for students who did not achieve at least GCSE grade 4 or equivalent at the end of key stage 4.

  • In 2019, average progress was 0.13 and 0.08 for English and maths respectively. Average progress has steadily increased each year since the measure was introduced in 2016

Level 3 Value Added for A-level disadvantaged students continues to decrease

  • Over the last three years, the Level 3 value added scores for A-level disadvantaged students have decreased, from -0.06 to -0.12, at a rate of -0.03 per year. This contrasts with a stable score of 0.00 for non-disadvantaged students.

Read more on gender, ethnicity and disadvantage (including free school meals) breakdowns and the most popular subjects here.

DfE statistics on the destinations of Key stage 4 and 16 to 18 (Key stage 5) students:

  • Overall, 94% of pupils were in sustained education, employment or apprenticeships in the year after key stage 4, unchanged from 2016/17.
    • With 86% of this total in sustained education, up 4% since 2010/11 and unchanged from 2016/17
  • Apprenticeships and employment destinations rose slightly
  • 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.

You can read about  progression to HE here.

  • Figure 4 shows the progression into HE/training by type of school or college. Selective schools have the highest progression rate at 88%. Non-selective schools situated in highly-selective areas have a much lower progression rate (56%) which remains low after influencing factors are controlled for. You can read more on this interesting phenomenon on page 8.
  • Figure 5 highlights the huge disparity between the regions in progressing to HE. London 16-18 year olds are 17% more likely to progress to HE/training than students in the south west (even when controlling for prior attainment and qualification type).  The report questions if this is due to the lack of local easy to access HE institutions within the south west.

Health Maintenance Grants

A Government news story released the detail on the health professions that will benefit from the non-repayable £5,000 (per year) maintenance grant reintroduction (announced in December). The bursary will be in addition to existing support so students will still receive the same loan entitlement. Students on the following programmes will benefit from the grant:

  • paramedicine
  • midwifery
  • nursing (adult, child, mental health, learning disability, joint nursing/social work)
  • occupational therapy
  • physiotherapy
  • operating department practitioner (level 5 courses)
  • dietetics
  • dental hygiene or dental therapy (level 5 courses)
  • orthoptics
  • orthotics and prosthetics
  • podiatry or chiropody
  • radiography (diagnostic and therapeutic)
  • speech and language therapy

There are three more additional payments worth £1,000 each (per year) for students meeting special criteria:

  • £1,000 towards childcare costs
  • £1,000 if studying in a region that is struggling to recruit
  • £1,000 if they’re a new student studying a shortage specialism important to delivering the NHS Long Term Plan (mental health nursing, learning disability nursing, radiography (diagnostic and therapeutic), prosthetics and orthotics, orthoptics and podiatry).

So a learning disability nurse with children (who qualify) and who is studying in a problem recruitment area would receive £8,000 per year in addition to eligibility for student loans.

This is part of the Government’s drive to increase numbers of nurses by 50,000 by 2025. The press release says the Government expects the £5,000 maintenance grants to benefit 100,000 students each year.

Unpaid Internships

Lord Holmes of Richmond was successful in the Lords Private Members Bill ballot (again!) that was held in December. He continues his campaign to tackle unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks and has reintroduced legislation to ban unpaid internships over four weeks (with the intent that they will become paid at a reasonable rate). Lords legislation, and private members bills, often fail to progress through Parliament and become law. However, we’ll be keeping a close eye on this Bill. The date for the second reading has yet to be announced.

Social and Geographic Mobility

The Sutton Trust, in partnership with the LSE Inequalities Institute published a report on social mobility, geographic mobility, and elite occupations. This comes from a summary provided by Dods. The report presents a systemic study of whether elites in the UK are pulling away, economically and socially. Elites here are defined in two senses;

  • firstly ‘economic elites’ , a group of the most economically, culturally and socially advantaged in society, and
  • ‘occupational elites’ , a much larger group comprising of those who work in professional and managerial jobs, the most privileged group of occupations.

The report finds that becoming socially mobile – moving into a higher professional or managerial job from a working-class background – doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from where you grew up. The report also comments on the elites’ consolidation of London, finding that, for the younger generation (aged 30-36), moving to London and working in an elite occupation is largely the preserve of those from a privileged background in the first place.

  • Elites are likely to justify their position through beliefs in meritocracy. However, these meritocratic views are also largely endorsed by the wider population and thus the elite exaggerate rather than repudiate wider common sense perspectives on social mobility.
  • Although the impact of private schooling on access to elite universities and firms remains important, their power has slightly waned over the very long run.
  • Occupational elites, those employed in higher managerial and professional occupations, have not become more geographically segregated over the period 1981-2011. In fact, outside London, such segregation has declined.
  • Over two-thirds of the most socially mobile people born in 1965-1971 and 1975-1981 have never made a long-distance move (69% and 68% respectively). Instead they’ve built careers near to where they grew up in sectors like law, medicine and academia, aided by the growth in professional jobs across the country in the latter part of the century.
  • For the younger generation, moving to and living in London at age 30-36 and working in an elite occupation is overwhelmingly associated with being from a privileged background in the first place, and this holds even more true than for older generations
  • Those from privileged backgrounds that are most able to migrate to, and remain in London, and can therefore take advantage of the most sought-after career opportunities in Britain’s elite occupations. Therefore, there is an association between geographic mobility and the reproduction of social class advantage, rather than social mobility.
  • Conversely, ‘ordinary’ Londoners who move into elite occupations actually tend to move away from London in order to accomplish their ascent.

Recommendations:

  • Unpaid internships are a significant barrier to those from less well-off backgrounds outside big cities and exclude those who cannot afford to work for free. To ensure access to opportunities are fair, internships over 4 weeks should always be paid at least the minimum wage. [See our coverage of the Bill here.]
  • There needs to be a significant increase in the number of degree and higher-level apprenticeships available across the country, and a focus on ensuring young people from low and moderate income backgrounds can access them.
  • Admissions to the best schools and universities should be more equitable, with increased use of contextual admissions by more selective universities, and opening up the best comprehensive, grammar and independent schools to young people of all backgrounds.

Social Mobility Barometer

The Social Mobility Commission’s  annual social mobility barometer which assesses public attitudes to social mobility in the UK. The report underlines stark regional differences in people’s perceptions of their life prospects:

  • 31% of people living in the north-east (and 48% in north-west) think there are good opportunities to make progress in their own region, whereas
  • 74% believe this in the south-east, and
  • 78% in London.

Dame Martina Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said:

  • This year’s Social Mobility Barometer gives a clear message to the new Government. It shows that more than half of people feel that government does not give enough support to those who are struggling or to the least well off. It should be doing much more both at national and local level.
  • This year the Barometer reveals a worrying divide between opportunities in education and what follows – work, income and job security. Overall 63% of people felt they were better off than their parents in terms of the education they had received, but only 45% felt they had a better standard of living. Less than a third felt they had better job security.
  • This suggests that the focus on improving educational opportunities may have started to pay off but much more attention is needed on training, jobs, and pay levels. The majority of people continue to feel there are fewer opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to better-off peers. Almost half of people (44%) say that where you end up in society is largely determined by your background, while twice as many people feel it is becoming harder rather than easier to move up in society. This poll is a ‘call to action’ for this new Government to do more to help social mobility. Politicians must listen to it. This is a great moment to start reversing inequities of generations.

Delving into the detail behind the headlines is the finding that apprenticeships were considered to offer better career progression than HE study. However, there is a stark age difference with the younger generation plumping for HE to pursue a successful career (see page 12 for the full breakdown).

  • 77% felt that poorer people have less opportunity to attend a top university with 65% believing poor people’s chances were reduced to attend any university. 49% believed it would also be harder for poorer people to obtain an internship. Interestingly 57% believed poor people had equal opportunity to obtain an apprenticeship.
  • Those surveyed who were aged under 50 believed they received a better education than their parents but scored lower on all other factors with the 18-24 and 25-49 age groups particularly negative in their opinion.
  • Those born in the 1980s and 1990s were rated highest for the best educational opportunities (despite the fact the tuition fee loan system was in place for this cohort).

Dods report that the Social Mobility Commission poll coincides with the publication of the commission’s research report into further education and recommends that the government set up an independent What Works Centre for Further Education and Adult Learning (proposed budget £20 million over the next 5 years) to act as a knowledge and research hub; translating the best available evidence and testing a variety of approaches to ensure resources for poorer students, who make up the bulk of students in further education, are targeted more effectively.

The NUS responded to both social mobility reports and the FE report but were not in favour of a What Works centre – NUS Vice President (Further Education) Juliana Mohamad-Noor said:

  • We welcome the publication’s focus on how to improve education attainment among disadvantaged students and the report can provide a useful evidence base for this. However students have told us that what they need to best help them succeed is more direct investment into further education (FE) rather than investing in a £20 million What Works Centre. FE is in a funding crisis due to cuts since 2010, with students bearing the brunt of these cuts. The government must raise the rate to at least £4,760 per student as a priority if they are to improve attainment.

I believe there are a number of initiatives which could make life better for disadvantaged students. They include:

  • Travel passes: City of Liverpool College had travel passes for students with a household income of less than £25,000 who lived more than two miles away and had good attendance.
  • Bursary Grants: City of Liverpool College also had a small pot of funding for students who met a similar criteria. I benefitted from this when I was a business student at the College and was granted £200 to buy a laptop so that I could do my coursework outside of the classroom and not be dependent on limited library resources in College or at home.
  • Free School Meals. At City of Liverpool only 2 or 3 centres were funded to be able to provide free food at lunchtime. This lack of support meant many students had to spend time travelling to another college where their ID cards would allow them access to the meal allowance, or use their own limited resources to buy food elsewhere.
  • Nurseries, such as the one provided at City of Liverpool College for students with young children. This allows both access to education for the students as well as reliable and safe childcare for their young ones.
  • Direct investment in response to real student needs in their day-to-day lives is what’s needed to close the education attainment gap among disadvantaged students

Interventions to widen access to HE – impact evaluation

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) has published a report on the impact of interventions for widening access to HE. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are still less likely than their more privileged counterparts to progress to HE. The report finds that, despite considerable investment and many years of widening participation policy, progress has been modest and there appears to be limited evidence on the effectiveness of the interventions carried out. The paper also describes interventions that have proved most effective.

These are the key findings as described by the EPI:

  • Overall, there is still a lack of available evidence on the impact of outreach interventions on actual enrolment rates. Much of the existing evidence focusses on intermediate outcomes such as increased aspirations and awareness which may not always translate into actual enrolments.
  • Most of the studies analysed found positive but modest effects. There are still some gaps in the research base, and the evidence often does not demonstrate causality; however, there has been an increased focus on robust evaluations.
  • Much of the evidence is concentrated on students in their final years of secondary school and post-16 learners (A levels students in particular). Given that differences in attainment can explain much of the participation gap, and that these arise early, there is a lack of evidence on the impact of interventions happening earlier in the student life cycle.
  • Most widening participation initiatives analysed were black box interventions combining several outreach components. These combined interventions seem to be associated with improvements in higher education outcomes but drawing definitive conclusions on the effectiveness of the single components is challenging.
  • Providing financial aid to disadvantaged students is a high-cost widening participation intervention that has a small but positive effect on enrolment. The literature suggests that financial support is most successful when it is relatively easy to understand and apply for and efforts are made to raise awareness amongst potential beneficiaries.
  • Interventions in the area of mentoring, counselling and role models has generally positive association with the outcomes considered. Qualitative and quantitative evidence suggests an increase in students’ confidence to succeed in higher education, higher aspirations and a better understanding of the world of university, especially when the mentors can act as relatable role models for the mentees. Again, much of the literature analyses only changes to intermediate outcomes such as increased aspirations, confidence or awareness, rather than actual enrolments.
  • Providing information, advice and guidance to underrepresented students during secondary school is a low-cost, light-touch tool to widen participation. The literature is largely based on fully scalable randomised control trials and indicates limited effects on both aspirations and actual enrolment. The more promising interventions are those that are tailored to the students, start early and are integrated into other forms of support, such as career advice and guidance.
  • Summer schools are high-cost interventions that appear to be positively correlated with an increase in confidence and aspirations, but evidence on their effects on application to and acceptance by higher education institutions shows mixed results.

EPI make the following recommendations: [some very familiar messages here!]

  • To avoid overestimating the effectiveness of widening participation interventions, it is crucial to provide more causal evidence on the capacity of interventions to translate increased aspirations and awareness into a higher enrolment rate.
  • There is a need for more robust research on the impact of black box interventions, with a focus on teasing out the separate effect of each component. Robust monitoring and evaluation should be built into these interventions from the start.
  • There is not enough research focused on vulnerable but overlooked groups, such as mature students, carers and care leavers, some ethnic minority students and vocational students.
  • More causal evidence on the effectiveness of summer schools should also be carried out. Where randomised control trials are not practical, other quasi-experimental techniques should be applied.
  • More research on financial aid is recommended to ensure relevance to the English and UK context.
  • The government and its delivery bodies must facilitate greater tracking of the progression outcomes of participants in widening participation interventions over time and between the school, college and the higher education sectors. This would provide improved evidence based on actual enrolments to higher education rather than on self-reported aspirations and attitudes only, and would allow for the development of more research on interventions happening

NCOP (National Collaborative Outreach Programme)

A report on the future of the NCOP (National Collaborative Outreach Programme): Voices: What next for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme? Last week OfS announced they would need to make savings in the HE recurrent funding budgets. They have confirmed they will not cut NCOP allocations, however, they will clawback and repurpose any underspend. Voices is a responsive briefing written by 17 leaders of the 29 regional NCOP consortia on the future of the programme based on this statement:

  • “The Office for Students has signalled its intention to financially support the Outreach Hubs to 2025. What recommendations would you, as NCOP Leads, make to OfS decision makers for a national programme to run alongside the Outreach Hubs to ensure that some element of nationally-funded collaborative widening access work continues once NCOP ends in 2021, drawing on your expertise and your own local context?”

The South West leads had this to say in response:

  • NCOP partnerships are neatly taking care of collaborative outreach targets, and implicit impartiality. This does not exonerate HE providers from their obligations to provide high-quality institutional WP Outreach, with the potential student as the focus of their work, not the potential recruitment of that student to their institution. The success of the Outreach Hubs will depend, in part, on their ability to signpost to a coherent, broad-ranging institutional WP Outreach offer. HE providers should be supported to build this now, in preparation for meaningful continued collaborative working post July 2021.

Here Dods summarise how the NCOP Consortia see the Future:

  • Collaboration is crucial but fragile: Strong relationships between schools, higher education, and further education are being formed but without continued funding
  • Commitment to collaboration has to be long term: A recurring theme of the responses was the need for a stable long-term commitment to a funded collaborative infrastructure. This commitment needs to be until 2025 to at least match the APP cycle.
  • Starting earlier is key: A strong theme running through the responses was the need to engage with learners earlier, as soon as primary level if possible. A strong theme running through the responses was the need to engage with learners earlier, as soon as primary level if possible.
  • Institutional Outreach will not ‘replace’ NCOP targeted activity: If NCOP targeted funding is removed then large groups of learners will lose their support if they do not fit with the priorities of providers in that area, and the risk is that all learners will have what they can learn about HE restricted. This will include those who need greater, more extensive support to progress to HE.
  • Direct school involvement matters: Even if funding is to be scaled down there could be a case for transitional support in those areas most badly affected by such a scaling.
  • Targeting is important, but targeting who?: There were voices which questioned the present area based approach and whether an individual-level approach would have greater merit. It would possibly assist the Office for Students in understanding what range of approaches to defining disadvantage and educational disadvantage could be the most appropriate in widening access work.
  • Fund national but deliver local: The recent interest in civic universities is welcome but will not represent any kind of replacement for a coherent funded commitment made by the HE sector to engaging with the local areas for whom HE does not seem relevant.

You can read the (relatively short) full document here.

Grammar Schools

Arguments over the abolition, taxing, and expansion of grammar schools were features of GE2019 and they’re still topical in 2020. In January 2019 HEPI published an occasional paper by Iain Mansfield The Impact of Selective Secondary Education on Progression to HE which found that attending a grammar school increased the likelihood of attending a highly-selective university for disadvantaged pupils. However, this week HEPI have published a collection of essays – Social Mobility and HE: Are grammar schools the answer? refuting Iain’s claims that grammar schooling has a positive effect for deprived pupils. In short:

  • The data used by Iain Mansfield was flawed – the exclusion of (missing) income data from higher income families makes it appear more grammar students come from poorer households that is actually the case.
  • Any positive benefits for individuals from attending grammar schools are outweighed by negative effects on those who do not pass the 11+. Furthermore, selection depresses overall educational achievement and harms the chances of the poorest children. There are also moral arguments against the social segregation that is the consequence of selective secondary education. At a time of increasing social division and inequality in England, authors argue that a high-quality and comprehensive system which educates all pupils effectively is needed.
  • Grammar schools thrive as a result of having highly selective universities, and because of their diverse classroom learning experience which matches well with university study.
  • There are geographical differences in areas which have grammar schools – generally they’re more affluent. This means it is not possible to attribute all differences in progression rates between selective and non-selective areas to grammar schools rather than differences in the pupil population or other factors.
  • Personal ideologies have not coloured the academic debate on grammar schools as Mansfield suggests.

Contributors, John Furlong & Ingrid Lunt, Emeritus Professors of Education, University of Oxford said:

  • Increased mobility that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s did not come about as a result of grammar schools but because of structural changes that brought about substantially increased opportunities for social mobility. There literally was ‘more room at the top’ that had to be filled whether or not there were grammar schools at the time…In a society that aspires to greater social equality and equality of opportunity there can be little justification for the continued existence of grammar schools today, let alone their expansion. They are the product of educational thinking from a very different era from our own. They are part of our educational history; that does not mean they should be part of our educational future.

Iain Mansfield blogged for HEPI in response to the latest paper both welcoming it for the contribution it makes to the body of evidence on the topic but also raising concerns on factors not addressed. He re-highlights his original points on unconscious bias and speaks out against the comprehensive university model. He concludes:

  • Academic selection is a fundamentally complex subject, involving complex trade-offs that impact on different individuals in society in diverse and varied ways. Selection may be applied at different ages, on a general or a specialist basis, and both between and within schools, for example with streaming and setting. It may be applied with differing degrees of flexibility or movement between schools and under a wide variety of different funding frameworks, from the highly inequitable one prevailing in the 1950s to one significantly more progressive, in which greater resources are provided to those most in need. There are no easy answers to any of this – but it is a matter which deserves to be discussed and researched by a diverse group of individuals with different perspectives, not a closed circle of those who have already made up their minds.

Immigration

This week The Times reported PM Boris has confirmed he will axe the £30,000 minimum salary threshold for immigrants arriving after Brexit through the planned Australian-style points system. The Times state:

  • Under Mr Johnson’s plan migrants’ earnings will be taken into account as part of their application to enter the UK. Other criteria could include English proficiency, educational qualifications, occupation and willingness to work in particular areas of Britain.
  • While the prime minister is understood to have the support of his cabinet, ditching the £30,000 criteria will still be controversial in the Tory party.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Eurosceptic MP and former Conservative leader, said they should be cautious about ditching the £30,000 threshold. They will need to have very strong checks in place to ensure that they deliver on their pledge to control immigration.  Anti-immigration campaign group Migration Watch UK are reported as warning that the number of migrants coming to Britain could rise sharply under a points-based system.

The Migration Advisory Committee will publish a report next week on how the new points-based system would work and the Government is expected to publish an immigration white paper in March 2020. The Government intends for the new immigration system to be introduced immediately at the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020.

Assistive Technology

Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister  Chris Skidmore  has made an announcement  on technology to support pupils with special education needs.  From Dods: Chris Skidmore’s EdTech related speech at the BETT show has now been published.

  • The government’s EdTech testbed programme launched with Durham University, will match schools and colleges with leading EdTech products created to tackle specific educational challenges, like homework marking, or parental engagement.
    I’m pleased to announce today that in 2020 we intend to achieve a world-first, and develop a new Assistive Technology testbed aimed at transforming learning for pupils with special educational needs and disability. 
  • At the school level, we’ve put more than £80 million to create the National Centre for Computing Education, to improve the quality of computing teaching across England and to encourage more girls to take the subject.
  • On the college level, we’ve established the National College of Digital Skills, better known as Ada. We have also started to open the first 12 Institutes of Technology (IoTs), backed by £170m of government funding, to offer higher technical education in key sectors including digital. 

The Education Minister speaks

Gavin Williamson spoke to more than 100 education ministers from around the globe at the Education World Forum, setting out his vision for British education.  HE commentators were disappointed about the (lack of) priority given to HE in the speech.  There’s a transcript of the speech here.

  • …For the first time, the latest PISA results show 15-year-olds in England achieving scores above the OECD national averages in reading, maths and science.
  • …Last year we set up a £2.5 million programme to help encourage international exchanges, with a particular focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thanks to that programme, children from 138 schools have or are planning to travel to countries as far-ranging such as Austria and Zambia. Today, I’m thrilled to announce a one-year extension to this International School Exchange programme, and its expansion to include primary school children in Years 5 and 6.
  • We truly do hold the tools to make a global difference and a global change. So many people turn to us to provide them with a chance to succeed in life. To free themselves sometimes from the poverty they’ve known, or the lack of ambition that others have experienced. We have that ability to level up, to give people, young people, the chance for them to succeed, for our nations to succeed, and for every generation to be able to contribute more to their nations but also to the globe. That is what we can, and that is what we will do.

On HE:

  • We recognise for our higher education institutions to remain the best in the world, that is done through international collaboration, working with others, making sure that research and study is always an international endeavour.
  • Of course, a traditional academic education isn’t the be all and end all, and we’re all rapidly finding this out. It’s 2020, and we all live in a modern global economy—one that is set to be transformed by AI, automation and other technologies, and which will require a new and constantly changing skillset for our workforce. And those might not be the kind of skills that we can necessarily always develop within universities or traditional academia.
  • As a result, every country across the world is now putting a much bigger focus on further and technical education, so that we can build a workforce that’s fighting fit for the future and able to deal with the new challenges and opportunities that the globe faces.

Other news

  • Strong growth: The Open Innovation team have published Cautionary Tales from History an economics focused blog examining Britain’s exponential economic success during the 16th  and 17th Centuries. The blog considers the influence of policy and questions whether the growth enabling elements could be harnessed today to address left behind regions in the UK. The blog concludes that in the past strong Government with an efficient system of taxation and public finance alongside strong markets which were not manipulated by special interest groups (guilds, landlords, the church, etc) and a strong civil society were the social conditions behind the success of the industrial revolution.
  • Care Leavers: The Care Leaver Progression Partnership have promoted the latest Stand Alone report What Happens Next? which explores care leavers transitioning out of HE. And Care Day will be held on 21 February.

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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 January 2020

Another busy week  in HE policy– with consultations and a very short timeline for the KEF.  Everyone has hit the ground running in 2020!

The third leg of the HE stool arrives: KEF has landed

The outcome of the KEF consultation in 2019 has come out. UKRI have published the “Decisions for the first iteration”.  They have given a very short timeline for the publication of the first set of data and narratives from institutions – they will all be published this summer.  Narratives have to be submitted by May.  Data will be published for everyone, whether they submit narratives or not.

They have also indicated that it is likely that from 2020/21 institutions will have to submit narratives for the KEF to be eligible for Research England funding.

  • This first iteration of the KEF will take place in the current academic year 2019/20. All Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) eligible to receive Research England Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) funding in this current academic year are in scope for this exercise.
  • The KEF is taking a metrics-led approach, although it also includes a narrative component. As previously advised, all proposed KEF metrics use existing data sources that are already collected via existing statutory returns or other means. …. This reflects the minimal burden of this exercise as there is no need for any institution to gather or submit new metrics for this iteration of the KEF.
  • The narrative component of the KEF will consist of three brief narrative statements … we intend to publish in summer 2020 the KEF metrics of all institutions in receipt of HEIF in this 2019/20 academic year. Therefore, institutions in receipt of HEIF in this academic year 2019/20 are strongly encouraged to submit narrative information to contextualise their results….
  • This report will be followed by publication of the narrative templates and final cluster membership in February 2020. If institutions in scope for this exercise wish to have their narrative templates published alongside their results, the completed templates should be returned on Friday 15 May 2020.
  • …Research England will provide further contextual information about the external environment in which the HEI operates that should be considered when interpreting results. This contextual information will be in the form a standard set of indicators at the LEP-region level.
  • Results will be presented through an online visualisation platform displaying perspectives and underlying metrics, as well as narrative statements and contextual information

The metrics will be reported against “clusters”. They have changed their original cluster proposals somewhat, removing the Social Science and Business specialist cluster – final cluster membership will be published in February with the templates. These clusters have been designed to allow meaningful comparison.  When BU responded to the consultation we suggested that it is unhelpful to introduce a third methodology for comparison – the TEF uses institutional benchmarks, something that has challenges itself, and the REF is of course organised by subject.  We remain concerned that this will be confusing and not very meaningful for businesses and other organisations (the declared target for this information) who may not find the cluster comparison useful if they only have limited experience with a small number of universities.

You will recall that the metrics are grouped into seven “perspectives” – only two will require narratives.  The consultation looked at additional metrics but has discounted any that are not already “gathered through existing statutory returns, or available from other UKRI or external sources”.  This is because they want to make it a “low burden” exercise.

Public and Community Engagement narrative – a statement:

  • identifying the public and community groups served by the institution and how their needs have been identified;
  • description of the targeted activities that are undertaken to meet these needs;
  • evidence that needs have been met and tangible outcomes achieved.

Local Growth and Regeneration narrative – a statement:

  • identifying the geographical area(s) that the institution considers to be its local area;
  • explanation of how needs of the local area(s) that relate to economic growth and regeneration are identified;
  • description of the targeted activities undertaken by the institution to meet those needs and any outcomes achieved.

The third narrative will be an institutional context narrative – “setting out the geographic, economic and social context within which the higher education institution is operating…. The information contained within this statement will not be used to normalise any of the metrics or perspectives across clusters.”

David Kernohan has written for Wonkhe about it:

  • The Knowledge Exchange Framework is not (like REF and TEF are) an “excellence framework”. It doesn’t make any judgement on the quality of business and community interaction, just on the proportional volume and likely output of a number of activities described in the HE-BCI survey data. Neither is it of use to professional or armchair rankers – it doesn’t offer named awards or simple stepped gradations that demonstrate one thing is unfailingly better than another.
  • It may eventually be used to support the allocation of the £200m Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), which is currently allocated using similar data. But for the first year (2020-21) it is for entertainment and edification purposes only.”

David summarises the pages of normalisation methodology in the document nicely: Metrics are a three-year average, mostly …as ratios, which are converted at perspective level into deciles. This reduces a great deal of data and analysis into what amounts to a set of marks out of 10, which are compared to an average mark from comparable institutions (the infamous clusters)”.

And the visualisation approach: “Research England has a grand plan to use spider graphs to show institutional scores alongside cluster averages, with an option to drill down into more detailed data on each metric. I’m not as struck by this as they are – the exercise is designed to support comparisons and spider diagrams are an unwieldy way to do this. I also feel like the individual metrics are still fairly abstract, you have to go quite a long way back down the methodology to get something that the mind can easily take hold of.”

Erasmus after Brexit

After the social media storm last week when Parliament didn’t approve the Erasmus amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (it doesn’t mean we can’t be in it, it just means that government won’t be bound by the new Bill to make sure we are in it), there have been a few questions this week.

Douglas Chapman (SNP) said that the end of Erasmus scheme was an “utter disaster, culturally and socially” and asked the PM to comment on the end of the participation of the scheme. Boris’ response implied that the UK would continue to participate in the scheme.

And there were several questions on Erasmus (see this one and this one) – all with similar response – that the Government is including it within the Brexit negotiations and is working towards remaining within the scheme.  The House of Commons Library have released this briefing paper on Erasmus to inform MPs ahead of Monday’s scheduled Education debate.

New HESA data

HESA have published higher education statistics for 2018/19.  Interestingly, the OfS focussed on grade inflation in their response –and nothing else.

Sex of students

  • Of all HE students 57% were female in 2018/19 (see Figure 4), this has been the same since 2016/17.
  • A larger proportion of part-time students were female than full-time students.
  • For other undergraduate students, 64% were female, compared with 49% of postgraduate (research) students.

Age of students

  • The overall number of first year students aged 30 and over has increased in 2018/19 after a decreasing trend in previous years.
  • The number of first year students aged 21-24 has increased from 2015/16 to 2018/19.
  • The number of first year full-time students aged 30 and over has increased every year since 2014/15.
  • Numbers of full-time students aged 20 and under have increased year on year since 2012/13.

Student disability status

  • The overall number of students with a known disability is increasing year on year. The main reason for this increase is students identified as having a mental health condition.
  • Of students with a known disability in 2018/19 the category of specific learning difficulty is the largest group accounting for 36% of the total.

Ethnicity of students

  • The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years. However, the percentage that are Asian, Mixed and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased.
  • HE providers in England show the largest decrease and the lowest proportion of UK domiciled students that are White compared to HE providers in all other countries of the UK.

Within the European Union:

  • Italy has seen a notable rise to become the top European Union country sending students to the UK, overtaking three other countries in the last five years.
  • Germany is the top European Union country to send students to Wales and Scotland, and Ireland is top in sending students to Northern Ireland.

Outside the European Union:

  • China sent more students to the UK than any other overseas country. In 2018/19, 35% of all non-EU students were from China. The number of students from China was also 34% higher in 2018/19 than in 2014/15, increasing from 89,540 to 120,385 in the five year span.
  • Student numbers from India increased from 18,325 in 2014/15 to 26,685 in 2018/19.
  • The other countries in the chart are more in line with European Union student numbers.
  • Nigeria has seen a 41% decline in student numbers coming to the UK over the five year period, dropping behind the United States, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
  • For more recent trends in international student visa applications and granted visas, refer toTable 1 of Immigration statistics published by the Home Office in November 2019. Please note that although on a similar theme, these statistics are not directly comparable. Home Office statistics cover further education as well as higher education, and immigration data provides an indication of the number of people who have an intention to enter the UK for study reasons, not whether, or when, an individual actually arrived in the UK, or what they did on arrival to the UK.

Of those gaining a classified first degree:

  • The percentage of students achieving a first class honours remains stable at 28% for both 2017/18 and 2018/19. This follows an increase year on year since 2009/10 where 14% of students achieved this classification.
  • A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
  • Full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.

Subjects

In 2018/19:

  • More qualifications were awarded in business & administrative studies than any other subject area.
  • Amongst part-time students, more qualifications were awarded in subjects allied to medicine than any other subject area.

Over the five year period 2014/15 – 2018/19:

  • There has been an overall increase in the number of qualifications gained in biological sciences and social studies.
  • There has been a decline in the number of qualifications gained in languages and education.

Mental Health

Student Minds has launched The Wellbeing Thesis, a website designed to support postgraduate research students to maintain their mental wellbeing.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield has presented a Bill in the House of Lords which would amend the Education Act 2002 and the Academies Act 2010 for schools to promote the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils. The Bill will proceed to a second reading at a future date.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q – Conor McGinn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to (a) reduce the level of social stigma in relation to mental health and (b) promote awareness of mental health issues among young people.

A – Nick Gibb:

  • The Department is making teaching about mental health part of compulsory health education in all state-funded schools in England from September 2020. The statutory guidance sets out that pupils will be taught about the importance of good physical and mental health including the steps pupils can take to protect and support their own health and mental wellbeing. The content will also cover understanding emotions; identifying where someone is experiencing signs of poor mental health; simple self-care; and how and when to seek support.
  • The Department is also working with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families to pilot setting up peer support approaches in schools and colleges that allow young people to play an active part of creating a mentally healthy and supportive environment. The findings from the programme’s external evaluation will be shared nationally, to help more schools to develop or improve their own mental health peer support programmes.
  • To support school staff, the Department has set up Expert Advisory Group on teacher and leader wellbeing which has a remit to advise the Department on what it can do to help schools and colleges promote good wellbeing, including tackling stigma around mental health.

Labour leadership

Monday was the closing date for Labour leadership candidates to secure the 22 nominations from MPs to run for party leader. Chris Lewis and Barry Gardiner did not secure the required amount. The following candidates will progress to the next round (number of nominations received noted in brackets):

  • Keir Starmer (89)
  • Rebecca Long Bailey (33)
  • Lisa Nandy (31)
  • Jess Phillips (23)
  • Emily Thornberry (23)

Candidates for deputy leader:

  • Angela Rayner (88)
  • Ian Murray (34)
  • Dawn Butler (29)
  • Rosena Allin-Khan (23)
  • Richard Burgon (22)

We explained the leadership contest process in detail in last week’s policy update. However, here is a quick recap: the next phase requires the candidates to seek nominations from Constituency Labour Parties and the Unions by 15th Jan – to carry on they need support of 5% of the constituency parties (the BBC said 30) OR 3 affiliate organisations, including 2 trade unions.  The members’ ballot opens on 21st Feb and runs to 2nd April.  Votes are redistributed if there is no clear winner.  Results announced on 4th April

An interesting background briefing on the Labour leadership candidates prepared by Dods is available here. It is worth a read to get to know the candidates better.

Fees and funding

The House of Commons Library has a new briefing paper on the Augar Review (Post 18 Education and Funding Review). The paper considers the recommendations of the Augar Review and the (page 26) initial responses to it from major HE bodies. The Government is rumoured to have made the decision on how they will respond (which parts they will adopt) of the Augar Review and intend to release their response at a suitable point (soon-ish!). Most likely the briefing paper has been produced because Education Questions will take place in Parliament next Monday.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q -Baroness Bennett Of Manor Castle: following the announcement that nursing bursaries are to be reintroduced, what plans [the Government] have to support nurses, midwifes and other healthcare professionals with any debt incurred before the reintroduction to support their study and training.

A -Baroness Blackwood Of North Oxford:

  • We have committed to 50,000 more nurses in the National Health Service by 2025 and our new financial support package is crucial to delivering this.
  • Eligible pre-registration students on nursing, midwifery and many allied health students’ courses at English universities from September 2020 will benefit from additional support of at least £5,000 of non-repayable funding, with up to £3,000 additional funding for some students, who choose to study in regions or specialisms struggling to recruit, or to help with childcare costs, which they will not have to pay back.
  • The Government has no plans to introduce a scheme that will backdate the offer for students who completed courses in earlier years.

Q – Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to introduce Sharia compliant student loans.

A – Chris Skidmore (Kingswood): The government remains committed to introducing an Alternative Student Finance product for tuition fee and maintenance loans. Details on implementation will follow the conclusion of the review of post-18 education and funding.

Select Committees

Parliamentary business has been laid to commence the election of the select committee chairs now the new Parliament has formed. We anticipate the chairs will be announced early in February.  Below is a diagram stating which party will chair each select committee.

There are several committees where the previous chairman has vacated their position through losing their seat, or where the chairmanship has switched from Labour to Tory to reflect Parliament’s new arithmetic (the number of chairs for each party is proportionate to the size of the party in Parliament).  These include the Treasury, health, transport and work and pensions committees.

There is a potential change on the horizon. In the past when a parliamentary session ends the chairmanship and membership of a select committee ceases – as it did when the 2019 general election was called. However, a parliamentary motion introduced this week seeks to remove the limit on the maximum length of time an individual can chair a committee. This would allow parliamentarians to become long-serving chairs. There is also a clause which stipulates that the Brexit committee will continue for another year, even though the department it shadows — DExEU — is being wound up at the end of January.

Education Debate

There was a major Education and Local Government debate within the House of Commons this week led by Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education. On schools the debate covered content on: the minimum school funding (per pupil), rolling out free schools (Midlands, North and South West), extra funding to Councils to support children in care, capital funding for childcare provision within schools (for school aged children), an arts activities premium for secondary schools from 2021, school building safety – following advice in the independent Hackitt review,

Gavin Williamson also said:

  • The Government’s £3bn national skills fund would build on ongoing work to develop a national retraining scheme in underpinning economic prosperity.
  • Capital investment of £1.8bn into the further education estate.
  • The Government plans to create more mayors across England to devolve power away from Westminster via a devolution white paper.

Angela Rayner challenged the Government on the lack of response to the Augar review, particularly in relation to decision on the regulation of home education. She said: “While we are on the subject of Bills that are missing in action…The Augar review went from being a flagship to a ghost ship”.

SNP Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Carol Monaghan, asked the Minister whether a fee change would be forthcoming, further to the Augar review recommendations. She also raised concerns over the implications of Brexit on HE staff, research funding, infrastructure and collaboration: “A recent report from the Royal Society has shown that the UK’s share of EU funding has fallen by €500 million since 2015. There has also been a drop of 40% in UK applications to Horizon 2020. We are still in it just now, but we have had that drop because people do not have any certainty. The UK is now seen as a less attractive place to come and do research, with 35% fewer scientists coming to the UK through key schemes. That is of concern, as is Erasmus and what Brexit will mean for that programme”.

David Davis (Conservative) criticised the university tuition fees and loans scheme for delivering poor-quality education, high levels of expectations and low levels of outcome. He called for concerted action to tackle low productivity, including translational research, but also, “investment, education, infrastructure, magnet cities and garden villages”.

Previous chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon welcomes the Queen’s Speech and said that he believes that “skills, social justice, standards and support for the profession should be the four interlocking foundations of this Government’s education programme.” He called on the Government to turbocharge adult learning, citing that adult learning is at its lowest since 1996 and that this county needs a world-class apprenticeships programme.

Halfon also raised concerns about disadvantaged pupils who are often 19 months behind by the time they reach their GCSEs, he called on the Government to have a “bold, assertive agenda that has compassion and aspiration right at its core.” Halfon told the chamber that the Government should offer top-quality childcare, to help plug the gap of disadvantaged children who are already left behind when they start primary school.

Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland Karin Smyth told the house that the Government has got it wrong in its implementation of apprenticeships, particularly by making the process more complicated for small and medium sized enterprises.

Janet Daby (Labour, Lewisham East) raised a number of concerns surrounding the funding of schools and local authorities. She told the house that “in the midst of a mental health crisis in young adults, we must do more to address the increasing lack of support in further education colleges.”

Steve McCabe (Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak) welcomed the Secretary of State’s admission of the problems faced by pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. He also hoped that the new student visa would make it easier for people to come here to study, but noted that PhD students did not find it particularly easy to stay after they completed their doctorates.

Alex Norris (Labour/Co-op, Nottingham North) spoke about the educational trouble faced by working class boys, saying that it was caused by a cocktail of poor discipline, irregular attendance and below par curriculums. He called on the Government to have better curriculums based on international best practice; specific, targeted resource to augment the pupil premium; a focus on catching up for boys who fall behind at key stage 1; and the deployment of the best teachers in the most challenged schools, incentivised to work in the hard environments.

Bambos Charalambous (Labour) said there wasn’t enough school funding to reverse cuts on areas like school maintenance and a lack of further education.

You can read the debate in full here.

Skills gap

The Local Government Association (LGA) published a report (compiled by the Learning and Work Institute) considering 2030 projected skills gaps in England. It considers eight areas and quantifies potential loss of economic output due to the skills gaps. They conclude that 6 million people in England risk being without a job or in work they are over-qualified for by 2030. This is a similar message to the Government’s line on upskilling the workforce to plug business needs due to insufficient skills within the workforce. However, the LGA imagine a more localised solution to the skills gaps.  Key points:

  • 1 million low-skilled people chasing 2 million low-skilled jobs – a surplus of 3.1 million low-skilled workers
  • 7 million people with intermediate skills chasing 9.5 million jobs – a surplus of 3.1 million people
  • 4 million high-skilled jobs with only 14.8 million high-skilled workers – a deficit of 2.5 million

This note looks at the extent and nature of the potential skills gap that could be faced in the future through to 2030 – at both the level of England as a whole and in eight selected local areas:

  • Nottingham City
  • Staffordshire
  • Gloucestershire
  • Greater Lincolnshire
  • Essex, Southend and Thurrock
  • Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark
  • North of Tyne
  • Southampton and Portsmouth

The LGA are critical of the current centrally-governed skills and employment system whereby £10.5 billion a year is spent by eight government departments and agencies across 20 different national schemes. Unsurprisingly the LGA is calling for the Government to use the Budget to devolve all back-to-work, skills, apprenticeship, careers advice, and business support schemes and funding to the local areas in which they are used. They envisage groups of councils across England with the power and funding to deliver a one-stop ‘Work Local’ service for skills, apprenticeship, employment, careers advice and business support provision. Bringing together local skills planning, overseeing job support including Jobcentre Plus and the Work and Health Programme and coordinate careers advice and guidance for young people and adults.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said:

  • Millions of people face a future where they have skills mismatched for jobs at a huge cost to people’s lives and the local and national economy. Councils are ideally placed to lead efforts to help the Government bring growth and jobs to all parts of the country and ensure everyone is fully equipped with the skills they need to compete for future jobs.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:

  • Improving skills is central to making the 2020s a decade of growth. Other countries have continued to invest in skills, while progress in England has stalled over the last decade, the result of large cuts in England’s adult education budget which has left us lagging behind other countries and the number of adults improving their skills at a record low. We now need a decade of investment, in order to boost life chances,

Widening participation

A thought provoking HEPI blog considers the last 20 years of research published on addressing widening participation (WP) aims. It covers all the expected current topics from the BME attainment gap to the non-participation in HE by costal and/or rural areas. It highlights international approaches such as that from Australia and Canada explaining how studies addressed the same enduring gaps as the UK has now. Overall there are no magic solutions but the blog is reinvigorating in the way it brings all the WP themes together for fresh reconsideration. You can read the full blog here.

At Prime Minister’s Questions this week previous Head of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon said that despite improvement in educational standards and funding, white working-class boys underperform at every stage of education system. He questioned whether, in the context of large infrastructure projects expected, and the high value apprenticeships associated, whether the apprenticeship levy could be reformed to enable such young people to climb the skills ladder of opportunity. Boris responded that the House should follow Halfon’s advice and reform the apprenticeship levy, and intimated that the Education Secretary would update the House on this in due course.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q – Lord Bourne Of Aberystwyth: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in improving education outcomes for Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities.

A – Lord Agnew Of Oulton:

  • The latest published data, including breakdowns for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) pupils, relates to 2019 at key stage 2 and 2018 at key stage 4. At both stages, the data showed a small improvement in headline attainment measures for this group compared to the previous year. At key stage 2, the percentage of GRT pupils attaining the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics rose from 19% in 2018 to 20% in 2019. At key stage 4, the percentage achieving grades 9-4 in English and mathematics rose from 11.8% in 2017 to 13.1% in 2018.
  • The government is taking significant steps forward to support attainment and progression for all pupils, including GRT pupils. Our education reforms, including those aimed at improving teaching; encouraging good attendance and behaviour; and strengthening the curriculum and examination system, are designed to improve opportunity and standards for all pupils. These reforms are underpinned by school accountability measures, which are intended to encourage schools to focus more closely on the attainment of all their pupils.
  • Through the pupil premium; we are addressing low economic circumstances. This is a key factor that predicts future educational outcomes, and affects a high proportion of GRT children. Since 2011, we have provided over £15 billion of this additional funding, with a further £2.4 billion being distributed in this financial year.

Life Sciences

Medical Science is one of BU’s strategic investment areas (SIA). Colleagues with an interest in this SIA area will be interested in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy update which highlights progress in delivering the strategy since 2017. It covers:

  • NHS collaboration
  • Business environment
  • Reinforcing the UK science offer, including clinical research, data and genomics
  • Skills
  • Advanced therapies, including developing advanced therapies and advanced therapies manufacturing

The report notes very substantial progress in making the UK a more attractive place for life sciences companies to succeed and grow. These developments are the result of a strong collaboration between all aspects of this diverse industry – pharma, biotech, medtech, digital and diagnostics – the wider research community in the UK, the NHS and government. And states A substantial majority of the objectives in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy have been met and more are being delivered now. Page 5 details the key achievements and page 10 onwards details the health and clinical research and development. Page 20 covers growing the skills base and workforce to deliver the life sciences industrial strategy. However, the content is limited and mainly covers AI and existing initiatives. It does not that the 2030 Skills Strategy will be published this year so we can expect more detail in the new future facing document. Page 21 briefly touches on commercialisation of university research.  You can read the sections that interest you most here.

Other news

Unconditional offers: Nottingham Trent have followed their public discussion on grade inflation last year by collaborating with The Times and publishing detail of their defence on conditional unconditional offers.  Wonkhe had an article by Mike Ratcliffe, their Academic Registrar.

Care Students: The Scottish Funding Council has published its National Ambition for Care-Experienced Students, which outlines its commitment to equal outcomes for those students by 2030.

Languages: The Financial Times responds to the HEPI language report, arguing that foreign language study should be made compulsory.

Social Commuting: The Guardian have a short, to the point, piece advising commuter students how to balance a social life with their commuting arrangements.

R&D – extending definition to cover the Creative Industries: Last week there was an interesting mini-debate following this question by Baroness Bull: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to adopting a broader definition of research and development that includes, and incentivises, research and development investment in the creative industries. You can read the debate responses and follow on questions here.

Universities and Crime – a Parliamentary question

Q – Lord Taylor Of Warwick: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with UK Universities about reports that universities are not reporting crime statistics.

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • Criminal acts and misconduct are unacceptable in our world-leading universities, which should be safe and inclusive environments. Universities are autonomous institutions, and it is for each provider to determine what information should be collected and reported. Institutions have no statutory requirement to report crime statistics but have a responsibility to ensure students feel safe and able to report incidents, and to provide robust policies and procedures to address all forms of misconduct.
  • Current recorded crime statistics cover incidents reported to police. Where an institution (or the victim themselves) report the matter to the police it will be recorded and therefore captured in crime statistics. The government is aware that third party organisations collate data relating to incidents reported as taking place in Higher Education Providers (HEPs) and officials monitor this information.
  • The government expects providers to keep records of incidents disclosed to them and act swiftly to investigate and address them, with police involvement where necessary. Effective data collection processes enable HEPs to review and analyse reported incidents and complaints to inform continuous improvement. HEPs should continue to break down barriers to reporting, to ensure students and staff feel safe and able to report incidents.
  • The government continues to work closely with Universities UK (UUK) on implementing its Changing the Culture framework. The most recent progress report, published in October 2019, showed that 72% of responding institutions had developed or improved recording of data on incidents with a more centralised approach. UUK are also supporting HEPs in handling misconduct and criminal offences, including working with the Police Association of Higher Education Liaison Officers to explore how to best support information sharing between police forces and universities, and government officials meet regularly with UUK representatives.

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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 3rd January 2020

The end of 2019 saw a flurry of announcements and planning documents as the government issued detailed notes on the Queen’s Speech, building on their manifesto commitments, and the Office for Students issued a detailed annual review with an accompanying blog giving some ideas about what is coming up next.

If you missed our policy update on 20th December which covers these things in quite a lot of detail, you can read it here.

Focus on drop-out rates

One thing that was trailed in the OfS review and accompanying blog was a concern about continuation and completion rates.  This is of course not new, continuation is a metric in the TEF and this is an area of focus in Access and Participation Plans across the sector.

From Research Professional:

  • Universities minister Chris Skidmore has said institutions should be held “individually responsible” for a surge in students abandoning their studies. Skidmore said it was “essential” that universities improve their dropout rates and called for universities to provide better support for students once they have enrolled on courses.
  • His comments on 3 January came as an analysis by the Press Association of the Higher Education Statistics Agency data found around two-thirds of UK universities saw an increase in their dropout rates between 2011-12 and 2016-17.
  • “Universities need to focus not just on getting students through the door, but making sure they complete their course successfully,” said Skidmore. “It’s essential that dropout rates are reduced. We cannot afford to see this level of wasted talent.”
  • But he said each university and even individual courses should be held “individually accountable for how many students are successfully obtaining a degree” so that it can be transparent where there are “real problems” with dropout rates.
  • In March 2019, former education minister Damian Hinds told universities that high dropout rates could make people think they are only interested in “bums on seats”rather than supporting students. He also promised that the Office for Students would pressure universities to reduce non-continuation rates and would take action if improvements were not made.
  • Commenting on the Press Association analysis, vice-chancellors’ body Universities UK said many universities have plans to support students once they at university, including the access and participation plans English universities must submit to the Office for Students.
  • “Universities are committed to widening access to higher education and ensuring students from all backgrounds can succeed and progress,” a UUK spokeswoman said. “However, it is clear that non-continuation is still an issue and institutions must continue to work to support students to progress and succeed at university.”

Headlines have been highly critical of the sector.  We have not been able to access the analysis itself, but the news outlets are mostly reporting the same data: Daily Mail: Abertay University in Dundee had the largest increase, from 3.5 per cent to 12.1 per cent. In England, Bedfordshire University saw the biggest rise, from 8.3 per cent to 15.2 per cent. Seven institutions had a rise of more than five percentage points, while 19 had an increase of more than three percentage points.

Student Loans overhaul

The BBC reported on 30th December that the SLC would be modernising repayment information with a new online service in 2020.

  • A new online repayment service will launch in 2020, offering graduates more up-to-date balance information, the Department for Education said. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the changes would make it easier for students to “understand their balance” and “manage their loan”.
  • To prevent overpayments, the government is also urging graduates to switch from salary deductions to direct debit towards the end of their loan.
  • Universities minister Chris Skidmore said: “With more and more people enjoying the benefits of a university education, it’s only right that graduates have easy access to the information they need about repaying their student loan. “I urge all graduates to use this new service and to join the direct debit scheme as they approach the end of their loan to ensure a smooth end and not repay more than they should.”
  • An SLC online repayment website does currently exist, but the new repayment service will have more up-to-date information than graduates are currently able to access, the Department for Education said.

You can read more on the DfE website here

Brexit – it’s not over until it’s over

Parliament passed the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill just before Christmas with a majority of 124.  It will be back in front of Parliament on 7, 8 and 9th January.   The BBC have helpfully summarised it for us, and also what has changed since the Theresa May version (which was never actually published):

What does the WAB actually cover? Among other things:

  • It sets out exactly how the UK will make “divorce bill” payments to the EU for years to come
  • It repeals the European Communities Act, which took the UK into the EU, but then reinstates it immediately until the end of 2020 when the transition period ends
  • It contains language on how the new protocol on Ireland – setting up what amounts to a customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – will work in practice
  • It sets out areas in which the European Court of Justice still plays a role in the UK, and makes the withdrawal agreement in some respects “supreme” over other areas of UK law
  • One of those areas may be in the arbitration procedure for disputes about the withdrawal agreement. The bill introduces a duty for the government to report on this
  • It prohibits any extension to the transition period beyond the end of 2020, even if a free trade deal isn’t ready in time
  • In the section on citizens’ rights it sets up an independent monitoring authority (IMA) with which EU nationals in the UK can lodge any complaints about the way the government treats them
  • In several policy areas, particularly in Northern Ireland, the bill gives ministers a lot of power to change the law (through secondary legislation) without MPs getting to vote
  • It introduces a duty for the government to report on its use of the arbitration procedure for disputes about the withdrawal agreement

What’s been changed? A number of clauses in the previous version of the bill have been removed. They include:

  • The possibility of an extension to the transition period and the procedures around that. The bill now prohibits ministers asking for an extension.
  • Workers’ rights protections – the government says these will now be part of a separate bill.
  • Checks and balances that MPs were offered as an inducement to pass the old bill in October. For example, the requirement for the government’s negotiating position on the future relationship with the EU to be approved by Parliament has gone. And the government’s position no longer needs to be in line with the political declaration – the non-legally binding document that accompanied the withdrawal agreement and sets out aspirations for the future relationship.
  • A clause on child refugees. The bill removes the requirement, introduced by Lord Dubs,to agree a deal that if an unaccompanied child claims international protection in the EU, they may come to the UK if they have relatives living in the country. The new bill only requires a government minister to make a statement setting out policy on the subject within two months. Between 2016 and 2018, 426 unaccompanied children came to the UK in this way.

Given that all the Conservative Party candidates had to sign up to supporting it, it is very unlikely to fail.

But because some of you might be missing the Parliamentary “fun and games” of 2019, we thought we would bring you the latest list of amendments – it’s 42 pages long so far and likely to grow again by Tuesday.  Of course, which ones are debated are partly down to the (new) Speaker as we all learned last year.  not surprisingly some of them relate to the things that have been removed:

  • Quite a few relate to sorting out the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol and related issues– described by some as a “border down the North Sea” although before the holiday the PM was still denying that there would be checks or paperwork between the UK and NI.
  • Some relate to an extension of the implementation period – e.g. must extend if a deal is not reached by a date in June unless the House agree otherwise (one says by 1st June, one says by 15th and they attach different conditions. One has a security partnership as well as a trade deal.
  • A weird one saying that Big Ben will ring when the UK leaves the EU.
  • Quite a few amendments about EU citizens’ rights including for unaccompanied children
  • Some trying to restrict the power of the government to make regulations under the new law, e.g. on human rights or tax, or devolved government
  • Some relate to Parliamentary sovereignty over the future relationship with the EU. There is also one about “non-regression from EU standards”, one about mutual recognition and standards and one about a “level playing field”.
  • There is one that requires the devolved governments to approve the Act before it can come into force and two requiring the House to endorse economic impact assessments of the measures under the Bill before they are implemented.
  • There is one about workers’ rights
  • There is one about participation in the European Medicines regulatory network, one about Euratom, one about a security partnership.
  • There are three about a customs union and a single market
  • There is an unusual one about “probity of the Ministers of the Crown” requiring Ministers to make a personal declaration that they have complied with the 7 Nolan Principles of Public Life in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. There is also one about a public inquiry into the events leading up to withdrawal and one about an independent review of the impact of withdrawal.
  • There is one about Erasmus+ being a negotiating objective

The problems with apprenticeships

The BBC has a story about “fake” apprenticeships.  They aren’t actually fake – just alleged to be not doing what they were intended for – which the report writers define as courses that “relate to helping young people get started in a skilled job or occupation”.

Half of apprenticeship courses in England have been accused of being “fake” by an education think tank.

  • The EDSK report says the apprenticeship levy – paid by big employers – is being used on low-skilled jobs or relabelling existing posts, rather than training.
  • Tom Richmond, the think tank’s director, said the apprenticeship scheme was “descending into farce”.
  • But a Department for Education spokeswoman defended apprenticeships as becoming “better quality”.
  • The apprenticeship levy is paid by large employers, who contribute 0.5% of their salary bill into the training fund.
  • But since 2017, the report claims £1.2bn from the levy has been spent on jobs “offering minimal training and low wages” or on “rebadging” jobs already offered by employers as apprenticeships.
  • In its first full year of operation, the levy raised £2.7bn and this is expected to rise to £3.4bn by 2023-24.
  • Apprenticeship spending is too often used on “existing adult workers instead of supporting young people into the workplace”, the report warns.
  • The report also criticises £448m spent on apprenticeships aimed at degree and postgraduate level.

You can read the report here.

  • The most costly higher-level apprenticeship has been the ‘Accountancy / Taxation Professional’ course at Level 7 (equivalent to a Master’s degree), which has used £174 million of levy funding since 2017 by claiming to cover roles as diverse as Financial Accountants, Management Accountants, Tax Accountants, Tax Advisers, Tax Specialists, External Auditors, Internal Auditors, Financial Analysts, Management Consultants, Forensic Accountants and Business Advisors. For a single ‘apprenticeship’ to cover such a breadth of respected and wellpaid jobs is questionable, to say the least.
  • In addition, the ‘Senior Leader apprenticeship’ – aimed at CEOs, CFOs, senior military officers and Heads of Department among others – can include an MBA, which explains why it has quickly become a major source of revenue for business schools and consumed over £45 million in just two years.
  • Inappropriate rebadging of training courses also extends beyond the world of business and finance. The ‘Academic Professional apprenticeship’ – designed by 23 Higher Education (HE) institutions including the University of Oxford, the University of Durham and Imperial College London – is an overt attempt by these organisations to relabel their university academics as ‘apprentices’ to use up the university’s own levy contributions. The fact that you typically need a PhD to be accepted onto this levy-funded training course confirms that it bears no relation whatsoever to any genuine apprenticeship.

The report also makes some recommendations:

INTRODUCING A WORLD-CLASS DEFINITION OF AN ‘APPRENTICESHIP’

  • 1: The Department for Education should introduce a new definition of an ‘apprenticeship’ that is benchmarked against the best apprenticeship systems in the world.
  • 2: The Department for Education should restrict the use of the term ‘apprenticeship’ to training at Level 3 only.

SETTING A NEW VISION AND OBJECTIVE FOR THE LEVY

  • 3: The apprenticeship levy should be renamed the ‘Technical and Professional Education Levy’ and all work-based learning from Level 4 to Level 7 should be renamed ‘Technical and Professional Education’ (TPE).
  • 4: Bachelor’s degrees and Master’s-level courses that have been labelled as ‘apprenticeships’ should be excluded from the scope of the TPE levy.
  • 5: The existing co-payment rate of 5 per cent for apprenticeships should be replaced by a tiered co-payment rate for all TPE programmes from Levels 3 to 6, starting at 0% co-payment for apprenticeships at Level 3 up to a 75% co-payment for Level 6 programmes.

REVISING THE FUNDING AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

  • 6: The current system of 30 ‘funding bands’ from £1,500 to £27,000 should be replaced by five ‘price groups’ for apprenticeships at Level 3 and higher-level TPE programmes.
  • 7: The 10 per cent ‘top up’ invested by government in the HMRC digital accounts of levy-paying employers should be withdrawn.
  • 8: Ofsted should be made the sole regulator for any apprenticeships and technical and professional education funded by the new TPE levy, including provision in universities.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th December 2019

It’s our last update until the New Year – we give you the Queen’s speech (not that one, the one at the State opening) and the OfS annual review, to get you ready for what will be coming in the New Year. At the time of writing MPs are expected to pass the second reading of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, paving the way for the more detailed third reading stage in January.

Happy Christmas and a happy new year to all our readers, and thank you for your patience in what has been a very interesting year!

Queen’s speech (again)

You can read the Queen’s Speech here along with the PM’s introduction and briefing notes about all the legislation etc. The Executive Summary in this briefing document sets out the legislative programme clearly.

This Queen’s Speech will deliver Brexit on 31 January and allow the Government to deliver on people’s priorities and unleash the country’s potential. The Government’s first priority is to deliver Brexit on 31 January and to negotiate an ambitious free trade agreement with the EU that benefits the whole country This Queen’s Speech sets out how we will seize the opportunities created by Brexit:

  • The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will ratify the deal secured by the Government in October, delivering Brexit.
  • The Agriculture Bill will reform UK agriculture by improving environmental protections and strengthening transparency and fairness in the supply chain.
  • The Fisheries Bill will enable us to reclaim control over our waters, ensuring the sustainability of our marine life and environment.
  • The Trade Bill will establish the Trade Remedies Authority to protect UK industry from unfair trading practices.
  • We will end free movement and pave the way for a modern, fairer points based immigration system.

You will remember that “The Home Secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (the MAC) to consider points-based systems, including the Australian immigration system and other international comparators. The MAC is due to report in January 2020.”

And this from the more detailed briefing:

Our new single system will allocate points on a range of criteria in three broad categories and it will be focused on skills and talents, not nationality:

  • Migrants who have received world-leading awards or otherwise demonstrated exceptional talent and sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business or investors.
  • Skilled workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a job offer.
  • Sector-specific workers who enter on schemes for low-skilled work, youth mobility or short-term visits. These provide no route to permanent settlement and will be revised on an ongoing basis based on expert advice from the MAC.

Although it isn’t mentioned in the briefing, this was the October 2019 briefing on graduate employment rights

  • A Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill will provide a clear framework for cross-border resolutions for individuals, families and UK businesses involved in international legal disputes.
  • We will provide certainty, stability and new opportunities for the financial services sector.

The Speech sets out a number of proposals to invest in and support our public services:

  • Legislation will enshrine in law the largest cash settlement in the NHS’s history and we will deliver the NHS Long Term Plan in England to ensure our health service is fit for the future.
  • A Medicines and Medical Devices Bill will ensure that our NHS and patients can have faster access to innovative medicines, while supporting the growth of our domestic sector.
  • We will also pursue reforms to make the NHS safer for patients.
  • We will provide extra funding for social care and will urgently seek cross-party consensus for much needed long-term reform so that nobody needing care should be forced to sell their home to pay for it.
  • We will continue work to modernise and reform the Mental Health Act to ensure people get the support they need, with a much greater say in their care.
  • We will increase levels of funding per pupil to ensure all children can access a high quality education.

This is from the more detailed briefing on education

  • The Government is giving schools a multi-billion pound boost, investing a total of £14 billion more over three years, on top of £5 billion for teacher’s pensions. Overall, that translates to £150 million a week. The core schools budget will be £7.1 billion higher in 2022-23 compared to this year.
  • Every school will have more money for every child and we will level up minimum per-pupil funding for secondary schools to £5,000, and primary schools to £3,750 next year, and £4,000 the year after.
  • From next year, we will legally require all local authorities to deliver the minimum per-pupil funding in their local area. And that will be an important first step towards delivering this funding directly to schools, through a single national formula, so that it is fair and equitable for every school in the country.
  • It is vital we ensure that the pay offer for teachers is positioned at the top of the graduate labour market – ensuring we recruit and retain a world class profession – and that is why we have announced plans to significantly raise starting pay to £30,000 nationally by September 2022.
  • The Government will also continue to expand the successful free schools programme, promoting choice, innovation and higher standards to kick-start wider improvement.
  • The Government wants to bring renewed focus to further and technical education, and will ensure our post-16 education system enables young people and adults to gain the skills required for success and to help the economy.
  • This means an extra £400 million for 16-19 year-old education next year, an increase of 7 per cent overall in 16-19 year-old funding and the biggest injection of new money in a single year since 2010.
  • There will also be additional investment in T Levels, supporting continued preparation for these courses with the first three starting from September 2020.
  • The Government will invest an additional £3 billion over the course of this Parliament to support the creation of a ‘National Skills Fund’.
  • The Government will invest £8 billion over five years in a rebuilding programme to upgrade the entire further education college estate.
  • The Government are also planning to establish 20 Institutes of Technology across England- unique collaborations between further education colleges, universities, and employers –– offering higher technical education and training in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, to give people the skills they need for key sectors such as digital, construction, advanced manufacturing and engineering.
  • The Government is committed to making sure 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.
  • The Government will ensure that our universities are places where free speech can thrive, and will strengthen academic freedoms.
  • The Government wants to ensure we deliver better value for students in post- 18 education, have more options that offer the right education for each individual, and remove barriers to access for disadvantaged young people.
  • The Government is considering the thoughtful recommendations made in the Augar Review carefully.
  • The Government will boost Ofsted inspection so that parents can be confident they have the fullest picture of quality at their child’s school. We will consult on lifting the inspection exemption so that outstanding schools are inspected routinely.
  • To ensure children are getting an active start to life, The Government will invest in primary school PE teaching and ensure that it is being properly delivered. The Government wants to do more to help schools make good use of their sports facilities and to promote physical literacy and competitive sport.

The Speech sets out a variety of measures to support workers and families:

  • An Employment Bill will enhance workers’ rights, supporting flexible working, extending unpaid carers’ entitlement to leave and ensure workers keep their hard earned tips.
  • A Renters’ Reform Bill will enhance renters’ security and improve protections for short-term tenants by abolishing “no-fault” evictions and introducing a lifetime deposit.
  • To ensure residents are safe in their homes, we will bring forward measures to implement the most urgent recommendations from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry. We will also publish a draft Building Safety Bill to implement the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations.
  • Recognising our commitment to making the UK the safest place to be online, we will continue to develop an Online Harms Bill.
  • The Pension Schemes Bill will enable people to better plan their saving for later life and improve the protection of people’s pensions, strengthening the regulator’s powers to tackle irresponsible management of pension schemes.
  • We will reduce the cost of living, including through increases to the National Insurance threshold and the National Living Wage.

The Speech reaffirms our commitment to strengthening the criminal justice system, ensuring it keeps people safe:

  • A Counter Terrorism (Sentencing and Release) Bill will ensure the most serious and dangerous terrorist offenders stay in prison for longer.
  • A Sentencing Bill will ensure the most serious and violent offenders serve more of their sentences in custody.
  • A Serious Violence Bill will place a duty on public bodies to work together to identify and tackle early factors that can lead to crime and ensure the police can more easily stop and search habitual knife carriers.
  • A Police Powers and Protection Bill will establish a Police Covenant and ensure the police are able to fully conduct their duties by providing them with additional support and protection.
  • Recognising the pain felt by victims and their families when offenders refuse to disclose certain information about their crimes, the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information about Victims) Bill will require the Parole Board to take this into account – a version of “Helen’s Law”.
  • The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will remove unnecessary conflict during the divorce process, in which children are so often caught up, while ensuring that divorce remains a carefully considered decision.
  • We will re-introduce the Domestic Abuse Bill, strengthening protections for victims and providing new enforcement mechanisms.
  • The Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill will empower police officers to immediately arrest someone wanted for a serious crime committed in a trusted country, without having to apply to a court for a warrant first.
  • We will consider proposals to deal more effectively with foreign national offenders, including increasing the maximum penalty for those who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order.
  • We will set up a Royal Commission to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice process.

The Speech sets out how we will improve our infrastructure and level up opportunity across the country:

  • We will invest in public services and infrastructure while keeping borrowing and debt under control and will publish a National Instructure Strategy.
  • We will accelerate the delivery of fast, reliable and secure broadband networks to millions of homes, with legislation to make it easier for telecoms companies to install digital infrastructure and to ensure all new homes are built with reliable and fast internet.
  • The Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, will maintain our position as a world-leader in aviation by modernising our airspace, making journeys quicker, quieter and cleaner whilst also tackling the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft (drones).
  • Legislation will be brought forward to ensure that minimum levels of service are maintained during transport strikes so that hard-working commuters can still get to work.
  • We will develop measures to ensure people can get home quickly when an airline goes bust.
  • In response to the Williams Review, we will publish a White Paper containing reforms that address passengers needs while providing value for the taxpayer and delivering economic benefits across the UK.
  • A draft National Security and Investment Bill will strengthen the Government’s powers to investigate and intervene in business transactions (takeovers and mergers) to protect national security.
  • To maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower, we will boost public R&D funding, launch a comprehensive UK Space Strategy and develop proposals for a new funding agency.

The detailed note says:

To build on our world-leading excellence in science and deliver solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges we are:

  • Setting out plans to significantly boost public R&D funding.
  • Backing a new approach to funding high-risk, high-payoff research in emerging fields of research and technology. The Government will work with industry and academics to finalise this proposal.
  • Introducing a new fast-track immigration scheme for the best and brightest scientists and researchers.
  • Reducing bureaucracy in research funding to ensure our brilliant scientists are able to spend as much time as possible creating new ideas.
  • Establishing a new National Space Council and launching a comprehensive UK Space Strategy.
  • The R&D funding plans the Government will unveil 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 the UK to invest strategically in cutting-edge science, while encouraging the world’s most innovative businesses to invest in the UK.
  • Under our new funding plans the Government will prioritise investment in industries of the future where the UK can take a commanding lead – such as life sciences, clean energy, space, design, computing, robotics and artificial intelligence. The Government will drive forward development of these technologies by investing in hubs around world-leading universities.
  • Some of this new R&D spending will go towards a new approach to funding emerging fields of research and technology. It will provide long term funding to support visionary high-risk, high-pay off scientific, engineering, and technology ideas, and will complement the UK’s existing world class research system.
  • The Government will increase the tax credit rate to 13 per cent and review what R&D-related costs qualify for tax credits, so that important investments in cloud computing and data, which boost productivity and innovation, are also incentivised.
  • Removing unnecessary bureaucracy in the science funding system will help ensure all UK investments have the greatest possible impact by cutting the time wasted by scientists filling out forms.
  • The UK’s new fast-track immigration scheme for top scientists and researchers will help significantly enhance the intellectual and knowledge base of the UK. The changes to the immigration system will:
  • Abolish the cap on numbers under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas;
  • Expand the pool of UK research institutes and universities able to endorse candidates; and
  • Create criteria that confer automatic endorsement, subject to immigration checks.
  • Under the current Tier 1 Visa system, the immigration system already:
  • Ensures dependents have full access to the labour market;
  • Removes the need to hold an offer of employment before arriving; and
  • Provides an accelerated path to settlement.
  • This new immigration scheme will support our world-leading research by ensuring that UK teams can recruit the best skills and talent from abroad. We will continue to collaborate internationally and with the EU on scientific research, including with the EU through Horizon.
  • The Government will unlock long-term capital in pension funds to invest in and commercialise our scientific discoveries, creating a vibrant science-based economy post-Brexit.

 

  • We will publish a White Paper to reiterate our commitment to levelling up opportunities and investment in the regions across England.
  • We will reform business rates to protect high streets and communities from excessive tax hikes and keep town centres vibrant. We will bring forward the next business rates revaluation and make future revaluations in England more frequent.

This Queen’s Speech deepens our commitment to safeguarding the natural environment for future generations:

  • Our landmark Environment Bill will protect and preserve the planet for generations to come. It will establish a new Office for Environmental Protection, increase local powers to tackle air pollution, introduce charges for specified single use plastic items, and ban exports of polluting plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
  • We will also continue to take steps to meet the world-leading target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • We will introduce legislation to promote and protect animal welfare, including measures to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty, to ensure animals are recognised as sentient beings, and ban the import and export of trophies from endangered animals.

The Government will continue to work to strengthen the bonds between the different parts of the UK and to safeguard its constitution and democratic processes:

  • We will continue to uphold the constitutional integrity of the UK, working constructively with the devolved administrations and their legislatures to ensure our Union continues to flourish.
  • We will urgently pursue the restoration of the devolved power-sharing government at Stormont to ensure the people of Northern Ireland have the political leadership of their elected local representatives.
  • We will set up a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission to consider the relationship between Government, Parliament and the courts and to explore whether the checks and balances in our constitution are working for everyone.
  • We will take forward work to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
  • We will protect the integrity of our democracy and elections, tackling electoral fraud through the introduction of voter ID and banning postal vote harvesting.

The Speech confirms our determination to celebrate and support the work of our courageous armed forces and to retain and enhance the UK’s global status and reach as we leave the EU:

  • We will continue to invest in our Armed Forces and honour the Armed Forces Covenant.
  • We will continue to uphold the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence.
  • We will legislate to bring an end to the unfair pursuit of our Armed Forces through vexatious legislation.
  • We will seek the prompt implementation of the Stormont House Agreement to provide both reconciliation for victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and greater certainty for military veterans.
  • The Prime Minister will undertake an Integrated Defence, Security and Foreign Policy Review – the deepest review of these issues since the end of the Cold War.
  • We will secure ambitious new trade deals with our international partners across the world.
  • We will take forward our commitment to ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, divestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.
  • Finally, this Government will champion Conservative values and put a strong United Kingdom front and centre in the world. We will champion the UK’s interests and uphold our values of the rule of law, freedom of expression, and the importance of human rights on the international stage. We will continue to work alongside our international partners to tackle the most pressing global challenges, including terrorism and climate change.

Research funding

We have mentioned the government’s promises on research funding above. Wonkhe have done some analysis

  • The ten-year science and innovation investment framework launched to much fanfare in 2004 made a similar promise, but ultimately didn’t deliver. Given 2.4 per cent is a “whole economy” target, i.e. made up of both public and private sector spending, we’d argue that what really counts this time is the pledge made by the Prime Minister during the election that a returning Conservative government would increase its annual investment in research and development to £18 billion by 2024/25.
  • Clearly that level of investment will need to ramp up over time to address capacity issues in the research sector: the UK will need thousands more research workers in universities, businesses and research institutes and the wider public sector.
  • Interestingly, the Conservatives’ costings document appears to only indicate a rise to just over £14 billion public investment in research and development by 2023/24, so these pledges will also need ongoing scrutiny. And we will need a strategic plan to deliver this level of change and that plan will need to show how the government will leverage private investment, alongside its own, to deliver on the GDP target as soon as possible.

Office for Students Annual Review

The Office for Students have issued an annual review which defends their approach to date and sets out some continuing and  new frontiers for intervention in the sector. The headline lets you know what is coming: England’s universities world class, but pockets of poor provision letting students down.

Before we get stuck into the detail, there is some analysis of this and the OfS board papers from Wonkhe – Jim Dickinson on plans for student protection:

  • The interesting question here is what students actually expect in each of those areas, where they get those expectations from, and what happens if the expectation doesn’t match the reality.
  • For example – a university website that boasts ”there’s lots of support available to you… no problem is too big or no worry too small for our team of experts, and there are plenty of services so you can choose the one that’s best for you” might not be setting an appropriate expectation of its waiting lists to access these services are over a term long.
  • Similarly, a university boasting that “students experience an open, informal study environment with teachers and students usually on a first-name basis… a more collaborative approach, where students are respected as junior colleagues and their opinions valued and encouraged by more experienced peers” sounds great, but may be hard to access if there’s 300 people on all your modules.
  • A student enrolled at a university whose assessment policy says that “you will normally receive work back within three weeks” and claims “you will be allocated a supportive personal tutor” might reasonably have rights to redress if all their marks take six weeks to appear, and if they get to their final year having never met their personal tutor.
  • Much of this sort of stuff isn’t in contracts now, but is certainly implied in prospectuses or university policies – and what this probably points to is providers having to be much more specific about the nature, quality and level of service on offer – both to help students compare, and enable them to enforce their rights if it doesn’t materialise.

And David Kernohan on the OfS board papers – he has a whole advent calendar full of points (26) but we’ve pulled out a few

  • 13) More publications on the way. There’ll be more guidance on value for money transparency expectations in early 2020, which may include a consultation (and thus, we guess, changes to the regulatory framework)
  • 14) We’ll be getting the results of a survey of students and graduates about VfM views in March 2020.
  • 15) There’s a consultation coming very soon, which may mean changes to the regulatory framework to help tackle harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • 19) The Student panel have been getting stuck into TEF, and they reckon the purpose of TEF should be to “incentivise continuous improvement” within providers rather than to guide student choice, which tells its own story. They don’t like the current stratification of awards (Bronze can still mean bad), but they do fancy an increased number of awards to identify providers with greater precision.
  • 20) The panel also “appreciated the level of student engagement” included within the subject-level pilot and supported “increasing the level of direct engagement and introducing more qualitative data to TEF”. There was even support for “less reliance on NSS data” as there was a feeling that “it could be gamed” and that low response rates “can lead to unreliable data which then can’t be used”.

So back to the Review.  Nicola Dandridge says:

  • ‘It is simply wrong to suggest that criticism of poor-quality provision and poor outcomes for students, when appropriate and evidenced, amounts to disloyalty that will damage the reputation of English higher education. Indeed, the reality is exactly the opposite: saying that everything is perfect in every university and college, when it plainly is not, is dishonest and corrosive, and ultimately will do more damage by undermining trust and confidence.
  • ‘More to the point, it is not in the interest of students. The OfS seeks to be honest about the experience students receive, however uncomfortable that may be. That is our job. In this, we take our cue from the principles that underpin the institutions we regulate: universities are places of intellectual exploration and, above all, honest enquiry. By drawing attention to the evidence, and to areas of concern as well as outstanding strength, we aim to offer challenge, support and opportunity for improvement that will make our exceptionally strong higher education sector even stronger

The blog summarises the areas of focus:

  • Within the OfS’s broad agenda, Ms Dandridge highlights three key issues that the OfS will pay particular attention to in the year ahead: admissions and recruitment, the quality of information for prospective students, and improving the quality of teaching and courses. To address the first of these issues, the OfS plans to launch a review of the admissions system. Ms Dandridge says:
  • ‘To the extent that the existing system is not serving students’ needs in a fair, transparent and inclusive way, it must change, and we will consult widely with students, schools, providers and others to understand their views and perspectives.
  • ‘We will also consider ways of addressing increasing concerns about some student recruitment practices. Students can be offered enticements and inducements which are often not in their best interests, at a time when they may be especially vulnerable. In particular, we will continue closely to monitor the impact of the damaging growth of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers that require students to commit to a particular course.’
  • Reforming admissions practices is one way of addressing entrenched gaps in access and participation in higher education which, historically, universities and colleges have been too slow to address. Ms Dandridge continues:
  • ‘What we have seen in the past is ‘slow but steady’ improvement. The trouble is that slow and steady is too slow when people’s livelihoods and opportunities are at stake. That is why we are now looking for a radical improvement in progress.
  • ‘There is work to do to dispel wider, persistent myths and misperceptions about access and participation: that universities and colleges cannot be expected to compensate for poor schooling and wider social inequalities; that contextual admissions are unfair; that disadvantaged students will always do less well in their degrees. Research shows that if students from disadvantaged backgrounds are helped to make the right choice of what and where to study, and given the support that they need during their time in higher education, they can end up performing just as well as, if not better than, their more privileged peers.’
  • The second of three issues identified by Ms Dandridge as priorities for the year ahead is improving the quality and reliability of information available for prospective students:
  • ‘Providers registered with the OfS must demonstrate that the information on their websites and marketing materials is accurate and accessible. At a time when questions are being asked, and concerns raised, about the value of a higher education degree, it is more important than ever that students are able to make informed choices about what and where to study based on clear, correct information. There can be no place for false and misleading advertising in how universities sell themselves to prospective students, or a lack of clarity about their rights.
  • ‘We cannot have a situation where students’ expectations are raised unrealistically before they go to university, only to be dashed when they get there. Such marketing is clearly within the scope of consumer protection law, and we will act swiftly and decisively where we find evidence of breach.’
  • The third priority identified is how universities, colleges and other higher education providers address concerns identified by the new regulatory system – particularly the quality of teaching. Ms Dandridge says:
  • ‘As our attention turns to regulating the providers we have now registered, we now plan to use our regulatory tools to support improved quality of teaching and courses. We plan to consult on whether our requirements for quality are sufficiently demanding to ensure that all students receive a good education.
  • ‘We set numerical baselines for indicators such as continuation, completion and employment as part of our assessment of the outcomes delivered for students. Our view is that a minimum level of performance should be delivered for all students, regardless of their background or what and where they study. We will consult on raising these baselines so that they are progressively more demanding and using our regulatory powers to require providers to improve pockets of weak provision.’

In the main document, there are some interesting points:

Registration:

  • Over 500 applications were received from higher education providers to join the OfS register.
  • A total of 387 providers were registered.
  • Eight providers were refused registration
  • The majority of applications (446) and registrations (330) were for the ‘Approved (fee cap)’ category, which allows providers to charge tuition fees up to the higher limit.
  • The majority of providers on the Register (373) had been regulated under the previous higher education regulatory systems. 14 providers not regulated under the previous systems have been registered

And the process has not been without challenges:

  • The vast majority of registered providers have had some form of regulatory intervention imposed. Some have had more than one intervention applied to them. Only 12 providers had no interventions as part of the registration decision. The total number of interventions applied as of 23 October 2019 was 1,109.
  • Most interventions (615) took the form of a formal communication. There were 464 requirements for enhanced monitoring, and 30 specific ongoing conditions were imposed.
  • As Table 1 on page 23 shows, interventions have been imposed across all of the conditions of registration. The majority relate to the first condition, on access and participation plans. This is in large part a reflection of our level of ambition and challenge in relation to access and participation.
  • Fair access and participation is an important OfS objective, and there is an expectation of continuous improvement in reducing the gaps between the most and least advantaged students in access, student success and progression into further study and employment. Many providers not considered to be at increased risk for other conditions of registration were judged to be at increased risk for this condition. The greatest number of interventions (229) have been made to improve progress on access and participation by those universities and colleges that wish to charge higher tuition fees. 

And what does the future hold:

  • There are notable gaps in the data we collect on students’ wellbeing. We are developing ways of capturing more data and as a first step have produced experimental statistics on background characteristics including sexuality and gender identity, which will cover mental health.
  • We intend to publish a consultation document laying out our expectations for universities and colleges in terms of preventing harassment and sexual misconduct, and dealing appropriately and effectively with reports of infringements
  • We will work to improve the quality of the academic and pastoral experience of students, using our powers of monitoring and intervention where appropriate.
  • We will:
  • Explore expanding the NSS survey to cover all years of a student’s course.
  • Continue to fund and evaluate priority areas such as mental health.
  • Set out our expectations of universities and colleges in preventing and dealing with incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • Following the outcomes of the independent review of the TEF, develop the scheme to increase its future role in securing high-quality teaching and learning in the sector.
  • To ensure we fully understand students’ ideas about value for money, and to maintain pressure on universities and colleges to deliver it in the future, we will:
  • Consider putting a question in the NSS about value for money.
  • Encourage universities and colleges to be more transparent in their value for money plans about how student fees are spent.
  • Continue to monitor the pay of senior staff, and consider taking action if it is unjustified.

On 20th December, Nicola Dandridge published a blog with similar themes:

  • …students reported valuing the quality of teaching and the learning environment above everything else. This chimes with the discussions I have had with students over the past 18 months, during which the quality of their courses and the academic support on offer was raised again and again – but not always in complimentary terms. Addressing poor quality provision, where it exists, has been one of our top priorities and will continue to be into the future
  • In particular, we are deeply concerned that some students – disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds – are recruited inappropriately on to poor quality courses and left to flounder without the support they need to succeed. Many end up dropping out altogether – a terrible waste of talent.
  • Over the course of the next year, we will champion areas where universities and colleges are doing great things. Where there are examples of good practice from which others can learn, we will promote them. We want to get the balance right between promoting good practice where we can, while never shying away from identifying and addressing poor practice and speaking openly about what we are doing

Prevent statistics

From Wonkhe: The Home Office has published statistics on individuals referred to and supported through the Prevent programme for April 2018 to March 2019. Of 1,887 cases reported by the education sector (the largest single sector in terms of referrals), only 324 linked explicitly to Islamic extremism – 530 cases specified right wing extremism. David Kernohan asks if we should be thinking again.

Nursing bursaries are back

In an announcement trailed in the Conservative manifesto the government has confirmed the reintroduction of maintenance support for nursing (and other healthcare) under=graduates, with more details to follow in the New Year.

Students will receive at least £5,000 a year, with up to £3,000 further funding available for eligible students, including for:

  • specialist disciplines that struggle to recruit, including mental health
  • an additional childcare allowance, on top of the £1,000 already on offer
  • areas of the country which have seen a decrease in people accepted on some nursing, midwifery and allied health courses over the past year

This means that some students could be eligible for up to £8,000 per year, with everyone getting at least £5,000. The funding will be available from next year. Further details on who can access the support will be available in early 2020.

The funding will not have to be repaid by recipients. Students will also be able to continue to access funding for tuition and maintenance loans from the Student Loans Company.

What about the Youthquake?

The day of the election, twitter was full of pictures of long queues of students at University polling stations waiting to vote. Students were encouraged by the Labour party to vote tactically.  HEPI have a blog about the impact and David Kernohan of Wonkhe did some more intensive analysis.

Nick Hillman says:

  • The embers of Labour’s defeat are now being pored over for clues on how they might do better next time. It would be wrong to assume that appealing even more to students is likely to boost Labour significantly at the next election, at least with regard to these seats. This is because, despite the general swing away from Labour, Labour held on to all 18 out of 20 that they already held, with the two Scottish seats staying in the hands of the SNP. When you already hold 90 per cent of the most student-dominated seats, there isn’t much further room for improvement.
  • Indeed, if anything, our tentative results support the idea that Labour’s problem is among less well-educated older people than it is more well-educated younger people.

David asks:

  • Are constituencies with universities in likely to see changes in the size of the majority of the winning party, or changes in voter turnout?
  • Turnout is down on 2017 (with a wet December day certainly playing a part in this trend). Intriguingly, turnout fell more in seats now held by Labour, and less in seats held by the SNP. SNP seats, too, saw a polarisation effect – the majority is higher for the winning party on a higher turn out. Conservative seats tended towards a falling turnout and a rise in polarisation.
  • But there was no way of associating “university seats” with these trends. Behavior was indistinguishable from non-university seats. More generally, if you are looking for an “anyone but the tories” get-the-vote-out pattern in any seat in England you will look in vain. Like other elections before it, 2019 was not the tactical voting election.

Updated UCAS data

UCAS issued more data about the 2019 admissions cycle. There were headlines about unconditional offers (they went up) with some faux outrage associated with it (the bit Ministerial assault on conditional unconditionals came too late for any institution to change its policy for 2019.

From the UCAS reports – main report

  • Clearing acceptances have been on the rise for several years. This continues into 2019. Over 34,000 UK 18 year olds secured a place through Clearing – the highest number on record. This figure accounts for 14% of all placed UK 18 year old applicants.
  • On A level results day this year, almost all UK universities and colleges had courses available in Clearing. This covered over 30,000 courses.
  • Clearing covers a broad range of subject areas. This includes typically highly selective courses, such as preclinical medicine (over 400 placed through Clearing, comprising 7.9% of all UK 18 year old acceptances to this subject) and mathematics (over 600 placed through Clearing – 14% of acceptances to this subject).
  • 2019 also brought the highest ever proportion of places secured through Clearing at higher tariff providers – 9.8%, compared with 8.3% in 2018.
  • New in 2019 was the option for placed applicants to ‘self-release’ online into Clearing. Nearly 16,000 UK 18 year olds with main scheme places took advantage of this option, with over 11,000 of these placed on a new course.

On unconditional offers:

  • In 2019, 20.6% of these applicants selected their conditional unconditional offer as their first choice, compared to 25.6% in 2014. Despite applicants needing to select their conditional unconditional offer as their first choice if they wish it to become unconditional, they are now only marginally more likely (1.3 percentage points) to select their conditional unconditional offer as their first choice than any of their other offers individually.
  • Applicants with unconditional offers were less likely to report feeling stressed when waiting for their exam results. In 2019, over 30,000 English, Welsh, and Northern Irish 18 year old applicants told us how they felt whilst waiting for their exam results. Figure 3 shows applicants with an unconditional offer at their first choice were less likely to feel stressed, worried or uncertain while waiting for results, and more likely to feel calm.
  • Men receiving an unconditional offer are, on average, 15.5 percentage points more likely to miss their predicted attainment by three or more grades than if they had received a conditional offer.
  • Women are, on average, 9 percentage points more likely than if they had received a conditional offer.
  • However, men with conditional offers are less likely to miss their predicted attainment by three or more grades than women with conditional offers. The net effect of the above is that men and women with an unconditional offer have similar attainment relative to predicted grades.
  • Overall, POLAR4 quintile 5 applicants are least likely to miss their predicted attainment by three or more grades (and quintile 1 most likely).
  • However, modelling did not show a significant difference between POLAR4 quintiles in the impact of an unconditional offer on attainment.
  • When the OfS talk about incentives, this is what they mean – UCAS have some data:
    • Based on responses from over 30,000 applicants in 2019, 54% of 18 year old applicants in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales reported receiving an offer with an incentive to select the provider as their first choice.
    • Of those:
    • 56% reported receiving an offer where the provider would change the conditional offer to unconditional (a conditional unconditional offer)
    • 30% reported receiving an offer promising a guaranteed place in university halls
    • 17% reported receiving an offer which would include a scholarship, bursary or cash payment
    • The biggest change in the responses to this question was in the promise of a lower grade offer or entry requirement as an incentive for selecting the provider as their first choice. In 2018, 23% reported receiving this type of offer. In 2019, this proportion has risen to 36%.
    • UCAS’ terms of engagement require providers to communicate their offers through the UCAS system. This promotes transparency and provides consistency in experience for applicants.
    • However, survey data suggests 30% of applicants who received any type of incentivised offer only received them directly from the provider – via post or email.
    • When looking at applicants who received an offer which would be changed from conditional to unconditional if selected as their first choice, 26% reported only receiving it via post or email, and that it was not mentioned in their offer conditions.

    All very interesting stuff for the OfS when doing their review of admissions.

    Wonkhe have an article

    • With only one in five 18 year olds meeting or exceeding their predicted grades in 2019, there are clearly questions to be asked
    • However the margin of error is highly predictable – predictions generally lie within 2-3 points above the actual grades, and this year’s figure is 2.35 points. There are differences based on attainment – higher predicted grades are likely to mean a smaller average difference – and more likelihood that an applicant would meet or exceed predicted grades.
    • ….The emphasis in guidance and reporting is that predicted grades should be seen as one part of a holistic system – a nod to more contextual approaches to admissions playing a wider role. Intriguingly there has been a rise in the acceptance rates for applicants holding three E grades over last year.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 15th November 2019

Breathe – in four weeks the general election will be done and dusted, meanwhile we’ve listed the key information sources and looked at the education related pledges made so far. Of course, the HE sector has been busy too with research funding, postgraduate satisfaction, student accommodation, more free speech, value for money, and widening participation under the microscope this week.

Research

Research Fundermentals have a blog from Wonkfest on discussions with John Kingman (Chair UKRI, ex-Permanent Secretary to the Treasury). Key points:

  • UKRI has challenges because the core funding is ‘tight’ – which has consequences for the system
  • The 2.4% GDP research and development (R&D) spend target is a ‘stretch target, but not necessarily a crazy one.’ He emphasised that the target was for the economy as a whole, and two thirds of R&D happens in the private sector. He felt using public money to ‘crowd in’ private investment was a sound policy. With both the Government and Opposition backing the 2.4% target he stated the sector should be very pleased about this strong cross-party consensus.
  • UKRI ready to administer the Government’s promise to underwrite UK involvement in European funding, however he couldn’t say how this will ‘play out,’ he would be arguing strongly for UK science, and was already ‘heavily involved’ in policy discussions.
  • On international engagement we was more reticent – ‘We’ve got to think hardheadedly,’ he said, ‘and consider what benefits will come from any links we make.’ There should not just be memoranda of understanding and photo calls just for the sake of it.
  • Kingman was positive about Darpa and didn’t see it as a sign the government want greater control of research funding: ‘I see this as part of a wider jigsaw…It should be wholeheartedly welcomed.’
  • On talent Kingman stated: Developing the next generation of researcher is a priority for UKRI. Those working in science are pressured to deliver results quickly. To do so, ‘we need incredibly talented people…and we need to worry about people as much as money.’ UKRI are focused on encouraging and supporting early career researchers and believe research (especially science) needs to be seen as a positive option by people before they leave school. He also stated UKRI should ‘own it’ because there is much to do on equality, diversity and inclusivity.
  • Kingman was in favour of REF and believes research has benefited from the system. He agreed REF isn’t perfect and need to continue to develop but that, for him, there was still a strong case for the dual support system, regardless of the legal obligation to continue it, and that we ‘shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket of project research.’
  • Kingman was not in favour of prescriptive regional funding, and believes research should be funded wherever it was found.

On Wednesday the PM made a speech on ‘unleashing the potential of the whole country’ in which stated he would double funding for R&D to £18bn in the “biggest ever increase in support for R & D”. Theresa May’s government committed £7 billion extra R&D funding over five years as part of the 2017 Industrial Strategy, and set the target of reaching 2.4% by 2027. Earlier this year, Johnson said he would “double down on our investment in R&D”, and committed to making an extra investment of £2.3 billion in 2021/22. The science, research and innovation community support the 2.4% target but few believe it is achievable without considerable levels of private investment. With the new announcement that the Conservatives would commit to £18bn this would provide a major boost. Of course, there are not yet details about how this spending will be balanced between competing areas of R&D.

Other commitments made in the speech included investing more in electric vehicle technology and creating a Britain that would lead the world in tackling climate change and reach net zero by 2050. In his own words: “not because we hate capitalism, not just by gluing ourselves to the tops of tubes trains or whatever, as important as that may be, but because it is precisely companies like this one [the London Electric Vehicle Company] that make the brilliant technical breakthroughs that will enable us to cut CO2 and go carbon neutral by 2050”.

Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, responded to the announcement: “Successful science is not based on money alone. We will also need to maintain full participation in European funding schemes and the collaboration that they promote, rather than trying to replace them.” (Source: Wonkhe/Financial Times.)

Postgraduate Student Satisfaction

AdvanceHE have published the 2019 Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES).

The Office for Students has announced that they will have a new measure of postgraduate satisfaction so this is likely to become an area of focus for the regulator.

  • “Overall satisfaction is high and has remained consistent over several years. The one exception to this was in 2018, when a temporary dip in satisfaction appears to be related to UCU (University and College Union) strike action. Despite the strong scores, satisfaction levels remain slightly below those reported by undergraduates through the National Student Survey (NSS).
  • …institutions across the sector score particularly highly for providing effective resources (e.g. library, IT, subject-specific) and information, although organisation (logistics, guidance, communication) and assessment (criteria and timeliness) continue to be rated least positively. …The main specific aspect that requires attention is how to provide opportunities for postgraduate taught (PGT) students to be involved in decisions about how their course operates, which scores consistently lower than all the other measures in the survey.
  • In 2019, for the first time, we have conducted detailed analysis of the open comments, specifically around suggestions for improvement. This analysis identified some key areas of consistency with the quantitative analysis, building a clear picture of some areas to prioritise across the sector. In particular, these included how teaching staff provide support and how the course is organised.
  • A relatively small proportion, 20%, had considered leaving their PGT course to date, which compares favourably with similar data collected at undergraduate and postgraduate research (PGR) level – and is an endorsement of the levels of support provided across the sector.
  • In terms of ethnicity, the results go against the stark White/BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) contrast that we have previously found at undergraduate level. Instead, there is a more nuanced picture, with Black, Chinese and White students reporting strong satisfaction levels, contrasted by evidence of a more disappointing experience for Asian and Mixed students, as well as those of “Other” ethnicity. A particular challenge for investigating the concerns of these cohorts lies in the fact that they are comprised of a range of different subgroups, each of which may be facing their own particular issues.
  • There is a strong picture among overseas students, who tend to report a very positive experience. One of the factors contributing to this is that overseas students tend to spend little time working for pay. Our analysis shows that time spent working for pay can link strongly to a greater likelihood of leaving the course, and hence the high levels of retention among overseas students are likely to be strongly linked.
  • Motivations for choosing an institution can vary, but analysis highlights how the type of motivation can be linked to the subsequent quality of the experience. Where students have chosen an institution based on reputation (of tutors, course or institution) or content of course, they tend to go on to be much more satisfied than those for whom the choice may have been a more restricted one – e.g. based on the location of the institution of whether there was funding available.”

According to PTES, Black postgraduate taught students are more motivated to progress to a higher-level qualification than white students – which is interesting in the context of the recent Leading Routes report which found that only 1.2 per cent of UKRI-funded PhDs over the last three years went to Black or Black mixed students.

Mental Health

The OfS have published an insight brief on mental health – Mental health: Are all students being properly supported? It highlights that students who report a mental health condition are more likely to drop out of higher education, less likely to progress into skilled work or further study, and graduate with a first or 2:1 – compared to students without a declared mental health condition.

Key points:

  • PT students from deprived areas are most likely to report mental health conditions
    Whereas PT students from advantaged areas were least likely to report a mental health condition
  • Black students with a declared mental health condition have low continuation and attainment rates.
  • Full time students declaring a mental health condition has more than doubled in the last five years (1.4% in 2012-13 to 3.5% in 2017-18)
  • Females are more likely to report a mental health condition (4.7% females report; 2% males report)

The report does mention the distinction between a clinically diagnosed mental health condition and the broader mental ill health/distress.

Participation and Attainment

School Families: The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has re- launched the Families of Schools Database. This is an online database for schools to compare themselves against other institutions nationally by a range of criteria (e.g. levels of free school meals pupils, or similar disadvantage/poverty area measures). It aims to help schools understand more about their disadvantage attainment gaps. Every school in England has been placed into ‘families’, based on the characteristics of pupils who attend them. The EEF hopes schools will use this as a springboard to learn from, and collaborate with, the most successful schools in their ‘family’ of similar schools.

Analysis published by the EEF found that the national disadvantage gap would be significantly reduced if schools are able to help their disadvantaged pupils reach at least the average performance achieved by their 30 most similar schools.

Educational Cold Spots: just before Parliament entered purdah Robert Halfon questioned whether the extension to the DfE Opportunity Areas which tackle the national cold spots (including West Somerset) was a suitable use of Government funding and whether it provided value for money. However, the Government have reconfirmed their commitment and stated that the funding is beginning to boost GCSE grades.

Social Mobility: The Sutton Trust has published their Mobility Manifesto aiming to influence politicians to embrace social mobility at the heart of their election campaign. It covers fairer school admissions, early education, widening access to universities, banning unpaid internships, degree and higher apprenticeships, and best practice in widening access in employment. Below is the light touch summary on each. Incidentally in the run up to the vote for the new speaker of House of Commons, The Sutton Trust CEO wrote to all the candidates to urge them to commit to tackling unpaid and unadvertised internships in Parliament.

Residential Model

HEPI and UPP (a major student accommodation provider) have published Somewhere to live: Why British students study away from home – and why it matters examining the ramifications of the choice of most students to move away from home to study. Excerpts:

  • ‘There are many problems with the residential university. It is expensive – and becoming ever more so. It disadvantages those students who do not live away from home and those young people who never get a chance to attend university. It can alienate and exclude others, especially the communities who live around the campus. And yet, residence is undeniably popular and remains desirable, despite its costs. By tracing its history, we can also consider its future, and how it might come to serve the interests of all.
  • Demand for student accommodation remains strong, with many young people still wishing to leave home to benefit from a fully immersive higher education experience.
  • The report considers how the issue of the value-for-money of accommodation has emerged as a key area of focus for both the NUS and the OfS in the wider context of the affordability of going to university.’

The report also looks to the future and how diversity drives need – what student accommodation should be like in the future; what proportion of students should live away from home; how costly should it be to live in bespoke student accommodation; and what support should be on offer?

Here are the key points:

  • For the overwhelming majority of UK undergraduates, attending university means leaving home. It is certainly a distinctive feature of British higher education, and one that marks Britain out from both its nearest neighbours and its most obvious comparators.
  • In Britain, in the academic year 2017-18, just over 80% of full-time students left home for study. On average, 36% of European students live in their parental home. In America nearly 40% of students live at home and 77% attend college in their home state.
  • Student accommodation is now worth something like £53 billion in the UK. Struggling to keep up, even traditionally residential universities are having to invest millions in providing new housing – with Cambridge borrowing nearly £1 billion and Oxford recently agreeing a joint venture with Legal and General worth £4 billion.
  • Residence has an effect on the host communities, who may find themselves irritated, changed and outpriced by the students who live within them.
  • ‘Commuter students’, do not always have such rounded and fulfilling experiences as other students, and they sometimes do not benefit from their higher education as much as those students who reside at university.
  • If universities are to remain residential for most, they still need to think about those who are excluded or disadvantaged precisely because they do not share the same benefits as the overwhelming majority who do study away from home.

Recommendations:

  • Although there are some examples of good practice, universities as a whole must do better at providing appropriate information about accommodation to prospective students. This means offering accurate details about the true cost of living.
  • Universities should review how they support their students: both those who live on campus and those who do not. There is a need to better integrate commuter students.
  • The design of accommodation should be reviewed by universities and other providers alike. As a report published in 2019 outlines, many developments have not been designed with student wellbeing in mind.
  • Both government and accommodation providers need to address an increasingly unsustainable rise in rents.
  • Universities should review how their accommodation policies affect the local community and how their resources can be shared.

Freedom of speech

The Policy Exchange have had another “go” at free speech in universities in their report, enticingly titled “Academic Freedom in the UK”..

It starts with an allegation of political discrimination which *may* be violating academic freedom and confirms that there is really no evidence of a problem:

Britain’s universities are world-leading. Yet there is widespread concern that, instead of being places of robust debate and free discovery, they are being stifled by a culture of conformity. Universities have a particular role in upholding free speech in society more broadly, with academic freedom central to this. The danger is that academic freedom is being significantly violated due, in particular, to forms of political discrimination.

There has to date been a lack of good evidence, specific to the UK, which confirms or disconfirms whether academic freedom is being infringed beyond a small number of high profile cases. In addition, beyond statements like the ‘Chicago Principles’, which affirm the value of free speech in universities, there is a relative lack of policies which would protect academic freedom. The link between academic freedom among faculty and freedom of speech amongst students has also not been thoroughly explored in a UK context.

New polling by Policy Exchange supports three key findings.

  1. There is evidence of a chilling effect for undergraduate students. For instance, on Brexit, only 4 in 10 (39%) of Leave-supporting students say that they would be comfortable espousing that view in class.
  2. Despite such chilling effects, a significant proportion of students are consistently supportive of academic freedom. This figure is likely to be between 3 out of 10 to a half of students.
  3. Support for academic freedom is significantly affected by the context in which one considers the issue. In particular, it is affected by whether one is exposed to narratives that affirm either the need to create safe spaces for disadvantaged groups who have been subject to systemic oppression, or the value of free speech in preventing censorship and in promoting liberty and the free exchange of ideas. These findings reinforce the need for, and value of, policies which protect academic freedom

But it goes on to set out a framework anyway.  The key to this seems to be the Chicago Principles, as referred to above, plus a system of “champions” across the sector and a new charter-mark for viewpoint diversity.

Universities should:

  1. Adopt an academic freedom commitment, such as the Chicago Principles, that clearly states that ‘debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed’.
  2. Appoint an Academic Freedom Champion (AFC), reporting directly to the Vice-Chancellor, with the power to investigate complaints of political discrimination across the Higher Education Institution (HEI), and to recommend actions as appropriate.

The Office for Students should:

  1. Appoint a National Academic Freedom Champion who would have the power to investigate allegations of academic-freedom violations from academics and lead on enhanced monitoring requirements or other sanctions where appropriate.
  2. Impose an obligation on HEIs to have a senior person responsible for protecting academic freedom in each HEI, and to have an Academic Freedom Code of Practice.

The Government should:

  1. Establish a statutory duty of non-discrimination for political and moral beliefs and judgments for the purposes of employment in higher education.
  2. Extend the existing statutory duty to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom to include students and Student Unions, as well as those involved in governance in HEIs.

Civil society should:

  1. Incorporate academic freedom as a criterion against which universities are measured in international rankings of universities.
  2. Establish an Academic Freedom charter organisation, awarding kitemarks to HEIs for their demonstrated commitment to political anti-discrimination and viewpoint diversity.

The report has been criticised by David Kernohan on Wonkhe: who calls the underlying research a “terrible survey” and says that “The recommendations are nonsensical.”

This section is interesting (page 15):

Are academics brainwashing students?

When asked how most students acquired their opinion on the Peterson and Greer cases, 68% said social media. This was by far the most important influence on student opinion on these issues, with parents well down the list at 14%. New partisan online news sites like Vox, Buzzfeed, Breitbart, the Mail or the Guardian came in at 8%. University lecturers and schoolteachers both scored a paltry 1%. This suggests that the content of what students are learning is not directly shaping their worldviews on the speech issue. A further data point in favour of this interpretation is that older students (those 20-25) were 19 points more likely than 18-19 year olds to back the free speech position over emotional safety. It must also be emphasised that more research is needed to test this finding as some of this effect may be due to mature students. While it is reassuring that students do not appear to be directly influenced by their University experience to oppose free speech, given the range of opinions on this issue, it is important for universities to consider how their policies, structures and culture can encourage support for free speech rather than inadvertently suppress it.

A limitation of this polling is that it does not probe the social influence that lecturers may exert on students, through the way that they speak about and present politically-salient topics in their teaching. For instance, it is unknown whether the 6 in 10 Leave-supporting students who do not say that they would be comfortable expressing that view in class are cautious of how other students would react, or of how their lecturers may react. Further work is needed on this too.

And an interesting Times article –  Students have every right to ban speakersexplores a very different perspective of how politically and media savvy Gen Z students are, how they care about world issues, and how they avoid the pitfalls of being drawn into furious Twitter rows that older generations are floored by.

General Election 2019

We list below some sources of information on the election:

HEPI’s latest is about how manifesto promises don’t really mean much for HE:

“Finally, it is also worth remembering that the biggest higher education policies tend not to feature in election manifestoes at all. That was true of:

  • Tony Blair’s introduction of tuition fees;
  • Tony Blair’s tripling of tuition fees;
  • David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s tripling of tuition fees; and
  • George Osborne‘s abolition of maintenance grants.”

Last week there was a lot of press coverage about students voting tactically and it is rumbling on – HEPI referred to it in a student voting report: this has been widely cited as a storm rages on social media about student voting.  For the record, students can register both at home and at their university address but it is illegal to vote twice.  BU and SUBU have been working together to promote student registration and we will be sharing impartial information with students about policies nearer the time.  The voter registration deadline is midnight on 26th November.

Sky News has announced they will hold a 3 way head to head debate on 28th November between Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson (Swinson a late add to the line-up after the Lib Dems complained to ITV about their exclusion).

Finally, in parliamentary news, last week Sir Lindsay Hoyle was elected the new Speaker of the House of Commons. He is a Labour MP and former deputy speaker. He has pledged to be a “neutral” speaker and highlighted his desire to restore respect to the Commons. He also stood on the platform of safeguarding the welfare of MPs and staff.

Local candidates

Candidate selection closed on 14th November.

  • BCP have announced the candidates in Bournemouth East, Bournemouth West, Christchurch, Mid Dorset and North Poole and Poole:
  • Dorset Council have announced the candidates for North Dorset, South Dorset, West Dorset (and they overlap with some of the above too)

Party Education pledges so far

These all come with a pinch of salt because the manifesto pledges have not yet been published…

Labour  

Labour’s pledges sit within their National Education (cradle-to grave) Service (which they have been talking about for a long time and which are therefore relatively well developed),  They plan to:

  • expand adult education and lifelong training, including:
    • increasing reach of basic skills provision (on Tuesday they published research stating the number of adults currently learning is at its lowest point since 1996, and the number of people achieving basic skills qualifications has plummeted since 2011).
    • Retraining for adults (improve job chances, tackle displacement through automation/AI, and address skills shortages/meet changing needs of industry and the climate emergency) they expect to reach an extra 300,000 people per year and “throw open the door” for adults to study.
  • Ensure vocational education is considered on a par with a university degree, in particular they aim to increase the flexibility adult learners receive to resolve the mature tensions.
  • Support adults studying with 30 hours of free childcare for all 2 to 4 year olds.
  • They also state they will involve employers in designing qualifications to ensure the training equips them with the right skills.

The ‘free’ education covers:

  • any adult without A-level or equivalent qualification to attend college and study for free;
  • every adult a free entitlement to six years of study for qualifications at level 4-6 (undergraduate degrees and equivalents such as Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, Foundation Degrees, Certificates and Diplomas of Higher Education in areas such as rail engineering technicians, nursing associates, and professional accounting technicians);
  • provides maintenance grants for low income adult learners to complete their courses;
  • gives workers the right to paid time off for education and training;
  • Make sure everyone has access to the information they need to return to study through a national careers advice service.

Angela Rayner also told BBCR4 Today programme that a Labour Government would crack down on high wages for vice chancellors, and abolish university tuition fees. It will be interesting to see if this makes it into the manifesto.  Labour’s ‘rescue plan’ for the NHS also includes a promise to restore bursaries for student nurses and tackle the staffing crisis. There are also proposals to extend statutory maternity leave to 12 months, legislate for menopause friendly workplace policies and fine firms who fail to report on gender pay gaps.

Healthy Young Minds: Labour have also pledged £845 million to put a qualified counsellor into every school across the country, to combat the long waiting times for treatment and the lack of mental health services available to young people. The commitment is considered timely as it dovetailed the publication of the National Education Union’s league table of underfunded schools which found that there are just 18 out of 533 Parliamentary constituencies where per-pupil funding will be above its 2015 level in real terms.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have proposed a “skills wallet” providing every (English) adult with £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their life. People would get the money in three instalments: £4,000 at 25; £3,000 at 40 and another £3,000 at 55. Individuals, their employers and local government will be able to make additional payments into the wallets. Access to free careers guidance will also be provided.  They intend to fund this by reversing government cuts to corporation tax – returning the business levy to its 2016 rate of 20%. However, they would consult on their proposal and therefore would not bring it in until 2021-22.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, Sam Gyimah, (ex-Conservative Universities Minister, of course) stated:

  • “By stopping Brexit and investing in our Skills Wallets, Liberal Democrats will empower people to develop new skills so that they can thrive in the technologies and industries that are key to the UK’s economic future and prosperity.”

Conservatives

The Conservatives have been tight lipped about their manifesto intentions (not unexpected – they published their 2017 manifesto far later than the other parties). So far they have proposed a National Retraining Scheme for adults needing to update their skills for work. Prior to purdah Johnson also made the schools funding pledges. On Thursday they promised to cut immigration numbers ‘overall’ after Brexit if elected to government. Home Secretary Priti Patel said the party would not set an “arbitrary” target if it wins the election, having failed to meet previous targets, but the policy ambition is in line with the Conservative’s agenda for a points-based system based on skills and other factors. And they intend a NHS visa scheme (reduced application cost, 2 week decision fast track, 5 year visa) to run alongside the introduction of the points based system in 2021. The scheme has been criticised because it fails to consider worker retention and critics feel it doesn’t address how dependent the UK is on clinicians from abroad. Priti stated: “We will reduce immigration overall while being more open and flexible to the highly skilled people we need, such as scientists and doctors.”

They Conservatives have also attacked Labour’s immigration policy in their own published report by the Conservative Research Department. They argue that Labour’s official immigration policy is to ‘maintain and extend free movement rights’, which includes closing down all detention centres, providing unconditional rights to family reunions, scrapping immigration targets and maintaining and extending free movement of peoples , including outside of the EU through facilitating an open-borders policy. It notes that Labour voted against specifically ending free movement (Public Bill Committee Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill fifth sitting motion).

The Conservatives claim there are leaked Labour documents whereby Corbyn’s team have been reviewing ways of extending visa schemes to allow thousands of unskilled immigrants access to the UK. Finally the Conservative paper refers to immigration under the previous Labour Government where between 2003 and 2008 there was a 91% increase in employment levels accounted for by foreign nationals. Dods report that the Conservatives have been pulled up on their claims and Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott stated it was “more fake news from the Conservative party’s make-believe research department”.

SNP

The SNP campaign focuses on the NHS and pledges an NHS protection Bill which “would explicitly prevent any future UK government from signing up to any agreement that made the NHS, in any part of the UK, a bargaining chip of any kind in any future trade deals”. This is in response to Trump’s interest in access to the NHS in a US/UK trade deal (which the Conservatives have strenuously denied). They also push for a second Scottish independence referendum. Labour who, should they be in a position to form a minority government would rely on the support of the SNP, have suggested they would permit another independent referendum however, Corbyn has been heavily criticised this week as he will not commit to a timeframe for it to be held.

Lots if interest groups will also publish their calls for policies:

MillionPlus have published their Manifesto entitled; The soaring twenties: investment, innovation and inclusion in UK higher education. They ask parliamentary candidates to commit to six key pledges that will boost the country by embracing, engaging and enhancing what modern universities have to offer to students and the economy. Key Pledges:

  • Increase current levels of investment in line with inflation and guarantee sustainable resourcing for universities to provide world-leading education for students
  • Restore maintenance grants for students from lower income backgrounds
  • Reform the student visa system to attract global talent to study across the UK
  • Invest 3% of GDP in research and innovation to boost our national productivity
  • Improve student financial support so mature and part-time students can better access higher education in a way that works for them
  • Recognise modern universities as being at the heart of technical education and pivotal providers for a skilled public service workforce

The British Academy has published a Manifesto for the Humanities and Social Sciences setting out 6 priorities for the Government to tackle. It includes supporting a sustainable HE sector and highlights that skilled arts, humanities and social science graduates fuel the service sector (80% of the economy) and asks for a funding system which maintains the breadth of subjects at both FE and HE. You can read the other priorities such a research environment and global talent here.

The final word

And the Institute for Fiscal Studies are warning the main parties about their ambitious spending pledges being made during this election campaign. Lord Gus O’Donnell, President of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, spoke on BBC R4 Today to explain that spending pledges could only be met by increased taxes. He said:

  • “When you look at the big capital spending increases – it’s about £50bn for Labour, £20bn for the Conservatives – do we have the capacity? The civil servants who are writing their briefing packs for the incoming ministers for various parties will be thinking, ‘well what could you spend this on’? ‘What’s, as it were, shovel ready? Will you get good value for money if you rush at it this quickly?’ So I think there’ll be lots of bottlenecks.”

Other news

Pay Gap: Thursday was Equal Pay Day where, due to the 13.1% pay gap, women have (on average) effectively stopped earning for the rest of the year. The Fawcett Society have launched a campaign today “right to know” which would allow women the right to have access to equivalent male counterparts salary details. They have a Bill drafted and will be pushing for MPs to introduce it in the new Parliament. The Lib Dems have also pledged to compel large companies to publish data on employment demographics for gender, BAME and LGBT employees.

Labour have pledged to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2030 through measures such as fines for organisations that fail to report on the subject, and by extending the reporting requirement from firms with 250 or more employees to those with more than 50.

Value for Money: HEPI have a new blog by Sir Nigel Carrington (VC, University of the Arts, London) on the multifaceted nature of value for money in degree provision. While this is a topic where we’ve regularly heard all the arguments this is a nice simple blog that brings the points together.

Multi-skilled engineers: IMechE have published an article, Adapt or Perish, on the growing trend (and challenge) of multidisciplinary engineering teams. The changing job market and AI revolution is creating a need for engineers to be technically fluent in a wider range of areas alongside collaboration and problem solving skills. Early-career engineers stated that they left university without skills such as coding and augmented reality, and that their degrees were often out of sync with the future needs of the industry.

The article states that embracing life-long learning will become a way of life for engineers at all career stages as new, disruptive technologies come into play. However, the research suggested that there is currently a mismatch between what higher education is delivering at masters level and what industry actually needs.

Italian or Chips?: This week’s best read has to be the (statistically modelled) article demonstrating how the Brexit leave / remain voting significantly correlates with the dominant type of fast food restaurant in the constituency area. Fish and Chips correlate with a leave vote, Italian with a remain. Without spoiling the amusement factor it is worth noting that Fish and Chips dominant constituencies also tend to be less diverse, and that the influence of holding a degree trumps all culinary effects. Worth a look at the map just to see the startlingly regional patterns in takeaway preference!

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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 1st November 2019

Temperatures are rising as election fever grips the politicians, there are reports on educational spending and OfS have more to say on unconditional offers.

Parliament

General Election

It has been confirmed the general election will be held on 12 December. Parliament will dissolve on 6 November, with purdah commencing and full scale campaigning officially from 7th November.   The election for a new speaker will take place on Monday, as planned.

Election signs and banners are already appearing, requests to donate to the party’s campaign are being emailed, the commentators are in full tweet mode, and MPs are campaigning .

Jeremy Corbyn made a major speech on Thursday which covered many areas we can expect to appear in the Labour election manifesto including ending rough sleeping, cancelling tuition fees and tackling “tax dodgers, dodgy landlords, bad bosses and big polluters”. Particularly trailed was his commitment to using the first day in office to buy all the properties necessary to house rough sleepers. Labour also stated that they would be happy to govern the country as a minority Government and had no intention of forming a pact or coalition with other parties. Should parliament return Labour as a minority Government they intend to stick to their manifesto and believe parliament would fall into line behind their policies.

Boris Johnson continues to highlight his health, education, and crime themes whilst stating that if the electorate deliver him a majority then he “can deliver on the priorities for the British people.” He stated the UK could leave the EU on 31st January 2020 as his Withdrawal Agreement was “oven-ready” and ready to go in the “microwave.”

Earlier this week Boris welcomed half of the ostracised MPs who rebelled over Brexit back into the party stating they had completed an internal party process for readmission. Alistair Burt, Caroline Nokes, Greg Clark, Sir Nicholas Soames, Ed Vaizey, Margot James, Richard Benyon, Stephen Hammond, Steve Brine and Richard Harrington have all had the party whip returned meaning they can stand as the Conservative candidate in their constituency again. Interestingly the Liberal Democrats will not field a candidate to run against Dominic Grieve in his constituency of Beaconsfield to avoid diluting the vote and help him be re-elected as an independent (as he is one of those who has not had the Conservative whip restored). Amber Rudd was also not given back the whip and has now said she is standing down.

And (more rumours) the Brexit Party are reported as saying they will not contest key seats to ensure the Conservative candidate is elected. It seems the parties are being unusually open about the political manoeuvring required to maximise seat gains this year.

At each election there is always churn as some parliamentarians retire from politics or switch to different constituencies. Here is a list of the 46 MPs standing down (so far). The list feels quite significant for this election not necessarily because of the volume of churn but because of the prominence of ex-Ministers and long-standing parliamentarians who will not run for re-election. While some members had long planned to step down, some are doing so because of disagreements with their party or because of personal reasons linked to abuse and security.

Election purdah is a confusing concept.  A simple view is that civil servant decisions are handcuffed and all MPs stop Government and constituency business to campaign for election. But it is more nuanced than that in practice. Here is a comprehensive guide to Purdah from the parliamentary perspective in case you want to understand more. Meanwhile colleagues engaging with parliamentarians from 6 November onwards should contact the policy team.

Select Committees

Parliamentary business effectively ceases during the run up to a general election. This means those MPs and Lords who were successful in the Private Members Bill ballots will not be able to introduce their legislation. It can also mean bad news for the Select Committees who were conducting ongoing investigations. Technically all open inquiries cease and after a general election select committees must re-elect their members. However, the new members can choose to continue the previous inquiries and still publish reports based on evidence already gathered. The change in personnel does lead to changes in priorities and allows an avenue for the new Government to kill off any troublesome inquiries.

Other business this week

The Commons Speaker of 10 years, John Bercow, stepped down from his role. He cites personal reasons for his retirement from politics, however, during the last few months he has been dogged with accusations of siding with the opposition and angered Boris when the Benn (Brexit extension) amendment passed.

Sajid Javid also announced that the Brexit budget planned for 6 November would not go ahead – the decision was taken before parliament agreed the general election because it was linked to Brexit.  . Labour intend to continue their previous manifesto pledge to abolish tuition fees and cancel student debt so tuition fees will continue to be a hot topic in this election – we wait to see what will be in the Tory manifesto.

We expect little in the way of announcements before Christmas when the new Government meets. Parliamentary recess generally commences on the Friday of the week prior to Christmas. If this timescale is adhered to then the new Government will only have one week before recess, barely enough time to quibble over premium parliamentary office space and what will happen before the new 31st January Brexit deadline, Brexit let alone introducing new Bills.

So what now for HE and academics aiming to influence policy through their research?

Traditionally purdah is a time for lobbying. The big organisations, NGOs and charities publish policy recommendations, case studies and stark statistics trying to influence the parties to adopt a sympathetic stance to their cause through the party manifesto or individual speeches. We can expect to hear much from UUK and social mobility organisations over the next month. However, the main focus of the parliamentary candidate is to be (re)elected and for the party to form a majority Government. A lone researcher can often get lost or be ignored during this period. Often the time is best spent identifying key contacts and preparing information to target parliamentarians once the election outcome is known. Talk to Sarah or Jane in the policy team if you are aiming for policy influence and impact through your research. We can advise on approach, content and timing so you are primed once the parliamentary dust settles.

Voting Behaviour

Wonkhe report a surge in voter registration:

  • Almost a third of the 316,264 voter registration applications submitted this week have been from voters aged under 25, according to figures from the government’s Voter registration service. Almost 45,000 applications were submitted on Tuesday after the announcement of a snap general election on 12 December, which increased to 59,000 on Wednesday. The totals marked the highest and second highest number of applications submitted on any day of 2019.
  • However the Electoral Reform Society said that with up to 9.4m people missing from the electoral roll, there is “a long way to go” before the registration gap is closed – and has reissued calls for a “registration revolution” to narrow the gap.

HEPI always have something to say on the student vote phenomenon and this week they put out two blogs on the topic. The first has some interesting points:

  • The power of the student vote – Cambridge was a safe Conservative seat for much of the twentieth century. Students got the right to vote in their place of study in the mid-1970s (a few years after the minimum voting age fell from 21 to 18) and the Conservative vote share in Cambridge then fell in every general electionfrom 1979 to 2005.
  • Term dates are important – the HEPI blog provides examples from Canterbury and the University of Kent comparing results from 2015 (Conservative, election held before term started) and 2017 (Labour, election held just before the end of term).
  • The change from household to individual voter registration led to big drops in the number of students registered to vote. HEPI explain when the new individual registration system came in, meaning halls of residence couldn’t just put all their resident students on the electoral roll in one go, it was said that 9% of voters fell off the registerin University ward in Lancaster. Many students find voter registration a hassle and not always as straightforward as it should be.
  • Constituencies with the most students tend to be Labour, seats with the fewest number of students have much more mixed representation. HEPI state: there is a huge difference between the results in seats with very high proportions of students and seats with very low proportions of students. Of the 20 seats with the highest proportion of students, 19 were won by Labour in 2017…Of the 20 seats with the smallest proportion of students, there are MPs from seven different parties. However, HEPI go on to explain that sometimes student votes just stack up to bigger majorities – Universities tend to be in big towns and cities and it is probably true to say that urban areas have a higher tendency to vote Labour… whereas rural ones have a higher tendency to vote Conservative. So Paul Blomfield may be sitting on a stonking Labour majority of 27,748 in Sheffield Central, with 70.9% of the vote. thanks in part to students. But my guess is that, if you remove the students, it would still be red.

PM Boris has been criticised for his earlier plan to hold an election in early September (before students arrived/or while they were still settling in and had not registered at their new student address) and similar criticisms have been made of the 12 December date which falls at or after the end of term. It is particularly important in marginal constituencies. It is a gamble which could result in more Conservative wins and it is difficult to see what the downside is for the Conservatives (unless it motivates more students to register and turn out!).  There is a Wonkhe blog on the topic too – Will the student vote swing a December election?

Other points made in the HEPI blog:

  • The arguments over the introduction of £9,000 fees [losing votes for the Lib Dems] were too long ago to make much difference to many students. For a new student today who is aged 18, debates about £9,000 tuition fees may be old hat. Well, maybe.
  • Corbyn remains relatively popular among students but Corbynmania has dissipated… more than one poll this year (see hereand here, for example) suggest students’ support for Jeremy Corbyn is not what it was.

And in summary on the influence of the student vote HEPI say:

  • For the student vote to make a difference, lots of things have to happen. As hinted at above, to make a difference to the outcome in any single constituency, students must register to vote, turn out to vote, be in a marginal constituency, vote as a block rather than cancel each other out and not just support the party that would have won anyway. Although there are hundreds of thousands of student voters, their voice can easily get swamped when voters as a whole decide to give one party or another a clear mandate. Indeed, it is hard to find a single general electionwhen the student vote determined who got the keys to Number 10. Even if the contested claim that student support for Jeremy Corbyn made a big difference at the 2017 election is true, Labour still lost (as Kay Burley famously reminded Richard Burgon MP the other day).

HEPI’s second blog More thoughts on the student vote (and pricking some of the nonsense) has some more interesting points. HEPI dismiss claims that students are too busy to vote and highlight that the sympathies of the student vote varies over time not due to volatility but because every 3-4 years undergraduates graduate are replaced by a different set of individuals. To illustrate this point HEPI say:

  • Consider this: only one-third of students on three-year degrees were doing their courses back when Theresa May called her 2017 election and pretty much none were students when the referendum happened over three years ago, let alone when Cameron’s last election took place in 2015.
  • Given the political cycle is designed to be five years long and the average undergraduate degree course lasts for only three years, in normal political times it is even possible to go through higher education without the chance to vote in a general election
  • So changes in the student vote have less to do with individual students changing their minds and more to do with students themselves changing. They are, quite simply, different people.

HEPI also highlight that student voters care about matters far wider than ‘student issues’. And on Augar’s proposals for tuition fees HEPI say: new evidence suggests recent specific proposals to tweak fees, such as those in the long-awaited Augar report (which proposed fees in England of £7,500 with a 40-year repayment period), are no more popular among students than the current system of £9,250 fees with a 30-year repayment period.

Finally, on student issues the blog states the Conservatives…enter this election with some important parts of their higher education policy currently opaque. This means it could be hard for someone who is determined to vote on so-called student issues to know whether to back them or not. [By this HEPI mean the TEF review, which remains unpublished, no response to Augar recommendations or the final conclusions of the Post-18 Education and Funding review].

The New Statesman also has an article on the (lack of effect) of the student vote. They argue the university left/liberal effect is due to the viewpoints of the university staff who’s employment concentrates these political leanings in the residential areas surrounding the university. And that the students who won’t be in residence on 12 December election date really only means a Russell Group effect.

Unconditional Offers

OfS have published a report following further work to extend their Jan 2019 data analysis into unconditional offers to examine how it affects continuation rates between years 1 and 2 of the HE study  and the impact of conditional unconditional offers.

  • In 2019 1 in 3 students received an unconditional offer (in 2012 it was 1 in 100).
  • An unconditional offer is associated with lower performance in A level/level 3 exams (source).
    An additional 5 in every 100 students holding an unconditional offer underperforms compared to those holding conditional offers (see 21-22 on page 11). This 5% difference has remained stable during the recent increases in unconditional offer making.
  • Students who accept unconditional offers are less likely to continue into year 2 of their HE study – the analysis was statistically significant and took a range of factors such as entry grades and student characteristics into account. OfS estimate a 10% rise in the non-continuation rate, which equates to reducing the continuation rate by 0.65%. [OfS modelled the data to reach this 10% rise prediction. This was necessary because other factors influenced whether a student continued their studies such as the institution and the subject of study alongside student characteristics. See page 15 for the modelling methodology notes and Table 4 which sets out the model estimation rates.]

Conditional offer holding entrants continuation rate = 94.5%
Unconditional offer holding entrants continuation rate = 92.9%

There is a potential interaction here. OfS state:

  • Continuation rates are known to vary by level and type of entry qualification13. In particular, students who enter higher education with BTEC qualifications tend to have lower continuation rates than those who enter with A-level qualifications. The level of attainment is also important. If unconditional offers lead to lower attainment at A-level or BTEC this could potentially lower continuation rates.

And a potential confounding variable – we know BTEC students are more likely to drop out and less likely to achieve a top grade in degree outcome – they are also more likely to receive an unconditional offer (15% of BTEC students Vs 8% of A level students). However, the unconditional continuation phenomenon doesn’t seem to apply to BTEC students. OfS note:

  • ..continuation rates are slightly lower for unconditional offer entrants at each predicted A level attainment level, but generally much higher for entrants holding A-levels than those holding BTEC qualifications. Among BTEC entrants the continuation rates are not always lower for those who enter with unconditional offers than with conditional offers.

While OfS modelling found that non-continuation for those with unconditional offers was statistically significantly worse than those with conditional offers the effect is relatively small as the below charts illustrate (and see this). Both show the same data but the continuation rate axis is adjusted on figure 3 to highlight the differences more saliently:

There is an excellent Wonkhe blog by David Kernohan which digests and sets the OfS finding in context. It highlights the standard error rate in the OfS calculation is larger than the effect size (therefore the significant finding is more likely to be erroneous or a less meaningful finding. He also highlights that the larger population (because of more unconditional offers) itself makes it easier to find statistical significance. If you are interested in the unconditional offer debate (but statistical speak leaves you cold) read the first 12 and last 4 paragraphs of the blog which explain the practicalities around OfS’ figures. David concludes with a mild call to action – ignore the headlines and media/Government push and instead focus on the intersectionality behind the non-continuation rates, particularly entry qualifications and BAME, to make the data actionable and design and target interventions which stop students dropping out of their studies. He says:

  • It’s only two years of data but you could imagine building it year on year to do a fairly decent piece of research that could have a real student benefits.
  • I suppose the continuation of a moral panic over unconditional offers is useful to some people too. Just not students, or those who support them.

And if you are hardcore enough to read the comments to the blog Cath Brown comes up with an interesting ‘survivorship bias’. It isn’t that much of a stretch to apply her comment to grade inflation and ask whether increased non-continuation rates for subjects with high numbers of top grades might factor in the increase as the chaff is whittled out early on.

An unconditional offer doesn’t make it more likely a student will enrol with an institution (see 4b on page 4 and 16-18 on page 10, and chart below).
[This is an interesting finding and may suggest saturation in the market – applicants are aware of the likelihood of receiving an unconditional offer, it may be less flattering or simply sway their decision less. This (in part) flies in the face of the recent media and Government who suggest that an unconditional offer attracts disadvantaged students away from a higher prestige institutions. However, the Government may still have a valid point. Perhaps the disadvantaged student with less careers guidance, who doesn’t have a guide from a family member who attended HE, who is concerned about exam underperformance and keen to improve their life circumstances might be significantly more influenced by an unconditional offer.]

  • Due to the time lag in completing a degree and the recent sharp rise in unconditional and conditional unconditional offers OfS have not yet assessed the impact of these unconditional offers on degree outcome/grade.

Education Spending

Turning our attention to this week’s educational matters the National Audit Office have published a report on the DfE’s responsibilities and spending.

Spending – key points

  • The Department for Education (including the core Department, its executive agencies and its non-departmental bodies) spent £67.1 billion in 2018-19. £56.7 billion was spent via the Education and Skills Funding Agency as resource grants.

Student Loans:

  • The government’s student loan portfolio is expanding rapidly. The face value of all outstanding student loans held by the Department increased from £101.9 billion on 1 April 2018 to £116.7 billion on 31 March 2019.
  • The Department records student loans in terms of their ‘fair value’, which is an estimate based on expected future cash receipts in the financial accounts (how much will be repaid) and is therefore a lower figure than the full outstanding loans. The fair value of student loans increased from £60.6 billion in 2017-18 to £67.9 billion in 2018-19. This change stems from the December 2018 Office for National Statistics decision that, in the UK National Accounts, student loans should be accounted for on a basis more closely aligned with the treatment in the Department’s financial statements. As a result, instead of recognising the face value of the loans until they are written off, the National Accounts will in future write off, on issue, the portion of loans not expected to be repaid.

Support for Children:

  • The number of children placed in residential care by local authorities increased by 9.2% between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the cost increased by 22.5% in real terms. 68% of local authorities reported that they did not have enough residential homes for children aged 14 to 15 years, and 59% for those aged 16 to 17
  • Local authorities are budgeting to spend £4.2 billion on looked-after children in 2018-19, which is £350 million (9.1%) more than they budgeted to spend in 2017-18
  • At January 2019, 1.3 million pupils in England (14.9% of all pupils) were recorded as having SEND. 21% of these pupils had legally enforceable entitlements to specific packages of support, set out in education, health and care plans (EHC plans). The remaining 79% did not have EHC plans, but had been identified as needing additional support at school. The report also mentions the recommendations arising from the review into support for children with SEND, announced in September

Skills Development:

  • The first full academic year after the apprenticeship levy was introduced saw 375,800 apprenticeship starts – 26% lower than in 2015/16, the last full year before the levy. The Department had expected a broad year-on-year increase in starts; it did not project a drop in numbers after introducing the levy.
  • The average cost of training an apprentice on a standard is around double what the government expected. The Department’s projections show that, even if starts remain at current levels, spending could rise to more than £3 billion a year once all apprenticeships are on standards.

The report ends with a ‘things to look out for’ [forthcoming in the future] and this includes:

  • Government response to the Timpson recommendations on school exclusion
  • Government’s response to the recommendations of the Augar Review
  • Roll out of T-levels from 2020-22

IFS Report on Education Spending

Within the DfE report reference is made to the September IFS education spending report, here are the summarised points from the schools, FE and HE sections:

Schools

Despite the funding increases delivered at the recent spending round, there will be no real terms funding growth in per pupil funding from 2009/10 to 2022/23.

  • Total per pupil spending has fallen by 8% in real terms between 2009/10 and 2019/20.
  • Funding cuts have partly been delivered through higher class sizes (particularly in secondary schools)
  • The Government allocated an extra £4.3bn to school budget for 2022/23 in real terms. This represents a 7.4% growth in spending per pupil reversing the cuts of 8% since 2009/10 – so no real terms growth in spending per pupil, which is historically unprecedented.

Further Education & Skills 

  • Between 2010/11 and 2018/19 spending per pupil feel by 12% in 16-18 colleges and 23% in school sixth forms. Following on from larger cuts, FE spending per 16-18 year old is only 13% greater than 30 years earlier in 1989/90. Per pupil funding is; £4,800 in sixth form colleges, £4,900 in school sixth forms and £5,900 per young person in FE colleges.
  • The Government have allocated a real terms one year funding increase of £300m in 2020/21, increasing spending per pupil by 4%. However, fully reversing funding cuts since 2010/11 would cost a further £1.1bn over and above existing plans by 2022/23. This increases to £1.4bn to ensure that spending on T-levels is additional to unchanged level of spending per student.
  • Total spending on adult education has fallen by nearly two thirds since 2003/04 (47% since 09/10) but this is broadly commensurate to falls in learner numbers which are down from 4.4m in 2004/05 to 1.5m in 2017/18.
  • Spending on adult education has become increasingly focussed on apprenticeships (54% of expenditure).

Higher Education

  • Universities receive £27,500 per full time undergraduate student to fund the cost of teaching for the three year course of their study. This has fallen by 5% since 2012.
  • Whilst per student funding is similar today to early 1990s, the near doubling of student numbers has driven a commensurate increase in total resources for teaching undergraduates over that period. The nature of funding has changed significantly from grants to tuition fees.
  • The cost of the current system is about £17bn per cohort, with £9bn coming from graduates and £8bn coming from Government (about £7.4bn through unrepaid student loans).
  • The Augar Review proposals of cutting fees to £7500, reintroducing maintenance grants and changing the terms of repayment (1.2 loan value cap, 40 year repayment period), is broadly cost neutral and would give policy makers greater control of spending on different subjects.
  • Labour policy to abolish tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants would cost the public finances £6bn per full time cohort per year. This is significantly cheaper as a result of the 2017 increase in the repayment threshold on student loans from £21,000 to £25,000. The part time cohort would cost another £1bn, but could increase if the large decline in mature student numbers since 2010 were reversed.

Dods provided this analysis of the HE section of the IFS report:

  • The domination of funding by tuition fees and the lack of controls on student numbers means policymakers have little control over the spending distribution of spending in subject and institutions. Augar would give policymakers greater control, whilst Labour’s proposals would give even more control. Augar’s proposals would reduce repayments amongst the highest earners and increase repayments mainly among middle earners. Labour’s proposals would benefit the highest earning graduates substantially.

Scottish Educational Bursaries and Grants

The Scottish Government announced that the number and value of bursaries and grants awarded to students in Scotland, including to young people with disabilities or from deprived areas, has increased since last year. It has risen 5.3% to £80.3 million and supported students from the most-deprived areas of the country were three times more likely to receive one than those from the least deprived areas. The number of full-time students who received a Disabled Students’ Allowance increased 5.2%, with an average pay out £1,990. There was also an increase in the number of full time UG students in receipt of the non-repayable Care Experienced Bursary (from 545 in 2017-18 to 840 in 2018-19). Moreover, there was a 67% increase in the amount of support provided

Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead stated:

  • “These annual rises once again underline this Government’s strong levels of financial support to domestic and EU students, regardless of their background. It’s very encouraging to see the level of bursaries and grants rising so significantly. We have seen other increases right across the board, with students from the most deprived areas of Scotland also receiving more per head than those from the least deprived. And with 10% of all our students now coming from the EU, there was also a 0.5% rise in the number of those receiving financial support, with the average award £2,100.”

Ministerial Statement

SoS Education, Gavin Williamson, issued a written ministerial statement update on Education. On HE it covered:

  • Record rates of 18 year olds are going to university. In 2018, one-third of all 18 year olds entered full-time higher education – the highest on record. The proportion of 18 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds entering full-time higher education is up from 13.6% in 2009 to 20.2% in 2018. This is the highest on record.
  • We have removed the cap on student numbers, allowing more people with the talent and potential the opportunity to be successful at university.
  • Through the Higher Education and Research Act we introduced a duty to promote equality of opportunity in access and participation in higher education and we expect to see further progress, particularly among the most selective institutions.
  • All higher education providers must now publish application offer, acceptance, dropout and attainment rates of students by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This will help hold the sector to account for their record on access and retention of students from lower socio-economic and other backgrounds.
  • Higher Education providers have committed to spend £860 million in 2019/20 on measures to improve access and student success – up significantly from £404 million in 2009. The Office for Students is monitoring how effectively higher education providers spend this money.

Improving higher technical education by establishing new Institutes of Technology – making it easier to upskill and gain highly skilled employment.

  • An Institute of Technology is a legally binding collaboration between further education colleges, higher education institutions and employers.
  • They are being created to specialise in delivering higher technical training at Levels 4 and 5 (above A Level but below degree level), primarily in STEM subjects aligned to local economic priorities.
  • IoTs will deliver a mix of apprenticeship and classroom-based provision for industries such as digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering – industries where there are skills gaps and growing demand – in order to provide employers with the skilled workforce they need.

We are investing up to £290 million capital funding to build an IoT network across the country. The first 12 IoTs are now starting to go live, following a comprehensive competition, and we have recently announced plans to open up to 8 more to enable there to be an IoT in every region of the country.
More people are benefitting from new high-quality apprenticeships. Our reforms have fundamentally changed what apprenticeships involve and the long-term opportunities they provide.

University Technical Colleges

Meanwhile the National Audit Office (NAO) published an investigation into university technical colleges (UTCs).Which embody the Government’s aim for employers and universities to work together, with educational experts, to open new institutions to deliver technical education in specialist areas that meets the needs of local employers and the economy.

In December 2016, the NAO reported that 22 of 47 UTCs were at risk due to financial concerns, caused in part, by the fact that UTCs had fewer students than predicted.  This struggle to attract enough students was confirmed by the NAO again in January 2018.

The financial and recruitment statistics make troubling reading:

  • 58 UTCs have opened but 10 of these subsequently closed. Most became subsumed within academy trusts but one university was gifted one UTC site.
  • The 48 open UTCs were operating at 45% of capacity on average at January 2019, which has implications for their financial viability.
  • At July 2019 there were significant concerns about the finances of 13 UTCs.
  • The ESFA has formally intervened in eight UTCs, of which two subsequently closed.
  • The Department monitors whether students from UTCs that close move to other schools or colleges, but has not retained evidence of where students have been placed
  • The Department spent £792 million on the UTC programme from 2010-11 to 2018-19, the vast majority (£680m, 86%) in capital grants. £28m in transitional revenue aimed at improving financial position of UTCS, £8.8m covering UTC deficits, £9m on closing UTCs

The educational performance paints a more encouraging picture:

  • After GCSEs a higher proportion of UTC students progressed into sustained apprenticeship (9%) and employment (4%) destinations compared to the national average (5% and 3%). However, less progressed to sustained education destinations.
  • After A levels 21% of UTC students moved to a sustained apprenticeship, higher than the national average of 6%. This includes 16% UTC students who undertook advanced/higher or degree-level apprenticeships (compared to national average of 3%).
  • 20% moved to sustained employment, compared with the national average of 22%; and 38% went on to higher education, below the national average of 50%
  • At August 2019, Ofsted rated 52% of UTCs as good or outstanding, compared with 76% of all secondary schools. However, the Department considers that not all its metrics are appropriate for UTCs because of UTCs’ technical focus and age range.

Plans for Improvement

  • The Department is seeking to help UTCs improve their educational and financial performance: An important part of the Department’s approach is to encourage UTCs to join multi-academy trusts, which it considers are well placed to support UTCs to improve. The Department is also open to UTCs applying to align their age range more closely with other secondary schools by taking students who are younger than 14, if there is a need for the additional places in the area. It considers that this will make it easier for UTCs to attract students and thereby improve their financial viability.

HE Registration   

The OfS published the key themes and analysis of the registration process and outcomes 2019-20. Across the full range of registration requirements 65% of HE providers received additional monitoring requirements or conditions. Access and participation for disadvantaged groups was a regular concern. Here we take a closer look on what OfS highlight as strengths and concerns in relation to student protection plans:

Areas of Strength:

  • Some student protection plans were excellent and demonstrated a real engagement with the requirements resulting in plans that had made a comprehensive assessment of risks and were clear on the protection that was available to students.
  • OfS assessment of financial viability and sustainability revealed a large number of providers in good financial health and the vast majority have no additional monitoring in relation to their financial viability and sustainability – financial strength was not isolated to a particular type of provider.
  • Sector-level data suggests there is strong performance in student outcomes and this was reflected in the data of a large number of individual providers.

Areas of Concern:

  • Student protection plans were variable in their quality
  • Very few providers demonstrated a broader consideration of value for money encompassing the value their students may feel they receive from their tuition fees. Few also appeared to have considered how they could present information about value for money in a way that would be accessible to their students.
  • Significant weaknesses in providers’ responses to the ‘fit and proper person’ public interest governance principle. Most relied on declarations from governing body members.
  • There was a lack of convincing evidence about the adequacy and effectiveness of providers’ management and governance arrangements. A large number of providers were unable to evidence regular external input into reviews of their arrangements.
  • Significant numbers of providers had based their financial viability and sustainability on optimistic forecasts of growth in student numbers without convincing evidence of how this growth would be achieved

Susan Lapworth, Director of Competition and Registration, Office for Students said:

  • “Our higher education sector is rightly praised as world-leading. The sector should be proud of its achievements and its continuing ability to change lives for the better and society for good. But the analysis shows – starkly – that universities must improve the work they do to ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are supported not only to get into higher education, but to get on, too. Too many providers glossed over the possibility of closure in their student protection plans, or relied on ambitious projections for student recruitment when making financial plans. Others have questions to answer about the quality of their provision, or high drop-out rates. These are not – by any means – insurmountable challenges but providers must now look honestly at areas of weakness and seek to make improvements. We will be closely monitoring providers, focusing our attention on those who present the highest risk to ensure that they are able to give students an enriching experience of higher education which leaves them well placed to find successful careers.”

Research Integrity

Norman Lamb MP (current Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee) has commented on the revised concordat to strengthen research integrity. He stated:

  • “My Committee welcomes the publication of the updated concordat and are pleased to see that recommendations we made have been included. Tackling the improper use of non-disclosure agreements and establishing independent investigation panels will help to strengthen and improve how universities approach research integrity.
  • However, the impact of this revised concordat will only be fully realised if all organisations in the sector comply with the requirement to publish annual statements on research integrity. We have yet to see a plan or timetable for achieving this goal, as recommended by the Committee and agreed to by UKRI. We hope that this will be forthcoming shortly.
  • We will be closely following the development of the new national research integrity committee and look forward to hearing what role it will play in improving research integrity by upholding the commitments of the Concordat and what powers it will have to tackle those unwilling to comply.”

Other news

Prisoner opportunity: Despite HEPI’s publication last week and plea to get prisoners learning earlier during their incarceration Universities Minister, Christ Skidmore, has turned a deaf ear to the cause as the parliamentary question response below states. However, perhaps this might feature in some parties forthcoming election manifestos:

  • Q – Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of extending student loan eligibility to people in prison who have more than six years to run on their sentence.
  • A – Chris Skidmore : Prisoners set to be released within 6 years have been eligible for tuition fee loans with the consent of the prison authorities. There are no plans to change this policy.

Higher degrees: Wonkhe report on the Human Capital Estimates analysis released this week. It highlights that there are now more economically active people in the UK with a masters degree or a PhD (4.5m – 10.7% of the population) than without any formal academic qualifications (3.4m). The lifetime earnings premium for someone who has a higher degree over and above an undergraduate or equivalent degree remains between 9-11%. However, women with higher degrees have around 33% lower lifetime earnings than men with similar qualifications. Last week we told you about the HESA research which found a drop in the graduate earnings premium, the ONS analysis also reports a dip from 45% in 2004 to 34% in 2018.

Student Engagement: The Telegraph and the Daily Mail cover Advance HE’s Engagement survey, focusing on the statistic that only 46 per cent of students attend more than 11 hours of lectures per week. The Independent instead focuses on the high level of engagement among Black students.

Health Professions: This PQ is interesting because Hinds (ex-SoS Education/Hampshire) asks it and because of the regional context: Q – Mr Damian Hinds  (East Hampshire): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, with reference to the Answers of 9 September 2019 to Question 286692 and 4 October 2019 to Question 290772 on Health Professions: Hampshire, what estimate he has made of the number of FTE (a) doctors (b) nurses and (c) other staff employed by the NHS in (i) Hampshire and the Isle of Wight STP area, (ii) Frimley Park Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, (iii) Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, (iv) Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, (v) Solent NHS Trust, (vi) South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, (vii) Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and (viii) University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust in (A) 2010 and (B) the most recent year for which figures are available.

  • A – Edward Argar NHS Digital publishes Hospital and Community Health Services workforce statistics for England. These include staff working in hospital trusts and clinical commissioning groups, but not staff working in primary care, local authorities or other providers. The data requested is attached. PQ3720 and 721 table (Excel SpreadSheet, 31.5 KB)

Dental content in public health training: Q – Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to include oral health in pre-registration training for all public health professionals, as recommended by the Royal College of Surgeon’s Faculty of Dental Surgery’s report The state of children’s oral health in England, published in August.

A – Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford

  • The independent professional health and care regulators set the outcomes required from undergraduate (and in some cases postgraduate) education and training for registration as a healthcare professional. It is for education training providers to determine the content of training in order to meet these required outcomes.
  • Health Education England has an important role in supporting health and care professionals, including public health professionals, to promote good health, including good oral health and has a number of free to access resources to guide good practice in this area. This includes e-learning, evidence-based toolkits and competency frameworks.

(And another PQ on schools becoming sugar free.)

Medicine: Education 6336: Q – Dr Dan Poulter: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what plans he has to introduce a national exam for all medical students in England upon graduating from medical school.

A – Edward Argar:

  • The Department has no plans to introduce a national exam for medical students in England upon graduating from medical school.
  • The General Medical Council (GMC) is the independent regulator of doctors in the United Kingdom, and sets the standards for undergraduate medical education and training.
  • The GMC has announced that from 2023 it will introduce a Medical Licensing Assessment (MLA) that all UK medical students and non-European Economic Area international applicants must pass before they can join the medical register. The MLA will test the core knowledge, skills and behaviors needed to practise safely in the UK

Dr Registration: Q – Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what plans he has to bring forward the point of full registration of doctors with the GMC to graduation from medical school. [6337]

  • A – Edward Argar: The Department of Health and Social Care has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

Joint Replacements: Waiting Lists (6403): Q – Dr Philippa Whitford: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what the waiting times were for (a) hip replacement and (b) knee replacement surgery in 2018-19 by NHS Foundation Trust.

  • A – Edward Argar: The Department of Health and Social Care has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

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Sorry last week’s policy update didn’t reach your inbox until late on Tuesday. We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s round up of the remaining news. There may be some disruption to your regular policy update next week as we celebrate Graduation but we’ll be back in full swing on Friday 15 November dissecting the political declarations and shenanigans for latest insight.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE Policy Update for the w/e 25th October 2019

Brexit

So an extension (or flextension) to article 50 has been granted, no-one has died in a ditch and a general election has been called for 12th December. So now what? It is all up to the electorate.

And 10 of the 21 Tory rebels have been reinstated and can stand as Conservative candidates in the election.

Research

New PhDs: BEIS and CDMS have announced investment in new PhDs and researchers as part of a £370 million pledge to transform healthcare, improve mental health diagnosis and build more sustainable transport. Government and private investment means 2,700 new PhD places split between  biosciences and AI will be created.

£200 million will fund 1,000 new PhD places over the next 5 years to study AI which they suggest could help diagnose life threatening diseases like cancer earlier and make industries, including aviation and automotive, more sustainable. The students will work with businesses including AstraZeneca, Google, Rolls-Royce and NHS Trusts.

£170 million will fund 1,700 places to study PhDs in biosciences. These projects are intended to help to tackle issues such as feeding the world’s growing population, developing renewable, low-carbon sources of energy, and helping people stay healthier for longer.

  • PM Boris Johnson said: “The UK has educated, trained and developed some of the best scientists in the world – and we must continue to lead the world in AI and technology with our incredible talent and innovative breakthroughs. That’s why we’re investing millions of pounds to create hundreds of new AI and bioscience PhDs, so new research and development can thrive here in the UK and solve the biggest challenges that face us – from climate change to better healthcare.”
  • Digital Minister Matt Warman said: “The UK has a long-standing reputation for innovation. We are the birthplace of artificial intelligence and home to technology pioneers such as Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace. We are determined to see this continue. “Today we are announcing a bumper investment in skills training to strengthen our workforce and attract, nurture and retain the best talent so we can lead the world in research and development. AI is already being used to improve lives by helping detect fraud quicker and diagnose diseases more accurately. With the brightest minds at the helm we will be able to explore this cutting-edge technology further.”

Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore also confirmed the first 5 AI Turing Fellowships. The projects include the impact of digital technologies on mental health and building a sustainable aviation industry. (Link – scroll to bottom to view details on the projects and 5 Fellows from Cambridge, Exeter, Oxford, Warwick and Manchester.) The Minister also called for further top, international academic talent to join these researchers, with £37.5 million in further funding available.

Furthermore,

  • The government is investing £13 million in innovative Postgraduate programmes, so more people can develop fruitful careers in AI. The new AI conversion courses will allow 2,500 more people to study AI from backgrounds other than science or maths at undergraduate level. This also includes 1,000 new scholarships for people from underrepresented backgrounds, including women, ethnic minorities and low-income families.
  • Leading technology companies like Accenture, DeepMind, QuantumBlack and Amplyfi, are already sponsoring AI Masters students. The new courses will help build-up a highly skilled workforce in the UK and provide new opportunities for industry and universities to collaborate, ensuring new innovations are transforming industries”

[More detail on the sponsorship of the Industrial AI Masters is at the bottom of this link.]

Ministerial Questions

Select Committees regularly quiz Ministers on their departmental business. This week Chris Skidmore, Universities Minister. was questioned. Here are the key excerpts:

Carol Monaghan MP highlighted the Royal Society report (published last week) which suggested the number of applications to Horizon 2020 had dropped by 40%.

Skidmore responded that said the baseline by which this figure was compared to, was debatable, saying that whilst there was a significant reduction, the UK still gained substantially more grants than the next three countries (Spain, France and Italy) on the list.

Vicky Ford MP asked if associate membership of Horizon Europe was still the government’s preferred option post-Brexit.

Skidmore said that whilst the government (Treasury) formally wanted to assess the value for money case when the project appeared (which he said would be some time next year), his personal view was that Horizon Europe was the future of collaboration for British science. He also disagreed with the Chair’s comments that others in government were less enthusiastic about Horizon Europe collaboration than he was and stated that, in particular, the prime minister was supportive. Although he went on to state, it would be prudent to prepare for a situation where the UK was not part of Horizon Europe. In response to a further question (the target date as to when certainty on Horizon Europe would be reached) Skidmore said it depended on the European Parliament agreeing the overall financial budgets, which could happen as late as Q2 of 2020.

The Minister was asked when the Smith Review on future frameworks for international research collaboration would be published, and how quickly findings could be implemented. Skidmore said he was still discussing final timings for publication but hoped it would be published within the next four weeks. He explained that while it had been submitted in August as it has potentially significant spending implications there was a need to attach it to a budgetary process. He continued that a working group was attempting to ensure all recommendations were possible, including alternatives even if associate membership of Horizon Europe isn’t achieved.

You may remember that when Boris Johnson appointed his brother Jo to the Universities Minister post he was permitted to attend Cabinet. However, this attendance was passed to another Minister when Chris Skidmore took over. The Chair asked Skidmore if he felt the lack of a Cabinet position was downgrading his position. Skidmore diplomatically responded that whilst he would like to attend Cabinet, he noted the prime minister and Dominic Cummings were both highly supportive of science in government.

Stephen Metcalfe MP asked why the Queen’s Speech had suggested an ‘ARPA-style’ funding mechanism, at the expense of UKRI. Skidmore replied that there was still going to be a significant uplift in the science budget, on which UKRI would be the main beneficiary. However that there were also a number of bodies outside of the UKRI model, which he described as a catalyst’ and ‘engine of disruption’ focused on blue-sky research. He added that an ARPA-style model would be a significant addition to the overall funding landscape and that given its focus it would have to sit outside UKRI, to distinguish itself from traditional grant-led application processes. How much money it would have and when it would be established, were all to be decided and the Minister stated there would be a full sectoral consultation before decisions were made around a new ARPA body.

On Tier 1 fast-track visas – the system is in design and any scheme would be implemented in Jan 2021 within the context of the wider points-based system. Furthermore it would be multi-disciplinary e.g. social science as well as STEM. He stated he was not aware of any Government plans to restrict the scheme to non-STEM subjects.

Lastly, on longer degrees which would outstay the three-year temporary leave to remain visa and require a move to a tier 4 visa mid-course the Minister confirmed he had personally written to the Home Secretary to highlight this issue, which may put off international students. However, he has yet to receive a reply from the Home Secretary.

Erasmus – work on a UK-wide scheme has begun, but this would focus on UK students going out rather than EU students coming in (which would have to be determined bilaterally).

An MP raised that the Government’s target to increase research and development spending to 2.4% was not backed up by a firm plan to achieve this. Skidmore responded that the government was working towards a long-term funding plan for science and the pathway to 2.4% would be informed by the Smith Review and UKRI reports. When questioned when firm plans would be available, Skidmore said this was a “live topic” and said BEIS was working with Treasury to develop a funding envelope, with the goal of producing a pathway to 2.4% by “this autumn“.

The questions also covered data-sharing post Brexit (e.g. withdrawal from GDPR) and commenting on the new Aryton Fund Skidmore stated it would cover clean tech and business strategies for climate mitigation in developing countries (and that it was new money on top of the existing budget).

Tuition fees – Chair, Norman Lamb MP, asked if there were any plans to cut HE tuition fees (following Augar’s report) with Universities concerned about reductions to research funding if there is a fee cut. Skidmore replied that the government was still considering the review, and decisions would only be taken when the next Spending Review took place. Adding that if there was any fee reduction, he would strongly make the case that a “way to compensate for that” would have to be found.

Graduate Premium

New research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and Warwick University shows a reduction in the ‘graduate premium’. The project analysed how the financial return to a degree has changed across two decades in which there has been a large expansion in higher education participation. The research found that graduates born in 1990 earned 11% more than non-graduates at age 26, compared to the 19% graduate premium enjoyed by graduates born in 1970. The research examined the hourly pay and found the impact was most significant on those born after 1987.

Follow up research is planned to examine cohorts born after 1990 to determine whether the reduction is a short-term dip or the beginning of a more general decline. They also plan to continue the study examining earnings as graduates progress through their careers. This is because graduates tend to grow their earning potential more sharply over time compared to non-graduates.

The research partnership also intends to examine financial return by class of degree awarded following the grade inflation debate in future work.

This research is a statistical study and when you read the full report it is unclear if national factors have been fully accounted for despite the carefully controlled analysis. First, there is the impact of the recessions on students graduating within the selected period. Previous national research suggests that graduating in times of recession may permanently damage an individual’s earning prospects. Secondly, there is no mention of the current context of intergenerational fairness – that the younger generations will not have it as ‘easy’ or ‘good’ as older generations in terms of housing and job security. There is also the potential, given the Government’s agenda to get more people into or returning to work and the recent benefits reforms which have led to reduced employment, that more women are entering the workplace (with women receiving 9-12% less in the pay gap compared to men). Plus this finding is set within a national context of stalling social mobility and increased levels in the number of children in poverty. Alongside this more disadvantaged students are accessing HE, with findings that while HE helps they do still have an earnings gap compared to their more advantaged peers on graduation.

While these are current issues, and more recent than the cohorts the study examines, the social inequalities leading to these current topics were brewing (just less prominent) in the years studied. For example, there were more graduates from less disadvantaged backgrounds with greater social capital and class earning potential than in more recent years. A careful read of the full study is important before drawing conclusions solely based on HE expansion, particularly given the Government’s agenda on oversupply of graduates doing non-graduate level roles and the financial investment an individual makes to study at degree level now.

On the study Tej Nathwani, econometrician at HESA stated:

  • “Whilst the benefits of a degree are not solely financial, higher education remains a significant investment decision for young people. Changes in fees and funding have resulted in increased reliance on student loans, which are now treated differently in public sector finances. Consequently, graduate earnings continue to be an important area of research in higher education. This study adds to the available information about the financial benefits that individual students can expect from a degree. We hope to explore this area further in forthcoming years, as new data is released into the public domain.”

Hate, harassment and misconduct

OfS Chief Exec Nicola Dandridge has blogged about the devastating impact that harassment, hate crime, and sexual misconduct can have on students, and the OfS’s role in driving improved prevention and support. The blog covers the history from the 2010 NUS report to the sector’s work in this field (UUK’s  taskforce and Changing the Culture report) concluding that while progress has been made more needs to be done to achieve the necessary culture change. Nicola sees the OfS role as galvanising change – by raising the profile of this issue, targeting funding to address it and sharing effective practice across the sector (alongside intervening if HE provisions are likely to breach registration). The blog goes on to highlight the £10 million student safeguarding catalyst fund which has spawned 119 projects (reports here) focussed on sexual harassment, online harassment, hate crime (including religious hate crime).

The OfS blog was in response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report following their inquiry into racial harassment in HE. The Commission states:

  • Our inquiry report Tackling racial harassment: universities challengedhas revealed that with racial harassment occurring at an alarmingly high rate across British universities, many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are not only unaware of the scale of the issue but are overconfident in their ability to handle it.
  • The inquiry found that 24% of ethnic minority students have experienced racial harassment on campus.
  • Universities are over confident that individuals will report harassment, with 43% of universities believing that every incident of racial harassment against students was reported, and 56% believing that all incidents against staff were reported. However, two thirds of students who responded to our survey and had experienced racial harassment said that they had not reported the incident to their university. Less than half of all staff who responded to our call for evidence because they had experienced racial harassment, said that they had reported it to their university. Students and staff suggested that they did not come forward about their experiences because they had no confidence that the incident would be addressed. Others said that fear of reprisals also played a part, as two thirds of staff said that better protection from personal repercussions would have made it easier for them to bring a complaint.
  • Despite universities being keen to encourage international students to choose their courses, the research unearthed a strong theme of international students feeling unwelcome, isolated and vulnerable. Some even described feeling like commodities and only wanted for the fees that they bring. Half of the international students who responded to our call for evidence because they had experienced racial harassment, said that they had been made to feel excluded, over half said they had experienced racial micro aggressions, and 44% said they had experienced racist abuse, but 77% of respondents did not report it to the university.

The report notes that 8% of student experiencing racial harassment felt suicidal, and 1 in 20 dropped out because of the harassment, with 3 in 20 staff members leaving their jobs due to harassment.

The report recommends:

  • mandatory duty on employers: the UK Government must reinstate third party harassment protections and introduce a mandatory duty on employers to increase protections for staff from harassment
  • adequate powers for regulators: governments across Britain should ensure the sector regulator and funding councils have adequate powers and that these are used to hold universities to account on their performance to prevent and tackle harassment
  • effective complaints procedures: higher education providers must enable students and staff to report harassment and ensure their complaints procedures are fit for purpose and offer effective redress
  • senior-level action on inclusive cultures: senior leaders should take steps to embed an inclusive culture where staff and students feel confident and supported when making complaints.

The report has led to several MPs asking parliamentary questions on abuse this week (both of below are due for answer after this policy update is issued – the links provided will show the response once it has been published).

Q – Mr Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps the Minister is taking to ensure that universities investigate all complaints made by students and staff about racism at universities.

Q – Steve McCabe: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps the Government is taking to protect university staff from racial abuse.

Q – Paul Farrelly: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report entitled, Tackling harassment: universities challenged; and what steps he is taking to ensure that university staff receive adequate training to deal effectively with racial harassment.

And more questions raised here and here in the same vein.

Crime

Extending prison sentences and being tough on crime are two of PM Boris Johnson’s priorities. Interestingly, there is already a Lords’ inquiry into how conditions in prison were not designed for the increasing numbers of older people now incarcerated, and the problems this is causing. In addition, this week HEPI published a policy note urging politicians to reconsider the barrier which prevents inmates from accessing student loans to undertake HE study until they are within six years of release. The note argues that HE study calms the fractious prison environment, and that the studying prisoners become role models, in addition that HE study reduces the likelihood of reoffending.

Private Members’ Bills

Two weeks ago (see page 2 of link) we mentioned the Common’s Private Members Bills (PMB) and highlighted that they are a way for individuals to make legislation on matters dear to their hearts.

The following MPs were successful in the ballot to table a PMB:

  • Nigel Mills (Conservative, Amber Valley) As the number one in the PMB lottery, Nigel Mills will be very much in demand from a variety of groups vying his attention. However, as someone who has wedded himself closely to the new regime in Downing Street, it is likely that Mills will find his favourable ballot position used for a Government sponsored Bill. Mills may still request an area for which he has an interest, however. As a long-term backbencher, he is prominent on a number of All-Party Parliamentary Groups and his position on APPGs for both Dementia and Pensions could hint at something concerning elderly groups. Alternatively, he could continue his long-held focus on tax issues – prior to his election to Parliament Mills was an accountant and he maintained an interest in the area in the time since.
  • John Stevenson (Conservative, Carlisle)
  • Annelise Dodds (Labour, Oxford East) – Dodds has a wide range of issues she focuses on in Parliament: ranging from taxation; welfare and inequality; to foreign affairs and climate change. She is a firm opponent of a no deal Brexit. Her recent questions in Parliament have focussed heavily on energy provision in housing. Dodds has also raised significant concern around the lack of action taken to prevent anti-abortion campaigners from protesting outside clinics. Dodds has focussed on and taxation since her election – particularly the need to tackle tax avoidance, and offshore or dormant companies. Given her brief in the shadow treasury team, it is possible that a PMB might focus on closing loopholes in existing legislation with regards to this.
  • Anne Marie Morris (Conservative, Newton Abbot) – Chair of the APPG on Access to Medicine and Medical Devices, Anne Marie Morris has been vocal on issues surrounding health. In June 2017 she won a chance to put forward her own Bill, in the Private Members’ Bill ballot (but was too far down the list) it is possible that she would re-table this Bill which called for the regulation of Physician Associates, and to make it a protected title. She regularly tables questions to the Department of Health and Social Care on the Genomic Healthcare Strategy and accessibility of health services for rural populations. Her She has also campaigned against high water charges in the South West and called for a Government subsidy to help householders with their bills. She has also spoken on flooding, accident and emergency services and transport issues including rural bus services and clamping in private car parks. She voted to relax the smoking ban after the closure of thousands of pubs and clubs. She takes a particular interest in small business. She chaired the All-Party Group on micro-businesses and held office on groups on entrepreneurship, life sciences and flood prevention, as well as local enterprise, first aid and pro-bono work. In the past she initiated a debate urging more government help for micro-businesses.
  • Lisa Forbes (Labour, Peterborough) – A relative unknown Lisa only took her Parliamentary seat following a June 2019 by-election. Her interests in her non-political career include the Strong and Supportive Communities Scrutiny Committee, and she campaigned against the closure of local Children and Play Centres as well as residential homes for the elderly. She also worked for Thomas Cook prior to her election to Parliament and has tabled a number of written regarding the collapse of the company and support for employees. Other questions include school uniforms.
  • James Brokenshire (Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup) – Previously Brokenshire held Government positions for most of his time in Parliament where he has been able to push for including the lifting the housing revenue borrowing cap. Yesterday we spoke during the Queen’s Speech NHS debate about the importance of an early diagnosis when it comes to cancer, which is a personal interest matter. His key interests are violent crime, building safety, domestic abuse and health.
  • Sir Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat, Twickenham) – Sir Vince has tweeted he is “inclined” to use his Bill on furthering the debate on assisted dying or lowering the voting age to 16.
  • Frank Field (Independent, Birkenhead) – Frank Is the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee and has used the private members bill mechanism to raise a number of issues in the past including welfare benefits, priority in the housing queue to those with exemplary tenancy record, to automatically register eligible children for free school meals and post-Brexit EU citizens rights. In September 2019 Field used the presentation Bill procedure to introduce a Bill on equality of access to justice. Field said he had wanted to call it “Gina Miller (Poor People’s Access to Courts) Bill” to highlight the differences between the contrast between “poor people waiting to get into benefit appeal tribunals and Gina Miller’s ability to get into court within a week”. Most notable is his longstanding interest in welfare issues. He holds office in several all-party groups in parliament including Conception to Age Two – The First 1001 Days, Listed Properties, Anti-Corruption, Medical Cannabis under Prescription Group, and Young Disabled People.
  • Tracey Brabin (Labour, Batley and Spen) – Is the Shadow Minister for early years. She has been calling for legislation to make the reporting of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults mandatory across all institutions. She has also previously called for an audit of crime in towns detailing the levels of resolutions in comparison to cities, and for greater transparency on where money is spent. She has also signed an Early Day Motion calling for the Government to bring forward legislation to require companies with more than 250 employees to publish their policies on parental leave and pay. Her political interests are Education, Internet safety, and Parental leave.
  • Sir Michael Fallon (Conservative, Sevenoaks) – Ex Defence Secretary is the Vice-Chair of the British Museum APPG and may choose to use his PMB to influence the ongoing debates within the museum sector. Notable topics include the discussion over the potential repatriation of cultural objects and the slashing of public funding available to smaller museums nationwide. Education is one of Sir Michael’s stated interests.
  • Damien Moore (Conservative, Southport)
  • Anna Turley (Labour, Redcar) – Her priority, which she says is the number one issue on doorsteps, is the lack of jobs in particular for youths. She says there needs to be investment in jobs but also in training and apprenticeships to prepare people for jobs.
  • Damian Hinds (Conservative, East Hampshire) – Dods suggest it is difficult to predict what Hinds might table because he was a long-standing minister with his parliamentary time dictated by Government commitments. However, he is interested in the Catholic education sector and the admissions rules that apply to faith free schools. He has also been a longstanding advocate for social mobility, previously chairing the APPG. Since leaving Government he has been vocal on climate change and critical of motorists for leaving engines on outside schools. Hinds was the Secretary of State for Education before Boris made his appointments.
  • Preet Kaur Gill (Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston)
  • Kirstene Hair (Conservative, Angus)
  • John Woodcock (Independent, Barrow and Furness)
  • Caroline Flint (Labour, Don Valley)
  • Naz Shah (Labour, Bradford West)- Naz is a disability rights advocate and women’s rights campaigner. She is concerned about domestic abuse especially around services dedicated to women from BAME backgrounds. Another issue she cares about is compelling companies to publish their race pay gap and she could propose a bill to enact that.
  • Vicky Ford (Conservative, Chelmsford)
  • Jim Fitzpatrick (Labour, Poplar and Limehouse) – With thanks to Dods Political Consultants who have analysed the interests of the MPs successful in the ballot to speculate on the Bill topic they may introduce. Only those relevant to BU’s interest and research have been included.

This week the Lords ballot also took place and two items were listed that are relevant to HE. Lord Storey was selected first and will present the HE Cheating Services Prohibition Bill on Thursday 17 October. Much further down the list is Lord Holmes of Richmond who will present the Unpaid Work Experience (Prohibition) Bill on Wednesday 6 November. Lords Bills are even less likely than those of the Commons to be enshrined in law. Furthermore, the current parliamentary disruption may result in them not even getting off the starting blocks. However, both are topics the Lords have been raising since before the 2017 snap election and the respective Lord seems determined to make a difference and pass legislation on the topic.

Mental Health

This week in our guest blog Sophie Bradfield, SUBU, talks mental health.

There’s been a recent spotlight on mental health following World Mental Health Day last week. In recognition of this, the Department for Education published a report into children and young people’s wellbeing called ‘State of the Nation 2019’. The report looked at children and young people split into two age brackets: 10-15 years old and 16-24 years old. Looking at themes with the data for the older age group, there were overall high levels of life satisfaction however this was in conjunction with a fifth having recently experienced high levels of anxiety. The biggest marker for wellbeing was age; being older was associated with having lower wellbeing (lower average life satisfaction and happiness). Reflecting on other research, this was partly attributed to employment stability, health, family experiences and the quality of friendships. It was also noted that further research could be done into the extent to which decreasing levels of wellbeing with age is linked to biological factors i.e. transitioning into adulthood, or changing social and environmental factors.

Other trends with the older age group (16-24 year olds) found that young women reported higher recent levels of anxiety than young men but also had slightly higher ratings of feeling life was worthwhile than young men. There was also a trend of lower anxiety yet lower life satisfaction in young people from Black/African/Caribbean/Black British backgrounds compared to those young people from white backgrounds however it was noted to interpret this particular trend with caution due to limited comparator sizes.

Looking constructively at how Universities can respond to the recent mental health crisis by creating “safe and supportive environments” to maximise wellbeing, Vice explores a number of recommendations based on consultation with medical professionals, charity workers and other experts including Dr Bridgette Bewick, a psychologist and associate professor in health research at the University of Leeds and Faraz Mughal, a GP in Birmingham and Solihull and clinical fellow in mental health at the Royal College of General Practitioners. Some of these are explored in more detail below along with a quick snapshot of what BU and SUBU currently does in these areas.

Design campuses that support positive wellbeing

Mughal recommends a “campus-wide approach” linking healthy food, exercise and enough sleep to wellbeing. Recommendations for Universities include having food available to students which is nutritious and low cost; accessible exercise on campus; and education around the importance of sleeping well. These are really important staples for wellbeing and BU students often give us feedback about wanting affordable, healthy food and cheap gym membership. These are both things that continue to be worked on by SUBU and BU in response to student feedback.

Develop mindful curriculums

Bewick suggests that University’s look at “how to embed wellbeing into the university curricula”. Specifically, this is around teaching and assessment practices which support positive health and wellbeing as well as future employment. BU’s changes to the 6C policy on Principles of Assessment which SUBU was involved with seek to do just this, underpinned by a ‘principle of assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning’ in line with other good practice in the sector. Student attendance is also no longer linked to attainment, ensuring things such as poor mental health impacting on attendance do not also directly impact on the mark students get.

Don’t keep libraries open 24/7 and Model positive behaviours

Bewick states “we need to ensure people are thinking about how their actions are impacting their wellbeing and mental health. Choice is a positive thing but we need to arm students with the information they need to make informed decisions about how they want to structure and manage their university experience.” This is a really interesting concept as BU students have been calling for 24 hour access to libraries for a long time and we’re not sure imposing restrictions like this is the healthy choice it is framed to be. This seems to be making assumptions around particular working hours being ideal rather than accessible working hours around other time commitments.

Improve living conditions in halls

This is a key issue for the sector at the moment and is not just limited to halls. We’ve all heard the horror stories around the quality of some student accommodation around the UK. In Bournemouth there has been lots of work around the accommodation offerings to students, with new halls being built at Bailey Point for example. Lots of thought is being put into the whole student experience in halls, including alternative and non-alcohol focussed social events. There is however more work to be done around issues with private accommodation.

Teach staff how to talk about mental health problems

The roll-out and support for the Mental Health First Aid programme of training in BU means that over 200 students and staff have been trained (as of May this year). As discussed at the refresher and celebration event in May, it would be fantastic if this number could increase. So many members of BU/SUBU staff present shared stories of how they have used the course to help students and fellow staff members with issues around mental health. Education and conversation on mental health is so important.

Listen to students

Bewick notes the importance of listening to students about the support they receive and how it can be improved. There’s work on this within BU and SUBU but with fewer students declaring whether they have a mental health issue to their University (see ‘The New Realists’ Unite report) perhaps changes to the NSS can help with this. The Office for Students has announced this week that they are exploring new survey questions in the NSS to look at student mental health and wellbeing provisions. Consultation on shaping the NSS ‘for the future’ can be expected in spring 2020.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Demographic leap: We are all aware of the current demographic dip impacting on recruitment of students, however, birth rates have risen and a demographic spike is expected by 2030. Wonkhe have a new blog by NEON’s Director examining the spike and how it won’t impact on all regions equally. For example, the South West will have the fourth biggest rise with a project 21% change in the number of 18 years old in 2030 and the northern regions will see the least growth. In the article, the author argues that students tend to study in their own region or the one closest to it so the uneven spike will have recruitment implications. It also notes that increases in entering HE are being driven by those from BAME backgrounds. It highlights that London and the South East (which have the biggest regional growth in birth rates) will experience infrastructure pressure and the diversity of students will mean universities need to work harder to ensure students get the rich experience needed. On disadvantage the blog states:

  • There is a silver lining for access as the areas of lowest participation also tend to be the areas where 18 year-olds will increase the least making it, in theory, easier than it could have been to achieve their target to eliminate the geographical gaps in access and student success within 20 years. What demographic changes risk doing though is further divide an already divided system. The crisis that some may experience in coping with the demand for higher education will be one others may look on with envy, as their growth is far more modest.

It is worth reading the comments at the end of the blog as commenters quibble the figures. Although the overall nuance is the same, the alternative figures do predict smaller growth for the South West region.

UTCs: The Council for the Defence of British Universities has a blog on why the set up and comparisons made of University technical colleges is causing them to fail.

Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning: The House of Lords Education Select Committee considered the state of the UK adult education sector and the reduction in available provision over the last 20 years. Read a summary prepared by Dods here. The session specifically mentions the ‘total eradication of adult education departments in universities’.

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 27th September 2019

What a week! Parliament is sitting (but not quietly) and there is lots of coverage from the Labour Party conference including the fringe events.

Fresher loneliness

Fresher loneliness: The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and Louise Knowles (Sheffield University) have spoken out on tackling loneliness during the first few weeks when starting university.

  • For many, the thought of Freshers’ Week conjures up images of non-stop partying, a whirlwind introduction to university life and new places, opportunities and friendships. But for some students it also brings a feeling of anxiety, isolation and the start of a long battle against homesickness.
  • Fresher’s Week can be a culture shock. Some students relish this and enjoy the excitement, but others are like a rabbit caught in headlights.
  • Being isolated affects your psychological wellbeing. When they start at university, many students have lost the comfort of home, someone to cook for then, that structure they had, their community of family and friends for support.
  • It’s especially true for marginalised students – such as international, disabled or mature students. They can feel at a loss. They will wonder ‘is there anyone else like me here?’ or ‘where can I get support?’

Having a sense of community can be key to helping a student overcome homesickness.

Sense of belonging

  • “They need to build up that sense of community, that sense of belonging.
  • “Some students can be very reserved. They might not be comfortable in large social groups or going out clubbing all the time with lots of new people. They might find it easier to join smaller, informal groups, and look for activities on a smaller scale to join in.
  • “We have to push ourselves a little bit to put ourselves out there and build a new community, but not to the depths of despair.”

There are university societies to pretty much cover every interest and hobby, as well as for specific groups of students, and they can often help people form a much-needed community to help them settle in.

Preparation

  • “Some students haven’t had much preparation for university. If they’ve accepted a place through clearing they may not even known where they were going until a few weeks before. It does help to familiarise yourself with where you’re going and what life’s going to be like before it’s thrust on you in the first week of term.

Freshers’ Week and the following few weeks can be a bit of a blur. Some people want to jump in and do everything. Others want to familiarise themselves with university life more slowly. “It’s important students remember to take it at a pace that they are comfortable with.”

Wonkhe have a fresher related blog: Are freshers the new realists when it comes to mental health support?

Initiations: UUK have published a briefing, Initiations at UK Universities, to raise awareness of the dangers associated with initiation tasks and excessive drinking among students. The briefing sets out recommendations and actions they suggest universities should take to prevent and respond to dangerous behaviours and aim to drive a change in attitudes towards these events.

The briefing includes a consensus statement on the best way forward from stakeholders across the university and health sectors and examples of emerging good practice. Here are the key recommendations:

  1. Adopt a clear definition of what constitutes an initiation which focuses on prohibited behaviours
  2. Foster cross-working and a whole university approach. This means including work to prevent initiations as part of strategies to tackle harassment and promote good wellbeing and mental health
  3. Evaluate new initiatives and share knowledge and good practice, continuously assessing progress being made
  4. Update or develop policies and practices to explicitly refer to initiation events and the problems that arise from them
  5. Ensure proportionate disciplinary processes and sanctions are in place, noting that a “zero tolerance approach” is unhelpful as it implies initiations do not happen
  6. Provide clear reporting systems and advertise support available to students
  7. Raise awareness of initiations and their risks among students and staff
  8. Organise appropriate staff training, identifying the levels of training needed for different staff. First responders will need the most training, for example.
  9. Work with the local council, licensees and partners to ensure the campus environment promotes responsible behaviours towards drinking
  10. Work with alumni to encourage an increased sense of responsibility for the safety of student groups and societies of which they were a part

Wonkhe have a new blog exploring the complexities for universities to walk the right balance over initiation.

Parliament is back

The supreme court ruled that PM Johnson was unlawful in his advice to the Queen to prorogue parliament. A summary of the court’s decision is here. In essence:

  • For present purposes, the relevant limit on the power to prorogue is this: that a decision to prorogue (or advise the monarch to prorogue) will be unlawful if the prorogation has the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive. In judging any justification which might be put forward, the court must of course be sensitive to the responsibilities and experience of the Prime Minister and proceed with appropriate caution.

The court ruled that Parliament was frustrated and its ability to debate the Brexit change curtailed:

  • This was not a normal prorogation in the run-up to a Queen’s Speech. It prevented Parliament from carrying out its constitutional role for five out of the possible eight weeks between the end of the summer recess and exit day on 31st October. Proroguing Parliament is quite different from Parliament going into recess. While Parliament is prorogued, neither House can meet, debate or pass legislation. Neither House can debate Government policy. Nor may members ask written or oral questions of Ministers or meet and take evidence in committees. In general, Bills which have not yet completed all their stages are lost and will have to start again from scratch after the Queen’s Speech.
  • This prolonged suspension of Parliamentary democracy took place in quite exceptional circumstances: the fundamental change which was due to take place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom on 31st October. Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons as the elected representatives of the people, has a right to a voice in how that change comes about. The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme. No justification for taking action with such an extreme effect has been put before the court.
  • The Court is bound to conclude, therefore, that the decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.
  • The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 Justices.

So all bills that were previously passing through parliament are resumed and Parliament is sitting again. A recess for the Conservative Conference was not approved.  Next week will be another interesting one.

Fees and funding

Meanwhile, on Monday, Wonkhe reported that the Sunday Times confirmed that ministers have “shelved” implementing the Augar recommendation to cut full-time undergraduate English tuition fees to £7,500. Wonkhe continue:

  • This does not mean that higher education finance will not make its way into a future Conservative election retail offer to students and young people – maintenance grants, expansion of higher technical and apprenticeship qualifications, and interest rates on student loans could all plausibly feature – and would generate fewer direct comparisons to Labour’s free tuition offer. Though other parts of the Augar recommendations will perhaps make it through the month, the “big difference” that education secretary Gavin Williamson claimed the Augar review is making to his thinking, now looks quite a bit smaller.

And there is a new Wonkhe blog on the topic.:

  • The Sunday Times reports that ministers felt there was no parliamentary majority for any legislation. However:
  • Making changes to the fee cap would just require a statutory instrument. From the way HERA has been drafted it is difficult to see what the precise process would be to lower fee caps… but there is no indication that lowering fees would require such a vote.
  • The blog suggests Jo Johnson killed off the fee reduction “Six weeks would be plenty for him to kill off the idea of ill-considered tweaks to his 2017 legislation. He lost his job over opposition to the post 18 review, so given a second chance he was always going to take the opportunity to render it harmless.”

Voter registration

Electoral Registration: With the prospect of an election before the end of 2019 looming an Electoral Commission report holds particular interest for the student voter registration hurdle. They find that local government registers are only 83% complete (so between 8.3 and 9.4 million people are not correctly registered). The greatest risk factors for non or inaccurate registration are:

  • Aged 18-24 years
  • Having lived at current address for less than two years
  • Renting from a private owner
  • Being of ‘other ethnic background’ or ‘mixed background’ ethnicity

Several of the risk factors chime with the HE student demographic, which also has the additional hurdles of understanding the electoral registration process given their dual (home/study address) residence status. Alongside the de-prioritisation of registering to vote against the many other items competing for their attention when they start or return to university.

KEF is coming – and more money for knowledge exchange

A couple of significant announcements were made this week by the Universities Minister.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore has today announced a new strategic direction for university knowledge exchange funding to drive the high performance needed to deliver the government’s commitment to raise research and development investment to 2.4% of GDP.

The measures announced at the Research England Engagement Forum event in London today, Thursday 26 September, include:

  • Confirmation that Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) will rise to £250 million by 2020/21
  • Roll-out of the first iteration of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), with the first results anticipated in 2020
  • A comprehensive Research England-review of the current HEIF funding method, aiming to put the KEF at the heart of the approach
  • The launch of a joint call with the Office for Students (OfS), making £10m available for projects that evidence the benefits to students of being involved in knowledge exchange

You can find more detail here: Research England

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, spoke to celebrate the broad range of topics and internationalism within the Future Leaders Fellowships second wave. He also spoke about early career researchers:

  • I also want to highlight what I’ve referred to as the ‘Cinderella subject’ of education and research policy: that surrounding early career research. How can we create an environment that ensures early career researchers are not only better paid, but feel valued, that their work is properly recognised and rewarded?

And on the academic juggle:

  • I also am acutely aware that for all Future Leaders Fellows, the ability to conduct your research unhindered and free from the constraints of what should I say, ‘normal academic life’, is just as important as some of the financial investment that has been made today.
  • Pressure is experienced by us all, but I know myself as a historian, writing books late into the night, that there are few disciplines such as the process of academic thought and research creativity, that can be so adversely affected by the impositions of the outside world.
  • So I’m keen to do all I can to help investigate how to reduce these pressures, to understand where we need to refine our processes and minimise unnecessary paperwork, and find out where additional flexibilities need to be created, to clear the path for researchers to be free to conduct the research they need to.
  • This includes looking again at our various research funding models, ensuring that we are doing everything we can to unlock the creativity and imaginations of everyone working in research, whether they work in universities, research institutes or in industry.
  • It also means focussing on our efforts on that critical point in a researcher’s early career, when they feel most precarious, and when the strictures of an academic career can seem so burdensome that most choose simply to take a different path in life, away from research altogether. 

More detail on the Future Leaders projects can be found here.

Skidmore also spoke on Space and the importance of small business innovation this week.

Lastly, PM Boris visited a school and the BBC captured his talk with the children when he reminisced that he didn’t do enough work at university and frittered too much time at university. He advised them to use their time productively: “Don’t waste your time at university, don’t get drunk…use it well”.

HE Data

The OfS have released a new area based measure of access named TUNDRA (tracking underrepresented students by area). As the name suggests it is a data source derived from the tracking of 16 year old state funded mainstream school pupils in England on an area basis who participate in HE at age 18 or 19. They have also updated the POLAR4 postcode data which measures how likely a young person is to participate in HE based on their postcode. Note: POLAR 4 covers all schooling types as it is an area based measure. However, questions of the validity of any postcode based metric remain due to start discrepancies which mask disadvantage within postcode areas. And Minister Chris Skidmore has been open within his criticism over the shortcomings of this measure. The Government (and OfS) are rumoured to be quietly investing more time in understanding whether the index of multiple deprivation has potential for greater use in the future. Back on the OfS site are also interactive maps selectable by each of the four types of recognised young participation measures (TUNDRA, POLAR 3 & 4, NCOP) and the calculation methodologies for each type of measure are here.

Data guru David Kernohan of Wonkhe gallops through the main features, issues and oddities of TUNDRA in A cold spot on the TUNDRA.

OfS data – Changes in Healthcare Student Numbers

The OfS have published data on healthcare student number changes following the removal of the bursary system (2017 entrants). The data compares 2016-17 to 2017-18 highlighting:

  • An 11% drop in the number of students starting nursing courses (19,790 down to 17,630). Students aged over 21 dropped by 17%
  • A 3% increase in students starting midwifery courses
  • Little overall change in the number of entrants to allied health courses, with some courses growing and others decreasing. E.g. physiotherapy increased by 19% (250 students), while podiatry decreased by 19% (45 students)
  • Overall, the number of young entrants to healthcare courses increased by 8%, BUT the number of mature students decreased by 30%
  • Overall, there was a slight increase in entrants from the lowest POLAR4 quintiles (areas of lowest participation).

They said that the full impact of the reforms will not be evident until more years of data are available.

Yvonne Hawkins, Director of Teaching Excellence and Student Experience, said:

  • The reduction in nursing and healthcare students is a concern for the health workforce of the future. We are working in partnership with universities, Health Education England, NHS England and representative bodies to increase the numbers of healthcare students and there is emerging evidence that this work is starting to have an impact.
  • The OfS is supporting a number of innovative projects to boost take-up and development of specialist healthcare courses – as well as providing direct additional funding for the delivery of high-cost healthcare subjects. This data will help universities to identify gaps and opportunities to increase recruitment and ensure that the country is provided with the next generation of highly-trained health professionals’

Immigration: The Tier 4 Visa list which catalogues the institutions licensed to sponsor migrant students has been updated. It includes information about the category of students a provider is licensed to sponsor and their sponsorship rating.

Students

UCAS have launched the UCAS Hub which aims to bring together all a student’s research about their next steps into one place including HE and apprenticeships. UCAS describe it as: a personalised, digital space for young people considering their post-18 choices, as well as anyone thinking about returning to education.

It seems it is a week for one-stop shops as UK music have launched their own to help students and parents consider a career in the creative industries. Excerpt:

DiscoverCreative.Careers is designed to help students and their parents, guardians and teachers find out more about the careers in industries including advertising, architecture, fashion, film and television, museums and galleries, performing arts and publishing – and the routes to them.

The creative industries are growing three times faster than the UK economy as a whole and to meet the predicted growth, there is a need for more young people to choose a career in one of the UK’s most dynamic sectors. The new site will signpost users to the full range of jobs available to counter an historic dearth of good careers information for the creative sector.
The initiative is part of the Creative Careers Programme being delivered by ScreenSkills, Creative & Cultural Skills and the Creative Industries Federation supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports as part of the Government’s industrial strategy. The lead partners have worked with organisations covering the 12 subsectors of the creative industries to provide expert information on the range of jobs. (More content here.)

HE Participation Stats

The DfE has published statistics on Participation Rates in HE from 2006 to 2018 (and this link gives previous years of data). It shows rise in the Higher Education Initial Participation rate, a stable gap between male and female HE participation and a highest rate of 18 year olds accessing HE.  The detail is explained here.

New Insight: See the OfS press release in our WP and Access section on their new Experimental Statistics which group disadvantaged student demographic characteristics to, hopefully, provide answers to tricky questions such as why certain groups of students are more likely to drop out or encounter difficulties whilst studying.

Widening Participation and Access

Experimental Statistics: The OfS highlight new experimental statistics which consider the interaction of demographic characteristics. Imaginatively named ABCS (Associations Between Characteristics of Students) the OfS state the statistics could offer important insights on the combining factors which leader to non-access or poorer outcomes for disadvantaged students. The OfS press release says:

Associations between characteristics of students’ (ABCS) is a new, experimental set of analyses that seeks to better understand how multiple characteristics – like age, sex, ethnicity and area background – interact to affect students’ outcomes in higher education, including whether they get in to university and, if so, whether they continue beyond their first year.

The methodology could also be used in future to look at the results students achieve and whether they progress to graduate employment, and across all levels of higher education.

The kinds of findings that can be explored using the ABCS methodology include:

  • black Caribbean students aged 21-25 are at higher risk of dropping out than other students, and this risk increases dramatically when looking at those who also report having a mental health condition
  • although young female students are, on the whole, much more likely to go to university than male students of the same age, those who received free school meals were far less likely to go than those who did not.

Chris Millward, OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation, commented:

  • Our guidance encourages universities and other higher education providers to address combinations of characteristics when they are setting targets, choosing measures and evaluating their work to close equality gaps.
  • Our hope is that, in the future, measures such as these will help them better understand these interactions, and therefore target their work more effectively.
  • This work is experimental, so we are looking to users to provide feedback on all aspects of the methodology and measures. This will be crucial to any future development and use of these analyses.

Power of the Parent: FE Week has an article stating the truism that every WP practitioner knows – the power of the influencing parent on a young person considering their HE prospects. Towards the end of the article are some suggestions on how to bring parents on board.

Differentiated Fees: Colin McCaig (Sheffield Hallam) has a policy paper explaining how differentiated fees (e.g. based on higher fees for higher tariff entry points to a course) would significantly undermine widening access for underrepresented social groups. In particular they find that applicants from low income households would gravitate towards lower cost provision rather than accessing the prestigious, high tariff, high cost institutions.

Tricky Target Decisions: The Times letters to the editor contains Degrees of Privilege (scroll to half way down the page to find it) which explores the complexities (and hints towards a fairness question) in widening access targets.

Private Tuition

The Sutton Trust and Ipsos MORI surveyed schools and found that 24% of secondary teachers have offered paid for private tuition, two-thirds did so after direct approach by parents of pupils. In primary school it is 14%.  The survey also found that in 2019 27% of 11-16 year olds have received private tuition at some point during the last four years, up from 18% in the 2005 survey. The duration of the tuition isn’t stated but looking at the data it appears around 10% of the 2019 27% had tuition across multiple years in the last four years.

24% accessed the private tuition for a school entrance exam, and 37% for a specific GCSE subject, 4% because their school doesn’t offer a particular subject they wish to study.

The increase in private tuition is contentious because, unsurprisingly, the young people who receive it come from better off backgrounds (34% from high affluence households, 20% from low affluence households). The Sutton Trust’s press release says:

  • The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), the Sutton Trust’s sister charity, has identified one-to-one and small group tuition as a very cost-effective way to boost attainment. To level the playing field outside the classroom, schools should consider prioritising one-to-one and small group tuition in their Pupil Premium spending. The government should also look at ways of funding access to such tuition sustainably, for example through a voucher scheme.
  • The Trust would also like to see more private tuition agencies provide a certain proportion of their tuition to disadvantaged pupils for free, as well as an expansion of non-profit tuition programmes that connect tutors with disadvantaged schools. Agencies like Tutorfair, MyTutor and Tutor Trust operate innovative models in this area.

The Sutton Trust’s other recommendations are available here.  The survey results are available here.

This was a limited scope survey designed to provide a yearly update to the two key questions of how many mainstream teachers are offering private tuition and how many young people are being tutors. The research does not answer questions behind the increase in private tuition, such as whether the Government’s raising of curriculum standards may have been a factor in compelling parents that can afford additional tuition to do so. However, the data shows that accessing private tuition has increased at a steady rate since 2005.

The next challenge – continuation

The Ministers have made a big WP student success speech this week. SoS Education, Gavin Williamson, and Universities Minister Chris Skidmore both spoke out to compel universities to do more to reduce dropout rates, particularly within the disadvantaged student body. The Government news story highlights how the Government are looking to the Access and Participation Plans that all registered providers are required to have as a vehicle for sector movement to improve the drop out disparity. While more disadvantaged students now access university (although students from advantaged areas are still 2.4 times more likely to access HE) there is a gap with students from lower income backgrounds more likely to drop out of university. In 2016/17 6% of advantaged students dropped out compared to 8.8% of disadvantaged. Of concern is that the drop out gap has become wider from the previous year. The news story says:

  • Ahead of… the publication of new statistics on access and participation by university regulator the Office for Students, Mr Williamson has underlined his determination to take action and ensure every student choosing to go to university – regardless of background – is supported to get the most out of the experience….[he will]…say that more needs to be done to make progress on access and participation at our world-class institutions. He will urge all universities to follow in the footsteps of institutions like Kings College and improve their offer for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Education Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, said:

  • It is not good enough that white working class boys are far less likely to go to university and black students are far less likely to complete their courses than others. We cannot let this wasted potential go unchecked any longer.
  • I want all universities, including the most selective, to do everything they can to help disadvantaged students access a world-class education, but they also need to keep them there and limit the numbers dropping out of courses. My message is clear – up your game and get on with it.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

  • Progress is being made to ensure that more disadvantaged young people are going to university than ever before, but it’s not enough to get students through the door – they must then get the right support to complete their courses too.
  • Dropouts will be a key focus of mine as Universities Minister and I will be watching carefully to see how universities respond to this challenge. I fully support the OfS in taking action if providers fail to do all they can to deliver their commitments.

The Government news story concludes:  The Government’s wide-ranging reforms to higher education has led to the publication of access and participation plans…The OfS will closely monitor all these providers to make sure they follow through on their plans.

UUK have responded to the speech – Julia Buckingham, UUK President, said: “there is more work to do” and called on the government to “quicken the progress” by “reintroducing maintenance grants for students most in need”.

Media coverage can be found in iNews and ITV.

Labour Party Conference

32 hour working week: At the Labour Party conference John McDonnell said the next Labour government will reduce the average full time working week to 32 hours within a decade. A shorter working week with no loss of pay. HEPI have a short new blog on what this might mean for university staff and whether it also applies to students who work long hours as part of their course load (medicine, health, architecture and education).

Abolishing Student Fees: Jim Dickinson from Wonkhe highlights the unknowns within Labour’s commitment to abolish student fees:

  • Blimey. Do you remember when the most interesting that happened at Labour Party Conference was Cherie Blair mouthing “the chancellor’s a liar” on her way out of Tony’s speech?
  • For higher education, the inclusion of “no fees” in Labour policy has never really been in doubt, and popped up several times in Brighton. The question is the deeper complexity – would existing debt be wiped? Would the unit of resource be protected? Would more students in England be discouraged from doing higher education in universities rather than FE colleges? What kinds of incentives will get the adults back? Will OfS be scrapped or reformed? The party is unforgivably vague or refreshingly open to ideas, depending on your perspective.
  • Labour’s Lifelong Learning Commission is expected to provide some answers, but has not produced its findings in time for conference. Gordon Marsden is furious that Gavin Williamson has announced subject TEF before the independent review has even been presented to Parliament. But given that every delegate agrees that the system is too “marketised”, the thorniest question was on student numbers. Say out loud that you’d have number caps and you look like an enemy of opportunity. Say you wouldn’t and you rule out the thing that has caused the intensification of competition in the first place. Marsden said neither, of course.

MillionPlus call for maintenance grants to be reinstated: Professor Lynn Dobbs, VC London Metropolitan University was a key speaker at a Labour fringe event. She said under a National Education Service (NES) a Labour government should restore student maintenance grants and guarantee investment, in order to deliver a well-funded tertiary education system for all. She said:

  • Guaranteeing sustainable investment across tertiary education can foster collaboration rather than competition between universities and colleges.
  • Shifting money around within education only moves problems from one part of the sector to the other, and from one set of students to other, does not address the critical issue of a real-terms reduction in investment in all of our students – none of us should EVER settle for that.

She urged for part-time and mature students to become a priority: The need to focus on part-time and mature students is much needed … Despite the populist narrative of ‘too many students’, fewer than 50% of 30 years olds in the UK have had the opportunity to experience any form of higher education – this is a low bar that we should be seeking to leap over. 

Abolishing Ofsted: There were tweets (and another tweet) and news stories from the Guardian and Politics Home on scrapping Ofsted to be replaced by a teaching standards support system. Angela Rayner: Schools will no longer be reduced to a one-word grade or subjected to a system that hounds teachers from the classroom. 

Further Education and the Fair Economy: The Social Market Foundation and the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) ran the Further Education and the Fair Economy fringe event. The panel discussed further education and the opportunities it opened for elderly people, as well as disabled students. Time was also spent discussing the impact it had on social mobility and the future economy.

  • Chair James Kirkup, director, Social Market Foundation said that further education was pivotal to the future economy and insisted that politicians needed to increase their engagement in FE considerably.
  • Opinium’s research manager, Priya Minhas provided an overview of public perceptions of vocational qualifications, noting that they were well perceived in terms of practicality. However, she noted that most people saw university degrees as more useful for future careers and linked university education with more than just a skillset – they had an intellectual and social aspect too. Yet, vocational qualifications did have a reputation for helping people get into a job. She discussed the potential for “Nimbyism”, wherein people spoke positively about vocational qualifications but would not want them for their own child. However, the data did not simply support this hypothesis.
  • Lord Bassam of Brighton expressed disappointment at the gradual erosion of funding for FE, which had served to destabilise the sector and restrict access to FE for many people. He praised the Augar Review and said that it was through the review that the Government had realised that they needed to improve their work in the sector. He concluded by emphasising that if the Government truly believed in improving the quality of manufacturing in the UK, then it needed to increase support for FE.
  • Caireen Mitchell of Croydon College said that many colleges, including her own, had been forced into mergers due to financial pressures. She welcomed the announcement of £400m for the FE sector but said that far more was required. The implications of the funding shortage could be extensive, with far lower hours for a “full-time” programme compared to other European countries the primary concern for Mitchell. She also noted that health and mental health support was stretched, and extra-curricular activities were being slashed in favour of other priorities. The college could provide qualifications, Mitchell said, but a wider breadth of education was simply not possible. She linked the lack of funding to a lack of social mobility and productivity, with many low-income students unable to afford to continue in education. She said people on low-incomes needed free access to a rounded education, including subjects that were not “core” such as English and Maths.
  • Gordon Marsden MP (Shadow Minister for HE, FE & Skills) referenced the House of Lords Committee on seaside towns, noting the challenges that people in those areas had in accessing higher education and said that the educational challenges in those areas was “palpable”…The economic and political context was that skills were no longer siloed – the rise of technology meant that skillsets were far more fluid and varied than before. This, Marsden believed, made FE more vital than ever.
  • A representative from the Deaf Children’s Society noted that FE was often a better route for disabled children and asked what more could be done to assist disabled people get the careers they wanted. Gordon Marsden said that Labour had wanted to make provisions in law to put a special emphasis on disabilities generally in education and apprenticeships. The Government had not been willing to work with them so far, he said.

Immigration – What should be in Labour’s manifesto?: The session focussed on immigration policies as a whole and didn’t specifically cover HE.

  • Shadow home secretary Diane Abbot said that there was a lot of interest in immigration and that (following her own experience working in the Home Office after university) it was essential that the culture of the Home Office changed and the language it was having around migration. She highlighted a poll which suggested that in the last few years the UK had had an increasingly positive view of the benefits of immigration, with a poll this year showing that 22% of people believed immigration provided a net benefit to the UK.
  • Abbot said that Labour would look to unpick those policies introduced by both Labour and Conservative governments that tied into the hostile environment, principally that immigrants could not have access to resources once in the UK. Labour would not seek to impose salary limits for access to the UK as the £30,000 figure excluded valued professions like nurses. And that Labour would also entitle family members to join people already in the UK.
  •  Abbot criticised the Home Secretary’s commitment to end freedom of movement from day one and explained that it had to be reserved quickly because it was illegal. Abbot said that Labour would take a more liberal approach to immigration which she said had become increasingly popular.
  • Thom Brooks, professor at Durham University, offered his views on immigration, stating that an EU citizen amnesty should be introduced because the current EU settlement scheme was inadequate. He said he would like the 2014 Immigration Act to be repealed and reviewed with the view that immigration was positive for the UK overall. He also said that the Migration Advisory Committee was too small and should be expanded so there would be more expertise. He called for a Royal Commission to be conducted on immigration, which could form the basis of future immigration policies.
  • Kate Green, chair of the APPG on Migration, said that Ministers in the Home Office should be giving their civil servants a positive message about immigration and affirmed that immigration should be viewed as being beneficial to the UK. Green said that migration would rise across the world because of conflict and climate change and said that it was a shame the UK was leaving the EU because this was an important institution the UK could use to influence global issues.

Industrial Strategy, Skilled Jobs and Education; Run by the Fabian Society and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry this event focused on assessing on how places, communities and regions can all see good work grow. The panel questioned what methods can be undertaken to ensure not only high employment, but also high skilled jobs. There was consensus that stronger regional strategy for providing skilled jobs is needed but also a strategy which guarantees that jobs remain “good” with the implementation of automation and new technology.

Shadow Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Chi Onwurah MP opened the discussion on the topic of skilled jobs everywhere which she said is driving part of the industrial strategy. [Note – Labour have their own version of the Industrial Strategy.]  Key points are:

  • strong cross sector investment and a strong focus on investing in infrastructure so that people have sufficient access to jobs.
  • delivering skilled jobs as part of an industrial strategy, this would allow for some divisions to be healed amongst regions, prosperity would be delivered
  • innovation needs to be a part of the “cultural DNA of our country” and the UK needs to become an “innovation nation”; if this remains a key goal then access to skilled jobs can be broadened to those who are currently excluded
  • there should be the implementation of a National Education Service that champions adult education and enables people to reskill.
  • both the industrial strategy and education strategy should be combined and work alongside each other so that individuals can “realise their dreams”.
  • international talent is vitally important and even those who earn less than £30,000 should have access to work in the UK

Labour’s Anti-Private Schooling Motion:  At the Labour Party Conference a motion was passed intending to dismantle the private school system should Labour win the next general election. Previously Labour said they intended to close the tax loopholes available to elite private schools, redistributing this money to ‘improve the lives of all children’.  However, the motion, spearheaded by the Momentum faction, said the next Labour manifesto should include a: “commitment to integrate all private schools into the state sector…[and]…withdrawal of charitable status and all other public subsidies and tax privileges, including business rate exemption. Plus: “endowments, investments and properties held by private schools to be redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions”.  It also said that universities only admit 7% of students from private schools, to reflect the proportion of all pupils who attend them. More details are in this Politics Home article. Laura Parker, Momentum’s national co-ordinator, said: “This is a huge step forward in dismantling the privilege of a tiny, Eton-educated elite who are running our country into the ground.

The Letters to the Editor of the Times on Labour’s proposed abolition of private schools provide some interesting questions on how beneficial it would be to society to carry this policy through.

From the Labour NASUWT fringe event on valuing teachers:

  • Dr Patrick Roach, Deputy General Secretary of NASUWT – in some instances, teachers only had a single GCSE in the subject area they were responsible for, which had led, he added, to a culture where “as long as you are one-page ahead in the textbook of the pupils that you are teaching then that is good enough.” He lamented that this is not good enough.
  • Mike Kane, shadow schools minister, said that the Labour Party would bring an end to “toxic testing” and ensure that teachers had proper qualifications in a bid to bring “hope” back to the profession. He proceeded by highlighting how Conservative cuts to university budgets and training courses had led to an influx of unqualified teachers entering schools. He said “far too many teachers in our system are absolutely unqualified. It isn’t a profession, it is becoming more of a trade which you learn on the job”. Kane continued emphasising that forcing teachers to “teach to the test” coupled with a litany of legislation had resulted in plummeting morale.

The Class Ceiling: Barriers to Social Mobility in the UK today.  This event run by Demos and The Investment Association focused on the challenges facing social mobility today. In particular, how aspirations, access to jobs and attitudes can be altered amongst those who have the least opportunity and come from backgrounds that traditionally limits how far people go in life.

  •  Duncan Exley, former director of the Equality Trust, said that during the 20th Century there was more social mobility than in the 21st Century with the odds now greater that individuals will have a lower level job than their parents. He also said that no matter how much individuals are trained and educated, there needs to be an increase in supply of good jobs and homes if social mobility is going to occur. Finally, Exley said that there is a need to support collective wellbeing to encourage social mobility, as this in turn unleashes individual opportunity.
  • Claire Ainsley, Executive Director Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that the perceived social mobility problem is particularly worrying – younger people are less likely to believe that it is hard work and talents that gets them on in life, as most see background and parents as responsible for where they end up. Ainsley argued that this is a problem that needs to be tackled if levels of social mobility are going to improve. She continued that in order to properly address social mobility problems, bright young people from deprived backgrounds aren’t the only ones that need to be given attention, but maybe those who are older too; the lens on social barriers and mobility needs to shift.
  • Seema Malhotra, MP for Feltham and Heston, framed her remarks on social mobility about “creating conditions for success”. She said that there needs to be an increased readiness to learn amongst people, the opportunity to dream and a desire to achieve. Malhotra commented that not only do attitudes towards young people need to change if social mobility is to improve, but she also said that attitudes within families and communities that traditionally hold people back when there is an attempt to create opportunity need to be altered. She explained that young people are experiencing cumulative impact effects, whereby they are absorbing their parents’ anxieties about housing and this in turn is limiting their own mobility; Malhotra attributed this whole issue to poverty and austerity. Malhotra discussed what she called “the pillars of prosperity” –  she said that the education system needs to create conditions for success and that the levers and relationships within communities and society need to assist in creating opportunity.  To conclude she spoke on how there is a “fundamental” issue about human flourishing and providing mechanisms that support this; this is something that must start early in life and should be sustained if social mobility is to improve. Whilst this isn’t really a policy goal currently, she argued that it should be a central approach to the creation of policy.
  • CEO of the Investment Association, Chris Cummings, said industry should be prioritizing ‘potential’ over ‘polish’. Cummings said that financial services specifically has a bad habit of employing the “best” people – those that have good academic qualifications, perform very well at interview and have a high degree of social capital. However, Cummings said that this often leads to a “group thinking” attitude, instead of prioritizing diversity of thought, which in turn can be highly beneficial, and give overall better outcomes and returns. He said that if industry isn’t diverse in the way it thinks then decisions can often become constrained. Cummings described his own organisation as implementing an hour glass model, rather than a pyramid, to provide opportunity to those who can bring a “different dimension” to the world of work.

Labour’s cradle to grave careers service and the quality of careers advice was also discussed.

A guest blog from SUBU

Our guest blog series by Sophie Bradfield of SUBU continues this week

With a new cohort of students joining us this week, Unite’s recent report with HEPI on ‘The New Realists’ can help us gain some insights about prospective students, students enrolling and already enrolled at BU.  The aim of the report is to “investigate young people’s transition to university, their expectations and their experiences in the first year, looking at both academic and non-academic aspects.” There are 4 stages to the research: desk research, online communities, friendship triads, and a quantitative survey. (You can download the full methodology here). Respondents are diverse with a range of genders, nationalities, ethnicities, grades achieved, sexualities and abilities, ensuring a reflective view of the student mind set. 5,108 students were surveyed, with a fairly even split between applicants (2,535) and first year students (2,573). The majority of these respondents are in the 16-19 age bracket (86%) with the remaining 14% in 20+ age bracket. The report has 3 key themes which I have unpicked below.

Key Theme 1: University Provides a Bridge to a Stable Future

One of the key findings from the report is the general belief carried by generation Z that University is a way to foster stability in an unstable world where their futures are otherwise uncertain. 69% of respondents agreed “going to University is the only way to make sure I’ll get the life I want”. 68% felt they would face more challenges than their parents in becoming successful in life which may be because 59% felt there is more “chaos and risk in the world than there was 20 years ago”. ‘Independent but not adults’ is a term used in the report to explain how students felt. I’ve heard BU students refer to themselves as feeling ‘adultish’ which links to the findings of this report and shows how widespread it is. University is a place where students can try new things, challenge themselves and develop their future selves. For many students, University is a key development time to ‘become adults’.

Key Theme 2: Students are more Diverse than ever

The report finds that more than ever, students have diverse individual identities dispelling the myth that there is a ‘typical student’. For example over a fifth (22%) of students in the research study identified as being teetotal, demonstrating a shift away from the drinking culture often associated with the student experience. As noted in the report, this means it is essential that students are continuously listened to so their education experience meets their needs.

With the research depicting a rise in students declaring a disability (including mental health); a higher proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic students (BAME); a rise in students from lower participation neighbourhoods; and a higher proportion of students identifying as LGBT+, higher education institutions are fantastically diverse places for students to develop and grow as open-minded and progressive individuals. Nevertheless, the report finds that respondents from minority and under-represented groups are slightly less likely to see themselves as successful which shows there is still some way to go to level the playing-field for all students, through empowerment and liberation.

The report also finds that over 80% of respondents combined either don’t follow trends or don’t pay attention. We can see this in the political world too; 40% of respondents didn’t identify with a particular political party. Labour came top being supported by 19% of respondents, followed by 8% supporting the Green party; 7% the Conservatives and the remaining gaining 1-3%. We’ve seen this move away from tribal politics over the last few decades but these latest results show how pertinent it will be for political parties to attract the student vote in the anticipated General Election.

Key Theme 3: Peers Play a Pivotal Role in a Successful Student Experience

The report asks students about successful aspects of their student experience.

In SUBU we’ve been asking BU students a similar question for the last 7 years in an annual student experience survey: ‘When you graduate from BU, what are the 3 most important things that will determine whether your time at BU has been as good as it could have been for you?’ With an open text response, students have always chosen the same three themes: Degree Grade, Friends Made; and Employability Prospects. This shows similar themes to the Unite report above.

The report finds that the majority of students report feeling lonely occasionally with a further 22% saying they feel lonely often and 4% saying they feel lonely all the time. The BBC loneliness experiment reported in 2018 found a higher proportion of 16-24 year olds were lonely compared with the oldest in society. Wonkhe reported on this issue earlier in the year too making the link between loneliness, student activities and mental wellbeing. The Unite report also shows that students understand that they can increase their wellbeing through socialising, making friends and taking part in activities, demonstrating the importance of balancing the academic experience with the non-academic experience whilst at University. ‘Freshers’ Week’ events are highlighted as specifically making a positive difference to the experience of students who are estranged from their parents or have been in care. Yet, more can be done ‘to help students connect, make friends and integrate when they first come to University’.

The research shows that students feel ‘pressure to solve their own problems independently or with peers’ connected to ‘transitioning to adult life’. This belief is reflected in their approach to mental health too as despite an increase in students identifying as having a mental health condition, many want to manage it themselves rather than seeking support from University services. Only half of students report their condition to their University and trust their peers far more than their University to reach out to for support. The report found that 47% of respondents considered their mental health condition to be part of who they are, forming part of their identity, however 46% also acknowledge there is still a stigma around mental health. This reluctance to seek support due to stigma and trust is something that continues to be a key area for Universities’ to address in the midst of an ongoing national debate about whose responsibility it is to ensure students get support for mental health issues.

Conclusions

The Unite/HEPI report highlights some very interesting insights from the student perspective, some of which are detailed above. Ultimately it all relates to conversations around transitions and support. There has been lots of research and work around improving the transition of students into University, for example Michelle Morgan developed the Student Engagement Transitions Model for Practitioners to demonstrate the importance of transition at all stages of University. This Unite report highlights this too; the whole University experience is a transitionary experience for many students into ‘adulthood’. As director of HEPI Nick Hillman notes, “Today’s students are not, in the main, going to university because they want to be rich; they are going because they want to absorb the lifelong transferable benefits that degrees continue to confer.” Therefore it seems Universities and Students’ Unions should continue to do all they can to shape and nurture a diverse and malleable University community for students to share, experiment and grow into progressive, engaged citizens of the future.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. There aren’t any new inquiries and consultations this week however, email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the open inquiries or consultations.

Other news

Climate Change Funding: At the United Nations General Assembly on Monday PM Boris announced £1 billion aid funding to develop and test new technology targeted at tackling climate change in developing countries. The innovative new Ayrton Fund to give developing countries access to the latest cutting-edge tech to help reduce their emissions and meet global climate change targets.

The UK is home to some of the world’s best innovators in clean energy technology. Through the Ayrton Fund they and other scientists from around the world can work in partnership with developing countries to transform their energy sectors and reduce emissions by:

  • providing affordable access to electricity for some of the 1 billion people who are still off the grid, including through innovative solar technology for their homes
  • enhancing large-scale battery technology to replace polluting diesel generators and ensure clean energy can be stored and not lost
  • designing clean stoves like electric pressure cookers for some of the 2.7 billion people who still rely on firewood – with the smoke damaging their health as well as the environment
  • working with factories in major polluting industries like iron and steel, petrochemicals and cement to reduce their carbon output
  • improving the technology behind cooling systems so energy isn’t wasted – residential air conditioning alone is expected to raise global temperatures by 0.5°C in the years ahead; and
  • designing low-emission and electric vehicles to cut pollution and make transport systems cleaner and greener

Meanwhile Labour seem to have interwoven the environmental crisis through all their policy areas during their Party Conference this week. For example, when speaking of planned NHS reforms they said their: Green New Deal for our NHS – A Labour government will deliver the greenest health service in the world. As we rebuild our hospitals we’ll invest in solar panels and energy efficiency schemes. We’ll move to a fleet of low emission ambulances. And we’ll guarantee patients and staff a right to green space with an ‘NHS Forest’ – 1 million trees planted across our NHS estate – a tree for every member of staff.

Graduate Employment: The Times describe the biggest graduate recruiters in Top 100 Graduate Employers: bright young things flock to prison careers. In 2019 the Civil Service was the biggest graduate recruiter followed by PwC, Aldi, Google and the NHS. You’ll need to follow another link to find out about the variety of work within the prison service, however, this article talks about how young designers are influencing the prison environment.  And WONKHE have a quick and interesting new blog: Who is responsible for getting a graduate a graduate level job.

Positivity towards TEF (or not): Steven Jones (Manchester) speaks of how to harness TEF for positive gains during the SRHE conference:

  • [The Conference] was full of new ideas. Opposition to metrics wasn’t based on change-resistance and ideological stubbornness. Indeed…we urgently need to measure, understand and close differential attainment gaps in many areas, such as ethnicity. But there was consensus that current proxies for ‘excellence’ were incomplete, and creative thoughts about how they could be complemented. What about capturing graduates’ long-term well-being instead of their short-term satisfaction? Or encouraging institutions to develop their own frameworks based on their specific mission and their students’ needs? How about structural incentives for collaboration rather than competition? And a focus on teaching processes, not teaching outcomes?
  • The argument that the TEF is less about changing pedagogies than manipulating wider discourses shouldn’t bring any comfort to the sector. I tried to show how the dominant logic of teaching excellence primes the sector for more fundamental policy shifts, such as for-profit providers receiving taxpayer subsidy on pedagogical grounds. One delegate spoke to me at the end of the event to offer another example, explaining how employability-minded managers within his institution were squeezing out critical engagement with cultural theory to allow for further skills-based, professional training. The TEF may not change practice directly, but it retains the power to nudge the sector away from its core public roles towards more privatised and instrumental practices.
  • The challenge for us is to articulate a confident and robust defence of all kinds of university teaching. We need to explain how our pedagogies bring lifelong gains both to our students and to wider society, even if initial encounters can be difficult and unsettling. Policy has taken us a long way down the market’s cul-de-sac, but what’s reassuring is that we’re now moving on from TEF-bashing towards a coherent counter-narrative. This event confirmed that universities have more meaningful things to crow about than their fleeting goldenness against a bunch of false proxies.

Apprenticeships Access: The OU surveyed 700 employers in England and have published their Access to Apprenticeships report. Wonkhe describe the report contents: [the report]

  • concludes that many employers need more funding, training and information to support apprentices with declared disabilities. 24 per cent of companies surveyed find it challenging to fund training and development for apprentices with disabilities and 34 per cent of employers surveyed report an increase in entry-level applications from people with declared mental health conditions.
  • The report recommends that the government support employers through providing clearer guidance around hiring apprentices with disabilities, urges the Department for Education to simplify its funding model for providing additional learning support, and advocates the introduction of a training programme for employers recruiting apprentices with disabilities – akin to a Mental Health First Aid course.

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