Nationally, of course, this week has been dominated by Brexit and the Queen’s Speech. The biggest HE story has been OfS’ launch of their Value for Money Strategy. We have missed out Brexit because it is dating too quickly and other sources are available!
NSS – more change to come?
The OfS have announced that they are reviewing the NSS (again).
- In the next few months, detailed analysis of recent trends will be published: areas for which levels of satisfaction have increased, and where the survey results indicate that more work needs to be done to improve students’ experience. We will also be looking at some of the key themes emerging from the student comment sections, which offer respondents the opportunity to comment on an open-ended question.
- Like all such surveys, however, the NSS has its limitations. It only surveys final year undergraduate students: those on shorter courses, or in other years, are currently excluded.
- The survey also has its critics. There have been mixed views about its role in the TEF, with some querying whether NSS provides a proxy for teaching quality, and others disappointed that it doesn’t carry enough weight in the TEF. Some have questioned the design of the survey – for example, its use of a five point ‘Likert’ scale. Others have queried its timing. Students are asked to complete it at a stage in their final year when many will be doing their assessments.
- ..this review…will include:
- Plans to pilot an expanded survey for all undergraduates – not just those in their final year, as at present – phased over the next two years. Expanding the NSS in this way will give a voice to all students and will provide a much richer picture of the student academic experience.
- Comprehensive review and testing of the survey questions (and scales) to ensure they remain fit for purpose, making changes where appropriate.
- Plans to explore new survey questions around student mental health and wellbeing provision – something we are hearing strongly from students they wish to see.
- There will be opportunities for you to have your say in the course of a consultation to be launched in spring 2020. More detail on the consultation will follow later this year.
Outcomes for Disabled Students
The OfS have had a busy week. They have published a new Insight Brief on outcomes for disabled students.
- Disabled students are now a vital and significant part of campus life. However, challenges remain. Disabled students are less likely to continue their degrees, graduate with a good degree, and progress onto a highly skilled job or further study. This Insight brief asks what universities and colleges are doing to rectify these problems. What can the data tell us about the extent of these access and participation gaps? Are teaching and learning practices inclusive enough? Are funding changes exacerbating the difficulties that disabled students face?
- The OfS is concerned about persistent gaps in access, success and progression for disabled students. We are looking to ensure that universities and colleges close these gaps through our regulation of providers’ access and participation plans and our funding and promotion of effective practice.
- Teaching and learning in higher education is becoming more inclusive, but these positive developments are uneven. Universities and colleges could go further by, for example, offering alternative formats of course materials as standard, and ensuring more buildings are accessible.
- Through the Disabled Students’ Commission, we will bring together a range of experts and educators, including a student representative, to highlight the barriers which remain and explore ways to dismantle them.
The brief cites “Effective practice for universities and colleges [taken from the Institute for Employment Studies, ‘Review of support for disabled students in higher education in England’, p5]
To better support disabled students and progress towards a more inclusive environment, universities and colleges need:
- their senior management to commit to inclusive practice and culture
- to involve all university staff in encouraging students to disclose an impairment.
- more comprehensive written policies detailing inclusive support
- to take a whole institution approach to inclusive support
- build considerations of inclusivity and accessibility into curriculum design and programme review
- to offer alternative formats of lectures and course materials as standard practice
- to build considerations of inclusivity and accessibility into purchasing of services and equipment
- better sharing of good practice internally and across the sector
- better advice, guidance and training on digital accessibility for staff.
Her Majesty has read her speech, wearing full robes and crown (last time she was in a suit and hat). You can read the Speech in full and the background briefing which provides a bit more detail and sets out a summary of the 26 bills. Not all the changes are legislation. The contents page contains links (useful because it is 130 pages long).
There is a nice explainer from the Institute for Government.
- The Queen’s Speech can be voted down. This would be of major political significance, as it would clearly call into question the ability of the government to command the confidence of Parliament. Historically, a defeat on the address has been treated as an implicit loss of confidence in a government as it suggests that there is no majority to be found in the Commons for its programme for government.
- It is rare for the government to be defeated on the address in the Commons – as governments usually have a majority in the House. But it has happened – most recently in 1924, when Stanley Baldwin’s minority government was defeated. Baldwin then resigned as prime minister, and the opposition went on to form a new government.
- As no government has been defeated on the address since the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) in 2011, it is unclear what would happen if such a situation were to arise. This is because a defeat on the address would not meet the requirements under the FTPA to trigger an election. But any defeat might encourage the opposition to then table a formal vote of no confidence, under the FTPA, in the government. There would also be intense political pressure on the government.
The PM has already said if the Government is defeated on the Queen’s Speech vote he does not intend to step down.
On HE specifically, the briefing notes say:
- We are committed to making sure that higher education funding reflects a sustainable model that supports high quality provision, maintaining our world-leading reputation for higher education and delivering value for money for both students and the taxpayer.
- We want to ensure we deliver better value for students in post-18 education, have more options that offer the right education for each individual, and provide the best access for disadvantaged young people.
- We want to establish the UK as a global science superpower, building on our existing world-excellence. We will boost public R&D funding, launch a comprehensive UK Space Strategy, introduce a fast-track immigration scheme for top scientists and researchers and develop proposals for a new funding agency.
- Backing a new approach to funding emerging fields of research and technology, broadly modelled on the US Advanced Research Projects Agency. We will work with industry and academics to finalise this proposal
- Reducing bureaucracy in research funding to ensure our brilliant scientists are able to spend as much time as possible creating new ideas, not filling in unnecessary forms.
- The R&D funding plans we will unveil in autumn 2019 will help accelerate our ambition to reach 2.4 per cent of GDP spent on R&D by 2027. This boost in funding will allow us to invest strategically in cutting-edge science, while encouraging the world’s most innovative businesses to invest in the UK.
- There will be a Medicines and Medical Devices Bill to “Allow the UK to take a lead role in global research to find cures for rare diseases and improve treatments for patients around the world”.
Other relevant highlights:
- An immigration bill, ending free movement, will lay the foundation for a fair, modern and global immigration system. My Government remains committed to ensuring that resident European citizens, who have built their lives in, and contributed so much to, the United Kingdom, have the right to remain. The bill will include measures that reinforce this commitment [Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill].
- Measures will be brought forward to support and strengthen the National Health Service, its workforce and resources, enabling it to deliver the highest quality care. New laws will be taken forward to help implement the National Health Service’s Long Term Plan in England, and to establish an independent body to investigate serious healthcare incidents [Health Service Safety Investigations Bill].
- My Government will bring forward proposals to reform adult social care in England to ensure dignity in old age. My Ministers will continue work to reform the Mental Health Act to improve respect for, and care of, those receiving treatment.
- My Ministers will ensure that all young people have access to an excellent education, unlocking their full potential and preparing them for the world of work.
- A white paper will be published to set out my Government’s ambitions for unleashing regional potential in England, and to enable decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level.
- My Government is committed to establishing the United Kingdom as a world-leader in scientific capability and space technology. Increased investment in science will be complemented by the development of a new funding agency, a more open visa system, and an ambitious national space strategy.
- My Government will take steps to protect the integrity of democracy and the electoral system in the United Kingdom.
Plus: criminal justice, longer sentencing, sustainable fiscal strategy allowing investment in economic growth, post-Brexit regimes for fisheries, agriculture and trade, financial services, domestic abuse, divorce, pension regulation, national infrastructure strategy, a Drones bill, railway reform and broadband, environmental protection, animal welfare, defence.
During the parliamentary debates on the Queen’s Speech this week Labour’s Angela Rayner (shadow Education Secretary) called for the restoration of university maintenance grants and the implementation of a system of post qualification admissions. There has been a reinvigorated wave of parliamentary questions surrounding research and outward mobility programmes. And the Royal Society published their analysis of Brexit’s harm to UK science research. Finally, Wonkhe dissect the mention of research funding within the Queen’s speech.
OfS Value for Money Strategy
I think I was expecting something new. But no. Read their news story here
According to a 2018 survey commissioned by the OfS, just 38 per cent of students believe their course offers good value for money.
The value for money strategy, published by the OfS today, identifies the ways in which the OfS will deliver better value for money for students and taxpayers – in line with the priorities identified in the 2018 student survey. The strategy also defines the OfS’s regulatory role in these areas and outlines how it will measure its success.
Among the priorities identified are:
- improving teaching quality – over 90 per cent of students responding to the OfS survey felt that the quality of teaching, assessment and feedback are very important in demonstrating value for money
- promoting transparency around fees and funding – 88 per cent of respondents said that seeing a breakdown of how fees are spent would be helpful in judging value
- protecting students as consumers and improving consumer information – 24 per cent said they were not informed or prepared for the level of costs that came with being a student
- securing positive employment outcomes – 65 per cent of respondents said getting a job and earning more were important factors in judging value for money.
The OfS will continue to survey students and graduates to measure student perceptions of value for money, the outcomes of which will form one measure of its progress in this area. The OfS will also consider measures of student experience and outcomes, including the National Student Survey, the Graduate Outcomes Survey, and data on graduate earnings.
The actual strategy is here but you’ve pretty much got it in the bullets above.
This is their definition of value for money:
- Students receive value for money when they experience the full benefits of higher education – both during their studies and afterwards – in exchange for the effort, time and money they invest.
- Taxpayers receive value for money when higher education providers use public money and student fees efficiently and effectively to deliver graduates, from all backgrounds, who contribute to society and the economy.
In the document, they also say:
- We recognise that value for money means different things to different students. Tracking students’ perceptions of the value for money of their education will allow us to monitor progress without imposing our own definition on students.
So they are going to measure something that is not defined, when they know it means different things to different people at different stages? And if it doesn’t improve they will hold universities to account for not improving something that is not defined? Is that unreasonable?
To be fair, they are also going to
- “assess value for money for students and taxpayers by analysing data on the benefits that have been delivered – for example positive student outcomes – and comparing this with data on the costs incurred”.
- While our focus is on student outcomes, we make sure that providers use any income from taxpayers appropriately in delivering these outcomes. Providers receiving funding from the OfS or UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) must comply with our conditions of registration. This includes demonstrating that they have adequate and effective arrangements in place to manage public money appropriately and in accordance with the principle of value for money – it must be used economically, efficiently and effectively. These requirements apply even if a provider passes funds to another entity to deliver teaching or research. We will issue further guidance for providers about how they can meet these requirements.
- We collect Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) data from providers in receipt of OfS funding to establish the cost of their various activities18. The data is benchmarked so providers can understand the cost of their activities in comparison with other similar providers. This helps them to determine where they can improve the value for money they offer to students and taxpayers.
How is BEIS getting on?
The National Audit Office has published a Departmental Overview for BEIS, describing what it does, its spending, recent and planned changes, and what to look out for across its main business areas and services. A summary of their overview prepared by Dods is below – it acts a good lookahead for certain projects and the likelihood of targets being met.
Specifically of interest are details on delivering an industrial strategy and investing in science, research and innovation. It recommends keeping an eye on whether the Department is stimulating additional investment from private sector companies in research and development to support the government’s target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027. This has been a key area of concern, given that the uplift required from Government to reach 2.4% without private sector support would be huge. It is widely expected that reaching 2.4% will rely very heavily on private sector investment. Key developments identified in this area are as follows:
Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund
- The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is a key part of the government’s Industrial Strategy. The Fund, which is administered by UKRI, provides investment in projects that seek to address the grand challenges. The Fund is organised in waves.
- In 2018-19, £325 million was invested across Waves 1 and 2. The Fund is also a key part of the government’s aim for 2.4% of GDP to be spent on research and development by 2027.
- In May 2018, the Department launched a call for evidence to review the actions that could be most effective in improving the productivity and growth of small and medium-sized businesses. The Department has yet to publish the results of its review.
Things to look out for:
- How the Department is monitoring the progress of the projects that were awarded funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and the extent to which they help to address the four grand challenges.
- Whether government support is stimulating additional investment from private sector companies in research and development to support the government’s target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027.
- Whether the Department and other government departments are coordinating effectively to deliver the Industrial Strategy, including the actions taken by the Industrial Strategy Council.
The report outlines the 5 objectives of the Department:
- Deliver an ambitious industrial strategy; increase UK economic performance and earning power, whilst promoting scientific innovation and local growth.
- Maximise investment opportunities; increase investment and employment following Brexit and maintain business and investor confidence amidst deal preparations/ exiting the EU.
- Promote competitive markets and responsible business practices; Secure better outcomes for consumers by creating a more competitive environment for businesses and improve corporate governance.
- Ensure the UK has a reliable, low-cost and clean energy system; Provide clean, secure and affordable energy supplies for consumers and businesses and support clean growth and promote global action on climate change .
- Build a flexible, innovative, collaborative business-facing department; Elevate the Department to an exceptional standard and enable digital, data and technology to deliver services for staff, people and businesses.
The DfE have released lots of statistics
- Destinations of KS4 and 16 to 18 KS5 students (2018) remains static with 94% of pupils were in sustained education, employment or apprenticeships in the year after key stage 4, unchanged from 2016/17. Overall, 88% of students (who took mainly level 3 qualifications) went to a sustained education, apprenticeship or employment destination. Students taking qualifications at level 2 and below were less likely to have a sustained destination overall. However, they were more likely to enter apprenticeships and employment.
- A level and other 16 to 18 results (2018) – A level attainment increased for students at the end of 16-18 study in comparison to 2018.
A schools funding announcement was also made this week.
Commuter Students: HEPI have a blog on commuter students arguing that a student centred model is essential for both residential and commuter students. However, the blog, written by the VC of Manchester Met says three overarching strands of support would compensate commuter students for their lack of residential experience:
- The first is to ensure that we use data on the journey of individual students to inform the support that we give them. We are investing in a Student Journey Transformation Programme that aims to ensure we have a clear picture of each student and their needs. The approach uses technology in an innovative way to support students and enable staff to identify any potential issues at an early stage.
- The second dimension is campus design, where even simple things such as lockers can make a difference. Lockers mean commuter students do not have to carry around a day’s worth of materials. This removes a practical barrier to taking part in activities and events. Access to plug sockets means they can charge laptops and phones, supporting them to work on campus.
- We are also working to provide more areas for students to spend time between timetabled sessions and to build their academic community. If the only options are studying in the library or sitting in a catering outlet where there is an expectation to buy something, there is a greater likelihood that students will drift off campus.
- Thirdly, clear, sensible timetabling helps students plan their week, including travel, work and family commitments. While we have long provided personalised timetables for each student, we are looking at what more we can do. In one faculty, we have identified programmes with high numbers of students with caring responsibilities and scheduled lectures for a restricted number of days with start and finish times that accommodate these responsibilities. We need to understand the effects of this pilot, especially how well it supports students, before extending it.
Student Carers: Wonkhe have a new blog: Carers need more visibility in HE.
Student Votes: Wonkhe detail a piece by i News reporting that the number of students and young people registered to vote has spiked by around 50 per cent when compared to a similar period before the last general election.
Apprenticeships/Disability: HEPI have a blog on the new apprenticeship system and whether it works for disabled students.
Trust: The OfS blog on how leaders can rebuild public trust.
Lecture alternatives: The Wonkhe blog Is the lecture dead? considers an alternative learning model.
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