Tagged / Graduate Outcomes

HE Policy Update for the w/e 2nd October 2020

We’re in October already! This week has been busy in Parliament, and we had some Ministerial engagement too.  Boris unveiled a skills pledge and Gavin Williamson made a statement regarding students returning to universities (and was subsequently slammed for inaccuracies).  And angry parents have taken issue that their children might be prevented from returning home from university for Christmas if they are in isolation or caught in local lockdowns.

BU welcomes the Minister for Universities

Michelle Donelan MP paid a short virtual visit to BU this week.  You can read more here.  It is good that the Minister is making time to make these visits and the conversation was wide ranging and interesting.  Thanks to all involved, especially as these things are always short notice and subject to last-minute change.

Comprehensive Spending Review – and all its ramifications

No one knows quite what form (or if) the comprehensive spending review (CSR) will take. However, sector organisations continue to lobby the Government with their wish lists to be included within the CSR. The Association of Colleges have published their 37 pager much of which aligns with recent Government ambitions on skills spending, higher technical education, apprenticeships, levelling up and addressing disadvantage. Specifically they call for higher rates of FE funding, expanding provision to accommodate the 2024/25 young population surge (plus IT infrastructure investment), a 16+ pupil premium, and the favourite old chestnut – reducing oversight, bureaucracy and compliance costs.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published Spending Review 2020: COVID-19, Brexit and beyond. Pages 3-5 summarise the key findings succinctly and ultimately the report advises the Chancellor not to plough ahead with a full Spending Review. It concludes:

  • Even if Mr Sunak makes the sensible decision to set only one year of spending plans, the process will be fraught with difficulty, with many delicate trade-offs. Perhaps the most important question is the extent to which the extraordinary funding increases provided in response to COVID-19 need to continue into future years.
  • [With Covid likely to] swallow up much of the increase in funding pencilled in between now and 2023−24. Whatever is left would likely be allocated to priority areas such as the NHS, schools, the police or the ‘levelling-up’ agenda. The Chancellor has rowed back from the spending envelope he committed to in March, but his emphasis on the need for ‘tough choices’ suggests that it could become less, not more, generous. Other public services could well be facing a further bout of austerity

No one is expecting good news. And the Government’s intentions following the Augar report are expected to be laid out as part of the CSR. Even HEPI warn of impending doom when they consider Augar in the context of recent events below.

Research

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee Greg Clark has written to the minister for Science, Amanda Solloway, relating to research and development investment.  The letter is available here. He asked for:

  • Further detail for example on the terms of support for higher education institutions announced by the Government.
  • The Government’s plans to address research funding & cross subsidisation in the long-term to ensure that university research funding is sustainable.
  • Further details on the R&D roadmap

Match funding change: On Thursday the Government suspended the 50:50 matched funding requirement for industrial research applications to the Aerospace Technology Institute programme. This is to mitigate the effects of Covid on the industry.

Research parliamentary questions

A selection of Wonkhe blogs relevant to research interests:

Off topic – but interesting – Sellafield have released a report in the name of sharing the importance of science. It highlights how R&D has transformed their organisation & safety. Short press release here, report here.

PM’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee

Boris announced the Lifetime Skills Guarantee scheme (full speech here, press release with stakeholder support here). Main points:

  • The Lifetime Skills Guarantee is a system where every student will have a flexible lifelong loan entitlement to four years of post-18 education. Boris stated this will promote real choice – at the moment many young people feel they have to go for the degree option. They feel they have only one chance to study, and to borrow. They might as well go for the maximum, and get a degree. It launches April 2021 in England and is paid for through the National Skills Fund.
  • Adults without an A-Level or equivalent (a level 3) will be offered a free, fully funded college course, to learn skills (those valuable to employers) and the opportunity to study at a time and location that suits them. The list of courses is expected to be released shortly.
  • The funding model will change with more flexibility to study in bursts (so an individual can spread it across their life period) and easy access to loans for higher technical as well as degree programmes. Politico state there will be a push to massively expand vocational courses. The government will provide finance for shorter-term studies in areas such as coding to help train workers for jobs of the future, rather than the typical three or four year university studies.
  • Alongside studying in segments students should be able to build up credits and transfer between different providers both colleges and universities. This in itself is expected to enable more part time study.
  • Boris pledged to:
    • invest in skills & FE (£1.5 billion for college capital works)
    • expand apprenticeships (as mentioned above) and make them more portable to move from company to company
    • expand digital boot camps (£8 million, programmes in four new locations)
    • from 2021 boot camps will also be available for construction and engineering – supporting the national Industrial Strategy
    • 62 additional courses will be added to the free online Skills Toolkit
    • end the pointless, nonsensical gulf… between the so-called academic and the so-called practical varieties of education… now is the time to end this bogus distinction between FE and HE. (Not all Conservatives agree with this – see this blog in Conservative Home.)

Boris also said:

  • The post-18 educational system is not working in such a way as to endow people with those skills…lab technicians, skilled construction workers, skilled mechanics, skilled engineers, and we are short of hundreds of thousands of IT experts
  • …And look I don’t for a second want to blame our universities. I love our universities, and it is one of this country’s great achievements massively to have expanded higher education.
  • But we also need to recognise that a significant and growing minority of young people leave university and work in a non-graduate job, and end up wondering whether they did the right thing.
  • Was it sensible to rack up that debt on that degree? Were they ever given the choice to look at the more practical options, the courses – just as stimulating – that lead more directly to well-paid jobs?
    We seem on the one hand to have too few of the right skills for the jobs our economy creates, and on the other hand too many graduates with degrees which don’t get them the jobs that they want.

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, commented:  A week ago Labour called for a National Retraining Strategy fit for the crisis Britain faces, but what the government proposes is simply a mix of reheated old policies and funding that won’t be available until April. By then many workers could have been out of work for nearly a year, and the Tories still think that they will need to take out loans to get the training they will need to get back in work. These measures will not reverse the devastating impact of a decade of cuts, and will not give workers the skills and support they need in the months ahead.

Association of Colleges responded to the PM’s speech:

  • We believe that colleges should play a bigger part in a more collaborative education and skills system that allows people to train and retrain throughout their lives. Today’s speech is a strong sign that this thinking will form much of the foundation for the upcoming FE white paper and develop a system that works for all adults and not just those fortunate enough to go to university. 
  • A new entitlement to a fully-funded Level 3 qualification and more flexibility built into L4 and L5 are important steps forward as the government begins to implement the Augar Review. There is a lot more to do to stimulate demand from adults and employers and to support colleges to have the capacity to meet needs.
  • We must get this right to ensure our education and skills system is fit for purpose – I hope the Prime Minister’s words are just the beginning on the road to a fairer and more accessible post-16 system for everyone who needs it.

The Institute of Economic Affairs is less convinced:

  • …The speech lacks specifics.
  • The Prime Minister has made a time-honoured distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘practical’ skills, although there is little here to explain how exactly this shift will occur. Successive governments have made the same noises.
  • Extra funding for people without A-levels may be sensible, but it is not clear that there will be a massive demand for lower-level qualifications from either students or employers.
  • The offer of more flexible support for higher education and spreading study over longer periods is welcome in principle, but again there is little to suggest how this will work in practice. There is no evidence of a more fundamental change, such as linking a university’s funding to the success of its graduates, which might incentivise new forms of provision.
  • This speech is worthy, but it amounts to neither a convincing response to rising unemployment nor to a radical change in adult education.

Skills Productivity Appointment

With the FE sector and skills focus holding significant traction within Government a new appointment is significant. Stephen van Rooyen will head up the Skills and Productivity Board. His Chairmanship will have an influential role in driving forward the Government’s FE reform programme. The Board is responsible for advising on the skills that employers need for the future and that will help grow our economy post C-19, alongside how to ensure the courses and qualifications are high-quality. Stephen’s background is here, including his support for apprenticeships.

Stephen stated: The work of the SPB will be carried out by a panel of five leading skills and labour market economists, supported by Department for Education officials. The panel will undertake independent research and analysis in response to questions set out by the Secretary of State and Chair. Applications for panel members closed earlier this month and appointments will be made in due course.

Education Committee session

Following Boris’ pledge the Education Committee session focussed on adult learning schemes and mechanisms questioning Gillian Keegan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills. Direct HE relevant content was limited to whether there would be any maintenance grant support for more disadvantaged students. Keegan replied that there were already discretionary funds to support disadvantaged students, or those facing additional barriers to learning.

Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Committee pointed out there was nothing on community learning in Boris’ announcements. Keegan responded that the announcement was focused on economic outcomes for individuals, and, that the focus is on learners and helping them access more modular and flexible training. While this isn’t about HE it reveals the depth of emphasis the Government is placing on flexible learning at all levels and that adult and skills budgets aren’t altruistic – just like Government intent for HE – support focuses on the key skills needs for the country to support economic prosperity. So no fluffiness on the route to levelling up!

Keegan also showed interest in the concept of a skills tax credit to incentivise employers to provide training to low skilled employers, however, she conceded it hadn’t worked well in other countries.

On the social care sector the Government intend to professionalise this employment area initially through T-Levels and apprenticeships. Keegan felt this might be a route to higher pay in the sector.

Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education

On Thursday Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, made another oral statement, this time on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education. There was much overlap with and reiteration of Boris’ Skills Guarantee speech with a little additional detail.

Here are the key points in brief:

  • A White Paper will be published later this year on how to re-balance further and higher education.
  • FE has been overlooked for decades resulting in lost opportunities and businesses with unfulfilled skills gaps.
  • Everyone must have the opportunity to upskill and retrain – both young people who do not want to attend university and those who are forced to retrain following redundancy.
  • Linking with Boris’ skills pledge speech from Tuesday he called for closer alignment of FE and HE and re-announced the lifetime skills guarantee and greater flexibility in the educational system for people of all ages. There will be a consultation on the flexibility and transferability of credits during 2021 and the Government will legislate as needed in this Parliamentary session.
  • Williamson stated that these announcements will support the country’s recovery from Covid, however, they are also a continuation of the commitment to levelling-up. He reminded that the skills guaranteed means adults without A levels can re-train. He also reiterated that there would be funding for alternatives to degrees e.g. loans for higher technical education.
  • The apprenticeships programme will be expanded and barriers that employers face in taking on apprentices addressed. This will include allowing larger businesses to transfer their unused levy to fund smaller employers and ensuring redundant apprentices have the opportunity to continue their education.
  • T-levels (equivalent to 3 a-levels) have now commenced (in autumn 2020).
  • Williamson also announced funding of £111 million for the expansion of traineeships, £32 million for recruiting careers advisers, and £17 million for work academies in England. He restated previous funding commitments of £170 million which intends to establish 12 Institutes of Technology (IoT), with £120 million following on to develop a further 8 IoTs. The funding competition for the next 8 IoTs will open shortly.

Skills Gaps

Incidentally The Migration Advisory Committee published a review of the shortage occupation list this week.   The key reasons given for wanting to be on the SOL were:

  • A lack of a suitably skilled workforce in the UK
  • An unwillingness of the UK workforce to consider certain roles due to: physical demands; unsocial hours; an unwillingness to relocate; or seasonality of these roles;
  • That training alone is not a viable solution due to the time it takes and lack of long term certainty.

The Committee also warned Ministers to urgently address low pay in the social care sector in order to avoid a staffing crisis in January.

Augar Review

Having detailed the rise and Government zeal for FE and technical skills alongside the announced flexibility in funding and the comprehensive spending review speculation we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Augar, particularly the fees aspect. Fortunately HEPI covers the interpretation of Augar within the recent context in a discursive manner here. The blog is titled: As the Government begins implementing the more popular elements of the Augar report, we shouldn’t forget the rest of it (including what it said on fees)…

Excerpts:

  • …no one could have predicted how much change would happen between then and now. When the Augar report was published, Philip Augar said it was a take-it-or-leave-it package. In other words, he said it was a carefully calibrated model, not a pick-and-mix. I suspect the goal was to disincentivise policymakers from banking any proposed savings and then rejecting the counterbalancing proposed new spending. 
  • after the COVID crisis began…[Augar]… writing in the Financial Times that his most high-profile recommendation – reducing the headline full-time undergraduate fee cap from £9,250 to £7,500 – should perhaps be junked while others should still be implemented.
  • Now it has been confirmed by the Prime Minister that some of those other recommendations are indeed now to be implemented. For example, the Augar report’s first two recommendations were for ‘a single lifelong learning loan allowance’ and access to student finance ‘for modules of credit’, and these ideas have now been accepted. The devil will be in the detail…
  • But such tweaks cost money and, now that the Treasury is beginning to finalise its plans for the Spending Review, it is time to focus again on that most famous of all of the Augar report’s recommendations, the one on fees… In the COVID crisis, we may all have paid too little attention to the fact that the actual proposal for a lower fee cap remains on the table… There will be voices urging the Treasury in the run up to the Spending Review to cut spending on universities (either to reduce borrowing or to spend more on other priorities, including other educational priorities)… Cutting fees could play well in the culture war. It would be at one with some of the negative coverage of universities in recent times. And universities are typically in larger towns and cities that are less likely to be represented by a Conservative MP… But cutting the income of universities now is an objectively terrible idea… it nonetheless seems clear that severe cuts to the main income stream for universities in the midst of a crisis, while failing to replace the lost income, would make the Institute for Fiscal Studies’s dire warnings about the number of universities that could go bust during the pandemic much more likely to come true.

Student loans

In a week where there has been a constant focus speculating on the CSR and with the Government making announcements about flexibility in student loans and new spending pledges fresh attention has fallen on the student loan outlay figures which were published at the end of last week.

The Government changed the way it accounts for certain things, including the student loan, in the last Parliament and we now have the RAB – the Resource Accounting and Budgeting charge which predicts the proportion of loans that have been paid out to students that are expected to never be repaid back into the Treasury.

The RAB has now hit a whopping 53%, yet the DfE target for unpaid loans is much lower at 36%. Uncomfortable figures particularly with the Government’s claims that not enough students are accessing graduate level jobs at the end of their degree and that too many young people are choosing to go to university over other routes. And all within the landscape of unprecedented Government borrowing to fund the pandemic and economic needs (and dare I mention it – Brexit). In addition, there is also the forthcoming population boom to consider with 2030 expected to require a significant increase in availability of provision – all of which would have to be paid for. However, the Government may be hoping to redirect some of this boom demand into more technical or hop on – hop off higher level provision.

A current forecast suggests the Government will have a £20 billion outlay by 2024-25 for student loans.

The great annual migration

Gavin Williamson made a statement and responded to questions regarding students returning to universities. Below follows a summary of the main points in the full statement and questions session. For a shorter version you can read the press release which just covers Williamson’s statement here.

  • Students will be able to return home for Christmas should they wish to. The Government will work with universities to ensure this can occur safely. DfE Guidance will follow however it may include ceasing face-to-face contact two weeks early to provide time for students to self-isolate before returning home. Universities must ensure students who wish to remain within their university accommodation over the Christmas period are safe and well looked after. However, Williamson didn’t directly address a later question by Mark Harper MP who asked for reassurance students would not be trapped in their university accommodation for the period of self-isolation. [Many have pointed out that this ignores the fact that many students go home (or elsewhere) much more regularly than this….]
  • Labour (Yvette Cooper MP) asked if the Government was proposing all students self-isolate at the end of term to return home and pressed for mass testing Williamson stated that different cases, local circumstances and term end dates mean they envisage the self-isolation will cover only a very small number of universities. Later Hilary Benn pressed Williamson on whether students may go home to isolate again. He responded: We will be setting out clear guidance in terms of students and making sure that that fits within the broader guidance right across the country that is available for the wider population as well.
  • Blended learning should continue with face-to-face contact where possible. Teaching should not be solely online. The 11 September tiered approach guidance balancing learning requirements against the C-19 risk and local restrictions continues to apply.
  • Students who isolate must be properly cared for and the university should ensure they can access food, medical and cleaning supplies. Confirmed that universities are doing this. Students living outside of the campus or university housing should also have access to advice and support. Williamson was challenged during the questions by Sir Edward Leigh who was opposed to an enforced whole halls of residence lockdown. Williamson stated: Students follow the same rules as those in society and: We always want to ensure that there is a sensible and proportionate response to ensure that students are able to go about their business and continue their learning online and, importantly, face to face.
  • Universities need to provide additional mental health and practical support to students during these difficult times, particularly those new starters. The Minister stated he was pleased with universities efforts in this regard – Many universities have bolstered existing mental health services and offer alternatives to face-to-face consultations. Once again, I would like to thank staff at universities and colleges who have responded so quickly and creatively to the need to transform those essential services.
  • Later Damian Hinds MP planted a friendly question asking Williamson to talk about the great work done by universities and the likes of Student Minds – the support available and how it is being stepped up. Williamson responded: An amazing amount of work is done by every single university, but there has also been a recognition by the Office for Students that there may be gaps. That is why the Office for Students has stepped in to ensure that where students find that there is not that type of provision, something is provided for them, so that no student is in a position of not being supported. It is incredibly important that all students understand that support is available to them for them to be able to enjoy their time at university and succeed in their studies.
  • Acknowledged Universities hard work to make reopening as safe as possible. Feels both universities and students have followed the guidance. Students only subject to the same restrictions as the community in that area. Stated C-19 cases occurring in universities is inevitable, just as it is in the wider community, however, he believes universities are well prepared to handle outbreaks as they arise. Expressed that he was impressed with the way universities have worked with local authorities and local public health teams to safeguard students and staff.
  • The Department for Health and Social Care are working to make sure testing capacity is sufficient and appropriate for universities. They continue to make more tests available, more local testing sites and more processing laboratories. However, demand outstrips supply so staff and students should only request a test if they have symptoms or are advised to by an official.
  • Universities are also able to call on £256 million provided by the Government for hardship funding for students who have to isolate. Williamson also mentioned this money later in relation to chi Onwurah MP’s question which stated the only financial support the sector has received is to address the shortfall in scientific research funding, which is critical but does not have an impact on the learning experience. [The £256 million isn’t additional or new money and actually it was decreased in May from its original allocation so this has been criticised as misleading – see below]
  • The Government have taken a conscious decision to prioritise education…We will never be in a position where we can eliminate all risk, but we will not condemn a generation of young people by asking them to put their lives on hold for months or years ahead. We believe that universities are very well prepared to handle any outbreaks as they arise. 

Later in the discussion he stated that: We must not forget, however, that hundreds of thousands —almost a million—students have safely returned to university over the last few weeks. They will start their studies and benefit from a brilliant, world-class university education.

During the questions the Government was critiqued for:

  • Not doing things soonerwhy did it take the Secretary of State and the Health Secretary until last Wednesday to write to local directors of public health about the return of university students? (Kate Green). Answer: they were updating from the last advice SAGE produced, acting on the issues and suggestions made by SAGE.
  • Test & trace ineffective -self-isolating students live in particularly difficult circumstances (e.g. room size, no family support, living with a group that are practically strangers). (Kate Green). Later others used the shambolic privatised test and trace system to press for students to have access to tests to travel home safely (Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi).
  • Remote learning – students without digital access or a device; and additional support for students with SEN. This is where Williamson got himself in hot water. He stated: The hon. Lady raises an important point about digital access. I am sorry that she missed the announcement that we have made £100 million available for universities to use to ensure that youngsters have digital access, including students from the most deprived backgrounds, who would perhaps not be in a position to access courses. It is vital that if we are in a situation where people will have blended learning, all students are able to access it. We are taking seriously some of the challenges that all students and universities will face, which is why we have made £256 million available to make sure that where students are facing real hardship, universities can access funding to help them. [However, the £100m for digital access was for schools, so he has been criticised for that too as well as the £256m claim]
  • Lilian Greenwood MP picked up on disabled students accessing equipment and support Williamson stated it was the universities responsibility: under equalities legislation there is a duty on universities to ensure that there is proper and fair provision for all students. That is what we would expect from all universities. He also mentioned the £100m fund again (which is for schools).
  • Williamson side stepped and didn’t respond directly to Carol Monaghan’s call to address the fee-paying structure of (English) higher education by reducing fees and increasing Government funding to universities. Williamson stated: I thank the hon. Lady for putting forward policy suggestions for future Conservative party manifestos. We want to ensure that universities are properly funded, so that they are able to have world-class facilities that can beat other universities anywhere in the world. Laura Trott MP also addressed fees –  in some cases students will be paying full fees for what are now only online courses – and she called on the Minister to advise and ask the OfS to confirm that university bonuses not be paid unless fees were lowered. Williamson stated: I will be asking the Office for Students to look at this and give very strong and clear steers on this matter to ensure that no bonuses are going out as a result of this crisis. [Incidentally if you can stomach more on the fee refund debate Wonkhe have an excellent article debating the latest here. ]
  • Dame Cheryl Gillan MP called on Williamson to champion two-year degree courses. Williamson sorted the accelerated offer and reiterated there were other routes apart from university, including apprenticeships.
  • And on white working class boys (following a question from Robert Halfon, Chair Education Select Committee) Williamson stated: On why not enough youngsters on free school meals or white working-class boys are going to university, that is a real issue. We need to see change. We need to look at different options to ensure that those youngsters realise that they can succeed as well at university as all the other youngsters who choose to go. We will ensure that we deliver it as we level up across the country over the coming years.
  • The session concluded with Williamson confirming if Covid student numbers rose substantially the Government would review its position – We will constantly work with the sector very closely to ensure that we adapt and support it if the pandemic means that we have to make changes.

Labour issued a press release after the statement: Williamson’s blunders in the chamber further evidence serial incompetence. It covers the £100 million digital mistake and a second – Williamson said: the “Student Loans Company also offers a system whereby extra maintenance support can be made available through individual assessment.” Labour have critiqued this stating Students can change their maintenance loan applications if there is a change in their household income, but this does not allow the Student Loans Company to provide additional maintenance support simply because of increased needs for students. Labour raised these aspects as a point of order and called for the record to be corrected. It was refused but the Deputy Speaker acknowledged that the opposition had successfully made the point on the record.

Wonkhe dissected the statement mistakes too and added:

  • That Williamson encouraged the Office for Students to forbid the payment of bonuses to university staff – the Office for Students does not directly have this power.
  • They also clarified what we mentioned above on the £256million boost to student hardship funds. Wonkhe state: These already existing funds were initially allocated to universities to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds as “student premium” funding, and were actually cut from £277m last year by Gavin Williamson back in May.

NSS to LEO

With the launch of the NSS review Emma Hardy, Shadow HE Minister, wrote for Research Professional to voice concerns on alternative judgements of university quality:

  • Ditching the NSS with no replacement would put greater emphasis on Longitudinal Education Outcomes data, which only tell us how much graduates earn. This appears to fit with this government’s notion of ‘value for money’ and ‘value to the taxpayer’, and this is no doubt how it will be presented. However, what it can’t be said to measure is ‘value to the country’ or even ‘value to the economy’.
  • Covid-19 has underlined the importance of key workers and there are many graduate jobs, including those of nurses and health workers, that do not carry big salaries. LEO data may be able to tell us which graduates go into the best-paid employment but, because wage levels are geographically influenced, they discriminate against universities in deprived areas that support local economies by training the graduates those economies need.
  • Worse, the data discriminate against higher education institutions that recruit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds, because a significant determiner of postgraduate income is still students’ socioeconomic background before they attend university. As the main measure for judging universities, LEO data can only embed inequalities—the exact opposite of ‘levelling up’.

Her article goes on to suggest that this definition of value looks like a proxy for an attack on the numbers going to university. And after noting past cuts to technical education Emma states:  the government has tried to blame the crisis in further education on the success of our universities. Universities should not allow this to continue unchecked… 

And the implications of the virus….

It’s unlikely that you’ve managed to escape the tug and thrust of student Covid news over the last week. We’ll cover it here as speedily and painlessly as we can.

Mass testing continues to be central to the Opposition’s calls. Earlier in the week Kate Green (Labour’s Education Secretary) pressurised the Government on Sunday’s BBC Breakfast calling for a commitment to test every HE student before they return home at the end of term. She also stated we should pause the student migration now until an “effective, efficient testing system” is put in place.

Next in the saga was Amanda Milling MP, Co-Chair of the Conservative Party, who stated: There are no plans to keep students at university over Christmas and Labour is deliberately creating unnecessary stress for young people to score political points.

Finally Williamson put us out of our misery on Tuesday when his speech confirmed the Government and universities would work together to save Christmas allowing students who wish to, to return home. The details surrounding isolation and plans for those with active Covid symptoms are to follow in DfE guidance. And in Thursday’s Covid briefing the PM paid tribute to students who were studying in these unprecedented times.

Kate Green also wrote a letter to Gavin Williamson which included students access to remote learning. She stated:

[On remote learning]…To do this, they must also have access to the right equipment, connectivity and environment. The “digital divide” has been raised with your department on numerous occasions, including in a recent report from the Office for Students which showed its impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. What urgent steps are you taking to bridge the digital divide…?

Leaving home to go to University should be a momentous and exciting step for young people and their families. It is deeply distressing that so many will now not get the university experience they deserve, and face the appalling prospect of being locked in their rooms with no chance to make new friends.

Universities have done all they can to prepare for students’ safe return to campus, but the government has failed to play its part. You let young people down with the exam fiasco over the summer, and now many of those same students are being let down again. These young people deserve better than your incompetence.

Previously she has stated that students should have the choice to remain in the family home:

We do think it is important that students have a choice. If they feel they are going to be safer at home then they should be able to stay at home and conduct their learning remotely.

OfS Edicts: The OfS have commented on the student situation as they return to university and expressing their expectations for the HE sector to meet:

  • Universities have worked hard to make campuses safe, and have developed programmes that mix face-to-face and online learning. However, our guidance says that is essential that they provide students with as much clarity as possible on what they can expect. Where the situation changes universities should provide regular information updates.
  • Where students need to go into isolation, universities have to be clear about how courses will continue to operate in these circumstances and what welfare, resources and support are available. Universities should provide information about how testing can be accessed where it is expected by the health authorities and ensure that such students can access food and other essential provisions. We will be following up with individual universities and colleges where we have concerns about the arrangements they are making for teaching and academic support. 
  • Students have a right to good quality higher education – whether that is taught online, in-person or a mixture of the two. Where they feel this is not happening they can raise concerns with their university, escalating complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator where a resolution cannot be found. They can also inform the OfS, and we can and will investigate if we believe that universities have not taken all reasonable steps to protect standards or where quality is slipping for groups of students.

Finally, here is a small selection of this week’s coverage on students & Covid.

Scottish Pact: Scotland’s Universities have agreed a Consistent Core of Care – a package of 10 measures – to support student wellbeing for the first semester in response to C-19. Three measures specifically address students who are quarantined or isolating such as very regular check ins with the student/household.

Student Spread: The New Statesman has used Office for National Statistics local neighbourhood classifications (he granular output areas) of student areas to compare Covid cases.

They found:

  • 1.15 confirmed cases per student neighbourhood in England
  • compared to 0.36 cases per non-student area.
  • Student areas are also more likely to be represented among those recording the highest case rates.
  • The effect is greater within cities with substantial student districts and particularly in the north.
  • The number of cases is rising faster in student areas than non-student areas.

The article acknowledges that:

  • not all of the cases within the student classified areas will have been students
  • as a whole, there are still more Covid-19 cases outside of student neighbourhoods than within them
  • Also: cases were rising in workplaces across the country before students went back to university – indicating they were not the cause of the rise in cases, but rather accelerated a pre-existing trend.

The Times Red Box has a piece calling for immediate mass testing in every university town. They believe students and staff should be tested twice per week and look to Illinois which has a campus tracing team who support with tracking and immediate testing so no one isolates unnecessarily. They also suggest using the universities laboratory capacity to process the tests (40 in the UK have the facilities the article suggests, others could use a mobile facility on site). Acknowledging that rapid testing can be inaccurate in identifying a lower viral load makes the retesting a key part of the approach. The interesting aspect of this article is that it makes the case not just to stop the spread of the virus but for the mental health of students – it sees regular mass testing as unlocking an almost normal experience.

Research Professional have coverage of student mental health in Top priority – How serious are universities about student mental health?

LBC have a short piece on the human rights lawyer who has stated the Manchester residence lockdowns were legally dicey.

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

The BBC published University entrance: The ‘taboo’ about who doesn’t go primarily looking at the barriers and alternate motivations of young white working class males.

The OfS has released TUNDRA data which measures the frequency with which people living in a more granular area have accessed HE over a series of years. Wonkhe have a very short blog with some charts utilising the new data.

UCAS have a new blog considering the aspects which may encourage care experienced students to disclose their care background in their application personal statement.

Lord Hunt championed several parliamentary questions on ensuring care leavers have access to the internet and a digital device this week – see here, here, here and here.

The Sutton Trust has published a report on school closures and lower social mobility

Exams cancelled?

The VC’s of Birmingham and Sheffield Hallam have a thoughtful piece in the Times calling on the Government to cancel the 2021 A level exams:

  • Decisions need to be made now to give teachers, universities and students certainty. The coming year will be unpredictable. Local lockdowns will have a differential effect on learners who have already faced massive disruption. Making that up would be tough anyway; making it up through further local disruptions to teaching will be almost impossible. The danger is that next summer’s results will be as chaotic as this year’s, with students having had much less time to learn.
  • There is a simple solution for assessment. This year, government rightly allowed teacher grades to stand. The problem was no effective grade moderation. Government should ask examination boards to use the time we now have to develop a robust moderation approach. It’s a method which works in almost every other advanced educational system.
  • Our approach would have huge benefits. It would give students certainty and remove the worry that learning would be interrupted by a local lockdown. It would give universities certainty about assessments. It would ease progression from school to university for learners whose education has been so interrupted. There is also another benefit: it would open up a route to more effective university admissions, fit for a post-Covid world. 

This parliamentary question confirms the Government does not intend to implement predicted grades in 2020/21. And this one questions the steps the Government are taking to ensure schools have clear guidance on exams in summer 2021 before students have to submit applications to UCAS.

NAHT also have grave concerns about the 2021 exam series, they’re particularly concerned about the impact of a compressed time period with back to back exam conditions:

  • we remain concerned about proposals that next year’s summer exams should be pushed back. While that initially sounds like it would help students have more time to learn and prepare, it could have a disastrous effect on students’ experience. Delaying the exam series, while still needing to generate results in time for university offer deadlines, would necessitate a compression of the exam series, meaning more exams for young people in a much shorter space of time. Given how high stakes these tests are, this could only add to the unfairness and inequity of the situation, could lead to further disadvantage for some students over others, and would certainly have a negative impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing.
  • Ongoing teacher assessments could end up being crucial this year – we should be looking at how we use a range of measures rather than assuming things can be fixed by simply delaying the exams. If 2020 has shown us nothing else, it is that relying solely on a series of high-stakes exams means that we are left with no other options if things go wrong…Unfortunately there are currently few signs that the authorities who presided over this year’s chaos have learned the right lessons or are acting quickly enough to avoid another mess.

And the TES cover calls from Lord Baker to cancel the 2021 GCSE and A level exams.

Currently the media focus is on assessment methods and arrangements but over the academic year increasing focus is likely to build on universities admissions arrangements and timescales.

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.

Other news

Degree Apprenticeships: Ofsted are now solely responsible for the inspection of apprenticeship training provision at all levels – including degree apprenticeships delivered within HE providers and all level 6 & 7 provision. There is a partnership aspect in that the OfS will continue to provide Ofsted with relevant information to inform inspection judgements. Gavin Williamson’s letter to Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector, is here. It also instructs Ofsted to build capacity and capability for the new responsibilities upskilling existing staff and:  the recruitment of additional inspectors with suitable expertise including knowledge and experience of higher educationOfsted should also work closely with [Government Education] officials and the Office for Students in preparing the apprenticeships sector for this change, particularly… those providers who are not already familiar with Ofsted inspection. I expect Ofsted to work collaboratively to ensure that the circumstances of the sector are fully understood.

Remote working within HE Sector: Wonkhe tell us about a new report from SUMS consultancy into higher education working practices during the pandemic finds that line management support, team cohesion and institutional communications were most important in supporting staff wellbeing during the initial stages of the pandemic.

SUMS consulting have published: Working well – during and beyond Covid-19: A report into staff health, general wellbeing and remote working enablement in the HE Sector

  • The HE sector is not on its own in having to adapt quickly to changes in work location and practice. Many of the observations set out in this report transcend industries. However, this research has specifically sought out the perspectives of those working in UK higher education…The resulting paper identified eight critical success factors to support good change management in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis; and learning points for the future… This study reflects on initiatives put in place driven by remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic and poses questions around the potential for these initiatives to be sustained and embedded in the long-term employee experience.

Wonkhe also covered the report and have highlighted: line management support, team cohesion and institutional communications were most important in supporting staff wellbeing during the initial stages of the pandemic.

Engineering Careers: a new digital platform for engineering outreach (online and in person) activities (aimed at schools) has been launched – Neon.

Levelling up: The UK2070 Commission have published Go big. Go local – a new deal for levelling up the UK. The blurb: There are deep-rooted inequalities across the UK. These are not inevitable. However, we lack the long-term thinking and spatial economic plan needed to tackle them. Included in the 10 point plan (page 2):

  • Creating New Global Centres of Excellence harnessing increased investment in research and development to create ‘hub and spoke’ networks of excellence and growth across the country comparable to the economic impact of the ‘golden triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge
  • Future Skilling the UK tackling the historic under-performance of the UK on skills through national plans to raise attainment levels, especially in those skills needed to achieve the levels of the best performing places.
  • a powerful ministerially-led cross-government committee needs to be established with a dedicated team, to oversee delivery and embed levelling up, supported by spatial analysis, flexible funding and new measures of success…
  • Page 48 lists the top 24 most deprived Council areas in terms of access to services, skills and education & levels of social mobility.

You can read the full report here.

Travel & Transport Guidance: The updated guidance for higher education providers in England on when and how to reopen their campuses and buildings is available here. The updates relate to travel and transport.

International: Wonkhe report that The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will announce later today expanded vetting for overseas applicants to university courses relating to questions of national security. This comes amid concerns around students from China collecting information for the People Liberation Army. The Times has the story.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 16th July 2020

This week we have more from the Universities Minister as the post-Covid policy direction becomes clearer, as well as that speech from the Secretary of State abandoning (again) the 50% target for HE participation , some Committee views on the impact of the virus and what to do about it, and in case you have forgotten about Brexit and the new points-based immigration system, we had more detail this week.  There is the NSS  and some other survey news too.  Brace yourself – it’s another bumper edition.

The Universities Minster speaks

A two-for-one offer this week.  Below we will talk about Gavin Williamson’s speech on FE (and related attack on HE).  But before we get to that, we want to share Michelle Donelan’s latest on 15th July when she was questioned by the Education Select Committee.

As we write this the transcript of the session isn’t available, but there is plenty of media coverage.

You should read the Research Professional article in full, but in case you don’t have time we offer some highlights:

  • Donelan was answering a question from Conservative committee member Caroline Johnson, who wanted to know which groups of young people were least likely to go to university, why that might be and what was being done to encourage them.
  • “First of all I want to say that we don’t necessarily want everyone to go to university—that was very much the essence of the secretary of state’s speech last week,” she said [see below for our summary of that]
  • …Whether you are advantaged or disadvantaged, higher education is not necessarily the best route to get to where you want to go in life,” Donelan said. “I really think we need to move away from this focus of how many students get to university because it is such a blunt instrument that isn’t actually very accurate in terms of social mobility,” she added. “If a student gets to university and drops out after year one and has a year’s debt, what does that achieve for their social mobility? Nothing. In fact, it sets them back in life. “It is about them completing high-quality, academically rigorous courses that then lead to graduate jobs—and that is the important measure we should be looking at.”
  • Johnson did not miss the fact that the universities minister had not really addressed her question, so she went back in for a second go. “The question was: Which groups are currently least likely to go to university and is there much talk about helping those groups…to consider it as a career [choice]?” she said.
  • Donelan trotted out the well-worn line about “record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university” (missing out the word “young”, which is crucial here given the decimation of the mature student body) but acknowledged that there were “still challenges within different sections of society, including white working-class students”. “But I actually don’t think it is a good measure to look at,” the minister continued. “It is the wrong question, if you don’t mind me saying, because it doesn’t matter about looking at which groups don’t get to university. It is about making sure that those groups that do go complete, that [their course will] lead to graduate jobs, but also looking at what is in that student’s best interests.”
  • …Donelan’s declaration that this “doesn’t matter” will be confusing for the great many people who work in widening participation. Johnson seemed taken aback, too. “Does that mean no university will be required to have a target of any particular demographic of student?” she asked.
  • Donelan’s response that universities were “individually accountable” for their access and participation plans, and that there were “different issues in terms of demographics” for different universities, will not do much to address that confusion. Nor will her repeated message that “access and participation is not just about getting the student in; it is about making sure they can complete their course” and then go on to get a graduate job.
  • “We need the sector to actually look at their offer…and their messages to prospective students, because they do tend to promote courses too much that don’t offer those graduate outcomes,” the minister concluded.

Jim Dickinson has also done a summary for Wonkhe and we pick out some different points although of course he includes the access and participation stuff too:

  • Remember all that stuff about bite-size, modular learning in Augar? It sounds like that will make it into the response in the Autumn. Donelan said: “Some of the work I’m doing at the moment is looking at potential for modular learning and how we can expand the part time offer as part of our response to Augar, which we will be responding to in line with the spending review.” Whether that Augar response will tackle the widespread disbelief this time last year that the SLC would be able to handle the complexity of loans for tuition and maintenance at module level remains to be seen.
  • That “other half” of the bailout – the “restructuring regime” yin to the research funding yang, if you will, is coming. And we got a preview of the length and thickness of the strings that will be attached here: “So I can’t obviously pre-empt a report that’s going to come out. But what I can say is the driving force behind all of my work and all of the department’s work in HE is to prioritize quality provision that is fit for purpose and that unlocks opportunities for individuals that are making, at the end of the day, a massive investment in their future and one that they do want to see pay off in some form or another. I think too long we’ve let far too many students down by pushing and promoting courses that don’t have that value, don’t lead to those graduate outcomes and jobs. But at the same time, get them into tens of thousands of debt, which I just don’t think is good enough.”  Any funding from DfE would surely have to come through OfS, which was already busy with a funding review and a look at its minimum thresholds for quality. 
  • Lots of people have been concerned about student hardship during the pandemic, and so were the committee. Here the minister stretched credibility beyond all usual limits in her framing of the ability to spend some student premium in a slightly different way – an issue we’ve picked Donelan up beforeon the site: “Students have been affected by the pandemic in terms of finances, that’s undeniable. So most institutions have their own hardship funds and assistance already. And then they receive money every month for access and participation, which we worked with the Office for Students to remove the restrictions around so that they could unlock twenty three million pounds per month for April, May, June and July.  So 23 million pounds each, which is a considerable amount of money that they were able to then access to top up their hardship funds. And we promoted the use of that for things like accommodation, technology costs, system connectivity costs, all of these things. And that’s had a really fantastic impact in terms of trying to direct that support. I think it was right that we channelled that through universities who had these relationships and could identify those students most in need.”  We’re very much looking forward to seeing the evidence for the claim for the “a really fantastic impact” line, which surely must be coming given how much we all like to focus on “what works” and “outcomes” these days.

Levelling up and higher technical education

On Thursday last week Gavin Williamson gave a speech with the Social Market Foundation and then on Tuesday this week, a press release with more of the detail.

The speech set out the Government’s intentions to refocus FE, raising its profile and establishing the higher technical route as a genuine alternative to a degree. The announcement was well trailed in advance as the sector anticipated that the government would abandon Tony Blair’s target for 50% attending university (of course this wasn’t actually the target and it had already been dropped – Blair’s target was not about universities and l technical education for people under 30, as explained by former Minister Chris Skidmore here ). Given we have had several weeks (months?) of anti-HE rhetoric we had an impending sense of doom as we waited for Williamson’s speech. However, while there are the usual digs, it focussed enough on FE to be balanced.  And there is an opportunity for universities. For years the Government has urged HE institutions to work with their local schools and FE provision and received a lukewarm response, and universities will be able to access the higher technical qualification funding in collaboration with FE providers.

There was lots of interesting content in the speech, browse through the below, summarised in places to shorten it:

  • There is so much right with our education system but when it comes to further education, too many people here don’t value it as much as they should.
  • It exasperates me that there is still an inbuilt snobbishness about higher being somehow better than further, when really, they are both just different paths to fulfilling and skilled employment. Especially when the evidence demonstrates that further education can open the doors to greater opportunity, better prospects and transform lives. We must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job.

The Minister mentioned the following sources of financial support mentioned in the budget last week (read more in our update from last week).

  • When I first came into this job, I was firmly of the belief that there needed to be a major shift in how we treat further education. Not just because of its importance in levelling up. But because further education is vital if we want our country to grow economically and our productivity to improve. We need fundamental change, not just tinkering around the edges.
  • …Further education is central to our mission of levelling up the nation. Or quite simply, giving people the skills that they need to get the jobs that they want. If you want to transform many of our left-behind towns and regions, you don’t do it by investing more money solely in universities. You invest in the local college – the beating hearts of so many of our towns.
  • But unfortunately, we’ve not been providing as many of our young people with this opportunity as we should….Since becoming Education Secretary, I was shocked to discover that while the number of people going to university has increased, the total number of adults in education has actually fallen.
  • So what’s driven that fall?… There has been a systemic decline in higher technical qualifications… Within Higher Education Institutes, foundation degrees have declined from a high of 81,000, to approximately 30,000. Undergraduate part-time study in higher education has also fallen significantly, from nearly 250,000 in 2010 to under 100,000. Together, these more than outweigh the increase in young people going to university. And for those who haven’t achieved the equivalent of A-Levels by age 18, the chances of proceeding to higher levels of qualifications is, as Philip Augar’s report puts it, ‘virtually non-existent.’… Only 10% of all adults aged 18-65 hold a Higher Technical Qualification as their highest qualification. This compares to around 20% of adults in Germany and as much as 34% in Canada…We’re writing off people who have a tremendous potential to contribute to our society.
  • For decades, we have failed to give further education the investment it deserves. Of course, we know universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture. But it’s clear that there are limits to what can be achieved by sending ever more people to university, which is not always what the individual or our nation needs. 
  • In February I got sent a copy of the Oxford Review of Education’s special edition, about Higher Education and the labour market…Consistently across countries, there is evidence of filtering down in the labour market. That means that graduates are competing for jobs that used to be – and could still be – done by non-graduates. And a significant proportion of graduates fail to gain much advantage from going to university at all…It reinforces what we already know…that 34% of our graduates are in non-graduate jobs, more than any other countries in Europe except for Ireland and the Czech Republic. And employers say that too often, graduates don’t have the skills they need, whether that’s practical know-how or basic numeracy and literacy. [Here you may wish to read Wonkhe’s alternative take on the 34% underemployed.]
  • ….Skilled trade and professional occupations, in sectors such as manufacturing and construction, report some of the highest skills shortages. Many of these occupations require intermediate or higher technical qualifications – precisely the things that we are not teaching. Simply as a nation we seem to have given up on them when these are the skills we need most to have a chance of competing against other nations.
  • And let’s not pretend these qualifications are in any way inferior to a degree. The outcomes speak for themselves. Five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. I’d like to pause on that point just for a moment. A work-based, technical apprenticeship, lasting around 2 years, gives greater returns than the typical three year bachelor’s degree. For too long, we’ve been training people for jobs that don’t exist. We need to train them for the jobs that do exist and will exist in the future. We have to end the focus on qualifications for qualifications sake. We need fundamental reform: a wholesale rebalancing towards further and technical education. And across our entire post-16 sector, we need a much stronger alignment with the economic and societal needs of the nation.
  • My personal commitment is to put further and technical education at the heart of our post-16 education system. Like the Prime Minister, I believe that talent and genius are expressed as much by the hand and by the eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay.
  • We need to create and support opportunities for those who don’t want to go to university, not write them off – or drive them down a path that, can all too often, end with graduates not having the skills they need to find meaningful work.

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

  • Apprenticeship level and move to employer-led standards
  • Introduction of T levels
  • But, we need to go further, we need to go further and we need to go faster: to remove qualifications that are just not fit for purpose; to tackle low quality higher education; and to give colleges the powers and resources that they need to truly drive change.

Germany…

  • This autumn I will be publishing a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities. This will not be about incremental change, but a comprehensive plan to change the fundamentals of England’s further education landscape, inspired by the best models from around the world.
  • It will be centred upon two things. Firstly, high quality qualifications based on employer-led standards. All apprenticeships starts will be based on those standards from August this year and we will be looking to place such standards at the heart of our whole technical education system. Secondly, colleges playing a leading role in developing skills in their areas, driving an ambitious agenda that responds to local economic need and acting as centres for businesses and their development.

The Minister pledged to review the 12,000 level 3 qualifications simplifying the system into a consistently high-quality set of choices with a clear line of sight to study at higher levels.

  • …following our consultation last year we will be bringing forward plans to reverse the decline in higher technical education so that we can begin once more to train people for the jobs that the economy actually needs…And we want to do much more to open up more flexible ways of studying, including better support for modular learning.
  • Reforming and growing higher technical education will be a long-term endeavour. We want to see our great further education colleges expanding their higher technical provision. And although this speech is about further education, universities can be an important part of the solution, if they are willing to significantly step up their provision of higher technical qualifications.
  • Of course, qualifications are only half of the picture. Equally important is where they are taught…how our colleges should look in the future…They should be led by great leaders and governors who are drawn from local communities and businesses, and teaching staff who have already have experience working in and with industry…They should have industry-grade equipment and modern buildings which are great places to learn in and which act as centres for business development and innovation…They should deliver courses that are of the highest quality and which are tailored to the needs of employers and their local economies…They should work with small, local businesses to support the introduction of new technology and processes, and offer training in emerging skills….And there should be a robust system of governance so that every college is financially secure, flexible and dynamic. [That’ll keep the Government/ESFA busy then!]
  • We are also driving forward our network of Institutes of Technology. They will lead the way on delivering higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths – skills that will give this country a competitive edge not just in the industries of today, but, just as importantly, those of tomorrow. The first 12 are being rolled out across the country, ready to deliver the next generation of technicians and engineers, and more will follow soon. [Later this year the government plans to launch a competition to ensure that all of England is covered by an Institute of Technology.]

I think a lot of thought went into Williamson’s speech as he even attempts to change the rhetoric:

  • Some people say that further education and apprenticeships are for other people’s children. Let me be clear: I don’t. I’d be delighted if my children went to college or did an apprenticeship.
  • …No longer can we persist in the view that university is the silver bullet for everyone and everything. The revolution and need for change is long overdue. Education’s purpose is to unlock an individual’s potential so they can get the job and career that they crave. If it fails to do that then education itself has let them down. Today I have laid down a marker for change. A commitment to stand for the forgotten 50%. [You may recall that it was Ed Miliband who first coined the ‘forgotten 50%’ phrase in this context.]

Responses

The Guardian have an article from Berlin Bureau Chief – Philip Oltermann –  Importing Germany’s dual education system is easier said than done stating the German set up is fundamentally different to the UK (for a start it’s a federal nation, and a lot bigger) but also because it has the same ‘issue’ with HE being a preferred option. The Guardian states:

  • it involves complex coordination between the different actors, which the UK would at present struggle to reproduce, but also because it is threatened by the same cultural factors that have made universities so popular in the UK.  
  • ..the German dual system requires a high level of complex coordination between the employers who pay the trainee’s wages, the federal states that fund vocational training schools tailored to the needs of local industry, the unions that feed into the curriculum, and the chambers of trade and industry that carry out the exams at the end.
  • Previous British attempts to build up German-style dual systems – New Labour’s “14-19 Diplomas” and David Cameron’s ambitious apprenticeship targets – struggled to build up the educational infrastructure required to go with it.
  • Most British unions don’t have the capacity to feed expertise into training programmes… there isn’t an equivalent tradition of employers’ umbrella organisations developing training programmes for their entire sector.
  • In addition, not just Britain but Germany too is experiencing a gravitational pull that draws more and more young people towards universities rather than apprenticeships.

And the key point is this –

  • One reason for the trend, labour market experts speculate, is that academic degrees promise more flexibility, which is one of the downsides of the dual system.
  • While Germany’s dual training programmes produce highly specialised workers that can be perfectly matched to a sector’s current needs, they can struggle when digitalisation or globalisation throws that sector into crisis, as German printers, tailors or photo laboratory technicians have discovered in recent years.

Williamson’s speech is all about training young people to fit within specific fields of work, particularly addressing skills gaps – but those gaps will close and educational programmes take longer to respond. Flexibility really is the key here as people expect to need to change professions 5-7 times during their working span (Careers advice online, Financial Times, although this source takes issue with the ‘job hopping millennial’).

Before the Minister made his speech ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote for Conservative Home agreeing with Williamson’s speech but also using his piece to remind about:

  • Step-on, step off, credit based learning, that allows for a personalised education for the 100 per cent, not one that seeks to divide between two systems.
  • we should not turn the clock back – but equally let’s make sure we give everyone, regardless of background, an equal chance to learn. More part-time, flexible learning for adults of every age can help achieve this.
  • My greatest objection to the 50 per cent headline grabbing figure is that it masks some of the truly horrifying, persistent divisions in our country. Still just nine per cent of white boys on free school meals living in the North East access higher education; only six per cent of pupils who have been in care will do so. These divisions are even more acute when the type of university institution is taken into account. In 2018, 17 per cent of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7 per cent of them enrolled at high-tariff providers.
  • It is not acceptable for money to be handed over to institutions without delivering the necessary qualification. So called ‘non-completions’ are an unacceptable waste of talent and resource – which is why we need to create a learning system that prevents young people from dropping through the net.

In what will likely be an interesting summer for policy twists e should not dismiss Skidmore’s remarks simply because he is a backbencher. Currently Donelan is overshadowed by her two predecessors and their recent frequent media pieces…’ as if they are trying to influence from the side lines as they scent the change on the wind.

On the speech Wonkhe say: There are also serious doubts about the government’s capability and capacity to deliver meaningful reform in this area. It seems perennially confused about what it wants from higher education… And the fact that ministers can’t seem to support further education without attacking universities has left many on both sides of the old tertiary divide scratching their heads.

Wonkhe also sum up some of the media and sector responses for us: Greg Walker, CEO of MillionPlus said that some of the rhetoric in the speech missed the mark “as it appears to see HE and FE as alternatives, which they are clearly not”. University Alliance CEO Vanessa Wilson added that it was wrong to suggest that higher education “rarely offers technical qualifications and training”. The speech is covered by the BBC, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independenti News, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Mail. The Spectator also runs an opinion piece from the Social Market Foundation’s Director, James Kirkup, on the “genuinely important” speech, while the Guardian’s Education editor muses on what might come of Williamson’s education “revolution”.

Writing before the speech was released Research Professional made some good points:

  • How the government will actually stop school leavers choosing “popular-sounding courses”, as Donelan put it, remains to be seen.
  • Scarcity of places and repurposing the course offer of universities that get into financial trouble are two tools available, but they are unlikely to have much impact in the short and medium term while the demographic of 18-year-olds in England is at its lowest for several decades and supply outstrips demand.
  • It would seem that not even the coronavirus can dim the desire of young people to go to university, or of their parents to see them there. So what makes the government think it can do what Covid-19 cannot?
  • Even after the government has trebled tuition fees, cut grants and created a market of alternative providers, young people still want to go to university in numbers that continue to grow. The expansion of university participation is driven by the desires of students and their parents, not by irresponsible vice-chancellors looking to put bums on seats, as a former universities minister once put it.
  • …Williamson may rail today against a previous emphasis on increased entry to university, while on the other hand this government might end up making good on New Labour’s 50 per cent participation pledge. That target … was always supposed to include students experiencing higher education on HND and HNC courses. An investment in further education, with a push on lower-level qualifications, might just result in the Conservatives finally realising the ambition of Tony Blair’s government.
  • A canny education secretary who wanted to get things done would incentivise higher education in a further education setting and enable partnerships between universities and local colleges. An education secretary hidebound by ideology will seek to erect obstacles to university attendance, which will prove to be ineffective and counterproductive in the long run.
  • How Williamson chooses to pivot in his speech today will tell us a lot about what the legacy of this government will be for universities. Will it be five years of lobbying against restrictive measures or will it be a period of contributing to national recovery through joined-up thinking across the education system?

Post-speech Research Professional focus on the poor state of the FE sector and suggest that the Government’s reforms are the reason for the numbers decline within the mature population.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of The Sutton Trust, said:

  • Further educationandapprenticeshipshave a crucial role to play in widening opportunity … We would also like to see many more degree and degree-levelapprenticeshipsavailable to young people. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to earn while they learn, graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants. 

Tim Thomas, Make UK Director of Labour Market and Skills Policy said:

  • This is a welcome move to parity between academic and vocational education. For too long vocational education has been seen as the second class option for those who don’t make it to university. An employer-led vocational training system is the only way that we will meet the skills needs of the future and properly train the next generation with the future skills needed by business.
  • High quality engineering apprenticeships can offer better careers than university education and are often seen by employers as a better source of talent and supplying the right skills required by business. We look forward to working with government on their white paper and producing the fundamental changes need to our vocational trading system needed to make these objectives a reality for employers and learners alike.

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

Higher technical quals consist of HNCs (Higher National Certificates, level 4) and HND (Higher National Diplomas, level 5) effectively plugging the levels between A level (level 3) and Degree (level 6). Unlike A levels and degrees they usually have a technical focus and the Minister intends for them to focus on the skilled professions particular where the UK needs additional manpower to service industry gaps. The Government intend to:

  • Introduce new higher technical qualifications from as early as September 2022 [digital quals in Sept 2022, health science and construction in 2023] with a Government branded quality mark certifying the qualification as delivering the skills employers need (and using the same occupational standards as T levels and apprenticeships will sit within).
  • Work with Ofsted and the OfS to ensure the course quality is consistently high across HE and FE providers and building on the Institutes of Technology. Wonkhe speculate that the regulatory role will sit with the OfS as the original consultation highlighted an assurance role for the Office for Students that focused more on inputs than outputs – we’re expecting to see a move away from that level of active intervention to a reliance on existing OfS registration requirements in the full announcement.
  • Raise public awareness through a national campaign supported by employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of opportunities that studying a higher technical qualification can open up and making sure students get the right information, advice and guidance to make informed choices. Also: we will raise the profile and understanding of the best higher technical education courses through a government-backed brand, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice and guidance.

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

The Government certainly means business with the speed they intend to introduce the new qualifications. Many complained that T levels are not ready, and they had a far longer lead time and are being introduced piecemeal. The higher technical qualifications will continue  the Government’s vocational and technical route after T levels, alongside the intended expansion of the Institutes of Technology.

It is expected that the new higher technical quals will focus on STEM and manufacturing at first. What haven’t been mentioned are degree apprenticeships nor topping up a HND to a full degree. It is somewhat conspicuous by its absence as this has always been the focus of previous Government efforts. However, given the current rhetoric about degrees and criticism of the cost of the degree apprenticeships, the absence isn’t surprising. Yet it does create a hole between the Government’s ideal for more applied research to take place in situ within businesses and industry, including PhDs, which need that top up to the full degree and the advanced research skills often learnt on the level 6 top up.

The biggest question is what fee regime the higher technical qualifications will be subject to.

Finally the Government’s press release states the measure announced today will complement the Government’s review of post-18 education to ensure the system is joined up, accessible and encourages the development of the skills the country needs. The Government did review the higher technical level 4 & 5 space last year (it bumbled along quietly against the tertiary education and funding review). The Augar review was Theresa May’s baby and the Government has delayed its response and forthcoming changes for an embarrassingly long while. The Government may also think the lure of the technical route will result in a drop in degree applications – that remains to be seen, particularly given points made earlier about young people wanting flexibility over career choices rather than being channelled into a particular skill set and there is the forthcoming young population boom to accommodate.

Wonkhe have an interactive chart showing where the existing higher technical courses are offered. It describes approximately 1,000 courses currently exist with FE colleges delivering slightly more than HE institutions. Sadly it doesn’t geographically map where these courses are to show national coverage or patchiness, although you can browse through the provider names to get a feel for the national distribution.

There was a parliamentary question on difficulty for young people travelling to their T level placements from rural areas. The Government responds on increased funding to sources that could support the individual.

Finally, Mary Curnock Cook (ex UCAS CEO) blogs for HEPI stating that the technical curriculum needs to be on offer at secondary level too. Excerpt:

  • while I support the government’s aims to overhaul tertiary education options I fear their current approach will further divide society, lethally levelling up the already privileged middle-classes while sorting off the less well off, lower-attaining rest into what will forever seem like poorer options in lesser occupations. If levelling up is the aim, then we need to create broader and meaningful technical and skills pathways for all students, not just for those that do less well at academic GCSEs.

Admissions – use of calculated grades

Much of this week’s education-related parliamentary chatter has been about the use of predicted grades to determine GCSE and A level results. It is slightly surprising it has taken until now – given one of the main reasons for considering an alternative to HE admissions are concerns over the inaccuracy of predicted grades, particularly that disadvantaged students may be underpredicted (reducing their chances of reaching a higher tariff provider), BAME bias may result in underprediction, and SEN children can perform higher than expected in final exams (and mocks may not have incorporated the adjustments they would expect in the finals).

The Education Committee’s latest report Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades addresses the issue. 

  • We consider exams to be the fairest form of assessment, and any alternative will inevitably be an imperfect replacement. Ofqual has stepped up to the immense challenge of devising these exceptional arrangements,
  • We have concerns that the system described by Ofqual as the “fairest possible in the circumstances” could be unfair for groups including disadvantaged pupils, BAME pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND.
  • …We believe it is reasonable to remain aware that the potential for human bias in predicted grades may be replicated in the calculated grade system. We note that teachers and support staff themselves appear sceptical of the fairness of this year’s system of awarding grades
  • We are unconvinced that safeguards—such as additional guidance and practical recommendations—put in place by Ofqual will be sufficient to protect against bias and inaccuracy in calculated grades. In particular, given research evidence on unconscious bias, we are concerned that groups including pupils from low-income families, BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, and children looked after could be disadvantaged by calculated grades.
  • We raised our concerns about fairness for pupils with special educational needs to Ofqual, emphasising the importance of ensuring SEND specialists feed into calculated grades. We are pleased that Ofqual produced guidance on considering evidence from SEND specialists during the calculated grade process. We are concerned, however, that there was no accountability mechanism for ensuring this happened consistently
  • Given the potential risks of bias in calculated grades, it is clear that standardisation will be a crucial part of ensuring fairness. We are extremely concerned that Ofqual’s standardisation model does not appear to include any mechanism to identify whether groups such as BAME pupils, FSM eligible pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups…have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards.

On appeals the report says:

  • We took evidence on the system Ofqual has devised for appealing grades. Sally Collier assured us that Ofqual has “spent many hours with very many people trying to come up with the fairest possible appeal system in the circumstances”. Tom Bewick told us that given the circumstances, the 2020 system “is effectively the least worst option”.
  • We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint about their grades. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination. Such a system also favours more affluent pupils and families with resources and knowledge of the system.

Recommendations:

  • We call on Ofqual to make a transparency guarantee—a commitment to publishing details of its standardisation model immediately to allow time for scrutiny. Ofqual should not be afraid of scrutiny or open debate over whether its model offers the fairest outcome for every pupil and provider
  • Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups such as BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligible pupils have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards. The Government must extend catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils to ensure this is not a lost generation. This should be done by doubling the disadvantage element in the 16–19 funding formula for pupils in Year 12, for at least the next year.
  • Ofqual’s evaluation must include comprehensive data on attainment, by characteristics including gender, ethnicity, SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligibility, providing full transparency on whether there are statistically significant differences between attainment this year compared with previous years.
  • It is right that pupils should be able to appeal their grade if they believe bias or discrimination has occurred, but Ofqual has not given enough thought on how to make this route accessible to all pupils. [The section within the report on appeals states The appeals process: a process for the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed?] …Without support, proving bias or discrimination would be an almost impossible threshold for any pupil to evidence. Disadvantaged pupils, and those without family resources or wider support, risk being shut out of this route. Ofqual must urgently publish the evidence thresholds for proving bias and discrimination, clearly setting out what evidence will be required. AND Ofqual must collect and publish anonymised data at the conclusion of the appeals process on where it received appeals from, including, as a minimum, type of school attended, region, gender, ethnicity, SEND status, children looked after (including children supported by virtual schools), and FSM eligibility
  • Ofqual must ensure gold-standard advice and support is easily accessible for all pupils unhappy with their grades. Both the helplines provided by Ofqual and the National Careers Service must be freephone lines. These must both be staffed by dedicated professionals with the training to provide sound and impartial step-by-step advice and support on options and appeals.

Paragraphs 30 onwards tackles calculated grades for vocational and technical qualifications.

A HEPI blog, Halfon is right: Ofqual has more to do, agrees with the Education Committee’s outcomes and urges for action to be taken. It make interesting points about the autumn exams too:

  • In the understandable rush to introduce a completely new system, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on 20 March, it probably seemed reasonable at first to invent a system in which dissatisfaction could be tackled by an opportunity to take an autumn examination. Over time this choice has unravelled. If initial results match the allowed national distribution and autumn exam candidates succeed in achieving higher grades, then grade inflation is bound to follow – unless other candidates are downgraded, which is unthinkable. Are autumn exam candidates being set up to fail? Or will the August results be scaled down to allow some headroom in the national distribution?
  • Furthermore, students sitting autumn exams face a compulsory gap year, because the exams will be too late for a 2020-2021 start. This in itself may be discriminatory, especially for disadvantaged students. The impact of autumn-awarded grades on admission prospects for 2021 is uncertain. Some universities are refusing deferred entry for 2021, others will honour offers but with added conditions. The competition for 2021 entry is likely to be much more intense as 2020 students reapply, a larger 2021 cohort apply for the first time, and international students from 2020 and 2021 return in much larger numbers.

Admissions – numbers up

UCAS announced a rise in application numbers last week – up 1.6% on last year and is the highest figure in four years. They state a record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied to HE (last year – 38.9%) despite there being 1.5% fewer in the population because of the birth dip. (And 2020 is the bottom point in the population dip.) Just over a quarter of young applicants were from disadvantaged backgrounds (25.4%) using the participation measure. There is a small drop in EU student applications (down 2%).  And UCAS highlight that nursing applications (between January and June only) was 63% higher than the same period last year. Universities will be keen to ensure these applicants convert into enrolments once the results are out.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: At this moment, we’re seeing an encouraging picture emerge out of national lockdown, with currently more applicants than last year keen to expand their mind, stretch themselves, and seize the opportunities that higher education can offer.

Research Professional comment: This is great news for universities because it suggests that in the teeth of a fierce recession and with the prospect of gap-year travel off the table, even the model of blended learning on offer in institutions next year is proving to be more appealing to young people than continuing to be locked down with mum and dad.

Nursing

Every week the Government receive several parliamentary questions urging for leniency on nursing tuition fees both to cut tuition moving forward and refunds as a response to the coronavirus support work they undertook in hospitals. The House of Commons Library have published a briefing paper exploring the current funding systems for healthcare students, plus medicine, dentistry and paramedics. The nursing section includes the recent impacts on applications to study and the September 2020 new bursary offers. The Government also issued a press release to celebrate that applications to nursing courses are up by 16% (at end of June) and that the NHS is currently employing a record number of nurses and midwives (the largest ever annual increase):

  • Around 18,370 more nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s permanent register to work in the UK compared to a year ago, bringing the total number to 716,607 by 31 March 2020. The number of people trained in the UK leaving the register has also fallen to a five-year low.

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

  • This is the second year in a row that applicant numbers have risen. In 2019 there was a 6.4% increase in people accepted onto nursing and midwifery courses in England compared to 2018.

However, the Royal College of Nursing responded to the increase in nursing applications stating a much larger increase is required if the government is to come anywhere close to its commitment of having 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in England by the end of this Parliament.

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

  • “Application numbers for the nursing degree in England have reduced by 17.4% since 2016, the final year of the bursary. This means even if the all of the latest applications are turned into acceptances and ultimately registered nurses, the large workforce gap will still not close.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the contribution that nurses, and in particular student nurses, make to the entire health and care system. The effort they have shown has to be met with investment in our future nurses.
  • The government must invest properly in our domestic nursing supply and ensure patient need is met in the long term. To achieve this, it must wipe the debt of those who’ve had to take this on to study, provide full tuition fee support for all students and ensure maintenance support reflects students’ actual living costs.
  • The government should aim for an oversupply of nurses to strengthen our profession and keep patients safe.

Tuition fee refunds

Remember that mass petition for tuition fee refunds that was reopened by the Petitions Committee in Parliament? The Committee heard oral evidence and engaged 28,000 students through a survey and online forum (wider inquiry details here). The Committee has reported (key findings here) concluding that there should not be a universal reimbursement but that individuals can claim refunds on an individual basis in certain circumstances. The Committee stated:

  • While students do have a right to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course if the service provided by their university is substandard, we do not believe that there should be a universal refund or reimbursement of tuition fees to all university students.

However, as the Guardian reports, Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP who chairs the petitions committee, said:

  • “Despite the hard work of lecturers and support staff, some universities have been unable to provide courses in a way that students feel is good value for money. Therefore, while we do not consider that a blanket refund for all students is necessarily required, we believe that the government has a role in ensuring any student whose university experience has fallen short is compensated.”
  • The report calls for refund procedures to be streamlined and better publicised, saying the existing complaints process or use of the courts places too much of a burden on individual students and are likely to be overwhelmed by a flood of cases.
  • The MPs also said the government should pay for tuition fee refunds this year, “given the importance of the higher education sector to the UK economy, and the exceptional circumstances”.

Wonkhe have a blog it starts: Should students get a refund? Some should, says a committee – but they won’t. The House of Commons petitions committee is clueless on consumer law and student rights.

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

  • work with universities, the Office for Students, and Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to produce guidance on when current and future university students may be entitled to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course;
  • establish a new system which enables all students to easily seek a full or partial refund of their tuition fees, or to repeat part of their course;
  • ensure that all students are advised of their consumer rights and are given clear guidance on how to avail themselves of these if they feel their university has failed to provide an adequate standard of education;
  • consider providing additional funding to universities to enable them to pay any refunds university students are entitled to as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak;
  • consider alternative means for reimbursing students, where an independent process has found that they are entitled to a refund;
  • consider making additional funding available to students who might want to extend their education after the outbreak, and to provide ongoing employment advice and support beyond graduation in what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

  • NUS has been calling for the Government to provide a Student Safety Net since the scale of the impact on students became clear. The Petitions Committee’s recommendations would go a long way in achieving this aim, with targeted fee reimbursements and debt write-offs. We also welcome the references to support for further study or to redo elements of the course.
  • Although the report highlights some of our key asks for education leavers, the recent Treasury announcements for graduates do not go far enough and we would like to see an extended economic support package put in place.
  • Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated the cracks in a broken higher education system, and hit students from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities the hardest. It is critical that the Government acts on these suggestions, but they must also go further. We are calling for universal compensation, and for the Government to protect our education sector from the failed project of marketisation before they lose the faith of millions of students.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has been on the ball throughout this process and in light of this week’s announcement they have blogged for Wonkhe:

  • We think it’s reasonable to expect providers to try to agree any significant changes with students as this is in everyone’s best interests. Where this is not possible, it’s important to explain to students what their options are. From our perspective, we would not be prescriptive about what this looks like in practice but we would look at whether the provider has taken reasonable steps to consult with students and enable them to make informed decisions.
  • Now that providers have had some time to plan for the longer-term effects of the pandemic, it is in our view unlikely to be reasonable for providers to rely on exclusion clauses that allow the provider to make significant changes to what it has promised, or not to deliver it at all, in the new year.
  • Where it’s not possible to deliver something that is at least broadly equivalent to what was promised, or to meet an individual students’ needs, the provider will need to think about how to put that right. It’s best to do this proactively without waiting for formal complaints to be raised.
  • There are groups of students whose studies are particularly badly affected by Covid-19 disruption and where significant changes are needed to their courses. It’s important to identify those groups and try to address their issues.
  • Providers will also be aware of and looking out for students who are vulnerable or less able to access replacement provision. Some of these students too may feel unable to continue with their studies, for example because their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or very anxious.
  • In such extraordinary times we think it’s reasonable for students to be considering deferring or interrupting their studies, although this may not be their best option. We think providers should be considering requests sympathetically, helping students to understand their options, and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so.
  • We don’t think it’s reasonable to have blanket policies such as refusing to give tuition fee refunds in any circumstances or refusing all requests for deferral, or not engaging with individual students’ concerns. We have already seen a worrying example of this among the first coronavirus-related complaints that have reached us. 
  • When we review a student’s complaint we look at whether the provider has followed fair procedures, and whether it has acted reasonably in the circumstances. We always take into account relevant legislation and guidance… A student’s contractual terms and conditions are important but we look more widely than that, at what is fair.

Research Professional have a short article on the Petitions Committee decision mainly focusing on restitution for students such as a tuition fee loan refund.

International Students

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) published a roadmap for a world-class international student experience. It calls for further visa flexibility, delaying the immigration health surcharge, and aims to build a stronger evidence base of current international students’ experiences, to drive future policy development and support policy asks. UKCISA also hopes to develop an International Student Charter.

Research Professional report on a survey suggesting that a fifth of potential EU students who considered studying in the UK plan to start their course earlier than they originally intended because of the tuition fee changes (the removal of home status).

Pinsent Masons (legal firm) run through all the recent Visa status changes. The Tier 4 content is just below halfway on this link.

Scotland have confirmed they will also end the free tuition for EU students from 2021. HE Minister Richard Lochhead explained it as a Brexit decision made with a heavy heart. He stated the £19 million  (per year) EU fee saving would be retained within Scotland to support more Scottish residents to attend University. To support Scottish universities internationalisation he aims to put a scholarship programme in place to continue to attract EU talent.

Despite last week’s urging from ex-Universities Minister Jo Johnson and Shadow HE Minister Emma Hardy the Government’s response to the international students in the US (who will have their visa rescinded due to their institution offering online study only during the pandemic) will not take a proactive stance. Current Universities Minister Michelle Donelan simply reiterated all the ‘welcoming’ measures for international students that are already in place such as the online study visa exemption and the post study work visa system. No attractive marketing campaign will be launched. This isn’t surprising from the viewpoint of international relations with an America determined to take offence at slights, however, given how well the Government’s aides have been listening and responding to sector chatter recently a warmer response might have been anticipated.

The second half of this Research Professional article gives the perspective of a German student who is anticipating their visa will be cancelled. It reminds that there is more to it than an undergraduate student forced to choose between deferral or switching countries of study:

  • simply studying online at a US institution from Germany is not feasible for many who had plans to stay in the United States for an extended period of time and have made arrangements accordingly, including uprooting family. 
  • “Anyone who—sometimes accompanied by relatives—is completing or planning a stay of several years in the United States, and has temporarily given up his or her centre of life in Germany for this purpose, is faced with existential questions.”

Happily for those international students the point is now moot. Following immense pressure from the Harvard and MIT law suit (which was joined by the tech giants, e.g. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the US Chamber of Commerce) President Trump has dropped the visa cancellation.

Whether international students will be exempt from the mandatory C-19 quarantine period of 2 weeks.  Whereas this IDP Connect survey suggests 77% of international students would happily quarantine if it meant a quicker return to face to face on campus teaching.

Points-based Immigration System

A policy paper on the points-based immigration system was published this week with more detail on the Student, Graduate and Skilled Worker route. There are lots of items with a little more detail, however, the key points remain as we’ve mentioned in previous policy updates. For those with an interest you can read the main elements here. One key change is that universities will need to do more than just monitor attendance – they will need to confirm (keep records as evidence) that international students have fully engaged with the course. Research Professional have a short write up here.

Graduate Outcomes

HESA released the next set of Graduate Outcomes experimental statistics data, this time looking at graduates’ subjective wellbeing. They asked about how anxious/happy the respondent felt, whether they felt the things they do in their life are worthwhile, and whether they are satisfied with their life. The charts are here. The second set of charts examines the above questions by subject studied. Education and subjects allied to medicine stand out as happiest/most pleased with their life currently.

The third chart shows that there isn’t a lot of difference on the questions from students across the range of degree outcomes from pass to first. The fourth chart looks at gender differences – females stated more anxiety but also rate high on the worthwhileness of their life. You can also cut the data by domicile in the final chart.

Wonkhe’s data guru interprets the findings further in a specific blog.

Social Mobility Commission

Sandra Wallace (lawyer) and Steven Cooper (banking) have been appointed as interim chairs of the Social Mobility Commission on a job share basis. Both currently serve on the Commission and will fill the role temporarily until a substantive chair can be appointed. You can read more on the appointees background and the details of the appointments in the Government’s press release.

Bailout push

YouGov have undertaken a poll examining the 30 marginal constituencies (those which swing between parties at the election and aren’t a safe seat) which all have a (10%+) student population and a university within their catchment. The results of the poll aren’t publicly available (currently) so we rely on the reporting in the UCU press release for details. UCU report that voters in these constituencies support additional Government funding to protect their university from the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic. These constituencies MPs include PM Boris Johnson and Science Minister Amanda Solloway. The bottom of the press release contains a table detailing the constituencies and their elected MPs.

  • 76% felt their local university was important in creating local jobs
  • 79% felt the university was important to the local economy
  • 72% university is key in brining in outside investment to the local area
  • 75% the university supplies key skilled staff for local services such as schools and hospitals
  • 33% of those polled who were employed stated the university was important to their own job
  • 42% knew someone studying or working at the university
  • 66% believe there would be a negative impact on the local economy if student numbers dropped at their university due to C-19
  • 75% were concerned of a negative local impact if their university went bust
  • 55% supported a temporary increase in Government financial support for their university to maintain courses and jobs (20% opposed the idea). [Hardy overwhelming support for this question!]
  • 43% want their local MPs to campaign for increased support for universities

NSS Analysis

The OfS have issued a press release on the 2020 National Student Survey additional analysis which examined the impact of the coronavirus on the results. They state that student satisfaction is stable and students continue to be discontented with course organisation and communication of changes.

  • The additional analysis acknowledges variations across the data but no evidence the results have been significantly impacted by the pandemic: The OfS used a statistical model to determine whether there is a significant difference between responses made before and after the 11 March (an ’11 March effect’) when other factors are taken into account. The model found that there is a difference for the majority of questions, but similar variations are also present in 2018 and 2019, so cannot be attributed solely to the pandemic.
  • 83% of students are satisfied with their course (2019 was 84%)
  • 67% feel their course is well organised and run smoothly (2019 = 70%; 2018 = 69%)
  • 62% felt students’ course feedback had been acted on (but only 49% of part time students did)
  • 2020 response levels were lower than in 2019 and 2018
  • Overall comparing against 2019 there is a small negative shift in the agreement rate for some questions.

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

  • This academic year has come with unprecedented challenges for both universities and colleges, and their students. Notwithstanding the impact of both industrial action and the coronavirus pandemic on the students responding to the survey, the results remain remarkably positive.
  • However, for several years, students have reported comparatively lower satisfaction with the organisation and management of their courses, and how effectively changes are communicated. Now more than ever, the survey results demonstrate how important it is for universities to communicate changes effectively, run courses as smoothly as possible, and listen carefully to student feedback. This is even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic …

 Student Number Controls

This week Jo Johnson writes for the Evening Standard. The piece tackles how student number controls and, reading between the lines, possible changes to the funding of certain degree programmes that the Government might be considering (remember Jo himself was in favour of differential fees and tried to bring in through the HERA legislation linked to the quality of the TEF judgement – but the Lords protested) could negatively impact on arts programmes.

  • Up until the Coronavirus struck, they [the creative industries] were growing at five times the rate of the economy and generating around 15 per cent of national gross value-added. Enabling historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema to access emergency grants and loans while their doors are closed is a no-brainer.
  • For policy to be fully joined up, however, the Department for Education must take care over how it operates recently re-imposed domestic student number controls. This risks turning into a crude process to allocate places – and therefore funding – on the basis of flawed measures of graduate earnings. This would unfairly penalise creative arts courses already in the cross-hairs of higher education sceptics in Parliament fired up by Gavin Williamson’s denunciation of the Blair-era target for 50 per cent of young people to go to university. If we have learnt anything lately, it is to value socially useful but lower-earning professions.
  • It would be incoherent to open the door to international talent to work across our economy, while restricting opportunities for domestic students to prepare themselves for careers in the arts. An economic nonsense too: the creative industries were generating £13 million for the economy every hour before Covid-19 – enough to repay the subsidy to arts courses in the student loan book many times over.
  • Our creative industries will only recover if we supply them with the skills and talent vital for their success.

Research

  • A parliamentary question asking whether HE institutions can combine all the sources of Government support.
  • Covid-19 researchers will receive visa relaxation measures.
  • An answer to a parliamentary question we mentioned last week has revealed that UKRI administers 70% of the research public funding (UK sources).
  • Establishing an effective coordination and oversight mechanism to serve the R&D spectrum in the UK – a Science for the Justice System Advisory Group has been established working with UKRI to coordinate forensic science in the UK.
  • Direct air capture R&D funding
  • Institutions eligible for research funding (influence of REF award)
  • Wellcome have a new blog – How could COVID-19 change research culture for the better?
  • Research Professional (RP) report that participation in Horizon Europe is dead in all but name – there are concerns over the terms on which the UK could associate with the EU’s research funding schemes and the cost of the joining fee plus the operational contribution is described as eye-watering. Cost estimates range from 600 million Euros to 12 billion Euros – way beyond the costs UK researchers could win back in funding. The article states that Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, said EU academia remains firmly behind UK association, and said British institutions must pile pressure on their government. If you’re not going to push anymore, nobody is. And that the European Commission has clearly indicated that this [terms/contribution] is still up for negotiation. Deketelaere implies it is the UK Government who are balking at joining Horizon Europe not the European Commission. However, there are question marks over the joining charge – the UK’s fee is being set out whereas it is unclear if the EU will charge other non-EU countries for association. RP report that the Treasury also expect the costs to come out of existing research budgets (previously it was going to be in addition to the science budget) because of the generous sums announced recently (and due to the cost of the pandemic for the Government). RP state:  Government sources now question whether the UK research community will be willing to blow a multibillion-pound hole in research budgets for the sake of access to the prestigious European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Awards.

RP continue:

  • While there are now clouds on the horizon for the UK’s participation in EU research schemes, all of this is subject to the caveat that negotiations over both a Brexit trade deal and the terms of Horizon Europe are still ongoing. Everything could change, but all available evidence suggests that the UK government is now preparing an exit strategy and has its excuse lined up already.
  • Playbook suspects that as Brexit trade deal talks intensify after the summer, UK universities will be presented with a choice between paying over the odds to play in Europe or settling for beefed-up domestic schemes administered by UK Research and Innovation. For vice-chancellors, the wallet will say UKRI although the heart may say EU—is it a price worth paying?
  • But, in the end, this is not a decision that will be made in universities.

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.

Other news

Disadvantage: The OfS has published their latest briefing note which considers outreach to disadvantaged students during the coronavirus. It describes online outreach including two case studies of a blended summer school type model, and other approaches targeted towards BAME, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families, mature learners, and other vulnerable or underrepresented groups.

HE Sector Financial Health: The House of Commons Library have published a briefing Coronavirus: Financial impact on HE. It covers the financial health of the sector, the impact of reduced international student numbers, the Government support packages (fee payments and research funding) and the R&D roadmap.

Student Loans: The SLC have launched a new online repayment service – it calculates a student’s up to date remaining loan balance. It aims to avoid over payments as students near the end of their repayments.

Prevent: Wonkhe report on the latest report reviewing Prevent. Wonkhe say:

  • The government’s Prevent strategy has led to the persistence of negative stereotypes of Muslims and “a culture of mutual suspicion and surveillance” on campus, according to a new reportled by Alison Scott-Bauman at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). “Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: perceptions and challenges” recommends that there is a “strong argument” for Prevent to be discontinued in its current form, having curbed freedoms of speech and expression on campus.
  • Though there is ample evidence of widespread tolerance for all forms of religious activity among staff and students (with 88.1 per cent of students agreeing that “The experience of university encourages respect and mutual understanding among people who have different perspectives on life”), the research found a close link between belief in a “narrative of suspicion” about Islam, support for Prevent, and patterns of Islamophobia. The report recommends building awareness of Islamophobia via training and development, consultation, representation, and the encouragement of interfaith dialogue via free and frank debate based on the principle of mutual respect. The report is covered by the Guardian(along with an opinion piece by the report’s author) and the Telegraph.

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

Chinese relations: HEPI published UK Universities and China a series of essays on the challenges and complexities of the relationship between UK universities and China. It includes self-censorship; the importance of UK-China scientific research; and the recruitment and integration of Chinese students

Separately there is a recent YouGov poll which asks about UK/Chineses relationships. The interactive version of the chart is here.

Not just Brexit: Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) writes for UKandEU.com –  Universities and Brexit: past, present and future. It doesn’t just cover Brexit, but highlights that UK students get far less out of Erasmus than the incoming EU students studying in the UK, it even mentions this week’s bingo winner – the Blair 50% target. A longer read and some interesting points.

Student Experience: Pearson and Wonkhe have collaborated to examine students’ experience of learning during C-19 and their expectations for next year (shorter blog here).

  • 41% struggled to manage their wellbeing without in person contact with friends and university staff.
  • 34% found the new ways of learning challenging.
  • 34% struggled to manage their time without an enforced timetable.
  • 29% found the isolation difficult.
  • 34% struggled with lack of space or a quiet enough environment to study within.
  • 49% felt less confident to progress to their next step in their education or career –
    • with 13% of the 49% attributing this to external (non-university) factors (economy, jobs, research funding).
    • The factors relating to university were loss of industry experience, loss of practical skills development, lack of academic contact time, a lower sense of quality of learning experience.
  • 43% (of current students) plan to defer the next academic year to take a year out or look for work experience
  • 20% plan to leave education entirely (its unclear whether these were already final year students)
  • Of those planning to defer/leave 28% was because they didn’t want another semester of online study or the loss of practical experience reduced the value of their degree or because the logistics of travel, accommodation and teaching were too uncertain.
  • 47% of those who felt they had missed out (e.g. lab or studio based work) believe they should receive a fee reduction or refund as compensation. However, a quarter want to make up the missed experience at a safer later date, and 15% were willing to experience online. 10% didn’t feel it was the university’s responsibility to atone for the loss of experience.
  • On welfare the blog states:

One key message from the survey is that while students are clear that their wellbeing is suffering, the action they want universities to take is in the teaching and learning domain, rather than the welfare domain. Responses throughout the survey suggest that wellbeing issues are not simply the result of students being at home and the concerns over Covid-19, but that the way that universities have managed interactions and online learning has increased their anxiety, and had a negative impact on their wellbeing. It’s not simply about putting support mechanisms in place to help students with their wellbeing; it’s about stopping the causes.

  • 59% want universities to offer high quality online teaching as their priority for September rather than social interaction, well being support or access to learning resources.

Graduate outlook: Wonkhe report that research from Adunza finds that the number of graduate jobs available this summer has fallen by 73 per cent since the start of the year. Because larger employers are delaying graduate schemes due to the pandemic just 3,993 jobs are currently available, meaning that 100 graduates could be competing for each available job. FE news has the story.

HE Student Numbers: The House of Commons Library have published a paper on HE student numbers. It states: Headline student numbers have increased to new record levels in recent years following a short dip related to the 2012 reforms in the sector. There have been continued increases in entry rates for different groups of students, including those from disadvantaged areas/backgrounds where rates have also hit new record levels. However, headline numbers tend to focus on full-time undergraduates and there are ongoing concerns about student numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive. This includes part-time undergraduates, particularly those not studying first degrees, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries, especially Nigeria and Malaysia, mature students and some disadvantaged groups.

There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 9th July 2020

A lot about skills and employment in the “mini-budget” this week.  There is quite a lot on the “poor quality courses” debate, and on the financial impact of the virus on young people and on universities.  Plus some regulatory changes that are starting to look ominous…

A Universities Minister who thinks people shouldn’t bother going to University?

Amidst ongoing rhetoric over allegedly poor quality courses and poor student outcomes (we reported on the Minister’s speech last week) and we report on the debate in the House of Lords below which included some strong lines, including this one from Lord Blencathra:

  • .. we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid.”

This week Wonkhe have made it their mission to find these courses – they conclude the data doesn’t bear this out.  Not least because past performance isn’t necessarily any indication of future performance in the jobs market or at a university.  A course whose students may indeed have had poor outcomes 10 years ago might, or perhaps would almost certainly, have changed by now (or what have the QAA, OfS etc been doing all this time and where is the impact of the TEF?).  Of course, the rhetoric muddles institutional outcomes, subject outcomes and the outcomes of particular courses.  It ignores regional disparities in employment opportunities and he different demographic of the students who attend each university.  It also (my pet peeve, as you will know if you read this blog often) assumes that you can look at courses this way because the progression between courses and jobs is linear and therefore all social sciences students go on to have (potentially low earning) careers in community work, so it’s easy, just stop subsidising social sciences.  In fact some of them become Secretaries of State for Education – strange how they forget. Would it have made a difference to his career earnings if Gavin Williamson had studied engineering?  If you think that’s a silly question, that’s my point!

There have been numerous social media and newspaper blogs addressing Michelle’s unfavourable speech last week (delivered at a disadvantaged access conference too).  One does wonder if it was just the clumsiness of her speech writers but it’s probably unfair to blame them. Did she really intend to suggest universities were dumbing down so they could admit disadvantaged students – or was it a general ‘bums on seats’ dig gone wrong?

Wonkhe have long said that Whitehall dislike their Ministers cosying up to the sector – think Chris Skidmore, David Willetts, and even Sam Gyimah did try (though it didn’t really work for the self styled Minister for Students). Donelan is certainly keen to show herself to toe the party line, and we know the refocus on technical education and FE support is coming (and contrary to Augar’s recommendations) will likely result in some level of defunding of HE.

So where does this leave the widening participation agenda? If we listen to the Government or media it seems the sector is to blame, despite the new, stringent Access and Participation Plans rigorously overseen by the OfS (whose golden status also appears to be slipping). Shifting the focus away from the prospective students themselves and shoving them into a deficit model where universities must ‘do’ to correct the disadvantage in their lives. …  Are they planning to stop contextual admissions (note they are still allowed under the new OfS licence condition)?

Just one example,, of the sector push back against Donelan’s speech is found in the gently disappointed Guardian article penned by Chris Husbands (VC Sheffield Hallam)

  • My personal history, and my family’s experience, make me very worried when government ministers lose faithin the power of universities to transform lives.
  • When pushed, very few politicians or journalists can actually identify these courses which “do nothing” or are “low value”.
  • They are odd lines, because they contradict the government’s own ambitions. Michael Gove laid it out for them just a few days before: a future built around “big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and further automation, 3D printing, quantum computing”, along with “genetic sequencing and screening, gene editing and other life science and biotech advances”.
  • The 21st century world is a knowledge-led world. Value is generated not through low- or mid-level skills but economic, social and technological transformation. It’s universities which are our best bet for the future because they produce advanced knowledge and research. That’s why all the world’s advanced economies are investing in higher education.

Wonkhe tell us that “Gavin Williamson is expected to give a speech designed to flesh out the government’s post-18 strategy. But don’t expect to like what you hear.” 

Budget

You’ll have read the analyses of the mini budget in the press.  Apart from stamp duty, green homes vouchers,  “eat out to help out” and the VAT cut for food and non-alcoholic drinks, it was mostly focussed on jobs – retaining and creating new ones, with a particular focus on young people.

It was not expected that there would be any announcements about HE, so we should not feel disappointed – this is all about skills and jobs for those who were not planning to go to university in September and face unemployment.

Apart from the headlines, the details are here.

  • Job Retention Bonus – The government will introduce a one-off payment of £1,000 to UK employers for every furloughed employee who remains continuously employed through to the end of January 2021. Employees must earn above the Lower Earnings Limit (£520 per month) on average between the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the end of January 2021. Payments will be made from February 2021. Further detail about the scheme will be announced by the end of July.
  • Kickstart Scheme – The government will introduce a new Kickstart Scheme in Great Britain, a £2 billion fund to create hundreds of thousands of high quality 6-month work placements aimed at those aged 16-24 who are on Universal Credit and are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding available for each job will cover 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.
  • New funding for National Careers Service – The government will provide an additional £32 million funding over the next 2 years for the National Careers Service so that 269,000 more people in England can receive personalised advice on training and work.
  • High quality traineeships for young people – The government will provide an additional £111 million this year for traineeships in England, to fund high quality work placements and training for 16-24 year olds. This funding is enough to triple participation in traineeships. For the first time ever, the government will fund employers who provide trainees with work experience, at a rate of £1,000 per trainee. The government will improve provision and expand eligibility for traineeships to those with Level 3 qualifications and below, to ensure that more young people have access to high quality training.
  • Payments for employers who hire new apprentices – The government will introduce a new payment of £2,000 to employers in England for each new apprentice they hire aged under 25, and a £1,500 payment for each new apprentice they hire aged 25 and over, from 1st August 2020 to 31st January 2021. These payments will be in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the government already provides for new 16-18 year-old apprentices, and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan – where that applies.
  • High value courses for school and college leavers – The government will provide £101 million for the 2020-21 academic year to give all 18-19 year olds in England the opportunity to study targeted high value Level 2 and 3 courses when there are not employment opportunities available to them.
  • Expanded Youth Offer – The government will expand and increase the intensive support offered by DWP in Great Britain to young jobseekers, to include all those aged 18-24 in the Intensive Work Search group in Universal Credit.
  • Enhanced work search support – The government will provide £895 million to enhance work search support by doubling the number of work coaches in Jobcentre Plus before the end of the financial year across Great Britain.
  • Expansion of the Work and Health Programme – The government will provide up to £95 million this year to expand the scope of the Work and Health Programme in Great Britain to introduce additional voluntary support in the autumn for those on benefits that have been unemployed for more than 3 months. This expansion will have no impact on the existing provision for those with illnesses or disabilities in England and Wales.
  • Job finding support service – The government will provide £40 million to fund private sector capacity to introduce a job finding support service in Great Britain in the autumn. This online, one-to-one service will help those who have been unemployed for less than three months increase their chances of finding employment.
  • Flexible Support Fund – The government will increase the funding for the Flexible Support Fund by £150 million in Great Britain, including to increase the capacity of the Rapid Response Service.1 It will also provide local support to claimants by removing barriers to work such as travel expenses for attending interviews. 2.21 New funding for sector-based work academies – The government will provide an additional £17 million this year to triple the number of sector-based work academy placements in England in order to provide vocational training and guaranteed interviews for more people, helping them gain the skills needed for the jobs available in their local area.

More detail is also provided on measures announced by the PM on 30th June.

There are some research-related announcements.

  • Office for Talent – The government will create a new Office for Talent based in No.10, with delivery teams across government departments. The Office will focus on attracting, retaining and developing top research and science talent across the UK and internationally.
  • Direct Air Capture – The government will provide £100 million of new funding for researching and developing Direct Air Capture, a new clean technology which captures CO2 from the air.
  • Automotive Transformation Fund – Building on the announcement last year of up to £1 billion of additional funding to develop and embed the next generation of cutting-edge automotive technologies, the government is making £10 million of funding available immediately for the first wave of innovative R&D projects to scale up manufacturing of the latest technology in batteries, motors, electronics and fuel cells. The government is also calling upon industry to put forward investment proposals for the UK’s first ‘gigafactory’ and supporting supply chains to mass manufacture cutting-edge batteries for the next generation of electric vehicles, as well as for other strategic electric vehicle technologies.
  • World-class laboratories – The government will provide a £300 million investment in 2020-21 to boost equipment and infrastructure across universities and institutes across the UK

Guardian report on the new Office for Talent.

NHS investment

  • NHS maintenance and A&E capacity – The government will provide £1.05 billion in 2020-21 to invest in NHS critical maintenance and A&E capacity across England.
  • Modernising the NHS mental health estate – The government will provide up to £250 million in 2020-21 to make progress on replacing outdated mental health dormitories with 1,300 single bedrooms across 25 mental health providers in England.
  • Health Infrastructure Plan – The government will provide a further £200 million for the Health Infrastructure Plan18 to accelerate a number of the 40 new hospital building projects across England.

And on the education estate (not HE):

  • Further Education (FE) estate funding – Building on the £1.5 billion commitment for FE capital funding made at Budget 2020, the government will bring forward £200 million to 2020-21 to support colleges to carry out urgent and essential maintenance projects. This will be the first step in the government’s commitment to bring the facilities of colleges everywhere in England up to a good level.
  • School estate funding – The government will provide additional funding of £560 million for schools in England to improve the condition of their buildings and estates in 2020-21. This is on top of the £1.4 billion already invested in school maintenance this year.
  • School rebuilding programme – The government has announced over £1 billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme in England. These projects will be confirmed in the autumn, and further detail on future waves will be confirmed at the Comprehensive Spending Review. Construction on the first sites will begin in September 2021.

LEP funding for local infrastructure:

  • Local infrastructure projects – The government will provide £900 million for shovelready projects in England in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to drive local growth and jobs. This could include the development and regeneration of key local sites, investment to improve transport and digital connectivity, and innovation and technology centres. Funding will be provided to Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Budget context

A slightly different response to a PQ about supporting graduates through the gloomy economic outlook from the Universities Minister:

Douglas Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has to support graduates looking for employment (a) during and (b) after the covid-19 outbreak.

Michelle Donelan:

  • Our economic priority is to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our economy as far as possible. This is an incredibly difficult period for everyone, and we understand that graduates are likely to feel concerned as they enter a far tougher job market than those before them.
  • Some universities are going above and beyond to support those graduating this summer, providing extensive online careers advice, including webinars offering interview and CV-writing tips and skills and follow-up one-to-one calls. However, we need all universities to step up and play a key role to help graduates take the next step, whether into work or further study.
  • The recently announced National Tutoring Programme creates an opportunity for graduates to apply for tutoring roles providing support for pupils and schools in the most disadvantaged areas. More details of the programme will be available shortly.
  • We know that post-graduates often secure employment in higher skilled and higher paid employment than graduates and non-graduates. The government can support with the financial burden of accessing a master’s degree with a loan of up to £11,222. Where graduates are considering a career in teaching, tax-free postgraduate bursaries of up to £26,000 are available for trainee teachers starting initial teacher training in 2020/21, depending on the subject in which they train to tea

The Institute for Fiscal Studies have published COVID-19 and the career prospects of young people and a report on the ‘Prolonged cost’ to young people from COVID-19 career disruption.

The new IFS research, funded by the Turing Institute, shows that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to severely disrupt the career progression of young workers, suggesting that negative economic impacts on this age group may last well beyond the easing of the lockdown. The new research finds that:

  • Over the last decade, young people starting out in the labour market have increasingly been working in relatively low-paid occupations, many of which are in sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis – for example, hospitality and non-food retail.
  • The growing importance of those ‘lockdown sectors’ as employers of workers at the start of their careers is primarily due to an expansion of the accommodation and food industry. The share of workers starting their careers in this sector increased by about 50%, from 6% to 9%, between 2007 and 2019.
  • As other sources of wage growth have dried up, young workers have become increasingly reliant on moving into higher-paying occupations as a source of early-career wage growth. Around 28% of wage growth over the first five years of the careers of workers born in the 1970s could be attributed to moving into a higher-paying occupation. This had risen to 50% or more among people born in the 1980s.
  • The pandemic threatens to have a prolonged negative economic impact on young people by reducing demand for the jobs that are typical among early-career workers and making it harder for workers to find better opportunities than their current jobs.
  • The government should have a particular focus on the challenges facing the young as it attempts to manage the labour market impacts of COVID-19 in the coming months.

IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research has published a report, Guaranteeing the Right Start, Preventing Youth Unemployment after COVID-19.

  • There is a strong case for bold policy interventions to prevent youth unemployment. Becoming NEET results in a ‘scarring effect’ that lowers long-term employment prospects and earning potential (Gregg and Tominey 2004). Furthermore, those from the poorest backgrounds and with the lowest qualifications are likely to be the worst affected (Henehan 2020). Each person that is out of work and education for six months or more costs on average £65,000 in direct lifetime costs to public finances and £120,000 in wider lifetime costs to the economy and community (Coles et al 2010). But ultimately becoming unemployed is a deep personal crisis with impacts on health, self-worth, identity and status.
  • We recommend the creation of a new ‘Opportunity Guarantee’ for young people: the government should ensure that every young person is either in education or work. The government’s main aim in the short term should be to prevent a rise in youth unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. But, looking beyond the crisis, they should be aiming even higher: to eliminate all but the most temporary experience of being NEET amongst all young people. This will require government to keep young people in education for longer – but more radically, it also demands a fundamental rethink of labour market policy in the UK (the focus of this paper). This programme should be spearheaded by the prime minster as part of a campaign to inspire businesses to ‘do their bit’, by hiring young people during the crisis as part of an ‘investment in the future of our nation’.
  • Fulfilling this promise will require a new, more active, approach to labour market policy. In recent decades, the UK has embraced a liberal welfare regime, meaning a flexible labour market with limited government intervention, and a welfare system designed to promote ‘work first’ through low replacement rates, conditionality and sanctions. This approach is always questionable, but it is particularly problematic in an environment of high and persistent unemployment. We must now take a more empathetic and interventionist approach, drawing on the Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) used more extensively elsewhere. If the UK spent the same proportion of GDP on these policies as other advanced European countries, we would invest £8.5 billion more a year in preventing unemployment. Some of these measures are outlined in this paper but government must also take action for older people as well, for example, through reforming and extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Financial sustainability

And continuing the financial theme, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a briefing entitled Will universities need a bailout to survive the COVID-19 crisis? The briefing note examines the resilience of university finances to the likely consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak and the public health response to it.

  • The total size of the university sector’s losses is highly uncertain: we estimate that long-run losses could come in anywhere between £3 billion and £19 billion, or between 7.5% and nearly half of the sector’s overall income in one year. Our central estimate of total long-run losses is £11 billion or more than a quarter of income in one year.
  • The biggest losses will likely stem from falls in international student enrolments (between £1.4 billion and £4.3 billion, with a central estimate of £2.8 billion) and increases in the deficits of university-sponsored pension schemes, which universities will eventually need to cover (up to £7.6 billion, with a central estimate of £3.8 billion). In addition, the sector faces lockdown-related losses of income from student accommodation and conference and catering operations, as well as financial losses on long-term investments.
  • Large sector-level losses mask substantial differences between institutions. In general, institutions with a large share of international students and those with substantial pension obligations are most affected. These tend to be higher-ranking institutions as well as postgraduate and music & arts institutions. Some of the least selective universities, which rely largely on domestic fee income, will also be badly hit if higher ranked universities admit more UK students to make up for the shortfall in their international enrolments. While recently introduced student number caps will constrain some of this behaviour, there are still likely to be falls in student numbers at the least selective institutions.
  • Universities are unlikely to be able to claw back a large portion of these losses through cost savings unless they make significant numbers of staff redundant. In our central scenario, we estimate that cost savings could reduce the overall bill by only £600 million or around 6% without redundancies. The potential for cost savings varies across universities: institutions with a larger proportion of temporary staff will likely be able to make larger savings, but this may impact teaching quality
  • For the university sector as a whole, net losses in our central scenario are only slightly larger than five years of surplus at the pre-crisis level. Assuming that the underlying profitability of universities remains unchanged, the total financial reserves of the higher education sector could still be roughly the same in 2024 as they were in 2019, even without a government bailout.
  • Whether COVID-related losses put a given institution at risk of insolvency largely depends on its profitability and its balance sheet position before the crisis, rather than on its predicted losses from COVID-19. The institutions with the highest predicted losses all have large financial buffers and are therefore at little risk of insolvency. The institutions at the greatest risk tend to have smaller predicted losses, but had already entered the crisis in poor financial shape.
  • In our central scenario, 13 universities educating around 5% of students would end up with negative reserves and thus may not be viable in the long run without a government bailout or debt restructuring. A very tightly targeted bailout aimed at keeping these institutions afloat could cost around £140 million. In comparison, a one-off increase in teaching grants of £1,000 per UK/EU student would cost £1.8 billion but in our central scenario would only push three institutions above the line of zero reserves.
  • There is considerable uncertainty over actual risks to institutions and a trade-off between highly targeted and more general support. And additional support might not be aimed purely at preventing insolvencies. But there is a big gap in cost between a very targeted bailout costing perhaps less than £200 million and the more generalised bailout proposed by Universities UK, which would cost £3.2 billion and at the same time provide very little support to most universities that appear to be most at risk of insolvency; according to our modelling, only two institutions would be pushed above the line of zero reserves by this proposed policy. Government will need to be very clear about the purpose of any bailout package and design it accordingly.
  • Lightly regulated Alternative Providers educate around 3% of all students in the higher education sector. Many of these providers have low reserves and rely almost exclusively on tuition fees for their income. Alternative Providers with a large share of international students are at a significant risk of insolvency, potentially leaving students unable to complete their degrees.

Further to this, the Higher Education Policy Institute has published a response to the report. Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

  • “The IfS report is as lucid and clear as we have come to expect from them. They are right that universities with more international students and bigger pension liabilities are more directly affected by Covid than others and also that institutions which were financially weak before the pandemic are the ones most at risk of actual insolvency. They are also right that the arguments for extra support for universities in the crisis are strong. But that doesn’t mean they’re right overall.
  • “There are three important points to note.
  • “First, the range of projected short-term financial losses for universities, which the IfS calculates at between £3 billion and £19 billion, is so enormous that it’s pretty meaningless in terms of planning ahead. It’s such a huge fan of uncertainty that it doesn’t help either universities or policymakers know where they stand.
  • “Secondly, there are too many reports around at the moment that take old opinion polls of how students might behave as the gospel truth. We know from when tuition fees in England went to £9k that polls which ask students how they might behave are a woeful guide to the future, and the IfS’s figures on student numbers should therefore be taken with a lorry load of salt.
  • “For example, the IfS are assuming there will be 10% fewer UK students, yet the latest UCAS figures show the opposite trend. Who would choose to have a gap year at the moment, when travel and job opportunities are so limited? The IfS are also predicting a 50% drop in EU students as a result of the pandemic, even though 2020 is the last year when they will be treated like home students. Unless there is a major second wave of Covid-19, the IfS’s “central” estimate for the short-term financial losses would be better labelled “pessimistic” and their “pessimistic” estimate would be better labelled “extreme”.
  • “Thirdly, the oddest feature of the IfS report is how very little it has to say on university research. When universities have less income and face big deficits, they can opt to stem the financial losses by doing less research as research generally loses money. Less research would be terrible for the UK as it would hamper the post-pandemic recovery. So the quantity of research that institutions can afford must be a bigger part of the wider conversation about university financing.
  • “There is a strong case for continuing government support for universities of all types because of the jobs they provide, the education they deliver and the support they provide to employers as well as the research they undertake.”

David Kernohan looks under the bonnet.

But it’s ok, because Lord Willetts says foreign investors will be keen to help out, as reported by Research Professional.

University Admissions

The Office for Students finally unveiled their new licence condition on admissions practices at the end of last week, after a very long delay. The consultation results can be found here.

They have changed the time frame from the original proposal so that it is no longer retrospective to 11th March. It is in place until September 2021 so covers next year’s admissions cycle. 

There is a general catch all:

  • This condition…. prohibits a provider from engaging in any form of Conduct which, in the reasonable opinion of the OfS, could be expected to have a material negative effect on the Stability and/or Integrity of the English Higher Education Sector

This is interesting because it doesn’t just mean things that any one university does that could on its own have a material negative effect – but takes into account the cumulative negative effect if lots of universities were to do the same thing.  Deciding what might be covered by this vague and subjective definition will be an interesting process for anyone planning creative recruitment strategies.

To help the sector they have clarified some things that are definitely banned, and some things that are definitely allowed.  As you will see, the gap in the middle is quite big.

Banned

  • They have banned all conditional unconditional offers.
  • They have banned “false or misleading” claims to persuade people from going to another university (surely this would have been subject to action by the ASA in any case).

Allowed

  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already attained particular academic achievementswhich are at, or equivalent to, level 3 or above of the Regulated Qualifications Framework;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in connection withadmissions policies and criteria which wholly or mainly require a prospective or existing student to demonstrate abilities in a practical way (including, but not limited, by any type of live performance or submission of evidence of abilities through videos, drawings, paintings, photographic pictures, audio recordings, or any other tangible object);
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who has already accredited prior learning (APL), or prior experiential learning (APEL), that can be accredited under academic regulations that were made and brought into force by the provider before 1 September 2019;
  • the use of an Unconditional Offer in respect of a prospective or existing student who meets all of the following requirements: the student was a private candidate registered to take examinations for A-level qualifications(or other qualifications which are equivalent to level 3 qualifications for the purposes of the Regulated Qualifications Framework) in 2020; and  was unable to take examinations for such qualifications before 31 August 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic or obtain grades for such qualifications on an alternative basis as a result of arrangements put in place by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (or, as the case may be, the equivalent body in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland); and iii. is seeking admission to a higher education course which will commence before 1 September 2021;
  • the use of a Contextual Offer in connection with implementing any policy which could reasonably be considered as having the primary aim of promoting Equality of Opportunity.

It seems fairly clear that the OfS are intending to restrict unconditional offer-making in all but these cases, although they haven’t actually spelled that out.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • We have previously highlighted that unconditional offers which are conditional on students accepting a university or college as their first choice put pressure on students and distort their decision making. Widespread use of unconditional offers also risks destabilising the system. Our concerns are even more acute in these exceptional times with the shape of the next few months and years still very unpredictable, and information, advice and guidance less readily available than it may normally be.
  • ‘However, we have ensured that the condition explicitly permits unconditional and contextual offers that are clearly in students’ interests, and which support the transition into higher education for the most disadvantaged students.
  • ‘Students can also be reassured that they should not expect to have any offers that they have already received withdrawn, and where there are good reasons for them to receive an unconditional or contextual offer in future, there is no reason that this cannot go ahead.
  • ‘This condition is designed to avoid instability during the current uncertainty, and to protect students and the higher education sector in these extraordinary circumstances: it will not continue past September 2021. This should allay concerns that we wanted to extend our powers permanently, which we have no intention of doing.
  • ‘The condition is a necessary and proportionate means to ensure the stability and integrity of the English higher education sector, to protect students’ interests and to preserve a diversity of choice for students into the future.’

An anonymous senior figure in an English university has responded in a HEPI blog:

  • Conditional unconditional offers are explicitly ‘prohibited in all circumstances’ but the condition applies to: conduct … which, if repeated by other providers, is likely to have a material negative effect on the stability and/or integrity of the English Higher Education Sector (whether or not there is any form of express or tacit coordination, and whether or not a provider is able to anticipate the actions of other providers).’
  • Except for cases where applicants are required to ‘demonstrate abilities in a practical way’ – which are explicitly exempted – I think we can predict the end of all unconditional offer making.
  • As the OfS says, a ‘provider needs only to consider the possible negative effects on stability and integrity if other providers did follow suit.’ As the conceptual universe is overflowing with what is possible, it is unlikely that any university will argue that it is not possible that their unconditional offer-making will have negative effects.
  • Many within and outside the sector will not lament the passing of unconditional offer-making. Whatever your views on their relative merits, they had become a stick with which to beat us long before the pandemic hit. But hang on; that’s a problem. The original consultation stated that ‘the conduct that the condition seeks to address is specific to the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic’.
  • No one can plausibly claim that the problem of unconditional offers is ‘specific’ to the pandemic. And while there have been worries about the alleged 30,000 unconditional offers made in the first few days of the pandemic, the OfS’s power will not be retrospective. So these will stand.
  • Indeed, given the current stage of the recruitment cycle, the new power will have marginal effect on 2020 recruitment. However, as it will last until 30 September 2021, it will apply through next year’s recruitment cycle. And, unless the OfS know something few others do, the new power will apply outside the pandemic.
  • One cannot help feeling that the bucket of ordure that was poured over the OfS in response to their original consultation so staggered them that it has taken this long to think of a face-saving way to rescue something from a poorly-argued consultation. Even with grade inflation, it would have warranted no more than a 3rd.
  • Still, one should not be ungenerous. The OfS may have done the sector a great favour. Unconditional offers are very much a collective action problem – if one university offers them, so must others. So a centrally-imposed rule is almost certainly the right approach.
  • However, one can still legitimately worry about the consultation outcome. The OfS was not consulting on the acceptability of unconditional offers; it was consulting on pandemic-specific conduct. The OfS seems to have used the exercise as cover to do something it has wanted to do for a long time.

Research

REF & Roadmap – Following last week’s announcement on the R&D roadmap which promises to investigate and reduce bureaucracy (and UKRI’s intention to consider overhauling REF after 2021) Wonkhe have a nice blog on how they do it in the Netherlands.

The roadmap also contained public funding pledges which intended to attract domestic and international private investment. BEIS have issued a report describing the ‘leverage’ that can be expected. They’ve also published the analysis of the economic modelling behind the 2.4% R&D target under the Industrial Strategy banner.

And the roadmap itself is still subject to much comment and articles continuing to analyse the nuance behind the words. Daniel Zeichner Co-Chair of the Universities APPG stated:

  • [the document was] a curious roadmap—much more of a ramble through a complicated landscape where everything gets a mention.
  • Measures to make the UK more attractive to international researchers are welcome, although whether they will undo the self-inflicted harm caused by leaving the European Union, and ill-considered immigration policies, remains to be seen.
  • Anyone following this roadmap will doubtless recognise much of what is described but will wonder about the destination—little surprise that at the end, we find that we have finally arrived at the start of a conversation.

Research Lottery – THE report on a consortium (including UKRI) who are experimenting to judge whether funding certain types of research project by random selection would reduce unconscious bias. Professor Wilsdon, Research on Research institute, stated:

  • When you are sitting on panels, you can often easily spot the really outstanding applications – or the stuff that isn’t much good – but there is also a middle level of proposals that will probably lead to valuable research where it is very hard to choose between candidates. The distinctions between them are so fine-grain that it is sometimes quite hard to defend why you chose one over another – it is this area where grant funders can be susceptible to implicit bias, whether that is linguistic, institutional or gender bias.
  • [Another]…big motivation is making the process more efficient and whether lotteries can be designed that make the application process faster and lighter touch.
  • However, the “killer question” about lottery-based funding systems is “whether they help to fund better research”. We have no idea about this so far, but we will begin to look at this in the study.

The consortium are also tackling whether grant application criteria lead to inequalities in research funding, whether new definitions or alternatives to excellence can be found, and a six-country study in how research cultures can be made more diverse and inclusive.

ECRs – HEPI has a new blog analysing the R&D Roadmap which draws out the 5 points most relevant and positive to the Early Career Researcher experience:

  • Focusing on the person and attributes (more than uncontrollable citations, grants won, publications achieved)
  • Addressing negative research culture
  • Improving diversity and inclusion within research
  • Addressing the instability of short term grants and contracts
  • ‘New Deal’ for PhD student funding

Of course, these are all intentions and it remains to be seen how to tackle the trickier aspects, particularly in a post-pandemic financially squeezed world, however it is a start.

Parliamentary questions:

Student Number Controls

The Lords debate of the regulations which will bring the student number control into being covered the usual topics, including the limits on the devolved nations recruitment of English students, impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds,  whether there were other incentives that could support universities.

The Lords comments are interesting because we get some different viewpoints. Here’s a little selection.

Lord Blencathra’s comments were notable:

  • First, I am appalled that many universities are ripping off students by refusing to refund part of their fees for non-existent teaching. Over the last six months, university lecturers were on strike for five weeks—more than 1 million students got no teaching whatever. Now, there is no teaching because of Covid-19, and still universities are running the equivalent of Ponzi schemes, like Bernard Madoff racketeers, taking money for a non-existent product while paying themselves huge dividends. I am sorry, but they deserve to be lambasted. Any commercial company which failed to deliver on a contracted service would have to pay compensation. I hope my noble friend can compel our universities to behave honourably.
  • Secondly, I see that the department is considering changing to post-results applications and university courses starting in January. This change is long overdue, and I commend it. It is nonsense to offer conditional places based on predicted results. I hope that the Government will push on with that excellent initiative as soon as possible.
  • Finally, I know my noble friend will not say so, but we have about 30 useless universities at the bottom end of the quality tables. They are taking fees from students for worthless courses which will not get them jobs, and the fees will never be repaid. We desperately need more technical colleges and more skills training, as the Prime Minister said on Tuesday. Will my noble friend look to convert these back to good polytechnics which could do good for the country and real good for young people, rather than them playing at being poor-quality universities?

Lord Chidgey (LD): 

  • My Lords, in the context of this higher education SI on fee limits and student support, Michelle Donelan MP, the Universities Minister, said yesterday: “ higher education should be open to all … who are qualified by ability and attainment.”
  • True social mobility would put students, their needs and career ambitions first—be that in HE, FE or apprenticeships—and must be funded accordingly.

Lord Desai (Lab)

  • My Lords, I find this regulation a little strange. We have faced a surprising pandemic, and some universities have tried to defend themselves against possible losses by recruiting more people than they are supposed to. As far as I can understand these complex things, the universities which have offered more places than they are supposed to will be punished, not this year but next year. That is the kind of Stalinist rationing I do not understand.
  • If universities are taking the initiative to defend themselves against the adverse effects of the virus, they should be rewarded, because they are looking ahead. At least next year, if you are going to punish them for this, please punish them mildly, spread the punishment over more than one year and, if possible, do not punish them at all, because they are doing good work and we need good-quality higher education. Therefore, this is the time not to be harsh on universities but to be kind to higher education, just as the Government are very kind to companies that are going bust and banks which are failing, and so on. If you are being kind to everyone, why not be kind to higher education as well?

Lord  Blencathra  (Con)  said he was “appalled” that universities would not refund students for lost teaching as a result of strikes and then the pandemic. He supported changes to post-result  applications. Finally, he said there should be more technical colleges, and that the bottom 30 universities should be converted “back to good polytechnics.”

Baroness Altmann (Con) asked whether there would be an appeal process for institutions who felt they were treated unfairly by regulations; about the impact of the use of student loan data; and whether smaller specialist higher education institutions could be exempt from these controls.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay:

  • Regarding the consultation period, that the Universities Minister had meetings with representatives across the sector, including Universities UK. The research package announced recently by the Government was UK wide.
  • With regards to devolution, Parkinson said the problem was acute in England; and there was not an intention to interfere with devolution. He said that the ” funding of English-domiciled students is not a devolved matter “; and that devolved nations would be able to continue setting their own fees.
  • On the point of disadvantaged students, Parkinson said the Government expected higher education providers to support such students; and that the Department of Education was seeing to identify steps to assist this.  Apprenticeships would be excluded from number controls.
  • Parkinson said that the issue of the quality of providers was a condition of registration with the Office for students. Appeals for providers regarding controls would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • For students from  migrants  families, Parkinson clarified that individuals who had spent the previous three years in the UK could access support equal to most other students.
  • The Government cared about the HE  sector  and the opportunities it provided to all whom use it.

The regulations were approved.

Post-pandemic recovery

The Department for Education published guidance entitled Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses.

This document is designed to help providers of higher education in England to understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and provide services to students, keeping as many people as possible self-isolating and out of educational settings if they are symptomatic, practising good hand and respiratory hygiene and keeping 2 metres apart from those they do not live with wherever possible. From 4 July, where 2 metres is not viable, reducing the distance down to a minimum of 1 metre can be used but only if appropriate mitigation is in place.

The House of Commons Library have published Coronavirus: Easing lockdown restrictions in FE & HE in England exploring the student number controls, re-opening campuses, graduate employability and lack of catch up funding for FE colleges.

EU Students and Student Mobility

Student Mobility – The Times have an opinion piece discussing the building blocks that the UK alternative to Erasmus should incorporate.

EU Students – An Oxford academic is calling for a Government funded EU scholarship scheme to attract high quality European students into British universities. Research Professional report on a survey by a European student website (Study.eu) where 84%  of potential students said they would “definitely not” study in the UK if their fees roughly doubled to the same amount paid by non-EU international students. 60% of the respondents would have begun university in the 2021-22 academic year.  Study.eu Chief Executive Gerrit Bruno Blöss stated: It is unfortunate that the political process leads to such negative consequences for students and universities…UK’s universities have a lot to offer, but they are facing strong competition on the continent.

T levels

Ahead of the skills and training announcements set out above, Gillian Keegan, Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships had already announced a new package of support to help employers and FE providers deliver high-quality industry placements for T-levels.

  • T Levels – high-quality technical alternatives equivalent to three A Levels – have been created in collaboration with industry experts so students gain the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and so businesses can access the workforce they need to thrive.
  • A unique part of a T Level will be the completion of a high-quality industry placement – of at least 315 hours, or approximately 45 days – where students will build the knowledge and skills and develop the confidence they need in a workplace environment.

The package includes:

  • New guidance setting out the key roles and responsibilities for providers and employers, and a new guide for students to help them prepare for their placement, with hands on support and advice so everyone can get the best experience possible.
  • Additional delivery models for employers and providers including new models for the way industry placements can be delivered in the Construction and Engineering & Manufacturing routes, to reflect modern practices, and allowing Capacity and Delivery Fund placements to be delivered over two academic years, to bring them in line with T Levels, with a reduced delivery target of 25% for the 2020/21 academic year, to reflect the impact of the coronavirus on employers.
  • In recognition of the impact of coronavirus on employers, the government will extend the Employer Support Fund pilot, launched in September 2019, to offer financial support to employers in selected regions where funding is a barrier to them hosting high-quality industry placements. The Employer Support Package, a suite of online guidance, case studies and workshops to help employers to host high-quality industry placements, will also continue: and
  • The government will also procure an organisation with the appropriate expertise to support 2020, 2021 and 2022 providers to help them deliver high-quality placements in line with the delivery guidance.

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills said:

  • The first three T Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction, Digital Production, Design and Development and Education and Childcare will be taught from September 2020 with more rolled out gradually between 2021 and 2023. The new qualifications will play a key part in rebuilding the economy after the coronavirus outbreak, boosting access to high-quality technical education for thousands of young people so they can progress to the next level, whether that is getting a job, going on to further study or an apprenticeship.

Other Parliamentary questions

There were a lot of questions on tuition fees for healthcare/nursing students.

Other news

Skills: The EU have set out a 5-year Skills Agenda with policy priorities and targets bringing industry, education and employment agencies together. While this focuses only on EU states it is interesting to note the similarity to the UK context with the increased focus on skills and tackling employment gaps. Including a Council which will make recommendations on vocational education and training.

Force Majeure: If you like a short technical read there is a blog from Shakespeare Martineau on the force majeure clause which allows for extraordinary occurrences in relation to delivery of contracts. The blog takes apart the OfS expectation that it won’t apply to students commencing in 2020/21 questioning whether the OfS position is correct:

  • While all providers have been planning and making strenuous efforts to deliver programmes in the wake of the pandemic, the OIA’s view presupposes that they can simply now return to the status quo ante in September, any deviation from provision as originally promised being a matter of expedience or discretion for the provider and therefore subject to students’ consent.
  • Students who will enrol for the first time in September 2020 will have been made offers which reflected the delivery models of a pre-COVID world, and they will have accepted their offers on those terms. The pandemic nevertheless continues, the threat of transmission subsists, the spectre of a second peak looms larger with each easing of the lockdown, and there is no clear guidance on whether and how providers can resume delivery as promised and safely. Pubs and restaurants, which are permitted to re-open from July, are doing so but in a way that is significantly different from the services we all enjoyed consuming until March.  Why are HE providers different?
  • The OIA clearly believes that, given the passage of time since the outbreak, providers have had time to mitigate its effects.  That may well be the case, though some providers would argue otherwise.  Mitigating effects now for September enrolments, however, does not mean that providers can fulfil promises made pre-COVID without any changes from offers originally made and accepted.  The OIA’s dismissal of force majeure reliance is therefore hard to understand and unhelpful to providers facing an increase in student complaints.

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HE Policy Update 1st July 2020

There’s been so much news recently we had to delay our two most recent ‘tomes’ to bring you coverage of the full debate. With this policy update being issued two days after the last we were hoping you’d breeze through a light read. However, Parliament has other intentions. Apprenticeships and FE have been big mentions this week, so far UK students aren’t deferring in droves, there’s new LEO data, the PM’s big speech wasn’t just about buildings, and – much fanfare – the R&D investment roadmap has been published (scarily it almost seems as if the writers have been paying attention to sector reports and campaigners recently). And the Minister for Universities thinks first in family children shouldn’t bother, at a stroke undermining huge efforts to widen participation in HE.  Where next for that agenda, particularly given what the PM said?  Levelling up doesn’t mean what you might think, it seems, or at least, not for other people’s children.

Parliamentary News

Kate Green was appointed as Shadow Education Secretary, she was the Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions (Child Poverty Strategy) and had previous parliamentary roles related to equalities and disability. Pre-parliamentary career she was a magistrate and a professional campaigner for children and single parents.

Boris’ Speech: The PM’s big economy speech on Tuesday covered schools, FE and the new blue-sky research agency but with little mention of HE. Here are the excerpts most relevant to our sector:

  • We have umpteen fantastic, globally outstanding universities and yet too many degree courses are not now delivering value and for a century we have failed to invest enough in further education and give young people the practical training and further education they need.
  • [Levelling up]…this moment also gives us a much greater chance to be radical and to do things differently to build back better to build back bolder and so we will be doubling down on our strategy we will double down on levelling up
  • …to make this country – a Britain that is fully independent and self-governing for the first time in 45 years the most attractive place to live and to invest and to set up a company with the most motivated and highly skilled workforce and so we are investing massively now in education [schools details] and a vast £1.5 bn programme of refurbishing our dilapidated Further Education sector – dilapidated in many places, but not here of course because it is time the system recognised that talent and genius are expressed as much by hand and by eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay…
  • …so when I say unite and level up, when I say build up people and build up talent, I want to end the current injustice that means a pupil from a London state school is now 50 per cent more likely to go to a top university than a pupil from the west midlands and that is not only unjust it is such a waste of human talent
  • We will unleash the potential of the entire country and in those towns that feel left behind we have plans to invest in their centres and with new academy schools, new green buses, new broadband and we want to make them places where people have the confidence to stay, to raise their families and to start businesses and not to feel that the action is all in the cities or the metropolis
  • we know that [jobs] is our biggest and most immediate economic challenge that we face and so we will offer an Opportunity Guarantee so that every young person has the chance of apprenticeship or an in-work placement so that they maintain the skills and confidence they need to find the job that is right for them
  • this summer we will be creating a new science funding agency to back high risk, high reward projects because in the next 100 years the most successful societies will be the most innovative societies and we in this country have the knack of innovation we lead the world in quantum computing, in life sciences, in genomics, in AI, space satellites, net zero planes, and in the long term solutions to global warming wind, solar, hydrogen technology carbon capture and storage, nuclear and as part of our mission to reach Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050, we should set ourselves the goal now of producing the world’s first zero emission long haul passenger plane – Jet Zero, let’s do it
  • and though we are no longer a military superpower we can be a science superpower but we must end the chasm between invention and application that means a brilliant British discovery disappears to California and becomes a billion dollar American company or a Chinese company and we need now a new dynamic commercial spirit to make the most of UK breakthroughs so that British ideas produce new British industries and British jobs

Greg Clark MP, ex-Secretary of State for BEIS, responded to the speech:

  • I welcome the prominence of science and innovation in today’s speech from the Prime Minister. My Committee’s ongoing work relating to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how indispensable, and how world-leading, science, research and innovation are in the UK. Innovation across every scientific discipline will play a critical role in economic recovery, making its place at the centre of recovery plans more essential than ever.
  • My Committee has already launched an inquiry on the Government’s plans for a new science funding agency and we will hold oral hearings in the weeks ahead.

Research Professional comment on the speech: The BBC fact-checking service has looked at the prime minister’s speech in detail and has identified most of its spending pledges as either previously announced or inaccurate.

Value

Chris Skidmore wrote for Research Professional in his official capacity as a regular (monthly) columnist welcoming his co-Chair role of the Universities APPG and lamenting that universities still aren’t recognised for their value.

  • It seems a cruel irony that the institutions which are at the forefront of research into how we escape out of the Coronavirus crisis, are also the ones which will be most badly hit by its impact. That irony extends to how poorly sometimes it seems we value our universities: unlike workers in the NHS, university staff and teachers have gone unrecognised in the remarkable efforts that they have made over recent months and still face hostile stories in the press.

He calls on Government to be clear about universities valuable role in the future [whereas currently they are tinkering with the mechanisms]:

  • We cannot simply pay lip service to ‘our world-leading universities’ without setting out how they must play a role for the future, and without creating a financially sustainable model of funding teaching and research that ends once and for all the curate’s egg of university funding, split across departments, both in Whitehall and on campus. 
  • A long-term vision for what our universities are for, why they are needed, and what they can achieve for the future is essential.
  • That does not mean, however, that it should be the responsibility of government simply to bail out universities so that things can continue unchanged…We need a new settlement upon which both the sector and the government can agree.
  • Education will inevitably play an essential role in retraining and reskilling those who have lost their jobs in the economic downturn; the potential for higher education to create modular, step-on step-off, courses that blend with further education learning and to establish new forms of training is huge. But the wider importance of relationships and networks that universities bring together for the benefit of society, should be better explored. 
  • One obvious link is that between higher education and the NHS, which should be strengthened where possible. 
  • And the ‘civic university’ approach has massive potential to demonstrate and prove what universities can contribute to regenerating their local communities.
    Much of this work is already underway at an institutional level, which brings me to my plea to institutions: just because you know it is happening, don’t assume that everyone else does

Disadvantage

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, spoke at the NEON summit on widening access and social mobility. BU’s Schools Liaison & Partnerships team ‘attended’ the full summit and hope to bring you full coverage of the juicy details of the event in next week’s policy update. Meanwhile Michelle:

  • Praised the innovation the sector had shown in responding to the pandemic stating it was more important than ever to share good ideas and good practise
  • Highlighted UpReach’s virtual internships
  • On social mobility she said:
  • But today I want to send a strong message – that social mobility isn’t about getting more people into university.
  • For decades we have been recruiting too many young people on to courses that do nothing to improve their life chances or help with their career goals.
  • True social mobility is about getting people to choose the path that will lead to their desired destination and enabling them to complete that path.
  • True social mobility is when we put students and their needs and career ambitions first, be that in HE, FE or apprenticeships.
  • Whatever path taken, I want it to lead to skilled, meaningful jobs, that fulfil their ambitions and improve their life earnings
  • universities do need to do much, much more to ensure that all students – and particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds – are recruited on to courses that will deliver good outcomes and that they have the confidence to apply and the information they need to make informed choices.

She goes over similar points later:

  • Since 2004, there has been too much focus on getting students through the door, and not enough focus on how many drop out, or how many go on to graduate jobs.
  • Too many have been misled by the expansion of popular sounding courses with no real demand from the labour market.
  • Quite frankly, our young people have been taken advantage of – particularly those without a family history of going to university. Instead some have been left with the debt of an investment that didn’t pay off in any sense.
  • And too many universities have felt pressured to dumb down – either when admitting students, or in the standards of their courses. We have seen this with grade inflation and it has to stop.
  • let’s be clear – we help disadvantaged students by driving up standards, not by levelling down.

And here reappears that old Theresa May chestnut of Universities ‘sponsoring/intervening’ in schools:

  • But the onus must also be on universities to go further too, not just admitting disadvantaged students with good grades, but focusing even more on helping them to achieve and complete courses. And going the extra mile to raise standards and aspirations in schools.
  • One of the most successful initiatives in this area has been specialist maths schools – which are sponsored by and attached to universities. 
  • Whether its science, languages, engineering or the humanities, universities should be doing all they can to raise attainment for the less fortunate and work with schools.
  • That can be sponsoring schools, supporting a robust curriculum or running summer camps, universities have the potential here to make a tremendous difference in opening up opportunities.
  • So, I want your access budgets not to be spent on marketing but on raising standards, providing the role models, the information, encouraging aspiration and highlighting the high quality opportunities available.

And just when you thought you’d hit the pinnacle of speech writers’ bingo we match a full house with the levelling up agenda and ‘transformation’ mention…

  • …this Government was elected on a mandate to level up Britain, to deliver greater opportunities to every person and every community in the UK.
  • Universities must play a vital role in helping to achieve this mission and helping to achieve the transformation of lives.
  • So, today I’m calling for change, to start a new era on access and participation. One that’s based on raising standards, not on dumbing down; on putting prospective students and their ambitions and their needs first; on results and impact, not on box ticking and marketing; and on delivering graduates into jobs that really will transform their lives.

This looks like a potential huge change to the regulatory agenda on access and participation as well as setting the context for the TEF/Augar updates to come.

FE & Apprenticeships

The weekend’s news emphasised building the FE sector and apprenticeships alongside the additional rescue research pot news. Robert Halfon (Education Committee Chair) called for changes to the focus and use of the apprenticeship levy, alongside pushing for a guaranteed apprenticeship offer:

  • Government should utilise the apprenticeship levy close the skills deficit primarily focused for young (16-24 years) apprenticeships from disadvantaged backgrounds and degree apprenticeships – not middle-managementMBA apprenticeships.
  • Where possible, all new recruits to the public sector should be offered an apprenticeship
  • The cost of the £3bn National Skills Fund should be redirected “towards the cost of funding the training of apprentices for non-levy payers. Alongside this, a wage subsidy for small and medium businesses — be that paying wages for the first year, or a lump sum upfront.”
  • Universities should work towards 50% of their students undertaking degree level apprenticeships, using the levy and wage subsidies. The £800bn they spend on access and participation should be allocated to universities and grow their degree apprentice student numbers.

Research Professional have a good write up speculating on Halfon’s position on apprenticeships (before he made the guarantee speech). Including a quote from Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI,

…many universities have stepped up to the plate to help deliver apprenticeships, and with difficult economic times to come, we need more good opportunities for raising skills and keeping people off the unemployment queues. But the common tendency to attack traditional higher education when lauding apprenticeships is very unhelpful he added, criticising Halfon’s quote. It wrongly implies that we need less of one and more of the other. In fact, we need more opportunities of all sorts if this generation of school leavers are not to be scarred for the long term.

And this Guardian article (on admissions reform which we covered in Monday’s policy update) contains FE content in its conclusion: The new post-18 education policy proposals came as Williamson wants to move beyond the coronavirus pandemic aftermath, with measures to improve the status and attractiveness of further education, which it regards as a more cost-effective means of meeting the UK labour market’s skills shortage.

There were two meaty Education Committee sessions examining the impact of C-19 focussed on FE and apprenticeships last week, with mention of the FE white paper. You can watch both sessions here, or read the transcript.

An interesting survey (pre-Covid) carried out by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board on apprenticeship report found:

  • Mixed views towards the apprenticeship levy – 32% employers were positive; 19% negative.
  • Only 16% of those surveyed in England said the apprenticeship levy had increased the number of apprentices in their business.
  • SMEs surveyed had a more positive perception (45%) of the Apprenticeship Levy than large companies (29%).
  • Employers also identified a number of challenges facing apprenticeship recruitment, with a lack of suitable work and no current need for apprentices cited by 81%, and a preference to hire graduates or experienced staff over apprentices expressed by 18% of respondents.
  • Other barriers were lack of flexibility in off-the-job requirements (19%) and distance from training providers (29%).
  • Many of those interviewed saw apprenticeships as a way of ‘giving back’ and providing an alternative to those who were not suited to or interested in further academic study, favouring a more technical approach with real work experience.

They made several recommendations to improve apprenticeships:

  • Apprenticeships need better representation by Government, employers and in the mainstream media. Apprenticeships should be included as a destination at both 16 and 18 in school leaving measures and performance tables to bring them on par with further academic study and in media commentary as a destination at relevant school leaving ages.
  • Apprenticeships need to be more clearly defined because the current definition lacks detail and makes it difficult to distinguish between new entrants and apprenticeships used for upskilling and reskilling existing staff.
  • Apprenticeship delivery needs to be decentralised and led through collaborative, regional partnerships which include employers so the pipeline of new recruits aligns to local industrial strategies and skills shortages.
  • Apprenticeship recruitment needs to be more inclusive to improve the diversity of the workforce. Employers should actively reach out and appeal to a wider community rather than relying on traditional recruitment processes.
  • In England, more flexibility is needed around the requirement for 20% of training to take place off-the-job; more support is needed to allow courses to run with lower numbers of apprentices and to pay for apprentices to travel to and from both the employer and the training provider; and more alignment is needed with the upcoming T Levels to allow T level students to transfer into relevant level 3 apprenticeships.

And the APPG for Apprenticeships has called for evidence on how the sector has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and what further work is required to improve apprenticeships policy for the future.

Student Survey

HEPI have a new survey of 1,000 undergraduates addressing their pandemic HE experience:

  • 1 in 5 students (19%) say they have had ‘very clear’ communications on Covid-19 from their higher education institutions (down from 31% in March);
  • 44% feel they have received clear communications about the next academic year from their HE provider
  • 63% are satisfied with the way their HE provider has handled their remaining assessments for this academic year
  • Fewer students are satisfied with the online learning replacement of face-to-face teaching than they when surveyed in March – 42% are satisfied, compared to 49% in March
  • 44% are satisfied with the delivery of support services, such as careers and mental health support, during lockdown
  • 57% are living away from their usual term-time residence. 30% have received a refund on accommodation costs or early release from a contract.
  • Thinking about measures implemented ready for next year HEPI highlight a hierarchy of expectations
    • 75% expect increased hygiene
    • 71% expect some learning online
    • 71% expect social distancing measures
    • 26% expect limitations to courses
    • 25% expect a delayed start to term
    • 18% expect all learning to be online

Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

  • The results show that students are realistic that the next academic year is likely to be radically different to the norm. They understand that some level of social distancing is likely to remain in place and blended teaching will combine online and face-to-face teaching. However, it is concerning that less than half feel they have had clear messaging from their university about the next academic year. While it is difficult to predict exactly where we will be by September, it is important universities are as clear as possible in their communications to students.
  • Staff are working their socks off to get their campuses ready for the new academic year and we hope these results will help them prepare.

Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy responded to the report:

  • These figures show that whilst universities have responded quickly and largely successfully to problems, there are still significant numbers of students not getting the support they need. Not all of this can be laid at the door of universities, which have had to meet the challenges with no meaningful help from government.
  • It is paramount that the government provides the support needed so universities can feel confident in dealing with students over the impact of COVID-19 during the next academic year. The government must also provide increased support to students regarding their mental health and wellbeing and providing well-sourced and sufficient hardship funds to universities so no student gets into further debt because of the pandemic.

Graduate Outcomes

The latest provider level LEO (longitudinal education outcomes) data highlighting graduate outcomes was released late last week. The exciting development in this release was for the first time the inclusion of graduates who moved overseas. This new tracking feature had little impact on the overall outcomes but it highlighted, unsurprisingly, that languages students were most likely to move overseas. Next most likely to work outside the UK were physics and astronomy graduates.

The chart below shows the median earnings distribution per subject studying 5 years post-graduation.

Business and management had the widest range of earnings variation – from £17,900 to £75,900. With law incomes also varying greatly.

If you scroll down to the charts on earnings by subject and sex you’ll spot that male salaries (their median earnings) are more than female earnings in the majority of institutions except for Veterinary Studies and Performing Arts.

Wonkhe’s data guru provides his interpretation and some interactive charts on the LEO data release in this blog.

Research

R&D Roadmap

On Wednesday Alok announced the R&D roadmap (with accompanying written ministerial statement). The roadmap aims to chart a course to science superpower status (which Research Professional argue the UK already is) through public investment (£22 billion by 2024/25) attracting private investment, making science and talent central to tackling the major challenges facing society whilst being green, closing the productivity gaps and harnessing technology to transform everything (work, health, people, process, services). The Minister says:  We can only make the most of the UK’s science superpower strengths by working with partners in government, academia, industry and charities across the UK. The roadmap marks the start of a conversation on what actions need to be taken and how to ensure our R&D system is fit for purpose now and for the future. We are engaging with the devolved administrations and other Government departments to ensure this is a cross Government and UK-wide discussion and will be undertaking a broader programme of engagement in the run up to the spending review this autumn.

Brief points from the roadmap (including those already announced):

  • Increase R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027; public funding of R&D to £22 billion by 2024/25 – with the investment intended to leverage further domestic and international business investment into UK R&D.
  • Diversity features frequently throughout the roadmap– access, workforce, innovation, international outlook. Our mission is to inspire and enable people from all backgrounds and experiences to engage and contribute to research and innovation and show that science is for everyone.
  • Celebrate our successes far and wide, showcasing our strengths, and promoting the UK as a destination for talent and investment, and a partner of choice.
  • Checking on the system to ensure the structural barriers aren’t impeding progress:

World-class research and dynamic innovation are part of an interconnected system; they depend on talented people and teams working in a supportive and diverse culture across multiple sectors, with access to the right funding, infrastructure, data and connections – locally, nationally, internationally – to do their best work. We will examine how this system is working across government, academia, universities, research institutes and technology organisations, businesses, charities, domestic and international investors, global networks and partners…

…we will make the bold changes needed to ensure our system is fit for purpose now and for the future. This will require tackling fundamental and challenging questions about our R&D priorities and addressing long-term problems in the system. It seems the Government has taken note of recent publications such as access to and diversity in doctoral research and a potential research bullying culture.

There’s an indicator of timescale …We will not be afraid to make tough choices to achieve this ambition. Many of these are for the UK Government and we will address these as we prepare for the Spending Review.

There are two full pages entitled being honest about where we need to improve (p9-10) covering bureaucracy, unhealthy work culture, Golden Triangle, national security issues, third party funding dependencies.

Similarly, in relation to innovation, the Government intends to: review how we fund and assess discovery and applied research, to cut unnecessary bureaucracy, pursue ambitious “moonshots”, and ensure that institutional funding and international collaboration can support our ambitions. More from page 49 onwards on this.

  • An Innovation Expert Group will review and improve the system including strengthening the interactions between discovery research, applied research, innovation, commercialisation and deployment (and juggling the devolved elements).
  • Focus is key – We will exploit competitive and comparative advantage where the UK can lead the world in key industries, technologies and ideas. And we will ensure we have the best regulatory system to support research and development. This includes supporting start ups and entrepreneurs and their access to finance.
  • A new R&D People and Culture Strategywe will increase the attractiveness and sustainability of careers throughout the R&D workforce – not just for researchers, but also for technicians, innovators, entrepreneurs and practitioners.
  • Set up an Office for Talentwhich will take a new and proactive approach to attracting and retaining the most promising global science, research and innovation talent to the UK. Research Professional highlight that this will need to work with the points based immigration system.
  • The Global Talent Visa (launched in Feb 2020) will be extended to allow highly skilled scientists and researchers from across the globe to come to the UK without needing a job offer.
  • International PhD students will be eligible for a three year work visa (from summer 2021 onwards); undergraduates and maters students remain at the two year visa level (Government has been listening again – you’ll recall Jo Johnson called for a four year visa recently).
  • A new R&D Place Strategy – to unlock local growth and societal benefit from R&D across the UK (due later this year), which will likely involve building on the Strength in Places Fund. Page 32 onwards tackles Levelling up R&D across the UK. Commenting on this section of the report Research Professional state: But for all the noise the government makes on levelling up, there is nothing new in the roadmap about what this might mean in practice.
  • Interestingly, the Government plans to: Provide long-term flexible investment into infrastructure and institutions. This will allow us to develop and maintain cutting-edge research, development and innovation infrastructure, with agile and resilient institutions able to play their fullest role. We will build on the UK’s system of universities, public sector research establishments and other publicly funded laboratories, developing our large-scale infrastructure, facilities, resources and services to make them world-leading. (See more from page 47.)
  • A new funding offer for collaboration to ensure the UK can further benefit from the opportunities of international scientific partnerships. Be a partner of choice for other world-leading research and innovation nations, as well as strengthening R&D partnerships with emerging and developing countries. This will create new opportunities for collaboration, trade, growth and influence. We aim to maintain a close and friendly collaborative relationship with our European partners, seeking to agree a fair and balanced deal for participation in EU R&D schemes. If we do not associate to programmes such as Horizon Europe, we will meet any funding shortfalls and put in place alternative schemes.
  • Creating the ARPA style body (‘at least’ £800 million) to set up a unique and independent funding body for advanced research, modelled on the US’ Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). This body will back breakthrough technologies and basic research by experimenting with new funding models across long-term time horizons. The new body will collaborate internationally, championing bold and transformative R&D. Research Professional (RP) note that Boris promised ARPA would be created during the summer, however, as the new body will require legislation to create it and there are only three sitting weeks of Parliament left it seems likely it’ll begin to form in the Autumn at the earliest. RP also state that there isn’t a firm commitment to joining the European Innovation Council, which under Horizon Europe will be an Arpa-inspired funder of deep-tech-based innovation and entrepreneurship.

Specifically on HE the roadmap states:

We will refresh our relationship with universities in England to ensure that their research activities are sustainable and delivering even greater impact, and that their diverse roles in innovation and regional growth are supported and strengthened. We will review how we fund university research, ensuring that we support the highest quality research areas to grow efficiently with the minimum of bureaucracy

We will work with the higher education sector in England to agree a set of reforms to support university research and knowledge exchange to become more resilient, more efficient and ensure better outcomes from public funding. A new ‘compact’ between government and universities in England could strengthen accountability for discretionary funding, potentially bringing together existing separate higher education research concordats, reducing bureaucracy for institutions and their staff. We will work with the devolved administrations to ensure coherence of approaches across the UK.

Alongside this, we will be reviewing the mechanisms which we use to support university research in England and the incentives that these create within the R&D system. This includes the core block grant funding known as Quality-related Research (QR), which is used at universities’ discretion to fund a broad range of activities, including the work which universities undertake with businesses and other partners, and the nurturing of higher risk and emerging areas of research – especially early career research. We will continue to work closely with UKRI and the devolved administrations to achieve a healthy balance between QR (and its devolved equivalents) and the more directed funding that we provide to projects and people, ensuring that we maintain a vibrant and diverse research base which can respond flexibly to economic and societal challenges. And when we evolve the Research Excellence Framework after the current exercise is complete, we should aspire to run a system which is fair, unbureaucratic and rewards improvement.

In addition, we will work with other funders to consider opportunities to fund a greater proportion of the full economic cost of research projects in universities. This includes asking whether government should fund at a higher rate, to safeguard the sustainability of the research we fund. We must balance this with the need for research funding to be efficient and to protect universities’ ability to deploy their own resources strategically on research issues of particular importance to them. (Has the Government been listening to the Russell Groups’ lobbying for full economic costing?)

The roadmap receives the expected criticism for lack of detail and is best viewed as a series of policy commitments with Treasure backing (it is similar in approach to the Industrial Strategy). It states This Roadmap is the start of a big conversation on what actions need to be taken and how…Over the coming months we will develop the proposals in this Roadmap in a comprehensive R&D plan working very closely with the devolved administrations where plans cover or impact on their devolved policy responsibilities. This plan will only be effective if it is developed with people and organisations across the UK. We welcome responses to the high-level questions (survey).

Research Professional dissect the Roadmap is their usual entertaining way and have an article introducing the Roadmap from Amanda Solloway (Science Minister).

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec UUK, stated:

  • We welcome recognition of the role that university-based research and innovation activities will play in driving the UK’s social and economic recovery post Covid-19 and the particular focus on tackling climate change, developing new medicines, attracting the best scientists and researchers from around the world and addressing longstanding challenges around the sustainability of research activity.
  • The news that the new Graduate Route will be extended for PhD students to allow them to remain in the UK for three years after study is a bold policy move which will increase the UK’s competitive edge in the global competition for talented research students. The announcement of the Graduate Route is already having a huge impact on the UK’s attractiveness as a destination. It will give a competitive offer to some of the brightest minds from across the world who bring huge benefits to university campuses and local communities and can help to build the economy. The commitment to excellent customer service across the immigration system, so that it is simple, easy and quick recognises the benefits of attracting international talent and students to the UK, is a positive and welcome move.

Strength in Places Projects Alok Sharma, Business Secretary, announced a £400 million boost to regional R&D projects across the UK by funding 7 projects across the UK through the Strength in Places Fund. The Government (£186m) and industry (£230m) supplied funding forms part of the commitment to invest 2.4% of GDP in R&D and the Fund itself aims to drive local economic growth. The projects include zero-emissions tech for maritime vessels, smart-packaging to cut food waste, understanding and addressing financial behaviours, selecting medicines based on a patient’s genetics, and new health products to combat infections.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma stated:

  • Today’s announcement will ensure some of our country’s most promising R&D projects get the investment they need to take off and thrive. Working with the private sector our world-class universities, we’re backing new and innovative ideas that will create jobs and boost skills in every part of the UK for years to come.

There was also an announcement on the extension of the Future Fund for businesses.

Letter Outgoing Chief Executive of UKRI, Sir Mark Walport, wrote an open letter to the research and innovation community setting out UKRI’s achievements during his tenure and praising how the research sector has been instrumental in responding to the C-19 pandemic.

REF 2021 The REF team ran a webinar and are consulting on further changes to REF 2021 to adapt to the pandemic disruption. Also the nomination window to sit on the sub-panels is now open.

C-19 Research Funding The NUS are concerned the Government’s additional research rescue proposals (contributing to the loss of international student fees which often subsidise research) will increase inequalities:

  • The concerns of university leaders are clearly being heard in government. However, we are extremely concerned that only a select group of universities will benefit from this package. To offer funding to the research intensive parts of our education system, while only offering restructuring for teaching intensive universities and colleges, threatens to intensify inequalities in our education. It is the institutions which have the largest proportions of disadvantaged students which could suffer the most, turning back the clock on access to higher education.
  • Students, graduates and their families will be deeply disappointed to see another government announcement of funding for universities with no thought given to money for students. Students have been left jobless. Many are reliant on food banks, without access to Universal Credit. We need hardship funding that every single person in need can access right now.

Parliamentary Questions

Disability

The OfS have been prolific publishers during the pandemic. Their latest briefing note addresses the impact of C-19 on disabled students and applicants.

  • Many disabled students already face challenges during their time in higher education that students without a known disability do not…disabled students are less likely to continue their degrees, graduate with a good degree, and progress onto a highly skilled job or further study.
  • …there is a risk that the pandemic may be exacerbating these challenges and creating new issues, particularly if students are unsure of how to access study support or financial aid. It is also particularly important that disabled prospective students can continue to access advice and guidance to help them to make informed decisions about their higher education options.

The briefing note responds to concerns directly raised by disabled students and highlights good practice from HE institutions. It also looks forward discussing – the potential for the current expansion of remote learning and inclusive assessment processes to benefit disabled students if incorporated into longer-term teaching approaches.

Graduate Internships

UUK have published We are together –  Supporting graduates in a Covid-19 economy calling for a one-year paid internships scheme to be on offer for 2020 graduates to help them get a foothold on the employment ladder. UUK believe the internships would support graduate employment prospects and help businesses get back on their feet post-lockdown. UUK see the LEP (local enterprise partnerships) as integral to the creation of the internships both targeting businesses most in need and channelling recent graduates into the local community. Key points:

  • Targeted support for universities and businesses to set-up paid internship opportunities for graduates.
  • Greater support to co-ordinate graduate internship opportunities including better communication of existing schemes.
  • An in-study interest break on the Postgraduate Master’s Loan to encourage more – including those from poorer backgrounds – to consider postgraduate study.
  • Policy change to support a growth in modular and bitesize learning opportunities to help meet immediate business needs.

Joint working with universities, LEPs and businesses with support from the UK government could create fair and meaningful opportunities for young people and ensure this crisis does not lead to a rise in unpaid internships – and reverse the hard-won progress the sector has begun to make on social mobility. UUK is happy to work with government, the Office for Students, and other relevant bodies on the different ways any additional support for this scheme could be provided and allocated.

Professor Julia Buckingham, UUK President and VC Brunel University, stated: Universities have been offering widespread support to help this year’s graduates find jobs and, while some employers are still running recruitment programmes online, the fact remains that there are thousands fewer jobs this year. Government support to incentivise and grow paid internships would benefit both graduates and employers, creating impactful opportunities for these young people and supporting the economic recovery.

Mark Bretton, LEP Network Chair, said: LEPs are already working with HE and FE partners on their LEP Boards to build the recovery and invest in the future lives of local young people. The graduate paid internship proposal from UUK is a logical extension of that work and would prove an effective way to support new graduates, help local businesses, boost the local economy, and contribute to the national recovery.

We look forward to discussing the design and details with UUK and the government, and hope to explore how we can widen the initiative to include other areas like the FE sector. Our partnership with UUK on the Graduate 2020 programme is a natural fit, ensuring funds are targeted based on the needs of local businesses, particularly SMEs, and the priorities identified by LEP Skills Advisory Panels and Growth Hubs as part of economic recovery planning. The partnership clearly demonstrates how LEPs and universities can work together, not only to support business, but to help young people build their lives in one of the most economically challenging periods of modern times.

Liam McCabe, President of NUS Scotland, said: We welcome these proposals from UUK and urge government to implement them. In particular, investment in widening access to postgraduate study and more modular and bitesize learning opportunities will be essential to graduates’ and the UK’s future.

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), commented: The current crisis is likely to have a long-term negative impact on the career prospects of the 2020 and 2021 graduating cohorts. Employers facing significant financial challenges, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, will struggle to provide internships and entry level jobs in sufficient quantities to meet students’ needs.

A government funded stimulus package that encourages businesses to invest in young people will boost both the employment prospects of students and the skills base of the UK economy.

Matthew Percival, People and Skills Director at the CBI, said: Graduates face a challenging labour market due to the impact of coronavirus. Businesses will do what they can to ensure that young people have opportunities as the economy restarts, but a new partnership between companies and government is needed. Financial incentives to create jobs and training opportunities earlier in recovery will be vital to reducing youth unemployment.

Admissions

UCAS have confirmed a rise in the number of students accepting places to start HE in September 2020 start. UK applicants accepting a place are up by 1% (2,200 more) compared to 2019. EU acceptances have fallen by 6% with UCAS stating this needs to be seen alongside the overall dwindling EU application numbers. Overall for UK applicants less have deferred their university place than in 2019. With 290 students less opting to defer (2% less overall). However, applicants from outside the EU have increased in number choosing to defer, up by 21% (200 more deferrals). UCAS suggest this deferral rate should also be set in the context of the increased volume (+15%) of non-EU applicants this year. While less UK applicants overall have chosen to defer unfortunately there is a disadvantaged element. UCAS have also examined the POLAR data showing a small increase in applicants from the most disadvantaged area (quintile 1) selecting to defer (+60 applicants, up by 6%)

Parliamentary Questions

Students

HE Sector The importance of good indoor ventilation.

Student Number Controls

Some parliamentary questions provide new content on the student number controls:

In case you missed it previously – confirmation that degree apprenticeships are not counted within the student number controls.

On the reasoning behind the thresholds set for the student number controls Donelan explains:

  • The intention is that it is simple, competitive and places minimal burden on higher education providers.
  • The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) Year Four data was used…It is publicly available and requires no additional aggregation or calculation, ensuring transparency. Other data sources are or will be available, but do not average across multiple years of data as is done in TEF.
  • The…minimum qualifying thresholds, ensures that the 5,000 places are awarded on a competitive basis, by restricting eligibility to only the top performing providers.

Deferring students – Donelan dials back on last week’s pro-student choice rhetoric stating: If students do want to defer, it is a matter for individual providers and not the government, so students should speak to their providers directly to determine what flexibility exists.

And the competition for the 5,000 extra healthcare places has been reopened (after institutions had already made their bids and after the original deadline closed). Nursing Times say this is because the Government are planning to free up further funds to increase the places above the 5,000 limit due to ‘significant demand’. It will also provide more time for universities to ensure there are enough clinical placements for increased numbers of new students. As reported last week UCAS have confirmed there are vacancies on all nursing specialism courses, despite applications being up by 6%.

Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary of State, said:

  • Following the fantastic news last Thursday that we have over 12,000 more nurses working in our NHS compared to last year, we have seen huge demand from universities for the additional places we’ve made available on nursing, midwifery or allied health courses.
  • This pandemic has demonstrated just how important our healthcare professionals are, and the demand for places shows that there are thousands of prospective students looking to train for rewarding careers in our NHS.

HE Sector Finances

Research Professional report on a [leaked] briefing note written by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, seen by Research Professional News, explains that several government departments are working together “to develop a process through which higher education providers at risk of closure will be able to apply to government to access a restructuring regime as a last resort”

There will be “attached conditions” wherever the government decides restructuring is needed, BEIS wrote, and the regime “will look to support teaching intensive institutions where there is a case to do so and where intervention is possible and appropriate.

There is nothing unexpected in this, the mood music throughout the pandemic is that the Government will not bail out providers who are financially insolvent. Although there has been suggestion they will step in and intervene ensuring changes relevant to the Government’s agenda are made in return for keeping the institution running (in the short term) – leading some to suggest institutions would be unrecognisable after intervention, including the sale of properties and land.

Lords Debate

The Lords debated the parliamentary question: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to universities to assist them in dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In essence the Government representative (Lord Parkinson of Whiley Bay) received quite a grilling whilst he maintained the party line of stating the range of support methods the Government has put in place for the HE sector. Just a few indulgent excerpts here to highlight that Lords are fighting the HE corner:

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, the Government’s recent announcement provides little new money, and 75% of that will be in loans. Universities’ research is heavily subsidised by international student fee income, which is predicted to drop by £2 billion this year. Many universities have made massive contributions of equipment, research and staffing to the fight against coronavirus. Does the Minister accept that they now need a much more ambitious package of support, because they are making research and staff cutbacks at this moment?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay :The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point out the vital contribution that universities are making to solving the pandemic, which is putting pressures on them as well as on everybody else. She referred to the further package of support which the Government announced this weekend. In addition to bringing forward the tuition fee payments which I mentioned in my Answer, the Government are providing a package of support to universities to continue research and innovation. That includes £280 million of taxpayer funding available to sustain UK Research and Innovation and national academy grant-funded research, which is available immediately. From the autumn, there is a further package consisting of low-interest loans with long payback periods and supplemented by a further amount of government grants. I am therefore not sure that I accept what she says about the Government’s response being inadequate.

The Lord Bishop Of Winchester: My Lords, universities make a significant contribution to their local communities and economies, particularly smaller institutions that attract a larger proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These make a significant contribution to their local context, particularly in this pandemic…How will the Government work with higher education institutions to maintain the widening of access and retention of students, especially those preparing for key public service roles that have been so important during this pandemic crisis?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: …I am pleased that higher education providers can draw on existing funding, which is worth around £23 million a month at the moment, to provide hardship funds and support for disadvantaged students who are particularly affected by Covid-19.

Lord Craig Of Radley: My Lords, many university students in England have been missing tuition and access to libraries, laboratories and other university facilities, and may face financial hardship. The Minister says that the Government will not cut the amount paid to universities in tuition fees, but will they reduce sums to be recovered from formerly affected students in later life?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: The noble and gallant Lord is right to point out some of the many ways in which the university experience is being affected by this pandemic with regard to access to libraries, laboratories and so on. I am pleased that universities across the sector have responded swiftly and creatively to ensure that they remain open and that students can continue to avail themselves of high-quality education. Universities are autonomous and responsible for setting their own fees, and of course, as they approach the forthcoming academic year, if they decide to charge full fees, they will want to ensure that they can continue to deliver courses which are fit for purpose and which help students to progress their qualifications. However, any matter regarding the level of those fees and refunds is first and foremost for the providers and those who apply to them.

Vis Count Chandos (Lab): In the absence of more appropriate emergency grant funding to compensate for irrecoverable loss of revenues, the Government have encouraged universities to apply for business interruption loans. How does the Minister think these loans, designed for profit-making companies, can be repaid by non-profit HE institutions, other than at the expense of the quality of courses for future generations of students?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay:…he is also right to point out the wider societal benefits that universities bring, which is why the Government brought forward the additional package of measures which I outlined in my Answer.

Baroness Garden Of Frognal (LD): My Lords, what plans do the Government have to reform student and university funding to enable a greater number of people, especially mature learners, to undertake short higher education courses and build up to a full degree in a way that suits them? That will be increasingly important as individuals reskill post Covid.

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay: The noble Baroness is absolutely right that many mature students and others may wish to consider courses of different lengths and varieties, and the Government are glad to see that wide range of courses offered. As she says, that will be particularly important over the coming months. The package of support which the Government have announced is of course available to providers irrespective of the length and format of the courses they offer.

Lord Norton Of Louth (Con):… Given how crucial that export is and that from next year EU students will no longer be subject to home fees, will the Government consider extending the new graduate route post-study work visa to three or four years to ensure that the United Kingdom has a competitive offer to international students?

Lord Parkinson Of Whitley Bay :My noble friend draws attention to the new graduate route which comes into effect from next summer, which allows people graduating from UK universities to stay here in work of any level and any remuneration for up to two years— an increased and very generous offer. That is part of the Government’s ambition to increase the number of international students coming to study here in the United Kingdom.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Online: Open University VC Tim Blackman writes about digitally rendered online learning, how selectivity has become a misnomer for prestige, and their new thrust to attract young learners.

Easing lockdown: The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper discussing the impact of the easing of lockdown restrictions on the FE and HE sectors in England.

EdTech: Articles on edtech are a dime a dozen during lockdown. This week’s offering is in a similar vein.

Lockdown placements: Wonkhe have a blog exploring how universities need to adapt content, assessments and requirements where placements have fallen during lockdown because the employer hasn’t offered a remote alternative.

Staying at home: The Guardian have an opinion piece on commuter students.

German HE: Research Professional report that private HE institutions have doubled their student numbers in the last decade in Germany. 8.5% of the student population attend a private university; they are particularly popular with part-time and already employed students. Of all German part time students nearly half (48%) chose a private provider and 41% of distance learners also opted for this type of provider. The most popular subjects were economics, law and social sciences.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 29th June 2020

The government are apparently planning a radical overhaul of admissions (maybe), they have found some funding for research support, EU students will face higher fees in 2021/22, Education Questions in the Commons kept the Ministers on their toes, there’s the latest on student complaints, a brief mention of the B word and the sun has been shining.

University research support package

In coverage of the so called bailout deal announced earlier in the lockdown – which consisted of bringing the second instalment of student loan payments to universities forward by a few months and vaguely threatening proposals for a fund for restructuring universities that fail – it was made clear that no more would be forthcoming. But the government have reached down behind the sofa cushions and found a bit of extra money to support research, although like the additional student numbers (more on that later), it is limited and strings are attached. It was announced late on Friday night so made for a busy Saturday for pundits. You can read David Kernohan’s piece for Wonkhe here, Research Professional here, and THE cover it here.

There will be grant extensions to cover researchers’ salaries and other running costs for UKRI and some other grants, which will be very welcome, as there has been great concern about covering extensions to projects with no extra money. More details are still to be announced.

The main announcement, however, was of a new package of support for research-active universities. It looks odd on the face of it, to those outside the sector and unfamiliar with the weird cross subsidies that exist in the HE market:

  • low-interest loans with long pay-back periods, supplemented by a small amount of government grants. In sharing responsibility for the future of science and research with our world-leading university system the government will cover up to 80% of a university’s income losses from international students for the academic year 20/21, up to the value of non-publicly funded research activity in that university.

So if you have a lot of international students who aren’t coming this year, you can get a loan or a grant (maybe) to cover your income loss, capped by how much funding you normally get from sources other than the government, i.e. businesses and charities as well as the university itself. Complicated?  Yes.  Targeted at a very particular small number of universities, yes, indeed.  This sentence demonstrates the strangeness  “Support is also capped at the level of an institution’s non-publicly funded research to ensure that funds are being directed towards universities conducting research.”  What it is really saying is that there will be support for universities who fund their own research from the fees paid by international students, or from businesses or charities who won’t have any money this year.  That’s not quite the same thing as “universities who do research”.

  • So this: The international student metric when combined with the measure of ‘non-publicly funded research’ is a good proxy for overall Covid-19 losses to research revenue. In return for support, Government will be asking for universities to demonstrate how funds are being utilised to sustain research in areas typically funded by charities and business. We will also take into account the income HEIsreceive from business and charity research.
  • And there is a catch: Universities will be required to demonstrate that funds are being spent on research and on retaining research talent. Universities will be expected to show they are taking their own steps to make efficiencies, in line with the rest of the economy, to protect their research bases. Precise metrics and outputs/outcomes will be developed as we develop the details of the policy over the next few weeks. There will be separate requirements for grant extension proposals.

Some universities will have limits on their borrowing.

And for the institutions (that the information calls “teaching intensive”) who don’t qualify – we’re back to the vaguely threatening restricting fund:

  • The DfERestructuring Regime will look to support teaching intensive institutions where there is a case to do so and where intervention is possible and appropriate. The Government recognises the important role that higher education providers make to regional and local economies through the provision of high-quality courses aligned with local, regional and national economic and societal requirements. This will be within scope of the decision making process for intervention. Further detail on the Restructuring Regime will be announced in due course. 

Radical overhaul of admissions?

Saturday’s Guardian had a headline about a leaked draft report on admissions changes.  As the OfS have recently confirmed that they will be restarting their normal activity, presumably with the “paused” admissions review near the top of their list, it is not surprising that options are being considered.

The Guardian said: The models include:

  • Exams results published in August as is currently the case, but with university and college terms starting in January, allowing five months for processing applications.
  • Moving exam results forward into July and the start of the university term back into mid-October, allowing a 12-week window for students to apply.
  • An unchanged timetable, with only a five-week window for the application process to run between exam results in August and the start of the university term in September, as now.
  • University applications made before A-level results are received, but offers of places to students not released until after results are published, with no change to current timings.

Potential A level exam delay: Consistent with the story above in last Monday’s Oral Education Questions it was confirmed that the DfE is discussing moving A level exams to July 2021 to accommodate some of the C-19 disruption. The BBC and the Times covered the story. The Times noted:

  • some head teachers suggested that a delay risked creating more difficulties. “It would mean either exam boards having a narrower window in which to mark millions of scripts, or results being published later, which would potentially run into the autumn term,” Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL union, said. “This would affect progression to further and higher education. It’s important that the approach to next year’s exams supports pupils without creating more problems than it solves…” 

The article goes on to note the Government have confirmed full funding for the virtual Oak National Academy suggesting that it is preparing for some disruption in the full return of pupils to ‘normal’ schooling. It also highlights that some of the support funding usually available has been cut (e.g. the year 7 catch up in English and Maths for weaker pupils). Alongside the announcements last week of the £1 billion funding programme to help schools support initiatives to bring children back on track after the home schooling disruption to their normal studies. There are likely to be implications for some disadvantaged children in the cuts alongside sharing the newly funded initiatives amongst a wider pool of pupils. It is raising further concerns for an access disadvantaged generation.

Admissions Report

Recently EDSK (a think tank) published Admitting Mistakes: creating a new model for university admissions calling for a fair, transparent and equitable admissions process. It takes issue with the current system:

  • This admissions system has remained almost unchanged for the past three decades, but this inertia should not necessarily be interpreted as an indication that the UCAS system is working well.
  • Politicians from both major parties have raised serious concerns in recent months about university admissions practices, while the Office for Students (OfS) has launched a review of the entire admissions process in its capacity as regulator of the Higher Education (HE) sector. Given this intense pressure, maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. The new rules on admissions proposed by the OfS last month to ensure that universities demonstrate a ‘socially responsible approach’ during the COVID-19 crisis shows that it is perfectly feasible to change the admissions system – even at short notice. It is now simply a question of which changes ministers and regulators wish to make once the crisis subsides.

It also takes issue with the current practices tackling the use of predicted grades for university applications; the growth of ‘unconditional offers’ from universities; and the barriers facing disadvantaged students.

It concludes:

  • In recent months, both the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and the OfS have referred to the importance of ‘trust’ in the context of university admissions because they realise how crucial it is that students, parents and teachers trust the admissions process when so much money and so many hopes and aspirations rest on its shoulders. In light of this, it is deeply concerning how wealth and privilege continue to unduly influence who gets accepted onto university degrees, particularly at the most prestigious institutions. This inevitably results in an overwhelming sense of unfairness as well as risking a catastrophic loss of trust – not just in the admissions process, but in the education system as a whole.
  • The reduction in autonomy over admissions proposed by the OfS in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 is intended to prevent universities from undermining students’ interests and threatening the stability of the HE sector during the crisis, yet the protection of students and maintaining the stability of the sector should be permanent features of our admissions system rather than temporary measures. A fundamental change is therefore needed to make sure that the admissions system prioritises the interests of students, not universities, after the current crisis is over. To this end, it is necessary for universities to give up some of the autonomy they have in relation to how they attract and select applicants each year.

Finally it recommends that in return for the financial support that they are receiving from government to mitigate the impact of COVID-19…universities should be required to accept a new model for the whole admissions cycle. It seems the authors are under the impression that the C-19 financial support is a sufficiently worthwhile and substantial enticement.

While the aggressive language in the press release may rile some in the sector many of its recommendations such as a national contextual offer are already being discussed. The difficulty with such blanket policies is that some students still fall through the cracks as drawing thresholds always results in winners and losers. For example, the report’s recommendation 5 doesn’t include student carers within their definition of greatest disadvantage, and there is little mention of ethnicity throughout the report.

Nevertheless they proposed a nuanced version of post qualification admissions. No predicted grades will be submitted to institutions (although presumably level 3 teachers will still have to produce them) and prospective students instead chose 10 degrees ranked in preference order. On results day students achieving the required (fixed) grade level are automatically placed based on preference order. Where courses are oversubscribed all applicants who are eligible are entered into a lottery. Where courses are undersubscribed still only those who reach the level will be admitted. It sounds simple but when you sit quietly with the concept for a moment you begin to realise it the cracks, for example removing the choice for a student to change their mind – or trade up if they perform better than their teacher predicted (which itself has long been a disadvantage conundrum). There’s also the gaming of the system – if you want that place on that popular oversubscribed course and you’re certain of the grades there will be ways to maximise your likelihood of achieving it based on your preferences…and who will advise prospective students on the game – parents, social networks, teachers and careers staff (again resources which some disadvantaged students lack). The report isn’t to be dismissed and provides a welcome interjection on the admissions system which is due for overhaul in some shape or form, however, it doesn’t offer all the answers it claims to. Perhaps because there isn’t a system which is flawless and which can guarantee equity, particularly for those prospective students with the least support and resources.

Wonkhe have a good blog on the report considering it fairly and offering critique where they see holes. The comments at the end are worth a read too, while most establish serious points Sarah smiled at this one: Think tanks are supposed to think from outside the box.

Diversity in HE

UCAS have highlighted that

  • nursing and social work degrees have the most diverse pool of applicants compared to other major undergraduate subject areas. Health and social care courses are among the subjects attracting the highest proportion of applications and acceptances from black applicants, mature students, and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Other key facts:

  • For all subjects allied to medicine, 16% of acceptances are from students from the black ethnic group (the highest proportion for any wider subject group), followed by social studies courses, with 13%.
  • 42% of students accepted onto social work courses are aged over 30, the highest proportion of any subject. Nursing courses are second, with 29% of acceptances from students in this age group.
  • Social work is the only subject (with more than 150 applicants) that has more students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying (1,055 applicants), than from the most advantaged backgrounds (1,000 applicants). This a ratio of just 0.94 applicants from advantaged backgrounds for each disadvantaged applicant – the lowest ratio of all subjects.
  • Nursing follows with a ratio of 1.12, with 2,100 applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, alongside 2,350 from the most advantaged backgrounds. Both subjects have similar patterns of accepting students from a wide range of backgrounds.
  • While male applicants remain in the minority, the number of men applying for nursing grew by 8.5% to 5,370, with the number of acceptances also growing (by 7.1% to 2,700).

UCAS are using the welcome news on diversity to urge more prospective students to apply for autumn 2020 entry. They state Around 40% of adult nursing and social work courses are still accepting applications…with some universities having up to 50 places available. The vacancy level seems slightly surprising on several counts. First the Government are offering bursaries for specified courses, second they are employment gap areas (and the Government has an additional 5,000 places not yet allocated to institutions), third the positive and high profile PR generated for key services such as nursing through the pandemic was predicted to increase demand for nursing, finally demand from mature students (who make up a bigger proportion of the cohort) could be expected to increase if lockdown has prompted a career re-evaluation. UCAS do note that mature student apply later in the summer months than school leavers and that at January nursing applications were up by 6%.

Postgraduate BAME data: The UK Council for Graduate Education have published a policy briefing summarising the access and participation of Black, Asian and minority ethnicities in UK postgraduate research. Key points:

  • BAME students participate in postgraduate research at a lower level that those enrolled in undergraduate studies.
  • Between 2016/17 – 2018/19 the proportion of BAME postgraduate research students (PGRs) grew by 0.13% however, this rate of growth means it would take 51.8 years for BAME participation in postgraduate research to reach the equivalent proportion at undergraduate level.
  • 15% more white PGRs received financial contributions for their tuition fee than BAME PGRs
  • More white PGRs (19%) qualified in 2018/19 than BAME PGRs (16%)

Disadvantage:

Wonkhe have two blogs on access and disadvantage:

There is also the promised report from the Social Mobility Commission: Apprenticeships and social mobility: fulfilling potential. It raises concerns over the structural barriers within apprenticeships and concludes that they are not fulfilling their social climbing potential.

Key points:

the introduction of the (2017) apprenticeship levy led to a “collapse in overall apprenticeship starts that hit disadvantaged learners hardest”

  • a 36% decline in apprenticeship starts by people from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with 23% for others
  • just 13% of degree-level apprenticeships, the fastest growing and most expensive apprenticeship option, goes to apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • more than 80% of apprenticeships undertaken by learners from disadvantaged backgrounds are in enterprises in the services, health, education or public administration sectors
  • on average, apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds earn less than apprentices from more privileged backgrounds
  • there is a 16% boost to wages for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds who complete their training, compared with 10% for others

The report calls on the Government to address concerns and channel resources directly where it can have the greatest social benefit.

There was also a slight FE emphasis in one of Donelan’s PQ answers (reminding us the FE remains an underfunded sector and the Government has plans, even if they aren’t sharing them yet):

Q – Mohammad Yasin: In addition to maintaining current commitments to widen participation and extend bursaries for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, will the Minister make sure that the necessary extra funding is provided so that universities such as the University of Bedfordshire can play a key role in retraining and reskilling young and mature students to meet the serious employment challenges ahead?

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that access and participation are key priorities for this Government, and the Office for Students has launched access and participation measures for every institution. Higher education plays a key role in filling the skills needs of the economy, but so does further education, and our priority is to ensure quality provision and that students can make informed choices that are in the best interests of their career destinations.

EU Student Fees Decision

Very unsurprisingly, Michelle Donelan issued a written ministerial statement confirming that EU, EEA and Swiss national students will no longer be eligible for home fee status or Student Finance England financial support from 2021/22. The rules also apply to FE and apprenticeships. EU students starting in 2020/21 will continue to be classed as home students. Irish nationals will be preserved as home student status under the Common Travel Area arrangement.

The announcement may encourage some EU students to take up UK study in September (despite online blended provision being the main method on offer). Likewise the sector anticipates a drop in EU student numbers from 2021/22.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, responded to the announcement:

  • Universities would have preferred the certainty of current arrangements for EU students in England being extended for those starting courses in 2021/22. However, it is important to note that EU students starting courses in autumn 2020 will continue to pay home fees for the duration of their course and be eligible for the UK’s EU settlement scheme if they arrived before the end of this year.
  • The government’s new Graduate Route – starting next summer – also means that students who are not eligible for the settlement scheme will have the opportunity to stay and work in the UK for two years after completing their studies. This will apply to those who initially have to study by distance or blended learning because they are unable to travel to the UK to start in autumn due to Covid-19. Universities are committed to working with government on further measures to support international students to study at UK universities.
  • Our message to international students is that UK universities are ready to welcome and support you through your studies. Whether you choose to study in the UK this year, or in the future, you will receive a high-quality education and learn skills that will benefit you for years to come.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, puts it plainly:

  • Today’s announcement will be seen as bad news inside universities. To date, EU students have benefited from lower fees and access to student loans that are subsidised by UK taxpayers. Together, these have lowered the financial obstacles to studying in the UK. My message to any EU citizen wishing to benefit from the current arrangements is that it is not too late to apply for entry in 2020, before the new rules come into force next year.
  • In the past, we have shown that higher fees and no more access to student loans could risk a decline of around 60% in the number of EU students coming to the UK to study. If that happens, our universities will be less diverse and less open to influences from other countries.
  • However, it is morally and legally difficult to continue charging lower fees to EU citizens than we already charge to people from the rest of the world once Brexit has taken full effect. So today’s decision is not a huge surprise. Moreover, history suggests that the education on offer in our universities is something people are willing to pay for. So, if we adopt sensible post-Brexit migration rules and if universities work very hard to recruit from other EU nations, it is likely that many of our fellow Europeans will still wish to study here.
  • Above all, we need to make it abundantly clear to people from the EU and beyond that our universities remain open to all.

Research Professional have a write up on the fee changes.

Michelle Donelan also answered oral questions specifically on international students describing her

  • two-tier covid response to attract international students: first, by working across government to remove and reduce the logistical barriers faced by students, including visa issues; and secondly, by communicating that the UK is open for business via advertising and open letters to international students, our embassies, and international media.

She also reminded Parliament about the International Education Champion appointment.

Since the parliamentary question session Donelan (and her devolved counterparts) have composed a 6 page letter to international students. It sings the praises of a British education, urges them to apply for the 2020/21 recruitment round (for which visas will be ready in time) and reminds them of their eligibility for the 2-year graduate visa. Excerpts:

  • Although admissions processes and modes of teaching might look slightly different this year, the UK’s world-class universities are continuing to recruit international students and you are encouraged to apply even if you are unable to travel to the UK to meet usual timelines. Universities will be flexible in accommodating your circumstances where possible, including if you are unable to travel to the UK in time for the start of the academic year. We have seen some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning being delivered by institutions across the UK, and the sector is already working hard to prepare learning materials for the summer and autumn terms.
  • The UK cares immensely about the health and wellbeing of international students, and ensuring they are safe is our number one priority… To keep number of transmissions in the UK as low as possible, and to protect UK residents and international students in the UK, all international arrivals are now required to supply their contact and accommodation information and self-isolate in their accommodation for fourteen days on arrival into the UK. We have been clear that universities are responsible for, and must support their students on arrival to the UK. We are proud that UK universities are already demonstrating how seriously they are taking this responsibility, in ensuring that their students are safe and well cared for both upon arrival and for the duration of their stay.
  • In addition to support from their universities, NHS services are available to both domestic and international students. International students will always be able to access treatment that clinicians consider is immediately necessary or urgent at no upfront cost. No charges apply to testing for coronavirus…

Graduate Outcomes

The second batch of data from the 2017/18 Graduate Outcomes survey has been released, there is even more to come on 9 July. The tables are interactive allowing you to look at employment rates for different qualification levels (e.g. undergraduates, foundation degrees, doctoral research, taught masters and all the others) at HE or FE, full or part time.

There are also salary bands that are adjustable to look at the characteristics of the students within them. For example the below looks at pay levels by subject studied in HE institutions. It shows a clear salary gain in the high skilled roles but little difference in pay between low and medium skilled jobs.

The pay bands can be examined by age, ethnicity, gender, and disability. Below demonstrates the impact of gender for undergraduates, the postgraduate picture shows more clustering at the higher pay bands. No matter which level of qualification is selected males always number more than females earning the highest pay band.

There is a chart illustrating the proportions of students who are satisfied with their current activity, its fit with their future plans, and whether they are using what they learnt. It varies greatly when you adjust for low medium or high skilled roles, with the low skilled employees feeling least satisfied. And this page breaks down the three elements of satisfaction (meaningful, fit future, useful) even further looking at it by degree subject area, degree classification, salary and by provider.

And at the bottom of the page you can view BU’s student opinion on meaningful, fit for future plans, and useful (it is too large to display here). BU had a response rate of 51%, with higher numbers of postgraduate research students responding.

All the tables are interactive and able to be cut by different parameters – go ahead and have a play!

Wonkhe have a good blog digging into and interpreting meaning from the latest data.

In Parliamentary Questions, Graduate outcomes also received a mention with the stock answer referring to T levels and promoting technical routes. Also:

Q – Neil O’Brien: The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that for 30% of students, the economic return on their degree was negative both for them and for taxpayers. Surely with such clear economic evidence that so many young people would be better off if they took a different route, it is time to rebalance from just higher education to a stronger technical education system?

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • It is important that students make as informed choices as possible from a range of high-quality courses, and university is not the only or the best route for certain careers. Some students may be better placed if they do higher technical qualifications or apprenticeships. That is why the Secretary of State is spearheading a revolution in further education in this country, including the introduction of T-levels.

Research

HEPI have published PhD Life: The UK student experience. It highlights that for UK students:

  • the average PhD student works 47 hours per week, which is over 50% more than the average undergraduate and three hours less than the average academic
  • meaning PhD students earn less than the minimum wage (if they are on the basic Research Council stipend)
  • 78% of PhD students are satisfied with their degree of independence
  • 63% of PhD students see their supervisor for less than one hour per-week
  • 23% of PhD students would change their supervisor if they were starting their PhD again now
  • 80% of PhD students believe a career in research can be lonely and isolating
  • over one-third (37%) of PhD students have sought help for anxiety or depression caused by PhD study
  • one-quarter (25%) of PhD students feel they have been bullied and 47% believe they have witnessed bullying, and
  • one-fifth (20%) of PhD students feel they have been discriminated against and 34% believe they have witnessed discrimination.

The data informing the report is based on two surveys taking place between June and November 2019 by the Wellcome trust and Nature.

The report includes testimonials capturing PhD students’ perspectives on their situation:

  • Due to being [funded] by a stipend and not through student finance, and not technically being employed by the university means that I am not eligible for childcare funding. The cost of childcare is around £11,000 per year, my stipend is £14,200.
  • ..almost all the staff I meet from different universities are “pals from [insert elitist uni here]”. As such they have very little understanding of the challenges someone from a “normal” or disadvantaged background faces, especially financially, giving the overwhelming impression that your skills are secondary to your class.
  • The higher up you go, the more male and white-dominated the environment becomes. There’s only one full female professor in my whole institute, and I have genuinely never met a black PI [Principal Investigator] or professor since starting my PhD.

Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, commented:

  • Too often, people taking PhDs are regarded as neither one thing nor the other. They are not seen as students the way undergraduates are and they are not seen as staff the way academics are. Sometimes, PhD students receive excellent support but, too often, they fall through the cracks, making them demoralised and unhappy. When that happens, we all lose because the world desperately needs people who push forward the frontiers of knowledge.
  • We know far more about undergraduates than we used to and we now need similar levels of research on the student experience of postgraduates to help policymakers, regulators and funders improve their lives.

In the Foreword to the new report, Dr Katie Wheat, Head of Engagement and Policy at Vitae, said:

  • This report makes an important contribution to current debates on research culture by presenting the views of doctoral researchers in the UK extracted from the recent Wellcome Trust and Nature reports. It highlights several areas of concern, including working conditions, wellbeing, supervision and incidents of bullying and harassment…The findings chime with growing recognition of the need to improve research culture.

Student Numbers Cap

The deadline for universities to apply for additional places expired on Friday.

Emma Hardy questions the reasoning behind the threshold levels set for continuation and graduate outcome rates which determine whether a provider can bid for some of the 5,000 non-healthcare course additional places for the 2020/21 recruitment round. She also asks why these indicators were chosen rather than using the TEF, whether an equalities impact assessment was undertaken, and if the DfE considered a HEIs social intake and the communities served when setting the rates (because they appear to discriminate against certain types of provider).

The additional 5,000 biddable places within the student numbers cap restrictions allow the Government to exert a small measure of control over which courses they wish to see more (or less) of within the UK. In this vein Research Professional had an interesting narrative on Monday covering Australia who intend to more than double tuition fees for some arts subjects, raise fees for business and law, and lowered fees for some in-demand courses which contribute to national gap and growth needs. The reforms will be implemented in 2021 – if they pass the parliamentary hurdles.

The increase/decreases:

  • +28% law and commerce studies
  • +113% arts and humanities (making a three year degree roughly £24,150 in UK terms)
  • -62% maths and agriculture
  • -46% teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, and languages (including English)
  • -20% science, health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering
  • 0% (no change) for medicine, dental and veterinary

The price rises are per unit of study so it encourages students who might study history to also consider teaching too, or to add in a language.

The changes are designed to incentive students to follow the career growth areas that Australia needs. They aiming to get 39,000 students on skills shortage courses by 2023 and 100,000 by 2030 to produce the ‘job ready graduates’ that Australia needs.

The Australian Government also intends to increase support for rural and indigenous students through the reforms. They will direct fund universities to run bespoke programmes with local significance to attract indigenous students from the lowest participation rate areas and guarantee a place at public universities. Other reforms include a $48.8m research grants programme for regional universities to collaborate with industry, and $21m to set up more regional university study centres to provide tutoring and IT support for students in remote areas.

Research Professional highlight that the UK Government could utilise the LEO data to set price variation in the levels of student loan that would be offered to priority and non-priority courses. Also that if more students took courses with higher salaries the repayment levels of loans would be higher – ultimately saving the public purse. Although one does wonder whether so many of these high paid roles are standing vacant or whether such a policy increasing the volume of graduates following some programmes would simply displace the current holders of such posts. Nethertheless, it is food for thought for the Government who love a decent worked example from elsewhere. Particularly with the response to the Augar report (which advocated cutting humanities tuition fee/loans down to £7,500) not due until the spending review.

Ant Bagshaw (ex-Wonkhe, now working in Australia) has a blog on the proposals and what this might mean for UK HE. As ever there are some interesting comments to the blog. And the Guardian have an opinion piece taking issue with the Australian proposal for job ready graduates.

Returning to the UK student numbers cap there is an interesting piece from a specialist institution explaining how the student number controls will reduce access for those from certain disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Government has also released the latest information on how the student number cap will be run. Wonkhe summarise it:

  • It suggests that the controls will apply to fee-loan and self-funded full time undergraduates, with exemptions for new providers and students retaking A levels in the autumn. Franchised provision will count towards the cap of the registering institution, and this will not change if the agreement is terminated. It appears that number restrictions will apply to providers that do not recruit via UCAS, though we get little information as to how this will work in practice.
  • According to the same document, the list of specified subjects for additional places will not be changed, and includes subjects which relate to skills or professions at risk of shortage in the economy, or that “generate positive economic returns for the individual and the taxpayer”. This marks the first time longitudinal salary data has been used in higher education policymaking.

Student Complaints

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has published a second briefing note on their approach to complaints arising from C-19. These excerpts make their approach to complaints clear:

  • Consumer protection legislation has not been suspended for students. This means that providers still need to deliver learning and other services that are consistent with students’ reasonable expectations. 
  • What students can reasonably expect, and what providers can reasonably be expected to deliver, is likely to change and evolve as circumstances change and evolve, especially if restrictions are tightened again. But providers should be planning to deliver what was promised – or something at least broadly equivalent to it – and to ensure that learning outcomes can be met. It’s unlikely to be reasonable not to do that, especially now the initial crisis period has passed.
  • Where providers have not or decide they cannot deliver what was promised they will need to consider how to put that right. A blanket refusal to consider tuition fee refunds in any circumstances is not reasonable. There may be groups of students that are particularly affected, and providers should take steps to identify those groups and address their issues. But they also need to consider concerns raised by students about their individual circumstances.
  • Some students may feel unable to continue with their studies because the way their course will be delivered has changed materially, their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or are very anxious. Providers should consider requests for deferrals sympathetically and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so. [This is interesting in light of recent media reports that second or third year students wish to defer for a year rather than continue with online teaching in subjects such as theatre studies.]
  • We can look at complaints about what was promised and what was delivered, but we can’t look at concerns that involve academic judgment such as the quality of academic provision.
  • We can consider (for example) a complaint that a provider did not cover subject areas that it said it would; that a student’s supervisor was unavailable; that a student didn’t benefit from teaching because they could not access it, or the delivery method did not work for them; that a provider did not support its students adequately; or that the provider did not follow a reasonable assessment process.
  • But an assessment of the quality of what has been delivered is likely to involve academic judgment, which we can’t look at…This means that we can’t look at a complaint that teaching was not of an adequate academic standard; that an online teaching session was just not as good as it would have been face to face; that the student’s work was worth a higher mark; or that a postgraduate student did not get the right academic guidance from their supervisor.
  • We will look at whether what the provider has done is reasonable in the circumstances – so reasonable delivery in the middle of lockdown is likely to look different to reasonable delivery in a more managed and planned environment.

The lack of judgement over quality of academic delivery slams the door on the Universities Minister’s claims to contact the ombudsmen if students aren’t able to resolve concerns directly with their provider.

There is also clear emphasis on individual student differences:

  • Some students are more seriously affected than others…Arrangements that might work well for many students may not work for all and providers should be proactive about identifying and supporting students who may need additional help. Students are likely to encounter all sorts of accessibility issues. Online teaching arrangements may not work for some students with learning or processing differences. Some students will be shielding or have caring responsibilities that continue even after lockdown restrictions are eased. Some will have poor internet connection – some will not have access to IT equipment at all. Some will simply not be able to work effectively from the space they are living in.
  • Careful thought and planning is needed to address these issues in advance, whenever possible. Planning that starts with meeting the needs of those likely to have accessibility issues is more likely to result in arrangements that work for everyone.

And a pro-active approach is urged:

  • Providers also need to seek out students who are not engaging with online delivery, and those whom they know may find it difficult because of their individual circumstances.
  • Some students such as those who had planned to study abroad or take up industry placements may be facing additional uncertainties. Providers may need to give those students more support and advice, for example on accommodation and financial issues.
  • A rigid adherence to regulations and processes is unlikely to be fair: empathy and flexibility are key.

Mass Action

Meanwhile the NHS is encouraging students to join their mass action complaint chain to win the chance to REDO, REIMBURSE, WRITE-OFF  (compensation funding for reimbursements, a debt write-off, or the chance to redo the year at no extra cost). Research Professional report that

  • the NUS estimates that around 20 per cent of students have been unable to access their learning at all during the pandemic and 33 per cent do not believe it to have been good quality. Particularly badly affected, the union says, are the many disabled students who have not received reasonable adjustments remotely, those who have lost access to studio, lab or workshop space, and students on placements.

Claire Sosienski Smith, VP HE at NUS, stated:

  • We know the scale of the disruption has been so vast that we need a national sector-wide response from government for this, including funding from Westminster… even if students complain to their individual institutions, how will universities afford it when the UK government haven’t announced a single penny of additional funding to support them? Our plea to the UK government is clear: you must offer tangible help to students who can’t access their education right now.

On the Government’s insistence that students individually take up their complaint with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS President, said:

  • We were told students were going to be ‘empowered consumers’ but actually, when something like this happens, we feel we’ve got less rights than if we’d booked an Airbnb. The UK government are desperate to reduce this to a series of individual problems. It’s a total betrayal of trust to the thousands of students who are now facing lifelong debts for a once-in-a-lifetime education they haven’t received.

Online learning

HEPI have a guest blog – Learning from lockdown: harnessing tech to improve the student experience. It begins:

  • The recent transition to online learning has been as rapidas it has been impressive. Many universities have put very large elements of their curricula and assessments online in just a few short weeks.
  • Things that would previously have taken years to plan and execute have been designed, developed and implemented with alacrity. In short, there has been a huge amount of digital acceleration in universities since the advent of the pandemic.
  • However, let’s not kid ourselves; what has been achieved recently is mostly basicand will be largely ephemeral. I’ve heard it said that the transition is more about remote learning than online learning – about adding new tools to old pedagogy, rather than digitally enabling education across the board.

Next it considers the levels at which universities engage most fully with online learning. It concludes with a plug for Jisc and states:

  • The big effort that many universities are embarking on this summer is to develop more extensive, robust and higher quality online learning experiences for their students. Those that created a digital strategy a few years ago and invested in digital infrastructure, skills, content and applications must be feeling a little smug – and relieved. But it’s never too late to start on technology enablement and now is an ‘opportune’ time.
  • I suggest that there is more than enough technology and written experience out there about what works well. Universities need to harness both to capitalise on the newfound energy and goodwill among staff and students.

OfS

It has been a season of high-profile step downs. The latest is Sir Michael Barber who will not seek a second term as Chair of the OfS, meaning he will step down in March 2021. Like most of those relinquishing roles he still has a parliamentary to do list before he can return to his garden and long walks – he has agreed to lead a review into digital learning. The review will consider how universities and other higher education providers can continue to enhance online teaching and learning for the new academic year, and explore longer term opportunities for digital teaching and learning.

The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, commented on Sir Michael’s decision to step down:

  • I have hugely valued Sir Michael’s leadership, insight and advice during his time as Chair and I have enjoyed our working relationship.
  • I am very thankful to him for his work leading the set up and transformation of the OfS, and particularly for his work tackling unconditional offers, senior executive pay and grade inflation.
  • As the higher education sector emerges from the pandemic, I look forward to the findings of the review into ways of enhancing the quality of online learning and driving innovation, which will be critical for the future of the sector.

Let’s hope Sir Michael’s review receives ministerial attention quicker than that of the TEF or the Augar reports.

Brexit

We haven’t mentioned the ‘B’ word more than in passing recently. However, we’re halfway through the transition period and the Government is adamant it will end without extension on 31 December. Little progress has been made in talks and businesses are fearful of no deal particularly following the economic downturn associated with the pandemic. Dods have a Brexit briefing examining the key areas of contention in the talks, the possibility of an extension, and the implementation hurdles that need to be overcome before the end of the year.

Easing Lockdown

The House of Commons Library have issued a briefing paper on the impact of easing lockdown restrictions within the FE & HE sectors (in England). The paper covers the expected issues including re-opening campuses, prospective student numbers (2020/21), and temporary student number controls.

Parliamentary Updates

APPG Universities: Ex-universities minister Chris Skidmore has been appointed co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary interest group for Universities. Daniel Zeichner continues to also co-chair the APPG.  Chris states: I look forward to continuing to make the case for why our world leading UK universities can drive innovation, lift social mobility and regenerate local economies- and why they deserve support. Chris has also committed to a monthly spot writing for Research Professional too. Between Chris and Jo Johnson it seems Michelle Donelan’s time in the spotlight will be harried by two ex-Ministers who are willing to speak out. This is likely good news for the sector (for now) as Donelan has been keen to stick closely to the party line to date.

Parliamentary Questions

Contract Cheating; If you’ve been following this topic in the policy update for a while you’ll be aware that Lord Storey continues his campaign to stamp out essay mills and academic cheat services. He often asks nuanced parliamentary questions on the topic and this week he got an encouraging answer. Here it is in full:

Q – Lord Storey: Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on academic performance in those countries who have banned contract cheating services; and what plans they have, if any, to adopt similar policies. [HL5328]

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • The government is aware that legislation has been introduced in several countries to ban contract cheating services, including in New Zealand, several states in the USA and, most recently, Ireland. It should also be noted that a bill was introduced in Australia in December which, if passed, would make it an offence to provide or advertise academic ‘contract cheating’ services in higher education.
  • We would be willing to consider supporting any legislation, including a Private Members’ Bill, that is workable and that contains measures that would eliminate essay mills in ways that cannot be delivered through other means, provided that the Parliamentary time permitted.
  • Ministers have called on universities, sector bodies, educational technology companies and online platforms to do everything in their power to help eradicate academic cheating of any kind from our world-class higher education sector. We have set a clear expectation that the Office for Students (OfS) should take a visible lead in challenging the sector to eliminate the use of essay mills. We expect the OfS to work with the members of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment to ensure that the sector has the support it needs and that it is taking firm and robust action to ensure that this threat to the integrity of the higher education system is being tackled.

Other Questions

  • Financial and educational support for postgraduate students whose education is now online.
  • This question is about schools rather than HE but it reminds us that young/student carers may be more disadvantaged as they may have had to self-isolate throughout lockdown to protect the vulnerable condition of those they care for.

Oral questions in the House of Commons on Further and Higher Education covered a range of topics this week (no new news). Some are covered in other sections.  The student number cap, international students, support for students and the economy all featured.

Research Professional cover all the major HE oral questions and add a little entertainment value in their descriptions.

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.

There aren’t any new HE consultations or inquiries this week. However, if you are interested in the bigger picture you may like to be aware that:

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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 20th May 2020

A bumper week (again) – here is your easy way to catch up on everything all in one place

Student support

Emma Hardy, the Shadow Universities Minister, has written to Michelle Donelan (Government’s Universities Minister) to highlight students facing significant hardship.

  • In our last meeting we discussed the fact that many university students needed urgent financial help to cope with the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. You assured me you were confident that every university would be in a position to help every student in genuine need through its hardship funds. However, after speaking to universities and the NUS I do not share your confidence.

She goes on to describe universities so overwhelmed by the demand for hardship funds they have begun crowdfunding and another university with tricky fund rules which Hardy says prevents those most at need from applying. She also explains that students without children are ineligible for Universal Credit, and few have been furloughed due to the nature of their part time work contracts.

  • I do not have to emphasise the fact that it will mostly be those students who have overcome the greatest barriers to get to university who will be affected the most. I have already heard concerns from those in the sector that the drop-out rate will be higher this year and the news I am hearing, about the failures of hardship funds to support all those who need help, adds to my worry… It cannot be right for their welfare to be considered the sole province of individual universities, which under current circumstances means consigning it to the luck of the draw—a lottery which has left some unable to manage…I would urge the Government to take a pro-active role and I would welcome any proposals for guaranteeing there is adequate financial provision for the young people who have been caught in this storm.

Research Professional say:

  • This is not a shouty letter venting outrage but one that begins by thanking the minister for listening to different points of view, before shining a light on an area of government failing.
  • There has been no mention so far of universities in the UK government’s strategy for national recovery after lockdown. This is something of an oversight and one that the opposition parties might want to start asking questions about as we all begin to emerge from our houses blinking into the early summer sunlight.

They also highlight that the Shadow letter doesn’t set out suggestions for how the Government should support students. Their daily email runs through some possibilities and effectively discounts them.

Student Petition: And if you’ve been wondering what happened to the student petition to have tuition fees reimbursed due to this year’s strike and the loss of face to face teaching due to C-19 the official word is – The Committee decided to take further oral evidence on this petition, from the relevant Government minister.

Parliamentary questions

Financial Stability

The Government listened to the measures UUK requested on behalf of the HE sector and issued their support package cherry picking the elements that fitted with the Government’s aims and doing little other than moving payments forward with the rest. Research Professional have an interesting article rethinking it all from Pam Tatlow (ex-MillionPlus Chief Executive).

  • The deal that universities need to support them through the coronavirus crisis is not the one that they asked for. Nor is it the one that was begrudgingly put on the table by the Westminster government, which is little more than a lend-lease agreement with strings.

The article critiques the UUK approach in compiling and launching their request to Government.

  • UUK’s first requests focused on research…Its proposals would undoubtedly have benefited the small group of universities that receive the lion’s share of taxpayer-funded research monies. In the event, only a very modest amount of quality-related funding (£100 million) has been brought forward.
  • Universities that have used international fees to subsidise their reputations as world leaders in research will undoubtedly claim that without additional funding they will no longer be financially viable. This may well be so, but if such a bailout is forthcoming there should be conditions attached. For example, these institutions could be required to demonstrate that they are financially viable within five years based on their UK activities.
  • UUK’s own estimates suggest that there may be up to 15 per cent fewer home and European Union students progressing to university in 2020. It is therefore difficult to understand its proposal that universities in England and Wales should be able to recruit up to 5 per cent more students than the numbers they forecast
  • Nor do the elaborate rules and stern warnings from the Office for Students about unconditional offers and admissions practices add up. All a university higher up the hierarchical food chain has to do is issue many more offers at lower grades in the first place, leaving the majority to keep afloat by reducing courses, student opportunities and staff.

Pam concludes:

  • The right deal for universities has to mean a return to collaboration and an end to the market that has bedevilled higher education for a decade. It has to mean a return to the idea (which students have never abandoned) that studying a subject that you love for its own sake is as good a rationale for higher education as the money that you will earn (or probably not earn to the same extent in a long recession).
  • It has got to mean more and not less funding for social justice, giving the students who study at the most socially inclusive institutions the same resources as those whose institutions are well endowed through decades of public funding, private endowments and capital investment.
  • And of course it must mean a return to the direct funding of universities, the restoration of maintenance grants and an end to the tuition fees that have restricted the ambitions of those who would have liked to study at university when they were older, or to return to study, including as postgraduates and part-time.
  • Universities, with all their talents and ideas, should be on the front line and on the front foot in arguing that the crisis should not be paid for through extra taxes and pay freezes but that the government should borrow to invest, especially in higher education as a right for all.

Parliamentary questions

Education Select Committee

The House of Commons Education Select Committee met virtually to explore the effect of the coronavirus on children and young people’s services (including HE). You can read a summary of the sessions compiled by Dods here, one by Research Professional here, Wonkhe’s version is here, or watch the full Committee sessions here. In brief it covered:

Session 1

  • 2020/21 recruitment ramifications will not be known until September.
  • The Government’s support package isn’t enough to support the HR sector. Criticism included that it simply brought forward payments rather than provided additional funds and that the student number cap benefitted the wealthier universities at the expense of locally based universities.
  • Students have lost their supplementary incomes and are struggling financially. Wellbeing, mental health and the option to redo the year without cost were mentioned. Concerns over PhD students were raised.
  • The increased workload on HE staff was a concern.
  • The student rent situation was discussed and calls were made for the Scottish move to release students from their private rental agreements to be adopted in England.
  • Quality of online tuition was discussed covering that it wasn’t what students had expected from their degree programme and online access and assessment issues. (The Financial Times has a nice counterpoint to this emphasising the positive benefits since the move online, and why is should continue to some degree.)
  • There was discussion on fees being revisited during the pandemic.
  • The importance of how UCAS ‘control clearing’ was mentioned.
  • UCU stated Government should indicate when universities should reopen their campuses rather than it being an individual decision taken by the university itself. Research Professional give this aspect a lot of coverage in their description of the Committee’s session. iNews specifically covered this aspect of the session, as did the Telegraph.

Session 2

  • Session 2 focussed on disadvantaged students. The OfS reiterated the importance of the access and participation targets, including discussion on degree apprenticeships. The access gap and unconscious bias faced by black and disadvantaged communities were mentioned. The OfS stated they believe the next 5 years will show the biggest step forward in social mobility and social justice for 2 generations.
  • On a return to ‘normal’ campus based learning in autumn 2020 OfS stated that they required universities to be as clear as possible in explaining students what to expect if they accepted an offer. They did not want any promises of a return to university life when it might not be possible. The Times and BBC covered this.
  • OfS stated there were not any HE institutions at immediate risk of collapse but they do expect the financial sustainability of the sector to be affected by the pandemic and C-19 poses serious risks to the sector. They also stated that international students were not being chased simply as cash cows. Research Professional disagree and name SOAS as teetering on the financial edge.
  • OfS stated they have disseminated good practice examples in student mental health and accommodation and that sharing good practice examples is a powerful way to influence the agenda.
  • OfS dodged an answer to whether student paying full tuition fees was justifiable if they were only receiving partial online learning stating it was a ‘live’ question and that it depended on the quality of the university provision. However, at present students should pay full fees and if the provision is inadequate take this up with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
  • Chair, Robert Halfon, followed up on how OfS judged quality to which they responded they measure through output indicators and student complaints. (Wonkhe give this a mention here.)

Research Professional cover the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee who have

  • issued a 19-page letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, setting out “10 key lessons the UK government should learn from its experience of handling the first months of the pandemic”. The Chair of the Science and Technology Committee is the ex-Secretary of State for BEIS, Greg Clark.

Virtual Parliament

Prospect Union, who represent staff working in the Houses of Parliament, will be resisting government plans to cancel the virtual parliament and bring MPs back to Westminster as early as next month over fears about safety and the practicality of social distancing. Prospect says it will work with government on restoring any essential functions but that the key elements of the system must be retained for now. Politics Home have an article on the return to parliament schism.

However, a survey by The House says only 23% of MPs believe the virtual ability to ask questions and take part in debates remotely via video link should be retained. Only 11% believed the right to vote remotely under any circumstances should be retained. Although 55% agreed that remote or proxy voting for MPs unable to attend due to ill health should be retained and there was some support for parental leave remote measures. MPs representing remote areas of the country (such as the Outer Hebrides) have called for online voting to continue and emphasised it would stop a huge amount of unnecessary journeys by MPs and 35% agreed MPs on overseas trips should be allowed to vote remotely. Yet only 19% of MPs agreed that MPs with constituencies over 4 hours travel away should be allowed to vote remotely. Some MPs are opposed to the remote working because it would restrict access to

  • get hold of government ministers in person. The fact that we can nab the chancellor of the Exchequer in the division lobby is worth an awful lot. I think that would be a huge mistake.

Another says

  • Though the temporary measures are working “reasonably well”, he fears that MPs could risk losing out “on reading the mood of the room and picking up water cooler chat” if they continue to work remotely in the future. He adds: “I am sceptical about this becoming the default. I don’t ever want to be the moaning voice on the screen and the wall that you can basically mute and ignore.”

Others point to gender equality and greater diversity measures that can be achieved through the technologies.

Conference Recess

The Labour Party has cancelled their annual September conference due to C-19. It remains to be seen if the other parties will follow suit and Parliament will continue to sit rather than take recess.

Autumn opening

The Financial Times talks of a blend of online and in-person education post pandemic, not just as a temporary measure but as a more accessible and comprehensive overall offer. It states it

  • could revolutionise universities, help them survive the economic crisis and bring higher education to tens of millions of people who have never set foot on campus…Many “left-behind” adults everywhere would love to learn from home, get qualifications and change their lives, especially if the pandemic has left them jobless…We need more adult learners. Their numbers in the UK almost halved between 2004 and 2016…As lifespans expand, and technology changes, we should top up our education over the decades, while keeping our jobs and families. University is wasted on the young…Blended teaching could help more students enter higher education, argues Chris Stone of Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. He proposes a model in which some students spend a month on campus, then months studying from home, before returning to campus for the final weeks. That would allow universities to teach multiple cohorts a year, cutting tuition costs…Anita Pilgrim, who teaches at the UK’s Open University, which pioneered blended learning, cautions that remote learners need lots of support. Her university has educational advisers who help students find a study-life balance, apply for funding, access resources for dyslexia etc…Teaching online has shortcomings — but so does in-person teaching.

OfS, UUK, Advance HE and the QAA are all rumoured to be putting together guidance for the HE sector on autumn 2020 possible commencement. Whilst answering questions at the Covid-19 press conference Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, stated that: The education secretary will be returning to the subject and providing guidance. Meanwhile more and more sector sources are acknowledging that the teaching model is likely to be a blended approach from the autumn.

Wonkhe have a blog ostensibly about student spirit with a nice slant looking at how online interaction and socialisation worked well during lockdown for a sporting tournament. Rather than the deficit approach of what has been lost during lockdown it illustrates new self-organised approaches which were different and positive.

On Tuesday evening Cambridge University stated it intended to conduct all teaching online possibly with some smaller in-person taught groups if social distancing could be achieved. Of course, they intend to adjust their model in-year should restrictions be relaxed or further curtail contact.  The University of Bolton takes a completely different approach – they intend to open for in-contact teaching: be able to study and engage in person regularly with other students and staff. With students allocated 12 hours on campus per week. Of course, the remaining time will be topped up by online and self-study.

Wonkhe cover both stories and provide media links:

  • Cambridge may be one of only a few universities that could still expect a full, or near-full cohort to start in the autumn with the year ahead expected to be online – as other providers that have struggled to recruit in the past may yet find it challenging to convince students to turn up to a fully online academic year. The position is complicated further by the fact that the college system may not be an easy point of comparison for others that rely more on large lectures.
  • The news was originallybroken by Varsity, was picked up last night by the BBC, and is covered this morning by the Times, the Mail, the Telegraph, the Express, the Evening Standard, the Guardian, the Independent, the Tab, the FT and is on the Press Association It’s also on several international news sites including Forbes.
  • Meanwhile, the University of Bolton has moveddecisively in the other direction, announcing a number of technical measures – from temperature sensors, to queueless catering, to bike loans – to support a return to campus in the autumn. Manchester Evening News has the story, and the university has released an animated video.

Here is the full list of Bolton’s intended changes to enable on campus teaching:

  • Providing regular socially distanced face-to-face tutorials, laboratory experience, access to arts studios and specialist facilities, etc
  • Implementing an effective scheduling system, limiting significantly the number of students on campus at any one time to keep you secure
  • Dividing sessions for access on campus into set times per day, for example, possibly between 8am-2pm and 2pm-8pm
  • Strictly observing recommended social distancing guidelines at all times
  • Installing sophisticated airport style walk through temperature scanners at every building entry
  • Making bicycles available for loan by students, enabling them to avoid crowded public transport
  • Providing on-campus bike parks as well as car parks
  • Ensuring there are adequate additional sanitiser stations
  • Providing and making the wearing of face coverings on campus compulsory for the foreseeable future to safeguard the safety of those around you. In exceptional circumstances, such as misplacing or forgetting face coverings, students will be issued with replacements
  • Carefully managed walking routes including one-way navigation
  • Multiple ‘learning zones’ being created across the campus, by identifying and transforming large spaces into areas featuring tables with plastic dividing screens to allow communication between people facing one another. (E.g. The ground floor of the National Centre for Motorsport Engineering will be cleared to become such a zone and other areas will also be repurposed)
  • Additional self-service, café-style takeaway food and drink stations to minimise queues
  • Instigating a rigorous cleansing programme throughout all university buildings.

On Bolton the Manchester Evening News says:

  • Students are currently using video calls to take classes virtually and the campus is unable to reopen until the government gives the all clear.
  • This will mean widespread changes to create a ‘new normal’ on campus and enable all students to physically attend the university campus safely at specified sessions.
  • During those sessions they will be able to work in laboratories, studios and workshops, attend tutorials, meet other students or converse with their tutor, on top of continuing their learning online.

This British Council article on how Chinese Universities are returning (in part) to face-to-face teaching contact is worth a quick skim through.

Parliamentary questions:

Access, Participation & Success

This week one of the main discussion topics has been access to university and disadvantaged success whilst at university. This isn’t surprising – as lockdown ‘eases’ and contemplation of what the autumn 2020 restart may consist of, alongside the constant recruitment conundrums – attention focuses more and more on how the national situation may play out for equalities.

Advance HE have a blog on the entrenched structural inequalities in HE. Looking through the lens of the student lifecycle in the UK, these have resulted in many challenges, including:

  • Underrepresentation of specific student groups: both generally, and in different disciplines, levels of study, and types of institution.
  • significant degree awarding gaps for different student groups – particularly relating to ethnicity (and gendered intersections) and disability.
  • differential experience of safety and harassment
  • unequal progression to highly skilled employment, and postgraduate study
  • teaching staff and senior academic staff who do not yet reflect the diversity of student cohorts.

OfS have relaxed the monitoring requirements of the Access and Participation Plans, whilst emphasising institutions should still do all they can to deliver the chosen goals. Advance HE continue:

  • all these external drivers – APPs (or equivalents), transparency returns, funded projects, Equality Charters – should ultimately be considered instruments collectively working to achieve a greater aim: a vision of an equitable student learning experience. The test of COVID-19 is how embedded that aim is in an institution’s vision of what sort of educational experience it can and wants to provide coming out of this crisis, and for whom.

The article concludes with 5 suggestions to keep student equity momentum going.

SRHE published the blog: Paid, unpaid and hidden internships: still a barrier to social mobility.

It explains the different sources of data from which to judge whether and how big an issue unpaid internships are. At the end of the article it puts the current data into perspective:

  • These findings show that, whilst unpaid internships appear to be declining in most sectors, they are still a key access route in some key industries and occupations and that this is likely to present a barrier to entry for less privileged graduates. The fact that graduates with better grades or from more prestigious institutions are more likely to do the paid internships reinforces findings from previous studies that suggest paid internships are more competitive and sought after. The findings also show that participation in graduate internships, paid or unpaid, is more commonplace in less vocational subjects, such as mass communication and documentation, historical and philosophical studies and creative arts and design. This may suggest that graduates of these subjects feel more need to supplement their educational qualifications with internships to ‘get ahead’ in an increasingly competitive graduate labour market.

The Wonkhe blog In this pandemic, admissions policy is being developed in real time urges organisations to work collaborative on the principles of admissions implying the Government will impose changes if the sector doesn’t move on its own consensus and practice first. It also states

  • Now is certainly the time to think about what to do if demand for places drops significantly in September. If selective courses start forecasting to under recruit in 2020 then maybe some of this demand can be absorbed by a greater focus on helping previously excluded WP students gain access to these programmes and a new way of thinking about how these courses recruit and select students.

Another Wonkhe blog, Delivering remote support for neurodiverse learners. this time by an assistive technology trainer, highlights the positive and negatives within an online learning environment for some students. The comments at the end that remind about autism are worth a read.

The admissions problem isn’t just about “prediction” takes a good gallop through why the use of predicted grades will double hit disadvantaged students, mentions other contributing factors, and gently calls for admissions reform.

Andrew Ross from University of Bath talks digital outreach.

A Bridge Group blog argues we should ensure that disadvantaged students are admitted to university at the same proportion as previous years so as not to lose progress on widening participation after the lockdown.

The OfS published a briefing note on the needs of students without family support during the pandemic. It covers all the main concerns and aims to share ideas, case studies, and signposting between universities to support these most vulnerable of students. Examples include:

  • offering personalised financial support in the form of hardship funds and graduate bursaries
  • tailoring mental health and wellbeing support and providing a buddy system to mitigate the isolating effects of lockdown
  • prioritising the provision of internet access, laptops and any other necessary course equipment for care experienced and estranged students.
  • The importance of addressing challenges faced by prospective students – whose access to information, advice and guidance to make informed choices for next year may have been affected by school closures.

And Wonkhe report that:  An open letter promoted by NUS and UCU is circulating regarding specific reasonable adjustments during the pandemic for disabled, chronically Ill and neurodivergent PhD students. It argues that many actions being taken by universities and funding bodies do not provide for the differentiated impacts and pressures experienced by disabled, chronically ill or neurodivergent students – or if they do, frame them entirely as matters of “health and wellbeing” rather than marginalisation, inequity, or structural discrimination.

It’s foster care fortnight and care leavers across the UK have amalgamated their definition of care into an online collaborative poem.

Wonkhe report that: New research from the Cardiff University’s Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre finds that young people who were either in care or care-experienced at 13- or 14-years old, had significantly lower expectations of attending university than their peers. The report recommends that social workers, teachers, and higher education providers can all contribute to closing this gap.

Marginal prospective students

The Research Professional (RP) blog All being equal reports that TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) met this week with RP stating that:

  • One worry is that Covid-19 will not only widen existing gaps but also make it harder to collect the evidence needed to find what works in reducing them. The group has already had to cancel plans to assess the effectiveness of summer schools, since none are happening this year. Given all this, the ambitious target set by the OfS to eliminate gaps in entry and dropout rates and degree outcomes between different groups of students in higher education within 20 yearslooks to be at risk.

However, they report that

  • Anna Vignoles, professor of education at the University of Cambridge, suggested Covid-19 could also potentially offer “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a big widening participation intervention”.
  • While going to university just to hide from a difficult labour market is not ideal, the evidence still points to higher education generally benefiting young people both economically and psychologically, Vignoles said. The chances are that they will be better off if they go. And she suggested to Playbook that stronger communication from higher education institutions was needed to make this happen.
  • Her main concern is for the students “at the margins”—not those who have always assumed they will be going to university. It is these “marginal” students who will suffer most from a bad labour market, she says, including the many apprentices likely to see the firms they work for go under, leaving their qualifications up in the air. Higher and further education institutions need to work together to help this group, she argues—and by this, she means those higher education institutions with traditional roots in their communities, that are used to responding to local skills needs.

Science Outreach for School Pupils

UKRI is funding to I’m a Scientist, Stay at Home! a school-age outreach platform for pupils to engage with STEM research during the school closures. UKRI say it is a unique programme where students can engage with scientists over fast-paced online text-based chats. Pupils can ask them anything they want such as: What’s the nearest meteorite to us? What’s your favourite thing about being a scientist? These chats are complemented with lesson plans for teachers to engage their students and at the end students vote for their favourite scientist. Part of the UKRI’s vision for public engagement is to nurture a future generation passionate about research and innovation and they state that I’m a Scientist provides a safe, moderated space for students to be inspired by science through conversations with active research staff.

UKRI state that with limited opportunities for practical science classes and engagement with research, I’m a Scientist provides a unique opportunity for classes to reconvene and explore cutting-edge scientific research together. Taking part in I’m a Scientist has been shown to help students get a better understanding of research and gain confidence in asking questions about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). It also supports researchers to improve their communication skills and enables them to engage with young people from regions across the UK.

Medical Research Council (MRC) has funded the Medical Research Zone with around 30 MRC-funded researchers and technicians engaging in conversations with school pupils.

Tom Saunders, UKRI Head of Public Engagement, said:

  • “This is a great opportunity for us to support STEM teaching during this difficult time for everyone. I’m a Scientist, Stay at Home! will inspire young people about research and the role it plays in our lives as well as provide a great way for UKRI researchers and technical staff to engage with young people,”

Parliamentary questions

Postgraduate Education

HEPI and the British Library have published a 154 page report: Postgraduate Education in the UK. It considers the changing postgraduate landscape over the last decade. It takes a pre C-19 perspective, however, it does tackle how postgraduate education was affected by 2008 recession – when students sought out additional education to help surmount the economic challenges and when those who already had postgraduate qualifications fared better than others in the labour market.

The 8 page executive summary is a quicker read for those with only a passing interest.

Some key Points taken mainly from HEPI’s press release:

  • There were 566,555 postgraduate students in 2017/18, of which 356,996 (63%) were in their first year – up by 16% since 2008/09
  • Two-thirds (65%) of new postgraduates are studying for Master’s degrees, 10% are taking doctorates or other research degrees, 7% are doing teacher training and the rest (18%) a range of diplomas, certificates, professional qualifications and modules
  • The most popular discipline is Business & Administrative Studies (20%), followed by Education (14%) and Subjects Allied to Medicine (12%). Research postgraduates (64%) are more likely to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) but most taught postgraduates (68%) take non- STEM subjects
  • Just over half of new UK-domiciled postgraduates (53%) study full-time, reversing past trends favouring part-time study – back in 2008/09, most postgraduates (59%) were part-time students
  • More than half (60%) of new postgraduate students at UK institutions come from the UK, while one-third (32%) come from outside the EU and 8% come from EU countries. The majority of Master’s students (53%) come from outside the UK
  • The female:male ratio among new postgraduates is 60:40, or 62:38 among UK-domiciled students alone. This reflects greater female participation over time – in 2008/09, the overall female:male ratio was 55:45
  • The gender ratio varies considerably by discipline: women are in a big majority in Subjects Allied to Medicine (77%), Veterinary Sciences (72%) and Education (70%) and men are in a big majority in Engineering & Technology (78%), Computer Science (76%) and Mathematics (71%). Males outnumber females among PhD researchers (51%)
  • White men, particularly disadvantaged White men, are less likely to undertake postgraduate study than others. Among UK-domiciled postgraduate entrants from the poorest areas, 64% are women and 36% are men
  • The proportion of postgraduate students aged under 30 has grown from 52% to 57% since 2008/09, reflecting a broader decline in people accessing lifelong learning opportunities
  • The introduction of £10,000 Master’s loans for home / EU students in 2016 has had a big positive impact: UK-domiciled student numbers grew by 29% in one year and by 59% among those from the most disadvantaged areas. The loans have also encouraged above-inflation fee increases
  • The number of people taking Taught Master’s courses grew by 30% from 2008/09 to 2017/18, but the total has been volatile, particularly among UK students. Among all new postgraduates, just over half (51%) were full-time Taught Master’s students in 2017/18 (Table 3.1 and p.23).
  • Between 2008/09 and 2017/18, UK-domiciled postgraduate entrants increased by 10% but students from overseas grew faster: EU-domiciled student numbers increased by 11% and non-EU international students grew by 33%
  • Chinese students formed 38% of the non-EU postgraduate cohort by 2017/18. Such heavy reliance on a single country exposes universities to greater risk from geo-political events
  • Since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, the number of new postgraduate students from EU countries has fallen (by 2% in 2017/18 and another 2% in 2018/19), but the reduction in the value of the pound contributed to a 10% increase in non-EU postgraduate starters in 2017/18
  • The great recession following the 2007/08 financial crash witnessed a marked rise in Master’s take-up, as employment opportunities were restricted and people brought forward their plans to study
  • The abolition of post-study work visas (announced in 2011 and implemented in 2012) had a negative impact on demand for postgraduate study, most notably within India. The announcement that this policy is to be reversed is welcome but needs communicating quickly and clearly
  • Women have a bigger boost to their earnings from postgraduate study, earning 28% more than women with only undergraduate degrees – the comparable figure for men is 12%. But women with postgraduate qualifications still earn 14% less on average than men with the same level of qualifications
  • In the last crash, employment among those with postgraduate qualifications was slower to fall and faster to recover than for those with only a first degree, which may signal how the labour market will respond to the current Covid-19 crisis
  • Demand for postgraduate education is likely to grow over the long term: there could be an additional 22,750 undergraduates moving directly to postgraduate study by 2030 in England alone. While Brexit could mean a drop of around 11,500 EU postgraduates, successful implementation of the UK Government’s International Education Strategy could see an increase of 53,000 in other overseas postgraduates by 2030, although this partly depends on how the world recovers from the current Covid-19 crisis
  • Transnational education, where people take UK qualifications abroad, has seen substantial growth, more than doubling since 2007/08 to 127,825 postgraduates in 2017/18 and overtaking the number of overseas postgraduate students in the UK. Students studying in this way are excluded from the other figures in the report.

Dr Ginevra House, report author, describes her concerns for fair access to postgraduate study:

  • Despite a tumultuous decade, including the 2008 financial crash, restrictive changes to visas and Brexit, the UK’s postgraduate sector has emerged bigger and more diverse than ever before. However, the gains in fair access to postgraduate education – and by extension the professions – delivered by the introduction of Master’s loans may yet stall as rising fees consume most of the funds, leaving little or nothing for living costs. Other challenges to fair access remain, with under-participation by males, by White British students, and by those from less advantaged backgrounds. When writing this report, the Covid-19 pandemic had yet to reach its current height, but the risk posed by universities’ increasing reliance on international students was evident. The crisis is providing a timely reminder of the importance of a diverse and balanced student body to weather future shocks to the system, supported by government policies that foster international co-operation and mobility of the world’s brightest. With the shadow of a new recession ahead, combined with a rapidly changing, more automated job market, postgraduate education has never been more important, to build the highly skilled, knowledgeable, flexible and independent workforce needed to tackle the challenges of the future.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

  • ‘A proper study of UK postgraduate education is long overdue, given the growth it has enjoyed in recent years and the changing demographics of postgraduates. Postgraduate qualifications are increasingly expected by employers and more people want to achieve them. In some respects, postgraduate education now more closely resembles undergraduate study, with today’s postgraduate students more likely to be women, full-time and young. A higher proportion of postgraduate students are also from overseas. The higher education sector is in the midst of an horrendous and unprecedented crisis that is pulling the rug from under our institutions. But the story in this report is a positive one, showing the power of higher education to do good, extending people’s options, delivering the skills employers need and pushing forward the boundaries of knowledge. Another big positive in this report is the power of public policy to help individuals. The introduction of taxpayer-supported loans for postgraduate study has opened doors that were previously locked for many people who wanted to continue studying. If international postgraduate numbers fall, some courses will become unviable – this is true even if there are more home postgraduates because of the higher fee levels for international students.

Wonkhe describe the media sources covering the report:

The report is covered in the Times, the Telegraph, and ITV. HEPI also has a response to the report from Diana Beech, Head of Government Affairs at the University of Warwick [and who used to write for HEPI]. And Research Professional also describe the report in: Avoid ‘shocks’ by diversifying postgrad intake, says think tank.

Following on, some days later, Wonkhe state:

  • What that [HEPI] report didn’t set out to cover was what it’s like to study at postgraduate level, especially if you’re doing so with a view of trying to enter academia. And so today’s publication of initial findings of a survey by the Student Mental Health Research Network and Vitae exploring the impact of Covid-19 on doctoral and early career researchers provides a complementary and concerning picture.
  • Of the early career researchers whose contracts end in 2020, only 10 per cent report their funding has been extended. Only 12 per cent of doctoral researchers said their institution has provided an option to extend their doctoral studies. The impacts on research progress are largely negative, ranging from reduced access to essential software and reduced ability to collect and analyse data, disseminate findings, and maintain contact with colleagues to widespread stress about work, future plans, and finances. Four-fifths of doctoral researchers are showing some level of mental distress.
  • For many students, postgraduate study and early career research are a high-stakes endeavour, whether because of the investment of time and money, or because they’re trying to accrue enough academic capital to take the next step in a hugely competitive career path. It’s not entirely surprising, then, that a crisis like Covid-19 is causing serious distress – many of these people were walking on a knife edge before the pandemic hit.

Research

Research Professional have been on a reporting mission to find out all they can about the University Research Taskforce. They describe the run around they got trying to obtain the names of the taskforce members. The membership list is here and on the membership RP say: That is a lot of know-how in the room: the people who know the right questions to ask but also have their hands on the levers that might actually lead to solutions.

On the group’s purpose RP state:

  • The terms of reference for the group have not been released, but Playbook understands that this membership will be flexible—waxing and waning—depending on the topic under discussion. The taskforce certainly has some firepower and no shortage of issues to discuss.
  • However, it is clear from this membership that universities are very much outnumbered by politicians and civil servants. The purpose of this group is not to receive future requests for a bailout from higher education.
  • Rather, it is there to gather evidence on the state of university research during the Covid-19 pandemic, to look at possible policy solutions and to present all this in a coherent way to the big bosses who really matter: the UK Treasury, the prime minister’s office and the leaders of the devolved nations (in that order).
  • There is no union representation, nor are there multiple voices from the mission groups that represent smaller but no less important research efforts in higher education. There is a strong sense that this is a task and finish group that will put something of substance on the table, even if it is not necessarily something that universities have a casting vote over.
  • It is to be hoped that, when the need arises, the taskforce will take soundings from independent voices in university research—such as a Graeme Reid, a Richard Jones or an Athene Donald—because it is always wise to consult those you are about to do something to before doing it to them.

PG Research Degrees – The UK Council for Graduate Education released a guidance note on the potential impacts of Covid-19 on the delivery of postgraduate research degrees and the institutional support doctoral candidates should expect to receive, including possible mitigation strategies. And as mentioned earlier there is an open letter circulating which request reasonable adjustments and time extensions for chronically ill and neurodivergent PhD students as a result of C-19.

New UKRI Head – Professor Ottoline Leyser has been appointed as the new CEO of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and will replace Sir Mark Walport on 29 June. One of her key functions will be to guide the delivery of the government’s ambition to increase investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, establishing the UK as a global hub for science and technology.

Professor Ottoline Leyser commented:

  • UKRI has a unique opportunity to make a profound contribution to tackling the many challenges facing the world. During my career, I have seen the power of genuinely collaborative cultures to catalyse the transformative thinking needed to create effective solutions. I look forward to working with the UKRI team to ensure that the UK’s superb research and innovation system continues to work for everyone, by pioneering new partnerships, developing innovative funding models and strengthening international collaboration.

You can read UKRI’s press release on the appointment here, the Government’s press release here and Research Professional’s coverage here. Research Professional have also dug two articles by Ottoline out on UKRI (written in 2018 as UKRI was about to begin official operations) and the REF.

UKRI also published their preventing harm policy for safe research and innovation environments this week.

The British Academy have published a comment ahead of their formal response to the UKRI Open Access Review Consultation.

Other Research News

Mental Health

UUK have updated their mental health framework in Stepchange Mentally Healthy Universities. The framework calls on universities to take a whole university approach, meaning that mental health and wellbeing is considered across every aspect of the university and is part of all practices, policies, courses and cultures. The four areas cited in the framework are: Learn; Support; Work; Live. These map onto the University Mental Health Charter, developed by Student Minds.

Recommended actions within the new framework include:

  • demonstrating visible leadership and senior ownership of mental health as a priority to promote open conversations and sustain change
  • working closely with students and staff to develop mental health strategies and services
  • ensuring accessible and appropriately resourced support for mental health and wellbeing for all students and all staff
  • focusing on staff mental health; inclusion of mental health in staff performance discussions and provision of appropriate training for line managers and supervisors
  • clarification of the key role of academic staff in supporting the mental health of students through appropriate training and development
  • commitment to assessments and course work that stretch and test learning without imposing unnecessary stress

The Guardian have an article looking at the value and changes to Nightline mental health support on its 50 year anniversary.

Admissions – offer making

The sector is (almost) over talking about OfS’ intention to obtain temporary powers to prevent what OfS consider unscrupulous admissions behaviour that is not in the student interest. There is a consultation currently open on the topic. However, HEPI have a new blog written by Dean Machin (Jane’s equivalent over in Portsmouth) – The Office for Students’ new power: a ‘necessary and proportionate’ response to the pandemic, or not wasting a crisis? – challenging the OfS thought process on the student interest. The blog concludes by calling on the OfS to address 6 concerns:

  1. Will the OfS publish its evidence that the proposed non-compliant conduct has systematically and non-trivially increased since 11 March?
  2. Given the Government’s prompt action on 23 March, why has the OfS taken so much longer to act?
  3. Will the OfS publish the criteria it will use to form its opinion on whether the new condition is violated and what constitutes a material negative effect?
  4. Will the OfS explain how it understands the ‘student interest’ in this area and what steps it has taken to get students’ views on the student interest in the pandemic?
  5. Has the OfS considered the effect on students’ interests of fining universities potentially millions of pounds just at the time they are expecting a significant decline in income? This question should be viewed in light of the fact that the Government support package for universities includes no extra funding.
  6. Finally, if the problems the condition seeks to solve are pandemic-specific and created by the conduct of a small number of universities, why is the condition ‘broad and onerous‘ and why will it be in force until at least the middle of 2021?

In fact the OfS have published frequently asked questions including covering the time-limited condition of registration and other topics (although the regulatory answers are a bit hard to navigate).

Degree Apprenticeships and Social Mobility

The Sutton Trust have published COVID-19 and Social Mobility Impact Brief #3: Apprenticeships. Here I include detail only on the aspects most relevant to HE.

Many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds undertake apprenticeships. They are more likely to be concentrated in apprenticeships at lower levels, be paid lower salaries, and work at smaller companies. At early April, employers surveyed reported that on average just 39% of apprenticeships were continuing as normal, with 36% having been furloughed and 8% made redundant. 17% of apprentices had their off-the-job learning suspended.

The Sutton Trust has previously raised concerns over degree apprenticeships and the prioritisation of spending in the levy. Degree Apprenticeships (level 6 and 7) are dominated by those from less deprived areas – there are twice as many degree level apprentices from the wealthiest areas as there are from the poorest.

The number of degree apprenticeships has grown rapidly, from 756 in 2015/16 to 13,587 in 2018/19.

  • Since 2017, there has also been a big rise in other degree-level apprenticeships, award qualifications equivalent to a degree but not from a university, from just 19 four years ago, to 8,892 last year.
  • Much of this growth has not benefitted young people, with more than half of degree apprenticeships taken up by people over 30
  • Senior leadership courses – equivalent to an MBA – have expanded significantly, growing six-fold from 552 to 3,410 in 2018/19
  • Conversely, the proportion of young apprentices from deprived communities taking degree level apprenticeships up has fallen (from 9% in 2016 to 6% last year).
  • The number of older apprentices from well-off areas has more than doubled (from 5% to 11%), leading to a growing access gap for those under 25.
  • Senior leadership and chartered management courses alone now make up almost half (46%) of the entire degree apprentice cohort as employers look to put their senior staff through these courses rather than train younger, less affluent employees.

Recommendations

  • At a time of economic downturn and limited resources, apprenticeship levy funding should not be spent subsidising senior executives taking MBA-style qualifications, but should instead be focused on providing new opportunities for young people facing a challenging labour market. The Government should consider a maximum salary ceiling for levy-funded apprentices to avoid it being spent on highly paid and well qualified senior staff. Employers could also be required to top up level funding for certain categories of apprentice or conversely incentivise apprenticeships to increase opportunities for groups who need it most.
  • The priority for current apprentices should be to continue training where possible, even when on furlough or if redeployed within a company
  • In order for apprenticeships to deliver on the social mobility agenda as we come out of the coronavirus crisis, social mobility and widening opportunity should be an explicit criterion in the government’s review of the apprenticeships levy.

FE Week covers the brief with good volume of content on degree apprenticeships.

International Students

The surveys and speculation on international students’ intention to commence UK universities in autumn 2020 disagree. Some predict dire impacts with low recruitment, others suggest there will only be a smaller reduction. Wonkhe round up two news points from this week:

A new survey from QS suggests that seventy two per cent of prospective international students are interested in starting their UK course online this autumn. This breaks down to 46 per cent being definitely committed to the idea, and 26 per cent being unsure. Sixty-two per cent of international students have had their plans to study abroad affected by Covid-19.

The Russell Group has set out proposals to support international recruitment, which includes further improvements to visa conditions and a new international marketing campaign. PIE news has the story.

Research Professional also cover the Russell Group’s proposals in Big Ask and talk of the Group distancing themselves from UUK after the Government snubbed their bailout proposals. Excerpts:

  • The government is being asked to continue “reforms to ensure Britain remains a globally attractive destination for students”. What this means in practice is passing “the two-year post-study work visa through emergency immigration rules (secondary legislation) immediately”. The Jo Johnson-Paul Blomfield amendment has yet to pass into law and surveys suggest it is not well known among prospective international students.
  • The Russell Group also wants: international students to be prioritised in visa applications once travel restrictions are lifted; the government to increase the visa to 30 months to give UK universities a competitive edge; students to be allowed to apply for their visa six months in advance rather than three, to avoid those taking online classes facing the prospect of starting courses and then potentially being refused a visa; visas to be extended for current students affected by the pandemic; rules to be relaxed on monitoring students in the UK, such as reporting to police stations; European Union students to be allowed to apply to the EU settled status scheme; and universities to be allowed to conduct their own language capacity assessments.
  • The problem is that “many overseas governments do not recognise degrees which are comprised of significant amounts of distance learning. This lack of recognition could deter students from studying in the UK where they fear their qualifications will not be recognised.” This is a particular concern in China, the UK’s primary market for international students… Accordingly, the Russell Group is calling on the government to work with the international community to agree reciprocal recognition of online classes following the impact of Covid-19. The problem is also that international cooperation is in short supply at the moment, especially where popular nationalism encourages both protectionism and undercutting of rivals.
  • Recently, one forlorn international recruitment expert in the north of England told Playbook that if the student cohorts did not return to Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham and Durham, the economic impact would be like closing the mines all over again. That might be an argument worth making to those still aspiring to level up.

Graduate prospects and student employment

The Resolution Foundation published a report on young workers in the coronavirus crisis using evidence from a survey they conducted. The report finds that younger and older workers have experienced the brunt of the hit to jobs and pay, with the very youngest in the most challenging position.

  • A third of 18-24-year-old employees (excluding students) have lost jobs or been furloughed, compared to 1 in 6 prime-age adults.
  • Similarly, 35% of non-full-time student 18-24-year-old employees are earning less than they did prior to the outbreak, compared to 23% of 25-49-year-olds.
  • The proportion of 18-24-year-old non-fulltime students who have lost their main job since the coronavirus outbreak began (9%) is three times as large as the figure across all employees
  • Young people are more likely than other age groups to work in atypical jobs. Recent analysis shows that people in atypical work are concentrated in ‘shutdown sectors’ directly affected by lockdown measures, such as hospitality and non-food retail.
  • Those aged 25-39 are most likely to be working from home during the crisis, and most likely to expect to do more of this in the future. Conversely, the youngest employees and those aged 55 and older are the most limited in what they can do from home.

Maja Gustafsson, report author said:

  • Our findings show the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus crisis on the youngest and oldest earners. These employees are more likely to have lost work or been furloughed due to the crisis than those of prime age, and have experienced the biggest pay swings with large proportions losing earnings. Government support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is helping many of these affected workers get through the crisis. As the crisis continues to unfold, comprehensive support across ages and targeted support for the very youngest workers will be essential to minimise the damage done, and especially to minimise long-term employment and pay scarring for the young.

The Institute of Student Employers has issued a report on the graduate labour market and Chief Executive, Stephen Isherwood, writes for the Guardian. He explains there are still glimmers of hope for graduate employment – although overall volume is down (12% cut in graduate jobs and 40% cut in placements) many employers are still recruiting or delaying induction programmes until later in the Autumn. Furthermore, certain sectors are not anticipating a downturn and this alongside vacancies in key sectors (STEM and digital) offers many opportunities. The article states interviews, assessments, and seeking out recruitment talent have been online for some time, but C-19 has increased the overall volume of virtual activity and that we can expect this increased practice to continue post-virus:

  • Many of these practices are long-term trends accelerated by coronavirus. Even though broadband can falter, interviews and assessments are delivered faster and more economically online. Employers won’t revert to labour intensive methods as business returns to normal. Finally, Stephen warns about the lure of a Masters. Stating There is absolutely nothing wrong with the pursuit of postgraduate study for the love of learning, if students are making an informed investment decision. And warning that some employment sectors did not value a Masters above an undergraduate degree.

The Financial Times has an article which begins with the doom and gloom outlook (worst economy since the Depression, UK hiring intentions at their lowest level in 15 years). However, it goes on to highlight how some larger firms are running their summer programmes online with almost-guaranteed jobs at the end to fill their need for ‘fresh blood’.

  • … the onus on companies that can work virtually to step up and prevent this generation from paying a disproportionate price. We’ve had a lot of talk during this crisis about stakeholder capitalism and the need to prevent economic scarring. This is one of those moments where push comes to shove.
  • …the big Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, are pushing ahead with online summer programmes and will bring in thousands of new trainees on schedule in the autumn. “We want to be there for our communities. We need new blood to make sure that we can forge ahead,” says Ryland McClendon, who runs career development programmes for JPMorgan. Citi has also guaranteed that participants in its abbreviated summer intern programmes will be offered full-time jobs in 2021, as long as they meet minimum requirements. “We saw an opportunity to relieve some of the stress and uncertainty so many young adults are feeling right now, especially those preparing to enter a job market in the midst of great economic uncertainty,” bank executives explained in a
  • That is not only admirable but good business. Recovery from Covid-19 may come slowly. But, when it does, some companies will have well-trained young staff ready to get to work. Others will only have a string of disappointed youngsters with bitter memories. 

Wonkhe have new blogs:

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

New loans: The Guardian have an explainer article on loan application following the Student Loan Company who have urged prospective students to apply for their 2020/21 loans early to ensure they don’t face delays.

Devolved consequences: Both Wales and Scotland are reporting significant consequences of C-19 on universities finance, recruitment and stability. If you are interested in the devolved position Wales Fiscal Analysis has issued a paper.

Home School: The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a report on learning during the lockdown focusing on the experience of children.

Immigration: With the Immigration Bill passing the vote Wonkhe talk about the Impact Assessment: The Impact Assessment for the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill suggests that 20 per cent of EU/EEA students would be deterred by newly applicable visa requirements – around 15,000 per annum during the first five years of the policy, an estimate of up to 25,000 fewer EU higher education students in the UK by academic year 2024-25 relative to the baseline.

However the projections of an increase in non-EU/EEA international students following the implementation of the Post-Study Work Visa dwarf these changes – a 10 per cent increase in enrolments would mean an estimated annual increase of around 25,000 over the first five years of the policy. The projected increase in international tuition fee income would be between £1 billion and £2 billion over the first five years.

Behavioural changes and migration flows are notoriously difficult to predict, so the document cautions that these figures are indicative only.

Home working: in non-policy news the CMI have found that many managers have found working from home a largely positive experience and intend to incorporate it into their regular working week post-virus. And New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern urged employers to  consider flexible working options, including a four-day week , as part of efforts to rebuild the economy after the pandemic.

Online graduation: Wonkhe have a comedy round up of the latest (mainly American) virtual graduation antics.

Post Covid Society: Politics Home cover a survey by The House (parliament) on MPs expectations of a post Covid society.

  • Three quarters of MPs believe taxes will increase to fund public services in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
  • Almost two-thirds of MPs believe pay for NHS and care workers should be higher, while 56% say the pay packets of key workers such as bus drivers should also increase
  • 72% of MPs agree that “taxes will increase to fund public services”, while 83% agree that “the state will play a greater role in the economy”
  • 73% agree that “tough spending choices will have to be made” – but just four in ten would back cuts to public services to rein in spending
  • Freezing public sector pay was opposed by the majority of MPs
  • 90% believe that unemployment will be higher
  • 65% agree that “people will be kinder to each other” after the pandemic – but just 10% say politics will “be less partisan”
  • Just 8% believe the public will have more trust in politicians
  • 51% of MPs support a further extension to the Brexit transition period (49% don’t)
  • On handling coronavirus 9 in 10 MPs believed the NHS had performed very well, with half of those selecting performed ‘very well’. 60% of MPs surveyed believed the police had performed well. 63% of MPs felt the British media had performed poorly (10% felt had performed well).
  • Conservative opinion on the debt is split. Some warn against increasing taxes to pay off the debt accumulated from tackling the virus. However, a number of Conservative backbenchers would prefer Sunak to pursue economic growth and pay off the obligations over time.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 13th May 2020

Speculation on what the easing of lockdown means for universities and particularly research labs. Contention over the Augar Review recommendations. Further concerns for the employment outlook of the graduating cohort alongside conjecture that the lack of work may mean those who hadn’t planned to may consider postgraduate study or even commencing university at undergraduate level. And more parliamentary questions than you could ever dream of!

Parliamentary News

BEIS Chair: Darren Jones MP won the vote and has been appointed as the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee chair. The Labour representative on 13 other select committees will also change due to the incumbents accepting Shadow Cabinet roles. Dawn Butler and Kim Johnson will replace Lucy Powell and Fleur Anderson on the Education Select Committee.

Virtual Parliament Ends: Despite all the investment and flurry of activity finding a virtual solution for Parliament it has been announced that the hybrid arrangements whereby some Parliamentarians remain in the chamber for business and some remote in virtually will end by Friday 22 May. MPs and staff have been told they’ll need to return ‘to normal’ from June. Many MPs feel this is precipitous and inappropriate.

House of Lords HE Debate

Last Wednesday (6 May) the House of Lords debated the impact of the Coronavirus on the HE sector and students. You can read the full debate here. Summary:

Lord Blunkett (Lab) tabled a private notice question on the support package unveiled for universities and students and what steps the government were taking to protect quality and accessibility in the sector.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Berridge, said that all providers must adhere to Office for Student conditions on quality and access. She affirmed that the Government were bringing forward £2.6 billion of forecast tuition fee income to help universities’ cash flow, and providing students with more support, including increasing student hardship funds.

Lord Blunkett (Lab) queried whether the definition of a 5% student uplift referenced in the package was based on forecast numbers, rather than a historic benchmark. He also pressed the minister for timelines of the publication on the work of the research sustainability taskforce, “in respect of the likely catastrophic loss of income from overseas students and the urgent need to underwrite research funding”.

The Minister confirmed that the precise figures to determine the 5% uplift on the cap would be provided at provider level, and the methodology for that will be published shortly.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD) said the loss of income from foreign students would be compounded by the loss of research income from Horizon 2020 and other EU participation programmes. She queried what steps were being taken to encourage overseas students to come to the UK.

The Minister confirmed that the Department for Education was working with the Department for International Trade to amend the international education strategy. “The clear message is that the UK is open for business and for international students to come at the start of the academic year”, she said.

Opposition Spokesperson for Education and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Lord Bassam of Brighton, commented that “the Government are allowing universities to charge students the full £9,250 annual tuition fee while our campuses remain closed—as long as there are highest standards of online teaching”.

He posited that many courses were simply unfit for online learning and contended that the market-driven higher education system had forced students to see themselves as consumers, “and they are not getting what they have paid for”.

The Minister responded that the Office for Students had been very clear on quality of provision that should be maintained during this period.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) queried how future policies could help universities move towards a more co-operative model and eliminate the waste emanating from competition. “The kind of waste that could be eliminated is, as the Augar report highlighted, the £500 per student that is spent on marketing”, she added.

The Minister responded that the Office for Students was a modern regulator, encouraging greater innovation and putting student choice at the centre of the system.

Tuition Fees

In last week’s policy update we highlighted the petition to Government to refund student’s tuition fees. On Thursday the Petitions Committee examined the petition and took oral evidence. You can read a summary provided by Dods here.

Research Professional report on a conversation with UUK on the dangers if universities are required to repay tuition fees – paying back fees could see some universities pushed to the edge.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, answered another parliamentary question to confirm that tuition fees remain payable as long as the quality and volume of delivery is appropriate.

Q – Stella Creasy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether universities that have closed as a result of the covid-19 outbreak will require their students to pay their fees in full.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Fee loans are being paid directly to universities as planned at the start of the third term.
  • We are working with universities to make sure all reasonable efforts are being made to enable students to continue their studies to the best of their abilities. There are some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning being delivered by institutions across the UK, and the sector is already working hard to prepare learning materials for the summer and autumn terms.
  • Students ordinarily should not expect any fee refund if they are receiving adequate online learning and support. However, the government has made it clear that if universities are unable to deliver adequate online teaching then it would be unacceptable for students to be charged for any additional terms of study, which would effectively mean that they were being charged twice.
  • Whether or not an individual student is entitled to a refund of their fees will depend on specific contractual arrangements between the student and their university.
  • In the first instance, students should speak to their university. We expect student complaints and appeals processes to be operated flexibly, accessibly and sympathetically by institutions to resolve any concerns. Students who are not satisfied with their institution’s final response can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider their complaint if their institution is based in England or Wales.

A Lords response on (not) adjusting tuition fees for online provision.

Student Accommodation

There is a Bill before the Scottish Parliament that will allow students who cannot take up their place in university accommodation because of C-19 to end their lease. Research Professional report that

  • those already with halls of residence contracts will be able to cancel their agreements with seven days’ notice, and those who enter into such contracts will also be able to cancel with a month’s notice. This, if passed, will stop students from being liable for rental costs for next year when, in all probability, at least part of their teaching will be taking place virtually.

The BBC has covered the news of the Bill.

Parliamentary questions:

Government’s Support Package for HE

The Shadow Universities Minister, Emma Hardy, was unimpressed with the Government’s support package for HE institutions. Research Professional (RP) ran the exclusive with her writing an open letter to higher education.

  • RP report that the Shadow Minister stated: I was very disappointed that the government rejected the collective proposals put forward by Universities UK and chose instead just to bring forward the payment of student fees alone. This does nothing to address the underlying loss of income in the long term and consequently universities are being forced to set budgets in the dark without a safety net.
  • RP continue: In her letter, Hardy addresses university budgets, widening participation, casual contracts, student rent, open learning, mental health, anchor institutions, skills and training. She rounds on the government’s apparent neglect for students, saying that students are seen as “somehow a different category of person whose welfare is the sole province of universities and the Office for Students”. She calls Monday’s financial rescue package an “abdication of the government’s responsibility”.

On easing Lockdown Emma Hardy was similarly unimpressed stating the PM’s speech contained a total lack of clarity. Research Professional has also considered what easing lockdown could mean for Universities.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has published a coronavirus analysis modelling the impact of the virus and the measures put in place to tackle and ameliorate for it. Research Professional reported from the report on Sunday that while universities may not suffer in terms of income lost until September, they would be the sector hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Wonkhe explain why the schemes the Government want Universities to access (furlough and business continuity schemes) don’t really work for the HE sector.

There is lots of talk about the Policy Exchange report, A training opportunity in the crisis, which some sector reporters suggest is another way for the Government to close down the degree courses they don’t feel add value to the UK economy – “mickey mouse courses”.

This Wonkhe blog looks at the options available for the sector and highlights these excerpts from the Policy Exchange report:

  • …a Policy Exchange report that’s officially on “skills”, but is really onreorganising tertiary. First some clickbait keywords – current bail out conditions provide Government, he says, with short term leverage to “weed out” weaker courses and push back against “grade inflation”, “unconditional offers” and other “pathologies of modern”, market-driven HE.

Dods summarise the key points of the Policy Exchange paper:

  • [The paper] sets out how the coronavirus crisis could be a watershed moment for education and training in the UK. Among other recommendations, it urges the Government to undo the policy error of abolishing the polytechnics in 1992… it argues that the current crisis offers an opportunity to cut through many of the normal blockages and vested interests, not least since we may – in the wake of coronavirus – be moving into a period of high unemployment, which will require a radical rethinking of current policy.

These are the executive summary points taken from within the paper itself:

  • The coronavirus crisis underlines the need for an education and training system that is better aligned with the economic and social needs of the UK. We can no longer afford the luxury of a wasteful mismatch produced by low value degrees and a disorganised approach to vocational training.
  • The Government must overcome the resistance of the higher education sector, which has quietly become a powerful cultural and economic vested interest.
  • This paper recommends that a new “opportunity grant”, to train or retrain, of at least £3,000 should be on offer for every individual, with added loans to cover more expensive courses and maintenance costs for those who want to take courses full time (repaid in the same way as student loans). The grant money would not go to the individual but would be drawn down by the training provider or FE college or, in a few cases, university.
  • It recommends suspending the apprenticeship levy for new entrants and replace it with a radically simplified model focused on school leavers (only about 9 per cent of whom currently enter an apprenticeship) and young people up to the age of 24, with Government and employers splitting the full cost 50:50.
  • Lastly, it recommends the creation of a sub-set of “applied universities,” essentially undoing the policy error of abolishing the polytechnics in 1992. With the exception of the “higher” vocational courses in medicine, engineering, and perhaps law, most vocational degrees should be clustered in the applied universities

Parliamentary questions:

  • Admissions – support for HE providers who recruit only at a significantly decreased level for 2020/21 (answer – just the package already announced).
  • What plans the Government have to provide financial assistance to universities during C-19.

New guidance as lockdown “eases”

As educational institutions make decisions on where to go with Sunday’s announcements on the easing of lockdown from Wed 13 there is clear guidance on Gov.uk on a couple of points at least.

Q – Can students return to their family home if they’ve been in halls all this time?

  • A – In general, leaving your home – the place you live – to stay at another home is not allowed. If a student is moving permanently to live back at their family home, this is permitted.

Q – Who is allowed to go to work?

  • A – In the first instance, employers should make every effort to support working from home, including by providing suitable IT and equipment as they have been already. This will apply to many different types of businesses, particularly those who typically would have worked in offices or online.
  • Where work can only be done in the workplace, we have set out tailored guidelines for employers to help protect their workforce and customers from coronavirus while still continuing to trade or getting their business back up and running. We will be publishing even more detailed COVID-19 secure guidelines in the coming days, which has been developed in consultation with businesses and trades unions.

These ‘back to work’ guidelines apply to selected groups, including those working in labs and research facilities.

There are specific guidelines for those who are vulnerable, shielding, or showing symptoms.

And on attending university – there is no answer (yet) but there is a question.

Q – Can children go back to early years settings, schools or university?

  • A – We initially urge those who are currently eligible to use school provision (children of critical workers and vulnerable children) to attend. As soon as it is safe to do so we will bring more year groups back to school in a phased way when it is safe to have larger numbers of children within schools, but not before. Keeping children and staff safe is our utmost priority.
  • Schools should prepare to begin opening for more children from 1 June. The government expects children to be able to return to early years settings, and for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to be back in school in smaller class sizes from this point.
  • Secondary schools and further education colleges should also prepare to begin some face to face contact with Year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year, in support of their continued remote, home learning.
  • The government’s ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible.

There might be some clues here for what the answer will be when there is one:

Q – How will you make sure it is safe?

  • A – Schools can now operate if they are organised in a way that is compatible with minimising the spread of the virus. The next phase of measures will require the development of new safety standards to set out how physical spaces, including schools, can be adapted to operate safely.
  • We will publish guidance advising schools on reopening to ensure schools can adequately prepare for the next phase. One of the main protective measures we can take to reduce transmission is to have small consistent group and class sizes.

Labs and research facilities – there is a specific set of broad guideline for cautious reopening

On lab based researchers returning to work research Professional write:

  • Perhaps of most immediate interest to higher education people—particularly those engaged in lab or field-based research—was the announcement that as of today, those who cannot carry out their work from home are “actively encouraged” to go back to work.
  • While Johnson used the example of the construction industry, it is hard to argue that researchers whose lab work is housed on campus or in research institutes can meaningfully carry out their work from home. Those who have such work to go back to (though who knows how many experiments have been lost, either due to a lack of attention or by lab capacity being usurped by urgent coronavirus work) are now, it would appear, permitted to do so.
  • That is, provided that they can get there—without using public transport, wherever possible. Also, their employers (which is where university professional and support services come in) must ensure that their workplaces have been made “Covid secure”.

Easing back to Education

Another week brings a further set of opinions on what a graduate emergence from lockdown might be like within HE. These two were written before Sunday’s announcements:

  • Wonkhe consider the middle ground with some aspects back on campus but respecting social distancing.
  • Research Professional (RP) report that Italian research labs reopen and describe their working conditions.

And these published after the announcement:

  • RP look for clues within the published schools reopening guidance and speculate about which research labs it is most important to open first. Alongside the tricky issue of the volume of support staff that would be needed back on site to support those working in labs (cleaners, post services, estates functions, senior supervision).
  • RP cover Portugal (instructed to blend face to face with distance from September, and relaxing the entrance rules) and Germany (partially open for teaching and research where face to face necessary – but digital learning prioritised, some states prefer digital only, face to face contact remains controversial).
  • The Centre for Education and Youth has produced a report stating that summer schools likely won’t deliver the catch up for school pupils that is needed (although different approaches may result in success). They also recommend balancing academic ideals and emotional wellbeing. Teachers are most concerned about their disadvantaged pupils. Furthermore, special consideration should be given to pupils transitioning between phases or schools.
  • RP suggest that Universities or parts of universities could be moving in and out of quarantine on a regular basis. And another article details the institutions who do not intent to (immediately, at least) reopen their labs.
  • A Wonkhe student union blog looking at what we’re allowed to do, able to do, and willing to do when the autumn term commences – and how individual differences may create further inequities.

General Public Opinion on easing lockdown

A snap YouGov poll conducted after Sunday’s easing of lockdown announcements showed divided sentiments within the nation.

  • 44% of surveyed support the easing, 43% are opposed, 13% are ‘unsure’.
  • Conservative voters support the intended measures more than Lib Dem or Labour voters.
  • Support for the easing rises with age, and men are a little more likely to support the work and exercise relaxation rules than women.
  • However, those opposing the easing measures are not opposed to ending lockdown, instead 91% of the opposed feel the relaxation of measures go too far.
  • 70% of the survey population weren’t keen on the new Government catchphrase either (stay alert, control the virus, save lives), finding it unclear on what they are supposed to do. Again there is a party divide influencing whether the responders like the slogan.

Another YouGov poll finds that 82% of the public think they could easily cope with the current state of affairs until June.

  • Those that would find it hard is up 2% from 11% to 13%.
  • 63% said they’d be OK until July. But by August predicted coping drops to 44%, with 50% of respondents saying they’d have a hard time continuing as present until August.
  • It drops again to 35% who could cope into September. And 22-25% believe they’d be OK until January 2021.

YouGov say: The fact that figures level off at this point [November] could simply reflect the limits of how far into the future Britons are able to imagine their emotional state, rather than representing the bedrock figure for how many people could effectively cope indefinitely.

Augar Review

The surprise news of the weekend was Phillip Augar stating that C-19 has changed the sector and that he no longer stands by some of the recommendations the Post-16 review of tertiary education report made.

You’ll recall that the Augar report has been published for nearly a year but due to Government procrastination, in part caused by the change in Conservative leadership, there has been no official response to the recommendations.

Now Augar writes in a personal capacity for the Financial Times stating now might not be the time to reduce the social science/humanities fee level as the Augar review originally recommended. However, it is not quite the ‘U-Turn’ that the HE media are reporting. Much of what Augar has to say continues along the report’s party line, i.e. not all courses financially benefit the economy as much as others. Here are the key excerpts from the Financial Times article – the time is ripe to reform UK university finance.

  • Higher and further education will play a key role in shaping this [the way the world of work will change due to C-19]. England, where the sectors are disconnected and unevenly funded, faces particular challenges. A panel on post-18 education, which I chaired, reported a year ago and the government says it will respond this year. Reform would be timely.
  • However, there are signs that the dividend from higher education as currently delivered in England has played out. One in three graduates are not in graduate-level employment; one in five would have been better off financially had they not gone to university; and outcomes for the disadvantaged vary too widely. Recruiting large numbers on to poor quality, irrelevant courses is not a triumph of social mobility. Better directed recruitment at scale could be.
  • This is a public as well as a private issue. University education in England is funded by state-backed student loans, written off after 30 years. Nearly half of all students receive a government subsidy in this way. The write-off varies between subjects. The state loses money on around a third of all subjects studied. It writes off more on social studies subjects than on maths, computer science or engineering; more on communications and media studies than on agriculture and veterinary science; and more on creative arts than on any other subject. Without denigrating any subject as being unworthy of study, there is a clear misalignment between the subsidy and the economy’s needs.
  • The funding model is the root of the problem. It allows universities to charge £9,250 for all courses, cross-subsidising research and expensive subjects from fee income earned on high-margin courses and overseas students. This has led to an oversupply in some disciplines, under-investment in science degrees and over-reliance on overseas student fees, which necessitated this week’s government support package.
  • The panel I chaired recommended cutting tuition fees to the average cost of a humanities degree — £7,500, according to Universities UK — and increasing the existing top-up for strategically important courses. Covid-19-related disruption may now mean that such a fee cut would be too destabilising. But the problem has not gone away. An alternative would be to freeze fees for a further five years and ramp up the teaching grant for strategic subjects. Other options include number caps on some courses or a payment back to government by universities for reinvestment in priority subjects.
  • One final point. The importance of the country’s research base has been underlined during this crisis. In future, university research needs to be funded openly, generously and strategically, not partly via the back door.

So he hasn’t really changed his mind as others are reporting. He’s just saying make the proposed cuts by another method so as not to add to the immediate destabilisation of the sector. And the alternatives he proposed might not be that popular either, although they will resonate with those who like the Policy Exchange report referred to above.

Research Professional reached out to Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, to ask his opinion on Augar’s pronouncement. Here’s his response: Augar’s tuition fee U-turn made me splutter into my Pimm’s.

  • One of the great unwritten rules of politics is that if you ask a member of the great and the good to review a policy area for you, you can reliably expect them to defend their conclusions for years to come… Augar’s volte-face is nothing to do with the government ruling out his idea. We are still waiting for them to tell us what they think of a report that was originally announced at the Conservative Party conference back in 2017… Indeed, the U-turn is oddly timed because, in some respects, the chances of the Augar report’s main proposal being implemented have improved in recent months. Alison Wolf, an influential member of the Augar panel, has started advising Number 10 and numerous people have called for fee reductions to help students hit by Covid-19. Former UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook, for example, has called for a 20 per cent fee discount.

Hillman takes exception with Augar blaming Blair for the 50% young people entering HE aspiration. Hillman states:

  • This historical inaccuracy matters because it allows Augar to continue portraying the recent expansion of higher education as an error. He argues that “the dividend from higher education as currently delivered in England has played out”. That is a very odd argument to make on the cusp of a recession. Earlier downturns have proven that being better educated is an insurance policy against unemployment.

And on Augar’s FE points (see article) Hillman also disagrees:

  • But his third argument is highly questionable. He says there is a need to boost further education to provide “a viable alternative to degrees”. This is half true and half crazy. Do we need a better offer for people who do not undertake higher education? Indubitably. But are there too many people doing degrees? No.
  • The problem the UK faces, as shown clearly in comparative OECD data, is that we have too many low-skilled people, not too many highly skilled people. In eduspeak, too many people are educated only to levels 2 and 3, and not enough at levels 4 and 5 and levels 6 and 7.

Nursing students

The Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), UNISON and the NUS have written to Matt Hancock asking him to “acknowledge students’ selfless service, not only with words, but in a tangible and quantifiable way”. By:

  • reimbursing tuition fees or forgiving current debt for all current nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students;
  • abolishing student-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students starting in 2020/21 and beyond, in recognition that they will be supporting vital public services; and
  • introducing universal, living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need.

The RCN have been a very effective lobby force over recent years as they have ceaselessly campaigned again the introduction of tuition fees and the removal of the NHS bursary. Have you ever noticed how we talk about nursing fees far more than the other allied health professions? This is down to the organisation’s effectiveness in keeping their demands in the spotlight, the relationships they’ve developed with policy makers and applying pressure on the Government. While these demands are not new, especially during the increased calls for it during C-19, nurses have even more public attention, awareness and positive public feeling behind their campaign for change now. But will the Government cave and reform the system at a time when the pressure on public spending is almost unprecedented? It could go either way, we wouldn’t like to predict!

There was also a parliamentary question on the topic:

Q – Stuart Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of replacing tuition fees with a teaching grant for courses taken by (a) health professionals and (b) other key workers.

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • The government subsidises the costs of higher education through the teaching grant and write-off of unpaid tuition fee loans, which ensures a sustainable system. Nurses and other healthcare students are currently eligible for a range of financial grant support in addition to tuition fee and living cost loans. There is also a range of additional support and bursaries for students in other professions where they are considered to be critical workers.

This week we had International Nurses Day and Nursing Times have published a call from NHS England’s Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens, for universities to increase the number of nursing students they take each year. The article claims that 8,000 more clinical placements are available for trainees. Outstripping supply of students by an additional 4,000. NHS England has called for a Spring start as well as the traditional autumn intake. The Council of Deans have confirmed several universities already do this and it primarily attracts mature students. Dr Kolyva from the Council of Deans stated:

  • Multiple student cohorts do have implications for staffing and timetabling…Though these are not necessarily insurmountable if there is enough student interest, it would be useful to work with Government on supportive measures, including more flexible student finance arrangements and policies to boost the academic workforce. [There are also] …challenges to be addressed around student placements and the provision of support in practice so long as the pandemic continues”.

The Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive also contributed to the article commenting that to truly grow the nursing workforce more needed to be done including the scrapping of tuition fees. The Independent also cover the story of additional clinical placements without students to fill them. Wonkhe have an older (2019) blog on difficulties associated in the expansion of nursing.

Graduate Outlook

This week has seen a myriad of sources all covering the graduate outlook for those students finishing their degree this year. Prospects have published Graduating into a pandemic: the impact on university finalists. The article leads with: Nearly two-thirds of university finalists feel negative about their career prospects and many have lost job offers or placements as a result of the COVID-19 crisis – but others say they now have more time to plan their future. The article goes on to describe the results of their graduate recruitment survey:

  • 1% lost their work placement/internship
  • 2% lost their job
  • 2% had their job offer deferred or cancelled.

Some other stats:

  • 47% are considering postgraduate study
  • 82% feel disconnected from employers

See the article for more content including what students expect from Careers services and would like to know from employers.

The Telegraph covers the survey in Almost a third of graduate jobs have been cancelled or deferred due to coronavirus and on the national situation in Graduate job adverts fall by three quarters ahead of ‘extremely challenging’ summer.

Financial Times write that The class of 2020 need help to start their careers.

i News reports that the job crisis may persuade more young people to commence a degree in September. They quote Nick Hillman of HEPI as saying: If you were leaving school this summer you’re not going to get a job frankly… If you were thinking you might go and get a job, you might as well stay on and go to higher education. Although there isn’t comment on how this potential phenomenon might impact of non-continuation rates. i News also reports on the Prospects survey we mention above:

  • Separately, a survey by the careers service, Prospects, found that nearly half (47 per cent) of final year students are now contemplating postgraduate study, as graduate job opportunities have dried up in the wake of the pandemic. The survey found that 28 per cent of final year students have had their graduate job offers deferred or rescinded. There could be a marked rise in applications for courses which lead towards occupations which are perceived to be “recession-proof”, such as teaching.

The same article states UCAS have noted calls from students who planned to defer but now wish to attend in September – perhaps because their internship or travelling plans have to be rethought. Finally iNews state that applications by mature students and graduates wishing to take postgraduate courses are also set to rise, as older adults seek a safe haven amidst the economic turmoil caused by Covid-19.

The British Academy are upbeat (their report has a general outlook – it isn’t commenting on the effects of the Coronavirus) and they have published a report examining the employment prospects of graduates from different subject groups. It finds that graduates in the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) are just as employable as their counterparts in STEM subjects, fuel some of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK and enjoy rewarding careers in a wide range of sectors. They are also more likely to change sector and role voluntarily, without wage penalty, suggesting greater flexibility and choice than STEM graduates. Furthermore graduates of arts, humanities and social sciences are just as resilient to economic upheaval as other graduates and are just as likely to remain employed as STEM graduates during downturns.

Research Professional also write that further study could ease the pressure from graduating into a collapsing job market in More time at university could protect graduates from recession.

And Wonkhe have scoured the Student Hut’s Covid-19 tracker finding that students

  • are hoping for discounts on postgraduate fees as compensation for time lost due to the pandemic – with more than half prepared to accept a “significant” discount on future study or continuing professional development to make up for interruptions to their learning this year.

Labour Market Statistics

The DfE published  graduate labour market statistics for 2019 graduate, postgraduate and non-graduate employment rates and earnings (for England). These set out a breakdown of employment rates, unemployment rates and gross median annual earnings by different age groups and by undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Key Points:

  • Non-graduates were most likely to be employed in medium/low-skilled roles (48.1%). The proportions for graduates and postgraduates were 21.9% and 9.8% respectively; 0.4 and 1.2 percentage points lower than in 2018.
  • In 2019, the median salary of working-age graduates was £34,000. This represents no change from 2018. Non-graduate salaries rose to £25,000, narrowing the gap between the two groups to £9,000.
  • Post-graduates saw the largest increase in median salary from 2018 (+£2,000). Increasing the gap between graduates and post-graduates to £8,000, the largest it has been since 2007.
  • The employment rate for working-age graduates in 2019 was 87.5%, slightly lower than the rate in 2018 (87.7%).
  • 6% of working-age graduates were in high-skilled employment in 2019, compared with 78.9% of postgraduates and 23.9% of non-graduates. Although this represents a slight increase of 0.2 percentage points since 2018 for graduates, the rise was larger for both postgraduates (2.4 percentage points) and non-graduates (1.0 percentage point).
  • Young non-graduates performed the worst across (employment rate, inactivity and unemployment). The inactivity rate for young non-graduates (20.2%), was more than double the rates for young graduates (7.9%) and postgraduates (8.0%). However, this cohort is likely to include a significant proportion of economically-inactive students.
  • Across all qualification categories those aged 21-30 were more active in the labour market than the general working-age population, however, with the exception of graduates, the unemployment rates of the young cohort were also higher. This could indicate that young postgraduates and non-graduates find it relatively more difficult to find employment than their working-age counterparts.
  • Across all qualification types, individuals in the young population had lower high-skilled employment rates than their working-age counterparts. This may provide some evidence for graduates and non-graduates ‘upskilling’ as they acquire increasing amounts of labour market experience. It could also, however, reflect the limited number of high-skilled employment opportunities available to younger individuals and the potential difficulties they face matching into relevant jobs early in their careers.

Skills Challenges

The Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards has published a report on which industries face the biggest skills challenges. The report takes a longer term view, beyond immediate challenges posed by C-19, and compiles data on long term and transformative trends shaping the future of skills, such as automation and the ageing workforce. Dods summarise the key challenges:

  • Automation – The fourth industrial revolution could alleviate skills challenges, but some industries are more amenable than others. While 58% of jobs in hospitality are at risk of automation, this falls to just 34% of jobs in Information and Communication.
  • Ageing workforce – By extending working lives, this is as much an opportunity as a challenge. Agriculture, forestry and fishing is the sector with the oldest workforce. Over 50% are over the age of 50 compared to just 17% in hospitality.
  • Brexit – Immigration policy will be a more significant challenge for some sectors than others. While only 3% of the Public admin and defence workforce are EU nationals, this rises to 15% for the industry known as households as employers (e.g. gardeners, babysitters, cleaners etc.).
  • Staff turnover – Skills policy often concentrates on the talent coming into an industry. But stemming the flow of talent leaving the industry can build up the stock of skills. Sectors like Education have a low proportion of employees leaving the industry each year (14%) while for Arts, entertainment and recreation it stands at 35%.

Research

There has been a lot of reflection on research this week,

Research Professional have a blog which argues for the practice of using international tuition fees to cross subsidise research to be reconsidered – which an emphasis on Government support to pay more. It is set both within the context of expected reduction in international student numbers (so less money available to fund the research) and that post-crisis research should be funded more comprehensively and fairly.

Wonkhe have a blog  A bold plan for research will guide choices in a post-Covid economy.

Another Research Professional article reiterates last week’s messages that the Government support package only represents a 5% drop in the ocean against what UUK calculated was needed.

Taskforce: The University Research Sustainability Taskforce (part of the Government’s non-bailout support package) held its first meeting on Tuesday co-chaired by both Ministers (Michelle Donelan – universities and Amanda Solloway – science). Details from the meeting haven’t yet been released.

The Power of Place: CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering) have an 11 page report with case studies demonstrating the importance of investing in regional R&D.

Access, Participation and Success

Wonkhe report that Student Minds have called on the government to offer further mental health support for students during the Covid-19 pandemic.

HEPI have a blog by UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant Above and beyond predictions – No exams presents an opportunity for innovation in contextual admissions.

Parliamentary questions:

 Unite blog for HEPI on their concerns for care experienced and estranged students who are struggling without a familial support network or their part time employment during the coronavirus crisis. They call on Government to put: in place an emergency grant for care-experienced and estranged students, to make sure that they are not forced to drop out of their studies in order to support themselves.

Changes in Further Education

Wonkhe report that the government is planning on bringing further education colleges back into public ownership in (another) major shakeup of that sector. Gavin Williamson has suggested that a white paper about this is imminent – we should watch this closely for clues as to the government’s plans for the whole tertiary landscape.

FE Week cover the story, excerpts:

  • Work has begun on a White Paper to be followed by legislation, after recent attempts to financially stabilise the sector with an area review programme and restructuring funds totalling around half a billion pounds were deemed to have failed.
  • The number of colleges in formal intervention over their finances, currently more than 30, continues to rise and government bailouts have not stopped in recent months despite attempts to end them last March with the introduction of a new education administration regime.
  • …it is understood that civil servants have concluded the first and so far only colleges to be put into administration… have been both too slow and too costly.

FE week states the Government have been working on a FE Bill since January and that SoS Education, Gavin Williamson, has stated the reforms will be ‘revolutionary’. Government is concerned that where a college is failing both financially and poor quality provision the governing body remains independent and the Government has limited powers of intervention. FE week says:

  • It is understood Williamson and the team around him are becoming increasingly frustrated by this inability to step in when they deem there to have been leadership failures.

On the planned changes the DfE have stated:

  • The education secretary has already made clear that we are working on a White Paper aimed at delivering ambitious reform in our vital FE sector. The FE sector is playing a pivotal role in making sure more people can access the high-quality education and training they need to progress and will support our economic recovery following the Covid-19 outbreak. Our reforms will build on and strengthen the excellent work already happening across the country and will ensure the FE sector is at the heart of every community.

It seems the Government intend to seize all opportunities to change of course of tertiary education through coronavirus leverage.  One wonders whether Augar is needed at all.

On the expected FE changes Research Professional state: The implications could be far reaching for universities as part of the government’s skills and levelling-up ambitions.

Parliamentary Questions

An absolute flood of parliamentary questions this week! We’ve put them where relevant in the main part of this update and the rest are here:

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

OfS Board papers: Research Professional highlighted that OfS are censoring an unexpectedly large amount of their Board papers and other materials. Read the article for more detail. On this the Shadow Universities Minister stated during this incredibly difficult time, the need for honesty and transparency is even more important and I would encourage the OfS to reflect on the need to redact such huge quantities of information. Wonkhe also pick out 20 points of interest in the Board papers.

NSS results:  NSS results are to be published on the OfS website on 1 July (09:30am). With provider-level and subject-level question responses, open text comments, and all providers’ NSS results published on the results portal at the same time. OfS stated

  • UK funders and regulators will look at the data when received to assess any impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on the results and make professional judgements about its statistical reliability.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 6th May 2020

Dissection of the Government’s HE support ‘package’ has dominated all this week and the Sutton Trust have a new report reminding us of the importance of considering disadvantage within HE access and participation.

HE ‘package’

The Government announced its ‘package’ to support the HE sector through the financial trauma caused by C-19. It has dominated all HE news this week so we’ve included a big feature on the most relevant content here. We will outline the facts, then unpack and interpret it, followed by sector stakeholder reaction, and a little humour.

The package doesn’t provide new money for the HE sector, it is not a bailout, rather it moves payments forward (a bit) to ease cash flow and, although it has not been explicitly stated, the Government continue their watch and see approach awaiting the outcome of the autumn term recruitment. There may be some emergency cash earmarked for OfS distribution should recruitment turn disastrous, however, Government have consistently stated they will not bail out what they consider as poor quality or failing HE providers and this will be an absolute last resort.

The ‘package’ has been about as popular as the proverbial regifted toiletry set from Great Auntie Doris. While the wait and see is an understandable policy measure (universities are way down the priority list, and it isn’t “urgent” (yet),  the C-19 crisis has finally provided an opportunity for the Government to change aspects of admissions and quality that were previously limited by institutional autonomy (as enshrined in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017). While student number controls and new licence conditions are described as temporary, there may be long term impacts of these changes.

The (English) package aims to stabilise admissions across all providers as the recruitment of domestic students takes higher precedence against the expected drop in international student enrolment. To this end:

Stabilising admissions

Temporary student number controls will be put in place for domestic and EU students for academic year 2020/21, to ensure a “fair, structured distribution of students across providers”. These measures mean that providers will be able to recruit students up to a temporary set level, based on provider forecasts, which allows additional growth of up to 5% in the next academic year. We await more details of the actual numbers by institution.

If a provider does not abide by its student number controls, the Government will reduce the sums available to the provider through the student finance system in the subsequent academic year.

The Government have also made funding provision for an additional 10,000 places on top of 5% growth student number controls. 5,000 of these places are ringfenced for students studying nursing or allied health courses. The remaining 5,000 places will be allocated at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Education. Again, we await more details of where these will go.

The OfS is running a consultation on a new temporary condition of registration which intends to  prohibit (registered) HE providers from any form of conduct which would have what they describe as a negative effect on the stability and/or integrity of the English HE sector.

  • Examples include conditional unconditional offers, mass unconditional offers, offers not linked to prior educational attainment, tempting students with incentives such as free laptops (a strange choice of example given the current virtual learning concerns for disadvantaged students) or cash incentives.
  • Any admissions tactics which are considered to put undue pressure on students or conduct leading to commercial advantage over other providers are a big no no, with a whopping fine per case (£500,000+) if the institution breaches this. The justification for the fine is to negate the positive financial effects any institution would feel from the recruitment boost as a result of engaging in the prohibited behaviour.
  • There is also concern over how the OfS intend to implement this retrospectively – with some concerns it may seek to outlaw and punish activity that was not prohibited before the C-19 crisis. The proposal is to look back to behaviour since 11th March and for patterns or linked actions by institutions since then.
  • Although this is a consultation, the sector is expecting the conditions to be implemented and there are questions over how temporary it will actually be given the expected long term effect of C-19 on university finances. This condition is seen as a significant erosion into the autonomy of universities over their admission policies which has always been enshrined in law, most recently in the HERA legislation.
  • OfS have blogged regulator warns of penalties for recruitment practices.

UUK is working on a new sector agreement and statement of fair admissions practice. Including adhering to a new principle where HE providers will not put undue pressure on students, and new rules to restrict destabilising behaviours such as use of unconditional offers at volume. Both key aims the Government has been trying to influence for several years.

Wonkhe added more detail on the conditions:

  • Outlawed actions would include making conditional unconditional offers, making a lot of unconditional offers (or very low offers), offering gifts or discounts designed to attract students away from their original choices, and making false or misleading statements (including comparative claims) about one or more providers.
  • Outlawed actions would also include using financial support packages made available by the government for purposes that do not serve the interests of students or the public, failing to secure the standard of qualifications awarded to students, making offers to international students that significantly lower the academic or language requirements for a course, taking advantage of OfS relaxing particular regulatory requirements during the pandemic, and even “bypassing, or seeking to bypass, the admissions processes of the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), where the provider would normally use UCAS processes”.
  • If that all sounds wide, it’s because it is. It’s another of these huge, open-to-interpretation regulatory nets designed to catch all sorts of behaviour. It’s significant – the new condition would enable OfS to consider imposing penalties that would “cancel out any financial benefit to providers of acting inappropriately”. It doesn’t so much chip away at as kick a big chunk out of institutional autonomy. But the question remains whether now is the right time for providers to kick up a fuss about autonomy, when the sector is desperate for financial support?

Research Professional reported that failing to abide by “voluntary requirements” is also included. Quite the catchall! On the conditions consultation Research Professional state: …But these are not normal times. The condition—which is out for consultation but is almost certain to be implemented—could even be “actively renewed” in the future. Take a look at RP’s article here –  well worth a read! Key excerpts:

  • When considering a fine, the OfS would look at whether universities have stuck to Universities UK’s framework on fair admissions practices for 2020-21, agreed as part of the government’s so-called bailout package to help institutions through the coronavirus crisis.
  • But Smita Jamdar, head of education and partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, warned the proposals in the consultation were “so much broader” than admissions and could mean the condition applied to institutions’ actions in other areas such as employment.
  • “It has got a huge potential for unintended consequences”, Jamdar told Research Professional News, adding it was a “quite frightening set of proposals when you put it all together”. Jamdar also warned universities could expect fines to be handed out if the current proposals are carried out, and pointed out that breaches could be back-dated to 11 March. “It’s quite clear they are putting this in place and they intend to use it,” she said.

Smita has more detail on her viewpoints in her own blog on the topic.

Supporting Students

The last few years have seen an increase in the number of students entering clearing, many joining the admissions process for the first time at clearing having not previously applied to university. The government package sets out to boost the role of clearing – and specifically the adjustment part of it – even further.

In conjunction with UCAS the Government have arranged for both ‘placed’ and ‘unplaced’ students to have a greater – or at least more visible – opportunity  to change their choice of provider/course once they receive their grades. This will be supported by a new service that can suggest alternative opportunities, based on their achievements, their course interest, and other preferences.

UCAS is also working with BBC Bitesize to give students enhanced advice on applying to university and Clearing. In the weeks leading up to results day, UCAS will be running a high-profile and multi-channel campaign, ‘Get Ready for Clearing’.

This fits well with the Government’s agenda – they are concerned that able students, especially disadvantaged ones, are not accessing high tariff ‘prestigious’ institutions– and therefore not receiving the social mobility employment boost associated with graduating from certain HE institutions. As has been pointed out by many, this does not support the stability of the sector, and confirms that protecting the sector is not the government’s first priority .

  • The 5% increase cap will allow room for growth and many “prestigious” institutions will have a significant amount of capacity as they usually take high numbers of international students, who are expected not to come this autumn. This is interesting as these same institutions have fought back for a long time against arguments that “foreign” students take places that home students could take. The reality of course is that international students help to fund places for home students by paying higher fees – so the financial impact of this change in balance is quite complex.
  • The UK is still coming out of the demographic dip and there was already increased competition for domestic students. The lowest tariff institutions are expected to fare worst. These may be the institutions which also have the lowest financial reserves, take the highest number of disadvantaged and local students, and have higher associated drop out rates (at least partly as a result of their student profile). A gloomy picture given the Government has stated it won’t bailout “failing” or “poorer quality” providers.
  • However, a little discussed element in recruitment is localisation – students attending institutions near to them locally or regionally. This year, students may choose to stay close to family for lots of reasons, including ongoing restrictions on travel, or a wish by students to stay closer to home. Given the publicity about rent payments this summer, some new students may decline to commit to accommodation contracts and choose to stay closer to home instead.

On the 5% admissions cap Research Professional state:

  • That is quite a loose cap and for some institutions it represents the opposite of a bailout—they will feel that the pistol has been fired for open season on their students. For universities struggling to recruit before the pandemic, the news that other institutions can now maximise recruitment of the limited number of UK school leavers will seem like the government has just poured a bucket of water into an already sinking canoe.

Wonkhe comment:

  • From a student perspective, the offer is even thinner – the Office for Students has clarified that universities can allocate student premium funding and expenditure committed in access and participation plans to provide additional financial support for students, which is far from addressing the economic impacts of Covid-19 on students’ families or the inherent lack of protections in the system for students.

Michelle Donelan also confirmed that students should continue to pay full tuition fees even if provision from Autumn 2020 is online. While this supports Universities (and stops Government from having to fund even more to stabilise them) there is, of course, a policy point emphasised in her tweet: To be clear, we only expect full tuition fees to be charged if online courses are of good quality, fit for purpose & help students progress towards their qualification. If Unis want to charge full fees they will have to ensure that the quality is there. Reading the comments to Donelan’s tweet also paints an interesting picture of the public’s perspective.

Student Fee Petition

The Commons Petitions Committee has rejected the government’s initial response to a petition requesting the reimbursement of 2019-20 student fees due to Covid-19 and industrial action. The committee felt the initial response did not address the issue directly. The petition received 336,265 signatures (see this map of the signatures’ locations, including Bournemouth West – BU’s constituency). The Petition is now awaiting a date for a parliamentary debate (which may not be as exciting or drastic as it sounds, and potentially will go over the same Government messaging we have heard already).

The petition stated:

  • All students should be reimbursed some of this year’s tuition fees as universities are now online only due to COVID-19, with only powerpoints online for learning materials which is not worthy of up to £9,250. Furthermore, all assessments are being reconsidered to ‘make do’ and build up credits.
  • Field trips have also been cancelled which our tuition fee was to pay for. There is also no need for accommodation which students have paid between £4,000-£8,000 for in advance and adding to their student debt. Lastly, the extended strikes of this year have severely disrupted student-staff interaction and personalised help, with staff not replying to emails or available for meetings. Grading is also being delayed. Overall, university quality is poor this year and certainly not worth up to £9,250.

If you scroll down on this page you can read the Government’s response to the petition. The Petition’s Committee rejected the government response. They require the Government to provide another response because they felt that the response did not directly address the request of petition. Once the Government issues a further response it will be published on the same page.

Parliamentary Question:

Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether (a) his Department and (b) the Student Loans Company plan to provide support to (i) current and (ii) prospective students whose parents have lost their jobs as a result of the covid-19 outbreak by (A) facilitating access to full maintenance loans and (B) reinstating maintenance grants. [38455]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • Many higher education providers will have hardship funds to support students in times of need, including emergencies. The expectation is that where any student requires additional support, providers will support them through their own hardship funds. Contact details are available on university websites.
  • In addition, students will continue to receive payments of maintenance loans for the remainder of the current academic year, 2019/20. Students who need to undertake additional weeks of study on their course in the current academic year may also qualify for additional long courses loan to help with their living costs.
  • Parents who have lost their jobs and whose income has dropped by 15% or more in the current financial year will be able to apply to Student Finance England to have their children’s living costs support reassessed for the 2020/21 academic year from 1 August 2020 onwards. This will increase the amount of support students and prospective students are entitled to in 2020/21.
  • Information for parents on how to apply for a current year assessment is available on the Student Finance England website at: https://media.slc.co.uk/sfe/currentyearincome/index.html.

International Students

The Government has stated it will work to update the International Education Strategy, designed to support the recruitment of international students, by autumn 2020, in respond to the impact of COVID-19.

They have also restated the commitment to a graduate immigration route launching in summer 2021, giving international students (who graduate summer 2021 onwards) the right to remain for two years after their studies and providing an incentive to study in the UK. This includes students who have already started their courses, even if, due to coronavirus, they have needed to undertake some of their learning remotely.

The Government is ‘applying discretion’ to ensure that international students are not negatively impacted if they find themselves in a position where they cannot comply with certain visa rules as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Much of the media coverage on the prospects of international students to commence HE provision in autumn 2020 has been negative. However, several opinion surveys have hinted that prospective students remain committee to UK study. Here is another one – Wonkhe report that it might not be all bad news for international recruitment – a new survey today from IDP Connect finds that 69 per cent of a sample of nearly 6,900 prospective students applying to universities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US are intending to commence their studies this year as planned. Only 5 per cent expect to abandon plans to study overseas.

However, the UK face to face nature still seems to be the sticking point. Wonkhe continue: The survey found a huge willingness to start learning in January 2021 if this meant that the course could begin with face-to-face learning. Just 31 per cent would be happy to start online and move to the campus later on. Exposure to international culture is clearly a key component of the decision to travel for study.

Of course, another unanswered question is what happens if lockdown goes really long – would the post-study work visa still be honoured if all of the course is delivered online and the student is never resident in the UK?

Financial Sustainability

The Government will bring forward the second term tuition fee payments (expected to be worth £2.6bn) for providers so that they receive more cash in the first term of academic year 20/21 to help with cashflow issues. Currently HE providers receive the tuition fee payments in this profile: **25% on October, 25% in February, 50% in May. Instead the second payment will be brought forward – it’s not clear when it will be paid.  That’s not a big shift.

Alongside this the Government have reiterated that HE providers are eligible to apply for Government support schemes, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS, COVID Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. All of which are not straightforward for the HE sector due to the sources from which our finance comes. However, the OfS estimates these schemes could be worth £700m to the sector.

It comes with strings attached. HE providers are expected to make efficiencies. Furthermore, the bringing forward of tuition fee payments will mean very careful management of finances to cover the whole academic year and avoid fresh cashflow problems further down the track.

The Government state that they

  • will only intervene further where we find there is a case to do so, and only where we believe intervention is possible and appropriate, and as a last resort. In such instances, DfE will be working with HMT and other Government departments to develop a restructuring regime, through which we will review providers’ circumstances and assess the need for restructuring”.

The sector has interpreted this as bespoke individual support, with a host of conditions attached (potentially including losing land), and the erosion of the management of the institution.

Research Professional comment:

  • The £2.6bn on offer is neither a grant nor a loan. It is an advance payment of tuition fees from the next academic year. Theoretically, this will smooth immediate financial shortfalls. But it will also mean that universities have to cut their cloth further down the line.
  • A haircut is coming, says the department. The advance payments will “help universities better manage financial risks over the autumn, including taking steps to improve efficiencies and manage their finances in order to avoid cash flow problems further ahead.” ‘Efficiencies’ is an ominous word at the best of times… It is very clear indeed that the government has no appetite to bail out badly run universities.

The Government has also set aside £100 million to purchase land and buildings to create new or expand schools and colleges. While this money isn’t solely for purchasing HE assets many HE institutions do have large estates with substantial potential. Once again, the Government has thought carefully about its ideals and seen an opportunity to acquire land to meet its policy ideals. During Theresa May’s time as PM one of her big pushes (which was unsuccessful) was to bring HE, FE and schools together in collaboration to improve quality, opportunity and cohesion within communities. Sharing resources and expertise. Potentially acquiring land and placing conditions on failing institutions seems another wizard wheeze for overcoming the reluctance of the HE sector to get behind the initiative.

Wonkhe comment:

  • The Government expects [that] access to the business support schemes, reprofiling of public funding and student number controls should be sufficient to help stabilise most providers’ finances, and that should certainly be the first port of calls for providers.
  • This implies that a calculation has been carried out using OfS financial sustainability data and projections on student numbers that may or may not turn out to be accurate. We can’t see those calculations, as OfS’ annual report on the financial sustainability of the sector is missing in action. The sector would want to see the workings so that if the wider situation follows worst-case scenarios (mass deferrals of current students, even worse international numbers, etc.), the government could be approached with a freshly minted begging bowl.
  • That ominous paragraph also describes the development of an HE “restructuring regime” in which DfE would review providers’ circumstances and assess the need for restructuring – and where action is required, this will come with “attached conditions.

And some breaking news – the OfS on 6th May published the outcome of their recent consultation on cuts to OfS spending. Bad timing, as the cut in budget and the consultation all started before the pandemic hit.

A selection of Parliamentary Questions

Q – Colleen Fletcher: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on (a) the number of (i) international student numbers and (ii) domestic student numbers intending to take up a university place in the 2020 academic year and (b) research and innovation funding. [39637]

And

Q – Rachel Hopkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support UK universities affected by reduced international recruitment as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [38988]

A- Michelle Donelan:

  • We are very grateful for the work that universities are doing in supporting students, undertaking ground-breaking research and providing specialist equipment. We are working closely with them to understand the financial risks and implications that they might face at this uncertain time.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak will have an impact on international students. The government is working to ensure that existing rules and regulations relating to international students, including visa regulations, are as flexible as possible under these unprecedented circumstances.
  • My right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has also announced an unprecedented package of support, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and a range of business loan schemes, to help pay wages, keep staff employed and support businesses whose viability is threatened by the outbreak. We recently confirmed universities’ eligibility for these schemes, and we are working closely with the sector, the Office for Students (OfS) and across the government to understand the financial risks that providers are facing, stabilise the admissions system and help providers to access the support on offer. [This response was provided before the package was announced.]
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and UK Research and Innovation analysts are working closely with the Department for Education, OfS and wider non-government stakeholders to undertake a rapid programme of analysis to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on a range of research institutions including universities and analyse suitable policy responses.

Q – Emma Hardy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to engage with (a) small and specialist higher education institutions, (b) institutions that are not members of Universities UK and (c) universities in remote, rural and coastal areas on their financial sustainability as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. [41578]

A – Michelle Donelan: answer here, but it doesn’t specifically mention rural or coastal universities

Research

In England, the Government will bring forward £100 million of quality-related (QR) research funding for the current academic year for ‘vital’ activities to address some of the immediate pressures being faced for university research activities and “to ensure research activities can continue during the crisis”. The QR top up is intended “to offset short-term impacts caused by the coronavirus outbreak, including alleviating immediate cash flow issues and where other income which would normally pay for research is no longer available”. Research Professional state: This does not come close to the cross-subsidy that research receives from the £7bn in tuition fee income that international students provided last year.

A joint DfE/BEIS Ministerial Taskforce – the University Research Sustainability Taskforce – will also form, jointly led by Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, and Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan.

It aims to act as an advisory forum for ministers and will:

  • share information and intelligence about the health of the university research and the knowledge exchange carried out by and within HE providers
  • identify potential impacts on the sustainability of university research and knowledge exchange directly arising from the response to coronavirus
  • share intelligence on government and other sources of funding for research, and develop approaches building on these to address the impacts of coronavirus and protect and sustain HE research capability and capacity
  • where possible share evidence of the impacts on university research and knowledge exchange of the taskforce’s advice

The Government have stated they expect universities will also want to develop their own proposals to build an efficient, effective and sustainable research and development system, focused on driving recovery. (See Chris Skidmore’s comments below.)

Research Professional have this to say:

  • It is the research proposals that have received the most criticism. A £100 million advance on quality-related funding represents just 5 per cent of what Universities UK had asked for…Why, then, was there so little in this announcement about shoring up research? If the research budget is due to double in five years, why the reluctance to spend now?
  • Writing exclusively for Research Professional News today, former universities minister Chris Skidmore appears to think there is more on the way—accepting that while £100m “may not be what the wider sector was hoping for…it remains a promising start”…“This first £100m of additional QR funding should be welcomed, but universities should try to do all they can to demonstrate its vital importance for the Covid-19 recovery—by going out to sell its benefits together,” he says. “Ideally, institutions should publicise and highlight where this money will go, working in collaboration where possible to demonstrate its necessity.
  • …Was there a clue too in the statement from Research England’s executive chair David Sweeneyyesterday? He said: “The higher education package announced today builds on some detailed proposals recently from UUK…English universities will want to similarly develop more detailed proposals to build an efficient, effective and sustainable R&D system and Research England looks forward to working with them and the government to achieve that end.” In the politesse of statements from senior civil servants, ‘universities will want to’ usually means ‘universities should hurry up and get on with’.
  • Following the announcement of the underwhelming bailout plan, we spoke to several well-placed figures in the research firmament. According to one of them, the government feels that while there has been some good thinking on the education side from universities, there has been less thought on the research side. They have “talked turkey on education, now it is time to talk turkey on research”, we were told.
  • In other words, ministers are not simply going to release £2bn into university accounts without a quid pro quo. As a number of sources close to government told us yesterday, there will be no substantial cash injection for research without recognition from universities that they have a shared responsibility to contribute to the post-coronavirus recovery. In other words, what are universities going to put on the table and what is the government going to get out of it? We understand that the government is looking for movement on topics such as: regional inequality, or levelling up; skills and training; and precarious contracts for researchers. 
  • …By allowing the Office for Students to consult on sweeping new powers, universities have put their admissions autonomy at risk. Do they really want to do the same with research in return for the false security of 100 per cent full economic costs?

Meanwhile Wonkhe note that:

  • UKRI hasupdated its useful “guidance for the research and innovation communities” to incorporate research focused aspects of yesterday’s government announcements. It links to Research England’s brief note on the funding advance related to next year’s QR allocation.

And Scotland have announced their own £75 million research boost for Scottish universities.

The Guardian has an article by Chris Skidmore

On HEPI former director Bahram Bekhradnia describes the proposed student number cap as “unworkable”.

Legal firm Pinsent Masons ran the article UK higher education restructuring ‘inevitable’ without targeted support stating the UK university sector should brace for potential insolvencies and reluctant mergers as the medium term impact of the coronavirus pandemic becomes clear. They base their analysis on the London Economics & UCU report of several weeks previous (the report has not escaped criticism for aspects of its calculations and assumptions).

Wonkhe also have lots of blogs, of course, here are some:

And Michelle Donelan also responded to a parliamentary question outlining the Government’s package.

Finally Research Professional’s spoof column Ivory Tower has a particularly good grasp of the ‘bailout’, especially as it was published in advance of the Government’s announcement of the ‘support’ measures. Do read Spads: bailout for a little light relief. (If you hit a log in page from the link select Bournemouth University and then log in with your BU username and password.)

What next?

The support package has been announced and whilst the dust is settling sector press is asking what next for the ‘new normal’? Both Wonkhe and Research Professional (RP) ran features on it on Wednesday. RP considered the new normal from the institutional perspective of what could open and how social distancing could be maintained. The blog is a neat consideration of the complexity of the HE context. Excerpt: The pressure will therefore be on institutions to open their doors for educational business as soon as possible, especially given student grumblings about paying full fees for courses that are now being delivered entirely online. However, as an educational setting, it is probable that universities can expect to be handed guidelines by the Department for Education as well.

Wonkhe tackle risk, audit and the student interest but from a strategic University Board perspective. Here are their series of blogs:

RP also state that AdvanceHE is launching an international project this week to help university leaders share information and find solutions to the difficulties posed by a socially distanced campus.

Education Select Committee

The Education Select Committee met this week to question Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson. Much of the Committee session focused on school aged children alongside disadvantage and SEN concerns; exam grades for FE courses including BTECs were touched upon. HE content has mainly been superseded by the Government’s support package announced after the Committee met. However, it also covered international students (no answer from Williamson), the difficulty in taking English language tests, and there was still no answer on nursing tuition fees. Dods summarise the nursing exchange:

Halfon [Select Committee Chair] said that “apparently” the Department for Education had not clarified whether nursing students who worked for the NHS during the pandemic would still be paying tuition fees. Pressed on this, the secretary of state said he would come back to the committee.

The Minister reiterated that a response to the Augar review is still expected around the time of the next Spending Review. Also that T Levels will go ahead in the original timeframe set out because the introduction of T-Levels and raising the status of vocational qualifications was “one of the most important tasks this Government had”.

Finally Johnson asked about domestic students who were stuck at university alone and unable to return home. The Government would “very much” want to facilitate their return, Williamson said.

On lessons the DfE have learnt from the crisis Williamson thought there were many. The ability to support children within the home and through holidays had been really transformed, he said. The department recognised that resources could be much more rapidly shared and they would be looking at how this could be used to reduce the workload for teachers. Additionally, by moving tribunals online, the department were getting through them much more rapidly, the committee heard. (Summary of the Minister’s response supplied by Dods.) The Education committee also published Ministerial letters for transparency:

Sutton Trust

The Sutton Trust published a brief on the impact of covid-19 on university access. The research surveyed 511 university applicants (pupils aged 17 to 19); found that working class applicants are more likely to be worried about the impact on them than their middle-class peers. Also that almost half of university applicants think that the coronavirus crisis will have a negative impact on their chances of getting into their first-choice university. The report also covers poll of 895 current university students raising their financial concerns resulting from the pandemic.

Access, Participation & Success

Social Mobility Commission

Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, Dame Martina Milburn, has resigned. The press points out that the social mobility commission has lost two Chairs in 2.5 years. Her predecessor Alan Milburn resigned (en masse with all other members of the Commission) in frustration at the Government’s failure to do more to tackle social mobility. Dame Martina stated she was resigning “with deep regret, and after several sleepless nights”  her substantive role as Group Chief Exec of The Prince’s Trust required her full commitment. Her letter states:

  • I am extremely proud of what has been achieved at the Commission in the last two years – appointing the 12 very diverse commissioners, re-establishing the secretariat and commissioning a variety of reports from the State of the Nation to an employers’ toolkit. Currently, we have 16 reports in the pipeline, have conducted a popular series of webinars for employers and have begun to form partnerships with bodies such as the metro-mayors and with other important commissions. We have also brought the social mobility charities together and appointed a range of social mobility ambassadors.
  • However, it is not nearly enough and given the strong links between social mobility and poverty I fear this current crisis will only serve to make social mobility harder than ever. My reflections from my time in office are that appointing a Chairman on three days per month, as I was, has proved a real challenge. To make an impact, what the secretariat needs is an executive chairman on at least three days per week or a different structure perhaps something more akin to that of the Children’s Commissioner?

She also stated that either of the Deputy Commissioners she appointed are capable of taking over her role.

Education SoS Gavin Williamson responds to her letter here.

Other blog posts

  • The BAME degree-awarding gap is likely to be an even bigger issue now. Gurnam Singhreflects on what universities should do next (Wonkhe blog).
  • The University Mental Health Advisors Network (UMHAN) blog covers the OfS briefing on supporting student mental health. Excerpt: given the disruption to normal study patterns, and potential longer-term changes to higher education as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is possible that universities and colleges will see new patterns in their students’ mental health and wellbeing emerge. They also plan a White Paper setting out good practice and recommendations.
  • The Guardian has an article written by the Master of Birkbeck explaining why unconditional offers for foundation years are important for social mobility

Finally another Guardian piece bringing to life the rhetoric around disadvantaged students struggling with online access

Disadvantaged Catch Up Plan

The Education Policy Institute has published a policy paper with proposals to prevent the disadvantage gap from increasing due to C-19. Before the outbreak of Covid-19, EPI research found that disadvantaged children are already on average one and a half years of learning behind other pupils by the time they take their GCSEs.

Graduate Employment Outlook

Wonkhe report that

  • the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) forecast of a 6.1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate due to the impact of Covid-19 will have a disproportionate effect on the employment prospects of young people, according to a new briefingfrom the Resolution Foundation. Graduates would have a 13 per cent lower likelihood of being in employment three years after completing their education, with non-graduates seeing an even worse impact.
  • There’s also bad news on pay – with forecasts suggesting real hourly graduate pay would be, on average 7 per cent lower two years on. But the recession will disproportionately hit sectors where young people tend to work – non-food retail, hospitality, travel, the arts, and entertainment. One year after having left full-time education, more than one-third of non-graduates, and more than one-in-five, graduates would expect to work in a sector that is now mostly shut down.
  • The briefing suggests that – as in previous recessions – young people will be more likely to remain in education rather than enter the workforce. However, the demographic dip will make it easier for the government to offer support for those making this decision.

Youth movement:

  • 70 of the country’s leading youth charities, employer groups and experts have united to form the ‘COVID-19 Youth Employment Group’, a cross-sector emergency response to rising concerns about the economic and educational impact of coronavirus on young people. The Youth Employment Group is led by Impetus, the Youth Futures Foundation, The Prince’s Trust, Youth Employment UK and the Institute for Employment Studies. It will design, deliver, and campaign for solutions to the immediate and long-term impact on young people’s employment prospects, particularly those who already face considerable challenges entering the labour market.
  • As research increasingly warns of the potentially catastrophic impact on young people’s future employment prospects, there is a clear need for a rapid cross sector approach. The group will work to ensure young people receive quality support now, as well as helping plan for a healthy recovery of the youth labour market post-lockdown.
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned that younger workers will be hit the hardest, as they are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to work in a sector that is now shut down. The research also shows that on the eve of the crisis, sectors that shut down as a result of social distancing measures employed nearly a third (30%) of all employees under 25; compared to just one in eight (13%) of workers over 25.
  • The group’s membership meets virtually every week as they begin to pool together expertise and develop rapid solutions during and after lockdown. They have set up a LinkedIn Groupfor those interested.

Parliamentary updates

Online Voting: Chair of the Commons Procedure Committee, Karen Bradley, has written to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to confirm that the remote voting system for MPs is now ready to go live. The confirmation stated the system is suitable ad secure as long as MPs behave: MPs will have a “personal responsibility to ensure the integrity of the system”, a warning against letting others vote on their behalf. And with a tone as stern as the OfS’ she emphases: It is highly likely that any action by a Member which led to an authorised person casting a vote in a division would constitute a contempt of the House and a breach of the Code of Conduct, and would be likely to be punished accordingly.

Parliamentary Questions 

Schools – Q – Alex Sobel: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department plans to allow parents who are in the covid-19 at risk groups to decide whether their children return to school, when schools reopen. [39792]

A – Nick Gibb: Schools will remain closed until further notice, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children.

Heath Professions – Training – Q – Geraint Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether final year trainee (a) doctors and (b) nurses will be charged tuition fees while working for the NHS during the covid-19 outbreak. [37381]

A – Helen Whately:

  • Medical students and student nurses will continue to be required to pay tuition fees for their final term. Given the extended length of medical degrees, which can be up to six years in length, Health Education England pay medical student tuition fees from year 5 of study.
  • As part of the Government’s COVID-19 response, current year 5 medical students are currently being graduated by their medical schools early to enable them to apply for Provisional Registration with the General Medical Council, and if they so choose to deploy in to Foundation Year 1 posts. Those that do so will be contracted from the date they start their employment and employed under the 2016 terms and conditions for doctors and dentists in training. They will also continue to get their National Health Service bursary and student maintenance loan.
  • Year 3 nursing students have been invited to opt in to paid placements in the NHS. All students who do opt in to support the COVID-19 response will be rewarded fairly for their hard work. Students will be getting a salary and automatic NHS pension entitlement at the appropriate band. They will also still receive their student maintenance loan and Learning Support Fund payments too.
  • Decisions about the NHS workforce in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, including the funding that they provide for students, are a matter for the devolved administrations of those countries.

Scam Risk

C-19 and lockdown have increased fears that loved ones, particularly those newly venturing online, will experience attempts by scammers to obtain money, resources and personal information. You may be familiar with the work of BU’s National Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work and Professional Practice. Professors Keith Brown, Lee-Ann Fenge and their close knit team have published many freely available downloadable guides in recent years, worked closely with Government agencies and held successful parliamentary receptions to raise the awareness of policy makers. The team have a new publication out – Scams the power of persuasive language. Do download it to take a look and share with loved ones, neighbours and vulnerable contacts. All the team’s publications on fraud, scams, mental capacity and advanced care planning can be accessed here.

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:

The Skills Commission have launched a new inquiry, entitled; The Workforce of the Future – ‘Learning to earning’ transitions and career development in a challenging labour market.

Other nes

Student complaints: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for HE (OIAHE) published the 2019 annual report setting out:

  • The number and outcomes of complaints received and closed
  • Examples of the complaints students make
  • Trends and common themes in complaints and lessons learnt

NUS VP for HE Claire Sosienski Smith commented on the report release making the same calls for action as in previous weeks:

  • “We know that next year, the number of complaints as outlined in the report might look quite different: NUS’ Coronavirus and Students Survey of 10,000 students showed that 74% of students are worried about the impact of the pandemic on their final qualifications and 20% of students who had been offered online learning did not agree that they were able to access it adequately. A lot of providers have been leading the way by offering ‘no detriment’ policies, to ensure that their students’ attainment is not unfairly captured by end of year exams this year. We believe a policy of no-detriment should be the way forward for the sector as a whole.
  • Students need a safety net, and urgently. The OIA is a fantastic service to make students more powerful, but it is set up for individuals or for small groups of students on courses. The pandemic has impacted every single student in the UK, and we need a national-level, government solution to this problem: that can only be the ability to redo the year at no extra cost, giving students the chance to make up for the education they are missing out on, or have their debt and fee payments written off or reimbursed.”

Graduate Outcomes: HESA announced dates for the publication of the first datasets from the Graduate Outcomes survey –  high-level findings on 18 June and the full release (including provider level data) on 23 June. This is a month’s delay to existing plans, and reflects the time required to prepare and assure data under lockdown conditions.

Virtual Open Days: Wonkhe have a thought nudging article on the benefits of a virtual campus tour for recruitment.

Evidence based policy making: Research Professional report that trust in science in at a record high in Germany with approval for evidence-based policy skyrocketing.

Apprenticeships: The Government have published their annual update on the apprenticeship reform programme. It reports progress towards the 3 million starts apprenticeships target between 2015 and 2020. The Government have achieved 69.6% of the 3 million target (2.09 million starts). Much fuller detail on other factors within the apprenticeship report is contained in the above link.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 6th March 2020

Pre-budget week has been as we’d typically expect with organisations releasing a hoard of reports, evidence and lobbying papers aiming to influence Government funding decisions. We’ve summarised the main reports and added links for the reports which say similar things. Graduate outcomes and apprenticeships& technical education were the loudest shouters, and this week also saw University Mental Health day and the beginning of British Science Week.

Select Committees

All but one of the select committees has now confirmed their MP membership. You can see the members and brief details on the role and future outlook of the committees most relevant to BU in our committee special edition here.

Immigration

The Immigration Bill has now been published.  Dods report that the Office for Budget Responsibility is preparing to downgrade the UK’s economic growth prospects in next week’s budget because of the country’s proposed post-Brexit “points” based immigration model. The OBR will forecast that a smaller population will lead to lower economic growth and detriment public finances, restricting the new Chancellor’s abilities to spend more money on key public services such as the NHS as well as the Government’s wider programme to “level up” the economy.

The economic impact of the new immigration system has led to tensions between the Treasury and Number 10 Downing Street. The Treasury favours a looser migration regime, without a cliff edge at the end of 2020, when the Brexit transition period ends.

Importantly, a reduction in migration rates have little to no effect on living standards because while economic growth might slow overall, gross domestic product per person was remain unchanged. The Migration Advisory Committee estimated a rise in GDP per person but added that this was very uncertain.

Science

Gavin Williamson and Business SoS Alok Sharma announced £179 million funding package for science, maths and engineering on Friday (which is the first day of British Science Week):

  • £179 million for PhDs (up to 2,200 students) within the 40+ UK universities in Doctoral Training Partnership institutions. Students will commence 2020 and 2021 academic years within the subject areas of physical sciences, maths and engineering to develop the skills for ground-breaking research and high-tech industries like cyber security and chemical manufacturing. Part of the investment will go into pilots looking at how best to attract and support those from non-academic backgrounds to undertake this type of training.
  • Encourage more young people, particularly girls, to study STEM subjects at school and university, and pursue a STEM-related career.
  • £8.9 million to continue funding science education programmes including Science Learning Partnerships and Stimulating Physics Networks, which aim to improve science teaching and increase the take up of science at GCSE level and A level and ultimately encourage young people to pursue a STEM-related career.

And on Thursday the PM hosted the Council for Science and Technology at Downing Street. The Council is comprised of senior science civil servant officials, the VC of Manchester University and attended by the Science Minister (Amanda Solloway). It advises the PM on science and technology policy matters. The official account of the meeting states the PM set out his priorities for science, research and innovation; championed science as a key part of his levelling up agenda, and emphasised the role of scientists in tackling the policy challenges of the coming decades. He challenged the Council to define their “moon-shots” for UK science, their ideas for where the UK should aim high, for example across healthcare, transport, energy and robotics. He restated the government’s pledge to invest in science and significantly boost R&D funding.

Ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore has two articles in TES: UK Universities must embrace the future and Skidmore rejects ‘university-bashing’ and urges funding stability. The first looks at the Universities Minister role and Chris reflects on what he achieved and his approach to the role:

  • I arrived with a mission. Put simply, I felt that I had to try to steer the relationship between government and the sector into a better place. No more university-bashing for the sake of a few cheap headlines. What would be the point? 
  • Of course, that still means challenging the sector to do even better, but with a change in approach and a change of tone, I knew that I was more likely to enact real change, to encourage reform and to work productively on actual solutions, rather than simply sending out press releases calling for them.
  • So much good work is already taking place – one of my rules for every speech I made was to highlight best practice
  • I wish my successors, both in universities and science, the very best. They have an opportunity to fashion and lead an exciting agenda that is at the centre of the prime minister’s vision. Of course I would have loved to have been part of this, but I hope I have played my small part in helping to steer the sector through a difficult year and helping it recognise the huge opportunities that can lie ahead – if the initiative is seized, and university leaders are prepared to tell a positive, forward-facing narrative, rather than being always on the defensive.
  • Universities are not part of the problem, they are part of the solution. We need to hear more of that message, and I, for one, will continue to do everything I can to make sure that it is voiced – and heard. 

Graduate Premium

The Institute for Fiscal Studies and DfE have published The impact of undergraduate degrees on lifetime earnings. It paints a mixed picture confirming and quantifying the graduate premium across the lifespan for today’s workforce. It also digs down into the variables highlighting the effects that current age/life stage, gender, programme choice, and institutional status have on pay levels. There has been lots of media interest alongside the Government’s keen focus on the value for money agenda. Plus some acknowledgement of the other personal benefits from studying at HE level, particularly in light of the headline grabber of male creative arts graduates who experience a negative financial return.

  • “while about 80% of students are likely to gain financially from attending university, we estimate that one in five students – or about 70,000 every year – would actually have been better off financially had they not gone to university.
  • … Other personal and social benefits may be as or more important. We also only consider the effect of each student’s choices on their ownearnings holding constant the choices of others”
  • Median earnings of male graduates grow strongly throughout their 30s, and this earnings growth far outstrips that of non-graduates. For male graduates who were 30 in 2016, we predict earnings to rise by £15k from age 30 to age 40, compared with a rise of just £5k in the median earnings of non-graduate men. The gap in median earnings between graduate and non-graduate men continues to grow strongly until individuals’ mid-40s.
  • Median earnings growth for female graduates in their 30s is moderate, but still higher than that of non-graduates. We predict median real earnings of female graduates who were 30 in 2016 to rise by around £5k from age 30 to age 40, compared with no growth for non-graduate women. Among degree subjects, law and medicine stand out in that their female graduates do see large growth in median earnings between ages 35 and 40.
  • Accordingly, the causal effect of undergraduate degrees on earnings grows after age 30 for both men and women, but much more strongly for men.  Average pre-tax returns for men at a given age increase from around 5% on average at age 30 to more than 30% on average at age 40, after which they increase more slowly to reach around 35% from age 50. For women, average pre-tax returns increase from around 25% at age 30 to more than 40% at age 40, but then fall again to between 30% and 35% at ages 50 and 60.
  • The average lifetime earnings gain from undergraduate degrees is substantial for both men and women, but much smaller than the difference between the gross earnings of graduates and non-graduates. The discounted difference in lifetime earnings between graduates and non-graduates is £430k for men and £260k for women. Once we account for differences in characteristics between those who do and do not attend HE, we obtain a discounted lifetime increase in gross earnings of £240k for men and £ 140k for women as a result of attending HE.
  • The average gain in net lifetime earnings is even smaller due to the progressivity of the tax system. Once taxes and student loans have been taken into account, the earnings premium declines to around £130k for men and £100k for women (£350k and £230k with no discounting). In percentage terms, this represents a gain in average net lifetime earnings of around 20% for both men and women.
  • The subject studied at university is hugely important. Net discounted lifetime returns for women are close to zero on average for creative arts and languages graduates, but more than £250k for law, economics or medicine. Men studying creative arts have negative financial returns, while men studying medicine or economics have average returns of more than half a million pounds.
  • However, studying a subject with high average returns is no guarantee of high returns. While average returns to law and economics are high, many students will see much lower benefits from studying those subjects, and a few will see much higher returns. In contrast, subjects such as education and nursing do not have very high returns on average, but women who study these subjects almost universally achieve positive returns.
  • Overall, we expect 85% of women and around three-quarters of men to achieve positive net lifetime returns. This means that around one in five undergraduates would have been better off financially had they not gone to university. At the other end of the spectrum, the 10% of graduates with the highest returns will on average gain more than half a million pounds in discounted present value terms.
  • Financing undergraduate degrees is expensive for the taxpayer, but on average increased tax revenues more than make up for it. Overall, we estimate that the expected gain to the exchequer of an individual enrolling in an undergraduate course is around £110k per student for men and £30k per student for women.
  • However, these gains are driven mainly by the highest-earning graduates. We expect the exchequer to gain more than half a million pounds on average from the 10% of graduates with the highest exchequer returns, but to make a loss on the degrees of around 40% of men and half of women. This means that nearly half of all students receive a net government subsidy for their degrees, even after tax and National Insurance payments have been taken into account. The selectivity of the institution has an influence too:

Michelle Donelan (Universities Minister) writes for the TelegraphUniversities minister announces crackdown on ‘low quality’ courses.  The below excerpts are interesting because they seem to suggest the Minister gets the point that earnings aren’t everything, and that low quality means poor teaching [measured somehow] AND relatively low returns for graduates (compared to other courses at other universities in the same subject that have higher earnings). Hopefully it also means ‘adjusted for background and prior attainment’!

  • We know that medicine and law, for example, will generally lead to higher earnings than languages but that does not mean to say that one degree is better than another. Its value extends far beyond what anyone is likely to earn during their lifetime and is merely one of the things to add to the mix when planning this stage of your life. 
  • There will always be some courses which do not lead to increased earnings for graduates. Value is relative and for many people their degree will lead to an immensely rewarding career even though the financial returns may be lower and society as a whole is the better for it.
  • What concerns me most are those courses that deliver neither the high-quality teaching students deserve, nor the value for money that they and the taxpayer rightly expect. In some subjects there is a very high variability in returns depending on where that subject is studied, which students need to be aware of.
  • This is one of the reasons why we created a new regulator, the Office for Students, to make sure standards throughout the sector can stand comparison with the best in the world. I fully back the regulator to step in and use its powers where providers are falling short, and am determined to crack down on low-quality courses. They do nothing for the reputation of universities and they will do even less for students who sign up for them.
  • And for those universities who are providing a world-class education, I expect them to continue offering a world-class experience. The time spent at university will help shape an individual, adding layers to their character through independence, knowledge, experiences and friendships – and no amount of data crunching can put a figure on that.

HEPI – Careers Service view on Graduate Outcomes driving institutional change

The Higher Education Policy Institute has also published a graduate outcome related report although this one contemplates change from a different angle. Getting on: graduate employment and its influence on UK HE is a more discursive paper addressing whether recent years’ policy changes (TEF and the new Graduate Outcomes survey accompanied by the tracking of graduate salary data through LEO) has changed the nature of HE institutions. It examines the sector by drawing on the views of Heads of Careers Services via the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services survey. Key points:

  • 76% of careers services have seen a change in student engagement with careers in the last three years (24% no change).
  • 93% of careers services see the increased policy focus on graduate outcomes as positive (2% negative; 5% neither positive nor negative).
  • The new Graduate Outcomes survey and the OfS Access and Participation plans are having the greatest impact on how careers services operate, rather than graduate salary data.
  • 69% say Graduate Outcomes has the most impact
  • 19% say Access and Participation plans has the most impact.
  • 2% say the LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data) has the greatest impact.
  • 45% of careers services have seen an increase in funding to cover additional demand on their services; 55% haven’t.
  • The report also covers qualitative analysis of the views of careers services, including how they, their university and students classify a successful outcome from university.

Rachel Hewitt (report author), HEPI,  said: ‘Policy changes in recent years have led to employability being a mainstream activity across all universities, rather than the specialism of a few. While some may rail against the ’employability agenda’, it is clear that universities are now better serving the interests of their students by supporting them through their transition into the workplace.’

Responding to the HEPI report NUS (Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President for HE) said:

  • “The focus on employability and graduate outcomes is not having a positive effect on students. We see this through the increased levels of stress and anxiety that they experience. Since the tripling of tuition fees, the burden of debt hangs heavily over students entering higher education and this explains why there is a greater focus among some on their future careers. As careers services have received more funding it is a natural step that they will see more use from students.
  • But this change in focus shifts attention from many of the most important benefits of studying and the transformative nature of education. Graduate outcomes is a reductive measure for whether someone has had a perceived ‘successful’ education and the report highlights the disparities between the measures institutions and students care most about.
  • It would be more insightful to look at the impact the focus on employability has had on students and their wellbeing.”

Part time study

Ahead of the budget UUK have written to ministers to urge them to reconsider the cut off points for part time learners to access student finance. The current restrictions are that students must study at least 25% of a full time equivalent per year and must commit to an approved qualification up front. Changes to these requirements would allow fractional learners to engage with HE level study in smaller bite sized chunks. UUK argue this would encourage more learners to engage or reskill, including those with commitments such as caring responsibilities or disabilities. Previous UUK publication Lost Learners (2018) highlights the three main reasons potential students chose not to enrol are:

  • 44% unable to afford tuition fees
  • 42% cannot afford the cost of living whilst studying
  • 26% course is not flexible enough to fit alongside their other life commitments

The Augar Review also highlights that having to study at 25% intensity and follow a specified qualification has been a major factor in the decline of part-time adult study. The Learning and Work Institute state that adult learning participation is as a 23 year low point with participation fallen to a record low the last three years in a row.

UUK call on the Government to run a pilot scheme targeting funding at communities with skills shortages.   Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, said:

  • We know this government is committed to investment in regional economies and to helping people of all ages and backgrounds to reskill and retrain. Universities have an important role to play in that, but the current system counts against many would-be learners by restricting access to the financial support they need to develop their skills. There should be more than one accepted path to progress in higher education, to recognise that aspiring students of all ages have different circumstances and different needs. 
  • It is time for universities and government to work together on bold new ideas to resolve the long-term skills challenges of our changing economy. Breaking down barriers to studying shorter courses would not only help students to build-up qualifications over time but boost productivity across diverse regions, target local skills needs and support economic and social regeneration.

Technical Education

Degree Apprenticeships

Education Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, has written to the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education to ask them to review their approval for a level 7 apprenticeship which includes an MBA or other masters level qualification in management. The DfE state:

  • In his letter, the Secretary of State reiterated his determination to ensure levy funds are used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or those from disadvantaged backgrounds, rather than paying for staff who already have a degree and are highly qualified to receive an MBA.

You’ll recall when Theresa May’s Government set out to reinvent technical education there was a big push for degree apprenticeships. Universities were urged to embrace and offer the qualifications in areas which served local or national industrial and economic priorities. Meanwhile the Government’s introduction of the apprenticeship levy was unsuccessful and instead of improving quality and opportunity it resulted in declining levels of new starts, amid reports of some apprenticeship providers gaming the system. Overall the profile of apprenticeship provision changed as the higher and degree level apprenticeships took off. The Government became concerned that the cost of the higher level provision was significant alongside the reduction in availability or lower numbers of level 2 and 3 apprenticeship starts. Gavin’s letter represents the Government trying to regain control over the apprenticeship system. They still want degree level provision within the genuine apprenticeship form and we may see either Government or the Institute tightening control over the programme areas in the future. Requiring the qualification to be an essential regulatory or professional requirement also provides the Government with wriggle room. Here is an excerpt from Gavin’s letter:

  • I am absolutely determined to make sure levy funds are being used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or helping more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead, and that we ensure good value for money in the apprenticeships offer…In that context, [I] am unconvinced that having an apprenticeship standard that includes an MBA paid for by the levy is in the spirit of our reformed apprenticeships or provides value for money. I question whether an MBA is an essential regulatory or professional requirement to work in this field…I am of the view that we absolutely need to safeguard the integrity of the apprenticeship brand and value for money of the levy.

Investing in Higher Technical Education

Millionplus published Levelling up: investing in higher technical education at universities in England this week . Amongst the content it covers the same argument as UUK above – that the lack of financial support for part time students and the introduction of higher tuition fees have resulted in a reduction of Level 4 and 5 study. Dods go into detail on why level 4 and 5 technical education has declined:

  • In 2008 support for Equivalent and Lower Qualifications were withdrawn, barring students who had previously experienced higher education funding from studying programmes to support retraining or for re-entering the workforce
  • The long-term impact of the 2008 financial crash on the training budgets of public and private sector employers also contributed to the sharp decline in higher technical education.
  • The level of provision has been declining since 2008, with a sharp drop taking place after the 2012 university fee changes in England introduced by the then coalition government.
  • The government has, through the Sainsbury Review and the introduction of the 15 [T level, technical] routes, recognised that this area of education needs a new focus and targeted attention. However, those reforms are not going to be enough.

In Scotland, there is a much greater level of integration between bachelor and sub-bachelor levels of study than in England. In Scotland 14% of the whole of the HE system is made up of students studying HNCs and HNDs, in England it is 0.4%.  However, a decline of 45% in the number of students engaged in “other sub-degree” mirrors English trends– provision has been shrinking in Scotland as well.

There is discussion on how students are categorised in England, i.e. undertaking a level 6 programme despite years 1 and 2 being level 4 and 5 study. They argue this misleads thinking when examining level 4 and 5 study in technical areas that only standalone level 4/5 provision is appropriate (rather than the same as provision on the level 6 journey).  I.e. there is no “missing middle” of sub-degree qualifications in the English HE system. The report suggests that the Augar review understood this. Moreover:

This data should suggest to policymakers that the fundamental challenge is not a trade-off between progressing younger people either to level 4/5 or to level 6, but how we can best enable 16-25 year olds, and those later in life, to successfully complete level 3 study which can provide them with a gateway of opportunity for progression into higher education or directly into employment.

There are a host of report recommendations which we’ll avoid covering in detail. In short:

  • Level 4 and 5 (L4/5) should receive full maintenance grant support (to increase the take up of work-focused higher education).
  • All L4/5 providers to register with OfS to guarantee high quality provision and access to student finance.
  • Universities are as much a key players in the provision of higher technical education as colleges.
  • Sort the L4/5 data out to better understand nature and scope of technical education across college and university providers.
  • All level qualifications should enable progression at any life stage and financially support level 3 students to remove barriers to study.

The DfE consulted on higher technical education reform (July-Sept 2019). Like the Augar Review the Government’s response is notably late. Most likely technical changes will sit alongside however, the Government decide to implement elements of Augar, T levels will undoubtedly be of influence, and some thinkers suggest TEF changes could also be wrapped up within this surprise parcel.

Education Policy Institute (EPI)

The EPI has published a report questioning what England can learn from other nations in designing technical education funding systems. The report finds that T levels are a significant step in the direction of high performing countries, however, there is a way to before English upper secondary technical provision resembles the model and success of other nations. EPI suggest tackling the necessary issues would require substantial levels of additional government investment.

  • UK has historically funded upper secondary technical education at lower rates than academic education (23% less per student in 2016, lower than the OECD average) – this is not the case in most other countries.
  • In other countries subsidies are provided to employers to compensate for the time that an apprentice is training outside the job or to compensate for disadvantaged intakes that drive costs up. In England, subsidies are concentrated on small and medium companies.
  • More generous financial support is available in other countries. In England support funding to students has fallen by 71% per student in real terms between 2010/11 and 2018/19.
  • While over a half of students in England follow the technical pathway in upper secondary, only 16% do so through apprenticeship training. In EU its 27%.
  • English technical upper secondary education is a shorter duration (2 years, even 1 for some apprenticeships).  In high performing countries it takes 3-4 years.
  • 15% of English students are in the highest-cost groups of subjects (including engineering, manufacturing, and construction); in OECD countries its 34%.
  • The curriculum in England is relatively narrow. In the other countries many technical students  continue to study their local language, a foreign language, maths and other general subjects to equip them with a sound knowledge base.

The introduction of T levels and other proposed reforms will bring England closer to technical provision in high performing countries:

  1. Funding will be rebalanced towards more technical subjects and funding levels will increase compared to the status quo with a corresponding increase in teaching hours.
  2. Students starting from lower levels will receive an additional funded year to prepare them for the T level study programme.
  3. Industry placements will improve students’ readiness for entry to the labour market..
  4. The requirement to pass English and maths at GCSE level will result in more young people studying these subjects.

However, important gaps will remain:

  1. Most students will study T levels over just two years.
  2. Only those not achieving the level expected at 16 will continue to study English and maths and the curriculum will remain narrower than in other countries.
  3. Industry placements will remain less substantial than elsewhere.
  4. These improvements largely only apply to those taking T levels, and it is still unclear how dominant these qualifications will become.

Recommendations:

  • Funding for technical pathways: The government should provide the 16-19 phase with a more enduring financial settlement to sustain quality provision in the long term.
  • Increase the number of starts for younger apprentices:  The government should consider the options to increase apprenticeship uptake among young people, including further redistribution of levy funding towards younger apprentices, or other incentives for employers to hire younger learners.
  • Government should review the adequacy of student support, particularly whether recent changes have left disadvantaged students worse off.
  • Review curriculum breadth and programme length: The government should commission an independent review to consider whether the breadth of upper secondary study, for all students, is properly providing the basic and technical skills that young people need for the labour market and for progression to further study. Where this leads to increased provision, this must be matched by appropriate funding rates.

Working life longevity

The Social Market Foundation has published Work, education, skills and the 100-year life exploring the policy changes needed to ‘ensure the workforce is ready for extreme longevity.’ It touches on the need to retrain for an extended working period during an individual’s lifetime.

  • As life expectancy continues to rise, the number of years spent working is likely to increase.
  • The 50-year career will become the norm.
  • The career chosen at 18 or 21 is not likely to be the career of the individual when they retire. Changes to the labour market, technology and the wider environment could mean that at various points in a person’s working life they need to change careers and retrain. [So would the restrictions on studying another equivalent level qualification place graduates at a disadvantage? Currently the rules bar access to fees and finance funding (in all but priority areas), this would prevent retraining at an equivalent high level in a different subject for existing graduates.]
  • EPI estimate people should plan for five careers in their lifetime. Yet 40% of 34-54 year olds are unwilling to change careers.
  • Longer working lives will affect employers too. Employers are concerned about increased pension contributions, time out of the workforce due illness. Needing to reskill and train staff was split but overall employers were less worried about this factor.

EPI lobby for the following to address working life longevity:

  • Individual Learning Accounts  (they suggest Singapore as an example)
  • Modular learning and an inquiry into the fall of mature and part-time students.
  • Reallocate the money earmarked for the National Skills Fund for retraining those aged over 40 particularly in industries where there is a risk of automation or industrial decline.
  • Reduce Employer National Insurance contributions for certain workers over 50.
  • Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and GPs should proactively enable people to work for longer through advice, support, and social prescribing of workplace health support.
  • Create a Minister for Lifelong Learning and Training who has responsibility over longer lives, work and skills, positioned between DfE, BEIS and DWP.

Access and Participation

Social Mobility effect of school admissions: The Sutton Trust released their fairer school admissions report at the end of February. In it they raise social mobility questions by highlighting that there is a wealth divide between low and middle income families accessing state comprehensive schools. They state that the best performing comprehensives only take half the number of disadvantaged pupils as an average state school would. And that it costs £45,700 more to buy a house in the catchment area serving a top comprehensive. The Sutton Trust wants to see a fairer system where access to schools is not as closely linked to income stating it would have benefits in terms of overall attainment, teacher recruitment and retention and social cohesion. They are calling for more balanced intakes overall, with every high-performing school committed to admitting more poorer pupils. They state comprehensives should pledge to prioritise applicants eligible for the pupil premium, to create more socially balanced intakes. Schools who are responsible for their own admissions should introduce ballots, with an inner catchment area based on proximity and the remainder of places allocated by ballot. On grammar schools they would like to give priority to applicants eligible for the pupil premium who meet the entrance criteria. They should provide a minimum ten hours test preparation for all pupils to provide a level playing field for the 11-plus and improve their outreach work to families from disadvantaged backgrounds. More details in the second Sutton Trust report: School Places: A Fair Choice?

Lords Debate – Working Classes Educational Opportunities

Baroness Morris lead a debate within Lords to take note of the educational opportunities available to children and young people from working class backgrounds. It critiqued Government initiatives including catch up clubs and the abolition of Sure Start. The Baroness said that the working class and middle class were generally pursuing different post-16 routes, with disadvantaged children entering a sector that had experienced a 20% reduction in funding.

Lord Woolley commented on disparities in outcomes between students, stating white working-class students outside big cities experienced a bottom-up lack of investment in good jobs, or in schools, contributing to communities having low expectations. Conversely, education, for the BAME community was often seen as a route out of disadvantage. However, BAME working-class students face the race penalty disadvantage that their white counterparts do not. (This comes from UCL data highlighting that BAME young people were  58% more likely to be unemployed and 47% more likely to have a zero-hours contract.)

Lord Knight of Weymouth asserted that that could be no change in working class communities without regeneration through education:

  • “that system must be designed for a long life of continuous reskilling—one that prepares people for a working life of 60 years, multiple careers, being great at interacting with machines as well as humans, but also out-competing machines at being human. It must be one that accepts that analytics will replace qualifications and that universities will have to innovate to deliver lifelong learning rather than a debt-loaded rite of passage, as at present”.

Baroness Wilcox: Those on free school meals and receiving the pupil premium are 27% less likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C (grades 9 to 6).

Lord Livermore said that getting a degree from a leading university was one of the surest paths to social mobility. She was concerned that working class students receive a lack of advice, guidance and support in navigating the university application process. She lamented that this lack of support seemed to be permeating the HE sector, with disadvantaged students disproportionately more likely to not return as second year students. Concluding, she endorsed the Sutton Trust’s proposed policies of; contextual admissions, post-qualification applications, greater evaluation of university outreach activities, increased numbers of degree and higher-level apprenticeships, and the restoration of maintenance grants for students to reduce the debt burden on the least well off.

Lord Storey (Lib Dem Education spokesperson) spoke of post- 16 education stating that there should be clear signposting about the best vocational opportunities and apprenticeship schemes available: “This would help to increase parity of esteem with academic routes”.

Lord Bassam (Opposition spokesperson for FE &HE) highlighted the Sutton Trust tuition fee research which suggests that student debt may be having an impact on the aspirations of children before they even take their GCSEs and asserts that the removal of maintenance grants in favour of loans was deterring working-class young people. He also criticised the impact of predicted grades and conditional offers on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, insisting that, “poor predictions can blight young people’s life chances, often becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moreover, young people with huge potential but low predictions stand little chance of proper consideration from the top universities”.

He also raised concerns over UCAS personal statements and references as a method in assessing an individual’s aptitude and ability, and intimated that was following the OfS university admissions review closely. On admissions diversity he said: “At present, half of all children in receipt of free school meals are educated in just a fifth of all schools, and more than half of universities in England have a white working-class student intake of less than 5%, despite the fact that 75% of universities, including the Russell Group institutions, claim to use “contextual information” to admit students from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

Baroness Berridge spoke for the Government and praised the role of the OfS in ensuring that universities produced ambitious access and participation plans. On contextual admissions she said that the Government “will look in appropriate circumstances at the background of students”, whilst stating that post-qualification applications could cut disadvantaged young people.

Admissions Review: Research Professional has a thoughtful article delving into contextual admissions which is well worth the quick read.

HE stats

HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) published income and expenditure data for HE institutions.

Income

  • Tuition fees and education contracts: £18,875bn in 2017/18, up from 15,541bn in 2014/15
  • Funding body grants: £5,112bn in 2017/18, down from £5,345bn in 2014/15
  • Research Grants and Contracts: £6,225bn, up from £5,968bn in 2014/15
  • Other income: £7,203bn in 2017/18 up from £5,902bn in 2014/15

Expenditure

  • Staff costs: £20,071bn in 2017/18, up from £18,210bn in 2014/15
  • Other operating expenses: £13.8bn in 2017/18, up from £11,770bn in 2014/15
  • Depreciation: £2,467bn in 2017/18, up from £1,986bn in 2014/15

Mental Health

Thursday was University Mental Health Day. Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, – in conjunction with the DfE and the Department of Health and Social Care – announced a funding competition: £1million for innovative student mental health projects.

  • Students identified as being at high risk of poor mental health will benefit from a £1m funding boost. Research has identified such groups as including black/ethnic minority students, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, those with disabilities, and those identifying as LGBTQ+.
  • Successful projects will also target groups of students who might face barriers in accessing support, like carers, part-time and international students and those on placements as part of their course.
  • The projects will also be judged on how they use innovative and technological approaches to addressing mental health issues, in line with the new NHS drive for improvement in digital support.

OfS will hold the money and approve proposals.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said:

  • “All students deserve the opportunity to thrive at university and college, but for too many mental ill-health remains a significant barrier. We know that there are many factors which can impact the wellbeing of students and situations where students may be or feel more vulnerable. Through this funding we want to support innovative and strategic solutions that can help ensure that all students, regardless of their background or how they study, get the support they need.
  • By working together with partners including the NHS and charities, universities and colleges have the power to address the complex issues associated with student mental ill-health. We will be sharing the effective practice that comes from this funding and driving improved mental health support for all students.”

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “Going to university can be a really challenging time, especially if you face added pressures or if you are balancing studies alongside other commitments like carers and mature students. It is vital no student is put at risk by not getting the help they need. Universities must step up to this challenge, and this funding will help them and the sector by looking at ways support can be better targeted and improved.”

Despite the fresh announcement the funds are the same as those announced in June 2019, the change is that the bidding is now open. Research Professional cover the announcement here.

The NUS spoke out on University Mental Health Day. Eva Crossan Jory, NUS Vice President Welfare commented:

  • “Through my two years as Vice President Welfare I have seen the incredible work students and student’s unions have done to lobby for better mental health care on our campuses, but it shouldn’t be this way: we shouldn’t have to campaign for colleges and universities to do this work.
  • Universities need to acknowledge the structural barriers they create that lead to poor mental health. Our poor mental health cannot be separated from the intense pressure and competition that is deemed as a necessary aspect of our educational experience. From the spiralling costs of accommodation to the need for a better system of student funding, the student mental health crisis won’t be stopped until the problems are tackled at the root.
  • There is also intense pressure put on staff, from precarious contracts to over work, we cannot demand better mental health support for students without also fighting for better mental health care for staff in our universities.
  • Although we have seen significant movement in the sector on student mental health we must ensure that signing up to charters is not where this work stops. We need real investment made into both university services but also the NHS which is being criminally underfunded. We must also ensure the services we campaign for and win are culturally competent. That they acknowledge the structural inequalities that exist. We need a support system that understands students are not one homogeneous group.
  • We’re urging our members and students to have those hard conversations with senior leaders and challenge them, to start talking honestly and openly about the whole of student mental health. Only that way can we reach the goals of a truly mentally healthy whole university.”

Research

There were a series of  research focussed oral questions in Parliament this week. Here’s the edited version:

Julian Sturdy: What steps he is taking to increase investment in research and development.

  • Alok Sharma (SoS BEIS):The Government are already increasing public spending on research and development by £7 billion over five years, the biggest increase in public funding for R&D on record. Every pound of public expenditure on R&D leverages a further £1.40 of additional private investment, generating even greater returns for the UK.

Julian Sturdy: Given that nearly 50% of the core science budget currently goes to just three cities in southern England, can the Secretary of State assure me that the increase in R&D funding will do more to favour the regions outside the south, so that in future both my city…and other regional hubs across Yorkshire…will receive their fair share for the purposes of research and innovation?

  • Alok Sharma: I absolutely agree that that is part of our levelling-up agenda. We want to support centres of excellence across the country… we will set out our ambitious play strategy for R&D in the second half of this year.

Bim Afolami: [Mentions agritech start ups and incubators – asks Minister to endorse Rothamsted Research  and visit].

  • Alok Sharma:[Agrees to] meet him to discuss how the Government can support his proposals.

Mrs Drummond: .. what further action is being taken on the proposal for a UK advanced research projects agency, following the departmental meeting last year?

  • Alok Sharma: The UK is ranked fifth in the global innovation index, and our strengths in R&D mean that we are well placed to develop a new funding body to specialise in high-risk, high-reward projects. … I am absolutely determined that the UK should be a global science superpower, and my Department is making good progress on a UK advanced research projects agency. We are engaging with a wide range of researchers and innovators, and we will set out further plans in due course.

Chi Onwurah (Lab) (Newcastle upon Tyne Central):…European research programme.. For every £1 we put into the European Union programme, we got £1.30 back, and such funding is essential if we are to retain our place as a global science superpower, so will the Secretary of State boost UK science by confirming that we will be going for full associate membership?

  • Alok Sharma: Of course I want the UK to be a science superpower, and we have set out our views on expanding the R&D budget. On Europe, our EU negotiating objectives are very clear: the UK will consider participation in Horizon Europe and Euratom, but this will be part of the wider negotiations.

Geraint Davies (Lab/Co-op) (Swansea West): [Unclean air and electric cars, subsidies]

  • Alok Sharma: ..We currently have 460,000 green jobs in this country, and we want to push that to 2 million. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the specific point that he has raised.

Jim Shannon (DUP) (Strangford):Across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, universities have played a critical role in research and development. [Requests specific help for two local institutions.]

  • Alok Sharma: Of course, UKRI provides funding for a whole range of universities. Again, if the hon. Gentleman has specific ideas for projects, perhaps he would come forward with them.

Mr Richard Bacon (Con) (South Norfolk): It is possible to build a house that costs nothing to heat, but that is not happening at scale at the moment. Does my right hon. Friend consider it part of his Department’s responsibilities to support research into making this more widespread, which would be hugely beneficial for the planet?

  • Alok Sharma: I know that my hon. Friend is an authority on the house building sector..he raises an important point. We know that 15% of emissions are from housing, and we are looking to see how we can bring that down as part of the net zero target.

And a written question on levelling up:

Q – Neil O’Brien (Harborough): What steps he is taking with UK Research and Innovation to increase funding allocated to projects in regions of lower productivity.

  • A – Amanda Solloway (Derby North): We will publish an ambitious place strategy for R&D in the next few months. This will build on existing and emerging research and innovation capabilities across the country, enabling areas to ‘level up’ and reach their economic potential. This is an important part of our ambition to increase R&D investment across the economy.

Research Professional have an article how Greg Clark (Chair) is keen to incorporate social sciences, arts and humanities within the remit of the Commons Science and Technology select committee.  RP also have a piece covering Germany’s statistics announcing they have hit 3% R&D spending target. And an article on the importance of metrics and measuring impact within research.

HE focussed Parliamentary Questions

PG Fees

Q – Dr Rupa Huq: what assessment he has made of the potential merits of abolishing application fees for postgraduate students; and if he will make a statement.

A – Michelle Donelan: Higher education providers in England are autonomous bodies and therefore have discretion over the application fees they charge for postgraduate courses.

Strikes

A question asking what guidance the Department has issued on tuition fee refunds as a result of cancelled lectures during industrial action.

Apprenticeships

Q – Sir David Evennett: What steps his Department is taking to promote apprenticeships as an alternative to university.

The full answer is here. Excerpts below:

A – Gillian Keegan:… We are continuing to promote all apprenticeships as a genuine, high-quality alternative to traditional academic only study for people of all ages and from all backgrounds. We launched the third phase of our apprenticeships marketing campaignFire it Up, in January, which promotes how apprenticeships can provide opportunities for ambitious young people.

… In January 2018 we introduced a legal requirement for schools to give training providers the opportunity to talk to pupils about technical qualifications and apprenticeships, so that young people hear about the alternatives to academic routes. We also offer a free service to schools through the Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge (ASK) project to ensure that teachers have the knowledge and support they need to enable them to promote apprenticeships, including higher and degree apprenticeships, to their students.

…We have also worked with the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) to support employers to raise awareness of their apprenticeship opportunities to prospective employees through an online higher and degree apprenticeship vacancy listing.

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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 25th October 2019

Brexit

So an extension (or flextension) to article 50 has been granted, no-one has died in a ditch and a general election has been called for 12th December. So now what? It is all up to the electorate.

And 10 of the 21 Tory rebels have been reinstated and can stand as Conservative candidates in the election.

Research

New PhDs: BEIS and CDMS have announced investment in new PhDs and researchers as part of a £370 million pledge to transform healthcare, improve mental health diagnosis and build more sustainable transport. Government and private investment means 2,700 new PhD places split between  biosciences and AI will be created.

£200 million will fund 1,000 new PhD places over the next 5 years to study AI which they suggest could help diagnose life threatening diseases like cancer earlier and make industries, including aviation and automotive, more sustainable. The students will work with businesses including AstraZeneca, Google, Rolls-Royce and NHS Trusts.

£170 million will fund 1,700 places to study PhDs in biosciences. These projects are intended to help to tackle issues such as feeding the world’s growing population, developing renewable, low-carbon sources of energy, and helping people stay healthier for longer.

  • PM Boris Johnson said: “The UK has educated, trained and developed some of the best scientists in the world – and we must continue to lead the world in AI and technology with our incredible talent and innovative breakthroughs. That’s why we’re investing millions of pounds to create hundreds of new AI and bioscience PhDs, so new research and development can thrive here in the UK and solve the biggest challenges that face us – from climate change to better healthcare.”
  • Digital Minister Matt Warman said: “The UK has a long-standing reputation for innovation. We are the birthplace of artificial intelligence and home to technology pioneers such as Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace. We are determined to see this continue. “Today we are announcing a bumper investment in skills training to strengthen our workforce and attract, nurture and retain the best talent so we can lead the world in research and development. AI is already being used to improve lives by helping detect fraud quicker and diagnose diseases more accurately. With the brightest minds at the helm we will be able to explore this cutting-edge technology further.”

Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore also confirmed the first 5 AI Turing Fellowships. The projects include the impact of digital technologies on mental health and building a sustainable aviation industry. (Link – scroll to bottom to view details on the projects and 5 Fellows from Cambridge, Exeter, Oxford, Warwick and Manchester.) The Minister also called for further top, international academic talent to join these researchers, with £37.5 million in further funding available.

Furthermore,

  • The government is investing £13 million in innovative Postgraduate programmes, so more people can develop fruitful careers in AI. The new AI conversion courses will allow 2,500 more people to study AI from backgrounds other than science or maths at undergraduate level. This also includes 1,000 new scholarships for people from underrepresented backgrounds, including women, ethnic minorities and low-income families.
  • Leading technology companies like Accenture, DeepMind, QuantumBlack and Amplyfi, are already sponsoring AI Masters students. The new courses will help build-up a highly skilled workforce in the UK and provide new opportunities for industry and universities to collaborate, ensuring new innovations are transforming industries”

[More detail on the sponsorship of the Industrial AI Masters is at the bottom of this link.]

Ministerial Questions

Select Committees regularly quiz Ministers on their departmental business. This week Chris Skidmore, Universities Minister. was questioned. Here are the key excerpts:

Carol Monaghan MP highlighted the Royal Society report (published last week) which suggested the number of applications to Horizon 2020 had dropped by 40%.

Skidmore responded that said the baseline by which this figure was compared to, was debatable, saying that whilst there was a significant reduction, the UK still gained substantially more grants than the next three countries (Spain, France and Italy) on the list.

Vicky Ford MP asked if associate membership of Horizon Europe was still the government’s preferred option post-Brexit.

Skidmore said that whilst the government (Treasury) formally wanted to assess the value for money case when the project appeared (which he said would be some time next year), his personal view was that Horizon Europe was the future of collaboration for British science. He also disagreed with the Chair’s comments that others in government were less enthusiastic about Horizon Europe collaboration than he was and stated that, in particular, the prime minister was supportive. Although he went on to state, it would be prudent to prepare for a situation where the UK was not part of Horizon Europe. In response to a further question (the target date as to when certainty on Horizon Europe would be reached) Skidmore said it depended on the European Parliament agreeing the overall financial budgets, which could happen as late as Q2 of 2020.

The Minister was asked when the Smith Review on future frameworks for international research collaboration would be published, and how quickly findings could be implemented. Skidmore said he was still discussing final timings for publication but hoped it would be published within the next four weeks. He explained that while it had been submitted in August as it has potentially significant spending implications there was a need to attach it to a budgetary process. He continued that a working group was attempting to ensure all recommendations were possible, including alternatives even if associate membership of Horizon Europe isn’t achieved.

You may remember that when Boris Johnson appointed his brother Jo to the Universities Minister post he was permitted to attend Cabinet. However, this attendance was passed to another Minister when Chris Skidmore took over. The Chair asked Skidmore if he felt the lack of a Cabinet position was downgrading his position. Skidmore diplomatically responded that whilst he would like to attend Cabinet, he noted the prime minister and Dominic Cummings were both highly supportive of science in government.

Stephen Metcalfe MP asked why the Queen’s Speech had suggested an ‘ARPA-style’ funding mechanism, at the expense of UKRI. Skidmore replied that there was still going to be a significant uplift in the science budget, on which UKRI would be the main beneficiary. However that there were also a number of bodies outside of the UKRI model, which he described as a catalyst’ and ‘engine of disruption’ focused on blue-sky research. He added that an ARPA-style model would be a significant addition to the overall funding landscape and that given its focus it would have to sit outside UKRI, to distinguish itself from traditional grant-led application processes. How much money it would have and when it would be established, were all to be decided and the Minister stated there would be a full sectoral consultation before decisions were made around a new ARPA body.

On Tier 1 fast-track visas – the system is in design and any scheme would be implemented in Jan 2021 within the context of the wider points-based system. Furthermore it would be multi-disciplinary e.g. social science as well as STEM. He stated he was not aware of any Government plans to restrict the scheme to non-STEM subjects.

Lastly, on longer degrees which would outstay the three-year temporary leave to remain visa and require a move to a tier 4 visa mid-course the Minister confirmed he had personally written to the Home Secretary to highlight this issue, which may put off international students. However, he has yet to receive a reply from the Home Secretary.

Erasmus – work on a UK-wide scheme has begun, but this would focus on UK students going out rather than EU students coming in (which would have to be determined bilaterally).

An MP raised that the Government’s target to increase research and development spending to 2.4% was not backed up by a firm plan to achieve this. Skidmore responded that the government was working towards a long-term funding plan for science and the pathway to 2.4% would be informed by the Smith Review and UKRI reports. When questioned when firm plans would be available, Skidmore said this was a “live topic” and said BEIS was working with Treasury to develop a funding envelope, with the goal of producing a pathway to 2.4% by “this autumn“.

The questions also covered data-sharing post Brexit (e.g. withdrawal from GDPR) and commenting on the new Aryton Fund Skidmore stated it would cover clean tech and business strategies for climate mitigation in developing countries (and that it was new money on top of the existing budget).

Tuition fees – Chair, Norman Lamb MP, asked if there were any plans to cut HE tuition fees (following Augar’s report) with Universities concerned about reductions to research funding if there is a fee cut. Skidmore replied that the government was still considering the review, and decisions would only be taken when the next Spending Review took place. Adding that if there was any fee reduction, he would strongly make the case that a “way to compensate for that” would have to be found.

Graduate Premium

New research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and Warwick University shows a reduction in the ‘graduate premium’. The project analysed how the financial return to a degree has changed across two decades in which there has been a large expansion in higher education participation. The research found that graduates born in 1990 earned 11% more than non-graduates at age 26, compared to the 19% graduate premium enjoyed by graduates born in 1970. The research examined the hourly pay and found the impact was most significant on those born after 1987.

Follow up research is planned to examine cohorts born after 1990 to determine whether the reduction is a short-term dip or the beginning of a more general decline. They also plan to continue the study examining earnings as graduates progress through their careers. This is because graduates tend to grow their earning potential more sharply over time compared to non-graduates.

The research partnership also intends to examine financial return by class of degree awarded following the grade inflation debate in future work.

This research is a statistical study and when you read the full report it is unclear if national factors have been fully accounted for despite the carefully controlled analysis. First, there is the impact of the recessions on students graduating within the selected period. Previous national research suggests that graduating in times of recession may permanently damage an individual’s earning prospects. Secondly, there is no mention of the current context of intergenerational fairness – that the younger generations will not have it as ‘easy’ or ‘good’ as older generations in terms of housing and job security. There is also the potential, given the Government’s agenda to get more people into or returning to work and the recent benefits reforms which have led to reduced employment, that more women are entering the workplace (with women receiving 9-12% less in the pay gap compared to men). Plus this finding is set within a national context of stalling social mobility and increased levels in the number of children in poverty. Alongside this more disadvantaged students are accessing HE, with findings that while HE helps they do still have an earnings gap compared to their more advantaged peers on graduation.

While these are current issues, and more recent than the cohorts the study examines, the social inequalities leading to these current topics were brewing (just less prominent) in the years studied. For example, there were more graduates from less disadvantaged backgrounds with greater social capital and class earning potential than in more recent years. A careful read of the full study is important before drawing conclusions solely based on HE expansion, particularly given the Government’s agenda on oversupply of graduates doing non-graduate level roles and the financial investment an individual makes to study at degree level now.

On the study Tej Nathwani, econometrician at HESA stated:

  • “Whilst the benefits of a degree are not solely financial, higher education remains a significant investment decision for young people. Changes in fees and funding have resulted in increased reliance on student loans, which are now treated differently in public sector finances. Consequently, graduate earnings continue to be an important area of research in higher education. This study adds to the available information about the financial benefits that individual students can expect from a degree. We hope to explore this area further in forthcoming years, as new data is released into the public domain.”

Hate, harassment and misconduct

OfS Chief Exec Nicola Dandridge has blogged about the devastating impact that harassment, hate crime, and sexual misconduct can have on students, and the OfS’s role in driving improved prevention and support. The blog covers the history from the 2010 NUS report to the sector’s work in this field (UUK’s  taskforce and Changing the Culture report) concluding that while progress has been made more needs to be done to achieve the necessary culture change. Nicola sees the OfS role as galvanising change – by raising the profile of this issue, targeting funding to address it and sharing effective practice across the sector (alongside intervening if HE provisions are likely to breach registration). The blog goes on to highlight the £10 million student safeguarding catalyst fund which has spawned 119 projects (reports here) focussed on sexual harassment, online harassment, hate crime (including religious hate crime).

The OfS blog was in response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report following their inquiry into racial harassment in HE. The Commission states:

  • Our inquiry report Tackling racial harassment: universities challengedhas revealed that with racial harassment occurring at an alarmingly high rate across British universities, many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are not only unaware of the scale of the issue but are overconfident in their ability to handle it.
  • The inquiry found that 24% of ethnic minority students have experienced racial harassment on campus.
  • Universities are over confident that individuals will report harassment, with 43% of universities believing that every incident of racial harassment against students was reported, and 56% believing that all incidents against staff were reported. However, two thirds of students who responded to our survey and had experienced racial harassment said that they had not reported the incident to their university. Less than half of all staff who responded to our call for evidence because they had experienced racial harassment, said that they had reported it to their university. Students and staff suggested that they did not come forward about their experiences because they had no confidence that the incident would be addressed. Others said that fear of reprisals also played a part, as two thirds of staff said that better protection from personal repercussions would have made it easier for them to bring a complaint.
  • Despite universities being keen to encourage international students to choose their courses, the research unearthed a strong theme of international students feeling unwelcome, isolated and vulnerable. Some even described feeling like commodities and only wanted for the fees that they bring. Half of the international students who responded to our call for evidence because they had experienced racial harassment, said that they had been made to feel excluded, over half said they had experienced racial micro aggressions, and 44% said they had experienced racist abuse, but 77% of respondents did not report it to the university.

The report notes that 8% of student experiencing racial harassment felt suicidal, and 1 in 20 dropped out because of the harassment, with 3 in 20 staff members leaving their jobs due to harassment.

The report recommends:

  • mandatory duty on employers: the UK Government must reinstate third party harassment protections and introduce a mandatory duty on employers to increase protections for staff from harassment
  • adequate powers for regulators: governments across Britain should ensure the sector regulator and funding councils have adequate powers and that these are used to hold universities to account on their performance to prevent and tackle harassment
  • effective complaints procedures: higher education providers must enable students and staff to report harassment and ensure their complaints procedures are fit for purpose and offer effective redress
  • senior-level action on inclusive cultures: senior leaders should take steps to embed an inclusive culture where staff and students feel confident and supported when making complaints.

The report has led to several MPs asking parliamentary questions on abuse this week (both of below are due for answer after this policy update is issued – the links provided will show the response once it has been published).

Q – Mr Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps the Minister is taking to ensure that universities investigate all complaints made by students and staff about racism at universities.

Q – Steve McCabe: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps the Government is taking to protect university staff from racial abuse.

Q – Paul Farrelly: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report entitled, Tackling harassment: universities challenged; and what steps he is taking to ensure that university staff receive adequate training to deal effectively with racial harassment.

And more questions raised here and here in the same vein.

Crime

Extending prison sentences and being tough on crime are two of PM Boris Johnson’s priorities. Interestingly, there is already a Lords’ inquiry into how conditions in prison were not designed for the increasing numbers of older people now incarcerated, and the problems this is causing. In addition, this week HEPI published a policy note urging politicians to reconsider the barrier which prevents inmates from accessing student loans to undertake HE study until they are within six years of release. The note argues that HE study calms the fractious prison environment, and that the studying prisoners become role models, in addition that HE study reduces the likelihood of reoffending.

Private Members’ Bills

Two weeks ago (see page 2 of link) we mentioned the Common’s Private Members Bills (PMB) and highlighted that they are a way for individuals to make legislation on matters dear to their hearts.

The following MPs were successful in the ballot to table a PMB:

  • Nigel Mills (Conservative, Amber Valley) As the number one in the PMB lottery, Nigel Mills will be very much in demand from a variety of groups vying his attention. However, as someone who has wedded himself closely to the new regime in Downing Street, it is likely that Mills will find his favourable ballot position used for a Government sponsored Bill. Mills may still request an area for which he has an interest, however. As a long-term backbencher, he is prominent on a number of All-Party Parliamentary Groups and his position on APPGs for both Dementia and Pensions could hint at something concerning elderly groups. Alternatively, he could continue his long-held focus on tax issues – prior to his election to Parliament Mills was an accountant and he maintained an interest in the area in the time since.
  • John Stevenson (Conservative, Carlisle)
  • Annelise Dodds (Labour, Oxford East) – Dodds has a wide range of issues she focuses on in Parliament: ranging from taxation; welfare and inequality; to foreign affairs and climate change. She is a firm opponent of a no deal Brexit. Her recent questions in Parliament have focussed heavily on energy provision in housing. Dodds has also raised significant concern around the lack of action taken to prevent anti-abortion campaigners from protesting outside clinics. Dodds has focussed on and taxation since her election – particularly the need to tackle tax avoidance, and offshore or dormant companies. Given her brief in the shadow treasury team, it is possible that a PMB might focus on closing loopholes in existing legislation with regards to this.
  • Anne Marie Morris (Conservative, Newton Abbot) – Chair of the APPG on Access to Medicine and Medical Devices, Anne Marie Morris has been vocal on issues surrounding health. In June 2017 she won a chance to put forward her own Bill, in the Private Members’ Bill ballot (but was too far down the list) it is possible that she would re-table this Bill which called for the regulation of Physician Associates, and to make it a protected title. She regularly tables questions to the Department of Health and Social Care on the Genomic Healthcare Strategy and accessibility of health services for rural populations. Her She has also campaigned against high water charges in the South West and called for a Government subsidy to help householders with their bills. She has also spoken on flooding, accident and emergency services and transport issues including rural bus services and clamping in private car parks. She voted to relax the smoking ban after the closure of thousands of pubs and clubs. She takes a particular interest in small business. She chaired the All-Party Group on micro-businesses and held office on groups on entrepreneurship, life sciences and flood prevention, as well as local enterprise, first aid and pro-bono work. In the past she initiated a debate urging more government help for micro-businesses.
  • Lisa Forbes (Labour, Peterborough) – A relative unknown Lisa only took her Parliamentary seat following a June 2019 by-election. Her interests in her non-political career include the Strong and Supportive Communities Scrutiny Committee, and she campaigned against the closure of local Children and Play Centres as well as residential homes for the elderly. She also worked for Thomas Cook prior to her election to Parliament and has tabled a number of written regarding the collapse of the company and support for employees. Other questions include school uniforms.
  • James Brokenshire (Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup) – Previously Brokenshire held Government positions for most of his time in Parliament where he has been able to push for including the lifting the housing revenue borrowing cap. Yesterday we spoke during the Queen’s Speech NHS debate about the importance of an early diagnosis when it comes to cancer, which is a personal interest matter. His key interests are violent crime, building safety, domestic abuse and health.
  • Sir Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat, Twickenham) – Sir Vince has tweeted he is “inclined” to use his Bill on furthering the debate on assisted dying or lowering the voting age to 16.
  • Frank Field (Independent, Birkenhead) – Frank Is the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee and has used the private members bill mechanism to raise a number of issues in the past including welfare benefits, priority in the housing queue to those with exemplary tenancy record, to automatically register eligible children for free school meals and post-Brexit EU citizens rights. In September 2019 Field used the presentation Bill procedure to introduce a Bill on equality of access to justice. Field said he had wanted to call it “Gina Miller (Poor People’s Access to Courts) Bill” to highlight the differences between the contrast between “poor people waiting to get into benefit appeal tribunals and Gina Miller’s ability to get into court within a week”. Most notable is his longstanding interest in welfare issues. He holds office in several all-party groups in parliament including Conception to Age Two – The First 1001 Days, Listed Properties, Anti-Corruption, Medical Cannabis under Prescription Group, and Young Disabled People.
  • Tracey Brabin (Labour, Batley and Spen) – Is the Shadow Minister for early years. She has been calling for legislation to make the reporting of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults mandatory across all institutions. She has also previously called for an audit of crime in towns detailing the levels of resolutions in comparison to cities, and for greater transparency on where money is spent. She has also signed an Early Day Motion calling for the Government to bring forward legislation to require companies with more than 250 employees to publish their policies on parental leave and pay. Her political interests are Education, Internet safety, and Parental leave.
  • Sir Michael Fallon (Conservative, Sevenoaks) – Ex Defence Secretary is the Vice-Chair of the British Museum APPG and may choose to use his PMB to influence the ongoing debates within the museum sector. Notable topics include the discussion over the potential repatriation of cultural objects and the slashing of public funding available to smaller museums nationwide. Education is one of Sir Michael’s stated interests.
  • Damien Moore (Conservative, Southport)
  • Anna Turley (Labour, Redcar) – Her priority, which she says is the number one issue on doorsteps, is the lack of jobs in particular for youths. She says there needs to be investment in jobs but also in training and apprenticeships to prepare people for jobs.
  • Damian Hinds (Conservative, East Hampshire) – Dods suggest it is difficult to predict what Hinds might table because he was a long-standing minister with his parliamentary time dictated by Government commitments. However, he is interested in the Catholic education sector and the admissions rules that apply to faith free schools. He has also been a longstanding advocate for social mobility, previously chairing the APPG. Since leaving Government he has been vocal on climate change and critical of motorists for leaving engines on outside schools. Hinds was the Secretary of State for Education before Boris made his appointments.
  • Preet Kaur Gill (Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston)
  • Kirstene Hair (Conservative, Angus)
  • John Woodcock (Independent, Barrow and Furness)
  • Caroline Flint (Labour, Don Valley)
  • Naz Shah (Labour, Bradford West)- Naz is a disability rights advocate and women’s rights campaigner. She is concerned about domestic abuse especially around services dedicated to women from BAME backgrounds. Another issue she cares about is compelling companies to publish their race pay gap and she could propose a bill to enact that.
  • Vicky Ford (Conservative, Chelmsford)
  • Jim Fitzpatrick (Labour, Poplar and Limehouse) – With thanks to Dods Political Consultants who have analysed the interests of the MPs successful in the ballot to speculate on the Bill topic they may introduce. Only those relevant to BU’s interest and research have been included.

This week the Lords ballot also took place and two items were listed that are relevant to HE. Lord Storey was selected first and will present the HE Cheating Services Prohibition Bill on Thursday 17 October. Much further down the list is Lord Holmes of Richmond who will present the Unpaid Work Experience (Prohibition) Bill on Wednesday 6 November. Lords Bills are even less likely than those of the Commons to be enshrined in law. Furthermore, the current parliamentary disruption may result in them not even getting off the starting blocks. However, both are topics the Lords have been raising since before the 2017 snap election and the respective Lord seems determined to make a difference and pass legislation on the topic.

Mental Health

This week in our guest blog Sophie Bradfield, SUBU, talks mental health.

There’s been a recent spotlight on mental health following World Mental Health Day last week. In recognition of this, the Department for Education published a report into children and young people’s wellbeing called ‘State of the Nation 2019’. The report looked at children and young people split into two age brackets: 10-15 years old and 16-24 years old. Looking at themes with the data for the older age group, there were overall high levels of life satisfaction however this was in conjunction with a fifth having recently experienced high levels of anxiety. The biggest marker for wellbeing was age; being older was associated with having lower wellbeing (lower average life satisfaction and happiness). Reflecting on other research, this was partly attributed to employment stability, health, family experiences and the quality of friendships. It was also noted that further research could be done into the extent to which decreasing levels of wellbeing with age is linked to biological factors i.e. transitioning into adulthood, or changing social and environmental factors.

Other trends with the older age group (16-24 year olds) found that young women reported higher recent levels of anxiety than young men but also had slightly higher ratings of feeling life was worthwhile than young men. There was also a trend of lower anxiety yet lower life satisfaction in young people from Black/African/Caribbean/Black British backgrounds compared to those young people from white backgrounds however it was noted to interpret this particular trend with caution due to limited comparator sizes.

Looking constructively at how Universities can respond to the recent mental health crisis by creating “safe and supportive environments” to maximise wellbeing, Vice explores a number of recommendations based on consultation with medical professionals, charity workers and other experts including Dr Bridgette Bewick, a psychologist and associate professor in health research at the University of Leeds and Faraz Mughal, a GP in Birmingham and Solihull and clinical fellow in mental health at the Royal College of General Practitioners. Some of these are explored in more detail below along with a quick snapshot of what BU and SUBU currently does in these areas.

Design campuses that support positive wellbeing

Mughal recommends a “campus-wide approach” linking healthy food, exercise and enough sleep to wellbeing. Recommendations for Universities include having food available to students which is nutritious and low cost; accessible exercise on campus; and education around the importance of sleeping well. These are really important staples for wellbeing and BU students often give us feedback about wanting affordable, healthy food and cheap gym membership. These are both things that continue to be worked on by SUBU and BU in response to student feedback.

Develop mindful curriculums

Bewick suggests that University’s look at “how to embed wellbeing into the university curricula”. Specifically, this is around teaching and assessment practices which support positive health and wellbeing as well as future employment. BU’s changes to the 6C policy on Principles of Assessment which SUBU was involved with seek to do just this, underpinned by a ‘principle of assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning’ in line with other good practice in the sector. Student attendance is also no longer linked to attainment, ensuring things such as poor mental health impacting on attendance do not also directly impact on the mark students get.

Don’t keep libraries open 24/7 and Model positive behaviours

Bewick states “we need to ensure people are thinking about how their actions are impacting their wellbeing and mental health. Choice is a positive thing but we need to arm students with the information they need to make informed decisions about how they want to structure and manage their university experience.” This is a really interesting concept as BU students have been calling for 24 hour access to libraries for a long time and we’re not sure imposing restrictions like this is the healthy choice it is framed to be. This seems to be making assumptions around particular working hours being ideal rather than accessible working hours around other time commitments.

Improve living conditions in halls

This is a key issue for the sector at the moment and is not just limited to halls. We’ve all heard the horror stories around the quality of some student accommodation around the UK. In Bournemouth there has been lots of work around the accommodation offerings to students, with new halls being built at Bailey Point for example. Lots of thought is being put into the whole student experience in halls, including alternative and non-alcohol focussed social events. There is however more work to be done around issues with private accommodation.

Teach staff how to talk about mental health problems

The roll-out and support for the Mental Health First Aid programme of training in BU means that over 200 students and staff have been trained (as of May this year). As discussed at the refresher and celebration event in May, it would be fantastic if this number could increase. So many members of BU/SUBU staff present shared stories of how they have used the course to help students and fellow staff members with issues around mental health. Education and conversation on mental health is so important.

Listen to students

Bewick notes the importance of listening to students about the support they receive and how it can be improved. There’s work on this within BU and SUBU but with fewer students declaring whether they have a mental health issue to their University (see ‘The New Realists’ Unite report) perhaps changes to the NSS can help with this. The Office for Students has announced this week that they are exploring new survey questions in the NSS to look at student mental health and wellbeing provisions. Consultation on shaping the NSS ‘for the future’ can be expected in spring 2020.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Demographic leap: We are all aware of the current demographic dip impacting on recruitment of students, however, birth rates have risen and a demographic spike is expected by 2030. Wonkhe have a new blog by NEON’s Director examining the spike and how it won’t impact on all regions equally. For example, the South West will have the fourth biggest rise with a project 21% change in the number of 18 years old in 2030 and the northern regions will see the least growth. In the article, the author argues that students tend to study in their own region or the one closest to it so the uneven spike will have recruitment implications. It also notes that increases in entering HE are being driven by those from BAME backgrounds. It highlights that London and the South East (which have the biggest regional growth in birth rates) will experience infrastructure pressure and the diversity of students will mean universities need to work harder to ensure students get the rich experience needed. On disadvantage the blog states:

  • There is a silver lining for access as the areas of lowest participation also tend to be the areas where 18 year-olds will increase the least making it, in theory, easier than it could have been to achieve their target to eliminate the geographical gaps in access and student success within 20 years. What demographic changes risk doing though is further divide an already divided system. The crisis that some may experience in coping with the demand for higher education will be one others may look on with envy, as their growth is far more modest.

It is worth reading the comments at the end of the blog as commenters quibble the figures. Although the overall nuance is the same, the alternative figures do predict smaller growth for the South West region.

UTCs: The Council for the Defence of British Universities has a blog on why the set up and comparisons made of University technical colleges is causing them to fail.

Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning: The House of Lords Education Select Committee considered the state of the UK adult education sector and the reduction in available provision over the last 20 years. Read a summary prepared by Dods here. The session specifically mentions the ‘total eradication of adult education departments in universities’.

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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 18th October 2019

Nationally, of course, this week has been dominated by Brexit and the Queen’s Speech. The biggest HE story has been OfS’ launch of their Value for Money Strategy.  We have missed out Brexit because it is dating too quickly and other sources are available!

NSS – more change to come?

The OfS have announced that they are reviewing the NSS (again).

  • In the next few months, detailed analysis of recent trends will be published: areas for which levels of satisfaction have increased, and where the survey results indicate that more work needs to be done to improve students’ experience. We will also be looking at some of the key themes emerging from the student comment sections, which offer respondents the opportunity to comment on an open-ended question.
  • Like all such surveys, however, the NSS has its limitations. It only surveys final year undergraduate students: those on shorter courses, or in other years, are currently excluded.
  • The survey also has its critics. There have been mixed views about its role in the TEF, with some querying whether NSS provides a proxy for teaching quality, and others disappointed that it doesn’t carry enough weight in the TEF. Some have questioned the design of the survey – for example, its use of a five point ‘Likert’ scale. Others have queried its timing. Students are asked to complete it at a stage in their final year when many will be doing their assessments.
  • ..this review…will include:
    • Plans to pilot an expanded survey for all undergraduates – not just those in their final year, as at present – phased over the next two years. Expanding the NSS in this way will give a voice to all students and will provide a much richer picture of the student academic experience.
    • Comprehensive review and testing of the survey questions (and scales) to ensure they remain fit for purpose, making changes where appropriate.
    • Plans to explore new survey questions around student mental health and wellbeing provision – something we are hearing strongly from students they wish to see.
  • There will be opportunities for you to have your say in the course of a consultation to be launched in spring 2020. More detail on the consultation will follow later this year.

Outcomes for Disabled Students

The OfS have had a busy week. They have published a new Insight Brief on outcomes for disabled students.

  • Disabled students are now a vital and significant part of campus life. However, challenges remain. Disabled students are less likely to continue their degrees, graduate with a good degree, and progress onto a highly skilled job or further study. This Insight brief asks what universities and colleges are doing to rectify these problems. What can the data tell us about the extent of these access and participation gaps? Are teaching and learning practices inclusive enough? Are funding changes exacerbating the difficulties that disabled students face?
  • The OfS is concerned about persistent gaps in access, success and progression for disabled students. We are looking to ensure that universities and colleges close these gaps through our regulation of providers’ access and participation plans and our funding and promotion of effective practice.
  • Teaching and learning in higher education is becoming more inclusive, but these positive developments are uneven. Universities and colleges could go further by, for example, offering alternative formats of course materials as standard, and ensuring more buildings are accessible.
  • Through the Disabled Students’ Commission, we will bring together a range of experts and educators, including a student representative, to highlight the barriers which remain and explore ways to dismantle them.

The brief cites “Effective practice for universities and colleges [taken from the Institute for Employment Studies, ‘Review of support for disabled students in higher education in England’, p5]

To better support disabled students and progress towards a more inclusive environment, universities and colleges need:

  • their senior management to commit to inclusive practice and culture
  • to involve all university staff in encouraging students to disclose an impairment.
  • more comprehensive written policies detailing inclusive support
  • to take a whole institution approach to inclusive support
  • build considerations of inclusivity and accessibility into curriculum design and programme review
  • to offer alternative formats of lectures and course materials as standard practice
  • to build considerations of inclusivity and accessibility into purchasing of services and equipment
  • better sharing of good practice internally and across the sector
  • better advice, guidance and training on digital accessibility for staff.

Queen’s Speech

Her Majesty has read her speech, wearing full robes and crown (last time she was in a suit and hat). You can read the Speech in full and the background briefing which provides a bit more detail and sets out a summary of the 26 bills. Not all the changes are legislation. The contents page contains links (useful because it is 130 pages long).

There is a nice explainer from the Institute for Government.

  • The Queen’s Speech can be voted down. This would be of major political significance, as it would clearly call into question the ability of the government to command the confidence of Parliament. Historically, a defeat on the address has been treated as an implicit loss of confidence in a government as it suggests that there is no majority to be found in the Commons for its programme for government.
  • It is rare for the government to be defeated on the address in the Commons – as governments usually have a majority in the House. But it has happened – most recently in 1924, when Stanley Baldwin’s minority government was defeated. Baldwin then resigned as prime minister, and the opposition went on to form a new government.
  • As no government has been defeated on the address since the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) in 2011, it is unclear what would happen if such a situation were to arise. This is because a defeat on the address would not meet the requirements under the FTPA to trigger an election. But any defeat might encourage the opposition to then table a formal vote of no confidence, under the FTPA, in the government. There would also be intense political pressure on the government.

The PM has already said if the Government is defeated on the Queen’s Speech vote he does not intend to step down.

On HE specifically, the briefing notes say:

  • We are committed to making sure that higher education funding reflects a sustainable model that supports high quality provision, maintaining our world-leading reputation for higher education and delivering value for money for both students and the taxpayer.
  • We want to ensure we deliver better value for students in post-18 education, have more options that offer the right education for each individual, and provide the best access for disadvantaged young people.
  • We want to establish the UK as a global science superpower, building on our existing world-excellence. We will boost public R&D funding, launch a comprehensive UK Space Strategy, introduce a fast-track immigration scheme for top scientists and researchers and develop proposals for a new funding agency.
    • Backing a new approach to funding emerging fields of research and technology, broadly modelled on the US Advanced Research Projects Agency. We will work with industry and academics to finalise this proposal
    • Reducing bureaucracy in research funding to ensure our brilliant scientists are able to spend as much time as possible creating new ideas, not filling in unnecessary forms.
  • The R&D funding plans we will unveil in autumn 2019 will help accelerate our ambition to reach 2.4 per cent of GDP spent on R&D by 2027. This boost in funding will allow us to invest strategically in cutting-edge science, while encouraging the worlds most innovative businesses to invest in the UK.
  • There will be a Medicines and Medical Devices Bill to “Allow the UK to take a lead role in global research to find cures for rare diseases and improve treatments for patients around the world”.

Other relevant highlights:

  • An immigration bill, ending free movement, will lay the foundation for a fair, modern and global immigration system. My Government remains committed to ensuring that resident European citizens, who have built their lives in, and contributed so much to, the United Kingdom, have the right to remain. The bill will include measures that reinforce this commitment [Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill]. 
  • Measures will be brought forward to support and strengthen the National Health Service, its workforce and resources, enabling it to deliver the highest quality care. New laws will be taken forward to help implement the National Health Service’s Long Term Plan in England, and to establish an independent body to investigate serious healthcare incidents [Health Service Safety Investigations Bill].
  • My Government will bring forward proposals to reform adult social care in England to ensure dignity in old age. My Ministers will continue work to reform the Mental Health Act to improve respect for, and care of, those receiving treatment.
  • My Ministers will ensure that all young people have access to an excellent education, unlocking their full potential and preparing them for the world of work. 
  • A white paper will be published to set out my Government’s ambitions for unleashing regional potential in England, and to enable decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level.
  • My Government is committed to establishing the United Kingdom as a world-leader in scientific capability and space technology. Increased investment in science will be complemented by the development of a new funding agency, a more open visa system, and an ambitious national space strategy.
  • My Government will take steps to protect the integrity of democracy and the electoral system in the United Kingdom.

Plus: criminal justice, longer sentencing, sustainable fiscal strategy allowing investment in economic growth, post-Brexit regimes for fisheries, agriculture and trade, financial services, domestic abuse, divorce, pension regulation, national infrastructure strategy, a Drones bill, railway reform and broadband, environmental protection, animal welfare, defence.

During the parliamentary debates on the Queen’s Speech this week Labour’s Angela Rayner (shadow Education Secretary) called for the restoration of university maintenance grants and the implementation of a system of post qualification admissions. There has been a reinvigorated wave of parliamentary questions surrounding research and outward mobility programmes. And the Royal Society published their analysis of Brexit’s harm to UK science research. Finally, Wonkhe dissect the mention of research funding within the Queen’s speech.

OfS Value for Money Strategy

I think I was expecting something new.  But no.  Read their news story here

According to a 2018 survey commissioned by the OfS, just 38 per cent of students believe their course offers good value for money.

The value for money strategy, published by the OfS today, identifies the ways in which the OfS will deliver better value for money for students and taxpayers – in line with the priorities identified in the 2018 student survey. The strategy also defines the OfS’s regulatory role in these areas and outlines how it will measure its success.

Among the priorities identified are:

  • improving teaching quality – over 90 per cent of students responding to the OfS survey felt that the quality of teaching, assessment and feedback are very important in demonstrating value for money
  • promoting transparency around fees and funding – 88 per cent of respondents said that seeing a breakdown of how fees are spent would be helpful in judging value
  • protecting students as consumers and improving consumer information – 24 per cent said they were not informed or prepared for the level of costs that came with being a student
  • securing positive employment outcomes – 65 per cent of respondents said getting a job and earning more were important factors in judging value for money.

The OfS will continue to survey students and graduates to measure student perceptions of value for money, the outcomes of which will form one measure of its progress in this area. The OfS will also consider measures of student experience and outcomes, including the National Student Survey, the Graduate Outcomes Survey, and data on graduate earnings.

The actual strategy is here but you’ve pretty much got it in the bullets above.

This is their definition of value for money:

  • Students receive value for money when they experience the full benefits of higher education – both during their studies and afterwards – in exchange for the effort, time and money they invest.
  • Taxpayers receive value for money when higher education providers use public money and student fees efficiently and effectively to deliver graduates, from all backgrounds, who contribute to society and the economy.

In the document, they also say:

  • We recognise that value for money means different things to different students. Tracking students’ perceptions of the value for money of their education will allow us to monitor progress without imposing our own definition on students.

So they are going to measure something that is not defined, when they know it means different things to different people at different stages?  And if it doesn’t improve they will hold universities to account for not improving something that is not defined? Is that unreasonable?

To be fair, they are also going to

  • assess value for money for students and taxpayers by analysing data on the benefits that have been delivered – for example positive student outcomes – and comparing this with data on the costs incurred”.

And this:

  • While our focus is on student outcomes, we make sure that providers use any income from taxpayers appropriately in delivering these outcomes. Providers receiving funding from the OfS or UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) must comply with our conditions of registration. This includes demonstrating that they have adequate and effective arrangements in place to manage public money appropriately and in accordance with the principle of value for money – it must be used economically, efficiently and effectively. These requirements apply even if a provider passes funds to another entity to deliver teaching or research. We will issue further guidance for providers about how they can meet these requirements.
  • We collect Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) data from providers in receipt of OfS funding to establish the cost of their various activities18. The data is benchmarked so providers can understand the cost of their activities in comparison with other similar providers. This helps them to determine where they can improve the value for money they offer to students and taxpayers.

How is BEIS getting on?

The National Audit Office has published a Departmental Overview for BEIS, describing what it does, its spending, recent and planned changes, and what to look out for across its main business areas and services. A summary of their overview prepared by Dods is below – it acts a good lookahead for certain projects and the likelihood of targets being met.

Specifically of interest are details on delivering an industrial strategy and investing in science, research and innovation. It recommends keeping an eye on whether the Department is stimulating additional investment from private sector companies in research and development to support the government’s target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027. This has been a key area of concern, given that the uplift required from Government to reach 2.4% without private sector support would be huge. It is widely expected that reaching 2.4% will rely very heavily on private sector investment. Key developments identified in this area are as follows:

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

  • The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is a key part of the government’s Industrial Strategy. The Fund, which is administered by UKRI, provides investment in projects that seek to address the grand challenges. The Fund is organised in waves.
  • In 2018-19, £325 million was invested across Waves 1 and 2. The Fund is also a key part of the government’s aim for 2.4% of GDP to be spent on research and development by 2027.

Productivity review

  • In May 2018, the Department launched a call for evidence to review the actions that could be most effective in improving the productivity and growth of small and medium-sized businesses. The Department has yet to publish the results of its review.

Things to look out for:

  • How the Department is monitoring the progress of the projects that were awarded funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and the extent to which they help to address the four grand challenges.
  • Whether government support is stimulating additional investment from private sector companies in research and development to support the government’s target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027.
  • Whether the Department and other government departments are coordinating effectively to deliver the Industrial Strategy, including the actions taken by the Industrial Strategy Council.

The report outlines the 5 objectives of the Department:

  1. Deliver an ambitious industrial strategy; increase UK economic performance and earning power, whilst promoting scientific innovation and local growth.
  2. Maximise investment opportunities; increase investment and employment following Brexit and maintain business and investor confidence amidst deal preparations/ exiting the EU.
  1. Promote competitive markets and responsible business practices; Secure better outcomes for consumers by creating a more competitive environment for businesses and improve corporate governance.
  1. Ensure the UK has a reliable, low-cost and clean energy system; Provide clean, secure and affordable energy supplies for consumers and businesses and support clean growth and promote global action on climate change .
  1. Build a flexible, innovative, collaborative business-facing department; Elevate the Department to an exceptional standard and enable digital, data and technology to deliver services for staff, people and businesses.

Education Statistics

The DfE have released lots of statistics

  • Destinations of KS4 and 16 to 18 KS5 students (2018) remains static with 94% of pupils were in sustained education, employment or apprenticeships in the year after key stage 4, unchanged from 2016/17. Overall, 88% of students (who took mainly level 3 qualifications) went to a sustained education, apprenticeship or employment destination. Students taking qualifications at level 2 and below were less likely to have a sustained destination overall. However, they were more likely to enter apprenticeships and employment.
  • A level and other 16 to 18 results (2018) – A level attainment increased for students at the end of 16-18 study in comparison to 2018.

A schools funding announcement was also made this week.

Other news

Brain retain: An early day motion in Parliament congratulated Glasgow which resume.io have recognised as the top graduate destination.

Commuter Students: HEPI have a blog on commuter students arguing that a student centred model is essential for both residential and commuter students. However, the blog, written by the VC of Manchester Met says three overarching strands of support would compensate commuter students for their lack of residential experience:

  • The first is to ensure that we use data on the journey of individual students to inform the support that we give them. We are investing in a Student Journey Transformation Programme that aims to ensure we have a clear picture of each student and their needs. The approach uses technology in an innovative way to support students and enable staff to identify any potential issues at an early stage.
  • The second dimension is campus design, where even simple things such as lockers can make a difference. Lockers mean commuter students do not have to carry around a day’s worth of materials. This removes a practical barrier to taking part in activities and events. Access to plug sockets means they can charge laptops and phones, supporting them to work on campus.
  • We are also working to provide more areas for students to spend time between timetabled sessions and to build their academic community. If the only options are studying in the library or sitting in a catering outlet where there is an expectation to buy something, there is a greater likelihood that students will drift off campus.
  • Thirdly, clear, sensible timetabling helps students plan their week, including travel, work and family commitments. While we have long provided personalised timetables for each student, we are looking at what more we can do. In one faculty, we have identified programmes with high numbers of students with caring responsibilities and scheduled lectures for a restricted number of days with start and finish times that accommodate these responsibilities. We need to understand the effects of this pilot, especially how well it supports students, before extending it.

Student Carers: Wonkhe have a new blog: Carers need more visibility in HE.

Student Votes: Wonkhe detail a piece by i News reporting that the number of students and young people registered to vote has spiked by around 50 per cent when compared to a similar period before the last general election.

Apprenticeships/Disability: HEPI have a blog on the new apprenticeship system and whether it works for disabled students.

Trust: The OfS blog on how leaders can rebuild public trust.

Lecture alternatives: The Wonkhe blog Is the lecture dead? considers an alternative learning model.

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 20th September 2019

With Parliament suspended until 14th October (despite calls for a recall, pending the outcome of this week’s Supreme Court hearing on the lawfulness or otherwise of the prorogation), things are a little quieter in policy circles, although there is likely to be plenty of news from the Labour and Conservative party conferences over the next couple of weeks  Labour kick off first, and the Tories next week.

Two things struck us this week – a much bigger interest than usual in the Lib Dem conference, with the national press streaming lovely views of the Bournemouth sea front all week, and the level of blow by blow coverage of the Supreme court hearing. With an election now inevitable, probably before Christmas, and a Lib Dem surge predicted, the first isn’t surprising, and the second is just the latest in the Brexit/Boris soap opera. We are taking a break from making predictions about what will happen on Hallowe’en. It’s all too difficult to call.

 OfS urged to act on ‘quality’ matters

Secretary of State Education, Gavin Williamson, has written to the OfS setting out his priorities and giving support for the OfS to use a big stick to push for progress (e.g. on the attainment gap) and curb unpopular practices (e.g. conditional unconditional offers). The letter is a very long wish list (including the kitchen sink) in which the Minister basically asks the OfS to solve all perceived ills in the name of safeguarding the sector’s reputation and encourages them (in bold type) to use their regulatory sharp stick boldly.

The Government press release has the Minister urging the OfS to: “set as high a bar as possible on quality in the sector, so universities are focused on reducing dropout rates and ensuring the best possible value for money. We have to fight to keep the public trust and respect in our world-leading universities and to me that means a relentless focus on quality. That’s why I want the OfS to go even further on this, developing more rigorous and demanding quality requirements, and I give my full backing to boldly use its powers to ensure value for money.”

Excerpts from the letter (use of bold type reflects the letter, a new style approach in these letters):

  • Value for money – OfS must attach “the highest priority to this work” and make sure that it is reflected in its forthcoming value for money strategy.
  • Exercise your powers boldly to ensure you are an effective regulator. Refers to refusals to register,  Suggests using powers where there are “courses and providers that are not delivering value for students”, such as “unacceptable levels of drop-out rates or failure to equip students with qualifications that are recognised and valued by employers, falling short of what is required…under the registration conditions”…
  • Develop “even more rigorous and demanding quality requirements”. This means apparently, raising current baseline requirements to ensure that providers deliver successful outcomes for all students.  Supports the “OfS intention to revisit the minimum baselines”…
  • Be ambitious for the TEF in both scope and timing. That means publishing subject level TEF in 2021 alongside the implementation of a new TEF following the Pearce review.  Those hoping that subject level was going to be abandoned will be disappointed, and presumably subject level will also be continued in the “new model” otherwise it would an orphaned measure with weird reputational consequences.
  • Consider running a further provider level TEF assessment with results published in 2020.  If they are going to do that, having already said everyone’s TEF is extended and we don’t have to, they need to get on with it.
  • Refers to the “injudicious use of unconditional offers” and other inducements “that could have an adverse impact on the access and success of students in HE”.  Other than the OfS working with the CMA on enforcement of consumer law, no particular action here.
  • “Prioritise work supporting students as empowered consumers” – complaints, Ts and Cs, free speech, harassment, etc. The OfS are to review current practice and consider standard contractual templates by Feb 2020. He commends their plans on student protection and urges “action in this area to be as ambitious as possible”
  • Focus on part-time and flexible learning, mature learners, “regulatory and funding arrangements surrounding flexible provision” (including how performance metrics support and incentivise flexible provision) – plan by end Nov 2019 and interim report by end of March 2020. Also a Challenge Competition for that.
  • Raising awareness of accelerated degrees.
  • Monitoring schemes and arrangements for student transfer –institutions to develop a plan for how they will use regulatory powers to promote greater student choice.
  • Explore how international students can be better supported and integrated, in line with Global Britain’s efforts to strengthen relationships around the world.

The Sec of State also tasked the OfS Review of Admissions to fully consider a Post Qualification Applications system (note application not admission – so students would apply after their level 3 results).

The TEF stuff has caused a little stir – there is not supposed to be a TEF this year, and the idea of running a subject level TEF in 2021 alongside the development of a new TEF seems like a lot of work to produce a set of outcomes that would not be very useful for anyone, as they would not be comparable with what has gone before or what will come after. As there is no link to fees etc. (yet, we still think that this might re-emerge as one outcome from the Post-18 Review), and students are not using TEF, what is the point? See Wonkhe on this.

Access, Participation & Success

HEPI have published The white elephant in the room: ideas for reducing racial inequality in HE. It consists of a series of essays by national HE figures recommending how to reduce a range of racial inequalities including the attainment gap. Some recommendations:

  • All Higher Education Institutions should participate in the Race Equality Charter (56 are members). Funding bodies should consider creating financial incentives behind them doing so – such as making research grants conditional on participation. This proved effective when applications for the gender equality focused Athena SWAN Charter went up 400% after the British Medical Research Council made funding conditional on holding a Silver Athena Swan Award.

Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice, University of Birmingham: ‘Work on gender is seen as worthwhile and contributing to an equalities agenda. Race, on the other hand has always been seen as a secondary priority. If higher education is serious about social justice, then race equality must be seen as a priority – linking the Race Equality Charter to research funding would be a good start.’

  • Do groundwork to facilitate conversations about race within institutions. Do not underestimate the obstacles faced in doing this and the need for ground rules.

Professor Shân Waring, DVC, London South Bank University: ‘In a room of people talking about race, there will be people confused about which words are okay and which are not. And there will be people in the room who will not join in the conversation, for fear of appearing racist, of being called racist, and perhaps of finding out when it comes down to it, they are racist.’

  • Make sure that work done by BME staff and students to tackle racial inequalities is recognised and rewarded. Being an informal mentor to BME students, or giving up time to help with racial equality initiatives, should not become another form of disadvantage.

Amatey Doku, former Vice President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students: ‘Universities are under more pressure than ever to address the 14% attainment gap between BME and white students. Some universities are responding positively, but end up putting a disproportionate burden on BME staff and students. Ultimately it is the institutions themselves that need to fix the problem.”

  • Academic faculties should look to their curricula and to other ways of addressing inequalities in their subject, such as Studentships for BME candidates.

Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society: ‘A third of black and minority ethnic historians have faced discrimination or abuse – twice as many as for white historians. That tends to shock white historians, but it has never surprised BME historians with whom that I’ve shared our findings.’

  • Diversity practitioners within institutions need senior management diversity champions to rely upon. For instance, inclusion networks should be sure they have the resources and the remit to make changes. (Sanchia Alasia)
  • Avoid well-meaning but vague actions which are unlikely to effect change. For instance, implicit bias training should be used in a targeted way to map how biases are playing out in an organisation and to tackle specific issues. (Srabrani Sen)

Access Gap – FE news have published a news article by UCAS highlighting that 20.4% of students from the most disadvantaged communities (polar 4 quintile 1) have a confirmed HE place. The Daily Mail have coverage too.

Brexit and Parliament

Apart from the battle over prorogation and the focus on who said what to the Queen when (which is getting David Cameron as well as Boris Johnson into trouble this week), there is ongoing speculation about what will happen in October.

An interesting YouGov poll revealed that 52% of Leave voters believe the PM should break the law by refusing to ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline. 28% believe Boris should follow the law despite his ongoing insistence personal campaign that the 31 October exit deadline is non-negotiable, with 21% undecided.

Speaker Predictions – YouGov have also reported that according to a Jan 2019 poll Lindsay Hoyle (current deputy speaker) is the MP’s favourite candidate for the next Speaker of The House of Commons. YouGov state:

He [Lindsay] was the only potential successor nominated by a substantive number of MPs, with a further 41% saying they didn’t know who the next Speaker should be. Hoyle’s fellow Deputy Speaker, the Conservative MP Eleanor Laing, came in a distant second on just 6%, with former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman in third on 5%. Both have announced that they will run for the Speakership.

4 year study in only 3 years leave to remain – Gavin Williamson tackled the conundrum of EU students who are studying 4 year courses (e.g. in Scotland) but will only be afforded 36 months of temporary leave to remain post Brexit. The Education secretary saidthe UK Government would find a solution”.

Education Spending

There is a new Institute for Fiscal Studies report on education spending.

The HE highlights are (our emphasis added):

  • Universities currently receive £27,500 per full-time undergraduate student to fund the cost of teaching for the full course of their studies (usually three years). This has fallen by 5% since 2012, but is about 50% higher than at its low point during the mid 1990s.
  • While per-student funding is similar today to its early 1990s levels, total resources for teaching undergraduate students have doubled in real terms over that period. This was driven by a near-doubling in student numbers. The nature of that funding has changed significantly, with it now coming primarily through tuition fees rather than through teaching grants.
  • The overall cost of the current system is about £17 billion per cohort entering higher education. More than half of the cost is expected to be paid for through graduate contributions (£9.0 billion), particularly from higher-earning graduates. The long-run cost to government is expected to be about £8.0 billion, about £7.4 billion through unrepaid student loans and £700 million in up-front grants.
  • The Augar Review proposed cutting fees to £7,500, reintroducing maintenance grants and changing the terms of repayment. This would give policymakers greater control of spending on different subjects, which they have little control over at present due to funding being dominated by tuition fees and to a lack of controls on student numbers. The proposals would reduce repayments amongst higher earners and increase repayments amongst mainly middle earners. But there is no good reason to say the current distribution of repayments and incentives is the ‘correct’ one.
  • Labour’s policies of abolishing fees altogether and bringing back maintenance grants would come at a cost to the public finances of just over £6 billion per cohort of full-time students over the long run. This policy would give the government even more control over the distribution of spending on certain subjects or institutions, but would benefit the highest-earning graduates substantially. The policy is significantly cheaper now as a result of the 2017 increase in the repayment threshold on student loans from £21,000 to £25,000. 
  • Considering part-time students adds approximately another £1 billion to the cost of Labour’s proposals at current student numbers. However, the cost of this policy could increase rapidly if the large decline in part-time student numbers since 2010 were reversed.

 

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 inquiries and consultations.

Other news

Graduate Outcomes: The Telegraph has an interactive comparator to accompany their article stating that Oxbridge doesn’t always result in the highest salaries, and that some subjects at ‘lesser known institutions’. Engineering, computer science and business graduates ‘from a wide variety of universities’ are said as ‘punching above their weight’.

Money Mules: The phenomenon of targeting students to act as money mules has been around for several years but the Telegraph has teamed up with Barclays to publish an article warning what to watch out for. Staff working directly with students may be interested in reading about this fraud scam.

Arts & Heritage: The Taking Part 2018/19 survey statistics have been released. It is a continuous face to face household survey of adults and children in England providing reliable national estimates of engagement with the arts, heritage, museums, libraries, digital and social networking. It is a key evidence source for DCMS. In 2018/19:

  • 77.4% of adults had engaged with the arts at least once in the last year. The rate of adults engaged in the arts has remained relatively stable since 2005/06.
  • 72.4% of adults reported having visited a heritage site in the last 12 months, similar to 2017/18, and an increase from 69.9% in 2005/06.
  • 50.2% of adults reported having visited a museum or gallery in the last year. This is similar to 2017/18 and a significant increase from 2005/06 (42.3%).
  • 59% of adults reported being aware of UK events to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War. This represents a significant increase from 2017/18 (50.5%).
  • 35.2% of adults had used a public library service in the last year for any purpose, similar to 2017/18 and 32.9% had used a public library service in the last year for voluntary work or in their own time, this is similar to 2017/18 but a decrease from 2005/06 (48.2%).

Marketisation: HEPI have a new blog – Changes to student entry quality in a marketised English higher education system. It concludes Universities appear to have been adopting different strategies with many focusing on growth in volume, at the expense of entry points, and a smaller number prioritising quality. 

Trading Up: iNews have an interesting article regarding students who undertake a foundation year (and therefore an extra year of debt) with the aim of completing it successfully and transferring (‘upgrading’) to another university. The article carries the tone that this is a risky manoeuvre and Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders, said “we advise students against trying to use foundation years to ‘trade up’.” Instead the advice is that it is cheaper to retake their A levels. The article is interesting because while the Government is very keen that universities support students and proactively facilitate transfers to another institution they didn’t have this in mind – yet the young population seem to have found their own solution. There was also recent negativity stating that universities were capitalising on Foundation Years (because of the fee income received) and that students would be better off taking Access to HE courses. Despite this, foundation courses have increased in popularity in recent years. Perhaps, not least because of the different way in which students are treated and expected to learn between FE and HE. Furthermore, retaking A levels suggests failure, whereas a foundation year allows the individual to move away, be independent, and experience and learn the skills needed to succeed in HE study.

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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 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