Tagged / fees and funding

HE policy update for the w/e 4th April 2022

A slightly quieter time with the House of Commons on recess.

Before they went on recess, the Skills Bill finally made it over the line.  If you are wondering why we are focussing on school level education at the moment, the first item here will explain why, as the OfS provides more insight into its views on the role of universities in schools age attainment, driven by the government’s levelling up agenda.  In this context, there was controversy over whether T levels meet the needs of lower performing pupils (despite it being marketed as an alternative to academic study), and the Social Market Foundation believe current careers advice risks entrenching inequalities by steering people towards different educational and employment options according to their parents’ income and background.

Research

There’s an article on Research Professional about priorities for the Nurse review of research arrangements.  It flags five “blind spots”:

  • The productivity of R&D is falling
  • A more systemic approach to R&D – “A more strategic approach is needed that aligns technology development, regulation, policy and test beds, and engages the public
  • Mobilising intelligence – organising around data and knowledge not property and resources
  • Focus on adoption and diffusion
  • Addressing the gaps around social science – “The UK is good at monetising economics, psychology, behavioural science, ethnography, design and other fields, often through consultancies and advisory services or teams within companies large and small. But this happens despite, not because of, how research is organised” and “serious action to shift incentives for social scientists and mobilise them to help society think ahead”

UKRI has published an updated policy on the governance of good research practices that will apply to new and existing grants from 1 April 2022. Updates include:

  • revised text with improved clarity on the individual’s and organisation’s responsibility to enable positive research practice for high integrity research
  • a policy change that organisations must inform UKRI upon deciding to undertake formal investigations.
  • clearer text stating that we will only seek observer status on investigations by exception, with examples.
  • clarification that UKRI will not investigate cases but will check processes at an institutional level.

UKRI has also updated its full economic cost grant and training grant terms and conditions.

  • UKRI has added a new condition to reflect the statutory requirements introduced through the National Security and Investment Act 2021. Research organisations will need to ensure they follow the rules of this legislation. The legislation enables government to scrutinise and intervene in certain acquisitions that could harm the UKs national security.
  • Revisions have been made to the terms and conditions in response to the new UKRI open access policy, which will apply to in-scope research articles submitted for publication on or after 1 April 2022 and in-scope monographs, book chapters and edited collections published on or after 1 January 2024. The publishing your research findingssection should be read alongside the policy for further information on open access and how to acknowledge a grant.
  • UKRI has added information to employment and staff costs to clarify its position on funding that is eligible and how UKRI continues to support research staff. The updatedfEC and training grant terms and conditions will take effect from 5 April 2022 and are now available

Ukraine and Russia: The Office for Students has compiled information on the Ukraine crisis for providers offering transnational education in Russia and on research collaborations with Russian institutions.

  • There are 775 Ukrainian and 3,030 Russian students studying at English universities and colleges.
  • In addition, some English universities and colleges offer transnational education. There are 267 students studying in Ukraine and 3,113 students studying in Russia in this type of provision.

Wonkhe report that around 30 British universities have expressed interest in joining a new scheme which would see them twinned with an institution in Ukraine. As part of the scheme, universities may host academics and run summer schools for students to assist in catching up on lost learning. There is also discussion of providing Ukrainian academics with “ac.uk” email addresses to enable them to allow them access to resources. The scheme is supported by Universities UK and is being run by Cormack Consultancy Group. iNews has the story.

The OfS has published the interim outcomes of 20 projects that it has funded to develop and share understanding of effective practice in student engagement in knowledge exchange.

Parliamentary Questions

Money, money, money

There is an updated House of Commons library research briefing on student loan statistics.

The IfS have looked at the inflation rate and warned about the impact on student loans.  Although this doesn’t change the position that graduate repayments are linked to salary and therefore a lot of this high interest will not be paid at all but will just increase the government write off, it is still unhelpful, because of applicant perceptions and risk aversion.  And increasing the government write off doesn’t help their perception of the cost of HE either (see charts above).

  • English and Welsh graduates who took out a student loan since 2012 are in for a rollercoaster ride on student loan interest rates in the coming years. Today’s reading for RPI inflation means that the maximum interest rate, which is charged to current students and graduates earning more than £49,130, will rise from its current level of 4.5% to an eye-watering 12% for half a year unless policy changes (the interest rates for low earners will rise from 1.5% to 9%). This means that with a typical loan balance of around £50,000, a high-earning recent graduate would incur around £3,000 in interest over six months – more than even someone earning three times the median salary for recent graduates would usually repay during that time.
  • The maximum student loan interest rate is then likely to fall to around 7% in March 2023 and fluctuate between 7 and 9% for a year and a half; in September 2024, it is then predicted to fall to around 0% before rising again to around 5% in March 2025. These wild swings in interest rates will arise from the combination of high inflation and an interest rate cap that takes half a year to come into operation. Without the cap, maximum interest rates would be 12% throughout the 2022/23 academic year and around 13% in 2023/24. While interest rates affect all borrowers’ loan balances, they only affect actual repayments for the typically high-earning graduates that will pay off their loans.
  • This interest rate rollercoaster will cause problems. The way the interest rate cap currently operates disadvantages borrowers with falling debt balances for no good reason. Perhaps more importantly, sky-high interest rates may put some prospective students off going to university; some graduates will likely feel compelled to pay off their loans even when this has no benefit for them.

Fees and funding – Research Professional has an interview with Philip Augar

Financial pinch: Wonkhe – Students from England beginning higher education courses in September will see the largest ever real-terms cut in a single year, according to analysis highlighted in the New Statesman. The real-terms cut in maintenance support of 7 per cent comes in addition to the continued freeze of the income threshold required to qualify for the maximum maintenance support. And a new blog on a related topic – For Claire Callender, proposals that limit eligibility for student loans undermine recent rhetoric on levelling-up.

There’s a Wonkhe blog by David Kernohan on “what happens when providers run out of money” looking at processes and some examples: “Market exit, in other words, has still not been normalised. As much as we might pretend that the invisible hand makes the decisions – provider monitoring, insolvency, and student support – the actuality of the process remains as messy and human as it ever was. The pre-OfS strategy – of selectively limiting provider borrowing, loosely controlling provider growth and shrinkage, and (yes!) selectively bailing out providers if this was needed to protect the interests of students or applicants – feels like a more honest approach.”

Levelling Up

The Institute for Government (IfG) published Will the levelling up missions help reduce regional inequality? concluding that the Government’s 12 levelling up ‘missions’ – targets to be achieved by 2030 across a range of policy areas from crime to health to housing – will not reduce regional inequality. The IfG finds that only four of the 12 missions are clear, ambitious and have appropriate metrics against which the government will measure and demonstrate progress by 2030. IfG state the other eight missions need to be recalibrated if they are to deliver on the government’s promises to level up the UK. The IfG also calls on the government to put the right systems in place to ensure that ministers and civil servants are held accountable for progress on the levelling up agenda. They believe the proposed Levelling Up Advisory Council cannot provide rigorous expert advice and scrutiny when it operates only at the discretion of the government and cannot perform independent analysis. And without any idea of which departments are leading the coordination of policy contributing to each mission, it will be harder to hold government accountable if things are off track. 

The IfS press release summarises their main findings:

  • Five of the missions are not ambitious enough, meaning that little or no change would be needed to meet them. For example, one metric requires that pay increases in every region by 2030, but this is almost certain to happen regardless of policy.  
  • Three missions are too ambitious to be realistic, which will also fail to inspire policy action. For example, meeting the target of 90% of students achieving the expected standard by age 11 will be virtually impossible. 
  • Four of the missions do not define what success really looks like, making it hard for actors within and outside government to know what they need to do to make progress. For example, it is not clear what the government means by a ‘globally competitive city’, but one of the missions sets a target to have one in every region of the UK by 2030. 
  • Two of the missions have too narrow a focus, and risk diverting attention and resources away from other outcomes that would contribute to levelling up. 
  • One mission (on R&D spending) does not align with the overall objective of levelling up to reduce regional disparities. 
  • Important objectives, such as simplifying funding for local government, are not currently part of the proposed metrics. Other metrics, such as those on pay and productivity, are due to be tracked only over large geographic regions despite the white paper acknowledging significant inequalities within these regions.  

And while we are on the topic of levelling up, a key part of the government agenda is on part-time and mature students, with an ongoing consultation on the lifelong loan entitlement.  There is a House of Commons research briefing on part-time students.

Schools, skills and qualifications

Universities working with schools: The OfS published an insight brief Schools, attainment and the role of higher education providing examples and commentary on some the work HE providers are already doing in schools to raise attainment. BU’s books and stories scheme is celebrated on page 5.

  • Raising the expectations(rather than simply the aspirations) of pupils and their parents, teachers and guardians. Findings from the formative evaluation of the Uni Connect programme show that 79% of participants who responded to the survey had increased expectations for the future, while 94% had better knowledge of higher education options.
  • Appointing ‘influencers’ and running dedicated open days and interactive events for pupils with experience of local authority care.
  • Sponsoring local schools, as 73 universities and colleges reported in their 2019-20 access and participation plans that they were doing or about to do. Some have set up maths schools, such as the Exeter Maths School sponsored by the University of Exeter and Exeter College. The Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts has incorporated a primary school and a sixth form college into its LIPA Learning Group. Bridgwater and Taunton College sponsors a multi-academy trust.
  • Running summer school programmes for school pupils. Evidence suggests that participating in summer schools is associated with greater confidence and increased aspiration, and with higher GCSE grades and rates of progression to higher education.
  • Programmes of intervention in schools to raise attainment. The Education Endowment Foundation has rated interventions related to metacognition and self-regulation as highly impactful, and some universities and charities take this approach to raising attainment. Others focus their interventions on improvements to subject knowledge or to grades and capabilities e.g. BU’s Books and Stories programme which increased the reading age of participants.
  • Supporting attainment at Level 3through Access to HE courses taught in further education colleges.
  • Providing initial teaching training and continuing professional development to teachers. The Sutton Trust found that ‘for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a whole year’s learning’. A separate report also found six teacher characteristics associated with increased attainment, including a strong pedagogical knowledge. Evidence shows that high quality continuing professional development has an average effect on pupil attainment equivalent to a month of extra learning.
  • Broadening the available routes into higher education to include short courses and apprenticeships. Over 100 universities and colleges offer degree apprenticeships, but some young people lack the knowledge to make an informed choice. With strategic partnerships, providers can show how diverse the sector is and help young people to choose a path to a successful career.
  • Staff and alumni involvement in school governor structures. For example, the University of Manchester has a longstanding staff and alumni school governor initiative. The university recently conducted an impact study showing that, if all universities in England and Wales adopted the initiative, they could fill more than 10 per cent of the current nationwide school governor vacancies.
  • Access and outreach work, which is often collaborative and can contain elements of raising attainment. For example, in the National Outreach Coverage project, between 2017-18 and 2019-20 over 80,000 activities related to skills and attainment were reported through tracking services in England.

New Government dashboard for pupils: Skills Minister, Alex Burghart, spoke at a Policy Exchange event stating that the new ‘Unit for Future Skills’ will begin publishing data in April. The Unit was announced in the Levelling Up White paper and is expected to be cross-government, publicly accessible, and produce information on local skills demand, future skills needs of businesses and the pathways between training and good jobs. A DfE spokesperson told news outlet FE Week that the unit would take over the work of the DfE’s skills and productivity board once its schedule of reports had been completed.

Data provided through a central-government dashboard will inform prospective learners whether peers taking a certain qualification in health and social care go on to work in health and social care, or whether they ultimately work in retail. The Government hopes the dashboard will improve the quality of information available to school pupils.

In response to a question from the audience about the timescales attached to the UFS, the minister said his department will be starting to release data this month, but was keen to stress that it will be on an “iterative basis” and so would only be “an indicator of the sorts of things we can start doing over time.”

Burghart also commented that a reduction in undergraduate numbers would be a good thing.

  • Perceptions of post-18 study are shifting. And they are shifting I think for the better.
  • I would not be at all surprised if, in 10 years’ time, many more people are choosing to become apprentices after leaving school or college – and that the consequence of this may be that there are slightly fewer undergraduates. I consider that to be a good thing. Now, I believe in the importance of universities and the power of university degrees. But I know they are not the be all and end all.
  • As I said at the start, I taught and lectured for a number of years in some wonderful universities. I was lucky enough to teach some very bright people. But it was clear that not all of them wanted to be at university, a number were there by default, because their parents wanted them to be there, or because they felt they had no other ladders to a good career.
  • Apprenticeships have the potential to create some of those other ladders. In doing so, they can help to transform opportunity. The chance to earn while you learn, to get a three-year head start on your undergraduate friends in the workplace, to build networks, experience, to not run up debt. They are surely a huge part of the future of skills. 

Careers advice: The Social Market Foundation (SMF) published new research demonstrating that careers advice and guidance risks entrenching inequality by steering people towards different educational and employment options according to their parents’ income and background. The report examines school leavers and adult learners’ experiences of careers information, advice and guidance (IAG) in England. SMF say it presents new evidence on the way that people engage with IAG and they make a number of policy recommendations to increase the personalisation, accountability, and accessibility of IAG.

Key findings:

  • The shape and quality of IAG services is patchy, varying substantially across and within schools and colleges
  • Support for those pursuing vocational options tends to be weaker, with students carried towards university by inertia
  • People tend to favour anecdotal information over hard data, but even those using formal information make limited use of government sources
  • There is a mismatch between the grand ambitions of IAG, and what users expect from it. Careers professionals view it as long-term career planning and skills development, whereas receivers tend to just want help with the next step.
  • Adults are largely unaware of IAG services and face significant barriers to accessing them

Six actions policymakers can take:

  1. Ensure every school leaver receives a minimum level of personalised careers support by offering an entitlement to three one-to-one sessions.
  2. Add careers provision to the four ‘key judgements’ on which schools are graded in Ofsted inspections.
  3. Set the Careers and Enterprise Company the objective of tackling inequalities between schools in the level and quality of information, advice and guidance.
  4. Aim to ensure all apprenticeship opportunities are listed on the UCAS system, perhaps by establishing and integrating local platforms.
  5. Partner with trusted private apps and websites to ensure official government data and information is easily accessible.
  6. Engage in a large-scale outreach programme promoting adult education and careers services.

There’s a Wonkhe blog on careers support here from Jon down of Grit Breakthrough programmes:

  • 98 per cent of careers professionals in universitiesfeel students do not engage with career development activities and 27 per cent of students believe that the biggest obstacle to future career success is not knowing what field to go into.
  • .. If we are to drive up engagement with career development activities, it seems clear that universities need to give thought to supporting students develop the confidence to make full use of their employability offers. As a starting point, this might include:
    • Creating experiences that raise young people’s self-awareness so they can articulate their unique combination of knowledge, experience, and attributes, and the contribution they can make.
    • Coaching students to arrive at their own goals and support them in building the resources to achieve them, rather than simply imparting information, guidance, and advice.
    • Reframing support so it is not all about finding a lifeline in a crisis but instead is about gathering what you need to be a success

T level criticism: The completion of the Bill won’t be popular with all. Lord Baker has spoken out to criticism the current T levels as too academic and not serving important elements of the UK population. Lord Baker is a former secretary of state for education and science (1986-1989) and was integral to the introduction of GCSE exams.

During a select committee hearing Lord Baker stated that the Schools White Paper should have promoted a skills-rich curriculum, as well as one that focused on knowledge. He outlined his surprise at how modest the paper was, with the focus centring on the improvement of literacy and numeracy, and stated he did not agree with the idea of raising the goal of the average grade to 5 from 4.5 as that would further disadvantage certain students.

On T levels Lord Baker explained that they had introduced new T Levels at his University Technical Colleges 18 months ago, and that his trust had found they were more suited to academically able students. He highlighted to the Committee that of the ten pupils who started, three dropped out because they weren’t academically up to it, and they were people who got below a seven in GCSEs. He went on to assert that he thought the T Levels were suited to students who were achieving above a seven in GCSE.

Lord Baker emphasised that education policy should be focused on the “bottom third” of students across the country who do not pass GCSE English and maths (at level 4 or above), and that there had been no progress for this group for over a decade. He added that the curriculum reforms introduced by former education secretary Michael Gove from 2014 had not improved outcomes for low-attaining students and stated this was one of the reasons why youth unemployment in the UK was double that of Germany.

Overall his view is that T levels are not suited to over a third of the UK child population and result in drop outs.  – a blot on the Government’s quality landscape, particularly at a time when they are pushing regulators to threaten punitive action for HE providers with higher dropout rates.

Meanwhile Wonkhe covered a new apprenticeships report: the apprenticeships system favours those from professional backgrounds and wealthy areas, according to a report published by think tank Onward. The research identifies a reduction in the number of people taking entry-level apprenticeships as businesses use their levy funds to support existing staff. The report’s recommendations include fully funding apprenticeships for those aged 16-18, giving mayors more responsibility to support SMEs to take on apprentices, and providing financial incentives for businesses to take on new apprentices.

And with all that in mind, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill finally passed: Last week we highlighted that the prorogation of Parliament would mean all Bills that weren’t finalised would have to navigate a carry over process to avoid being lost. One hanging in the balance was the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill – stuck in the “ping pong” tussle between the Lords and the Commons over the withdrawal of BTEC qualifications. The Government heaved a sigh of relief as, at the last minute, the Lords conceded and dropped the disagreement over Amendment 15B which called for a 3-year wait before removing funding from applied level 3 qualifications (BTECs). Government Education Minister, Baroness Barran, calmed the discontent by playing down the implications and making small concessions. Key points from her speech:

  • Last November, the Education Secretary announced an additional year before funding would be removed from qualifications that overlap with T Levels, and the government have also removed the English and maths exit requirement from T Levels
  • A further delay will not benefit providers, AOs, employers or students – stakeholders need clarity on implementation timescales
  • Applied generals, such as BTECs, will have an important role to play alongside T Levels
  • To be approved for funding in future, quals will need to meet new “quality and necessity” criteria – students will be able to continue to take Applied Generals, including BTECs, alongside A Levels, as part of a mixed programme
  • Stressed they were not creating a binary system, but wanted students to be able to choose from a high-quality mixed system
  • Around 1,800 qualifications have low or no enrolments and will therefore have funding removed from August 2022
  • The next phase of reforms will be to consider qualifications that overlap with T Levels – they anticipate they will remove funding for “just a small proportion” of the total Level 3 offer, including BTECS: “This will be significantly less than half” she added
  • Expect to publish the list in due course, and there will be an opportunity for awarding organisations to appeal a quals inclusion on the list.
  • Qualifications identified as overlapping with waves 1 and 2 of T Levels will not have funding removed until 2024/25.
  • Qualifications identified as overlapping with waves 3 and 4 of T Levels will not have funding removed until 2025/26.
  • Employers will now have the opportunity to say if they believe quals support entry to occupations not covered by T Levels.
  • The new Unit for Future Skills, announced in the Levelling Up White Paper, will have a role to play in gathering evidence and regularly assessing the quality of qualifications.

All Peers also received a letter from the Education Secretary stating that all qualifications, including BTECs, have an important role to play in the education ecosystem, and appeared to ease off on the A Level/T Level binary approach.  Lord Blunkett, the architect of the troublesome amendment welcomed the Government’s small concessions.  In short, this means the Skills Bill now awaits the Royal Assent rubber stamp and will become an Act of Parliament.

Anti-Semitism

Wonkhe: Lord John Mann has been appointed to set up a new task force of senior ministers and MPs to look into the treatment of Jewish students in UK universities. Speaking at the Jerusalem Post London conference yesterday, Mann said the working group would “listen” to the voices of Jewish students. Justice minister Lord Wolfson also spoke at the conference, insisting that the IHRA definition of antisemitism does not shut down free speech. Jewish News has the story.

Wonkhe also report on The Times coverage that higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan is “considering a range of possible measures” against NUS following concerns about antisemitism within the organisation. Jewish News cover the calls from Lord Mann to not recognise NUS as the representative of student voice if things do not change, and an open letter from Lancaster University’s Students’ Union expressing concern over antisemitism in NUS.   The NUS have published a statement here.

Access & Participation

Parliamentary Question: the benefits of students having at least one family member who attended university, and whether it should be declared on applications if someone is a first generation HE student.

Disabled Students’ Commission

Wonkhe report on the Disabled Students’ Commission publication of its second annual report: It reports a degree awarding gap for disabled students of 1.1 per cent in 2020-21 – driving a Commission focus on improving the disabled student experience. The report highlights the ongoing challenges faced by disabled students, and recommends increased consultation and communication with students, consistent approaches to support across and between higher education providers, more flexibility in teaching, learning, and assessment, and offering certainty for disabled students that they will get the support they need.

Disability Voice Blog: Wonkhe inform that the blog of the Association of National Teaching Fellows (NTF) has a piece on amplifying disabled student voices.

Other news

Graduate outcomes: an interesting blog by Charlie Ball of JISC on Wonkhe.  In the light of all the government talk about poor graduate outcomes …how we can be in a situation where one group of stakeholders can hold the view that there are too many people going to university, and others can have spent many years worrying that they cannot find the graduates that they need to thrive.. Well, yes, good question.  The suggested answer is that we need more data.

Dropping out: Wonkhe have a quick write up following DfE drop out news – Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan has written on the DfE’s Education Hub blog about how the drop-out rates of students in the 2019-20 cohort has fallen below ten per cent for the first time. However, Donelan attributes this to the government’s recent push to drive up quality. On Wonk Corner, DK questions how recent policy announcements could have impacted on events in the past.

Admissions: In the context of the new UUK admissions code, there is a Wonkhe blog: Do applicants who end up on a course generally meet the entry requirements of that course? Jane White shares evidence that very often this is not the case

Hygge: A neat piece from Wonkhe on the benefits of the Danish hygge for students.

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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 25th November 2021

Welcome to your two-week round up on the biggest HE news.

Fees and funding

We’re still expecting imminent announcements on funding structures, linked to the lifelong loan entitlement, but possibly going further with at least hints about the future (or non-future) for the Augar recommendations and other changes to the funding structure.  BU readers can find our comprehensive review of the current arrangements for funding and fees here.

A student perspective is given in a report by HEPI and the Centre for Global Higher Education. The main findings of the report include:

  • Graduates think income-contingent student loans offer access to higher education and regard the repayment system as manageable, with the income repayment threshold protecting against low earnings. Monthly repayments are seen as affordable and automatic repayments are valued.
  • However, graduates consider tuition fees and interest rates to be too high, see the amount of debt owed as a burden and feel the repayment period is never-ending.
  • Graduates describe emotional and psychological disturbance from their debt, with graduates in the post-2012 reforms cohort considerably more negative about their student loan debt.

Access & Participation Changes

We’ve been waiting for a while for detail some potentially significant changes that will support the implementation into HE of the government’s vision for levelling up and building back better.  The new Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS has been announced as John Blake and the Government have outlined their changed expectations for what were previously the Access and Participation Plans. The Government’s press release sets the tone.

Before we look at the substance, there is an interesting process point – we were expecting monitoring guidance for the 2021-21 APPs which has had to be delayed.  The existing 5 year plans are likely to be ended early and reformulated – which doesn’t sound much like reducing bureaucracy (which is a stated aim).  You could read references to this in the many publications this week as sounding a bit defensive.  And also a bit blame-y…the implication is that we make it bureaucratic ourselves by the way that we do it: All access and participation work will need to be focused on actions that support learners, with needless complexity and bureaucracy cut out.

There’s a focus on quality  – with the point being made again that it is not ok to encourage disadvantaged students to go to university – they have to have the same outcomes as less disadvantaged students when they leave.  Getting on not just getting in.

Universities are expected to take a local and regional focus working with all young people (not just disadvantaged) as part of the levelling up agenda. That’s reminiscent of the Theresa May government’s suggestion that all universities should ‘sponsor’ local schools academy trusts. Stretching targets are expected to be set to reduce dropout rates and increase progression into highly skilled (and well paid) employment. Universities will need to demonstrate how they improve educational outcomes for all disadvantaged students in the area (or region) not just those progressing to university. This includes supporting outcomes for those who intend to take up apprenticeships, employment or other options. Universities will be expected to set targets to increase the proportion of students studying degree apprenticeships, higher technical qualification or part time courses.

Of course there are some inherent conflicts within this. Is it ethical to spend tuition fees funded by student loans on the upskilling of the local community (which for many won’t be the community they grew up in)?  It isn’t really possible to demonstrate a direct causal impact a university can have on a school pupil’s success?  Even with the best programmes can universities demonstrate what is being asked of them? Some student groups are more at risk of drop out than others and some don’t want to make the post-graduation geographical choices that would lead to a higher paid job. Will the Government’s monitoring and targets perversely encourage universities to avoid recruiting these students? It is unlikely that universities would do this, but will there be a punishment for not doing?

We can expect changes to apprenticeship funding models and success targets in the future too. This all sits within the context of the Government’s agenda for fewer young people to attend university (more to consider apprenticeships and non-academic route options) and the public purse concerns surrounding funding the funding and maintenance costs as we emerge from the demographic dip in 18 year olds.

The Government also announced £8 million for 13 projects to remove barriers to post-graduate research for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students, with projects looking at admissions and targeted recruitment. The 13 projects will work collectively to support the entire PGR lifecycle using innovative methods and approaches. This includes reviewing admissions processes to tackling offer rate gaps, and plans to extend routes into doctoral study via professional doctorates and partnering with the NHS. Other projects will focus specifically on intersectional inequalities related to Black female students, and prioritise the mental health of their PGR students of colour… This is only one of many first steps, as systemic inequalities will not disappear overnight. We are acutely aware of how much further the sector needs to travel to be in a position to allow people of all backgrounds to flourish and establish the most outstanding research and innovation sector with a formidable research culture to match.

Wonkhe have a guest blogger who discusses why John Blake was chosen to lead the new access and participation agenda. It is worth a slow read, there is much unsaid between the lines and colleagues will want to be aware that the author, Jonathan Simons, is a partner at right leaning Public First. Do read the comments and responses to the blog. Also worth a read is the open letter blog to John Blake by two student unions. Once you get past the initial credibility ticking and trumpet blowing it makes good points about what helps students stick and achieve at university – calling on the OfS to ask universities to emphasise these aspects in their new plans.

The OfS issued a lot of material alongside the announcement. Amongst the new guidance is this letter from Nadhim Zahawi about the “future of access and participation”.  Some extracts that show the ton:

  • It also cannot be right that some notional gains in access have resulted from recruiting students from underrepresented groups onto courses where more than 50% of students do not get positive outcomes from their degree. 
  • At 25 higher education providers, fewer than half the students who begin a degree will go on to highly skilled employment or further study within 15 months of graduation, and even within providers above this threshold, there will frequently be one or more subjects which are below it. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are being let down by these courses. [We’ve heard that before, it refers to this experimental metric released by the OfS called “proceed” which combines completion rates and graduate employment rates. 10 of them are private or specialist providers].
  • We would like to see the OfS rewrite the national targets to better align with this new focus, and renegotiate A&P plans with providers to meet these new priorities, including due consideration of regional inequalities, prior attainment in schools and a focus on the findings of the white working-class boys report, which identified that they are one of the groups least likely to attend university. We encourage the OfS, in the renegotiated plans, to require providers to promote equality of opportunity before entry to higher education, and support schools to drive up academic standards. 
  • This refocusing of the system is not about creating a new, burdensome industry. These changes should streamline the planning, monitoring and evaluation process. Plans should be short, concise, and both accessible and easy to understand. They should focus on results and best practice. Most importantly, plans should be comprehensible to students and parents, and clearly signposted on university websites, so that they can hold institutions to account on their commitments. We would also expect providers to see material efficiency benefits from this less bureaucratic approach.

Michelle Donelan also spoke at a Times Higher Education event.  The tone, again, is interesting:

  • … the normal, status quo, comfort zone approach to education is in my view something that COVID has helped to break us out of, and as a result, we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact historic reforms that are long overdue….
  • …the guiding principle for me is ‘when we learn is as important as what we learn’…For too long HE has been predominantly undertaken between the ages of 18- 22 and our system has not supported or developed a culture of lifelong learning….
  • … I want to talk about this revolutionary change into further and higher education, namely the Lifelong Loan Entitlement or LLE which the Prime Minister announced as part of the “rocket fuel that we need to level up this country.” I want the LLE to be a fundamental and seismic shift in the way that we fund and enable students to access higher and higher technical education in this country.
  • …In less than four years young people will not be channelled, regardless of fit, into a straitjacket of a traditional three-year degree, but instead will have a genuine choice with the flexibility to choose from a range of options that work for them. We need you to create that choice – and whilst we can create the system to allow it we need you to develop the modules working hand in hand with industry….
  • … it is unacceptable that so many still find themselves on courses where fewer than 50% of those who start have good outcomes after leaving, or are encouraged onto courses that providers know have poor completion rates…Data from the Office for Students shows clearly that disadvantaged entrants are less likely to continue after year 1, less likely to achieve a first or upper second-degree classification; and less likely to progress into highly skilled employment or study…
  • ..So, just as the Russell Group have become used to having to set ambitious targets for recruiting state school pupils in order for their plans to be accepted, from now on universities with poor outcomes will have to set ambitious targets for reducing drop-out rates and improving progression to graduate employment….

Chris Millward (outgoing Director for Fair Access and Participation at OfS) blogged for HEPI: Fair equality of opportunity means a fair chance to succeed. It talks of hearing the student voice, of how disadvantaged students struggle to bridge the fabled gap between talent and opportunity and has some charts on reducing the disadvantage gap.  Some excerpts:

  • …universities can recognise that the grades of many disadvantaged students demonstrate that they have travelled further and offer greater potential to succeed in higher education. Universities have independence in relation to their admissions precisely so they can make nuanced individualised judgements of this kind. 
  • This is not an easy route to equality of opportunity. The students I meet in universities identify the importance of a sustained package of support, including academically stretching work before admission and an academic offer that reflects their potential, as well as financial support to meet the cost of living during their studies. 
  • Alongside this, universities can give greater priority to routes other than young, full-time, full-degree entry within their access and participation strategies, enabling more people to enter higher education when they are older, and thereby diminishing the influence of attainment gaps in school. 
  • People who study locally are more likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds and to seek employment in their home region. This means that the geographical disparities… have a profound effect on the employment prospects of the most disadvantaged students… One answer to this might be to encourage graduates living in these places to move away from their local area to study and work… If, though, the most educated people leave an area to gain good employment, this can only compound the challenge for future generations… Another approach might be to encourage people in areas where there are lower school grades and graduate earnings not to go to university at all, for example by completing their studies at lower levels and going directly into work… But it would be profoundly unfair to prevent people from having the opportunity to benefit from higher education due to the circumstances in which they have grown up. It would also be unlikely to succeed, given increasing levels of demand for universities in this country… I am pleased that discussions about social mobility have shifted from enabling people to leave their local area to improving their prospects if they want to stay. But this must not lead to a new binary divide between mobile academic routes for those who get the right grades in school and local technical routes for others. 

Meanwhile The Sutton Trust have published a research brief which notes the importance of less selective universities taking disadvantaged students of varied academic potential: Less selective universities take on the majority of poorer students who attend university. While they often have lower graduate earnings on average, many of their graduates from poorer homes in fact go on to achieve well in the labour market. This is further emphasised when the characteristics of their students, including their school attainment, is taken into account.

The brief looks at the effect universities have on social mobility and ranks the top 20 institutions based on their contribution. Unsurprisingly, due to the unique demographics, London institutions come out top. The brief is well worth a read and there are good charts illustrating the points made. We like this one that highlights how the socio-economic background types feed through the university types to their end bearing on earnings.

The report also highlights known truisms which speak to the changes the Government announced – particularly on high employment outcomes:

  • The very best-performing institutions in terms of their labour market success admitted few FSM students. Similarly, the universities with the highest FSM access rates have below average success rates. However, across all universities, the correlation between access and success of -0.24 is relatively weak. Some universities do reasonably well on both metrics.
  • Adjusting earnings for cost of living differences across the country improves the mobility rates of Northern universities, and lowers those in London and the South East. It does not change the overall ranking of universities very much, however. London universities still dominate the top of the mobility distribution, and the most selective universities still perform poorly.

The OfS have published the APP monitoring outcomes for 2019-20.

  • 60 per cent of targets were reported as having made expected progress
  • For access, targets focused on gender saw the least progress made (using both categories of no and limited progress). We do not consider gender in isolation as an underrepresented group and for APPs from 2020-21 onwards, there are fewer targets using this category.
  • For the success and progression stages of the lifecycle, particularly for continuation, many targets that were not focused on specific groups, but instead related to whole cohorts of students, did not make expected progress. Furthermore, for progression, there was a very small number of targets set for care experienced students and white disadvantaged students where no progress was made.

Some interesting bits of context:

  • Changes to academic regulations were cited in a number of returns as additional measures by which student success had been supported…[these included no detriment policies, alternative methods of assessment, broadening extenuating circumstances criteria and assignment extensions]…The OfS expects rigour to be maintained when a provider makes changes to its academic regulations, whatever the reasons for those changes.
  • Creating and fostering a sense of ‘belonging’ was seen as an important way to retain and ensure a high-quality experience for all students, and some providers described how this was especially important with the move to online learning.
  • Mental health and wellbeing was a topic frequently highlighted in both provider and student submissions. Providers acknowledged how critical an issue this was to student success, particularly for underrepresented students given the additional and disproportionate pressures that the pandemic may have on them…Many providers noted how they had expanded their student support services and reflected on the benefits of moving mental health and counselling services online.
  • Some providers anticipated worsening student success outcomes from 2020-21 onwards due to the pandemic. For example, 10 per cent of providers predicted worsening performance in respect of continuation. Some providers also reported increasing numbers of students requesting to withdraw or suspend their study.
  • Whilst some providers acknowledged the difficulties associated with their graduates gaining different types of work experience during the pandemic, there were positive examples of how providers had responded. For example, some providers reported the creation of new in-house internship programmes or expanded existing internship programmes, and that work experience and internships had also moved online.
  • Placements were particularly affected by the pandemic, as well as some students being made redundant or furloughed. In response, one university offered a number of micro-placements to estranged students, care experienced students and students from low-income households.

And in relation to the student submissions:

  • In many of the submissions, communication was a key concern. For example, students felt that it was at times slow and sometimes did not include a clear rationale for why decisions were made.
  • Furthermore, students reported that they considered some aspects of support, such as safety net and no detriment policies, and digital support funds and hardship funds, to be at times inadequate, slow to be implemented and reactive rather than proactive. Some students felt there were inconsistencies within the support offered and how this affected different underrepresented groups.
  • There were reports that students working on access and participation delivery were unaware of the plan and the wider strategic activity. Suggestions were made on how providers could better inform and engage students in the delivery and monitoring of the plan, including training or inductions for students working on access and participation activities.

And on poor employment outcomes Wonkhe summarise a HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) report produced jointly with the University of Warwick that examines the impact of degree classifications on graduate earnings. The report – Graduate Earnings Premia in the UK: Decline and Fall? – finds that the earnings premium over non-graduates for graduates born in 1990 with a 2:2 or below was just 3%, a sharp drop from the 17% premium for similar graduates born in 1970. The report authors…argue that this drop is consistent with their conception that increased higher education and a rise in the proportion landing upper seconds and first has made a “good” degree the new default. However, there is evidence that this effect may be slowing as participation growth slows down. Wonkhe also have a blog where David Kernohan ponders if employers are changing their opinions: Fresh HESA/Warwick research describes how earnings and outcomes have been affected by degree attainment and classification.

And back to Public First – Wonkhe report that Public First polled the public’s views on the levelling up agenda and finds that a third of people view lower tuition fees for people attending their local university as a way to level up their area. There’s a blog about the research on Conservative Home.

Homelessness Access: Wonkhe tell us – The University of Chichester and the UPP Foundation have developed a toolkit to encourage access to university for those with experience with homelessness. The Adversity to University programme is a 12 week course where students – who live in or have been supported by a local homeless shelter – develop the academic and critical thinking skills needed to thrive in higher education. If the students complete the course successfully, they can apply to study a degree at the University of Chichester. The Times covers the scheme.

OfS

Following last week’s publication of the OfS strategy Wonkhe ran a series on the Office for Students:

Research

Research England:  David Sweeney will retire from his Executive Chair role at Research England. Recruitment for his replacement has begun.

Horizon Europe: BEIS Parliamentary Under-secretary George Freeman stated the UK is ready to associate with Horizon Europe but the EU delays persist. He said:

  • We see no legal or practical reason why we should not be able to formalise our participation swiftly, and urge the EU to do so.
  • Our priority is to support our UK’s R&D sector and we will continue to do this in all future scenarios. We have been allocated funding for full association to Horizon Europe, as stated in the Spending Review. In the event that the UK is unable to associate, the funding put aside for Horizon association will go to UK government R&D programmes.

Funding: Wonkhe – Research England has published a breakdown of their £6 million in funding allocations for participatory research. The funding has been distributed to providers based on their total recurrent quality related research, with a minimum and maximum allocation of £5000 and £150,000 respectively. Further documentation for providers is available.

ARIA: The ARIA Bill is being discussed at Committee Stage in the House of Lords (summary here). There were objections to an amendment which attempted to ensure that consideration of climate and environmental goals were embedded within ARIA’s function – the amendment was withdrawn. Lord Willetts called for bureaucracy to be curtailed in other research institutions (as well as ARIA) and for ARIA to pursue a happy balance between missions versus technologies. The ARIA Board was discussed as was ARIA’s deliberate separation from UKRI and the Civil Service. An amendment which required the devolved nations to be represented on the ARIA Board also failed. Dods have also provided a summary of the second Committee session here. And Wonkhe say: there were no surprises in Grand Committee – the government amendments to do with the way devolved governments will interact with the proposed new research funding body passed, and others were not moved. Concerns still exist around ARIA’s transparency and ways in which it can be scrutinised, and the overall purpose and goals of ARIA – these are likely to return at report stage.

The ARIA Bill will shortly move to the report stage.

Xinjiang/research: The Government has published their response to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on the UK’s responsibility to act on atrocities in Xinjiang and beyond. Recommendation 28 is of relevance to the UK higher education sector’s ties with China.

  • Recommendation 28: Where a Chinese institution possesses known or suspected links to repression in Xinjiang, or substantial connections to Chinese military research, UK universities should avoid any form of technological or research collaboration with them. They should also conduct urgent reviews of their current research partnerships, terminating them where involved parties are found or suspected to be complicit in the atrocities in Xinjiang.
  • The Government is committed to providing support to UK universities and research institutions to help them to make informed decisions and manage risks when undertaking technological or research collaborations with other countries, including China. We will not accept collaborations which compromise our national security or values. However international research collaboration is central to our position as a science superpower, and our research sector therefore needs to be both open as well as secure. A range of measures are already in place to support UK universities and research institutions to manage these risks, including:
  • Launching the Trusted Research campaign, which included the publication of new detailed guidance by Universities UK on the risks involved in international collaborations. The new guidance, ‘Managing risks in internationalisation: security-related issues’, advises UK institutions to assess reputational, ethical and security risks when conducting due diligence on prospective partners. The Government is also working with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation, to ensure that its employees and grant holders adhere to the latest Government guidance.
  • Under the UK’s export control regime, the Government rigorously assesses all export licences against strict criteria. We continuously strengthen protective measures and expect universities to do the same.
  • The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is currently recruiting a new Research Collaboration Advice Team to help raise awareness and understanding of Government advice on security related matters, including export controls, cyber security and the protection of intellectual property. The new BEIS team will also provide support to researchers to help them to pursue safe international collaborations.
  • The Academic Technology Approval Scheme, which the Government expanded in March 2021, also provides robust procedures to protect national security and counter foreign interference.

Wales: Wonkhe report – First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced research and development priorities for the Welsh government. He commits the government to work to secure R&D funding levels “at least equivalent to those received historically via the European Union,” and to address “historic underfunding” from UK investment. Funded research will support priorities around climate change, environmental recovery, and decarbonisation. There will also be a new cross-government innovation strategy with a focus on driving impact.

Admissions

The Ministerial letter from Michelle Donelan which set out the changes to Access and Participation (and repeated much of what we summarise above) also raises some admissions issues.  It asks universities to consider what will happen if there are changes to arrangements for students seeking admission to university again this year, e.g. if exams have to be cancelled or to deal with another year of potentially higher grades: We believe that planning now and building resilience into your offer-making strategies to avoid either over or under subscription at individual institutions in all scenarios is a vital part of your own contingency planning. We encourage you to be thoughtful when setting your offer requirements and to consider any additional measures which would allow you to plan as effectively as possible.

And then a focus on “student focussed admissions practices”:

  • As you will be aware, the OfS temporary registration condition, Z3, which prohibited the use of conditional unconditional offers and other types of offer making practices ended on 30 September this year. Whilst Z3 is no longer in place, I would like to strongly encourage you to continue to act within its spirit and adhere to the principle of ensuring students’ best interests are safeguarded during these difficult times – which I know has been the case over the last 2 admissions cycles. This includes avoiding the use of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers and other practices which may place undue pressure on students to make choices.
  • .. It is therefore disappointing that, during previous admissions cycles, there have been instances of providers introducing oversubscription conditions that permitted them to withdraw places where the number of students meeting offer conditions exceeded the number of places available.

MD therefore welcomes a statement from the Competition and Markets Authority on admissions.  The CMA rarely speaks on HE but its guidance on consumer protection as it applies to students is covered in our licence conditions.  The CMA has issued a short statement about offers to students:

  • When an HE provider makes an offer of a place to a prospective student and the offer is accepted, in our view a binding contract is made between the HE provider and …. The HE provider has agreed to reserve a place and allow the student to enrol on the relevant course if they meet any specified entry requirements (where applicable).
  • The terms of that contract must be fair. If terms are unfair then they are unenforceable against a consumer (i.e. student). It should be noted that transparency is not enough, on its own, to make a term fair…
  • A term may be open to challenge if it could be used to cause consumer detriment even if it is not at present being used so as to produce that outcome in practice…
  • A term that affords a wide discretion to the HE provider to withdraw or cancel an accepted offer effectively means the HE provider could simply choose not to comply with the terms of the offers it has made to prospective students. A provision that has this effect is likely to be unfair under unfair terms legislation….
  • in the CMA’s view terms that purport to exclude or limit the liability of a HE provider if it fails to meet its contractual obligations are inappropriate and potentially unfair…

The OfS response is here re-emphasising the importance of this – extracts:

  • Ongoing condition of registration C1 requires providers to have regard to relevant guidance about how to comply with consumer protection law, including that published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), when developing and implementing their policies and terms and conditions.
  • A potential breach in consumer law may prompt the OfS to investigate and, if appropriate, carry out enforcement action to address any failures to comply with one or more of the conditions of registration.
  • All registered providers should familiarise themselves with the CMA’s statement and guidance and take action to review and change their terms and conditions where necessary.

Free Speech

With the parliamentary passage of the free speech Bill still in motion matters such as the resignation of Kathleen Stock (Sussex) continue to receive attention. The Lords debated her resignation which highlighted the OfS have opened an investigation.

Baroness Barran (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State) said: No academic should have to fear for their personal safety, particularly as a consequence of expressing lawful views. This incident demonstrates why this Government are pressing ahead with legislation to promote and defend freedom of speech on campuses. This week the Times also reported on a social anthropology lecturer who has chosen not return to teaching duties after being cleared of racism accusations.

HE: Intergenerational Perspective

The Intergenerational Foundation published an analysis of what has changed for young people over the last decade across 10 policy areas. Out of the 10 policy areas investigated, young people have fallen behind in 9 of them over the last 10 years, with the environment being the only area where progress has been mainly positive. The report finds:

Higher education

  • The proportion of the population with a university degree has risen from 26% in 2004 to just above 40% in 2019. This has largely been driven by the rapid increase of younger people in higher education – from 2019 onwards, for the first time in history, over 50% of young people in the UK are attending university. In many ways, these statistics can be viewed as a success story. While it is difficult to quantify the public benefit of a higher-educated workforce, research by IF suggests that the tax premium on graduates – including the extra tax paid compared with non-graduates – was around £291,000 for each graduate in 2017. There are also many positive social externalities associated with undertaking a higher education. These include: high graduate engagement in valuable voluntary work; graduates tend to be more law-abiding than non-graduates; and graduates are less likely to engage in riskier lifestyles and therefore present less of a burden to both the NHS and criminal justice costs.
  • However, the number of graduate jobs is not keeping up with the number of graduates: in 2019, approximately 45% of recent graduates and 35% of nonrecent graduates were working in non-graduate roles. This calls into question the value of obtaining a university degree and suggests that the UK may actually have a problem of over-education with a mismatch between the number of graduates available and the number of graduate job opportunities available (reference)
  • The total outstanding student debt in the UK has tripled since the fee cap was raised to £9,000 and then to £9,250 – from £46,700 million in 2011/2012 to £140,000 million in 2019/2020. The report (page 24) highlights that the notion of the graduate premium is flawed – it discusses why it is intergenerationally unfair and that students from wealthier backgrounds avoid the 9% tax rate, further exacerbated by the higher maintenance loan value students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds may take out. The details are in the report, it concludes: Therefore, rather than acting as a tax on workers earning a “graduate premium”, the 9% student loan repayment tax just makes it incredibly difficult for young adults with student debts to save, especially for big milestone purchases such as a house deposit or having a family. It is no wonder then that many graduates return home to live with their parents soon after graduating. And if the Government decide to retrospectively change the loan repayment period to 40 years they can, although it may be politically unpopular.
  • Graduates with a post-2012 student loan have a 41% marginal tax rate on earnings above £27,295, rising to 51% if they earn above £50,270. Only 25% of current graduates are forecasted to repay their loan in full.

Health: Spending on health per person has increased at a similar rate over time for pensioners and working-age adults; however, for children spending has stagnated since 2010/2011. The percentage of young adults with some evidence indicating depression or anxiety has risen over the last decade: from 18% in 2009/2010 to 25% in 2017/2018.  More details on Health at page 35.

Skills & Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill received its second reading in a lively House of Commons session (summary). BTECs were mentioned with repeated calls for the phase out to extend to a 4 year period. Minister Zahawi stated apprenticeship outcomes were important (because there has been a big drop in apprenticeship take up) and that skills, schools and families were the Government’s mantra with the increased investment in FE highlighted. The Bill to eradicate essay mills was also mentioned in passing.

The English and Maths exit requirements will be removed from T levels. The Minister stated that T Levels and A Levels should be at the forefront of the level 3 landscape, but stressed that other qualifications would still be needed alongside them. “It is quite likely that many BTECs and similar applied general-style qualifications will continue to play an important role in 16-to-19 education for the foreseeable future. The Minister also indicated the Government intends to consult on reforming level 2 technical qualifications.

Chris Skidmore (former Universities Minister) called for the ELQ rule to be abolished and for universities to be recognised within a genuine place based approach. The Lifetime skills guarantee received much debate (nothing new), local skills improvement plans were discussed. Alex Burghart (Under-Secretary of State for Education) summed up the Government’s position: he was pleased to hear the Opposition support changes on level 2 English and maths as an exit requirement for T-levels, because Government want these new gold-standard qualifications to be open to as many people as possible. For students at level 3, there would be world-class qualifications designed with employers leading to degree-level apprenticeships, work and higher education, because more than 50 universities already accepted T-levels. For students who were at level 2 at 16-19, there would be world-class qualifications designed with employers leading to traineeships, apprenticeships or work or the opportunity to take up the lifetime skills guarantee at level 3.

The Bill will now proceed to the Public Bill Committee (Committee stage).

PQs

Other news

  • Education Staff Wellbeing: The DfE published Robin Walker’s written ministerial statement launching the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter aimed at schools and colleges and a new £760,000 mental health support scheme delivered by the charity Education Support. Glossy version here.
  • Health Education England: Dods highlight that the HSJ is reporting that Health Education England is going to be merged into NHS England. The merger is expected to take place in April 2023. HEE were reportedly arguing for an unaffordable funding settlement, which ultimately has led to its demise. The HSJ’s source said the merger was disappointing, but “in the longer term it is the right decision, or at least not a bad decision. If HEE had proportionately been given the money NHSE has received over the past eight years it would have made a massive difference. We need to align service finance and workforce planning and this does that. Being outside the ring fence [around NHSE funding] is not a good thing.” Since writing Wonkhe report that the Secretary of State for Health, Sajid Javid, has announced that Health Education England, the body responsible for the training of NHS staff, will be merged with NHS England, NHS Improvement, NHSX, and NHS Digital.
  • Student MPs: At PMQs this week Jane Hunt MP asked what the PM was doing to encourage students from all backgrounds to inspire them to become MPs or the Prime Minister. Johnson responded that none of the bad parts of politics should deter anyone from becoming a representative.
  • HESA head: The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has named Rob Phillpotts as its next chief executive. Phillpotts, currently managing director of HESA, is to replace outgoing chief executive Paul Clark following his departure on 17 December (Wonkhe).
  • Kindness: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator have a Wonkhe blog on how they use a kindness approach when addressing student complaints.
  • Essay Mills: Wonkhe report that: The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has built a briefing for its members on identifying work produced via essay mills.
  • TASO: The Director of TASO blogs to reflect on the mid-term survey highlighting TASO’s successes and challenges.

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HE policy update for the w/e 12th November 2021

Here’s our round up of the news from the last couple of weeks.

Parliamentary News

David Thomas, a co-founder of the Oak National Academy, has been appointed as a part time policy adviser to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi. His policy brief will focus on recovery, academies and remote education. Former free school founder Mark Lehain has been appointed as Zahawi’s policy special adviser.

All change at the OfS

The OfS have announced that chief executive, Nicola Dandridge, will leave the regulator at the end of April 2022. This was anticipated as Dandridge’s original term was extended for one year to cover the period to April 2022. The recruitment of her successor will be closely watched with many a keen eye judging the impartiality of the process.

But in the meantime, they are not wasting any time, as they have launched a consultation on their next year strategic plan.  The contents are not very surprising given what we have been hearing from them and from Ministers.  There is a Wonkhe article here which is a little bit critical….

  • What’s missing? An opportunity to say something on sector cohesion and co-regulation has been missed. There should really have been something about external pressures – the recovery and change as a result of Covid-19, the wellbeing of staff, the incoming demographic pressure on the system.
  • If you were writing a new strategy for anybody involved in English higher education, your environmental analysis would include the potential government response to the Augar report and the incoming Lifelong Loan Entitlement … You will search the strategy consultation in vain for more than a single line noting the LLE might be a thing. So maybe a goal around delivering and supporting systemic changes. And another about working in partnership with other agencies.
  • There’s a school of thought that would suggest waiting until you have all your senior roles filled before you wrote a strategy – the whole point of recruiting good board members and directors is to let them have an input into things like this, surely?
  • .. Now if you were an organisation whose principal beneficiaries were named in your title, you might reasonably set about involving those beneficiaries in determining those priorities, right?… Nothing. Nada. Even the paternalism doesn’t sound especially benevolent this time around. There’s a couple of pages reminding us that 25 different directions in ministerial guidance letters have helped shape the strategy, both not a single word on how students have.

Anyway, extracts from the consultation proposal are here.  As well is what is missing, we invite you to form your own views on how chilling it is.  Spoiler: it’s chilling.

Regulatory approach

Our approach is based on a set of minimum expectations that we refer to as the ‘regulatory baseline’.

  • The regulatory baseline is a set of regulatory expectations that represent the minimum performance to which students and taxpayers are entitled. The baseline is predominantly expressed through our conditions of registration and all providers are required to satisfy these. We also use statements of expectation and other tools to express this minimum level of performance from providers to which students and taxpayers are entitled.

…During the next strategic period, our work will be strongly focused on ensuring that providers are meeting these expectations. Performance that falls below our regulatory baseline fails students, who contribute through their time, effort and fees. It fails taxpayers, who support a significant investment of public funds through grants and subsidised loans. It also fails to deliver the objectives set out in our regulatory framework.

We use a range of regulatory approaches to secure compliance with the baseline: setting clear expectations for compliance with our conditions of registration; taking proportionate action to secure compliance with this baseline, escalating enforcement action where it is breached; and intervening where a provider is at risk of dropping below it. We also communicate information and use influence to incentivise compliance with the baseline.

Where it is proportionate to do so, we regulate to ensure that providers cannot continue to access student loan funding, grant funding, and degree awarding powers, if their performance falls below this baseline.

In regulating providers against this baseline, we use a risk-based and proportionate approach. This means that we prioritise and act according to the risk posed to students and taxpayers, and that our interventions are proportionate to that regulatory risk. This approach enables us to minimise burden on providers where possible: providers that represent low risk to students and taxpayers will experience lower regulatory burden.

Above the baseline, we believe that autonomous providers making their own decisions is the best way to ensure the sector can flourish and innovate. We do not prescribe how universities and colleges should operate beyond our minimum requirements, and most of our activity will be designed to ensure that providers meet these expectations.

We will, however, influence and incentivise providers to perform beyond our minimum requirements over the next strategic period. Student choice has a significant role in shaping the sector to respond to students’ needs and goals: effective information, advice and guidance plays a major role in driving high quality outcomes. We will therefore take steps to ensure that students and their advisers have access to relevant and targeted information to inform their choices about whether, what and where to study.

 We will also use other methods. For instance, in using our funding powers to incentivise certain outcomes or through such mechanisms as the TEF.

Areas of focus

The two areas that we will focus on from 2022 to 2025 are quality and standards, and equality of opportunity. … These areas of focus are important in their own right, and they have only become more so in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. In response to the pandemic, we paused some of our reporting requirements as higher education providers adapted to the novel and fast-moving environment. As we transition out of the early stages of the pandemic over the next strategic period, we know that quality and standards will be of utmost importance to students. Many have faced significant disruption to their education during the pandemic, while new opportunities have emerged from the significant change that came with it. Meanwhile, gaps in opportunity have for the most part stagnated or widened during the last two years, and longer-term effects are still unclear, adding further imperative to focus on this area.

Goals

Quality and standards

  • Students receive a high quality academic experience that improves their knowledge and skills, with increasing numbers receiving excellent provision.
  • Students are rigorously assessed, and the qualifications they are awarded are credible and comparable to those granted previously.
  • Providers secure free speech within the law for students, staff and visiting speakers.
  • Graduates contribute to local and national prosperity, and the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Equality of opportunity

  • Students’ access, success and progression are not limited by their background, location or characteristics.
  • Prospective students can choose from a diverse range of courses and providers at any stage of their life, with a wide range of flexible and innovative opportunities.
  • Providers act to prevent harassment and sexual misconduct and respond effectively if incidents do occur.
  • Providers encourage and support an environment conducive to the good mental health and wellbeing that students need to succeed in their higher education.

Enabling regulation

  • Providers are financially viable and sustainable and have effective governance arrangements.
  • Students receive the academic experience they were promised by their provider and their interests as consumers are protected before, during and after their studies.
  • The OfS minimises the regulatory burden it places on providers, while ensuring action is effective in meeting our goals and regulatory objectives.

Is University worth it?

The University All Party Parliamentary Group (supported by Universities UK) published Is university worth it? Young people’s motivations, aspirations and views on student finance. The Group commissioned this research to gather better evidence of prospective students’ views on the student finance system as it stands, potential reforms to the system and the post-18 education options available to them. They found that less affluent students could be worst hit by a reduction in the number of universities or the number of courses on offer. Read more – there is a good short summary of the report available on the APPG website.

Research

The Spending Review reconfirmed the Government’s intentions for research but lengthened the timescale, speech:

So we will also invest more in innovation. The UK is already a world-leader. With less than 1% of the world’s population, we have 4 of the world’s top 20 universities; 14% of the world’s most impactful research; And the second most Nobel Laureates. We want to go further.

I can confirm we will maintain our target to increase R&D investment to £22bn. But in order to get there, and deliver on our other priorities, we’ll reach the target in 2026-27. Spending, by the end of this Parliament, £20bn a year on R&D. That’s a cash increase of 50%. The fastest increase ever. And I can confirm for the House that this £20bn is in addition to the cost of our R&D tax reliefs. Combined with those tax reliefs, total public investment in R&D is increasing from 0.7% of GDP in 2018 to 1.1% of GDP by the end of the Parliament.

How does 1.1% compare internationally? Well, the latest available data shows an OECD average of just 0.7%. Germany, investing 0.9%. France, 1%. And the United States, just 0.7%. This unprecedented funding will:

  • Increase core science funding to £5.9bn per year by 2024-25, a cash increase of 37%.
  • Meet the full costs of associating with Horizon Europe;
  • Establish the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency with £800m by 2025-26.
  • And strengthen our focus on late-stage innovation, increasing Innovate UK’s annual core budget to £1bn……double what it was at the start of the Parliament.

More detail:

BEIS will receive £14.2 billion for R&D funding by 2024/25, an increase of £3 billion from 2021/22. As a result, core science funding to National Academies, universities and research institutions will rise to £5.9 billion by 2024/25. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will receive £5 billion by 2024/25 to fund health research via the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), with £2 billion spent in 2024/25.

Other key announcements include:

  • £2.1 billion will be allocated for association to the Horizon Europe funding programme;
  • The Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) budget, which contains funding for research, will return to 0.7% of GDP by 2024/25;
  • The new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) will receive £800 million by 2025/26, with £50 million in 2021/22.
  • In addition, £95 million will be invested in increasing the uptake of innovation in the NHS and £30 million invested in in research skills and training, which will focus on improving diversity by increasing the number of life science researchers from under-represented groups. NHS England will receive £5.9 billion to help clear the backlog of patients waiting for tests and treatments. Genomics England will launch a pilot scheme to detect rare diseases, Generation Genome, which aims to sequence 100,000 new-borns; and a Diverse Data project will aim to tackle healthcare inequalities by increasing the proportion of under-represented groups in genomics research.

ARIA: The Committee stage of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill in the House of Lords is scheduled to begin from 17 November.

Clean Tech: The Prime Minister has launched an international plan to accelerate the delivery of affordable clean technologies worldwide by 2030. Modelled on the UK’s Net Zero Strategy, the Agenda will see countries and businesses coordinate and strengthen their climate action each year to dramatically scale and speed up the development and deployment of clean technologies and drive down costs this decade. The aim is to make clean technologies the most affordable, accessible and attractive choice in each of the most polluting sectors by 2030, especially supporting the developing world to access the innovation and tools needed to transition to net zero.

Innovation: The Council for Science and Technology have written to the Prime Minister giving advice on encouraging scale up investment in innovative science and technology companies.

Parliamentary Question: Shared prosperity fund

Admissions

It was confirmed that 2022 exams will go ahead with results to be released on the usual days. Meanwhile Ofqual published details of the contingency arrangements for awarding Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) for use in the event that exams are not able to go ahead in summer 2022 due to the pandemic. Ofqual’s document follows the Sept-Oct 2021 consultation on the arrangements – responses highlighted the following themes:

  • The importance of clear and timely communication around the decision to implement contingency plans, including establishing the level of disruption required before implementing TAGs nationally and providing sufficient notice ahead of this.
  • Exam boards should take a greater role in any TAG process in 2022, compared to 2021 arrangements. Exam fees should be proportional to the level of services provided and regular exam fees would not be justifiable. A greater level of refunds should be offered if exams are unable to go ahead, and awarding organisations should provide additional support through exam papers or question banks, moderation and/or marking, among other services.
  • Any TAG process for 2022 should follow the process from 2021 as closely as possible to minimise confusion among teachers, students and parents.
  • Some respondents called for exams to go ahead regardless of underlying circumstances. These respondents felt exams were the best way to assess student knowledge and it would be difficult to ensure the fairness and consistency of TAGs across the country.

Following the consultation, if the pandemic disrupts the exam diet again in 2022, students will be given extra help to prepare for GCSEs, AS and A Levels as follows:

  • students taking GCSEs in English literature, history, ancient history and geography will not need to cover the usual range of content in the exams
  • students taking GCSEs in all other subjects will be given advance information about the focus of the content of the exams to help them focus their revision
  • students taking AS and A levels will be given advance information about the focus of the content of the exams to help them focus their revision
  • students taking GCSEs in mathematics will be given in their exams copies of formulae they would in other years have to memorise
  • students taking GCSE physics and combined science will be given in their exams a sheet covering all the equations they might need to apply in the exams
  • If exams had to be cancelled in summer 2022, students’ grades would instead be determined by their teachers, using a Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) approach similar to that used in summer 2021.
  • The advance information for GCSE and AS and A levels will be published no later than 7 February 2022. The government retains the flexibility for advance information to be deployed at other points ahead of 7 February if circumstances require.
  • Some changes have also been made to the way non-exam assessments that are used in some GCSE, AS and A level subjects are taken, to address difficulties that might otherwise be caused by the pandemic.
  • Ofqual has decided that grade boundaries for summer 2022 will be set so that more students than was the case before the pandemic receive higher grades, providing a safety net for students in this transitionary year.
  • Centres should plan assessment opportunities to a timetable that secures evidence which could be used to inform TAGs if necessary.

Ofqual has produced guidance for schools, colleges and other exam centres and written to centres, students and private candidates.

Access & Participation

Several weeks ago we brought you news that Katharine Birbalsingh was the Government’s intended choice for the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC). High level appointments such as hers undergo a pre-appointment hearing at the appropriate parliamentary committee. The Women and Equalities Committee has published its report following Katharine’s pre-appointment hearing finding her a suitable candidate for Chair of the SMC, and recommending she be appointed for an initial term of three years.

In their conclusion to the report, the Committee notes Birbalsingh has several major strengths, including a track record of enhancing the life chances of disadvantaged young people through education, excellent communications skills, and a forceful character with the ability to challenge institutions and received wisdom. They note her forthright views on education which they say she defends robustly but also note that she will need to demonstrate her ability to listen to, and work collegiately with, colleagues and stakeholders with whom she will not always agree.

The Committee also comment on her relatively narrow field of experience in secondary education and that her vision for social mobility beyond the sphere of education was much less clear. Because of this they say they believe she will need further support from a wide range of fellow Commissioners with diverse backgrounds, knowledge and experience across all relevant areas of social policy and sectors of the economy.

In part due to the above the Committee urges the Minister to recruitment the new Commissioners immediately and recommends their terms be staggered so that they do not all expire at the same time.

Student Finance

The Spending Review did not set out the Government’s intentions towards implementing remaining aspects of the Augar review – despite all the hype. More information is promised later – although as this tweet highlights we’ve heard that one before!

You may have missed our recent updates giving loads of background and context to the ongoing speculation about possible changes to HE funding.  In case you did, we have created a briefing which puts it all nicely in one place along with the latest speculation on what next.  BU readers can find it here.

The Department for Education has published a written ministerial statement on higher education student finance arrangements for the 2022/23 academic year.

  • Tuition fees will be frozen for 2022/23 at the same levels as 2021/22, meaning the maximum fee level for a standard full-time course will remain £9250.
  • Maintenance loans will see an increase by forecast inflation of 2.3 percent, including for DSA.
  • The same increase will be applied to postgraduate loans.
  • Individuals relocated under the Afghanistan Relation and Assistance Scheme will qualify for student support and home fee status.
  • Home fee status will also be extended to the family members of all persons settled in the UK, subject to three years residence in the UK and Islands immediately before the start of the course.
  • Those who have settled status on arrival in the UK, who come to the UK from specified British Overseas Territories and who are starting full-time and part-time undergraduate courses in 2022/23 will be eligible for tuition fee loans.
  • Government will lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2022/23 in November.

Michelle Donelan, Minister for Higher and Further Education said in a written ministerial statement:

  • The changes set out above demonstrate our commitment to supporting economic development in the British Overseas Territories and enabling those who wish to study at one of our world class education providers to be able to do so.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2022/23 in November. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Government continues to consider the recommendations made by the Augar Panel carefully. We plan to set out a full response to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in due course.

Michelle Donelan has also reportedly agreed to improve official information on maintenance loans for students in England after the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, Martin Lewis, wrote a formal letter requesting this in June. The letter explained that there is what he calls the implicit “parental contribution” built into the student finance system and argued it needs to be made explicit.

Donelan tweeted yesterday saying:

  • “I’m working with [MoneySavingExpert.com] to make our loan system simpler & more transparent for students/parents – inc. highlighting what family income means-testing means for parents’ contribution to their children’s study.
  • “This ensures that Govt support prioritises disadvantaged students from low income households, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend university. This in turn increases access, opportunity and opens up higher education to talented people from all walks of life.”

Not being overt about this information leaves many parents unprepared and unable to find the cash to help.  It all adds to the confusion and concern about student finances.  These changes don’t affect the amount provided – but do set expectations more clearly.  Our fees, funding and finance brief gives a lot more information on how this all works.

NSS

The OfS have announced the NSS will run as usual in 2022. The questions will be the same as 2021 (without the specific Covid questions) plus a pilot of a new set of questions. A consultation on the future of the NSS will run in summer 2022.  More information here.

Higher Technical Qualifications

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has published information and guidance on higher technical qualifications (HTQs). It explains how the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has launched a national opt-in approval scheme for new and existing qualifications, which will recognise prestigious HTQs that provide the skills that employers want. Awarding bodies can submit qualifications to be approved against the Institute’s occupational standards at levels 4-5.

The first approvals cycle for Digital qualifications concluded in Summer 2021, with the first approved qualifications available to be taught from September 2022. Cycle 2 will launch on 5 July 2021 for submissions of qualifications for Health & Science and Construction, with a further opportunity for Digital qualifications. This will be followed in 2022 by submissions for:

  • Business and Administration
  • Education and Childcare
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Legal, Finance and Accounting

These will be followed in 2023 by:

  • Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care
  • Catering and Hospitality
  • Creative and Design
  • Hair and Beauty

Sexual Violence

Dods summarise a new study examining sexual violence by male HE students. You can read the one-page summary and recommendations for universities here.

Guidance – undertaking education abroad (Turing)

The DfE published new guidance for students undertaking education or placements abroad, including the Turing Scheme, Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

Subjects: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has launched a new consultation on 13 Subject Benchmark Statements, which have been reviewed by QAA in collaboration with expert Subject Advisory Groups.

Covid: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the latest statistics (to 1 Nov 2021) from the Student COVID-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) in England, which includes information on the behaviours, plans, opinions and well-being of higher education students in the context of guidance on the pandemic. Main points:

  • The majority (91%) of students have said they had already been vaccinated against coronavirus (COVID-19) at least once.
  • A significantly higher proportion of students reported having had two vaccine doses in late October (85%) than reported in late September (78%).
  • A minority (8%) of students said they had not been vaccinated against COVID-19; of those, half (51%) said they were fairly or very unlikely to take a vaccine if offered, and a third (32%) said they were fairly or very likely to accept the vaccine if offered.
  • Around half (49%) of students had taken a COVID-19 test in the previous seven days.
  • If they developed symptoms, 92% of students reported they would request a test.
  • Students who had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine were significantly more likely to request a test if they developed symptoms (95%), than students who had not been vaccinated (73%).
  • When asked what they would do if they developed symptoms, 57% of students reported they would stay at home for 10 days; this is similar to late September (58%).
  • The average life satisfaction score for students was 6.6, which was significantly lower than those aged 16 to 29 years in general (7.0) and the adult population in Great Britain (7.1).
  • Students were significantly more likely to report their mental health and well-being had worsened (32%) compared with late September (26%); however, this is still significantly lower than in late May (50%).

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

Parliament was still in recess whilst the Conservative Party Conference takes place. We have the news from the Conference, some movement on Essay Mills and several new reports.  And we have a big primer on student finance, ahead of the budget.

Conservative Party Conference

After the first day of the Conservative Party conference Wonkhe speculate what the personalities and lack of fiscal room for manoeuvre mean for HE in the forthcoming spending review (looming on the later October horizon):

  • At last night’s Policy Exchange fringe meeting, new Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi represented a breath of fresh air insofar as he was keen to stress that decisions would be “evidence-led”, that he understood that universities delivered vocational skills and that a consultation is still coming over aspects of Augar. But the spending envelope isn’t his call – and the big question for this spending review remains “What does Rishi Sunak want?” If he wants to balance the books and demonstrate fiscal prudence – and all the signs point to a reining in after the immense scale of public spending during Covid-19 – then universities could be in for a rough ride when stacked up against other pressing priorities. The potential for a fee cut, in particular, will be keeping university finance directors up at night. Without a complete rethink of the funding system, there are few good available options to reduce the overall cost of the system. Thanks to inflation, even maintaining the status quo of the frozen fee level means diminishing funding to higher education over time.
  • It now seems likely that a new financial settlement, aimed at reducing the Treasury’s exposure to higher education, will see changes to graduate repayment terms, perhaps even retrospectively for existing students. Last week, former universities minister David Willetts, in a pamphlet for the Higher Education Policy Institute, suggested that this option is more politically defensible at a time of constrained public spending than reducing funding to universities via tuition fee cuts. Minimum entry standards could also do its bit to cap the supply of students over time, thus saving Her Majesty’s Government a little more money, though with few outside the fringes of the Conservative Party genuinely believing that fewer people benefiting from a higher education is a desirable outcome, and ever-growing numbers of school and college leavers hoping to go – it’s a policy that if implemented could end up coming back to bite the Conservatives in the future.
  • So with so many moving fiscal and political parts around the spending review and Budget, there’s every chance that late deals could lead to unexpected outcomes and changes to what was previously thought to be a direction of travel. As ever in politics, decisions are not made until they are announced in public, and with this prime minister in particular, huge changes of direction can be made on a whim

New Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi gave a keynote address at the Conservative Party Conference. It focussed heavily on schools (including emphasis on English and maths). Nadhim also gave HE a nod in crediting Oxford University for the vaccine development. The Government’s intention towards T levels remains.

  • DfE is investing in maths hubs, while at post-16 there is funding for a further 2m courses. One day soon I want T levels to be as famous as A levels.
  • Zahawi promised a schools White Paper in the new year to focus on illiteracy and innumeracy. I will work tirelessly…to unleash the brilliance of young people in this country.
  • Nadhim added that as Vaccine minister he used evidence to deliver a world-leading vaccines programme and that DfE will deliver the same for education.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised new scholarships in artificial intelligence:

2,000 elite AI scholarships for disadvantaged young people within the Government’s focus on innovative technology which he stated was a sign of the party’s ambition for the future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a particularly colourful rambling speech to entertain the Conference attendees. It was light on HE content. Within the context of levelling up he questioned why York (2 universities) had so many graduates yet Doncaster (a FE/HE college) didn’t. Perhaps not the best example his aides could have chosen.

  • There was also familiar messaging about the alternative routes than university: our universities are world beating, I owe everything to my tutors and they are one of the great glories of our economy but we all know that some of the most brilliant and imaginative and creative people in Britain and some of the best paid people in Britain did not go to university and to level up you need to give people the options the skills that are right for them and to make the most of those skills and knowledge and to level up you need urgently to plug all the other the gaps in our infrastructure that are still holding people and communities back
  • On foreign investment: It was not the government that made the wonder drug it wasn’t brewed in the alembics of the department of health. It was, of course it was Oxford University, but it was the private sector that made it possible behind those vaccines are companies and shareholders and, yes, bankers.

Lots of focussed discussion took place during the Conservative Party Conference fringe events. Here are some summaries of the content prepared by Dods with bold emphasis added so you can pick out the most relevant HE points.

Contract Cheating

On Tuesday the DfE stated it will introduce a ban on ‘essay mills’ via the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament. The Government intends to make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise cheating services for financial gain to students taking a qualification at any institution in England providing post-16 education including universities.

You’ll recall from our regular coverage on contract cheating that Lord Storey has campaigned to this end for a long period, including introducing two Private Member’s Bills (PMB) which the Government was not opposed to but neither succeeded. In contrast to Lord Storey’s PMB the DfE’s intention is to apply the legislation to all post-16 providers including colleges and sixth forms.

Previously the Government urged the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education), UUK and the NUS to collaborate and produce institutional guidance on combatting the threat from essay mills and compiled guidance for students to make them better aware of the consequences to send the clear message that these services are not legitimate.

Minister for Skills Alex Burghart said: Essay mills are completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do. We are taking steps to ban these cheating services. We have also announced a new measure to make sure all young people receive broader careers guidance so everyone can get the advice that’s right for them. [Perhaps meaning to pursue T levels and an alternative route than university.]

Gender Differences in subject choice

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) paper Gender differences in subject choice leads to gender pay gap immediately after graduation highlights how course choice exacerbates the gender pay gap.  IFS notes:

  • In 2019 – before the pandemic disrupted data collection – women were paid 16% less per hour than men on average. The gap in average annual earnings was even larger, at 37%, since women are much more likely to work part-time.
  • The financial return to getting a degree – how much more a graduate earns compared to an otherwise similar non-graduate – varies enormously across subjects. Previous IFS research estimates that studying economics at university boosts women’s pay by 75% by age 30; this is more than ten times the return to studying creative arts (7.2%). However, women make up nearly two-thirds of creative arts graduates but less than a third of economics graduates.
  • In general, women are overrepresented in degree subjects with low financial returns. There are some exceptions – for example, medicine and law both have average or slightly above average shares of female students and very high returns.
  • Differences in degree subject choices explain most of the gender pay gap soon after graduation.
  • Of the 5% gap in annual earnings at age 25, 2.9 percentage points (55%) can be accounted for by university subjects, with A-Level subject choices making up a further 0.2 percentage points (5%).
  • Subject choice continues to contribute between 3 and 5 percentage points to the gender pay gap over graduates’ early careers.
  • But over this period, other factors lead to a widening of the gender pay gap, so that by age 30, subject choice explains only a fifth of the total gender pay gap.
  • Other factors that come into play could include motherhood, gender differences in attitudes towards risk, recognition for group work, hours worked, the propensity to bargain over wages and ask for promotions, and discrimination.
  • We should be concerned if information on the returns to different subjects isn’t easily available to young people, and if the large differences in subject choice (arts for girls, economics for boys) are driven as much by gender stereotypes as by true preferences.
  • When it comes to a subject like economics, which delivers the very highest financial return for female (and male) graduates, there is an additional concern that many students cannot access the subject at all because it is not offered in their school.
  • More needs to be done to educate and inform young people about subject choices at A level and university, particularly in a system like the UK where subject choices narrow at an early stage and where decisions taken early can have long-lasting effects.

Research

Research and innovation review: BEIS published the terms of reference for the Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape. The independent review (announced on 22 July) will be led by Sir Paul Nurse with the final report expected during Spring 2022.  The goals of the Review are to:

  • explore the features and characteristics in the existing ecosystem of RDI-performing organisations across the UK, learning from the best in the world and drawing on transformative examples
  • identify whether improvements to the organisational research landscape are required to deliver the government’s objective for the UK to be a science superpower at the forefront of critical and emerging fields of science and technology, and drive economic growth and societal benefit
  • futureproof the UK landscape of organisations undertaking all forms of RDI, from pioneering, visionary blue-skies research to practical support for innovators to commercialise or implement their ideas, and ensure an agile and sustainable system that can respond to future priorities and developments

The Review will consider the full and varied policy and funding context within which RDI-performing organisations are set up and operate. The Review is focused on the landscape of organisations that deliver research rather than on mechanisms for funding research and will:

  • analyse how the various organisations that contribute to the ecosystem of RDI-performing organisations across different parts of the UK – including universities, institutes and laboratories, across UK government and the devolved administrations, public, private and non-profit sectors – compare to each other and that of other countries with strengths in RDI
  • learning from international examples, consider the role that different mixes of organisations can play in delivering economic and societal impact from RDI, and the mechanisms and business models that will best enable the UK to capitalise on emerging and new fields of science and invention
  • consider how best to secure an organisational landscape now and in the future that delivers high-quality RDI outputs, and which is sustainable and cost-effective
  • consider options to support the UK’s strengths and what targeted interventions in the public sector might enhance the quality and diverse mix of RDI-performing organisations through our policy framework and the policies of the devolved administrations

Research Budget distribution: MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, published a policy briefing calling for the pledged increase of the R&D budget to £22bn to be shared more equitably around the country in the name of the Government’s levelling up goal.  The briefing emphasises the importance of re-balancing the way research in the UK is funded so that modern universities, many of which sit in marginalised areas of the country, and those hit hardest by the pandemic, can do more to support a world-class system of research and innovation, for the benefit of their regions and the country. Recommendations:

  1. Scale up the Higher Education Innovation Fund, so that knowledge exchange makes up a greater proportion of overall grant funding from Research England.
  2. Increase the number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships funded across the UK.
  3. Expand the Strength in Places Fund.
  4. Ensure that the Shared Prosperity Fund is devolved, based on long-term funding cycles, and accessible to universities and local businesses.

MillionPlus also published Innovate and generate: modern universities supporting local businesses aiming to highlight the partnerships that modern universities with local roots and an industry-facing outlook  have with businesses in their regions. The document emphasises their calls for Government to prioritise and dedicate specific R&D funding streams for such relationships and the positive impact it can have on levelling up the UK.

Quick news

  • Incentivising business innovation through taxation – CBI Economics consider the arguments for R&D tax credits
  • Imperial College London announced their new Institute for Infection. The aim of the Institute is to address some of the biggest unanswered questions in the field of infectious disease, such as how is climate change impacting the spread of diseases transmitted by flies and mosquitoes, how can gene-editing technologies help to reduce the spread of disease (such as Dengue and Zika), and how can animal vaccination programmes help to curb diseases which also affect humans.

Access & Participation

Student Hardship funding: Hitting the news last week (from the July OfS Board papers) was that £1.66 million of the additional £70 million hardship funding provided by the Government was unspent and recovered by the OfS.

Wonkhe say: Despite overwhelming evidence that the hardships caused by Covid-19 were near universal, the government was wedded to the idea of individual student problems rather than the systemic issues felt across the whole cohort. There were conditions attached to allocation: providers had to distribute funds to students that expressed a specific need, and all of the money needed to be handed out by 31 July…The complexity of existing hardship fund arrangements at providers (many had to recruit extra staff to administer the process) and the tight deadline (three months for the final tranche) made it difficult to get the money to where it was needed.

Mental Health

The Mental Health Foundation released new research combining evidence with expert opinion and public views. You can read about it here but in short it recommends (in order of popularity):

  1. Be aware of using drugs to cope with difficult feelings
  2. Build money skills and seek financial support if you need it
  3. Get more from your sleep
  4. Develop awareness of your feelings and emotions
  5. Have something to look forward to
  6. Get closer to nature
  7. Speak to someone you trust for support
  8. Stay curious and open to new experiences

Almost as popular (chosen by at least 45% of the public panel) were:

  • Have a healthy diet
  • Help others, contribute to something bigger
  • Engage in physical activity
  • Practice gratitude and cultivate hope
  • Strengthen social connections

Our research shows that it’s the fundamentals of life that protect our mental health: our finances, our relationships and our experiences

Student Finance

The DfE updated the information on who is eligible for undergraduate, postgraduate and further education financial support from Student Finance England. The update includes new policy notes on the rights to home fee status and student support for people covered by the Withdrawal Agreements who make a valid late application to the EU Settlement Scheme, and rights for joining family members under the EU Settlement Scheme:

Possible changes to fees and funding have been in the news a lot over the autumn in the build up to the Comprehensive Spending Review on 27th October when, yet again, we are promised the final response from the government to the Augar report and an outcome for the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, which Augar was meant to inform.

Some changes have already happened:

  • Some OfS funding for “non-strategic” subjects was cut this year – but it was a small cut to a tiny amount of funding. Anxiety was heightened because the former Education Secretary kept saying in the HoC and to newspapers that he was “slashing” funding, but he was exaggerating.  A lot.  The OfS got very defensive about it.  You can read what they did here.  Anyway, it set the tone for what may be more to come.  The OfS were told to stop calling the main funding a “teaching” grant and call it a “strategic priorities” grant.  You get the point.  Let’s hope the updated Ministerial team choose their language more carefully, to avoid future misunderstanding.    Words matter.
  • The OfS decided to distribute a chunk of their capital funding via a competitive bidding arrangement, in a big departure from previous allocation methods. You can read what they did here.  This may well also set the tone for the future, and is consistent with what is expected to happen with some streams of research funding going forwards.

The main pre-announcement that we are expecting to see followed through with a consultation at the end of the month is on minimum entry requirements.  This is a technique to reduce or at least limit the growing cost of the student loan portfolio by applying a floor to the academic entry requirements that applicants must meet in order to qualify for a student loan.  Students could still go to university, if they pay their own way, of course, or are able to borrow the funding another way.  Widely criticised as a cap on aspiration and a retrograde step for social mobility, because of the risk that many of the potential students who will be excluded from university will be those whose prior attainment does not reflect their true potential, and because many of those will be in that position as a result of some form of disadvantage.   We have commented on this extensively before and note that Augar suggested that it be deployed as a last resort if universities did not clean up their act on quality.  We note that we are not convinced that there is necessarily a direct link between “quality” and low entry tariffs and that it feels a bit early in the cycle for last resorts.  But there you are.  The definition of quality debate is a much bigger one that is ongoing now as the OfS looks at its licence conditions.

And there could be many other things announced.  Most of the press coverage recently has been about a potential cut to the repayment threshold (increased by Theresa May in a shock move after the 2017 election that cost the government a lot of money).  This idea has not been well received by students or recent graduates.  We note that retrospective changes to the terms of loans (other than interest rates) are not usually allowed (for banks, for example), and that there is a general feeling that students and recent graduates, who have not had a great couple of years, will be asked to fill a government financial hole “because they don’t vote conservative anyway”.  Given that Theresa May put the floor up precisely because she was worried about the so-called youthquake in the 2017 election, the link seems to be a fair one.  The Tories in 2017 didn’t have the majority that they have now.  And the financial hole is very big.

BU staff can read our May 2021 summary of what else we might have to look forward to here.

Given that there is likely to be a flurry of press stories, better or less-well informed opinion, social media excitement etc, around any changes, we wanted to give you a bit of context.  Apologies to regular readers or those with students in the family who know all this, all too well, but here we go.  And apologies to readers in the devolved nations, we are focussing on England here.  Also we are focussing on undergraduates.

Undergraduate tuition fees

These are capped.  The cap hasn’t moved for a long time.  There is very little prospect of it moving for a long time to come.

They are not tuition fees.  The OfS in their most recent publication on the subject (well worth a read) calls them “course fees”.  They aren’t really that either.

When they were introduced they replaced a big chunk of government funding for universities and, apart from those universities with huge numbers of international or post-graduate students, or huge proportions of research or donor income, these fees are the main source of income for most universities.  They therefore pay for staff, services, loan interest, depreciation, building maintenance, IT, OfS registration fees, and so on – the lot.  They famously cross subsidise research which is generally funded at less than cost.

If a student has a tuition fee loan (most do as otherwise they need to pay up front), the fee is paid by the Student Loan Company directly to the university in three chunks across the year.  The biggest chunk (50%) is paid in the summer AFTER the student has completed most of the year.  This helps avoid a situation where the university gets money for students who don’t stick around.  But it also explains why cash flow across the year is a talking point in universities, and why a temporary change took place last year when the second instalment was paid early because of concerns about financial sustainability of universities in the pandemic.

Maintenance loans

These loans are made available to UK students to help with their living and other costs while at university.  They replaced the grant system.  Before loans were introduced, if students didn’t qualify for a grant they needed parental support or another source of income.  That is still the case.  There is a minimum amount for a maintenance loan, but above that loan eligibility is means tested according to the income of the student’s family.  So the vast majority of students in the UK still need parental support for their maintenance costs, and if that isn’t available, they will need to work or borrow money instead.

You can see more in the SLC document for 2021/22 students.

Maintenance costs are a huge issue for many students.  Unlike the tuition fee, which is paid by the SLC to the university, this is cash the students need to find and spend.  There has been a lot of coverage of the high cost of accommodation in many places (often more than the maximum loan) and of the particular unfairness of the situation over the last two years when students were told by the government not to return to accommodation they had paid for, with money neither they nor their families could afford.  That’s a long and separate story.

Student loans

Although they are called loans, student finance arrangements are very different from the usual loan arrangements we are all used to, and this is where it gets complicated and political.  So apologies again.  This very useful paper from the House of Commons library (September 2021) has lots of context on this.

As noted above, student loans are made up of two items, tuition fees and maintenance loans (you can also use a student loan for postgraduate support but that’s a different story).

Interest starts to accrue on the loan balance straight away, while the student is at university.  Interest rates are very high – compared to some other rates available in the market.  But the interest rate charged varies over time and according to the income of the graduate (not their family, this time).

From an SLC document describing 2021/11 arrangements:

  • While studying and until 6th April after you finish: RPI pls 3%
  • After that:
    • Income £27,295 or less – RPI only
    • Income above £27,295 to £49,130 – Interest applied on a scale from RPI to RPI + 3%
    • Income above £49,130 – RPI + 3%

Martin Lewis explained the latest rate for Money Saving Expert in October 2021:

  • On 1 October 2021, for students from England and Wales who started university in or after 2012, the headline student loan interest rate decreased from 5.6% to 4.1% in line with the current RPI, and the temporary ‘Prevailing Market Rate’
  • Despite the decrease, this rate is still higher than most mortgages, and far higher than for students from prior cohorts. And, the headline rate is expected to increase again, to 4.5%, on the 1 January 2022. 

Repayment arrangements

This is where student loans really start to look different from “normal” loans. The student finance arrangements we have are not really loans at all.  Really what we have here is a graduate tax.  But shhh – it isn’t called that.  Because people don’t like taxes, so it could never be called a tax.

The notional amount of the student finance grows throughout out the time that a student is studying, and interest is added during that time and afterwards.  So far so like a loan.

But – graduates only start to repay it from the April after their course ends, and only when their income reaches a threshold.  Most students are on what is called “plan 2” and we are going to use their data:

  • You’ll only repay when your income is over £524 a week, £2,274 a month or £27,295 a year (before tax and other deductions).
  • G. Your annual income is £28,800 and you are paid a regular monthly wage. This means that each month your income is £2,400 (£28,800 divided by 12). This is over the Plan 2 monthly threshold of £2,274. Your income is £126 over the threshold (£2,400 minus £2,274). You will pay back £11 (9% of £126) each month.

In other words, repayments are means tested, and only the income over the threshold is used to calculate the repayments.  Clearly in a lot of cases that means that the amount you are repaying is not enough to cover the interest that is also still accruing.  So the overall amount just keeps on going up, just as it would with a “normal” loan if you didn’t pay enough off each month.

The other big difference with a “normal” loan, though, is what happens at the end.  The whole thing, interest and all, is written off after 30 years from the April after your course finished.  That is a big and growing cost to the government.  This very useful paper from the House of Commons library (September 2021) gives some context on what this means.

  • The RAB charge is the difference between the amount lent to a cohort of students, and the value of their repayments as graduates. For 2020/21 it is predicted by the Government to be 53%.
  • … repayments for the 2020/21 cohort will range from just over £1,000 on average in decile 1 to almost £63,000 for decile 10. The average lifetime repayment across all borrowers is just over £19,000.
  • “Overall, 22% of borrowers are forecast to repay their loans in full, this rate varies from 0‑2% in the bottom four deciles to 87% in decile 10”

So when students say that they are “paying” tuition fees – they aren’t paying it yet, and in fact most will never pay it all back.  Only the highest earners, mostly men, will pay it all back.  The paper has charts showing the difference for women and men.

We should also note that the loan is not treated like a normal loan when you are taking out a normal loan, either.  Your potential repayments are taken into account when considering your ability to pay, but it is not treated the same way for your credit score as a typical loan would be.  So it is treated more like a mobile phone contract than a car loan.

So it’s really a graduate tax which stops after 30 years.  Or an income dependent contingent loan (which is written off after 30 years).

Potential changes

The government would clearly like to recover more of this money.  It must be noted that it was never intended that it would all be repaid, however.  When the system was set up it was deliberately intended that only the students with higher income would pay it all back.  This was meant to be progressive.

That’s why there has been little sympathy for arguments to reduce the interest rate.  On the face of it, students seem to be “paying” a high interest rate.  But they aren’t in fact paying it at all, and most of them will never pay it.  It accrues at a high rate, and then most of it is written off.  So increasing the interest rate may be an option instead:

  • The impact of a 1 ppt increase in the interest rate would mean that the average repayment per borrower would increase by £1,500 or 5.2%.
  • However, this increase is not spread evenly across borrowers. Only those with higher earnings pay back more. The number of borrowers who repay their loan in full would drop from 22% under the current system to 18%.

For a long time the government was able to keep this cost “off the balance sheet” until the auditing rules were changed and the whole cost was added to the national debt.  That started to change perceptions about it.

And of course, since the scheme was introduced, the number of students going to university has increased, we are just emerging from a demographic dip.  So the potential cost just keeps on going up.

We have already mentioned changes to the repayment threshold may be under discussion.  That has all sorts of consequences – but they are not very progressive (another HoC library paper):

  • Middle earners would see the largest absolute increase of around £4,000 on average, while the highest earners would see their repayments fall slightly.
  • While the increase for lower earners is below average in absolute terms, it represents the largest percentage increase at around 30%. The number of borrowers who repay their loan in full would increase from 22% under the current system to 25%.

There has also been talk of extending the payment term from 30 to 35 years (Augar said 40) and increasing the rate of repayment (different from the interest rate).  Another helpful briefing paper here.

  • both measures result in increased lifetime repayments especially from middle to higher earners.

What next

We’ll see.  But we think there will be some tinkering with repayment arrangements – despite the fact that these would be retrospective changes to the agreed terms.  And there may be other changes that will reduce the number of people eligible to take these loans out in the future – as well as the minimum qualifications requirement.

Or there may a cut in the tuition fee.  The latter would reduce the loan book and the notional interest  – and give the government more direct control of university funding though the use of “strategic priorities” to top up (some of) the difference  – consistent with the current direction as noted at the start of this section.

There could be caps on the numbers of students studying particular subjects, or at particular institutions (if they don’t meet quality thresholds, for example). Note in this context that the government is increasingly linking definitions of quality to “outcomes”, by which they mean highly skilled employment and relative earnings.  And that is a whole different subject which we have discussed before, and will again.

Mature students

The Lifelong Education Commission, supported by ResPublica and chaired by former universities minister Chris Skidmore MP, published The Pathway to Lifelong Education: Reforming the UK’s Skills System. It is the first of 8 reports the Commission has planned on on lifelong learning and the UK’s skills system. The Commission recommends how the barriers to adult learning can be removed; what future investment is needed to support this; and what change is needed to ensure the maximum flexibility that will benefit learners and deliver on the promise of a whole system change for lifelong education.

Recommendations:

  1. All citizens will be able to access the loan entitlement regardless of prior qualifications, or how they choose to study, including: modular or full qualifications; part-time or full-time; via face-to-face or distance learning.
  2. The Lifetime Loan Entitlement should allow funding to be applied to different modules of learning to enable (i) existing qualifications to be unbundled into smaller units (e.g. 30 to 60 credits) and (ii) microcredentials to be stacked as part of larger units.
  3. A more ambitious reform would be to create a unified credit-based funding system that does not distinguish between different modes of study and provides equal access and support for learners regardless of how they learn or where learning takes place.
  4. Alongside the loan entitlement, Government should consider means-tested maintenance grants to provide support with living costs and encourage adult learners to access higher technical qualifications, particularly those for whom debt will be viewed as a disincentive and a barrier to reskill.
  5. Government should: (i) Build on the existing credit framework and regional consortia approach to design a networked system that can guarantee the autonomy of higher education providers while enabling the transfer and accumulation of credit. (ii) Consider reform of the wider regulatory framework to simplify the jurisdiction between various bodies (HEIs, the Institute, QAA, Ofsted, OfS, etc.) regarding higher technical qualifications, which has the scope for duplication and inconsistency. (iii) Consider Scotland’s ‘articulation agreements’, which provide a good model for clearer routes between FE and HE.
  6. There is, especially in England, a need to bring together and better integrate the various parts of the careers system: (i) A single integrated careers service is required for all citizens at all stages of their working life. This will need to provide high level, specialist advice, available in every locality. (ii) A system should be established to regulate and support the continued professional development of careers advisers. As a minimum, all careers advisers should be registered with the Careers Development Institute and have relevant qualifications at Level 4 or above.
  7. Retain part-time student premium funding and make part-time learning an explicit priority for the teaching grant to incentivise lifelong education and training.
  8. Remove the remaining restrictions on ELQs so that available funding (including loans for fees and maintenance) can support those who want to study for a second higher education qualification in a different discipline.
  9. Government should explore options, including a ‘Flexible Skills Levy’ and ‘Tax Credits’ to incentivise employer investment in skills training.
  10. In addition to employers and educational institutions, Mayoral Combined Authorities in England with devolved responsibilities for adult skills should play a central role in the coproduction of local skills plan. Moreover, MCAs should be given genuine power over issues of essentially regional concern. Almost all of the functions currently exercised by the Department for Education could be devolved.

Former universities minister Chris Skidmore said: If there is one policy to deliver ‘levelling up’, it is adult learning and skills. Acquiring new skills is something we all do throughout our lives. Yet the formal process for acquiring them is incredibly constrained. There are too few opportunities to return to learning for those who have left it. And those willing to retrain or re-skill can barely see the wood for the trees; the pathways are so complex.

The government is embracing adult learning at just the right time. The Lifelong Learning Entitlement, combined with the prospect of modular and course-based learning and the expansion of Level 4 and 5 provision, has the potential to create new journeys into learning for those for whom a graduate route was not the way. But if these reforms are to succeed, it is essential that new partnerships are forged between HE and FE providers.

Grammar and spelling – the next stage of the culture war?

The OfS have published an ominous paper on this.

  • This review examines the policies on spelling, punctuation and grammar in written assessment at a small number of higher education providers. It features anonymised examples of approaches that maintain rigour in student assessment, and examples of approaches that do not.
  • The purpose of the review is to highlight to higher education providers which assessment policies are likely to be a cause for regulatory concern, and encourages providers to adjust their policies accordingly.

This supports the position in the recently closed consultation on quality conditions.

New condition B4.2: 

…the provider must ensure that:  …c. academic regulations are designed to ensure that relevant awards are credible;   ….

“credible” means that, in the reasonable opinion of the OfS, relevant awards reflect students’ knowledge and skills, and for this purpose the OfS may take into account factors which include, but are not limited to:  …ii. whether students are assessed effectively and whether assessments are valid and reliable;  ….

Guidance re “Credible”: …identifying circumstances in which it is likely to be concerned about the credibility of a provider’s qualifications:…c. Students are not penalised for poor technical proficiency in written English. For example, for assessments that would reasonably be expected to take the form of written work in English and for which the OfS, employers and taxpayers, would reasonably expect such proficiency, the provider’s assessment policy and practices do not penalise poor spelling, punctuation or grammar, such that students are awarded marks that do not reflect a reasonable view of their performance of these skills. ….

Key bits from the report itself:

  • Because of the importance of these issues, we undertook a short review during summer 2021 to gather evidence and examples of practice from a small number of providers about the extent to which technical proficiency in written English is being assessed. This report summarises our findings and sets out their implications for our ongoing regulation of higher education providers.
  • We sought voluntary cooperation from a small number of providers, selected to allow us to explore a range of assessment practices. The inclusion of a particular provider in the review was not driven by whether or not it had featured in press reporting about its assessment practices, and this report does not identify the providers that were involved in the review
  • The common features we have seen in the small number of cases we have considered in this review suggest that the practices and approaches we have set out in the case studies may be widespread across the sector. We are therefore drawing the attention of all registered providers to our findings, because they highlight matters that are likely to raise compliance concerns, now and in the future.
  • The findings in this report are shared as case studies; we have not conducted a formal regulatory investigation. Any regulatory judgements we make in future would depend on the circumstances of an individual case, and would involve detailed consideration of the impact of a provider’s policies on the marks awarded to students.

If we were to consider compliance with our current regulatory requirements for the practices described in the case studies, we would be likely to have regulatory concerns about the following: 

  • Case studies 1 and 2: In these examples, it seems plausible if not likely that some students are not being assessed on their proficiency in written English. This is because learning outcomes do not include this requirement. In these circumstances we would have concerns about whether the provider’s courses are well designed and provide a high-quality academic experience. We would also have concerns about whether the qualifications awarded to students are valued by employers or enable further study. We would consider whether such qualifications represent value for money for students and taxpayers. 
  • For Case study 2, we would take a particular interest in the effect of the policies on groups of students whose first language is not English
  • Case study 3: In this example, we would have similar concerns as for case studies 1 and 2. We would also consider the adequacy and effectiveness of the provider’s academic governance arrangements, which have the potential to create inconsistencies in the requirements for students in different subject areas.

We are currently consulting on proposals to clarify and strengthen our regulatory requirements for quality and standards. We will consider all consultation responses carefully before reaching a decision about whether or not we should take forward our proposals, in full or in part. For illustrative purposes, if we were to implement the proposals as set out in the consultation document, the practices we have seen would be likely to raise concerns in relation to proposed conditions B1, B2, B4 and B5

If the policies and approaches identified in this report are leading to students getting higher marks than they otherwise would, for instance because poor proficiency in written English is not being routinely assessed, then this not only undermines the rigour of assessment processes, but also contributes to unexplained grade inflation. 55. We will test this hypothesis for individual providers through our investigatory work.

Local Digital Skills Partnerships

DCMS published the findings of an independent Evaluation of the Local Digital Skills Partnerships  which assessed the impact made by six regions operating Local Digital Skills Partnerships (LDSP). LDSPs are designed to build regional capacity to improve digital skills capability at all levels. They bring together and connect partners from the public, private and third sectors to upskill the current workforce, advance digital inclusion, and raise awareness of the importance of digital skills regionally. The evaluation found the LSDP model to be agile and worked effectively. Therefore, DCMS have confirmed they’ll consider the key findings, and look to build on this early success and expand the model to other parts of the country.

Other news

Academic lockdown time recovery: A Wonkhe blog on the impact of lockdown on academic parents with suggestions on how to help them catch up on missed research and professional time:

  • Potential solutions here are: using a different form of annual evaluation, reducing the teaching load in future semesters on academic parents who’ve seen their research completely stalled, providing more teaching assistants or other types of support to reduce the teaching load, temporarily reduce service and administrative burdens, and/or have better parental leave arrangements. One respondent indicated that their university developed a working parent task force, to get input from the working parents and think about solutions together.
  • Taking a step back, we recommend developing a culture of care, and making our universities places where compassion and solidarity are important values.

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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 1st October 2021

It’s conference season, so official news is thin,  However we have a fascinating change in roles and responsibilities for HE, some updates from the Labour conference and some good news about research funding.

Ministerial sharing

Late on Friday Parliament confirmed that Michelle Donelan’s role will be renamed Minister of State for Higher Education and Further Education. As we explained in last week’s update she shares the skills remit with Alex Burghart MP who is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Skills). Here is how they share the remit – it is interesting to see the thinking here with WP and student experience in HE being split off (and given to Alex Burghart) and quality and funding staying with MD.

Donelan:

  • strategy for post-16 education
  • higher technical education (levels 4 and 5)
  • further education funding and accountability
  • lifelong learning entitlement
  • Institutes of Technology and National Colleges
  • universities and higher education reform
  • higher education quality
  • student finance (including the Student Loans Company)
  • coronavirus (COVID-19) response for universities, higher education institutions and further education services (jointly with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Skills))

Burghart:

  • further education providers including provider finances and workforce
  • T Levels and qualifications reviews (levels 3 and below)
  • apprenticeships including pre-apprenticeships [and presumably degree apprenticeships]
  • adult education, including the National Skills Fund and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund
  • Skills Accelerators and Industry Training Boards
  • careers education, information and guidance including the Careers and Enterprise Company [this includes HE]
  • reducing the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training
  • student experience and widening participation in higher education
  • international education strategy including education exports and international students
  • coronavirus (COVID-19) response for universities, higher education institutions and further education services (jointly with Minister of State (Minister for Higher and Further Education))

Labour Party Conference

Shadow Universities Minister, Matt Western, critiques the Government’s education policies and states Labour’s approach in this Research Professional article. There is also this more in-depth article by Andy Westwood, Manchester’s Professor of Government Practice looking at where the priorities for policy should be for both major parties.

Here are the summaries (provided by Dods) from some of the most relevant Labour Party fringe events.

Wonkhe report on Kier Starmer’s leadership address: A commitment for research and development spending to rise to 3 per cent of GDP, familiar from both the 2017 and 2019 Labour manifestos, was the only offering in Keir Starmer’s 2021 conference speech for higher education. In a speech that drew heavily on his family background, the leader of the opposition noted in passing that he was the first member of his family to attend university, and spoke about the need to invest in the skills – including digital skills – of young people. You can watch the speech on YouTube or read it online.

Research

  • Recurrent research funding from Research England will remain at current levels during 2021-22, but additional one-off funding will be available to support providers in “building back better” after the pandemic. In total, an additional £132m will be distributed next academic year – and will support knowledge exchange including support for government priorities, research degree programme recovery, preparatory work in enhancing research culture, and the sustainability of specialist research providers. BEIS guidance to Research England emphasises the need to help the sector manage the impact of the pandemic, the need to work in partnership with the OfS on areas including support for postgraduate research students, and RE’s role as a major funder of Jisc in maintaining research infrastructure. The additional funding allocated today returns the balance of QR to project research funding to the government target of 64p in the pound. (Wonkhe summary)
  • The Government has published a study into the technical feasibility, cost and economics of space-based solar power (SBSP), as a novel generation technology to help the UK deliver net zero. The main attribute of SBSP is the ability to deliver clean, baseload energy at day and night throughout the year and in all weathers. SBSP is the concept of collecting solar power in a high earth orbit and beaming it securely to a fixed point on the earth. The Government says that recent technology and conceptual advances have made the concept worthy of consideration by the UK.
  • The Ministry of Defence has published a Data Strategy for Defence, outlining its vision for data and setting outcomes to be achieved by 2025. It aims to ensure data is treated as a strategic asset to support decision-making and make Defence more capable and efficient. The Strategy also gives a structure for data leadership that unites all Defence organisations. It will drive Defence to evolve how data is organised, shared and used to deliver better outcomes, giving battlespace advantage and business efficiency.
  • The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy has released guidance for bidding for Horizon Europe funding. The guidance covers funding eligibility, specific support for different sectors, and where potential bidders can obtain more detailed advice. (Wonkhe)
  • Chemistry: Unless people feel they belong, they are unlikely to thrive in our profession. The Royal Society of Chemistry published A sense of belonging in the chemical sciences. Researching what belonging means to chemists and what helps or hinders their sense of belonging in the chemical sciences. They state: Belonging matters. It affects chemists’ ability to share ideas, try new things, collaborate and ultimately to enjoy their work and stay in the profession.
  • THE: Ethical research – Stefano Caria argues that randomised control trials can be delivered more ethically without compromising quality

Parliamentary Questions:

Freedom of Speech (HE) Bill

Politics Home analyses the potential cost for the HE sector to implement the HE Free Speech Bill in  Freedom of Speech Bill Could Cost Universities And Student Unions £48m. Excerpts:

Universities and students’ unions could see collective costs of up to £48.1m from the likes of legal insurance premiums to protect from claims that would be allowed under the Bill, according to the Department for Education’s own impact assessment… concerns over the price tag have already been raised by some MPs at Committee Stage.

Familiarisation costs, costs of complying with regulation and enforcement, administrative paperwork costs, and the cost of updating and introducing new codes of practice for student unions could also contribute to the new financial burdens.

Lawyer Smita Jamdar continues to speak out about the Free Speech Bill in the Times’: It’s absurd to use legislation to enforce free speech on campus – A bill to prevent perceived threats to free speech at universities is not the answer.

Student Matters

Student Loan Repayments

The Financial Times (FT) announced the Government plans to reduce the salary threshold level at which graduates start repaying loans. They state it aims to save the Treasury money and push more young people towards cheaper vocational education. [Although when have technical or equipment heavy subjects ever been cheaper?]. …Chancellor Rishi Sunak wants to overhaul student financing in his spending review ahead of next month’s Budget, reflecting Treasury concerns that the taxpayer is footing too great a burden of funding university courses.

Graduates currently begin repaying their loans when they earn £27,295. The Augar Review (2019, still no full response from the Government, promised for the spending review…maybe) recommended the threshold be lowered to £23,000 which was the median non-graduate earnings at the time. While HEPI modelled a cut to less than £20,000.

The FT reports that no final decisions have been taken but one minister said a £20,000 threshold was considered to be “a bit low.”… A figure of £23,000 could save the Treasury just under £2bn a year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, while a graduate earning the current threshold would have their take-home pay cut by more than £800 annually, after deductions due to this month’s increase in National Insurance contributions are taken into account.

FT report the DfE as stating it was continuing to consider “the recommendations made by the Augar panel carefully”. Augar also recommended cutting the cap on annual tuition fees from £9,250 to £7,500 — such a cut would be welcomed by students.

There are the usual lines about rethinking HE as the default option and ensuring all those with the talent and desire to attend higher education are able to do so, whilst ensuring that the cost of higher education is fairly distributed between graduates and the taxpayer.

FT: Henry Parkes, a senior economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said lowering the threshold would be “virtually indistinguishable from a tax rise targeted at young workers alone”… HEPI director Nick Hillman said the option was better than alternatives, bringing “very significant” savings “without seriously harming on-the-ground services”.

Here is David Willetts’ paper published by HEPI:  How to boost higher education and cut public spending.

Willetts was the Universities and Science minister (2010-14) both he and Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) were instrumental in introducing HE tuition fees. Brief summary:

  • Higher education has fallen out of favour. But it boosts earnings, wellbeing and the prospects of people and areas left behind. Conservatives are increasingly worried that graduates are left wing but the Party’s problem is with young people more widely. The best way to tackle this problem is by helping them fulfil their aspirations – to own their home, get a decent job, and – yes – go to university.
  • It is in the interests of students that universities are well funded. But that should not come at the expense of taxpayers. It is wrong that forecast loan write-offs have risen from 28% under the Coalition to 53% today.…This is the result of the mistaken decision to raise the repayment threshold to £25,00 and index it thereafter…. Too many graduates have the depressing experience of their student debt rising each year when they could be paying it off. That’s why I believe the repayment threshold should be brought back down to £21,000 saving £3 billion of public spending a year.
  • Universities are crucial to levelling up and boosting earnings as well as delivering vocational training. That means breaking down old-fashioned assumptions about universities shaped by the long dominance of the Oxbridge model. Higher education comes in many forms. The so-called “bad” universities are very useful indeed in vocational training and applied research. They are anchor institutions boosting local economies across England…Universities are a great national asset. We should use them and build more of them.
  • More graduates in an area boosts the earnings of non-graduates. The levelling up agenda means we need more university students from low-participation areas. That is unlikely to be achieved if it is a zero-sum game dependent on lowering participation in high participation areas.
  • There should be a quinquennial review of the levels of fees and loans so they can be recalibrated as the labour market and the economy change.
  • …universities should have the opportunity of taking a stake in the debt of their own graduates so they gain if their graduates’ earnings rise.

An interesting point on apprenticeships: …higher level apprentices were more white, more male, less likely to be disabled and less likely to be from a deprived area. Social barriers to apprenticeships may be one reason why disadvantaged groups have rapidly increasing levels of participation in higher education which has more diverse and open recruitment.

Willetts is also opposed to the binary divide forcing 16-19 year olds to choose between T levels and A levels. He sees a clear role for universities in the delivery of higher technical provision. He is in favour of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement but caveats that mature students are more averse to loans than younger students, who can see the promise of the graduate route whereas it may be harder for older people to shift career. It is likely therefore that take up of the four-year loan entitlement will be greatest among younger students. This is an opportunity to move to four-year degrees, a historic opportunity to tackle England’s worst education problem – early specialisation.

Wonkhe highlight that Willetts’ paper calls for the repayment threshold of £21,000 would return it to the original recommended level set by the Browne Review. Wonkhe also highlight an aspect that the Government may find pleasing – that providers should be allowed to hold their own graduate debt, and should be supported by the Student Loans Company in contacting their own graduates.

Arguing against the lower repayment threshold Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert warns the Government against possible retrospective changes to the terms and conditions of existing student loan contracts.

  • If repayments continue to remain at 9% of earnings, that would mean students having to pay around £400/yr more; meaning the lowest earning graduates would end up paying more, and for longer.
  • My concern here is there is no note on whether this change may or may not be retrospective and whether this change would hit those who have already signed contracts – and remember, the student loan is a contract, to repay.
  • In my view, it would be an absolute breach of natural justice to retrospectively change the terms of a contract that people have signed and I would certainly raise my voice very loudly again. We cannot allow a reverse contractual change.
  • In 2015, Martin hired lawyers to investigate a judicial review looking at preventing the Government from freezing the student loans repayment threshold. The 2019 Augar report into student loans also agreed with Martin’s view not to make retrospective changes to the system.

MoneySavingExpert.com approached Government to comment on the legitimacy of the FT’s article. The Government spokesperson stated: We do not comment on speculation in the run up to fiscal events. We’ll see what happens on 27 October, although we expect more leaks and the arguments to flare in the run up.

NUS:

  • We would be totally opposed to any plans on reducing the salary repayment threshold for student loans. Like the Government’s decision to increase National Insurance contributions, this burden targets people earning lower incomes – after eighteen months of such hardship, and with the looming hike in energy prices set to hit millions of the most vulnerable this winter, the injustice is simply astounding.
  • They should get their priorities right, end the marketisation of the higher education sector and scrap tuition fees. The Government must re-envision education, and begin to view it as a right for all, not a product that can be bought and sold for individual gain. Only then can we begin to build the student movement’s vision of a fully- funded, accessible, lifelong, and democratised higher education system.

With both Martin Lewis and NUS lined up to oppose any retrospective changes to the student loan repayment thresholds for recent graduates the Government may well consider if retrospective changes are a battle they wish to begin. The FT article tested the opinions and reaction very well at a key point before the Treasury makes its move, a deliberate leak perhaps.

Covid Vaccinations

NUS research:

  • At least 83% of students are fully or partially vaccinated.
  • Three in five students moving into halls of residence are concerned about Covid-19 related risk of living with others.
  • Only 11% of those moving into halls disagreed that students should test for Coronavirus in advance.

NUS: Despite reports of low levels of vaccine uptake among young people and students a very high number are vaccinated against Covid-19. By August 2021 83% of students had received at least one vaccination and a further 9% either having it booked in or intending to book. Given our survey closed over one month ago, this figure is now likely to be considerably higher.

Parliamentary Question: Visas for students studying abroad (clarification on departmental responsibility)

Admissions

Lots of news this week on the 2022 exams. Here are the main links:

  • Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi  has made an announcement on  adaptations to the 2022 summer exams
  • Ofqual’s approach to grading exams and assessments in summer 2022 and autumn 2021
  • Wonkhe summarise: Ofqual and DfE have set out plans for level three qualifications taken in 2022 and 2023. With exams expected to return, there will be advance information provided on the focus of exams to focus students’ revision in subjects, and support materials like formulae sheets in maths. Grade boundaries next year will be set by exam boards to reflect a midway point between 2021 and 2019 – and are expected to return to the usual grade profile by 2023. Results for exams next year will return to their normal format, with AS and A levels being released on 18 August, and GCSEs on 25 August. There’s also a similar document on arrangements for vocational and technical qualifications. The BBC, the Times and i News cover the announcement.
  • Alongside this, Ofqual is consulting on contingency plans for 2022 – which would involve the use of teacher assessments to determine grades in the event of further Covid-19 (or other) disruption. The consultation ends on 13 October 2021.

Access & Participation

Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission has published guidance on disabled graduate employment. Designed to help disabled graduates transition into the labour market, the guidance recommends that universities tailor their employability, career and enterprise guidance to disabled students’ needs. Elsewhere, the guide calls on employers to ensure that work experience and internship programmes are inclusive of disabled graduates.

The Social Mobility Commission launched a sector specific toolkit to encourage socio-economic diversity and inclusion in the creative sector workforce. It aims to widen access to the creative industries for people from working class backgrounds to tackle the ‘class crisis’ in the sector (27% workers from working class background, 23% music and performing arts).

  • It offers practical support and guidance to creative employers on how to identify and remove invisible barriers that arise at every stage of the employee journey.
  • The unique structures of the creative industries workforce are cited as driving this imbalance, with factors including the high numbers of ‘professional’ jobs within the sector, an entrenched reliance on freelance workers as well as an abundance of unpaid internships creating additional barriers to entry for those from low socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Disproportionate numbers of those in senior roles who attended private school or Oxbridge may also have served to perpetuate understandings of cultural ‘fit’ and accepted behavioural codes within the creative industries, presenting an additional barrier to those from low socio-economic backgrounds.

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 a wealth of specialist and research inquiries and consultations at present. See the policy influence digest for their listings. Contact us if you don’t already receive the digest.

Other news

Unistats dataset: Wonkhe –  The Higher Education Statistics Agency has published the first iteration of the Unistats dataset for the 2021-22 academic year. The release adds information on graduate experiences drawn from the Graduate Outcomes survey.

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HE policy update for the w/e 18th June 2021

We’re still in the mid-June lull before the July storm we mentioned last week, however, the Skills and Post-16 Bill was debated at length in the Lords with disgruntlement over the lack of substance and missing details. Lord Storey’s Essay Mills Bill has a twin introduced by Chris Skidmore in the Commons. TEF awards have been extended, but are so out of date for some (most) institutions that the OfS has told the HE sector to stop promoting their awards. And Horizon Europe opened for business alongside Committee concern that the Government’s Horizon commitment is more mothballs than moolah.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

We have a summary of the Second Reading debate within Parliament on the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill here. It was a long (6 hour) session so look out for the bold type in the summary where we highlight the most interesting points. In brief influential points were made in relation to:

  • Questions about the role of local skills plans within the Bill and their interaction with a wider range of training providers other than FE colleges
  • Loan funding (and funding cuts) being part of the reason for the decline in adult learning
  • The Bill shouldn’t separate creative subjects and the humanities from technical subjects and the sciences.
  • Caution about how modular learning connects together in practice.
  • Careers advice and support including regular face to face support. It was also noted that careers hubs were included in the White Paper but do not feature in the Bill.
  • Calls for the lifetime skills guarantee to be made law with automatic funding rights.
  • Calls to limit apprenticeship funding for those aged over 25 to a quarter of the total pot.
  • Criticism that while the Bill was aspirational, the Government have not provided detail on the funding, nor long term commitments.

Wonkhe contemplate the discussion in this blog: Peers wanted to discuss policy, but had to debate a skeletal bill. The blog highlights some important points:

  • David Willetts [former Universities minister] referred to an “artificial conflict” between vocational and academic sectors, noting that there were many universities that have more than 70 per cent of their students studying work-linked courses that met standards and requirements set by professional bodies and employers.
  • Jo Johnson [former Universities minister]… cautioned against the likely attempts to limit access to creative courses – which would “starve the supply of talent” to a range of economically and socially important employment sectors because of a preference for other sectors that offered higher salaries.
  • …Tellingly, Johnson described the Treasury habit of assessing educational value by loan repayment rates as “reductive”, but few expected him to take aim at a “bewildering” range of regulatory bodies with responsibilities in post-16 education. Having given life to the beleaguered Office for Students, he seemed surprisingly keen to bring about a single – joined up – regulator.
  • On the crucial ‘local’ aspect: What’s curious (especially post-Covid when we are all statistical and administrative geography nerds…) is that “local” will be self-defined – the vision seems to be that groups will spontaneously form and apply to the Secretary of State for approval. The expectation is that bodies active in that local area (mayoral authorities, councils, LEPs…) would be involved.

Wonkhe summarise the overall feel of the outcome well: It is clear that we shall see a number of amendments at committee – Mike Watson noted these might include bringing other stakeholders into the “employer centred” LSIP process, and limiting some of the powers given to central government to control what is taught and where. Aims were welcomed, detail was sought.

Wonkhe also commented that pushback can be expected at further stages of the parliamentary process on the sheer scale of powers over provision centralised around the Secretary of State. They also tell us that Politics.co.uk has an opinion piece arguing that inconsistencies and exceptions in the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill could grant space for extremists to thrive.

The debate triggered several media pieces on highlighting the Government’s key messaging around the Bill.  A Prospects opinion piece is anti-HE expansion, pro-apprenticeship, and argues that successful arts graduates have failed as they could have earned more studying something else. The article continues along the current Government party line:

  • the rapid expansion of creative courses in recent decades is one of the main reasons why more than three-quarters of students will now never fully pay back their student loans, leaving the Treasury with an expected write off of taxpayer liabilities worth £28.8bn in 2049-50, according to current forecasts.
  • Of course, higher earnings are not the only reason why people study and creative arts courses offer society much more than just an economic dividend. This is particularly true in a place like Falmouth… that produced some of the best British artists of the last century. But it did so well before it converted to university status and sextupled the size of its student body compared to 1990s levels. The mistake is to think that artistic endeavour, or a whole other panoply of vocational pursuits, are best served through university expansion and funded by debt.

One wonders if the same arguments about value for money will be made once degree apprenticeships attract the same debt as a standard undergraduate degree.

THE also covered this angle in Local peopleIn the UK, Conservative MPs’ backing for new universities in their areas, despite Tory criticism of expansion at national level, has been seen as affirming that higher education must stress its local economic impact if it wants to build a “common dialogue” with the governing party.

Funding: Last Friday Gavin Williamson announced funding aimed for adults to access more, high-quality alternatives to university degrees under new measures to boost the nation’s skills and job prospects.  He confirmed £18 million new Growth Funding for FE & HE – providers bid for funding for equipment and to develop business links leading to skills training in certain sectors.

Tied in with the announcement are the previously announced £10 million for Institutes of Technology and £2 million of modular training aimed at future skills gaps. Overall the three funds try to jump start higher technical skills training for adults. Some of the sector rhetoric around the announcements talk of diverting students away from degrees and into higher technical provision, however, Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, suggests the Government needs to focus on the capable adults that did not progress beyond level 3.

UUK said: Expanding higher technical courses is a positive move which will increase choice for learners of all ages and help employers meet their skills needs as the nation looks to rebuild from the impact of COVID-19. Universities have been involved with developing these qualifications and many universities are ready to scale up their alternatives to the traditional three-year degree. UUK is working closely with government, employers and local partners to help make these qualifications a success.

Engineering Recommendations for local agenda: The Institution of Engineering and Technology have published Addressing the STEM skills shortage challenge exploring the ways local authorities can help train and equip people with the skills their region needs.

Their recommendations which are most relevant to HE are:

  1. UK Government should work more closely with the higher education sector and training providers to ensure funding is allocated on the quality of courses available, not the quantity of students on each course.
  2. Local authorities should initiate discussions between academic institutions and industry to ensure the right skills and training are available for adoption of new technologies as they emerge.
  3. Local authorities should take a lead in encouraging a diverse mix of people into the profession through locally targeted schemes.
  4. Professional engineering institutions (PEIs) and industry bodies should work with local government to ensure there’s a wider and updated provision of careers advice, particularly around engineering. This should include information on the variety of routes into engineering, such as vocational study.

Parliamentary Question: STEM skills shortages

Research and knowledge exchange

Business value and performance: At the end of last week HESA published data showing how HEIs interacted with business and the wider community in 2019/20. Including:

  • business and community services
  • social, community and cultural engagement
  • intellectual property, start-ups and spin offs
  • regeneration and development
  • strategies, approaches and infrastructures

You can see how BU performed compared nationally and within the south west region.

And this week the National centre for Universities and Business found that universities’ interaction and engagement with business and external partners grew despite the pandemic (Aug 2019 to Jul 2020).

  • UK university income from interactions rose compared to the previous year, totalling £5.2 billion
  • 3067 patents were granted – up by 14.6% from 2018-19
  • 16505 licenses were granted – up by 29.8% from 2018-19
  • 174 newly registered spinouts – up by 4.2% from 2018-19

However, University income from knowledge exchange activities with businesses fell compared to the previous year to £909m

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB, said:

  • The new HE-BCI survey results released today show that despite the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, universities’ have put significant effort into supporting and maintaining their partnerships with their communities and businesses. They have also continued to boost their research commercialisation activities. Across a range of indicators, universities have ramped up activity and engagement in a clear sign of their centrality in combatting the crisis and leading recovery.
  • Though the survey results showcase the resilience shown by universities and their important contribution to the economy and society, there are still challenges ahead. Universities did report declines in their interaction with both large businesses and SME’s in 2019-20, almost certainly driven by the pandemic. This is concerning, as university-business interaction is key to economy recovery, to keeping the UK competitive in global markets and to meeting decarbonisation and health-related goals. Experience from the 2008 recession shows that nations that invest in R&D are able to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery. To help build back better, now is the time for Government, businesses and universities to invest in, not away from, collaboration, research and innovation.

Quick News

KEF: UKRI presented at a recent Universities Policy Engagement Network event on KEF: What next? If you missed the event you can view the slide deck here.

Horizon Europe applications opened. Meanwhile the Commons European Scrutiny Committee has highlighted a £14 billion gap in funding for the UK’s contribution to the Horizon Europe research funding programme. Questions had been raised by the Committee to Amanda Solloway[who] estimates…the up-front cost of the pan-European fund to the Treasury to be £15bn over the seven-year programme. The programme will then invest the majority of this back into UK science projects. However, the report found that just £1bn of this has so far been committed following correspondence with Ms Solloway.

At the G7 the UK and America agreed to strengthen collaboration in science and technology through a new partnerships and a new era of strategic cooperation in the field:

  • The partnership will explore a number of areas for cooperation including research, innovation and commercialisation; defence, security, law enforcement and intelligence; and making sure technology is used as a force for good around the world. Officials from both countries will work to develop the partnership over the course of the next year.
  • It aims to strengthen cooperation in areas such as the resilience and security of critical supply chains, battery technologies, and emerging technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) and to improve the accessibility and flow of data to support economic growth, public safety and scientific and technological progress.
  • It will see the countries work towards a new statement of intent to help realise the full potential of quantum technologies, which use the properties of quantum physics to dramatically improve the functionality and performance of devices, develop proposals on future technology such as 6G and strengthen collaboration on digital technical standards.
  • The two nations have also committed to continue to broaden collaboration on science and technology to help facilitate world-class research and influence the rules, norms and standards governing technology and the digital economy.

Former universities minister, Chris Skidmore, writes for conservative home: To keep up with our G7 colleagues, we must increase our spending on innovation and research. The success of “Global Britain” now depends on matching countries that have transformed their economies towards innovation and research. I would now go further— and suggest if we wish to keep up with our G7 colleagues, the forthcoming Innovation Strategy should set a definite timetable for three per cent, and beyond to 3.5 per cent of GDP being spent on R&D. To fail to achieve this in contrast to the other major world economies be setting ourselves up to fail.

Cutting the aid budget is still news. Polling company Savanta ComRes reveal public perception showing support for the cuts.

Click into this link to view the chart more easily.

Parliamentary Questions

Admissions

Research Professional’s Sunday reading discusses tracking the CAG cohort. The CAG cohort are the subgroup of home undergraduate applicants for 2020 entry who only secured places at their firm choice institutions after the algorithmic adjustment (which originally had them missing their grades) was removed.

  • …tracking the CAG cohort might help inform future debates about merit and fair admissions. We believe that the CAG cohort provides a unique opportunity to test the robustness of algorithmically adjusted grades versus those determined through centre assessments and, consequently, to provide insights into higher education’s admissions practices and decisions.
  • institutions are well positioned to monitor the CAG cohort relative to the ‘mainstream’ cohort, to enable a better understanding of the extent to which A-level grades—both the initial algorithmically adjusted and subsequent CAG-only ones—are proving to be a good predictor of students’ ability to succeed and thrive in their ‘firm choice’ institution.
  • We should also gain insights into the impact that these late admissions decisions had on applicants’ emotional connection to the institutions to which they had applied, visited and perhaps prepared to attend and, ultimately, how this might have affected their sense of belonging. And we will develop a better understanding of what additional support—if any—has been or will be required for this cohort to succeed.
  • As always—and particularly during the pandemic and beyond—a multitude of factors will contribute to the student experience, retention and success, but might it be possible to isolate the impact of factors associated with entry grades and context? While the complexities involved may mean that any conclusions are tentative and nuanced, tracking the experience and outcomes of the CAG cohort has the potential to inform the evolution of fair admissions to higher education.
  • Should the prospect of a minimum tariff entry standard re-emerge…then there is an even greater imperative to assure ourselves, our applicants and the wider public that, in the light of emerging evidence, these well-established practices remain fit for purpose.

Contract Cheating – Essay Mills

You’ll be aware that Lord Storey continues his crusade to ban essay mills in his latest Private Member’s Bill on the Lords. His Bill is scheduled for a second reading (a debate) next week.  Chris Skidmore (former universities minister) has introduced his own private members bill on the topic. It has raised the profile of the issue but the Bill is last in a very long queue for parliamentary time (and PMBs in the either the Lords or the Commons rarely make it into law).

The volume of PMBs on this topic over the years is interesting as they have provided several opportunities for the Government to support the ban on essay mills. Moreover, the Higher Education and Research Act was an ideal opportunity to change the law incorporating it within the wider changes for the HE sector and legislative amendments were proposed to this effect. However the Government repeatedly stated they’d prefer a non-legislative route (tasking QAA and NUS to tackle it including providing guidance). Given the Government’s focus on quality of teaching and education and on value for money it is a little surprising they don’t seem willing to take a stronger stance. The House of Lords Library have produced a briefing note on essay mills to inform the debate. It is an excellent paper and contains the history and key points in short form. Give it a read if you want to understand or catch up on this topic.

We remind you in this context of a Paul Greatrix blog from March for Wonkhe on banning essay mills – it’s time to act and has interesting content on how the legal ban in Australia has worked. It is a good quick read, and the comments to the article are a must.

Times Higher Education has an article – Monopoly fears: The UK’s competition regulator is to investigate Turnitin’s proposal to buy out its last major rival in global academic integrity services.

Access & Participation

Outreach: NEON published The outlook for outreach stating that from 2022-23 the total invested in activities to support those from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter HE will fall unless there is continued funding provided for the national Uni-Connect programme. They also highlight few HE institution’s APP contain specific targets for certain underrepresented groups and comments on the lack of collaboration between providers for shared targets. The NEON press release contains a short summary.

Social disadvantage impact on educational outcomes: The Centre for Progressive Policy published Re-examination Expanding educational opportunities for every child stating it maps the ways in which social disadvantage affects educational outcomes among children and young people, impacting their progression through the education system and ultimately their employment prospects.

  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are nearly twice as likely to fail to achieve a level 4 in their maths and/or English GCSE compared to students from non-disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • 38% of those from non-disadvantaged backgrounds continue into higher education (HE), while only 25% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds will do the same.
  • 58% of students with low prior attainment at GCSE will continue into a further education (FE) college or other FE provider, where funding fell by 24.5% between 2010/11 and 2018/19.

You can read more and explore further charts here.

Mental Health

UCAS published the student mental health report Starting the Conversation stating there is still more work to do to smash the myths and stigma around mental health, and to highlight the support available to students in higher education.

  • 250% increase in the number of applicants who report their mental health condition to UCAS. (3.7% of all UK applicants declared a mental health condition in their application to study in 2020 – up from 0.7% in 2011.)
  • Despite the above increase UCAS estimates that over 70,000 students may enter HE every year with a mental health condition, but 49% do not disclose this.
  • UCAS suggests a common reason students do not disclose is due to a lack of understanding about what the data will be used for, and the belief it will impact on their chances of receiving a university offer.
  • UCAS are keen to promote positive disclosure and highlight OfS information which finds students with mental health conditions tend to have lower rates of continuation, attainment, and progression into skilled work or further study.
  • Women are 2.2 times more likely to declare a mental health condition than men.
  • Alongside engineering, medicine and dentistry courses have the lowest declaration rates with only 1.4% of accepted applicants sharing an existing mental health condition.
  • Some LGBT+ students are around six times more likely to share a mental health condition, and care experienced students are almost three times as likely. UCAS state this underlines the value of recognising how mental health intersects with other characteristics and support needs.
  • One in five students research support specifically for an existing mental health condition before they apply, and more than one in four look at the provision of general mental health and wellbeing service.

UCAS sets out next steps in fostering an environment of positive disclosure in the report.

  • A joined-up, cross-sector communications campaign to unify messaging – to promote the benefits of declaring a mental health condition, create a culture of positive disclosure, align terminology, and address lingering misconceptions and knowledge gaps.
  • Targeted action in subject areas with low declaration rates to reassure students that sharing a mental health condition will not affect their chances of receiving an offer. Particular emphasis should be given to medicine and dentistry courses so students feel confident that sharing this information will not have implications for their fitness to practise requirements.
  • Continued implementation of the Stepchange framework and the University Mental Health Charter in universities and colleges, with UCAS to develop good practice in collaboration with Universities UK and HELOA to support this work.
  • Student mental health to be a key consideration in discussions around admissions reform – UCAS’ proposed variation of the post-qualification offer model would allow for the early transfer of information, give the student time to develop a trusting relationship with the university or college, and start the conversation about support ahead of transition.

Work UCAS is undertaking:

  • Reviewing how UCAS collects information about a student’s mental and/or physical health conditions and other support needs, including ongoing collaboration with sector bodies and expert organisations.
  • Implementing additional fields in the applications (e.g. caring responsibilities, estrangement) to facilitate a greater understanding of students’ support needs, and how these may intersect with mental health.
  • Improving fluidity in the UCAS application to allow students to share information at any point during their application journey.
  • Enabling students to select multiple impairments and conditions so they can provide universities and colleges with more accurate and meaningful information about their support needs.
  • UCAS to undertake further research in 2022 to understand the experiences of students who follow different routes for sharing information regarding their mental health

Rosie Tressler, CEO of Student Minds, said:

  • Once you’re at university or college, asking for help with your mental health needs to feel as simple as saying you’re trying to find the right book in the library. We know that universities and colleges are working towards comprehensive whole-institution approaches to mental health, which will support and enable disclosure of health conditions at any and every stage of the student journey.
  • The more our future students see how ingrained a mental health and wellbeing strategy is within and across an institution, the more confident they will feel that they are entering an inclusive environment that celebrates difference as a strength. 
  • I’m encouraged that our sector is heading in the direction in which this is the reality for all. This long-term investment is crucial especially as we know that many challenges will have been exacerbated by and will outlast the pandemic. For any student that is looking for support through this difficult period, we encourage you to visit our Student Space, where you can find out about the services at your institution, access guidance and a range of services.

Wonkhe have blogs on the topic:

  • The gap between those suffering from mental health problems and those declaring it is still too large, says Clare Marchant.
  • David Kernohan talks a lot of sense in What should we take from new figures on student mental health? He tackles the criticism levelled at the sector about why university students wellbeing ratings are below that of the wider population:
  • …So, if you took a sample of young (largely female) humans who are not (yet) educated to degree level; and then put them in rented accommodation where they felt lonely and isolated, and then ensured they had limited earning and spending power – you would expect to find a lot of people with depressive symptoms. And you do.
  • I make this point at length to emphasise that higher education itself is unlikely to be the problem – the demographics and living conditions of those studying in higher education are all massive risk factors. And this is why it is essential we get students to share underlying problems…as soon as possible – ideally at the application stage.

Mental health is also touched upon in the ONS recent data below.

Covid

2021/22 students: Many Covid questions about the 2021/22 academic year remain unanswered however Research Professional meander through the key points in So close, far away tackling what the start of term may look like, whether students will be vaccinated, the chaos that might ensue relating to students received the second jab in a different location, the start of term migration, and speculating what the Government may have in mind.

After the PM bungled his response to a question on student vaccination at the big press conference on Monday (asked about students getting two jabs in time for next term, he didn’t seem to have any idea, despite having just announced that all over 18s will have had one jab by 19th July, which would seem to be a good start, and was the response in fact provided by Sir Patrick Vallance).  Anyway, 18 year olds can now book that first jab.  And the PM, perhaps stung by accusations that he is ignoring the young, has taken to youtube (radical) instead.  Wonkhe’s Jim Dickinson has a take here:

MPs protesting about Covid restrictions: A familiar set of Dorset MPs are amongst those continuing to rebel against the latest Covid restrictions.  Conservative Home note that [at 49] “That’s the biggest Covid rebellion since December 2, when 53 Tory backbenchers opposed the tiering plan. The number of those who would vote against a further extension would almost certainly rise.”

Research Professional delve a little deeper in university finances amongst the turbulence of the pandemic: Till debt do us part.

The Office for National Statistics published the latest experimental statistics from the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey (the impact of coronavirus on HE students) for the period 24 May to 2 June 2021.

  • 29% of students said they had engaged with mental health and well-being services since the start of the Autumn 2020 term; among the most frequently specified services used were GP or primary care (47%), online university services (40%), and NHS or Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme (29%).
  • The most frequently specified mental health and well-being services students would use in the future, in the first instance, were GP or primary care (25%) and online university services (10%).
  • 61% of students who were in HE prior to the outbreak of the pandemic reported that the lack of face-to-face learning had a major or moderate impact on the quality of their course; 52% said that the pandemic had a major or significant impact on their academic performance.
  • Most students (81%) said that they were living at the same address as they were at the start of the Autumn 2020 term; this has statistically significantly decreased since early May 2021 (86%).
  • There was a statistically significant increase in the proportion of students reporting that they had at least one COVID-19 test (even without symptoms) in the previous seven days (38%) compared with April 2021 (30%).
  • The proportion of students who have already received at least one vaccine dose (33%) also significantly increased compared with April 2021 (28%).
  • Average life satisfaction scores among students continued to increase at 5.9 (out of 10) in late May 2021, following the improvements seen in April 2021 (5.8); average scores remained significantly lower than the adult population in Great Britain (7.1).

TEF

Last week the OfS announced a pause to the TEF while they consult and consider changes. Current TEF awards have been extended (again) and universities were told to remove TEF references from their marketing and campus promotions after September 2021 (a late decision as many universities have already published their future student material). Given that people (including us) have been pointing out that something would need to be done about the TEF awards expiring this summer, this late notice announcement is disappointing.

Here is what we wrote on this blog on 27th November 2020.

  • 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
  • … 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.

Concerns about timing remain.  The OfS haven’t launched the consultation on it yet  – and the recent OfS blog said that we should not expect this until November.  Even with an institutional only process (no subject level), in order to get results before summer 2022, the time for the new exercise will be very short if the framework is only settled in the new year.  Anyone involved in writing their previous submissions will be anxiously recalling the challenging December/January 2017/18 and not looking forward to the repeat. Or another extension is on the cards.

If you are wondering what the new TEF might look like, the 27th November blog set out our ideas pre the release of the Peace review, and we summarised the Pearce review and the government response, and possible next steps in our blog on 21st January 2021.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, spoke at the at the British Council’s Going Global Conference galloping through the Government’s current policies and international student matters in short order. The speech itself is unremarkable.

STEM diversity: Dods tell us new findings from an external evaluation of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science postgraduate conversion courses funded by the Office for Students (OfS) shows a high proportion of enrolments from women, black and disabled students. 

The data showsthat nearly half (46%)of the total UK students are women, compared with 27% on computing postgraduate taught masters courses previously 23% are black students (12%) and 20% are disabled (16%). This is much higher than the tech workforce as a whole.

£13.5 million funding was allocated to the programme, consisting of £3.5 million to assist with course costs and £10 million to deliver 1,000 scholarships worth £10,000 each, aimed at women, black students and disabled students, among other groups considered to be underrepresented in higher education.

 The programme aims to enrol at least 2,500 students by autumn 2023. At the end of the first year, the programme is over halfway to achieving that target with 1,315 students enrolled on courses. Of the 170 scholarship students who were from the UK, nearly three quarters (74%) were women, a quarter (25%) were disabled and 40% were black.

Antisemitism: UUK published Tackling antisemitism: practical guidance for universities. The guidance makes recommendations on actions universities can take to tackle antisemitism. The briefing suggests there is limited understanding of antisemitism and that is can be under reported alongside issues with complaints processes. It also explores online harassment and provides four case studies.

Nursing & Health professions: A parliamentary question on Clinical knowledge and skills training (nurses and health professionals).

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 12th June 2021

It might not feel it in the wider world, but it’s the June calm before the July storm in HE policy.  The culture wars are getting silly, the data is showing the challenges for levelling up, and there are yet more suggestions for how to spend more while spending less.  Plus two Cabinet Ministers with varying popularity ratings will be seeking new seats at the next election if constituency boundary changes go through.  Is that how Gavin and Matt will get their marching orders?

Research

Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has named Sir Andrew Mackenzie, Chairman of Shell energy as the preferred candidate for UKRI Chair scheduled to take over during the summer. The Commons Science and Technology committee will hold a pre-appointment hearing to consider Mackenzie’s suitability. Research Professional supply the analysis and responses to Mackenzie’s likely appointment.

The parliamentary protest against the ODA cuts continued in an emergency debate.  The attempts we reported last week to get the cuts reversed using an amendment to the ARIA bill failed when the speaker, as predicted, said the amendment didn’t relate closely enough to the core subject matter of the Bill.  However, the issue will continue to run.

Meanwhile, the UK’s association to Horizon is reported to be under threat: Dods tell us that The Telegraph reported at the weekend that the UK could threaten to pull out of the EU’s €100bn flagship research programme after Brussels was accused on Friday of holding up access in an “act of political vengeance.” ….senior Government sources have claimed that the EU is “purposely going slow” on formalising the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe.  This is a side issue as tensions rise in the government’s “sausage war” with Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Quick News                                                                                                                

  • QAA published Learning From The Experience Of Postgraduate Research Students And Their Supervisors During Covid-19. It makes recommendations on students logging the changes made due to the pandemic, talks about the regularity and use of online induction, support and wellbeing strategies, regular listening sessions with PhD students and regularly reviewing policies and processes rather than falling back on how it has always been done.
  • Research Bureaucracy: A parliamentary question on the intention for a public consultation as part of the review of research bureaucracy. Amanda Solloway responded: The Review of Research Bureaucracy has been engaging broadly across the research sector. The intention is to launch a call for evidence to build on this initial engagement.

Quality

The OfS has given us some more information about timing of the many initiatives that they are working on.

  • In July, … we will consult on a set of revised quality and standards conditions (revisions to Conditions B1, B2, B4 and B5 in our regulatory framework) that relate to students’ academic experience, the resources and support they need to succeed, rigorous assessment practices, and reliable standards.
  • probably in November – we will consult in more detail on a revised approach to regulating student outcomes (Condition B3). … this further consultation will set out our proposed approach to setting minimum numerical baselines, how we will assess providers in relation to those baselines, and how we will take each provider’s context into account.
  • The TEF… in July we will publish an update on the development of our proposals … We will then consult on a proposed new framework for TEF at the same time as the consultation on student outcomes. The two consultations will draw on a shared set of proposed indicators, …

And there is more:

  • we are also looking at assessment practices across the sector in more detail..  We know that universities are looking at various ways of reducing the unexplained gap in outcomes for some groups of students, but that should never result in a reduction in the academic rigour required for successful completion of a higher education course. We expect to announce further work in this area over the next few weeks
  • Later in the year we will also look again at numbers and patterns of classifications awarded to students on undergraduate degree courses. …. we remain concerned about the longer-term trend of increases in classifications, and we plan further investigation to identify the factors that may explain the currently ‘unexplained’ increases [Note: unexplained in OfS-speak means not explained by previous achievement, so could for example, be explained as actually being better outcomes?]
  • … over the next month we’ll be setting out our approach to combating the malign effects of essay mills

Also on TEF:  We are writing later today to providers with TEF awards due to expire this summer, to confirm that their awards will be extended until 2023, and those without an award will be invited to apply for a provisional award to cover the period before the next TEF exercise.

And on essay mills – Lord Storey’s Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill has been scheduled for its second reading (a debate) on 25 June in the House of Lords.

That TEF letter:

  • As extended TEF awards will become increasingly out of date, we consider that they should no longer be promoted or used to inform student choice once the 2021 student application cycle is complete. We are therefore advising providers not to use their TEF awards in marketing or promotional materials from September 2021.
  • TEF awards will be removed from the Discover Uni website in September and UCAS also intends to remove them from its course pages, at our request. We will continue to publish the extended awards on the OfS website, which we will update in September to explain their historical nature. Revised TEF branding guidelines will be available on the OfS website on 22 June, but you may wish to start making arrangements now to remove TEF awards from your marketing materials.

Fees and funding

Interest rates – The Department for Education have published a written ministerial statement by Michelle Donelan confirming a temporary reduction in the maximum student loan interest rate.  It’s complicated, it lasts for a short period, and will have a very small effect (e.g. on anyone paying a tapered rate).

As a reminder, while you are studying interest accrues at the maximum rate (5.6% at the moment), for post 2012 English students, the current interest rates are here. the headline is 5.6% but it’s 2.6% for those earning under £27,295, for example.

Here are the main points of the announcement:

  • …In accordance with the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, where the Government considers that the student loan interest rate is higher than the prevailing market rate for comparable unsecured loans, we will take steps to reduce the maximum student loan interest rate.
  • …. two separate caps will be implemented, one for the period 1 July to 31 August and one for the period 1 to 30 September.
  • The maximum Post-2012 undergraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate and the Postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate will be 5.3% between 1 July and 31 August. [e. reduced from the 5.6% noted above]
  • The maximum Post-2012 undergraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate and the Postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate will be 2% between 1 September and 30 September.
  • From 1 October 2021, the Post-2012 undergraduate and Postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rates will revert to the standard rate +3%.
  • Further caps may be put in place should the prevailing market rate continue to be below student loan interest rates.

Future options

HEPI have published some modelling by London Economics on changes to student loans that could reduce the cost to the government  and/or fund some new initiatives. We have written about various rumours and ideas for changes to the fee structure over the last few weeks.  Much of this talk was about what universities receive.  The other side of the coin is how it is funded, ie by students, or rather, graduates.

  • One group of people challenge interest rates e.g. the nominal interest rate is too high compared to real debt, most people never pay it all back, making a substantial part of it “monopoly money”, the optics are bad (the full rate is very high, and interest is accrued at the full rate while you are at university and tapered afterwards). Others support raising the interest rate as more progressive than other possible changes (because only the graduates who are better paid will repay it).
  • Others focus on the thresholds, noting that in a sweeping and hugely expensive gesture Theresa May increased the cost to the government by raising it and it has continued to rise since. Recent suggestions in this area include the LE analysis released by student unions last week suggesting that reducing the threshold might pay for a cash grant to students affected by COVID. Others call for it to fall.
  • Lengthening the repayment term to 40 from 30 years was one of the Augar ideas said to be under consideration by the government and another option considered in the students union analysis.

HEPI’s policy note  No easy answers: English student finance and the spending review  looks at modelling for three options – removing real interest charges, increasing the repayment period and reducing the repayment threshold. They start by noting an important fact which has a major impact on all the arguments in this area:

  • Repayments vary substantially by gender – due to the graduate gender pay gap – with male former students repaying just under £35,000 on average while female former students repay just over £13,000. This indicates that an increase in repayments will often affect women proportionately more.”

Highlights:

  • Removing the real rate of interest: .. Abolishing the real rate of interest… would have an annual cost of £1.2 billion. The impact would be regressive, helping only the best-paid graduates. .. It would also benefit men, whose repayments would fall by an average of £6,400, more than women, whose repayments would fall by £1,300.
  • Extending the repayment period from 30 years to 35 years: … Extending the repayment period would have no impact on graduates with the lowest incomes, who would continue to repay nothing, nor on graduates with the highest incomes, who would continue to repay their entire loan balance before even the original 30 years had elapsed. However, it would affect those in between. … we have modelled the more modest change of an increase to 35 years. This offers a saving of just under £1 billion and reduces the RAB charge by around four percentage points to 50%. [there is not much more said about that middle group – but there is on Wonkhe]
  • Reducing the repayment threshold to match the repayment threshold for pre-2012 student loans (from £26,575 to £19,390): … would reduce the cost of one cohort of students by almost £3.8 billion, split by £2.2 billion less on tuition fee loan write offs and £1.6 billion less on maintenance loan write offs. This would have the impact of reducing the loan write off (the RAB charge) from 54% to 33%, … It would also reduce the proportion of former students who do not repay their entire loan from close to nine-in-ten (88%) people to three-quarters (76%), as well as reduce the proportion who never repay a penny by more than half from 33% to 16%. Both male and female graduates would repay an average of around £10,000 more.

Which just goes to show how complicated it is.  Reducing the threshold – on the face of it not a popular solution – may be the fairest (of these options) in the long term.  Jim Dickinson for Wonkhe last week noted another counter-intuitive angle from the earlier LE work, that increasing interest rates after graduation (removing the taper) would be more progressive than increasing the term of the loan or reducing the threshold. This week Jim comments on the HEPI report for Wonkhe and addresses that middle group who are impacted by the extension of the repayment term by looking back at the students’ union work:

  • when those students’ unions asked LE to model a 36 year term a few weeks back, the resource transfer from graduates in the future to now would make middle-income male graduates £3,000 worse off, with higher-earning female graduates up to £11,000 worse off. In this scenario there’s a significant detrimental impact on the “typical” graduate and a relatively minimal impact on the highest earning male graduates”

Until we see what the government has in mind, this is a debate that will run and run.

The Student Loans Company published new statistics on loan outlays, repayments of loans and borrower activity on Thursday.

Foundation Years

Michelle Donelan responds to a parliamentary question about foundation years (which the current Government has previously criticised):

  • We recognise that foundation years can play an important role in enabling students with lower prior attainment, potentially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to access high tariff provision. We also recognise their role in allowing students to switch subjects. Some universities are already using high-quality foundation years in ways which provide good value for these students, and we are pleased to support such universities.
  • We are committed to ensuring that all foundation years continue to provide good value for money and provide a distinct benefit to students.
  • We plan to consult on further reforms to the higher education system, including the treatment of foundation years, in summer 2021, before setting out a full response to the report and final conclusion to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

The subtext to her response seems to be that the Government intend to only support (fund?) foundation years for in very limited circumstances.

Mature Students

The OfS published their May insight brief:  Improving opportunity and choice for mature studentsIt has some interesting insights.

Graduate outcomes

The Government have today published the latest graduate, postgraduate and non-graduate employment rates and earnings for England.

  • Graduates and postgraduates continue to have higher employment rates than non-graduates. However, employment rates for working-age graduates, postgraduates and non-graduates alike were slightly lower in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • In 2020, the employment rate for working-age graduates – those aged 16 to 64 – was 86.4%, down 1.1 percentage points from 2019 (87.5%). For working-age postgraduates the employment rate was 88.2%, for non-graduates it was 71.3%; these data represent falls of 0.5 and 0.7 percentage points from 2019, respectively.
  • 66% of working-age graduates were in high-skilled employment, compared with 78.4% of postgraduates and 24.5% of non-graduates. The graduate rate increased 0.4 percentage points in 2019. The rate for non-graduates was 0.6 percentage points lower than in 2019 while for postgraduates it was 0.5 percentage points down on the previous year.
  • The median salary for working-age graduates was £35,000 in 2020. This was £9,500 more than non-graduates (£25,500) but £7,000 less than postgraduates (£42,000).

At the end of May the DfE analysed Post-16 education and labour market activities, pathways and outcomes (LEO) considering the effects of socioeconomic, demographic and education factors.

The real point is that pathways are diverse.  Given that the government seems to imply that, for HE at least, courses “always” lead to employment in a related field, the data is fascinating.  The key recommendation is do more analysis, especially on intersectional issues.

  • For the 3.6 million individuals taking their GCSEs between 2002 and 2007 there are over 262,000 different pathways. Of these, almost 168,000 pathways are unique, i.e. each only observed for a single individual. Whilst the complexity of pathways is perhaps not surprising, clear and robust evidence on their sheer diversity did not previously exist.
  • Figure 1 shows the 50 most common education and labour market pathways of all those in the sample, representing just under a third (31%) of all individuals
  • Individuals from certain ethnic groups, who have a special education need, have poorer GCSE attainment (at KS4), are from a lower socioeconomic background or attended a state-funded (non-selective) school have worse labour market outcomes than those from more “advantaged” comparator sub-groups. 
  • Higher levels of education lead to better labour market outcomes, for all sub-groups examined and at all levels of qualification…:
    • Higher proportions of individuals completing a degree are in employment, having higher average earnings than those without a degree and with lower proportions claiming out of work benefits.
    • Similarly, for those without a degree, individuals achieving a level 3 qualification are more likely to be employed, earn more when employed and are less likely to claim out of work benefits than those achieving level 2 or below as their highest qualification level.

Outreach: UUK have published a new collection of case studies showcasing outreach style interventions with Year 13s who will transition to HE in the autumn to help bridge the pandemic’s disruption to their recent schooling.

Constituency boundaries

After the last attempt to review constituency boundaries, which would have reduced the number of MPs at Westminster from 650 to 600 was abandoned, another review was planned, and the new proposals have now gone live. As the HoC Library research briefing just out says:

  • The 2013 Review was abandoned in January 2013 before final recommendations were produced. The 2018 Review was completed by all four Commissions and their reports were handed to the Government but was not implemented.
  • In March 2020, the Government announced that it no longer favoured the reduction in the number of seats in the House of Commons to 600. Instead it would introduce a new bill to fix the number at 650. One reason given is that following the UK’s exit from the European Union, MPs will have greater workloads.
  • In 2020, Parliament agreed the new legislation. This fixed the number of seats at 650 and cancelled the 2018 Review.
  • Other changes included allowing for reviews every eight years, instead of five, and moving public hearings to later in the consultation process. The most controversial change was to how a review is implemented – it is now automatic (see more below).
  • Some changes from 2011 were kept. The seats for the four nations of the UK are still allocated by calculating the proportion of the electorate in each. For example, England has 84% of registered voters so it was allocated 84% (543) of the seats for the 2023 Review.
  • The 5% rule remains the primary rule….

The proposals for England are open for consultation until 2nd August 2021.  Last time there were sweeping changes to local boundaries, including merging Christchurch into Bournemouth East and leaving Sir Christopher Chope with no seat, and making consequential changes to Bournemouth West.  This time, as you can see (red is new, blue is existing) the BCP changes are much less significant, with the real changes confined to Mid Dorset and North Poole.  These changes to MDNP are not dissimilar to the ones proposed last time, extending the constituency across a large swathe of Dorset north and West of Wimborne and including the whole of Wareham.  As such, they are likely to be less controversial locally (our local MPs were not impressed last time) but a quick look on twitter suggests that they will be contested in other parts of the country.  There will be more English MPs and fewer in Scotland, Wales and the North.  It is already being called gerrymandering.

You can explore the interactive map by postcode or region here.

The process will be long – and will be implemented at the next General Election after they are adopted, expected to be towards the end of 2023.  As the government in the Queen’s Speech announced that they intend to revoke the Fixed Term Parliaments Act we can’t be sure when the next election will be.

The FT cover the article here (BU staff can use their BU email address to access the FT online), reflecting views on the impact on the changes:

  • Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde university, said the electoral impact of the 2023 boundary review would be limited as a result of population and political shifts over the past decade, with cities expanding and towns shrinking.
  • Lord Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer and polling expert, said the net benefit to the Tories would be between five to 10 seats in total.
  • Several high-profile MPs — including defence secretary Ben Wallace, whose Wyre and Preston North constituency is subsumed into the surrounding area — are expected to lose their seats. The seats of Matt Hancock, health secretary, and Gavin Williamson, education secretary, are also set to disappear.

Equality and Diversity – student data

The Office for Students has issued Equality, diversity and student characteristics data – Students at English higher education providers between 2010-11 and 2019-20.  There is an updated dashboard to illustrate the data.

International

Parliamentary Question: Graduate entrepreneurs (international):  increasing the number of graduate entrepreneurs by amending legislation to (a) encourage and (b) allow international students to be self-employed.

Response: Students can switch into the Graduate or Start-up routes once they have completed their studies; self-employment is permitted under each of these routes. The Graduate route, which launches on 1 July, enables students who successfully complete an eligible qualification to stay and work or look for work for two years (three for PhD students), including self-employment. Those on the Graduate route who establish an innovative, viable and scalable business will be able to switch into the Innovator route subject to securing the required endorsement from a relevant endorsing body. Students can also switch into the Start-up route. The Start-up route is reserved for early-stage, high-potential entrepreneurs starting an innovative, viable and scalable business in the UK for the first time. The restrictions on employment whilst studying on the Student route are designed to ensure their primary purpose for being in the UK is to study as indicated, rather than to work.

Asia Spotlight: Last week’s Times Higher Education (THE) update focussed on learning across Asia. You can find many of the articles the emailed update covered on the main THE site. You’ll need to register with your BU email address to view the full articles. You can access it from: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?authtype=ip,shib&custid=s7547708&direct=true&db=edspub&AN=edp67121&site=eds-live&scope=site or contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

Chinese research collaborations: Dods and The Telegraph covered new research from the Tory bankbencher China Research Group (CRG) on research and funding partnerships between UK HEIs and China. Details and the research data here.  The CRG finds that 20 UK HEIs have collectively accepted more than £40m in funding from Huawei and selected state-owned Chinese companies in recent years.

Culture wars

The culture war has become even more ridiculous this week.  Some sections of the press and various ministers find something to be irate about (usually on the basis of incomplete information) and social media goes mad; various unrelated individuals receive horrific abuse on social media and another myth becomes part of the tapestry of anti-university rhetoric to be cited regularly whenever there is an opportunity.

This week it was the decision of the graduate common room (the MCR, or middle common room) at Magdalen College Oxford, who decided to take down a photo of the Queen. It turns out that this is not really comparable to the removal of the Rhodes statue at Oriel, which would, whatever you think about the statue or its connotations, be a big physical change to a historic building.

Declaring an interest and speaking as a Magdalen alumna (although I think I have only been in the MCR twice), Jane supports the view of the Magdalen College President, as set out in this twitter thread.  Plus, really, storms in teacups or what.  The main lesson for this seems to be not to put pictures on your walls.  You might offend someone putting them up, and you are bound to offend someone if you later take them down.

Of course, the protest isn’t really about the photo, it is about the reasons allegedly given.  Those offended by discussions about safe spaces and decolonisation have been triggered.  That is an issue that the Secretary of State and the Universities Minister feel strongly about.

The other culture war example this week has been about historic (racist and sexist) statements by a cricket player, who is now probably wondering whether he should be pleased that he is being defended by the PM.   Free speech is good…but only if it is the right sort, made in the right circumstances?  Ministers have been careful in their choice of words.  GW said the students’ decision was “absurd”.  Michelle Donelan, commenting on the decision of some staff to withdraw voluntary labour because of the decision not to remove the Rhodes statue, said it was “ridiculous”.  Have they moved consciously from harsh criticism of the sector to ridicule?  Or is it a coincidence?  We live in strange times, and we’re all conspiracy theorists now.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • DCMS Safety of journalists: call for evidence closes 11:45pm on 14 July 2021
  • Racial and ethnic stereotyping in advertising – Advertising Standards Authority consultation on establishing whether and, if so, to what extent racial and ethnic stereotypes, when featured in ads, may contribute to real world harms, for example, unequal outcomes for different racial and ethnic groups. Link: Advertising Standards Authority closes: 30 June 2021
  • The Intellectual Property Office has opened a consultation on the UK’s future regime for the exhaustion of intellectual property rights which will underpin the UK’s system of parallel trade. Closes: 31 August 2021, link: Intellectual Property Office

Other news

Graduate Outcomes: Wonkhe analyse a new report from HESA adds to the recent growth in literature about “good jobs” by proposing a Graduate Outcomes based measure of the “design and nature” of the jobs graduates in employment do…  brings an important new perspective to the current debate about graduate jobs. David Kernohan finds it more than “decent”.

Diversity: Research Professional report that the proportion of staff at the Office for Students from an ethnic minority background has reached 10 per cent, a 1 percentage point increase on last year but still “considerably lower” than the student population

Net Zero: The Campaign for Learning published Racing to Net Zero The role of post-16 education and skills. It considers how post-16 education and skills policy can support the UK in reaching the net zero targets and beyond. Points raised in developing a post-16 education and skills response include:

  • The need to differentiate between green jobs and green skills within existing jobs. The post-16 education and skills system will need to respond to both.
  • Upskilling and reskilling to meet the transition to Net Zero is not the sole domain of Level 4-8 Higher Education. Upskilling and reskilling at Level 3 and below will also be required to meet the needs of green jobs and green skills for existing jobs.
  • The government cannot rely solely on apprenticeships for upskilling and reskilling at Level 3 and Level 2 for green jobs. As apprenticeships are employer employer-driven, levy payers may wish to fund non-green jobs through apprenticeships.
  • The need for data on the proportion of green gig jobs as a share of green jobs that will be created. Green gig jobs with insecure income may not be as attractive to young people and adults. Insecure incomes may also prevent young people and adults from upskilling and reskilling if they need to put earning before learning.
  • The need to follow the lead of providers developing strategies to embed education for sustainable development in Level 2 to Level 6 qualification and academic and vocational courses (including T levels and Higher Technical Qualifications).
  • Understanding the role of whole institution strategies for transitioning to Net Zero. Institutions in the post-16 sector are already implementing strategies that cover decarbonising estates, incorporating education for sustainable development in teaching and learning, and providing a voice for learners of all ages to initiate change to reduce global warming.

STEM girls: Teach First published STEMinism: One year on. The paper marks the first anniversary of the publication of their report Missing Elements, in which they set out why it’s a problem that so few girls and women choose STEM routes, as well as some of the measures that could help schools increase the diversity of take-up.

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External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 3rd June 2021

A short update this week in a short week – but we know you’d miss it if we didn’t do an update.  And it’s an interesting one, with gossip and rebellion, and some hard(ish) data too.

Staff changes

It was announced after we published last week that Chris Millward would not be staying on at the OfS as Director for Fair Access and Participation when his contract ends in December.  No reasons are given, but it prompted Research Professional to speculate about Nicola Dandridge’s future as her contract also ends then.  These are political appointments – as RP point out, Chris was appointed in 2017 by then education secretary Justine Greening, then universities minister Jo Johnson and then OfS chair Michael Barber.  Times (and ministers) have changed a lot since then.

Of course there have also been rumours about changes at ministerial level too.  Only recently there was a story about a possible imminent reshuffle (which didn’t happen) in which more women would be promoted, and we have seen stories that Michelle Donelan is tipped for promotion. Meanwhile the Mail reported in April that Gavin Williamson was “desperately pleading” to be reshuffled into the chief whip position.  And that was before this week’s news on catch up funding for schools.

Given that new appointees to all these posts are likely to be very much “party line” people, and the new Chair of the OfS is already in place and setting the tone for the regulator, it would be surprising if changes made a big difference to HE policy.  But we might hope for a change in tone and better communications strategies.  Fewer emails late at night on a Friday, for example.

Development budget rebellion

We haven’t had a good parliamentary bust-up for a while.  Not that we are missing evenings in front of Parliament TV trying to work out how many rebels it would take to pass the various motions on Brexit.  Honestly, we don’t miss it.

The news today was full of a rebellion among conservative MPs over the cuts in the aid budget.  The MPs are using an amendment to the ARIA bill, which starts its report stage on Monday, to reinstate the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid.  These sorts of hijacks are rarely successful, partly because to be successful the speaker would first have to select the amendment, which they often don’t in these circumstances because it is deemed to be “outside the scope” of the bill or because it reopens an issue that has been discussed before in another more appropriate context.  But these sorts of parliamentary shenanigans do sometimes encourage the government to promise a rethink rather than risk a very embarrassing defeat in the House of Commons.  Note local MP Tobias Ellwood, who has been vocal on this issue, is among the rebels with his name on the amendment.

If you are interested, the amendment papers are here (they are likely to be updated before Monday) and as well as the aid one, include amendments about ARIA being carbon neutral, one about Ministerial conflicts of interest in financial matters and one reversing the proposal in the Bill that ARIA should be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and public procurement rules.

Fees, funding and rebates

Augar implementation: Following our coverage over the last couple of weeks on rumours about changes to the fees and funding architecture in England and in particular, the focus on the link between outcomes and funding (see more below on outcomes). HEPI has a blog on “mapping the policy influence of Augar”.  There are some lovely clear graphics which highlight, through their traffic light colour scheme, where government has been focussing.  Not on HE.  Yet.

  • The analysis highlights that the Government has responded in full to 21% (11) of the recommendations with partial responses to a further 30% (16) of them. This leaves 49% (26) that have yet to responded to in public at this current time. When you combine the yes and positive responses you see that we have a slim majority of recommendations that have received some form of response in a policy or practical manner.   

Rebates: The Students’ Unions at LSE and Sheffield University have been leading a campaign for students to receive a rebate for tuition fees for this year.  You can read their letter to Gavin Williamson here.   They commissioned London Economics to review the options.  You can see the analysis here.  It’s complicated, and there are lots of scenarios.  Note that if the rumours are true (see last week’s policy update) and the government are already looking at changing repayment terms to improve their bottom line, adopting these solutions to “pay” for a rebate would reduce their wiggle room to use it to pay for other things.  And one option is increasing the interest rate, when as we reported, there are lots of people arguing to reduce it.

The costs:

  • A notional 30% rebate represents approximately £1.39 billion. Of this total, approximately £0.88 billion is associated with students commencing their studies while £0.51 billion is associated with continuing students.
  • Illustrating the per student estimates, the rebate for a full-time undergraduate and postgraduate international students were estimated to be between £5,200 and £5,300 each.
  • The corresponding estimates for full-time postgraduate English domiciled and EU-domiciled students attending English higher education providers were estimated to be £2,100 and £2,300 respectively.
  • Although eligible for student support (and hence considered in detail in the remainder of the presentation), a 30% rebate for full time English-domiciled and EU-domiciled undergraduate students studying in England corresponds to £2,700 per student (and would total approximately £1.1 billion for all full-time and part-time 1st year students and £1.9 billion for full-time and part-time continuing students).

Some interesting facts:

  • Under the current funding system in 2020-21 (i.e. the Baseline), the Exchequer contributes approximately £10.656bn per cohort to the funding of higher education. In terms of constituent components, given that the RAB charge (i.e. the proportion of the total loan balance written off) stands at approximately 53.9%, maintenance loan write-offs cost the Exchequer £4.019bn per cohort, while tuition fee loan write-offs cost £5.395bn per cohort. The provision of Teaching Grants to higher education institutions (for high-cost subjects) results in additional costs of £1.242bn per cohort.
  • Higher education institutions receive approximately £11.147bn per cohort in net income, made up of approximately £10.093bn in tuition fee income (from undergraduate students), as well as £1.242bn in Teaching Grant income. Against this, institutions contribute approximately £189 million per cohort in fee and maintenance bursaries (predominantly the latter) in exchange for the right to charge tuition fees in excess of the ‘Basic Fee’ (£6,165 per annum for full-time students).
  • From the perspective of students/graduates, the average debt on graduation (including accumulated interest) was estimated to be £47,000 (for full-time undergraduate degree students), while the average lifetime repayments made stood at £34,800 for male graduates and £13,100 for female graduates.
  • We estimate that approximately 88.2% of all graduates never repay their full loan by the end of the repayment period, while 33.0% never make any loan repayment.

Their conclusions:

  • The core cost to the Exchequer of offering a non-means tested tuition fee grant of £2,700 to all undergraduate starting students stands at approximately £1.009 bn (Scenario 2).
  • This can be partially offset (by £782 million) by equivalently reducing tuition fee loans (Scenario 1), or totally offset by extending the repayment period to 36 years (Scenario 3); reducing the repayment threshold to £24,500 (Scenario 4); or increasing the maximum real interest rate to 6.2% (Scenario 5).
  • Depending on the option selected, there are very considerable differences on which graduates are impacted.

Wonkhe covers the proposal, with Jim Dickinson looking at how progressive the proposals are.

  • The important thing that these students’ unions have done for us, via some robust modelling, is to first remind us that maintenance really matters. Putting a cash payment in for students that would hit their actual pocket now would make lots of sense, relieve many of them of some commercial debt, and stimulate economies. And as a gesture of goodwill, it would be inherently fair.
  • But crucially, it also cleverly reminds us that in the debate about making England’s higher education system cheaper that will now follow in the run-up to the Autumn’s Augar response, there are important choices to make about the “balance” between the three options of reducing student numbers, reducing spend per head and making the scheme more efficient – and there are further important choices within “making the scheme more efficient” that would impact different graduates in different ways.
  • Above all, in this Gordian knot shapeshifter of a hybrid system that we have – which presents as a loan one minute and a graduate tax the next – it reminds us that the more we move the system “back” towards a traditional loan scheme, the more regressive such a move would be.

Graduate outcomes

The Ofs have issued new experimental data on local variations in graduate opportunities.  For those of us who have been pointing out for a while that one of the risks of using non-contextualised outcomes data is that it ignores regional differences in employment opportunity and reward, it will come as no surprise that:

  • in England, areas with highest concentration of well-paid graduates (those earning over £23,000) are London, Reading, Slough and Heathrow – where 70 per cent of graduates earn over £23,000 or are in further study three years after graduation
  • areas with the lowest earnings – where 52 per cent of graduates earn over £23,000 or are in high-level study – are mainly in the Midlands, and North and South-West England, with coastal towns facing particular challenges

So, given all this, why is the OfS proposal, energetically supported by the government, to measure quality at university by absolute measures of employment and salary?  It seems bizarre to undermine the messages about levelling up, place-based strategy and local educational needs by encouraging universities through quality measures to send as many graduates as possible away to London or other metropolitan hot spots where they will earn more?  You can explore the data using interactive maps, although they aren’t very interactive (you can zoom, in a clunky way), and hover to check your geographical knowledge.

The full report is here.  It is light on analysis, it is just a presentation of the methodology, but there is one illustration of how the data could be used:

To illustrate how the groupings could be applied, we used the LEO earnings-based grouping to dig deeper into differences in employment outcomes between black and white graduates. We found that:

  • Overall, 60 per cent of white graduates earned above the threshold (around £23,000) or were in higher-level study, compared to 57.5 per cent of black graduates.
  • However, this masks some of the difference between the groups, because black graduates were almost four times more likely to live in the areas with the highest graduate opportunity rates.
  • When only graduates living in top quintile areas were considered, 73.5 per cent of white graduates earned above the threshold or were in higher-level study, compared to 59.9 per cent of black graduates. This gap is significantly larger than the overall gap.
  • Conversely, for black and white graduates in the bottom quintile similar proportions earned above the threshold or were in higher-level study (52.1 per cent compared to 51.9 per cent).

Wonkhe have an article by David Kernohan with graphs, of course.  He starts out with a critique of the data itself and then does what you were probably already doing in your head, and visualising what happens if you overlay the locations of universities on the map.  Overall he concludes that it’s a start for a conversation.

And just because maps are fun to compare, we remind you about this HEPI report on regional policy and R&D from May.  Sadly it doesn’t have any actual maps, but it does have charts of UK R&D and regional business R&D spend (figures 8 and 9).  Not surprisingly the regions in the bottom two thirds on both these tables coincide with the big areas of red on the two previous charts.

Equality of access and outcomes in HE

So while we are on the topic of outcomes, the House of Commons Library has a new research paper on equality of access and outcomes in HE in England. These library reports are written to be politically neutral for the benefit of MPs across the House.  They contain a useful summary of the data, the policy context and a lot of useful links so are a useful reference point.  Here are some of the highlights from the executive summary:

Gender: Women are much more likely to go to university than men and have been for many years. They are also more likely to complete their studies and gain a first or upper second-class degree. However, after graduation, men are more likely to be in ‘highly skilled’ employment or further study just after graduation. Male graduate average earnings are around 8% higher than female earnings one year after graduation. This earnings gap grows substantially over their early careers and reaches 32% ten years after graduation.

Ethnicity:

  • White pupils are less likely than any other broad ethnic group to go to higher education. Pupils from Chinese, Indian and Black African backgrounds have the highest entry rates. Black Caribbean pupils have particularly low entry rates to more prestigious universities.
  • Black students are more likely to drop out from higher education than other ethnic groups and least likely to achieve a first or upper second-class degree. In contrast, White students are least likely to drop out and most likely to achieve a first or upper second-class degree.
  • White graduates have the highest employment rates of any ethnic group. Chinese, Black and graduates from ‘Other’ ethnic groups have the lowest. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean graduates earn the least, whereas Chinese, Indian and Mixed White and Asian graduates earn the most. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said subject choice is important when looking at differences in graduate earnings by ethnic group. It said Asian students tend to choose “higher-return subjects than their Black and White peers.”

Disability: Students with reported disabilities are more likely to drop out from higher education and less likely to achieve a first or upper second-class degree. Those who reported a mental health disability have the highest drop-out rates. Disabled students are also less likely to be in highly skilled employment or higher study soon after completing their first degree. Students who reported a ’social and communication’ disability (such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder) have particularly low rates.

Socio-economic status

  • Pupils eligible for free school meals are much less likely than other pupils to go into higher education, particularly to more prestigious universities. They are also almost twice as likely to drop out before the start of their second year in higher education. Graduates who were eligible for free school meals are slightly less likely to be in employment or further study and they earn around 10% less than other graduates.
  • There is a very clear pattern showing that students from areas with higher levels of deprivation are more likely to drop out of university. There are also clear links between deprivation and achievement of first or upper second-class degrees and progression to highly skilled employment or higher study. Students from areas with higher deprivation levels have poorer outcomes than those from areas with low deprivation.
  • Analysis of entry rates shows a clear link between current and past levels of higher education in the area the pupil comes from. The entry rate in the top (POLAR –‘Participation of Local Areas’) group – the areas with the highest levels of participation in the past – is more than twice that in the lowest one. There are also higher levels of drop out and poorer attainment among those from the lower POLAR areas. These students, however, have slightly higher levels of employment and/or further study, than those from higher POLAR areas. However, this does not continue to average salaries which are 16-18% higher in the top POLAR group than in the lowest one at both one year and ten years after graduation.
  • Intersectional analysis White boys eligible for free school meals are less likely to go to higher education than any other groups when analysed by gender, free school meal eligibility and broad ethnic groups. White boys who were not eligible for free meals (and hence from less disadvantaged backgrounds) are also less likely than average to go to higher education.
  • Drop-out rates are higher among minority ethnic groups (combined) than for White students and this does not change based on the level of deprivation in the local areas they come from. The gap in drop-out rates between male and female students was greater for those from more deprived areas, with male students from more deprived areas more likely to drop out.
  • White students from the lowest POLAR groups have a higher level of attainment at university than students from minority ethnic groups. This is true even for those from the top three POLAR groups (combined). The gap between male and female students was greater for those from less deprived areas.
  • The gaps in progression rates (graduates entering highly skilled employment or higher study) between White and minority ethnic students from similarly deprived areas have fallen over the past five years. Progression rates for minority ethnic students are the same for those from both higher and lower POLAR groups at around 70%. Similarly, around 70% of White students from lower POLAR groups have entered highly skilled employment or higher study. Progression rates for White students from higher POLAR groups were higher at around 74%.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th May 2021

The expected flurry of activity post Queen’s Speech didn’t disappoint this week. Speculation about fees and funding, the Skills Bill, an OfS quality measure (which is not going to be used for regulation, so what is it for), as the new OfS chair sets out a new list of priorities, hot on the heels of the REF submissions, a new review has been announced to consider what the next REF might look like, in parallel to the existing review of research bureaucracy, and there is more on last week’s Free Speech Bill…. and now we are allowed to sit inside with a coffee to digest it all (and given the weather, there isn’t much temptation to sit outside).  Other beverages are available, of course.

Government support for universities in the pandemic

The IFS have a report out: COVID-related spending on education in England

Research Professional report on the report:

  • It may not surprise folks in universities that higher education seems to have been the poor relation when it comes to government largesse. This is, arguably, a reversal of universities’ past relationship with the Treasury and an ominous sign of things to come.
  • ….The IFS identifies £4.3bn of the £160bn as having been spent on education in England. Of that, only £365 million has been earmarked for higher education—this does not include loans for research allocated by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
  • … Of the £365m directed towards universities, £70m has been new cash for student hardship.
  • ….Of the total earmarked for universities, £300m is for restructuring insolvent institutions, for which, as the IFS points out, the government has received no applications. As the IFS dryly puts it, this suggests that “actual spending might turn out to be quite low”. It is hard to go lower than zero, unless universities were to start paying the Department for Education for the privilege of being ignored by the government.
  • That leaves around £70m of late-in-the-day student hardship money as the only additional cash directed towards universities in England during the pandemic. As has been pointed out, that amounts to around £45 per student, which is £14.20 less than one week’s Jobseeker’s Allowance for someone under the age of 24.
  • In addition, the business department has made £280m available for research funding, £80m of which comes from elsewhere in the department’s budget due to Covid-related underspending. That £280m Sustaining University Research Expertise package went towards extensions to grants covering researcher salary costs and laboratory equipment.
  • Not included here is the amount for government loans covering non-publicly funded research, which readers will recall are tied to structural reforms in universities, such as pay cuts for senior managers. As the IFS puts it, once again, “take-up is likely to be very low”. At present, £32m is set aside for the scheme, of which £22m is for capital expenditure.
  • We also know that some universities have taken out loans from the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, jointly run with the Treasury. …These figures do not appear in the IFS analysis.
  • Then there is the furlough scheme, widely used by universities, through which £77m was spent mothballing 25,000 jobs across higher education employers. Again, these numbers are not part of the IFS calculations.

Fees and funding

After the Queen’s Speech it is not surprising that attention turned to fees and funding over the weekend.  Research Professional have good coverage of what happened: It all started on Friday, when the Conservative Home website published a lengthy blogpost by education secretary Gavin Williamson…“The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt,” Williamson writes in his piece.   For BU readers we’ve done a little summary of how we got here and what might come next.

David Kernohan from Wonkhe has a critique of the Secretary of State’s argument in this blog and looks at just one arts cohort as an example:

  • Sources close to Gavin Williamson suggest in The Sunday Times that some arts graduates earn “as little as £12,000 a year”. …. I’ve gone one better and found 20 female printmaking graduates earning a median salary of £6,200 a year after graduation. Seeing a small group median like that makes the principal flaw of LEO clear – these graduates are almost certainly working part-time. ….. And LEO does not discriminate between full and part time work.
  • Secondly, these are median values. ….The upper quartile is so much higher than the median that earnings may be substantially higher in a couple of cases – suggesting two of our talented young female printmakers had sadly given up on their dreams and gone for a “graduate job”.
  • So which of our female printmakers have hit a dead-end, a year after graduation? The four who aren’t working at all, who may be undertaking further study or making and selling art full time? The eight or so working part-time to support their art? Or the ones that have put their practice on hold (or given up entirely) to work in media sales because our society doesn’t seem to think it needs artists who can work, eat, and pay rent?
  • Should any of them not have done a degree?.  … If the post-18 review started as a way to win the hearts and minds of students and those who have students (or potential students) in their lives, it has ended in a clumsy and misguided attempt to make subjects that people want to study in their thousands economically unviable to teach. Quite what, or who, this is “levelling up” is unclear.

Research Professional continue:

  • The “nothing but debt” phrase also showed up in a Sunday Times article over the weekend. That piece claimed that in line with the recommendations of the Augar review of post-18 education funding, university tuition fees “could be cut from £9,250 to a maximum of £7,500, according to a government consultation which begins next month”. 
  • It seems that even though Augar himself appeared to disown this particular recommendation; it is far from dead in the water—as was previously thought. 
  • The Sunday Times reports: “The cost of science degrees would be topped up by extra government funding, but critics fear arts and humanities subjects, such as languages, philosophy, theology, history and creative arts, would disappear at many universities.” 
  • There is no date yet for the launch of the consultation in question, but the paper says that this follows “growing concern in the Treasury” about the affordability of the student loan scheme given that a large proportion of loans are never paid back. 

Meanwhile ex-Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, who takes a more pro-HE view in some arguments, wrote for Conservative Home on Monday morning: Student finance? It’s the interest rate, stupid. Skidmore gets to the nub of the issue quickly – that changes are coming and have to be paid for somewhere – so HEIs should get on board and place themselves well for the change. And he reminds the Government that the reason fees aren’t repaid is because the interest levels are so high. Tuition fees are a hot spot for the Government because (1) they believe(d) Labour’s no fees policies are attractive and draw voters away from the Conservatives:

  • But if we are to reduce university fees, then there is also an important policy lever which the Government should also be looking to change, which I believe would have far greater impact on individual lives— and in turn far greater support… We need to look again at the interest rate charged on student loans, which any student or parent will tell you is out of all proportion to the reality of current interest rates.

Bear in mind the cost to the public purse for tuition fees became much more of an issue when the Office for National Statistics reclassified the student debt to count it in with the Government’s debt. Prior to this Jo Johnson (ex-Universities Minister) often defended the removal of student grants by explaining that if the student didn’t benefit from their graduate education and couldn’t afford to repay their loan it was written off.  It was a deliberate, progressive subsidy, we were told.  And Jo Johnson didn’t want to restrict choice of subject either.  How things have changed.

Skidmore points out the problems with the new approach:

  • Science degrees cost more than the current £9,250 a year to provide, with most being subsidised by arts, humanities and social science degrees. Unless careful thought is given to the impact of the unit of resource, what seems an attractive headline offer might in fact backfire – especially if it results in a loss of opportunity for future students in regions of the country who find that their local university is no longer able to provide the course provision they wish, not only in the arts and humanities, but in science degrees, too.
  • In addition, out of the current fee level, universities themselves invest around over £800 million a year in improving access and participation from some of the lowest socio-economic groups to attend university. With a reduction in fees, there is also a risk that the ability to reach out to the most disadvantaged in society is also reduced.

And he tells us his ResPublica Lifelong Education Commission is looking into alternatives:

  • … we should be investigating new methods of funding reskilling and upskilling. The success of research and development tax credits in generating this activity points to an opportunity for how companies could be rewarded for investing in the human capital of their employers, especially given the opportunity to close the productivity gap that lifelong learning might offer.

Meanwhile don’t miss the comments to Skidmore’s article even if you don’t read the actual piece. Although perhaps not if you are concerned about your blood pressure.

The Skidmore article triggered some discussion within HE policy circles as it highlighted the oft ignored distinction between tuition and living cost (maintenance) loans: it is one thing to say the loan system is unaffordable, another to say it is unaffordable because too many poor students have to eat while they study. Quite timely given the NUS hardship research published this week, more on this below.

Research Professional speculate about what a fees cut would do to research prospects and the university recruitment portfolio:

  • While a tuition fee cut would mean less income for all universities, it would affect the research effort in post-1992s much less. ….Post-1992s will be badly hit by any cuts and there will be job losses, with remaining staff asked to take on more teaching. However, the islands of research excellence within them—which rely heavily on the quality-related funding they generate—will be less badly affected than in other types of university.
  • ….Russell Group universities may review their own subject mix. With little profit to be derived from classroom teaching, we could see a swing away from the heavy recruitment that has been taking place in these disciplines.
  • …The squeezed middle will be those universities that attract less quality-related and less external funding but that rely on a cross-subsidy for research from teaching. Under these circumstances, there will be pressure to both lose staff and increase teaching loads in the arts because of the fee cut, and to reduce research activity across the board because of the loss of cross-subsidy.
  • The tectonic realignment that would take place as a result of a tuition fee cut might then see greater research concentration in the big civics, with a transfer of students in the opposite direction as those universities loosen their grip on undergraduate recruitment, once more looking to manage reputation and league table position through quality rather than quantity of applicants.
  • ….The big implication here is that the wider research effort in English universities would take a significant knock. Surely this is the opposite of what the government intends through an innovation-led form of levelling up and post-Covid recovery—so much for being a scientific superpower.

The article then goes on to highlight how the student experience wouldn’t necessarily be better nor would students repay their loans more frequently nor quicker. It is worth a read.

Research

Future Research Assessment: UKRI have launched the Future Research Assessment Programme:

  • This significant piece of work will… explore possible approaches to the assessment of UK higher education research performance.
  • Through dialogue with the higher education sector, the programme seeks to understand what a healthy, thriving research system looks like and how an assessment model can best form its foundation. The work strands include evaluation of the REF 2021, understanding international research assessment practice, as well as investigating possible evaluation models and approaches, looking to identify those that can encourage and strengthen the emphasis on delivering excellent research and impact, and support a positive research culture, while simplifying and reducing the administrative burden on the HE sector.
  • This programme of work is expected to conclude by late 2022.

Details – the international advisory group and their terms of reference; the programme board and their terms of reference. Research Professional cover the announcement. While there aren’t any additional details, their content explores the panel and talks about the review.

Horizon Europe: The European Scrutiny Select Committee have requested the Government explain how Horizon Europe will be funded. Press release, report document, committee information.

  • It is estimated that UK association with Horizon Europe would require a financial contribution of £12.7 bn. for the seven years from 2021 to 2027 inclusive. This is a gross figure, before deducting items such as any subsequent inflow of funds back from Horizon into UK scientific projects.
  • UK scientific researchers have expressed concerns that the government might expect much of this funding to come from existing domestic research budgets.
  • The government has made proposals to pay towards some of the costs of Horizon Europe, but not all of them. The European Scrutiny Committee has therefore written to the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway MP, seeking clarity on the government’s proposals. The Committee asked if the Minister could please tell them how the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe would be funded [within 10 days].
  • So no new news but pressure to reveal plans builds within parliament.

Quick News

  • The International Energy Agency (IEA) launched a landmark special report, setting out the world’s first comprehensive roadmap for the global energy system to rapidly boost clean energy deployment and reduce fossil fuel usage. Contact us if you’d like a summary.
  • The BEIS Committee held a session on levelling up and the post-pandemic recovery. The first session covered the industrial strategy, the definition of levelling and key metrics and related policies. The second session focussed on the Government’s industrial decarbonisation strategy and wider decarbonisation issues. Contact us if you would like to read a summary of the session.
  • Record numbers of trademark and registered design applications have been made post-Brexit. There was a dip in numbers at the outset of Covid in spring 2020 but numbers grew substantially by summer 2020.
  • Parliamentary Question: Encouraging international students to complete their PhD in the UK.
  • Research Professional have a blog Know your Audience explaining how to tailor research grant applications to achieve success.
  • COP26 President Alok Sharma speech: The vital role of the academic community in delivering COP26 aims.
  • The Royal Society have set out twelve critical technologies and research areasthat should be prioritised in national roadmaps for achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions. The new briefing reports aim to rapidly accelerate research, investment and deployment in areas that will become increasingly important across the next 30 years.
  • Kit Malthouse, Home Office Minister of State for Crime and Policing, has published a written ministerial statement announcing the Appointment of the Forensic Science Regulator, Gary Pugh OBE.
  • The National Centre for Universities and Business has published a report on the impact of COVID on business R&D. It specifically investigates the impact on businesses’ R&D and innovation activities and their collaborations with universities.
  • Societal impact: A longitudinal research studywill follow babies born in the 2020s over many decades aiming to understand how societal circumstances and events affect them. A £3 million investment, made by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, will allow UCL and other researchers to develop a two-year-long birth cohort feasibility study.  This study will develop and test the design, methodology and viability of a full-scale Early Life Cohort Study that is likely to follow participants for more than 70 years, starting from 2024.
  • Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has appointedVikas Shah and Stephen Hill as non-executive board members at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. They will help to steer the board “as BEIS navigates key issues including the economic recovery from coronavirus [and] efforts to combat climate change and promote science, research and innovation”. There will be another competition in the summer to appoint a board member to lead on energy and climate change policy.
  • Turing Fellowships – the Government has published guidanceon the Turing AI Fellowships, (£46 million initiative aimed at attracting and maintaining the best talent in artificial intelligence).  The full document, including the Turing AI Fellows supported by funding from the UK government, can be accessed here.

Parliamentary News

You can read the full text of the Queen’s speech debate relating to education: A Brighter Future for the Next Generation.

Labour confirmed their shadow line up for Education:

  • Shadow Education Secretary: Kate Green
  • Peter Kyle (Schools)
  • Matt Western (Universities)
  • Toby Perkins (Apprenticeships & life-long learning)
  • Tulip Siddiq (Children & Early Years)
  • Child Poverty Strategy – Wes Streeting

Here is the new Scottish Government Cabinet:

  • Nicola Sturgeon – First Minister
  • John Swinney – Deputy First Minister
  • Kate Forbes – Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy
  • Humza Yousaf – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
  • Shirley-Anne Somerville – Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
  • Michael Matheson – Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport
  • Keith Brown – Cabinet Secretary for Justice
  • Shona Robison – Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
  • Angus Robertson – Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
  • Mairi Gougeon – Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has been introduced  – it will be starting its journey in the House of Lords. We are waiting for a date for the second reading (this is when the actual debate and discussion of the Bill begins); it probably won’t be discussed until June. The Bill will cover:

  • local skills improvement plans;
  • further education;
  • the functions of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and relating to technical education qualifications;
  • to make provision about student finance and fees;
  • to make provision about assessments by the Office for Students;
  • to make provision about the funding of certain post-16 education or training providers.

Here is the Government’s press release:  New legislation to help transform opportunities for all – The Skills and post-16 Education Bill will support vital reforms to post-16 education so more people can gain the skills needed to secure great jobs.

You can read the full text of the Bill, the accompanying explanatory notes and the impact assessment. Or the shorter version is that the Bill provisions currently:

  • Provide for a statutory underpinning for local skills improvement plans, introducing a power for the Secretary of State for Education to designate employer representative bodies to lead the development of the plans with duties on providers to co-operate in the development of and then have regard to the plans

The key policy objectives of local skills improvement plans, as part of the Skills Accelerator, are to:

  • Enable employers to clearly articulate the priority strategic changes they think are required to technical skills provision in a local area to make it more responsive to the skills needs.
  • Enable a process whereby FE providers respond better collectively to the labour market skills needs in their area.

To frame this policy intent in legislation, the Bill measure focuses on:

  • giving the Secretary of State the ability to designate employer-representative bodies (ERBs) to develop local skills improvement plans, ensuring ERBs have regard to written guidance and providing them with the necessary influence to develop local skills improvement plans; and
  • requiring providers to co-operate with the ERB in developing the local skills improvement plan and have due regard to this when considering their technical education and training offer
  • Introduce a duty for all further education corporations, sixth form college corporations and designated institutions to review how well the education or training provided by the institution meets local needs, and assess what action the institution might take to ensure it is best placed to meet local needs. This places a duty for all governing bodies to keep their provision under review to ensure that they are best placed to meet the needs of the local area. This duty will form part of college planning from academic year 2022/23…
  • Introduce additional functions to enable the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (“the Institute”) to define and approve new categories of technical qualifications that relate to employer-led standards and occupations in different ways, and to have an oversight role for the technical education offer in each occupational route, including mechanisms to manage proliferation.
  • Ensure that the Institute and the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (“Ofqual”) maintain a streamlined collaborative system for approval and regulation of technical qualifications.
  • Giving the Institute powers to determine new qualification categories and approve qualifications against associated criteria in the future….Putting the mechanisms in place to ensure the qualifications market delivers high quality technical qualifications based on employer-led standards and employer demand.
  • Giving the Institute powers that could allow it to charge for approval and to manage proliferation.
  • Introduce specific provision reflecting lifelong learning entitlement policy which aims to make it easier for adults and young people to study more flexibly – allowing them to space out their studies, transfer credits between institutions, and take up more part-time study. The proposed legislation modifies the existing regulation-making powers in the Teaching and Higher Education Act (THEA) 1998 so as to:
  • make specific provision for funding of modules of higher education and further education courses, and the setting of an overall limit to funding that learners can access over their lifetime,
  • make clear that maximum amounts for funding can be set other than in relation to an academic year.
  • Enable the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations for the purpose of securing or improving the quality of Further Education (“FE”) initial teacher training;
  • Reinforce the Office for Students’ ability to assess the quality of higher education providers in England, and make decisions on compliance and registration by reference to minimum requirements for quality. [we’ll talk more about this in the section on OfS priorities below]
  • Enable the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations to provide for a list of post-16 education or training providers, in particular Independent Training Providers (“ITPs”), to indicate which providers have met conditions that are designed to prevent or mitigate risks associated with the disorderly exit of a provider from the provision of education and training.
  • Extend statutory intervention powers applicable to further education corporations, sixth form college corporations and designated institutions under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. This measure will enable the Secretary of State for Education to intervene where there has been a failure to meet local needs, and to direct structural change where that is required to secure improvement (such as mergers); and
  • Make amendments to clarify and improve the operation of the FE insolvency regime for further education bodies, relating to the use of company voluntary arrangements, transfer schemes and the designation of institutions.

Wonkhe have a blog picking out matters to note within the Bill – it dismisses the Bill as poorly thought out and without substance. The first comment to the blog (Phil Berry) makes a really important point on the lifelong learning funding– For this to truly work there needs to be a complete rethink of how student funding works with the removal of the distinctions between full-time and part-time and a move to a credit based system. It seems to be a bolt-on at the moment.

More OfS priorities

The new chair of the OfS spoke at a UUK meeting.  You can read the press release here and the full speech here. He set out four key principles:

  • nobody with the talent to benefit from higher education should find that their background is a barrier to their success
  • higher education students from all backgrounds and on all courses should expect a high quality experience, and that high academic standards must be maintained
  • universities must continue to take urgent steps to tackle harassment on campus
  • we should, as an efficient and effective regulator, take steps to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden wherever we can

On widening participation, he said this is key to the levelling up agenda.  You’ll recognise a theme here from a few years ago when there were thoughts of making school sponsorship mandatory…where is this going now?

  • Universities, working with schools, …. need to continue to reach out – especially to those towns and coastal communities where people feel forgotten – and to show people there that university is for them too. By casting their nets wide, searching for talent where opportunity may be in short supply, universities have the power to transform lives. And universities have a critical role in developing that talent also, doing the hard graft with schools and pupils to drive up attainment and achievement from an early age.

On quality, he promised the outcome of the quality consultation shortly.  As expected, quality is defined by outcomes (specifically, employment outcomes) and continuation, and they are “sharpening their regulatory tools”.  That may be a reference to the Skills Bill, which apparently is going to give them new powers to enforce their quality framework.  [In the meantime, the OfS have launched their new metric which uses, guess what, continuation and employment outcomes to provide a single combined score (called, creatively, “Proceed”) – see more in the separate section below.]

  • Let me be clear though. Broadening access to university cannot be done by lowering standards. I do not accept the argument that levelling up can involve any reduction in the academic excellence and rigour of which our higher education sector is rightly proud. It is incumbent on our universities to play their part in raising standards and attainment both at the point of access and throughout the higher education experience.
  • ….When students do begin their degrees, they are right to expect that they will receive high quality teaching and a springboard to a good career. Education for its own sake is to be commended and protected, but in doing so we should recognise that – for most students – securing a rewarding career is one of the most important factors in deciding what, where and how to study.
  • While most higher education teaching in England is good or excellent, good quality is not universal. Nobody embarks on a degree expecting to drop out, or to find themselves no better off months – or even years – after they graduate. Courses with high drop out rates and low progression to professional employment let students down, and we shouldn’t be reticent in saying so, or taking action.
  • …Most universities and other higher education providers offer good quality provision. Many will comfortably out-perform any numerical baselines we set – and will see regulatory burden fall as a result. But, where standards slip we stand ready to intervene. We will set out our next steps on quality shortly, sharpening our regulatory tools as necessary to address these issues and help ensure that students can count on good quality higher education.

[Just to finish the point on the Skills Bill, the relevant bit is section 17:

In section 23 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (assessing the quality of, and the standards applied to, higher education), at the end insert—

“(4) The factors that may be taken into account for the purposes of an assessment…. of the quality of higher education provided by an institution include the student outcomes of the institution.

(5) The student outcomes of an institution may be measured by any means (whether qualitative or quantitative) that the OfS considers appropriate, including by reference to the extent to which—

(a) persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution continue to undertake that course, or another course at the same or a similar level, after a period of time,

(b) persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution are granted an award of a particular description by that institution,

(c) persons who are granted an award by the institution undertake further study of a particular description, or

(d) persons who are granted an award by the institution find employment of a particular description by virtue of that award.

(6) The OfS may, from time to time, determine and publish a minimum level in relation to a measure of student outcomes which all institutions to whom the measure is applicable are expected to meet.

(7) The OfS is not required to determine and publish different minimum levels in relation to a measure of student outcomes in order to reflect differences in—

(a) particular student characteristics; (b) the particular institution or type of institution which is  providing higher education;

(c) the particular higher education course or subject being studied;

(d) any other such factor. …

So we get to harassment. He talked about the new statement of expectations and promised, to look at options for making compliance a regulatory condition.  He did not mention freedom of speech (strange, for such a topical issue and with the OfS being promised sweeping new powers in the new Bill).  He did, however, reconfirm the position on anti-Semitism:

  • One straightforward action to take is for all universities to sign up to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The definition is important in helping us all to interpret and understand antisemitism and I strongly urge any university that hasn’t signed up to do so without delay. Those universities that have signed up must – of course – continue to be alert to antisemitic incidents and have clear measures in place to ensure that Jewish students are free to study and enjoy university life without fear of harassment.

And so to bureaucracy.

  • Reducing unnecessary burden will be a priority for me. [This one is a stretch when the new quality regime proposed onerous new data and reporting requirements, the Freedom of Speech Bill sets up another layer of reporting and monitoring and we are about to be consulted on the next iteration of the TEF.  While the TEF is going to be better than it might have been (no subject level) it will be mandatory and demanding to complete.]
  • We need to get the balance right between ensuring students and taxpayers enjoy the benefits of regulation without universities experiencing an overly bureaucratic process that detracts from their core purpose – delivering excellent teaching and research. [I guess it’s all about perspective – if it’s necessary and beneficial, then it doesn’t matter if, in fact, it increases the overall burden].
  • … as a first step, we will publish next week the details of a new key performance measure that will set out transparently whether our work is reducing or increasing reducing regulatory burden. [Well, that’s ok then].

So with this in mind, Nicola Dandridge (CEO of the OfS) has blogged about their approach to managing the regulatory burden.  She says that they are committed to getting the balance right between the benefits and burden of regulatory and that [be prepared to find some of these underwhelming…]:

  • producing plans for each of the last two years has imposed significant administrative burden. Data released today shows no reduction in burden at this stage. However, this will change in future as we have increased the length of access and participation plans to five years
  • we have reduced our data requirements. We now no longer require data about estates or non-academic staff, and providers were required to submit at most 15 data returns last year, down from 18 the year before
  • We have also successfully reduced – where appropriate – enhanced monitoring requirements. There were a total of 468 conditions subject to enhanced monitoring across all providers in March 2020, and we reduced this to 406 in November 2020, despite increasing the number of registered providers overall.
  • we have suspended random sampling
  • ….and committed to reducing providers’ fees by 10 per cent in real terms over the next two years. Today’s measures show that the combined fees of OfS, HESA and QAA cost providers an average of less than £20 per student last year.

And – tada – the new KPI is revealed.  With only one or two years of data, the graphs are not very exciting, but you might like the ones under (4) “understanding our regulatory approach”.

  1. Submitting data and information.
  2. Complying with enhanced monitoring requirements.
  3. Developing and agreeing access and participation plans.
  4. Understanding our regulatory approach.
    • The OfS published around 420,000 words in regulatory documents in in each of the past two years. Around 60 per cent of these documents met our readability target
  5. Paying regulatory fees.
    • Providers paid an average of under £20 per student to be registered with the OfS in 2019-20 (providers registered in 2019-20 paid an average of £19.91 per student in regulatory fees) [there is a commitment to reduce fees by 10% by 2022-23]

Research Professional ran an article on the regulatory burden. Wonkhe have a blog too: The OfS measures its own regulatory burden.

Proceed: Graduate Prospects Measure

In the context of all this talk about closing down courses and capping fees, if drop out rates and employment statistics aren’t up to scratch, the OfS have published an experimental new measure through which they intend to show students’ likelihood of securing professional level employment or embarked on further study in the year after they graduate. The measure is based on projected data for full-time first degree students who complete their studies (completion rates) and the progression of recent graduates to employment, further study and other activities (graduate outcomes); for short it is called Proceed. This is the second release of the measure as the OfS has tweaked it since its first outing in December in response to cross-sector feedback.

The OfS press release states new measure shows substantial differences in likely job and study outcomes for students stating it reveals substantial differences between individual universities and other higher education providers, in different subjects, and in different subjects at individual universities. The OfS anticipates prospective students will consult the measure to make informed choices about what and where to study and they say they have no intention to use it in regulation.

We know that latter part is probably true – because this data is benchmarked, and the quality consultation and the new provisions in the Skill Bill confirm their intention to use non-benchmarked data to regulate.  So this new metric is a much softer, friendlier approach than the one we are expecting.  It also looks remarkably like something that might crop up in the new TEF – using the government’s favourite metrics and benchmarks that look a lot like TEF3.  Although this new data goes further – it is given at subject level, which the TEF apparently won’t do.

Do we get any idea about what the harder edged version might look like?  Well maybe.  50% seems to be a magic number.  Or 55%.  Or perhaps those were just picked because they illustrated the point nicely.

The accompanying press release notes:

  • significant differences in performance between different universities and colleges. The measure projects that over 75% of entrants at 22 universities and other higher education providers will go on to find professional employment or further study shortly after graduation. At 25 universities and other education providers, less than half of students who begin a degree can expect to finish that degree and find professional employment or further study within 15 months of graduation [this latter comment is a bit confusing. There aren’t 25 institutions which had below 50% scores on both metrics (because there are only 3 that don’t meet 50% on the completion one and only 5 on the progression one) but there are 25 that are under 50% for the combined Proceed metric – and nearly all of them are well over 50% the two separate metrics.  The detail matters.]
  • significant differences at a subject level. For example, 95.5% of medicine and dentistry entrants are projected to find professional employment or further study. Conversely the rates are below 55% in six subjects [again, not really accurate. If you look at the progression rates by subject there are NO subjects where the sector number is below 60%.  There are 6 subjects below 55% on the combined Proceed measure.  Those unimpressed by the SoS’s focus on “slashing” funding for media studies will note this list and also that he studied Social Sciences at Bradford (no progression data on the chart so no combined score). Also, using Medicine and Dentistry as the comparator is a misleading; it is clearly an outlier.  The next one on the list is Veterinary sciences (86.4%) and then Nursing and Midwifery at 78.6% – and again, you would expect employment rates to be high for these courses. The first subject on the list that doesn’t involved almost guaranteed progression to employment in a directly related job is Economics at 75.2%.]. The 6 subjects are: Sociology, social policy and anthropology, Agriculture, food and related studies, Business and management, Psychology, Media, journalism and communications and Sport and exercise sciences.
  • instances where there is varied performance between subjects at individual universities [Well, yes. Shall we look at the University of Oxford? Excluding Medicine and Dentistry for the reasons given above, their top overall Proceed score is 96.5% in Mathematical Sciences and their lowest is 78.8% in History and Archaeology.  The lowest score for Cambridge is for Languages (79.7%).  Proof then that the SoS is right, these subjects lead to dead end jobs, even from Oxbridge?]

As we all know, there are so many other factors that influence employment than the quality of the programme.  Who you recruit and where they come from, what they did before and where they lived before and move to afterwards.  And while on average students studying humanities may do less well in employment (on this measure) than hard science subjects, there are and will be so many individual exceptions to this – including the SoS and Minister for Universities, who are clearly not pursuing a straight line career linked to their degree subjects.  It’s so odd that the Secretary of Stage says that HE is not vocational, while championing measures that would only make sense if it was.

Commenting on the data Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • It is important that prospective students have access to good independent information about courses they may be interested in. The report we are publishing today provides a wealth of data which can help students decide which university, and which subject, might be right for them. In publishing this information we recognise that – for many students – finding professional employment after graduation is one of the most important reasons for going to university. But it is not the only reason, and it is important to value all the wider benefits of higher education, including the personal development, the cultural richness and exposure to different people and different perspectives that higher education offers. Nonetheless many universities make significant use of data about the employment outcomes for their graduates when marketing their courses. The publication of this independent data will provide further assistance to students in their decision-making.
  • The data reflects the fact that higher education offers good outcomes, and that graduates can expect to earn, on average, far more than non-graduates over the course of their careers. Indeed, many of the financial benefits of higher education are not realised immediately after graduation.
  • This work demonstrates the continuing priority that the OfS places on the quality of courses. The quality of higher education in England is generally high. But this data brings into sharp focus the fact that there are profound differences in outcomes for students, depending on where they study and the subject they choose. While we have no plans to use this indicator for regulatory purposes, we are determined to tackle poor quality provision which offers a raw deal for students. We are currently consulting on our approach to regulating student outcomes with a view to raising the numerical baselines we have used previously and – subject to the outcomes of the consultation – will set out next steps shortly. But good outcomes are only part of the story and we are also planning further interventions to ensure that all students have a high quality academic experience and are assessed in a rigorous way.

Hardship

NUS published research into student hardship as part of a call for an improved student support package for England. A survey conducted by NUS found that:

  • One in three students have cut back on food for lack of money
  • One in ten students have relied on food banks during the pandemic.
  • Only one in three students find that student loans cover their living costs
  • Only 15% of students have accessed hardship funding
  • 70% of students are worried about their ability to manage financially.
  • One fifth of students stated they had been unable to pay their rent since January
  • Half of the students surveyed stated the income of someone who supports them financially has been impact by Covid-19.
  • One in 10 have taken out bank loans to stay afloat.

NUS say that those most likely to report the greatest suffering are already marginalised groups such as disabled students, students of colour, international students and those with caring responsibilities.

Summer jobs: Three out of four students surveyed have a job for the summer or are looking for one. Of those looking 42% have no confidence at all they will find one.

The NUS is calling on the UK government to increase its student support offer to £700m to match the spending seen in other parts of the UK. However, even in the devolved nations where students have been offered more generous packages the picture is troubled.

Free Speech

Since the publication of the new Bill (see our update from last week) there has been a lot of discussion about it and the issues that it is intended to address.  In one of the more balanced blogs on the topic, Nick Hillman writes for Research Professional about problems both with free speech on campus and with legislation designed to protect it. There is also a HEPI blog covering the same ground: People want free speech to thrive at universities … just not for racists, Holocaust deniers or advocates of religious violence.

The content comes from HEPI polling due to be released over the next month, however, given the Bill and reinvigorated national debate HEPI (and partners UPP) have released this element of the content early. If explores public attitudes towards free speech within the HE context.

  • In principle, the public is in favour of free speech
  • When asked, a majority of people say that people should be allowed to speak to students at university so long as their views are not illegal (55%).
  • A more libertarian perspective, where nobody is prevented from speaking to students because of their opinions is less popular, with only around a quarter (24%) of the public supportive of this position.
  • When asked, based purely on that one piece of information whether in principle such a person ‘should be allowed to speak at a university’, ‘should not’, or ‘don’t know’, people’s opinions range from a net 56% in favour through to a net -49%.
  • It is worth emphasising that between 13% and 22% of respondents answered ‘don’t know’ to the scenarios, showing either the complexity of the issue or an unwillingness to give an opinion.
  • From the scenarios in the polling, the principle of allowing a Holocaust denier the right to speak at university is one of the least supported, with a net percentage of -26% thinking they should be allowed to speak (29% ‘should’, 55% ‘should not’, 16% ‘don’t know’)
  • Conservative voters are more likely to be supportive of free speech for six of the issues, with Labour voters being more supportive of four of them.
  • There are large differences between major party voters on the questions of promoting the Empire, campaigning for reduced immigration levels (although both of these record substantial positive NET scores from Labour and Conservative voters), trans issues and gay marriage.
  • Younger people are more in favour of letting some people speak than older ones (particularly around crime, and communism and Trump supporters). But they are less supportive than older people of someone’s right to speak if they promote a positive role of the empire, are against gay marriage or don’t believe trans women are women (although in each of those cases, there are net positives within all age groups).
  • When split by gender, we can see that men are consistently more pro free speech than women. Across all ten of the examples, men are more likely to want the speaker to speak (though, net, they are also against allowing Holocaust deniers, jihadi advocates and racists to speak).
  • There are limited patterns by socio economic status.
  • When looking at the responses of graduates versus non-graduates, we find that graduates are more pro free speech than non-graduates on 8 of our 10 examples – with non-graduates being more supportive of speakers defending the Empire and (more narrowly) calling for restrictions on immigration.
  • Overall, there are major lessons for both sides of the debate. It is clear that a blanket call in favour of free speech is likely to find popular support. But the real finding is that people will respond very differently depending on the circumstances of the speaker in question.

The blog has the full range of charts subdivided by other factors such as socio economic status and gender.

The OfS also published a free speech blog: Robust but civil debate: how the OfS protects free speech on campus.

  • The Office for Students (OfS) stands for the widest possible definition of free speech – anything within the law…Our starting point is that free speech and academic freedom should be part of the culture of every university and college and be proactively promoted. Free speech and academic freedom are essential elements of higher education teaching and research; they are too precious and too fragile to be taken for granted. Academic staff must be able to undertake teaching and research with confidence and speak out in controversial areas without fear that this will affect their working environment or their careers. That is not always the case now.
  • Students should encounter, and be able to debate, new and discomforting ideas if they are to get the most out of higher education. Universities, colleges and other higher education providers, and their students’ unions and associations, should actively encourage robust, but civil, debate which takes different viewpoints seriously.

Donelan’s pickle

The ripples continue to spread from Michelle Donelan’s comments last week as politicians try to define a non-existent line between free speech and something nasty which isn’t illegal. Unfortunately for the government, if it isn’t illegal, then the Bill makes it very clear it has to be protected.  And gives people the right to compensation if they are prevented (once invited) from saying the nasty thing.  Research Professional have a blog.

Smita Jamdar wrote about the legal issues on Wonkhe.

Prevent/Free Speech parliamentary question: Michelle Donelan bungles her way through another explanation – the Prevent Duty should not be used to suppress free speech. The same response was used to these questions (Q1, Q2) to confirm the Government intend to proactively engage stakeholders with a wide range of interests and backgrounds during and after passage of the [Free Speech] Bill, including Muslim, East Asian and South East Asian students.

It’s all a bit of a muddle, as illustrated by the examples discussed in this Wonkhe article by Jim Dickinson.  What is clear is that there will be a lot of time spent worrying about how to find a way through the maze of conflicting requirements and trying to avoid a complaint through the many different channels available.

Access & Participation

The OfS have a blog by Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, who contemplates the last 20 years of widening participation actions. It’s a snooze fest so you might want to skip it unless you need a short potted history from the Government’s perspective. Chris manages to give the 20 year history without mentioning OFFA or his predecessor Les Ebdon.

Identifying disadvantage for Contextual Admissions: The Sutton Trust has published a report on disadvantaged students.  It finds that commonly-used markers of disadvantage are not effective at identifying low-income students as they enter HE and call for better data to target access work and contextual admissions. The report uses the data from 7,000 young people in the Millennium Cohort Study and explores how different measures of disadvantage relate to long-term family income. It aims identify the most effective measures of disadvantage – particularly to support universities in their outreach work and in using contextual admissions to widen access.

Dods present the key findings:

  • The number of years a child has been eligible for free school meals is the best available marker for childhood poverty (Pearson correlation = 0.69) and is therefore likely to be the best indicator for use in contextual admissions. FSM eligibility also has fewer biases then other measures, particularly for single parent families and renters who are more often missed by other measures. However, verified data on FSM eligibility is not currently available to universities.
  • POLAR, an indicator of university participation by local area, is currently a key measure used in contextual admissions in the UK. However, it was not designed to measure socio-economic disadvantage, and is very poorly correlated with low family-income (correlation = 0.22). It is also biased against key demographic groups, including BAME students.
  • TUNDRA, an experimental alternative to POLAR, is also a poor measure of income deprivation (correlation = 0.17), and suffers from similar biases. Both POLAR and TUNDRA are unsuitable for use in contextual admissions.
  • ACORN is the best area-level measure available, as it measures households at a very localised level (around 15 households), is designed to be comparable across the UK, and has a reasonably good relationship to low household income (correlation = 0.56). It is also slightly less biased than other area-based markers. However, as a commercial indicator, it is not free to use, and the methodology behind is it not openly published.
  • The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is another good option for an area level marker with a moderate relationship with low household income (correlation = 0.47), and the benefit of being publicly available. However, the measure is biased against those who are BAME, live in a single parent household and who rent. IMD is also not comparable across the four constituent countries that form the UK.

Recommendations:

  1. To improve targeting to contextual admissions and widening access schemes, universities and employers need further individual data about the socio-economic background of applicants, in particular Free School Meal eligibility. The creation of a “household-income” database, as suggested by the Russell Group, would be beneficial, but is likely to be difficult to implement. As it is already collected in official datasets, we suggest that information on the proportion of time young people have been FSM-eligible throughout their time at school would be a valuable alternative.
  2. There should be greater transparency and consistency from universities and employers when communicating how contextual data is used. …. The current situation – where different organisations use different indicators in different ways while not being transparent in their use – can lead to confusion.
  3. Universities and employers should prioritise use of the most robust measures for contextualised admissions and recruitment. Where free school meals eligibility is not available, priority should be given to ACORN, the best area-level measure, followed by the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). If a basket of measures is used, these most robust measures should be weighted most strongly.
  4. The POLAR and TUNDRA measures should not be used in contextual admissions for individual students. … its use by universities in their widening access schemes, or as part of contextual admissions should be avoided.
  5. The Office for Students should review the role of POLAR and the inclusion of specific measures of socio-economic disadvantage in advance of the next round of Access and Participation Plans. …. Free School Meal eligibility, as the basis for the official government definition of disadvantage in schools, would be the natural candidate and would enable a more joined-up national policy approach across schools and HE.

International

Dods tell us: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has launched registration for Quality Evaluation and Enhancement of UK Transnational Higher Education (QE-TNE). This is a new, innovative scheme to help UK degree-awarding bodies improve and enhance the quality of their international provision. Follow this link if you want to know more.

Parliamentary Questions

  • The cost for international students to quarantine: international students due to their visa status, that are facing significant financial hardship will have the opportunity to apply for a deferred repayment plan when booking their managed quarantine hotel room. Travellers who access hardship will be referred to a government debt collection agency (“Qualco”), who will perform an independent financial assessment and determine an appropriate payment plan. Several other PQs also specifically asked about international students from India.
  • Whether people on a spousal dependent visa can be given access to student finance.

Parliamentary Questions

  • Graduation: Providers may hold events, as long as they are compatible with COVID-19 regulations… We expect graduation ceremonies to go ahead, either physically in person but delayed in line with the roadmap, or to be held virtually.
  • Further Education Law course/Graduate Diploma funding
  • Labour’s Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has asked several questions on safeguarding mental health and suicide of placement students, and one on general student mental health provision.

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

Essay Mills Lord Storey has done it again – he’s come up in the Lords private members’ bills ballot again and intends to introduce his Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill on 24 May. We’ve lost count of which attempt this is to ban essay mills but he certainly is persistent.

AI & data graduates: Research into the UK AI labour market commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has been published. The research aims to create a set of recommendations on policy areas that the government and industry should focus on, to bridge skills gaps in the sector. Contact us if you would like a small summary.  In short, the research found skills shortages within the AI and data science sector with a range of employers reporting difficulties in recruiting the volume of workforce needed, also a lack of female and ethnic minority employees.

National Data Strategy: The Government have published their response following the National Data Strategy consultation. You can read the written ministerial statement and the consultation outcome.

  • Consultation feedback has confirmed that our framework is fit for purpose. Many respondents also recognised the need to rebalance the narrative, moving away from thinking about data use primarily as a threat to be managed, and instead recognising data as an asset that, used responsibly, can deliver economic and public benefits across the UK.  
  • The government response to the consultation builds on the insights we received, and details how we will deliver across our priority areas of action in such a way that builds public trust and ensures that the opportunities from better data use work for everyone, everywhere. This includes setting out our plans to create a National Data Strategy Forumwhich will ensure that a diverse range of perspectives continue to inform the strategy’s implementation. 

Civic Universities: Read the latest including content on the £50k UPP grant for the civic university network.

Cyber: The Government has published a press release on new plans to boost cyber resilience of the UK’s critical supply chains. There’s a policy paper they’re calling for views on too. The Government want input on:

  • How organisations across the market manage supply chain cyber risk and what additional government intervention would enable organisations to do this more effectively.
  • The suitability of a proposed framework for Managed Service Provider security and how this framework could most appropriately be implemented to ensure adequate baseline security to manage the risks associated with Managed Service Providers.

Light relief: Royal Appointment – last week’s Ivory Tower (a spoof column by Research Professional) piece provided a brilliant parody of the Queen’s Speech with many of the HE hot spots touched upon. Read for a little light relief. If you have trouble logging into Research Professional you can contact BU’s eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

And if you’ve ever gnashed your teeth whilst trying to respond to a Freedom of Information request this on is for you. Paul Greatrix highlights on Wonkhe the 30 silliest FOI requests ever to hit his desk. I challenge you to read it without finding one you think you’d like to know the answer to!

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 11th Feb 2021

Lots to talk about this week as we look in some detail at the Education’s Secretary’s latest guidance to the OfS and what it means and doesn’t mean.

We’re taking a break next week but will be back with a round-up of the essential news the following week.

HE Strategic Priorities – Williamson’s letter to OfS

The Secretary of State wrote to the OfS on 8th Feb 2021 with a new set of strategic priorities.

Interestingly, he also said “apart from my guidance letters on 14 September 2020, 14 December 2020, 19 January 2021 and 2 February 2021 which related to delivery of particular time critical issues, this letter replaces all previous guidance.”  So what are the priorities now, and the context for them? and what is no longer a priority?  We quote chunks of the text from Williamson’s letter for colleagues to scan through because the tone of the wording is quite insightful.  We cover those other 4 letters below as well as what is now “off the table”.

Williamson states: my strong view that the OfS should focus on driving up quality, being risk based, minimising bureaucracy, and ensuring that it delivers on equality of opportunity in higher education…this letter replaces all previous guidance [apart from the 4 other letters he mentions which he states relate to delivery of time critical issues of course]..…The OfS will, of course, still need to deliver its functions under HERA and its operational responsibilities, but the replacement of the majority of previous guidance will, I hope, provide clarity on my priorities and allow the OfS to focus its energy and resources on these.  Bottom line – this is an instruction to the OfS to crack on (and crack down on) the sector to ensure progress is made on his top issues.

But before we get to what they are, this made us try and guess what the biggest “problems” are for the SoS:

  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who takes a degree in a creative subject at a “lower quality” university and goes on to pursue a career in creative arts which is relatively low paid compared to the average earnings of students studying that subject.
  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who studies anything and then struggles to find a “graduate level” job, but particularly if it is a humanities, or media course at a “lower quality” university.
  • A student who doesn’t complete their degree.

Why might these be a problem? In each case the answer is the same: they should never have gone to university at all, and specifically the one they chose.  They should never have incurred loans they probably won’t repay; they should have studied, say, plumbing, on an FE course, because:

  • there is no social mobility – these students have not improved their relative financial position;
  • there is no benefit to the taxpayer – as they have not increased their earnings, they will not make higher tax contributions and are unlikely to repay their student loans – so the subsidy was not value for money;
  • there is no alignment in terms of the UK’s productivity or strategic priorities – given their choice of courses these students are not contributing to the “build back better” vision for the future which is all about STEM, and they are not contributing either to public service and the nation as nurses, teachers or social workers or working in social care (although they might be, but it doesn’t count for this purpose because their first degree wasn’t in those things);
  • the students who fail to complete must have done so because the course was poor quality or there was insufficient support.

Of course this all ignores the fact that many students can’t or don’t leave their local region for employment, that there may be challenging local economic circumstances, and that the jobs and average salaries of their contemporaries at other “better quality” universities may also be influenced by the social capital, school experience, and non-WP background of the majority of their students which makes it easier for them to become lawyers, bankers, captains of industry, politicians (although a minute ago we were only counting careers directly linked to the first degree subject).  Of course the SoS wants these issues to be considered (he mentions socio-economic status and geographical inequality) but only to the extent that more students affected by those issues should go to high tariff institutions.  Because then they will presumably get the same outcomes as every one else who goes there.  Won’t they?

And it ignores the fact that those who dropped out may have done so because of financial pressures, or caring responsibilities, or mental health issues or a whole range of other reasons.

So if those are the problems, and the reasons for them, here are some possible answers.  Then we’ll look at the SoS’s priorities.  You’ll be amazed how aligned they are.

  • outcomes are what count, so define quality by looking at outcomes metrics, and cut funding or close down those that don’t meet your baseline (already in hand but worth reinforcing);
  • link funding to strategically important subjects (that’s only hinted at here, but there has been more before and is more to come);
  • students should really only study arts or creative subjects at prestigious specialist institutions and only study humanities at high tariff institutions (linked to outcomes, see above), and so it might make sense to stop some universities from offering those courses or find another way to reduce the government subsidy for them (there are several ways of doing that and some feature below);
  • ration places at university so that the system costs less but try and level the playing field for applicants including finding a way to ensure that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds get into high tariff universities (where they will surely get better outcomes….yes, that is here too).

Of course there is more, on pet political issues like free speech, and reducing bureaucracy.  There is more on mental health and helping students to complain.  And there is a lot on getting the OfS to support the big skills agenda (i.e. technical education, lifelong learning etc.).

You can read the Wonkhe take on it here.  And Wonkhe also have a blog by Susanna Kalitowski of the University Alliance which sets out another view, considering the conflict between quality = outcomes and flexible learning.

So here we go.

Quality and Standards: The biggie.

  • One of my highest priorities and an important manifesto commitment is to drive up quality and standards in higher education, which is a fundamental part of our levelling up agenda. This is in addition to the work outlined above on the quality of online learning…. would like the OfS to progress rapidly to ensure that a robust enhanced regulatory regime can be operational as soon as possible.
  • I fully support the OfS desire to ensure that decisions on regulatory intervention and registration can be made in relation to minimum absolute standards of quality which apply across the whole of higher education provision. I firmly believe that every student, regardless of their background, has a right to expect a minimum standard of education that is likely to improve their prospects in life…I note that these standards are likely to take account of, though not be confined to, quantitative measures, including measures relating to student outcomes.

And he means business:

  • The OfS should not hesitate to use the full range of its powers and sanctions where quality of provision is not high enough: the OfS should not limit itself to putting in place conditions of registration requiring improvement plans for providers who do not demonstrate high quality and robust outcomes, but should move immediately to more robust measures, including monetary penalties, the revocation of degree awarding powers in subjects of concem, suspending aspects of a provider’s registration or, ultimately, deregistration. It is also my view that the OfS should not be registering providers without rigorous quality and a commitment to robust graduate outcomes, which should be closely monitored once registered.

And related to quality:

  • TEF: He asks the OfS to interpret the Government response to the Independent Review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework. Sub text: sort it out and make it do/measure what the Government want it to do.
  • Student complaints: the phrasing suggest that OfS may be expected to play more of a role in students’ complaints. Using the OIA as the complaint ombudsman has been both a blessing and curse for the Government during the pandemic. Blessing because they can offload it to a different body, and curse because it left them without an arrow to shoot the sector with. Williamson asks the OfS to continue to monitor this closely, and to take swift action where it is clear that quality and academic standards have dropped. I would like the OfS to communicate the findings from their monitoring work and ensure students are aware of the notification process that they can follow to raise any issues.
  • Death knell for NSS: Minister Donelan also asked the OfS in her 14 September letter to carry out a radical review of the National Student Survey (NSS). I can confirm that this remains a high priority, in order to address the downwards pressure that student surveys of this sort may exert on standards. I would like the OfS to take the time it needs to ensure this review is genuinely radical, consider carefully whether there could be a replacement that does not depend on a universal annual sample, and ensure that a replacement does not contribute to the reduction in rigour and standards. It is my strong view that the NSS should play at most a minimal role in baseline quality regulation. It’s interesting to juxtapose this with the paragraph above – don’t ask students about their experience or use that feedback in a quality framework or the TEF – but do encourage them to complain and take action on their complaints.

Fairness and admissions (lumped together, which is telling – concerns about admissions are all in this document about fairness, except minimum entry standards, which are about quality.)

  • 2021: to ensure that admissions this year run as smoothly as possible and students’ interests are fully taken into account.
  • PQA: Central to my plans to improve equality of opportunity is…post qualification admissions…we believe it has the potential to contribute towards improved student outcomes in the longer-term. He asks the OfS to support the Department’s work to develop the evidence base and implementation. And makes the main intent behind the change clear: We want to ensure that any move to post qualification admissions genuinely improves the prospects of disadvantaged students and, in particular, facilitates greater numbers of them accessing the most selective universities.
  • Supporting WP while controlling numbers: It is very important that the OfS’ work on access and participation focuses on delivering real social mobility: ensuring students are able to make the right choices, accessing and succeeding on high quality courses which are valued by employers and lead to good graduate employment. Encouraging more and more students onto courses which do not provide good graduate outcomes does not provide real social mobility and serves only to entrench inequality
  • I would like the OfS to continue to consider broader factors, including socio-economic status and geographical inequality, which are likely to impact on access and participation in higher education. This should include a focus on white boys on free school meals who are currently the least likely group to progress to higher education
  • I would like the OfS to encourage universities to do much more to work with schools in a way which meaningfully raises the attainment of disadvantaged children. Theresa May’s agenda still hasn’t gone away, policy recycling at its best. What does this mean? It’s interesting though, when funding for UniConnect has just been cut (see GW’s letter of 19 January 2021)
  • I would like to remind the OfS that it has a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. The OfS must be a champion for the importance of academic and technical excellence in all aspects of the student lifecycle, from selection to graduation. [Again a reminder that there are other routes than HE and Ministers want to see technical education rise in prominence.]

Funding:

  • I would therefore like you to make arrangements to change the name of the Teaching Grant to the Strategic Priorities Grant[this of course builds on the earlier letter in which he “slashed” the teaching grant allocation for media courses and archaeology (see our 21st Jan 21 policy update here)].
    • Remember the interim response to Augar also said that the upcoming consultation on further reforms will include consideration of minimum entry requirements, which it is expected would restrict the availability of government funding for students who do not meet the requirements. This proposal was mentioned in Augar as a possible step to take to address concerns about low value courses.  It was widely condemned as a cap on ambition and a regressive step against social mobility when it was first discussed in December 2018.  But it also is a way of rationing the government subsidy.

Skills agenda, lifelong learning: The OfS also has to work on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and reforms to occupationally focused higher technical qualifications.

  • I would like the OfS to work with DfE and other stakeholders to consider how to support the accumulation and transfer of credit and to develop a regulatory system that is fully equipped to support radically different, flexible arrangements, measuring quality using metrics that are meaningful in the new system and interact positively with our admissions regime. Delivering our vision will require action from providers to adapt to this new model and providers will need to work towards delivering greater flexibility in the courses they offer. Alongside that work by providers, the OfS should ensure that it, too, is considering how all aspects of its regulatory approach will need to adapt to and support this new model. e. adopt it or else.
  • [Note there is an interesting HEPI blog from 5th February on this: “ Although flexibility is important in the support of learning, a shift in approach will need real care to manage step off to ensure it becomes step off with purpose, at an appropriate time for the learner and as an integral part of the lifelong learning journey”.]
  • [Also note an interesting blog on BTECs by Graeme Atherton of NEON on Wonkhe]

Mental Health: OfS to continue to support initiatives in relation to mental health in the short and long term. This should be through distributing funding to providers in line with my January guidance, and developing and funding challenge competitions to enable providers to develop innovative practice in mental health support. This funding should target mental health support for students transitioning from school/college to university and prioritising the most disadvantaged learners.

Sector stability: OfS to continue to monitor the financial sustainability of the sector – It is important that the OfS maintains a close understanding and oversight of financial issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and shares information where appropriate so that the OfS and Government can work together to provide timely support for providers through the Restructuring Regime and ensure effective protection of students..

All this whilst reducing the regulatory burden:

  • …providers delivering high quality provision and strong outcomes for students should not be adversely affected by additional unnecessary bureaucracy or reporting in relation to quality: I would like the OfS to take a risk-based approach to quality assessment and regulation, focusing its efforts on lower quality providers. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]
  • In Minister Donelan’s guidance letter to the OfS on 14 September 2020, she set out a number of areas where she expected the OfS to reduce the bureaucratic burden on providers. Those areas included enhanced monitoring, termly data collections under data futures, random sampling, student transfer arrangements, estates and non-academic staff data and a review of TRAC and the OfS’ transparency condition… In addition to reducing bureaucracy in the areas outlined in Minister Donelan’s letter, I would like the OfS look across everything that it does to identify further opportunities to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and reporting requirements for providers.
  • Tut tut: In my view, to date, the OfS has not been sufficiently risk-based. A risk-based approach to regulation should consider the overall regulatory burden faced by providers, including data gathering, reporting and monitoring, not just the application of conditions of registration. It is my view that there are further opportunities for the OfS to ensure that providers with consistently strong performance face minimal regulatory burden. I would like the OfS to implement a markedly more risk-based model of regulation, with significant, meaningful and observable reductions in the regulatory burden upon high quality providers within the next 12 months. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]

Free speech & Academic Freedom:

  • We knew free speech would get a mention however its tone is critical of the OfS. While I welcome your powerful speech, Sir Michael, on 20 January on this subject, to date there has been little regulatory action taken by the OfS in relation to potential breaches of the registration conditions relating to freedom of speech and academic freedom, despite a significant number of concerning incidents reported since the full suite of its regulatory powers came into force. This is interesting because sector press states that there are few real incidents where free speech has been curtailed and previous universities ministers have been unable to evidence their claims that there is a problem. Yet the Education Secretary states that OfS is aware of a significant number of incidents.
  • Furthermore, Williamson states: I intend to publish a policy paper on free speech and academic freedom in the near future and I would like the OfS to continue to work closely with the Department to deliver this shared agenda and ensure our work is closely aligned. I would also like it to take more active and visible action to challenge concerning incidents that are reported to it or which it becomes aware of, as well as to share information with providers about best practice for protecting free speech beyond the minimum legal requirements. So Williamson wants the OfS, already known for its bark, poor comms and reputation within the HE sector, to develop far more bite. So far there has been no mention of caning wayward VC’s.
  • …university administrators and heads of faculty should not, whether for ideological reasons or to conform to the perceived desires of students, pressure or force teaching staff to drop authors or texts that add rigour and stretch to a course. The OfS should robustly challenge providers that have implemented such policies and clearly support individual academics whose academic freedom is being diminished.

Antisemitism: Williamson is determined to champion a specific definition of anti-Semitism. In 2020 he gave universities until Christmas to conform and adopt the definition with the threat of action taken against those that didn’t. This stops short of that, but assumes a match between non-adopters with higher levels of incidents and suggests financial penalties.

  • Following my letter to the sector on 9 October 2020 on anti-Semitism and adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism across the HE sector, we have seen positive progress, with at least 31 additional institutions adopting the definition.
    I would like the OfS to undertake a scoping exercise to identify providers which are reluctant to adopt the definition and consider introducing mandatory reporting of anti-Semitic incident numbers by providers. This would ensure a robust evidence base, which the OfS could then use to effectively regulate in this area. If anti-Semitic incidents do occur at a provider, the OfS should consider if it is relevant in a particular case whether the provider has adopted the definition when considering what sanctions, including monetary penalties, would be appropriate to apply.
  • Of course, there are several ways to adopt the definition, including subsuming it within a wider, more comprehensive, policy. It could result in protracted semantic debates as the OfS and a university argue whether decisions were made within the spirit of the definition.

International recruitment:

  • When the sector starts to move past the difficult circumstances created by COVID-19, a key focus of UK higher education providers will understandably be how to sustainably and responsibly recover international student recruitment, given the importance of this group to the financial health of the sector. The Government has updated its International Education Strategy to support that objective, restating its commitment to the IES’ original ambition to increase international higher education student numbers to at least 600,000 by 2030. [see more on this later]
  • In addition, we are doing our utmost to raise awareness within the sector that, where there are international opportunities, there are also risks, including overdependence on income from a single source and security-related issues. At the request of the Minister for Universities, Universities UK produced important guidelines and recommendations to help providers manage risks in internationalisation. I would like the OfS to monitor the adoption of these recommendations by providers and continue to support the sector to manage these risks to the reputation, integrity and sustainability of individual institutions, as well as to the sector as a whole.

Those other letters:

  • 14 September 2020 – this was a long one
    • set out £10m of additional teaching grant funding for high cost subjects to accommodate additional students as a result of the admissions issues in 2020
    • asked the OfS to reduce its enhanced monitoring because of the burden on providers and suggested using specific licence conditions instead – and asked for a report within 3 months
    • supported reduced requirements for data futures and ending random sampling, stopping the collection of non academic and estates data in HESES, reviewing TRAC and ending TRAC (T), and reviewing the transparency data
    • requested the “radical, root and branch review” of the NSS by the end of 2020 and “It is my strong view that the NSS should not be carried out in again in the same format as it was last year.” [oops, it has been]
    • instructed that no further action be taken on student transfer arrangements. That is fine, but of course the relevant issues all come back up again in the context of credit transfer and lifelong learning.   This was originally in an earlier letter in September 2019.
    • Asking the OfS to review its own efficiency and save registration fees by 10% in 2 years.
  • 14 December 2020 – this one was about £20m in hardship funding
  • 19 January 2021 – this was about the teaching grant – including reducing it for some subjects, removing the London weighting, cutting UniConnect etc.
  • Parliamentary question in which Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, defends the decision to remove the London weighting in the HE teaching grant: …it is right for government to re-allocate public money where it is most needed. Universities should not receive additional investment for teaching simply because of where they are located: excellent provision can be delivered across the country. London already has, on average, the highest percentage of good or outstanding schools, the highest progression to HE, and more HE providers than in any other region in England. This government is firmly committed to the levelling up agenda and this reform will invest more money directly into high quality institutions in the Midlands and the North.
  • 2 February 2021 – this one was bout the £50m hardship funding

What he didn’t mention in any of these letters and so is off the table?

  • Accelerated degrees- from an earlier letter in September 2019
  • Student protection plans – this was in the letter in February 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) “I would like the OfS to continue to focus on student protection and consumer rights. In particular, to evaluate and report publicly on the strength of student protection plans and advice available on students’ consumer rights.
  • Student contracts – from an earlier letter in September 2019. You will recall the proposal was for template student contracts with initial recommendations to the government by Feb 2020.
  • Contract cheating and essay mills – this featured in the letter of 7th June 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) which asked the OfS to work with the sector and take firm and robust action
  • Grade inflation –
  • VC pay
  • The September 2019 letter also asked the OfS to make “public transparent data on the outcomes achieved by international students, including those studying wholly outside the UK, such as it does for domestic students”

Research

Place Strategy: In September 2020 the Council for Science and Technology wrote to the Prime Minister to explore how science and technology can contribute to addressing regional disparities and promote equality of opportunity. The Government have published both the letter and the PM’s response here.

The letter proposes 6 recommendations focused on 4 areas:

  1. Leveraging research and development funding for regional growth by scaling up collaborative funding opportunities to foster and enhance partnerships, within and between regions, where there are research and innovation synergies with the potential to contribute to local growth.
  2. Further incentivising the contribution of research, innovation and technology centres to regional growth in funding agreements and in organisational strategies.
  3. Enhancing the availability of information on local innovation strengths and needs, for local and national decision makers to inform effective investment strategies and to evaluate outcomes.
  4. Supporting wider measures needed for research and development investment to act as a driver for local growth, including measures to support skills and to support local leadership and decision-making.

The PM’s response welcomes the Council’s recommendations (which sit well with current Government policy) and mentions BEIS development of the UK Research and Development Place Strategy:

  • The Place Strategy will set out how the Government can build on existing initiatives (such as the Strength in Places Fund) to support research and innovation excellence, and build new centres of high-value economic activity outside of the South East… We also need to get the local governance and delivery structures right so that responsibility and accountability sit at the right level for delivering local growth priorities.
  • And: BEIS and UKRI will continue to engage widely with industry, the scientific community, and civic organisations from across the country to help develop a strategy that supports the priorities of areas and communities across the UK. The new Ministerial R&D Place Advisory Group, which had its inaugural meeting last month, will propose, challenge and test potential policy options.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund: The National Audit Office has published a report on UK Research and Innovation’s management of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund examining the Fund has been set up in a way likely to optimise value for money. By January 2021 the Fund was supporting 1,613 projects, contributing to one of the 24 approved challenges. To date, UKRI has spent around £1.2 billion of the Fund’s eight-year budget of £3 billion.

The report examines:

  • the establishment of the Fund, in particular whether it has attracted sufficient good-quality bids, whether the selection processes have been efficient and whether the budget is managed effectively (Parts One and Two); and
  • the approach to monitoring and evaluating the Fund’s performance, as well as its performance to date (Part Three).

The report finds that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have worked well to generate interest from industry and academia in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (the Fund). However, more needs to be done to reduce the time taken to consider requests for support, so applicants are not deterred from bidding for funding and projects are not delayed.

  • Over the period, government has enhanced its engagement with industry to seek out challenges which might benefit most from taxpayer support.
  • UKRI’s own assessment shows that the Fund’s key components – challenges and projects – are broadly performing well. To sustain this position, the Department and HM Treasury, working with UKRI, need to place more emphasis on the outcomes and impact its funding secures at the Fund level. The increasing number of challenges supported by the Fund, each with their own objectives, and range of different objectives at Fund level risk obscuring priorities and will make the assessment of value for money in the longer term more difficult

R&D Roadmap: Catapults: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report asserting that the Government’s ambitions for research and development are not supported by a detailed plan or sufficient investment in innovation. It details how the Government needs to provide more detail about how it will deliver its R&D Roadmap, including how it will attract substantial private sector investment to meet its target of 2.4% of GDP by 2027. It states the UK’s research and innovation system has the necessary components to be successful, but there is insufficient collaboration between organisations and insufficient scale to deliver the required levels innovation and commercial success.

  • Commenting on the Catapult Network it states it is an integral part of the UK’s innovation system. And that the Government should expand the Catapult Network to support technologies in which the UK excels and that can bring substantial economic benefits – including to assist in the levelling up agenda.
  • Changes are needed to remove barriers that limit the Catapults’ effectiveness: universities, Catapults and industry need to be encouraged (and permitted) to interact more deeply; and rules governing innovation funding should be reformed, to allow greater flexibility for Catapults and their partners.

The Committee set out a range of recommendations for the Government, UKRI and Innovate UK to help deliver the UK’s R&D ambitions, including the changes to enable the Catapults to more effectively achieve their objectives:

  • A clear plan for how public sector resources and private investment can be made to match the scale of ambition in the R&D Roadmap.
  • Prioritisation of scaling up the Catapult Network.
  • Assurance of long-term continuity for the Catapults—including longer-term certainty over funding and a commitment that reviews will be limited to once every five years, to match the five-year funding cycle.
  • Enabling Catapults and universities to work together more easily on innovation projects, and fostering closer links between industry and universities to assist researchers to work at the interface between the two.
  • Allowing Catapults to bid for Research Council funds where there are clear advantages in terms of both research and innovation; more flexibility in permitting public sector bodies to have a larger share of collaborative R&D funding; and supporting translational research and transformative innovation more effectively, including by reducing risks to industry.
  • Supporting the levelling up agenda by developing a more strategic approach across policies for innovation and regional development—such as broadening access to the Strength in Places Fund.

Quick News

  • UKRI has advertised for a new Chair of UKRI. Given the recent spate of appointments where the Government has been criticised for lack of impartiality this, by Research Professional, raised a chuckle this week: The way public appointments have gone under this government, you may be forgiven for wondering if the post might go to the spouse of a Conservative MP who once owned a chemistry set. It will be up to the assessment panel to come up with a shortlist from the applications.
  • The Times dug up an article on research degrees from the depths of their archives. It’s a short and light read. The similarity to a current theme is surprising – that of other nations squeezing out ‘natives’ by taking up their university places: British universities since the war have had much ado to find room for native-born students, but it is to be hoped that they will make all efforts to attract the graduate research students for whom the new degree was instituted.
  • Healthcare knowledge provider the BMJ, and technology provider Jisc, have agreed a publish and read pilot as part of their commitment to help promote knowledge and speed up discoveries to improve healthcare across the UK. It grants Jisc members full read access to the BMJ’s standard collection (28 specialist journals) and offers researchers at the member institutions the opportunity to publish funded articles on an open access basis in the standard collection journals. Under the agreement, research funded by UKRI, Wellcome, and key medical charities in the UK can be published open access, to help to make the research more accessible and sustainable.
  • The Government has set up a new independent body, the UK Cyber Security Council to boost career opportunities and professional standards for the UK’s cyber security sector. Funded by DCMS the organisation will provide a single governing voice for the industry to establish the knowledge, skills and experience required for a range of cyber security jobs, bringing it in line with other professions such as law, medicine and engineering. The council was developed following a 2018 consultation on Developing the UK cyber security profession which showed strong support for the government’s proposals to define objectives for the profession to achieve and to create a new, independent UK Cyber Security Council to coordinate delivery. Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: The fact we are launching an independent professional body for cyber security shows just how vital this area has become – it makes a huge contribution to our thriving digital economy by safeguarding our critical national infrastructure, commerce and other online spaces. The UK Cyber Security Council will ensure anyone interested in an exciting career tackling online threats has access to world-class training and guidance. It will also champion diversity and inclusion, driving up standards while helping the nation to build back better and safer.

Admissions

2021 Admissions juggle: Research Professional has a good romp through the exam related admissions issues for 2021. Here are some excerpts but there is more content in the blog (e.g. on over recruitment).

  • Setting aside for a moment the challenges involved in running an appeals process based on evaluating a teacher assessment without recourse to an externally validated examination, this raises an issue: If students achieve their results directly and the university hasn’t had confirmation through the awarding bodies and Ucas of what those results are, how long will it be before those students are on the phone, email or turning up on campus to request confirmation of a place? And what does the university do? Take each student’s word for it? Ask for validation from their school? Wait for the results to eventually arrive through Ucas?
  • As things stand, we risk receiving Welsh, English, Northern Irish and international A-levels on different days (and several weeks apart), with BTEC and other vocational awards also somewhere in the mix. While we typically get international qualifications over a span of several weeks (from late June through to mid-August), the relatively small numbers are manageable. But to receive the main bulk of the results in a haphazard fashion raises important questions about the fairness and transparency of admissions decisions.
  • The danger is an outcome in which the fastest nation to get its results out will gain a significant advantage in securing places. It is notable that in the many discussions about a post-qualification admissions process, one of the prerequisites for an effective system will be an alignment of UK results; without having a common date for receipt of results this year, we run the risk of having a fragmented and unfair admissions process.
  • No-one underestimates the challenges we face in this admissions cycle to run a system that is fair to applicants and also ensures that students avoid considerable uncertainty and stress in a situation over which they have no agency. 

Student Numbers Cap: Towards the end of last week Research Professional also asked if the student numbers cap should have remained in place for the 2020/21 intake.

  • The data show a 13 per cent rise overall in numbers of students recruited by high-tariff universities—way more than the 5 per cent (plus forecasts) rise that would have been allowed under the proposed number controls, even allowing for generous forecasting. Some research-intensive institutions accepted a third more UK and EU students than they had the previous year, while other institutions saw recruitment slump by more than 15 per cent.
  • Several non-Russell Group institutions also grew their recruitment significantly: at Leeds Trinity University, Buckinghamshire New University, Liverpool Hope University, the University of Buckingham and Soas, University of London, increases in UK and EU student numbers topped 20 per cent. More than 50 universities increased their UK and EU intake by more than the magic 5 per cent.
  • There were no high-tariff institutions among those that saw major falls. And while overall recruitment was up nearly 30,000, for more than 30 institutions it was down—for some substantially.
  • …The original idea for introducing student number controls last year was to protect post-1992 institutions from exactly this kind of trouble. The controls were dropped not because the danger had entirely gone away—as the Ucas figures show, it hadn’t—but because the government had made such a mess over A-levels that it had little choice.
  • …needs are likely to be substantial in September as students arrive at university without normal levels of learning and social interaction and, in some cases, traumatised by an exceptionally tough year.
  • That will put pressure on some high-tariff institutions whose welfare systems are likely to creak under the strain of larger-than-planned-for numbers of students with multiple issues.
  • But there will also be different kinds of pressures on those institutions that would normally be dealing with a proportion of these students but have missed out because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic. It will be ironic if both groups end up struggling to cope because of government-sanctioned grade inflation.

You can read the full blog here.

Harassment

You may recall that about this time last year the OfS launched a consultation on preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct. This was paused during the pandemic and won’t be reopened. Instead the OfS are considering this matter alongside their wider work to review and reset our regulatory requirements. They intend to

  • Publish a statement of expectations relating to providers’ systems, policies and processes to prevent and respond to harassment and sexual misconduct by Spring 2021. The statement will set out the OfS’ expectations and give universities and colleges the opportunity to review and renew their systems, policies and processes before the beginning of the next academic year.
  • Right now the OfS are engaging with student and sector representative bodies and other stakeholders…to understand specifically how the events of this past year may affect the proposed statement of expectations. e. the additional challenges faced by some students because of the pandemic, including online harassment and domestic abuse.

Turing – Student Mobility

The Turing website is live. Research Professional cover the basics:

  • Applications for bids to Turing will open in “the spring”, which in Whitehall speak can run as late as the end of June, although the website promises a March announcement with a window of six weeks for submissions and results known in July. The call will include “higher education projects”, with funding available for “placements during the period from September 2021 to August 2022”.
  • Any student at “an officially recognised higher education provider registered in the UK”—which we assume means registered with the Office for Students—can participate in the scheme, regardless of nationality. The students will be able to attend a non-UK university as well as “any public or private organisation active in the labour market or in the fields of education and training”.
  • This includes businesses, public bodies, research institutes, foundations, non-governmental organisations and “a social partner or other representative of working life, including chambers of commerce, craft and professional associations and trade unions”. Beyond that, details of the scheme are relatively scant, with visitors to the website encouraged to sign up for email alerts
  • We do know that “successful applications will receive funding towards delivering placements and exchanges” and “the rates provided will be broadly in line with what has been on offer under Erasmus+”. Placements can be of any length between 4 weeks and 12 months. Further guidance on specific elements of funding and a list of destination country groupings for cost of living will be published shortly, the website says.
  • Destinations with a high cost of living will attract a £136-a-week or £380-a-month maintenance grant. Countries with a medium or lower cost of living will be funded at the rate of £120 a week or £335 a month.
  • Students who can demonstrate a disadvantaged background will be funded at a higher rate of £490 a month for expensive destinations and £445 a month for less expensive ones. There will also be tariffs for travel based on distance, ranging from £20 a head for projects less than 100 kilometres away to £1,360 for those taking place over 12,000km away.
  • …Some £315 a head for the first 100 participants will be made available for the administration of projects, with that declining sharply to £180 for the 101st student. It would seem that each individual exchange project should be applied for annually, in contrast to Erasmus+ in which partnerships are rolled over from year to year.
  • Turing is being described as an “outward student mobility scheme”…What Turing does not seem to do is fund exchange students to come in the opposite direction, which makes it a hard sell to prospective international partners while also reducing diversity in UK classrooms.

More details are expected in March.

Wonkhe have a Turing blog: For Janet Beer, it is time to accept the opportunities and flexibility that the new Turing scheme can offer.

International

International Education Strategy

The DfE published the 2021 update to the International Education Strategy including measures to boost international study and global opportunities. Press release here. It includes attracting more overseas students, boosting access to global student exchanges for thousands of people, and supporting international education partnerships. reaffirms the Government’s commitment to increase the amount generated from education exports, such as fees and income from overseas students and English language teaching abroad, to £35bn a year, and sustainably recruit at least 600,000 international students to the UK by 2030. For research and development, the strategy confirmed that the UK will participate in Horizon Europe, as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU, subject to finalisation of the programme regulations. The Turing social mobility scheme is also mentioned (more on Turing here). Lastly the Secretary of State’s recent guidance letter also warns institutions to balance recruitment with thought for national security and not to develop an overreliance on recruiting from particular groups or countries.

The Strategy update proposes several areas to help increase the value of education exports and international student numbers:

  • The International Education Champion: this update sets out the priority countries and regions in which the International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, will focus his activity. Sir Steve’s immediate priorities are India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Nigeria. His role will focus on growing export opportunities in these countries. Other important regional markets for the International Education Champion will include: Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China and Hong Kong. The government will also work with Sir Steve and the British Council to identify and resolve barriers which prevent the recognition of online and blended (a combination of offline and online) learning internationally
  • Building lasting global partnerships: there is an important role for the government to facilitate partnerships across the world, including in the Champion’s priority countries, but also beyond these. This includes Europe, the Indo-Pacific region, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Our new Turing scheme will also help ensure we improve mobility between UK students and all regions of the world
  • Enhancing the international student experience from application to employment: the government will work with sector bodies such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Confederation of British Industry on areas such as:
    • the student application process for international students
    • graduate outcomes and employability
    • the academic experience of international students
    • alternative student finance
  • A new international teaching qualification, ‘International Qualified Teacher Status’ (iQTS): the UK government propose to work with teacher training providers to establish a new teaching qualification that will provide an opportunity for teachers around the world to train to world respected domestic standards. There’s a consultation on it here.
  • Increase export opportunities for UK chartered professional bodies and UK special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) providers: DIT will support UK chartered professional bodies and SEND providers to find opportunities to increase their education exports

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan stated: In these unprecedented times, having a proactive global education agenda is more important than ever so we can build back better from the pandemic. Our world-class education is a vital part of our economy and society, and we want to support universities, schools, colleges and all aspects of the education sector to thrive across the globe…I am also pleased to launch initiatives to enhance the experience of international students at our universities, from the moment they apply, to the first steps of their careers.

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, said: I am very supportive of the International Education Strategy, which represents the next step in a joint effort by Government and the education sector to build on the international success of our education system and our attractiveness to international students. This approach has delivered real benefits already, including the introduction of the graduate route, and improvements to the visa system. Despite a very difficult year, interest in UK study has grown as a result…We look forward to continuing to be partners, working with our members, Government and others across the sector, to deliver the strategy.

HESA data: Colleagues with an interest in international matters will be interested in the HESA 2019/20 HE Student Data release mentioned above. There is a sub section exploring recruitment areas for incoming HE students here with useful charts. The transnational data is here.

Access & Participation

Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Education Committee continued to take evidence for its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ministers Nick Gibb and Vicky Ford were questioned. While much of the content focussed on schools it was interested as it touched on several aspects of disadvantage. I was interested to learn that academic resilience (the ability of a child to excel academically regardless of their socio-economic background) has fallen for students from a disadvantaged background. You can read a summary of the session by Dods here.

Meanwhile the Public Accounts Committee have launched a new inquiry into Covid-19: Education. They intend to question DfE Officials on how well the DfE managed its overall response in the first lockdown, including whether it effectively supported schools and pupils in England during this period, whether it managed the move to mainly home-learning effectively and whether it effectively supported vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Questioning revolve around the current National Audit Office assessment.

Care leavers: TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) published an evidence review: Supporting access and student success for learners with experience of children’s social care.

The literature review finds that activities and interventions aimed to support care leavers are not robustly evaluated: From the 57 studies under review, about half focused on the evaluation of actual support activities while the other half explored potential barriers and facilitators affecting the target group’s trajectory into post-secondary education. However, the small numbers and gaps in data involved with this target group mean establishing causal impact is trickier than evaluating other inventions. Classification of who to include and exclude were also a problem (such as interlinking because care leavers likely to enter HE as mature students). Many studies relied heavily on self-reported evidence through focus groups and interviews (which leads to a self-selecting sample), however, the review concludes that these approaches to support care leavers into and whilst at HE seemed promising:

  • Mentoring activities which also provide positive role models and build a sense of belonging with peers
  • A social network to support, guide and advise care leavers considering HE: A key part of this network is often a trusted adult or mentor who can provide encouragement towards academic and personal goals and emotional support on the journey into and through HE. Several interviewees emphasised the importance of building relationships with a trusted figure, especially in the context of a group of learners who have often built an innate distrust in large bureaucratic institutions.
  • A single point of contact within a provider who can help learners navigate the institution and access the support they need pre-application to post-graduation. The review mentions that HEIs with higher progression and success rates for care students had this role as their sole focus.
  • Links between local authorities, carers, schools and HE providers. In studies where this collaboration was felt to be successful, staff and carers reported better managed transition support, relevant sharing of information between inter-organisational staff and learners who reported of feeling less alone and isolated.

Equality Remit: The Government’s new Equality Hub is explained following a parliamentary question asking about the relationship between the new Equality Hub and the Equalities Office:

  • The new Equality Hub, in the Cabinet Office, brings together the Disability Unit, Government Equalities Office, Race Disparity Unit and, from 1 April, the sponsorship of, and secretariat to, the Social Mobility Commission. The Government Equalities Office’s remit related to gender equality, LGBT rights and the overall framework of equality legislation for Great Britain. The Equality Hub reports to Ministers who have other portfolios outside of the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss.
  • The Equality Hub has a key role in driving Government priorities on equality and opportunity. The Hub has a particular focus on improving the quality of evidence and data about disparities and the types of barriers different people face, ensuring that fairness is at the heart of everything we do.
  • Key to this is looking beyond a focus solely on statutory protected characteristics to ensure we understand how different issues interact, including in socio-economic and geographic inequality. In this way, the Equality Hub is key to driving progress on the Government’s commitment to levelling up opportunity and ensuring fairness for all.

Other recent care leaver relevant resources

OIA – Complaints

In related news the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published revised draft Rules for Large Group Complaints. Undoubtedly driven by Covid, the proposed Large Group Complaints process builds on their existing approach to group complaints by developing a bespoke approach to handling complaints from large groups of students. The proposed process is intended for complaints from large groups of students at a single provider where there is a high degree of commonality between the complaints and where the complaints could be considered collectively.

However, while the process the OIA proposes would be more streamlined than the current process for group complaints, they say their approach to decision making would be the same. I.e. they would still consider what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

The changes require an amendment to their existing Rules and additional Rules for Large Group Complaints so final comments are invited before the change takes place (deadline 12 March).

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

HESA

HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) published the 2019/20 HE Student Data (which includes the first five months of the coronavirus pandemic). Here are HESA’s headline findings:

  • UK students from ethnic minorities made up 27%of all students studying for a first degree in 2019/20 – among students studying for a postgraduate taught qualification (such as a Masters) this proportion was 24% and for postgraduate research qualifications (such as a PhD) the figure was 19%
  • 6% of all students were from a Black African background, but this group represented only 3% of postgraduate research students
  • Students from an Asian Pakistani background were also less representedamong postgraduate research students (2%) compared to representing 4% of all students
  • 17% of UK domicile students reported having a disability, including 5% who reported a mental health condition – within these statistics there was also a difference at different levels of study, with 18% of first degree students reporting a disability compared to 15% of postgraduate taught students
  • 41% of UK domicile students studying medicine and dentistry subjects were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds compared to only 6% in the veterinary science and agriculture, food and related studies groups
  • 5% of all students were studying psychology, and that 81% of psychology students were female
  • The subject groups with the most students in 2019/20 were business and management with 412,815 students (52% male) and subjects allied to medicine with 295,520 students (79% female)

Colleagues may be interested to delve further into the HESA data which includes some great charts and visualisation to break down the student data in these areas:

David Kernohan of Wonkhe doesn’t think the data answers the big question about continuation this year.

Parliamentary News

Students – urgent questions: Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister answered 39 questions relating to HE students as part of an urgent question session on Support for University Students: Covid-19. It covered familiar topics such as rent rebates and tuition quality. The Minister stuck to the party line and there was no new news.

Poor ratings for SoS: Secretary of State Gavin Williamson continues to be perceived negatively by Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home. His net satisfaction rating is -48. We think he’ll be hanging in there though.  Changing now would be unlikely to change much substantively in policy terms anyway, although you have to think that it might improve the ways of doing things and if nothing else, communication (although that’s a problem for the Universities Minister as well as the Education Secretary).

OfS Chair

As expected and following the Education Committee green light, the DfE officially confirmed Lord Wharton’s appointment as Chair of the OfS replacing Michael Barber. He starts on 1 April for a four year period (approximately 2 days per week). Wharton has declared his Conservative interests and party membership within his role as a Peer but not resigned the whip.

  • The Education Committee endorsed the appointment just before it was confirmed. You can read the report here. Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said: The Chair of the OfS has a vital role to play in standing up for the rights of students and ensuring opportunities for all. I congratulate Lord Wharton on his appointment. I look forward to seeing the new Chair use his position to genuinely open doors for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensure that the access and participation funding delivers real change, use his independent voice to rocket boost degree apprenticeships and guarantee everyone has access to high quality skills that benefit both themselves and employers. Halfon’s statement highlights several of his own passions for education, such as the expansion of degree apprenticeships. He seems to be giving Wharton a public steer – interesting as the appointment process wasn’t without controversy.
  • Responding to the appointment, Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, said: This latest appointment adds to the Conservative Government’s growing catalogue of cronyism. Students have been forgotten by this Government which is more concerned about securing jobs for their friends. It’s ridiculous to think James Wharton could make independent decisions while continuing to sit as a Conservative Peer. He must resign the whip without delay. It’s vital for public confidence that concerns surrounding senior appointments are urgently looked at.
  • While Wharton doesn’t commence until April Williamson has written to both Wharton and outgoing Chair, Sir Michael Barber, vehemently stating his strategic priorities for HE.

Research Professional interview Paul Blomfield MP, (Labour, Sheffield Central, Chair of the APPG for Students) who doesn’t mince his words.

Students

The Guardian report that the Government plan to allow some additional university students back to campus when the schools reopen, so potentially from 8 March onwards.

  • The education secretary is expected to announce on 22 February that final-year students in practical subjects will be able to return to face-to-face teaching, with students taking other subjects to follow soon afterwards…Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said universities would follow the same roadmap as schools for reopening
  • Priority is expected to be given to final-year students on undergraduate courses or taught postgraduate degrees in practical subjects including performing arts and lab-based science courses. But many students may struggle to be allowed back before the Easter holidays at the end of March, when teaching in effect ends for many courses before exams.

It is likely this is part of a move to damp down on fee and rent complaints with the Government shifting the onus onto HE providers.

  • While the new higher education timetable was welcomed by senior leaders, they also fear that the education secretary’s waning influence with Downing Street means the Department for Education’s plan may be ignored in favour of other concerns.
  • Some institutions, such as the London School of Economics, have already said students will be taught remotely for the rest of the academic year, but Donelan said the government “will be giving them the option to alter those plans”.

The University and College Union stated: The priority right now must be to keep as much teaching as possible online for the rest of the academic year, and putting staff and student safety first.

And the article suggests that some students are returning anyway:

  • In defiance of the government’s orders to stay at home, several universities report that students are “returning to campus in droves”, even without the prospect of face-to-face teaching or the use of university facilities.
  • One university is said to have about 70% of its usual student numbers on or around campus, in part due to high numbers of students on exempt courses such as nursing. Most others estimate that 30% to 40% of students are back, and some have more than half.
  • “Some students have voted with their feet, it’s been reported by just about all the universities I’ve heard from, Russell Group and elsewhere. It’s interesting, it reflects the fact students start to identify university as their new home,” he said.

TEF

Wonkhe ran a feature on TEF this week with a blog written by Dame Shirley Pearce (who led the TEF review). Wonkhe say:

  • … the government, while claiming to have accepted the majority of the Pearce review’s recommendations, has failed entirely to engage with the spirit of that review, which posits enhancement of the quality of teaching as a delicate balance and interplay of accountability between regulators, providers, and students, and between nationally comparable data and locally produced evidence of quality. Today on the site, Shirley Pearce urges the higher education sector and the Office for Students (OfS) to engage with the recommendations the review makes, and to take seriously the review’s finding that far from being merely burdensome, the subject TEF pilots have sparked useful conversations inside universities, and offered levers to drive enhancement.
  • The Pearce review is grounded in a theory of change that says that if there is to be public confidence in quality, providers must evidence it, but that providers and their students must be empowered to do the enhancement work on the ground according to their distinctive mission and, importantly, at subject level. The elegant proposal that institutions be provided with subject-level data, split by demographic, and be asked to account for differences in outcomes, but that the subject data would not be published as rankings, is characteristic of the balancing act the review executes.
  • The government does not evidence its grasp of this balance in its response, instructing OfS to ground TEF ratings in nationally comparable data, while at the same time taking account of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) critique of the limitations of said data in drawing accurate conclusions about the quality of learning and teaching in higher education providers – and good luck to the English regulator in squaring that circle.
  • In the relatively few years of its existence, the TEF has won few friends, and many enemies. There may be satisfaction to some in seeing the TEF reduced and downgraded. But the version of the exercise that appears to be currently on the table, as Paul Ashwin argues, risks rendering the TEF entirely irrelevant. Better, then, to have a larger exercise that directly engages with the processes of enhancing learning and teaching quality, than a light-touch exercise that does not – and redirects institutions’ energies to gaming the metrics.

Three Wonkhe blogs tackle TEF:

As you’ll have read in the section covering the Secretary of State strategic priorities letter to the OfS Williamson has tasked the OfS to resolve how the TEF will move forward.

Brexit

Dods have summarised the DfE’s research on the effect of Brexit on HEIs in the UK. EU exit: estimating the impact on UK higher education looks at:

  • the effect of changes in the level of tuition fees on international student enrolments at undergraduate and postgraduate level
  • the potential impact on EU student enrolments and associated tuition fee income resulting from:
  • the removal of tuition fee loan and grant support for EU students
  • harmonisation of tuition fees charged to EU and non-EU students
  • changes to post-study work rights for EU students
  • changes to the rights to bring dependants

Across all HEIs, the analysis suggests that:

  • Removing the tuition fee support for EU-domiciled undergraduate students would reduce demand for UK higher education by approximately 13,090 (21%34 of all EU student enrolments) first-year students per year, equating to a loss of £80.7 million in tuition fee income.
  • Removing the Home fee status for EU-domiciled (undergraduate and postgraduate) students would generate additional fee revenue of approximately £114.6 million. That is, the increase in fees charged to EU-domiciled students would more than offset the loss in fee income due to falling demand amongst EU students (15,220 students, 24% of EU-domiciled student enrolments in 2016/17).
  • Restricting the right to work in the UK post-graduation for EU-domiciled students would potentially result in 6,640 (11% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer EU student enrolments, corresponding to a reduction in fee revenue generated by UK HEIs of £88.0 million.
  • Restricting the right to bring dependants for EU-domiciled students would further reduce tuition fee income by approximately £8.4 million, with 590 (1% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer enrolments.
  • Taken together, the estimated combined impact of all of these policy changes would be to reduce tuition fee income from EU sources by approximately £62.5 million, with 35,540 (57%) fewer first-year EU enrolments. However, the aggregate impact on fee income masks significant variation by university cluster (and level of study). In particular, HEIs in Clusters 1 would benefit in aggregate; whereas institutions in Clusters 2, 3 and 4 would be worse-off.
  • The results on student enrolments are insensitive to changes in classification of HEIs by clusters, with the reduction in demand varying from 34,555 (55%) to 35,750 (57%). The total financial loss ranges from £42.5 million to £66.5 million.

There is also the impact assessment here, which Dods summarises below:

The DfE have published an assessment of the effect that changes made to higher education student finance regulations will have on groups with relevant protected characteristics.

  • Expect the proposed amendments will most likely have a negative impact on EU nationals on the basis of their nationality, if they are domiciled in the EEA and Switzerland
  • They will also have a negative impact on older EU national students who are not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements, with those studying at postgraduate level proportionately more affected
  • Do not expect EU students who are female (who are slightly overrepresented as a result of these changes) or who have declared a disability to be significantly impacted by these changes
  • There is a lack of data to predict the impact on other EEA (Norwegian, Icelandic, Liechtenstein) and Swiss students
  • Other EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who do not fall into this category (or one of the other eligibility categories), and who do not have settled status, are not eligible for home fee status and student finance
  • While those not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements will therefore be impacted on the basis of their, or their family members’ nationality, the number of those currently benefiting from student support is very small and as such, the equalities impacts are assessed to be insignificant
  • With regard to EU nationals resident in the overseas territories, their assessment is that although protected groups of EU nationals who will be affected by our proposed position are slightly over represented, namely gender/sex (females), the impact of the amendments will not differ on the basis of these protected characteristics
  • Given the limited numbers of students involved, the equality impacts are likely to be insignificant

Concluding, they say that since these amendments will remove access to student finance for EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals not covered by citizens’ rights, there are number of routes such individuals may choose to adopt:

  1. Proceed: Undertake HE study in England without receiving home fee status or any student support from Student Finance England, but potentially in receipt of funding from other sources such as their own Governments.
  2. Go elsewhere: Take up HE study outside the UK where access to education can be obtained on the same basis as domestic nationals e.g. their own, or another state within the EEA or Switzerland, or the EU overseas territories, or other international countries.
  3. No go: Choose not to participate in HE study

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

  • Intergenerational Fairness: Dods published an interesting briefing on intergenerational fairness.
  • Games degrees: The number of UK graduates in computer games subjects has risen for a seventh consecutive year.
  • Fee Variability: You may remember that last year Australia changed the Government support and fee regime to prioritise support for certain programmes (such as STEMM) and charge more for lower priority courses. The change attracted much interest in the UK because the current Government has long been flirting with the idea of differential programme funding stemming all the way back to Jo Johnson’s tenure as Universities Minister and the introduction of the Higher Education and Research Act legislation (including TEF). Interestingly this week the Guardian have reported that demand for arts and humanities courses is still high in Australia despite fee increases,
  • LGBT+: UUK have a blog: Going the extra mile to embrace LGBT+ equality in higher education.
  • Pensions: HEPI have a trio of blogs on university pensions and in particular on the USS.
  • Dementia Research Funding: The latest news on dementia funding from a parliamentary question response: The Government’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 contained the commitment to spend £300 million on dementia research over the five years to March 2020. This commitment was delivered a year early with £344 million spent on dementia research over the four years to 31 March 2019. We are currently working on ways to significantly boost further research on dementia at all stages on the translation pathway including medical and care interventions.
  • Paramedics ELQ rules: The debate on whether to waive the ELQ rules for paramedical science continues. The Government response states: A decision will be dependent on business planning for the 2021/22 financial year following the outcome of Spending Review 2020.
  • Mental health animation: UKRI report that academics have partnered up with Aardman to tackle the current mental health crisis with the campaign: What’s Up With Everyone? funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The press release states: Although around half of all lifetime mental health problems start by the mid-teens, intervention typically starts much later. Issues include rising suicide rates among young people and unprecedented challenges for young people at school, university, college or the workplace. This points to an urgent need to rethink mental health education to reach and engage young people.
  • What’s Up With Everyone? is a series of five new animated films created with and for young people about dealing with life’s challenges before they impact mental healththe films link to vital information and signposting for how young people can help themselves or seek help for the issues raised through the project’s website. One wonders if it will link to the OfS’ mental health platform.

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HE policy update for the w/e 4th February 2021

Wonkhe and Pearson have collaborated to highlight what students value about remote and flexible learning aspects. The CMA have called out price fixing which may have increased the cost of good and services provided to disabled students. The Government have announced additional hardship funding to be distributed to students although we still don’t know about the methodology the OfS will use to distribute this. There’s a code for free speech proposed by Students’ Unions. And the appointment of the new Chair of the Office for Students, Lord Wharton, continues to be controversial.

New OfS Chair

The Commons Education Committee held a pre-appointment hearing with Lord James Wharton of Yarm who the Government intend to appoint to become the next chair of the Office for Students. Lord Wharton has stated he will not resign the Conservative Whip if he is appointed to the OfS (this means he will vote as directed by the Conservative party in divisions). While in practice as a Lord it is acceptable that Wharton will act according to his personal political stance, this is still unusual.  Similar concerns were raised when Baroness Harding was appointed as head of NHS Test and Trace and also retained the Tory whip..

Wharton was only appointed to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in 2020, the current Government has been recognised (and criticised) for its approach to several high level appointments (e.g. Harding and the new Chair of the BBC).

Wharton has little background or previously stated interest in education. Wonkhe have a great blog on the potential appointment, here’s a snide little snippet:  If being put forward for a government-backed role makes Private Eye, you have a problem. The process itself was notably light on educational expertise and heavy on being mates with Boris, and it clearly generated a nomination where educational expertise was not the primary criteria.  The same Wonkhe blog quickly gallops through the content of the Education Committee hearing – it is worth a read to understand Wharton’s priorities and areas where it seems he has some more background reading to do.

Research Professional also cover the story here:

  • However, responding to a question from Tory committee member David Simmonds about the potential difficulties of holding the whip while chairing an independent regulator, Wharton rejected the idea that such a clear conflict of interest was really a conflict of interest at all—and offered assurance that he had held discussions with the other party whips already.
  • “What I have made clear, and what they have agreed, is that on issues of conflict—if they arise—with my role in the OfS, if I’m appointed, they would give me more latitude and understand that I may need to vote against or speak against some of the things the party in government could bring forward.”
  • It sounds to Playbook rather like the independence of the OfS chair will be underpinned by what might best be described as a gentleman’s agreement. Perhaps England’s regulator will adopt this approach to its formal duties when Wharton takes up his role. It would certainly help with the OfS’s desire to be more ‘light touch’.
  • …Another theme Wharton returned to a number of times during the session was the need for more “risk-based regulation”: reducing the regulatory burden for some, but increasing it when required.
  • “In some ways, some of our top universities will not need and should not need to be monitored as closely on quality of output in terms of academic output, for example,” he said. “But there are other areas in which some of those universities are not doing as well as they should.” This was in response to a question about Black, Asian and minority ethnic student access at “top” universities.

You can read the letter from the Commissioner for Public Appointments to the Education Select Committee here (it briefly touches upon some of the controversial aspects mentioned above such as panel membership). The letter was sent in advance of the Education Committee hearing. The letter states: I note that Lord Wharton was assessed as appointable by the Panel, along with three other candidates. The choice between these appointable candidates is entirely a matter for ministers. Williamson’s (pre-hearing) letter stating Wharton as the strongest candidate is here.

Here is Dods’ summary of the Education Committee pre-appointment hearing for the OfS Chair position.

The Government’s announcement confirming who will hold the OfS Chair position can be expected imminently.

Research

Amanda Solloway, the Science Minister, has done an interview with Research Professional in which she describes her personal experience of sexual harassment and discrimination and sets out her mission to stamp it out.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser has a blog on debunking the Einstein myth and increasing diversity of the workforce.

  • …despite the diverse opportunities, many people do not see themselves working in research and innovation. They don’t see it as a place for them…This is perhaps not surprising since a popular image of researchers and innovators is one of Einstein-like geniuses: superhumanly clever, obsessed with their work and driven by pure logic. They work alone in dusty libraries or in labs full of bubbling liquids doing arcane things that will either save the world or destroy it…But researchers and innovators know very well that they are not geniuses marching toward the truth using pure logic. Rather than helping them deal with the inherent insecurities of their work, the myth ultimately amplifies insecurity, leaving the sector riddled with imposter syndrome…So the lone genius perception segregates research and innovation into a remote and alien corner of society that looks unattractive and unwelcoming to the diverse people that the system needs, and it inhibits the collaborative supportive research culture we need to catalyse creative discovery and innovation…Ultimately, we will relegate research and innovation to the margins of our society, making it much harder to reap the benefits and much harder to identify and prioritise the challenges people really care about. We need to build a truly inclusive system that values and nurtures a much wider range of careers and career paths. A good place to start is to change ideas about who is part of the research and innovation system.
  • To get the ball rolling, I am delighted to be collaborating with the Minister for Science Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway, to find 101 people, doing 101 different jobs that make major contributions to research and innovation, but who are not researchers and innovators. If you are one such person, or work with one and would like to participate in this project please email your suggestion to stories@ukri.org. I am also keen to hear about other ideas and initiatives that could support a more inclusive definition of the research and innovation system.

REF flexibility: At the end of last week the REF team provided more details on the extra support to help universities struggling to complete during lockdown:

  • Universities are no longer required to submit corroborating evidence for impact case studies, however, any evidence should be held by the institution in the event of audit. Uploaded evidence should be submitted by 1 June.
  • Errors can be corrected up to six weeks after the 31 March submission deadline.
  • More information was published on the labelling and delivery of physical outputs and redacting impact case studies for publication.

ARPA

  • UK ARPA ‘should run like a venture capital’ says former Head of Innovate UK. Ruth McKernan, now Chair of the BioIndustry Association, spoke out on 27 January at a Foundation for Science and Technology meeting exploring the UK ARPA which is expected to launch this year with £50 million in seed funding. Ruth advised that the UK ARPA should be designed in the spirit of a venture capital fund in order to reduce red tape and enable the speed and flexibility required to deliver high-risk, high-returns research.
  • Meanwhile on Monday Dods/The Financial Times reported that: new Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is pushing forward with plans to form the anticipated scientific research agency, and that legislation could be drawn up within weeks. As the agency is a standalone organisation, separate from UKRI, it requires its own legislation. The Treasury has authorised £800m of spending on the agency, which will fund “cutting-edge, high-risk, high-reward science here in the UK,” particularly in areas such as AI and data.

JISC – Support research & innovation 2021-23

Towards the end of last week Jisc published their research and innovation sector strategy 2021-23, setting out their seven key theme priorities identified through their engagement with the sector. Dods summarise:

  1. Supporting a new national data infrastructure for research
  • Never before have research and innovation been so dependent on infrastructure, on the capacity of network, security, connectivity and access management. This dependency will continue to grow.
  • Jisc commit to supporting a new national data infrastructure for research, underpinned by their existing Janet Network, cyber security, cloud and data infrastructures and will coordinate the implementation of a flexible set of solutions for institutions and research collaborations.
  1. UK research analytics: understanding systems, cultures, resources and decision-making
  • The data produced through the processes of research management could be used on a greater scale to transform research systems, cultures and decision-making. Exponentially upgraded analytical capacity is needed to build the strategic capabilities of UK research.
  • Jisc will examine the potential for a new UK research analytics platform and service, enhancing their existing analytics capabilities
  1. Recording the UK’s ‘research estate’ in support of a UK-wide research capability
  • The ability to identify, deploy, share and re-use physical and intangible assets that comprise the research estate are central to delivering efficiencies, the civic agenda, levelling up, open research and achieving net-zero. These assets also include the significant infrastructure which gives access to research, including content, library and archival collections.
  • Jisc will explore expanding the well-established digital approaches to the management and use of these assets
  1. Accelerating the achievement, delivery and monitoring of the journey to open research
  • Open research extends beyond the boundaries of open access articles to all research outputs, including metadata, data, code, algorithms and software, as well as the processes of research itself. It will continue to be a high priority for the UK research base, for funders and for Jisc.
  • Jisc commit to helping the UK embrace the full potential of open research by removing barriers, embedding open practices and developing infrastructure to support this potential.
  1. Applied research and knowledge exchange: supporting its commercialisation and deployment
  • The interconnected systems producing world-class research and innovation are increasingly reliant on shared and secure infrastructure to enable their growth. The breadth of academic-industry collaborations and commercial spinouts from academic research is set to grow.
  • Jisc commit to further supporting the acceleration of the impact of and knowledge exchange from research commercialisation through the enhanced use of shared research infrastructure.
  1. Rapid innovation in research management and active research
  • Research integrity, reproducibility and reuse, evaluation and assessment, new and inclusive forms of excellence and the responsible use of metrics are all areas that offer significant potential for greater efficiency and interoperability.
  • Jisc commit to exploring and building on innovative approaches in research management, including enhanced system interoperability, common data repository standards and metrics aggregator models
  1. ‘Research 4.0’: realising the art of the possible
  • Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 5G, quantum computing and biotechnologies are set to impact the UK’s world-leading research and innovation sector in the years ahead in ways yet to be imagined.
  • Jisc propose a technical enablers programme focusing on exemplifying leading-edge specialisms and a ‘research reimagined’ programme to better understand this future potential with and on behalf of our members.

Quick News update

  • The British Academy has submitted its pre-budget report to the Treasury calling for Horizon Europe funding to be ring fenced separately from BEIS research funding:
    • The funds required for Horizon Europe association should be additional to the existing budget for research and innovation, in order that we support and build the UK’s reputation as a global research and innovation leader in this period of uncertainty and upheaval.
    • And on ODA: We also wish to emphasise the importance and value of funding for global research and innovation activities through the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. Any reduction in the levels of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget for research and innovation activity will directly harm the UK’s ability to maintain its global position in terms of science and research. We are extremely concerned that even a temporary reduction in funding for scientific research will compromise the ability of the UK to act as a leader in addressing global challenges and building capacity in research talent, particularly at a time when COVID-19 has demonstrated the critical need for global collaboration. Both the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the £735m Newton Fund come under the aid budget.
    • Press release here.
  • Professor Matt Lambon Ralph has been appointed Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Non-Clinical Training and Career Development Panel. Matt was previously Associate Vice-President for Research at the University of Manchester including a focus on early career researchers. The panel is responsible for assessing applications for non-clinical fellowships across the MRC research portfolio. He is expected to sit on the panel for the standard length of four years.
  • UKRI and the Met Office have appointed Dr Gary Fuller (Imperial College London) as the new Clean Air Champion for the Strategic Priorities Fund Clean Air Programme (£42.5 million R&I investment programme). He joins the existing champions Professor Sir Stephen Holgate and Dr Jenny Baverstock. They will bring together outstanding researchers across atmospheric, medical and social sciences to develop practical solutions for air quality issues… equipping the UK to proactively tackle future air quality challenges related to changing emissions, exposure patterns and impacts on vulnerable groups of people.
  • UKRI has a news story on the Innovate UK £134 million in continuity loans to support small businesses drive on with innovative and exciting new products and services. Loans of between £250,000 and £1.6 million have been made to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and third sector organisations that would otherwise have struggled to continue with research and development activity.
  • The Public Accounts Committee has launched an inquiry into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Fund awards support for research and development projects under the Industrial Strategy four themes – clean growth, the ageing society, the future of mobility and artificial intelligence & the data economy. It constitutes a significant part of the Government’s commitment to spend £4.7 billion on R&D. The Committee will question senior officials at BEIS and UKRI on the management of the Fund, focussing on the design of the Fund and oversight of its implementation, and the approach taken to considering performance and progress in making the awards. The timing and announcement of the inquiry is interesting – we’ll be keeping an eye on this one.
  • Chris Skidmore writes in Conservative Home highlighting how Brexit has enabled the UK to respond faster on issues such as Covid vaccinations. He continues to argue about a focus on research.
    • With a new American President that believes in the power of science and research, the Prime Minister has found an ally and common ground upon which he can transform into a special science relationship. Focus on ‘shared values’ is intended to be a key part of the G7— what better value could there be to focus upon than investment in research and innovation?
    • A new international research fund, a new alliance of research universities, the chance to forge new international science programmes dedicated to transforming and de-carbonising energy supply… the potential is enormous. Yes, we can build back better, but we can do so much more effectively if we research back better too.
  • The Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has set out plans for a new UK subsidy control system: which will be the long-term replacement for the EU’s prescriptive state aid regime, will allow the UK to be more dynamic in providing support to businesses, including in innovative, R&D-focused industries, to encourage job creation and growth across all parts of the UK. [You’ll remember that state aid was a big issue in the Brexit negotiations at the end of the year].
  • The PM has established a new Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) which will identify and develop proposals across a range of areas that will drive innovation and competitiveness, reduce barriers to start-ups and scale-ups, create opportunities for innovation to make the most of cutting-edge technologies, and support growth and dynamism right across the UK economy. In particular:
    • Opportunities which could drive innovation and accelerate the commercialisation and safe adoption of new technologies, cementing the UK’s position as a global science and technology superpower.
    • Opportunities to reduce barriers to entry in specific markets and make markets more dynamic and contestable across the economy.
    • Opportunities to reduce administrative barriers to scaling up productive businesses; and to tailor any necessary processes to the needs of UK start-ups and SMEs while maintaining the Government’s commitment to high environmental standards and worker protections.
    • Opportunities to improve small business’ experience of necessary regulatory requirements.
    • Sectors of the economy or regulatory frameworks which should be prioritised for further regulatory deep dives.

The Taskforce is expected to report back to the PM in April. Their findings will be considered alongside the Government’s broader economic growth and regulatory agenda.  Cynics will remember the “bonfire of the quangos” under the Cameron government (this FT article reports the National Audit Office report that 285 public bodies were abolished but 184 new organsiations were created at the same time).

Parliamentary Questions

  • PhD extensions – I [Amanda Solloway] regularly meet with … the CEO of UKRI…to monitor how the pandemic is affecting UKRI-funded PhD students and the wider research system. We will continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 and UKRI continues to listen and respond carefully as the situation evolves.
  • What effect the 30% reduction in the Official Development Assistance allocation will have on the Government’s ringfenced climate change and R&D funding commitments.

Admissions

There was UCAS data released on 4th February.

Dods summarise the UCAS application and acceptance figures for the 2020 cycle:

There were 2,788,715 applications in this cycle – an increase on the 2019 cycle

  • Across all providers, there were 570,475 accepted applicants
  • There were 156,280 unconditional offers made
  • Providers across the UK had a 71.4% offer rate (72.8% in England, 56.6% in Scotland, 79% in Wales, 77.2% in NI)
  • Among lower tariff providers, this figure was 7%
  • Among medium tariff providers, this figure was 2%
  • Among higher tariff providers, this figure was 9%
  • Offer rates for UK 18 year olds by POLAR4 quintile were:
  • Q1: 78.6%
  • Q2: 78.9%
  • Q3: 79.4%
  • Q4: 79.7%
  • Q5: 80.5%

Key findings and trends:

  • Acceptances to computer science courses have risen by almost 50% (from 20,420 in 2011 to 30,090 in 2020)
  • Acceptances to engineering courses are up 21% from 25,995 in 2011 to 31,545 in 2020 – driven by an increase in demand from UK 18 year olds
  • Acceptances to the newer artificial intelligence (AI) courses have seen a 400% rise in the past decade (from just 65 in 2011 to 355 in 2020)
  • Despite the removal of NHS bursaries in 2017, demand for nursing places is now almost at the same level seen in 2011 (62,920 applicants made a nursing choice in 2020 compared to 63,275 in 2011) and acceptances have grown by 57% – representing an additional 13,635 students
  • With the expansion of medical places in the last few years, acceptances to medicine courses are at the highest level on record, growing 37% since 2017
  • Law increased from 22,720 acceptances in 2011 to 29,105 acceptances in 2020, with substantial increases to both higher and medium tariff providers across this period
  • Business increased from 61,100 acceptances in 2011 to 75,515 in 2020. Growth in acceptances across all provider tariff bands – with by far the largest increase to higher tariff providers
  • Psychology acceptances increase from 16,685 in 2011 to 26,200 in 2020. Again, there were increases across all tariff bands, with medium and higher tariff providers experiencing the largest increases
  • Humanities subjects have decreased in popularity over the last decade. English studies have seen a decrease from 10,020 acceptances in 2011 to 6,980 this year in 2020, and history and philosophical studies from 15,060 in 2011 to 12,870, though the data shows this decline seems to be confined to lower and medium tariff providers
  • Acceptances to modern language degree courses have decreased by 36% – from 6,005 in 2011 to 3,830 in 2020 across all tariff groups. This drop in demand is seen alongside a decrease in language A level entrants over the same timeframe.

Given the reverses in policy (student number controls and centre-assessed grades), the controversy about unconditional offers, last this year was a pretty interesting one for admissions teams.  Some of these things have implications this year too – we still have a ban on unconditional offers, and this year the impact of whatever Ofqual end up with will almost certainly ensure that there are once again more students with higher grades entering university.  The Russell Group are already asking for money to help them take more students in September (again).  And all this is just in time for another huge reversal of approach as the government consult on minimum entry requirements and post-qualification admissions.  Catch up on our policy update from 21st January on minimum entry requirements, and you can read the PQA consultation here (it runs until May, so no rush).

  • A data rich piece by David Kernohan using UCAS data on unconditional offer This was the big story just under a year ago, as despite strong Ministerial and OfS criticism of unconditional offers up to that point, and particularly strong pressure on “conditional unconditional offers”.    When the pandemic hit and exams were cancelled, some universities allegedly made many more unconditional offers, on the basis that it would remove stress for school and college leavers.  Of course, in March, as we went into the first lockdown, Michelle Donelan ordered universities to stop making unconditional offers, in a “moratorium” that later turned into a “time-limited” condition of registration with the OfS that remains in place today.  In their consultation the OfS proposed making the condition retrospective, with a view to penalising those universities who had made offers in the crucial early weeks of March – but this idea was dropped.  We might expect a response to the UCAS data from the OfS, which might not be super positive about it.
  • A piece on subject trends from UCAS data – including what they call the “Chris Whitty effect” as applications increased for health and social care programmes in 2020. This is of course good news for us all, especially given concerns about the impact of the controversial removal of NHS bursaries for these course and the incredible contribution made by many students during the pandemic on placement or starting paid work before the end of their courses.  In the piece, Sander Kristel, Chief Operations Officer at UCAS also looks at numbers for STEM, and the gender divide, and the decline in language students, and in English and humanities subjects too. David Kernohan of Wonkhe contributes some rich data on applications over time, by subject and by provider.
  • And an overview on the overall cycle, again by David Kernohan, with some startling data about winners and losers in terms of student numbers in 2020 and some analysis of student movements. In case you’ve forgotten, as well as a

HEPI has a piece from former universities minister (and former VC) Bill Rammell and education consultant Abhishek Nakhate on the ways that universities can turn knowledge of their applicants into successful recruitment.

Wonkhe also tell us that TES has an opinion piece on the opportunity in the Department for Education’s PQA consultation to uncouple university admissions from A levels completely.

Free Speech

On Monday Wonkhe announced the publication of a collaboration with a group of students leading students’ unions on free speech: Taking the debate forward: A new code to secure and champion freedom of speech and political diversity on campus. Wonkhe also gather together a series of information and recent content on free speech here.

Support for the new code has been given by Adam Clarke, Policy Manager, for the Russell Group. He states:

  • Universities, students and government all want to protect free speech and ensure robust academic debate. Engaging with challenging ideas is a vital element of the academic experience in UK universities.
  • As Wonkhe’s analysis shows, the overwhelming majority of planned students’ union events go ahead, giving speakers the opportunity to present controversial ideas on campus, which students can interrogate.
  • The proposals in this report are intended to help students’ unions broaden the range of views students are exposed to and continue to champion free speech on campus effectively. It sets out sensible additional steps students’ unions can take as independent bodies to protect free speech and how universities can support them in this critical work.
  • The creation of a new free speech code with an explicit goal of increasing the volume and diversity of debates on campuses would help students’ unions go further in their efforts to defend and maintain freedom of expression.

The Minister speaks (and writes, to everyone)

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, announced £50 million of new hardship funding for HE providers (to be distributed by the OfS). The Government press release states: The increased financial support comes as the majority of students have been asked to continue their studies remotely, as part of measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus…The new funding means that universities will be able to help students impacted by the pandemic, for example those facing additional costs for alternative accommodation, loss of employment, or extra costs to access their teaching online. Universities will distribute the funding and will be able to prioritise the funding to those most in need of help. The Government also stated it wanted universities to offer partial refunds for unused accommodation. No doubt the Government are hoping this will head off calls for tuition and rent refunds, at least for a few weeks. The written ministerial statement is here.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

  • This continues to be an incredibly difficult and challenging time for our students, and I am hugely grateful to all the university staff working hard to prioritise their health, wellbeing and learning during this pandemic. The additional £50 million that we are announcing today will mean we have distributed £70m for hardship in this financial year alone – on top of the £256m of government-funded student premium which universities can use for student support this academic year. This additional support will provide real, tangible help for those students struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. We will continue to prioritise a full return to education as soon possible, in line with public health advice. I am also working with universities and professional bodies to ensure students can graduate as planned.
  • On distributing the funds Wonkhe have stated that the DfE tells us the mechanism for doing so is yet to be determined, and we understand that OfS will shortly be writing to provider accountable officers with a proposed distribution methodology.

On Wednesday Donelan made a statement to the House explaining that HE providers will have flexibility in how they distribute funding to students including to masters and international students. There was also an urgent question from Paul Blomfield in the House of Commons on Wednesday and Jim Dickinson (of Wonkhe) has live tweeted the whole debate – very funny but also rather sad.

If you can face it, you can re-read MD’s original set of late on a Friday night tweets (STUDENT MESSAGES 1- 6) that so enraged so many.

Donelan spoke on Radio 4 stating she wanted to ensure students and HE providers understood that hardship support from this funding shouldn’t be just a one-time offer, that students could return to their providers for additional help later on, where appropriate and if required.

Many organisations published their reactions to the announcement. We’ve picked out the key stakeholders who continue to call for the Government to do more:

  • Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: While the additional funding is welcome, the government must also acknowledge that student hardship is just one of many increasingly difficult issues facing students, universities and staff at this time. As the serious mental health impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, universities need further funding to alleviate the substantial increases in demand that university wellbeing and support services are experiencing. Although university staff are making huge efforts to offer high quality online learning, the government should provide support that recognises that students are missing out on the wider student experience that they would benefit from in a normal year.
  • Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: It is good to see…measures further boosted by the Government with additional funds specifically for students facing difficulties with day-to-day living costs. This group is likely to be far wider than those who would normally be eligible for support through OfS student premium funding.
  • NUS National President Larissa Kennedy said: …this will not be enough to tackle the scale of the issue. If Westminster did the right thing and matched the hardship funding being made available in Wales for students the amount needed would be more than £700m…The pandemic has exposed the flaws at the core of our education system – it functions at the expense of students’ mental health and wellbeing, and through our financial exploitation…We also need a long term solution to ensure that no student suffers in this way again. The Government must adopt a new vision for education, starting with a return to maintenance grant funding and a boost in how much students can access, redressing extortionate housing costs, and moving towards fully funded education so students are never pushed into these kinds of dire financial situations

On Thursday the Minister published yet another open letter to students (sent to universities late on Tuesday).  It repeats much of the content of previous letters, including about how to complain.  You can read the full text of the letter it in the Minister’s tweet here.

In an expansion of the now well established DfE practice of sending open letters to students to be shared by providers (usually arriving late at night, often on a Friday), this time in a burst of creative energy the Minister also wrote to staff at providers.  BU readers can find the message here.

Access & Participation

Social Mobility Commission

We learn the reasoning behind the move of the Commission to the Cabinet office here:

  • This move aligns with a recent recommendation by the Chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the Social Mobility Commission’s (SMC) own recommendation about where it would best fit within government, and with a recommendation by the Education Select Committee in 2018.
  • Moving the sponsorship of the SMC to become a key part of the new Equality Hub makes good sense and puts equality and fairness of all kinds at the heart of government. The move shows how serious this government is about acting on these issues, as part of our levelling up agenda.

There’s a parliamentary question on the Social Mobility Commission’s report Changing gears: understanding downward social mobility setting out the Government’s approach to social mobility and it also mentions the move to the Cabinet Office.

The Social Mobility Commission published its annual review and business plan 2020 this week. They state: In this extraordinarily challenging year, we have made significant strides in influencing government policy, while making meaningful connections with employers and embarking upon an ambitious programme of activities. On the move to the Cabinet Office they state: As we prepare to move to the Cabinet Office from 1 April 2021, we look forward to taking a more influential role in addressing social and regional inequality.

The report has a timeline to highlight the key milestones in 2020 (see further below). And they summarise their achievements as:

  • launching an employers’ programme and microsite for businesses to help recruit more people from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • publishing 13 ground-breaking research reports on aspects of social mobility which got widespread media pick-up
  • reaching out to a younger audience
  • In addition we built up our network of Ambassador organisations to help spread our message, held dozens of seminars, webinars, training sessions and masterclasses, and launched a campaign for increased resources on further education

There’s lots more detail in the report including short summaries and links to the key publications.

Disability – price fixing

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has issued advisory letters to some firms supplying goods and services to disabled university students, following concerns that there may have been price-fixing. The Government press release with more detail is here. Excerpts from the press release:

  • Price-fixing is a serious breach of competition law and can cheat people out of a lower price, which could have been available if competition was working properly.
  • The CMA is concerned that SLC [Student Loans Company] – and so ultimately the taxpayer – may have paid over the odds for certain goods and services because some suppliers agreed prices before providing quotations. This alleged activity could also have reduced the overall amount which disabled students have available for purchasing equipment through the scheme.
  • While the CMA has been considering these allegations, SLC has told the CMA that it is making a number of changes to the way it procures goods and services for disabled students. The changes will increase price transparency and competition amongst companies, and should therefore limit the potential for anti-competitive behaviour to take place.
  • The CMA has not made a legal finding as to whether competition law has been broken at this stage, but it will keep this sector under review, 

Wonkhe have a blog – Is a market the best way of supporting disabled students?

And the Student Loans Company have issued a statement following the CMA’s action stating they welcome the advisory action and that they take these allegations of anti-competitive behaviour within the DSA supplier base extremely seriously… Also they have already embarked on a programme of significant reforms, designed to transform the customer experience, improve the provision of DSA and to make the overall processes more efficient. These reforms will also increase transparency of pricing and increase competition thus limiting the potential for any anti-competitive behaviour. SLC has already procured an e-quotation system, which will allow more suppliers to quote for work and will increase transparency of pricing and competition.

Lost learning

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published research on the crisis in lost school learning. Dods have summarised the report. The report sets out the potential long-run costs of lost schooling and finds that, as a result of the pandemic, children across the UK are likely to lose at least half a year of normal, in-person schooling. They conclude that, absent a substantial policy response, the long-run effects of this learning loss are likely to be slow-moving and substantial – arguing that, in the end, we will all be less productive, poorer, have less money to spend on public services, and we may be less happy and healthy as a result. They also say that we will probably also be more unequal, with all the social ills that come with it. Key findings:

  • By February half-term, children across the UK will have lost at least half a year of normal, in person schooling. This would increase to two thirds of a year if schools weren’t to reopen as normal until Easter
  • Early evidence already suggests this loss of schooling is contributing to lower educational progress and skills, particularly for disadvantaged pupils
  • Existing evidence on returns to schooling would imply a long-run loss in earnings of £350bn
  • If, the efforts by schools, teachers, children, parents and charities allowed us to mitigate 75% of this effect, the total loss would still be £90bn
  • A large amount of these negative effects are likely to be borne by children from lower-income families, resulting in a likely rise in inequality over the long-run
  • A massive injection of resources is likely to be required to help pupils properly catch up
  • A useful benchmark to judge these plans is the normal cost of half a year of schooling, about £30 billion across the UK
  • So far, governments across the UK have allocated about £1.5bn towards the cost of catch-up – this is highly unlikely to be sufficient to help pupils catch-up or prevent inequalities from widening.

HEPI has a blog by Gwen Morris on “Closing the attainment gap: how disadvantaged pupils have been impacted by COVID-19

Students in the pandemic

Financial woes

Aside from the hardship funding described above, there is more heat than light on this subject.

The APPG for Students released a report from their inquiry into tuition and accommodation costs during Covid-19 making the case for compensation. (Note – an APPG inquiry does not have the same power within Parliament as an official select committee inquiry and the Government is not compelled to respond to it.)

The APPG state the priority is to provide students with the financial assistance they need now – through an emergency hardship fund and full compensation for rents for unused accommodation due to lockdown measures. Recommendations:

  1. The Government should substantially increase hardship funding to address rental costs for student properties they cannot access, lost income, digital poverty and other unexpected cost.
  2. The Government should consider the introduction of means-tested maintenance grants to assist the ‘Covid cohort’ with the costs they face.
  3. The Government should work with landlords to introduce measures to temporarily increase flexibility for student accommodation to allow students to leave contracts they aren’t using more easily, and to reduce pressure on landlords.
  4. Government should establish a ‘Covid Student Learning Remediation Fund’, to allow lost learning to be addressed through provision of educational opportunities not available through the pandemic.
  5. UKRI studentships for PGR students should be extended to allow research to be finished to usual high standards, in circumstances where lockdown has affected access to facilities and resources. Consideration should also be given to support for self-funded students.

Dods have an impartial and clear article on the call for refunds in The House (parliamentary) magazine. It highlights a difficult factor that the sector is fully aware of:  it is unclear what shape a refund of a loan that most would never fully repay anyway would take.  And other tricky elements:

  • So who should pay when customers (i.e. students) feel they are no longer getting value for money? It would be easy to conclude that it should be down to HE providers themselves. But when we consider that many of the restrictions causing these issues come from government-mandated measures, and ultimately from a global pandemic, where to lay the blame becomes less clear.
  • And what is a customer to do once they’ve received a refund, but are still left with what they believe to be a faulty product? Money in the pockets of students might satisfy their initial gripes, but they still might not get what they set out to achieve when they completed their UCAS application.

Wonkhe have a review article going over it all: Someone has to give in the great tuition fees battle. Who will it be? A light read as Jim Dickinson injects some great examples in there. It covers student consent to changes in the curriculum arising from the pandemic. It concludes: Something – or more specifically, someone – has to give here. And if universities have nothing left, it’s either students or DfE. OfS wagging its finger at universities is just fence-sitting. The actual side that OfS picks in the coming battle will tell us everything we need to know both about its real priorities and its “independence“.

Wonkhe also cover a mini legal hiccup relating to the vacation (Christmas) household and their term time address.

Wonkhe report: Accommodation provider Unite has announced it will extend its 50 per cent rent discount until 8 March 2021. The extension applies automatically to students who successfully applied for the original discount. 

The BBC covered a letter written by the VC’s of seven universities calling for the interest on student loans to be scrapped for 15 months to ease the pressure on graduates. I.e. from lockdown 1 to summer 2021. The BBC state that just for first year undergraduates it would cost £33 million. The Government has stated that this wouldn’t support students now, which the hardship funding they announced (in Access and Participation section) will. The Government also reminded that half of students do not fully pay back their student loan. The VC’s letter also highlighted that demands for hardship funds have increased by over 100% in some universities.

On Tuesday the petitions committee met to consider e-petitions:

Guidance: The DfE published new return to campus guidance for HE students and providers. All remains as expected:

  • All teaching to remain online until at least 8 March except for certain practical subjects (e.g. veterinary, policing, medicine)
  • On accommodation and costsit states: Because of the changing position relating to face to face teaching and occupation of accommodation, students’ loan entitlements for the current term will not be reassessed if they are still incurring accommodation costs away from home, meaning that students in receipt of the ‘living away from home’’ loan will retain the maintenance loans paid at the start of term, which will be repaid in the usual way. This should help to ensure students have the financial support they need during these exceptional circumstances. Students who are no longer incurring accommodation costs away from home (e.g. because they have exited their contracts, or moved home permanently), or who no longer wish to receive the higher rate of loan, should continue to request reassessment.
  • On testing: HE providers should set a clear expectation that all students should access coronavirus (COVID-19) testing immediately on their return to university and on a twice weekly basis thereafter (until the end of March). With students who choose not to get tested on return, to self-isolate for ten days.

Quick News: Meanwhile a review published by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has found that the currently unregulated use of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) products nearly quadrupled to £2.7bn during 2020 and five million people had used them since the start of the pandemic. This has been flagged as a potential student concern because: The trend of younger people moving away from products such as credit cards and towards new offerings, including unregulated BNPL products was regularly raised by respondents to the review. It calls for the market to be properly regulated as there is significant potential for consumer harm. The Treasury confirmed interest-free BNPL agreements will now be regulated by the FCA. It means that providers will need to undertake affordability checks before lending and ensure that customers are treated fairly, especially those who are vulnerable and struggling with repayments.

Parliamentary Questions: No detriment

Student Experience – retaining some online learning

Dods share that Times Higher Education have published the results and subsequent report of their Digital Teaching Survey, which aims to capture an overview of universities’ digital transitions in response to the pandemic, and the effect this has on students and learning outcomes. You can view the report in full here

Carried out in October and November, the survey attracted 520 self-selecting respondents. And although the majority (334) are from the UK, a total of 46 countries are represented in the responses, spread across all continents bar Antarctica.  Among the findings are:

  • More than half of respondents say the initial move to online teaching had a negative effect on their mental health, and nearly six in 10 believe it hit their students’ mental health.
  • Only a fifth believe that their students value remote education as much as face-to-face, but less than a third think tuition fees should be discounted when instruction moves online.
  • Only four in 10 junior academics believe their reopened universities’ planning for Covid outbreaks is robust, compared with seven in 10 senior managers.
  • Less than a fifth of respondents regard the two-track physical and online approach to teaching as sustainable, while two-fifths regard an online-only future as sustainable.
  • Respondents are mostly unsure whether good online teaching results in stronger learning than traditional teaching, but more than twice as many disagree as agree.
  • More than three-quarters would like online meetings to endure beyond the pandemic.

Wonkhe and Pearson published findings from their latest student experience research: Students’ experiences of study during Covid-19 and hopes for future learning and teaching and Pearson have a blog highlighting the key elements here. They work through what aspects of online and blended delivery should be retained in the short term, what are the areas for longer term strategic development, and what can be gratefully consigned to the dustbin of history.

There seems to be a consensus among university leaders of learning and teaching that while the explosion in online and blended learning of the past year didn’t come about in exactly the way the sector would have chosen, there’s now little sense in reverting back to the way things were before.

In the blog Pearson say:

  • What university leaders may consider heartening and daunting in equal measure is that there are very few elements of online learning and teaching that the students we surveyed would not like to see continue after the pandemic.
  • Also: Despite the positive endorsement of many aspects of online and blended learning, these findings should not be taken as an absolute endorsement of the quality of the academic experience as it’s currently being delivered.
  • Our sense from the survey is that students understand – up to a point – the challenges facing universities and teaching staff and genuinely appreciate ongoing efforts to support them. Students were particularly warm about communications with teaching staff, with 82 per cent agreeing that tutors are responsive when they need them.

And on a quality experience:

  • However, when we asked straight out whether students thought their academic experience had been of sufficiently good quality during the autumn term, only 40 per cent said yes. This increased to 56 per cent for those who had reported their course had been delivered through a mixture of face to face and online.
  • You might argue that students don’t have a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the concept of “quality” to be able to answer that question meaningfully. So we also asked about aspects of course delivery.
  • 32 per cent agreed and 41 per cent somewhat agreed that teaching is intellectually stimulating. 31 per cent agreed and 38 per cent somewhat agreed that their course is clear and well organised. This suggests that for the most part the basics are in place in terms of teaching and curriculum. That said, improving the organisation and signposting of courses in the VLE could be a relatively easy way for universities to further support their students in this area.

The blog also highlights (by comparison to earlier June 2020 survey) that access to feedback, support from lecturers, and access to technology and resources have all improved. Where there’s room for further investigation is in providing a consistently engaging online learning experience and bringing curriculum content to life for students. 

Moving forward – continuing to teach remotely during Covid

63% would like more opportunities for interactions with other students
57% would choose more contact time with tutors

Methods to support monitoring their own progress were also highlighted. The blog states:

Only 35 per cent said they have regular indicators about how they are performing on the course. In a context where students are more isolated and have fewer opportunities to compare notes with peers or talk informally to lecturers, building opportunities for self-assessment of progress can be especially helpful to give students academic confidence and self-efficacy, especially given the finding on students’ sense of their own preparedness for formal assessment. 36 per cent said that more frequent assessments and progress reviews would make a difference to their experience.

Pearson say:

  • Where educators aspire to take forward a rich flexible learning environment that blends face to face and online elements, there’s an opportunity to make some of the latent aspects of learning more explicit through the course design. For example, better user experience (UX) design of VLEs could vastly improve signposting and help set expectations around learning. With flexible learning, educators could be much less constrained by scheduled contact hours, and more able to create curriculum structures and processes that enable students to progress in their learning.
  • Interaction between students need not only take place in the classroom but can be supplemented by online discussion and forums. Curriculum content can be broken down into more manageable chunks that can be digested digitally, and the classroom used for more engaging interactive tasks and activities.
  • Academic skills development can be baked explicitly into learning activities with defined tasks designed to be completed during independent learning time. Crucially, students can be encouraged and supported to develop as independent learners through use of formative self-assessment. And all this could be supported with remote check-ins with tutors and online access to wellbeing, careers and academic support services.
  • it’s clear that, now students have recognised the benefits of a more flexible approach,the direction of travel in meeting students expectations for the future of learning and teaching will be towards a more purposefully flexible approach that draws on the best of both online and face to face learning. Although one does wonder whether it is the institutions rather than the students that needed to recognise the benefits of flexible blended learning. The infrastructure and mindset change cannot be underestimated but we can hope the pandemic accelerated the turnaround of the proverbial educational oil tanker.

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

Programmes

  • Increases in students studying video games degrees since 2012/13.
  • A Turing (student mobility) website is coming soon – more information…and setting out the application process in the coming weeks

Augar

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.

Many of the consultations this year have potential to be transformative for the sector. BU readers can find our response to the OfS consultation on quality and standards here.  You can read the UUK response here and the one from London Higher here.

As we note above, the PQA consultation is live (we are considering a BU response)

Other news

Nick Hillman makes the case that English universities need to cultivate allies – either in wider society or in Whitehall – to prepare for the coming spending review.

Equality: Advance HE published the blog Ensuring continued steps towards gender equality. And Wonkhe report: Advance HE has released the second part of its literature review investigating the prevalence of unconscious bias in teaching and learning in higher education. Bias in the Curriculum brings together best practice from across Advance HE members, recommending that an awareness of curriculum bias be built into teaching, with students invited to co-create interventions to address it.

Youth Mental Health: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made an announcement on appointing Dr. Alex George as a Youth Mental Health Ambassador

Law Programmes: A new Wonkhe blog – A new qualification route will shape future lawyers – the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) offers law schools the chance to radically rethink their course offer.

Careers support: Wonkhe report: A report from the City and Guilds Group and Burning Glass finds that just 16 per cent of working adults understands how their skills would transfer to another career. The survey of just over 1,000 adults finds that 21 per cent lacked knowledge of work in other employment sectors, and 19 per cent described a “lack of confidence” in considering a second career. TES has the story.

Low quality courses: Wonkhe comment on a SRHE blog piece stating it explains how the ministerial complaints around standards and “low quality” courses have only become less coherent over the past ten years.

Brexit: Wonkhe reports that The European University Association has published a short briefing into the implications for universities of the final Brexit agreement. The document covers the UK’s withdrawal from the Eramus scheme, cross-border data sharing and trade in educational services, and travel and residence between the UK and the EU.

Youth Unemployment: In December 2020 the Lords Liaison Committee recommended that the House established a new special inquiry committee to consider youth unemployment, education and skills. This report set out recommendations for the Committee to address. They include:

  • The societal trend of prioritising the A-level/University route, the consequences for the labour market and society and what steps may be taken to address this.
  • The funding and support provided for technical education, including apprenticeships, sector-based skills programmes and the national skills fund.
  • The challenges posed by COVID-19 and Brexit to the employment prospects for young people and how these might be addressed.

The Youth Unemployment Committee has now been established in the Lords, the details are gradually being populated here and this link names the members.

Wellbeing:  Just after we sent last week’s policy update a new report was issued by Jisc and Emerge Education Student and staff wellbeing in higher education. It suggests ways in which universities can address student mental health and wellbeing by embracing technology and embedding wellbeing practices into every aspect of university life.

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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 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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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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