Tagged / financial sustainability

HE policy update 22nd January 2024

This seemed like a good moment to explain what the Lifelong Learning Entitlement is really about and what it means for universities (spoiler: a lot of administrative work and not much else, in the short term), and this update also includes some horizon scanning by UKRI, some data on staff numbers and applications and a bit more on financial sustainability, as hard to get away from in stories about the sector this month.  And there is more besides.

Politics and Parliament

Lots of time spent this week on the Rwanda bill, with work for local MP Michael Tomlinson in his new role as Illegal Immigration Minister. The two deputy chairs of the Conservative Party resigned their roles yesterday along with a PPS but the Rwanda bill was passed unamended and has gone to the Lords where there will be more challenges.

Meanwhile it isn’t a manifesto but there is a campaign brochure from the Labour Party.   It says “we will be able to seize the opportunities of advances in AI, digital, life sciences and technology as drivers of economic growth”.  It presents again the 5 missions we discussed in issue 1 of this update. On education: this is the closest to a reference to HE: there simply aren’t enough high-quality pathways onto apprenticeships, and technical education. So we will have to keep waiting for the detail.

And if you missed it, constituency boundaries change for this election.  There were originally going to be major changes locally but those were dropped in the last round of reviews, so not much is changing here.  However, there might be implications elsewhere: there is a BBC article here.  One point to note is that Chris Skidmore stood down on environmental issues and there is a by-election planned in February: but his constituency is one of those disappearing.

Ongoing legislation

Research and knowledge exchange

Business and innovation

UKRI have published a position statement on their “commitment to improve the research and innovation environment for businesses seeking to scale up, through enhancing the support that we offer alongside private capital to help them invest, innovate and grow”.

As well as confirming some of the things they already do they will be:

  • launching a new digital guide to help businesses, along with investors and researchers, to make the most of UKRI products and services to commercialise research
  • launching new £20 million proof-of-concept funding in 2024 to support researchers to spin out scientific discoveries into exciting new products and services
  • ensuring that UKRI’s core offer of training to new doctoral research students improves awareness and experience of commercialisation and entrepreneurship, building on existing opportunities that allow students to work with businesses
  • creating a joined-up funding pathway over 2024, working with the British Business Bank and UK Export Finance, to enhance access to finance for scaling businesses

The Science Minister, Michelle Donelan, gave a speech about “scaleups” on 16th January.  It has unicorns, silver bullets, powder kegs and goldmines.  There is a lot in in it apart from those theme park elements, but this bit caught my eye:

  • Regulate to innovate is not just some slogan that I happen to use – I think it is a commitment I make to businesses across the country. 
  • And that is why I am backing the Regulatory Horizons Council report, published today, and committing to reviewing the recommendations to become unapologetically ambitious in our regulatory approach. 
  • And that is also why this year, I will develop a regulatory support service specifically designed to help science and tech companies to navigate rules and regulations.  Because we know that regulation isn’t just about dry ink on the statute books. I believe the behaviour of our regulators and regulatory simplicity is absolutely key.  

What is the Regulatory Horizons Council?  The Regulatory Horizons Council (RHC) is an independent expert committee that identifies the implications of technological innovation, and provides government with impartial, expert advice on the regulatory reform required to support its rapid and safe introduction. Find the membership etc at the link.

Here is the report and its recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: DSIT, working with the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) .. should ensure that regulators are empowered with the tools and resources to better support innovative startups and scaleups.
  • Recommendation 2: DSIT should work with relevant partners to embed a greater understanding of regulation, and earlier engagement with regulatory issues, within the early-stage business community.
  • Recommendation 3: Government and regulators should continue to build the knowledge base on pro-innovation regulation, and particularly the impacts on start-ups and scaleups.

Emerging technologies horizon scan

In December, UKRI published an insights report on Innovate UK’s 50 emerging technologies that could be part of our everyday lives in 2040 and beyond.

Although there are 50, the report is only 39 pages: the list is in the contents page (and it does briefly explain what they all are).  The world has been very focussed on the risks of new technology, AI in particular, in recent months, but this is a very hopeful list, focusing on the problems that can be solved rather than disruption and destruction.  The report does note the ethical challenges (in the context of AI in particular) and sets our five questions to consider:

  • As technology is more embedded in our bodies, will humans turn into something new and different? What makes us human will be increasingly questioned.
  • Should AI be allowed to make decisions on our behalf? All aspects of business and society will be transformed through AI and computing.
  • If humans can expect a century of good health, what does this mean for employment, pensions or housing? The quality and length of our lives will be greater than ever before.
  • Will a shift towards cleaner, affordable energy change the way we live and work? A transformed energy system could help new industries to thrive.
  • What will a vast expansion of our understanding of the world mean for the UK economy? The UK’s ability to draw on its research and business strengths will help us solve big problems and seize opportunities.

Quantum missions

In the context of the above, the government announced 5 “quantum missions” in November: there are likely to be more funding rounds for research and projects in these areas.

  • By 2035, there will be accessible, UK-based quantum computers capable of running 1 trillion operations and supporting applications that provide benefits well in excess of classical supercomputers across key sectors of the economy. 
  • By 2035, the UK will have deployed the world’s most advanced quantum network at scale, pioneering the future quantum internet. 
  • By 2030, every NHS Trust will benefit from quantum sensing-enabled solutions, helping those with chronic illness live healthier, longer lives through early diagnosis and treatment. 
  • By 2030, quantum navigation systems, including clocks, will be deployed on aircraft, providing next-generation accuracy for resilience that is independent of satellite signals. 
  • By 2030, mobile, networked quantum sensors will have unlocked new situational awareness capabilities, exploited across critical infrastructure in the transport, telecoms, energy, and defence sectors. 

And the other Horizon (Europe)

You can’t have missed it, but the UK is now an associate member of Horizon Europe from the start of 2024.  You can read more on the UKRI website here.  The Horizon Europe work programmes are listed here.

Small but beautiful

Research England have also announced the results of the second round of the “expanding excellence in England” fund. Research England is investing £156 million to support 18 universities across England to expand their small, but outstanding research units. The list of projects funded in round two (and round one from 2019) is here.

Regulation

These policy updates so far this year have included a lot of regulatory content, focussing on the OfS, but did you know that many other regulators may have an interest in aspects of education at universities, and this makes for a challenging and potentially burdensome situation.

Research Professional reports on an event sponsored by the Higher Education Policy Institute and AdvanceHE, which Keith attended this week, at which the VC of London South Bank University raised this issue:

  • Phoenix pointed out that if a level 4 or 5 course is taught as part of a degree, then it is regulated by the Office for Students, but if it is a standalone qualification such as a higher national certificate and taught in a college, it is overseen by Ofsted.
  • Similarly, if higher technical qualifications are taught in higher education, they are quality-assured by the OfS in universities but by Ofsted or Ofqual in further education, while level 4 apprenticeships are overseen by Ofsted regardless of where they are offered.

Of course it is even more complicated than that, as apprenticeship funding is overseen by the ESFA (the Education and Skills Funding Agency, part of the Department for Education), making them an important regulator for HE too.  If you haven’t heard of the ESFA, then here is what they do: it isn’t obvious from this that it includes degree apprentices delivered at universities; but it does.

As an executive agency of the Department for Education, and on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education, ESFA is responsible for administering funding to deliver education and skills, from early years through to adulthood.  

ESFA funds education and skills providers, including: 

  • maintained schools and early years institutions, through local authorities 
  • academy trusts 
  • special schools 
  • colleges 
  • independent training providers (ITPs) 
  • high needs institutions 

ESFA is responsible for: 

  • £67 billion of funding for the education and training sector, ensuring timely and accurate allocations and payment to education and training providers 
  • providing assurance to Parliament that public funds are spent properly, achieving value for money for the taxpayer and delivers the policies and priorities set out by the Secretary of State 
  • provides, where necessary, financial support for providers

Outstanding OfS consultations

Just a reminder of the ones that are ongoing or we are expecting outcomes on from the OfS:

  • Consultation on a new free speech complaints scheme: open until 10th March: BU is considering a response
  • Consultation on the approach to regulating students’ unions on free speech matters: open until 17th March
  • Consultation on the inclusion of higher technical qualifications in student outcome measures: closed November 2023
  • Consultation on a new approach to regulating harassment and sexual harassment-this one has been closed since May 23 so there should be an outcome soon

And two Department for Education ones:

Apprenticeships

In the last couple of updates I have mentioned the government focus on apprenticeships, which is being supported by funding provided by the OfS to support the development of new L6 apprenticeships.   On 17th January the outcome of the latest funding competition was announced, with £12 million being allocated.  The list is here (BU is on it).

Applications and admissions

UCAS have published the end of cycle 2023 data.

Sector:

  • Overall applicants fell in 2023, the peak was 2022
  • 18 year olds had grown (slowly in some years) since 2014 when this data starts until 2023 when the number fell back
  • More females than males applied in every age group

As well as the more general picture there is also data for nursing, which shows tor UK applicants there is a fall in application numbers for most age groups since 2021 but applications for 18 year olds and over 35s remain higher than they were in 2019, and the over 35s are now the biggest group, as they were in 2020 (and almost were in 2021).  The proportion of male applicants over 35 is also higher than the other groups.

Midwifery applications have also fallen since 2021 but remain higher than 2019 for 18 years olds and the over 35s, 18 year olds being by far the largest group with the over 35s just squeaking in at second.  The gender data is interesting: tiny numbers of male applicants.

Wonhke have an article and analysis: there are a little over a thousand more English domiciled applicants who have accepted a place at a Russell Group provider this year than last. Everyone else (excluding alternative providers) has lost accepted applicants over 2022, but (as UCAS is always keen to remind us) the “last regular year” comparison to 2019 looks a bit rosier. There are loads of charts and even a map.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

Cost of living: This year’s updates have covered this ongoing issue; the Russell Group published a briefing this week on the impact of inflation on the maintenance loan and what their members are doing to help. The briefing also points out: The shortfall is compounded by the freeze on the parental earnings threshold used to calculate maintenance loans in England. Students with a household income of less than £25,000 are eligible for the maximum loan, but this figure has been frozen in cash terms since 2008. It is estimated that had this threshold increased with earnings, it would now sit at £35,000, making many more students eligible for the maximum support.

Lifelong loan entitlement

This has been a long running story and we have reported for several years on the various legislative changes and consultations but it all still seems a bit remote and confusing: the new funding system will be in place for entrants to HE from September 2025.

This is about two things, really:

  • putting funding arrangements for university degrees and other post 18 higher level courses on an equal footing; and
  • the “lifelong” bit: enabling flexible and modular learning including to support returning or mature learners

The real change is in the mechanics of funding for universities.  In preparation for modules and to support the “LLE personal accounts” the funding basis is switching to a system based on credits, not academic years.

Last week I talked about the OfS funded short course trial that had a microscopic take up.  I wonder if the public accounts committee will be interested in the cost/benefit of that £2m investment?

There’s a blog here that the OfS wrote in October 2024 on the changes for HE that the LLE will bring:

Over time, we think this will lead to some or all of the following changes:

  • Universities and colleges will offer standalone modules from existing courses
  • Students will be able to build a full qualification by completing different modules, across different courses, from different universities or colleges
  • Students could end up studying at several universities or colleges at the same time, or across multiple departments in a single higher education provider
  • Students will be able to study modules that will give them the skills or knowledge they need to progress their career without the intention of building or completing a full qualification.

If there is a growth in LLE funded modular study, we also think there might be a shift to:

  • Universities and colleges changing existing …courses to an LLE fundable modular format
  • …An increase in modular study overall, not only LLE fundable modules
  • A decrease in the number of employers paying for continuing professional development (CPD) related courses as individuals will receive funding for standalone modules; [and] an increase in employers encouraging employees to take up CPD related modules as they will not need to fund them.

But if you are still puzzled about what it is all really about, and what it means in practice for universities, the Department for Education have published a guide in the form of a policy paper this week. sorry this is a bit wordy!

The summary: so far not very revolutionary.

From the 2025 to 2026 academic year, the LLE loan will be available for:

·       full courses at level 4 to 6, such as a degree or technical qualifications

·       modules of high-value technical courses at level 4 to 5

Under the LLE, eligible learners will be able to access:

·       a tuition fees loan, with new learners able to access up to the full entitlement of £37,000, equal to 4 years of study in today’s fees

·       a maintenance loan to cover living costs

Targeted maintenance grants will also be available for some groups such as learners with disabilities, or for support with childcare.

An additional entitlement may be available in certain cases – for example, for some priority subjects or longer courses such as medicine.

Learners will be able to see their loan balance through their own LLE personal account. This will help them make choices about the courses and learning pathways available.

So the devil, as always, must be in the detail.  What is covered, see below, again, fairly straightforward, except the bit about modules. 

But that isn’t coming straight away “The government will take a phased approach to provide modular funding. We expect to expand modular funding to more courses from the 2027 to 2028 academic year.”

Eligibility:

·       The LLE will be available to new and returning learners.

·       For returning learners, the amount they can borrow will be reduced depending on the funding they have previously received to support study.

·       LLE tuition loans will be available for people up to the age of 60. Learners who are over 60 may still qualify for maintenance support, though not a tuition fee loan.

·       Eligibility criteria for the LLE will track existing higher education (HE) student finance nationality and residency rules.

Courses: the LLE will be available for:

·       full years of study at higher technical and degree levels (levels 4 to 6)

·       modules of technical courses of clear value to employers

From the 2025 to 2026 academic year, the LLE will fund:

·       full years of study on courses currently funded by HE student finance including:

o   traditional degrees

o   postgraduate certificates in education (PGCE)

o   integrated master’s degrees (a 4-year programme that awards a master’s degree on top of a bachelor’s degree)

o   the foundation year available before some degree courses start

·       all HTQs, including both full courses and modules of those courses

·       qualifications currently funded by advanced learner loans where there is clear learner demand and employer endorsement

·       modules of some technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5 currently funded through advanced learner loans with a clear line of sight to an occupational map and evidence of employer demand

So what does this mean for students?  The main change is that tuition fee and maintenance loans will be available for a wider range of courses.

The entitlement

New learners (those who have not yet received government support to undertake higher-level learning) will be able to access a full entitlement equal to 4 years of full-time tuition. This is currently equal to £37,000 across 4 years, based on today’s maximum fee limit of £9,250 per year.

This means a student could use their £37,000 to pay for more than 480 credits of learning, depending on the per-credit cost of the course. For example, if a student can borrow £37,000 and they use £7,000 for a 120-credit course, they would have £30,000 of the LLE left for other courses, regardless of the size or duration of the original programme.

Returning learners …who have not used it all will have access to a residual entitlement. For example, a typical graduate who completed a 3-year degree worth £27,750 in today’s fees will have a £9,250 residual entitlement.

An additional entitlement above the core 4-year entitlement will be available for some priority subjects and longer courses such as medicine.

Maintenance loans

Maintenance loans are designed to help learners with living costs while they study. There is a maximum claim amount based on a student’s course, location and personal circumstances.

Under the LLE, the maintenance loan for living costs and targeted support grants, such as the Disabled Students’ Allowance and the Childcare Grant, will be made available for all designated courses and modules that require in-person attendance. Maintenance support will be subject to personal criteria such as income. This will broadly remain the same as the current criteria.

Repayments

The latest repayment arrangements apply as for students who started university this year.

And what does it mean for universities?

There will be a maximum financial amount per credit and a maximum number of credits that can be charged for in each course year, which will be set by the government.

We will treat certain course types under the LLE as ‘non-credit-bearing’. This means that different rules will apply. Non-credit-bearing courses include courses such as medicine and PGCEs, and courses where the provider has not assigned a qualifying credit value.

To support the LLE, the government will introduce a standardised transcript template to ensure a learner’s assessed achievements are always captured under the new modular, credit-based system.

There will be a new process for new providers and new qualifications.  This is properly new stuff and the subject of a lot of the ongoing work listed below, but probably not a lot of interest to readers of this update!

There is a separate paper on how tuition fees will work, from November 2023. This bit is confusing and implementing it will be tricky: lots of new reporting and forms likely to achieve this!

In the LLE system, we’ll set fee limits per credit. Credits are a measurement used by colleges and universities to identify how much learning is in a period of study. One credit generally equals 10 hours of learning by the student. This includes all tuition, assessment and any self-guided study in the student’s own time.

The credit-based system means that providers will only be able to charge for as much learning as they offer. A course containing 60 credits will have half the fee limit of a course containing 120 credits at the same provider.

The LLE system will have different fee limit rates. The limit-per-credit will depend on the type of study. There will be different limits for work placement, study abroad, and foundation years in certain subjects. Each of these limits may be lower if the provider does not have:

·       a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) award

·       an approved access and participation plan (APP).

There will no longer be different limits for part-time study. Instead, each course or module will have a fee limit based on the number of credits it contains. This is subject to a course year maximum and a course maximum. This means that if a course contains 360 credits, its overall fee limit will be the same regardless of how many years it takes to complete.

Some courses will be non-credit-bearing. For these courses, we’ll allocate a default number of credits. For example, we’ll allocate a PGCE course 120 default credits. This is because currently providers do not always allocate the same number of credits to these courses, but the amount of content is always very similar.

Under the LLE system, we’ll calculate fee limits according to the number of credits in a course year, multiplied by a limit-per-credit. For example, if a year of a course contained 120 credits, and its limit-per-credit was £50, its fee limit would be £6,000.

The LLE system will no longer have different fee limits for accelerated study. Instead, the overall fee limit for an accelerated degree will be the same as the overall fee limit for the same degree (full-time or part-time).

There will be a cap on the number of credits for which providers can charge in each type of course. This ensures that credits are not added on to courses simply to increase tuition fees. Providers may offer additional credits beyond the maximum, but are not allowed to charge for them.

If a student repeats part of their course, the repeat study is not counted towards the course cap. For example, if a student on a 360-credit degree fails a 30-credit module and repeats it, the provider can charge them for 390 credits overall.

And those modules?

There are no restrictions on the number of chargeable credits in a module. However, a module must have the same number of credits as it does when it is offered as part of the full course.

Modules offered separately from full courses must contain at least 30 credits. This can include multiple smaller modules bundled together.

So what is next?

In spring 2024, we will:

·       launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding

·       lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in parliament

·       communicate the details on the benefits of the third registration category

In summer 2024, we will: publish further information about the qualification gateway

In autumn 2024, we will: lay the secondary legislation that will set out the rest of the LLE funding system in parliament

In spring 2025, we will: launch the LLE personal account, where users can track their loan entitlement and apply for designated courses and modules

In autumn 2025, we will: launch the qualification gateway, an approval process that allows qualifications to access LLE funding (as noted above, not directly relevant to us)

Who are the staff at UK universities?

HESA published a bulletin about UK HE staff statistics as at 1st December 2022, on 16th January 2023.

  • Research Professional article here.
  • Wonkhe article here

The data shows an increase in the number of academic staff and non-academic staff employed in the sector since the previous year and a small decrease in the number of a-typical academic staff employed.

  • In 2022/23, 103,005 or 43% of academic staff were employed on contracts described as having a teaching and research function. The total for 2021/22 was 100,170 or 43%.
  • A further 36% of academic staff were on teaching only contracts. This percentage has steadily increased year-on-year since 2015/16, when it was 26%.
  • Among academic staff, 71,420, or 30% were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2022/23. Of full-time academic staff, 22% were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2022/23. In contrast, 43% of part-time academic staff were employed on fixed-term contracts, marking an eight percentage point decrease from 2021/22.
  • Of academic staff with known ethnicity, 22% were from ethnic minority backgrounds in 2022/23. This has increased from 16% in 2017/18.
  • Of the 22,345 professors with known ethnicity, 2,865 or 13% were from ethnic minority backgrounds. The majority of professors from ethnic minority backgrounds were Asian.
  • From 2021/22 to 2022/23 there was an increase of 40 Black professors.
  • The number of staff known to have a disability increased by 1,100 compared to 2021/22

Financial sustainability: Scotland

Last week’s update mentioned student number caps, which may soon be applied in specific cases (by provider, by subject) based on quality reviews by the OfS.  The government recently ruled out reintroducing more widespread caps in England after a consultation.  There have caps in Scotland, though, and they are about to be reduced.  Wonkhe reported this week on remarks in the Scottish Parliament:

  • Scottish finance secretary Shona Robison confirmed that at least 1,200 funded university places for Scottish-domiciled students will be cut following the Scottish government’s 2024–25 budget. Her remarks were made a scrutiny session with the Scottish finance committee – Robison told MSPs that the funding for additional places, instituted due to increased demand during the pandemic, was no longer sustainable.

The Scottish caps on home students have had a direct impact on the finances of Scottish institutions and they have turned increasingly to the international market to make up the income as, like in the rest of the UK, the real value of domestic tuition fees falls.   The financial challenges for Scottish universities are described in this recent report from the Scottish Funding Council (4th Jan 24).

You will recall that there is a reason for these caps: the Scottish government funds tuition fees directly in Scotland for Scottish students, there is no tuition fee loan. The actual amount received was £7,610 for each Scottish student this academic year year (see a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies from December 2023), significantly less than the £9,250 capped fee in England.

Institutional failure

Last week I talked about the OfS licence conditions in place to protect students in the context of a university closing down, perhaps as a result of financial issues.

Wonkhe have several blogs this week.

There is one from two members of Public First on what would happen if a large university ran out of money:

  • The DfE (rightly) puts in place lots of warning measures for schools in difficulty, and if a school or group of schools start to find themselves in real trouble, a lot of things kick into place. They can mandate that schools have cost cutters come in; they can prescribe significant changes to operating models; and they can both demand that the school or school group takes an advance from the state, whilst placing (pretty onerous) conditions that are attached to repaying that advance. And given that financial trouble often goes hand in hand with performance trouble, the government has pretty carte blanche to change leadership and management when a poor performance judgement is made….
  • Universities are, of course, not big schools. And it is their fiercely guarded autonomy – as safeguarded in HERA – which means we don’t have a clear set of state interventions. When the Westminster government made its various moves to extend a more market based HE system in England in the early 2010s, it was explicitly envisaged that some providers could exit the market – and that government wouldn’t step in. This was not a bug, but instead a positive virtue of the system…
  • There is no power in today’s legislation for the government to give “extraordinary support” to a particular institution. In a major failure scenario, they could theoretically want to support (or even force) a merger or acquisition. They could also want to support specific institutions financially to keep them open at least for an interim period. But both would likely require new legislation, potentially at speed, and all of this tells against a story of autonomy
  • …. This issue all relies on some very big P political questions. Which institutions might be allowed to fail – and which won’t? What does increased government intervention mean for institutional autonomy, an idea already much eroded in political and policy circles? What does it mean for the status of universities, and could they be reclassified as FE colleges as public sector bodies if the state gains more control over funding or governance? And how much is the sector as a whole willing to trade to save a small, but potentially significant number of institutions?

There is one is from two members of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) talking about what will really happen if a provider fails.

They point out the regime that applies to FE, for which there is no equivalent for universities:

  • the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 established an insolvency regime that applies to further education and sixth form colleges in England and Wales. This introduced a special education administration regime, which protects learner provision for existing students at insolvent colleges with the overarching duty to the learner

They conclude:

  • We have talked before about insurance schemes or a “pot of money” to help students in these situations. We often hear that many providers would not be willing to pay into a system as they do not think such a situation really impacts them.
  • But the impact on the wider sector, students and the reputation of HE must be worth further serious discussion, and we are increasingly finding that there is an understanding that this situation needs to be addressed. …..
  • Whatever the answer, students should not be the collateral damage. A provider closure can leave students significantly disadvantaged, with their experience of and faith in higher education ruined. The potential impact on some students’ mental health cannot be underestimated. The financial impact, in a system where students are at the end of a long list of unsecured creditors, could create significant hardship and may make it unsustainable for a student to complete their studies.
  • We cannot just wait for a large-scale disorderly exit to happen before we engage in a serious discussion.

HE policy update 15th January 2024

Politics and Parliament

The PM has confirmed that 2 by-elections will be held in February. (from the FT)

  • The Conservatives on Thursday moved the writ for by-elections to be held in Wellingborough in the east Midlands and Kingswood, near Bristol, both of which were held by Tory MPs. Peter Bone won Wellingborough in 2019 with a majority of 18,540 over Labour but was forced out of the House of Commons after an inquiry upheld claims of bullying and sexual misconduct against a staff member. … The Wellingborough contest has been given additional interest by the decision of local Conservatives to choose Bone’s partner, Tory councillor Helen Harrison, as their candidate.
  • The Kingswood contest was triggered by the resignation of former energy minister Chris Skidmore in protest at Sunak’s plan to promote North Sea oil and gas drilling. Skidmore secured an 11,220 majority over Labour in 2019.
  • The moving of the writs means the contests must be held within 21 and 27 working days; polling in both constituencies is therefore expected to take place on Thursday February 15.

Education

Lifelong learning

All this is coming soon, including changes to the way that fees are calculated and paid to providers so that they are not based on years but on credits.  This means that there will be no more special arrangements for accelerated programmes.

But will there be any demand for modular programmes?  The OfS ran a big trial:

  • In autumn 2021 the Office for Students (OfS) launched the ‘Higher Education Short Course trial’ Challenge Competition, through which higher education (HE) providers bid for funding to develop short courses of 30 or 40 credits at Levels 4-6 in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), education, digital innovation and healthcare subjects and to help meet skills needs for Net Zero. Employers were to be closely involved in designing and developing the provision.
  • Through this competition, 22 providers received a total of £2 million to develop new short courses. Over 100 new courses were proposed in total, most to commence delivery in autumn 2022, with projections that over 2000 students in total would participate in 2022-23.

And the takeup for loans for the short courses was very small.  Out of 96 courses offered, only 17 were launched by 10 of the 22 providers, and instead of the 2000 participants planned, there were 240 applicants and 125 enrolments; with only 41 taking up the new student loan product.

The paper includes a lot of recommendations.  Wonkhe article here.

Apprenticeships

The government have pledged to increase apprenticeships at the cost, perhaps of “traditional” degrees.

In practice, apart from a lot of bigging them up in speeches and so on, this means that the OfS have been told to fund development of apprenticeships and they have been doing so:

  • The OfS will distribute up to £40 million through a competitive bidding exercise, which is now open for applications from OfS-registered higher education providers. Of the £40 million, up to £16 million will be allocated to projects that will complete before 31 July 2024 and up to £24 million is available for projects that will complete before 31 July 2025.
  • The funding competition aims to:
    • Expand course provision at higher education providers already offering Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Increase the number of students on Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Expand course provision at higher education providers who are new to offering Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Increase equality of opportunity within Level 6 degree apprenticeships

Note the focus on L6.  The government have made noises in the past about being unhappy with the volume of L7 apprentices being funded through the levy, especially where these are already senior employees, and this is something that may be addressed through policy changes in the future, e.g. restricting the use of the levy to L6 and below.  As noted last week, Labour have suggested repurposing the levy for apprenticeships and skills, which would also probably result in a reduction of the proportion of levy available for L7 apprenticeships, depending on how the changes were implemented, unless the amount available under the levy was increased.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

We talked about cost of living in last week’s report, there was a December Sutton Trust analysis which makes grim reading.

  • Polling by Savanta for the Trust shows that 62% spend less than £37 a week on food, which is the minimum needed for a single person to buy essential food items, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust.
  • Overall, students living at university in England outside of London have median costs of £11,400 a year on essential spending. These essential costs include accommodation (on average 52% of their spending), groceries (12%), and bills (6%). However, the median total loan in England outside of London of £7,000, equivalent to 61% of spend, does not come near to covering these basic needs.
  • And although the median loan in London is higher at £8,500, this is drastically less than the median spending of £17,287 by students in the capital.
  • To make ends meet, two thirds of students reported taking on paid work, with 20% working 16-30 hours per week. 49% have missed classes as a result, and 23% reported that they had missed a deadline or asked for an extension in order to work.
  • The maintenance package in England is now at its lowest value in real terms for seven years, as maximum loan amounts have not kept pace with inflation. Furthermore, fewer students are eligible for maximum loans as the parental earnings threshold has also been frozen since 2008. To secure the maximum loan, a student’s household must earn under £25,000 per year, which captures far fewer households than it did 15 years ago.

Here is the December Wonkhe story.

What are the characteristics of students?

Alongside the TEF outcomes published last year (and updated with most of the pending awards just before Christmas, were summaries of the characteristics data for students in the UK for the 4 years to 2020-21. This is interesting to consider, and although some of this might seem obvious, does it hold true for our own cohorts and it is that obvious really?

We tend to talk a lot in the sector about student outcomes in the context of student characteristics, achievement gaps and so on.  But the other aspect, which I have been discussing with Shelley recently, is what this means for education practice.  A couple of examples – there is more to think about here and BU’s numbers are different from the sector in some ways:

  • Only 52% of full time undergraduate students come in to HE with only A levels: while that is still a lot, 48% is a lot of students with different learning experiences.
  • 40% of full time PGT students are over 25, which suggests that they have had work or other experience since they completed their UG programmes.

Age on entry:

Part-time students and apprentices are generally older.  In particular there is a much higher proportion of apprentices who are over 31, which is not surprising given that many degree level apprentices at L6 and L7 will be people already in work who are being asked by their employers to upskill via an apprenticeship, and this is consistent with the lifelong learning/skills agenda

Disability:

  • A higher proportion of part-time students have declared disabilities than full time -this may be one of the reasons for students choosing to study part-time.
  • A smaller proportion of PG students, full-time and part-time, have declared a disability.
  • A smaller proportion of apprentices have a disability than full time students (for both UG and PG).
  • Cognitive or learning difficulties is the biggest category of disabilities

Ethnicity:

  • There are large proportions of “unknown” ethnicity for full-time PG students; this may reflect the high proportion of PG international students and makes any comparison between full-time UG and PG unreliable.
  • Part-time students and apprentices are much more likely to be white.

Qualifications on entry (UG only):

  • There is a smaller proportion of part-time students with A levels or BTECs, and a larger proportion of part-time students from access or foundation courses or with no, or unknown qualifications. There is also a large proportion (34%) with HE level qualifications undertaking part-time programmes.
  • 52% of full-time UG students have 3 A levels, and 16% have a BTEC or a combination.
  • There is a larger proportion of apprentices with HE qualifications, and also with no, or unknown qualifications.

HE sector sustainability and change

You will have seen from the policy updates over the last year the negative rhetoric around “poor quality” courses: of course we all agree that we don’t want those.  Some noses were put out of joint by the Autumn Statement’s only reference to HE: “Proposals will be implemented to decrease the number of people studying poor-quality degrees, and to increase take-up of apprenticeships”.

As noted last week, as far as we can tell, this does not mean new measures but continuing to instruct the OfS to use its existing powers of regulation plus a continued focus on funding and promoting apprenticeships.

This House of Commons library research briefing on student number controls from August 2023 is an interesting read.

Here are some extracts from the press release from July 2023 when the final bit of the Augar changes (no sector wide student number caps or minimum entry levels):

  • The UK has some of the world’s leading universities, but a minority of the courses on offer leave students saddled with debt, low earnings and faced with poor job prospects. The government wants to make the system fairer for them, but also for taxpayers – who make a huge investment in higher education and are liable for billions of pounds in unrecovered tuition fees if graduate earnings are low.
  • Figures from the Office for Students show that nearly three in ten graduates do not progress into highly skilled jobs or further study 15 months after graduating. The Institute for Fiscal Studies also estimates that one in five graduates would be better off financially if they hadn’t gone to university. [more on those figures below]

And none of this is helped by the increasing cost to the government of funding the HE system.  The IfS published a report on 9th January: ”higher long-term inters rates and the cost of student loans”.

The debate around funding student loans has largely focused on what share of student loans will be repaid, and what share of the cost will need to be picked up by the taxpayer. Much less attention has been paid to the government cost of financing student loans that do get repaid. In this report, we investigate how the cost of student loans including these financing costs has changed as a result of increases in government borrowing costs over the past two years.

  • The cost of government borrowing as measured by the 15-year gilt yield has risen from 1.2% to 4.0% over the past two years. Relative to expected RPI inflation, this is a 3 percentage point increase. As the interest rate on student loans is now the rate of RPI inflation, this means that the government can expect to pay 1.6 percentage points more in interest on its debt than the interest rate it charges on student loans. Two years ago, just before the most recent student loans reform, it could expect to pay 1.4 percentage points less than the rate of RPI inflation.
  • This increase in government borrowing costs translates to an increase in the expected cost of student loans including financing costs of more than £10 billion per year. With borrowing costs as at the end of 2021, the government could have expected to earn a total net profit of £3.2 billion on student loans to the 2023 university entry cohort, arising from the positive spread between the interest it charged on student loans and the interest it paid on its debt. With today’s borrowing costs, this interest rate spread is negative, and the government can expect to make a loss of £7.3 billion. 
  • Concerningly, this extra cost is not reflected in either of the government’s official measures of the cost of student loans. The ONS measure does not take the cost of government borrowing into account at all. The DfE measure that underlies the so-called RAB charge uses a backward-looking measure of borrowing costs, which does not yet capture the sharp rise in gilt yields over the last two years.

Quality

This crackdown on perceived low quality has so far consisted of several waves of OfS quality assessments, last week I highlighted the first published outcomes of the first waves of assessments in business and management and computing: the regulatory consequences of these assessments are yet to be announced (with concerns only confirmed at 2 of the 6), but where problems are found the OfS can do lots of things including a combination of these:

  • launch a formal investigation;
  • apply more frequent or intensive monitoring;
  • impose specific licence conditions on a provider (i.e. specific action that the provider must take (or not take): to note specifically this could include recruitment limits or student number controls for a provider in general or linked to specific subjects;
  • impose a fine;
  • refuse to renew an access and participation plan (note that has consequences for fee caps);
  • suspend aspects of a providers registration, including access to student support funding or OfS grant funding;
  • vary or revoke degree awarding powers or permission to call itself a university; and/or
  • deregister a provider.

Another interesting point to note: providers have to pay fees to cover the cost of the investigation if they are subject to a regulatory investigation by the OfS unless they are completely exonerated.

This Wonhke article from July 23 describes when the OfS has already imposed licence conditions relating to B3: most of these required improvement plans and most (other than 2) related to colleges or alternative providers rather than universities.

It is worth reading the article which includes a response from Burton and South Derbyshire College.  Their main point is that the OfS is using very old data: the latest OfS dashboard data is for continuation for students starting in 2020-21, and of course graduate outcomes and completion data is by definition for students who started much longer ago than that; and who are following a programme which is likely to have change quite a lot since they started.  Just as a counter-balance to that, for existing providers (rather than newly registered providers) sanctions will usually follow an investigation, so although the outcomes data may be old, the practice and actions taken by the provider that the OfS are reviewing is current.  Before imposing a restriction, the OfS would need to form a view that those current actions and other steps were not likely to be adequate on their own to address the issues flagged by the (old) data.

The latest quality assessments have focussed on two subjects, and have looked at a wide range of student outcomes and experience in the context of the B licence conditions.  Often discussions of the B conditions focus on B3 (minimum absolute levels of student outcomes), but there is a lot more to the B conditions than those.

These were covered extensively when the consultations about these new conditions were ongoing several years ago, but as a lot has happened since then, here is a reminder.

I’ll talk more about the TEF and some of these conditions and other licence conditions in future updates.

Student numbers and admissions

This from Wonkhe in the daily update on Friday 12th January makes interesting reading in the light of all the concerns from the OfS about risky dependence on international student numbers

  • International student recruitment from Pakistan has overtaken the “languishing” Nigerian market for the January 2024 intake, according to the latest data from recruitment platform Enroly – which suggests that deposits are down 37 per cent compared to the same period last year, with a similar fall in the number of Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) issued.
  • The data, based on a sample of 68,000 international students from the firm’s partner institutions, also shows that CAS issuance for students from India looks to have fallen by over 34 per cent, accompanied by a drop of more than 70 per cent in the Nigerian market – survey data suggests “unfriendly government policies” are playing a role in the decrease. But for students from Pakistan, deposits are up by 22.5 per cent, and CAS issuance by 14.2 per cent.

Financial sustainability

There has been a lot of press about financial sustainability and a lot of providers have been in the press for their efforts to manage financial gaps, arising from a whole range of issues as discussed last week.

To add to the doom and gloom here are some articles on the topic:

FT article 11th Jan 24: Senior leaders at four English universities told the FT in December they were experiencing a slowdown in international recruitment, driven in part by renewed competition from the US and Australia, which closed their borders during the Covid-19 pandemic. Data collected by the Enroly web platform that helps international students through the bureaucratic process of joining universities has indicated a sharp drop-off in enrolments from Nigeria and India. The company said a representative sample from more than 68,000 applicants to small and large UK universities found that overall deposit payments were down by 37 per cent for the January 2024 intake when compared with the previous year.

Research Professional article 5th Jan 24: universities at risk of insolvency in 2024

  • “These issues affect individual institutions in different ways and many universities remain financially secure, but we have a big and diverse higher education sector and a minority of universities are undoubtedly under the cosh financially at the moment,” Hillman said.
  • There are very few recent examples of UK higher education institutions closing down. In July 2019, the private provider GSM London—formerly known as the Greenwich School of Management—went into administration, and earlier that year Heythrop College, formerly part of the University of London, closed permanently. There have also been a number of mergers between providers.

ITV news: November 2023 Higher education sector in ‘existential crisis’ as one in four universities make losses

  • Data seen by ITV News paints a bleak picture of the higher education sector, which experts have described as being in an “existential crisis”.
  • One-quarter of universities are currently making a loss and total losses over the entire sector sits at a staggering £2 billion, a huge increase from the £200 million from the year before.
  • Professor Jenny Higham, from Universities UK, the umbrella body which represents 142 universities across the country, told ITV News an urgent solution was needed or the consequences would be severe.
  • “If [universities] continue not to be able to make up that deficit the end result will be universities will close,” Professor Higham said. “We need to work with everybody who has a vested interest in universities and their output to come up to solution for this problem.”

Universities UK report: sustainable university funding, September 2023

  • While it is not true that international students are displacing home students, it is the case that income from international students mitigates losses in teaching domestic students, and in turn helps grow, and make viable, domestic student capacity. Compared with a £1 billion loss in teaching domestic students, teaching international students brings in a £3 billion surplus. Given losses incurred in teaching domestic students, growth in international student income is needed to help grow domestic student capacity, which is needed as there is an increasing number of 18-year-olds projected in the UK population. It is debatable whether further growth in international student income is feasible, given increased competition from other countries, potential geopolitical risks to this income stream and recent government actions. Without this growth, and no further funding for teaching, it is likely that the chance of entering university for future cohorts will be more restricted than for previous cohorts.

The House of Commons library research briefing on student number controls from August 2023 referred to above also describes the upcoming cap on fees for some foundation years from the 2025/26 academic year: we are awaiting a consultation on the detail of this

It’s not easy in Wales or Scotland either, see recent articles from Wonkhe at the links.

There are OfS licence conditions about financial sustainability too: OFS licence conditions: financial sustainability and student protection in the case of a risk of market exit.

Minimum service levels

Something you may have missed in the run up to the holiday was the announcement of a consultation on minimum service levels in education (consultation closes 30th January 2024):

  • Any minimum service levels regulations we might implement following the consultation would apply on days when strike action is taking place in education services, and help minimise disruption to children and learners across education settings.

In the consultation document the section on HE starts on page 27

HE policy update: outlook for 2024

New year, new start for the BU HE policy update.

It’s an election year, so I will be looking at the policies, predictions and plots as the year unfolds alongside the usual news and comment.  I’ll be trying some new approaches this year so let me know what you think.

Alongside all the policy and politics there are the big geopolitical issues that may escalate even more dangerously this year; with luck some of them may creep towards a resolution.  Just to list a few: Ukraine, Israel/Palestine, China/Taiwan, ongoing conflict or issues in Yemen, Afghanistan, North Korea, elections in the US, Mexico, Venezuela, India and Pakistan and a new leader in Peru, a third of African nations have elections this year) alongside climate change and equality issues across the world.  These issues have an impact on domestic politics including through the impact on cost of living and potentially as people seek clarity,  reassurance or perceived strong leadership in a time of fear or uncertainty.  There’s an interesting article here from CIDOB on the issues the world is facing this year.

If you are interested in predictions, IPSOS have a survey of what the public are expecting.

Politics and Parliament

Let’s start with the current government’s pledges and likely priorities: as the year unfolds I will look at some of these in more detail and review the alternatives.

YouGov have a take on the most important issues facing the country: the economy, health, immigration and asylum are at the top

Conservatives seeking re-election

A year ago the PM set out 5 pledges: we can expect to hear a lot more about them.  Reviews here from  the BBC and the New Statesman:

  • Halving inflation by the end of 2023: This has been met, but this will continue to be a focus along with the reason it matters: cost of living (see below).
  • Get the economy growing wages have improved somewhat in real terms but GDP is flat
  • And there is an issue with fiscal drag, as more people pay more tax (see the FT)
  • National debt falling: The pledge was that it would be forecast to fall in 2028/29 (i.e. not yet). The BBC points out:
    • In the Autumn Statement in November, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt claimed to be on track to meet that pledge because the OBR predicted a fall in 2028-29. But it’s going to be tight and will involve challenging spending restraint for some government departments.
    • When will we know? The next debt forecasts will be published alongside the Spring Budget in 2024.
  • Cutting NHS waiting lists: This is not going very well.  The overall waiting list was expected to fall by March 2024: we will know in May 2024 when the figures come out.  The BMA have some data, and the BBC chart uses the same NHS data but helpfully splits it out by how long people have waited. Ongoing strikes will remain a challenge for the government this year.
  • Stopping the boats.  Controversial and difficult.  Chart from the BBC again. Here’s a link to the 2nd Jan update from the Home Office on this one.  Stopping the boats is just part of the larger policy agenda on cutting net migration to the UK (see below).

Things to watch this year: cost of living

The reason inflation mattered so much was the impact on cost of living.  The increases may have slowed but costs are still high:

… food bank charities like the Trussell Trust are helping record numbers of people, and some people are using debt to pay for essentials … The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) collects data on destitution in the UK. Someone is ‘destitute’ when they didn’t have two or more of six essentials in the past month because they couldn’t afford them, or their income is too low to purchase the items themselves. JRF found that 1.8 million households experienced destitution in 2022, a 64% increase since 2019. The rising prices of essentials has contributed to this increase. The essential that most destitute people went without most often was

  • food (61%), followed by
  • heating (59%)
  • clothes (57%),
  • toiletries (51%),
  • lighting (35%) and
  • shelter (which means they slept rough) (14%).

Things to watch this year: net migration:

Despite the focus on the small boats, the real policy issue is the net migration number, going back to the original pledge from more than a decade ago to reduce that number.

There is a useful annual report from the Migration Advisory Committee here (Oct 23).

This report also has a section on student migration which is discussed below in relation to international students.

Other things to watch in 2024 (as well as the general election)

Local elections and by-elections – always interesting in the run up to a general election: Local elections are in May (not in BCP), there is a by-election in February in Wellingborough: another test for the government as the former seat of Peter Bone MP is contested; and another possibly in Blackpool later in the year.

Spring budget: 6th March 2024: likely tax cuts, with a potential to reduce the fiscal drag point noted above, plus possible cut to inheritance tax. Other appeals to the Tory base are likely and there are rumours of “traps” to make life hard for Labour in the election campaign or if they win the election.

Political leadership: this is a mainly post-election consideration, but would Sunak step down if the Tories lose the election and who would replace him? What would happen to Starmer if Labour lose?  What about the SNP and what will happen in Northern Ireland?  Wales will have a new First Minister this year (in the Spring as they are holding leadership elections).

The political fallout from the Covid inquiry: which will continue through this year.

Some parliamentary bills of interest to HE were carried over to the new session, and new ones were announced in the King’s Speech such as:

Labour’s 5 missions

As well as these, Labour have also talked about the possibility of replacing the system of education regulators with one combined regulator, as they are doing in Wales,  Unlike the Conservatives, they do want to encourage more 18 year olds into HE.  See the bold highlights below.

These were set out a while ago:

  • Get Britain building again: not just about home building but this one is about growing the economy more generally: “Secure the highest sustained growth in the G7 – with good jobs and productivity growth in every part of the country making everyone, not just a few, better off.” This includes:
    • A new industrial strategy and a council to implement it
    • A Green Prosperity Plan: private sector investment
    • Changes to planning to help industry
    • Devolution
    • National Wealth Fund
    • Making it easier for universities to develop self-sustaining clusters of innovation, investment, and growth in their local areas
    • “reforming planning rules and arcane compulsory purchase rules, with new protections for renters”
    • “closing the holes in the government’s Brexit deal, cutting the red tape”
    • “Establishing a supply chain taskforce to review supply chain needs across critical sectors”
  • Switch on Great British Energy: this does include a plan for a new energy generation company but also a wider objective to “make the UK a clean energy superpower
    • Act fast to lead the world with clean and cheap power by 2030, backing the builders not the blockers so Britain gets the cheap, clean power we need;
    • Establish GB Energy – a new home-grown, publicly-owned champion in clean energy generation – to build jobs and supply chains here at home;
    • Set up the National Wealth Fund, which will create good, well-paying jobs by investing alongside the private sector in gigafactories, clean steel plants, renewable-ready ports, green hydrogen and energy storage; and
    • Upgrade nineteen million homes with our Warm Homes Plan, so that families have cheaper energy bills permanently, with warm, future-proofed homes.
  • Get the NHS back on its feet: lots in here. for HE the most relevant are:
    • Labour will create 7,500 more medical school places and 10,000 more nursing and midwifery clinical placements per year. We will allocate a proportion of the new medical school places in under-doctored areas, to address inequalities in access to healthcare – because one of the strongest indicators of where doctors practice is where they train. We’ll also train 700 more district nurses each year, 5,000 more health visitors and recruit thousands more mental health staff.
    • Give everyone the opportunity to participate in research if they want to, so we can speed up recruitment and give patients access to treatments faster
  • Take back our streets: “Halve serious violent crime and raise confidence in the police and criminal justice system to its highest levels, within a decade”
  • Break down barriers to opportunity: lots in here, including:
    • urgently commission a full, expert-led review of curriculum and assessment that will seek to deliver a curriculum which is rich and broad, inclusive and innovative, and which develops knowledge and skills
    • Recruit over 6500 new teachers to fill vacancies and skills gaps across the profession.
    • Replace headline Ofsted grades with a new system of school report cards, that tell parents clearly how well their children’s school is performing.
    • Labour wants all young people to complete compulsory education with a firm foundation and will ensure that 80% of young people are qualified to Level 3 (A-Level equivalent) by 2035, with an interim target of 75% by 2030. Labour will reverse the decline in the number of young people moving into sustained education, employment or training after completing their 16 – 18 education. We will aim for over 85% of young people to be in a sustained destination by 2030, including more young people who have completed a level 3 qualification moving onto higher level education and training, with over 70% moving onto higher level opportunities by 2030
    • Labour will establish Skills England, bringing together central and local government, businesses, training providers and unions to meet the skills needs of the next decade across all regions.
    • “Improving the flexibility of the apprenticeship levy, turning it into a ‘Growth and Skills Levy”
    • we will work with universities to ensure there are a range of options on founder-track agreements helping to boost spin-outs and economic growth.
    • Labour will reform this [tuition fee] system to make it fairer and ensure we support the aspiration to go to university. Many proposals have been put forward for how the government could make the system fairer and more progressive, including modelling showing that the government could reduce the monthly repayments for every single new graduate without adding a penny to government borrowing or general taxation. Reworking the present system gives scope for a month-on-month tax cut for graduates, putting money back in people’s pockets when they most need it. For young graduates this is a fairer system, which will improve their security at the start of their working lives and as they bring up families. We will build on the legacy of the last Labour government’s target for 50% of young people to go to university to reverse the trend of declining numbers of adults participating in education and training. We’ll press on and ensure that the ambition for any young person to pursue higher education, regardless of background or geography, is realised.

And that election

Lots of MPS are stepping down: update here from the Institute for Government and a nice interactive map from Cambridgeshire Live here:  makes Scotland look very interesting as they lose standing MPs just as they are in trouble politically on lots of fronts.

Research and knowledge exchange

This will be an interesting year as plans for REF 2029 (as we must now call it) are developed further.  We will be watching for R&D announcements in the Spring budget.

If you missed our coverage of the King’s Speech and the Autumn Statement then you can catch it via the link and here are some highlights relating to RKE:

REF 2029

Announcements made in December including:

  • The next REF will be REF 2029, with results published in December 2029
  • Moves to break the link between individual staff members and unit submissions were welcomed by the community and this principle will be maintained
  • Outputs sole-authored by PGR students, including PhD theses, will not be eligible for submission, nor will those produced by individuals employed on contracts with no research-related expectations
  • The overall Unit of Assessment structure will remain unchanged from REF2021
  • The minimum number of Impact Case Studies that an institution can submit per disciplinary submission will be reduced to one, and the removal of the 2* quality threshold is confirmed

BU’s approach to the REF: the REF Steering Group, led by Professor Kate Welham, is working with the Interim Associate PVC for RKE, Professor Sarah Bate, and with colleagues from across BU on our approach to the REF and Kate is attending UET regularly to discuss developments.  The REF Committee is chaired by Professor Einar Thorsen.

BU has responded to the consultations so far on the REF and will continue to do so: we broadly welcome the changes although we have flagged some concerns about inclusivity and the administrative burden.

Strategic themes and research priorities

The government have a database of their areas of research interest.  These tell us “what policymakers are thinking, what their priorities are and where they need help

UKRI are working through a 5 year strategy and it is helpful to recall their strategic themes:

Education

There is always a lot to talk about on education in the policy updates, but for the first one of the year I wanted to go back to basics and look at the priorities for the OfS and the government and set them in context.  For example, did you know:

  • That the OfS monitors continuation, completion and graduate outcomes against an absolute baseline for ALL students at all levels (including PGRs and apprentices) at an institutional level, by student characteristics and at a subject level? This is licence condition B3 and if you didn’t know, you can look at the OfS dashboard here for sector data and find data relating to our own provision on the Prime SharePoint site.
  • That the OfS have recently published the outcomes of 6 quality assessments for business and management and computing, with more to come in those subjects and other areas, with some important areas highlighted for other providers: see below for more on this.
  • That we have to inform the OfS within 5 days if certain things happen under what they call the “reportable events” regime, and this can include a wide range of academic or other things: please email reportableevents@bournemouth.ac.uk if you become aware of something that might be reportable (even if it might turn out not to be).
  • That the OfS provides funding for educational development and other work in universities including the development of apprenticeships and other programmes: worth checking their website from time to time.

Government education policy

Government policy as it relates to HE does not address the big elephant in the room: in other words they are NOT proposing any changes to fees and funding or maintenance arrangements.   A series of changes to student loan arrangements came into effect in the autumn, including extending the repayment period.

If you missed our coverage of the King’s Speech and the Autumn Statement then you can catch it via the link and here are some highlights relating to education:

  • In October 2023, the Prime Minister announced a strong action plan to ensure every student has the literacy and numeracy skills they need to thrive through the introduction of the Advanced British Standard. This new Baccalaureate-style qualification will bring the best of A-Levels and T-Levels together, creating a unified structure that puts technical and academic education on equal footing. This reform will ensure every student in England studies some form of maths and English to age 18, boosting basic skills and bringing the UK in line with international peers. It will increase the number of taught hours by 15% for most students aged 16 to 19 and will broaden the number of subjects students take. [this means abolishing T levels, which are supposed to be replacing BTECs, as well as A levels]
  • Proposals will be implemented to decrease the number of people studying poor-quality degrees, and to increase take-up of apprenticeships [as far as we can tell, this does not mean new measures but continuing to instruct the OfS to use its existing powers of regulation plus a continued focus on funding and promoting apprenticeships]

Funding priorities:

  • On 14th December the government asked the OfS to run a competitive scheme to allocate funding for 350 new medical student places for 2025: this follows an expansion by 205 for 2024 and supports the NHS long term plan (although they will need to do more).
  • In their latest strategic priorities letter to the OfS (March 23) the focus was on:
    • Choice and flexibility or provision: the changes to enable lifelong learning (i.e. changes to the structure of loan payments etc), technical education, apprenticeships
    • Strategically important subjects: subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy; science, engineering and technology subjects; and specific labour market needs
    • Degree apprenticeships especially at level 6 (i.e. not level 7)
    • L4 and L5 provision: higher technical qualifications
    • Specialist providers
    • Mental health and wellbeing

Read about OfS funding for 2023-24

OfS strategy

The objectives are:

  • Participation: All students, from all backgrounds, with the ability and desire to undertake higher education, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from higher education.
  • Experience: All students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their interests are protected while they study or in the event of provider, campus or course closure.
  • Outcomes: All students, from all backgrounds, can progress into employment, further study, and lead fulfilling lives, in which their qualifications hold their value over time.
  • Value for money: All students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money.

The two areas of focus are quality and standards and equality of opportunity. That results in 11 goals:

  1. Students receive a high quality academic experience that improves their knowledge and skills, with increasing numbers receiving excellent provision [see the section on quality below]
  2. Students are rigorously assessed, and the qualifications they are awarded are credible and comparable to those granted previously. [see the July 23 analysis of degree classifications]
  3. Providers secure free speech within the law for students, staff and visiting speakers [read the latest consultation on the new complaints scheme and their consultation on regulating students’ unions].
  4. Graduates contribute to local and national prosperity, and the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda [measured by progression to highly skilled employment: see below for the outcomes data]
  5. Students’ access, success and progression are not limited by their background, location or characteristics [see the new guidance on access and participation plans].
  6. 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 [linked to the government agenda on higher technical qualifications, apprenticeships, lifelong modular learning etc]
  7. Providers act to prevent harassment and sexual misconduct and respond effectively if incidents do occur [ we are expecting the outcomes of a consultation on this fairly soon, it closed in May].
  8. Providers encourage and support an environment conducive to the good mental health and wellbeing that students need to succeed in their higher education [read their insight brief]
  9. Providers are financially viable and sustainable and have effective governance arrangements [see the section on sustainability below]
  10. Students receive the academic experience they were promised by their provider and their interests as consumers are protected before, during and after their studies.
  11. The OfS minimises the regulatory burden it places on providers, while ensuring action is effective in meeting its goals and regulatory objectives.

Outcomes

The OfS annual review provides some data to set the scene.

The report highlights that continuation is lower for:

  • students from more deprived areas or who were eligible for free school meals,
  • students from most (although not all) black and minority ethnic groups
  • mature students
  • students with reported disabilities, other than those with reported cognitive or learning difficulties (who make up 5.1% of students); and
  • care experienced students.

The report highlights that completion is lower for:

  • students from more deprived areas or who were eligible for free school meals,
  • students from most (although not all) black and minority ethnic groups
  • mature students
  • students with reported disabilities; and
  • care experienced students.

The report highlights that attainment rates are lower for:

  • students from more deprived areas or who were eligible for free school meals,
  • students from most (although not all) black and minority ethnic groups
  • mature students
  • students with reported disabilities with the exception of students with a reported mental health condition (4.5% of students); and
  • care experienced students.

The report highlights that progression rates are lower for:

  • students from more deprived areas or who were eligible for free school meals,
  • students from most (although not all) black and minority ethnic groups
  • students with reported disabilities other than those with reported cognitive or learning difficulties (who make up 5.1% of students); and
  • care experienced students.

In relation to mature students, those aged 31-40 have the highest progression rates while those aged 50 and over have the lowest.

Quality and standards in HE: OfS quality assessments

If you don’t follow the announcements from the OfS closely, you may have missed the trickle of OfS quality reports, so far in two subject areas, business and management and computing.  There are context papers which provide an interesting read and then the investigation reports themselves (so far 5 published for business and management and one for computing).  Concerns were found in 2 of the 5 business and management reports: no sanctions have been confirmed yet.

More detail is given below, but just to flag the priorities for 2024 quality assessments.  With the government already having announced that fee caps will be reduced for some foundation year courses, note the link to foundation year courses below: there will be quality reviews in this area especially as outcomes are lower, as noted in the linked Wonkhe article from October.

OfS sector context papers:

  • Business and Management
    • Growth in numbers (pp5 and 6) which highlights some potential issues which probably triggered these investigations and explain why they picked it as a subject priority
    • The percentage of full-time undergraduate entrants taught through sub contractual arrangements has more than doubled since 2018-19, from 10 per cent to 27 per cent (pp9 and 10)
    • The proportions of full-time undergraduate students that are from deprivation quintiles 1 or 2 are consistently higher in business and management than for all other subject areas (p18)
    • The proportions of full-time undergraduate students who are on courses that include an integrated foundation year are consistently higher in business and management than for all other subject areas (p20)
    • Low continuation for UG (p23), low completion for UG (p25), low progression at UG and PG (pp27 -28)
    • Low NSS for teaching (p30) and some other areas (not learning resources)
  • Computing
    • Low continuation and completion compared to other subjects (pages 23 to 26) at UG and PG
    • Balanced by good progression – but a provider that didn’t have good progression would stand out (pp 27 and 28)
    • Low NSS scores (pp29-34)
    • High proportions of non-permanent staff (p41)

Quality assessments: Business and management

Themes: concerns were found in relation to two of the five published so far and findings included:

  • Insufficient staff to provide adequate support, impacting personal tutoring, assessment and feedback and academic support
  • Not enough flexibility in course delivery to support the cohort of students recruited, namely not providing sufficient flexibility when students had to work to finance their studies or have caring responsibilities, having recognised that this was a specific feature of their intake: licence condition to deliver course effectively was brought into play
  • Inadequate central monitoring and pro-active management of engagement and attendance and over-reliance on individual academic staff to follow up  – licence condition to take all reasonable steps to ensure students receive sufficient academic resources and support.  Recommendations included:
    • Clear lines of responsibility at faculty and university level regarding who the lead for continuation is, and further channelling of university-level resource, expertise and effort towards the continuation problem in the Business School.
    • Systematic analysis of student failures on modules and historical withdrawals, to provide a more detailed picture and understanding of why students do not continue their studies at the university.
    • Better real-time monitoring of engagement and a university-level set of criteria that can be used to identify a student who may be at risk of dropping out, combined with systematic analysis of student behaviour and non-attendance so that proactive additional support can be offered.
    • A review of examination board processes and module performance criteria to ensure that under-performing modules are being picked up and addressed through the quality assurance and enhancement system. While the assessment team acknowledged the new course and unit enhancement planning process, this did not appear to be embedded and should be monitored closely.
  • Support for avoiding potential academic misconduct was not consistently provided in assessment feedback via the online assessment platform at Level 4
  • The format for providing formative feedback on assessments may not have been sufficient for some students across a number of modules reviewed. This concern also relates to condition of registration B2 because the assessment team considered that ensuring consistent access to formative feedback is a step that could have been taken to ensure students have sufficient academic support to succeed
  • Insufficient academic support for foundation year students once they progressed onto the main programme – support should have continued at higher levels

Quality assessment: Computing: no concerns were found in relation to the one report published so far.

Apprenticeships

As noted above these remain a priority for the government (and would likely be for a Labour government too).  In that context a report from the summer by UCAS with the Sutton Trust is interesting:

  • Today, 40% of students (430,000) interested in undergraduate options are also interested in apprenticeships. Despite this growth in demand, the number of starts for young learners remains low – with the number of Level 4 and above starts for under-19 year olds less than 5,000
  • Disadvantaged students are more likely to be interested in apprenticeship options, with 46% from the most disadvantaged areas interested in this route, compared to 41% from the most advantaged areas. Furthermore, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (63%) are more likely to have considered apprenticeships
  • A quarter (24%) of former applicants said that one of the top three reasons why they did not pursue an apprenticeship was because they felt they could not afford to do so.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

Student finance

The cost of living update from the House of Commons Library Nov 23 has a section on student loan repayments and maintenance support (page 64) which links to this report from September 2023 on the value of student maintenance support.

International

Despite all the negativity about international students in the context of the migration policy (see above) and the OfS’ regulatory concern about the risk of large numbers of international students, there is a positive policy in relation to international students: the government have an International Education Strategy that has two ambitions by 2030:

  • increase education exports to £35 billion per year
  • increase the numbers of international higher education (HE) students studying in the UK to 600,000 per year

According to the annual report from the Migration Advisory Committee here (Oct 23) referred to below, this second target was achieved in 2020/21:

  • according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), this target was met in early 2020/21, with 605,000 non-UK students at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). This has increased further since then, with growth driven by a small cohort of countries, notably India and Nigeria.
  • Non-UK students accounted for almost 30% of first-year enrolments in tertiary education last year, up from 25% before the policy announcement in 2018/19.
  • In a global context the UK is a major market for international students. HEIs in the UK accounted for 9% of all international students in 2020, behind only the US for market share. The UK’s market share had been steadily declining since 2006 having been briefly overtaken by Australia as the second most popular destination for international students in 2019

Student visas

The annual report from the Migration Advisory Committee here (Oct 23) referred to above also has a section on international students.  It includes the policies on stopping dependants which have now been implemented.

There is some interesting data on student numbers: it shows the large number of international student in London and also Scotland (not surprisingly given their student number cap for home students).  Perhaps surprisingly, there are more international than UK students in the East of England and the North East and numbers are more or less equal in Yorkshire and the Humber, although this data includes students on the London campus of universities based outside London.

HE sector sustainability and change

Student numbers and admissions

UCAS projects that there could be up to a million higher education applicants in a single year in 2030, up from almost three quarters of a million today.

But will there be?  Applications and admissions fell last year, but that was after a bumper post-covid year in 2022 and UCAS described it as a return to normality.  Or is it the rhetoric from the government on mickey mouse degrees etc and changes to loan repayments making it more expensive for students in the long run having an impact?  Time will tell: eyes will be on this year’s applications.

Financial sustainability

The OfS annual review provides some context for this. The OfS issued their annual report on financial sustainability in May 2023 and identified the following key risks which are still relevant:

  • The impact of inflation on costs and challenges in growing income to meet increasing costs. In particular, the ‘per student’ income from tuition fees from UK undergraduates is capped and not increasing, while other costs rise.
  • Increasing reliance on fees from overseas students, particularly postgraduates, in some higher education providers’ business plans. (In May 2023, the OfS wrote to 23 higher education providers with high levels of recruitment of students from China. We reminded them of the importance of contingency plans in case there is a sudden drop in income from international students. We asked a subset of those higher education providers most exposed to a short-term risk to provide information about their financial mitigation plans)
  • Challenges in meeting investment needs for facilities and environmental policies

The OfS identifies a number of strategies that they may see to address financial sustainability concerns.

JANE FORSTER, VC’s Policy Advisor

Follow: @PolicyBU on X

HE policy update for the w/e 2nd June 2023

This is your half term catch up policy update.

Regulatory

OfS: Freedom of Speech

Following the passage of the new law, the OfS has announced the appointment of Professor Arif Ahmed as the first Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom.  Professor Ahmed chose the Times to write about his appointment, so we turn to Wonkhe for a perspective.  For Wonkhe, Jim Dickinson focuses on the potential conflicts and challenges with balancing free speech and academic freedom with equality rights, and as an example, highlights Professor Ahmed’s previously stated position on the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which conflicts with the government’s position (and specifically the position of the current Secretary of State for  Education).  You will recall Michelle Donelan getting herself in a muddle over this issue too.   It’s going to be interesting to watch this unfold.  As Jane learned a long time ago, hard cases make bad law…and it seems a lot of the cases are going to be hard.

The work of the OfS: Minister Halfon examined

The Lords Industry and Regulators Committee conducted it’s final session examining the work of the OfS by interviewing FE and HE Minister Robert Halfon alongside Anne Spinali, Director of Higher Education Reform and Funding at the DfE. Alongside the probe into the OfS the session is useful to highlight the latest ministerial thinking on the key issues facing the sector today.

HE Financial health

The Chair opened the session by highlighting the concerns the HE sector had reported over financial sustainability, loss of Horizon funding, dependency on international students and how these combine to create other vulnerabilities. Halfon listed the various income sources of HE institutions (e.g. tuition fees, other income, research grants, funding body grants, investment, donations and endowment) highlighting that universities get up to just under £40 billion…among 400 registered institutions. That is not a small sum of money…We also know that 75% of universities are in good financial condition. The question I would ask…is why the vast majority of universities are able to be in good financial health while a few are not… Later in the session he implied this is due to the management and leadership of these particular institutions.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges of Covid, the cost of living, energy bills and so on, on the whole, given the current context that we are in, HE—higher education—is not doing too badly financially. If you…look at the funding that HE has got compared to the funding that further education has got over the last few years, there is no comparison. Halfon also confirmed he thinks the OfS’ risk based approach to monitoring is the right approach and he continued his predecessor’s party line that The priority of the Government when it comes to financial difficulties at universities must be to look after the students. That is where I believe a government intervention would be, if there was severe financial difficulty for a particular higher education institution, to make sure that they had a provider to go to. Halfon also reminded the Committee that during Covid there was precedent through the HE restructuring fund. However, he also implied he didn’t subscribe to the concept that some universities were too big to fail and that he, personally, preferred mobile, agile universities.

Anne Spinali noted that some universities with financial concerns approached the DfE before they took the matter up with the OfS.

Financial sustainability came up time and again throughout the session, however, Halfon held firm that he thinks the sector is in a good position, even if time lags may be masking how many will become unsustainable in the medium term:

  • Given the current circumstances, given that universities get £40 billion from a variety of sources, given that 75% of them have a surplus and given everything else that is going on in the economy and the public sector, HE is in a fairly strong position compared with other parts of the public sector.
  • I will always welcome and champion more resources for HE and FE, of course, but I want more funding for skills… I want to ask, “What’s the best way to ensure that we have more qualified people who get good, skilled jobs at the end of their education?” That is the way I look at it. I look at it not as “university, university, university” but as “skills, skills, skills”.

On the freezing of tuition fees (and real terms decrease in their value): …if the economy improves, we get back into surplus again, we get rid of our deficit, we get down the £2 trillion debt and we pay back the £400 billion that we spent during Covid, maybe…we will have more money and will be able to increase tuition fees. However, I am not an advocate of increasing tuition fees. It would hit the student, importantly, at a time when things are very difficult. That does not mean that they are never going to go up but the approach of the Government has been the right one.

International Students  – a conflicting view?

Halfon stated he is very supportive of international students. I think that they are a good thing…my wife was an international student. Halfon spoke of the benefits international students bring aside from finance they are examples of soft power as well as being worth 25 billion quid to our economy…I do not see having too many international students as a risk.

Halfon also stated he does not believe there is a dependency on international students and that their numbers will not decline:

  • Given that 76% of students are domestic, I do not necessarily think that it is the problem that some people view it as…I do not see this as a problem in the way that may be felt by yourself. It is a good thing, especially given the current financial context we are in.. It is worth £25 billion; the ambition is that it will be worth £35 billion by 2030. That is very significant. If you look at the cost benefit of those international students, it outweighs the issues you may raise, such as that we have an unsustainable model.
  • We also have a cost of living crisis. The last thing I can do is go and tell students that we are going to raise their tuition fees. I feel a lot of pressure in the House of Commons from Members on all sides about why we did not raise the maintenance grant or maintenance loan higher than we did… Nevertheless, you have to be fair to students and to the taxpayer.
  • Given the financial situation that we are in, if universities are getting cross-subsidisation from international students, that is not a bad thing. I agree with you that it is dangerous to rely on one or two countries. We are doing a lot of work on diversification there… I worry about dependency on one or two countries. A lot more work needs to be done.

Halfon reveals his preferred vision for future HE institutions

  • The underlying part of your question is perhaps not even about the loan system but about whether the funding of universities and their business model should be done differently. That may be right. It requires a lot of thinking and work to see whether the current system is sustainable…
  • …my dream university of the future is the Dyson Institute. The reason for that is that it has a business on-site. It does research. It does vocational degree apprenticeships. The people who complete them get jobs in Dyson afterwards. It is very agile; I would like to see a lot more of that. That is a sustainable model for the future. I also want to do more to encourage degree apprenticeships because, again, you then avoid the whole issue of tuition fees.
  • …my dream would be to have 50% of our students doing degree apprenticeships one day. They help the disadvantaged. They build our skills base. They guarantee jobs for people who complete them. Now, we have Russell group universities as well as traditional vocational universities doing them.
  • It is not just for STEM, by the way. You could have one easily in the creative industries. You could have the British Museum doing the same thing, for example, where people can study archaeology or curating or whatever it may be. If I was thinking of universities in the 21st century, it would be more on that model.
  • …the [Halfon’s] vision is clear: it is jobs, skills and social justice. It does what it says on the tin. In my view, apart from the stuff that it does brilliantly already—research, et cetera—the engine of HE should be geared towards those purposes. That is the strategy of the Government.

Regulatory burden

Anne Spinali: There is a difference between institutional autonomy being impinged and regulatory burden…Both the OfS and the department are absolutely clear that institutional autonomy is paramount. Whether the regulatory burden is proportionate is a question for the OfS. It has recognised that it could do more to tackle this and is actively looking at areas where it could reduce its regulatory activity by taking a more risk-based approach. Halfon felt the OfS regulatory requirements were not onerous for a university, but, that universities also fall under the regulation of a range of institutions are regulated by a range of organisations (page 16) whereas Halfon would prefer a more streamlined model. However, Halfon did express disapproval at the OfS digital uploading system: I definitely think that that has to go. On minimising regulatory burden we also heard that the Government are considering a third category of registration for the lifelong loan entitlement which draws on existing material to reduce the regulatory burden.

Halfon: In my view, it [OfS] should be there partially to protect the autonomy of universities. The Government do not always get their way. They [OfS] are perfectly able to refuse to adopt the guidance that we suggest.

Sector relations with OfS: In response to Lord Reay’s question of whether the OfS was distant and often combative and the HE relationship characterised by a lack of trust Halfon stated: there needs to be much more informal engagement between the OfS and HE because, in my six months in the job, that has come up time and again. That would be beneficial. To be fair to the OfS, it does a lot of round tables and a lot of events with universities. It is not perfect but, inevitably, you are going to have some difficulties because of what the OfS is tasked to do.

Value for money: Halfon – I have a really firm view: in terms of HE and value for money, it must be about outcomes and jobs with good skills and progression. Otherwise, if you do not achieve what you should afterwards, what is the point of spending all that time at university and taking out the loan? Halfon also mentioned transparency with fees and ensuring students understand what they are getting for their money on application, including in person teaching.

OfS fees: Halfon refused to be drawn on the 13% OfS fee increase. He stated OfS reduced their fees in 2021-22 but they are inevitably going to have to go up because of the QAA coming in but we are consulting with government and the OfS… We will make an announcement on it in the very near future.

The announcement came shortly after the session – we’ve covered it here.

Robert Halfon has also written to the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee giving further background and justification for Tuesday’s announcement of a sizable increase to OfS registration fees for 2023–24.

We also learnt, from Anne Spinali, that the DfE has quarterly discussions with the OfS on its efficiency, its spend and how it is discharging its responsibilities with regard to the spend. The economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the way in which it discharges its responsibilities, and what it does with its £26 million of fees, are monitored really actively. It is robustly challenged on resources associated with activities. It is a difficult challenge and discussion sometimes in terms of the level of resources needed to carry out the whole breadth of activities that the OfS has to carry out.

For more detail see the – Transcript, watch the session on Parliament TV or review the inquiry information.

Financial sustainability (OfS)

The OfS published their annual financial sustainability report updating on the financial health of the HE sector. If finds that university finances are generally in good order but that there are growing risks to the sector’s finances such as the over-reliance on international student recruitment, sustainability of pension schemes, investment in facilities and environmental policies and inflationary pressures. Belying this headline statement, however, is a more mixed picture of the financial performance of different universities. The OfS also wrote to 23 HEIs who have high student recruitment from China urging them to have contingency plans in place in case recruitment patterns change and there is a sudden drop in income from overseas students.

  • Income – sector growth across the next three years (£40.8 billion in 2021-22 to £50.1 billion forecast in 2025-26).
  • Improved cash flow and surplus, but the sector is forecasting a decline in financial performance and strength in 2022-23, with costs increasing at a faster rate than income and a significant dip in the income and expenditure surplus.
  • In 2021-22 total HE course fees and education contracts were reported at £22.5 billion (+8.8%). Fee income is forecast to increase to £29.3 billion by 2025-26, with a 17.5% forecast rise in student numbers between 2021-22 and 2025-26 across all levels of study. However, this trend varies significantly between different universities and colleges.
  • Total non-EU (overseas) tuition fee income was reported at £7.8 billion in 2021-22 (+25%). This is consistent with strong growth in overseas fees in recent years. Non-EU fee income as a proportion of total income is forecast to increase from 19.3% in 2021-22 to 24% in 2025-26, which the report states highlights the sector’s increasing reliance on fees income from non-EU students to sustain their activities.
  • Overall cash flow and short-term investments are reported as £16.6 billion for 2021-22 (+10% on 2020-21).

The key risks are:

  • impact of inflation on costs and challenges in growing income to meet increasing costs
  • increasing reliance on fees from overseas students in some higher education provider’s business plans, especially students from China or any individual country
  • challenges in meeting investment needs for facilities and environmental policies.

And it’s not all about China, the OfS says:

 … Teaching-intensive providers can be particularly reliant on tuition fees from students. In recent years, many have successfully increased their recruitment of overseas students, particularly from India and Nigeria, onto postgraduate and undergraduate courses. These providers also face significant staff and pensions costs. In the event of a reduction in the total numbers of students coming to the UK from China, it may be that research-intensive providers are able to attract UK and international students away from teaching-intensive providers

In response to these risks and financial pressures the OfS says they anticipate providers may adopt certain behaviours (which they’ll be keeping an eye on if the impact on student choice and experience):

  • closing courses which are less financially sustainable
  • rebalancing recruitment from UK students to overseas students
  • reducing research activity where funding may not cover the full cost of research
  • pursuing strategic mergers and/or collaborations or sharing resources and centralising costs
  • changes to course delivery models – including standardisation in academic subjects, more online and distance learning
  • increases in specialisation – we may see a concentration of more providers with academic specialisms or niches, with the aim of reducing competition risks.
  • Seeking to diversify commercial income streams – from activity that is not teaching or research
  • reducing the size and complexity of estates

Susan Lapworth, OfS chief executive, said: Universities and colleges have weathered storms over recent years, and most remain in good financial health. This new analysis shows that they are confident that income and student numbers will continue to grow. However, cost pressures are having a substantial impact, with an expected reduction in financial performance across the sector in the short-term…‘For a small number of institutions the financial picture is of particular concern and we will continue to focus our attention on those cases. But all institutions will continue to face financial challenges, with a number of risks present at the same time for many.

…we continue to have concerns that some universities have become too reliant on fee income from international students, with students from one country sometimes a significant part of the financial model.

You may also be interested in this Research Professional article: A fine balance.

More coverage in: The Guardiani News, and Wonkhe.

OfS Registration Fee hike

The Government has supported (and legislated for) an 18%[1] fee hike that universities will pay the OfS to maintain their registration as a provider of HE. Many institutions will now pay £170,344 each year and the largest universities will pay £214,485. Across all providers it will generate £4.96 million for the OfS. Universities Minister wrote to the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee (who are running an inquiry into the work of the OfS) to justify the increase. His justifications stated the OfS will be undertaking significant and important new work, including:

  • The implementation of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023, to ensure that freedom of speech is protected and promoted within higher education (guidance, consultation on complaints scheme, developing new registration conditions and making changes to the regulatory framework)
  • Following the de-designation of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) as the designated quality body under HERA, the OfS has taken on functions relating to the assessment of quality and standards. his fee increase will enable the OfS to fund the infrastructure costs associated with the performance of these assessment functions
  • Preparing for the implementation of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement

Halfon stated: I want to assure you that the government has not taken this decision lightly. I understand the financial pressure the sector is currently facing. As a result, my Department will be providing £1.5 million of additional funding to the OfS this year, to help cover its costs and prevent these from being passed on to the sector in full. Earlier he reminded that the OfS has not had a registration fee increase since 2018, when it was set up, and delivered a 3% reduction in 2021.

Wonkhe say:

  • For a sector facing a real terms freeze in fee income it does feel a little tone deaf to be seeking an increase substantially above the rate of inflation. 
  • To a sector struggling with soaring inflation, rising costs, and income streams that are at best stable this will be a difficult pill to swallow. 
  • There were always limitations to farming the cost of regulation to providers that receive large amounts of their funding from the public purse – it is an inefficient model and one that has never met the running costs of the OfS. Announcing this in the current financial climate pours petrol onto the already flammable state of relations between the regulator and the sector it manages.

Once it’s published we’ll scour the Lords Committee report to see what their reaction to the fee hike is.

[1] Percentage rise in fees: Wonkhe modelling shows 18%, Halfon’s letter states 0-12% per provider

Graduate outcomes

HESA have published the Graduate Outcomes data for students who graduated in 2020/21. The headline is positive on full time employment (up 4%).

Of course, as we know, the OfS metric is “highly skilled employment and further study” – we will have to wait a bit longer for that analysis.  Wonkhe have an article on why comparability of data on employment outcomes is a real issue.

International

International Students: Economic benefits

HEPI and partners published the third iteration of The benefits and costs of international higher education students to the UK economy. The research sought to quantify the economic benefits – less any costs – of international students and family members living and studying in the UK. The report demonstrates growth in the financial worth of international students.

The modelling includes tuition fee income, living expenditure, and indirect income from family and friends visiting the UK – tax revenue, longer-term investment, soft power, and cultural value are not included in the analysis.

  • 4 in 10 first year students in London are international
  • Some areas benefit more financially from international students, outside of London this includes Glasgow, Nottingham and Newcastle.
  • On average, each parliamentary constituency in the UK is £58 million better off because of international students – equivalent to approximately £560 per citizen.
  • Even when accounting for dependants and other costs, international students are a huge net contributor to the UK economy. Every 11 non-EU students generates £1 million worth of net economic impact for the UK economy.
  • The estimated total benefit to the UK economy from 2021/22 first-year international students over the duration of their studies was approximately £41.9bn, while the estimated total costs were £4.4bn. This implies a benefit-to-cost ratio of 9.4.
  • The net economic impact per student was estimated to be £125,000 per EU domiciled student, and £96,000 per non-EU student. In other words, every 9 EU students and every 11 non-EU students generate £1m worth of net economic impact for the UK economy over the duration of their studies.
  • Reflecting the 40% increase in the number of international students between 2018/19 and 2021/22, the net economic impact has increased from £28.2bn for the 2018/19 cohort to £37.4bn for the 2021/22 cohort (a 33% increase in real terms). The impact has also increased by 58% in real terms since 2015/16 (from £23.6bn in 2015/16 to £37.4bn in 2021/22).

The Russell Group published their response to the report.

HEPI also have some short commentary setting out the policy position on each of the areas of contention for international students.

Growth in international student recruitment:

  • The UK is an attractive destination for international students because of the global recognition of UK qualifications, teaching in English, and our one-year Masters courses are particularly popular.
  • Between 2010 and 2016, there was no growth in international student numbers, as Home Office policies worked to limit incoming students.
  • In 2019, the Government launched the International Education Strategy with a national target to increase the number of international students in the UK. The target was exceed well ahead of the deadline.

Post-study work visas: Post-study work rights were introduced in Scotland in 2005, adopted UK-wide in 2008, abolished in 2012, reintroduced in 2021, and the certainty of their future is…well…uncertain. HEPI write: post-study work rights affect the pipeline of talent flowing into the UK as well as the ability of employers to find and recruit the high-level and niche skills they so desperately need.

Diversifying student cohorts: institutions have been expected to widen their geographical base beyond China and East Asia…institutions have sought to broaden their intakes by recruiting more international students from other parts of the world, especially India and Nigeria. Yet the response of policymakers to this shift has not always been positive, for example because students from these regions are typically older and have a higher likelihood of bringing dependants with them.

International Students: Dependants’ visas

It was been trailed for weeks and finally we’ve had the official announcement that taught postgraduate students will not be permitted to bring their dependants into the country. This decision is part of Home Secretary, Suella Braverman’s, measures to reduce net migration. Here are all the measure in brief:

  • Removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes.
  • Removing the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed.
  • Reviewing the maintenance requirements for students and dependants.
  • Steps to clamp down on unscrupulous education agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration not education.
  • Better communicating immigration rules to the higher education sector and to international students.
  • Improved and more targeted enforcement activity.

The restrictions commence in January 2024, impacting the January starters in the 2023/24 academic year.

Braverman stated:

  • Around 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022, a more than eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019, when the Government’s commitment to lower net migration was made
  • We are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK. Therefore, our intention is to work with universities over the course of the next year to design an alternative approach that ensures that the best and the brightest students can bring dependants to our world leading universities, while continuing to reduce net migration. We will bring in this system as soon as possible, after thorough consultation with the sector and key stakeholders.
  • This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK. Now is the time for us to make these changes to ensure an impact on net migration as soon as possible. We expect this package to have a tangible impact on net migration. Taken together with the easing of temporary factors, we expect net migration to fall to pre-pandemic levels in the medium term.
  • …The Government will seek to continue to strike the balance between reducing overall net migration with ensuring that businesses have the skills they need and we continue to support economic growth. Those affected by this package will predominantly be dependants of students who make a more limited contribution to the economy than students… 

Read more: The BBC have coverage of the announcement, Wonkhe have a blog: everything we know about the new plans, i News has an opinion piece and there’s are parliamentary questions – Overseas student visas and adequacy of support for families moving on a student visa.

Research Professional cover the latest Transparent Approach to Costing (Trac) statistics which they state reveal just how reliant higher education institutions are on fees from overseas students in Deficits grow for research and teaching home students. Wonkhe cover the same topic with a different take: David Kernohan is depressed by how little we know about how much it costs universities to provide higher education.  Also, an interesting exchange on the topic during Urgent Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Do give it a read if you’re interested in this area.

More broadly on international student benefits is this Wonkhe blog: International and transnational education bring cultural, economic, and reputational benefits to the UK. University of London vice chancellor Wendy Thomson asks why the government isn’t over the moon.

Finally, the Government has now published the latest migration figures for the year ending March 2023. Total long-term immigration to the UK was around 1.2 million in 2022, and emigration was 557,000, so net migration settled at 606,000 (source). There is quite a lot of information of interest relating to students spread across multiple sources so we’ve popped it into this separate document. It covers the facts on study visas, extensions of temporary stay, and the migrant journey (who arrives, how long they stay, and when they leave). Enjoy!

International: Confucius Institutes

If you followed Rishi’s leadership campaign with an avid eye you’ll have spotted he committed to closing the 30 Chinese state-sponsored Confucius Institutes across the UK. However, the Government have U-turned stating it would be “disproportionate” to ban the institutes. Some Conservative Members have been outspoken in their disapproval of the U turn.

Dods report that Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns hit out in response to the news arguing that powers established recently under the new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 “must be deployed if evidence of free speech stifled by CCP indoctrinators on our campuses.”

The BBC have a write up, including this from the Government:

  • We recognise concerns about overseas interference in our higher education sector, including through Confucius Institutes, and regularly assess the risks facing academia.
  • We are taking action to remove any government funding from Confucius Institutes in the UK, but currently judge that it would be disproportionate to ban them.
  • Like any international body operating in the UK, Confucius Institutes need to operate transparently and within the law, and with a full commitment to our values of openness and freedom of expression.

As we mentioned earlier, this week the OfS wrote to 30 UK HE providers regarding their high recruitment levels of Chinese students. The letter advised contingency planning should a drop in income occur suddenly. Also, the OfS published their annual financial sustainability report (we’ve explored it here.)

Research

Health Security: The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) published a 10-year strategy detailing how science can save more lives and contribute to the UK’s ambition to be a global science superpower. It highlights how UKHSA’s scientific capabilities (including genomics, vaccine evaluation, surveillance, data science, diagnostics and toxicology) will be deployed to prepare for future health security hazards, respond to current threats, protect livelihoods and build the UK’s health security capacity. More here. UKHSA have stated they are actively seeking partners across government, industry and academia in pursuit of the ambitions in this Strategy. 

Concordats: The second phase of the (UUK, UKRI & Wellcome Trust) Concordats and Agreements Review has reported, much shorter info here.

Net zero: The National Audit Office published Support for innovation to deliver net zero. The report addresses the approach in the £4.2 billion investment in research and innovation to deliver net zero. It argues that further action is needed to strengthen governance and delivery mechanisms to achieve value for money.

UKRI: UKRI launched a stakeholder perceptions survey which they state will act as a benchmark for the funding body to understand how their stakeholders perceive UKRI and its role within the system. The survey is here.

Research infrastructure: DSIT and UKRI announced details of the £103 million investment to expand and upgrade the UK’s research infrastructure. It’s not all new money, the funding divides as:

  • £79.3m as part of the £150m announcement, to address the impacts of the ongoing delay in UK association to the EU’s Horizon Europe programme
  • £23.7m as part of the £370m announcement to forge a better Britain through investment in science and technology

The 13 universities who will receive the equipment/lab investment have already been chosen. More on the funding here.

Windsor Framework: Responsibility for the delivery of the Windsor Framework will be transferred from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to sit alongside the existing Northern Ireland Unit in the Cabinet Office. The Foreign Secretary remains responsible for UK/EU relations and will continue as co-chair of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement Partnership Council and Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee – the body that oversees the UK and EU implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Parliamentary question on research infrastructure: increasing public expenditure on R&D to £20 billion per annum by 2024/2025. The total allocation for UK Research and Innovation over the period 2022-2025 is £25.1 billion. This includes £3 billion of investment in infrastructure projects, including £481 million for the new UKRI Infrastructure Fund. This will finance cutting-edge research infrastructure, delivering a step-change in the capabilities available to the next generation of researchers and innovators whilst supporting scientific breakthroughs.

Statutory duty of care for HE students

The House of Commons Petitions Committee held three sessions on the proposed statutory duty of care for HE students. Witnesses included Lee Fryatt, the petition creator, people with lived experience, representatives from Student Minds, NUS, PAPYRUS, AMOSSHE and UUK among others.

The Committee sessions explored whether universities should have a statutory duty of care to protect students at risk of suicide or other serious mental health problems. The sessions included advocacy for the duty of care; the reason for student suicide and views on the proposed statutory duty of care; and questioned sector representatives on their views plus the efficacy and future trajectory of existing suicide prevention and mental health frameworks. We have a summary of all three sessions here.

In advance of the session the House of Commons Library provided a briefing on student mental health.

Also on mental health from Wonkhe: The proportion of higher education providers with a mental health or wellbeing strategy increased from 52 per cent in 2019 to 66 per cent in 2022, according to a report from IFF Research for the Department for Education. 66 per cent of higher education institutions had a policy on student suicide prevention, alongside 54 per cent of FE colleges and just 42 per cent of private providers. On the site today I consider the report in light of calls for a statutory duty of care.

Student loan cap – 7.1%

Following the market rate fluctuation the Government has announced the student loan interest rate cap will now be 7.1% for all plan 2 (undergraduate) and plan 3 (postgraduate) loans, and plan 5 (undergraduate) loans. This applies until 31 August 2023 (or until future market changes prompt an announcement on a new cap level). You can see how 7.1% compares to previous in the written ministerial statement. The student loan interest rates from September 2023 will be announced closer to the time.

Access & Participation

TASO published the summary report Evaluating multi-intervention outreach and mentoring programmes with the aim of advancing the evidence base and improving practice across the sector. Recommendations:

  • Universities should adopt TASO’s Mapping Outcomes and Activities Tool (MOAT),
  • Multi-intervention outreach incorporates multiple elements. To rigorously evaluate the impact of these programmes, HEPs should identify the value of each element by using TASO’s Enhanced Theory of Change tool to map how it is anticipated that individual activities will influence outcomes.
  • Also multi-intervention outreach programmes may be reaching students who are already highly likely to enter HE and highly selective universities. They further suggest that the true value of the programmes may lie in informing student choice about where and what to study, rather than whether to attend. Better pre-entry preparation may also result in higher rates of continuation and success once on the course. HEPs should scrutinise the rationale and assumptions behind their programmes to ensure that evaluation outcomes are well-matched to the activities they run
  • Use behavioural and survey outcomes to mitigate for low response rates/small samples
  • To improve response rates, HEPs should offer appropriate compensation to thank students for their time, such as entry into a prize draw or a small value voucher
  • HEIs should use local evaluations as a blueprint to explore randomised controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs as part of their evaluation approach for multi-intervention outreach

And there’s another report: Understanding online mentoring delivered as part of multi-intervention outreach programmes

Wonkhe summarise both reports: Three randomised controlled trials at universities in England found that the programmes did not have an effect on student enrolment into higher education, though a final evaluation is still forthcoming. A separate study of online mentoring as part of outreach found that engagement with such programmes should not only be measured by the number of messages participants send – number of days engaged was a more robust measure.

Increasing access to HE

The OfS has published two reports on increasing access to HE covering collaborative partnerships and an evaluation of Uni Connect phase 3. You can read a summary of both here.

Labour’s Policy Programme

After the clearest indication yet from Keir Starmer a few weeks ago that the Labour policy  on abolishing fees was going to be dropped, when he announced a “review” with the aim of finding an arrangement that would be fairer, the party have now made an interim announcement that they would reverse the latest changes, which will apply to students who start university in September – the bigger review of policy is still ongoing.

The Guardian piece  quotes from a Times story that is behind a paywall:

  • Labour has promised to reverse changes to the student loan system being plannedby the Conservative government in a way that could reduce monthly repayments for graduates.
  • Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said on Friday the tuition fees system was “broken”, but repeated the insistence by her party leader, Keir Starmer, that Labourwould not be able to afford to scrap fees altogether.
  • Starmer’s decision to drop the promise to end feessparked anger among students and on the Labour left. But Phillipson’s comments in the Times give the first sense of how the party may seek to win those voters back. Phillipson said: “The Conservative tuition fees system has long been broken, and their latest set of reforms will make it worse.”
  • She added: “Plenty of proposals have been put forward for how the government could make the system fairer and more progressive, including modelling showing that the government could reduce the monthly repayments for every single new graduate without adding a penny to government borrowing or general taxation – Labour will not be increasing government spending on this.”
  • Under the plans announced by the Treasury last year, graduates will have to start repaying their loans when they earn £25,000, rather than £27,295, and will have to continue repaying for a maximum of 40 years rather than 30. Interest rates will be cut for new borrowers and tuition fees capped at £9,250 for another two years.
  • The measures are predicted to double the number of graduates who pay off their loans in full, and save the government tens of billions of pounds. But lower earners will have to pay significantly more, thanks to the reduction in the lower repayment threshold.

Labour published their draft policy programme. It’s best thought of as a pre-manifesto but two steps removed. Within it, of interest to HE, is:

Give genuine choice of further and higher education

  • Ensure all learners have a genuine choice of first class further and higher education
  • Encourage a thriving college and independent training sector that can provide high quality vocational courses, including apprenticeships, fosters a love of learning, links students with exciting job opportunities through excellent careers advice, and works with businesses to meet local skills needs.
  • Reform broken tuition fees system for university funding, ensuring that people from every background and all parts of our country have the opportunity to study at Britain’s world-class universities

Work with businesses, workers, and universities to grow the high-tech, competitive industries of the future:

  • Ensure our world-class researchers and businesses have the data and computing infrastructure they need to compete internationally
  • Ensure our intellectual property system is fit for the digital age
  • Look at ways to close the digital divide. Improve digital education in schools and upskill the workforce

Introduce an industrial strategy and support firms

  • Introduce an industrial strategy based on a genuine partnership with businesses, workers, unions and universities, with four central goals: delivering clean power by 2030, caring for the future, harnessing data for the public good and building a resilient economy
  • Aim for at least 3% of GDP across the public and private sectors to be invested in research and development
  • Ensure the funding system can act with the agility, speed and predictability required to win the race for the industries of the future

Deliver landmark shift in skills provision

  • Deliver a landmark shift in skills provision and give people the tools they need in the workplaces of the future
  • Devolve adult education and skills budgets; reform the apprenticeships levy into a ‘growth and skills levy’ across all nations
  • Establish a new expert body – Skills England – to oversee the English national skills effort of the coming decade, which will pull together the expertise of trade associations, employers from large and small companies, representatives of trade unions, central and local government and further and higher education

Tackle NHS staffing issues

  • Double the number of medical school places to 15,000 a year
  • Train 10,000 new nurses and midwives each year
  • Double the number of district nurses qualifying every year
  • Train 5,000 new health visitors a year

Also Labour favours economic devolution, voting for 16 and 17 year olds, and abolishing the House of Lords.

There’s also a relevant Wonkhe blog:  A Labour government may not mean the sector relationship reset that many are hoping for. Public First associate director Jess Lister cautions against raising expectations.

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

Campus fatigue: The QAA published Student experience and expectations of teaching and learning relating to post-pandemic students and trends. Wonkhe have a neat synopsis on part of the report: The pandemic appears to have created a “fatigue” amongst students to proactively engage with enrichment activities traditionally linked to campus life, student halls or SUs. It has also caused many students to feel isolated and to miss out on developing peer group friendships and relationships with academics, triggering an increased demand for mental health and well-being support… half of survey respondents found it not at all or only slightly important to spend time at university outside of timetabled hours – students most commonly were on campus two or three times a week, with 15.1 per cent having a commute of between one and two hours, and 4.4 per cent more than two hours.

Student rentals: Wonkhe – A renter’s reform bill has been published – and given the good news for tenants, some fear landlords will sell up. Jim Dickinson weighs up their case.

Apprenticeships: Wonkhe – The total number of apprenticeship starts has fallen significantly since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, according to new analysis published by think tank Policy Exchange. Since 2015, the number of apprenticeship starts for 16-18 year-olds has fallen by 41 per cent, for 19-24 year-olds by 31 per cent, and 26 per cent for those over 25 years old. The sharpest falls recorded were for those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds… The authors do not believe that the sharp decline in starts is due to a lack of demand… Instead they point to a lack of supply, and a lack of transparency and poor understanding of the levy’s purposes – leading to a significant amount of the Levy returning to the Treasury rather than being spent on apprenticeships. They argue that for businesses to make better use of the levy system, there needs to be more flexibility, shorter courses, and less bureaucracy.

Working conditions: HEPI published a new report benchmarking the pay and benefits of academics and exploring whether academics have better or worse working conditions than other professionals.

Free Speech: Research Professional – News is out on the “chilling effect” of university failures to support free speech on campus. The Office for Students released yesterday its update on institutions’ compliance with the Prevent duty to monitor potential radicalisation on campus. And this includes figures on the number of speakers and events cancelled over the past year. See this Research Professional article: Fewer than 1% of English university speakers ‘cancelled’.

The latest OfS data show that during 2021-22, some 31,545 speakers or events were approved in English universities and colleges, and 260 planned events did not go ahead—just under one per cent of the total. Another 475 went ahead with some mitigation.

Most [of the events that did not go ahead] were rejected for procedural reasons, such as failing to submit a request on time. David Smy, director of monitoring and intervention at the OfS, said: “While this data suggests that the overwhelming majority of events with external speakers went ahead as planned—which is welcome—the data may not provide the full picture. The data does not capture decisions not to invite speakers in the first place or voluntary withdrawal of requests for approval. We recognise that this could be masking cases where event organisers or speakers feel unable to proceed with the event they had planned.” Surely the OfS is not about to make use of new advances in artificial intelligence that make mind-reading a possibility?

Transnational education: OfS published an insight brief on Transnational Education. In 2021-22, 146 English universities and colleges taught 455,000 students outside the UK. 69% were undergraduates, 31% were postgraduates.

  • 27% were taught by overseas partner organisations
  • 25% were taught by distance, flexible or distributed learning
  • 6% studied at English universities’ overseas branch campuses
  • 42% were covered by other arrangements, including collaborative provision.

52% lived in Asia – 61,505 (14% overall) were based in China. Malaysia (9%) and Sri Lanka (8%) had the second highest proportion of students.

Lots more interesting content in the full insight brief.

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HE Policy Update w/e 21st December 2022

There’s something for everyone in this final policy update of 2022. Although things have calmed down a bit as we approach the festive period there is still lots of news. We’ve kept matters as light as possible for you with links to more information for those that wish to read more. Here’s wishing you all a relaxing break, happy Christmas and a good start to the New Year.

Parliamentary News

Parliamentary session to continue: It’s been confirmed that the King’s Speech (and therefore, the State Opening of Parliament in 2023) will be delayed allowing more time for the Government to pass its legislative agenda. This is because when the Parliamentary session is closed any outstanding legislation drops away automatically unless a carry-over motion is passed to enable it to continue. (You’ll recall the Freedom of Speech (HE) Bill was carried over from the previous session because the Government is determined to get it on the statute books). The monarch then re-opens parliament with a speech setting out the Government’s legislative plans for the coming months. The Government indicated they plan to dissolve Parliament in Autumn 2023 meaning the new parliamentary session may begin in November 2023. The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “The programme is very full and to make sure we have the time we need to get through the packed agenda the Prime Minister wants to deliver, the session will run until autumn 2023.” A cynic might mention it’s also getting awfully close to the next general election. Both Houses will return from recess on the 9 January.

HE priorities: Education Select Committee session: HE Minister Robert Halfon was examined by the Education select committee and HE received a brief mention. Miriam Cates MP queried whether HE funded provided value for money considering the lower funding settlement received by FE institutions. Halfon stated he welcomed the impact and successes of both sectors and suggested that he wanted the sector to focus on social justice and bringing the most disadvantaged the opportunities to get enter higher or further education. This is a personal agenda for Halfon and he has been very open about his interest in social justice, social mobility and accessibility/performance of HE institutions in supporting disadvantage. Cates was unimpressed with Halfon’s response and pressed for a full review of joined up education post-16, not just 16 to 18, stating that the investment in HE did pay off in terms of jobs and prosperity.

Spring budget announced: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will deliver the Spring Budget on 15 March 2023. This fulfils the obligation to produce two forecasts in a financial year (required by law).

HERA – the Christmas edition

The DfE published their policy paper assessing the Higher Education and Research Act 2017: post-legislative scrutiny. HERA was a major change to HE operations and was pushed through the Commons (against substantial Lords backlash) by Jo Johnson in 2017. It established the OfS and UKRI in their current form.

Although the paper seems to have come out of the blue the DfE are expected to do this for each major piece of legislation within their remit after the first 5 years. As the paper is written for the Education select committee we may well see a new inquiry in this field in the new year.

Even if you’re not interested in the paper per se it has an interesting synopsis of the sector from page 8 onwards. And what is a Christmas edition of anything without a review of the major occurrences over the last (5) years? Here are the ‘high’lights we’ve contended with:

  • Left EU
  • Global pandemic and all that implied: changed social and economic environment and remote/hybrid/blended learning
  • New regulatory and funding system
  • Revolving door for ministers each with their own stamp on specific priorities (printing and accommodation costs, free speech, antisemitism, university advertising, post qualification admissions, the role of universities in school performance
  • All the big things: disadvantage, quality and outcomes, Lifelong Loan Entitlements, degree apprenticeships, T levels, broader structural HE reform. Cue the adverts… phew!

On the paper Wonkhe say: It is meant to properly reflect on the act – what has worked, what hasn’t, and what needs to change, with a view to making sure we have the best law we can. The publication we got made a start – and there are some eyebrow-raising lines in there about the way the underlying assumptions and government policy have shifted, often quite radically. They have a blog for those who enjoy Wonkhe’s analyses: David Kernohan wonders if we really have the system that was asked for.

HEPI have a related blog: Have the Higher Education & Research Act and the Office for Students delivered for new and ‘challenger’ providers?

Regulatory & Free Speech

HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill

The HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill received its third reading in the House of Lords. The Lords made more amendments and have passed it back to the House of Commons. So we are now in the final stage of ‘ping pong’ where the Commons and Lords tussle over the ultimate wording before the Bill passes to the King for Royal Assent.

The Third Reading was a calm affair but the Lords didn’t roll over. Minister for the School System and Student Finance, Baroness Barran, stated she was pleased to have introduced a definition of “freedom of speech” to the Bill and that this was one of the many important clarifications as a result of their discussions in the House (during Report Stage). She also confirmed they had avoided inadvertently giving alumni the same protections as current students and had clarified that the new power given to the OfS to give guidance on supporting freedom of speech was not related to the duty on higher education providers and their constituent colleges to promote the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom. She recognised as a breakthrough the banning of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual misconduct, abuse or harassment, or other forms of bullying. However, the proposed right to bring a civil claim in the courts against universities remains a big bone of contention. The Peers voted to remove it during the Report Stage and Baroness Barran said the Government would “reflect on this verdict and the arguments advanced to support it very carefully indeed.”

Lord Wallace spoke about the appointment of the new OfS free speech director. He asked the Government to “take particular care in finding a candidate for that position who will be accepted—possibly even welcomed—by the sector he or she sets out to regulate.” This reminds us of the controversy of partisan appointments that dogged Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Lord Wallace also drew attention to the outstanding question of the degree of overlap between this Bill, the recent National Security and Investment Act and the current National Security Bill, all of which imposed new duties and reporting requirements on universities. This has still not been fully resolved.

Baroness Thornton, Shadow Equalities Spokesperson, said “the jury it still out” on whether the Bill was necessary at all, but she was confident the legislation was being sent back to the Commons in an improved state. She drew attention to other outstanding matters, such as the role of the students’ unions. She also agreed with concerns around the risk of duplicating security regulations, and the risk that the Bill might pose to the business community, the commercial relations and the trading futures of universities.

Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Affiliated) said she hoped the Commons would “restore some version of Clause 4 and material remedies for victims of cancel culture on campus”.

OfS Annual Review: The OfS published its annual review. In her commentary of the report, OfS Chief Executive Susan Lapworth, sets out the key OfS priorities for 2023 including how tackling poor quality provision, ensuring students from all backgrounds are able to enter higher education and succeed in their studies, and protecting freedom of speech on campus are the key priorities for the OfS in 2023.

Parliamentary Questions: Regulatory

Matt Western (Shadow Universities Minister) asked some interesting questions regarding OfS funding:

In response to a parliamentary question Robert Halfon (Universities Minister) confirmed that the department’s priorities for higher education are consistent with those set out in guidance to the Office for Students (OfS) earlier this year. This includes a continued focus on delivering the government’s skills mission, driving up quality and ensuring equality of opportunity and real social mobility for students. The Government will only issue the OfS with new guidance for the current financial year if new issues or priorities emerge. 

Matt Western also asked: whether a review of the potential changes required to the admissions system for HE course in advance of the delivery of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (2024/25) has been conducted.  Robert Halfon responded:

  • To support the design and delivery of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) from 2025, the department will continue to engage with sector bodies across both further education and higher education, as well as the Student Loans Company and regulatory bodies.
  • On admissions, the department is continuing to work with UCAS and sector bodies to improve transparency, reduce the use of unconditional offers, and reform the personal statement to improve fairness for applicants of all backgrounds.
  • The LLE consultation and other ongoing engagements are an important part of delivering a transformation of student finance. The department is carefully considering the contributions and will publish a response in due course.

Research

Pro-innovation regulation

The Treasury published a policy paper: Pro-Innovation Regulation of Technologies Project: Terms of Reference which announces a review considering how to regulate emerging technologies.

Pro-innovation regulation focuses on ensuring that we can safely and ethically accelerate the development, testing, route to market and uptake of new technology products. It should give confidence to innovators. This is key to making the UK an attractive destination for R&D projects, manufacturing and investment, and ensuring we can realise the economic and social benefits of new technologies as quickly as possible.

The Treasury also announced the appointment of five industry experts to help accelerate the development and deployment of emerging technologies in the following key UK growth sectors:

  • digital technology
  • green industries
  • life sciences
  • advanced manufacturing
  • creative industries.

Experts will collaborate with industry and Sir Patrick Vallance to advise on new rules that use regulatory freedom to promote innovation.  The aim of the review is to establish the UK as the best regulated economy ensuring that industry and investors have the certainty needed to drive innovation, investment and growth through anticipating new developments in emerging technologies. The experts are:

Matt Clifford, Chair of the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), and Priya Lakhani OBE, a member of the AI Council, have been appointed to support work to harness new digital technology such as artificial intelligence.

Sir John Bell, sits on Genomics England’s board of directors, and Camilla Fleetcroft, Eclevar UK’s Vice-President of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs, will work on cultivating the life sciences sector and help drive the next generation of discoveries, such as delivering genomics-enabled clinical trials.

Jane Toogood, Chief Executive of Catalyst Technologies at Johnson Matthey, will take forward work on building green industries like hydrogen and battery development in the UK.

Future Research Assessment Programme

UKRI/Research England published three reports on the Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP). Taken together the reports speak out against a fully metricised system for the next REF but do suggest ways in which AI might support low risk areas of the exercise. The reports are:

  • Harnessing the metric tide: indicators, infrastructures and priorities for responsible research assessment in the UK
  • Responsible use of technology in research assessment
  • REF outputs analysis: maximising the use of REF data

Quick news:

Horizon Europe extension: The Government announced an extension to the support provided to UK Horizon Europe applicants, originally launched in November 2021. The extension will ensure that eligible, successful UK applicants will continue to be guaranteed funding. The guarantee will be in place to cover all Horizon Europe calls that close on or before 31 March 2023. Eligible, successful applicants to Horizon Europe will receive the full value of their funding at their UK host institution for the lifetime of their grant. Successful awardees do not need to leave the UK to receive this funding, which will provide reassurance for future collaborations, and support UK researchers whether association is confirmed, or otherwise.

Science Minister, George Freeman, has been busy recently:

Wonkhe blog: The International Science Partnerships Fund is out, and James Coe thinks it has implications for UK research post Horizon.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee wrote to the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation George Freeman with the findings of its inquiry into people and skills in UK STEM. And THE has a blog on the topic: Academic careers: Teetering progress: A House of Lords committee has warned that the precarity of academic careers is exacerbating the UK’s growing skills gap in STEM.

HEPI blog: Research Leadership Matters: Agility, Alignment, Ambition

Graduate outcomes and employment

Sir John Holman, Independent Strategic Adviser on Careers Guidance wrote to DfE and DWP Minister regarding England’s careers guidance system.The letter summarises his recommendations for the future of the careers guidance system. It draws upon 18 months’ of consultation and conversations with careers practitioners and sector representatives, employers, schools, colleges, local bodies and a range of other interested parties, as well as a review of available evidence from the DfE, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the wider sector. You can read Holman’s recommendations (9 Strategic Principles) here. It’s worth a read, put it on your January list! HE and Skills Minister Robert Halfon welcomed the recommendations and stated he will consider them carefully – and that the Department will publish more information on future plans for the careers guidance system “in due course”.

Graduate employment: A catch up on the news that graduate employers aren’t focussed on degree outcome grade. The Times broke the story. Quickly followed up by Research Professional: The Times reports that fewer than half of graduate employers asked recruits for a 2:1 this year, according to a report by the Institute of Student Employers. And by Wonkhe: For the first time, less than half of graduate employers require a 2:1, new findings from the Institute for Student Employers suggest. The data from its 2022 student recruitment survey – drawn from 168 responses covering 32,110 hires, with larger organisations somewhat overrepresented – saw only 48% of responding employers having such a stipulation for graduate roles, down from 57% in 2021.

Data: The DfE released a new type of LEO data dashboard (and a report) looking at the earnings of individuals post GCSE over a 15 year period. Socioeconomic, demographic and education factors are within the data providing a granular picture. It isn’t directly comparable with the Graduate Outcomes data the HE sector routinely uses as there are small methodological differences, not least the inclusion of non-graduates. The box on page 23 explains the differences.  However, it provides a comparator for graduate and non-graduates of the same age (rather than mixed ages with all of the same graduation cohort). For the data buffs page 22 onwards explains the graduate/non-graduate comparators re: the value of a degree.

Key points:

  • People have diverse employment pathways in their 15 years. Taking into account the 50 most common pathways only accounts for 31% of individuals.
  • The report aims to show how education and labour market activities and outcomes differ for different groups of individuals despite similar education levels. Particularly, to see how education and labour market outcomes differ for graduates and non-graduates with different individual characteristics.
  • 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.
  • Higher levels of education lead to better labour market outcomes for all. This compares like with like so an individual with SEN or who was in receipt of free school meals (FSM) has a better labour market outcome than their SEN/FSM counterpart who left education at a lower level.
  • However, when the comparison is not like with like certain groups have lower labour market outcome than others. Although in these cases those completing a degree have better labour market outcomes than their comparators who do not have a degree. For example, there are higher proportions of graduates that were FSM eligible in employment and lower proportions claiming benefits than non-FSM eligible nongraduates. Of those in employment, the FSM eligible graduates earn around £5,000 more per year than non-FSM eligible nongraduates and their earnings potential seem to have different trajectories.
  • For a few select sub-groups a higher education level does not always lead to better labour market outcomes than their peers with a lower education level. For example, individuals with a SEN statement even with a degree tend not to outperform those without SEN who only studied to a lower educational level.
  • There is considerable difference in the earnings trajectories and outcomes for graduate and non-graduate individuals in employment (see Figure 15 below). There is a £10,000 difference in annual average earnings for graduates and non-graduates in employment 15 years after finishing KS4 (for most graduates this is around 8 to 10 years after graduation). Though the curve for graduates flattens after a sharp increase as more graduates join the labour market, it continues to increase at a faster rate than that for non-graduates

The Institute for Fiscal Studies analysed the data in more depth using measures to control multiple background characteristics. They found prior attainment and subject of study at HE level to be very important in determining [financial] returns to degrees. Similarly, this report finds:

  • Those with poorer attainment at KS4 that go on to complete a degree do not have better labour market outcomes than individuals with better KS4 attainment that do not complete a degree. This is also the case for SEN statemented individuals when compared with those not identified with SEN.  However, every other sub-group that completed a degree benefits from the better labour market outcomes due to the degree premium. Table 14 below illustrates this for SEN individuals. If you are interested in this sectionality do read the key findings, paragraph 159 on page 86 onwards as they cover all the groups with lower outcomes in a more granular way.
  • Black and minority ethnic groups tend to have higher levels of post 16 education, when compared with those from the White British group, yet not necessarily better labour market outcomes
  • The report states it is novel in that it analyses the data by SEN, first language and school type (in relation to employment outcomes and benefit claims).
  • Graduates are more likely to be employed than non-graduates, however, there is an interesting regional effect (see Table 18 below). Bear in mind this is based on the individual’s current region (which is not necessarily their key stage 4 region) – yet the rankings by region for those completing a level 3 are exactly the same in table 19 on page 80 – suggesting it’s a regional thing more than a graduate thing

HEPI

HEPI published many interesting papers and blogs over the autumn semester. Here are the most relevant and recent apart from those featured elsewhere:

 Students are evenly split on whether or not they regard it as the responsibility of their higher education institution to find them a job, with one-quarter (34%) believing it is and only a slightly lower proportion (30%) saying it is not.

 Most students look to their careers service to offer help with finding an internship or placement (63%), writing their curriculum vitae (63%), interview preparation (61%), finding a career (60%) and hosting careers fairs (52%). Providing mentoring and life skills also has substantial support (49%) while far fewer students expect help with finding a holiday job (22%).

 A majority of students (53%) think ‘all university courses should be designed mainly with future employment in mind’ and a further 37% say ‘some university courses should be’. Very few students say only ‘a small proportion’ (4%) or no university course (4%) should have a focus on employment.

 However, over half of students oppose the proposal in England of providing reduced access to student finance to those opting for courses with poor employment prospects; 53% ‘strongly disagree’ and an additional 16% ‘disagree’.

 Nearly one-half of students are either ‘very confident’ (14%) or ‘quite confident’ (32%) that they are likely to find their desired job on graduation but a substantial minority are ‘quite unconfident’ (21%) or ‘very unconfident’ (9%).

 When it comes to the type of employer, many students say they do not mind (34%) what size their future employer is. Among those with a preference, a similar proportion chose larger employers (28%) with 250 or more staff than small-to-medium sized enterprises (31%) with 249 staff or fewer.

 More students prefer employers who consider characteristics such as work experience and extra-curricular activities (41%) than prefer employers who mostly care about degree results (30%).

 When asked what they regard as ‘the best definition of a “graduate-level job”‘, students split three ways: 30% say a graduate-level job is one where an employer requires applicants to have a degree; 29% say it is one that is officially classified as ‘graduate-level’; and 26% say it is a position that pays above the student loan repayment threshold.

 Nearly half of students are either ‘very confident’ (16%) or ‘quite confident’ (31%) that they will secure a graduate-level role, while 17% are ‘quite unconfident’ and 8% are ‘very unconfident’.

 Around half (49%) of students have not used their careers service to date, which is slightly higher than the proportion who have (43%).

 Those who have used a careers service are more satisfied than unsatisfied, with 59% saying they were ‘very happy’ or ‘quite happy’ with the service they received. However, 13% were ‘quite unhappy’ and 7% were ‘very unhappy’.

 Those who have not used their careers service were given an opportunity to explain why. Some said they do not know what their careers service has to offer, some believe the careers service would not support their specific career needs and some feel they are too early in their course to consider career planning.

 Students want a single digital learning platform that is easy to use.

The vast majority (87%) of students would like to see digital learning resources streamlined onto a single platform with one, intuitive user experience, where texts are easily readable and navigable. The platform should be compatible across a range of devices and accessible on- and off-campus.

Students want to be able to access digital resources without waiting lists.

Nearly all (95%) of students say digital copies of their course books should be available to them at the point of need, without waiting lists.

Although many students say that they do not worry about being able to access course books through the library when they need them, 59% of students who are impacted by such worries say the wider availability of digital resources would improve their mental health.

Students want digital recordings of their lectures.

The most in-demand digital learning resource is lecture recordings. Students want to see recordings uploaded onto a single, user-friendly platform and for them to be made available for the duration of their courses.

HE Sector Resource

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published its fifth annual report on education spending in England. Here’s the summary of HE spending provided by Dods Political Intelligence:

  • Up-front spending on teaching resources per higher education student has continued to decline steadily, standing at £9,300 per year for the 2022–23 university entry cohort. That is around £1,700 less per year in real terms than for 2012–13 entrants, largely because the cap on tuition fees is now 18% lower in real terms than it was in 2012–13.
  • The nominal freeze in fees is set to continue for another two years, adding to other financial pressures on universities. The most important pressure in the near term is likely to be the cost of any settlement with staff over pay and pensions.
  • A major package of student loans reforms was announced in February and has substantially reduced the expected long-run cost of higher education, shifting a larger share of the cost onto graduates themselves. Changes to future repayment thresholds mean most students from the 2012 to 2022 university entry cohorts can expect to repay substantially more, with middle-earning graduates hit hardest.
  • From the 2023 entry cohort onwards, a lower repayment threshold, a longer repayment period and a lower interest rate mean most students can expect to repay their loans in full and to repay roughly the same amount as they borrowed in real terms. High earners will no longer pay off more than they borrowed, and only low-earning graduates’ loans will be subsidised by the taxpayer.
  • For current students, higher-than-expected inflation has eroded the real value of maintenance loans. Students in 2022–23 will be entitled to borrow 10% less towards their living costs than they were in 2020–21, a cut equivalent to £90 a month for the poorest students. Without a change in policy, living cost support for future students will be permanently lower, causing hardship for some.

Admissions, Access & Participation

Disabled students: Wonkhe blog – Endless reports have promised progress on access failures for disabled students – but how much difference has been made? Meg Darroch and Jim Dickinson take some regulatory ideas for a spin.

Disadvantage gaps: The Education Policy Institute published a report on the disadvantage gaps in England during 2021. It finds that much of the reduction in the disadvantage gap over the last decade has been reversed during the pandemic. The report mainly focuses on key stage 4 and 16-19 education. If this report was of interest you may also be interested in Ofsted’s annual report,

HEPI blog: Designing outreach with people of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller heritage – a lesson in critical unlearning and Raising institutional aspirations for supporting Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, Showmen and Boater students in higher education

HEPI blog: Why every university needs an advisor for care leavers and estranged students

Admissions:

HE – massification

Research Professional ran a thought-provoking article describing how the massification of HE has resulted in an unequal and divided workforce as graduate culture permeates companies. It describes ways to rebalance HE to provide vocationally oriented degrees – but this isn’t article just trumpeting skills, it believes HE should be universally funded and as natural as completing secondary schooling. It supports levelling up – although not in quite the same style as the Government originally intended through technologically advanced regions. Also: At the same time, there would need to be a corresponding growth in graduate jobs. This would involve spinouts and cooperative ventures with research universities, incentivised through their endowments to build these kind of links. Regional government would need to be involved in planning health, care and education systems, and the supply of graduate jobs in the health and education sectors would need to be underwritten before graduate employment in private and not-for-profit sectors caught up. It’s alternative in its solutions and it is easy to dismiss the article but closer readers may find aspects that resonate.

International

Transnational £: DfE estimates of the value of transnational education (TNE) for 2020 (this includes education programmes that take place outside the UK, through partner institutions or distance learning or international campuses).

  • Total UK revenue estimated to be £25.6 billion in 2020, an increase of 0.8% since 2019 in current prices.
  • HE was the main contributor with £19.5 billion of export revenue – equating to a share of 76.3% of the value of total exports, representing an increase of 6.3 ppts from 2019.
  • In 2020, international (EU and non-EU) Higher Education students at UK universities generated an estimated £18.0 billion in exports through living expenditure and tuition fees (£15.9 billion in 2019), which accounts for around 70.2% of the total value of education exports and TNE activity (62.6% in 2019).

The National Statistician, Sir Ian Diamond, has explained why international students are included in the net migration figures.

  • The United Nations definition of a long-term migrant is: “A person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year (12 months), so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence.” International students will typically live in the UK for more than a year, and so meet the definition of a long-term migrant.
  • However, we recognise this definition is narrow and doesn’t always meet user needs. We have plans to explore alternative definitions, including estimating net migration by reason, such as study. This will help provide more context to headline measures of migration, addressing recent findings from the ONS research that most international students will leave the UK after their studies are concluded.

Wonkhe blog – For Nick Isles, recent ministerial comments about international students have been dangerously underinformed.

Parliamentary Questions:

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. There are not any new consultations or inquiries this week.

Other news

Gaming: Grants for R&D and recruitment of video game graduates (parliamentary question).  

OIA appointment: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for HE (OIA) announced the appointment of Helen Megarry as the next Independent Adjudicator. Helen takes up the post in May 2023, and will jointly lead the organisation with Ben Elger, Chief Executive. Megarry is currently the Independent Adjudicator for His Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and Valuation Office Agency, and independent reviewer of decisions made under the Windrush Compensation Scheme. She was previously Deputy Housing Ombudsman at the Housing Ombudsman Service, and a Board member of the Ombudsman Association. The current Independent Adjudicator, Felicity Mitchell, will continue to jointly lead the organisation until her term of office concludes at the end of April 2023.

PTES: Earlier this month the 2022 Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey results were released. Research Professional has a nice write up suggesting that satisfaction levels among PGT students have bounced back after hitting record lows during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Power sharing:  Gordon Brown’s Commission on the UK’s Future (Labour party) published A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy – a report on devolution and constitutional reform. Key points:

  • A new “constitutional statute” will be written which codifies social rights for citizens and the devolution of power amongst the 4 nations.
  • Local authorities will be given the opportunity to gain new powers from central government.
  • A “suite” of R&D programs will aim to drive growth across England via local growth.
  • The UK Infrastructure Bank will be given an explicit mission to address regional economic inequality in the provision of infrastructure.
  • Local authorities will be given longer term funding settlements
  • Local people will have greater input to local authorities spending priorities.
  • Powers for devolved nations will be broadened
  • Councils of the Nations and Regions and of England will open opportunities for shared decision making from local government, devolved and national government.
  • New rules and enforcement procedures for standards in public life.
  • The House of Lords will be abolished and replaced with an elected 2ndchamber which will focus on protecting the constitution, devolution and standards in public life.

The report was strongly criticised by Plaid Cymru and the SNP.

Consumer Law: New OfS enforcement deal raises consumer law compliance pressure on universities. Higher education providers in the UK need to step up their efforts to protect students’ rights and comply with consumer laws, an expert has said as the Office for Students (OfS) and National Trading Standards announced a new partnership. The OfS’ partnership with National Trading Standards is a sign that the higher education regulator is moving into “regulatory compliance mode”, according to Rami Labib of Pinsent Masons. Read more.

Fees & Funding: Wonkhe blog – It was a trip down memory lane as graduate tax – and all the reasons to reject it – were rehearsed at a sector event. But the sector needs some bigger thinking on fees and funding soon, argues Jim Dickinson.

Enterprise: The All-Party Parliamentary University Group praised the work of the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education in the blog: How can higher education be at the forefront of enterprise and entrepreneurship?

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

The Government has announced the current Parliamentary session will be prorogued in April (date not confirmed yet) (you’ll remember that process from “that” prorogation).  A new session will commence with a State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday 10 May. This means that legislation that is currently incomplete will either be dropped or will need to be allotted parliamentary time for a carry over motion debate (not quite as easy as it sounds). For HE this means the future of the controversial HE Freedom of Speech Bill is less certain although Wonkhe reported that it is likely to be carried over.

Meanwhile the Government has a plethora of consultations and white and green papers out. We can expect expectations for these to feature in the Queen’s Speech. For HE we will be watching for the legislative and regulatory changes required to implement the lifelong loan entitlement and the response to Augar (see our 3rd March update for more info. Consultations on many aspects of these things close on 6th May, so we won’t get definitive announcements on the detail that is being consulted on, and the Queen’s speech itself is very high level and so are the policy statements that come out with it.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills Bill is one they are trying to get through before prorogation.  The Skills Bill parliamentary ping pong continues with MPs rejecting the Lords amendment relating to the changeover from BTECs and T levels. The Lords attempted to delay the defunding of BTECs and force a public consultation but MPs overturned it through their majority in the Commons. Compromises were also made on vocational careers advice provided by schools.

The outcome and more details of all the Skills Bill amendment are available in this Dods summary. The Commons Library also have a useful publication highlighting the changes as the Bill has progressed through the legislative system, shorter version here.

Next: the Bill will pong back to the Lords on Thursday 7 April. The Lords will consider the MPs’ rejection of Lord Blunkett’s BTEC amendment, which attempted to attach conditions to the defunding of BTEC/level 3 technical qualifications. Potential options:

  • The Lords will accept the rejection and will not push for the amendment to added again (at this point, the Bill would have completed its passage and will be sent for Royal Assent)
  • The Government will bring forward a compromise amendment, and the Lords will vote on this (if it passes, it will have to go back to the Commons where it would be agreed)
  • Lord Blunkett will move to disagree with the Commons’ decision on his amendment and re-introduce it again in its current form (this is the least likely option, but it would then ping back to the Commons).

Compromise is the usual solution when there is a hard stop like this.

Levelling Up

Citizenship within Levelling up policy: The Lords Liaison Committee published a follow-up report examining the Government’s progress in  implementing the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement’s 2018 report. While the (new) report focuses on citizenship, including the educational delivery of citizenship, it is worth looking past this because the Lords highlighting the importance of citizenship within the Government’s current flagship levelling up policy. In brief, the Lords criticised:

  • Poor progress in improving Governmental coordination of citizenship and civic engagement policy since 2018. The Lords recommended a Minister with responsibility for Citizenship and Civic Engagement be appointed immediately within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) or the Cabinet Office. The new Minister to be given latitude and authority to facilitate integrated policymaking across the Government departments including a permanent seat on the Domestic and Economic (Levelling Up) Cabinet Committee.
  • The Lords are also concerned that as cabinet committee meeting are not available for public scrutiny that the Levelling Up Cabinet Committee may not be meeting or gaining traction. The related Inter-Ministerial Group leading on similar Citizenship content has not met since 2019: the Committee saw good intent in relation to the Inter-Ministerial Group for Safe and Integrated Communities and yet that group did not meet for three consecutive years. They’ve called for evidence of the scale of the work expected to be undertaken by the Domestic and Economic (Levelling Up) Cabinet Committee.
  • Also the Levelling Up Cabinet Committee is criticised for the lack of cross-departmental members particularly from the Cabinet Office and the DfE.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who was the Chair of the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement commented:

  • Things have gone backwards rather than forwards with citizenship education in the UK since our last report. This is despite the government’s clear commitment to levelling up across the country and an Elections Bill where great stress is being placed on the importance of engagement with our voting system…
  • We were promised a cross-department Minister, we didn’t get one. We were told that Ofsted should treat citizenship education is a core part of the curriculum, the evidence shows they don’t. The government had a chance to put things right in its Schools White Paper. It appears that they have missed the opportunity to do so. There is just one mention of citizenship in the Schools White Paper, and it is mentioned in the context of volunteering. We urge the Government to think again. Otherwise, they risk damaging democracy for generations to come.

Also on levelling up – Wonkhe report: Speaking to Chris Skidmore at a ResPublica event yesterday, Secretary of State for Levelling Up Michael Gove expressed his view that the number of students in higher education should be further extended, and drew links between recruitment and research and development in the creation of local high quality jobs. On the future development of the sector he saw a mixture of national missions and provider aspirations driving future developments. A twitter thread describes the key points of the discussion, and a recording is available.

Research

Dods have this on the research side of the Spring Statement:

In his Spring Statement to the House, the Chancellor also unveiled a new ‘tax plan’, part of which outlines what his focus will be for the Autumn Budget later this year. This included:

  • Considering whether the current tax system, including the operation of the Apprenticeship Levy, is doing enough to incentivise businesses to invest in right kind of training.
  • Reforming R&D tax credits to be more effective, expanding the reliefs to include data, cloud computing and pure maths, and considering whether to make the R&D spending credit more generous.
  • He said he would also cut the tax rates on business investment in Autumn, and would consult with employers and businesses in the run-up to the Budget.

On R&D tax reliefs, the Chancellor announced these would be reformed in the Autumn Budget 2021, following a consultation launched in the Spring Budget earlier that year.

  • “The government set out in the Tax Administration and Maintenance Command Paper that R&D tax reliefs would be reformed to include some cloud and data costs and refocus support on R&D carried out in the UK. The government has listened to stakeholders and can confirm that from April 2023, all cloud computing costs associated with R&D, including storage, will qualify for relief. The government remains committed to refocus support towards innovation in the UK, ensuring that the UK more effectively captures the benefits of R&D funded by the reliefs. The government recognises that there are some cases where it is necessary for the R&D to take place overseas. The government will, therefore, legislate so that expenditure on overseas R&D activities can still qualify where there are:
  • material factors such as geography, environment, population or other conditions that are not present in the UK and are required for the research – for example, deep ocean research
  • regulatory or other legal requirements that activities must take place outside of the UK – for example, clinical trials
  • To support the growing volume of R&D underpinned by mathematical advances, the definition of R&D for tax reliefs will be expanded by clarifying that pure mathematics is a qualifying cost. Where required, legislation will be published in draft before being included in a future Finance Bill to come into effect in April 2023.”

Delivering a UK science and technology strategy: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee heard evidence from NERC, the Medical Research Council and ESRC at the session on delivering a science and technology strategy. They covered funding and the relative responsibilities of the research councils and other delivery organisations. All the key points that you’d expect were touched upon such as 2.4% R&D funding, Horizon, interdisciplinary research promotion, research morale and opinion of UKRI, academic/industry interaction, and how the research councils will interact with Government departments and budgetary implications. Summary here. Your policy team was also happy to hear that incorporating more academic research into government policymaking was addressed and it was suggested that UKRI could do more to coordinate the work with research councils to this end. BU researchers who are interested in sharing their work with policy makers or interested in influencing policy making are encouraged to sign up to our regular influence digest which highlights opportunities, sector policy news and shares top tips to increase influencing success.

Russia research | Ukraine support package: The Government announced a £3m support package to support Ukrainian researchers at risk and the suspension of publicly funded research and innovation collaborations with Russian Universities and companies of strategic benefit to the Russian state. Research Minister George Freeman stated:

  • All payments for projects delivered through UK public research funds with a Russian dimension have been paused. I have commissioned an assessment, on top of the existing and strong due diligence processes of UK public research funders, to isolate and freeze activities which benefit the Russian regime.
  • We will not fund any new collaborative projects with Russia through our research and innovation organisations.
  • We have suspended existing government to government dialogue through our science and innovation network team in Russia including their collaborative science projects.
  • Where the UK is a member of multilateral organisations, we are working at pace with partners to respond appropriately – holding Russia to account for its actions while diminishing and isolating its influence.
  • We are standing up a £3 million package of support for Ukrainian researchers at risk. We stand with Ukraine, its democratically elected government and its brave people at this awful time.

Wonkhe tell us more on the Ukrainian package: The British Academy, UK National Academies, and the Council for At-Risk Academics have announced the Researchers at Risk Fellowship Programme – a new fellowship scheme for Ukrainian researchers who are fleeing the conflict or are already in the UK and unable to return. £3m is being contributed by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, and £0.5m from the Nuffield Foundation. The funding will provide visas, a salary, research costs, and living costs to successful applicants, and will be open to all postdoctoral or those with equivalent experience in all disciplines. Participatory institutions will need to identify six months’ worth of accommodation for recipients and their dependants. 

A parliamentary question asking if universities should take action against academics who promote pro-Putin propaganda (set within the backdrop of the Government’s steer on HE upholding free speech) is met with a beautifully fence sitting answer:  Alongside our allies, we are united in support for Ukraine. Universities, as independent and autonomous organisations, should decide whether to investigate such incidences.

Quick news:

  • Wonkhe – The Economic and Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, have announcedcollaborative UK-Japan projects which have been awarded funding to support international efforts to manage the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • George Freeman (Science, Research and Innovation Minister) provided a written ministerial statement on the Intellectual Property Office performance targets and transformation projects.

Parliamentary Questions

Blogs:

Financial sustainability of the HE sector in England and the Spring Statement

The Public Accounts Committee published the oral evidence from the latest Financial sustainability of the HE sector in England session. The DfE and OfS were called as witnesses. A shorter summary is here. The session covered grade inflation, international students, financial support/Augar, risk modelling, student satisfaction and outcomes, regulation, value for money, student protection plans, minimum entry requirements, and the new loan terms.

In the Spring Statement the Chancellor said that there would be a review of the apprenticeship levy.

Regarding levy reform, last month the CBI challenged the Government to pursue more ambitious growth with new policies – one of which was to replace the Apprenticeship Levy with a new Skills Challenge Fund, to “incentivise more flexible training to meet skill shortages and rewards firms who invest beyond their apprenticeship levy levels”. Leaders across the sector have raised Levy reform for some time, and today’s announcement could represent a step towards this.

PQs:

Education Committee: Universities

The Education Committee ran a session questioning witnesses on the HE sector. Topics included outcomes for disadvantaged students, anti-Semitism and free speech. The NUS was criticised by Committee Chair Robert Halfon as they did not provide a witness for the session. A summary of the committee session is available here provided by Dods and good coverage by Wonkhe is available in: Is OfS asleep or woke at the wheel?

Here are the key discussion points from the session (which at times felt like an echo chamber):

  • 92% of the British public believe antisemitism is a problem in universities.
  • The witnesses presented a number of points to evidence that universities are not upholding free speech.
  • The Committee criticised the OfS for not intervening enough to tackle antisemitism in universities including noting that the rapper Lowkey had been asked to attend the NUS conference, a rapper he said had made antisemitic statements. The committee then went on to criticise the University of Nottingham for revoking the honorary degree award to Tony Sewell following a report on UK institutional racism. Highlighting once again the difficulty of drawing the unclear free speech/antisemitism line with different actors believing it should be drawn in different places.
  • While headline figures suggest more disadvantaged pupils are going to university the number of part time students has dropped. Disadvantaged pupils remain less likely to access the higher tariff institutions, more likely to drop out and less likely to have good employment outcomes. Concern was express that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged is not narrowing.
  • On disadvantaged students witness McKellar (VP at UUK) said disadvantaged students started form a legacy of poorer education, and often had to do part-time work, because they lacked social capital.  There was a need for universities to create Access and Participation Plans (APPs) which supported disadvantaged students. He said in general these plans had worked better in other areas, such as closing the BAME attainment gap.
  • Witness Humphries (Chair, University Alliance) said the availability of more scholarships and support – including grants as low as £500 – would help. She also pointed to the role of peer mentoring and better careers guidance.
  • Dandridge (OfS) stated tackling disadvantage was a core priority as in addition to APPs the OfS looks at post-university progression, as poor progression after university could be a breach of a regulatory condition. Dandridge also stated disadvantaged participation was creeping up but measures not happening fast enough.
  • Careers and the role of research and knowledge exchange with employers were discussed.
  • Old chestnuts such as students not repaying their loans and is attending university really of value to society or enabling social mobility were trotted out. As were courses that were poor value for money (due to strike action, poor mental health support, high costs of tuition and lack of in-person teaching). Pensions were mentioned.
  • Blended learning was discussed with an overall positive tone.
  • BAME students drop out / lower degree classification and staff representation in senior roles were raised. Diversity at Board level was raised. McKellar (UUK) called for quotas for both academic staff numbers and senior representation of BAME staff. Dandridge (OfS) highlighted the UKRI programme on black progression into research careers.
  • On the Government’s implementation of the Augar review Clare Merchant (Chief Executive, UCAS) said recent UCAS analysis on GCSE English and Maths levels suggested that those on free school meals, some BAME communities, and those in certain disadvantaged areas, were less likely to obtain the requisite levels at GCSE. Other concerns about the impact of minimum entry requirements and possible student number caps and their disproportionately disadvantaging effect compounding existing disadvantage were raised by other witnesses.

Related to the above points made during the Education Committee are comments that Emma Hardy (previous Shadow Minister for FE & HE Education) made at an accountability meeting and again at the Treasury Committee Spring Statement session. Wonkhe report: At the Treasury Committee Emma Hardy highlighted the regressive nature of changes to student loans, and the impact of these changes on the national accounts. Rishi Sunak described the reforms as “sensible”, and emphasised that nobody will pay more back in real terms than what they borrowed. Hardy noted that this change would only affect higher earners, with lower earning graduates likely to pay more than under the current system. Sunak rejected Hardy’s characterisation of the changes as “a tax on low earners” despite the evidence presented from Office for Budgetary Responsibility and Department for Education figures. You can watch the committee session on parliamentlive.tv.

There’s also a very short Wonkhe explainer, snippet:

  • Hardy’s argument is that this has a place based effect – graduates earning around the average wage in Hull will pay a lot more than they currently do, graduates earning around the average wage in London will pay less than currently. The opposite – in other words – of “levelling up”.
  • There’s a tendency in expert commentary to see this as a niche issue affecting only a small part of the population – but with participation rates rising (and set to rise further if we take into account both demographic bulging and the LLE opening the loan system to more people) there is a sizable marginal tax rate impact for a large part of a generation.

Graduate Jobs

The Institute of Student Employers has released their 2022 Student Development report which compiles trends following a survey of the Institute’s employer membership base. It’s sat behind a paywall so here is Wonkhe’s synopsis:

  • Every year Institute of Student Employers (ISE) surveys its member employers to get their view of graduate skills – in this year’s Student Development Survey reportwe get the picture of the impact of the pandemic, as well as an update on larger trends in graduate employment, with data drawn from 107 employers. ISE analysis concludes “there is a renewed focus on the soft skills required for a post-Covid workplace.”
  • A third of respondents say their skills needs have changed as a result of Covid-19 – focusing on independence, resilience/growth mindset, adaptability, and confidence. 65 per cent of employers expect their new hires to be able to work remotely, up from 45 per cent in 2021. There is also greater expectation that graduates will arrive with technical skills such as coding and data analysis – or be able to acquire these skills. Expert insight from University of Leeds academic Helen Hughes suggests that early career hires may struggle to access development opportunities and secure visibility of their work if there is more hybrid and remote working.
  • There is a long term downward trend in retention of graduate hires three years post-graduation – down to 72 per cent from 79 per cent in 2011, suggesting that employers may need to work harder to retain early career staff in the post-Covid workplace. 61 per cent reported demand for mental health support has increased during the pandemic and 89 per cent report providing mental health support and counselling particularly for early career hires.

There’s also a blog written by Nicola Thomas of ISE: Never have the skills required to thrive in the workplace shifted so dramatically in a two year period as in the last two years.

Access & Participation

We wrote about UUK’s new Fair Admissions Code of Practice recently – as of 1st April there is a long list of universities who have signed up to it.

The OfS issued some data on their participation performance measures.

As you have seen in our recent commentary on the B3 licence condition consultation and TEF plans, continuation is a key metric for the OfS.  They note from this data that there is a difference of 3.7% for continuation between the most and least represented groups.  These splits will feature in the regulatory and the TEF data and so we can expect scrutiny of this – the Ofs target is “To eliminate the unexplained gap in non-continuation between most and least represented groups by 2024-25, and to eliminate the absolute gap by 2030-31”.

Wonkhe report on the black attainment (degree classification) gap:

  • The gap between the proportion of black undergraduate qualifiers and the proportion of white qualifiers in England achieving a first class degree has almost doubled in a decade, widening to almost 20 percentage points in 2020-21…..Its headline measure on “good honours” attainment, which combines first class and upper second class honours, saw further improvement as a continuation of a long term trend – but masks the significant differential when only considering firsts.

Similar issues apply to the degree outcomes for disabled students.

As well as updating the KPM analysis, OfS has updated its Access and Participation Dashboard with figures for 2020-21, updated sector-level information on student’s qualifications on entry to higher education and their subject of study, and published a report that summarises the key gaps in access, continuation and attainment at a sector level for different student characteristics.

Blogs

Parliamentary Questions

OfS

It is Ministerial letter time.  After the flurries of letters from Gavin Williamson, things had gone a bit quiet, but a letter appeared on 31st March 2022, offering guidance on strategic priorities.  It replaces  the previous guidance up to February 2021, but notably the guidance on teaching grant (strategic priorities grant) stays in place.  The priorities as set out will not surprise you.  Although the encouragement to the OfS to carry out in person inspections of 10-15 institutions is interesting and the instructions on how the new B3 enforcement regime will be carried out.

  • We are clear that HE has an important role to play in delivering the government’s moral, economic and social vision for levelling up: supporting strong regional and economic growth, developing partnerships with Further Education colleges and local employers to improve the skills base nationally, and working with schools to drive up attainment
  • We welcome the OfS’s ongoing engagement on the development of the LLE to date and would like this engagement to continue in 2022-23. Together we need to ensure that the LLE is supported by an appropriate regulatory regime, fully equipped to support radically different, flexible arrangements, measuring quality using metrics that are meaningful in the new system and which interact positively with our admissions regime
  • Cold spots…We would like the OfS to explore ways of encouraging the expansion of HE provision into new areas, while ensuring that high quality provision is maintained
  • We would like the OfS to work with officials to help to grow the uptake of high-quality technical education and degree apprenticeships including, where possible, through the use of access and participation targets, information and guidance, as well as supporting the raising of the profile of IoTs.
  • … it is our clear and firm expectation that the OfS will use the new outcome thresholds to identify providers with unacceptable levels of performance and challenge them. In the event that they cannot convincingly explain and justify their student outcomes data, then this should provide the basis for generating robust regulatory investigation and action. In cases where low and unacceptable quality is confirmed, action should include, where appropriate, financial penalties and ultimately the suspension or removal of the provider from the register (and with it, access to student finance)
  • our priorities for investigation are:
    • larger providers with university title which are below proposed numerical thresholds either for the whole provider, or multiple subject areas; and
    • a set of investigations focused on a major subject grouping with large numbers of students and high variation in outcomes, such as Computer Science or Law, with the intention to drive up the quality of those courses across the sector as a whole; and
    • providers where OfS has long-standing concerns about quality which are confirmed or strengthened by numerical data on student outcomes
  • Our expectation is that the OfS should … implement a visible and effective inspections regime against the other B (Quality) conditions of registration, that will involve on-site inspection of 10-15 providers next year, that will root out pockets of poor provision and will result in regulatory action where appropriate. Through this activity, we would expect the OfS to focus on the following priorities:
    • that online learning should be used to complement and enhance a student’s learning experience, not to detract from it;
    • the provision of sufficient contact hours, particularly where this has been flagged by intelligence from students; and
    • the importance of maintaining rigour in assessment, including appropriate technical proficiency in English necessary to secure a good outcome for all or some students.
  • …., we want to offer our support for the OfS proposals for a refreshed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and, in particular, welcome the proposed introduction of the new ‘Requires Improvement’ category
  • On APP: we would like the OfS to work at pace to publish guidance this spring, calling for providers to bring forward variations to their current A&P plans where these do not currently meet the new expectations. We would like to see these approved this autumn, to take effect from September 2023. Where providers with substandard plans fail to bring forward variations voluntarily, the OfS should not hesitate in calling on those providers to submit a new plan for approval.
  • We endorse the OfS’s proposal to move to a four-year A&P plan cycle, with a full rewrite of new A&P plans at the end of 2023, to come into effect by September 2024
  • We would also like to see providers incorporate data on completion rates and entry into professional employment, or further study, in all their advertising of subjects and courses from the start of the next admissions cycle
  • Anti-Semitism, freedom of Speech bill
  • We welcome the OfS’s publication of the statement of expectations on sexual harassment and misconduct last Spring …. in our view, the OfS should include this in a condition of registration as soon as possible.
  • we would like the OfS to work with officials and sector stakeholders to consider how we can ensure that the student interest is placed at the centre of fair and transparent admissions practices, and that the sector avoids practices where students may feel pressured into making decisions, including through the use of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers

And on funding – a separate letter also came out on grant funding.  Research Professional have a summary:

  • …the ministers set out how funding will be distributed next year after it pledged £750 million over three years last month to support “high-quality teaching and facilities” such as engineering and nursing.
  • The strategic priorities grant will rise by 5 per cent to £1,397m in 2022-23 from £1,330 million in 2021-22. Of the £56m rise, £32m is for strategically important subjects, particularly those connected to health.
  • Capital funding will be £450m between 2022-23 and 2024-25, compared with £150m in 2021-22. There will be up to £4m across the 2022-23 financial year to support Ukrainian nationals and Ukrainian-domiciled students affected by the war, and universities will have £5m to set aside for “emerging priorities”.
  • However, the student outreach programme Uni Connect will lose £10m next year after losing £20m this year, and student hardship funds will go without the £5m pandemic-related boost they received last year. 

More detail from RP here.  And you can find the letter itself here.  Some interesting points:

  • we want to further accelerate the growth of degree apprenticeships and encourage Higher Education Providers to expand their existing offers, or develop new ones, where they are best placed to do so. We will explore options with the OfS for supporting this important provision with up to £8m of funding for this goal
  • To encourage greater provision of level 4 and 5 qualifications we are providing £8m in the 2022-23 financial year to be allocated to providers with eligible learners on level 4 and 5 qualifications, through formula funding
  • we will explore options with the OfS for using an additional £10m of funding in the 2022-23 financial year to increase the amount of skills provision at levels 4 to 6 available in preparation for the launch of the LLE from 2025.
  • Mental Health: We have listened to students and the HE sector and would like the OfS to distribute funding, at a similar level to that disbursed last year, to give additional support for transitions from school/college to university, and through targeting funding to support partnership working with NHS services to provide pathways of care for students
  • No additional student hardship funding for 2022/23
  • Capital funding: We would like the OfS to continue allocating the majority of funds to providers through a competitive bidding process, to continue to target funds at specific projects and activities supporting high-quality, skills-based education but to do so using a multi-year approach.

In the meantime the OfS had published their 2022-2025 strategy focusing on quality and standards, and on equality of opportunity. The strategy aims for:

  • students to receive a high quality academic experience that improves their knowledge and skills, with increasing numbers receiving excellent provision
  • rigorous assessment and for qualifications to be credible and comparable
  • a focus on free speech
  • using incentivisation, regulation and providing a focus so that the subjects graduates study contribute usefully to the economy/industry and the levelling up agenda
  • student access, success and progression is not limited by their background, location or characteristics
  • a diverse range of courses and providers are available for students to choose from; provision is flexible and innovative and access to people at all life stages
  • harassment and sexual misconduct are responded to effectively if they occur
  • the environment supports student mental health and wellbeing to enable success in HE
  • HE providers are financially viable, sustainable and have effective governance
  • the promised academic experience is delivered to students and consumer protection is applied
  • minimising the OfS regulatory burden – action to meet the OfS goals and regulatory objectives

A summary is available here. Full content here.

Details of the latest appointments to the OfS board are here.

PQs:

Education Policies: White and Green

Education: Schools White Paper: The Schools White Paper – Opportunity for All: strong schools with great teachers for your child. Dods summary here (see first 6 pages).
Key aspects of the paper are:

  • Strong teaching (including aspects on teacher training, recruitment and the retention of teachers delivering key subjects in deprived areas through enhanced pay).
  • High standards for the curriculum (English and Maths are key foci, increasing average GCSE grade from 4.5 to 5 by 2030), behaviour and attendance (minimum 32.5 hours in school by 2023). Every school to have access to funded training for a senior mental health lead to deliver a whole school approach to health and wellbeing. New plans for sport, music and cultural education. New modern foreign language network hubs and professional development. More students to take the EBACC.
  • Targeted support for children who are behind in English and maths via a new parent pledge, guidance on the catch up (again with parent communications so parents stay informed) but without labelling and over testing; tutoring expected to be funded out of school core budgets including pupil premium.
  • All schools to be in a ‘strong’ multi-academy trust (MAT) by 2030 with new intervention powers to address MATs that are not strong. (There’s a new consultation on it here.) Plus transparency measures for parents to understand their top slicing of school budgets. Exceptionally schools may be able to move MATs. Local Authorities will receive ‘backstop powers’ to force trusts to admit children, and to object to schools’ published admissions numbers. Lots more on MATs in the summary.
  • A nice section in the summary page 5-6 which highlights the ‘re-announcements’ i.e. the aspects the Government have already released information or funding on. So if you are wondering if some aspects are new money or new interventions the ‘re-announcements’ detail what isn’t new but makes sense to sit under the White Paper umbrella.

SEN Green Paper: Nadhim Zahawi launched the green paper Special Education Needs and Disability Review through a debate in Parliament on Tuesday. Dods summarise the content here or there is a short Government press release: Ambitious reform for children and young people with SEND.

Other news

NUS: The NUS have elected new leadership. Wonkhe – NUS has announced that Shaima Dallali – currently President of City, University of London Students’ Union – was elected UK President for a two year term starting in July. Chloe Field – from Liverpool Guild of Students – was elected Vice President for Higher Education. Jewish News reports on concerns over Dallali’s “historic tweets” (since deleted), and her apology for them.

HE Data Reduction: Yes, you’ve heard it all before. Here’s the news from Wonkhe:  Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan has announced that she will chair a HE Data Reduction Taskforce. The new taskforce will meet every six weeks to “streamline and simplify reporting requirements” on higher education institutions. We understand that representatives from HESA, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the Student Loans Company, OfS, Ofsted, Ofqual, UCAS, and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education – along with experts from the wider sector – will have a particular focus on instances of duplication in data requirements. The Task Force will produce interim recommendations within three months, and a final report after six months.

This announcement comes following a written parliamentary question from Shadow HE minister last week asking Michelle Donelan what steps have been taken to ensure that higher education providers have a good understanding of (a) the reasons for which the Office for Students collects the data it does and (b) how it uses that data.

Turing mobility scheme: PIE news has a good quick read:

  • Improvements proposed for UK Turing scheme. Excerpt: while the new outward mobility program is being praised for the short mobility opportunities it presents and its weighting towards disadvantaged students, improvements could create a more efficient program, they have suggested.
  • UUKi is calling for the current 12-month project cycle to be shifted to a multi-year funding model.
  • “We think [that] would better support, not only the Global Britain agenda and the widening participation goals, but students to apply for actual funding so they can have funding confirmed earlier on,” said UUKi head of Global Mobility Policy Charley Robinson.

More here. And the second year of the Turing Scheme bids has opened.

Graduate shaped learning: Wonkhe – Miriam Firth explains why incorporating graduates’ working experiences into teaching is essential to helping students develop.

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He policy update for the w/e 10th March 2022

A bit of a catch up on a range of issues this week after an education focus in our last couple of updates.

Ukraine – UK HE’s approach

Wonkhe readers will already have seen their round up relating to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Here it is for those who haven’t caught it yet:

  • Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science wrote to the Bologna Follow-Up Group and key organisations across higher education in Europe asking that Russia be expelled from the European Higher Education Area and the Bologna Process, which seeks to achieve comparability in the quality and standards of higher education qualifications across Europe, and as such facilitates cross-border recognition and mobility.
  • Ukraine’s National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education also issued a statement… appealing to the global higher education community to suspend Russian participation in all European and global higher education networks and organisations. The statement also called on all educators and researchers to stop all collaborations with representatives of the Putin regime, and to stop all cooperation with Russia’s higher education and research institutions and representative associations.
  • The response from European and UK representative bodies has been moderated by a hesitation about whether it is appropriate to punish Russian university staff and students, especially where they oppose the invasion. The European University Association has undertaken to cease contact and collaboration with all Russian central agencies and those who support the invasion, and has advised its members to ensure that any new collaboration with Russian institutions is based on “shared European values.”
  • Universities UK International has taken a similar stance, advising UK universities to risk assess existing partnerships and collaborations and make decisions on a case-by-case basis rather than urging a “blanket academic boycott.”
  • Women and Equalities select committee chair Caroline Nokes proposed in The Times that UK universities coordinate a national programme that would enable students from Ukraine to take up places at UK universities.

PQs:

Research

On Tuesday the Lords Science and Technology Committee ran a session on Delivering a UK science and technology strategy. The Committee received evidence and discussed the UK science and technology strategy, focusing on Government support for research and development, early stage and late stage funding opportunities, the talent pool, and the relationship between universities and industry.

The Chair commented that the Research Excellence Framework could act as an inhibitor. However, Kennett, who was invited to provide oral evidence disagreed. She stated it was important to consider how could business work better with the REF. For example, it was important to consider where there was potential for applied science, which could perhaps be measured in a different way under the REF.

Lord Sarfraz (Con) asked if the UK was indeed the best place to be a founder and launch a start-up. Suranga Chandratillake, Partner at Balderton Capital, commented this was a deceptively simple question. In his opinion, the UK was a very good place to launch a start-up, but it was more difficult to develop it into a large enduring business. The UK punched above its weights from a scientific point of view in terms of technology first start-ups. The data also demonstrated this, as early stage research funding were completed by UK-based funds, whereas the later stage funding included more foreign capital.

Baroness Rock (Con) asked the witnesses a question about the perception that ideas were born in UK universities and commercialised elsewhere. Chandratillake said they worked a lot with universities. In his opinion, today the companies were still being started in the UK, with the innovation remaining in the UK. At the early stage, the UK had a very strong ecosystem of investors public and private. However, issues remained at the stage of scaling up, which meant that many had to go abroad to find later stage capital (with many companies floating abroad).

Toon explained that science was about learning new knowledge, whereas innovation was about solving a problem. The UK was probably number two for discovery science in the world, with some of the world’s leading academic institutions based in the UK. However, the UK struggled with applied research, which fit between the science and innovation.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con) asked the witnesses if the intellectual property (IP) laws were fit for purpose. Toon said that the IP regime was broadly fit for purpose. The challenge, however, was around ensuring that IP was handled appropriately in the innovation and research cycles, without restricting the freedom of businesses to operate

Lord Rees of Ludlow (CB) asked the witnesses a question about the talent pool and links to universities. Toon said that the UK had a massive talent pool in the leading institutions, which should be safeguarded. In his opinion, it was important to continue to create links between academic institutions and industry.

Quick news:

  • The Intellectual Property Office has signed a new declaration of intention with the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property. They intend a co-operative relationship focusing on sharing of best practice in areas of mutual interest and modernising and enhancing services for IP users. The sharing of expertise and know-how between the offices is key and the declaration provides for the potential secondment of staff between the two offices to enhance skills and knowledge. It will help both offices embrace the global challenges and opportunities presented by emerging and future technologies, for the benefit of the wider IP community.
  • Wonkhe – The Russell Group has written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of the Spring Statement to outline how research and development funding could be used moving forward. The letter also calls for “a fully-functional, extended Guarantee” to those who have been accepted for Horizon Europe projects as the current government funding guarantee is too limited. Oral Questions within the House of Lords also touched on Horizon Europe this week: Lord Callanan confirmed that money for Horizon Europe will go to research if association is not possible. Lord Fox highlighted that many institutions are already experiencing a drop in postgraduate research applications. Claiming that “the brain drain is already happening,” he asked about attracting and keeping talent now. BEIS have also updated the Horizon Europe information available online.
  • Also a parliamentary question on Horizon Europe: what steps his Department is taking to support researchers whose funding offers have been revoked due to delays in EU approval of UK participation in Horizon Europe. Answer:  the Government has already committed to support the first wave of successful UK applicants to Horizon Europe who are unable to sign grant agreements with the EU due to these delays… awardees [will] receive the full value of their funding…We encourage the UK sector to continue applying to Horizon Europe calls and to continue forming consortia.
  • Blog: The academic other in research management. There are many researchers in academia who aren’t on research contracts. Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg asks how we can be sure of hearing their voices. Excerpt: If academic and professional management roles are similar in responsibilities – and if increasingly many PhD-qualified staff are joining the ranks of research management due to an absence of employment opportunities within the academic disciplines – what is preventing us from exploring the creation of hybrid roles which make best-use of both a person’s academic skillset as well as their administrative acumen? I suggest it is perhaps our entrenched habit of othering either “those academics” or “university administrators”… Change is afoot, however. Recent UKRI consultations on equality, diversity and inclusion and research bureaucracy have explicitly extended an invitation to research management professionals to respond… I still think the sector is missing a trick. Due to our inclination to other we are under-utilising the skill sets that people have, stifling our ability to make the University sector a better place. As a hybrid or third-space Other, what “managerialism” has taught me is that people-development skills, succession planning and good administrative strategies can lead to research quality, enhanced (academic) staff wellbeing and employee satisfaction.

Parliamentary Questions:

The partnerships will develop plans to accelerate innovation-led growth in their city regions, building on local strengths and opportunities. They will receive dedicated support from the UK Government and will have access to a new £100m fund to support transformational R&D projects that grow R&D strengths, attract private investment, boost innovation diffusion, and maximise the combined economic impact of R&D institutions.

Catapults may be a part of Innovation Accelerators but are sector specific, designed to support innovation and de-risk the transition from research to commercial delivery for small, medium and large businesses. They achieve this through the provision of R&D infrastructure, specialist knowledge and expertise, partnership and collaboration building capabilities and business support.

Parliamentary News

In an effort to shore up Boris’ standing as PM, he has created a series of Conservative policy committees to give backbenchers more of a steer on policy decisions. Guido Fawkes published the chairs and vicechairs of the new MP-led Conservative policy committees. Here’s the list (Chair first, Vice Chair second):

  • Education: Miriam Cates. Miriam formerly taught science in Sheffield, she also continues to run a Finance and Technology business. She’s been an MP since 2019 and her election campaign was strongly supported, in person, by Boris. Her stated political interests are public transport, education, the NHS and communities.
  • DCMS: Philip Davies, Tom Hunt
  • Health & Social Care: Caroline Johnson, Chris Green
  • International Trade: Bob Blackman
  • Treasury: Anthony Browne, Aaron Bell
  • FCDO: Giles Watling, Mark Logan
  • Home Affairs: Tom Hunt
  • Justice: Gordon Henderson
  • BEIS: Andrea Leadsom, Jo Gideon
  • Transport: Chris Loder (MP for West Dorset), Simon Jupp
  • LUHC: Cherilyn MacKrory, Sally-Ann Hart
  • Defence: John Baron, Sarah Atherton
  • Union: Andrew Bowie, Robin Millar
  • DEFRA: Chris Grayling
  • Work & Pensions: Nigel Mills

Richard Harrington has been appointed as Minister for Refugees  with the position co-hosted by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Home Office. Harrington will become a member of the House of Lords, having stepped down as Watford’s MP in 2019. During his time as an MP Harrington served as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State with responsibility for Syrian refugees.

Former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson CBE MP has received a knighthood.

Legislation – The Welsh government has released a written statement criticising the UK government for wanting to imminently move to the report stage of the Professional Qualifications Bill in the House of Commons. This would mean that the devolved governments would not be able to consider the amendments or provide consent to the legislation. (Wonkhe.)

Thoughts are turning to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement – Research Professional have a write up.

The Women and Equalities Committee ran a one-off session on Levelling Up and equalities which focused on protected characteristics within the context of the levelling up agenda and considered assessing gender identity and the ethnicity pay gap. Contact us for a summary of this session.

Admissions

Swiftly following the announcement in February that the government is no longer proceeding with plans to introduce post-qualifications admissions, UUK have published their fair admissions code of practice.  This comes with a request that all universities sign up to it.

The code sets out an overarching guiding principle – that admissions processes must protect and prioritise the interests of applicants, above the interests of the universities and colleges, including that they should support student choice and not create unnecessary pressure.

Behaviours that demonstrate this principle:

  • Above all, universities and colleges put the interests of applicants above their own. This includes an individual’s experience as an enquirer, applicant, and their student experience and ability to succeed should they be admitted to the university or college.
  • Universities and colleges ensure that applicants have all the information they need to make an informed decision about the best course of study for them, and ensure entry requirements mean that applicants who are admitted can succeed on the course.
  • Universities and colleges avoid applying undue pressure through their offer making practices or use of incentives. This means:
  • Universities and colleges do not make ‘conditional’ unconditional offers or offers with significantly lower entry requirements based on the type of choice applicants make (for example, for those who apply through UCAS, whether an offer is made ‘firm’ or ‘insurance’).
  • Universities and colleges only make use of unconditional offers when the applicant:
    • already holds the required grades or qualifications for the course
    • applies to a course where admissions decisions have been substantively informed by an interview, audition, or additional application procedures (such as the submission of a portfolio or skills test)
    • requires special consideration due to mitigating circumstances, such as illness or disability
    • is applying to a university or college where non-selective admissions to undergraduate programmes is a core part of the founding purpose of the university or college
  • Universities and colleges ensure that the use of incentives does not place undue pressure on the decisions that applicants make, or the timescales in which they should make them, meaning:
    • All incentives should be published clearly, consistently and accessibly, and communicated to applicants in a timely manner. This includes in relation to aspects of an offer communicated to applicants within or outside of UCAS that are tied to accommodation and other material and financial incentives.
    • Universities and colleges should review their use of incentives against the revised principles set out in this code of practice.
  • Universities and colleges do not use offer holder events or aspects of the admissions process that are used for assessment (such as interviews or auditions) to put undue pressure on applicant decision making.
  • Universities and colleges value and support the achievement of applicants on their existing studies and develop offer making practices that uphold this value.

There are then additional principles that applicants can expect.

Admissions processes that are transparent

Universities and colleges abiding by this code of practice should provide the information applicants need to make an informed choice (such as information about the admissions process, the entry requirements, and selection criteria) consistently, clearly and efficiently through appropriate mechanisms.

  • Universities and colleges use clear and simple language in admissions policy documents that is accessible to applicants and their advisers. Where possible, they use a common shared language (see the glossary for common examples) and the same language that is used in other guidance resources (such as the UCAS website).
  • Universities and colleges can clearly explain admissions processes (including how qualifications, prior experience, and additional assessment such as personal statements, interviews and auditions are taken into consideration) and why types of offers are appropriate (including the use of contextual offers).
  • As recommended in the Fair admissions review, universities and colleges aim to allow applicants to make use of historic, actual entry requirements to understand where past applicants may have been admitted holding lower grades. They can explain why students might have been admitted with lower entry requirements than advertised.
  • Universities and colleges make the application deadlines clear and ensure they are aligned with relevant sector dates. They do not use deadlines to put undue pressure on applicants. They are also transparent about other relevant deadlines, including for provision of supporting documentation, final certificates, and applying for accommodation.
  • Where possible, universities and colleges give useful feedback on request to unsuccessful applicants.

Admissions processes that enable universities and colleges to select students able to complete a course, as judged by their achievements and potential

  • Universities and colleges give applicants the information they need to make an informed decision about the best course for them including course content, the award given, costs, and the university’s terms and conditions (in line with consumer rights legislation). Marketing and recruitment materials give potential applicants a clear idea of what studying at that university or college will be like.
  • Admissions criteria do not include factors irrelevant to the assessment of merit.
  • Universities and colleges only make use of unconditional offers when the applicant:
  • already holds the required grades or qualifications for the course (this can include Scottish Qualification Authority Highers, where many applicants apply with grades suitable for entry)
  • applies to a course where admissions decisions have been substantively informed by an interview, audition, or additional application procedures (such as the submission of a portfolio or skills test)
  • requires special consideration due to mitigating circumstances, such as illness or disability
  • is applying to a university or college where non-selective admissions to undergraduate programmes is a core part of the founding purpose of the university or college

Admissions processes that use reliable, valid and explainable assessment methods

  • Where decisions are made differently to advertised criteria (such as where a university or college receives a higher than anticipated volume of applications), universities and colleges can explain to the applicant how and why such decisions were made.
  • Universities and colleges indicate ahead of time what other considerations they may take into account in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
  • Universities and colleges make use of the latest research and good practice relating to admissions and adjust their approach accordingly.
  • Universities and colleges monitor and evaluate the link between admissions and student outcomes, such as examining the link between types of offers and retention and attainment.
  • Interviews, auditions, or additional application procedures (such as a submission of a portfolio or skills test) are appropriate and necessary.

Admissions processes that minimise barriers for applicants and address inequalities

  • Universities and colleges ensure admissions processes do not disadvantage applicants and actively seek to address any access gaps related to protected characteristics. Admissions form part of broader institutional equality, diversity and inclusion strategies.
  • Universities and colleges use consistent communication methods, ideally using a single channel such as the UCAS Hub, and take an applicant’s access to resources into account.
  • Where contextual offers are used, they are used in situations where they minimise barriers to entry for applicants and address inequalities, while maintaining standards. Universities and colleges can clearly explain their use of contextual offers, including why contextual offers are made, what evidence is used, how context is taken into consideration, and the benefits of disclosing contextual information. – Universities and colleges aim to use a shared language to talk about contextual offers and make information regarding them clear and readily accessible. They should consider the publication of a shared sector-level statement on their websites as recommended in UUK’s Fair admissions review.
  • Data used to inform contextual admissions is used consistently and makes use of available data sources, as recommended in UUK’s Fair admissions review (such as free school meals status, index of multiple deprivation data, and care experienced status).
  • Universities and colleges monitor their progress against equalities targets and take steps to address any gaps.

Admissions processes that are professional and underpinned by appropriate institutional structure and processes

  • Universities and colleges uphold the highest standards of conduct to support the stability of the higher education sector.
  • Admissions processes are part of a whole institutional approach to providing a high-quality experience for students.
  • Admissions teams are sufficiently resourced and structured as to allow for an efficient and professional service.
  • Admissions processes form part of broader institutional strategies and commitments to ensure equality of opportunity through widening participation or access.
  • Universities and colleges consider how admissions processes and practices can be reviewed as part of wider organisational governance, including evaluating compliance against the principles and behaviours outlined in this code of practice.

Wonkhe have a blog: Conditional unconditionals.

Access and Participation

Universities working with Schools: A Wonkhe blog suggests that generalised support for boosting school attainment may be less effective than specialised partnerships focused on areas of particular need. Excerpt (referring to specialist maths schools):

  • …the central lesson is that these relationships can be effective where partners are supported to do the work they are best at. Equally, there is still more to be done in stimulating academic collaborations between teachers and university academics.
  • It is clear from the time we’ve spent working together that school and university partnerships can be impactful when they are carefully constructed. The university is not an expert in teaching A levels but we nevertheless play a central role in supporting the governance of the school, brokering relationships with partners, providing facilities, supporting widening participation work, and giving advice to the leadership team.
  • Equally, the work of the maths school provides the university with insight it could not otherwise attain. It brings the university closer to students who may apply here or elsewhere, it provides opportunity for sharing advice and practice on changing qualifications, and it exposes University of Liverpool staff to colleagues with different and complementary expertise.

Careers Advice: Wonkhe – The Sutton Trust has published a report highlighting inequality in access to information and guidance on careers and education for students from different socio-economic backgrounds. It also found a disparity between the amount of guidance given to students on academic routes and those on technical routes, with information on apprenticeships reaching just ten per cent of pupils. The report noted a significant difference between the perceptions of headteachers and classroom teachers on career provision with the latter expressing less optimism on the efficacy of career links within the classroom curriculum. FE Week and Tes have covered the report.

Social Mobility: The Social Mobility Foundation responded to the reports that the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) has dropped its 65% target for tuition to go to disadvantaged pupils. Sarah Atkinson, CEO of the Social Mobility Foundation, said:

  • It is deeply worrying that the government has dropped its pupil premium target in the flagship initiative to support education recovery.
  • Re-tendering the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) was an opportunity to overhaul the programme and close the widening attainment gap. This move does the exact opposite. Attempting to cover the NTP’s shortcomings by removing targets for the pupils who would benefit most from tuition is nothing short of shameful.
  • We are increasingly concerned that the government has lost interest in whether its interventions are succeeding.

There was also a social mobility parliamentary question this week: In the Government’s response to the Augar report what assessment they have made of the impact on their (1) social mobility policy, and (2) Levelling Up policy, of (a) the decision not to restore maintenance grants for university students, and (b) the extension of the tuition fee loan repayment period.

APPG University Access and Participation Meeting

The All Party Parliamentary University Group published the notes from its 22 February Access and Participation meeting. Queen Mary University was recognised for the levels of disadvantaged students recruited and its forthcoming Institute of Technology. Professor Colin Bailey, Queen Mary’s President and Principal, stated that it was not solely the responsibility of universities to raise school attainment and that they should play a role but not be held accountable. Queen Mary sponsors two multi-academy trusts and is therefore engaged with 113 schools in London and 60 schools outside of London in known cold spots to support white ‘working-class’ boys under-represented in HE access.

On contextual offers Professor Bailey stated that until the inequalities embedded in schools are addressed, they will continue to be an important part of the admissions process. Explaining how dropping the grade requirements by only 1 or 2 points supported students who come from schools performing below average, had spent time in the care system, were refugees, or had participated in an access scheme.

Professor Bailey was opposed to postcode and proxy measurements stating that free school meals data and other individual indicators are needed. He also said that the ‘bums on seats’ rhetoric often seen in the media was totally incorrect and there is nothing more demoralising for vice chancellors than seeing students fail to succeed.

James Turner, speaking on behalf of the Sutton Trust, agreed that overall universities have been good for social mobility, young people from poorer homes that go to university have much better outcomes than those who do not on average. He said that it was the newer universities that had done a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to social mobility. He felt that it was a critical time for fair access, with questions over whether outcomes from higher education represent good value for money. James reiterated familiar messaging that more needs to be done to widen fair access to the most selective universities as they were still the surest route into influential and highly selective careers. James highlighted inequalities in the opportunity to go to university focusing on attainment as the main reason for this. James was in favour of more radical contextual admissions to rectify this and felt it was something that could be done now and was in the gift of universities but that the complex and long term problem of the attainment gap in schools also had to be addressed. In conclusion he stated while it is right that universities are asked to engage with this agenda, there are limits on what is possible and how long it might take to see change.

James was also in favour of increasing the number of degree apprenticeships and that they should foster a similar culture of widening participation in their recruitment and outreach, to make sure they reach those who stand to benefit most. Finally he called on the APPG to make sure changes to access and participation activities were evidence based to avoid wasting energy and money, and letting down young people.

Susie Whigham, Interim CEO of the Brilliant Club, spoke in favour of collaboration between universities and schools. The minutes state [Susie] felt that universities had an amazing resource of undergraduates and PhD researchers that should be mass mobilised into attainment raising. In her experience, Susie said schools were looking forward to working more with universities but wanted genuine co-production which needed buy-in from senior leaders in both schools and universities.

Finally John Blake, Director of Access and Participation at the OfS, highlighted the conclusions of the review he conducted into access and participation plans (APPs), including:

  • The need to link access and participation together, to ensure disadvantaged young people got value from their degrees once they had got into university
  • The need to make APPs more accessible to students, parents and carers, clearly stating universities’ commitments and evaluation
  • Greater inclusion of degree apprenticeships and non-traditional modes of study in APPs
  • The disproportionate burden of the APP process on smaller providers.

He noted that since the pandemic the attainment gap is widening again.

He stated the OfS review of the quality regime would reframe the way providers think about quality and standards.

John set out his aspirations for access and participation:

  • a significant expansion in the evaluation of what works across the whole sector, seeing providers generate more high quality and more public evidence, with the help of TASO and the Office for Students’ own work on this.
  • greater alignment between the access and quality processes.
  • the significant role of school and university partnerships in raising attainment, and evolution (rather than revolution) of the APP system.

John stated this year’s monitoring round would be risk based and sector guidelines on variations to the access and participation plans to capture and expand the role of school engagement work and evaluative work will be provided.

John Blake also blogged for the OfS this week highlighting his passion for an evidence-led approach to Access and Participation.  The full blog is here.

  • That is what I mean by an ecosystem of evidence-based practice. Those at the frontline do not have to themselves be researchers but need to understand what evidence suggests is best practice and be willing to feed back on their own work. That feedback should go to researchers who are keen to identify and improve best practice, and write with an audience of practitioners in mind. Institutional leaders need to ensure that those involved in widening participation have the clout within the organisation to change direction where the research suggests it is needed, and build the partnerships inside the provider and out which allow the work to be done. Everyone must be open to the possibility that favoured interventions may prove not to be effective, and that activity perhaps previously seen as undesirable, may be more useful.

The OfS also published the fourth evaluation of the Uni Connect partnership programme. On its publication John states: It is clear from the review that partnerships are delivering a huge amount of useful and effective outreach and evaluating their activities. In some cases, activity has not resulted in the improvements we hoped – but that itself is useful in helping us identify future interventions.

And calls on universities to:

  • think more widely about how we build the ecosystem of evidence-based practice we need…we want to see more higher education providers developing and sharing high-quality evidence, and more practitioners plugged directly into useful and practical research to enhance their effectiveness. This will help ensure all those considering higher education get the best possible support, advice and intervention to achieve their aspirations.

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA): The Government has tendered to reform the DSA. On the notification NUS call for disabled students to have a strong voice within the changes.

NUS commented:

  • SLC have announced changes to how DSA needs assessments, assistive technology supply, and assistive technology training will be conducted for the next academic year…Over the pandemic it has become increasingly evident how important it is for changes to have Disabled people at their heart.
  • It is essential that during this tender, SLC and any other decision makers recognise the critical importance of including Disabled students and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) in providing effective, meaningful, and sustainable support within HE. NUS UK and the UK’s Disabled community champion the ethos of “nothing about us, without us”. It is imperative these reforms echo our community’s needs for a DSA that supports our independence, upholds our freedom of choice, and crucially understands and addresses our intersectional experiences.
  • Quality provision is essential for Disabled student continuation and success. We are concerned by the news that a quality assurance framework will only be created after contracts have been awarded. Disabled people cannot have faith in a reform process that is conducted in the absence of an up-to-date quality assurance framework, especially given the last DSA quality assurance audits took place before December 2019. Disabled students have learnt from experience not to place our trust in a process that considers quality last.
  • From PIP to Universal Credit, Disabled people have already experienced many so-called “positive” reforms that prioritise cost reduction over quality. SLC must proactively take steps to rebuild trust with Disabled people and to build Disabled students’ confidence in a system that is supposed to be designed for our benefit. Any changes to DSA must be towards a bespoke service that enshrines students’ choices rather than quashing them.

Wonkhe have commentary on the DSA reforms:

  • Just 29 percent of students in England and Wales with a known disability received Disabled Students Allowance in 2019/20 – and those who have complained of bureaucracy, long delays, inconsistent quality of support and a lack of communication in getting the support, according to a new report from ex-paralympic swimmer Lord Chris Holmes.
  • Describing DSA as “a gem of a policy”, Holmes argues but too many potential recipients are unaware of its existence – and says a 30-page application and lengthy assessment process are daunting, and that the “administrative burden can act as a barrier to study rather than the support intended by the scheme”.
  • The SLC said there were a number of reasons why students may not apply for or be eligible for DSA and said reforms were already under way to improve and speed up the DSA application process. “It will remove key pain points in the customer journey, provide the student with a single point of contact and support throughout the process, and contractual control to ensure consistent quality of service.”

And a Wonkhe blog on the topic: A new report shows disabled students are being failed by the system that is supposed to fund their access. Jim Dickinson finds things getting worse rather than better.

HE financial sustainability and the OfS role as regulator

The National Audit Office (NAO) published Regulating the financial sustainability of higher education providers in England. It reviews the financial situation of the English HE sector along with the performance of OfS and the DfE. The NAO’s aim is to hold government to account and help improve public services through their audits. The report identifies a number of areas in which the OfS should improve.

  • The proportion of providers with an in-year deficit, even after adjusting for the impact of pension deficits, increased from 5% in 2015/16 to 32% in 2019/20.
  • Financial stress is not confined to one part of the sector. Higher education providers are a very diverse group, with different business models and financial performance reflecting wide variations in their numbers and type of students, size and sources of income and extent of research activity.
  • The number of providers of all types that appear to be facing short-term risks to their financial sustainability and viability is small but not insignificant.
  • Short-term financial risks are dominated by COVID-19, but medium- and long-term risks are systemic.

Recommendations:

DfE should:

  • review, improve and agree with the OfS the key performance measures and other indicators it uses to hold the OfS to account, to include measures of the impact of the regulatory regime, rather than measures outside the OfS’s control;
  • make clear what tolerance the government has for provider failure, and the circumstances under which it would or would not intervene; and
  • together with the OfS, assess how redistribution of student numbers between providers, as a result of higher A-level grades awarded in 2020 and 2021, has affected students’ experiences and providers’ finances, and draw on this to understand the likely consequences following release of A-level grades awarded in 2022

OfS should:

  • communicate more effectively with the sector to build trust in its approach as a regulator; improve providers’ understanding of its attitude to risk and how it defines risk-based, proportionate, regulation; and be more ready to share sector insights to improve efficiency and competitiveness in the sector;
  • set out how it will secure provider and stakeholder views of its work;
  • review, improve where necessary and then reauthorise student protection plans for all providers to ensure they remain adequate and can respond to new risks; and
  • prioritise finalising its key performance indicator on how it assesses the value for money students see in their education and set out how its work will reverse students’ declining satisfaction rates.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: While no higher education providers have failed under the regulation of the Office for Students, the number in deficit has risen significantly. Sector-wide issues that were causing financial stress before the impact of COVID-19 have not gone away and will continue to add pressure.

The sector’s financial sustainability can have a profound impact on the value for money of education for twomillion students every year. The Office for Students should improve how it communicates with individual providers to build trust in its approach. As it matures as a regulator, it should also be making better use of its insights to reduce risks that could lead to financial failure.

Nicola Dandridge, outgoing chief executive of the OfS, stated: Universities and other higher education providers are responsible for running their businesses, and the OfS has always been clear that it is not our role to bail out those that would otherwise fail. Where a provider is facing financial challenges, we will intervene to ensure that it takes action to enable students to continue their studies. The data and other intelligence we routinely collect ensures we stay alert to risks and challenges for individual providers and the sector as a whole.

 We are carefully reflecting on the NAO’s recommendations on where we could do more in our engagement with universities, colleges and other providers. So, for example, we are currently taking forward work to capture providers’ perspectives on a range of issues, including financial sustainability, and we will take the NAO’s views into account in that context.

Wonkhe have a blog on the report: Who paid the price for provider survival during the pandemic?

The Research Professional HE Playbook also offers a short insightful commentary  analysing the implications of the report (scroll down to mid-way).

PQs:

  • Student Loans: what plans the Government has to ensure that those who take maternity leave are not penalised with higher-than-average increases in lifetime student loan repayments.
  • A balanced response from the Apprenticeships Minister on the comparative assessment of the average salary of a person who has completed (a) an apprenticeship and (b) a university degree.

Other news

Careers: It’s National Careers Week. FE and HE Minister Donelan wrote to parents and student about education, training and work choices post-GCSE. While the text mentions HE and A levels alongside apprenticeships, Higher Technical Qualifications and T levels, the case studies are all on the technical or traineeships.

HEI gender imbalance: U-Multirank released their analysis of gender balance within HEIs. They find:

  • today there are strong gender imbalances among males and females in academic careers. While women in total count for half or more of bachelor’s (BA) and master’s (MA) students, their share is smaller among PhD students (48%), academic staff (44%) and professors (28%)… at institutions with a majority of graduates in STEM fields, women are underrepresented both at the student level and among academic staff women are still a minority in most of the science and engineering subjects, both among students and academic staff, subjects like nursing, social work, education and psychology are still strongly dominated by women…
  • Among the subjects with the most balanced gender ratio are business studies, economics, political science, agriculture, history and – as the only science subject, chemistry.
  • Findings from the U-Multirank data show that women are particularly underrepresented in research intense universities. Only 23% of professors are women in institutions with high or very high percentages of expenditures on research – compared to 38% in institutions with a low share of research expenditures…

Loan repayments: With the cost of living rising the recent policy changes unfreezing the student loan repayment threshold may be more onerous than the Government initially intended. Two Wonkhe blogs tackle the subject:

The “cost of living” crisis means access to higher education could be about wealth again, says Zahir Irani.

A stealthy change in student loan terms will have huge impacts, finds Jim Dickinson.

FE crisis: The Association of Colleges have reported that the FE sector is experiencing its worst staffing crisis in 20 years and calls for a concerted national push to tackle the recruitment and retention problem before it worsens. The report casts doubt on the Government’s intent to use FE as a major vehicle in levelling up Britain. Learning support roles within FE are a major area of persistent vacancies. Also that the high level of vacancies is increasing the pressure on existing staff and having a significant impact on the amount FE is spending on agency fees to fill the gaps. The Association of Colleges call for comparable pay with the teaching profession highlighting that teachers are paid £9,000 more than college lecturers despite the lecturers specialist knowledge  and industry experience. Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, commented: The report puts the government on notice that skills, T Levels, and the ‘levelling up’ agenda will fail unless it quickly improves its attitude to college funding and urgently changes course. This is essential reading for Boris Johnson, Nadhim Zahawi and Michael Gove.”

NUS call for change: Students Unions have joined 796 signatories to demand that the education sector break their links with companies who uphold colonialism and imperialism. The open letter, which was also signed by Members of Parliament, student officers, and supporters from the wider public, called for universities and colleges to stop investing in and partnering with fossil fuel and arms companies. Instead, signatories demand that money should be reallocated to fund anti-racist initiatives. As well as investments, links between education institutions and colonial companies often include universities platforming companies during career fairs and tailoring courses and research to secure funding.

Health and Social care: Colleagues following the Commons Health and Social Care Committee can read the oral evidence presented for the Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care inquiry. The latest on the Health and Care Bill is here.

Place-based education and skills: The Lifelong Education Commission published a report exploring how a place-based approach to education and skills can transform lifelong learning. It draws on Doncaster’s local Talent and Innovation Ecosystem. Among the recommendations it makes for Government is:

  • Introduce a statutory right to retrain regardless of prior attainment, to support even more working adults in deprived areas to progress along the skills escalator.
  • Remove all restrictions on engaging in training for individuals receiving welfare benefits.
  • Consider both loan and maintenance support for the Lifelong Loan entitlement.
  • Enable the Lifelong Loan Entitlement to provide a single system that can bridge between modules, including micro credentials, at various levels, including post-graduate.
  • Enable a ‘big data’ approach to skills planning by allowing anonymised learner data to be freely accessed and analysed at the local level.
  • Introduce high-quality Career Development Hubs in priority areas for levelling up.
  • Introduce levy flexibilities and tax incentives in high-skilled ‘cold spots’ to address skill gaps in exportable growth sectors.

Extend the scope of the Education Investment Areas to look at wider outcomes for lifelong learning (levels 4-6) and the ‘cradle to career’ journey.

Graduate Outcomes: Wonkhe – 2022 will see HESA release its graduate outcomes data for the 2019-20 cohort as a new single package “Graduate Outcomes 2019/20: data and statistics”, according to a blog published on the site by Director of Data and Innovation Jonathan Waller. Providing an update on upcoming graduate outcomes survey data release, Waller also notes the data will no longer be referred to as “experimental”, and will continue to publish its assessment of the impact of the pandemic on graduate outcomes.

Government Social Media Spend: If you’ve ever wondered how much the DfE spend on social media advertising each year the answer is just under £2.5million! Across Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter and, more recently, YouTube. HE and FE Minister Michelle Donelan stated: Every year, the department runs a range of campaigns to support essential work, including recruiting and retaining teachers and social workers, increasing awareness of the full range of opportunities available for young people when they leave school and for adults looking to retrain or boost their skills. The department uses paid media channels to target audiences who will take up these opportunities or training.

Student satisfaction: Wonkhe blog – Curriculum flexibility is not associated with higher student satisfaction, find Talisha Schilder, Johan Adriaensen and Patrick Bijsmans.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update for the w/e 17th February 2022

As it is Parliamentary recess, we thought we would do a general policy round up this week

Fees, funding and finance

We’ve updated our  separate paper on fees, funding and finance for BU readers while we wait for the final response to the Augar review.

Research and knowledge exchange

Post-Brexit there is still a great deal of uncertainty about whether we will be able to join Horizon Europe and what happens if we don’t.  Science Minister George Freeman has started talking about Plan B domestic funding (£6 billion) to replace it, although that doesn’t deal with issue about collaboration on EU projects.

Linked to productivity and regional economic success, there is a big focus on the “right sort” of research. We will continue to see a focus on industry led rather than university led projects and a downturn in funding for humanities and social sciences research, with priority given to projects that lead directly to improvements in productivity and economic gain, as well as medical or health benefits – rather than “pure” or theoretical research.  The other focus is on “place” – linking research and funding to local and regional needs.

  • The government are pressing ahead with the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA). The Bill is awaiting Royal Assent in February 2022.  The first CEO has been appointed and he has come from DARPA, the US agency on which ARIA was partially modelled.
  • The KEF outcomes and REF outcomes (due in April 2022) will inform this agenda. This explains how to use the KEF dashboards. You can view the dashboards for individual institutions here and compare two providers here. UKRI have consulted on changes to the KEF for the future.  In May 2021 UKRI launched a review of the REF to plan for the future.
  • The House of Commons Library have a useful review of Research and Development funding policy from November 2021.
  • The R&D roadmap announced in July 2020 repeats the commitment to R&D investment of 2.4% by 2027 and public investment will be £22bn by 20204/25.
  • There was a consultation and the outcomes were published on 21st January 2020: “In the coming months, we have committed to publishing a new places strategy for R&Dand we are working across government and with the devolved administrations to develop this”.
  • However, since then there has been a lot of concern about what would be included in this target – whether some of it would be paid to the EU for associate membership of Horizon Europe, and there have been cuts in the development budget with an impact on research (UKRI stated most of its aid-funded research projects are unlikely to be funded beyond 31 July as a result of the Government slashing its overseas aid development budget (from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (BNI) The full UKRI ODA letter is here).
  • Research Professional report that quality related (QR) funding will be cut by £60 million. This is in addition to the cuts to the research relating to the aid budget and the uncertainties surrounding how Horizon association will be funded. See this RP article for far more detail on the various cuts, changes and uncertainties to research related funding streams
  • The Government launched an independent review into UK research bureaucracy led by Professor Adam Tickell, Vice Chancellor, University of Sussex. The last time bureaucracy came up was when they attacked EU research bidding processes as part of the Brexit discussions, announced they were dropping impact statements in UK bidding and then quietly admitted they were just moving them to another bit of the form. It is unclear what new bee they have in their bonnet but anyone applying for the government restructuring funding announced in the summer of 2020 may need to demonstrate the leanness of their professional services functions and internal processes, or at least show that they are willing to tackle them once restructured.  The interim report was published in January 2022 and identified some themes for future work – more is due this Spring.

Education:

We don’t yet have a letter to the OfS from the Secretary of State, Nadhim Zahawi setting out his priorities – in contrast to his predecessor, who wrote many such letters.  We do have a letter about access and participation from November 2021, announcing the new Director of Fair Access and Participation and directing a change in approach.  He has also engaged in the ongoing discussions about antisemitism on campus.

The Universities Minister has taken a much higher profile role now that she is a member of cabinet, writing directly to universities, and even phoning them, apparently.  According to a speech at a UCAS event in February 2022, her priorities include quality, fair access and transparency.  She is actively campaigning on a range of issues including mental health support, the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of bullying and harassment, advertising in HE and the use of personal statements in admissions. And unconditional offers. Just a side note on admissions – speaking to UCAS and not mentioning the DfE consultation on post qualifications admissions really does suggest that it has been kicked into the very long grass.  This was Gavin Williamson’s thing…and once again the complexity of the change required seems to have stopped it progressing.

Access and Participation

In his November 2021 letter, Nadhim Zahawi said:

  • The current system for Access and Participation in HE has had some successes. The proportion of children receiving FSM progressing to higher education by age 19 has increased from 19.8% in 2010/11 to 26.6% in 2019/20; similarly, the proportion of state school entrants to Oxbridge has increased from 59% to 66% between 2015/16 to 2019/20. We want this progress to continue. But the gap between the most and least advantaged students remains stubbornly open. White British young males who received free school meals are amongst the least likely to enter higher education, with just 12.6% progressing to higher education by age 19 by 2019/20. We also see persistent gaps in the attainment of students from different ethnic groups within higher education, with the number of Black students achieving 1st or a 2:1 being 18.3 percentage points lower than for White students. 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.
  • We would like to see the whole higher education sector stepping up and taking a greater role in continuing to raise aspirations and standards in education – and we would like to refocus the A&P regime to better support this.

And

  • we welcome a fresh focus from the OfS on the outcomes achieved by disadvantaged and underrepresented groups in higher education. Providers should not be incentivised, nor rewarded, for recruiting disadvantaged students onto courses where too many students drop out or that do not offer good graduate outcomes.
  • Within this A&P refresh, where courses exist on which significant numbers of students who start drop out or do not progress to graduate jobs or further study, the OfS should expect such providers to set clear, measurable targets to improve the outcomes of such courses, hold them to account for meeting those targets, in a similar manner to how the OfS expects to see access targets in high tariff providers.

The OfS has shared more than a hint of what is to come under the new Director for Fair Access and Participation (read more here).

Quality and standards

The big thing in 2022.  We did a detailed review of all of the current proposals in our policy update on 21st January 2022.  It’s all there – absolute numbers for baseline standards on student outcomes metrics (continuation, completion and progression to highly skilled employment or further study), to be published split by subject and a wide range of other criteria including student characteristics, to support the access and participation agenda noted above.  But also a whole load of other licence conditions about keeping courses up to date and coherent, to ensure that they develop relevant skills, that students are supported to achieve high quality outcomes, that students are engaged with course development and that courses are properly resourced.

Building on these “baselines”, we also have a new TEF!  With a new category of “requires improvement”, still using the NSS, and with a new “aspect” of educational gain.  While not a subject level TEF, again, all the data will be published using similar splits to the regulatory data referred to above (including subject and student characteristics) and the way that the ratings are awarded means that problems in subject areas or for particular groups of students could pull down institutional ratings.  The 20 page submission will be expected in mid-November 2022.

And the OfS are still reviewing the NSS.

Skills agenda

This is still a thing, although the white paper that is supposed to define how it will be implemented is still not available so no-one really knows what it all means.  We hear a lot about the lifelong loan entitlement and modular learning.  The Skills Bill itself is at report stage in the House of Commons in February 2022, having been though all stages in the Lords.

We were hoping for more information in the Levelling-Up white paper.  We covered this extensively on 7th February 2022.  As we said, more than a third of the 300 pages is data analysis, and even in the policy sections there’s a lot of waffle and reviewing of previous initiatives to justify the new approach – 12 big “missions for 2030”.  A lot of the policy stuff is in the “things we are already doing or have announced before” box.  There is very little in here for Dorset either.  And there are thin pickings in terms of HE policy.

One thing that is in the bill – a clause aimed at outlawing essay mills.

Financial sustainability

After a big focus on this through the pandemic, worries seem to have subsided.  The last report is from the OfS in June 2021:

  • The sector is forecasting a decline in financial performance and strength in 2020-21, relative to 2019-20, followed by an expected slow recovery from 2021-22.
  • Higher education providers have generally responded to the challenging circumstances brought about by the pandemic through sensible and prudent financial management, including good control of costs and the effective management of cashflow to protect sustainability. There is evidence of prudent management of liquidity, building contingency to accommodate the financial pressure expected from coronavirus. This has been achieved through the generally effective management of cash outflow, including restraint on capital expenditure, where this has been possible.
  • The sector in aggregate experienced stronger student recruitment in 2020-21 than many predicted at the height of the pandemic. 2020-21 saw overall strong demand from UK students, and overseas students held up well, albeit at lower levels than were forecast before the pandemic.
  • Despite this, an overall decrease in income in 2020-21 will reduce the financial operating performance. Net operating cashflow, necessary to support longer term sustainability, fell from 8.4 per cent of total income in 2019-20 to 4.2 per cent in 2020-21. This appears to be manageable in the short term, but at this level will not support sustainability in the longer term.
  • Some higher education providers have applied borrowing instruments, including through some of the government-backed loan schemes, as contingency to safeguard operational cashflows in the event of financial risks. Many of these borrowing instruments remain in place, but are not drawn down and are not forecast to be drawn down.
  • Despite the overall satisfactory findings of our analysis at this time, significant uncertainty remains, and the impact of the pandemic globally could change quickly. Issues that could affect income include restrictions on the movement of students domestically and internationally, higher numbers of students dropping out, and reduced income from accommodation and commercial activities that rely on open buildings and facilities.
  • While the aggregate position is reasonably positive, relative to the risks that have been managed recently, there continues to be significant variability between the financial performance of individual providers, and we expect this will continue as providers adapt to the post-pandemic operating environment. However, we consider that, at this time, the likelihood of multiple providers exiting the sector in a disorderly way because of financial failure is low.
  • Overall, the sector is forecasting continued income growth in the next four years, supported primarily by expectations of strong domestic and international student recruitment. Domestic and international student numbers are projected to increase by 12.3 and 29.5 per cent respectively between 2020-21 and 2024-25, with associated rises of 14.4 and 46.6 per cent for the related income. UCAS data on applications for the 2021 cycle at the January equal consideration deadline indicates increased demand from UK and non-EU students to study at English providers. The forecast growth in fee income from domestic students is based on a broad assumption that there is no material change to level of government funding of teaching, be that through tuition fee loans or OfS grant funding.
  • Net liquidity (net cash holdings) is forecast to be lowest in 2020-21 and 2021-22 as providers manage the financial implications from coronavirus. However, in aggregate, net liquidity remains at reasonable levels and we also know that the banking sector has often provided short-term finance facilities to providers as contingency, in the rare circumstances when this is needed. All tariff groups forecast steady growth in net liquidity from 2022-23, underpinned by expectations of strong student recruitment.
  • While the sector is hopeful of a post-coronavirus recovery in financial performance from 2021-22, there are a number of potentially significant financial challenges to overcome in the forecast period. Examples could include: extended operational restrictions from new variants of coronavirus, which could affect student recruitment; the implications of global economic recovery for spending, business interaction and the employment market; and the need to secure the financial sustainability of pension schemes.

Free speech

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill has made fairly slow progress, at the report stage in the House of Commons as at February 2022, with the whole Lords process still to go.  The culture wars rage around this.  Was xx no platformed or simply not invited?  Did a protest mean someone was “cancelled” or was it a legitimate protest?  Does it depend on the subject matter and whether those opining agree or disagree with the position of those protesting?  Where is the line between legal, but controversial, speech, and speech that breaks the (existing) law.  Which speakers will be protected for their controversial, but legal speech, and which won’t because, although legal, their speech was in some other way deemed to be unacceptable.  Hmm.  There’s a neat summary from February 2022 here.

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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 17th December 2020

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

Latest government COVID news and guidance

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

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

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

What next for 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constituencies review

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

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

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

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

OfS Christmas Bonus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HE Financial Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessments – Additional Considerations

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

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

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

Ofqual – online assessments

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

Research

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

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

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

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

Headline findings for Research and Innovation:

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

Headline findings for Skills and Talent collaboration:

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

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

Parliamentary Questions & Blogs

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

Salaries over study

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

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

Qualification reform 

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

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

UCAS

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

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

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

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

Short Term

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

Medium to long-term, 2022-25

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

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

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

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

Access & Participation

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

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

International

Employment & Skills

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

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

2020 Spending Review Priorities

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

APPG for Students

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

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

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

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

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

Other News

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

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

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

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

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 16th July 2020

This week we have more from the Universities Minister as the post-Covid policy direction becomes clearer, as well as that speech from the Secretary of State abandoning (again) the 50% target for HE participation , some Committee views on the impact of the virus and what to do about it, and in case you have forgotten about Brexit and the new points-based immigration system, we had more detail this week.  There is the NSS  and some other survey news too.  Brace yourself – it’s another bumper edition.

The Universities Minster speaks

A two-for-one offer this week.  Below we will talk about Gavin Williamson’s speech on FE (and related attack on HE).  But before we get to that, we want to share Michelle Donelan’s latest on 15th July when she was questioned by the Education Select Committee.

As we write this the transcript of the session isn’t available, but there is plenty of media coverage.

You should read the Research Professional article in full, but in case you don’t have time we offer some highlights:

  • Donelan was answering a question from Conservative committee member Caroline Johnson, who wanted to know which groups of young people were least likely to go to university, why that might be and what was being done to encourage them.
  • “First of all I want to say that we don’t necessarily want everyone to go to university—that was very much the essence of the secretary of state’s speech last week,” she said [see below for our summary of that]
  • …Whether you are advantaged or disadvantaged, higher education is not necessarily the best route to get to where you want to go in life,” Donelan said. “I really think we need to move away from this focus of how many students get to university because it is such a blunt instrument that isn’t actually very accurate in terms of social mobility,” she added. “If a student gets to university and drops out after year one and has a year’s debt, what does that achieve for their social mobility? Nothing. In fact, it sets them back in life. “It is about them completing high-quality, academically rigorous courses that then lead to graduate jobs—and that is the important measure we should be looking at.”
  • Johnson did not miss the fact that the universities minister had not really addressed her question, so she went back in for a second go. “The question was: Which groups are currently least likely to go to university and is there much talk about helping those groups…to consider it as a career [choice]?” she said.
  • Donelan trotted out the well-worn line about “record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university” (missing out the word “young”, which is crucial here given the decimation of the mature student body) but acknowledged that there were “still challenges within different sections of society, including white working-class students”. “But I actually don’t think it is a good measure to look at,” the minister continued. “It is the wrong question, if you don’t mind me saying, because it doesn’t matter about looking at which groups don’t get to university. It is about making sure that those groups that do go complete, that [their course will] lead to graduate jobs, but also looking at what is in that student’s best interests.”
  • …Donelan’s declaration that this “doesn’t matter” will be confusing for the great many people who work in widening participation. Johnson seemed taken aback, too. “Does that mean no university will be required to have a target of any particular demographic of student?” she asked.
  • Donelan’s response that universities were “individually accountable” for their access and participation plans, and that there were “different issues in terms of demographics” for different universities, will not do much to address that confusion. Nor will her repeated message that “access and participation is not just about getting the student in; it is about making sure they can complete their course” and then go on to get a graduate job.
  • “We need the sector to actually look at their offer…and their messages to prospective students, because they do tend to promote courses too much that don’t offer those graduate outcomes,” the minister concluded.

Jim Dickinson has also done a summary for Wonkhe and we pick out some different points although of course he includes the access and participation stuff too:

  • Remember all that stuff about bite-size, modular learning in Augar? It sounds like that will make it into the response in the Autumn. Donelan said: “Some of the work I’m doing at the moment is looking at potential for modular learning and how we can expand the part time offer as part of our response to Augar, which we will be responding to in line with the spending review.” Whether that Augar response will tackle the widespread disbelief this time last year that the SLC would be able to handle the complexity of loans for tuition and maintenance at module level remains to be seen.
  • That “other half” of the bailout – the “restructuring regime” yin to the research funding yang, if you will, is coming. And we got a preview of the length and thickness of the strings that will be attached here: “So I can’t obviously pre-empt a report that’s going to come out. But what I can say is the driving force behind all of my work and all of the department’s work in HE is to prioritize quality provision that is fit for purpose and that unlocks opportunities for individuals that are making, at the end of the day, a massive investment in their future and one that they do want to see pay off in some form or another. I think too long we’ve let far too many students down by pushing and promoting courses that don’t have that value, don’t lead to those graduate outcomes and jobs. But at the same time, get them into tens of thousands of debt, which I just don’t think is good enough.”  Any funding from DfE would surely have to come through OfS, which was already busy with a funding review and a look at its minimum thresholds for quality. 
  • Lots of people have been concerned about student hardship during the pandemic, and so were the committee. Here the minister stretched credibility beyond all usual limits in her framing of the ability to spend some student premium in a slightly different way – an issue we’ve picked Donelan up beforeon the site: “Students have been affected by the pandemic in terms of finances, that’s undeniable. So most institutions have their own hardship funds and assistance already. And then they receive money every month for access and participation, which we worked with the Office for Students to remove the restrictions around so that they could unlock twenty three million pounds per month for April, May, June and July.  So 23 million pounds each, which is a considerable amount of money that they were able to then access to top up their hardship funds. And we promoted the use of that for things like accommodation, technology costs, system connectivity costs, all of these things. And that’s had a really fantastic impact in terms of trying to direct that support. I think it was right that we channelled that through universities who had these relationships and could identify those students most in need.”  We’re very much looking forward to seeing the evidence for the claim for the “a really fantastic impact” line, which surely must be coming given how much we all like to focus on “what works” and “outcomes” these days.

Levelling up and higher technical education

On Thursday last week Gavin Williamson gave a speech with the Social Market Foundation and then on Tuesday this week, a press release with more of the detail.

The speech set out the Government’s intentions to refocus FE, raising its profile and establishing the higher technical route as a genuine alternative to a degree. The announcement was well trailed in advance as the sector anticipated that the government would abandon Tony Blair’s target for 50% attending university (of course this wasn’t actually the target and it had already been dropped – Blair’s target was not about universities and l technical education for people under 30, as explained by former Minister Chris Skidmore here ). Given we have had several weeks (months?) of anti-HE rhetoric we had an impending sense of doom as we waited for Williamson’s speech. However, while there are the usual digs, it focussed enough on FE to be balanced.  And there is an opportunity for universities. For years the Government has urged HE institutions to work with their local schools and FE provision and received a lukewarm response, and universities will be able to access the higher technical qualification funding in collaboration with FE providers.

There was lots of interesting content in the speech, browse through the below, summarised in places to shorten it:

  • There is so much right with our education system but when it comes to further education, too many people here don’t value it as much as they should.
  • It exasperates me that there is still an inbuilt snobbishness about higher being somehow better than further, when really, they are both just different paths to fulfilling and skilled employment. Especially when the evidence demonstrates that further education can open the doors to greater opportunity, better prospects and transform lives. We must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job.

The Minister mentioned the following sources of financial support mentioned in the budget last week (read more in our update from last week).

  • When I first came into this job, I was firmly of the belief that there needed to be a major shift in how we treat further education. Not just because of its importance in levelling up. But because further education is vital if we want our country to grow economically and our productivity to improve. We need fundamental change, not just tinkering around the edges.
  • …Further education is central to our mission of levelling up the nation. Or quite simply, giving people the skills that they need to get the jobs that they want. If you want to transform many of our left-behind towns and regions, you don’t do it by investing more money solely in universities. You invest in the local college – the beating hearts of so many of our towns.
  • But unfortunately, we’ve not been providing as many of our young people with this opportunity as we should….Since becoming Education Secretary, I was shocked to discover that while the number of people going to university has increased, the total number of adults in education has actually fallen.
  • So what’s driven that fall?… There has been a systemic decline in higher technical qualifications… Within Higher Education Institutes, foundation degrees have declined from a high of 81,000, to approximately 30,000. Undergraduate part-time study in higher education has also fallen significantly, from nearly 250,000 in 2010 to under 100,000. Together, these more than outweigh the increase in young people going to university. And for those who haven’t achieved the equivalent of A-Levels by age 18, the chances of proceeding to higher levels of qualifications is, as Philip Augar’s report puts it, ‘virtually non-existent.’… Only 10% of all adults aged 18-65 hold a Higher Technical Qualification as their highest qualification. This compares to around 20% of adults in Germany and as much as 34% in Canada…We’re writing off people who have a tremendous potential to contribute to our society.
  • For decades, we have failed to give further education the investment it deserves. Of course, we know universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture. But it’s clear that there are limits to what can be achieved by sending ever more people to university, which is not always what the individual or our nation needs. 
  • In February I got sent a copy of the Oxford Review of Education’s special edition, about Higher Education and the labour market…Consistently across countries, there is evidence of filtering down in the labour market. That means that graduates are competing for jobs that used to be – and could still be – done by non-graduates. And a significant proportion of graduates fail to gain much advantage from going to university at all…It reinforces what we already know…that 34% of our graduates are in non-graduate jobs, more than any other countries in Europe except for Ireland and the Czech Republic. And employers say that too often, graduates don’t have the skills they need, whether that’s practical know-how or basic numeracy and literacy. [Here you may wish to read Wonkhe’s alternative take on the 34% underemployed.]
  • ….Skilled trade and professional occupations, in sectors such as manufacturing and construction, report some of the highest skills shortages. Many of these occupations require intermediate or higher technical qualifications – precisely the things that we are not teaching. Simply as a nation we seem to have given up on them when these are the skills we need most to have a chance of competing against other nations.
  • And let’s not pretend these qualifications are in any way inferior to a degree. The outcomes speak for themselves. Five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. I’d like to pause on that point just for a moment. A work-based, technical apprenticeship, lasting around 2 years, gives greater returns than the typical three year bachelor’s degree. For too long, we’ve been training people for jobs that don’t exist. We need to train them for the jobs that do exist and will exist in the future. We have to end the focus on qualifications for qualifications sake. We need fundamental reform: a wholesale rebalancing towards further and technical education. And across our entire post-16 sector, we need a much stronger alignment with the economic and societal needs of the nation.
  • My personal commitment is to put further and technical education at the heart of our post-16 education system. Like the Prime Minister, I believe that talent and genius are expressed as much by the hand and by the eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay.
  • We need to create and support opportunities for those who don’t want to go to university, not write them off – or drive them down a path that, can all too often, end with graduates not having the skills they need to find meaningful work.

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

  • Apprenticeship level and move to employer-led standards
  • Introduction of T levels
  • But, we need to go further, we need to go further and we need to go faster: to remove qualifications that are just not fit for purpose; to tackle low quality higher education; and to give colleges the powers and resources that they need to truly drive change.

Germany…

  • This autumn I will be publishing a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities. This will not be about incremental change, but a comprehensive plan to change the fundamentals of England’s further education landscape, inspired by the best models from around the world.
  • It will be centred upon two things. Firstly, high quality qualifications based on employer-led standards. All apprenticeships starts will be based on those standards from August this year and we will be looking to place such standards at the heart of our whole technical education system. Secondly, colleges playing a leading role in developing skills in their areas, driving an ambitious agenda that responds to local economic need and acting as centres for businesses and their development.

The Minister pledged to review the 12,000 level 3 qualifications simplifying the system into a consistently high-quality set of choices with a clear line of sight to study at higher levels.

  • …following our consultation last year we will be bringing forward plans to reverse the decline in higher technical education so that we can begin once more to train people for the jobs that the economy actually needs…And we want to do much more to open up more flexible ways of studying, including better support for modular learning.
  • Reforming and growing higher technical education will be a long-term endeavour. We want to see our great further education colleges expanding their higher technical provision. And although this speech is about further education, universities can be an important part of the solution, if they are willing to significantly step up their provision of higher technical qualifications.
  • Of course, qualifications are only half of the picture. Equally important is where they are taught…how our colleges should look in the future…They should be led by great leaders and governors who are drawn from local communities and businesses, and teaching staff who have already have experience working in and with industry…They should have industry-grade equipment and modern buildings which are great places to learn in and which act as centres for business development and innovation…They should deliver courses that are of the highest quality and which are tailored to the needs of employers and their local economies…They should work with small, local businesses to support the introduction of new technology and processes, and offer training in emerging skills….And there should be a robust system of governance so that every college is financially secure, flexible and dynamic. [That’ll keep the Government/ESFA busy then!]
  • We are also driving forward our network of Institutes of Technology. They will lead the way on delivering higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths – skills that will give this country a competitive edge not just in the industries of today, but, just as importantly, those of tomorrow. The first 12 are being rolled out across the country, ready to deliver the next generation of technicians and engineers, and more will follow soon. [Later this year the government plans to launch a competition to ensure that all of England is covered by an Institute of Technology.]

I think a lot of thought went into Williamson’s speech as he even attempts to change the rhetoric:

  • Some people say that further education and apprenticeships are for other people’s children. Let me be clear: I don’t. I’d be delighted if my children went to college or did an apprenticeship.
  • …No longer can we persist in the view that university is the silver bullet for everyone and everything. The revolution and need for change is long overdue. Education’s purpose is to unlock an individual’s potential so they can get the job and career that they crave. If it fails to do that then education itself has let them down. Today I have laid down a marker for change. A commitment to stand for the forgotten 50%. [You may recall that it was Ed Miliband who first coined the ‘forgotten 50%’ phrase in this context.]

Responses

The Guardian have an article from Berlin Bureau Chief – Philip Oltermann –  Importing Germany’s dual education system is easier said than done stating the German set up is fundamentally different to the UK (for a start it’s a federal nation, and a lot bigger) but also because it has the same ‘issue’ with HE being a preferred option. The Guardian states:

  • it involves complex coordination between the different actors, which the UK would at present struggle to reproduce, but also because it is threatened by the same cultural factors that have made universities so popular in the UK.  
  • ..the German dual system requires a high level of complex coordination between the employers who pay the trainee’s wages, the federal states that fund vocational training schools tailored to the needs of local industry, the unions that feed into the curriculum, and the chambers of trade and industry that carry out the exams at the end.
  • Previous British attempts to build up German-style dual systems – New Labour’s “14-19 Diplomas” and David Cameron’s ambitious apprenticeship targets – struggled to build up the educational infrastructure required to go with it.
  • Most British unions don’t have the capacity to feed expertise into training programmes… there isn’t an equivalent tradition of employers’ umbrella organisations developing training programmes for their entire sector.
  • In addition, not just Britain but Germany too is experiencing a gravitational pull that draws more and more young people towards universities rather than apprenticeships.

And the key point is this –

  • One reason for the trend, labour market experts speculate, is that academic degrees promise more flexibility, which is one of the downsides of the dual system.
  • While Germany’s dual training programmes produce highly specialised workers that can be perfectly matched to a sector’s current needs, they can struggle when digitalisation or globalisation throws that sector into crisis, as German printers, tailors or photo laboratory technicians have discovered in recent years.

Williamson’s speech is all about training young people to fit within specific fields of work, particularly addressing skills gaps – but those gaps will close and educational programmes take longer to respond. Flexibility really is the key here as people expect to need to change professions 5-7 times during their working span (Careers advice online, Financial Times, although this source takes issue with the ‘job hopping millennial’).

Before the Minister made his speech ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote for Conservative Home agreeing with Williamson’s speech but also using his piece to remind about:

  • Step-on, step off, credit based learning, that allows for a personalised education for the 100 per cent, not one that seeks to divide between two systems.
  • we should not turn the clock back – but equally let’s make sure we give everyone, regardless of background, an equal chance to learn. More part-time, flexible learning for adults of every age can help achieve this.
  • My greatest objection to the 50 per cent headline grabbing figure is that it masks some of the truly horrifying, persistent divisions in our country. Still just nine per cent of white boys on free school meals living in the North East access higher education; only six per cent of pupils who have been in care will do so. These divisions are even more acute when the type of university institution is taken into account. In 2018, 17 per cent of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7 per cent of them enrolled at high-tariff providers.
  • It is not acceptable for money to be handed over to institutions without delivering the necessary qualification. So called ‘non-completions’ are an unacceptable waste of talent and resource – which is why we need to create a learning system that prevents young people from dropping through the net.

In what will likely be an interesting summer for policy twists e should not dismiss Skidmore’s remarks simply because he is a backbencher. Currently Donelan is overshadowed by her two predecessors and their recent frequent media pieces…’ as if they are trying to influence from the side lines as they scent the change on the wind.

On the speech Wonkhe say: There are also serious doubts about the government’s capability and capacity to deliver meaningful reform in this area. It seems perennially confused about what it wants from higher education… And the fact that ministers can’t seem to support further education without attacking universities has left many on both sides of the old tertiary divide scratching their heads.

Wonkhe also sum up some of the media and sector responses for us: Greg Walker, CEO of MillionPlus said that some of the rhetoric in the speech missed the mark “as it appears to see HE and FE as alternatives, which they are clearly not”. University Alliance CEO Vanessa Wilson added that it was wrong to suggest that higher education “rarely offers technical qualifications and training”. The speech is covered by the BBC, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independenti News, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Mail. The Spectator also runs an opinion piece from the Social Market Foundation’s Director, James Kirkup, on the “genuinely important” speech, while the Guardian’s Education editor muses on what might come of Williamson’s education “revolution”.

Writing before the speech was released Research Professional made some good points:

  • How the government will actually stop school leavers choosing “popular-sounding courses”, as Donelan put it, remains to be seen.
  • Scarcity of places and repurposing the course offer of universities that get into financial trouble are two tools available, but they are unlikely to have much impact in the short and medium term while the demographic of 18-year-olds in England is at its lowest for several decades and supply outstrips demand.
  • It would seem that not even the coronavirus can dim the desire of young people to go to university, or of their parents to see them there. So what makes the government think it can do what Covid-19 cannot?
  • Even after the government has trebled tuition fees, cut grants and created a market of alternative providers, young people still want to go to university in numbers that continue to grow. The expansion of university participation is driven by the desires of students and their parents, not by irresponsible vice-chancellors looking to put bums on seats, as a former universities minister once put it.
  • …Williamson may rail today against a previous emphasis on increased entry to university, while on the other hand this government might end up making good on New Labour’s 50 per cent participation pledge. That target … was always supposed to include students experiencing higher education on HND and HNC courses. An investment in further education, with a push on lower-level qualifications, might just result in the Conservatives finally realising the ambition of Tony Blair’s government.
  • A canny education secretary who wanted to get things done would incentivise higher education in a further education setting and enable partnerships between universities and local colleges. An education secretary hidebound by ideology will seek to erect obstacles to university attendance, which will prove to be ineffective and counterproductive in the long run.
  • How Williamson chooses to pivot in his speech today will tell us a lot about what the legacy of this government will be for universities. Will it be five years of lobbying against restrictive measures or will it be a period of contributing to national recovery through joined-up thinking across the education system?

Post-speech Research Professional focus on the poor state of the FE sector and suggest that the Government’s reforms are the reason for the numbers decline within the mature population.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of The Sutton Trust, said:

  • Further educationandapprenticeshipshave a crucial role to play in widening opportunity … We would also like to see many more degree and degree-levelapprenticeshipsavailable to young people. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to earn while they learn, graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants. 

Tim Thomas, Make UK Director of Labour Market and Skills Policy said:

  • This is a welcome move to parity between academic and vocational education. For too long vocational education has been seen as the second class option for those who don’t make it to university. An employer-led vocational training system is the only way that we will meet the skills needs of the future and properly train the next generation with the future skills needed by business.
  • High quality engineering apprenticeships can offer better careers than university education and are often seen by employers as a better source of talent and supplying the right skills required by business. We look forward to working with government on their white paper and producing the fundamental changes need to our vocational trading system needed to make these objectives a reality for employers and learners alike.

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

Higher technical quals consist of HNCs (Higher National Certificates, level 4) and HND (Higher National Diplomas, level 5) effectively plugging the levels between A level (level 3) and Degree (level 6). Unlike A levels and degrees they usually have a technical focus and the Minister intends for them to focus on the skilled professions particular where the UK needs additional manpower to service industry gaps. The Government intend to:

  • Introduce new higher technical qualifications from as early as September 2022 [digital quals in Sept 2022, health science and construction in 2023] with a Government branded quality mark certifying the qualification as delivering the skills employers need (and using the same occupational standards as T levels and apprenticeships will sit within).
  • Work with Ofsted and the OfS to ensure the course quality is consistently high across HE and FE providers and building on the Institutes of Technology. Wonkhe speculate that the regulatory role will sit with the OfS as the original consultation highlighted an assurance role for the Office for Students that focused more on inputs than outputs – we’re expecting to see a move away from that level of active intervention to a reliance on existing OfS registration requirements in the full announcement.
  • Raise public awareness through a national campaign supported by employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of opportunities that studying a higher technical qualification can open up and making sure students get the right information, advice and guidance to make informed choices. Also: we will raise the profile and understanding of the best higher technical education courses through a government-backed brand, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice and guidance.

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

The Government certainly means business with the speed they intend to introduce the new qualifications. Many complained that T levels are not ready, and they had a far longer lead time and are being introduced piecemeal. The higher technical qualifications will continue  the Government’s vocational and technical route after T levels, alongside the intended expansion of the Institutes of Technology.

It is expected that the new higher technical quals will focus on STEM and manufacturing at first. What haven’t been mentioned are degree apprenticeships nor topping up a HND to a full degree. It is somewhat conspicuous by its absence as this has always been the focus of previous Government efforts. However, given the current rhetoric about degrees and criticism of the cost of the degree apprenticeships, the absence isn’t surprising. Yet it does create a hole between the Government’s ideal for more applied research to take place in situ within businesses and industry, including PhDs, which need that top up to the full degree and the advanced research skills often learnt on the level 6 top up.

The biggest question is what fee regime the higher technical qualifications will be subject to.

Finally the Government’s press release states the measure announced today will complement the Government’s review of post-18 education to ensure the system is joined up, accessible and encourages the development of the skills the country needs. The Government did review the higher technical level 4 & 5 space last year (it bumbled along quietly against the tertiary education and funding review). The Augar review was Theresa May’s baby and the Government has delayed its response and forthcoming changes for an embarrassingly long while. The Government may also think the lure of the technical route will result in a drop in degree applications – that remains to be seen, particularly given points made earlier about young people wanting flexibility over career choices rather than being channelled into a particular skill set and there is the forthcoming young population boom to accommodate.

Wonkhe have an interactive chart showing where the existing higher technical courses are offered. It describes approximately 1,000 courses currently exist with FE colleges delivering slightly more than HE institutions. Sadly it doesn’t geographically map where these courses are to show national coverage or patchiness, although you can browse through the provider names to get a feel for the national distribution.

There was a parliamentary question on difficulty for young people travelling to their T level placements from rural areas. The Government responds on increased funding to sources that could support the individual.

Finally, Mary Curnock Cook (ex UCAS CEO) blogs for HEPI stating that the technical curriculum needs to be on offer at secondary level too. Excerpt:

  • while I support the government’s aims to overhaul tertiary education options I fear their current approach will further divide society, lethally levelling up the already privileged middle-classes while sorting off the less well off, lower-attaining rest into what will forever seem like poorer options in lesser occupations. If levelling up is the aim, then we need to create broader and meaningful technical and skills pathways for all students, not just for those that do less well at academic GCSEs.

Admissions – use of calculated grades

Much of this week’s education-related parliamentary chatter has been about the use of predicted grades to determine GCSE and A level results. It is slightly surprising it has taken until now – given one of the main reasons for considering an alternative to HE admissions are concerns over the inaccuracy of predicted grades, particularly that disadvantaged students may be underpredicted (reducing their chances of reaching a higher tariff provider), BAME bias may result in underprediction, and SEN children can perform higher than expected in final exams (and mocks may not have incorporated the adjustments they would expect in the finals).

The Education Committee’s latest report Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades addresses the issue. 

  • We consider exams to be the fairest form of assessment, and any alternative will inevitably be an imperfect replacement. Ofqual has stepped up to the immense challenge of devising these exceptional arrangements,
  • We have concerns that the system described by Ofqual as the “fairest possible in the circumstances” could be unfair for groups including disadvantaged pupils, BAME pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND.
  • …We believe it is reasonable to remain aware that the potential for human bias in predicted grades may be replicated in the calculated grade system. We note that teachers and support staff themselves appear sceptical of the fairness of this year’s system of awarding grades
  • We are unconvinced that safeguards—such as additional guidance and practical recommendations—put in place by Ofqual will be sufficient to protect against bias and inaccuracy in calculated grades. In particular, given research evidence on unconscious bias, we are concerned that groups including pupils from low-income families, BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, and children looked after could be disadvantaged by calculated grades.
  • We raised our concerns about fairness for pupils with special educational needs to Ofqual, emphasising the importance of ensuring SEND specialists feed into calculated grades. We are pleased that Ofqual produced guidance on considering evidence from SEND specialists during the calculated grade process. We are concerned, however, that there was no accountability mechanism for ensuring this happened consistently
  • Given the potential risks of bias in calculated grades, it is clear that standardisation will be a crucial part of ensuring fairness. We are extremely concerned that Ofqual’s standardisation model does not appear to include any mechanism to identify whether groups such as BAME pupils, FSM eligible pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups…have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards.

On appeals the report says:

  • We took evidence on the system Ofqual has devised for appealing grades. Sally Collier assured us that Ofqual has “spent many hours with very many people trying to come up with the fairest possible appeal system in the circumstances”. Tom Bewick told us that given the circumstances, the 2020 system “is effectively the least worst option”.
  • We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint about their grades. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination. Such a system also favours more affluent pupils and families with resources and knowledge of the system.

Recommendations:

  • We call on Ofqual to make a transparency guarantee—a commitment to publishing details of its standardisation model immediately to allow time for scrutiny. Ofqual should not be afraid of scrutiny or open debate over whether its model offers the fairest outcome for every pupil and provider
  • Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups such as BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligible pupils have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards. The Government must extend catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils to ensure this is not a lost generation. This should be done by doubling the disadvantage element in the 16–19 funding formula for pupils in Year 12, for at least the next year.
  • Ofqual’s evaluation must include comprehensive data on attainment, by characteristics including gender, ethnicity, SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligibility, providing full transparency on whether there are statistically significant differences between attainment this year compared with previous years.
  • It is right that pupils should be able to appeal their grade if they believe bias or discrimination has occurred, but Ofqual has not given enough thought on how to make this route accessible to all pupils. [The section within the report on appeals states The appeals process: a process for the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed?] …Without support, proving bias or discrimination would be an almost impossible threshold for any pupil to evidence. Disadvantaged pupils, and those without family resources or wider support, risk being shut out of this route. Ofqual must urgently publish the evidence thresholds for proving bias and discrimination, clearly setting out what evidence will be required. AND Ofqual must collect and publish anonymised data at the conclusion of the appeals process on where it received appeals from, including, as a minimum, type of school attended, region, gender, ethnicity, SEND status, children looked after (including children supported by virtual schools), and FSM eligibility
  • Ofqual must ensure gold-standard advice and support is easily accessible for all pupils unhappy with their grades. Both the helplines provided by Ofqual and the National Careers Service must be freephone lines. These must both be staffed by dedicated professionals with the training to provide sound and impartial step-by-step advice and support on options and appeals.

Paragraphs 30 onwards tackles calculated grades for vocational and technical qualifications.

A HEPI blog, Halfon is right: Ofqual has more to do, agrees with the Education Committee’s outcomes and urges for action to be taken. It make interesting points about the autumn exams too:

  • In the understandable rush to introduce a completely new system, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on 20 March, it probably seemed reasonable at first to invent a system in which dissatisfaction could be tackled by an opportunity to take an autumn examination. Over time this choice has unravelled. If initial results match the allowed national distribution and autumn exam candidates succeed in achieving higher grades, then grade inflation is bound to follow – unless other candidates are downgraded, which is unthinkable. Are autumn exam candidates being set up to fail? Or will the August results be scaled down to allow some headroom in the national distribution?
  • Furthermore, students sitting autumn exams face a compulsory gap year, because the exams will be too late for a 2020-2021 start. This in itself may be discriminatory, especially for disadvantaged students. The impact of autumn-awarded grades on admission prospects for 2021 is uncertain. Some universities are refusing deferred entry for 2021, others will honour offers but with added conditions. The competition for 2021 entry is likely to be much more intense as 2020 students reapply, a larger 2021 cohort apply for the first time, and international students from 2020 and 2021 return in much larger numbers.

Admissions – numbers up

UCAS announced a rise in application numbers last week – up 1.6% on last year and is the highest figure in four years. They state a record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied to HE (last year – 38.9%) despite there being 1.5% fewer in the population because of the birth dip. (And 2020 is the bottom point in the population dip.) Just over a quarter of young applicants were from disadvantaged backgrounds (25.4%) using the participation measure. There is a small drop in EU student applications (down 2%).  And UCAS highlight that nursing applications (between January and June only) was 63% higher than the same period last year. Universities will be keen to ensure these applicants convert into enrolments once the results are out.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: At this moment, we’re seeing an encouraging picture emerge out of national lockdown, with currently more applicants than last year keen to expand their mind, stretch themselves, and seize the opportunities that higher education can offer.

Research Professional comment: This is great news for universities because it suggests that in the teeth of a fierce recession and with the prospect of gap-year travel off the table, even the model of blended learning on offer in institutions next year is proving to be more appealing to young people than continuing to be locked down with mum and dad.

Nursing

Every week the Government receive several parliamentary questions urging for leniency on nursing tuition fees both to cut tuition moving forward and refunds as a response to the coronavirus support work they undertook in hospitals. The House of Commons Library have published a briefing paper exploring the current funding systems for healthcare students, plus medicine, dentistry and paramedics. The nursing section includes the recent impacts on applications to study and the September 2020 new bursary offers. The Government also issued a press release to celebrate that applications to nursing courses are up by 16% (at end of June) and that the NHS is currently employing a record number of nurses and midwives (the largest ever annual increase):

  • Around 18,370 more nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s permanent register to work in the UK compared to a year ago, bringing the total number to 716,607 by 31 March 2020. The number of people trained in the UK leaving the register has also fallen to a five-year low.

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

  • This is the second year in a row that applicant numbers have risen. In 2019 there was a 6.4% increase in people accepted onto nursing and midwifery courses in England compared to 2018.

However, the Royal College of Nursing responded to the increase in nursing applications stating a much larger increase is required if the government is to come anywhere close to its commitment of having 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in England by the end of this Parliament.

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

  • “Application numbers for the nursing degree in England have reduced by 17.4% since 2016, the final year of the bursary. This means even if the all of the latest applications are turned into acceptances and ultimately registered nurses, the large workforce gap will still not close.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the contribution that nurses, and in particular student nurses, make to the entire health and care system. The effort they have shown has to be met with investment in our future nurses.
  • The government must invest properly in our domestic nursing supply and ensure patient need is met in the long term. To achieve this, it must wipe the debt of those who’ve had to take this on to study, provide full tuition fee support for all students and ensure maintenance support reflects students’ actual living costs.
  • The government should aim for an oversupply of nurses to strengthen our profession and keep patients safe.

Tuition fee refunds

Remember that mass petition for tuition fee refunds that was reopened by the Petitions Committee in Parliament? The Committee heard oral evidence and engaged 28,000 students through a survey and online forum (wider inquiry details here). The Committee has reported (key findings here) concluding that there should not be a universal reimbursement but that individuals can claim refunds on an individual basis in certain circumstances. The Committee stated:

  • While students do have a right to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course if the service provided by their university is substandard, we do not believe that there should be a universal refund or reimbursement of tuition fees to all university students.

However, as the Guardian reports, Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP who chairs the petitions committee, said:

  • “Despite the hard work of lecturers and support staff, some universities have been unable to provide courses in a way that students feel is good value for money. Therefore, while we do not consider that a blanket refund for all students is necessarily required, we believe that the government has a role in ensuring any student whose university experience has fallen short is compensated.”
  • The report calls for refund procedures to be streamlined and better publicised, saying the existing complaints process or use of the courts places too much of a burden on individual students and are likely to be overwhelmed by a flood of cases.
  • The MPs also said the government should pay for tuition fee refunds this year, “given the importance of the higher education sector to the UK economy, and the exceptional circumstances”.

Wonkhe have a blog it starts: Should students get a refund? Some should, says a committee – but they won’t. The House of Commons petitions committee is clueless on consumer law and student rights.

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

  • work with universities, the Office for Students, and Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to produce guidance on when current and future university students may be entitled to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course;
  • establish a new system which enables all students to easily seek a full or partial refund of their tuition fees, or to repeat part of their course;
  • ensure that all students are advised of their consumer rights and are given clear guidance on how to avail themselves of these if they feel their university has failed to provide an adequate standard of education;
  • consider providing additional funding to universities to enable them to pay any refunds university students are entitled to as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak;
  • consider alternative means for reimbursing students, where an independent process has found that they are entitled to a refund;
  • consider making additional funding available to students who might want to extend their education after the outbreak, and to provide ongoing employment advice and support beyond graduation in what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

  • NUS has been calling for the Government to provide a Student Safety Net since the scale of the impact on students became clear. The Petitions Committee’s recommendations would go a long way in achieving this aim, with targeted fee reimbursements and debt write-offs. We also welcome the references to support for further study or to redo elements of the course.
  • Although the report highlights some of our key asks for education leavers, the recent Treasury announcements for graduates do not go far enough and we would like to see an extended economic support package put in place.
  • Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated the cracks in a broken higher education system, and hit students from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities the hardest. It is critical that the Government acts on these suggestions, but they must also go further. We are calling for universal compensation, and for the Government to protect our education sector from the failed project of marketisation before they lose the faith of millions of students.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has been on the ball throughout this process and in light of this week’s announcement they have blogged for Wonkhe:

  • We think it’s reasonable to expect providers to try to agree any significant changes with students as this is in everyone’s best interests. Where this is not possible, it’s important to explain to students what their options are. From our perspective, we would not be prescriptive about what this looks like in practice but we would look at whether the provider has taken reasonable steps to consult with students and enable them to make informed decisions.
  • Now that providers have had some time to plan for the longer-term effects of the pandemic, it is in our view unlikely to be reasonable for providers to rely on exclusion clauses that allow the provider to make significant changes to what it has promised, or not to deliver it at all, in the new year.
  • Where it’s not possible to deliver something that is at least broadly equivalent to what was promised, or to meet an individual students’ needs, the provider will need to think about how to put that right. It’s best to do this proactively without waiting for formal complaints to be raised.
  • There are groups of students whose studies are particularly badly affected by Covid-19 disruption and where significant changes are needed to their courses. It’s important to identify those groups and try to address their issues.
  • Providers will also be aware of and looking out for students who are vulnerable or less able to access replacement provision. Some of these students too may feel unable to continue with their studies, for example because their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or very anxious.
  • In such extraordinary times we think it’s reasonable for students to be considering deferring or interrupting their studies, although this may not be their best option. We think providers should be considering requests sympathetically, helping students to understand their options, and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so.
  • We don’t think it’s reasonable to have blanket policies such as refusing to give tuition fee refunds in any circumstances or refusing all requests for deferral, or not engaging with individual students’ concerns. We have already seen a worrying example of this among the first coronavirus-related complaints that have reached us. 
  • When we review a student’s complaint we look at whether the provider has followed fair procedures, and whether it has acted reasonably in the circumstances. We always take into account relevant legislation and guidance… A student’s contractual terms and conditions are important but we look more widely than that, at what is fair.

Research Professional have a short article on the Petitions Committee decision mainly focusing on restitution for students such as a tuition fee loan refund.

International Students

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) published a roadmap for a world-class international student experience. It calls for further visa flexibility, delaying the immigration health surcharge, and aims to build a stronger evidence base of current international students’ experiences, to drive future policy development and support policy asks. UKCISA also hopes to develop an International Student Charter.

Research Professional report on a survey suggesting that a fifth of potential EU students who considered studying in the UK plan to start their course earlier than they originally intended because of the tuition fee changes (the removal of home status).

Pinsent Masons (legal firm) run through all the recent Visa status changes. The Tier 4 content is just below halfway on this link.

Scotland have confirmed they will also end the free tuition for EU students from 2021. HE Minister Richard Lochhead explained it as a Brexit decision made with a heavy heart. He stated the £19 million  (per year) EU fee saving would be retained within Scotland to support more Scottish residents to attend University. To support Scottish universities internationalisation he aims to put a scholarship programme in place to continue to attract EU talent.

Despite last week’s urging from ex-Universities Minister Jo Johnson and Shadow HE Minister Emma Hardy the Government’s response to the international students in the US (who will have their visa rescinded due to their institution offering online study only during the pandemic) will not take a proactive stance. Current Universities Minister Michelle Donelan simply reiterated all the ‘welcoming’ measures for international students that are already in place such as the online study visa exemption and the post study work visa system. No attractive marketing campaign will be launched. This isn’t surprising from the viewpoint of international relations with an America determined to take offence at slights, however, given how well the Government’s aides have been listening and responding to sector chatter recently a warmer response might have been anticipated.

The second half of this Research Professional article gives the perspective of a German student who is anticipating their visa will be cancelled. It reminds that there is more to it than an undergraduate student forced to choose between deferral or switching countries of study:

  • simply studying online at a US institution from Germany is not feasible for many who had plans to stay in the United States for an extended period of time and have made arrangements accordingly, including uprooting family. 
  • “Anyone who—sometimes accompanied by relatives—is completing or planning a stay of several years in the United States, and has temporarily given up his or her centre of life in Germany for this purpose, is faced with existential questions.”

Happily for those international students the point is now moot. Following immense pressure from the Harvard and MIT law suit (which was joined by the tech giants, e.g. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the US Chamber of Commerce) President Trump has dropped the visa cancellation.

Whether international students will be exempt from the mandatory C-19 quarantine period of 2 weeks.  Whereas this IDP Connect survey suggests 77% of international students would happily quarantine if it meant a quicker return to face to face on campus teaching.

Points-based Immigration System

A policy paper on the points-based immigration system was published this week with more detail on the Student, Graduate and Skilled Worker route. There are lots of items with a little more detail, however, the key points remain as we’ve mentioned in previous policy updates. For those with an interest you can read the main elements here. One key change is that universities will need to do more than just monitor attendance – they will need to confirm (keep records as evidence) that international students have fully engaged with the course. Research Professional have a short write up here.

Graduate Outcomes

HESA released the next set of Graduate Outcomes experimental statistics data, this time looking at graduates’ subjective wellbeing. They asked about how anxious/happy the respondent felt, whether they felt the things they do in their life are worthwhile, and whether they are satisfied with their life. The charts are here. The second set of charts examines the above questions by subject studied. Education and subjects allied to medicine stand out as happiest/most pleased with their life currently.

The third chart shows that there isn’t a lot of difference on the questions from students across the range of degree outcomes from pass to first. The fourth chart looks at gender differences – females stated more anxiety but also rate high on the worthwhileness of their life. You can also cut the data by domicile in the final chart.

Wonkhe’s data guru interprets the findings further in a specific blog.

Social Mobility Commission

Sandra Wallace (lawyer) and Steven Cooper (banking) have been appointed as interim chairs of the Social Mobility Commission on a job share basis. Both currently serve on the Commission and will fill the role temporarily until a substantive chair can be appointed. You can read more on the appointees background and the details of the appointments in the Government’s press release.

Bailout push

YouGov have undertaken a poll examining the 30 marginal constituencies (those which swing between parties at the election and aren’t a safe seat) which all have a (10%+) student population and a university within their catchment. The results of the poll aren’t publicly available (currently) so we rely on the reporting in the UCU press release for details. UCU report that voters in these constituencies support additional Government funding to protect their university from the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic. These constituencies MPs include PM Boris Johnson and Science Minister Amanda Solloway. The bottom of the press release contains a table detailing the constituencies and their elected MPs.

  • 76% felt their local university was important in creating local jobs
  • 79% felt the university was important to the local economy
  • 72% university is key in brining in outside investment to the local area
  • 75% the university supplies key skilled staff for local services such as schools and hospitals
  • 33% of those polled who were employed stated the university was important to their own job
  • 42% knew someone studying or working at the university
  • 66% believe there would be a negative impact on the local economy if student numbers dropped at their university due to C-19
  • 75% were concerned of a negative local impact if their university went bust
  • 55% supported a temporary increase in Government financial support for their university to maintain courses and jobs (20% opposed the idea). [Hardy overwhelming support for this question!]
  • 43% want their local MPs to campaign for increased support for universities

NSS Analysis

The OfS have issued a press release on the 2020 National Student Survey additional analysis which examined the impact of the coronavirus on the results. They state that student satisfaction is stable and students continue to be discontented with course organisation and communication of changes.

  • The additional analysis acknowledges variations across the data but no evidence the results have been significantly impacted by the pandemic: The OfS used a statistical model to determine whether there is a significant difference between responses made before and after the 11 March (an ’11 March effect’) when other factors are taken into account. The model found that there is a difference for the majority of questions, but similar variations are also present in 2018 and 2019, so cannot be attributed solely to the pandemic.
  • 83% of students are satisfied with their course (2019 was 84%)
  • 67% feel their course is well organised and run smoothly (2019 = 70%; 2018 = 69%)
  • 62% felt students’ course feedback had been acted on (but only 49% of part time students did)
  • 2020 response levels were lower than in 2019 and 2018
  • Overall comparing against 2019 there is a small negative shift in the agreement rate for some questions.

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

  • This academic year has come with unprecedented challenges for both universities and colleges, and their students. Notwithstanding the impact of both industrial action and the coronavirus pandemic on the students responding to the survey, the results remain remarkably positive.
  • However, for several years, students have reported comparatively lower satisfaction with the organisation and management of their courses, and how effectively changes are communicated. Now more than ever, the survey results demonstrate how important it is for universities to communicate changes effectively, run courses as smoothly as possible, and listen carefully to student feedback. This is even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic …

 Student Number Controls

This week Jo Johnson writes for the Evening Standard. The piece tackles how student number controls and, reading between the lines, possible changes to the funding of certain degree programmes that the Government might be considering (remember Jo himself was in favour of differential fees and tried to bring in through the HERA legislation linked to the quality of the TEF judgement – but the Lords protested) could negatively impact on arts programmes.

  • Up until the Coronavirus struck, they [the creative industries] were growing at five times the rate of the economy and generating around 15 per cent of national gross value-added. Enabling historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema to access emergency grants and loans while their doors are closed is a no-brainer.
  • For policy to be fully joined up, however, the Department for Education must take care over how it operates recently re-imposed domestic student number controls. This risks turning into a crude process to allocate places – and therefore funding – on the basis of flawed measures of graduate earnings. This would unfairly penalise creative arts courses already in the cross-hairs of higher education sceptics in Parliament fired up by Gavin Williamson’s denunciation of the Blair-era target for 50 per cent of young people to go to university. If we have learnt anything lately, it is to value socially useful but lower-earning professions.
  • It would be incoherent to open the door to international talent to work across our economy, while restricting opportunities for domestic students to prepare themselves for careers in the arts. An economic nonsense too: the creative industries were generating £13 million for the economy every hour before Covid-19 – enough to repay the subsidy to arts courses in the student loan book many times over.
  • Our creative industries will only recover if we supply them with the skills and talent vital for their success.

Research

  • A parliamentary question asking whether HE institutions can combine all the sources of Government support.
  • Covid-19 researchers will receive visa relaxation measures.
  • An answer to a parliamentary question we mentioned last week has revealed that UKRI administers 70% of the research public funding (UK sources).
  • Establishing an effective coordination and oversight mechanism to serve the R&D spectrum in the UK – a Science for the Justice System Advisory Group has been established working with UKRI to coordinate forensic science in the UK.
  • Direct air capture R&D funding
  • Institutions eligible for research funding (influence of REF award)
  • Wellcome have a new blog – How could COVID-19 change research culture for the better?
  • Research Professional (RP) report that participation in Horizon Europe is dead in all but name – there are concerns over the terms on which the UK could associate with the EU’s research funding schemes and the cost of the joining fee plus the operational contribution is described as eye-watering. Cost estimates range from 600 million Euros to 12 billion Euros – way beyond the costs UK researchers could win back in funding. The article states that Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, said EU academia remains firmly behind UK association, and said British institutions must pile pressure on their government. If you’re not going to push anymore, nobody is. And that the European Commission has clearly indicated that this [terms/contribution] is still up for negotiation. Deketelaere implies it is the UK Government who are balking at joining Horizon Europe not the European Commission. However, there are question marks over the joining charge – the UK’s fee is being set out whereas it is unclear if the EU will charge other non-EU countries for association. RP report that the Treasury also expect the costs to come out of existing research budgets (previously it was going to be in addition to the science budget) because of the generous sums announced recently (and due to the cost of the pandemic for the Government). RP state:  Government sources now question whether the UK research community will be willing to blow a multibillion-pound hole in research budgets for the sake of access to the prestigious European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Awards.

RP continue:

  • While there are now clouds on the horizon for the UK’s participation in EU research schemes, all of this is subject to the caveat that negotiations over both a Brexit trade deal and the terms of Horizon Europe are still ongoing. Everything could change, but all available evidence suggests that the UK government is now preparing an exit strategy and has its excuse lined up already.
  • Playbook suspects that as Brexit trade deal talks intensify after the summer, UK universities will be presented with a choice between paying over the odds to play in Europe or settling for beefed-up domestic schemes administered by UK Research and Innovation. For vice-chancellors, the wallet will say UKRI although the heart may say EU—is it a price worth paying?
  • But, in the end, this is not a decision that will be made in universities.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Disadvantage: The OfS has published their latest briefing note which considers outreach to disadvantaged students during the coronavirus. It describes online outreach including two case studies of a blended summer school type model, and other approaches targeted towards BAME, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families, mature learners, and other vulnerable or underrepresented groups.

HE Sector Financial Health: The House of Commons Library have published a briefing Coronavirus: Financial impact on HE. It covers the financial health of the sector, the impact of reduced international student numbers, the Government support packages (fee payments and research funding) and the R&D roadmap.

Student Loans: The SLC have launched a new online repayment service – it calculates a student’s up to date remaining loan balance. It aims to avoid over payments as students near the end of their repayments.

Prevent: Wonkhe report on the latest report reviewing Prevent. Wonkhe say:

  • The government’s Prevent strategy has led to the persistence of negative stereotypes of Muslims and “a culture of mutual suspicion and surveillance” on campus, according to a new reportled by Alison Scott-Bauman at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). “Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: perceptions and challenges” recommends that there is a “strong argument” for Prevent to be discontinued in its current form, having curbed freedoms of speech and expression on campus.
  • Though there is ample evidence of widespread tolerance for all forms of religious activity among staff and students (with 88.1 per cent of students agreeing that “The experience of university encourages respect and mutual understanding among people who have different perspectives on life”), the research found a close link between belief in a “narrative of suspicion” about Islam, support for Prevent, and patterns of Islamophobia. The report recommends building awareness of Islamophobia via training and development, consultation, representation, and the encouragement of interfaith dialogue via free and frank debate based on the principle of mutual respect. The report is covered by the Guardian(along with an opinion piece by the report’s author) and the Telegraph.

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

Chinese relations: HEPI published UK Universities and China a series of essays on the challenges and complexities of the relationship between UK universities and China. It includes self-censorship; the importance of UK-China scientific research; and the recruitment and integration of Chinese students

Separately there is a recent YouGov poll which asks about UK/Chineses relationships. The interactive version of the chart is here.

Not just Brexit: Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) writes for UKandEU.com –  Universities and Brexit: past, present and future. It doesn’t just cover Brexit, but highlights that UK students get far less out of Erasmus than the incoming EU students studying in the UK, it even mentions this week’s bingo winner – the Blair 50% target. A longer read and some interesting points.

Student Experience: Pearson and Wonkhe have collaborated to examine students’ experience of learning during C-19 and their expectations for next year (shorter blog here).

  • 41% struggled to manage their wellbeing without in person contact with friends and university staff.
  • 34% found the new ways of learning challenging.
  • 34% struggled to manage their time without an enforced timetable.
  • 29% found the isolation difficult.
  • 34% struggled with lack of space or a quiet enough environment to study within.
  • 49% felt less confident to progress to their next step in their education or career –
    • with 13% of the 49% attributing this to external (non-university) factors (economy, jobs, research funding).
    • The factors relating to university were loss of industry experience, loss of practical skills development, lack of academic contact time, a lower sense of quality of learning experience.
  • 43% (of current students) plan to defer the next academic year to take a year out or look for work experience
  • 20% plan to leave education entirely (its unclear whether these were already final year students)
  • Of those planning to defer/leave 28% was because they didn’t want another semester of online study or the loss of practical experience reduced the value of their degree or because the logistics of travel, accommodation and teaching were too uncertain.
  • 47% of those who felt they had missed out (e.g. lab or studio based work) believe they should receive a fee reduction or refund as compensation. However, a quarter want to make up the missed experience at a safer later date, and 15% were willing to experience online. 10% didn’t feel it was the university’s responsibility to atone for the loss of experience.
  • On welfare the blog states:

One key message from the survey is that while students are clear that their wellbeing is suffering, the action they want universities to take is in the teaching and learning domain, rather than the welfare domain. Responses throughout the survey suggest that wellbeing issues are not simply the result of students being at home and the concerns over Covid-19, but that the way that universities have managed interactions and online learning has increased their anxiety, and had a negative impact on their wellbeing. It’s not simply about putting support mechanisms in place to help students with their wellbeing; it’s about stopping the causes.

  • 59% want universities to offer high quality online teaching as their priority for September rather than social interaction, well being support or access to learning resources.

Graduate outlook: Wonkhe report that research from Adunza finds that the number of graduate jobs available this summer has fallen by 73 per cent since the start of the year. Because larger employers are delaying graduate schemes due to the pandemic just 3,993 jobs are currently available, meaning that 100 graduates could be competing for each available job. FE news has the story.

HE Student Numbers: The House of Commons Library have published a paper on HE student numbers. It states: Headline student numbers have increased to new record levels in recent years following a short dip related to the 2012 reforms in the sector. There have been continued increases in entry rates for different groups of students, including those from disadvantaged areas/backgrounds where rates have also hit new record levels. However, headline numbers tend to focus on full-time undergraduates and there are ongoing concerns about student numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive. This includes part-time undergraduates, particularly those not studying first degrees, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries, especially Nigeria and Malaysia, mature students and some disadvantaged groups.

There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget

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

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

Apart from the headlines, the details are here.

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

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

There are some research-related announcements.

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

Guardian report on the new Office for Talent.

NHS investment

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

And on the education estate (not HE):

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

LEP funding for local infrastructure:

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

Budget context

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

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

Michelle Donelan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial sustainability

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

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

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

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

David Kernohan looks under the bonnet.

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

University Admissions

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

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

There is a general catch all:

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

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

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

Banned

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

Allowed

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

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

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary questions:

Student Number Controls

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

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

Lord Blencathra’s comments were notable:

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

Lord Chidgey (LD): 

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

Lord Desai (Lab)

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

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

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

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay:

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

The regulations were approved.

Post-pandemic recovery

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

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

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

EU Students and Student Mobility

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

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

T levels

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

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

The package includes:

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

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills said:

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

Other Parliamentary questions

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

Other news

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

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

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

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HE Policy Update 1st July 2020

There’s been so much news recently we had to delay our two most recent ‘tomes’ to bring you coverage of the full debate. With this policy update being issued two days after the last we were hoping you’d breeze through a light read. However, Parliament has other intentions. Apprenticeships and FE have been big mentions this week, so far UK students aren’t deferring in droves, there’s new LEO data, the PM’s big speech wasn’t just about buildings, and – much fanfare – the R&D investment roadmap has been published (scarily it almost seems as if the writers have been paying attention to sector reports and campaigners recently). And the Minister for Universities thinks first in family children shouldn’t bother, at a stroke undermining huge efforts to widen participation in HE.  Where next for that agenda, particularly given what the PM said?  Levelling up doesn’t mean what you might think, it seems, or at least, not for other people’s children.

Parliamentary News

Kate Green was appointed as Shadow Education Secretary, she was the Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions (Child Poverty Strategy) and had previous parliamentary roles related to equalities and disability. Pre-parliamentary career she was a magistrate and a professional campaigner for children and single parents.

Boris’ Speech: The PM’s big economy speech on Tuesday covered schools, FE and the new blue-sky research agency but with little mention of HE. Here are the excerpts most relevant to our sector:

  • We have umpteen fantastic, globally outstanding universities and yet too many degree courses are not now delivering value and for a century we have failed to invest enough in further education and give young people the practical training and further education they need.
  • [Levelling up]…this moment also gives us a much greater chance to be radical and to do things differently to build back better to build back bolder and so we will be doubling down on our strategy we will double down on levelling up
  • …to make this country – a Britain that is fully independent and self-governing for the first time in 45 years the most attractive place to live and to invest and to set up a company with the most motivated and highly skilled workforce and so we are investing massively now in education [schools details] and a vast £1.5 bn programme of refurbishing our dilapidated Further Education sector – dilapidated in many places, but not here of course because it is time the system recognised that talent and genius are expressed as much by hand and by eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay…
  • …so when I say unite and level up, when I say build up people and build up talent, I want to end the current injustice that means a pupil from a London state school is now 50 per cent more likely to go to a top university than a pupil from the west midlands and that is not only unjust it is such a waste of human talent
  • We will unleash the potential of the entire country and in those towns that feel left behind we have plans to invest in their centres and with new academy schools, new green buses, new broadband and we want to make them places where people have the confidence to stay, to raise their families and to start businesses and not to feel that the action is all in the cities or the metropolis
  • we know that [jobs] is our biggest and most immediate economic challenge that we face and so we will offer an Opportunity Guarantee so that every young person has the chance of apprenticeship or an in-work placement so that they maintain the skills and confidence they need to find the job that is right for them
  • this summer we will be creating a new science funding agency to back high risk, high reward projects because in the next 100 years the most successful societies will be the most innovative societies and we in this country have the knack of innovation we lead the world in quantum computing, in life sciences, in genomics, in AI, space satellites, net zero planes, and in the long term solutions to global warming wind, solar, hydrogen technology carbon capture and storage, nuclear and as part of our mission to reach Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050, we should set ourselves the goal now of producing the world’s first zero emission long haul passenger plane – Jet Zero, let’s do it
  • and though we are no longer a military superpower we can be a science superpower but we must end the chasm between invention and application that means a brilliant British discovery disappears to California and becomes a billion dollar American company or a Chinese company and we need now a new dynamic commercial spirit to make the most of UK breakthroughs so that British ideas produce new British industries and British jobs

Greg Clark MP, ex-Secretary of State for BEIS, responded to the speech:

  • I welcome the prominence of science and innovation in today’s speech from the Prime Minister. My Committee’s ongoing work relating to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how indispensable, and how world-leading, science, research and innovation are in the UK. Innovation across every scientific discipline will play a critical role in economic recovery, making its place at the centre of recovery plans more essential than ever.
  • My Committee has already launched an inquiry on the Government’s plans for a new science funding agency and we will hold oral hearings in the weeks ahead.

Research Professional comment on the speech: The BBC fact-checking service has looked at the prime minister’s speech in detail and has identified most of its spending pledges as either previously announced or inaccurate.

Value

Chris Skidmore wrote for Research Professional in his official capacity as a regular (monthly) columnist welcoming his co-Chair role of the Universities APPG and lamenting that universities still aren’t recognised for their value.

  • It seems a cruel irony that the institutions which are at the forefront of research into how we escape out of the Coronavirus crisis, are also the ones which will be most badly hit by its impact. That irony extends to how poorly sometimes it seems we value our universities: unlike workers in the NHS, university staff and teachers have gone unrecognised in the remarkable efforts that they have made over recent months and still face hostile stories in the press.

He calls on Government to be clear about universities valuable role in the future [whereas currently they are tinkering with the mechanisms]:

  • We cannot simply pay lip service to ‘our world-leading universities’ without setting out how they must play a role for the future, and without creating a financially sustainable model of funding teaching and research that ends once and for all the curate’s egg of university funding, split across departments, both in Whitehall and on campus. 
  • A long-term vision for what our universities are for, why they are needed, and what they can achieve for the future is essential.
  • That does not mean, however, that it should be the responsibility of government simply to bail out universities so that things can continue unchanged…We need a new settlement upon which both the sector and the government can agree.
  • Education will inevitably play an essential role in retraining and reskilling those who have lost their jobs in the economic downturn; the potential for higher education to create modular, step-on step-off, courses that blend with further education learning and to establish new forms of training is huge. But the wider importance of relationships and networks that universities bring together for the benefit of society, should be better explored. 
  • One obvious link is that between higher education and the NHS, which should be strengthened where possible. 
  • And the ‘civic university’ approach has massive potential to demonstrate and prove what universities can contribute to regenerating their local communities.
    Much of this work is already underway at an institutional level, which brings me to my plea to institutions: just because you know it is happening, don’t assume that everyone else does

Disadvantage

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, spoke at the NEON summit on widening access and social mobility. BU’s Schools Liaison & Partnerships team ‘attended’ the full summit and hope to bring you full coverage of the juicy details of the event in next week’s policy update. Meanwhile Michelle:

  • Praised the innovation the sector had shown in responding to the pandemic stating it was more important than ever to share good ideas and good practise
  • Highlighted UpReach’s virtual internships
  • On social mobility she said:
  • But today I want to send a strong message – that social mobility isn’t about getting more people into university.
  • For decades we have been recruiting too many young people on to courses that do nothing to improve their life chances or help with their career goals.
  • True social mobility is about getting people to choose the path that will lead to their desired destination and enabling them to complete that path.
  • True social mobility is when we put students and their needs and career ambitions first, be that in HE, FE or apprenticeships.
  • Whatever path taken, I want it to lead to skilled, meaningful jobs, that fulfil their ambitions and improve their life earnings
  • universities do need to do much, much more to ensure that all students – and particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds – are recruited on to courses that will deliver good outcomes and that they have the confidence to apply and the information they need to make informed choices.

She goes over similar points later:

  • Since 2004, there has been too much focus on getting students through the door, and not enough focus on how many drop out, or how many go on to graduate jobs.
  • Too many have been misled by the expansion of popular sounding courses with no real demand from the labour market.
  • Quite frankly, our young people have been taken advantage of – particularly those without a family history of going to university. Instead some have been left with the debt of an investment that didn’t pay off in any sense.
  • And too many universities have felt pressured to dumb down – either when admitting students, or in the standards of their courses. We have seen this with grade inflation and it has to stop.
  • let’s be clear – we help disadvantaged students by driving up standards, not by levelling down.

And here reappears that old Theresa May chestnut of Universities ‘sponsoring/intervening’ in schools:

  • But the onus must also be on universities to go further too, not just admitting disadvantaged students with good grades, but focusing even more on helping them to achieve and complete courses. And going the extra mile to raise standards and aspirations in schools.
  • One of the most successful initiatives in this area has been specialist maths schools – which are sponsored by and attached to universities. 
  • Whether its science, languages, engineering or the humanities, universities should be doing all they can to raise attainment for the less fortunate and work with schools.
  • That can be sponsoring schools, supporting a robust curriculum or running summer camps, universities have the potential here to make a tremendous difference in opening up opportunities.
  • So, I want your access budgets not to be spent on marketing but on raising standards, providing the role models, the information, encouraging aspiration and highlighting the high quality opportunities available.

And just when you thought you’d hit the pinnacle of speech writers’ bingo we match a full house with the levelling up agenda and ‘transformation’ mention…

  • …this Government was elected on a mandate to level up Britain, to deliver greater opportunities to every person and every community in the UK.
  • Universities must play a vital role in helping to achieve this mission and helping to achieve the transformation of lives.
  • So, today I’m calling for change, to start a new era on access and participation. One that’s based on raising standards, not on dumbing down; on putting prospective students and their ambitions and their needs first; on results and impact, not on box ticking and marketing; and on delivering graduates into jobs that really will transform their lives.

This looks like a potential huge change to the regulatory agenda on access and participation as well as setting the context for the TEF/Augar updates to come.

FE & Apprenticeships

The weekend’s news emphasised building the FE sector and apprenticeships alongside the additional rescue research pot news. Robert Halfon (Education Committee Chair) called for changes to the focus and use of the apprenticeship levy, alongside pushing for a guaranteed apprenticeship offer:

  • Government should utilise the apprenticeship levy close the skills deficit primarily focused for young (16-24 years) apprenticeships from disadvantaged backgrounds and degree apprenticeships – not middle-managementMBA apprenticeships.
  • Where possible, all new recruits to the public sector should be offered an apprenticeship
  • The cost of the £3bn National Skills Fund should be redirected “towards the cost of funding the training of apprentices for non-levy payers. Alongside this, a wage subsidy for small and medium businesses — be that paying wages for the first year, or a lump sum upfront.”
  • Universities should work towards 50% of their students undertaking degree level apprenticeships, using the levy and wage subsidies. The £800bn they spend on access and participation should be allocated to universities and grow their degree apprentice student numbers.

Research Professional have a good write up speculating on Halfon’s position on apprenticeships (before he made the guarantee speech). Including a quote from Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI,

…many universities have stepped up to the plate to help deliver apprenticeships, and with difficult economic times to come, we need more good opportunities for raising skills and keeping people off the unemployment queues. But the common tendency to attack traditional higher education when lauding apprenticeships is very unhelpful he added, criticising Halfon’s quote. It wrongly implies that we need less of one and more of the other. In fact, we need more opportunities of all sorts if this generation of school leavers are not to be scarred for the long term.

And this Guardian article (on admissions reform which we covered in Monday’s policy update) contains FE content in its conclusion: The new post-18 education policy proposals came as Williamson wants to move beyond the coronavirus pandemic aftermath, with measures to improve the status and attractiveness of further education, which it regards as a more cost-effective means of meeting the UK labour market’s skills shortage.

There were two meaty Education Committee sessions examining the impact of C-19 focussed on FE and apprenticeships last week, with mention of the FE white paper. You can watch both sessions here, or read the transcript.

An interesting survey (pre-Covid) carried out by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board on apprenticeship report found:

  • Mixed views towards the apprenticeship levy – 32% employers were positive; 19% negative.
  • Only 16% of those surveyed in England said the apprenticeship levy had increased the number of apprentices in their business.
  • SMEs surveyed had a more positive perception (45%) of the Apprenticeship Levy than large companies (29%).
  • Employers also identified a number of challenges facing apprenticeship recruitment, with a lack of suitable work and no current need for apprentices cited by 81%, and a preference to hire graduates or experienced staff over apprentices expressed by 18% of respondents.
  • Other barriers were lack of flexibility in off-the-job requirements (19%) and distance from training providers (29%).
  • Many of those interviewed saw apprenticeships as a way of ‘giving back’ and providing an alternative to those who were not suited to or interested in further academic study, favouring a more technical approach with real work experience.

They made several recommendations to improve apprenticeships:

  • Apprenticeships need better representation by Government, employers and in the mainstream media. Apprenticeships should be included as a destination at both 16 and 18 in school leaving measures and performance tables to bring them on par with further academic study and in media commentary as a destination at relevant school leaving ages.
  • Apprenticeships need to be more clearly defined because the current definition lacks detail and makes it difficult to distinguish between new entrants and apprenticeships used for upskilling and reskilling existing staff.
  • Apprenticeship delivery needs to be decentralised and led through collaborative, regional partnerships which include employers so the pipeline of new recruits aligns to local industrial strategies and skills shortages.
  • Apprenticeship recruitment needs to be more inclusive to improve the diversity of the workforce. Employers should actively reach out and appeal to a wider community rather than relying on traditional recruitment processes.
  • In England, more flexibility is needed around the requirement for 20% of training to take place off-the-job; more support is needed to allow courses to run with lower numbers of apprentices and to pay for apprentices to travel to and from both the employer and the training provider; and more alignment is needed with the upcoming T Levels to allow T level students to transfer into relevant level 3 apprenticeships.

And the APPG for Apprenticeships has called for evidence on how the sector has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and what further work is required to improve apprenticeships policy for the future.

Student Survey

HEPI have a new survey of 1,000 undergraduates addressing their pandemic HE experience:

  • 1 in 5 students (19%) say they have had ‘very clear’ communications on Covid-19 from their higher education institutions (down from 31% in March);
  • 44% feel they have received clear communications about the next academic year from their HE provider
  • 63% are satisfied with the way their HE provider has handled their remaining assessments for this academic year
  • Fewer students are satisfied with the online learning replacement of face-to-face teaching than they when surveyed in March – 42% are satisfied, compared to 49% in March
  • 44% are satisfied with the delivery of support services, such as careers and mental health support, during lockdown
  • 57% are living away from their usual term-time residence. 30% have received a refund on accommodation costs or early release from a contract.
  • Thinking about measures implemented ready for next year HEPI highlight a hierarchy of expectations
    • 75% expect increased hygiene
    • 71% expect some learning online
    • 71% expect social distancing measures
    • 26% expect limitations to courses
    • 25% expect a delayed start to term
    • 18% expect all learning to be online

Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

  • The results show that students are realistic that the next academic year is likely to be radically different to the norm. They understand that some level of social distancing is likely to remain in place and blended teaching will combine online and face-to-face teaching. However, it is concerning that less than half feel they have had clear messaging from their university about the next academic year. While it is difficult to predict exactly where we will be by September, it is important universities are as clear as possible in their communications to students.
  • Staff are working their socks off to get their campuses ready for the new academic year and we hope these results will help them prepare.

Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy responded to the report:

  • These figures show that whilst universities have responded quickly and largely successfully to problems, there are still significant numbers of students not getting the support they need. Not all of this can be laid at the door of universities, which have had to meet the challenges with no meaningful help from government.
  • It is paramount that the government provides the support needed so universities can feel confident in dealing with students over the impact of COVID-19 during the next academic year. The government must also provide increased support to students regarding their mental health and wellbeing and providing well-sourced and sufficient hardship funds to universities so no student gets into further debt because of the pandemic.

Graduate Outcomes

The latest provider level LEO (longitudinal education outcomes) data highlighting graduate outcomes was released late last week. The exciting development in this release was for the first time the inclusion of graduates who moved overseas. This new tracking feature had little impact on the overall outcomes but it highlighted, unsurprisingly, that languages students were most likely to move overseas. Next most likely to work outside the UK were physics and astronomy graduates.

The chart below shows the median earnings distribution per subject studying 5 years post-graduation.

Business and management had the widest range of earnings variation – from £17,900 to £75,900. With law incomes also varying greatly.

If you scroll down to the charts on earnings by subject and sex you’ll spot that male salaries (their median earnings) are more than female earnings in the majority of institutions except for Veterinary Studies and Performing Arts.

Wonkhe’s data guru provides his interpretation and some interactive charts on the LEO data release in this blog.

Research

R&D Roadmap

On Wednesday Alok announced the R&D roadmap (with accompanying written ministerial statement). The roadmap aims to chart a course to science superpower status (which Research Professional argue the UK already is) through public investment (£22 billion by 2024/25) attracting private investment, making science and talent central to tackling the major challenges facing society whilst being green, closing the productivity gaps and harnessing technology to transform everything (work, health, people, process, services). The Minister says:  We can only make the most of the UK’s science superpower strengths by working with partners in government, academia, industry and charities across the UK. The roadmap marks the start of a conversation on what actions need to be taken and how to ensure our R&D system is fit for purpose now and for the future. We are engaging with the devolved administrations and other Government departments to ensure this is a cross Government and UK-wide discussion and will be undertaking a broader programme of engagement in the run up to the spending review this autumn.

Brief points from the roadmap (including those already announced):

  • Increase R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027; public funding of R&D to £22 billion by 2024/25 – with the investment intended to leverage further domestic and international business investment into UK R&D.
  • Diversity features frequently throughout the roadmap– access, workforce, innovation, international outlook. Our mission is to inspire and enable people from all backgrounds and experiences to engage and contribute to research and innovation and show that science is for everyone.
  • Celebrate our successes far and wide, showcasing our strengths, and promoting the UK as a destination for talent and investment, and a partner of choice.
  • Checking on the system to ensure the structural barriers aren’t impeding progress:

World-class research and dynamic innovation are part of an interconnected system; they depend on talented people and teams working in a supportive and diverse culture across multiple sectors, with access to the right funding, infrastructure, data and connections – locally, nationally, internationally – to do their best work. We will examine how this system is working across government, academia, universities, research institutes and technology organisations, businesses, charities, domestic and international investors, global networks and partners…

…we will make the bold changes needed to ensure our system is fit for purpose now and for the future. This will require tackling fundamental and challenging questions about our R&D priorities and addressing long-term problems in the system. It seems the Government has taken note of recent publications such as access to and diversity in doctoral research and a potential research bullying culture.

There’s an indicator of timescale …We will not be afraid to make tough choices to achieve this ambition. Many of these are for the UK Government and we will address these as we prepare for the Spending Review.

There are two full pages entitled being honest about where we need to improve (p9-10) covering bureaucracy, unhealthy work culture, Golden Triangle, national security issues, third party funding dependencies.

Similarly, in relation to innovation, the Government intends to: review how we fund and assess discovery and applied research, to cut unnecessary bureaucracy, pursue ambitious “moonshots”, and ensure that institutional funding and international collaboration can support our ambitions. More from page 49 onwards on this.

  • An Innovation Expert Group will review and improve the system including strengthening the interactions between discovery research, applied research, innovation, commercialisation and deployment (and juggling the devolved elements).
  • Focus is key – We will exploit competitive and comparative advantage where the UK can lead the world in key industries, technologies and ideas. And we will ensure we have the best regulatory system to support research and development. This includes supporting start ups and entrepreneurs and their access to finance.
  • A new R&D People and Culture Strategywe will increase the attractiveness and sustainability of careers throughout the R&D workforce – not just for researchers, but also for technicians, innovators, entrepreneurs and practitioners.
  • Set up an Office for Talentwhich will take a new and proactive approach to attracting and retaining the most promising global science, research and innovation talent to the UK. Research Professional highlight that this will need to work with the points based immigration system.
  • The Global Talent Visa (launched in Feb 2020) will be extended to allow highly skilled scientists and researchers from across the globe to come to the UK without needing a job offer.
  • International PhD students will be eligible for a three year work visa (from summer 2021 onwards); undergraduates and maters students remain at the two year visa level (Government has been listening again – you’ll recall Jo Johnson called for a four year visa recently).
  • A new R&D Place Strategy – to unlock local growth and societal benefit from R&D across the UK (due later this year), which will likely involve building on the Strength in Places Fund. Page 32 onwards tackles Levelling up R&D across the UK. Commenting on this section of the report Research Professional state: But for all the noise the government makes on levelling up, there is nothing new in the roadmap about what this might mean in practice.
  • Interestingly, the Government plans to: Provide long-term flexible investment into infrastructure and institutions. This will allow us to develop and maintain cutting-edge research, development and innovation infrastructure, with agile and resilient institutions able to play their fullest role. We will build on the UK’s system of universities, public sector research establishments and other publicly funded laboratories, developing our large-scale infrastructure, facilities, resources and services to make them world-leading. (See more from page 47.)
  • A new funding offer for collaboration to ensure the UK can further benefit from the opportunities of international scientific partnerships. Be a partner of choice for other world-leading research and innovation nations, as well as strengthening R&D partnerships with emerging and developing countries. This will create new opportunities for collaboration, trade, growth and influence. We aim to maintain a close and friendly collaborative relationship with our European partners, seeking to agree a fair and balanced deal for participation in EU R&D schemes. If we do not associate to programmes such as Horizon Europe, we will meet any funding shortfalls and put in place alternative schemes.
  • Creating the ARPA style body (‘at least’ £800 million) to set up a unique and independent funding body for advanced research, modelled on the US’ Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). This body will back breakthrough technologies and basic research by experimenting with new funding models across long-term time horizons. The new body will collaborate internationally, championing bold and transformative R&D. Research Professional (RP) note that Boris promised ARPA would be created during the summer, however, as the new body will require legislation to create it and there are only three sitting weeks of Parliament left it seems likely it’ll begin to form in the Autumn at the earliest. RP also state that there isn’t a firm commitment to joining the European Innovation Council, which under Horizon Europe will be an Arpa-inspired funder of deep-tech-based innovation and entrepreneurship.

Specifically on HE the roadmap states:

We will refresh our relationship with universities in England to ensure that their research activities are sustainable and delivering even greater impact, and that their diverse roles in innovation and regional growth are supported and strengthened. We will review how we fund university research, ensuring that we support the highest quality research areas to grow efficiently with the minimum of bureaucracy

We will work with the higher education sector in England to agree a set of reforms to support university research and knowledge exchange to become more resilient, more efficient and ensure better outcomes from public funding. A new ‘compact’ between government and universities in England could strengthen accountability for discretionary funding, potentially bringing together existing separate higher education research concordats, reducing bureaucracy for institutions and their staff. We will work with the devolved administrations to ensure coherence of approaches across the UK.

Alongside this, we will be reviewing the mechanisms which we use to support university research in England and the incentives that these create within the R&D system. This includes the core block grant funding known as Quality-related Research (QR), which is used at universities’ discretion to fund a broad range of activities, including the work which universities undertake with businesses and other partners, and the nurturing of higher risk and emerging areas of research – especially early career research. We will continue to work closely with UKRI and the devolved administrations to achieve a healthy balance between QR (and its devolved equivalents) and the more directed funding that we provide to projects and people, ensuring that we maintain a vibrant and diverse research base which can respond flexibly to economic and societal challenges. And when we evolve the Research Excellence Framework after the current exercise is complete, we should aspire to run a system which is fair, unbureaucratic and rewards improvement.

In addition, we will work with other funders to consider opportunities to fund a greater proportion of the full economic cost of research projects in universities. This includes asking whether government should fund at a higher rate, to safeguard the sustainability of the research we fund. We must balance this with the need for research funding to be efficient and to protect universities’ ability to deploy their own resources strategically on research issues of particular importance to them. (Has the Government been listening to the Russell Groups’ lobbying for full economic costing?)

The roadmap receives the expected criticism for lack of detail and is best viewed as a series of policy commitments with Treasure backing (it is similar in approach to the Industrial Strategy). It states This Roadmap is the start of a big conversation on what actions need to be taken and how…Over the coming months we will develop the proposals in this Roadmap in a comprehensive R&D plan working very closely with the devolved administrations where plans cover or impact on their devolved policy responsibilities. This plan will only be effective if it is developed with people and organisations across the UK. We welcome responses to the high-level questions (survey).

Research Professional dissect the Roadmap is their usual entertaining way and have an article introducing the Roadmap from Amanda Solloway (Science Minister).

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec UUK, stated:

  • We welcome recognition of the role that university-based research and innovation activities will play in driving the UK’s social and economic recovery post Covid-19 and the particular focus on tackling climate change, developing new medicines, attracting the best scientists and researchers from around the world and addressing longstanding challenges around the sustainability of research activity.
  • The news that the new Graduate Route will be extended for PhD students to allow them to remain in the UK for three years after study is a bold policy move which will increase the UK’s competitive edge in the global competition for talented research students. The announcement of the Graduate Route is already having a huge impact on the UK’s attractiveness as a destination. It will give a competitive offer to some of the brightest minds from across the world who bring huge benefits to university campuses and local communities and can help to build the economy. The commitment to excellent customer service across the immigration system, so that it is simple, easy and quick recognises the benefits of attracting international talent and students to the UK, is a positive and welcome move.

Strength in Places Projects Alok Sharma, Business Secretary, announced a £400 million boost to regional R&D projects across the UK by funding 7 projects across the UK through the Strength in Places Fund. The Government (£186m) and industry (£230m) supplied funding forms part of the commitment to invest 2.4% of GDP in R&D and the Fund itself aims to drive local economic growth. The projects include zero-emissions tech for maritime vessels, smart-packaging to cut food waste, understanding and addressing financial behaviours, selecting medicines based on a patient’s genetics, and new health products to combat infections.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma stated:

  • Today’s announcement will ensure some of our country’s most promising R&D projects get the investment they need to take off and thrive. Working with the private sector our world-class universities, we’re backing new and innovative ideas that will create jobs and boost skills in every part of the UK for years to come.

There was also an announcement on the extension of the Future Fund for businesses.

Letter Outgoing Chief Executive of UKRI, Sir Mark Walport, wrote an open letter to the research and innovation community setting out UKRI’s achievements during his tenure and praising how the research sector has been instrumental in responding to the C-19 pandemic.

REF 2021 The REF team ran a webinar and are consulting on further changes to REF 2021 to adapt to the pandemic disruption. Also the nomination window to sit on the sub-panels is now open.

C-19 Research Funding The NUS are concerned the Government’s additional research rescue proposals (contributing to the loss of international student fees which often subsidise research) will increase inequalities:

  • The concerns of university leaders are clearly being heard in government. However, we are extremely concerned that only a select group of universities will benefit from this package. To offer funding to the research intensive parts of our education system, while only offering restructuring for teaching intensive universities and colleges, threatens to intensify inequalities in our education. It is the institutions which have the largest proportions of disadvantaged students which could suffer the most, turning back the clock on access to higher education.
  • Students, graduates and their families will be deeply disappointed to see another government announcement of funding for universities with no thought given to money for students. Students have been left jobless. Many are reliant on food banks, without access to Universal Credit. We need hardship funding that every single person in need can access right now.

Parliamentary Questions

Disability

The OfS have been prolific publishers during the pandemic. Their latest briefing note addresses the impact of C-19 on disabled students and applicants.

  • Many disabled students already face challenges during their time in higher education that students without a known disability do not…disabled students are less likely to continue their degrees, graduate with a good degree, and progress onto a highly skilled job or further study.
  • …there is a risk that the pandemic may be exacerbating these challenges and creating new issues, particularly if students are unsure of how to access study support or financial aid. It is also particularly important that disabled prospective students can continue to access advice and guidance to help them to make informed decisions about their higher education options.

The briefing note responds to concerns directly raised by disabled students and highlights good practice from HE institutions. It also looks forward discussing – the potential for the current expansion of remote learning and inclusive assessment processes to benefit disabled students if incorporated into longer-term teaching approaches.

Graduate Internships

UUK have published We are together –  Supporting graduates in a Covid-19 economy calling for a one-year paid internships scheme to be on offer for 2020 graduates to help them get a foothold on the employment ladder. UUK believe the internships would support graduate employment prospects and help businesses get back on their feet post-lockdown. UUK see the LEP (local enterprise partnerships) as integral to the creation of the internships both targeting businesses most in need and channelling recent graduates into the local community. Key points:

  • Targeted support for universities and businesses to set-up paid internship opportunities for graduates.
  • Greater support to co-ordinate graduate internship opportunities including better communication of existing schemes.
  • An in-study interest break on the Postgraduate Master’s Loan to encourage more – including those from poorer backgrounds – to consider postgraduate study.
  • Policy change to support a growth in modular and bitesize learning opportunities to help meet immediate business needs.

Joint working with universities, LEPs and businesses with support from the UK government could create fair and meaningful opportunities for young people and ensure this crisis does not lead to a rise in unpaid internships – and reverse the hard-won progress the sector has begun to make on social mobility. UUK is happy to work with government, the Office for Students, and other relevant bodies on the different ways any additional support for this scheme could be provided and allocated.

Professor Julia Buckingham, UUK President and VC Brunel University, stated: Universities have been offering widespread support to help this year’s graduates find jobs and, while some employers are still running recruitment programmes online, the fact remains that there are thousands fewer jobs this year. Government support to incentivise and grow paid internships would benefit both graduates and employers, creating impactful opportunities for these young people and supporting the economic recovery.

Mark Bretton, LEP Network Chair, said: LEPs are already working with HE and FE partners on their LEP Boards to build the recovery and invest in the future lives of local young people. The graduate paid internship proposal from UUK is a logical extension of that work and would prove an effective way to support new graduates, help local businesses, boost the local economy, and contribute to the national recovery.

We look forward to discussing the design and details with UUK and the government, and hope to explore how we can widen the initiative to include other areas like the FE sector. Our partnership with UUK on the Graduate 2020 programme is a natural fit, ensuring funds are targeted based on the needs of local businesses, particularly SMEs, and the priorities identified by LEP Skills Advisory Panels and Growth Hubs as part of economic recovery planning. The partnership clearly demonstrates how LEPs and universities can work together, not only to support business, but to help young people build their lives in one of the most economically challenging periods of modern times.

Liam McCabe, President of NUS Scotland, said: We welcome these proposals from UUK and urge government to implement them. In particular, investment in widening access to postgraduate study and more modular and bitesize learning opportunities will be essential to graduates’ and the UK’s future.

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), commented: The current crisis is likely to have a long-term negative impact on the career prospects of the 2020 and 2021 graduating cohorts. Employers facing significant financial challenges, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, will struggle to provide internships and entry level jobs in sufficient quantities to meet students’ needs.

A government funded stimulus package that encourages businesses to invest in young people will boost both the employment prospects of students and the skills base of the UK economy.

Matthew Percival, People and Skills Director at the CBI, said: Graduates face a challenging labour market due to the impact of coronavirus. Businesses will do what they can to ensure that young people have opportunities as the economy restarts, but a new partnership between companies and government is needed. Financial incentives to create jobs and training opportunities earlier in recovery will be vital to reducing youth unemployment.

Admissions

UCAS have confirmed a rise in the number of students accepting places to start HE in September 2020 start. UK applicants accepting a place are up by 1% (2,200 more) compared to 2019. EU acceptances have fallen by 6% with UCAS stating this needs to be seen alongside the overall dwindling EU application numbers. Overall for UK applicants less have deferred their university place than in 2019. With 290 students less opting to defer (2% less overall). However, applicants from outside the EU have increased in number choosing to defer, up by 21% (200 more deferrals). UCAS suggest this deferral rate should also be set in the context of the increased volume (+15%) of non-EU applicants this year. While less UK applicants overall have chosen to defer unfortunately there is a disadvantaged element. UCAS have also examined the POLAR data showing a small increase in applicants from the most disadvantaged area (quintile 1) selecting to defer (+60 applicants, up by 6%)

Parliamentary Questions

Students

HE Sector The importance of good indoor ventilation.

Student Number Controls

Some parliamentary questions provide new content on the student number controls:

In case you missed it previously – confirmation that degree apprenticeships are not counted within the student number controls.

On the reasoning behind the thresholds set for the student number controls Donelan explains:

  • The intention is that it is simple, competitive and places minimal burden on higher education providers.
  • The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) Year Four data was used…It is publicly available and requires no additional aggregation or calculation, ensuring transparency. Other data sources are or will be available, but do not average across multiple years of data as is done in TEF.
  • The…minimum qualifying thresholds, ensures that the 5,000 places are awarded on a competitive basis, by restricting eligibility to only the top performing providers.

Deferring students – Donelan dials back on last week’s pro-student choice rhetoric stating: If students do want to defer, it is a matter for individual providers and not the government, so students should speak to their providers directly to determine what flexibility exists.

And the competition for the 5,000 extra healthcare places has been reopened (after institutions had already made their bids and after the original deadline closed). Nursing Times say this is because the Government are planning to free up further funds to increase the places above the 5,000 limit due to ‘significant demand’. It will also provide more time for universities to ensure there are enough clinical placements for increased numbers of new students. As reported last week UCAS have confirmed there are vacancies on all nursing specialism courses, despite applications being up by 6%.

Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary of State, said:

  • Following the fantastic news last Thursday that we have over 12,000 more nurses working in our NHS compared to last year, we have seen huge demand from universities for the additional places we’ve made available on nursing, midwifery or allied health courses.
  • This pandemic has demonstrated just how important our healthcare professionals are, and the demand for places shows that there are thousands of prospective students looking to train for rewarding careers in our NHS.

HE Sector Finances

Research Professional report on a [leaked] briefing note written by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, seen by Research Professional News, explains that several government departments are working together “to develop a process through which higher education providers at risk of closure will be able to apply to government to access a restructuring regime as a last resort”

There will be “attached conditions” wherever the government decides restructuring is needed, BEIS wrote, and the regime “will look to support teaching intensive institutions where there is a case to do so and where intervention is possible and appropriate.

There is nothing unexpected in this, the mood music throughout the pandemic is that the Government will not bail out providers who are financially insolvent. Although there has been suggestion they will step in and intervene ensuring changes relevant to the Government’s agenda are made in return for keeping the institution running (in the short term) – leading some to suggest institutions would be unrecognisable after intervention, including the sale of properties and land.

Lords Debate

The Lords debated the parliamentary question: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to universities to assist them in dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In essence the Government representative (Lord Parkinson of Whiley Bay) received quite a grilling whilst he maintained the party line of stating the range of support methods the Government has put in place for the HE sector. Just a few indulgent excerpts here to highlight that Lords are fighting the HE corner:

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, the Government’s recent announcement provides little new money, and 75% of that will be in loans. Universities’ research is heavily subsidised by international student fee income, which is predicted to drop by £2 billion this year. Many universities have made massive contributions of equipment, research and staffing to the fight against coronavirus. Does the Minister accept that they now need a much more ambitious package of support, because they are making research and staff cutbacks at this moment?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay :The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point out the vital contribution that universities are making to solving the pandemic, which is putting pressures on them as well as on everybody else. She referred to the further package of support which the Government announced this weekend. In addition to bringing forward the tuition fee payments which I mentioned in my Answer, the Government are providing a package of support to universities to continue research and innovation. That includes £280 million of taxpayer funding available to sustain UK Research and Innovation and national academy grant-funded research, which is available immediately. From the autumn, there is a further package consisting of low-interest loans with long payback periods and supplemented by a further amount of government grants. I am therefore not sure that I accept what she says about the Government’s response being inadequate.

The Lord Bishop Of Winchester: My Lords, universities make a significant contribution to their local communities and economies, particularly smaller institutions that attract a larger proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These make a significant contribution to their local context, particularly in this pandemic…How will the Government work with higher education institutions to maintain the widening of access and retention of students, especially those preparing for key public service roles that have been so important during this pandemic crisis?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: …I am pleased that higher education providers can draw on existing funding, which is worth around £23 million a month at the moment, to provide hardship funds and support for disadvantaged students who are particularly affected by Covid-19.

Lord Craig Of Radley: My Lords, many university students in England have been missing tuition and access to libraries, laboratories and other university facilities, and may face financial hardship. The Minister says that the Government will not cut the amount paid to universities in tuition fees, but will they reduce sums to be recovered from formerly affected students in later life?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: The noble and gallant Lord is right to point out some of the many ways in which the university experience is being affected by this pandemic with regard to access to libraries, laboratories and so on. I am pleased that universities across the sector have responded swiftly and creatively to ensure that they remain open and that students can continue to avail themselves of high-quality education. Universities are autonomous and responsible for setting their own fees, and of course, as they approach the forthcoming academic year, if they decide to charge full fees, they will want to ensure that they can continue to deliver courses which are fit for purpose and which help students to progress their qualifications. However, any matter regarding the level of those fees and refunds is first and foremost for the providers and those who apply to them.

Vis Count Chandos (Lab): In the absence of more appropriate emergency grant funding to compensate for irrecoverable loss of revenues, the Government have encouraged universities to apply for business interruption loans. How does the Minister think these loans, designed for profit-making companies, can be repaid by non-profit HE institutions, other than at the expense of the quality of courses for future generations of students?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay:…he is also right to point out the wider societal benefits that universities bring, which is why the Government brought forward the additional package of measures which I outlined in my Answer.

Baroness Garden Of Frognal (LD): My Lords, what plans do the Government have to reform student and university funding to enable a greater number of people, especially mature learners, to undertake short higher education courses and build up to a full degree in a way that suits them? That will be increasingly important as individuals reskill post Covid.

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: The noble Baroness is absolutely right that many mature students and others may wish to consider courses of different lengths and varieties, and the Government are glad to see that wide range of courses offered. As she says, that will be particularly important over the coming months. The package of support which the Government have announced is of course available to providers irrespective of the length and format of the courses they offer.

Lord Norton Of Louth (Con):… Given how crucial that export is and that from next year EU students will no longer be subject to home fees, will the Government consider extending the new graduate route post-study work visa to three or four years to ensure that the United Kingdom has a competitive offer to international students?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay :My noble friend draws attention to the new graduate route which comes into effect from next summer, which allows people graduating from UK universities to stay here in work of any level and any remuneration for up to two years— an increased and very generous offer. That is part of the Government’s ambition to increase the number of international students coming to study here in the United Kingdom.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Online: Open University VC Tim Blackman writes about digitally rendered online learning, how selectivity has become a misnomer for prestige, and their new thrust to attract young learners.

Easing lockdown: The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper discussing the impact of the easing of lockdown restrictions on the FE and HE sectors in England.

EdTech: Articles on edtech are a dime a dozen during lockdown. This week’s offering is in a similar vein.

Lockdown placements: Wonkhe have a blog exploring how universities need to adapt content, assessments and requirements where placements have fallen during lockdown because the employer hasn’t offered a remote alternative.

Staying at home: The Guardian have an opinion piece on commuter students.

German HE: Research Professional report that private HE institutions have doubled their student numbers in the last decade in Germany. 8.5% of the student population attend a private university; they are particularly popular with part-time and already employed students. Of all German part time students nearly half (48%) chose a private provider and 41% of distance learners also opted for this type of provider. The most popular subjects were economics, law and social sciences.

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

HE policy update for the w/e 3rd June 2020

Parliament has returned from recess and happily so has your policy update. Here are the main stories from the last two weeks.

Parliamentary News

The FT reports that ministers are preparing to unveil a stimulus package in July, with money expected to go into training schemes and infrastructure projects plus support for technology companies. “With unemployment rising rapidly, the prime minister is also due to make a major speech in June aimed at encouraging Britons into work”. The fiscal event is not expected to constitute a Budget. Some No 10 officials are reportedly pushing for the national infrastructure strategy to be repackaged as spending to fuel the economic recovery after the Covid-19 crisis.

House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle  wrote to MPs   to outline new voting arrangements  after hybrid proceedings were ended. Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has tabled a Government motion on proposals for voting, which could include socially distanced queues through the halls of Parliament.

The Labour Party and other opposition parties tabled an amendment to the Government motion on voting in the Commons, which they lost.  Valerie Vaz  MP, Shadow Leader of the House, said

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg‘s discriminatory proposals would result in two classes of  MPs. Those who can physically attend and those unable to owing to the Government’s own rules, including having an underlying health condition or shielding responsibilities.   The abolition of the hybrid remote parliament which allowed all MPs to take part regardless of their personal circumstances is discriminatory and would not be acceptable in any other workplace.   We remain ready to work with the Government and all parties to reach a consensus that would allow all MPs to participate on an equal basis.”  

In Wednesday’s PMQs, the PM appeared to say that proxy votes would be allowed, which contradicted the statement from Rees-Mogg – this debate will probably continue.

Apprenticeships

The DfE published an update to their Apprenticeships and Traineeships (England) statistics paper.  In 2019/20 (up to March) higher level apprenticeships made up 24.1% of all starts (62,600). In the March – April 2020 (C-19 and lockdown period) 33.8% of starts were on higher apprenticeships – nearly double the proportion for the same period in 2018/19 (which was 17.1%). Overall the number of apprenticeships starting in this period were much lower meaning the almost doubled proportion of higher starts overtook the proportion of intermediate apprenticeships.

Postgraduate LEO data

The Government published statistics on the employment and earnings outcomes of postgraduates.

UK Postgraduates

2017/18 saw an increase in Level 7 (Masters level) postgraduate earnings one, three and five years after graduation, although earnings ten years after graduation saw no change in nominal terms.

For 2014/15 to 2017/18 tax year median earnings for the most recent postgraduates (one year after graduation) increased by £1,400 (5.6%) and by £1,200 (3.9%) for the five years after graduation cohorts. However, in real terms recent postgraduates saw no increase in their median earnings and those five years after graduation saw a fall of £500.

Five years after graduation, level 7 postgraduates earn more than first degree graduates (£32,200 compared to £26,600). However those who continue onto postgraduate study are a non-random subset of the first degree population and these figures do not control for differences in the characteristics of those who continue to postgraduate study.

The absolute increase in earnings between 2014/15 and 2017/18 for Level 7 postgraduates five years after graduation is largely equal for males and females but the gender gap is larger than that seen for first degree graduates. Five years after graduation male Level 7 graduates earn 19.1% more than females compared to first degree graduates where males earn 14.3% more than females.

International graduates

For EU domiciled graduates, those who completed a Level 8 qualification were more likely to be in sustained employment and/or further study in the UK after graduation compared to those who completed a Level 7 (taught) qualification. For example, 43.9% of Level 8 graduates were in sustained employment and/or further study one year after graduation compared to 35.3% of Level 7 (taught) graduates. This pattern is also true for Non-EU graduates where 28.9% of Level 8 graduates were in sustained employment and/or further study one year after graduation compared to 13.0% of Level 7 (taught) graduates.

Overall, within each study level, Non-EU domiciled graduates were less likely to be in sustained employment and/or further study in the UK than EU domiciled graduates. However, when looking at those who graduated with a Level 7 (taught) qualification ten years after graduation, nearly the same proportion of EU (18.1%) and Non-EU (17.6%) domiciled graduates were still working and/or studying in the UK.

Median earnings five years after graduation for Non-EU domiciled Level 7 graduates are in line with those for UK domiciled graduates (£32,100 compared to £32,200).  Whereas earnings for EU graduates are higher at £35,000.

However, this pattern varies by English region.  London has a similar picture to the overall national data but in a number of regions UK domiciled graduates have the highest regional earnings. This is particularly noticeable in the more northern regions. For example, in the North West median earnings for UK domiciled graduates are £29,600 compared to £27,400 for EU graduates and £26,600 for Non-EU graduates.

International Students

Immigration statistics

The Home Office published  immigration statistics for the year ending March 2020.

  • In the year ending March 2020, there were 299,023 Sponsored study (Tier 4) visas granted (including dependants), a 23% increase on the year ending March 2019, and the highest level since the year ending June 2011.
  • Chinese nationals were the most common nationality granted Tier 4 visas in the year ending March 2020, up 18% compared with the year ending March 2019 to 118,530 (accounting for 40% of the total).
  • The number of grants to Chinese students is now more than double the number in 2012.
  • Indian nationals also saw a notable increase in the number of Tier 4 visas granted, more than doubling (up 136% to 49,844) compared with the year ending March 2019, continuing an increase seen since 2016
  • Those coming on Tier 4 visas bring relatively few dependants, with 94% of the visas issued being to main applicants, compared with 71% for Work visas.
  • The vast majority (97%) of those with Tier 4 visas expiring in the year ending March 2019, were known to have departed from the UK before their visa had expired. In 2018, 46,782 former Tier 4 visa holders extended their leave in the UK, either for further study or to remain in the UK for other reasons, such as for marriage or work.

Sponsored study visa applications                                                                                    

In the year ending September 2019 sponsored study visa applications rose 13% to 258,787. The majority (86%) of these were for study at higher education (university) institutions, whose number increased by 14% to 222,047, the highest level on record.

Applications per sector: higher education (86%), independent schools (5%), further education (5%), English language schools (3%), other (1%)

Frank words

Jo Johnson writes for the Spectator on movement in the role international students will play within the universities of the world. Some of the content is the same old but it is worth a read to hear the Ex-Universities Minister speaking frankly and adding nuance to newer aspects. Excerpts:

  • The UK’s ability to bounce back will be gravely impaired if international students are no longer around to underpin the foundations of institutions central to our performance as a knowledge economy. A drop in international student numbers of potentially 50 to 75 per cent will threaten the vitality of dozens of mid-sized British university towns from Chichester to Newcastle and send into reverse one of the great boom businesses of the globalised economy.
  • ..The £7 billion they bring in fees provides an annual cross-subsidy that compensates for losses incurred in research and the teaching of high-cost subjects. These include not just laboratory-based sciences but also courses vital for our creative industries.
  • ..So far, a plea from lobbyists Universities UK for a sector-specific bailout package has gone largely unanswered. Barring a £100 million dollop of research funding and the bringing forward of £2.6 billion of tuition fee payments, universities have been told to manage their financial risks with the same grant, loan and furlough schemes available to others.
  • To say the sector feels unloved is an understatement….It is a victim of its own relentless growth, itself a function of the poor quality of the alternatives, a demand-led higher education funding model and, above all, the changing occupational structure of the workforce.
  • But the message to the sector from government is clear: any university approaching the Treasury for special treatment can expect to emerge in a very different shape following a rigorous debt workout. Forced mergers and the closure of programmes deemed to be offering low quality or poor value for money will be the order of the day, even if measuring this objectively will prove to be immensely challenging.
  • The return of domestic student number controls, ostensibly on a temporary basis to prevent an unseemly scramble to backfill places left empty by international students this September, will in time turn into a tool to dial back the expansion of the sector. It will make international students more keenly sought after than ever.
  • Those institutions that have the financial reserves to ride out the storm this coming academic year will find that pessimism about the medium-term future for international education is overblown. …As developing countries seek to improve their own league table performance and welcome overseas students themselves, international education will cease to be considered in terms of a mainly Western and English-speaking archetype.

Parliamentary questions relating to international students:

Research

Ministerial Research Taskforce

The Ministerial University Research and Knowledge Exchange Taskforce has published its membership, terms of reference and ways of working confirming it will be a time limited endeavour.

The purpose of the taskforce is to provide an advisory forum for ministers at BEIS and DFE to engage with university research and knowledge exchange stakeholders with the aim of sustaining the university research base and its capability to contribute effectively to UK society and economy in the recovery to coronavirus (COVID-19) and beyond.

It will:

  • share information and intelligence about the health of the university research and the knowledge exchange carried out by and within higher education institutions (HEIs)
  • identify potential impacts on the sustainability of university research and knowledge exchange directly arising from the response to COVID-19
  • share intelligence on government and other sources of support or funding that may be available and develop approaches that building on these to address the impacts of coronavirus and protect and sustain HEI research capability and capacity
  • where possible share evidence of the impacts on university research and knowledge exchange of the taskforce’s advice

The taskforce will have an advisory role, providing views on these topics alongside a range of other sources of advice.

Regional Research & Development Funding Imbalance

NESTA have taken a look at the geographical location of R&D investment. It states Innovation drives economic growth. It makes people and places better off by creating modern, productive businesses and higher paid, more meaningful work. Research and Development makes innovation possible. Businesses and governments spend money on R&D to create and test new ideas. There’s a lovely little map which highlights how badly the South West does on R&D funds compared to other locations. And their Design the Future tool is interactive allowing you to adjust the priorities based on your view of their importance and see what impact it has on the regions. Maybe you can find the right combination of policy options for the South West’s prospects to improve but I found there wasn’t much movement even with extreme policy combinations! NESTA’s report: The Missing £4 Billion calls for things to be done differently. Excerpt:

  • The current situation is the result of a combination of deliberate policy decisions and a natural dynamic in which these small preferences combined with initial advantages are reinforced with time. For example, of a series of major capital investments in research infrastructure between 2007 and 2014, 71 per cent was made in London, the East and South East of England, through a process criticised by the National Audit Office. The need for continuing revenue funding to support these investments lock in geographical imbalances in R&D for many years. Imbalanced investment in R&D is, at most, only part of why the UK’s regional economic divides widened in the past and have failed to close in recent decades. But it is a factor that the government can influence. It has failed to do so. Where attempts have been made to use R&D to balance the UK’s economic strengths, they have been insufficient in scale. They describe the South West’s position as: low levels of public investment but slightly higher private sector spending on R&D, similar to Northern Ireland.

NESTA report summary from Wonkhe Monday – A report for Nesta by Tom Forth and Richard Jones, which explores the regional imbalance in research and development funding, estimates that it would take an additional £4 billion in funding for regions, cities, and nations to be funded at the same rate as London and the South East of England. Though stuffed with technical detail at its core, the report is calling for a review of political priorities in the allocation of research and development funds, incorporating an overt agenda for economic growth whose benefits are spread across the nation. An accompanying online tool allows users to explore the relative impact of a series of possible priorities for research and development funding. Though released with relatively little fanfare, we shouldn’t underestimate the likely influence of the report, which goes very much with the grain of current government policy thinking.

Research Budget

BEIS have announced the 2020-21 R&D budget allocations. Research Professional cover it here, and state on the face of it, the proposed science budget of £10.36 billion looks as if it has been trimmed from a previously promised £11.4bn.  And there is no mention of the much-vaunted Advanced Research Projects Agency backed by Cummings—unless it is coming from within the UKRI budget.

Recent research parliamentary questions

UCAS Plus

UCAS blog about Clearing Plus on Wonkhe:

Clearing Plus works by suggesting courses to students that are typically favoured by similar applicants, and that they are eligible for.

Two critical factors are involved:

  • Available courses and a university’s own recruitment criteria.
  • A match score of students and courses based on historical acceptances.

From early July, those not holding an offer or place can see their individual list of matched courses in Track (their online UCAS account) by clicking a button. From there, they can easily send an expression of interest to their chosen universities. After a conversation, the student can decide whether to officially add them to their application. As ever, admissions teams have the final say over who they admit onto their courses

University of X wants to recruit to their physics course, and therefore submits physics to Clearing Plus, stipulating that it is only visible to applicants with a confirmed A level grade B in maths. They will then receive the details of all unplaced applicants who have clicked on their course to register interest. Applicants won’t see the course if they don’t have the required B (or higher) grade, so admissions teams can have confidence in those registering interest. This means that the applicant’s achieved regulated grade is used, as it would be in any other year.

The widening participation opportunities are obvious. Admissions teams can also choose to use POLAR and SIMD as part of their criteria to effectively reach underrepresented applicants, helping them achieve a diverse student population.

The article goes on to explain matched scores and clusters and promises:

…by basing matches on clusters of students who have been previously placed on courses, using factors mentioned earlier (e.g. grades and not sex), students will discover courses which may not have been on their radar in the past, but are qualified to succeed on.

Admissions

Student number controls were announced on Monday with the regulatory adjustments presented to Parliament on Tuesday. Here is the written ministerial statement. A reminder of the main points:

  • Introduced to help maintain the overall health and stability of the higher education sector in these unprecedented times. Time limited as direct response to C-19 and the potential financial instability facing HE institutions. Student number controls aim to prevent large swings in the number of students between providers, with much higher levels of recruitment at some providers potentially leaving others in financial difficulty. They also aim to prevent recruitment practices which are against students’ best interests because they may encourage them to accept an offer from a provider that is not best suited to their needs.
  • Aim to prevent excessive recruitment. Allow for planned growth (based on submitted institutional plans). Grumbles within the sector state the cap favours the highest tariff institutions/those who normally recruit high levels of international students because they will be able to replace lost international students with more domestic students plus still have growth room. It remains to be seen if this will widen access at the highest tariff institutions. The other variable is whether international recruitment really turns out to be as dire as predicted.
  • Institutions who recruit above the cap will be penalised financially by a reduction in the fee level the following academic year (penalties on page 15 here). A loophole is institutions who already have confirmed offers above the cap level before they received their capped value.
  • Part time, most postgraduate and international students are not included within the capped numbers count. Foundation years are. Students with a family income above the level to access student loan funding are not included within the cap. On this Wonkhe say: providers that recruit many students from well-to-do backgrounds can, seemingly, fill their boots.
  • The number cap placed on each institution will not be published as it is considered commercially sensitive, but the methodology for calculation has been published.
  • Institutions can apply for a share of the additional 5000 places for nursing and allied health once the planned numbers plus 5% have been filled (and assuming enough clinical placements can be offered) . Alongside this an additional 5000 for ‘strategically important subjects’ (see annex B here for the list). For example, STEM, architecture, teacher training, social work, veterinary but not medicine. Institutions can bid for 250 of these places. There are other conditions such as a continuation rate of 90+% and 75% go onto highly skilled work/further study. Providers scoring highest on these two conditions are most likely to succeed in securing the additional places, this is the Government’s high-quality agenda.
  • For HE institutions in the devolved nations recruitment of English domiciled students is capped with 1.5% growth. You likely won’t have missed the arguments raging in the early part of the week from the devolved nations who feel their different funding rules and situations shouldn’t be subject to imposed restrictions. Penalties for devolved nations that go over their share of English domiciled students are set out at page 15-16 here. And if you’ve lost the threads of what is up and down within the devolved nations HE policies Wonkhe have a beginner’s guide.

There is a good article from Wonkhe here it critiques the approach and points out several loopholes, including students retaking exams in autumn and January starters.  And a commenter on the Wonkhe article says: A topic that hasn’t had so much attention is that the fact that it’s Department for Education managing these rules rather than the Office for Students. Presumably the HE regulator felt it lacked the time and the legal authority to take quick action. Just two years after OfS started work and the department is stepping in to regulate where the regulator can’t.

Research Professional have the usual coverage of the cap and some interesting points on how the over recruitment penalties which reduce the fee levels the providers can charge in future years will make the ‘naughty provider’ more attractive to students who wish to pay a lower fee in the following academic year. Although it isn’t clear if students would be expected to take and pay the higher fee with the Government pocketing the difference between what the institution is allowed to charge. A dangerous policy for the Government’s PR! There are also the arguments equating a drop in income with lower quality teaching.

And a parliamentary question with a different admissions focus: Increasing the number of students enrolling on courses with a public service focus.

Returning to Campus

There has been much talk about returning to campus and how it affects recruitment and the student experience in recent weeks. Refreshingly. Wonkhe have a new blog looking at it more from the professional services perspectives of estates space requirements and timetabling. The blog also refers to this briefing paper produced by consultants which: explores the impact of Covid-19 on the process of timetabling, the timetable itself, and the way that academic space is used, both in transition and in the “new normal”.  We include our thoughts on the impact of wider space use, including a challenge to institutions to think about space as enablers of activities, as places where people come together to co-produce something. This extends to digital space as a place where people come together and links both to digital education and other work that we are doing on digital service delivery.

The Times reports on Dublin City University which is offering flexible accommodation options – booking accommodation for just a few days or a week at a time.

Wonkhe report that Advance HE has published guidance on creating socially distanced campuses, with communication, humanity, inclusion, and partnership with SUs as four key principles.

Student Perspective

UCU and Youthsight surveyed (only 516) students due to start in September 2020:

  • 32% of students are worried their university will go bust
  • 71% support a delay to the start of term if it means they’ll receive more face to face teaching rather than online content
  • 72% are concerned pandemic related funding cuts will negatively impact their education
  • A previous survey estimated that 120,000 students may defer this academic year. The deferral figures are interesting because it is unclear what prospective students would do instead – travelling abroad is limited, work opportunities are limited and there are high levels on unemployment, internships have been slashed, apprenticeships are disrupted and mean a longer term perspective change. Of course the danger is the student defers and then never returns to HE study. And ITV news have a short piece on the perspective of two students who are opposed to online study and considering deferring instead.

On their survey UCU General Secretary, Jo Grady, said:

  • It is hardly surprising that students are anxious about what the future holds for universities and for their education. Given the impact this uncertainty is having on students, it is now critical that government agrees to provide increased financial backing to the sector. Students need to be confident that they will get a high quality education, despite the hugely damaging impact of the pandemic.
  • Without increased support, our research has shown that thousands of jobs could go in a £6bn shock to the economy. While university staff and students will bear the brunt of this, higher education is also important to many local businesses around the UK who will be fatally damaged by this contraction.

Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President (Higher Education), commented:

  • COVID-19 has shown that university management is not prioritising staff or students at this time, but is forced instead to focus on how to bring money into an institution because the government refuses to sufficiently underwrite the higher education sector.
  • It is no surprise that university management would like to continue as if it is ‘business as usual’ for fear of losing out on the income students provide – but students and staff are not just figures on a balance sheet. Bringing students and staff members back onto campuses too early could result in deaths that are entirely preventable.
  • The government must underwrite the higher education sector to ensure its survival as a vital public good and integral part of our economic recovery. This should include a student safety net and funds to allow all students to redo this year at no extra cost, or have their tuition fees reimbursed or written off.

A parliamentary question on reopening with the response we’d expect:

Q – Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has for the re-opening of universities in autumn 2020. [48283]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • We expect universities to be open for the autumn term, with a blend of online teaching and in-person tuition that they consider appropriate, taking account of the need to minimise risk to staff and students.
  • We are working with the higher education sector to identify guidance and best practice that will be needed for universities to make informed decisions about their provision. This will help them to decide when and how they can make facilities accessible again for staff and students in a way that minimises the risks and in line with public health advice.
  • Universities have remained open throughout lockdown and have applied their research expertise to finding solutions to the COVID-19 outbreak in this unprecedented period. They have also delivered some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning, and now the sector is working hard in preparation for the new academic year.

Summary of Intentions

The Student Crowd website is amalgamating a list of the type of learning providers plan to offer from September.

Strategic Guidance

On Wednesday UUK, QAA and UCEA released strategic guidance on factors to consider for HE providers to move forward as the UK slowly emerges from lockdown. The principles have been released rather late – BU finalised our principles three weeks ago. Here are our Major Incident Group planning principles for how we are planning our return to campus if you haven’t already read them. And all three sets of guidance cover what you would expect with nuanced differences relating to their organisational missions.

UUK published Principles and considerations: emerging from lockdown stating it is imperative that its universities can emerge from lockdown safely and in line with guidance from governments, public health advice and health and safety legislation. They offer 9 priority areas that HE institutions can use as a framework…to adapt to their own institutional settings and contexts. Here are the 9 principles in brief:

  1. The health, safety and wellbeing of students, staff, visitors, and the wider community will be the priority in decisions relating to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in universities.
  2. Universities will make appropriate changes to university layout and infrastructure in accordance – at minimum – with public health advice, including guidelines on social distancing.
  3. Universities will review their teaching, learning and assessment to ensure that there is the required flexibility in place to deliver a high-quality experience and support students to achieve their learning outcomes in a safe manner.
  4. Universities will regularly review the welfare and mental health needs of students and staff, and take steps to ensure preventative measures and appropriate support are in place and well communicated as restrictions are eased.
  5. Universities will develop effective processes to welcome and support international students and staff, including throughout any self-isolation period.
  6. Universities will regularly review their hygiene and cleaning protocols in all university spaces, and adapt them in response to changing public health advice and risk levels, to ensure students, staff and visitors have confidence in their safety.
  7. Following appropriate risk assessment, universities will introduce measures to enable research to be conducted in a safe and responsible manner, following government guidance specifically designed to protect researchers in laboratories and other research facilities and spaces.
  8. Universities will engage with students and staff, including consultation with recognised trade unions, to ensure the transition from lockdown both protects the wellbeing of staff and students and enables the safe resumption of university activities.
  9. Universities will work with civic or local partners wherever appropriate including councils, local resilience forums (in England) and community groups.

The full 21 page document pads out these headline principles with further details to guide institutions.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association worked with the major HE unions to publish: Principles for working safely on campus during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. It covers health & safety, risk assessments and, as you would expect, a focus on consulting with unions, communicating with staff and assessing the impact of different staff groups alongside a close eye on equality. It advocates for reasonable actions to mitigate possible adverse impacts on specific group/s including those, or those living with, people who are shielding or vulnerable. The UCEA press release is here.

QAA published Preserving Quality And Standards Through A Time Of Rapid Change: UK Higher Education In 2020-21 it focuses more on ensuring the quality of curriculum delivery alongside the familiar messages of ensuring any onsite delivery is safe, engaging with and providing flexibility for staff and students whilst maintaining quality. Page 5 looks in more detail at the 3 possible models of attendance. And they have an interesting fact for onsite delivery: early sector-wide studies suggest that incorporating an approved physical-distancing requirement per student reduces useable capacity to 10-20% of actual space. There is a comprehensive section from page 8-13 on how changes to delivery will affect quality and standards.  QAA’s press release launching their guidance report is here.

HEPI are also of a quality mindset and have a new blog on the topic: How can we assure quality in online higher education?

Wonkhe blog on the principles. And Research Professional have a lighter hearted and different perspective in their coverage of what was said in the pre-launch conference of the UUK proposals on Tuesday.

On the release of the UUK guidance Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy stated:

  • The coming academic year will be a very different experience for students and staff alike and producing a clear set of principles on which to proceed, with a focus on the wellbeing of staff and students, is exactly what is needed.
  • At a time when leadership is called for it is a matter of regret that the Government has so far remained on the sidelines, introducing heavy handed powers to the Office for Students and allowed uncalled-for caps on English student numbers on the devolved regions.
  • Labour urges the Government to take this opportunity to work with UUK to ensure all universities are adequately supported through this crisis.

Mental Health

Student Minds have published Planning for a Sustainable Future – the important of university mental health in uncertain times.

Parliamentary Questions

Students

HE Sector

Outreach

The PM was questioned by the Liaison Committee last week:

Q – Robert Halfon: Cambridge University has announced it would move all courses online while Nottingham Trent said it would have a mix of campus and online learning. Which example should HE institutions follow? And second question: Should every student working in the NHS be reimbursed this academic year at the very least?

A – Johnson: I will come back to you on the question regarding the NHS students. On your point on Cambridge and Nottingham Trent, it is a matter for universities but clearly I think the implication of your question is that face to face tuition is preferable. I hope all universities understand that this is also important for their students and for social justice.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Student Accommodation (Scotland): The Scottish Bill allowing students to terminate their accommodation contracts has passed and is now law.

Nursing fees: The Royal College of Nursing is still pushing for the Government to abolish nursing tuition fees. The Government has not responded to their letter.

International Students: OfS have a briefing note containing advice and best practice examples in relation to international students.

Student Panel: The OfS will open a call to seek students to sit on their student panel from 8 June. Information will appear here on the 8th.

Graduate Skills: Gradconsult has published a series of resources including developing skills and experience in a time of reduced employment; connecting students and employers in a virtual world, and planning your early careers strategy (this one is basic – a jumping off point resource). You can access a wider range of resources here.

DSA: Wonkhe have a new blog on the additional assistance (non-medical help) utilised by students in receipt of Disabled Students’ Allowance during C-19.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th May 2020

A bumper week (again) – here is your easy way to catch up on everything all in one place

Student support

Emma Hardy, the Shadow Universities Minister, has written to Michelle Donelan (Government’s Universities Minister) to highlight students facing significant hardship.

  • In our last meeting we discussed the fact that many university students needed urgent financial help to cope with the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. You assured me you were confident that every university would be in a position to help every student in genuine need through its hardship funds. However, after speaking to universities and the NUS I do not share your confidence.

She goes on to describe universities so overwhelmed by the demand for hardship funds they have begun crowdfunding and another university with tricky fund rules which Hardy says prevents those most at need from applying. She also explains that students without children are ineligible for Universal Credit, and few have been furloughed due to the nature of their part time work contracts.

  • I do not have to emphasise the fact that it will mostly be those students who have overcome the greatest barriers to get to university who will be affecte