Tagged / freedom of speech

HE Policy update for the w/e 29th June 2018

Mental health – the next policy frontier

Sam Gyimah, the self-styled “Minister for Students” has been campaigning this week on student mental health.

You can read the government press release here.  “The plans include, As part of a new package of measures announced by Sam Gyimah on student mental health:

  1. The announcement of a University Mental Health Charter will see the development of new standards to promote student and staff mental health and wellbeing.
  2. The set-up of a Department for Education-led working group into the transition students face when going to university, to ensure they have the right support, particularly in the critical in their first year transition.
  3. Exploring whether an opt-in requirement for universities could be considered, so they could have permission to share information on student mental health with parents or a trusted person.”

The Charter is being developed by Student Minds, who have covered it on their website here:

  • A Charter is a voluntary award and quality improvement scheme which will recognise universities with exceptional approaches to promote and support the mental health and wellbeing of students and the university community.
  • To develop the Charter, Student Minds will lead a formative partnership of the UPP Foundation, Office for Students (OfS), National Union of Students (NUS) and Universities UK. This partnership supports the national view, and we will be inviting wider collaboration. …A wider advisory group will be announced in Autumn 2018.
  • …The Charter will recognise and reward those institutions that demonstrate good practice, make student and staff mental health a university- wide priority and deliver improved student mental health and wellbeing outcomes.
  • … we will invite universities to achieve recognition for high standards of practice in areas established in University UK’s Step Change, such as leadership, early intervention and prevention, data collection and high quality services, and will stretch institutions in their approach to co-producing with students and members of the university community and reducing inequality by ensuring the needs of all students, including BAME, LGBTQ+ and widening participation groups, are met by excellent services.
  • …We anticipate that the charter will take a banded approach, setting out basic, advanced and aspirational goals. Training and expert support will be provided to support the change and assessment process. We will take an outcomes-focused approach.“

The Minister was on Radio 4 and the BBC story is here.  The story from Thursday is in The Guardian:

  • The government has issued an ultimatum to vice-chancellors on student mental health, warning them it is not good enough to suggest that university is about academic education and nothing else. With as many as one in four students seeking help from counselling services at some institutions, the universities minister, Sam Gyimah, is calling on vice-chancellors to prioritise student mental health and take a personal lead on the issue.
  • The minister, announcing plans for a new deal on mental health for students, said: “There are some vice-chancellors who think that university is about training the mind and all of these things are extra that they don’t have to deal with.
  • “They can’t do that, they’ve got to get behind this programme. It can’t be something that belongs to the wellbeing department of the university. This requires sustained and serious leadership from the top.”
  • One of the key measures now being considered is asking students if they want to opt in to an alert system authorising their university to contact their parents in an emergency if they find themselves in a mental health crisis at some point during their studies. Until now universities have been unable to share a student’s private information because of data protection restrictions, but parents of students who have killed themselves have complained of being kept in the dark about their child’s illness when they might have been able to help had they known sooner.
  • Under the proposed scheme, outlined by Gyimah, students arriving in their first week at university would be asked if they would like to opt in to the system by nominating either a family member or friend to be contacted in case of serious mental health problems. The minister said it would be entirely voluntary and any students would be entitled to withhold information from their parents or change their preferences at a later date.
  • Gyimah was due to outline his plans on Thursday at a student mental health summit in Bristol where the issue has come under the spotlight with the deaths of 10 University of Bristol students since October 2016. A further two students from the University of the West of England (UWE) in the city have also died. A number have been confirmed as suicides.

The BBC have the link to this week’s Office for National Statistics report – interestingly this showed that the proportion of student suicides is lower than in the general population for the same age group – but of course suicides are, as the Minister says, only part of the problem:

And on Friday, Nicola Barden from the University of Winchester has written for Wonkhe on the role of parents in supporting students:

  • Parents and carers are the people we want to see when students need a helping hand that is beyond the university’s power to deliver. This could be financially (the bank of mum and dad), emotionally (going home for some TLC after a bad week), and in emergencies (who else will come out at midnight?) – but the law is clear that students are autonomous adults and have a right to be in control of their own information and choices. Universities are not in loco parentis, but they do have a duty of care to their students. So how, as HE institutions, can we view and engage with parental involvement, and consider the possibility that they too can be partners in education, while also respecting the rights of students to lead their own adult lives?
  • For the purposes of this discussion I will use the word ‘”parents”, but actually mean all those with parental responsibilities, as patterns of family life are now so varied that the role is no longer restricted to just two biological relationships….
  • Should parental contact be a default arrangement? As a policy suggestion, this has implications needing some serious thought. How informed is a student when they enrol at university about the sorts of things that may come under this rubric – would they really know what they were consenting to? How would they say no, if pushy parents wanted them to say yes? How would we explain to the parent that permission had not been given if they thought it had been, potentially worsening an already difficult situation? It is not simple – if it was, it would already have happened.

Race Equality and the Race Equality Charter

Race equality has also been in the HE headlines.  There was an article in the THE about the “onerous” red tape requirements of the Race Equality Charter.

  • “…the Race Equality Charter has struggled to win the same support from universities, with only two further universities achieving awards since the inaugural eight winners were named almost three years ago. At the same stage, Athena SWAN had managed to more than treble its initial number of award holders. Some university equality officers have complained that the race charter award is far more difficult and time-consuming to achieve than an Athena SWAN award. That is because it requires universities to collect information on staff, as Athena SWAN does, but also for students, with institutions required to create policies to address the fact that ethnic minority undergraduates often score lower than their white classmates of similar ability.…
  • Others have claimed that it is more complex to create policies for ethnic minority staff than for female academics, given the different challenges faced by different groups, such as black female staff, Asian men or international faculty.
  • Speaking at a forum organised by the Higher Education Race Action Group (HERAG) in London, Alison Johns, chief executive of Advance HE, which now has responsibility for the charter scheme, said she would undertake a review of the scheme next year after a similar examination of Athena SWAN had concluded.
  • Ms Johns told Times Higher Education that Advance HE was “incredibly proud” of the race equality charter scheme and, given that it was aimed at “tackling many centuries of ingrained racial inequality”, it was “unrealistic to think the process will be easy”.
  • The review would ensure that the scheme “is not unnecessarily burdensome and ensure higher education institutions are able to spend time advancing race equality, rather than applying for charter marks”, she added.

Wonkhe have had a series of articles this week on the issue.

Jess Moody of Advance HE writes about definitions and ownership:

  • Despite the diversity of institutions across the UK, the debate about ensuring diversity in institutions tends to be narrowly focussed, particularly in the mainstream press.
  • Time and again the public is invited to look at a couple, maybe a handful, of “top” institutions as undisputed symbols of national academic excellence and employability. Stories almost always focus on full-time undergraduate provision, and on school-leavers. When it comes to “race” and ethnicity, different identities tend to be aggregated into “BAME” (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) experiences: terminology with both strengths and limitations.
  • Such a narrow focus can draw attention to a problem in a powerful way: it can be a way to draw a line in the sand about expectations of a wider complex HE system in tackling injustices, lost voices, talents and opportunities. It can also lead to greater accountability, self-assessment and hard questions about white privilege. All this is wholeheartedly acknowledged, and discussed elsewhere in Wonkhe today. The following is meant as an “and” and not a “but”.
  • If we’re going to move forward on race (in)equality amidst a focus on who gets a place at university, what lessons can we draw from all these media and policy narratives about “convincing the unconvinced” that structural inequality even exists (let alone requires action)? There are some common barriers seen by those who do “diversity work” to moving forward as a sector, even in the middle of a (stumbling) national conversation on ‘race’.

Amatey Doku, the VP (HE) of the NUS, writes on the Black attainment gap:

  • There are issues at all levels of post-compulsory education where race is a determinant factor in students’ experiences of education, and yet Black students’ experiences have been routinely minimised, dismissed, or ignored by those able to make change.
  • These issues should be tackled simply to make sure our education systems are fair to Black students, although often they highlight the structural and systemic issues affecting all students that plague our institutions.
  • I am delighted to have just launched a project in partnership with Universities UK and Valerie Amos designed to gather and audit best practice on what institutions – and students’ unions – can do to begin to eradicate the “Black attainment gap”.
  • The sector has made some inroads in tackling the attainment gap. One of these is thanks to Advance HE – previously the Equality Challenge Unit – and its Race Equality Charter. Bronze awards in the REC demonstrates institutional commitment to racial justice – in itself, demonstrating commitment to race equity is a challenge and not one that most universities in this country have managed. In addition, under HEFCE, grants were given to groups of institutions under the Catalyst Fund to begin work on this area.
  • Race, in the context of equality, diversity and inclusion, is now firmly in the remit of the Access and Participation Plan framework – a development this year thanks to the Higher Education and Research Act, on which NUS lobbied extensively. I hope the recommendations from the audit we are conducting with UUK will also steer future access guidance. But access, retention and success at institutions has always been relatable to race. The new regulations merely reflect the existing reality.

Arthi Nachiappan writes about the lived experience:

  • It is always difficult to build arguments from lived experience rather than indisputable “facts”, especially when not everyone engaging with your argument has lived those experiences. It involves a level of trust to take someone’s experience as true and to draw wider conclusions from it – but when it comes to understanding systematic problems, experience is necessary.

And she looks at data before concluding:

  • I found when analysing data on black applicants to higher education earlier this year that there are few strong trends across mission groups, TEF awards, or regions. Institutional trends were more notable: there are a handful of institutions that have placed among the highest number of black applicants over the last few years and many others that traditionally place very few black applicants.
  • When challenged about institutional culture, small year-on-year variations mean that pointing to an incremental increase in recruitment of ethnic minority students in the previous year might just do enough for an institution to be seen as welcoming to ethnic minorities. But it does not do a lot to reach out to prospective students to show them any level of recognition that there is a culture that needs tackling. I, like Gopal, am tired of us all coming together to put pressure on organisations of all sectors to publish reactive written statements detailing how much they “abhor” racism, without making real cultural changes.
  • The communicative function of these instances and the wider experiences of staff, along with their visibility in higher education, all contribute to prospective and current students’ perceptions of their own place in these institutions. What it will take to deal properly with these issues is sensitivity towards experiences that are not universally understandable, and an understanding of the messages communicated to prospective students about institutional culture.

David Morris of the University of Greenwich writes about admissions:

  • A couple of years ago, UCAS took a substantial step forward in opening the admissions debate by releasing the rather un-sexily titled “Undergraduate reports by sex, area background, and ethnic group”.
  • In my previous life as Wonkhe’s resident data-digger we managed to publish some of the most comprehensive analysis of that dataset. We were able to demonstrate the continued substantial variance in university entry by both ethnicity and social class and, more importantly, point to where the data suggested that there might be bias operating in admissions.
  • I say “suggested”, because the data provided by UCAS is by no means conclusive proof of bias.

He goes on:

  • Simply looking at the offer-rate – the percentage of a group of applicants made an offer by a university – is insufficient, as it tells does not let us discern between differences in the entry grades of different groups of applicants. It also tells us nothing about the subject which applicants are applying to, as different subjects within universities tend to have very different entry criteria, patterns of offer-making, and demographics of applicants.

Free speech

The discussion, anecdotes and arguments about free speech at universities continue – there is no real agreement about whether there is an issue or not.  What seems clear is that even if there is no actual free speech problem on university campuses, enough people think there is, and there is enough confusion, it seems, about what the rules are and whose responsibility it is to (a)} ensure free speech and (b) stop illegal hate speech or radicalisation to mean that something needs to be done.  Student Unions think they need safe space policies to stop hate speech (or protect snowflakes from potentially offensive views, depending on your perspective).  Universities have to implement Prevent.  Many commentators forget that universities don’t control Students’ Unions.  And the Minister and others keep talking about being “nearly” censored, about self-censorship (I decided not to go because they wanted to see my speech in advance) etc. etc.

Research Professional report:

  • “As recently as Monday, the universities minister Sam Gyimah told Rachel Sylvester of The Times that “there’s a culture of censorship. At one institution when I turned up to speak to students they read the safe-space policy and it took 20 minutes. I’m all for safe spaces for vulnerable people, but the entire university can’t be a safe space. No-platforming just because you disagree with someone’s views is unacceptable. The lack of diversity of thought and a tendency towards a monoculture on campus is a problem. If universities are not for free speech, then what are they for?”
  • “Reading the safe-space policy” could become an idiom in English. Just as constables read the riot act in front of angry mobs in the 18th century, today—if the minister is to be believed—university administrators read the safe-space policy in front of bored audiences of students as a warning to moderate their language.
  • It is a ludicrous image, and in the absence of a named university we cannot confirm if this incident actually took place. However, it does show that the minister continues to double down on his claims about censorship on campus, even if his remarks demonstrate his own lack of familiarity with the government’s Prevent strategy and his inability to tell the difference between the unpopularity of the Conservative Party in universities and a crisis in Enlightenment values.”

[NB, Ed ; it wasn’t at BU]

And then we have a survey by YouGov. 

Research Professional report, using this research:

  • “that students are more likely to want to see speakers banned than the general public. 
  • The polling agency asked 1,004 students and 1,636 members of the public “whether they found each of nine controversial views offensive, and then whether or not they believed a speaker with each of those views should be allowed to give a speech at a university”.
  • The results provide no evidence that students are any more censorious or intolerant than the public at large. In five of the nine cases, there is essentially no difference between the percentage of students and of the general public who would ban a speaker. Three speakers were more likely to be banned by students, while the public were more likely to ban a speaker in one case.”

However, the reporting of this story seems to demonstrate our opening point – that this debate all depends on your perspective.  The Telegraph use the same data to say:

  • The “snowflake” generation of students’ hostility to free speech on campus has been revealed in a new survey which shows that the majority want controversial speakers to be “no-platformed”.
  • Students were presented with a list of hypothetical speakers holding a spectrum of contentious views, ranging from someone believes climate change is not caused by humans, to someone want to ban religion.
  • Assuming the speaker had already been invited to give a talk at their university, students were asked whether or not a talk should be allowed to go ahead.
  • More than two-thirds of students (68 per cent) said that talks by Holocaust deniers should not be allowed to take place, according the a YouGov poll of 1,004 British students.[Ed,as noted above,  the data shows that 61% of members of the public agreed with this]
  • Meanwhile 64 per cent said they would ban speakers who believe that terrorist attacks in the UK can be justified.[that one is 63% for the general population]
  • One in ten students said that speakers who want to Royal Family to be abolished should be no-platformed.[it was 23% of the general population]
  • And a fifth said speakers should be banned if they believe that God literally created the universe in six days.[that one is 19% for the public]

Conclusion: at least we are all free to say what we believe about all of this.  More serious conclusion: the debate seems really to be really about this (from the Telegraph article):

  • Sam Gyimah warned that universities must stamp out their “institutional hostility” to unfashionable views as he prepares to issue new guidance on free speech.  His intervention came after a series of attempts to censor gay rights activists, feminists and Conservative politicians due to concerns from students that their views may cause offence. 

So is this really about the perception that universities are monocultures (left-wing, remain voting ones)?  And therefore not really about safe spaces or free speech at all?.  It might be argued that this is more about the government shaking up an academic establishment which it believes is home to a lot of people who disagree with its views, and who have a dangerously high level of influence on impressionable students.  That may be true, of course.

And what will be impact of all this be?  There may be some clearer guidance.  But generally, those who believe in snowflakes will become further entrenched in their views as this goes on, and the reputation of the sector will continue to be diminished in the minds of those people and also others who only catch the headlines.

And it all sits very oddly besides the focus on mental health – which is one of the reasons behind safe spaces.  Politics can get a person into some very sticky paradoxical situations, it seems.

Social media, apps and student information

The Quality Assurance Agency has published a report on whether social media reviews can identify poor courses in higher education.

  • The study—called The Wisdom of Students: Monitoring quality through student reviews—compares publicly available online feedback through Facebook, Whatuni and StudentCrowd with the results of the NSS, the Teaching Excellence Framework and external reviews of the quality of provision.
  • It finds that in the main, online feedback about UK universities is positive. Universities were assigned a star rating out of five based on the combined social media rating. The average score of the 210,000 online reviews was a highly impressive 4.18 stars. This chimes with high rates of student satisfaction in the NSS, and the ratings in the report mapped onto institutions awarded gold, silver and bronze in the TEF.
  • The report’s authors (Alex Griffiths, Meghan Leaver and Roger King) encourage universities to engage with real-time online feedback as a good way of capturing concerns about course quality. To test if the report’s findings hold true over time, the QAA will undertake a pilot with 10 higher education providers this autumn.
  • As a co-regulator of UK higher education, the QAA seems to have faith in the wisdom of students. It is a shame that the government would like to use the conditions of registration at the Office for Students to send the message that it is more ambivalent when it comes to the common sense of young people.

Wonkhe also have an article on this topic by Alex Griffiths

  • A couple of years ago I was highly sceptical about the value of user reviews. Tiring of hearing the perennial promises that the Care Quality Commission (CQC), England’s health and social care regulator, would look at social media posts to identify poor quality care, my colleague and I decided to investigate. Much to our surprise, we found that patient reviews and social media posts were good predictors of the outcome of CQC’s in-depth inspections. When the data from multiple sources was combined, it proved even more effective than any of the individual data sources. Collectively, despite the majority having no clinical training and only interacting with a fraction of the services offered by a hospital, we found that patients provided meaningful insights into quality….
  • This “wisdom of students”: means the collective-judgement score is an effective predictor of other quality measures, but it also has a number of other attractive qualities. Collective-judgement is available in a more timely manner than many existing data sets, often at a more granular-level, offers new insights at different stages of the student experience, and adds no burden to providers’ existing duties.
  • It does of course have drawbacks too. Measures such as APR, TEF and NSS are not without their critics, and one must question whether agreeing with them to varying degrees is a positive.
  • In our research we have been careful only to use reviews that students have actively made public (e.g. we have not searched individuals’ Facebook profiles), and any future use of this metric must be mindful to maintain the privacy of reviewers. Finally, there is the clear incentive for providers to enter their own reviews to project a positive image. Steps can be taken to identify and reduce the impact of (or penalise) such activities, and the impact will always be limited by the large and growing volume of genuine feedback, but it cannot be wholly discounted.

This comes as The Minister promotes his app development competition

Wonkhe have an article by Sue Attewell from JISC:

  • Helping applicants choose the right course is a complex problem – our members tell us – and we welcome the potential use of this LEO data as a way students can make informed decisions about sustainable careers which also meet their expectations for future earnings… The benefit of this competition from DfE is that it brings bright minds from beyond the sector to tackle a very real problem. Using current data to design a tech-based solution should help students make informed decisions, so long as they too can inform the design process of an app that makes sense of their own data.

You’ve seen our views on this in previous issues of this update

Industrial Strategy

The government have issued responses from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report “Life Sciences Industrial Strategy: Who’s driving the bus”.  They respond to each recommendation, but the headlines are:

  • The views and recommendations expressed within the report have in many instances now been superseded by Government action. This reassures us that we have the support of the Committee for actions we are taking to support and grow the life sciences sector in the UK and we are grateful for their detailed scrutiny.
  • In terms of headline progress, only 12 weeks after the publication of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, the Government published the initial stage of implementation in the form of the first ever Sector Deal. The Life Sciences Sector Deal (herein referred to as the Sector Deal) committed £500m of Government funding to the UK life sciences sector and was backed by investment from 25 organisations across the sector. It was secured through extensive collaboration between Government and the sector, working together strategically to enhance the attractiveness of the UK. Our globally-renowned NHS will be a key partner in delivering the deal.

Since the publication of the Sector Deal in December, the Government has:

  • Set up the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC), held its first meeting and is on track to launch the full pathway this year.
  • Issued a £30m contract for a Vanguard Study, the first phase of a programme to whole genome sequence all 500,000 participants of UK Biobank.
  • Worked with industry stakeholders and the NHS to fully scope the competition for a digital pathology and radiology programme with artificial intelligence (AI), launched on 6thJune 2018.
  • Allocated £146m in support for medicines manufacturing from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund(ISCF), with £130m awarded so far.
  • Announced the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, a £56m UK innovation centre, which will revolutionise how medicines are manufactured, located in Renfrewshire.
  • Appointed Health Data Research UK to lead the delivery of Digital Innovation Hubs and agreed an outline vision and delivery plan to form the basis for the programme.
  • Announced the mission, as part of the AI and Data Grand Challenge, to use data, artificial intelligence and innovation to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia by 2030.
  • Convened , alongside NHS and sector partners, the inaugural meetings of the Life Sciences Council (a strategic partnership between Government, NHS and the life sciences sector) and the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy Implementation Board (which oversees implementation of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy including the first Sector Deal)

The government have issued their response to the Industrial Strategy: Intellectual Property Call for Views: Proposals:

  • First, as per the Chancellor’s Autumn statement of 22 November 2017 and the Industrial Strategy White Paper the IPO will work with businesses, lenders, insurers, the British Business Bank and HM Treasury to overcome the barriers to high growth, intellectual property-rich firms, using their intellectual property to access growth funding.
  • Secondly the IPO is working with Local Enterprise Partnerships and universities in the West Midlands to introduce an ‘Innovation Enabler’ fund. The fund is a pilot and it will provide financial and advisory support to help local SMEs develop and implement an IP strategy. In doing so, the fund will enable innovation and business growth.
  • Thirdly, the IPO will review the IP Finance Toolkit. The toolkit was launched in March 2015 in response to the IPO commissioned “Banking IP” report which highlighted the barriers IP-rich SMEs face when accessing finance. The report recommended that a resource be introduced to support a better dialogue between businesses and financial services professionals.
  • In addition to the interventions highlighted above, a strong theme throughout the responses was that whilst the IP system is strong and fit for purpose, there needs to be more work done to help users of the IP system to understand and navigate it, to ensure they get the most out of their IP. To that end the IPO will look to consolidate and enhance its suite of educational tools and services, focussing on the strategic protection and commercialisation of IP.

Consultations

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

Other news

Think tank Localis have produced the report Monetising Goodwill: empowering places for civic renewal following a public survey. The survey finds that many people would be willing to pay more in council tax or voluntary one-off levies to better fund certain local services across the country, in particular (and in order of popularity): public health, fire, police, adult social care and children’s social care. The survey uncovered six issues with majority support for paying some extra cash as a voluntary one-off levy: helping older people to live independently for longer; support for local homeless people; improving disability access; repairing potholes; reducing loneliness and reducing anti-social behaviour.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

Policy Update w/e 1 June 2018

Research Collaboration

Research/Horizon Europe

The Guardian draws on a leaked document to report that the UK will only have limited access to Horizon Europe through a costly ‘third countries’ deal, despite the PM’s intentions for full participation.

Theresa May’s appeal for a special Brexit deal on science and research collaboration, worth billions to the British economy, is being stonewalled by Brussels as it prepares to offer an arrangement less privileged and more expensive than that given to non-EU states such as Israel… the UK is set to join Canada and South Korea in the category of countries that will have to pay a higher price for the privilege of collaborating, while being barred from a particular raft of programmes designed to encourage innovation.

According to the draft paper, so-called “third countries” will not have a seat on the new European Innovation Council, which sets priorities, and their companies will not have the opportunity to apply for “fast, flexible grants and co-investments” designed to “bridge the ‘valley of death’ between research, commercialisation and the scaling-up of companies”.

The Guardian reports that Thomas Jørgensen, the senior policy coordinator at the European University Association (EUA) working on Brexit-related issues, stated: the commission was acting to protect its interests in the face of the emergence of the UK as a rival economic power. He said: “It is entirely understandable that you would want to help small countries in your neighbourhood, but why would you do that for small and medium-size enterprises in South Korea or other third countries such as the UK?”

The Guardian also report that on Wednesday the EU confirmed the UK could take part in Erasmus (for a fee) but would not allow the UK to influence programme’s design. More detail is provided in the Times Higher: In its proposal for the Erasmus+ programme for the period 2021-27, published on 30 May, the European Commission said that countries outside the EU and the European Economic Area would be able to participate fully as long as they do not have a “decisional power” on the programme and agree to a “fair balance” of contributions and benefits.

Research Professional also cover the EU’s decision to open Erasmus to other countries, and the requested significant boost to the Horizon budget (€20 billion).

Earlier this week Sam Gyimah discussed how international collaboration strengthens research excellence: The UK values international cooperation. That is why we will remain a leading power in science and innovation, and why our Industrial Strategy has a target that 2.4% of our GDP will go to R&D funding by 2027. We are committed to ensuring that this investment leads to real results for everyone.

We are also committed to remaining a place for scientists. Our success is built in part on the contribution of researchers and innovators who come to the UK from across the world to study, to research and to do business. Over half of the UK’s researchers come from outside the UK. And, as the Prime Minister said, we will ensure that this does not change.

Although we are leaving the EU, it’s important to remember that science is an international enterprise and discoveries know no borders. We are all strengthened by our collaborative links.

On the European research access Sam stated:

Full association would mean a particular amount – of course it’s too early in our discussions to put a figure on what this would be but based on existing precedents it would be billions of euros. Anything less than full association and we would need to consider whether this was a fair ask. I am accountable to the UK Parliament and would need to demonstrate that the amount contributed actually is fair.

Latest News

The latest news on our regularly featured topics.

 

OfS

  • OfS Board Member Carl Lygo has resigned (moving to new role in Germany).
  • OfS have a new blog: The ‘value’ of a degree is academic and vocational.
  • Just in case you missed it previously OfS released information showing an increase in masters’ student numbers since the introduction of the postgraduate loans.
  • The OfS Board met on Wednesday. OfS have committed to sharing the papers from the Board meeting soon.

 

Loans

A parliamentary question from Peter Dowd on the accrual of debt interest on student loans had Sam Gyimah clarify that the Student Loans Company does not apply interest to accounts until the information about repayments is received from HMRC. This means that borrowers are not disadvantaged by the time taken to exchange the data between HMRC and SLC…The government is taking steps to develop systems to allow the sharing of student loan repayment information more frequently between HMRC and SLC from April 2019. This will allow for repayments to be credited and for interest calculations to be undertaken regularly throughout the year.

 

Freedom of Expression

Q – Baroness Deech: How they propose to include representatives of student victims of (1) inhibition of freedom of speech, and (2) disruption of meetings, in the preparation of new guidance to promote freedom of speech at universities.

A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: At the free speech summit on 3 May 2018….it was agreed that the report from the Freedom of Speech in Universities inquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) would be used as the foundation for a shared approach to free speech. The JCHR inquiry included evidence from a number of groups including those who had experienced disruption of events and student representatives with a range of experiences related to free speech. The new guidance will be drafted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who will work with a number of groups including the National Union of Students.

Research Professional report on Sam Gyimah’s latest Free Speech interview with Spiked stating: He [Sam] suggested that UK academics were marking down students whose political opinions they disagreed with…In what is attributed as a direct quote from Gyimah, the minister said that “there seems to be the development of a political monoculture” in which students are afraid to speak up in class because “80 per cent of the class disagrees with you…and [one of] them is going to be the one who gives you your grades”.

Gyimah has not tried to distance himself from the quote…Jack Grove of Times Higher Education wrote…“Is Sam Gyimah really claiming…that students should be genuinely afraid that their left-leaning lecturers are marking them down because they disagree with their politics? Extraordinary.”

Gyimah replied to Grove: “Nothing extraordinary. We need real diversity of thought on campus, and to be mindful that in some cases a monoculture means students and lecturers with legitimate but maybe unpopular views self-censor for fear of opprobrium. This is what I’m hearing on campus.”

The minister’s evidence for campus inhibitions on free speech has moved some distance: from claims of systematic censorship by students’ unions and masked gangs closing down events to unsubstantiated anecdotes about reluctance to speak up in class. Very different things are being lumped together here… For a minister to accuse academics of political bias in assessing students—without a scrap of evidence—is totally irresponsible.

 

Value for Money

A short article in Times Higher this week discusses the four myths surrounding value for money. It digs below the surface to explain why the four factors can’t really be used to determine value for money. A clear and simple read. If you continue to read the comments section you’ll find some alternative viewpoints too.

 

Degree Apprenticeships

A parliamentary question tabled by Rehman Chishti established that there are 102 universities listed on the register of apprenticeship training providers and all are eligible to deliver anywhere in England.

A further question from Barry Sheerman asked: whether there are any requirements that must be satisfied in order for bachelor’s degrees pursued at an institution of higher education to be described by that institution as a degree apprenticeship.

Anne Milton responded: In England, providers who want to deliver apprenticeship training, including higher education institutions (HEIs) offering degree apprenticeships, must be on the register of apprenticeship training providers…Employers must choose a provider from the register to deliver their apprenticeship training. A degree can be included in an English apprenticeship if the degree meets the mandatory qualifications criteria laid out in the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) guidance. The IfA website lists the degree level apprenticeships that include a degree. The Enterprise Act 2016 protects the term ‘apprenticeship’ to make sure that training providers cannot brand their products as apprenticeships if they do not meet our core quality requirements.

 

Student Immigration

The Independent ran the editorial If Theresa May wants to improve the quality of our universities, she must begin by addressing the disastrous effects of her immigration policy.

 

Accelerated Degrees – no news yet

Lord Luce questioned the government this week asking What decisions have been made about the provision of accelerated degree courses in higher education following their public consultation completed on 11 February. The Government responded: The Department for Education received a range of detailed and comprehensive responses from providers, organisations and individuals across the higher education sector. We are currently considering these responses and will respond to the consultation in due course.

 

Widening Participation and Achievement

National Collaborative Outreach Programme

OfS have released their first annual report on the National Collaborative Outreach Programme’s (NCOP) delivery. NCOP is a collaborative network endeavour between HE, schools, colleges and local businesses. It delivers a sustained, tailored outreach programme within geographically targeted areas and aims to rapidly improve progression to HE for school pupils in areas where the numbers accessing HE are lower than expected by the young people’s GCSE success. The current NCOP commenced in January 2017 and consists of 29 partnerships to pupils in Years 9 to 13.

The report states that NCOP has actively engaged 12% (52,878 pupils) of the identified target population. This is forecast to increase to 114,700 pupils (25%) by the end of 2018. It emphasises that the first year of the programme has been focused on creating local partnership infrastructures and with these now established OfS expect to see significant increases in the numbers of young people engaged over the next year. Demonstrating impact is integral to the NCOP programme. OfS require clear evidence to continue with the programme in the future and a comprehensive evaluation framework including longitudinal tracking, analysis of national datasets, and randomised controlled trials is in place. The report concludes that progress is promising (see page 14 for details) although at present: “it is too early to evidence the causal impact of the programme in terms of which interventions have the most impact on students progressing to higher education.”

NCOP is expected to significantly contribute to the Government’s social mobility action plan (launched Dec 2017) which ‘places social mobility at the heart of education policy and seeks to provide a framework for action to help transform equality of opportunity. It emphasises the importance of leaving no community behind with resources targeted at the people and places that need it most’.

 

The social mobility goals are to:

  • double the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education by 2020
  • increase by 20 per cent the number of students in higher education from ethnic minority groups
  • address the under-representation of young men from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education.

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

“We know that sustained and targeted outreach is key to reducing the gaps in higher education participation…So I am very pleased to see the progress made by the OfS-funded NCOP… In its first year of operation, NCOP is already showing signs of success…It has reached significant numbers of schools, colleges and young people and looks set to increase its reach even further in the next year. And the early signs are that NCOP activities are contributing to improved information, advice and guidance for young people at key milestones in their education…NCOP is a great example of the kind of outreach activity we need – evidence-based, targeted, robustly evaluated, bringing local partners together and harnessing university resources and expertise to meet the needs of schools and teachers, students and their families. The OfS will ensure that this learning drives improvements to higher education outreach in the future.”

Gareth Oliver, Careers Lead at Broad Oak Sports College, said:

“Without the valuable support of [NCOP partner] GM Higher, both in terms of experience and one-to-one support, we would not have had the opportunity to access resources and programmes to aid the aspiration of our pupils. Already the number of pupils wanting to aspire to higher education has increased, but more importantly, the programmes and resources have allowed our pupils to have an ‘I can do it’ attitude. Schools like Broad Oak need organisations like GM Higher to ensure we break the mould that ‘higher education is only for the affluent families’.”

Next week (4-8 June) is an NCOP week of action aiming to spotlight the range of outreach activities occurring from motivational talks and role model sessions to live social media FAQs.

A timely blog by Stuart Billingham, Emeritus Professor of Lifelong Learning at York St John ponders the progress made in the 40 years Stuart has worked within the social mobility sphere. He urges patience from the Government, reviewing the initiatives they tried and dropped before they fully came to fruition, and noting that collaborative results take longer:

If quick returns are the priority, then learn the lessons of history and stop calling for greater collaboration and partnership working to widen participation. If, however, the real priority is to significantly and permanently change the social and economic student profile in our universities and colleges, then collaboration/partnership working is essential – but please don’t look always, or only, for quick wins.

 

School League Tables Outcry

The BBC ran an article on the new method by which secondary school league tables are devised stating it unfairly stigmatises schools in white working-class areas. Head teachers are opposed to the Progress 8 methodology calling it “toxic” for schools with a combination of high levels of deprivation and lower numbers of pupils speaking English as a second language. The DfE have responded: “Far from being unfair, our Progress 8 measure means that schools are now recognised for the progress made by all pupils, as every grade from every pupil contributes to the school’s performance – taking into account their ability when they started school.

 

Mental Health

A Debut study publicised on the Royal College of Midwives News site has demonstrated widespread reluctance to disclose mental health issues to potential employers amongst students in order to avoid negative impact on their career progression. 70% of the 1,000 full time employed graduates that were sampled would not inform their employer and 88% stated they believed there is still a negative stigma attached to admitting to suffering from a mental health issue.

Of the 70% who said they would avoid telling an employer about their mental health issues, 83% said they would be more inclined to seek mental health support if their employer offered an ‘off-the-record’ or fully anonymous service that would be kept separate from their employment record. Their preference for off the record support methods were: face-to-face meeting (61%), WhatsApp, or other instant online chat (19%), email (10%), via video call (7%), SMS/text-messaging (3%).

The study states that graduates don’t feel their workplaces are properly equipped to support workers with mental health issues. The graduates described their employer’s support system as: 15% – good; 51% – adequate; 34% – poor.

The study states: It appears that while mental health concerns are being discussed more openly in wider society, there is still work to be done in regards to the stigma associated with admitting to suffering from mental health issues and support offered to those transitioning from university to work.

CEO of Debut, Charlie Taylor, said that supporting new graduates as they transition from university to work should be a major consideration of progressive employers.  ‘If graduate recruitment specialists want to attract – and more importantly keep – the best talent as they emerge from education, they need to know what issues students and graduates are facing, and how best to support themGraduate programmes can be fiercely competitive, which can exacerbate mental health issues and employers need to ensure they are providing anonymous, ‘off the record’ support for this future workforce.”

 

Meanwhile in iNews Bristol’s VC has said poor mental health among students is the “single biggest public health issue” affecting universities and feels the perfectionism culture perpetuated through social media is a causal factor.

 

Disabled Students’ Allowances

The parliamentary questions pertaining to disabled students continue.

Q – Angela Rayner:

  1. what the evidential basis is for his statement that students spend on average £250 on computers.
  2. what costs Disabled Students’ Allowances are planned to cover.

 

A – Sam Gyimah:

  1. This figure comes from the most recent student income and expenditure survey …This shows that the average spend on computers by full-time students across the academic year was £253. The average spend on computers by part-time students across the academic year was £243.
  2. Disabled Students’ Allowances are available to help students with the additional costs they may face in higher education because of their disability. There are four allowances available and for 2017/18 these are: a specialist equipment allowance of up to £5,358 for the duration of the course, a non-medical helper allowance of up to £21,305 for each academic year, a general allowance of up to £1,790 for each academic year and a uncapped travel allowance for each academic year. They can be used for the purchase of specialist equipment, to pay for a non-medical helper to support students with their studies, for other assessed disability related costs and for travel.  As noted in the Oral Answer, the £200 student contribution is for computer hardware only. Students are not expected to pay for recommended specialist software or for training to use it.

Part Time Students

Welsh Universities will now be able to claim a full premium when recruiting part time students. Wales also enjoys a fee-waiver allocation for students in receipt of certain benefits when studying at less than 25%. It will be interesting to watch these developments in comparison to England’s declining part time student population.

 

HEPI

HEPI continue to share ideas and blog related to their prior report: Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director for Fair Access and Participation.

 

Sonia Sodha (The Observer) states:  If we were really committed to improving access to top universities, we would bite the bullet and introduce class-based quotas. Progress on this front has been pathetically slow: yes, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to universities in greater numbers than before, but they remain disproportionately shut out of the highest-ranking institutions. The Office for Students should reintroduce a cap on student numbers…and introduce hard quotas for students from working- class backgrounds for each university. This would help break down the unfair and stubborn middle- class lock on privilege. It would also force more middle-class students down a vocational route – surely the only way we are ever going to get parity of esteem between post-18 vocational and academic qualifications.

 

Rosemary Bennett (The Times): [There should be] a universal system in transferrable credits so bright students who really take to their studies at university can trade up to a better institution after a year. If there is thriving competition between universities, as we are often told, it should not stop at the point of admission. Users need to be able to switch supplier.

 

Nik Miller (Bridge Group): The creation of the Office for Students is an important opportunity to… also look outwards; to convene influencers across sectors to deliver coherent approaches, and to dismantle prevailing contradictions….Employers play a critical role in determining students’ prospects. This demands greater scrutiny. For example, many employers continue to attract students from a limited list of the least diverse institutions, refuse to consider students below a certain A-Level tariff – as university contextual admissions opens the door for many students, it is slammed shut once more upon graduation – and offer unpaid and unadvertised internships.

 

Lorraine Dearden (Institute for Fiscal Studies): The Office for Students needs to fully link…data in one place. IFS research linking schools and Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data shows that students who get the same GCSE results at age 16 are equally likely to progress to higher education, irrespective of their socio-economic status. However, there are socio-economic gaps in access to elite universities and the types of subjects studied, even allowing for school outcomes. We do not know fully whether this is because (i) bright disadvantaged students are less likely to apply for these courses, and/or (ii) they do, but do not get accepted, and/or (iii) their predicted grades and/or subject choice have some role. There are also socio-economic differences in drop-out rates, completion rates and outcomes once a person starts university. Good data would not only help us find out why these things are happening, but which access programmes are best at tackling them.

Read more sector change suggestions on the HEPI blog here.

 

T Levels

Damian Hinds, Education Secretary, has announced progress towards the commencement of T levels. T levels will be two year courses combining technical education and workplace experience making an important contribution to economic skills gaps and forming the third route for post-16 study (alongside apprenticeships and A levels).  The BBC report that the new two-year courses will have more teaching hours than most current technical programmes and will include a compulsory work placement of 40-60 working days. The Government have committed to learn from countries, work in partnership with business and the course content will be developed by expert employer panels. T Levels will commence from 2020 (construction, digital, and education and childcare) and be expanded into other sections from 2021 (finance, hair and beauty, engineering, and the creative industries). Controversy has dogged the announcement as earlier in the month a DfE official stated a 2020 start would be rushed and questioned whether the teaching would be of a high standard. These concerns were rejected and Hinds pushed ahead to unveil the 52 approved providers.

The Times article T levels have employers scratching their heads notes only 16% of employers  understand T levels: Business owners, who will be essential to the success of the new regime, say that they are not prepared for it. Just one in 12 employers at present provided placements of the duration required for T levels, and four in every five felt that financial support would be needed to enable them to offer the number of work placements needed.

Meanwhile Stage 2 kicks off for the 16 hopefuls (3 of which are universities) aiming to become Institutes of Technology. Research Professional also has a short article on it here.

Admissions

Next week the House of Lords will hold a one-hour debate on equality of opportunity in university admissions.

 

Fraudulent UCAS Applications

Previously The Independent challenged UCAS stating black students were 22 times more likely to have their university applications investigated for fraud than white students. UCAS investigated the issue and have published a report. Read the key points here. The story is covered by The Times and The Guardian.

 

Criminal Convictions

UCAS have also made news this week following their decision to not require applicants to declare criminal convictions when they apply for most courses.

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“Unlock very much welcomes the removal of the main criminal conviction box from the UCAS form. This is a significant change that has the potential to help many people with convictions see a university education as a positive way forward in their lives. For far too long, universities have operated arbitrary, unfair admissions practices towards those who ticked the box. Unlock has seen first-hand how people have been put off from applying to university as a result.

If universities are committed to widening participation, they should be considering the widest number of potential applicants. The change by UCAS provides a strong signal to universities that criminal records shouldn’t feature in their assessment of academic ability.

Many institutions are now rightly looking at how to amend their policies and practices. We look forward to working with UCAS and individual universities in developing fairer admissions policies towards students with criminal records.”

Nina Champion, Head of Policy at Prisoners’ Education Trust, said:

“People with convictions who are applying to university are showing a huge commitment to turning their lives around. As a society, we should be doing all we can to support them. The chance to go to university helps people to move fully away from crime, build careers and contribute to our communities. Their presence is also hugely beneficial for universities, which gain highly committed students, who help create a more diverse and inclusive learning environment for everyone. “We look forward to working with universities at revising their own admissions procedures in light of UCAS’ decision, ensuring fair chances for every student.”

Peter Stanford, Director of the Longford Trust, said:

“We…urge that, whatever arrangements universities now decide to put in place around risk assessment for those with criminal convictions, they do so in a manner that learns from the mistakes of the recent past, and enables the widest possible levels of participation”

 

Alternative Admissions

Jackie Labbe from De Montford University blogs for Wonkhe on the changes her university has made in Admissions to rely less on tariff based selection. Jackie states the changes have had a positive effect:

We support them [new students] via transitions programmes bridging their course of study and student services, so that any obstacles they have encountered in the past don’t continue to impede them.

We have seen success in our students’ improving outcomes, particularly our black and minority ethnic (BAME) students. We are now more than 50% BAME, and consider (in common with the sector) that the attainment gap is an unacceptable element of the status quo. We’re proud that our attainment gap is closing, and aim to continue to reduce it exponentially over the next few years.

 

Nursing – fall in Access course registrations

Nursing recruitment takes another hit as QAA data confirmed registrations onto the Access to HE Diplomas for nursing and health care fell by 18% (20,050 registrations) in 2016/17. Overall Access courses are down by 10%

Dr Greg Walker, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, calls on the HE Review panel to take the drop seriously:

“The news that registrations to these diplomas have dropped by almost a fifth in the space of a year is deeply concerning. The withdrawal of bursaries now appears to be impacting further down the supply chain for nursing degree students. A stalling pipeline of potential nursing students will offer no assurance to NHS employers as they struggle to fill vacant nursing posts…now is the time to review the impact of the shift away from bursaries.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

Gender Gap: Using data from a French study Times Higher discusses how automatically considering women for senior positions would reduce the gender gap at the top.

Teaching excellence: Times Higher talk on how linking promotion to quality teaching may work better than the TEF!

Civic University: Read the latest from the Civic University forum.

Poaching: PIE news has an article on the poaching of international students that takes place in the US.

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 4th May 2018

A bumper policy update for you packed full of political changes and arguments, and BU gets a mention in the House of Commons. Enjoy the sunny bank holiday weekend!

Political News

Amber Rudd resigned on Sunday. Replacing her are Penny Mordaunt and Sajid Javid.

Penny Mordaunt (Secretary of State for International Development) will replace her as Women and Equalities Minister. Penny’s pre-UK political career is varied ranging from magician’s assistant, working in Romanian hospitals and orphanages, and as Head of Foreign Press for George W Bush. Previously she was the Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health. Her political interests are care and quality of life for the elderly, healthcare, defence, the arts, and space.

Sajid Javid will replace Amber as Home Secretary. (James Brokenshire will replace Sajid as Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary). Sajid’s political interests are civil liberties, free enterprise, defence, and welfare policy. Sajid has held a string of parliamentary roles including  Economic Secretary 2012-13, Financial Secretary 2013-14; Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 2014-15; Minister for Equalities 2014; Secretary of State for: Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade 2015-16, and Communities, Local Government and Housing Secretary 2016-18. Times Higher took to Twitter to remind the HE world that Sajid believes international students shouldn’t stay on to work in Britain post-graduation.

#BUProud – Sam Gyimah praised BU in a recent Education select committee meeting. Questioned on whether the three year full time degree is an outdated dinosaur and whether accelerated or non-standard degrees are the future Sam replied:

  • I will start off, before saying what I think the answer is, by saying that there is some good practice in the sector that is often not acknowledged. For example, 42% of degrees are currently vocational. If you look at what some universities are doing, Bournemouth University, where I was a few weeks ago, is a most effective place at training people for media and film studies. Most people would dismiss some of these things, but if you want to work at Universal Studios, one of the best universities in this country to go to is Bournemouth. They have a focused university curriculum.  

Office for Students (OfS) Strategy and Business Plan

The OfS have published their strategy and business plan.  They set out their familar 4 objectives ( participation, experience, outcomes and value for money). The OfS will deliver their strategy by:

  • Ensuring providers meet the quality threshold (the 24 conditions of registration)
  • Supporting informed student choice about courses and careers
  • Taking action to ‘ensure that the sector is working effectively in the interests of students, employers, and society’.
  • The OfS will publish key performance indicators in the summer to measure the business plan.
  • Being an efficient and effective regulator

The OfS will also measure contributory progress against these cross cutting strategic outcomes:

  • Public trust and confidence in HE
  • National social mobility
  • Equality & diversity within HE and beyond
  • A dynamic national workforce

There is more detail in the Business Plan 2018-19, including:

  • The intention to evaluate the return on investment on access and participation plans and impact work; develop, address cold spots and evaluate IAG; and increase transparency data in relation to access and participation.
  • New providers – address barriers to entry; facilitate alternative forms of provision and develop measures of diversity of provision and innovation (including a work placement measure beyond sandwich placements and the ‘Higher education – business and community interaction’ survey data; also to support growth in technical routes.
  • Deliver NSS and explore new measures and monitoring tools.
  • Develop the OfS approach to student welfare and wellbeing.
  • Remove barriers to student transfer.
  • Continue the TEF, KEF and REF.
  • Develop strategy and processes surrounding student protection and managing market exit.

And much more!

The Knowledge Exchange Framework

Research Professional published a mock Knowledge Exchange rankings table  based on three years of data from the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction surveys.  Hamish McAlpine, senior policy adviser for knowledge exchange at Research England, has written a progress report on work towards the real KEF.  We have been a bit sceptical about the KEF at BU – because something with great potential to measure something of great benefit (going beyond REF impact) looks like being a way to channel more money to those who make money already from commercialisation….

The article is interesting because it is clear that thinking is still evolving – this sentence gives some hope about the value of the framework:

  • “To this end we are looking at creating clusters of institutions with similar capabilities. These include not just staff numbers, but also things such as disciplinary mix, research strengths and intensity, income, student numbers and capital investments.” 

And they haven’t yet decided on the link to funding…..but it still looks as if income is the driver:

  • “Income is only a proxy for impact, but it is the best measure we have at present. Income is also robust and relatively easy to audit. It is not in anyone’s interest to distribute lots of public money based on unsound metrics”

Income is a very unreliable proxy for impact outside STEM.  In her previous role at BU Jane supported a number of projects with HSS that have limited potential to make money (because they help the NHS) but have potential to make a real difference to care and outcomes.  And what about all the work in social sciences – and knowledge exchange projects in FoM and FMC?  So we’re still sceptical about the KEF – but it might be a bit less pointless than it was looking a few months ago.  I’ve added a comment to the article – we’ll see what the response is.

Major review of post-18 education (fees and funding)

We have submitted BU’s response to the HE review and you can read it here.  SUBU’s response is here.

There is a useful article by Gordon McKenzie of GuildHE on Wonkhe.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published their 10 points for the HE review – a useful round up of some of the issues based on HEPI’s own research over the last few years.  Their 10 points relate to:

  • Part-time learners
  • Differential fees
  • Maintenance grants
  • Mixed funding model
  • Uses of tuition fees
  • Misunderstanding among applicants
  • Outreach versus spending on bursaries
  • Accounting treatment of student loans
  • Level 4 and Level 5 qualifications
  • Student number controls

UUK have blogged on their response to the review calling for the review to address confusion about the tuition fees system. UUK note that while the funding system hasn’t deterred young people from full time study (and is beneficial in creating stability for universities) ‘there is a lack of public confidence and understanding of how it delivers value for money for students’. They note those wishing to study flexibly, or part time, or young students who wish to earn whilst they learn aren’t serviced adequately by the existing funding system. They also call for maintenance grants to be restored.

The Universities UK submission makes a number of recommendations, including:​

  • government should, in partnership with universities, provide more targeted information to prospective students on the costs and benefits of higher education
  • universities could develop their value for money statements, to better explain how pricing decisions for undergraduate courses are arrived at. These should explain how the university uses income from tuition fees, and other sources of income, to fund the student experience and other activities such as research
  • to deal with students’ concerns about living costs, new funding should be introduced to restore maintenance grants for those most in need
  • to help address students’ fears of debt, government should remove the interest rate that starts building from the start date of the course, and deliver better financial advice, especially on the difference between student loan debt and conventional debt
  • greater exploration of ways that learners can study more flexibly and piloting preferential loan repayment terms for subjects that address national skills shortages

You can read Baroness Wolf in the TES on what the review is about (not just HE).

From March – the OfS report on student perceptions of value for money: – not providing a definition but see below 

  • Funded by OfS, our SUs led some research into what students think. The purpose was not to definitively answer the question of what ‘value for money’ means in higher education but, rather, to explore value for money from the student perspective. Do students feel they are receiving value for money? Do student perceptions of value for money evolve as they go from school to higher education, and then into the world of work? What can higher education providers – and the OfS – do to help improve the value students perceive they are getting from the considerable investment they have made in higher education?”

Factors that demonstrate value for money:

Maintenance Grant Raid – David Morris wrote for the Guardian this week stating: The government has hinted it will reintroduce maintenance grants, but that there will be no extra money to pay for it. David believes this will take the political pressure out of the tuition fee conundrum because ‘expensive rent is probably far more of a barrier to widening access than expensive fees, since students don’t repay these until after graduation.’ David believes the Government might solve the issue of funding maintenance grants by utilising the current teaching grant. He states: ‘This time around, universities will have to convince government to find additional spending, or it will be their pockets that are raided.’

Political Battles – Martin Lewis (MoneySavingExpert) tackles Chi Onwurah (Labour MP) in BBC Question Time. In essence his fiery response blames both Government and Opposition for making Fees and Student Loans a political battlefield – serving only their own political ends and leaving prospective students bewildered about affordability. He states in itself this is what is putting off even more students because they believe they can’t afford to attend University.

  • Martin: “Look politicians do this all the time and you’re making your political points and you’re doing it and you put off young people from underprivileged backgrounds going to university with a fear of debt by framing it as debt when you know it doesn’t work like that.”
  • “Politicians need to take responsibility, your political football that you and all the parties have used student finance to be has miseducated a generation about how student finance works and it is an abomination you should all hang your heads in shame.
  • Chi comes back to argue that fees are a psychological barrier:  “It is psychological but a lot of the world is psychological Martin, how things are perceived is what informs peoples choices.”
  • Martin: “Then let’s re-educate.”

Watch the short (1 minute) clip here, the Express also covered the argument.

Higher Earning Graduates – Sam Gyimah avoided responding to a parliamentary question on higher earning graduates this week.

  • Q – Jim Cunningham: What estimate he has made of the number of graduate students who are earning over £50k and have begun repaying their student loan since 2010.
  • A – Sam Gyimah: This is a matter for the Student Loans Company (SLC). I have asked the SLC’s Interim Chief Executive, Peter Lauener, to write to the hon. Member for Coventry South and a copy of his reply will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Student Loan Overpayments  –Another parliamentary question revealed that 55% of the nursing, midwifery and allied health professions students who were overpaid by SLC (leading to concerns about how the money would be clawed back), were overpaid by more than £1,000. And the non-repayable support has been confirmed

  • Q – Baroness Thornton: Whether, given that the Student Loans Company (SLC) has accepted responsibility for overpayments to healthcare students and that the SLC told students that they were not being overpaid, the SLC will write off overpayments to physiotherapy and other healthcare students.
  • A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The government announced on 18 April 2018 that the Student Loans Company (SLC) will provide support to ensure that none of the students affected by the error suffer hardship. Students affected by this will be eligible to apply for additional, non-repayable, support of up to £1,000 for the remainder of this academic year, and should contact the SLC. In addition, repayment of overpaid maintenance support will be deferred for all students affected until they have finished their courses and can afford to repay. Repayment of overpaid maintenance loans will happen via HM Revenue and Customs in the normal way, which is how students will have expected to repay their loans when they took them out.

Loan Terms – Another week, another student loan parliamentary question – this time Sam’s answer fails to confirm whether the Government will change the loan terms for the post-2012 students, leading to worry over how students may be affected if the post-2012 loans are sold off.

  • Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he retains the legal power to revise the terms and conditions of student loans, including those sold to the Student Loans Company; and whether his Department has any plans to standardise those terms and conditions irrespective of the higher education start date of those loans.
  • A – Sam Gyimah: Key student loan repayment terms are set out in legislation, and can therefore be amended through the applicable parliamentary processes. It is important that, subject to this Parliamentary scrutiny, the government retains the power to adjust the terms and conditions of student loans. However, the government has no plans to change, or to consider changing, the terms of pre-2012 loans, including those sold recently.Student loans are subsidised by the taxpayer, and we must ensure that the interests of both borrowers and taxpayers continue to be protected. The review of post-18 education and funding will look at how we can ensure a joined-up education system that works for everyone.

Paramedic Student Loans – A parliamentary question on reclassifying paramedic degrees for existing graduates to access the student loan whilst retraining:

  • Q – Peter Kyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, pursuant to the Answer of 19 April 2018 to Question 135158, if he will classify paramedic science as an exception course to allow those who study it as a second degree to obtain a student loan.
  • A – Stephen Barclay: Since the decision taken by the Health and Care Professions Council on 21 March 2018 to move paramedic programmes to a degree level, the Department of Health and Social Care has been working with Health Education England and the Department for Education to actively review the position of students wishing to study a paramedic programme. This review will consider aligning paramedic courses with other healthcare courses reviewed during the recent healthcare education funding reforms.

Freedom of Speech

The Universities Minister gave a speech on Thursday at a free speech summit calling for new guidance for organisations and students on freedom of speech. Covered by The Times Sam is portrayed as championing free speech way beyond his predecessor (Jo Johnson’s) intent to ‘enforce existing measures’. Sam plans for the OfS to name and shame or fine institutions for failing to uphold his view of free speech. He has announced the intention to create a single set of guidelines ‘to clarify the rules and regulations around speakers and events to prevent bureaucrats or wreckers on campus from exploiting gaps for their own ends’. The NUS is permitted to input into the new rules. See the Government’s press release here.

  • UUK commented:  “Tens of thousands of speaking events are put on every year across the country. The majority pass without incident. A small number of flashpoints do occasionally occur, on contentious or controversial issues, but universities do all they can to protect free speech so events continue.”
  • Sector press has noted that the Joint Committee on Human Rights report (March 2018) did not believe there to be a problem with free speech at universities: we did not find the wholesale censorship of debate in universities which media coverage has suggested. And on the ‘chilling’ (deterrent) effect ‘which is hard to measure’: A much broader survey of students’ opinion would be needed to assess levels of confidence amongst the student body as a whole. Source
  • Free Speech does get a (very limited) mention in the OfS’ new Business Plan – one mention (page 7) ‘Incentivise positive student experiences beyond the conditions of registration – Define and begin to deliver the OfS’ role to promote and protect free speech.’
  • THE also reported on Sam’s speech, ironically noting it was delivered at a ‘behind-closed-doors’ event.
  • Sam wrote for The Times Red Box on Thursday: The time I was almost censored on campus. There is an entertaining range of reader comments following Sam’s piece, only overshadowed by the Twitter glee that the quote Sam opens his article with is misattributed. Whoops.

HEPI Free Speech blog

On Tuesday HEPI got the last word in on Free Speech ahead of Sam’s speech. See their blog Six points about free speech at universities. Nick Hillman commenced with HEPI’s survey statistics on free speech. Most of his six points are familiar:

  1. The current law is ‘in about the right place’ on free speech issues – and notes the need for legitimate limits (terrorism influence, inciting violence, risking safety of others)
  2. Universities have the expertise, the time and resources to debate issues freely
  3. Debate and expose bad ideas to defeat them (not hide away)
  4. HEPI refer to their detailed study of free speech. The blog suggests a quarter of students are illiberal wanting to ban some extreme positions, and HEPI interpret mixed results as confusion amongst students (saying yes to almost any question on free speech, whether supporting free speech, backing trigger warnings or supporting Prevent). It could be confusion, it could be students repeating back the social ideal they may not genuinely sign up to, or it could be poor questionnaire design! But on the confusion the blog goes on to recommend…
  5. Universities need to help students through the complexities of free speech issues (and avoid too much red tape when putting on events)
  6. HEPI don’t believe the situation is as bad as the media portray, however, they note if the sector continues to provide contentious ‘juicy’ examples of threats to free speech then the media will seize on them and further blow the debate out of proportion.

International Students

False Deportation – On Tuesday the Financial Times broke the news of 7,000 international students falsely deported in: Home Office told thousands of foreign students to leave UK in error.  Wonkhe have provided a summary:

  • The Financial Times reports that the Home Office may have ordered up to 7,000 international students to leave the country on the basis of false accusations that they “faked” their proficiency in English. The error allegedly occurred when US-based organisation Educational Testing Services (ETS) carried out an investigation on behalf of the Home Office into cheating in their Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) in 2014. The investigation results led the Home Office to revoke the Tier 4 visas of around 35,870 students studying in the UK who were suspected to have used proxies to sit the test.  An immigration tribunal heard in 2016 that the computer analysis used to identify fraud had been correct in only 80% of cases, meaning that 7,000 students had been deported in error.  The Home Office told us “the Government took immediate robust action, which has been measured and proportionate and so far 21 people have received criminal convictions for their role in this deception” and noted that courts had consistently found in their favour that evidence in these cases was enough to act on. However, the FT cites a judgement published in 2017 that said that the Home Office’s behaviour was “so unfair and unreasonable as to amount to an abuse of power”.

The Guardian also has the story, noting that new Home Secretary Sajid Javid has been urged to conduct a review.

International Post-Doc Researchers – Earlier in the year HEPI released their report The costs and benefits of international students ahead of the Migration Advisory Committee’s consultation on international students (outcomes expected autumn 2018). At the HEPI launch event there was strong argument for the sectors which need international talent to fulfil economic and business needs but which have low graduate starting salaries. An oral question this week extended this debate to cover post-doc employment:

  • Q – Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I declare an interest as a trustee of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Post-doctoral research fellows are a vital part of this country’s research base, and they come from all over the world, including from the EU. What discussions are my right hon. and hon. Friends having with the Home Office to ensure that our future immigration policy is based not on salaries—post-docs often receive pretty miserly salaries compared with their qualifications—but on the skills that we really need in this country.
  • A – Robin Walker: I regularly attend the higher education and science working group chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, where we discuss these issues, and we have been feeding into the work being done by the Migration Advisory Committee and the Home Office on that front. The Prime Minister made clear that we will want to continue to attract key talent from around the world, and Britain will want to continue to be a scientific superpower in the years to come. It is essential that we get our policies right on this.

Widening Participation & Achievement

New Fair Access Tsar, Chris Millward, blogs for UUK on the ‘OpportUNIty for everyone’ campaign aiming to promote the work done by universities on social mobility. Chris’ entry into the sector as Director for Fair Access and Participation has had WP buffs pondering whether there will be an entirely different fair access landscape with new directives. Perhaps unintentionally Chris’ blog continues to repeat Les Ebdon’s constant calls for ‘faster change’:  ‘Opportunity for everyone’ shows how universities are opening their doors, but they must build on this for faster change. It perhaps favours a focusing of the WP target groups by specifically mentioning:

  • Young people from identified low participation neighbourhoods (LPN) – concern: access and successful completion
  • White boys from low income families (also within LPN and in receipt of free school meals) – concern: access
  • Mature students – concern: falling numbers accessing HE
  • Black and Asian, and Disabled students – concern: parity of numbers receiving good degree and/or successfully securing a graduate level job
  • Students reporting mental health concerns – concern: better support to complete degree

It notes all universities are expected to narrow their gaps in all these areas. Chris promises the OfS will ‘develop evidence and effective practice guidance, and create opportunities to promote its use’ through a national Evidence and Impact Exchange. You can follow the Opportunity for everyone campaign on Twitter via: #YesUniCan

Brexit – Science & Innovation

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have published Brexit, science and innovation (fifth special report of session 2017-19). This gives the Government’s response to the Committee’s previous paper. Here are excerpts from the introduction:

  • The Government welcomes the Science and Technology Select Committee’s report ‘Brexit, Science and Innovation’, and is grateful for the Committee’s positive view on the Government’s input to the EU’s consultation on the shape of Framework Programme 9 (FP9). The Committee’s report highlights key issues that will need to be considered as we leave the European Union and continuing to build the broadest and deepest possible partnership with the EU on Science and Innovations remains a top priority.
  • As made clear in the UK’s position paper on Framework Programme 9, a continued focus on excellence is essential, and the EU and its Member States should facilitate and strengthen collaborative working with other countries on shared priorities for mutual benefit. The principles of excellence and competitiveness that underpin European collaboration drive up the quality of research outputs and contribute to higher skills levels.
  • The Government’s commitment to underwrite Horizon 2020 funding has provided clarity and assurance to UK businesses and universities.
  •  The Government has been consistently clear that the UK is, and will continue to be, a place that welcomes talented scientists and researchers from across the globe to work or study here.
  • We value the strong collaborative partnerships that we have across the EU in the areas of science, research and innovation and recognise the important contribution they make to the UK.

Read the Government’s response to the four recommendations here.

Life Sciences

And just in case you missed it last week here is the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report – Life Sciences Industrial Strategy: Who’s driving the bus?

Mental Health

OfS blog on the HE partnership who are trialling new strategic methods to support good mental health through the Catalyst funding. The approach is based on UUK’s Step Change framework. Student suicides were in the news this week and there is a parliamentary question asking about national student suicide figures due for answer next week.

Strike law suits

Wonkhe report that some students intend to sue their universities over the strike action. In line with the wishes of the self-appointed “Minister for Students”, some students are now seeking compensation for teaching time lost at the 65 institutions affected by the 14 days of recent USS pension strikes.

Over 100,000 students have signed petitions to complain about the issue and request refunds. However, widespread media coverage has focused on Tel-Aviv/London-based English law firm Asserson, a “disputes” specialist, which has set up a website encouraging UK, EU, and non-EU students to sign up to a class action lawsuit to potentially claim “hundreds of pounds each”. Apparently, it now has over 1,000 signatures, enough to apply for a group litigation order. If the firm can secure funding from a specialist litigation funder for the no-win-no-fee claim, get insurance against a failed claim, and work out how to distribute claimants across institutions, we may see a landmark case. Shimon Goldwater of the firm said this could cost universities “millions of pounds”.

Some institutions have put unspent pay in hardship funds, and those with student contracts will be checking the wording carefully. At the time, Universities UK (UUK) advised students to start with institutional complaints procedures, then if necessary escalate them to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) in England and Wales. The OIA’s annual report came out on Thursday, showing a slight increase in complaints in 2017 – 1,635 compared to 1,517 the previous year. The student-as-consumer trend continues.

Wonkhe’s website also explains how group litigation works and a blogger warns that calls for money back could result in them becoming victims of another compensation scam.

No pause for Purdah

Research Professional explores how a Purdah period needn’t be a gag order. They confirmed that scientists are permitted to make public statements during election campaigns. On 11 April, the Cabinet Office issued revised election guidance for civil servants permitting scientists to continue with their work in the run up to an election.  During the 2017 general election, the UK Research Councils “strongly” advised against issuing press releases about new research. Jeremy Heywood, Head of the Civil Service, stated: the [purdah] principles are not, and have never been about restricting commentary from independent academics.

Fiona Fox (Chief Executive of the Science Media Centre) writes in Research Professional to urge all to get the message out:

This is an important moment for the scientific community, but only if we shout about it. We must make sure that the new guidance is to hand the next time someone tries to use purdah as a reason to restrict scientists from speaking publicly about their research during election time.

UK Research and Innovation in particular has an important role here to ensure that all the academics it funds know about and understand these positive changes. The multiple sets of guidance on guidance, which emphasises what scientists cannot say in elections, should be replaced with a simple statement of what academics should continue to do as normal.

Purdah was never intended to silence scientists, but in the absence of real clarity, some allowed that to happen. Now that we have the clarity there is no excuse to let it happen again.

Consultations

Click here to view the updated 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:

  • The House of Commons Education Committee has launched an inquiry into the challenges posed and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As outlined in the inquiry press release, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by the emergence of a range of new technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things. The changes are likely to have a major impact on both productivity and the labour market, with low and medium skilled jobs most at risk.  The inquiry will examine how best to prepare young people to take advantage of future opportunities by looking at the suitability of the school curriculum. It will also look at the role of lifelong learning and how best to help people climb the ladder of opportunity in the future. Please see further details and links below:

Interesting news

  • If you’re a bit rusty on the different elements of parliament this 1 minute You Tube Video may be for you: Why does the House of Commons Chamber look empty?
  • Trans experience: Wonkhe bloggers examine the experience of trans and gender diverse staff in HE and how matters can move forward more positively.
  • Alumni & data protection: BU’s own Fiona Cowrie writes for Research Professional on how the imminent data protection changes will affect universities’ relationships with their alumni.
  • Personal statements: A role for school’s to supplement second-hand cultural capital by supporting students through tailored super-curricular experiences. A simple read setting out what makes the difference in successful UCAS personal statements.
  • Influencing policy through research: We’ve mentioned this previously and Wonkhe have a new blog post on getting parliament to pick up research and translate it into policy. It lists 10 simple steps to make connections and present your research effectively for policy makers.
  • Useful complaints: A blogger from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator blogs on the impact listening to and acting on complaints can have in: Complaints – student engagement in its rickets form?
  • BTEC students: BTEC students are more likely to fail and not progress to their second year, although the non-continuation rate varies with subject choice. Overall patterns of progression show more BTEC students fail the end of first year examination as compared to entrants with other qualifications. One possible explanation for this is that they are at a different starting point in terms of academic preparedness and understanding assessment expectations in HE. Interventions may therefore need to target support around learning and progression of BTEC students during first year in HE or even earlier to encourage transferable learning.  Subject-wise patterns of progressions for BTEC students show they are less successful in Computer Science and Business Studies as compared to Sports. Interventions and academic support in HE need to be tailored across subject-areas in line with course structure and programme requirements to help BTEC students achieve better educational outcomes. It might be the case that not just inclusive pedagogies across universities, but a collaborative approach between higher education providers and FE colleges, can support the progression of these students better. This is all the more important as BTEC qualifications are acknowledged as contributing to widening HE access.   Read How successful are BTEC students at university? for more detail and interactive charts.

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 JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 29th March 2018

Industrial Strategy

The Creative Industries Sector Deal has been announced.  You can read the document here.

The press release says:

  • As part of a Creative Industries Sector Deal, to be announced today by the Digital and Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Co-Chair of the CIC, Nicola Mendelsohn, more than £150 million is being jointly invested by government and industry to help cultural and creative businesses across Britain thrive.
  • A Cultural Development Fund will also be launched for cities and towns to bid for a share of £20 million to invest in creative and cultural initiatives. The power of culture and creative industries to boost economic growth is evident across the country…[NB Bournemouth is identified as high growth]
  • The Sector Deal aims to double Britain’s share of the global creative immersive content market by 2025, which is expected to be worth over £30 billion by 2025. To seize on the opportunity of this expanding market, government is investing over £33 million in immersive technologies such as virtual reality video games, interactive art shows and augmented reality experiences in tourism.
  • Britain is already leading the way in developing immersive technologies. PWC has predicted that the UK’s virtual reality industry will grow at a faster rate than any other entertainment and media industry between 2016 to 2021, reaching £801 million in value, and that by 2021 there will be 16 million virtual reality headsets in use in the UK.
  • Improving the nations skills is at the heart of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy and to ensure the industry has the skilled workers it needs to deliver this, up to £2 million will be made available to kickstart an industry-led skills package, including a creative careers programme which will reach at least 2,000 schools and 600,000 pupils in 2 years. A new London Screen Academy, with places for up to 1000 students, will also open in 2019.

New Quality Code published

After a consultation proposing changes to the UK Quality Code for HE, (you can read BU’s response here) the QAA have published the new, very short Code. There’s some commentary on Wonkhe here.   It really is short – in a 7 page document there is only one real page of content – but there is more guidance to come.

HE Review

To inform our BU response to the HE Review all staff and students are invited to consider the issues in this (anonymous) 5-minute survey. Please take a look at the survey questions as we’d like to hear from as many staff and students as possible. You don’t have to answer all the questions! The major review of HE will shape the HE system, including how universities are funded for years to come. The survey will be available to staff and students until Friday 20th April.

The Department for Education also published a research report by Youthsight on the influence of finance on higher education decision making

Amongst its findings:

  • University was the only option considered by the majority of applicants (75 per cent), especially those applying to the higher-tariff universities (78 per cent). This was consistent across socio-economic backgrounds. Getting a job and travelling were the main alternatives considered by applicants
  • Financial factors were not the biggest influence on the final decision to apply to university. The most important factors were the desires to be more employable, to achieve the qualification and to pursue an interest in a subject. This was the case for applicants from both the higher and the lower socio-economic groups.
    • Lower socio-economic group applicants placed a higher importance on grants, bursaries and living costs than applicants from higher socio-economic groups, although finance still remained a secondary influence on their decision to apply to university.
    • The course offered (82 per cent of applicants), university reputation (58 per cent), and potential for high future earnings (41 per cent) were the most commonly cited major influences on applicants’ choices about where to study.
    • Differences in bursaries offered, tuition fees charged and the ability to continue living at home were secondary factors when choosing where to study. These factors accounted for three of the bottom four of eleven factors tested that might influence which university to choose. However, they were more important for lower socio-economic group applicants.
  • The maintenance loan, repayment threshold and particularly maintenance grants and university assistance were more important to members of the lower socio-economic group than the higher socio-economic group in alleviating cost concerns.

And the government have published the outcomes of their 2014/15 student income and expenditure survey.  There is a lot of data and there are lots of interesting charts, including figure 2.6 (the influence of financial support on my decisions), table 3.7 (what support English domiciled students received by mode of study), figure 4.3 (breakdown of total student expenditure (this one excludes the tuition fee but there is also a chart that includes it),  figure 4.4 (total expenditure and housing costs).

The data from both these reports will be pored over to support responses to the HE review.

Freedom of speech

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published its report into free speech in universities. The Committee has also published its own guidance for universities and students:

Charity Commission Response: Charity Commission responds to Joint Committee on Human Rights

The Committee don’t identify many actual cases of free speech having been prevented but note a “chilling effect” (it’s hard to prove a negative, of course). The report identifies factors that potentially limit free speech in universities:

  • regulatory complexity
  • intolerant attitudes, often incorrectly using the banner of “no-platforming” and “safe-space” policies
  • incidents of unacceptable intimidating behaviour by protestors intent on preventing free speech and debate
  • student Unions being overly cautious for fear of breaking the rules
  • unnecessary bureaucracy imposed on those organising events
  • fear and confusion over what the Prevent Duty entails
  • unduly complicated and cautious guidance from the Charity Commission.

Recommendations

  • That an independent review of the Prevent policy is necessary to assess what impact it is having on students and free speech, after evidence the Committee took demonstrated an adverse effect on events with student faith groups
  • That the Charity Commission, which regulates student unions as registered charities, review its approach and guidance, and that its actions are proportionate and are adequately explained to student unions and don’t unnecessarily limit free speech
  • That the Office for Students should ensure university policies proactively secure lawful free speech and are not overly burdensome
  • That student societies should not stop other student societies from holding their meetings.  They have the right to protest but must not seek to stop events entirely
  • That while there must be opportunities for genuinely sensitive discussions, and that the whole of the university cannot be a “safe space.” Universities must be places where open debate can take place so that students can develop their own opinions on unpopular, controversial or provocative ideas
  • Groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities.

Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said:

  • “Freedom of speech within the law should mean just that – and it is vital in universities. Evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights showed that there is a problem of inhibition of free speech in universities. While media reporting has focussed on students inhibiting free speech – and in our report we urge universities to take action to prevent that – free speech is also inhibited by university bureaucracy and restrictive guidance from the Charity Commission. We want students themselves to know their rights to free speech and that’s why we’ve issued a guide for students today.”

Some particular points to note:

  • 41 The imposition of unreasonable conditions is an interference on free speech rights. We do not, for example, consider it a reasonable condition that, if a speaker gives an assurance that their speech will be lawful, they be required to submit a copy or outline of their speech in advance.
  • 42 In our view, freedom of expression is unduly interfered with:
    • when protests become so disruptive that they prevent the speakers from speaking or intimidate those attending;
    • if student groups are unable to invite speakers purely because other groups protest and oppose their appearance; and
    • if students are deterred from inviting speakers by complicated processes and bureaucratic procedures.
      It is clear that, although not widespread, all these problems do occur and they should not be tolerated.
  • 60 Whilst there must be opportunities for genuinely sensitive and confidential discussions in university settings, and whilst the original intention behind safe space policies may have been to ensure that minority or vulnerable groups can feel secure, in practice the concept of safe spaces has proved problematic, often marginalising the views of minority groups. They need to co-exist with and respect free speech. They cannot cover the whole of the university or university life without impinging on rights to free speech under Article 10. When that happens, people are moving from the need to have a “safe space” to seeking to prevent the free speech of those whose views they disagree with. Minority groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities.
  • 91 Universities must strike a balance to ensure they respect both their legal duty to protect free speech and their other legal duties to ensure that speech is lawful, to comply with equalities legislation and to safeguard students. It is clearly easier to achieve this if debate is carried out in a respectful and open way. But the right to free speech goes beyond this, and universities need to give it proper emphasis. Indeed, unless it is clearly understood that those exercising their rights to free speech within the law will not be shut down, there will be no incentive for their opponents to engage them in the debate and therefore to bring the challenge that is needed to develop mutual understanding and maybe even to change attitudes.
  • 93 It is reasonable for there to be some basic processes in place so that student unions and universities know about external speakers. Codes of practice on freedom of speech should facilitate freedom of speech, as was their original purpose, and not unduly restrict it. Universities should not surround requests for external speaker meetings with undue bureaucracy. Nor should unreasonable conditions be imposed by universities or student unions on external speakers, such as a requirement to submit their speeches in advance, if they give an assurance these will be lawful.

Migration Advisory Committee report on EEA and non EEA workers

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its interim update on the impact of EEA and non-EEA workers in UK labour market. This is the first MAC inquiry of two – the second one is the one about students, this was more general and about workers across all sectors.

The update sets out a summary of the views expressed by employers and of the regional issues raised. They add that “these themes seem the best way of summarising the views expressed to us but should not be taken to imply that the MAC endorses a sectoral and/or regional approach to post-Brexit migration policy.” The MAC has also published the responses to their call for evidence, broken down by sector.

The report includes the following findings:

  • The vast majority of employers do not deliberately seek to fill vacancies with migrant workers. They seek the best available candidate.
  • Employers often reported skill shortages as one reason for employing EEA migrants.
  • Many EEA workers are in jobs requiring a high level of skill that take years to acquire. But, some of the claims about necessary skill levels seemed exaggerated.
  • Within occupations, EEA migrants are better educated than their UK-born counterparts.
  • The MAC view is that, from the economic perspective this does amount to saying that it is sometimes possible to hire a given quality of worker for lower wages if they are an EEA migrant than if they are UK-born.
  • To the extent that EEA migrants are paid lower wages than the UK-born this may result in lower prices, benefitting UK consumers. Our final report will also consider these possible impacts.
  • Many responses argued that a more restrictive migration policy would lead to large numbers of unfilled vacancies. The MAC view is that this is unlikely in anything other than the short-term.
  • The MAC view is that it is important to be clear about what the consequences of restricting migration would be.

Research bodies update

This week is the launch of UKRI – it is worth looking at their objectives.

.The Council for Innovate UK has been announced. The members are:

  • Sir Harpal Kumar, who will serve as Senior Independent Member through his role as UK Research and Innovation’s Innovation Champion and work closely with the board
  • Dr Arnab Basu MBE, Chief Executive, Kromek Group plc
  • Baroness Brown of Cambridge DBE FREng FRS (Julia King)
  • Professor Juliet Davenport OBE, Chief Executive, Good Energy
  • Dr John Fingleton, Chief Executive, Fingleton Associates
  • Priya Guha, Ecosystem General Manager, RocketSpace UK
  • Dr Elaine Jones, Vice President, Pfizer Ventures
  • Professor John Latham, Vice-Chancellor of Coventry University
  • Sir William Sargent, Chief Executive, Framestore
  • Stephen Welton, Chief Executive, Business Growth Fund

The REF panels have also been announced – follow this link to see the lists.

Parliamentary Questions

Q Andrew Percy MP

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department is taking steps to ensure that prospective undergraduates understand the potential effect of their choice of course on their prospects post-graduation.

  • A Sam Gyimah MP The department is working to make destinations and outcomes data more accessible to prospective students, to help them compare opportunities and make informed choices about where and what to study.
  • On the 12 March 2018, I announced an Open Data Competition. It will use government data on higher education providers so that tech companies and coders can create websites to help prospective students decide where to apply. This competition will build on the government’s Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset, which gives information on employment and salaries after graduation.
  • Alongside this, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State has requested that the Office for Students include LEO data on the Unistats website as soon as possible.

Q Angela Rayner MP To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate his Department has made of the value of plan 1 student loans that will not be repaid.

  • A: Sam Gyimah MP: It is estimated that the value of the plan 1 student loan book that will not be repaid was £13.1 billion as at 31 March 2017, when future repayments are valued in present terms. The face value of the plan 1 student loan book was £42.8 billion at this time. This information is in the public domain and published on page 155 of the Department for Education’s 2016-17 Annual Report and Accounts which can be found at:
  • https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dfe-consolidated-annual-report-and-accounts-2016-to-2017.

Q Angela Rayner MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the written ministerial statement of 31 October 2017 on government asset sale, HCWS205, what methodology his Department used to decide which loans from the plan 1 loan book would be sold.

  • A Sam Gyimah MP: The loans sold in December 2017 were a selection of loans from the plan 1 loan book issued by English Local Authorities that entered repayment between 2002 and 2006.
  • These loans had the longest history of repayments, the longest servicing history and the most accurate data on borrowers’ historic earnings. This information allowed the government to most accurately value these loans for sale.
  • The government’s objective when issuing loans to students is to allow them to pursue their education regardless of their personal financial situation. Once this objective has been met, however, retaining the loans on the government’s balance sheet serves no policy purpose. These loans could be sold precisely because they have achieved their original policy objective of supporting students to access higher education.
  • Pursuant to Section 4 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008, a report on the sale arrangements was deposited in the House libraries on 7 December 2017 (deposit reference DEP2017-0778): https://www.parliament.uk/depositedpapers.

Q: Angela Rayner MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the written statement of 6 December 2017 on Government Asset Sake, HCWS317, what assessment he has made of the net fiscal effect of the sale of the student loan book after accounting for reduced income arising from lost repayments.

  • A: Sam Gyimah MP: The government only sells assets when it can secure value for money for taxpayers from doing so. In assessing the value for money of the sale, the government took into account repayments foregone on the loans sold. In executing the sale, we achieved a price that exceeded the retention value of the loans sold, calculated in line with standard HM Treasury green book methodology.
  • Selling financial assets, like student loans, where there is no policy reason to retain them, where value for money can be secured and where borrowers are not impacted is sound asset management. The sale ensures government resources are being put to best use and is an important part of our plan to repair public finances.
  • Pursuant to Section 4 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008, a report on the sale arrangements was deposited in the House libraries on 7 December 2017 (deposit reference DEP2017-0778): https://www.parliament.uk/depositedpapers.

Subscribe!

To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 9th February 2018

Parliament is now in recess, returning on Tuesday 20 February. There won’t be a policy update next week. We’ll bring you all the latest news on Thursday 22 February.

Technical v higher education

Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Commons Education Committee gave the keynote speech at the Centre for Social Justice this week and called for an end to the UK’s obsession with academic degrees and demanded a dramatic increase in the delivery of basic skills and technical training by the Further and Higher Education sectors. Robert argued that rebalancing FE and HE were crucial to delivering social justice and eradicating skills gaps. He saw degree apprenticeships which blend technical and academic education as the jewel in the crown of a revamped FE/HE sector.

  • “We have become obsessed with full academic degrees in this country. We are creating a higher education system that overwhelmingly favours academic degrees, while intermediate and higher technical offerings are comparatively tiny. The labour market does not need an ever-growing supply of academic degrees. Between a fifth and a third of our graduates take non-graduate jobs. The graduate premium varies wildly according to subject and institution. For many, the returns are paltry.”

He proposed the following:

  • Fine-tuning the Apprenticeship Levy to help disadvantaged apprentices with a smaller contribution taper for employers employing disadvantaged apprentices addressing skills shortages.
  • Cutting grants to universities unless they offer degree apprenticeships. Ring-fencing a significant portion of the enormous public subsidy of universities so that it can only be accessed if the university offers degree apprenticeships.
  • Challenging the Russell Group’s reputation where they don’t deliver value for money. Particularly the sometimes undeserved reputation of Russell Group Universities where they rank highly because of their research (rather than employability skills, quality teaching, and value for money for undergraduate students).
  • Protecting and ring-fencing funding of flexible, online and part-time Higher Education by ring-fencing the Part-time Premium element of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Widening Participation funding allocation.
  • Closer integration of the FE and HE sectors on delivering higher level apprenticeships and offering flexible and local options for those who need it.

Halfon’s comments around the ‘enormous public subsidy’ and cutting grants are interesting. It’s unclear if he includes student fees within his public subsidy comment or if he is aware that the HEFCE funding elements are a mere drop in the ocean for most universities. For example, at BU the full HEFCE contribution for teaching, WP elements, and research was less than £11 million in 16/17. Nationally in 2017/18 across all universities HEFCE provided a total funding allocation of £1,320 million for teaching purposes. Halfon’s speech was covered in the Express.

International students

Parliamentary questions

Q – Robert Neill: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what plans her Department has to further expand the student visa pilot scheme [AND] what criteria universities were required to fulfil in order to take part in that pilot [AND] how many representations the Department has received from universities wanting to take part in the expanded student visa pilot scheme

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The Tier 4 visa pilot, helps to streamline the visa process for international students looking to study on a Masters’ course, in the UK, of 13 months or less. The pilot also helps to support students who wish to switch into a work route and take up a graduate role, by extending the leave period following the end of their study to up to six months.
  • 23 additional institutions were selected to participate based on having the consistently lowest visa refusal rates for their region or country. The evaluation of the pilot is ongoing, with an interim report due to be published in the summer of 2018. The primary focus of the evaluation is to assess the impact of the Tier 4 visa pilot on UK education institutions’ competitiveness in terms of attracting international students and the ability of international students to switch into a work route. Engaging more sponsors to participate in the pilot will provide additional evidence for the evaluation to ensure it more accurately represents the diversity of the sector. Once evaluated, we will consider whether to introduce the offer being tested with the pilot into the Immigration Rules and make it policy.
  • We regularly engage with the education sector on student migration policy, including the Tier 4 visa pilot. We hold a quarterly Education Sector Forum with key representatives from the sector including the devolved administrations.

Q – Catherine West: To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade, what steps his Department is taking to support UK higher education exports.

A – Graham Stuart:

  • The Department for International Trade supports the international aspirations of the Higher Education sector through its Education team in a range of ways, including Government to Government engagement and support to Trade Missions. The team has recently helped, amongst others, the University of Birmingham in its plan to open a campus in Dubai. The UK Higher Education sector will also be a focus in the GREAT Festival of Innovation, to be held in Hong Kong in March.
  • The recently formed DIT Education Sector Advisory Group brings together relevant sector partners, including Universities UK and Independent Higher Education, to co-ordinate efforts to boost education exports.

HE funding review

Parliamentary question – Q – Layla Moran: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what the reasons are for a review of funding across tertiary education that focuses on post-18 education rather than post-16 education.

A – Mr Sam Gyimah:

  • The internationally recognised understanding of the term tertiary education, in line with the International Standard Classification of Education, corresponds to English qualification levels 4 and above, which are typically taken by those aged 18 and over.
  • The government will conduct a major review of funding across tertiary education to ensure a joined-up system that works for everyone. As outlined in the Industrial Strategy, the review will consider a range of specific issues within post-18 education.
  • The government is already fundamentally reforming the post-16 education system to give all young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential and deliver a better future for our country. A key principle of the reform agenda is to improve the quality of technical education provision to deliver young people with the skills employers need both locally and nationally. New T-levels, with content designed by employers, will support them into skilled employment or progression to higher education. T-levels will be backed by over £500 million annually by the time the programme is rolled out fully, and we are implementing apprenticeship reforms to continue to improve the quality of apprenticeships for all. Our commitment to the 16 to 19 sector has contributed to the current record high proportion of 16 to 18 year olds who are participating in education or apprenticeships.
  • The government will set out further details on the review shortly.

The Lords Economic Affairs Committed continued their investigation this week. Overall there was quite a focus on FE. The witnesses were questioned on issues relating to disparities in the treatment of Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE), including funding and perception. The funding gap between FE and HE was discussed with FE as the poor relative, although it was noted that FE state funding provides more stability than HE sources. When questioned on how to reduce the disparity between FE and HE a witness expressed that there would have to be control on HE expansion. Some way of redistributing funding would have to be found however both private and public sectors would also have to change their attitudes towards recruitment.

Poor schooling was discussed and a witness highlighted how technical studies and ‘catch-up’ education can be conflated. Later witnesses described how schools were almost entirely incentivised to send people to university and how in some parts of the country young people who went to colleges were seen as failures.

On apprenticeships Lord Tugendhat (Conservative) asked how the quality and quantity of apprenticeships could be improved. Witness, Gravatt, stated there was a danger that the apprenticeship target and its levy would mean people may lost sight of what apprenticeships were for. Government and colleges needed to work with the system as it was and make sure colleges and employers were not using them in a short-term manner.

Lord Turnbull (Crossbench) questioned how FE and apprenticeships could be portrayed in a more positive light. Witness Milner stated FE needed to brand itself in the light of bridges to opportunity. She said the focus on the value of a university education had diminished the perception of HE. Witness Husband stated lots of employers were using apprenticeships as a way of widening participation.

Degree apprenticeships – Lord Burns noted Treasury announcements of a proposed four-year degree-level apprenticeship program, which he said did not appear to be what apprenticeships were about. In response, Husband said the core of an apprenticeship was to have a job where they gained knowledge and skills to become competent. She said there were skills gaps at Level 4 and above, and such apprenticeships were meeting the needs of employers.

Mature students – Lord Darling asked how responsive the FE sector had been to those who lost their jobs or needed skills training later in life. Witness Francis said the main problem was that those people were not eligible for funding provision in colleges. Witness Atkins said funding for adults was now simpler from the supply side, but from the demand side rules for eligibility were very complex and required a learner to have additional funding.

In the later session it was noted how maintenance loans are not provided for all FE students as in HE. Instead FE colleges are expected to provide discretionary support.

T-levels: Lord Burns (Crossbench) queried T-Levels and Institutes of Technology. Witness, Gravatt, said they were a good opportunity but were still at an early stage. He said he had concerns they had been ‘done on the cheap’ and that unrealistic expectations had been put on them.

Tertiary Education Review – no new news: Mucklow stated he could not provide further details than what had already been set out in the industrial strategy. He said the review was likely to be announced soon. He said the Government was beginning to recognise there was a gap in provision. A cohesive all-tertiary funding system was questioned. Witness Eileen Milner recalled that 30 years ago some parts of FE and HE were funded in the same place but she didn’t feel this was a joined-up system from the perspective of FE. No real answers were given to the question of a combined system.

FE Week covered the evidence session and noted the FE Commissioner’s statement that Funding for Institutes of Technology is too modest.

Widening Participation

The OU called for the OfS to lead the way in improving the chances of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university. They set out five steps to reverse the student number decline in some disadvantaged groups attending university.

The five point plan calls for:

  • National targets for access, participation and student outcomes, supported by regulation and funding decisions. To promote fairness for all, targets should include students of all ages and take in other factors such as ethnicity and disability.
  • Collaboration between universities to ensure that the UK Government’s social justice objectives are met, encouraging the sector to work together to improve success rates among the most disadvantaged groups.
  • Funding and results to be aligned so that students who need the most support are offered it and that fewer are put off by the thought of high fees and debt.
  • Informed choice for students offered through a single portal that gives them comprehensive advice, guidance and information covering all their options for a higher education.
  • Flexibility for students to be able, if they wish, to pick and mix courses, take study breaks, transfer between universities or learn in bite-sized chunks.

OU Vice-Chancellor Peter Horrocks calls on universities to work together to improve the success rates of students from disadvantaged areas.

Parliamentary question – Q – David Evennett: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to close the attainment gap between boys and girls.

A – Nadhim Zahawi:

  • This government is determined that all children and young people, regardless of their gender or background, have the opportunity to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them. Rather than implementing policies that focus specifically on the educational performance of boys, the government has introduced far-reaching education reforms that set the highest expectations for what all pupils will achieve. The department has put in place a stretching national curriculum and world-class qualifications, so that more pupils study to age 16 those academic subjects that most enable progress to higher education.
  • The latest statistics show that between 2016 and 2017, the proportion of boys achieving the expected standard in GCSE English and maths rose by 1.2 percentage points (to 60.3%), compared to a 0.5 percentage point increase amongst girls (to 67.6%).

Q – Baroness Hussein-Ece: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to address the findings of the University Partnerships Programme Foundation and Social Market Foundation report “On course for success”. Student retention at university with particular reference to the conclusion that students from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to drop out.

A – Viscount Younger of Leckie:

  • The government is committed to ensuring that everyone with the potential has the opportunity to benefit from higher education (HE), irrespective of their background. Entry rates to full-time HE for 18 year olds from all ethnic groups increased in 2017, reaching the highest recorded numbers.
  • There is, however, more to do to ensure that students, including disadvantaged and black and minority ethnic students, are supported both to access higher education and also to participate and succeed. That is why we have taken a number of actions on this.
  • From April 2018, Access Agreements will be extended and become Access and Participation Plans. This recognises the importance of HE providers supporting both access and participation, including non-continuation and non-completion of courses, and student success for disadvantaged groups. Additionally, the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework will use non-continuation rates as a core metric when ascribing Gold, Silver or Bronze status to individual universities. This can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teaching-excellence-and-student-outcomes-framework-specification. Furthermore, the new Transparency Condition created by the Higher Education and Research Act will require many HE providers to publish their completion rates broken down by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background. Making this data public will expose those providers who are underperforming in this area.
  • The new regulator for HE, the Office for Students, will also have a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to the whole student lifecycle for disadvantaged and traditionally under-represented groups, not just access.

Employability

UUK is partnering with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to consider whether HE can introduce more flexible methods of learning to meet the changing needs of students and employers with a weather eye on the part time student number decline. Part time students have dropped by a third since 2012 and the UUK project will consider which sectors have been most affected by the part time decline and which have the greatest future need of high level skills. The project will identify the main issues and develop policy recommendations that will feed into the government’s planned review of university funding and student finance in England.

Neil Carberry, MD of CBI, stated:

  • “Speak to any business and before long the conversation turns to skills challenges. With the world of work changing, developing additional and alternative routes to higher skills will matter more than ever. That is why the decline in part-time students is so alarming…for many prospective students, other commitments, such as work or caring responsibilities, mean that being able to have a flexible approach to studying is essential and university provision will increasingly need to be tailored to meet people’s needs.”

Julie Lydon (VC, University of South Wales) writes a blog post on disappearing part-time and mature students for UUK.

UKRI

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have ratified Sir John Kingman’s chairmanship. You can read the full report here. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

  • “We were fully satisfied that Sir John Kingman is a suitable candidate to be Chair of UKRI. We are pleased to recommend that the Science minister proceeds with the appointment. We wish Sir John well as he transitions from interim chair to permanent chair, and we look forward to working with him in the future.”

Freedom of Speech

On Saturday the Conservative party called for the public to support free speech after disruption at a university event: “Last night, Momentum-supporting thugs broke into a university event and tried to silence Conservatives. Wearing balaclavas, they tried through violence and intimidation to stop the ideas that they disagreed with from being heard. Help us back free speech by signing our petition today. Momentum, the left-wing campaign group, was set up after Mr Corbyn’s initial victory as Labour leader to keep the spirit and politics of his campaign alive. Young people have a right to hear all sides of the political debate. So we’ll protect free speech by stepping up our speaker programme – making sure Conservative voices are heard in universities across the country.”

The Independent and iNews have coverage.

On Wednesday the Human Rights Committee reconvened to continue their discussion of freedom of speech in universities. The witnesses giving evidence were Ben Wallace MP (Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime), Sam Gyimah MP (Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation), Jacob Rees-Mogg MP and four representatives from the University of the West England, Bristol.  At the time of writing we haven’t seen the transcript, but it will be tweeted by the Human Rights Committee, and you can get a flavour of the debate from their twitter feed (@HumanRightsCttee).

And Wonkhe notes the Prime Minister slipped the free speech campaign into her attendance commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s votes. She said:

  • In our universities, which should be bastions of free thought and expression, we have seen the efforts of politicians and academics to engage in open debate frustrated by an aggressive and intolerant minority”.

Admissions high

Last week’s UCAS news continues to be discussed. Key points:

  • Application rates from English 18 year olds have reached a record high, increasing by 0.4 percentage points to 37.4 per cent. The picture varied in the devolved nations, however, across the UK as a whole, 18 year olds are more likely than ever before to apply to higher education by the January deadline, 1 per cent more likely than in 2017.
  • However, the overall application rate shows a 0.9 per cent reduction in the total number of people applying to higher education, to 559,000, compared to the same figure in 2017. This figure reflects a 2.5 per cent fall in the 18 year old population in the UK, and falling demand from 19 year olds and the 25+ age groups.
  • The differences in application rates between 18 year old men and women in 2018 remain high across the UK, with young women more likely to apply than young men. In England, young women are 36 per cent more likely than young men to apply to higher education, a small increase from last year.
  • The number of applicants from the EU increased by 3.4 per cent to 43,510, and the number of international applicants increased to its highest ever number, by 11 per cent to 58,450.
  • Applications from all age groups to nursing courses in England has fallen by 13%. UCAS started reporting on these figures following a switch from NHS bursaries to tuition fees for nursing subjects at English universities and colleges in 2017.

Consultations

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

Other news

  • OfS Student Panel: Nicola Dandridge (CE of OfS) blogs for Wonkhe on how the OfS student panel is taking shape
  • Trust and accountability: Wonkhe also have two guest bloggers who explore the current political inter-relation of the erosion of public trust in HE and the changing landscape of public accountability requirements.
  • Student mobility: UUK International have joined forces with the UPP Foundation on a student mobility project – details here
  • Student mental health training: The Student Minds (16/17) annual report details delivery of training sessions on student mental health to 1,248 students, supervisors and staff across the sector.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update w/e 26th January 2018

It’s been a busy week. We have oodles of news for you, feel free to scan through and find the sections that are most interesting to you!

Ministerial update

The new Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, has been more active this week.

The HE Review: The much heralded and still elusive HE Review was a popular topic again this week. Responding to a parliamentary question on the HE finance review Sam hinted: “This review will look at providing an education system for those aged 18 years and over that is accessible to all and provides value for money. It will also look how choice and competition is incentivised across the sector.”

Q – Layla Moran (Lib Dems) asked: with reference to Industrial Strategy…if he will make it his policy to extend the Government’s major review of funding across tertiary education to include the education system for people aged 16 years and over.

A – Sam Gyimah (Con): The government will conduct a major review of funding across tertiary education. In the Industrial Strategy, it was stated that the review will consider a range of specific issues within post-18 education. The government will set out further details on the review shortly.

The Telegraph quote Sam as stating a review of tuition fees will be a “positive move” for the Government. The article also backs up other emerging hints that he may champion small aspects of students’ lives such as not paying for a full year’s rent upfront and challenging high printing costs.

  • “I mean it’s a small cost but it just shows there are lots of things around student funding – fees, living costs – I think it is good for us to look at them”
  • “The point I was trying to illustrate is the case for reviewing – when you talk to students directly here are a lot of issues in play, not just fees”.
  • “This regime has been in place since 2012. There are things that are working well and we shouldn’t forget what is working well. I don’t think we will go back to an era where students do not contribute in any way to their fees.”

The minister’s official title has been finally confirmed as Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation (there was a little bit of speculation (by us) that the science and research bit had fallen off in the initial announcement, but it seems to have been an oversight). His responsibilities are:

  • industrial strategy
  • universities and higher education reform
  • student finance (including the Student Loans Company)
  • widening participation and social mobility
  • education exports (including international students, international research)
  • science and research
  • innovation
  • intellectual property
  • agri-tech
  • space
  • technology

During the Education World Forum Sam signed an agreement with Egypt meaning UK universities are permitted to open branch campuses to offer education in Egypt. This is reported as giving the UK HE sector a competitive advantage in Egypt. Note: currently 82% of UK HE providers deliver degrees overseas.  He said: “I welcome the contribution that this partnership will make to both UK and Egyptian economies and the wider benefits it will provide to students and institutions in both counties.”

Egypt’s Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar declared: “We are excited to see how IBCs [International Branch Campuses] will contribute to the fabric of Egypt’s higher education landscape and be catalysts for broader international partnerships between the UK and Egypt in research, innovation and mobility.”

The next big event is the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (April, hosted by UK), perhaps further partnerships may be forged at this forum.

Technology, IT, STEM and the Industrial Strategy

On Thursday the Prime Minister made a speech from Davos in which the industrial strategy and technology featured heavily. Here are the tech focussed excerpts:

“The impact of technology is growing in ways that even a few years ago we could not have imagined.

  • Just last week, a drone saved two boys drowning off the coast of Australia by carrying a floatation device to them.
  • The use of Artificial Intelligence is transforming healthcare. In one test, machine learning reduced the number of unnecessary surgeries for breast cancer by a third.
  • The development of speech recognition and translation is reaching a level where we will be able to go anywhere in the world and communicate using our native language.
  • While British-based companies like Ripjar are pioneering the use of data science and Artificial Intelligence to protect companies from money laundering, fraud, cyber-crime and terrorism.

We need to act decisively to help people benefit from global growth now.

So we are establishing a technical education system that rivals the best in the world, alongside our world-class higher education system. We are developing a National Retraining Scheme to help people learn throughout their career. And we are establishing an Institute of Coding – a consortium of more than 60 universities, businesses and industry experts to support training and retraining in digital skills.

And I know from my conversations with tech companies how seriously they are taking their own social responsibility to contribute to the retraining that will help people secure new opportunities in the digital economy. But this strategy and partnership with business goes further than getting the fundamentals of our economy right. It also seeks to get us on the front foot in seizing the opportunities of technology for tomorrow.

We are delivering the UK’s biggest ever increase in public investment in research and development, which could increase public and private R&D investment by as much as £80 billion over the next 10 years.

  • We are at the forefront of the development, manufacture and use of low carbon technologies.
  • We are using technology to support the needs of an ageing society, for example by employing powerful datasets to help diagnose and treat illnesses earlier.
  • And we are establishing the UK as a world leader in Artificial Intelligence, building on the success of British companies like Deepmind.

But as we seize these opportunities of technology, so we also have to shape this change to ensure it works for everyone – be that in people’s jobs or their daily lives…we need to make sure that our employment law keeps pace with the way that technology is shaping modern working practices …to preserve vital rights and protections – and the flexibilities that businesses and workers value…we have to do more to help our people in the changing global economy, to rebuild their trust in technology as a driver of progress and ensure no-one is left behind as we take the next leap forwards”.

Catalyst Fund winners: HEFCE’s catalyst funding round aims to support the Industrial Strategy through developing curriculum programmes directly aligned within skills gap areas. Here are the Universities who obtained funding along with the area they will develop. From HEFCE’s press announcement:

…this funding is supporting a range of projects in many different sectors which align with the Industrial Strategy’s ‘Grand Challenges’ – from advanced engineering to data analytics, and from artificial intelligence to bioscience. HEFCE’s investment will help to enhance graduate outcomes and employability, and to upskill the workforce – providing the key skills that industry and employers will need and contributing to the UK’s productivity in the longer term.

And some questions in Parliament:

Q – Justin Tomlinson (Con): how many students have graduated with a degree in ICT & Computer Science in each year since 2010?

A – Sam Gyimah (Con): HESA 2016/17 data:

Academic year  Number of qualifiers

            2010/11           14,505

            2011/12           15,225

            2012/13           15,565

            2013/14           16,080

            2014/15           15,595

            2015/16           15,280

            2016/17           16,805

In relation to increasing the number of students studying for a degree in ICT and computer science, the government is undertaking a range of initiatives to promote digital and computing skills throughout the education system. For example, the government is investing £84 million of new funding over the next five years to deliver a comprehensive programme to improve the teaching of the computing curriculum and increase participation in computer science GCSE.

The government is also seeking to strengthen the role that higher education providers can play in providing digital and computing skills. This will be through supporting the establishment of a new Institute of Coding to serve as a national focus for improving digital skills provision at levels 6 and 7 with a £20 million fund to improve higher-level digital skills, with joint collaborations between universities and businesses, and to focus on computer science and digital skills in related disciplines. This will ensure the courses better meet employers’ needs.

Additionally, there is funding to support universities to develop conversion courses in engineering and computer science that allow graduates from other subjects to undertake further study and pursue careers in engineering and computer science.

Following last week’s National Audit Office report on STEM another parliamentary question to the Minister requested data on the numbers graduating with a STEM degree. Here’s the data which shows growth between 15/16 and 16/17:

Academic year Number of qualifiers

2013/14           174,950

2014/15           170,480

2015/16           172,480

2016/17           181,215

Source: HESA Student Record

Tech skills gap: The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee continued to investigate Higher, Further and Technical Education this week. Witnesses discussed the skills shortage in the tech sector, they stated that employers struggled to hire employees with the skills and expressed concern as deficiencies in education and training. Concern was expressed at the lack of diversity in those studying STEM subjects. A KPMG representative stated universities needed to encourage a wider curriculum within STEM subjects to encourage greater gender diversity. The (in)adequacy of apprenticeships and the damaging inflexibility of the apprenticeship levy was also discussed. It was felt using the levy to support smaller packages of training would better support the tech skills shortages. As would the opportunity for graduates to return to university to brush up on specific skills necessary for the business environment.

  • The skills gap was attributed to high sectoral growth as well as digitisation in the wider economy. Computer scientists and mathematicians were cited as particular skills gap areas. Alongside challenges filling the higher end of the digital skills section – software development, machine learning and cybersecurity,
  • The lack of mid-grade technicians and apprenticeships was touched upon but the witnesses felt volume of gradates was still a problem even though more were coming through. In particular, the witnesses felt that graduates were lacking ‘soft’ leadership and team-building skills, as well as lacking skills in the artistic and design-orientated side which fed into software development.
  • Universities were criticised for not doing a good enough job in making sure their graduates came out of university with appropriate skills for working in new digital roles. It was stated that Universities should provide every student with some degree of coding experience.
  • One witness stated that traditional university subjects did provide the skills necessary for working in innovative tech startups.
  • Post-graduation support: A witness expressed that graduates should have the opportunity to go back to universities to brush up on skills

Harassment and Hate Crime

Last week there was a partnership announcement detailing funding for a new programme to support universities in tackling antisemitism on campus consisting of a visit to the former Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and a seminar dealing explicitly with campus issues and how to identify and tackle anti-Semitism. This week a new question was tabled:

Q – Ian Paisley (DUP): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to tackle anti-Semitism on university campuses.

A – Mr Sam Gyimah (Con): This government takes anti-Semitism extremely seriously. There is no place in our society – including within higher education – for hatred or any form of harassment, discrimination or racism, including anti-Semitism.

Higher education providers are autonomous organisations, independent from government. They have a clear responsibility to provide a safe and inclusive environment. In September 2015, the government asked Universities UK (UUK) to set up a Harassment Taskforce to consider what more can be done to address harassment and hate crime on campus, including antisemitism. The taskforce’s report, ‘Changing the Culture’, published in October 2016, recommended a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and hate crime.

On 27 July 2017, UUK published a directory of case studies detailing the innovative projects universities have developed to address the taskforce’s recommendations. These include Goldsmith’s hate crime reporting centre (case study 11) which is a joint initiative with the local authority in Lewisham and the Metropolitan Police, which provides students and staff with a safe space to report incidents. These are published on UUK’s website . In addition, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has provided £1.8 million for projects to improve responses to hate crime and online harassment on campus. HEFCE is currently working with UUK to test the sector’s response to the Taskforce’s recommendations and the results of this will be published early this year.

Employability

Damian Hinds is advocating public speaking and sport to teach children the resilience needed by the workplace. The Telegraph quote Damian as stating the “hard reality” is that teaching children how to build “character resilience” and workplace skills is crucial for a thriving economy. He also spoke at length on digital technologies noting the current generation of children are “digital natives” that should be taught how to create apps rather than how to use them. He noted that some current teaching staff experience trepidation and are failing to embrace technology. That significant funding (£84 million) is being pump primed to improve computer science teaching, the number of IT teachers will treble (GCSE level) and a National Centre for Computing will be established. The Telegraph also state Damian urged schools to focus on the core subjects such as maths, English, sciences and languages – rather than waste time on alternative qualifications. Too much focus on alternative qualifications was ‘well-meaning but did little to recommend pupils to employers’.

Last week Damian announced a package of measures focused on disadvantaged geographic areas to support underperforming schools. £45 million will go to multi academy trusts (MATs) with a proven track record of success to help them build their capacity, drive improvement and raise standards in areas facing the greatest challenges in England.

BU2025

Work is proceeding on the new BU2025 strategic plan, with announcements this week of an updated draft and a set of responses to feedback. BU staff can read them here.

We will be expanding our horizon scanning work to looking at the Fusion themes and other areas from a policy point of view, with a new regular section in this update covering updates relating to the Industrial Strategy, the work of APPGs (All Party Parliamentary Groups), ministerial announcements and so on.

Widening Participation

Bumper happenings within WP this week – new Access and Participation plans progress through parliament, young carers publication, pupil premium funding, UCAS WP data revelations, parliamentary questions and the failure to make progress with social mobility is examined.

New Access Plans – content Currently parliament is progressing the Higher Education (Access and Participation Plans) (England) Regulations 2018 to replace OFFA’s Fair Access Agreements with Access and Participation Plans (the motion was approved in Parliament). These are anticipated to be very similar but heavier in their content on supporting students during their degree (on course achievement, skills and personal support measures) as well as improving their employability prospects. Also mentioned are:

  • Closing the gap on the differing achievement outcomes between student groups (e.g. ethnicity gaps)
  • Monitoring and evaluation compulsory, with expectation providers move to invest in the most effective interventions (as evidenced by the monitoring and evaluation)
  • The views of the student body should be taken into account as the provider develops the plan (this has greater importance and emphasis placed on it than past recommendations to include students)
  • OfS powers to enforce and refuse provider’s plans

Section 9.1. talks of the government policy directives to OfS, stating “it is the intention that guidance will be issued to the OfS in due course…in relations to its access and participation activities.”

The annual guidance on plans to the sector will come from OfS early in 2018 for the 2019/20 plans. The process for developing and agreeing the new plans should be the same as the existing Fair Access Agreements with no additional burden.

Access and Participation Plans – Parliamentary Discussion During the parliamentary discussion that agreed the motion to approve the new plans it was stated the Government intends to use HERA (the Higher Education and Research Act) to make further progress on access and participation. Other key points were:

  • Institutional autonomy was acknowledged.
  • New and alternative providers will be able to charge the full higher fee from the outset if their Access and Participation plans meet scrutiny.
  • The expectation that providers will spend a proportion of their higher fee income on Access and Participation continues.
  • Where there are serious concerns that a provider has not complied with commitments in its access and participation plan, or other conditions of registration, the OfS will have access to a wide and more flexible set of sanctions and intervention measures to tackle these issues with the individual provider than were available to the Director of Fair Access previously. This could include further monitoring, monetary penalties, suspension from the OfS register or deregistering providers in extreme cases.

Baroness Wolf (Cross bench) raised concerns about regulation: “I have to say that the very short history of the OfS inclines me to feel that we are faced not with a Government who want to leave a regulator to regulate, but one who wish to tell the regulator precisely how to manage”.

  • Government response: HERA sets clear limitations in this context in order to protect academic freedoms and institutional autonomy. For the first time, it also makes explicit that guidance cannot relate to parts of courses, their content, how they are taught or who teaches them, or admissions arrangements for students. The OFS will absolutely be left to do its job as the regulator.

The Baroness also expressed trepidation about supporting/tracking individual students and risks to marking anonymity

Lord Addington (Lib Dems) was concerned there was no universal guidance, baseline or good practice for support for disabled students, that supporting each student’s individual needs lead to disparities and that universities should be held to a national universal standard as a minimum.

  • Government response: We want institutions to think imaginatively about the support that individual students might need, and we will support them in that. That is because each institution is different: they have different needs and courses, and are based in different parts of the country… it is absolutely essential that they be allowed to decide for themselves how disabled students are looked after. However, the Government spokesperson did undertake to write and set out more on disability adaptation.

Baroness Blackstone (Labour) questioned how the plans and the OfS would address the mature part time decline problem.

  • Government response: We are working towards launching a new maintenance loan for part-time students studying degree-level courses from August this year. In addition, the Government are looking at ways of promoting and supporting a wide variety of flexible and part-time ways of learning [accelerated courses]

The lack of student and sector diversity on the OfS Board was also criticised by other members. The lack of a FE represented was noted by the Government and taken back to DfE for consideration.

Finally, on the WP Tsar:

  • we expect that bringing resources and expertise from HEFCE and OFFA together in a single organisation, while still having a dedicated champion for widening participation appointed by Ministers, will provide a greater focus on access and participation.
  • HERA ensures that the Director for Fair Access and Participation will be responsible for overseeing the performance of the OfS’s access and participation functions, for reporting to other members of the OfS on the performance of its functions.

Library Briefing preceding the Access and Participation Plans

Alongside the Access and Participation Plans legislation the Commons Library has produced a succinct briefing paper on Widening Participation strategy in HE in England. It provides an excellent summary of WP to date and further hints of how the tide has turned in the type of interventions universities are expected to pursue:

  • It notes the increase in disadvantaged young people attending university along with sharp rises in the number of young black students and disabled students. Set against decline in attendance from mature and young white low income males.
  • Section 2 gives an excellent history of the changing policies behind the WP agenda dedicating several inches to the proposals for universities to set up or sponsor schools to improve attainment. The document notes the Conservative manifesto commitment:
  • It notes no further commitments or announcements have been made on this since the election.
  • It is well known that Theresa May is a firm fan of sponsoring schools to raise achievement, however, it remains to be seen whether her Cabinet reshuffle may herald a refreshed push in this direction.
  • An ‘innovative Evidence and Impact Exchange for Widening Participation’ will apparently be linked to the OfS.
  • The transparency duty is mentioned again later on: We will use the transparency duty in the Higher Education and Research Act to shine a stronger light on the universities who need to go further in improving equality of opportunity for students from under-represented and disadvantaged groups.
  • The document notes the alternative providers perform well on WP measures (proportion of WP students within the whole student body).

Finally the report mentions two guides:

Young Carers

The Local Government Association have published Meeting the health and wellbeing needs of young carers which provides basic factual information and shares a number of good practice case studies. The document is a good background read of interest to those with an interest in outreach, social care, or of wider interest to those supporting students who are adult carers.  Leaf through the full document to access the case studies.

A parliamentary question to the Universities Minister on BAME access to the arts:

Q – Alex Sobel (Labour): what steps his Department is taking to assist people from BAME backgrounds to be better represented in university arts courses and stage schools.

A: Mr Sam Gyimah (Con):

  • The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has commissioned research to understand the existing barriers that prevent people from lower income households and under-represented groups, such as those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, specifically from becoming professionals in the performing arts. It is important that the performing arts are representative of society as a whole.
  • One of the ways this can be achieved is by doing more to ensure more people from BAME backgrounds go on to higher education. However, for some groups of students from ethnic minorities there is more to do to improve their participation – their retention, success and progression to higher education.
  • That is why the most recent guidance to the Director of Fair Access in February 2016, asked him to focus on activity to continue to improve access and participation into higher education for students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds.
  • We are also introducing sweeping reforms through legislation. The Higher Education and Research Act includes the creation of the Office for Students, which has a statutory duty to consider the promotion of equality of opportunity for students as it relates to access and participation. It also includes a transparency duty requiring all universities to publish applications, offers, acceptance and retention rates broken down by gender, ethnicity and social economic background. This will help to hold universities to account for their records on access and retention.

Pupil Premium Funding: The Education Endowment Foundation have published The Attainment Gap 2017 considering the value of pupil premium funded trial initiatives aiming to close the achievement gap. Read the Key lessons learned (page 16). They found small group and 1:2:1 interventions were effective but of other trail programmes reviewed 1 in 4 didn’t succeed any better than the current measures schools are taking.

Social Mobility Committee – under questioning: The Education Select Committee’s Accountability Hearings took on the former members of the Social Mobility Commission this week (you’ll recall that previously all the members of the commission dramatically resigned in protest over the Government’s lack of progress in addressing social mobility).

Witnesses:

  • Rt Hon Alan Milburn, former Chair, Social Mobility Commission
  • Rt Hon Baroness Shephard, former Deputy Chair, Social Mobility Commission
  • David Johnston, former Commissioner, Social Mobility Commission

The committee heard that Theresa May’s government lacked clarity around the issues of social mobility and that the Government had neither the ability or the willingness to progress the recommendations of the Social Mobility Commission.

Several questions on FE Colleges took place, with the questions continuing to meander through T-levels, apprenticeship training, and even Learn Direct.

Commencing the second session, the panel were asked whether issues with social mobility had been raised with the government. Alan Milburn, former chair of the Social Mobility Commission asserted the failure of the government to give commitment to the Commission as an independent body, failure to appoint new members leading to a lack of information that the Commission could provide. Baroness Shephard referenced the prime minister’s speech on the steps of Downing Street on the day of taking power where she emphasized social mobility, but went on to criticise her and query the lack of engagement since then. It was stated that since the 2017 election there had been no engagement,

While there had been good initiatives and some good ministers trying to do the right thing, Milburn explained that it didn’t seem that the Government had either the ability or the willingness to put their collective shoulders to the wheel when it came to delivering social mobility and cited the complex Brexit negotiations as the focus of the Whitehall machine. He commented that he felt that the Government lacked the headspace and the bandwidth to really match the rhetoric of healing social division with the reality.

When questioned on whether the Social Mobility Commission was really needed Shepherd responded that if actions and initiatives were left solely to the political process most good initiatives would just fall to the wayside…a more non-political/ cross party body was needed to get things moving.

Milburn concluded by voicing worry that the promises of doing better than previous generations no longer applied with declining youth employment levels and home ownership. He asserted that these issues could not be ignored and stated that there were political, social and economic incentives for parties to put social mobility as the cornerstone of their pledges.

(Excerpts taken from the Committee’s summary by Dods.)

UCAS surprises: Meanwhile amongst the rhetorical doom and gloom of failed social mobility and access challenges an alternative picture emerged from UCAS. With the number of disadvantaged and ethnic minority students entering universities on the rise again. Including a rise in offer rates 71% (2012) to 78.3% (2016/17).

Les Ebdon, Director OFFA, responded:

  • “Today’s figures are a positive sign that further progress has been made in widening access to higher education in England, and that the work of universities and colleges is paying off.
  • “While encouraging, the detail of the figures show that there are still stark gaps between different groups and at individual universities and colleges. The reasons behind these disparities are multiple and complex, and the challenge now for universities and colleges – as well as the new Office for Students – is to bring about a transformational step change in fair access. Incremental change is not enough for those students who are missing out.”

Admissions & Marketing

A HEPI guest blogger describes Lessons for higher education from private – and quasi-private – schools it talks of the increasing influence of parents in their children’s HE institution choice. Comparing private schooling and HE decisions on matter of affordability, pay off (HE as a conveyor belt into higher-paying employment), and the rise in alternative routes to the workforce: In a world where university itself is no longer the unquestioned guarantor of career success, ‘savvy’ parents are motivated to seek more cost-effective and/or efficacious routes.

It states the hands-on parental influencing has implications for:

  • the positioning of marketing material and events;
  • universities’ outreach to sixth-form influencers; and
  • the stress placed upon students by their increasingly expectant parents.

It concludes by commenting: While the sector remains as rich as ever in statistical data, the appetite of higher education institutions to seek real insight into the buying behaviour of their prospective market remains, in comparison to the business sector, surprisingly weak. The guest blog was written by Mungo Dennett, Director or a strategic research company working with schools and universities.

HE regulation

There’s an interesting article in Friday’s FT about a National Audit Office blog Is the market for HE working?. The blog pulls out key aspects from the increasing marketisation within HE. It provides a good, simple introduction to this multi-faceted debate. It highlights the (market failure) struggles students face when choosing a HE institution:

  • Users find it difficult to discern quality and service differences when exercising choice because the ‘product’ is complex, personalised and/or they are unlikely to purchase the service more than once in their lifetime.
  • Users struggle to make well-informed choices due to too much or too little information.
  • Users’ knowledge of the service is only discernible during, or after, ‘consumption’.
  • Users are, or feel, ‘locked in’ once the service is bought and switching provider is not considered realistic or desirable.
  • Users play an important role in co-producing the value that they derive from the service.
  • Disadvantaged groups struggle to access the services, and or have worse outcomes than other user groups.
  • It’s difficult for providers to enter the market or poorly-performing providers to exit it.

It notes there are too few incentives for providers to push take up of the government’s priority courses (e.g. expensive science); that providers have other routes to attract learners when teaching quality isn’t impressive; and that the DfE’s plans for new providers to enter the market (and more providers to exit) are untested and risky because its unclear how well students will be protected during provider exit (nor whether an influx of new providers creating competition will help drive HE quality improvement).

It raises two major concerns associated with the government’s current objectives:

  • Increased competition creating a two-tier system will see WP students suffer worse, and graduate employment gaps widen.
  • Increased competition will not result in providers charging different tuition fee levels

During the parliamentary consideration of the new Access and Participation Plans this week Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour) tackled marketisation stating: The key to our concern is whether Ministers, instead of promoting scholarship and encouraging research or a concern for truth, have as their goal turning the UK’s higher education system into an even more market-driven one at the expense of both quality and the public interest. It is worth reminding the House that this is not a broken system which needs shoring up and intervention. It is the second-most successful higher education system in the world, with four universities ranked in the top 10. When and how will the Government give us an assurance that they are stepping back from their market-driven obsession and that they intend for the OfS to be a sensible, balanced regulator?

Freedom of Speech

The Select Committee on Human Rights continued its investigation into Freedom of Speech in Universities. Sir Michael Barbet (Chair, Office for Students) was one of the witnesses called this week. The session considered the approach to the issue adopted by the newly formed Office for Students, and the impact of Charity Commission regulations on student events with external speakers. It looked in detail at how the Charity Commission worked with students’ unions, where the responsibility for dealing with events that breached human rights and the law lay, and the clarity of Charity Commission guidance. When asked if Sir Michael had considered how the Office for Students might work with the Charity Commission he confirmed that the two organisations would be preparing a Memorandum of Understanding around their future working

The session also explored the role of the Office for Students in promoting freedom of speech in universities in England. Sir Michael explained that he wanted to see maximum freedom of speech throughout universities, not just in the students’ unions. He acknowledged the universities’ need to have policies in place because they have a responsibility for what happens on their campuses. He acknowledged that some codes of practice were over-complicated, but that good practice did exist. He did not want the Office for Students to issue a single code of practice, saying that would be up to universities and students’ unions.

Questioning how the Office for Students would monitor compliance with the duty to promote freedom of speech among universities followed. Sir Michael reiterated his commitment to maximum freedom of speech and said he would only review university codes of practice on a risk basis. Any intervention would be to promote free speech, he told the committee. Sir Michael clarified that the Office for Students would have no jurisdiction over the students’ union.

When questioned whether the Office for Students was the right body to receive Prevent returns, questioning whether it would have the right expertise. Sir Michael emphasised the need to protect the institutional autonomy of universities and the need to balance that with security. He believed the Office for Students was the right body to this, as the agency that would know about universities, rather a policing agency. He continued to receive challenge on this point.

(Summary courtesy of Dods, Political Monitoring Consultants.)

Contact Sarah if you would like further information on the content of the session.

Other news

International Students: This week the Financial Times ran another story on the economic benefits of international students. The article rehashes HEPI’s study and last week’s mayoral letter, however, the main thrust calls on parliament to unite and overrule what it sees as Theresa May’s lone standpoint of negativity towards international students through their inclusion in the net migration targets. On international students the FT states: the evidence is overwhelming – they bring widespread economic benefit to the UK.

HM Opposition: The Fabian Society issued a report on Labour’s National Education Service plans.

The report  features an introduction from shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner MP and contributions from experts in further and higher education, including shadow minister Gordon Marsden MP, former education and employment secretary Lord Blunkett and leading figures from the NUS, UCU, Open University the Learning and Work Institute.

Between them the report contributors argue for a National Education Service that is:

  • Accountable  – democratically account­able and open at every level
  • Devolved  – with local decision-making which delivers coherent, integrated local provision, albeit within a national framework
  • Empowering  – ensuring that learners, employees and institutions are all ena­bled and respected
  • Genuinely lifelong  – with opportu­nities for retraining and chances to re-engage at every stage, and parity for part-time and digital distance learning
  • Coordinated  – flexible pathways for learners between providers and strong partnerships involving providers, employers, unions and technology platforms
  • Outcome-focused  – designed to meet social and economic needs, with far more adults receiving productivity-en­hancing education but also recognising that learning brings wider benefits

The report also suggests that the ultimate price-tag for the new service may be more than Labour pledged in its 2017 manifesto.

Wonkhe blogger and VC of the Open University Peter Horrocks considers Labour’s National Education Service within the context of the relentless industrial automation in Five things that might save us from the robots, a quick focussed read (with only one shameless Open University plug).

The Universities team within parliament regularly run training events for academics to understand how to begin the process of utilising their research to influence government policy. The Government increasingly leans towards evidence-based policy making and understanding who, when and where the best opportunities are to influence the Government is crucial. Here are the event details:  Book a place at Research, Impact and the UK Parliament at Plymouth Marjon University on Wednesday 21 March 2018 at 1.30pm.

At the 3 hour training event, you will learn:

  • How to contact MPs and Members of the House of Lords from Parliament’s Outreach & Engagement Service
  • How to work with Select Committees from a clerk of a House of Commons Select Committee
  • How Parliament has been cited in REF 2014 impact case studies from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

“This event was excellent – well organised, highly relevant, focused, all speakers strong, content highly practical” – RIUKP Attendee

Tickets cost £40 and include afternoon tea. Here’s the link to: Book your place at Research, Impact and the UK Parliament now.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 5th January 2018

Welcome to the first policy update of 2018!  Parliament is in recess until Monday 8th so there has been less activity this week. Nevertheless, here is your slimline summary of the activity since our last update.

Office for Students

The Office for Students (OfS) officially came into existence this week. The final 6 members of the OfS board were announced

New members:

  • Simon Levine is the Managing Partner and Co-Global Chief Executive Officer of the global law firm, DLA Piper. A graduate of Cambridge University, he is a Visiting Professor and Lecturer at Imperial College Business School.
  • Elizabeth Fagan is Senior Vice President, Managing Director of Boots.
  • Katja Hall is a partner at Chairman Mentors International, previously she was Group Head of External Affairs and Sustainability at HSBC where she was responsible for external communications, stakeholder engagement, social responsibility and community investment.
  • Monisha Shah is Chair of Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. She is also a serving Trustee of ArtFund, an independent fundraising charity for art. In December 2015, Monisha was invited by the Prime Minister to join the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
  • Ruth Carlson is a current student at Surrey University, where she is a Student Ambassador for civil engineering. She has experience as a course representative, as a former president of the Surrey University Women’s Football Team and has also worked in other institutional and regional representative forums.
  • Toby Young is the co-founder of the West London Free School, and now serves as the director the New Schools Network. His teaching experience includes working as a teaching fellow at Harvard and a teaching assistant at Cambridge. He is a Fulbright Commissioner.

This appointment has been contentious with both students and academics claiming he is unsuitable (BBC News: Toby Young regrets ‘politically incorrect’ comments). In another BBC article: University job backlash because I’m a Tory the DfE are reported to have spoken of the “vital insights Toby’s experience as the founder of a free school will bring to the role”. Furthermore: “This experience will be vital in encouraging new providers and ensuring more universities are working effectively with schools.”

Mr Young has also been criticised for past derogatory comments about working class students. In response to this complaint Toby claims the number of pupil premium children enrolled at the four schools he has established counters this criticism.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “If this organisation was to have any credibility it needed a robust board looking out for students’ interests. Instead we have this announcement sneaked out at New Year with Tory cheerleader Toby Young dressed up as the voice of teachers and no actual representation from staff or students.”  [Note – there is student representation as Ruth Carlson has been appointed to the OfS board – see above.]

Twitter has been awash with complaints, including suggestions he is deleting thousands of inappropriate past tweets. LBC have critiqued the DfE for failing to provide a rationale response justifying why the inappropriate tweets were not considered a deterrent factor in Toby’s appointment.

Conservative Minister Margot James has also criticised the choice: “Toby Young is worthy of his appointment but it is a mistake for him to belittle sexist comments by labelling them ‘politically incorrect’, a term frequently used to dismiss unacceptable comments about, and behaviour towards, women and minorities.”

Toby has strong links with the Conservative party who are currently reported as experiencing a generation gap crisis due to the low number of young members they are attracting. Strong student opposition to Toby’s appointment may further damage the Conservatives’ reputation with younger voters further.

Click the link to read Toby Young’s statement: why I am qualified to be on board of new universities regulator

Previously announced members:

  • Sir Michael Barber (Chair)
  • Martin Coleman (Deputy Chair)
  • Nicola Dandridge (CEO)
  • Chris Millward (DfAP)
  • Gurpreet Dehal
  • Kate Lander
  • Prof Carl Lygo
  • David Palfreyman
  • Prof Steve West.

League Tables

League tables often attract a collective groan within HE institutions because positioning is important but the criteria and methodologies change making interpretation difficult. On Thursday the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Strategic Planners Association published A Guide to UK League Tables in HE. The report is a simple introduction for those who’d like to understand the limitations of league tables without getting bogged down in the complex terms and data.

Sally Turnball (author) said: League tables are both interesting and useful. But, as is the case in much of today’s knowledge society, we need to be able to navigate and understand this information effectively, so that it aids – rather than drives – what we do.

In summary, some difficulties are:

  • Data is old – doesn’t present an accurate picture of a provider as it is today. This is exacerbated as league tables are used by pupils to make choices when they are 12-18 months away from enrolling – meaning by enrolment the institution was selected based on its performance 4 years ago.
  • While the league tables collect and compare consistent data across institutions the HE sector is diverse so the data used often focuses on a narrow student population. Making it virtually meaningless for mature, part-time and postgraduate applicants.
  • League tables use NSS data as a proxy to represent teaching quality – its an easily accessible data source but being opinion based its usefulness is limited because it’s not a robust or impartial evaluation of quality.
  • Often providers cluster around the same scores so the rankers have to resort to decimal place levels to differentiate and allocate position on the league table – even though the differences are infinitesimal. Furthermore, changing the weighting of some criteria and excluding extreme scores – which is statistically sensible – results in exaggerated differences between provider scores and their resultant ranking position.
  • Many of the valuable things done by institutions cannot be easily measured and are not incorporated into the rankings.
  • Page 17 lists the metrics used to calculate the league tables, and pages 18 to 35 set out the problems associated with each metric in simple language.

The report concludes: League tables are not created for higher education providers to use as core management information. They are not based on thorough in-depth analyses of the datasets and they do not take many of the known contextual factors into account – for example, graduate employment data are not adjusted for local employment markets, despite differences in the profile of employment opportunities across the country. Yet league tables bring together a range of different sources of information about higher education providers to give a general overview of factors that prospective students might find useful when considering where to study. They provide information at both subject and institutional levels and they generate media coverage, putting areas of supposedly stronger and weaker provision in the spotlight. League tables are here to stay, and it would be ill-advised to ignore them. However, using them as the sole basis for policymaking or strategic decision-making is equally ill-advised.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI said: Universities are judged by their position in the league tables. Rankings determine reputation, prestige and student numbers. That is why university governing bodies hold their vice-chancellors to account for their league table positions. But users of the league tables tend to know little about how the rankings are put together. In other words, they do not know, precisely, what it is they are holding people to account for. The main league tables are not going to disappear any time soon because they provide comparative information and people find them useful. But they are easily and often misunderstood. My hope is that everyone who holds our universities to account will set themselves a new year’s resolution to look under the bonnet of the league tables before using them.

Free Speech

Jo Johnson spoke about free speech at the Jewish Limmud Festival on 26 December: “Our universities…should be places that open minds not close them, where ideas can be freely challenged and prejudices exposed. But in universities in America and increasingly in the United Kingdom, there are countervailing forces of censorship, where groups have sought to stifle those who do not agree with them in every way under the banner of “safe spaces” or “no-platforming”. However well-intentioned, the proliferation of such safe spaces, the rise of no-platforming, the removal of ‘offensive’ books from libraries and the drawing up of ever more extensive lists of banned “trigger” words are undermining the principle of free speech in our universities. Shield young people from controversial opinions, views that challenge their most profoundly held beliefs or simply make them uncomfortable, and you are on the slippery slope that ends up with a society less able to make scientific breakthroughs, to be innovative and to resist injustice.”

Of the OfS Johnson stated: “Promoting freedom of speech within the law will be at the heart of its [OfS’] approach to the regulation of our higher education system. The OfS will go further than its predecessor in promoting freedom of speech.as a condition of registration with the new regulator, we are proposing that all universities benefitting from public money must demonstrate a clear commitment to free speech in their governance documents. I am pleased to say that this freedom is as important to the OfS’s new chairman, Sir Michael Barber, as it is to me. While he hoped the OfS never has to intervene in a university in relation to freedom of speech, he undertook that, if it does, it will be to widen it rather than restrict it. I’m confident freedom of speech in our universities has a bright future under the OfS. But we will continue to watch the system carefully.”

Finally Johnson reiterated: “And I want to be clear about this: attempts to silence opinions that one disagrees with have no place in the English university system. Academics and students alike must not allow a culture to take hold where silence is preferable to a dissenting voice. Universities cannot afford to be complacent about complying either with their duties to protect freedom of speech, or anything less than vigilant against hate speech (or other unlawful activity) masquerading as the exercise of the right to freedom of speech.”

On the following day Angela Rayner (Labour, Shadow Secretary of State for Education) said: “It is a false choice to suggest that universities are either places of free enquiry or places of safety. They can be both. Denying access to groups and individuals who incite violence and hatred is a perfectly sensible step to keep students safe from harm. The NUS have a ‘no-platform’ policy for a handful of racist, anti-Semitic and extremist organisations, some of which the Government itself has also banned. If Jo Johnson is opposed to that policy, he needs to be clear which of those groups he actually wants on campus.”

International Students

Leader of the Lib Dems, Vince Cable, is optimistic the PM will remove international students from the official immigration figures. He said: “…the Home Office has wildly exaggerated the number of those who overstay. This absurd policy has fuelled concerns over immigration numbers and done serious damage to our universities. We should be encouraging more students to come and spend their money in the UK, instead of needlessly hampering one of Britain’s most successful export industries.”

Theresa May has been vehement in continuing to count students within the net migration targets. Without fresh evidence it seemed unlikely the PM would change her stance, however, Politics Home has speculated May is likely to back down to avoid a vote defeat during the forthcoming Immigration Bill.

Meanwhile, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) continue their work to assess the social and economic impacts of international students studying within the UK. BU are currently preparing their response to the MAC call for evidence. Contact us at Policy if you’d like to contribute this this response.

Institutes of Technology fund

In December the Government announced a £170 million fund to establish Institutes of Technology delivering high level technical skills that meet employer needs. The Institutes of Technology will combine business, education and training providers within technical (particularly STEM) subjects to deliver the specific provision needed by local, regional and national employers. It forms part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy that will directly target skills gaps through upskilling existing and new entrants to the workforce. The first Institutes of Technology are expected to open in 2019.

Justine Greening said: “Institutes of technology will play a vital role driving our skills revolution with business and unlocking the potential of our country’s young people through better technical education. By bridging the country’s skills gaps, these new institutions will drive growth and widen opportunity.” “This Government continues to invest in developing our homegrown talent so British business has the skills it needs and so that young people can get the opportunities they want.”

Consultations

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

Other news

The year that was: HEPI review the major happenings of 2017 – a handy and brief refresh if you tuned out during the relentless sector debate and change last year. And Times Higher lists their 25 most popular articles of 2017 – the top spot went to the TEF results.

Research policy news: read our round up of the research news this week. And David Sweeney reflects on the change in mindset required to understand the approach to submissions in REF 2021.

Access to non-religious pastoral carers: Humanists UK published the results of their survey calling for non-religious support workers to be appointed to university chaplaincy and pastoral support teams. The survey sampling is limited in that it was only drawn from their student membership.

Industrial Strategy: The House of Lords has produced a library briefing on the Industrial Strategy and the UK Economy

Artificial Intelligence & Automation: The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing paper on Artificial Intelligence and Automation in the UK. Increasing digital skills, filling employment gaps, and funding for AI research are key issues for Government who seek to grow the AI industry. A sector deal for AI was announced in the Autumn 2017 Budget. This briefing paper considers the impact of AI and automation on the UK workforce, including how working lives may change. There are a broad range of predictions caveated by uncertainties such as the rate of technological development, rate of deployment, and the geographical variations. The paper concludes that the impact is likely to be significant and the Bank of England predicts that 15 million jobs will be influenced by automation over the next 20 years. You may also find the THE article from May 2017 Which countries and universities are leading on AI research interesting.

New(s) Year Resolutions?

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 27th October 2017

Freedom of speech, censorship and bias

After last week’s flurry on freedom of speech prompted by the Minster’s comments when launching the OfS consultation, this week the discussion has taken on a much more aggressive and personal tone, as the letter from an MP asking for information about staff teaching about Brexit hit the headlines, and the Daily Mail outed university staff as being majority pro-Brexit. I’ve written about all this on the Lighthouse Policy Group blog.

OfS Regulation

As noted last week, BU will be preparing an institutional response to this consultation. Policy@bournemouth.ac.uk will work with colleagues across BU and collate our response.

The consultation documents are huge, and as soon as you start looking at one area, you have to look at more than one (the conditions, and lots of details about them are in a separate Guidance document). So we will start simply this week with some highlights from the opening sections.

As a risk-based regulator, the OfS will seek to mitigate (though not eradicate) four risks – the risk that the four primary objectives are not met.

[The OfS will have four primary objectives:

  1. all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education
  2. all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
  3. that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure
  4. that all students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money

The OfS will seek to mitigate the risk that each of these four objectives is not met]

As it does so, the OfS will also seek to mitigate risk that the sector does not deliver value for money for taxpayers and citizens (who are directly involved through the allocation of public grant funding, research funding by UKRI, and the public subsidy to the student finance system). It will also do so while recognising the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are less likely to access, succeed in, and progress successfully from higher education, even once their entrance characteristics are taken into account.

The OfS will also work with UKRI to ensure that the reciprocal risk around the sustainability of providers which contribute to the vibrancy of the research base is monitored and mitigated appropriately. The flow of information between the two organisations will be crucial to achieving this.

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree these are the right risks for the OfS to prioritise?

Interesting point:

Provider level regulation will not be used to drive continuous improvement. It will be for autonomous, individual providers to decide for themselves the extent to which they wish to offer provision that extends beyond the baseline. The impetus to do so will be driven by student choice and competition rather than direct regulatory intervention

This general approach does not apply to access and participation. In this case, competition, choice, and market mechanisms alone are not able to deliver the outcomes needed for students and society, so regulation of individual providers will be used to drive improved access and participation

Objective 1: all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education

Consultation question: Given all the levers at its disposal, including but not limited to access and participation plans, what else could the OfS be doing to improve access and participation and where else might it be appropriate to take a more risk-based approach?

Widening access and promoting the success of all students who have potential to benefit from higher education, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds and groups under-represented in higher education, will be at the heart of the OfS’s remit. It will have a duty which relates to equality of opportunity across the whole student lifecycle; with the aim of ensuring that students from disadvantaged and traditionally under-represented backgrounds can not only access, but successfully participate in and progress from higher education too. The OfS will intervene at the provider level in this area; market forces alone will not be sufficient to deliver the change needed. The OfS will also have a duty relating to student choice and opportunities, which it will consider in terms of a range of models of higher education – including new providers, work-based study, accelerated programmes and flexible provision for adults – which will facilitate higher education opening up to under-represented groups.

OFFA will be merged into the OfS with a Director for Fair Access and Participation.

Fair Access Agreements will continue to be required for providers charging higher fee amounts – and will operate as now, although there will be a new focus on participation – they will be called “access and participation plans”.

New point on schools:

In order to ensure better outcomes for both current and prospective students, the relationship between the higher education sector and the schools and further education systems will need to be strengthened. The establishment of the OfS and the new regulatory framework presents a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at our approach to managing these important transition points between stages of learning for an individual and their whole educational experience. These relationships between sectors are critical, not least when it comes to widening access and successful participation.

There are already many higher education providers playing an active role in schools and colleges in order to improve the prior attainment of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The new regulatory regime creates the opportunity to spread these ties further and deeper, in service of students accessing, succeeding in, and progressing from, higher education.

Note we do not know what this means at this stage and the government have not published a response to the schools consultation.

Note on registration conditions – the relevant ones for this area are condition A1 – Access and Participation Plan and condition A3 – transparency condition on disclosure of information.

Widening Participation

The Sutton Trust published a paper on contextual admissions. Key findings include:

  • While the gap [in access] between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers has narrowed somewhat in recent years, the gap at the most selective universities remains stubbornly wide.
  • a majority of these [selective] universities use contextual data to inform their admissions processes.
  • A substantial number provided no information to applicants about how indicators would be used…This lack of transparency is a barrier to access..
  • There is a wide distribution of grades among those from better-off backgrounds – with as many as one in five students from higher participation neighbourhoods being admitted with A-level grades of BBC or below, for example – and that the average grades of those from contextual backgrounds are only marginally lower than those from non-contextual backgrounds.
  • There is little evidence to suggest that leading universities that practice greater contextualisation see significantly higher dropout rates, lower degree completion rates, or lower degree class results
  • Greater use of contextual admissions could result in a substantial increase in the numbers of low income students at the UK’s most selective universities.

Recommendations include

  • Universities should use contextual data in their admissions process to open up access to students from less privileged backgrounds.
  • There should be a greater use of individual-level contextual indicators, such as previous eligibility for free school meals, as well as school-level and area-level criteria.
  • Universities practicing contextualisation should provide additional support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those who have been admitted with lower grades, in recognition of the additional difficulties such students may face.
  • There should be greater transparency from universities when communicating how contextual data is used. ….There should also be greater clarity and consistency in the reporting of contextual admissions processes in access agreements with the Director of Fair Access, including reporting levels of contextually admitted applicants.
  • Foundation year provision should be increased, with greater targeting of those from disadvantaged backgrounds..
  • Participation in outreach programmes should be shared as a contextual indicator across universities.
  • Many outreach programmes include academic eligibility criteria set at a high threshold. However, this is likely to exclude disadvantaged pupils with the potential to do well at university, but whose GCSE results are not exceptional. Universities, and those who run similar outreach programmes, should consider more inclusive thresholds to reduce barriers to participation and increase access

Other news

The new ESRC CEO and Executive Chair Designate has been announced. Professor Jennifer Rubin. is currently Director of the Policy Institute at King’s and Professor of Public Policy. Before joining King’s Jennifer established and then led the justice and home affairs research programme at RAND Europe for ten years.

Following the launch of the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology last month, a new university has been announced for Hereford – it will specialise in engineering courses and will offer accelerated degrees.

The Royal Society has announced a scheme to place entrepreneurs in universities.

David Davis indicated at the Exiting the EU committee that the UK would be “quite likely” to stay in Horizon 2020 after leaving the EU, and also that EU students would be likely to qualify for student loans after March 2019. It was not at all clear whether this would be part of a transition arrangement or a final deal.

From Wonkhe: Justine Greening told the House of Commons Education Committee that the HE funding review first announced by the Prime Minister will be “something DfE leads”.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 20th October 2017

OfS Regulation – Free Speech, Compulsory TEF, Student empowerment

The long awaited (and very long) consultation on the role and functions of the Office for Students was published this week. In fact there are several separate consultations (Wonkhe have helpfully grouped them all on one web page):

  • the regulatory framework
  • registration fees
  • Degree awarding powers and university title
  • One about selection of designated quality assessment body for the OfS– QAA is the only candidate
  • One about selection of a designated data body for the OfS – HESA is the only candidate

The consultations are open until 22nd December and BU will be reviewing them and preparing responses – please let policy@bournemouth.ac.uk know if you would like to be involved.

There is a huge amount of detail and a lot of areas for discussion here, but interestingly the Minister and the press chose to focus on freedom of speech yesterday. The Times published an interview with Jo Johnson discussing the proposal that measures to protect freedom of speech should be a condition of OfS registration. The Guardian notes proposed powers for the OfS to fine or suspend the registration of universities that fail to protect the freedom of speech on campus, including student unions that ‘no platform’ controversial speakers. There has been a lot of commentary on this – not least that students’ unions are independent organisations. It is really interesting to note that in the summary of the consultation prepared for students by the Department for Education, freedom of speech is not mentioned.

  • Johnson: “Our young people and students need to accept the legitimacy of healthy, vigorous debate in which people can disagree with one another. That’s how ideas get tested, prejudices exposed and society advances. Universities mustn’t be places in which free speech is stifled.”
  • Sir Michael Barber OfS Chair: “Ensuring freedom of speech and learning how to disagree with diverse opinions and differing views of the world is a fundamental aspect of learning at university. The OfS will promote it vigorously.”

The relevant bit of the consultation starts on page 32 –

  • This consultation includes such a public interest principle, which states that the governing body of an institution must take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured within its institution. This public interest principle will form part of the public interest governance condition…”
  • “The OfS will use ‘indicative behaviours’ to assess compliance with the principles; these are set out in the Guidance on registration conditions. With regard to free speech, for example, one behaviour that would indicate compliance would be to have a freedom of speech code of practice. This should set out the procedures which members, students and employees should follow in relation to meetings or activities, and the conduct which is expected of those individuals. Some of the best examples set out clearly what does and does not constitute reasonable grounds for refusal of a speaker, and the disciplinary actions which would follow a breach of the code of practice. A behaviour that might indicate non-compliance would be where a provider fails to abide by its own freedom of speech procedures”.

There has of course been something of a media/social media storm, with rage from both ends of the political spectrum about those with different views allegedly seeking to stifle or prevent free speech, big disagreements on the role of trigger warnings, safe spaces and “no platforming”, and a number of voices pointing out that universities are already subject to legal obligations on both free speech and the Prevent duty and this is all a bit over-played.

But apart from this issue, the consultation has much broader scope. It sets out the broad objectives for the OfS:

  1. all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education
  2. all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
  3. that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure
  4. that all students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money

The OfS will seek to mitigate the risk that each of these four objectives is not met and:

  • “As it does so, the OfS will also seek to mitigate risk that the sector does not deliver value for money for taxpayers and citizens (who are directly involved through the allocation of public grant funding, research funding by UKRI, and the public subsidy to the student finance system). It will also do so while recognising the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are less likely to access, succeed in, and progress successfully from higher education, even once their entrance characteristics are taken into account.
  • The OfS will also work with UKRI to ensure that the reciprocal risk around the sustainability of providers which contribute to the vibrancy of the research base is monitored and mitigated appropriately. The flow of information between the two organisations will be crucial to achieving this.”

The many other areas covered in detail include

  • Making TEF compulsory for all HEIs with >500 students
  • Publishing justification of high senior staff salaries
  • Transparency about student transfer (between courses)
  • Empowering students through clearer student contracts

We will look at some areas in more detail in the following weeks.

The impact of universities

Meanwhile, Universities UK (UUK) published a report on the Economic Impact of Universities in 2014-15. Some highlights:

  • In total, the economic activity of universities, the international students they attract and their visitors, supported more than 940,000 jobs in the UK in 2014-15.
  • In 2014-15, universities themselves employed 404,000 people, or 1.3 percent of all UK employment
  • UK universities, together with their international students and visitors, generated £95 billion of gross output in the economy in 2014-15.
  • The gross value added contribution of universities’ own operations to GDP, at £21.5 billion in 2014-15, is larger than that made by a number of sizable industries.
  • UK universities, together with their international students and visitors, supported £14.1 billion in tax receipts for the Exchequer in 2014-15.
  • In total, universities in the UK earned £13.1 billion in export receipts in 2014-15.

Student Loans and Value for Money

The Treasury Committee launched an inquiry scrutinising recent changes to the student loan system. This week evidence was received from Dr Helen Carasso (Oxford) and Andrew McGettigan (freelance author and lecturer). Key points:

  • Experts disagree exactly how much raising the repayment threshold will cost the taxpayer. The system is complex and not even understandable to highly-qualified experts
  • The notion that the written off loans will cost to the taxpayer the same amount with the post-92 as the previous £3,000 fees is publically unpopular
  • The post-92 higher fees is believed to have created more teaching resources within the system
  • McGettigan claimed that higher interest rates for students still studying were purely designed to deal with the rarer issue of rich students taking out loans and investing them elsewhere
  • Varying price for tuition fees by programme is nonsensical – students would be discouraged from choosing courses which were priced lower as it has a status implication (McGettigan).
  • The system has created a series of disincentives for universities to charge anything other than the highest fee (Carasso).
  • Carasso stated an overt graduate tax would be a better accounting method than student loans although it would feel like a penalty. McGettigan expanded suggesting it may destabilise recruitment and retention and potentially encourage drop out or emigration
  • On the sale of the loan book McGettigan stated the old mortgage-style loans had already been sold at a profit, but under the new system the sale of loans would not affect public sector net debt, that any price would be lower than fair value and amount to a loss for the government.
  • Re: marketization of HE Carasso stated it was very difficult for an applicant to make a fully-informed decision (in relation to price and net cost).
  • How should the repayment system best be reformed:
    • McGettigan – the main problem is the large graduate debt. A lower starting debt would mean interest rates would not apply in the same way,
    • Carasso – if the system is too complex to understand that’s a problem. Fees are probably too high, and why is there not an employer contribution mechanism?

Meanwhile the Economic Affairs Select Committee is examining if students get value for money (HE, FE and technical education) through oral evidence sessions. Follow it here

Widening Participation

50% of students are First in Family – This week the Telegraph drew on UCAS data to report that half of students who started a degree last year were first in family to attend HE. However, the article is disparaging as many of these students attended ‘low’ or ‘mid-ranking’ universities and few studied the ‘top’ subjects (listed as medicine, maths and science). The article went on to raise the current headline grabbing debate over fees and value for money and stated: “critics said last night that the figures showed that too many students were attending low-performing universities which charge “outrageous” fees but fail to improve social mobility.”

Whole-institution approach to WP – This week OFFA called for universities to create a step change and accelerate social mobility goals by adopting a whole-institution approach to widening participation, embedding fair access at all levels of the organisation, across all areas of work, and senior management. To accompany the call OFFA released the commissioned report: Understanding a whole institution approach to WP

Les Ebdon (Director, OFFA) stated: “Excellent progress has been made in widening access to higher education for the most disadvantaged young people. But for too long, this progress has only been incremental. We now need to see transformational change.

“Adopting a genuine whole institution approach – where access is a key priority at every level – is the biggest thing a university or college could do to make change happen. This research offers a vital opportunity to make the further, faster progress we badly need to see.

International academics

Q – Stephen Gethins (SNP): With reference to the Government’s policy paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation: A Future Partnership Paper, published on 6 September 2017, whether it is her policy to extend visa entitlement to the spouses and dependents of EU academics who can work in the UK after the UK has left the EU.

And

Q – Stephen Gethins (SNP): With reference to the Government’s policy paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation: Future Partnership Paper, published on 6 September 2017, what representations she has received from universities and national academies on the potential effect of changes to freedom of movement on the UK’s ability to attract and retain high quality researchers.

A: Brandon Lewis (Con): The Government recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and we welcome those with the skills and expertise to make our country better still. But we must manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest.

We have been clear that after the UK leaves the EU, free movement will end, but migration between the UK and the EU will continue and we are considering a number of options as to how this might work. We will be setting out initial proposals for our future immigration arrangements later in the year.

The Government recognises that it is important that we understand the impacts on the different sectors of the economy and the labour market and want to ensure that decisions on the long-term system are based on evidence. On July 2017, we commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to advise on the economic and social impacts of the UK’s exit from the European Union and also on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy… The Government will carefully consider any recommendations made to it by the MAC before finalising the details of the future immigration system for EU nationals.

The Government also regularly engages with sectoral bodies – including those in the scientific and academic sectors ¬- to ensure our immigration routes work effectively to enable businesses to access the talent they need. Their views do, and will continue to, inform our decisions on any changes to the system.

Consultations & Inquiries

The Policy team compiles details of the key HE and niche research consultations and select committee inquiries on the consultation tracker. BU responses to HE consultations are managed by Sarah and Jane.

Let us know you’re interested! We invite colleagues across BU to provide response input, however, if there is a consultation in your area of expertise don’t wait for an invite – contact us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk – we’d love to hear from you so we can access all the pockets of expertise across BU. Take a look at the consultation tracker to find out if there is a current inquiry related to your role.

New consultations and inquiries:

  • 5 Higher Education and Research Act consultations
  • International students – social and economic impact (link)
  • Science budget and the Industrial Strategy (link)
  • Intellectual Property
  • Decarbonisation in HE sector
  • Enabling Gypsies, Roma and Travellers
  • Regulation of Nursing Associates in England

(See the consultation tracker for links to all these new consultations and inquiries.)

To view the responses BU has submitted to recent consultations and inquiries across all topics click here.

Other news

Teaching excellence: The University Alliance has published Technical and professional excellence: Perspective on learning and teaching.

TEF Gold: HEPI have released Going for Gold: Lessons from the TEF provider submissions. The report breaks down the influential aspects of the provider submissions which the author suggests may have swayed the panel’s final award decisions. While the report is based on opinion it offers suggestions to providers and Government on how to improve the qualitative aspect of the TEF submission. Spoiler alert: BU features frequently within the document.

Alternative Providers: The National Audit Office has published their Follow-up on alternative HE providers. The report notes several area of progress:

  • Non-continuation rates reduced from 38% to 25% (although still 15% higher than the mainstream HE sector) with DfE action taken against 11 alternative providers where dropout rates are unacceptably high. More regular and reliable monitoring data has been called for.
  • Reduction in paying student loans to ineligible students from 4% to 0.5%
  • DfE have strengthened their oversight framework and are acting on third party reports of non-compliance or under-performance.
  • Positive reports of widening access within disadvantaged or under-represented groups of students

However, early data implies graduates from alternative provider’s progress to further study or employment at a lower rate and lower entry salary than graduates from mainstream HE institutions.

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To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update w/e 24th March 2017

Higher Education and Research Bill – the third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords was scheduled for Wednesday and was about to start when the attack took place in Westminster, so the session was cancelled. It has now been rescheduled for Tuesday 4th April.  The current version of the bill as amended at the report stage is here. There is a short list of amendments for the third reading – these are usually “tidying up” amendments rather than the more substantive ones that we have seen in the earlier stages – and are monstly (but not exclusively) government amendments.  The Bill will then return to the Commons – probably after Easter – when all six of the opposition and cross bench amendments made by the Lords are likely to be removed – including the one decoupling TEF ratings and fee increases, removing the Gold, Silver, Bronze TEF system and replacing it with a pass/fail, and measures aiming to support international students and staff studying and working in the UK.

There may be government amendments proposed in the Commons to seek to address some of the concerns behind the amendments to the TEF, but it seems unlikely that there will be concessions on international staff and students in the bill as these issues will be relevant to the separate consultation on immigration policy, which we are still waiting for. There will therefore inevitably be another process of “ping-pong” . If the Lords don’t accept the position approved by the Commons (and any concessions made) then there is a risk that the bill will run out of time in this session.

To respond to concerns raised by the Lords, Jo Johnson and the sponsor of the bill in the House of Lords, Viscount Younger of Leckie have written a number of letters during the report stage.

  • 15th March 2017 – powers to enter and search
  • 6th March 2017 – regulation (compliance with the Regulator’s Code – will require a statutory instrument but government agree), role of the Competition and Markets Authority (the government believe there is no overlap between the OfS and the CMA). One government amendment clarified that in addition to promoting competition, the OfS should have regard to the benefits of HEI collaboration for students and employers.
  • 3rd March 2017 – defending the TEF and its metrics, setting out the context and background and confirming a commitment to ensuring that the TEF supports widening participation.

There has not been a response to the amendments that were passed, so we will wait to see. In the meantime, there were some interesting articles about the future for the TEF on Wonkhe on Monday:

Another concern raised by the Lords and also raised in Education questions in the Commons this week related to free speech. Jo Johnson, the universities minister, added that the bill would safeguard free speech by extending the duty to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech to all registered providers. On the same day, Johnson also wrote to universities asking them to pay particular attention to this issue. He advised: “Policies and codes of practice should not simply be allowed to gather dust; they are crucial to demonstrating to students that free speech should be at the heart of our university system. They need to be meaningful documents that students and staff understand and, crucially, respect.”

Brexit – with the PM expected to serve formal notice to start Brexit negotiations under Article 50 next week, Peers debated EU membership and UK science after the referendum on 23 March. They urged the government to replace any money lost from EU research programmes with fresh money from Westminster, rather than with the extra £4.7 million allocated to science and innovation in the 2016 autumn statement.

The Parliamentary and Scientific committee have published a statement on science priorities for Brexit.  It asks for immediate actions, sets out negotiation priorities and changes to domestic policy.  It’s very short and readable – a list of proposals rather than a long summary of evidence and background

Its first statement is about staff and skills – it calls for immediate reassurance for EEA staff working in the UK, research about mobility of skilled workers to inform immigration policy and for the government to develop a communications strategy that champions Britain as a welcoming hub for research and innovation.

On funding, it says that there must be no decline in overall funding for science and innovation across all disciplines, calls for continued participation in Horizon 2020 and for the government to “set the closest possible association for the UK with EU research and innovation programmes”.  It also proposes a target of 3% of GDP for combined public and private R&D investment, with at least 0.7% of GDP invested in research and development.    It calls for a comprehensive review of all current public funding for UK research and development to ensure there is no gap as the UK leaves the EU.

It sets out requirements to ensure that UK-based researchers are able to collaborate, including funding and infrastructure for partnerships.  On trade, it suggests that all government departments should have scientific advisers, and calls for a comprehensive review of the current regulatory environment.

Student Loans – in a written answer to a parliamentary question Jo Johnson noted that the latest Student Loans Company statistics show that there were around 113,600 English student loan borrowers known to be abroad at the beginning of the financial year 2016-17. Of these around 22 per cent were EU-domiciled borrowers. The figures also show that the overall outstanding loan balance of these borrowers resident abroad was around £1.6 billion, of which around £220 million was held by EU-domiciled borrowers. He added in a separate answer that the Student Loans Company established a repayments evasion unit in 2016 to detect borrowers who live abroad and who fail to repay their loans.

Advance marketing – along with Professor Debbie Holley, I am presenting some policy briefings and workshops – read more and book via the intranet.