Tagged / grade inflation

HE policy update for the w/e 12th July 2019

We focus on the interesting set of reports released as people clear their desks before their summer holidays.

Learning gain

The OfS have published evaluations of the various learning gain projects that have been running for some time.  The OfS website is very clear “The report below is independent research which we have commissioned. As such, it does not necessarily reflect the views or official position of the OfS.”  You will recall that one reason for HEFCE setting up these projects was to see if a learning gain measure could be created for the TEF.  The answer would seem to be “no” although given the disclaimer, that might not stop them having a go.

On the final evaluation of 13 projects, the conclusions are:

  • Learning gain can be defined as the change in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development, as well as enhancement of specific practices and outcomes in defined disciplinary and institutional contexts.
  • embedding measures in curriculum design is the most effective approach for collecting data for measuring learning gain
  • Pilots of standardised tests carried out during the projects have not proven to be robust and effective measures of learning gain due to challenges of student engagement, differential scores across socio-demographic characteristics, subject differences and use of data.
  • Contextual factors such as subject-level differences, institution type and student characteristics differences impact the transferability of measures of learning gain. These differences should be considered when designing and selecting learning gain measures; when analysing and presenting findings. Mediating effects need to be considered.

The report on the National Mixed Methods project  has the following recommendations:

For policy-makers and providers      

  • A one-size-fits-all measure of learning gain (modelled on the NMMLGP questionnaire) should be abandoned as it holds minimal value for the majority of students and is not an influential construct in their present decision-making concerning either choice of institution or impact on the curriculum.
  • Students’ perceptions of learning gain need further exploration in order to move beyond what are acknowledged as impressionistic findings reported here, which are bound by proportionality constraints.
  • The sector needs to consider whose interests are best served by the measurement of learning gain. The evidence gathered here from participating providers and their students indicates that there is a dichotomous view of learning gain: either as a marker of institution positioning within a market-oriented system; or as a process of progression throughout the student journey. The two things are not necessarily synonymous.

For higher education providers

  • All learning gain work needs to be related to students’ own context and clearly embedded at local level within the subject or disciplinary area. Engagement is also highly dependent on whether any initiatives are promoted by trusted sources such as course tutors, rather than unfamiliar contacts.
  • Providers should consider developing a repertoire of approaches, as part of a learning gain toolkit, which can be accessed by students as part of a flexible and adaptable process underpinned by student choice rather than normative comparison. Providers are encouraged to also review the findings of the overall evaluation of the learning gain Pilot Projects for approaches which are most suited to their local contexts.

And finally the report on Higher Education Learning Gain Analysis (HELGA): says:

  • “HELGA set out to explore whether administrative data could be used to create a proxy measure for learning gain. The project has experimented with different techniques, considered different outcomes that could be a proxy for learning gain and different source of data that could be used. Ultimately, the project has developed two methods for measuring value-added in higher education for a subset of the undergraduate population.
  • The two measures have produced different results in their measure of value-added and there is no straightforward way of evaluating which is the most accurate.
  • It should be noted that the ‘value-added’ measured is the difference between the ‘expected’ degree outcomes for students at an institution based on prior attainment (and other student and course characteristics in the case of the multilevel model) and the actual degree outcomes. The measure does not explain what this difference might be caused by. As mentioned in Section 2.3, there is concern about the comparability of degree classifications across institutions. This raises a question of the suitability of this value-added measure for comparing institutions.
  • Neither methodology should be used further without additional sensitivity analyses and serious thought as to what is really being measured and whether it is fair to measure institutional performance in terms of value-added based on the restricted population used.
  • At the outset of HELGA, it was known that it would never be possible to create a single measure of learning gain, encompassing all of the different elements that are understood to make up learning gain. It has necessarily focused on cognitive gain only, although some thought was given to using NSS metadata to measure non-cognitive learning gain, but this was unsuccessful. However, this does not mean that this could not be useful for measuring value-added, but it should be made clear that it should not be adopted to produce a single measure of learning gain”

Grade Inflation

And that brings us nicely to the next item…the OfS have published their latest review of degree classifications:

  • The proportion of first-class honours degrees awarded has increased from 16 per cent to 29 per cent between 2010-11 and 2017-18.
  • The OfS has used statistical modelling to account for factors including entrance qualifications and student characteristics which may influence attainment. When accounting for these factors, they find that 13.9 percentage points’ worth of first class degree attainment remains “unexplained”.
  • In total, 94 per cent of the 148 universities and other higher education providers included in the analysis demonstrated a statistically significant unexplained increase in the proportion of first-class degrees awarded in 2017-18 compared to 2010-11.
  • The report updates data from a report issued in December 2018. Since that report, universities have collectively announced plans to act together to curb grade inflation via the work of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment.
  • Commenting on the report, Susan Lapworth, director of competition and registration at the Office for Students, said:
    • ‘Worries about grade inflation threaten to devalue a university education in the eyes of employers and potential students. So it is essential we regain and maintain public confidence in the reliability of degree classifications.
    • ‘This data shows a further increase in both the rate of first-class degrees awarded, and the proportion of those awards. These increases cannot be fully explained by the factors we have taken into account in our analysis.
    • ‘The performance shown in the new data pre-dates our call for the sector to take action on grade inflation, so we would not expect to see the impact of such actions in today’s report.
    • ‘There are, though, positive signs that the higher education sector has begun to tackle this issue. We welcome the steps taken by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment and the positive response from universities to a recent consultation on the steps universities should take to demonstrate that standards are secure. We recognise that change will take time, but it remains absolutely crucial that students, graduates and the general public can be assured that the value of a degree is maintained. That is why concerted, focused, and sector-wide action is so important.
    • ‘Following today’s publication, the OfS will be contacting those universities and providers with the most significant unexplained increases in degree classifications. We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. In seeking this additional information we recognise that there are factors that could explain the increases – for example improvements in learning and teaching – that we have not been able to measure in our analysis.
    • ‘Given the significant public scrutiny of degree standards we want to understand how universities have assured themselves that they have, and continue to, apply consistent standards. Doing so will help ensure that the degrees that students work so hard for continue to enjoy public confidence.’

The report and Excel versions of the data tables have been published.

The use of the word “unexplained” (again) is shocking given that it means “unexplained by prior attainment and social advantage”.  Inevitably this has been picked up in the media and by the Education Secretary.

BBC story here with a Damien Hinds comment:

  •  “Education Secretary Damian Hinds warned against “unfair practices”.  Mr Hinds said that if universities were giving many more top degrees without a legitimate reason, it was unfair on those who had studied to the same standard in previous years.  “We owe it to the hard-working students and institutions who play by the rules to stamp out this unfair practice,” said the education secretary. “Today’s figures are disappointing and risk compromising the public trust in the high standards of our universities,” he said.”

Wonkhe point out the escalation of threat level here: “Back in December, he said “I am urging universities to tackle this serious issue and have asked the Office for Students to deal firmly with any institution found to be unreasonably inflating grades” – so this feels like threat inflation to us.”

The OfS seem to be totally unaware of the damage that their choice of language may be doing.  In a blog, Susan Lapworth, the Director of competition and registration at the OFS, says about the plan to follow up with universities (emphasis added);

“To ensure that all universities, colleges and other registered providers are playing their part in maintaining the standard of degrees, we are likely to write to those providers that held degree awarding powers in 2010-11 and where the data show the most significant increases in the percentage of first class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2017-18. We’re focusing on providers with:

  • a statistically significant increase in the unexplained percentage of first class degrees awarded in a single year, or
  • a statistically significant overall increase in the unexplained percentage of first class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2017-18.

We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. We want to understand, for example, whether a provider has made recent changes to the way it calculates degree classifications, or whether it can point to other evidence – such as investment in staffing, teaching, services or facilities – that would credibly account for the ‘unexplained’ increase. We are also interested in the steps governing bodies have taken to ensure that academic governance arrangements are adequate and effective.

In seeking this additional information, we are not implying that the trends we can see in the published data indicate any form of wrongdoing from these providers – we are trying to understand better the reasons for performance that will be subject to public scrutiny and so are focusing our attention on those providers with the biggest unexplained increases. Given the significant public scrutiny of degree standards we want to understand how providers have assured themselves that they continue to apply consistent standards.

Doing so is essential to maintaining public confidence in degrees.”

General Election?

There has been little to say on Brexit recently because of the speculation and posturing of the Conservative leadership race. The news is all about what the two candidates might actually do (rather than what they say they will do as some promises may turn out to be completely unachievable if the EU or Parliament don’t play ball). The Conservatives, despite bitter Brexit infighting, are keen to retain power and remain in Government, avoiding an election at all costs. However, there has been increasing talk of how a general election may now be inevitable. There is a good article in Politics Home House magazine which explains the election scenarios.

Admissions

UCAS released their analysis of all full time undergraduate applications (made by end June 2019) noting a new record as almost 4 in 10 young people apply to university. Overall the number of young applications has increased by 1%, an additional 2,600 people, (despite the 1.9% fall in the young UK population). Across the UK figures are:

  • 39.5% of all 18 year olds in England submitted a UCAS application, up from 38.1% at the same point last year;
  • in Northern Ireland, 46.9% of 18 year olds applied (down 0.7 percentage points)
  • in Scotland, the 18 year old application rate is 32.7% (down 0.1 percentage point)
  • in Wales, the application rate was 32.9% (up 0.2 percentage points) – a joint record result equalling the peak in 2016

International

  • The volume of EU applicants rose by 1%, to 50,650.
  • There were a record number of applicants from outside the EU – 81,340 students applied to study in the UK, an increase of 8%.
  • China continued its rapid growth, with applicant numbers up 30% to 19,760 – this means that, for the first time, there are more applicants from China than Northern Ireland (18,520).

Disadvantage

For the first time, UCAS utilised the index of multiple deprivation measures to consider applications from disadvantaged communities.

  • In England, the number of young people applying from the most deprived areas has increased 6% to 38,770, while applications from the least deprived areas have fallen.
  • In Northern Ireland, all areas have seen a fall in applications, of between 2% and 7%.
  • In Scotland, young applicants from the most deprived areas have grown by 3%, while all other areas have seen falls.
  • In Wales, applicants from the most deprived areas remained at 1,390, with a mixed picture across different areas.

UCAS have also release a new interactive dashboard should you wish to interrogate the data further.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

The global appeal of UK higher education has never been clearer, with record, demographic beating application rates in England and Wales, and the steep rise in international applications, especially from China.

Today’s analysis shows how attractive undergraduate study continues to be for young people, although university isn’t the only route on offer. Our survey insight shows that around a quarter of students are interested in apprenticeships as an alternative option.

Higher Technical Reform

The DfE has launched a consultation on Higher Technical qualifications and published a Written Ministerial Statement to accompany it. Key points within the statement:

  1. A vision for Higher Technical Education to be a prestigious choice that delivers the skills employers need, encourages more students to continue studying after A levels or T levels and attracts workers of all ages looking to upskill and retrain.
  2. The starting point for reform is to raise the prestige of Higher Technical Education and strengthen its value to employers by putting their needs and quality first. Improving quality now – to demonstrate the value of higher technical qualifications – will lead to increased uptake of Higher Technical Education in the future.
  3. To do this we a new system is proposed to make clear which higher technical qualifications provide the skills that employers want. This will be delivered through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education signalling which qualifications deliver the knowledge, skills, and behaviours set out in employer-led national standards. This will help qualifications at this level command the confidence of students and employers alike.
  4. Alongside this the Government intent to work with the Office for Students to demonstrate the quality of providers, so there is more high-quality provision delivered across higher and further education, including through our flagship employer-led National Colleges and Institutes of Technology.
  5. The Government aims to make Higher Technical Education a positive and more popular choice by raising awareness and understanding of the new suite of Institute-approved qualifications in colleges and universities, and among potential students and employers.

This is very interesting in its own right, but also because of the direction of travel.

  • 29 We will create a clear set of signals that will enable employers and learners to easily identify the best qualifications with national labour market relevance. We want to incentivise providers to gravitate towards approved qualifications rather than those that have not met the Institute’s quality requirements. This will tilt the playing field towards qualifications which have been identified by panels of employers as delivering the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for an occupation.
  • 30 Qualifications approved by the Institute would be clearly identified through a single name or kitemark. ….
  • 31 Approved qualifications will therefore clearly stand out as being high-quality, labour market relevant, and having national currency. These benefits will enhance the offer and credibility of even those existing qualifications that have a relatively good level of employer awareness.
  • In addition, we know it will be very important to ensure that HTE is properly funded. Funding will also form an important incentive for Awarding Bodies to submit their qualifications for approval and discourage provision of rival qualifications that have not been approved by the Institute. The Post-18 Review panel has recommended that only approved HTQs should be entitled to the same tuition fee support and teaching grant, and equivalent maintenance support, as level 6 qualifications. We want to ensure there are clear incentives to deliver reformed qualifications in the future, and we will consider this as part of the ongoing Spending Review and the government’s response to the Post-18 Review.
  • We want to ensure that the very best providers are delivering our approved high-quality HTQs, whilst also considering how providers could specialise, or adjust their offer to address local skills needs. The Post-18 Review has recommended additional capital funding, for FE colleges, with a particular focus on growing specialist HTE provision in specific colleges. We will consider these recommendations, and develop our plans in more detail, as part of the Spending Review.
  • We want the reformed higher technical offer to be the best it can be. We therefore propose taking the requirement to register with the OfS a step further, and to develop with the OfS an additional set of ongoing registration conditions specifically for higher technical provision (technical conditions). Providers would be required to meet these technical conditions, in addition to the general ongoing registration conditions that are applicable to all providers, to be able to deliver the approved HTQs with access to relevant student finance for courses leading to those HTQs, and to be eligible for any additional public funding.
  • We expect this to be a rigorous process that would specifically assess and signal the quality of a provider’s higher technical education provision. Criteria for this would:
  • Specifically indicate high-quality higher technical provision by expanding on the key elements already assessed by OfS as part of the registration process, such as:
    • Suitably qualified and experienced teachers with current, relevant occupational and industry experience and expertise, as well as high quality pedagogical skills. Leaders have the capacity and ability to ensure provision is sustainable and retains a clear focus on quality
    • Strong links with employer networks, thus ensuring the knowledge, skills and behaviours being delivered are valued by, and relevant to, employers who are engaged and investing in training; and
    • Learning environments that provide access to facilities and equipment that are reflective of the workplace, including industry-relevant, up-to-date equipment.
  • Draw from the IoT assessment process, which uses a range of criteria including evidence of support for regional and national economic growth; employer engagement; relevance to occupational skills needs; and quality industry relevant teaching.
  • 67 The panel has also recommended that additional support and capital funding should be provided to grow capacity for, and ensure, high-quality technical provision, and that quality indicators could identify how best to allocate that funding. This could mean that only providers meeting the technical conditions would be eligible for any higher technical capital or grant funding for their HTE provision. For example, this could be to support providers to expand their provision, specialise or tailor their offer to meet local skills needs, or enhance teaching facilities and equipment. As stated above, we will be considering these funding proposals and wider reforms as part of the Spending Review.

International staff

This came up in Parliamentary questions this week.

Q – Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will make it his Department’s policy to exclude scientific research occupations from proposals in the immigration White Paper for a minimum salary threshold.

A – Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North):

  • On 24 June 2019, the Government asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to consider the operation of salary thresholds in the future immigration system, including the impact of exemptions from minimum salary thresholds. The MAC is due to report by January 2020.
  • We recognise the vital contribution that scientists make to the UK. In his spring statement, my Rt Hon Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, confirmed that PhD level occupations would be exempt from the Tier 2 cap. Additionally, researchers applying for settlement are exempt from the rule which states that, there should be no absence from the UK for 180 days if the absence from the UK is for the purpose carrying out research. A number of research roles also appear on the Shortage Occupation List which also exempts them from the settlement salary threshold
  • The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route is also available for internationally recognised leaders and promising future leaders, including in the science and research sector.

The Minister speaks (part 4) – on R&D investment

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, made his fourth (and final) speech in his series on R&D investment focusing on how to bring about major increases in private R&D investment.

The previous speeches covered:

  • Investing in people – ensuring that the best and brightest minds are working on the problems
  • Working collaboratives – across international borders to tackle the greatest challenges facing society
  • Enduring the funding and regulatory systems nurture new technologies and support risk taking

On private R&D investment he said:

  • If we are to deliver on our 2.4% commitment, we must be prepared to go much further and much faster. Overall investment in R&D will need to more than double in nominal terms, from current level of £35 billion per year to around £75 billion per year by 2027.
  • And at least two thirds of this investment will need to come from business. For many industries the need to invest in R&D is a pressing one – vital to competitive advantage. Businesses that thrive on the cutting edge are adept at making the most of basic research. They track down the brightest minds to seek answers to their most pressing problems. And they take the lead on experimental development and innovation, lifting new discoveries out of the lab and into people’s lives, driving economic and social prosperity.
  • That isn’t to say that the government won’t play its part. In fact, we are doing more than ever.

The Minister goes on to set out the additional funding, including a real terms QR funding uplift, and collaborative assistance that has led to successful business gains, such as Jaguar Land Rover committing to produce it’s electric cars in the UK (previously the company had been shedding staff and moving assets due to Brexit complexities).

  • Bold government policy has led to bold business decisions.
  • But to get to 2.4% we need to see significantly more than this. To ramp up from today’s levels to 2027, it is projected we’ll need to see an additional £12 billion each year from business.

To respond to this challenge the minister announced 7 focal areas:

  • Creating opportunity for the spark of creativity to arise through encouraging a vibrant and diverse research system with support for world-class, blue-skies research in universities and institutesintellectual capital ultimately comes from people. So we need to invest confidently into postgraduate study, looking at all levels of our education system to getting more people into exciting R&D careers. This also means working tirelessly to put innovation and creativity at the centre of our education and training system.
  • Turning new ideas into new businesses, products and processes – developing a culture of startups.
  • Creating a scale-up culture with early-stage ventures able to access the funding needed to scale up
  • Driving up demand as well as supply – incentivising business investment into R&D for established businesses. The  Minister states:

I see universities as ‘protagonists’, working with businesses to address problems where others cannot or dare not, and stimulating private investment.

Whether they are spinning out a company, licensing their IP, or undertaking contract or collaborative research with business, universities are remarkably skilled at identifying where they can have the greatest impact – locally, regionally, nationally and globally – and just getting on and doing it.

  • Supporting innovation across the whole UK – playing to local and regional strengths.
  • Focussing on the industrial strategies Grand Challenges
  • Ensuring research and innovation is right at the heart of Global Britain – the UK to be a magnet for foreign direct investment and as attractive a destination as possible for major businesses looking to relocate or scale up their R&D operations. Government policies and funding streams should ruthlessly drive up our global attractiveness.
    • But it is also incumbent on us to be better at marketing ourselves overseas. An important part of this is being open to talent. It is something businesses tell me constantly: the UK urgently needs an immigration system that encourages those with the best ideas and the most innovative minds to come and work here.
  • The evidence is unarguable: skilled immigration drives innovation. We mustn’t lose sight of this as we exit the EU. If we are to thrive, we need a genuinely international approach, a ‘freedom of talent’ approach that allows highly skilled people the flexibility to move and collaborate across borders.
  • That is the purpose of our international education strategy, providing focus and clarity to our ongoing educational exports
  • We cannot duck this challenge. Other nations are adopting aggressive approaches to R&D investment, driving significant increases in both public and private R&D performance. I’m not just talking about Israel and China – 2 obvious outliers. I’m also looking at Germany, who are ramping up public spending on R&D, committing to 3% annual increases every year for the next decade.
  • The technological revolution will stretch horizontally across our economy – every company will become a tech company of sorts. 
  • So to conclude, delivering on 2.4% requires focusing on all parts of the innovation lifecycle, and looking at our policies and investments through multiple lenses. And we must keep a ruthless focus on evidence, to inform the choices we make as a nation.
  • This means we need to access the latest thinking on what works, and ensure we have the best and latest metrics so we know when we have succeeded. And it means listening to what businesses and academics are telling us, and acting accordingly.

Other points made:

  • The UK has the second highest number of doctoral graduate in the EU (Germany has the highest).
  • UK researchers are unusually collaborative in comparison with EU and G20 nations
  • The UK has above-average level of people working in the fastest-growing sectors
  • The UK’s field-weighted citations has beaten all other G7 countries since 2007 with 50% greater citation impact than the world average and 30% higher impact than the EU27. No other comparator nation has a larger proportion of its research among the most widely cited in the world.

Consultations

There are NINE new consultations and inquiries this week!  Click here to view the updated tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Assistive Technology: The Student Loans Company plan to put out a tender for Assistive Technology Equipment and Training, results will be published during autumn 2019.

Industry partnership: Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, announced UK pioneering technologies under development as part of 4 new partnerships between businesses and universities. The projects aim to help UK industry and academia lead the way in bringing new products to market that contribute to tackling the big generational challenges such as climate change and the needs of an ageing society. Skidmore stressed the importance of both government and industry contributing to the Industrial Strategy ambition of raising public and private investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Projects include:

  • Developing new materials that do not make noise underwater, led by BAE Systems with the University of Southampton, the University of Nottingham and Lloyd’s Register.
  • Using AI and machine learning to speed up production of new medicines from vaccines to tablets in order to get them from the lab to the clinic faster, led by GlaxoSmithKline with the University of Strathclyde with University of Nottingham.
  • Developing a new range of fully recyclable ultra-high strength aluminium alloys for the automotive industry, led by Constellium and Brunel University.
  • Creating the next generation of household products using AI to pave the way for robots to complete advanced household tasks, led by Dyson and Imperial.

Student transitions:  Education Secretary Damian Hinds announced ‘Leapskills Workshops’, developed by student accommodation provider Unite Students which offer schools and colleges resources to teach Year 12 and 13 pupils about independent living, managing money and dealing with conflict. The sessions aim to act as a digital interactive masterclass to enhance how schools and colleges teach young people about what to expect and how to prepare for the leap of living away from home for the first time.

  • Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:  For young people leaving school, starting the next chapter of their life should be a positive life-changing experience – but we know that many people struggle with the pressures of moving away from home and living independently for the first time. A huge part of education is preparing young people for adult life and it is right that we teach them what to expect for life after school, whether that’s at university, work or an apprenticeship.
  • Unite Students CEO Richard Smith said: We believe that resilience is vital in young people and that given the right opportunities and experiences, young people can build resilience. The better prepared young people are for the transition to university, the easier they will find managing the highs and the lows often involved in this leap.

Apprenticeships: The DfE have published a summary document giving Apprenticeships and Traineeships figures. The data shows how higher level apprenticeships have boomed (68% growth since last year) with the main decline at the intermediate apprenticeship level. Apprenticeship starts from mature (19+) learners has increased by 13.8%.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 24th May 2019

We usually post these early on a Monday morning so you can all catch up before you start the week, but we write them on a Friday – these days they can be out of date within 10 minutes, let alone after a weekend.  So this week we are going early!

  • EU election results will be announced on Sunday.  In BCP the turnout was 36%.  In Dorset it was 41.2%.  While these are not spectacular turnouts, they are higher than some were expecting.
  • The PM has announced that she will step down and that the leadership contest will start on 10th June (which means the positioning etc that had already started will now intensify massively and candidates will only start being eliminated formally after 10th June).  We have more below.
  • And in “legacy” territory – the Augar review may be published next week.
  • Expect “ground-softening” over the weekend – probably as painful as it sounds.

Augar rumours – the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding.

The Augar review may be published next week.  Remember, it’s the review of an advisory panel.  The Department for Education will have to respond (was planned for the Autumn) and it is dependent to a certain extent on the Comprehensive Spending Review (not yet started).  Whoever gets the top job may have other priorities than implementing its recommendations.  And if whoever gets the top job really messes things up, there might be a general election  before the end of the year.

However, once the recommendations are out, it will be very hard to put them back into the box, so hold on to your hats.  Personally I’m expecting a very complex and detailed set of recommendations – not just a simple cut to headline tuition fee loan amounts (although that may be the starting point).

Damien Hinds is already positioning.  How to read this?

  • “universities that are shown to offer a poor economic return for their degrees will not be able to charge £9,250 a year”….” Instead, a lower fee of around £7,500 is expected to be announced by Philip Augar’s review” [note it’s a recommendation not an announcement]
  • “the Education Secretary argued that under the current £9,250 a year tuition fee system there is “no distinction” between courses that offer a high return for graduates and the economy and those that do not”…targeting “low value, low quality” university degrees – “the move is likely to crack down on creative arts and media studies courses from lower tariff universities”

So does this mean fees set by subject?  But it sounds more complex than that – how do you address the low quality, low value bit of this?

  • This could imply an uplift on a £7500 base for the “high value, high quality programmes” within a subject based on a metric linked to either “quality” [defined how?] or outcomes [aka graduate salaries or a basket of outcomes measures?]. If so, let’s hope it is based on data that takes into account background, context (eg geography and the state of the economy) and prior attainment of students, and not just raw salaries. 
  • Any uplift could be in the form of a government grant or an increased fee cap funded by a tuition fee loan. The latter seems to add a level of complexity for applicants and a set of strange incentives [pay more for sciences] so a government grant/loan to the provider seems more likely – perhaps with further strings attached? 
  • Or does it mean something else? “he said too many universities were being “incentivised” to expand courses that cost little and offer poor prospects to students in a bid to generate income”

This is the “bums on seats” argument.  So that sounds like instead of being based on outcomes, a fee cap might be linked to cost?  Probably not, it probably means quality and outcomes again.  There will just be [slightly] less incentive to offer these courses and pack the bums onto seats once the fee cap is reduced.  This is playing to the proponents of the “too many students are going to universities” argument by linking high volume and low cost to poor quality – which doesn’t necessarily hold true. 

  • But on top-ups, the article says: “Universities have argued that any cut in tuition fees should be topped up by the Government, but Mr Hinds suggested the sector had not been forced to bear the brunt of cuts as other areas of the public sector had since 2010.” “If you look back since the financial crash in 2007/08…it has been difficult for the public finances. We’ve protected the five to 16 schools budget, we’ve protected the health budget but for everywhere else there have been tight times. For universities they haven’t had that same tough, tight times,” he said.”

So no top ups then?  But if that is the case, how is the Minister going to achieve the differentiation that he seems to want?  I think this is just an argument against universal top ups – and there will be some, just limited, linked to metrics and with strings attached as described above.

It’s all a bit of a muddle.  We may see as early as Sunday….

Grade Inflation

In November 2019 QAA ran a consultation on degree classification and academic standards (here is BU’s response). You can read an analysis of the consultation responses here, and this week the outcome report has been published: Degree Classification transparency, reliability and fairness – a statement of intent. It sets out a statement of intent by which HE institutions will ensure academic standards are protected. It also calls on English universities to publish a degree outcomes statement. The statement should report on an internal institutional review which will self-judge whether the Quality Code and the OfS’ registration conditions relating to qualifications are being met.

A common degree classification framework, which will act as a reference point for providers by describing high-level attributes expected of a graduate to achieve a particular degree, is also in development. The descriptions formed part of the consultation and are currently being refined ready for publication by the UKSCQA in the summer.

Finally the report sets out the sector level actions to ensure the conventions and practices are refreshed and remain current.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Exec of OfS, welcomed the report and said: “This is a welcome statement of intent which shows that universities recognise the need to ensure that degree standards are maintained, and can be trusted by students and employers alike…Our own research on this issue showed that there has been significant and unexplained grade inflation in recent years. The Office for Students has been clear that measured but decisive action is necessary to ensure that students, graduates and employers have confidence in the manner in which degrees are awarded.”

Brexit and the government….

Well, this is out of date the minute it’s written.  The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is now completely irrelevant until after the Tory leadership contest.  There is time for one of those and then who knows what before Hallowe’en and the default date for leaving the EU without a deal.  Everyone assumes that either a no-deal advocate will win – and ignore the wishes of Parliament and let us default out of the EU – or that whoever wins will have to ask for yet another extension while they sort out a new arrangement or try to persuade the EU to change the backstop etc.

Key EU figures have spoken out against the Conservative leadership squabbles restating that the EU will not reopen negotiations with the new Conservative Prime Minister. Ireland’s deputy PM, Simon Coveney, said: “the personality might change but the facts don’t”. Coveney said: “The danger of course, is that the British system will simply not be able to deal with this issue…even though there’s a majority in Westminster that want to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and that is why over the summer months we will continue to focus significant efforts and financial resources on contingency planning to prepare for that worst case scenario.”

The BBC explain the process here:

  • Candidates need two MP proposers to back them for leader;
  • Tory MPs then vote and the candidates with the lowest votes are eliminated until two candidates remain;
  • A postal vote ballot is then held on these two candidates with the rest of the Tory membership. The winner of this becomes Conservative leader.

Current likely candidates: Jeremy Hunt, Amber Rudd, Liz Truss, Sajid Javid, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom, Matt Hancock, Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat, Michael Gove, Esther McVey, Sir Graham Brady, James Cleverly, Kit Malthouse, Mark Harper, Rory Stewart.   A recent YouGov poll reveals Boris Johnson is the most popular Conservative candidate among the party members with a lead of 18 points.

With a change of party leadership and PM we may see some policies being pushed and others dropped.  The Times have an interesting piece sharing a survey of 858 Conservative members’ opinion on key manifesto pieces such as same-sex marriage, HS2, economic policy, and avoiding an early general election.

Finally, a cascade reshuffle has been announced to replace Andrea Leadsom:

  • Mel Stride,the current Treasury minister, will become leader of the Commons replacing Andrea.
  • Jesse Norman, currently the transport minister, will replace Mel Stride as financial secretary to the Treasury and paymaster general.
  • Michael Ellis, currently a culture minister, replaces Jesse Norman as transport minister.
  • Rebecca Pow joins the government to replace Michael Ellis as culture minister.

T Levels

The Government have announced the package of measures to support employers to deliver T-level industry placements. The T Level placement will be at least 315 hours (approximately 45 days) allowing students to build the knowledge and skills they need in a workplace environment. The package includes:

  • New guidance to support employers and providers to offer tailored placements that suit their workplace and the needs of young people. This will include offering placement opportunities with up to 2 employers and accommodating students with part time jobs or caring responsibilities.
  • A new £7 million pilot scheme to explore ways to help cover the costs associated with hosting a young person in their workplace such as equipment and protective clothing.
  • Bespoke ‘how to’ guides, workshops and practical hands-on support for employers – designed alongside industry bodies to make it as easy as possible for them to offer placements.

T levels begin rolling out in across the first three study areas in September 2020 (digital, education, construction). The announced pilot scheme will start prior to the 2020 roll out. From 2021 Health and Science T levels will be introduced, followed by legal, finance/accounting, engineering and manufacturing, creative and design in 2022. Bournemouth and Poole College are listed as one of only 20 providers who will run the first T level projects. The Government also aims to attract 80 industry experts to teach within the T levels sector.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: T Levels represent the biggest shake up to technical education in a generation…Industry placements will provide businesses with an opportunity to attract a diverse range of talent and build the skilled workforce they need for the future. To make a success of T Levels, we need businesses working in partnership with us and colleges. Industry placements will help young people build the confidence and skills they need to get a head start in their careers and they’ll help businesses maximise their talent pipeline for the future.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: There has long been a need for an increase in prestigious technical options after GCSEs that parents, teachers, and businesses understand. This package of measures to help employers deliver placements is welcome, because if T Levels are going to be a success they will require long-term commitment from Government. Support will be most needed for small and medium-sized businesses, so special attention should be paid to these firms.

Mature Foundation Year Phenomenon

Last week we told you about how access courses are declining whilst foundation years are on the rise and explored the student outcomes for these differing routes (see here, pages 9-10).

HESA have analysed data from 2010/11 to 2017/18 to find clues about disadvantaged students who undertake a foundation year. Foundation years have taken off in increasing numbers since 2014/15, in particular London sees significant growth in foundation year numbers.  Click here for the interactive chart to explore the interactions between disadvantage and young/mature.

The analysis uses the index of multiple deprivation to measure disadvantage and find that across England the number of entrants to a foundation year from the most disadvantaged areas has grown by 7%  – making it 32% of the total entrants. However, the effect is greater when only the most disadvantaged mature students are explored up by 12% to 41% of the total entrants. Mature students seem to account for the significant rise in foundation years – it can be seen most prominently in the London only data.

HESA say:

  • The Office for Studentshas said that reversing the decline in entry into higher education among mature students and especially those from less privileged backgrounds is a vital part of ensuring more equality in access to higher education. Much of the current debate has been around what modifications are required within part-time study and student finance to help achieve this, given such courses are taken predominantly by older students.

The above narrative suggests that foundation years could also be a useful way of helping disadvantaged mature learners return to study. In both countries, we found that much of the increase in mature entry in recent years is accounted for by a small number of institutions. Hence, future research may wish to explore how these universities have managed to buck the wider trend of decline, as this may improve sector understanding of what is needed to support mature and/or disadvantaged individuals into higher education.

Graduate Outcomes

Wonkhe report on the graduate recruitment company who have published Working with class: The state of social immobility in graduate recruitment. Wonkhe state the report finds over a third of 18-25 year olds are put off joining a business if they perceive the workforce to be made up predominantly of middle and upper-class employees – equating to 2.5 million young people. The report argues that this is costing businesses and the wider economy £270 billion per year. The research also found two thirds (66%) of graduates felt they had to change “who they are” to “make a good impression” during an interview and the majority (64%) said they weren’t able to express themselves as individuals during application processes.

Wonkhe also have an interesting and short blog on what the graduate outcomes metrics aren’t measuring despite the data being available. What about graduate job satisfaction? explores the old DLHE question examining why the graduate chose the job they were doing and the nearest equivalents in the Graduate Outcomes survey which asks whether the graduate’s current activity fits with their future plans, is meaningful, and utilities their degree learning. The author calls for TEF and league table compilers to pay more attention to this richer source of graduate outcome information.

Disadvantage – access, participation and success

A parliamentary question on opening up disadvantage data to support university admissions receives the usual ‘not yet’ response:

Universities: Disclosure of Information

Q – Ben Bradley: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Office for Students on the transmission of data on applicants’ pupil premium status and ethnicity directly to universities in order to support universities’ work on widening participation and access.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • Widening access and participation in higher education is a priority for the government. This means that everyone with the capability to succeed in higher education should have the opportunity to participate, regardless of their background or where they grew up.
  • We have made real progress in ensuring universities are open to all, with record rates of disadvantaged 18-year-olds in higher education. However, we know there is further to go to maximise the potential of the talent out there, so it is vital that we build on this progress.
  • Higher education providers need to use good quality and meaningful data to identify disadvantage in order to effectively address disparities in access and participation in higher education. We encourage institutions to use a range of measures to identify disadvantage, including individual-level indicators, area data (such as Participation of Local Areas, Index of Multiple Deprivation or postcode classification from ACORN), school data, intersectional data such as Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’s (UCAS) Multiple Equality Measure, and participation in outreach activities. To this end, we are working with the Office for Students (OfS), UCAS and sector representatives to further explore how we can support universities to improve and enhance access to data.
  • We want institutions to consider a broad range of information in their offers, including the context in which a student’s results were achieved. We are committed to helping universities progress in their efforts to improve access and successful participation for under-represented groups.

And while we’re talking of Chris Skidmore, he has had a temporary promotion to cover for Claire Perry, Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth. Chris will retain his Universities Minister portfolio whilst attending Cabinet on Claire’s behalf.

Minimum salary threshold

Politics Home reports that Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, will remove the £30,000 minimum salary threshold for EU migrants wishing to work within the UK. All media sources are drawing on a letter than The Sun obtained in which Sajid wrote to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommending they reconsider the wage threshold and address regional wage discrepancies. The Sun report Sajid also said he wants EU migrants to receive exemptions for a range of professions and for new entrants and inexperienced works to be paid less.

The MAC’s £30k policy brought the wage requirement for EU in line with that required to be achieved by international migrants and said it would also help to boost wages for UK workers. Prior to the £30k policy announcement (see Immigration white paper, Dec 2018) it was reported that there was heated opposition to the policy in the cabinet from both the Chancellor and the Business Secretary (Greg Clark). As a concession to the opposition it was agreed the Minister (Sajid Javid) would consult with business on the final level of the salary threshold. Politics Home state: “Saj is basically telling the MAC to go away and do their work all over again. He knows Theresa is off and he’s cashing in.”   

The leaked letter states: “The Government is committed to engaging extensively over the course of this year before confirming the level of the minimum salary threshold.”  It is believed the MAC are due to reopen the salary threshold discussions and report back to Sajid Javid at the end of 2019.

Apprenticeships

The Public Accounts Committee have published a progress review on the apprenticeships programme, raising concerns over low take-up, unambitious targets and poor-quality training.

It argues that the DfE has failed to make the predicted progress when launching apprenticeship reforms in 2017. The number of apprenticeship starts fell by 26% after the apprenticeship levy was introduced and, although the level is now recovering, the government will not meet its target of 3 million starts by March 2020.  The committee moreover concludes that the department’s focus on higher-level apprenticeships and levy-paying employers increases the risk that minority groups, disadvantaged areas and smaller employers may miss out on the benefits that apprenticeships can bring.

The report also finds that the Department underspent the programme’s budget by 20% in 2017-18, but employers’ preference for higher-cost apprenticeships means that the programme is expected to come under growing financial pressure in the coming years.

Other news

Smart dorms: Accommodation provider UPP are considering trialling new technology and research initiatives as part of a smart property technology push. UPP said:  “We have an aspiration to create smart communities within our bedrooms and our accommodation, and we want to support universities’ smart agendas…One of the ideas that we’re following at UPP is, how can we get virtual assistants into our rooms? How can we use smart technology in the lights and so on?”  UPP state that students want more control over their accommodation, such as how much energy they use, and that new technology could help monitor student wellbeing, for example registering how often students leave their rooms. They are encouraging suppliers to see university accommodation as a “testbed for…their new gadgets”, which could help keep down costs for students renting the rooms. Research Professional have the full article here.

FE funding: Education Select Committee Chair Robert Halfon joins the call for FE providers to be funded fairly. Writing in Politics Home he states:

  • When delivered well, skills, education and apprenticeships provide a ladder of opportunity that allows anyone, no matter what their background, the opportunity to secure jobs, prosperity and security for their future. This is important for two reasons: to address social injustices in our society and to boost productivity in our country. Getting this right benefits everyone, and colleges are the vanguard in our fight to achieve this.
  • Despite delivering fantastic outcomes for their learners and meeting our skills needs, colleges get a raw deal in funding terms. According to the IFS, 16-18 education “has been the biggest loser”, with spending per student falling by eight per cent in real terms since 2010/2011. For too long, Further Education has been considered the ‘Cinderella Sector’.

The Education Select Committee has been: examining the potential for a long term, ten-year vision for education investment that recognises the vital contribution from our collegesThe benefit that colleges bring to individuals, communities and our country transcends party politics and referendum lines.

Antisemitism: Universities were reminded of their responsibilities to tackle religious-based hate at the end of last week. This Government news story tells of potential indirect discrimination after a University Jewish society was expected to fund a £2,000 security bill to run an event.

Careers Hubs: Dorset LEP has been successful in a bid to establish a Careers Hub. In 2018 Careers Hubs were trialled through first wave providers who reported over performance against the measured careers education targets:

  • outperforming the national average on all 8 Gatsby Benchmarks of good careers guidance;
  • 58% of Careers Hubs provide every student with regular encounters with employers;
  • 52% provided every student with workplace experience (work experience, shadowing or workplace visits).
  • Improvements were strongest in disadvantaged regions.

The press release describes the Careers Hub model:

Careers Hubs bring together schools and colleges with employers, universities, training providers and career professionals to improve outcomes for young people. There is a focus on best practice and schools and colleges have access to support and funding, including an expert Hub Lead to help coordinate activity and build networks, a central fund to support employer engagement activities, and training for a Careers Leader in each school and college. Employers are vital to the Hub model’s success, with all Hubs required to demonstrate strong engagement amongst local businesses and a clear plan for increasing employer engagement

Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the CBI, said:“Firms can sometimes struggle to engage with the schools and colleges that need their support. It’s therefore hugely encouraging to see more Careers Hubs on the way. There is no doubt they will play a pivotal role in helping employers get more involved.”

Poverty: The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, published his final report into extreme poverty and human rights (including taking account of 300 written consultation responses). You can read the full report here, or you can contact Policy for a shorter summary and recommendations if this topic is of interest. The report sets out a bleak picture of poverty levels in the UK and draws a direct parallel between the rise in poverty and the Government’s austerity agenda:

“Close to 40 per cent of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021. Food banks have proliferated; homelessness and rough sleeping have increased greatly; tens of thousands of poor families must live in accommodation far from their schools, jobs and community networks; life expectancy is falling for certain groups; and the legal aid system has been decimated”

“The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.

The Government have responded pushing back on the report calling it a “barely believable documentation of Britain” and stating that “all the evidence shows that full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life.”

Industrial Strategy: The 5 universities in the West Midlands have jointly published a report raising awareness of the value and contribution they make to the Government’s Industrial Strategy. Deborah Cadman, CEO of the West Midlands Combined Authority, said:  “The West Midlands is the first region to work with the UK Government to develop a Local Industrial Strategy and the region’s universities are at the forefront of the vital link between innovation and industry. Their research and development reaches far beyond the laboratory and lecture theatres. By driving the local economy and improving everyone’s lives, they are already addressing the UK’s future challenges.”

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 17th January 2019

Post-18 review

As we all look forward to the outcome of the Augar review in mid February, and speculation continues, Research Professional have an interview with Bill Rammell, VC at the University of Bedfordshire:

“To cut the headline fee…would certainly hit universities hard but what that means is it would hit the student experience hard,” Rammell said. “The merit of the current system is that we have better staff-student ratios, better facilities, better support services, we have the best ever student satisfaction ratings, and the best graduate employability. And I think we risk, by cutting the income to universities, cutting the support to students and moving backwards.”

There have been many stories about a but in fee caps at least for some courses.  Over the weekend a less dramatic story emerged, of a cut in tuition fee loans but a government top up for universities.

  • “The review is also likely to recommend maintaining the £9,250 currently paid to universities for each student, while reducing the proportion paid for through loans. It is considering ways to top up the difference by direct funding from government. This would ensure that universities received their current levels of funding per head while helping to cut the overall burden of debt incurred by students. The change would give the government more discretion to modify the level of funding top-ups depending on the cost of particular university courses or those seen as strategic priorities, such as science and technology programmes.”

The other part of the FT story was about loans for FE as well as HE: “the move is designed to encourage more people to pursue vocational and professional training — including those seeking a “second chance” later in life — and to better fill England’s significant skills gap.”

The other big recent story was about controlling numbers by stopping loans to students who did not get the equivalent of three Ds at A level.  In the RP interview: “[this] would disproportionally affect teaching-led universities and represent “a really retrograde step”, Rammell said. “The proposal that really concerns me beyond [lowering fees] is the notion that you would stop students at three Ds and below at A level having access to loan finance to go to university. I think that would be extraordinarily discriminating.”

Professor Dave Phoenix, VC of London South Bank University, wrote about this on Wonkhe last week:

  • “An analysis of the UCAS data on level 3 qualifications and acceptances into university shows that in 2018, a greater proportion of BAME students were accepted onto a university course with A level grades of DDD or below than compared to white students. This is particularly acute for black A level students, with over 10% of those accepted onto a university course with a grade profile of DDD or lower. So pulling up the drawbridge for those students with lower attainment will affect BAME groups disproportionately, with black students being particularly badly affected.
  • “A blanket all-England minimum grade threshold would differentially hit localities and regions with lower average school or college attainment. We know from Office for Students research on the geography of prior academic attainment that this varies quite significantly by region. At a stroke, then, a grade threshold would hit regions beyond London and the South East of England with lower average attainment, disproportionately reducing the total numbers of prospective students eligible to go to university from areas like the North East or the East Midlands. This does not seem to be a wise (or fair) policy response to the concerns about communities and regions being ‘left behind’ following the Brexit debate.”

What could the Augar review recommendations look like?  we’ve been thinking about it and have some ideas (not that we are endorsing any of them):

  • A mass switch to apprenticeships and employer-sponsored degrees for “vocational” courses
    • nursing, teaching, social work, police – mainly public sector apprenticeships
    • business and management degrees, accounting and finance, fashion, many media and communications courses – private sector sponsorship required (i.e. you can’t do these courses unless you have an employer lined up, unless you pay for it yourself (or with a commercial loan))
  • Headline cut in fee cap/loan amount but accompanied by some or all of the things below:
    • Government teaching grant for strategically important subjects – mainly STEM
    • Nursing, teaching also subsidised (or they might all switch to apprenticeships)
    • Some subsidy to be earned by achieving more stretching access and participation targets – like the arrangement we have now but small carrot and more stick. The funding could follow the (WP) student and be conditional (retrospectively) on success.
    • Top up fees for highly prestigious universities/courses (perhaps those with big graduate salaries) funded by extra student loans
    • Some teaching subsidy also available for “low value/low return” courses if they meet stringent requirements on graduate outcomes (perhaps measured broadly, i.e. not just absolute salary but also relative outcomes for WP students).
    • Additional student loans available for “low value” courses or courses at less prestigious or successful universities but on an arm’s length commercial basis
    • Employers providing top up teaching grant – perhaps individually following the student (e.g. employer sponsored degrees) or perhaps linked to the course – may be like the apprenticeship levy, or a fund that is spent according to criteria
    • Loans or teaching grant linked to student performance – would be retrospective, may be learning gain measure or outcomes based on relative starting position, or just simply linked to tariff points on entry.
  • Rebranding and changing the terms of student loans but how: could include some of all of these:
    • More variable payment thresholds and rates, different interest rates so that overall higher earners pay more and more quickly, thresholds and rates could vary according to your WP status when you start and then later your salary
    • Change to the optics of the loan – rename it, collect it differently
    • Graduate tax – applicable to all graduates not just those who had loans?
  • Maintenance grants – may be reintroduced but means tested and limited.
  • Life-time learning accounts – total nominal amount of subsidy for learning, can be spent on a-levels, T-levels, apprenticeship, degree, further degree, part-time, mature etc. It’s nominal – and different types of support count in different ways according to the cost to the taxpayer. Apprenticeships don’t use much of your total because the employer pays. Tuition fees burn through it much faster….
  • Headline increase in fees for some courses supported by a tweaked loan model, perhaps top up grant not bigger loans.
  • No change at all for PGT or PGR funding but a promised review?

Admissions

The University and College Union and National Education Opportunities Network have co-authored a report on a student centred model for HE admissions, arguing students should apply to university once their results are known and commence their first year of study in November. They offer it as a solution to the recent proliferation of unconditional offers.

UCU head of policy, Matt Waddup, stated: The current admissions process based on predicted grades is failing students and needs an urgent overhaul. The time has come for the government to grasp the nettle on this issue and commission an independent review of higher education admissions to take forward the agenda.

Wonkhe have an article by Graeme Atherton of NEON, who co-authored the report:

  • The current process was designed at a time when less than five percent of young people entered HE. The consequence of this is that anomalies, such as clearing and increasing use of unconditional offers, become built into the system. Moreover the requirement to make grade predictions, once a minority sport, becomes another unpaid part of the job description of teachers and lecturers in post-16 education.
  • The new system would have three phases. The first phase would run from year 10 to up to and after the final examinations prior to HE application. It would include a mandatory minimum of ten hours per year of HE-related information advice and guidance for students over each of years 10 to 13, and a Student Futures Week at the end of year 12 (i.e. the first year of level 3 study).
  • The second phase would focus on application with students applying after examinations. This does require reducing the period for providers to make decisions about applicants, but we argue that some of these pressures can be alleviated by moving back the start of the academic year for first year students to the beginning of November.
  • …The third and final phase would be after application and where a later start to the academic year becomes a real strength, enabling a greater focus on transition, preparation and entry for first year students. Problems with retention, especially for widening participation students, often stem from induction. This induction phase could also be seen as a pre-reading period for all students to ensure that learning time is not overly disrupted by this change.

Debbie McVitty responded on Wonkhe with a review of the context and the data:

  • Predicting grades is an inexact science at best, with potential for bias to creep into the judgements. Research conducted for UCU by Gill Wyness at the UCL Institute of Education in 2016 found that 75% of students between 2013-15 were predicted to do better at A level than they actually did and only 16% of students’ grades were predicted correctly. That said, the majority of those incorrectly predicted were accurate within one grade – for example, the difference between BBB and BBC which you could argue in most cases is well within an acceptable tolerance band.
  • Moreover, at the level of the entire sample grades of students from state schools and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to be over-predicted. However, among the highest performing students – those expecting As and Bs – grades of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to be under-predicted. Research on the same topic published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2011 told a broadly similar story – although the rates of accuracy of grade prediction seem to have declined in the interim.

She looks at what happened last time this was seriously discussed in 2011: The sector listened politely and then firmly rejected the idea….The inertia of the HE sector was not the sole culprit. The secondary education sector, which had previously been open to the possibility of post-qualification admissions, also came out against the proposals. A killer argument was that a post-results application system would mean providing applicants with additional support and guidance over the summer, at a time where schools and colleges were not geared up to deliver this – an issue that would only compound the barriers for disadvantaged applicants.

On unconditional offers: The question of unconditional offers is at present unresolved – UCU offers evidence of the exponential growth of unconditional offers as an unambiguous negative. A more balanced view is presented by a UUK 2018 paper on admissions, which observes that unconditional offers are still a minority of all offers, but urges institutions to monitor carefully their impact on subsequent exam performance and retention. As things stand the only evidence of negative impact is anecdotal.

And concludes:

  • Even if the sector could be brought to agree to, for example, delay the start of the university term for a few weeks (a process that sounds simple but wouldn’t be) no advocate of PQA has ever been able to explain how to prevent autonomous institutions from informally accepting or rejecting applicants at any time they like. The central application system is used for efficiency; no institution is required to use it and students can still apply directly to their institution of choice outside the UCAS system.
  • There is no doubt that PQA advocates are acting on principle – certainly that UCU could only be in favour of the policy on a principled basis, given the level of upheaval any PQA system would cause to its own members. But this could be a case where principles get in the way of good policymaking. Increasingly PQA feels like a solution in search of a problem. Meanwhile, a number of thoughtful proposals focused on substantially enhancing the support for applicants to make effective choices may never get air time, because PQA is sucking all the oxygen from the debate.

Grade Inflation

Wonkhe have an article by Phil Pilkington, an Honorary Teaching Fellow at Coventry and Deputy Chair at Middlesex University SU with a different perspective on the headlines:

  • In the articles, a first is an entrée to the high table. In reality it is more likely to lead to another two years on an MPhil, five years on a doctorate and a couple of years of post doc fellowship on poverty wages. In the articles, to achieve a first is to achieve the highest cognitive ability – but it is a strange claim that an assessment discovers cognitive ability (whatever that might be) rather than a competence or understanding in a discipline.
  • Underpinning it is the idea that there is a natural order of those who are naturally gifted in getting first class awards. This assumes that cognitive performance is natural and not identified with or tied to an academic subject. It assumes that high quality teaching will not improve cognitive abilities so an increase must have been obtained fraudulently because there is a natural order of and limited number of first class minds. This is just a circularity.
  • The notion of IQ as a generic measure of smarts has long been discredited, with multiple intelligences taking over as an alternative model. Social context also matters. The historical construction of disciplines have created measures of discipline intelligence. How the levels of these discipline-bounded intelligences are measured is not at issue, it is that there is a determinism (of a loose sort) of what counts as smart related to the overall discourse of the discipline. Such smarts are not, unlike the other essentialism of employability, necessarily transferable. Paul Dirac would have been bewildered by cognitive behavioural therapy, and Samuel Beckett was rather dim about modern painting but in neither case does it matter to their enduring brilliance in physics or drama.

Brexit – just because…

As widely predicted, the government lost the meaningful vote (part 1) and won the vote of no confidence (also part 1). We are pretty much where we were a week ago except more harsh things have been said on all sides and the UK is no nearer a consensus on the way forward. And the EU is just waiting, which is fine, because they wouldn’t concede anything until the last minute anyway and there is still time for the UK to ask for an extension or even decide to revoke article 50…..So what might  happen now? Skip this and move onto the next heading if you can’t bear it!

As they lost the meaningful vote, the government has to make a statement about their intentions within 3 days [was 21 but this was changed – now Monday 21st Jan] and then there is another vote by Parliament. What could the government propose in this statement?

  • It is another opportunity to persuade people to support the original deal with some more concessions or reassurance. There is unlikely to be anything from the EU by Monday but could be UK government assurances on things on workers’ rights and the environment, this was tried a bit before the meaningful vote.
  • Or this could be the moment to ask for an extension to article 50 but it would need an earthquake in No 10 for this to happen by Monday. Mass ministerial resignations over the weekend, for example?

We think it is most likely that the statement it will outline a UK consultation with parliamentarians (already announced) and then going back to Brussels. It seems (to us) that the only EU concession that might result in a change of result on the deal is a hard end or get-out clause for the UK on the backstop. That would get the DUP, a few Brexiteers and maybe some remainers over the line including maybe some Labour ones, but whether it would be enough to get it over the line is unclear – quite probably not.  Only three labour MPs voted for the deal this week.  But more might in a future attempt, especially if they are disenchanted with the Labour leadership.  But maybe not next week, maybe only nearer the deadline.

Other EU concessions that leave the deal largely intact (and so are doable in the time) seem unlikely to move enough people – e.g. on the divorce bill.

Apparently, the motion will be tabled on 21st and then a full day of debate (and a vote) will be on 22nd January.  It’s not clear what will happen in the meantime.  The vote on 22nd is apparently not a re-run of the meaningful vote, although there could be amendments to the motion and another interesting set of debates on Parliamentary procedure.  If the motion (whatever it says) is not supported on 22nd January, there is no next step set out formally in the process.  According to the process maps, we leave with no deal.  But in practice there is time for several more tries at getting the deal approved, or a vote on an extension to article 50.  And more opportunities for confidence votes too.

Anyone who wants a second referendum has to ensure that we get an extension to article 50 first.  It is still much more likely (we think) that our politicians will spend the next few weeks arguing, and that we simply end up falling out of the EU by default on 29th March without a deal.  It seems that only a few politicians (but maybe more of the population) actually want a no deal Brexit – but the lack of consensus about an alternative will get us there anyway.  What would avoid it?  The EU blinking on the backstop or a delay.

A delay to Brexit would need to be put to Parliament. Not necessarily by the government – amid all the talk of Parliament taking back control, the charge may be led by backbenchers (see below). And the EU would need to agree (which they would do  – they say if they thought it would lead to a change of attitude and approach, but probably even without that they would agree to it).  What might get us to that point?  A clear consensus in Parliament around something.

  • Most of the options seem so far away from the current deal as to be almost inconceivable without a change in government – e.g. softer Brexit options such as Norway style EEA membership, staying in the Customs Union on a permanent basis (Labour policy). Even proposing it might bring down the government if Brexiteers and the DUP vote with Labour in a confidence vote. Surely the only way these ideas will move forward is if there is either an election or a second referendum.
  • The Canada option is what the future political declaration might turn into. We floated the idea two weeks ago that there could be a longer extension to article 50 to negotiate the longer term deal before we leave – but the EU elections in the summer (inauguration of the new European parliament on July 2nd) make that look unlikely, apart from the fact that the EU have always said that they don’t want to negotiate the long term deal until we are out. This is an option in a no deal scenario too – leave and then negotiate. Tricky, and will take longer because there will be short term messy things to sort out first.
  • There could be a last minute delay just because there is no consensus. And then the arguments would continue for a bit longer but probably not with much substantial change.

The House of Commons library said on Wednesday:

Yesterday, Nick Boles presented a Bill before the House in connection with EU withdrawal, while today Dominic Grieve is expected to present two Bills in connection with provision for an EU referendum. Since these are not Government Bills, there are limited opportunities for MPs to debate and vote on them. The House’s own Standing Orders, which give priority to Government business, are therefore likely to be the subject of close scrutiny by those seeking to influence the Government’s next steps.  

The Nick Boles bill says that if the House of Commons haven’t passed the withdrawal agreement by 11th Feb then

“the Secretary of State must invite the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons to prepare and publish by 5 March 2019 a plan of action setting out a proposed process in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union”

We haven’t seen the Grieve ones yet, but this from the iNews “One bill seeks to launch preparations for a referendum while the other seeks to carry out the vote”.  You can follow them here as they will be  published here when ready.  As Private Members’ Bills as noted above, they may not get much further although we live in interesting times for Parliamentary procedures….

We also found this one – the EU (Revocation of Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, laid by Geraint Davies MP in December, which gets its second reading on 25th January:

“A Bill to….Require the Prime Minister to revoke the notification, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union unless two conditions are met;

  • to establish as the first condition for non-revocation that a withdrawal agreement has been approved by Parliament by 21 January 2019 or during an extension period agreed by that date under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union;
  • to establish as the second condition for non-revocation that a majority of participating voters have voted in favour of that agreement in a referendum in which the United Kingdom remaining as a member of the European Union was the other option;

 

and for connected purposes.”.

So we stick with our predictions from two weeks ago that either:

  • Politicians get some sort of comfort from somewhere and/or the EU come up with some weasel wording on the backstop at the 11th hour, and Parliament approves the deal – either by March 29th or by the end of June under a short extension.

OR

  • Chaos continues, and the UK leaves with no deal in March or June, leading in the short-ish term to a[nother] vote of no confidence and a general election, perhaps in 2020 if no deal turns out to be as bad as many people think it might be.

Accelerated Degrees

The regulations which will change the funding regime to allow accelerated degrees to charge different fees were considered in Parliament this week.

The Government’s intention is to allow provider to charge a 20% uplift above the usual annual fee caps for accelerated degrees. For students, this will result in a total overall fee saving of 20% for their degree.  Students would also save on living costs but it would be hard to work during their course.  “Accelerated degrees” include any first undergraduate degree delivered in a period at least one year shorter than the equivalent standard degree.  This can include degrees with work placements or overseas placement years. The government were intending to have the regulations in place for the 2019/20 academic year.

MPs from the House of Commons legislative committee raised concerns on the new limits, of £11,100 a year.

Research Professional say:

  • Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for higher education, further education and skills, warned that the two-year courses might be hard for disadvantaged students to access as there would be no opportunity to fund their studies by working during the holidays.  
  • “We would like a situation with fees in which students did not have to work part time as much as they do, but given that that is the case, perhaps the minister will admit that the giveaway in the accelerated degree proposals is that they are not focused on those sorts of people [disadvantaged students], but in many cases on richer or employer-funded applicants,” he said, later adding that higher annual fees  would “nudge people away from participating [in higher education], rather than nudging them towards it”.
  • …Marsden said that accelerated degrees could increase pressure on staff workloads and squeeze time traditionally set aside for research.
  • “The government have given little thought to the impact on staff workloads of accelerated degrees,” Marsden said. “There is a risk that the move to accelerated degrees will compromise time currently allocated by such teachers to research, and fuel—of necessity, if they are not prepared to do the relevant work—the use of even more casualised teaching staff to deliver provision during the summer months.” 
  • ..Skidmore said the government would assess the effectiveness of accelerated degree funding and access spending compared with traditional three-year degree courses, three years after the legislation has been put in place.

Apprenticeships

Research Professional report that the Commons education committee has raised concerns that institutions are “re-badging” courses in order to allow employers to pay for them using apprenticeship levy funds.

  • At a hearing on 16 January, the chair of the committee, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, said that some institutions were “re-badging expensive courses as apprenticeships” in order to attract students. He suggested this could be considered as “gaming” the apprenticeship system.
  • In one example, Halfon said that Cranfield University’s School of Management had “redesigned” its executive master of business administration (MBA) course, which costs £32,000 and is “pitched at middle managers wanting to move into a senior management role”, as an apprenticeship. “Was [the levy] supposed to be a vehicle for upskilling senior employees…or should it focus more than it does on those coming through school?” Halfon asked, saying the practice risked “depleting a crucial source of funding for those most in need”.
  • Education minister Damian Hinds said that the levy “as designed, covers all levels of apprenticeships”, and that there was a role for management education. “It is a pretty small minority [of apprenticeships that are] above level six,” he said. Asked whether the Department for Education was looking at “the potential gaming” of the apprenticeship system, Hinds said that there was to be a review after 2020 of how the levy works, which would take into account such concerns.
  • A spokeswoman for Cranfield School of Management said the “significant interest shown by UK businesses in management-focused apprenticeships” was indicative of “a latent need for better management practice”. “Through the apprenticeship levy, access to our leading postgraduate education has been opened up to people who would not otherwise have felt it was for them,” she said. “One in six of our applicants comes from a non-traditional education background and is accessing university education for the first time, a fact the committee should be joining us in celebrating.
  • “At Cranfield, we are proud of the role we are playing in creating the next generation of leaders and the role we are helping play in boosting future UK productivity.”

Other news

Former universities and science minister Sam Gyimah has been elected to the House of Commons science and technology committee.

The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill goes to Committee state in the House of Commons on 23rd January.

The Trade Bill continues to work its way through the House of Lords starting its HL Committee stage on 21st January– this is aimed at setting things up for after Brexit.  It started in the Lords (you can see why!):

Make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements; to make provision establishing the Trade Remedies Authority and conferring functions on it; and to make provision about the collection and disclosure of information relating to trade.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 14th December 2018

A busy week in politics, and for policy too.  Not looking any quieter as we approach the end of the year, either.  We will do a short update next week because the ONS report on student loan accounting is due and there are likely to be interesting reflections on that through the week.

Student loans and accounting

Ahead of the big ONS announcement on Monday about accounting for student loans, there is a House of Commons library report: Student loans and the Government’s deficit

Following concerns from parliamentary committees, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is re-examining how student loans are recorded in the Government’s deficit (which is the difference between the Government’s spending and its revenues from tax receipts and other sources). The ONS will announce its decision on 17 December 2018. (more…)

HE policy update for the w/e 30th November 2018

Lots of news this week  – and some negative headlines as a result.

TEF update

Have you been following the changes to the TEF announced in February?  Are you up to date with the metrics and proposed structure.  Did you know that year 5 has been postponed?  We have prepared some slides on TEF which will bring you up to date – you can see them via the Policy pages on the intranet.

Unconditional offers – the next phase of the debate

Sarah wrote a long piece on unconditional offers last week, and this week we have this year’s data from UCAS.  The headline of the report is that unconditional offers were made to a third of young applicants in England, Northern Ireland and Wales in the 2018 admissions cycle   The actual report is here.  The report also notes that most unconditional offers (i.e. around two thirds of those made) were made to those aged 19 and over – i.e. post qualification.  This share has fallen since 2013 when it was 98%. (more…)

HE Policy update for the w/e 23rd November 2018

Considering we were late and included much of Monday’s news in the last update, this is a bumper update for you.  Lots of data and lots of speculation about fees etc.  We have managed to avoid the B word this week – as you will have had enough of it from all the other news sources.

Internships

Sophie Bradfield, the Policy & Campaigns Coordinator for SUBU, returns with another guest piece for us this week

Sutton Trust has published research today on graduate internships detailing that “39% of graduates in their twenties have done an internship, including almost half (46%) of young graduates under 24.” These statistics have a direct correspondence with research published in a Lancaster University HECSU-funded Graduate Resilience Project in 2016, looking at how students transition after graduating, where “45% of respondents identified a concern that they lacked relevant experience.” Pairing this with the competition for graduate jobs, it’s of no surprise that so many students seek to undertake internships. At BU gaining placements and real-world experience is a unique selling point and as BU proudly states on the placement information page “90% of our graduates have relevant work experience and this can give you a real head start in the competitive jobs market.” The Students’ Union at Bournemouth University (SUBU) is in absolute agreement that offering opportunities to gain experience can really help students to stand out from the crowd; learn transferable skills for employment; and increase employability and so we have a lot of extra-curricular opportunities on offer for students and collaborate with BU on a number of joint projects including recruiting paid students to be on programme review panels.

(more…)

HE Policy Update for w/e 26 October 2018

To read the policy update in full with the infographics click here or continue to read below without the infographics for widening participation.

It’s been a busy week for activity in Parliament along with several new reports published, including the subject level TEF details and a focus on part time and flexible provision. Meanwhile the sector continues to lobbying efforts in hope of influencing the forthcoming outcomes of the Review of post-18 Education and Funding. It’s a bumper update this week so do scan through to read the sections of most interest to your role.

TEF and Grade Inflation

Grade Inflation

Sam Gyimah spoke on Monday to outline a new measure to discourage grade inflation within HE institutions which will be piloted through the second year of TEF subject level pilots. The DfE news story states:

Announcing a second year of pilots to move subject-level TEF a step closer, Sam Gyimah confirmed today that these will also look at grade inflation, with TEF panellists reviewing evidence to see whether universities are taking a responsible approach to degree grading and not awarding excessive numbers of firsts and 2:1s. It means a university’s provider-level rating of gold, silver or bronze will take their approach to tackling grade inflation into account.

Grade inflation will be an important feature of the criteria considered alongside how a university is stretching its students through course design and assessment, and through their ability to develop independence, knowledge and skills that reflect their full potential. It forms a key part of the government’s commitment to delivering real choice for prospective students.

This is one of the first measures taken by the government to tackle grade inflation, with the plans confirmed in the government’s response to the subject-level TEF consultation.

In the last five years alone, figures from the Higher Education Stats Authority show the proportion of graduates who gained a first class degree has increased from 18% in 2012/13 to 26% in 2016/17, which means over a quarter of graduates are now securing the top grade.

Despite Gyimah’s speech the grade inflation presence within the subject level TEF pilot will be light touch this year because of the level of opposition to the metric during the consultation process:

Grade inflation is an important issue and the Government is committed to ensuring it is addressed so that students and employers can have confidence in the value of higher education qualifications. It was one of the more contentious topics in the consultation. In response to the question posed, the consultation demonstrated support for our proposal to apply the grade inflation metric only at provider-level and we will therefore maintain this approach. We acknowledge however that challenges to the grade inflation metric were raised in both the consultation and pilot findings. While almost half of respondents agreed to our proposal, many respondents also stated that they did not support the continued use of this metric in the TEF at any level and the pilot found the metric was limited in its current form. To address these concerns, the OfS will use the second year of the subject-level pilots to test some refinements to the grade inflation metric, exploring how it can be improved. This includes presenting additional data such as trends in prior attainment alongside the grade inflation data to help panels better account for other factors that might influence grades. (Pages 6-7 of Government’s response link.)

Research Professional write about the removal of the ‘contentious’ teaching intensity measure.

Conservative Women have an article by Chris McGovern supporting Gyimah’s plans to address grade inflation. While the BBC considers: Does it matter what degree grade you get?

Subject level TEF

The Government issued its analysis and response to the subject-level TEF consultation. The first year of subject level TEF pilots have concluded (read the findings here). The second year pilots are underway; their design is based on the outcomes from the first pilots and the subject level TEF consultation.

While the second year of subject-level TEF pilots runs the Independent TEF Review (required by the Higher Education and Research Act 2017) will also take place. The Government expects this timing will allow full implementation of subject-level TEF for 2019/20. The subject-level pilots will trial the introduction of LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data) within the core metrics. And Wonkhe report that the teaching intensity metric has been removed and all the TEF awards currently conferred on Universities will cease by 2021 to dovetail the roll out of subject-level TEF.

There are a plethora of new TEF blogs and opinion on the Wonkhe website.

Yvonne Hawkins, Director of Teaching Excellence and Student Experience at the Office for Students, said:

The TEF assesses the things that students care about: teaching quality, the learning environment that supports them; and employment and further study outcomes. The development of a robust model for subject-level TEF is progressing well…last year we tested and evaluated two different assessment models for generating subject-level ratings. This year we will consolidate this work, piloting a single approach that draws on feedback about the best elements from the previous models. The TEF’s strength relies not on any single source of evidence, but in drawing together multiple sources and making holistic judgements. This ensures no one issue is over-weighted. The changes we will be piloting are designed to strengthen this approach, so that ratings are informed by comprehensive contextual information. The input of students to last year’s pilot was invaluable, so this year we are also introducing ways to further strengthen their involvement.”

Transparency

The House of Commons debated the regulations surrounding the Transparency Condition (the requirement for HE institutions to publish data on access and success for disadvantaged and under-represented students).  An Opposition spokesperson argued for the inclusion of data on students with disabilities, the age profile of students, and care leavers to be included:

We also believe that, if the transparency duty is to have any impact, it needs to include as many different dimensions of participation as possible by social background. That view was echoed strongly by the Sutton Trust, which did not believe that the Bill and the regulations went far enough in that area. It said, “evidence suggests many universities are favouring more privileged candidates even when levels of attainment are taken into account”…The Bill should be amended to require universities to publish their contextual admission policies clearly on their websites”.

The Opposition spokesperson also raised the key workforce data that has the potential to impact on the quality of students’ education, such as the use of insecure contracts and student-staff ratios as a potential measure to be included within the Transparency Duty. Finally he argued for the OfS to use broader measures and rely less on POLAR data to examine socio-economic disadvantage. The new MEM measure was highlighted (a multiple equality measure which combines various data sources including free school meals) for inclusion to prevent overreliance on just one data source.

Sam Gyimah responded: Quite rightly, the hon. Gentleman brought up the subject of care leavers. Our guidance to the OfS asks it to monitor care leavers as a key target group, which it has done. We expect to see providers focusing on that in their access and participation plans. Whether to add age and disability is a decision for the OfS, but I am pleased that it has included that in its consultation, as we asked.

Care Leavers

Further to Gyimah’s show of support for care leavers mentioned above the DfE have launched the Care Leavers Covenant aiming to provide more opportunities and support for Care Leavers through work placements, internships and training sessions (supported by bursaries and accommodation provided by the local universities). Chris Millward, OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation stated: Disadvantage goes on to follow care leavers through their adult lives. We need a collective effort to ensure that care leavers are not denied opportunity simply because they’ve had a challenging start in life”. Read the Government’s news story on this new post-care scheme here.

Graduate Premium – female living standards

The Institute of Fiscal Studies have released a new paper analysing the female graduate premium: The impact of higher education on the living standards of female graduates. As the title suggests it looks  wider than just wages on the benefits that achieving a degree brings. It uses data from two longitudinal surveys providing a sample of 1,000 women born in 1970 (so all attended university before tuition fees were introduced) and quantifies the role of working hours, life partners, and tax liability. It finds a graduate premium (compared to female non-graduates) and demonstrates how the above mechanisms vary in importance over women’s life cycles and have changed over time to impact on female graduates’ living standards.

  • HE significantly increases the probability a women is in work and the number of hours they work, boosting labour market returns.
  • HE increased the likelihood women worked in their early thirties, but there was no impact on the likelihood of working in their early forties. This reflects the fact that higher education causes women to delay childrearing until later in their careers.
  • HE also increases the probability of a woman having a partner who also has a HE qualification, the degree qualified partner is typically more likely to work and earn more.
  • However, focusing on gross earnings returns overstates the private benefits of HE, as higher-earning graduates pay more in tax and receive fewer (family based) benefits. This reduces the net financial returns from a graduate wage.
  • The benefits of HE can also vary over the life cycle. While HE increases net family income by around 20% (£9,500 per year) for women in their early 30s and early 40s, the mechanisms change over time:
    • For women in their early 30s, the impact of HE on income primarily comes through their own labour market earnings;
    • By age 40 the importance of the impact on partners’ earnings has increased, likely because at this age women have an increased propensity to work part-time.
      It appears that, through the higher education level of partners, HE provides some insurance for women taking time out of the labour market after having children. The role of partners’ earnings remains an important channel of returns, particularly at older ages.
  • You can read the research assumption caveats surrounding the impact of children (page 13/14), particularly their effect on the choice to work and the wage rate.
  • In summary, as a result of a degree, it is higher wages, more working hours and assortative mating (degree qualified life partner) that explain the graduate females higher living standards

Both the Times and Mail Online articles pick up on the report but mainly emphasise the aspect that female graduates are more likely to marry graduate men – boosting their joint earning potential. The Times go on to consider the male/female gender gap and report that after graduation, women are more likely to have a job or go on to further study than men, but they earn less from the very start of their careers. These figures, taken from The Times, show how the gender earnings gap expands:

When Male Female
At graduation (-£1,600 less than men)
3 years post-graduation £24,200 £21,800 (-£2,400 less)
5 year post-graduation £27,800 £24,500 (-£3,300 less)
10 years post-graduation £35,100 £27,100 (-£8,000 less)

 

Technological Innovation and Regulation

The Council for Science and Technology have written to the Prime Minister to make four recommendations on how to ensure Britain’s regulatory landscape creates an attractive and welcoming environment for technological innovation. Greg Clark’s (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) response is warm and picks up on several of the recommendations. Furthermore, on Tuesday Greg chaired the new Ministerial Working Group on Future Regulation. One of the aims of the working group is to transform regulation to support innovators to bring new ideas to market.  Greg stated:

“We have a world-beating regulatory environment in the UK which has set standards that have been exported around the world. But we can’t move forward by standing still and we must prepare for the technologies and industries of the future.
I am grateful to the work done by the Council and for their recommendations on how we can put the UK at the forefront of these industries. Through the Working Group on Future Regulation we are going to build on our exceptional foundations, ensuring our regulations keep pace with the technological advances that will reshape our economy.”

Those with an interest in this area can read more on the new working group here.

Civic Universities – Mature Education

UPP Foundation has released a progress report from their Civic University Commission which aims to explore and understand what a modern civic university does and how it benefits local people. This additional report was released to inform the Government’s review of post-18 tertiary education as the research uncovered a link between the decline in adult learning and universities’ civic mission.

They found that adult education used to be an integral part of universities’ civic activities but is now in major decline (non-degree courses for over 30’s have declined by 42% since 2012). The Commission states the decline will become more acute as more professional jobs become automated forcing changes in the labour market structure and increasing the need for retraining. The conditions on part time loans for retaining are noted as a barrier:

Those restrictions mean, for example, that a mother returning to work after a prolonged absence from the labour market — but who might have a degree from 15 years earlier — cannot retrain unless she can just pay the fees upfront, and support herself, from her own resources.

The Commission argues for a better adult university education system:

This is precisely the wrong moment to have closed off adult education. Graduate jobs will change, and as we leave the European Union the need for a good domestic skills base will be greater. We have already lost long-term capacity in universities — courses have closed and they are difficult to re-open. Rebuilding this capacity will take effort and time. In our view, that work needs to begin now.

It is also too limiting to see this education in terms of immediate fulfilling of skills gaps. It is extremely hard to predict exactly what the future skills needs of areas are likely to be — many would not have predicted, for example, the size and growth of creative industries and their importance to the economic wellbeing of places.

And even outside pure economic benefit — short and long-term — the benefits of education for adults are huge. It passes down into how children are educated at home — which has a much greater impact on their future success than the school environment. It improves peoples’ health and makes them more engaged in the labour market. It makes people more fulfilled and engaged in civic life. There is clear latent demand. A recent survey by Universities UK (UUK) found that as much as 24% of adults had seriously considered doing higher education, of which around half did not already have a post-A level qualification. …we believe it [is] important to offer education to existing professionals, women returning to the labour market and struggling to attend courses in intensity, and people who want to learn particular things rather than necessarily qualifications.

The report calls for the Government to:

  • Relax the ELQ rule so that graduates are able to do further learning;
  • Remove the 25% intensity rule so that both short courses, and longer-term learning, are eligible for loans and funding (they consider this particularly important for women with children);
  • Allow education that is not deliberately directed towards a qualification (such as a degree).

It also seems clear that the lack of direct public funding, and the funding of adult education mostly through traditional loans with RAB charges, is off-putting to many adults. Postgraduate provision and re-graduate provision, as well as first time undergraduate provision, needs to have some public subsidy. So the government should consider whether the apprenticeship levy has some part to play. Two options could be:

  • Hypothecating some proportion of the apprenticeship levy for courses that are shorter and more modular;
  • Having an additional, smaller levy for this particular purpose.

The Commission also favours greater pressure on universities to focus on widening participation initiatives that target adults, to be specifically monitored by OfS.

On Knowledge Exchange the Commission stated:

The new KEF metrics should have a strong weighting on knowledge transmission and knowledge exchange between universities and their local population. In our view it is as important that university staff spend time conveying ideas to the local population, and involving them in their activity, as it is to interact with traditional economic stakeholders.

Part time learning and Flexibility

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) are calling for more flexible routes to higher skills noting that the decline in part time students is of crucial importance to the UK’s future economic prosperity. UUK and CBI have published a joint statement drawing on a previous report on the generation of ‘lost learners’. The lost learners are those who are:

  • mainly 25-44 years old,
  • 48% only have a level 2 or 3 qualification,
  • 54% are in full time work
  • they are motivated to upskill and train to develop their careers.

However, the study found many of the learners didn’t enrol or were unable to complete their studies. Familiar barriers are cited: unaffordability of tuition fees (44%) and managing cost of living whilst studying (42%), and an inflexible course that couldn’t be managed against other life commitments (26%). Other difficulties were employer inflexibility and lack of employer financial support plus benefits challenges created by studying. Of those that did enrol but subsequently dropped out 33% stated lack of flexibility (even with part time study) was the cause.

CBI emphasise the need for flexible and part time provision is greater now than it ever has been because technological advances are creating different and higher level jobs for which re-training is essential. CBI states: “Meeting the needs of the economy, therefore, rests on widening access to higher-level education and promoting routes that appeal to people for whom a traditional, three-year university degree may not be the best option.
For a whole range of reasons – from family to work commitments, caring responsibilities and many more – if flexible study isn’t accessible then many people don’t study at all.”

CBI and UUK’s calls are very similar to that of the Civic University Commission (described above).

They urge the Post-16 Review of tertiary funding to:

  • Reform the apprenticeship levy into a more flexible skills levy so that it can cover a wider range of training (more detail on page 5 here).
  • Develop shorter and more flexible provision – enabling students to move between work and study across their lifetimes. Government and higher education providers should work together to consider how a modular or credits-based system for undergraduate study could increase flexibility in the long term.
  • Support collaboration between employers, HE and FE – helping learners progress into provision which falls between A levels and a university degree (level 4 and 5 provision). Government should support… through changes in the regulatory environment, funding new partnerships and collaborations and/or facilitating sharing of information on the need for level 4 and 5 skills.

CBI acknowledge that many universities already have extensive collaboration with employers but state this, alongside flexible provision, needs to shift up a gear.

UUK state:

While in the longer-term, the post-18 education system should move to a modular or credits-based system, we must also ensure higher education institutions can deliver more flexible options as soon as possible. Evidence from our project suggests that while institutions are developing innovative and more flexible methods of course delivery there is a limit on the extent they can test the market and/or roll these out due to financial constraints.

Therefore, Universities UK recommends greater government support being given to higher education institutions wishing to innovate, scale up activity or further develop systems for flexible learning in order to overcome financial barriers and future uncertainties relating to these activities. This could be through targeted funding by government. Targeted funding could help institutions achieve greater clarity on the extent of market demand and how best to tailor their courses to meet the needs of students, so that over time more flexible courses become a central part of the institution’s offer.

Matthew Fell, CBI’s UK Policy Director, stated:

“Investing in our skills base is the best strategy for growth a nation can have…The findings of this project are clear. We need to raise overall levels of education and skills in the workforce. Universities need to play a critical role in responding to the changing world of work by offering education and training for learners for whom a three-year bachelor’s degree doesn’t quite fit their circumstances”.

Professor Julie Lydon, VC University of South Wales and Chair of the group that produced the study, stated:  “For many years, discussion about higher education has focused only on the traditional route of school leavers heading away to study full-time at university for three or four years.  

The evidence from this project shows there is significant demand from learners and employers for more flexible learning, where learners combine study with work, and other life commitments. Learning and improved life chances should not stop when you reach your 20s. It must continue over a lifetime.”

Read UUK’s news blog here, the joint statement here, and their previous publications: the economic case for flexible learning; the employer perspective of Skills Needs In England; report on ‘lost learners’; and the report on flexible learning.

Finally, Research Professional provide their take on the statement here.

Recruitment – record applicants

UCAS report a record number of applicants at the early deadline for the 2019 undergraduate cycle. This deadline mainly covers medicine, dentistry, veterinary and Oxbridge applications, however of interest are the higher than usual rates of applications (+9% from 2018 cycle rates). There are also increases in English applicant rates (+9%) and an 11% rise in 18 year old applicants – despite the further 1.8% 18 year old population decrease. EU applications remained at 2018 levels. The Guardian covers the story and places the high rates within the context of the additional 500 places available through the newly approved medical schools. UCAS are careful to manage expectations in their press release and remind the sector that the recruitment boost seen by these programmes may not mean a corresponding rise in applications for the January 2019 deadline.

There is coverage in the Guardian and the Herald.

Widening participation – evaluating student outcomes

The Sutton Trust has published Student Destinations which looks at the successful impact of their outreach and participation programmes delivered over the 10 year period 2006-2016. They offer three programmes – UK summer schools, a US programme to visit and support applications to study in the US, and pathways to law. Drawing on destinations data from multiple sources and benchmarking progression against controls they have been able to boast excellent outcomes resulting from participation in the programmes.

See this link to view the infographics detailing the impact of the programmes.

Despite their success the Sutton Trust are keen to point out the difficulties in evaluating such programmes brought about by a lack of access to the needed data sources which are owned by multiple other organisations.

By no means is our work on evaluation complete. It will be years of ongoing work looking to refine our methods and working in collaboration with our partners to constantly improve the evaluation we undertake. It will be challenging.

Access to the data needed to evaluate interventions is inconsistent, disjointed and often expensive. Working with NPD, UCAS, HESA, HEAT and co. to negotiate and navigate data requests can be a full time job and typically there is a delay in receiving the data.

We are calling for access to data to become more coordinated and for outreach activity to have a broader definition of success than simply progression to a particular institution.      Source.

The Sutton Trust believe their evaluation success lies partly within their unique position whereby they collaborate with groups of universities to deliver their programmes “…this has enabled us to act as a facilitator to outreach collaboration. This allows for larger data sets to analyse, and data sharing across institutions, which we believe ultimately leads to stronger evaluation.”

Parliamentary Questions

A gaggle of parliamentary questions related to HE were answered this week.

On Brexit this answer covers the negotiation of science and innovation – excerpt: The White Paper set out that the UK is committed to establishing a far-reaching science and innovation accord with the EU as part of our future relationship. As part of this accord, the UK would like to explore association to EU research funding programmes, including Horizon Europe and the Euratom R&T Programme.

And another on participation in the Ninth EU Framework Programme.

A variation on a questioning theme that regularly surfaces with the House – how a Brexit no deal will affect universities

Q – Jared O’Mara: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has to replace potential lost funding for universities as a result of the UK leaving the EU without a deal (link).

A- Sam Gyimah: We remain confident that we will agree a mutually advantageous deal with the EU – we do not want or expect a no deal scenario. It is, however, the duty of a responsible government to continue to prepare for a range of potential outcomes, including the unlikely event of no deal. Extensive work to prepare for this scenario has been under way for almost two years and we are taking the necessary steps to ensure the country continues to operate smoothly from the day we leave. We have now published 106 specific technical notices – including on Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ – to help businesses, universities, citizens and consumers prepare for a no deal scenario.

In the event of a no deal scenario the government’s underwrite guarantee will cover funding for successful competitive bids to Horizon 2020 submitted before exit day. In July 2018, we extended this guarantee to cover all successful competitive bids by UK entities to Horizon 2020 calls open to third country participation submitted between exit day and the end of 2020. The guarantee will apply for the lifetime of qualifying projects, even where this extends beyond 2020.

The government will cover funding for successful Erasmus+ bids from UK organisations that are submitted while the UK is still a Member State, even if they are not approved until after we leave. The government will need to reach agreement with the EU for UK organisations to continue participating in Erasmus+ projects and is seeking to hold these discussions with the EU. The government has also extended the underwrite guarantee to cover the payment of awards under successful Erasmus+ bids submitted post-March 2019 until the end of 2020. The eligibility of UK organisations to participate in calls for bids once the UK is no longer a Member State is subject to agreement between the EU and the UK.

Student Loan Sale

Several questions from Angela Rayner delving into the cost effectiveness of both the prior and intended new student loan book sales – with little in the way of a clear answer given.

First a question requesting the estimated proceeds of the (new) student loan sale and for information shared to be accessed centrally.
Sam Gyimah’s response: The government and its advisers are continuing to refine the range of estimates for the expected proceeds of the sale. A report on the sale arrangements, and the extent to which they gave good value, will be placed in the House Libraries within three months of the date of the transfer arrangements.

Followed by another on the book value of the new student loans sale.

Gyimah responded: The department calculates the book value for the pool of loans for any given sale after the sale has completed, and the fully audited number for the second sale will be available in the 2018-2019 annual accounts.

On the previous student loan book sales Rayner questioned:

This asking for the value for money evidence and assessment for the prior student loan book sale and this querying the minimum price for the sale.

Gyimah responded that the report is available within the Parliamentary libraries and disclosing the minimum price was counterproductive as it is commercially sensitive.

 

TEF

On the TEF it is promised there will soon be news on who will conduct the independent review:

QGordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what progress he has made on appointing the Chair of the Independent Review into the Teaching Excellence Framework (link).

A – Sam Gyimah: We have made excellent progress in appointing an independent reviewer of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework and I hope to make an announcement shortly.

 

On Immigration

Q- Royston Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what plans his Department has to replicate the provisions of Tier 2 visa requirements for EU students studying in the UK after the UK has left the EU (link).

A – Caroline Nokes: The Government is considering a range of options for the future immigration system and we will publish a White Paper later in the autumn.

The independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its report on the impact of international students in the UK in September 2018. The Government welcomes this report and thanks the MAC for their work. The report makes it clear that international students offer a positive economic benefit to the UK and offers a number of policy recommendations. We will be considering this report carefully and engaging widely as we develop proposals for the future system which will be implemented from 2021.

 

Widening Access

Q – Paul Blomfield: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has made an assessment of the potential implications for the Government’s ambition to increase the number of BAME students going to university by 20 per cent by 2020 of implementing the recommendations in the University and College Union report entitled Investigating higher education institutions and their views on the Race Equality Charter; and if he will make a statement.

A – Sam Gyimah: I welcome the report from the University and College Union. Widening access to Higher Education is a priority for this government. We want everyone with the capability to succeed in Higher Education to have the opportunity to benefit from a university education, regardless of background, ethnicity, or where they grew up.

In 2017, 18 year olds from ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to enter full-time undergraduate higher education than ever before. However, we still have more to do. That is why we asked the Office for Students to continue to ensure ethnic minority groups are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from higher education.

A new transparency condition will also require HE providers to publish application, offer, acceptance, non-continuation and attainment rates by socio-economic background, gender and ethnicity, which will provide greater transparency and help to shine a light on those providers who need to do more.

 

Finally, a question on artificial Intelligence (autonomous weapons).

Consultations

Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. There aren’t any new consultations and inquiries this week, however, there have been several outcome reports and Government responses to the consultations and inquiries we are tracking. Look out for the yellow highlighting to find the new information.

Other news

Free Speech: i news has an article reporting on the BBC’s research stating universities are not restricting free speech. Here is the description of the BBC’s research findings. The findings suggest there are only a small number of isolated cases where free speech is restricted. However, the article continues: A Department for Education spokesperson said while there was no evidence of widespread censorship, there were some “genuine problems”, including the effect of the “complex web of rules and guidance”, as well as the behaviour of protestors and student groups. The OfS Free Speech guidance is expected to be published before Christmas.

Science after Brexit: Fans of Radio 4’s Today programme will have heard Sam Gyimah grasping for answers during a Brexit discussion with Nobel Prize winning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse. Total Politics and The National both reported following the discussion.

Sexual Harassment: The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee published the outcome of their inquiry into sexual harassment of women and girls in public spaces. The report has a whole section devoted to women’s safety at university. BU readers can access a summary of the report provided by Dods Political Monitoring Consultants here.

Cost of Post Study Work Visas: Wonkhe report on UUK analysis which estimates that the UK economy could have lost out on £8bn in export earnings from international students due to changes to student migration policy in 2012, which include the closure of the Tier 1 Post Study Work Route.

Simon Marginson, writing for Research Professional, also had much to say on the post study work visa this week:

“The notion that we beckon [international students] in through the narrow Home Office doorway, extract as much money as possible from them while they are here, and push them out the moment they graduate, is uncivilised, exploitative and counterproductive.

A mature country will recognise the connections between international education and skilled migration, and understand that while the primary purposes of international education are economic and educational, an important secondary purpose is attracting outstanding future citizens.

Post-study work visas are not only a cornerstone of education exports policy, they are a cornerstone of economic policy on skilled labour.”

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, stated:

“To keep up with competitors, the UK government needs to promptly develop a reshaped immigration system that recognises the value of international students as temporary visitors and tells the world that they are welcome here. This should include improved post-study work opportunities”

Students Union officers: Students Union officers are in the news this week with an article on the York University Students Union Working Class Officer and UWE’s short lived men’s officer, which was scrapped after the candidate withdrew citing harassment.

The Budget: The 2018 Autumn budget will be delivered on Monday 29 October. The House of Commons Library has produced a brief on the background to the budget. Political consultants have also been producing speculation documents detailing what has been leaked or is expected within the budget – so far there has been little content directly on Higher Education within the speculations.

Social economic comparators: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released Equity in Education which tracks the impact of socio-economic background on the academic performance and outcomes of young people. It notes that high performance and more positive attitudes towards schooling among disadvantaged 15-year-old students are strong predictors of success in higher education and work later on. Furthermore, adults in England with tertiary-educated parents were 9 times more likely to complete tertiary education than adults with less-educated parents. However, this is still below the OECD average of 11 times more likely.

The Independent covers the report stating only 1 in 6 of the disadvantaged UK pupils surveyed report they are satisfied with their lives, socially integrated at school and do not experience test anxiety. The UK also trails behind in that only 15% of disadvantaged students are socially and emotionally resilient (compared to 26% average across all countries surveyed). Although the report does state: Disadvantaged students who are socially and emotionally resilient tend to do better academically which suggests that helping disadvantaged students develop positive attitudes and behaviours towards themselves and their education would boost their academic development. It also notes that greater school choice doesn’t necessarily have a positive impact on disadvantaged pupils and that there can be a lack of sense of belonging amongst pupils. The Equity in Education report utilises PISA data (Programme for International Student Assessment). Click here for an interesting short set of infographics.

FE and Sixth Form Funding Crisis: Twelve associations that represent school and college leaders, governors, students, teachers and support staff in England have written to Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond urging him to increase funding for sixth form education in next week’s Budget. The letter launched the Raise the Rate campaign which hopes to increase the funding rate for sixth form students that has been frozen at £4,000 per student, per year since 2013. In the letter, the associations claim that a combination of funding cuts and cost increases “has left much less money for schools and colleges to spend on the front line education of students at a time when the needs of young people have become increasingly complex (for example the sharp rise in students experiencing mental health problems).” The associations use recent research from London Economics to call for a “minimum” £760 per student funding increase. Without this the campaign states that minority subjects such as languages are at risk of being dropped and there will be decreased extra-curricular activities, work experience opportunities and university visits. As major funding decisions are not likely to be taken until next year’s spending review, and would not take effect until 2020/21, the associations urge the Chancellor to introduce a “modest increase” to the funding rate of at least £200 per student in next week’s Budget “to provide some much needed financial stability and ensure that schools and colleges can continue to deliver the high class education our young people deserve.”        

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders stated:

“It makes no sense whatsoever that the basic funding rate in sixth forms and colleges is a miserly £4,000 per student, while universities are charging tuition fees of up to £9,250, often for fewer teaching hours. Government cuts to 16-18 education have severely damaged a sector which is pivotal to the life chances of young people, and an immediate funding uplift is essential.”

Emily Chapman, Vice President (Further Education) of the National Union of Students said:

“Successive budget cuts have left many colleges in a state of financial instability. The result has been course closures, cuts to student support, and reductions in teaching provision.”

Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association said:

“Sixth form education is not just about exam results, it includes a host of essential wrap-around experiences. If we don’t fund it properly, something must give and young people won’t get the high-quality education they deserve. Every year, colleges are being asked to do more with less, and we must not sit idly by while young people are short-changed.”

Student Opinion: Read this blog on the latest research from an amalgamation of students’ unions: Asking the right questions on student lifestyle which covers wellbeing, living, eating and community identification. There are also previous research summaries giving the student perspective on Value for Money and Teaching Excellence.

Allied Health Professions: The OfS have published the blog Let’s shine a light on the opportunities in allied health professions educating about the wider NHS careers opportunities and how the OfS is supporting growth in recruitment to these programmes.

Immigration salary threshold: Research Professional discuss how the proposed retention of the £30,000 salary threshold for skilled migrant visa will dissuade talented social science researchers from considering a career in the UK.

Unconditional offers: Unconditional offers continue to make headlines as UCAS confirm they will publish data highlighting which HE providers make significant levels of unconditional offers. The data will be shared when UCAS release the annual end-of-cycle data in January 2019. A spokesperson for UCAS stated:  “Unconditional offers can be made for a variety of reasons… Universities may also need to provide necessary context of their figures when they are published for the first time.” Research Professional state that UCAS will publish an analysis of unconditional offers during November to explore the different types of offers and how they are made.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 22nd June 2018

Another big week in policy land. We’ve big features on grade inflation and post-qualification admissions to get your brain buzzing.

Brexit news for EU citizens setting in the UK

This week the Government released further details on how EU citizens and their families could apply for settled status through the EU settlement scheme.  The link also contains the draft immigration rules.  The Government issued a news story on the settlement scheme, it sets out the 3 steps applicants will complete – prove identity, demonstrate they live in the UK, declare that they have no serious criminal convictions.

Key information on the scheme:

  • It is proposed that an application will cost £65 and £32.50 for a child under 16. For those who already have valid permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain documentation, they will be able to exchange it for settled status for free.
  • The Home Office will check the employment and benefit records held by government which will mean that, for many, their proof of residence will be automatic. Those who have not yet lived in the UK for five years will be granted pre-settled status and be able to apply for settled status once they reach the five-year point. From April 2019, this second application will be free of charge.
  • The new online application system will be accessible through phones, tablets, laptops and computers. The Government will provide support for the vulnerable and those without access to a computer, and continues to work with EU citizens’ representatives and embassies to ensure the system works for everyone.
  • The settlement scheme will open in a phased way from later this year and will be fully open by 30 March 2019. The deadline for applications will be 30 June 2021.
  • The Home Office will continue to engage with stakeholders, including employers, local authority representatives and community groups, about the detailed design of the scheme before the Rules are laid before Parliament.

Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, said:   “EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and to our society. They are our friends, family and colleagues and we want them to stay. This is an important step which will make it easy for EU citizens to get the status they need to continue working and living here. We are demonstrating real progress and I look forward to hearing more detail on how the EU will make reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals living in the EU.”

Immigration

On Tuesday the Commons Science and Technology select committee debated an immigration system that works for science and innovation. The witnesses highlighted that flexibility and speed of application were essential and advocated for a frictionless reciprocal immigration system between the UK and the EU. Read the full text of the session here.  Key points:

  • Science and Technology to be within the broader immigration system rather than separate special arrangements or a two tier system. A transition period may be necessary.
  • One witness argued for a reciprocal arrangement with EU scientists.
  • It was noted the EU are currently developing a directive allowing free movement within the EU of individuals on science visas from outside the EU.
  • Mobility for short stays is essential, e.g. conferences and discussion groups – these short stays should not require visas.
  • One witness noted the limited ability of small British companies that needed to bring in talent to grow. She raised that this successful navigation of the immigration system was essential and the  needs of small business had to be considered within the general immigration system design.
  • The problems with using salary as a proxy for awarding tier 2 visas was discussed, particularly with the regional variability within the UK
  • One witness argued that research activity needed to be permitted in the indefinite leave to remain rules.
  • The limitations of the shortage occupations list were noted, i.e. retrospective analysis of data created a significant lag within the system and it wasn’t responsive enough. It was postulated that these problems would resolve if the cap was removed.

Parliamentary Questions – Immigration

Sam Gyimah responded to a parliamentary question on visa requirements for students of Indian nationality studying in the UK (full text here) stating there was no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to the UK to study and

  • “we welcome the increase in study related visa applications from Indian students since last year and the fact that over 90% of Indian students who apply for a UK visa get one. This shows that international students continue to recognise the benefits of studying in the UK, and are responding to our excellent higher education offer.”

Commenting on student immigration, Alp Mehmet, Vice Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “Genuine students are, of course, welcome but this is a slippery slope. The last time that the student visa system was loosened in 2009 it took years to recover from the massive inflow of bogus students, especially from India. We cannot afford another episode like that.”

And there was a further question on immigration:

Q – Gordon Marsden: What additional criteria will be used to decide whether (a) India and (b) other additional countries will be eligible for inclusion in the low-risk Tier 4 visa category for overseas students.

A – Caroline Nokes: We have regular discussions with the Indian Government on a range of issues including on visas and UK immigration policy. Careful consideration is given to which countries could be added to Appendix H of the Immigration Rules, taking into account objective analysis of a range of factors including the volume of students from a country and their Tier 4 immigration compliance risk. The list of countries in Appendix H will be regularly updated to reflect the fact that countries’ risk profiles change over time.

There were three further questions on Indian students this week, all received the same response as above.

British Nationals Abroad – home fees?

Q – Paul Blomfield: whether UK nationals resident in the EU who fall within the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement will be treated as home students for the purpose of university fees after December 2020.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • There are currently specific provisions in the rules that provide access to student support for persons who hold settled status in the UK, and who have left England to exercise a right of residence elsewhere in the Economic European Area (EEA) or Switzerland.
  • We have agreed with the EU that equal treatment principles will continue to apply for those covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. This means that UK nationals resident in the EU (and EU nationals resident in the UK) before the end of the implementation period on 31 December 2020 will be eligible for support on a similar basis to domestic students in the relevant member state. It will be for member states to decide how they will implement the citizens’ rights deal in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement. Entitlement to student finance and home fees status after 31 December 2020 for those outside the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement is under consideration.

Grade Inflation

Thursday’s headlines for the sector were all about grade inflation, the actual report is here.  The biggest increases are shown on page 16 – Surrey, East Anglia, Dundee, University of West London, Imperial, Huddersfield, Greenwich, Southampton Solent, Wolverhampton and Aston. These charts showing the absolute highest and lowest proportion are interesting and do raise some questions about whether the call for benchmarks is partly driven by the juxtaposition of our oldest and some of our newer universities in this first group.  The arguments about prestige (made in the context of a discussion about REF and TEF) in this HEPI paper by Paul Blackmore come to mind.  “Although the basis on which graduates and employers make decisions is a complex one, some institutions clearly have more powerful signalling effects than others.”

Research Professional have another helpful summary with responses from Nicola Dandridge, Nick Hillman and others

  • Between 1997 and 2009, the proportion of “firsts” awarded increased from 7 to 13 per cent, and in the next seven years it doubled, reaching 26 per cent by 2017. The percentage of students being awarded a 2:1 has also risen from 40 to 49 per cent since 1995, meaning that the proportion of undergraduates awarded either a first or 2:1 has risen from 47 to 75 per cent in the last 22 years. There are now 40 institutions that award firsts to at least 30 per cent of their students. The report, A degree of uncertainty: An investigation into grade inflation in universities, says that one of the most likely explanations for the grade inflation is a lowering of degree standards by institutions. It states that some academics have reported pressure from senior managers to do so, and says that half of universities have recently changed the way that they calculate their students’ final grade so that the proportion of top grades they award keeps pace with other institutions”….
  • “Harriet Barnes, head of higher education and skills policy at the British Academy—which operates the Humanities and Social Sciences Learned Societies and Subject Associations Network—told HE it was “difficult to see how a national assessment would work without encouraging universities to standardise course content and assessment in some way”. “This would threaten academic diversity, limiting students’ opportunities to fully explore their discipline, and undermining teaching by academics who are leaders in a specialist area,” she said. “We also have concerns about the feasibility of learned societies setting national assessments. Not every discipline is represented by a single body, and many are run by volunteers without the capacity to set and monitor assessments.”
  • Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told HE that asking learned societies to design assessments was “an odd suggestion”, and that it was “surprising to see Reform recommending less autonomy for institutions” “I’ve long been interested in getting learned societies and others more involved in preparing course materials and helping shape courses,” he said, “but it would make most sense to do that for first-year students adapting to higher education rather than those specialising later on in their degree.”
  • Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said in a statement that “if there is artificial grade inflation this is not in the interests of students, employers or the higher education sector”. She added that work was “currently under way by the OfS and other partners to assess the complex issues” tackled in the report.”

The BBC story is here.

With the counter arguments, Jim Dickinson writes on Wonkhe:

  • ““Establishing causality is problematic, yet the correlational evidence suggests that when tuition fees rise, so does the proportion of top degree outcomes”. Maybe that big investment means they’re working harder. Maybe more students are working hard to achieve the standard. Maybe teaching has improved, and assessment has become more diverse. Maybe more students are taking resists. After all, “inflation itself must be driven by factors that directly translate into universities awarding higher marks”.
  • Trouble is, the report then goes on to look at all the other reasons that the sector has cooked up for the miracle. A pro-VC from UEA is mocked for citing improved entry qualifications, though without mentioning the student to staff ratio shift from 18:1 to 13:1 in the rest of his quote. Degree algorithm fiddling is cited, recycling a debunked quote. And without any reference to hard work or student support or assessment techniques, it then finds a handful of academics’ anecdotes to say they’ve been pressured to lower standards. Cue the A-levels chorus of “we worked harder and so did students” from the sector, falling on deaf ears in the press and the think tanks.”

There is an interesting comment in response on the Wonkhe article:

  • “Quick summary of previous responses, querying the assumption that grade inflation is necessarily bad.
  • 1) If attainment gaps have closed (e.g. male/female gap, affluent/deprived student background gap, white/ethnic minority gap) by the under-achieving group catching up with the higher-achieving group, grade inflation is probably a positive thing.
  • 2) If average marks awarded have risen (i.e. it is not just the case that the degree classification proportions have shifted), and if positive skew in the distribution has not been replaced with negative skew, this indicates that grade inflation is not the only potential explanation.
  • 3) Even if grade inflation as conventionally understood has occurred, the cure could be worse than the disease. The cure could take the form of students undermining each other rather than working collaboratively, seeking to manipulate or complain against lecturers, students motivated by mark gain rather than a desire to learn (not the same thing), even higher levels of mental health anxiety than present.
  • 4) In most subjects, students achieving first class degrees do not have better career outcomes than students with lower second class degrees. This suggests that employers do not rely on degree class as a signal and have developed effective recruiting mechanisms”

The sector wasn’t standing still on grade inflation before this week’s announcements. UUK were already tackling the issue:

  • The first element of this work responds to the specific request to clarify how the sector defines degree classifications. This work is on course to produce a reference document by September, and this will aid the transparency and consistency of approaches to degree classification and standards across the sector. The work is founded on the view that students should be assessed against clear criteria rather than setting quotas for the number of students who can achieve a 1st or 2.1. Quotas can demotivate students and devalue the level of knowledge gained over the course of their studies.  The reference document is intended as a practical tool to aid academic practice and to improve understanding of the classification system, including among employers. The reference point will also be useful for new providers who gain degree awarding powers without prior validation by an existing degree body, and the established academic frameworks that come with this relationship. However, it will still be essential for universities to set and maintain their own academic standards, rather than simply marking against an off-the-shelf set of criteria.

This is also discussed on Wonkhe. There is also a need for the sector to take meaningful and timely action to respond to stakeholder concerns on grade inflation, as other contributions to Wonkhe and elsewhere have suggested in recent days. UKSCQA will lead the coordination of a sector response on this issue.”

HEPI have published a guest blog – The hard truth about grade inflation – by Dr Andrew Hindmarsh, Head of Planning at the University of Nottingham, and he also oversees the preparation of data for the Complete University Guide. It busts a number of theories:

  • So-called grade inflation has been greatest at universities with low average tariff scores and least at those with high average tariff scores.  One explanation for this could be that the average tariff score has increased more at universities where the average score was lower to start with. If those low tariff score universities had had entry standards that had been rising faster, then you might expect there to be an impact on the subsequent attainment of the students. See Graph 3 shows that this has not been the case. In fact, the average tariff score of universities in quartiles 1 to 3 have all gone down, while only those in quartile 4 (the highest) have gone up.
  • What about teaching quality – could that explain the pattern of changes?  Could it be that the universities with the best teaching quality have seen outcomes improve the most? One possible measure of teaching quality is the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) outcomes. …the hypothesis fails – it is the Bronze institutions which have seen the biggest changes in degree outcomes.
  • The questions on teaching in the NSS could be an alternative measure of teaching quality and this time there is a run of data so the change in NSS scores can be correlated with the changes in degree classification.However, once again the hypothesis fails: there is no correlation between the change in NSS scores on questions 1 to 4 between 2013 and 2016 and the change in degree classifications
  • So, what is going on?  There are plenty of hypotheses left which our database cannot test. One change that has been happening is an increasing use of the full range of marks, particularly in Arts subjects. In the past, there was a tendency to avoid giving high marks with those above 80 in the Arts being very rare indeed. These high marks are much more common in the Sciences, particularly the numerical sciences, where it is possible to achieve maximum marks on mathematical problems. However, many universities are now actively encouraging all subjects to use the full range of marks with the result that, when an average mark is calculated, this is more likely to fall above a particular class boundary as the higher marks pull up the average. This hypothesis also explains why the proportion of first-class degrees has risen faster than the proportion of 1st/2:1s as you would expect more of the high marks to be obtained by students already at or close to a first-class standard. The conclusion must be that this is a complex subject and, while some explanations for changes in degree classifications can be ruled out, there are plenty more to be considered. The accusation that grade inflation is the cause needs to be justified with evidence rather than simply asserted as if it were a self-evident truth.

We’ll have to wait for the outcome of the OFS work referred to above to see what happens next.

Sam Gyimah gave a reassuring answer to a parliamentary question this week. It was focused on the TEF but if extrapolated into the context of the single national assessment recommended to tackle grade inflation it is reassuring to know the Government doesn’t anticipate going even further to observe ‘classrooms’.

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Office for Students on the merits of observing teaching as an element for assessment in the teaching excellence framework.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Higher Education (HE) institutions, as independent and autonomous bodies, are responsible for the range and quality of the courses they deliver. Assessing the performance of an institution through observation would jeopardise the autonomy of the HE sector.
  • The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) uses a range of existing metrics related to teaching and learning to make an assessment of teaching excellence, alongside a submission of evidence from the providers themselves. The metrics used for the assessment are all well-established, widely used and trusted in the HE sector. The department consulted extensively on the metrics used in the TEF.
  • My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education has not discussed with the Office for Students, the observation of teachers as an additional element within the TEF.

Senior Pay Guidance

The OfS has now issued guidance on VC and senior pay. Universities are required to report and justify the VC’s total remuneration package and details of senior staff paid over £100,000. OfS will publish these details across the sector annually commencing in 2019. Nicola Dandridge commentedThe Office for Students is today setting out our increased expectations around senior pay. Higher education providers will have to give us full details of the total pay package of their vice-chancellor. In addition, they will have to provide detailed justification of this package. As part of this, we will be looking at the ratio between the head of institution’s pay and the pay of the other staff at the institution. This will provide additional visibility and transparency – and enable us all to ask tough questions as necessary.

In response to the guidance UCU general secretary Sally Hunt noted of the OfS requirements: much of the information being called for is already available in universities’ accounts or through freedom of information (FOI) requests.

The guidance was well covered in the media this week: Times, Guardian, THE, Independent.

In the Independent article Michael Barber is reported as stating the OfS will look for salaries that ‘stick out like a sore thumb’… such as … “Like a modest size university, and you are regional and you are not playing globally, and your pay is the same as a top university competing in the global market for research.”

Political Crystal Ball

Dods (political monitoring consultants) have produced a series of short policy lookahead guides contemplating what is coming up politically in the following spheres over the next six months:

Admissions

The Post Qualifications Admissions – how it works across the world report was released on Tuesday comparing the UK’s HE admissions system with that of 29 other countries worldwide. The document critiques the UK’s system of offering a HE place before a student’s final grades are known, particularly noting the unreliability of provisional grades (only 1 in 6 accurately predicted).

The report calls for more than just post-qualification offer making. It outlines enhanced support for choices and decisions and a pre-results preparation week to aid social mobility (see page 17 onwards).  The report does acknowledge the benefits of the current pre-qualifications admissions system: it aids students from under-represented backgrounds because they are often predicted higher grades than they achieve (page 5); changing to a post qualifications system would squeeze teaching as exams would need to move earlier in the year, it would also reduce the time HE providers have to consider applications and decide on whether to offer a student a place.

The report was commissioned by UCU and compiled by Dr Graeme Atherton (Director of social mobility organisation NEON). Given the author’s champion of disadvantage it’s interesting the report has received conflicting responses with no clear consensus of whether a change would support or further hinder underrepresented or disadvantaged groups in society.

UCAS responded to the report stating changing to a post qualifications admission system would force structural change to the school system and stating it would be harder for poorer pupils who would have to make decisions after they had finished their exams and left school. Clare Marchant (UCAS): “students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be less likely to have access to teachers and support in making application choices“.

Meanwhile The Sutton Trust argue that Atherton’s claim that under-represented students receive higher predicted grades is incorrect stating ‘high attaining disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their richer counterparts. This could result in them applying to universities which are less selective than their credentials would permit.’

UCU’s press release leads a further attack on unconditional offer making. Unconditional offers were previously seen as a supportive measure for social mobility, for example, for a young student within the care system who needed stability and security over their university destination prior to giving up their living accommodation.  However, unconditional offers have increasingly received poor press over the last two years claiming students become lazy and don’t try so hard at exams once they have a guaranteed offer or that it pushes an able student towards a lower tariff university when their results would be accepted at a more prestigious institution. Concerns were also raised about unconditional offers last week at Buckingham’s Festival of HE.

The BBC has covered the report.

The report also highlights some of the challenges that the other systems face.  One notable issue in some European countries is that almost automatic admission based on results plus low fees leads to huge dropout rates, e.g. in France.  And if the focus is almost exclusively on grades it’s likely another subset of WP students will be disadvantaged. The report raises some questions but it would be interesting to do an analysis of other metrics such as completion and satisfaction, and WP indicators as well as graduate outcomes.

There are other issues with the current system that have been raised in recent times – e.g. concerns about the role of personal statements and the role of social capital.  Given the author’s day job at the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), there is a focus in the report on equity in the system.

The article below raises the question of conflict of interests – would such a system reduce or increase game playing in the competition for students?  – note last week’s discussions in Buckingham about unconditional offers (which many commentators see as a “bad thing”).

Research Professional have a great article on the report. As the article notes there is unlikely to be a rush to review this given all the other government priorities.  But as new A levels come in, raising uncertainty about grades this year, might there be more applicants choosing to use clearing to trade up or take a year to consider and apply afterwards.  And whether over time this might therefore become more of a priority for review?

Erasmus+

On Thursday there was a debate in the House of Commons on the Erasmus+ programme and discusses the future position of the UK with regard to the scheme post Brexit. The House of Commons Library have produced a briefing note on Erasmus+.

Some fun facts on Erasmus+ taken from the briefing:

  • The EU sees Erasmus+ programmes as a means of addressing socio-economic issues that Europe may face like unemployment and social cohesion.
  • 10,944 students in higher education in the UK participated in the 2016 applications for study placements abroad through the Erasmus+ scheme.
  • In 2015-16, the most popular host countries were France (2,388), Spain (2,131), Germany (1,312), Netherlands (701), and Italy (687).The UK was the 7th highest participating country in the programme in 2015.
  • The total value of all Erasmus+ projects funded in the UK has increased in each year from €112million in the 2014 ‘call’ to €143million in 2017.
  • The Erasmus+ programme is run on run seven yearly cycles and the current cycle will end in 2020.
  • The UK Government has promised to underwrite funding that was due to continue after Brexit and UK citizens are currently encouraged to apply for funding under Erasmus+.
  • On 30 May 2018 the EU Commission announced that it is proposing that for the next cycle starting in 2021 any country in the world will be able to participate if they meet set requirements. It is unclear at present what the UK’s participation in Erasmus+ will be after Brexit but the announcement opens up the possibility of the UK’s continued involvement in the programme.

The Future of the Erasmus+ Scheme after 2020: House of Commons Debate

The Erasmus+ debate span a number of topics: social mobility, UUK’s Go International project, strategy for how students would continue exchanges with EU universities in the event of a Brexit no deal.

Sam Gyimah stated: he recognised that international exchanges were “important to students, giving them social mobility and widening their horizons, and it is valuable to our soft power.”  And to clarify the Government’s position on the future participation of Erasmus+ post 2020 within the uncertainty of Brexit he committed that the Government would “discuss with the EU the options for future participation as a third country, as the Prime Minister has made clear, on the basis of a fair and ongoing contribution. So we have accepted that we will want the option to participate and we know we must pay into the programme, but obviously we want the contribution to be fair and we will have to negotiate the terms.” He reassured the House that the Government were “actively engaged in the discussions on the design of the programme and we have made the EU aware of our desire to participate in the programme, and there is a lot to welcome in the framework proposals.” On cost, he said the Government had noted “the proposal for the budget to be doubled, so we need to discuss our participation based on a sensible and hard-headed assessment of the UK’s priorities and the substantial benefit to the EU should the UK decided to participate.”

Read the full text of the debate here.

STEM skills

The Public Accounts Committee has been running an inquiry into Delivering STEM skills for the economy  and published a report on Friday. STEM is recognised as essential to the future of UK industries and the Government has been running initiatives to improve STEM skills in the workforce including a substantial focus on STEM curriculum in schools. Although some initiatives to address STEM skills shortages have been successful there remain problems:

  • Women remain underrepresented in STEM courses and jobs – only 8% of STEM apprenticeship starts are undertaken by women.
  • In 2016 only 24% of those with STEM degrees were working in a STEM field six months after graduation.
  • The Government has focussed on schools to grow the next generation of skilled STEM workers. However, the report finds that the quality of careers advice in schools is patchy at best, perpetuating misconceptions about STEM careers. In addition, the way that schools are funded will restrict the likelihood of pupils moving to other, more STEM-focused learning providers, such as the new institutes of technology.
  • The Government is also unable to accurately assess the volume of the STEM skills shortage.
  • To make better informed decisions, [Government] departments also need to tackle the apparent lack of industry and commercial experience on their STEM boards and working groups.

Government departments spent almost £1 billion between 2007 and 2017 on initiatives to encourage more take-up of STEM subjects.

The Committee made 8 recommendations:

  1. Following publication of the Migration Advisory Committee report in September 2018, BEIS and DfE should, within six months, set out the further steps they will take to ensure that STEM skills shortages are addressed.
  2. DfE should set out what specific steps it will take to ensure that Skills Advisory Panels are sufficiently aware of national and global skills supply issues to be fully effective.
  3. By summer 2018, the departments should review the membership of all STEM boards and working groups, and address any shortfalls in expertise—for example, in industry knowledge or experience in STEM learning and work.
  4. DfE must identify as soon as possible whether financial incentives for teacher training have delivered value for money, and report its findings to the Committee as promised (i.e. have the teachers remained in the profession).
  5. By the end of 2018, the departments should establish, and start to monitor progress against, specific targets relating to the involvement of girls and women in key STEM learning programmes such as apprenticeships.
  6. DfE should make better use of data on career destinations and salaries to incentivise young people to work towards careers in particular STEM sectors where there is higher need. As part of its plans to improve the quality of careers advice, DfE should work with Ofsted to consider rating the quality of advice provided in schools.
  7. As a matter of urgency, DfE needs to develop a clearer plan for how new types of learning institution, such as the institutes of technology, will attract the numbers of students they need to be viable.
  8. DfE should ensure it has effective monitoring systems in place to quickly identify apprenticeship programmes that are not fit-for-purpose, along with poor quality provision, and the action it will take in each case

Meg Hillier MP chaired the inquiry, she commented:

“Warm words about the economic benefits of STEM skills are worth little if they are not supported by a coherent plan to deliver them. Government must take a strategic view, properly informed by the requirements of industry and the anticipated impact of Brexit on the UK’s skills mix.

But Government also needs to sharpen its focus on the details, from providing sound advice to pupils through to ensuring schools have the right skills in the classroom and STEM-focused institutions are properly supported. Poor-quality apprenticeships must be weeded out and there is still much work required to address the striking gender imbalance in STEM apprenticeships.”

Read the Committee’s press release: Sharper focus needed on skills crucial to UK productivity

STEM Parliamentary Questions

Q – Robert Halfon: what assessment he has made of the potential contribution of students with a qualification in Design and Technology GCSE to filling the skills gap in engineering.

A – Nick Gibb:

The design and technology (D&T) GCSE is a useful qualification for those pupils considering a career in engineering. The Department has reformed the D&T GCSE to ensure that it is a valuable qualification and includes the knowledge and skills sought by leading employers. Content has been aligned with high-tech industry practice with strengthened technical, mathematical and scientific knowledge.

Q – Robert Halfon: what information he holds on the reasons for the decline in the number of entries to Design and Technology GCSE since 2010

A – Nick Gibb:

Design and Technology GCSE entries have declined since before 2010. In 2016/17 over 150,000 pupils in England entered a Design and Technology (D&T) GCSE at the end of Key Stage 4, which is over 25% of all pupils (data source).

Subject experts identified a number of issues with the previous suite of D&T GCSEs. They advised that the GCSEs were out of date, did not reflect current industry practice, and lacked sufficient science, technology, engineering and mathematics content. These issues could have had an effect on take up. One issue was that there were six separate GCSEs focusing on different materials (such as resistant materials and textiles) or particular aspects of D&T (such as product design and systems and control). These did not allow pupils to gain a broad knowledge of the design process, materials, techniques and equipment that are core to the subject. The Department has reformed the D&T GCSE to address these issues. There is now just one GCSE title which emphasises the iterative design processes that is at the core of contemporary practice and includes more about cutting edge technology and processes. The new GCSE now effectively provides pupils with the knowledge they need to progress to further study and careers, including in high-tech industries.

Q – Robert Halfon:  what steps he is taking to revise the national curriculum to ensure that students are prepared for T-levels.

A – Nick Gibb:

  •  T-levels will provide students with knowledge and the technical, practical skills needed to get a skilled job. They will also allow students to progress into higher levels of technical training including degree courses in subjects relevant to their T-level.
  • My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State announced in April that he would make no changes to the National Curriculum within the lifetime of this Parliament; and there should be no need to do so to prepare pupils for T-levels. All state schools are required to teach broad and balanced curricula that will provide young people with the skills and knowledge they need to undertake post-16 education and training; and the design of T-levels will take into account the knowledge and skills that pupils obtain through the current National Curriculum and reformed GCSEs.

TEF

The DfE has published the research report: TEF and informing student choice: Subject-level classifications, and teaching quality and student outcome factors. The report notes that TEF was introduced to measure teaching quality and student outcomes to drive up teaching quality within the HE sector and inform prospective students so they can make more informed choices when choosing a HE institution. The research behind the report consider the methodology behind how subject level TEF could be delivered and gathered applicant and student views on what was important to them. The report will help inform the next iteration of the TEF.

Here are the key conclusions:

  • For subject level TEF CAH2 was preferred due to its accuracy for making subject-level classifications, and is considered most sufficient for providing information to help applicants choose where to study. (See here from bottom of page 39 to understand CAH2.) It was recognised some the CAH2 categories needed rewording, particularly subjects allied to medicine which needs more in-depth consideration. The Broad (7 subject) classification system was not helpful to applicants.
  • The study also highlights a number of teaching quality and student outcome factors that could be considered when further developing subject-level TEF. It’s important to consider teaching quality factors that have a short term impact on student satisfaction whilst at University with those having a longer term impact (such as graduate outcomes). There were a handful of factors that were low on the analyses and potentially, from a student perspective, could be deprioritised from subject-level TEF development. This includes teaching staff contracts, class sizes and the academic qualifications of teachers.
  • The research looked at the awareness and influence of the TEF awards on students currently or about to start at a HE institution.
    • 2/5 (two-fifths) of 2018/19 applicants were aware of what TEF refers to;
    • 1/8 had used the TEF to inform their choice of institution, or intended to do so.
    • 1/4 were aware of the TEF award given to their first-choice institution.

The research stated that as TEF becomes more embedded, we would expect applicant and student awareness and usage of TEF to grow over time, and the results from this research will form the baseline against which future awareness and student engagement can be measured.

The research concluded:

  • The study demonstrates that applicants and students would value the introduction of subject-level TEF ratings. Around three-quarters of all applicants and students (68 -78%) reported that they would find subject-level TEF awards useful while only a tiny minority (3-5%) suggested it was of no use. Applicants that were aware of the provider-level TEF and its purpose were also more likely to consider subject level TEF to be useful.

Some parliamentary questions from this week relevant to the TEF:

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Office for Students on the adequacy of the metrics for the Teaching Excellence Framework.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • To enable students to make the best decisions about their future, it is important that they have consistent independent information about the courses they are considering. The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) metrics focus on what matters to students: teaching quality, the learning experience, and student outcomes. The development of subject-level TEF will give students more information than ever before. The department has worked collaboratively with the Office for Students (OfS), and the Higher Education Funding Council for England before that, throughout the development of the TEF.
  • The metrics used for TEF assessments are all well-established, widely used and trusted in the HE sector. We consulted the sector extensively on the design of TEF, including the metrics to be used, in 2016. We have recently concluded a consultation on subject-level TEF and the OfS has completed the first year of the pilot of subject-level TEF. Findings from those exercises, including on the operation of the metrics, will be shared between the department and OfS and will inform the further development of the TEF.

Q – Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of efficacy of untrained PhD students being employed by universities to teach undergraduates.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The Higher Education Statistics Agency collects and publishes data on the teaching qualifications of academic staff, but this does not enable an assessment of the efficacy of those staff or any PhD students that are teaching in universities. The Higher Education and Research Act enshrines the principle that higher education institutions are autonomous organisations with freedom to select, appoint, or dismiss academic staff without interference from government. However, the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) recognises and rewards excellent teaching in higher education. The Teaching Quality measure within the TEF core metrics uses data from the National Student Survey, including student views of the teaching on their courses. In addition, the new Office for Students published its regulatory framework in February of this year. This includes a condition that all registered higher education institutions must deliver well designed courses that provide a high quality academic experience for all students – and that providers should have sufficient appropriately qualified and skilled staff to deliver that high quality academic experience.

Science and Innovation Investment

On Thursday Greg Clark (Secretary of State, BEIS) highlighted new investment in UK talent and skills to grow and attract the best in science and innovation.  Key points:

  • £1.3 billion boost to attract and retain world-class talent and guarantee the UK’s position at the forefront of innovation and discovery through the modern Industrial Strategy
  • Prestigious £900 million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme – open to best researchers from around the world the investment will fund at least 550 new fellowships for the brightest and best from academia and business

The inaugural UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme will receive £900 million over the next 11 years, with 6 funding competitions and at least 550 fellowships awarded over the next 3 years. The investment will provide up to 7 years of funding for early-career researchers and innovators, including support for part-time awards and career-breaks, providing flexibility to researchers to tackle ambitious and challenging areas. For the first time ever, this type of scheme will now be open to businesses as well as universities. The scheme aims to help the next generation of tech entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators get the support they need to develop their careers. It is open to best researchers from around the world, ensuring the UK continues to attract the most exceptional talent wherever they may come from.

Complementing the Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme, the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, British Academy, and Academy of Medical Sciences will collectively receive £350 million for the prestigious fellowships schemes. This funding will enhance the research talent pipeline and increase the number of fellowships on offer for high skilled researchers and innovators.

Over the next 5 years, £50 million has been allocated through the National Productivity Investment Fund for additional PhDs, including 100 PhDs to support research into AI, supporting one of the Grand Challenges within the Industrial Strategy and ensuring Britain is at the forefront of the AI revolution.

There was a Parliamentary Question about UKRI this week.

Q – Nic Dakin: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps he is taking to ensure that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) fulfils its mission to push the frontiers of human knowledge and understanding by appointing active research scientists to the UKRI Board.

A – Sam Gyimah: In line with the Higher Education and Research Act (2017), the Government has appointed UKRI Board members with experience across research, innovation and development, and on commercial and financial matters. This enables the UKRI Board to support and hold the organisation to account, ensuring it delivers effectively, rather than to supply discipline-specific expertise. That expertise is provided by the councils, who are uniquely positioned to understand the latest challenges and opportunities in their specific field, and they include a range of experts, including active researchers.

New LEO data

The DfE have issued the Graduate outcomes (LEO): subject by provider, 2015 to 2016, and have also published employment and earnings outcomes of graduates for each higher education provider broken down by subject studied and gender. The longitudinal education outcomes (LEO) data includes information from the Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs. The release uses LEO data to look at employment and earnings outcomes of higher education first degree graduates 1, 3, and 5 years after graduation in the tax years 2014 to 2015 and 2015 to 2016.

Main Document: Graduate Outcomes (LEO): Subject by Provider, 2015 to 2016

Full data release: Official Statistics, Graduate outcomes (LEO): subject by provider, 2015 to 2016

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:

  • Gender stereotypes in advertising
  • Growth in creative industries
  • Home Office immigration charges

Other news

Resignation: The Trade Minister, Greg Hands, resigned this week in protest at the Heathrow expansion. George Hollingbery has been appointed. Previously George was Theresa May’s Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Environment: Research Professional report on the Plastics Pollution Research fund. And there is a parliamentary question on the Environment Plan.

Q – Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to involve scientists, economists and environmentalists in developing a set of metrics to measure the progress of the 25 Year Environment Plan; and when those metrics will be published.

A –  Lord Gardiner of Kimble: We have engaged with scientists, economists and environmentalists from a number of external organisations since January to inform the development of a comprehensive suite of metrics and indicators.We will engage further with interested parties over the summer to canvas views on what this suite of indicators and metrics ought to cover. This will be achieved through a combination of publicly available briefing papers and targeted technical meetings with individual organisations and small groups of interested parties. The package of metrics we propose will then be subject to a further period of formal consultation in order to ensure we get this important measure absolutely right.

HE Sector Finances: The House of Commons Library has released information on HE Finance Statistics.  It considers how the balance and make-up of university income and expenditure has changed over time, particularly since 2012. Summary from Dods: After many years of increased income, expenditure, more staff and students, the higher education sector in England especially faces on ongoing fall in income from the public sector, falling numbers of some types of students, particularly those studying part-time and much less certainty about the future make-up and nature of the sector as a whole. This has meant that the future public/private funding mix, size and role of the sector are the focus of more attention than at any time in the recent past.  This note gives a short factual background on changes in income, expenditure and staffing since the sector took its present form in the mid-1990s. It also gives some information on variations between institutions. It includes data on all Higher Education Institutions in the UK.

Social Impact of Sport: The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee held an evidence session on the social impact of participation in culture and sport this week. The witnesses stated that sports, arts, and cultural provision yielded significant social benefits, including educational and health benefits. However, it was noted that data collection and analysis needed to improve to fully demonstrate this. There was discussion that good programmes were underway but best practice needed to be shared more effectively and communication of what was available needed to improve. It was felt that the Government should link up the various programmes underway and communicate the holistic benefits of sporting and cultural interventions. Contact Sarah for a fuller summary.

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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 8th September

Well, Parliament is back and we have had a lively start to the autumn.

REF 2021

On 1st September 2017 HEFCE published the initial decisions on REF 2021. This does not include decisions regarding submitting staff, output portability or the eligibility of institutions to participate in the REF. There is another consultation on those issues and BU’s response is being prepared by RKEO – please contact Julie Northam if you would like to be involved. Thanks to Julie for these highlights of the announcement:

Assessment weightings:

  • Outputs 60% (down from 65%)
  • Impact 25% (up from 20%)
  • Environment 15% (same but now includes impact strategy)
  • HESA cost centres will not be used to allocate staff to UOAs. Responsibility for mapping staff into UOAs will therefore remain with institutions.

UOA structure:

  • Total UOAs reduced from 36 to 34
  • Engineering will be a single UOA – UOA 12
  • REF 2014 UOA 17 will be restructured to form UOA 14: Geography and Environmental Studies and UOA 15: Archaeology
  • ‘Film and Screen Studies’ will be located and included in the name of UOA 33: Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies
  • HEFCE will continue consulting with the subject communities for forensic science and criminology to consider concerns raised about visibility. A decision is expected this autumn.

Timetable:

  • Impact: Underpinning research must have been produced between 1 Jan 2000 – 31 Dec 2020 andimpacts must have occurred between 1 Aug 2013 – 31 Jul 2020.
  • Environment: Environment data (such as income and doctoral completions) will be considered for the period 1 Aug 2013 – 31 Jul 2020.
  • Outputs: The assessment period for the publication of outputs will be 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Dec 2020.
  • The draft REF 2021 guidance will be published in summer/autumn 2018 and the final guidance will be published in winter 2018-19. The submission will be in autumn 2020.

Outputs:

  • Interdisciplinary research:Each sub-panel will have at least one appointed member to oversee and participate in the assessment of interdisciplinary research submitted in that UOA. There will be an interdisciplinary research identifier for outputs in the REF submission system (not mandatory).There will be a discrete section in the environment template for the unit’s structures in support of interdisciplinary research.
  • Outputs due for publication after the submission date: A reserve output may be submitted.
  • Assessment metrics: Quantitative metrics may be used to inform output assessment. This will be determined by the sub-panels. Data will be provided by HEFCE.

Impact:

  • Impact will have a greater weighting in REF 2021 (25% overall plus impact included in the environment template and therefore weighting).
  • The guidance on submitting impacts on teaching will be widened to include impacts within, and beyond, the submitting institution.
  • Impacts remain eligible for submission by the institution in which the associated research was conducted. They must be underpinned by excellent research (at least REF 2*).
  • The number of case studies required – still not confirmed – HEFCE are exploring this in relation to the rules on staff submission and the number of outputs.
  • Case studies submitted to REF 2014 can be resubmitted to REF 2021, providing they meet the REF 2021 eligibility requirements.
  • The relationship between the underpinning research and impact will be broadened from individual outputs to include a wider body of work or research activity.

Institutional-level assessment (impact case studies): HEFCE will pilot this in 2018 but it will not be included in REF 2021.

Environment: The UOA-level environment template will be more structured, including the use of more quantitative data to evidence narrative content. It will include sections on the unit’s approach to:

  • supporting collaboration with organisations beyond HE
  • enabling impact – akin to the impact template in REF 2014
  • supporting equality and diversity
  • structures to support interdisciplinary research
  • open research, including the unit’s open access strategy and where this goes beyond the REF open access policy requirements

Institutional-level assessment (environment):

  • Institution-level information will be included in the UOA-level environment template, assessed by the relevant sub-panel.
  • HEFCE will pilot the standalone assessment of institution-level environment information as part of REF 2021, but this will not form part of the REF 2021 assessment. The outcomes will inform post-REF 2021 assessment exercises.

Jo Johnson’s UUK speech – the next steps for regulation

Jo Johnson gave a speech at the Universities UK annual conference on Thursday –prefaced by a deluge of press coverage. See the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, for a sample.  He started with a summary of the current state of the national debate on universities:

Recent criticisms of higher education in the UK fall into two distinct camps: we might call them the Statists and the Pessimists. The Statists direct their criticism at student finance. They argue that the most important thing we can do is to abolish tuition fees.” and “The second group of critics, the Pessimists, have an altogether bleaker view of Higher Education. They argue that university is inappropriate for many students, that student numbers should be significantly reduced and that students should pursue other types of post-18 education”.

The Minister rejected the calls for a change to the fee structure, consistent with other speeches over the summer (see the Policy Update for the w/e 21st July 2017).   He said that the “Statist” approach is “bad for social mobility, bad for university funding, bad for taxpayers”. [ See the UUK announcements on this below. In the FT on 8th September, it is reported that Theresa May is soliciting views on tuition fees policy in an attempt to close the generational gap, with Lord Willetts attending a meeting at No 10. So despite the regular assurances of no change, this is still one to watch.] To the Pessimists, his message was that “Post-18 education is not a zero-sum game, where to improve further education we must restrict and ration higher education to a privileged few”. But he said that there must be a strong economic return from a “mass system of higher education”. He highlighted graduate salaries, an increase in GDP and national productivity. [see below for the UUK position on fees and funding]

The Minister referred to concerns about value for money and used the same words as when launching the Green Paper, talking about “patchy teaching”. He also attacked the sector for grade inflation: “There has been a significant increase in the proportion of people receiving firsts and 2:1 degrees over the past five years that cannot be explained by rising levels of attainment. Grade inflation is tearing through English Higher Education. On the face of it, the facts are shocking.Grade inflation can fuel disengagement on both sides – if students know that 80-90 per cent will get a 2:1 or first from a high-reputation provider, there is less incentive to work hard – and less incentive by the provider to focus on teaching.” The Minister attacked league tables for encouraging grade inflation by using first degrees as a metric.

And he listed 5 measures that would deliver value for money:

  • The TEF – including subject level TEF (see more below in the TEF update)
  • A focus on grade inflation – as part of the TEF (see below), and be requiring the OfS to report on degree classifications and challenge providers to explain any data that suggested grade inflation, and calling on the sector to take action themselves, for example by developing a sector-recognised minimum standard. This is something that will no doubt be the subject of debate in the months to come. This could have parallels in some PSRB accreditation systems – an analogy that may be worth exploring.
  • Student contracts -this was also discussed in the July speech (see the Policy Update for the w/e 21st July 2017). This time, the Minister said that the Competition and Markets Authority guidance was only “patchily observed”. The OfS will be asked to “embed in the system student contracts that are clear, quantifiable and fair”. There is a consultation to follow on making this a registration condition.
  • Accelerated degrees – we are waiting for the formal response to the call for evidence last year but a consultation will be taking place on the new fee cap that would be required to support this – allowing providers to charge more than £9250 per year (but with a lower overall cost for the whole programme).
  • VC Pay – the OfS to introduce a new condition of registration that they publish salary data for the top earners and provide a justification, supported by guidance. The OfS will analyse and publish this data. The Minister called for the Committee of University Chairs to develop a new Remuneration Code.

UUK position

In a blog on 5th September 2017, Chris Hale, the Director of Policy of UUK responded to the debate over the summer, referring to a report from UK2020 that was published this week and repeated allegations of the sector operating a cartel to fix prices for degrees.  In a speech presumably written without advance knowledge of what the Minister was going to say, and trailed in the press on Tuesday, the new President of UUK, Professor Janet Beer, VC of Liverpool University did call for changes to undergraduate funding. She referred to “vexed issues and opportunities” and gave a staunch defence of the sector and its contribution to health, happiness and the economy.

On student finance, Professor Beer said that the system was not broken but that it needed to feel fairer, and highlighted three areas for action:

  • Targeted maintenance grants
  • Lower interest rate for low and middle-income earners. [On this point it is interesting to note that this is how it already works – see the blog from Martin Lewis on MoneySavingExpert.com which he tweeted again to respond to this story and the clip below]
  • Ensuring that the benefits of the current system are better understood – e.g. 35% of the cost of educating students is contributed by the government and 75% of students have some of their debt written off.

UUK have now published a Parliamentary briefing on the funding issues.

On senior pay:

  • “It’s understandable that high pay is questioned and it is right to expect that the process for determining pay for senior staff is rigorous and the decision-making process is transparent. It is also reasonable to expect that decisions are explained and justified.”, and continuing:
  • However, the current debate has lost sight of the facts and shows little understanding of the role that present-day vice-chancellors play not only in their own university, but in their communities, regions and on the national and international stage. The role of the vice-chancellor has evolved from leading a community of scholars, to leading large, complex, global organisations; organisations with multi-million pound turnovers, with thousands of staff working in a variety of roles, and which play an increasingly prominent role in the economic prosperity of our regions and nations. First-rate leadership is necessary for a university to be successful, and competitive remuneration is needed to attract the best leaders with the skills to lead these complex global organisations.
  • There have also been questions raised about the pay of our leading researchers and senior professional staff. We should remember that senior staff are choosing to work at our universities to deliver public good when they might otherwise choose to work in the private sector, attracting far higher remuneration. We must not let them be put off by comments that they are not worth it or their contribution is not valued.”

Nick Hillman of HEPI also writes in response that autonomy is more important than regulation in this area: “Just a few months ago, when the Higher Education and Research Act was still in short trousers, there was widespread concern that the Office for Students would not have due regard to university autonomy. Insisting they tackle vice-chancellors’ pay as one of the most urgent priorities (and before they have taken charge) will not assuage such concerns.”

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) update

In his speech at the Universities UK annual conference on Thursday, Jo Johnson referred to a lessons learned exercise that the government has carried out on year 2 of TEF. This used the UK survey we referred to in the Policy Update w/e 1st September 2017 as well as feedback from a range of stakeholders and desk based research of the metrics. The full report plus the specification are due to be published later in September 2017. These changes will also be included in the subject level TEF pilot. The UUK review is also discussed on Wonkhe here.

  • A new metric on grade inflation (see context in Jo Johnson’s speech above). This will be a supplementary metric which will not form part of the core metrics and the process of assessing the initial hypothesis, but will be considered by the assessors while considering Rigour and Stretch (TQ3). This will be based on a provider declaration and will “record the proportion of firsts, 2:1s and other grades as a percentage of all classified degrees at that provider 1, 2, 3 and 10 years before the year of assessment”.   If the data shows that there has been grade inflation the provider will presumably have to use their written submission to demonstrate how it is being addressed. Also, the number of firsts and 2:1s cannot be considered as evidence for the quality of teaching.
  • Changes to the NSS weighting – these are interesting – particularly as there was no formal weighting for any metrics in the TEF guidance before, and no specific weighting for metrics v the written submission either. That was why there was so much interest when the Chair of the TEF Panel, Chris Husbands, suggested that the role of the NSS in the decisions on TEF should be downplayed. The paper describes this in more details in Annex B – this is a change to the way that the “initial hypothesis” (based on metrics) will be formed.
  • Changes to address the NSS boycott, by averaging the scores across the three years or simply omitting 2017.
  • Part-time providers (those with over 35% part-time students) will also be able to provide additional information relating to their part-time students and a separate assessment will be formed for part-time students.
  • Absolute values: in a change which has been flagged as a nod to the Russell Group providers who received Bronze awards in the TEF (and who, in some cases, complained about the benchmarking process), alongside the benchmarking, the top and bottom 10% values for each metric will also be highlighted (with stars and exclamation marks). This will reinforce a positive or negative flag but can also be taken into account by the assessors – although a star will be ignored if there is a negative flag or a negative flag for a split metric (so that high performing institutions with negative flags for disadvantaged groups cannot benefit). Exclamation marks will be ignored if there is a positive flag.
  • Longitudinal Education Outcomes data (LEO) will be included as “supplementary” data – this will not affect the initial hypothesis but will be considered alongside the submission. The metrics to be included are the proportion of graduates in sustained employment or further study three years after graduation and the proportion of graduates in sustained employment earning over the median salary for 25 – 29 year olds (currently £21,000) or in further study
  • Gaming” – the Director for Fair Access will be given an opportunity to comment on “gaming” has taken place (defined as “a significant alteration in a provider’s student profile since the last TEF assessment, that involves a reduction in the proportion of students from disadvantaged groups”. In extreme cases, this might lead to disqualification.

Separate from all this a research paper by Camille Kandiko Howson of Kings College and Alex Buckley of the University of Strathclyde has been published which looks at the UK Engagement Survey – something that was tipped to be a potential metric for TEF if it was more widely adopted.

Widening Participation

Justine Greening announced that the new Director of Fair Access and Participation when the Office for Students if formed will be Chris Millward, who has been Director of Policy at HEFCE. The new role will have a focus on progression and outcomes as well as access for disadvantaged and under-represented groups in Higher Education.

Brexit

In the meantime, the Brexit negotiations continue and a flurry of papers have been published by the UK government and the EU.  The most interesting one is the one on Collaboration on Science and Innovation. The paper has lots of warm words on collaboration but little detail on what a future arrangement with the EU might look like.  On Horizon 202, the paper suggests that the UK will be seeking “associated” status (it says “associated countries have the same level of access to Horizon 2020 as EU Member States. Associated countries do not have a formal vote over the work programme, but can attend programme committees, which provides them with a degree of influence. Terms of association (including financial contributions) vary, and are determined by international agreements with the EU.“)

The overall conclusions are:

  • The UK wants to continue playing a major role in creating a brighter future for all European citizens by strengthening collaboration with European partners in science and innovation.
  • To this end, the UK will seek to agree a far-reaching science and innovation agreement with the EU that establishes a framework for future collaboration. There are a range of existing precedents for collaboration that the UK and the EU can build on, but our uniquely close relationship means there may be merit in designing a more ambitious agreement. The UK hopes to have a full and open discussion with the EU about all of these options as part of the negotiations on our future partnership.
  • The UK would welcome dialogue with the EU on the shape of a future science and innovation agreement, reflecting our joint interest in promoting continued close cooperation, for the benefit of UK and European prosperity”

Of course, the other interesting Brexit story was the paper we weren’t meant to see – the leaked draft on migration (read more in the Guardian report). The draft proposed work permits for EU citizens with a two year limit, language tests for EU students and ensuring that they have sufficient funds before they come to the UK (which implies that they will not qualify for student loans). None of these things is particularly surprising even if unwelcome – essentially the same type of restrictions would apply as apply currently to international students. What is most interesting about this is the reaction and the timing – Amber Rudd has only just announced a review of the impact of international students and a review into the social impact of Brexit – both of which will not report until September 2018. Damien Green on the Today programme said that the real paper would be launched “in a few weeks” – at the Conservative Party Conference?

Other interesting reading

The Higher Education Policy Institute published:

  • a blog on graduate entrepreneurs and what universities could do to support them
  • a report on the crisis in the creative arts in the UK – looking at what has happened in schools and suggesting that the increased and simplistic focus on graduate employment outcomes will impoverish education and damage outcomes (see the TEF report above).

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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