Tagged / grade inflation

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

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

Policy impact and influence

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick news

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

Fees and funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reasons for the change:

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

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

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

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

On fees she was to the point:

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

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

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

Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halfon didn’t give up though:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graduate outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

The summary lists the speakers quoted from above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levelling Up

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

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

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

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

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

Assessment

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

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

Disabled Students

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

The principles are:

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

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

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

International

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

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

Higher Education Credit Framework

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

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

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

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

Covid

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

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

UPP – Student Futures Commission

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

The polling results found:

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary News

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

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

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

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

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 28th January 2021

The media and sector are still digesting last week’s policy onslaught. You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

There are new student statistics out, a new independent reviewer of Prevent, the international students’ graduate visa is still unclear and remote learning must continue for most students.

Online teaching continues

Restrictions remain in place for universities who are only permitted to offer remote learning until 8 March at earliest. Students on ‘critical courses’ such as medical, clinical and healthcare subjects will continue with their Covid-secure face to face teaching. Students and staff on campus are instructed to continue to take part in twice weekly testing on offer to help limit transmission and identify asymptomatic cases. The Government’s press release is here.  The position will be reviewed on 22nd February.

Parliamentary News

Former Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, comments on the recent raft of HE policy documents issued by the Government. Chris says:

  • …it is tempting to think that something is happening in the education world. That temptation should be tempered, for nothing really will—or indeed can—happen until the sound of the Treasury till ringing open at the Spending Review later in the year. Samuel Beckett might have titled this particular ongoing saga, ‘Waiting for Rishi’.
  • Still, enough morsels—consultations on consultations—have been thrown out there to keep the higher education policy world busy for now. And those with learned, occasionally bitter, experience of these matters know that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, as the history of white papers and their eventual chrysalis into legislative butterflies demonstrates.

Tuition Fees & Student Loans:

The latest petition to reduce the maximum student fee from £9,250 to £3,000 has been rejected by the Government with this rebuff: Tuition fee levels must represent value for money and ensure that universities are properly funded. Government is not considering a reduction in maximum fee levels to £3,000. There is a full Government response here which closely follows the established party line and ticks all the HE policy bingo boxes you would expect it to.

The Government also confirmed there are no plans to cap the income repayment threshold for student loans.

Research

R&D Roadmap: The Government published the results of their consultation on the proposed UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap.

During the November 2020 Spending Review the Government committed to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing £14.6 billion in R&D in 2021/22, supporting the R&D Roadmap commitments and helping to consolidate the UK’s position as a science superpower on the road to spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027.  The Government report the research community was overwhelmingly supportive of the ambitions set out in the R&D roadmap (published July 2020). The Roadmap proposals included setting up an Office for Talent and creating an Innovation Expert Group to review and improve how the government supports research; the proposals are expected to be developed into a comprehensive R&D plan.

Dods summarise the responses:

  • Responses emphasised that the sustainability of funding was an important factor in achieving bigger research breakthroughs and for strengthening our research infrastructure and institutions. Specifically, support for a balanced portfolio of research and innovation activities, with a diverse range of funding mechanisms was considered “important to increase the effective application of new knowledge and encourage innovation.
  • Responses also suggested that place-based funding—which is a major priority of the government—could build upon local expertise and existing strengths using both new and existing mechanisms. Increased funding for both research and innovation activities, as well as for public engagement activities, was viewed as important to inspire and support the new generation.
  • The need for an improved research and innovation culture was also emphasised. Responses indicated that improving research and innovation culture through promoting greater diversity in the R&D community, making R&D a more attractive career, and reducing bureaucratic processes were vital factors in achieving bigger research breakthroughs, encouraging innovation, and attracting, retaining and developing diverse people and teams.
  • Responses also suggested that research must be informed by, and partnered with, a wide range of relevant stakeholders to achieve real-world impact. Other key themes that emerged from the survey included greater support for collaboration and knowledge exchange across the R&D landscape, a strategic and long-term approach to set a clear direction for the UK and continued support for education, training and skills.

You can read all the responses in detail here.

Whilst discussing the next steps the Government have committed to publishing a new places strategy for R&D (including the devolved nations). They also continue to explore how we best create an environment where diverse and talented people from all over the world are enabled and encouraged to work to the best of their ability and fulfil their potential in their career of choice.

Innovation slump: The National Centre for Universities and Business published a report on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on how universities contribute to innovation. It found that:

  • nearly 90% of UK universities reported a significant proportion (I.e. over 10%) of their innovation projects had been delayed due to the pandemic.
  • 48% of the universities surveyed reported that the scale and scope of innovation projects were being reduced.
  • 36% reported that more than 10% of their innovation activities and projects with external partners were cancelled. With 45% recognising a decline of at least a 6% in the overall level of innovation activities they have with industrial partners. Aerospace, automotive manufacturing and within the creative industries experience bigger adverse effects.
  • Institutions stated that the lack of financial resources to support collaborations, insufficient government funding to such activities and the inability to access the necessary facilities and equipment for work to continue were the reasons behind the reduction in innovation.
  • It was also recognised that the roles of universities in driving innovation may change as the UK confronts the economic recovery

On moving forward the report finds:

  • Government schemes helped universities continue to contribute to innovation through the crisis
  • More needs to be done to enable universities to contribute fully to economic renewal
  • More funding for core knowledge exchange services, translation and commercialisation, and challenge & outcome driven programmes
  • Supporting place-making
  • Targeted support for place and sector recovery from Covid
  • Improve flexibility, bureaucracy and terms of funding
  • Ensure metrics capture diversity of contributions and reward diversity of universities
  • Ensure long-term sustainability of the university system and its ability to contribute to innovation and economic development

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

  • Covid-19 has brought the importance of collaboration between academia and industry firmly into public awareness. Indeed, breakthroughs such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are only possible because of the advent of collaborative partnerships. This is why the new survey data released today is so worrisome. Nearly 90% of universities have been forced to delay a significant proportion (more than 10%) of new innovation projects with external partners, and over a third have reported that projects have been cancelled.
  • Maintaining these types of innovation projects is vital if we are to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery. Innovation requires collaboration. And we see time and time again that collaboration requires strong partners. We are therefore urgently encouraging all businesses and UK universities to continue to form these vital partnerships. What’s more, we are also calling on the Government to take proactive steps to help companies stay afloat and investing in R&D through the crisis. This includes extending Covid-19 support schemes and postponing repayment of loans until lockdown restrictions are significantly eased. In no uncertain terms, for the UK to emerge from this crisis stronger, we need to encourage innovation. Driving an innovative economy, through tax incentives, effective regulation and well-targeted support schemes must be a fundamental component of the March 2021 Budget. We need to see action now, before it’s too late.

Tomas Ulrichsen, Director of the University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the study and authored the report said:  The new findings released today show that Covid-19 has had a hugely disruptive impact on universities and their ability to continue to contribute to innovation through the current health and economic crisis. We have seen the transformational effects of universities and businesses working together in finding practical and innovative solutions to wicked societal problems. This is why the findings of our study are so worrying. A strong, resilient and sustainable system of universities, research institutes and technology development organisations, working in close partnership with the private, charitable, and public sectors will be crucial to driving an innovation-led economic recovery and tackling other critical and urgent global challenges. Unless we proactively tackle the many challenges facing universities and their innovation partners to reverse these worrying trends, we risk not only hampering our economic recovery but also the UK’s longer-term competitiveness in key sectors.

Research Professional comment on the significant proportion of innovation projects delayed due to Covid: This is not surprising given that most institutions are still imposing bans on ‘non-essential travel’, labs have been closed periodically during the pandemic and industrial partners have been making extensive use of the furlough scheme. There is a limit to the innovation you can do on MS Teams—it doesn’t even have a ‘breakout rooms’ function, for pity’s sake.

Research Funding Subsidy: Last week’s funding letter cut the additional teaching funding that London institutions receive to cover the additional costs relating to teaching within the capital. This prompted fears from London institutions that they may also lose research subsidies associated with their higher costs (12% inner and 8% outer London) – which would run to significant figures and threaten some London institutions’ stability. Research Professional explore this concern in London Waiting  and explain that Research England have stated they haven’t yet received the funding allocations for 2021/22 so cannot consider the impact on quality related funding.

Quick News

  • Sustainability: The University of Exeter have launched the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Hub (CE-Hub). The hub will work with the five centres recently announced to explore how reusing waste materials in a wide range of industries, including textiles, construction, chemical and metals, could deliver huge environmental benefits and boost the UK economy… It will create a repository of national research, knowledge and tools to inform new research, policy and industry solutions, facilitating collaboration across a wide range of sectors and strengthening a UK-wide community dedicated to delivering a circular economy.
  • Everyone loves a space story. Here is the Government’s press release on the spacewalk to install the British funded Columbus Ka-band Terminal.
  • Research Professional: Horizon Europe ‘will be open to UK researchers from the start’. European Commission encourages applications from, and collaboration with, UK-based researchers
  • The rumours that Scotland and Wales are committee to find a way to stay in Erasmus+ have bounced about ever since the announcement the UK would not take part. Research Professional covers the latest here.

Prevent

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has announced the new Independent Reviewer of Prevent will be William Shawcross. Shawcross will have some time to settle into his role and to adjust the terms of reference and set timescales before he relaunches the Independent Review of Prevent. Originally a call for evidence as part of the review was launched in December 2019 but progress stalled due to the pandemic. Shawcross’ appointment isn’t without controversy. Prior to his confirmation in the role Muslim Engagement and Development expressed concern given his longstanding history of propagating Islamophobic views.

Industrial Strategy

All the way back in November 2017 Theresa May’s Government finally published the Industrial Strategy admist much fanfare and after months of trailing its contents. A flurry of activity and focus on the four grand challenges followed. However, Theresa May was ousted as PM and when Boris assumed the mantle there was an unofficial cooling towards the Industrial Strategy which was never explicitly stated. However, this week Boris’ Government have made a move and updated some of the missions associated with the four grand challenges and laid out further progress updates. You’ll need a keen eye to spot the new material.  It looks much the same.

More engaging was this week’s BEIS Committee session Post-pandemic economic growth: Industrial Strategy which contained various elements relating to HE (quick points below). Dods have provided a fuller summary of both sessions here. The second session included testimony from both Science & Research Minister Amanda Solloway and CEO of UKRI Dame Ottoline Leyser.

  • The scale of ISCF initiatives had led to a remarkable acceleration in collaboration with universities and that increasing the ISCF would be welcome by the university community.
  • The Grand Challenges largely spent money in the right places but there were issues in how this was then used, in particular which risk sharing mechanisms were used and relative spend on pure science/blue sky research vs targeted research.
  • Where there are linkages between universities facilitation of collaboration between academia and business at local level to support local industrial strategies the evidence shows large spillover effects on the local economies. The Researchers In Residence programme which puts academics into industry to solve specific problems was also mentioned.
  • Defining success of the delivery of the industrial strategy – Leyser, stated that defining success was a contested issue. She said proximal measures such as number of patents and jobs created could be used; she said the ISCF metrics on these issues looked positive but there was an issue over whether this translated into long-term productivity.
  • On ISCF delays/ Innovate UK grants Solloway said BEIS needed to work to fund ways to reduce bureaucracy and get grants out quicker.

Access & Participation

White & left behind: This week the Education Committee continued its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (summary of the session here). There was little content on HE aside from witness, Dr Javed Khan, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardo’s, stating that it was important not to over-emphasise the importance of university, compared with other further education pathways when he was questioned on what solutions there were to address the issue of white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds being the least likely to attend university.

Meanwhile Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, has published a new OfS blog – White students who are left behind: the importance of place. It reiterates familiar messages that HE colleagues focussed on access will be very familiar with, alongside hints and mentions of other Governmental priorities such as levelling up and HE institutions working in partnership with schools and colleges. It even tentatively touches on the (slightly controversial but so far has flown under the radar) sudden move of the Social Mobility Commission into the Cabinet office. Below are the best bits from Millward’s blog, but, really, I’d recommend you read the succinct version by the BBC instead.

  • The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them. So they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives. Research suggests that this is not about low aspirations or wanting any less for children; it is about expectations – a realistic assessment of the barriers to getting on. Schools can do a lot to shift expectations, but as recent focus groups have shown, people in left-behind towns feel the decline of local institutions and civic engagement.  The Social Mobility Commission has identified the need to join up educational interventions with other measures to improve local prosperity and it is now better placed  to drive this across government through the Cabinet Office…universities and colleges can bring this together in their local areas through the breadth of their subject interests, their relationships with businesses and public services, and their bridging of education and skills with research and development. This equips them to create pathways through all levels of education, both full-time and while in work, and for adults as well as young people.

From the BBC article, Poor white teens in ‘left behind’ towns not going to uni:

  • …male white British free school meal pupils are the least likely of all the main ethnic groups to progress to higher education (DfE)
  • 59% of youngsters from black African families on free meals went to university and 32% of black Caribbean youngsters eligible for free meals… for white pupils on free meals the figure was 16% – and only 13% for boys.
  • The research emphasises the importance of place, identifying particularly low entry rates in “former industrial towns and cities across the north and midlands, or coastal towns”.
  • But white students on free meals in London seemed to have bucked the trend, with an…entry rate that “has pulled away from that in other parts of the country” – and the capital overall has higher rates of going to university.

TASO: Wonkhe: A report from Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) highlights the lack of good quality evidence for interventions to support care-experienced students in higher education. Summarising 57 published studies, and validating findings with 18 sector practitioners, it calls for the availability of better quality data drawing on agreed definitions. There are also recommendations that each provider should have a named contact for care-experienced students.

Exams: Minster for School Standards Nick Gibb: Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows, we cannot guarantee all students will be in a position to fairly sit their exams this summer.

Disability: Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission has released guidance for pupils with disabilities when applying for undergraduate courses. The guide aims to highlight potential barriers during the UCAS application process, as well as detailed routes to and eligibility for funding for reasonable adjustment.

Decolonisation: Wonkhe: The National Union of Students (NUS) has launched a library of decolonisation resources. It hosts information on what decolonisation is and links to podcasts, books, videos and articles to help readers explore, and expand skills and knowledge of the decolonising higher education movement.

Parliamentary Questions

International

Graduate Visa Route – Covid Barrier. Research Profession explore the confusion surrounding graduate visas stating it threatens to undermine the government’s message to international students. This stems from the Government’s decision that international students who did not return to the UK by April 2021 might lose their eligibility for the Graduate Immigration Route (i.e. the right to remain in the UK for two years after completing their studies). The Government have stated: It is a core principle of the graduate route that someone must have spent some time studying in the UK…In light of the impact Covid-19 has had on international students, those who began studying overseas in autumn 2020 and who enter the UK before 6 April 2021 to complete their course will be eligible for the graduate route if they meet the requirements. And: Those who begin study overseas in January 2021 will also be eligible for the route if they enter the UK to complete their course before 27 September 2021 and meet the requirements…Any period of distance learning in the current academic year will not count against eligible students who graduate after 2021, providing they complete their course in the UK under the student route. Those who do not complete their studies in the UK will be ineligible.

Research Professional explain that the sticking point is that that government guidance for international students urged them to stay away unless their course required them to be on campus for face to face teaching. A commentator within the article states it is:  highly unreasonable, and from a policy point of view self-defeating, to take fees from international students, advise them to delay travel for health policy reasons and then pronounce that they cannot follow the graduate visa route because they did not return to the UK in time. Particularly when the pandemic’s second wave is raging and they would put themselves at risk by arriving in the UK. Quite!

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, responded: We are working closely with the government, UK universities and sector bodies to support the smooth implementation of the route and to ensure its success. Given the current Covid-related restrictions, we understand that international students are, on the whole, being advised not to travel to the UK at this time, and we continue to work with partners to ensure that students can still benefit from this opportunity. And that Universities UK was “actively working with the Home Office to explore what further flexibilities can be introduced given the ongoing restrictions”.

You can read the full Research Professional article here.

Access to Healthcare: Wonkhe cover the i News report explaining that European students who study in the UK will have to pay more than £1,000 to access healthcare, with the opportunity to claim the cost back a year or more later.

More on last week’s announcements

You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

Admissions: Wonkhe have a short and interesting article outlining three options to address differential learning loss arising from pandemic restrictions. You’ll need to read the article to discover the options (worth doing) but these two HE-centric snippets stand out for admissions and student performance:

  • Because our education system, at multiple levels, is both about sorting and learning gain, it all presents two interlocking problems. One is how we fairly assess children and students given the impacts of restrictions have not been felt equally or equitably across society. The other is what we do about overall levels of learning loss which we might reasonably assume matter if we wish our society to be educated.
  • …If nothing else, there is a clear and present danger that universities will underestimate and underfund the support needed to address the problems presented by the intake of 2021. That seems to be a much more pressing educational issue than packing the Russell Group even tighter, destabilizing the rest of the rest of the sector in the process – which will mean no part of the sector will realistically have the time or capacity to address the issues we’re about to receive.

Credit transfer and flexible learning: HEPI have a blog “Can the pandemic bring a new dawn for flexible higher education?” by Luke Myer, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the Quality Assurance Agency, looking at the new enthusiasm for credit transfer described in the Skills White Paper.

  • One major challenge identified by our participants was England’s current regulatory metrics. The importance placed on data for continuation, retention, and completion creates a regulatory disincentive to provide short, flexible higher education programmes. …So, the metrics need to change.
  • A related challenge is regulation from professional bodies on maintaining the currency of knowledge for particular sectors. One solution here may be to differentiate durations on the portability of different qualifications, depending on their relevance.
  • Along with regulation, the funding model in England was identified as a barrier. There is typically no module-based funding under the Student Loans Company’s current model; this is compounded by other limitations including inflexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy and Equivalent and Lower Qualification (ELQ) funding restrictions. 

And some of the solutions?

  • Bringing higher education and further education closer together will require a careful balance between joining up the funding system and avoiding damage to institutional autonomy. Our participants referenced the new tertiary systems which appear to be developing in several Asian and emerging high-income economies, which have strong permeability between ‘academic’ and ‘occupational’ provision. …
  • A key part of this work should be to map the silos which already exist – between higher education and further education, between academic and vocational learning and between different kinds of learners – in order to understand the potential progression pathways for new students….

The pathway to high level skills: a HEPI blog “The Government risks narrowing the path to higher level skills” by Dr Scott Kelly:

  • We are already seeing the negative impact of reducing the number of qualifications available at level 3. Earlier this month Ofqual warned about the scale of the disruption that will be caused by the DfE’s decision to remove funding from Applied General qualifications such as BTECs. As Ofqual noted, the number of students accessing HE with BTECs continues to grow, with the proportion accepted with A levels alone having fallen from 63 per cent in 2017 to around 60 per cent in 2019. Ofqual echo the concerns I raised in my report for HEPI on BTECs in 2017
  • As with previous attempts to overhaul the qualification system, up to and including the introduction of T levels, policy is likely to fail because it falls between two stalls – neither driven by the market nor based on sufficient industry engagement to ensure employers really value the qualifications on offer.

Students

The OfS have published a guide for students, representatives and students’ unions – Office for Students notifications. It explains how the OfS regulates universities, and specifically that the notifications process allows students, staff members and others to let us know about issues within a university. It emphases that the OfS doesn’t have a direct role in in dealing with individual complaints or with disputes between students and their university but they do want to hear about current issues on the aspects they do regulate on. Such as issues that might be affecting particular courses or groups of students (examples are given on pages 4-5) and recognising that students’ unions and representatives often have a great understanding of students’ experiences through their engagement and support

Wonkhe have a blog on the new guide Should students tell tales on their university or college? It states: What the guide doesn’t do is address in any meaningful way why a student, student representative or students’ union would bother. It doesn’t address what doing so might achieve, or what the ideal would be internally before getting this far. And nor does it reveal what OfS’ emphasis on it hides in the process – that the regulator doesn’t have much of a clue about what’s going on in universities.

The blog also explores the cost cutting reduction in OfS monitoring of universities and highlights how students sharing information on their university might be an opportunity for the OfS:

  • … during a pandemic in particular that leaves you in a bit of a monitoring hole – so to the rescue comes a beefing up of reportable events via students, student reps and students’ unions.
  • We’re not sampling. But we are “inviting” students and their reps to tell us stuff.
  • In practice, it is difficult to explain quite how flawed this monitoring sticking plaster really is. But I’m going to try.

The blog then carefully explains why it’s flawed and that it is unlikely students will use the OfS process en masse. Although perhaps they’ll complain to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator instead. This week they published their Operating Plans and we learnt that they received 2,604 complaints in 2020 (a 10% increase compared to 2019). Research Professional highlight:

  • Since student queries take some time before making their way to the OIA (complainants must first exhaust the internal arbitration options at their institutions), the numbers in today’s report will not include all those whose pandemic-related complaints about their universities were made last year.
  • Nonetheless, records have been broken. The OIA says it received 2,604 complaints in 2020—representing a 10 per cent increase on 2019 and marking the highest-ever number in a single year.

It is hard to imagine that this record will still stand when the numbers for 2021 are published next year. The OIA has reported record-breaking complaint numbers in each of the past three years, resulting in a cumulative increase in its caseload of nearly 60 per cent since 2017.

2019/20 student statistics

HESA released statistics on HE student enrolments and qualifications achieved in 2019/20.  We’ve got some extracts for you.

Much of the news in forthcoming weeks will likely focus on the increase in first class honours that were awarded (see below) which it will be argued are linked to the no detriment policies most institutions implemented. Wonkhe have good coverage on this in the first part of this blog. They remind us to:

  • …remember this. Students obtain at least their average grade. To get a first, someone would need to have been averaging a first in the year so far. This is emphatically not a matter of handing out firsts like confetti – this is recognising work that has already been done. Nobody who got a first in 2019-20 did so without working at a first class level for at least the normal part of the academic year. Class of 2020, take your praise.

Grades Achieved

  • The percentage of students achieving a first class honours increased from 28% in 2018/19 to 35% in 2019/20. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, many providers issued public statements that a ‘no detriment’ approach would be adopted when it came to assessment. This typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the most recent provider assessment of their attainment. 
  • The share of students who received a lower second qualification classification fell by 4 – from 19% in 2018/19 to 15% in 2019/20.
  • A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
  • In a continuing trend, full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.

Science Subjects

  • The percentage of qualifiers who gained qualifications in science subjects increased according to age group.
  • Among qualifiers obtaining a first degree, there was a 50% split between males qualifying in science subjects versus those qualifying in non-science subjects. For females, the proportion qualifying in science subjects was 41%.

Qualifications by level

  • There was a decrease in the number of qualifications obtained in all levels for the 2019/20 academic year, despite growth in the overall number of first year students in preceding years. Evidence suggests that some of this decrease is explained by significant numbers of qualifications awarded this year not being reported. This is likely to be linked to the impact on examinations and awards resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded (see 
    figure 15 here). More details of the impact of COVID-19 on the data can be read in the notes.
  • The number of other undergraduate qualifications continued to decline, reflecting the decrease in first year other undergraduate student enrolment numbers.

Numbers

  • The total number of HE students in the UK in 2019/20 was 2,532,385, an increase of 3% from 2018/19. (2,697,380 when including HE students registered at FE providers.)
  • Undergraduate first degree courses account for the overall increase in number from 2018/19 to 2019/20
  • 15% increase (37,605) in first year masters taught course enrolments from 2018/19 to 2019/20. Full time enrolments increased more than part time.
  • During the five year period 2015/16 to 2019/20, masters taught and first degree level course enrolments have seen year on year increases. All other postgraduate and undergraduate level courses have seen year on year decreases in enrolment numbers.
  • Full time postgraduates had the highest level of international students (see Figure 8 here)
  • Business and management attracted the highest number of students overall with 16% of all students enrolling in this subject
  • Among science subjects, subjects allied to medicine was the most popular for students, accounting for a quarter of all science subject enrolments

Protected Characteristics

  • The overall number of students with a known disability is increasing year on year both in enrolment numbers and in proportion of all students – from 2018/19 to 2019/20 the increase was 28,370
  • There were 122,755 students with a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or AD(H)D in 2019/20 – this number accounts for 33% of all students with a known disability
  • A further 105,590 students reported a mental health condition, such as depression, schizophrenia or anxiety disorder.
  • The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years, while the percentage that are Asian, Black and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased
  • In terms of diversity within subjects, 82% of students studying veterinary sciences were female. For engineering and technology and computing, only 20% of students were female

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said [and here is the kick on grade inflation, if you were waiting for it]:

  • This latest set of figures covers students graduating during the early stage of the pandemic. This was a period of intense disruption, with universities needing to move studies online very rapidly. As a result of this many universities implemented ‘no detriment’ policies, and these policies lie behind the significant increase in first class honours awarded to students graduating in 2020.
  • Before the pandemic, OfS analysis found evidence that unexplained grade inflation at our universities had begun to slow. However, there is more to be done to ensure that students, graduates and employers can maintain their confidence in the value of a degree and temporary changes in response to the pandemic should not bake in further grade inflation. This will require careful work which balances the importance of standards being maintained with recognition of – and response to – the exceptional pressures that students remain under this year.

 Student Experience

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the results of their experimental statistics on Coronavirus & HE students in England for January 2021, covering student’s life satisfaction, mental health and accommodation status.

  • Of those students who travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break, 40% have since returned and 60% have not yet returned to their term-time address.
  • Of those students who provided complete travel information, 33% travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break and 37% stayed in their accommodation; the remaining 30% were already living at their usual non-term address or family home, or in ‘other’ accommodation.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of students indicated that their well-being and mental health had worsened since the start of the autumn 2020 term.
  • A statistically significantly higher number (63%) of students reported a worsening in their well-being and mental health, compared with 57% reporting the same in the previous student survey (20 to 25 November 2020).
  • Average life satisfaction scores of students decreased by 9% from 5.3 to 4.8 out of 10, between 20 to 25 November 2020 and 8 to 18 January 2021.
  • A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), compared with 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020).

The ONS provide some context:

  • The most recent data collected from the Student COVID-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) show a further decrease in students’ average life satisfaction scores, with almost two-thirds of students reporting a worsening of their mental health and well-being.
  • These numbers are not surprising considering the new lockdown measures in place and the fact that many students have not yet returned to their university town or city. This is also reflected in the academic experience scores, with the number of students reporting dissatisfaction showing an increase since the last report.

Specifically on dissatisfaction:

  • A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), than the 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020). Of those who were dissatisfied with their academic experience, the most common reasons were learning delivery (75%) and quality of learning (71%).
  • Over half (56%) of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their social experience since the start of the autumn term. The most common given reasons that students were dissatisfied with their social experience were limited opportunities to meet other students (86%) and limited opportunities for social or recreational activity (85%).

Parliamentary Questions

Health care

  • Healthcare students on placement are confirmed as eligible for priority access to the vaccine.
  • Still no answer on decisions re: nurses out of pocket due to course extensions. Which is odd because the Universities Minister has already said they will not have to pay additional tuition fees: Health Education England is working locally with each higher education provider so that placements are available and is supporting healthcare students to ensure that as many as possible graduate on time.

Institutions should not charge nursing students additional tuition fees in circumstances where they need more study time to complete their course as result of undertaking a paid placement in the NHS, or as result of needing to undertake clinical placements over an extended period.

Regulatory

Students

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Budget 2021: You can read the Russell Group’s submission to the 2021 budget here.

Contract cheating: Previous Universities Minister Chris Skidmore intends to try his luck by presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill aiming to make essay mills illegal, including advertising them, in the UK. Skidmore is concerned that the pressures of pandemic learning and being physically distanced from a student’s academic community and usual resources may create vulnerabilities that contract cheating services thrive upon. He has called on the sector to contribute evidence and examples for his Bill presentation. He writes: This bill won’t be the immediate end to essay mills, but it can be the start of a legislative process that can and does influence government to take action. By making the collective case against essay mills, at the very least I hope this is one legislative effort the sector can welcome. For an explanation of the Ten minute Rule Bill see last week’s policy update (page 18) or Chris provides a succinct explanation: the canary in the legislative coalmine. Research Professional cover the story.

Appeals and academic judgement– there’s a HEPI blog on this, linked to the consultations on the new proposals for A levels and vocational qualifications, which close on 29th January.

Careers Resourcing: The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services publishes a report on resourcing higher education careers services. Wonkhe say: More than 90% of careers services experienced a drop in income, related to the inability to host careers fairs. The majority of services have reported a rise in demand from students, with none experiencing a decrease.

Wellbeing: The Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust has published a report on the drop in girls well being during adolescence.  While the wellbeing of all young people (Gen Z) declines by the end of their teenage years, there is a strong gender divide within this: girls see far lower levels of wellbeing and self-esteem than boys – driven by a sharp fall of both during mid-adolescence. Depressive symptoms rise among both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17 but they increase more markedly for girls.  For a summary of the paper including which factors have an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Generation Z contact us.

Also out this week is the Children’s Commissioner for England’s fourth annual report on the state of children’s mental health services in England. Dods tell us it finds that, while there has been an expansion of children’s mental health services over the past four years, such was the poor starting point that services are still nowhere near meeting the needs of many hundreds of thousands of children. With 1 in 6 children estimated to have a probable mental health condition, the Children’s Commissioner calls for a major recovery programme for including an NHS-funded counsellor is every school in England and online wellbeing support.

Young employment: The Office for National Statistics released the latest Labour Market Overview on young employment.

  • The number of 16-24 year olds employed stands at 3,561,077 . This has fallen by 24,487 on the last quarter and by 203,386 on last year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds unemployed stands at 596,400, up 15,403 on the previous quarter, up 114,662 on the previous year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds economically inactive stands at 2,699,569, a decrease of 43,662 on the previous quarter, but up 53,514 on the previous year. This is an economic inactivity rate of 9.4%, down 0.6 ppts on previous quarter but up 1.0 ppt on previous year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds claiming unemployment related benefits is 515,905. This is an increase of 2,730 or 0.5% in the last quarter and 281,413 or 120% on the previous year.

Student Accommodation: The House of Commons Library has published Coronavirus: Student accommodation issues to brief MPs on the key points prior to participation in parliamentary business. The blurb: Compliance with coronavirus restrictions has meant many students haven’t been able to live in their term-time accommodation for significant periods and many have had a poorer experience at university than expected due to Covid outbreaks and restrictions. This has led to students demanding rent refunds or discounts. How have universities, other accommodation providers and the Government responded to this?

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HE policy update 20th August 2020

Well, things happened while we were away!  This is a results and admissions special, with some research news too.  We’ll see what happens next before committing to our next update.

Results!

The withdrawal of BTEC results at 4.30 on Wednesday evening when L1 and L2 results they were due to be published alongside GCSEs on Thursday morning, was “just” another spin in this chaotic results cycle.

With the DfE having (finally) learned that it helps to address obvious concerns before issuing results, GCSE results were issued today with students seeing only the upside from the Ofqual algorithm.  As for A levels, this is not the promised “triple lock” but a double lock  -with students getting the better of the algorithmic grade and the centre assessed grade (CAG).

Hot off the press for university admissions, the caps on numbers for medicine and dentistry are being abolished (although placement and other restrictions may mean it doesn’t make that much difference).   The Minister has announced extra teaching grant for universities with more students on high cost courses.  And in a letter to universities (for once issued during the working day instead of late at night or at the weekend) she promises lots of “working together”.  It all seems a bit late.  The Minister has also published a letter to students.

And there is another story, about the impact next year on the current year 12.  Deferrals will reduce the number of places available next year. Although there can still be appeals, there are expected to be fewer, however there will still be some students choosing to take their exams in person in the autumn – and despite requests for flexibility most of these students will need to wait until 2021/22 to start university, unless they can find programmes with a January start.  This will include private and resit candidates who did not get CAGs.

And it is all so inconsistent with recent government positions and ministerial announcements.  After suggesting that disadvantaged students shouldn’t bother going to university because they are being ripped off, the Minster has told universities to prioritise these students when allocating remaining places on over-subscribed courses.  That’s a good thing, of course, but it demonstrates that the government is worried about the impact of the grades fiasco on the stats next year, so they have realised they do care about WP after all.  And after abandoning the 50% participation target (again) and pressing the “too many students go to university” line (again), the Minister and Secretary of State are now urging universities to be as flexible as possible and let as many students as possible in.   So much for them all doing vocational courses in FE colleges.  Oh, but that was for other people’s children – not the constituents who have written protesting about their children losing their chances to go to university.

Those arguments haven’t gone away, though.  Predictably with no story about GCSE unfairness, the story today is therefore about grade inflation and the risk of students who will struggle to succeed in whatever they do next because they have done better than they “should have”.    There is a similar line for A levels too.  There is already a government and regulatory focus on continuation and outcomes but it will be particularly charged for the cohort of 2020/21.

But it’s all going to be ok, because the Minister has established a task force.  Having failed to consult the sector while all this was playing out, a task force was set up on Wednesday, meeting daily.  UUK wrote to Gavin Williamson on Tuesday to set out the potential problems in all this. The result is a letter to students and VCs, and a press release.  To quote, the action taken so far:

  • Yesterday’s (19 August) daily meeting of the Government’s Higher Education Taskforce agreed to honouring all offers across courses to students who meet their conditions this coming year wherever possible, or if maximum capacity is reached to offer an alternative course or a deferred place.
  • To support this commitment, the Government has lifted the cap on domestic medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and undergraduate teacher training places. Additional teaching grant funding will also be provided to increase capacity in medical, nursing, STEM and other high-cost subjects which are vital to the country’s social needs and economy.
  • ….There are no Government caps on university nursing places, and the Government is working rapidly to build capacity in the nursing sector to support recruitment to the country’s vital public services.
  • On Monday, the Government also confirmed it intends to remove temporary student number controls for the 2020/21 academic year to build capacity to admit students this coming year.

We will see what they do next.  UUK have responded to the first set of announcements.

Meanwhile the blame game is continuing with officials saying they warned Ministers weeks ago, with allegations that Ministers were not on top of the detail, with Ministers at least hinting that it is all Ofqual’s fault because they said it would all be ok, officials at the DfE coming under fire, and the Office for Statistics Regulation announcing a review.  The House of Commons Education Committee also raised these issues in early July.

Further reading:

  • UCAS update from Wednesday evening:
    • Our initial analysis shows approximately 15,000 of these students who were originally rejected by their original firm choice university with their moderated grades, will now meet the A level conditions of their offer with their centre assessed grades (CAGs).
    • Approximately 100,000 students who had their grades upgraded were already placed at their first choice university on A level results day last Thursday.
    • Of the remaining 60,000 students with higher grades from CAGs, around one in four (approximately 15,000) will now meet the A level offer conditions of their original first choice university. 90% of these students made their original firm choice at a higher tariff provider.
    • UCAS has conducted further analysis into these 15,000 students, and found 7% of this group are from disadvantaged backgrounds (POLAR4 Q1). This follows a record breaking year for disadvantaged students gaining places at high tariff providers, which at this point in the admissions cycle stands at 6,090 (compared with 5,290 at the same point last year for UK 18 year olds).
  • Coverage on Wonkhe: today’s update on “a great new deal for universities and applicants” with analysis (of course) of the impact of the grade changes.
  • There’s an IfS blog about what went wrong:
    • The method used to assign grades makes some sense. Schools were asked to rank their students in each subject. Then information on earlier grades within the schools, and earlier attainment at GCSE, was used to assign grades to each student this year. The resulting distribution of grades looks comparable to the distribution in previous years. Indeed, there are rather more higher grades than in the past.
    • There are two obvious problems with what Ofqual did. I suspect that there are more, but it will require many more hours of study to discover them.
    • First, and most obvious, the process adopted favours schools with small numbers of students sitting any individual A Level. That is, it favours private schools. If you have up to five students doing an A Level, you simply get the grades predicted by the teacher. If between five and fifteen, teacher-assigned grades get some weight. More than 15 and they get no weight. Teacher predictions are always optimistic. Result: there was a near-five percentage point increase in the fraction of entries from private schools graded at A or A*. In contrast, sixth-form and further education colleges saw their A and A* grades barely rise — up only 0.3 per cent since 2019 and down since 2018. This is a manifest injustice. No sixth-form or FE college has the funding to support classes of fifteen, let alone five. The result, as Chris Cook, a journalist and education expert, has written: “Two university officials have told me they have the poshest cohorts ever this year because privately educated kids got their grades, the universities filled and there’s no adjustment/clearing places left.”
    • Second, the algorithm used makes it almost impossible for students at historically poor-performing sixth forms to get top grades, even if the candidates themselves had an outstanding record at GCSE. For reasons that are entirely beyond me, the regulator did not use the full information on GCSE performance. Rather than use data that could help to identify when there are truly outstanding candidates, the model simply records what tenth of the distribution GCSE scores were in. There is a huge difference between the 91st and 99th percentiles, yet they are treated the same. There is little difference between the 89th and 91st, yet they are treated differently.
    • … Then there appears to be a more general lack of common sense applied to the results of the model. If it predicts a U grade (a fail) for a subject in a school, then some poor sucker is going to fail, deserved or not. That’s why some seem to have been awarded Us despite predicted grades of C.
  • Education Committee report on 7th July. The Ofqual response is here.
  • You will remember the Royal Statistical Society for their heroic critique of the TEF in their response to the Pearce Review (as a side bar, the TEF metrics will be very peculiar next year – benchmarking will be an interesting process). They offered to help but refused to sign a restrictive non disclosure agreement and so were not involved.  Their CEO is quoted in the FT and the article is worth reading.
  • Jo Johnson in the Spectator being pleased that the numbers cap has been abolished:
    • Before the exams meltdown, universities were losing both friends and influence on the Tory benches. They were deemed to be on the ‘wrong’ side of the referendum and then enemy combatants in a low-level culture war. The ministerial message to young people was shifting from the sensible ‘you don’t have to do a degree’ to the openly discouraging ‘too many go to university’. The high watermark of uni-phobia perhaps came last month when cabinet ministers denounced Tony Blair’s target of 50 per cent of children going to university and warned that any institution finding itself in financial difficulties would be ‘restructured’. To say our universities feel unloved by this government is an understatement.
    • But the furore over the botched exam results has shown that most people are still very keen on universities. MPs have been besieged by thousands of families worried about their children’s future and enraged by grade downgrades and missed university offers. Are ministers really going to respond by telling kids (other people’s obviously) to take short vocational courses instead? Does any MP seriously relish the failure of a university in his patch? I doubt it.
    • There’s another IfS blog about the impact:
      • …it looks like amongst UK students holding offers at Oxford or Cambridge, around 10% more than expected (or around 500 extra students) may now have achieved their offers. 
      • Lower down the rankings, the effect on numbers is less clear: more applicants will have met their offers, but fewer will end up going to their insurance choice or finding a place via Clearing after missing their offers. But it seems plausible that for most higher-ranking universities, domestic student numbers will be higher than they expected.  
      • To allow for this, the government has lifted the student numbers caps that it had temporarily brought back for this year in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. But universities will still face physical capacity constraints in teaching and housing students. These constraints may not bind if many international and EU students do not take up their places as a result of the COVID-19 crisis: extra domestic students could just take their spots. But universities still don’t know how many of these students will turn up. They have made offers and will have to honour them if the international students do come.
      • … These problems were entirely avoidable. A Level results should never have been released before being subject to scrutiny beyond Ofqual. The government should not have had to rely on shocked 18-year-olds on results day to realise there was a problem. And the allocation of places should not have happened immediately – the government should have released the results in advance and allowed an appeals process on grades before allowing universities to finalise places. 
      • Allocating A Level grades to students who did not sit exams was never going to be easy. But the government’s solution is a clear fail. This will have repercussions for universities and students, now and in the coming years.
    • Pearson update on BTECs from Wednesday afternoon:
      • Following our review and your feedback we have decided to apply Ofqual’s principles for students receiving BTECs this summer.  
      • This means we will now be regrading all the following BTECs – BTEC Level 3 Nationals (2010 QCF and 2016 RQF), BTEC Level 1/2 Tech Awards, BTEC Level 2 Technicals and BTEC Level 1/2 Firsts.  
      • BTEC qualification results have been generally consistent with teacher and learner expectations, but we have become concerned about unfairness in relation to what are now significantly higher outcomes for GCSE and A Levels.  
      • Although we generally accepted Centre Assessment Grades for internal (i.e. coursework) units, we subsequently calculated the grades for the examined units using historical performance data with a view of maintaining overall outcomes over time. Our review will remove these calculated grades and apply consistency across teacher assessed internal grades and examined grades that students were unable to sit.  
      • We will work urgently with you to reissue these grades and will update you as soon as we possibly can. We want to reassure students that no grades will go down as part of this review.  
      • We appreciate this will cause additional uncertainty for students and we are sorry about this. Our priority is to ensure fair outcomes for BTEC students in relation to A Levels and GCSEs and that no BTEC student is disadvantaged.  

    Meanwhile….

    The IfS have a report on the impact of school closures:

    • Learning time was dramatically lower during the lockdown than prior to it. On average, primary school students spent 4.5 hours learning on a typical school day during the lockdown, down from 6.0 hours before the lockdown (25% reduction). For secondary schools, the absolute and proportionate drops are even larger, from 6.6 hours a day before the lockdown to 4.5 hours a day during the lockdown (32% reduction). 
    • Learning time has also become more unequal, especially at primary school. Figure 1 shows the changesin total daily learning time, including both time in class and time on other educational activities, during a typical term week between 2014–15 and the lockdown period. It compares children from the poorest, middle and richest fifth of households (in the case of the 2020 data, based on their pre-pandemic earnings).
    • For primary school children, the lockdown has created new inequalities in learning time. Before the pandemic, there was essentially no difference between the time that children from the poorest and richest households spent on educational activities. But, during the lockdown, learning time fell by less among primary school children from the richest families than among their less well-off peers. The end result is that, during the lockdown, the richest students spent 75 minutes a day longer on educational activities than their peers in the poorest families – an extra 31% of learning time.  
    • At secondary school, though, the picture looks very different. While the size of the gap between children from the poorest and the richest households during the lockdown, at 73 minutes a day, is almost precisely the same size as the gap for primary students, this inequality has much deeper roots; even before the lockdown, secondary school pupils from the richest fifth of families spent almost an hour a day more time on education than their worst-off peers. And, unlike at primary school, this is not just a story about the rich and the rest; the inequalities between the middle and the bottom are just as pronounced as those between the middle and the top.
    • Existing research has shown that extra learning time leads to better educational outcomes. The widening of the socio-economic learning-time gap during the lockdown therefore suggests that the lockdown could worsen educational inequalities between children from poorer and richer backgrounds, especially among primary school students.

    Research news

    UKRI have announced that international students can apply for UKRI funded postgraduate studentships in the next academic year.

    Dame Ottoline Leyser, the new head of UKRI was interviewed in Nature:

    • The thing that I think is most important is the focus on people and on research culture, because the whole research system critically depends not just on researchers, but on all the people around them who support the research endeavour. [Research] is also a system now which is in a lot of stress. There are lots of bad behaviours, which are arguably driven by the huge stress and we need to think hard about shifting that.
    • Poor cultural practices are a real problem in terms of bullying and harassment, research integrity and keeping the widest range of people in the system, to drive the creative and dynamic system that we need. Getting to a place where people are enjoying the work that they’re doing, where they’re all appreciated and valued, to me, is crucial. Many of those other things I think will flow from that.
    • … We put a huge emphasis on a researcher’s publication and funding record, for example. We have put much less emphasis on things like their care for the next generation, leadership skills and the wider contributions people are making to the research system — which are absolutely essential for the system to function — and how they are engaging more widely. I think those are things that every researcher should be doing. It’s a whole range of things that we need to try to address to make research fun again, because it really should be.
    • .. The way we’ve typically thought about equality, diversity and inclusion has been that you collect up the numbers and then you try to put in place things that ‘fix’ the minority in some way — for example, you make it easier for women to work in a system. To me, that’s not going to work. You have to create a system that genuinely supports diversity, and what that means is something quite uncomfortable. True diversity and inclusion is about valuing difference, not about creating some level playing field and pretending everybody’s the same and therefore they can all succeed on that playing field.
    • Particularly in research, difference is where all the good stuff is. Disagreement is where all the new and exciting ideas come from. We have to build research cultures where difference is considered a good thing. In our funding portfolio as UKRI, we need to ask ourselves, are we funding a wide range of different types of thing or are we just funding more of the same?

    And she also did an interview in the THE:

    • Many hope that Dame Ottoline – known for her critiques of the research excellence framework and science’s failure to introduce more family-friendly policies – will provide a more robust challenge to government policy, having been far closer to the science coalface than most long-serving administrators.
    • Will she continue to be as forthright as she has been? “I’m certainly not going to pussyfoot about,” said Dame Ottoline on her upcoming dealings with the key players in government.
    • That said, the recent pro-science moves by Boris Johnson’s administration, which last month reconfirmed its ambition to double research spending to £22 billion a year by 2024, mean that an adversarial stance is probably not the best approach, she explained.
    • … She was not, however, keen on the idea of forcing institutions to adopt certain practices by making them a condition of UKRI funding in the same way that, in 2015, the chief medical officer, then Dame Sally Davies, made an Athena SWAN diversity award a prerequisite for receiving NHS medical research funding.
    • “Mandating particular approaches will not deliver the diversity that we need,” insisted Dame Ottoline, who said many scientists felt the decision to make Athena SWAN mandatory “undermined some of the core principles [of the scheme] and how institutions think about diversity”.

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HE policy update for the w/e 17th January 2020

Another busy week  in HE policy– with consultations and a very short timeline for the KEF.  Everyone has hit the ground running in 2020!

The third leg of the HE stool arrives: KEF has landed

The outcome of the KEF consultation in 2019 has come out. UKRI have published the “Decisions for the first iteration”.  They have given a very short timeline for the publication of the first set of data and narratives from institutions – they will all be published this summer.  Narratives have to be submitted by May.  Data will be published for everyone, whether they submit narratives or not.

They have also indicated that it is likely that from 2020/21 institutions will have to submit narratives for the KEF to be eligible for Research England funding.

  • This first iteration of the KEF will take place in the current academic year 2019/20. All Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) eligible to receive Research England Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) funding in this current academic year are in scope for this exercise.
  • The KEF is taking a metrics-led approach, although it also includes a narrative component. As previously advised, all proposed KEF metrics use existing data sources that are already collected via existing statutory returns or other means. …. This reflects the minimal burden of this exercise as there is no need for any institution to gather or submit new metrics for this iteration of the KEF.
  • The narrative component of the KEF will consist of three brief narrative statements … we intend to publish in summer 2020 the KEF metrics of all institutions in receipt of HEIF in this 2019/20 academic year. Therefore, institutions in receipt of HEIF in this academic year 2019/20 are strongly encouraged to submit narrative information to contextualise their results….
  • This report will be followed by publication of the narrative templates and final cluster membership in February 2020. If institutions in scope for this exercise wish to have their narrative templates published alongside their results, the completed templates should be returned on Friday 15 May 2020.
  • …Research England will provide further contextual information about the external environment in which the HEI operates that should be considered when interpreting results. This contextual information will be in the form a standard set of indicators at the LEP-region level.
  • Results will be presented through an online visualisation platform displaying perspectives and underlying metrics, as well as narrative statements and contextual information

The metrics will be reported against “clusters”. They have changed their original cluster proposals somewhat, removing the Social Science and Business specialist cluster – final cluster membership will be published in February with the templates. These clusters have been designed to allow meaningful comparison.  When BU responded to the consultation we suggested that it is unhelpful to introduce a third methodology for comparison – the TEF uses institutional benchmarks, something that has challenges itself, and the REF is of course organised by subject.  We remain concerned that this will be confusing and not very meaningful for businesses and other organisations (the declared target for this information) who may not find the cluster comparison useful if they only have limited experience with a small number of universities.

You will recall that the metrics are grouped into seven “perspectives” – only two will require narratives.  The consultation looked at additional metrics but has discounted any that are not already “gathered through existing statutory returns, or available from other UKRI or external sources”.  This is because they want to make it a “low burden” exercise.

Public and Community Engagement narrative – a statement:

  • identifying the public and community groups served by the institution and how their needs have been identified;
  • description of the targeted activities that are undertaken to meet these needs;
  • evidence that needs have been met and tangible outcomes achieved.

Local Growth and Regeneration narrative – a statement:

  • identifying the geographical area(s) that the institution considers to be its local area;
  • explanation of how needs of the local area(s) that relate to economic growth and regeneration are identified;
  • description of the targeted activities undertaken by the institution to meet those needs and any outcomes achieved.

The third narrative will be an institutional context narrative – “setting out the geographic, economic and social context within which the higher education institution is operating…. The information contained within this statement will not be used to normalise any of the metrics or perspectives across clusters.”

David Kernohan has written for Wonkhe about it:

  • The Knowledge Exchange Framework is not (like REF and TEF are) an “excellence framework”. It doesn’t make any judgement on the quality of business and community interaction, just on the proportional volume and likely output of a number of activities described in the HE-BCI survey data. Neither is it of use to professional or armchair rankers – it doesn’t offer named awards or simple stepped gradations that demonstrate one thing is unfailingly better than another.
  • It may eventually be used to support the allocation of the £200m Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), which is currently allocated using similar data. But for the first year (2020-21) it is for entertainment and edification purposes only.”

David summarises the pages of normalisation methodology in the document nicely: Metrics are a three-year average, mostly …as ratios, which are converted at perspective level into deciles. This reduces a great deal of data and analysis into what amounts to a set of marks out of 10, which are compared to an average mark from comparable institutions (the infamous clusters)”.

And the visualisation approach: “Research England has a grand plan to use spider graphs to show institutional scores alongside cluster averages, with an option to drill down into more detailed data on each metric. I’m not as struck by this as they are – the exercise is designed to support comparisons and spider diagrams are an unwieldy way to do this. I also feel like the individual metrics are still fairly abstract, you have to go quite a long way back down the methodology to get something that the mind can easily take hold of.”

Erasmus after Brexit

After the social media storm last week when Parliament didn’t approve the Erasmus amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (it doesn’t mean we can’t be in it, it just means that government won’t be bound by the new Bill to make sure we are in it), there have been a few questions this week.

Douglas Chapman (SNP) said that the end of Erasmus scheme was an “utter disaster, culturally and socially” and asked the PM to comment on the end of the participation of the scheme. Boris’ response implied that the UK would continue to participate in the scheme.

And there were several questions on Erasmus (see this one and this one) – all with similar response – that the Government is including it within the Brexit negotiations and is working towards remaining within the scheme.  The House of Commons Library have released this briefing paper on Erasmus to inform MPs ahead of Monday’s scheduled Education debate.

New HESA data

HESA have published higher education statistics for 2018/19.  Interestingly, the OfS focussed on grade inflation in their response –and nothing else.

Sex of students

  • Of all HE students 57% were female in 2018/19 (see Figure 4), this has been the same since 2016/17.
  • A larger proportion of part-time students were female than full-time students.
  • For other undergraduate students, 64% were female, compared with 49% of postgraduate (research) students.

Age of students

  • The overall number of first year students aged 30 and over has increased in 2018/19 after a decreasing trend in previous years.
  • The number of first year students aged 21-24 has increased from 2015/16 to 2018/19.
  • The number of first year full-time students aged 30 and over has increased every year since 2014/15.
  • Numbers of full-time students aged 20 and under have increased year on year since 2012/13.

Student disability status

  • The overall number of students with a known disability is increasing year on year. The main reason for this increase is students identified as having a mental health condition.
  • Of students with a known disability in 2018/19 the category of specific learning difficulty is the largest group accounting for 36% of the total.

Ethnicity of students

  • The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years. However, the percentage that are Asian, Mixed and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased.
  • HE providers in England show the largest decrease and the lowest proportion of UK domiciled students that are White compared to HE providers in all other countries of the UK.

Within the European Union:

  • Italy has seen a notable rise to become the top European Union country sending students to the UK, overtaking three other countries in the last five years.
  • Germany is the top European Union country to send students to Wales and Scotland, and Ireland is top in sending students to Northern Ireland.

Outside the European Union:

  • China sent more students to the UK than any other overseas country. In 2018/19, 35% of all non-EU students were from China. The number of students from China was also 34% higher in 2018/19 than in 2014/15, increasing from 89,540 to 120,385 in the five year span.
  • Student numbers from India increased from 18,325 in 2014/15 to 26,685 in 2018/19.
  • The other countries in the chart are more in line with European Union student numbers.
  • Nigeria has seen a 41% decline in student numbers coming to the UK over the five year period, dropping behind the United States, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
  • For more recent trends in international student visa applications and granted visas, refer toTable 1 of Immigration statistics published by the Home Office in November 2019. Please note that although on a similar theme, these statistics are not directly comparable. Home Office statistics cover further education as well as higher education, and immigration data provides an indication of the number of people who have an intention to enter the UK for study reasons, not whether, or when, an individual actually arrived in the UK, or what they did on arrival to the UK.

Of those gaining a classified first degree:

  • The percentage of students achieving a first class honours remains stable at 28% for both 2017/18 and 2018/19. This follows an increase year on year since 2009/10 where 14% of students achieved this classification.
  • A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
  • Full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.

Subjects

In 2018/19:

  • More qualifications were awarded in business & administrative studies than any other subject area.
  • Amongst part-time students, more qualifications were awarded in subjects allied to medicine than any other subject area.

Over the five year period 2014/15 – 2018/19:

  • There has been an overall increase in the number of qualifications gained in biological sciences and social studies.
  • There has been a decline in the number of qualifications gained in languages and education.

Mental Health

Student Minds has launched The Wellbeing Thesis, a website designed to support postgraduate research students to maintain their mental wellbeing.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield has presented a Bill in the House of Lords which would amend the Education Act 2002 and the Academies Act 2010 for schools to promote the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils. The Bill will proceed to a second reading at a future date.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q – Conor McGinn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to (a) reduce the level of social stigma in relation to mental health and (b) promote awareness of mental health issues among young people.

A – Nick Gibb:

  • The Department is making teaching about mental health part of compulsory health education in all state-funded schools in England from September 2020. The statutory guidance sets out that pupils will be taught about the importance of good physical and mental health including the steps pupils can take to protect and support their own health and mental wellbeing. The content will also cover understanding emotions; identifying where someone is experiencing signs of poor mental health; simple self-care; and how and when to seek support.
  • The Department is also working with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families to pilot setting up peer support approaches in schools and colleges that allow young people to play an active part of creating a mentally healthy and supportive environment. The findings from the programme’s external evaluation will be shared nationally, to help more schools to develop or improve their own mental health peer support programmes.
  • To support school staff, the Department has set up Expert Advisory Group on teacher and leader wellbeing which has a remit to advise the Department on what it can do to help schools and colleges promote good wellbeing, including tackling stigma around mental health.

Labour leadership

Monday was the closing date for Labour leadership candidates to secure the 22 nominations from MPs to run for party leader. Chris Lewis and Barry Gardiner did not secure the required amount. The following candidates will progress to the next round (number of nominations received noted in brackets):

  • Keir Starmer (89)
  • Rebecca Long Bailey (33)
  • Lisa Nandy (31)
  • Jess Phillips (23)
  • Emily Thornberry (23)

Candidates for deputy leader:

  • Angela Rayner (88)
  • Ian Murray (34)
  • Dawn Butler (29)
  • Rosena Allin-Khan (23)
  • Richard Burgon (22)

We explained the leadership contest process in detail in last week’s policy update. However, here is a quick recap: the next phase requires the candidates to seek nominations from Constituency Labour Parties and the Unions by 15th Jan – to carry on they need support of 5% of the constituency parties (the BBC said 30) OR 3 affiliate organisations, including 2 trade unions.  The members’ ballot opens on 21st Feb and runs to 2nd April.  Votes are redistributed if there is no clear winner.  Results announced on 4th April

An interesting background briefing on the Labour leadership candidates prepared by Dods is available here. It is worth a read to get to know the candidates better.

Fees and funding

The House of Commons Library has a new briefing paper on the Augar Review (Post 18 Education and Funding Review). The paper considers the recommendations of the Augar Review and the (page 26) initial responses to it from major HE bodies. The Government is rumoured to have made the decision on how they will respond (which parts they will adopt) of the Augar Review and intend to release their response at a suitable point (soon-ish!). Most likely the briefing paper has been produced because Education Questions will take place in Parliament next Monday.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q -Baroness Bennett Of Manor Castle: following the announcement that nursing bursaries are to be reintroduced, what plans [the Government] have to support nurses, midwifes and other healthcare professionals with any debt incurred before the reintroduction to support their study and training.

A -Baroness Blackwood Of North Oxford:

  • We have committed to 50,000 more nurses in the National Health Service by 2025 and our new financial support package is crucial to delivering this.
  • Eligible pre-registration students on nursing, midwifery and many allied health students’ courses at English universities from September 2020 will benefit from additional support of at least £5,000 of non-repayable funding, with up to £3,000 additional funding for some students, who choose to study in regions or specialisms struggling to recruit, or to help with childcare costs, which they will not have to pay back.
  • The Government has no plans to introduce a scheme that will backdate the offer for students who completed courses in earlier years.

Q – Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to introduce Sharia compliant student loans.

A – Chris Skidmore (Kingswood): The government remains committed to introducing an Alternative Student Finance product for tuition fee and maintenance loans. Details on implementation will follow the conclusion of the review of post-18 education and funding.

Select Committees

Parliamentary business has been laid to commence the election of the select committee chairs now the new Parliament has formed. We anticipate the chairs will be announced early in February.  Below is a diagram stating which party will chair each select committee.

There are several committees where the previous chairman has vacated their position through losing their seat, or where the chairmanship has switched from Labour to Tory to reflect Parliament’s new arithmetic (the number of chairs for each party is proportionate to the size of the party in Parliament).  These include the Treasury, health, transport and work and pensions committees.

There is a potential change on the horizon. In the past when a parliamentary session ends the chairmanship and membership of a select committee ceases – as it did when the 2019 general election was called. However, a parliamentary motion introduced this week seeks to remove the limit on the maximum length of time an individual can chair a committee. This would allow parliamentarians to become long-serving chairs. There is also a clause which stipulates that the Brexit committee will continue for another year, even though the department it shadows — DExEU — is being wound up at the end of January.

Education Debate

There was a major Education and Local Government debate within the House of Commons this week led by Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education. On schools the debate covered content on: the minimum school funding (per pupil), rolling out free schools (Midlands, North and South West), extra funding to Councils to support children in care, capital funding for childcare provision within schools (for school aged children), an arts activities premium for secondary schools from 2021, school building safety – following advice in the independent Hackitt review,

Gavin Williamson also said:

  • The Government’s £3bn national skills fund would build on ongoing work to develop a national retraining scheme in underpinning economic prosperity.
  • Capital investment of £1.8bn into the further education estate.
  • The Government plans to create more mayors across England to devolve power away from Westminster via a devolution white paper.

Angela Rayner challenged the Government on the lack of response to the Augar review, particularly in relation to decision on the regulation of home education. She said: “While we are on the subject of Bills that are missing in action…The Augar review went from being a flagship to a ghost ship”.

SNP Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Carol Monaghan, asked the Minister whether a fee change would be forthcoming, further to the Augar review recommendations. She also raised concerns over the implications of Brexit on HE staff, research funding, infrastructure and collaboration: “A recent report from the Royal Society has shown that the UK’s share of EU funding has fallen by €500 million since 2015. There has also been a drop of 40% in UK applications to Horizon 2020. We are still in it just now, but we have had that drop because people do not have any certainty. The UK is now seen as a less attractive place to come and do research, with 35% fewer scientists coming to the UK through key schemes. That is of concern, as is Erasmus and what Brexit will mean for that programme”.

David Davis (Conservative) criticised the university tuition fees and loans scheme for delivering poor-quality education, high levels of expectations and low levels of outcome. He called for concerted action to tackle low productivity, including translational research, but also, “investment, education, infrastructure, magnet cities and garden villages”.

Previous chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon welcomes the Queen’s Speech and said that he believes that “skills, social justice, standards and support for the profession should be the four interlocking foundations of this Government’s education programme.” He called on the Government to turbocharge adult learning, citing that adult learning is at its lowest since 1996 and that this county needs a world-class apprenticeships programme.

Halfon also raised concerns about disadvantaged pupils who are often 19 months behind by the time they reach their GCSEs, he called on the Government to have a “bold, assertive agenda that has compassion and aspiration right at its core.” Halfon told the chamber that the Government should offer top-quality childcare, to help plug the gap of disadvantaged children who are already left behind when they start primary school.

Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland Karin Smyth told the house that the Government has got it wrong in its implementation of apprenticeships, particularly by making the process more complicated for small and medium sized enterprises.

Janet Daby (Labour, Lewisham East) raised a number of concerns surrounding the funding of schools and local authorities. She told the house that “in the midst of a mental health crisis in young adults, we must do more to address the increasing lack of support in further education colleges.”

Steve McCabe (Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak) welcomed the Secretary of State’s admission of the problems faced by pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. He also hoped that the new student visa would make it easier for people to come here to study, but noted that PhD students did not find it particularly easy to stay after they completed their doctorates.

Alex Norris (Labour/Co-op, Nottingham North) spoke about the educational trouble faced by working class boys, saying that it was caused by a cocktail of poor discipline, irregular attendance and below par curriculums. He called on the Government to have better curriculums based on international best practice; specific, targeted resource to augment the pupil premium; a focus on catching up for boys who fall behind at key stage 1; and the deployment of the best teachers in the most challenged schools, incentivised to work in the hard environments.

Bambos Charalambous (Labour) said there wasn’t enough school funding to reverse cuts on areas like school maintenance and a lack of further education.

You can read the debate in full here.

Skills gap

The Local Government Association (LGA) published a report (compiled by the Learning and Work Institute) considering 2030 projected skills gaps in England. It considers eight areas and quantifies potential loss of economic output due to the skills gaps. They conclude that 6 million people in England risk being without a job or in work they are over-qualified for by 2030. This is a similar message to the Government’s line on upskilling the workforce to plug business needs due to insufficient skills within the workforce. However, the LGA imagine a more localised solution to the skills gaps.  Key points:

  • 1 million low-skilled people chasing 2 million low-skilled jobs – a surplus of 3.1 million low-skilled workers
  • 7 million people with intermediate skills chasing 9.5 million jobs – a surplus of 3.1 million people
  • 4 million high-skilled jobs with only 14.8 million high-skilled workers – a deficit of 2.5 million

This note looks at the extent and nature of the potential skills gap that could be faced in the future through to 2030 – at both the level of England as a whole and in eight selected local areas:

  • Nottingham City
  • Staffordshire
  • Gloucestershire
  • Greater Lincolnshire
  • Essex, Southend and Thurrock
  • Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark
  • North of Tyne
  • Southampton and Portsmouth

The LGA are critical of the current centrally-governed skills and employment system whereby £10.5 billion a year is spent by eight government departments and agencies across 20 different national schemes. Unsurprisingly the LGA is calling for the Government to use the Budget to devolve all back-to-work, skills, apprenticeship, careers advice, and business support schemes and funding to the local areas in which they are used. They envisage groups of councils across England with the power and funding to deliver a one-stop ‘Work Local’ service for skills, apprenticeship, employment, careers advice and business support provision. Bringing together local skills planning, overseeing job support including Jobcentre Plus and the Work and Health Programme and coordinate careers advice and guidance for young people and adults.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said:

  • Millions of people face a future where they have skills mismatched for jobs at a huge cost to people’s lives and the local and national economy. Councils are ideally placed to lead efforts to help the Government bring growth and jobs to all parts of the country and ensure everyone is fully equipped with the skills they need to compete for future jobs.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:

  • Improving skills is central to making the 2020s a decade of growth. Other countries have continued to invest in skills, while progress in England has stalled over the last decade, the result of large cuts in England’s adult education budget which has left us lagging behind other countries and the number of adults improving their skills at a record low. We now need a decade of investment, in order to boost life chances,

Widening participation

A thought provoking HEPI blog considers the last 20 years of research published on addressing widening participation (WP) aims. It covers all the expected current topics from the BME attainment gap to the non-participation in HE by costal and/or rural areas. It highlights international approaches such as that from Australia and Canada explaining how studies addressed the same enduring gaps as the UK has now. Overall there are no magic solutions but the blog is reinvigorating in the way it brings all the WP themes together for fresh reconsideration. You can read the full blog here.

At Prime Minister’s Questions this week previous Head of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon said that despite improvement in educational standards and funding, white working-class boys underperform at every stage of education system. He questioned whether, in the context of large infrastructure projects expected, and the high value apprenticeships associated, whether the apprenticeship levy could be reformed to enable such young people to climb the skills ladder of opportunity. Boris responded that the House should follow Halfon’s advice and reform the apprenticeship levy, and intimated that the Education Secretary would update the House on this in due course.

And some Parliamentary questions:

Q – Lord Bourne Of Aberystwyth: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in improving education outcomes for Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities.

A – Lord Agnew Of Oulton:

  • The latest published data, including breakdowns for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) pupils, relates to 2019 at key stage 2 and 2018 at key stage 4. At both stages, the data showed a small improvement in headline attainment measures for this group compared to the previous year. At key stage 2, the percentage of GRT pupils attaining the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics rose from 19% in 2018 to 20% in 2019. At key stage 4, the percentage achieving grades 9-4 in English and mathematics rose from 11.8% in 2017 to 13.1% in 2018.
  • The government is taking significant steps forward to support attainment and progression for all pupils, including GRT pupils. Our education reforms, including those aimed at improving teaching; encouraging good attendance and behaviour; and strengthening the curriculum and examination system, are designed to improve opportunity and standards for all pupils. These reforms are underpinned by school accountability measures, which are intended to encourage schools to focus more closely on the attainment of all their pupils.
  • Through the pupil premium; we are addressing low economic circumstances. This is a key factor that predicts future educational outcomes, and affects a high proportion of GRT children. Since 2011, we have provided over £15 billion of this additional funding, with a further £2.4 billion being distributed in this financial year.

Life Sciences

Medical Science is one of BU’s strategic investment areas (SIA). Colleagues with an interest in this SIA area will be interested in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy update which highlights progress in delivering the strategy since 2017. It covers:

  • NHS collaboration
  • Business environment
  • Reinforcing the UK science offer, including clinical research, data and genomics
  • Skills
  • Advanced therapies, including developing advanced therapies and advanced therapies manufacturing

The report notes very substantial progress in making the UK a more attractive place for life sciences companies to succeed and grow. These developments are the result of a strong collaboration between all aspects of this diverse industry – pharma, biotech, medtech, digital and diagnostics – the wider research community in the UK, the NHS and government. And states A substantial majority of the objectives in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy have been met and more are being delivered now. Page 5 details the key achievements and page 10 onwards details the health and clinical research and development. Page 20 covers growing the skills base and workforce to deliver the life sciences industrial strategy. However, the content is limited and mainly covers AI and existing initiatives. It does not that the 2030 Skills Strategy will be published this year so we can expect more detail in the new future facing document. Page 21 briefly touches on commercialisation of university research.  You can read the sections that interest you most here.

Other news

Unconditional offers: Nottingham Trent have followed their public discussion on grade inflation last year by collaborating with The Times and publishing detail of their defence on conditional unconditional offers.  Wonkhe had an article by Mike Ratcliffe, their Academic Registrar.

Care Students: The Scottish Funding Council has published its National Ambition for Care-Experienced Students, which outlines its commitment to equal outcomes for those students by 2030.

Languages: The Financial Times responds to the HEPI language report, arguing that foreign language study should be made compulsory.

Social Commuting: The Guardian have a short, to the point, piece advising commuter students how to balance a social life with their commuting arrangements.

R&D – extending definition to cover the Creative Industries: Last week there was an interesting mini-debate following this question by Baroness Bull: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to adopting a broader definition of research and development that includes, and incentivises, research and development investment in the creative industries. You can read the debate responses and follow on questions here.

Universities and Crime – a Parliamentary question

Q – Lord Taylor Of Warwick: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with UK Universities about reports that universities are not reporting crime statistics.

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • Criminal acts and misconduct are unacceptable in our world-leading universities, which should be safe and inclusive environments. Universities are autonomous institutions, and it is for each provider to determine what information should be collected and reported. Institutions have no statutory requirement to report crime statistics but have a responsibility to ensure students feel safe and able to report incidents, and to provide robust policies and procedures to address all forms of misconduct.
  • Current recorded crime statistics cover incidents reported to police. Where an institution (or the victim themselves) report the matter to the police it will be recorded and therefore captured in crime statistics. The government is aware that third party organisations collate data relating to incidents reported as taking place in Higher Education Providers (HEPs) and officials monitor this information.
  • The government expects providers to keep records of incidents disclosed to them and act swiftly to investigate and address them, with police involvement where necessary. Effective data collection processes enable HEPs to review and analyse reported incidents and complaints to inform continuous improvement. HEPs should continue to break down barriers to reporting, to ensure students and staff feel safe and able to report incidents.
  • The government continues to work closely with Universities UK (UUK) on implementing its Changing the Culture framework. The most recent progress report, published in October 2019, showed that 72% of responding institutions had developed or improved recording of data on incidents with a more centralised approach. UUK are also supporting HEPs in handling misconduct and criminal offences, including working with the Police Association of Higher Education Liaison Officers to explore how to best support information sharing between police forces and universities, and government officials meet regularly with UUK representatives.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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

HE policy update for the w/e 13th December 2019

It’s a full moon on polling day and the results will be announced on Friday the 13th! Superstitions aside we’re issuing your policy update early this week before the election outcomes are announced so you can focus on all the educational news. Fear not, we’ll bring you all the election fall out and early outcome scenarios in a post-election special edition.

Measuring Up the Educational Manifestos

We’re not including the myriad of speeches and party declarations this week. However, worth a short mention is the Education Policy Institute (EPI) who have (like many others) analysed the five main parties’ manifestos, compared them against EPI costings, and considered what the impact would be from an independent perspective. They conclusions don’t paint the rosiest of futures for the education sector:

  • Although all parties have made bold pledges about reducing opportunity gaps and raising educational attainment, the policies in their manifestos are unlikely to deliver on these aspirations.
  • Despite a large proportion of the attainment gap between poor children and the rest emerging before entry to school, party policies seem to focus on improving childcare for employment and cost of living reasons, rather than focusing on high quality early years education. While Labour and the Liberal Democrats are making major funding commitments in this area, there are serious questions about whether their policies can be delivered effectively and secure high quality and value for money over the limited implementation periods envisaged. The Conservatives give no indication of whether they will take action to improve the quality and progressiveness of early years entitlements.
  • All major parties are pledging additional funding for schools, colleges and special needs education – with Labour and the Greens committing to the biggest increases. This could help to deliver effective interventions and may improve teacher retention. But under Conservative policies, there will be a relative shift in funding away from schools with higher levels of disadvantage – and this attempt to “level up funding” could widen the disadvantage gaps in attainment. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats may have under-estimated the cost of their policies on free school meals, and this could require funding to be diverted from other parts of the schools budget.
  • Large policy differences have opened up between the parties over school inspection, school testing and performance tables. The current system of accountability is in need of improvement, but education research suggests that Labour and Liberal Democrat plans to scrap primary tests and move to lower stakes inspection could damage attainment, and might particularly pose a risk to improving outcomes for the most vulnerable learners. The Conservatives do not commit to improving the current system or addressing any of its negative incentives and impacts.
  • Party policies on post 18 education are particularly disappointing. Labour proposes that its most expensive education policy should be allocating around £7bn to scrap university tuition fees, even though this may not improve participation, or the access of vulnerable groups. The Conservatives offer few policies on higher education, and the one concrete measure (reduced interest rates on student loans) would disproportionately benefit higher earners. The Liberal Democrats appear to be offering a similar “Review” to those included in their two previous manifestos.
  • While all parties are committed to additional education funding over the years ahead, there is a high level of uncertainty about the revenues which have been earmarked for such funding. The Conservative plans assume that the growth impact of Brexit will be moderate; the Labour plans assume the same, and also rely upon large tax revenues from a limited number of sources; meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are banking on a “Remain Bonus”, and revenues from uncertain sources such as tax avoidance. With all parties, it is unclear how education spending plans would be altered if the projected revenues isn’t realised and cuts have to be made.

Natalie Perera, Executive Director and Head of Research at the Education Policy Institute, said:

  • “All of the main parties are united by one thing – bold ambitions to raise attainment and close gaps. However, our analysis shows that while each party has some well-designed and helpful policies, none has a properly evidence-based strategy to meet their ambitions”

A NUS General Election survey with healthcare students found that 68% of students (with a loan) are more likely to vote for a party because they plan to bring back maintenance grants post-election. Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President (Higher Education) also mentioned the NUS Homes Fit for Study Report which said 1 in 6 students are unable to keep up with their rent payments. She said “we know that a student finance system based on individual debt is fundamentally flawed.” This was reinforced by the recent General Election survey with 2 out of 3 students stating they did not have enough money left to pay for everything once they had paid their rent and 43% rely on their bank overdraft. Healthcare students particularly raised issues of having to fund placement expenses up front, inadequate hardship funding systems and paramedics who are unable to access reimbursement for placements.

Also hitting the news this week are the health care courses at risk due to the bursary removal recruitment crisis – podiatry, radiotherapy, prosthetics, orthoptics, and mental health and learning disability nursing. BU’s Steve Tee, Executive Dean of HSS, is quoted in the article:

  • Now the bursary has been taken away there are specialist courses with small numbers nationally that have been put at risk. This is intensified if the course is in an area like radiography, which requires expensive kit. Why would a university invest if they are only getting 20 people?”

Grade Inflation

There is an interesting article on Wonkhe by Mark Corver of dataHE. Sarah was lucky enough to hear him speak at Wonkfest and explain how claims about grade inflation rely on inaccurately data.  The data modelling actually suggests grade deflation –a double whammy for students. The article is a little technical but worth a read to understand why the Government’s claims are being refuted. It also has a high number of comments at the bottom of the article showing how engaging it is (and as Wonkhe only publish the ‘most interesting’ comments we can imagine there was a lot more chatter than published). Some excerpts to get you started:

  • It is likely that the true attainment of today’s young people is being seriously underestimated, putting them at a disadvantage, and damaging universities in the process.
  • ..there might be areas where this powerful grade deflation could be causing problems for young people and universities. Here are two examples.
  • The first is the damage from the charge that the sector is “dumbing down”. This has that – in contrast to the past – universities are now admitting people whose attainment is simply not good enough for higher education. That the average A level grades for UCAS acceptances has been going down provide fuel for this view… If you correct for the modelled grade deflation (Figure 8), average grades held by UCAS applicants who get into university have not been going down. They have been going up.
  • The second problem is where post-2010 grade data is used for analysis through time. Particularly so if that analysis is used by government to pursue policy. Which takes us back to those sharply worded complaints of degree grade inflation that the government has levelled at universities, and its calls for action to stop it. These rest on Office for Students statistical models of degree grade inflation. A level attainment is a very powerful factor in that model. And rightly so because the stronger your A level grades the better your odds of getting a higher class degree.
  • But the way the model is built effectively assumes that A level grades are an absolute measure of educational attainment that are stable through time. With this model construction, if universities maintain their academic standards then it is inevitable that the neglected A level grade deflation will pop up as degree grade inflation. But it would be a false signal. Degree quality would be unchanged. It is the measure of the input quality that has changed.
  • Our proposed A level grade deflation might not be a big enough effect to account for all the degree grade increases seen. But it would be a very substantial effect. We think that this, and other potential weaknesses in the model, do amount to reason enough to look again at the models and their conclusions. Meanwhile, government might want to think again about its pressure on universities to make it harder for students to get “good” degrees. Otherwise a double whammy for young people looms: those who have already been hit by deflated A level grades risk being hit again with a lower degree class than their attainment deserves.

Student Finance & Accommodation

Clear Accessible Finance Information throughout the Student Lifecycle

In June UUK and NEON published The Financial Concerns of Students. They said that the available information on tuition fees and the student loan system in England is often inaccessible and unclear, and that students want more information on how universities spend tuition fee income. The main findings were:

  • Prospective and UG students need clearer and better-targeted financial advice on the full implications of taking out a student loan.
  • Prospective students are uncertain what universities spend tuition fee income on.
  • Living costs are a more significant concern for current UG students than the level of tuition fees.
  • Strong agreement that going to university generally helps graduates to earn more money in the longer term (64% of prospective students and 77% of UG students).
  • More than half of students believe they should make some contribution to the cost of their education.

Since the report NEON and UUK ran a student finance information advisory group consisting of sector experts from nationwide leading organisations who work with prospective and current students to communicate student finance information. This week the group published Improving the provision of information on student finance and have proposed a Student Finance National Education Programme which recommends how to ensure student finance is more understandable and accessible for all (including family members). In summary:

  • Student Finance Information should be more coherent and collaborative – government and information providers should develop and sign up to an industry standard of core messages.
  • Teachers, schools and parents vary in their capacity to support prospective students’ decision making – leading to access gaps. Approaches and activities offered to schools should be underpinned by a more robust, funded, national careers policy than exists at present. Specific parental information is important as they are one of the most influential actors on the young person’s decision.
  • Take a student lifecycle approach to the provision of information required. Focus on sharing information during study and post-graduation (differentiated for particular groups of students) as well the prospective student stage.
  • The UK’s student population is larger and more diverse than ever before. A national education programme on student finance must reflect this diversity with a balance of different approaches to information sharing. It should reflect the needs and circumstances of prospective and current students, from school leavers to those in work considering study, and those with caring and other commitments. There is potential to strengthen a range of different approaches, such as online and face-to-face provision, and explore implementing tailored approaches for groups like mature students and care leavers.
  • Policymakers need to adopt a more strategic approach to the provision of information on student finance and be more ambitious in their goals particularly on coherence. A strategy should be developed collaboratively and in consultation with students, those who advise them, and student finance information providers. This strategy should aim to provide more than a basic level of information at the pre-higher education stage and ensure that students have a level of knowledge enabling them to make the right choices for them, based on an understanding of the costs and benefits of higher education prior to, during and after study.

Wonkhe have a blog on the topic: How we communicate student finance needs a re-think.

Accommodation

Wonkhe report that Commercial Estates specialist Cushman and Wakefield have reported on the level of private student accommodation. Key points:

  • 87% of new student beds are delivered by the private sector
  • The average ensuite accommodation is priced at 70% of the level of the maximum student loan. (NUS recommends rent by no more than 50% of maximum available.)
  • There are 23% more places in private halls since 2013
  • Demand for student accommodation rises 30% faster than can be built (although there are huge increases at some providers balanced by decreases elsewhere). Research Professional state – the top five universities for recruitment accounting for 41% of all growth in the last five years while the bottom five universities by student growth have seen a 29% decrease in student numbers.

The Times covers the report in the (very short!) Students struggling to find affordable accommodation.

Research Professional also covered the report in their own way highlighting concerns over absence of affordable student rooms stating that private student accommodation blocks are becoming more luxurious but affordable options remain scarce.

Eva Crossan Jory, vice-president for welfare at NUS echoed this and called for rent controls to stop prices spiralling further. “This is the latest report to confirm the increasing cost of accommodation has created a real affordability problem for students,” she said, adding that “reform is urgently required.”

Social Mobility

HEPI have released a wide range of content this week. Their policy note (prepared by colleagues at Exeter University) on Social Mobility has particularly been picked up by the media.  The note begins by stating

  • Much of the heavy lifting on widening participation in higher education to date has been undertaken by newer and less selective higher education institutions. The access challenge therefore remains greater at more selective institutions. They could learn from the best practice that exists in less selective universities.
  • It will take nearly a century for highly-selective universities in England to raise the participation rate for 18-to-30-year olds from the least advantaged areas to the existing participation rate for 18-to-30-year olds from the most advantaged areas.

Interestingly they state that if the number of degree places at the selective institution remains static (i.e. doesn’t grow) the number of places for advantaged pupils would need to fall by as much as 10,000, which is one-third of current annual intakes [to meet social mobility targets]. To meet the targets highly selective universities would need to double their places over the next 20 years to ensure all young people access the same participation rates as the most advantaged students. An extra 19,400 18-year old students from the least advantaged areas would need to enrol each year at highly-selective universities to equal the current participation rate of 18-year olds from the most advantaged areas.

Other recommendations:

  • Social mobility rankings for universities should be established, measuring outcomes for disadvantaged students.
  • The Office for Students should challenge highly-selective universities to expand student numbers in innovative ways to diversify intakes, including degree apprenticeships, foundation years and courses for part-time and mature learners.
  • Universities should undertake a social mobility audit, benchmarking their work on outreach, access and academic and pastoral support for disadvantaged students.
  • Universities should also consider using random allocation of places for students over a certain minimum academic threshold (as has occurred in other countries).

On Contextual Admissions the report states:

  • Universities have long taken into account the context of prospective students when assessing their potential. Contextual admissions are used in many ways – giving students a taste of university life, establishing which candidates should be interviewed or offering a degree place on lower grades.
  • But too often universities operate in the dark, worried that reduced offers will damage their reputations. ‘How low can we go?’ is the first question, sometimes followed by ‘how can we keep this out of the public eye?’ What is baffling for applicants is that contextual information is used differently from one university department to another. Research suggests that more consistency and transparency is needed.

Later the policy note acknowledges how university league tables have ‘chilling effects’ on universities’ efforts to promote social mobility. But rankings are here to stay.

  • The problem is that league tables punish universities for improving social diversity. Perversely, the tables do not generally measure the gains made by students. Universities gain higher rankings for the higher A-Level entry grades they demand – a direct disincentive to award lower grade contextual offers or consider applicants without traditional academic qualifications. Dropping down the newspaper rankings and losing status can mean fewer future applicants from the very groups a university is trying harder to attract. A succession of government representatives have tried in vain to convince newspaper compilers to reform their rankings.

Instead the policy note authors suggest that social mobility rankings could bring balance to the importance placed on current attainment based ranks.

On the place lottery:

  • Post-qualification applications would open up more radical possibilities. Universities could use random allocation of places for students over a certain threshold of A-Level grades. This is the fairest way of selecting equally-qualified candidates for degree courses. Lotteries have been used widely in education. You might compensate losers in the lottery – such as guaranteeing a place at another institution. Dutch medical schools select the highest academic performers by traditional means, and enter lower achievers into a lottery.
  • The benefit of these schemes is their simplicity. Admissions tutors have amassed a battery of criteria designed to distinguish between thousands of equally well-qualified applicants: personal statements; teacher recommendations; predicted exam grades; essays; university admissions tests; interviews; and much more. But how much of this data add to predicting which candidates are best suited for degree courses? And how much does the complexity alienate potentially excellent applicants?

The policy note concludes:

  • The time has come for a simpler, more transparent, consistent and honest system of university admissions, recognising that A-Level grades (still less predicted grades) are no longer the gold standard of entry.
  • Failing to find ways of expanding university places will prompt acrimonious battles over who secures degree places – a clash of the classes – with politicians, parents and students questioning the fairness of university admissions.
  • Universities need to embrace a cultural shift in the support provided for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, seeing greater diversity as an opportunity to enrich the academic experience for all students and staff.

The Times takes up the HEPI report arguing for most selective universities to allocate places to all those meeting the A level grade criteria threshold by lottery (with a fall back place at another University for students who do not ‘win’ the lottery).

HEPI have also published a reply to the paper on their website by Tim Blackman, VC of the Open University.

  • “‘Elite’ universities are described as such simply because they are so selective. They are the grammar schools of the higher education sector and cause the same problem for other universities as grammar schools cause for other schools. This problem is that they cream off students who have had all the advantages that enable them to be academic high-achievers at school, concentrating these students in institutions that are full of other students like them, making all universities less diverse and denying other universities a mix of abilities that is likely to enrich their learning environment and benefit everyone.
  • Lee is silent about the many, often post-92, universities that have become the secondary moderns of the higher education sector because of the self-perpetuating prestige of highly selective institutions. While the measures he advocates would help diversify these institutions, they would do so at the cost of other universities that do not have the prestige that comes with the academic snobbery that pervades British higher education.
  • Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to address this problem is to return to student number controls at an institutional level and require institutions to use entry quotas banded by grades above a minimum matriculation requirement to create mixed ability intakes across the board. This would be a requirement of their access or outcome agreements. There could be some exceptions; in The Comprehensive University I suggested that a regional distribution of research universities could be excluded on the basis that they explicitly prioritise research over education and the unique open access mission of The Open University would continue to serve a valuable role.
  • What I do not think is a good idea is to advocate more audits and more league tables. The sector is already creaking under the number of reports and returns it is required to complete, paradoxically never including institutions’ own strategic plans and institutional performance indicators. There are many progressive incremental reforms that can be made – I would add to Lee’s list the scandal of part-time distance learning students being denied access to maintenance loans in England – and in that sense his note is certainly to be welcomed. But there are great dangers in a one-sided argument that frames the debate as one that is just about access to ‘elite’ universities.”

Meanwhile Prospect Magazine takes a differing tack arguing that education is no longer a path out of the social mobility trap and that a greater focus on creating better jobs is a solution.

Finally Wonkhe have a new blog on the transformative experience of HE for care leavers.

Mental Health

Student Minds have created the University Mental Health Charter – a set of principles to ensure student and staff mental health becomes a UK wide university priority. The principles will inform the Charter Award Scheme which will be developed during 2020 to recognise universities promoting with excellent mental health practices. This summary contains the key recommendations under various topics such as transitioning to university, learning and assessment, support services, managing risks, residential accommodation, and proactive interventions. There is a timeline highlighting the next steps as the Charter Award Scheme is developed and piloted. The Scheme is due to launch in Winter 2020.

Student Minds highlight that the Charter has drawn on all the current evidence, research and sector context to ensure its real world validity for the university sector. It states it isn’t intended to be definitive and encourages institutions to combine the elements to fit the local context. Future work will review the Charter and refresh it as new evidence emerges with a major review every 3-5 years. In conclusion Student Minds state:

  • It is not expected that universities will aim to fulfil each of these themes perfectly (no such a thing exists), but we hope they inspire discussion, thought, new interventions, evaluation and learning. The evidence we have suggests that progress on each of these themes will bring us closer to a moment when our universities are mentally healthy environments.
  • Universities are incredible places. Within our universities we have established the basis of science, unravelled the mystery of DNA, discovered stem cells and even located a long lost King under a car park. Improving the mental health of students and staff is within our ability, given time, resource and commitment. We hope the University Mental Health Charter helps to make a contribution to this process.

Mark Fudge, Chair of the University and Colleges Division for the British Association of Counselling, responded to the Charter’s publication:

  • Student Minds’ University Mental Health Charter is a step in the right direction and something for the higher education to sector to aspire to… But higher education leaders need to ensure they invest in counselling services to ensure they have enough resources so student have access to a range of mental health and wellbeing support options while at university.
  • There are thousands of students who are accessing counselling services every year. These services are at the forefront of supporting the most disenfranchised and vulnerable university populations.  They don’t just offer counselling but all sorts of group work, training and other support. They are often under-resourced, but they are having a positive impact on students’ lives and universities need to see that and invest more in them.
  • Universities need to invest in all forms of mental health support so that students have access to a range of options when they need them.”

Immigration

Universities UK has published a public poll (data available here). British adults were interviewed on their attitudes towards the immigration of university staff coming into the UK. Had there not been a purdah period for the General Election the timing of this poll would have hit whilst the Migration Advisory Committee considers how to implement a points-based immigration system and a salary threshold for international staff. Key points:

  • 87% strongly agree that it is more important that the UK’s immigration system attracts university staff who are highly skilled than it being more important that the UK’s immigration system attracts university staff who are highly paid (3% felt high pay was an important factor to allow immigration).
  • 89% agree that scientists, academics and their support staff are valuable to the UK, with half (51%) saying they strongly agree. 3% disagree.
  • 85% agree that it is important for the UK to be a world leader in science and research. 5% disagree.
  • 82% agree that the UK should try to compete with other major economies to attract scientists, academics and their support staff. 7% disagree.
  • 69% said that a UK points-based immigration system should be designed so that scientists, academics and their support staff score highly.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, commented on the findings:

  • “Technicians, researchers, and language assistants are all vital in supporting both high-quality teaching and innovative research at our universities. These skilled roles are critical to the ongoing success of our universities. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is more vital than ever that the UK remains a world leader in science and research and continues to attract international talent at different stages of their careers – from support staff and technicians to Nobel Prize winners.
  • If a new immigration system were to have a salary threshold, Universities UK has called for a threshold of £21,000 which would allow recruitment for most technician and language assistant roles in the higher education sector. This polling shows the strength of feeling among the British public that immigrants should be welcomed into the country on the strength of their skills and potential rather than facing a system that judges them on their income. This is vital for the UK to continue to lead the way in research and education.”

Wonkhe reported that a linked report from Universities Scotland had similar attitudinal findings with 78% of Scottish adults agreeing that the immigration system should support the entry of academics and support staff. The National covers the Scottish perspective.

Other news

Political untruths: Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price published a new draft law on Thursday that would make deliberate lying by politicians a criminal offence. The bill states “It shall be an offence for an elected representative acting in their capacity, or an agent acting on their behalf, to make or publish a statement they know to be misleading, false or deceptive in a material particular”. Adam was interviewed by Sky News highlighting how Parliament had changed: “Unfortunately we are normalising a dishonesty, we used to have conventions, social mores and norms etc. you know people used to resign in parliament if they mislead”. Adam said the push for the lying law was triggered by the misleading and false information such as Conservative HQ rebranding their twitter account to appear to be a fact checking service alongside other politicians Brexit claims which the EU have refuted.

Student Vote denied: The Independent report on the c.200 Cardiff Halls students who registered to vote but were not informed their application was incomplete and have been denied the vote. The student quoted in the article selected her address from a pre-filled drop down list but later discovered it had not registered her because it did not contain her room number. NUS called for Cardiff Council to resolve this unacceptable outcome. The Council said they had not been able to contact the c.200 people who supplied the incomplete addresses to register them in time.

Gamification: A Wonkhe article considers whether gaming could be a positive outreach method (alongside more traditional current efforts) in Simulation games: can gaming break barriers to university?

System Working: NHS Digital has published  a briefing on workforce challenges in the NHS:

  • As part of the drive to offer staff incentives to stay in the system, trusts are seeking to collaborate with local partners to make it easier for staff to move between organisations. Initiatives like rotation agreements and staff ‘passports’ have the dual benefit of creating a varied developmental employment offer for staff who might otherwise look outside of the system for new opportunities, and creating a more efficient mechanism for filling vacancies where they arise.
  • Our workforce has a substantial role to play in driving the progress of system working. How we work with our valued workforce to enable closer relationships between trusts and other health and care organisations, and how we support staff throughout periods of change and transformation, will be an important determinant of how systems work in collaboration to tackle workforce pressures and drive integrated care

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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

HE policy update for the w/e 13th September 2019

Parliament has been prorogued, but did not go quietly and next week will see two court cases on whether it was lawful or not heard together in the Supreme Court.  There were cheers from the sector as Chris Skidmore returned to the University Minister role and Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary also seems to have adopted a more conciliatory role than his predecessor.

Next week sees the start of the party conference season with some interesting HE fringe events for us to report on.  With an election on the horizon, these events take on a heightened significance.

Post Study Work Visa

A Government announcement which outlined new genetics research project also served as the vehicle to announce revised post study work visa arrangements.

Under the scheme, international students to work in the UK for two-years post-graduation. A welcome announcement for the HE sector (although we are awaiting for the full details). The post study work visa was championed by Sajid Javid (in his previous Home Office role) and Jo Johnson.  With Jo Johnson having stepped down, the PM announced it, in a clear break from the approach of his predecessor.  He spoke about ensuring the UK is internationally welcoming and the wisdom of attracting the ‘brightest and best’ to work in the UK. The announcement (so far) overturns the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee. Currently overseas students must leave the UK four months after finishing their degree unless they get a separate work visa.

  • It applies to any subject
  • Apparently there is no restriction on type of work, i.e. it doesn’t have to be “graduate level” jobs.
  • There is no cap on the number
  • It talks about graduates from “trusted” providers – not defined but likely to mean those already approved for Tier 4 visas.
  • Initially the announcements said it would apply to students starting their courses in 2020/21, leading to fears of widespread deferrals, but it seems that it will apply to all students studying in the UK on a Tier 4 visa in 2020/21 – including students who start multi-year courses this September.

Chancellor, Sajid Javid tweeted “about time. Should have reserved this silly policy years ago. Britain should always be open to the best talent from across the world.”

  • BBC: Ministers reverse May-era student visa rules
  • Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec Universities UK, welcomed the move, suggesting it would benefit the UK economy and reinstate the UK as a “first choice study destination. Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26bn in economic contributions, but for too long the lack of post-study work opportunities in the UK has put us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting those students“.
  • The Scottish Government have welcomed the announcement. Scottish Minister for FE & HE, Richard Lochhead: The Scottish Government has been consistent in arguing for the reintroduction of a post-study work visa following the decision by the UK Government to end the previous route in 2012. This is a welcome step forward but only one of many measures required. It should not have taken seven years for the UK Government to accept the arguments from partners across Scotland and reverse their decision. It is clearer by the day that Scotland urgently needs a migration policy tailored to our distinct needs and for the devolution of powers to develop, deliver and maintain policies that meet the needs of Scotland’s universities, communities, public services and economy.

Two for one – ministerial speeches

After Jo Johnson resigned and left UUK with a big gap in their annual conference programme, they fixed the problem by having both the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP, and the newly (re)appointed Minister for Universities, Chris Skidmore.  Chris Skidmore was welcomed back as Universities Minister on Wednesday after a brief Ministerial stint in the Department for Health (he called it a placement).

The sector is pretty relieved.  Jo Johnson was familiar, and had a positive agenda around international students and participation in EU programmes (see previous story for some of his handiwork), as well as his opposition to the proposed Augar reform of tuition fees but had become rather negative and critical towards the end of his last period in the role.  Chris Skidmore, on the other hand, was positive, constructive and engaging last time round.  Although he wasn’t in the role long he seemed to be genuinely committed to developing research and as a history graduate and former academic he had some credibility amongst those worried for the future of social sciences and humanities in a world where value for money has been paramount (although see below, it seemed to be less of a priority?)

So what did they have to say?

Gavin Williamson went first.

He called the sector as a national treasure

He spoke about “openness to the world”. See the previous section on post-study work visas

  • A recent report by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that after graduation, a single cohort of international students contributes almost £3.2billion in tax over 10 years and plays a key role in filling existing skills shortages in the UK economy. But they bring far more than that. They contribute to the diverse tapestry of our national life; they not only bring the best of the world in, they also help us to look out, and our entire economic and cultural spectrum is the richer for what they bring to our country.
  • In the months and years ahead, the partnerships we make through these international networks will be crucial. Partnerships which I know benefits many of our young people through the exchange of ideas and learning. Many of you are wondering about what’s going to happen to them after we leave the EU. I want to reassure you that my department is open to continuing to be part schemes like Erasmus+. But we have to prepare for every eventuality and it is sensible to consider all options. As such I have asked my officials to provide a truly ambitious scheme if necessary.

He challenged the sector on access and participation – a sign that despite changes of leadership, the big focus on this continues. It was a major part of the Johnson reforms (merging OFFA and HEFCE into the OfS) and key in Theresa May’s social mobility agenda (the current government don’t talk as much about social mobility, but they are still looking for an aspiration story).  The terminology is interesting.  It’s a deal and it isn’t just about access, it’s about working with schools as well.

  • When I took on this job, you told me that you wanted the post-study Graduate visas more than anything else. Indeed whenever I spoke to a vice chancellor the first thing I would hear is visas. Well, we listened and the Prime Minister and I have given you what you asked for, what you wanted most.
  • So I have to ask you for something in return. I see this as a deal. I expect you, in exchange, to drive greater access to your institutions. Young people from deprived backgrounds who have the ability, deserve to benefit from studying for a degree.
  • We cannot forget that ability is evenly spread across this country but opportunity – sadly – is not. We must continue to crusade to put that right.…
  • And I have another challenge for you: I want you to be ambitious in your engagement with the wider education landscape, with schools, colleges, and employers: share your resources and expertise, drive excellence across the sector more widely. You are world leaders but you need to share your expertise with everyone in the country. I’d like to thank those universities like Kings College and Exeter who have set up maths specialist free schools; and other universities that are in the process of doing so. What you are doing will change lives. I encourage others to rise to the challenge. I expect others to rise to the challenge.
  • I see this as a shared effort and I want to work with all of you in the sector to make sure all our children have access to this kind of excellence and expertise….
  • The sector plans to spend around £1billion this year alone on improving access. But we still don’t know enough about what’s working and what isn’t. This is taxpayers money. This is students’ money. This isn’t about virtue signalling. This is about one thing, and one thing only. And that is ensuring that talented young people, from Southend to South Shields, can get on.
  • It is your duty and our duty to make sure that happens. So as a priority, the OfS needs to ensure that evaluation programmes are in place to make sure these schemes are doing what they are supposed to do. I will be watching carefully to see how these are now delivered and I will support the OfS in any action it takes if universities are not delivering against their commitments.

Unconditional offers and grade inflation

  • Unconditional offers have shot up, going from under 3,000 in 2013 to nearly 76,000 this year.
  • Grade inflation has become even more entrenched. When I was at university, you could count the number of students on my course who got firsts on one hand. I am sad to say that I was not one of them. In 1997 – which is when I graduated – 50% of students gained a first or a 2:1; last year 80% of students did so.
  • I’m delighted that some universities have already scrapped making so-called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers and I hope that the rest will soon follow suit.
  • Universities UK and OfS reviews of admissions are an opportunity for the sector to get its house in order here, perhaps by agreeing a minimum predicted grade threshold, or a maximum proportion of students who may be offered one.

[HE Professional explain what that might mean: What he might have meant is that the UUK and OfS reviews on university admissions are looking at options on how to tackle the perceived scourge of conditional offers, and two of the options they are looking at are: reducing the number of unconditional offers made each year to a fixed percentage of total offers; and ensuring everyone is expected to obtain at least a minimum set of grades. The brightest and the best would still be able to get unconditional offers because they would do well in their A levels anyway. Everyone else should at least meet a minimum expectation. “We don’t want to do away with unconditional offers entirely but there is no justification for universities to offer conditional unconditional offers,” he said, looking to his civil servants for help and not finding any. So, in short, conditional unconditional offers are to be unconditionally banned, but unconditional offers are to be conditionally banned. Hope that’s clear.]

  • I want you to know that I will always speak up for your autonomy. I know it’s what helps foster the brilliance of our teaching and our research but I also need to safeguard our reputation, so that everyone knows that they can trust the system. So we need to work together on some of these issues.
  • If we don’t tackle them, your hard-won reputation for excellence will be undermined. Worse still, there is a risk that employers will begin to lose faith in grades and foreign students will think twice about investing their time and money in studying here.

He also mentioned mental health, Institutes of Technology, apprenticeships, civic engagement

Afterwards he told the press that a response on Augar would come “before the end of the winter” (THE article here).  That’s a long way off.

Chris Skidmore’s speech: (apparently he adlibbed a bit)

  • The benefits of the Arts and Humanities
  • Students’ Unions
  • Civic Universities

Research (he gave 4 speeches on this in his last stint in the role)

  • I’ve only been gone from this role less than fifty days, but already we have had key announcements on expanding the government guarantee to fund European Research Council grants, and a crucial restatement of our ambition to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027…. After outlining my vision in a series of speeches before the summer, I am keenly looking forward to getting this detailed roadmap published this autumn. Let me just offer one early reflection, though. If we want to turn the UK into scientific superpower and achieve our ambition to reach 2.4%, then we need to ramp up capacity and capability in our universities. …
  • Connected to this, I am determined to see renewed focus given to basic research. Funding for blue-skies, curiosity-driven research has been dwindling as a proportion of our overall spend. This is a problem. … I want to see further increases to QR and a significant uplift to response-mode research council funding.  Don’t get me wrong. It is of course essential that we should continue to drive application and impact from our research investments – turning great ideas into real benefits for the UK in the form of better jobs, improved products and services, and real action on issues such as climate change. Let me reassure you that I remain firmly committed to the impact agenda and to knowledge exchange, including support via HEIF and implementation of the Knowledge Exchange Framework.
  • But if we want to succeed in the long term, the really long term, then we need to ensure we are doing everything we can to entice and empower our research community to undertake the most ground-breaking, cutting edge work, raising the UK’s international reputation even higher….
  • And as we approach leaving the European Union, I will continue to make the case loud and clear, that while we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving our European friends and research partners behind. We want to get a deal with the EU which will protect our continuation in Horizon 2020, and will continue our participation in Erasmus+. We will be fully exploring the option of participating in the next Erasmus programme, whilst also developing potential alternatives which are ambitious and truly global. We will protect our participation in Erasmus+ and will be working hard to secure full association with Horizon Europe – I personally will be doing everything in my power to achieve this.

On funding

  • But a well-functioning university culture needs sustainable institutions. And when it comes to ensuring that we have a sustainable university landscape, while it is absolutely right that we focus on post-18 education for all, making investment in Further Education that is desperately needed, we must not lose sight of what we have in the HE sector.
  • We cannot afford as a society to pit FE against HE: as I have argued elsewhere, both are crucial to a unity of purpose in our post-18 landscape that needs to be more flexible, more portable, and one that meets the needs of the learner, not simply those of the provider.

And what didn’t really feature?

  • Update on the Pearce review promised “shortly”
  • Apart from unconditional offers and grade inflation, no mention of quality or student experience
  • Not a big focus on value for money

HEPI released a blog this week sweeping aside the political power plays and Brexit turmoil to refocus on the 6 (+3) key issues that will dominate HE this side of Christmas no matter what happens in national politics. The blog succinctly covers Augar, the SoS Education remit, FE (not) vs HE, OfS (and providers going bust), diversity in university governance, the 2.4% research spend targets, plus three bonus items.

Parliament

To extend or not to extend – that is the question

On Monday the bill aiming to prevent the Prime Minister from leaving the EU without a deal (European Union (Withdrawal) (No 6) Act) received royal assent and became law. The PM is currently refusing to consider asking for an extension, which the law requires him to do, so what are his options?

How the PM can wriggle out of asking for an extension:

  • Semantics – if the Government can find a tenable enough loophole in the badly worded, hastily constructed extension bill. Dominic Raab said: We will adhere to the law but also this is such a bad piece of legislation … we will also want to test to the limit what it does actually lawfully require. We will look very carefully at the implications and our interpretation of it.” In response MPs have threatened an emergency judicial review if the Government seek to contest or ignore elements of the Bill.
  • Send 2 letters – as discussed in the media (an unlikely scenario). The extension letter is sent, however, they append an additional letter making clear that the UK Government does not want the additional extension – making it less likely the EU would grant the extension. However, former supreme court judge, Lord Sumption, argued on the Radio 4 Today programme on Monday that that sending two letters – one requesting an extension and the other asking the EU to reject one – would not be legal.
  • Veto – it would be easier for the Government to block an extension via the back door by asking an EU sceptic ally, such as Hungary, to veto any request for extension. Also France are rumoured to have said they will veto an extension request.
  • Step down – if Boris resigned as PM on 19th October (so he wouldn’t personally request the extension) it is likely the Queen would ask the Opposition to try and form an alternative Government. If successful in forming a caretaker Government then they could request the extension. If not, Britain crashes out of Europe without a deal.
  • Get a deal that Parliament approves. Despite all the noise, this is still possible.

General Election: Boris’ motion for an early general election failed on Monday. However, a YouGov poll has ranked Prime Minister Boris as the most popular Conservative politician (31% positive opinion, 47% negative opinion) and the third most famous. Boris’ fans describe him as conservative, humorous, intelligent, charismatic and clever. The poll included: Theresa May (27%), John Major (23%), Ruth Davidson (22%), William Hague (21%), Kenneth Clarke (20%), Jacob Rees-Mogg (18%) and other prominent figures. Boris was most popular with Baby Boomers and Generation X; Millennials were less keen.

Parliament Prorogued

Parliament is prorogued until 14 October. This means Select Committee, APPGs and all other business will cease. MP’s will return to constituency matters and engage in the party conference during this period. Party conference dates:

  • 14 September – Liberal Democrats (at Bournemouth International Centre)
  • 21 September – Labour (Brighton)
  • 29 September – Conservatives (Manchester)
  • 4 October – Green Party (ICC, Wales)

Later this week Boris’ suspension of the UK Parliament was deemed unlawful by judges at the Scottish highest civil court, overturning an earlier ruling that the courts did not have the powers to interfere in the Prime Ministers political decision. The exact consequences of this are unclear. It is unlikely Parliament will be recalled, not least because it couldn’t take place before Conference Recess commences (today). The British government will appeal against the Scottish appeal court’s decision, particularly as it contradicts a decision in Johnson’s favour by senior English judges last week, at the supreme court. The supreme court will hear both Scottish and English cases on Tuesday 17 September, alongside a third challenge brought in the courts in Belfast. In practice, not much will change, unless Boris is found to have behaved unlawfully. iNews have an article in which Boris denies misleading the queen about Parliament’s prorogation (and another classic Boris photo pose).

House of Commons Speaker quits: John Bercow announced he would stand down as a Speaker and MP following a promise to his wife for more family time. He will stand down at close of business on Thursday October 31st, saying he doesn’t want to leave the Commons with an inexperience speaker during such a “lively” period.  A ballot for replacement Speaker will be held on 4th November.

Reshuffle

Chris Skidmore will not attend Cabinet, as Jo Johnson did. Instead Boris has given the ‘attends Cabinet’ seat to Zac Goldsmith (his Twitter acceptance) in his existing ministerial role across Environment and International Trade. Zac is a long term supporter of Boris and has experienced his share of controversy in the past – including accusations linking Sadiq Khan with Islamist extremists.

Edward Argar replaces Chris Skidmore as Minister of State at Department of Health and Social Care. Chris Philp moves to the Ministry of Justice and Helen Whately takes up a junior ministerial post at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The DfE have issued a news story confirming ministerial portfolios on last and this week’s changes here. Last week we told you Michelle Donelan would become Children and Families Minister as maternity cover for Kemi Badenoch. She’ll hold both roles and retain her current position as a Government Whip (Children’s Minister will be additional unpaid role). Michelle was previously a member of the Education Select Committee between July 2015 and October 2018.

The announcement also explained that:

  • Minister of State for School Standards Nick Gibb will take on policy for early education and childcare including funding, support for the early years workforce, curriculum, quality and the early education entitlements. Plus PE, school sport, and the Pupil Premium to his existing portfolio.
  • Minister for the School System, Lord Agnew, will take on responsibility for the FE ‘provider market’, including quality and improvement. He will also lead on EU exit preparation, delivery of the Careers Strategy, the Opportunity Areas programme, school food and safeguarding in schools and post-16 settings, in addition to his existing brief.

Minister for Children and Families Michelle Donelan said:

  • I truly believe that a good education is the key to creating a fair society where everyone, no matter where they come from or their circumstances, has opportunities to succeed.
  • From the earliest years of children’s lives to the point at which they make decisions about their further education or training, I am proud to be joining a department that is focusing its efforts on the most disadvantaged in society.

Given his short stint in the Health Minister role alongside his keen HE interest Chris Skidmore’s response to a parliamentary question on recruiting more nurses is interesting. It sits within party lines, firmly avoids mentioning bursaries but has a different, more collaborative, tone than recent ministers talking of a forthcoming final NHS People Plan which sets out the immediate actions to grow the nursing workforce across the next 5 years.

Access and Success

OfS have published the first 41 approved Access Agreements under their new regime. Wonkhe note that 31 of these 41 are subject to enhance monitoring (but not the pesky B2 additional registration condition). However, this high rate is because these are the early deadline submitters – those with medical schools and conservatoires – so tend the have high entry requirements, and therefore many have poor rates of access by disadvantaged students. And the enhanced monitoring is really just a running check across the year to ensure the institution is delivering on its promises. The OfS announcement – Highly selective universities must follow through on promises to improve access, regulator warns provides more detail, albeit with a positive OfS spin:

 ‘These new plans prove that – following sustained challenge from the OfS – there is genuine ambition and drive among universities to address equality of opportunity. I am pleased they are rising to the challenge…” Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at OfS.

Media coverage on this first tranche of new plans from the Independent, the Daily Mail, and the TES.

What’s the point of university?

Universities UK published polling research revealing that only 34% of students and recent graduates decided to go to university to get a higher salary. While 79% agreed that the government should do more to promote the broader benefits of a degree or university study, irrespective of potential salary.

  • Students and recent graduates say that they decided to go to university for a broad range of reasons, including their interest in their chosen degree subject (56%), enjoying studying and learning (48%) and as a first step in building a career (50%).
  • 84% agreed that their future salary was not the only factor they considered when deciding to go to university.
  • 86% of those surveyed agreed that they have met people from diverse backgrounds and with different views to them at university. Suggesting that university plays an important role in social cohesion in communities in the UK.
  • Future earnings are not the top motivation for choosing a career. Work-life balance was their top consideration (53%), followed by earning potential and financial benefits (42%), with the opportunity to take on a variety of interesting work (39%) coming a close third.
  • 84% would recommend university to others as a worthwhile experience.
  • 86% said university had given them the opportunity to think about what they want to achieve in the future and the same proportion said that university had helped them learn to be independent.

The findings are reported as suggesting a need for greater investment in student information – from better careers advice in schools and colleges, through to clearer, more accessible financial guidance.

  • better career information to help in their choice of subject (39%)
  • career experiences – not just salaries – of past graduates in their subject and institution (38%)
  • information on the cost of living while studying (37%)

The poll backs up UUK’s lobby line that earnings potential is an inappropriate tool for defining the value of university degrees, and making funding decisions. However, the TEF gold, silver, bronze classification and the use of LEO metrics (longitudinal education outcomes) which consider the proportion of graduates in sustained employment that are earning over the median salary for 25-29 year olds are currently key metrics institutions are benchmarked against with a view to quality and value for money. UUK are keen to point out that their findings suggest that a range of considerations are underpinning student motivations.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “These results tell us loudly and clearly that policy makers and politicians have got it wrong when it comes to understanding what motivates today’s students and graduates. Students do not judge the value of universities on their future salaries and neither should policymakers. We should all be asking ourselves if we really want to live in a culture that identifies success by salary alone.  It is time to listen and take notice of what students, graduates and society really value about the university experience and consider how we can ensure prospective students have access to the information they want to inform their future decisions. Only then can we ensure that universities are valued by all.”

Nicola Marsh, Head of Social & Political Research at ComRes, said: “Our research demonstrates that university students and graduates recognise value in the range of benefits gained from attending university, including building independence and confidence, exposure to new experiences, and enjoyment of learning. Future earning potential is amongst the benefits considered by students and graduates, but it is not the most important. Quality of life – for example, work/life balance – is the top priority for students and recent graduates when considering what they look for in a career, suggesting that they take a more holistic approach to their careers.”

Value for money – what do students really think?
A guest blog from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield

Value for money is a phrase we hear a lot in reference to Higher Education and it’s an important conversation point for students. Value for money should surely not be as crude as looking at graduate earning potential, yet TEF continues to use graduate earnings as a metric to measure student outcomes.

As part of the independent review of TEF earlier this year, SUBU responded to a question on student outcomes noting “the very simplistic measurement of Student Outcomes and the focus on graduate salaries does not foster a healthy approach for provider enhancement. Strategies to support employability such as alumni mentoring and specialist programmes for Widening Participation students to address progression enhance student outcomes for providers and recognise an important aspect for students.” (See SUBU’s full response).

Many voices in the Higher Education sector have shared the same concern and finally the Government has evidence from students themselves that future earning potential is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the value of university. A report on the value of university published this week by ComRes on behalf of Universities UK [see above] surveyed students and recent graduates in the last 5-10 years. The report finds that 5 in 6 students or 84% of those surveyed agreed that “my potential future salary wasn’t the only factor I considered when deciding to go to university.” The report further shows that students and recent graduates decided to go to University for a range of different reasons, including 56% saying it was an interest in their chosen degree subject; 48% saying it was because they enjoyed studying and learning; and 50% saying it was the first step in building a career. Furthermore, future earning potential was not the top priority for students when choosing a career; it came second to students wanting a work-life balance.

Back in December 2017 SUBU hosted Nicola Dandridge, the Chief Executive of the Office for Students, for a roundtable discussion with BU students chaired by the Vice President Education (of the time). Nicola asked students who attended why they chose to go to University and many of the students present stated they felt University was an “expected” next step. Nicola further asked students what made their university experience ‘value for money’. The BU students present spoke of the additional opportunities on offer to them alongside studying, such as the opportunities to join a club or society or to take up a leadership position and gain experience. The conversations were around the opportunities available to build a life around their degree, yet they noted this information was not promoted when making decisions between institutions and instead it was something they realised upon going to University.

The ComRes UUK report expands on this. As noted in a summary of the report by Universities UK:

“The poll also reveals the following skills, facilities and other assets which students benefit from at university, including:

  • developing skills such as time management, social skills and teamwork
  • access to academic tutors and experts and libraries
  • improving levels of confidence and becoming more independent
  • making new friends and developing beneficial social networks
  • awareness of social issues and debates”

Providing students with the information they need to make an informed choice about whether to go to University and which one to pick, is something the Office of Students has taken responsibility for. This month they have launched a new student information website to do just that, called ‘Discover Uni’. This is in line with what students are asking for, with the ComRes UUK report findings suggesting a need for “greater investment in student information” (see UUK). However it was shown that this information should extend to careers advice in schools and colleges as well as clearer financial information and guidance.

That students need more information and guidance on finances was highlighted in a report on value for money back in 2018, which was commissioned by the Office for Students and led by a consortium of Students’ Unions in partnership with Trendence UK (see ‘Value for money: the student perspective’). A more recent poll by YouGov commissioned by the Office for Students also shows this is not just an issue for prospective students as 82% of parents in England and Wales are not sure how student loans work (see Research Professional).

The cost of living is a significant area of interest for prospective and current students as they might not be aware of all costs involved in being at University until arriving, especially if they are the first generation in their family to go to University. As many of us are aware, students often need to top up their finances by taking up part time work. The latest Government’s Student income and expenditure survey (SIES) 2014-2015 results showed that over half of full-time students did some form of paid work during the academic year to contribute to their income. (On average full time students were working just over 10 hours per week to account for 10% of their average total income). The more recent NUS Poverty Commission Report 2018 found a significant financial shortfall for students after comparing student loans with living costs (see NUS, page 67) showing that students need to find other ways to top up their finances, whether through part time work or borrowing from friends or relatives (which is not an option for all). Money Saving Expert by Martin Lewis remains the most comprehensive source of information for students and parents on this matter (see MSE) and it highlights how much more needs to be done by the Office for Students on providing information to students and parents about financing a University degree.

Despite all these findings, and as David Kernohan of Wonkhe notes, it is unclear if OfS’ new student information platform ‘Discover Uni’ will extend to providing students with information beyond finding a course and University. What we do know is that the Office for Students is commissioning a lot of research and is currently running an online consultation and going out to visit universities and colleges to see how they should be engaging students ahead of publishing an overall student engagement strategy early next year (see OfS).

Hopefully there will be further changes to come on information and support for students going into HE, driven by all these findings. Regardless, it seems difficult to have conversations about the value of University and whether future earning potential should have any part to play in decision-making, when reports are showing time and time again that students care more about immediate issues such as the cost of going to University.

Research

The Science and Technology Committee has published 43 recommendations to the Balance and effectiveness of research and innovation spending inquiry report.  The recommendations include the 2.4% target, a big data focus to evaluation, QR funding, central link point for all R&D funding streams and opportunities, the tax credit system, and to quickly action the FCA review of patient capital with a further update at Budget 2020.

The final version of the updated Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers has been launched.  The new one is here.

“It sets out three clear Principles of environment and culture, employment, and professional and career development. The principles are underpinned by obligations for the four key stakeholder groups, funders, institutions, researchers and managers of researchers, to realise the aims of the Concordat.”

In other news, Sir Mark Walport has announced he will stand down as CEO of UKRI in 2020.

Parliamentary Questions

Despite only one Parliamentary sitting day this week a whole tranche of HE relevant parliamentary questions were answered.

The Lords also raised a question on student accommodation rent levies by developers – this one was too late and couldn’t be answered before prorogation, however, it is interesting this angle has been picked up.

Consultations and Inquiries

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. As Parliament is prorogued Committee and APPG work ceases so over the coming weeks there will only be new content from sector bodies. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Joined up schooling: Scotland have announced phase one in a £1 billion replacement programme for 26 schools. Several of the replacement projects will bring together nurseries, schools (including specialist centres for pupils with additional support needs), colleges and universities in multi-purpose campuses for pupils aged from three to 18, with additional facilities that benefit surrounding communities. The first phase projects could open as early as 2022/23. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Modern, state of the art buildings can make a real difference to the lives of pupils, teachers and parents, as well as the wider communities they serve. This investment continues our efforts to improve the condition of our entire learning estate, from early years through to schools and colleges.”

Mental Health: The Welsh Government has published guidance on responding to self-harm and suicidal thought in young people.

Children’s Manifesto: While Parliament hasn’t voted for a general election MPs are quietly lining up their campaign ducks and sector bodies are ramping up their lobbying. This week the Children’s Commissioner for England published ‘Guess How Much We Love You – A Manifesto for Children’ calling on Britain’s political parties to include a six-point plan in their election manifestos to transform the life chances for disadvantaged children and to help all of England’s 12 million children to thrive. The six key themes are: supporting stronger families, providing decent places for children to live, helping children to have healthy minds, keeping children active, providing SEND support for those who need it, and creating safer streets and play areas. The Manifesto is costed and argues that existing statutory services must be put on a sustainable financial footing. Contact Sarah for a summary of the key recommendations and estimated costs – or read the short 12 page document .

Discover Uni: the new OfS service for potential applicants launched this week to general hilarity because of the huge number of bugs and problems.  (The first search your intrepid policy team did said that there were no (as in zero) full time biology degrees on offer in England – some appeared when we re-ran it the search, but even so).  Despite the obvious problem (i.e. don’t actually use it to actually make any choices until it is more reliable), there are some more important points.  Research Professional note  “The UK’s new higher education information website will not include data on the proportion of firsts and 2:1s awarded by universities, because of concerns that doing so could fuel grade inflation”.

Lifelong learning: the Learning and Work Institute have published the findings from their adult (17+) participation survey which examines when they last learnt, their experience, and likelihood to do so again.  The survey shows adults who have not recently taken part in learning are unlikely to say they would be likely to do so in the future. Among adults who have not engaged in learning since leaving full time education, just 16% said they would take part in learning in the future. Among adults currently taking part in education, 77% expect to do so again. With participation at a record low, the analysis states that progress in improving the skills and qualification levels of the workforce has stalled, and that the UK is at risk of falling behind in skills post-Brexit. By 2030, out of the 17 PIAAC countries, the UK is predicted to fall from 10th to 14th for basic literacy, and from 11th to 14th for basic numeracy.

  • Social class – 48% of adults in higher social grades (AB) have taken part in learning in the last three years, compared to 20% of adults in lower social grades (DE). This participation gap has widened by 3 percentage points in the last year
  • Employment status – 40% of full time employees participated in learning in the last three years, compared to 17% of people out of work and not seeking employment

Graduate employment: The Institute of Student Employers published their 2019 annual graduate labour market survey.

  • Almost 22,000 graduate jobs were created. This was mainly driven by significant increases in finance and professional services as well as public sector employers who recruited 35% more graduates, particularly in policing and education.
  • However, employers are cautious and the short-term and temporary hire of graduates through internships or work placements has dropped by 4% and 7% respectively. Employers also anticipate that Brexit and/or a recession will reduce hiring over the next five years.
  • The energy and engineering, and legal industries made small reductions in the number of graduates they recruited, down 1% and 3% respectively (these were the only sectors to show a reduction).
  • The average graduate starting salary offered by ISE members remained competitive at £29,000. Up £750 on last year, however, when indexed to the Consumer Price Index, salaries have still not recovered to pre-recession levels in real terms.
  • The average ISE member is paying £1.225 million annually to the government through the apprenticeship levy. They reported starting 11,224 apprentices this year of which 52% were non-graduates, 25% graduates and 23% existing staff.

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of ISE said:

  • “Although the drop in temporary opportunities is concerning as this offers students the opportunity to gain valuable work experience, employers are mainly resisting the urge to dial down their recruitment in the face of current and future challenges. 
  • Hiring is up, employers are receiving a healthy volume of applications and they are paying more. We hope that this continues and will do everything that we can to support firms as they manage the uncertainty that lies ahead.” 

Wonkhe blogger, Tristram Hooley, suggests that the skills shortage problem is more complicated than it appears

Student loan sale controversy: It’s been a while since the student loan book sale controversy resurfaced but this week Wonkhe report that The London Review of Books published a detailed analysis of government student loan book sales by Andrew McGettigan. He sets out how the government “skewed the test” that made a loss-making loan sale show value for money.

Education Spending: The House of Commons Library has published a report on Education Spending in the UK. Key Points:

  • Education spending peaked in around 2010 at 5.7% of GDP or £104 billion (2018-19 prices).
  • The real level of public spending on education in the UK was static in the early 1980s.
    It increased gradually from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.
    After then it increased to new record levels in each year to the peak in 2010-11.
    The Government has removed spending on the subsidy element of student loans from data from 2011-12 onwards.
    Despite this break in the series there was a clear decline in spending in the five years from 2012-13 onwards.
  • Education spending has fallen as a % of GDP in each year from 2011-12 to 2017‑18. This was the longest continuous period of decline in this measure
  • Almost 80% of education spending went on schools -primary and secondary education. The relatively low share going on tertiary (higher) education reflects the fact that the data exclude the subsidy element of student loans which forms the majority of higher education spending in England.
  • Public spending per head on education in 2017-18 was highest in Scotland at around £1,550, followed by £1,490 in London and £1,440 in Northern Ireland. It was lowest in the South East and South West of England at around £1,200.
  • OECD analysis puts UK public spending on education at 4.2% of GDP in 2016. This was 12th highest out of the 34 OECD members with data on this measure and higher than the OECD average of 4.0%.

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[1] See above

[2] We also cover this in “other news” below

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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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 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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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 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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