Tagged / erasmus

HE policy update for the w/e 8th January 2021

Happy New Year!

We’re back into busy times, to keep things manageable for colleagues we will try and keep our updates focussed on the main news and keep the wider interest elements short on commentary, with links that can be followed for more detail.

What’s in store for 2021

A New Year often sees predictions made about the shape of the year ahead.  A lot was announced, not least by the OfS, in the last quarter of 2021 so it will be a busy year. BU staff can read our latest horizon scan here.

Research Professional offer EU 2021: eight areas to watch predicting what the next 12 months may mean for research policy.

Horizon Europe research programme access

Four years on and the UK and EU have agreed a post-Brexit trade deal with access to a number of programmes including participation in Horizon Europe through associate membership between 2021-2027. However, the UK has chosen not to participate in the Erasmus student exchange programme due to cost concerns.

While access to the EU programmes has been granted the details still have to be negotiated individually per programme (in part this is because the regulatory aspects of some programmes are still being developed). This Research Professional article has useful detail on the programmes the UK can associate with. And Wonkhe explain: as in everything else to do with the EU from now on the UK may participate in the governance of programmes as an observer, and in expert groups, but will not be included in any formal decision-making processes associated with each programme.

The Horizon Europe budget is valued at 95.5 billion Euros. The budget is bigger than the last round, however, the remit it must cover is bigger too. Research Professional write: Horizon Europe has a fully fledged European Innovation Council for the first time, which will support the growth of R&D-based businesses. The programme will also lead nations and organisations in funding R&D missions intended to achieve objectives in areas such as cancer and climate change.

On the ‘other programmes’ Research Professional report that Besides Horizon Europe and Erasmus+, the EU will launch or continue a variety of other programmes that will support research and innovation. Its regional funds will continue to provide tens of billions of euros for disbursement by local governments, while the launch of dedicated space, digital, defence and health programmes will provide targeted support for these fields in ways that, the bloc hopes, will chime with its main R&D programme.

Boris Johnson: The deal means certainty for our scientists who will be able to continue to work together on great collective projects…Because although we want the UK to be a science superpower, we also want to be a collaborative science superpower. We will be able to set our own standards, to innovate in the way that we want, to originate new frameworks for the sectors in which this country leads the world, from biosciences to financial services, artificial intelligence and beyond.

Research Professional (RP): Analysts will be poring over the texts as soon as they are released to see exactly what kind of access to EU collaboration the deal provides, and how much it will cost the UK. It has previously been suggested that the UK may be up to £3bn out of pocket by paying into the Horizon programme, and that the money to do so would come out of the domestic R&D budget. RP go on to say: even with the deal, there are bound to be setbacks for R&D and education ties.

Turing Mobility Scheme

It was widely trailed by media sources in late December that Erasmus was off the table. Nearly 10,000 UK students participated in Erasmus during 2018-19. The PM stated the Erasmus deal was extremely expensive (costing £2 billion more than we’d receive back) and instead the UK will launch its own Turing scheme supporting study and work placements abroad backed by £100 million.

It is intended to support 35,000 students in schools, colleges and universities for placements and overseas exchanges from September 2021. It has a social mobility aspect and will target students from disadvantaged areas to improve accessibility to the scheme and opportunities. The new scheme offers up a wider range of countries than could be accessed through Erasmus+. Applications will open early in 2021 and organisations are promised funding to administer the scheme as well as grants for the students’ international experience. Providers are told to begin preparation with international partners as soon as possible. Wonkhe: it has already been noted that a standalone scheme that requires individual institutions to negotiate the terms of exchanges with their counterparts in other countries is a much less efficient way of facilitating study abroad than a continent-wide programme – an issue that may be addressed in the terms of reference for the scheme.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, praises the new scheme highlighting the access to new countries and the disadvantaged element, and raising issue with aspects of Erasmus+: Erasmus’s benefits went overwhelmingly to students who were already advantaged. The language barrier meant that it was very hard for students not already studying a modern foreign language to take part, to flourish at their chosen university and get the most out of the academic experience. A 2006 study found that of those taking part in Erasmus from the UK, 51 per cent were from families with a high or very high income. There are no details on proportions of Turing funding to be allocated to disadvantaged backgrounds yet, however, it is assumed there will be a balance. Donelan concludes:  none of this is to decry Erasmus+… the fact is that it is simply too limiting for the global Britain that we aspire to. Of the hundred best universities in the world in the QS World Rankings, only twelve are in the EU. If we have stayed with Erasmus+ it would have cost several hundreds of millions of pounds to fund a similar number of exchanges, not have been global in nature and continued to deliver poor participation rates for young people from deprived backgrounds.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: We have designed a truly international scheme which is focused on our priorities, delivers real value for money and forms an important part of our promise to level up the United Kingdom. These opportunities will benefit both our students and our employers, as well as strengthening our ties with partners across the world.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International: While the announcement that the UK will now not be participating in Erasmus+ is disappointing, we are pleased that the prime minister has committed to a new UK programme to fund global mobility. We now ask the UK government to quickly provide clarity on this Erasmus+ domestic alternative, and that it be ambitious and fully funded. It must also deliver significant opportunities for future students to go global which the Erasmus programme has provided to date.

She also stated: Evidence shows that students who have international experience tend to do better academically and in employment, and the benefits are greatest for those who are least advantaged.

An independent blogger for Wonkhe is more sceptical: It is doubtful that the Turing Scheme could match the success of Erasmus, which is after all, a 33-year-old programme considered by many to be the most positive endeavour to come from the EU. The blog – Will Turing be a good enough exchange?also disagrees with the cost figures – Offsetting these receipts [educational exports revenue] against the entry cost as a non-EU Erasmus Programme country, the UK receives a net return on far more than it contributes. The article states the £100 million won’t go far – It…might just be sufficient for the first year of the scheme while Europe is still suffering the impact of Coronavirus, but in a post Covid world, this will be spread thin at best… this is largely in part to the growing appetite for UK students to study or train abroad… The overall number of mobilities throughout the wider education sector already stands near the 35,000 mark, only made possible through funding, greater than £100 million, that is already allocated to the UK through the Erasmus+ programme. DfE’s allocation for the Turing in 2021 does not account for this.

The blog continues: Turing also does not account for the extra expenses involved in international travel… Expanded opportunities for international mobilities are welcomed in principle, but in practice, heavy promotion of international mobilities may result in astronomical travel expenses, visas fees and in the case of Anglophone destinations, steep cost of living – all which require a far greater investment than DfE’s promised £100 million… What’s also striking is that the total funding isn’t a sufficient amount to fund the additional support mechanisms…needed to encourage students from non-traditional backgrounds… Institutions may be placed in the uncomfortable dilemma of offering fewer overall opportunities to students or targeted places for widening participation students, as a result of the restricted funding. If this is an area of interest do read the full blog as other barriers for both outgoing and incoming students are highlighted.

Finally, Wonkhe note that the UK has historically imported Erasmus+ students from the rest of the EU at twice the rate it exports UK students to other EU destinations.

Parliamentary Activity

These Lords Oral questions on Turing provide some additional clarification. Lord Parkinson stated: We are working directly with educational institutions to make sure that people are able to take up those opportunities and we will provide additional funding for disadvantaged students to cover, for instance, the cost of passports or visas, or for students with disabilities to undertake preparatory visits to make sure that all the necessary accommodations can be made for them. The side-stepping in response to questions on inbound students was notable. This PIE news article also highlights that Turing seems destined to fund outbound opportunities only.

Returning to the Lords oral questions, specifically on the HE sector:
Q – Lord Patel – what assessment have the Government made of the impact on universities of losing a significant amount of finance on inward-bound exchange schemes, because it will now cost money for them to set up exchanges?

A – Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay: We have been liaising with the higher education sector through groups such as the Russell Group and MillionPlus as the negotiations were ongoing and as we developed the Turing scheme, which is the back-up to it.

An Early Day Motion in Parliament championed by the Scottish National Party noted that the Turing scheme will not replicate many aspects of the Erasmus+ scheme such as youth work, adult education, sport, culture and vocational training.

There has been a flood of parliamentary question on the Turing scheme. Below is a small selection – all are due to be answered on Monday 11 January.

Regulatory – OfS Chair

Education Secretary of State Gavin Williamson has earmarked Baron James Wharton to be the next Chair of the Office for Students. If he is approved he’ll commence the role in March 2021.

Wharton currently sits on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords (he was given a life peerage by the PM in September 2020). Previously he was a Conservative MP (2010-17) including roles as an Under-Secretary of State (local Government and international development). After his stint as an MP he was instrumental in Boris’ leadership campaign acting as his Campaign Manager. Prior to his political career Wharton was a solicitor; there is little in his career which suggests an interest in Education. Here Research Professional highlight criticism of the Government that the interview panel was dominated by Conservative leaning. Wharton will appear before the House of Commons education committee who will consider his appointment and publish recommendations (if necessary). Williamson has the final say on the appointment.

Admissions

The UCAS deadline has been pushed back to 29 January to account for Covid disruption and to support applicants with limited access to digital devices.

Most of the admissions related news this week relates to the cancellation of GCSE, A and AS level exams in England and Northern Ireland (Wales and Scotland had already abandoned exams). Teacher assessment will form the basis of final grades. The DfE and Ofqual have collaborated to plan the alternative arrangements and contingency options and the DfE have promised a consultation to fine-tuned the details with the sector. Dods have provided a summary of the main points in the Commons debate on the cancellation of exams here.

Vocational and technical qualification assessment will continue in January where it is safe to do so. The DfE and Ofqual will make arrangements for those unable to hold the January assessments and agree an approach to vocational and technical qualification final assessments moving forward.

During the Commons statement Education Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon, asked Gavin Williamson to confirm that the centre-assessed grading (CAG) system would maintain standards and provide a level playing field for disadvantaged children, with a fair appeals process. He also asked if the Department would make sure independent assessors – perhaps retired teachers and Ofsted inspectors – were available to provide a check and balance on CAGs.

Dods have a podcast – Teacher’s pet or Class Clown – on the school closure.

Williamson responded – he would be happy to work with Halfon and the Education Committee on any additional actions that can be taken to ensure fairness, and would certainly take on board his idea to bring in retirees as independent assessors

Robert Halfon (Chair, Education Committee) also made the news earlier in the week when he spoke frankly about the Government’s performance during Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Tuesday. Asked why the sudden school closure one day after pupils returned he stated he didn’t know – he’d received messages throughout the weekend on schools, mainly being assured that they would remain open, transmission rates were marginal and the risk to teachers was low. He went on to say that Government needed to have a consistent policy that didn’t change every few days. When asked whether the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was fit for the role, Halfon said he made a point of not getting drawn on particular personalities but commented that it’s “the whole Government,” and described it as “a shambles”.

Some sources this week have noted that the Government’s Skills White paper (one of Williamson’s flagship ministerial pieces) still hasn’t been published and suggested that the Government is biding its time as Williamson’s competence is questioned from some quarters.

Finally, many students improved their A and AS level grades during the autumn 2020 exams.

Research

Science, Research and Innovation Minister, Amanda Solloway, announced £213 million for UK science facilities upgrades, including microscopes, super computers and testing facilities for innovative technologies and blast labs for terror attacks. The fund aims to enable researchers to respond to global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change. The funding is part of the Government’s R&D Roadmap sources and allocated against specific projects with facilities with Scotland receiving a good proportion of the funding. Breakdown:

  • £29m to upgrade and replace UK scientific equipment
  • £25m to support the installation of highly sophisticated testing facilities at leading UK universities
  • £34m for data and digital research infrastructure relationships
  • £33.5m to upgrade facilities of UK scientific councils
  • £15m for the Capability for Collections Fund

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: The response from UK scientists and researchers to coronavirus has been nothing short of phenomenal. We need to match this excellence by ensuring scientific facilities are truly world class, so scientists can continue carrying out life-changing research for years to come as we build back better from the pandemic.

From the world’s most detailed microscopes tracking disease to airborne drones monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, our investment will enhance the tools available to our most ambitious innovators across the country. By doing so, scientists and researchers will be able to drive forward extraordinary research that will enable the UK to respond to global challenges such as achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Artificial Intelligence: The UK AI Council (an independent expert committee) published the AI Roadmap which makes recommendations to inform the  Government’s strategic direction on Artificial Intelligence, including a National AI Strategy. They call on Government to ‘double down’ on the AI recent investment and look to the horizon and be adaptable to disruption. The 16 recommendations are here.

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

Student Poll: A YouGov poll of students describes Coronavirus as negatively effecting motivation and self-discipline for some, alongside familiar messages for mental health and loneliness. Also:

  • Despite many news stories of universities imposing draconian measures on students, or failing to provide adequate nutrition to those forced to isolate, a majority of students (58%) say their university has handled student safety and wellbeing well during the coronavirus crisis. Just over a third (36%) say their university dealt with the issue badly.
  • By contrast, over four in five students (85%) say the UK government’s response has been poor, while only one in nine (11%) say it has done a good job.
  • Full results here, with University/Government judgements starting from page 28.
  • Note – students were surveyed late December, before the current lockdown announcement.

Youth opportunity: The Learning and Work Institute’s final Youth Commission Report (Number 6) – Unleashing Talent: Levelling up opportunity for young people was published. It examines how to improve education and employment opportunities for 16-24 year olds and calls for a 10 year strategy. Recommendations relevant to HE are:

  • three quarters of young people to gain A level equivalent qualifications by age 25 (currently two thirds do)
  • Reversing the decline in apprenticeships – aiming for one in three young people to take part in an apprenticeship and for this to galvanise action in the same way the 50% target for higher education did
  • Diversify HE routes – Focus on growing Higher Technical routes and HE access at all ages. Widen access by introducing maintenance grants of around £3,000 per year and evaluating access initiatives
  • Supporting young people to combine work and study through a new Youth Allowance in Universal Credit

The reforms would cost an extra £4.6bn per year, focusing on investing more in technical education and employment opportunities. Before the pandemic, half of the £20bn spent each year on education and employment went on higher education.

Non-continuation: HEPI published A short guide to non-continuation in UK universities. Summary here.

HE for the Future: Advance HE blog on reshaping HE for the future. The blog discusses how the fourth industrial revolution, growth of artificial intelligence and the pandemic are significantly changing the employment landscape.

  • Thought leaders have recognised that the emerging skills landscape cannot be supplied by a one-directional pipeline between secondary education and professional work.
  • The ‘art of the possible’ has been transformed over the last nine months. Engaging, participatory high quality higher education has been taking place across disciplinary, institutional and geographical boundaries, demonstrating that it is possible to motivate and engage students and develop the competencies for virtual working and the habits of mind required for life-long learning in an online environment. This has raised questions about whether the three-year on-campus residential degree is fit for purpose and provides value for money. The proliferation of alternative opportunities including degree apprenticeships and flexible modes of accredited delivery, as well as open access courses and certificated programmes from ‘big-tech’ companies, such as Google, Amazon and Apple is encouraging students to question the cost and the value of the predominant model of higher education.
  • The pandemic has highlighted that most higher education institutions need to enhance their capacity to deliver flexible and resilient education systems that would meet student expectations and the accelerating social and economic transformations that wider society anticipates. This requires a ‘rethink’ not only of what and how we teach but also what shape HEIs need to take to deliver on the changing demands of students, employers and society.

The blog goes on to promote Advance HE’s work and online seminars on the topic.

Medical training expansion: The Royal College of Physicians call on the Government to expand the number of medical training opportunities. Our summary is here.

Significant appointments: This link details all the recent appointments to key bodies such as the Student Loans Company board, OfS, Ofqual, Children’s Commissioner, social mobility, FE, and apprenticeships.

Online skills: The Government has launched the ‘An Hour to Skill’ campaign aiming to help more people boost their skills from home, support their mental wellbeing and help build a better working future. It urges people to set aside one hour a week for online learning by taking a free course from The Skills Toolkit. Demos research shows that one in three people have used online learning to help them get a better job, and that on average, online learning can boost annual pay by £3,640 too. The campaign builds on the Government’s Plan for Jobs and initiatives aiming to shrink the skills gap across the UK, and allowing Brits to re-skill and up-skill for the future of work.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update for the w/e 17th December 2020

HE finances, a tidal wave of regulatory consultations and information from the OfS, and the Minister responds to student questions.  Wishing all our readers a lovely break and a happy new year!

Latest government COVID news and guidance

Of course we will have an update from Jim if there is local news that we need to know.  The latest guidance from the government on Christmas rules, from Wednesday, is here.

You will recall that despite the focus on infection rates, the original tiers were set on the basis of 5 tests:

  • case detection rate (in all age groups and, in particular, among the over 60s)
  • how quickly case rates are rising or falling
  • positivity in the general population
  • pressure on the NHS – including current and projected (3 to 4 weeks out) NHS capacity – including admissions, general/acute/ICU bed occupancy, staff absences
  • local context and exceptional circumstances such as a local but contained outbreak.

What next for 2021

We have updated our horizon scan as there has been a rush of OfS regulatory announcements and consultations and also quite a lot of other news over the last 6 weeks or so.  We don’t recommend reading it when you are meant to be relaxing but you might want to bookmark it for your return.

There may well be more next week as the OfS seem to be clearing their desks before the end of the year – but it is already clear that 2021 is going to be an important year in terms of tougher rules and interventions from the OfS drive by the government agenda.

Meanwhile, the government have announced that the budget will be on 3rd March.  Is that the date we will hear about the response to Augar and plans for the TEF?

And of course Brexit.  Who knows what is going to happen there.  MPs are starting their Christmas recess on Thursday – but they are likely to be recalled if a deal is achieved (from PoliticsHome).

The Institute for Government published a blog on the time needed to ratify a deal:

  • The UK government is planning to fast-track a new bill through parliament to ratify the deal. If the alternative was no deal on 1 January, it is unlikely either the Commons or the Lords would stand in the government’s way.
  • But this is likely to mean MPs and peers approving a deal which they have hardly had a chance to look at, and in doing so would risk storing up problem. When the government introduced the controversial clauses relating to implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in the UK Internal Market Bill, it claimed these were necessary to address new concerns about what it had signed up to in the Withdrawal Agreement last year. Although this may have been disingenuous, the debate in the Commons suggested many MPs really didn’t know what they had agreed to in January when they rushed through the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
  • …The process is more complicated on the EU side. First there would need to be a decision about who actually needs to be involved in ratification. Will the deal be a “mixed” agreement on which national parliaments have a vote, or can the process be limited to the Council and the European Parliament? And even if only the Council and European Parliament need to vote, there will be little time for the usual processes of consultations by member state governments with their own national parliaments and debates in the European Parliament.
  • Whether or not the deal is a mixed agreement, the Council does have the power to provisionally apply many aspects of it, including those dealing with tariffs. Legally speaking, it could even do so without the European Parliament voting on the deal until a later date. But this by-passing of MEPs could worsen tensions between the Council and the European Parliament at a time when member states need MEPs’ votes on a number of key issues. Michel Barnier has suggested that there may be a period of ‘no deal’ in January while the European Parliament considers a deal, but this would be deeply damaging for traders. However, it would be a mistake to assume MEPs will definitely acquiesce.

Constituencies review

The Parliamentary Constituencies Act has become law meaning the 650 individual constituencies across the UK will be redefined to have a more equal number of voters in each. The Government’s press release states: The updated constituencies will reflect significant changes in demographics, house building and migration – the current ones having been defined using outdated data from two decades ago.

Previously a 2018 review recommended reducing the number of MPs to 600; it was expected to have a big impact on our local constituencies (amongst other things, Mid-Dorset and North Poole was going to be radically changed and the separate constituency of Christchurch was expected to disappear). Instead a new review of the constituencies will commence in 2021, based on the number of registered voters at 1 December 2020.

Reviews of UK parliamentary constituencies are undertaken by four judge-led and independent bodies – the Boundary Commissions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This review will have to be completed by the Boundary Commissions by 1 July 2023. The Government have also committed to ensuring reviews take place every eight years and the subsequent proposals are implemented automatically. This will stop any potential for political interference or further delays to updating constituencies, protecting fair representation of the British people for the future. There will be three periods of consultation on the proposed new electoral maps. The updated constituencies will reflect significant changes in demographics, house building and migration – the current ones having been defined using outdated data from two decades ago.

It is fair to say that the last process was very delayed and very political, so in theory these look like positive changes, but local issues will still make this very controversial in practice when changes happen.

OfS Christmas Bonus

It seems it’s not just us trying to clear the decks before Christmas. Happy Christmas HE, there’s nothing quite like a bit of regulatory shenanigans to look forward to in the New Year!

The Office for Students have issued three new consultations on reportable eventsinformation sharing, and a new take on the previously paused monetary penalties consultations.

At the time of publishing this week’s policy update The Office for Students has not yet released the updated National Student Survey results. You can look out for updates on this here and on Twitter.

They’ve also issued two sets of new guidance on regulatory monitoring and intervention and on third party notifications (i.e. what counts as a notification for regulatory reasons). Finally there is a student guide for students to report on the progress their university or college has made in delivering its 2019-20 access and participation plan. The OfS press release is here: Regulator sets out how students can register concerns. Wonkhe have a blog on it all here.

On 16th the OfS published lots of data on access and continuation by ethnicity, provider tariff group and subject group.  The report is only 10 pages and worth reading.  Their press release says:

The report finds that, between 2013-14 and 2018-19:

  • There was an increase in the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic students entering higher tariff universities (those with higher entrance requirements). This is consistent with data from the Department for Education, which shows that these students have higher rates of entry to higher education than white students.
  • There was a higher proportion of Asian, white and mixed ethnicity students at higher tariff universities compared with other providers, but only 5.3 per cent of entrants to these universities were black, compared with 12.0 per cent at other providers.
  • Whatever their ethnicity, students at higher tariff universities were the most likely to continue with their studies. In 2017-18, the continuation rate for white students at higher tariff providers was 96.1 per cent, 7.0 percentage points higher than for white students at other providers (89.1 per cent). For other groups, this difference was even larger:
    • 3 percentage points for black entrants (94.3 per cent per cent at higher tariff compared with 83.0 per cent at other providers)
    • 7 percentage points for mixed ethnicity entrants (95.8 per cent at higher tariff providers compared with 86.1 per cent at other providers)
    • 3 percentage points for students of other ethnicity (94.1 per cent at higher tariff providers compared with 85.8 per cent at other providers)
    • 2 percentage points for Asian entrants (95.7 per cent at higher tariff providers compared with 87.5 per cent at other providers).
  • Black entrants to non-higher tariff providers had the lowest continuation rates of any ethnic group in 2017-18 (83.0 per cent).
  • In non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects across all providers, white students had the highest continuation rates (91.3 per cent in 2017-18), while Asian students were most likely to continue in STEM subjects (90.8 per cent).
  • For both STEM and non-STEM entrants across all providers, in every academic year from 2013-14 to 2017-18, black students were least likely to continue into a second year of study.

HE Financial Health

The OfS have also published Higher Education financial sustainability – an update. It reports strong cash balances, increased but sustainable borrowing including through government-backed loans, and the fall in income from international students’ fees being less than feared, have combined to leave the sector in a reasonably stable financial position. Yet it recognises significant variation in the position of different providers across the sector.

  • The sector is expecting to report broadly similar levels of income of £35 billion across all three years, albeit with an expected decline in 2020/21 to below the levels achieved in 2018-19
  • Total HE course fees were reported at £18.5 billion in 2019/20, an increase of 7.2% compared with 2018-19 (£17.2 billion)
  • HE providers have forecast that fee income will fall by 1.7% in 2020/21, although this would still be above 2018/19 levels
  • Total Non-EU (overseas) tuition fee income was reported at £6bn in 2019/20, an increase of 16.4% compared with 2018/19 (£5.2 billion)
  • HE providers anticipate this to decrease by 10.4% in 2020/21 to £5.4bn, but this would also still be above 2018/19 levels
  • At the end of 2019/20, sector borrowing was £13.7bn (38.4% of income), a rise of £0.7bn compared to 2018/19
  • Forecasts show that the sector is projecting borrowing to continue to rise to £14.2bn by the end of 2020/21 (40.6% of income) – this is a slower increase in borrowing than in previous years

The analysis concludes that although there is currently a low chance of a significant number of unplanned closures of universities, colleges or other providers, there remain considerable uncertainties in the future.

Wonkhe: As the numbers start to come in we offer silent thanks that some of the worst-case scenarios about institutional collapse and sector-wide carnage have not come to pass. New analysis from the Office for Students offers the sector a decent bill of health, and throws light on the many adaptations and measures adopted by providers since the start of the pandemicagainst many expectations, the quality of the sector shone through; recruitment largely held up, planning was proportionate, and mitigations were well managed. In such a complex and chaotic environment, not every call the sector or providers made was right, but a lot of them were. On aggregate – HE is in a good place.

It’s good news, but, as we allude above, not for everyone – this Wonkhe blog speaks of the HE providers which are under closer monitoring due to a more precarious financial position, concluding: those providers under close monitoring will remain a worry – there’s a lot of variables but it seems as if structural weaknesses remain. This next year will be less tolerant of these than any other time in recent history.

Commenting on the OfS report, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive OfS, said:

  • There are many reasons for this relatively positive picture. Universities entered the pandemic in reasonably robust shape. England continues to be a popular destination for international students. And universities have been able to access significant support from the government, including via access to government-backed loans. All of this means that English higher education finds itself in reasonable financial shape, and the grave predictions of dozens of university closures have not materialised.
  • There are a number of uncertainties which will continue to affect finances both now and into the future, not least the fact that it is still not clear what the overall impact of the pandemic will be. Where universities have immediate concerns about their finances, they must let us know straight away. The OfS will work constructively with any university in financial difficulties, with our overarching priority being to protect the interests of students. At this point in time, though, we believe that the likelihood of significant numbers of universities or other higher education providers failing is low.

Assessments – Additional Considerations

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published a new section within the Good Practice Framework: Requests for additional consideration. It sets out some good practice guidance on requests for additional consideration (i.e.  “mitigating”, “extenuating” or “special circumstances” procedures, or “factors affecting performance”). OIA state that a quarter of recent complaints relate to the handling of students’ requests for additional consideration when ill health or personal circumstances affected their exam/assessed performance.

The new guidance will apply from the 2021/22 academic year, however, providers are encouraged to consider the relevance it has to learning during Covid times. Providers are urged to consider flexibility and adaptations that they can implement in their approach (particularly evidence requests) for students requesting additional consideration now due to the pandemic.

Felicity Mitchell, Independent Adjudicator OIA, said: Students who need to submit a request for additional consideration may be experiencing significant difficulties and distress. It’s important that the process for considering such requests is fair and proportionate, and that students have a proper opportunity to show that they can reach the necessary academic standards.

Ofqual – online assessments

Ofqual have published the report of their review into the barriers to online and on-screen assessment for high stakes qualifications such as GSCEs and A Levels. IT provision, security and staffing issues are some of the barriers to the adoption of online and on-screen assessments in England. The review was, in part, a response to suggestions from some stakeholders that these assessment methods could be used to mitigate risks around disruption to summer 2021 exams. Dods have summarised the key points here.

Research

R&D Places Strategy: The transcript from the Science Minister’s speech on the Government’s ambition for research and innovation, and progress on developing the R&D Places Strategy is now available here.

Horizon Europe: Research Professional report: legislators have said financial contributions from non-European Union countries participating in Horizon Europe through association agreements will be channelled preferentially to the parts of the programme they won funding from, while EU negotiators have agreed a deal on Erasmus+, the bloc’s 2021-27 education and training mobility programme, which they say could broaden and even triple participation in it.

UKRI Ethnicity Data: Wonkhe report: UK Research and Innovation has published ethnicity data for all funding applicants and awardees, highlighting disparities between different ethnic groups. While the proportion of ethnic minority fellowship awardees has risen from 12 to 18 per cent between 2014-15 and 2018-19, large gaps still exist between ethnic groups, with fewer than one per cent of fellows being black. In addition, the proportion of ethnic minority principal investigators is still lower than the general proportion of ethnic minorities in teaching or research roles. The data is aggregated for UKRI’s seven research councils and is presented both by specific ethnicity and by broader ethnic group.

State of the Relationship: The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) published their State of the Relationship report, which outlines the results of their Collaboration Progress Monitor, examining and tracking university-business collaboration over time.  The analysis uses 2017/18 data, compared to a five-year average.

Headline findings for Research and Innovation:

  • 85,218 interactions between universities and SMEs – a growth of 11.9% from the previous year
  • Almost 13,000 interactions between universities and businesses, increasing by 10.2% on the previous year
  • 27,645 interactions with large businesses – a growth of 5.5%
  • Investment by UK businesses in university R&D grew by 8.7%, taking total investment to £389m
  • 881 Innovate UK academic grants were awarded to universities – an increase of 41 and the highest number since the monitor began
  • Increase of 7.4% in foreign funds into HE, but growth is decelerating
  • £144m income from licencing, representing an increase of 39%
  • 44 spinout companies were still active for at least three years – an increase of 4.8%
  • Licences granted by universities decreased by 16.9% down to 7,075 – the first drop in six years
  • 1,770 patents were granted to UK universities, representing an increase of 27.7%

Headline findings for Skills and Talent collaboration:

  • Learner days delivered by universities to businesses was 1,313 days lower in 2017/18 than the five-year average of 25,027 days
  • 72 universities offered higher of degree apprenticeships in 2017/18, whereas five years prior this number was only four
  • 6,360 degree apprenticeships started, with 10,497 people participating in a higher of degree apprenticeship provided by a university
  • 7,605 HE leavers ran their own business in 2017/18
  • 69% of undergraduates and 78% of postgraduates were in full-time or part-time employment
  • Just over one quarter of undergraduates had enrolled on a sandwich course – an increase of 3.5% on 2014/15
  • 69% of undergraduates agreed or strongly agreed that they were using what they learnt during their studies
  • 80% of postgraduates agreed of strongly agreed that they were using what they learnt during their studies

Translational Research: UKRI and Zinc have launched a new programme researchers turn ideas into products and services that help people live longer, healthier lives. The programme is designed to support early career and other researchers with their applications for funding and will open with a series of workshops in January 2021. Researchers will be offered a nine-month package of support provided by Zinc including coaching and mentoring from an active network of experts and partner organisations and assistance in using design-led, impact-focused approaches to developing their ideas. It aims to help researchers with the most innovative ideas, who normally wouldn’t consider this kind of grant, to apply for up to £62,500 per project

Parliamentary Questions & Blogs

  • The £15 billion for R&D – will it replace EU funds?
  • Wonkhe have a new blog – Knowledge exchange and the arts: Evelyn Wilson introduces a new centre focused on capturing and recording the many benefits of knowledge exchanges between universities and the cultural sector.
  • Research Professional have a good blog from ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore which argues that postgraduate research policy needs attention and recalls why he abandoned postgraduate study. Excerpts:

Salaries over study

As to the value of a PhD and a career as a researcher, we champion its international appeal and encourage visa applications to improve access to global talent, rightly seeking to bring researchers to this country to establish themselves in our brilliant universities. Yet when it comes to domestic students, we create algorithms called LEO that deliver the harsh message that UK students should not think about any subject that might have a long-term and uncertain outcome—that risk factor we praise start-ups for encouraging—so why not chase a salary instead? It’s a message that makes postgraduate study a no-no. 

If we want to become a global science superpower, we need to value research—all of it

Qualification reform 

What would different look like? In an increasingly fast-paced economy and society, the idea of taking three to four years out of your life to research and write an 80,000-word thesis that 10 people might read seems a waste of a huge amount of potential and productivity. The Viva, too, belongs to an age that we might politely admit has passed. 

Much has already been done to expand the potential crossover between academia and industry, but the greatest barrier of qualification reform for postgraduate study remains. The question is, who in Whitehall understands this? It is an essential prerequisite for an R&D strategy that the level 8 qualification route is expanded and opened up

UCAS

UCAS have published their 2020 End of Cycle Report focusing on widening access and participation and student choice (data dashboard here). What happened to the COVID cohort? Lessons for levelling up in 2021 and beyond is the easy summary read of the end of cycle data.

Research Professional do a great job at interpreting the meaning behind the main points. Their (short) blog is well worth a read if this topic interests you.

Overall UCAS report progress on widening participation, although it remains slow meaning it would take 332 years to close the gap on the current trajectory. Highly selective universities were urged to admit 70 more disadvantaged students per year to close their admissions gap by 2030.

The recommendations are on page 4 and divide into short term 2021 recommendations, and medium-longer term 2022-2025. Here are just a few of interest:

Short Term

  • Maintain the uplift in capacity in HE places and improved support for employers to take on apprentices or offer T Level placements
  • Adopt UCAS’ MEM as the default mechanism for measuring participation, providing a true sense of progress
  • Promote sharing of information at the application stage, including that related to disability, learning difference and mental health, by building confidence in students to trust that UCAS and universities and colleges will use this information to arrange appropriate support and inform future improvements

Medium to long-term, 2022-25

  • Increase the number of HE places and apprenticeships to reflect the growing 18 year old population and ensure disadvantaged students do not miss out as a result of increased competition
  • Consider how a post-qualification admissions system might improve the application experience and outcomes for disadvantaged students. HE admissions reform should be used as an opportunity to explore how technical education and apprenticeships could be integrated into the UCAS application process
  • Explore the benefits of a UK shared apprenticeships admissions service to enable students to consider and connect to all post-secondary education options in a single location

Further insight into the 2020 cohort including the analysis of students’ choices and motivations is due to be published end January 2021.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at OfS, said:

  • Through the access and participation plans they have agreed with the Office for Students, universities have committed to ambitious targets to improve access over the next five years. This UCAS data shows universities taking the first steps towards meeting these commitments… It is crucial that universities follow through on these commitments to reduce barriers for students from the most disadvantaged parts of the country, and we will closely monitor their progress.
  • Access is, though, only one part of the picture. It’s promising that a record number of applicants have been accepted from the most underrepresented groups, but these students also need good support once they get into university. That will be crucial for ensuring that they are able to continue with their studies, particularly through the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, and have an equal opportunity to achieve the top grades. It will also equip them with the skills and knowledge they will need if they are to thrive in the industries and public services of the future.

Access & Participation

Ethnic Disparities: Wonkhe tell us: letter from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to equalities minister Kemi Badenoch seeking an extension to a reporting deadline highlights an approach to identifying disparities based on finer grained data. One section suggests that analysis has shown that white “working class” boys are the group least likely to go to university, and that many girls from a Bangladeshi background choose not to go to a university outside of London for family and cultural reasons.

Parliamentary Questions

Student Hardship funding: Following the announcement of £20 million to HE providers to contribute to student hardship for 2020-21 the DfE has begun distributing and monitoring the fund. Wonkhe: Michelle Donelan asks that funding split between full-time, part-time, and disabled student premiums is available to students as quickly as possible, and allocated by the end of the financial year. OfS will publish details of an allocation later this week.

During the APPG for students it was raised that £20m for hardship is approximately £13 per student. Minister Michelle Donelan Reiterates that this fund is not going to be accessed or required by every student, and it is there to support students who need support most.

International

Employment & Skills

The Lords Economic Affairs Committee published Employment and Covid-19: time for a new deal it includes:

  • Expand the number of social care workers by increasing funding in the sector with stipulations that funding should be used to raise wages and improve training and conditions;
  • Prioritise green projects that can be delivered at scale, quickly, and take place across the country
  • Government should introduce a new job, skills and training guarantee, available to every young person not in full-time education or employment for one year
  • The Government’s disparate skills and training policies, spread across many departments, should be joined up and be managed and coordinated at a regional local level
  • The Government should also consider incentives to help young people move towards jobs with opportunities to develop skills in digital and other growing sectors
  • The most significant barrier to hiring apprentices is cost – faced with falling numbers of apprenticeship starts and reduced recruitment, the Government should consider raising the level of hiring subsidies for apprentices
  • The DWP should include a greater emphasis on skills profiling in its employment support offer – it should examine successful examples of employment services in other countries, such as Sweden and Austria, which intervene early to support declining businesses and sectors and quickly transition and retrain workers into more viable employment

2020 Spending Review Priorities

Following the Chancellor’s 2020 Spending Review announcements the Treasury has published the provisional priority outcomes and metric document. We have a summary of the aspects related to education here.

APPG for Students

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Students met this week questioning Universities Minister Michelle Donelan on HE student issues. As an interest based parliamentary group the meetings aren’t recorded and transcribed like other parliamentary business. However, the APPG has done a fantastic job in capturing the Minister’s statements on their Twitter feed (you have to keep clicking ‘show replies’ to view the full range of topics the Minister responded to.

Most of Donelan’s responses are the standard Government HE policy stock, however a few stood out.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

There are three new consultations from the Office for Students this week:

  • Monetary penalties
  • Reportable events
  • Publication of information about individual providers

Other News

Nursing: Care Minister Helen Whately has made an announcement on the record numbers of students accepted places to study nursing and midwifery in England this year based on the UCAS data released this week. The press release begins:

The final figures from this year’s admission cycle show there were 29,740 acceptances to nursing and midwifery courses in England, 6,110 more than last year and an increase of over a quarter (26%). This year, 23% (6,770) of acceptances were from students aged 35 years and older, a 43% increase on last year.

Net zero: The Government published the Energy white paper: Powering our net zero future this week.

Government Education Policy Commitments: In the traditional spirit of the end of year review Dods have published Boris Johnson: One Year On reviewing how the Government have fared in delivering their cornerstone policy commitments. There’s a short section on Education and Skills on page 9 which is worth a quick skim. The key reminder in relation to HE is: The promised assessment of student loan interest rates has yet to materialise – though some in Whitehall might argue that it’s a low priority on the list of problems facing the HE sector at the moment.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 3rd December 2020

The Government has announced the requirements for universities to prepare plans for students to return to campus safely in January, flexibilities for 2021 level 2/3 exams have been confirmed, there’s a new report about higher technical education, and the attainment and continuation gap for estranged students is of concern.

Parliamentary News

Local Rebels: The Government experienced a rocky ride as Parliament passed the Covid tier legislation on Tuesday. The Conservative rebels that voted against the Government can be seen here. Notably several local MPs voted against or abstained from the vote. Chope and Drax voted against, Syms said he would vote against (but was unable to vote as he acted as a teller for the no votes), Tobias Ellwood abstained.

WMS – Skills Bootcamps: The DfE published a Written Ministerial Statement from Gavin Williamson (Education SoS) giving an update on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. It announced the extension of the skills boot camps including to the ‘Heart of the South West’ covering digital skills (software development, digital marketing, and data analytics) and technical skills training such as welding, engineering, and construction. A further £43m will be invested through the National Skills Fund to extend Skills Bootcamps further across the country in 2021.

January Restart

The DfE released the January restart guidance explaining the rules and priorities universities should adhere to for the safe return of students. (Press release here)

  • The return of students should be staggered over 5 weeks – this is to minimise transmission risks from the mass movement of students
  • There is a priority order for students to return with medical, practical and placement students returning first (4 to 22 January) to access their essential face to face tuition. Those with external (e.g. professional body) exams that cannot be moved are also permitted to return.
  • Other students will receive online tuition and return to campus in a staggered manner between 25 January and 5 February. The Government set out a priority order for those in the second phase of return e.g. postgraduates first, new starters last.
  • All students should be offered (the asymptomatic) testing on return to university before tuition recommences, social contact to be curtailed whilst awaiting the results of both tests (3 days apart)
  • Students who returned home over the winter break should not be encouraged to return to their term-time accommodation until their face-to-face teaching is scheduled to resume
  • Students who remained in their term time accommodation over the winter break or those for whom an early return is essential (e.g. those without study space or connectivity within their domicile, international students, students without other suitable accommodation, those who need to return sooner for health reasons). Students who return early due to these reasons and commuter students are expected to be able to access campus facilities such as the library during the period.
  • International students returning from outside of a travel corridor must self-isolate for 14 days, although they can pay for a private test which if negative will reduce the isolation to 5 days.
  • Students who spend the winter break within tier 3 should take a test before they travel, if this is available locally.

In her letter to Vice-Chancellors Donelan stated:

  • We do not underestimate the work that will need to be done to accommodate this plan including moving exams or putting them online and creating more online materials and lessons.
  • This plan is the best way to ensure all students can return and blended learning can resume whilst reducing the risks of mass movement and also ensuring all students can be tested.
  • We continue to support the blended learning model that universities have been using and still consider you, in collaboration with local public health teams, to be best-placed in determining the proportion of online/in-person teaching working that works for your setting. However, where it is deemed safe to do so, we would encourage as much face-to-face learning as possible, recognising the benefits this brings to student experience.

Financial Hardship: The Minister also announced there would be £20 million allocated on a one-off basis to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students. They will work with OfS to produce the detail on this.

One shot: Earlier in the week the Government stated that students would be counted within the ‘home’ household numbers for calculating visitor numbers during the Christmas window. It also confirmed that students are only permitted one visit home between 3 December 2020 and 8 February 2021.

Wonkhe have a blog delving into the detail of the Government’s statutory instrument which covers the student related aspects here.

No plans to cancel A-levels  in 2021 in England

On Thursday Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced extra measures to support students during the 2021 exams:

Students sitting exams and other assessments next year will benefit from a package of exceptional measures to make them as fair as possible and manage the disruption caused by Covid-19

In recognition of the challenges faced by students this year, grades will be more generous, students will be given advance notice of some topic areas, and steps will be taken to ensure every student receives a grade, even if they miss a paper due to self-isolation or illness.

  • exam aids – like formula sheets – provided in some exams giving students more confidence and reducing the amount of information they need to memorise;
  • additional exams to give students a second chance to sit a paper if the main exams or assessments are missed due to illness or self-isolation; and
  • a new expert group to look at differential learning and monitor the variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country.

Students taking vocational and technical qualifications will also see adaptations to ensure parity between general and vocational qualifications

Where a student has a legitimate reason to miss all their papers, then a validated teacher informed assessment can be used, only once all chances to sit an exam have passed

Test and exam results will not be included in performance tables this year, and instead will be replaced by attendance information, and student destinations and the subjects taken at key stage 4 and 5

And on remote education within schools and colleges there are updated expectations:

  • Primary schools are expected to provide a minimum of three hours a day on average; secondary schools expected to provide at least four hours’ worth
  • Similar expectations will apply for colleges and other further education providers which take into account the sector’s role in delivering both academic and technical provision

A Government news story tells us that the Social Mobility Commission is contributing to DfE planning process for the 2021 exams. They have recommended the Government:

  • Suspend school performance tables for 2021, as they fail to take account of the disproportionate learning loss experienced by students in areas of deprivation.
  • Work with schools and colleges to develop a clear and consistent system for collecting centre assessed grades that can be used as a contingency measure if individual students are unable to take exams.
  • Offer students the opportunity to take exams in Autumn 2021, without this being considered a ‘resit’. The results would need to be made available in time for UCAS applications for 2022 entry.
  • Support schools with extra resources, such as additional staff and venues, so that they can provide Covid-secure examination environments.
  • Mitigations in content and structure of exams benefit all candidates, and so do not address gaps between those who have struggled with remote learning due to home circumstance and those who have not. As such, while some adjustment (like the reduction in content of English Literature) may be practically necessary and useful, it should not be regarded as a solution.
  • Generosity in grading for 2021 should aim for a midpoint between 2019 and 2020, but following a normal mathematical distribution, rather than replicating the anomalies of 2020.
  • Arrangements for students isolating at the time of exams have to take into account the vast difference in personal and socio-economic circumstances. Home invigilation should be avoided.

For the students progressing to university:

  • Arrangements providing grants and opportunities for gap years for those with fewer familial resources should be retained.
  • At the moment, some courses prejudice those who have done an extra year, and some institutions struggle to accommodate retakes of years because of funding reductions for older students – this could easily be addressed.

Their recommendations aim to ensure equity in the 2021 exam system: Most recognise that there is a widening achievement gap in the nation’s schools and that the impact of coronavirus has disproportionally hit pupils in areas of deprivation.

The Social Mobility Commission statement included:

  • Schools must not ambushed at the last minute on this – they need time to adjust their teaching and their focus in ways that allow them to provide an effective education for the most vulnerable…We must also not fall into the trap of thinking that solutions that benefit all students will address the widening achievement gap. In a competitive exam system like ours, the key worry is that disadvantaged students will be outperformed by their peers whose experience of lockdown has been far smoother and more productive.
  • The key question the commission has considered in setting out our advice is ‘What constitutes a good outcome for the students who have been most disadvantaged this year? Are they better with weaker grades in more subjects, or better grades in the subjects they need?’ We firmly believe that if we can free up schools by taking away some of the pressure of performance tables that we think are unlikely to tell us anything useful about the system this year, then we can allow deprived students who have often suffered the most to be given tailored solutions.

The Government’s invitation to the Social Mobility Commission sits a little awkwardly with the outcomes of Ofqual’s analysis of the 2020 GCSE and A level awards (published late last week) which and concluded that there was “no evidence” that the system systematically disadvantaged poorer pupils or those with protected characteristics. However, the report suggests that there was “some evidence that some 6,300 GCSE entries by low prior attainers with unknown socioeconomic status (most of whom are at independent schools) may have received disproportionately overestimated grades.” The same effect was not seen for A levels.

Ofqual also pointed out that although poorer pupils saw a bigger drop in grades B to E as a result of standardisation, the proportion achieving A* and A grades actually fell by less than it did for pupils from better-off backgrounds.

The new report looked at the centre-assessment grades, calculated grades and final grades issued to pupils. It found that had calculated grades been issued, the results would have been more closely in line with the established relationships between student characteristics and outcomes seen in previous results.

Admissions

A Wonkhe blog explains Ireland’s university admissions system: The CAO [Central Applications Office] is best understood as an application clearing house, rather than a strict comparator to UCAS. The system in Ireland is what the UK is now terming PQO: post qualification offers. 

  • …With up to 20 choices to play with, however, students can choose to be very ambitious with some of their choices
  • Students applying to university will have a sense of what they may achieve in the Leaving Certificate, and thus can apply to courses that cover this range, though predicted grades don’t exist in the Irish system…there’s very little penalty to being speculative.
  • …points mean places. Rather than being entry requirements, they specify the lowest points score that gained a place in the previous cycle. When looking at options, students thus need to be aware that this grade can vary wildly from year to year, as the process is based on supply and demand. 

It’s not quite that simple… The nature of the supply and demand system means that the order of preference becomes all important. In Round One, students will be given a place on the course that ranks highest on their list of preferences, with all places below automatically denied. Then, as the rounds progress throughout August and early September, students can be made offers from their higher-ranked preferences, if they open up based on the decisions of other students.

There’s a blog on the Australian system here.

Parliamentary Questions: Universities expected to be flexible in admissions at high ranking institutions so students don’t miss out on places due to Covid related schooling disruption

HE Student Experience

HEPI published the policy note – Students’ views on the impact of Coronavirus on their higher education experience in 2020/21. Findings show students’ increasing satisfaction with online learning and positivity with how institutions ensure the Covid risks are minimised. The survey also shows that some students are spending the majority of their time in their accommodation the majority of students have experienced a decline in their mental wellbeing since the outset of the pandemic.

  • 59% UG students satisfied with online learning (was 42% June 2020, 49% March 2020)
  • 58% of students report poorer mental health than at the beginning of the pandemic (14% better mental health, 28% report no change to their mental health state)
  • 42% of students are satisfied with the university’s mental health services, 16% are unsatisfied
  • 50% are satisfied with the HEI’s other (non-mental health) support services, e.g. careers support.
  • 44% satisfied with student union support
  • 56% happy with how the institution has handled outbreaks of the coronavirus
  • 79% say their HEI experience feels safe (see chart below)
  • 33% of students spend all or most of their time in their accommodation. (Note 51% of students are receiving some face to face teaching nationally.)
  • 60% understand the (Government’s) end of term & Christmas travel window guidance
  • 54% have concerns about the return to university in January 2021

There are colourful charts in the full policy note.

No detriment: Nationally students have been calling for no detriment policies to apply in 20/2021. Wonkhe have a blog. Snippet:

  • I can see a growing number of students signing petitions and commenting on SU forums that they are amazed that “no detriment” policies have generally not survived the summer, and are angry that poor performance this term might end up framed in institutional terms as something that is individual – and somehow their fault.
  • When we say we are maintaining “quality and standards” we may be hiding debates – about whether we mean the standard of that which universities might reasonably provide during a massively disruptive global pandemic, or the standard of attainment we might reasonably expect students to achieve during a massively disruptive global pandemic.
  • …What’s very clear is that the comments from students on the forums and petitions should be seen as coalmine canaries – cries for help and exhortations for some empathy. Complex procedures to address individual failure caused by specific circumstances increasingly look tone deaf to a cohort whose only real shared experience is how miserable it’s all been.
  • Pure “No Detriment” policies may well not fit the bill if there’s not enough pre-pandemic academic performance evidence to establish a floor over. But we’re going to need something…

There’s the usual parliamentary question and response on HE student mental health. And the Universities Minister confirms the Government anticipates using mass testing as students return to university in January.

Research

HEPI have a new blog written by a PhD student who experienced burn out. To support PhD students well-being she recommends:

  • Fostering cohesive online cohorts
  • Strong dedicated representation (Students Union) systems to raise and address issues
  • Hands on training (not virtual) to improve access to and experience of a range of career pathways beyond academia

The blog concludes: PhD funders need to recognise that, with the current financial provision, increasing mental health support services won’t stop the pressures that undermine researcher wellbeing.

£61m boost for Europe’s largest ‘flying lab’

  • Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) have been awarded £61m by the NERC
  • Spread over 10 years, the funding will help to uncover causes behind rising methane in the Arctic, understanding the effect of biomass burning and monitor volcanic gases
  • The Airborne Laboratory will provide ‘world-class’ measurements for the benefit of the UK government, businesses and research community

EoI: Manufacturing Made Smarter innovation hub

  • The Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub should focus on manufacturing supply chains, looking to digitally optimise and integrate these supply chains from end to end. UK registered businesses and research organisations can apply for up to £10m from ISCF to set up and run a digital supply chain innovation hub

UK-German collaborative research projects announced – the AHRC and German Research Foundation have announced 18 collaborative research projects, bringing together arts and humanities researchers to conduct outstanding research projects which span a wide range of subjects. UK budget of £4.8m matched by €5m for research teams in Germany. Projects will start in early 2021 and are expected to run for at least three years until 2023

UKRI Global coronavirus research and innovation network pre-announcement

  • Individuals of lecturer level (or equivalent) can apply to establish a single international network for research into coronavirus. The network may run for up to 4 years
  • The total fund and maximum grant are £500,000. Applicationsopen on 4 January 2021, and close on 23 February 2021.

Improving health in low and middle income countries pre-announcement – no size or funding limited, proposals that combine expertise from more than one sector to meet a global health challenge particularly welcome. Applications open on 1 February 2021, and close on 8 April 2021.

UKRI formally recognises the contributions of reviewers

  • UKRI will be the first funder to formally credit contributions of reviewers through the Orcid system
  • Reviewers will be issues with a ‘review credit’, which will be publicly displayed in their Orcid profiles

Concerns over future of international development research. In the Spending Review, Sunak said they will reduce the aid budget to 0.5% of GNI from 0.7%. Concerns have been raised that this could represent a missing £4bn a year

Medical Research Council calls for more collaboration to get the most out of key research opportunities. The call comes following the MRC’s independent review

Changing the UK’s intellectual property regime to attract investment in life sciences.

Research Professional writes that just one more formal three-way talk among the European Union institutions should be enough to reach an agreement on the remaining parts of the legislation for Horizon Europe

Withdrawals

The Student Loans Company published in-year statistics on the number of notifications of student withdrawals.

  • The Student Loans Company (SLC) does not routinely publish data on the withdrawal notifications it receives from Higher Education Providers (HEPs). However, during Academic Year (AY) 2020/21 to date, there has been significant public interest in this data in order to contribute towards an understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting students. Therefore, SLC has taken the decision to publish this on an ad hoc basis as experimental statistics.
  • Based on this data, SLC has not seen any increase in student withdrawal notifications for the purpose of student finance in this academic year, compared to the previous two years. In this respect, withdrawal notifications are currently slightly lower than the previous two years for UK & EU students funded by Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales and Student Finance Northern Ireland. Some of this reduction may be explained by the irregular start to the current academic year.

Access & Participation

Estranged students: The OfS released a report at the end of last week highlighting that estranged students are less likely to be awarded a first or 2:1 and more likely to drop out during their first year of studies. Around 3,000 students are classed as estranged when they enter HE each year.

According to the data:

  • The continuation rate of entrants in 2017-18 who were estranged from their parents was 8.2% lower than students who were not estranged – though this gap has reduced from 11.2% in 2014-15.
  • The attainment rate (achieving a first or 2:1) of estranged students in 2018-19 was 13% lower than students who were not estranged.
  • Care experienced students are more likely to drop out and less likely to achieve a first or a 2:1. In 2017-18 the continuation rate of care experienced students was 5.6% lower than that for students who have not been in care. In 2018-19 the attainment rate (achieving a first or 2:1) of care experienced students was 12.1% lower than the attainment rate of students who have not been in care.
  • Students starting in 2017-18 who were eligible for free school meals were more likely to drop out than those who were not – data showing a 5.4% gap. For students graduating in 2018-19, the rate achieving a first or 2:1 was 13% lower for students who were eligible for free school meals compared with those who were not.

There is an OfS blog which addresses the gaps.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said: We expect universities and colleges to identify and tackle the barriers to success for the student groups identified in this data, so it will help them to develop their access and participation plans during the coming year. 

Care Leavers: Wonkhe: The National Network for the Education of Care Leavers, along with a number of other campaigning and support groups with an interest in care leavers, has written a “message to all vice chancellors and principals”. The message sets out recommendations on key ways to support the academic, social, and mental health needs of care leavers remaining on campus over Christmas.

White Disadvantaged Pupils: The Education Committee continued with their inquiry into left behind white disadvantaged pupils. Dods have provided a summary here. Place and the impact of the family were key facets of the meeting. Excerpts:

  • was important to look at educational underachievement not through the lenses of ethnicity but through the characteristics of the place.
  • …the pandemic did not bring forward new ways of deprivation, but it exacerbated existing ones…On the issue of families, he spoke about a report that came out two weeks ago which found that children had regressed during the time of the pandemic. In his view, this was not solely because of deprivation levels, but also depended on the support structures in the homes.

Level 4/5 and Technical Provision

Assessing performance: With the current Government’s favour for bite sized provision, technical and skills alternatives to the traditional degree, and favouring level 4/5 provision there is a great blog here that considers all the past versions of these. It starts out: As sometimes happens with HE policy, we’ve been here before. Several times. And also comments: In terms of level, a qualification that goes beyond that expected of 18 year olds (level 3) but stays at level 4/5, is a holy grail – which is odd because the problem is that it’s the thing that people aren’t seeking enough. At its worst, it’s the solution that people propose for other people’s children.

It quickly runs through the best and worst covering DipHE, Associate Degree, Foundation Degree, HND, HTQs, and problems with the word ‘technical’.

Gatsby Review Follow Up: The Gatsby Foundation were commissioned by the Government to review level 4 and 5 technical education in England. The review looked at the development of higher technical education in England since the 1944 Education Act, and how it compares with the experience of other countries. (The review was actually published in December 2018.) The original report concluded that England has a very small higher technical sector by international standards – the ‘missing middle’. In the 1960s and 70s, the rapid expansion in university education following the Robbins report privileged full-time degree level study, while many professions increasingly expected degree-level qualifications from new entrants. The Foundation Degree was seen as successful in filling the gap and the decline of part-time student numbers impacted higher technical enrolments. The report describes other countries that embrace a larger role for higher technical education, and agrees with the Secretary of State’s ambition for England to learn from international experience as it builds the technical education system. This week the Gatsby Foundation published Beyond the Missing Middle: Developing Higher Technical Education – a follow up report that they commissioned which explores the international success stories.

The report calls for

  • …further development in the higher technical system – allowing for recognition of prior learning, drawing on workbased learning, and built from modular components.
  • The framework would offer alternative routes, tailored to the needs of different students, to occupational competence. Not only would this approach be well adapted to the needs of adults who are already the prime candidates for HTE qualifications, it would also compete very effectively with most higher education degrees, which rarely offer these flexibilities.

Recognition of prior learning is often a slippery beast. The report suggests: While many countries have sought to develop special procedures for assessing and granting credit for prior learning, these procedures can be cumbersome. An alternative approach, used extensively in different countries, is to grant adults with relevant work experience direct access to the final examinations for a qualification without going through a required programme of study. This allows students themselves to prepare for the examination in a manner tailored to their existing knowledge and skills

Workbased learning is also emphasised and the author argues for apprenticeship style end point assessments to be applied.

There is lots more detail in the full document and Wonkhe have a blog.  Research Professional cover the report too.

International

Dods tell us:

  • Reports suggest that first-year EU students face £800 Brexit bill if not in UK before 2021.  
  • The Home Office said they will not qualify for EU pre-settled status if they arrive after the end of the transition period, even though they have been unable to relocate because of Covid. It potentially means tens of thousands of students will have to pay £348 in application fees for a visa with £470 a year in health charges, both new post-Brexit costs. One issue for EU students who have not started their education in the UK before the end of the transition period is that they cannot evidence their residency with rent receipts, utility bills or bank accounts.
  • According to Home Office rules published on the government website, students only need to provide one document dated in the last six months in order to be granted pre-settled status, including a “passport stamp confirming entry at the UK border” or “a used travel ticket confirming you entered the UK from another country”.
  • In a section entitled “evidence that covers shorter periods of time”,the Home Office states: “these documents count as evidence for one month if they have a single date on” suggesting a short trip to the UK up to and including New Year’s Eve is enough to evince free movement rights.

Parliamentary Questions: Course/professional qualifications admissibility to graduate immigration route not confirmed yet

OfS Annual Review

The OfS published their 2020 annual review. Key points:

  • HEIs are urged to radically improve digital teaching and learning as they continue to negotiate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Concerns are levied as the pandemic has ‘exacerbated’ existing inequalities – especially those impacted by digital poverty. Certain groups of students are vulnerable – international students, postgraduates and students who are vulnerable by reason of disability or for other reasons
  • The report on digital teaching and learning will look at how high-quality digital provision can be continued and delivered at scale; consider the impact of digital poverty; and explore how digital technology has been used to deliver remote education since the pandemic started.
  • Greater demand for adults to retrain at HE level is expected during 2021. 2021 should be a year when we look more seriously at how courses could be made more attractive and responsive to mature students, and a year when more adults are encouraged to take up such opportunities

Quality (and the OfS current consultation):

  • Poor-quality courses should be improved or no longer offered – the OfS consultation on this is mentioned: [it] proposes a series of measures to define, monitor and take action regarding the quality and standards of courses that do not reach minimum requirements
  • Our proposals would ensure that providers that recruit students from underrepresented groups and with protected characteristics are held to the same minimum level of performance as other providers, and would see consideration given to outcomes at subject level within providers, as well as at the level of the whole provider

The OfS set out actions they plan to take during 2021:

Fair admissions and recruitment

  • Following the update of Discover Uni in autumn 2020, which involved a new look and feel and improved course pages, further content and functionality is planned, including a new and improved compare and search functionality for courses, and more content for international students and mature students.
  • We will continue to be vigilant in monitoring the impacts of the pandemic to take action to support fair admissions.
  • We will work closely with the Department for Education, UCAS and UUK on the next phase of their work. In doing so, we will consider whether there is a case for further investigation of the issues identified in our admissions review, in light of the proposals that emerge during the coming year. In particular, we will consider the extent to which any proposed reforms consider the experiences of part-time, mature, international and postgraduate students. If there is a case to relaunch our review of admissions with a more focused set of considerations, then we will do so.

Ensuring high-quality teaching and learning

  • Conclude our online teaching and learning review.
  • Publish the findings of our consultation on quality.
  • Consult on our future approach to the TEF.
  • Conclude our review of the NSS and publish the findings.

Supporting all students to success

  • Develop further regulatory and funding incentives for mature student participation.
  • Continue collaborating with Uni Connect programmes to build on innovative delivery during the pandemic to support diverse pathways for students applying next year and beyond, including local progression from further education colleges.
  • Work with Student Minds to mitigate the mental health effects of the pandemic.
  • Relaunch the consultation on how universities and colleges should prevent and respond to incidents of harassment.
  • Deepen our understanding of student populations, including the intersections between different groups, through the access and participation dataset and a new Associations Between Characteristics measure.
  • Track student progress from outreach through to higher education and into employment, through the Higher Education Access Tracker and similar services.
  • Develop evaluation practice and the use of evaluation findings through the OfS-funded ‘what works’ centre, Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education.

Graduate skills and prospects in the pandemic

  • Evaluate the support for local graduates through our funding, working with further education colleges and universities.
  • Ensure universities and colleges are closing attainment gaps and securing equitable graduate outcomes.
  • Continue to fund courses that provide graduates for industries, such as certain science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, and health and medical subjects.

Research Professional have a short article covering the OfS annual review here.

Anti-Semitism

The Guardian has an opinion piece – The government should not impose a faulty definition of antisemitism on universities.

  • [Education SoS Williamson] threatens to remove funding and the power to award degrees from universities that do not share his faith in the efficacy of the IHRA working definition.
  • This is misguided, for a number of reasons. First, it misconceives the task universities face…structural racism in universities is profound, and racial harassment on campus is widespread. These are problems that universities must address. The imposed adoption of the IHRA working definition will not meet this challenge. It will, however, privilege one group over others by giving them additional protections, and in doing so will divide minorities against each other. For this reason alone, Williamson should pause and consider how best to protect students and university staff from racism broadly as well as from antisemitism.
  • The IHRA working definition is anything but straightforward, and universities already have some tools to deal with antisemitism.

The article goes on to suggest that adopting the definition is symbolic and it is linked with the Labour party’s initial rejection of the definition. It also discusses the pros and cons of the working definition and states: Universities, like everyone else, are sorely in need of good and clear guidance on when speech on Israel or Zionism becomes antisemitic. Sadly, this is not what the working definition provides. In these circumstances, its imposition by the secretary of state appears reckless and brings real dangers.

It concludes: Antisemitism on campus comprises one part of a mosaic of harms and harassment suffered by racial and religious minorities. Jewish students and staff deserve protection, but imposing the working definition will add nothing useful to secure it. 

There was a parliamentary question on what legislative options the Government is considering for HEIs that do not sign up to the definition. Excerpt: officials are exploring how best to ensure that providers are tackling antisemitism, with robust measures in place to address issues when they arise. Options identified by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education in the letter include directing the Office for Students to impose a new regulatory condition of registration, and suspending funding streams for universities at which antisemitic incidents occur and which have not signed up to the definition.

QAA

Douglas Blackstock, Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, has announced he will retire during 2021. Research Professional have coverage (scroll down to ‘Early Bath’) mentioning HERA, TEF and QAA’s move to a subscription body. The article highlights:

  • With Michael Barber on the way out at the Office for Students, the imminent departure of Blackstock provides the government with another opportunity to influence an appointment that could reshape the higher education debate. Such appointments tend to last longer than the ministers that make them.
  • …The QAA has always had a piquant relationship with the Office for Students, at least since the dying days of the old regime at the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It is not so much one of open hostility: it is more like two kids sitting beside one another at the pantomime, passive-aggressively competing over who gets to plant their elbow on the arm rest.
  • The Higher Education and Research Act left responsibility for quality shared between a designated agency and the regulator, but the boundaries were not clearly defined and have become more blurred over time. The Office for Students’ consultation on standards and value hints at a potential external inspection regime for universities, something the QAA might rightly have assumed to be its job.
  • To be accepted on the register of the Office for Students, providers must be in good standing with the QAA. But it has never been clear what store the regulator puts by QAA assessments.
  • The Higher Education and Research Act also requires the Office for Students to work in tandem with Research England, a collaboration that has not always been as proactive as some involved might have hoped. These relationships are the loose ends in the fabric of higher education left by the 2017 reforms. Playbook is only thinking aloud when it asks whether this government might be minded to tidy them up almost five years after Jo Johnson first published his white paper.

 PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Online learning: The BBC looks at whether online degrees will become more ‘legitimate’.

Diversity and inclusion: Dods report that The Office for Students (OfS) have recently published two insightful articles on the implications digital skills and data science courses on diversity and inclusion within the HE sector. In their article on Friday, they reported how the OfS-funded Institute for Coding is finding the flexible, modular, digital skills education can improve diversity in learner cohorts and in the tech workforce overall. They note that demand for talent has grown by 150 percent in the digital tech sector over the past four years, and the implications this has for future learning demand.

Referencing the ‘Digital Skills for the Workplace’ course collection, they note that within the participants:

  • 47% of learners surveyed were women
  • More than half of surveyed learners were over the age of 25
  • 19% of surveyed learners were unemployed or looking for work
  • 48% were working full-time, part-time or are self-employed

The Government’s Digital Strategy has also estimated that, within 20 year, 90 percent of jobs will require some element of digital skills.

In their article, the OfS also discussed new data for AI and data science postgraduate conversion courses, which have shown greater diversity in cohorts, including high admission from Black students, women and students with disabilities. Most importantly, they note that the lack of diversity within these fields can lead to entrenched dataset biases, and that a lack of representative testing in AI “creates an artificial world.”

Both articles highlight the benefits of flexible and modular learning – drawing attention to platforms such as FutureLearn, as well as online courses offered by partner universities on these ventures.

EdTech Start Ups: Jisc and Emerge Education relaunched their step up initiative, which aims to transform higher and further education by matching EdTech start-ups with colleges and universities to solve their biggest challenges. They’ve published a top list of recommended start-ups – new ventures ready to tackle the sector’s five biggest challenges of digital learning, assessment, employability, wellbeing and recruitment. The full list and more details are here.

Back to ‘normal’: An SRHE blog drops a pin in the July 2021 calendar for end of pandemic in the UK with a normal teaching programme resuming in autumn 2021.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 27th November 2020

The spending review was quiet on HE and heavier on research spending commitments. A UUK publication tackles racial harassment in HE and the OIA provides examples of what will and won’t be upheld from student Covid complaints. We wonder about the TEF.  See you in December!

Driving home for Christmas?

Today’s news is all about tiers.  Dorset and BCP are in Tier 2 and we thought we would help you with the links. There are 3 sets of rules which all apply at once:

If you are hoping to see family or friends outside the local area, The full list is here.  As has been widely reported, only Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly are in tier 1, so cafes and pubs will be hard hit across the nation.  The full reasoning area by area has been published.

And our local MPs are not all happy about it. The Bournemouth Echo have spoken to MPs

  • Michael Tomlinson (MDNP) and Chris Loder (West Dorset) have just retweeted the guidance without comment and in the Echo article Michael Tomlinson says he will support the government.
  • Sir Christopher Chope, Sir Robert Syms and Tobias Ellwood will oppose it.
  • Simon Hoare will support the government.
  • It is not clear from their piece whether Conor Burns will oppose it or not although he is critical.

Spending Review – highlights and research focus

Phew – that was a lot of bad news and attempts at good news.  Headlines: no big announcements on university funding or progress on the TEF.  Lots of research news and lots about investment in education.

The documents are here. Press release here.  The full content of the Spending Review session is available on Hansard here.

RP makes interesting points on the forgotten aspects of impending HE policy which the (3 year) comprehensive spending review was expected to tackle.  We cover the TEF separately below.

  • The words ‘university’ and ‘universities’ do not appear. Nor does the term ‘higher education’.
  • Add to this the fact that neither the independent review of the Teaching Excellence Framework nor the government’s response to the Augar review of post-18 education was published alongside the review as promised, and it starts to feel very much like a snub.
  • A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and it is safe to say—as Fiona McIntyre reports on our site—that the no-show of the TEF and Augar was no surprise. They’ve been kicked so far into the long grass now that they can barely be seen. And with rumours of a Lord Agnew-led Treasury review of higher education costs, Augar’s recommendations—some of which Augar has all but disowned himself—seem more likely to become footnotes in whatever plan eventually befalls university financing.

On the spending review Wonkhe say:

  • Yesterday’s spending review left key questions over tuition fees and teaching funding for the sector unanswered, though there was limited good news on research funding. An overall £740m uplift in the BEIS research and development budget included promised increases in funding flowing through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) over the next four years. And it now appears that the ARPA-like “high-risk, high-payoff” research funding long seen as a Dominic Cummings’s pet project will also sit under UKRI.
  • There was plentiful recurrent and capital funding allocated to FE, in line with previous announcements, but there was little mention of the HE sector. The Student Loans Company will receive an extra £64m of capital linked to a transformation programme, and there’s an unspecified amount of funding (if required) to support the preparation of a domestic alternative to Erasmus+.
  • Other points of interest included the news that the promised phasing out of the RPI inflationary measure (as used in student loan interest calculations) will not begin until 2030, and an odd mention of “defending free speech” in the Chancellor’s statement. David Kernohan summarised what we could find on Wonk Corner

We cover the R&D sections here and the rest in a separate section below. In the main document the scientific super power section starts page 58.

Research Professional have a good summary in A game of two halves

  • The headline figure, as Sophie Inge reports, was a pledge of “almost £15 billion for R&D over the next year” with the aim of making the UK a “scientific superpower”.
  • …. the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been awarded £11.1bn in R&D funding for the year ahead, which is up from £10.36bn this year and includes a boost of £400m a year, on average, until 2023-24 for core UK Research and Innovation budgets.
  • It is notable that the chancellor—who had abandoned plans for a full multi-year spending review following the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak—opted to make a four-year commitment to funding research. The argument that R&D is now simply too important to the future physical and economic health of the country to be managed on a short-term basis appears to have won. UKRI chief executive Ottoline Leyser summed it up, saying the spending review “signals a clear national ambition for research and innovation”.
  • Another £350m went to UKRI to support “strategic government priorities, build new science capability and support the whole research and innovation ecosystem”. This chunk of cash includes the “first £50m towards an £800m investment by 2024-25 in high-risk, high-payoff research”—which seems like a very strong hint indeed that any cash going to the UK Advanced Research Projects Agency will be distributed via UKRI.
  • The business department’s settlement includes a healthy £733m to allow the UK Vaccine Taskforce to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, which is part of the £6bn provided to procure vaccines. Of this money, £128m will go towards UK vaccine R&D and funding for the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre.
  • Meanwhile, there will be up to £17m in 2021-22 to establish a “new unit and fund that will focus on the last mile of innovation to help ensure that public sector knowledge assets…translate into new high-tech jobs, businesses and economic growth”. These assets include R&D, the spending review document states, along with intellectual property and other intangible assets.

Dods have a nice summary of the research announcements

  • Cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing nearly £15 billion in R&D in 2021-22 (page 53)
  • Up to £17m in 2021-22 to establish a new unit and fund that will focus on the last mile of innovation to help ensure that public sector knowledge assets (page 53)
  • £450m in 2021-22 to support government priorities, drive the development of innovative ways to build new science capability and support the whole research and innovation ecosystem (page 54)
  • Raise economy-wide investment in R&D to 2.4 per cent by 2027 (page 54)
  • £280 million in 2021-22 for net zero R&D, including an £81 million multi-year commitment for pioneering hydrogen heating trials (page 56)
  • £695m of additional R&D funding between 2021-22 and 2024-25 to support the development of cutting-edge capabilities (page 56)

Other research news

  • Wonkhe have a new blog – The proportion of PGR students recorded as “writing up” in HESA data has been creeping up over the years. Is this a sign of a growing crisis? We don’t know, and that is the problem. Rebecca Teague and Billy Bryan take stock.
  • HEPI have a new blog which comments on the rise in numbers of PhDs but it also asks who and what are PhD’s for and references the recent Government and UKRI decisions on PhDs extensions as telling.
  • If you somehow managed to miss last week’s clamour – doctoral students were told to adjust projects for Covid-19. UKRI announced an additional £19m available to support doctoral students who are finding it most difficult to adjust their project and training plans. There is a report and policy statement advising students to speak to their supervisor about adjusting projects to complete a doctoral-level qualification within their funding period. And an interesting fact on the scale of the issue – 92% of final year students already requested an extension, with the average extension request of 4.6 months. Research Professional reported the announcement received a negative reaction from doctoral students, particularly around the lack of clarity it brought  We’re still waiting to hear what involvement BEIS had in the UKRI decision.

This week’s parliamentary questions:

Forgotten Priorities Part 1: What is going to happen to the TEF?

Everyone expected that announcements on the Pearce review of the TEF and announcements on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding – promised with the spending review – would not be forthcoming, once it was announced that it would not be a “comprehensive” spending review but a one year look, with a focus on the response to the pandemic. Then there were rumours that there might be after all- but there wasn’t.  Universities and HE are not mentioned at all, although there is a fair bit about research (as we discuss elsewhere).

So what is the situation with the TEF?  The current awards were all extended to 2021. The OfS announced in January 2020 that they would not run a TEF exercise this year. But what is going to happen when those existing awards run out at the end of this academic year? It’s all a far cry from September 2019 when the Secretary of State was encouraging the OfS to get on with things and run an extra TEF in 2020.  And read this on Research Professional from February 2020 (BP – before pandemic).

Meanwhile, the OfS are advertising for a Head of TEF (closes early December).  So something must be going to happen?

The OfS website says:

  • The new framework will take account of the forthcoming recommendations in Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review of the TEF, the government’s response to it, and the findings of the latest subject-level TEF pilot.
  • Following these publications, we will consult on the new framework.
  • All assessments under the current TEF scheme have concluded, and the results will be replaced in the future by results from the new scheme. We will not conduct a TEF Year 5 exercise in 2020.

This is a bit confusing.  There is no TEF year 5 exercise in 2020, but what in that case will replace it when the awards run out in summer 2021?  Will there be a gap?  Or will the existing awards be extended again – at which time the year two awards given in Spring 2017 based on data from the three previous years start to seem a bit long in the tooth.

The documents published (in 2018) for the last subject level pilot said:

  • The final provider-level exercise with published outcomes (TEF Year Four) will take place in 2018-19 and will operate completely independently from the subject-level pilots.
  • So that subject-level TEF produces comprehensive outcomes to inform student choice, the DfE has decided that published awards from provider-level TEF Years Two, Three and Four should no longer be valid when subject-level TEF awards are published in 2021.
  • At that point, all awards from provider-level TEF will expire, and be replaced by awards made through the first full subject-level TEF exercise (these awards will be at both provider and subject levels).
  • .. Up to now, each TEF exercise has been completed within a single academic year. However, given the scale of the first full subject-level TEF exercise, it will be conducted across two academic years, 2019-20 and 2020-21, to enable it to produce robust outcomes. This will ensure additional time for providers to make submissions and for panels to conduct the assessments.
  • We expect the application window to open in early 2020, and to publish the outcomes in spring 2021. This will also allow more time for the findings of the second pilot and the independent review to be fully considered before moving to full implementation.

So it certainly looks like there will have to be an extension.  And if the new exercise really is going to take two years, it will be quite a long extension – because with the Pearce review not released, and the NSS consultations ongoing, they won’t be able to start a consultation on what the new TEF looks like until 2021.  The earliest surely is that we start preparing responses in summer or autumn 2021 – and with a nearly two-year period for preparation, submission wouldn’t be before spring 2023?  With outcomes in summer 2023 at the earliest?  That’s another two-year extension.

Two alternatives – just let them expire and have a gap, blaming COVID. Or, run a much quicker exercise in 2021 with a view to getting results out in late 2021 or early 2022 (with a short extension in that case). This is certainly possible. Could we get an announcement and consultation straight after the quality one, in March, say, with preparation to do from July, submission in October/November, results in January 22?  Institutional only with subject level to follow during 2022 building on the institutional and then next round in 2025?

And what do we know about what it might look like when it does come out?

  • There is a good chance that the NSS won’t be included any more – to be replaced by some narrative in the submissions about how each university has engaged with the student voice and how we are sure that we have mechanisms in place and have identified and addressed any concerns about student experience?
  • What about the Royal Society of Statistics: Ultimately, the RSS judges it to be wrong to present a provider/subject as Gold/Silver/Bronze without communication of the level of uncertainty. The current TEF presentation of provider/subjects as Gold, Silver, Bronze conveys a robustness that is illusory. A prospective student might choose a TEF Silver subject at one provider instead of a TEF Bronze at another institution. If they had been told that, statistically, the awards are indistinguishable, then their choice might have been different and, in that sense, TEF is misleading. The uncertainty is likely to be higher for subject-level assessment than for provider-level assessment….
  • We know from the recent consultation document (covered last week) that continuation/completion and employment outcomes will still be important – as they were in the last pilot (TEF 2019 subject level TEF pilot guide)
  • Will they get rid of the gold/silver/bronze institutional labels? They have little meaning now that hardly anyone is bronze, after the TEF’s own structure led to rampant grade inflation.  The OfS had indicated potentially moving away from the annual grading to a less frequent one to address that problem.  But maybe the labels themselves are now devalued?
  • We know that it is unlikely that subject level assessment will be abandoned. But how will they label subject level awards? Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe: 5/3/19: – but how on earth would students interpret a Bronze course at a Gold institution when the latter uses almost the same metrics, only less specific to your course? You could argue that both should exist, but with completely separate metrics – but given there’s no magic blueprint for what is devolved to academic departments and what’s run centrally, that won’t work either.
  • We know from the quality consultation document that the TEF will expect performance above the new outcomes baselines. The original TEF was based on benchmarks and relative performance not absolute levels.  They may abandon or change benchmarks completely.  If that is the approach for baselines, will you have a different approach for measures of excellence?  There was a flirtation with absolute values in the pilot schemes, as you may recall, which was said at the time to be a nod towards Russell Group universities who performed well in absolute terms but not so well when benchmarked against others with similar student demographics.
  • They may not use all the data splits in a new TEF, or at least not at subject level. The consultation on quality and standards proposes using the demographic splits (gender, ethnicity, social background etc) only at an institutional not at a subject level, and recognises that there is an existing mechanism to manage these via the APP.  So presumably the data will not be split along these lines for the TEF at subject level either.  Rather than have us all look at all this again, perhaps a new TEF, with an eye on reducing bureaucracy, will just have “meeting (most or all of) your APP targets” as a threshold for application or for an award at a certain level?
  • Will they have listened to any of the grumbling about subject level definitions? Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe: 5/3/19: You could pursue subject level on its own, but the more you look at benchmarking, and statistical significance, and the basket of measures’ relevance to all courses (let alone its relevance to all students), the more you think the hassle outweighs the effort – not least because newspapers do a better job at remixing the metrics than you do. And then it dawns on you that some academic departments in some universities will straddle your subject groupings, and you’ll realise that there isn’t the room in their school office, their messaging or their accountability systems for all three medals to apply to that school all at once.

RP makes interesting points on the forgotten aspects of impending HE policy which the (3 year) comprehensive spending review was expected to tackle.

  • …it is safe to say—as Fiona McIntyre reports on our site—that the no-show of the TEF and Augar was no surprise. They’ve been kicked so far into the long grass now that they can barely be seen. …
  • As for the TEF, it simply doesn’t have the political capital with the general public for the government to hurry its publication. The review was mandated in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 but the publication of its findings was not, which has given the government infinite wiggle room that it continues to exploit.

So what is going to happen?  We don’t know.  And we don’t know when we will know.  But we know it will be a lot of work when we do know!

Racial Harassment

On Tuesday UUK published new guidance on tackling racial harassment in HE, and executive summary here.

The context: The 2019 Equalities and Human Rights Commission report ‘Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged‘ highlighted the prevalence of racial harassment within HEIs. Events of 2020, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the increased prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, brought to the fore the extent of racial inequality in the UK and reinforced the urgency to act.

UUK build on their Changing the culture framework in the new guidance. There is a focus on strong leadership and a whole-institution approach, as well as engaging with staff and students with lived experience of racial harassment. UUK call on the sector to hold open discussions on race and racism, to educate staff and students and make clear that tackling racism and racial harassment is everybody’s responsibility. The guidance asks university leaders to acknowledge where there are issues in their institutions, and that UK higher education perpetuates institutional racism. It cites racial harassment, a lack of diversity among senior leaders, the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment gap and ethnicity pay gaps among staff as evidence.

The guidance also showcases emerging practice from HEIs making good progress in tackling racial harassment.

Recommendations include:

  • Publicly commit priority status to tackling racial harassment
  • Engage directly with students and staff with lived experience of racial harassment
  • Review current policies and procedures and develop new institution-wide strategies for tackling racial harassment
  • Improve awareness and understanding of racism, racial harassment, white privilege and microaggressions among all staff and students, including through anti-racist training
  • Ensure expected behaviours for online behaviour are clearly communicated to students and staff, as well as sanctions for breaches
  • Develop and introduce reporting systems for incidents of racial harassment
  • Collect data on reports of incidents and share regularly with senior staff and governing bodies

OfS – value for money

OfS has reported against key performance measure 19 which looks at students’ perceptions of value for money from their university education. 37.5% of undergraduates and 45.3% of postgraduates stated it did provide value for money when considering the costs and benefits.

OfS also published their Value for money annual report on how they have managed the funds they were allocated. They are still working on plans as to how they’ll reduce the registration fee for HE providers by 10% over the next two years.

Free Speech

The Lords Communication and Digital Select Committee inquiry into Freedom of Expression Online received evidence this week. There were some interesting points raised within the topics of free speech online Vs offline, public attitudes, protected characteristics, the narrowing impact of algorithm use and the role of the state in regulating. Platform moderation and take down rules on social media sites were also discussed. Dods provide a summary of the discussion here.

Sport

The British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) launched The Value of University Sport and Physical Activity: Position Statement and Evidence highlighting the role which sport plays within the student experience. It includes a focus on how sport contributes to students’ physical and mental wellbeing. The report itself divides into six key strategic drivers for universities – recruitment, transitions and retention, health and wellbeing, graduate attainment, graduate employability, and the civic and global agendas – outlining how sport contributes to positive outcomes in each.

And on graduate employment: Whilst graduates also earned more than non-graduates, those who took part in sport earned a higher salary irrespective of educational level, thus showing a positive correlation between sport and earnings that cannot be explained by level of education.

The authors state the report is a ‘call to action’ for universities to review how they position sport and physical activity; especially at this time when students are isolated and anxious, and universities are concerned about the retention of students with the current restrictions.

There was a relevant parliamentary question on university sport this week outlining what is and isn’t permissible during Covid.

Access & Participation

The Commons Education Committee continued their inquiry into the educational outcomes of white working-class pupils. Dods have summarised the session here.

This parliamentary question on DSA paperwork/online applications clarifies the pre-population of information and that help is available by phone if the student’s disability causes difficulty in completing the paperwork.

Wonkhe report: A report from Civitas argues that a belief has developed around the university system that students from ethnic minorities are likely to underperform academically, and that the available data does not back this assertion up. Report author Ruth Mieschbuehler calls for a reexamination of the practice of disaggregating student data by ethnicity

The Sutton Trust has scoped how leading universities in different countries are addressing inequalities in access for those from low income and other marginalised backgrounds in Room at the top: Access and success at leading universities around the world.  The report looks at the issues based on five themes:

  1. Actions and commitment at the strategic and institutional level
  2. Financial support for low-income/marginalised group students
  3. Non-financial support at the pre higher education level (outreach)
  4. Support to enable student success
  5. The role of national/regional policies

The recommendations (they call them key messages) are on pages 5& 6 of the document.

Unpaid student placements

Placements are big at BU. Every undergraduate honours student is offered the opportunity to undertake a work placement as part of their course and BU has an excellent reputation nationally and internationally for the quality of the placement opportunities. Covid has been a significant disrupter to students on placement. Internships were cancelled in some sectors and for some of those that were able to move to remote and online versions the richness of the face to face placement experience elements were curtailed. Pre-Covid individual parliamentarians regularly flirted with the notion that everyone on a work experience opportunity of over 4 weeks should be considered a worker, and therefore paid for the work they undertake. This would make a significant difference to students undertaking the traditional sandwich year, yet the impetus for this change has stalled. This week Sarah wrote for Wonkhe to continue to argue the case for students to be paid. The blog also suggests alternatives which employers could offer to reduce the financial pressures on students when they are offered an unpaid placement.

SEND

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford spoke during the APPG for Assistive Technology launch event for their new research aiming to bridge the gap between education and employment for young people with SEND. The Minister praised schools, colleges and the technology sector for their response to the ‘historic challenges’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for vulnerable students with the most complex needs, but urged companies to make sure all their products and practices are fully inclusive.

She said: Assistive technology can be life-changing and for many it is vital to communication, learning and overall independence…In recent months, the importance of Assistive Technology has been demonstrated like never before. The essential collaboration provided by groups such as this APPG is vital to ensure that we make policy which is informed by as much research and evidence as possible…Our review will give schools and colleges a helping hand by providing greater transparency in what tools and interventions can improve outcomes of SEND students and bridge the gap from education into employment. It will also support the technology sector in embedding accessibility features – such as text to voice tools – as part of their service development, and policymakers to better embed inclusion into their policies and services. This will lead to real, meaningful differences in the quality of education for children and young people…This is key, because we need to be clear: accessibility should never be an add on, it should be the norm.

Dovetailing the event the DfE released a series of rapid literature review reports on assistive technology in educational settings. The reports summarise the evidence on assistive technologies use and outcomes in education and cover when, where and for whom assistive technology works. The report are split by  policymakers, administrators, educators, researchers and developers of assistive technologies and products.

Student Complaints – case studies

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for HE (OIA) has published case summaries of complaints arising from the impact of Covid-19 on their HE learning and experience. So far the OIA have received nearly 200 complaints from C-19 disruption..

Wonkhe say:

  • While the OIA does not underestimate the challenge of sustaining teaching during the pandemic, “some providers have done more than others to mitigate disruptions to students’ learning opportunities.”
  • Where universities have rescheduled missed teaching, or made a broadly equivalent alternative available, or where students have been unable to cite a specific academic or material disadvantage, complaints have not been upheld. However, where universities have failed to engage properly with students’ concerns, or relied on too broad exclusion clauses in student contracts, complaints have been justified or partly justified. 

2021 GCSE & A/AS level Exams

The Joint Council on Qualifications have announced that, following consultation with schools and colleges, the final level 2 and 3 exams timetables are confirmed. The compulsory education sector are still waiting for further information on how the Government intends to facilitate Covid-safe exams, and what ‘Plan B’ will consist of. The announcement demonstrates the Government’s determination for the exams to take place in England during summer 2021. This is expected new as Monday’s Covid Winter Plan announcements mentioned their commitment to a ‘full set of exams’ in England.

Meanwhile, YouGov have an interesting series of polls on exams – see our polls special here.

Finally, Ofqual published a new research paper on the Sawtooth Effect. The Sawtooth Effect is the pattern in student performance that can be seen when assessments, such as GCSEs and A levels, are reformed. Performance tends to dip, then improves over time as students and teachers become more familiar with the new content and the new assessments. Research by Ofqual in 2016 highlighted this post-reform effect, and enabled mitigation to level out fairness for students. This week’s release covers the impact of Covid-19 on student performance. The research suggests the same methods could be used to ensure fairness during the pandemic. Wonkhe review the Sawtooth paper (worth a read) and also manage to mention why predicted grades are useful too.

Participation in Education

The DfE have released the latest participation in education statistics. Summary also covering FE and apprenticeships here.   DfE HE statistics

  • 9% of 17-30 year olds enter HE
  • 41% of 18 and 19 year olds
  • 1% females, 45.1% males (by age 30)
  • 9% entering to do full-time study
  • 0% to do part-time study (only 1.5% 18-19 year olds study part time)
  • Learning intention (undergraduate):
    • Full degree (46.6%)
    • Foundation Degree (2%)
    • HNDs/HNCs (1.8%)
    • other undergraduate quals (1.4%)
  • 8% aged 17-30 enter postgraduate study

International

  • Wonkhe report: New researchfrom QS, covering 887 prospective international students found that nearly a quarter felt that the introduction of a potential Covid-19 vaccine made them consider starting their studies earlier than planned. 43 percent said that the vaccine news had made no difference to their plans.
  • Also a parliamentary question – Student visas are not a route to settlement

Spending Review – the rest

Research Professional  on Erasmus:

  • ….the Treasury did reveal that its settlement with the Department for Education “provides funding to prepare for a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+, in the event the UK no longer participates in Erasmus+, to fund outward global education mobilities”.
  • This seems good, on the face of it, since any alternative scheme will need money. However, Erasmus’s main purpose is to provide student exchanges—and by definition, any effective exchange requires not only the outward movement of students from the UK (which is covered in the spending review costing) but also the inward movement of students to the UK (which it seems is not).
  • “Budgeting to replace Erasmus+ for outward students only is disappointing, if predictable, and is clearly inferior to full association,” Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Universities, told Playbook last night.

Dods have a nice summary of the announcements which we’re re-ordered and edited

International

  • Provides funding to prepare for a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+ in the event that the UK no longer participates in Erasmus+ (page 63)
  • Further financial support will be provided to the British Council to reform and invest (page 70)

Student loans

  • £64m for the Student Loan Company, including for its transformation programme (page 63) [this is mainly to help them prepare for providing student loans to FE students and adult learners]

Technical education

  • £291m for Further Education in 2021-22, in addition to the £400m that the government provided at SR19 (page 62)
  • Investing £375m from the National Skills Fund in 2021-22 (page 62) including:
  • £138m to fund in-demand technical courses for adults, equivalent to A level, and to expand employer-led bootcamp training model
  • £127m to build on Plan for Jobs, fund traineeships, sector-based work academy placements and the National Careers Service
  • £110m to drive up higher technical provision in support of the future rollout of a Flexible Loan Entitlement
  • £162m to support the rollout of T Levels waves 2 and 3 (page 63)
  • £72m to support the commitment to build 20 Institutes of Technology (page 63)
  • Almost £100m to deliver the National Citizen Service (NCS) and invest in youth facilities. The government will review its programmes to support youth services including the NCS in the spring (p81)
  • £2bn Kickstart Scheme to create hundreds of thousands of new, fully-subsidised jobs for young people across the country. This settlement confirms funding for over 250,000 Kickstart jobs (p85)

Apprenticeships

  • Confirm changes to support employers offering apprenticeships by delivering further improvements to the system (page 45)
  • Made available £2.5bn of funding for apprenticeships and further improvements for employers (page 62)

Department for Education

  • A £2.9bn cash increase in core resource funding from 2020-21 to 2021-22, delivering a 3.2 per cent average real terms increase per year since 2019-20 (page 62)
  • The department’s capital budget increases by £0.5bn in cash terms next year, taking core total DEL to £76.4bn (page 62)

Pre-Spending Review this is what was MillionPlus asked for (but didn’t get):

  • Introduce a maintenance grant of up to £10k for all students in England to encourage them to train in key public services subjects
  • Invest in high quality placements in NHS, social work and teaching
  • Offer loan forgiveness for those remaining in relevant professions for at least 5 years
  • Establish a new Public Services in Higher Education Capital fund to support universities in England and partners to invest in high quality simulation equipment and other vital infrastructure
  • Create a new professional development programme to underpin the NHS volunteer reserve force in England
  • Increase skills and expertise by enabling individuals in England to access loan support for short courses and modules at levels 4 and 5
  • Place employers in England at the centre of apprenticeships policy and encourage them to partner with universities to support regional skills development and productivity growth

There’s more detail on specific areas in the links below:

  • Dods summarise all areas of the spending review with the key announcements in bullet points.
  • National Infrastructure Summary, full strategy here. The full strategy is high level (yet still 100 pages long). There is very little on the specifics of research investment, just lists of priorities, no mention of universities.

Teaching Tech

Jisc published the Teaching staff digital experience insights survey 2020, They report that 79% intend to  use technology in their teaching.

  • 95% of teaching staff have a positive attitude to using technology
  • 79% are motivated to use it in their teaching
  • Only 20% said their organisation had offered support to them in using new technologies
  • 37% of teaching staff had worked online with learners during the survey period, and 43% had created online teaching materials to adapt to the situation
  • When asked what more their organisation could do to improve the quality of digital teaching and learning, staff cited
    • Training and CPD (33%)
    • Software, infrastructure and systems (31%)
    • Organisational culture (13%)
    • 68% of respondents said they’d had support to develop their basic IT skills
  • Only 14% reported having time to explore new digital tools, and only 7% spoke of receiving reward and recognition for the digital skills they developed
  • 29% stated their organisation provided guidance about the digital skills needed in their job role

Retraining by sector

Also within our polls special are the YouGov surveys on retraining for workers disrupted by Covid-19. There are views on whether the Government should be encouraging retraining and new careers – the national hasn’t forgotten the ballet/cyber retraining advert yet but it hasn’t had the negative effect that might be expected! Plus specific indicators show the popularity of industry’s skills gap areas (look out for cyber!).

Covid Parliamentary Questions

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

Bias in HE: Wonkhe report that Advance HE has published the first in a new series of literature reviews on bias in higher education. The review tackles bias in assessment and marking, bringing together literature on the topic and current good practice among universities. The next in the series – covering bias in the curriculum and pedagogy and bias in decision making – will be published next year

Online end assessment: Wonkhe have a blog on online digital assessment as an alternative to taking exams in person.

Alumni: BU’s own Fiona Cownie writes for Wonkhe on how alumni may be key in building a student community during the pandemic

Medical: Wonkhe tell us that The Medical Research Council has published a review of its units and centres portfolio. The report has identified research areas where MRC investment could have a significant impact, including the development of new tools and technologies, interventional approaches to population health, and research into health needs from anthropogenic effects such as urbanisation or climate change.

LEP: Cecilia Bufton has been confirmed as the new Chair of the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership from 1 December 2020.

Degree apprenticeships: Sums consulting have a blog on degree apprenticeships: Understanding the Apprentice Lifecycle in Universities.

  • Apprentices are not standard learners; there are material differences in terms of the application process, progression, breaks in learning and withdrawals, data reporting and the amount of time spent working, learning, and training.  Apprenticeships are not standard programmes; there are material differences in terms of the adherence to standards, the endpoint, cash flow, audit, and risk profiles.
  • The success or failure of any individual apprentice will be down to a three- or four-way relationship between the apprentice, their employer, the main provider, and any sub-contracted training provider.

The blog also advertises their services in this area.

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HE policy update for the w/e 10th September 2020

We thought it might be a quiet week, this week, but we were wrong.  The DfE has started the new academic year with a bang, and the Ofs are going to be busy.

So we are back properly to our weekly schedule although with a bit of flexibility on days of the week.

International student visas

The Home Office have made an announcement about student visas.  The new international student immigration route is opening early, from 5th October to allow the “best and brightest” to apply for a visa under the new points based system.  That includes EU students.  This will mean that “as a result of coronavirus, some overseas students are choosing to defer their entry onto courses in the UK until the spring semester of 2021. Introducing these new routes now means that students will be able to benefit from the new streamlined process whilst still giving sponsors time to adapt after their autumn intake”.

The Secretary of State and the Minister for Universities speak

Gavin Williamson has been speaking to UUK.  He starts with a bouquet of praise and thanks for the sector and almost an apology for the extra work on admissions this year, although not quite.  There was always going to be a “but…”.

First he wanted to “land three key messages” related to the pandemic:

  • Keep going – and he looks forward to working with us all as the situation evolves over the autumn term
  • The importance of collaboration – specifically with local authorities.
  • And to stay alert, which includes comms to students and keeping them at uni rather than sending them home if there are local restrictions

And then the “but”.  It starts nicely:

  • Too often, there can be an implicit narrative that every university needs to measure itself against Oxbridge. That if a university isn’t winning Nobel prizes and taking in triple A students it is somehow second rate.
  • In reality, it is the diversity of our sector which will drive the levelling up agenda that is central to everything this Government does.

But…

  • There are still pockets of low quality. One only has to look at the Guardian subject league tables to see there are too many courses where well under 50% of students proceed to graduate employment.
  • But more fundamentally, in order to create a fairer, more prosperous and more productive country, we need to reverse the generational decline in higher technical education.
  • We have already announced that, over the next few years, we will be establishing a system of higher technical education where learners and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses that provide the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, whether they are taught in a further education college, a university or an independent training provider.
  • Of course, a large proportion of this will be delivered in our great further education colleges, but what I also want to see is for universities to end their preoccupation with three-year bachelors’ degrees and offer far more higher technical qualifications and apprenticeships. These would be more occupation focused and provide a better targeted route for some students, and benefit employers and the economy.

Again, none of this is new, he has been completely consistent.  It will be interesting to see how the sector responds.

Michelle Donelan

There was a double act at UUK this morning, as the Universities Minister also spoke.

Again, lots of thanks and different examples too.  I want to say a special thank you. Thank you for bending over backwards to unlock the dreams and opportunities of this year’s cohort.

Her speech is mostly about the bureaucracy reduction announcements set out below.  But in return for this her speech also has a “but”.  Her but is also consistent with what we have heard before.  She wants:

  • readily accessible bitesized learning for people looking to upskill and reskill…. and also foster a culture of lifelong learning”.

And it comes with a carrot – or a stick – hard to tell which:

  • You will remember that the Augar review looked in detail at flexible learning and argued for widespread changes to the organisation and funding of higher education to enable that flexibility. And we will respond in parallel with the Spending Review. Rest assured, the global pandemic has not and will not throw us off course.”

Her last point was about mental health, and the need for on-going support.

Bonfire of the metrics (and general reduction of bureaucracy)

The OfS were due to review the NSS this year, and of course we are also waiting (and have been waiting for ever, it seems) for the government response to the Pearce review of the TEF.  But the DfE have gone early.  In a move which confirms what we and everyone else has been saying all summer, the DFE have confirmed that they only really care about outcomes (and continuation) and asked the OfS to do a serious review of the NSS by the end of the year.

The announcement is here.  It is much broader than just the NSS, and there are some really interesting developments, so we will set them all out by area.

Starting with the Office for Students

The measures outlined below are a combination of decisions taken by the OfS to help achieve those aims, and changes that DfE would like the OfS to implement. DfE will be following up this policy document with strategic guidance to the OfS,”

  • Enhanced monitoring – the OfS intends to report to the DfE within 3 months on how it is reducing its use of enhanced monitoring
  • Data futures – OfS has agreed to review the proposed termly data collection to make sure it is proportionate – also looking at making data collection more timely. Due by end October with final decisions alongside an OfS data strategy in April.
  • Random sampling – the OfS has suspended this
  • No further regulatory action on student transfers – this was a “big issue” in the original Jo Johnson Green/White Paper – students were being prevented or discouraged from transferring, apparently. The OfS has decided to review their current requirements for monitoring and consult on changes – but the headline suggests they won’t get more onerous.
  • The announcement welcomes the already announced decision to make estates and non-academic data collected by HESA optional.
  • Review of TRAC (T). The Transparent Approach to Costing for Teaching.  This data was used by Augar to attack fees and the announcement recognises that the government have used it to look at efficiency.  The OfS have been asked to review it because the sector have said that it is “disproportionately burdensome”.  This year’s return has been cancelled.  A “way forward” for the review is due by October alongside the UKRI review of the other stream of TRAC (see below).
  • Review of the transparency condition – this is the monitoring data provided to the OfS relating to offers and acceptable, completion and outcomes, including by gender, ethnicity and background. The OfS have said that they will explore if the amount of information requested can be reduced and replaced by other sources, and the DfE are “pleased” with that.  Due by end October.
  • Reduction in OfS fees – the OfS have to review their own efficiency with a view to reducing fees, and to help them along the government’s review of fees (which are set by the Secretary of State) will take place this Autumn instead of next year. The QAA and HESA are expected to reduce their fees too.

So, the NSS.  Hold on to your hats – these statements are bold!

  • We have asked the OfS to undertake a radical, root and branch review of the National Student Survey (NSS)…..Since its inception in 2005, the NSS has exerted a downwards pressure on standards within our higher education system, and there have been consistent calls for it to be reformed. There is valid concern from some in the sector that good scores can more easily be achieved through dumbing down and spoon-feeding students, rather than pursuing high standards and embedding the subject knowledge and intellectual skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace. These concerns have been driven by both the survey’s current structure and its usage in developing sector league tables and rankings. While government acknowledges that the NSS can be a helpful tool for providers and regulators, we believe its benefits are currently outweighed by these concerns. Further, its results do not correlate well with other, more robust, measures of quality, with some of the worst courses in the country, in terms of drop-out rates and progression to highly skilled employment, receiving high NSS scores. Accordingly, the extensive use of the NSS in league tables may cause some students to choose courses that are easy and entertaining, rather than robust and rigorous.
  • The government shares concerns raised by some in the sector that, in its current form, the NSS is open to gaming, with reports of some institutions deliberately encouraging their final year students to answer positively with incentives or messaging about their future career prospects. Academics have also criticised the cost and bureaucracy the NSS creates, arguing that the level of activity it generates can be a distraction from more important teaching and research activities. There is a sense that the level of activity it drives in universities and colleges has become excessive and inefficient. For example, we are aware that some providers employ analysts to drill down into NSS performance, in some cases at module level, and investigate any sub-par performance.
  • Student perspectives do play a valuable role in boosting quality and value across the sector, but there is concern that the benefits of this survey are currently outweighed by the negative behaviours and inefficiencies it drives. Universities must be empowered to have the confidence to educate their students to high standards rather than simply to seek ‘satisfaction’.

Now, many people will agree with at least some of that.  The sector blows hot and cold on the NSS – heavily critiquing its use in the TEF, then worrying that there was no voice for students when it was diluted in later iterations.  Many have criticised it for being subjective and unhelpful (so not so much a criticism of the survey as a tool for driving improvements, as a criticism of its inclusion in the TEF and league tables) – but that was a case of the TEF using the metrics that they had, because there wasn’t anything else.  Lots of people have criticised the methodology, despite the reviews that have been carried out before.  Some universities have had consistent boycotts (Oxbridge).

But don’t think that abolishing it will mean that we can stop worrying about the underlying issues.  The OfS have been asked (by the end of the calendar year!) to:

…undertake a radical, root and branch review of the NSS, which:

  • reduces the bureaucratic burden it places on providers
  • ensures it does not drive the lowering of standards or grade inflation
  • provides reliable data on the student perspective at an appropriate level, without depending on a universal annual sample
  • examines the extent to which data from the NSS should be made public
  • ensures the OfS has the data it needs to regulate quality effectively
  • will stand the test of time and can be adapted and refined periodically to prevent gaming

Expectations are high.  No annual survey and yet reliable data….that reduces the bureaucratic burden, and prevents gaming and avoids lowering standards and grade inflation.  Notably there are no positive suggestions about what a new approach actually will achieve other than “reliable data on the student perspective”.  You might ask perspective on what?  Not satisfaction, it seems, or even experience, but “quality and value”.   It sounds like getting rid of it completely is on the table, replacing it with something else that isn’t a survey at all.  But what?  So this is your moment.  What is the best way to get “reliable data on the student perspective”.  We look forward to engaging with staff across BU on the inevitable OfS call for evidence.

Obviously the OfS have responded to all this.  They seem to think that they will be keeping the survey.  Maybe the requirement to avoid an annual universal sample means just that – not annual, not everyone, just a sample?

  • ‘On the NSS, our review will seek to reduce any unnecessary bureaucracy, prevent any unintended consequences and gaming of the survey, whilst ensuring that the NSS stands the test of time as an important indicator of students’ opinions and experiences at every level.

UKRI and BEIS

UKRI are being asked to make a lot of changes

Selection

  • simplify eligibility criteria for bidding
  • streamline grant schemes
  • streamlined two stage application process for grants – only necessary information provided at each stage
  • single format for CVs
  • “brand new, fully digital, user-designed, applicant-focused and streamlined grants application system with the first pilot launched in August”
  • single information document for a call rather than lots

Assurance and outcomes

  • harmonising reporting
  • reducing the number of questions and making it “minimally demanding”
  • enhance risk based funding assurance approach to reduce the burden and assure an organisation not individual projects
  • review end of award reporting

Other things

  • provide additional independent challenge (on costs and bureaucracy)
  • Stop multiple asks for information that already exists
  • review TRAC (as mentioned above)

NIHR

The NIHR are congratulated for already taking a number of steps to reduce the burden on researchers.  Now there are a set of new commitments to take this further.

  • Will consider ways of making peer review more proportionate
  • “will immediately delete clauses which place obligations on research institutions which add limited value to the general research endeavour and end user from the standard NIHR contract”
  • “review eligibility criteria for all funding streams including requirements for compliance with charters and concordats”
  • Will drop the requirement for Silver Athena Swan – but instead “We will expect organisations that apply for any NIHR funding to be able to demonstrate their commitment to tackling disadvantage and discrimination in respect of the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act (2010). These are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation” [that sounds like more not less bureaucracy….]
  • “NIHR currently obliges researchers, through a standard contractual provision, to notify DHSC of all publications associated with their research. ….This contractual clause will be deleted for almost all new contracts from 1st August 2020 “

Reductions in providers’ internal bureaucracy

What could this mean?  Well:

  • We …expect providers to ensure reductions in government or regulator imposed regulatory activity are not replaced with internal bureaucracy. In addition, we want them to go even further to enable academics to focus on front line teaching and research: stripping out their existing unnecessary internal bureaucracy, layers of management and management processes. [now that interesting, we flagged it a few weeks ago because it featured in the introduction to the financial restructuring document as an objective…but it is still unclear how this should be implemented – and one person’s internal bureaucracy is another person’s sensible internal control measure]
  • There are a wide variety of organisations which offer voluntary membership awards or other forms of recognition to support or validate an organisation’s performance in particular areas. …. Such schemes can be helpful but can also generate large volumes of bureaucracy and result in a high cumulative cost of subscriptions. Where a university believes that membership of such schemes are genuinely the best way of addressing a matter, it is of course free to do so, but in general universities should feel confident in their ability to address such matters themselves and not feel pressured to take part in such initiatives to demonstrate their support for the cause the scheme addresses. [from the points made above, that probably includes Athena Swan – what else?]
  • We will engage with the sector, and in partnership with research funding bodies across the UK, to tackle the broader issues that are often causes of unnecessary bureaucracy. [Like what?]
  • This is also an opportunity to shift the research sector to more modern methods of research, which will help cut red tape too. This means embracing modern methods of peer review and evaluation. It also means tackling the problematic uses of metrics in research and driving up the integrity and reproducibility of research. Crucially, we must embrace the potential of open research practices.

David Kernohan was quick to respond on Wonkhe.  One thing he points out is that the government are correct that the NSS does not correlate with highly skilled employment or outcomes.  But he points out that the government’s favourite two metrics don’t correlate with each other either  – and of course why would they.

Brexit

Have you missed it?

As you know, the trade deal with the EU has to be done by the end of the year because that is when the transitional period ends.  It could have been extended, but the deadline to request an extension was 30th June 2020 – and there was no way this government (with its large majority all signed up to a possible no deal Brexit) was going to ask for an extension.

The deadline for a deal has similarly been a bit flexible – of course, and despite all the talk of dates, the most real deadline is 31st December.  Originally it had been suggested that the deal needed to be done by July to allow for ratification – now both sides are saying that the EU leaders’ meeting on 15th October is the deadline.  But no-one will really be surprised if it carries on after that.  The withdrawal agreement was sorted in October last year, as you will remember and was then approved by Parliament in December 2020, receiving royal assent in January, just days before the UK left the EU on 31st January.  It was close.  The draft legislation wasn’t even published during all the backwards and forwards before the election, because it was such a hostage to fortune for the May government.  Then Boris negotiated changes to the withdrawal agreement and “got it done”, just in time.

So, the government are getting ahead.  Hence all the fuss about the new draft bill. Press coverage has been very excitable, especially as the NI Secretary confirmed in Parliament before it was published that the new law will “breach international law in a specific and limited way”.  As many are saying, that is not usually a defence (“sorry officer, but I only [insert criminal offence of choice here] in a specific and limited way”).  You can read the Hansard extracts here.

The Internal Markets Bill was published yesterday.  If you want to read it, it is here, which is where you will also find all the amendments etc. as it goes through.

The Institute for Government have a short blog here:

  • The bill would give ministers powers to make regulations about state aid and customs procedures for trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and would allow ministers to make regulations inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • The existence of those powers is a breach of Article 4 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which provides that the UK must use primary legislation to give full effect to the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law.
  • However, unless the powers were actually used, the UK would not be in breach of the state aid and customs provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol.

So that answers that question.

And also:

  • Perhaps more extraordinary than the bill’s provisions on international law are those on domestic law. Under s45(4)(g) of the bill, regulations made by the minister on state aid or customs declarations would have legal effect notwithstanding their incompatibility with “any rule of international or domestic law whatsoever”.
  • This appears to be an attempt to oust the jurisdiction of the courts to review the legality of ministerial decisions under these powers at all.
  • Such clauses are rare, and they rarely work. The courts have repeatedly found ways of reviewing government decisions even where similar clauses have tried to keep them out of the picture.
  • That is because the judges consider them an affront both to the rule of law and to parliamentary sovereignty. “It is a necessary corollary of the sovereignty of Parliament,” the Supreme Court said in a case on this issue last year, “that there should exist an authoritative and independent body which can interpret and mediate legislation made by Parliament.”
  • Section 45 of this bill will make uncomfortable reading for anyone who believes in the principle that governments are subject to the law, at home and abroad. It requires careful scrutiny in parliament.

The other concerns are about timing.  We can look forward to the arguments being aired in full over the next two weeks.

So what is the issue?

From the BBC:

  • The UK and EU settled on the Northern Ireland Protocol. This would see Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU customs rules after the transition period – meaning customs declarations would be needed for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, as well as some new checks on goods going from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.
  • It was unpopular with some sections of the Tory backbenches and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which had been supporting the government until that point. But the agreement was passed through Parliament and the Northern Ireland Protocol became part of the international treaty.

You will remember all this, because the PM said there would be no checks, and then the government said well actually there would, etc…..

From the BBC again:

  • Downing Street said one thing it would do is allow ministers to unilaterally decide what particular goods were “at risk” of entering the EU when passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and therefore subject to EU tariffs.
  • The law would also give ministers the powers to scrap export declarations on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and would make it clear that EU state aid requirements – where governments give financial support to homegrown businesses – would only apply in Northern Ireland.
  • But the government insists the bill only introduces “limited and reasonable steps” to “remove ambiguity” – not “overriding” the withdrawal agreement, as government sources had suggested on Sunday.

We will see.  Maybe they are just making sure that there is time for proper Parliamentary scrutiny this time, by publishing something technical in good time rather than waiting for October when the deal is finalised and there is no time to discuss it properly.  Or maybe it is sabre rattling.  And why might they need to sabre-rattle?  Because, apart from the NI border issue, there are also a couple of (unsurprising) issues outstanding in the main trade deal negotiations with the EU.

One is fishing rights, which was always going to be tricky.  You will recall that at one point it nearly derailed the discussions last year when France and Spain demanded extra concessions at the last minute.  There is an Institute for Government article from March and a  Guardian article (from June).

And the other issue is state aid – the rules about supporting domestic businesses, which are seen as anti-competitive.  There is an FT article on that.

We can expect a lot more rhetoric, bitterness, and positioning over the next few weeks.  It is clear that the deal won’t be done until it is done, and also that all the other bits, like research collaboration and participation in Erasmus, are dependent on there being a deal at all.  So we’ll just have to wait and see.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 9th July 2020

A lot about skills and employment in the “mini-budget” this week.  There is quite a lot on the “poor quality courses” debate, and on the financial impact of the virus on young people and on universities.  Plus some regulatory changes that are starting to look ominous…

A Universities Minister who thinks people shouldn’t bother going to University?

Amidst ongoing rhetoric over allegedly poor quality courses and poor student outcomes (we reported on the Minister’s speech last week) and we report on the debate in the House of Lords below which included some strong lines, including this one from Lord Blencathra:

  • .. we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid.”

This week Wonkhe have made it their mission to find these courses – they conclude the data doesn’t bear this out.  Not least because past performance isn’t necessarily any indication of future performance in the jobs market or at a university.  A course whose students may indeed have had poor outcomes 10 years ago might, or perhaps would almost certainly, have changed by now (or what have the QAA, OfS etc been doing all this time and where is the impact of the TEF?).  Of course, the rhetoric muddles institutional outcomes, subject outcomes and the outcomes of particular courses.  It ignores regional disparities in employment opportunities and he different demographic of the students who attend each university.  It also (my pet peeve, as you will know if you read this blog often) assumes that you can look at courses this way because the progression between courses and jobs is linear and therefore all social sciences students go on to have (potentially low earning) careers in community work, so it’s easy, just stop subsidising social sciences.  In fact some of them become Secretaries of State for Education – strange how they forget. Would it have made a difference to his career earnings if Gavin Williamson had studied engineering?  If you think that’s a silly question, that’s my point!

There have been numerous social media and newspaper blogs addressing Michelle’s unfavourable speech last week (delivered at a disadvantaged access conference too).  One does wonder if it was just the clumsiness of her speech writers but it’s probably unfair to blame them. Did she really intend to suggest universities were dumbing down so they could admit disadvantaged students – or was it a general ‘bums on seats’ dig gone wrong?

Wonkhe have long said that Whitehall dislike their Ministers cosying up to the sector – think Chris Skidmore, David Willetts, and even Sam Gyimah did try (though it didn’t really work for the self styled Minister for Students). Donelan is certainly keen to show herself to toe the party line, and we know the refocus on technical education and FE support is coming (and contrary to Augar’s recommendations) will likely result in some level of defunding of HE.

So where does this leave the widening participation agenda? If we listen to the Government or media it seems the sector is to blame, despite the new, stringent Access and Participation Plans rigorously overseen by the OfS (whose golden status also appears to be slipping). Shifting the focus away from the prospective students themselves and shoving them into a deficit model where universities must ‘do’ to correct the disadvantage in their lives. …  Are they planning to stop contextual admissions (note they are still allowed under the new OfS licence condition)?

Just one example,, of the sector push back against Donelan’s speech is found in the gently disappointed Guardian article penned by Chris Husbands (VC Sheffield Hallam)

  • My personal history, and my family’s experience, make me very worried when government ministers lose faithin the power of universities to transform lives.
  • When pushed, very few politicians or journalists can actually identify these courses which “do nothing” or are “low value”.
  • They are odd lines, because they contradict the government’s own ambitions. Michael Gove laid it out for them just a few days before: a future built around “big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and further automation, 3D printing, quantum computing”, along with “genetic sequencing and screening, gene editing and other life science and biotech advances”.
  • The 21st century world is a knowledge-led world. Value is generated not through low- or mid-level skills but economic, social and technological transformation. It’s universities which are our best bet for the future because they produce advanced knowledge and research. That’s why all the world’s advanced economies are investing in higher education.

Wonkhe tell us that “Gavin Williamson is expected to give a speech designed to flesh out the government’s post-18 strategy. But don’t expect to like what you hear.” 

Budget

You’ll have read the analyses of the mini budget in the press.  Apart from stamp duty, green homes vouchers,  “eat out to help out” and the VAT cut for food and non-alcoholic drinks, it was mostly focussed on jobs – retaining and creating new ones, with a particular focus on young people.

It was not expected that there would be any announcements about HE, so we should not feel disappointed – this is all about skills and jobs for those who were not planning to go to university in September and face unemployment.

Apart from the headlines, the details are here.

  • Job Retention Bonus – The government will introduce a one-off payment of £1,000 to UK employers for every furloughed employee who remains continuously employed through to the end of January 2021. Employees must earn above the Lower Earnings Limit (£520 per month) on average between the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the end of January 2021. Payments will be made from February 2021. Further detail about the scheme will be announced by the end of July.
  • Kickstart Scheme – The government will introduce a new Kickstart Scheme in Great Britain, a £2 billion fund to create hundreds of thousands of high quality 6-month work placements aimed at those aged 16-24 who are on Universal Credit and are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding available for each job will cover 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.
  • New funding for National Careers Service – The government will provide an additional £32 million funding over the next 2 years for the National Careers Service so that 269,000 more people in England can receive personalised advice on training and work.
  • High quality traineeships for young people – The government will provide an additional £111 million this year for traineeships in England, to fund high quality work placements and training for 16-24 year olds. This funding is enough to triple participation in traineeships. For the first time ever, the government will fund employers who provide trainees with work experience, at a rate of £1,000 per trainee. The government will improve provision and expand eligibility for traineeships to those with Level 3 qualifications and below, to ensure that more young people have access to high quality training.
  • Payments for employers who hire new apprentices – The government will introduce a new payment of £2,000 to employers in England for each new apprentice they hire aged under 25, and a £1,500 payment for each new apprentice they hire aged 25 and over, from 1st August 2020 to 31st January 2021. These payments will be in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the government already provides for new 16-18 year-old apprentices, and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan – where that applies.
  • High value courses for school and college leavers – The government will provide £101 million for the 2020-21 academic year to give all 18-19 year olds in England the opportunity to study targeted high value Level 2 and 3 courses when there are not employment opportunities available to them.
  • Expanded Youth Offer – The government will expand and increase the intensive support offered by DWP in Great Britain to young jobseekers, to include all those aged 18-24 in the Intensive Work Search group in Universal Credit.
  • Enhanced work search support – The government will provide £895 million to enhance work search support by doubling the number of work coaches in Jobcentre Plus before the end of the financial year across Great Britain.
  • Expansion of the Work and Health Programme – The government will provide up to £95 million this year to expand the scope of the Work and Health Programme in Great Britain to introduce additional voluntary support in the autumn for those on benefits that have been unemployed for more than 3 months. This expansion will have no impact on the existing provision for those with illnesses or disabilities in England and Wales.
  • Job finding support service – The government will provide £40 million to fund private sector capacity to introduce a job finding support service in Great Britain in the autumn. This online, one-to-one service will help those who have been unemployed for less than three months increase their chances of finding employment.
  • Flexible Support Fund – The government will increase the funding for the Flexible Support Fund by £150 million in Great Britain, including to increase the capacity of the Rapid Response Service.1 It will also provide local support to claimants by removing barriers to work such as travel expenses for attending interviews. 2.21 New funding for sector-based work academies – The government will provide an additional £17 million this year to triple the number of sector-based work academy placements in England in order to provide vocational training and guaranteed interviews for more people, helping them gain the skills needed for the jobs available in their local area.

More detail is also provided on measures announced by the PM on 30th June.

There are some research-related announcements.

  • Office for Talent – The government will create a new Office for Talent based in No.10, with delivery teams across government departments. The Office will focus on attracting, retaining and developing top research and science talent across the UK and internationally.
  • Direct Air Capture – The government will provide £100 million of new funding for researching and developing Direct Air Capture, a new clean technology which captures CO2 from the air.
  • Automotive Transformation Fund – Building on the announcement last year of up to £1 billion of additional funding to develop and embed the next generation of cutting-edge automotive technologies, the government is making £10 million of funding available immediately for the first wave of innovative R&D projects to scale up manufacturing of the latest technology in batteries, motors, electronics and fuel cells. The government is also calling upon industry to put forward investment proposals for the UK’s first ‘gigafactory’ and supporting supply chains to mass manufacture cutting-edge batteries for the next generation of electric vehicles, as well as for other strategic electric vehicle technologies.
  • World-class laboratories – The government will provide a £300 million investment in 2020-21 to boost equipment and infrastructure across universities and institutes across the UK

Guardian report on the new Office for Talent.

NHS investment

  • NHS maintenance and A&E capacity – The government will provide £1.05 billion in 2020-21 to invest in NHS critical maintenance and A&E capacity across England.
  • Modernising the NHS mental health estate – The government will provide up to £250 million in 2020-21 to make progress on replacing outdated mental health dormitories with 1,300 single bedrooms across 25 mental health providers in England.
  • Health Infrastructure Plan – The government will provide a further £200 million for the Health Infrastructure Plan18 to accelerate a number of the 40 new hospital building projects across England.

And on the education estate (not HE):

  • Further Education (FE) estate funding – Building on the £1.5 billion commitment for FE capital funding made at Budget 2020, the government will bring forward £200 million to 2020-21 to support colleges to carry out urgent and essential maintenance projects. This will be the first step in the government’s commitment to bring the facilities of colleges everywhere in England up to a good level.
  • School estate funding – The government will provide additional funding of £560 million for schools in England to improve the condition of their buildings and estates in 2020-21. This is on top of the £1.4 billion already invested in school maintenance this year.
  • School rebuilding programme – The government has announced over £1 billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme in England. These projects will be confirmed in the autumn, and further detail on future waves will be confirmed at the Comprehensive Spending Review. Construction on the first sites will begin in September 2021.

LEP funding for local infrastructure:

  • Local infrastructure projects – The government will provide £900 million for shovelready projects in England in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to drive local growth and jobs. This could include the development and regeneration of key local sites, investment to improve transport and digital connectivity, and innovation and technology centres. Funding will be provided to Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Budget context

A slightly different response to a PQ about supporting graduates through the gloomy economic outlook from the Universities Minister:

Douglas Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has to support graduates looking for employment (a) during and (b) after the covid-19 outbreak.

Michelle Donelan:

  • Our economic priority is to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our economy as far as possible. This is an incredibly difficult period for everyone, and we understand that graduates are likely to feel concerned as they enter a far tougher job market than those before them.
  • Some universities are going above and beyond to support those graduating this summer, providing extensive online careers advice, including webinars offering interview and CV-writing tips and skills and follow-up one-to-one calls. However, we need all universities to step up and play a key role to help graduates take the next step, whether into work or further study.
  • The recently announced National Tutoring Programme creates an opportunity for graduates to apply for tutoring roles providing support for pupils and schools in the most disadvantaged areas. More details of the programme will be available shortly.
  • We know that post-graduates often secure employment in higher skilled and higher paid employment than graduates and non-graduates. The government can support with the financial burden of accessing a master’s degree with a loan of up to £11,222. Where graduates are considering a career in teaching, tax-free postgraduate bursaries of up to £26,000 are available for trainee teachers starting initial teacher training in 2020/21, depending on the subject in which they train to tea

The Institute for Fiscal Studies have published COVID-19 and the career prospects of young people and a report on the ‘Prolonged cost’ to young people from COVID-19 career disruption.

The new IFS research, funded by the Turing Institute, shows that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to severely disrupt the career progression of young workers, suggesting that negative economic impacts on this age group may last well beyond the easing of the lockdown. The new research finds that:

  • Over the last decade, young people starting out in the labour market have increasingly been working in relatively low-paid occupations, many of which are in sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis – for example, hospitality and non-food retail.
  • The growing importance of those ‘lockdown sectors’ as employers of workers at the start of their careers is primarily due to an expansion of the accommodation and food industry. The share of workers starting their careers in this sector increased by about 50%, from 6% to 9%, between 2007 and 2019.
  • As other sources of wage growth have dried up, young workers have become increasingly reliant on moving into higher-paying occupations as a source of early-career wage growth. Around 28% of wage growth over the first five years of the careers of workers born in the 1970s could be attributed to moving into a higher-paying occupation. This had risen to 50% or more among people born in the 1980s.
  • The pandemic threatens to have a prolonged negative economic impact on young people by reducing demand for the jobs that are typical among early-career workers and making it harder for workers to find better opportunities than their current jobs.
  • The government should have a particular focus on the challenges facing the young as it attempts to manage the labour market impacts of COVID-19 in the coming months.

IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research has published a report, Guaranteeing the Right Start, Preventing Youth Unemployment after COVID-19.

  • There is a strong case for bold policy interventions to prevent youth unemployment. Becoming NEET results in a ‘scarring effect’ that lowers long-term employment prospects and earning potential (Gregg and Tominey 2004). Furthermore, those from the poorest backgrounds and with the lowest qualifications are likely to be the worst affected (Henehan 2020). Each person that is out of work and education for six months or more costs on average £65,000 in direct lifetime costs to public finances and £120,000 in wider lifetime costs to the economy and community (Coles et al 2010). But ultimately becoming unemployed is a deep personal crisis with impacts on health, self-worth, identity and status.
  • We recommend the creation of a new ‘Opportunity Guarantee’ for young people: the government should ensure that every young person is either in education or work. The government’s main aim in the short term should be to prevent a rise in youth unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. But, looking beyond the crisis, they should be aiming even higher: to eliminate all but the most temporary experience of being NEET amongst all young people. This will require government to keep young people in education for longer – but more radically, it also demands a fundamental rethink of labour market policy in the UK (the focus of this paper). This programme should be spearheaded by the prime minster as part of a campaign to inspire businesses to ‘do their bit’, by hiring young people during the crisis as part of an ‘investment in the future of our nation’.
  • Fulfilling this promise will require a new, more active, approach to labour market policy. In recent decades, the UK has embraced a liberal welfare regime, meaning a flexible labour market with limited government intervention, and a welfare system designed to promote ‘work first’ through low replacement rates, conditionality and sanctions. This approach is always questionable, but it is particularly problematic in an environment of high and persistent unemployment. We must now take a more empathetic and interventionist approach, drawing on the Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) used more extensively elsewhere. If the UK spent the same proportion of GDP on these policies as other advanced European countries, we would invest £8.5 billion more a year in preventing unemployment. Some of these measures are outlined in this paper but government must also take action for older people as well, for example, through reforming and extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Financial sustainability

And continuing the financial theme, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a briefing entitled Will universities need a bailout to survive the COVID-19 crisis? The briefing note examines the resilience of university finances to the likely consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak and the public health response to it.

  • The total size of the university sector’s losses is highly uncertain: we estimate that long-run losses could come in anywhere between £3 billion and £19 billion, or between 7.5% and nearly half of the sector’s overall income in one year. Our central estimate of total long-run losses is £11 billion or more than a quarter of income in one year.
  • The biggest losses will likely stem from falls in international student enrolments (between £1.4 billion and £4.3 billion, with a central estimate of £2.8 billion) and increases in the deficits of university-sponsored pension schemes, which universities will eventually need to cover (up to £7.6 billion, with a central estimate of £3.8 billion). In addition, the sector faces lockdown-related losses of income from student accommodation and conference and catering operations, as well as financial losses on long-term investments.
  • Large sector-level losses mask substantial differences between institutions. In general, institutions with a large share of international students and those with substantial pension obligations are most affected. These tend to be higher-ranking institutions as well as postgraduate and music & arts institutions. Some of the least selective universities, which rely largely on domestic fee income, will also be badly hit if higher ranked universities admit more UK students to make up for the shortfall in their international enrolments. While recently introduced student number caps will constrain some of this behaviour, there are still likely to be falls in student numbers at the least selective institutions.
  • Universities are unlikely to be able to claw back a large portion of these losses through cost savings unless they make significant numbers of staff redundant. In our central scenario, we estimate that cost savings could reduce the overall bill by only £600 million or around 6% without redundancies. The potential for cost savings varies across universities: institutions with a larger proportion of temporary staff will likely be able to make larger savings, but this may impact teaching quality
  • For the university sector as a whole, net losses in our central scenario are only slightly larger than five years of surplus at the pre-crisis level. Assuming that the underlying profitability of universities remains unchanged, the total financial reserves of the higher education sector could still be roughly the same in 2024 as they were in 2019, even without a government bailout.
  • Whether COVID-related losses put a given institution at risk of insolvency largely depends on its profitability and its balance sheet position before the crisis, rather than on its predicted losses from COVID-19. The institutions with the highest predicted losses all have large financial buffers and are therefore at little risk of insolvency. The institutions at the greatest risk tend to have smaller predicted losses, but had already entered the crisis in poor financial shape.
  • In our central scenario, 13 universities educating around 5% of students would end up with negative reserves and thus may not be viable in the long run without a government bailout or debt restructuring. A very tightly targeted bailout aimed at keeping these institutions afloat could cost around £140 million. In comparison, a one-off increase in teaching grants of £1,000 per UK/EU student would cost £1.8 billion but in our central scenario would only push three institutions above the line of zero reserves.
  • There is considerable uncertainty over actual risks to institutions and a trade-off between highly targeted and more general support. And additional support might not be aimed purely at preventing insolvencies. But there is a big gap in cost between a very targeted bailout costing perhaps less than £200 million and the more generalised bailout proposed by Universities UK, which would cost £3.2 billion and at the same time provide very little support to most universities that appear to be most at risk of insolvency; according to our modelling, only two institutions would be pushed above the line of zero reserves by this proposed policy. Government will need to be very clear about the purpose of any bailout package and design it accordingly.
  • Lightly regulated Alternative Providers educate around 3% of all students in the higher education sector. Many of these providers have low reserves and rely almost exclusively on tuition fees for their income. Alternative Providers with a large share of international students are at a significant risk of insolvency, potentially leaving students unable to complete their degrees.

Further to this, the Higher Education Policy Institute has published a response to the report. Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

  • “The IfS report is as lucid and clear as we have come to expect from them. They are right that universities with more international students and bigger pension liabilities are more directly affected by Covid than others and also that institutions which were financially weak before the pandemic are the ones most at risk of actual insolvency. They are also right that the arguments for extra support for universities in the crisis are strong. But that doesn’t mean they’re right overall.
  • “There are three important points to note.
  • “First, the range of projected short-term financial losses for universities, which the IfS calculates at between £3 billion and £19 billion, is so enormous that it’s pretty meaningless in terms of planning ahead. It’s such a huge fan of uncertainty that it doesn’t help either universities or policymakers know where they stand.
  • “Secondly, there are too many reports around at the moment that take old opinion polls of how students might behave as the gospel truth. We know from when tuition fees in England went to £9k that polls which ask students how they might behave are a woeful guide to the future, and the IfS’s figures on student numbers should therefore be taken with a lorry load of salt.
  • “For example, the IfS are assuming there will be 10% fewer UK students, yet the latest UCAS figures show the opposite trend. Who would choose to have a gap year at the moment, when travel and job opportunities are so limited? The IfS are also predicting a 50% drop in EU students as a result of the pandemic, even though 2020 is the last year when they will be treated like home students. Unless there is a major second wave of Covid-19, the IfS’s “central” estimate for the short-term financial losses would be better labelled “pessimistic” and their “pessimistic” estimate would be better labelled “extreme”.
  • “Thirdly, the oddest feature of the IfS report is how very little it has to say on university research. When universities have less income and face big deficits, they can opt to stem the financial losses by doing less research as research generally loses money. Less research would be terrible for the UK as it would hamper the post-pandemic recovery. So the quantity of research that institutions can afford must be a bigger part of the wider conversation about university financing.
  • “There is a strong case for continuing government support for universities of all types because of the jobs they provide, the education they deliver and the support they provide to employers as well as the research they undertake.”

David Kernohan looks under the bonnet.

But it’s ok, because Lord Willetts says foreign investors will be keen to help out, as reported by Research Professional.

University Admissions

The Office for Students finally unveiled their new licence condition on admissions practices at the end of last week, after a very long delay. The consultation results can be found here.

They have changed the time frame from the original proposal so that it is no longer retrospective to 11th March. It is in place until September 2021 so covers next year’s admissions cycle. 

There is a general catch all:

  • This condition…. prohibits a provider from engaging in any form of Conduct which, in the reasonable opinion of the OfS, could be expected to have a material negative effect on the Stability and/or Integrity of the English Higher Education Sector

This is interesting because it doesn’t just mean things that any one university does that could on its own have a material negative effect – but takes into account the cumulative negative effect if lots of universities were to do the same thing.  Deciding what might be covered by this vague and subjective definition will be an interesting process for anyone planning creative recruitment strategies.

To help the sector they have clarified some things that are definitely banned, and some things that are definitely allowed.  As you will see, the gap in the middle is quite big.

Banned

  • They have banned all conditional unconditional offers.
  • They have banned “false or misleading” claims to persuade people from going to another university (surely this would have been subject to action by the ASA in any case).

Allowed

  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already attained particular academic achievementswhich are at, or equivalent to, level 3 or above of the Regulated Qualifications Framework;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in connection withadmissions policies and criteria which wholly or mainly require a prospective or existing student to demonstrate abilities in a practical way (including, but not limited, by any type of live performance or submission of evidence of abilities through videos, drawings, paintings, photographic pictures, audio recordings, or any other tangible object);
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already accredited prior learning (APL), or prior experiential learning (APEL), that can be accredited under academic regulations that were made and brought into force by the provider before 1 September 2019;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who meets all of the following requirements: the student was a private candidate registered to take examinations for A-level qualifications(or other qualifications which are equivalent to level 3 qualifications for the purposes of the Regulated Qualifications Framework) in 2020; and  was unable to take examinations for such qualifications before 31 August 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic or obtain grades for such qualifications on an alternative basis as a result of arrangements put in place by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (or, as the case may be, the equivalent body in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland); and iii. is seeking admission to a higher education course which will commence before 1 September 2021;
  • the use of a Contextual Offer in connection with implementing any policy which could reasonably be considered as having the primary aim of promoting Equality of Opportunity.

It seems fairly clear that the OfS are intending to restrict unconditional offer-making in all but these cases, although they haven’t actually spelled that out.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • We have previously highlighted that unconditional offers which are conditional on students accepting a university or college as their first choice put pressure on students and distort their decision making. Widespread use of unconditional offers also risks destabilising the system. Our concerns are even more acute in these exceptional times with the shape of the next few months and years still very unpredictable, and information, advice and guidance less readily available than it may normally be.
  • ‘However, we have ensured that the condition explicitly permits unconditional and contextual offers that are clearly in students’ interests, and which support the transition into higher education for the most disadvantaged students.
  • ‘Students can also be reassured that they should not expect to have any offers that they have already received withdrawn, and where there are good reasons for them to receive an unconditional or contextual offer in future, there is no reason that this cannot go ahead.
  • ‘This condition is designed to avoid instability during the current uncertainty, and to protect students and the higher education sector in these extraordinary circumstances: it will not continue past September 2021. This should allay concerns that we wanted to extend our powers permanently, which we have no intention of doing.
  • ‘The condition is a necessary and proportionate means to ensure the stability and integrity of the English higher education sector, to protect students’ interests and to preserve a diversity of choice for students into the future.’

An anonymous senior figure in an English university has responded in a HEPI blog:

  • Conditional unconditional offers are explicitly ‘prohibited in all circumstances’ but the condition applies to: conduct … which, if repeated by other providers, is likely to have a material negative effect on the stability and/or integrity of the English Higher Education Sector (whether or not there is any form of express or tacit coordination, and whether or not a provider is able to anticipate the actions of other providers).’
  • Except for cases where applicants are required to ‘demonstrate abilities in a practical way’ – which are explicitly exempted – I think we can predict the end of all unconditional offer making.
  • As the OfS says, a ‘provider needs only to consider the possible negative effects on stability and integrity if other providers did follow suit.’ As the conceptual universe is overflowing with what is possible, it is unlikely that any university will argue that it is not possible that their unconditional offer-making will have negative effects.
  • Many within and outside the sector will not lament the passing of unconditional offer-making. Whatever your views on their relative merits, they had become a stick with which to beat us long before the pandemic hit. But hang on; that’s a problem. The original consultation stated that ‘the conduct that the condition seeks to address is specific to the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic’.
  • No one can plausibly claim that the problem of unconditional offers is ‘specific’ to the pandemic. And while there have been worries about the alleged 30,000 unconditional offers made in the first few days of the pandemic, the OfS’s power will not be retrospective. So these will stand.
  • Indeed, given the current stage of the recruitment cycle, the new power will have marginal effect on 2020 recruitment. However, as it will last until 30 September 2021, it will apply through next year’s recruitment cycle. And, unless the OfS know something few others do, the new power will apply outside the pandemic.
  • One cannot help feeling that the bucket of ordure that was poured over the OfS in response to their original consultation so staggered them that it has taken this long to think of a face-saving way to rescue something from a poorly-argued consultation. Even with grade inflation, it would have warranted no more than a 3rd.
  • Still, one should not be ungenerous. The OfS may have done the sector a great favour. Unconditional offers are very much a collective action problem – if one university offers them, so must others. So a centrally-imposed rule is almost certainly the right approach.
  • However, one can still legitimately worry about the consultation outcome. The OfS was not consulting on the acceptability of unconditional offers; it was consulting on pandemic-specific conduct. The OfS seems to have used the exercise as cover to do something it has wanted to do for a long time.

Research

REF & Roadmap – Following last week’s announcement on the R&D roadmap which promises to investigate and reduce bureaucracy (and UKRI’s intention to consider overhauling REF after 2021) Wonkhe have a nice blog on how they do it in the Netherlands.

The roadmap also contained public funding pledges which intended to attract domestic and international private investment. BEIS have issued a report describing the ‘leverage’ that can be expected. They’ve also published the analysis of the economic modelling behind the 2.4% R&D target under the Industrial Strategy banner.

And the roadmap itself is still subject to much comment and articles continuing to analyse the nuance behind the words. Daniel Zeichner Co-Chair of the Universities APPG stated:

  • [the document was] a curious roadmap—much more of a ramble through a complicated landscape where everything gets a mention.
  • Measures to make the UK more attractive to international researchers are welcome, although whether they will undo the self-inflicted harm caused by leaving the European Union, and ill-considered immigration policies, remains to be seen.
  • Anyone following this roadmap will doubtless recognise much of what is described but will wonder about the destination—little surprise that at the end, we find that we have finally arrived at the start of a conversation.

Research Lottery – THE report on a consortium (including UKRI) who are experimenting to judge whether funding certain types of research project by random selection would reduce unconscious bias. Professor Wilsdon, Research on Research institute, stated:

  • When you are sitting on panels, you can often easily spot the really outstanding applications – or the stuff that isn’t much good – but there is also a middle level of proposals that will probably lead to valuable research where it is very hard to choose between candidates. The distinctions between them are so fine-grain that it is sometimes quite hard to defend why you chose one over another – it is this area where grant funders can be susceptible to implicit bias, whether that is linguistic, institutional or gender bias.
  • [Another]…big motivation is making the process more efficient and whether lotteries can be designed that make the application process faster and lighter touch.
  • However, the “killer question” about lottery-based funding systems is “whether they help to fund better research”. We have no idea about this so far, but we will begin to look at this in the study.

The consortium are also tackling whether grant application criteria lead to inequalities in research funding, whether new definitions or alternatives to excellence can be found, and a six-country study in how research cultures can be made more diverse and inclusive.

ECRs – HEPI has a new blog analysing the R&D Roadmap which draws out the 5 points most relevant and positive to the Early Career Researcher experience:

  • Focusing on the person and attributes (more than uncontrollable citations, grants won, publications achieved)
  • Addressing negative research culture
  • Improving diversity and inclusion within research
  • Addressing the instability of short term grants and contracts
  • ‘New Deal’ for PhD student funding

Of course, these are all intentions and it remains to be seen how to tackle the trickier aspects, particularly in a post-pandemic financially squeezed world, however it is a start.

Parliamentary questions:

Student Number Controls

The Lords debate of the regulations which will bring the student number control into being covered the usual topics, including the limits on the devolved nations recruitment of English students, impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds,  whether there were other incentives that could support universities.

The Lords comments are interesting because we get some different viewpoints. Here’s a little selection.

Lord Blencathra’s comments were notable:

  • First, I am appalled that many universities are ripping off students by refusing to refund part of their fees for non-existent teaching. Over the last six months, university lecturers were on strike for five weeks—more than 1 million students got no teaching whatever. Now, there is no teaching because of Covid-19, and still universities are running the equivalent of Ponzi schemes, like Bernard Madoff racketeers, taking money for a non-existent product while paying themselves huge dividends. I am sorry, but they deserve to be lambasted. Any commercial company which failed to deliver on a contracted service would have to pay compensation. I hope my noble friend can compel our universities to behave honourably.
  • Secondly, I see that the department is considering changing to post-results applications and university courses starting in January. This change is long overdue, and I commend it. It is nonsense to offer conditional places based on predicted results. I hope that the Government will push on with that excellent initiative as soon as possible.
  • Finally, I know my noble friend will not say so, but we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid. We desperately need more technical colleges and more skills training, as the Prime Minister said on Tuesday. Will my noble friend look to convert these back to good polytechnics which could do good for the country and real good for young people, rather than them playing at being poor-quality universities?

Lord Chidgey (LD): 

  • My Lords, in the context of this higher education SI on fee limits and student support, Michelle Donelan MP, the Universities Minister, said yesterday: “ higher education should be open to all … who are qualified by ability and attainment.”
  • True social mobility would put students, their needs and career ambitions first—be that in HE, FE or apprenticeships—and must be funded accordingly.

Lord Desai (Lab)

  • My Lords, I find this regulation a little strange. We have faced a surprising pandemic, and some universities have tried to defend themselves against possible losses by recruiting more people than they are supposed to. As far as I can understand these complex things, the universities which have offered more places than they are supposed to will be punished, not this year but next year. That is the kind of Stalinist rationing I do not understand.
  • If universities are taking the initiative to defend themselves against the adverse effects of the virus, they should be rewarded, because they are looking ahead. At least next year, if you are going to punish them for this, please punish them mildly, spread the punishment over more than one year and, if possible, do not punish them at all, because they are doing good work and we need good-quality higher education. Therefore, this is the time not to be harsh on universities but to be kind to higher education, just as the Government are very kind to companies that are going bust and banks which are failing, and so on. If you are being kind to everyone, why not be kind to higher education as well?

Lord  Blencathra  (Con)  said he was “appalled” that universities would not refund students for lost teaching as a result of strikes and then the pandemic. He supported changes to post-result  applications. Finally, he said there should be more technical colleges, and that the bottom 30 universities should be converted “back to good polytechnics.”

Baroness Altmann (Con) asked whether there would be an appeal process for institutions who felt they were treated unfairly by regulations; about the impact of the use of student loan data; and whether smaller specialist higher education institutions could be exempt from these controls.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay:

  • Regarding the consultation period, that the Universities Minister had meetings with representatives across the sector, including Universities UK. The research package announced recently by the Government was UK wide.
  • With regards to devolution, Parkinson said the problem was acute in England; and there was not an intention to interfere with devolution. He said that the ” funding of English-domiciled students is not a devolved matter “; and that devolved nations would be able to continue setting their own fees.
  • On the point of disadvantaged students, Parkinson said the Government expected higher education providers to support such students; and that the Department of Education was seeing to identify steps to assist this.  Apprenticeships would be excluded from number controls.
  • Parkinson said that the issue of the quality of providers was a condition of registration with the Office for students. Appeals for providers regarding controls would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • For students from  migrants  families, Parkinson clarified that individuals who had spent the previous three years in the UK could access support equal to most other students.
  • The Government cared about the HE  sector  and the opportunities it provided to all whom use it.

The regulations were approved.

Post-pandemic recovery

The Department for Education published guidance entitled Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses.

This document is designed to help providers of higher education in England to understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and provide services to students, keeping as many people as possible self-isolating and out of educational settings if they are symptomatic, practising good hand and respiratory hygiene and keeping 2 metres apart from those they do not live with wherever possible. From 4 July, where 2 metres is not viable, reducing the distance down to a minimum of 1 metre can be used but only if appropriate mitigation is in place.

The House of Commons Library have published Coronavirus: Easing lockdown restrictions in FE & HE in England exploring the student number controls, re-opening campuses, graduate employability and lack of catch up funding for FE colleges.

EU Students and Student Mobility

Student Mobility – The Times have an opinion piece discussing the building blocks that the UK alternative to Erasmus should incorporate.

EU Students – An Oxford academic is calling for a Government funded EU scholarship scheme to attract high quality European students into British universities. Research Professional report on a survey by a European student website (Study.eu) where 84%  of potential students said they would “definitely not” study in the UK if their fees roughly doubled to the same amount paid by non-EU international students. 60% of the respondents would have begun university in the 2021-22 academic year.  Study.eu Chief Executive Gerrit Bruno Blöss stated: It is unfortunate that the political process leads to such negative consequences for students and universities…UK’s universities have a lot to offer, but they are facing strong competition on the continent.

T levels

Ahead of the skills and training announcements set out above, Gillian Keegan, Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships had already announced a new package of support to help employers and FE providers deliver high-quality industry placements for T-levels.

  • T Levels – high-quality technical alternatives equivalent to three A Levels – have been created in collaboration with industry experts so students gain the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and so businesses can access the workforce they need to thrive.
  • A unique part of a T Level will be the completion of a high-quality industry placement – of at least 315 hours, or approximately 45 days – where students will build the knowledge and skills and develop the confidence they need in a workplace environment.

The package includes:

  • New guidance setting out the key roles and responsibilities for providers and employers, and a new guide for students to help them prepare for their placement, with hands on support and advice so everyone can get the best experience possible.
  • Additional delivery models for employers and providers including new models for the way industry placements can be delivered in the Construction and Engineering & Manufacturing routes, to reflect modern practices, and allowing Capacity and Delivery Fund placements to be delivered over two academic years, to bring them in line with T Levels, with a reduced delivery target of 25% for the 2020/21 academic year, to reflect the impact of the coronavirus on employers.
  • In recognition of the impact of coronavirus on employers, the government will extend the Employer Support Fund pilot, launched in September 2019, to offer financial support to employers in selected regions where funding is a barrier to them hosting high-quality industry placements. The Employer Support Package, a suite of online guidance, case studies and workshops to help employers to host high-quality industry placements, will also continue: and
  • The government will also procure an organisation with the appropriate expertise to support 2020, 2021 and 2022 providers to help them deliver high-quality placements in line with the delivery guidance.

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills said:

  • The first three T Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction, Digital Production, Design and Development and Education and Childcare will be taught from September 2020 with more rolled out gradually between 2021 and 2023. The new qualifications will play a key part in rebuilding the economy after the coronavirus outbreak, boosting access to high-quality technical education for thousands of young people so they can progress to the next level, whether that is getting a job, going on to further study or an apprenticeship.

Other Parliamentary questions

There were a lot of questions on tuition fees for healthcare/nursing students.

Other news

Skills: The EU have set out a 5-year Skills Agenda with policy priorities and targets bringing industry, education and employment agencies together. While this focuses only on EU states it is interesting to note the similarity to the UK context with the increased focus on skills and tackling employment gaps. Including a Council which will make recommendations on vocational education and training.

Force Majeure: If you like a short technical read there is a blog from Shakespeare Martineau on the force majeure clause which allows for extraordinary occurrences in relation to delivery of contracts. The blog takes apart the OfS expectation that it won’t apply to students commencing in 2020/21 questioning whether the OfS position is correct:

  • While all providers have been planning and making strenuous efforts to deliver programmes in the wake of the pandemic, the OIA’s view presupposes that they can simply now return to the status quo ante in September, any deviation from provision as originally promised being a matter of expedience or discretion for the provider and therefore subject to students’ consent.
  • Students who will enrol for the first time in September 2020 will have been made offers which reflected the delivery models of a pre-COVID world, and they will have accepted their offers on those terms. The pandemic nevertheless continues, the threat of transmission subsists, the spectre of a second peak looms larger with each easing of the lockdown, and there is no clear guidance on whether and how providers can resume delivery as promised and safely. Pubs and restaurants, which are permitted to re-open from July, are doing so but in a way that is significantly different from the services we all enjoyed consuming until March.  Why are HE providers different?
  • The OIA clearly believes that, given the passage of time since the outbreak, providers have had time to mitigate its effects.  That may well be the case, though some providers would argue otherwise.  Mitigating effects now for September enrolments, however, does not mean that providers can fulfil promises made pre-COVID without any changes from offers originally made and accepted.  The OIA’s dismissal of force majeure reliance is therefore hard to understand and unhelpful to providers facing an increase in student complaints.

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HE policy update for the w/e 17th January 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public and Community Engagement narrative – a statement:

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

Local Growth and Regeneration narrative – a statement:

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

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

David Kernohan has written for Wonkhe about it:

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

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

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

Erasmus after Brexit

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

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

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

New HESA data

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

Sex of students

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

Age of students

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

Student disability status

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

Ethnicity of students

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

Within the European Union:

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

Outside the European Union:

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

Of those gaining a classified first degree:

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

Subjects

In 2018/19:

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

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

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

Mental Health

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

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

And some Parliamentary questions:

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

A – Nick Gibb:

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

Labour leadership

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

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

Candidates for deputy leader:

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

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

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

Fees and funding

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

And some Parliamentary questions:

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

A -Baroness Blackwood Of North Oxford:

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

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

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

Select Committees

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

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

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

Education Debate

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

Gavin Williamson also said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the debate in full here.

Skills gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Widening participation

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

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

And some Parliamentary questions:

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

A – Lord Agnew Of Oulton:

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

Life Sciences

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

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

Universities and Crime – a Parliamentary question

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

A – Baroness Berridge:

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 10th January 2020

Welcome to all our new readers! Parliament is back in the swing, the Labour leadership contest kicks off and the OfS has been VERY busy.

Parliamentary News

Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, has been elected the new chair of the all-party parliamentary group for universities.

The Budget has been scheduled for Wednesday 11 March 2020.

Parliamentary Questions

Now that Parliament is regaining its stride relevant parliamentary questions will become more frequent (albeit on the usual topics).

Working Class | Educational Standards

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday Rt Hon Sir David Evennett raised concern about the lack of educational achievement amongst working class boys. He asked whether the Government would prioritise ensuring that “all school children are given the opportunities to maximise their talents.” PM Boris stated the Government were investing “record sums” in early education and would shortly be setting up a National Skills Fund. Local MP Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) welcomed the additional funding for education, but noted that equally important were disciplines and standards, and asked whether there will be a continuous focus on most disadvantaged, especially on literacy and numeracy. Boris agreed more needed to be done and that was why they were investing more.

Free Speech

Q – Dr Matthew Offord: Secretary of State for Education, what steps he will take to promote (a) diversity of thought and (b) freedom of expression on university campuses.

  • A – Chris Skidmore: This government will ensure that our universities are places where free speech can thrive, and will strengthen academic freedoms. The freedom to express views openly, challenge ideas and engage in robust debate is crucial to the student experience and to democracy. Individuals should never be in a position where they can be stopped from, or are made to feel inhibited in, expressing an opinion perfectly lawfully. Similarly, universities should be places where students are exposed to a range of views, including those which may be controversial, and are encouraged to debate and challenge them.
  • Free speech is protected in universities by law and is embedded in the Office for Students’ Regulatory Framework. Under the Education (No 2) Act 1986, universities have a specific duty to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech within the law for staff, students and visiting speakers. The government worked with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, who published new guidance in February 2019 on freedom of speech in higher education to support higher education providers and students’ unions in delivering their duties.
  • The government will be looking closely at how well higher education providers are meeting these obligations and will consider whether further action is needed, working with a range of partners.

Admissions/Productivity

Q – Lord Patten: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what analysis, if any, they have conducted into whether there is any relationship between increases in the number of university students in the UK and levels of productivity over the last 20 years; and what were the results of any such analysis.

  • A – Lord Duncan Of Springbank: The Office of National Statistics estimates that around a fifth of the rise in productivity between 1994 and 2019 can be attributed to improvements in the quality of the workforce. This is largely as a result of an increase in the share of overall hours worked by people with higher education qualifications. That is to say: more graduates in the labour market has led to an increase in productivity. This is consistent with other studies.
  • Productivity is the main driver of long-run economic growth, and a key determinant of standards of living; in the long-run, the UK’s ability to improve living standards is almost entirely dependent on its ability to raise productivity. The Government’s Industrial Strategy sets out a long-term plan to boost productivity by backing businesses to create good jobs and increase the earning power of people throughout the UK with investment in skills, industries and infrastructure. The Government recently published the Business Productivity Review in response to the Industrial Strategy’s core priority of addressing the UK’s productivity issue.
  • The Government is investing £406 million in STEM and technical education and an additional £400 million in further education; the Government is also considering the recommendations of the Post 18 education funding review panel chaired by Sir Phillip Augar. This looked at how the post 18 education system can help deliver the skills the economy needs and improve UK productivity.

Q – Lord Taylor Of Warwick: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with UK universities about combating the student wealth divide in those applying to university.

  • A – Baroness Berridge: This government believes that a university education should be available to everyone who has the potential to benefit from it, and that higher education providers must continue to take steps to level the playing field for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and other under-represented groups. All providers wishing to charge tuition fees above the basic fee level must have an access and participation plan agreed by the higher education regulator, the Office for Students. Through these plans, providers set out the targets and their planned activity to support improved access and successful participation for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and under-represented groups.
  • The current student finance system removes financial barriers for those hoping to study and is backed by the taxpayer. The government provides maintenance loans and supplementary grants to help with the costs of living, targeting the most support at those from the lowest income families. Living costs support increased by 10.3% for eligible students on the lowest incomes in 2016/17 compared to the previous system. Further inflationary increases in living costs support have been made in each academic year since with a further increase of 2.9% announced for the 2020/21 academic year taking the support available for the lowest income students to record levels. Student loan repayments are linked to income, not to interest rates or the amount borrowed. The repayment system is designed to be progressive and borrowers on lower incomes are not obliged to repay their loans, with outstanding debt written off after 30 years

OfS updates

The OfS have confirmed they will develop a new framework for the TEF during 2020. The new framework will take account of the forthcoming recommendations in Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review of the TEF (not yet released), the government’s response to it, and the findings of the latest subject-level TEF pilot. There will be a consultation following the publication of the new framework (expected in April) and there will not be a TEF round in 2020.

OfS have also confirmed they will publish their Insight Briefs on student information, regulation and mature students within the next six months. In addition there will be a January report covering the Access and Participation Plan commitments, a consultation on student protection plans, and the subject level TEF findings will be published.

February will see the OfS student engagement strategy, more reports on Access and Participation – particularly surrounding financial support, and an admissions call for evidence.

A highlight in March will be the OfS report into grade inflation, a student contract consultation in April, the future (recurrent) funding review, the OfS Business Plan, and a report into unconditional offers. In June OfS will report on the Access and Participation Plan monitoring outcomes and publish their OfS annual report and accounts.

Buckle up it’s not just Boris who is making changes!

Harassment and Sexual Misconduct

The OfS has been particularly active this week including publishing new expectations on how universities and colleges should deal with harassment and sexual misconduct relating to students. The published expectations form part of a consultation which is open for response until 27 March. The expectations have been shaped considering input from NUS and UUK. They cover the definition, policy and process standards, and the support expected across the cycle – before, during and after disclosure and formal investigation. They also state the OfS powers to intervene when a provider fails to handle a complaint or investigation adequately.

Wonkhe have a blog and a range of media have covered the release – ITV, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, and TES. Later in the week The Guardian published a series of letters by academics responding to the report and the OfS ran a blog by Ann Olivarius (American lawyer focusing on sexual assault) which discussed the Equality Act 2010.

Erasmus

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was read in Parliament this week and one of the amendments selected for debate sought to enshrine within law a compulsion for the Government to make staying part of the Erasmus scheme a priority within the Brexit negotiations. The amendment was not successful however as Wonkhe state “Chris Skidmore clarified on Twitter that this does not necessarily end or prevent the UK participating in the Erasmus+ scheme after Brexit, instead stating that the UK’s participation in the scheme will be part of future negotiations with the EU.”  And that…he noted later that participation in the scheme is protected under the Withdrawal Agreement until 2021. In essence Erasmus participation will still be negotiated but not as a priority measure. Wonkhe have compiled the media coverage: BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the Metro, Channel 4, the New European, and TES. The Guardian and i News also publish pieces by Erasmus alumni about how the scheme affected their lives.

Funding Cuts

The Government have informed the OfS that there will be a reduction in the HE teaching funding allocation of 0.5%, which the OfS administer, and they set out the Government’s priorities for provision and providers that the OfS should continue to fund, namely:

  • High cost subjects (clinical years for medicine, dentistry and veterinary)
  • World leading small and specialist institutions
  • The student premium (supporting WP students identified through the POLAR metric)

“all of which have an important role to play in maintaining the high quality of teaching and in supporting successful participation for underrepresented students”

  • RE: value for money protect those areas of the grant where the evidence base for need is strongest, and where there is clear alignment with priority activities, working closely with the DfE to identify these areas.
  • Consider how to fund London premium costs in the fairest and most efficient way (especially high-cost subjects within inner London).

OfS released a statement explaining how they will handle the reduction and explained that there are some areas this year where additional funds are needed:

  • increases in intakes to pre-registration medical degrees and the continuing effects of the transfer of funding responsibility for pre-registration courses in nursing, midwifery and allied health professions. This means the underlying cut in recurrent funding is greater – at around £70 million (5 per cent) in cash terms, although this should be viewed alongside an increase in capital funding of £50 million.
  • The OfS has already allocated the large majority of our funding for academic year 2019-20 and wishes to avoid as far as possible having to reduce grants already announced. Instead, we believe we can secure the savings required in academic year 2019-20 from as yet unallocated funds and by deferring some activities into academic year 2020-21.

OfS are launching a consultation next week to gather opinion on their proposed approach to implement the required savings. They have also confirmed there will be a full review of the funding method from 2021-22 financial year in April 2020. Remember the Budget will take place on 11th March. The timing of the full review is unlikely to be coincidental.

The SoS also mentioned the full review in his letter and asked the OfS to prioritise:

  • Streamlining the grant allocations to be more efficiently targeted and to represent an overall strategic approach to supporting priorities such as the Industrial Strategy, access and participation and specialist institutions;
  • Consideration of how to make sure the Student Premium is best targeted to support access, participation and successful outcomes for disadvantaged students, using the most up-to-date and relevant metrics;
  • Developing a new framework for evaluation and assurance of the Teaching Grant, working closely with the DfE over the coming months to agree this.

Wonkhe have a blog on the funding reduction – David Kernohan predicts that cuts are likely to come from the £51 million national facilities and regulatory initiatives pot (such as the Learning Gain pilot, phase 3 of the Catalyst Fund, and pilot metrics work). The one David doesn’t mention that will presumably escape the hatchet is NCOP.

Research

The House of Commons Library has published figures on the rise in research and development spending. In 2017 total R&D expenditure was £34.8bn (1.7% of GDP) from £17.6bn in 1981. This is a real terms increase of 94% but in 1981 the £17.6bn represented 2% of GDP. The library publication projects what is needed to reach the Government’s R&D target of 2.4%.

Key facts:

  • 251,000 people in UK are employed in R&D related roles.
  • The UK R&D expenditure of 1.7% of GDP is below the OECD average of 2.4%.
  • R&D expenditure in Germany is the equivalent of 3.0% of GDP, in the US it is 2.8% and in France it is 2.2%.

Worklessness – An Educational Story

The Resolution Foundation have published an interesting briefing on adults who have never held a stable paying job (holiday and casual work is discounted). While population employment levels are currently at a record high it still remains that 8.2% of the adult population have never had paid employment. 60% of this figure are young students, and as the statistic counts from age 16 to 64, a percentage of the never worked is skewed by those understandably within full time study. Yet this doesn’t explain all – there has been a rise in those aged 25+ that have never worked and are not currently studying.

The report pulls out several ‘key shifts’ that are interesting for the student population.

  • The death of the Saturday teenage job – the employment rate of 16-17 year olds has almost halved over the past two decades – from 48.1% 1997-99 to 25.4% in 2017-19. Increased participation in education only explains a small part of this decline – two-thirds of the fall is driven by a declining employment rate among 16-17 year olds studying full time at school or college. The types of work done by this age group have changed too.  52% of 16-17 year olds now work within catering, waiting tables or as retail assistants. In the past this age group did a wider range of work and the jobs that have declined most sharply are as retail cashiers, shelf stackers, factory packing work and as postal workers. Previous research by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills into the ‘death of the Saturday job’ confirmed that focusing on their studies was the main driver of the decline in earning while learning. Other reasons were that fewer young people wanted a job than in the past and some cited a lack of suitable jobs that fitted around study commitments. This ran alongside the strong opposition from schools and colleges who frowned on their students doing paid work – and raised that employers were similarly opposed to employing young people who are trying to juggle work and studying. The report highlights this as a concern stating the decline is despite evidence of clear benefits for teenagers who work while studying. Those who combine work with full-time education are 4-6% less likely to be not in employment, education or training – and earn 12-15% more – five years down the line than those just in education.
  • Less work whilst studying (FE & HE) – there has been a sharp fall in the employment rate of 18-24 year olds in FE and HE. A 25% fall in the employment rate of 18-19 year olds working while studying for degrees from the early 2000’s peak, a 15% per cent fall among 20-21 year old university students, and a 33% fall among 18-19 year olds studying for non-degree qualifications. Later the report acknowledges that most groups of students are less likely to be in employment post-financial crisis. The report continues with familiar themes: “again, this is despite evidence that working while studying at university improves long-term educational and labour market outcomes. (However, above a certain number of hours – perhaps 15-20 – work becomes an impediment to good grades, and students working only for financial reasons are less likely to get the best degrees. What explains this decline in working while in further or higher education? It’s possible that the growth in tuition fee and maintenance loans has improved university student incomes such that they don’t feel the need to work. Alternatively, tuition fees may have increased the salience of the individual costs of higher education and driven an increased focus on getting the best educational outcomes, at the expense of paid employment. Another potential factor – which would also relate to the decline in work among 16-17 year olds discussed above – may be the introduction of minimum wages reducing employers’ appetite or ability to make jobs available to those with the least experience. While there is little evidence that the UK minimum wage has harmed employment overall, there is some limited evidence that minimum wages reduce the employment prospects of the youngest and least experienced workers. Beyond these suggestions, it is possible that the social and cultural expectations among students, parents, employers and educational institutions are mitigating against earning while learning, as they have at sixth-form age.”
  • Getting a first paid job after completing full-time education takes longer than it used to. In the late 1990s, 56% of young education leavers who had never previously worked got a paid job within the first year after leaving. Today that figure has fallen to 44%.Again the report suggests more negative employer attitudes (as described above) alongside less work at sixth-form age, declining geographic mobility and an increase in living within the parental home as a young adult have an influence.The report goes on to discuss how delaying employment to focus on studies can be dangerous for future employment prospects
  • Motherhood and ill-health in early adulthood effectively ‘lock in’ a lack of paid work experience for those who have not had any up to that point. The proportion of 25-39 year old mothers who have never worked has increased from 3.3% in the late 1990s to 6.5% today.
    The proportion of 25-39 year old men with health problems who have never worked has increased from 4.8% to 7.6%. This triggers alarm bells because there have been big increases in health issues (particularly mental health) among young adults.

The report recommends that

  • Policy makers should pay more attention to the factors that have driven a rising likelihood of working-age adults in Britain never having had a paid job. Rather than cutting benefits, they should consider the extent to which earning while studying is encouraged (given evidence that, if not excessive, doing so improves long-term educational and labour market outcomes); the systems that support education-to-work transitions; and the factors driving the growth in ill-health among younger working-age adults.
  • Rather than cutting benefits, we need to explore and perhaps challenge the economic, social and cultural drivers mitigating against earning while learning at school, college and university, while boosting evidence on the types of work that are complementary to studying rather than detrimental. Our evidence underscores the particular challenge that the new T level qualifications are seeking to address for those taking the non-university route, and the importance of getting the work experience component of these right. In particular, this means ensuring that sufficient numbers of employers are willing and able to deliver work experience. And this analysis suggests that a much sharper focus on the advice and support systems that help people move from full-time education to the first stage of their career is required. Finally, our findings underscore the need for continued policy action to address the labour market disadvantages that women face when they have children, and to better understand how the growing group of relatively young adults with health problems and disabilities can be supported to actively participate in the labour market.
  • Lazy interpretations related to workshy Brits are clear very far wide of the mark. Instead, a full investigation of the rise in the proportion of working-age adults who have never had a paid job tells us much about the challenges of parenthood and disability, but above all about the complex choices many young people are facing in trying to get the most out of a perhaps increasingly high-pressured education.
  • …In conclusion, the story of a rising likelihood of working-age adults never having had a paid job is a lifecycle story that is strongly related to what happens during the education years.

Labour Shadow Cabinet

After the Government’s very minor reshuffle which kept most of the major ministers in their pre-election posts (see previous policy update) we are not anticipating any further changes until after Brexit. Other parties are reshuffling and Labour has announced several of the Shadow Cabinet roles. Most notable is that Emma Hardy has been appointed Shadow Minister for HE and FE (previous Shadow HE Minister Gordon Marsden lost his seat). TES cover her background and experience nicely including her membership of the Commons Education Select Committee, her support for scrapping tuition fees and restoring the EMA (Educational Maintenance Allowance), alongside her 10-year teaching career and time at the NEU teaching union. She supports the Augar proposals to increase the funding levels of FE colleges.  TES report Emma stated:

  • “This is going to be an interesting Parliament, and this Parliament even more so than the last, we are going to need to really strongly hold the government to account and expose what they’re doing and the impact they’re having.”

In other roles:

  • Former Shadow Minister for Early Years, Tracy Brabin has been appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
  • Luke Pollard has been appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
  • Rachel Maskell has been appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights.
  • Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi has been appointed PPS to Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Opposition.

Leadership Contest

The Labour leadership contest has kicked off and the winner is to be announced on 4 April 2020. Six contenders have already announced their intention to stand – Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Sir Keir Starmer; Emily Thornberry; and Rebecca Long Bailey. The candidate nomination process remains open until 13 January so more MPs could still make a leadership bid. However, candidates have to be backed by a minimum of 10% of the Labour MPs/MEPs. Following this hurdle the candidates have to receive support for their leadership bid from either 5% of the constituency labour parties or three affiliate organisations such as a trade union or socialist society associated with the party. As 2 in 3 affiliate organisations are trade unions this gives them significant influence over the selection process. Following this round the final ballot opens on 21 Feb (until 2 April). The voter ranks the candidates in order of preference and any candidate securing 50% of the votes wins. If no candidate secures 50% the lowest scoring candidate is eliminated and the second choice on the ballot paper is allocated the vote instead. The elimination of the lowest scoring candidate continues until a candidate receives over 50% of the vote. A special Labour conference will take place on Saturday 4 April to announce the new Labour leader.

YouGov have already begun polling on the outcome of the contest, their results:

  • 36% of the membership said their top preference was Keir Starmer
  • 23% Rebecca Long Bailey
  • 12% Jess Philips
  • Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy, Yvette Cooper, and Clive Lewis all poll in single figures.

Note – 12% of party members did not respond to the survey. And the affiliate organisation round will affect which candidates progress to the actual ballot. YouGov also found that Kier Starmer benefited from the preferential voting system (see the chart here).

Private Members’ Bills

We’ve been here before…excitement at the fresh legislation that individual MP’s have the opportunity to introduce to Parliament…then the election was called and all Private Members’ Bill (PMBs) action  was over before it began. A new ballot has taken place and we’ve a new crop of 20 providential MPs who have the opportunity to introduce their legislation. The top seven are the most likely to succeed as they have the most parliamentary time. The new PMBs will be first read (presented) on Wed 5 Feb, and then further considered during the first seven sitting Fridays within the House of Commons. When the PMBs are debated on the sitting Fridays a minimum of 40 MPs must vote for the Bill to progress. Often the Government or the Opposition vote PMBs down. However, during the 2017-19 parliamentary session 9 PMBs became law.

(We explained the private members’ bill process and purpose in these policy updates: 11 Oct 2018 and 25 Oct 2018 (page 5).)

  1. Mike Amesbury (Labour) interests: leaseholder reform, effective public transport.
  2. Darren Jones (Labour) interests: NHS anti-privatisation, job creation for local economy, tech, climate change, clean growth and human trafficking. Darren is a lawyer, has already rebelled and voted against the party whip, and is the first ever Darren in Parliament!
  3. Anna McMorrin (Labour) interests: climate change, sustainable development, dementia, mental health.
  4. Laura Trott (Conservative) – new MP – political interests not known but previously worked for David Cameron focussing on education and family policy.
  5. Chris Loder (Conservative) – new MP – replaced Oliver Letwin as West Dorset MP. Has a background in the rail industry and publically took time away from his election campaign to volunteer as a platform manager to keep trains running during the South West train strikes. He has welcomed suggestions from the West Dorset constituents for his PMB. His political interests are rural economy, transport, and the environment – all as expected given his constituency demographics.
  6. Paula Barker (Labour) – new MP – interests: green spaces, council housing. Paula is a long term trade unionist and has family ties to the NHS and her regional clinical commissioning group.
  7. Philip Dunne (Conservative) has a personal interest in diabetes and stated political interests in agriculture, small business, economics and financial services.
  8. Dame Cheryl Gillian (Conservative) previously introduced the Autism Act as a previous PMB (2008). Recently she has been outspoken against High Speed 2 and environmental concerns.

Of the rest  – at place number 10 Dr Ben Spencer (psychiatrist) has a particular interest in young mental health; number 11 Bim Afolami is focussed on education (pro-grammar schools and the meritocratic system); and number 15 Mary Foy has a background as a carer to her daughter and it is speculated her PMB may focus on the caring role.

Decline in language study

HEPI have published A Languages Crisis? discussing the drop in learning an additional language and how far the UK lags behind the rest of the world for languages. The key points are:

  • Only 32% of British 16-to-30-year olds feel confident reading and writing in another language (in Europe it is 89%).
  • A decreasing proportion of international research is published in English – the UK’s position as an academic and scientific world leader is at risk.
  • Traditional language uptake at HE level has declined. Between 2010/11 and 2016/17, student numbers for French declined by 45%, German declined by 43% and Italian 63%. Languages provision, particularly for heritage languages, is vulnerable to departmental closures and downsizing.
  • Additional language learning, such as facilitating students on all courses taking language modules to count towards course credits and / or as an extracurricular activity, is a key area that UK higher education should protect and expand.
  • The author believes part of the problem begins at school following the 2004 reforms repealing the compulsory requirement to study an additional language.

The report recommends:

  • GCSE and A-Level courses should be more varied and appealing, featuring coursework as well as examination assessment.
  • Learning an ancient or modern foreign language should be made compulsory up to Key Stage 4 (KS4), with accreditation (either a GCSE / National, or alternative vocational or community language qualification) encouraged but optional.
  • Policymakers should introduce measures to increase teaching staff numbers, such as conditional financial incentives, and including all language teachers on the Shortage Occupations List.
  • Where tuition fees exist, they should be supplemented with additional government funding to safeguard provision of minority languages, and facilitate free additional language learning for any students and staff members.

The Times, the Guardian, ITV, and the Mail cover the report.

Megan Bowler, the author of the report, is a third-year Classics undergraduate at the University of Oxford. She said: The cultural and political implications of Brexit mean it is more urgent than ever that we re-evaluate our attitudes towards languages. Learning a language develops an analytical and empathetic mindset, and is valuable for individuals of all ages, interests and abilities. It was a big mistake to scrap compulsory foreign languages at GCSE. Rather than continuing to present languages as not suitable for everyone, we need to include a broader range of pupils learning through a variety of qualifications geared to different needs. Given the shortage of language skills in the workforce, we should safeguard higher education language courses, particularly those involving less widely-taught languages, and prioritise extra-curricular language learning opportunities for students from all disciplines”.

Responding to the report, Professor Neil Kenny, Languages Lead at the British Academy, said: Last year…we called on Government to adopt and implement a UK-wide languages strategy to revive modern language learning (coordinating with existing strategies in Scotland and Wales). With Brexit just around the corner, we need linguists more than ever. Languages are vital for effective trade, diplomacy and soft power, for social cohesion, social mobility, and educational attainment, all of which will be essential to the UK’s future success”.

T Levels

The successful election majority enables the Government to push ahead with the introduction of T Levels. They have announced that another 8 new T Levels will be introduced and taught from 2022 (10 currently planned to be introduced in 2020 and 2021 across 100 FE providers). A Government press release invites ‘high performing’ providers to apply to teach the third wave of the new 8 programmes. These include Legal, Accounting, and Manufacturing, Processing and Control. To recap – T levels are technical qualifications presented as an alternative to A levels which combine classroom taught theory, practical learning and a 45 day industry placement. They are aimed to establish a parity of esteem for the vocational route against the academic A level route and to meet Britain’s industry and employment needs and skills gaps.

Other news

Emotional Fitness: Wonkhe write about a new app being trialled at several universities which draws on positive psychological principles by focusing on mentally healthy processing (called emotional fitness) from the outset rather than reacting to poor mental health after it occurs. The Fika app divides emotional fitness into seven areas:

  • motivation, purpose, stress, confidence, connection, positivity and focus, all of which are linked, in theory, to overall life satisfaction, wellbeing and success. The aim is to improve students’ personal agency, and avoid “self-efficacy spirals” in which, for example, a period of low motivation leads to non-submission of work, which creates stress and panic, which leads to avoidance of issues, which then multiply until they are beyond the student’s powers to bring back under control.

The creator believes starting with HE is the mechanism to bring about real change within wider society

  • HE partners have a big part to play in how wider culture is shaped. Influencing this generation of students means shaping future culture, new businesses, expectations of society and being in society. And that, if successful, the principles can be weaved throughout university life: Longer term, the plan is to integrate more closely with university curricula through developing exercises for personal tutoring, peer mentoring or group work. Focused work on particular issues and student groups – including BAME, international and commuter students, and student employability, is also on the cards. The article concludes by stating the app isn’t a substitute for specialist mental health services.

Medical Science research: Wonkhe cover a report by the Academy of Medical Sciences which highlights the growing number of research active NHS staff who struggle to fit research in among other responsibilities. A widening gap between universities and the NHS is suggested as a possible cause. The report offers six recommendations:

  • the integration of research teams between academia and the NHS
  • providing dedicated research time for research active NHS staff
  • incorporating flexibility into postgraduate pathways
  • ensuring undergraduate studies equip healthcare graduate staff with skills to engage with research
  • streamlining research through joint research and development offices
  • creating a healthcare system that truly values research

Links to download the full documents are on the left hand side of this page.

European study tour: Wonkhe and five student union representatives visited a number of universities across Europe (Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia). There are four blogs covering the learning tour.

Mental Health: The House of Commons Library published a briefing on English mental health policy.

Admissions: Wonkhe report on the new HEPI blog on the debate about academic selection, asking why many experts wish to abolish grammar schools while strengthening selection at the university level.

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To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

Brexit

So we aren’t leaving the EU on 12th April – not that anyone really thought we would.  Although the decision made by the EU in the middle of Thursday night means that we could leave at some stage up to the 1st June, it seems far more likely that EU elections will be held and then we will be up against another cliff-edge deadline on 31st October.  At the moment it is hard to imagine that there can be any movement on anything that will change the position.  Of course, the government might agree something with Labour, that gets the Withdrawal Agreement through, but it seems unlikely, especially as the deadline for that is not 1st June but a good few weeks before that because of the legislation required after the meaningful vote.

In her statement to the House of Commons on Thursday afternoon the PM said [thanks to Dods for the summary]:

  • she still believes it is better to leave the EU with a deal, and in an orderly fashion.
  • many member states preferred a longer extension and the extension until 31 October 2019 was a compromise.
  • if we were to pass a deal by 22 May we would not have to take part in European elections.
  • she agreed with Tusk that the future now lies in the UK’s hands. She also confirmed there was no conditionality attached if the UK were to elect MEPs and would continue to hold full member rights.
  • the choices we face are “stark” and we must push forward “at pace.”
  • she welcomed the discussions with Labour and the talks that will take place today. She stated reaching an agreement “will not be easy” and will require compromises on both sides. However, it is “incumbent” on both parties during a deadlock to seek a compromise/agreement.
  • she maintained that she hoped to reach a single unifying agreement, but if this were not possible she hoped they would be able to agree a number of options that would be put forward in indicative votes. She confirmed the Government would act on the outcome of these indicative votes.
  • the Withdrawal Agreement is a necessary bit of legislation for any agreement to pass.
  • the European Council is prepared to consider changes to the political declaration but reiterated the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened.
  • she stressed she had never wanted to seek this extension and asked MPs to use the recess to reflect on the way forward.

The Leader of the Opposition laid blame for the extension with Theresa May, arguing she had “stuck rigidly” to a flawed plan. He said he welcomed her now reaching out to the opposition, but said the lateness of this was a “reflection of the Government’s fundamental error” to not seek a consensus. However, he said talks had been “constructive” and welcomed the indication the Government may be willing to move on their red lines (customs union.) He said he wanted a close economic relationship with the EU and frictionless trade and if that were not possible then “all options should remain on the table – including the option for a public vote.”

All this will play out in late April/ May while the country is preparing for EU elections. It is not clear how all this will be affected by the purdah rules that restrict certain activities and prevent the use of public resources ahead of elections.  There is more information from the House of Commons here,  although this is silent on the EU elections – for that you have to look at the main document.  This was the 2014 version and similar rules are likely to apply now unless the special circumstances mean that something different is issued in due course:

  • The guidance set out the general principles that should be observed by all civil servants, including special advisers, during this period:
    • a) Particular care should be taken over official support, and the use of public resources, including publicity, for Ministerial or official announcements which could have a bearing on matters relevant to the elections. In some cases it may be better to defer an announcement until after the elections, but this would need to be balanced carefully against any implication that deferral could itself influence the political outcome – each case should be considered on its merits;
    • b) care should also be taken in relation to proposed visits;
    • c) special care should be taken in respect of paid publicity campaigns and to ensure that publicity is not open to the criticism that it is being undertaken for party political purposes;
    • d) there should be even-handedness in meeting information requests from the different political parties and campaigning groups.
    • e) officials should not be asked to provide new arguments for use in election campaign debates.

The terms of the EU deal [thanks to Dods again for the summary] are:

  • European Union leaders have collectively agreed on an extension of Article 50 until 31 October 2019, but the UK will be able to leave before this date if a Withdrawal Agreement is passed and ratified.
  • If the UK remains a member of the European Union by 22 May then the UK must enter European Parliamentary elections. UK MEPs would retain all rights of member states (voting) if elected on 23 May 2019.
  • If the UK passes and ratifies a Withdrawal Agreement by 22 May then the UK will exit the EU on 1 June 2019 and will not have to enter into European Parliamentary elections.
  • If the UK is still a member state after the European Parliamentary elections then the EU will have a “review” of the situation on 30 June 2019. President of the European Council, Donald Tusk said the point of this review would be to update EU leaders on the status of progress in the UK.
  • Donald Tusk has not ruled out giving another extension after October 31 but has urged the UK, “please, do not waste this time.”
  • The EU have once again reiterated that the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for re-negotiations.

Meanwhile, the background campaigning for a possible future Tory leadership contest will continue.  And MPs will get an Easter recess after all – to campaign for the local elections and hopefully reflect on the muddle we are in.  The country might appreciate a break from the ramping up of rhetoric, which has perhaps been fuelled by late nights and too much proximity.

Guarantee extended for Erasmus funding

The government have extended their guarantee of EU funding in the case of a no deal Brexit: the guidance has been updated:

  • The HMG guarantee will cover the payment of awards to UK applicants for all successful Erasmus+ and ESC bids submitted before the end of 2020. Successful bids are those that are approved directly by the Commission or by the UK National Agency and ratified by the Commission.
  • This includes projects and applicants that are only informed of their success, or who sign a grant agreement, after the UK has left the EU, and commits to underwrite funding for the entire lifetime of the projects.
  • If discussions with the Commission to secure UK organisations’ continued ability to participate in the programme are unsuccessful, the government will engage with Member States and key institutions to seek to ensure UK participants can continue with their planned activity so far as possible.
  • UK organisations should consider bilateral or multilateral arrangements with partner organisations that would enable their projects to continue in these circumstances and further guidance is available below.
  • The guarantee covers funding committed to UK organisations. It does not cover funding committed to partners and organisations in other Member States and other participating countries. This means that where a UK organisation is the lead member of a partnership, any funding it distributes to non-UK associated beneficiaries is not covered by the guarantee.
  • In the event that the HMG guarantee is called upon, it will be for the Commission and other countries to consider how to fund non-UK organisations

Fees and funding – more lobbying

With rumours that the Augar review will now not be published until after the local elections (now likely to be after the EU elections?), there is ongoing conversation about what it might say and what the impact might be.  David Willetts has written for the Times Higher:

  • Which universities’ and subjects’ graduates go on to earn the most – and the least? Those are not unreasonable questions for prospective students to wonder about. They are also very relevant to policymakers – particularly in England, where the government-commissioned Augar review of post-18 funding is due to report imminently.
  • Until recently, neither students nor policymakers had any firmer basis to answer their questions than anecdote and received wisdom. That is why, as UK minister for universities and science, I commissioned the longitudinal education outcomes project (LEO). This is one of the biggest, most policy-relevant datasets to arrive in Whitehall for years. By linking educational data on students to tax data on their earnings, LEO promises fresh insights into social mobility by tracking specific routes from school to university and out to good jobs. It is a good example of using administrative data for social science. No wonder it is hot.
  • But it is also dangerous. The idea that we have reached “peak student” is currently fashionable, hovering somewhere between a forecast and a policy preference. And LEO is taken to present an objective means by which student numbers could be reined in, by cracking down on courses that yield low graduate returns. But that, in my view, would be a misuse of the data and a major policy error.

Discussing the LEO research project (by Neil Shephard (then at Oxford, now at Harvard University) and Anna Vignoles (then at the UCL Institute of Education, now at Cambridge), he says:

  • The research showed that there are wide disparities in graduate earnings university by university, and this would have made it possible to implement a full-blown version of the Browne model. But the research also revealed the actual reasons for the differences in graduate earnings and so raised big doubts about whether this was good grounds for divergence in fees. The key reasons were students’ prior attainment, parental social class and subject studied. For most universities, there was not a strong institutional effect independent of these factors. So a higher fee would be a reward not for educational quality but for selecting students with good A levels from affluent families who want to be bankers or lawyers. It would be the pupil premium in reverse. These arguments are still relevant to today’s debate.

He continues:

  • This is information that certainly ought to be available to students. But now that the Augar review has opened up a wider debate on higher education funding, there are ways that policymakers could be tempted to act upon it, too. Most obviously, they might decide to refuse to provide loans for some courses at the universities with apparently low returns. However, such a move would be problematic. The initial LEO research project was very well suited to assessing specific policy options around graduate repayments. It used graduate earnings to assess prospects for repaying loans. Since repayment obligations are largely determined on the basis of taxable earnings, the data and the policy question were tied together. Earnings data, however, are not necessarily a guide to wider policy, such as the performance of universities.
  • For instance, LEO measures annual earnings, with no distinction between part-time and full-time work, so it does not say how much hourly earnings are. Young women with poorer qualifications tend to work part-time; this artificially depresses their earnings, which, in turn, boosts the relative returns to the female graduates. Furthermore, LEO offers no information on occupation or industry or other employer characteristics, so a university that provides nurse and teacher training will inevitably appear to perform less well than one focused on financial services and City law firms.
  • …. And while the data show in which part of the country someone was educated, they do not show where they work. As some graduates stay near where they studied, this penalises universities in areas with lower earnings. So when the data tell us that some non-graduates earn as much as graduates, they could be telling us that a public school dropout working at an upmarket estate agent in Kensington earns as much as a recent graduate working part-time in Bolton.
  • … The dataset stops at age 29 because of limitations on how far back the education data are available. So it fails to capture the evidence that graduate earnings have a better long-term trajectory than non-graduate earnings. This is particularly true of some arts courses. The data favour those occupations where you get to peak earnings early on. They mirror the failures of the British economy, rewarding quick, high returns over longer, slower ones. …
  • … Another rather awkward angle is that there seems little correlation between earnings figures and the student satisfaction data that are part of the teaching excellence framework – the other obvious driver of policy direction. This just underlines the point that the LEO data have strongest implications for policy that is most related to earnings and tax. The further you go from the original purpose of the data, the more tenuous the link to the policy conclusion.
  • Excluding the courses and universities that appear to do badly under LEO from public support would introduce a two-tier system in which affluent parents, whose children do not need public loans, could presumably buy places. The performing arts would become even more middle class. It would also mean that a Whitehall planner has to pronounce on the value of sports science at University X and drama studies at University Y. It would take an interesting new dataset and turn it into a tool of a very significant policy directly constraining the options for prospective students: a role that is quite simply beyond it and a threat to LEO’s long-term credibility and development.

And he has some conclusions for the Post-18 Review

  • The current system’s high repayment threshold of £25,000 means that too high a proportion of the loans is written off. Predictably, this has opened up the whole question of the treatment of the write-offs in the public accounts, leading to their proposed reclassification as public spending. It is not even politically popular because, combined with the high interest rate on some outstanding debt, many graduates now see their debt rising every year, which understandably upsets them.
  • So I propose a package of abolishing the interest rate and lowering the repayment threshold back down to its original £21,000 – which virtually nobody ever complained about. One might add a few extra years to the repayment period as well. That would make the system both financially sustainable and more politically acceptable without having to constrain the autonomy of universities.
  • As for LEO, the data should be part of the increasing mix of information available to prospective students and their parents, but we need to understand them more fully before wider lessons can be drawn. The best way to extract more value from the dataset would be for more researchers to be able to access it – with the necessary privacy protections, of course. We at the Resolution Foundation are keen to analyse the raw data, and so are others.

How to implement a change in fees?

Nick Hillman has a blog on the HEPI website about how to implement any changes that the government decides to make at the conclusion of the post-18 review.

  • There are practical problems in reducing fees overnight. For example, universities and the Student Loans Company need time to prepare for any new system.
  • Perhaps most importantly, if there were a significant reduction in fees, then many people who had planned to go to university in the very near future might opt to take a gap year. Remember, many of those who had planned to take a gap year in 2011 cancelled it to avoid being stung by the last big increase in fees…
  • … if the reduction in fees does happen, it is worth exploring whether it should be implemented for final-year students in the first instance. In other words, for the first year of the new policy, it would be aimed at students who are already more than halfway through their time as an undergraduate – and not, as is generally expected, freshers.
  • This would have two clear advantages, one practical and one political.
  • It would make delaying entry to higher education more neutral in terms of the debt arising from being a student, as entrants would feel like they were facing less of a cliff edge. (See below for a more detailed explanation of this.)
  • As the people closest to graduation tend to be the people who are most aware of the large debts they have accrued and are typically about to join the labour market and therefore enter the repayment phase, they are also the people who are most likely to feel any gain – though it is important to note that lower fees have no effect on the pound in your pocket until much later (if at all), by bringing the date at which you extinguish your loan forward. Given that you are more likely to vote the older you are, any electoral benefits (if they exist) could be clearer too.

Placements

HEPI have a blog by Mike Grey – an advocate for placements but who argues that they are not an employability panacea.

  • “…the latest LEO data release also reports an overall salary premium for students from sandwich courses of approximately £6000, which remained steady at 3, 5 and 10 years. This will further encourage the adoption of this model and is potentially a powerful motivator for students to follow this route. However, this kind of direct sector-wide comparison is intrinsically flawed because:
  • Many of the courses with higher placement take up rates, such as engineering disciplines, have stronger labour markets and lead to higher salaries on average across all graduates
  • Due to the competitiveness of the placement process, it is likely to be the higher performing students, on average, that secure placements
  • We also know that widening participation students take up placements at a lower rate; there are likely therefore to be a number of socioeconomic factors influencing this salary premium
  • When looking at direct comparisons at course level, I would predict that in most cases the salary premium is likely to be closer to half of the overall headline figure. Placement experience clearly has a positive impact on salary outcomes but should not be viewed in isolation without considering the wider influencing factors. The host of other benefits of completing a sandwich placement, such as students being able to make a better-informed decision about their future career, are potentially even more valuable but, as with much of the true value of higher education, these benefits are harder to measure.”
  • “Placement schemes are only typically viable at scale if:
  • There is sufficient employer demand within the specific discipline and if employers are prepared to pay students. Placements completed as part of a course fall outside of National Minimum Wage legislation, but unpaid placements create huge issues for social mobility and encourage employers to undervalue students and graduates.
  • The prescribed delivery model offers the potential for employers to get a return on investment for the time and money invested in the student, and if it fits with industry norms. In many technical disciplines shorter placements are simply not attractive to employers due to the training required to get students up to speed with software and processes. Conversely, in other disciplines, such as law, the culture is for employers to offer shorter internships and insights, so sourcing sandwich placements can be extremely challenging.
  • They are properly resourced. Placements schemes are intrinsically resource intensive, involving managing the administrative process, delivering quality employer engagement, preparing students to enter the world of work, supporting and visiting students whilst they complete the placements and assessing the academic module associated with the experience.”
  • “Beyond sandwich placements, there are a whole host of curriculum-based, embedded, mass-engagement methods which can be vehicles for career development but reach far greater numbers of students. These include:
  • Embedding real-world projects to deliver equitable career development for your students. These real-world projects are often a particularly important gateway drug for widening participation students who disproportionally self-select out of traditional career development activities and do not have the same access to professional networks or levels of social capital that their more privileged peers benefit from.
  • Develop industry authentic assessments and engage employers to contextualise their relevance to graduate-level professional life.
  • Ensure there are synoptic assessments that encourage students to reflect on their employability development throughout their wider course.
  • Design some assessment processes which reflect graduate recruitment processes, for example students could write up their experiences as six responses to competency questions, each with a strict word limit, or complete a video interview assessment, rather than consistently defaulting to a standard reflective essay.
  • Involve practitioners, employers or community groups in the setting of assessments and as the audience for your students’ reporting.
  • Invite alumni to speak who are applying their skills in a diverse set of sectors to illustrate the non-linear nature of the graduate market.
  • Develop an employer advisory board with a specific brief to inform curriculum design and employability delivery.
  • Build partnerships with graduate developers, the professionals who design and deliver employers graduate training programmes, not just graduate recruiters. Seek to transfer industry best practice into skill development activities within the curriculum.”

Institutes of Technology

The first twelve Institutes of Technology were announced:

  • Barking & Dagenham College
  • Dudley College of Technology
  • HCUC
  • Milton Keynes College
  • New College Durham
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Solihull College & University Centre
  • Swindon College
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Lincoln
  • Weston College of Further and Higher Education
  • York College

Prime Minister Theresa May said: I firmly believe that education is key to opening up opportunity for everyone – but to give our young people the skills they need to succeed, we need an education and training system which is more flexible and diverse than it is currently.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: I’m determined to properly establish higher technical training in this country – so that it’s recognised and sought after by employers and young people alike. These Institutes are a key part of delivering this.

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education said: While investment in further education is desperately needed, this announcement will do nothing for the overwhelming majority of providers and students in technical education. The £170 million re-announced today is nowhere near to the £3 billion in real terms cuts to further and adult education since 2010.When they first announced this policy years ago the Government said they would make higher-level technical education available in all areas, yet this list does not include a single university or college in the north west.

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To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE Policy update for the w/e 5th April 2019

A week is a long time at the moment.  We have a mixed bag this week but we lead with Brexit to get it over with.

Brexit

In the Westminster Brexit bubble things can turn upside down several times in the space of a week.  And even though many more people are watching Parliament live on TV or on the internet, it really is a bubble.  The speaker in the House of Commons has had to keep reminding MPs that people are watching, as they make a spectacle of themselves being as rude and rowdy as it is possible to be within the rules about behaviour in the House (i.e. pretty rude and rowdy).  And yesterday it was the turn of the Lords, where there was lengthy filibustering aimed at obstructing the debate on the Bill which seeks to force the PM to get an extension to Article 50 to avoid no deal.  There was quite a lot of shouting and rudeness there as well, which is not what would usually be expected.

So when the House of Commons proceedings had to be suspended because of a huge leak in the roof, it was probably a bit of a relief.  MPs will not get much of a rest, though, as some of the Easter recess has been cancelled and the rest might be too.  As the February recess was also cancelled there will be some pretty cross people around.

Anyway, what next?  The Bill carries on in the Lords on Monday.  While it might seem irrelevant as the PM has today written to the EU to request an extension to 30th June, in these days of rapid policy reversals, it might still be needed.  No deal exit is still on the table as the EU and the UK fight about the terms of an extension and the deadline for calling EU elections nears.

The PM’s letter is here.  It says that she will not be asking for further changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.  It looks forward to the Withdrawal Agreement being approved (although that seems vanishingly unlikely, despite ongoing meetings with Jeremy Corbyn and others).  It therefore asks for an extension to 30th June so that once the WA is passed, the rest of the implementation can be done.  In the meantime “lawful and responsible” preparations will be made for the EU elections.  But the government would like to be able to withdraw from them before 23rd May if they are ready with everything in time.

As usual, writing this on a Friday, we have to say that everything could have changed if you are reading it on Monday.  Right now it looks like we’ll be having EU elections and staying in the EU for a long time.  But it is still possible we could be leaving on Friday 12th April with no deal.  And least likely of all is the chance that the current deal will be approved by Friday and we then leave in May.  Let’s see what next week brings.

Investment in research – a good news story?

Research Professional ran what might have sounded like a good news story against the endless doom and gloom of Brexit and specifically, the implications for research:

Writing for HE’s Sunday Reading, universities and science minister Chris Skidmore described himself as the minister for 2.4 per cent. He was referring … to the government’s pledge to raise expenditure on R&D in the UK to the equivalent of 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. We’ve said this before under previous science ministers, so we’ll say it again in light of Skidmore’s comments. The government does not plan to spend 2.4 per cent of GDP on research: funding and expenditure are not the same thing.  The money earmarked by the government—£7 billion over five years, £4bn of which is as yet unallocated—amounts to about 0.3 per cent of GDP and much less when broken down by annual spend. The actual policy is to leverage that public spending to encourage greater private investment in R&D to bring the UK in line with the average for OECD countries…

Skidmore’s predecessor self-identified as the minister for students. Along with being the minister for the arts and humanities, Skidmore has picked up the challenge of being the minister for 2.4 per cent. He almost certainly won’t be the minister who delivers on reaching the summit of 2.4 per cent. It is to be hoped that when the time comes to pass on the baton, Skidmore will be remembered as the minister who was able to point the way to base camp.”

HE-BCI – the results

If you have been following the discussion on the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) you’ll know that the HE-BCI data provides many of the metrics that sit behind the latest proposals.  So it is interesting to look at this year’s outcomes.

The survey includes details of spin-off and start-up companies associated with HE providers. In 2017/18 140 new spin-off companies were formed from university-owned intellectual property. A further 4129 start-ups were formed by staff and graduates of HE providers.

Over the 2017/18 academic year HE providers were granted 1707 patents2 and generated over £207 million of revenue from intellectual property3 in 2017/18.

Business and community engagement measured by the survey includes income generated from collaborative research (£1.4 billion), contract research (£1.3 billion), consultancy (£471 million), facilities and equipment hire (£228 million), CPD and continuing education (£698 million) and regeneration and development programmes (£224 million).

The survey also measures social, community and cultural engagement, with HE providers recording over 25 million attendees at free lectures, performances and exhibitions over the academic year.

Investment by the OfS

At the end of last week the OfS announced their teaching grant allocations for 2019/20:

A total of £1.45 billion will be allocated across a range of activities for academic year 2019-20, including:

  • £713 million for high-cost subject funding. This funding is provided to help with the extra costs associated with teaching subjects such as medicine, science, technology and engineering.
  • £337 million to promote greater choice and boost equality of opportunity in higher education. This includes £60 million for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP), which funds partnerships of universities, colleges and others across the country to increase the proportion of young people from disadvantaged areas going into higher education; and £277 million of student premium funding for students who may need additional support to achieve successful outcomes.
  • £40 million for national facilities and initiatives. This includes support for higher education digital infrastructure through Jisc, OfS Challenge Competitions, which target priority issues affecting students, and a new ‘what works’ centre to help universities cut equality gaps.
  • £100 million in financial year 2019-20 of capital funding to help universities and colleges to invest in their physical infrastructure so it remains fit for purpose for students.

As announced last year, the introduction of postgraduate masters’ loans means the postgraduate taught funding supplement, set at £8 million, now only supports students that are not eligible for these loans.

Realising the potential of technology in education

The Department for Education issued their “strategy for education providers and the technology industry” this week.

There’s a helpful summary“Our aim is to support the education sector in England to develop and embed technology in a way that cuts workload, fosters efficiencies, supports inclusion and ultimately drives improvements in educational outcomes. Schools, colleges, universities and other providers face a range of barriers to supporting and integrating the good use of technology. This strategy aims to help address these barriers.”

There’s a lot about schools but some things for universities too.  The Department’s Commitments are:

  • Get the connectivity right – many education providers struggle with slow internet connections and outdated internal networking and devices.
  • Set a vision, know the outcomes you want to achieve and ensure staff have the right skills – it can be hard to know where to start and to get the implementation right.
    • …[we].. Have worked with the Chartered College of Teaching to publish an EdTech research journal to highlight and disseminate key research findings.
  • Get the right tools, solutions and services, at the best price – it can be challenging to understand what technology to buy to meet specific needs and to get the best price. So we:
    • Recommend pre-negotiated buying deals for technology and trial regional buying hubs in the South West and the North West.
    • Support an online lending library allowing educators to ‘try before they buy’ through BESA’s online LendEd service.
    • Will explore how to facilitate a better online marketplace for education technology to help educators to connect with trusted providers.
  • Stay safe – it can be daunting to navigate the responsibilities around privacy, security and data.
    • Provide guidance on monitoring, filtering, data security and cyber security.
    • Support Jisc to provide training, guidance and consultancy for colleges, universities and other providers.
    • Encourage EdTech suppliers to follow ‘Cyber Essentials’ minimum standards and the Code of Practice for Consumer Internet of Things Security

So far so obvious.  The second lot of commitments is to the education technology industry.  Under the Industrial Strategy Banner, the summary says that: Supporting the development of the UK’s innovative EdTech businesses will be key to the success of our EdTech strategy. Our aim is to stimulate a vibrant and growing sector of EdTech businesses: generating ideas, innovation, and providing high-quality, effective technology for education providers to chose from. Businesses face a range of barriers to starting and growing in the EdTech market and this strategy aims to help tackle those, including by supporting access to the investment and business assistance set out in the government’s Industrial Strategy.

And linked to the story above, the Minster launched the long heralded “money supermarket for universities” apps (thanks to Sam Gyimah for that analogy). But don’t click on the links, because one of them has never worked since the announcement was made, and the other takes you to the corporate website but there is no sign of any app. We’ll keep checking and let you know when they do go live.

  • Two contracts were awarded to the winners of the Open Data Competition, one to AccessEd for ThinkUni, which offers students a ‘personalised digital assistant’ bringing together data on universities, courses and financial outcomes that are easy to explore and compare.
  • While The Profs have created TheWayUp!, a game for students to simulate different graduate career paths to help them make better choices about their future. It also aims to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds set aspirational educational and career goals to increase their chances of achieving them.
  • Both apps are in open beta and are available online from April 2, operating with the latest information on universities in the UK.

Participation in EU funding schemes

While the House of Commons is fighting over Brexit, the House of Lords debated a report from the EU committee on Erasmus and H2020.  Many thanks to Dods for the summary.  Lord Jay of Ewelme (CB) moved that the House take note of the Report from the European Union.  Committee Brexit: the Erasmus and Horizon programmes (28th Report, HL Paper 283)…

  • …he reminded members that associate membership would not give the UK voting rights on the budget and strategic direction of the programmes “association is also the only option that would allow the UK to access the key European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie schemes, which currently account for 44% of the total UK receipts from Horizon 2020”.
  • He called on the Government to confirm their intention to seek association agreements for 2021-2027 as soon as possible but recognised this could not be achieved whilst the UK was a member state.
  • …Government Spokesperson for Higher Education, Viscount Younger of Leckie confirmed that the Government would publish a formal response to the committees report shortly and recognised the important role both schemes had played.
  • On Horizon, he confirmed that the UKRI would use existing payment systems to ensure continuity for UK beneficiaries, and that in a no-deal scenario, the UKRI would contact UK beneficiaries who have registered on the portal with further information on how the guarantee would operate in practice.
  • On Erasmus, Viscount Younger highlighted that UK institutions had a strong track record of partnering with overseas institutions. “UK evidence suggests that around half of mobilities already take place outside Erasmus+”, he outlined.
  • He stated that the Government were preparing for every eventuality and were very interested in exploring future participation in the Erasmus+ successor scheme. “I understand that the successor scheme will include increased school exchange opportunities and a greater emphasis on widening participation. The Government have welcomed proposals on this and will continue to participate in discussions while we remain in the EU”.
  • On the question of associated membership, the Minister intimated his belief that all such countries should be treated as partners rather than competitors, arguing that, “the benefits that associated countries bring to the programme must be recognised and welcomed”.
  • On potential alternatives to Horizon Europe, the Minister confirmed that BEIS were “working closely with the national academies and UKRI to develop ambitious and credible alternatives to association to Horizon Europe which could also enable world-class collaborative research”.
  • The Minister also argued that the immigration white paper went further than MAC recommendations for international students, extending post-study work to six months for undergraduate students attending institutions with degree-awarding powers, six months for all master’s students and 12 months for PhD students.

Access and Participation

The Government have tabled the Higher Education (Monetary Penalties and Refusal to Renew an Access and Participation Plan) (England) Regulations 2019 statutory instrument, under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 powers. Key points:

  • where a registered higher education provider has an access and participation plan approved by the OfS, that provider may charge fees at the higher limit.
  • The OfS may impose a monetary penalty on a registered higher education provider for breach of one of its ongoing registration conditions.

It also establishes the procedure for:

  • When the OfS intends to give such a notification and provides for the OfS’s notification of a refusal to renew an access and participation plan to be treated as a provisional decision in the first instance and the procedure for the review of that decision. It also provides for the procedure when the OfS’s decision becomes final.

This statutory instrument will need to be approved by both House of Commons and House of Lords.

Cyber resilience of HE sector

HEPI and Jisc have released a paper on the cyber-resilience of universities claiming hackers are able to infiltrate systems within two hours. The paper has been picked up by the media and was mentioned on the Radio 4 Today programme on Thursday.  Key points:

  • Under penetration testing, there was 100% success in gaining access to high-value data within two hours;
  • 173 HEIs engaged with Jisc’s Computer Security Incident Response Team in 2018 (12% increase);
  • During 2018, there were 1,000+ Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks detected at 241 different UK education and research institutions.

The report recommends swift action, including the adoption of a new British Standard on cyber risk and resilience. The report comes a day after the Government urged businesses and charities to take action to prevent cyber-attacks following the publication of the Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019.

Digital Minister Margot James commented: We know that tackling cyber threats is not always at the top of business and charities list of things to do, but with the rising costs of attacks, it’s not something organisations can choose to ignore any longer.”

Responding to the Government’s annual Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019, Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy-Director General, said: “There’s been a real shift amongst businesses when it comes to cyber security – it’s clear to see that it’s now a top priority with concrete action being taken. But businesses can’t be complacent. Unfortunately, cyber threats lurk around every corner. The widespread attack to both public and charities sector entities underlines the importance of having robust cyber incidence response plans. Firms pro-actively assessing the risks out there and taking action to protect themselves and their customers is essential. It’s important to recognise there are opportunities for our world-leading digital economy. The cyber security sector is another example of where the UK can build a competitive advantage.”

Financial stability of the sector

The OfS have issued their first report into the financial stability of the sector, as we noted last week.

  • Key findings on the sector’s performance over the latest financial year show that:
  • The sector reported an income of £33 billion, a 7.4 per cent increase on the previous year. However, surpluses fell from £1.12 billion in 2016-17, to £1.02 billion in 2017-18.
  • At the end of 2017-18, the sector had net liquidity of £11.2 billion (equivalent to 138 days’ expenditure). This is £1.3 billion higher than the previous year.
  • At the end of 2017-18, the sector reported borrowing of £12 billion – equivalent to 36.8 per cent of income and £2.1 billion more than the previous year.

Commenting on the report, Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘The English higher education sector is in reasonable financial shape, although as this report shows performance does vary between providers. We have registered 337 universities and other higher education providers, and each must demonstrate they are financially viable and sustainable.
  • ‘Our analysis suggests that the sector has made over-optimistic student recruitment forecasts – both nationally and internationally. With the number of 18-year-olds in the population falling significantly between now and 2022, not every university will be able to recruit the number of students they had hoped to. Universities should be wary of relying on over-ambitious recruitment targets, and look at student numbers realistically rather than over-optimistically.
  • ‘This is particularly important at a challenging time for the sector overall. Uncertainties ahead include the UK’s future relationship with the EU, possible policy changes resulting from the Augar Review, and increased pension costs. Universities need to have a good grip on costs and base their actions on realistic forecasts.
  • ‘It remains our position that we will not bail out universities or other higher education providers facing financial failure. However we are ready to work creatively with any provider facing challenges – especially if they come to us with any difficulties early. Were problems to develop, we would seek to intervene to protect the interests of students.’

Conditional unconditional offers

The Department for Education has made a splash about unconditional offers.  It’s all a bit odd – the data they are using was published in January.  And the story looks out of date: “The Education Secretary will be asking the OfS to take a comprehensive look at university admissions procedures, in guidance sent to the regulator setting out his priorities for the financial year.”  This letter was published in February.  Have they forgotten to update a draft press release they have been sitting on since January?  Or is another set of instructions for the OfS planned?

The Minister has tweeted that he is “launching a review”, but the OfS had already announced a review – in January.

Aside from the strange timing (I guess it’s a quiet news week), there are some concerns about the allegations being made here.  Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe asks:

  • what’s interesting is Hinds’ repeating of the assertion that conditional unconditionals count as “pressure selling”. It’s a legal term with legal meaning and legal consequences – Smita Jamdar does a much better job than I ever could on reviewing the legal definitions in this area elsewhere on the site, but OfS and now Hinds must surely believe they are legally right.
  • When a university offers guaranteed accommodation in exchange for a firm acceptance, is that “pressure selling” the university, the accommodation, or both? And even if just the standard “firm us up and your offer becomes unconditional” tactic really is “pressure selling”, why are Hinds and the OfS not threatening legal action over what is, in law, criminal behaviour?

And has anyone asked students what they think?

Free speech

And in a world dominated by Brexit and criticism of the sector, it is nice to some good news.  We reported last week that the new Minister has backed away from the regular (and as regularly debunked) statements of his predecessor on freedom of speech at universities.

This week Dr Julian Lewis MP (New Forest East) quoted a recent story in a written question to the Minister:  “To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the Daily Telegraph article entitled University cancels talk on extremist speakers, published on 26 March 2019, if he will commission an inquiry into (a) the circumstances in which the free speech society at Bristol University was prevented from hosting a meeting featuring the author of Extreme Speakers league table; (b) the nine occasions listed in that league table when allegedly extreme speakers were hosted at Bristol University; (c) the criteria applied by the University in deciding to ban meetings on security grounds; and if he will make a statement.”

And the reply from the Minister:

  • Free speech plays a vital and important role in our society, and universities should be places where students are exposed to a range of issues, including those which may be controversial, and are encouraged to debate and challenge them.
  • It is right that extremist views should be exposed and challenged. That is why, under the Prevent duty, (to have due regard to prevent people being drawn into terrorism), Higher Education (HE) providers must have policies in place around the management of speakers. This means ensuring the right steps are taken to contest extremist narratives and to make sure that those wishing spread hatred do not go unchallenged.
  • However, challenging extremism does not mean banning lawful speech, and the Prevent duty also explicitly requires further and higher education institutions have regard to their duty to secure freedom of speech. It is up to individual institutions to determine who they deem appropriate to invite to speak on their campuses on a case-by-case basis; government does not dictate who should and should not be invited to speak in higher education providers, providing their speech is within the law.
  • We do not routinely comment on individual cases. However, monitoring of the Prevent duty by the Office for Students shows us that HE providers are navigating the balance between freedom of speech and challenging extremism pragmatically and effectively. We recognise that these are complex issues, which is why the government supports the sector on Prevent implementation through our network of Further and HE Regional Prevent Co-ordinators on the ground. We have also worked alongside the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and wider stakeholders to produce the recently published Freedom of Expression guidance. This will enable universities and student unions to understand their obligations for protecting and supporting free speech, and sets out where speech may be unlawful, alongside relevant case studies to support providers in balancing their duties.

Consultations

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

Other news

Careers Education: Founders4Schools have published a report on Making Careers Education Age-Appropriate. They say that Schools and Colleges should:

  • Begin age-appropriate, careers-related learning early, as soon as children and young people join the setting
  • Ensure curriculum and middle leaders work with their teams to identify opportunities to include appropriately sequenced and age-appropriate careers-focused learning in lessons.
  • Work with parents from the beginning of primary school and throughout schooling, for example by inviting parents into school to hear careers talks alongside their children, or even talk about their own careers.
  • Use labour market information to help align the setting’s provision with employers’ needs locally and regionally

And that the Government should:

  • Provide funding for transport costs to help pupils in rural areas or areas lacking transport infrastructure to access opportunities to work with employers
  • Tailor existing support and guidance so that it is age-appropriate, for example providing resources and guidance to help speakers and employers plan age appropriate presentations and projects.

And after outrage that Ministerial posts have remained unfilled following Brexit related resignations (and other things), a few were announced this week:

  • Justin Tomlinson has been appointed Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Department for Work and Pensions. He also held the role in 2015-16.
  • Will Quince has taken on Tomlinson’s vacated Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Department for Work and Pensions role.
  • In the Department of Health Theresa May’s former PPS, Seema Kennedy, takes Steve Brine’s  Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care role.
  • In DEXEU James Cleverly MP has been appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union
  • Kevin Foster MP as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Wales Office
  • Andrew Stephenson MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 15th February 2019

We expect that Philip Augar will publish the report of his independent panel shortly.  The Panel is advising the Department for Education on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding and the Augar report has been badged by the DfE as an “interim” report.  Although the Augar report will no doubt grab headlines, after much speculation and many alleged leaks over the last few months, it is only an interim report, and we will need to see what the DfE’s final report says.  The Review itself was originally expected to report in March 2019- but may be delayed for other priorities.  The government is expected to consult before implementing any changes, and had previously announced that any significant changes would take at least two years to implement.

Sadly both your resident policy wonks will be out of circulation next week but you can expect a bumper edition including the reaction from across the sector when we return.

You’ll find a link to the report here when it is published.

Brexit

So another string of meaningless votes this week – the next voting the fun will apparently take place in the last week of February.  Having had their half term holiday cancelled next week the focus in Parliament will be on the secondary legislation required for Brexit rather than on the deal itself.  The BBC has this useful explainer on the timing of all of this

The Lords European Union Committee has published their inquiry report on Brexit: the Erasmus and Horizon Programmes.  You will recall that the government have confirmed that in a no deal scenario there is no back up plan for Erasmus, and that while students and staff already receiving funding will be protected, there is likely to be a gap before any new arrangements can be finalised.

The conclusions are set out below:

  • The UK is a respected and important partner in both the Erasmus and Horizon programmes. It is a popular destination for mobility placements and a world leader in research with an exceptionally strong science base. The UK receives substantial amounts of funding from EU programmes, and other less tangible benefits built on decades of international cooperation with European partners. We strongly believe—and it was the unanimous view of our witnesses—that it is in the UK and the EU’s mutual interest to preserve current close levels of cooperation on research and innovation and educational mobility. We are encouraged by positive indications in the Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship that this will be possible.

Educational exchanges

  • The Erasmus programme has played a significant role in facilitating the international mobility of people studying and working in the fields of education, training, youth, and sport in the UK. The programme offers unparalleled financial support and flexibility to enable people from lower income backgrounds, and those with medical needs or disabilities, to take part in educational exchanges. The Government should seek to ensure the UK remains part of this important initiative by seeking full association to the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme.
  • The cost of participating in the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme is likely to be higher than for Erasmus+, as it will have double the overall budget. Nevertheless, we consider this a worthwhile investment to maintain access to Erasmus and the partnerships the UK has built within Europe through the programme over the past 30 years. It is clear, as the Minister himself noted, that the value of Erasmus cannot be measured simply in terms of financial contributions and receipts.
  • As an associated third country the UK would be able to attend Erasmus programme committees but would lose its voting rights, reducing the UK’s strategic influence over the programme. We are reassured, however, that these meetings operate mainly on a collaborative basis and non-EU programme countries are regarded as “valued partners”.
  • As a non-associated third country, the UK would not even have a seat at the table in Erasmus programme committees, and UK participants would have access to less funding and fewer exchange opportunities. We do not consider this to be an attractive option.
  • If association to Erasmus cannot be negotiated, it will be essential to establish an alternative UK mobility scheme. ….Even with comparative financial investment, however, it will be impossible to replicate aspects of Erasmus which are key to facilitating international exchanges, namely, the programme’s strong brand, trusted reputation, common rulebook and framework for partnership agreements, and its established network of potential partners.
  • Launching a new UK mobility scheme—or increasing investment in existing schemes—to extend mobility opportunities beyond Europe would be welcome in addition to continued participation in Erasmus….

Research

  • We note the Government’s commitment to increase spending on research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and look forward to an ambitious new International Research and Innovation Strategy which affirms the centrality of research and innovation to technological progress and the future economic prosperity of the UK.
  • A key part of this strategy should be to prioritise continued access to EU research framework programmes by securing association to Horizon Europe. The Government should ensure UK universities retain full access to EU funding opportunities and can participate in, and lead, collaborative research projects.
  • We note that the UK’s access to Horizon Europe will be commensurate with the financial contribution it is willing to make to the programme. Given the anticipated increase in the budget for Horizon Europe, this is likely to be larger than the UK’s contribution to Horizon 2020. The financial rebalancing mechanism set out in the draft Horizon Europe Regulation would also prevent the UK from being a net beneficiary of EU research funding, as is currently the case. Nonetheless, an increased programme budget means that Horizon Europe will be able to support more grants and collaborative research projects than its predecessor. We urge the Government to agree an appropriate level of financial contributions to ensure the UK can access these opportunities.
  • As an associated third country, the UK would have observer status in Horizon Europe programme committees but no vote and so would not have the same influence over the strategic direction of the programme as an EU Member State. Even so, given the strength of the UK’s science base and the significant role played by scientists in shaping research programmes, witnesses were confident that the UK can still remain an influential player in European research and innovation. We note that it will be important for the UK to “strike the right tone” in this regard, by seeking to ensure appropriate accountability for UK funds spent via Horizon Europe rather than by exercising overt political influence.
  • If the UK participated in Horizon Europe on a ‘non-associated’ third country basis, it would lose access to key funding opportunities—notably European Research Council grants and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions—and would be left without any credible means of influencing the future development and funding priorities of the programme. While limited participation in Horizon Europe would still provide the UK with unique opportunities for collaboration which could not be replicated at the national level, it is clear that full association is the most desirable outcome for UK research and innovation.
  • Additional UK research programmes will be needed to replace EU funding opportunities, if the Government is not willing or able to secure association to Horizon Europe. These programmes should maintain the breadth of funding across different subject areas and institutions provided by EU research programmes, and support advanced scientific research and international collaboration. The Government should work with the research community to determine what key features of EU funding should be retained in UK replacement programmes, such as the excellence-based funding criteria of the European Research Council.
  • We commend UKRI’s willingness to work to develop prestigious domestic alternatives to EU schemes, if the UK loses access to them after Brexit. However, we note that it would take many years to emulate the tried and tested mechanism for international research collaboration provided by the EU framework programmes, the established research partnerships they support, and the EU’s joint infrastructure capabilities.

Cross-cutting issues

  • The ongoing lack of clarity over the future availability of EU funds for mobility and research is causing considerable concern among students and researchers in the UK. Although association cannot be secured until negotiations on the draft 2021–2027 Horizon and Erasmus Regulations are complete, the Government should confirm its intentions regarding future UK participation in these programmes as soon as possible to maximise certainty and stability for potential participants, and enable them to plan for any changes.
  • Whether the UK continues to participate in EU programmes or not, it will be important to ensure the UK’s immigration policy facilitates the frictionless exchange of students and researchers across borders. We welcome the Government’s confirmation in its recent Immigration White Paper that the UK will continue to welcome talented international scientists and researchers. The Government should work closely with the research community to ensure the UK visa system accommodates this ambition. Given the significant positive benefits international students bring to the UK, we also support the Government’s decision not to impose a cap on international student numbers.

Migration

From Dods: Universities UK have called on the Government to lower the proposed salary requirement for EEA workers to obtain a high-skilled visa to £21,000. Giving evidence at the Public Bill Committee on the Immigration Bill, this lays out for the first time the university sector’s specific feedback on the Migration Advisory Committee’s proposals.

Vivienne Stern, Director of UUKi, said: “While we recognise that migration checks and controls are necessary, they must not be at the cost of losing talent and leaving ourselves with a skills shortage at a time when focusing on productivity and growth is more important than ever. The Home Secretary himself has given our sector as an example of one where the higher threshold could be harmful. If the government works towards a threshold of £21,000, we feel this would allow recruitment for most technician and language assistant roles in the HE sector.”

Also from Dods: Migration Watch UK have published a paper arguing that, total net migration to the UK would increase by just over half to about 380,000/year if the proposals in the white paper become the basis of the future immigration system.

  • The inflow of EU workers will continue at two-thirds of the average of the last five years.  In total, therefore, we estimate that EU inflows will be approximately 160,000/year once the new immigration system comes into effect following the end of the transition period.
  • We expect to see a total inflow of about 550,000/year from outside the EU following the end of the transition period. This is an increase of over 20% on the latest five-year period.
  • In effect, EU migrants would be replaced – and more – by migrants from the rest of the world. The Government claim that their policy will restore sovereign control of our borders. In reality it will lead to higher levels of immigration

Civic Universities

From Dods: The UPP Foundation has published a report on strengthening the connection between universities and their places. This argues that the industrial strategy and devolution agenda have presented an opening for universities to pursue a more place based approach.

Recommendations:

  • The Civic University Agreement – Civic Universities should enshrine their analysis and strategy in a Civic University Agreement that is co-created and signed by other key civic partners. .We think that the starting point for Civic University Agreements has to be:
    • Understanding local populations, and asking them what they want.
    • Understanding themselves,
    • Working with other local anchor institutions, businesses and community organisations
    • A clear set of priorities.
  • Measuring and incentivising the success of the civic university. There should be a three-part approach to measuring – and therefore incentivising – the success of the civic university
    • Local measurement
    • Removing perverse measurement. It is clear that some of the current measures of teaching and research – which are often designed by government, rather than universities – mitigate against civic activity. Removing those is vital and in particular:
      • Reducing the reliance of measures such as LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes) in high stakes metrics such as TEF, that penalises universities for releasing graduates into regional labour markets with lower employment outcomes, or into self-employment which often involves a period of low / no wages.
      • Any suggestion – linguistic or otherwise – in things like the REF that ‘local research’ is by definition inferior to international research
    • National measurement. …In particular the KEF (Knowledge Exchange Framework) must be a broad measure of civic impact not purely research innovation
  • Funding the civic
    • A new fund – the Civic University Fund. A new fund should be created that allows universities to bid for resources that will allow them to implement their strategies. We think that the fund should be worth around £500m over a 5 year period, with universities bidding on a competitive basis for multi-year projects
    • Doubling the Strength in Places Fund, As announced in the Industrial Strategy White Paper and run by UKRI. The Fund offers £10m-£50m investments for a small number of place-based consortia to work together on innovative projects that build on existing research and innovation capabilities, with the goal of tackling regional disparities by improving the local economy in specific areas. The Government announced in the Autumn 2018 Budget that there would be another £120m for a second round of SIPF. We recommend that this second wave of funding is doubled.
    • Widening Participation/attainment fund.
  • Spreading good civic practice
    • We recommend that a Network for the Civic University is established.

Lord Kerslake said: The importance of this civic role is also growing. As the United Kingdom grapples with the challenges of low growth, low productivity, the impact of austerity and widening spatial inequalities, universities can be (alongside local authorities and the heath sector), significant ‘anchor institutions’, able to make an enormous impact on the success of their places.

Financial sustainability

There was a debate in the House of Commons on 12th February on the financial sustainability of the sector.  Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner asked the Minister to make an urgent statement on the financial statement of universities in the UK.  You can read the whole debate on Hansard here

Responding for the Department of Education, Universities Minister Chris Skidmore expressed concern but said: “This Government recognises the importance of the higher education sector and the massive contribution it makes to this country. We recognise the multiple challenges the sector is facing and that these will require institutions to adapt to a more competitive and uncertain environment […] But ultimately, as autonomous bodies, the financial viability of universities is a matter for the leadership of the HE providers themselves.”

Angela Rayner asked:

  • The Minister said that he is working with the Office for Students towards establishing student protection plans. Can he clarify how many universities do not have plans in place? When will he ensure that they all do? What will it mean in practice? Will students be left with a refund but no qualification after years of study? HEFCE had a list of universities of financial concern. Can the Minister tell us whether the new regulator has such a list and how many providers are currently of concern? Last year, it granted at least one £1 million emergency loan. Can he tell the House how many others have been issued? The new regulator has now said that “The OfS will not bail out providers in financial difficulty.” Is that Government policy and from when does it apply?
  • Can the Minister confirm that his Government have also handed universities a £200 million pensions bill but no new funding to meet those costs? Is he lobbying the Treasury to change that? The Office for National Statistics has demanded that the Government end the “fiscal illusion” of pretending that all loans for fees are repaid. When will the Government follow that ruling? Given the uncertainty that universities now face, can he tell the House whether the Augar review will be published this year? Will he guarantee that any proposals on tuition fees will not lead to cutting universities’ funding?

And the Minister responded: Ultimately, these are autonomous bodies and leaders of HE providers are responsible for ensuring their institutions’ financial viability. They are not part of the public sector; they are autonomous institutions. During the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, a key point voted on by Labour Members was that universities would remain independent and autonomous. The OfS will therefore work closely with providers in financial difficulty, but neither the OfS nor the Department for Education will prop up failing providers. The OfS may enhance its monitoring or impose a specific condition of registration, requiring a provider to improve its financial performance, but we need providers at risk of any financial difficulties to come forward, so that we and the OfS can work with them on improving those registration conditions, which may require a provider to strengthen its student protection plan.

When asked about student number caps, the Minister said: I am proud to be a member of the Government who reduced the student number cap between 2012 and 2015, and eventually abolished it in 2016, allowing a record number of students to access higher education. We know that, going into the 2020s, we will need a knowledge-based economy, so it is right that we allow more people the opportunity to succeed in their ambition to achieve a degree. Abolishing student finance by looking at fee levels would simply give away a fee freeze to the children of millionaires while capping the number of students who could attend university.

When asked about international student recruitment, the Minister said: When it comes to international students, the Government are absolutely determined to press forward and look internationally at what we can do. Our universities are world-class and world-leading organisations. We have had roughly 460,000 applications from the EU and internationally this year—the highest level of applications ever seen. We will be publishing an international education strategy in the spring. We are clear that we have removed the cap on international student numbers, and we want to do more to ensure that we can increase our ability to compete not just nationally but internationally with other countries that also recognise the value of higher education at the international level.

Widening participation

NEON have published a report about white working class participation. Dr. Graeme Atherton, Director of NEON and co-author of the report states:

  • ‘This report shows that while there is some innovative work being undertaken in the HE sector to address the low levels of participation of this group of students, big variability exists in their chances of participating in HE across providers. We need to know more about why this variability exists and do more to eliminate it’.
  • The report argues that action on a number of fronts is needed. This includes more explicit targets for improvement across HE providers, looking again at the data used to define who is in this group of learners and securing longer term funding commitments to activities to support participation in HE or these students. It also argues for a national initiative to address the educational performance of white learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds which brings together schools, colleges and the HE sector.

From the report:

  • White young people in receipt of free school meals (FSM) are the least likely, next to those from Gypsy/Roma backgrounds, of any group to enter HE. White students make up the majority of those in areas where HE attendance is the lowest.
  • There is huge variability in the participation of the group across higher education providers in England. Exciting work is being undertaken to address this challenge but the strategic commitment to it also appears variable.
  • Most white students from LPN attend larger ‘post 1992’ universities – over 70% of all white students from LPN backgrounds attend these universities
  • But white students are found in the highest percentages in further education colleges – the number of white students from LPN is approaching 50% of the whole student body in some colleges.
  • Big differences in levels of participation for white students from LPN exist by HE provider – In over 50% of university providers less than 5% of their students are white and from LPN backgrounds. If these providers raised the level of participation of HE in their institutions to 5% there would be nearly 10,000 more white students from LPN backgrounds studying in HE.
  • Big differences in the chances of white students from LPN being accepted exist by HE provider – of all applications to HE by students from this background, only 22% are accepted. The chances of being accepted differ greatly by provider, with over 50% of universities accepting less than 20% of the applications they receive from these students
  • Strategic commitment to supporting participation for this group is low – despite many universities only admitting a very small number of these students (and some admitting none at all), less than 20% of HEIs have targets in their Access and Participation Plans (APP) related to white students from LPN.
  • More are trying to address the needs of the group than 3 years ago, but there are limitations in what access work alone can achieve
  • Most HE providers do not target outreach work explicitly at this group. Over 70% of those who responded to the survey are trying to ensure that existing projects reach students from this background. Less than 40% were doing work specifically with male students and less than 12% with female students.

Recommendations

  • Recommendation 1: Set specific targets for white students from lower SEG entering HE
  • Recommendation 2: Re-define widening participation target groups
  • Recommendation 3: Ensure National of Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) investment continues after 2020-21
  • Recommendation 4: Focus equally on working class male and female students
  • Recommendation 5: A national initiative to address the educational performance of white learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds

Dr Graeme Atherton writes on Research Professional here

And in a related story, The Bridge Group have published a report on geographical isolation and progression to Higher Education. This argues that,

  • In the context of thinking about the influence of geographical remoteness, the concentration of policy on ‘fair access’ and ‘widening access’ has taken precedence over more material matters regarding physical access to educational opportunities and the even distribution of resources across the further and higher education sector”.

Professor Danny Dorling (University of Oxford and author of report Foreword): The recommendations in this report will help to initiate the changes required to begin to mitigate some of the worst effects of the opportunity landscape we have created.

Dr Sarah Dauncey (Head of Policy, Bridge Group and lead author of the report): “This report gathers together an array of perspectives and data to identify the barriers to progression faced by young people experiencing financial hardship who live in remote areas. We give voice to the needs and interests of this group of young people who have been overlooked by policymakers, and establish implementable solutions to transform their educational outcomes.”

Key findings

  • The prevailing model of social mobility is widely regarded as unhelpful for remote communities. It places too much emphasis on supporting young people to achieve highly in school in order to leave their local area for higher education and training and secure a graduate job. This means that communities in remote areas are depleted of highly talented young people who have a vital part to play in energising local cultures and economies. …
  • There is a weak evidence base on the relationship between geographical isolation, socio-economic deprivation, school-level attainment, and progression. We have encountered numerous obstacles in trying to redress this deficiency through quantitative data collection and analyses. …
  • Pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds in rural areas have lower levels of attainment compared to their peers in urban schools…
  • A pupil’s distance from school can impact on their capacity to engage in after school enrichment activity; and a school’s isolation from other schools, employers, charities, colleges, and higher education institutions may affect their capacity to offer a diverse range of additional high quality provision. The pressures on resourcing are more keenly felt without the support of external providers.
  • Educational and widening participation interventions are predominantly focused on deprived areas rather than on the location of deprived individuals, often disregarding the dispersed nature of rural poverty. This has a negative effect on those from lower socio-economic backgrounds living in remote areas.
  • Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds living at a distance from higher education institutions, who do not have the option to commute, are faced with more complex decision-making around participation.
  • Deprivation indices have been consistently shown to be dominated by the characteristics of urban populations and are less able to describe rural deprivation.
  • The higher education sector lacks hard evidence on the spatial distribution of outreach activity and there is no imperative for institutions to consider place in their approach to targeting.

There is a long list of recommendations but some are here

  • Social mobility policy – Government and policymakers should weaken the link between geographical mobility and social mobility and recognise the attraction of place. For too long, there has been a connection between ‘moving on’ and ‘moving up’ which involves treating people as ‘a-spatial’ and assumes a narrow, economic idea of mobility. The economic domination of London and large urban centres has meant that the greatest career rewards, in economic terms, are received by those who are mobile and willing to move to large, ‘escalator’ cities. This yoking of social mobility with geographical mobility has a negative impact on those who have a strong attachment to place and choose to remain in more remote areas.
  • Strengthening the evidence base – Government departments must work collaboratively to improve access to the evidence base ….
  • Schools – Schools with average or below average levels of Pupil Premium pupils should work cooperatively to pool expertise and resources to narrow the gap in attainment. Clusters of schools need to be established with shared strategic objectives to develop and offer a range of interventions to better support pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds and ensure on-going professional development. …Schools should monitor participation in ‘enrichment’ activities and make provision to ensure accessibility and inclusivity…. Schools serving sparsely populated areas should have additional, ring-fenced funding to recognise the increased costs associated with supporting progression to further and higher education.
  • Further and higher education –
    • Improve understanding of the geographical distribution of outreach activities, particularly those to raise attainment and promote progression. We need to better understand the way that each higher education institution spends its widening participation budget in terms of place.
    • Increased investment in further education and the creation of a national qualification structure at level 4 and 5. For many young people living in isolated areas who choose to remain at home, the lack of choice, quality, and funding available for sub-degree qualifications has a huge impact on their employment outcomes. Increased funding and status needs to be awarded to further education colleges to recognise the vital role they play in remote parts of the country in providing opportunities for learners of all ages.
  • Third sector – Greater flexibility towards measures of deprivation by grant-awarding bodies and increased recognition of the influence of geographical isolation on educational outcomes. Grant-awarding bodies need to adjust their measures of deprivation to recognise the influence of geographical isolation on attainment and progression to higher education and scrutinise their reliance on Free School Meals (FSM) and POLAR as proxies for economic deprivation. This would encourage more charitable organisations to intervene to narrow the gap in attainment and promote progression in remote areas.
  • Increased recognition should be given to the role that the third sector is already playing in identifying remote areas and working with higher education institutions to deliver impactful outreach programmes. The Office for Students (OfS) could do more to identify organisations with particular expertise in working in remote areas to help higher education institutions to develop new creative partnerships.

Sarah Dauncey also wrote on Wonkhe

Technical Education

From Dods: The DfE and Institute for Apprenticeships have awarded Pearson and NCFE contracts to deliver the first three T-levels from 2020.

  • Awarding Organisation NCFE has been awarded a contract to deliver the Education and Childcare T Level
  • Pearson has been awarded contracts to deliver T Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning as well Digital Production, Design and Development.

Around 50 further education and post-16 providers will teach these T Level programmes from September 2020.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: This is a major step forward in our work to upgrade technical education in this country. T Levels are a once in a generation opportunity to create high-quality technical education courses on a par with the best in the world, so that young people gain the skills and experience they need to secure a good job, an apprenticeship or progress into further training.

Lord Sainsbury, Chair of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, said: I am delighted that we have reached this milestone in the roll-out of the T Levels programme. With the first schools and colleges to offer T Levels in 2020 well advanced in their preparations, and now confirmation of these initial awarding organisations, I am confident that we remain on track to deliver the transformation to technical education that this country so desperately needs

To support the further education sector to deliver the new T Level programmes, the government will provide an additional half a billion pounds every year once they are all fully rolled out.

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, delivered a speech focussing on creating, “an education and training system that genuinely nurtures the talent we need for the future and creates a ladder of opportunity long and strong enough for each and every young person to climb”.

The speech was delivered at The Edge Foundation on 11th February 2019 and you can read more here

  • Replace GCSEs at 16 with a holistic Baccalaureate at 18 which reflects a young person’s academic and creative achievements, alongside skills and personal development
  • Recognise the value of Further Education colleges and ensure they are properly funded
  • Give teachers back autonomy in the classroom; more high quality CPD; enable them to develop projects in partnership with local businesses and community organisations, to bring learning to life
  • Measure schools by completion of the baccalaureate at 18 and the destinations of their pupils in the years after leaving; make apprenticeships a gold standard destination
  • Question the effectiveness and value for money provided by the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) “who are spraying money around like confetti”
  • Despite skills shortage vacancies doubling since 2011 to 226,000, in 2017, latest figure from ONS show in the first quarter of 2018, there were 320,000 young people aged 16-14 who were NEET and unemployed.

There’s a BBC story about it here

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HE Policy update for the w/e 8th February 2018

Brexit – UUK fights back on Erasmus

UUK has launched a national campaign to encourage the UK government to commit to funding study abroad programmes in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

#SupportStudyAbroad is in response to a technical note on the Erasmus+ programme issued by government on 28 January 2019. The government has said that in the case of a no-deal Brexit, students on current placements will receive funding to their end, and that it would like to stay in the Erasmus+ programme for future calls. However, it is now clear that in the event of a no-deal Brexit there will be no national alternative to enable students to go abroad if continued Erasmus+ membership cannot be negotiated with the European Union.

Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK Chief Executive, said:

  • “The benefits of study abroad are well documented. Not only does study abroad have clear employability benefits for students, it helps them to develop the language, communication and intercultural skills that will be so essential to building a truly global Britain. An investment in international experience for our students now is an investment in the future of our economy. Without the international opportunities offered through schemes like Erasmus, the UK’s workforce will not be equipped to meet the changing needs of the economy post-Brexit.
  • “In the case of a no-deal Brexit, I strongly urge the government to commit to continue funding study abroad opportunities for UK students, even if the UK cannot negotiate continued participation in Erasmus+ programme.”

Key facts and stats

1)  Study abroad supports social mobility. Students who study abroad outperform their peers academically and professionally. They are:

  • 19% more likely to gain a 1st class degree
  • 20% less likely to be unemployed
  • 10% more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation

For those from underrepresented and disadvantaged groups the benefits are even more pronounced:

  • BME students who studied abroad are 17% more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation
  • Mature students who participated in these programmes earn 10% more than their peers

2) International opportunities help students develop skills that UK businesses need. Research by the CBI has found that:

  • Seven out of 10 small and medium size enterprises believe that future executives will need foreign language skills and international experience
  • 39% of employers are dissatisfied with graduates’ intercultural awareness
  • 49% of employers are dissatisfied with graduates’ language skills

Widening Particpation performance indicators

On 7th February, HESA issued performance measures for WP.

Chris Millward of the OfS commented:

  • ‘Today’s release points to incremental progress in improving equality of opportunity in higher education. The reforms we have recently announced are intended to secure a step change in the next five years, both through pressure on universities to enhance the plans they submit to us, and support to enable them to work in the most effective ways. We want universities to understand how they are performing using sophisticated measures, looking across different characteristics to understand disadvantage in their own context and targeting their activity and investment so that it really works.’

David Kernohan has analysed the data for Wonkhe:

  • The HESA Performance Indicator data for 2017-18 is more about proportions than raw numbers. The headline figures see England and the UK enjoy a 0.2 percentage point rise (from 11.4% to 11.6%) in  young entrants to HE from low participation neighbourhoods. ….
  • There is also data on state school entry rates.  In the UK and in England 89.8% of young full time first degree entrants attended state school, down 0.2 percentage points from last year. ..To put this latter paragraph in context, the Independent Schools Commission estimates that around 14% of 16 year old pupils attended an independent school.

One widening participation marker that is rarely discussed concerns the participation rate of students with disabilities. 6.6% of UK-domiciled full-time first degree students are in receipt of the Disabled Students’ Allowance in 2017-18 – the same as last year.

Application data for 2019

UCAS have issued data for applications for the 2019 cycle to date

They issued a summary report:

  • Applicant numbers from within the UK decrease but numbers increase internationally

Overall, UK domiciled applicants have decreased by 0.7 per cent, while applicants from outside the UK have increased to their highest levels on record for both EU and non-EU countries. EU applicants increased by 0.9 per cent to 43,890, and non-EU applicants increased by 9.0 per cent to 63,695. Although EU applicant numbers have increased by 0.9 percent overall, they have decreased in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with the only increase being in England, where they increased by 1.9 per cent to 37,595 (the second highest number on record after 2016).

  • The overall fall in the UK can be attributed to the demographic dip

The number of 18 year olds in the UK has fallen each year since 2015 (falling by 2.0 per cent this year compared to last), and overall figures as reported above are affected by the falling number of school leavers (roughly 80 per cent of UK applicants are 18 – 19 year olds)…The application rate in England has risen every year since 2012 and is now at its highest on record (38.8 per cent), with this year having the biggest percentage point increase since 2014.

  • Applicant numbers from China increase by one third

The number of applicants from China has increased by 33.3 per cent this year – rising from 11,915 to 15,880. This follows an increase of 20.6 per cent last year, and brings Chinese applicant numbers to almost the same level as those from Wales and Northern Ireland (18,855 and 17,910 respectively). Other countries with large percentage increases in applicant numbers include Romania (+260, 10 per cent), Slovakia (+180, 26 per cent), and Saudi Arabia (+150, 24 per cent).

  • Application rates have increased in every English region

The order of regions by application rate is broadly similar to 2018, with London still having a considerably higher rate (49.9 per cent), and the North East having the lowest rate (32.9 per cent) for the second consecutive year. With the London rate increasing by 2.4 percentage points this year, 18 year olds in London are now 36 per cent more likely than 18 year olds in the rest of England to have applied to higher education (up from 33 per cent more likely last year). This is the first year since 2016 that application rates have increased in every English region

  • The gap in application rates between advantaged and disadvantaged applicants decreases

Application rates have increased for all quintiles. The application rate for Q1 increased by 1.3 percentage points to 23.2 per cent, which is its biggest increase since 2014. The Q5 rate increased by 1.0 percentage points to 53.5 per cent, causing the Q5:Q1 application rate ratio to decrease from 2.40 to 2.30, meaning that the gap in application rates between advantaged and disadvantaged applicants has narrowed slightly

Free Speech Guidance

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have developed new guidance on freedom of expression at universities. The guidance aims to coherently definite legal rights and obligations around free speech with a view to empowering student unions and individuals. It also details the limited occasions where free speech can lawfully be limited. It has been produced with input from the National Union of Students, Universities UK, Charity Commission for England and Wales, Office for Students, Independent HE, Guild HE, Commission for Countering Extremism and Home Office.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

Free speech is a value integral to the independence and innovation that embodies the higher education sector in the UK, fuelling academic thought and challenging injustice. This guidance is a symbol of the commitment from across the sector to protecting freedom of speech.

David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

The free expression and exchange of different views without persecution or interference goes straight to the heart of our democracy and is a vital part of higher education. Holding open, challenging debates rather than silencing the views of those we don’t agree with helps to build tolerance and address prejudice and discrimination. Our guidance makes clear that freedom of speech in higher education should be upheld at every opportunity.

Key points

  • Everyone has the right to express and receive views and opinions, including those that may ‘offend, shock or disturb others’.
  • Protecting freedom of expression is a legal requirement for most higher education providers. Students’ unions also have a role to play, although their legal duties are different (see section 2).
  • Higher education providers need to have a code that sets out their policies and procedures relating to external speakers, and make sure their procedures don’t create unnecessary barriers to free speech. They also need to make sure all students are aware of the code (see section 2.2).
  • There are some circumstances where UK law limits the right to freedom of expression, for example, to protect national security or to prevent crime (see section 3).
  • Most higher education providers and students’ unions are registered charities and have a charitable purpose to further students’ education for the public benefit. Free speech is an important part of meeting this purpose (see section 3.3).
  • The starting point should be that any event can go ahead, but higher education providers have to consider all their legal duties carefully (see section 6).

It has been criticised because it clarifies, but does not resolve, some of the contradictions and competing responsibilities for institutions and students’ unions.

On Academic Freedom:

  • Freedom of expression is relevant to, but should not be confused with, the important principle of academic freedom. Academic freedom relates to the intellectual independence of academics in respect of their work, including the freedom to undertake research activities, express their views, organise conferences and determine course content without interference.
  • As part of their duties under Article 10 and the s.43 duty, HEPs must protect the freedom of expression of academics and staff. Student complaints and protests should not result in HEPs imposing limits on course content or speaker events organised by lecturers. HEPs should also take steps, such as providing support to their staff, where necessary to make sure that the pressure of student complaints does not lead to self-censorship of academic work. They must also ensure that internal policies (for example, policies to comply with the Prevent duty) do not unduly inhibit academic freedom.

On visiting speakers

  • The s.43 duty does not mean that any group or speaker has a right to be invited to speak to students on HEP premises or at SUs. What it does mean is that a speaker who has been invited to speak at a meeting or other event should not be stopped from doing so unless:
  • they are likely to express unlawful speech, or
  • their attendance would lead the host organisation to breach other legal obligations and no reasonably practicable steps can be taken to reduce these risks.

That is interesting given the view that Peter Hitchen expressed on Radio 4 that being “uninvited” to an SU event was censorship.  The way I read the paragraph above, uninviting him isn’t but preventing him speaking once he arrived would be…but that is not what the guidance says:

  • SUs are entitled – and required, to the extent that the speech may break the law – to consider ‘harm’ that someone’s views may cause to some of their members, when deciding whether to invite a speaker to an event they are organising. However, if a speaker has already been invited by an SU society or group and the speech will be lawful, the SU will need to consider their obligations under their HEP’s s.43 code of practice. If an SU cancels a speaker in these circumstances, their HEP has a duty to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure the speaker event can proceed.

The guidance is 54 pages long and each set of circumstances will need to be worked through by each SU and institution in each case, and the outcomes will always be reliant on interpretation of the guidance and the judgement of those making the decision.  This is one issue that, being about politics as well as being a political issue, has dominated the news on a regular basis since Jo Johnson started to make a song and dance about it, and will no doubt continue to run and run.

Ethnic Disparities

On Monday the DfE published a Written Ministerial Statement on Race Disparity Audit which aims to push the HE sector to drive change in tackling inequalities between ethnic groups. The acute sector issues are levels of non-continuation, degree class achieved compared to non-ethnic minority peers, and progression to good quality employment. The statement goes on to remind that in tackling ethnic disparities the Government has established the OfS and legislated for greater transparency and scrutiny through the Higher Education and Research Act.

The statement continues with the actions the Government expect (very similar to those trailed in the speech reported in last week’s policy update):

  • Asking the Office for Students to ensure higher education providers demonstrate how they are tackling differences in access and successful participation for students from ethnic minorities – the Office for Students will be expected to hold providers to account, in particular through Access and Participation plans, which set out how higher education providers will improve equality of opportunity for under-represented groups, to access, succeed in and progress from higher education. The Office for Students will be expected to use its new powers to challenge providers failing to make progress.
  • Asking league table compilers to consider performance on tackling inequalities between ethnic groups in university rankings – working with a wide range of experts, stakeholders and league table compilers.
  • Encouraging higher education providers to eliminate ethnic disparities in their workforce – using tools such as the Race at Work Charter and Race Equality Charter.
  • Supporting student choice through better information, advice and guidance- by reforming the Unistats website using evidence from research with students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.
  • Building the evidence base on ‘what works’ for improving ethnic minority access and successful participation – encouraging the winning bidder of the newly established Evidence and Impact Exchange to make improving the evidence around addressing ethnic disparities a priority.

These actions will be supported by the Office for Students in their role as the regulator, Advance HE who will launch a review of their Race Equality Charter, and UKRI who will signal their support for reducing ethnic disparities in research and innovation funding.

Debbie McVitty from Wonkhe did some analysis of the position, looking at the OFS report issued alongside the and the recent UCU report on the experience of Black female professors:

  • These reports demonstrate the complex and pernicious ways that higher education cultures can enable behaviours that marginalise and exclude. Rollock’s respondents, for example, detail incidents of “passive aggressive acts, avoidance, undermining and exclusion”. These sorts of incidents create an exhausting double bind – to process one’s own emotional response so as to avoid being labelled angry or irrational, and to redouble one’s efforts to perform to prove oneself worthy of one’s position in the teeth of the covert scepticism of one’s peers.
  • The authors of the OfS report record concerns over a lack of discussion of racism and discrimination, insufficient Black or minority ethnic leaders and/or leaders with the critical perspective to drive action in this area, the perpetuation of deficit models, with interventions based on racist stereotypes. Also noted was the failure to involve Black and minority ethnic students in the design and delivery of targeted interventions, as well as a lack of diversity in the curriculum.

The OfS commissioned report has a series of recommendations

  • Providers should improve their institutional data systems so that they can consistently capture good quality data; this will ensure that activities can be effectively targeted and interventions effectively evaluated.
  • This may require the aggregation of data across multiple years to ensure that more nuanced patterns of disadvantage can be identified and addressed.
  • Whilst course level data can be helpful in mobilising course leaders to effect change, presenting statistical data as proportions or percentages can be unhelpful where numbers are low. Rather, the focus should be on numbers of individual students. This also helps to personify students with inequitable outcomes and can serve as a useful counter to increasingly abstract discussions.
  • Providers should make their BAME access, retention, success and progression data public to all students and staff. This includes making it readily available internally (including at departmental/course level data) and externally (for example through a dedicated institutional website with both data and plans to tackle inequalities).
  • Providers should ensure that data is contextualised for students and accompanied by a clear action plan which indicates what action the provider is taking to ensure that the gap is reduced and then eradicated.
  • Providers should take a holistic approach to addressing inequalities for specific minority ethnic groups ensuring a balance of interventions across the full student lifecycle.
  • Providers should demonstrate in their access and participation plans how they will balance the focus of ‘inclusive’ and ‘targeted/exclusive’ interventions across the student lifecycle.
  • HE providers should summarise, on an annual basis, their annual spend on targeted interventions–across each aspect of the student lifecycle (access, retention, attainment, progression). This should include ways in which additional fee income is being used as well how interventions are being funded from as other sources, such as from the Addressing Barriers to Student Success (ABSS) programme funded by the Office for Students.

REF2021

Sarah Foxen of the UK Parliament’s Knowledge Exchange Unit, part of POST, has written for Wonkhe on policy impact (a question that you know is close to our hearts).

We have been working with Research England for over a year to help ensure a shared understanding of what parliamentary impact is and how it can be evidenced in REF 2021. Last spring, those involved in the delivery of REF 2021 asked us to produce a briefing for them explaining both what is useful and impactful for legislatures, and how engagement and impact can be evidenced. The briefing proved useful and fed directly into the drafting of guidelines and panel criteria.

Research England and panel members have taken onboard a number of the points we made in our briefing, which now feature in the final Panel Criteria and Working Methods. These points are found in Annex A: Examples of impacts and indicators.

As for what constitutes parliamentary impact, we all agree that:

  • Research is used by parliamentarians to develop proposals for new legislation through Private Members’ Bills, or to assist scrutiny of legislation and inform amendments to other bills such as those introduced by government.
  • Research helps to highlight issues of concern to parliamentarians and contributes to new analysis of existing issues.
  • Research helps parliamentarians and staff to identify inquiry topics, shape the focus of inquiries, inform questioning of witnesses, and underpin recommendations.
  • Research equips parliamentarians, their staff, and legislative staff with new analytical or technical skills, or refreshes existing ones.

As for indicators of reach and significance, there is a shared understanding that this can be evidenced through:

  • Direct citations of research in parliamentary publications such as Hansard, committee reports, evidence submissions, or briefings.
  • Acknowledgements to researchers on webpages, in reports or briefings.
  • Quantitative indicators or statistics on the numbers of attendees or participants at a research event, or website analytics for online briefings.
  • Qualitative feedback from participants or attendees at research events.
  • Data to show close working relationships with Members or staff, for example, the number of meetings held, minutes from these meetings, membership of working groups, co-authoring of publications.
  • Testimonials from members, committees or officials, where available.
  • Analysis by third-party organisations of parliamentary proceedings or processes, for example studies of the passage of particular pieces of legislation.

We are also delighted to see that those administering REF 2021 took on our suggestion (and perhaps that of others too) that certain kinds of impact only acknowledged in panel C in the draft guidelines will now be valued by all panels:

  • The panels acknowledge that there may be impacts arising from research which take forms such as holding public or private bodies to account or subjecting proposed changes in society, public policy, business practices, and so on to public scrutiny. Such holding to account or public scrutiny may have had the effect of a proposed change not taking place; there may be circumstances in which this of itself is claimed as an impact. There may also be examples of research findings having been communicated to, but not necessarily acted upon, by the intended audience, but which nevertheless make a contribution to critical public debate around policy, social or business issues. The panels also recognise that research findings may generate critique or dissent, which itself leads to impact(s). For example, research may find that a government approach to a particular social, health, food-/ biosecurity or economic issue is not delivering its objectives, which leads to the approach being questioned or modified.

Brexit – Update from the Home Office on the EU Settlement Scheme

The Home Office has been piloting the EU Settlement Scheme application process. There will be difference between the pilots and the full launch of the scheme. This includes the current testing of an app which checks an individual’s identity document.

  • However, when the scheme is fully live at the end of March, use of the app will be optional and people will be able to send their identity document in the post or get their passport checked in over 50 locations.
  •  The scheme will be fully live by 30 March 2019, and under the draft Withdrawal Agreement applicants will have until 30 June 2021 to apply via a computer or any mobile device.

Following the January announcement that fees for the scheme will be waived the Government has confirmed that “anyone who has applied already, or who applies and pays a fee during the test phases, will have their fee refunded. Applicants should make payment using the card they want to be refunded on. Further details of the refunds process will be published shortly.”

Research

The Government published the second independent report on Open Access research compiled by Professor Adam Tickell who is the Chair of the UK Open Access Co-ordination Group. It presents a refreshed evidence base, and addresses specific questions raised by Jo Johnson back when he was Universities Minister in November 2017.

The Government have also published Chris Skidmore’s (current HE Minister) response letter:

  • In supporting the UK research endeavour, we are seeking to increase knowledge, enhance public life, expand our economy, and transform public services. For us to realise these benefits and more, research needs to be openly available.
  • It is therefore right that students, researchers, businesses and anyone with an interest should be able to access, without additional cost, the publicly-funded research findings of our great universities and research institutes.
  • Your advice demonstrates that the UK is at the forefront of the global movement towards Open Access to research. Over half of the publications arising from publicly funded research can now be read online and without payment, one year after publication. It is a significant achievement to have reached the current rate of Open Access adoption and I look forward to UKRI pursuing routes which allow us to reach our 100% target in an affordable way.
  • Progress in Open Access has been achieved as a result of cooperation between research funders, universities, learned societies and publishers: I am grateful for their continued participation.

One of Professor Tickell’s earlier recommendations was to establish an Open Research Data Task Force. Their final report has been published here. The report is an overview of open research data policy and infrastructure landscape in the UK.

Other news

Pensions:  HEPI have published a new report on the USS pension scheme, noting its growth from a small scale operation into the largest private pension scheme in the UK. It discusses the scars left by the recent pension strikes and sees failure to learn from past successful pension reforms as a cause with parties becoming bogged down in technical discussion losing the bigger picture – such as the relationship between pay and pensions. It describes three possible ways forward and concludes: Despite the recent turmoil, we should not lose sight of the deep commitment by universities, over many decades, to ensure their staff have secure retirement incomes. In the midst of a strike, it can be easy to forget your opponents may be well intentioned too.’ HEPI have also published a response by UCU.

Extra curricular activities: The education secretary Damian Hinds has launched an “activity passport” aimed at encouraging school pupils to pursue new experiences and activities, including searching for butterflies, taking part in a Roman banquet and flying a kite.

Apprenticeships (from Wonkhe): TES reports that more than 80% of employers who pay the apprenticeship levy have hired no apprentices.

Appointments: Sutton Trust CEO Lee Elliot Major is leaving the Sutton Trust to take up a post as Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter. Here is his (short) reflective blog upon leaving.

Mental health in schools: Up to 370 schools will join one of the largest trials in the world to boost the evidence about what works to support mental health and wellbeing.  The pilot is expected to include a range of new techniques including mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques and breathing exercise.  The trials will test five different approaches including two trials in secondary schools of short information sessions either led by a specialist instructor or by trained teachers and three trials in primary and secondary schools that focus on exercises drawn from mindfulness practice, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques and recognising the importance of support networks including among their own peers. Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

As a society, we are much more open about our mental health than ever before, but the modern world has brought new pressures for children, while potentially making others worse. Schools and teachers don’t have all the answers, nor could they, but we know they can play a special role which is why we have launched one of the biggest mental health trials in schools. These trials are key to improving our understanding of how practical, simple advice can help young people cope with the pressures they face.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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