Tagged / cost of living

HE policy update 22nd January 2024

This seemed like a good moment to explain what the Lifelong Learning Entitlement is really about and what it means for universities (spoiler: a lot of administrative work and not much else, in the short term), and this update also includes some horizon scanning by UKRI, some data on staff numbers and applications and a bit more on financial sustainability, as hard to get away from in stories about the sector this month.  And there is more besides.

Politics and Parliament

Lots of time spent this week on the Rwanda bill, with work for local MP Michael Tomlinson in his new role as Illegal Immigration Minister. The two deputy chairs of the Conservative Party resigned their roles yesterday along with a PPS but the Rwanda bill was passed unamended and has gone to the Lords where there will be more challenges.

Meanwhile it isn’t a manifesto but there is a campaign brochure from the Labour Party.   It says “we will be able to seize the opportunities of advances in AI, digital, life sciences and technology as drivers of economic growth”.  It presents again the 5 missions we discussed in issue 1 of this update. On education: this is the closest to a reference to HE: there simply aren’t enough high-quality pathways onto apprenticeships, and technical education. So we will have to keep waiting for the detail.

And if you missed it, constituency boundaries change for this election.  There were originally going to be major changes locally but those were dropped in the last round of reviews, so not much is changing here.  However, there might be implications elsewhere: there is a BBC article here.  One point to note is that Chris Skidmore stood down on environmental issues and there is a by-election planned in February: but his constituency is one of those disappearing.

Ongoing legislation

Research and knowledge exchange

Business and innovation

UKRI have published a position statement on their “commitment to improve the research and innovation environment for businesses seeking to scale up, through enhancing the support that we offer alongside private capital to help them invest, innovate and grow”.

As well as confirming some of the things they already do they will be:

  • launching a new digital guide to help businesses, along with investors and researchers, to make the most of UKRI products and services to commercialise research
  • launching new £20 million proof-of-concept funding in 2024 to support researchers to spin out scientific discoveries into exciting new products and services
  • ensuring that UKRI’s core offer of training to new doctoral research students improves awareness and experience of commercialisation and entrepreneurship, building on existing opportunities that allow students to work with businesses
  • creating a joined-up funding pathway over 2024, working with the British Business Bank and UK Export Finance, to enhance access to finance for scaling businesses

The Science Minister, Michelle Donelan, gave a speech about “scaleups” on 16th January.  It has unicorns, silver bullets, powder kegs and goldmines.  There is a lot in in it apart from those theme park elements, but this bit caught my eye:

  • Regulate to innovate is not just some slogan that I happen to use – I think it is a commitment I make to businesses across the country. 
  • And that is why I am backing the Regulatory Horizons Council report, published today, and committing to reviewing the recommendations to become unapologetically ambitious in our regulatory approach. 
  • And that is also why this year, I will develop a regulatory support service specifically designed to help science and tech companies to navigate rules and regulations.  Because we know that regulation isn’t just about dry ink on the statute books. I believe the behaviour of our regulators and regulatory simplicity is absolutely key.  

What is the Regulatory Horizons Council?  The Regulatory Horizons Council (RHC) is an independent expert committee that identifies the implications of technological innovation, and provides government with impartial, expert advice on the regulatory reform required to support its rapid and safe introduction. Find the membership etc at the link.

Here is the report and its recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: DSIT, working with the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) .. should ensure that regulators are empowered with the tools and resources to better support innovative startups and scaleups.
  • Recommendation 2: DSIT should work with relevant partners to embed a greater understanding of regulation, and earlier engagement with regulatory issues, within the early-stage business community.
  • Recommendation 3: Government and regulators should continue to build the knowledge base on pro-innovation regulation, and particularly the impacts on start-ups and scaleups.

Emerging technologies horizon scan

In December, UKRI published an insights report on Innovate UK’s 50 emerging technologies that could be part of our everyday lives in 2040 and beyond.

Although there are 50, the report is only 39 pages: the list is in the contents page (and it does briefly explain what they all are).  The world has been very focussed on the risks of new technology, AI in particular, in recent months, but this is a very hopeful list, focusing on the problems that can be solved rather than disruption and destruction.  The report does note the ethical challenges (in the context of AI in particular) and sets our five questions to consider:

  • As technology is more embedded in our bodies, will humans turn into something new and different? What makes us human will be increasingly questioned.
  • Should AI be allowed to make decisions on our behalf? All aspects of business and society will be transformed through AI and computing.
  • If humans can expect a century of good health, what does this mean for employment, pensions or housing? The quality and length of our lives will be greater than ever before.
  • Will a shift towards cleaner, affordable energy change the way we live and work? A transformed energy system could help new industries to thrive.
  • What will a vast expansion of our understanding of the world mean for the UK economy? The UK’s ability to draw on its research and business strengths will help us solve big problems and seize opportunities.

Quantum missions

In the context of the above, the government announced 5 “quantum missions” in November: there are likely to be more funding rounds for research and projects in these areas.

  • By 2035, there will be accessible, UK-based quantum computers capable of running 1 trillion operations and supporting applications that provide benefits well in excess of classical supercomputers across key sectors of the economy. 
  • By 2035, the UK will have deployed the world’s most advanced quantum network at scale, pioneering the future quantum internet. 
  • By 2030, every NHS Trust will benefit from quantum sensing-enabled solutions, helping those with chronic illness live healthier, longer lives through early diagnosis and treatment. 
  • By 2030, quantum navigation systems, including clocks, will be deployed on aircraft, providing next-generation accuracy for resilience that is independent of satellite signals. 
  • By 2030, mobile, networked quantum sensors will have unlocked new situational awareness capabilities, exploited across critical infrastructure in the transport, telecoms, energy, and defence sectors. 

And the other Horizon (Europe)

You can’t have missed it, but the UK is now an associate member of Horizon Europe from the start of 2024.  You can read more on the UKRI website here.  The Horizon Europe work programmes are listed here.

Small but beautiful

Research England have also announced the results of the second round of the “expanding excellence in England” fund. Research England is investing £156 million to support 18 universities across England to expand their small, but outstanding research units. The list of projects funded in round two (and round one from 2019) is here.

Regulation

These policy updates so far this year have included a lot of regulatory content, focussing on the OfS, but did you know that many other regulators may have an interest in aspects of education at universities, and this makes for a challenging and potentially burdensome situation.

Research Professional reports on an event sponsored by the Higher Education Policy Institute and AdvanceHE, which Keith attended this week, at which the VC of London South Bank University raised this issue:

  • Phoenix pointed out that if a level 4 or 5 course is taught as part of a degree, then it is regulated by the Office for Students, but if it is a standalone qualification such as a higher national certificate and taught in a college, it is overseen by Ofsted.
  • Similarly, if higher technical qualifications are taught in higher education, they are quality-assured by the OfS in universities but by Ofsted or Ofqual in further education, while level 4 apprenticeships are overseen by Ofsted regardless of where they are offered.

Of course it is even more complicated than that, as apprenticeship funding is overseen by the ESFA (the Education and Skills Funding Agency, part of the Department for Education), making them an important regulator for HE too.  If you haven’t heard of the ESFA, then here is what they do: it isn’t obvious from this that it includes degree apprentices delivered at universities; but it does.

As an executive agency of the Department for Education, and on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education, ESFA is responsible for administering funding to deliver education and skills, from early years through to adulthood.  

ESFA funds education and skills providers, including: 

  • maintained schools and early years institutions, through local authorities 
  • academy trusts 
  • special schools 
  • colleges 
  • independent training providers (ITPs) 
  • high needs institutions 

ESFA is responsible for: 

  • £67 billion of funding for the education and training sector, ensuring timely and accurate allocations and payment to education and training providers 
  • providing assurance to Parliament that public funds are spent properly, achieving value for money for the taxpayer and delivers the policies and priorities set out by the Secretary of State 
  • provides, where necessary, financial support for providers

Outstanding OfS consultations

Just a reminder of the ones that are ongoing or we are expecting outcomes on from the OfS:

  • Consultation on a new free speech complaints scheme: open until 10th March: BU is considering a response
  • Consultation on the approach to regulating students’ unions on free speech matters: open until 17th March
  • Consultation on the inclusion of higher technical qualifications in student outcome measures: closed November 2023
  • Consultation on a new approach to regulating harassment and sexual harassment-this one has been closed since May 23 so there should be an outcome soon

And two Department for Education ones:

Apprenticeships

In the last couple of updates I have mentioned the government focus on apprenticeships, which is being supported by funding provided by the OfS to support the development of new L6 apprenticeships.   On 17th January the outcome of the latest funding competition was announced, with £12 million being allocated.  The list is here (BU is on it).

Applications and admissions

UCAS have published the end of cycle 2023 data.

Sector:

  • Overall applicants fell in 2023, the peak was 2022
  • 18 year olds had grown (slowly in some years) since 2014 when this data starts until 2023 when the number fell back
  • More females than males applied in every age group

As well as the more general picture there is also data for nursing, which shows tor UK applicants there is a fall in application numbers for most age groups since 2021 but applications for 18 year olds and over 35s remain higher than they were in 2019, and the over 35s are now the biggest group, as they were in 2020 (and almost were in 2021).  The proportion of male applicants over 35 is also higher than the other groups.

Midwifery applications have also fallen since 2021 but remain higher than 2019 for 18 years olds and the over 35s, 18 year olds being by far the largest group with the over 35s just squeaking in at second.  The gender data is interesting: tiny numbers of male applicants.

Wonhke have an article and analysis: there are a little over a thousand more English domiciled applicants who have accepted a place at a Russell Group provider this year than last. Everyone else (excluding alternative providers) has lost accepted applicants over 2022, but (as UCAS is always keen to remind us) the “last regular year” comparison to 2019 looks a bit rosier. There are loads of charts and even a map.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

Cost of living: This year’s updates have covered this ongoing issue; the Russell Group published a briefing this week on the impact of inflation on the maintenance loan and what their members are doing to help. The briefing also points out: The shortfall is compounded by the freeze on the parental earnings threshold used to calculate maintenance loans in England. Students with a household income of less than £25,000 are eligible for the maximum loan, but this figure has been frozen in cash terms since 2008. It is estimated that had this threshold increased with earnings, it would now sit at £35,000, making many more students eligible for the maximum support.

Lifelong loan entitlement

This has been a long running story and we have reported for several years on the various legislative changes and consultations but it all still seems a bit remote and confusing: the new funding system will be in place for entrants to HE from September 2025.

This is about two things, really:

  • putting funding arrangements for university degrees and other post 18 higher level courses on an equal footing; and
  • the “lifelong” bit: enabling flexible and modular learning including to support returning or mature learners

The real change is in the mechanics of funding for universities.  In preparation for modules and to support the “LLE personal accounts” the funding basis is switching to a system based on credits, not academic years.

Last week I talked about the OfS funded short course trial that had a microscopic take up.  I wonder if the public accounts committee will be interested in the cost/benefit of that £2m investment?

There’s a blog here that the OfS wrote in October 2024 on the changes for HE that the LLE will bring:

Over time, we think this will lead to some or all of the following changes:

  • Universities and colleges will offer standalone modules from existing courses
  • Students will be able to build a full qualification by completing different modules, across different courses, from different universities or colleges
  • Students could end up studying at several universities or colleges at the same time, or across multiple departments in a single higher education provider
  • Students will be able to study modules that will give them the skills or knowledge they need to progress their career without the intention of building or completing a full qualification.

If there is a growth in LLE funded modular study, we also think there might be a shift to:

  • Universities and colleges changing existing …courses to an LLE fundable modular format
  • …An increase in modular study overall, not only LLE fundable modules
  • A decrease in the number of employers paying for continuing professional development (CPD) related courses as individuals will receive funding for standalone modules; [and] an increase in employers encouraging employees to take up CPD related modules as they will not need to fund them.

But if you are still puzzled about what it is all really about, and what it means in practice for universities, the Department for Education have published a guide in the form of a policy paper this week. sorry this is a bit wordy!

The summary: so far not very revolutionary.

From the 2025 to 2026 academic year, the LLE loan will be available for:

·       full courses at level 4 to 6, such as a degree or technical qualifications

·       modules of high-value technical courses at level 4 to 5

Under the LLE, eligible learners will be able to access:

·       a tuition fees loan, with new learners able to access up to the full entitlement of £37,000, equal to 4 years of study in today’s fees

·       a maintenance loan to cover living costs

Targeted maintenance grants will also be available for some groups such as learners with disabilities, or for support with childcare.

An additional entitlement may be available in certain cases – for example, for some priority subjects or longer courses such as medicine.

Learners will be able to see their loan balance through their own LLE personal account. This will help them make choices about the courses and learning pathways available.

So the devil, as always, must be in the detail.  What is covered, see below, again, fairly straightforward, except the bit about modules. 

But that isn’t coming straight away “The government will take a phased approach to provide modular funding. We expect to expand modular funding to more courses from the 2027 to 2028 academic year.”

Eligibility:

·       The LLE will be available to new and returning learners.

·       For returning learners, the amount they can borrow will be reduced depending on the funding they have previously received to support study.

·       LLE tuition loans will be available for people up to the age of 60. Learners who are over 60 may still qualify for maintenance support, though not a tuition fee loan.

·       Eligibility criteria for the LLE will track existing higher education (HE) student finance nationality and residency rules.

Courses: the LLE will be available for:

·       full years of study at higher technical and degree levels (levels 4 to 6)

·       modules of technical courses of clear value to employers

From the 2025 to 2026 academic year, the LLE will fund:

·       full years of study on courses currently funded by HE student finance including:

o   traditional degrees

o   postgraduate certificates in education (PGCE)

o   integrated master’s degrees (a 4-year programme that awards a master’s degree on top of a bachelor’s degree)

o   the foundation year available before some degree courses start

·       all HTQs, including both full courses and modules of those courses

·       qualifications currently funded by advanced learner loans where there is clear learner demand and employer endorsement

·       modules of some technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5 currently funded through advanced learner loans with a clear line of sight to an occupational map and evidence of employer demand

So what does this mean for students?  The main change is that tuition fee and maintenance loans will be available for a wider range of courses.

The entitlement

New learners (those who have not yet received government support to undertake higher-level learning) will be able to access a full entitlement equal to 4 years of full-time tuition. This is currently equal to £37,000 across 4 years, based on today’s maximum fee limit of £9,250 per year.

This means a student could use their £37,000 to pay for more than 480 credits of learning, depending on the per-credit cost of the course. For example, if a student can borrow £37,000 and they use £7,000 for a 120-credit course, they would have £30,000 of the LLE left for other courses, regardless of the size or duration of the original programme.

Returning learners …who have not used it all will have access to a residual entitlement. For example, a typical graduate who completed a 3-year degree worth £27,750 in today’s fees will have a £9,250 residual entitlement.

An additional entitlement above the core 4-year entitlement will be available for some priority subjects and longer courses such as medicine.

Maintenance loans

Maintenance loans are designed to help learners with living costs while they study. There is a maximum claim amount based on a student’s course, location and personal circumstances.

Under the LLE, the maintenance loan for living costs and targeted support grants, such as the Disabled Students’ Allowance and the Childcare Grant, will be made available for all designated courses and modules that require in-person attendance. Maintenance support will be subject to personal criteria such as income. This will broadly remain the same as the current criteria.

Repayments

The latest repayment arrangements apply as for students who started university this year.

And what does it mean for universities?

There will be a maximum financial amount per credit and a maximum number of credits that can be charged for in each course year, which will be set by the government.

We will treat certain course types under the LLE as ‘non-credit-bearing’. This means that different rules will apply. Non-credit-bearing courses include courses such as medicine and PGCEs, and courses where the provider has not assigned a qualifying credit value.

To support the LLE, the government will introduce a standardised transcript template to ensure a learner’s assessed achievements are always captured under the new modular, credit-based system.

There will be a new process for new providers and new qualifications.  This is properly new stuff and the subject of a lot of the ongoing work listed below, but probably not a lot of interest to readers of this update!

There is a separate paper on how tuition fees will work, from November 2023. This bit is confusing and implementing it will be tricky: lots of new reporting and forms likely to achieve this!

In the LLE system, we’ll set fee limits per credit. Credits are a measurement used by colleges and universities to identify how much learning is in a period of study. One credit generally equals 10 hours of learning by the student. This includes all tuition, assessment and any self-guided study in the student’s own time.

The credit-based system means that providers will only be able to charge for as much learning as they offer. A course containing 60 credits will have half the fee limit of a course containing 120 credits at the same provider.

The LLE system will have different fee limit rates. The limit-per-credit will depend on the type of study. There will be different limits for work placement, study abroad, and foundation years in certain subjects. Each of these limits may be lower if the provider does not have:

·       a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) award

·       an approved access and participation plan (APP).

There will no longer be different limits for part-time study. Instead, each course or module will have a fee limit based on the number of credits it contains. This is subject to a course year maximum and a course maximum. This means that if a course contains 360 credits, its overall fee limit will be the same regardless of how many years it takes to complete.

Some courses will be non-credit-bearing. For these courses, we’ll allocate a default number of credits. For example, we’ll allocate a PGCE course 120 default credits. This is because currently providers do not always allocate the same number of credits to these courses, but the amount of content is always very similar.

Under the LLE system, we’ll calculate fee limits according to the number of credits in a course year, multiplied by a limit-per-credit. For example, if a year of a course contained 120 credits, and its limit-per-credit was £50, its fee limit would be £6,000.

The LLE system will no longer have different fee limits for accelerated study. Instead, the overall fee limit for an accelerated degree will be the same as the overall fee limit for the same degree (full-time or part-time).

There will be a cap on the number of credits for which providers can charge in each type of course. This ensures that credits are not added on to courses simply to increase tuition fees. Providers may offer additional credits beyond the maximum, but are not allowed to charge for them.

If a student repeats part of their course, the repeat study is not counted towards the course cap. For example, if a student on a 360-credit degree fails a 30-credit module and repeats it, the provider can charge them for 390 credits overall.

And those modules?

There are no restrictions on the number of chargeable credits in a module. However, a module must have the same number of credits as it does when it is offered as part of the full course.

Modules offered separately from full courses must contain at least 30 credits. This can include multiple smaller modules bundled together.

So what is next?

In spring 2024, we will:

·       launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding

·       lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in parliament

·       communicate the details on the benefits of the third registration category

In summer 2024, we will: publish further information about the qualification gateway

In autumn 2024, we will: lay the secondary legislation that will set out the rest of the LLE funding system in parliament

In spring 2025, we will: launch the LLE personal account, where users can track their loan entitlement and apply for designated courses and modules

In autumn 2025, we will: launch the qualification gateway, an approval process that allows qualifications to access LLE funding (as noted above, not directly relevant to us)

Who are the staff at UK universities?

HESA published a bulletin about UK HE staff statistics as at 1st December 2022, on 16th January 2023.

  • Research Professional article here.
  • Wonkhe article here

The data shows an increase in the number of academic staff and non-academic staff employed in the sector since the previous year and a small decrease in the number of a-typical academic staff employed.

  • In 2022/23, 103,005 or 43% of academic staff were employed on contracts described as having a teaching and research function. The total for 2021/22 was 100,170 or 43%.
  • A further 36% of academic staff were on teaching only contracts. This percentage has steadily increased year-on-year since 2015/16, when it was 26%.
  • Among academic staff, 71,420, or 30% were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2022/23. Of full-time academic staff, 22% were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2022/23. In contrast, 43% of part-time academic staff were employed on fixed-term contracts, marking an eight percentage point decrease from 2021/22.
  • Of academic staff with known ethnicity, 22% were from ethnic minority backgrounds in 2022/23. This has increased from 16% in 2017/18.
  • Of the 22,345 professors with known ethnicity, 2,865 or 13% were from ethnic minority backgrounds. The majority of professors from ethnic minority backgrounds were Asian.
  • From 2021/22 to 2022/23 there was an increase of 40 Black professors.
  • The number of staff known to have a disability increased by 1,100 compared to 2021/22

Financial sustainability: Scotland

Last week’s update mentioned student number caps, which may soon be applied in specific cases (by provider, by subject) based on quality reviews by the OfS.  The government recently ruled out reintroducing more widespread caps in England after a consultation.  There have caps in Scotland, though, and they are about to be reduced.  Wonkhe reported this week on remarks in the Scottish Parliament:

  • Scottish finance secretary Shona Robison confirmed that at least 1,200 funded university places for Scottish-domiciled students will be cut following the Scottish government’s 2024–25 budget. Her remarks were made a scrutiny session with the Scottish finance committee – Robison told MSPs that the funding for additional places, instituted due to increased demand during the pandemic, was no longer sustainable.

The Scottish caps on home students have had a direct impact on the finances of Scottish institutions and they have turned increasingly to the international market to make up the income as, like in the rest of the UK, the real value of domestic tuition fees falls.   The financial challenges for Scottish universities are described in this recent report from the Scottish Funding Council (4th Jan 24).

You will recall that there is a reason for these caps: the Scottish government funds tuition fees directly in Scotland for Scottish students, there is no tuition fee loan. The actual amount received was £7,610 for each Scottish student this academic year year (see a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies from December 2023), significantly less than the £9,250 capped fee in England.

Institutional failure

Last week I talked about the OfS licence conditions in place to protect students in the context of a university closing down, perhaps as a result of financial issues.

Wonkhe have several blogs this week.

There is one from two members of Public First on what would happen if a large university ran out of money:

  • The DfE (rightly) puts in place lots of warning measures for schools in difficulty, and if a school or group of schools start to find themselves in real trouble, a lot of things kick into place. They can mandate that schools have cost cutters come in; they can prescribe significant changes to operating models; and they can both demand that the school or school group takes an advance from the state, whilst placing (pretty onerous) conditions that are attached to repaying that advance. And given that financial trouble often goes hand in hand with performance trouble, the government has pretty carte blanche to change leadership and management when a poor performance judgement is made….
  • Universities are, of course, not big schools. And it is their fiercely guarded autonomy – as safeguarded in HERA – which means we don’t have a clear set of state interventions. When the Westminster government made its various moves to extend a more market based HE system in England in the early 2010s, it was explicitly envisaged that some providers could exit the market – and that government wouldn’t step in. This was not a bug, but instead a positive virtue of the system…
  • There is no power in today’s legislation for the government to give “extraordinary support” to a particular institution. In a major failure scenario, they could theoretically want to support (or even force) a merger or acquisition. They could also want to support specific institutions financially to keep them open at least for an interim period. But both would likely require new legislation, potentially at speed, and all of this tells against a story of autonomy
  • …. This issue all relies on some very big P political questions. Which institutions might be allowed to fail – and which won’t? What does increased government intervention mean for institutional autonomy, an idea already much eroded in political and policy circles? What does it mean for the status of universities, and could they be reclassified as FE colleges as public sector bodies if the state gains more control over funding or governance? And how much is the sector as a whole willing to trade to save a small, but potentially significant number of institutions?

There is one is from two members of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) talking about what will really happen if a provider fails.

They point out the regime that applies to FE, for which there is no equivalent for universities:

  • the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 established an insolvency regime that applies to further education and sixth form colleges in England and Wales. This introduced a special education administration regime, which protects learner provision for existing students at insolvent colleges with the overarching duty to the learner

They conclude:

  • We have talked before about insurance schemes or a “pot of money” to help students in these situations. We often hear that many providers would not be willing to pay into a system as they do not think such a situation really impacts them.
  • But the impact on the wider sector, students and the reputation of HE must be worth further serious discussion, and we are increasingly finding that there is an understanding that this situation needs to be addressed. …..
  • Whatever the answer, students should not be the collateral damage. A provider closure can leave students significantly disadvantaged, with their experience of and faith in higher education ruined. The potential impact on some students’ mental health cannot be underestimated. The financial impact, in a system where students are at the end of a long list of unsecured creditors, could create significant hardship and may make it unsustainable for a student to complete their studies.
  • We cannot just wait for a large-scale disorderly exit to happen before we engage in a serious discussion.

HE policy update w/e 3rd November 23

We have a response from the Government on student accommodation, DSIT is all about the AI research, whole-sector foundation year student statistics are rather damning, we hear from the new Free Speech Tsar, and the BTEC | T level | Advanced British Standard confusion takes the next step as 85 qualifications are defunded.

Parliament – new session beckons

Parliament has been prorogued ready for the Kings Speech and the new session of Parliament to open on Tuesday 7 November. Carry-over motions were agreed for six Bills, with the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill being of most relevance to universities. In addition, the Renters Reform Bill was introduced but was still awaiting a second reading when this briefing was published (see below for a discussion of that one).

Bills that had not completed the legislative process and for which a carry-over was not agreed have now fallen.  They might be brought back, along with the ones that were announced but had not gone forward, including bills on media, audit reform, and mental health.

The King will formally open Parliament on 7 November and in his speech (which is written by the Government) he will announce the Government’s proposed policies and legislation for the coming session. The new session will end when Parliament is dissolved ahead of the general election – which must be held in January 2025 or before.

The House of Commons Library briefing King’s Speech 2023 has lots of useful information, including setting out some potential areas for the 2023-23 new legislative session:

  • Criminal justice measures, including knife crime and sentencing
  • Raising the age of sale for tobacco products
  • Implementing legislation for UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • Transport
  • Leasehold and commonhold reform
  • Changing the Habitats Regulations to ‘scrap nutrient neutrality’.

Conference season – final elements

Jonathan Woodhead of Birkbeck College has written a piece for the campaign for Learning on the LLE after the party conference season – lack of clarity seems to be a theme.

Wrapping up the final elements from the 2023 party conference season we highlight the aspects in Labour’s conference most of interest to HE:

  • Keir Starmer criticised the Prime Minister’s comments on universities, saying I never thought I would hear a modern Conservative Prime Minister say that 50% of our children going to university was a “false dream”. My Dad felt the disrespect of vocational skills all his life. But the solution is not and never will be levelling-down the working-class aspiration to go to university.
  • Labour’s speeches were light on policy announcements throughout the conference, likely because the polls suggest Labour is favoured for the next election. Members of the Lighthouse Policy Group suggest staying non-committal on policy announcements means they can avoid making any gaffes that would hurt the party’s chances in the polls and avoids the Conservatives producing a reactive manifesto that usurps Labour’s plans.
  • Kier also spoke of Technical Excellence Colleges describing them as having stronger links to their local economies…planted firmly in the ground of young peoples’ aspiration. TECs are expected to transform existing FE colleges and will have improved links to local universities.
  • Bridget Phillipson, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, stated that Labour would change the way students pay for their time at university, so none of our young people, fear the price they’ll pay for the choice they’d like. The feeling in the sector is that they are favouring a graduate tax, unlikely to increase the cost of tuition fees (despite sympathy for universities’ unit of resource), may be open to reintroducing maintenance loans on a small scale, and are likely to introduce some form of tuition forgiveness for teaching and nursing/midwifery.
  • Shadow Secretary of State for the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology, Peter Kyle, announced that Labour would create 10-year R&D budgets allowing relationships with industry to build and long-term partnerships to form – leading to investment in new technology and the infrastructure that underpins it. Also that Labour would increase the number of universities spinouts, accept the recommendations of Lord O’Neill’s start-up review. This would include publishing annual data on the performance of university spinout support and a new founder track, giving more flexibility to people who establish spinouts and want to keep a higher stake of the equity. You can read the full transcript for Keir Starmer’s speech and Bridget Phillipson’s speech.

Research

  • AI & medicine: The House of Lords library published their science current affairs digest for October looking at how AI is changing drug discovery and its role in pharmaceutical changes such as anti-ageing, personalised cancer cures and robotic dosing implants. The paper includes the government’s approach to regulation.
  • AI safety summit: DSIT published the programme for the AI Safety Summit on 1 and 2 November. Day 1 will consist of roundtables on AI risks and AI safety and a panel discussion on the immense opportunities of AI to transform education for future generations, Michelle Donelan will provide closing remarks. On day 2 PM Rishi will convene a small group of governments, companies and experts to further the discussion on what steps can be taken to address the risks in emerging AI technology and ensure it is used as a force for good. Michelle Donelan will led a group of international counterparts to agree next steps.
  • Innovation funds: DSIT announced funding for £32 million for innovation projects that can improve productivity in key sectors through the use of AI; and £5 million for feasibility studies into 100 small firms’ pioneering AI ideas. Artificial intelligence projects in areas as diverse as fashion, farming and fire-fighting are being backed…as…Michelle Donelan highlights how AI can be a force for good ahead of next month’s AI Safety Summit. The funding is from the UKRI Technologies Mission Fund (administered by Innovate UK).
  • AI safety research team: Yet another AI announcement from DSIT the government’s Frontier AI Taskforce has begun building an AI safety research team to evaluate the risks at the frontier of AI. The Taskforce has partnered with Advai, Gryphon Scientific and Faculty AI – to tackle questions about how AI systems can improve human capabilities in specialised fields and risks around current safeguards. The findings of the research will be incorporated into presentations and roundtable discussions with government representatives, civil society groups, leading AI companies and experts in research at the AI Safety Summit in November. The findings of the research will be incorporated into presentations and roundtable discussions with government representatives, civil society groups, leading AI companies and experts in research at the AI Safety Summit in November.
  • AI superpower: The Lords Communications and Digital Committee met to examine whether the Government is striking the right balance between opportunity and risk in their ambition to make the UK an AI superpower. Large Language Models were considered. You can read or watch the session here.
  • Creative: Wonkhe – The Council for Science and Technology has set out recommendations to the government for harnessing research and development in the UK creative industries. Its recommendations include the Treasury and the Office for National Statistics collaborating on improvements to data collection on creative industries R&D.
  • Horizon funding: Parliamentary Question – UKRI funding of Horizon Europe guarantee scheme and other aspects of the UK research system. George Freeman MP: The government’s priority is to ensure the UK’s R&D sector gets the right support to allow them to continue their ground-breaking research and international collaboration. UKRI has to date issued grant offer letters totalling approximately £1.36bn through the Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme with further funds to be committed throughout 2023-24. UKRI has delivered further support across the Horizon programme, including elements of targeted investments to support UK research, as announced by the Government in November 2022, – with spend underpinned by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. UKRI’s budget remains as published in our Annual Report and Accounts for 2022-23
  • Innovation clusters: DSIT announced £75 million to fund eight Launchpads (regional SME innovation clusters). These initiatives will build on existing clusters of high-tech innovation in each region…The £7.5 million bespoke funding from each Launchpad will allow SMEs in each region to bid for support that is tailored to the unique needs of each business cluster, helping them drive innovation, expand operations, and boost their local economies. The Launchpads cover Net Zero, Digital Technologies, Health Technologies, Agri-Tech and Food Tech, Marine and Maritime, Bio-based Manufacturing, Immersive and Creative Industries, and the Life and Health Sciences.

George Freeman, DSIT Minister: The UK science, research and innovation economy is not just the ‘golden triangle’ of Cambridge-Oxford-London. It is all around the UK. That is why we have launched our flagship Launchpads programme – and this £75 million investment will support high-growth companies to build the industries of tomorrow – in sectors from renewable energy through to digital health. These Launchpads will play a pivotal role in growing our local economies, creating jobs and levelling up the UK

Regulatory: Free Speech

Professor Arif Ahmed, Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom at the OfS made his inaugural speech at a King’s College London event. He confirmed his role was non-partisan and stated freedom of speech is not the property of one side in any culture war and that the role exists to protect and to promote freedom of speech within the law. On academic freedom Arif stated that data showed academic freedom in the UK had dropped in the last 10 years and now ranks around 60th in the world, below most EU countries. There is lots more in the transcript, it follows the messaging you’d expect from OfS covering the chilling effect and institutions silencing controversial voices.

Smita Jamdar explores how the Middle East conflict challenges free speech principles and practice in an article for Research Professional.

Meanwhile Michelle Donellan, Science Minister, has drawn huge amounts of criticism for intervening to tell UKRI to change its approach to equality and diversity, citing the social media accounts of two members of a committee as symptoms of a much wider problem and calling for the committee to be disbanded.  This is a row that is likely to run for a while.  James Coe writes for Wonkhe on the exchange of views with links to how the issue unfolded and escalated if you missed it.  Regardless of views on whether the Minister should have made comments about the individuals concerned or her criticism is justified (and we express no view on that ourselves), the elision of that issue with a wholesale challenge to the equality and diversity work at UKRI seems unhelpful.  The wholesale challenge has been on the agenda for a while, alongside other challenges to what the papers like to call “woke” ideology in universities, but ought perhaps to be treated as a separate and important issue in its own right not at raised the end of an unconnected and different sort of letter – which makes it look less considered than it probably is.

Students

Mental health – by characteristic

OfS published the Meeting the mental health needs of students insight brief examining issues relating to mental health at university. It considers the likelihood students will report mental health conditions by characteristic (age, sex, ethnicity, free school meals and area deprivation measures) and how these affect student outcomes (continuation, completion, attainment, and progression).

Mental health & climate change

Student Minds published the Climate Change and Student Mental Health report which considers curriculum design, leadership, behaviour changes, the impact on specific student groups, the role of government and HEIs:

  • 71% of student respondents were quite or very concerned about climate change.
  • 68% were quite or very concerned about the impact on them personally.
  • 53% of students wanted to learn about sustainability in their curriculum, while only 20% already had.
  • Students believe their universities and the government should focus on energy and recycling over measures to tax or ban meat on campus.

Richard Brabner, Director of the UPP Foundation, said: This fascinating report illustrates the need for universities to offer students practical and constructive ways for them to tackle climate change and wider environmental issues – not only for the good of the planet – but for their own wellbeing too.

Research Professional has a good write up and analysis of the report here.

Student mental health – blogs

Wonkhe has two blogs on student mental health:

Foundation year student statistics

The DfE published foundation year student statistics for 2021/22. Bear in mind the Government is currently reviewing HE funding for foundation years in key areas and the presentation of the statistics seems to match their agenda.

Providers, courses and entrants

Foundation year courses have proliferated in the last 10 years with the greatest number of foundation year providers in London and the South East.

  • There are 69,325 foundation year entrants at English HE providers. This is an increase of over 60,000 since 2011/12 (8,470 entrants), and a 718% increase overall (more than 20% increase each year).
  • Since 2011/12, the number of foundation years available has been growing rapidly, with the number of courses increasing more than fivefold between 2011/12 and 2021/22, from 678 to 3,717.
  • The proportion of foundation year entrants studying a classroom-based subject reached 59% in 2021/22. Most entrants were studying business and management (51% of total foundation year entrants). The figure is higher than undergraduates in the first year of their course, of whom only 13% were studying business and management in 2021/22. Business and management are one of the key areas the Government intends to discontinue foundation year funding.

In total, there were 105 English providers of foundation years in 2021/22.

  • 23 of these providers were based in London, the second highest cluster was South East England (16 providers).
  • 42 of the 105 providers (40%) had a low or unknown tariff in 2021/22, the highest percentage across all OfS provider typologies.

Student characteristics 

Foundation year students are older, more ethnically diverse, balanced between the genders, and less declare disabilities compared to first year undergraduates.

  • 64% of foundation year entrants were aged 21 and above in 2021/22
  • 58% of students entering HE through a foundation year do not have prior attainment in the standard tariff population. (For comparison, only 15% of first year undergraduates entering HE are in this category.) After excluding those recorded as not in the standard tariff population, the prior attainment of those who undertook a foundation year was still lower than for first year undergraduates.
  • In 2021/22, foundation year students identified as White (54%), Asian (14%), and Black (14%). In 2021/22 the proportion of non-white entrants was significantly higher among foundation year entrants (46%) than among first year undergraduate entrants (34%).
  • Gender is split evenly among foundation year entrants (for comparison 58% of first year undergraduates are female).
  • The proportion of foundation year entrants with at least one known disability in 2021/22 was slightly lower than the proportion among comparable first year undergraduates (11% compared to 18%).

Outcomes

Students who complete full HE study that commenced through a foundation year have lower graduate outcomes than non-foundation entrants.

  • 53% of entrants who started in HE with a foundation year completed HE within 6 years (during the academic year 2021/22). Whereas 80% of first year undergraduates completed their qualification within 5 years.
  • Foundation year students studying at high tariff and medium tariff providers saw the highest percentage of graduates in employment or further study (90%).
  • The average salary for a foundation year graduate five years after graduation was £24,500, almost £4,000 lower than that of comparable undergraduates (£28,200).

Full data available here.

Student accommodation

The Government’s response to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee inquiry on reforming the private rented sector includes information that touches on student tenancies.

The Committee recommended that fixed-term tenancies should be retained for the entire student housing sector and require all landlords letting to students to sign up to one of the existing Government-approved codes of conduct. Long term the Committee called on the Government to replacing existing codes with a single national code of conduct. Also to consider ways to prevent or deter landlords from abusing the exemption such as introducing financial penalties.

The Government response:

  • The government recognises that the student market is cyclical – and that removing section 21 will mean landlords cannot guarantee possession each year for a new set of tenants.
  • Having engaged across the sector, we understand the cyclical model is critical for landlords’ business models and ensures a timely and robust supply of student accommodation. We will therefore introduce a ground for possession that will facilitate the yearly cycle of short-term student tenancies.This will enable new students to sign up to a property in advance, safe in the knowledge they will have somewhere to live the next year.
  • Retaining fixed terms for students, as per the committee’s recommendation, would not in itself mean properties are available at the end of an academic year for next year’s students. Unless notice is served, tenants have a right to remain in a property when a fixed term ends, and a landlord must still use a ground for possession or section 21 to evict them. We believe retaining fixed terms would unfairly lock students into contracts, meaning they could not leave if a property is poor quality, or their circumstances change. Student tenants should have the same flexibility as others.
  • We do not think it is viable to introduce codes which cover all student housing. There are a very large number of private rented sector student properties which would make enforcement extremely challenging, and further regulation would be a significant burden on small landlords. There are key distinctions between private housing rented to students and purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) which warrants a different approach. PBSA is designed specifically with students in mind and caters for their needs, often with additional facilities or support services that would not be available in a standard home rented to students.

Read the full 25-page Government response here.

Renter’s Reform Bill

Wonkhe have a blog: Jim Dickinson reviews the emerging compromise between students and landlords over the Renters (Reform) Bill – and wonders if it will be enough to get the legislation through.

Here’s the latest on the Renter’s Reform Bill discussions taking place in Parliament.

  • Clive Betts MP (Labour), Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, described exempting purpose-built student housing from the ban on 6 periodic tenancies as ‘entirely sensible.’ Regarding non-purpose-built student accommodation, he said landlords having the right to terminate a tenancy in line with the university year may prove a good compromise and will be further probed at Committee stage.
  • Mary Robinson MP (Conservative) highlighted concerns from landlords operating student lets on the abolition of fixed-term lets. She said it may prevent landlords from securing tenants ahead of time for the next academic year, taking away certainty and security for both landlords and students. She also warned that the changes could negatively impact the rental market and make it unattractive for landlords to let to students.
  • Paul Blomfield MP (Labour) raised the concerns of student renters, drawing on his findings as Chair of the APPG for Students. He highlighted that approximately 45% of students who live in the private rented sector and are currently not covered by the Bill. Participants in a recent roundtable had agreed on the many positive elements of the Bill but stressed the need for it to succeed for all renters. Paul Blomfield proceeded to note the heterogeneity across the student community, urging the Minister to not rush to exempt students from the protections in the Bill relating to non-fault evictions…without careful consideration of the impact on all types of students.
  • Helen Hayes MP (Labour) recounted an experience of a constituent who had lost their first-year university student son to suicide. As their son had signed a tenancy for second-year accommodation with a guarantor agreement, after their son’s death the parents were pursued for rent. She said she would table an amendment to address this issue.
  • Caroline Lucas MP (Green) warned against excluding students from the reform, reminding the Secretary of State of the White Paper which stated, it is important that students have the same opportunity to live in a secure home and challenge poor standards as others in the PRS.
  • Matthew Pennycook MP, Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, said Labour would press for clarification of the new grounds for possession for students’ landlords to ensure they are not too expansive and ensure the complexities of the student market are reflected.

The Bill is being carried over to the next Parliamentary session where it will be considered in depth at Committee Stage. It’s this stage that the real shape of the Bill will begin to emerge.

UUK have a good in-depth briefing on the implications of the Renter’s Reform Bill for students.

HEPI report on student accommodation costs

Student accommodation costs across 10 cities in the UK: Cost pressures and their consequences in Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (HEPI Report 166) provides an authoritative picture of student living, conducted in response to the unprecedent rent rises and supply issues witnessed over the past two academic years. It includes data voluntarily submitted by both universities and the 10 largest providers of Purpose-Built Student Accommodation operating across ten major regional university cities who collectively manage more than 125,000 beds in those cities (including Bournemouth).

Consequences

  • The overall picture that has emerged is one of very challenging market conditions. While many accommodation providers acknowledge there is an undersupply of accommodation and rising rents, there are no easy fixes.
  • Although there is much talk of affordability, the ability of providers to build more to relieve supply pressures is being hit by high development costs. The new rooms that do get built come with a higher price tag, so that providers can recoup their development costs. The pipeline of new accommodation is being slowed by historically high interest rates which are driving up funding costs. Rent levels in existing buildings have also been increasing as a consequence of rising running costs.
  • All providers surveyed recognise that the result of all this is that many students are having to put up with steep rent rises because they have no other options.

Policy implications and recommendations (from main report):

Student maintenance system

  • The student maintenance system needs resetting, if access to higher education is to be maintained evenly across both richer and poorer students. ‘Maintenance loans’ could more accurately be described as ‘a contribution to living costs’. The importance of the parental contribution should be highlighted rather than just mentioned in passing and parents should be provided with clearer official information on the minimum they are expected to contribute.
  • Maintenance support needs to be based on how much it actually costs to be a student living independently and away from home. In England, there is a golden opportunity to harvest the invaluable data collected for the government-funded Student Income and Expenditure Survey (SIES) and to use it as an evidence base towards a better system.

Affordability and financial intervention

  • Beyond the talk of affordability, the figures show that new and additional PBSA is getting more and more expensive. Rent for new beds in 2023 is 22 per cent more than for existing stock.
  • The main driver for the growth of PBSA is the private sector, and they are unlikely to increase their risk by going it alone on innovative products or lower-cost accommodation to fulfil an educational agenda. These options will only be developed if led by educational institutions, sharing some of the risk through private sector partnerships: universities must get more involved.
  • Accommodation bursaries can be effective in markets where there is a lack of affordable options.Finding resources for partnering with private providers is essential if educational institutions are going to make this support available. This is an important short-term approach, even if it serves to help shore up a dysfunctional student maintenance system.

Wonkhe blogs on the topic:

Admissions

Grading of level 3 results

Dr Jo Saxton, Ofqual’s Chief Regulator, wrote to HEIs to communicate grading arrangements for England’s 2023/24 admission cycle. It notes the 2-year transition to pre-pandemic grading is complete and normal grading arrangements will continue for GCSE, AS and A levels in 2024. Meaning national results in 2024 are expected to be ‘broadly similar’ to those of the summer of 2023. Grading arrangements for vocational and technical qualifications will continue as normal with awarding organisations adopting the same approach for the academic year 2023 to 2024 as they did previously.

Progression to HE: key stage 4 and 5 student data

The DfE published three data releases on the destinations of key stage 4 and 5 students in 2021/22. The releases cover whether students go into apprenticeship, education and employment destinations, and whether they progress to HE. All three data sets are available here.

The data release covering progression to higher education or training look at the percentage of level 3 pupils continuing to a sustained education or training destination at level 4 or higher in the two years after they completed their 16 to 18 study back in 2019/20.

The proportion of students that progressed to a sustained level 4 or higher destination was 68.3% (+2.3%); of the 68.3%:

    • 64.0% were studying for a (full level 6) degree.
    • 1.7% were participating in a higher/level 4 apprenticeship.
    • 2.6% were studying other qualifications at level 4 or 5

Disadvantage

  • Disadvantaged students (those eligible for pupil premium in year 11) were less likely to sustain a level 4 or higher destination (63.4%) than other students (69.5%) – a larger gap than last year
  • Disadvantaged students were much less likely to sustain a degree destination at a top-third HEI (12.2% vs 21.6%).
  • However, this gap reverses looking at the value-added scores (which take prior attainment at GCSE and qualification type into account).
    • Disadvantaged students scored +1.9, compared to -0.5 for other students, showing that a student of given prior attainment and qualification type is actually slightly more likely to progress if part of the disadvantaged cohort.
    • This could be because disadvantaged students are more likely to enter into level 3 study with the intention of progression, or it could be that they are boosted by the London effect (London has by far the highest proportion of disadvantaged students and a very high progression rate).

Gender

  • Female students were more likely to progress to a level 4 or higher destination (71.4%) than male students (64.7%), a slightly larger gap than last year. Except there are more males on tech levels (qualifications prior to T levels) with male tech level students obtaining a higher progression score (+2.7) than female students (-1.8). Gender bias it likely at play here due to the type of tech level subjects chosen (some tech subjects lead to higher rates of education/ apprenticeship destinations than others).
  • Though female students were much more likely to sustain a degree destination, male students were slightly more likely to sustain a level 4 or level 5 destination and nearly twice as likely to sustain an apprenticeship.

Ethnicity

  • There is large variability in the rate of progression by ethnicity group. Asian or Asian British students were most likely to sustain a level 4 or higher destination at 84.6% overall. 21% ahead of students from the White ethnicity group which had the lowest progression rate.
  • Once prior attainment and qualification type were accounted for, students from the Black or Black British ethnicity group achieved the highest progression scores (+17.2), followed by students from the Asian or Asian British group (+13.4). Students from the White major ethnicity group were the only ones to average a negative progression score, however they were more likely than students from other groups to have a high-level apprenticeship or level 4/5 destination.

Region

  • London continues to have the highest rates of progression to level 4 or higher (79.1%), while the South West continues to have the lowest (61.7%). This difference remains even when prior attainment and qualification type are considered. The gap has widened on last year. Proximity to HEIs is likely a biasing factor here – students from London might have the opportunity to sustain degree destinations while living at home, while those from the South West have fewer options and may find the necessary travel/rental costs prohibitive. London also has a higher-than-average ratio of schools to colleges, creating a stronger bias towards education destinations over employment.

Previous provider type

  • Students from non-selective schools in highly-selective areas continue to progress well below the national average even once prior attainment is taken into account.
  • For two students with the same GCSE results and studying the same qualification types, both at non-selective schools, the one studying in a highly-selective area is 5.5% less likely to progress to a level 4 or higher destination than the other student.
  • Students from selective schools continued to progress at a very high rate (89.7%) with an average progression score of +2.0.

You can find the full data release on progression to HE here.

The DfE has also published data on 16-18 destination measures detailing students who left 16-18 study in 2020/21 and follows their destinations in 2021/22. Excerpt: Disadvantaged students were more likely to stay in further education and less likely to progress to higher education: While 45.8% of non-disadvantaged students leaving 16 to 18 education progressed directly to higher education, the rate for the disadvantaged group was 35.6%. On the other hand, 7.7% of disadvantaged students continued in further education, compared to 6.1% of all other students.

Finally, there is also information on key stage 4 destination measures.

BTECs out. T levels in for now.

Rishi’s announcement that T levels will be defunded when (if) Britain moves to the Advanced British Standard put the DfE in a bit of quandary as to whether to continue the (unpopular) cancellation of BTECs that are gradually being replaced by T levels or whether to have a serious rethink. After a quick ponder the DfE are moving ahead and continuing to pull back from BTECs (and similar technical qualifications) and have published the final list of 85 qualifications assessed to overlap with wave 3 T Levels. The overlap occurs in these areas:

  • Business and Administration
  • Engineering and Manufacturing; and
  • Finance and Accounting.

The Government will withdraw public funding from these qualifications, for new starters, from August 2025.

Universities and Skills Minister Halfon has issued a written ministerial statement announcing the changes. It points out that of the 85 qualifications – 30 didn’t have any current enrolments and another 23 had fewer than 100 enrolments in the 2020/21 academic year. Although given that parents knew these qualifications were about to be dumped there is a question over the chicken and egg here!

Moving onto the Advanced British Standard (ABS) Education Secretary Gillian Keegan published a written ministerial statement on the Government’s proposals. She confirmed the Government would provide £600 million over the next two years to prepare for the ABS, consisting of:

  • £100m each year to double the rates of the Levelling Up Premium and expand it to cover FE colleges (to disproportionately benefit disadvantaged students). All teachers who are in the first five years of their career, teaching key STEM and technical shortage subjects and working in disadvantaged schools and all FE colleges, will be paid up to £6,000 per year tax-free.
  • £150m each year to support students who need the most support. I.e. those without a grade 4 or higher pass in maths and English GCSE at age 16. And supporting English and maths for all post-16 apprentices who have not gained their Level 2 qualification, uplifting the funding rates to match the Adult Education Budget.
  • £60m over the next two years to expedite evidence-based techniques for maths teaching, including in post-16.
  • £40m to the Education Endowment Foundation to expand their post-16 work and embed evidence-based approaches in 16-19 teaching.

Keegan stated the Government will consult extensively over the coming months on the design of the new qualification with the consultation resulting informing a White Paper to be published during 2024.

Wonkhe report that since the ABS was announced student enthusiasm for T levels has waned. They have a blog: As demand for “gold standard” T levels atrophies in the face of news that they’ll be replaced, Johnny Rich laments an obsession with killing off BTECs.

Access & Participation

Social Mobility

HEPI published The English Social Mobility Index which compares the performance of (English) HEIs was published. Research Professional set to the Index and have questions in this good article: Mobility Issues. Excerpts:

  • If accurate, it would seem to confound assumptions about which sort of universities are doing the heavy lifting on social mobility.
  • The results are somewhat counter-intuitive. Are Imperial College (13) and the University of Cambridge (16) doing more for social mobility than Brunel and Birkbeck (18 and 19 respectively)?
  • Is the University of Manchester (22) a more effective engine of social movement than Manchester Metropolitan University (36)? Is the University of Oxford (21) doing more on social mobility than Middlesex University (44)?
  • Examples like this could be multiplied as you move through the ranking. The bottom nine institutions are all post-92s, with the University of Exeter the only member of the Russell Group in the bottom quartile.
  • The obvious question would be, how accurate a portrait of social mobility is this? The emphasis on graduate outcomes—weighted equally between median salaries and the Office for Students definition of “positive outcome” of graduate-level employment or further study—would tend to favour both high-tariff institutions and those based in the capital.
  • the graduate outcomes and continuation data are very broad-brush strokes, especially in larger universities, which may or may not bear much relevance to the experience of “social mobility students” at any given institution. For example, Oxford’s access numbers might be quite low, but its continuation and outcomes figures will be great, producing a decent score in the table—but that is not the same thing as delivering on social mobility, and certainly not en masse.

Read more here.

Service Children

NEON cover the new report which analyses universities’ APP plans: Under the Radar – Service Children in the UK today, highlighting that only a quarter of universities (10% drop since 2000) in England have strategies in place to support Service children to progress to HE and these numbers may fall over the next year. Read more here. You can also access a recording of the event covering service children.  And Graeme (from NEON) writes for Wonkhe: Children from military families have worse progression rates into higher education. Graeme Atherton argues that they should be a target group for access work.

Neurodiverse students

Wonkhe blog – As retention rates for autistic students are lower than any other disability group, Helen Guyatt explains what could be done to help – and what incentives there are for institutions to do so.

International

China

The Lords Chamber debated the long-term strategic challenges posed by China. The Government’s approach to protecting Chinese students from undue pressure on political issues was criticised and Lord Stirrup questions mechanisms that could effectively be used to protect students including monitoring interactions students have with their own government.

  • Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench) raised Confucius Institutes and suggested the UK worked with the Government of Taiwan for language and culture studies rather than the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He queried what steps were being taken to help universities reduce dependency and diversify their funding sources.
  • Baroness Coussins (Crossbench) cautioned against ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ in responding to Confucius Institutes. She added that ‘closer monitoring of the situation in some universities is clearly advisable, but any action against the Confucius Institutes should be proportionate and properly targeted.’
  • Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State FCDO, responded on behalf of the Government stating a series of measures had been introduced to tackle threats to HE, such as the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023. Also that the Government were working to increase protections for academic freedom and university research, including strengthening the screening of Chinese academics and researchers in sensitive areas of research. On Confucius Institutes, the Minister said they were ‘taking action to remove government funding from Confucius Institutes in the UK, but currently judge that it would be disproportionate to ban them.’ More details here.

There’s also a Wonkhe blog that may be of interest: Glen Noble explains how UK universities need to develop their own risk management processes for collaborating with China – especially when it comes to sensitive research areas.

International Growth

Lord Jo Johnson has spoken out (again, same messages) on restricting further international student growth and the need for universities to diversify their portfolio.

Wonkhe report: Speaking at a Universities UK International conference yesterday, Johnson said the sector is “reaching the political limits” of tolerance for higher numbers – because of dropout rates among Indian and Bangladeshi students of “approaching 25 per cent”, and questions over students’ ability to support themselves. Reflecting on accusations that universities were “selling immigration into the UK rather than education, he called on universities to take “collective action to weed out poor quality and fraudulent applications”.

There is full coverage in the Financial Times.

Health surcharge

Wonkhe report that the Home Office has published an equality impact assessment for the forthcoming increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge, which for students and their dependants (the discounted rate) will rise from £470 to £776 per person per year. It shows that the disparity between the median weekly wage for younger and older migrants may mean that students see higher impacts from the increase to the charge, making saving to pay the Health Charge more difficult.

Digital Teaching

Digital experience: UUK report on the JISC staff digital experience insights survey 2022/23 covering perceptions of HE teaching staff to technology and its potential in teaching.

  • 71% of teaching staff agreed the use of digital technology in teaching is convenient.
  • 61% agree that it allows them to teach in ways they prefer.
  • 64% rate the quality of their online teaching environment as above average.
  • 61% agree that it enables students to make good progress.

However, the survey also shows that teaching staff need more time and encouragement when it comes to improving their digital skills, with nearly half (49%) rating support for teaching effectively online as average or below average.

Kathryn Heywood, Head of Business Intelligence at Jisc said: This year’s student digital experience insights survey shows that HE students find online learning more engaging and motivating since 2020, and they havereaped the benefits of teaching staff working hard to improve their practice. What’s clear from this year’s staff survey, is that teachers need more dedicated support from the organisation to focus on their digital skills.

Digital enabling: Wonkhe and Kortext published Setting the curve – deploying technology for learning, teaching, and student success looking at how to deploy technology to support longer term learning, teaching, and student success strategies. Excerpt: in making technology part of the solution universities must also ask some searching questions: about the degree of digital capability required of staff and students; about what “hybrid” work and learning should look like and why; about the interaction of the digital and physical estate; and, crucially, about the nature of the spaces available for being critical about technology adoption, and how the conversation about technology moves forward. Read more here.

Other Wonkhe blogs:

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

General Election: The Times reported that the Government has been advised not to call the general election for November due to security concerns should the campaigning period align with America’s (fixed) November presidential election. The Times quotes an official as saying There are huge security and market implications if two Five Eyes countries are holding elections at once. It could potentially open up two countries to cyberwarfare and electoral manipulation from hostile states and if a security threat were to arise during a campaign it would leave western countries exposed. With a second Whitehall source stating: Far more care would have to be taken around national security and meddling from hostile countries. The Times also reports that Labour are preparing for a May election. The last possible date the UK election can be held on is 28 January 2025.

HE growth: Wonkhe blog – On the tenth anniversary of David Willetts’ 2013 Robbins Revisited report, David Kernohan wonders if it still stands up.proroSubscribe!

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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BU policy update for the w/e 22nd September 2023

Lots of meaty topics for you to chew over this week. The student cost of living debate had a hearing in parliament. The Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Act 2023 has received royal assent and we’ve a pop out summary on the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. The OfS received strong criticism in the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee report. We’ve the latest on visa fee increases, clearing and oodles of research news.

Parliament has now entered conference recess but government business will continue over the next few weeks. There will also be items of interest from the party conferences which will receive closer scrutiny this year given the impending general election.

As always if you need this update, or the pop out summaries, in a different format for accessibility please email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Political News

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

The Lifelong Learning Bill finished its passage through the Lords and the King has given Royal Assent. You’ll recall this Bill contained limited detail and will be padded out through secondary legislation further down the line – meaning the Government of the day will retain control and be able to tweak the implementation details when they wish.   Note the name change: it is now about lifelong learning not lifelong loan entitlement.

During the debate Baroness Barran, the Government’s representative, thanked the former Education Ministers and Secretaries of State for their insight (Lord Blunkett, Lord Willetts and Lord Jo Johnson).

Baroness Barran stated: The LLE will become the route for people who require student finance for levels 4 to 6 study across higher and further education. In introducing the LLE, we want to do as much as possible to make it accessible and affordable for the most disadvantaged. And confirmed that the Government would monitor the concerns the Lords raised at Report Stage, that the number of learning hours in a credit wouldn’t be changed unless sector standards change, and that the alternative student finance product compatible with Islamic finance principles would be delivered as soon as operationally possible after 2025 (further update coming on this later in 2023).

Labour’s spokesperson, Baroness Twycross, confirmed their support for the Bill’s aim: we support the idea that people can access funding to undertake the learning they need throughout their career. With people undertaking portfolio careers and with continual changes in technology and society, it is no longer the case that what you learn through a traditional three-year degree course is all that you will need in your work for the next 45 years or so. But reminded that the detail (scope) of the Bill was limited and felt a more formal review process for several aspects could have been set to safeguard against unintended consequences.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (representing the Liberal Democrats) highlighted the party remained concerned about how many adults will wish to take on debt in order to improve their learning, and we look forward to hearing updates from the Minister about how many people have done so. From these Benches, we feel that grants would be a much more effective way of persuading adults to learn. But, of course, we are all totally in favour of lifelong learning, and we wish the Bill well.

You may have noted the name change to Lifelong Learning (HE Fees Limits) Act, previously it was called the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. Apparently, the name change was decided upon following engagement with the sector. For those that have been in this game a long time you may harbour a small chuckle at the name change when you recall a rival party proposed a similar policy in the early 2000s based on, and called, Lifelong Learning.

The DfE published a policy paper on the LLE – it provides a useful introduction to the key details of the intended LLE operationalisation. Here are the next steps we can expect from the government, including two consultations:

In autumn 2023:

  • we plan to provide further information about the entitlement
  • we will work with the regulator, awarding organisations and providers of current advanced learner loans (ALLs) funded Ofqual-regulated qualifications to embed changes we set out in HMG’s response to the LLE consultation
  • OfS will launch a consultation on the development and introduction of a new third registration category

In spring 2024:

  • we will launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding
  • we will lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in parliament

In autumn 2024 we will lay the secondary legislation that will set out the rest of the LLE funding system in parliament

In spring 2025 we will launch the LLE personal account where users can track their loan entitlement and apply for designated courses and modules

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill: The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill is a controversial bill seen as eroding university autonomy and there was dissent from some parties at the detailed Committee Stage (although other HE sector members agree with its legal principles). You can read a summary of the evidence provided in the early Committee stage sessions here. The bill now awaits a date for Report Stage. Wonkhe also update us that: The Home Office has released draft guidance on the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme (FIRS), designed to monitor foreign influence on UK politics. Sector-specific guidance will follow – supported by consultation panels from the research and higher education sector – but there are a handful of examples given of activities either requiring or not requiring registration under the scheme that make reference to international students or staff.

The future for education policy?

The New Conservatives published a ‘manifesto’: plan to upskill Britain which Research Professional view as an attempt to push Conservative education policies to the right. It’s keen on developing technical routes and reforming the apprenticeship levy and technical skills in general.

It’s less keen on universities stating: Since the reforms of 1992, too many universities have not been fit for purpose. Steps to address skills shortages in Britain and rising student debt should not shy away from one of the main culprits – rip-off universities. And: The false promise of university –  Long gone are the days when university was the hallmark of success. Many young people today could have much more opportunity if they opted for on-the-job training alongside receiving an industry recognised qualification, rather than go to university. But too few school leavers make that choice [apparently because they’re promised higher starting salaries].

The manifesto calls for a crack down on poor quality and less people attending university- redirecting the public funds saved to quality technical and vocational education. And they call for minimum academic grades to qualify for student loans: Introducing minimum grade requirements at GCSE-level would see an approximate reduction of 10 percent in the number of students qualifying for student loans. Although introducing minimum eligibility requirements of Level 4 grades at GCSE English and Maths would close off student loans to around 40 percent of all students… They would also like to ensure student loans are re-paid – although NHS employed graduates would be offered a three year loan repayment exemption.

Research Professional say the ‘manifesto’ is full of holes  – you can read their take down of the manifesto in Blue on blue.

Government role changes: Dehenna Davison MP has stepped away from her post as Levelling Up Minister due to ill health. Jacob Young MP will take over.

Free Speech: Wonkhe highlight that the OfS has published indicative timelines for the introduction of free speech related duties and provisions – under the proposals, 1 August 2024 would see the launch of the new complaints scheme and the coming into force of new statutory duties from providers and students’ unions. Provisions relating to OfS’s monitoring of overseas funding and new conditions of registration around free speech and academic freedom would come into force on 1 September 2025.

Research News

ARIA

The construction of ARIA continues – this week their programme directors announced their key questions and invited input from the R&D community. For colleagues familiar with the expression of Areas of Research Interest this is the ARIA equivalent. Although it’s not clear how universities can feed their research in to answer the questions yet. However, Wonkhe, have their finger on the pulse and inform that each set of programme questions has a budget of £50m. And that most of the programme directors have joined from academia. They are now mandated with developing a concrete programme, based on the “area or set of areas they feel compelled to explore” – these include programmable plants, interfaces with the human nervous system, climate intervention technologies, and robotics. Wonkhe also have a neat blog on how ARIA is taking shape. Excerpts:

The team as a whole tells us some important things about ARIA.
The first is that they are aligned to what the broader scientific community would consider to be some of the world’s greatest threats and challenges. AI, climate change, and food security, would appear at the top of most lists of the most pressing issues facing humanity…

Equally, the team straddles a hinterland between having programme directors that have more conventional academic careers with big interests, academics that have run or built companies, and programme directors that lean more into business and technology worlds but with significant academic credentials…
this [the programme directors] is a group of people who probably ordinarily would never hang out together…The mix of expertise and backgrounds speaks to the fundamental challenge and promise of ARIA. Its whole purpose of existence is to fund the things that funders would not usually fund in ways they would not usually fund them. The challenge is to not only discover new things but to make a new disparate team function with some of the standard practices needed to make scientific breakthroughs…  And a tolerance for constructive failure that will see programmes potentially outlive ministers, funding, and maybe even ARIA itself.

Quick Research News

  • Biosecurity: The UK Biosecurity Leadership Council held its inaugural meeting to build our national resilience to future biological threats, whilst establishing the UK as a world leader in responsible innovation. The Government’s press release mainly focuses on the details about the Council with little on what was discussed.
  • Tech: Dr Dave Smith has been appointed as the Government’s National Technology Adviser taking over from Sir Patrick Vallance.
  • DSIT policies: The Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published a summary of their achievements in the six months since the Department was formed. These include the Science and Technology Framework, the AI White Paper, setting up the Foundation Model Taskforce, the 20-year National Semiconductors Strategy, the 10-year National Quantum Strategy, and the International Technology Strategy. There’s also info on the DSIT Start-Up Board.
  • AI: Research Professional: Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU should work with its partners to develop a global framework for regulating artificial intelligence.
  • Catapult: DSIT published a Catapult Network review update
  • REF: Wonkhe – Research England has “concerns” from stakeholders over the proposed People, Culture and Environment element of the 2028 Research Excellence Framework, both around its suggested weighting (25 per cent) compared to Contribution of Knowledge and Understanding, and around whether “robust indicators” can be developed to fairly assess research environment. There’s a blog from Jessica Corner (Exec Chair of Research England).
  • CaSE: Daniel Rathbone has been appointed as interim executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering.
  • Funding: Research England published the remaining HE grant allocations for 2023-24.
  • R&D spend: The House of Commons Library published a research briefing on R&D spending. It covers the (2022) methodology change in how R&D spend estimate are calculated – leading to the false achievement of the 2.4% of GDP 2027 target. We also learn that of business research in 2021: 23% was spent on research into computer programming and software development, 18% on miscellaneous activities, technical testing and analysis, and 17% on chemicals and pharmaceuticals. For public sector (2021) research: 35% went towards the general advancement of knowledge, 21% to health and 13% to defence. Other items of interest are the R&D spending by region 52% of all R&D resides in London and the South East (£24.4 billion) with the least in Wales. With the new calculations UK R&D spending is equivalent to 2.9%-3% of GDP – above the OECD and EU averages (but less than the USA, Japan and Germany
  • China: Wonkhe – Both OfS and UKRI need to do more to mitigate overreliance on China, for tuition fee income and research capability respectively. This is the conclusion of a report from former universities minister Jo Johnson and others, revisiting past recommendations for “de-risking” higher education given the potential for deterioration in the UK-China geopolitical relationship. The report highlights that Chinese students made up 28 per cent of non-UK PhD student starts in 2021–22, up from 17 per cent in 2017–18, with a growing concentration across the most selective institutions – the authors caution that “there is no next China or EU” in terms of markets for research student recruitment. There’s coverage in The Times, and the Guardian.
  • Confucius diplomatic immunity: A parliamentary question on diplomatic immunity for Chinese nationals working in Confucius institutes in the UK. Helpful answer from Robert Halfon, universities minister.
  • Horizon: The Lords Chamber debated Horizon Europe and Pioneer. Short transcript here. Discussions included the global talent visa. Research Professional (RP) also have a good article: UK in Horizon: money on the table. Researchers can already apply for (2024) Horizon funding, even though the UK officially joins on 1 January 2024. Funding is available across six clusters and three main innovation schemes – there is summary detail in the RP article. Chair of the House of Lords European Affairs Committee, Lord Ricketts, has called on DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan to provide additional detail…about the operation of the corrective mechanism designed to prevent the UK from paying a disproportionate net contribution to the [Horizon] scheme. We also ask you to update us on the expected timetable for the political agreement to be formally adopted by the Specialised Committee on Union Programmes. Lord Ricketts’ letter pulled no punches as he also highlighted the detrimental consequences of the last two years of uncertainty, and asked the government to stop using research as a political football.
  • Case Studies: Wonkhe – The UK Collaborative on Development Research has publishedan analysis of how development research appeared in REF 2021 impact case studies. The report examines which unit of assessment contained most international development impact case studies (business and management), how these were distributed across the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and which countries most often appeared (India, followed by the United States and Kenya).
  • Researcher influx: DSIT Minister Jonathan Berry has stated the UK will need 380,000 new researchers by 2027 to meet the growing need for research and counter retirement numbers. Berry continued that attracting overseas talent will need to be a big part of the growth, however, peers have expressed concern that the visa regime may hamper the influx. Labour peer Stephen Benn called for the global talent visa to be reformed and highlighted how the visa fees were discouraging talent from working in Britain. Research Professional have more on the tussle here.
  • New REF: Wonkhe on the new REF – With the consultation period drawing to an end (the deadline is the first Friday in October), it’s slowly becoming clear that there are two unconnected but influential lines of pushback.
    The first, from within the sector, is the argument that it is the quality of output that matters, and boosting the role of narrative statements and measures of input dilutes the essence of what really matters in the REF.
    Separately is an external climate in which the use of government funds to support anything that can be labelled as “EDI work” provokes tachycardia in the bosom of influential figures. Against this backdrop, Research England (in conjunction with the other UK funding bodies) is going to additional lengths to promote discussion and debate around the prominence and use of research culture measures, with Executive Chair Jessica Corner noting on Wonkhe that the weighting given to different elements of the next REF is still a live question, even if the commitment to assessment that “supports a thriving and healthy research system” remains steadfast.
  • Researcher mobility: Wonkhe – The government should make the mobility of researcher careers a “key design principle” of the research and innovation system, according to a report from the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) Researcher Career Mobility Taskforce. The report argues that researchers need to be “empowered” to move between industry and academia throughout their whole career. The taskforce found that research staff are currently not always aware of opportunities (with existing guidance often focused on academic career pathways), that mobility between sectors is seen by many as high risk, and that institutional recruitment and progression frameworks can undervalue skills and experiences gained in other sectors. Blog.
  • Israel agreement: The UK has signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel committing £1.7 million to support joint research focused on technologies critical to future prosperity and quality of life, like quantum. Details here. Other recent bilateral international science deals the UK has signed include partnerships with India, Switzerland and South Africa. And funds have been committed to the International Science Partnerships Fund (launched last year with an initial £119 million).

International

De-risking international reliance

King’s College London policy institute published The China question revisited: de-risking higher education and research. The report was led by previous Minster for Universities, Lord (Jo) Johnson who has long been a supporter of international students balanced by the need to minimise risks to the nation and financial stability of HE providers, e.g. through diversification of international recruitment to reduce the reliance on some countries, including China.

The report highlights that China has become an increasingly entrenched collaborator on research and a key source of doctoral students crucial to the strength of the UK’s research system. The paper proposes a range of measures to de-risk HE’s relationship with China:

  • Requiring universities to publish an annual statement on their international student recruitment plans, in order to provide greater visibility of current strategies to diversify the international student population.
  • Improving regulation of course quality, given high drop-out rates among students from countries such as India and Bangladesh.
  • Weeding out poor-quality and fraudulent applications by charging an application fee for international students, requiring tuition fees to be paid up front and maintenance funds to be put in escrow at the start of the year.
  • Maintaining a register of recruitment agents and publishing key performance indicators relating to visa refusals, to improve accountability.

If you’ve been following the policy update for a while you may remember our review of a Westminster Higher Education Forum event on this topic earlier this year. The calls to action in the report are exactly those expressed by Johnson previously – he’s nothing if not considered and consistent. Given his influence in the House of Lords, and the strong ex-Ministerial powerhouse of Johnson – Blunkett – Willets, we can expect some pressure from the peers on this and other key HE matters over the next year.

Visas

Legislation to increase the immigration and nationality fees has been laid in Parliament. The changes:

  • the cost for a visit visa for less than six months is rising (by £15) to £115
  • the fee for applying for a student visa from outside the UK will rise +35% (by £127) to £490 (equalling the amount charged for in-country applications).

If approved the new fees will apply from 4 October 2023. Changes to the planned increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge are scheduled to be introduced later in 2023. The Home Office equality impact assessment on the fees is here – its concludes there is no direct or indirect discrimination based on protected characteristics observed for the changes to student fees.

The latest visa letter from Home Secretary Suella Braverman is here. The letter is dated 3 August but it has only just been released to the public via the Lords Science and Tech Committee.

There’s also a parliamentary question on visas granted under the High Potential Individual route.

Finally, from Wonkhe, The Erasmus Student Network has published a report on international student perspectives of the UK, based on polling conducted earlier this year (and with EU students notably overrepresented). Almost 16% of 465 respondents who had studied in the UK reported that obtaining a visa was a significant problem, and almost half disagreed that they received enough support from their host university in finding accommodation. Some 77% would have liked more interaction with local students.

Regulatory

OfS Inquiry

From March 2023 the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee ran an inquiry into the work of the OfS looking closely at its effectiveness as a regulator. The committee published their report: Must do better: the Office for Students and the looming crisis facing higher education. As is clear form the title the Lords concluded that the regulator is performing poorly, even accounting for the extra challenges facing HE today. The report concludes that the OfS has poor relations with both providers and students, a controlling and arbitrary approach to regulation, and a lack of independence from the Government.

On the OfS’ duties and decision making the committee highlight that the OfS has legal duties, but substantial freedom to pick and choose what it prioritises, creating uncertainty. Also the Lords believe the other regulators within the HE sector cause duplication and red tape.

The Lords recommend:

  • When the OfS makes changes to its approach, it should make clear how it has taken its legal duties into account or explain why it has not done so.
  • The Government should set out the steps it is taking to streamline the responsibilities of different regulators in the higher education sector.

On financial sustainability of HE the committee notes the undergraduate tuition fees have been frozen since 2018 with their value further eroded by inflation and that universities are relying more on the income boost provided by international (and postgraduate) fees – which sits uncomfortably with government concerns over the influence of other nations. Bottom line – the committee states that current HE funding is not sustainable and worries about the geopolitical vulnerabilities (in 2021/22 22.3% of student came from China). The peers state we were not convinced that the regulator has paid enough attention to the financial challenges facing the sector.

Recommendations:

  • The Government must review how higher education is funded, setting long-term, sustainable funding and delivery models for the sector
  • Both the Government and the OfS should also clarify whether there is any strategic oversight of the sector’s long-term financial stability.
  • Hold discussions with providers more regularly about their financial situation and ensure it is aware of the systemic challenges facing the sector;

On students the Lords committee highlights that despite the OfS explicitly being set up to regulate in the interests of students it has never defined what these interests are, creating a suspicion that it uses them as a smokescreen for political priorities. And that students often feel their views are not acted upon, especially where they do not match with what the OfS wants to do. The committee gives the example of from the OfS’ Student Panel who stated that when student issues of importance contradicted with the Government’s views the OfS threatened the Panel’s future.

Recommendations:

  • The OfS should conduct work with students, to define student interests and explain how this drives its work.
  • Hold providers to account if they do not ensure prospective students receive clear, digestible information on their course, including its long-term costs and approximate contact hours
  • The OfS must also ensure its Student Panel is free to raise issues of importance to students, whether or not the OfS agrees with them and ensure that there are at least two student representatives on the OfS’ Board and open up more of its work to student involvement.
  • Conduct detailed scoping work, with students, on how it defines “the student interest,” and how this informs its work.

On regulation and sector relations the committee acknowledged evidence from HE sector representatives that found the OfS over controlling in their approach to regulation:

  • We conclude that it [OfS ]has demonstrated little regard either to the autonomy of providers or the impact of its requests and decisions, particularly its onerous requests for data.
  • We also heard that the OfS is both distant and combative in the way it treats providers, giving the impression it seeks to punish them rather than help them to comply.

The peers welcomed the OfS’ focus on value for money for students, however, they felt the OfS did not provide HEIs with value for money because of their regulatory approach and particularly when higher registration fees partly reflect the regulator’s own expanding remit.

Recommendations:

  • The OfS should be more transparent about its approach, making clear why it makes particular requests and decisions.
  • Make clear how it has taken the institutional autonomy of providers into account when it regulates.
  • Build trust with higher education institutions and adopt a more strategic, less combative approach to its work.
  • The Government should reconvene its Higher Education Data Reduction Taskforcein order to reduce unnecessary red tape.
  • Urgently align its framework for quality with international standards, including reinstating an independent Designated Quality Body

On independence from Government the committee questioned whether the OfS really was the independent regulator it claims to be:

  • we found that it lacks both real and perceived independence, with its actions often appearing driven by political priorities. The fact that the OfS Chair continues to take the Conservative Party whip in the House of Lords has not helped.
  • The OfS lacks independence from the Government, and its actions often appear driven by the ebb and flow of short-term political priorities and media headlines.
  • We concluded that the Government has also contributed to this situation, by being too prescriptive in the guidance it sends to the OfS. The situation has been worsened by the fact that the OfS has had to work with seven Education Secretaries and six Universities Ministers since 2018.

Recommendations

  • The Government and the OfS should set out what each of them will do to secure the OfS’ independence.
  • As a first step, the Government should consider requiring serving politicians to resign any party political whip before becoming Chairs of independent regulators.
  • Limit itself to providing higher level, strategic input to the OfS, rather than overly prescriptive guidance.

Lord Hollick, Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee said:

  • At a time when the higher education sector faces a looming crisis caused by financial instability, increased costs, industrial action, and reduced EU research funding, it is vital that the sector’s regulator is fit for purpose.
  • However, it was evident throughout our inquiry that the OfS is failing to deliver and does not command the trust or respect of either providers, or students, the very people whose interests it is supposed to defend. We were surprised by the regulator’s view that the sector’s finances are in good shape, which is not an assessment that we or most of our witnesses share.

The Government must respond to the committee’s report and recommendations by 13 November. It remains to be seen if the Government will throw the OfS under the bus (unlikely) or agree to consider a small number of actions (probable, and most likely those that place the onus on the OfS to deliver) whilst arguing the point on other items. Of course, the Government can completely refute the committee’s report if it wishes too – again this is unlikely because the OfS has already responded to the report conceding improvements are needed in some areas. You can read OfS Chair, Lord Wharton’s, response on the OfS blog and Susan Lapworth’s, OfS Chief Executive, response in Learning lessons – a Research Professional blog.

The report may not be a bad thing for the OfS. They have been willing to concede some shortcomings, and the committee’s recommendations recommend the OfS should be given more freedom and leeway to work outside of the government dictat they currently operate within.

Research Professional (RP) spoke with two members of the Lords committee – Chair Clive Hollick and Ann Taylor (both Labour). RP highlight some of the frank quotes from the Members here.

RP: to what extent do they feel the OfS has fallen short of its objectives, particularly compared with other regulators—and can the trust that has been lost with the higher education sector be regained?

Hollick: It is a relatively new regulator, so it is still finding its feet, if I could put it that way—in response to which, Taylor quips that this is a “very generous” bit of context. Hollick agrees.

They also explore what the Peers think of the OfS denouncement of the QAA:

  • Elsewhere, the Lords expressed concern that the OfS is currently operating not only as England’s regulator but also as its Designated Quality Body, after the Quality Assurance Agency gave up the role over its concerns that the English regulatory framework was now at odds with European standards.
  • The OfS said after the QAA quit as DQB that it wasn’t overly pleased with how the QAA was carrying out its brief anyway.
  • Since that spat, the OfS has said that it sees no problem with keeping the DQB role itself, at least in the medium term. To what extent are Hollick and Taylor concerned about all this?
  • “We’re still trying to find the real reason [why the OfS was unhappy with the QAA],” said Hollick. “Why change something that’s working, that’s trusted, that is actually valuable for the brand, not only nationally but internationally?”
  • He added that the current situation, with the OfS in ostensibly temporary control as DQB, is “a complete muddle, and an unexplained muddle”.
  • Taylor added that the inquiry had heard fears that this was “a power grab” by the OfS, and “unless things are sorted out…that fear remains”.

There was great coverage of the committee report – here are some good sources if you want to read the editorials:

Research Professional: Friends in high places and Lords a-meeting.

Wonkhe blogs:

  • Jim Dickinson reflects on calls to reduce regulation of universities, arguing that the real problem is the way we frame higher education as “big boarding school”.
  • Chair Lord Hollick presents the findings of the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee inquiryinto the work of the Office for Students.
  • Everyone loves to commit to reduce data burden in higher education. Andy Youell asks what it would take to actually do it.
  • The long awaited Industry and Regulators Committee report on the work of the Office for Students is here – David Kernohan sets out everything you need to know.
  • Wonkhe also have a different coverage angle in their Monday summary: Many of its findings and recommendations chime with established concerns about the regulator – distant, opaque, punitive, expensive, politically compromised… But take a step back and what is powerful is the way that the committee’s report situates its critiques in the context of wider financial issues affecting the whole sector. The risks to education quality and to provider sustainability are greater than they were at the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act in 2017. Arguably, the higher education sector needs strong regulation more than ever to address failures where they do occur – but tempered with a sense of proportion about the feasibility of what is expected, and responsibility for the sustainability and success of English higher education. The question, then – with little money around and little prospect of a lot more coming – is what should happen next.

One obvious area for attention is expectations of providers. Even if OfS was seen as credible in its efforts to pursue the interests of students, there is little doubt that some of the “burdens” of regulation might be streamlined to allow the sector to get on with delivering on those interests…

But efficiencies and engagement can only get a reformed regulator and its beleaguered providers so far. There’s a case to be made that expecting one regulator to have a grip of the range of issues affecting students’ university experience and act as a proxy for bodies as diverse as the Charity Commission, the Competition and Markets Authority, and various local authorities is too much to ask. We need bodies looking out for the interests of students, that are worried about their housing and health, and that are capable of causing those things to be discussed and resolved… if the expectations on OfS are just that little bit too large – yet reflect a wider problem of what we ask universities to do while absolving others from ever thinking about over two million citizens.

There is further coverage in the national media: the Mail, the Standard, the BBC, and Byline Times.

For full detail read: the full published committee report on OfS effectiveness.

Quality Regulation

QAA: This week Research Professional highlighted how the House of Lords critique raising concerns over the effectiveness of the OfS is a small victory for the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) which stepped down from the role of Designated Quality Body (April 2023) in protest that the English regulatory framework was at odds with European standards. QAA continues to oversee quality in the other nations of the UK as well as internationally. The Lords report recommends that the OfS urgently aligns its framework for quality with international standards, including reinstating an independent Designated Quality Body.

QAA Chief Executive Vicki Stott stated: We’re really pleased to see that the committee recognises the importance of strengthening the current oversight of quality in England by returning to alignment with international good practice and for quality assessment to be undertaken by an independent body… You can’t simply take a self-assessment review and pass it to the body that is doing the regulation and funding and expect the two of them to mediate the accuracy of that assessment for themselves.

The OfS has responded to the report by saying it will consider the findings carefully over the next few weeks.

You can read the full Research Professional write up here.

On the QAA Wonkhe also inform us that they’ve released a briefing note with a definition of quality in UK higher education, intended for policymakers and other stakeholders internationally. Indicators of quality set out include staff and students thriving professionally and academically, a relevant and challenging learning experience, and external experience being sought and used. And:

This morning, and with impeccable timing, the QAA publishes the first in a new series of briefings on the “future of quality in England”—which it says “builds on” the Lords report. Among other things, it calls for England to “realign” its approach to quality assurance with “internationally agreed good practice”. Read The Future of Quality in England. The paper suggests policymakers commit to:

  1. Realign the English quality system with internationally agreed good practice.This should include honouring the UK’s commitment to the European Higher Education Area by working with QAA and the sector to develop a pathway to alignment that maintains and strengthens international trust while recognising the distinct characteristics of the English sector. This would involve addressing:
  • the independence of quality assessment so that the system operates without fear or favour
  • a periodic touchpoint with all providers to secure up-to-date assessments of their provision
  • student engagement across the full quality system, including as full members of assessment teams
  • the transparency of data, thematic analysis and assessments.
  1. Formally recognise enhancement as part of the quality systemto encourage an approach of continuous improvement where providers are supported by an independent body, such as QAA.
  2. Streamline regulatory requirements from the various bodies with oversight of higher education(Office for Students, Ofsted, Ofqual, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, the Education and Skills Funding Agency and relevant PSRBs) by convening them to align requirements in terms of data requested, format required and relevant deadlines, following the Regulator’s Code principle of ‘collect once, use many times’. This should be achieved through reconvening the Higher Education Data Reduction Taskforce and ensuring all relevant oversight bodies are represented.

Wonkhe blogs:

Students

Cost of living

This week HEPI published on the student cost of living in:  How to Beat a Cost-of-Learning Crisis: Universities’ Support for Students. They find:

  • 76% of universities help their students with food and drink (discounts, food banks and food vouchers), with nearly half (47%) helping with health and more than a third (35%) respectively with travel and digital.
  • Wales, the South West, the North East and the South East were the regions where universities were most likely to operate a food bank.
  • Four-fifths (82%) have an online platform to communicate their support to students.
  • On average, hardship funds are awarded up to £2,470 and institutions commit to get funds to students within four weeks.

Recommendations:

  • All universities should establish a cost-of-living working group streamline their hardship fund, launch an emergency fund and include students throughout their cost-of-living response.
  • Students’ unions should encourage their university to act by mounting an ambitious and practical cost-of-living campaign, founded on strong evidence and excellent relationships with university staff.
  • The Government establishes a cost-of-living taskforce, which consults regularly with students and sector leaders, and urgently reviews the level of maintenance support.

The publication came ahead of this week’s Westminster Hall debate on student cost of living. We have a short summary of the debate cut and thrust here. In the main, Minister Halfon followed the well-worn party line on disadvantage student numbers being up, extra funding for skills, and toughed out the calls for additional hardship funding. He agreed to look into the issue of students taking poorer quality accommodation due to price constraints and explained the government were trying to target hardship funding as there isn’t a consistent national picture. Although it appears the ‘targeting’ is simply the previous redistributed leftover budget that institutions already received.

Research professional also have an excellent summary and analysis on the student cost of living recent publications and debate.

Disciplinary process Pinsent Masons have a blog on disciplinary procedures following the landmark High Court ruling whereby a former student successfully sued their university for breach of contract. It concludes universities should understand the case before making hasty changes to their processes: It is therefore very much about the appropriate training of disciplinary panels and those involved in disciplinary processes, and how they should properly assess and test the evidence put before them – rather than this being a strict process point requiring the need to urgently revise procedures.

Medical Bursaries Vs Loans

While pressure is being applied for allied health professions to reinstate bursaries or receive loan forgiveness the Institute for Fiscal Studies has moved to an opposite position for medical and dental students stating the NHS bursary should be binned and tuition fee loans rolled out. Wonkhe cover the story:

The NHS bursary for medical and dental students should be scrapped and replaced with tuition fee loans, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has argued, with the money saved spent on NHS staff pay. The think tank contends that the bursary “displaces student loan funding” – in some cases leading to less upfront support for those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds – and ultimately benefits high-earning medical graduates who are able to pay off their loans earlier.

It also notes that “Plan 5” student loan reforms in England will benefit medical graduates by around £20,000, undermining one of the original arguments for the bursary which was to protect those who spent many years in training from the effects of high interest rates.

However, the Sutton Trust disagree and call for caution because they believe scrapping the NHS bursary may make medicine less accessible for disadvantaged students. Peter Lampl, Founder of the Sutton Trust, stated:  Any change to the NHS bursary should look at the support provided to students across the NHS professions rather than just for medicine…This is to avoid funnelling less well-off young people towards other health professions and away from medicine for financial reasons. We should also ensure that medical students have adequate access to maintenance support to live on, in whichever form that is provided.

Similarly Wonkhe report on the Union position to move away from tuition fees (across all programmes): The Trades Union Congress has carried a motion in favour of campaigning for the abolition of [all] tuition fees, improved pay and conditions in the higher education sector, and the tackling of education “cold spots”. The motion was proposed by the University and College Union (UCU) to the annual congress.

Loneliness

DCMS published an interesting YouGov survey exploring (young) students’ concerns across a range of areas such as friendships and fitting in, cooking and cleaning for themselves and finding housing, homesickness and loneliness, managing money and the difficulty of their course. It shows the range of intensity of concerns in the above areas. Including that 43% of students worry they’ll be judged if they admit feeling lonely.  The factors students found least helpful to alleviate the loneliness were speaking to university staff and online resources. The Government has launched a loneliness awareness campaign but it’s received criticism from some sector members.

Quick student news

Parliamentary Question: The Government has no remit to intervene in the student housing market (re: overseas students).

Parliamentary Question: tackling anti-Semitic and pro-Iranian messaging in universities.

Parliamentary Question: non-continuation of first year students (2015-2019)

Wonkhe blog: universities can do more to address gambling harms

At-risk Academics

Finally there was a Westminster Hall debate on UK support for At-risk Academics who are working overseas. Julian Lewis MP reflected positively on the work of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and noted that CARA fellows had a (recent) 100% visa application success rate. He called on the Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration to continue to support at-risk academics, and on the government to consider a long-term follow-on scheme. Sarah Dines MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Department, responded on behalf of the Immigration Minister noting the benefits at-risk academics bring to the UK and thanked CARA and the wider university sector for their contribution.  Research Professional has a good article on the record numbers of Ukrainian and Russian academics placed through CARA in the last 18 months.

Admissions

Wonkhe report record numbers secured university places through clearing this year despite a dip in overall recruitment:

16,040 UK 18 year olds found a place through Clearing after releasing themselves from a previous choice this year – 32%  (the largest single pool) of all Clearing placements. Today’s figures come as we reach 28 days after A level results day, usually considered the end of the main application cycle.

Overall recruitment is down by just over 5,000 from last year, though this still represents a growth of 12.9% over 2019 – the last year to feature a comparable results profile immediately prior to Covid-19. Similarly, this year saw a slight decline (around 500) in international recruitment beyond the EU, though this was 25% up on 2019. The BBC and The Evening Standard cover the news.

Savanta have stated the dip in top A level grades drove the increased demand for Clearing this year: early data from UCAS suggests that by the day after results day, 10,400 school leavers had been through Clearing to secure a university place (compared to 6,600 placed at the same point last year), with fewer securing their first or second choice university.

Savanta also have a downloadable report for colleagues interested in how universities approached the marketing and comms around Clearing.

Research Professional has an entertaining and useful read, UCAS pocus, on the UCAS data released for this year’s student intake numbers. It begins: Once more, it is time to release the party poppers and streamers over in Cheltenham. The headline comes with more spin than the average washing machine…. The press release goes on to say that “growing numbers of students that have been placed at their firm choice are using clearing to secure a new choice of university. In total, 16,040 UK 18-year-old applicants found a new course after releasing themselves from a previously held choice. This compares to 14,760 in 2022, and 12,170 in 2019.”…That all sounds wonderful until you pause for a moment to reflect that this must surely mean that “record numbers” of students were therefore denied their first-choice institutions or failed to make the necessary grades.

Some 32 per cent declined their original firm choice—this is the largest single pool. Another 30 per cent did not meet the terms of their offer and were released into clearing on results day, while 38 per cent either applied directly into clearing or held no firm choice.

That is, as Ucas acknowledges, an unprecedented use of clearing, which is surely something that cannot be good for either prospective students or university recruitment planners. It all rather raises the question of whether we should now get serious about a post-qualification admissions process.

Access & Participation

Care leavers

Think tank Civitas published Breaking the Care Ceiling: How many care leavers go to university? In 2022 the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care estimated the lifetime cost of poor outcomes for children with experience of our care system was over £1 million per child. The report argues that graduating university turns the poor outcomes around.

Wonkhe have two blogs:

Other news

Other news

BTEC gap: The Protect Student Choice Campaign published Desperate measures: data and the reform of Level 3 qualifications finding that 155,000 young people – 13% of all sixth form students in England – could be left without a suitable study programme from 2026, given the planned reduction in AGQs [applied general qualifications] and slow growth of T levels. See chart below. They also provide examples of when they believe the government has misrepresented data to suggest AGQs such as BTECs perform poorly. You can read their points on the data here.

HTQs: The Government’s policy line has been to grow Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQ) for several years, and it’s a particular passion for current Universities Minister Robert Halfon. If you’re not quite sure what a HTQ is we’ve got an explainer (below) and the Government has released a policy paper providing an overview of how the funding and approval system works for HTQs.

The key information to understand about HTQs is that they are an alternative qualification to apprenticeships and degrees. They are level 4 or 5 qualifications such as HNCs, HNDs and foundation degrees. They bridge the gap between A/T Levels and degrees and are taught at a range of FE, HE and independent providers. The Government plans to expand the range of HTQ courses by 2025 – there’s a list here (scroll down to Available Subjects).

Creative & Arts round up: An interesting Guardian article noting the disappearance of art schools. Wonkhe also had creative content this week: All political parties should commit to a series of measures in support of creative education, a coalition of sector bodies has urged. The Creative Education Coalition – made up of sector bodies including University Alliance, GuildHE and London Higher, as well as institutions and subject groupings – has set out a manifesto with eight “asks” for revitalising creative arts education from school level onwards, including retention of BTEC qualifications in creative areas and an end to “low value” rhetoric around arts subjects and careers. There’s a Wonkhe blog on the topic too: A manifesto for creative education. Finally, AHRC has announced a reduction in the number of PhD students it funds from 425 to around 300 by 2029–30. There will be an increase in “strategic investments that fill specific sector-related gaps,” with a lower number of studentships through its Doctoral Training Partnerships – these will also be funded through a formula approach, rather than competition, in a move designed to reduce administrative burden (Wonkhe).

Commuters: The COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) study published new analysis of their cohort data and report that this year’s university applicants look more likely to stay at home during term time than previous cohorts.

Midwifery educators: Wonkhe – A lack of senior midwifery educators is severely impacting the UK’s ability to recruit more midwives, a new report has found. The State of Midwifery report from the Royal College of Midwifery (RCM) highlights growing numbers of people leaving midwifery education – with poor working conditions and low pay among the main reasons for the resignations. It says the drop off in educators has increased staff-to-student ratios in the UK, and in the 2022-23 academic year there were fewer recruits than previous years. The number of midwifery students leaving their courses before graduating is also rising, with around 15 per cent of students failing to complete their degree in 2021-22. The Belfast Telegraph has the story.

UUK International published Lessons from the UK higher education sector response to the invasion of Ukraine. Full report here, summary here. UUKi introduce the report: the report highlights how the UK sector was mobilised to support universities in Ukraine and sets out ways in which we might better respond to future crises, while recognising that there is no ‘one size fits all’ model. It reflects on the policy, funding and political levers which have enabled a broadbased response and how these need to be considered when formulating a response to emerging crises at individual, institutional and sector levels. The report sets out a framework that institutions might employ to help develop and tailor such responses, providing a practical tool that can help maximise the effectiveness and impact of university action.

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HE policy update – summer catch up September 2023

The best bits from the summer period!

To keep the overall size of this policy update smaller we have included several linked documents to provide further detail on some items. These documents are in pdf format and accessed through a hyperlink in the text. If you would like the original documents (in Word) for accessibility purposes, please email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Parliamentary News: Reshuffle, no kerfuffle

Rishi has reshuffled his Ministers and you can find all the Cabinet members here.  All the junior ministers and their portfolios for both departments are here.

It’s stability in the main for both departments. David Johnston OBE joins the DfE as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (mainly care, SEND and schools focussed but with free speech in education within his brief too), replacing Claire Coutinho, who was promoted). Johnson was previously Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation (a charity which runs a range of programmes that incorporate mentoring, internships, university application support and skills development to help young people from low-income backgrounds enter universities and professions). Johnson has been active in the media on education, generally supportive of technical education, and tweets about social mobility factors a lot.

Labour has reshuffled the Shadow Cabinet appointments – I’ve put all the appointments (both new and those that have remained in post) here. Of most interest are:

  • Matt Western remains as the Shadow Minister for HE
  • Seema Malhotra is appointed as the Shadow Minister for Skills
  • Peter Kyleappointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

Horizon Europe

Finally!!! The Government has announced that the UK has made a deal and will associate with the Horizon Europe and Copernicus programmes through a bespoke agreement with the EU. Researchers can apply for grants and bid to take part in projects under the Horizon programme, as a fully associated member from now until the end of this Horizon programme in 2027. Once adopted, the UK will also be able to join the governance of EU programmes – which the UK has been excluded from over the last three years.

The UK will also associate to Copernicus, the European Earth Observation programme. This will provide the UK’s earth observation sector with access to specialist data, e.g. to help with early flood and fire warnings, and be able to bid for contracts (we’ve been excluded for the last three years).

It may be a case of the devil is in the detail however, the Government’s press release sets out the financial protections that have been agreed for the UK:

  • We will not pay for the time where UK researchers have been excluded from since 2021, with costs starting from January 2024This will also provide breathing space to boost the participation of UK researchers in open calls for grants before we start paying into the programme. [Because it’s expected it’ll take UK researchers some lead time before the UK begins securing a volume of successful bids.]
  • The UK will have a new automatic clawback that protects the UK as participation recovers from the effects of the last two and a half years. It means the UK will be compensated should UK scientists receive significantly less money than the UK puts into the programme. This wasn’t the case under the original terms of association.

UUKI state the agreement must be adopted by the EU-UK Specialised Committee on Union Programmes. They also clarify:

  • UK researchers will be able to carry out European Research Council and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action projects in the UK while retaining their status as ERC or MSCA grantees.
  • UK researchers can once again lead collaborative projects as coordinators.
  • UK research entities will count towards the consortium eligibility requirements as one of the three required partners from EU Member States or Associated Countries (nb. consortia will still need one partner from an EU Member State).

From Minister Donelan’s written statement:

  • From today, UK scientists can bid and participate confidently in the world’s largest programme of research cooperation – alongside their EU, Norwegian, New Zealand and Israeli colleagues – and with countries like Korea and Canada looking to join…UK academics and industry will be able to bid, secure funding for, and, crucially, lead, the vast majority of new calls that will be opening throughout the autumn. UK researchers and businesses can be certain that all successful UK applicants will be covered through the UK’s association for the rest of the programme (or through the remainder of the UK’s Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme as we transition to these new arrangements). All calls in Work Programme 2024 will be covered by association and the UK guarantee scheme will be extended to cover all calls under Work Programme 2023. UK scientists and researchers can lead project consortia under Work Programme 2024 – a key ask of the sector – allowing them to shape the next generation of international collaboration.
  • Under the previous programme the UK established over 200,000 collaborative links, and we will now play a leading role in a range of ground-breaking industry collaborations such as the AI, Data and Robotics Partnership worth over £2 billion, or the Cancer Mission aiming to help more than 3 million people by 2030.
  • Access to Horizon Europe was a top ask of our research community. We have listened to our sector and in this deal delivered collaboration where it is most valuable to UK science. This provides our scientists with a stable base for international collaboration and makes sure we are on track to deliver on the ambition to make the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030.
    Euratom (nuclear) association is out, rumoured because the UK believes we’re further ahead than Europe. Donelan: The UK will not join the Euratom programme. The UK fusion sector has communicated a preference for an alternatives programme that would involve direct investment in the UK sector. We are pleased to announce that we will be doing exactly that. We plan to invest up to £650 million to 2027 in a programme of new, cutting-edge alternative programmes subject to business cases, and will announce further details shortly.

Links: Government press announcement; EU/UK joint statement; FAQs on the deal (provided by EU)

Press: Guardian. Research Professional: charm offensive, plan B still on cards (Minister Freeman), implications for Switzerland. UUK warm welcome

FRAP

The Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP) is gradually wrapping up following the latest publications. The FRAP addressed how research might be measured (and rewarded) in 2028 and proposed a number of changes to the current REF. The reports that informed the planned changes have been released. This Research Professional article is a good quick read, it begins:  we learned what had influenced the thinking behind these changes, with the publication of a summary of stakeholder engagements, an analysis of equality, diversity and inclusion in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework and another analysis, commissioned from the policy-advice group Technopolis, of how much that exercise had cost to run.

  • …the starkest numbers appeared in the examination of costs. It showed that the overall cost for higher education institutions reached £430 million for REF 2021, up from £237m for the 2014 exercise. The four UK national funding bodies spent a further £17m, while the cost to the panels that assessed submissions was £24m.
  • The total average cost for each university or research institute rose from £2m in REF 2014 to £3m in REF 2021, with the average cost per researcher submitted amounting to £6,000—up from £4,000.
  • institutions had also been doing a lot of work that they weren’t asked to do because they wanted to optimise the REF process—hardly surprising…
  • the interesting thing for 2028 is how can we reach a kind of settlement with the sector to say how much of this do we really need to do?”…“And how much can we stand back from in the interests of reducing the burden on everybody?”
  • by removing the association between individual staff and outputs, the changes suggested by the Frap would make a big difference—particularly for institutions without a large infrastructure, such as smaller specialist institutions.
  • Implementing the Frap recommendations is expected to save institutions an estimated £100m and…. the research funders would use the Technopolis report to make calculated reductions in costs.

You can find all the reports here and the stakeholder engagement summary here.
Wonkhe have a blog too: REF is expensive because it’s good value.

Research – Quick news

The Science and Technology Committee published their interim report into the governance of AI: summary here. There’s a world first summit on AI safety to be held 1-2 November. International governments, leading AI companies and experts in research will unite for crucial talks and agree a set of rapid, targeted measures for furthering safety in global AI use. Matt Clifford and Jonathan Black have been appointed as the Prime Minister’s Representatives.

  1. Announcements: UKRI announced the creation of four new research facilities, and a survey has found that “extreme measures” are needed to help some European research infrastructures deal with the “severe” impact of higher energy costs (Research Professional).
  2. Peer Review: Research Professional have an article on UKRI’s Review of Peer Review: UKRI report suggests AI could improve grant reviews.
  3. Overall: UKRI has published its annual report and accounts for financial year 2022–23. The year saw it assess over 22,300 applications for funding, and make 6,118 awards (as well as support 1,897 Horizon Europe Guarantee grants). (Wonkhe.)
  4. QR Funding: Research England has notified institutions that it is “not yet in a position” to confirm quality-related research (QR) funding or Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) allocations for 2023–24, “due to the complete replacement of our analytical system and associated quality-assurance processes.” It plans to publish an overview of its budget later this month, and individual allocations from late summer. (Wonkhe.)
  5. Parliamentary Question: Strengthening UK-Africa science and tech research and partnerships.
  6. Life Sciences sector: OLS, DSIT and DHSC have jointly published the life sciences sector data for 2023 covering the research environment, domestic market, production environment, international collaboration, investment environment, and access to skilled labour. Links:

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: life science ecosystem

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: user guide

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: data tables

Foundation year fee caps & student number controls

Read more about the government’s latest plans to incentivise quality below.  In that context, the outcomes of the first two of the OfS investigations into quality related matters – 2 of the 8 business and management investigations – were reported this week.  The OfS haven’t announced any sanctions yet, but number controls could be in their toolbox.  The VC of London South Bank University (no concerns were found after the investigation) wrote for HEPI about the experience.

Way back (February 2018) PM Theresa May announced a review of post-18 education and funding whereby the Government consulted on HE reform, and the Augar report (2019) resulted. There was a lot of change on the table for consideration and the Government launched further consultation concluding in January 2021 and February 2022. The Government introduced piecemeal changes since the Augar report, most recently laying the legislation for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (implemented from 2025). This Government response document is the latest in these piecemeal changes and continues to focus on changes to ensure high quality HE provision across the sector. The Government states:

We have set out…what more government will do to continue to drive up the quality of higher education. This includes asking the Office for Students (OfS) to use recruitment limits to help drive out provision which is not delivering good student outcomes, a sharp focus on franchising arrangements, and a reduction in the maximum fee and loan limits for classroom-based foundation years. We will also ask the OfS to consider how they can take graduate earnings into account in their quality regime. We know many factors influence graduate earnings – but students have a right to expect that higher education will lead to improved employment opportunities and commensurate earnings… These reforms represent the start, and not the end, of our determination to drive out low-quality provision. We are confident that this will be successful with the support of the sector. The Government has decided not to proceed with a minimum eligibility requirement at this point in time, but if the quality reforms set out here do not result in the improvements we seek, we will consider further action if required.

Student Number Controls: The government believes that as most HEIs charge the maximum fee, combined with no student number controls, it has incentivised providers to expand student numbers on courses that are less expensive to teach, but which may only provide limited benefits to graduates and the wider economy.

There was a consultation on whether to introduce student number controls to prevent ‘the growth of low quality provision’. Instead the Government decided to task (via statutory guidance) the OfS to consider ‘recruitment limits’ for courses not delivering positive outcomes for students – this is already in train because the OfS is already permitted to impose recruitment limits on providers. However, the Government’s newly announced plans concern the OfS’ existing powers and regulatory framework, including the B3 condition of registration on student outcomes (continuation rates, course completion, and graduate progression). Recruitment limits won’t be applied to a course without a prior investigation, and providers will have opportunities to set out contextual information for why a course might not be delivering the student outcomes required by the B3 condition.

The OfS is expected to consider how it can incorporate graduate earnings into its regulatory regime for quality purposes too.

Foundation Year Fee Caps: Foundation years are a route in for students that do not meet the entry requirement for a particular course. However, the Augar report questioned how effective and necessary they were for students. And with the introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement the Government does not want the full lifelong entitlement to be taken by one degree course entered through a foundation year. They have also been vociferous in their questioning of foundation year costs and urged for some time for the fees charged to be lower. Through the document the Government has stipulated the from 2025/26 the maximum fee and loan limit for foundation years will be lowered to £5,760 for classroom-based subjects whilst the maximum fee and loan limits of £9,250 will remain for all other subjects.

Here’s a little more detail:

  • ‘classroom based foundation years provision’ means the subjects currently in OfS Price Group D …the government will issue detailed guidance to the higher education sector on the subjects that the £5,760 fee cap will apply to in due course. While we’re waiting, we do know the challenge is to law, business and management (not tourism, transport or travel), social sciences (not health studies), and humanities (English, historical, philosophical and religious studies (exception is archaeology) including publicity studies. Although it really depends which HECoS code the course falls within as to whether it’s in or out.
  • The Government means business on the foundation year clamp down: We will keep fee and loan limits for foundation years under review, particularly where growth is concerning, and will not hesitate to impose further reductions if necessary. We encourage providers to ensure their business model is not reliant on income from foundation years.

Throughout the Government’s campaign to reduce foundation years undertaken, and reduce their costs where there do continue has been the push back from the access and participation community who state foundation years remove barriers and allow non-traditional or disadvantaged students to enter HE and ultimately achieve a degree.

Finally, other consultation questions covered plans for a new national scholarship scheme and how to grow the provision of high-quality level 4 and 5 courses. The Government document didn’t contain any detail on the scholarship scheme, however, they have confirmed they will not change the maximum fee limits for level 4 and 5 courses from £9,250 at this time.

Students

  • Cost of living: The Commons Library have a briefing on Cost of living support for students
  • Student struggles: The National Union of Students (NUS) Wales has published survey findingswhich show that a quarter of students in post-16 education were unable to find suitable housing last year as rent and bills increased, and 8% had experienced homelessness.

The research on the impact on students of the cost-of-living crisis also found that 1 in 5 students were working more than 20 hours a week alongside their studies, with 64% of those with jobs saying it negatively impacted their students.

Accommodation

PwC and StudentCrowd published Student accommodation: Availability and rental growth trends July 2023 for privately-owned Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) across the UK.

While demand outstripping supply creates an investment opportunity, particularly for private capital, it also represents a challenge for both universities and students. If left unresolved, it is likely to adversely impact affordability of accommodation, the student experience, university reputation and, ultimately, future recruitment of students. With students facing rising costs of living, without a corresponding increase in maintenance loan levels, the cost of accommodation will, for some, become a prohibitive factor in higher education (HE) participation, impacting those from under-represented groups the most.

There are illustrative charts and more detail along with recommendations for colleagues particularly interested in student accommodation – see the full report.

Healthcare students – pay and childcare

There are three petitions currently in front of parliament relating to pay and financial support (childcare) for healthcare students including student midwives, nurses and paramedics. The petitions call for healthcare students to be paid at least minimum wage for their placement hours and for the 30 hours free childcare offer to be extended to the students. Pay and conditions for healthcare students has been a constant rumble in the background since 2017 when the NHS Bursary and free tuition fees were abolished and students were switched. The strong public support shown for the petitions means a debate has been scheduled and a Government representative will be asked to respond to the petitions.

For colleagues who would benefit from dipping into the full history and detail behind healthcare student’s pay and financial support there is an excellent briefing provided in advance of the parliamentary debate.  You can view the petitions here: 610557616557 and 6196409.

Student Loans – what the policy makers are reading

The House of Commons Library has updated their briefing on student loan statistics. The content is the same as we’ve outlined in recent policy updates. However, what is of interest to the sector is that these briefings are how many non-ministerial policy makers obtain their in-depth information on topics (because they don’t have a departmental team briefing them on the topic). The briefings are impartial (i.e. don’t side with one political party over another) but the content the brief focuses on may lead to debate focusing on these topics in the House. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation and the reinforcement of the focus can lead to a self-fulfilling circle – hence why it’s useful for the sector to be aware of the information the parliamentarians are reading.

For more detail and other student loan statistics you can read the full briefing.

Parliamentary Question: The Plan 5 reforms will make the student loan system fairer for taxpayers and fairer for students, helping to keep the system sustainable in the long term.

Other sources on debt: The cost of student loan debt has been picked up again recently by media. The Times and Martin Lewis ran features on whether it’s better (or not) for parents who can afford to pay upfront for university costs rather than burden their children with long term debt. CAPX wants to replace student loans with ISAs. And Wonkhe report on the small but significant number of students…taking out maintenance loans but not fee loans – in 2021–22 this amounted to £281.2m across 51,000 students. Or 6% of full time English undergraduates. This blog explores the group and considers reasons nicely. There’s a data heavy section in the middle, do skip past it if you’re not keen, and read on further through the blog for more context. Here’s a quick summary of the data elements: The providers where maintenance loans outnumber those with fee loans are mostly connected by a strong access and participation role – that and a recent strategic focus on franchise and partnership arrangements. Wonkhe explain: One possible explanation is that students, agents recruiting students, or some providers are taking advantage of the time period between when students are to access and spend the maintenance loan and when they become liable for the fee loan. We don’t know for sure, but it is certainly one possibility that regulators and those responsible for university partnerships may wish to keep in mind.

Graduates – university boost

UUK report that 73% of UK graduates credit going to university with enabling them to find the job they wanted in under 1 year. In addition the report finds that 79% of graduates say going to university enabled them to build skills that have proved professionally valuable, and 71% of first in their family UK graduates said that going to university opened doors to companies for them.

Employment

  • During a cost-of-living-crisis – two-thirds (64%) say that going to university has improved their job security
  • 97% of senior managers polled revealed that graduates reach managerial positions faster, as a result of going to university
  • 73% of business leaders surveyed believe that going to university introduces graduates to peers who can help them build their careers
  • UK graduates see their salary increase by 8.2% on average with their first promotion
  • 61% of business leaders say that going to a UK university puts candidates at an advantage in comparison with other international candidates when applying for a job at their company

Industry knowledge and skills

  • 76% of UK graduates going to university helped to build their self-confidence
  • Over a quarter (28%) of UK graduates first gained employment through a direct connection to their university or degree course

Increasing social mobility

  • Those who were the first in their family to go to university had a slightly higher average starting salary than those who were not the first to attend; £30,111 versus £27,754
  • 51% of business leaders who were the first in their family to go to university said it helped them fast track their career, compared to 46% of business leaders who weren’t

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

  • This new research clearly demonstrates the value that graduates benefit from when they go to university in the UK. The benefits captured by this research are numerous – from job security and career ambitions, to earnings and social mobility. They highlight how highly UK universities are regarded not just by those who attend them, but also by those who hire their graduates and benefit from their skills.
  • It is clear that Universities play a huge role not only in preparing graduates for employment, but also in teaching them crucial, transferable life skills that will serve them throughout their career. Ultimately, what this research demonstrates is that our universities play a powerful role in helping graduates forge successful career paths that can help return the UK economy to growth and continue to power our public services.

LEO

The LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data for 2020-21 has been released. Quick reminder – the LEO data looks at the employment and earnings outcomes of graduates and postgraduates at 1, 3, 5 and 10 years after graduation. One aspect of a university’s performance that the regulator watches with their quality hat on is their graduate outcomes.  If you’re interested in graduate outcomes I’d recommend you engage with the short, simple explanations here and there’s plenty to capture your attention further down the page where you can drill down into charts and summaries by student characteristics such as subject, prior attainment, ethnicity, and disadvantage (POLAR). The provider level data is also well worth a browse through. There’s too much of interest for us to cover it all here so do dive in at source.

What we will mention is where media focussed their attention – on the widening pay gap for graduates previously receiving fee school meals. The data shows that at one, three and five years after graduation, graduates whose families claimed free school meals (FSM) were less likely to be in sustained employment, further study or both than graduates whose families did not claim FSM…and their median earnings were lower – 10% lower at 5 years post-graduation. It continued a trend seen in previous years – that the earnings gap increases as the years after graduation increase. You can see the charts and read more of the detail on the gap here.

If you’d prefer a very quick overall here’s what Wonkhe have to say: This latest iteration of the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset shows that the impact of Covid-19 as measured by subject area and by industrial area varied widely. Overall, the experience was a negative one for graduate and postgraduate earnings – though in most cases these remained relatively stable in real terms. At a subject level, there appeared to be a greater impact by provider in computing, law, and business and management subjects. This year’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data drop refers to the 2020–21 tax year – a period during which you may recall that the global economy was subject to a number of shocks. The fascinating thing about what we see from our heavily-caveated data on graduate salaries is how little impact this appears to have had. In most cases graduates could expect a similar level of pay, in real terms, to every other year LEO covers.

And what they read into the politics: All this prompts us to ask what LEO is really for, and what it really shows us. It’s gone from being a central feature of the government’s armoury of tools to identify and destroy “low-quality” courses – thus driving down the cost of the loan system – to featuring only on the data graveyard that is Discover Uni. Even the people who write those “best course for a big salary” articles rely on aggregated CVs rather than an actual government release. One wonders if Wonkhe will change their opinion on this given the weekend’s announcement on the role of graduate data in student number controls.

Plus a blog: LEO – it promised much, but in regulatory terms has delivered little. David Kernohan wonders what went wrong. And another: however, it does offer a useful corrective to the use of provider- and subject-level outcomes measures.

Note: the LEO data is different to the DfE 2022 Graduate labour market statistics (see Graduate Employability section for coverage of the DfE statistics).

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published an article on the data released exploring the educational attainment of pupils in English towns, using data from the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset. It examines how educational attainment differs by town size, deprivation level and the average qualification levels of residents in the previous generation, using LEO data, and focusses on pupils who sat their GCSEs in the 2012 to 2013 school year. A summary provided by Dods Political Intelligence is available here.

Sharia-compliant student finance

This Parliamentary Library paper on Sharia-compliant alternative student finance is a good catch up on the basics and latest news for the alternative student finance system which the Government plan to introduce from 2025. There haven’t been any further developments since this was announced at the beginning of the summer period.

Students: Quick News

Cost of living: Wonkhe blog –  Eighteen months into the biggest cost of living crisis the UK has seen in decades, Jim Dickinson tries to work out if university advice on the costs that students will face has improved.

Mental Health: Wonkhe – Some 30 per cent of undergraduates starting university this September will have a history of missing education due to their mental health, the Unite Students 2023 Applicant Index suggests, drawing on a survey of 2,141 applicants for 2023–24 entry conducted by Savanta in May (and weighted to be broadly representative of the applicant population as a whole). Of these, 24 per cent have missed 20 days or more due to mental health issues. The survey also found that 18 per cent of applicants with a disability say they have no plans to disclose it to their university.

Harassment: The Women and Equalities select committee report Attitudes towards women and girls in educational settings concluded that sexual harassment and abuse of female students and staff is a serious problem in education. They call on the Government to support the following recommendations for implementation in universities

  • OfS should implement a new condition of registration to place mandatory obligations on universities to tackle sexual harassment and sexual violence
  • Develop a nationwide sexual harassment and sexual violence awareness campaign that particularly targets male university students
  • Compulsory intervention programmes (evidence-based bystander intervention) for all first-year university students

Transport: Parliamentary Question – the cost of public transport on students’ finances and mobility.

Parliamentary Question: Students cost of living (grant question).

Apprenticeship Barriers

The UCAS and Sutton Trust report What influences the choices of would-be apprentices looks at the choices and barriers students face on the journey to an apprenticeship, such as when discovering, applying for and entering a role. Here’s the press release if you prefer the quick read version: Three in five do not pursue apprenticeships because they cannot find one, or here’s an impartial succinct summary of the key points prepared by Dods.

Of note for HE in the report are the recommendations for degree apprenticeships (below) and the recommendation for parity between degrees and apprenticeships (see page 7).

Parliamentary Question: Incentivising universities to provide more higher apprenticeships

Admissions:

The Government responded to the House of Commons Education Committee’s report on The future of post-16 qualifications. Committee report here; Government response here. The Government’s response does not depart from the same party lines you’d expect – rationalising qualifications, the study of maths to age 18, skills bootcamps and is primarily focussed on T levels and apprenticeships. Halfon’s priorities are apparent – HTQs, apprenticeships/skills, and careers advice (especially as relates to T levels).  One concession is that the Government does ‘note’ or acknowledge the Committee’s interest in Baccalaureate models.

We’ve three major data releases included in this policy update. This one is the 2023 cycle application data (at 30 June deadline). The June deadline is when students have to apply for (up to 5) choices of HE provision (and make their conditional firm and back up selection) so this data snapshot provides a good look at the application rates.

We cover the high level data below, but for those who want more interpretation of the implications we recommend reading Research Professional’s (slightly irreverent) Ucas’d a spell on me – What’s the difference between reality and spin in this year’s application data? It begins: It is one of the perennial puzzles of higher education in the UK: why does the university application service Ucas insist on trying to spin good news stories about higher education entry data when the available evidence points to the contrary?

Here’s the top level data:

Note: All data relates to UK applicants unless we specify otherwise.

  • 18-year-old applicant numbers are 319,570; down -2% from 326,190 in 2022, but up on 2021 (311,010, +2.8%).
  • 37,410 18-year-olds from POLAR4 Quintile 1 (i.e. the lowest rate of participation) have applied – this is down from the record of 38,310 in 2022 (-2.3%), but an increase on 2021 when numbers stood at 34,840 (+7.4%).
  • The number of international applicants (all ages) stands at 138,050, up from 134,870 in 2022 (+2.4%), and 130,390 in 2021 (+5.9%). This is driven by interest from India (+ 8.7), the Middle East (+20.8%) and Africa (+3.9%). Meanwhile, applicants from China are down by 2.2% (UCAS says most likely due to Covid-19 restrictions and disruption to learning).
  • The number of UK 18-year-olds applicants who have declared their ethnicity as Asian, Black, Mixed or other has increased by 4.4% – 104,160 in 2023, versus 99,770 in 2022, and 89,560 in 2021 (+16.3%).
  • A total of 1,740 people with predicted T Levels have applied to higher education, up from 490 last year (252%).

Admissions – quick news

  • Parliamentary Question: Foundation Degree enrolments (national data).
  • Clare Marchant reflects on her time as Chief Executive, and the progress UCAS has made in this Research Professional blog.
  • Finally, an entertaining parliamentary question asking reasons for the difference in the number of men and women entering university was answered by Minister Halfon who managed to link together the male gender underrepresentation in HE and the gap in progression rates with prior attainment concluding that universities should have a more direct role in driving up the standards in schools. He even mentions degree apprenticeships and skills related courses and the OfS Equality of Opportunity Risk Register as a key marker for social justice to ensure that no student groups are left behind. So there you go, it’s up to universities to do more to fix the systemic issues behind the lower number of men entering HE provision. One wonders if the staffer who wrote the response to this parliamentary question was after promotion or on a whim to win the office keyword bingo.

International

HEPI published their annual soft-power index (where the world’s countries are headed by someone educated in the UK or another country other than their own). America still leads the field but the UK has taken a step closer to America’s top numbers.

  • In the first year of the Index (2017), there were more world leaders who had been educated in the UK tertiary sector than in any other country, including the US. But the US overtook the UK in 2018 and extended its lead in each of the four subsequent years – in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
  • The new results for 2023 show, in contrast, that the gap between the number of current world leaders educated in the US and the UK has shrunk for the first time since the Index began: compared to last year, there are two more countries with a leader educated in the UK and two fewer countries with a leader educated in the US, reducing the gap by four.
  • There are 195 countries in the world and around one-quarter of them (54 or 28%) have at least one very senior leader who was educated in the US while a similar number (53 or 27%) have at least one very senior leader who was educated in the UK. As there is some overlap, with a handful of leaders being educated in both the UK and the US, the total number of countries with a very senior leader who has been educated at a higher level in the US and / or the UK is 84 (43% of the world’s countries).

Research Professional verge dangerously close to stating that the recruitment of international students for financial sustainability is/will impact on the number of domestic UK students recruited when they report on this Telegraph article and this opinion piece. Read the Squeezed Middle (meaning middle class students are/will be pushed out by international recruitment and outreach targets to recruit disadvantaged students) to see if you agree with the reasoning presented. Of interest is that the number of unplaced applicants (presumably domestic applicants) rose by 46% last year to 20,000 (was 14,000 the previous year), that’s quite a jump.

Quick news from Wonkhe:

Parliamentary Question: Cost of living support for international students.

Access & Participation

The Research Professional article Squeezed Middle may be of interest.

TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education – one of the Government’s what works centres) published a project report – Addressing gaps in the participation of sandwich courses. Project partners were:

  • University of Surrey who focused on the intention to apply for and complete a sandwich course.
  • Nottingham Trent University (NTU) who focused on converting this intention to successful completion of the sandwich course.

Findings – intention to apply and participate

  • There was a perception that disabled students, students from low-income families, and black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students were underrepresented on sandwich courses. However, few providers were able to provide specific statistics about their sandwich course cohorts nor identify whether those taking up sandwich courses were representative of the wider student population.
  • Both staff and students identified several factors that influence a students’ ability to apply to and complete a sandwich course such as a perceived lack of support from providers and challenges associated with travelling considerable distances for a work placement.
  • Staff referenced a variety of activities, some of which had already been implemented, to remove the barriers (financial and otherwise) that WP students experience when accessing sandwich courses, such as students attending a budgeting meeting to ensure they would be able to cope financially.
  • There was a consensus from both staff and students that participating in a sandwich course had a positive influence on employment outcomes for students.

Findings – successful completion of sandwich course

  • Students, employers and staff identified confidence and resilience as important for helping students navigate challenges that arise throughout the process of applying to, securing and completing a sandwich course.
  • They also reported that biases remain against students from disadvantaged backgrounds that can influence their experiences of navigating the process of applying to and securing a placement as part of their course.
  • A lack of placement opportunities, and lack of opportunities in geographically convenient areas, were identified by students as a factor in whether they could secure a placement.
  • The requirement for money and resources was also reported as a challenge for their participation in the course.

Recommendations for HE providers:

  • Develop Enhanced Theories of Change (ToCs) to plan, and rigorously evaluate, the impact of support for WP students accessing sandwich courses.
  • Make more use of their institutional data and administrative datasets, such as the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset, to track students into the labour market and evaluate employment outcomes.
  • Consider implementing specific support on student finances for learners intending to take part in a sandwich course.
  • Provide comprehensive and tailored support to WP students considering a sandwich course, as well as those who have already enrolled in the course, at multiple points to ensure students are supported to start and complete the course.
  • Take a strategic approach to employability support, developing and evaluating programmes specifically designed for disadvantaged students in order to address the gaps between more and less advantaged students.

High potential students

The Sutton Trust published: Stories from the Class of 2023 – Education experiences of high potential students from different backgrounds as part of its new Social Mobility: The Next Generation series. The report sets out key differences and similarities between high attainers from different socio-economic backgrounds:

Differences

  • Overall, the major areas in which socio-economic background drove differences in young people’s experiences were the quality of and access to education. Quality was defined by staff turnover, lack of teachers and generally poor quality of (online) teaching, whereas access to education was limited or enabled on the basis of technological access.
  • Socio-economic background also informed differences in the role and level of engagement of parents.
  • Differences in socio-economic backgrounds were also associated with a varying consistency of motivation and the varying degree in the perceived importance of hard work.
  • Experiences of the COVID pandemic were mainly shaped by the quality of and access to education, as well as differences between state and private education.

 Similarities

  • Regardless of socio-economic background, young high attainers also shared similarities such as the importance of relationships with parents, teachers and friends as well as an intrinsic motivation to perform well at school.
  • They also shared the importance of disruptive life events such as COVID-19 or experiences of bullying and its detrimental effect on motivation, mental health & wellbeing.
  • Inequalities stemming from (mental) health, sexuality, gender or race could be intertwined or go across socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Across socio-economic backgrounds, high attainers were guided by their personal interests in their future plans.

Recommendations include a national strategy to close the attainment gaps that have opened since the pandemic, reform of school admissions for a better socio-economic mix of pupils across schools (those who attend more socially mixed schools progress more at GCSE), universities to recognise the disruption faced by students and support their transition and success (universities to identify key gaps in learning at an early stage in the first term, and provide continuing support if necessary, as well as support for student mental health and wellbeing).

There’s a short blog on the report if you don’t fancy reading the full content.

Place, Privilege and Prestige

HE Minister Halfon spoke at the NEON Summer Symposium. The key element of his speech focussed on social justice, structured around his three ‘P’s of Place, Privilege and Prestige. His passion topics of skills, FE, apprenticeships and careers advice were all explored in the speech.

As far as I am concerned, social justice is fundamental to higher education. Universities should exist to facilitate the studies, progression and graduation of all students – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds – so they can go on to get good jobs and pursue worthwhile careers.

On Privilege:  the Office for Students recently launched the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register, with 12 key risks to equality of opportunity across the student lifecycle. These have used evidence to determine where interventions can really move the dial on social justice. They’ll be an important tool for designing future initiatives to broaden access to HE, and I look forward to providers rewriting their upcoming Access and Participation plans to incorporate them.

On Prestige:

  • I want technical education and training routes to have parity of prestige with academic routes…For students to be excited at the prospect of learning a real technical skill that can get them a job. And for teachers to value pupils’ success equally, whether they accomplish a T Level or three A levels.
  • I really believe degree apprenticeships can bridge this gap in a way that other initiatives haven’t managed…HE needs to allow FE to leverage some of its prestige. At this point Halfon announced a bidding process for universities on degree apprenticeships to come later in the year (through OfS). He continued:
  • I also want to end the perception that FE colleges are somehow second-rate institutions. And that to finally emerge from the shadow of academia, there must be a ‘Skills Oxbridge’ we can point to. I have great respect for the academic excellence of Oxford and Cambridge, but we need to stop using them as a benchmark for everything else.

You can read the official (as written, not necessarily exactly as Halfon delivered it) speech here.

However, NEON report that the audience was unimpressed and even angered by Halfon’s speech. One attendee, Jessica Newton, felt compelled to blog and give voice to her frustrations. Excerpts:

  • Was it the halls of residence pillow causing a twinge in my neck or was it the physical cringe when he was so unaware of his contradicting messages when addressing his already unimpressed audience? His feeble attempt to be one of the people ‘I too come from a working-class background’ was instantly discredited when he followed that by ‘but I went to an independent school’ and ‘my father gave me no choice but to go to university’. The lack of awareness that it is the independent schools and the encouraging parents that elevate one student above another almost sent my neck into spasm.
  • How dare Robert Halfon sit there and express how joyous his time at university was and how free he felt and then explain that for the disadvantaged students there’s some really incredible vocational choices out there for them. How dare Robert Halfon say how free he felt at university when I speak to 13-year-olds that are making plans for their future so they can financially support the rest of their family. How dare Robert Halfon say how free he felt free at university and have the severe lack of awareness young people are raised with no safety net, there is simply no room for feeling free.
  • …How dare Robert Halfon have his moment in the spotlight and have the ‘best time of his life’ but expect the working-class, unrepresented future generations [to] spend their career only ever behind the curtain.

Widening Participation

The DfE published the 2021/22 widening participation in HE statistics. The statistics explore young progression to HE study by a range of student characteristics such as free school meals, ethnicity,

Parliamentary Question: Accreditation scheme for universities to demonstrate the gold standard in the care leaver provision.

Blogs: Wonkhe – To meet legal responsibilities to disabled students, the sector must address the overwhelming workloads of disability services staff, says Hannah Borkin.

Lifelong Learning Bill

The House of Lords debated the Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill. Despite the vigorous debate no changes prevailed as all amendments were either withdrawn or not moved. Baroness Barran as Minister for the School System and Student Finance was able to bat away most of the opposition. She emphasised that the policies behind the Bill had been designed in consultation with relevant HE sector stakeholders and there would be further consultation to come.

The Government intend to set most of the detail of the Bill through secondary legislation. In essence this means that Parliament passes the Bill so it becomes an Act. Then the Government backfill the nitty gritty detail which sets out the operation and how things run. The positive of secondary legislation is that it can flex with the times – fee limits can be raised, new clauses can be brought in to respond to the unexpected and keep the sector functioning well and responding to change. The negative is that it hands full power to the Government of the time to set these items with very little parliamentary scrutiny or power to change the Government’s will – it could result in a bad deal for the HE sector being forced through. In practice, while the Bill is passing it means that Parliamentarians, and the Bill is currently with the House of Lords, can raise objections and call for certain things to be changed and the Government’s representative can simply provide reassurances without conceding or changing the wording of the Bill. Likely the Government will listen to the amendments and speeches made and may make concessions or adapt to points raised through the secondary legislation (as suits their policy ideals). But there is no guarantee of this. There is little detail for the Lords (who now have a very well informed, experienced and powerful HE faction, with several ex-Universities Ministers) to take a stand on and force a change. Meaning the Bill may pass quite quickly as it is so bland. Short of the unexpected this Bill will become law before the next general election (and is planned to be implemented in 2025).

Distance learning fees: the Government have no intention of differentiating fee limits between distance and in-person learning under the LLE. The per-credit fee limits will be the same for full-time, part-time, face-to-face and distance learning…Distance learning courses will remain in scope for tuition fee loan support under the LLE.

Distance maintenance: The Baroness stood firm against calls for maintenance support for distance learners although will continue current arrangements for distance learners with a disability to qualify for maintenance loans and disabled students’ allowance. The disabled students’ allowance will be extended to all designated courses and modules.

More reading:

Free Speech Act

This parliamentary question reveals there is still no set date for the free speech Act to come into play:  The timeline will involve working in collaboration with the OfS on the creation of new registration conditions and a complaints scheme dedicated to handling freedom of speech complaints, which will be operated by the OfS. The OfS will also develop guidance on how to comply with these duties, in consultation with providers, constituent institutions and students’ unions.  Another related parliamentary question asks whether freedom of speech in the UK includes the right to criticise ideas around gender identity. Answer – it’s defined in case law and in the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 and the Government has no plans to outline the specific content of freedom of speech on an issue-by-issue basis.

Russell Group Yardstick

Finally, Wonkhe report: At the House of Lords Education for 11–16 Year Olds Committee yesterday, schools minister Nick Gibb was on the end of a grilling from committee chair Lord Johnson of Marylebone over the Department for Education’s use of Russell Group entry rates as a performance indicator for schools in England. The former universities minister suggested that the government was “fixated” on the Russell Group and disincentivising schools from sending students to other universities. Gibb replied that the term “high tariff” could have been used instead. You can watch the session back online.

HEPI

HEPI celebrated their 20th Birthday by releasing UK higher education – policy, practice and debate during HEPI’s first 20 years. Fifteen contributors cover a wide range of HE policy matters including governance, research, student learning, funding and finances, and the relationship between HE providers and Government. One thing HEPI haven’t learnt in 20 years is that not many people enjoy the thought of reading a 184 page document, so do use the contents page to jump to the section you’re most interested in.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. There isn’t much of interest at present but things will pick up over the autumn period. You can email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you spot a consultation or inquiry that you’d like to contribute to.

Other news

Turing: The House of Commons Library has a comprehensive briefing on the Turing scheme which funds international study and work placements. At 51 pages it’s a bit long but there is a useful 2 minute read summary here.

Cyber employment: DSIT published Cyber security skills in the UK labour market 2023. It sets out the skills needs and job vacancies across the UK cyber security sector.

Findings:

  • 50% of all UK businesses have a basic cyber security skills gap, while 33% have an advanced cyber security skills gap. These figures are similar to 2022 and 2021.
  • There were 160,035 cyber security job postings in the last year. This is an increase of 30% on the previous year. 37% of vacancies were reported as hard-to-fill (down from 44% in 2022, but same as 2021).
  • Only 17% of the cyber sector workforce is female (down from 22% last year, but similar to 2021 and 2020) and 14% of senior roles are filled by women.
  • There is an estimated shortfall of 11,200 people to meet the demand of the cyber workforce (down from 14,100 last year, largely due to slower growth of the sector).

DAPs: The OfS has published new operational guidance for providers to apply for (or vary existing) degree awarding powers (DAPs). The OfS’ powers mean they can authorise HEIs to grant different types of degrees, including:

  • foundation degrees only (up to and including Level 5 qualifications)
  • awards up to, and including, bachelors’ degrees (up to and including Level 6)
  • all taught awards (up to and including Level 7)
  • research awards (research masters’ degrees at Level 7 and doctoral degrees at Level 8).

Full details here.

Digital Education ID: The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change published The Future of Learning: Delivering Tech-Enabled Quality Education for Britain. There are a number of recommendations mainly aimed at schools. Of interest is their recommendation to introduce a digital learner ID for every pupil that would:

  • contain all educational information, including formal test results, attendance records, week-by-week assessments, marked homework, records of non-academic achievement and more;
  • become a hub of digital learning, connecting learners with apps to supplement traditional teaching;
  • give pupils and parents control of their data and provide them with useful insights from the information, such as suggestions for further study or employment opportunities, or assistance in the selection of schools or nurseries.

A digital ID implemented as described may have implications for the HE admissions system and for student data interface, particularly as the expectation would be to continue this regular feedback model direct to the student throughout their HE study.

Parliamentary Question: Evaluating the interventions aimed at increasing boys’ learning in educational settings.

HE Net Zero: Wonkhe – Achieving a net zero higher education sector will cost £37.1bn based on current decarbonisation costs, according to a report from the Association of Higher Education Directors of Estates, the British Universities Finance Directors Group and the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education. A “cost of net zero calculator” has also been released, designed to allow individual institutions to estimate the financial resources required to reach net zero. Also from UKRI:

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HE policy update for the w/e 2nd June 2023

This is your half term catch up policy update.

Regulatory

OfS: Freedom of Speech

Following the passage of the new law, the OfS has announced the appointment of Professor Arif Ahmed as the first Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom.  Professor Ahmed chose the Times to write about his appointment, so we turn to Wonkhe for a perspective.  For Wonkhe, Jim Dickinson focuses on the potential conflicts and challenges with balancing free speech and academic freedom with equality rights, and as an example, highlights Professor Ahmed’s previously stated position on the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which conflicts with the government’s position (and specifically the position of the current Secretary of State for  Education).  You will recall Michelle Donelan getting herself in a muddle over this issue too.   It’s going to be interesting to watch this unfold.  As Jane learned a long time ago, hard cases make bad law…and it seems a lot of the cases are going to be hard.

The work of the OfS: Minister Halfon examined

The Lords Industry and Regulators Committee conducted it’s final session examining the work of the OfS by interviewing FE and HE Minister Robert Halfon alongside Anne Spinali, Director of Higher Education Reform and Funding at the DfE. Alongside the probe into the OfS the session is useful to highlight the latest ministerial thinking on the key issues facing the sector today.

HE Financial health

The Chair opened the session by highlighting the concerns the HE sector had reported over financial sustainability, loss of Horizon funding, dependency on international students and how these combine to create other vulnerabilities. Halfon listed the various income sources of HE institutions (e.g. tuition fees, other income, research grants, funding body grants, investment, donations and endowment) highlighting that universities get up to just under £40 billion…among 400 registered institutions. That is not a small sum of money…We also know that 75% of universities are in good financial condition. The question I would ask…is why the vast majority of universities are able to be in good financial health while a few are not… Later in the session he implied this is due to the management and leadership of these particular institutions.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges of Covid, the cost of living, energy bills and so on, on the whole, given the current context that we are in, HE—higher education—is not doing too badly financially. If you…look at the funding that HE has got compared to the funding that further education has got over the last few years, there is no comparison. Halfon also confirmed he thinks the OfS’ risk based approach to monitoring is the right approach and he continued his predecessor’s party line that The priority of the Government when it comes to financial difficulties at universities must be to look after the students. That is where I believe a government intervention would be, if there was severe financial difficulty for a particular higher education institution, to make sure that they had a provider to go to. Halfon also reminded the Committee that during Covid there was precedent through the HE restructuring fund. However, he also implied he didn’t subscribe to the concept that some universities were too big to fail and that he, personally, preferred mobile, agile universities.

Anne Spinali noted that some universities with financial concerns approached the DfE before they took the matter up with the OfS.

Financial sustainability came up time and again throughout the session, however, Halfon held firm that he thinks the sector is in a good position, even if time lags may be masking how many will become unsustainable in the medium term:

  • Given the current circumstances, given that universities get £40 billion from a variety of sources, given that 75% of them have a surplus and given everything else that is going on in the economy and the public sector, HE is in a fairly strong position compared with other parts of the public sector.
  • I will always welcome and champion more resources for HE and FE, of course, but I want more funding for skills… I want to ask, “What’s the best way to ensure that we have more qualified people who get good, skilled jobs at the end of their education?” That is the way I look at it. I look at it not as “university, university, university” but as “skills, skills, skills”.

On the freezing of tuition fees (and real terms decrease in their value): …if the economy improves, we get back into surplus again, we get rid of our deficit, we get down the £2 trillion debt and we pay back the £400 billion that we spent during Covid, maybe…we will have more money and will be able to increase tuition fees. However, I am not an advocate of increasing tuition fees. It would hit the student, importantly, at a time when things are very difficult. That does not mean that they are never going to go up but the approach of the Government has been the right one.

International Students  – a conflicting view?

Halfon stated he is very supportive of international students. I think that they are a good thing…my wife was an international student. Halfon spoke of the benefits international students bring aside from finance they are examples of soft power as well as being worth 25 billion quid to our economy…I do not see having too many international students as a risk.

Halfon also stated he does not believe there is a dependency on international students and that their numbers will not decline:

  • Given that 76% of students are domestic, I do not necessarily think that it is the problem that some people view it as…I do not see this as a problem in the way that may be felt by yourself. It is a good thing, especially given the current financial context we are in.. It is worth £25 billion; the ambition is that it will be worth £35 billion by 2030. That is very significant. If you look at the cost benefit of those international students, it outweighs the issues you may raise, such as that we have an unsustainable model.
  • We also have a cost of living crisis. The last thing I can do is go and tell students that we are going to raise their tuition fees. I feel a lot of pressure in the House of Commons from Members on all sides about why we did not raise the maintenance grant or maintenance loan higher than we did… Nevertheless, you have to be fair to students and to the taxpayer.
  • Given the financial situation that we are in, if universities are getting cross-subsidisation from international students, that is not a bad thing. I agree with you that it is dangerous to rely on one or two countries. We are doing a lot of work on diversification there… I worry about dependency on one or two countries. A lot more work needs to be done.

Halfon reveals his preferred vision for future HE institutions

  • The underlying part of your question is perhaps not even about the loan system but about whether the funding of universities and their business model should be done differently. That may be right. It requires a lot of thinking and work to see whether the current system is sustainable…
  • …my dream university of the future is the Dyson Institute. The reason for that is that it has a business on-site. It does research. It does vocational degree apprenticeships. The people who complete them get jobs in Dyson afterwards. It is very agile; I would like to see a lot more of that. That is a sustainable model for the future. I also want to do more to encourage degree apprenticeships because, again, you then avoid the whole issue of tuition fees.
  • …my dream would be to have 50% of our students doing degree apprenticeships one day. They help the disadvantaged. They build our skills base. They guarantee jobs for people who complete them. Now, we have Russell group universities as well as traditional vocational universities doing them.
  • It is not just for STEM, by the way. You could have one easily in the creative industries. You could have the British Museum doing the same thing, for example, where people can study archaeology or curating or whatever it may be. If I was thinking of universities in the 21st century, it would be more on that model.
  • …the [Halfon’s] vision is clear: it is jobs, skills and social justice. It does what it says on the tin. In my view, apart from the stuff that it does brilliantly already—research, et cetera—the engine of HE should be geared towards those purposes. That is the strategy of the Government.

Regulatory burden

Anne Spinali: There is a difference between institutional autonomy being impinged and regulatory burden…Both the OfS and the department are absolutely clear that institutional autonomy is paramount. Whether the regulatory burden is proportionate is a question for the OfS. It has recognised that it could do more to tackle this and is actively looking at areas where it could reduce its regulatory activity by taking a more risk-based approach. Halfon felt the OfS regulatory requirements were not onerous for a university, but, that universities also fall under the regulation of a range of institutions are regulated by a range of organisations (page 16) whereas Halfon would prefer a more streamlined model. However, Halfon did express disapproval at the OfS digital uploading system: I definitely think that that has to go. On minimising regulatory burden we also heard that the Government are considering a third category of registration for the lifelong loan entitlement which draws on existing material to reduce the regulatory burden.

Halfon: In my view, it [OfS] should be there partially to protect the autonomy of universities. The Government do not always get their way. They [OfS] are perfectly able to refuse to adopt the guidance that we suggest.

Sector relations with OfS: In response to Lord Reay’s question of whether the OfS was distant and often combative and the HE relationship characterised by a lack of trust Halfon stated: there needs to be much more informal engagement between the OfS and HE because, in my six months in the job, that has come up time and again. That would be beneficial. To be fair to the OfS, it does a lot of round tables and a lot of events with universities. It is not perfect but, inevitably, you are going to have some difficulties because of what the OfS is tasked to do.

Value for money: Halfon – I have a really firm view: in terms of HE and value for money, it must be about outcomes and jobs with good skills and progression. Otherwise, if you do not achieve what you should afterwards, what is the point of spending all that time at university and taking out the loan? Halfon also mentioned transparency with fees and ensuring students understand what they are getting for their money on application, including in person teaching.

OfS fees: Halfon refused to be drawn on the 13% OfS fee increase. He stated OfS reduced their fees in 2021-22 but they are inevitably going to have to go up because of the QAA coming in but we are consulting with government and the OfS… We will make an announcement on it in the very near future.

The announcement came shortly after the session – we’ve covered it here.

Robert Halfon has also written to the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee giving further background and justification for Tuesday’s announcement of a sizable increase to OfS registration fees for 2023–24.

We also learnt, from Anne Spinali, that the DfE has quarterly discussions with the OfS on its efficiency, its spend and how it is discharging its responsibilities with regard to the spend. The economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the way in which it discharges its responsibilities, and what it does with its £26 million of fees, are monitored really actively. It is robustly challenged on resources associated with activities. It is a difficult challenge and discussion sometimes in terms of the level of resources needed to carry out the whole breadth of activities that the OfS has to carry out.

For more detail see the – Transcript, watch the session on Parliament TV or review the inquiry information.

Financial sustainability (OfS)

The OfS published their annual financial sustainability report updating on the financial health of the HE sector. If finds that university finances are generally in good order but that there are growing risks to the sector’s finances such as the over-reliance on international student recruitment, sustainability of pension schemes, investment in facilities and environmental policies and inflationary pressures. Belying this headline statement, however, is a more mixed picture of the financial performance of different universities. The OfS also wrote to 23 HEIs who have high student recruitment from China urging them to have contingency plans in place in case recruitment patterns change and there is a sudden drop in income from overseas students.

  • Income – sector growth across the next three years (£40.8 billion in 2021-22 to £50.1 billion forecast in 2025-26).
  • Improved cash flow and surplus, but the sector is forecasting a decline in financial performance and strength in 2022-23, with costs increasing at a faster rate than income and a significant dip in the income and expenditure surplus.
  • In 2021-22 total HE course fees and education contracts were reported at £22.5 billion (+8.8%). Fee income is forecast to increase to £29.3 billion by 2025-26, with a 17.5% forecast rise in student numbers between 2021-22 and 2025-26 across all levels of study. However, this trend varies significantly between different universities and colleges.
  • Total non-EU (overseas) tuition fee income was reported at £7.8 billion in 2021-22 (+25%). This is consistent with strong growth in overseas fees in recent years. Non-EU fee income as a proportion of total income is forecast to increase from 19.3% in 2021-22 to 24% in 2025-26, which the report states highlights the sector’s increasing reliance on fees income from non-EU students to sustain their activities.
  • Overall cash flow and short-term investments are reported as £16.6 billion for 2021-22 (+10% on 2020-21).

The key risks are:

  • impact of inflation on costs and challenges in growing income to meet increasing costs
  • increasing reliance on fees from overseas students in some higher education provider’s business plans, especially students from China or any individual country
  • challenges in meeting investment needs for facilities and environmental policies.

And it’s not all about China, the OfS says:

 … Teaching-intensive providers can be particularly reliant on tuition fees from students. In recent years, many have successfully increased their recruitment of overseas students, particularly from India and Nigeria, onto postgraduate and undergraduate courses. These providers also face significant staff and pensions costs. In the event of a reduction in the total numbers of students coming to the UK from China, it may be that research-intensive providers are able to attract UK and international students away from teaching-intensive providers

In response to these risks and financial pressures the OfS says they anticipate providers may adopt certain behaviours (which they’ll be keeping an eye on if the impact on student choice and experience):

  • closing courses which are less financially sustainable
  • rebalancing recruitment from UK students to overseas students
  • reducing research activity where funding may not cover the full cost of research
  • pursuing strategic mergers and/or collaborations or sharing resources and centralising costs
  • changes to course delivery models – including standardisation in academic subjects, more online and distance learning
  • increases in specialisation – we may see a concentration of more providers with academic specialisms or niches, with the aim of reducing competition risks.
  • Seeking to diversify commercial income streams – from activity that is not teaching or research
  • reducing the size and complexity of estates

Susan Lapworth, OfS chief executive, said: Universities and colleges have weathered storms over recent years, and most remain in good financial health. This new analysis shows that they are confident that income and student numbers will continue to grow. However, cost pressures are having a substantial impact, with an expected reduction in financial performance across the sector in the short-term…‘For a small number of institutions the financial picture is of particular concern and we will continue to focus our attention on those cases. But all institutions will continue to face financial challenges, with a number of risks present at the same time for many.

…we continue to have concerns that some universities have become too reliant on fee income from international students, with students from one country sometimes a significant part of the financial model.

You may also be interested in this Research Professional article: A fine balance.

More coverage in: The Guardiani News, and Wonkhe.

OfS Registration Fee hike

The Government has supported (and legislated for) an 18%[1] fee hike that universities will pay the OfS to maintain their registration as a provider of HE. Many institutions will now pay £170,344 each year and the largest universities will pay £214,485. Across all providers it will generate £4.96 million for the OfS. Universities Minister wrote to the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee (who are running an inquiry into the work of the OfS) to justify the increase. His justifications stated the OfS will be undertaking significant and important new work, including:

  • The implementation of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023, to ensure that freedom of speech is protected and promoted within higher education (guidance, consultation on complaints scheme, developing new registration conditions and making changes to the regulatory framework)
  • Following the de-designation of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) as the designated quality body under HERA, the OfS has taken on functions relating to the assessment of quality and standards. his fee increase will enable the OfS to fund the infrastructure costs associated with the performance of these assessment functions
  • Preparing for the implementation of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement

Halfon stated: I want to assure you that the government has not taken this decision lightly. I understand the financial pressure the sector is currently facing. As a result, my Department will be providing £1.5 million of additional funding to the OfS this year, to help cover its costs and prevent these from being passed on to the sector in full. Earlier he reminded that the OfS has not had a registration fee increase since 2018, when it was set up, and delivered a 3% reduction in 2021.

Wonkhe say:

  • For a sector facing a real terms freeze in fee income it does feel a little tone deaf to be seeking an increase substantially above the rate of inflation. 
  • To a sector struggling with soaring inflation, rising costs, and income streams that are at best stable this will be a difficult pill to swallow. 
  • There were always limitations to farming the cost of regulation to providers that receive large amounts of their funding from the public purse – it is an inefficient model and one that has never met the running costs of the OfS. Announcing this in the current financial climate pours petrol onto the already flammable state of relations between the regulator and the sector it manages.

Once it’s published we’ll scour the Lords Committee report to see what their reaction to the fee hike is.

[1] Percentage rise in fees: Wonkhe modelling shows 18%, Halfon’s letter states 0-12% per provider

Graduate outcomes

HESA have published the Graduate Outcomes data for students who graduated in 2020/21. The headline is positive on full time employment (up 4%).

Of course, as we know, the OfS metric is “highly skilled employment and further study” – we will have to wait a bit longer for that analysis.  Wonkhe have an article on why comparability of data on employment outcomes is a real issue.

International

International Students: Economic benefits

HEPI and partners published the third iteration of The benefits and costs of international higher education students to the UK economy. The research sought to quantify the economic benefits – less any costs – of international students and family members living and studying in the UK. The report demonstrates growth in the financial worth of international students.

The modelling includes tuition fee income, living expenditure, and indirect income from family and friends visiting the UK – tax revenue, longer-term investment, soft power, and cultural value are not included in the analysis.

  • 4 in 10 first year students in London are international
  • Some areas benefit more financially from international students, outside of London this includes Glasgow, Nottingham and Newcastle.
  • On average, each parliamentary constituency in the UK is £58 million better off because of international students – equivalent to approximately £560 per citizen.
  • Even when accounting for dependants and other costs, international students are a huge net contributor to the UK economy. Every 11 non-EU students generates £1 million worth of net economic impact for the UK economy.
  • The estimated total benefit to the UK economy from 2021/22 first-year international students over the duration of their studies was approximately £41.9bn, while the estimated total costs were £4.4bn. This implies a benefit-to-cost ratio of 9.4.
  • The net economic impact per student was estimated to be £125,000 per EU domiciled student, and £96,000 per non-EU student. In other words, every 9 EU students and every 11 non-EU students generate £1m worth of net economic impact for the UK economy over the duration of their studies.
  • Reflecting the 40% increase in the number of international students between 2018/19 and 2021/22, the net economic impact has increased from £28.2bn for the 2018/19 cohort to £37.4bn for the 2021/22 cohort (a 33% increase in real terms). The impact has also increased by 58% in real terms since 2015/16 (from £23.6bn in 2015/16 to £37.4bn in 2021/22).

The Russell Group published their response to the report.

HEPI also have some short commentary setting out the policy position on each of the areas of contention for international students.

Growth in international student recruitment:

  • The UK is an attractive destination for international students because of the global recognition of UK qualifications, teaching in English, and our one-year Masters courses are particularly popular.
  • Between 2010 and 2016, there was no growth in international student numbers, as Home Office policies worked to limit incoming students.
  • In 2019, the Government launched the International Education Strategy with a national target to increase the number of international students in the UK. The target was exceed well ahead of the deadline.

Post-study work visas: Post-study work rights were introduced in Scotland in 2005, adopted UK-wide in 2008, abolished in 2012, reintroduced in 2021, and the certainty of their future is…well…uncertain. HEPI write: post-study work rights affect the pipeline of talent flowing into the UK as well as the ability of employers to find and recruit the high-level and niche skills they so desperately need.

Diversifying student cohorts: institutions have been expected to widen their geographical base beyond China and East Asia…institutions have sought to broaden their intakes by recruiting more international students from other parts of the world, especially India and Nigeria. Yet the response of policymakers to this shift has not always been positive, for example because students from these regions are typically older and have a higher likelihood of bringing dependants with them.

International Students: Dependants’ visas

It was been trailed for weeks and finally we’ve had the official announcement that taught postgraduate students will not be permitted to bring their dependants into the country. This decision is part of Home Secretary, Suella Braverman’s, measures to reduce net migration. Here are all the measure in brief:

  • Removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes.
  • Removing the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed.
  • Reviewing the maintenance requirements for students and dependants.
  • Steps to clamp down on unscrupulous education agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration not education.
  • Better communicating immigration rules to the higher education sector and to international students.
  • Improved and more targeted enforcement activity.

The restrictions commence in January 2024, impacting the January starters in the 2023/24 academic year.

Braverman stated:

  • Around 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022, a more than eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019, when the Government’s commitment to lower net migration was made
  • We are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK. Therefore, our intention is to work with universities over the course of the next year to design an alternative approach that ensures that the best and the brightest students can bring dependants to our world leading universities, while continuing to reduce net migration. We will bring in this system as soon as possible, after thorough consultation with the sector and key stakeholders.
  • This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK. Now is the time for us to make these changes to ensure an impact on net migration as soon as possible. We expect this package to have a tangible impact on net migration. Taken together with the easing of temporary factors, we expect net migration to fall to pre-pandemic levels in the medium term.
  • …The Government will seek to continue to strike the balance between reducing overall net migration with ensuring that businesses have the skills they need and we continue to support economic growth. Those affected by this package will predominantly be dependants of students who make a more limited contribution to the economy than students… 

Read more: The BBC have coverage of the announcement, Wonkhe have a blog: everything we know about the new plans, i News has an opinion piece and there’s are parliamentary questions – Overseas student visas and adequacy of support for families moving on a student visa.

Research Professional cover the latest Transparent Approach to Costing (Trac) statistics which they state reveal just how reliant higher education institutions are on fees from overseas students in Deficits grow for research and teaching home students. Wonkhe cover the same topic with a different take: David Kernohan is depressed by how little we know about how much it costs universities to provide higher education.  Also, an interesting exchange on the topic during Urgent Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Do give it a read if you’re interested in this area.

More broadly on international student benefits is this Wonkhe blog: International and transnational education bring cultural, economic, and reputational benefits to the UK. University of London vice chancellor Wendy Thomson asks why the government isn’t over the moon.

Finally, the Government has now published the latest migration figures for the year ending March 2023. Total long-term immigration to the UK was around 1.2 million in 2022, and emigration was 557,000, so net migration settled at 606,000 (source). There is quite a lot of information of interest relating to students spread across multiple sources so we’ve popped it into this separate document. It covers the facts on study visas, extensions of temporary stay, and the migrant journey (who arrives, how long they stay, and when they leave). Enjoy!

International: Confucius Institutes

If you followed Rishi’s leadership campaign with an avid eye you’ll have spotted he committed to closing the 30 Chinese state-sponsored Confucius Institutes across the UK. However, the Government have U-turned stating it would be “disproportionate” to ban the institutes. Some Conservative Members have been outspoken in their disapproval of the U turn.

Dods report that Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns hit out in response to the news arguing that powers established recently under the new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 “must be deployed if evidence of free speech stifled by CCP indoctrinators on our campuses.”

The BBC have a write up, including this from the Government:

  • We recognise concerns about overseas interference in our higher education sector, including through Confucius Institutes, and regularly assess the risks facing academia.
  • We are taking action to remove any government funding from Confucius Institutes in the UK, but currently judge that it would be disproportionate to ban them.
  • Like any international body operating in the UK, Confucius Institutes need to operate transparently and within the law, and with a full commitment to our values of openness and freedom of expression.

As we mentioned earlier, this week the OfS wrote to 30 UK HE providers regarding their high recruitment levels of Chinese students. The letter advised contingency planning should a drop in income occur suddenly. Also, the OfS published their annual financial sustainability report (we’ve explored it here.)

Research

Health Security: The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) published a 10-year strategy detailing how science can save more lives and contribute to the UK’s ambition to be a global science superpower. It highlights how UKHSA’s scientific capabilities (including genomics, vaccine evaluation, surveillance, data science, diagnostics and toxicology) will be deployed to prepare for future health security hazards, respond to current threats, protect livelihoods and build the UK’s health security capacity. More here. UKHSA have stated they are actively seeking partners across government, industry and academia in pursuit of the ambitions in this Strategy. 

Concordats: The second phase of the (UUK, UKRI & Wellcome Trust) Concordats and Agreements Review has reported, much shorter info here.

Net zero: The National Audit Office published Support for innovation to deliver net zero. The report addresses the approach in the £4.2 billion investment in research and innovation to deliver net zero. It argues that further action is needed to strengthen governance and delivery mechanisms to achieve value for money.

UKRI: UKRI launched a stakeholder perceptions survey which they state will act as a benchmark for the funding body to understand how their stakeholders perceive UKRI and its role within the system. The survey is here.

Research infrastructure: DSIT and UKRI announced details of the £103 million investment to expand and upgrade the UK’s research infrastructure. It’s not all new money, the funding divides as:

  • £79.3m as part of the £150m announcement, to address the impacts of the ongoing delay in UK association to the EU’s Horizon Europe programme
  • £23.7m as part of the £370m announcement to forge a better Britain through investment in science and technology

The 13 universities who will receive the equipment/lab investment have already been chosen. More on the funding here.

Windsor Framework: Responsibility for the delivery of the Windsor Framework will be transferred from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to sit alongside the existing Northern Ireland Unit in the Cabinet Office. The Foreign Secretary remains responsible for UK/EU relations and will continue as co-chair of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement Partnership Council and Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee – the body that oversees the UK and EU implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Parliamentary question on research infrastructure: increasing public expenditure on R&D to £20 billion per annum by 2024/2025. The total allocation for UK Research and Innovation over the period 2022-2025 is £25.1 billion. This includes £3 billion of investment in infrastructure projects, including £481 million for the new UKRI Infrastructure Fund. This will finance cutting-edge research infrastructure, delivering a step-change in the capabilities available to the next generation of researchers and innovators whilst supporting scientific breakthroughs.

Statutory duty of care for HE students

The House of Commons Petitions Committee held three sessions on the proposed statutory duty of care for HE students. Witnesses included Lee Fryatt, the petition creator, people with lived experience, representatives from Student Minds, NUS, PAPYRUS, AMOSSHE and UUK among others.

The Committee sessions explored whether universities should have a statutory duty of care to protect students at risk of suicide or other serious mental health problems. The sessions included advocacy for the duty of care; the reason for student suicide and views on the proposed statutory duty of care; and questioned sector representatives on their views plus the efficacy and future trajectory of existing suicide prevention and mental health frameworks. We have a summary of all three sessions here.

In advance of the session the House of Commons Library provided a briefing on student mental health.

Also on mental health from Wonkhe: The proportion of higher education providers with a mental health or wellbeing strategy increased from 52 per cent in 2019 to 66 per cent in 2022, according to a report from IFF Research for the Department for Education. 66 per cent of higher education institutions had a policy on student suicide prevention, alongside 54 per cent of FE colleges and just 42 per cent of private providers. On the site today I consider the report in light of calls for a statutory duty of care.

Student loan cap – 7.1%

Following the market rate fluctuation the Government has announced the student loan interest rate cap will now be 7.1% for all plan 2 (undergraduate) and plan 3 (postgraduate) loans, and plan 5 (undergraduate) loans. This applies until 31 August 2023 (or until future market changes prompt an announcement on a new cap level). You can see how 7.1% compares to previous in the written ministerial statement. The student loan interest rates from September 2023 will be announced closer to the time.

Access & Participation

TASO published the summary report Evaluating multi-intervention outreach and mentoring programmes with the aim of advancing the evidence base and improving practice across the sector. Recommendations:

  • Universities should adopt TASO’s Mapping Outcomes and Activities Tool (MOAT),
  • Multi-intervention outreach incorporates multiple elements. To rigorously evaluate the impact of these programmes, HEPs should identify the value of each element by using TASO’s Enhanced Theory of Change tool to map how it is anticipated that individual activities will influence outcomes.
  • Also multi-intervention outreach programmes may be reaching students who are already highly likely to enter HE and highly selective universities. They further suggest that the true value of the programmes may lie in informing student choice about where and what to study, rather than whether to attend. Better pre-entry preparation may also result in higher rates of continuation and success once on the course. HEPs should scrutinise the rationale and assumptions behind their programmes to ensure that evaluation outcomes are well-matched to the activities they run
  • Use behavioural and survey outcomes to mitigate for low response rates/small samples
  • To improve response rates, HEPs should offer appropriate compensation to thank students for their time, such as entry into a prize draw or a small value voucher
  • HEIs should use local evaluations as a blueprint to explore randomised controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs as part of their evaluation approach for multi-intervention outreach

And there’s another report: Understanding online mentoring delivered as part of multi-intervention outreach programmes

Wonkhe summarise both reports: Three randomised controlled trials at universities in England found that the programmes did not have an effect on student enrolment into higher education, though a final evaluation is still forthcoming. A separate study of online mentoring as part of outreach found that engagement with such programmes should not only be measured by the number of messages participants send – number of days engaged was a more robust measure.

Increasing access to HE

The OfS has published two reports on increasing access to HE covering collaborative partnerships and an evaluation of Uni Connect phase 3. You can read a summary of both here.

Labour’s Policy Programme

After the clearest indication yet from Keir Starmer a few weeks ago that the Labour policy  on abolishing fees was going to be dropped, when he announced a “review” with the aim of finding an arrangement that would be fairer, the party have now made an interim announcement that they would reverse the latest changes, which will apply to students who start university in September – the bigger review of policy is still ongoing.

The Guardian piece  quotes from a Times story that is behind a paywall:

  • Labour has promised to reverse changes to the student loan system being plannedby the Conservative government in a way that could reduce monthly repayments for graduates.
  • Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said on Friday the tuition fees system was “broken”, but repeated the insistence by her party leader, Keir Starmer, that Labourwould not be able to afford to scrap fees altogether.
  • Starmer’s decision to drop the promise to end feessparked anger among students and on the Labour left. But Phillipson’s comments in the Times give the first sense of how the party may seek to win those voters back. Phillipson said: “The Conservative tuition fees system has long been broken, and their latest set of reforms will make it worse.”
  • She added: “Plenty of proposals have been put forward for how the government could make the system fairer and more progressive, including modelling showing that the government could reduce the monthly repayments for every single new graduate without adding a penny to government borrowing or general taxation – Labour will not be increasing government spending on this.”
  • Under the plans announced by the Treasury last year, graduates will have to start repaying their loans when they earn £25,000, rather than £27,295, and will have to continue repaying for a maximum of 40 years rather than 30. Interest rates will be cut for new borrowers and tuition fees capped at £9,250 for another two years.
  • The measures are predicted to double the number of graduates who pay off their loans in full, and save the government tens of billions of pounds. But lower earners will have to pay significantly more, thanks to the reduction in the lower repayment threshold.

Labour published their draft policy programme. It’s best thought of as a pre-manifesto but two steps removed. Within it, of interest to HE, is:

Give genuine choice of further and higher education

  • Ensure all learners have a genuine choice of first class further and higher education
  • Encourage a thriving college and independent training sector that can provide high quality vocational courses, including apprenticeships, fosters a love of learning, links students with exciting job opportunities through excellent careers advice, and works with businesses to meet local skills needs.
  • Reform broken tuition fees system for university funding, ensuring that people from every background and all parts of our country have the opportunity to study at Britain’s world-class universities

Work with businesses, workers, and universities to grow the high-tech, competitive industries of the future:

  • Ensure our world-class researchers and businesses have the data and computing infrastructure they need to compete internationally
  • Ensure our intellectual property system is fit for the digital age
  • Look at ways to close the digital divide. Improve digital education in schools and upskill the workforce

Introduce an industrial strategy and support firms

  • Introduce an industrial strategy based on a genuine partnership with businesses, workers, unions and universities, with four central goals: delivering clean power by 2030, caring for the future, harnessing data for the public good and building a resilient economy
  • Aim for at least 3% of GDP across the public and private sectors to be invested in research and development
  • Ensure the funding system can act with the agility, speed and predictability required to win the race for the industries of the future

Deliver landmark shift in skills provision

  • Deliver a landmark shift in skills provision and give people the tools they need in the workplaces of the future
  • Devolve adult education and skills budgets; reform the apprenticeships levy into a ‘growth and skills levy’ across all nations
  • Establish a new expert body – Skills England – to oversee the English national skills effort of the coming decade, which will pull together the expertise of trade associations, employers from large and small companies, representatives of trade unions, central and local government and further and higher education

Tackle NHS staffing issues

  • Double the number of medical school places to 15,000 a year
  • Train 10,000 new nurses and midwives each year
  • Double the number of district nurses qualifying every year
  • Train 5,000 new health visitors a year

Also Labour favours economic devolution, voting for 16 and 17 year olds, and abolishing the House of Lords.

There’s also a relevant Wonkhe blog:  A Labour government may not mean the sector relationship reset that many are hoping for. Public First associate director Jess Lister cautions against raising expectations.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Campus fatigue: The QAA published Student experience and expectations of teaching and learning relating to post-pandemic students and trends. Wonkhe have a neat synopsis on part of the report: The pandemic appears to have created a “fatigue” amongst students to proactively engage with enrichment activities traditionally linked to campus life, student halls or SUs. It has also caused many students to feel isolated and to miss out on developing peer group friendships and relationships with academics, triggering an increased demand for mental health and well-being support… half of survey respondents found it not at all or only slightly important to spend time at university outside of timetabled hours – students most commonly were on campus two or three times a week, with 15.1 per cent having a commute of between one and two hours, and 4.4 per cent more than two hours.

Student rentals: Wonkhe – A renter’s reform bill has been published – and given the good news for tenants, some fear landlords will sell up. Jim Dickinson weighs up their case.

Apprenticeships: Wonkhe – The total number of apprenticeship starts has fallen significantly since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, according to new analysis published by think tank Policy Exchange. Since 2015, the number of apprenticeship starts for 16-18 year-olds has fallen by 41 per cent, for 19-24 year-olds by 31 per cent, and 26 per cent for those over 25 years old. The sharpest falls recorded were for those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds… The authors do not believe that the sharp decline in starts is due to a lack of demand… Instead they point to a lack of supply, and a lack of transparency and poor understanding of the levy’s purposes – leading to a significant amount of the Levy returning to the Treasury rather than being spent on apprenticeships. They argue that for businesses to make better use of the levy system, there needs to be more flexibility, shorter courses, and less bureaucracy.

Working conditions: HEPI published a new report benchmarking the pay and benefits of academics and exploring whether academics have better or worse working conditions than other professionals.

Free Speech: Research Professional – News is out on the “chilling effect” of university failures to support free speech on campus. The Office for Students released yesterday its update on institutions’ compliance with the Prevent duty to monitor potential radicalisation on campus. And this includes figures on the number of speakers and events cancelled over the past year. See this Research Professional article: Fewer than 1% of English university speakers ‘cancelled’.

The latest OfS data show that during 2021-22, some 31,545 speakers or events were approved in English universities and colleges, and 260 planned events did not go ahead—just under one per cent of the total. Another 475 went ahead with some mitigation.

Most [of the events that did not go ahead] were rejected for procedural reasons, such as failing to submit a request on time. David Smy, director of monitoring and intervention at the OfS, said: “While this data suggests that the overwhelming majority of events with external speakers went ahead as planned—which is welcome—the data may not provide the full picture. The data does not capture decisions not to invite speakers in the first place or voluntary withdrawal of requests for approval. We recognise that this could be masking cases where event organisers or speakers feel unable to proceed with the event they had planned.” Surely the OfS is not about to make use of new advances in artificial intelligence that make mind-reading a possibility?

Transnational education: OfS published an insight brief on Transnational Education. In 2021-22, 146 English universities and colleges taught 455,000 students outside the UK. 69% were undergraduates, 31% were postgraduates.

  • 27% were taught by overseas partner organisations
  • 25% were taught by distance, flexible or distributed learning
  • 6% studied at English universities’ overseas branch campuses
  • 42% were covered by other arrangements, including collaborative provision.

52% lived in Asia – 61,505 (14% overall) were based in China. Malaysia (9%) and Sri Lanka (8%) had the second highest proportion of students.

Lots more interesting content in the full insight brief.

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HE policy update for the w/e 28th April 2023

Tuition fees – here to stay?

Sir Keir Starmer has announced that Labour are reviewing what to do about tuition fees if they win the general election next year (widely expected in autumn 2024, latest it can be is January 2025) giving a clear indication in an interview on BBC Radio 4 that the previous policy of abolishing fees will not survive because of costs concern.  The narrative was all about replacing it with something fairer – does that mean a graduate tax is the most likely outcome (which is, arguably what we already nearly have).  He also acknowledged that the current system is not working for universities, although a blanket freedom to raise fees, or even an increased cap, might not be what he meant.  They will be doing a review ahead of publishing their manifesto – so more news to follow.

Nurse Review: RDI organisational landscape report

The Government published Sir Paul Nurse’s final report on his Research, development and innovation (RDI) organisational landscape: an independent review. It’s a 163 page behemoth that was commissioned in 2021 to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to make recommendations for improvement of the RDI landscape, with a primary focus on researchers and RDI funded by the public purse. It also comments on how the various RDI organisations interact with and support industry, commerce, and society more generally.

It speaks of a patchwork of funders and sometimes short-term public policy priorities and initiatives. These are part of the significant problems that the Nurse Review identifies and Sir Paul calls for the governance to step away from further piecemeal changes and urges Government to consider the Review as a whole rather than a pick and mix assortment to be selected from. Government has a very important long-term role to play in bringing this about. It will require increased investment, reduced policy volatility, a clear focus on optimising and implementing change, good data collection, and a long-lasting, consistent, systematic approach to policy development and safeguarding of the RDI landscape.

Concerns include

  • underinvestment in R&D (confirmation of R&D spend figures due late 2023).
  • ensuring the pursuit of research is the pursuit of truth. Recommendations aim to strengthen: high research quality; agility and flexibility in approach; permeability between sectors, disciplines and organisations; transparency and navigability for those seeking to engage with R&D; a skilled workforce; inspirational leadership; a good research culture embracing ethical behaviour; strong international collaboration; and financial sustainability.
  • political interest can have the unintended consequence of driving policy volatility and short-term policymaking, and recent years have seen an increasing turnover of new initiatives, schemes and programmes which are not always properly integrated with one another. This undermines development of RDI, particularly within the application part of the research spectrum, which can have a negative effect on private investment.
  • The UK RDI landscape is hard to navigate – defects in permeability and inter-sectoral collaboration may be contributing to the UK’s present weak productivity.
  • the financial sustainability of public research funding – The future success of UK RDI is explicitly contingent upon the Government’s commitment to grow investment in RDI. There is a pressing need for more complete ‘end-to-end’ funding of research activities beyond Independent Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape 8 direct research costs, including adequate support for administrative services, sophisticated technical cores and facilities, and for ‘well-found’ laboratories
  • university research has been sustained partly through increasing reliance on cross-subsidy from commercial sources – The excellent UK universities should receive increased support for the outstanding research they can deliver, to ensure that they are competitive with universities in other countries
  • Excessive bureaucracy – Checks and balances on organisations using public research funding are important, but the operations of research funders and RPOs are hindered by excessive bureaucracy, with too much emphasis on audit-oriented reviewing and reporting rather than the quality of the research being produced…Much of this bureaucracy has its origin in Government controls and rules, particularly from the Treasury…These ways of working, combined with deficiencies in ‘end-to-end’ research funding have led to long-standing inefficiencies, wasting both money and researchers’ time. The problem of excessive bureaucracy has also been independently verified by the 2021 Review of Research Bureaucracy, led by Professor Adam Tickell, and the 2022 Review of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), led by Sir David Grant.

The report concludes:

The financial sustainability of the public research funding for universities needs to be urgently addressed. ‘End-to-end’ research support has four components: direct research costs; administrative services; technical facilities; and laboratory facilities. The present funding arrangements do not provide adequate support for all these components, and need to be overhauled to ensure that they do so. Proper ‘end-to end’ funding is required in universities to fully support research activities with mechanisms that do not have perverse incentives or outcomes, and that better consider the quality and not just the quantity of research delivered. There needs to be a detailed review of response-mode and competitive grants, full Economic Costing (fEC) and Quality-related Research Funding (QR), and where necessary, these funding mechanisms should be reformed or replaced. The present underpinning of UK university research by other commercial income sources, notably fees paid by international students, is valuable, but care is needed as such sources are not always reliable and sustainable.

Government response

Michelle Donelan wrote to Sir Paul to warmly welcome the report:

  • the importance of this Review cannot be understated. You have eloquently demonstrated the potential that science, innovation and technology have to change our world and improve all of our lives. To maximise these benefits you make a strong case for the vital role of effective leadership and co-ordination. I strongly agree, and this is why the Prime Minister has recently established a new department in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. I am delighted to have the privilege of leading the department to deliver on the UK’s mission to become the most innovative economy in the world and a Science and Technology Superpower. I am confident that this Review will play a foundational role in shaping and delivering that vision. I look forward to working with you to ensure the UK can be at the forefront of critical and emerging fields of science and technology.
  • My department will swiftly respond with a package of measures that take account of your advice and I hope to publish that shortly. I am confident that the report’s recommendations offer important ways to further support the world-leading research organisations based in the UK, future-proofing the existing system and helping to support important societal goals around net zero and improving the nation’s health.

The Government also confirm here that they will respond to the [Nurse] Review’s recommendations in the coming months.

Recommendations – full list

  1. Government should take account of the true cost of ‘end-to-end’ research activity to generate a sustainable RDI endeavour.Government, working with UKRI and the UK higher education funding bodies, should review and when necessary reform competitive and response-mode grant funding, QR (and Devolved Administration equivalents), and full economic costings (fEC), and replace them with improved mechanisms. Overall objectives should be to optimise research delivery, remove perverse incentives and outcomes, and ensure the longer-term sustainability of the research system.
  2. Universities should develop plans to optimise their operationsin support of research, to empower researchers and reduce their administrative loads, and to improve the quality of support services, core technical facilities, and well-found laboratory buildings and infrastructures. Government, working with UKRI, the UK higher education funding bodies and the wider sector, should consider more transparent mechanisms to provide assurance and accountability on QR funding.
  3. Government departments should clarify the missions of their individual public sector research establishments (PRSEs), allow them greater freedom of action, and ensure their effectiveness.Departments should improve internal awareness of PSREs’ capabilities, and use PSREs to inform RDI strategy and policy making, working within and across departments. Permeability and agility would be further improved by increasing the visibility, interactions and partnerships between PSREs, and between PSREs and the rest of the RDI landscape, including commercial organisations. Funding streams for PSREs need to be protected and reformed to ensure long-term sustainability. Constraints, which appear to have their origins in the Treasury, over funding, pay and other conditions of working should be reduced. The reforms of funding proposed for the universities should also be applied to PSREs. PSREs should be stringently reviewed, and those that have outlived their purpose or are not working effectively should be reformed, reduced or closed, and any savings generated recycled into Government R&D budgets.
  4. Institutes and units need sustained financial support, including un-hypothecated funding, to ensure ‘end-to-end’ research support.The funding arrangements of recently established institutes and units, particularly the ‘hub and spoke’ models, must be reviewed to make sure that they are fit for purpose. The reforms of funding proposed for the universities should also take account of the needs of institutes and units. Institutes and units need a well-defined mission and purpose, and should be given the autonomy and funding necessary to achieve their objectives, which may be time limited. There need to be clear and agreed mechanisms by which institutes and units can be adapted, reduced or closed when necessary.
  5. Institutes and units must have high quality administrative as well as scientific leadership.They generally benefit from being co-located with other research performing organisations (RPOs), but if their overall administration is the responsibility of another co-located or funding organisation, rigorous contractual arrangements must be in place to ensure independence of operation and quality of service.
  6. New research institutes and units should be considered when strategic RDI priorities best supported by focused research missions are identifiedby Government, UKRI and other funders. Possible examples include enhanced activities in climate change and its mitigation, antimicrobial resistance, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence. Themes should be identified through mapping and reviewing, taking account of emerging technologies, scientific areas, and Government priorities. Pre-existing institutes and units could be merged and expanded to create new institutes, and consideration should be given to co-location and co-funding with other RPOs. Establishment of new institutes and units should follow the principles outlined in the Review.
  7. Government and the charitable sector should work togetherto ensure that ‘end-to-end’ funding is provided for research supported by philanthropy.
  8. Support for research undertaken by galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and the heritage and cultural sectors should be increased, and support for long-neglected collections-based research put in place.
  9. Coherence between translational research organisations, including those embedded within other RPOs, and the rest of the landscape should be increased.Government is advised to optimise translational research organisations by increasing their number, widening access and promoting the benefits of translational research capability, including regionally. Government should explore routes by which RPOs across the RDI landscape, including PSREs, can contribute to translational activities.
  10. Government should use its convening power to create a favourable environment for business to invest in RDI, tackling causes identified by this Review as holding back further business investment, and where expedient, providing financial support. Examples of such support are funding which leverages private investment or promotes collaboration between industry and the rest of the RDI landscape.
  11. To understand the benefits of RDI for commercial activities and the economy, a culture change promoting openness, mutual respect, closer interaction, collaboration, and permeability of ideas, technologies and people has to occurin both business and academia. Government has a role in conveying the benefits of RDI investment to businesses, shareholders and academia, embracing practices from countries with high business RDI investment rates. Mechanisms to deliver this should be explored and implemented.
  12. Government should take particular responsibility for driving RDI that provides societal benefit as well as economic growth.Examples are health care delivery, equitable regional economic growth throughout the UK, and the delivery of net zero. Where appropriate, public-private partnerships should be encouraged.
  13. Government and RPOs should partner with local communities to support RDI relevant to their needs, to bring about more equitable regional economic growth based on local expertise and demands and driven by community benefit as well as academic criteria. Universities and other RPOs should support their local community and economy by enhancing their role as an information nexus and by helping local industries link to research capabilities wherever they are in the UK.
  14. There is an urgent problem with the current mechanisms for clinician scientists to effectively develop and undertake their research careers.The Government, taking into account devolved competencies, must rectify this to both improve the ability of the NHS to deliver more effective health care and to help the UK economy.
  15. Government must work with UKRI and the wider RDI community toconsider more stable and properly costed funding structures, aimed at ensuring the quality of the existing landscape and its sustainability.
  16. Government must increase its long-term commitment to invest more in RDI.In addition to reviewing incentives in public funding for university research, Government should review the balance of funding across the landscape, and explore how planned increases in RDI public funding can provide more un-hypothecated core funding for RPOs to allow them to deliver their mission more effectively, to promote collaboration and interaction across RDI sectors, and to empower local RPO leadership and researchers.
  17. Government should ensure that international collaboration is protected and encouraged, and should resolve problems damaging the UK RDI landscape’s international links. This is particularly relevant to our close scientific collaborators in the EU, and it is essential that the UK associates with Horizon Europe. Government should take action, including consultation with devolved administrations, if its broader policy objectives on areas such as immigration, ODA and education are hindering wider objectives for long-term RDI policy. The UK should consider opportunities to hostnew intergovernmental multinationally funded institutes and international research infrastructures.
  18. DSIT should define the overall architecture and governance for cross-Government RDI policy, setting out accountabilities from Cabinet and below. This should include the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), as well as other key RDI spending departments, UKRI and other funders, to ensure roles are complementary, and to improve alignment on policies.
  19. From Cabinet level downwards, all interested parties in Government must take responsibility for the high level and effective safeguarding of the future success of the UK RDI landscape.This oversight should include an authoritative working group set up by DSIT, operating across Government, the RPOs and the funding organisations, which will take long-term responsibility for implementation of the recommendations of this Review.
  20. Government should establish a research vision and strategy including long-term programmatic, infrastructure and technological initiatives, which is especially relevant at the applied end of the research spectrum. This will give RPOs, investors and global companies the confidence to invest, operate and interact with the UK RDI landscape.
  21. Government needs to develop effective mapping of UK RDI, covering the missions, financial investment in different sectors, research capabilities, and locations of RPOs, and also monitor international RDI activities to identify successful features and models. DSIT, working with UKRI and other interests across Government, could carry out this function. An agreed shared picture of the RDI landscape should be produced, together with a commitment to regularly update it.
  22. Government should increase efforts to link the different elements of the UK RDI landscape together with the commercial, industrial and societal components that benefit from research.To spread the benefits of research through communities across the UK, partnerships, collaborations and interactions must be built so that all components are mutually aware, and permeable with respect to ideas, information, technologies and people.
  23. Government must replace frequent, repetitive, and multi-layered reporting and audit by Government departments and UKRI with a culture of confidence and earned trust, as also referenced by the Independent Review of Research Bureaucracy. Reporting and reviewing of RPOs should focus on the quality and appropriateness of the research being carried out. The framework by which ARIA will operate should be applied to other components of the RDI landscape.
  24. Public sector controls which reduce the agility and performance of RPOs need to be reformed.Salaries must be internationally competitive. Where Government-imposed pay limitations are damaging the mission of an RPO, they must be revised, and the decision-making mechanisms made more flexible.
  25. Government should ensure that there is a well-trained RDI workforce available at all levels, and long-term educational planning to ensure a future pipeline of researchers and technicians.Career pathways for those roles that underpin effective research delivery, including technicians and project and programme managers, should be strengthened so the importance of these roles is better recognised. Training and career structures for early career researchers, including PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and starting faculty, need to be reviewed and reformed. Career path diversity and permeability between different RPOs should be encouraged.

Blogs:

Parliamentary News

Ministerial Change: Michelle Donelan has temporarily stepped away from her role as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology for her maternity leave. On leaving Donelan tweeted a series of items to highlight the achievements she and colleagues have accomplished whilst she has been in role. It’s a quick reminder on the latest Government policies within science and tech.

Donelan’s SoS role is being covered by Chloe Smith (former work and pensions secretary). Chloe is the daughter of a teacher (mum) and furniture designer (dad). She is a graduate of York University and has held school governance roles. Chloe worked as a Business Consultant for Deloitte UK. She sees herself as a progressive Conservative and is a member of the Tory Reform Group (more on the Left of the Party), voted to Remain in the EU and has announced she will not seek re-election as a MP at the next general election.

Free Speech – imminent: The Free Speech Bill will return to the Commons following the latest Lords amendments on Tuesday 2 May. At a Westminster event last Wednesday a Parliamentarian indicated that this could be it and the Bill may well soon become an Act. There is still widespread concern about the Bill within the sector, primarily because it is unclear how the different provisions within the Bill, such as academic freedom, will play out in practice. The Westminster event highlighted that even Parliamentary Members, expert sector and legal bodies, and University representatives do not interpret aspects of the Bill in the same way. The Bill adds to a complex legislative background where many other Acts influence the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ should the Free Speech Bill be enacted in its current form. The first few cases brought under the legislation will be crucial in determining how the potential Act will change behaviour in the sector.

As a recap the final stages (ping pong) of the Bill centred on the argument over the inclusion of the statutory tort allowing those who think their free speech rights have been infringed to bring a legal claim for damages against a university or a students’ union. The Lords removed it, the Commons added it back in. Currently a compromise has been reached with the tort as a watered down backstop – included in the Bill as a means of last recourse after complaints processes have been exhausted.

Education Committee: Mohammad Yasin has joined the Education Select Committee. Mohammad is a Labour MP who has demonstrated a keen interest in securing better funding for education, social services and healthcare provision. Chair of the Commons Education Committee Robin Walker has announced his decision to stand down from Parliament at the next General Election. New Chairs of select committees are elected after each general election so this isn’t big news. We simply know there won’t be any continuity between the Chairs and therefore the focus of the business will likely change to a greater degree as a new Chair with new priorities will be selected.

DSIT is being beefed up with three additional ministers:

  • Julia Lopez Minister of State for Data and Digital Infrastructure, she also retains her role in DCMS (media, tourism and creative industries). Her responsibilities include Digital infrastructure/ telecoms; data, including Data Protection and Digital Information Bill; data security; Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO); Ofcom.  However, she is about to go on maternity leave, so her role will be covered by John Whittingdale. Whittingdale was a DCMS Minister during 2021.
  • Viscount Camrose (Jonathan Berry) appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for AI and Intellectual Property and Government Spokesperson in the Lords. This is his first ministerial position. He has sat in the Lords since his by-election win in March 2022.
  • Stuart Andrew MP appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Gambling and Civil Society; Minister for Equalities covering: sport; gambling and lotteries; civil society and youth; ceremonials, including Coronation; major events, including Eurovision and City of Culture.

Select Committees will reform (from 26 April) to model the new Government departmental structure:

  • The International Trade Committee will be dissolved – its scrutiny function will transfer to the BEIS Committee.
  • The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee will become the Business and Trade Committee, and will scrutinise the work of DBT.
  • The Science and Technology Committee (not currently a departmental select committee) will now be renamed the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, and will now scrutinise the work of DSI (i.e. now be a departmental select committee).
  • The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee will become the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and will scrutinise the work of DCMS. Which makes one wonder why DCMS is retaining its former name. Incidentally if you’re interested in the forthcoming policy priorities check out their newly published ARI.
  • A new Energy Security and Net Zero Committee will be established as the Trade Committee is being abolished the SNP will Chair this new committee.

Financial health of HE sector: Wonkhe report on the House of Lords debate on financial pressures in higher education. Lord Knight of Weymouth opening proceedings with the observation that “it appears that the university business model is teetering.” For the government, Baroness Barran argued that “we know that the finances of HE providers are sound when we look at this at a sector level,” though recognised the uneven impact of cost pressures. She drew attention to OfS’ forthcoming report on the financial health of the sector, due next month. You can read the report on Hansard.

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

It’s a busy time for HE in Westminster because the Lifelong Learning Bill will proceed through the final legislative Commons stages shortly. We wrote about this Bill extensively in this policy update in March and this is the one that is intended to fundamentally change how the HE sector delivers or packages their provision.

Upon completion the Bill will move to the House of Lords for their scrutiny. Two key amendments have been tabled for the final Commons stages. One seeks to prevent variable fees being changed based on course or subject. The second proposes that one credit equates to 10 learning hours.

For a catch up on the Bill this Library briefing is useful. The briefing also sets out a timeline for the next steps for implementation:

  • The roll-out of the LLE will include:
    • From 2025, full courses formerly funded by the higher education student finance system and full courses formerly funded through Advanced Learner Loans that can demonstrate learner demand and employer endorsement.
    • From 2025, modules of some “job-specific” technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5, including Higher Technical Qualifications.
    • From 2027, modular student finance will be extended to levels 4 to 6where the Government “can be confident of positive student outcomes”.
  • In autumn 2023, the Government will publish details on the courses eligible for additional entitlement under the LLE, and the principles for calculating the residual entitlement for returning eligible learners.
  • In December 2023, the Government will review qualifications currently funded by Advanced Learner Loans (ALLs) to determine which ones should be included within the scope of the LLE.
  • By “late 2023”, the Government will provide an update on Sharia-compliant student finance.
  • The Office for Students (OfS) will consult “in due course” on the development and introduction of a new third registration category for providers offering LLE-funded course and modules.

Source

The sector reaction to the Bill has been cautiously positive. The Library reports:

  • The planned removal of ELQ restrictions and the expansion of maintenance support for living costs to level 4 and 5 subjects was welcomed by many across the education and employment sectors as an important way to ensure learners could access funding to retrain, develop their careers, and fill skills gaps in the economy.
  • The Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), David Hughes, welcomed the LLE as a potential “game changer”. However, he argued modular learning needs to become more mainstream, and the LLE alone would not change the behaviours and priorities of the vast majority of learners focussed on achieving a traditional undergraduate degree above all else.
  • The decision to cap eligibility for the LLE at age 60 has also been described as an “ageist strategy”, while the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), Jo Grady, has said more funding was neededso learners could stay in their studies and not leave because of financial reasons, and to ensure providers can adapt courses for modular learning.

For more on the full ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ at each stage of parliamentary consideration of the Bill see this separate briefing.

Wonkhe Blog: Including postgraduate study in the LLE could be expensive, but leaving it out carries risk. Mark Bennett weighs up the potential options and outcomes.

Research

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published making Innovation Matter: How the UK can benefit from spreading and using innovative ideas. It aims to bring together insights and analyse innovation enablers and barriers. Here are the most relevant key points:

  • Innovation diffusion and adoption (IDA) takes place within a fragmented, complex and poorly intra-connected ecosystem. There are many different stakeholders, organisations and structures influencing IDA. Funding, praise, status and incentives are often centred around having and owning an idea as opposed to its successful application at scale.
  • A lack of incentive is compounded by the different skillsets required to support an idea through the early majority stage of innovation. Academic know-how must be combined with entrepreneurial vision, appetite for risk, investment, marketing, sales, logistics and customer service. Taken together otherwise successful innovations fail to make it beyond early adoption because stakeholders are not properly incentivised to go to market and/or do not have the skills to do so.
  • Government and Business have already acted to address this issue with a wide range of institutions, accelerators, funds and initiatives to support innovation. Whatever the merits of existing and planned initiatives it is clear from both international experience and domestic data that more can be done, particularly around identifying priorities and challenges, setting out roadmaps with clear direction, using its buying power as anchor customers, and creating the right funding and regulatory environment to enable innovation to thrive.

Opportunities to better understand and improve IDA include:

  1. Inspire stakeholders and communities to address key innovation challengesin an open and inclusive way, giving them freedom to experiment, with Government taking more of the lead by setting concrete direction.
  2. Invest in skills(both innovation skills and specialist skills such as in STEM, business, research and professional expertise) and drive collaboration at all levels, including leadership and skills development.
  3. Broaden the diversityof participation and perspectives and build trust.
  4. Develop a more joined-up ‘supply chain’ approach, with cross-sector fertilisation of ideas and technologies, and place-based specialisms, creating ‘hubs’.
  5. Increase funding for diffusion and adoption activitiessuch as improving public sector procurement with multi-year grants for innovations that ensure emphasis on IDA.
  6. Target supportfor IDA activities, including better metrics.

Science and Technology Framework (and friends)

Recent weeks have seen the publication of a melting pot of various Government strategies, funding initiatives and policy declarations. We try to bring them all together (relatively) simply under the banner of the new Science and Technology Framework.

Published a couple weeks ago the Government’s Science and Technology Framework for the UK sets out the vision for the UK to be a science superpower by 2030. It seeks to identify critical technologies, invest in R&D, develop talent, build international relationships, and do better in communicating the UK’s R&D strengths. The new measures sitting alongside the framework are backed by £500 million of funding.

The Framework is owned by DSIT but will be a coordinated cross-government approach. Here are the 10 key actions:

  • identifying, pursuing and achieving strategic advantage in the technologies that are most critical to achieving UK objectives
  • showcasing the UK’s science and technology strengths and ambitions at home and abroad to attract talent, investment and boost our global influence
  • boosting private and public investment in research and development for economic growth and better productivity
  • building on the UK’s already enviable talent and skills base
  • financing innovative science and technology start-ups and companies
  • capitalising on the UK government’s buying power to boost innovation and growth through public sector procurement
  • shaping the global science and tech landscape through strategic international engagement, diplomacy and partnerships
  • ensuring researchers have access to the best physical and digital infrastructure for R&D that attracts talent, investment and discoveries
  • leveraging post-Brexit freedoms to create world-leading pro-innovation regulation and influence global technical standards
  • creating a pro-innovation culture throughout the UK’s public sector to improve the way our public services run

Here’s the funding and policy breakdown:

  • £250 million in 3 transformational technologies (AI, quantum technologies and engineering biology) to support industry to tackle the biggest global challenges
  • (e.g. climate change and health care). Also part of the framework are semiconductors and future telecoms. More detail on these priorities can be found within the related International Technology Strategy.
  • The Nurse Independent Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscapeand implementing the recommendations to make the most of the UK’s research organisations, ensuring they are effective, sustainable and responsive to global challenges.
  • Testing different models of funding science, to support a range of innovative institutional models, such as Focused Research Organisations (known as FROs), working with industry and philanthropic partners to open up new funding for UK research. For example, this could include working with a range of partners to increase investment in the world leading UK Biobank, to support the continued revolution in genetic science
  • £50 million co-investment in science from the private sector to drive the discoveries of the future.
  • £117 million of existing funding to create new PhDs for AI researchers and £8 million to find the next generation of AI leaders around the world to do their research in the UK.
  • £50 million uplift to World Class Labs funding to help research institutes and universities to improve facilities so UK researchers have access to the best labs and equipment they need to keep producing world-class science, opening up entirely new avenues for economic growth and job creation.
  • £10 million uplift to the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund, totalling £50 million, to boost the UK’s next tech and science start-ups.
  • Set up an Exascale supercomputer facility – the most powerful compute capability which could solve problems as complex as nuclear fusion – as well as a programme to provide dedicated compute capacity for important AI research, as part of the response to the Future of Compute Review.
  • £9 million to support the establishment of a quantum computing research centre by PsiQuantum in Daresbury in the North-West.
  • Also within this overall policy context is the UKRI’s International Science Partnerships Fund which will support close working with international partners to address global challenges, build knowledge and develop the technologies of tomorrow. More info here; the four themes: resilient planet; transformative technologies; healthy people, animals and plants; tomorrow’s talent. Also the Japan-UK research collaboration in neuroscience, neurodegenerative diseases and dementia; clean energy and climate change with Australia, Canada and the US; and partnership with South Korea for digital health, clean energy, advanced manufacturing and materials, future mobility and smart cities.
  • Horizon Europe doesn’t get a mention in the framework – and the Opposition asks why in this parliamentary question.
  • Here is Donelan’s Written Ministerial Statement providing a Science and Technology update. It covers the framework and wider policy matters.
  • Finally, Sir Patrick Vallance’s Pro-innovation Regulation of Technologies Review: life sciences – while currently at interim findings stage the Government committed to supporting all of Patrick’s recommendations in the March 2023 budget, including providing clarity on the Intellectual Property rules. If you need a refresher browse through our write up in this policy update.

Not particularly insightful, but nonetheless entertaining, was the Opposition’s response to the publication of the Science and Technology Framework. Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, highlighted the turnover of nine science ministers in the last five years and stated the country deserved a science framework “with a longer shelf-life than a lettuce”.

Horizon

Always in the news but no real movement is the latest on Horizon association. The Windsor Framework resuscitated hope in what had become a Horizon dead duck. The rhetoric from the research associated Government departments continues to indicate progress and the assumption that association is still on the table and desired by both sides.

Here’s the short version of all the recent noise:

  • The Government announced another extension (until 30 June 2023) to the financial guarantee to the UK’s Horizon Europe scheme so that eligible and successful bids for calls closing by the deadline will continue to be guaranteed funding. (The particulars are on the UKRI website.) It’s a short extension so speculation (and hope) abounds about what might happen afterwards – June isn’t far off on the horizon.
  • Greg Clark (Chair of Science and Tech Committee, and ex-BEIS long standing Secretary of State) is feeling impatient and spoke out urging the Government to accelerate negotiations leading to Horizon Europe association (after the Committee received a dreary letter from DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan following the clawback of £1.65 billion of research funds to the central Government pot in February).
  • Following the funding clawback Clark challenged Donelan during the Science and Technology Framework announcements. He called on Donelan to confirm when fresh negotiations for Horizon association would begin and how long until the Government throws in the towel and falls back on Plan B. Finally, he questioned what mechanisms were in place to ensure that, in areas such as batteries, that there was a united and coherent approach across Government, so investors know what the policy is and who to get deal with. Donelan responded to confirm the same level of funding would be available to researchers if Horizon association isn’t achieved: …funding remains available to finalise association with EU programmes. In the event that we do not associate, UK researchers and businesses will receive at least as much as they would have through Horizon over the spending review period. (Hansard.)
  • Wonkhe tell us that (then) Scottish Minister for HE & FE Jamie Hepburn made some good point in his letterto Michelle Donelan urging for Horizon Europe association to be secured. He expresses concern that the UK government “appears to be working on the assumption that if we succeed in associating to the Horizon Europe programme, participation will be costed from the point of re-entry,” arguing that this has never been guaranteed. A good point!
  • For completeness here are the transitional measures the Government put in place during July 2022 to stop UK research falling into the lack of Horizon abyss.
  • Finally, Horizon featured in the first ever DSIT oral questions. Discouraging, but not unexpected, was confirmation that the government’s position was unchanged, and discussions are ongoing.

Parliamentary Questions:

Quick Research News

  • UKRI has publishedits EDI strategy, setting out four strategic objectives to achieve its aim of fostering a research and innovation system “by everyone, for everyone”. (Wonkhe)
  • (Not) Levelling up: The R&D funding ecosystem just isn’t designed to level up the country. James Coe investigates where R&D funding is spent and what that means for levelling up. (Wonkhe Blog.)
  • Recognition: Wonkhe report that Science Europe, which represents research organisations around Europe including UKRI, has released recommendations on recognition systems in research and case studies of good practice. It has also become a signatory of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).
  • India cooperation: Wonkhe report that the UK signed a memorandum of understanding with India at yesterday’s UK-India Science Innovation Council meeting in Parliament. The agreement is intended to “remove red tape” to enable more efficient and effective joint research projects into major issues such as climate change, decarbonisation, pandemic preparedness, and artificial intelligence – among other programmes. Science Minister George Freeman believes this move will create skilled jobs and drive economic growth. India was also named as a partner for the UK’s International Science Partnerships Fund which will see £5 million UK funding – to be matched by India – for research into Farmed Animal Diseases and Health, and £3.3 million UK funding – also to be matched by India – towards a technology and skills partnership programme.
  • AI: The Government has announced the creation of a new Foundation Model Taskforce which will be responsible for accelerating the UK’s capability in a rapidly emerging type of artificial intelligence (AI). The Taskforce will be backed by £100m in funding, and modelled on the success of the COVID-19 Vaccines Taskforce – its main aim will be to develop the safe and reliable use of these AI systems across the economy to ensure the UK is globally competitive in this technology. Foundation models – including large language models such as ChatGPT and Google Bard – are a category of AI trained on huge volumes of data such as text, images, video or audio to gain broad and sophisticated capabilities across many tasks. The Government say that, in areas such as healthcare, this technology has potential to speed up diagnoses, drug discovery and development, and that in education it could transform teachers’ day-to-day work by freeing up more time. The Taskforce, announced as part of the Integrated Review Refresh last month, will bring together government and industry experts and report directly to the Prime Minister and Technology Secretary. The Taskforce’s expert Chair is yet to be appointed (announcement due summer 2023).
  • Horizon Europe related parliamentary questions: UK funding share; the costs of Pioneer (the alternative programme); where the Pioneer funding is coming from; the negotiating position for UK contributions to Horizon Europe. On this last question Minister George Freeman stated: The Government are discussing association to Horizon Europe with the EU and hope our negotiations will be successful. That is our preference. We will not be providing a running commentary on these discussions. Association would need to be on the basis of a good deal for the UK’s researchers, businesses and taxpayers. If we are not able to secure association on fair and appropriate terms, we will implement Pioneer – our bold, ambitious alternative.
  • George Freeman’s (Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation) responsibilities have been confirmed. They include:
    • international science and research
    • domestic science and research ecosystem, including university research and public sector research establishments (PSREs)
    • Horizon Europe
    • R&D People and Culture Strategy
    • Innovation Strategy
    • space sector
    • life sciences
    • quantum
    • engineering biology
    • place and levelling up
    • regulation of innovation​​, including the Regulatory Horizon Council
  • Research Professional has a quick read on the links between universities, place and inward investment (particularly in light of the Budget’s Investment Zones announcements).
  • REF: The Research Excellence Framework (REF) encourages “higher quantity and lower quality” of academic output, according to a study from a group of researchers led by Queen Mary, University of London’s Moqi Groen-Xu. The research found that papers published in the run-up to REF deadlines generally received fewer citations and were more likely to be retracted than those published after REF assessments. The authors call for better support for long-term exploratory research. (Wonkhe.)
  • The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has published a report on diversity in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In the report Dods tell us that MPs highlight the underrepresentation of people from Black Caribbean backgrounds, and others, across all STEM subjects throughout education and work. A low uptake of physics and computer science in girls at school as well as persistent issues with women’s career progression in STEM also stand out. MPs say it is “sadly notable” that many of the conclusions from a predecessor Committee’s 2014 report on women in science could still apply today. The Committee recommends a series of changes to education policy, following the Prime Minister’s commitment to grow STEM pupil numbers. MPs call on the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to make improving diversity and inclusion in STEM part of its mission, and to set out how it intends to achieve this.
  • Michelle Donelan introduced the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill
  • AI & Data Science Scholarships: The OfS confirmed £8.1 million new funding from DSIT and the Office for Artificial Intelligence for universities to deliver AI and data science scholarships to underrepresented groups. The funding runs from April 2023 for one year, with a possible additional one year extension. The programme has run before and the interim report found the scholarships attracted a diverse student profile. However, the in the previous iteration more scholarships were awarded to international students as the scheme progressed and recently UK students received less than half of scholarships. On outcomes most students quickly secured jobs that specialise in or use data and/or AI. DSIT also published an AI regulation white paper. Secretary of State, Michelle Donelan, made a ministerial statement here.

Parliamentary Questions:

Students

Sharia Compliant Finance

Previously DLUHC appointed an Independent Faith Engagement Adviser to review how the Government should engage with faith groups in England. The Adviser, Colin Bloom, recently published the review report. The report includes a recommendation for Sharia compliant finance and places a firm timescale on the Government:

  • Government should accelerate proposals to introduce Sharia-compliant student loanson equalities grounds. Faith-sensitive student finance should be made available from the beginning of academic year 2024-25.

Sharia compliant finance feels like one of the slowest progress policy priorities within HE. The Government first proposed a student finance product consistent with Muslim beliefs regarding interest-bearing loans in 2013. The Higher Education Research Act, passed in 2017, allows the Government to introduce such a product in England, but it has yet to do so. The issue has been raised in Parliament a number of times, with the delay described as “shameful” by Lord Sharkey.

Following the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) Consultation the Government announced Sharia compliant finance would not be ready as part of the LLE launch in 2025 but that the Government remained committed to delivering such a product “as soon as possible after 2025”. A parliamentary Library briefing on the topic informs that findings from the Muslim Census study suggest over 12,000 students per year are affected (deterred from taking out loans which acts as a barrier to entering HE or causes financial hardship).

It remains to be seen whether Bloom’s timescale will be met by the Government – it seems unlikely given the Government have already ruled out including Sharia compliant finance within LLE in 2025.

On other student finance matters Wonkhe have a new blog – As the state reduces its support for students in real terms, Jim Dickinson considers the role of institutional student finance measures in addressing the cost of living crisis.

Spiking

The Labour party intend to make spiking a specific offence if they are elected to government. It would form part of several measures aiming to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG) and broaden the Labour party’s “tough on crime” credentials. Dods report that the Home Affairs Committee previously recommended the creation of a new standalone offence, however the Government’s response to the inquiry’s findings suggested this wasn’t necessary as there were already measures and guidance in place to improve reporting, data collection and police response to incidents. The Committee’s inquiry focused heavily on night-time venues, and heard from many in the university sector about the prevalence and nature of spiking on campuses. UUK also published a practice note for HEIs to support their response to spiking.

Student Accommodation

Wonkhe – Over half of students living in the private rented sector have experienced damp or mould on walls or ceilings, and half say their accommodation is poorly insulated, according to a new report from SOS-UK in partnership with Universities UK. Homes Fit for Study 2023. Universities UK has published a note on how universities can support students facing fuel poverty. ITV news has some experiences from students up on YouTube.

Duty of Care

The petition to Parliament for universities to have a legal duty of care for students (started by the families of student’s who took their own lives) has reached a significant threshold and the matter will be debated on Monday 5 June.  Previously the Government responded to this petition:

  • Higher Education providers do have a general duty of care to deliver educational and pastoral services to the standard of an ordinarily competent institution and, in carrying out these services, they are expected to act reasonably to protect the health, safety and welfare of their students. This can be summed up as providers owing a duty of care to not cause harm to their students through the university’s own actions.
  • Over the last decade, higher education providers have devoted considerable resources to their student support services, and a good deal of support is now widely provided to students who struggle with their mental health. However, tragically suicides do still occur in higher education, and investigations into the circumstances of such deaths have sometimes shown the support offered by the university was not all it might have been. We have encouraged universities to learn from such cases and redouble their prevention efforts. 

We’ll bring you the outcome of the debate after it takes place.

Cost of living

The APPG for Students published their Report of the Inquiry into the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students. They conclude that most students are facing significant financial pressures, with some groups particularly hard hit, risking academic outcomes and participation in the extra-curricular activities that are so valuable for future careers. We are concerned that this is unfair on a generation of students already affected by the pandemic, and risks widening inequality.

Alongside reports of students cutting back on meals and other essentials, as many other people, we were struck by evidence of the additional hours many students were working to cover their costs and the development of a ‘grab and go’ approach to their qualifications, as they can no longer invest time and energy in participating in all the other aspects of student life that prepare them for employment, having an impact not just on the tertiary education sector, but on a generation of working adults.

The inadequacies of relying on current hardship measures are acknowledged:

…we must not only provide students with the necessary immediate financial assistance – through increased hardship funding and restoring maintenance loan entitlements – but also to address issues in the student funding system which have seen student support incrementally reduced in real terms over several years and reduced resilience as inflation has risen sharply over the last two years. We have noted the increase in university support and believe that there is more that could be done to ensure all students are helped but recognise that current services are designed to help small numbers of students in emergencies, and not hardship experienced by a large proportion of the student body.

The APPG calls on the Government to provide a financial solution:                                                                                                                

We recognise the demands and pressures across every area of government spending but feel that our recommendations for both an immediate spending commitment to support students who have been placed in significant financial hardship, as well as longer-term changes are needed for both current and prospective students.

The OfS published an insight brief – Studying during rises in the cost of living. They conclude: Universities, colleges and students’ unions have worked innovatively and at speed to help alleviate these pressures, with additional help from government for their hardship funds. These responses have been diverse, and the support available has varied from university to university. The mitigating activities…may not all be sustainable over a long period. It’s worth a scan through to read the box sections covering actions by universities (financial needs, warm spaces, food needs).

  • Part time work dramas: 30% of students are unsuccessful in finding part-time work because of their scheduled classes.
  • 72% report that their timetable stopped them securing more hours at work.
  • 76% found it challenging to attend scheduled teaching on time – due to classes scheduled at inconvenient times of the day, not having enough time to get from one class to another, not being able to find the lecture room or seminar location.
  • Asked why they had a job, 52% of student said it was to fund their basic lifestyle (pay for rent, utilities, food, etc.), 49% blamed the rising cost of living, 33% wanted to fund a comfortable lifestyle (pay for night outs, clothes, holidays, etc) – given the percentages don’t tall presumably students could select multiple categories for the reason to work.
  • 53% of students have a part time job alongside their studies. 32% do not have a job but would like one and 5% full time.
    Source – FE News

Cost of living blogs:

Students: Quick links

Wonkhe content:

Parliamentary Questions

Admissions

Wonkhe report on the House of Commons Education Committee’s latest report – The future of post-16 qualifications which calls on the government to pause the withdrawal of funding for existing level 3 technical qualifications (such as BTECs) until evidence is available that T Levels are more effective at meeting student and employer needs and promoting social mobility. The report notes that universities are often requiring applicants to offer A levels alongside T levels (the latter being nominally equivalent to three A levels), and calls on DfE to work with universities to avoid “unreasonable” entry requirements. The report is covered on BBC News.

Wonkhe: Fewer significantly disadvantaged and economically precarious students are entering higher education in England – and they are less likely to complete their degree and progress to skilled employment or further study than their peers, new data from the Office for Students (OfS) shows. CEED, one of its new and updated key performance measures, shows that 53.6 per cent of the most significantly disadvantaged students progress to further study or skilled jobs, compared with 68.4 per cent of students who are neither “significantly disadvantaged” nor “economically precarious”. 49,600 students categorised as significantly disadvantaged entered in 2021/22, a decrease from 51,100 in the previous year. KPM 8, which measures the proportion of subjects taught and the number of higher education providers (relative to population) in each English region, shows that the North East has the lowest level of subject diversity in the country for full time students, and KPM 7 on Degree attainment by ethnicity shows that students receiving first class degrees in 2021-22 was 15 percentage points lower than the proportion for all students.

Access & Participation

Advance HE has published the Disabled Student Commitment which was developed by the OfS funded independent strategy group the Disabled Students’ Commission. The Commitment draws on three years of consultation with disabled students and sets out a framework of 43 recommendations for HEIs, Government, funders, agencies, regulators and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies. It highlights expectations for information sharing and consent and offers guidance on key touchpoints of the HE journey, outlining the commitments that HEIs and others should make to give disabled students confidence their needs and expectations will be met.

Professor Geoff Layer, chair of the Disabled Students’ Commission, said: We have developed this Commitment because disabled students have told us they want communication, consistency, certainty and choice. The Commitment is a call to the sector and sector bodies to make the step-change required to create a more inclusive environment. We need to create a sense of belonging in which students are able to focus on what they went into higher education for, and not spend untold hours fighting their way through the system.

Professor Layer said the Commission was asking providers to work in partnership with their disabled students on a statement of commitment which should be updated annually and published on their website, alongside a logo of the Disabled Student Commitment so that disabled students and applicants have confidence in the system, allowing them to get on with their education.

New data dashboard and risks plan for A&P

OfS published new data on HE access and participation. The completion rates data highlight:

  • 6% of students from the most deprived backgrounds completed their course (92% from the most advantaged group)
  • 5% of students eligible for free school meals completed their course (91% non-free school meals)
  • 7% of black students completed their course (88.5% of white students)

There is lots more to explore in the data dashboard.

OfS also published their new Equality of Opportunity Risk Register (EORR) and expect universities to consider the listed range of equality risks when planning. It includes risks relating to the perception that HE might not be right for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, or concerns about academic and personal support for those at university, students’ mental health, the continuing impact of the pandemic on education opportunities, and pressures on living costs.

OfS has also published the outcome and analysis of responses to their consultation on a new approach to regulating equality of opportunity plus a commentary from OfS Fair Access and Participation Director.

Impact of online teaching on student outcomes

TASO published online teaching and learning – lessons from the pandemic. Executive summary here; rapid evidence review here.

Here are their key findings:

  • Existing evidence is mixed; there are a small number of studies which suggest online teaching and learning can maintain or improve outcomes for some groups, but overall, the move to online learning appears associated with worse student outcomes.
  • Pre-pandemic literature (compared to purely online learning) suggests ‘blended’ learning (e.g., a combination of face-to-face and online learning) is more likely to improve student attainment. Whereas the literature produced during the pandemic demonstrates that the rapid shift to an online format had a negative impact on student outcomes.
  • In the post-pandemic literature, there is some evidence that, prior to applying any type of ‘no detriment’ control in an attempt to account for the impact of the pandemic on students’ performance, learners from low-income backgrounds and academically at-risk students may be most likely to be negatively impacted by the shift online. However, this was not universal in the case studies they reviewed.
  • Course design is an important factor to consider when planning online learning, as its efficacy is highly dependent on a number of design choices. However, this planning was not possible with the emergency switch to remote learning, where the priority was to adapt promptly to unforeseen crisis circumstances.
  • Design features – the existing evidence suggests that courses which encourage active engagement through planned student-student interactions and opportunities for feedback between teaching staff and students increase student attainment.
  • Digital poverty is thought to be the largest barrier to the success of online teaching and learning and will most likely disproportionately impact disadvantaged groups. Students from more privileged backgrounds may have better access to the internet and more sophisticated devices.

Recommendations:

  1. The design of online courses is important: A concerted effort should be made to design online courses rather than simply moving face-to-face materials into the online environment. Effective design features include:
    1. Coordinated student-to-student interaction via discussion boards and chat rooms.
    2. Feedback between teaching staff and students.
    3. Appropriate frequency and timing of online teaching and assessment to avoid student fatigue.
  2. HEIs should make use of their institutional data and differing pedagogical approaches to design and conduct evaluations that allow us to draw strong conclusions about what works in the UK context. Our data analysis provides a foundation and blueprint for future work of this sort.
  3. As students from disadvantaged backgrounds may be more likely to be adversely impacted by the shift to online teaching, learning and assessment, future research should focus on their experiences and outcomes.

A & P Blogs:

Graduate Careers

Wonkhe report on the Institute of Student Employers’ annual report on development programmes for graduates and apprentices. 54% of employers surveyed agreed that graduates were “career ready” at the point of hire (31% unsure). The report covered 162 responses from student employers who collectively hired over 26,000 graduates in 2021–22.

HESA published National Careers Week: Career trends of graduates from the class of 2019/20

Careers: Wonkhe blog – The idea that a postdoc is a route to an academic career downplays other career possibilities. Lucy Williams and James Howard have been helping postdocs prosper with tailored advice and support.

International

Wonkhe report that:  there has been a 65% increase in the number of international students at English higher education providers over the past four years, with growth of over 100,000 in the past year alone. The figures come from the delayed Office for Students’ Higher Education Students Early Statistics survey (HESES), which provides an early indication of the number of higher education students studying in 2022-23.

They also show that the home v international split for postgraduates in the English system is now roughly 50:50, and that providers are forecasting that circa 320k students will not complete by the end of the year, up from 300k a year ago.

Blog: New English student numbers figures show how rapidly universities are changing size and shape. David Kernohan and Jim Dickinson consider if the regulation can keep up

Scottish Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training Jamie Hepburn answered questions on international students and accommodation.

Wonkhe: Home Office proposals to limit the number of international student dependant visas are receiving a “major pushback” from the Treasury, i News reports. It says Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is resisting Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s proposals, arguing they would inflict “major damage” on the British economy.

HEPI

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published a range of interesting blogs and briefings recently. You may be interested in:

Degree Apprenticeships

  • The OfS confirmed £16m of recurrent fundingto expand the development and delivery of HE qualifications, of which £8m will support the development of Level 6 degree apprenticeship training programmes and £8m to increase the provision of Level 4 and 5 qualifications.  Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said: Degree apprenticeships offer people of all backgrounds an alternative route to achieving their career goals than doing a traditional three-year degree. They enable students to earn while they learn the skills needed to build a successful career. I’m delighted that the OfS is continuing to support and encourage HE providers to expand their degree and degree level apprenticeship offer…This investment will help us continue to build a skills and apprenticeship nation and extend the ladder of opportunity to even more people.
  • Wonkhe report that the Independent has been investigatinghow some universities are still using the apprenticeship levy to part-fund MBAs.
  • The Science Industry Partnership published a manifesto for skills in the science industries. The report outlines four priorities for technical education and workplace learning. It includes making the apprenticeship levy work for employers and increasing equity through diverse career pathways.
  • The UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities published their evidence-led policy priority calls which they believe are essential to equalising opportunities in society. They call for:
    • reform to apprenticeship rules to ringfence a proportion of the levy for young people with lower qualification levels, they also entertain that if other changes were made levy funds could be entirely ringfenced for school leavers. This to reduce the number of apprenticeships going to existing employees instead of other internal training.
    • Expand accountability to all providers of post-16 education to help reduce NEET rates. To make these metrics meaningful and minimise ‘gaming’, providers should be compared against other providers offering similar courses, in areas with similar socio-economic characteristics.
    • Introduce an annual “Social Mobility Scorecard” for universities, showing the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending each university, and the earnings associated with each degree. This should be released by the government to confer official status…There is wide variation in earnings across different degrees, and disadvantaged students are less likely to attend those with high labour market returns, even when they have the qualifications to get in. If we judge universities and courses based only on their outcomes, rather than their intake, their contribution to social mobility will be limited.
    • Introduce a post-qualification applications (PQA) system for post-18 education (including further education) so that students would make applications after they sit exams and receive the results. A PQA system could be achieved with minimal disruption to the school year (or college/university start date), by condensing the exam period to four weeks (as was planned during the pandemic), and accelerating marking to 7-8 weeks. Examinations would take place in early May. Students would then return to school, receiving results in mid-July, in time for an in-school ‘applications week’. Universities and colleges would have over a month to process and make offers at the end of August, and students would then have time to accept their favoured choice… allowing students to make these life changing applications based on full information.
  • Finally, UCAS stated they’re collaborating with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) to enable apprenticeships to qualify for UCAS points. They anticipate UCAS points may be attached to apprenticeships by the end of 2023. Dods report: The plans represent another step on UCAS’ bid to give parity between apprenticeships and other post-16 study routes, however it is not yet clear how many points apprenticeships may be eligible for, or whether they will secure as many as other level 3 routes. The Department for Education said that offering the ability to apply for apprenticeships through UCAS from 2024 is part of a wider ambition to develop a “one-stop-shop” for education and training options that it hopes will eventually include apprenticeships, T Levels, skills bootcamps, higher technical qualifications and degree apprenticeships.

Other news

The DfE published a policy paper on the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI), including large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT or Google Bard, within the education sector. Snippets:

  • Although generative AI is not new, recent advances and public access to the technology mean that the general public can now use this technology to produce AI-generated content. This poses opportunities and challenges for the education sector.
  • When used appropriately, technology (including generative AI), has the potential to reduce workload across the education sector, and free up time, allowing a focus on delivering excellent teaching.
  • Schools, colleges and universities, as well as awarding organisations need to continue to take reasonable steps where applicable to prevent malpractice, including malpractice involving use of generative AI and other emerging technologies.
  • The education sector must continue to protect its data, resources, staff and students, in particular:
    • Personal and sensitive data must be protected and therefore must not be entered into generative AI tools.
    • Education institutions should review and strengthen their cyber security, particularly as generative AI could increase the sophistication and credibility of attacks.
    • Education institutions must continue to protect their students from harmful content online, including that which might be produced by generative AI.

Strategic Skills planning: The DfE Unit for Future Skills published the UK labour market projections up to 2035 (national, regional and local). You can display the data by LEP or other choices and it provides information to support local skills plans, careers guidance, and provides a projected picture of the type of jobs in the UK labour market (and the skills needed) up to 2035. Data here.

Carbon capture curriculum: The Scottish Affairs Committee has published a report on hydrogen and carbon capture in Scotland. It warns that the UK will fail to meet its net zero targets, and transition away from fossil fuels, unless carbon capture is rolled out at scale. The report calls for the UK and Scottish Governments should jointly set out work they are undertaking to ensure that colleges, training providers and businesses within the hydrogen and CCUS sectors are able to offer appropriate routes into employment and training, and providing this information should be viewed as a priority.

President UUK: UUK announced that Professor Dame Sally Mapstone FRSE, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of University of St Andrews, has been elected as its next President. The role runs for two academic years from 1 August 2023 and is elected through a ballot of UUK’s 140 members. Dame Sally will succeed current President, Professor Steve West CBE, Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol. Before her appointment as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews in 2016, Dame Sally lectured and held several leadership roles at the University of Oxford, including Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Personnel and Equality and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education. She has served as a Board Member of UUK since 2016 including currently as Vice-President for Scotland, by virtue of being Convener of Universities Scotland.

Late retirement: The Times reports that graduates could work longer under plans to allow people in manual jobs to claim their state pensions earlier (Wonkhe).

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HE Policy update for the w/e 27th February 2023

Parliamentary News

DESNZ, DSIT and DBT

No it’s not an attack of the sneezes, it’s the PM’s reorganisation of the Government departments. Gone is the recognisable department of Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy. Instead it has morphed into three:

  • Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ)
  • Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT)
  • Department for Business and Trade (DBT),

And the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been refocused (more on this below)

DSIT: The reformed ex-BEIS departments clearly reflect the Government’s priorities and direction of travel over successive Prime Ministers. The agenda for an innovation economy and translating research into business gains is clear. Of course, underlying it all is the need to improve the UK’s economic success trajectory.

The key change to HE policy relevance is the DSIT which once again brings a more coherent approach to research and innovation. The positioning means R&I is siloed away from Education, however, ex-HE Minister Michelle Donelan will head up this department as Secretary of State bringing her expertise and adherence to cross-departmental party lines with her.

Formally the DSIT’s responsibilities include:

  • Optimise R&D investment to support areas of UK strength,
  • Increase the amount of private R&D funding for innovation purposes
  • Promote a diverse research and innovation system that connects discovery to new companies, growth and jobs – including by delivering world-class physical and digital infrastructure (such as gigabit broadband ), making the UK the best place to start and grow a technology business and developing and attracting top talent
  • Focus on innovation in public services (NHS, Schools) and develop STEM capability
  • Strengthen international collaboration and ensure our researchers are able to continue to work with leading scientists in Europe and around the world.
  • Deliver key legislative and regulatory reforms to drive competition and promote innovation, including the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill and our pro-innovation approach to regulating AI. Also to push the Online Safety Bill through the legislative process.

ARIA, UKRI, the Met Office, the UK Space Agency; the Intellectual Property office, and Building Digital UK will all sit under the new Department (which will devolve their funding settlements). As will GO Science and the Council for Science and Technology.

DSIT will progress the Online Safety Bill and Data Protection and Digital Information Bill that were previously led by DCMS and under Donelan’s stewardship.

George Freeman (previously science minister) will retain a role in the department and Paul Scully (previously Under-Secretary of State for tech and the digital economy) also joins the brief. This smooth transition of recently experienced ministerial staff and priorities suggests some stability for the new department and that Rishi will expect his team to hit the ground running, particularly with the legislation already passing through the Houses. Emphasising this are the top level civil servants previous Digital and Media Director-General, Susannah Storey, and the previous Director of Media and the Creative Industries, Robert Specterman-Green.

The DSIT’s website is already up and running – you can view it here (and spot the stories they’ve moved across from BEIS).

DCMS: The slimmed down DCMS moves focus to support the UK’s strengths in culture, media and sport but is no longer responsible for digital policy. This includes:

  • updating the UK’s broadcasting and media system,
  • increasing investment in grassroots sports and delivering reforms to football governance—a Football White Paper is expected soon
  • and completing the long-awaited review of the Gambling Act.

Former DLUHC minister Lucy Frazer leads the lean and mean DMCS. Supporting here are Julia Lopez (previous Minister of State for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure), Stuart Andrew (previous Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism and Civil Society and the Minister for Equalities), and Lord Parkinson (previously a DCMS Under-Secretary of State) looks to be tipped for the Government’s Lords Spokesperson for both DCMS and DSIT.

Dods says: Removing management of digital policy, including the complicated online safety legislation, could give DCMS more bandwidth to concentrate on other areas where it has been slower than expected to deliver. But time will tell if that proves to be an effective division of labour given the importance of digital to broadcasting and media. Questions remain about the outlook for the Media Bill since the Government ditched plans to sell Channel 4.

Contact the policy team if you’d like more information on the Dept for Energy Security and Net Zero or the Department for Business and Trade. Alternatively you can read each Department’s priorities here.

Overall: Overall the reorganisation seeks to provide focussed teams in key policy areas rather than the larger broad departmental remits of recent years. With the election looming Rishi may be hoping these teams fly in and make quick wins that bode well for the Conservatives in the polls. A danger for Rishi is the departments overlap unhelpfully or further constrain policy progress and policy direction due to their new siloed structure. As always there will be competition for the Treasury’s resources and much may come down to budget. The continuation of several key ministers into the new departments may also signal that Rishi believes these personalities will toe the party line and put career enhancement in.

Party plans

Politically the next general election is continually on the mind of all the parliamentary parties. Labour have been upfront about their campaign recently in their attempt to woo Scottish voters away from the SNP since Nicola Sturgeon announced she would step down.

Labour has also shown more willing to be drawn on their potential manifesto content through media appearances and comment. This week they published their new ‘national missions’ for the UK upon which their manifesto priorities will hang. They are:

  1. Economy: To deliver the highest sustained growth in the G7.
  2. Health: Build an NHS fit for the future – through science and innovation, and reforming the social care system.
  3. Crime: Make Britain’s streets safe – reforming police and criminal justice system, tackling VAWG, stopping criminals getting away with it.
  4. Education: Break down barriers to opportunity – reforming childcare and education, raising standards, preparing young people for work and for life.
  5. Climate: Making Britain a clean energy superpower.

And a selection of snippets from the accompanying statements:

  • Everything will not be fixed by simply spending more money.
  • Growth must be powered by good jobs and productivity in every part of the country.
  • Pledged to reform apprenticeships, and a new childcare system.
  • Will embrace technology, innovation and science, will reform the planning system to help businesses.
  • Will use levers like procurement to build up supply chains to protect from security threats.
  • For the coming months, the whole Shadow Cabinet will be looking at how they can bring these missions alive, as well as how to make them “vehicles of hope”.

STEM returner campaign

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the government launched a pilot initiative to bring people back into STEM careers. STEM ReCharge provides support and training to technology and engineering returners (and their employers) in the Midlands and the North of England. The scheme will be run by Women Returners and STEM Returners and target those who have taken lengthy career breaks e.g. for caring responsibilities. The pilot will hit several key policy areas by bringing people back into the workforce, boosting numbers of STEM workers and plugging industry skills gaps, and increasing diversity in this key UK industry.

Research

  • The ARIA framework has been published setting out how ARIA will operate and its relationship with the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).
  • Professor Dame Angela McLean has been appointed as the new Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA). She’s the first woman to hold the role and will take over from Sir Patrick Valance when his term ends on 1 April. Angela was previous the CSA for the Minister of Defence. Here’s an explainer if you’re unfamiliar with the role:
    • The GCSA provides independent scientific advice to the Prime Minister and members of cabinet, advises the government on aspects of policy on science and technology and aims to ensure the quality and use of scientific evidence and advice in government policy making.
    • The GCSA is also Head of the Government Science and Engineering Profession and is part of the executive team of the newly formed Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.
    • Chief Scientific Advisers (CSA) and the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisers work three days per week for their Government department, with the remaining two days to continue their substantive role in academia or industry. Angela is a Professor of Mathematical Biology at Oxford University. Her research interests are the use of mathematical models to aid understanding of the evolution and spread of infectious agents. She is also interested in the use of natural science evidence in formulating public policy.
  • The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) announced the establishment of a Taskforceto tackle barriers to mobility of research staff between universities and businesses. The Taskforce will explore how much researchers move across sectors, demonstrate the benefits of mobility, identify obstacles limiting movement, and make best practice recommendations. The Taskforce is expected to report in the summer.
    Research England Executive Chair Professor Dame Jessica Corner said: Without movement both ways between industry and academia, we risk stifling creativity and innovation in both sectors. We also limit the potential to increase R&D in the UK and the related growth and productivity gains from this, as well as broader societal prosperity.
    If we are to promote economic and social growth, then we need to make the most of the talented individuals we have. Improving mobility of people will improve the flow of knowledge and innovation to where it is most needed. I look forward to hearing how businesses and universities can address their barriers and enablers.

R&D Fraud – legislation underway

  • The Economic Affairs Finance Bill Sub-Committee published Research and development tax relief and expenditure creditThe Sub-Committee’s inquiries (apart of legislative scrutiny) focused on technical issues of tax administration, clarification, and simplification rather than on rates or incidence of tax. It covered the escalation in the abuse of R&D tax relief which has led to a loss of revenue (£469 million). The Bill proposes legislative changes to combat this abuse. You can read all 56 recommendations from page 64 of the report.
  • Lord Leigh of Hurley, Chair of the Economic Affairs Finance Bill Sub-Committee, said: The Government should use its review of R&D tax relief as an opportunity to look beyond the initial measures within the draft Bill and hold an open-ended consultation on how the scheme can be improved. This will be integral to future proofing the UK’s competitiveness as a hub of R&D activity.

Horizon – delayed; Plan B – delayed

  • Research Professional are frank about the possibility of either Horizon affiliation or Plan B happening anytime soon:
  • Science minister George Freeman…took to social mediato call for the need “to get on and deploy the £4.5bn we would have received from Horizon this Comprehensive Spending Review”. He suggested that the much-vaunted plan B be put in action while the UK continues to push for association to the EU’s R&D programme.
  • Freeman warned that if the money was not used, the business department would have to bid again to the Treasury for the £4.5bn. The minister described plan B as a carefully designed “one-off boost to our global R&D” while the UK prepares for association with Horizon.
  • “Waiting for the EU to unblock us,” Freeman said, would result in “continued uncertainty” and a “damaging narrative of decline”, as well as a “growing brain drain” and “loss of vital time in the increasingly competitive global race for science and technology leadership”. Freeman’s avowed frustration is not quite the boosterism of science superpowers and the innovation nation we have heard so often from ministers.
  • Are we any closer to association or plan B? Even if prime minister Rishi Sunak were to secure a deal with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol, he still has to sell it to Ulster unionists and the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs.
  • Freeman’s comments on Sunday do not suggest that there is agreement in government on when to press the button on plan B. It is almost as if Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt would prefer not to spend the money—funny that.

Other news

  • Open data: Wonkhe blog: Daniel Keirs makes the case that the future of research data will be open and available, but it will require sustained commitment and collaboration from the research community.
  • Research hub: The Department for Transport has launched an application process to become a new research hub to help tackle decarbonisation and improve transport resilience. Decarbonisation Minister, Jesse Norman, pledged £10 million in funding for the centre, which will establish a UK centre of excellence for transport innovation. Currently, transport accounts for 27% of the UK’s emissions and the government aim for the Net Zero Transport for a Resilient Future Hub to drive decarbonisation solutions, such as greater use of recycled materials and reducing the carbon footprint of repairs and maintenance. The hub will also develop and implement innovative ideas to ensure future transport is resilient and meets the challenges of climate adaption, such as changes to weather and water levels. It will focus on the UK’s transport sector’s needs over the next 25 years as the government works to meet its 2050 net zero goals, helping to ensure the sector can build UK skills, jobs and innovation. The hub is funded at 80% from Government and 20% from the winning institution.
  • Research impact: If you missed January’s HEPI webinar discussing open access and spreading the impact of research you can watch the recording here.
  • REF impact case study data: The British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences have launchedresearch into what REF impact study case data can tell us about the contribution of the arts, humanities and social sciences to the wellbeing of society, culture and the economy. The research is intended to provide a robust evidence base on which the higher education sector and policymakers can build to articulate the value of research and its impact on society (Wonkhe).
  • HEPI and UPP Foundation’s recent public opinion polling, Public Attitudes to Higher Education 2022, finds:
    • 77% of respondents agree that universities are important to research and innovation
    • 57% agree universities are important to the UK economy as a whole.
    • Support for public investment is also high – half of people (50%) agree that university research should receive funding from the taxpayer.

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

The OfS launched a consultation to tackle harassment and sexual conduct in HE. They propose a new condition of registration which would:

  • introduce mandatory training for students and staff, including bystander training for potential witnesses to raise awareness of and prevent sexual misconduct
  • require a provider to publish a ‘single document setting out how the will make a significant and credible difference in tackling harassment and sexual misconduct, also how to report cases of harassment and sexual misconduct, and explain how students will be supported through the process
  • ban the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of harassment and sexual misconduct, and any enforcement of existing non-disclosure agreements.

Universities will also be required to comply with the requirements in a way that is consistent with principles for freedom of speech within the law. Press release here.

Instead of a new register the OfS is also considering an outright ban on relationships in some circumstances.

The topic has sparked much debate on social media: the 1752 Group are a campaign group in this area. They suggest that while the steps taken by the OfS will make people, especially survivors of abusive relationships feel better, and may discourage some behaviour that is inappropriate, and prohibiting (if they go for that option) sends a clear message on boundaries, these changes won’t “fix” anything because the worst abusers will carry on anyway and (in the case of a register) prevent reporting.  They also note that some universities already have these policies.  Overall they support a ban despite the problems with it.

Contact us if you wish to respond to the consultation or provide further comment.

Wonkhe blogs:

International

The discussion on international students has barely been out of the news for the last six months. Here’s a roundup of the key issues:

  • International students are the joint responsibility of the DfE and the Home Office – and their priorities don’t always align.
  • It’s hard to think of a more confusing approach to policy than the one relating to international students taken by successive Conservative-led governments of the past 13 years (Research Professional).
  • The period since David Cameron replaced Gordon Brown as prime minister has seen the abolition of the post-study work visa in 2012, and its reintroduction seven years laterEU students, meanwhile, have seen their entitlement to domestic tuition fee rates thrown out following Brexit, while the number of students coming to the UK from India and China has steadily risen
  • The international education strategy set out to educate 600,000 international students a year within a decade, and was achieved within four years…However, the achievement of this target appears only to have caused concern in some Westminster corridors…we are back to square one, with widespread reports of a battle between the Department for Education and the Home Office over the latter’s mooted plan to slash the graduate visa entitlement once again.
  • There is also concern that international students are bringing some family members with them when they come to study. Surely we can accept that some people might have husbands, wives and children that they wish to remain close to while studying for three years?
  • On the flip side PM Rishi Sunak is planning to permit international students to work longer hours than their current visa (limited to 20 hours) entitles – in aim of addressing systemic vacancies which are damaging the economy. The Times notes: The idea risks running up against Suella Braverman’s determination to reduce the number of foreign students. Although the measure would not directly increase the number, the home secretary is likely to be wary of measures that will make such visas more attractive to those wanting to come to Britain to work. The change would be helpful for students struggling with their finances, however, universities discourage excessive paid work as it impacts to students’ engagement with their studies. And The Times highlights: Academic administrators are also wary of British students working more, fearing it will create an “uneven playing field” where the affluent have more time for studies.
  • The PM’s intention dovetails with other rumblings about students working more hours. A Guardian article, written by the Resolution Foundation, suggests: Generally, I lean towards it being good for the youth to do some paid work early (obviously not to an extreme where it will affect their education). They get to meet the real world in all its glamour – in my case a pub’s dishwasher and sink. And it leads to better wages and employability later in life. While they’re talking about all students, not just international, the article also notes that student part time working has declined – the employment rate of 18-to-19-year-olds studying for degrees fell by 25% between 2001 and 2018.

However, cuts are on the Horizon (if the Home Office wins):

  • The Times also reports that Braverman has drawn up proposals to reduce the number [of students] to meet Sunak’s pledge to cut overall immigration after net migration hit a record-high of 504,000 last year. International students made up 476,000 of the 1.1 million migrants who arrived in the year to last June. The proposal has not been sent to the Home Office yet.
  • Also that she has drawn up a plan that would reduce the time foreign students can stay in the UK after finishing their course from two years to six monthsThis may only be applied if they haven’t found a job within six months though. However, it has also been written that the Braverman intends to ban international students from changing to a work visa until they have finished their course. And that these changes would ensure that only the most highly trained and skilled foreign students were able to stay in the UK. (More here, and iNews cover it here.)
  • (UUK International respond to the visa-cuts speculation calling for a “stable and well managed policy” regarding international student visas.)
  • The Times also states: There are concerns that Britain has been too successful at attracting foreign students. Following statistics published this week showing that the number of foreign students had reached 680,000, Rishi Sunak ordered the Home Office and the Department for Education to submit proposals for how the government could reduce their numbers without harming the sector or the economy. Presumably the concerned haven’t seen the statistics from the last few years which sees the UK as slipping down the table in the number of international students attracted in comparison to other countries.
  • Slightly reassuring is that the DfE sees overseas student fees as a vital way of financing universities, while the business department believes they contribute to Britain’s strength in key industries. (THE opinion piece from Russell Group: The Home Office must stop reheating ruinous ideas on student immigration – Cutting off a £26 billion UK success story at the knees would be self-inflicted economic vandalism, says Tim Bradshaw. However, Wonkhe say the DfE are pushing back against some Home Office policies but not others.

The last word goes to Research Professional: So it seems that we want students to come here and spend their money on tuition fees, accommodation, NHS surcharges and food and drink. We also want them to take jobs in hospitality and other industries that have for some reason (what could it be?) become short-staffed in the past seven years or so. But we don’t want them to stay on after they graduate, even though we have educated them to a high level, and God forbid they should bring their spouse along. Talk about having your cake and eating it.

Any government with any sense of context would learn the lessons of its own record over the past decade and a bit. They know what happens if they remove the post-study work visa, for crying out loud, because they already did it and had to do a U-turn a few years later.

International Student Experience

  • The OfS published – Working in partnership to improve international student integration and experience: Evaluation report. Wonkhe summarise: The report notes that full integration of international students depends on a number of factors, including practical challenges around living in a foreign country, differences in academic norms, and language barriers – all of which can contribute to “an overall feeling of disorientation”. Findings were based on 23 “substantial” responses to a call for evidence (out of a total of 63), a survey of 1,425 international students, and a literature review.
  • OfS also published an advice briefing on: Supporting international students.
  • THE piece: Flair for care– An international student’s experience can be very positive with mindful handling every step of the way, says Preeti Aghalayam.

Quick News:

  • International Commission: Chris Skidmore MP and Lord Jo Johnson (both former Universities ministers) continue to lead the way in international students. You can watch the recording of the latest International HE Commission session on the true value of international students here.
  • Also referencing Jo Johnson is this THE article: Not like it used to be. British politics is suffering from a “weakening consensus” on the benefits international students bring to the country, former universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone has warned.

Resources

Did you miss the HEPI webinar with Kaplan on international students and the Graduate Route visa? If so you can watch here. You can also read a briefing: Not heard of this – Employers’ perceptions of the UK’s Graduate Route visa

Students

Student Loans

Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System and Student Finance, announced an additional temporary cap to the Post-2012 undergraduate and postgraduate student loan interest rates. From 1-31 March 2023 the maximum interest rate will be 6.9% for all post-2012 (Plan 2) and postgraduate (Plan 3) loans. From 1 June 2023 to 31 August 2023, the maximum interest rate will be 7.3%. However, depending on the Prevailing Market Rate the government may announce further caps to apply during this period.

DfE Equity Analysis of maintenance loans

The DfE published their equality impact assessment for HE student finance 2023/24 concluding students are losing out:

  • Our overall assessment is that these proposed changes will overall have a negative impact for students with and without protected characteristics. This is because a 13.7% increase would be required to maintain the value of loans and grants for living and other costs in real terms using the 2020/21 academic year as a baseline, as measured by CPI1, due to the recent spike in inflation. Therefore a 2.8%2 increase in maximum support for 2023/24 will not restore the erosion in purchasing power since 2020/21 and is unlikely to prevent a further erosion in purchasing power by the start of the 2023/24 academic year.
  • increases in maximum loans and grants for 2021/22 and 2022/23 have not maintained their value in real terms.

Table 1 on page 13 highlights that the two highest inflationary changes are housing (26.6%) and food (16.4%).

  • As a result, many students, including from groups who share protected characteristics and from disadvantaged groups, will not be able to make the same spending decisions as they did previously with regards accommodation, travel, food, entertainment and course related items such as books and equipment, the costs of which will have been rising over time.
  • Specific groups of students are adversely affected by the changes due to them being overrepresented in the loan borrowing population:
  • Females
  • Mature students
  • Low-income groups of students [particularly because in 2022 there were record numbers of students including those from deprived background].
  • Students from minority ethnic backgrounds

(See pages 18-19 for the detail on each of these groups.)

The analysis also noted that debt-adverse students may chose not to participate in HE due to financial considerations.

On the publication of the analysis Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, commented: The fact that the DfE’s own equality assessment says uplifting maintenance loans by just 2.8% next year will have a negative impact on students underlines how flawed the system is. But what’s worse is that the Department responsible and the regulator which is supposed to be on the side of students just seem to be shrugging their shoulders. Let’s be clear: the Government has a choice, it is actively choosing to ignore its own analysis…and this choice will leave students out of pocket by over £1,500.

Wonkhe have a blog: the government’s own equality analysis of changes to student finance.

Maintenance Grants / Student Costs

HEPI and UPP Foundation reported on their recent public opinion polling, Public Attitudes to Higher Education 2022, regarding maintenance grants:

  • Two-thirds (64%) of public support the reintroduction of maintenance grants for the poorest students
  • 57% agreed the Government should provide additional support to students to help them with the cost of living, however:
  • only 10% of respondents put students among the top three groups they would prioritise for support with the cost of living (top 3 were those on minimum wage, pensions, families with young children)
  • 71% believe the cost-of-living crisis will deter people from going to university over the next two years – but only 26% think that fewer people should be going to university
  • 63% believe that ‘students should expect to work part time to cover their living costs while at university.’
  • 57% of respondents believed freedom of speech is currently under at least some threat (16% no threat)

However:

  • 22% agreed with the statement ‘a university degree is a waste of time’ (rose to 32% among 18-to-24 year olds)
  • 58% agreed ‘a university degree does not prepare students for the real world’.
  • Note: Only 18% of respondents had visited a university in the existing academic year, and over half of those from the lowest social grades (DE) had never visited a university at all.

Disproportionate Impacts

John Blake (OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation) John Blake blogs for Wonkhe on the initial findings of the cost of living crisis on students: Opportunity costs: The differential impact of cost-of-living pressures on students. Excerpts:

  • There is particular concern that those student groupsalready facing the greatest risks to equality of opportunity are experiencing greater levels of hardship.
  • 91 per cent of higher education students were ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ concerned about the rising cost of living.
  • More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of survey participants were concerned that the rising cost of living may affect how well they do in their studies.
  • Nearly one in five said they had considered pausing their course and resuming it next year.
  • Thirty-four per cent of respondents reported that they are less likely to consider further study.

OfS intend to publish an Insight brief on the topic before Easter.

Parliament: Student cost of living arose in the recent Education topical questions – the Minister neatly side stepped the issue focussing on the support the Government already provide.

Estranged Students

Student Loan Company (SLC) data notes applications from estranged students have increased. Wonkhe analyse the increase (blog) finding that increases are likely due to:

  • That UCAS added a tickbox for estranged students to the application last year – meaning that the quality of data has improved as applicants are now directed to declare their status.
  • Awareness raising within the sector coupled with highlighting the benefits of declaring their status
  • Flexibility – SLC has changed the processes slightly to be more flexible (evidence burden to prove estrangement; encouraging applications even if they don’t 100% meet the criteria; ability to declare estrangement at any point in the year).

So, the rise in numbers of estranged students, while sad that many students find themselves in this situation, is more indicative of the success of UCAS and StandAlone raising awareness of the help and support available, and initiatives such as the StandAlone Pledge, which features in Estranged Student Solidarity Week on campuses around the nations, in getting the correct information to the right applicants.

However, Wonkhe notes: To end on a slightly depressing note – the figure is not necessarily a cause for celebration as those within the figures have not necessarily actually been awarded full means-tested funding on the basis that they are irreconcilably estranged from their parents. The figures are figures to show who has ticked the estranged box as a part of the application process to SLC.

It would be good to see data showing how many received full financial support because simply having more students at university isn’t really the aim here. It’s understanding their needs and ratifying the support they need, ensuring they fulfil their potential – that’s the aim.

Cost of Living

The ONS (Office for National Statistics) published updated experiment statistics on the behaviours, plans, opinions and well-being of students related to the cost of living, with findings drawn from the Student Cost of Living Insights Study (SCoLIS).  The findings are consistent with the earlier study in November 2022 (except in the one case noted below where matters have worsened).

  • 92% of HE students reported that their cost of living has increased compared with last year
  • 91% were somewhat or very worried about the rising cost of living
  • 49% of students felt they had financial difficulties (33% minor difficulties, 16% major financial difficulties)
  • 68% of respondents received student loan; of those, 58% said it did not cover their living costs, while one in four (25%) said it just covered their living costs.
  • In response to the rising cost of living, 30% of students had taken on new debt (this is a significant increase from the November study). Of those taking on new debt 71% reported they did so because their student loan was not enough to support their living costs.
  • 78% were concerned that the rising cost of living may affect how well they do in their studies; one-third (35%) reported they are now less likely to do further study after their course has completed.
  • The average level of life satisfaction among higher education students (5.8) was significantly lower than the adult population in Great Britain (6.9).
  • Around 46% of students reported their mental health and well-being had worsened since the start of the autumn term 2022; this is similar to students in early November 2022 (45%).

Disabled Students

TASO (the what-works centre, Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) published  a summary report: What works to reduce equality gaps for disabled students which evaluates the effectiveness of university interventions which aimed to address inequalities. The report covers a wide range of subject material from leadership buy-in and support, to entering HE, to assistive technologies. It’s a useful source of information on a number of matters in addition to the assessment of intervention evidence. For example, it provides the below categorisation of student disability.

Overall the report finds gaps in the evidence in demonstrating what works to improve outcomes for disabled students and page 12 onwards sets out six recommendations to address the evaluation gaps.

Key points:

  • Limited causal evidence of what works to address inequalities for disabled students
  • A lack of consistency in data collection methods making comparisons between HE institutions difficult
  • Disability inclusion requires a comprehensive institutional approach, but there is a lack of evidence on the impact of each part – including leadership, training and support, communication, and staff and student voice.
  • Despite the legal requirements and funding there is little research on the effectiveness of reasonable adjustments.
  • The review found evidence that transition support to help disabled students into HE can be effective for enabling disability inclusion.

Recommendations:

  • More and better evaluation of interventions to address inequalities for disabled students in HE are needed.
  • Effective and consistent data collection is required to understand and address inequalities in HE and therefore must be improved.
  • Better evidence is needed on reasonable adjustments: on how they are delivered and their impact on disability inclusion.
  • Scrutiny is needed of ‘whole institution’ approaches to tackling disability inclusion and whether they are having an impact.
  • Access and Participation Plans (APPs) should be monitored in terms of how far they commit to addressing disability inequalities, and whether and how they will evaluate such commitments.

To take matters forward TASO will partner with two independent evaluators and four HEIs to continue to understand and build the evidence base for what works to support disabled students.

Dr Eliza Kozman, Deputy Director, TASO stated:

  • Despite best intentions to improve disability inclusion in universities and colleges across the country, we’re still very much in the dark about what works. This is particularly concerning given the rapid rise in young people reporting a disability and the persistent equality gaps in degree outcomes and employment rates for disabled students.
  • I encourage all higher education providers to take heed of the recommendations outlined in today’s report. We need to work in partnership with disabled students to better understand their needs, further develop the evidence base on what works and ensure efforts across the sector are not made in vain.

International

The latest International HE Commission evidence session covered the International Student Voice and how institutional policy should change to better support international students in the UK. If you missed it you can watch the 1 hour session here.

The Commission summarise the session:

  • The student panel explored rhetoric versus reality for international students in the UK. There was recognition of the benefits of the independent study style and how this supported personal and academic development.  The opportunity to learn from other people and cultures was also welcomed, but a concern that students felt ‘othered’ by the host community – that more focus on creating a sense of a coherent student community would benefit all students.  The importance of actively fostering positive identities and focussing on the contribution of international students rather than their economic value was repeatedly emphasised.  Any focus on economic returns needed to include the student view of return on investment.
  • In discussion of what universities could do to encourage a sense of “belonging” – it was noted that clearer structures for achieving academic success and for building social connections and cross-cultural communities were essential. It was also recognised that integration doesn’t “just happen” on campus, it needs to be facilitated and curated by universities. It was also noted that work opportunities can also a significant contribution to socialisation. More broadly, the need for greater pastoral support was reiterated, and within that systematic measures to address issues of financial hardship.

The Commission also announced eight new commissioners, including its first two student commissioners:

  • Professor Shitij Kapur – President and Principal, Kings College London
  • Professor Andrea Nolan – Convener of the International Committee of Universities Scotland and Principal & Vice Chancellor, Edinburgh Napier University
  • Lucy Stonehill – CEO, BridgeU
  • Sanam Arora – Founder and Chair, National Indian Students and Alumni Union
  • Wendy Alexander – VP International, University of Dundee, Professor of International Education, Higher Education Trade & Investment Envoy, British Council Trustee
  • Katie Normington – Midlands Enterprise Universities Board Member and VC, De Montfort University
  • Sára Kozáková (Student Commissioner) – Co-Chair of UKCISA’s Student Advisory Group and currently perusing a master’s degree at Newcastle University after completing her UG study at Portsmouth University.
  • Siqi Jia (Student Commissioner) – A recent University of Glasgow graduate, currently working for Deloitte with a strong focus in the employability area

The future for the Commission is unclear because it was established and is chaired by (former universities minister) Chris Skidmore. However, Chris has confirmed he will stand down as an MP at the next election.

Other news

Creative sector: The House of Lords Communication and Digital Committee reported on the challenges facing the UK’s creative sector and spoke out against the DfE’s sweeping rhetoric about low value courses arguing that the Government’s policy is hinder the creative industries. Wonkhe have a blog.

Admissions: Parliamentary Question – Ensuring AI admissions software does not undermine the fairness of the HE application cycle.

Inquiries and Consultations

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE Policy update for the w/e 3rd February 2023

office fNews galore. We cover all the major news and provide short commentary and links on the specialist interest topics.

Party politics: tertiary reform?

The next general election is constantly on the minds of policy makers. Last week Kier Starmer rowed back from Labour’s traditional position of abolishing HE tuition fees. This week attention has turned to what could be learnt from Wales’ review and reform of education which has resulted in a joined up tertiary education system. Andy Westwood writes for Wonkhe suggesting that Wales could be a blueprint for policy and suggesting Labour should prioritise tertiary reform over tuition fees.

Some snippets to whet your interest:

  • While the higher education funding system looks unsustainable in its current form and surely can’t survive the next Parliament without reform, it does not follow that it is sensible to try and fix it in isolation from other parts. 
  • …there is likely to be a series of policy priorities that will affect both colleges and universities as Labour draw up its manifesto, alongside any potential plan to reform tuition fees and higher education funding. But designing centralised policy solutions separately – e.g. by focusing solely on full-time university tuition fees but not on lifelong learning, apprenticeships or day-to-day funding for FE will only bake in the silos and systemic incoherence that cause so many problems for people, places and businesses.
  • The Welsh model, if not perfect, is certainly better than that currently in England…, we have three competing and very different systems – a centralised funding and management body (ESFA) running (and underfunding) FE, as well as schools, a market regulator (OfS) and an entirely separate and different system for apprenticeships (IFATE). Adult learning remains a poor relation and a low priority for each. The three funding systems are also different – direct funding and loans but managed places, uncapped markets with tuition fee loans, employer levies and grants (and limited access across routes to means-tested maintenance)…it is complex and counterproductive. And both in part and overall, it is failing.

Chris Millward (former Director for Fair Access at OfS) agrees with Westwood and is keen to bring technical and academic together in a cohesive tertiary system. He also suggests Government could reduce regulation in the areas that are a priority such as higher and degree apprenticeships, modular (shorter) learning, and advanced technical or research courses. Especially if they’re in geographical areas where the Government wants to drive growth and attract investment by aligning skills and innovation around a university presence. Finally, he suggests increasing fees (only by inflation) where institutions can demonstrate excellence beyond a threshold (I.e. we’re back to TEF related increases – which the House of Lords originally threw out). You can read Millward’s blog for Research Professional in full here.

Lifelong Learning

Earlier this week THE reported the Government were considering uncontroversial legislation surrounding the Lifelong Learning loan entitlements. These loans allow students to borrow up to the equivalent of four years’ worth of student loan funding across their whole life to spend as they will including on shorter or modular courses (more here). The loans are expected to be particularly attractive to mature students who wish to retrain or change careers (assuming they don’t already have a degree). Previous PM Boris Johnson pledged to introduce the LLE by 2025.

The background:

  • In May 2022, the government said in the Queen’s Speech that it would introduce a higher education bill to implement the LLE in England and, “subject to consultation”, a minimum entry requirement (MER) for individuals to be eligible for student loans, as well as student number controls (SNCs).
  • After that consultation [results promised soon], the Department for Education was said to favour capping numbers on courses using outcomes measures including the proportion of graduates going into “managerial or professional employment”, and an MER set at two E grades at A level. However, ministers changed and current HE Minister Halfon is said to be far less supportive of MER plans. Other sector commentators are also opposed: Any move to reopen the door to minimum entry requirements or student recruitment limits would be extremely concerning and against modern universities’ core principles of inclusion, aspiration and the power of education to transform lives (Rachel Hewitt, Chief Executive of MillionPlus).
  • Lord Johnson of Marylebone, the Conservative former universities minister, said Ministers must rethink their approach and allow “much greater flexibility in terms of what courses will be eligible for LLE funding…Learners wanting to access specific skills do not necessarily want or need courses that are simply credit-bearing modules of existing qualifications…The DfE needs to ensure that learners have a much broader choice of courses and credentials – credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing – if the LLE is to fulfil its potential. Lord Johnson was also an opponent to student number controls while he was HE Minister.

The rumours were correct! The Government introduced the Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill on Wednesday. The Bill aims to build upon previous legislation and provides the legal framework to underpin credit-based learning, set fee limits and update legislation in relation to the Access and Participation Plans. It:

  • Introduces a new fee limit method which limits the amount a provider can charge for a course or module based on credits. This means the amount a provider can charge a student is proportionate, whether the student takes up a short course, a module or a traditional full course.
  • Enables the Secretary of State to set maximum chargeable credits per course year, so that students are not being charged disproportionately for whatever course they wish to undertake.
  • Introduces the concept of ‘course year’ as opposed to an ‘academic year’, to allow fee limits to apply with greater precision according to when the course actually starts. This aims to support more flexible patterns of study.

The Bill’s financial commitments remain as expected – students may receive a loan entitlement, equivalent to four years of post-18 study (£37,000 in today’s fees) which can be used over their working lives. This will be available for both modules of courses and full courses, whether in college or at university. If will fund provision between level 4 and 6 so first degrees, higher technical qualifications, HNCs and HNDs.

Wonkhe add: It is recognised that not all courses fit a credit-based modular model – nursing is cited as one example of a “non-credit-bearing” course that will be funded at a “default” level equivalent to a standard number of credits. Prices for all credits will vary depending on institutional registration, TEF award, access and participation plan status, and specific fee limit designation as of now – there will also be separate credit values for placements, study abroad, and credit transfer. Of course, Wonkhe also has a new blog on the topic.

Commenting on the Bill’s introduction Dr Arti Saraswat, AoC HE Senior Policy Manager, makes some good points:

  • Implementing this by 2025 will be challenging and will depend on publishing a detailed rule book, putting the correct systems in place and, most importantly, ensuring programmes are ready so that students can enrol on courses on a more modular basis. Ensuring the scheme has been tested through a thorough pilot process will be vital to building trust in the new system.
  • There is still work needed to explain who will be eligible for the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, where they will be able to use it and how those institutions will be regulated. Colleges already have a track record of teaching HE on a more part-time, flexible and individualized basis to adult learners but this activity has diminished in recent years creating a genuine challenge in rebuilding capacity, at a time when the UK needs higher skills to boost productivity and grow the economy.
  • There are wider challenges involved in reinvigorating adult higher education. The LLE and credit-based student loans are important technical fixes but are not enough on their own. Access to maintenance support is essential to ensure students can afford to study on a flexible basis.

Research

There is lots of research related news. Here are a series of links and blogs which cover the main announcements.

Innovation vision: Last Friday Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set out his goals for the UK. On research and innovation he included:

  • UK world leader in digital and tech, green and clean energy sector, and creative industries
    • Created more tech unicorns than France and Germany combined
    • Fintech in the UK attracted more funding than anywhere in the world outside of the US
    • UK Covid vaccine has saved more than 6m lives around the globe
    • Largest offshore windfarm in the world
  • Golden thread running through industries in the UK – innovation
    • UK ranks 4thglobally in innovation index, responsible for all the productivity growth
  • Hunt asked innovators to the help the UK achieve something both ambitious and strategic
    • He wants the UK to be the next Silicon Valley and for the world’s tech entrepreneurs and life science innovators to come to the UK
    • UK universities, financial sector, and government will back them
    • Government determined to make the UK a tech superpower
  • Confidence in the future starts with honesty in the present
    • UK weakness: poor productivity, skills gaps, over concentration of wealth in the SE
    • Brexit opportunity – make Brexit a catalyst for bold choices
  • Plan for growth – not a series of announcements, but a framework for policies in the future

And lots more:

  • Research Professional: the growing tensions around spinouts at British universities.
  • Impact data contribution to society: The British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences have launchedresearch into what REF impact study case data can tell us about the contribution of the arts, humanities and social sciences to the wellbeing of society, culture and the economy. The research is intended to provide a robust evidence base on which the higher education sector and policymakers can build to articulate the value of research and its impact on society. (Wonkhe 26/01).
  • The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committeehas published a report on research and development tax relief and expenditure credit
  • 45 UK researchers were successful in winning grants from the European Research Council recent round. UKRI’s Horizon Europe guarantee covers the funds while association is still up in the air
  • Policy influencing: HEPI published a report on how policymakers currently interact with research and how researchers lobby policymakers.
  • Lost money:Top UK economists have criticised £6 million a year in “perverse” quality-related cuts to their field, part of more than £100 million lost in the social sciences more broadly, despite a sharp improvement in Research Excellence Framework ratings. (THE)
  • Women’s Health Strategy for England – implementation.
  • Research security: article in The Times; Wonkhe blog
  • Intellectual Property: The N8 Research Partnership – an alliance of eight universities in the north of England – has delivereda statement on rights retention, strongly recommending that researchers “do not by default transfer intellectual property rights to publishers and instead use a rights retention statement as standard practice.” (Wonkhe)
  • ARIA: We’ve been writing about ARIA for so long that it feels like old news. However, it’s only right to mention the Government has now formally launched ARIA and it was legally established on 25 January. The link contains basic information about the purpose of ARIA and Wonkhe inform that Five new members have been appointed to the board, including former chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce Kate Bingham and new Chief Financial and Operations Officer Antonia Jenkinson and that ARIA also announcedthat it would begin recruiting programme directors in the week of 6 February.
  • NHS Clinical Research at risk: The Lords Science and Technology Committee wroteto the Steve Barclay (Minister for Health and Social Care) warning that the current state of clinical research, pressures on the NHS, and a declining workforce is putting the future of clinical research in the NHS in jeopardy. The committee also emphasised that without urgent action patients will miss out on innovative treatments and the UK will miss out on economic growth. This webpage gives the best summary of the situation and the Committee’s recommendations which include mention of universities. Postdoctoral career insecurity is also mentioned and the Committee recommend offering longer contracts with the expectation of permanent positions to follow.
  • International collaboration: New Wonkhe blog – Becoming a science superpower relies not only on national research capacity but finding reliable international partners.
  • Research catapults: A new blog on Wonkhe – Catapults in context – Catapults are getting more funding and more political attention. But what do they do and what are they for?
  • Innovation: UKRI announced their cross-research council responsive mode pilot scheme which offers funding for interdisciplinary ideas that transcend, combine or significantly span disciplines. The full fund is worth £32.5 million and UKRI intend to make 26 awards.
  • R&D tax credits for small and medium sized enterprises are still contentious and Shadow BEIS Minister Chi Onwurah voiced concerns during oral questions: AMLo Biosciences is a Newcastle University spin-out whose groundbreaking research will save lives by making cancer diagnosis easier and more accurate. AMLo spends millions on research and reinvests all its research and development tax credits into R&D. The Government’s tax credit changes will halve what AMLo can claim, meaning less research and fewer new jobs. Its investors may ask for it to move abroad, where R&D is cheaper. Many Members have similar examples in their constituencies. Will the Minister explain why the Government issued no guidance, gave no support and had no consultation on the changes to SME R&D tax credits? Does he accept that whether in respect of hospitality heating bills or spin-out science spend, the Government are abandoning small businesses? Kevin Hollinrake (Small Business Minister) responded on behalf of the Government suggesting that the Government are trying to fix the problem: Clearly, we have to balance the interests of the taxpayer with the interests of small business. We have to make sure that the money that is being utilised for R&D is properly spent, and there were concerns about abuse of the small business R&D scheme. It is good that the Treasury is now looking into the matter and looking to move towards a simplified universal scheme, which I would welcome and on which there is a consultation. I absolutely agree that we need to make sure we have the right support for research and development in this country, not least for SMEs.

Parliamentary Questions:

  • ARIA funding flexibility.
  • Monitoring the UK’s innovation clusters
  • Confirmation of the total Government spend on R&I in 2018 as £12,765 million, 2019 as £13,542 and 2020 as £15,266
  • Horizon Europe: If the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, the Government will be ready with a comprehensive alternative, including a suite of transitional measures and longer-term programmes, funded from the budget set aside for association to European programmes. As stated in my speech at Onward UK on 11 Jan 2023, these programmes will enable the UK to meet its global Science Superpower and Innovation Nation ambitions. Details of the transitional measures have already been published, and the Department will publish more detailed proposals on the longer-term programmes in due course.

Regulatory: OfS under fire

Matt Western has been demonstrating his worth as Shadow HE Minister recently by asking a series of useful parliamentary questions. This includes Matt questioning Minister Halfon on whether the OfS will increase the registration fee for universities (because the fee is set by DfE). Halfon’s response:

  • No final decision has been made on any fee increase. The department is currently considering the level those fees should be set at for the 2023/24 academic year, to ensure that the OfS can perform its important functions effectively, ensuring students receive high quality education and value for money.
  • This includes continuing investigations to address pockets of low quality HE provision and deliver new duties under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

It’s this last element that’s the kicker because fee increases are expected to be tied to the newer closer regulatory interventions on course quality and free speech.

You’ll recall a couple of weeks ago that the mission groups wrote to a select committee urging them to look how OfS regulate the sector. The Russell Group have spoken out again, on the same issue because the proposed increase in registration fees is of 13-15% whilst student maintenance loans were only uplifted by 2.8%. Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group stated:

  • We’ve been clear with Department for Education that, before any increase in the Office for Students’ fees is considered, the regulator should demonstrate clearly how this extra funding will bring genuine benefit to students and how it plans to show that it is itself operating in the most efficient and effective way… It’s a frankly bizarre move given the perspective of the maintenance loan uplift, and also because it is not clear if the Office for Students has actually asked for this level of increase. Instead, the 13% figure seems to be coming more from political angles and linked primarily to responsibilities the Office for Students may get if and when the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill becomes law.
  • Instead of bumping up its fees…the Office for Students should be cutting them, and substantially…
  • while Parliament wrestles with the closing stages of the Free Speech Bill, maybe it should instead put a little more effort into scrutinising existing legislation and the priorities of the Government, its departments and the regulator with respect to students as they try to stay focused on their studies while their maintenance loans run out.

Dr Tim Bradshaw wrote further on the topic in a HEPI blog and you can also read the Russell Group’s analysis on student losses as maintenance loans fail to keep up with inflation here.

Another corker from Matt Western that the Government slightly sidestepped is whether the OfS Director for Free Speech will commit to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. All HE institutions have been pushed hard in recent years to sign up to the definition. Minister Coutinho stated: … We remain committed to the IHRA definition and our belief that providers should adopt it… The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will require reasonably practicable steps to be taken to secure freedom of speech within the law. The Director will oversee the free speech functions in that context.

The OfS, who haven’t been sitting idly by whilst the Russell Group launched their offensive. On Friday Wonkhe reported that: The Office for Students (OfS) is seen by providers as “seeking conflict”, lacking independence from government, and poor at communicating, according to findings of independent research into its relationship with the sector. As a result it has set out plans to “refresh” its engagement with providers – a blog from chief executive Susan Lapworth sets out actions including better communication channels, careful consideration of consultation lengths, and visits to institutions to “improve mutual understanding”.

The research that Wonkhe mentioned was actually published in July and this entertaining Wonkhe blog picks out the highlights from the research feedback. Seven months passed in which OfS had plenty of time to ruminate on their response/action and on Thursday Susan Lapworth published her own blog setting out what OfS would do. Here’s a comment from ‘Andy’ about Susan’s blog (published on Wonkhe):

  • The blog follows Susan Lapworth’s now traditional approach of apologising for the fact that the sector doesn’t understand the OfS, and promising to try and explain more clearly why everything they do is excellent, while not engaging with any substantive criticisms or issues. Coming across, as always, as someone very much untroubled by doubt.
  • The blog also comes with the function to comment but, as always, even mildly critical comments are not published (which is perhaps why the blogs never have any comments on them).
  • There are, as the article gently implies, no obvious signs that anything is going to get any better.

TEF: Finally the last thing anyone who was involved in the recent TEF exercise will want to read about now is…well…TEF. There is an easy read blog (yes it’s Wonkhe again) which contemplates TEF 4.0 and considers whether to embrace it or firmly place one’s head in the sand. Enjoy!

Students

Student Affordability

  • Reassurance from Paul Blomfield MP who chairs the APPG for Students writing about why students should be a priority in cost of living discussions within Parliament.
  • A useful Commons Library briefing the value of student maintenance support details how student maintenance support levels have changed over time and explores whether it’s enough, parental contributions and eligibility. A key point is that the real terms value of loans reduce by 7% in the current academic year and 4% for 2023/24 with the impact that the reduction is larger than any real cuts seen in student support going back to the early 1960s.
  • Parliamentary question confirming there are no plans to offer a repayment holiday on student loans when a graduate falls on hard times.
  • Scotland have suspended their student rent cap stating it had limited impact on annual rents set on the basis of an academic year.
  • Jersey have confirmed that the previous temporary (2022) increase in student maintenance will become permanent. However, the administration are coming under fire because the funding arrangements for next academic year haven’t yet been released.
  • Wonkhe report that Rising costs are “ruining” the university experience by 54 per cent of students, according to new pollingon the cost of living. Seven in ten have considered dropping out, with 37 per cent of these citing living costs as the main reason. The survey, conducted by Opinium on behalf of higher education software provider TechnologyOne, covered a representative sample of more than 1,000 university students across the UK in December and January.

Additional Hardship Funding: In our recent policy update we covered the announcement of additional student hardship funding for 2022-23. Overall there is £11.1m through full-time student premium, £1.6m through the part-time student premium, and £2.3m through the disabled students’ premium.The OfS has now shared allocations with providers and tasked them to consider how to distribute the additional funds. What is interesting policy wise is that Wonkhe highlight that the money is a redistribution of funds which were originally designed to support preparation for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and “emergent priorities” funding. So, another Government initiative that under Rishi’s administration the brakes have been applied to (just lightly). This slowdown could mean that the PM is taking a more considered approach to previous policy initiatives rather than steamrollering them out…or if could just mean a general election is looming on the who-knows-how distant horizon.

Student Accommodation: Wonkhe cover resistance to the Government’s plan to abolish fixed term tenancies: A group of universities, student accommodation providers, and landlord bodies have written to the government warning against the abolition of fixed-term tenancies for students renting privately. The letter, co-signed by Universities UK chief executive Vivienne Stern, argues that the introduction of open-ended tenancies to the student housing market, as proposed by the government, will “undermine the stability and proper functioning of the sector” which is “dependent on property being available at the start of the academic year”. The Telegraph reports on the letter.

Quick news and blogs

Admissions: BTEC still under threat

  • Opposition to the removal of funding for some vocational qualifications continues. The Lords have been vocal in their opposition and a cross-party group urged Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to withdraw plansto cut funding for recently reformed applied general qualifications, such as BTECs.
  • Recent analysis from the Protect Student Choice campaignrevealed more than half of the 134 qualifications currently available (undertaken by 200,000 pupils) and included in the DfE’s performance league tables would be ineligible for funding from 2025.
  • The letter to Minister Keegan included high profile figures such as previous Education Secretaries of State David Blunkett and Ken Baker, former Education (and HE) ministers David Willetts and Jo Johnson, the Deputy Speaker of the Lords Sue Garden, and Labour peer Mike Watson. The letter highlights that previously they had been assured that only a small proportion of the applied generals would be removed, which is why they had supported the Skills Bill. It also states that qualifications to be defunded, which include health and social care, science, IT and business, are popular with students, respected by employers and valued by universities and states that removing them will have a disastrous impact on social mobility, economic growth and our public services. The Peers call on Keegan to remove the qualifications from the scope of the level 3 review and reforms, which are being cut to streamline the current offering and make way for new T Levels.
  • In other House of Lords news a rather eminent group of Peers has come together to launch a select committee on 11-16 year olds’ Education with reference to the skills necessary for the digital and green economy. Former HE Minister Lord Jo Johnson will chair the Committee and you can view the other Members here. The calibre of Peers participating makes this committee one to watch. They include a former education secretary, a Teachers Union general secretary, the Lords deputy Speaker, president of the Independent Schools Association, co-chair of the engineering APPG, and several party education spokespersons.

HESA statistics | Grade inflation (deflation)

It’s always an interesting half hour to peruse the HESA data releases. This time it’s the first look at the overall 2021/22 student statistics. For ease of reading we’ve popped the overall key points here. They cover student numbers and characteristics including disability, ethnicity, deprivation, religion, and age; by subject (spoiler – languages are down again); and qualifications awarded. HESA also published an insight brief – some interesting points:

  • A decrease in EU enrolment coupled with an increase in non-EU international numbers – unsurprisingly there may be a link with the end of home fee eligibility for EU students and the introduction of the Graduate route visa scheme.
  • A decrease – although not to pre-pandemic numbers – in the number of students being awarded first class honours, following a surge in high grades during the 2019/20 and 2020/21 academic years. The government will be pleased although they want it to go back to pre-pandemic as a start and maybe further.
  • An increase in students studying abroad as pandemic-era travel restrictions were lifted.
  • A decrease – although not to pre-pandemic levels – in students living in their parents’ or guardians’ home, following an increase during the height of the pandemic. (Remember this data is before current cost of living concerns.) This is interesting because we wondered if there would be a permanent shift, it seems not but cost of living may mean this changes again.

Wonkhe have a blog on the data release.

On the topic of grade inflation OfS Chief Executive, Susan Lapworth, stated: Today’s figures show a welcome decrease back towards pre-pandemic levels in the proportion of first class degrees awarded to students graduating in the 2021-22 academic year…Left unchecked, grade inflation can erode public trust and it is important that the OfS can and does intervene where it has concerns about the credibility of degrees. Universities and colleges understand that they must ensure that the degrees they award are credible and properly represent students’ achievement. This is the way to maintain the confidence of students, employers and the wider public in higher education qualifications.

Susan also mentioned the UUK and GuildHE initiative which aimed to increase transparency in degree awards: Last year, members of Universities UK and GuildHE committed to address the rising proportion of first class and upper second degrees and pledged to return to pre-pandemic levels of grading. We welcomed that commitment and will continue to monitor trends in classifications to understand factors that may contribute to the sector’s performance.

UUK has a good explainer about the initiative on their website (stick with it through all the drop down clicks): How universities are turning the corner on grade inflation.

If you’re interested in the latest statistics on HE staff from HESA you can read the analysis here.

ChatGPT

ChatGPT was THE topic of conversation over the last few weeks. Here’s a selection of links which vary in their focus and take on the topic.

Inquiries and Consultations

  • Here is the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current calls.
  • Other news
  • Targets and measures: Wonkhe blog –  the unique strengths of higher education are at risk from the excessive standardisation of targets and performance measures.
  • Emerging Tech: Previous universities minister Chris Skidmore has been appointed to support Sir Patrick Vallance’s work to accelerate the development of emerging tech. Chris will work on green industries. Skidmore will be stepping down as an MP at the next election
  • Degree apprenticeships: Wonkhe tell us Universities UK has released a ten point plan on how to grow degree apprenticeship provision, calling on government to review the costs and burden of regulation – the scale and complexity of which currently “creates a potential barrier to entry” – and reopen the register of apprenticeship training providers, so that universities new to delivering degree apprenticeships “can take the first step to be able to deliver them”. Also: Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon praised universities’ role in promoting degree apprenticeships – including excellent Ofsted inspection reports, which he noted as confirming his belief that universities “are brilliantly placed to deliver these unique programmes”. And we have a Parliamentary Question: Promoting degree apprenticeships to disadvantaged young people.
  • Health workforce: The Welsh government has announced an expansion in training places for the health professional workforce in Wales, with £281.98 million to be invested in 2023-24, an eight per cent increase from the current year. The funding includes £7.14 million for medical training places. (Wonkhe.)
  • Refugee/asylum access to HE: Wonkhe report that a new online portal has launched to promote opportunities for refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK to access university. The Displaced Student Opportunities UK website – created by Refugee Education UK, Student Action for Refugees, and Universities of Sanctuary – is intended to showcase academic scholarships, grants, short courses and mentoring for displaced students.
  • Minimum entry requirements (or limiting student numbers): there is an interesting THE article Second chances. It covers the Netherlands universities who may revert to using lotteries to decide which students are admitted to fixed-capacity programmes. Supporters say we do believe it would promote equity between students. Interesting, but this approach isn’t (currently) being considered for UK HE policy.
  • THE has an article on the MPs who also work in Universities. It’s mainly concerned with the impact of second earnings but does mention how having an MP on staff, even temporarily, could be a lobbying route. This Evening Standard article quantifies the detail a little more on second earnings noting former PMs within the top earners but unfortunately doesn’t dish on how much universities are paying their parliamentarians.
  • Carbon footprint: The Government wants HE (and FE) to publish carbon footprint data by 2025 but there isn’t a reliable data collection system in place. Wonkhe: Enter the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) and a Standardised Carbon Emissions Reporting Framework agreed in consultation with every relevant sector group you can imagine. It’s a voluntary, consensual requirement that will align with an updated and streamlined HESA estates management record and aims to meet providers where they are in terms of collection and reporting. Here’s the blog.
  • New Uni: Blackpool to receive £40 million to build a new carbon neutral university.
  • Turing troubles: Opinion piece in THE on the problems with the Turing Scheme. The authors recommend offering funding more promptly and flexibly.
  • Contract cheating: Wonkhe blog – Daniel Sokol describes a case of blackmail by an essay mill and proposes a new approach to how universities should handle such cases.
  • Student dropout: Wonkhe blog – What sort of support should be offered when students drop out of university? Stephen Eccles shoots and scores.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

 

HE policy update for the w/e 9th December 2022

Education oral questions always makes for a busy time in the HE world. As you’d expect international students and the cost of living featured heavily, along with some interesting responses from Skills and HE Minister Robert Halfon. Ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore will stand down at the next election, there’s a new regulatory typology of HE institutions, FE colleges are to be reclassified (watch out HE), and the big news is the HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill is back in Parliament with a bang!

Parliamentary News

Fresh blood incoming

Parliamentarians are indicating whether they intend to stand as MPs at the next general election. Previous Universities Minister Chris Skidmore has publicly announced he will not stand for re-election. Research Professional comments: Skidmore was a relatively popular figure in the universities minister role and always sought to use his position to celebrate the good that universities can do, playing down any rhetoric about limiting access to universities for those who wished to attend. Skidmore says he intends to “devote the next stage of my career to delivering a more sustainable future for energy and our environment”.  It’s a loss for the HE sector as Skidmore was a stabilising voice genuinely valuing the benefits that universities bring to individuals and the country as a whole.

Politics Home has a running list and commentary on the MPs who will not contest their seat at the next election. It includes some notable long-standing figures. Since Rishi has assumed the leadership clamour for a general election has calmed however parliamentary rules mean the next election must be ‘called’ by December 2024 (so held by January 2025 at latest). The Conservatives are still behind in the polls and they will attempt to plan an election for the time that gives them the best chance of winning.

Education Questions

In Education Oral Questions last Monday, John Penrose MP raised whether the grades of undergraduate degrees in similar subjects were of an equal standard across all HE courses/providers (“no employer or student thinks a 2:1 in English or chemistry is worth the same from every university.”). Instead of seizing on the opportunity to lecture on grade inflation or low quality courses or passing off responsibility to the OfS, Minister Halfon gave a measured response: Our important sector-recognised standards are agreed by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment to ensure that degrees equip students with the skills and knowledge required for them to succeed. Provider autonomy on what and how they teach is vital, and we must avoid driving standardisation over innovation. The Office for Students regulates to these agreed standards and investigates any concerns.

Halfon also stated: my priority for higher education…it is skills, jobs and social justice, by which I mean ensuring that disadvantaged people can climb the higher education ladder of opportunity.

It’s both nothing new and revealing at the same time.

Education Select Committee: Skills background

Nick Fletcher (Conservative) has been appointed to the Education Select Committee. Previously an electrician, he holds a HNC in electrical engineering. This represents yet another appointee to the Committee with a strong skills background and who did not follow the ‘traditional’ A levels to University route. The Government’s messaging on skills and the importance of technical routes have been clear for some time. They’re not just about achieving parity of esteem but also about drawing students away from the academic pathway into skills focused routes which the Government believes will address business skills gaps and productivity – improving the UK’s economic potential. (Some also believe it’s because student loans and support are so costly to the public purse. However, a longer-term thinker may recognise that skills may travel down the same route in future.)

While he is from the party that formed the current Government (and he will be expected to vote on party lines during divisions) he isn’t a minister and his role on the select committee is to engage and investigate education matters as a parliamentarian. I.e. he can interrogate the Education Minister, challenge Government policy and report alternative recommendations. Select Committees are part of Parliament’s scrutiny and checking function. So is a background that fits so well with current Government policy a coincidence, or are they taking advantage of someone who will clearly understand and support the skills agenda and has less experience of the benefits of HE.

Free Speech – the latest

The HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill returned to the Lords. We provided a rundown of the Bill so far in our last policy update.

Last week the HE commentators pointed out what a rough ride the Bill received at Committee Stage in the Lords and are gleefully trumpeting about the proposed amendments for Report Stage. Wonkhe outline some of the amendments: New amendments laid for the Report stage of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill aim to ensure the publication of guidance for students’ unions, prevent universities having to disclose sensitive commercial information to the OfS, and clarify the OfS free speech director’s duty to report to Parliament.

And:

  • Earl Howe has laid several amendments to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill on behalf of the government, following robust criticism from the Lords at Committee Stage. Should the government get its way, the definition of freedom of speech used in the bill will now be compliant with the definition from the European Convention on Human Rights, alumni will not count as “members” of a university or college for the purposes of the bill, and the statutory tort in Clause 4 will only be exercisable by those who have “sustained loss” and who have had recourse to a complaints scheme – including the ability to complain to the Office for Students (OfS).
  • Though Lords will welcome these changes to the bill, it was notable at committee that many expert observers had fundamental misgivings about Clause 4 – and it is unclear if the government has gone far enough to satisfy them. You can read the latest amendments under “amendment papers” on this page.

Several of these Government sponsored amendments are to ameliorate concerns the Lords raised previously. The concessions are not significant, it’s almost as if they’re doffing a cap towards the Lords in hope the Bill will pass through the Report Stage quickly and without other more fundamental objections being raised which would derail this already delayed legislation. However, there are more meaty amendments tabled – more on these later.

Wonkhe also released a blog before the Bill was considered: Three remaining issues with the Free Speech Bill as we head towards report stage in the Lords. It makes some interesting points about student bodies that aren’t as sizeable and well-resourced as the Bill makers had in mind. And on academic failure – Wonkhe point out how the bill is a route around the academic judgement ruling.

Blogs:

THE- Fighting talk:  House of Lords opposition to the Westminster government’s plans to allow universities and students’ unions to be sued over perceived breaches of free speech shows there is “little support for introducing scope for endless litigation”, peers say.

James Herbert in THE on free speech and the need to challenge students: The University of New England president explains his fearless approach to freedom of speech on campus, including the trans/sport debate. Excerpts: more university leaders should embrace controversy… Herbert considers universities to be “marketplaces of ideas” and says good ideas require conversations between different groups of thinkers. “If students get offended because they’ve been told that they shouldn’t get offended or made to feel uncomfortable – I think they should absolutely be made to feel uncomfortable. That’s what university education is all about…It’s strange for me because we’re at a university. But a few people believe that there’s a correct perspective on whatever the issues may be, and if you don’t adhere to it, you’re wrong and a bigot…”

This week the Report Stage has come and gone and we’ve seen some of those amendments pass. Several amendments refining the definition of free speech were accepted. Two notable amendments were also passed.  We explain the basics of these and have added in Wonkhe’s brief explanation of the implications for the HE sector. For more detail do read this Wonkhe piece, it’s excellent.

  • Universities will no longer be able to use non-disclosure agreements in some circumstances (including sexual misconduct or bullying). There was a campaign about this recently and Michelle Donelan was urging universities to sign up to a very wide ranging pledge.

Wonkhe: Universities in England are to be banned from using non-disclosure agreements to settle complaints on campus. The amendment to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – passed during Report stage for the Bill with cross-party support – will apply to any complaint relating to sexual abuse, harassment or misconduct, and other forms of bullying or harassment. Lord Collins of Highbury, the shadow deputy leader of the Lords, said his amendment would “stop a nasty practice of non-disclosure agreements inhibiting free speech”.

On the passing of this amendment Wonkhe say: It’s a major, significant and somewhat surprising win for student and staff campaigners.

The other amendment related to the right of those claiming that their academic freedom had been limited to bring a claim for damages against a university or a student union in the civil courts.    The main argument was whether this was necessary, given that the OfS has regulatory oversight of this area.  No-one expected the government to concede on this, but the amendment removing it was passed in the Lords. Previous Universities minister Lord Willets and others led the charge.

Wonkhe summarise: Meanwhile, the Bill no longer has Clause 4, following peers deciding to vote for an amendment tabled by Lord (David) Willetts. The controversial clause – a statutory tort which would have given those injured by a restriction of their freedom of speech an absolute right to bring a case to a civil court – was defeated by 213 votes to 172. Former universities minister Lord Willetts had expressed concern at government claims that the tort would be “a backstop”, arguing that “if one of these controversies flares up, there will be a lawyer’s letter in the first 24 hours”. The Telegraphand the Times cover the story, and you can watch the Report stage debate on Parliament TV.

It is always interesting to understand what the amendments that were not accepted would have covered. Here’s a quick run through.

The amendment to avoid inconsistency between the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of expression in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights was NOT adopted. Th amendment recognising threats to academic freedom such as academics being able to say that they disagree or agree with values that are imposed on them by institutions trying to make their name as doing the right thing was NOT adopted. The Baroness expanded on her threats: institutions signed up to “third-party organisations that set targets, codes and charters which, in effect, impose demands, often on the curriculum, research priorities and academic content of academic life, that are determined not by the demands of the discipline or scholarship but by fashionable external ideological diktat.” This was the “real threat” to freedom. An interesting point but it was NOT adopted. However, Earl Howe, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, said the Bill would already protect the freedom of academics to put forward opinions about the curriculum content adopted by their provider or third party organisations with which the provider was affiliated.

The amendment which allows academic staff to seek redress if they felt the likelihood of their securing promotion or different jobs at a provider had been reduced as a result of them exercising their free speech was not moved (therefore NOT adopted).

Next is the third reading, and potentially the ping pong between both houses over the final matters.

Research

Horizon Europe

It feels as if Horizon Europe has been a dead duck for so long even the smell has disappeared now. The UK Government blame Europe, Europe blames the UK Government. There is no association for the UK (currently) and the Government is rolling out alternative support schemes. The Government continues to maintain the party line that association is preferred but plan B is underway. Last week was no exception with Science and Research Minister George Freeman emphasising continued efforts to associate with Horizon Europe: I was in Paris last week negotiating. We are still actively pushing to be in Horizon, Copernicus and Euratom, but we have made provision, and early in the new year Members will start to see that we will be rolling out additional support for fellowships, innovation and global partnerships. If UK scientists cannot play in the European cup, we will play in the world cup of science.

The Minister also confirmed that the £484 million alternative investments will be distributed by existing trusted and experienced UK delivery partners, such as UKRI.

Additional Funding

Wonkhe reports: Research England has confirmed allocations for the additional QR funding and Research Capital Investment Fund (RCIF) grants announced by the government last week. Eligible providers – those already in receipt of QR or RCIF funding for 2022-23 – will receive an allocation in proportion to their current entitlement, though with QR funds capped at £5 million and RCIF at £3 million. UKRI has also outlined the disbursement mechanisms for the new Talent and Research Stabilisation funding, which will be allocated according to historic performance in four Horizon 2020 schemes.

Quick News

Regulatory

Regulatory Quick News

  • THE – Great expectations: Almost two-thirds of English universities could potentially face sanctions for failing to meet new quality thresholds that were introduced last month, analysis suggests.
  • US regulatory signs: THE – Small print:US universities are promising to make clearer to students their actual costs, agreeing through their nationwide leadership associations to create a single standard for understanding and comparing net prices and financial aid offers.
  • Research Professional report that more than 300 people applied to be “boots-on-the-ground” inspectorsfor the Office for Students.

Regulatory Parliamentary questions

OfS typology

The OfS has developed a new typology system for classifying providers. Institutions are categorised by two criteria – by financial attributes and by the make-up of their student population or study characteristics (aka tariff).

The new system is disappointing as a missed opportunity to change the language in this area and move away from the unhelpful Russell Group/everyone else that the press can’t seem to move beyond.  But in practice, the chances of these becoming standard labels in policy circles is very small, given the catchy names they have selected. The OfS specifically state: These typologies have no regulatory status. They do not imply any particular regulatory status or judgement of regulatory risk for providers in one group rather than another, and they will not inform our regulatory decision making.

As such they will sit alongside the other categorisation that Research England have done for the KEF – that has not become mainstream (or at least not so far).

Wonkhe have a blog.

FE reclassification

We’ve seen lots of reclassifications over the last few years. Reclassifying how student loan payments were counted within the national debt resulted in teeth gnashing about the huge outlay on HE students and led to calls for more skills based technical education instead of the academic route. The reclassification of R&D spending resulted in artificially hitting R&D targets early (prompting sector fears the Government would not honour the original spend intention).

Now the Office for National Statistics has ruled that FE colleges should be reclassified as public sector bodies. Research Professional (RP) do a wonderful job at explaining the implications of this. And remind us that the implications for higher education are huge as ONS will also perform a classification review on the HE sector (reporting December 2024 – interesting given the potential election timing).

In short, the review could impact on universities’ ability to borrow money and insidiously impact on Governance. RP say:

  • Suddenly, the direction of travel for government policy on skills does not look so benign for universities. Once, Theresa May spoke about universities working more effectively with schools. Now there is a genuine risk that universities could be taken under the control of the DfE as part of public sector education.
  • Anyone familiar with the onerous principles of the higher education restructuring regime proposed by the DfE during the Covid-19 pandemic as the condition for any government bailout will understand what would be at stake for universities brought under direct control by Whitehall. Everything from executive pay to enforced merger would be on the table.
  • The fact that this is now a possibility through the mechanism of the 2022 Skills bill ought to send alarm bells ringing throughout university boardrooms. Universities will be quickly lawyering up and deploying the lobbyists in force.
  • Some will say this could not possibly happen to universities, there are international treaties that guarantee the autonomy of higher education institutions. The same used to be said about the Free Speech bill, and there are no international treaties that require universities to be designated as part of the private sector.
  • If we consider last week’s news that the government was said to be considering only allowing “elite” universities to recruit international students, is a pattern of intention emerging from the government? For example, might we see a scheme of internationalisation and research intensification for the Russell Group and nationalisation and skills provision for everyone else?

Students

There has been a surprising amount of focus on students’ eating habits last week alongside big coverage of the latest analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which suggests that England’s poorest students will receive £1,000 less support with living costs in real-terms this academic year than they would have in 2020/21 – a significant cut each month. Key points:

  • If inflation forecasts had been accurate, maintenance loan entitlements would have kept rising over the last two years. Students from the poorest families studying outside London and living away from home would now be entitled to £11,190 in living cost support – around £1,500 more than they are actually receiving. Put differently, these students are £125 per month out of pocket merely because of errors in inflation forecasts.
  • These cuts in support will affect students potentially for many years to come. There is no mechanism in place for these cuts ever to be undone, as past forecast errors are not considered when the adjustment in entitlements for the following year is determined.
  • This means that – unless and until policy changes – any cuts will stay in place. Indeed, if the government continues to use out-of-date inflation forecasts for uprating, the IFS expects a small further cut in the real value of entitlements next academic year.
  • Most students fall through the cracks in the government’s ‘cost of living’ support package. They are typically not eligible for benefits, and so are not entitled to targeted payments for those on low incomes. Most households received £400 towards their energy bills this winter but, as others have pointed out, we still do not know whether students living in halls will be eligible for payments through an expansion of that scheme.
  • Government ministers regularly defer to universities’ own ‘hardship funds’ and to the £261 million of funding from the ‘student premiums’. IFS say this overstates the funding available to support students in financial hardship, and the real value of funding being provided has in fact been cut compared with last year.
  • The expectation of financial hardship may prevent prospective students from attending university in the first place. Analysis from the IFS shows a 21-year-old student could earn nearly £1,200 more working in a minimum wage job this academic year than they will receive in maintenance support. This gap is set to increase to more than £2,000 next academic year – the biggest gap since the national minimum wage was introduced in 1999.
  • Correcting the fall in maintenance loan entitlements will be less expensive for the taxpayer than it may at first appear. This is because students can be expected to repay a portion of any extra maintenance support over the coming decades. The IFS estimate that restoring maintenance loan entitlements this academic year to the same real value they had in 2020–21 would cost £0.9 billion for the cohort starting university in 2022, or around 70% of the initial outlay. Completely correcting forecast errors made in the last two years would cost £1.3 billion for this cohort.

Research Professional cover the report: inflation-related cuts to maintenance loans are worse than first appeared. In the playbook they state: On Monday, skills and higher education minister Robert Halfon claimed in parliament that the government was doing “everything possible” to help students during the cost of living crisis. After today’s IFS paper, he may wish to revisit that analysis.

Parliamentary questions

A selection of the best news and articles relating to student matters this week:

  • A short exchange on student cost of living support in last Monday’s oral education questions. Excerpt – Skills Minister Halfon: I reiterate that we are doing everything possible to help students with financial hardship.
  • THE: Government action including more hardship funding, bigger maintenance loans and restored grants would all complement universities’ efforts to help students cope with the cost-of-living crisisargues Sarah Stevens, director of policy at the Russell Group.
  • Universities Minister Halfon provides a comprehensive reply in response how the Autumn Statement (2022) supports students. He also states that a Treasury-led review will be launched to consider how to support households and businesses with energy bills after April 2023 (includes students).
  • Wonkhe: Learning from students – and from their dataearly interventions are key in improving student engagement, so it makes sense that engagement data needs to be used as early as possible in targeting these. Low engagement four weeks into the first term offers an accurate prediction of retention – as engagement rises so too do predicted grades. And it turns out that the traditional “welcome week” may mean that September starts have a better overall experience than those who start in January. See blog: Drawing links between insight, practice, and student success
  • Spiking: Home Secretary Suella Braverman respondedto a letter from the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Spiking yesterday outlining the work the Department for Education and universities have undertaken to tackle spiking in night-time venues which was predominantly a communications campaign aimed at perpetrators. She also promised an update on the need for a specific criminal offence for spiking before Christmas and a statutory report on the nature and prevalence of spiking by April. (Wonkhe)
  • Wonkhe: The Financial Times has a pieceon the student housing crisis.

Alternative Student Finance

The Government has been promising Sharia compliant finance for almost a decade now and this was highlighted in last Monday’s Education Topical Questions. Clearly there still isn’t a solution (yet) and Skills Minister Halfon believes it will be introduced as part of the future Lifelong Learning changes. Here is a similar parliamentary question, and this the actual exchange that took place in the chamber:

Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): It is estimated that 4,000 Muslim young people every year choose, with a heavy heart, not to enter higher education because their faith bars them from paying interest on a student loan. David Cameron said nine years ago that he would fix that. Will the new ministerial team, whom I welcome, commit to introducing alternative student finance and give us some indication of when that will be?

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Robert Halfon): I am strongly committed to introducing alternative student finance, something my Harlow constituents have also lobbied me about. The issue is that we want, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, to introduce the lifelong learning entitlement, and we will introduce alternative student finance in conjunction with that.

The constituency connection that Halfon mentions is important. MPs want to be re-elected (and a General Election is on the not-so-distant horizon. It represents the twin pressure on Ministers – the need to deliver on behalf of the Government and the need to represent and satisfy the views of those that ultimately elect them to parliament. Having a constituency connection may make the matter more pressing for Halfon and therefore may result in a system finally being set it in place.

Admissions

Personal Statements

Last update we mentioned HEPI’s paper on the inadequacies of admissions personal statements. Wonkhe have a rejoiner from a guest blogger: It may well be a good idea to rethink the personal statement, but for Katherine Lloyd Clark there are other admissions issues that are more pressing.

Snippets:

  • Universities themselves and the schools they support conspire to hide the real dynamics of HE admissions from the applicant and parent community. Universities are afraid to reveal that their processes have become progressively impersonal over time.
  • Now we dispatch beautiful branded CRM messages in bulk to inboxes, portals, and apps, praying that we don’t make a mistake affecting thousands. Our offer processes are automated, at least in part, grouping those with the same grades ready for release when the data analysts say it’s safe. 
  • Amid all this, the applicants themselves, quite rightly, just want some agency over their own future and to believe that the application process will deliver it. This is entirely reasonable…But unless you apply to…a discipline that offers an interview, agency will largely escape you. Volume dictates this. UCAS is flagging that there will be a million undergraduate applicants by 2026.
  • Are personal statements a key element of the problem? For the most part, no. Predicated and achieved grades still matter most, sadly.

Admissions Cycle – record numbers

UCAS’ 2022 end of cycle data highlights record numbers of 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas (POLAR4 quintile 1) have been accepted onto a course – 32,420 students compared to 30,910 last year (+4.9%). It narrows the entry rate gap between the most and least advantaged to 2.1 – a record low.

Key points:

  • Growth in demand for places has not discouraged UK 18-year-olds, with 330,780 applicants this year – up from 315,945 in 2021 (+4.7%) and significantly higher than the pre-pandemic number of 280,815 in 2019 (+17.8%).
  • This uptick has translated into 277,315 UK 18-year-olds gaining a place, the highest-ever number to date – an increase on 275,235 in 2021 (+0.8%) and 241,515 in 2019 (+14.8%).
  • This despite more cautious offer-making from universities and colleges, leading to a 54.3% overall offer rate at higher tariff institutions, down from 59.7% last year.
  • The number of UK 18-year-olds securing their firm choice of course (200,615) is second only to last year’s high (214,015) – 72.3% of all placed UK 18-year-olds, compared to 77.8% in 2021.
  • A total of 761,740 applicants of all ages and domiciles applied in 2022 (+2.1% on 2021), of which 563,175 were accepted (+0.2% on 2021).
  • The overall entry rate for UK 18-year-olds is 37.5% this year, the second highest on record (slightly down on 38.3% in 2021 but up from 34.1% in 2019). Broken down by nation, the 2022 entry rates are: 38.4% in England, 40.6% in Northern Ireland, 32.4% in Wales and 30.1% in Scotland.
  • All regions in England bar one saw an uplift in 18-year-olds being accepted onto a course compared to last year. West Midlands saw the biggest increase (+2.5%) while the South West saw the only decline (4.6%) Accepted applicants in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland remained comparative to 2021 figures.
  • In total, 92% of applicants (all ages, all domiciles) received an offer, the same proportion as last year. UCAS analysis found that 21,080 active applicants did not have a place on results day (Free to be placed in Clearing), of which 12,010 were subsequently accepted onto a course (57.0%).
  • There has been a 22.1% increase in the number of apprenticeship views on Career Finder compared to last year.
  • Continued demand among international students of all ages – with the highest number of accepted applicants on record from China (+13.4% on 2021), India (+43.7%) and Nigeria (+32.7%).
  • This was the first year of T-levels results – the vast majority received an offer and 80.2% were placed.

Blog: Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of  UCAS, blogs for Wonkhe: Five key findings from UCAS end of cycle data for 2022.

Access & Participation

Care experienced students

UCAS published Next Steps: What Is The Experience Of Students From A Care Background In Education? stating that while care-experienced students aspire to HE 60% receive no specific support relevant to their circumstances when deciding on their options. Key points:

  • Education disruptions: 19% had moved schools once, 11% had moved schools multiple times.
  • Care-experienced students’ journeys are often longer and nonlinear: one third of applicants were aged 21 or above, compared to one fifth of applicants without a care background. Applicants were more than twice as likely to take the Access to HE Diploma.
  • Applicants have lower average attainment prior to HE and are more likely to attend lower tariff providers. 51% less likely than their non-care-experienced peers to achieve the highest grades and 30% less likely to be accepted at higher tariff providers.
  • Access to specific guidance about going to HE as a care-experienced student is inconsistent: 60% stated they received no guidance specific to being care-experienced during their application journey. Applicants seek advice from a wide variety of trusted people, not all of whom will have had access to the latest information and resources about UCAS applications or the specific support available in HE for care-experienced students.
  • The intersectionality of care experience with other personal characteristics presents additional challenges: these applicants are 38% more likely than non-care-experienced applicants to come from the most disadvantaged areas (POLAR4 Quintile 1), twice as likely to be from Mixed or Black ethnic groups, 79% more likely to identify as LGBT+, almost twice as likely to share a disability, and nearly three times as likely to share a mental health condition.
  • Applicants do not always talk about their circumstances with school staff: only a quarter were always open about their care background, and a third did not discuss this with anyone at school unless they had to.
  • They have positive expectations for support in HE: two thirds expect the pastoral and educational support and student living to be good or very good, and two in five believe the social and extracurricular support will be good or very good.
  • Applicants from a care background are motivated by career prospects, especially in health and social care: they are 179% more likely to apply for health and social care than non-care-experienced students, and 50% more likely to apply for nursing and midwifery.
  • HE choices are strongly influenced by applicants’ individual support needs: over three quarters prioritised access to mental health and wellbeing support, with financial support, accommodation, and pre-entry support also important influential factors.

Recommendations start on page 7 of the report.

UCAS’ Clare Marchant blogs for Wonkhe on the report findings: Bridging the gap between ambitions and access for care experienced students.

Social Mobility Commission: Employer Advisory Group

The Social Mobility Commission announced the membership of its new Employer Advisory Group (EAG) which aims to drive social mobility in the workplace in the UK and support the Commission’s employer focused programme of work. Scroll down on this link to read about the people appointed to the EAG.

You can also read the oral evidence on the work of the Social Mobility Commission examined by the Women and Equalities Committee here.

International

No promises or reassurance to the sector on international students were made in last Monday’s Education topical questions (although there were some weaselly words):

Q: Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con) – …Can my right hon. Friend categorically confirm that the UK will continue to welcome students from across the word to all our universities?

  • A: Robert Halfon: I have good news for my right hon. Friend: we were proud to meet our international target of 600,000 students by 2030; we have actually met that target already. It is currently worth £25.9 billion to the economy and it will be £35 billion by 2030.

Q: Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP) – Reports that this Government could cause monumental damage to higher education by restricting international students to so-called elite universities have been described by former Universities Minister Lord Johnson as a “mindless crackdown”. Can the Secretary of State confirm that this Government will not implement such a mindless policy?

  • A: Gillian Keegan – I can confirm that we have a world-class education system and we will attract the brightest students from around the world. That is good for our universities and delivers growth at home. We were proud to meet our international student ambition earlier this year to attract 600,000 international students per year by 2030. Today that is worth £29.5 billion and we are now focused on bringing in £35 billion from our education exports, which are the best in the world.

They’re both stock government responses which could mean (a) doom and gloom – the Government are making no effort to refute because they are seriously considering a reduction in student numbers (whilst trumpeting support for targets already reached) or (b) they are undecided on which side to come down – and weighing up all the factors (e.g. economics, income vs cost to the country, HE funding that isn’t drawn from the public purse, and the likelihood of  in-party revolt at a change to restricting international student numbers). Cynics would also point out the continued news coverage is distracting away from other Government business so may be serving them well.

Here is the piece that Carol Monaghan MP quotes from by former HE Minister, now Lord Jo Johnson who spoke out against curbs on international student recruitment last week. THE: Backwards step:  It is “hard to imagine” a policy more likely to torpedo the Westminster government’s higher education policy goals than a “mindless crackdown” on international student enrolment, former universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone warns.

The NUS have responded to the Government rhetoric on reducing international student numbers:

  • International students are our friends and colleagues, and benefit our lives at universities, colleges, in workplaces and communities across the UK beyond measure. The government is treating that rich diversity of experience and humanity like a number on a spreadsheet.
  • This is hugely cruel to those students, who have taken the brave step of travelling to pursue their education and sometimes moving their families across the world.
  • This move would be grounded in hypocrisy- the government starves the education sector of funding and forgoes concern for international students and migrant staff. This has encouraged and legitimised institutional strategy to exploit international students as cash cows through astronomical fees and violent visa regimes.
  • Against the backdrop of the UK skills shortage, it is laughable that the government would be actively preventing international students from studying here.

Dods report that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Students are speaking out to raise concerns about the inclusion of international students in net migration figures and reiterating the findings from their 2018 inquiry which called for international students to be removed from the migration figures. The APPG for International Students has consistently argued against international students being counted in net migration figures, not least as international students are temporary immigrants with the overwhelming majority returning to their home countries on completion of their studies. Based on Home Office data from exit checks, the Oxford Migration Observatory reports that at least 98% of non-EU students leave the UK on time and before their visa expires.

Paul Blomfield MP, Co-Chair of the APPG International Students, said: Nobody’s concerned about international students in the debate on net headline migration numbers. They provide a huge benefit bringing nearly £30 billion a year to the UK economy, supporting jobs and businesses in every part of the UK, including those which the Government claims it wants to level up. This student group plays an important role in our universities, enriching our campuses, and they bolster Britain’s place in the world at a time when we need it.

Co-Chair Lord Bilimoria commented: As a former international student myself I know the value of the British university degree, our universities are the finest in the world along with the USA. The APPG for International Students recommended a target for international students which the government listened to and we have now crossed the figure set of 600,000. International students are one of the strongest elements of soft power the UK has, not only enriching the experience of our domestic students but building generation long links and friendships; there are more world leaders educated at British universities than any other country along with the USA.

Paul Blomfield MP: If the Government don’t welcome international students and their families, they’ll simply turn to one of the many countries that will. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary must think again and drop this backwards-looking proposal. Lord Bilimoria agreed and said: We are in a global race and many of our competitor countries do not include international students when calculating net migration figures as the vast majority of international students are not immigrants!

Degree apprenticeships

A Sutton Trust report The Recent Evolution of Apprenticeships: Apprenticeship pathways and participation since 2015 has garnered interest because it finds a greater underrepresentation on higher and degree apprenticeships from low-income background young people (those classified as older are represented in greater numbers. There is also an overall decline in apprenticeship starts over the last few years with this effect exacerbated for individuals from areas of high deprivation. This despite the continued emphasis the Government has placed on technical education and apprenticeships since the last general election, the 2017 Apprenticeship Levy changes, and an increase in apprenticeships as a route to employment from young people. No comparison is made between the levels of deprived young people who access HE degrees (traditional route) and the numbers accessing degree and higher apprenticeships. The report feels as though it misses the point on a number of occasions and the recommendations for change could be seen to be in line with the political approach of the Conservative party.

Recommendations (our comments in blue text):

  1. While the growth of degree apprenticeships in recent years is welcome, action should be taken to further boost the supply of higher and degree level apprenticeships targeted at young people, and advertised externally on portals such as UCAS or Find an Apprenticeship. Yet they don’t seem to consider revising their methodology to examine the effect that younger people from deprived backgrounds may take longer to reach degree level apprenticeships, nor investigate the link between mid-lower GCSE attainment meaning degree apprenticeships are not pursued as the younger ages.
  2. The apprenticeship levy should be reviewed, with social mobility and widening participation as an explicit criterion. The balance of apprenticeships across age groups, levels, those with equivalent qualifications and existing staff versus new starters should be examined.
  3. Measures should be taken to rebalance the profile of apprenticeships back towards those who are younger and more disadvantaged. This could include:
    1. Requiring employers to ‘top up’ levy funding for certain categories of apprentice, or otherwise incentivising the creation of apprenticeships most conducive to increasing opportunities for groups who need it most. A nifty route for the Government to spend less on degree apprenticeships, except for those top GCSE performing degree apprentices who are already making it. Although if skills gaps are the genuine aim one would hope the Government would remove this top up requirement for older degree apprentices (because it takes them longer to get there – otherwise surely this is a negative social mobility double whammy).
    2. A maximum salary ceiling for levy funded apprentices, meaning that limited public funding is concentrated on providing opportunities for those who would not otherwise be able to afford training.
  4. In order to improve transparency and ensure that apprenticeships are delivering for social mobility, levy employers should be required to publish anonymised statistics on the age, level, socio-economic background and salary level of apprentices, along with the proportion of new and existing staff benefiting from apprenticeships. So businesses supporting existing staff already on good salaries who are aspiring higher can be easily picked out of the data. It’s easy to understand the Government’s aim here – to ensure funding is spent on those currently outside of the workforce and train them up to a skilled worker from zero to hero. However, it is slightly at odds with the apprenticeship model of working and training within a company to meet their skills needs and gradually progress up the career ladder to highly skilled labour.
  5. Universities should step up access and outreach activities for degree apprenticeships, working in collaboration with employers and harnessing the experience, skills and resources of both.

Sir Peter Lampl (Sutton Trust): today’s report highlights that there is much work still to be done. Young people and those in deprived areas have not been the beneficiaries so far of this expansion. If we are to harness degree apprenticeships as a driver of social mobility, and as a high quality alternative to university, we need many more of these opportunities open to, and targeted at, 17, 18 and 19 year olds leaving school…we must take this opportunity to build a system that will create genuinely new opportunities for those who will benefit most. We need a step change to really deliver apprenticeships as the engine of opportunity they can be.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries: TASO call for evidence on risks to equality of opportunity | 23 December 2022

Other news

Transnational: THE – Farrar cited:  Universities will play a “critical role” in addressing some of the transnational challenges the world faces in the 21st century, the director of the Wellcome Trust says.

Graduate Mobility: THE article – Returning home after graduation? It’s more complicated than that: Research reveals more detailed picture of where students go to work after finishing their degree. It’s a quick read!

State scholarship: Parliamentary question from Shadow Education Minister Matt Western asking about progress on the establishment of a UK national state scholarship (announced February 2022). Halfon confirmed that the Government are considering the responses to the HE Reform consultation on the matter and will provide further information in due course.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 14th February 2022

Hi all, Parliament are in recess but there is plenty going on.  We start with last week’s reshuffle and research, but there are strong hints about new plans for access and participation

Mini Reshuffle

Last week there was a mini reshuffle of the parliamentarians holding Government. The appointments effectively draw his loyal staff ever closer and bolster up support for Boris personally within the Cabinet.

  • Michael Ellis MP has been made Minister for the Cabinet Office on top of his current role as Paymaster General and will be attend cabinet. The role was previously held by Steve Barclay. Ellis has become more visible lately as the minister most often sent up to the despatch box to answer urgent questions around ‘partygate’.
  • Stuart Andrew MP becomes Minister for Housing, leaving his role as Deputy Chief Whip and replacing Christopher Pincher at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. As the Mirror points out, this makes him the eleventh housing minister in almost as many years, narrowly overtaking the ‘curse’ of the Universities Minister.
  • James Cleverly MP becomes Minister for Europe, leaving his role as Minister for Middle East, North Africa and North America and replacing Chris Heaton-Harris who has been made Chief Whip.
  • Heather Wheeler MP becomes Parliamentary Secretary in the Cabinet Office, a ministerial role previously held by Julia Lopez, in addition to her current role as Assistant Government Whip.
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg MP becomes Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency and will attend cabinet. He leaves his role as Leader of the House of Commons. It also looks as though he might take on the former responsibilities of Minister for Efficiency and Transformation – the position held by Lord Agnew until last month when he resigned over the Government writing off furlough fraud.
  • Mark Spencer MP becomes Leader of the House of Commons (and Lord President of the Privy Council) and will attend cabinet. He leaves his role as Government Chief Whip to replace Rees-Mogg.
  • Chris Heaton-Harris MP becomes Chief Whip and will attend cabinet. He leaves his role as Minister for Europe (FCDO), a role he held for roughly 51 days, to replace Spencer.

In addition, last week these appointments were made:

  • Steve Barclay MP, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, took up the post of the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff following the resignation of Dan Rosenfield.
  • Andrew Griffith MPwas appointed Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, having already served as Johnson’s PPS for some time, following the resignation of Munira Mirza.
  • Guto Harriwas appointed Director of Communications following the resignation of Jack Doyle. He previously worked with Johnson during his time as London Mayor. His appointment sparked controversy.

Research

Research Spend: Andy Westwood reminds us of some key research spend points in Research Professional’s Sunday Reading Balancing the Books: The R&D mission

  • to increase public spending outside the greater south-east (in this case, the ‘golden triangle’) by a third over the spending review period and by 40 per cent by 2030 is to be welcomed. So too is the commitment to spending 55 per cent outside the greater south-east by 2024-25…As commentators…have pointed out, this is not much of a departure from existing spending and should be easily achieved. Richard Jones… has also suggested that this spending is likely to be more at the applied end of R&D, and the stated expectation of a “2:1 private sector match” more or less confirms this. It should also remind us that this R&D mission has an explicit purpose of boosting productivity, pay and economic success rather than just dividing up the spending review’s spoils.
  • But that spending context is important—as are the government’s longer-term targets of spending 2.4 per cent (and eventually more) of GDP on R&D by the middle of the decade. The spending review allocations offer real headroom for growth and much of this spending remains unprescribed. Of the £20 billion promised across government by 2024-25, only £5.9bn will be spent on the “core research budget”.
  • So it’s less a fight over research councils and quality-related funding and more about other R&D spending, such as that distributed elsewhere in BEIS and by other government departments, including health and defence.

Horizon Europe: the prospect of the UK joining Horizon Europe appears to be slipping away. Last week in the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Science Minister, George Freeman, stated:, It’s clear to me we can’t go into a financial year with ongoing uncertainty. So, internally, our thinking is that we need to be ready in the new financial year to start to release some of the funding that we’ve put aside for Horizon into programmes so that the science community isn’t left sitting on the bench, as it were, rather than on the pitch. What I’m keen to do is make sure that those could seamlessly—like a motorway’s slipway—segue back into Horizon association, were that to materialise after the French election [in April].

Research Professional suggest that 31 March will be make or break decision time. Research Professional report: Freeman spoke to the Financial Times about the UK’s ‘Plan B’, describing a £6bn global science fund to run over three years. The science minister is quoted as wanting a “coherent and ambitious plan for international science…based on the elements of Horizon that researchers find most valuable: global fellowships, strong industrial challenge funding [and] innovation missions around tomorrow’s technologies”. He added: “Outside Horizon, we have the freedom to be more global.” … The UK is not alone in feeling excluded from Horizon, with Switzerland similarly feeling its membership is being held up over debates around the wider political relations between the country and the EU…The FT story is not so much news as a periodic reminder that making a decision on association seems as difficult as ever.

Here’s the latest from the European Affairs Committee on Horizon Europe.

The ongoing campaigning to remain part of Horizon Europe has been a regular news feature this week. Wonkhe: Organisations across Europe are calling for science to be put above politics as the UK and Switzerland’s association with Horizon Europe remains in limbo. Universities UK has partnered with the Royal Society, Wellcome, EPFL, ETH Zurich, and the ETH Board to launch the Stick to Science campaign, which argues that the UK and Switzerland’s inclusion in the scheme will bring an estimated €18billion in additional funding, and are inviting signatures for the initiative. The PIE News and the Financial Times cover the story.

UKRI Chair: Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, was reported as vetoing the appointment of Jonathan Michie for UKRI’s Executive Chair role for party political reasons. The Guardian also run the story.

Global Talent: Wonkhe – The government’s new Global Talent website has launched with the aim of attracting research experts to come and innovate in Britain. The site, which is a collaboration between UKRI and several government departments, will provide information on working in and with UK universities, innovation, and business.

Destination Australia: The Russell Group call for closer research and mobility ties with Australia. In a joint letter sent to the Australian and British foreign and trade ministers, the Chairs of the Group of Eight (Go8) and the Russell Group, their countries’ key representative bodies for world-class research-intensive universities, said they would establish a new committee to look at ways to increase two-way research collaboration and explore how this could be used to boost trade and investment and support economic growth.

Parliamentary Questions:

France took up the rotating six-month Presidency of the Council of the European Union in January with the motto Recovery, strength and a sense of belonging. The agreed priorities for the next 18 months are:

  • To protect the citizens and freedoms by focusing on respecting and protecting European values such as democracy, rule of law, gender equality, and on strengthening the Schengen area and the EU’s common asylum and migration policy
  • To promote a new growth and investment model for Europe, based on sustainable green growth and strengthening the EU’s industrial and digital sovereignty
  • To build a greener and more socially equitable Europe that better protects the health of Europeans
  • A global Europe that promotes multilateralism and renewed international partnerships and adopts a shared vision among the 27 member states on strategic threats

Pages 4-5 of this briefing indicate more on the above themes and is an interesting short read. Also in the document is analysis of what the French premiership means. While the above listed items are the EU priorities France intends a particular focus on climate change, digital transformation, and security. The priorities have connotations for both research priorities and budgets as well as economic competition between the UK and EU.

Skills Bill – OfS’ proposed new powers

Proposed amendments to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill tabled by the Government aims to change the way the Office for Students (OfS) publicises investigations with HE providers and protect it from defamation claims. The OfS will be able to state publicly if it intends to investigate, or already is investigating, a provider or individual and will be protected from defamation claims. Where it publicises an upcoming investigation it must also publish the findings, even if no decision is reached or no further action is taken. The provisions would allow the OfS to publish notices, decisions and reports given or made in the performance of its functions, while considering:

  • The interests of HE students, potential applicants, alumni, and HE providers
  • The need for excluding from publication any information that “would or might, in the opinion of the OfS, seriously and prejudicially affect the interests of that body or individual”
  • The public interest

Publications relating to a decision to conduct an investigation are to be protected from defamation claims if they include information on:

  • A statement of the OfS’ decision to conduct the investigation,
  • A summary of the matter being, or to be, investigated, and
  • A reference to the identity of any higher education provider or other body or individual whose activities are being, or to be, investigated.

Wonkhe: …new clause 67C. In publishing details of a decision to conduct an investigation, summarising the matter that is being investigated, and naming the provider (or other body) under investigation the OfS is protected from defamation claims. This doesn’t apply to other information that the OfS may publish, and – wonderfully – it doesn’t apply if the publication “is shown to have been made with malice”.

The clause is controversial as this sort of disclosure risks damaging the reputation of HE providers even when the OfS decides not to take further action or implement sanctions.  It also came up in the context of the consultation on student protection directions in 2020.   In that context, there were concerns about the impact on an institution that was in difficulty if the OfS published their market exit plans.  In that context the guidance now says that they will consider the public interest when considering publication.

The DfE has published an updated assessment of how the Skills Bill interacts with human rights legislation, to account for the new provisions. There are also questions over how the Skills Bill will interact with the Freedom of Speech Bill.

Here’s the short Wonkhe blog on the topic.

In other OfS news last week Susan Lapworth was appointed as the OfS Interim Chief Executive from 1 May until the end of 2022. This covers the recruitment period for a permanent OfS chief executive. Susan takes over from Nicola Dandridge’s planned departure as her tenure in the chief role ended.

Lord Wharton, chair of the OfS, said: This is an excellent appointment to see the OfS through an important phase of our work, including the delivery of our reforms to quality and student outcomes. Susan has worked closely with the board since the OfS was established and is perfectly placed to lead the team through this period. Her experience and expertise has been invaluable to the OfS, and I am looking forward to working closely with her in this new role.

Access & Participation

The OfS has shared more than a hint of what is to come under the new Director for Fair Access and Participation.

In a presentation, there was the following advice:

  • We strongly encourage you to vary your plan to take account of the priorities outlined by the Director for Fair Accessand Participation.
  • We will publish advice on how to do this in spring 2022.
  • The advice will include information on the areas that should be covered in variations. This is likely to cover:
    • strategic partnerships with schools to raise attainment
    • improving the quality of provision for underrepresented students
    • developing non-traditional pathways and modes of study
    • the production of two-page access and participation plan executive summaries using an optional template.

We even get a mention in the speech!

  • But we are expecting providers to pull their weight on pre-16 attainment, a challenge which affects us all.
  • We will be generous in our expectations of the work providers undertake in this area.
  • It may be expanding evidence-led, provenly-successful interventions like Bournemouth University’s work on literacy in primary schools. Their student ambassadors worked with Year 6 pupils through a 10 week reading programme, which saw the reading ages of two-thirds of the participants increased.
  • It could be new thinking and tools for measuring and enhancing the knowledge and skills of disadvantaged pupils in subjects and year groups where we do not yet have coherent curricula matched with integrated, informative assessment.
  • It will almost certainly include both place-based policy initiatives tied closely to localities and more wide-reaching regional and national initiatives.
  • We are keen to see innovation and experimentation – provided there is commitment to independent, published evaluation.

Wonkhe blogs:

Research Professional (writing before the well-trailed speech was delivered)

Admissions

The English exam boards published information on the 2022 GCSE, AS and A level exam adaptations which adjust for Covid related learning disruption. Plans for grading will be more generous for summer 2022, with boundaries likely to be lower than in previous years. Ofqual is planning on returning to pre-pandemic grading over a two-year period, meaning this year there will be a ‘mid-point’ set between 2019 boundaries and the grade levels used in teacher assessments last year. Also:

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:

  • Examsare the best and fairest form of assessment, and we firmly intend for them to take place this summer, giving students a fair chance to show what they know.
  • We know students have faced challenges during the pandemic, which is why we’ve put fairness for them at the forefront of our plans. The information to help with their revision published today, as well as the range of other adaptations, will make sure they can do themselves justice in their exams this summer.

EPI have published Covid-19 and Disadvantage gaps in England 2020. It considers the national disadvantage gap (the gap in grades between disadvantaged students and their peers) in 2020 at key stages 4 and 5. Highlighting the impact of the 2020 (teacher assessed) grades on different students. Dods have provided a summary of the report and the recommendations here. Or these are the high-level points:

  • The gap in GCSE grades between students in long-term poverty and their better off peers has failed to improve over the last ten years.
  • More students have now fallen into longer-term poverty.
  • Fears that the switch to teacher assessed grades for GCSEs in 2020 would penalise students from disadvantaged backgrounds are largely unfounded – with no evidence poorer GCSE students lost out under this system.
  • But for students in college and sixth form (16-19 education), the gap in grades between poorer students and their better off peers widened in 2020.
  • This was driven by A level students gaining a whole grade more from teacher assessments than those who studied qualifications such as BTECs.

Also this week Teach First have published Rethinking pupil premium – a costed proposal for levelling up.

Balancing FE & HE

The Civic University Network and partners published Going further and higher: How collaboration between colleges and universities can transform lives and places. It calls for greater collaboration between colleges and universities and setting out recommendations for governments and sector leaders to support regional priorities and deliver UK-wide economic recovery.

Recommendations for sector leaders, which focus on creating strong local networks:

  1. Agree the institutions who are involved in the network and embrace the local geography and specialisms that already exist.
  2. Develop a cohesive education and skills offer for local people, employers and communities built around lifelong learning, ensuring inefficient duplication and competition is reduced.
  3. Move beyond personal relationships and agree how the whole institution is involved in collaboration, with clear roles and shared responsibility for partnership.

Recommendations to governments across the four nations to build better education and skills systems:

  1. Set an ambitious 10-year strategy to ensure lifelong learning for all and to deliver on national ambitions.
  2. Balance investment in FE and HE to ensure the whole education and skills system is sustainably funded so that colleges and universities can work in the interests of their local people, employers and communities.
  3. Equal maintenance support across loans and grants for HE and FE students, regardless of age, personal circumstances, or route into education.
  4. Tackle the ‘messy middle’ by defining distinct but complementary roles for colleges and universities to avoid a turf war over who delivers various types of education and training.
  5. Create a single funding and regulatory body for the entire post-16 education and skills system in each nation to deliver more aligned and complementary regulatory approaches that will ensure smoother learner journeys.

The report fits well with the Government’s cohesive approach to sharing learners such as emphasising the technical education route as an equal status to HE academic study. Planning education from schools to postgraduate with interaction of industry and the education providers at each level has long been a Conservative ideal and was apparent in this week’s speech from the newly-appointed OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation (more here).

Research Professional analyse the report and weave it together with the Government’s current intent on Levelling Up, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, Augar, the OfS and vocational education.

Students

Careers 2032: Wonkhe report on a new Careers report –A new research report on the future of careers support from Handshake, in partnership with AGCAS, the Institute of Student Employers and Wonkhe, finds that 32% of students worry they aren’t good enough or ready for a graduate job, rising to 39% of students from less privileged backgrounds. Employers are primarily worried about retaining the graduates they hire, with 71% concerned about rising to this challenge in the decade ahead. For careers professionals, dealing with the fallout from Covid-19 and responding to students’ knocked confidence will be a major priority in the coming years. The Careers 2032 report brings together insight from student representatives and SU professional staff, employers, and careers professionals to explore how careers support is changing – concluding that deeper collaborations within and outside universities will be needed to support a more personalised journey towards graduate employment for a greater diversity of students. For further analysis have a look at Wonkhe’s blog.

Wonkhe also published their report with UPP and the Student Futures Commission “A Student  Futures Manifesto”.  This calls all institutions to work with students to develop actions and commitments to securing successful student futures by the end of the 2022/23 academic year.  It also calls for better IT, a “what works” review of online teaching and assessment and a “challenge fund” for mental health and wellbeing.

Wonkhe blog by Mary Curnock Cook here.

Student Drug Use: Wonkhe report that a major new taskforce has been established to tackle student drug use, investigate how a common approach to reducing harm might be developed, and determine how collective action might tackle the supply of drugs on campus. It follows concerns about the impact of student drug use, with the associated risks of learning and mental health problems, damage to future job prospects, addiction and avoidable deaths. The group, chaired by Middlesex University vice chancellor Nic Beech, has been established by a partnership between Universities UK, Unite Students, GuildHE and Independent HE, and will include input from a range of government departments, sector agencies, charities and law enforcement.

Blog: which areas of the new taskforce investigation will need particular care in order to avoid unintended consequences.

This week the Times also ran an article on why county lines gangs are targeting students.

Mental Health: Student Space has been extended to July 2022.  Wonkhe review the underpinning evidence.

Gambling: Parliamentary Question on supporting students with gambling addictions.

Cost of living: The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has published Government uses high inflation as cover for hitting students, graduates and universities. The article begins: The government is quietly tightening the financial screws on students, graduates and universities. Students will see substantial cuts to the value of their maintenance loans, as parental earnings thresholds will stay frozen in cash terms and the uplift in the level of loans will fall far short of inflation. This continues a long-run decline in the value of maintenance entitlements… Separately, the student loan repayment threshold will also be frozen in cash terms. This is effectively a tax rise on middle-earning graduates. A graduate earning £30,000 will need to pay £113 more towards their student loan in the next tax year than the government had previously said. Finally, tuition fees will remain frozen in cash terms for another year, which hits universities and mainly benefits the taxpayer. On the whole, as our updated student finance calculator shows, the government is saving £2.3 billion on student loans under the cover of high inflation. More here.

Research Professional report on the IFS article and include opposing comment by Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI.

PQs

Other news

We talked in a recent update about the new TEF and the requirements to explain what we are doing about learning gain there is a Wonkhe blog here calling this out as “virtue signalling!.

Apprenticeships: Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announced a new flexible apprenticeship scheme.

AI & Data Converts: DCMS has announced that up to £23 million in government funding will create more AI and data conversion courses, helping young people from underrepresented groups including women, black people and people with disabilities join the UK’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry. Up to two thousand scholarships for masters AI conversion courses, which enable graduates to do further study courses in the field even if their undergraduate course is not directly related, will be available. The Government is calling on companies to play their part in creating a future pipeline of AI talent by match-funding the AI scholarships for the conversion courses. They highlight that industry support would get more people into the AI and data science job market quicker and strengthen their businesses.

Subscribe!

To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk. A BU email address is required to subscribe.

External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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