As we all look forward to the outcome of the Augar review in mid February, and speculation continues, Research Professional have an interview with Bill Rammell, VC at the University of Bedfordshire:
“To cut the headline fee…would certainly hit universities hard but what that means is it would hit the student experience hard,” Rammell said. “The merit of the current system is that we have better staff-student ratios, better facilities, better support services, we have the best ever student satisfaction ratings, and the best graduate employability. And I think we risk, by cutting the income to universities, cutting the support to students and moving backwards.”
There have been many stories about a but in fee caps at least for some courses. Over the weekend a less dramatic story emerged, of a cut in tuition fee loans but a government top up for universities.
- “The review is also likely to recommend maintaining the £9,250 currently paid to universities for each student, while reducing the proportion paid for through loans. It is considering ways to top up the difference by direct funding from government. This would ensure that universities received their current levels of funding per head while helping to cut the overall burden of debt incurred by students. The change would give the government more discretion to modify the level of funding top-ups depending on the cost of particular university courses or those seen as strategic priorities, such as science and technology programmes.”
The other part of the FT story was about loans for FE as well as HE: “the move is designed to encourage more people to pursue vocational and professional training — including those seeking a “second chance” later in life — and to better fill England’s significant skills gap.”
The other big recent story was about controlling numbers by stopping loans to students who did not get the equivalent of three Ds at A level. In the RP interview: “[this] would disproportionally affect teaching-led universities and represent “a really retrograde step”, Rammell said. “The proposal that really concerns me beyond [lowering fees] is the notion that you would stop students at three Ds and below at A level having access to loan finance to go to university. I think that would be extraordinarily discriminating.”
Professor Dave Phoenix, VC of London South Bank University, wrote about this on Wonkhe last week:
- “An analysis of the UCAS data on level 3 qualifications and acceptances into university shows that in 2018, a greater proportion of BAME students were accepted onto a university course with A level grades of DDD or below than compared to white students. This is particularly acute for black A level students, with over 10% of those accepted onto a university course with a grade profile of DDD or lower. So pulling up the drawbridge for those students with lower attainment will affect BAME groups disproportionately, with black students being particularly badly affected.
- “A blanket all-England minimum grade threshold would differentially hit localities and regions with lower average school or college attainment. We know from Office for Students research on the geography of prior academic attainment that this varies quite significantly by region. At a stroke, then, a grade threshold would hit regions beyond London and the South East of England with lower average attainment, disproportionately reducing the total numbers of prospective students eligible to go to university from areas like the North East or the East Midlands. This does not seem to be a wise (or fair) policy response to the concerns about communities and regions being ‘left behind’ following the Brexit debate.”
What could the Augar review recommendations look like? we’ve been thinking about it and have some ideas (not that we are endorsing any of them):
- A mass switch to apprenticeships and employer-sponsored degrees for “vocational” courses
- nursing, teaching, social work, police – mainly public sector apprenticeships
- business and management degrees, accounting and finance, fashion, many media and communications courses – private sector sponsorship required (i.e. you can’t do these courses unless you have an employer lined up, unless you pay for it yourself (or with a commercial loan))
- Headline cut in fee cap/loan amount but accompanied by some or all of the things below:
- Government teaching grant for strategically important subjects – mainly STEM
- Nursing, teaching also subsidised (or they might all switch to apprenticeships)
- Some subsidy to be earned by achieving more stretching access and participation targets – like the arrangement we have now but small carrot and more stick. The funding could follow the (WP) student and be conditional (retrospectively) on success.
- Top up fees for highly prestigious universities/courses (perhaps those with big graduate salaries) funded by extra student loans
- Some teaching subsidy also available for “low value/low return” courses if they meet stringent requirements on graduate outcomes (perhaps measured broadly, i.e. not just absolute salary but also relative outcomes for WP students).
- Additional student loans available for “low value” courses or courses at less prestigious or successful universities but on an arm’s length commercial basis
- Employers providing top up teaching grant – perhaps individually following the student (e.g. employer sponsored degrees) or perhaps linked to the course – may be like the apprenticeship levy, or a fund that is spent according to criteria
- Loans or teaching grant linked to student performance – would be retrospective, may be learning gain measure or outcomes based on relative starting position, or just simply linked to tariff points on entry.
- Rebranding and changing the terms of student loans but how: could include some of all of these:
- More variable payment thresholds and rates, different interest rates so that overall higher earners pay more and more quickly, thresholds and rates could vary according to your WP status when you start and then later your salary
- Change to the optics of the loan – rename it, collect it differently
- Graduate tax – applicable to all graduates not just those who had loans?
- Maintenance grants – may be reintroduced but means tested and limited.
- Life-time learning accounts – total nominal amount of subsidy for learning, can be spent on a-levels, T-levels, apprenticeship, degree, further degree, part-time, mature etc. It’s nominal – and different types of support count in different ways according to the cost to the taxpayer. Apprenticeships don’t use much of your total because the employer pays. Tuition fees burn through it much faster….
- Headline increase in fees for some courses supported by a tweaked loan model, perhaps top up grant not bigger loans.
- No change at all for PGT or PGR funding but a promised review?
The University and College Union and National Education Opportunities Network have co-authored a report on a student centred model for HE admissions, arguing students should apply to university once their results are known and commence their first year of study in November. They offer it as a solution to the recent proliferation of unconditional offers.
UCU head of policy, Matt Waddup, stated: The current admissions process based on predicted grades is failing students and needs an urgent overhaul. The time has come for the government to grasp the nettle on this issue and commission an independent review of higher education admissions to take forward the agenda.
Wonkhe have an article by Graeme Atherton of NEON, who co-authored the report:
- The current process was designed at a time when less than five percent of young people entered HE. The consequence of this is that anomalies, such as clearing and increasing use of unconditional offers, become built into the system. Moreover the requirement to make grade predictions, once a minority sport, becomes another unpaid part of the job description of teachers and lecturers in post-16 education.
- The new system would have three phases. The first phase would run from year 10 to up to and after the final examinations prior to HE application. It would include a mandatory minimum of ten hours per year of HE-related information advice and guidance for students over each of years 10 to 13, and a Student Futures Week at the end of year 12 (i.e. the first year of level 3 study).
- The second phase would focus on application with students applying after examinations. This does require reducing the period for providers to make decisions about applicants, but we argue that some of these pressures can be alleviated by moving back the start of the academic year for first year students to the beginning of November.
- …The third and final phase would be after application and where a later start to the academic year becomes a real strength, enabling a greater focus on transition, preparation and entry for first year students. Problems with retention, especially for widening participation students, often stem from induction. This induction phase could also be seen as a pre-reading period for all students to ensure that learning time is not overly disrupted by this change.
- Predicting grades is an inexact science at best, with potential for bias to creep into the judgements. Research conducted for UCU by Gill Wyness at the UCL Institute of Education in 2016 found that 75% of students between 2013-15 were predicted to do better at A level than they actually did and only 16% of students’ grades were predicted correctly. That said, the majority of those incorrectly predicted were accurate within one grade – for example, the difference between BBB and BBC which you could argue in most cases is well within an acceptable tolerance band.
- Moreover, at the level of the entire sample grades of students from state schools and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to be over-predicted. However, among the highest performing students – those expecting As and Bs – grades of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to be under-predicted. Research on the same topic published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2011 told a broadly similar story – although the rates of accuracy of grade prediction seem to have declined in the interim.
She looks at what happened last time this was seriously discussed in 2011: The sector listened politely and then firmly rejected the idea….The inertia of the HE sector was not the sole culprit. The secondary education sector, which had previously been open to the possibility of post-qualification admissions, also came out against the proposals. A killer argument was that a post-results application system would mean providing applicants with additional support and guidance over the summer, at a time where schools and colleges were not geared up to deliver this – an issue that would only compound the barriers for disadvantaged applicants.
On unconditional offers: The question of unconditional offers is at present unresolved – UCU offers evidence of the exponential growth of unconditional offers as an unambiguous negative. A more balanced view is presented by a UUK 2018 paper on admissions, which observes that unconditional offers are still a minority of all offers, but urges institutions to monitor carefully their impact on subsequent exam performance and retention. As things stand the only evidence of negative impact is anecdotal.
- Even if the sector could be brought to agree to, for example, delay the start of the university term for a few weeks (a process that sounds simple but wouldn’t be) no advocate of PQA has ever been able to explain how to prevent autonomous institutions from informally accepting or rejecting applicants at any time they like. The central application system is used for efficiency; no institution is required to use it and students can still apply directly to their institution of choice outside the UCAS system.
- There is no doubt that PQA advocates are acting on principle – certainly that UCU could only be in favour of the policy on a principled basis, given the level of upheaval any PQA system would cause to its own members. But this could be a case where principles get in the way of good policymaking. Increasingly PQA feels like a solution in search of a problem. Meanwhile, a number of thoughtful proposals focused on substantially enhancing the support for applicants to make effective choices may never get air time, because PQA is sucking all the oxygen from the debate.
Wonkhe have an article by Phil Pilkington, an Honorary Teaching Fellow at Coventry and Deputy Chair at Middlesex University SU with a different perspective on the headlines:
- In the articles, a first is an entrée to the high table. In reality it is more likely to lead to another two years on an MPhil, five years on a doctorate and a couple of years of post doc fellowship on poverty wages. In the articles, to achieve a first is to achieve the highest cognitive ability – but it is a strange claim that an assessment discovers cognitive ability (whatever that might be) rather than a competence or understanding in a discipline.
- Underpinning it is the idea that there is a natural order of those who are naturally gifted in getting first class awards. This assumes that cognitive performance is natural and not identified with or tied to an academic subject. It assumes that high quality teaching will not improve cognitive abilities so an increase must have been obtained fraudulently because there is a natural order of and limited number of first class minds. This is just a circularity.
- The notion of IQ as a generic measure of smarts has long been discredited, with multiple intelligences taking over as an alternative model. Social context also matters. The historical construction of disciplines have created measures of discipline intelligence. How the levels of these discipline-bounded intelligences are measured is not at issue, it is that there is a determinism (of a loose sort) of what counts as smart related to the overall discourse of the discipline. Such smarts are not, unlike the other essentialism of employability, necessarily transferable. Paul Dirac would have been bewildered by cognitive behavioural therapy, and Samuel Beckett was rather dim about modern painting but in neither case does it matter to their enduring brilliance in physics or drama.
Brexit – just because…
As widely predicted, the government lost the meaningful vote (part 1) and won the vote of no confidence (also part 1). We are pretty much where we were a week ago except more harsh things have been said on all sides and the UK is no nearer a consensus on the way forward. And the EU is just waiting, which is fine, because they wouldn’t concede anything until the last minute anyway and there is still time for the UK to ask for an extension or even decide to revoke article 50…..So what might happen now? Skip this and move onto the next heading if you can’t bear it!
As they lost the meaningful vote, the government has to make a statement about their intentions within 3 days [was 21 but this was changed – now Monday 21st Jan] and then there is another vote by Parliament. What could the government propose in this statement?
- It is another opportunity to persuade people to support the original deal with some more concessions or reassurance. There is unlikely to be anything from the EU by Monday but could be UK government assurances on things on workers’ rights and the environment, this was tried a bit before the meaningful vote.
- Or this could be the moment to ask for an extension to article 50 but it would need an earthquake in No 10 for this to happen by Monday. Mass ministerial resignations over the weekend, for example?
We think it is most likely that the statement it will outline a UK consultation with parliamentarians (already announced) and then going back to Brussels. It seems (to us) that the only EU concession that might result in a change of result on the deal is a hard end or get-out clause for the UK on the backstop. That would get the DUP, a few Brexiteers and maybe some remainers over the line including maybe some Labour ones, but whether it would be enough to get it over the line is unclear – quite probably not. Only three labour MPs voted for the deal this week. But more might in a future attempt, especially if they are disenchanted with the Labour leadership. But maybe not next week, maybe only nearer the deadline.
Other EU concessions that leave the deal largely intact (and so are doable in the time) seem unlikely to move enough people – e.g. on the divorce bill.
Apparently, the motion will be tabled on 21st and then a full day of debate (and a vote) will be on 22nd January. It’s not clear what will happen in the meantime. The vote on 22nd is apparently not a re-run of the meaningful vote, although there could be amendments to the motion and another interesting set of debates on Parliamentary procedure. If the motion (whatever it says) is not supported on 22nd January, there is no next step set out formally in the process. According to the process maps, we leave with no deal. But in practice there is time for several more tries at getting the deal approved, or a vote on an extension to article 50. And more opportunities for confidence votes too.
Anyone who wants a second referendum has to ensure that we get an extension to article 50 first. It is still much more likely (we think) that our politicians will spend the next few weeks arguing, and that we simply end up falling out of the EU by default on 29th March without a deal. It seems that only a few politicians (but maybe more of the population) actually want a no deal Brexit – but the lack of consensus about an alternative will get us there anyway. What would avoid it? The EU blinking on the backstop or a delay.
A delay to Brexit would need to be put to Parliament. Not necessarily by the government – amid all the talk of Parliament taking back control, the charge may be led by backbenchers (see below). And the EU would need to agree (which they would do – they say if they thought it would lead to a change of attitude and approach, but probably even without that they would agree to it). What might get us to that point? A clear consensus in Parliament around something.
- Most of the options seem so far away from the current deal as to be almost inconceivable without a change in government – e.g. softer Brexit options such as Norway style EEA membership, staying in the Customs Union on a permanent basis (Labour policy). Even proposing it might bring down the government if Brexiteers and the DUP vote with Labour in a confidence vote. Surely the only way these ideas will move forward is if there is either an election or a second referendum.
- The Canada option is what the future political declaration might turn into. We floated the idea two weeks ago that there could be a longer extension to article 50 to negotiate the longer term deal before we leave – but the EU elections in the summer (inauguration of the new European parliament on July 2nd) make that look unlikely, apart from the fact that the EU have always said that they don’t want to negotiate the long term deal until we are out. This is an option in a no deal scenario too – leave and then negotiate. Tricky, and will take longer because there will be short term messy things to sort out first.
- There could be a last minute delay just because there is no consensus. And then the arguments would continue for a bit longer but probably not with much substantial change.
The House of Commons library said on Wednesday:
Yesterday, Nick Boles presented a Bill before the House in connection with EU withdrawal, while today Dominic Grieve is expected to present two Bills in connection with provision for an EU referendum. Since these are not Government Bills, there are limited opportunities for MPs to debate and vote on them. The House’s own Standing Orders, which give priority to Government business, are therefore likely to be the subject of close scrutiny by those seeking to influence the Government’s next steps.
The Nick Boles bill says that if the House of Commons haven’t passed the withdrawal agreement by 11th Feb then
“the Secretary of State must invite the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons to prepare and publish by 5 March 2019 a plan of action setting out a proposed process in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union”
We haven’t seen the Grieve ones yet, but this from the iNews “One bill seeks to launch preparations for a referendum while the other seeks to carry out the vote”. You can follow them here as they will be published here when ready. As Private Members’ Bills as noted above, they may not get much further although we live in interesting times for Parliamentary procedures….
We also found this one – the EU (Revocation of Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, laid by Geraint Davies MP in December, which gets its second reading on 25th January:
“A Bill to….Require the Prime Minister to revoke the notification, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union unless two conditions are met;
- to establish as the first condition for non-revocation that a withdrawal agreement has been approved by Parliament by 21 January 2019 or during an extension period agreed by that date under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union;
- to establish as the second condition for non-revocation that a majority of participating voters have voted in favour of that agreement in a referendum in which the United Kingdom remaining as a member of the European Union was the other option;
and for connected purposes.”.
So we stick with our predictions from two weeks ago that either:
- Politicians get some sort of comfort from somewhere and/or the EU come up with some weasel wording on the backstop at the 11th hour, and Parliament approves the deal – either by March 29th or by the end of June under a short extension.
- Chaos continues, and the UK leaves with no deal in March or June, leading in the short-ish term to a[nother] vote of no confidence and a general election, perhaps in 2020 if no deal turns out to be as bad as many people think it might be.
The regulations which will change the funding regime to allow accelerated degrees to charge different fees were considered in Parliament this week.
The Government’s intention is to allow provider to charge a 20% uplift above the usual annual fee caps for accelerated degrees. For students, this will result in a total overall fee saving of 20% for their degree. Students would also save on living costs but it would be hard to work during their course. “Accelerated degrees” include any first undergraduate degree delivered in a period at least one year shorter than the equivalent standard degree. This can include degrees with work placements or overseas placement years. The government were intending to have the regulations in place for the 2019/20 academic year.
MPs from the House of Commons legislative committee raised concerns on the new limits, of £11,100 a year.
- Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for higher education, further education and skills, warned that the two-year courses might be hard for disadvantaged students to access as there would be no opportunity to fund their studies by working during the holidays.
- “We would like a situation with fees in which students did not have to work part time as much as they do, but given that that is the case, perhaps the minister will admit that the giveaway in the accelerated degree proposals is that they are not focused on those sorts of people [disadvantaged students], but in many cases on richer or employer-funded applicants,” he said, later adding that higher annual fees would “nudge people away from participating [in higher education], rather than nudging them towards it”.
- …Marsden said that accelerated degrees could increase pressure on staff workloads and squeeze time traditionally set aside for research.
- “The government have given little thought to the impact on staff workloads of accelerated degrees,” Marsden said. “There is a risk that the move to accelerated degrees will compromise time currently allocated by such teachers to research, and fuel—of necessity, if they are not prepared to do the relevant work—the use of even more casualised teaching staff to deliver provision during the summer months.”
- ..Skidmore said the government would assess the effectiveness of accelerated degree funding and access spending compared with traditional three-year degree courses, three years after the legislation has been put in place.
Research Professional report that the Commons education committee has raised concerns that institutions are “re-badging” courses in order to allow employers to pay for them using apprenticeship levy funds.
- At a hearing on 16 January, the chair of the committee, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, said that some institutions were “re-badging expensive courses as apprenticeships” in order to attract students. He suggested this could be considered as “gaming” the apprenticeship system.
- In one example, Halfon said that Cranfield University’s School of Management had “redesigned” its executive master of business administration (MBA) course, which costs £32,000 and is “pitched at middle managers wanting to move into a senior management role”, as an apprenticeship. “Was [the levy] supposed to be a vehicle for upskilling senior employees…or should it focus more than it does on those coming through school?” Halfon asked, saying the practice risked “depleting a crucial source of funding for those most in need”.
- Education minister Damian Hinds said that the levy “as designed, covers all levels of apprenticeships”, and that there was a role for management education. “It is a pretty small minority [of apprenticeships that are] above level six,” he said. Asked whether the Department for Education was looking at “the potential gaming” of the apprenticeship system, Hinds said that there was to be a review after 2020 of how the levy works, which would take into account such concerns.
- A spokeswoman for Cranfield School of Management said the “significant interest shown by UK businesses in management-focused apprenticeships” was indicative of “a latent need for better management practice”. “Through the apprenticeship levy, access to our leading postgraduate education has been opened up to people who would not otherwise have felt it was for them,” she said. “One in six of our applicants comes from a non-traditional education background and is accessing university education for the first time, a fact the committee should be joining us in celebrating.
- “At Cranfield, we are proud of the role we are playing in creating the next generation of leaders and the role we are helping play in boosting future UK productivity.”
Former universities and science minister Sam Gyimah has been elected to the House of Commons science and technology committee.
The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill goes to Committee state in the House of Commons on 23rd January.
The Trade Bill continues to work its way through the House of Lords starting its HL Committee stage on 21st January– this is aimed at setting things up for after Brexit. It started in the Lords (you can see why!):
Make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements; to make provision establishing the Trade Remedies Authority and conferring functions on it; and to make provision about the collection and disclosure of information relating to trade.
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