Tagged / free speech

HE policy update w/e 18th October 2022

With apologies for the short break in the policy updates, we are back!  Thanks to those of you who were missing our updates and reached out to us.  We were just a bit busy.  We hope you enjoy this summary – of course the national political situation may change but the HE policy wagon rumbles on, with very little change.  The money situation is getting worse, association to Horizon looks less and less likely and there is a continuation of anti-HE rhetoric (different people, same record).  We don’t even get our own Minister in the Truss government (Andrea Jenkyns is Minister for Skills, which includes HE).

We were not expecting a major shift in policy for HE, regardless of who won the Tory leadership election, and the same is probably still true now, although of course the financial pressures on the government would suggest that as well as tuition fees staying frozen and little movement on maintenance or hardship support for students, research funding will also be under pressure.

Outstanding government policy decisions include:

Parliamentary News

As we write Liz Truss is still PM and Jeremy Hunt is Chancellor.  Kit Malthouse is Education Minister.  Jacob Rees-Mogg is Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.  After the PM’s appointment the reshuffle took rather a long time, interrupted of course by the period of national mourning, and then it took even longer to confirm the portfolios of some of the unaligned junior ministerial appointments.  Some of these responsibilities and titles are different from what went before.

Andrea Jenkyns replaced Michelle Donelan (who is now in DCMS having taken over from Nadine Dorries) but there is some subtlety implied by the changes to the job title.  Michelle was Minister for Higher and Further Education.  Andrea is Minister for Skills with a remit as follows:

  • strategy for post-16 education
  • T Levels
  • qualifications reviews (levels 3 and below)
  • higher technical education (levels 4 and 5)
  • apprenticeships and traineeships
  • funding for education and training for 16 to 19 year olds
  • further education workforce and funding
  • Institutes of Technology
  • local skills improvement plans and Local Skills Improvement Fund
  • adult education, including basic skills, the National Skills Fund and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund
  • higher education quality
  • student experience and widening participation in higher education
  • student finance and the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (including the Student Loans Company)
  • international education strategy and the Turing Scheme

Minister for Science and Investment: Nusrat Ghani has been appointed as the Minister of State for Science and Investment Security within BEIS.  Nusrat’s responsibilities are:

  • science and research (domestic and international) 
  • Horizon Europe membership (or perhaps we should say Plan B arrangements)
  • innovation strategy / science superpower 
  • critical minerals and critical mineral supply chains
  • maritime and shipbuilding
  • life sciences (including vaccine production)
  • space strategy (excluding OneWeb)
  • technology, strategy and security
  • artificial intelligence (including the Office for AI)
  • fusion
  • R&D people and culture strategy 
  • research approvals 

Supporting the Secretary of State on:

  • investment security
  • investment pipeline and opportunities
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA)

Wonkhe have a blog on Nusrat and what we might expect. Here’s a snippet:

  • If you’ve not yet spotted anything else in Nusrat Ghani’s background to suggest any previous interest in science it is unlikely that you are alone. Her discussions of science and research in the House of Commons have been limited to support for businesses in her constituency, and – as we shall see – lockdown scepticism. She was a senior fellow at Policy Exchange, but focused largely on her former transport role and her work on extremism.
  • Fundamentally, there are ministers appointed for their domain expertise and ministers appointed for their loyalty to the party – it is hard not to see Nusrat Ghani as an example of the latterit is a little bit of a worry.

Jackie Doyle-Price has been appointed as the Minister for Industry.  Jackie’s responsibilities as Minister for Industry include advanced manufacturing, infrastructure and materials, industrial decarbonisation, professional and business services, retail and consumer goods, economic shocks, supply chains, levelling up / regional growth and skills

Nus Ghani had her first outing as sciences minister when she was questioned by the Commons Science and Technology Committee on the government’s R&D policy this week.

  • The Minister re-committed to the current spending allocations of £22bn for R&D.
  • The Minister also said the Nurse Review would report in the Autumn, with civil servants adding that Nurse had spent the summer engaging with stakeholders, and that the report was in the refinement stages.

The Committee sessions also examined the usefulness of R&D tax credits in promoting growth for the UK economy and heard how Horizon Europe negotiations were impacting the academic and business research sectors.

Local MPs

  • Local MP Michael Tomlinson has been appointed as Solicitor General. This means he will be supporting the Attorney General. The Attorney and Solicitor General provide legal advice to government, and answer questions about their work in Parliament. They do not provide legal advice to members of the public or businesses.  One area which often receives publicity is the area of unduly lenient sentences. This is where people feel that a criminal has received a sentence that is too low for their crime. The Solicitor General or Attorney General will examine the case, and may refer it back to the Court of Appeal for review. Michael was sworn in as HM Solicitor General for England and Wales on 29th September and will be subsequently appointed King’s Counsel (KC).
  • Local MP Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) has lost the Conservative Party whip following controversy at the Conservative Party conference. Conor now sits as an independent MP and no longer holds his ministerial position as Minister of State for Trade Policy (Greg Hands MP was appointed to the trade role).
  • Local MP Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) had the Conservative Party whip removed when he missed the Parliamentary vote of confidence in Boris Johnson in July 2022 because he was overseas.   Johnson won the vote, although of course he later resigned.  Tobias has now been reinstated (14th October 2022).

Research

They’re at it again (R&D targets)

Remember when the way the debt associated with the student loan book was reclassified within Government’s accounts? While the methodology of the amount being spent didn’t change it made the student loan figures look like an astronomical outlay and Ministers have been vocal about how university isn’t for everyone (and there are other routes instead) ever since. Well they’ve done it again. A reclassification in how the R&D spend is calculated has led to the Government meeting their original target overnight. Wonkhe explain the change here. The short version is the way the Office for National Statistics account for tax credits and the underreporting of small firms involvement in R&D has resulted in an uplift or scaling up of the estimates but in ‘now’ time rather than retrospectively accounting for their R&D further down the road.

Did I lose you at tax credits? If so Wonkhe put it simply:

  • Meeting the 2.4 per cent target because we are now measuring it better doesn’t feel like a win: it feels like the target was wrong. That’s no-one’s fault. But we should now revise the target to keep it stretching. The poor productivity performance of the UK remains, and measuring R&D differently doesn’t change that. So we still need to aim for higher R&D spending (and investment in general).

The new approach is not without its critics (the Wonkhe article was written by Josh Martin, an economic advisor at the Bank of England and on secondment from the UK Office for National Statistics) so we can expect further methodological tweaks over time, not least because there are concerns about tax fraud within the new definition. On the surface the ‘achievement’ of the target is a win for Government who will already be thinking about how their performance will reflect on them for the next general election.

Levelling Up

When Theresa May gave way to Boris Johnson as PM the focus on the Industrial Strategy morphed into Boris’ levelling up agenda. Now, with Liz Truss at the helm, the constant burble is whether levelling up will remain or slide into obscurity. Of course, these labels are only the coat hooks on which the Government hangs their plans to tackle the same underlying problems within the country, but they are more than just labels they determine the focus of funding to tackle these problems. With this in mind there’s a new Wonkhe blog that is of interest: Engaging with a Truss government on research – The Johnson-era arguments around “levelling up” are now uncertain. James Coe asks how we make the case for research to the current crop of Conservatives. Here’s a snippet:

  • Essentially, the task for universities will be to demonstrate that their work drives economic growth aside from the distributional benefits of doing so. This is particularly important when there are suggestions that research funding could be subject to spending cuts. This would hamper growth, but the government know this. It is a political calculation that as research is not widely understood it will attract less public backlash if cut.
  • So, to make the case for research as an engine of growth. The central concern of universities in this era should be on promoting the importance of research as an economic good which needs properly funding as it faces dual threats of public funding cuts, and a home secretary who has expressed scepticism about some international students. For example, in the clamour to demonstrate the levelling up benefits of research there has been less discussion of core research funding. The R&D Roadmap committed to exploring the possibility of full economic cost of research but there has been little progress or pressure on this front.
  • Any pivot should be about the continual explanation of how research touches the real economy. Research is of course about the breakthroughs but it is also the relentless pursuit of the brilliantly banal. It’s the partnerships with business which bring efficiencies, the marketers, advertisers, and illustrators, and its engineers, chemists, and all those whose work is at the face of business. It’s the parts which might never make the front of a prospectus but make the economy tick over. It’s difficult to expect government to intuitively understand how research is an economic good unless it’s made tangible.

You can read more here. Be sure to read the readers’ comments to the article!

Horizon Europe/Plan B

HEPI (the Higher Education Policy Institute) published a new policy note on the Horizon Europe program and proposed Plan B alternative. The report states that full association with Horizon Europe remains preferable but provides a checklist for making Plan B work, including:

  • incentivising the participation of less well-resourced UK universities in European research and innovation, for example through staff exchange schemes;
  • allowing greater freedom for individual researchers to devise their own research topics;
  • co-funding schemes between the UK Government and the private sector for applied research projects;
  • minimising bureaucracy with short and simple applications; and
  • guaranteeing EU-based entities’ eligibility for UK funding, at least in specific areas, to help pave the way for regaining full association.

You can read the full recommendations here.

Quick Research News

  • You can read oral research and development parliamentary questions here.
  • Greg Clark has been elected uncontested to the position of chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, for the second time. Earlier in his career Greg was the Secretary of State for BEIS and most recently the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (from July 2022).
  • The Government has confirmed it will establish a “new” National Science and Technology Council, based in the Cabinet Office, with the Chancellor in the chair. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Nadhim Zahawi, will serve as deputy chair. The NSTC will “double down its efforts to create a UK science and technology system that will be a sustained engine for future economic growth, prosperity and security.” It will “deliver a plan to harness science and technology to support economic growth and the UK’s position on the geopolitical stage, sending a clear signal to the sector about the government’s priorities in this area.” You may recall that the previous NSTC was dissolved only a few weeks ago, however, lobbying from the sector led Truss to sanction the establishment of a ‘new’ NSTC. The dissolution of the original NSTC (which was one of Boris’ babies and only ever convened three times) was seen by some as a clear message that the UK as a Science Superpower wasn’t high on Liz’s agenda. Although the official line was that the Truss administration was keen to reduce the number of PM-chair subcommittees. Here is THE’s coverage of the story: Science friction.
  • The AI Standards Hub, led by the Alan Turing Institute, launched a bid to facilitate collaboration and improve how AI is used across the economy in sectors such as healthcare, transport and finance. The Hub will work to ensure that industry, regulatory, civil society and academic researchers are equipped with the tools and knowledge necessary to contribute to the development of standards and so they can make informed use of published standards.
  • HEPI have published a collection of pieces from 12 authors covering The past, present and future of research assessment
  • Just a blip: China’s retreat from international collaboration in scientific research will prove to be temporary, according to the head of one of the country’s largest funders. (THE)
  • Over in America – Helping hand: The Biden administration is expanding its push to help less-competitive institutions share in federal research funding, opening an office to help guide their students and scientists through its grant application processes. (THE)

Parliamentary Question – EU Grants & Loans (unable to take up)

  • Q – Chi Onwurah: …the number of UK-based scientists who have been informed by the European Research Council that their grant can no longer be taken up in the UK, since 1 January 2022, (b) the number of such grantees who have decided to re-locate, and (c) the total value of European Research Council grants awarded to UK-based scientists since January 2022 that can no longer be taken up in the UK.
  • A – Nusrat Ghani: The Government launched the UK Horizon Europe guarantee in November 2021 to make sure successful UK applicants to Horizon Europe, including ERC winners, can access funding from UKRI, instead of the EU. The guarantee is working as planned and take up is strong.

According to the EU’s publicly available data, 132 UK-based researchers have won awards from the ERC 2021 calls. The EU does not make information public on additional awards for UK applicants who are promoted from the reserve list. As of 30/09, 152 grant offer letters with a value of £235m have been issued by UKRI to UK ERC winners and the promoted reserve list. The application window remains open for any outstanding winners to apply.  Everyone taking up the guarantee will carry out their research in the UK as planned. There is no information available on whether UK winners choose to relocate in order to access ERC or other available funding globally.

Labour policy on education

In case you are wondering what might happen if there were to be a general election and a change of government, we remind you that the latest date for an election is January 2025.  Labour have been a bit reticent on detailed policy ahead of a manifesto process but here are some hints:

  • Labour announces landmark shift in skills to drive growth and equip our country for the future:
    • Turn the Tories’ failed Apprenticeships Levy into a ‘Growth and Skills Levy’ enabling firms to spend up to 50% of their levy contributions, including current underspend, on non-apprenticeship training – including modular courses and functional skills courses to tackle key skills gaps. By reserving 50% of the Growth and Skills Levy for apprenticeships, we will protect existing apprenticeship provision
    • Better align skills policy with regional economic policy and local labour markets by devolving combining and various adult education skills funding streams to current and future combined authorities
    • Establish a new expert body, Skills England, to oversee the national effort to meet the skills needs of the coming decade across all regions, and ensure we can deliver our Climate Investment Pledge.
  • Labour ‘very close’ to unveiling ‘sustainable’ HE funding plan – THE “There has been speculation that Labour will opt for a graduate tax – and Mr Western’s comments seemed to leave the door open to that policy.”
  • Higher education policymaking in Opposition: What should Labour do now? HEPI blog by Nick Hillman

Students

Student Loans & withdrawals

The latest student loan spend is that £2.6 billion had been paid to UK students at the end of September. More details here.

The Student Loans Company has published new figures showing a 23% increase in the number of students withdrawing from university courses, NUS Vice President Higher Education, Chloe Field, said: These figures are shocking, but not surprising given the cost of living crisis which is pushing students to the brink. We’ve warned that student dropouts could increase as university becomes less affordable, and it could get even worse this year.

Cost of Living  MillionPlus released new analysis on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on HE students.

  • The analysis of the 2022 Student Academic Experience Survey identifies the more than 300,000 undergraduates that will be hardest hit financially in the coming academic year.
  • These students are more likely to belong to groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Black and mature students are the two groups most at-risk of immediate financial hardship.
  • Additionally, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, those from areas with lower rates of participation in higher education and students who live-at-home or commute to campus are also more likely to be at-risk.
  • Given the close links between thoughts of quitting, mental health problems and financial difficulties, universities face significant rates of attrition in the coming months. This places successful widening participation policies at significant risk.

MillionPlus calls on the Government for increased maintenance funding for students (ideally grants not loans), the better inclusion of students in the wider cost of living assistance programmes announced in September 2022 and ensuring energy discount payments are passed on to student tenants where fixed energy costs are included in rental charges. In their recommendations to the OfS they ask for an immediate increase in hardship funds for universities to target at students most at need.

Mental Health  The OfS also published mental health reports:

Here are the key points from the Mental Health Challenge Competition (MHCC) evaluation:
The MHCC sought to deliver a ‘step change in mental health outcomes for all students’. The evaluation states that the programme achieved this in three key areas:

  • It led to strengthened strategic partnerships between universities, colleges and local partners and NHS services
  • Services for students became better connected and more accessible
  • There was an improved range of preventative and proactive mental health support available to students.

The report sets out a series of recommendations for the sector and regulator including co-creating mental health initiatives with students:

Next steps for the Sector:

  • Work around student transitions from FE to HE would benefit from a national approach to avoid a ‘postcode’ lottery emerging.
  • Greater collaboration between HE providers is encouraged – to maximise opportunities for shared learning.
  • The MHCC piloted several new models of student support that go beyond traditional university counselling services. Providers are urged to explore these approaches and adopt models which may help to address challenges faced within their own setting.
  • Further work is needed still to drive forward early intervention. We encourage the sector to continue to develop and test innovative approaches that support preventative efforts in student mental health.

Standards and excellence

Minimum Student Outcomes  The OfS announced the latest student outcome minimum expectations. The new thresholds tackle continuation, completion, and post-graduate destinations.

For full-time students studying for a first degree, the thresholds are for:

  • 80% of students to continue their studies
  • 75% of students to complete their course
  • 60% of students to go on to further study, professional work, or other positive outcomes, within 15 months of graduating.

Different thresholds have been set for courses depending on their mode and level of study, which take into account the differences in outcomes for students who study full- and part-time, and those on undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The OfS have stated they will also consider performance in individual subjects, to ensure pockets of poor performance can be identified and addressed.

Institutions performing below these thresholds would face investigation and if performance is not adequately explained by a provider’s context, the OfS has the power to intervene and impose sanctions for a breach of its conditions of registration.

Susan Lapworth, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • ‘Many universities and colleges deliver successful outcomes for their students and our new thresholds should not trouble them. But too many students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, are recruited onto courses with weak outcomes which do not improve their life chances. We can now intervene where outcomes for students are low, and where universities and colleges cannot credibly explain why.
  • We recognise that students choose higher education for a variety of reasons. Many are focused on improving their career prospects and it is right that we’re prepared to tackle courses with low numbers of students going into professional work. Our new approach also takes into account other positive outcomes, for example, further study, or graduates building their own business or a portfolio career.
  • Most higher education students in England are on courses with outcomes above our thresholds, often significantly so. These courses put students in a good position to continue their successes after graduation. But today’s decision provides a clear incentive for universities and colleges to take credible action to improve the outcomes of courses which may be cause for concern.

Teaching Excellence Framework  The data, guidance and timeline for TEF 2023 has now been finalised. Submissions are due in by 24th January.  Results will be published “from” September 2023.  A reminder that this process is mandatory. The guidance is here. You can find all the data here.  A reminder that it is available split by student characteristic and subject. The press release says:

  • All universities and colleges regulated by the OfS must meet minimum requirements on the quality of their courses and on student outcomes. TEF recognises increasing degrees of excellence above these minimum expectations and universities and colleges can receive one of three ratings: ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’, or ‘Bronze’. Where there is an absence of excellence above the minimum requirements, the outcome will be ‘Requires improvement’.
  • TEF outcomes will last for four years. They are assessed by a panel of experts in learning and teaching, including academic and student members. Panels make an assessment based on evidence submitted by each university or college, an optional student submission and a set of indicators produced by the OfS. Guidance is also published today to help inform the student submissions. The TEF panel considers the following, for the mix of student and courses at each university and college: students’ academic experience and assessment; resources, support and student engagement; positive outcomes; and educational gains.

Also note the NSS consultation that was rushed through by the OfS with a short deadline over the summer.  ICYMI, question 27 will be abolished in England, with working changes and some new questions on hot topics such as freedom of speech and mental health provision.

Harassment and sexual misconduct  The OfS also announced they plan to consult on a proposed harassment and sexual misconduct condition of registration in the new year. OfS stated they have begun work to develop a pilot ‘prevalence survey’ to understand the scale and nature of sexual misconduct affecting HE students in England. Subject to the outcomes of the consultation the new condition may be in effect by the start of the 2023/24 academic year.

OfS consultation on changes to the approach to Access and Participation plans. This closes on 10th November.

International

At the Conservative Party conference Suella Braverman, Home Secretary, made unwelcoming comments about international students and suggested that some are bringing large numbers of dependents with them insinuating this was a backdoor route to increased immigration.

In response to Braverman’s comments THE wrote: Those barbs, some suggest, may have been playing to the crowd when Tory spirits were at a low ebb, but others worry that this rhetoric could set the tone for a year or two where ministers see HE as a punching bag, rather than a crucial means for solving the deep economic problems that the country now faces.

The Russell Group issued a comment on the contribution of international students to the UK:

  • The fact that our universities attract people from around the world is an asset and should be seen as a UK success story. It’s why the Government’s ambition was to host 600k a year by 2030 and why it celebrated hitting that target years ahead of schedule.
  • International students help ensure our campuses provide a vibrant and diverse environment for young people to learn in and generate funds that are re-invested in our universities and benefit the wider UK economy.
  • The global market for international students is highly competitive. The recent strong growth in applicants from India and Nigeria, prioritised in the UK’s International Education Strategy show efforts to attract students from across the world, like the graduate route, are beginning to pay dividends. It would be a mistake to undo this good work and reverse course now.
  • Indeed, international students make up over two thirds of UK education exports and will be critical to meeting the Government’s export strategy to increase education exports to £35 billion by 2030.

The Times covered Braverman’s speech: Ministers may cap number of children foreign students can bring to UK stating that Zahawi and Braverman were discussing a plan to tackle ‘bad migration’ and that Ministers are understood to be looking at ways to tighten the rules.

Responding to the article, Universities UK chief executive Vivienne Stern tweeted:

  • Only postgrads get to bring dependents- but that’s because [they] tend to be older and therefore more likely to have spouse and children. Odd that growth-obsessed govt would want to turn them away when they contribute so much to the economy.

Dods report that Zahawi told Sky News on Sunday that the Government wanted to “bear down on bad migration”, citing international students as an area of concern. “International students are . . . a really positive thing for our universities, for our communities,” he said, before adding: “But if you look at the number of dependents that come with international students, you’d expect most international students may bring one dependent, or if they are doing a PhD they might bring their wife and maybe a child. There are some people who are coming to study in the UK who are bringing five, six more people with them. Is that right? No.”

The Government are appearing slightly out of touch with the populace on this matter. An interesting report on migration came out this week. The Ipsos/British Future immigration attitudes tracker Tracking attitudes to immigration in 2022  found that British people are supportive of immigration.

  • Attitudes to immigration today remain among the most positive since the tracker began. This might be seen as surprising during this period of political and economic turbulence. Almost half of the population believes that migration has had a positive impact on Britain, while less than a third believes it to be negative.
  • …at a time of high immigration for work and study, most of the public are relatively relaxed about the impact of immigration. Support for reducing immigration is at its lowest level in seven years. Many would welcome more migration to fill skills and labour gaps in particular areas, for example in the care sector and the NHS. Yet there is also a curious paradox. While the British public has changed its mind significantly on immigration, they are largely unaware that this has happened.
  • Control continues to be more important than numbers: People continually see it as more important that migration is controlled, whether or not numbers are reduced, than that the UK pursues a policy based on deterrence that keeps numbers low. Significantly more people (40%) see it is as important that the UK government has control over who can or can’t come into the UK, whether or not that means numbers are significantly reduced, than the 27% of the public who prioritise deterring people from coming to the UK to keep numbers low

Dods have the “final” say on the topic (this week): As the new Cabinet debates a choice over whether relaxing some immigration restrictions could help the economy to grow, while other Cabinet voices prioritise cutting overall numbers, the research finds that Prime Minister Liz Truss has ‘pragmatic permission’ for a balanced approach to immigration.

Of course, the characters involved may not be in their roles all data much longer.  But a more relaxed approach to immigration may be one of the pro-growth policies that survives the wreckage of Trussonomics.

International Education: London Higher published a new report calling for the establishment of a dedicated International Education Champion for London.

Free Speech

Free speech is back on the central agenda of Government as the HE Freedom of Speech Bill resumes its journey through Parliament. It is scheduled for Committee Stage within the Lords from 31 October. Committee Stage is when the parliamentarians get into the full nitty gritty of the Bill and may even call witnesses to further consideration as to the Bill’s provisions. If we cast our minds back to when Michelle Donelan was universities minister she had to backtrack slightly during the Bill’s progression due to cross-party criticisms (particularly from the Lords) and she agreed to bring the Bill back into play with elements redrafted. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the passage of the Bill as it goes through under the stewardship of Kit Malthouse and Andrea Jenkyns.

Student and Public Opinion  Kings College London published The state of free speech in UK universities: what students and the public think stating there is strong agreement among students that free speech, robust debate and academic freedom are protected in their universities. Here are the key points (although the report is worth a browse as there are good charts and illustrations available):

  • 65% of students now say free speech and robust debate are well protected at their institution, while 15% disagree with this view. And 73% report that debates and discussions in their university are civil, respecting the rights and dignity of others, with 10% disagreeing. Both sets of figures are largely unchanged from 2019.
  • 80% of students also now say they’re free to express their views at their university, while 88% said the same three years ago. This is higher than the 70% of the general public who say they feel free to express their views in UK society.
  • The proportion of students who believe that academics are free to express their views at their university has declined slightly, but Kings state it still represents a strong majority, at 70% in 2022 compared with 77% in 2019, with 14% of students disagreeing.
  • 75% of students say they are free from discrimination, harm or hatred – virtually the same as in 2019 (78%).
  • Universities are also seen to be doing (increasingly) well in handling protests: 55% of students say their university manages student protests fairly – up from 48% in 2019. And only 12% now disagree with this view (32% say they don’t know).

However, growing minorities of students feel freedoms are under threat in their institutions: 34% of students say free speech is very or fairly threatened in their university – up from 23% in 2019. Similarly, 32% of students now feel academic freedom is threatened at their institution, compared with 20% who felt this way three years ago.

Despite these increases, a majority of students still feel these liberties are not at risk: 59% still think free speech is either not very threatened or not threatened at all. And students are more likely to think free speech is under threat in UK society as a whole (53%) more than it is at their university (34%).

No platforming – in 2019, 37% of students said that students avoided inviting controversial speakers to their university because of the difficulties involved in getting those events agreed – this has now risen to 48%.

Perceptions of a “chilling effect” on speech are increasing – interestingly for both conservative and left-wing views

  • Half (50%) of students now feel that those with conservative views are reluctant to express them at their university, compared with 37% who said the same in 2019. This perception has grown in particular among students who say they’d vote for the Conservative party, rising from 59% to 68% over the last three years.
  • It is a similar story when it comes to left-wing views, with the proportion of students who say people are reluctant to express such opinions at their university more than doubling, from 14% in 2019 to 36% in 2022.

Quiet No-platforming  HEPI published a new report on free speech: New study finds ‘quiet’ no-platforming to be a bigger problem than actual no-platforming i.e. the pre-emptive cancelling of events for fear of attracting controversy, tackling the matter from the perspective of student societies, student self-censorship and the speakers they do or don’t invite. The report argues this is a more pervasive problem than no-platforming in its traditional form. Aside from its content which is of interest to the continued free speech debate considering the author’s allegiance (LSE graduate, LSE received media attention for their speaker events) and the sponsorship of the report by the University of Buckingham (read the foreword, it puts the sponsorship into context) helps set the tone for the piece. It’s a long read so for those not able to wade through the author intended to leave you with this thought:

  • The Government should work with universities to bring about a cultural shift in the way speaker events are handled and received. The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill is an encouraging start, but the risk of legal action may make students more cautious rather than more adventurous with the speakers they invite. Streamlining the Bill and supporting students will allow the Government to hold universities accountable and encourage students to hold genuinely bold and thought-provoking events.

Here is THE’s story covering the HEPI report: Not-so-free speech: The Westminster government’s controversial university free speech bill might actually increase early cancellation of hostile speakers, according to a study from the Higher Education Policy Institute.

The Russell Group’s response to the HEPI paper is also worth noting: Exposing students to new ideas and perspectives is a vital part of the university experience so this report is right to highlight the risk of unintended consequences if we get legislation wrong. If university staff or student groups are too worried about legal risks or unnecessary red tape to host a speaker then the government’s free speech bill risks doing exactly what it is trying to prevent.

Free Speech & Decolonisation: Civitas published Free speech and decolonisation in British universities.

Conservative Party Conference

BU’s Nathaniel Hobby, PR and Corporate Communications Manager, attended the Conservative party conference and kindly shares his experience of the front line with colleagues.

The best way to describe conversation around HE at the Conservative Party Conference: Polarising. On the one hand, Skills Minister Andrea Jenkyns MP was quick to praise universities, using her time on the main stage to say, “we have to be proud of our universities” and their international reputation. A fringe event from the Tony Blair Institute, with an all-star HE cast of Phillip Augar and David Willets, argued for a 70% target for school-leavers into HE, and plenty of MPs (Anna Firth, Tom Hunt and more) took their opportunity on fringe panels to talk about the important role of universities in their own towns.

However, it was hard to be wholly positive, and there was plenty to concern the HE sector too. Away from the main stage, Andrea Jenkyns was much less effusive, using her speech to The Bruges Group to say, “The current system would rather our young people get a degree in Harry Potter studies, than in construction” and accusing British universities of feeding “a diet of critical race theory, anti-British history and social Marxism”.

Jonathan Simons at Public First was quick to denounce this as ‘uninformed at best’ and many at the conference did not take kindly to her words. In further worrying news, Home Secretary Suella Braverman seemed to take aim at the ‘very high number’ of international students and the dependents they bring with them and “propping up frankly substandard courses in inadequate institutions”.  It was hard not to be a little concerned about the view that some central figures in the party have when it comes to universities.

Jenkyns still has HE within her brief (despite the confusion), but the focus on ‘skills’ will be central, and Jenkyns clearly outlined that Britain shouldn’t rely on academia, but that a suite of tertiary education, including degree apprenticeships, T-levels, FE and business-delivered courses could feature.

In more welcome news, a Science Minister was appointed – Nus Ghani taking on the brief and there were many calls for the Party to honour their commitment of 2.4% GDP to be spent on R&D to keep up with other countries.

Overall, the theme of the conference was ‘growth’ and, despite the sheer number of events focussed on levelling-up, the mood music seems to suggest that this terminology might be dialled-down in favour of growth under the Truss-administration. With the education strand, the key theme was ’place‘– and what universities can do in their own contexts to pursue growth and become leaders, conveners, skills providers and mobilisers in their own communities – the Civic agenda isn’t going away any time soon!

Other news

  • Parting shot: THE article Universities need long-term plans and consistent support, not governments that “lurch from hurricane to tropical storm” with policies and “anti-intellectual rhetoric” that sow divisions and spread uncertainty, the outgoing vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford has said.
  • It’s not often Sarah recommends reading a speech but this piece from a few weeks ago from Nick Hillman (Director of HEPI) on How higher education changed during the Queen’s reign (and, astoundingly, which issues are the same as in 1952) is worth your time. It’s delightfully packed with little snippets and facts that you’ll feel better for knowing. For example in 1952 student mental health, international students, graduate outcomes/preparedness for employment, HE funding from the public purse, and – my mind is blown – even the call for universities to intervene with schools were all issues just as today. Also, one for the pub quiz, Freshers/Welcome week first started in 1952. Try to make it to halfway, and if you’re keen you can finish the piece to spot how Nick cleverly argues for some key HE securities such as no caps on recruitment, expansion and the final paragraph reminds us how well UK HE compares to our European counterparts. Something to remember when you’re feeling jaded from the media anti-HE tirade.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update 11th August 2022

This is part 1 of your bumper summer catch up – with a focus on the general political situation and on education – we will come back to you with a mega update on research next week!

Parliamentary News

ICYMI: New ministerial briefs

  • James Cleverly, Secretary of State for Education
  • Brendan Clarke-Smith, Minister for Children and Families
  • Will Quince, Minister for School Standards
  • Andrea Jenkyns, Minister for Skills, Further and Higher Education
  • Baroness Barran, Lords Minister/Minister for the School System
  • Chair – Commons Science and Technology Committee: With Greg Clark appointed as the Secretary of State (SoS) for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities he had to leave his role as Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee. This means a new Chair will be elected after the summer recess, although if the new PM appoints a different Secretary of State Greg may return to Chair the Committee again. The rumour is he doesn’t expect to retain the SoS post once the new PM takes over.

Labour frontbench: Labour have made some shadow Cabinet changes:

  • Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) has been appointed Shadow Minister for Veterans and Defence People. She retains her shadow CO role to reflect the fact that the government veterans position is also cross-departmental.
  • Hopkins takes over from Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) who has been appointed Shadow Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure.
  • Peacock replaces Chris Elmore (Ogmore) who has been appointed to the new post of Parliamentary Lead for the Labour Party Chair. He also continues as an Opposition Whip.

Profiling the new ministers

Andrea Jenkyns MP is (currently) the Minister for HE having replaced Michelle Donelan in the post resignation reshuffle. Previously Ms Jenkyns was a member of the Health committee (2015-17) and two EU focussed select committees (her son is nicknamed Brexit!). Jenkyns entered employment after leaving school and achieved her diploma in economics from the Open University and a BA in international relations and politics (graduated 2014) from Lincoln University later in life. Before politics she worked as an international business development manager(15 years), a councillor for Lincolnshire County Council, a music tutor in three secondary schools (she sings soprano and has a huge vocal range – that should liven up Cabinet!), and worked as a musical theatre director.

Jenkyns is a charity fundraiser and supporter of the charity Antibiotic Research UK. She is a trustee and voluntary regional representative for the charity MRSA Action UK. She has also become a reviewer for the National Institute for Health Research.

When elected to parliament her campaign priorities were the development of brownfield sites, delivering excellent local health services and growing the local economy. She is against repealing the hunting ban. Jenkyns has stated that the death of her father at a local hospital in 2011, from the hospital superbug MRSA, motivated her to stand as an MP, to ensure compassionate care is a priority. In November 2015 she launched a campaign to promote good hand hygiene in schools and hospitals.

Jenkyns received notoriety when she presented her middle finger to the crowd gathered outside of Downing Street calling for Boris’ resignation. She described the crowd as a “baying mob” and said she was standing up for herself.

James Cleverly also went into work after leaving school (he attended a selective school). He joined the army (left due to injury) and still volunteers with the TA. James studied at Thames Valley University graduating with a degree in hospitality and management. Swiftly followed by a move into magazine and digital publishing where he set up his own company.

Cleverly’s political career began as a London Assembly member, he was a board member of the London Development Agency, and unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in 2005. He was finally elected in 2015 and emphasised local business alongside road and internet connectivity. He put forward a Private Members’ Bill in 2015 to give further powers to the Health and Safety Executive (it didn’t succeed – but they rarely do). He was a founding member of Conservatives for Britain (a group calling for fundamental change with the UK’s relationship with the EU), voted to leave the EU and became the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union in April 2019. He was appointed Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party in January 2018. He was then appointed as Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa in both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development in February 2020. North America was added to his responsibilities in December 2021. And he became Minister of State for Europe and North America in February 2022. He has been a member of the APPG Showing Racism the Read Card since 2017. His political interests are stated as local business, technology, trade out of poverty and international trade.

He’s married to his university girlfriend and recognises the importance of family values. He’s President of Bromley District Scouts. He gave a daring interview in November 2015 in which he admitted to trying cannabis at university, and watching online pornography. He also said he would like to become leader of the party. When Theresa May stepped down he announced his candidacy in the leadership content but withdrew a week later as he recognised he was unlikely to make the final cut.

PM Candidates

YouGov released a poll of the leadership race showing Truss currently leads Sunak by 69% to 31% among Tory members. Here are the latest pledges from the prime ministerial candidates relating to education and young people.

Liz Truss:

  • Would lift ban on new grammar schools and replace failing schools with them
  • Pledged to expand high-performing academies and replace failing ones with new free schools and grammars
  • Would focus on literacy and numeracy – stick to the current government target for 90% of primary children to reach the expected standard in literacy and numeracy – as well and post-pandemic catch-up
  • Wants to give working parents access to childcare around the school day and extend the range of providers who accept government childcare entitlements
  • Would also follow through on government plans to change staff-to-child ratios for early years providers
  • All A Level students with three A*s would be automatically offered interview at Oxford or Cambridge. (Wonkhe have a great blog on the topic highlighting that it isn’t the social mobility improvement Liz believes, and really highlights her lack of awareness.)
  • Would look to introduce post-qualification admissions (PQAs) for university entry – purported to be considering moving the start of the university academic year to January, to accommodate PQA reform
  • Pledged to move subsidies from poor quality degree courses to vocational training
  • Would create designated “Investment Zones” to drive innovation

Rishi Sunak:

  • Would create a new British Baccalaureate that would require all 16-year-olds to study core subjects, including maths and English, beyond GCSE up to age 18
  • Would reverse ban on new grammar schools and support expansion
  • Would ask Ofsted to assess the quality of sports and PE in school at every inspection
  • Also pledged to open up school sport facilities over summer holidays
  • Suggested he would reform the curriculum to focus on workplace skills, as well as science, maths and technology
  • Pledged to improve professional development for teachers, as well as introduce AI and technology to the classroom to reduce teachers’ workloads
  • Committed to the plan to open 75 new free schools, as announced by the government in June
  • Would give school trusts an “accountability holiday” for two years after taking on underperforming schools
  • Plans to stop organisations such as Stonewall from delivering sex and relationships education (SRE)
  • Pledged to put SRE on to a statutory footing, providing schools with guidance on what is acceptable, and giving parents the ability to request to see teaching materials, including from external groups (it’s understood this would be done via an amendment to the Schools Bill)
  • Would ban all 30 Confucius Institutes in the UK and force universities to disclose foreign funding partnerships of more than £50,000
  • Would “strengthen networks of technical institutions and their links with industry, as well as giving them powers to award degrees”
  • Would create a “Russell Group of world-class technical colleges” to improve prestige of vocational training (this idea is akin to that within the Northern Research Group pledge card, which Sunak signed)
  • Wants to “clamp down” on some university degrees that don’t lead to good outcomes – assessing their quality through drop-out rates, graduate jobs, and salary thresholds
  • Would expedite the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, currently sitting with the Lords

Lord Hague, the former Conservative leader, has weighed into the leadership race with suggestions on how the PM hopefuls could increase the science and technology prowess of the UK, including the creation of a secretary of state for science and technology.

Voting will close on 2 September. The new PM is still scheduled to be revealed on 5 September.

Overall – we would not expect a major change of direction in relation to HE.  The ferocity of the culture wars will perhaps depend on who the Secretary of State for Education and the Minister for Universities are in a reshuffled government, but Liz Truss looks likely to maintain the current direction if she wins.  Her espousal of PQAs, after the DfE consultation was ditched by Nadhim Zahawi earlier this year, will cause sighs across the sector, but at least the DfE have an oven ready set of consultation responses they can use to inform the next step.

OFS consultations

Consultation outcomes – the outcomes of the three outstanding OfS consultations(which closed in March) have been published – although there is a lot of detail still to come – and we have a new one (with a very tight deadline)

NSS consultation: Following earlier consultations on changes to the NSS, the OfS have just launched another, closing on 1st September.

This has been slightly challenging area for the OfS, with government ministers making bold statements about how the NSS causes “dumbing down” and demanding it be dropped as a metric for regulatory purposes and the TEF – and the OfS resisting on the basis that it provides useful context and informs action on student experience at universities.

The latest consultation, issued on 28th July with a 1st September deadline (what sort of response do they expect?) includes some options for change to the questionnaire, and proposed removing question 27 completely for England (which addresses the dumbing down point).  They ran a pilot of some of these questions this year and have published a review of the pilot which informed this consultation.

Main changes

  • The NSS currently opens in January and runs until the end of April. We are proposing to shorten the survey window by delaying the launch of the survey to mid-February
  • We propose establishing a four-year review cycle for the NSS to ensure the survey can reflect changes in practice and continue to meet the needs of the UK funders and regulators, students and providers. To date, the survey has been reviewed on an ad hoc basis with the last major review conducted in 2015
  • The questionnaire currently uses the Likert scale, which measures student agreement or disagreement with particular statements. 22. We propose to change the questionnaire to more direct questions for 2023 – which would change how questions are asked – to offer students the opportunity to rate different aspects of their experience on a scale designed specifically for a particular question

Some examples are given in the consultation but they have not made final proposals for all of the questions, and are still thinking about the scales in some cases – see Annex D of the consultation.  

 In addition to the changes to existing questions, there are some new proposed questions.

They are proposing to remove the summative question [question 27] for England. A version of the summative question would remain for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The consultation says:

  • There were significant concerns about the wording of the current question. In particular, the term ‘satisfaction’ was regarded as unhelpful as it detracted from the wider findings of the survey and was seen as too consumerist in nature. There were also concerns about the use of the summative question by the media in England when reporting on the outcomes of the NSS each year. The current question 27 on overall satisfaction is the most commonly used metric in league tables, and its removal might make the results less susceptible to ranking. Phase one of the review found that the question was unhelpful for the survey as a whole. Most questions ask students to rate their experience of different aspects of their academic experience, and no other question asks about satisfaction. Yet critics often derogatively dub the NSS as a ‘satisfaction survey’. There was no consensus on what should replace it

There are proposed questions on freedom of expression and a provider’s mental wellbeing provision.

It will be interesting to see what the outcome of this consultation is although we don’t expect an outcry in favour of question 27 and given the timing of this (and the OfS approach to consultations (see below), they are likely to finalise their views on the outstanding questions and plough ahead. Wonkhe have two blogs: one reviewing the proposals, (pithy summary of an interesting blog: “poor show”) and one looking at what else could be considered. A summary of responses to the consultation will be published in Autumn 2022. The OfS anticipate implementing any changes in the 2023 NSS. If you wish to comment on an aspect of the consultation please contact Jane.

Teaching Excellence Framework

The final decisions have now been made about the TEF timetable.  Guidance will be published in late September; the submission window will open at that time and will close in mid-January.  Outcomes will be published in September 2023.  The outcomes are here.  Few changes have been made to the proposals, there is a bit of clarification on the new “educational gain” aspect (which is largely being left to providers to define), to make apprenticeships an optional element in the assessment, to make the provider submission 25 instead of 20 pages, and to clarify the requirements for student submissions.  They have not yet made a decision about how much of the data will be published.

  • Of our 15 proposals most respondents agreed with 11 of them. Views on one proposal were split and a majority disagreed with three proposals
  • Disagreement was most strongly expressed in relation to:
    • proposals 3 and 4 which relate to the categories in the rating scheme (Gold, Silver and Bronze)[ Approximately two thirds of respondents tended to disagree or strongly disagree with this proposal], [no change was made]
    • the use of ‘Requires improvement’ where there is an absence of excellence[ Almost three-quarters of respondents tended to disagree or strongly disagreed with this proposal], [no change was made]
    • proposal 15 which relates to the timeline for implementation [almost nine in ten of respondents disagreeing or strongly disagreeing]

After the publication of a set of new licence conditions earlier this year, which re already in force, the last one, B3, has now been finalised and will come into force on 3rd October.  B3 is the condition that applies minimum thresholds for continuation, completion and progression into highly skilled employment.  These thresholds are absolute, not benchmarked, and will be applied across a range of splits – notably level (including postgraduate) and subject. Some outcome measures were used before in the TEF, split by characteristic – but that was for undergraduate only and at an institutional level, not split by subject, so this is a major change.

Licence condition B3

The B3 proposals were fairly controversial, as is illustrated by the response that the OfS got:

  • Around three-quarters of respondents disagreed with the proposed timing of implementation, almost two thirds disagreed with the approach to constructing the student outcomes indicators and almost half disagreed with the approach to setting numerical thresholds

But they are going ahead anyway, with only minor changes.

  • They have decided to adopt the cohort tracking methodology for constructing the completion outcome measure – two options were proposed in the consultation.
  • The final numerical thresholds will be published in September, and will be no higher than those proposed in the consultation.
  • More information about publication of the B3 data and the TEF data will be available in September.

You can read the final condition B3 here.  For reference, these were the original proposed thresholds (and as noted above, the final ones to be confirmed in September will not be higher than those originally proposed).

The third consultation was about constructing the indicators for both of the above and the outcomes are here.

In a blog, the Director of Quality says:

  • Our revised condition of registration (condition B3) means that students from all backgrounds can achieve positive outcomes and are protected from performance that is below our minimum expectations, whatever, wherever and however they study. At the same time, through the TEF, we want to incentivise universities and colleges to achieve excellence in teaching, learning and their outcomes – above and beyond our minimum expectations and in a way that recognises the full diversity of higher education courses and many ways students study.
  • We’ve carefully considered more than 600 responses to our phase three consultations. We’ve made some changes as a result of those responses, but we remain committed to the policy agenda we set out in January….
  • …Some responses to our consultation asked whether positive outcomes for students should be defined more broadly when students may gain wide-ranging benefits from their studies. We recognise that higher education produces wider value than we have captured in our indicators. This might be a reason to look at additional measures in the future, but it shouldn’t prevent us from measuring and regulating the things we already know matter to students: continuing through to the end of their course and progressing successfully into the next stage of their career or studies. We must be able to protect students from courses which don’t deliver these benefits. 

In a blog for Wonkhe, David Kernohan and Jim Dickinson give their perspectives, including this one, which highlights the key contradiction at the heart of all this:

  • For some time now, OfS has been saying that opportunities for study are not meaningful if students are able to choose or continue on “low quality courses delivering weak outcomes” because the regulatory system has endorsed such performance. But does that mean working over time to improve the quality and outcomes, or killing off those courses – especially if they’re a component of your partnership portfolio? Minister for skills, further and higher education Andrea Jenkyns says “Following on from the first wave of OfS inspections, this consultation response is an important next step to halting dead-end courses.” But the OfS documentation says that it recognises that providers may choose to close courses rather than take steps to improve student outcomes, and if it suspects that’s been happening it will “interrogate whether a provider had taken action to improve its performance” and sought to “evade regulatory action by closing courses with weak performance”. How about if we sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense?

One (cynical) way to read it, in today’s politicised environment – closing a course to avoid regulatory interference is BAD – being made to close it by the regulator is GOOD (for the regulator and the government).

The Russell Group aren’t best pleased with the outcomes. Sarah Stevens, Director of Policy at the Russell Group said:

  • We support the OfS’s efforts to set challenging baselines that will ensure all students are entitled to a minimum quality of provision. However, this needs to be delivered in a proportionate and risk-based manner so low-risk providers can get on with the job of providing students with a high-quality experience. In particular, we are concerned that plans to change the way courses are prioritised for investigation each year will increase the burden on low-risk providers, and hope the OfS can move to a more consistent and transparent approach.
  • The plans to take into account absolute values and the increased weighting of the provider submission when assessing a provider’s performance will help ensure TEF awards are more robust. However, the TEF remains a significantly burdensome activity and we are concerned that the implementation timeline does not give the sector enough time to fully engage with the changes announced. With the TEF submission period beginning in September, it’s also vital that the OfS publish detailed guidance to providers as soon as possible.

Quality of HE courses: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

  • Q – James Grundy (Leigh) (Con): What progress he has made on improving the quality of higher education courses.
  • A – The Minister for Higher and Further Education (Michelle Donelan): For the first time, universities will be subject to stringent minimum thresholds for student outcomes on completion rates and graduate jobs. Boots-on-the-ground inspections have begun, and through our transparency drive to give students all the information that they need and a focus on participation and outcomes, we are driving out the pockets of poor quality in our world-leading higher education sector.

Mini horizon scan

A proper horizon scan, which we would usually do at this time of year, may seem a little bit challenging when the last few years have shown that the priorities and convictions of those in the Secretary of State and Minister for Universities role have had a huge impact on direction: Jo Johnson of course was behind the creation of OfS, the TEF and the new regulatory regime, but to give some more examples, Gavin Williamson ramped up the focus on “poor quality courses” (and tried hard on PQA).  Damien Hinds started the campaign that eventually stopped conditional unconditional offers.   We can thank Michele Donelan for ramping up the culture wars, and leading the charge on free speech.

But a lot of fairly major change is already in hand, things are fairly well developed and therefore unlikely to change.  There may be differences in emphasis and nuance, and additional priorities (PQA for Liz Truss) but we would not expect major shifts in approach to any of the current hot topics.

Of course, there will be a general election at some point – the latest this can be is 24th January 2025 although after the fixed term legislation was repealed the PM can seek an earlier election.  Given the cost of living crisis alone, a newly installed PM this autumn is unlikely to find that appealing, as they will want to make some sort of impression before going back to the people.

Levelling up A flagship Johnson policy. Linked to the access and participation work referenced below.

The Skills and Post-16 Education Act became law in April.  It will be for the new leader and their team to implement this including the local skills improvement plans (chapter 1 of the new act), changes to technical education including continuing the implementation of T-levels (and closing some BTECs), and changes to implement the lifelong learning proposals (see below).

See more in the skills section below on local skills improvement plans.

Levelling up as a headline may not be the branding of choice for a new leader but the policies are likely to stay in place, certainly as regards skills and technical education
Lifelong learning The  Skills and Post-16 Education Act makes provision for modular learning.

LLE was the subject of a DfE consultation which closed in May, and the outcome will presumably be finalised by the new ministerial team.

Read more: policy update 3rd March 2022 and 3rd May 2022

As noted, this is the big flagship HE  policy for the Johnson government and his successor is unlikely to change tack on this.

 

Student number controls This was part of the big release of material in March responding finally to the Augar review.

It is now expected (and Michelle Donelan confirmed, although that might change) that controls will be applied on a university and subject basis to restrict numbers on certain courses that do not meet B£ or other licence conditions.  We await the outcome of this part of the (DfE, not OfS) consultation, which will presumably be in the in-tray of the new universities minister.

Read more: policy update 3rd March 2022

This is unlikely to change under a new team, although there may need to be more work on how it will be implemented in practice.
Minimum eligibility requirements Another part of the Augar response in March, intended to limit access to HE (and control costs}.  They consulted on a requirement for a pass (grade 4) in GCSE in English and Maths, or the equivalent of 2 E grades at A level.  These would not apply to mature students (over 25), part-time students, those with a level 4 or 5 qualification or students with an integrated foundation year or Access to HE qualification.  If they apply the GCSE requirement it would not apply to someone who has subsequently achieved A levels at CCC or equivalent.

Read more: policy update 3rd March 2022

This is unlikely to change under a new team, although there may need to be more work on how it will be implemented in practice – especially if it requires changes to student loan legislation.
Access and Participation Big focus from the OfS now on universities having an impact on school level attainment and supporting disadvantaged students.    The Director for Fair Access and Participation has been clear about the direction:

·       strategic partnerships with schools to raise attainment

·       improving the quality of provision for underrepresented students

·       developing non-traditional pathways and modes of study

Read more: policy updates on 4th April and 14th February

OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.

 

Regulation – quality and outcomes As above, being delivered this year with little change from the original proposals.  Will lead to regulatory intervention based on student outcomes that are below the absolute levels set and these metrics will be applied to PGT and PGR students as well as UG.

Apart from B3, discussed above, the other B conditions introduced earlier this year have a lot of detail about course content and delivery – where there are concern about outcomes, there are complaints or other reasons for the OfS to look this can include investigating whether course content is “up to date”, for example.

 

Linked to this, the OfS announced in the early summer that they would be looking at online delivery in some universities after Michelle Donelan roundly criticised the speed (or lack of it) at which (some) universities had returned to full on campus learning last year.

OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.

 

Note the points about grade inflation below.

 

If online learning is still a story in the new academic year, expect more government and OfS pressure.

 

 

Grade inflation One of Gavin Williamson’s earlier themes which he stopped talking about, but which is now back with a vengeance as a topic for university bashing.  UUK have gone early with a sector commitment to reduce by 2023 the proportion of students achieving firsts and 2:1s to pre-pandemic levels, and a renewed commitment to publishing degree outcomes statements.  The OfS have been making strong statements about “unexplained” grade inflation for some time but have now started to clarify what they might do about it, new condition B4 has a direct reference to the ongoing credibility of awards and so the OfS now have a clearer mandate to intervene in what has always been seen as a question of institutional autonomy.

Read more: 5th July policy update

OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.

 

The OfS will be looking to ramp up intervention in this area and will be examining this year’s degree outcomes statements closely.

 

 

TEF As above, being delivered this year with little change from the original proposals.  Includes a focus on subject level performance and performance across split characteristics and includes a new “requires improvement” rating  – and getting that caps fees at £6000. OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.
NSS Following earlier consultations on changes to the NSS, the OfS have just launched another.  See above for more information.
Student information and marketing, admissions One of Michelle Donelan’s signature policies.  There has been discussion of marketing practices before, storied about university marketing budgets etc but the focus was mostly on conditional unconditional offers.   MD went further with the DfE guidance on advertising that came out on 1st July with some frankly bizarre requirements to reference out of date subject level data in all marketing material and advertisements.

Read more: 5th July policy update

This PQ suggests the government are sticking with it for now: Encouraging universities to advertise (1) subject drop-out, and (2) employment, rates for courses

This followed the Fair Admissions Code that was published in the Spring by UUK which outlaws conditional unconditional offers, and talks about incentives and information alongside more general principles.  This was opt in – and most have.

Read more: 10th March policy update

May be less of a priority for a new Minister.  The DFE guidance is bizarre, voluntary and possibly unworkable – and it seems very strange for the DfE to issue such guidance which should really come from the OfS.  It smacks of political campaigning rather than serious regulation and we await the next steps on this with interest.

Fair admissions, though, will remain on the agenda, though the Director of Fair Access, and the OfS.

PQA This was a Gavin Williamson policy.  As noted above, Liz Truss wants to reopen this after Nadhim Zahawi shelved Gavin Williamson’s efforts.  The range of potential outcomes from the DfE consultation are presumably sitting on a shelf somewhere.  The responses to the consultation were:

Two-thirds of respondents (324/489, 66%) were in favour of change to a PQA system in principle, but many respondents were concerned by practical implications of how it could operate, and 60% respondents felt that the models of PQA would be either worse than, or no better than, current arrangements. There were a variety of different models favoured but no consensus as to what change should look like.

If Liz Truss wins she will have a lot on her agenda, but we can expect the new ministerial team to at least brush off the recommendations and have another look.

 

 

Free Speech A key bit of the Michelle Donelan manifesto for future promotion.  As noted below, the OfS data doesn’t demonstrate a significant issue but that does not stop the rhetoric.    The higher Education (Freedom of Speech) bill is now at committee stage in the Lords, having made it through the Commons.  Expect lively debate, amendments and eventual ping pong as the HE informed members of the Lords contest the whole premise of the bill as well as the detail.

Read more: 5th July policy update

Under a Liz Truss government this is very unlikely to be significantly watered down.  Rishi Sunak has demonstrated less appetite for the culture wars so much would depend on the ministerial team.  Expected to pass (eventually) and but practical impact may be low (as the sector have long argued this is a solution looking for a problem)

Skills, skills, skills…

Occupational skills needs: The DfE published independent research examining changing skills needs within certain occupations in the next 5-10 years:

  • managers
  • science and technology
  • skilled trades
  • health

Technical and digital skills

  • The key skills that are, and will continue to be, required are the knowledge and effective use of relevant technologies
  • Digital literacy is already an essential (if basic) requirement, while understanding and use of data will only increase in importance in future
  • Some specific technical skills are (and will be) needed in health and skilled trades (e.g., ability to adapt clinical skills to developments in health and care, knowledge of the technical or scientific basis of work, understanding of relevant standards and legislation)
  • Expected changes in the selected occupations and emerging skills point to: (i) skills needs in using specific new hardware and software; (ii) data science skills; (iii) the need to apply, or adapt, skills to future-related goals such as combatting climate change
  • Participants suggested that the promotion of multiple routes into these professions, along with clear definitions of skills and qualifications and the funding of continuous professional development, should be improved.

Communication and people skills

  • People and communication skills are and will likely remain critical in future with the ability to work in a team being key in addressing complex needs in coordinated way
  • The ability to provide long-term vision, exploit opportunities and manage risks was identified as most important for managers and health professions while awareness of equality, diversity and inclusion emerged strongly across examined occupations, both with a view to current and future skills needs
  • Areas of change and adaptation focused on skills required for modern ways of working as well as communicating and working collaboratively to address climate change, improve sustainability and meet expectations for increased efforts on equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Teamwork skills were also highlighted as a key area for intervention with current teaching and training not seen to impart these skills sufficiently at present.
  • It was also noted that policy intervention on culture change was key to generating the necessary people and communication skills for the above goals but also a long-term process requiring open minds from all stakeholders.

Local Skills Dashboard: The DfE also launched the prototype of its local skills dashboard showing a subset of employment and skills statistics at Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) level to support local skills planning and deliver (including LSIPs). The statistics include:

  • employment rates and employment distribution by occupation
  • online job vacancy units
  • further education aim achievement volumes and achievements by sector subject area

The dashboard has been produced to support the aims of the new Unit for Future Skills, which was a key pledge within the Levelling Up White Paper earlier this year.

Local Skills Improvement Plans: And we’re not done yet – the DfE also published statutory guidance for the development and review of local skills improvement plans (LSIPs). It sets out the process for developing and reviewing an LSIP and the duties placed upon relevant providers once there is an approved LSIP in place.

  • LSIPs set out the key priorities and changes needed in a local area to make post-16 technical education or training more responsive and closely aligned to local labour market needs;
  • an LSIP will provide an agreed set of actionable priorities that employers, providers and stakeholders in a local area can get behind to drive change;
  • the agreed priorities will be informed by evidence of unmet and future skills needs and meaningful engagement between employers and providers;
  • an LSIP should not attempt to cover the entirety of provision within an area but focus on the key changes and priorities that can gain traction and maximise impact;
  • the priorities should look up to three years ahead. It is expected that the LSIP process will be repeated around every three years with interim reviews;
  • duties in respect to LSIPs have been placed upon specific providers that deliver English-funded post-16 technical education or training. These duties apply to Sixth Form Colleges where they deliver post-16 technical education for example T-Levels and BTECs; 3 and
  • the LSIP should describe how skills, capabilities and expertise required in relation to jobs that directly contribute to or indirectly support Net Zero targets, adaptation to Climate Change or meet other environmental goals have been considered.

Parliamentary questions

HE Bursaries (temporary!): Education Secretary James Cleverly has announced new bursaries to support learners taking part in the flexible short courses trials.

  • Learners who could struggle with study-related costs…can now apply for up to £2.5 million worth of targeted bursary funding to help them access new higher education ‘short courses’… 22 universities and colleges across England will be offering over 100 short courses to students from this September as part of a 3-year trial.
  • These courses that could be as short as 6 weeks – or as long as a year if studied part-time –  in subjects vital for economic growth including STEM, healthcare and education.
  • To support this flexible study, learners can now apply for tuition fee loans created especially for the short coursesto support them for the duration of their study and administered by the Student Loans Company.
  • Alongside this, bursary grants will be available for learners who need extra financial support to pay for additional costs associated with study… This includes the costs of learning materials such as books, childcare fees and learning support for disabled students.
  • The bursary is for the time-limited trial only, as broader decisions on the lifelong learning maintenance support are still subject to government policy decisions.

Degrees not required: The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) calls on employers to think strategically about their workforce requirements in new report. New CIPD research highlights that the majority of employers (57%) still mainly look for degrees or post-graduate qualifications when recruiting staff. While a degree is a requirement for certain occupations and roles, the CIPD is warning that too often employers base hiring decisions on whether someone has a degree or not, regardless of its relevance. By doing this, the CIPD says employers could be missing out on key talent, exacerbating skills gaps and reducing employment opportunities for people.

It is calling for employers to ensure that employers are thinking carefully about whether a degree is required for roles when hiring, and to invest in a range of vocational training options to upskill existing staff. The call comes at a time when the UK is facing a tight labour market and firms are struggling to find the skills they need in job candidates and in their own workforces.

Free Speech

The OfS published data on the number of speakers or events that were rejected by English universities and other higher education providers in 2020-21. The data is published alongside sector-wide information on the data universities and colleges return to the OfS as part of their compliance with the Prevent duty.

The data shows that 19,407 events were held by universities and colleges with external speakers in 2020-21, with 193 speaker requests or events rejected. A further 632 events were approved subject to mitigations. In previous years:

  • 53 events or speaker requests were rejected in 2017-18
  • 141 were rejected in 2018-19
  • 94 were rejected in 2019-20.

Commenting on the data, Susan Lapworth, interim chief executive at the OfS, said:

  • This data shows that more than 99% of events and speaker requests were approved in 2020-21 and suggests that – in general – universities and colleges remain places where debate and the sharing of ideas can thrive.
  • However, it is the case that the number and proportion of rejections sharply increased in 2020-21, with almost 200 speakers or events rejected. We would be concerned if those cases suggest that lawful views are being stifled.

Parliamentary questions

International Donors: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

  • Q – Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Do the Government share my concern at the injection of vast quantities of communist cash from countries such as China and Vietnam into our universities—Oxbridge colleges in particular? Will they set up a taskforce to examine the problem and make recommendations?
  • A – Michelle Donelan: We have recently added a further clause to our Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill to ensure that there is more transparency when it comes to the donations that our universities receive.

Quality Changes

The QAA made a surprise announcement that they would cease to be the Designated Quality Body in England from 31 March 2023.

Wonkhe report: In a move that sent shockwaves last week, the agency has chosen to “demit” statutory responsibilities in order to comply with international quality standards, thus remaining eligible for work in other UK nations and overseas. Though there will be no immediate impact on students or (for the most part) providers, the announcement embarrasses the Office for Students – the quality work it has been asking QAA to do deviates from those international standards by not involving student reviewers and not meeting transparency requirements.

More details in the blog – What does QAA walking away from being the designated quality body mean for universities? David Kernohan tries to make sense of it all.

Student Loans

The DfE and Student Loans Company announced that student loan interest rates will be reduced to 6.3% from September 2022 for those on Plan 2 and Plan 3 loans.

In June (in light of a potential 12% interest rate due to inflation) the Government used predicted market rates to cap interest rates to a maximum of 7.3%. The actual market figure is now 6.3%, so the cap has been reduced further to reflect this. The current maximum interest rate is 4.5%.

As we all know, these changes don’t affect actual payments, only the rate at which the amount owned will accrue.  As a consequence, press stories that this reduces the burden on graduates are nonsense, given that the majority will not repay in full.

You can read all the detail here.

Student Loans: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

Q – Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): The number of graduates owing more than £100,000 in student loans has gone up by more than 3,000% in a single year, with over 6,500 graduates now having six-figure balances. Next year, with inflation, things could be even worse. Will the Secretary of State detail what urgent action he is considering to tackle the huge levels of graduate debt?

A – The Minister for Higher and Further Education (Michelle Donelan): As the hon. Member will know only too well, we responded to the Augar report in full a few months ago. We tried to get the right balance in who pays, between the graduate and the taxpayer, so that we have a fair system in which no student will pay back more in real terms than they borrowed. This Government are focused on outcomes, making sure that degrees pay and deliver graduate jobs.

Homelessness, accommodation, mental health, cost of living and community

HEPI published a new report arguing that universities should do more to track and prevent homelessness among their students and could play a wider role in support efforts to end all forms of homelessness.  The report sets out 10 steps that universities can take to address homelessness.

Report author, Greg Hurst, said:

  • Widening access to higher education means broadening the composition of a university’s student body and, therefore, admitting more students whose past experiences and circumstances mean they face a higher risk of homelessness.
  • As we experience a surge in inflation to beyond 9 per cent, this is likely to mean that from the autumn more students struggle to pay higher food and energy costs alongside their rent. Many universities could and should ask themselves if they are doing enough to prevent homelessness among their current and recent students.

FE News reports on a new NUS survey related to the cost of living hike.

  • A third of students are living on less than £50 a month after paying rent and bills
  • Student survey finds over half are cutting back on food with more than one in ten accessing food banks
  • 42% being forced to travel less or can’t make it to campus
  • 41% are neglecting their health as a means to save money e.g. dental appointments
  • 1 in 5 not able to buy toiletries and 1 in 10 unable to buy sanitary products when needed.
  • To bridge the financial gap – 83% of students have sought financial support by other means:
    • a third are using credit cards
    • 24% have turned to buy now, pay later credit schemes
    • 12% have taken out bank loans
    • 53% of students have turned to their families and friends for financial support and 40% have reached out to them for loans
    • a third say the cost-of-living crisis has impacted those who support them.
  • Mental wellbeing: 92% of students reporting a negative impact on their mental health, and 31% reporting this to be a ‘major’ impact due to the financial struggles.
  • Apprentices were similarly affected by cost of living concerns and cutting back on their spending

A range of student focussed Wonkhe blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Mental Health: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

  • Q – What steps his Department is taking to help support students with their mental health.
  • A- The Minister for Higher and Further Education (Michelle Donelan): I have been relentlessly focused on this area, allocating £15 million to student mental health services to support the transition from school to university via the Office for Students. I have worked with the Office for Students to deliver and to keep student space and with the Department of Health and Social Care. I held a summit just last week with the Minister for Care and Mental Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), investing £3 million in bridging the gaps between NHS and university services

Admissions

HE success: Wonkhe blog – the OfS uses student and applicant characteristics to build models of likely success in higher education. With Associations Between Characteristics quintiles coming to Office for Students regulation, David Kernohan sets out to explain the confusing world of the ABCs.

Results Day: The Sutton Trust published new research on A Levels and university access this academic year finding that:

  • In 2021/22 over a third (34%) of students who applied for university this year have missed 11 or more days of school or college over the last academic year for covid related reasons, with 21% missing more than 20 days.
  • 72% of teachers think the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their classmates will widen at their school.
  • Almost half (45%) of teachers involved with exams this year do not think the mitigations in place have gone far enough to account for pandemic related disruption. This figure was higher for those working at state schools (46%) than in independent schools (38%). The research shows concerns about grades among university applicants have increased since 2021.
  • 62% of this year’s applicants felt they had fallen behind their studies compared to where they would have been without the disruption of the pandemic. This figure was higher for students in state (64%) than in private schools (51%).
  • Most A level teachers (80%) were able to cover the vast majority, 90% or more, of the content released in advanced information topics for most subjects. No teachers reported that they covered less than half of the content. A similar proportion (75%) had been able to cover 90% or more of the full syllabus. (But at what cost for students who require a slower pace, e.g. due to SEN?)
  • Most A level students applying to university felt the advanced information was helpful (76%). But only 52% thought the arrangements for exams this year had fairly taken into account the impact of the pandemic on students’ learning.
  • Most teachers (57%) agreed with Ofqual’s approach to grade boundaries this year, but a sizeable minority (29%) felt the approach was too strict. This proportion was higher in state (30%) than in private schools (23%).

Concerns for the future

  • 64% of applicants said they were worried about their grades, 8 percentage points higher than said the same last year. Just over 1 in 4 (27%) are very worried this year.
  • Students from working class backgrounds were 8 percentage points more likely to be concerned about their grades, at 70%, compared to 62% of those from middle class backgrounds.
  • 60% of applicants were worried about getting a place at their first choice university. 71% of working class applicants expressed concern about getting a place, 13 percentage points more than those from middle class backgrounds, at 58%.

Recommendations:

  • Applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have narrowly missed their offer grades should be given additional consideration in admissions and hiring decisions. Universities, employers, colleges and other training providers should consider that young people taking exams this year, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have faced considerable disruption over the last few years, and that the exam system has not taken into account individual learning loss within the pandemic.
  • Schools, colleges, training providers and universities should put adequate support in place for results day. Results day this year is likely to be particularly challenging, with many young people potentially needing to adjust plans if they have not met their offers. Schools, colleges, training providers and universities should work together to ensure adequate support is in place for young people having to make quick decisions on their next steps.
  • Universities should identify key gaps in learning at an early stage in the first term, and provide support if necessary. Students going onto higher education this year will still require additional help and support. Plans should be put in place to support students develop in key areas necessary to succeed in their course.
  • Universities should provide additional wellbeing supports for the incoming cohort. We are still learning the extent of the impacts on young people, and they are likely to have additional need of support for their wellbeing and mental health as they transition to life in higher education.
  • Government should fund additional catch-up support for school and college students. A renewed catch-up plan, with a scale of funding at a level to meet the need caused by the crisis should be put in place by government for future year groups, including those in 16-19 education. This should include extending the pupil premium to students in post-16 education.
  • Ofqual should review the mitigations put in place this year and consider adapting them for 2023, taking into account the views of teachers and young people who have been through the system this year. Next year’s exam students will have had longer back in school and college, but will still have faced considerable disruption due to the pandemic which should be taken into account in the exam process next year. Ofqual should carefully review this year’s approach and use learnings to inform any mitigations in place next year, including re-examining current plans to reduce grade inflation to pre-pandemic levels next year.

Parliamentary Questions:

Scotland: Despite the return to exams a record 60.1% of Scottish students gained a place at their firm choice university, up from the pre-pandemic level of 57.5% in 2019. This figure will rise as more confirmation decisions are made. You can see more of the detail in the UCAS statistical release. Scotland are also reporting continued success in widening access, with a chunk towards closing the gender progression gap for young people in Scotland (19 and under). In 2019, 50% more females progressed to higher education than males; on release day that has narrowed to 39% (from 47% last year).

Participation of young students from the most disadvantaged areas (SIMD40) was also up from pre-pandemic levels, with 23.9% of all acceptances from SIMD40 areas compared to 23.4 last year and 22.4% in 2019.

The overall number of Scottish students accepted is 30,490, up from 28,750 in 2019.
Of those accepted, 29,630 will be studying in Scotland – an increase of 1,740 on 2019.
The number of students accepted on to nursing courses is 2,960 – up by 450 compared to 2019.

Is free tuition in Scotland really capping places for Scottish university applicants? On Wonk Corner Jim takes a critical look at a report from Reform Scotland that calls for tuition fees..

Access & Participation

Summer Schools: TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE, the ‘what-works’ centre) published Summer Schools in the time of Covid-19 – interim findings of the impact on widening participation. (Also see the analysis conducted by the Behavioural Research Team here.) It assesses the impact of summer schools on disadvantaged students and finds that the programmes are not reaching those most in need. They concluded that summer schools designed to reduce equality gaps in access to higher education are largely attended by students already destined for university. However, the findings also indicate that attending a summer school may have a positive effect on disadvantaged or underrepresented students’ confidence in their ability to apply to, and succeed at, university, their perception of barriers to entry, and fitting in. This suggests that attendees are likely to start higher education in a better position than those who don’t attend.

In response to the findings, TASO recommends HE providers:

  • Collaborate with schools and colleges to better target and support disadvantaged and underrepresented young people to enrol in higher education.
  • Increase efforts to reach a wider range of young people through summer schools, or develop alternative programmes that effectively support those who are presently less likely to attend higher education.
  • Review attainment-raising activities for school age children, in line with recommendations in TASO’s recent rapid evidence review.
  • Continue to effectively evaluate programmes and generate more causal evidence to understand the impact of outreach activities by following TASO guidance.

Colleagues within this field won’t be surprised by the recommendations which are clearly in line with TASO objectives.  The final summer schools report will be published in 2023/24, and will focus on behavioural findings, including attainment and enrolment in higher education. TASO is running a second evaluation of face-to-face summer schools being delivered between June and August 2022 to compare the effects of online versus traditional delivery.

Free School Meals: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published analysis of free school meal recipients’ earnings, in comparison with their better-off peers. It finds that people who grew up in low-income households have lower average earnings at age 30, even when matching educational level and secondary school attainment.

  • Half of FSM students earned just £17,000 or less at age 30.
  • There is a persistent earnings gap between those who received free school meals in childhood and other students. Part of this overall gap in lower earnings is because of people from income-deprived backgrounds being much less likely to go on to higher education. The size of that overall earnings gap widens between the ages of 18 and 30 years, particularly around university graduation age. But even among those with the same qualification level and similar attainment in secondary school, disadvantaged pupils went on to earn less than their peers.
  • Researchers have explored explanations for the gap: education, experience in the workplace, ethnicity, gender and other possible factors. The earnings gap between free school meals recipients and non-recipients in state-funded schools can be mostly accounted for by these characteristics. However, students who went to independent privately funded schools (who are not eligible for free school meals) typically out earned most other students with a similar qualification level and key stage 4 (KS4) attainment by age 30. A free school meals student with similar characteristics would still earn around 20% less on average than an independent school student.
  • Of independent school students, the top 10% earned £71,000 or more but the top 1% earned upwards of £180,000. By contrast, of state school students not on free school meals, individuals would need to earn over £85,000 a year to be in the top 1%. Their earnings were at least double the salary of 90% of individuals in this group. The top 1% of free school meals students earned around £63,000. By contrast, 50% of people who were on free school meals earned £17,000 or less aged 30 years.
  • At age 18 years, there are only small differences in earnings between this cohort of free school meals recipients, non-recipients and independent school students. Between the ages of 18 and 30 years, the earnings gap widens between the three groups. There is a notable difference in earnings from around age 22 years, which is a common age to graduate university and take up employment.
  • 48% of those eligible for free school meals during their KS4 year completed a qualification above GCSE level. That compares with 71% of state-educated students who were not eligible for free school meals, and 96% of students at independent school who went on to complete a higher qualification than GCSE level.
  • At all levels of qualification, those eligible for free school meals were earning less at age 30 years than their peers who had the same highest level of qualification.
  • At age 30 years, independent school pupils have the highest earnings in almost every group of people with the same highest level of qualification. For example, of everyone who left school after GCSEs, individuals who went to independent school have the highest earnings, likewise for bachelor’s degree and those with no qualifications.
  • The earnings gap is largest for those with level 6 qualifications (which includes degree level).
  • Educational KS4 attainment does not close the earnings gap: How well individuals do at each level of education can also affect their earnings later in life, but this alone does not close the earnings gap between students of different backgrounds.
  • Those with higher KS4 attainment (GCSE level) had higher earnings in all groups, that is, for students on free school meals, state-educated students not on free school meals and independent school students.
  • As the gap in earnings widens over time between these groups, particularly at a typical university leaving age of 22 years, educational attainment at KS4 does not account for differences in future earnings.
  • An independent school student who was in the bottom 20% nationally for GCSE attainment earned an average of around £22,000 at age 30 years. An individual who was from an income-deprived background and on free school meals would typically have to be in the top 40% nationally for KS4 attainment to have similar earnings aged 30 years.

Care Experienced: Hear from care experienced student, Anas Dayeh, on why he has chosen to run for the National Labour Students Committee.

WP Statistics: The DfE published the 2022 Widening participation in HE statistics.  They include estimates of state-funded pupils’ progression to higher education (HE) by age 19 according to their personal characteristics (at age 15) with all the measures you’d expect including FSM, care and SEN. The publication also includes:

  • geographic breakdowns to enable comparisons of HE progression rates between local authorities and regions
  • estimated percentages of A level and equivalent students at age 17, by school or college type, who progressed to HE by age 19
  • progression by POLAR disadvantage and Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework rating
  • breakdowns for high tariff HE providers

Steven Haines, Director of Public Affairs at youth charity  Impetus  said:

  • We’re encouraged to see a historic rate of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds progressing to university and a decrease in the access gap after many years of it growing.
  • However, even with more people entering higher education than ever, the gap remains stubbornly large. It is not enough to rely on Higher Education expansion to close this gap – we need concerted efforts to ensure young people from all backgrounds get the support they need to access and succeed. This means high-quality tutoring, comprehensive contextual offers, and support to overcome additional barriers such as a sense of belonging.

Parliamentary Questions:

Gypsies, Roma and Travellers participating in HE

HEPI published Gypsies, Roma and Travellers: The ethnic minorities most excluded from UK education. Key points:

  • Gypsy, Roma and Travellers of Irish heritage have the widest attainment gap in measures of pupils achieving a good level of development in early years education;
  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils have some of the lowest rates of attendance and the highest rates of permanent exclusion from schools;
  • in 2020/21, 9.1% of Gypsy / Roma pupils and 21.1% of Irish Traveller pupils achieved a grade 5 or above in GCSE English and Mathematics, compared to a national average in England of 51.9%;
  • young people from Gypsy / Roma and Irish Traveller communities are the least likely ethnic groupings to enter higher education by the age of 19 – just 6.3% of Gypsy / Roma and 3.8% of Irish Travellers access higher education by the age of 19 compared to around 40% of all young people;
  • Gypsy and Irish Travellers are the UK’s ‘least liked’ group, with 44.6% of people holding negative views against them – 18.7 percentage points higher than Muslims; and
  • Irish Travellers face a ‘mental health crisis’, with one-in-10 deaths caused by suicide.

Policy recommendations include:

  1. Better data collection: clear and consistent data collection of students and staff who identify as Gypsy, Roma, Traveller, Showman and Boaters at education institutions.
  2. Recognising Gypsy, Roma and Traveller histories: marking Holocaust Memorial Day (January), International Roma Remembrance Day (April) and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller participation History Month (June).
  3. More tailored funding: £60 million Government funding to work with community groups to improve outcomes.

Dr Laura Brassington, said: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller individuals still face exclusion from education. It is tragic that so many avoid identifying by their ethnicity for fear of racial prejudice. It is scarcely believable they still face so many barriers when accessing mainstream education. Education institutions could commit to change this situation by doing more to recognise the challenges and signing the Pledge to tackle them, while policymakers should improve data collection and find the modest sum of money that could make a huge difference.

Undergraduate data skills

The Office for Students (OfS) has published the final report of the National Data Skills pilot programme, which in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The pilot programme was funded as part of an extension to the artificial intelligence and data science postgraduate conversion course programme, which has shown an increase in diversity for groups who are underrepresented in the AI and data science industries, and to fill the skills gap in technology.

Recommendations

  1. DCMS should work with key stakeholders to develop and agree appropriate terminology and definitions for data skills and data literacy, including the extent to which these should be considered ‘foundational’ in the context of HE provision.
  2. The sector should undertake further strategic consultation with industry to establish the types of data skills that employers are seeking from graduates, to ensure that curricula and other data skills learning is as fit-for-purpose as realistically possible.
  3. The sector should consider a focused programme of work to develop a range of materials demonstrating the value of data skills to those working in a wide range of early careers, so that more students appreciate their potential future value.
  4. Providers need to undertake longer-term, substantive evaluation of different approaches to data skills teaching, building on the pilot projects in this study, in order to obtain a more robust evidence base about the effectiveness of approaches.
  5. The sector should consider the potential value of a national programme to upskill noncognate HE teaching staff to build their confidence in delivering data skills teaching, highlight best practice in teaching students with mixed abilities and prior experiences, and share practice and resources

Other news

  • PQ on Nurse training places (universities)
  • PQ on Strategic priorities grant – London weighting
  • PQ on what steps they are taking to ensure sufficient funding for arts and humanities subjects in higher education in the (1) short, and (2) long, term; and what assessment they have made of (a) the potential shortfall in funding after the cessation of funding from the European Research Council ceases, and (b) general pressures on funding for arts and humanities subjects in higher education.

Allied health returnees: New university courses launched to help allied health professionals return to practice.  The short, distance-learning courses are aimed at AHPs including art, drama and music therapists; chiropodists and podiatrists; occupational therapists; dietitians; orthoptists; paramedics; physiotherapists; operating department practitioners; prosthetists and orthotists; diagnostic and therapeutic radiographers; and speech language therapists.

It is hoped the initiative can be extended to support other professions including biomedical scientists, clinical scientists, hearing aid dispensers and practicing psychologists.

Funding of up to £800 is also available to help students with out-of-pocket expenses. More information is available here:-  https://www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/allied-health-professions/return-practice-allied-health-professionals-healthcare-scientists-practising-psychologists/supporting-your-study

Welsh Student Social Workers:  Student led campaign increases financial support for social work students in Wales. Starting from September 2022, the bursary for both undergraduates and postgraduates in Wales will be increased by over 50%

Professional Services: What about professional services staff? Richard Watermeyer, Tom Crick and Cathryn Knight take steps to amplify the voices of a “massive minority” of colleagues on their experiences during the pandemic.

Level 3 courses: The Department for Education has published a report on the findings from an independent evaluation of the level 3 free courses for jobs offer and the impact it has had on adult learners and providers.

Recognising qualifications: UK and India signed an agreement officially recognising each other’s higher education qualifications. The agreement is expected to attract more international students to the UK – with each student estimated to be worth more than £100,000 to the economy This is the first of three elements of the UK-India Enhanced Trade Partnership agreed by the Prime Minister in 2021.

Bust: Wonkhe notes that five years into the life of the Office for Students, we are still no clearer about what happens to insolvent providers.

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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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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update for the w/e 14th February 2022

Hi all, Parliament are in recess but there is plenty going on.  We start with last week’s reshuffle and research, but there are strong hints about new plans for access and participation

Mini Reshuffle

Last week there was a mini reshuffle of the parliamentarians holding Government. The appointments effectively draw his loyal staff ever closer and bolster up support for Boris personally within the Cabinet.

  • Michael Ellis MP has been made Minister for the Cabinet Office on top of his current role as Paymaster General and will be attend cabinet. The role was previously held by Steve Barclay. Ellis has become more visible lately as the minister most often sent up to the despatch box to answer urgent questions around ‘partygate’.
  • Stuart Andrew MP becomes Minister for Housing, leaving his role as Deputy Chief Whip and replacing Christopher Pincher at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. As the Mirror points out, this makes him the eleventh housing minister in almost as many years, narrowly overtaking the ‘curse’ of the Universities Minister.
  • James Cleverly MP becomes Minister for Europe, leaving his role as Minister for Middle East, North Africa and North America and replacing Chris Heaton-Harris who has been made Chief Whip.
  • Heather Wheeler MP becomes Parliamentary Secretary in the Cabinet Office, a ministerial role previously held by Julia Lopez, in addition to her current role as Assistant Government Whip.
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg MP becomes Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency and will attend cabinet. He leaves his role as Leader of the House of Commons. It also looks as though he might take on the former responsibilities of Minister for Efficiency and Transformation – the position held by Lord Agnew until last month when he resigned over the Government writing off furlough fraud.
  • Mark Spencer MP becomes Leader of the House of Commons (and Lord President of the Privy Council) and will attend cabinet. He leaves his role as Government Chief Whip to replace Rees-Mogg.
  • Chris Heaton-Harris MP becomes Chief Whip and will attend cabinet. He leaves his role as Minister for Europe (FCDO), a role he held for roughly 51 days, to replace Spencer.

In addition, last week these appointments were made:

  • Steve Barclay MP, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, took up the post of the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff following the resignation of Dan Rosenfield.
  • Andrew Griffith MPwas appointed Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, having already served as Johnson’s PPS for some time, following the resignation of Munira Mirza.
  • Guto Harriwas appointed Director of Communications following the resignation of Jack Doyle. He previously worked with Johnson during his time as London Mayor. His appointment sparked controversy.

Research

Research Spend: Andy Westwood reminds us of some key research spend points in Research Professional’s Sunday Reading Balancing the Books: The R&D mission

  • to increase public spending outside the greater south-east (in this case, the ‘golden triangle’) by a third over the spending review period and by 40 per cent by 2030 is to be welcomed. So too is the commitment to spending 55 per cent outside the greater south-east by 2024-25…As commentators…have pointed out, this is not much of a departure from existing spending and should be easily achieved. Richard Jones… has also suggested that this spending is likely to be more at the applied end of R&D, and the stated expectation of a “2:1 private sector match” more or less confirms this. It should also remind us that this R&D mission has an explicit purpose of boosting productivity, pay and economic success rather than just dividing up the spending review’s spoils.
  • But that spending context is important—as are the government’s longer-term targets of spending 2.4 per cent (and eventually more) of GDP on R&D by the middle of the decade. The spending review allocations offer real headroom for growth and much of this spending remains unprescribed. Of the £20 billion promised across government by 2024-25, only £5.9bn will be spent on the “core research budget”.
  • So it’s less a fight over research councils and quality-related funding and more about other R&D spending, such as that distributed elsewhere in BEIS and by other government departments, including health and defence.

Horizon Europe: the prospect of the UK joining Horizon Europe appears to be slipping away. Last week in the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Science Minister, George Freeman, stated:, It’s clear to me we can’t go into a financial year with ongoing uncertainty. So, internally, our thinking is that we need to be ready in the new financial year to start to release some of the funding that we’ve put aside for Horizon into programmes so that the science community isn’t left sitting on the bench, as it were, rather than on the pitch. What I’m keen to do is make sure that those could seamlessly—like a motorway’s slipway—segue back into Horizon association, were that to materialise after the French election [in April].

Research Professional suggest that 31 March will be make or break decision time. Research Professional report: Freeman spoke to the Financial Times about the UK’s ‘Plan B’, describing a £6bn global science fund to run over three years. The science minister is quoted as wanting a “coherent and ambitious plan for international science…based on the elements of Horizon that researchers find most valuable: global fellowships, strong industrial challenge funding [and] innovation missions around tomorrow’s technologies”. He added: “Outside Horizon, we have the freedom to be more global.” … The UK is not alone in feeling excluded from Horizon, with Switzerland similarly feeling its membership is being held up over debates around the wider political relations between the country and the EU…The FT story is not so much news as a periodic reminder that making a decision on association seems as difficult as ever.

Here’s the latest from the European Affairs Committee on Horizon Europe.

The ongoing campaigning to remain part of Horizon Europe has been a regular news feature this week. Wonkhe: Organisations across Europe are calling for science to be put above politics as the UK and Switzerland’s association with Horizon Europe remains in limbo. Universities UK has partnered with the Royal Society, Wellcome, EPFL, ETH Zurich, and the ETH Board to launch the Stick to Science campaign, which argues that the UK and Switzerland’s inclusion in the scheme will bring an estimated €18billion in additional funding, and are inviting signatures for the initiative. The PIE News and the Financial Times cover the story.

UKRI Chair: Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, was reported as vetoing the appointment of Jonathan Michie for UKRI’s Executive Chair role for party political reasons. The Guardian also run the story.

Global Talent: Wonkhe – The government’s new Global Talent website has launched with the aim of attracting research experts to come and innovate in Britain. The site, which is a collaboration between UKRI and several government departments, will provide information on working in and with UK universities, innovation, and business.

Destination Australia: The Russell Group call for closer research and mobility ties with Australia. In a joint letter sent to the Australian and British foreign and trade ministers, the Chairs of the Group of Eight (Go8) and the Russell Group, their countries’ key representative bodies for world-class research-intensive universities, said they would establish a new committee to look at ways to increase two-way research collaboration and explore how this could be used to boost trade and investment and support economic growth.

Parliamentary Questions:

France took up the rotating six-month Presidency of the Council of the European Union in January with the motto Recovery, strength and a sense of belonging. The agreed priorities for the next 18 months are:

  • To protect the citizens and freedoms by focusing on respecting and protecting European values such as democracy, rule of law, gender equality, and on strengthening the Schengen area and the EU’s common asylum and migration policy
  • To promote a new growth and investment model for Europe, based on sustainable green growth and strengthening the EU’s industrial and digital sovereignty
  • To build a greener and more socially equitable Europe that better protects the health of Europeans
  • A global Europe that promotes multilateralism and renewed international partnerships and adopts a shared vision among the 27 member states on strategic threats

Pages 4-5 of this briefing indicate more on the above themes and is an interesting short read. Also in the document is analysis of what the French premiership means. While the above listed items are the EU priorities France intends a particular focus on climate change, digital transformation, and security. The priorities have connotations for both research priorities and budgets as well as economic competition between the UK and EU.

Skills Bill – OfS’ proposed new powers

Proposed amendments to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill tabled by the Government aims to change the way the Office for Students (OfS) publicises investigations with HE providers and protect it from defamation claims. The OfS will be able to state publicly if it intends to investigate, or already is investigating, a provider or individual and will be protected from defamation claims. Where it publicises an upcoming investigation it must also publish the findings, even if no decision is reached or no further action is taken. The provisions would allow the OfS to publish notices, decisions and reports given or made in the performance of its functions, while considering:

  • The interests of HE students, potential applicants, alumni, and HE providers
  • The need for excluding from publication any information that “would or might, in the opinion of the OfS, seriously and prejudicially affect the interests of that body or individual”
  • The public interest

Publications relating to a decision to conduct an investigation are to be protected from defamation claims if they include information on:

  • A statement of the OfS’ decision to conduct the investigation,
  • A summary of the matter being, or to be, investigated, and
  • A reference to the identity of any higher education provider or other body or individual whose activities are being, or to be, investigated.

Wonkhe: …new clause 67C. In publishing details of a decision to conduct an investigation, summarising the matter that is being investigated, and naming the provider (or other body) under investigation the OfS is protected from defamation claims. This doesn’t apply to other information that the OfS may publish, and – wonderfully – it doesn’t apply if the publication “is shown to have been made with malice”.

The clause is controversial as this sort of disclosure risks damaging the reputation of HE providers even when the OfS decides not to take further action or implement sanctions.  It also came up in the context of the consultation on student protection directions in 2020.   In that context, there were concerns about the impact on an institution that was in difficulty if the OfS published their market exit plans.  In that context the guidance now says that they will consider the public interest when considering publication.

The DfE has published an updated assessment of how the Skills Bill interacts with human rights legislation, to account for the new provisions. There are also questions over how the Skills Bill will interact with the Freedom of Speech Bill.

Here’s the short Wonkhe blog on the topic.

In other OfS news last week Susan Lapworth was appointed as the OfS Interim Chief Executive from 1 May until the end of 2022. This covers the recruitment period for a permanent OfS chief executive. Susan takes over from Nicola Dandridge’s planned departure as her tenure in the chief role ended.

Lord Wharton, chair of the OfS, said: This is an excellent appointment to see the OfS through an important phase of our work, including the delivery of our reforms to quality and student outcomes. Susan has worked closely with the board since the OfS was established and is perfectly placed to lead the team through this period. Her experience and expertise has been invaluable to the OfS, and I am looking forward to working closely with her in this new role.

Access & Participation

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

In a presentation, there was the following advice:

  • We strongly encourage you to vary your plan to take account of the priorities outlined by the Director for Fair Accessand Participation.
  • We will publish advice on how to do this in spring 2022.
  • The advice will include information on the areas that should be covered in variations. This is likely to cover:
    • strategic partnerships with schools to raise attainment
    • improving the quality of provision for underrepresented students
    • developing non-traditional pathways and modes of study
    • the production of two-page access and participation plan executive summaries using an optional template.

We even get a mention in the speech!

  • But we are expecting providers to pull their weight on pre-16 attainment, a challenge which affects us all.
  • We will be generous in our expectations of the work providers undertake in this area.
  • It may be expanding evidence-led, provenly-successful interventions like Bournemouth University’s work on literacy in primary schools. Their student ambassadors worked with Year 6 pupils through a 10 week reading programme, which saw the reading ages of two-thirds of the participants increased.
  • It could be new thinking and tools for measuring and enhancing the knowledge and skills of disadvantaged pupils in subjects and year groups where we do not yet have coherent curricula matched with integrated, informative assessment.
  • It will almost certainly include both place-based policy initiatives tied closely to localities and more wide-reaching regional and national initiatives.
  • We are keen to see innovation and experimentation – provided there is commitment to independent, published evaluation.

Wonkhe blogs:

Research Professional (writing before the well-trailed speech was delivered)

Admissions

The English exam boards published information on the 2022 GCSE, AS and A level exam adaptations which adjust for Covid related learning disruption. Plans for grading will be more generous for summer 2022, with boundaries likely to be lower than in previous years. Ofqual is planning on returning to pre-pandemic grading over a two-year period, meaning this year there will be a ‘mid-point’ set between 2019 boundaries and the grade levels used in teacher assessments last year. Also:

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:

  • Examsare the best and fairest form of assessment, and we firmly intend for them to take place this summer, giving students a fair chance to show what they know.
  • We know students have faced challenges during the pandemic, which is why we’ve put fairness for them at the forefront of our plans. The information to help with their revision published today, as well as the range of other adaptations, will make sure they can do themselves justice in their exams this summer.

EPI have published Covid-19 and Disadvantage gaps in England 2020. It considers the national disadvantage gap (the gap in grades between disadvantaged students and their peers) in 2020 at key stages 4 and 5. Highlighting the impact of the 2020 (teacher assessed) grades on different students. Dods have provided a summary of the report and the recommendations here. Or these are the high-level points:

  • The gap in GCSE grades between students in long-term poverty and their better off peers has failed to improve over the last ten years.
  • More students have now fallen into longer-term poverty.
  • Fears that the switch to teacher assessed grades for GCSEs in 2020 would penalise students from disadvantaged backgrounds are largely unfounded – with no evidence poorer GCSE students lost out under this system.
  • But for students in college and sixth form (16-19 education), the gap in grades between poorer students and their better off peers widened in 2020.
  • This was driven by A level students gaining a whole grade more from teacher assessments than those who studied qualifications such as BTECs.

Also this week Teach First have published Rethinking pupil premium – a costed proposal for levelling up.

Balancing FE & HE

The Civic University Network and partners published Going further and higher: How collaboration between colleges and universities can transform lives and places. It calls for greater collaboration between colleges and universities and setting out recommendations for governments and sector leaders to support regional priorities and deliver UK-wide economic recovery.

Recommendations for sector leaders, which focus on creating strong local networks:

  1. Agree the institutions who are involved in the network and embrace the local geography and specialisms that already exist.
  2. Develop a cohesive education and skills offer for local people, employers and communities built around lifelong learning, ensuring inefficient duplication and competition is reduced.
  3. Move beyond personal relationships and agree how the whole institution is involved in collaboration, with clear roles and shared responsibility for partnership.

Recommendations to governments across the four nations to build better education and skills systems:

  1. Set an ambitious 10-year strategy to ensure lifelong learning for all and to deliver on national ambitions.
  2. Balance investment in FE and HE to ensure the whole education and skills system is sustainably funded so that colleges and universities can work in the interests of their local people, employers and communities.
  3. Equal maintenance support across loans and grants for HE and FE students, regardless of age, personal circumstances, or route into education.
  4. Tackle the ‘messy middle’ by defining distinct but complementary roles for colleges and universities to avoid a turf war over who delivers various types of education and training.
  5. Create a single funding and regulatory body for the entire post-16 education and skills system in each nation to deliver more aligned and complementary regulatory approaches that will ensure smoother learner journeys.

The report fits well with the Government’s cohesive approach to sharing learners such as emphasising the technical education route as an equal status to HE academic study. Planning education from schools to postgraduate with interaction of industry and the education providers at each level has long been a Conservative ideal and was apparent in this week’s speech from the newly-appointed OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation (more here).

Research Professional analyse the report and weave it together with the Government’s current intent on Levelling Up, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, Augar, the OfS and vocational education.

Students

Careers 2032: Wonkhe report on a new Careers report –A new research report on the future of careers support from Handshake, in partnership with AGCAS, the Institute of Student Employers and Wonkhe, finds that 32% of students worry they aren’t good enough or ready for a graduate job, rising to 39% of students from less privileged backgrounds. Employers are primarily worried about retaining the graduates they hire, with 71% concerned about rising to this challenge in the decade ahead. For careers professionals, dealing with the fallout from Covid-19 and responding to students’ knocked confidence will be a major priority in the coming years. The Careers 2032 report brings together insight from student representatives and SU professional staff, employers, and careers professionals to explore how careers support is changing – concluding that deeper collaborations within and outside universities will be needed to support a more personalised journey towards graduate employment for a greater diversity of students. For further analysis have a look at Wonkhe’s blog.

Wonkhe also published their report with UPP and the Student Futures Commission “A Student  Futures Manifesto”.  This calls all institutions to work with students to develop actions and commitments to securing successful student futures by the end of the 2022/23 academic year.  It also calls for better IT, a “what works” review of online teaching and assessment and a “challenge fund” for mental health and wellbeing.

Wonkhe blog by Mary Curnock Cook here.

Student Drug Use: Wonkhe report that a major new taskforce has been established to tackle student drug use, investigate how a common approach to reducing harm might be developed, and determine how collective action might tackle the supply of drugs on campus. It follows concerns about the impact of student drug use, with the associated risks of learning and mental health problems, damage to future job prospects, addiction and avoidable deaths. The group, chaired by Middlesex University vice chancellor Nic Beech, has been established by a partnership between Universities UK, Unite Students, GuildHE and Independent HE, and will include input from a range of government departments, sector agencies, charities and law enforcement.

Blog: which areas of the new taskforce investigation will need particular care in order to avoid unintended consequences.

This week the Times also ran an article on why county lines gangs are targeting students.

Mental Health: Student Space has been extended to July 2022.  Wonkhe review the underpinning evidence.

Gambling: Parliamentary Question on supporting students with gambling addictions.

Cost of living: The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has published Government uses high inflation as cover for hitting students, graduates and universities. The article begins: The government is quietly tightening the financial screws on students, graduates and universities. Students will see substantial cuts to the value of their maintenance loans, as parental earnings thresholds will stay frozen in cash terms and the uplift in the level of loans will fall far short of inflation. This continues a long-run decline in the value of maintenance entitlements… Separately, the student loan repayment threshold will also be frozen in cash terms. This is effectively a tax rise on middle-earning graduates. A graduate earning £30,000 will need to pay £113 more towards their student loan in the next tax year than the government had previously said. Finally, tuition fees will remain frozen in cash terms for another year, which hits universities and mainly benefits the taxpayer. On the whole, as our updated student finance calculator shows, the government is saving £2.3 billion on student loans under the cover of high inflation. More here.

Research Professional report on the IFS article and include opposing comment by Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI.

PQs

Other news

We talked in a recent update about the new TEF and the requirements to explain what we are doing about learning gain there is a Wonkhe blog here calling this out as “virtue signalling!.

Apprenticeships: Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announced a new flexible apprenticeship scheme.

AI & Data Converts: DCMS has announced that up to £23 million in government funding will create more AI and data conversion courses, helping young people from underrepresented groups including women, black people and people with disabilities join the UK’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry. Up to two thousand scholarships for masters AI conversion courses, which enable graduates to do further study courses in the field even if their undergraduate course is not directly related, will be available. The Government is calling on companies to play their part in creating a future pipeline of AI talent by match-funding the AI scholarships for the conversion courses. They highlight that industry support would get more people into the AI and data science job market quicker and strengthen their businesses.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE policy update w/e 17th January 2022

As the PM tries to focus on policy to reduce the chat about parties, it may be that the levelling up white paper finally sees the light of day fairly soon, and some big OfS consultations are also expected, so hold on to your hats for the next update!  In the meantime, plenty on research priorities.

Parliamentary News

Michelle Donelan gave a ministerial statement on 5 January about reforms to support the government’s skills revolution – ie levelling up by filling skills gaps to boost the economy. Nine more Institutes of Technology were announced (12 already running), T levels announcements were made, and it also covered access to flexible short courses for retraining: More than 20 universities and colleges will offer the courses in subjects where there are skills shortages such as digital, Net Zero, Education, STEM and Healthcare, and offering an alternative to studying a traditional three-year degree. Student finance will be available to students taking the courses, marking the next step in the development of the government’s Lifelong Learning Entitlement which, from 2025, will provide individuals with a loan entitlement to be the equivalent of four years of post-18 education they can use flexibly over their lifetime.

The DfE statement contains more detail.

Education Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, also made a statement. It focussed mainly on schools and Covid issues related to compulsory schooling. However, on international HE students Zahawi stated: We continue to welcome international students to the United Kingdom, and universities stand ready to support any students who are required to quarantine on arrival. Overseas students should not worry, because visa concessions remain in place for international students to allow them to study remotely until 6 April this year.

Research

ARIA: The ARIA Bill has passed through Parliament with limited amendments. Plans for recruitment of the ARIA Chair and Chief Executive are at various stages but it is not known if a preferred candidate has yet been selected. ARIA will have a budget of £800 million over the next four financial years. Wonkhe have a blog.

2022 Ministerial Science Plan: Science Minister George Freeman outlined his core missions and priorities for 2022 on Twitter. Here’s the basics:

  • Horizon: push for final sign-off on the UK’s Horizon Europe membership (£80.5bn). As political disputes continue to hold up membership in Brussels the Minister stated he is still working on a “bold Global Britain Plan B” should Horizon membership fall through.
  • Research Ecosystem: implementing the Nurse, Grant and Tickell reviews which address the research landscape, UKRI, and research bureaucracy. All three reviews are expected to be published this year.
  • ARIA: Establishing the £800m Advanced Research and Invention Agency as the UK’s “science satellite” to ensure the UK “stays on the frontline of exploring new ways of doing new science”. The Bill is now awaiting Royal Assent.
  • Science Cabinet: Establishing the new National Science & Technology Council, which Freeman calls the “Science Cabinet”. The Council, which was announced last year, will be chaired by the PM and the chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance. Freeman also committed to establishing an R&D inter-ministerial group to provide a “joined-up cross-Government” approach to R&D policy.
  • Funding: Allocating the £20bn R&D funding promised by 2024-25 at the last spending review to help reach the government’s target of increasing R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP. He also commits to work with the Chancellor, Treasury, and industry to “take forward” the Patient Capital Reviewon supporting business to scale-up to “unlock great UK pension and fund investment” in high-growth companies.
  • Regulation: Freeman also commits to support the implementation of the recommendations of the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform– of which he was a member prior to being appointed – which he says will “unlock UK leadership in regulatory innovation for leadership in setting the global standards for fast-emerging new sectors” such as AI and nutraceuticals.
  • Levelling Up: The Minister plans to map and focus on the roughly 30 R&D clusters around the UK as the basis for how science and innovation can support the Government’s level-up ambitions, creating “new jobs, opportunities & companies key to sustainable long term growth.” The Levelling Up White Paper is expected to be published in the first half of this year.
  • Quantum: Developing a ‘UK Quantum Computing Technology and Industrial Strategy’ to “consolidate the UK’s global leadership in the science of advanced computing into commercial leadership in innovation & industry.”
  • Strategies: The Minister committed to implementing the 2021 Life Sciences Visionto “ensure we repeat the successes of our first industrial strategy”, as well as the UK Innovation Strategy to “help create the next high growth sectors”. Plus the UK Space Strategy to develop the £16bn UK space tech sector. Freeman pledges to implement key reforms of the R&D People and Culture Strategy (published by the previous Minister).
  • International: Establishing new Global Britain science fellowships, working with global allies and the National Cyber Security Centre to “ensure research security against hostile industrial and sovereign research espionage and IP theft.”

In response, Hetan Shah, writing for Wonkhe calls for the inclusion of social sciences, arts and humanities in achieving the science minister’s priorities for research and development in 2022.

AI: The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has published the second edition of its AI Barometer, analysing the most pressing opportunities, risks and challenges associated with AI and data in the UK. And the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dtsl) has published information on the development of a standard approach for AI and autonomy in networked multi-sensory systems in security and defence.

Research Integrity: The Commons Science and Technology Select Committee met on 15 December as part of the Reproducibility and Research Integrity inquiry. Dods have summarised the session here.

Parliamentary questions:

Research Bureaucracy: The Independent Review of Research Bureaucracy has published its interim findings focusing on the role funders play within the research system. You can read a summary of the interim findings or the full interim report. The final report is due in Spring 2022.   The report sets out themes and the next steps for the review to consider, rather than recommendations, including:

  • How funders might adopt a risk based approach to assurance
  • Streamlining reporting including across concordats and the possibility of collective resources
  • Simplifying applications and moving admin post-award
  • Triaging applications via an expert panel and simplifying assessment criteria
  • Maybe controversially – capping the number of applications an institution can submit to a scheme
  • Reviewing contracting processes, procurement and change processes
  • Digital platforms – portals and interoperability
  • Looking at how individual universities manage research and building case studies – the implication being that a lot of the bureaucracy is self-imposed within universities

There will be consultation and the next report will have recommendations.

Admissions

Exams: Wonkhe tell us that the Times reports that Minister for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, has insisted that school exams will go ahead this summer.

BTECs: The Nuffield Foundation & Oxford Brookes University have issued a press release Students with BTECs are successful across a range of university outcomes. The headlines are drawn from this report (the 60 second summary from page 3 is useful). The political context for this release is the DfE’s intention to cease some BTECs and reduce the number of others offered as the country moves towards the T level curriculum. The results provide balance to previous reports that suggest BTEC students achieve lower outcomes that A level entrants. Key points from the press release:

  • Students who take A levels are less likely to drop out of university and more likely to graduate with a 2:1 or a first than those with BTECs.

However:

  • The majority of graduating BTEC students gain at least a 2:1.
  • BTECs provide the route into university for 1 in 4 young student entrants from England, and they are more likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds than their A level peers.
  • Over 80% of students with just BTECs stay at university after their first year and over 60% of graduating BTEC students gain a 2:1 or above.
  • However, students who enter with only BTECs are almost twice as likely (11% vs 6%) to drop out before their second year compared to similar A level students. They are also 1.7 times more likely to repeat their first year and around 1.4 times more likely to graduate below a 2:1.
  • BTEC entrants with ‘average’ GCSE results had a 25% chance of graduating below a 2:1 compared with an 18% chance for A level entrants with the same GCSE grades and similar other characteristics.
  • There are differences in university outcomes between entrants with a combination of A levels and BTECs compared with just A levels, but they are smaller than the differences between those entering with only BTECs and only A levels.
  • Analysis of data from one university providing detailed module scores suggests that those with BTECs perform less well on exam-assessed than coursework-assessed modules.  Since recent reforms, BTECs must have a proportion of external assessment which may prepare BTEC students better for university exams – the research subjects predated these reforms.
  • The type of A levels (e.g. traditional) and whether an A level in the degree subject was held had an impact on degree outcome read more in the report and press release on the above links.

Dr Dilnot (report author) said: Reform of level three qualifications is high on the Government’s agenda, with the publication of a policy document in July 2021 on the defunding of large BTECs in the context of introducing a more clearly two pronged approach to further study and training, with A levels on the one hand and T-levels on the other.  We welcome the planned postponement of the removal of funding for most BTECS and would encourage further consideration of their future. It’s very important to note that although there are differences between outcomes for BTEC and A level students, the overwhelming majority of students entering with BTECs or combinations do not drop out, and the majority of those graduating do so with at least a 2:1.

Dr Wyness (report author) commented: It is clearly important to address the differences in university outcomes between those with A levels and BTECs…But it should be remembered that, without the availability of BTECs, many disadvantaged students might not have attended university at all.

Access & Participation

First in Family – part 1: The Nuffield Foundation & UCL published First in family: higher education choices and labour market outcomes highlighting that women who are the first in their family to graduate from university earn 7% less in their mid-20s compared to female graduates whose parents attended university. They are also less likely to attend an elite institution, 4% more likely to drop out than those with graduate parents and female first in family students often face multiple disadvantages. The report is set against the recent political backdrop whereby the Government is pushing universities to reduce dropout rates and introduce new targets which support disadvantaged students through university and into highly paid, skilled jobs.

On the female multiple disadvantage the report finds the first in family female (FiFF) pay gap is impacted by:

  • Unlike first generation male graduates, FiFF graduates have, on average, lower pre-university educational attainment than their female peers with at least one graduate parent.
  • FiFF are less likely to attend a more selective university;
  • FiFF tend to work in smaller firms, and in jobs that don’t require a degree;
  • FiFF are more likely to become mothers by the age of 25;

Moving forward lead author, Dr Morag Henderson, said: Universities should target first generation students in their recruitment and ensure that there are systems to support them while at university. We recommend that universities target some of their successful mentoring schemes specifically to first in family students to reduce the risk of dropout among this group…And while it is encouraging to hear the government suggesting that university is ‘as much about getting on as it is about getting in’, their new plans to reduce dropout rates and set targets for entry into well-paid jobs among disadvantaged graduates should consider those who are first in their family to attend university.

Other recommendations within the report are:

  • Use Contextual Admissions to make offers to students which consider socioeconomic status, individual characteristics and type of school attended. It remains all the more important that universities are able to identify students who have a high potential to succeed, irrespective of their background.
  • Given that first in family status is an important indicator that could be key in efforts to widen participation at universities: we recommend that University College Admissions Service (UCAS) increase its efforts to improve measurement and validity of the first in family measure.
  • We recommend that early intervention among the potential first in family group is important, where there should be more coordination and resource to raise attainment [and non-cognitive skills] among this group throughout schooling to ensure that students are able to pursue higher education should they choose to.
  • We recommend that efforts are made by graduate employers to support the Widening Participation agenda beyond higher education. By targeting these groups in their graduate training programmes and recording first in family status data in applications through to recruitment, they can ensure a diverse workforce.

First in Family – part 2: Meanwhile HEPI published: New report finds ‘first-in-family’ status flawed as a way of helping disadvantaged students. It states with over two-thirds of students able to be classified as first in family it cannot be a useful indicator for widening participation activities, particularly because it is self-declared and unverifiable. The report argues only a tighter first in family indicator should be considered and only for lower stakes widening participation activities. For higher stakes activities, such as contextual offers at highly selective universities, it should be used only as part of a basket of measures. Overall the paper agrees with the data mentioned in the Nuffield study above and the short version is the authors recommend first in family be used in combination with other measures to target support (such as free school meals). While this HEPI report and the above Nuffield study seem to disagree ultimately they both recommend a granular approach acknowledging multiple deprivations and organisations working together to enhance the validity of the looser measures. So the same messages that have been around for several years.

Drilling down further the HEPI paper also recommends:

  • delivering outreach for the parents of groups that are under-represented in higher education, and:
  • providing student mentors for first-year undergraduates to help them build networks.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: This research has changed my thinking on “first-in-family” students. It is a description of majority status that has been masquerading as a description of minority status.

Harriet Coombs, the author of the report, stated: The first-in-family problem is, at root, a fair access one rather than a widening participation one…the bigger problem is not getting more first-in-family students into higher education, but rather getting more first-in-family students into highly selective institutions. Further to this, highly selective universities now need to ensure they retain first-generation students as well as just recruit them.

Student transfers: Parliamentary Question on the background of students changing HE provider; (context: the proportion of higher education students who transfer between higher education institutions in any given year; and the assessment of the socio-economic backgrounds of those students). Edited answer:

  • 9% of students who entered the first year of a full-time first degree in England in the 2018/19 academic year had transferred to a different provider one year after entry.
  • The statistics are disaggregated by student characteristics, including two measures of disadvantage. These show that:
    • 4% of students from Participation of Local Areas (POLAR4) [1] quintile 1 (lowest higher education participation) backgrounds had transferred to a different provider one year after entry, compared to 3.0% for those from quintile 5 (highest higher education participation);
    • 8% of students from Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD)[2] quintile 1 (most deprived) backgrounds had transferred to a different provider one year after entry, compared to 2.5% for those from quintile 5 (least deprived).

Rebooting Widening Access: Another offering from HEPI written by NEON Director Professor Graeme Atherton Giving widening access a real reboot argues that if the government really wants to move the widening access agenda forward then it needs to be more radical than was suggested by the Minister for Higher Education in November last year. A ‘real’ reboot of widening access to higher education would:

  • Revise graduate outcomes targets to make them both broader to encompass both other measures of success alongside income and also local/regional as well as institutional.
  • Move away from the POLAR measure as a tool to orientate the work of outreach and access work.
  • Initiate collaboration across the student lifecycle.
  • Make the Office for Students more outward facing.
  • Link outreach to careers work through a change in the admissions system.

Old Vs New Advice: Finally Wonkhe report on The Centre for Global Higher Education’s working paper written by former OfS director of fair access and participation Chris Millward, reflecting on his experience working in higher education access. On Wonk Corner, Jim Dickinson notes sections that shed light on Millward’s views on universities being asked to raise attainment in schools – which he approached with “caution” given questions over how “appropriate” such advice would be for the regulator of higher education.

Degree Apprenticeships

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has reported the responses to their consultation on reforming degree apprenticeships. You can read a summary here. There was support for the planned changes to how degrees are included in apprenticeships. This included further integration of on-the-job and off-the-job training, aligning the end point assessment with the final assessment of the degree, and the alignment of all degrees within apprenticeships with the occupational standards (the employer-defined knowledge, skills and behaviours that must be learned to prove occupational competency) to avoid existing degrees being re-badged as apprenticeships.

Separately this parliamentary question has warm words from the Minister on degree apprenticeships.

International

The Department for Education has updated the Covid-19 guidance for international students before they travel to the UK.

Parliamentary Question: International students are permitted to start a course from overseas through distance learning without a visa.

Wellbeing

Wonkhe report on a National piece which highlights new research from Glasgow University on the wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers. The research, which surveyed PGRs across 48 UK institutions, found that “almost a quarter of respondents (23 per cent) had considered suicide or self-harm in the past two weeks”.

Wonkhe also have a wellbeing blog – In difficult times communications can enhance or erode student wellbeing. Sunday Blake talks to student welfare officers to learn the lessons of the pandemic for connecting with students.

Sexual Violence

UCU published a new report on eradicating sexual violence in tertiary education. The report calls on employers to do more to tackle sexual violence. UCU found in the last 5 years:

  • 12% of women and 5% of men had directly experienced workplace sexual violence
  • 52% of those who directly experienced sexual violence did not disclose or report it to their employer
  • 70% of those who directly experienced sexual violence experienced it as an ongoing pattern of behaviour rather than a one-off incident
  • Staff on non-permanent contracts were 1.3 times as likely to experience direct sexual violence than those in permanent roles
  • Staff on insecure contracts, those with disabilities, those who are trans & non binary, those in racialised minorities and those with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual are all at significantly greater risk of sexual violence

PQs

Other news

Free speech:

  • Wonkhe report that Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has saidon Twitter that he will consider supporting a new amendment to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, proposed by Jesse Norman, that would require universities to declare all overseas contributions of more than £50,000 to the Office for Students (OfS). The amendment, also supported by education select committee chair Robert Halfon, would see OfS publishing a searchable database of such donations annually and would require institutions to report all applicable contributions made since April 2013. The bill is currently awaiting a date for report stage debate in the House of Commons.
  • A new short Wonkhe piece on students’ self-censoring their viewpoints and commenting on a You Gov survey which polarises opinion between prioritising free speech or preventing hate speech.
  • PQ on Guidance to accompany the Free Speech Bill for HE sector and a consultation will be published in due course (0.24% events cancelled on campus – not necessarily due to free speech issues).

National Security (& research):

  • Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has made an announcement on new laws to strengthen national security coming into effect: The National Security and Investment Act came into force this week, granting the Government powers to scrutinise and intervene in certain acquisitions made by anyone, including businesses and investors, that could harm the UK’s national security, better reflecting the threats we face today.
  • The government now has the power to block deals ranging from research projects for foreign corporations and funding of PhDs to the establishment of joint research centres and the purchase of spinout companies
  • The government will also be able to impose certain conditions on an acquisition or, if necessary, unwind or block it – although it is expected this will happen rarely and the vast majority of deals will require no intervention and be able to proceed without delay, in the knowledge that the government will not revisit a transaction once cleared unless false or misleading information was provided.
  • The new regime is more transparent about the types of deals the government could examine, and requires businesses and investors to notify the government of certain acquisitions across 17 sensitive areas of the economy, including Artificial Intelligence and Civil Nuclear.
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has published guidance to help higher education institutions, other research organisations and investors in this area to understand the scope of the NSI Act, which came into force on 4 January 2022.

Appointments:

  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural AffairsEnvironment Agency – Sarah Mukherjee and Mark Suthern appointed as Non-executive Directors to the Board from 10 January to 9 January 2026; Natural England – Tony Juniper CBE reappointed as Chair for a second term from 23 April to 22 April 2025.
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: John Edwards appointed as Information Commissioner for five years from 3 January; BBC – Muriel Gray appointed to the Board as Scotland Nation Member from 3 January to 2 January 2026; Charity Commission – Ian Karet’s term as Interim Chair extended from 27 December 2021 to 26 June 2022, whilst the appointment process for a permanent Chair is conducted. Household name Laura Kuenssberg is to stand down as BBC Political Editor after seven years in the job, she will remain in the post until Easter; Deborah Turness appointed as CEO, BBC News and Current Affairs.
  • Government Equalities Office: Equality and Human Rights Commission – Akua Reindorf appointed as a Commissioner and Board Member.
  • Department of Health and Social Care: NHS Business Services Authority – Silla Maizey’s re-appointment as Chair extended from 1 January to 31 March; Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority – Margaret Gilmore’s and Ruth Wilde’s re-appointment as Non-executive Members extended for three months from 1 January; Anne Lampe’s re-appointment as Non-executive Member extended for three months from 1 February

Interest Groups:

  • Beaver Trust – Sandra King appointed as Chief Executive.
  • The Clink Charity – Yvonne Thomas appointed as Chief Executive.
  • Crisis – Matt Downie MBE appointed as Chief Executive.

Student Engagement Tech: Wonkhe report that Jisc and Emerge Education have released a new report on how technology can be used to improve student engagement. The report presents several case studies of technology being used to enhance engagement across the sector and suggests that both digital strategies and working with students should be adopted by institutions. On Wonk Corner Will Awad has some thoughts on what’s next for technological advancements in the sector.

Doctoral recruits: Wonkhe inform that The Natural Environment Research Council has published best practice principles for recruiting doctoral candidates. The aim of the principles are to assist Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) and Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) to improve their diversity, equality and inclusion. The CDTs and DTPs need to be implementing the principles from October 2022 if they have not already begun.

HE reputation: Research Professional – University reputations ‘at risk’ from Office for Students’ focus on compliance. England’s regulator risks accidentally damaging higher education’s reputation by not focusing on positive examples, Universities UK has warned.

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

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

End of year HE policy update December 2021

2021 drew to a fairly quiet close from an HE policy point of view – with all the excitement saved for the new year, as the government focuses on other things (which might well also be very present concerns in the new year too).  This is our last (planned) policy update for 2021, so we look forward to seeing you after the break.

The festive period is usually a time for much speculation and opinion as various people set out their “what I would like to be different in the New Year” thoughts in the press, a bit like new year’s resolutions for other people, and the rumour mill can get a bit carried away if there isn’t enough real news and people have time on their hands.  So don’t believe everything you read over the holiday.  We predict a slow start in the new year for HE policy changes although it may be a big year when it gets going.  Although here’s what we said this time last year:

  • …it is already clear that 2021 is going to be an important year in terms of tougher rules and interventions from the OfS driven 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 …

Well, Brexit happened.  But we are still waiting for most of the rest.

Big changes…on hold

Apparently the levelling up white paper is delayed because it has not been agreed by government, which is not really surprising given the tight deadline that was given for it.  We have not had the second part of the OfS consultation on quality and standards that we were promised, or the TEF consultation that would build on those minimum baselines.  Is it a coincidence, or is that related to the fact that we have not had the white paper, or policy paper or whatever it was going to be that gave us the definitive answer to the outstanding HE-related questions in the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding?

So whether these are all connected and part of a grand plan that will be unveiled at some point, or whether they will dribble out as people get used to working in the new normal 3.0 after the holidays, we end another year with a lot of water having passed under various bridges, but very little clarity about the potentially big changes that are coming.  And given how tired everyone is, and how disappointed we are to be approaching the end of the year festivities with a strong sense of pandemic-related déjà vu, that’s probably just as well.

Levelling up: Labour stated the Government is in “disarray” over its levelling-up plans, arguing that it has failed to devise a “single idea” for effectively reducing regional inequality. However, government sources dismissed this, and Boris insisted that reforms will ensure a “win-win” situation for the whole UK, rather than wealthier areas losing out to others. Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, has suggested the aim of the paper will be to help young people “stay local and go far,” creating opportunities outside London and the south-east. The paper is expected to set out new proposals for devolution including county mayors and a shake-up of boundaries of existing mayoralties.

Dods report that insiders say it will offer a “framework” for more devolution, with details to be agreed in consultation with local leaders. Other themes are likely to include skills, transport and investment – but not planning, with reforms to the planning system still on “pause” as they are reconsidered. Revised proposals are not expected to be published until the new year. More information here.

There was also a levelling up Tweet that garnered much interest this weekend.  Esther Webber summarises things for Politico.

YouGov’s recent polling highlights public opinion on levelling up priorities:

  • Further education should be prioritised by the Government to ‘achieve levelling up’, according to a new YouGov survey of 1,712 UK adults, commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation.
  • Overall, four in 10 UK adults (40%) said further education should be prioritised for achieving levelling up, when asked to select their top three. This was followed by investment in transport (33%), and work-based training and continual professional development (32%).
  • In contrast, just 15% of the public said that higher education was a top three priority, with the same number indicating that early years education was important for levelling up.

Augar: Oral Education Questions took place in the House of Commons. Wonkhe provide a succinct summary: Michelle Donelan once again promised a response to the Augar Report “shortly” and “in due course”. Sustained questioning from Andrew Bowie, Carol Monaghan, and Matt Western did not yield any insight into thinking about changes to the student loan repayment threshold level. Donelan also fielded questions on visas for international students and researchers. SEND, technical qualifications and studying abroad were also discussed. You can read the detail of what was said in Hansard. And for a more entertaining take on the personalities involved take a quick skim through this Times article.

TEF, Wonkhe blogs:

Skills Bill: Wonkhe: The Commons Skills and Post-16 Education committee met for its fifth and sixth sitting during which they discussed several amendments including a change which would alter the definition of higher education courses to allow for the recognition of individual modules as well as full courses. The Lords also discussed universal credit entitlement while studying and sharia-compliant lifelong learning loans.

Free Speech: The Lords debated Freedom of Speech last week. There were numerous mentions of universities including: the dangers of playing it too safe and not discussing controversial topics, of avoiding group-think and building resilience, condemning recent events were staff members lost or stepped away from their job after outcry for their expression of opinion, of the line between sensitivity and hurtful, of the silencing of the gender-critical voice, and voices challenging the currently fashionable, progressive consensus.

Lord Sandhurst placed a foot in both camps: In December 2019, the Policy Institute at King’s College London published an important report after a survey of some 2,150 students. It observed that universities increasingly face criticism over freedom of expression and for a perceived increase in safe-space policies and no-platforming. Yet this perception, it found, was often disproportionate to the number of instances where freedom of expression had actually been violated…None the less, it is important to note that the same report found signs of a “chilling effect” whereby some students were reluctant to express their views for fear of repercussions.

And there’s a parliamentary question: Free speech on university campuses

Labour Reshuffle

Labour reshuffled the shadow Cabinet replacing the Kate Green with Bridget Phillipson as Shadow Education Secretary and Stephen Morgan takes up the post of Shadow Minister for Schools (replaces Peter Kyle). Matt Western remains as Shadow Minister for Further Education and Universities, and Toby Perkins remains in post as Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships and Lifelong Learning. TES have a good short piece –The key battlegrounds for Labour’s new education team. It gives brief insight into the new shadow education and school ministers and the challenges they face.

Research

Horizon Europe: BEIS published a written ministerial statement guaranteeing to provide a financial safety net for successful UK applicants to Horizon Europe. Delays to association are laid at the feet of Europe and the Government insists it continues to be a priority to associate to Horizon Europe.

  • UK researchers, businesses and innovators have been able to apply to calls as ‘Associated Candidates’ since early 2021. So to provide reassurance to UK-based applicants, the Government has decided to guarantee funding for the first wave of eligible, successful applicants to Horizon Europe who have been unable to sign grant agreements with the EU. The guarantee is a short-term measure intended to address the continued delays from the EU to formalise the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. The funding will be delivered through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) who will publish details on how the guarantee will work including eligibility, scope and how to apply in the coming weeks.
  • The Government has always been clear that our priority is to support the UK’s research and development sector and we will continue to do this in all future scenarios. As announced in the 2021 Spending Review, in the event that the UK is unable to associate to Horizon Europe, the funding allocated to Horizon association will go to UK government R&D programmes, including those to support international partnerships.

PhDs: The Economic and Social Research Council has formally responded to October’s review of the PhD in social sciences. The council pledges to raise funding from three to three-and-a-half years, it will ensure that support on “research in practice” is included in all doctoral training, and a Master’s will no longer be a prerequisite for an ESRC-funded PhD. These and other changes – including the requirement for an equality, diversity, and inclusion strategy – will form a part of the doctoral training centre recommissioning process, due to start in early summer 2022. (Wonkhe)

UKRI review: The Westminster government has published terms of reference for the independent review of UKRI. Led by David Grant, the report will examine questions of efficacy, efficiency, accountability, and governance, and is projected to publish a final report by summer 2022. (Wonkhe)

Research Integrity: GuildHE has announced it will be partnering with UK Research and Innovation and Cancer Research UK to explore indicators of research integrity. The partnership hopes to open a national and international discussion on the topic and its direction, noting that no agreed framework currently exists to define integrity indicators in research. (Wonkhe)

University/Business Collaboration: The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) published analysis on the number of interactions between universities and businesses, which finds that collaborations and partnerships fell by nearly a third (31%) between 2018/19 and 2019/20 as the impact of the pandemic started to be felt. In one year, there was a 39% fall in the number of SME interactions and a 2% fall in the number of interactions with large businesses. Despite falls in the number of interactions, universities’ contribution to research commercialisation grew in 2019/20, with the number of licenses granted increasing by nearly a third (30%) compared with 2018/19. Full report here.

ARIA: Wonkhe – The Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) Bill was discussed in the House of Lords [on Wednesday 14 December]. Amendments around intellectual property were debated, with Lord Lansly stating that the Bill does not explicitly enough define ARIA’s relationship to intellectual property or whether the agency will be able to benefit from revenue from its investments.

Blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

Access & Participation

Disabled Students: The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced a new Access to Work Adjustment Passport scheme to help ease the transition for disabled students from university into employment by reducing the need for repeated health assessments when starting a new job.

A passport will be offered to students who already receive extra support while studying at university, capturing information about their condition and the adjustments they already benefit from, avoiding repetitive disclosures when it comes to applying for the grant once they start work. The passport will also support potential employers by documenting the in-work support the student requires and raising awareness of Access to Work and the possibility of support the student could receive.

The scheme is being piloted, as part of the National Disability Strategy, at University of Wolverhampton and Manchester Metropolitan University with 2022 graduates the first to use the Adjustment Passports. The pilot will be completed by March 2023, but if it’s successful the Government intends to consider rolling the scheme out before it ends. DWP will also be piloting Adjustments Passports with disabled young people on a supported internship, apprenticeship or a traineeship, in March 2022.

Meanwhile Wonkhe report that a series of questions discussing the Disabled Student Allowance have been raised in the House of Lords. Several peers stated that they believed the scheme needed overhauling, with Lord Holmes of Richmond calling for changes to “the 150-day wait between application and potential award” to better serve the scheme’s applicants. The discussion is here.

And Wonkhe report on a policy briefing from the Child Poverty Action Group which raises concerns that the length of time it takes to receive an assessment for universal credit may stop disabled learners from entering higher education. The Independent has the story.

Care Leavers/Student Finance:

  • DfE: Colleagues at Student Loans Company England (SLC) have resolved a funding issue for care leavers who are the responsibility of the Local Authority but live with their parents. These students previously had been turned down for student finance as a care leaver, but it has now been agreed that these students will be treated as care leavers for funding purposes. It is estimated that this will help around 400 young people per year. Interim process – The student application portal will take these students down a non-Care leaver route due to the fact they live with parents. The portal is being updated to provide an alternative route as soon as it is developed. NNECL explain and provide a template here.
  • HEPI have a blog about care leavers: Creating an inclusive and sustainable future for estranged and care experienced university students (HEPI)

Hardship: The BBC have also reported on the rise in students seeking hardship funds.

Blogs:

Disability/WP: NEON: New regulations will come into force on 15 December 2021 that further restrict access to universal credit (UC) for disabled young people in education. This contradicts government policy to support disabled people ‘to live independently and achieve their potential’ by making it harder for them to advance their skills or in some cases complete basic education. Evidence from the Child Poverty Action Group shows that this change will severely affect disabled young people who reach the age of 19 before finishing non-advanced education, and those continuing to higher education. The forthcoming regulations will force disabled young people to make an impossible choice between continuing education and not accessing the means-tested benefits they need, or dropping out of education to access these benefits and damaging their future employment opportunities. You can read Child Poverty Action Group’s briefing here

Why University? An article in Conservative Home by Dean Machin aims to challenge the ‘productivity’ view of university attendance – it is worth the short read. It also highlights 3 reasons why student choose to attend university.

  • It’s a pervasive aspiration – parents want their children to go.
  • The UCAS system is universal and ‘easy’ – Dean argues that FE and apprenticeships need such a system.
  • With reference to disadvantaged students: school leavers have few good alternatives to university but – and this is the central point – for disadvantaged young people, university is by a long way their best bet. The state pays upfront for their education and offers (means-tested) living-costs – weighted to enable them to move to another town or city. There is no comparable level of support for any other option. if you do not live in a place that offers many economic opportunities, and if you have few financial resources and little social capital (so no friendly aunt in Islington to provide lodging while you find your way in the media), university is your best bet to reduce the degree to which your background determines your future.

Interestingly Dean’s point that the Government’s well-intentioned reforms might have perverse consequences, for which he gives the example of the Apprenticeship Levy which unintentionally resulted in decline in intermediate and advanced apprenticeships at the same time as a significan[t] increase in higher apprenticeships, is familiar to some.

In fact Matt Hancock and Nadhim Zahawi state similar views in their book Masters of Nothing:

  • For too long, policymaking made assumptions about how people ought to behave, without stopping to observe how we actually do…It is astonishing…that even as events tested prevailing assumptions and found them wanting, no-one listened.

Hancock and Zahawi were writing about the financial crisis of 2008, and Research Professional who highlighted the book draw a parallel with the current pandemic and the tussle between scientific advice and Government policy. The irony is that, as Dean highlights, it also applies to the current speculation about changes in HE. It seems likely that the Government’s hopes for changes within HE may be sent off course by what people actually do in response.

Access Cap: Part of the end of year speculation is continued talk of minimum grade entry requirements to access the student loans to attend HE provision. Over the weekend the Guardian highlighted data analysis conducted by MillionPlus on DfE data which finds that 48% of disadvantaged pupils in England would be ineligible for a student loan if the Government decides on a minimum level 4 (old system ‘C’) GCSE entry level for higher education. This is because only 52% of disadvantaged young people achieve a grade 4 in English and Maths compare to the 71% national average. Particularly controversial is that the analysis highlights that northern England would be disproportionately hit harder by the policy than the south. Research Professional explain it all nicely in Entry Barriers and particularly emphasise what it means for specialist provision such as music degrees or for refugees with limited English.

Mental Health

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, has called on all universities to sign up to the Student Minds Universities Health Charter within five years. Donelan noted the good work taking place in this field already but pushed for more progress particularly given the increased concern for student welfare during the disruption caused by the pandemic. Institutions will have the opportunity to sign up from summer 2022. And Wonkhe report that the DfE will also commission a new survey of university policies on mental health, wellbeing and suicide prevention. University Business has the story.

HE Staff

Wonkhe tell us about a new report on HE staff in higher education (written by Alison Wolf and Richard Jenkins, published by King’s College London, and funded by the Nuffield Trust). It finds

  • that there has been a sharp increase in the numbers of senior managerial, administrative and teaching-only staff in a little over a decade. Numbers of managers and non-academic professionals increased by 60 per cent to almost 51,000 between 2005-06 and 2017-18, with a decline in support staff for academics in the same period. Of the increasing number of non-academic professionals, many are in marketing positions to attract new students, or are focused on the student experience, including welfare workers and careers advisors.
  • The authors found an 80 per cent increase in teaching-only staff in the 13 years to 2017-18, compared to an increase of 16 per cent in traditional roles combining teaching and research.

OfS priorities

The OfS published its annual review stating all students should expect a good quality experience of higher education. The review looks at the state of the English HE landscape, as well as the work the OfS has carried out in the last year, and what it expects to prioritise in the next. It makes clear that most HE courses in England are high quality, with the majority of universities and colleges expected to comfortably meet the OfS’s requirements in this area. It argues that a minority of providers are letting students down with poor quality and uninspiring courses. And that poor quality courses – even in otherwise highly performing universities – are not acceptable.

They also outline research conducted around graduates moving into the labour market with their degrees. They find that almost a third of employers are only sometimes able to recruit the quality of graduates they want. A similar survey in 2019 by the CBI found a quarter of respondents dissatisfied with the literacy and numeracy skills of young people leaving education. Other research has found that weak literacy skills are relatively common among graduates in England, and that poor literacy may keep graduates in jobs that school leavers could do.

On equality of opportunity, the regulator says that, despite progress, stubborn gaps in terms of both access and success mean that talented people still miss out on the life-changing opportunities higher education can bring.

OfS Priorities for 2022:

  • Quality
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Harassment and sexual misconduct

The Times has also reported that new (incoming) OfS Director for Fair Access, John Blake, is planning a “crusade” against campuses. They say an associate of Blake said that he had been fired-up by the poor university experiences of pupils he had taught. He said: “For 12 years as a school teacher, [Blake] told his students to strive to go to university because it was the best way to improve their lives, but it turned out that simply wasn’t true for many of the young people he taught. Now he wants to right this wrong. This isn’t a political project: it’s a moral cause.”

Alongside John Blake in the Fair Access role (starts January), there will be a new OfS Chief Executive (April) and a free speech champion role is also being created. It all dovetails nicely with the newer ministerial team who have already clearly stated the Governmental priorities for the OfS to address on the Government’s behalf.

HEPI have a blog on the new reportable events framework: Rebooting the regulatory framework

Student Accommodation

While concerns start to mount about the impact of the Omicron variant of coronavirus and what it might mean for students starting or returning to university in January (with red list requirements in place for many already, and bad memories of last year’s “stay where you are” requirements for home students), there is a House of Commons Library set of FAQs on student accommodation in the pandemic.

Unipol and the NSS have done a survey about student accommodation costs.

  • The average annual cost for student accommodation in the UK now stands at £7,374 but in London it is £9,488
  • …even if students received the full student maintenance loan, rent would consume 88% of it in London, leaving students just £38 per week to spend on anything else.
  • Outside of London accommodation costs account for 72% of the maximum loan, leaving students with £69.52 to spend on other living costs
  • …Student rents have risen by 16% since the last survey in 2018/19 and 61% since 2011/12. Last year, rents increased by 4.4%.
  • Private providers dominate the market, with 70% of the bed spaces surveyed, as universities move away from their own accommodation provision

There are lots of recommendations including about universities and the sector working together (Bournemouth gets a mention as an example of good practice but the report doesn’t say more about that), increasing bursary support as well as providing better information about costs, and a specific redress system for private student accommodation.

In the meantime, Wonkhe report:

  • …the way that private renting is regulated in England is “not effective” in ensuring the sector is consistently fair for renters or that housing is safe and secure, according to a new reportfrom the National Audit Office (NAO). Noting that tenants face several barriers to enforcing their rights, and arguing that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) does not yet have a detailed plan to address the problems that renters face, the report notes that the department does not have any formal joint working arrangements with the Department for Education.

Wonkhe blogs on the topic:

PQs:

Admissions

UCAS provides insight from the 2021 end of cycle analysis data highlighting a record number (103,010) UK 18 year olds were accepted onto courses at the most competitive (higher tariff) universities and colleges in 2021 (up 11% from 2020, up 28% from before the pandemic in 2019). The 11% rise contrasts with the 3% increase in the UK’s overall 18 year old population during the 2021 cycle.

The number of applicants achieving A level grades equivalent to three A*s nearly quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels to 19,595 (5,655 in 2019), and close to doubled compared to 2020 (12,735). UCAS are careful to note the impact of Teacher Assessed Grades whilst emphasising that these grades were deserved alongside the flexibility shown by universities and colleges.

Other key headlines include:

  • The proportion of all UK 18 year olds with a confirmed place increased to 38.3% (275,235 students), up from 37.0% (257,895) in 2020 and 34.1% (241,515) in 2019.
  • 223,315 UK 18 year olds secured their first choice of course (81% of all those placed), up from 194,035 (75%) in 2020 and 177,680 (74%) in 2019.
  • The number of UK 18 year olds choosing to defer starting their course for a year rose by 3,185 to 24,855, a 15% increase.
  • 606,645 people of all ages across the UK applied (+5% on 2020), with 492,005 accepted (+1%).
  • Internationally, a total of 142,925 people of all ages applied (-5% on 2020), of which 70,055 were accepted (-18%). This is split between 111,255 people from outside the EU applying (+12%), with 54,030 accepted (+2%); while 31,670 people from the EU applied (-40%) and 16,025 were accepted (-50%).
  • A total of 749,570 applicants of all ages and domiciles applied in the 2021 cycle (+ 3% on 2020), of which 562,060 were accepted (-1%).

However, what we don’t know is where students were placed (data to be released in January 2022). This will highlight whether the expansion at the most selective universities will have widened access and admitted proportionally more disadvantaged students or changed their traditional recruitment patterns in other ways.

The Commons Library has also published a briefing on HE student numbers. The paper considers  trends in the size of the student population, changes in the number of entrants overall and for different types of students/courses and entry rates for different groups and areas. It notes concerns where there has been a downturn in student numbers such as part-time undergraduates, some postgraduates students, EU students, mature students and some disadvantaged groups and considers the impact of the pandemic. For a quick read there is a shorter summary.

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

One Nation Universities: a new HEPI paper The One Nation University: Spreading opportunity, reducing division and building community.

International: Wonkhe describe a new report from former universities minister Jo Johnson, Shashank Vira, Janet Ilieva, Jonathan Adams and Jonathan Grant for the Policy Institute at King’s College London on UK-India collaboration highlights India’s contribution to several areas of knowledge and suggests a comprehensive India-UK knowledge partnership including making it easier for students to move between the UK and India through mutually recognised qualifications, tackling visa fraud, promoting international student exchange, and increased funding for collaborative science project.

Careers Guidance: Wonkhe: The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing on careers guidance for schools, colleges and universities in England. The briefing outlines how careers advice enhancements promised in the Skills for Jobs white paper have been incorporated into the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.

UUK changes: Chief Executive of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis, tweeted to confirm he will leave UUK in June 2022 to take up the post of Pro Vice-Chancellor (Partnerships and Governance) at the University of London. Jarvis has served more than 8 years in UUK’s senior leadership team, 5 of which have been as chief exec.

International students: UUK have published an 8 page briefing – The UK immigration system must keep attracting exchange students ­– calling on the Government to reform the visitor immigration route so that short-term exchange students can stay in the UK up to one year without need for a student visa (c. £700). Wonkhe have a blog. Research Professional discuss UUK’s briefing here.

Gender Based Violence: EmilyTest – a Scottish charity that tackles gender based violence in education – has released a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Charter for Colleges and Universities. The charter lays out minimum requirements that the charity states need to be in place at institutions to tackle GBV and pass the “Emily Test”. The Herald has the story. (Source: Wonkhe.)

Turing Exchange Scheme: The Guardian covers criticisms of the announcement that the administration of the Turing exchange scheme has been awarded to Capita over the British Council.

Essay Mills: Wonkhe blog – The essay mills debate in Parliament may not be perfect, but Gareth Crossman and Michael Draper argue that they may be good enough to make a difference.

Student Loans: The DfE announced a change to maximum Plan 2 and Plan 3 student loan interest rates. From 1 January 2022 until 28 February 2022, the maximum interest rate applied to Plan 2 Income Contingent Repayment (ICR) student loans and the interest rate applied to Postgraduate loans will be capped in line with the prevailing market rate for comparable unsecured personal loans, which have recently reduced. From 1 March 2022, the maximum Plan 2 and the Postgraduate loan interest rates are expected to revert to RPI +3%.

Student Midwives: Health Education England has celebrated that record numbers of students were accepted to study nursing and midwifery. Over 30,000 students were accepted places which represents a 35% increase in comparison to 2018. (Wonkhe)

Placements: Student placement agencies or migration agents that have faced disciplinary action and had legal troubles are recruiting international students for universities and colleges around the world, PIE News reports. (Wonkhe)

Civic London Mapped: An interesting short blog on HEPI where Diane Beech of London Higher introduces the map illustrating the combined civic engagement of the London universities. Map here.

Value for Money: Wonkhe report on the latest OfS key performance indicator which asks students if they are getting value for money through their HE education – Of the 614 undergraduates surveyed, 32.9% said they thought they were receiving value for money, down from 37.5% the previous year.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                               Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update for the w/e 25th November 2021

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

Fees and funding

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

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

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

Access & Participation Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some interesting bits of context:

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

And in relation to the student submissions:

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

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

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

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

OfS

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

The ARIA Bill will shortly move to the report stage.

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

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

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

Admissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Speech

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

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

HE: Intergenerational Perspective

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

Higher education

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

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

Skills & Post-16 Education Bill

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

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

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

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

PQs

Other news

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update for the w/e 24th September 2021

Lots of people news – the latest high profile sector appointments announced as the ministerial shuffling finishes. The Commons sessions highlight the cost the Freedom of Speech Bill may have for the HE sector and there are briefings, reports and lots of interest surrounding student financing.

All change, please!

Haven’t they just had a ‘holiday’? Parliament has entered recess for the party conference season. While this might offer a temporary break from the repetitive and dispiriting Freedom of Speech Bill arguments (“oh no it doesn’t”…”oh yes it does”) we can expect familiar themes to waft around in the media during the Conservative party conference as new ministers and their junior counterparts rush to impress in their new positions.

The ministerial reshuffle continues into this week with the responsibilities of some of the junior ministers still to be officially confirmed. A Government department has undergone a name change to refocus its agenda. The former Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This statement outlines the new department’s responsibilities with the change intended to embed levelling up commitments and policy on governance in the United Kingdom and elections within a single department which already manages relationships with local communities, local government and the housing sector.

Science, Technology and Research minister Amanda Solloway has been moved to the Whip’s Office. She is replaced by George Freeman (also see this THE article on George).

As you will have spotted from our update last week the Education team had a massive overhaul and only Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, remained in post. Baroness Barran sits in the Lords chamber with responsibility for the school system.

Here is the top level DfE team as currently stands:

  • Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education
  • Michelle Donelan, Minister for Universities
  • Robin Walker, Minister for School Standards
  • Will Quince, Minister for Children and Families
  • Alex Burghart, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills
  • Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System

Michelle Donelan will attend Cabinet and has some responsibility for apprenticeships and skills within her expanded ministerial brief. Alex Burghart was appointed as the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills to lead on technical education including the qualifications review and the new T levels but MD’s job description gives her joint responsibility for post-16 education strategy with him.

Guido Fawkes outlines the SpAd movers and shakers including:

  • Kwasi Kwarteng has scooped up Marcus Natale from No. 10’s research and briefing team as a new policy SpAd to cover the energy and climate change brief.
  • Nadhim Zahawi has Tom Kennedy and Iain Mansfield (Iain is former Head at Policy Exchange and ex DfE civil servant).

The Sutton Trust cabinet analysis tells us that of the 30 Cabinet ministers:

  • 47% of the new Cabinet attended Oxbridge (was 50%) – quite a lot higher than the party or overall Commons rates (27% Conservative MPs, 24% of all MPs attended Oxbridge).
  • with 60% of new Cabinet privately educated, a decrease of 5% (compared to 29% of MPs overall were privately educated);
  • and 27% were both privately educated and attended Oxbridge.
  • Nadhim Zahawi (Secretary of State Education) was privately educated and attended UCL.
  • Michelle Donelan attended a comprehensive school and went to York university.

Appointments

A number of high level positions have recently changed hands or been reconfirmed.

Andy Haldane has now been confirmed as the new Head of Levelling-up within the Government. He is the former Bank of England chief economist and will join as a permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office on secondment from the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) for 6 months. He will head up the Levelling Up Taskforce that will report jointly to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, said: Andy is uniquely qualified to lead our efforts to raise living standards, spread opportunity, improve our public services and restore people’s sense of pride in their communities. Andy Haldane said: Levelling up the UK is one of the signature challenges of our time. It has also been a personal passion throughout my professional career.

Health Education England announced the re-appointment of its chair, David Behan, and that of his non-executive colleagues on the board, Liz Mear and Andrew George. All three will continue in their roles until 2024.

Dr Jo Saxton has taken up her post as the new Chief Regulator at Ofqual (replaced interim Simon Lebus). One of the key challenges facing the new chief regulator will be tackling grade inflation, as well as finalising plans for the 2022 assessment series. Dr Saxton said: As chief regulator, pupils and students will be at the heart of every decision we make at Ofqual: their best interests will be my compass.

Heidi Fraser-Krauss is now in post as the new Chief Executive of Jisc. She was previously Executive Director of Corporate Services at the University of Sheffield and replaced Paul Feldman who is retiring after six years in office. Her appointment was announced in June.

6 new non-executive directors have been appointed to the UKRI board. Their backgrounds provide a blend of business, scientific and technological expertise. They will work with UKRI’s Chair, Sir Andrew Mackenzie, to support and challenge UKRI to maximise the benefits from government investment into R&D and help secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower. They are: Sir Ian Boyd, Dr John Fingleton, Professor Anthony Finkelstein, Priya Guha, Nigel Toon, and Ruwan Weerasekera.

The Student Loans Company is moving its headquarters to Glasgow.

Free Speech

Freedom of Speech in HE remains big news this week as consideration of the Bill continued with the final evidence hearings this week. Here are the most notable points in brief:

Cost

  • Emma Hardy (ex-Shadow Universities Minister) – It is worth pointing out that what is proposed in the Bill does not come cost-free. The impact assessment estimated that the cost of compliance with the Bill would be around £48.1 million. Bearing in mind the points I have made previously about the overlap with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education and the confusion that some students will have, it seems fairly ludicrous that the Government wish to spend £48.1 million replicating something that already exists in another form.
  • Matt Western (current Shadow Universities Minister): …she is absolutely right: this is not just something that already exists, but something that exists relatively cost-free. The cost of £48.1 million that she has mentioned—which is the Department’s estimate of what the Bill will cost student unions and universities across the country—should not be ignored.
  • Matt Western: That must be a real concern: the simple fact that you can bypass all the processes and go straight to court. The clause should therefore be removed or at least amended to reflect the Government’s own views on how they wish the tort to operate.

Misuse: Matt Western:

  • …We have wider concerns that the Bill will create a culture of lawfare against universities. Clause 3 does not restrict the tort to those who personally feel that their speech has been restricted or those who have been directly affected. It therefore risks opening up vexatious claims against universities from those who seek to do them harm. As Dr David Renton and Professor Alison Scott-Baumann said in their written evidence, the Bill means that, “any lecture, seminar or guest speech could lead to a lawsuit.”
  • They pointed out that the statutory tort element of the Bill will open the floodgates to civil litigation and forms of lawfare, most likely from well-funded American groups on the hard right, or perhaps groups such as the Chinese state Communist party.
  • …we will see ambulance chasers, for want of a better term. There will be people putting their cards around student campuses who are looking for opportunities to be mischievous and to make money out of situations that can be manufactured on our campuses.

Cost and Misuse

  • Matt Western paraphrased evidence from Smita Jamdar, Lawyer, Shakespeare: Some of the cases may be small claims, where even if the university is successful in defending the claim, it will not recover its legal costs. Even getting rid of vexatious claims by striking them out can be expensive. So there are significant costs for the university whatever happens…a few thousand pounds in every case could be spent getting rid of claims that are either very trivial or unmeritorious generally.”––[Official Report, Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Public Bill Committee, 7 September 2021; c. 48, Q90.]
  • MW: Do the Government really want to take money from hard-hit students and place it into the hands of far-right holocaust deniers or… those state actors wishing to do us harm?

Ranking: Universities Minister Donelan: the amendment seeks to introduce a requirement on the Office for Students to publish an annual report that would assess and rank higher education providers on their compliance with their freedom of speech duties.

Fines: Michelle Donelan confirmed that the level of fines levied by the Free Speech Commissioner would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny – no further detail was provided.

Impartiality: The independence of the intended Free Speech Commissioner was also discussed.

Exemptions: Wonkhe have a short blog explaining why Michelle Donelan has chosen to exempt the students’ unions attached to individual colleges at Oxford and Cambridge from the Student Union Freedom of Speech duties proposed by the Bill: It’s one rule for most SUs and no rules for Oxbridge 

Costs – loans, grants, and student withdrawals

It comes as no surprise that the House of Commons Library have published a raft of new briefings relating to student finance. MPs are busy buffing up on student finance ahead of the spending review and party conferences. And the sector awaits the Government’s decisions on final outcome of the Augar review rather than the drip drip of changes and warnings of change to come that have been received so far. While it might not have been big news this is the one waiting in the wings.

I will confess I’m a Commons Library brief fan. Even so do take the time to read Student finance in England: How much would it cost to bring back grants? Spoiler: about £0.7 billion for £3k grants if it replaces the loan and isn’t in addition to loans. The brief also explains why receiving a grant wouldn’t change the repayment amounts for low income students – only the minority that go on to become high earners would see a reduction in loan repayments (because lower income students will not fully pay the debt back before the cut off). However, it would likely cut the debt for disadvantaged graduates from £60k to £45k – although one has to ask whether this would really tip the scales to progress to HE for debt adverse graduates.

If we’ve whet your appetite the Commons Library has more briefings in this series –

Both Abolition of maintenance grants in England from 2016/17 and The value of student maintenance support gives more background on changes to maintenance support.

They also have an introduction to student finance in England providing the basics which will be suitable if you are new to this field.

There is also How much do graduates pay back? which outlines the current financial transactions and repayments from graduates.

Meanwhile two new reports have been published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) – one on the tuition loan system, and one on post-HE geographical mobility and graduate earnings.

Tuition Loan system: The impact of living costs on the returns to higher education was commissioned by the DfE and finds that it would be essentially impossible for the Treasury to save money on university tuition fees in England without hurting graduates on average earnings in favour of their wealthy peers. Key findings and recommendations:

  • Despite its many flaws, the current system does have the desirable characteristic that it is progressive: the highest-earning borrowers repay by far the most towards their student loans, and lower-earning borrowers pay less.
  • The chancellor should use the income tax system rather than student loan repayments as a way of raising revenue from the highest-paid graduates.
  • Increasing the repayment rate on student loans would be the most straightforward way to raise more money, but seems to be both politically unpalatable and economically misguided.
  • Lowering the income threshold at which loan repayments start – currently £27,295 – would see more graduates facing an effective marginal tax rate of 50% on their salary and employer’s national insurance contributions when the new health and social care levy takes effect. Non-graduates would face an equivalent rate of just 42%.
  • A more realistic alternative on the table is to extend the loan term for student loans. At the moment, all outstanding student loans are written off 30 years after students start repaying, which generally happens in the year after they leave university. Many commentators, including the authors of the Augar Review, have suggested extending the loan term to 40 years.
  • Researchers estimate that each year-group of domestic undergraduates costs the government about £10bn. Approximately 80% of students will never repay their loans in full, with the IFS’s modelling suggesting that 44% of the value of the loans will be written off.
  • Researchers at the IFS have constructed a calculator, in partnership with the Nuffield Foundation, showing the options and costs available to the Treasury.
  • Looking at post-graduation living costs, and how this might impact tuition loan repayments, they find there are indeed large differences in where graduates from different universities live after leaving education – around 60% of individuals who attended university in London still live there at age 27, while less than 20% of graduates from institutions outside of London live in London at age 27.

Ben Waltmann, senior research economist at IFS, said: With a series of tweaks to the student loans system, successive chancellors have painted themselves into a corner.  The system is expensive but there is essentially no way to raise more money from it without hitting borrowers with average earnings more than the highest-earning ones. If [Sunak] wants to raise more from the highest earners, the chancellor will need to use the tax system.

Nick Hillman, Director of the HEPI and the architect of the 2012 regime during his SpAd years, said the IFS’s analysis confirms that many of the changes being suggested would make the system less progressive: It’s absolutely crucial, however, not to lose sight of the fact that half of all people still do not benefit from higher education. So any assessment looking at graduates only does not show the true distributional impact on the country as a whole. That sounds like a call to back the Government’s graduate metrics and value for money judgements.

Student Loans Company – withdrawals and guidance note: Wonkhe summarise the Student Loans Company (SLC) data release on early-in-year student withdrawal notifications between academic years 2018-19 and 2020-21. The overall withdrawal rate across England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose by 6 per cent compared to the previous academic year, with a total of 32,364 students leaving their courses before completion. However, the total number of withdrawals still lies below the number seen in 2018-19.

The SLC also published an information note setting out the 2021/22 funding arrangements for undergraduate and postgraduate students following the lifting of covid-19 restrictions.

Graduate Mobility: Returning to the second IFS report: London calling? Higher education, geographical mobility and early-career earnings (again commissioned by DfE) this finds that HE enables graduates to move to places with better career prospects, but that this also leads to a ‘brain drain’ from the North and coastal areas.

HE leads to higher geographical mobility:

  • At age 27, around 35% of graduates and 15% of non-graduates have moved away from the travel to work area (TTWA) where they lived at age 16.
  • Around two-fifths of the difference in mobility between graduates and non-graduates can be explained by differences in their background characteristics, such as socio-economic status, prior educational attainment and area of origin. All else equal, graduates are 10% more likely to have moved by age 27 than non-graduates.
  • Graduates of more selective universities are more mobile, even controlling for background characteristics and subject choice.

Graduates move to places with better labour market opportunities.

  • Graduates tend to move to large cities, especially to London – around a quarter of graduates who do move go to London. In contrast, non-graduates do not disproportionately move to London and other large cities.
  • In general, places with high average earnings attract graduates through migration. Graduates who grew up in places with low average earnings are more likely to move away.
  • For a given level of average earnings, cities attract and retain more graduates than other areas. In addition to London, Brighton, Bristol and Leeds all gain large numbers of graduates through migration.
  • By enabling people to move to labour markets that offer better career opportunities, higher education appears to reduce inequality of opportunity between people who grow up in different areas.

Ethnic minorities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to move, and the effect of higher education on mobility is much weaker for these groups.

  • People from the bottom socio-economic status (SES) quintile are 16% less likely to have moved by age 27 than people from the top SES quintile, though most of this difference can be explained by differences in prior attainment and other background characteristics.
  • Young adults of Indian and Pakistani ethnicity are around 7% less likely to have moved by age 27 than White British people, even controlling for differences in background characteristics.
  • Higher education appears to have a much smaller impact on mobility for low SES and ethnic minority groups. All else equal, young people from the poorest families are only around 4% more likely to move if they graduate from university. Black and Asian graduates are no more mobile than Black and Asian non-graduates.
  • Of those who do move, low-SES graduates are less likely to move to major cities than graduates from higher-SES backgrounds, even controlling for background characteristics.

Graduates gain higher earnings from moving.

  • On average, male graduates who move earn 10% more at age 27 than otherwise similar graduates who do not move. For women, the estimated gain to moving is 4%.
  • Estimated ’moving premiums’ are very similar across SES and ethnic groups, with the exception of Asian women, for whom movers earn less than stayers.
  • Subject impact – moving is associated with little/no gain in earnings (controlling for background characteristics) in nursing, education and social care, but very large gains among graduates of law, technology, languages, business and economics – particularly for graduates who move to London.
  • This suggests that moving to certain areas might be necessary to take full advantage of the returns to some degrees.

Patterns of mobility exacerbate regional inequality in skills.

  • Rates of higher education participation vary hugely across the country. Less than 20% of people born in the late 1980s who grew up in Grimsby and Wisbech went on to get degrees, compared with over 40% of those from Tunbridge Wells and High Wycombe.
  • Many cities that gain large numbers of graduates through migration – such as London, Brighton, Leeds and Bristol – already have relatively high levels of higher education participation.
  • In contrast, many places with low levels of higher education participation, such as Grimsby and Wisbech, further lose graduates through migration.

Xiaowei Xu, Senior Research Economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: In moving from more deprived areas to London and other cities, graduates improve their own career prospects, but this exacerbates geographical inequality in skills. As well as ‘levelling up’ educational attainment across the country, policymakers should think about how to attract and retain talent in places that are currently less well-off.

Wonkhe have a blog on the IFS report: Should graduates move to get better jobs? Excerpt: What’s coming through here for me is more evidence that having a university in your area is a great way to have more qualified young people staying in your area – be they originally from there or from elsewhere. 

And on the dichotomy: for the good of some local areas, we could get better at keeping graduates in the area they studied. But for the good of graduates, we should make it easier to move away. Traditionally, individual benefit has trumped societal benefit in Conservative policy – I look forward to one arm of government telling graduates to stay where they are to level up struggling areas, and then another labelling the courses low quality because they lead to low salaries and unskilled jobs.

Research

  • Wonkhe outline the REF arrangements: The Research Excellence Framework (REF) team has writtento higher education providers in the UK to provide details of the arrangements for publishing the REF 2021 results. Institutions will receive their own REF results under embargo on 9 May 2022, with the full publication of REF 2022 taking place on 12 May. Institutions will also receive the full results under embargo on 10 May, with feedback on their REF submissions arriving in June.
  • The Government’s Regulators’ Pioneer Fund has awarded £3.7m of funding to 21 projectsto propel cutting-edge innovation across the UK. The Fund awards projects that help support the country’s regulatory environment to keep pace with technological advances of the future such as using drones to transport vaccines. The Fund is part of wider government work on regulation. This includes the recent Reforming the Framework for Better Regulation consultation and the Better Regulation Committee, chaired by the Chancellor, which aims to drive an ambitious reform agenda ensuring the UK’s regulatory framework is fit for purpose and delivers the government’s strategic objectives.
  • National AI Strategy published.
  • Wonkhe blog: Forging prosperous pathways for early career and postdoctoral researchers.
  • Commons Oral Questions – What steps his Department is taking to establish the UK’s position as a world leader in science, research and innovation.

Admissions, Access & Participation

HEPI have an interesting personal blog which looks at how a student attended a combination of access programmes which both informed and supported successful application and settling in at the chosen university. The individual and parent seem self-motivated and found a range of opportunities they confidently accessed. The blog makes suggestions for universities on what is important.

NEON report on a BBC article which highlights admissions bias. The BBC reported this week that out of the 132 UK universities, listed by UCAS, just nine had a higher offer rate for black applicants. The article also highlights that, in Wales, all institutions had a higher offer rate for white, rather than black, applicants. The article highlights the experiences of three Welsh pupils as they talk about the factors that influence their future choices. Commentating on the data Dr Jason Arday, associate professor of Sociology at Durham University, said the figures highlight that higher education is “systematically disadvantaging particular minority groups” through unconscious bias of admissions teams and programme leaders.

Interestingly, David, one of the interviewees stated:  When you’re looking for universities you have to look for a place that suits you. Sometimes looking for that place might not be on paper the best university, but it’s the best university for you…I know that’s not good or fair, but it’s what I’ve done to have the best university experience.

Anecdotally this is recognised as a regular student phenomenon, after all it is all about personal choice. However, the Government would see this as a failing of the sector, they would like David to feel comfortable and apply to the highest tariff institution his ability would stretch to. It is unrealistic to expect HE to be all things to all people but where do we draw the line? Is the fact that David feels like he belongs less at one institution a failing, is it a combination or personal factors, or is it a demographic which perpetuates and if so – how big a factor is admissions in perpetuating the diversity of the student body?

TASO is tendering for the extension of its research portfolio into supporting student mental health, reducing equality gaps for disabled students, reducing equality gaps in employment and employability, survey scale validation for widening participation and success. They’re all calling for a diverse set or organisations to join the evaluation panel. We can look forward to the conclusion of the successful tenderer’s work in the above challenge areas in the future.

A short insightful Wonkhe blog from Martin at the National Deaf Children’s tackles the difficulties of the continuing Covid related restrictions on campus. It covers problems with mandated mask wearing and auto captioning on remote learning. Important factors which relate to the OfS’ agenda about a student’s experience of quality within their HE institution.

Levelling Up

The Institute for Government published Levelling up an analysis paper in which they examine what the Government actually means by ‘levelling up’. It stated the levelling up agenda lacks clear objectives, with policies often contradicting ministerial rhetoric about decentralising power. It highlights these three aspects for the Government to urgently address:

  1. Is government prioritising the most deprived people or the lowest economic output areas?
  2. What is the role of regional cities in the levelling up agenda?
  3. Does levelling up mean decentralising power or not?

They also note that many of the levelling up policies give most decision-making power to central government – which jars with government rhetoric. The Levelling Up Fund, Towns Fund and Community Renewal Fund are all centrally run and rely on local areas bidding for money. This gives central government a lot of power in deciding where funding goes and what types of projects are eligible.

These analyses recognise that the Government is due to publish a white paper on levelling up this autumn and suggests a further five questions the white paper should address. More content here.

Accompanying the paper is also the explainer report on the Towns Fund

International

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

Non-graduate esteem: text Wonkhe describe Education divide a Social Market Foundation publication championed by the former Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Stowell which characterises the gaps between graduates and non-graduates as “the most important division in Britain today”. Noting evidence that a person’s level of education is currently the best predictor of voting behaviour in the UK – and the “domination” of politics, media, and business by graduates – the report will argue that the non-graduate majority often feel “ignored and excluded”.

Stowell recommends that politicians and businesses should do more to “restore the social norms” that previously offered non-graduates esteem and respect in society – and that those holding non-graduate jobs such as those in public transport and retail should be seen as authority figures. There are also calls for employers to offer non-graduates opportunities to progress and lead.

Student Loan calculator: Wonkhe – The Institute for Fiscal Studies has released an interactive calculator for examining how different reforms would affect student loans in England. The calculator produces estimates of the costs and consequences of changes to variables such as the loan term, the repayment threshold, and the interest rate. The Guardian covers the tool.

Careers: Wonkhe tell us – The House of Commons Library has published a research briefing on careers guidance in English schools, colleges and universities. The briefing covers the current state of careers guidance and how the Skills for Jobs white paper plans to strengthen existing services.

Emergency contact: The Information Commissioner’s Office blogged about Sharing personal data in an emergency – a guide for universities and colleges.

UCAS Policy Groups: UCAS is looking for new members to join their nation-specific – English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish – Policy Groups. These new groups will represent the diverse interests of UCAS’ customers and stakeholders, and their progression to UK post-secondary education including higher education (HE) and apprenticeships. Their principal role is to influence and inform UCAS’ policy positions and supplement the work of UCAS Council, which advises the UCAS Board. UCAS invites new member applications from across the sector and aims for these advisory groups to be a diverse community with different views, approaches and insights – colleagues from a broad range of backgrounds, demographics and cultures are therefore encouraged to send their expressions of interest. The groups will meet twice a year. Members will be expected to be active in the sector, engage with the group, contribute to its activities, and seek views and feedback from their own networks and other groups. The current list of members, vacancies and Terms of Reference can be found on the groups and forums web page. Contact the policy team if you are interested in this opportunity.

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 17th September 2021

Mid-week parliamentary excitement as Boris reshuffles his ministers. Williamson is out…

The UPP Foundation have a new report challenging the Government’s metrics which work against the regional levelling up agenda. The Free Speech Bill continues its march through the Commons and …

Cabinet Reshuffle

After months of on/off speculation about a reshuffle, we finally got one last week.  It started slow, with just three high profile ministers moved or removed – Gavin Williamson out completely (now that this year’s exam cycle is finished), Dominic Raab moved to Justice from the Foreign Office after the Afghanistan chaos, and Robert Buckland out, seemingly to make way for Raab.

But then it got more wide ranging with a lot of moves at a more junior level. The Institute for Government website has a chart showing the extent of the moves (they also have lots of analysis of experience, gender etc).

But the headline for us is that Nadhim Zahawi is the new Education Secretary, Michelle Donellan has stayed in place and added post-16 education and skills to her job and will also attend Cabinet, and Amanda Solloway has also gone (to be a whip) and has been replaced by George Freeman.

You can read the Wonkhe article about the new Secretary of State here and the Research Professional one here.

Free Speech

The HE Freedom of Speech Bill was treated to three days of evidence and debate this week. Various amendments were considered and written evidence has been published.

Wonkhe blogs;

The potential for confusion, duplication, conflicting rights and remedies for the same issue does not appear to be being addressed.  What will result is a lot more guidance and probably not a lot of change.  Not that it is clear that change was needed…..

Staying local post-graduation

The Bridge Group and the UPP Foundation published Staying local: understanding the value of graduate retention for social equality. Set within the context of the Government’s focus on LEO data (longitudinal education outcomes data) and the current Government focus on defining the value of courses by the salary the graduates earn this report highlights the failing of both the aforementioned metric – the local context. Both metrics fail to acknowledge the regional salary disparities, socio-economic background of the area in which a HE institution operates, and the students for whom other factors are more important that moving to a lucrative position in a big company in a big city.

The report tackles the definition of a successful graduate outcome. It makes familiar arguments over the geographic-social role of a university – stemming the graduate brain drain away from the area, providing talent for economic and cultural growth, improving the health and wellbeing of the area. The civic agenda is as expected, after all the UPP Foundation did set up the Civic University Network which brings the place based agenda and values the role of universities as anchor institutions.

Universities cannot simply be job factories, important though their role is in creating the workforce of tomorrow. To focus on graduate salary alone as a benchmark for success has the potential to create the perverse outcome of incentivising graduate mobility away from the very towns in which they were educations, and have the potential to contribute to.  Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP (former Universities Minister).

As you’d expect the report has much to say on the importance of the retention of the graduate workforce for levelling up of workforces and opportunities across the country. And it predicts:

The importance of commuter students and addressing their needs, often overlooked in salary data, will also be a key policy agenda for the future.  Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP (former Universities Minister).

  • 51% of graduates remain local post-graduation. This includes commuter students and those originally from another area, although some were from the wider regional area.
  • Graduates who stayed on in the region post-graduation were more likely to be from lower socio-economic backgrounds, more likely to be first in family to attend university and more likely to be a mature students.
  • Commuter students who stay within the same area share the same characteristics as described in the bullet point above and are more likely to be from a Black, Asian or other ethnic minority background.
  • The report states that graduates who stay in the region have different priorities and think about success in alternative ways than are captured by the current performance metrics. Salary was not their first consideration in choosing where they work and live.
  • Wellbeing, financial independence and health were all important considerations to graduates who stay on in the region. Capitalising on lower living costs and using social networks to achieve social mobility and secure graduate employment were reasons to stay. Interviews also revealed graduates were pursing meaningful employment and living in environments that appealed to them.
  • Staying in the region of study post graduate was an active choice. Although some remained because they could not afford to undertake unpaid internships or risk not being able to cover living costs in higher earning/higher cost of living areas.
  • The report states that a university agenda which aims to encourage social mobility should be wary of using metrics that inadvertently weight the success of graduates from higher socio-economic backgrounds over the successes of graduates from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
  • The report states that the LEO salary metrics can act as a disincentive for universities to support their graduates from staying on in the region – which is contrary to the Government’s levelling up agenda.
  • The report also makes recommendations for employers encouraging them to challenge their assumptions that the majority of graduates want to move away from the area.

As you’ll have spotted above former Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote the foreword for the report and he has separately blogged about the findings for HEPI: Now is the time to recast universities’ relationships with their local areas.

Research Professional have excellent coverage of the report:

  • failing to account for differences in regional salary levels could make certain universities appear to offer students poorer value for money. “[We want to] ensure that when someone who went to the University of Leeds moves to Sheffield, their value-for-money score isn’t damaged—because at the moment, if they went to London, their value-for-money score is going to be far higher
  • the use of graduate salary metrics “fails to capture the broad ways in which graduates understand their own success stories” and “needs to be addressed, if universities and their graduates are to increase their contribution to the levelling-up agenda”

Richard Brabner, UPP Foundation Director, said: Universities have been criticised for pulling talent away from the regions and towards metropolitan cities, but the reality is much more nuanced. All universities play a key role in their local economies, and should be judged on the basis of meeting the values and expectations of their graduates, rather than simply crude salary data.

Research Professional conclude: With the spending review now set for the end of October, to be accompanied by the government’s full response to Augar, it would be an optimistic gambler who put any money on the government moving away from crude salary data as a proxy measure of course quality. Expect more references to ‘pockets of low quality’ rather than a celebration of those hard-working graduates who are doing so much for their local communities.

Research

  • ESRC will continue to fund the Administrative Data Research UK project with a further £90 million investment. The project provides access to accredited researchers to de-identified data from government departments, local authorities and health authorities. It aims to enable better-informed policy decisions that address major societal challenges and improve public service provision across a range of areas including education, healthcare and crime, ultimately linking policy and research more closely. See more on ADR UK.
  • Research Professional (RP) – The UK’s national research funder has responded to an open letter, written over a year ago by 10 prominent Black female academics and campaigners, criticising its approach to the representation of Black researchers and their participation in research.
  • RP – The Campaign for Science and Engineering publishes a five-point roadmap to make the UK a science superpower.
  • Better science communication and public engagement push spearheaded by ECRs (RP article).

Students

Suicide: The OfS published Working together on suicide prevention in HE. There is a compilation of resources and a  topic briefing which draws out some of the advice from the Suicide Safer Universities guidance and presents examples from providers detailing their approaches to suicide prevention. The examples also highlight the benefits of working with the local community, including involvement in regional suicide prevention networks and community response groups. The briefing draws on the 2018 Office for National Statistics suicide research. Data:

  • The number of identified students in higher education who died by suicide between 2000-01 and 2016-17 was 1,330.
  • The rate of deaths by suicide in the higher education student population remained at 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students between the 12 months ending July 2015 and the 12 months ending July 2017. The number of suicides in the higher education population in the 12 months ending July 2017 was 95.
  • The rate of suicide for female students was significantly lower than the rate for male students. This was observed when looking at overall student suicides, as well as looking at the difference in studying part- or full-time, whether studying at undergraduate or postgraduate degree level, and the undergraduate year of study.
  • 83% of deaths by suicide (1,109) were among undergraduates and the remaining 17% (221) were among postgraduates.

The ONS data also analysed student deaths by suicide compared to the general population and found:

  • For each age group, the suicide rate was significantly higher in the general population than in the student population
  • For the 12 months ending July 2013 to the 12 months ending July 2016, higher education students made up approximately 37% of the general population for those aged 20 years and under, 17% in those aged 21 to 24 years, 6% in those aged 25 to 29 years, and 2% in those aged 30 years and over.

Tax: Research Professional have an interesting article on the implications of the Government’s national insurance increase of 1.25%. Here are the implications for graduates:

  • From next April, anyone with a student loan and income above the repayment threshold will see 49.8 per cent of any increase in pay from their employers taken away in income tax, national insurance and student loan repayments, as a Financial Times analysisshowed last week. In other words, any pay rise for graduates will now be taxed at nearly 50 per cent.
  • That is an extraordinary position for a Conservative government to find itself in. It’s not so great for graduates, either.
  • This is before we consider a likely lowering of the loan repayment threshold as a result of the comprehensive spending review. Imagine being a young lecturer or early career researcher looking at increased national insurance and pension contributions plus bigger student loan repayments.
  • Let’s take the example of a lecturer in their first job on a starting salary of £33,000 who, after years of graduate study, is finally able to start repaying their loans [the example pretends they don’t have postgraduate loans to repay]… Should their salary go up by £1,000, they will have to pay £200 in extra income tax, £132.50 more national insurance, and £90 in additional student loan repayments. Their university employer will also have to pay £150.50 in national insurance, making a total tax grab of £573, or 49.8 per cent, on the combined £1,150.50 of employment costs. That is a level of taxation that previously only applied to the personal allowance for those earning over £100,000, at which point every £1 in £2 earned is taken in tax. 
  • One of the justifications for the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees by the coalition government was that graduates earned on average £100,000 more than non-graduates over their working lifetime. In the example above, that ‘graduate dividend’ would be entirely dissipated in additional tax take—and then some—over the 30 years of student loan repayments.

Admissions

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) published a report on the narrowing of the 16-19 curriculum breadth and employment outcomes. The proportion of students with A and AS levels from at least three of the main subject groups such as humanities, sciences, maths and languages, has halved since 2010. Despite the narrowing graduates with greater subject diversity at A level saw a boost to their earnings in their 20s. The report notes that England has one of the narrowest curricula in the developed world as students specialise in only a small number of subjects from age 16, the specialisation then continues as the student progress into HE.

EPI state:

  • The research also reveals those groups of students who are more or less likely to study a broader range of subjects. Students who perform well at GCSE are far more likely to go on to study a greater mix of subjects at A level. Conversely, disadvantaged students are much more likely to narrow their choices.
  • Students from Chinese and Indian backgrounds are shown to study the broadest range of A level subjects, while Black Caribbean and Gypsy/Roma students study the narrowest range.
  • Reforms introduced by the government around 2013, such as the decoupling of AS and A2 levels, are likely to have contributed significantly to the narrowing of A level choices seen today.
  • The fall seen in funding for 16-19 education also seems to have played an important role. Falls in real terms funding for sixth forms and colleges since 2010 may have led to fewer qualifications being taken, which in turn have contributed to narrower student choices.
  • To prevent a further narrowing of 16-19 education, the report calls on government to undertake a wholesale review of 16-19 funding, including reducing cuts, offering more targeted support for disadvantaged students, and ensuring that the funding system no longer discourages the take up of smaller qualifications, such as levels.

Also this week –  the Independent Assessment Commission  has published a report on the future of assessments and qualifications in England

Parliamentary Question: The effect of the high level of A*s at A-level on university admissions for students – this received a factual response.

Access & Participation  

Deaf Students: The National Deaf Children’s Society released data over the summer highlighting the gap between deaf and hearing students.

34% of deaf students received two A-levels or equivalent in the 2020 exams compared to 55% of hearing students. The gap has increased from previous years.

The National Deaf Children’s Society stated that deafness is not a learning disability and the gulf between deaf and hearing students is an injustice now ingrained in the education system; they call on the Government to act swiftly.

Care & Estranged Voices: Portsmouth University produced the ‘From Our Experience’ podcast miniseries.  Each podcast was created by current students with their own lived experiences of care or estrangement, the podcasts are all about the student’s own voices. The students chose the podcast topics and content. A rare opportunity to listen to the student voice in an easily accessible format.

Graduate Outcomes

During the summer the Higher Education Statistics Agency published HE graduate outcomes: open data 2018 to 2019. The difference in earnings between men and women remains stark, at 15 months post-graduation:

  • 5,075 women earned £45,000 (7,410 men).
  • Only 5.2% of women were in the three highest-earning categories (men 10.8%)
  • 60% of women earned salaries below £27,000 (men 50%)
  • Graduates earning between £24,000 to £26,999 most strongly felt their work was meaningful (58%).

The statistics are caveated by noting that the response rate for the Graduate Outcomes survey isn’t as high as would be liked yet (c 40-50% response).

Meanwhile, this week, the Behavioural Insights Team have published updated evidence on what works to reduce the gender pay gap for employers.

International

Two new HEPI blogs:

Parliamentary Questions

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Creative diversity imbalance: Wonkhe – The All Party Parliamentary Group for Creative Diversity has launched a report in partnership with King’s College London and the University of Edinburgh examining equity, diversity and inclusion in the creative sector. The Creative Majority finds that those from middle class backgrounds are twice as likely to be employed in the creative sector than those from working class backgrounds. The report presents policy options for how to address this imbalance such as not using unpaid interns.

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To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk. A BU email address is required to subscribe.

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

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 28th May 2021

Last week was busy week, so there’s a lot to report.  There were more ominous rumblings about the future, but the Minister dismissed scaremongering on fees, and the muddle continues on free speech, with the government trying to draw a line between what it is desirable to protect in the name of free speech, and speech that is legal but undesirable that shouldn’t be allowed.  Announcements have been made about research funding for next year, and it isn’t as bad as some were predicting, but neither is it as good as the statement might suggest.  And there is another difficult political debate about apprenticeships, as the government seek to support the ”right” sort of apprenticeships and finding ways for the “right” young people to get onto them.

Policy impact and influence

The policy team have set up a new mailing list for academic and professional service colleagues who are interested in using their expertise or research to influence UK policy. We are keen to share timely information and encourage participation from a wider and diverse range of colleagues. We intend to send out opportunities in (usually) one email per week (less when Parliament isn’t sitting). This will include:

  • expert calls
  • specialist or committee advisor opportunities
  • areas of research interest issued by the Government (topics they want to hear from you about)
  • fellowship opportunities (including for PhD students)
  • specialist inquiries and consultations that may be relevant to BU colleagues’ research interests
  • requests for case studies
  • Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) opportunities (such as POSTnotes, briefings, and reviewer opportunities)
  • internal (BU) and external training opportunities in the policy field

Contact us to sign up to the new policy influence mailing list. If it isn’t for you – please – do share this information with your academic colleagues. There are so many opportunities for policy impact out there – we just need to get the message out.

In the meantime keep an eye on the policy tab of the research blog where we are posting some of the opportunities.

Research

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published its research and development (R&D) budget allocations 2021 to 2022.

  • Our allocations reflect government’s priorities of supporting the foundations of our world leading R&D system to ensure it is able to help lead the recovery from coronavirus (COVID-19), whilst also investing in strategic outcomes for R&D investment including innovation, net zero, space and levelling-up.
  • Government spending on R&D in 2021 to 2022 is £14.9 billion, its highest level in four decades, demonstrating progress towards our target to increase total public and private R&D investment to 2.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2027. We are investing more money than ever before in core research, in line with the announcement at the Spending Review in November 2020 that government will increase investment in core UKRI and National Academy funded research by more than £1 billion by 2023 to 2024.
  • As part of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) published on 24 December, the UK has agreed to associate to Horizon Europe and other EU programmes including Euratom Research and Training. This will ensure UK researchers and business have access to the largest collaborative research and development programme in the world – with a budget of c. €95 billion. We want to make the most of association to these programmes and are encouraging UK researchers and companies from all parts of the UK to take advantage of this opportunity.
  • The government will be prioritising innovation as part of its Build Back Better Plan for Growth published at Budget 2021. We will publish an Innovation Strategy in Summer, which will outline our plans for boosting innovation which will be a key part of our plans for reaching the 2.4% target by 2027.
  • We have also allocated up to £50 million in 2021 to 2022 for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), which we expect to be established later this year and will focus on high risk, high reward research. The government is committed to investing £800 million in ARIA over its first 4 years.

There are a lot of numbers in the report and it is hard to unpick what has changed, so we are grateful to Research Professional for this summary:

  • UKRI has been allocated a total of £7,908 million for the 2021-22 financial year.
  • This is a drop of £539m compared with the last financial year, when UKRI was allocated £8,447m, with its eventual budget ending up at £8,668m in 2020-21.
  • But UKRI says that once last year’s one-off £300m World Class Labs funding scheme investment is deducted, the year-on-year drop is only £403m or five per cent.
  • This year’s drop is primarily accounted for by a reduction of £284m in UKRI’s official development assistance programmes, the funder said. This follows the government’s decision to cut UK aid spending from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of gross national income as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Science infrastructure capital has also dropped by £301m, from £1,235m in 2020-21 to £934m in 2021-22, while funding for strategic programmes is down slightly from £1,369m to £1,354m.
  • Meanwhile, the breakdown shows that UKRI’s core research and innovation budgets have increased by £218m from £5,475m to £5,693m.
  • Of these research and innovation budgets, Research England has been allocated the highest budget at £1,772m, with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council allocated the second-largest settlement at £946m.
  • ….In its summary of the allocations, BEIS hailed its £14.9 billion R&D budget for the year ahead as the “highest in four decades, demonstrating progress towards our target to increase total public and private R&D investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027”.
  • However, the breakdown of allocations reveals that £1,293m of its budget will go towards the UK’s contribution to European Union R&D programmes. Before Brexit, this money came out of the UK’s EU membership fee. When that amount is deducted, the rise in public R&D spending from last year’s £13.2bn is only around £400m.
  • UKRI confirmed to Research Professional News that the UK funding towards the EU R&D programmes will not be coming from its budget: “Funding for UK participation in EU programmes, including Horizon Europe, is additional to UKRI’s budget and that the funding won’t be coming through UKRI.”

Safeguarding Research: The Government announced the establishment of a new dedicated team which will offer researchers advice on how to protect their work from hostile activity, ensuring international collaboration is done safely and securely.

The new Research Collaboration Advice Team (RCAT) will promote government advice on security-related topics, such as export controls, cyber security and protection of intellectual property to ensure researchers’ work is protected, and that the UK research sector remains open and secure. The Government say that such behaviour left unchecked can leave the UK vulnerable to disruption, unfair leverage, and espionage, and that the threats to science and research in particular – primarily the theft, misuse or exploitation of intellectual property by hostile actors – are growing, evolving and increasingly complex. The team will respond to requests from British universities who have identified potential risks within current projects or proposals. Advisers will also proactively approach research institutions and support them to implement advice and guidance already on offer.

The written ministerial statement highlights the other mechanisms that apply in safeguarding research against international threats:

  • guidelines published by Universities UK, on behalf of the sector and with government support, to help universities to tackle security risks related to international collaboration;
  • the Trusted Research campaign, run by National Cyber Security Centre and Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure in partnership with BEIS and the Cabinet Office;
  • one of the toughest export controls regimes in the world, including guidance recently published by the Department for International Trade specifically for academics;
  • the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s Academic Technology Approvals Scheme, a pre-visa screening regime expanded to cover a wider set of technologies and all researchers in proliferation sensitive fields;
  • guidance from the Intellectual Property Office on protecting Intellectual Property known as the Lambert Toolkit; and
  • our work with partners and allies, including the G7, to create international frameworks that support open, secure science collaborations.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: Researchers need to take precautions when collaborating internationally, and this new team will support them as we cement our status as a science superpower.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President, Universities UK said: International collaboration lies at the heart of excellent research, delivers huge benefits to the UK and helps to ensure that we are recognised as a global science superpower. We have a responsibility to ensure that our collaborations are safe and secure, and our universities take these responsibilities very seriously. Together with UUK’s guidelines on Managing Risk in Internationalisation, the work of this new team and the specialist advice and support it provides will help to ensure that the public can be confident in our research collaborations. We particularly welcome the creation of a single point of contact in government, which builds on recommendations made by Universities UK and will provide valuable insights for institutions and researchers.

Research Professional have a write up on the new team and safeguards which they are finding a little bit odd.

There is also a parliamentary question on links with China and informed decisions on international research collaboration.

Quick news

  • Green tech: The Government has announced a £166m cash injection for green technology and development, as part of its ambitions for a Green Industrial Revolution. The funds will be awarded to innovators, businesses, academics and heavy industry across the UK, aims to build on ambitions set out in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. The Government says it will accelerate the delivery of game-changing technologies needed to drive the UK’s climate change ambitions.
  • Unicorns: An interesting quick read on Scotland’s unicorns (private tech companies valued at $1bn+). There were 8 in 2010, 80 in 2020 (91 across the whole of the UK). These numbers demonstrate the extent to which the UK is catching up with the US and China in tech, with London now fourth behind the Bay Area, Beijing and New York, when it comes to the number of start-ups and unicorns created. No other European country has been able to grow at such a speed.
  • ARIA: The Advanced Research and Investigation Agency (ARIA) Bill which was carried over from the last session of Parliament will progress to the report stage and third reading on Monday 7 June. Amendments have been tabled.
  • Levelling up: Policy Connect’s Higher Education Commission is calling for evidence into its inquiry covering university research and regional levelling up. Contact us to contribute to BU’s submission.
  • Racism perpetuated through research: Nature published Tackling systemic racism requires the system of science to change. Excerpts: Racism in science is endemic because the systems that produce and teach scientific knowledge have, for centuries, misrepresented, marginalized and mistreated people of colour and under-represented communities. The research system has justified racism — and, too often, scientists in positions of power have benefited from it. That system includes the organization of research: how it is funded, published and evaluated… One essential change all institutions can make today is to put the right incentives in place. They must ensure that anti-racism is embedded in their organization’s objectives and that such work wins recognition and promotion. Too often, conventional metrics — citations, publication, profits — reward those in positions of power, rather than helping to shift the balance of power…A second change institutions should make is to come together to tackle racism, as some already are. At the very least, this means talking to and learning from a wide range of communities, and transcending conventional boundaries to team up. Funders, research institutions and publishers must work together to ensure that research from diverse scientists is funded and published
  • Spinouts: Sifted have a blog University spinouts: the system isn’t broken questioning whether the commercialisation systems do really stymie growth and hold back entrepreneurs.
  • Overseas development: The Government’s decision to slash the overseas development budget created a large backlash which still continues weeks after the announcement. Wonkhe describe the latest parliamentary altercation highlighting that the Government have undertaken to bring the spending back up to previous levels – but at an unspecified point in the future when the UK’s finances are healthier. A concession to the complaints with little real chance of an increase anytime soon. At BEIS questions in the House of Commons Labour’s Kate Osamor tackled Kwasi Kwarteng over the impact of the £120m cut to overseas development assistance research funding – the Secretary of State emphasised the government’s commitment to returning overseas development spending to 0.7 per cent of GDP “as soon as the fiscal situation allows.”   Read the debate on Hansard.

Fees and funding

In last week’s update we talked about the stories about plans to implement Augar’s recommendations later this year. This week there have been lots of follow up stories.

  • Guardian: ‘Horrific’ cuts in pipeline for English universities and students – Treasury fights with No 10 over options to reduce student loan burden
  • Financial Times: English universities face upheaval as financial strains hit jobs – Pandemic costs and ministers’ focus on vocational training set to cause departmental closures. And a quote from Graham Galbraith (VC, Portsmouth University) who stated the bigger danger to universities was a “utilitarian” government view that they existed only to train workers in “skills the government decides are needed”. “Our broader role in producing well-rounded graduates...is being lost,”
  • Research Professional: Trouble Ahead – The degree loan book may be squeezed to make room for the ‘lifetime skills guarantee’ Universities have long had their suspicions that this government doesn’t really like them very much.
  • The Times: Students face bigger loan repayments to aid public finances – Student tuition loan repayments could rise or be extended under plans that are being considered by the Treasury. And yes if you look closely at the picture Gavin Williamson still has that whip on his desk.

While this is still mostly speculation the Government’s advisers will certainly be watching the sector’s reaction to the predictions made.

Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, soke at GuildHE this week and dismissed the more dramatic claims.  Research Professional reports:

  • Media reports in recent weeks have said the government will reduce the maximum universities can charge—and which most do charge—in line with recommendations made by Philip Augar’s review of post-18 education funding….Michelle Donelan said these stories had not come from her department.
  • “There have been a few media stories about a potential fee cut as of the last few weeks. I just wanted to bust this myth—this is a media story, and we haven’t made any such announcement,” Donelan said.
  • Donelan did not rule out a fee cut, but said, “We aren’t consulting on this, we’ve always said that we will respond to the rest of Augar in full with the spending review, which we anticipate to be in the autumn. So this is, just at the moment, an idea and a story that has not been issued by a government.”

For BU readers we did a little summary of how we got here and what might come next. From the reports, the Government is said to be considering:

  • Cutting the maximum tuition fee from £9,250 to £7,500 – probably with a system of teaching grant top ups for subjects which are high cost and strategic and possibly also with grant top ups linked to “quality” (i.e. outcomes) or social mobility.
  • Extending the student repayment window beyond 30 years to increase recovery rates – although this would obviously have little impact on government (or graduate) finances in the short term.
  • Lowering the income threshold below £27,295 so repayments start sooner. This would be a reversal of the policy behind Theresa May’s decision in December 2017 to increase the threshold, and would have an immediate impact on recovery and on cost to graduates in the shorter term (if they are earning above the threshold).
  • Already in process is the cut to what was known as the teaching grant – the small top up institutions received on some courses. Now called the strategic priorities grant it allows the Government to axe any top up on courses it doesn’t value (usually those leading to poorer graduate ‘outcomes’) and only top up those it favours such as healthcare, some STEM, and industry skills deficit areas. The cut was small in real terms but it demonstrates the direction of travel on tops ups, and also has an impact on high cost subjects too if institutions are cross subsidising them with income from subjects with lower costs.
  • Removing the London weighting from courses taught in the capital.
  • Limiting recruitment – reducing the number of student loans given out by introducing national minimum entry requirements for university degree programmes.
  • Limiting recruitment – reducing the number of student loans given out by reintroducing a student numbers cap (which limits how many students each institution can recruit) by institution. Or capping numbers on non-priority courses across the sector or at particular institutions. One suggestion in Augar was that this might also be  linked to quality (i.e. outcomes) measures at the relevant institution.
  • Reducing numbers on non-priority courses by advocating for students instead to take up courses in priority subjects (like the ballerina encouraged to become a computer scientist) or to do technical programmes (which themselves could be part funded by industry or local initiatives, reducing the Government’s outlay).

Research Professional speculate that the changes to loan repayments could affect current students too (a political hot potato as these students have experienced disruption, remote education and are graduating into a changed worldwide labour market).

All of this looks like systematically under funding non-priority courses through a range of mechanisms. So far the Government has stated reductions in funding will be applied to performing arts and media and archaeology.

The reasons for the change:

  • The Government needs to spread the money further to pay for the lifetime skills guarantee and the technical and skills programme expansion. Also to fund FE at a higher rate and provide capital improvements. The Government has been vocal about fewer students going to HE and choosing other routes instead – effectively redistributing the funding.
  • Of course, bringing more tertiary under the auspices of the loan book makes the Government’s RAB charge look exponentially worse – but also means less money is provided to training providers as grants and more is ultimately liable to be paid back by the student. Don’t forget that apprenticeships are currently tuition-fee free – the changes could also see students following this route paying for their higher level education.
  • Several media sources point the finger at the RAB charge as the straw that broke the camel’s back. It can be hard to understand but simply the RAB is an accounting convention which identifies the amount of student loan funding the Government provides that is anticipated will never be repaid in real terms. It is seen as a financial black hole and uncomfortable for a Government who were elected on their policy line to reduce the country’s spending deficit and which has had to borrow at crisis levels to fund the country’s needs throughout the pandemic. Research Professional (RP) tell us that the Government’s exposure grows by around £10 billion each year and that the Government has forecast the RAB charge will exceed 50% for 2020/21. The RAB is the ultimate policy pressure point and you may have noticed that the Government’s campaign for value for money in HE dovetailed the change that brought the RAB deficit to public notice.   Quite a lot of the cost of the overall loan book is made up by maintenance loans as you can see from this response to a PQ from Portsmouth MP Stephen Morgan.
  • It’s imminent. The Government is long overdue in its final response to the Augar report. A funding policy paper is due within two months, the autumn spending review is only 3 months away and the Skills Bill will progress through Parliament as quickly as the Government can push it.   A panel member from the Augar review writes for Wonkhe noting that over half Augar’s recommendations have been implemented already in a piecemeal fashion.

The Times have an example loan repayment scenario by Martin Lewis, the finance expert, [which] estimates that to pay off a loan fully under the existing terms a graduate completing their course in 2022 would have to start on a salary of £55,000 and have that rise to £177,000 within 25 years. The balance of their debt is written off after that time. Such a student would have repaid £163,000 — more than three times what they originally borrowed. The comments to the Times article are interesting – heavy on the opinion that the interest rate for loans is excessive and that this is where the problem lies. There is also a good thread from a parent who asks what their child can do when they are excellent at humanities and English but not good at STEM and don’t want to go to university – the answers responded go to university or join the forces. It highlights an interesting alternative viewpoint – the Government believes young people progress to university because they have dominated the market culturally and because there aren’t enough technical alternatives…but there are a lot of young people out there for whom technical isn’t an option – are these young people to be classified non-priority too?

Research Professional also have a revealing piece Tory-splaining exploring Rachel Wolf’s (who co-wrote the 2019 Conservative manifesto document) statements on the Government’s intentions behind its policies and legislation. Free Speech is to pursue the values of the Enlightenment that universities were set up to pursueThey would consider themselves to be entirely on the side of the principles of universities. And what they are trying to do is help universities defend those principles.

On levelling up Rachel stated universities should push their civic role less in terms of how they shared facilities and more in terms of teaching and research, which tended to resonate better with local people. So they should talk about how they are helping to raise attainment in schools and supporting economic growth or the NHS. And that if the government thinks it is doing something new, telling it that you are doing that thing already is unlikely to be a persuasive argument.

On fees she was to the point:

  • While the government feels that it is in a strong position politically, she said, it also feels that it has no money…the spending review will be a “zero-sum game” in which universities will be competing not only with other departments, such as the NHS, but also within the education budget. Here, the government has other priorities such as paying for pupils to catch up on learning they have missed as a result of the pandemic, and increasing spending on skills training and adult learning.
  • The government is also concerned about wage returns after Covid. Here, what appears to be changing rhetoric on social mobility, she suggested, is really more a response to fiscal constraints.
  • These constraints—and the Office for National Statistics’ reclassification of student debt so that it now appears on government balance sheets—are behind intimations that the government wants fewer people to attend university.
  • The upshot of all this will be an increasing focus on attainment, she predicted, with “interesting tensions” in the debate about whether to relax requirements to accept people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or not.

Nothing in this was new but it is rarer to hear it spoken frankly.

Student Finance: The Education Secretary has reappointed Jonathan Willis, Peter Wrench, Michaela Jones and Naseem Malik to serve third terms as independent assessors for student finance appeals and complaints from 1 May 2021. Each of the reappointments is for a further three years. None of the appointees have declared any political activity or conflicts of interest. Independent assessors provide an independent review of appeals or complaints made to the Student Loans Company (SLC).

Skills

Skills Bill: The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is scheduled for its Second Reading in the Lords on Tuesday 15 June. This will be the first real debate for parliament on the Bill. We’ll be keeping abreast of the debate.

Degree Apprenticeships: Robert Halfon (Chair) gave Gillian Keegan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills a fine grilling on the Government’s intention to push degree apprenticeships at the Education Select Committee accountability hearing.

Keegan is actually the only Parliamentarian who has a degree apprenticeship, yet she toes the party line in discouraging their widespread adoption (as opposed to lower level apprenticeships), perhaps due to concerns about subject coverage and the fact that they potentially increase funding to universities. The Government wants degree apprenticeships but only the “right” type i.e. those that meet the country’s future technical skills gaps and innovation needs (see the section on funding and the implications of these priorities above) and they want young people to undertake them who wouldn’t otherwise have progressed to higher level study. In the past degree apprenticeships boomed whilst lower level (2-3) apprenticeship starts dropped off. HE institutions were seen as taking up too much funding and squeezing technical courses out of the market.   The risk for the government is that students take them instead of degrees (avoiding student loans) so they have less impact on social mobility.  Lower level apprenticeships are less likely to appeal to those would otherwise go to university anyway.

  • In the session Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon, continued his push for hard targets for degree apprenticeships: Why not establish proper degree apprenticeship targets set by the OfS and make departmental funding conditional on universities providing these opportunities?
  • Keegan: I definitely have that mission. We have spoken about this a lot. It is about making sure that, first of all, they are more widely available…What we want to do is make sure that they are accessible to everybody…You are absolutely right that there isn’t enough done in this area, which is one of the reasons that we are introducing the skills Bill and the skills White Paper. It is recognising that young people don’t get enough broad careers advice. We need to offer better careers options.

In previous Committee sessions, they’ve also resisted introducing requirements for degree apprenticeship targets within the Access and Participation Plan specifications.

  • Chair: That is great, but what are you doing specifically? Why not reinstate the degree apprenticeship development fund? It cost £4.5 million, which is a relatively low cost in terms of spending, but it had quite a big impact by working with universities to create new courses. What are you doing specifically to boost degree apprenticeships and takeup from disadvantaged would-be apprentices?
  • Keegan: As you say, they are increasing…It is not about the universities coming up with a degree apprenticeship; it is about the employers, with universities, coming up with something that meets their needs. Obviously the Institutes of Technology is also an important bridge to that, as it offers level 4 and 5 apprenticeships, which are highly valued by a lot of businesses. …but the very important point is how we make sure they are more accessible to more disadvantaged groups.
  • What we are fearful of is that a lot of people suddenly see degree apprenticeships are a very good option, and people who would have gone to university anyway will just choose that route and squeeze out the people like me, sat in a Knowsley comprehensive school at 16 with nowhere to go, thinking, “How do I get on in life?” The degree apprenticeship route is fantastic, mine in particular, so absolutely. We do a lot around that.

So the Government doesn’t want students to switch from paying for a standard degree to undertake a degree apprenticeship. If we were ungenerous we could say this is the old story about ‘apprenticeships are for other peoples’ children’.

Halfon didn’t give up though:

  • Chair: I just want to know what the substantive policy is to rocket boost degree apprenticeships and whether or not you will reinstate the degree apprenticeship development fund, which had low costs but quite good results. Yes, of course, it is employer-led, but at the end of the day, if universities that are registered as providers aren’t even encouraging people to do degree apprenticeships and it is Government policy, surely a lot should be done. You need a bit of carrot and stick.
  • Keegan: The skills White Paper sets the direction of travel. The whole system has to work. I am not a big fan of intervening in different things.
  • …Some employers are switching from graduate programmes to degree apprenticeships because they have seen they get better results. It is starting to happen. You quite often get unintended consequences when the Government intervene in various bits of this system. This is about getting a system that transforms technical education in this country, that makes sure everybody is aware of it, that makes sure it is accessible to everybody, wherever they are in the country, whatever their background, whatever their ethnicity, whatever their life journey. That is a much bigger action.

Keegan does give a hard no to the degree apprenticeship development fund being reinstated though and says: Every time there is an option for employers, it is not like they are having a problem finding somebody to work with them. There is no problem at all. Which is contrary to the Government’s rhetoric on skills gaps and the need for funding programmes at different rates based on national priorities.

  • Chair: What you are saying is that there is no specific policy lever to encourage degree apprenticeships. Keegan responded that there is a policy level for all levels of apprenticeship.
  • Chair: Even though those individuals under the age of 19 from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are five times less likely to undertake a degree level apprenticeship, you are saying no targeted measure is needed?
  • Keegan: I am saying there is no targeted measure needed for universities to be incentivised to develop degree apprenticeships with employers. Getting access to them, making sure people are aware of them and they are available in their area, there is.

The Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE) has a blog: Access and Participation Plans and Higher and Degree Apprenticeships – excerpt:

  • It is now time that higher education (HE) reflects on what should be considered for inclusion in APPs in respect of skills, technical education, apprenticeships and adult learning provision. A key question for every HE provider is how their Access and Participation Plan should be developed and delivered in a post Covid-19 economy, in particular how they should maximise opportunities for underrepresented groups to access and benefit from HE through technical education including higher and degree apprenticeships. 

Interesting that this topic of degree apprenticeships comes up time and again in relation to the APPs – despite the Minister dismissing the notion of setting targets for degree apprenticeships within the APP.

Graduate outcomes

Grade inflation: New chair of the OfS, Lord Wharton, spoke at GuildHe and raised his concerns about grade inflation, which is something we haven’t heard about for a little while. Interestingly this was one of the things that Gavin William did not mention in his February list of priorities for the OfS (read more about that here) – so in theory it was meant to be off the table in terms of the OfS spending time on it.   However, it’s a perennially attractive stick for the media and the regulator to beat the sector with and ties in with their quality work so they don’t need a separate instruction on this.  No signs either that the new chair is going to step away from the hands-on, interventionist approach of his predecessor as chair.

Research Professional were there and cover his remarks and the (not very) veiled threat:

  • Conservative peer James Wharton ….. told the GuildHE Spring Conference that he had “concerns” about the “increasing numbers of students getting higher and higher degree classifications in recent years”.
  • He conceded that last year’s results—which came after many universities implemented so-called ‘no detriment’ policies to ensure the pandemic did not negatively impact student performance—were an anomaly. However, he added that there was a “long-running trend” that needed to be addressed. 
  • “I do have the view that if everyone gets a first, then no one gets a first, and we run the risk of devaluing the very thing that makes our higher education sector world beating,” Wharton said. “We have an obligation…to ensure that the degrees and qualifications that people get from the time that they invest in their education have real meaning and value and rigour standing behind them.”
  • Data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in January this year revealed that the proportion of students achieving first-class degrees in 2019-20 rose to 35 per cent, a jump from the 28 per cent recorded in the previous two years. In 2008-09, just 14 per cent of undergraduates were awarded a first.
  • “I think it’s a real concern,” Wharton continued. “If we continue to go down this path, there are going to be real problems, and I think we have an obligation to ensure that the qualifications people get have real meaning.”
  • The OfS chair said there “isn’t a simple answer”, and that universities would have to work “collectively” with the regulator to stem the rise in firsts. 
  • “I guess what I’m saying is, please can we work together and solve this, because otherwise…I may try and solve it myself, but that may not be the right answer.”

Wage gap: Hired have reported on their new survey which highlights the wage gap and workplace discrimination within the tech industry. The press release is here or contact us for a summary of the survey findings.

Graduate Outcomes Coding: HESA has published updates to its 2017/18 Graduate Outcomes employment statistics using the new Standard Occupational Classification SOC 2020 coding frame. It shows a small increase in the proportion of graduates in occupations classified as ‘high skilled’ but the proportion of graduates in occupations classified as low skilled remained the same after the coding change. More detail and the statistics here.

Longitudinal education outcomes:  The DfE published the LEO postgraduate outcomes for students graduating with a masters or doctorate. The outcomes are broken down by subject studied and domicile.

Free Speech

Free Speech Bill: The DfE published a memorandum on the HE Freedom of Speech Bill which addresses issues arising under the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). Research Professional also have an opinion piece stating that the free speech law will make university debate harder, not easier.

There is a parliamentary question asking specifics on free speech using given examples. Donelan’s response highlights the judgement tightrope the proposed new law may become: In many cases, this should mean that they do not feel a need to investigate where an individual is clearly expressing lawful, if perhaps offensive or controversial, views. Some examples will be less clear-cut, and some investigation will be needed to ascertain the facts. It will remain the responsibility of the provider (or students’ union) to balance their duties when considering the issues, having particular regard to the importance of freedom of speech.

And Research Professional has a report of MD’s answers on this at a GuildHE conference.  It’s still a muddle:

  • Research Professional News asked Donelan how universities should respond if a Holocaust denier were set to speak on campus. Is it a choice between no-platforming the individual and potentially paying them compensation, or allowing them to speak?
  • “Absolutely no,” Donelan said. “Universities will not be placed in a position where they are asked to protect a Holocaust denier. The free speech bill is not a right to a platform, it does not mean that a university has to invite such a speaker at all—and I would argue that no university should be inviting a Holocaust denier, because it is such an extreme and dangerous viewpoint.”
  • She added that antisemitism is “absolutely abhorrent and has no place…in any part of our society and in any university”.
  • It has yet to be confirmed how the bill, which is currently going through parliament, will make allowances for speech that is legal, but not protected by the legislation.

Finally did you realise that the Free Speech Bill will only apply to England (not the devolved nations) as education is a devolved matter.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) has published a report on free speech at universities. They examine the challenges to free speech in universities, particularly given the current focus on the topic by the Government. It brings a different flavour to the current is there/isn’t there a cancel culture tone of discussion. The IEA summarise their main points:

  • There is currently much concern with questions of freedom of speech and expression, much of it focused on the appearance of so-called ‘wokeness’ and its manifestations in corporate life, the media, and (most notably) the academy.
  • Historically the idea of free expression was seen as dangerous or a heresy. But this has changed over the last 250 years, as a combination of technological change and active campaigns for free expression established the principle of a right to free speech. This led to the emergence of an infrastructure or ecology of places and institutions that supported it, of which the university was one but by no means the most important.
  • An absolute and unlimited right to free speech and expression has never existed because that right is always qualified by other ones, including notably the very ones that also sustain free expression, such as private property, freedom of association and freedom of contract (including contracts of employment). Historically universities were not centres of free expression but were concerned with the articulation, exploration and defence of orthodoxy.
  • The current problems with free speech at universities are real but overstated (as this is actually a problem primarily found in elite institutions and only in the Anglosphere) and come primarily from the lack of intellectual diversity in the sector as a whole and between institutions rather than in any one institution.
  • They reflect a wider problem in society – the decay of the ecology or infrastructure built up in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This decline was caused not so much by technology (which commonly gets the blame) as by the growth of both government and certain kinds of private funding, the corrupting effect of the predatory and dysfunctional US legal system, and the increasingly intense intra-elite status competition produced by the combination of meritocracy and elite overproduction.
  • Direct measures by governments to impose on universities a duty to provide a platform for speakers are an unwarranted imposition on private bodies. This illustrates the problems with government funding and the lack of genuine university independence and variety within the sector.

Access & Participation

The Education Select Committee continued their inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. You can read a summary of the session prepared by Dods. The eagle eyed will spot several comments that fit behind the Government’s current policy ideals. Here is some of the key content:

  • Steve Strand (Prof Education, Oxford):…those communities that experienced inter-generational unemployment and the closure of heavy industries had a less strong belief in the transformative power of education… The overriding principle behind this paradigm was class.
  • Family Hubs placement: drill low at a local level to identify pockets and disparities in the performance of children, and the family hubs should be placed in those areas.
  • Diversity of the workforce: The Chair referred to evidence from the USA, and asked if the Government should incentivise a more diverse teaching workforce so as to increase attainment levels in pupils. Sewell explained that organisations like Teach First should focus more on attracting high performing ethnic minority graduates. Strand added this was a high quality and high status profession, which meant that universities could play a role [through diversity in recruitment to teaching programmes].
  • Funding for interventions: Johnston also asked the witnesses how much funding would be needed to support the interventions necessary, from the early years all the way through to careers guidance for older students. Sewell spoke of the £800m that currently went into the wider participation activities of universities. In his opinion, part of this resource should be moved into schools, so as to drive pupils into higher education. This would offer much more targeted in-school support, he suggested.
  • Aspiration levels: Strand added that the higher achievement by many minority groups could be explained by their aspirations, their parents’ aspirations, the number of nights a week spent doing homework and their self-assessment of their performance. It was important to consider when to allow young people to choose a curriculum for themselves, as for some young people subjects like history and geography were not as attractive as more vocation-oriented subjects.
  • Sewell said: parents were key to educating and inspiring young people to take up apprenticeships or go on to universities.
  • Mearns commented that quite often the challenges pupils faced were related to their parents and families… Oliver agreed that this was a challenge. He believed that provisions like extended school days could allow children to get involved in sports and culture activities. Moreover, such initiatives could expose children to other adults, and help build a different type of discipline.

The summary lists the speakers quoted from above.

Pupil Premium: This article covers pupil premium. Excerpt: A total of £118 million for disadvantaged pupils could be lost from school budgets in England this year due to a government change in how Pupil Premium funding is calculated. The controversy stems from the use of a previous census meaning pupils who became eligible through the deprivations of the pandemic will not receive funding until a future year.

Uni Connect: Wonkhe summarise: The Office for Students has published an analysis of youth participation rates in England in the areas targeted by the Uni Connect programme. The report finds no evidence that the gap in participation reduced for those pupils who experienced at most two years of Uni Connect outreach, and instead finds that lower rates of entry to higher education are highly associated with lower rates of application. OfS has also published a formative evaluation of Uni Connect phase two from Ipsos Mori, an emerging insight report into how Covid-19 has affected outreach and a third independent review of evaluation evidence.

APP comment: Wonkhe’s student union site has a blog on the independent student submission to the OfS commenting on their institution’s Access and Participation Plan. They’re in favour of the student comment – as long as the OfS show they’re reading and acting on it.

Social Mobility: The All Party Parliamentary Group for Social Mobility took to Twitter to launch its priorities for an education recovery plan. The thread gives the top level details behind the plan and is in favour of more support for the transition to HE alongside closing the digital divide.

More Blogs: The Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE) has a series of new blogs-

  • Access and Participation Plans and Higher and Degree Apprenticeships – excerpt: It is now time that higher education (HE) reflects on what should be considered for inclusion in APPs in respect of skills, technical education, apprenticeships and adult learning provision. A key question for every HE provider is how their Access and Participation Plan should be developed and delivered in a post Covid-19 economy, in particular how they should maximise opportunities for underrepresented groups to access and benefit from HE through technical education including higher and degree apprenticeships. 

Interesting that this topic of degree apprenticeships comes up time and again in relation to the APPs – despite the Minister dismissing the notion of setting targets for degree apprenticeships within the APP. Once again we’re reminded of Jo Johnson when he was Universities Minister cautioning the HE sector to be careful of what it was calling for.

  • Personal tutoring – excerpt: The entire HE teaching and learning experience was changed by the pandemic and now, more than ever, it is important to recognise how vital the relationship between Personal Tutor and student is for engagement, academic success and progression.

FACE are also running a free event on 24 June – Is First in Family a good indicator for widening university participation in HE?

Social Leveller: Engineering: The Engineering Professors’ Council have released a new report finding that studying engineering gives a greater boost to social mobility than other subjects. Combining data relating to graduates’ earnings, backgrounds and entry qualifications suggested that the gap between the incomes of engineering graduates from different socio-economic backgrounds was significantly smaller than for other graduates. The Engineering Opportunity report reveals that, ten years after qualifying, the average salary of engineering graduates is £42,700 – which is £11,700 more than the average of other graduates and the higher earnings were relatively evenly spread across the country.

The EPC’s Chief Executive, Johnny Rich, commented:

  • Our findings demonstrate that not only is Engineering higher education critical to the future of our economy, our regions and our environment, it is also a great social leveller, providing a more equal chance to succeed for all students regardless of their background.
  • Aspiration among young people is not lacking, but opportunity is. We need to build a system – through education and into employment – that engineers opportunities for all who want to realise their potential.

Admissions

Disabled students: See the section on disabled students below which includes the Disabled Students’ Commission’s view on how PQA need to take into account the interests of disabled students.

HEPI have a blog from Dan Benyon on “What do university applicants want from their higher education institutions?”.  The answer, it seems, is:

  • Face to face interaction at the physical campus of the universities they apply to
  • More personalised virtual experiences and interactivity.
  • Different communications channels such and Q&As and webinars and just more communication.

Level 3 exams: Last week NEON picked up on the Guardian article which highlighted a common bias against disadvantaged and SEN pupils in the assessment processes which will determine their grade, and ultimately entry to HE.

HE stats: The DfE published data on students going into apprenticeship, education, employment and training destinations. Progression to higher education or training (more detail here):

  • The proportion of level 3 (e.g. A levels, Tech levels, AGQs) students progressing to a sustained level 4 or higher destination was 64% – this was 2 percentage points higher than the previous year’s cohort (2015/16).
  • Of the 64%, their destinations were as follows:
    • 59% were studying for a degree (a level 6 qualification)
    • 3% were studying a course at level 4 or 5 (e.g. Higher National Certificates and Diplomas)
    • 1% were participating in an apprenticeship at level 4 or higher

Levelling Up

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published a new release on mapping income deprivation at a local authority level. It’s interactive – you select the local authority area, then keep scrolling down for short informative commentary.

Generally urban local authorities with a higher level of overall income deprivation that have the greatest internal disparities, both in terms of deprivation gap and income deprivation clustering. The map showing the least deprived areas is revealing. Dorset crops up in the ‘n’-shaped profile – neighbourhoods that have close to average levels of income deprivation – it is mostly dominated by rural and coastal areas. As you scroll closer to the bottom there are details of areas with the greatest income disparity between least and most deprived. It then goes on to explore how mixed the populations of lower/higher income are within the area. Rural areas generally have lower levels of deprivation clustering.

The ONS state this detailed information revealing local circumstances is of increasing importance because of the current focus on levelling up.

Committee: Meanwhile the House of Lords Public Services Committee has sent its position paper on ‘Levelling up’ and public services to the PM (read more detail here).

  • The Committee warned that ‘left behind’ places will be “short-changed” and inequality will grow if money for the NHS, schools and councils is not protected and ‘levelling up’ plans are not better targeted.
  • It called for Ministers to use the promised ‘levelling up’ White Paper to refocus their strategy to improve health, employment and skills and better prepare children for school if it wants more jobs, productivity and pay in deprived communities.
  • During the inquiry, witnesses accused ministers of favouring prosperous rural areas with funds ahead of deprived communities. “Without full transparency and political accountability local areas will continue to question why they have missed out on ‘levelling up’ funding while others have benefited.”
  • The Committee also warns that if ‘levelling up’ investment neglects social infrastructure – such as community centres and childcare – and public services it will not help the most deprived areas.
  • The Committee called on the Government to work with local service providers and users to set targets to improve, for example, life expectancy, employment, literacy and numeracy of children starting school and the number of entrants to higher education.

Assessment

Jisc and Emerge Education published Rethinking Assessment finding that the recent adjustments to assessment methods are better for disabled students, those with mental health challenges, and students suffering from digital poverty, as well as building the digital skills needed by students for future jobs.

  • The report, which looks back at a year where education has mostly been online, describes ‘a widespread explosion of experimentation’ since the pandemic began, with universities now offering exams that are flexible, adaptable, and relevant to students, which is a far cry from what one contributor describes as ‘sitting in a sports hall for three hours’
  • Andy McGregor, Jisc’s director of edtech, said: We’ve seen a flurry of just-in-time innovation in assessment as teachers have responded to the pandemic. It would be a shame if that just disappeared as life approaches normality. If universities can find the time to prioritise assessment redesign, we can deliver significant benefits to students, staff and ultimately employers, by providing a digitally skilled workforce of the future. 
  • Paul Cowell, lecturer in economics, University of Stirling, writes in the report: One thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is that there’s a lot of creativity within us. We can do things differently, as a sector and as individuals. We need to make sure we take the best from that rather than reverting. Just because we can get everyone back in the exam halls again doesn’t mean we should. 
  • Nic Newman, Emerge Education partner says: Of course, delivering this transformation will require significant resources, and universities are still dealing with huge changes. Taking the time to reimagine assessment will require senior management to make it a top priority. The positive stories in this report are shining examples that illustrate the wider benefits of overhauling assessment, and point to an opportunity for universities to create a competitive advantage for themselves in the short and long term.
  • Chris Cobb, chief executive of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) says: The rapid drive to digitise assessment has raised opportunities and challenges in equal measure, in parts making assessment more relevant, adaptable and trustworthy. We hope this report serves as a timely manner of lessons to be learned for the future of assessment, and indeed, education as a whole.

Disabled Students

The Disabled Students’ Commission have published their guiding principles for ensuring the needs to disabled students are taken into account if PQA is adopted.  When we responded to the PQA consultation we raised concerns about students with disabilities, as well as those with caring responsibilities and those from under-represented backgrounds, who we think are may be particularly disadvantaged by the proposals, because of the practical issues such as finding suitable and affordable accommodation, arranging support, and making decisions in a short time frame without access to support and advice.

The principles are:

  1. All relevant agencies need to work together to ensure key general information, advice and guidance is provided during the admissions process and developed in consideration of disabled students who are eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowances and those who are not.
  2. Higher education providers need to provide easily accessible information that is publicly available, detailing the support provided to disabled students in teaching and learning delivery, accommodation provision and through student services. They should also encourage disabled applicants to discuss their requirements with them in advance of commencing their course.
  3. Some disabled applicants will have multiple and complex requirements. The application process needs to allow higher education providers time to put in place reasonable adjustments.
  4. The process needs to encourage disclosure of disability from the outset and proactively encourage disabled applicants to communicate their requirements to the higher education providers to which they have applied.
  5. The application process needs be completed at an early enough point to allow applicants sufficient time to apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances.
  6. Education, Health and Care Plans should be accepted as evidence of having an impairment and trigger an assessment to identify the reasonable adjustments required in higher education.
  7. The process needs to enable appropriate transition and orientation support following the acceptance of an offer, and to allow sufficient time for higher education providers to meet the transition requirements of successful applicants with a range of impairments.
  8. The process needs to be structured in a way that enables any reasonable adjustments to be in place before the applicant starts their course

Meanwhile, on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the OfS’s Head of Strategy Josh Fleming and Piers Wilkinson, Student Voice Commissioner at the Disabled Students’ Commission, emphasised the importance of listening to disabled students.  The full report can be accessed here.

  • Prior to the pandemic, some disabled students faced challenges not experienced by students without a known disability. The rapid shift to remote teaching over the past year meant that many of these issues were exacerbated while new challenges emerged.
  • Accessibility needs were not always considered as fully as they should have been. Disabled students who rely on assistive technology sometimes faced compatibility issues with the hardware or software they were using.
  • Some disabled students found that learning materials were produced in inaccessible formats. Others faced delays to diagnostic screenings for the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) and disruption to DSA-funded specialist services and support networks.
  • As we enter exam season, many disabled students continue to face accessibility challenges – such as issues with the compatibility of assistive technology and the software being used to conduct exams remotely.

International

The regular parliamentary questions asking whether international students can quarantine in their university accommodation when they arrive in the country continue. The Government continues to say they must use the quarantine hotels at cost with a repayment plan in place for those evidencing hardship.

Early this week the Home Secretary published a written ministerial statement on the New Plan for Immigration: Legal Migration and Border Control. It describes a House command paper (CP 441) that will be laid including a strategy statement will set out the Government’s programme for 2021 and 2022 with further reform to the points-based system, a new graduate visa, new routes to attract top talent to the UK, and a new international sportsperson route alongside further simplification of our Immigration Rules to streamline our systems and reduce complexity.

Higher Education Credit Framework

QAA have launched the second edition of the Higher Education Credit Framework.  Advice on Academic Credit Arrangements contains the 2021 Credit Framework table, while Making Use of Credit offers advice for providers on how they can use credit in practical ways. The two publications introduce guiding principles for the use of credit and give an overview of how credit can work within a range of emerging aspects of higher education, like micro-credentials.

The Credit Framework for England can be used as the basis for the design of qualifications for Level 4 and above, alongside sector credit level descriptors. The revised documents consider stakeholder benefit, how credit is used and how it might be used in the future. Operating alongside the regulatory framework in England, the Framework allows higher education providers the freedom to adopt and adapt elements as appropriate to their needs and circumstances.

The revised Credit Framework publications offer advice to higher education providers on how credit can be used to support flexible pathways such as premised in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.

Wonkhe have a blog: David Kernohan takes a closer look at the framework and explains how it could become one of the more influential documents in higher education.

Covid

The Office for National Statistics published the latest experimental statistics from the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey covering 4 -12 May 2021.

  • Over half (56%) of students who were in higher education prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic reported that the lack of face-to-face learning had a major or moderate impact on the quality of their course; around half (49%) said that the pandemic had a major or significant impact on their academic performance.
  • The majority of students (86%) said that they were living at the same address as they were at the start of the autumn term 2020; this has statistically significantly increased since March 2021 (76%).
  • Most students (71%) stayed in their current accommodation over the Easter break; however, around one in five (22%) students travelled to stay with family or friends over the Easter break, with the majority (84%) of those staying for more than two nights.
  • Almost half (47%) of students that left the house in the previous seven days reported they had met up with family or friends they do not live with indoors; this was more than double those who reported the same in March 2021 (21%).
  • Of all students, almost two in five (39%) reported that they had had at least one COVID-19 test (even if they did not have symptoms) in the previous seven days; this was a statistically significant increase compared with April 2021 (30%).
  • Average life satisfaction scores among students remained stable in May 2021 at 5.8 (out of 10) in May 2021 following the improvements seen in April 2021; however, average scores still remained significantly lower than the adult population in Great Britain (7.0).

UPP – Student Futures Commission

On Sunday Richard Brabner from UPP wrote for Research Professional – Social Reboot – on the immersive student experience. It packs a lot into a short article – student extracurricular, how it is valued when unavailable (pandemic), barriers to participating in extracurricular, community involvement, and the access and participation agenda. Including:  ways to ‘nudge’ students from lower socioeconomic groups to take part in activities and adopt behaviours that build social capital. One of their main findings was that—perhaps counterintuitively—messages that linked participation to building friendships and belonging were more successful than ones that focused on employability for widening participation students. The piece was a teaser for the full launch of the Student Futures Commission and their recent polling.

The polling results found:

  • 59% of students feel a return to face-to-face teaching in September 2021 in a top priority
  • More than half of students had not participated in extra-curricular activities this year (not even virtual ones) despite 8 in 10 intending to do so
  • The shift to digital learning has its advantageous and students are interested in a blended teaching model. On course structure
  • 45% would like a mostly in-person method of delivery with online teaching once or twice per week
  • 29% face-to-face only
  • 21% wanted to study mostly online
  • 6% all online

The survey also reported 63% of students believe they are below where they would expect to be academically because of the pandemic. However, 48% don’t think they’ve missed any aspect of teaching and 72% aren’t unhappy with the way assessment has been managed. Despite the pandemic 65% think their university experience will help secure them a job. Also: Students are placing greater importance on job security, training, and career prospects when thinking about a new job– but the  location is less important. This offers opportunities for firms and students who may not want to move to major urban areas, and could form an important part of the government’s levelling up agenda.

Mary Curnock Cook CBE, Chair of the Student Futures Commission, said: These findings point to a need for the whole sector to mobilise to help improve students’ confidence in themselves, in their job prospects and in the richness of the student experience that comes from physically joining the university community. This is the key aim of the Student Futures Commission – everyone wants our students back, and we want them to put the pandemic behind them and get the full benefits of a university education. Mary also blogged for Wonkhe to introduce the Student Futures Commission and expand on the polling results.

Richard Brabner, Director of the UPP Foundation, said: Universities have gone to extraordinary lengths to support students this year, but as the polling shows nothing beats a proper campus experience. More than anything else students want in-person experiences and face-to-face teaching. As university life returns to something like normal in September, this is the least we can do.

Parliamentary News

PMBs: The Commons Private Members’ Bills (PMBs) ballot results were issued at the end of the last week. The first seven are guaranteed parliamentary time (but not guarantees they will succeed to become law). Of these, Carolyn Harris is most likely to submit a Bill related to BU’s research interests as she has been vocal about gambling reform. You can read the interests and speculation on what the ballot winners may introduce legislation on in this Dods summary.

Last week we told you that Lord Storey had been successful in the Lords PMBs ballot and planned to reintroduce his Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill again (for the fourth time). It received its first reading in the Lords this week – which basically means the title was read out. The Bill aims to make it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services for Higher Education assessments. At no point has Lord Storey’s Bill made it past the first stage, which is a shame given its aim shouldn’t be controversial. The full text (one page) is here.

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.

New consultations and inquiries this week:  University Research & Regional Levelling-up Inquiry

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

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

Government support for universities in the pandemic

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

Research Professional report on the report:

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

Fees and funding

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

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

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

Research Professional continue:

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

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

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

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

Skidmore points out the problems with the new approach:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

Quick News

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

Parliamentary News

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

Labour confirmed their shadow line up for Education:

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

Here is the new Scottish Government Cabinet:

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

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More OfS priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(d) any other such factor. …

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

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

And so to bureaucracy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proceed: Graduate Prospects Measure

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

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

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

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

The accompanying press release notes:

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

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

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

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

Hardship

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

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

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

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

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

Free Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donelan’s pickle

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

Smita Jamdar wrote about the legal issues on Wonkhe.

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

Dods present the key findings:

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

Recommendations:

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

International

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 7th May 2021

We’re a little bit late this week, but we hope you enjoy the latest update.  If anything exciting crops up in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday we will let you know.  In the meantime we are all looking forward to the next set of Covid announcements  – with hugging!

Queen’s Speech speculation: Free Speech

You’ll have noted the policy team enjoy a good Commons or Lords Library briefing. This week’s offering from the Lords Library explores the education announcements that may be made through next week’s Queen’s Speech. The Queen’s Speech sets the tone and the agenda for the Parliamentary session. For HE there isn’t expected to be much (the really big things like fees and funding are being saved for the Spending Review in the Autumn).  But we can expect announcements on the skills agenda, which is directly not about HE, but is relevant to us – partly because it is about the government focus on alternatives to HE.  Otherwise the most relevant content is likely to be announcements on free speech.

Dods have their own little speculation on the free speech Government agenda:

  • Looking ahead, the briefing predicts what I’ve already been hearing from sources: First, that there will be something substantial around higher education, with a particular focus on freedom of speech. Second, that the Government will legislate for skills provision, based on the blueprint laid out in the recent White Paper.
  • The second option is more likely to make it into a full Bill, due to its prominence within Whitehall and as part of the post-pandemic recovery. The HE changes are more likely to take the form of amendments to the existing HERA and other legislation, although we shouldn’t rule out a HE Bill either. It all depends how much political capital the Government are willing to use on what is becoming known as ‘culture war’ moves, such as the free speech champion.

If the free speech agenda doesn’t float your boat you can read the speculative briefings on a myriad of other areas too – justice, digital, housing, biodiversity, alcohol harm, international development, NHS staffing, LGBTI+ and much more. The topics are displayed across multiple pages so keep clicking through to find out what is coming up in your interest area.

Meanwhile Wonkhe tell us that Conservative Home has an opinion piece, which argues that instead of creating additional legislation to protect freedom of speech in universities, the government should instead review the harassment provision within the Equality Act 2010.

Neither the Student Loans (Debt Discharge) Bill nor the Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill completed the parliamentary process before Parliament was prorogued last Thursday and were not “carried over”. This mean both Bills have been dropped and would have to be reintroduced (not as easy as it sounds) and start from scratch in the new Parliament to proceed. Neither Bill had made much progress through the stages which highlights both the little time available for private members bills and that they were not of great interest to the Government.   We’re not expecting them to be in the Queen’s Speech.

Levelling Up White Paper

The Government announced they will publish a Levelling Up White Paper later this year. It will articulate how new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, levelling up and ensuring that the whole UK can benefit from the same access to opportunities remains core to the Government’s vision. The Prime Minister intends to lead on the White Paper and has set up a new No 10 Cabinets Office Unit and appointed Neil O’Brien MP as his Levelling Up Adviser. The proposed policies will focus on challenges including improving living standards, growing the private sector and increasing and spreading opportunity. Also work being undertaken to repair the damage done by Covid to public services, with backlogs in hospitals and courts prioritised alongside school catch ups and jobs.

Neil O’Brien MP said: Levelling up has been a real passion of mine for many years, and I’m incredibly excited by the Prime Minister’s agenda. After such a challenging year, there has never been a better time to unite and level up the country. It’s absolutely crucial that we bring opportunity to every single part of the UK by making sure our spending, tax, investment and regeneration priorities bring about meaningful change.

Wonkhe have a blog: Downing Street has announced a new white paper on the levelling up agenda. Jim Dickinson asks if the MP leading the work can define it, explain it and achieve it.

Research

Industrial Strategy Challenges – The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report on UK Research & Innovation’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) was set up to help address some of the complex issues the UK economy faces, including long-term low productivity and living standards. It was designed around four ‘grand challenges’: future mobility; clean growth; artificial intelligence and data; and the ageing society. Below are a summary of conclusions and recommendations within the report, compiled by Dods.

  1. UKRI’s Challenge Fund is insufficiently focused on what it is expected to deliver in terms of benefit to the UK. Recommendation: UKRI, working with the Department, should clearly set out, by October 2021, what it expects the Fund to deliver. This should include its impact on jobs and economic impact in the short, medium and long term.
  2. We are not convinced that UKRI’s and the Department’s approach to intellectual property generated by the Fund adequately protects taxpayers’ interests. Recommendation: UKRI should re-examine its current approach of not holding a claim on intellectual property generated through the Fund. It should write to the Committee by July 2021 setting out the results of its review and explain how it intends to best protect the taxpayers’ interests and maximise the value from taxpayer investment in the future.
  3. The Department has not yet made clear how it will make sure the UK will meet the target to spend 2.4% of its GDP on R&D by 2027. Recommendation: The Department should develop, and then publish, by October 2021, its plan setting out the steps it will take to meet the 2.4% spending target by 2027.
  4. Despite its focus on collaboration between companies of different sizes, the proportion of smaller companies benefiting from the Fund has declined. Recommendation: UKRI should, by October 2021, set out how it will increase SMEs involvement in the next wave of support from the Fund.
  5. UKRI is not doing enough to make sure the Fund is attracting successful bids from across the country. Recommendation: The Department and UKRI should, by October 2021, set out: the factors that are inhibiting more widespread participation in the Fund; and the steps they are taking to attract more interest in the Fund from across the UK.
  6. The elongated time taken by the Department and UKRI to provide funding to successful bidders risks putting off businesses from applying for the programme. Recommendation: The Department, HM Treasury and UKRI should set out by October 2021 how they intend to speed up the time taken to approve challenges and projects.
  7. Powers currently delegated by the Department and HM Treasury to UKRI do not strike the right balance between the governance necessary to support efficient decision making and unnecessary bureaucracy. Recommendation: The Department and HM Treasury should, by July 2021, review the conditions they place on UKRI to manage the Fund with a view to supporting more efficient decision making.
  8. The Department and HM Treasury should write to the Committee to explain the changes they have introduced together with their intended impact.

Research Culture – The Russell Group published Realising Our Potential – Backing Talent and Strengthening UK Research Culture and Environment – a report examining the current UK academic research culture and environment, including the system drivers and incentives which can create challenges and unintended consequences for researchers.  The Russell Group’s report is here

Through interviews with researchers and case studies of their own universities, the Group have compiled a Research Culture and Environment Toolkit containing practical suggestions. The report highlights the need for a more stable, long-term funding system for research. This, it says, will enable researchers to focus on what they do best: tackling challenges such as net zero, improving health and social outcomes across the UK and translating research into innovative new solutions with business. To foster ambitious, creative and innovative research the report says universities need a well-resourced and supportive research culture and environment which:

  1. Provides stable and appealing career paths, with equality of opportunity for all
  2. Values rigorous and open research, delivered through high-quality methods and high standards of research integrity
  3. Recognises and rewards the wide range of activities that contribute to an internationally excellent research environment
  4. Provides an inclusive, respectful and collegial environment in which researchers feel supported through their relationships with colleagues
  5. Prevents and addresses negative and unacceptable behaviours fairly and efficiently where they occur, including bullying and harassment.

The report is accompanied by a toolkit of practical ideas for universities, funders and publishers, including:

  • Improving long-term contractual job security for researchers, including through boosting quality-related ‘QR’ block grant funding for universities (and its equivalents in the devolved nations), and considering options to lengthen research grant funding periods and academic contracts.
  • Support for career progression, recognition and reward, including sufficient time for professional development, improving feedback provided by managers, funders and publishers, preparation for a range of career options, and ensuring evaluation, recognition and reward systems consider the wide range of activities that contribute to an internationally excellent research environment.
  • Enhancing the experience of working in research, including more recognition from funders and employers for management and leadership skills, reduced bureaucracy for researchers, access to support networks, and involving early career researchers more actively in decision making.
  • Creating inclusive and respectful environments, including dedicated schemes for those from underrepresented backgrounds and appropriate EDI-related training for decision makers, transparent reporting and investigation processes, and trialling alternative models of research groups with flatter structures.

There’s a blog on Wonkhe by Grace Gottlieb, co-author, excerpt:  A recurring theme in the interviews was the importance of broadening what we value in research. There’s a growing appetite to recognise the rich variety of contributions that individuals make to the research endeavour – hiring, promotion, and grant criteria are a good place to start. The Principal Investigator who puts supporting colleagues before publishing papers deserves recognition. The PhD student who has ideas for how to make the institution work better should be listened to. The postdoc who gains experience in another sector should be celebrated.

Amanda Solloway, minister for science, research and innovation, welcomed the new report, saying:

  • R&D will be crucial to helping the UK build back better after the effects of the pandemic and in building a bolder and brighter future for everyone. Therefore, it is vital that those seeking rewarding careers in working on the most important global challenges, feel empowered and enthusiastic about doing so.
  • The government has made R&D a key priority and as part of the R&D Roadmap committed to developing a People and Culture strategy that will look to ensure the UK is the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and innovators.
  • That is why I am really pleased to see the Russell Group are taking steps to look at how we create conditions for researchers to thrive, to collaborate, and to succeed – making sure the UK continues to lead the world in research and innovation.

Research Professional explore the Russell Group report. The article is worth a quick peruse. Snippet: …it seems to bear little resemblance to the lived reality of being a precariously employed researcher in the fiercely competitive environment of a research-intensive university, beset by the need to publish and capture grant income, create impact and keep ahead of the paperwork, while simultaneously seeking long-term career opportunities driven by cycles of the Research Excellence Framework..

Appointments

  • Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has announced the appointment of Indro Mukerjee as the new CEO of Innovate UK. Mukerjee is described as “a highly experienced technology executive and business leader with a track record of leading innovation and technology commercialisation at businesses of all sizes across the world – from publicly listed and multinational corporations to new venture and private equity backed technology companies. He will take up the post immediately and will be tasked with transitioning Innovate UK from a grant funding body to an agency focused on driving economic growth by working with companies to de-risk, enable and support innovation, while unleashing private sector investment into research and development. As part of this, he will develop and implement strategies for investments that promote the UK as a global leader in R&D and technologies of the future, while cementing the UK’s place as a global science superpower. More info and a biography is available in the Government’s press release.
  • Chris Grigg has been appointed as Chair of the new UK Infrastructure Bank, which will launch in an interim form on 17 May 2021. Grigg will lead the Bank’s board and set the strategic direction of the organisation during an initial three-year term. The UK Infrastructure Bank (UKIB) – headquartered in Leeds – will receive an initial £12 billion of capital and £10 billion of government guarantees, which will enable it to unlock more than £40 billion of financing for key projects across the UK. It will prioritise investment in projects that help tackle climate change to help the UK to meet its net zero target by 2050, and level up the country by supporting regional and local economic growth.
  • The Prime Minister appointed Lord Browne of Madingley to the Council for Science and Technology (CST) as its new independent Co-Chair. The CST is the government’s highest-level advisory body on science and technology, advising on issues that cut across the full range of the government’s responsibilities. Members of the council are leading figures in the science and technology community, including representation from academia and key high-tech businesses. Presidents from the national academies and the Chief Executive of UKRI participate as ex-officio members. Lord Browne will co-chair the council alongside the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
  • Dr Alison Cave joins the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as Chief Safety Officer. Alison is a pharmacologist with a PhD in biochemistry. Her long career includes significant academic and regulatory experience, the latter initially at the Medicines Control Agency and then in senior roles within the Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicine Group at the MHRA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Most recently she was an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Director at UK Research and Innovation.
  • Professor Trevor McMillian, Vice-Chancellor of Keele University, has been announced as the new chair of Midlands Innovation (MI). MI is a partnership of eight of the region’s research-intensive universities that collaborate on research, development and innovation.

ARIA – The Public Bill Committee finished its scrutiny of the ARIA Bill and has reported without amendment. The Bill will be carried over into the next Session of Parliament.

Admissions

PQA: the Department for Education consultation closes this week and we preparing to submit our response.

Exams – Ofqual confirmed that students who receive a teacher assessed grade this summer will be eligible to take GCSE, AS or A level exams in the same subject in autumn 2021.

  • exam boards will have to offer exams in all GCSE and A level subjects and AS exams in biology, chemistry, further maths, maths and physics; exam boards will be able to offer AS exams in other subjects if they wish exams will be in their normal format, with no adaptations made
  • grades will be determined by a student’s performance in an exam for all subjects, except for art and design qualifications
  • AS and A level exams will be held in October, while GCSE exams will take place in November
  • For Vocational and Technical and Other General Qualifications Ofqual has confirmed the details of the framework, which will require awarding organisations that normally provide assessment opportunities between September and January, to make those assessments available to learners who were eligible to receive a result through a teacher assessed grade if they wish to improve on it.
  • as assessments, progression and grades (including requests for additional consideration).

And another blog: Wonkhe: Demand for higher education is up. But with so much uncertainty surrounding this year’s exam cycle, how can universities select students in a way that’s fair? Mark Corver runs the numbers.

Work Experience

Luminate & Prospects published the Early Careers Survey 2021: Work Experience During a Crisis  report highlighting that work experience has been scarce during the pandemic and students undertaking opportunities are more likely to have been unpaid and worked in person.

  • Since a quarter of students lost their work experience opportunity as a result of the pandemic, just 17% of students have undertaken work experience in the last year.
  • University students said that the biggest barrier to finding work has been having the required work experience for the vacancies they were interested in.
  • Internships were most likely to have been face-to-face (44%) while 21% were blended (virtual and in person) and 35% solely online.
  • Nearly two-thirds (59%) of students said they had not been paid for their work experience with 83% of sixth form/college students working unpaid compared to 52% of university students. Female and BAME students were more likely to work unpaid.
  • More than half (51%) of unpaid work experience lasted for at least four weeks and one in six worked without pay for more than six months.
  • Students are being asked to work for longer lengths of time without pay. Sixty two per cent of university students worked unpaid for more than four weeks in 2020/21 compared to 41% in the 2018 survey. The trend was similar in the sixth form/college group with 27% compared to 18% in 2018.
  • Despite the majority of students finding work experience useful for developing skills, how programmes are delivered, the duration and whether they are paid have an impact on how much value students get out of them with paid, face-to-face opportunities the most useful. Generally, the longer a student spends on a programme the more value they deem it to be for developing skills.

Research Professional give a more detailed description on the report.

  • Surprisingly, despite the pandemic and despite many employers moving online, when students did manage to secure work experience, much of it was face to face. This was particularly true for first-generation students: 43 per cent of these students worked in person, compared with only 36 per cent of those with two graduate parents—a finding that the report suggests could be to do with digital poverty.
  • But what really concerned the report’s authors was that most work experience was unpaid. This was true for 52 per cent of university students who responded and was particularly the case for women and students from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.
  • Comparing the data with stats from 2018 also suggests that students are being asked to work for longer periods without pay. Some 62 per cent of university students worked unpaid for more than four weeks in 2020-21, compared with 41 per cent in the 2018 survey. One in six students worked unpaid for more than six months.
  • As the report points out, this raises ethical and legal questions about asking young people to work for free (particularly face to face during a pandemic), as well as concerns about fairness. When work experience opportunities are particularly hard to come by and particularly important for a graduate jobs market that looks likely to be tighter than ever, should they really be open only to those able to work for free?
  • It is especially worrying since students from low-income backgrounds are also less likely to take part in other extracurricular activities that are seen as helpful for boosting employability, as two reports from the social mobility charity the Sutton Trust revealed earlier this year. The charity called on universities to offer bursaries to fund work experience and offer more employability skills as part of their courses.
  • Pressure on universities to do more in this area is likely to increase as attention turns from online learning to what students have missed out on more broadly and how to make it up to them—and deter them from demanding refunds as they make the kind of links between their higher education experience and job and salary prospects that this government has long encouraged.

Research Professional continue by exploring what employers value:

  • …another piece of research on work experience—with a smaller sample size—published by Prospects and carried out by the University of Edinburgh’s careers service.
  • This found that employers valued long-term and varied extracurricular activities and cited work experience as one of the most important factors in recruiting, while students reported that their work experience had enabled them to test out different work environments and to clarify their personal values and career aspirations. The past year will have lessened these benefits for both sides.
  • But the report also found that employers valued creativity, problem solving and critical thinking, and they cited self-management, flexibility and resilience as key attributes. In many cases, these attributes will have been strengthened rather than weakened by the challenging year just gone. Crucially, though, the report identified the importance for students of reflecting upon what they had learned from their experiences.
  • It may be that universities could help mitigate some of the losses in opportunities that students have had this year by developing ways for them to reflect on the different experiences they have had during the pandemic.

A parliamentary question on graduate career support: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce an employment support scheme for recent university graduates.

Access & Participation

The Equality Hub has begun recruitment for the new Chair of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC). The interim co-chairs, Sandra Wallace and Steven Cooper, will cease their cover role by October 2021 at the latest. The chair will lead the SMC in promoting social mobility both within and outside Government, oversee work to strengthen the evidence base and improve public understanding of how opportunity is created and made accessible to all. We can expect an announcement on the appointment of the new chair by the summer.

Catch up: Figures released in response to Parliamentary questions reveal that just 93,000 pupils across England have started to receive tutoring under the Government’s catch up programme (equivalent to just 1% of school pupils). Among those eligible for pupil premium, who are most likely to have struggled to learn remotely during lockdown, 41,850 are receiving tutoring – equivalent to just 2% of those eligible for pupil premium. The figures also show that just one in 8,277 pupils are being supported by an academic mentor under the scheme, with mentor support so far reaching just 23,000 children.

International

Colleagues with an eye on the international situation may wish to follow the APPG for International Students meeting next Wednesday, 12 May.

Graham Stuart MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade, and the Minister responsible for the International Education Strategy, will update the APPG on the Government’s progress

HEPI

You can read the latest HEPI blogs here, or follow the selected links below:

Student Loan Overpayments

The Guardian reports that the Student Loans Company is sitting on more than £18m in overpayments by nearly 60,000 graduates and other former students since 2015. The SLC has said it cannot make refunds without correct contact details. But the Higher Education Policy Institute says responsibility to avoid overpayment should not fall on graduates.

The short version is that SLC rely on graduates to repay by direct debit in the final stages of repayment, otherwise they overpay. Once overpaid the SLC struggle to reach the graduate to repay the sum as contact information is out of date.

Research Professional provide the in depth version:

  • Thousands of graduates are still owed millions of pounds after overpaying their student loans…Overpaying is one thing…The scandal, though, is that so much of the overpaid money has not been refunded to its rightful owner.
  • Two years ago, Research Professional News revealed the extent of the problem in England. According to data we eventually obtained on appeal after our initial freedom of information request had been rejected, more than £28 million in overpaid student loans had accumulated in government bank accounts between 2009 and 2018, unclaimed by its rightful owners.
  • Our investigation was followed by two years of reform at the SLC—including the launch of an online repayment service designed to make it easier for customers to manage their student loan and to help avoid over-repayment. So have the changes worked? The short answer is probably ‘sort of’. But there is still much to do. 
  • in the two years since our last investigation, a further £5.45m in unclaimed overpayments has amassed in government bank accounts. This is not exactly what success looks like. …What the data tell us is that the SLC has steadily improved in terms of the amount it is collecting in overpayments per person. For example, the 26,840 people who are owed a refund after overpaying in 2019-20 are due an average of £78. In contrast, the 7,650 people who have had unclaimed overpayments resting in government accounts since 2015-16 are owed an average of £671 each. The average amount owed declines each year for which we have information.
  • The unfortunate reality is that many people will never be reunited with their money. For example, two years ago, our figures showed there was £6.3m in unrefunded overpayments made in the year 2015-16. This year’s data show that £5.1m—or 81 per cent—of that money remains unclaimed. 
  • Likewise, data from two years ago showed that £5.9m of overpayments made in 2016-17 had not been refunded. That amount is now down to £4.4m—meaning that three-quarters of the money from 2016-17 that lay unclaimed in 2019 is still sitting in government bank accounts. 
  • Clearly, all of this money is not going to be returned to its owners. Because loans can take years to pay off, and the overpayments are taken at the end of the repayment process, the SLC simply does not know how to get in touch with the people owed the money. Say it takes 15 years to repay a loan. How often did you change your home address, email address and phone number in the 15 years after you graduated? Did you tell the SLC each time? 
  • A spokesman for the SLC told Playbook that improvements made in the past two years had “resulted in a 38 per cent drop in the amount over-repaid since 2018”. He added that the SLC was contacting “every customer two years prior to the end of their loan [to] urge them to switch their repayments to direct debit during this period”, which reduces the risk of overpayment.  
  • “In addition, we now automatically refund customers, and last year we automatically refunded £3.5m, but we can only do so if we hold up-to-date contact information,” the spokesman added.

Covid

The Office for National Statistics have published the latest experimental statistics from the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey which explores the pandemic impact on HE students. This data relates to the period 15 April to 22 April 2021.

  • The proportion of students who reported reducing the number of people they met with statistically significantly decreased from 94% in March 2021 to 56% in April 2021; as lockdown restrictions had been eased in England.
  • More students left their accommodation to go to the shops for something other than groceries or the pharmacy (61%), to spend time outdoors for recreational purposes or exercise (81%), to travel to different areas (34%) and to study indoors (27%) compared with previous months
  • Average life satisfaction scores among students continued to improve, increasing from 5.2 (out of 10) in March 2021 to 5.8 in April 2021; however average scores still remained statistically significantly lower than the adult population in Great Britain (6.9 out of 10).
  • The proportion of students reporting a worsening in their mental health and well-being since the start of the autumn term 2020 continued to fall, decreasing from 63% in March 2021 to just over half (53%) in April 2021.
  • The proportion of students reporting feeling lonely decreased to 22% in April 2021; however, this is still greater than the 6% of the adult population in Great Britain reporting the same over a similar period.
  • Almost half of students (48%) reported they had met up with family or friends they don’t live with indoors; this was more than double who reported the same in March 2021 (21%).
  • The proportion of students who were living at the same address as they were at the start of the autumn term 2020 increased from 76% in March 2021 to 82% in April 2021; the number of students who said they were currently living with their parents dropped between March 2021 (41%) and April 2021 (36%).

Student Complaints

The Independent Adjudicator for HE published their annual report on student complaints.

Complaint numbers and outcomes

  • Received 2,604 new complaints in 2020, 10% more than in 2019 (2,371) and their highest ever number.
  • Closed more than 75% of cases within six months of receipt.
  • In total, 25% of cases were justified (5%), partly justified (10%), or settled in favour of the student (10%). This is slightly higher than in recent years.
  • The remaining 75% of cases were either not justified (42%), not eligible (19%) or withdrawn (14%).
  • In addition to the practical remedies recommended, the OIA made Recommendations or settled cases with financial remedies totalling £742,132.
  • They also made Recommendations totalling £264,142 on complaints arising from the closure of GSM London, which are recorded separately. The highest single amount recommended was just over £30,500.

Complaints received by domicile

  • 67% were from Home students and 9% were from EU students
  • 24% were from non-EU students

Complaints received by level of study

  • 56% were from Undergraduates
  • 36% were from Postgraduates and 7% were from PhD students
  • Despite PG and PhD students making up 25% of the student population, they accounted for 43% of complaints

Nature of complaints

  • Complaints about service issues increased significantly (43% of complaints received compared with 29% in 2019) – these related to issues such as facilities, course delivery, teaching hours and research supervision, and included complaints about disruption caused by industrial action and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Received fewer complaints about academic appeals (33% compared with 48% in 2019). This is likely to be largely due to the use of “no detriment” or safety net policies during the pandemic. This category includes complaints about academic matters such

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

Mature students: Advance HE published the article What mature-age students need from online higher education it has an Australian focus so we’ve not included the statistics here but it is worth a very quick read.

EPI comparison: EPI research A comparison of school institutions and policies across the UK compares schools policies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, analysing major changes since devolution.

  • School spending per pupil is currently greatest in Scotland (£7,300), followed by England and Wales (£6,100), and Northern Ireland (£5,800) – with Scotland’s higher level driven by a recent boost to teacher pay.
  • England has the highest level of funding for disadvantaged pupils of the UK nations through its Pupil Premium policy.
  • Schools with more disadvantaged pupils in Wales are most likely to struggle with resources.
  • Pupil-teacher ratios are lowest in Scotland, at just 16 pupils to every one primary teacher, compared to 21 pupils per primary teacher in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • While in theory schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have more power to shape their own curriculum with less government involvement, in practice schools in England report the least government involvement.
  • Devolution has generated significant benefits for the UK nations – but researchers warn the continued divergence also presents challenges for comparing education systems, and could put pupils moving between countries at a disadvantage.  

Changing health: Future Health report How the healthcare sector can support the UK economic recovery has a series of recommendations on how the Government should shift the healthcare policy environment post-Covid. The recommendations have implications for R&D investment, skills and apprenticeships.

  • The Covid vaccine development and rollout is testament to the strong UK life sciences and health innovation base built up over successive Governments.
  • Recommendation 1: The Government should refresh the life sciences strategy post Covid and Brexit to set out an ambitious, co-ordinated future healthcare and life science sector strategy to attract inward investment, growth and jobs to the UK
  • Recommendation 2: The Government should explore expanding and reforming R&D tax credits to ensure that the UK remains competitive with other global markets in life sciences
  • Recommendation 3: The Government should increase the national proportions of R&D investment in centres of healthcare research excellence across the UK; seeing these centres as hubs for regional growth and playing a central role in levelling up. It should also look at incentives to attract private sector investment into the UK’s regions that supports the healthcare sector
  • Recommendation 4: Government should set ambitions within accountability frameworks for public services to demonstrate an active role in the delivery of economic growth in their areas
  • Recommendation 5: The Government should run a well-funded ‘Armed Forces style’ campaign to inform and encourage people into the full range of healthcare sector careers. The NHS should be able to hold the apprenticeship levy at a regional level to invest flexibly in apprenticeships, skills and training opportunities for healthcare sector staff
  • Recommendation 6: The Government should utilise the new ONS Health Index to set targets for delivering on its ambitions for improving healthy life expectancy
  • Recommendation 7: Central funds assigned for ‘levelling up’ should include a role for the healthcare sector and have an ambition to improve the nation’s health and reduce regional health disparities
  • Recommendation 8: Changes to Public Health England should be used to create a co-ordinated and dynamic health and wealth agenda within Government that seeks to unlock the potential of the healthcare sector to drive economic growth and reduce population health inequalities

Schools: Education Minister responds to Petitions Committee request for more information on diversity in the curriculum

Online: Times Higher has a collection on safe and ethical online teaching offers advice on responsible data handling and learning analytics as well as on ensuring respectful conduct online and providing help to students from a distance. And a contribution from BU’s Andy Phippen on why cybersecurity should be taught across universities.

Tender success: Research Professional report that the firm owned by the peer embroiled in Boris Johnson’s flat redecoration row won a Student Loans Company tender.

Civic Universities: Research Professional – how to spot a civic university.

Quack: And if you’ve had ‘one of those weeks’ here’s a story about a HE big duck.

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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 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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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 21st January 2021

After a long wait the sector received a landslide of HE policy interventions on Thursday. The FE Skills White paper, PQA consultation, the Government’s take on Augar, publication of the Pearce TEF review with the DfE’s response, and significant changes to the HE recurrent grant, alongside some far less exciting stuff! And it wasn’t a quiet week before all that.

Some of it is good, some of it is very ominous indeed.  Some of it is very high level and vague and so could go either way.  There are a lot of new consultations to come and there will be lots to talk about in 2021.  It will keep Sarah and I busy!

Boil that kettle, locate your reading glasses, and get comfy on the sofa ready to enjoy a bumper policy update!

Skills White Paper

This is the biggy because it’s a White Paper,  However, most of it is not about HE. The Government has published the Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth white paper setting out their ambition for reform to the post-19 technical education and training landscape.

Gavin Williamson spoke in the House of Commons (see this link at 13:08 pm)

  • White paper on skills for job published today (see below)
  • Enormous challenges ahead to rebuild the economy. Support packages already announced (etc).  Strong and independent trading nation (etc).
  • Lifetime skills guarantee, flexible digital skills bootcamps (etc).
  • April – kick start Higher Technical Education by making it easy to get a loan. Pilots on modular learning.  Lifelong loan entitlement running from 2025.
  • Employers at the centre of technical education. Supporting local economy.  German style local skills improvement plans led by Chambers of Commerce. Strategic development funding for FE.
  • New courses – trailblazer areas this year. Fund of £65m in 2021-22.
  • $1.5bn of capital funding for FE. Announced next phase for FE and T-levels.
  • Longer term – more coherent longer term funding model that will collaborate on with the sector. Principles of high value, greater flexibility and greater accountability.  By 2030 nearly all technical courses will follow employer led requirements.
  • Continue with apprenticeships and T-levels.
  • Network of Institutes of Technology will expand across the country.
  • Top quality teaching staff in FE – recruitment campaign, more support etc, training and development and industry experience.

We’ve done a separate 6 page summary for BU readers, because it’s long (and repetitive and full of the usual patting on the back about other good things already announced).

RP say (amongst many other things):

  • It’s almost as if there is a good news story to be told about further education, while the government hopes its lack of decision-making on higher education falls off the news agenda…
  • It’s actually called the Skills for Jobs white paper, which in fact takes the story away from underfunded further education and pivots towards post-Covid economic recovery. You will have seen much of the content before.
  • …So modular funding is on its way, but 2025 is a long way off—that takes us into the next parliament. Perhaps the Treasury has costed the commitment and decided to kick that particular can down the road.
  • The Skills for Jobs white paper… will seek to justify both disinvestment in higher education and funding of technical education on the cheap. It will play to the prejudices of the Conservative base and the idea that too many people are going to university and that decades of regional inequality can be resolved by more plumbing courses at local further education colleges.

From Dods: The Department says that the measures announced today “will put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job, and that further and technical education is the second-class option.”

The White Paper is being pitched as forming part of the Plan for Jobs

  • As expected, the Paper enshrines the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, providing a clearer idea of what the programme looks like in practice – adults without a full level 3 qualification (A-level equivalent) to gain one from April 2021 for free in a range of sectors including engineering, health and accountancy.
  • The long-touted Lifelong Loan Entitlement is also fleshed out in more detail, representing significant reforms to student finance. [Actually, there is very little detail and there is going to be a consultation on this “in early 2021”.]

Measures include:

  • The Government is investing £1.5bn in further education colleges, to allow for high quality buildings and facilities
  • Employers will have a central role in designing “almost all” technical courses by 2030, to ensure education and training reflects the skills needed in the job market, supported by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education
  • Business groups, including Chambers of Commerce, will work alongside colleges to develop tailored skills plans“to meet local training needs”
  • This will be supported by a £65m Strategic Development Fund to put said plans into action, and establish new College Business Centre
  • New approved qualifications from September 2022, supported by a Government-backed brand and quality mark, to boost the quality and uptake of Higher Technical Qualifications(levels 4 and 5)
  • From 2025, people can access flexible student finance so they can train and retrain throughout their lives, supported by funding in 21/22 to test ways to boost access to more modular and flexible learning.
  • Nationwide recruitment campaign to get more teachers into further education and supporting professional development including a new Workforce Industry Exchange Programme
  • An “overhaul” of the funding and accountability rules, so funding is better targeted at supporting high-quality education and training that meets the needs of employers
  • An introduction of new powers to intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve, and strengthening of Education Secretary’s powers to intervene in corporations and local areas with persistent weaknesses.  [The sales pitch on this is a good bit of spin, it is presented as an opportunity to have a strategic discussion with the department and pitch the strengths of the college, but….]

The next phase of the FE Capital Transformation Fund has also been launched today, and further education colleges across the country are invited to bid for funding to upgrade buildings and campuses.

The Augar report stressed the need for impartial and quality careers advice and guidance, so more people can be support to make the right education, training and career choices. There will be an expansion of Careers Hubs and other infrastructure in line with the Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance. Furthermore, Dods tell us that, as part of the Skills White Paper reforms, Professor Sir John Holman has been appointed as Independent Strategic Advisor on Careers Guidance, and will oversee the local and national alignment between The Careers & Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service. Sir Holman is currently an Emeritus Professor in Science Education at the University of York, and is also Senior Adviser to both the Gatsby Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

RP continue:

  • The Department for Education says: “The measures announced today will put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job, and that further and technical education is the second-class option. Instead, they will supercharge further and technical education, realigning the whole system around the needs of employers, so that people are trained for the skills gaps that exist now, and in the future, in sectors the economy needs, including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing.”
  • The government may be hoping that first sentence becomes true; it surely knows that the second sentence lacks credibility. The white paper proposals are accompanied by a £65 million Strategic Development Fund to put the plan into action and to “establish new College Business Centres to drive innovation and enhanced collaboration with employers”.
  • To put that in context, the much-mocked Turing one-way exchange scheme has a budget of £100m, which is a reduction by nearly half of its Erasmus predecessor. The £65m fund is not going to reverse decades of underinvestment in skills, while College Business Centres sound like a classic ministerial vanity project doomed to irrelevance when their limited funding dries up.
  • There is going to be a lot of that sort of thing today, including the Workforce Industry Exchange Programme, aimed at coaxing talented individuals to teach in further education. It is not thought to involve basic incentives such as a competitive salary or security of employment.

RP also pick apart the percentage comparisons in the DfE’s criticism of the sector.

Wonkhe did a special email update at lunchtime: Debbie McVitty runs through the highlights so that you don’t have to.

On the proposals for funding lifelong learning, Debbie says: If the government can crack this policy Holy Grail, it will have a genuine claim to having radically transformed post-compulsory education. But this white paper marks an intention to start developing the answers rather than concrete proposals. 

Commenting on the government’s interim response to the post-18 review of education and funding, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘An increased focus on lifelong learning will help develop the highly skilled graduate workforce needed to support our economy, nationally, regionally and locally. The OfS plans to work with students, the sector and employers to explore how higher education can be made more attractive and responsive to mature learners, and ensure that mature students are aware of the breadth of options available to them in both further and higher education.
  • ‘The focus on quality and the need to tackle poor quality provision is a strategic priority for the OfS as we consult on new proposals to enable us to anticipate and respond to poor quality, while ensuring that our approach is proportionate and targeted where it is needed.’

Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Committee:

  • “The proposals from the prime minister and department for education mark a sea-change in government thinking on skills.
  • “It will help address our skills deficit by boosting the accessibility of technical qualifications alongside the lifetime skills guarantee. It meets the needs of businesses in building an employed-led system, working with FE, to design employer qualifications and ensure funding follows employer requirements. It will give those from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to climb the skills ladder of opportunity, through the skills guarantee and easier access to finance. It is good that new funding will be made available in areas where colleges work with employers to transform their skills offering.
  • “‘Build back better’ clearly means building back a skills nation. I am really excited by these plans.”

Policy Exchange blog – Alun Francis and Andy Westwood preview the forthcoming FE White Paper.

There are some relevant blogs on HEPI:

Research

Academic spinouts: Wonkhe review: The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub has published a report on academic spinouts. Just four universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and UCL – account for a third of UK spinout companies, with all such companies raising £1.30 billion in investment in 2018. While the impact of the pandemic is not yet fully known, indications point to increased investment in spinouts dealing with medical technology and pharmaceuticals. The Scotsman has the story.

Parliamentary Question: The potential merits of extending funding for all PhD students who have faced disruption as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.

Changes to HE Teaching Grant

So alongside all of this it is not surprising that we see some “rebalancing” in funding away from HE.  And given that “low value” courses have been a focus for some time, it is not surprising to see how this has gone.

Gavin Williamson spoke in the House of Commons (see this link at 13:08 pm)

  • Proposed reform to teaching grant will allocate funding to deliver value for money for students and the taxpayer. Strategic priorities.  Engineering and medicine.  Will “slash” taxpayer funding for subjects such as media studies.
  • Will provide additional support for specialist arts institutions.
  • Will consult on introduction of minimum entry requirements and addressing the high cost of foundation years. We cover this in more detail with the rest of the Augar content below, the minimum entry requirements bit is a cost saving measure, of course.
  • Full response on Augar and post-18 review with next spending review (well maybe).

There’s more (a lot more) in the response to Augar, which we cover below, but let’s get down to brass tacks and immediate changes to 2021/22 funding first.

Gavin Williamson has written to the OfS to set out new guidance for the allocation of the £1.48 billion HE teaching grant for the 2021/22 financial year.

  • Strategic reprioritisation of high-cost funding towards the provision of high-cost, high-value subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy, high-cost STEM subjects and/or specific labour market needs, reducing funding initially by 50% for high-cost subjects that do not support these priorities (with further decreases in subsequent years).
  • Remove weightings for London providers from across the T-Grant, including the students attending courses in London supplement, and weightings within the student premiums. (This saves the Government £64 million.)
  • Allocate £5m to providers in order to provide additional support for student hardshipThis is to mitigate the rise in student hardship due to pandemic impacts on the labour market which particularly affect, for example, students relying on work to fund their studies, students whose parents have lost income and students who are parents and whose partner’s income has been affected. The OfS should establish exactly how this is distributed but the funding should be clearly targeted towards disadvantaged students. The £5m will be a drop in the ocean across the national provider base but provide another support statistic for the Government to trot out when asked how they are addressing the issue.
  • Allocate £15m to help address the challenges to student mental health posed by the transition to university, given the increasing demand for mental health services. OfS to establish how to target those students in greatest need of such services, but likely through a Challenge Competition.
  • Protect the £256m allocation for the student premiums to support disadvantaged students and those that need additional help [yes, that £256m]
  • Reduce the allocation for Uni Connect to £40m (losing £20m). With the lost £20m redirected towards mental health and student hardship (as per the bullet points above) – so it’s not really new money, more robbing Peter to pay Paul.
    Back to Uni Connect – the letter says: Funding for Uni Connect was originally agreed until July 2021, and so this is an appropriate moment to consider the scope and objectives of the programme. We welcome the current [OFS] consultation on the future of the Uni Connect programme… we believe that future investment is best directed to support the core infrastructure of partnerships, and funding targeted activities to fulfil specific policy objectives.
  • Increase funding for specialist providers, particularly those who are world leading and specialise in the performing and creative arts, by approximately £10m to £53m. This will help to support and/or expand the provision at those providers best equipped to secure positive outcomes for graduates, boosting outcomes for the sector. Note the wording there – positive outcomes, boosting outcomes…so specialist providers without the right metrics might be disappointed! Again the OfS is to decide who is eligible.
  • Deliver capital funding to providers through a strategically targeted bidding process and target funds at specific projects and activities aligned with the high-quality, skills-based education agenda – not the old formula model (because: The extent to which we can assure ourselves that funding is adding value and investment is focussed on key government priorities is, therefore, limited.) Jisc and HESA’s Data Futures Programme can still be supported too.
  • If you are willing to delve far enough you’ll spot that Annex C allocates £28 million for Turing outward mobility in 2021/22 from the teaching grant.

The letter also instructs OfS to consult with the HE sector given the impact on the HE sector anticipated from the proposed changes. With all the other special allocations to iron out and their regular workload the OfS will be busy!

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said about the Department for Education’s statutory guidance for the OfS’s approach to funding:

  • ‘Distributing funding is an important part of our regulatory work. Our annual grant funding for universities and colleges plays a critical role in ensuring the availability to students of high quality, cost-effective higher education across the country. We intend to consult on the government’s proposed changes to how we distribute this funding, and have written today to universities outlining our proposals for consultations and a revised schedule for distributing next year’s grant allocations.’

Wonkhe: Gavin Williamson has set out his strategic priorities again to OfS including changes to the teaching grant that will hit London universities the hardest.

HEPI also has a blog piece on the case for the Office for Students to be a strong regulator, working closely with universities and sector bodies.

Post-18 Review of Post-18 Education and Funding and interim response to the Augar report

The Augar report from 2019 has been gathering dust for a long time following the (2018) Post-18 Review of Education and Funding (one of  Jo Johnson’s legacies). The Augar Review made 53 recommendations for the reform of the FE & HE sectors including a more coherent unified post-18 system.   You might want to look back at what Augar actually said (way back in May 2019).

The Government’s response to Augar has been long promised and many times shifted further down the road due to elections, Brexit, the pandemic, and the further postponement of the comprehensive spending review.

While the sector may approach the Government’s response to Augar with both anticipation and trepidation – alongside a healthy dose of just tell us! – it seems we’ll still have to wait for the real decisions. The DfE’s interim conclusion of Augar has been released, the main points are below. Much is inextricably tied in with the Skills white paper and FE decisions. The Government also plan to consult on further reforms to the system in spring 2021, before setting out their full response. The full conclusion of the review is promised to sit alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review. Augar: the sequel, we can’t wait!

  • The TEF will continue to play an important role in driving improvement in HE provision. The OfS will consult on a more, streamlined, improved, low-burden TEF exercise, and in an aim to reduce bureaucracy, the Government will not be introducing subject-level TEF. There is a lot more on the TEF below.
  • The Government are considering further reforms for tackling ‘low quality provision’ and will set out a response in due course.
  • The report highlighted the significant taxpayer subsidy in the HE student finance system. The Government intend to freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control, initially for one year, with consideration of further changes before the next Comprehensive Spending Review. It appear the reduction in the fee cap to £7,500 may still be on the table.

Wonkhe have a blog: editor in chief Mark Leach argues that the government’s chronic failure to resolve the Augar recommendations on reducing home undergraduate fees is storing up serious problems for later this year – Holding the threat of reducing fees over the sector will not help universities or students. 

Research Professional (writing before the response was officially released): What will be presented as an interim response to Philip Augar’s review of post-18 education and funding will be little more than a holding position, with all the big financial decisions put on hold until the comprehensive spending review…It is also, no doubt, a way of putting pressure on universities so that the government gets its way on other policy priorities, such as low-value courses. Time will tell whether these interim findings will be a sword of Damocles held over universities or part of a process by which the Augar review is finally put out to pasture.

Autumn 2021 is the earliest the next CSR is likely to take place.

Some extracts from the response – but at 13 pages it is worth reading in full:

  • The Government’s focus on the response to the coronavirus pandemic means that now is not the right time to conclude the review in full. However, we remain committed to introducing further reforms that will ensure a just and financially sustainable student finance system, drive up the quality of higher educa