Tagged / free speech

HE policy update No 7: 18th March 2024

This week’s update looks at some ministerial statements, what the OfS has learned from its funded project son mental health and wellbeing, employability and what works, a look at foundation years, who does them, and the outcomes, more on international students and the review of the post-graduate work visa, and the OfS are taking a fresh look at grant funding for universities.

The outlook for research at UK universities

Research Professional held an event recently and had some interesting speakers.  They report on a speech by Jessica Corner, the executive chair of Research England:

  • “It may be that our research and innovation system is beginning to contract a little bit,” Corner told delegates, having spoken about expectations that the sector is likely to be “entering into a more financially constrained few years”.
  • She said that analysis by UK Research and Innovation, the parent agency of Research England, had shown that the higher education sector is contributing around £5 billion a year to UK research, “which makes universities actually one of the biggest funders of research overall”.
  • With data suggesting falling numbers of international students, whose fees provide crucial financial support for universities, “there will be less to cover research”, Corner suggested….
  • Corner suggested that if the UK’s research sector does contract in scale, “that doesn’t mean to say it’s necessarily contracting in what it delivers”. She said that the opportunity offered by artificial intelligence to boost productivity is “huge”. “We need to carry on with the investment that we’ve got, but we’re going to have to be very smart with it,” she said.

At the same event the Science Minister, Andrew Griffith, spoke and amongst other things he addressed the funding point and also suggested that the new UKRI head, when Ottoline Leyser stands down in June 2025, may be from industry rather than the sector

  • Griffith said he wanted “true diversity, meaning the widest range of backgrounds and experiences”. He said new leadership “could well be from inside the sector, but also they could be from the top of the business world, or someone who has come from a professional services organisation”.
  • Griffith’s predecessor as science minister, George Freeman, has also recently told Research Professional News that new UKRI leadership “cannot just be traditional academic administration” and that there should be “a more business-like, more focused, accountable, output-orientated delivery culture in UKRI”…
  • The science minister was also asked about comments made by Donelan at the Lords committee that ministers do not think there is a crisis in university funding. Griffith said “we overuse the word crisis” and that universities are not alone in facing a period of “really intense macro change” affecting many countries. “We should expect that we are going to have some challenges to work through some of that,” he said.
  • Griffith was vocal about the importance of the UK higher education sector and that the “recipe for success must begin with our universities”, which are an “absolute magnet for the very best in global talent”. “We are, as far as I can possibly tell, the most open and diverse country on the planet in that respect,” he said.
  • Asked about how the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is engaging with the Home Office about widespread sector concerns about changes to the UK immigration system, Griffith said this was being done “diligently”. He also said the UK must not “talk ourselves down” in terms of attractiveness to international talent, in order to prevent a “self-fulfilling prophecy, which would help nobody”.

Employability

Wonkhe has a blog on work-related experiences that is worth a read with some ideas that can sit alongside placements as a way of building work-relevant experience into courses, especially given the practical difficulties with placements that arise for some students and some sectors.  Ideas include:

  • More integration between employers and universities throughout the curriculum
  • Using university technical services to develop hands on learning on campus
  • Ensuring “work-like experience” in the curriculum and finding a different way of talking about what we already do in terms of employment and employer based learning so that students realise what they are getting and its value
  • Recognising the wider benefits beyond employability through projects in partnership with employers
  • Acknowledging the practical issues and supporting access to opportunities
  • Leaning into virtual experiences
  • Putting the resources in to support delivery

And while we are on the theme of placements, the OIA has published some notes on cases they have heard.  There are a lot of good points in here, some are summarised here.

  • Whatever the context of the placement, it’s important that students are given clear and accurate information about it. Students need to know what’s expected of them and where and how to access support while they’re on placement. It’s also important that providers have processes in place to respond when things go wrong.
  • Providers will sometimes need to work with placement organisations outside of the local area.
    • It’s important to manage students’ expectations about the possible location of their placement, for example by explaining what the provider considers to be a reasonable time and/or distance to travel.
    • For some students there will be considerations to take into account when deciding where to place them, for example accessibility needs, caring responsibilities or transport considerations that might make commuting to a placement more difficult.
    • Providers can usefully signpost students to any sources of financial support, either at the provider or elsewhere, that may be available to help with any costs associated with the placement. Where it’s not possible to offer a placement within the expected area, the provider may want to consider whether it would be reasonable to support the student with any additional expenses they may incur as a result of being offered an out of area placement.
    • It’s also important to tell students in good time what placement they have been allocated so that they have time to make any arrangements they may need to.
  • It’s important that students know in advance where they can go for advice and support whilst on placement.
    • It is good practice for providers to ensure that students have a named staff member at the provider that they can liaise with, as well as a named mentor at the placement organisation.
    • Some students may need additional support during the placement, for example because they are disabled or have caring responsibilities. The provider should explore in advance how those support needs might be met, and whether the provider or the placement organisation will be responsible for meeting them. …

And much more…

Mental health and wellbeing

The OfS funded a set of projects and they have now been evaluated.  There’s a report and all sorts of analysis, but the one page summary sets out a set of effective practice for addressing barriers to support for a set of target groups and also some conclusions:

  • Co-creation with students is critical for support to strongly align to need.
  • Tailored outreach was the most effective method to reach targeted groups supplemented through ‘snowball’ techniques with students.
  • Describing services with positive framing and avoiding over medicalised descriptions in language tailored to targeted audiences was vital.
  • Developing strategic, multi-agency partnerships internal and external to lead institutions is a key enabler of delivery success.
  • Evaluation of delivery should be embedded across all project activities using clear logic model and mixed method approaches to ensure data collected accounted for failure. A designated evaluation lead is key.

Foundation years

The government and the OfS have some concerns about foundation years.  One of the recently published quality assessments by the OfS referred to a provider not ensuring insufficient academic support for foundation year students once they progressed onto the main programme – support should have continued for these students at higher levels.  This article from Wonkhe in October noted that:

  • To be fair, you would imagine that students that struggled at level 3 for reasons other than ability (and thus would be likely FY candidates) would continue to struggle when in higher education for the same reasons – poverty, lack of social capital, other responsibilities – that they had faced previously.

foundation year is not the same as a foundation degree. A foundation year is integrated with an undergraduate course, whereas a foundation degree is a standalone qualification.   We all get a bit confused about how the regulatory conditions apply: continuation is defined as year 1 to year 2: in this case that means foundation year to year 1 undergraduate.  Completion means completion of the undergraduate programme (for foundation year students that means 4 years, without a placement year, 5 with a placement).

You will recall that the government is worried about the cost and value add of foundation years.  The House of Commons library research briefing on student number controls from August 2023 describes the upcoming cap on fees for some foundation years from the 2025/26 academic year: we are awaiting a consultation on the detail of this.

International

After the fuss earlier this year about international students allegedly accessing foundation year courses with lower grades than UK students and in the context of the government priorities on reducing migration, the Home Secretary has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the post-study work visa.

Although the report is not due until May, and recommendations may not be implemented for the start of the 24/25 academic year, this is likely to have a further chilling effect on international recruitment in September.  It is possible though that the government want steps to be taken before the election, the timetable means there will be no time for a call for evidence.

  • Initial data from the MAC annual report shows that the proportion of international students studying at lower tariff institutions has risen to 32% in 2021/22, while the number of [international] postgraduate students attending institutions with the lowest UCAS tariff quartiles has increased by over 250% between 2018 and 2022.
  • We are keen to understand the drivers behind this, including whether it is because people are using these courses as a long-term route to work in the UK. An international student can spend relatively little on fees for a one-year course and gain access to two years with no job requirement on the Graduate route, followed by four years access to a discounted salary threshold on the Skilled Worker route. This means international graduates are able to access the UK labour market with salaries significantly below the requirement imposed on the majority of migrant skilled workers. The Government is already taking steps to change the general salary threshold for the Skilled Worker Visa from £26,200 to £38,700, which will increase the requisite salary in order to switch routes, including with the applied discount.
  • Early data suggests that only 23% of students switching from the Graduate route to the Skilled Worker route in 2023 went into graduate level jobs. In 2023, 32% of international graduates switching into work routes earned a salary above the general threshold at the time (£26,200), with just 16% earning over £30,000 – meaning that the vast majority of those completing the Graduate route go into work earning less than the median wage of other graduates. Initial data shows that the majority of international students switching from the Graduate route into the Skilled Worker route go into care work. This is clearly not what the Government intended in the 2019 Manifesto when it pledged to establish the Graduate route to attract the best and brightest students to study in the UK.

Wonkhe has a piece.

In this context, the QAA has also announced a review of pre-entry courses for international students.

  • This review will compare the admissions requirements between foundation programmes for domestic students and international students, assess the standards of the courses being offered to international students as both foundation programmes and international year one programmes, and assess whether these standards are being achieved and maintained in practice.
  • QAA will publish the findings of this review by the end of Spring 2024.

And if you are not sure what these pathways for international students are or how much they are used, the Nous Group have a report out.

  • In-person delivery at a relevant university campus: this is the most common mode in the UK where many UK universities host a pathway provider building on one of their campuses.
  • In-person delivery at a pathway provider campus in the destination country: some pathway providers have study centres in the country in which students wish to study that are independent of a university campus.
  • In-person delivery at a partner university in the source country: foundation programmes offered by destination universities are often delivered via a partnership with an in-market university.
  • In-person delivery at a study centre partner of a pathway provider in the source country: not all pathway providers deliver education directly. Some partner with study centres across source countries to deliver pathway programmes designed and assessed by the provider.
  • Online delivery via the pathway provider learning platform: the expansion of providers into online delivery was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now multiple providers offer fully online foundation courses with guaranteed progression to a partner university on successful completion.

OfS funding review

The OfS has announced a consultation on how they fund the sector – not tuition fee funding but grant funding.  It closes on 23rd June and we will be considering a BU response.

Our current model of recurrent funding for higher education providers is based on assumptions that some activities cost more to deliver than others. This could relate to particular subjects; to supporting particular groups of students to achieve success; or to reflect the operating models of some types of providers. The two primary types of funding the OfS distributes are:

  • Course-based: This is a high-cost subject funding allocation – for example, for courses in medicine, or physics – and includes targeted allocations to address specific priority areas – for example degree apprenticeships, and skills at Levels 4 and 5. We do not provide funding for courses in subject areas, such as law and humanities, that are classroom-based and that do not need the same level of specialist facilities to teach.
  • Student-based: This is a funding allocation to recognise additional support needs of students from disadvantaged groups or groups historically less likely to participate in higher education. Student-based funding also includes funding for Uni Connect.

We want to hear views on the effectiveness of the two primary types of funding the OfS distributes: course-based funding and student-based funding.

First three questions by way of illustration

Question 1: What are your views on OfS course-based funding? We are interested in any views, and below are some prompts for respondents to consider:

•         Should the distribution of funding continue to primarily reflect the courses and subjects students are studying? Should we also consider additional factors and/or approaches for course-based funding?

•         What should we seek to achieve with course-based funding?

•         What activity is currently supported in providers by this funding?

•         Are there any areas of important provision that are currently not supported by our funding allocations?

•         How should our approach adapt in the future?

•         What assessment is currently made by providers of the impact of this funding

 

Question 2: What are your views on OfS student-based funding? We are interested in any views, and below are some prompts for respondents to consider:

•         Should the distribution of funding continue to reflect the characteristics of the student population at individual providers? Should we also consider alternative factors and/or characteristics and/or approaches for student-based funding?

•         What should we seek to achieve with student-based funding?

•         What activity is currently supported in providers by this funding?

•         How best can the OfS use this funding to support access, success and progress for students?

•         How should it be targeted?

•         What assessment is currently made by providers of the impact of this funding

 

Question 3: What are your views on OfS capital funding? We are interested in any views, and below are some prompts for respondents to consider:

•         What assessment is currently made by providers of the impact of this funding?

•         How should we strike an appropriate balance between formula funding and competitive bidding to allocate capital funding?

Is this good, normal practice to review this as it was last reviewed in 2012, or deeply worrying?  The suggestion that they might use quality data to determine funding is interesting. And there is no new money, it is just the way it is distributed that it is up for discussion.

Wonkhe have a view:

  • This is a very broad call for evidence – in section A for each of the streams detailed above OfS wants to hear what activity is currently supported, what value is added, and whether what OfS tries to achieve with these allocations is the right thing to be aiming at.
  • .. And then you get to section B, in which OfS suggests that we scrap HESES…. The new proposal (actually an old idea familiar to anyone who has been involved in this debate historically) is to scrap the December allocation entirely and use two year-old data (so the 2021-22 year end data informs the 2023-24 allocation), thus reducing burden for providers in submission and reconciliation…. My suspicion is that rapid changes in student numbers year-on-year (and, increasingly, in year) will make this idea quite a hard sell strategically. But in terms of practicalities, the crashing failure of Data Futures – it genuinely blows my mind that we still (in March 2024) don’t have official 2022-23 student number data – might mean that people are reluctant to let go of the various checks and balances in the current system.
  • …OfS has been clear that there are no “proposals” in this document, just a starting point for conversation. It’s just an odd time to start the conversation.
  • The other (tuition fee) end of the funding system is set up to use information on teaching quality and equality of opportunity – your TEF grade is meant to determine the extent of an annual inflationary uplift in the higher level fee cap, and access to this higher level is still predicated on the existence of a credible plan on access and participation. Building these factors into the old (largely atrophied) teaching grant end too feels like double counting – though there could be a case to link access to grant funding to a minimum level of teaching quality there would need to be a far more robust and widely supported method of determining this to keep OfS out of court.

Wonkhe have a graph of what everyone gets (BU gets nearly £7m). Nottingham University is the top with £49million.  There are all sorts of pots in here though, including capital, special projects, student premium, high cost courses, etc.  Nottingham’s was nearly all high cost subject funding, as was ours, although we had a relatively large chunk of student premium money too.

You’ll recall that capital allocations recently switched to competitive bidding from an allocation mechanism.

Apprenticeships

The PM is set to announce new funding for apprenticeships.

  • Rishi Sunak is promising to create up to 20,000 more apprenticeships with a series of reforms including fully funding training for young people and cutting red tape for small businesses.
  • The government will pay the full cost of apprenticeships for people aged 21 or under at small firms from 1 April. To enable this, it is pledging £60m of new investment for next year.
  • …In a speech to a conference for small businesses in Warwickshire, the prime minister will set out a package of reforms he says will “unlock a tidal wave of opportunity”. As well as funding the cost of apprenticeships, ministers will also raise the amount of funding companies who are paying the apprenticeship levy can pass on to other businesses.

The press release gives a bit more detail.

Lifelong learning entitlement

You will recall a deep dive into this in a recent policy update using the DFE’s concept paper.  The house of commons library has now issued a briefing paper.  It’s a good read, especially if you click through to the full paper, going back over all the history and context.  The LLE stuff starts on page 20.

There is a lot more consultation to come

  • In spring 2024, the Department for Education will launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding and lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in Parliament.
  • In autumn 2024, it will lay the secondary legislation that will set out the rest of the LLE funding system in Parliament.
  • In spring 2025, the LLE personal account will be launched for learners.
  • In autumn 2025, the Department for Education will launch the qualification gateway.
  • The Office for Students (OfS) will consult “in due course” on the development and introduction of a new third registration category for providers offering LLE-funded course and modules.

Free speech

The OfS consultation on free speech complaints panels has  now closed and we look forward to the outcomes.

As previously announced, the OfS has confirmed that there will be another consultation before the end of March, on the guidance for the sector and changes to the regulatory guidance.

  • We expect the proposed guidance to cover two broad areas: 
    • Examples where a provider, constituent institution or students’ union may not have taken steps to secure free speech; and
    • A non-exhaustive list of steps that it may be reasonably practicable for providers, constituent institutions and students’ unions to take to secure free speech within the law. This includes steps relating to the free speech code of practice.

This is a complex area and an 8 week consultation period is fairly tight.

HE Policy Update w/c 16 October 2023

Here’s your catch-up edition after the Parliamentary recess for the party conferences.

We’ve the full detail from the Conservative events and some snippets from the Labour Conference (we’re still awaiting some of the event transcripts and reports). In addition we have a guest slot from Nat and Stephen who attended the conferences.

Big news is the announcement that A levels and T levels are to be ditched for the Advanced British Standard qualification…in 10 years’ time, perhaps. And Minister Keegan is moving forward to establish minimum service levels for the HE sector during strike action.

Conservative Party Conference

You can read short summaries (provided by Dods) from a wide range of the fringe events held at the Conservative conference here. Pages 2-3 contain the list of fringe events for you to peruse.

Here are some teasers and snippets on the interesting ones:

Skills Britannia: Developing workforce capabilities to drive social mobility with Minister Halfon. The panellists spoke about the need for focus on vocational systems as much as the focus on universities, and the need for greater guidance to students on how they could access them.

Delivering the skills Britain needs – the role of modern universities with Gillian Keegan, Education Secretary. The session focused on skills and apprenticeships, with particular emphasis on the role which universities could play in closing the skills gap.

Snippets:

  • Graham Baldwin, VC of University of Central Lancashire – modern universities deliver not just on the academic but the vocational also, collaborations with business was something that was natural to universities, universities were crucial regional anchors to delivering the skilled workforce needed by UK industry. He said that the skills gap facing the UK was a major economic threat. He said closing these gaps required expanding skills and it was crucial to ensure modern universities provided flexible learning options to make this goal achievable for a wider group of learners.
  • Naomi Clayton, Learning & Work Institute, said higher education was increasingly important to growth and levelling up. She said that they needed a diversity of routes for skills education at all ages. Also spoke about the role of universities in supporting lifelong learning. She said that they needed a system which supported people to change careers and upskill throughout their lives. She said that the lifelong learning entitlement was a welcome move, but for many people, the idea of taking on more debt could be a barrier to accessing education and training.
  • William Atkinson, leader of the panel for Conservative Home, asked whether they had too many people going to universities, and if not, how they could adapt their courses to encourage people to go to universities and get skills.
  • Keegan said it was difficult to generalise. She said there were very few skilled careers that were not vocational or technical in nature, in some capacity. She said that it was not useful to have arbitrary targets, but they needed to make sure there were no rungs missing on the ladder for people to access a variety of opportunities.

How can science and innovation support an ambitious plan for economic growth? With George Freeman, Minister for Science. The panel discussed priorities for the Government in science and innovation, and what the main challenges facing the sector were.

Snippets:

  • Freeman – the Government’s mission was to shift the economic model towards research, innovation and science, away from the current services economy. Challenges facing the sector, Freeman first argued was Whitehall’s lack of ability to move at the same pace as the science sector. Second was the lack of skills. He said there was a disconnect between recruitment lists for jobs and the source of skills to meet them in many R&D clusters. Third was the lack of devolving more powers to R&D clusters
  • Professor Nigel Brandon, Dean at Imperial – wanted to see more stability in Government and a greater longevity of policies and incentives offered to the sector. He believed the priorities for research universities should be greater investment, access to a pipeline of talent and more international collaboration with other institutions.
  • Giles Wilkes, Institute for Government – the most important concept for innovation is openness, picking winners was needed and UK needs to choose where to focus attention and prioritise unlike countries such as the US which can cover more ground.

Key speeches:

Labour Party Conference

Fit for the future: How UK life sciences can drive growth and improve the health of the nation with Chi Onwurah, Shadow minister for Science, Research and Innovation. The panel focused on the vital role played by life sciences to the UK economy and the importance of every region of the UK supporting this sector.

  • Paul Blakely, Life Science Senior Policy Adviser, reasoned that the life science sector in the UK was now seeing a number of challenges due to increased competition in the sector due to increased investment in other countries during the pandemic. He also noted the NHS was in trouble which made the adoption of innovation difficult. He said the question was how could it be ensured that the UK maintained a competitive edge in life sciences.
  • Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, expressed her belief that science and innovation were key to our economy, growth, and to improving our quality of life. She reasoned they were therefore key to Labour’s missions, such as achieving the highest sustained growth in the G7. Chi also noted that medicine technology was an area where science could be transformative and that was what the next Labour would be seeking to unlock.

Peter Kyle, Shadow Secretary of State for Science Innovation and Technology speech announced 10-year R&D budgets. Snippets:

  • This would allow relationships with industry to be built, long term partnerships to form and lead to investment in new technology and the infrastructure that underpins it. We will go further than ever before to make Britain the best place to innovate.
  • We’ll increase the number of University spinouts, accepting the recommendations of our start-up review. That includes better tracking of spinouts from universities with a dashboard to identify what’s working and where there are barriers. And we will work with universities to ensure there are a range of options on founder-track agreements helping to boost spinouts and economic growth.

Making Britain Work – Modern Universities and the Public Sector Workforce with Andrew Gwynne, Shadow Minister for Social Care. The panellists discussed the workforce crisis in the public sector and the important role universities played in training the next generation of public sector workers. The conversation predominately focused on the recruitment, training and retention of teachers and nurses, with panellists discussing why these vital sectors had become less attractive career paths.

Research

George Freeman, science research and innovation minister, wrote for Research Professional in Sold on science. The article is a quick whizz through all the major R&D developments introduced by the Conservative party from the ringfencing of R&D spend to the development of ARIA. It’s an easy read and show the policy progression of the last 13 years, or as Freeman names it the Conservatives legacy.

At the Conservative Party Conference Michelle Donelan (DSIT Secretary of State) announced:

  • AI: a £8 million will be available for AI scholarships over the next 12 months giving 800 more people the opportunity to start on courses. The funding will be disbursed by the OfS.
  • Innovation: a new £60 million Regional Innovation Fund (more on this below)
  • Characteristics: A review into use of sex and gender questions in scientific research and statistics (including those conducted by public bodies). This Cabinet Office review will be led by Professor Alice Sullivan (UCL) (funding provided by ESRC) and will produce guidance on the topic by May 2024. The terms of reference for the review are currently being discussed.

The Regional Innovation Fund will:

  • boost support for universities in areas with low levels of R&D investment.
  • be relative to the size of each UK nation (£48.8 million for 110 universities across England, delivered by Research England).
  • Allocations to the devolved administrations will be : £5.8 million for Scotland, £3.4 million for Wales and £2 million for Northern Ireland.

Biggest bang for our physics buck

DSIT published a policy paper UK strategy for engagement with CERN: unlocking the full potential of UK membership of CERN which aims to ensure the UK gains a good return on its membership of CERN. The UK is one of 12 members of CERN which aims to uncover the mysteries of the universe, including what it is made of and how it works. Space is an important investment area for the Government and they’re keen to maximise the UK’s research potential and leverage funding. CERN is better known for being the creators of the World Wide Web. Minister for Science George Freeman stated: As the second largest contributor to CERN, our return on investment is below where we would like it to be, with much more we can still do to ensure we take full advantage of all opportunities that are afforded by CERN membership. The strategy covers five areas:

  1. Research excellence: including more high-impact papers and maintenance of the UK’s global research ranking, contributing to the government’s science superpower ambition.
  2. World class skills :increased numbers of highly skilled technicians, engineers and scientists whose skills and expertise can be deployed in a variety of fields, advancing industrial capability and attracting world class talent to study and work in the UK.
  3. Commercial impact and innovation: increased uptake of innovation and commercial opportunities that drive growth in the UK and for the UK to be the partner of choice for international collaboration; and using business engagement with CERN to drive technological capability and innovation.
  4. International leadership: increased championing of our principles for engagement on a global stage, including diversity and inclusion, and more UK nationals in positions of leadership.
  5. Engage and inspire: increased awareness and appreciation of the profound impact that science and technology has on everyday life and more students pursuing STEM subjects, specifically:
    • Encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM through the inspiration of CERN’s discovery science and technology.
    • Engage the public about the importance of STEM research and its societal impact.
    • Motivate all UK CERN stakeholders to set as ambassadors for the opportunities afforded by big science to people of all backgrounds.

More detail here.

Admissions: The Advanced British Standard

Rishi’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference said he was committed to stopping universities from enrolling students on courses that do nothing for their life chances, and that the target for 50% to attend HE as a false dream.

UUK Chief Executive, Vivienne Stern, responded to Rishi’s speech commenting: This political rhetoric is not in the interests of students, or the economic prospects of the country as a whole. We should be expanding opportunities and not talking down what is a national success story.

The biggest education announcement of the conference was Rishi’s intention to introduce the Advanced British Standard (ABS), a new Baccalaureate-style qualification for 16- to 19-year-olds which would bring A levels and T levels into a single qualification. The outline of the qualification would include 195 hours more teaching than current provision and learners would study five subjects. Responses to the announcement haven’t balked at a potential change to the long established A level system. Instead the ABS plans have been heavily criticised as there are already concerns for teacher recruitment/retention, particularly in FE, and sector commentators note increasing the number of teachers (even through incentives) is unlikely to yield the level of staff needed to deliver the qualification. If successful the change to ABS would be phased in over the next 10 years. The Guardian has coverage on the teaching crisis angle, highlighting an additional 5,300 teachers would be needed (not to mention a significant uptick in the education budget to fund them).  There are more responses to the announcement from the HE sector here.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan also spoke about the ABS in a subsequent speech.

Shortly after the speech the DfE published a 47 page paper: A world-class education system – The Advanced British Standard, meaning these plans have been in the offing for a while (and Maths to 18 was a key pledge in Rishi’s bid for PM). There’s a shorter Government press release here.

We have a summary if you’d like more detail on the ABS, summary content is drawn from the DfE paper.

The next steps in the ABS journey are:

  • Reforms are unlikely to be realised for at least a decade – with the pupils starting primary school this term expected to be the first cohort.
  • Government will launch a formal consultation on the “approach and design of our new qualification, and the accompanying work to strengthen the system to deliver it in the coming months”.
  • This will inform a White Paper to be published next year.

Party Conference roundup

Nathaniel Hobby and Stephen Bates feature in our latest guest update on the conferences. Nat and Steve attended the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour Party conferences to understand future opportunities for BU, and to meet with fellow public affairs professionals to talk about collaboration in the coming year and here is their update.

  • At the Labour Party conference, Professor John McAlaney spoke on a panel about responsible gambling and, specifically, updates needed to legislation to help protect from gambling addiction and harm
  • Party conference season has been interesting, with polarising moods depending on which Party you speak to.
  • For the Liberal Democrats, investment in health and care was front and centre, and it was said to be the key issue they will stand on in the next election – well timed with BU’s roundtable discussion following an announcement of the Lib Dems £5bn free personal care plan. Hosted in Bournemouth, the conference was busy with a positive mood towards the future.
  • At the Labour Party Conference, the mood was very optimistic; among Labour Party members and politicians there is a general view that the next election is theirs to lose, and the optimistic mood is a welcome change to the current political climate. A buzzword that came up more than once was this being the time for a ‘prevention revolution’ in a number of areas. Fringe events on alcoholism prevention, gambling addiction prevention (including BU) and healthcare interventions to prevent health problems later in life were littered across the schedule.
  • There was a focus on the Labour manifesto and the subject of technology, a lot about the speed of change in technology and the need for political wheels to move faster. Specifically, it was seen that there is a need to focus on opportunities in the next manifesto, even in areas that can seem risky, as the gear change the country needs.
  • A constant throughout the fringe sessions was a frustration on the lack of collaborative working across sectors, governments, organisations and including universities to solve societal or local issues. Whether it is skills, care, social mobility, jobs or governmental issues, a key thread was the seeming, or perceived, lack of collaboration and co-working for the good of people in local areas. Universities have a role to play in supporting the collaboration, but also being vocal where these collaborations are already happening as a way of fighting the current perception.
  • In HE, the subject of tuition fees was back on the agenda, and it isn’t good news, with a Public First polling report (summarised elsewhere in this update) showing that there is not a lot of public support for increases. At many of the sessions, the mood music was that the HE sector still needs to do much more to show its value to the public, and ‘playing nicely’ with FE, apprenticeships and the skills agenda to look to the long term. Almost universally in any fringe event connected to HE was an agreement that FE and HE need to get as close to it as possible. As one panellist put it, “Universities aren’t the priority for the public and no political party will want to be seen to be adding to the public debt” so universities will need to work much harder to rise up a very busy post-election agenda.
  • For the Conservatives, there were reports in the media of low attendance in the main hall of the Conservative Party Conference but the fringe events were very busy and well attended.
  • Two big themes in the main auditorium were how the UK could/should become a superpower in Science and Innovation and apprenticeships. Imperial and UCL both sponsored events discussing building Britain’s science innovation which were attended by George Freeman (Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation) and Andrew Griffith (Economic Secretary to the Treasury) respectively.
  • The question of university funding and the fact that international students now fund the shortfall in costs for domestic students, as opposed to providing additional research funding, was more of a focus for the Conservatives. The ministers appeared to agree that this was not a sustainable set up, although no answers to the problem were discussed. Interestingly George Freeman noted that the policy for university funding lies with the Department for Education but it clearly has a knock on impact for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology who own research funding.
  • Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, attended an event hosted by Policy Exchange and Grant Thornton on degree apprenticeships. As a degree apprentice herself, Gillian Keegan is clearly very passionate about them and, although she said she wouldn’t implement targets, there is going to be a clear policy drive on that if she keeps the brief. She was joined on the panel by the VC of Manchester Metropolitan University who have around 2500-degree apprentices, and Labour Metro Mayor of Liverpool Steve Rotherham who is also a big supporter and will carry on that support if Labour win the next election. Minister of State for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon joined a panel discussion on apprenticeships for school leavers and UCAS joined a panel discussion in the Youth Zone about making it easier for young people to find apprenticeships and explaining how their portal will soon be a one stop shop for apprenticeships and degree courses.

Students

Student withdrawals

The SLC published the (early) in-year student withdrawal statistics. The figures compared the number of students withdrawing from university over five academic years from 2018-19 to 2022-23.

  • In 2019-20, a total of 29,630 withdrew.
  • In 2020-21, a total of 31,279 withdrew.
  • In 2021-22, a total of 39,405 withdrew.

Student Needs

Advance HE published the Student Needs Framework. It maps and categorises students’ needs as:

  • Individual competence, Confidence and Resilience; and
  • Belonging and Community.

It’s a broad overview and doesn’t delve into interventions and explore the multiple ways students may manifest their individual needs. Advance HE say: The framework is designed flexibly to support a broad range of colleagues, especially those involved in teaching, learning and student support in strategic or in practice roles. It will be most effective if adopted at an institutional level, mapped with consideration to your institutional context and priorities to enhance practice and policy.

More information here.

Uni Connect

The OfS published the independent evaluation of the Uni Connect programme’s impact on outcomes for learners. The report is based on learner survey findings after Wave 4 of the project and it recommends that Uni Connect partnerships and individual HEIs should:

  • Continue to offer sustained and progressive outreach to maximise the impact of Uni Connect on learners’ outcomes.
  • Embed personalised support, such as mentoring and masterclasses, with lighter-touch activities such as campus visits, in a multi-intervention approach.
  • Ensure information, advice and guidance focuses on the financial support available (in addition to the costs) and the non-financial benefits (as well as the financial benefits) of HE.
  • Deliver interventions for key influencers.
  • Work with schools and colleges to support attainment-raising.

Industrial action: minimum service levels

At the Conservative Conference Gillian Keegan, SoS Education, announced a consultation to introduce minimum service levels in universities during strike action to ensure students receive the teaching they deserve. The DfE have announced more details: The consultation will focus on stronger protections for final year students, key cohorts or those studying specialist subjects. If introduced, the minimum service level could ensure students get the education they pay for, protecting them from strike action, for example looking at how to guarantee continued services such as teaching contact hours and marking their work during walkouts.

The minimum service concept isn’t new – the Act requiring minimum service levels was passed in July 2023 and applies to education services alongside health, fire and rescue, transport, nuclear activities and border security. However, to implement this legislation regulations are required for each service. And a consultation was launched in August on some aspects of the implementation including what reasonable steps means.

In the DfE press release the government link the minimum service expectation with their priorities of ensure quality degree delivery (and value for money) and the OfS recruitment limits where courses have high student drop out. They state: Today’s announcement is another step in a series of long-term decisions to ensure a bright future for all children and young people, whether it be starting school, through to going to university or undertaking an apprenticeship.

We’ll be watching closely to see how they define minimum service for education, and specifically HEIs. Watch this space.

Regulatory | Free Speech

Here’s a reminder on the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act, which involves:

  1. a new strengthened duty to promote freedom of speech and academic freedom
  2. new OfS condition(s) of registration
  3. requirements for codes of practice
  4. regulation of students’ unions on freedom of speech
  5. the introduction of a statutory tort
  6. establishment of a free speech complaints scheme
  7. creation of the role of the Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom
  8. monitoring of overseas funding in relation to risks to academic freedom and freedom of speech
  9. prohibition of non-disclosure agreements in complaints relating to harassment and sexual misconduct

UUK published a briefing and case studies aiming help universities to prepare for the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act. It sets out summarises the new legislation, highlights the consultation for the new OfS conditions of registration has not yet been published, explains the statutory tort, complaints and overseas funding. Helpfully it contains some information on the other legislations and legal duties which overlap or contain free speech content.

Fees

With the likelihood of a 2024 election looming attention turns once again to HE tuition fees. Public First published an interesting report Public Attitudes to Tuition Fees: What are Labour’s Options for Reform? The key findings are below but in short it’s a wicked problem – people want fees to be free or lower but don’t want to pay for them from the public purse, the level of debt students leave HE with remains an emotive issue.

  1. Labour made the right decision politically on fees. Our research confirms that Labour made the right electoral decision to move away from their pledge to abolish tuition fees. It is a decision that benefits Labour significantly more than it costs them as they head towards the next general election. By 43% to 30%, respondents thought Starmer was right to go back on the pledge to abolish tuition fees. Swing voters are even more likely to think that Starmer was right, with 48% saying he was right to drop the pledge, and 28% saying he was wrong to do so.
  1. Tuition fees are not a popular policy; in the abstract, there is a high level of support for fee abolition. People believe higher education is important: parents want their children to go to university, and they believe the cost is too high. They would ideally like to see fees cut or abolished entirely. This is broadly true across all demographics.
  2. However, people also think that there are other, more pressing priorities for spending, particularly in times of financial crisis. When we asked a narrow and direct question about whether people supported fee abolition, there was widespread support, but when the question was posed differently, with people given a list of options for the to pursue, or when people were told how much fee cuts would cost the taxpayer, support fell away.
  1. No matter how popular abolishing fees is in principle, in practice people are very against subsidising changes through general taxation. When informed of the overall cost, fee abolition is seen as too expensive, and there is little real appetite for it among voters. With the exception of raising corporation tax to pay for the abolition of fees, every other option has net negative support(more people oppose than support). It was the prospect of personal taxes and VAT rising to fund a fee cut that particularly put people off a fee cut. Hearing the scale of funding needed – and how this might need to be paid for – was a significant concern to voters
  1. People want university to be more affordable for students in the short term. Returning to maintenance grants was considered a popular alternative to the abolition of fees. Against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis, many considered the cost of the university experience as prohibitive (at least in principle). Voters are also supportive of cutting fees in certain circumstances – such as for those from low income families or studying socially and economically important courses (such as teaching or nursing).
  2. Reducing tuition fees is popular (although paying for it is not). Across the board, people think fees are too high and that people leave university with excessive debt. They would like to see tuition fees reduced, with £6,500-£7,000 being the most popular choice. In particular, people are sympathetic to the plight of young people who leave education with such high levels of debt (which most people hate) but are unsure what the alternatives are. Respondents reject the idea that fees should go up with inflation but are supportive in the abstract of the government providing additional support when this is framed as limiting the cost increase for students.
  1. There is a relatively high level of support for employers making a contribution to the higher education funding system. When described as a levy that businesses pay to universities who train their workers, 59% were in support, making it a more popular choice than additional government funding. Support dropped to 39%, however, when this was framed as higher taxes employers would pay in order to hire graduates – consistent with our findings throughout that there is widespread lack of support for higher taxation in any form.
  2. There are more rewards than risks for Labour when moving away from the abolishing tuition fees pledge. Abolishing or not abolishing fees has little difference on the voting intention for existing Labour voters but is an important policy choice for undecided or swing voters. We estimate there are 83 seats in total where Keir Starmer’s decision not to abolish tuition fees significantly boosts Labour’s chance of winning the seat – including places such as Buckingham & Bletchley; both Isle of Wight seats; and Mansfield.
  3. U-turning on fees may have positive electoral consequences, but it shouldn’t be shouted about. Our results suggest that dropping the pledge has a relatively minimal impact among Labour’s supporters, and if anything is assisting support among those who have switched over from the Conservatives. Labour moving away from fee abolition is likely to have positive electoral consequences, but the act of u-turning on yet another policy position should not be taken lightly. The public needs more information about the context surrounding changing policy positions, such as the impact of the economic environment on decision making and/or what that money would be spent on instead.
  4. Restoring maintenance grants is the option most likely to be both a vote winner and a seat winner for Labour. It was also the option where respondents seemed content for the taxpayer to fund the commitment. When we asked voters directly if they supported reintroducing maintenance grants, assuming the extra cost would be paid for through increased taxation, 55% said they did, while just 14% said they would be opposed. 50% of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a party which pledged to reintroduce maintenance grants, and just 8% said they would be less likely to do so.
  5. Introducing a graduate tax was also more popular than abolishing fees outright, particularly amongst younger voters. Reforms to student repayments could help shore up support amongst highly educated progressives. Voters supported the idea of a graduate tax by 43% to 22%. Young voters supported this most enthusiastically: 18-24s support it by 53% to 18%, and 25-34s by 50% to 22%. 36% of respondents overall said they would be more likely to vote for a party planning to introduce a graduate tax, compared to 19% who said they would be less likely.
  6. There is massive, untapped support for more investment in FE. While there is widespread support for higher education in principle and practice, there is significantly more public support for further education and apprenticeships – and far more than the politicians give credit for. Politicians of all parties ought to be talking more about FE, apprenticeships and training. This is particularly true amongst swing voters, and those in target red wall seats which do not have a local higher education institution.

A manifesto for HE and Research

HEPI ran fringe events at both Conservative and Labour party conferences asking what should be in the party’s manifesto for HE and research. The recording of the Conservative event is here, the Labour event content isn’t available (yet). Ahead of the fringe events HEPI published a Higher Education Policy Institute report on three vice-chancellors’ hopes ahead of the party conferences. It set out the perspective of three HEI leaders on what they wanted to see in the manifestos for HE at the next election.

The essays all emphasise the centrality of HE to the UK’s future success and cover a broad range of themes, including research, local partnerships, and a long term skills strategy. There are some areas of consensus among the three authors (tackling the cost-of-living crisis among students and the growing shortage of student accommodation). However, they differ in their prioritisation of the request for more public funding. The essays are worth a read, even if a bit predictable.

Chris Husbands (Sheffield)

  • Government should establish a National Skills Council, bringing together government, universities, further education colleges, sector bodies and business leaders to shape a long-term skills strategy founded on collaboration.
  • … current support from Innovate UK and Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) should encourage differentiated institutional missions and structures, which might focus on educational cold spots, or offer specific teaching-only vocational provision, tailored to the region
  • Government needs to re-engineer the Student Loans Company to drive flexible and part-time learning
  • Given resource constraints, we propose to fast-track the delivery of the LLE via regional Higher Skills Centres (HSC), focused on mature learners, and located in educational cold spots across the UK rather than a wide-scale rollout – for which systems and demand are still underdeveloped.
  • ….regional business support needs to be restored with universities as key partners
  • Government should create a ‘shared apprenticeship facility’ which would enable SMEs to pool their apprenticeship demands and connect to training providers, including universities
  • Government should establish a funding pot, which need not be large, to drive higher education and further education collaboration in areas where advanced training provision is underdeveloped – largely those towns and smaller cities which do not have a university presence
  • The Office for Students should be merged with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to provide coherent oversight in the student interest.
  • Government should establish a strategic Tertiary Funding Council with oversight of the sector and the sustainability of institutions, with a more systemic view of the potential of universities to contribute to the full range of economic and social objectives.

Sasha Roseneil  (Sussex)

  • A COVID generation student premium
  • A mental health and wellbeing support grant and University Clinics
  • A ‘Science Superpower and Crucible for Creativity’ grant
  • A new focus on student maintenance
  • An independent, comprehensive review of university funding, to include citizens’ voices
  • Facilitating local public investment in student housing
  • Universities under a single government department

Adam Tickell, Birmingham

  • Foster a conducive environment for universities to thrive, so they can help to tackle the pressing challenges facing the country
  • Prioritise quality-related funding to allow universities to pursue high-risk high-reward discovery research
  • Adopt a long-term, sustainable and predictable funding model for higher education to protect universities’ future
  • Rebalance the current framework so that UK R&D remains internationally competitive
  • Promote and support UK universities on the world stage to maintain the UK’s attractiveness to international students
  • Set the broad policy parameters, then leave universities to get on with what they do best

Another manifesto: what might be in the King’s Speech

But before we get to an election, Policy Exchange have published a manifesto for the next session of Parliament – Iain Mansfield’s request for the King’s Speech. It includes a proposal for a Higher Education and Skills Bill (for England only), most of which will not be surprising to those who follow Iain on X or other platforms:

  • Cap overall student numbers:
    • To impose a duty upon the Education Secretary to, on an annual basis, determine the total number of undergraduate university places that would be funded for the following academic year, at least three months prior to the beginning of that year’s university application cycle.
    • In the event that Parliament did not approve a new annual quantity of places, the number of places funded would be the same as in the previous year.
    • The number of places funded may not be lower than 95% of the total number of places funded the previous year
  • Make the OfS share the cap out between providers based on a massive complex bidding system
    • To impose a duty upon the Office for Students to apportion the limit on funded places amongst higher education providers by imposing a limit on funded places upon each provider.
    • In determining the limits upon each provider, the Office for Students may consider:
      • The wishes of the provider.
      • The need to maintain stability within the sector.
      • The student outcomes achieved by the provider, as measured by completion rates, progression to highly skilled employment or further study and earnings.
      • National skills shortages, as specified in the Shortage Occupation List published by the Migration Advisory Committee.
      • The sufficiency of student accommodation provided by the provider or available in the vicinity of the provider.
      • Whether or not the provider is currently subject to one or more specific ongoing regulatory conditions of registration.
      • Guidance or Directions issued by the Secretary of State under Section 2 or Section 77 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.
      • The need to protect institutional autonomy.
    • In determining the limits upon each provider, the Office for Students may not consider:
      • The content of courses at the provider, and the manner in which they are taught, supervised or assessed,
      • The criteria for the selection, appointment or dismissal of academic staff, or how they are applied, or
      • The criteria for the admission of students, or how they are applied.
    • In determining the limits upon each provider, the Office for Students may not impose a limit that is lower than 95% of the limit imposed the previous year, unless the provider requests such a limit.
    • To impose a duty upon the Office for Students to impose a fine upon any provider that exceeds their place limit equal to twice the total value of tuition fees that would be paid by those students over the course of their studies.
    • The Office for Students may, at its discretion, choose to waive the fine for a provider that exceeds its place limit but does so by less than 2%, where it is satisfied that this was neither negligent nor intentional.
    • The Office for Students may not waive the fine for a provider more than once in any three year period.
    • To provide a right of appeal against such a fine the basis of severe procedural irregularities or significant factual errors only.
    • To provide that the Open University shall be exempt from all limits on funded places.
  • And then to also incentivise employers to invest in training
    • To create a Skills Tax Credit that would enable all businesses to claim a tax relief equal to 10% of the money spent on skills development that could be offset against their corporation tax.
    • Eligible skills spend would include spending on apprenticeship wages, any course at a UK Further Education College, registered independent training provider or registered higher education provider, T-Level placements (up to £1000 per placement), Skills Bootcamps and the cost of external trainers brought in for skills development.
    • Excluded skills spend would include any training required solely or primarily to comply with statutory obligations, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 or the Bribery Act 2010

There are other proposals in the paper including on housing, leaseholder enfranchisement, anti-social behaviour etc.  Not sure that any of this will turn into reality, certainly not in the King’s Speech this autumn, but these things may pop up in election material.

Access & Participation

The Sutton Trust has published the report 25 years of university access setting out how access to HE has changed over time. See page 4 for the key findings.

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

Medical schools: The government has asked the OfS to allocate an additional 205 places for medicine study as part of the drive to increase the number of doctors needed in the UK. Contact us for more information on this.

Cyber defence: UUK published guidance outlining the main cyber security threats to the HE sector and the impact of recent attacks against individual organisations. Actions universities are recommended to take include:

  • Review institutional security posture using the four-pillar security posture model described in the introduction.
  • Business continuity: make sure everyone in your organisation knows what to do in the event of a serious security incident. Regularly rehearse scenarios with a view to continual improvement, remembering to reflect changes in the threat landscape and technology.
  • Share and collaborate: Defending as one, higher education institutions should work together to share threat intelligence and expertise, which has a positive impact on the sector’s preparedness and capability to respond, both tactically and strategically.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

BU policy update for the w/e 22nd September 2023

Lots of meaty topics for you to chew over this week. The student cost of living debate had a hearing in parliament. The Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Act 2023 has received royal assent and we’ve a pop out summary on the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. The OfS received strong criticism in the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee report. We’ve the latest on visa fee increases, clearing and oodles of research news.

Parliament has now entered conference recess but government business will continue over the next few weeks. There will also be items of interest from the party conferences which will receive closer scrutiny this year given the impending general election.

As always if you need this update, or the pop out summaries, in a different format for accessibility please email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Political News

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

The Lifelong Learning Bill finished its passage through the Lords and the King has given Royal Assent. You’ll recall this Bill contained limited detail and will be padded out through secondary legislation further down the line – meaning the Government of the day will retain control and be able to tweak the implementation details when they wish.   Note the name change: it is now about lifelong learning not lifelong loan entitlement.

During the debate Baroness Barran, the Government’s representative, thanked the former Education Ministers and Secretaries of State for their insight (Lord Blunkett, Lord Willetts and Lord Jo Johnson).

Baroness Barran stated: The LLE will become the route for people who require student finance for levels 4 to 6 study across higher and further education. In introducing the LLE, we want to do as much as possible to make it accessible and affordable for the most disadvantaged. And confirmed that the Government would monitor the concerns the Lords raised at Report Stage, that the number of learning hours in a credit wouldn’t be changed unless sector standards change, and that the alternative student finance product compatible with Islamic finance principles would be delivered as soon as operationally possible after 2025 (further update coming on this later in 2023).

Labour’s spokesperson, Baroness Twycross, confirmed their support for the Bill’s aim: we support the idea that people can access funding to undertake the learning they need throughout their career. With people undertaking portfolio careers and with continual changes in technology and society, it is no longer the case that what you learn through a traditional three-year degree course is all that you will need in your work for the next 45 years or so. But reminded that the detail (scope) of the Bill was limited and felt a more formal review process for several aspects could have been set to safeguard against unintended consequences.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (representing the Liberal Democrats) highlighted the party remained concerned about how many adults will wish to take on debt in order to improve their learning, and we look forward to hearing updates from the Minister about how many people have done so. From these Benches, we feel that grants would be a much more effective way of persuading adults to learn. But, of course, we are all totally in favour of lifelong learning, and we wish the Bill well.

You may have noted the name change to Lifelong Learning (HE Fees Limits) Act, previously it was called the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. Apparently, the name change was decided upon following engagement with the sector. For those that have been in this game a long time you may harbour a small chuckle at the name change when you recall a rival party proposed a similar policy in the early 2000s based on, and called, Lifelong Learning.

The DfE published a policy paper on the LLE – it provides a useful introduction to the key details of the intended LLE operationalisation. Here are the next steps we can expect from the government, including two consultations:

In autumn 2023:

  • we plan to provide further information about the entitlement
  • we will work with the regulator, awarding organisations and providers of current advanced learner loans (ALLs) funded Ofqual-regulated qualifications to embed changes we set out in HMG’s response to the LLE consultation
  • OfS will launch a consultation on the development and introduction of a new third registration category

In spring 2024:

  • we will launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding
  • we will lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in parliament

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

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

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill: The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill is a controversial bill seen as eroding university autonomy and there was dissent from some parties at the detailed Committee Stage (although other HE sector members agree with its legal principles). You can read a summary of the evidence provided in the early Committee stage sessions here. The bill now awaits a date for Report Stage. Wonkhe also update us that: The Home Office has released draft guidance on the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme (FIRS), designed to monitor foreign influence on UK politics. Sector-specific guidance will follow – supported by consultation panels from the research and higher education sector – but there are a handful of examples given of activities either requiring or not requiring registration under the scheme that make reference to international students or staff.

The future for education policy?

The New Conservatives published a ‘manifesto’: plan to upskill Britain which Research Professional view as an attempt to push Conservative education policies to the right. It’s keen on developing technical routes and reforming the apprenticeship levy and technical skills in general.

It’s less keen on universities stating: Since the reforms of 1992, too many universities have not been fit for purpose. Steps to address skills shortages in Britain and rising student debt should not shy away from one of the main culprits – rip-off universities. And: The false promise of university –  Long gone are the days when university was the hallmark of success. Many young people today could have much more opportunity if they opted for on-the-job training alongside receiving an industry recognised qualification, rather than go to university. But too few school leavers make that choice [apparently because they’re promised higher starting salaries].

The manifesto calls for a crack down on poor quality and less people attending university- redirecting the public funds saved to quality technical and vocational education. And they call for minimum academic grades to qualify for student loans: Introducing minimum grade requirements at GCSE-level would see an approximate reduction of 10 percent in the number of students qualifying for student loans. Although introducing minimum eligibility requirements of Level 4 grades at GCSE English and Maths would close off student loans to around 40 percent of all students… They would also like to ensure student loans are re-paid – although NHS employed graduates would be offered a three year loan repayment exemption.

Research Professional say the ‘manifesto’ is full of holes  – you can read their take down of the manifesto in Blue on blue.

Government role changes: Dehenna Davison MP has stepped away from her post as Levelling Up Minister due to ill health. Jacob Young MP will take over.

Free Speech: Wonkhe highlight that the OfS has published indicative timelines for the introduction of free speech related duties and provisions – under the proposals, 1 August 2024 would see the launch of the new complaints scheme and the coming into force of new statutory duties from providers and students’ unions. Provisions relating to OfS’s monitoring of overseas funding and new conditions of registration around free speech and academic freedom would come into force on 1 September 2025.

Research News

ARIA

The construction of ARIA continues – this week their programme directors announced their key questions and invited input from the R&D community. For colleagues familiar with the expression of Areas of Research Interest this is the ARIA equivalent. Although it’s not clear how universities can feed their research in to answer the questions yet. However, Wonkhe, have their finger on the pulse and inform that each set of programme questions has a budget of £50m. And that most of the programme directors have joined from academia. They are now mandated with developing a concrete programme, based on the “area or set of areas they feel compelled to explore” – these include programmable plants, interfaces with the human nervous system, climate intervention technologies, and robotics. Wonkhe also have a neat blog on how ARIA is taking shape. Excerpts:

The team as a whole tells us some important things about ARIA.
The first is that they are aligned to what the broader scientific community would consider to be some of the world’s greatest threats and challenges. AI, climate change, and food security, would appear at the top of most lists of the most pressing issues facing humanity…

Equally, the team straddles a hinterland between having programme directors that have more conventional academic careers with big interests, academics that have run or built companies, and programme directors that lean more into business and technology worlds but with significant academic credentials…
this [the programme directors] is a group of people who probably ordinarily would never hang out together…The mix of expertise and backgrounds speaks to the fundamental challenge and promise of ARIA. Its whole purpose of existence is to fund the things that funders would not usually fund in ways they would not usually fund them. The challenge is to not only discover new things but to make a new disparate team function with some of the standard practices needed to make scientific breakthroughs…  And a tolerance for constructive failure that will see programmes potentially outlive ministers, funding, and maybe even ARIA itself.

Quick Research News

  • Biosecurity: The UK Biosecurity Leadership Council held its inaugural meeting to build our national resilience to future biological threats, whilst establishing the UK as a world leader in responsible innovation. The Government’s press release mainly focuses on the details about the Council with little on what was discussed.
  • Tech: Dr Dave Smith has been appointed as the Government’s National Technology Adviser taking over from Sir Patrick Vallance.
  • DSIT policies: The Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published a summary of their achievements in the six months since the Department was formed. These include the Science and Technology Framework, the AI White Paper, setting up the Foundation Model Taskforce, the 20-year National Semiconductors Strategy, the 10-year National Quantum Strategy, and the International Technology Strategy. There’s also info on the DSIT Start-Up Board.
  • AI: Research Professional: Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU should work with its partners to develop a global framework for regulating artificial intelligence.
  • Catapult: DSIT published a Catapult Network review update
  • REF: Wonkhe – Research England has “concerns” from stakeholders over the proposed People, Culture and Environment element of the 2028 Research Excellence Framework, both around its suggested weighting (25 per cent) compared to Contribution of Knowledge and Understanding, and around whether “robust indicators” can be developed to fairly assess research environment. There’s a blog from Jessica Corner (Exec Chair of Research England).
  • CaSE: Daniel Rathbone has been appointed as interim executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering.
  • Funding: Research England published the remaining HE grant allocations for 2023-24.
  • R&D spend: The House of Commons Library published a research briefing on R&D spending. It covers the (2022) methodology change in how R&D spend estimate are calculated – leading to the false achievement of the 2.4% of GDP 2027 target. We also learn that of business research in 2021: 23% was spent on research into computer programming and software development, 18% on miscellaneous activities, technical testing and analysis, and 17% on chemicals and pharmaceuticals. For public sector (2021) research: 35% went towards the general advancement of knowledge, 21% to health and 13% to defence. Other items of interest are the R&D spending by region 52% of all R&D resides in London and the South East (£24.4 billion) with the least in Wales. With the new calculations UK R&D spending is equivalent to 2.9%-3% of GDP – above the OECD and EU averages (but less than the USA, Japan and Germany
  • China: Wonkhe – Both OfS and UKRI need to do more to mitigate overreliance on China, for tuition fee income and research capability respectively. This is the conclusion of a report from former universities minister Jo Johnson and others, revisiting past recommendations for “de-risking” higher education given the potential for deterioration in the UK-China geopolitical relationship. The report highlights that Chinese students made up 28 per cent of non-UK PhD student starts in 2021–22, up from 17 per cent in 2017–18, with a growing concentration across the most selective institutions – the authors caution that “there is no next China or EU” in terms of markets for research student recruitment. There’s coverage in The Times, and the Guardian.
  • Confucius diplomatic immunity: A parliamentary question on diplomatic immunity for Chinese nationals working in Confucius institutes in the UK. Helpful answer from Robert Halfon, universities minister.
  • Horizon: The Lords Chamber debated Horizon Europe and Pioneer. Short transcript here. Discussions included the global talent visa. Research Professional (RP) also have a good article: UK in Horizon: money on the table. Researchers can already apply for (2024) Horizon funding, even though the UK officially joins on 1 January 2024. Funding is available across six clusters and three main innovation schemes – there is summary detail in the RP article. Chair of the House of Lords European Affairs Committee, Lord Ricketts, has called on DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan to provide additional detail…about the operation of the corrective mechanism designed to prevent the UK from paying a disproportionate net contribution to the [Horizon] scheme. We also ask you to update us on the expected timetable for the political agreement to be formally adopted by the Specialised Committee on Union Programmes. Lord Ricketts’ letter pulled no punches as he also highlighted the detrimental consequences of the last two years of uncertainty, and asked the government to stop using research as a political football.
  • Case Studies: Wonkhe – The UK Collaborative on Development Research has publishedan analysis of how development research appeared in REF 2021 impact case studies. The report examines which unit of assessment contained most international development impact case studies (business and management), how these were distributed across the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and which countries most often appeared (India, followed by the United States and Kenya).
  • Researcher influx: DSIT Minister Jonathan Berry has stated the UK will need 380,000 new researchers by 2027 to meet the growing need for research and counter retirement numbers. Berry continued that attracting overseas talent will need to be a big part of the growth, however, peers have expressed concern that the visa regime may hamper the influx. Labour peer Stephen Benn called for the global talent visa to be reformed and highlighted how the visa fees were discouraging talent from working in Britain. Research Professional have more on the tussle here.
  • New REF: Wonkhe on the new REF – With the consultation period drawing to an end (the deadline is the first Friday in October), it’s slowly becoming clear that there are two unconnected but influential lines of pushback.
    The first, from within the sector, is the argument that it is the quality of output that matters, and boosting the role of narrative statements and measures of input dilutes the essence of what really matters in the REF.
    Separately is an external climate in which the use of government funds to support anything that can be labelled as “EDI work” provokes tachycardia in the bosom of influential figures. Against this backdrop, Research England (in conjunction with the other UK funding bodies) is going to additional lengths to promote discussion and debate around the prominence and use of research culture measures, with Executive Chair Jessica Corner noting on Wonkhe that the weighting given to different elements of the next REF is still a live question, even if the commitment to assessment that “supports a thriving and healthy research system” remains steadfast.
  • Researcher mobility: Wonkhe – The government should make the mobility of researcher careers a “key design principle” of the research and innovation system, according to a report from the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) Researcher Career Mobility Taskforce. The report argues that researchers need to be “empowered” to move between industry and academia throughout their whole career. The taskforce found that research staff are currently not always aware of opportunities (with existing guidance often focused on academic career pathways), that mobility between sectors is seen by many as high risk, and that institutional recruitment and progression frameworks can undervalue skills and experiences gained in other sectors. Blog.
  • Israel agreement: The UK has signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel committing £1.7 million to support joint research focused on technologies critical to future prosperity and quality of life, like quantum. Details here. Other recent bilateral international science deals the UK has signed include partnerships with India, Switzerland and South Africa. And funds have been committed to the International Science Partnerships Fund (launched last year with an initial £119 million).

International

De-risking international reliance

King’s College London policy institute published The China question revisited: de-risking higher education and research. The report was led by previous Minster for Universities, Lord (Jo) Johnson who has long been a supporter of international students balanced by the need to minimise risks to the nation and financial stability of HE providers, e.g. through diversification of international recruitment to reduce the reliance on some countries, including China.

The report highlights that China has become an increasingly entrenched collaborator on research and a key source of doctoral students crucial to the strength of the UK’s research system. The paper proposes a range of measures to de-risk HE’s relationship with China:

  • Requiring universities to publish an annual statement on their international student recruitment plans, in order to provide greater visibility of current strategies to diversify the international student population.
  • Improving regulation of course quality, given high drop-out rates among students from countries such as India and Bangladesh.
  • Weeding out poor-quality and fraudulent applications by charging an application fee for international students, requiring tuition fees to be paid up front and maintenance funds to be put in escrow at the start of the year.
  • Maintaining a register of recruitment agents and publishing key performance indicators relating to visa refusals, to improve accountability.

If you’ve been following the policy update for a while you may remember our review of a Westminster Higher Education Forum event on this topic earlier this year. The calls to action in the report are exactly those expressed by Johnson previously – he’s nothing if not considered and consistent. Given his influence in the House of Lords, and the strong ex-Ministerial powerhouse of Johnson – Blunkett – Willets, we can expect some pressure from the peers on this and other key HE matters over the next year.

Visas

Legislation to increase the immigration and nationality fees has been laid in Parliament. The changes:

  • the cost for a visit visa for less than six months is rising (by £15) to £115
  • the fee for applying for a student visa from outside the UK will rise +35% (by £127) to £490 (equalling the amount charged for in-country applications).

If approved the new fees will apply from 4 October 2023. Changes to the planned increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge are scheduled to be introduced later in 2023. The Home Office equality impact assessment on the fees is here – its concludes there is no direct or indirect discrimination based on protected characteristics observed for the changes to student fees.

The latest visa letter from Home Secretary Suella Braverman is here. The letter is dated 3 August but it has only just been released to the public via the Lords Science and Tech Committee.

There’s also a parliamentary question on visas granted under the High Potential Individual route.

Finally, from Wonkhe, The Erasmus Student Network has published a report on international student perspectives of the UK, based on polling conducted earlier this year (and with EU students notably overrepresented). Almost 16% of 465 respondents who had studied in the UK reported that obtaining a visa was a significant problem, and almost half disagreed that they received enough support from their host university in finding accommodation. Some 77% would have liked more interaction with local students.

Regulatory

OfS Inquiry

From March 2023 the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee ran an inquiry into the work of the OfS looking closely at its effectiveness as a regulator. The committee published their report: Must do better: the Office for Students and the looming crisis facing higher education. As is clear form the title the Lords concluded that the regulator is performing poorly, even accounting for the extra challenges facing HE today. The report concludes that the OfS has poor relations with both providers and students, a controlling and arbitrary approach to regulation, and a lack of independence from the Government.

On the OfS’ duties and decision making the committee highlight that the OfS has legal duties, but substantial freedom to pick and choose what it prioritises, creating uncertainty. Also the Lords believe the other regulators within the HE sector cause duplication and red tape.

The Lords recommend:

  • When the OfS makes changes to its approach, it should make clear how it has taken its legal duties into account or explain why it has not done so.
  • The Government should set out the steps it is taking to streamline the responsibilities of different regulators in the higher education sector.

On financial sustainability of HE the committee notes the undergraduate tuition fees have been frozen since 2018 with their value further eroded by inflation and that universities are relying more on the income boost provided by international (and postgraduate) fees – which sits uncomfortably with government concerns over the influence of other nations. Bottom line – the committee states that current HE funding is not sustainable and worries about the geopolitical vulnerabilities (in 2021/22 22.3% of student came from China). The peers state we were not convinced that the regulator has paid enough attention to the financial challenges facing the sector.

Recommendations:

  • The Government must review how higher education is funded, setting long-term, sustainable funding and delivery models for the sector
  • Both the Government and the OfS should also clarify whether there is any strategic oversight of the sector’s long-term financial stability.
  • Hold discussions with providers more regularly about their financial situation and ensure it is aware of the systemic challenges facing the sector;

On students the Lords committee highlights that despite the OfS explicitly being set up to regulate in the interests of students it has never defined what these interests are, creating a suspicion that it uses them as a smokescreen for political priorities. And that students often feel their views are not acted upon, especially where they do not match with what the OfS wants to do. The committee gives the example of from the OfS’ Student Panel who stated that when student issues of importance contradicted with the Government’s views the OfS threatened the Panel’s future.

Recommendations:

  • The OfS should conduct work with students, to define student interests and explain how this drives its work.
  • Hold providers to account if they do not ensure prospective students receive clear, digestible information on their course, including its long-term costs and approximate contact hours
  • The OfS must also ensure its Student Panel is free to raise issues of importance to students, whether or not the OfS agrees with them and ensure that there are at least two student representatives on the OfS’ Board and open up more of its work to student involvement.
  • Conduct detailed scoping work, with students, on how it defines “the student interest,” and how this informs its work.

On regulation and sector relations the committee acknowledged evidence from HE sector representatives that found the OfS over controlling in their approach to regulation:

  • We conclude that it [OfS ]has demonstrated little regard either to the autonomy of providers or the impact of its requests and decisions, particularly its onerous requests for data.
  • We also heard that the OfS is both distant and combative in the way it treats providers, giving the impression it seeks to punish them rather than help them to comply.

The peers welcomed the OfS’ focus on value for money for students, however, they felt the OfS did not provide HEIs with value for money because of their regulatory approach and particularly when higher registration fees partly reflect the regulator’s own expanding remit.

Recommendations:

  • The OfS should be more transparent about its approach, making clear why it makes particular requests and decisions.
  • Make clear how it has taken the institutional autonomy of providers into account when it regulates.
  • Build trust with higher education institutions and adopt a more strategic, less combative approach to its work.
  • The Government should reconvene its Higher Education Data Reduction Taskforcein order to reduce unnecessary red tape.
  • Urgently align its framework for quality with international standards, including reinstating an independent Designated Quality Body

On independence from Government the committee questioned whether the OfS really was the independent regulator it claims to be:

  • we found that it lacks both real and perceived independence, with its actions often appearing driven by political priorities. The fact that the OfS Chair continues to take the Conservative Party whip in the House of Lords has not helped.
  • The OfS lacks independence from the Government, and its actions often appear driven by the ebb and flow of short-term political priorities and media headlines.
  • We concluded that the Government has also contributed to this situation, by being too prescriptive in the guidance it sends to the OfS. The situation has been worsened by the fact that the OfS has had to work with seven Education Secretaries and six Universities Ministers since 2018.

Recommendations

  • The Government and the OfS should set out what each of them will do to secure the OfS’ independence.
  • As a first step, the Government should consider requiring serving politicians to resign any party political whip before becoming Chairs of independent regulators.
  • Limit itself to providing higher level, strategic input to the OfS, rather than overly prescriptive guidance.

Lord Hollick, Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee said:

  • At a time when the higher education sector faces a looming crisis caused by financial instability, increased costs, industrial action, and reduced EU research funding, it is vital that the sector’s regulator is fit for purpose.
  • However, it was evident throughout our inquiry that the OfS is failing to deliver and does not command the trust or respect of either providers, or students, the very people whose interests it is supposed to defend. We were surprised by the regulator’s view that the sector’s finances are in good shape, which is not an assessment that we or most of our witnesses share.

The Government must respond to the committee’s report and recommendations by 13 November. It remains to be seen if the Government will throw the OfS under the bus (unlikely) or agree to consider a small number of actions (probable, and most likely those that place the onus on the OfS to deliver) whilst arguing the point on other items. Of course, the Government can completely refute the committee’s report if it wishes too – again this is unlikely because the OfS has already responded to the report conceding improvements are needed in some areas. You can read OfS Chair, Lord Wharton’s, response on the OfS blog and Susan Lapworth’s, OfS Chief Executive, response in Learning lessons – a Research Professional blog.

The report may not be a bad thing for the OfS. They have been willing to concede some shortcomings, and the committee’s recommendations recommend the OfS should be given more freedom and leeway to work outside of the government dictat they currently operate within.

Research Professional (RP) spoke with two members of the Lords committee – Chair Clive Hollick and Ann Taylor (both Labour). RP highlight some of the frank quotes from the Members here.

RP: to what extent do they feel the OfS has fallen short of its objectives, particularly compared with other regulators—and can the trust that has been lost with the higher education sector be regained?

Hollick: It is a relatively new regulator, so it is still finding its feet, if I could put it that way—in response to which, Taylor quips that this is a “very generous” bit of context. Hollick agrees.

They also explore what the Peers think of the OfS denouncement of the QAA:

  • Elsewhere, the Lords expressed concern that the OfS is currently operating not only as England’s regulator but also as its Designated Quality Body, after the Quality Assurance Agency gave up the role over its concerns that the English regulatory framework was now at odds with European standards.
  • The OfS said after the QAA quit as DQB that it wasn’t overly pleased with how the QAA was carrying out its brief anyway.
  • Since that spat, the OfS has said that it sees no problem with keeping the DQB role itself, at least in the medium term. To what extent are Hollick and Taylor concerned about all this?
  • “We’re still trying to find the real reason [why the OfS was unhappy with the QAA],” said Hollick. “Why change something that’s working, that’s trusted, that is actually valuable for the brand, not only nationally but internationally?”
  • He added that the current situation, with the OfS in ostensibly temporary control as DQB, is “a complete muddle, and an unexplained muddle”.
  • Taylor added that the inquiry had heard fears that this was “a power grab” by the OfS, and “unless things are sorted out…that fear remains”.

There was great coverage of the committee report – here are some good sources if you want to read the editorials:

Research Professional: Friends in high places and Lords a-meeting.

Wonkhe blogs:

  • Jim Dickinson reflects on calls to reduce regulation of universities, arguing that the real problem is the way we frame higher education as “big boarding school”.
  • Chair Lord Hollick presents the findings of the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee inquiryinto the work of the Office for Students.
  • Everyone loves to commit to reduce data burden in higher education. Andy Youell asks what it would take to actually do it.
  • The long awaited Industry and Regulators Committee report on the work of the Office for Students is here – David Kernohan sets out everything you need to know.
  • Wonkhe also have a different coverage angle in their Monday summary: Many of its findings and recommendations chime with established concerns about the regulator – distant, opaque, punitive, expensive, politically compromised… But take a step back and what is powerful is the way that the committee’s report situates its critiques in the context of wider financial issues affecting the whole sector. The risks to education quality and to provider sustainability are greater than they were at the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act in 2017. Arguably, the higher education sector needs strong regulation more than ever to address failures where they do occur – but tempered with a sense of proportion about the feasibility of what is expected, and responsibility for the sustainability and success of English higher education. The question, then – with little money around and little prospect of a lot more coming – is what should happen next.

One obvious area for attention is expectations of providers. Even if OfS was seen as credible in its efforts to pursue the interests of students, there is little doubt that some of the “burdens” of regulation might be streamlined to allow the sector to get on with delivering on those interests…

But efficiencies and engagement can only get a reformed regulator and its beleaguered providers so far. There’s a case to be made that expecting one regulator to have a grip of the range of issues affecting students’ university experience and act as a proxy for bodies as diverse as the Charity Commission, the Competition and Markets Authority, and various local authorities is too much to ask. We need bodies looking out for the interests of students, that are worried about their housing and health, and that are capable of causing those things to be discussed and resolved… if the expectations on OfS are just that little bit too large – yet reflect a wider problem of what we ask universities to do while absolving others from ever thinking about over two million citizens.

There is further coverage in the national media: the Mail, the Standard, the BBC, and Byline Times.

For full detail read: the full published committee report on OfS effectiveness.

Quality Regulation

QAA: This week Research Professional highlighted how the House of Lords critique raising concerns over the effectiveness of the OfS is a small victory for the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) which stepped down from the role of Designated Quality Body (April 2023) in protest that the English regulatory framework was at odds with European standards. QAA continues to oversee quality in the other nations of the UK as well as internationally. The Lords report recommends that the OfS urgently aligns its framework for quality with international standards, including reinstating an independent Designated Quality Body.

QAA Chief Executive Vicki Stott stated: We’re really pleased to see that the committee recognises the importance of strengthening the current oversight of quality in England by returning to alignment with international good practice and for quality assessment to be undertaken by an independent body… You can’t simply take a self-assessment review and pass it to the body that is doing the regulation and funding and expect the two of them to mediate the accuracy of that assessment for themselves.

The OfS has responded to the report by saying it will consider the findings carefully over the next few weeks.

You can read the full Research Professional write up here.

On the QAA Wonkhe also inform us that they’ve released a briefing note with a definition of quality in UK higher education, intended for policymakers and other stakeholders internationally. Indicators of quality set out include staff and students thriving professionally and academically, a relevant and challenging learning experience, and external experience being sought and used. And:

This morning, and with impeccable timing, the QAA publishes the first in a new series of briefings on the “future of quality in England”—which it says “builds on” the Lords report. Among other things, it calls for England to “realign” its approach to quality assurance with “internationally agreed good practice”. Read The Future of Quality in England. The paper suggests policymakers commit to:

  1. Realign the English quality system with internationally agreed good practice.This should include honouring the UK’s commitment to the European Higher Education Area by working with QAA and the sector to develop a pathway to alignment that maintains and strengthens international trust while recognising the distinct characteristics of the English sector. This would involve addressing:
  • the independence of quality assessment so that the system operates without fear or favour
  • a periodic touchpoint with all providers to secure up-to-date assessments of their provision
  • student engagement across the full quality system, including as full members of assessment teams
  • the transparency of data, thematic analysis and assessments.
  1. Formally recognise enhancement as part of the quality systemto encourage an approach of continuous improvement where providers are supported by an independent body, such as QAA.
  2. Streamline regulatory requirements from the various bodies with oversight of higher education(Office for Students, Ofsted, Ofqual, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, the Education and Skills Funding Agency and relevant PSRBs) by convening them to align requirements in terms of data requested, format required and relevant deadlines, following the Regulator’s Code principle of ‘collect once, use many times’. This should be achieved through reconvening the Higher Education Data Reduction Taskforce and ensuring all relevant oversight bodies are represented.

Wonkhe blogs:

Students

Cost of living

This week HEPI published on the student cost of living in:  How to Beat a Cost-of-Learning Crisis: Universities’ Support for Students. They find:

  • 76% of universities help their students with food and drink (discounts, food banks and food vouchers), with nearly half (47%) helping with health and more than a third (35%) respectively with travel and digital.
  • Wales, the South West, the North East and the South East were the regions where universities were most likely to operate a food bank.
  • Four-fifths (82%) have an online platform to communicate their support to students.
  • On average, hardship funds are awarded up to £2,470 and institutions commit to get funds to students within four weeks.

Recommendations:

  • All universities should establish a cost-of-living working group streamline their hardship fund, launch an emergency fund and include students throughout their cost-of-living response.
  • Students’ unions should encourage their university to act by mounting an ambitious and practical cost-of-living campaign, founded on strong evidence and excellent relationships with university staff.
  • The Government establishes a cost-of-living taskforce, which consults regularly with students and sector leaders, and urgently reviews the level of maintenance support.

The publication came ahead of this week’s Westminster Hall debate on student cost of living. We have a short summary of the debate cut and thrust here. In the main, Minister Halfon followed the well-worn party line on disadvantage student numbers being up, extra funding for skills, and toughed out the calls for additional hardship funding. He agreed to look into the issue of students taking poorer quality accommodation due to price constraints and explained the government were trying to target hardship funding as there isn’t a consistent national picture. Although it appears the ‘targeting’ is simply the previous redistributed leftover budget that institutions already received.

Research professional also have an excellent summary and analysis on the student cost of living recent publications and debate.

Disciplinary process Pinsent Masons have a blog on disciplinary procedures following the landmark High Court ruling whereby a former student successfully sued their university for breach of contract. It concludes universities should understand the case before making hasty changes to their processes: It is therefore very much about the appropriate training of disciplinary panels and those involved in disciplinary processes, and how they should properly assess and test the evidence put before them – rather than this being a strict process point requiring the need to urgently revise procedures.

Medical Bursaries Vs Loans

While pressure is being applied for allied health professions to reinstate bursaries or receive loan forgiveness the Institute for Fiscal Studies has moved to an opposite position for medical and dental students stating the NHS bursary should be binned and tuition fee loans rolled out. Wonkhe cover the story:

The NHS bursary for medical and dental students should be scrapped and replaced with tuition fee loans, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has argued, with the money saved spent on NHS staff pay. The think tank contends that the bursary “displaces student loan funding” – in some cases leading to less upfront support for those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds – and ultimately benefits high-earning medical graduates who are able to pay off their loans earlier.

It also notes that “Plan 5” student loan reforms in England will benefit medical graduates by around £20,000, undermining one of the original arguments for the bursary which was to protect those who spent many years in training from the effects of high interest rates.

However, the Sutton Trust disagree and call for caution because they believe scrapping the NHS bursary may make medicine less accessible for disadvantaged students. Peter Lampl, Founder of the Sutton Trust, stated:  Any change to the NHS bursary should look at the support provided to students across the NHS professions rather than just for medicine…This is to avoid funnelling less well-off young people towards other health professions and away from medicine for financial reasons. We should also ensure that medical students have adequate access to maintenance support to live on, in whichever form that is provided.

Similarly Wonkhe report on the Union position to move away from tuition fees (across all programmes): The Trades Union Congress has carried a motion in favour of campaigning for the abolition of [all] tuition fees, improved pay and conditions in the higher education sector, and the tackling of education “cold spots”. The motion was proposed by the University and College Union (UCU) to the annual congress.

Loneliness

DCMS published an interesting YouGov survey exploring (young) students’ concerns across a range of areas such as friendships and fitting in, cooking and cleaning for themselves and finding housing, homesickness and loneliness, managing money and the difficulty of their course. It shows the range of intensity of concerns in the above areas. Including that 43% of students worry they’ll be judged if they admit feeling lonely.  The factors students found least helpful to alleviate the loneliness were speaking to university staff and online resources. The Government has launched a loneliness awareness campaign but it’s received criticism from some sector members.

Quick student news

Parliamentary Question: The Government has no remit to intervene in the student housing market (re: overseas students).

Parliamentary Question: tackling anti-Semitic and pro-Iranian messaging in universities.

Parliamentary Question: non-continuation of first year students (2015-2019)

Wonkhe blog: universities can do more to address gambling harms

At-risk Academics

Finally there was a Westminster Hall debate on UK support for At-risk Academics who are working overseas. Julian Lewis MP reflected positively on the work of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and noted that CARA fellows had a (recent) 100% visa application success rate. He called on the Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration to continue to support at-risk academics, and on the government to consider a long-term follow-on scheme. Sarah Dines MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Department, responded on behalf of the Immigration Minister noting the benefits at-risk academics bring to the UK and thanked CARA and the wider university sector for their contribution.  Research Professional has a good article on the record numbers of Ukrainian and Russian academics placed through CARA in the last 18 months.

Admissions

Wonkhe report record numbers secured university places through clearing this year despite a dip in overall recruitment:

16,040 UK 18 year olds found a place through Clearing after releasing themselves from a previous choice this year – 32%  (the largest single pool) of all Clearing placements. Today’s figures come as we reach 28 days after A level results day, usually considered the end of the main application cycle.

Overall recruitment is down by just over 5,000 from last year, though this still represents a growth of 12.9% over 2019 – the last year to feature a comparable results profile immediately prior to Covid-19. Similarly, this year saw a slight decline (around 500) in international recruitment beyond the EU, though this was 25% up on 2019. The BBC and The Evening Standard cover the news.

Savanta have stated the dip in top A level grades drove the increased demand for Clearing this year: early data from UCAS suggests that by the day after results day, 10,400 school leavers had been through Clearing to secure a university place (compared to 6,600 placed at the same point last year), with fewer securing their first or second choice university.

Savanta also have a downloadable report for colleagues interested in how universities approached the marketing and comms around Clearing.

Research Professional has an entertaining and useful read, UCAS pocus, on the UCAS data released for this year’s student intake numbers. It begins: Once more, it is time to release the party poppers and streamers over in Cheltenham. The headline comes with more spin than the average washing machine…. The press release goes on to say that “growing numbers of students that have been placed at their firm choice are using clearing to secure a new choice of university. In total, 16,040 UK 18-year-old applicants found a new course after releasing themselves from a previously held choice. This compares to 14,760 in 2022, and 12,170 in 2019.”…That all sounds wonderful until you pause for a moment to reflect that this must surely mean that “record numbers” of students were therefore denied their first-choice institutions or failed to make the necessary grades.

Some 32 per cent declined their original firm choice—this is the largest single pool. Another 30 per cent did not meet the terms of their offer and were released into clearing on results day, while 38 per cent either applied directly into clearing or held no firm choice.

That is, as Ucas acknowledges, an unprecedented use of clearing, which is surely something that cannot be good for either prospective students or university recruitment planners. It all rather raises the question of whether we should now get serious about a post-qualification admissions process.

Access & Participation

Care leavers

Think tank Civitas published Breaking the Care Ceiling: How many care leavers go to university? In 2022 the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care estimated the lifetime cost of poor outcomes for children with experience of our care system was over £1 million per child. The report argues that graduating university turns the poor outcomes around.

Wonkhe have two blogs:

Other news

Other news

BTEC gap: The Protect Student Choice Campaign published Desperate measures: data and the reform of Level 3 qualifications finding that 155,000 young people – 13% of all sixth form students in England – could be left without a suitable study programme from 2026, given the planned reduction in AGQs [applied general qualifications] and slow growth of T levels. See chart below. They also provide examples of when they believe the government has misrepresented data to suggest AGQs such as BTECs perform poorly. You can read their points on the data here.

HTQs: The Government’s policy line has been to grow Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQ) for several years, and it’s a particular passion for current Universities Minister Robert Halfon. If you’re not quite sure what a HTQ is we’ve got an explainer (below) and the Government has released a policy paper providing an overview of how the funding and approval system works for HTQs.

The key information to understand about HTQs is that they are an alternative qualification to apprenticeships and degrees. They are level 4 or 5 qualifications such as HNCs, HNDs and foundation degrees. They bridge the gap between A/T Levels and degrees and are taught at a range of FE, HE and independent providers. The Government plans to expand the range of HTQ courses by 2025 – there’s a list here (scroll down to Available Subjects).

Creative & Arts round up: An interesting Guardian article noting the disappearance of art schools. Wonkhe also had creative content this week: All political parties should commit to a series of measures in support of creative education, a coalition of sector bodies has urged. The Creative Education Coalition – made up of sector bodies including University Alliance, GuildHE and London Higher, as well as institutions and subject groupings – has set out a manifesto with eight “asks” for revitalising creative arts education from school level onwards, including retention of BTEC qualifications in creative areas and an end to “low value” rhetoric around arts subjects and careers. There’s a Wonkhe blog on the topic too: A manifesto for creative education. Finally, AHRC has announced a reduction in the number of PhD students it funds from 425 to around 300 by 2029–30. There will be an increase in “strategic investments that fill specific sector-related gaps,” with a lower number of studentships through its Doctoral Training Partnerships – these will also be funded through a formula approach, rather than competition, in a move designed to reduce administrative burden (Wonkhe).

Commuters: The COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) study published new analysis of their cohort data and report that this year’s university applicants look more likely to stay at home during term time than previous cohorts.

Midwifery educators: Wonkhe – A lack of senior midwifery educators is severely impacting the UK’s ability to recruit more midwives, a new report has found. The State of Midwifery report from the Royal College of Midwifery (RCM) highlights growing numbers of people leaving midwifery education – with poor working conditions and low pay among the main reasons for the resignations. It says the drop off in educators has increased staff-to-student ratios in the UK, and in the 2022-23 academic year there were fewer recruits than previous years. The number of midwifery students leaving their courses before graduating is also rising, with around 15 per cent of students failing to complete their degree in 2021-22. The Belfast Telegraph has the story.

UUK International published Lessons from the UK higher education sector response to the invasion of Ukraine. Full report here, summary here. UUKi introduce the report: the report highlights how the UK sector was mobilised to support universities in Ukraine and sets out ways in which we might better respond to future crises, while recognising that there is no ‘one size fits all’ model. It reflects on the policy, funding and political levers which have enabled a broadbased response and how these need to be considered when formulating a response to emerging crises at individual, institutional and sector levels. The report sets out a framework that institutions might employ to help develop and tailor such responses, providing a practical tool that can help maximise the effectiveness and impact of university action.

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HE policy update – summer catch up September 2023

The best bits from the summer period!

To keep the overall size of this policy update smaller we have included several linked documents to provide further detail on some items. These documents are in pdf format and accessed through a hyperlink in the text. If you would like the original documents (in Word) for accessibility purposes, please email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Parliamentary News: Reshuffle, no kerfuffle

Rishi has reshuffled his Ministers and you can find all the Cabinet members here.  All the junior ministers and their portfolios for both departments are here.

It’s stability in the main for both departments. David Johnston OBE joins the DfE as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (mainly care, SEND and schools focussed but with free speech in education within his brief too), replacing Claire Coutinho, who was promoted). Johnson was previously Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation (a charity which runs a range of programmes that incorporate mentoring, internships, university application support and skills development to help young people from low-income backgrounds enter universities and professions). Johnson has been active in the media on education, generally supportive of technical education, and tweets about social mobility factors a lot.

Labour has reshuffled the Shadow Cabinet appointments – I’ve put all the appointments (both new and those that have remained in post) here. Of most interest are:

  • Matt Western remains as the Shadow Minister for HE
  • Seema Malhotra is appointed as the Shadow Minister for Skills
  • Peter Kyleappointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

Horizon Europe

Finally!!! The Government has announced that the UK has made a deal and will associate with the Horizon Europe and Copernicus programmes through a bespoke agreement with the EU. Researchers can apply for grants and bid to take part in projects under the Horizon programme, as a fully associated member from now until the end of this Horizon programme in 2027. Once adopted, the UK will also be able to join the governance of EU programmes – which the UK has been excluded from over the last three years.

The UK will also associate to Copernicus, the European Earth Observation programme. This will provide the UK’s earth observation sector with access to specialist data, e.g. to help with early flood and fire warnings, and be able to bid for contracts (we’ve been excluded for the last three years).

It may be a case of the devil is in the detail however, the Government’s press release sets out the financial protections that have been agreed for the UK:

  • We will not pay for the time where UK researchers have been excluded from since 2021, with costs starting from January 2024This will also provide breathing space to boost the participation of UK researchers in open calls for grants before we start paying into the programme. [Because it’s expected it’ll take UK researchers some lead time before the UK begins securing a volume of successful bids.]
  • The UK will have a new automatic clawback that protects the UK as participation recovers from the effects of the last two and a half years. It means the UK will be compensated should UK scientists receive significantly less money than the UK puts into the programme. This wasn’t the case under the original terms of association.

UUKI state the agreement must be adopted by the EU-UK Specialised Committee on Union Programmes. They also clarify:

  • UK researchers will be able to carry out European Research Council and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action projects in the UK while retaining their status as ERC or MSCA grantees.
  • UK researchers can once again lead collaborative projects as coordinators.
  • UK research entities will count towards the consortium eligibility requirements as one of the three required partners from EU Member States or Associated Countries (nb. consortia will still need one partner from an EU Member State).

From Minister Donelan’s written statement:

  • From today, UK scientists can bid and participate confidently in the world’s largest programme of research cooperation – alongside their EU, Norwegian, New Zealand and Israeli colleagues – and with countries like Korea and Canada looking to join…UK academics and industry will be able to bid, secure funding for, and, crucially, lead, the vast majority of new calls that will be opening throughout the autumn. UK researchers and businesses can be certain that all successful UK applicants will be covered through the UK’s association for the rest of the programme (or through the remainder of the UK’s Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme as we transition to these new arrangements). All calls in Work Programme 2024 will be covered by association and the UK guarantee scheme will be extended to cover all calls under Work Programme 2023. UK scientists and researchers can lead project consortia under Work Programme 2024 – a key ask of the sector – allowing them to shape the next generation of international collaboration.
  • Under the previous programme the UK established over 200,000 collaborative links, and we will now play a leading role in a range of ground-breaking industry collaborations such as the AI, Data and Robotics Partnership worth over £2 billion, or the Cancer Mission aiming to help more than 3 million people by 2030.
  • Access to Horizon Europe was a top ask of our research community. We have listened to our sector and in this deal delivered collaboration where it is most valuable to UK science. This provides our scientists with a stable base for international collaboration and makes sure we are on track to deliver on the ambition to make the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030.
    Euratom (nuclear) association is out, rumoured because the UK believes we’re further ahead than Europe. Donelan: The UK will not join the Euratom programme. The UK fusion sector has communicated a preference for an alternatives programme that would involve direct investment in the UK sector. We are pleased to announce that we will be doing exactly that. We plan to invest up to £650 million to 2027 in a programme of new, cutting-edge alternative programmes subject to business cases, and will announce further details shortly.

Links: Government press announcement; EU/UK joint statement; FAQs on the deal (provided by EU)

Press: Guardian. Research Professional: charm offensive, plan B still on cards (Minister Freeman), implications for Switzerland. UUK warm welcome

FRAP

The Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP) is gradually wrapping up following the latest publications. The FRAP addressed how research might be measured (and rewarded) in 2028 and proposed a number of changes to the current REF. The reports that informed the planned changes have been released. This Research Professional article is a good quick read, it begins:  we learned what had influenced the thinking behind these changes, with the publication of a summary of stakeholder engagements, an analysis of equality, diversity and inclusion in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework and another analysis, commissioned from the policy-advice group Technopolis, of how much that exercise had cost to run.

  • …the starkest numbers appeared in the examination of costs. It showed that the overall cost for higher education institutions reached £430 million for REF 2021, up from £237m for the 2014 exercise. The four UK national funding bodies spent a further £17m, while the cost to the panels that assessed submissions was £24m.
  • The total average cost for each university or research institute rose from £2m in REF 2014 to £3m in REF 2021, with the average cost per researcher submitted amounting to £6,000—up from £4,000.
  • institutions had also been doing a lot of work that they weren’t asked to do because they wanted to optimise the REF process—hardly surprising…
  • the interesting thing for 2028 is how can we reach a kind of settlement with the sector to say how much of this do we really need to do?”…“And how much can we stand back from in the interests of reducing the burden on everybody?”
  • by removing the association between individual staff and outputs, the changes suggested by the Frap would make a big difference—particularly for institutions without a large infrastructure, such as smaller specialist institutions.
  • Implementing the Frap recommendations is expected to save institutions an estimated £100m and…. the research funders would use the Technopolis report to make calculated reductions in costs.

You can find all the reports here and the stakeholder engagement summary here.
Wonkhe have a blog too: REF is expensive because it’s good value.

Research – Quick news

The Science and Technology Committee published their interim report into the governance of AI: summary here. There’s a world first summit on AI safety to be held 1-2 November. International governments, leading AI companies and experts in research will unite for crucial talks and agree a set of rapid, targeted measures for furthering safety in global AI use. Matt Clifford and Jonathan Black have been appointed as the Prime Minister’s Representatives.

  1. Announcements: UKRI announced the creation of four new research facilities, and a survey has found that “extreme measures” are needed to help some European research infrastructures deal with the “severe” impact of higher energy costs (Research Professional).
  2. Peer Review: Research Professional have an article on UKRI’s Review of Peer Review: UKRI report suggests AI could improve grant reviews.
  3. Overall: UKRI has published its annual report and accounts for financial year 2022–23. The year saw it assess over 22,300 applications for funding, and make 6,118 awards (as well as support 1,897 Horizon Europe Guarantee grants). (Wonkhe.)
  4. QR Funding: Research England has notified institutions that it is “not yet in a position” to confirm quality-related research (QR) funding or Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) allocations for 2023–24, “due to the complete replacement of our analytical system and associated quality-assurance processes.” It plans to publish an overview of its budget later this month, and individual allocations from late summer. (Wonkhe.)
  5. Parliamentary Question: Strengthening UK-Africa science and tech research and partnerships.
  6. Life Sciences sector: OLS, DSIT and DHSC have jointly published the life sciences sector data for 2023 covering the research environment, domestic market, production environment, international collaboration, investment environment, and access to skilled labour. Links:

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: life science ecosystem

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: user guide

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: data tables

Foundation year fee caps & student number controls

Read more about the government’s latest plans to incentivise quality below.  In that context, the outcomes of the first two of the OfS investigations into quality related matters – 2 of the 8 business and management investigations – were reported this week.  The OfS haven’t announced any sanctions yet, but number controls could be in their toolbox.  The VC of London South Bank University (no concerns were found after the investigation) wrote for HEPI about the experience.

Way back (February 2018) PM Theresa May announced a review of post-18 education and funding whereby the Government consulted on HE reform, and the Augar report (2019) resulted. There was a lot of change on the table for consideration and the Government launched further consultation concluding in January 2021 and February 2022. The Government introduced piecemeal changes since the Augar report, most recently laying the legislation for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (implemented from 2025). This Government response document is the latest in these piecemeal changes and continues to focus on changes to ensure high quality HE provision across the sector. The Government states:

We have set out…what more government will do to continue to drive up the quality of higher education. This includes asking the Office for Students (OfS) to use recruitment limits to help drive out provision which is not delivering good student outcomes, a sharp focus on franchising arrangements, and a reduction in the maximum fee and loan limits for classroom-based foundation years. We will also ask the OfS to consider how they can take graduate earnings into account in their quality regime. We know many factors influence graduate earnings – but students have a right to expect that higher education will lead to improved employment opportunities and commensurate earnings… These reforms represent the start, and not the end, of our determination to drive out low-quality provision. We are confident that this will be successful with the support of the sector. The Government has decided not to proceed with a minimum eligibility requirement at this point in time, but if the quality reforms set out here do not result in the improvements we seek, we will consider further action if required.

Student Number Controls: The government believes that as most HEIs charge the maximum fee, combined with no student number controls, it has incentivised providers to expand student numbers on courses that are less expensive to teach, but which may only provide limited benefits to graduates and the wider economy.

There was a consultation on whether to introduce student number controls to prevent ‘the growth of low quality provision’. Instead the Government decided to task (via statutory guidance) the OfS to consider ‘recruitment limits’ for courses not delivering positive outcomes for students – this is already in train because the OfS is already permitted to impose recruitment limits on providers. However, the Government’s newly announced plans concern the OfS’ existing powers and regulatory framework, including the B3 condition of registration on student outcomes (continuation rates, course completion, and graduate progression). Recruitment limits won’t be applied to a course without a prior investigation, and providers will have opportunities to set out contextual information for why a course might not be delivering the student outcomes required by the B3 condition.

The OfS is expected to consider how it can incorporate graduate earnings into its regulatory regime for quality purposes too.

Foundation Year Fee Caps: Foundation years are a route in for students that do not meet the entry requirement for a particular course. However, the Augar report questioned how effective and necessary they were for students. And with the introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement the Government does not want the full lifelong entitlement to be taken by one degree course entered through a foundation year. They have also been vociferous in their questioning of foundation year costs and urged for some time for the fees charged to be lower. Through the document the Government has stipulated the from 2025/26 the maximum fee and loan limit for foundation years will be lowered to £5,760 for classroom-based subjects whilst the maximum fee and loan limits of £9,250 will remain for all other subjects.

Here’s a little more detail:

  • ‘classroom based foundation years provision’ means the subjects currently in OfS Price Group D …the government will issue detailed guidance to the higher education sector on the subjects that the £5,760 fee cap will apply to in due course. While we’re waiting, we do know the challenge is to law, business and management (not tourism, transport or travel), social sciences (not health studies), and humanities (English, historical, philosophical and religious studies (exception is archaeology) including publicity studies. Although it really depends which HECoS code the course falls within as to whether it’s in or out.
  • The Government means business on the foundation year clamp down: We will keep fee and loan limits for foundation years under review, particularly where growth is concerning, and will not hesitate to impose further reductions if necessary. We encourage providers to ensure their business model is not reliant on income from foundation years.

Throughout the Government’s campaign to reduce foundation years undertaken, and reduce their costs where there do continue has been the push back from the access and participation community who state foundation years remove barriers and allow non-traditional or disadvantaged students to enter HE and ultimately achieve a degree.

Finally, other consultation questions covered plans for a new national scholarship scheme and how to grow the provision of high-quality level 4 and 5 courses. The Government document didn’t contain any detail on the scholarship scheme, however, they have confirmed they will not change the maximum fee limits for level 4 and 5 courses from £9,250 at this time.

Students

  • Cost of living: The Commons Library have a briefing on Cost of living support for students
  • Student struggles: The National Union of Students (NUS) Wales has published survey findingswhich show that a quarter of students in post-16 education were unable to find suitable housing last year as rent and bills increased, and 8% had experienced homelessness.

The research on the impact on students of the cost-of-living crisis also found that 1 in 5 students were working more than 20 hours a week alongside their studies, with 64% of those with jobs saying it negatively impacted their students.

Accommodation

PwC and StudentCrowd published Student accommodation: Availability and rental growth trends July 2023 for privately-owned Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) across the UK.

While demand outstripping supply creates an investment opportunity, particularly for private capital, it also represents a challenge for both universities and students. If left unresolved, it is likely to adversely impact affordability of accommodation, the student experience, university reputation and, ultimately, future recruitment of students. With students facing rising costs of living, without a corresponding increase in maintenance loan levels, the cost of accommodation will, for some, become a prohibitive factor in higher education (HE) participation, impacting those from under-represented groups the most.

There are illustrative charts and more detail along with recommendations for colleagues particularly interested in student accommodation – see the full report.

Healthcare students – pay and childcare

There are three petitions currently in front of parliament relating to pay and financial support (childcare) for healthcare students including student midwives, nurses and paramedics. The petitions call for healthcare students to be paid at least minimum wage for their placement hours and for the 30 hours free childcare offer to be extended to the students. Pay and conditions for healthcare students has been a constant rumble in the background since 2017 when the NHS Bursary and free tuition fees were abolished and students were switched. The strong public support shown for the petitions means a debate has been scheduled and a Government representative will be asked to respond to the petitions.

For colleagues who would benefit from dipping into the full history and detail behind healthcare student’s pay and financial support there is an excellent briefing provided in advance of the parliamentary debate.  You can view the petitions here: 610557616557 and 6196409.

Student Loans – what the policy makers are reading

The House of Commons Library has updated their briefing on student loan statistics. The content is the same as we’ve outlined in recent policy updates. However, what is of interest to the sector is that these briefings are how many non-ministerial policy makers obtain their in-depth information on topics (because they don’t have a departmental team briefing them on the topic). The briefings are impartial (i.e. don’t side with one political party over another) but the content the brief focuses on may lead to debate focusing on these topics in the House. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation and the reinforcement of the focus can lead to a self-fulfilling circle – hence why it’s useful for the sector to be aware of the information the parliamentarians are reading.

For more detail and other student loan statistics you can read the full briefing.

Parliamentary Question: The Plan 5 reforms will make the student loan system fairer for taxpayers and fairer for students, helping to keep the system sustainable in the long term.

Other sources on debt: The cost of student loan debt has been picked up again recently by media. The Times and Martin Lewis ran features on whether it’s better (or not) for parents who can afford to pay upfront for university costs rather than burden their children with long term debt. CAPX wants to replace student loans with ISAs. And Wonkhe report on the small but significant number of students…taking out maintenance loans but not fee loans – in 2021–22 this amounted to £281.2m across 51,000 students. Or 6% of full time English undergraduates. This blog explores the group and considers reasons nicely. There’s a data heavy section in the middle, do skip past it if you’re not keen, and read on further through the blog for more context. Here’s a quick summary of the data elements: The providers where maintenance loans outnumber those with fee loans are mostly connected by a strong access and participation role – that and a recent strategic focus on franchise and partnership arrangements. Wonkhe explain: One possible explanation is that students, agents recruiting students, or some providers are taking advantage of the time period between when students are to access and spend the maintenance loan and when they become liable for the fee loan. We don’t know for sure, but it is certainly one possibility that regulators and those responsible for university partnerships may wish to keep in mind.

Graduates – university boost

UUK report that 73% of UK graduates credit going to university with enabling them to find the job they wanted in under 1 year. In addition the report finds that 79% of graduates say going to university enabled them to build skills that have proved professionally valuable, and 71% of first in their family UK graduates said that going to university opened doors to companies for them.

Employment

  • During a cost-of-living-crisis – two-thirds (64%) say that going to university has improved their job security
  • 97% of senior managers polled revealed that graduates reach managerial positions faster, as a result of going to university
  • 73% of business leaders surveyed believe that going to university introduces graduates to peers who can help them build their careers
  • UK graduates see their salary increase by 8.2% on average with their first promotion
  • 61% of business leaders say that going to a UK university puts candidates at an advantage in comparison with other international candidates when applying for a job at their company

Industry knowledge and skills

  • 76% of UK graduates going to university helped to build their self-confidence
  • Over a quarter (28%) of UK graduates first gained employment through a direct connection to their university or degree course

Increasing social mobility

  • Those who were the first in their family to go to university had a slightly higher average starting salary than those who were not the first to attend; £30,111 versus £27,754
  • 51% of business leaders who were the first in their family to go to university said it helped them fast track their career, compared to 46% of business leaders who weren’t

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

  • This new research clearly demonstrates the value that graduates benefit from when they go to university in the UK. The benefits captured by this research are numerous – from job security and career ambitions, to earnings and social mobility. They highlight how highly UK universities are regarded not just by those who attend them, but also by those who hire their graduates and benefit from their skills.
  • It is clear that Universities play a huge role not only in preparing graduates for employment, but also in teaching them crucial, transferable life skills that will serve them throughout their career. Ultimately, what this research demonstrates is that our universities play a powerful role in helping graduates forge successful career paths that can help return the UK economy to growth and continue to power our public services.

LEO

The LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data for 2020-21 has been released. Quick reminder – the LEO data looks at the employment and earnings outcomes of graduates and postgraduates at 1, 3, 5 and 10 years after graduation. One aspect of a university’s performance that the regulator watches with their quality hat on is their graduate outcomes.  If you’re interested in graduate outcomes I’d recommend you engage with the short, simple explanations here and there’s plenty to capture your attention further down the page where you can drill down into charts and summaries by student characteristics such as subject, prior attainment, ethnicity, and disadvantage (POLAR). The provider level data is also well worth a browse through. There’s too much of interest for us to cover it all here so do dive in at source.

What we will mention is where media focussed their attention – on the widening pay gap for graduates previously receiving fee school meals. The data shows that at one, three and five years after graduation, graduates whose families claimed free school meals (FSM) were less likely to be in sustained employment, further study or both than graduates whose families did not claim FSM…and their median earnings were lower – 10% lower at 5 years post-graduation. It continued a trend seen in previous years – that the earnings gap increases as the years after graduation increase. You can see the charts and read more of the detail on the gap here.

If you’d prefer a very quick overall here’s what Wonkhe have to say: This latest iteration of the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset shows that the impact of Covid-19 as measured by subject area and by industrial area varied widely. Overall, the experience was a negative one for graduate and postgraduate earnings – though in most cases these remained relatively stable in real terms. At a subject level, there appeared to be a greater impact by provider in computing, law, and business and management subjects. This year’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data drop refers to the 2020–21 tax year – a period during which you may recall that the global economy was subject to a number of shocks. The fascinating thing about what we see from our heavily-caveated data on graduate salaries is how little impact this appears to have had. In most cases graduates could expect a similar level of pay, in real terms, to every other year LEO covers.

And what they read into the politics: All this prompts us to ask what LEO is really for, and what it really shows us. It’s gone from being a central feature of the government’s armoury of tools to identify and destroy “low-quality” courses – thus driving down the cost of the loan system – to featuring only on the data graveyard that is Discover Uni. Even the people who write those “best course for a big salary” articles rely on aggregated CVs rather than an actual government release. One wonders if Wonkhe will change their opinion on this given the weekend’s announcement on the role of graduate data in student number controls.

Plus a blog: LEO – it promised much, but in regulatory terms has delivered little. David Kernohan wonders what went wrong. And another: however, it does offer a useful corrective to the use of provider- and subject-level outcomes measures.

Note: the LEO data is different to the DfE 2022 Graduate labour market statistics (see Graduate Employability section for coverage of the DfE statistics).

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published an article on the data released exploring the educational attainment of pupils in English towns, using data from the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset. It examines how educational attainment differs by town size, deprivation level and the average qualification levels of residents in the previous generation, using LEO data, and focusses on pupils who sat their GCSEs in the 2012 to 2013 school year. A summary provided by Dods Political Intelligence is available here.

Sharia-compliant student finance

This Parliamentary Library paper on Sharia-compliant alternative student finance is a good catch up on the basics and latest news for the alternative student finance system which the Government plan to introduce from 2025. There haven’t been any further developments since this was announced at the beginning of the summer period.

Students: Quick News

Cost of living: Wonkhe blog –  Eighteen months into the biggest cost of living crisis the UK has seen in decades, Jim Dickinson tries to work out if university advice on the costs that students will face has improved.

Mental Health: Wonkhe – Some 30 per cent of undergraduates starting university this September will have a history of missing education due to their mental health, the Unite Students 2023 Applicant Index suggests, drawing on a survey of 2,141 applicants for 2023–24 entry conducted by Savanta in May (and weighted to be broadly representative of the applicant population as a whole). Of these, 24 per cent have missed 20 days or more due to mental health issues. The survey also found that 18 per cent of applicants with a disability say they have no plans to disclose it to their university.

Harassment: The Women and Equalities select committee report Attitudes towards women and girls in educational settings concluded that sexual harassment and abuse of female students and staff is a serious problem in education. They call on the Government to support the following recommendations for implementation in universities

  • OfS should implement a new condition of registration to place mandatory obligations on universities to tackle sexual harassment and sexual violence
  • Develop a nationwide sexual harassment and sexual violence awareness campaign that particularly targets male university students
  • Compulsory intervention programmes (evidence-based bystander intervention) for all first-year university students

Transport: Parliamentary Question – the cost of public transport on students’ finances and mobility.

Parliamentary Question: Students cost of living (grant question).

Apprenticeship Barriers

The UCAS and Sutton Trust report What influences the choices of would-be apprentices looks at the choices and barriers students face on the journey to an apprenticeship, such as when discovering, applying for and entering a role. Here’s the press release if you prefer the quick read version: Three in five do not pursue apprenticeships because they cannot find one, or here’s an impartial succinct summary of the key points prepared by Dods.

Of note for HE in the report are the recommendations for degree apprenticeships (below) and the recommendation for parity between degrees and apprenticeships (see page 7).

Parliamentary Question: Incentivising universities to provide more higher apprenticeships

Admissions:

The Government responded to the House of Commons Education Committee’s report on The future of post-16 qualifications. Committee report here; Government response here. The Government’s response does not depart from the same party lines you’d expect – rationalising qualifications, the study of maths to age 18, skills bootcamps and is primarily focussed on T levels and apprenticeships. Halfon’s priorities are apparent – HTQs, apprenticeships/skills, and careers advice (especially as relates to T levels).  One concession is that the Government does ‘note’ or acknowledge the Committee’s interest in Baccalaureate models.

We’ve three major data releases included in this policy update. This one is the 2023 cycle application data (at 30 June deadline). The June deadline is when students have to apply for (up to 5) choices of HE provision (and make their conditional firm and back up selection) so this data snapshot provides a good look at the application rates.

We cover the high level data below, but for those who want more interpretation of the implications we recommend reading Research Professional’s (slightly irreverent) Ucas’d a spell on me – What’s the difference between reality and spin in this year’s application data? It begins: It is one of the perennial puzzles of higher education in the UK: why does the university application service Ucas insist on trying to spin good news stories about higher education entry data when the available evidence points to the contrary?

Here’s the top level data:

Note: All data relates to UK applicants unless we specify otherwise.

  • 18-year-old applicant numbers are 319,570; down -2% from 326,190 in 2022, but up on 2021 (311,010, +2.8%).
  • 37,410 18-year-olds from POLAR4 Quintile 1 (i.e. the lowest rate of participation) have applied – this is down from the record of 38,310 in 2022 (-2.3%), but an increase on 2021 when numbers stood at 34,840 (+7.4%).
  • The number of international applicants (all ages) stands at 138,050, up from 134,870 in 2022 (+2.4%), and 130,390 in 2021 (+5.9%). This is driven by interest from India (+ 8.7), the Middle East (+20.8%) and Africa (+3.9%). Meanwhile, applicants from China are down by 2.2% (UCAS says most likely due to Covid-19 restrictions and disruption to learning).
  • The number of UK 18-year-olds applicants who have declared their ethnicity as Asian, Black, Mixed or other has increased by 4.4% – 104,160 in 2023, versus 99,770 in 2022, and 89,560 in 2021 (+16.3%).
  • A total of 1,740 people with predicted T Levels have applied to higher education, up from 490 last year (252%).

Admissions – quick news

  • Parliamentary Question: Foundation Degree enrolments (national data).
  • Clare Marchant reflects on her time as Chief Executive, and the progress UCAS has made in this Research Professional blog.
  • Finally, an entertaining parliamentary question asking reasons for the difference in the number of men and women entering university was answered by Minister Halfon who managed to link together the male gender underrepresentation in HE and the gap in progression rates with prior attainment concluding that universities should have a more direct role in driving up the standards in schools. He even mentions degree apprenticeships and skills related courses and the OfS Equality of Opportunity Risk Register as a key marker for social justice to ensure that no student groups are left behind. So there you go, it’s up to universities to do more to fix the systemic issues behind the lower number of men entering HE provision. One wonders if the staffer who wrote the response to this parliamentary question was after promotion or on a whim to win the office keyword bingo.

International

HEPI published their annual soft-power index (where the world’s countries are headed by someone educated in the UK or another country other than their own). America still leads the field but the UK has taken a step closer to America’s top numbers.

  • In the first year of the Index (2017), there were more world leaders who had been educated in the UK tertiary sector than in any other country, including the US. But the US overtook the UK in 2018 and extended its lead in each of the four subsequent years – in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
  • The new results for 2023 show, in contrast, that the gap between the number of current world leaders educated in the US and the UK has shrunk for the first time since the Index began: compared to last year, there are two more countries with a leader educated in the UK and two fewer countries with a leader educated in the US, reducing the gap by four.
  • There are 195 countries in the world and around one-quarter of them (54 or 28%) have at least one very senior leader who was educated in the US while a similar number (53 or 27%) have at least one very senior leader who was educated in the UK. As there is some overlap, with a handful of leaders being educated in both the UK and the US, the total number of countries with a very senior leader who has been educated at a higher level in the US and / or the UK is 84 (43% of the world’s countries).

Research Professional verge dangerously close to stating that the recruitment of international students for financial sustainability is/will impact on the number of domestic UK students recruited when they report on this Telegraph article and this opinion piece. Read the Squeezed Middle (meaning middle class students are/will be pushed out by international recruitment and outreach targets to recruit disadvantaged students) to see if you agree with the reasoning presented. Of interest is that the number of unplaced applicants (presumably domestic applicants) rose by 46% last year to 20,000 (was 14,000 the previous year), that’s quite a jump.

Quick news from Wonkhe:

Parliamentary Question: Cost of living support for international students.

Access & Participation

The Research Professional article Squeezed Middle may be of interest.

TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education – one of the Government’s what works centres) published a project report – Addressing gaps in the participation of sandwich courses. Project partners were:

  • University of Surrey who focused on the intention to apply for and complete a sandwich course.
  • Nottingham Trent University (NTU) who focused on converting this intention to successful completion of the sandwich course.

Findings – intention to apply and participate

  • There was a perception that disabled students, students from low-income families, and black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students were underrepresented on sandwich courses. However, few providers were able to provide specific statistics about their sandwich course cohorts nor identify whether those taking up sandwich courses were representative of the wider student population.
  • Both staff and students identified several factors that influence a students’ ability to apply to and complete a sandwich course such as a perceived lack of support from providers and challenges associated with travelling considerable distances for a work placement.
  • Staff referenced a variety of activities, some of which had already been implemented, to remove the barriers (financial and otherwise) that WP students experience when accessing sandwich courses, such as students attending a budgeting meeting to ensure they would be able to cope financially.
  • There was a consensus from both staff and students that participating in a sandwich course had a positive influence on employment outcomes for students.

Findings – successful completion of sandwich course

  • Students, employers and staff identified confidence and resilience as important for helping students navigate challenges that arise throughout the process of applying to, securing and completing a sandwich course.
  • They also reported that biases remain against students from disadvantaged backgrounds that can influence their experiences of navigating the process of applying to and securing a placement as part of their course.
  • A lack of placement opportunities, and lack of opportunities in geographically convenient areas, were identified by students as a factor in whether they could secure a placement.
  • The requirement for money and resources was also reported as a challenge for their participation in the course.

Recommendations for HE providers:

  • Develop Enhanced Theories of Change (ToCs) to plan, and rigorously evaluate, the impact of support for WP students accessing sandwich courses.
  • Make more use of their institutional data and administrative datasets, such as the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset, to track students into the labour market and evaluate employment outcomes.
  • Consider implementing specific support on student finances for learners intending to take part in a sandwich course.
  • Provide comprehensive and tailored support to WP students considering a sandwich course, as well as those who have already enrolled in the course, at multiple points to ensure students are supported to start and complete the course.
  • Take a strategic approach to employability support, developing and evaluating programmes specifically designed for disadvantaged students in order to address the gaps between more and less advantaged students.

High potential students

The Sutton Trust published: Stories from the Class of 2023 – Education experiences of high potential students from different backgrounds as part of its new Social Mobility: The Next Generation series. The report sets out key differences and similarities between high attainers from different socio-economic backgrounds:

Differences

  • Overall, the major areas in which socio-economic background drove differences in young people’s experiences were the quality of and access to education. Quality was defined by staff turnover, lack of teachers and generally poor quality of (online) teaching, whereas access to education was limited or enabled on the basis of technological access.
  • Socio-economic background also informed differences in the role and level of engagement of parents.
  • Differences in socio-economic backgrounds were also associated with a varying consistency of motivation and the varying degree in the perceived importance of hard work.
  • Experiences of the COVID pandemic were mainly shaped by the quality of and access to education, as well as differences between state and private education.

 Similarities

  • Regardless of socio-economic background, young high attainers also shared similarities such as the importance of relationships with parents, teachers and friends as well as an intrinsic motivation to perform well at school.
  • They also shared the importance of disruptive life events such as COVID-19 or experiences of bullying and its detrimental effect on motivation, mental health & wellbeing.
  • Inequalities stemming from (mental) health, sexuality, gender or race could be intertwined or go across socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Across socio-economic backgrounds, high attainers were guided by their personal interests in their future plans.

Recommendations include a national strategy to close the attainment gaps that have opened since the pandemic, reform of school admissions for a better socio-economic mix of pupils across schools (those who attend more socially mixed schools progress more at GCSE), universities to recognise the disruption faced by students and support their transition and success (universities to identify key gaps in learning at an early stage in the first term, and provide continuing support if necessary, as well as support for student mental health and wellbeing).

There’s a short blog on the report if you don’t fancy reading the full content.

Place, Privilege and Prestige

HE Minister Halfon spoke at the NEON Summer Symposium. The key element of his speech focussed on social justice, structured around his three ‘P’s of Place, Privilege and Prestige. His passion topics of skills, FE, apprenticeships and careers advice were all explored in the speech.

As far as I am concerned, social justice is fundamental to higher education. Universities should exist to facilitate the studies, progression and graduation of all students – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds – so they can go on to get good jobs and pursue worthwhile careers.

On Privilege:  the Office for Students recently launched the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register, with 12 key risks to equality of opportunity across the student lifecycle. These have used evidence to determine where interventions can really move the dial on social justice. They’ll be an important tool for designing future initiatives to broaden access to HE, and I look forward to providers rewriting their upcoming Access and Participation plans to incorporate them.

On Prestige:

  • I want technical education and training routes to have parity of prestige with academic routes…For students to be excited at the prospect of learning a real technical skill that can get them a job. And for teachers to value pupils’ success equally, whether they accomplish a T Level or three A levels.
  • I really believe degree apprenticeships can bridge this gap in a way that other initiatives haven’t managed…HE needs to allow FE to leverage some of its prestige. At this point Halfon announced a bidding process for universities on degree apprenticeships to come later in the year (through OfS). He continued:
  • I also want to end the perception that FE colleges are somehow second-rate institutions. And that to finally emerge from the shadow of academia, there must be a ‘Skills Oxbridge’ we can point to. I have great respect for the academic excellence of Oxford and Cambridge, but we need to stop using them as a benchmark for everything else.

You can read the official (as written, not necessarily exactly as Halfon delivered it) speech here.

However, NEON report that the audience was unimpressed and even angered by Halfon’s speech. One attendee, Jessica Newton, felt compelled to blog and give voice to her frustrations. Excerpts:

  • Was it the halls of residence pillow causing a twinge in my neck or was it the physical cringe when he was so unaware of his contradicting messages when addressing his already unimpressed audience? His feeble attempt to be one of the people ‘I too come from a working-class background’ was instantly discredited when he followed that by ‘but I went to an independent school’ and ‘my father gave me no choice but to go to university’. The lack of awareness that it is the independent schools and the encouraging parents that elevate one student above another almost sent my neck into spasm.
  • How dare Robert Halfon sit there and express how joyous his time at university was and how free he felt and then explain that for the disadvantaged students there’s some really incredible vocational choices out there for them. How dare Robert Halfon say how free he felt at university when I speak to 13-year-olds that are making plans for their future so they can financially support the rest of their family. How dare Robert Halfon say how free he felt free at university and have the severe lack of awareness young people are raised with no safety net, there is simply no room for feeling free.
  • …How dare Robert Halfon have his moment in the spotlight and have the ‘best time of his life’ but expect the working-class, unrepresented future generations [to] spend their career only ever behind the curtain.

Widening Participation

The DfE published the 2021/22 widening participation in HE statistics. The statistics explore young progression to HE study by a range of student characteristics such as free school meals, ethnicity,

Parliamentary Question: Accreditation scheme for universities to demonstrate the gold standard in the care leaver provision.

Blogs: Wonkhe – To meet legal responsibilities to disabled students, the sector must address the overwhelming workloads of disability services staff, says Hannah Borkin.

Lifelong Learning Bill

The House of Lords debated the Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill. Despite the vigorous debate no changes prevailed as all amendments were either withdrawn or not moved. Baroness Barran as Minister for the School System and Student Finance was able to bat away most of the opposition. She emphasised that the policies behind the Bill had been designed in consultation with relevant HE sector stakeholders and there would be further consultation to come.

The Government intend to set most of the detail of the Bill through secondary legislation. In essence this means that Parliament passes the Bill so it becomes an Act. Then the Government backfill the nitty gritty detail which sets out the operation and how things run. The positive of secondary legislation is that it can flex with the times – fee limits can be raised, new clauses can be brought in to respond to the unexpected and keep the sector functioning well and responding to change. The negative is that it hands full power to the Government of the time to set these items with very little parliamentary scrutiny or power to change the Government’s will – it could result in a bad deal for the HE sector being forced through. In practice, while the Bill is passing it means that Parliamentarians, and the Bill is currently with the House of Lords, can raise objections and call for certain things to be changed and the Government’s representative can simply provide reassurances without conceding or changing the wording of the Bill. Likely the Government will listen to the amendments and speeches made and may make concessions or adapt to points raised through the secondary legislation (as suits their policy ideals). But there is no guarantee of this. There is little detail for the Lords (who now have a very well informed, experienced and powerful HE faction, with several ex-Universities Ministers) to take a stand on and force a change. Meaning the Bill may pass quite quickly as it is so bland. Short of the unexpected this Bill will become law before the next general election (and is planned to be implemented in 2025).

Distance learning fees: the Government have no intention of differentiating fee limits between distance and in-person learning under the LLE. The per-credit fee limits will be the same for full-time, part-time, face-to-face and distance learning…Distance learning courses will remain in scope for tuition fee loan support under the LLE.

Distance maintenance: The Baroness stood firm against calls for maintenance support for distance learners although will continue current arrangements for distance learners with a disability to qualify for maintenance loans and disabled students’ allowance. The disabled students’ allowance will be extended to all designated courses and modules.

More reading:

Free Speech Act

This parliamentary question reveals there is still no set date for the free speech Act to come into play:  The timeline will involve working in collaboration with the OfS on the creation of new registration conditions and a complaints scheme dedicated to handling freedom of speech complaints, which will be operated by the OfS. The OfS will also develop guidance on how to comply with these duties, in consultation with providers, constituent institutions and students’ unions.  Another related parliamentary question asks whether freedom of speech in the UK includes the right to criticise ideas around gender identity. Answer – it’s defined in case law and in the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 and the Government has no plans to outline the specific content of freedom of speech on an issue-by-issue basis.

Russell Group Yardstick

Finally, Wonkhe report: At the House of Lords Education for 11–16 Year Olds Committee yesterday, schools minister Nick Gibb was on the end of a grilling from committee chair Lord Johnson of Marylebone over the Department for Education’s use of Russell Group entry rates as a performance indicator for schools in England. The former universities minister suggested that the government was “fixated” on the Russell Group and disincentivising schools from sending students to other universities. Gibb replied that the term “high tariff” could have been used instead. You can watch the session back online.

HEPI

HEPI celebrated their 20th Birthday by releasing UK higher education – policy, practice and debate during HEPI’s first 20 years. Fifteen contributors cover a wide range of HE policy matters including governance, research, student learning, funding and finances, and the relationship between HE providers and Government. One thing HEPI haven’t learnt in 20 years is that not many people enjoy the thought of reading a 184 page document, so do use the contents page to jump to the section you’re most interested in.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. There isn’t much of interest at present but things will pick up over the autumn period. You can email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you spot a consultation or inquiry that you’d like to contribute to.

Other news

Turing: The House of Commons Library has a comprehensive briefing on the Turing scheme which funds international study and work placements. At 51 pages it’s a bit long but there is a useful 2 minute read summary here.

Cyber employment: DSIT published Cyber security skills in the UK labour market 2023. It sets out the skills needs and job vacancies across the UK cyber security sector.

Findings:

  • 50% of all UK businesses have a basic cyber security skills gap, while 33% have an advanced cyber security skills gap. These figures are similar to 2022 and 2021.
  • There were 160,035 cyber security job postings in the last year. This is an increase of 30% on the previous year. 37% of vacancies were reported as hard-to-fill (down from 44% in 2022, but same as 2021).
  • Only 17% of the cyber sector workforce is female (down from 22% last year, but similar to 2021 and 2020) and 14% of senior roles are filled by women.
  • There is an estimated shortfall of 11,200 people to meet the demand of the cyber workforce (down from 14,100 last year, largely due to slower growth of the sector).

DAPs: The OfS has published new operational guidance for providers to apply for (or vary existing) degree awarding powers (DAPs). The OfS’ powers mean they can authorise HEIs to grant different types of degrees, including:

  • foundation degrees only (up to and including Level 5 qualifications)
  • awards up to, and including, bachelors’ degrees (up to and including Level 6)
  • all taught awards (up to and including Level 7)
  • research awards (research masters’ degrees at Level 7 and doctoral degrees at Level 8).

Full details here.

Digital Education ID: The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change published The Future of Learning: Delivering Tech-Enabled Quality Education for Britain. There are a number of recommendations mainly aimed at schools. Of interest is their recommendation to introduce a digital learner ID for every pupil that would:

  • contain all educational information, including formal test results, attendance records, week-by-week assessments, marked homework, records of non-academic achievement and more;
  • become a hub of digital learning, connecting learners with apps to supplement traditional teaching;
  • give pupils and parents control of their data and provide them with useful insights from the information, such as suggestions for further study or employment opportunities, or assistance in the selection of schools or nurseries.

A digital ID implemented as described may have implications for the HE admissions system and for student data interface, particularly as the expectation would be to continue this regular feedback model direct to the student throughout their HE study.

Parliamentary Question: Evaluating the interventions aimed at increasing boys’ learning in educational settings.

HE Net Zero: Wonkhe – Achieving a net zero higher education sector will cost £37.1bn based on current decarbonisation costs, according to a report from the Association of Higher Education Directors of Estates, the British Universities Finance Directors Group and the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education. A “cost of net zero calculator” has also been released, designed to allow individual institutions to estimate the financial resources required to reach net zero. Also from UKRI:

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HE policy update 28th June 2023

Some major areas covered in this policy update. We summarise all the latest parliamentary action on duty of care and consider what’s next for the sector more generally. Lots if research news, including the House of Lords being grumpy about the UK’s plans (and progress) to become a science and technology superpower. Horizon Europe guarantees have been extended (again). There’s the latest on free speech and the CMA requirements relating to course changes. Finally, an in-depth look at the future of international students from two authoritative figures in the sector.

The outlook for the sector

In a speech at an event hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute, the Secretary of State outlined his 3 priorities for the sector, to meet skills needs, advance social justice and deliver high quality qualifications. He talked extensively about apprenticeships and wanting the sector to do more in this are, as these programmes not only help with skills needs but also support disadvantaged students to earn while they learn, enhancing his social justice agenda too. He also made reference to mental health and wellbeing and the importance of student support.

  • The government has yet to provide the outcome to the Department for Education consultation on minimum entry requirements and student number caps – these have been outstanding since last year. In his speech the Secretary of State for Education, Robert Halfon said that he hoped we would get them soon.
  • Here is a Wonkhe blog covering Halfon’s speech.

Shadow Secretary of State for Education Matt Western also spoke at the event. He wouldn’t be drawn on detailed plans ahead of the work that Labour have to do on their manifesto.  Labour have already indicated they want to replace the current system with something “fairer and more progressive,” including reversing the changes being implemented this year which will increase the payment term and lower the threshold for student loan repayments, meaning that some lower paid graduates will pay more (because of interest and the longer term) than higher paid ones who pay it back earlier. It does sound increasingly like a graduate tax arrangement. He noted that the sector needed to be financially sustainable, but there are no promises about increased income under the new government. The Shadow Minister was also supportive of the LLE.

  • The Shadow Minister noted the cost of living issues impacting students, criticised the negative rhetoric about the value of a degree, and talked about social and educational inequality. He was highly critical of the regulatory burden in the sector, with multiple and overlapping regulators. He expressed admiration for what is happening in Wales, where the Welsh government are in the course of setting up a new combined regulator and funding body for tertiary education, which includes FE and HE, apprenticeships and skills training. Note that in Wales there are means-tested grants available for maintenance costs. The Welsh have also not extended the student loan repayment term to 40 years.
  • Research Professional have a piece Muddied red water which argues the fit with the wider UK isn’t clear, particularly because the Welsh arrangements do not address the issue of financial sustainability as the value of the tuition fee falls.
  • Iain Mansfield (ex- SpAd to Michelle Donelan and Director of Research and Head of Education and Science at Policy Exchange) writes for Wonkhe stating that while a return to real interest rates would be more progressive and seem intuitively fair he’s not sure the claims and the numbers stack up. Mansfield has his own political agenda and if you read the full blog you’ll spot he favours this argument pattern: stating ‘this looks nice…but it won’t work because…’
    • On public perception of fee fairness and the tax system Mansfield states: A system where interest rates are no higher than inflation, so that no-one will pay back more, in real terms, than they paid in is intuitively felt to be fair. Tony Blair, arguably the most canny political operator of our time, understood this, and it was a fundamental concept that underpinned the system of student loans in the New Labour era. Introducing swingeing rates of interest in 2013 toxified the system – and it is no coincidence that fees have only been raised once since then… If you want to deliver more progressive taxation, changing income tax rates is far better targeted than introducing arbitrarily high rates of interest into your higher education funding system – not least because you can target the whole population, rather than the minority who are graduates.
    • On the numbers: There’s a second big problem, and it’s that you can’t use a future asset – the additional money you will hypothetically receive from graduates in 30-40 years’ time – to directly pay for a current expense, such as reduced repayments or new maintenance grants… additional cash now requires additional borrowing. I’m going to go out on a limb, therefore, and say that the claim that reducing monthly payments can be done without additional borrowing will end up being incorrect.
    • On grants Mansfield foresees consequences for universities: …it seems that the poorest students may get a maintenance grant… Restoring maintenance grants is a very reasonable thing to want to do – but it has consequences… For universities rightly worried about their finances it means that maintenance grants and lower repayments look likely to be prioritised over any increase in the funding per student…it shows where Labour’s priorities lie: and that is with graduates and low-income students, not with universities.
    • Mansfield also reminds that Labour’s tax cut messaging didn’t work out for Theresa May when she raised the repayment threshold from £21k to £25k – graduates saved £360 per year but it cost the Treasure £2.3 Billion and had no impact on political gain in the polls
  • Following Labour’s announcements that they will not abolish tuition fees NUS Scotland campaigned Scottish Labour who have confirmed they continue to support free tuition in Scotland.

To note: All together now: An independent report into tertiary education in Scotland (the Withers report) – Fit for the Future: developing a post-school learning system to fuel economic transformation – advocates for a single organisation to provide the funding, strategy (and presumably operationalisation) of all tertiary education in Scotland. This in an interesting one to watch how it plays out because while Westminster haven’t been bold enough to suggest this for England’s tertiary education it fits well with the Government’s ideals of a rationalised and coherent post-compulsory sector where the different routes through education have a parity of esteem. Also, FE and HE Minister Halfon is on a crusade to tackle the systemic underfunding of FE provision. Such a change in England would require a major upheaval, however, it’s an interesting one to watch for the medium to long term. That is, if Scotland even decides to adopt it (Scottish HE Minister Graeme Day has made encouraging noises but stopped short of committed support). If you’re interest in the topic Wonkhe have a blog but the detail is here.

Susan Lapworth, Chief Executive of the OfS also spoke at the HEPI event and talked about the two priorities of the OfS: quality and standards and equality of opportunity, alongside the enabling and underpinning matters such as governance and financial sustainability. The OfS recently published its annual report and accounts.

Student Experience

Ahead of the NSS, which it has now been confirmed will be published on 10th August, the annual HEPI/Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey was published in June.

  • 76% of students feel that the cost of living crisis has affected their studies. 50% state that their studies were impacted “a little” and over a quarter (26%) state that their studies were affected “a lot”.
  • There has been a major increase in the number of students in paid employment, from 45% to 55%.
  • The proportion of students whose experience exceeded expectations increased from 17% to 19%.
  • 37% of students said they received good or very good value for money.

The reasons for these perceptions are interesting as are the relative changes – generally, the % for each reason has fallen for each category, both in the positives and negatives, even below the 2020 cohort (generally completing pre-covid).  The industrial action category was new this year after being highlighted in the open text replies previously. Note:

  • A fall in positive responses linked to course organisation (11 ppts) although a drop in negative comments too
  • A fall in positive responses to teaching quality but negative comments have also fallen
  • A fall in positive responses to level of challenge
  • Positive change in relation to quality of feedback
  • A fall in the positive and a rise in the negative from 2020 and 2021 on accessibility of teaching staff

As usual, there is a lot more content including analysis by characteristic, and the report is worth reading in full.

Here’s the Wonkhe blog on the survey.

Horizon Europe Guarantee – extended

Following on from the not-new-news Viscount Camrose set out above the Government has announced the extension of support for UK Horizon Europe applicants until the end of September 2023. The extension continues to guaranteed funding for successful UK Horizon applicants. End May figures note that £1.1 billion of grant offers have been made.

  • The guarantee will be in place to cover all Horizon Europe calls that close on or before 30 September 2023. Eligible, successful applicants to Horizon Europe will receive the full value of their funding at their UK host institution for the lifetime of their grant.
  • Successful awardees do not need to leave the UK to receive this funding, which will provide reassurance for future collaborations, and support UK researchers whether association is confirmed, or otherwise.

Full information on the Government announcement here. Operational detail on the UKRI website.

UK as Science and Technology Superpower

The Lords met to discuss Science and Technology Superpower, following the publication of the Science and Technology committee report. Leading the debate Baroness Brown of Cambridge was disdainful about aspects of the Government’s performance including:

  • the “science superpower by 2030” slogan was vague;
  • that numerous sectoral strategies existed across government, but they did not appear to fit into a clear, prioritised plan, and without international collaboration;
  • concerns over the scale of investment and that the Government should adopt a new, appropriate, target for R&D investment.

The Baroness called for better definition on the Government’s strategy, for a Science Minister to sit in Cabinet and for the UK to rebuild its reputation as an international pattern, starting with association with Horizon Europe.

Other Peers raised:

  • that regulation is important to support the sector and where do specific sectoral strategies, such as the AI strategy, fit into an overall coherent approach across all sectors.
  • questioned how the Government were tracking what other countries did; the importance of researchers from abroad and whether scientific visa applicants were subsidising other functions of the Home Office.
  • the need to develop global science partnerships, also that many, such as the Wellcome Trust, the ABPI, and the Royal Society, had highlighted that the UK needed to articulate more clearly its policies of global co-operation to attract science talent to the UK. Immigration policy popped up several times during the debate.
  • that the report could have gone further in articulating how the UK could harness its advantages of agility, expertise and a focus on global impact to overcome disadvantages of scale, such as the Vaccine Taskforce.
  • That ecology and social innovation were missing from the five critical technologies identified in the science and technology framework.

Lord Rees of Ludlow on HE: there are some worrying trends. The labour involved in grant applications was diminishing chances of success while research was still strongly concentrated in universities the encroachment of audit culture and other pressures are rendering universities less propitious environments for research projects that demand intense and sustained effort. Dedicated, stand-alone labs might become preferable, such as the biomedical science labs which allowed for longer-term research, supplemented by the Wellcome Trust, the cancer charities and a strong pharmaceutical industry. He said we needed this in energy, AI and other crucial technologies.

Viscount Hanworth stated concern over the systematic underestimation of the percentage of GDP that the UK devoted to research and development highlighting that it was still well below the OECD average and far behind that of most research-intensive nations. He added that the UK could not become a scientific superpower if it lacked a basis of scientific and technological industries that were ready to call upon the skills of the research workers.

The Government’s representative, Viscount Camrose, responded that the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) would promote a diverse research and innovation system, connecting discovery science to new companies, growth and jobs. Camrose said the science and technology framework challenges every part of government to put the UK at the forefront of global science and technology. Action will focus on creating the right environment to develop critical technologies; investing in R&D, talent and skills; financing innovative science and tech companies; creating international opportunities; providing access to physical and digital infrastructure; and improving regulation and standards.

Camrose tacked the funding calls by remind of the Government’s committed spend:

  • £2.5bn over the next decade for quantum tech
  • £1bn strategy for the UK’s semiconductor sector
  • Government had recommitted to increasing public expenditure on R&D to £20bn per annum by 2024-25, representing a one-third cash increase and the largest ever increase in public R&D spending over a spending review period.

On Horizon, Camrose stated that the Government continued to be in discussions, in good faith, with their European counterparts on the UK’s involvement in Horizon Europe and hope that their negotiations will be successful. Pioneer will become the default if the Government is not able to secure Horizon association on fair and appropriate terms.

Camrose also updated on ARIA’s progress – it has been established and is still in its early stage of development. ARIA is recruiting its first cohort of programme directors, who will help to shape and inform the agency’s first set of research programmes. None the less, funding transformative research with long-term benefits will require patience, as prepared for in the agency’s design.

On the risks of precarity for research careers, Camrose said the Government is looking at how to support through a new deal for PGRs and mentioned UKRI’s sector consultation as a first phase of this long-term programme of work, and the results would be published soon, in 2023.

Quick Research News

REF changes: Nature have a lovely gentle editorial into the changes to REF2028. While the ‘how’ detail isn’t known yet we do know that the weighting will be changed:

  • Output (now named contribution to knowledge and understanding) weighting is reduced from 60% to 50% of the overall score.
  • The environment weighting (now known as people, culture and environment) increases from 15% to 25%.
  • Everyone’s favourite – Impact – (now renamed engagement and impact) will remain at 25% of the overall score

Read the article for more on intentions for change around equality and diversity, quality PhD mentorship, and the expansion of the definition of excellence.

Wonkhe also have blogs on REF2028 and more background delving including the FRAP (Future Research Assessment Programme) is in this blog, and there’s a guest blog by the University of Liverpool – REF 2028: A Quiet Transformation.

Research infrastructure: Wonkhe report that – UKRI has announced £72m of investment into research infrastructure, including funding for wind tunnels and digital infrastructure for biomedicine. An independent report into progress with UKRI’s infrastructure programme has also been published, finding the programme has generally delivered its intended outputs and outcomes. However, the report observes that business case development and approval processes are still “overly complicated, duplicative and lengthy,” while noting that these processes sit outside the Infrastructure Fund’s remit and involve decision makers beyond UKRI.

Moonshots: Wonkhe highlight that UKRI and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) have opened a call for submissions for “moonshots” – “bold, ambitious, and transformative ideas” across the research and innovation landscape. The call for ideas will be followed by discussion events and shortlisting, with chosen proposals set to receive funding through the government’s Horizon Europe alternative Pioneer – or possibly through alternative sources of funding if the UK does associate to Horizon.

Defence innovation: Wales has committed £5 million funding for Defence and Security acceleration across several streams. More detail here.

AI mitigation: Rishi announced the UK will host the first major global summit on AI safety (following polling show public concern over the safety of AI). Also announced were:

  • The Government will increase the number of scholarships the UK Government funds for students undertaking post-graduate study and research at UK and US universities, enhancing our shared expertise in STEM subjects. Under the scholarship uplift announced today, the number of Marshall scholarships will increase by 25%, to 50 places a year. The Marshall scheme was established 70 years ago to give high potential Americans the opportunity to study in the UK for two years.
  • The UK will also fund five new Fulbright scholarships a year – up from the 25 currently funded. The Fulbright programme is predominantly funded by the United States to sponsor international students to study in the US and vice versa. These new scholarships will focus on STEM-related subjects, boosting the UK and US’ shared expertise in the technologies of the future.

Research Security: Wonkhe – Scientists at least 11 British universities have helped the Iranian regime develop technology that can be used in its drone programme and fighter jets, the Jewish Chronicle reported yesterday. Politicians expressed “deep concern” over the findings, with the government saying that Britain would “not accept collaborations which compromise our national security.” The story is picked up in the Telegraph.

Canadian Cooperation: Wonkhe – Science minister George Freeman has announced a range of agreements covering collaboration on science and innovation issues with Canada. These include £20m for a joint programme on biomanufacturing, deeper collaboration on quantum and climate change research, and Canada becoming a partner to the International Science Partnership Fund.

NERC: NERC interim executive chair has been confirmed as Peter Liss (of University of East Anglia).

Research culture: Wonkhe blog – A recent parliamentary committee report called for the REF to incentivise reproducibility – but more fundamentally the issue is about promoting openness and transparency. Grace Gottlieb explains.

Life Science: Jeremy Hunt announced £650 million package to drive growth and innovation in the Life Sciences sector. The government is committed to making the UK the most attractive destination for life sciences companies and has developed a comprehensive package of policies spanning regulation, research and development (R&D), infrastructure, skills and planning which is aimed at driving investment, growth and innovation. Full details here.

Innovation economy: The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) published The Skills Opportunity: Building a more innovative UK (summary here) it covers the challenges for education and skills provision in the UK, with recommendations for building a more research and innovation-intensive economy.

AI research: The Government announced (UKRI funded) research investments to develop trustworthy artificial intelligence (AI) research with £13 million going to 13 universities for developing AI technologies to have more sustainable land management, accelerate energy efficient CO2 capture, and improve resilience for natural hazards and extreme events. Also £31 million to create a UK and international research and innovation ecosystem for responsible and trustworthy AI. The consortium led by the University of Southampton will fund multi-disciplinary research and work across academia, business, and the public sector. Plus £2 million for 42 projects’ feasibility studies in businesses as part of the BridgeAI programme. These projects will look at developing a range of tools to facilitate assessment of AI technologies through governance, fairness, accountability, transparency, and privacy, and security. And, finally, £8 million for 2 Turing AI Researcher Fellowships, funding ground-breaking research on some of artificial intelligence’s biggest challenges including its application across drug and food design, and healthcare imaging.

Diversity in STEM: Dods summarise – The Science, Innovation and Technology Committee has published the government response to their report on diversity and inclusion in STEM, which it describes as “disappointing” and has urged the Government to adopt a more purposeful strategy. In its response the Government said it is preparing a cross-Government action plan, led by the Department for Education, to “drive wider participation in STEM” and see “a more diverse range of people enter the science and technology workforce by 2030”. The Chair of the Committee, Greg Clark MP, has said that “without any specific commitments or timings this amounts to a plan to have a plan.”

Duty of Care

Dominating parliamentary time on HE matters recently has been the call for universities to hold a specific duty of care for the wellbeing of students. The impetus for change has been driven by a group of parents who tragically lost a child to suicide whilst at university. Their campaign has been mentioned in Prime Minster’s Questions and formally entered parliamentary business through a petition which reached the required threshold for the matter to be debated (see here for the volume of individuals that signed the petition in the constituencies surrounding BU). The Petitions Committee also ran an evidence session on the statutory duty of care (our shorter summary of the evidence session is here).

Ahead of the Westminster Hall Debate the Petitions Committee ran an online survey on the proposal for a statutory duty of care for HE students to gauge public opinion on the matter. The survey revealed:

  • 27% of students who experienced poor mental health said their university was supportive/very supportive of their mental health.
  • 40% said the university was unsupportive/very unsupportive.
  • 86% of current students said they had suffered with poor mental health at university.
  • 77% of parents or guardians of a current student said that their child was suffering or had suffered with poor mental health whilst at university. Of those, 91% had not been contacted by the university about their child’s mental health
  • More statistics here.

Outside of the headline statistics are a number of quotes the Committee has included in the survey report.

  • University staff member: “The university I work at has implemented some measures, but they are not ‘joined up’ and most staff don’t know what they are. There is no clear guidance on who should do what.”
  • University student: “with the ‘trusted contact,’ I have had the opportunity to put someone down which I did when I started at university. However, when I experienced a mental health crisis and told the student wellbeing team I was suicidal, they did not contact my ‘trusted contact’ or ask if they could. They also did not offer me any support other than telling me to go to A&E if I hurt myself. So while it’s good for a university to have the ‘trusted contact’ option it’s also important that they use it
  • Parent: “Although University has various contacts, like student support, counselling, there is no way to actually speak to someone as a parent when you have concerns about a student…In an urgent situation as a parent you need to know there is a way of escalating your concerns.”

At the Westminster Hall Debate Nick Fletcher, member of both the Education Committee and the Petitions Committee, and chair of the Issues Affecting Men and Boys APPG, opened the session by noting between 2017 and 2020 that 202 male students and 117 female students had died by suicide. Here are some of the main contributions made by Members during the debate:

  • Hilary Benn stated that where a student attempted suicide, it was inexplicable that the university would not contact the parents and questioned whether the UUK suicide prevention guidelines should be made compulsory.
  • Nick Fletcher stated that many universities cited GDPR issues regarding contacting parents but that, in his view safeguarding always overrides GDPR. He also questioned why universities were still to sign up to the UUK guidelines or the university mental health charter [Helen Grant MP later stated only 61 universities have signed the Charter, only 5 had achieved Charter status and no universities had reached the higher merit and distinction levels of accreditation].
  • Nick Fletcher also stated that the witnesses they’d heard from in the committee’s evidence session – such as PAPYRUS and the student services organisation, AMOSSHE – had agreed that a duty of care would not be the best approach.
  • Nick Fletcher: questioned why universities were still carrying out bad practice such as telling students they must leave by email, without any thought of the inevitable emotional and mental impact. He asked why institutions weren’t coming together to find common themes in coroners’ reports of the 319 students.
  • Nick Fletcher: urged the Government: a statutory duty of care would ensure that all parties knew where they stood, but until we have one, please use the levers you have to make the universities do better at helping our young people. If they do not, do what the petitioners ask and legislate so that they must.
  • Paul Blomfield, Chair of the Students APPG: noted UCAS estimates that over 70,000 students entered higher education every year with a mental health condition, but around half of them told UCAS in a survey that they had not shared that information prior to entry. Also that universities could not be the only post of call for students who were struggling – students should be able to access NHS services, but were struggling to do so.
  • Paul Blomfield: stated he was not convinced that a duty of care would do the job those advocating it wanted, and could have unintended consequences. However, he said there still needed to be clear expectations on universities to up their game across the sector. He urged the Minister to acknowledge the other factors contributing to the mental health crisis, and asked what he would do, along with DHSC colleagues, to make support available to those working alongside universities.
  • Helen Grant: a statutory duty of care would set the bar to level up… a standard that required all higher education providers to do what might reasonably be expected, while maintaining their autonomy in deciding exactly how that would be achieved.
  • Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Matt Western, had met many families from the LEARN network and stated their diversity and number were a painful reminder that no family was immune from the consequences of the mental health crisis that affected many students on campuses. He stated he appreciated the time and money that many universities gave to providing mental health support for students and staff but said the gap between the expectations of students and parents and the reality of mental health provision in universities was far too great. He acknowledged that demand for services and support was clearly rising, with one in four student respondents to one survey reporting a diagnosed mental health issue. Many of those issues were also starting earlier in students’ lives. He also expressed disappointment that so few universities were signatories to the University Mental Health Charter.
  • Matt Western highlighted that in Wales, the Commission must ensure it’s satisfied with the effectiveness of registered education providers’ arrangements for supporting and promoting the welfare of their students and staff. Western noted Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce such a requirement for FE & HE providers and asked if the Minister would consider something similar in England.

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon, responded on behalf of the Government to the debate. He stated:

  • he owed it to the memories of the young people to collectively take strong and effective action that prevented further tragedies.
  • the Government’s approach would rely on funding services, spreading best practice and having clear responsibilities for providers and protection for students.
  • the suicide-safer universities framework provided guidance on suicide prevention for university leaders. There was also now postvention best practice on providing compassionate and timely support after a suspected suicide. The associated charter programme was not a panacea but a process which enabled continuous improvement.
  • if the response is not satisfactory from universities then the Department would ask the Office for Students to look at the merits of a new registration condition on mental health.
  • Professor Edward Peck was appointed as the first ever student support champion in 2022 and is chairing a new higher education mental health implementation taskforce, with its outputs reporting directly to Ministers. By the end of this year, the taskforce would be asked to put in place an interim plan for better early identification of students at risk and for delivering the university student commitment as well as clear targets for improvements by providers. By May 2024, it should follow with a final report outlining the next steps, including how the sector will publicly report on the progress measures over the coming years.

Halfon declined to introduce legislation to create a statutory duty of care: I absolutely get the arguments and hope I have demonstrated that I share the petitioners’ fundamental aims, which are to protect those who study at university and to prevent future tragedies. If creating a duty for higher education providers towards their students was the right way to achieve that, it would absolutely have the Government’s backing. There are reasons why we believe that it may not be the most effective intervention.

Halfon stated there was already a sufficient general duty of care in common law as part of the law of negligence, plus further protections for students within the Equality Act 2010 to protect students with disabilities, including mental health conditions. He expressed concern that if a framework was too overbearing people will recoil even further and avoid any natural intervention that they would ordinarily make.

Halfon:

  • setting aside the legal position, we do not believe that the most effective way to improve student mental health is to introduce new legislative requirements when the sector is making progress on a voluntary basis. Although the sector absolutely could and should do more…providers are still innovating and improving, and there is not yet consensus on which interventions are most effective…It is no excuse for not doing anything or for inaction, but it does mean that the one-size-fits-all approach may not achieve the best results and support for students suffering from mental health difficulties, which is what we all want to see…
  • I expect universities, as organisations with an obligation to do the right thing for their students, to rise to the challenge that we have set for them today…if we do not see the expected improvements I will not hesitate to ask the Office for Students to introduce a new registration condition on mental health. It is vital that the whole sector takes this call to action seriously.
  • I hope that I have been clear that we are not standing by and letting things continue as they are. I am determined that all universities will sign up to the mental health charter

In conclusion, Nick Fletcher said it was disappointing that progress was not being made faster but if there was not an improvement after 2024 when all universities had signed up to the mental health charter then he would be back to ask for the issue to be looked at again.

For more coverage here are some media sources:

So what’s next?

While the Minister has turned down the request for a statutory duty of care the matter is very much of national interest and the parent group’s campaign has brought greater focus and national coordination from the previous reporting of isolated student suicides that occurred across various institutions.

Halfon has remained true to his word and aims for the sector to provide consistent support with improvements where necessary. His expectation is that matters will progress and he is serious about intervening with licence or other conditions if action isn’t sufficient or fast enough. Halfon immediately wrote to universities setting out a range of actions (below). Of course, we have to mention the potential disruptive factor – the impending general election. Halfon has set a timeline to 2024, however the general election must take place by 28 January 2025. Even if the current Government wins Halfon isn’t certain to remain as Universities Minister and the policy focus changes as Minister’s change. That said, this is a matter of interest to all major parties and the media and while the specifics may alter with electoral changes the thrust of the matter will remain (and presumably so will the OfS).

Halfon’s Letter: Halfon tweeted the contents of his letter stating I am not closing the door on future legislation if that is what is required but I am confident the sector will rise to the challenge of the action plan I have set out below. The message is clear do it voluntarily, with some flexibility to apply it within own institutional context or be dictated to by the regulator/legislation.

Also important to mention is that there is a new NSS question on access to mental health support. It’ll be closely watched and if results are low the OfS may act (even though their regulatory remit does not apply to student welfare or support systems).

There is also a Duty of Care Bill introduced by Tim Farron (Lib Dem, Westmorland and Lonsdale). As expected, it’s a PMB (Presentation Bill), it’s nothing but a title – no Bill text, no explanatory notes. A Bill to provide that higher education institutions have a duty of care for their students; and for connected purposes. It was presented for First Reading on Wed 21 June and will (may!) receive Second Reading on Fri 24 November. Of course, there are LOADS of them scheduled for Second Reading, and being a Presentation Bill it’s at the bottom of the pile.

Mental Health debate

There was also a recent debate on mental health treatment and support.
Aaron Bell MP:

  • Aaron highlighted that many universities have a professional counselling and mental health team to support its students.
  • He spoke of HESA data: In 2021-22 19% (416,000) of UK students declared a disability—and within that, 119,500 said they had a mental health condition (5.5% of all UK students). He stressed the growth in number – That number is three and a half times higher than it was in 2014-15 and noted higher rates are found among women, undergraduates, full-time students and those in their second or later years. He stated: there is an issue here that we have to address
  • He believes the pandemic is partly to blame.

Layla Moran also focussed on students withing the debate:

  • It will come as no surprise that the Mental Health Foundation found that 40% of students are not coping well with their anxiety.
  • In Oxfordshire…82% of students at Oxford Brookes University had self-medicated with drugs or alcohol to cope with mental health issues.
  • Where students know that they cannot rely on the NHS, an added burden is put on university staff. Tutors increasingly find themselves acting as therapists or counsellors for their overburdened, ill or anxious students.
  • …the students I have spoken to have made it clear that “University wellbeing services are not and cannot be a substitute for adequate mental health care”
  • On the duty of care Layla stated: It is just common sense. It already exists between employers and employees. All we are asking is for the same duty of care to apply to students.
  • we all know, the problems in young people’s mental health services are not restricted to those at university. So many people tell me the system is broken: parents, teachers, educational psychologists and clinical psychologists all identify the same failings. One parent wrote to me:
    • I am breaking my heart listening to my son saying horrible things about himself, threatening to take his life, and struggling with his mental health in general. Next year we would have been on the waiting list for four years and nothing will probably happen.
  • We know how to fix this; it is about more funding. A senior healthcare professional in Oxfordshire told me that “every pound spent on a child’s mental health saves thousands in the future.”

Regulatory

Wonkhe report that the OfS will publish a review highlighting concerns about some assessment and awarding practices in higher education providers. We’re also waiting for consultations on freedom of speech and the lifelong learning entitlement.

If you fancy some light relief read Research Professional’s irreverent take down of the OfS under the banner of commenting on the OfS annual report.

  • Excerpts: As a bureaucracy, the OfS, now in its fifth year, seems to exist to defend the act of regulation rather than to actually represent the interests of students.. Questions are being asked about the OfS, such as why it cannot complete a single investigation… The regulator’s inquiry into the graduate outcomes of university business schools has been going on—shrouded in secrecy—for a year. An investigation into grade inflation in English higher education began in September 2022 and is yet to report. There is a lot of regulation going on but precious little regulatory outcomes. In March of this year, the OfS announced plans to bill universities found guilty in an investigation for the cost of their investigation. To date, no one has been sent an invoice. The investigations continue.
  • the OfS has become an inertial and litigious organisation, but one oddly enough prone to legal mishap. The regulator lost its legal fight against the Bloomsbury Institute and as a result embarked on an odyssey of consultation and reform that has resulted in ever-greater monitoring and reporting for universities.

The article reminds that the fees universities pay to OfS be registered HE providers are being increased substantially. Yet the OfS currently has reserves of £6.2 million—more than some universities. Although overall for the OfS reserves are down which is mostly due to the decline in the value of direct grants from central government. Research Professional (RP) question Does that mean regulatory fees are increasing for providers to make up for cuts in funding from the DfE? RP also provide a nice comparison: The OfS does seem to cost an awful lot to run. The staff bill for the regulator last year was £25.9m. If the OfS were a university, it would be roughly the size of the University of Chichester.

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

The Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill had an airing in Parliament. It was debated in the House of Lords at Second Reading stage and has progressed to Committee Stage where rigorous scrutiny will commence. The Bill is the legislative support for the Government’s lifelong loan entitlement (LLE) which will introduce a credit-based method to calculate maximum tuition fee limits based on the delivery of modules, short and full courses across a ‘course year’ rather than an ‘academic year.’ It only applies to England and provides a personal post-18 funding pot which students can chose to spend in flexible ways across their lifetime.

The Government intends to set the detail of the fees and credit information through secondary legislation so that each time changes are required it does not need to go through the full legislative process again. The downside of this is it hands greater power to the Government and reduces parliamentary scrutiny and intervention. Concerns over the lack of detail in the current Bill on these important aspects was raised by Baroness Wilcox of Newport, the Shadow Education Spokesperson. She stressed that Labour broadly supported the introduction of the LLE and the credit-based method to determine fees, but called for a definition of credits and what the yearly minimum and maximum  credits would be. She also questioned if different per-credit limits would be set based on the intensity and duration or based on the subject (topic) and level of study, and whether all 2025 students would automatically fall under the LLE or if it would be a gradual transition. She also raised the current part time student premium and wanted this flexibility to be retained, and for distance learning maintenance support to be introduced for access purposes.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Liberal Democrat) wanted to know the criteria by which modules would be determined to be eligible, spoke up on the uncertainties for disabled students, and suggested that if high-cost modules did not attract pro-rata teaching grants it would disincentivise modularisation in disciplines where there were particular skill shortages.

Lord Stevens of Birmingham highlighted the DfE short course trial hadn’t attracted much interest and suggested that the LLE fee support may not be attractive, Baroness Garden agreed with this stating she felt the debt was unlikely to be attractive to mature learners. Lord Stevens also raised  maintenance support for distance learners.

Lord Willetts (Conservative) called for more detail on how the new third category of OfS registration, which would enable new providers to supplement existing provision from established universities, would work. Highlighting policy inconsistencies he also asked the Minister to reconcile that the policy encouraged learners to dip in and out of courses whereas the OfS’ monitor and criticise universities with high drop-out rates.

Lord Rees of Ludlow (emeritus professor at Cambridge University) argued that post-18 education needed to be much more flexible and open and offer everyone the opportunity to enter or re-enter, maybe part-time or online, at any stage in their lives.

Lord Johnson of Marylebone (Conservative, previous Universities and Science Minister) stated the Bill addressed an important problem with the current funding system for HE (i.e. the impact it had on lifelong and adult learning) which Johnson believes has been in crisis for a decade. He also noted another problem was that the system had not allowed tuition fees to rise with inflation stating this has led to the progressive defunding of universities. And the consequential increased dependence of universities on international student income to cross-subsidise domestic tuition and research was an issue. Johnson declared disappointment that the Bill did not address the problems he noted and that modular degree wouldn’t commence until 2027-28 (almost a decade since the Augar report was commissioned). He also called on the Government to make modular funding available for level 7 provision.

Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System, speaking on behalf of the Government, said that the Government would not impose credit transfer arrangements and would facilitate credit transfer through other methods, including through the introduction of the requirement for providers to produce a standardised transcript on the completion of individual modules. She also confirmed the number of learning hours in a credit would remain as now, unless standards in the sector changed.

On rollout the Baroness explained 2025-26 would roll out higher technical qualifications and modules at levels 4 and 5. And that maintenance loans would be available for part-time study below level 6.

You can read the full cut and thrust of the debate here.

Free Speech

King’s College London (KCL) announced that UUK will reconvene a previous advisory group for free speech and academic freedom, with KCL’s President and Principal, Shitij Kapur, Charing the group. KCL state:

  • The primary role of the Advisory Group will be to shape the implementation of the Freedom of Speech Act and provide advice and recommendations to the UUK Board, which will include shaping UUK’s engagement with the OfS in relation to free speech and academic freedom.
  • Alongside responding to the immediate policy environment, the Advisory Group will also play an important role in providing guidance on the approach UUK should be taking to the wider free speech and academic freedom debate, including how the sector should respond over the medium-to-long-term and where UUK can further support members to meet their new duties.

Student news

Course changes

Wonkhe have a blog on the updated CMA (Competition and Market Authority) guidance which strengthens students’ rights when teaching is significantly changed. Wonkhe say: The guidance warns providers over giving a “misleading impression” about whether a course is accredited, who is involved in its delivery, and how many optional modules are available – it advises that students’ express agreement must be obtained for deviations from the pre-contract information which informs their decision-making, including information about teaching. The CMA also cautions that contractual clauses excusing providers from liability due to industrial action may not be regarded as fair, as this is something which “could be within [an institution’s] control.” Here’s the blog: Making major changes to courses just got a lot harder.

There’s some good detail with clear interpretation on the legal requirements in this Pinsent Masons blog: Updated CMA guidance adds to universities’ obligations and enhances students’ consumer rights.

And, most recently, the OfS has published an Insight Brief setting out the scope of consumer protection law and how OfS regulation protects consumer (student) rights.

Loan rates:

Plan 1 (pre-2012) student loans have increased to 5.5%.

Admissions | Personal statements

HEPI published a policy note – How do Admissions Professionals use the UCAS personal statement? Context: UCAS plans to reform the personal statement to short questions covering the six themes of motivation; preparedness for course; preparedness through other experiences; extenuating circumstances; preparedness for study; and learning styles. HEPI surveyed admissions professionals to explore how they use undergraduate person statements and what implications this has for UCAS’ plans. Here are the key stats:

  • While the majority of personal statements are read, the average time spent on each statement is two minutes. 39% are read for one minute or less.
  • Personal statements are mainly used to assess applicants’ interest in a course (88%), or to gather contextual information (65%), assess academic potential (40%) and assess work experience (29%).
  • The majority of admissions professionals feel that decisions are primarily made on the basis of grades
  • The personal statement is considered to be important for vocational or highly selective courses.

HEPI says the results have implications for UCAS’ proposed changes:

  • There is little evidence that ‘preparedness for study’ and ‘preferred learning styles’ are used in admissions – therefore, these themes should be removed from UCAS’s proposals.
  • There should be space within the UCAS form for applicants to discuss extenuating circumstances, as admissions professionals do consider this information.
  • There is little evidence to support the division of ‘preparedness for the course’ and ‘preparedness through other experiences’ into two separate questions – only 6% of personal statements for non-vocational subjects were used to assess applicants’ transferable skills.

Caring – life chances

Parliament has launched its first APPG ‘inquiry’ (investigation) into the impact of caring responsibilities on the life chances of young adult carers. UCL research shows young carers and young adult carers were 38% less likely to get a degree than others their age. Carers aged 23 or over were also less likely to get a job. Those caring for 35 hours or more a week are 46% less likely to enter employment than non-carers. And a Carers Trust survey finds greater demands on their time than previously – 56% of young and young adult carers are spending more time caring than the year before, while 47% are looking after more people than they used to. The inquiry will look into include access to education among other caring issues. It will also focus on how caring affects young people into adulthood such as the impact on further education and employment prospects. A report is expected in November 2023 and may contain recommendations for HE providers on supporting carers.

Free school meals – educational outcomes comparison between providers

HEPI published a paper on educational outcomes across different universities for students formerly eligible for Free School Meals: The disconnect between quality and inequality: An analysis of the gaps in educational outcomes achieved by free school meal-eligible students in English higher education. Quick points:

  • Institutions with a TEF Gold Award recruit significantly fewer Free School Meal pupils as a proportion of their overall intake compared to Bronze and Silver universities.
  • Universities that recruit a smaller number of Free School Meal students have a higher entry tariff and are disproportionally more likely to receive a Gold award under the TEF. Not a single provider with more than 30% of their students having been eligible for Free School Meals was awarded a Gold in the TEF.
  • There are no significant correlations between the proportion of Free School meal pupils and the size of any outcome gaps (Continuation, Completion, Attainment or Progression). Gold providers, despite having far fewer Free School Meal students, do not achieve comparatively better Continuation, Completion, Attainment or Progression for these students compared to Silver and Bronze providers.

Ethnicity Degree Awarding Gap

TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education) published the report Approaches to addressing the ethnicity degree awarding gap – Contextualising the landscape and developing a typology. The project:

  • Reviewed APPs (Access and Participation Plans) to produce a typology of approaches.
  • Interviewed sector stakeholders on institutional infrastructure, attitudes, barriers, and enablers.
  • Established an Expert Reference Group.

The analysis of APPs found 16 different types of approaches to addressing the ethnicity degree awarding gap (EDAG) – see pages 18-19 for the list and explanations of the types and this chart shows how frequently they’re found:

Key findings:

  • Despite the sector being broadly aware of the EDAG, they lack confidence about how to address the gap.
  • While the report shows a real commitment to addressing the gap, HE providers need to do more to consider approaches based on contextual factors – such as institutional student data – to bring about meaningful change.
  • One-of-a-kind individuals were hailed as catalysts for effective progress when addressing the EDAG therefore there is concern that meaningful work may stagnate or cease if these individuals were to move roles.
  • The sector has a good awareness of the need for evidence-informed practice, and the need to evaluate approaches to addressing the EDAG. However, capacity and capability for evaluation vary greatly between HE providers.
  • Working with students is central to addressing the EDAG, therefore there is a need for HE providers to consider how they work with students to ensure their voices are sought and valued.

In response to the findings, TASO recommends HE providers:

  • Develop Theories of Change (ToCs) and associated evaluation plans which make clear links between proposed activities and desired outcomes. This will allow providers to consider the barriers and facilitators to carrying out an approach successfully.
  • Consider the different elements of approaches and how these would work at their organisation so they are better placed to develop interventions that are tailored to their organisational context.
  • Reflect on organisational structures and allocate accountability and responsibility for addressing this gap so providers can best determine what systemic changes can be implemented to support these challenges.
  • Use data to inform action taken to address this gap. By including data analysis as a stage in their ToC, providers can highlight the importance of this and use findings to inform later stages of the approach.
  • Include students in their work to address this gap and develop models for student co-creation, moving away from a model that only consults students on plans to address these inequalities.

TASO are now tendering for providers to receiving evaluation support to develop Theories of Change for interventions aimed at addressing the ethnicity degree awarding gap.

International

The future of international students in the UK

Lord Jo Johnson, former Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister (2016-19), gave the keynote address on the Future of International Students at the Westminster Higher Education Forum. Johnson is a supporter of international students and the economic and wider benefits they bring to the UK and our education system. He was instrumental in establishing the graduate work visa during his time in office.

Johnson spoke of the gradual weakening of the political consensus for the graduate work route and the growth of international student numbers. He highlighted three key concerns that the HE sector should resolve to satisfy and reverse the Government’s cooling of support for international students. Johnson urged the HE sector to engage with these concerns rationally and make visible changes where needed.

  1. Address the false narrative that international students are displacing domestic student and/or taking ‘their’ graduate jobs. Emphasise that international and domestic students are symbiotic and reliant on each other. Ensure the cross-subsidy from international fees is seen as a positive as they increase choice and broaden the range of courses available to domestic students making what would otherwise be loss m7aking courses viable.
  2. The Government’s concern that some institutions are seen to be selling immigration into the UK rather than education is genuine and one of the factors behind the changes to the dependants visa policy. Johnson intimidated that these institutions are ruining it for the majority and that the practice needs to be immediately and publicly curtailed to address the Government’s concerns. Johnson stated he supports the cessation within visas for international students to switch to work mid-stream (and felt it never should have been an option). The second element within the immigration concerns that Johnson felt strongly about is that universal systems need to be in place to check and ensure that international students really have the funds needed and declared to gain their visas. Johnson highlighted examples of a London food bank which is providing for 1,000 international students per week and overcrowded housing where up to 15 students are sharing a small flat. Johnson stated that these issues were exacerbated by the pandemic as students were not able to access sufficient work. Johnson called on the sector to address these concerns to achieve a sustainable international student model.
  3. Johnson’s third concern focused on (lack of) diversity within the international student body. The overreliance on certain nations of international students leaves universities vulnerable to geopolitical changes and Johnson argues limits the experience for other students. For example, the reliance on China within post graduate courses and India for masters students (particularly in a specific set of post-92 universities) was a concern for Johnson. Johnson highlighted that the Government has stated it wants diversity in the international student body but the dominance of certain countries is creating difficulties. In addition, to head off Government concerns, Johnson urged universities to raise the quality of students entering the system.

Johnson gently sang the praises of the DfE and their work representing the value of international students to the Home Office stating if not for their efforts the package of measures introducing restrictions for international students and their dependants could have been much worse. Johnson felt the DfE intervention protected the international graduate route architecture. However, he believed the days of government support for rapid international growth are over and cited technicalities in the wording of the Government’s current policy documents to demonstrate this. Johnson felt this position was inescapable because of the abuses creeping in at the edges – and believes that if these been dealt with at the time today’s restrictions could have been avoided. To this end Johnson recommended four reforms which we set out below.

It’s worth a mention at this point of how influential Johnson remains within Parliament. You’d be wrong to assume his influence is diminished because he now sits as a Peer, not an MP, and because his brother, Boris, has resigned his position under a recent cloud. Jo, as a previous long-standing education minister has established authority, is well connected, and he joins a powerful group of other ex-Ministers and education sector experts within the House of Lords that have demonstrated (e.g. during the Freedom of Speech Act’s passage and the recent Lords select committee inquiry into the OfS) that they’re willing to show their teeth and fully engage with their role to bring scrutiny to bear on the Government and operate the checks and balance functions within Parliament.

Back to Johnson’s four recommendations/reforms for the university sector:

  • Regulatory – universities are tightly regulated for domestic students but not international. Johnson believe the B3 conditions should be applied (and regulated) to international students too. Johnson suggested universities take not of the work which highlights the drop-out rates from certain countries – because the Government is taking note of this, and action may follow.
  • Universities should publish their international student recruitment plans as an annual counterpart to their domestic APP (Access and Participation Plan). This would allow the regulator (the OfS) to gain insight into the risks relating to international students and provide projections forecasting the national picture for international students across the HE sector. It felt it would also provide reassurance that the widening of international participation does not limit (or push out) domestic students.
  • Institutions and sector bodies should do more, through collection action, to weed out poor quality and fraudulent applications. Johnson felt universities need to urgently address this across the sector. He believes universities should raise the quality of applications by
    1. charging an application fee for international students (Johnson stated the evidence is that higher fees result in higher enrolment rates and successfully counter the loss of time/money/staff resource tied up in processing applications for those that don’t ultimately enrol/turn up
    2. that international fees should be paid up front
    3. that international students should place their maintenance money into a specific type of account and draw it down across the year. Johnson believes this would address the fraud and lack of diversification in the system. Johnson also spoke of the low risk countries on the register and overcoming the issue of losing visa awarding powers due to number of refusals.
  • Finally, Johnson wants to see greater accountability for recruitment agents, to weed out the unscrupulous factions. Johnson suggests using VI data and requiring universities to publish non-continuation route and visa refusals by recruitment agent to identify, across the sector, the agents with concerning practices and performance. He felt this would allow institutions to gravitate towards agents supporting the UK university reputation. As Johnson spoke on this topic there was an undercurrent of expectation and onus on the university to be required to do this and a hint that it may be an area for future regulation/OfS scrutiny.

Throughout Johnson demonstrated that he was aware that universities may be reluctant because they don’t want to suffer a ‘first to move’ disadvantage. However, in his opinion the sector needs to urgently address his points and recommendations to stave off less favourable international student reforms in the future.

Baroness Diana Warwick who chaired the session stated she supported the international fee subsidisation of the teaching and how it enables a wider range of courses for domestic students without which institutions wouldn’t be able to support.

A second presentation at the conference by Matt Robb, from EY Parthenon, on Financial Sustainability was equally compelling. He highlighted that across the world there is a once-in-a-lifetime expansion in tertiary enrolment and, therefore, a strategic imperative to capture a significant enough proportion of the market share for international students before the expansion matures. Robb felt the UK needed to establish itself as a  leading provider during this growth as the UK would not be able to regain its share once the maturation slow down begins.

highlighted that multiple countries are facing these issues. Alongside this he recognised the significant costs of transitioning to digital materials, which the UK was less prepared for. He highlighted how universities tend to respond when facing cost pressures, e.g. trimming the course portfolio, which is fine for a small financial squeeze but Robb suggested that over sustained time it led to underinvestment leading to weaker offers and poorer performance. He also highlighted how providers adapt e.g. strategic distinctiveness.

Robb made two key points for student planning. First, The medium to long term growth for the sector is in international students because the UK tertiary enrolment isn’t as high (or growing as much) as other countries – so there will be surplus demand in certain countries internationally. Robb reinforced the need to debunk the myth that international students are displacing domestic students to ensure policies remain favourable for international recruitment.

Second, the concentration of international students from particular countries will be really difficult for the sector to address. Robb gave the example of how affordable international education is within China currently (the Chinese economy is growing and limitations on the number of children mean two generations of a family’s income are available to support the one child to study abroad). Robb also address the elephant in the room – that outside of China one of the reasons why international students come to the UK is to secure work after graduation, and part time work to fund themselves while they are studying. He highlighted that those who are financially affluent already have access to their own very high quality domestic education – so few would want to study overseas. Robb stated that universities often limit recruitment to strong economies which further compounds the diversification issue  and isn’t an access friendly policy. Robb felt a solution would be to use more agents to work into further and newer markets. However, he noted that the further flung the agent network the harder it would be to ensure receiving genuine and quality applications – so running counter to Johnson’s maintaining quality objective. Robb also acknowledged that Brexit continues to exacerbate the concentration (lack of diversity) issue.

Quick International News:

Minister Halfon commits via a Parliamentary Question (PQ) to ensure the visa changes relating to international students and their dependants will be watched to ensure the UK remains competitive in the international market for students. Halfon stated: The Department for Education will work closely with the Home Office, the Department for Business and Trade, and across other government departments, to assess the impact of these changes on research, science and arts in the UK.

Plus two more PQs confirm an equality impact assessment was carried out for the reform package, and that the Government cannot confirm the [overall] value of the immigration health surcharge fee,

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: Generative artificial intelligence in education.

Other news

Universities had a letter from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. Newly introduced, this is intended to fulfil “an important manifesto commitment to “ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries”.”

Student Loans: Martin Lewis, from Moneysavingexpert.com, has published a new blog:  New student loans to cost many 50% more: 6 need-to-knows about ‘Plan 5’ English student finance running through the changes for English students commencing in September 2023 in his usual what-it-means-in-practice style.

HTQs: The DfE announced the second round of the Higher Technical Education Skills Injection Fund committing £48 million for higher technical qualifications (HTQs) across areas such as digital, engineering and manufacturing, and protective services in the 2024-25 and 2025-26 academic years. An additional 66 qualifications have also been approved as HTQs. Government press release here.

Short course trial: An update from Wonkhe – The Department for Education has updated its list of courses included in the higher education short courses trial, with two new courses added and two no longer running removed.

Policy campus: The DfE, Cabinet Office, Home Office and DWP are all cooperating to establish a Civil Service Policy Campus based in Sheffield. All the details are here, but in short it’ll pilot a regional fast stream, provide policy apprenticeships at level 4, offer policy internships and research projects for regional students, and work with Sheffield universities on policy research.

Creative: The Government published  its creative industries sector vision. It plans to grow the creative industries by £50bn and support a million more jobs by 2030.

Graduate outcomes: HESA released the outcomes data for 2020-2021’s graduates.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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

This is your half term catch up policy update.

Regulatory

OfS: Freedom of Speech

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

The work of the OfS: Minister Halfon examined

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

HE Financial health

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Students  – a conflicting view?

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

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

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

Halfon reveals his preferred vision for future HE institutions

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

Regulatory burden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial sustainability (OfS)

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

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

The key risks are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More coverage in: The Guardiani News, and Wonkhe.

OfS Registration Fee hike

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

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

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

Wonkhe say:

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

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

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

Graduate outcomes

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

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

International

International Students: Economic benefits

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

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

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

The Russell Group published their response to the report.

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

Growth in international student recruitment:

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

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

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

International Students: Dependants’ visas

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

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

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

Braverman stated:

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

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

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

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

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

International: Confucius Institutes

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statutory duty of care for HE students

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

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

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

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

Student loan cap – 7.1%

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

Access & Participation

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

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

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

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

Increasing access to HE

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

Labour’s Policy Programme

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

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

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

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

Give genuine choice of further and higher education

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

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

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

Introduce an industrial strategy and support firms

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

Deliver landmark shift in skills provision

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

Tackle NHS staffing issues

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

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots more interesting content in the full insight brief.

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HE policy update for the w/e 28th April 2023

Tuition fees – here to stay?

Sir Keir Starmer has announced that Labour are reviewing what to do about tuition fees if they win the general election next year (widely expected in autumn 2024, latest it can be is January 2025) giving a clear indication in an interview on BBC Radio 4 that the previous policy of abolishing fees will not survive because of costs concern.  The narrative was all about replacing it with something fairer – does that mean a graduate tax is the most likely outcome (which is, arguably what we already nearly have).  He also acknowledged that the current system is not working for universities, although a blanket freedom to raise fees, or even an increased cap, might not be what he meant.  They will be doing a review ahead of publishing their manifesto – so more news to follow.

Nurse Review: RDI organisational landscape report

The Government published Sir Paul Nurse’s final report on his Research, development and innovation (RDI) organisational landscape: an independent review. It’s a 163 page behemoth that was commissioned in 2021 to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to make recommendations for improvement of the RDI landscape, with a primary focus on researchers and RDI funded by the public purse. It also comments on how the various RDI organisations interact with and support industry, commerce, and society more generally.

It speaks of a patchwork of funders and sometimes short-term public policy priorities and initiatives. These are part of the significant problems that the Nurse Review identifies and Sir Paul calls for the governance to step away from further piecemeal changes and urges Government to consider the Review as a whole rather than a pick and mix assortment to be selected from. Government has a very important long-term role to play in bringing this about. It will require increased investment, reduced policy volatility, a clear focus on optimising and implementing change, good data collection, and a long-lasting, consistent, systematic approach to policy development and safeguarding of the RDI landscape.

Concerns include

  • underinvestment in R&D (confirmation of R&D spend figures due late 2023).
  • ensuring the pursuit of research is the pursuit of truth. Recommendations aim to strengthen: high research quality; agility and flexibility in approach; permeability between sectors, disciplines and organisations; transparency and navigability for those seeking to engage with R&D; a skilled workforce; inspirational leadership; a good research culture embracing ethical behaviour; strong international collaboration; and financial sustainability.
  • political interest can have the unintended consequence of driving policy volatility and short-term policymaking, and recent years have seen an increasing turnover of new initiatives, schemes and programmes which are not always properly integrated with one another. This undermines development of RDI, particularly within the application part of the research spectrum, which can have a negative effect on private investment.
  • The UK RDI landscape is hard to navigate – defects in permeability and inter-sectoral collaboration may be contributing to the UK’s present weak productivity.
  • the financial sustainability of public research funding – The future success of UK RDI is explicitly contingent upon the Government’s commitment to grow investment in RDI. There is a pressing need for more complete ‘end-to-end’ funding of research activities beyond Independent Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape 8 direct research costs, including adequate support for administrative services, sophisticated technical cores and facilities, and for ‘well-found’ laboratories
  • university research has been sustained partly through increasing reliance on cross-subsidy from commercial sources – The excellent UK universities should receive increased support for the outstanding research they can deliver, to ensure that they are competitive with universities in other countries
  • Excessive bureaucracy – Checks and balances on organisations using public research funding are important, but the operations of research funders and RPOs are hindered by excessive bureaucracy, with too much emphasis on audit-oriented reviewing and reporting rather than the quality of the research being produced…Much of this bureaucracy has its origin in Government controls and rules, particularly from the Treasury…These ways of working, combined with deficiencies in ‘end-to-end’ research funding have led to long-standing inefficiencies, wasting both money and researchers’ time. The problem of excessive bureaucracy has also been independently verified by the 2021 Review of Research Bureaucracy, led by Professor Adam Tickell, and the 2022 Review of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), led by Sir David Grant.

The report concludes:

The financial sustainability of the public research funding for universities needs to be urgently addressed. ‘End-to-end’ research support has four components: direct research costs; administrative services; technical facilities; and laboratory facilities. The present funding arrangements do not provide adequate support for all these components, and need to be overhauled to ensure that they do so. Proper ‘end-to end’ funding is required in universities to fully support research activities with mechanisms that do not have perverse incentives or outcomes, and that better consider the quality and not just the quantity of research delivered. There needs to be a detailed review of response-mode and competitive grants, full Economic Costing (fEC) and Quality-related Research Funding (QR), and where necessary, these funding mechanisms should be reformed or replaced. The present underpinning of UK university research by other commercial income sources, notably fees paid by international students, is valuable, but care is needed as such sources are not always reliable and sustainable.

Government response

Michelle Donelan wrote to Sir Paul to warmly welcome the report:

  • the importance of this Review cannot be understated. You have eloquently demonstrated the potential that science, innovation and technology have to change our world and improve all of our lives. To maximise these benefits you make a strong case for the vital role of effective leadership and co-ordination. I strongly agree, and this is why the Prime Minister has recently established a new department in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. I am delighted to have the privilege of leading the department to deliver on the UK’s mission to become the most innovative economy in the world and a Science and Technology Superpower. I am confident that this Review will play a foundational role in shaping and delivering that vision. I look forward to working with you to ensure the UK can be at the forefront of critical and emerging fields of science and technology.
  • My department will swiftly respond with a package of measures that take account of your advice and I hope to publish that shortly. I am confident that the report’s recommendations offer important ways to further support the world-leading research organisations based in the UK, future-proofing the existing system and helping to support important societal goals around net zero and improving the nation’s health.

The Government also confirm here that they will respond to the [Nurse] Review’s recommendations in the coming months.

Recommendations – full list

  1. Government should take account of the true cost of ‘end-to-end’ research activity to generate a sustainable RDI endeavour.Government, working with UKRI and the UK higher education funding bodies, should review and when necessary reform competitive and response-mode grant funding, QR (and Devolved Administration equivalents), and full economic costings (fEC), and replace them with improved mechanisms. Overall objectives should be to optimise research delivery, remove perverse incentives and outcomes, and ensure the longer-term sustainability of the research system.
  2. Universities should develop plans to optimise their operationsin support of research, to empower researchers and reduce their administrative loads, and to improve the quality of support services, core technical facilities, and well-found laboratory buildings and infrastructures. Government, working with UKRI, the UK higher education funding bodies and the wider sector, should consider more transparent mechanisms to provide assurance and accountability on QR funding.
  3. Government departments should clarify the missions of their individual public sector research establishments (PRSEs), allow them greater freedom of action, and ensure their effectiveness.Departments should improve internal awareness of PSREs’ capabilities, and use PSREs to inform RDI strategy and policy making, working within and across departments. Permeability and agility would be further improved by increasing the visibility, interactions and partnerships between PSREs, and between PSREs and the rest of the RDI landscape, including commercial organisations. Funding streams for PSREs need to be protected and reformed to ensure long-term sustainability. Constraints, which appear to have their origins in the Treasury, over funding, pay and other conditions of working should be reduced. The reforms of funding proposed for the universities should also be applied to PSREs. PSREs should be stringently reviewed, and those that have outlived their purpose or are not working effectively should be reformed, reduced or closed, and any savings generated recycled into Government R&D budgets.
  4. Institutes and units need sustained financial support, including un-hypothecated funding, to ensure ‘end-to-end’ research support.The funding arrangements of recently established institutes and units, particularly the ‘hub and spoke’ models, must be reviewed to make sure that they are fit for purpose. The reforms of funding proposed for the universities should also take account of the needs of institutes and units. Institutes and units need a well-defined mission and purpose, and should be given the autonomy and funding necessary to achieve their objectives, which may be time limited. There need to be clear and agreed mechanisms by which institutes and units can be adapted, reduced or closed when necessary.
  5. Institutes and units must have high quality administrative as well as scientific leadership.They generally benefit from being co-located with other research performing organisations (RPOs), but if their overall administration is the responsibility of another co-located or funding organisation, rigorous contractual arrangements must be in place to ensure independence of operation and quality of service.
  6. New research institutes and units should be considered when strategic RDI priorities best supported by focused research missions are identifiedby Government, UKRI and other funders. Possible examples include enhanced activities in climate change and its mitigation, antimicrobial resistance, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence. Themes should be identified through mapping and reviewing, taking account of emerging technologies, scientific areas, and Government priorities. Pre-existing institutes and units could be merged and expanded to create new institutes, and consideration should be given to co-location and co-funding with other RPOs. Establishment of new institutes and units should follow the principles outlined in the Review.
  7. Government and the charitable sector should work togetherto ensure that ‘end-to-end’ funding is provided for research supported by philanthropy.
  8. Support for research undertaken by galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and the heritage and cultural sectors should be increased, and support for long-neglected collections-based research put in place.
  9. Coherence between translational research organisations, including those embedded within other RPOs, and the rest of the landscape should be increased.Government is advised to optimise translational research organisations by increasing their number, widening access and promoting the benefits of translational research capability, including regionally. Government should explore routes by which RPOs across the RDI landscape, including PSREs, can contribute to translational activities.
  10. Government should use its convening power to create a favourable environment for business to invest in RDI, tackling causes identified by this Review as holding back further business investment, and where expedient, providing financial support. Examples of such support are funding which leverages private investment or promotes collaboration between industry and the rest of the RDI landscape.
  11. To understand the benefits of RDI for commercial activities and the economy, a culture change promoting openness, mutual respect, closer interaction, collaboration, and permeability of ideas, technologies and people has to occurin both business and academia. Government has a role in conveying the benefits of RDI investment to businesses, shareholders and academia, embracing practices from countries with high business RDI investment rates. Mechanisms to deliver this should be explored and implemented.
  12. Government should take particular responsibility for driving RDI that provides societal benefit as well as economic growth.Examples are health care delivery, equitable regional economic growth throughout the UK, and the delivery of net zero. Where appropriate, public-private partnerships should be encouraged.
  13. Government and RPOs should partner with local communities to support RDI relevant to their needs, to bring about more equitable regional economic growth based on local expertise and demands and driven by community benefit as well as academic criteria. Universities and other RPOs should support their local community and economy by enhancing their role as an information nexus and by helping local industries link to research capabilities wherever they are in the UK.
  14. There is an urgent problem with the current mechanisms for clinician scientists to effectively develop and undertake their research careers.The Government, taking into account devolved competencies, must rectify this to both improve the ability of the NHS to deliver more effective health care and to help the UK economy.
  15. Government must work with UKRI and the wider RDI community toconsider more stable and properly costed funding structures, aimed at ensuring the quality of the existing landscape and its sustainability.
  16. Government must increase its long-term commitment to invest more in RDI.In addition to reviewing incentives in public funding for university research, Government should review the balance of funding across the landscape, and explore how planned increases in RDI public funding can provide more un-hypothecated core funding for RPOs to allow them to deliver their mission more effectively, to promote collaboration and interaction across RDI sectors, and to empower local RPO leadership and researchers.
  17. Government should ensure that international collaboration is protected and encouraged, and should resolve problems damaging the UK RDI landscape’s international links. This is particularly relevant to our close scientific collaborators in the EU, and it is essential that the UK associates with Horizon Europe. Government should take action, including consultation with devolved administrations, if its broader policy objectives on areas such as immigration, ODA and education are hindering wider objectives for long-term RDI policy. The UK should consider opportunities to hostnew intergovernmental multinationally funded institutes and international research infrastructures.
  18. DSIT should define the overall architecture and governance for cross-Government RDI policy, setting out accountabilities from Cabinet and below. This should include the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), as well as other key RDI spending departments, UKRI and other funders, to ensure roles are complementary, and to improve alignment on policies.
  19. From Cabinet level downwards, all interested parties in Government must take responsibility for the high level and effective safeguarding of the future success of the UK RDI landscape.This oversight should include an authoritative working group set up by DSIT, operating across Government, the RPOs and the funding organisations, which will take long-term responsibility for implementation of the recommendations of this Review.
  20. Government should establish a research vision and strategy including long-term programmatic, infrastructure and technological initiatives, which is especially relevant at the applied end of the research spectrum. This will give RPOs, investors and global companies the confidence to invest, operate and interact with the UK RDI landscape.
  21. Government needs to develop effective mapping of UK RDI, covering the missions, financial investment in different sectors, research capabilities, and locations of RPOs, and also monitor international RDI activities to identify successful features and models. DSIT, working with UKRI and other interests across Government, could carry out this function. An agreed shared picture of the RDI landscape should be produced, together with a commitment to regularly update it.
  22. Government should increase efforts to link the different elements of the UK RDI landscape together with the commercial, industrial and societal components that benefit from research.To spread the benefits of research through communities across the UK, partnerships, collaborations and interactions must be built so that all components are mutually aware, and permeable with respect to ideas, information, technologies and people.
  23. Government must replace frequent, repetitive, and multi-layered reporting and audit by Government departments and UKRI with a culture of confidence and earned trust, as also referenced by the Independent Review of Research Bureaucracy. Reporting and reviewing of RPOs should focus on the quality and appropriateness of the research being carried out. The framework by which ARIA will operate should be applied to other components of the RDI landscape.
  24. Public sector controls which reduce the agility and performance of RPOs need to be reformed.Salaries must be internationally competitive. Where Government-imposed pay limitations are damaging the mission of an RPO, they must be revised, and the decision-making mechanisms made more flexible.
  25. Government should ensure that there is a well-trained RDI workforce available at all levels, and long-term educational planning to ensure a future pipeline of researchers and technicians.Career pathways for those roles that underpin effective research delivery, including technicians and project and programme managers, should be strengthened so the importance of these roles is better recognised. Training and career structures for early career researchers, including PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and starting faculty, need to be reviewed and reformed. Career path diversity and permeability between different RPOs should be encouraged.

Blogs:

Parliamentary News

Ministerial Change: Michelle Donelan has temporarily stepped away from her role as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology for her maternity leave. On leaving Donelan tweeted a series of items to highlight the achievements she and colleagues have accomplished whilst she has been in role. It’s a quick reminder on the latest Government policies within science and tech.

Donelan’s SoS role is being covered by Chloe Smith (former work and pensions secretary). Chloe is the daughter of a teacher (mum) and furniture designer (dad). She is a graduate of York University and has held school governance roles. Chloe worked as a Business Consultant for Deloitte UK. She sees herself as a progressive Conservative and is a member of the Tory Reform Group (more on the Left of the Party), voted to Remain in the EU and has announced she will not seek re-election as a MP at the next general election.

Free Speech – imminent: The Free Speech Bill will return to the Commons following the latest Lords amendments on Tuesday 2 May. At a Westminster event last Wednesday a Parliamentarian indicated that this could be it and the Bill may well soon become an Act. There is still widespread concern about the Bill within the sector, primarily because it is unclear how the different provisions within the Bill, such as academic freedom, will play out in practice. The Westminster event highlighted that even Parliamentary Members, expert sector and legal bodies, and University representatives do not interpret aspects of the Bill in the same way. The Bill adds to a complex legislative background where many other Acts influence the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ should the Free Speech Bill be enacted in its current form. The first few cases brought under the legislation will be crucial in determining how the potential Act will change behaviour in the sector.

As a recap the final stages (ping pong) of the Bill centred on the argument over the inclusion of the statutory tort allowing those who think their free speech rights have been infringed to bring a legal claim for damages against a university or a students’ union. The Lords removed it, the Commons added it back in. Currently a compromise has been reached with the tort as a watered down backstop – included in the Bill as a means of last recourse after complaints processes have been exhausted.

Education Committee: Mohammad Yasin has joined the Education Select Committee. Mohammad is a Labour MP who has demonstrated a keen interest in securing better funding for education, social services and healthcare provision. Chair of the Commons Education Committee Robin Walker has announced his decision to stand down from Parliament at the next General Election. New Chairs of select committees are elected after each general election so this isn’t big news. We simply know there won’t be any continuity between the Chairs and therefore the focus of the business will likely change to a greater degree as a new Chair with new priorities will be selected.

DSIT is being beefed up with three additional ministers:

  • Julia Lopez Minister of State for Data and Digital Infrastructure, she also retains her role in DCMS (media, tourism and creative industries). Her responsibilities include Digital infrastructure/ telecoms; data, including Data Protection and Digital Information Bill; data security; Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO); Ofcom.  However, she is about to go on maternity leave, so her role will be covered by John Whittingdale. Whittingdale was a DCMS Minister during 2021.
  • Viscount Camrose (Jonathan Berry) appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for AI and Intellectual Property and Government Spokesperson in the Lords. This is his first ministerial position. He has sat in the Lords since his by-election win in March 2022.
  • Stuart Andrew MP appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Gambling and Civil Society; Minister for Equalities covering: sport; gambling and lotteries; civil society and youth; ceremonials, including Coronation; major events, including Eurovision and City of Culture.

Select Committees will reform (from 26 April) to model the new Government departmental structure:

  • The International Trade Committee will be dissolved – its scrutiny function will transfer to the BEIS Committee.
  • The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee will become the Business and Trade Committee, and will scrutinise the work of DBT.
  • The Science and Technology Committee (not currently a departmental select committee) will now be renamed the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, and will now scrutinise the work of DSI (i.e. now be a departmental select committee).
  • The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee will become the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and will scrutinise the work of DCMS. Which makes one wonder why DCMS is retaining its former name. Incidentally if you’re interested in the forthcoming policy priorities check out their newly published ARI.
  • A new Energy Security and Net Zero Committee will be established as the Trade Committee is being abolished the SNP will Chair this new committee.

Financial health of HE sector: Wonkhe report on the House of Lords debate on financial pressures in higher education. Lord Knight of Weymouth opening proceedings with the observation that “it appears that the university business model is teetering.” For the government, Baroness Barran argued that “we know that the finances of HE providers are sound when we look at this at a sector level,” though recognised the uneven impact of cost pressures. She drew attention to OfS’ forthcoming report on the financial health of the sector, due next month. You can read the report on Hansard.

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

It’s a busy time for HE in Westminster because the Lifelong Learning Bill will proceed through the final legislative Commons stages shortly. We wrote about this Bill extensively in this policy update in March and this is the one that is intended to fundamentally change how the HE sector delivers or packages their provision.

Upon completion the Bill will move to the House of Lords for their scrutiny. Two key amendments have been tabled for the final Commons stages. One seeks to prevent variable fees being changed based on course or subject. The second proposes that one credit equates to 10 learning hours.

For a catch up on the Bill this Library briefing is useful. The briefing also sets out a timeline for the next steps for implementation:

  • The roll-out of the LLE will include:
    • From 2025, full courses formerly funded by the higher education student finance system and full courses formerly funded through Advanced Learner Loans that can demonstrate learner demand and employer endorsement.
    • From 2025, modules of some “job-specific” technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5, including Higher Technical Qualifications.
    • From 2027, modular student finance will be extended to levels 4 to 6where the Government “can be confident of positive student outcomes”.
  • In autumn 2023, the Government will publish details on the courses eligible for additional entitlement under the LLE, and the principles for calculating the residual entitlement for returning eligible learners.
  • In December 2023, the Government will review qualifications currently funded by Advanced Learner Loans (ALLs) to determine which ones should be included within the scope of the LLE.
  • By “late 2023”, the Government will provide an update on Sharia-compliant student finance.
  • The Office for Students (OfS) will consult “in due course” on the development and introduction of a new third registration category for providers offering LLE-funded course and modules.

Source

The sector reaction to the Bill has been cautiously positive. The Library reports:

  • The planned removal of ELQ restrictions and the expansion of maintenance support for living costs to level 4 and 5 subjects was welcomed by many across the education and employment sectors as an important way to ensure learners could access funding to retrain, develop their careers, and fill skills gaps in the economy.
  • The Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), David Hughes, welcomed the LLE as a potential “game changer”. However, he argued modular learning needs to become more mainstream, and the LLE alone would not change the behaviours and priorities of the vast majority of learners focussed on achieving a traditional undergraduate degree above all else.
  • The decision to cap eligibility for the LLE at age 60 has also been described as an “ageist strategy”, while the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), Jo Grady, has said more funding was neededso learners could stay in their studies and not leave because of financial reasons, and to ensure providers can adapt courses for modular learning.

For more on the full ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ at each stage of parliamentary consideration of the Bill see this separate briefing.

Wonkhe Blog: Including postgraduate study in the LLE could be expensive, but leaving it out carries risk. Mark Bennett weighs up the potential options and outcomes.

Research

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published making Innovation Matter: How the UK can benefit from spreading and using innovative ideas. It aims to bring together insights and analyse innovation enablers and barriers. Here are the most relevant key points:

  • Innovation diffusion and adoption (IDA) takes place within a fragmented, complex and poorly intra-connected ecosystem. There are many different stakeholders, organisations and structures influencing IDA. Funding, praise, status and incentives are often centred around having and owning an idea as opposed to its successful application at scale.
  • A lack of incentive is compounded by the different skillsets required to support an idea through the early majority stage of innovation. Academic know-how must be combined with entrepreneurial vision, appetite for risk, investment, marketing, sales, logistics and customer service. Taken together otherwise successful innovations fail to make it beyond early adoption because stakeholders are not properly incentivised to go to market and/or do not have the skills to do so.
  • Government and Business have already acted to address this issue with a wide range of institutions, accelerators, funds and initiatives to support innovation. Whatever the merits of existing and planned initiatives it is clear from both international experience and domestic data that more can be done, particularly around identifying priorities and challenges, setting out roadmaps with clear direction, using its buying power as anchor customers, and creating the right funding and regulatory environment to enable innovation to thrive.

Opportunities to better understand and improve IDA include:

  1. Inspire stakeholders and communities to address key innovation challengesin an open and inclusive way, giving them freedom to experiment, with Government taking more of the lead by setting concrete direction.
  2. Invest in skills(both innovation skills and specialist skills such as in STEM, business, research and professional expertise) and drive collaboration at all levels, including leadership and skills development.
  3. Broaden the diversityof participation and perspectives and build trust.
  4. Develop a more joined-up ‘supply chain’ approach, with cross-sector fertilisation of ideas and technologies, and place-based specialisms, creating ‘hubs’.
  5. Increase funding for diffusion and adoption activitiessuch as improving public sector procurement with multi-year grants for innovations that ensure emphasis on IDA.
  6. Target supportfor IDA activities, including better metrics.

Science and Technology Framework (and friends)

Recent weeks have seen the publication of a melting pot of various Government strategies, funding initiatives and policy declarations. We try to bring them all together (relatively) simply under the banner of the new Science and Technology Framework.

Published a couple weeks ago the Government’s Science and Technology Framework for the UK sets out the vision for the UK to be a science superpower by 2030. It seeks to identify critical technologies, invest in R&D, develop talent, build international relationships, and do better in communicating the UK’s R&D strengths. The new measures sitting alongside the framework are backed by £500 million of funding.

The Framework is owned by DSIT but will be a coordinated cross-government approach. Here are the 10 key actions:

  • identifying, pursuing and achieving strategic advantage in the technologies that are most critical to achieving UK objectives
  • showcasing the UK’s science and technology strengths and ambitions at home and abroad to attract talent, investment and boost our global influence
  • boosting private and public investment in research and development for economic growth and better productivity
  • building on the UK’s already enviable talent and skills base
  • financing innovative science and technology start-ups and companies
  • capitalising on the UK government’s buying power to boost innovation and growth through public sector procurement
  • shaping the global science and tech landscape through strategic international engagement, diplomacy and partnerships
  • ensuring researchers have access to the best physical and digital infrastructure for R&D that attracts talent, investment and discoveries
  • leveraging post-Brexit freedoms to create world-leading pro-innovation regulation and influence global technical standards
  • creating a pro-innovation culture throughout the UK’s public sector to improve the way our public services run

Here’s the funding and policy breakdown:

  • £250 million in 3 transformational technologies (AI, quantum technologies and engineering biology) to support industry to tackle the biggest global challenges
  • (e.g. climate change and health care). Also part of the framework are semiconductors and future telecoms. More detail on these priorities can be found within the related International Technology Strategy.
  • The Nurse Independent Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscapeand implementing the recommendations to make the most of the UK’s research organisations, ensuring they are effective, sustainable and responsive to global challenges.
  • Testing different models of funding science, to support a range of innovative institutional models, such as Focused Research Organisations (known as FROs), working with industry and philanthropic partners to open up new funding for UK research. For example, this could include working with a range of partners to increase investment in the world leading UK Biobank, to support the continued revolution in genetic science
  • £50 million co-investment in science from the private sector to drive the discoveries of the future.
  • £117 million of existing funding to create new PhDs for AI researchers and £8 million to find the next generation of AI leaders around the world to do their research in the UK.
  • £50 million uplift to World Class Labs funding to help research institutes and universities to improve facilities so UK researchers have access to the best labs and equipment they need to keep producing world-class science, opening up entirely new avenues for economic growth and job creation.
  • £10 million uplift to the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund, totalling £50 million, to boost the UK’s next tech and science start-ups.
  • Set up an Exascale supercomputer facility – the most powerful compute capability which could solve problems as complex as nuclear fusion – as well as a programme to provide dedicated compute capacity for important AI research, as part of the response to the Future of Compute Review.
  • £9 million to support the establishment of a quantum computing research centre by PsiQuantum in Daresbury in the North-West.
  • Also within this overall policy context is the UKRI’s International Science Partnerships Fund which will support close working with international partners to address global challenges, build knowledge and develop the technologies of tomorrow. More info here; the four themes: resilient planet; transformative technologies; healthy people, animals and plants; tomorrow’s talent. Also the Japan-UK research collaboration in neuroscience, neurodegenerative diseases and dementia; clean energy and climate change with Australia, Canada and the US; and partnership with South Korea for digital health, clean energy, advanced manufacturing and materials, future mobility and smart cities.
  • Horizon Europe doesn’t get a mention in the framework – and the Opposition asks why in this parliamentary question.
  • Here is Donelan’s Written Ministerial Statement providing a Science and Technology update. It covers the framework and wider policy matters.
  • Finally, Sir Patrick Vallance’s Pro-innovation Regulation of Technologies Review: life sciences – while currently at interim findings stage the Government committed to supporting all of Patrick’s recommendations in the March 2023 budget, including providing clarity on the Intellectual Property rules. If you need a refresher browse through our write up in this policy update.

Not particularly insightful, but nonetheless entertaining, was the Opposition’s response to the publication of the Science and Technology Framework. Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, highlighted the turnover of nine science ministers in the last five years and stated the country deserved a science framework “with a longer shelf-life than a lettuce”.

Horizon

Always in the news but no real movement is the latest on Horizon association. The Windsor Framework resuscitated hope in what had become a Horizon dead duck. The rhetoric from the research associated Government departments continues to indicate progress and the assumption that association is still on the table and desired by both sides.

Here’s the short version of all the recent noise:

  • The Government announced another extension (until 30 June 2023) to the financial guarantee to the UK’s Horizon Europe scheme so that eligible and successful bids for calls closing by the deadline will continue to be guaranteed funding. (The particulars are on the UKRI website.) It’s a short extension so speculation (and hope) abounds about what might happen afterwards – June isn’t far off on the horizon.
  • Greg Clark (Chair of Science and Tech Committee, and ex-BEIS long standing Secretary of State) is feeling impatient and spoke out urging the Government to accelerate negotiations leading to Horizon Europe association (after the Committee received a dreary letter from DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan following the clawback of £1.65 billion of research funds to the central Government pot in February).
  • Following the funding clawback Clark challenged Donelan during the Science and Technology Framework announcements. He called on Donelan to confirm when fresh negotiations for Horizon association would begin and how long until the Government throws in the towel and falls back on Plan B. Finally, he questioned what mechanisms were in place to ensure that, in areas such as batteries, that there was a united and coherent approach across Government, so investors know what the policy is and who to get deal with. Donelan responded to confirm the same level of funding would be available to researchers if Horizon association isn’t achieved: …funding remains available to finalise association with EU programmes. In the event that we do not associate, UK researchers and businesses will receive at least as much as they would have through Horizon over the spending review period. (Hansard.)
  • Wonkhe tell us that (then) Scottish Minister for HE & FE Jamie Hepburn made some good point in his letterto Michelle Donelan urging for Horizon Europe association to be secured. He expresses concern that the UK government “appears to be working on the assumption that if we succeed in associating to the Horizon Europe programme, participation will be costed from the point of re-entry,” arguing that this has never been guaranteed. A good point!
  • For completeness here are the transitional measures the Government put in place during July 2022 to stop UK research falling into the lack of Horizon abyss.
  • Finally, Horizon featured in the first ever DSIT oral questions. Discouraging, but not unexpected, was confirmation that the government’s position was unchanged, and discussions are ongoing.

Parliamentary Questions:

Quick Research News

  • UKRI has publishedits EDI strategy, setting out four strategic objectives to achieve its aim of fostering a research and innovation system “by everyone, for everyone”. (Wonkhe)
  • (Not) Levelling up: The R&D funding ecosystem just isn’t designed to level up the country. James Coe investigates where R&D funding is spent and what that means for levelling up. (Wonkhe Blog.)
  • Recognition: Wonkhe report that Science Europe, which represents research organisations around Europe including UKRI, has released recommendations on recognition systems in research and case studies of good practice. It has also become a signatory of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).
  • India cooperation: Wonkhe report that the UK signed a memorandum of understanding with India at yesterday’s UK-India Science Innovation Council meeting in Parliament. The agreement is intended to “remove red tape” to enable more efficient and effective joint research projects into major issues such as climate change, decarbonisation, pandemic preparedness, and artificial intelligence – among other programmes. Science Minister George Freeman believes this move will create skilled jobs and drive economic growth. India was also named as a partner for the UK’s International Science Partnerships Fund which will see £5 million UK funding – to be matched by India – for research into Farmed Animal Diseases and Health, and £3.3 million UK funding – also to be matched by India – towards a technology and skills partnership programme.
  • AI: The Government has announced the creation of a new Foundation Model Taskforce which will be responsible for accelerating the UK’s capability in a rapidly emerging type of artificial intelligence (AI). The Taskforce will be backed by £100m in funding, and modelled on the success of the COVID-19 Vaccines Taskforce – its main aim will be to develop the safe and reliable use of these AI systems across the economy to ensure the UK is globally competitive in this technology. Foundation models – including large language models such as ChatGPT and Google Bard – are a category of AI trained on huge volumes of data such as text, images, video or audio to gain broad and sophisticated capabilities across many tasks. The Government say that, in areas such as healthcare, this technology has potential to speed up diagnoses, drug discovery and development, and that in education it could transform teachers’ day-to-day work by freeing up more time. The Taskforce, announced as part of the Integrated Review Refresh last month, will bring together government and industry experts and report directly to the Prime Minister and Technology Secretary. The Taskforce’s expert Chair is yet to be appointed (announcement due summer 2023).
  • Horizon Europe related parliamentary questions: UK funding share; the costs of Pioneer (the alternative programme); where the Pioneer funding is coming from; the negotiating position for UK contributions to Horizon Europe. On this last question Minister George Freeman stated: The Government are discussing association to Horizon Europe with the EU and hope our negotiations will be successful. That is our preference. We will not be providing a running commentary on these discussions. Association would need to be on the basis of a good deal for the UK’s researchers, businesses and taxpayers. If we are not able to secure association on fair and appropriate terms, we will implement Pioneer – our bold, ambitious alternative.
  • George Freeman’s (Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation) responsibilities have been confirmed. They include:
    • international science and research
    • domestic science and research ecosystem, including university research and public sector research establishments (PSREs)
    • Horizon Europe
    • R&D People and Culture Strategy
    • Innovation Strategy
    • space sector
    • life sciences
    • quantum
    • engineering biology
    • place and levelling up
    • regulation of innovation​​, including the Regulatory Horizon Council
  • Research Professional has a quick read on the links between universities, place and inward investment (particularly in light of the Budget’s Investment Zones announcements).
  • REF: The Research Excellence Framework (REF) encourages “higher quantity and lower quality” of academic output, according to a study from a group of researchers led by Queen Mary, University of London’s Moqi Groen-Xu. The research found that papers published in the run-up to REF deadlines generally received fewer citations and were more likely to be retracted than those published after REF assessments. The authors call for better support for long-term exploratory research. (Wonkhe.)
  • The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has published a report on diversity in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In the report Dods tell us that MPs highlight the underrepresentation of people from Black Caribbean backgrounds, and others, across all STEM subjects throughout education and work. A low uptake of physics and computer science in girls at school as well as persistent issues with women’s career progression in STEM also stand out. MPs say it is “sadly notable” that many of the conclusions from a predecessor Committee’s 2014 report on women in science could still apply today. The Committee recommends a series of changes to education policy, following the Prime Minister’s commitment to grow STEM pupil numbers. MPs call on the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to make improving diversity and inclusion in STEM part of its mission, and to set out how it intends to achieve this.
  • Michelle Donelan introduced the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill
  • AI & Data Science Scholarships: The OfS confirmed £8.1 million new funding from DSIT and the Office for Artificial Intelligence for universities to deliver AI and data science scholarships to underrepresented groups. The funding runs from April 2023 for one year, with a possible additional one year extension. The programme has run before and the interim report found the scholarships attracted a diverse student profile. However, the in the previous iteration more scholarships were awarded to international students as the scheme progressed and recently UK students received less than half of scholarships. On outcomes most students quickly secured jobs that specialise in or use data and/or AI. DSIT also published an AI regulation white paper. Secretary of State, Michelle Donelan, made a ministerial statement here.

Parliamentary Questions:

Students

Sharia Compliant Finance

Previously DLUHC appointed an Independent Faith Engagement Adviser to review how the Government should engage with faith groups in England. The Adviser, Colin Bloom, recently published the review report. The report includes a recommendation for Sharia compliant finance and places a firm timescale on the Government:

  • Government should accelerate proposals to introduce Sharia-compliant student loanson equalities grounds. Faith-sensitive student finance should be made available from the beginning of academic year 2024-25.

Sharia compliant finance feels like one of the slowest progress policy priorities within HE. The Government first proposed a student finance product consistent with Muslim beliefs regarding interest-bearing loans in 2013. The Higher Education Research Act, passed in 2017, allows the Government to introduce such a product in England, but it has yet to do so. The issue has been raised in Parliament a number of times, with the delay described as “shameful” by Lord Sharkey.

Following the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) Consultation the Government announced Sharia compliant finance would not be ready as part of the LLE launch in 2025 but that the Government remained committed to delivering such a product “as soon as possible after 2025”. A parliamentary Library briefing on the topic informs that findings from the Muslim Census study suggest over 12,000 students per year are affected (deterred from taking out loans which acts as a barrier to entering HE or causes financial hardship).

It remains to be seen whether Bloom’s timescale will be met by the Government – it seems unlikely given the Government have already ruled out including Sharia compliant finance within LLE in 2025.

On other student finance matters Wonkhe have a new blog – As the state reduces its support for students in real terms, Jim Dickinson considers the role of institutional student finance measures in addressing the cost of living crisis.

Spiking

The Labour party intend to make spiking a specific offence if they are elected to government. It would form part of several measures aiming to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG) and broaden the Labour party’s “tough on crime” credentials. Dods report that the Home Affairs Committee previously recommended the creation of a new standalone offence, however the Government’s response to the inquiry’s findings suggested this wasn’t necessary as there were already measures and guidance in place to improve reporting, data collection and police response to incidents. The Committee’s inquiry focused heavily on night-time venues, and heard from many in the university sector about the prevalence and nature of spiking on campuses. UUK also published a practice note for HEIs to support their response to spiking.

Student Accommodation

Wonkhe – Over half of students living in the private rented sector have experienced damp or mould on walls or ceilings, and half say their accommodation is poorly insulated, according to a new report from SOS-UK in partnership with Universities UK. Homes Fit for Study 2023. Universities UK has published a note on how universities can support students facing fuel poverty. ITV news has some experiences from students up on YouTube.

Duty of Care

The petition to Parliament for universities to have a legal duty of care for students (started by the families of student’s who took their own lives) has reached a significant threshold and the matter will be debated on Monday 5 June.  Previously the Government responded to this petition:

  • Higher Education providers do have a general duty of care to deliver educational and pastoral services to the standard of an ordinarily competent institution and, in carrying out these services, they are expected to act reasonably to protect the health, safety and welfare of their students. This can be summed up as providers owing a duty of care to not cause harm to their students through the university’s own actions.
  • Over the last decade, higher education providers have devoted considerable resources to their student support services, and a good deal of support is now widely provided to students who struggle with their mental health. However, tragically suicides do still occur in higher education, and investigations into the circumstances of such deaths have sometimes shown the support offered by the university was not all it might have been. We have encouraged universities to learn from such cases and redouble their prevention efforts. 

We’ll bring you the outcome of the debate after it takes place.

Cost of living

The APPG for Students published their Report of the Inquiry into the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students. They conclude that most students are facing significant financial pressures, with some groups particularly hard hit, risking academic outcomes and participation in the extra-curricular activities that are so valuable for future careers. We are concerned that this is unfair on a generation of students already affected by the pandemic, and risks widening inequality.

Alongside reports of students cutting back on meals and other essentials, as many other people, we were struck by evidence of the additional hours many students were working to cover their costs and the development of a ‘grab and go’ approach to their qualifications, as they can no longer invest time and energy in participating in all the other aspects of student life that prepare them for employment, having an impact not just on the tertiary education sector, but on a generation of working adults.

The inadequacies of relying on current hardship measures are acknowledged:

…we must not only provide students with the necessary immediate financial assistance – through increased hardship funding and restoring maintenance loan entitlements – but also to address issues in the student funding system which have seen student support incrementally reduced in real terms over several years and reduced resilience as inflation has risen sharply over the last two years. We have noted the increase in university support and believe that there is more that could be done to ensure all students are helped but recognise that current services are designed to help small numbers of students in emergencies, and not hardship experienced by a large proportion of the student body.

The APPG calls on the Government to provide a financial solution:                                                                                                                

We recognise the demands and pressures across every area of government spending but feel that our recommendations for both an immediate spending commitment to support students who have been placed in significant financial hardship, as well as longer-term changes are needed for both current and prospective students.

The OfS published an insight brief – Studying during rises in the cost of living. They conclude: Universities, colleges and students’ unions have worked innovatively and at speed to help alleviate these pressures, with additional help from government for their hardship funds. These responses have been diverse, and the support available has varied from university to university. The mitigating activities…may not all be sustainable over a long period. It’s worth a scan through to read the box sections covering actions by universities (financial needs, warm spaces, food needs).

  • Part time work dramas: 30% of students are unsuccessful in finding part-time work because of their scheduled classes.
  • 72% report that their timetable stopped them securing more hours at work.
  • 76% found it challenging to attend scheduled teaching on time – due to classes scheduled at inconvenient times of the day, not having enough time to get from one class to another, not being able to find the lecture room or seminar location.
  • Asked why they had a job, 52% of student said it was to fund their basic lifestyle (pay for rent, utilities, food, etc.), 49% blamed the rising cost of living, 33% wanted to fund a comfortable lifestyle (pay for night outs, clothes, holidays, etc) – given the percentages don’t tall presumably students could select multiple categories for the reason to work.
  • 53% of students have a part time job alongside their studies. 32% do not have a job but would like one and 5% full time.
    Source – FE News

Cost of living blogs:

Students: Quick links

Wonkhe content:

Parliamentary Questions

Admissions

Wonkhe report on the House of Commons Education Committee’s latest report – The future of post-16 qualifications which calls on the government to pause the withdrawal of funding for existing level 3 technical qualifications (such as BTECs) until evidence is available that T Levels are more effective at meeting student and employer needs and promoting social mobility. The report notes that universities are often requiring applicants to offer A levels alongside T levels (the latter being nominally equivalent to three A levels), and calls on DfE to work with universities to avoid “unreasonable” entry requirements. The report is covered on BBC News.

Wonkhe: Fewer significantly disadvantaged and economically precarious students are entering higher education in England – and they are less likely to complete their degree and progress to skilled employment or further study than their peers, new data from the Office for Students (OfS) shows. CEED, one of its new and updated key performance measures, shows that 53.6 per cent of the most significantly disadvantaged students progress to further study or skilled jobs, compared with 68.4 per cent of students who are neither “significantly disadvantaged” nor “economically precarious”. 49,600 students categorised as significantly disadvantaged entered in 2021/22, a decrease from 51,100 in the previous year. KPM 8, which measures the proportion of subjects taught and the number of higher education providers (relative to population) in each English region, shows that the North East has the lowest level of subject diversity in the country for full time students, and KPM 7 on Degree attainment by ethnicity shows that students receiving first class degrees in 2021-22 was 15 percentage points lower than the proportion for all students.

Access & Participation

Advance HE has published the Disabled Student Commitment which was developed by the OfS funded independent strategy group the Disabled Students’ Commission. The Commitment draws on three years of consultation with disabled students and sets out a framework of 43 recommendations for HEIs, Government, funders, agencies, regulators and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies. It highlights expectations for information sharing and consent and offers guidance on key touchpoints of the HE journey, outlining the commitments that HEIs and others should make to give disabled students confidence their needs and expectations will be met.

Professor Geoff Layer, chair of the Disabled Students’ Commission, said: We have developed this Commitment because disabled students have told us they want communication, consistency, certainty and choice. The Commitment is a call to the sector and sector bodies to make the step-change required to create a more inclusive environment. We need to create a sense of belonging in which students are able to focus on what they went into higher education for, and not spend untold hours fighting their way through the system.

Professor Layer said the Commission was asking providers to work in partnership with their disabled students on a statement of commitment which should be updated annually and published on their website, alongside a logo of the Disabled Student Commitment so that disabled students and applicants have confidence in the system, allowing them to get on with their education.

New data dashboard and risks plan for A&P

OfS published new data on HE access and participation. The completion rates data highlight:

  • 6% of students from the most deprived backgrounds completed their course (92% from the most advantaged group)
  • 5% of students eligible for free school meals completed their course (91% non-free school meals)
  • 7% of black students completed their course (88.5% of white students)

There is lots more to explore in the data dashboard.

OfS also published their new Equality of Opportunity Risk Register (EORR) and expect universities to consider the listed range of equality risks when planning. It includes risks relating to the perception that HE might not be right for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, or concerns about academic and personal support for those at university, students’ mental health, the continuing impact of the pandemic on education opportunities, and pressures on living costs.

OfS has also published the outcome and analysis of responses to their consultation on a new approach to regulating equality of opportunity plus a commentary from OfS Fair Access and Participation Director.

Impact of online teaching on student outcomes

TASO published online teaching and learning – lessons from the pandemic. Executive summary here; rapid evidence review here.

Here are their key findings:

  • Existing evidence is mixed; there are a small number of studies which suggest online teaching and learning can maintain or improve outcomes for some groups, but overall, the move to online learning appears associated with worse student outcomes.
  • Pre-pandemic literature (compared to purely online learning) suggests ‘blended’ learning (e.g., a combination of face-to-face and online learning) is more likely to improve student attainment. Whereas the literature produced during the pandemic demonstrates that the rapid shift to an online format had a negative impact on student outcomes.
  • In the post-pandemic literature, there is some evidence that, prior to applying any type of ‘no detriment’ control in an attempt to account for the impact of the pandemic on students’ performance, learners from low-income backgrounds and academically at-risk students may be most likely to be negatively impacted by the shift online. However, this was not universal in the case studies they reviewed.
  • Course design is an important factor to consider when planning online learning, as its efficacy is highly dependent on a number of design choices. However, this planning was not possible with the emergency switch to remote learning, where the priority was to adapt promptly to unforeseen crisis circumstances.
  • Design features – the existing evidence suggests that courses which encourage active engagement through planned student-student interactions and opportunities for feedback between teaching staff and students increase student attainment.
  • Digital poverty is thought to be the largest barrier to the success of online teaching and learning and will most likely disproportionately impact disadvantaged groups. Students from more privileged backgrounds may have better access to the internet and more sophisticated devices.

Recommendations:

  1. The design of online courses is important: A concerted effort should be made to design online courses rather than simply moving face-to-face materials into the online environment. Effective design features include:
    1. Coordinated student-to-student interaction via discussion boards and chat rooms.
    2. Feedback between teaching staff and students.
    3. Appropriate frequency and timing of online teaching and assessment to avoid student fatigue.
  2. HEIs should make use of their institutional data and differing pedagogical approaches to design and conduct evaluations that allow us to draw strong conclusions about what works in the UK context. Our data analysis provides a foundation and blueprint for future work of this sort.
  3. As students from disadvantaged backgrounds may be more likely to be adversely impacted by the shift to online teaching, learning and assessment, future research should focus on their experiences and outcomes.

A & P Blogs:

Graduate Careers

Wonkhe report on the Institute of Student Employers’ annual report on development programmes for graduates and apprentices. 54% of employers surveyed agreed that graduates were “career ready” at the point of hire (31% unsure). The report covered 162 responses from student employers who collectively hired over 26,000 graduates in 2021–22.

HESA published National Careers Week: Career trends of graduates from the class of 2019/20

Careers: Wonkhe blog – The idea that a postdoc is a route to an academic career downplays other career possibilities. Lucy Williams and James Howard have been helping postdocs prosper with tailored advice and support.

International

Wonkhe report that:  there has been a 65% increase in the number of international students at English higher education providers over the past four years, with growth of over 100,000 in the past year alone. The figures come from the delayed Office for Students’ Higher Education Students Early Statistics survey (HESES), which provides an early indication of the number of higher education students studying in 2022-23.

They also show that the home v international split for postgraduates in the English system is now roughly 50:50, and that providers are forecasting that circa 320k students will not complete by the end of the year, up from 300k a year ago.

Blog: New English student numbers figures show how rapidly universities are changing size and shape. David Kernohan and Jim Dickinson consider if the regulation can keep up

Scottish Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training Jamie Hepburn answered questions on international students and accommodation.

Wonkhe: Home Office proposals to limit the number of international student dependant visas are receiving a “major pushback” from the Treasury, i News reports. It says Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is resisting Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s proposals, arguing they would inflict “major damage” on the British economy.

HEPI

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published a range of interesting blogs and briefings recently. You may be interested in:

Degree Apprenticeships

  • The OfS confirmed £16m of recurrent fundingto expand the development and delivery of HE qualifications, of which £8m will support the development of Level 6 degree apprenticeship training programmes and £8m to increase the provision of Level 4 and 5 qualifications.  Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said: Degree apprenticeships offer people of all backgrounds an alternative route to achieving their career goals than doing a traditional three-year degree. They enable students to earn while they learn the skills needed to build a successful career. I’m delighted that the OfS is continuing to support and encourage HE providers to expand their degree and degree level apprenticeship offer…This investment will help us continue to build a skills and apprenticeship nation and extend the ladder of opportunity to even more people.
  • Wonkhe report that the Independent has been investigatinghow some universities are still using the apprenticeship levy to part-fund MBAs.
  • The Science Industry Partnership published a manifesto for skills in the science industries. The report outlines four priorities for technical education and workplace learning. It includes making the apprenticeship levy work for employers and increasing equity through diverse career pathways.
  • The UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities published their evidence-led policy priority calls which they believe are essential to equalising opportunities in society. They call for:
    • reform to apprenticeship rules to ringfence a proportion of the levy for young people with lower qualification levels, they also entertain that if other changes were made levy funds could be entirely ringfenced for school leavers. This to reduce the number of apprenticeships going to existing employees instead of other internal training.
    • Expand accountability to all providers of post-16 education to help reduce NEET rates. To make these metrics meaningful and minimise ‘gaming’, providers should be compared against other providers offering similar courses, in areas with similar socio-economic characteristics.
    • Introduce an annual “Social Mobility Scorecard” for universities, showing the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending each university, and the earnings associated with each degree. This should be released by the government to confer official status…There is wide variation in earnings across different degrees, and disadvantaged students are less likely to attend those with high labour market returns, even when they have the qualifications to get in. If we judge universities and courses based only on their outcomes, rather than their intake, their contribution to social mobility will be limited.
    • Introduce a post-qualification applications (PQA) system for post-18 education (including further education) so that students would make applications after they sit exams and receive the results. A PQA system could be achieved with minimal disruption to the school year (or college/university start date), by condensing the exam period to four weeks (as was planned during the pandemic), and accelerating marking to 7-8 weeks. Examinations would take place in early May. Students would then return to school, receiving results in mid-July, in time for an in-school ‘applications week’. Universities and colleges would have over a month to process and make offers at the end of August, and students would then have time to accept their favoured choice… allowing students to make these life changing applications based on full information.
  • Finally, UCAS stated they’re collaborating with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) to enable apprenticeships to qualify for UCAS points. They anticipate UCAS points may be attached to apprenticeships by the end of 2023. Dods report: The plans represent another step on UCAS’ bid to give parity between apprenticeships and other post-16 study routes, however it is not yet clear how many points apprenticeships may be eligible for, or whether they will secure as many as other level 3 routes. The Department for Education said that offering the ability to apply for apprenticeships through UCAS from 2024 is part of a wider ambition to develop a “one-stop-shop” for education and training options that it hopes will eventually include apprenticeships, T Levels, skills bootcamps, higher technical qualifications and degree apprenticeships.

Other news

The DfE published a policy paper on the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI), including large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT or Google Bard, within the education sector. Snippets:

  • Although generative AI is not new, recent advances and public access to the technology mean that the general public can now use this technology to produce AI-generated content. This poses opportunities and challenges for the education sector.
  • When used appropriately, technology (including generative AI), has the potential to reduce workload across the education sector, and free up time, allowing a focus on delivering excellent teaching.
  • Schools, colleges and universities, as well as awarding organisations need to continue to take reasonable steps where applicable to prevent malpractice, including malpractice involving use of generative AI and other emerging technologies.
  • The education sector must continue to protect its data, resources, staff and students, in particular:
    • Personal and sensitive data must be protected and therefore must not be entered into generative AI tools.
    • Education institutions should review and strengthen their cyber security, particularly as generative AI could increase the sophistication and credibility of attacks.
    • Education institutions must continue to protect their students from harmful content online, including that which might be produced by generative AI.

Strategic Skills planning: The DfE Unit for Future Skills published the UK labour market projections up to 2035 (national, regional and local). You can display the data by LEP or other choices and it provides information to support local skills plans, careers guidance, and provides a projected picture of the type of jobs in the UK labour market (and the skills needed) up to 2035. Data here.

Carbon capture curriculum: The Scottish Affairs Committee has published a report on hydrogen and carbon capture in Scotland. It warns that the UK will fail to meet its net zero targets, and transition away from fossil fuels, unless carbon capture is rolled out at scale. The report calls for the UK and Scottish Governments should jointly set out work they are undertaking to ensure that colleges, training providers and businesses within the hydrogen and CCUS sectors are able to offer appropriate routes into employment and training, and providing this information should be viewed as a priority.

President UUK: UUK announced that Professor Dame Sally Mapstone FRSE, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of University of St Andrews, has been elected as its next President. The role runs for two academic years from 1 August 2023 and is elected through a ballot of UUK’s 140 members. Dame Sally will succeed current President, Professor Steve West CBE, Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol. Before her appointment as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews in 2016, Dame Sally lectured and held several leadership roles at the University of Oxford, including Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Personnel and Equality and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education. She has served as a Board Member of UUK since 2016 including currently as Vice-President for Scotland, by virtue of being Convener of Universities Scotland.

Late retirement: The Times reports that graduates could work longer under plans to allow people in manual jobs to claim their state pensions earlier (Wonkhe).

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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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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 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

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

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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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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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

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

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 pr