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!
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Wonkhe: Canada is to start formal negotiations with the European Union as a prelude to joining the Horizon Europe funding scheme.
- Science Minister George Freeman is not drawn on whether any new Catapults will be created. Instead he emphasises the £1.6 billion (announced 17 November 2022) which funds the 9 UK Catapults to continue supporting innovation and de-risking the transition from research to commercialisation by providing access to world-leading facilities, skills, and equipment across the UK.
- Research Professional: Without a research integrity regulator, a “disaster is waiting to happen” in UK academia, a funder has warned.
- Research Professional: At least €380 million from the EU’s Horizon Europe research and innovation funding programme has been earmarked to pay for the development of secure government communication satellites.
- The Centre for European Reform published a new report on how Brexit has hurt British science.
- Research Professional (RP): Criticism of universities’ share of companies misses what they give in return, says Douglas Dowell, and Ian Walmsley writes that balancing entrepreneurial and research missions demands deft handling of intellectual property.
- ONS not publishing R&D as a percentage of GDP (yet)
- RP: Fiona McIntyre covers research revealing that universities have seen a 10 per cent drop in income from knowledge exchange activities, but relationships between institutions and businesses are still going strong.
- Wonkhe: The Economist asks whether Britain has a problem with R&D spending.
- Research England launches the second wave of Expanding Excellence in England(E3). Executive Chair Jessica Corner makes the case for investment in research during difficult times, particularly in the areas of the country that need it most. (Wonkhe)
- Research Englandhas combined with Universities UK International (UUKi) to support an innovative UK-Ukraine University Twinning Initiative. The scheme, which Research England is backing with a £5 million investment, is led by Cormack Consultancy Group and UUKi, and is designed to support Ukrainian universities and researchers.
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
- Regulating how universities advertise and sell to students to prevent mis-selling.
- Ensuring university league table competition works in the best interests of students. (Government responded that they do not have a role in this, it’s the responsibility of the newspapers.)
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.
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?
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.
- Supporting young people to choose undergraduate qualifications and courses that are suitable for them
- Helping students make sustainable financial decisions at university
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 crisis, argues 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 data – early 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- Measures should be taken to rebalance the profile of apprenticeships back towards those who are younger and more disadvantaged. This could include:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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New consultations and inquiries: TASO call for evidence on risks to equality of opportunity | 23 December 2022
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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