Tagged / freedom of speech

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

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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.

Subscribe!

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.