Tagged / clearing

HE policy update for the w/e 16th August 2019

Welcome to a bumper update catching you on the last two weeks in policy land plus Sarah has taken a special in-depth look at post-qualification admissions as it is the hot topic of the week.

Post-qualification Admissions

Labour reinvigorated the post-qualification admissions debate on Wednesday when they declared they would reform the HE system and scrap predicted grades to implement a ‘new fairer system of post-qualification admissions’. Talk of post-qualification admissions (PQA) has been around for a long while, (Schwartz review, 2003; UCAS 2011), and quite recently the UCU have been pushing for PQA because they believe it penalises disadvantaged students. The claim is that capable disadvantaged students are penalised because they may receive under-predicted grades than their stronger, higher grade performance in their final exams. Lower predicted grades restrict their ability to apply to and secure a university place at the most competitive institutions. A focus on ensuring access for disadvantaged students to the highest tariff institutions was championed by Sam Gyimah, (HE Minister of 10 months, 2 Ministers ago) who pressurised Oxbridge to radically improve the number of disadvantaged students they accept and challenged students to think big and trade up to the most competitive institutions (claiming it leads to higher employability returns).  So it is interesting to see a Conservative and Labour policy align, even if they have different solutions.

Labour’s plans would see students applying for their HE place after receiving their A level/other results so they can select the “best” institution that their actual grades will qualify them for. They also address another political hot potato– unconditional offers – Labour want to see an end to unconditional offers and, of course, a PQA system where offers aren’t made in advance has no place for them (more on this below). It also means the end of clearing. Labour say that it will enable students to make better, more accurate decisions, and mean that are not pressurised into accepting an unconditional offer from a lower tariff university.

The last reason that is always trotted out for PQA is that England is the only country where a pre-qualifications admission system is used.

There would be significant practical challenges in implementing a PQA system. Universities are usually criticised as blocking such changes for their own convenience.

Universities have autonomy in this area with control over their admissions processes and the right to choose whom they admit. The Higher Education and Research Act (2017), states: ‘“the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers” means … the freedom of English higher education providers … to determine the criteria for the admission of students and apply those criteria in particular cases’.

We explore the complexities below, but first, is there evidence that disadvantaged students are under predicted? It seems there is:

  • Analysis carried out by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2011) found black students were the most likely to have their grades under-predicted.
  • The Sutton Trust states that poorer students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their wealthier peers.
  • UCL’s Institute of Education found that nearly one in four disadvantaged students who go on to achieve AAB or better in A-Level have predicted grades lower than their final results.

So while there is clearly an issue, what about those grey areas? HEPI have a useful blog. It highlights that if students wish, they can already apply after receiving your grades [and increasing numbers are, although that feels like a risky business especially in future when the demographic dip reverses] Students can also hedge their bets by accepting a firm choice, and then declining this offer to trade up to a better place. So it is possible, but it is complicated and it is unclear whether students really know how to make the system work for them. It is easier to just accept the place you had originally chosen (mere-exposure effect).

What about other countries?

If the UK is an international outlier and comparator countries all have PQA systems, are we missing a trick? They answer is our systems and intentions are quite different. In the British system the majority of students travel away from their home to attend the institution which they believe is most attractive – for all sorts of reasons (not just prestige/ranking of the university) – the programme content, type of course (accelerated, sandwich, traditional), employer links and employability outcomes, institutional prestige, and the desirability of the wider rounded offer and university environment. Students choose and universities select students they believe will thrive. Even if we changed to a PQA system this established cultural approach to student choice and the meritocracy would not immediately change. So how does it work in other countries?

France – students apply post-qualification. All those achieving a pass in the baccalaureate are entitled to go, and most do. Most stay locally. Fees are low.  University is an automatic right and universities have to accept all those that achieve the pass, shutting their doors only when full (and that means really full). Non-continuation rates are huge with many students dropping out during the first year because university just isn’t for them, not to mention the enormous class sizes and relatively poor student experience.    Application processes are generally on-line, anonymous and impersonal.  Universities do not need to sell themselves to students and there is no selection except for a small number of very exclusive universities.

Australia – school leavers apply before they have their results ranking their preferences for their preferred institutions. When they results are known they are converted to a common score (ATAR) and the universities consider the score achieved by the students that have ranked them top and then decide a cut off for acceptances. Students below the threshold repeat the process with their second ranked choice, and so on down the list. However, it is not working well. Those with lower scores struggle to obtain places and universities are starting to move away from relying on their score based system.

America – it’s complicated, drawn out, highly selective, and stressful. First there are fee distinctions between public and private institutions, and they types of degree they issue. The application process itself has multiple steps and deadlines. Separate applications are sent to each institution (although they can use the Common Application process for certain institutions). On four year degree programmes, once accepted, students may be assigned to the entire college, not a particular department or major (focal programme). Entry to the top institutions is fiercely competitive. Students choosing the two-year county and community college route have a less complicated system than the four-year degree schools, as this usually only requires a high school transcript or minimum test score. And the provision of high school counsellors (who help with careers and HE advice) is patchy – private schools often have a dedicated full time post, only 1 in 4 public schools have the equivalent level of resource. Transfers between institutions are more frequent than, currently occurs in the UK too.

UCU have a summary table for 30 countries (see pages 7-8).

So how could the system work? There are two main options. HEPI:

  • The differences between Post-Qualification Applications (when you applyfor a place after receiving your results) [this is Labour’s ideal process] and,
  • Post-Qualification Admissions (where the places are handed out after the results but in which you might have applied, as now, before you know how you have done). [Australian model]

HEPI continue: The oddity of our system is not so much that people apply before receiving their results; the oddity is that huge weight is put on predicted grades, which are notoriously unreliable. Either version of PQA could tackle this, but they are different from one another and it is not always clear which one PQA advocates want.

Exams of prime importance

Whether it is post qualification applications or admissions, changing the system would increase the focus on exam results. Last year there were calls to reduce the reliance on grades as the sole or most major determinant of accepting an applicant (including peripheral interest in comprehensive universities). And many universities acknowledge that grades alone cannot represent an individual’s range of desirable skills and attributes, nor their ability to thrive and achieve on a particular course at a particular institution. So a system which places more emphasis on grades could be a retrograde step. Plus the reality of a post-qualification application process means a more pressurised, shorter, decision turnaround with less time to consider alternatives such as interviews, portfolios, personal statements, and applicant’s background circumstances.

What about those students who have over-predicted provisional grades? They will have applied to a higher tariff institution, which post-qualification may well still accept them (given market pressures). Much of the rhetoric for PQA surrounds extending the aspirations of the most capable disadvantaged students. Yet the mid-ability disadvantaged deserve to secure a place at a good institution, just as their more affluent peers do. Of course this is where contextual admissions could come into play.

Contextual Admissions

Contextual admissions could [and should] still exist in a post-qualification system. However, to truly support social mobility aims they would need to be far more transparent. Disadvantaged students can only aspire to a ‘reach’ university if they know their actual grades plus the contextual leniency that will be applied.  Without this they likely will self-select to a less competitive institution. Students also need assurance that universities value this information and do not use the contextual ‘tick’ to filter out applications.

Universities would need to clearly spell out which disadvantage factors they accept and what grade/points reduction they adjust the advertised tariff by, including any further leniency due to double disadvantage or intersectionality. Providers would need to provide online checkers so a student can input their data and check if they are eligible for a reduced offer. And this needs to be transparent, available not only on the institution’s own website but clear and accessible through the UCAS application process (pre or post qualification).

This suggests a clearer but more automated approach to contextual admissions. However, there may be other important factors that some universities check outside of the standard criteria to provide a further adjusted offer, or an offer that doesn’t decrease the standard tariff but provides other alternatives. Of course, if contextual admissions are more ‘automated’ the process could be national – a standard set of criteria by which a defined reduced was applied cross-institution. However, this is may be a step too far. It is right that universities retain their autonomy to determine what contextual reduction or alternatives can be provided. And this isn’t about ‘bums on seats’, universities have different remits with some experienced in taking very high proportions of disadvantaged students with a strong support infrastructure.  And in some cases this is determined by regional characteristics.

Speed is of the essence

The aspect that strikes me most when considering UCU’s table of countries with post qualification admissions is that the time between application and acceptance is a matter of days or weeks. This is just not possible in the UK if there is to be an element of selection. Either the process becomes more automated with less attention to personal factors (which really does feel like ‘bums on seats’, and would less selection increase drop out?) or the start date for foundation and first year courses is delayed (or A level exams are taken earlier/marked quicker). None of these options are attractive. In particular extending the time between school/exam finish and commencing degree/alternative study is counter to Government aims for a productive workforce (and accelerated degrees).

The knock on effect potentially also polarises choice between degree and other alternative skills/study programmes. Imagine a student unsure whether to choose a traditional degree programme (with confirmation of place mid-September) and an apprenticeship option which commences early September. The timing for post-level 3 options needs to match.

Intensive Careers Support Period

Careers advice came up a lot in the press this week. In a PQA system where students still apply to HE institutions while studying at level 3 (but aren’t accepted until their results are known) students can still access careers support and HE advice through their educational provider. However, in a post qualification application system schools or other agencies would need to be available to guide choices and support with personal statements during the summer closure periods, or early autumn.

Capacity would be an issue – far more staff would be needed to cover all the students needing the same support all at once within a short period. And in a system where students apply before results are known provisional grades are still likely to be used by the institution as an indicator. Even though they’ll only be used internally by the school and the individual they will still be unreliable and have the same effect Labour are trying to curb – they’ll restrict the disadvantaged students’ choice of institution based on what they believe they can attain, negating the intention of changing to a PQA system. Of course there is a watered down hybrid approach whereby careers support and statement preparation would be done while studying the level 3 (and this would work for a system of post-qualification admissions rather than applications). This isn’t really student focussed though, it just makes things easier for schools, and internal predicted grades will still bias the student’s initial choices.

Is it really the end for Clearing?

Labour stated clearing wouldn’t exist. However, this seems dangerous as if students applied with their results and none of their institutions accepted them then they are left without a safety net to rethink their possibilities. A PQA system actually creates more uncertainty for the student. Even if they have the grades they cannot be certain their preferred institution will take them, and everything hinges on results day for the process to even start. Really PQA is one giant clearing round, and as such stages would be required. If we were truly joined up vocational and apprenticeship options would all be part of one giant post qualification application system. Wouldn’t that be an enormous feat!

Unconditional Offers

Labour are also opposed to unconditional offers.  Schools are pressuring the Government to clamp down on unconditional offers as they claim that some students ‘take their foot off the gas’ and underperform when they hold an unconditional offer. Politicians also believe the overuse of unconditional offers is a misuse of recruitment simply aiming to lock students into attending the institution ‘bums on seats’ and doesn’t represent ‘value for money’.  Unconditional offers were introduced to support certain disadvantaged groups, such as providing basic security for care leavers who often have to give up their accommodation before their university place is confirmed. More recently, they have been accepted as valid to support those with proven mental health or additional needs who may underperform at final exam. The point of these unconditional offers is that they provide security and access for the underrepresented groups whose lives are characterised by precarity and who, without the unconditional place, who not access HE or consider a ‘reach’ university.  In cases of accepted or demonstrated need it is feasible that these could still form an early application element, even in a post-results system. Or if that was too unpalatable we could follow the Scottish example and provide some form of guaranteed offer (link).

How would it work in practice – the nitty gritty

Everyone has their own theory about how PQA could work in practice. Universities could commence later, schools or a national careers service could advise during the post-exam crunch periods, campus visits could be undertaken during the year or in the summer period (or virtually). However, don’t all these aspects have an impact on the disadvantaged student? A later degree start means either less/more intensive tuition (less period for adjustment – those coming from poor schools need time to level up, some need time to emotionally settle) or that tuition will finish later in the first year summer (impacting on access to the paid summer jobs needed to top up the student loans). Careers advice depends on the quality of the school and dedicated resources – deprived schools may not have the same resource to spend on careers as a private institution. The cost of campus visits may be prohibitive – and why undertake them pre-results if you are unsure where you might end up? Plus with a squeezed acceptance period would there be time for student’s to visit multiple institutions to experience whether they feel it would be a good fit?

Of course there are implications for the University too. Pre-qualification applications form a large part of the end recruitment picture, and HE institutions are essentially reliant on fee income to function. Particularly in today’s marketised competitive environment. Could no visibility as to recruitment levels make ‘bums on seats’ worse? It also doesn’t provide enough lead time to free up extra resource for unexpectedly popular courses. And, timetabling (groan) unpredictable recruitment levels are a timetabling headache. Plus certain widening access groups, such as parents and carers, need to know their timetable well in advance of the start of the programme so they can arrange alternative care.

At the other end of the spectrum how would universities deal with oversupply? Too many students with the required grade level all wish to attend the university. Would universities have less choice over who they take (French model)? Would the university then have to rely on the personal statement (time issues)? Could unconscious bias come into play? Could oversupply pave the way for the three D’s cut-off grade threshold to be introduced?

There could be a first come, first served model, but this has a hidden equality bias. Disadvantaged students may need more guidance in choice of institution or be slower to apply due to personal circumstances. Would there still be an ‘application’ or decision deadline post results?

In the balance…

Many of the reasons offered for a post qualification admissions system are aspects which need tackling anyway. Furthermore, the Government wants to see more choice and variability in the HE market (accelerated degrees, part time and flexible options) alongside prestigious alternative technical and degree apprenticeship routes. A PQA system swaps the unpredictability of predicted grades for the unpredictability of exam performance, which may still not be a reliable predictor of an individual’s sustained capability.

Commentary

  • Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: “The higher education admissions system isn’t working for students, and radical action is needed to change that…Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions. No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair…We will work with schools, colleges, and universities to design and implement the new system, and continue to develop our plans to make higher education genuinely accessible to all.”
  • Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The Labour party is right to look at overhauling the university admissions system. The current system is based on students’ predicted grades which are wrong most of the time. Moving to a system of post-qualification applications would empower the student to make the best university choice for them. We’d also like to see a greater use of contextual data in the admissions process, as well as a review of the personal statement to see how it could be improved.”
  • Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is a good idea to look at moving to a system of post-qualification admissions for university, but it would represent a significant and complex change to our current admissions systems. t would be extremely difficult to manage the entire applications process in the few weeks between A-level results in mid-August and the beginning of university terms in September or October, and it is likely that we would need to rethink the entire calendar. It might be simpler to return to a system in which AS levels counted towards the first year of the full A-level as this allowed universities to use actual results in considering applications, and for universities to stop the practice of so-called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers – which are unconditional as long as the student makes the university their first choice – simply to put bums on seats.”

Damian Hinds, the previous Education Secretary, announced a review of admissions practices on 5 April 2019. The OfS is expected to launch the review in the autumn. The House of Commons Library has issued a briefing paper on the key issues surrounding admissions. Meanwhile UUK launched their own pre-emptive admissions review on 22 July.

A Level Results

DfE Statistics published on Thursday, A Level results day, showed:

  • Entries to STEM subjects increased for both male and females – overall a 26.2% rise since 2010;
  • More girls now do science subjects – biology, chemistry and physics combined – than boys and overall science entries are up by 7.4%, despite the fall in the population;
  • Entries to Spanish have risen making it the most popular language at A level while there has been a relative increase in entries to German for the first time since 2007;
  • Maths remains the most popular subject at A level;
  • Since 2010, total entries in mathematics and further mathematics have increased by 20.0%, despite a 10.7% fall in the A level cohort population in the period;
  • Entries to both history and geography have increased;
  • Girls narrowly outperform boys at A and A* combined, reversing last year’s trend, but boys did better than girls at A*;
  • The North East has the highest overall pass rate and the biggest percentage improvement at A and A* grades;
  • A drop in the proportion of A-level results at the top grades to the lowest level in more than a decade.
  • There has been a rise in non-EU students coming to the country to study; and
  • A rise in nursing admissions – bucking a recent trend.
  • The gap between boys and girls increased this year with 73.3% of male students achieving a C grade or above compared with 77.2% of females.
  • The gap between boys and girls increased this year with 73.3% of male students achieving a C grade or above compared with 77.2% of females.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: I congratulate everyone receiving their A level results today. The new government will do all we can to improve funding for education and to give schools the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying so that pupils can learn. We also must focus much more attention on providing great apprenticeships for all those who do not go to university.

The new Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, also spoke on A level results day.

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, stated: Congratulations to everyone receiving their A-Level results today. And thank you to parents and carers, education leaders and teachers for their hard work in supporting young people through their education. We need to give more support to our students, so Labour will abolish predicted grades and implement post-qualification admissions. This will allow those studying to make informed choices, and reduce the stress of the transition to higher education. Students should be proud of what they have achieved today, and we are proud of them.”

The Office for Students has A level day commentary and coverage. Among the links are Sir Michael Barber speaking on information, advice and guidance plus fair access. Nicola Dandridge on unconditional offers (iNews picks up on this too, and the Telegraph states the OfS are ‘poised to intervene’ on the issue quoting Dandridge as saying “we can and we will” use regulatory powers to crack down on the worst offenders.)  Dandridge is also covered in the Times on improving the ease for students to transfer between institutions.

The Telegraph report on the busiest clearing even in: More students go straight to clearing as Russell Group universities drop grades to take extra applicants. The Telegraphy also have an article by Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, who returns to ‘bums on seats’ mode in Results day is not a chance to simply get students through the door.

There is always press about exams being too easy or too hard on A level results day. The Financial Times started a day early highlight leaks that A grades for maths, biology and physics would be awarded by some Boards to students achieving 55-59%.

Fans of Wonkhe’s David Kernohan will be delighted with his latest analysis:

  • The Sunday Times splashed on the idea that 48 per cent of (essay-based) A level results are “wrong” – which prompted a delightful correctionfrom Ofqual that could only really be improved if it was written in red ink. For many subjects, marking is based on qualitative criteria that rely on academic judgement. There will be variation, though a well argued and well constructed essay will always win out.
  • And The Times’ Sian Griffiths reportedthat some students would get the highest grade without achieving a particularly high percentage mark. As we all know this is due to the Ofqual quest for “comparable outcomes” if you change the assessment method to one that gives students more trouble, the average marks for each grade will be lower assuming the population taking the exam has broadly the same characteristics. The whole set of boundaries leaked yesterday on social media to generalised merriment.
  • Away from A level performance, the classic “Mickey Mouse” courses articlecame from the Mail this year – an annual failure to understand the idea of niche courses serving a specific local needs, the need to widen participation, and the limited utility of A levels in solving either issue. And – yes – there’s a “Campaign for Real Education” quote.

Which leaves us only with one question – why in today’s digital world is results coverage still depicted by a shock horror/happy face supposedly examining their results on a piece of paper?! (Exhibit A and B!)

Results Day Records: UCAS has welcomed ‘a record number of disadvantaged young people going to university’:

  • A record 17.3% of 18 year olds (18,900 students, which is also the highest on A level results day) from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in England have been accepted (a rise of 0.8% on 2018). This slightly narrows the gap between the most and least advantaged groups. Both Wales and Northern Ireland have new highs in disadvantage acceptances too.
  • Across the UK, 28.2% of all 18 year olds have been accepted through UCAS, also a new record for results day (last year’s figure on A level results day was 27.7%).
  • A new high of 33,630 international students from outside the EU have been accepted, driven by a 32% rise in accepted applicants from China.
  • 26,440 EU students have been accepted to study in the UK, a small rise compared to the 2018 results day.

Clearing: Last year nationally 15,000 students were placed through Clearing on the day after the A level results came out, with 39,000 placed within the first five days. Updates on the national picture of applicants and acceptances is regularly updated through UCAS’ daily clearing analysis page. We wish all BU staff involved in Clearing resilience and fortitude during this busy period!

Widening Access

Scotland are proactively tackling social mobility by guaranteeing offers for care experienced and the most deprived students. Scotland’s 18 higher education institutions have set out a new commitment that care experienced applicants who meet minimum entry requirements will be guaranteed an offer of an undergraduate place from autumn 2020. The move aims to drive a significant increase in the number of care experienced people going to university. This guaranteed offer is crucial because in Scotland, partially because of the funding system, demand for places outstrips supply – on average, only half of applications are likely to result in an offer even for students who meet standard entry requirements. The guaranteed offer is informed by the universities belief in the importance of recognising the context in which care experienced applicants have achieved the entry qualifications needed for university.

Most pioneering is that Scotland has defined ‘care experienced’ without limits. It includes anyone who has been or is currently in care or from a looked after background at any stage of their life, no matter how short, including adopted children who were previously looked after. Different forms of care settings are included (e.g. residential care, foster care, kinship care, or looked after at home with a supervision requirement) and there are no age restrictions (so an adult who was in care 40 years ago can also benefit). The guaranteed offer also applies to people living in the 20% most deprived Scottish areas, known as SIMD20.

Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of the University of St Andrews said: “This is a decisive and, I hope, catalytic step jointly taken by Scotland’s universities. It gives due recognition to the substantial achievement of people with experience of care who are successful in getting the grades for university having overcome very challenging circumstances at a young age. We hope it will enable more people with care experience to feel confident applying to university, knowing that their application is encouraged and will be supported. It is important that all of Scotland’s universities have made this guarantee together. That should provide the greatest possible clarity and visibility of this change to people with care experience wherever they live in Scotland and wherever they want to study.

It’s hoped that that universities’ guaranteed offer of a place based on new minimum entry requirements exclusive to care experienced and MD20 applicants, will be a prove to be a powerful combination of both action and words that together signal the commitment universities have to creating opportunities for those with care experience and encourage a rise in applicants.”

Disability & Disadvantage

The APPG Assistive Technology has published a report into the disabled students’ allowance finding the £200 charge is a significant deterrent for new students. The £200 contribution was introduced by the Government as a fair contribution towards the price of a high powered laptop that is capable of running resource-intensive assistive software. However, students often make do with their existing lower-tech computing equipment and forgo the disability support package of software. Furthermore, the APPG state the cost of the disability assessment is wasted and borne by the taxpayer as the student doesn’t take the package up. The report calls on the government to remove upfront assistive technology costs and open a public consultation on all financial barriers associated with the Disabled Students’ Allowance. Policy Connect, who  publish the report on behalf of the APPG, state:

The increasing number of disabled people reaching university is a major step forward for inclusion and social mobility. More disabled people rightly see university as an option for them and the growing culture of disability inclusion within the UK has encouraged more students to disclose their impairments. Yet when disabled students get to university they still face a persistent gap in experience and outcomes compared to their non-disabled peers.

Policy Connect also manage the HE Commission who are undertaking an inquiry into the university experience of disabled students. It focuses on the three strands of student life: teaching and learning; living and social; and transition and employment. It aims to explore the challenges faced by disabled students and whether current interventions are good practice and effective. Disabled students are less likely to complete their course, are lower paid as graduates and are more likely to experience loneliness. Working age adults with a disability also access university in lower numbers than expected – less than 17.5% of working age adults with a disability access university. The Commission will hold a parliamentary oral evidence session in September. The report is due early in 2020.

The  National Deaf Children’s Society  has published  analysis on deaf children falling behind at school

Social Justice: FACE have a blog establishing that ECRs (Early Career Researchers) are deeply interested in social justice, social mobility and improving the student experience – despite this being primarily outside of their ECR roles. The article talks of how to offer ECRs greater involvement within social solutions for students through their evaluation expertise.

Immigration

Within days of Boris taking the reins he dropped the net migration target and began pursuing a more internationally friendly policy than Theresa May. And this week the one millionth person was granted settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

International STEM talent: The Home Office has launched a fast-track immigration STEM talent scheme building on the existing Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa route.  The new scheme will provide eligible individuals with a three-year visa, during which they can come and go from the UK at will. At the end of three years, those on the scheme would be able apply for indefinite leave to remain (giving a permanent right to reside in the UK and access to benefits and healthcare on the same basis as British citizens). The scheme does not have a minimum salary requirement and individuals do not need to secure a job before arriving in the UK (unlike the existing Tier 2 route for skilled workers). Individuals will be able to bring dependants (spouses/partners and children) and they will be able to work or study while here. Visa fees that are commensurate with existing immigration fees will be charged. A review of funding the immigration system, including fees charged will take place in the future. The talent scheme aims to ensure that those with specialist skills in STEM subjects can come to the UK and make an important contribution to our leading science and research sectors, significantly enhancing the intellectual and knowledge base of the UK. The entire Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route is earmarked for revamp and rebranding over the new parliamentary period.

UK post-study work visa comparison

The Scottish Government have published a comparative report on how the UK’s post-study work offer compares with competitor countries.

  • The popularity of international education continues to grow, and the volume of student mobility is at an all-time high. In 2015, there were an estimated 4.6 million globally mobile higher education students, a massive increase from the 2.1 million students who went abroad in 2001.
  • The US, the UK, China, France, and Australia rank as top host destinations of international students worldwide and collectively host an estimated two thirds of all international students. In terms of student numbers, the US is the global leader for international students with 971,000 students in 2016, followed by the UK which had 432,000 international students in the same year. At the same time, however, international students comprised only 5% of the total student population in the US as compared to 18% in the UK.

The following factors are significant in student destination choice:

  • The academic offer and the international reputation of a given university or a given country’s education system more generally, as well as language of instruction/official language of the country.
  • Ease of meeting formal requirements (fulfilling university recruitment and visa requirements).
  • Finances: affordability of studying and living in the host country; sponsorship opportunities in host country.
  • Presence of networks in the host country; general atmosphere in a given country: attitudes towards international students (and immigrants in general), lifestyle.
  • Work opportunities during and after studies.
  • For those looking to emigrate permanently – the country’s immigration policy and pathways to settlement post-study.

The report concludes that to improve its global competitiveness in terms of attracting and retaining international students, the UK should:

  • Introduce a more competitive post-study work offer taking into consideration ease of application and application timescales, programme length, work entitlement, and opportunities for applying to the programme after leaving the UK.
  • Implement additional measures supporting the longer term retention of international students, such as: language and employability support; integration programmes; provision of information and advice on conditions of stay, employment opportunities, and life in the UK; creating opportunities for establishing professional networks.
  • Ensure systematic monitoring of the programme and its implementation to prevent its potential misuse (and evaluate its effectiveness).

Visa Checking Dissatisfaction

International students are unable to access the visa checking services they are entitled to and are resorting to paying additional fees to gain appointments. Sopra Steria holds the contract for the UK Visa and Citizenship Application services to enrol and check the biometric information on visa applications. UUK are campaigning for Sopra Steria to immediately improve the service they are offering. Currently students are unable to get checking appointments, the online service isn’t accessible or compatible with the use of assistive technology, there are further problems with the online service and an exorbitant telephone support line charge to resolve these problems. Students have resorted to paying additional charges to fast track their appointments and traveling a distance away from their university to attend these. UUK is calling on the company to resolve these issues quickly before the September ‘student surge’ when 40,000+ students will need to register their biometric details.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: Despite constructive engagement between the Home Office, UKVI and universities, the current capacity and level of service being offered by Sopra Steria remains unacceptable. Students and universities cannot be expected to pay to address Sopra Steria’s broken system. We are calling on Sopra Steria to fully address these concerns before the September surge of students so that students can start their courses with the visas they need. International students make a huge cultural and economic contribution to the UK. Sopra Steria should be helping to send a more welcoming message to international students, signalling that the UK is open to talented individuals from around the world, as is the case at our universities.

Elisa Calcagni, a PhD student from Chile studying at the University of Cambridge, thought the service she received from Sopra Steria was very disappointing:  As a non-EEA national I was required to enrol my biometrics through Sopra Steria. I had not expected any additional charges but I found it virtually impossible to find a free appointment. The time window for bookings on the online system only covers two weeks and there were no free appointments available, or any appointments at all in Cambridge. I called the Sopra Steria support line and they suggested to keep checking the website for cancelled appointments. I didn’t want the uncertainty of constantly checking the system with no guarantee of an appointment becoming available, so I selected to pay £100 for an appointment in Croydon, two hours away. Despite booking a timed appointment, there was a waiting time of an hour and then the system wasn’t working properly leading to further delays.

Khalid Elkhereiji, a student at the University of Southampton, said: “I use a screen reader which reads on-screen text aloud. Trying to login in to my UKVCAS account to book the appointment I needed for my visa was very frustrating as none of the screen readers I used were able to detect the checkbox which must be selected to confirm the person logging in is not a robot. I spent hours trying to do this, carefully repeating the same steps as it was not possible to identify the issue. This is not a problem that I face with other websites and it meant I was not able to login without the assistance of a sighted person…I have explained my concerns with the accessibility of the service to Sopra Steria and I believe it is a relatively simple issue to fix, however I have not had any further updates from Sopra Steria and there has been no confirmation that their website is inclusive and accessible to everyone.

HEPI have published Two sides of the same coin? Brexit and future student demand. The report concludes that the best available evidence points in opposite direction for student demand predictions. Nick Hillman, summarises:

  • There is a broad consensus that says Brexit will mean far less demand for UK higher education. When EU students are no longer entitled to taxpayer-subsidised tuition fee loans and face much higher international fees, they are likely to look elsewhere or stay at home. Research we published back in 2017 suggested the number of students who come from the EU could halve.
  • But there is an important historical precedent that tells a rather different story. Until the early 1980s, all international students coming to the UK were subsidised by taxpayers. At the time, the consensus said their numbers would fall off a cliff. In fact, the end of the subsidy laid the foundations for what eventually became a big expansion in international students. Universities realised they could charge fees high enough to cover the full costs of teaching and more. When international students subsidise other activities, such as underfunded research programmes, there is a strong incentive to recruit more of them.
  • No one knows for certain whether the pessimistic economic modelling or the optimistic historical precedent is the better guide to the future. Perhaps the impact of Brexit on student numbers will end up lying somewhere between these two extremes. What happens will depend, to some extent, on whether the new crop of Ministers decide to roll out the red carpet for international students – for example, by streamlining visa procedures, improving post-study work rules and clarifying the rules for EU students after Brexit. It will also depend on how institutions choose to respond to Brexit

Headline Estimates/Findings:

  • 31,000 fewer incoming EU students each year (-57%), representing a loss of fee income of £40 million, as a result of the changes to fee and loan entitlements;
  • 20,000 more non-EU students (+9%) and EU students (+10%) each year, representing an increase in fee income of over £225 million, as a result of the change in the value of the pound.
  • a net drop of roughly 11,000 incoming students but over £185 million more fee income for institutions, as all incoming students would then be paying the full international fees.
  • Institutions foresee the considerable growth of students from non-EU countries continuing, collectively forecasting an increase of over 56,000 by 2022, or 20% (although the Chair of the Office for Students has complained about ‘over-optimistic student recruitment forecasts’)

Policy Takeaways:

  • The best modelling that has been undertaken on changes to fees and loans suggests there will be a big drop in the number of EU students coming to the UK after Brexit.
  • Changes to the value of the pound are also likely to determine the degree to which institutions are affected.
  • Ending subsidies for students from other countries can sometimes provide new financial incentives on institutions to enrol them.

Parliament

We have a refreshed Cabinet (here is a link to a lovely wall chart!) and here is a reminder of Labour’s shadow cabinet.

  • Universities Minister is Jo Johnson, for his second stint in the role, he remains with joint lines of responsibility to both the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). His reappointment to the Universities role has prompted much speculation about unfinished business in the BU policy office and is interesting when taken in context with the new Education appointees, some of which are tough characters or old hands. For the first time ever the Universities Minister will attend Cabinet too.  Jo’s BEIS responsibilities have been set as: science and research, innovation, intellectual property, space, agri-tech, technology.
  • Heading up Education is Gavin Williamson (yes he who was ousted by Theresa May for leaking while he was SoS for Defence) in the chief role of Secretary of State for Education. His responsibilities cover early years, children’s social care, teachers’ pay, school curriculum, school improvement, academies and free schools, further education, higher education, apprenticeships and skills. He has no previous experience in an education role, nor in his non-political career.
  • Nick Gibb is Minister of State (Minister for School Standards) and holds a wide school responsibility remit. He has held an education role almost continually since 2005 both in Government and the shadow cabinet, including school reform and school standards before a brief stint as Equalities Minister (2017-2018). Nick retained this, his previous role, in the Boris reshuffle.
  • Kemi Badenoch is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Children and Families. Among her responsibilities are social care, SEN, race disparity audit, disadvantaged pupils, social mobility and opportunity areas. She has no previous ministerial experience, was only elected to the Commons in 2017, and is heavily pregnant (you can see her views on MP motherhood here).
  • Lord Agnew has an unpaid role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for the School System. His responsibilities include university technical colleges. Within the Lords, since 2017, he held position as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System and Government Spokesperson. He was also a non-executive Director within DfE (2010-15).  Lord Agnew retained this, his previous role in the Boris reshuffle.
  • Engineer and running fanatic Chris Green is the team PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary). He has an interest in education and plethora of relevant APPG memberships including artificial intelligence, life sciences, medical research (and medical devices), engineering, health, youth employment, digital skills and he was a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee (2015-2017).

The Apprenticeships and Skills Minister (Anne Milton’s old role) has been removed. SoS Gavin Williamson has assumed these responsibilities into his brief, with Ministerial support from the new Children’s Minister, Kemi Badenoch. A DfE spokesperson stated: As the Prime Minister has said, further education and skills will be a priority for this government – and the Education Secretary taking the lead for this vital work is a reflection of that commitment.

Previous Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, is now Minister of State for Health and Social Care.

In local news Conor Burns (who was Boris’ PPS) has been promoted to Minister of State for International Trade. Tobias Ellwood has stepped down from his two year stint within the Minister of Defence. And Simon Hoare retains his post as Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs.

Humanities bias within Cabinet: It is unsurprising to note that 67% of the new Cabinet attended a Russell Group university (45% at Oxbridge). However, what is perhaps slightly surprising, given the negative rhetoric and rumblings about downgrading the fee level for certain subjects, is that 87% of the Cabinet studied programmes within the humanities and social sciences field. For more on who studied what and where see this HEPI blog.

UUK lobby new PM:  UUK call on Boris to take action in 5 areas to maximise the role of universities within his domestic and global ambitions:

  1. Recommit to the 2.4% of GDP investment in research and development by 2027. Plus immigration system favourable to bring in the most talented global researchers.
  2. Back the two-year post-study work visa amendment within the Immigration Bill, alongside lowering the salary threshold for international workers to obtain a high-skilled work visa to £21,000.
  3. For domestic success including regional growth, skills workforce, equality of opportunity and social mobility UUK call for secure long term and sustainable funding for universities and students. Including reintroducing maintenance grants and cutting the on-programme interest rate on the loans. Overhauling so students better understand the student finance system.
  4. Acknowledge the importance of the university experience – support mental health, widening access and end the BAME attainment gap.
  5. Avoid no-deal Brexit, retain Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.

And it seems Boris was listening (or more likely had already decided):

Education featured as a core element within a speech Boris made in late July:

  1. We will give every child the world class education they deserve. Which is why we will increase the minimum level of per pupil funding in primary and secondary schools and return education funding to previous levels by the end of this parliament.
  2. And we cannot afford the chronic under-funding of our brilliant FE colleges, which do so much to support young people’s skills and our economy. We have a world class university sector; in fact it is one of the biggest concentrations of higher education anywhere in Europe right here in this city – why should we not aspire to the same status for our further education institutions, to allow people to express their talents?
  3. We will double down on our investment in R&D, we will accelerate the talks on those free trade deals… If we unite our country, with better education, better infrastructure, with an emphasis on new technology, then this really can be a new golden age for the UK.

Other new Education related appointees

  • Ofsted – Julie Kirkbride, Hamid Patel, Martin Spencer, Carole Stott and Baroness Wyld appointed as board members, and John Cridland and Vanessa Wilms reappointed.
  • Ofqual – Susan Barratt, Matt Tee and Mike Thompson appointed as board members, and Roger Taylor reappointed as Chair.
  • Migration Advisory Committee – Madeleine Sumption reappointed as Chair for a further three years. (Relevant because the MAC are looking at the immigration thresholds for post-study work visas.)
  • Royal College of Midwives – Sasha Wells, Neil Tomlin, Natalie Linder, Dee Davies, Keelie Barrett, Janet Ballintine, Sarah Jones have been elected to the Board as members.

Brexit

On Tuesday Parliamentarians hoping to stop a no-deal Brexit through the courts will get a chance to make their case in September. A Scottish judge agree Friday 6 September for the legal case aimed at curbing the Prime Minister’s ability to prorogue Parliament in order to push a no-deal exit past MPs will be heard. The legal bid has been backed by more than 70 MPs and peers, and seeks to get the Court of Session in Edinburgh – which, unlike English courts, sits throughout the summer – to rule that suspending Parliament would be “unlawful and unconstitutional”.  Papers lodged with the court say: “Seeking to use the power to prorogue Parliament to avoid further parliamentary participation in the withdrawal of the UK from the EU is both unlawful and unconstitutional.” Judge Lord Doherty on Tuesday confirmed that a full hearing for the legal petition would now take place on 6 September, just days after MPs return from the summer recess.

However, a poll suggests that Boris Johnson would be backed by a majority of the public if he shut down Parliament in order to achieve Brexit. A ComRes study for The Telegraph  found that 44% of the public agree that the Prime Minister “needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending Parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs from stopping it”.  37% of the public were opposed to the move, while 19% said they did not know. Boris has repeatedly refused to rule out the controversial move,  sparking an outcry from MPs  and warnings it would prompt a constitutional crisis.

No Deal

Political monitoring consultants, Dods, set out seven scenarios by which Parliamentary alliances could prevent a no-deal exit (scroll to page 8). This is a mid-July document, the scenarios are still valid and simply explain the constitutional complexities and assess the likelihood of stopping no deal.

As time progresses and the likelihood of the UK leaving the EU without a deal increases the commentary and analysis of the no deal scenario has proliferated. The House of Commons Library have produced a briefing paper giving links to a range of 2019 publications by private sector organisations, think tanks, research institutes and other academic institutions on a no-deal exit from the EU. The papers consider the general political, constitutional and economic implications of a no-deal Brexit rather than its effects in particular sectors.

And you won’t have missed Corbyn’s bold move to cement no deal opposition by seizing power for a care taking Government to prevent crashing out of the EU, followed closely by a general election.

Trade Deals: Two day visit by John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, has set out that America is keen to make post-Brexit trade deals with the UK. The deals are likely to be piecemeal starting with key quick win sectors and progressively continuing on to encompass other areas.

Degree Apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships are four years old and the OfS conducted research to find out what motivated these earlier adopters to choose a degree apprenticeship instead of the traditional full time undergraduate study route. Their report finds:

  • Achieving a degree whilst earning a salary was the most motivating factor for 90% of level 6 and 92% of level 7 students. The OfS believe this is because degree apprenticeships represent value for money and are a kickback to the cost and level of student debt accrued through the traditional route.
  • 38% of level 6 students would have undertaken the traditional degree if they hadn’t chosen the apprenticeship. OfS state this demonstrates degree apprenticeships are seen as an alternative to traditional HE degrees by many. Two thirds of students (at both levels) determined for themselves that degree apprenticeships would be the best fit for their needs.
  • 90% (L6) and 78% (L7) believe the degree apprenticeship boosted their career by advancing them more quickly than a traditional degree could.
  • Level 6 and 7 respondents have different educational and employment backgrounds and different motivational drivers
    • Level 6 learners tended to be younger, often recently joining the labour market and typically described the degree apprenticeship as a way to kick start their careers. It was also seen as a good route to achieve self-employment.
    • Level 7 respondents tended to be older and were more likely to have different motivations behind attaining a degree apprenticeship, such as retraining to keep pace with the general labour market skill level and achieving career progression.
  • The Level 7 respondents found that the employer was pivotal in providing information on degree apprenticeships but also advice and support. [Interesting given the claims that current careers support signposts to a traditional degree route rather than alternatives.] Whereas Level 6 respondents relied on their friends and family for advice and support. [It seems reasonable that the age profile difference is a factor in where the student sought advice from here.]However, the OfS believe this access to advice reinforces the assumption that workforce development and retraining are important motivators among Level 7 respondents where Level 6 apprentices view it as a way into employment.

The report concluded: With 31% of Level 6 respondents coming to degree apprenticeships directly from schools, sixth form colleges and other education routes there must be information and guidance on degree apprenticeships here as well. This will help to ensure learners understand the available options so maximising the potential of degree apprenticeships. Expanding the number of employers who support degree apprenticeships is also important to not only the supply of degree apprenticeships, but also to ensure this source of information is able to adequately promote degree apprenticeships among potential learners.

Young Aspirations

More recently, the Sutton Trust and Ipsos Mori have published a report following their survey into 11-16 year olds’ University Aspirations and Attitudes to HE.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of young people said they’d be interested in doing an apprenticeship rather than going to university, if one was available for a job they wanted to do. Meanwhile, just under two-thirds (65%) said they think it’s important to go to university. This has fallen from a high of 86% in 2013, with the proportion who feel that going to university is not important rising from 11% in 2013 to 20% in 2019.

Key Findings:

  • Almost nine out of 10 (85%) said it’s important to be confident to do well and get on in life. Three quarters felt that having connections was crucial, with 75% saying that ‘knowing the right people’ is important for success in life.
  • University was deemed less important for young people from the least affluent families (61% compared with 67% in ‘high affluence’ households), and white pupils (62% compared with 75% of young people from a BME background).
  • Three-quarters (77%) of young people think they’re likely to go on to higher education after school. This is a similar rate to the past few years, but slightly below the high of 81% in 2013.
  • Of the young people who said it was unlikely they would go into higher education, the most common set of reasons (62%) was they don’t like the idea or don’t enjoy learning or studying. 43% cited a financial reason, while 41% said that they weren’t clever enough or wouldn’t get good enough exam results to get in.
  • Two-fifths (40%) of young people who are likely to go to university or who aren’t sure either way yet, are worried about the cost of higher education, down from 46% in 2018. However, money worries continue to be pronounced for young people from the least affluent families (50% compared with 32% in ‘high affluence’ households) and for girls over boys (44% vs 36%).

Sutton Trust make the following recommendations:

  • All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers.
  • Maintenance grants, abolished in 2016, should be restored
  • The government should introduce a system of means-tested fees which waives fees entirely for those from low income background
  • There should be more higher and degree apprenticeships, targeted at younger age groups, to give young people a platform for progression to higher level learning and careers, including through university.

Gordon Marsden MP, Labour’s Shadow Higher Education Minister, responding to the downturn in HE aspirations, stating:

These figures show how badly this government has failed young people. As a result, more students are expressing doubts about higher education. Young people are paying the price for a system that burdens them with debt, and doesn’t provide the guidance and support they need. We need to support young people. That’s why Labour will restore EMA, and scrap fees for college and university. We’ll also scrap university offers based on predicted grades and implement a new fairer system of post-qualification admissions.

Labour’s Education Proposals

In addition to stimulating the post qualification admissions debate earlier this month Labour published their interim Lifelong Learning Commission report which informs the Party’s proposals for a national education service from cradle to grave. Interesting are the points they identify as inadequate in the current education and funding system. It mainly picks up on the same themes as the Conservatives have highlighted – FE, disadvantage, retraining due to fourth industrial revolution job changes, and part time students – albeit with stronger emphasis on FE and more flexible/shorter study models. A major departure from Government thinking is their criticism of apprenticeships:

Apprenticeships and Further Education Reforms: The push toward apprenticeships as the primary choice for training has been at the expense of shorter, more flexible modes of training. Not all adults are in a position to be able to commit to the minimum duration required by an apprenticeship, and apprenticeships are often not the most appropriate form of learning for adults who already have substantial employment experience. 

Student Loans

Paula Sussex, the (relatively) new CEO of the Student Loans Company, made an interesting speech to a NUS Conference. It has a clear tone of doing better by their ‘customers’ and explains recent changes made to improve the service and make it more digitally enabled.

Loan Debt

The Labour Party have analysed Government projects and estimate that graduate student debt interest will rise by £4.2bn to £8.6bn by 2024.  DfE figures show this rise is due to the post-2012 undergraduate loans 6.3% interest charge. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that less than 20% of graduate will fully pay back their student loans.

According to the House of Commons Library, the cash value of loans has increased from below £6 billion (2011-12) to £15 billion (2017-18) and is forecast to reach in excess of £20 billion in 2023-24. This increase is driven primarily by higher fees from 2012, but also replacing grants with loans and expansion of loans to part-time and postgraduate students. The ultimate cost to taxpayer is currently thought to be around 47% of the loan value.

What affect could the intentions of the Augar review have on this?

The Augar Review recommended a headline cut to tuition fees, the return to maintenance grants and a cut to interest during study to RPI + 0%. It also suggested a cut to the repayment threshold from £25,000 to £23,000 in today’s money, and an increase in the repayment term from 30 to 40 years. The final change recommended by Augar was a repayment cap equal to 1.2 times the value of the loan.

The IFS estimate that the full package of these reforms would overall create a system that was considerably less “leaky”, with roughly 50% of graduates paying off their loans under the Augar model compared to less than 20% under the current system.

The proposed Augar system has mixed effects for social demographics:

  • Highest earners would see reductions in their repayments of around £30,000 in today’s money (and we know disadvantaged students struggle to access the top paying jobs).
  • Middle earners would see increases of around £15,000.
  • The biggest winners would be those in the top 10% of lifetime earners who grew up in low income households qualifying them for the full maintenance grant; those people could expect to see reductions in lifetime repayments of approximately £40,000

Augar – University funding

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee have published Science research funding in universities considering the Augar Review’s implications for Science Research Funding within HE. The report criticises the Augar review for failing to take a holistic approach to the funding of universities and recognises that the current research system is being cross-subsided by other areas of funding in the higher education ecosystem, including international student fees. The report recommends that if the Government follows any of the recommendations of the review relating to tuition fees, it must implement them as a full financial package, including increasing the teaching grant to cover the loss of tuition fees, to ensure that universities are no worse off than they are now. The report expresses concern that the proposals would erode the autonomy of universities. In particular, the proposal that the Office for Students should determine the value of teaching grant awarded to individual institutions for different subjects.

Funding/Augar:

  • QR funding is vital in allowing universities to cover the full economic cost of research, and in helping universities to fund research infrastructure which is often not covered by other sources of funding. QR funding must rise by at least the rate of inflation and the deficit that has been created since 2010 should be addressed.
  • Reducing the tuition fee cap in England to £7,500 without compensating universities for this loss in full by increasing the teaching grant will result in significant financial consequences for universities. The immediate casualties of such a reduction in income will likely be widening-participation programmes, student experience, infrastructure maintenance and repair, and the hands-on elements of courses.
  • The Augar Review recommends that the social and economic value of different subjects be determined by the Office for Students, taking account of the subject’s relative importance with respect to alignment with the Government’s Industrial Strategy and a range of other factors such as the financial viability of the university and its contribution to the local economy. This recommended process is far from straightforward and is certain to be controversial. We are concerned that it will be fraught with difficulties and that it will remove autonomy from universities.
  • Whoever has the responsibility for determining the value of teaching grant awards must do so using clear metrics to assess the impact on the research base. Given the complex nature of the cross-subsidies universities employ in managing their finances, seemingly small disruptions to inputs could have significant unintended consequences for research.

Brexit:

  • We urge the Government to associate the UK with Horizon Europe as soon as possible, to ensure certainty and stability for researchers in universities and industry.
  • Public funding for research in universities after Brexit should seek to replace not just the amount of funding but the areas it supports, like discovery research and scientific infrastructure and facilities. It is important to the scientific community that the basis for awarding funding is research excellence.
  • Retaining the mobility of researchers after Brexit is vital to ensuring the UK can continue to attract the best researchers and meet its research and development goals. The Government must ensure post-Brexit immigration laws do not hinder the ability of UK universities to recruit and retain the scientific staff they require, including technicians earning below the recommended salary threshold. In doing so the Government must also give consideration to amending immigration laws relating to families and dependants of those scientific staff.

With Jo Johnson back in the Universities Minister hot seat the implementation of (elements of) Augar will be closely watched. Jo was resistant to the review in the first place, often urging the sector to ‘pipe down’ and not call for the HE Review to take place. His refusal to support the review was one of the factors in his step down from the Ministerial responsibilities.  Upon publication Jo remained opposed to the outcome of Augar tweeting: “Looks like Augar (as predicted) will destabilise uni finances, imperil many courses & reverse progress in widening access. Reducing fees to £7.5k will leave funding hole HMT won’t fill + benefit only highest earning grads at expense of general taxpayer. Bad policy, bad politics”.

Changes to fees and loans

The Department for Education has published a Written Ministerial Statement on Higher Education Student Finance:  https://bit.ly/2LAO5cn  Made by: Chris Skidmore (The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation) (The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation).

Key Points:

  • Maximum tuition fees for the 2020/21 academic year in England will be maintained at the levels that apply in the 2019/20 academic year, the third year in succession that fees have been frozen. This means that the maximum level of tuition fees for a standard full-time course will remain at £9,250 for the 2020/21 academic year.
  • Maximum undergraduate loans for living costs will be increased by forecast inflation (2.9%) in 2020/21. And the same increase will apply to maximum disabled students’ allowances for students with disabilities undertaking full-time and part-time undergraduate courses in 2020/21.
  • Maximum loans for students starting master’s degree and doctoral degree courses from 1 August 2020 onwards will be increased by forecast inflation (2.9%) in 2020/21. And the same increase will apply to the maximum disabled students’ allowance for postgraduate students with disabilities in 2020/21.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2020/21 late in 2019 or early in 2020. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Government will consider the recommendations of the independent panel to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, published on 30 May 2019, and will conclude the review at the Spending Review later this year.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New business this week:

Did you know you can view all of BU’s older inquiries and consultation responses here?

Other news

AI: The Financial Times have two interesting articles on AI. First using AI for legal mediation and a second future focussed article which considers implants chips into a young brain to mimic thoughts and behaviour and learn how to simulate the biological brain by adulthood.

Foundation Years: A HEPI blog explores all that is valuable and good for students choosing to undertake a Foundation Year before commencing their degree level study. The blog responds to the dismissive tone of the Augar report which suggested universities were using this extra year to line their pockets at the expense of the student and taxpayers.

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 12th July 2019

We focus on the interesting set of reports released as people clear their desks before their summer holidays.

Learning gain

The OfS have published evaluations of the various learning gain projects that have been running for some time.  The OfS website is very clear “The report below is independent research which we have commissioned. As such, it does not necessarily reflect the views or official position of the OfS.”  You will recall that one reason for HEFCE setting up these projects was to see if a learning gain measure could be created for the TEF.  The answer would seem to be “no” although given the disclaimer, that might not stop them having a go.

On the final evaluation of 13 projects, the conclusions are:

  • Learning gain can be defined as the change in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development, as well as enhancement of specific practices and outcomes in defined disciplinary and institutional contexts.
  • embedding measures in curriculum design is the most effective approach for collecting data for measuring learning gain
  • Pilots of standardised tests carried out during the projects have not proven to be robust and effective measures of learning gain due to challenges of student engagement, differential scores across socio-demographic characteristics, subject differences and use of data.
  • Contextual factors such as subject-level differences, institution type and student characteristics differences impact the transferability of measures of learning gain. These differences should be considered when designing and selecting learning gain measures; when analysing and presenting findings. Mediating effects need to be considered.

The report on the National Mixed Methods project  has the following recommendations:

For policy-makers and providers      

  • A one-size-fits-all measure of learning gain (modelled on the NMMLGP questionnaire) should be abandoned as it holds minimal value for the majority of students and is not an influential construct in their present decision-making concerning either choice of institution or impact on the curriculum.
  • Students’ perceptions of learning gain need further exploration in order to move beyond what are acknowledged as impressionistic findings reported here, which are bound by proportionality constraints.
  • The sector needs to consider whose interests are best served by the measurement of learning gain. The evidence gathered here from participating providers and their students indicates that there is a dichotomous view of learning gain: either as a marker of institution positioning within a market-oriented system; or as a process of progression throughout the student journey. The two things are not necessarily synonymous.

For higher education providers

  • All learning gain work needs to be related to students’ own context and clearly embedded at local level within the subject or disciplinary area. Engagement is also highly dependent on whether any initiatives are promoted by trusted sources such as course tutors, rather than unfamiliar contacts.
  • Providers should consider developing a repertoire of approaches, as part of a learning gain toolkit, which can be accessed by students as part of a flexible and adaptable process underpinned by student choice rather than normative comparison. Providers are encouraged to also review the findings of the overall evaluation of the learning gain Pilot Projects for approaches which are most suited to their local contexts.

And finally the report on Higher Education Learning Gain Analysis (HELGA): says:

  • “HELGA set out to explore whether administrative data could be used to create a proxy measure for learning gain. The project has experimented with different techniques, considered different outcomes that could be a proxy for learning gain and different source of data that could be used. Ultimately, the project has developed two methods for measuring value-added in higher education for a subset of the undergraduate population.
  • The two measures have produced different results in their measure of value-added and there is no straightforward way of evaluating which is the most accurate.
  • It should be noted that the ‘value-added’ measured is the difference between the ‘expected’ degree outcomes for students at an institution based on prior attainment (and other student and course characteristics in the case of the multilevel model) and the actual degree outcomes. The measure does not explain what this difference might be caused by. As mentioned in Section 2.3, there is concern about the comparability of degree classifications across institutions. This raises a question of the suitability of this value-added measure for comparing institutions.
  • Neither methodology should be used further without additional sensitivity analyses and serious thought as to what is really being measured and whether it is fair to measure institutional performance in terms of value-added based on the restricted population used.
  • At the outset of HELGA, it was known that it would never be possible to create a single measure of learning gain, encompassing all of the different elements that are understood to make up learning gain. It has necessarily focused on cognitive gain only, although some thought was given to using NSS metadata to measure non-cognitive learning gain, but this was unsuccessful. However, this does not mean that this could not be useful for measuring value-added, but it should be made clear that it should not be adopted to produce a single measure of learning gain”

Grade Inflation

And that brings us nicely to the next item…the OfS have published their latest review of degree classifications:

  • The proportion of first-class honours degrees awarded has increased from 16 per cent to 29 per cent between 2010-11 and 2017-18.
  • The OfS has used statistical modelling to account for factors including entrance qualifications and student characteristics which may influence attainment. When accounting for these factors, they find that 13.9 percentage points’ worth of first class degree attainment remains “unexplained”.
  • In total, 94 per cent of the 148 universities and other higher education providers included in the analysis demonstrated a statistically significant unexplained increase in the proportion of first-class degrees awarded in 2017-18 compared to 2010-11.
  • The report updates data from a report issued in December 2018. Since that report, universities have collectively announced plans to act together to curb grade inflation via the work of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment.
  • Commenting on the report, Susan Lapworth, director of competition and registration at the Office for Students, said:
    • ‘Worries about grade inflation threaten to devalue a university education in the eyes of employers and potential students. So it is essential we regain and maintain public confidence in the reliability of degree classifications.
    • ‘This data shows a further increase in both the rate of first-class degrees awarded, and the proportion of those awards. These increases cannot be fully explained by the factors we have taken into account in our analysis.
    • ‘The performance shown in the new data pre-dates our call for the sector to take action on grade inflation, so we would not expect to see the impact of such actions in today’s report.
    • ‘There are, though, positive signs that the higher education sector has begun to tackle this issue. We welcome the steps taken by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment and the positive response from universities to a recent consultation on the steps universities should take to demonstrate that standards are secure. We recognise that change will take time, but it remains absolutely crucial that students, graduates and the general public can be assured that the value of a degree is maintained. That is why concerted, focused, and sector-wide action is so important.
    • ‘Following today’s publication, the OfS will be contacting those universities and providers with the most significant unexplained increases in degree classifications. We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. In seeking this additional information we recognise that there are factors that could explain the increases – for example improvements in learning and teaching – that we have not been able to measure in our analysis.
    • ‘Given the significant public scrutiny of degree standards we want to understand how universities have assured themselves that they have, and continue to, apply consistent standards. Doing so will help ensure that the degrees that students work so hard for continue to enjoy public confidence.’

The report and Excel versions of the data tables have been published.

The use of the word “unexplained” (again) is shocking given that it means “unexplained by prior attainment and social advantage”.  Inevitably this has been picked up in the media and by the Education Secretary.

BBC story here with a Damien Hinds comment:

  •  “Education Secretary Damian Hinds warned against “unfair practices”.  Mr Hinds said that if universities were giving many more top degrees without a legitimate reason, it was unfair on those who had studied to the same standard in previous years.  “We owe it to the hard-working students and institutions who play by the rules to stamp out this unfair practice,” said the education secretary. “Today’s figures are disappointing and risk compromising the public trust in the high standards of our universities,” he said.”

Wonkhe point out the escalation of threat level here: “Back in December, he said “I am urging universities to tackle this serious issue and have asked the Office for Students to deal firmly with any institution found to be unreasonably inflating grades” – so this feels like threat inflation to us.”

The OfS seem to be totally unaware of the damage that their choice of language may be doing.  In a blog, Susan Lapworth, the Director of competition and registration at the OFS, says about the plan to follow up with universities (emphasis added);

“To ensure that all universities, colleges and other registered providers are playing their part in maintaining the standard of degrees, we are likely to write to those providers that held degree awarding powers in 2010-11 and where the data show the most significant increases in the percentage of first class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2017-18. We’re focusing on providers with:

  • a statistically significant increase in the unexplained percentage of first class degrees awarded in a single year, or
  • a statistically significant overall increase in the unexplained percentage of first class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2017-18.

We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. We want to understand, for example, whether a provider has made recent changes to the way it calculates degree classifications, or whether it can point to other evidence – such as investment in staffing, teaching, services or facilities – that would credibly account for the ‘unexplained’ increase. We are also interested in the steps governing bodies have taken to ensure that academic governance arrangements are adequate and effective.

In seeking this additional information, we are not implying that the trends we can see in the published data indicate any form of wrongdoing from these providers – we are trying to understand better the reasons for performance that will be subject to public scrutiny and so are focusing our attention on those providers with the biggest unexplained increases. Given the significant public scrutiny of degree standards we want to understand how providers have assured themselves that they continue to apply consistent standards.

Doing so is essential to maintaining public confidence in degrees.”

General Election?

There has been little to say on Brexit recently because of the speculation and posturing of the Conservative leadership race. The news is all about what the two candidates might actually do (rather than what they say they will do as some promises may turn out to be completely unachievable if the EU or Parliament don’t play ball). The Conservatives, despite bitter Brexit infighting, are keen to retain power and remain in Government, avoiding an election at all costs. However, there has been increasing talk of how a general election may now be inevitable. There is a good article in Politics Home House magazine which explains the election scenarios.

Admissions

UCAS released their analysis of all full time undergraduate applications (made by end June 2019) noting a new record as almost 4 in 10 young people apply to university. Overall the number of young applications has increased by 1%, an additional 2,600 people, (despite the 1.9% fall in the young UK population). Across the UK figures are:

  • 39.5% of all 18 year olds in England submitted a UCAS application, up from 38.1% at the same point last year;
  • in Northern Ireland, 46.9% of 18 year olds applied (down 0.7 percentage points)
  • in Scotland, the 18 year old application rate is 32.7% (down 0.1 percentage point)
  • in Wales, the application rate was 32.9% (up 0.2 percentage points) – a joint record result equalling the peak in 2016

International

  • The volume of EU applicants rose by 1%, to 50,650.
  • There were a record number of applicants from outside the EU – 81,340 students applied to study in the UK, an increase of 8%.
  • China continued its rapid growth, with applicant numbers up 30% to 19,760 – this means that, for the first time, there are more applicants from China than Northern Ireland (18,520).

Disadvantage

For the first time, UCAS utilised the index of multiple deprivation measures to consider applications from disadvantaged communities.

  • In England, the number of young people applying from the most deprived areas has increased 6% to 38,770, while applications from the least deprived areas have fallen.
  • In Northern Ireland, all areas have seen a fall in applications, of between 2% and 7%.
  • In Scotland, young applicants from the most deprived areas have grown by 3%, while all other areas have seen falls.
  • In Wales, applicants from the most deprived areas remained at 1,390, with a mixed picture across different areas.

UCAS have also release a new interactive dashboard should you wish to interrogate the data further.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

The global appeal of UK higher education has never been clearer, with record, demographic beating application rates in England and Wales, and the steep rise in international applications, especially from China.

Today’s analysis shows how attractive undergraduate study continues to be for young people, although university isn’t the only route on offer. Our survey insight shows that around a quarter of students are interested in apprenticeships as an alternative option.

Higher Technical Reform

The DfE has launched a consultation on Higher Technical qualifications and published a Written Ministerial Statement to accompany it. Key points within the statement:

  1. A vision for Higher Technical Education to be a prestigious choice that delivers the skills employers need, encourages more students to continue studying after A levels or T levels and attracts workers of all ages looking to upskill and retrain.
  2. The starting point for reform is to raise the prestige of Higher Technical Education and strengthen its value to employers by putting their needs and quality first. Improving quality now – to demonstrate the value of higher technical qualifications – will lead to increased uptake of Higher Technical Education in the future.
  3. To do this we a new system is proposed to make clear which higher technical qualifications provide the skills that employers want. This will be delivered through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education signalling which qualifications deliver the knowledge, skills, and behaviours set out in employer-led national standards. This will help qualifications at this level command the confidence of students and employers alike.
  4. Alongside this the Government intent to work with the Office for Students to demonstrate the quality of providers, so there is more high-quality provision delivered across higher and further education, including through our flagship employer-led National Colleges and Institutes of Technology.
  5. The Government aims to make Higher Technical Education a positive and more popular choice by raising awareness and understanding of the new suite of Institute-approved qualifications in colleges and universities, and among potential students and employers.

This is very interesting in its own right, but also because of the direction of travel.

  • 29 We will create a clear set of signals that will enable employers and learners to easily identify the best qualifications with national labour market relevance. We want to incentivise providers to gravitate towards approved qualifications rather than those that have not met the Institute’s quality requirements. This will tilt the playing field towards qualifications which have been identified by panels of employers as delivering the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for an occupation.
  • 30 Qualifications approved by the Institute would be clearly identified through a single name or kitemark. ….
  • 31 Approved qualifications will therefore clearly stand out as being high-quality, labour market relevant, and having national currency. These benefits will enhance the offer and credibility of even those existing qualifications that have a relatively good level of employer awareness.
  • In addition, we know it will be very important to ensure that HTE is properly funded. Funding will also form an important incentive for Awarding Bodies to submit their qualifications for approval and discourage provision of rival qualifications that have not been approved by the Institute. The Post-18 Review panel has recommended that only approved HTQs should be entitled to the same tuition fee support and teaching grant, and equivalent maintenance support, as level 6 qualifications. We want to ensure there are clear incentives to deliver reformed qualifications in the future, and we will consider this as part of the ongoing Spending Review and the government’s response to the Post-18 Review.
  • We want to ensure that the very best providers are delivering our approved high-quality HTQs, whilst also considering how providers could specialise, or adjust their offer to address local skills needs. The Post-18 Review has recommended additional capital funding, for FE colleges, with a particular focus on growing specialist HTE provision in specific colleges. We will consider these recommendations, and develop our plans in more detail, as part of the Spending Review.
  • We want the reformed higher technical offer to be the best it can be. We therefore propose taking the requirement to register with the OfS a step further, and to develop with the OfS an additional set of ongoing registration conditions specifically for higher technical provision (technical conditions). Providers would be required to meet these technical conditions, in addition to the general ongoing registration conditions that are applicable to all providers, to be able to deliver the approved HTQs with access to relevant student finance for courses leading to those HTQs, and to be eligible for any additional public funding.
  • We expect this to be a rigorous process that would specifically assess and signal the quality of a provider’s higher technical education provision. Criteria for this would:
  • Specifically indicate high-quality higher technical provision by expanding on the key elements already assessed by OfS as part of the registration process, such as:
    • Suitably qualified and experienced teachers with current, relevant occupational and industry experience and expertise, as well as high quality pedagogical skills. Leaders have the capacity and ability to ensure provision is sustainable and retains a clear focus on quality
    • Strong links with employer networks, thus ensuring the knowledge, skills and behaviours being delivered are valued by, and relevant to, employers who are engaged and investing in training; and
    • Learning environments that provide access to facilities and equipment that are reflective of the workplace, including industry-relevant, up-to-date equipment.
  • Draw from the IoT assessment process, which uses a range of criteria including evidence of support for regional and national economic growth; employer engagement; relevance to occupational skills needs; and quality industry relevant teaching.
  • 67 The panel has also recommended that additional support and capital funding should be provided to grow capacity for, and ensure, high-quality technical provision, and that quality indicators could identify how best to allocate that funding. This could mean that only providers meeting the technical conditions would be eligible for any higher technical capital or grant funding for their HTE provision. For example, this could be to support providers to expand their provision, specialise or tailor their offer to meet local skills needs, or enhance teaching facilities and equipment. As stated above, we will be considering these funding proposals and wider reforms as part of the Spending Review.

International staff

This came up in Parliamentary questions this week.

Q – Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will make it his Department’s policy to exclude scientific research occupations from proposals in the immigration White Paper for a minimum salary threshold.

A – Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North):

  • On 24 June 2019, the Government asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to consider the operation of salary thresholds in the future immigration system, including the impact of exemptions from minimum salary thresholds. The MAC is due to report by January 2020.
  • We recognise the vital contribution that scientists make to the UK. In his spring statement, my Rt Hon Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, confirmed that PhD level occupations would be exempt from the Tier 2 cap. Additionally, researchers applying for settlement are exempt from the rule which states that, there should be no absence from the UK for 180 days if the absence from the UK is for the purpose carrying out research. A number of research roles also appear on the Shortage Occupation List which also exempts them from the settlement salary threshold
  • The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route is also available for internationally recognised leaders and promising future leaders, including in the science and research sector.

The Minister speaks (part 4) – on R&D investment

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, made his fourth (and final) speech in his series on R&D investment focusing on how to bring about major increases in private R&D investment.

The previous speeches covered:

  • Investing in people – ensuring that the best and brightest minds are working on the problems
  • Working collaboratives – across international borders to tackle the greatest challenges facing society
  • Enduring the funding and regulatory systems nurture new technologies and support risk taking

On private R&D investment he said:

  • If we are to deliver on our 2.4% commitment, we must be prepared to go much further and much faster. Overall investment in R&D will need to more than double in nominal terms, from current level of £35 billion per year to around £75 billion per year by 2027.
  • And at least two thirds of this investment will need to come from business. For many industries the need to invest in R&D is a pressing one – vital to competitive advantage. Businesses that thrive on the cutting edge are adept at making the most of basic research. They track down the brightest minds to seek answers to their most pressing problems. And they take the lead on experimental development and innovation, lifting new discoveries out of the lab and into people’s lives, driving economic and social prosperity.
  • That isn’t to say that the government won’t play its part. In fact, we are doing more than ever.

The Minister goes on to set out the additional funding, including a real terms QR funding uplift, and collaborative assistance that has led to successful business gains, such as Jaguar Land Rover committing to produce it’s electric cars in the UK (previously the company had been shedding staff and moving assets due to Brexit complexities).

  • Bold government policy has led to bold business decisions.
  • But to get to 2.4% we need to see significantly more than this. To ramp up from today’s levels to 2027, it is projected we’ll need to see an additional £12 billion each year from business.

To respond to this challenge the minister announced 7 focal areas:

  • Creating opportunity for the spark of creativity to arise through encouraging a vibrant and diverse research system with support for world-class, blue-skies research in universities and institutesintellectual capital ultimately comes from people. So we need to invest confidently into postgraduate study, looking at all levels of our education system to getting more people into exciting R&D careers. This also means working tirelessly to put innovation and creativity at the centre of our education and training system.
  • Turning new ideas into new businesses, products and processes – developing a culture of startups.
  • Creating a scale-up culture with early-stage ventures able to access the funding needed to scale up
  • Driving up demand as well as supply – incentivising business investment into R&D for established businesses. The  Minister states:

I see universities as ‘protagonists’, working with businesses to address problems where others cannot or dare not, and stimulating private investment.

Whether they are spinning out a company, licensing their IP, or undertaking contract or collaborative research with business, universities are remarkably skilled at identifying where they can have the greatest impact – locally, regionally, nationally and globally – and just getting on and doing it.

  • Supporting innovation across the whole UK – playing to local and regional strengths.
  • Focussing on the industrial strategies Grand Challenges
  • Ensuring research and innovation is right at the heart of Global Britain – the UK to be a magnet for foreign direct investment and as attractive a destination as possible for major businesses looking to relocate or scale up their R&D operations. Government policies and funding streams should ruthlessly drive up our global attractiveness.
    • But it is also incumbent on us to be better at marketing ourselves overseas. An important part of this is being open to talent. It is something businesses tell me constantly: the UK urgently needs an immigration system that encourages those with the best ideas and the most innovative minds to come and work here.
  • The evidence is unarguable: skilled immigration drives innovation. We mustn’t lose sight of this as we exit the EU. If we are to thrive, we need a genuinely international approach, a ‘freedom of talent’ approach that allows highly skilled people the flexibility to move and collaborate across borders.
  • That is the purpose of our international education strategy, providing focus and clarity to our ongoing educational exports
  • We cannot duck this challenge. Other nations are adopting aggressive approaches to R&D investment, driving significant increases in both public and private R&D performance. I’m not just talking about Israel and China – 2 obvious outliers. I’m also looking at Germany, who are ramping up public spending on R&D, committing to 3% annual increases every year for the next decade.
  • The technological revolution will stretch horizontally across our economy – every company will become a tech company of sorts. 
  • So to conclude, delivering on 2.4% requires focusing on all parts of the innovation lifecycle, and looking at our policies and investments through multiple lenses. And we must keep a ruthless focus on evidence, to inform the choices we make as a nation.
  • This means we need to access the latest thinking on what works, and ensure we have the best and latest metrics so we know when we have succeeded. And it means listening to what businesses and academics are telling us, and acting accordingly.

Other points made:

  • The UK has the second highest number of doctoral graduate in the EU (Germany has the highest).
  • UK researchers are unusually collaborative in comparison with EU and G20 nations
  • The UK has above-average level of people working in the fastest-growing sectors
  • The UK’s field-weighted citations has beaten all other G7 countries since 2007 with 50% greater citation impact than the world average and 30% higher impact than the EU27. No other comparator nation has a larger proportion of its research among the most widely cited in the world.

Consultations

There are NINE new consultations and inquiries this week!  Click here to view the updated tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Assistive Technology: The Student Loans Company plan to put out a tender for Assistive Technology Equipment and Training, results will be published during autumn 2019.

Industry partnership: Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, announced UK pioneering technologies under development as part of 4 new partnerships between businesses and universities. The projects aim to help UK industry and academia lead the way in bringing new products to market that contribute to tackling the big generational challenges such as climate change and the needs of an ageing society. Skidmore stressed the importance of both government and industry contributing to the Industrial Strategy ambition of raising public and private investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Projects include:

  • Developing new materials that do not make noise underwater, led by BAE Systems with the University of Southampton, the University of Nottingham and Lloyd’s Register.
  • Using AI and machine learning to speed up production of new medicines from vaccines to tablets in order to get them from the lab to the clinic faster, led by GlaxoSmithKline with the University of Strathclyde with University of Nottingham.
  • Developing a new range of fully recyclable ultra-high strength aluminium alloys for the automotive industry, led by Constellium and Brunel University.
  • Creating the next generation of household products using AI to pave the way for robots to complete advanced household tasks, led by Dyson and Imperial.

Student transitions:  Education Secretary Damian Hinds announced ‘Leapskills Workshops’, developed by student accommodation provider Unite Students which offer schools and colleges resources to teach Year 12 and 13 pupils about independent living, managing money and dealing with conflict. The sessions aim to act as a digital interactive masterclass to enhance how schools and colleges teach young people about what to expect and how to prepare for the leap of living away from home for the first time.

  • Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:  For young people leaving school, starting the next chapter of their life should be a positive life-changing experience – but we know that many people struggle with the pressures of moving away from home and living independently for the first time. A huge part of education is preparing young people for adult life and it is right that we teach them what to expect for life after school, whether that’s at university, work or an apprenticeship.
  • Unite Students CEO Richard Smith said: We believe that resilience is vital in young people and that given the right opportunities and experiences, young people can build resilience. The better prepared young people are for the transition to university, the easier they will find managing the highs and the lows often involved in this leap.

Apprenticeships: The DfE have published a summary document giving Apprenticeships and Traineeships figures. The data shows how higher level apprenticeships have boomed (68% growth since last year) with the main decline at the intermediate apprenticeship level. Apprenticeship starts from mature (19+) learners has increased by 13.8%.

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HE Policy Update – w/e 17 August 2018

To read the policy update in full with all the accompanying charts please click here, or continue reading below for the text only version.

 

The build up to A level results day and clearing has dominated this week, amid much talk of the future of technical and vocational education.

Admissions and Clearing

National Picture

HEPI provide a guest blog by Mary Curnock Cook (previous Chief Executive of UCAS).

The blog notes that higher tariff institutions have benefited most from the buyers’ market this year.

 Mary describes the increase in disadvantaged students in detail:

Things also look good for more disadvantaged students, measured by the serviceable but imperfect area-based POLAR4 measure. 

Here we see that participation rates for POLAR Quintile 1 (roughly the fifth of the population living in areas having the lowest participation rates in higher education) has again grown, up 0.3% to 16.4%. 

Quintile 5, from the highest participation areas, is also up by 0.7%.

The most advantaged (Quintile 5) are still 2.4 times more likely to enter higher education than the least advantaged (Quintile 1).

On ethnicity Mary writes:

Although white students are still the largest group of undergraduate students, BAME students have a higher and faster growing appetite for higher education.  Today’s data from UCAS indicate that while the number of placed white students from the UK is down 3%, placed BAME students are up 1%. The entry rate by ethnic group is the lowest for the White group and Asian students are 15% more likely to enter higher education.

Mary’s analysis is based on A level results day data which captures 80% of the End of Cycle data, it cannot be fully comprehensive but is sufficient to indicate trends.

 

Education Secretary of State Congratulatory Speech

Damian Hinds congratulated A level students on results day and welcomed record numbers of 18 year olds who intend to enter university study. The Government’s news story  provides a national picture of the A level results:

  • Maths continues to be the most popular subject at A Level, with the number of entries up 2.5% on last year – up 26.8% compared to 2010;
  • Entries into STEM subjects continue to rise, up 3.4% on last year and up 24% since 2010;
  • An increase in entries to STEM A Levels by girls, up 5.5% from last year and 26.9% since 2010 [see this Financial Times article for a chart illustrating female STEM study programmes];
  • The proportion of entries to art and design, music and modern foreign languages remains broadly stable;
  • In the second year of reformed A Levels, the percentage of UK entries awarded the A* grade remains stable at 8.0% this year, compared with 8.1% in 2010 and the overall UK pass rate remains stable at 97.6%, compared to 97.9% last year.

Damian stated that the reforms to A levels mean students are better prepared for future study or the workplace and reiterated messaging around choice of progression pathway on from A level study:

We’ve worked to improve education for every child – from their early years through to secondary school and beyond. I also want young people to have wider choice, whether that’s going to university, earning through an apprenticeship or in future taking technical qualifications that match the best in the world…As young people receive their results and prepare for the next steps, for the first time National Careers Service advisers will be giving young people information, advice and guidance on skills, learning and work alongside the UCAS clearing service. This will help ensure young people are aware of all the education and training options available to them.

Sam Gyimah said:

Thanks to the support offered by this government, no student with the talent and potential is restricted from studying in our world-class university sector. We have worked with employers to design new high quality apprenticeships – including degree apprenticeships – making them longer, with more off-the-job training and proper assessment at the end so that apprentices are learning the skills that industry really needs.

Wider sector perspectives

CBI Head of Education, John Cope, spoke ahead of the results stating:

There are many great routes to a successful career whether that’s at a university, college, or learning on the job. It’s important that those getting their A-Level results consider the whole range of options available.

University absolutely offers students a great next step but is by no means the only route to a higher-level education. There are a range of different options – a Higher National Certificate or Diploma, a foundation degree, or a ‘degree apprenticeship’, with an apprenticeship offering the chance to gain both a qualification employers value and start earning a salary straight away.

He went on to talk about the rise in the number of unconditional offers:

What’s driving the growth of unconditional offers is complex. To protect the credibility of our world-class sector, universities must ensure that unconditional offers are used carefully, such as helping widen access to university and driving social justice

The Chartered Management Institute’s statement also cites the growing favour for degree apprenticeships quoting a parent survey which found half (49%) of respondents said they would encourage their child to start a degree apprenticeship rather than an academic-only university course. 52% of parents said they were put off the traditional academic route by substantial university costs. In addition, 71% of those surveyed believed degree apprenticeships provide a better chance of getting a job than a traditional university degree, with many considering them to be the best value-for-money option for young people currently. (Note, CMI partners with 12 universities and major corporates to deliver a degree apprenticeship offer.)

Meanwhile the Careers and Enterprise Company have published the myth-busting truth about life after A levels (full report here).

Times Higher report that UK student acceptances are down by 2% on A level results day with lower-tariff institutions continuing to feel the squeeze.

Headlines:

  • The number of placed applicants for nursing continued to drop – down another 2% from last year.
  • There has been a small rise in the percentage of students from the most disadvantaged groups accepted to universities.
  • There was also an increase in EU acceptances (up by 1%) plus a record 31,510 international (non-EU) students.

Nationally, there were 26,000 unfilled places on A level results day

Research Professional published comments from the University and Colleges Union who have refreshed a pitch from earlier this year calling for a post-qualifications admission system. The article also reiterates familiar themes on Government’s concern over the rise of unconditional offers.

The Guardian ran a piece highlighting that some students who missed their grades and had entered Clearing to obtain an alternative university place may need additional support to adjust.

Times Higher pull together statements from key HE sector figures in response to A level results and early UCAS acceptance data.

University – declining as the ‘default’ choice?

The Sutton Trust has published research on young people’s attitudes to university across a 16 year period, conducted by Ipsos MORI. School pupils indicated how likely they were to attend university compared to the previous responses for the last 15 years. Overall figures fluctuate slightly and in 2018 more pupils indicated they were fairly likely to go, but less were certain enough to select ‘very likely’.  Delving into the reasons why pupils were unlikely to attend HE all the major reasons were scored lower than in previous years (period 2013-2017), except for social concerns (friends not attending, teachers advised something else for me, people like me are not expected to go to university) which remains turbulent. See the Sutton Trust news article and report overview for more analysis of the data.

(See link for the tables, chart and Twitter snapshots)

The Guardian reported on the research in: Young people ‘more sceptical about value of university’ – poll

 

Economics of Post-School Education

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee undertook an inquiry into the Economics of Post-School Education, publishing their concluding report on 11 June 2018. You can read a summary of it  in our previous policy update (pages 3 to 5). The Committee report called for immediate reform stating there was too much emphasis on university degrees, with undergraduate study dominating post-school choices, which isn’t in the country’s best interest.  Their report attributes this dominance to the ‘lack of alternative viable, consistent and quality alternatives’ with the guaranteed HE Finance system and the removal of the student number cap acting as enablers.

This week the Government published their official response to the House of Lord’s report. The response continuously acknowledges the current Government Review of Post-18 Education and Funding throughout the replies to the Lords Committee’s calls for change. In general the Government’s response echoes the Lords sentiment for better post-school careers options and alternative technical routes with equal recognition as a degree. This is unsurprising as these are both current policy pushes and set within the context of the reform of technical education which aims to span FE and HE. As expected the Government’s response focuses on pathways to employment, provides a nod to automation, and emphasises all forms of education as a driver of social mobility. However, it disagrees with the Committee’s calls to revisit student finance. In the full response the Government references the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding at the end of each reply –the effect is to set out a firm policy position but allowing room for future manoeuvre.

The key recommendations of the Lords inquiry report are set out below with the Government’s response in blue beneath.

  • Sector rhetoric has long held FE to be the poor cousin of HE and the Lords report called for better distribution of public funding across FE and HE with separate single regulators for level 4 and above (OfS) and sub level 3, including apprenticeships.
    1. The Government response notes the DfE review of classroom-based, level 4 & 5 technical education launched in October 2017 (interim findings here) which it states is ensuring that learners have high quality, accessible and attractive study choices at Levels 4 and 5. The response doesn’t comment on the funding aspect deferring an answer until after the Post-18 Review concludes: Access to loan funding and maintenance support for all courses at Level 4 and above including wider funding for FE colleges will be considered as part of the Review of Post 18 Education and Funding.
    2. On single regulators the Government confirms the role of the OfS as the HE regulator, only for those on the HE register, but with a wider student focussed outlook: In his strategic guidance letter 2018/19, the Minister for Universities asked the OfS to ‘look beyond its register, develop an understanding of providers and students in the currently unregulated parts of the HE sector and consider ways of encouraging such providers to register and engage with good regulatory practice.’
  • Address the decline in part-time and mature students by removing loan restrictions and maintenance support, by introducing innovative methods of learning, working with employers, and cooperation between universities to ensure a flexible credit-based modular system where individuals can learn at their own pace.
    1. The Government response noted the changes already introduced aiming to support part-time and mature students, including the 2018/19 starter part-time maintenance loans, and the Masters and Doctoral loans. The push for accelerated degrees, with the revised finance arrangements to facilitate this (outcome of consultation on this due autumn 2018), and greater ease and transparency for students wishing to transfer credit between institutions were characteristics of Jo Johnson’s stint as HE Minster. While the Government has been quieter on these aspects under Gyimah the impetus for a system that incentivises student choice remains and the Government’s response describes on-going government work to empower people to study at different times in their lives and sets out their commitment to the value of innovative methods of provision as a means of broadening choice available to students. One of which is the growth of new and alternative providers to plug cold spots and increase competition. The feel behind the response is that the Government is genuinely committed to reversing the dearth of mature and part time students and are looking to universities to collaborate, attract, innovate and offer sufficient flexibility to reinvigorate this group of learners to return to HE study, whether they chose a traditional academic programme or follow a higher level technical or employer focussed route.
    2. Specifically on credit transfer systems the response highlights that the Higher Education and Research Act tasks OfS to monitor and report on the availability and utilisation of student transfer arrangements, and confers on the OfS the power to ‘facilitate, encourage, or promote awareness of’ the provision of transfer arrangements’ whilst recognising the autonomy of HE providers in England to determine the content of particular courses and the criteria for the admission of those courses. It also notes that from August 2019 the OfS will require all registered HE providers to publish information about their arrangements for student transfer.
  • Refresh apprenticeships – remove targets to prioritise quality over quantity, focus on the skills employers really need, abolish the Institute for Apprenticeships, increase the status of apprenticeships to be seen as a valid and worthwhile alternative to a degree
    1. The Government response sets apprenticeships within the wider policy vision of a refreshed, high-quality, economically productive technical education and training pathway that delivers the cutting edge skills employers need. Including T levels and the 15 new technical routes, the National Retraining Scheme, Institutes of Technology, National Colleges, the role of Skills Advisory Panels in supporting local skills needs and business growth, and emphasising student mobility across all academic and technical routes and levels. The response also noted the Government wanted to have a positive impact on the progression and earning potential for apprentices over their lifetimes.
    2. The Government confirmed their aspiration for the technical route to have equal status and validity to an academic degree route and cited the introduction and continued growth of degree apprenticeships within the sector:

The development of degree level apprenticeships aims to widen access to the professions and develop the higher-level technical skills needed to improve productivity and make sure businesses compete internationally. Not all occupations will lend themselves to a Degree Apprenticeship and not all people will want to work whilst doing their degree. Sitting alongside… Degree Apprenticeships provide another route for employers and people to gain the skills that they need.

  1. The Government’s response acknowledged the poor quality within current apprenticeship provision: we agree with the Committee that for too long apprentices have not received the quality of training we would expect. Yet resisted the Lords calls to abolish the Institute for Apprenticeships, instead stating the Government has given the Institute for Apprenticeships a clear remit.
  • Alternative viable non-degree routes with parity of esteem – moving away from university undergraduate study as the default post-18 choice. The Lords also recommended a simpler approach to post-school choices through a single UCAS-style portal covering all forms of higher education, further education and apprenticeships.
    1. The Government shares the Lords’ vision for alternative non-degree routes as set out under 1a, 2a, 2b, 3a and 3b above.
    2. With regard to redressing university study as the default choice the Government response acknowledges more could be done to improve information on post-18 options provided in schools and references the Careers Strategy. There is a statutory duty on schools to provide independent and impartial careers guidance on the full range of education and training options, including apprenticeships, and provide pupils with access to the full range of training providers. The Careers strategy also sets out a requirement for schools to facilitate a number of employer encounters for pupils. However, they resisted the Lords call for a single UCAS style entry system:

We agree that it is important that students have the necessary information to consider all of their options, not just the academic route. We are making sure that all Government careers information is available in one place on a new National Careers Service website. Online resources will include information on routes into apprenticeships, including higher and Degree Apprenticeships, and T Levels. We are improving the functionality of the post-16 course directory. This provides information about all the courses that a young person might choose at 16..We will consider what further action might be helpful in ensuring that young people are able to make informed decisions about their education, training or career options.

We have considered whether apprenticeships should be included in a centralised application system (either at age 16+ or at 18+). Our discussions with employers have made it clear that they value having their own recruitment processes and so would not welcome an attempt to standardise the process.

The Review of Post-18 Education and Funding is considering how we can help young people make effective choices between academic, technical and vocational routes after the age of 18.

Again the task of implementing this aspect of the Careers Strategy falls upon OfS shoulders:

The provision of information is one of the OfS’s top priorities. The strategic guidance letter asked the OfS to play a key role in ensuring better information, advice and guidance is provided to students so that they can make the right choices for them. The Government expect the OfS to combine this with the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data on salary outcomes and to reform Unistats, whilst working with students to identify what information they need to make effective informed choices and how to present it most effectively. The OfS are expected to publish an information, advice and guidance strategy by Autumn 2018.

 

  • Structural changes including addressing the high level of interest charged on student loans, criticism of the removal of maintenance grants, and censure for the masking effects in the way the student loan book is calculated and reported
    1. The Government rejected the recommendations surrounding the student finance system. The response notes that cutting the interest rates would be socially regressive as it would primarily benefit the highest earning graduates. This runs counter to Government policy, the introduction of the 2012 higher fees and cessation of student maintenance grants, which states that students who benefit financially should pay for their degree rather than the public. However, there is a slight softening within the Government’s response which references the Review and states [we] will consider the report of the independent panel in this regard.
    2. On maintenance support the response defends the Government’s position stating the move from grants to loans ensures that students contribute to the cost of HE – creating a fair balance of contribution between those who benefit – society and the student. It reiterates the familiar messaging which establishes the non-repayment of loans as a deliberate and conscious investment subsidy in the long-term skills capacity of the economy. Again there is a softening in the now familiar final statement on the Review which provides room for manoeuvre in future policy direction: The Review of Post-18 Education and Funding is considering how disadvantaged students and learners receive maintenance support, both from Government and from universities and colleges.
    3. The Director General of the Office for National Statistics also writes to Lord Forsyth (Chair of Lords Economic Affairs Committee) to respond to the Committee’s recommendation on the way the Office for National Statistics (ONS) accounts for the loan deficit. The letter acknowledges the complexity of the current accounting method and references the ONS’ own review tackling the pros and cons of the various alternative options in calculating the deficit.

Research Professional report on the student finance elements of the Government’s response in: Department rejects interest rate cuts for student loans.

Finally, while the majority of the Government’s official response to the House of Lords inquiry report holds to the current familiar policy lines it consistently acknowledges the importance of the Post-18 Education and Finance Review, including the role of the independent expert panel (chaired by Philip Augar). Perhaps portending movement on some of the key HE issues, such as finance, alongside a shake-up of sub level 4 provision. The independent panel is due to report later in autumn 2018 with the Government concluding the full Review early 2019. Potentially the Review could mean the biggest change in the sector landscape since the Higher Education and Research Act, and all set against the backdrop of impending Brexit.

Parental role in funding university

This week also brought an upsurge of articles on funding the costs of university timed ahead of the A level results.

Times Higher ran: Parents worldwide contribute to the cost of university, finds survey. It compares the differing levels of finance parents provide to facilitate their child’s degree study – UK and French parents contribute the least worldwide. The article also considers variety in global parental opinion on which skills are most important for their children to learn at university.

The Association of Investment Companies ran the article: A-Level results day approaches and parents vastly underestimate student debt.

Educating the world’s leaders

HEPI,  Times Higher and Research Professional cover the news that America has overtaken the UK in the statistics which recognise the country who educates the most world leaders. America has educated one more serving monarch, president or prime minister than the UK to take the top spot. Nick Hillman (HEPI) states:

You build up incredible soft power if you educate the leading lights of other countries. In the past, we have been more successful than any other country in attracting the world’s future leaders. But these new figures suggest our position could be slipping. To ensure this does not become a long-term trend, we need to adopt a bold educational exports strategy, remove students from the main migration target and roll out the red carpet when people come to study here.

One practical way to make all that happen would be to end the Home Office having complete control over student migration and to share it across government departments instead, as they do in other countries.

Technical Education

The Conservative leaning Centre for Policy Studies has published Technically Gifted – How Selection Can Save Technical and Vocational Education. It makes bold suggestions on how to achieve parity of esteem for technical and vocational education through exclusive selection methods. The document’s authors are no strangers to controversial headlines. It is written by Toby Young, the Free Schools guru who resigned from the OfS Board within days of appointment following public outcry at his past inappropriate tweets; with the Foreword by Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s ex-special advisor and Chief of Staff who advised her to call the snap election in 2017 which left the Conservatives without a majority in Parliament.

Toby highlights the growing skills gap in Britain – by 2022 it is anticipated there will be 3.6 million vacancies in skilled technical occupations despite the Government’s technical education policy agenda. He notes that, with a few exceptions, University Technical Colleges, Studio Schools and Free Schools have all failed to thrive and achieve quality outcomes. Toby believes the difficulty lies in student recruitment numbers – for viability the providers accept all applicants including those marginalised or excluded from other local schools and often have higher numbers of pupils with behavioural difficulties or low attainment. This makes the institution unattractive for pupils who excel within the educational specialism the institution provides, creating a negative downward spiral of declining numbers and status.

The document lands at a time when the Government and Lords are striving to engender a culture of parity of esteem between technical and academic education, where a higher level technical or vocational qualification is considered of equal value to a degree. The Government has invested heavily and is introducing T levels reforming vocational education into the 15 new technical routes, and promoting degree apprenticeships;  focusing more on choice for young people and promoting technical and vocational options through the Careers Strategy and the National Retraining Scheme; continuing to provide new funding to invest in Institutes of Technology and the National Colleges; whilst maintaining their support for the Institute for Apprenticeships. The quality and status of vocational education has been an issue throughout successive Governments so it remains to be seen whether the new approach will successfully bring the economic and skill benefits that Britain needs. What has been noticeable in the run up to A level results day this year is the additional volume of media stories and promotions espousing the benefits of degree apprenticeships and alternative choices.

For Toby the answer to both of the above conundrums – high quality technical education and equal status to an academic route – lies within exclusivity through selection. He believes being selected for a technical institution should be a high status achievement (like passing the 11-plus for grammar school entry) rather than a negative decision because the pupil is unsuitable for a standard academic route.

Toby writes:

…if the Government wants England’s technical/vocational schools to survive and thrive, it must cut the Gordian Knot linking technical and vocational education to a lack of aptitude for academic subjects and allow these schools to select pupils according to aptitude for their particular specialisms at the age of 14. Not only would this transform the fortunes of these schools, it would also enable the Department for Education (DfE) to set up new 14-19 technical/vocational schools that would be likely to succeed….This would not require any amendment to primary or secondary legislation. A policy change by the Secretary of State for Education would suffice…. Above all, it would fundamentally improve the life chances, income and well-being of those who have an aptitude for this type of education and would like the opportunity to pursue it, rather than treating them – as we have done for so long – like second-class citizens… Members of the professional class, including headteachers, must stop thinking of this type of education as second best – as only being appropriate for ‘other people’s children’.

Toby goes on to argue that:

  • technical courses should be as intellectually rigorous as academic subjects, including a common core of academic GCSEs
  • specialist schools should commence at age 14 as technical aptitude cannot be measured at age 11; children need time to develop the cognitive skills required by such courses. Moreover the pupils need an interest and passion in the specialist technical area they will study – this comes through experience and maturity
  • technical education should be delivered in specialist schools, not mainstreamed. The requirement for schools to enter 75% of their pupils for the narrowed subject mix of the English Baccalaureate (90% by 2025) means the wider range of subjects needed for vocational education aren’t being delivered
  • Technical education has to start pre-GCSE. He believes the post GCSE T levels will be a bolt on and won’t work because of the prior standard academic content with its narrowing mix of subjects. He calls again for the Government to signal that it regards this type of education as suitable for children of all abilities, not just those who find themselves without the necessary qualifications to do three A-levels
  • Toby notes a school admitting children at age 14 does pose a difficulty because it is not a standard transfer point in England’s schools system. Parents are reluctant to move children who have already settled and established friendships away from their current secondary school, and the middle school system moves children on at the end of year 8 not year 9. Furthermore, secondary head teachers have a financial incentive to retain their current pupil roll. In particular they are motivated to avoid additional funding cuts on top of those expected from pupils leaving to pursue post-16 options elsewhere. Toby highlights that persuading the local multi-academy trust to run a technical school is a potential solution, even better if they worked in partnership with local industry.
  • Selection methods should be commensurate with the type of specialist education delivered (e.g. the one day workshop style auditions common to the BRIT school) measuring interest/passion and technical aptitude rather than standard intelligence testing.
  • Currently there are two successful selective specialist technical schools. Through these Toby highlights that exclusivity doesn’t run counter to social mobility. In these schools both have significantly higher levels of pupils previously eligible for free school meals – 15% and 29% respectively compared to the 7% national average.
  • Abroad, nearly every country that has rolled out successful technical/vocational schools has allowed those schools to select.

 

Nick Timothy’s supports Toby’s proposals, writing in the foreword:

Young has identified why schools providing technical education have struggled in England: too often a pupil’s suitability for technical education is judged by their lack of suitability for an academically rigorous alternative. This is a false choice, and it inevitably means technical education is treated as second best. As a result parents and pupils shun technical schools, which end up being treated as dumping grounds for unruly students who are unwanted elsewhere. If we want to become world leaders in the STEM fields and meet our skills shortages with homegrown talent, this has to change. Young people should be encouraged to study technical subjects, and not only when teachers judge that they are not equipped for a purely academic education. For that to happen, a new generation of prestigious schools – selecting their pupils by aptitude, specialising in technical subjects, and still offering a core of academic subjects – can lead the way.

 

Graham Brady MP writes in Conservative Home in support of selective technical schools:

Wouldn’t it be better, as Young argues, if these schools were able to select those students with a particular aptitude for their specialisms? This should be the starting point in the Government’s efforts to revitalise technical and vocational education – a journey that leads to T-levels (which include a mandatory work placement), a place at an Institute of Technology, before entering a skilled occupation.

The choice, in other words, is not between grammars and comprehensives. It is between a flourishing ecosystem of schools, both selective and not, which do the best possible job of matching pupils and education – and a one-size-fits-all model which is increasingly out of step with the modern world.

Level 4 & 5 Qualifications

On Tuesday the DfE published findings from its ongoing review of level 4 and 5 qualifications. These shorter qualifications such as Foundation Degrees and diplomas are lower than the full undergraduate degree at level 6. However, the Government believes they are becoming a more important part of the employer skills jigsaw and pursuing them will lead to a healthy salary. The initial findings from the review note:

  • Studying at this level can increase earning potential and employability – students achieving a Level 4 or 5 qualification by age 23 had higher median wages by the time they were 26 and were more likely to be in sustained employment than students who achieved a Level 3.
  • A growing demand for qualifications at this level from employers in key sectors such as ICT and Engineering – meaning increased take up could play an important role in the UK economy, helping to plug technical skills gap and boost productivity.
  • Learners at this level often study part-time, and come from diverse backgrounds – highlighting how studying at this level could boost learning and job opportunities for hundreds of thousands more people across the country.

However, only 7% of people in England aged between 18 and 65 are undertaking training at this level, with the majority ceasing study at level 3 or instead pursuing a full degree. These latest findings fit with the Government’s call on the HE sector to offer a wider range of study options and structural flexibility to appeal to a wider audience –progressing social mobility and meeting the UK’s economic ambitions.

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton stated:

We want everyone to be able to access high quality technical education and training so they can get the skills they need. Having these skills can change people’s lives, leading to a rewarding career and fantastic opportunities. These early findings show how learning at Level 4 and 5 can benefit people of all ages and a wide variety of backgrounds, whilst helping employers get the skilled workforce they need. This research will play an important part of our ongoing review of Level 4 and 5 qualifications so we can understand how we can make education at this level work even better for everyone.

Research Professional report on the findings focusing on the low update of the level 4 and 5 qualifications.

 

Global Matters

This week the Government responded to a parliamentary question on visa delays which cause students to miss the start of their course:

Q – Stephen Kerr: How many tier 4 [visa] applications that have not been processed within the timescale set out in the service level agreement for processing such applications have caused students to miss university start dates in the latest academic for year for which figures are available.

A – Caroline Nokes: …The latest available data indicates the vast majority, 98.1% (and 99.8%) of straightforward cases were dealt with within service standards. Information on students who may have missed their university start date is not collated for publication on Home Office visa case-working systems.

International: The Pie News explores the popularity of UK HE delivered in Hong Kong, with 39 institutions delivering programmes. Pie News also reports that international students attending Chinese universities may be permitted to work part time in future to increase the attractiveness of the Chinese education system.

Brexit: On Friday the European Commission and the UK team continue to negotiate the future EU-UK relationship. Here is a helpful chart which sets out the UK and EU key players since the post Chequers cabinet reshuffle.

Buzzfeed News capitalises on a leaked listing of the Brexit technical papers in which the Government explore the consequences of leaving the EU on a ‘no deal’ basis. In part the papers aim to advise individuals and businesses on how to prepare for ‘no deal’ within their operating sphere. You can see the list of topics covered here, however, no content from the papers has been leaked.  The list includes Erasmus, Horizon 2020, Broadcasting, Environmental Standards, EU citizens in the UK, Life Sciences and many more. Buzzfeed report that a Government spokesperson stated the Brexit technical papers will be published for all to see in August and September on www.gov.uk  website.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

Horizon 2020: The Financial Times explore the Horizon 2020 funding figures released last week questioning whether collaboration is the major Brexit concern and noting the stabilisation effect Horizon funding provides for researchers.  Meanwhile this Government Horizon 2020 paper, issued last Thursday, explains the Withdrawal Agreement, the Underwrite and Post EU Exit Extension Guarantees, along with mobility and the Government’s position to Horizon Europe. It is written in plain language and an accessible catch up read.

Horizon Europe: Research Professional report on the Russell Group’s position paper which urges the EU to not seek to focus on closer-to-market projects at the expense of basic research.

Social Mobility Action: With the recent appointment of Dame Martina Milburn to lead the Social Mobility Commission comes a call to the public and industry to get involved with the social mobility movement for change. The news story is here, with a promise to update the page as more opportunities to get involved arise. It also contains details for interested colleagues to join their mailing list.

Masters fee hike: Times Higher report that since the postgraduate loans have been introduced many universities have increased the tuition fee for masters study.

Nursing: Nursing Times writes on the most recent NHS digital data showing the number of practicing learning disabilities nurses has dropped by 40% and that students choosing this form of nursing is decreasing. The article also references the Council of Deans for Health survey which found that 46% of education institutions considered dropping learning disability nursing from 2018/19 due to low student interest meaning courses are not financially viable. In this article the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) criticise the Government for doing too little too late – with the £10,000 golden hello for postgraduate students having little impact on recruitment. In this older news story RCN raise the removal of the NHS bursary for student nurses as a major factor in declining recruitment to degree programmes. It is likely that the decline in mature students contribute to the fall in numbers too. Mature students, with their greater life experience, are more likely to study learning disability or mental health nursing. The Independent also cover the recruitment drop warning of a return to Victorian era practices where patients are moved away from family to institutions because of insufficient trained expertise locally.

Justin Madders MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, said:

“The Royal College of Nursing’s powerful warning must serve as an urgent wake up call to the new Health Secretary. Under this Government learning disability nurses have been cut to the bone, and they appear to have gone quiet on their plans to attract more students into the profession. This unprecedented workforce crisis is completely unacceptable.

£9k fees unjustifiable:  Times Higher report on a YouGov poll which found that although students are satisfied with the quality of their degree they don’t feel the fee level is justified or results in a sufficiently high graduate job pay off.

“The data shows that while students’ satisfaction with the quality of their degree teaching is very high and a large majority still expect to be better off financially and in terms of being able to find a good job, this seems to be in spite of the costs of tuition, which the majority consider unjustified.”

Contract cheating: Wonkhe have a new blog post on essay mills to accompany a forthcoming petition to Parliament to legislate against contract cheating.

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HE Policy Update for w/e 10 August 2018

Review of Post-18 education

Tim Bradshaw, who leads the Russell Group, was in the media this week as he called for maintenance grants to be restored to help improve diversity in HE.

  • BBC coverage here
    • “…Mr Bradshaw said the government should make more funding available to help improve access to higher education, instead of “putting all the blame on universities”.
    • The group is due to submit proposals to the government on how maintenance grants could be restored as part of a review into post-18 education funding. Their options include a “living wage” for students who had been eligible for school meals during their school years. The £8,192 grant would reduce the debt of a student by £27,800, according to the proposal.
    • Mr Bradshaw said:

“It could be very targeted, really cost-effective and actually make quite a substantial difference to those from disadvantaged backgrounds who may inherently be very nervous about taking on an additional loan.”

  • A Department for Education spokesman said poorer undergraduates will get more help than ever when they go to university in the autumn. He said:

“Finance should never be a barrier to a young person’s education, and we are seeing real progress, with disadvantaged 18-year-olds 50% more likely to enter full-time university in 2017 compared with 2009. We have increased the maximum grants and loans available to support students with costs, and disadvantaged students starting their courses this year will have access to the largest ever amounts of cash-in-hand support for their living costs.”

  • The spokesman also said the department was working with the national regulator for higher education in England – the Office for Students – to encourage more young people from disadvantaged groups to apply to university and give them support when there.
  • Guardian here
    • When asked whether the loss of maintenance grants, coupled with £9,250 annual tuition fees, could be dissuading students from poorer backgrounds going to university, Bradshaw conceded: “Yes it might be. The student loans system is very complicated and difficult to understand.”
    • The grants were replaced in the 2016-17 academic year by loans which students would start paying back when they earned more than £21,000 a year.
    • In effect, this means that the poorest students – whose parents are unable to supplement their loan, or indeed help them repay their loans – face an even greater burden of debt after their studies, which could amount to about £58,000 for a three-year course.
  • This could also put them off from studying in the most expensive parts of the country, such as London and Oxford.
    • The Russell Group has been told it needs “to go further” in improving access for disadvantaged pupils with just 6.5% of students in last year’s intake from the poorest parts of the country.

The story was also reported in Politics Home.

In the Independent Robert Halfon (Chair of the Commons Education Select Committee) is sympathetic to the restoration of maintenance grants but doesn’t see it as a magic panacea to bring more disadvantaged students into university. In turn he called on the Russell Group to accept vocational qualifications. Halfon also stated that degree apprenticeships at all universities would be transformative in allowing disadvantaged students to earn whilst they learn – implying this would significantly widen access.

UUK report – future skills

UUK have released a report today “Solving Future Skills Challenges”.  It is only 32 pages but contains a lot of data and analysis from a range of sources.  The recommendations are set out below.

The Guardian covers the story here:

  • The UK economy could benefit from more people of all ages attending university.
  • The advance of automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and digital technology, as well as the challenges of Brexit and an ageing population are creating greater demand for those with level 4 and above qualifications. Including HNC/Ds, foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
  • The Universities UK report highlights the need for continual upgrading of skills, lifelong learning and study of higher education qualifications at all levels.
  • The percentage of young people from England entering higher education has reached 49%, but there has been a steady decline in part-time and mature student numbers.
  • The report calls on policymakers to help reverse the latter trend and encourage closer links between universities and employers.

Also:

  • The recruitment gap widens: in 2016 440,000 new professional jobs were created but there were only 316,690 first-degree UK-based graduates – leaving a recruitment gap of 123,310 –  more than double the gap in 2015.
  • By 2030, it is estimated that there will be a UK talent deficit of between 600,000 to 1.2 million workers for both our financial and business sector, and technology, media and telecommunications sector.
  • 65% of children entering primary schools today will ultimately work in new jobs and functions that don’t currently exist.
  • Universities provide around 41% of all professional and technical qualifications

Report recommendations:

  • Government plays a key role in providing an overarching strategy that brings together and enhances the range of policies and interventions that support skills development and educator–employer engagement, including higher level skills, to ensure a ‘whole-skills’ policy approach. Pathways, progression routes and bridging provision, avoiding an artificial ‘binary divide’ between academic and vocational education, and enhancing opportunities for learners, should together be an essential part of the skills strategy.
  • Government can facilitate the development and sharing of more robust, comprehensive and adaptable intelligence about future skills needs across sectors and localities.
  • This approach needs to be supported at both national and local level, including being embedded in sector deals, and with skills advisory boards providing a strong foundation for local industrial strategies.
  • Policies to support employers to provide opportunities for work experience should be a priority, especially among SMEs.
  • Universities should ensure that they enhance and improve their role through:
    • having an integrated, embedded strategy that captures, builds upon and enhances the feedback and intelligence gained through existing partnerships, draws in advice and evidence at the sectoral, regional and the national level, and drives teaching, learning and course development
    • committing to increasing employer advice and input, work experience opportunities, and the delivery of enterprise skills
    • having a co-ordinated, effective and clear employer engagement service – extending their relationship with students beyond graduation to include careers advice, skills provision and engagement with alumni to enhance employer advice and input
  • Employers need to invest in training, development and partnerships as part of enhancing their talent strategies. Staff at all levels should be encouraged to engage with universities and to enhance their recruitment of talent. More work experience opportunities should be offered and greater collaboration in the development of transferable skills. Sector collaboration should be supported to adopt a collaborative ‘eco-system’ approach to developing skills and enhancing their skills-supply chains.
  • Employers and universities must also test and develop existing partnership approaches and collaborative processes to ensure that they will be both robust and agile enough to succeed in an increasingly uncertain and disrupted future.

In order to develop specific policy recommendations to meet the challenges outlined above, Universities UK will be undertaking a range of research projects and activities over the coming months, including the following:

  1. The economic case for flexible learning – this project, undertaken in conjunction with the CBI, will look specifically at how the government can encourage learning that is more flexible, and support people to study at different times in their lives.
  2. High-level skills through effective partnerships and pathways – this work will consider how partnerships between higher education and further education providers are meeting the local skills needs of businesses and how the policy environment can help promote and enhance these partnerships.
  3. Integrating higher level skills and adopting a ‘wholeskills’ approach to local industrial strategies and skills advisory boards – we will be developing advice and guidance based on practical examples to support the development of effective skills strategies and partnerships at the local level.
  4. Technical and professional education – this project looks at developing effective links, pathways and bridging provision to ensure effective opportunities for learners and employers.
  5. Enhancing intelligence on employer needs – this collaborative project aims to ensure a detailed analysis is undertaken of the Employer skills survey to provide intelligence for universities, employers and policymakers.

Research Professional also ran an article related to the UUK report in Vice-chancellors set out ideas to avoid future skills gaps. It talks of maximising attendance at university, incentivising university/business links, and reversing the part time and mature decline through flexible and lifelong learning.

Student Employment

Part time work

The Financial Times writes of the reduction in working students in The decline of the student summer job.

In 1997 the number of young students (aged 18-24) that worked whilst studying decreased by 12% (from 48% in 1997 to 36% in 2017). The decrease was more pronounced in working 16-17 year olds (22%). The article continues on to consider automation (less low skill jobs available), the pressure to undertake unpaid internships, and tuition fees (which increase focus on academic success) as reasons for the decline. It also considers the attractiveness of the gig economy to students.

There is a section on unpaid internships which highlights their attractiveness to employers over low skill employment whilst acknowledging the elements privilege and unfairness play.

Ben Lyons (from Intern Aware) says that internships at high-profile companies, even if they are unpaid, typically count for more with prospective employers than paid work in a bar.  Ben continues: “It might be the case that someone working several unrelated summer jobs might have more get up and go. Employers often assume that people who have done 20 internships have more initiative rather than thinking that they have more advantages.”

Career placements

The OfS have published a City University blog on social mobility recruitment within their summer placement scheme. It notes that almost half of top UK firms have introduced questions about applicants’ education, free school meals and parents’ jobs in their recruitment process. Their Micro-Placements (MPP) career exploration scheme addresses soft skills development amongst students from underrepresented groups.

The blog talks of how the messaging can drive an organisation’s corporate social responsibility agenda, helping to attract diverse talent by raising their profile with students across all backgrounds, having them recognised as a key recruiter that acknowledges the necessity of a wide range of talents and driving social mobility.

It is rewarding that employers are very interested in how the MPP gives underrepresented students the opportunity to increase their employability skills. Dissemination through promotional events and tailored messaging encourages employers of all sizes and sectors to see the benefits of diversifying their recruitment pool and the necessity of offering these flexible opportunities to attract a wealth of talent, experience and perspectives.

By mobilising talented student cohorts early…we believe we can really address the most pressing issues our students face around employability. By engaging employers in a creative way we can develop the skills and networks students need to successfully enter employment after graduation.

Post study work visa

New Zealand has radically changed its post study work visa. From November international students completing level 7 bachelor’s degrees, or above, will be given a three-year open work visa. Lower level students (studying for at least 60 weeks) will be given a one-year work visa. The employer-sponsored visa will be abolished. The Immigration minister stated: “Our changes to post-study work rights will boost New Zealand’s economy, reduce student exploitation and promote our regional education offerings.”

Education Technology Enhancement

Damian Hinds (Secretary of State for Education) has called on the tech industry to ‘launch an education revolution for schools, colleges and universities’.  A Government news story notes that few schools are harnessing existing technological opportunities and Damian urges the tech sector to tackle five classroom challenges to innovate and improve teaching and revolutionise unnecessary workload.

  1. Inclusion, access and improved teaching practices
  2. Effective and efficient assessment processes
  3. Flexible methods of teacher training/development
  4. Reduce non-teaching admin burden
  5. Lifelong/online learning solutions (post compulsory education)

Read more here.

Other news

Clearing: Nick Hillman from HEPI blogs on clearing in How to land a jumbo jet on a postage stamp. He highlights how 2018’s clearing is a buyer’s market, considers the decision making art of when to stop recruiting, and the limitation of official student planning numbers.

New approach to immigration: CBI argue the Government should scrap the net migration target. Alternatively they suggest EU citizens should instead be registered on arrival and have their visits restricted to three months, “unless they can prove that they are working, studying or are self-sufficient”. See the Politics Home or Financial Times articles; read the CBI document in full; or a much shorter summary provided by Dods which includes a focused education sector analysis section.

International Students: Times Higher use the results of a student survey to highlight UK student opinion on studying alongside international students can be mixed. It proposes universities should do more to promote the benefits experienced by engaging with international peers.

Horizon 2020: The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published Horizon 2020 participation statistics. It shows the number of times UK organisations participated Horizon 2020 and the value of the EU’s contributions. The UK remains the second strongest participant in Horizon 2020 (for participation and total funding obtained). The data tables break down and also list the top 50 universities for participation.

Stronger Communities: This week the Government launched the Civil Society Strategy policy paper as a mechanism to create stronger communities by bringing together businesses, charities and the public sector. They define civil society as individuals or organisations deliberately acting to create social value, independent of state control. The paper focuses on five key foundations of social value: people, places and the public, private, and social sectors.

It emphasises a connected society and creating opportunities for people to actively take part in community decisions, as well as highlighting ways to harness the power of digital and technology for public good. It will complement the Government’s Industrial Strategy by boosting productivity through thriving communities.

As part of the Civil Society Strategy, the Government will:

  • Unlock £20 million from inactive charitable trusts (those which spend less than 30% of their annual income) to support community organisations over the next two years.

 

  • Launch an ‘Innovation in Democracy’ pilot scheme in six areas trialling creative ways for people to take a more direct role in decisions that affect their local area. This could include Citizens’ Juries or mass participation in decision-making on community issues via an online poll or app.

 

  • Establish an independent organisation that will distribute £90 million from dormant bank accounts to get disadvantaged young people into employment. This new organisation will harness the experience of grassroots youth workers, businesses, and other local services, to help young people achieve their full potential. Also use £55 million from dormant bank accounts to tackle financial exclusion and the problem of access to affordable credit.

 

  • Support charities to make their voices heard on issues that matter to them and ensuring that charitable trustees reflect the diversity of the society they serve.

 

  • Strengthen Britain’s values of corporate responsibility, through the launch of a new Leadership Group, formed of senior figures from the business, investment and social sectors, to put social and environmental responsibility at the heart of company decisions.

 

  • Improve the use of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 to ensure that organisations can generate more social value for communities when spending public money on government contracts.

 

  • Use digital technology to improve the work charities can provide to support healthy ageing, bolster online safety and better connect people in an effort to tackle loneliness.

Read the executive summary (5 pages) here.

Catapult Funding: On Friday Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced £780 million of funding to expand Catapult centres developing a range of innovative new technologies for tomorrow across the UK.

Intellectual Property: If patents, trademarks, design rights, and copyright confound you read this clear and simple blog post by Research Fundermentals.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                         Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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