Tagged / Horizon Europe

ERC Have Announced Tentative Dates for 2022 Calls

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the tentative opening dates and deadlines for their 2022 calls. They are as follows:

ERC Synergy Grant 2022 Call

  • Opening date: 15 July 2021
  • Deadline: 10 November 2021

ERC Starting Grant 2022 Call

  • Opening date: 23 September 2021
  • Deadline: 13 January 2022

ERC Consolidator Grant 2022 Call

  • Opening date: 19 October 2021
  • Deadline: 17 March 2022

ERC Advanced Grant 2022 Call

  • Opening date: 20 January 2022
  • Deadline: 28 April 2022

There were a few BU academics willing to submit their applications this year but were not able to do it due to time constraints.

These dates are tentative and still subject to change. They differ from the regular yearly cycle that the ERC has established; according to UKRO, the call cycle will revert to the expected times of each year by 2023. The ERC aims to provide as much time and predictability as possible for applicants to prepare while also finding the time for evaluation procedures that last several months for each call.

For more information about the ERC and other Horizon Europe funding opportunities contact RDS Research Facilitator International Ainar Blaudums.

Horizon Europe: Early Information on the Proposal Template

UKRO have recently provided some insights into expected Horizon Europe proposal templates.

The Horizon Europe (HEU) proposal templates are currently under development and have not been published yet. However, UKRO has obtained some information regarding the first version of the proposal template, which indicates that there will be several differences when compared with the Horizon 2020 proposal.

The first version of the draft application form for Innovation Action (IA) and Research and Innovation Actions (RIA) demonstrates strong continuity with the Horizon 2020 proposals. It maintains the online Part A for general, administrative and financial information, and Part B for the technical description of the research project – divided into three sections that reflect the Horizon Europe evaluation criteria: Excellence, Impact and Implementation.

According to UKRO, the modifications presented below are under consideration, however are not final and thus subject to further changes.

Part A

  • A new self-declaration on Gender Equality Plans (GEP) has been added; if the proposal is selected, having a GEP will be mandatory for public bodies, HEI and research organisations before signature of the grant agreement;
  • ‘Description of the individual members of the consortium’ has been moved from Part B (former Section 4);
  • For statistical reasons, more information on researchers involved in the proposal can be provided (e.g. gender, career stage, etc);
  • Minor changes to the ethics questions have been introduced (split into two parts: ‘Ethics and Security’); furthermore, a longer ‘Declarations’ list has been included;
  • The ‘Ethics self-assessment’ (narrative part) has been moved from Part B (former Section 5);
  • The ‘Open Data Management Pilot’ opt-out/in section has been removed; a Data Management Plan (DMP) will be a mandatory deliverable by month six of the project and must be covered in Part B together with Open Access practices;
  • The headings in the budget table have been renamed in line with the new financial provisions of Horizon Europe.

Part B

  • New 45-page limit for the title, list of participants and sections 1, 2 and 3 introduced (70 pages in Horizon 2020); former Section 4 (Members of consortium) and Section 5 (Ethics and security) have been moved to Part A;
  • Key elements of the award criteria used in evaluation process and indicative number of pages for each sub-heading have been added;
  • Section 1 “Excellence”: sub-headings have been rearranged and renamed; ‘Open Science practices’ must be described as an integral part of the methodology (with an obligatory Data Management Plan) and not only covered under the ‘Impact/dissemination’ part, as was the case in Horizon 2020;
  • Section 2 “Impact”: major changes to the content and layout are being proposed.
    • This section will now be composed of two sub-headings: ‘Project’s pathways towards impact’ and ‘Measures to maximise impact – Dissemination, exploitation and communication’, complemented by a ‘Summary canvas’ visualising links between the key Impact elements (needs/results/measures and target groups/outputs/impacts).
    • Moreover, new questions/guidance has been added on how to approach the Impact section (e.g. with relation to the Work Programme’s destinations and the topic’s expected outcomes, in terms of scientific, economic/technological and societal impacts) and on how to determine ‘the scale and significance of the project’s contribution to the expected outcomes and impacts’. The requirement to present a draft ‘Plan for dissemination and exploitation including communication activities’ remains and becomes a mandatory project deliverable by month six of the project (not at the periodic/final report stage).
    • If exploitation is expected primarily in non-associated third countries, applicants will need to justify the EU’s interest in the proposal. The draft template does not require a ‘business plan’ explicitly anymore (required for Innovation Actions in Horizon 2020), but where relevant, applicants must still outline the commercialisation path for their innovations in the Plan.
  • Section 3 “Quality and efficiency of the implementation”: the key change is a removal of a dedicated section on the ‘organisational structure and the decision-making mechanisms’; other sub-headings have been slightly rearranged and renamed into: ‘Work plan and resources’ and ‘Capacity of participants and consortium as a whole’; minor changes have been made to the ‘Implementation tables’ (e.g. more classification options for deliverables, dissemination activities and risks) and ‘Costs justification tables’, in line with budget headings (e.g. ‘purchase costs’).

The first HEU calls are expected to open in April after the EU Parliament formally adopts the Regulation establishing the programme.

ERC Confirms Upcoming Call Deadlines

The ERC Executive Agency has confirmed the publication dates and deadlines for its 2021 calls for proposals.

  • The 2021 Starting Grant call will open on 25 February and close on 8 April.
  • The 2021 Consolidator Grant call will open on 11 March and close on 20 April.
  • The 2021 Advanced Grant call will open on 20 May and close on 31 August.

The 2021 ERC Work Programme – first one to be adopted under Horizon Europe – is available on the ERC website.

Applicants to the ERC Starting Grant call should note that the Work Programme is still showing the old deadline of 24 March, which has been extended, as explained in the ERC’s announcement.

This information has been provided by UKRO.

UKRO, in its role as the UK ERC National Contact Point, will hold two Information and Proposal Writing webinars on Tuesday 16 March from 10am to 12pm (UK time) and on Friday 19 March from 1pm to 3pm (UK time).

More information and details on registration for these two webinars will be shared in due course.

Horizon Europe – Clusters for Collaborative Research Projects

This is another post related to UK’s participation in EU Horizon Europe (HE) Framework Programme.

As mentioned earlier, based on UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the UK will be HE Associated Country. This association will ensure that UK and EU entities participate in Horizon Europe Programme on equivalent terms.

Similarly as for previous EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020, research activities in Horizon Europe are structured under 3 pillars. However, there are some differences; as they say – ‘no revolution but evolution’:

  • Pillar 1 – Excellent Science
  • Pillar 2 – Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness
  • Pillar 3 – Innovative Europe

In the picture above, you can see that all themes we knew as ‘Societal Challenges’ in Horizon 2020 have been moved under Pillar 2 and integrated with ICT, NMBP and space topics – this seems to be the major change; there are more, however I will leave them unexplored for now.

So, most of collaborative research projects BU academics may be interested in lay under the second pillar in Horizon Europe. Those are grouped in clusters and Work Programmes for each of these clusters have been drafted.

I will continue these series of blog posts about HE providing more details regarding topics and expected opening of HE calls (first calls are expected to be open in March/April).

There will be funding briefing for BU academics on Wednesday 3 February at 12pm led by RDS Research Facilitators.

This week’s spotlight topic will be MSCA Individual Fellowships. It should be useful for those academics who wish to submit applications this year and also those who are not familiar with MSCA funding scheme. Feel free to join this weekly event on MS Teams.

Just as a reminder – with enquiries regarding international funding opportunities and questions related to EU, especially Horizon Europe, funding contact me – Research Facilitator International Ainar Blaudums.

HE Policy Update w/e 18th January 2021

The Minister for Universities and the OfS ended the week with the opposite of a charm offensive.  Significant interest in student rent reached a head this week with MPs calling for action and supporting student concerns in Parliament. GCSE and Gavin Williamson announced his alternative plans for exams this summer (spoiler alert: the proposal centres on externally set exams, but they will be marked by teachers and other evidence can be taken into account). Perhaps not surprisingly the political gossip centred on whether Gavin Williamson has run out of road.

The Minister takes to Twitter

So perhaps rather late in the day taking a lead from other leaders who (used to) use Twitter to communicate with the masses, and continuing the pattern that both the DfE and the OfS have had since March of communicating with the sector late at night and at weekends, Michelle Donelan took to Twitter on Friday evening (at 7.16pm).  With the “student message” headings left in, which were surely drafting notes, it looks like it was done in a hurry.  It is safe to say that it hasn’t been very well received, with attacks both from across the sector and also from the group it was probably aimed at – parents (ie voters).

It’s a real issue that the Minister is taking this tone and approach, apart from perpetuating the myth of the £256 million.

And the tone is consistent with the tone the OfS are taking.  They wrote to universities on Thursday.

  • They say that universities should do all they can to deliver the teaching they have promised to students and make alternative arrangements where this is not possible – this may include putting on extra lectures, repeating parts of the course, or offering fee refunds.
  • The OfS does not have legal powers to require refunds to be paid, but it has set out actions for universities and colleges to ensure they continue to meet regulatory requirements so that students can continue to benefit from their education.
  • The regulator has asked universities to assess the extent to which they have met the commitments they made to students in relation to teaching and alternative arrangements, and inform the OfS where there are risks that they may not be able to comply with its regulatory conditions.
  • Universities should assess:
    • whether they were sufficiently clear with new and continuing students about how teaching and assessment would be delivered in 2020-21, the circumstances in which changes might be made, and what those changes might entail
    • whether during the 2020 autumn term, students received the teaching and assessment they were promised and might reasonably have expected to receive based on information provided
    • whether current plans for the 2021 spring and summer term will ensure that students receive the teaching and assessment they were promised and might reasonably expect to receive based on the information provided.
  • The OfS will, where appropriate, take action as the result of notifications from students and others, and is likely to request further details of provider assessments where it has additional concerns.
  • Where students are not provided with clear information about how teaching and assessment will be delivered in 2020-21, or where teaching and assessment are not delivered as promised, universities are expected to actively consider refunds or other forms of redress.
  • The OfS expects each university to:
    • inform students of any further changes to teaching and assessment arrangements, such that these are broadly equivalent to those previously offered to students within the requirements of public health advice
    • inform students about their entitlement to seek refunds or other forms of redress – such as the opportunity to repeat parts of their course that were not delivered this year – if they have not received the teaching and assessment promised
    • provide students with clear information, advice and guidance about the implications of the changes and the options available to them.  This must include clear signposting of the route to complain or seek redress.
  • The OfS intends to publish revised guidance by the end of January on protecting quality and standards during the pandemic. These changes will include guidance on the approach to exams and assessments and the appropriate measures universities should take when considering mitigating or exceptional circumstances.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • “The pandemic is having a profound and ongoing impact on students who are still facing exceptional challenges. Universities and colleges have generally worked tirelessly under great pressure to ensure that students continue to receive good quality teaching, albeit now largely delivered remotely. We have consistently emphasised the importance of universities being clear to students about potential changes to course delivery where face-to-face teaching is not possible.
  • “Of course, we understand the tremendous pressures that the new lockdown imposes on universities and colleges, and some may no longer able to deliver the teaching and assessment arrangements that they said they would. This may not be in their direct control. However, in these circumstances they should do all they can to offer students alternatives – for instance by putting on extra lectures or course content later in the year – and where that is not possible, they should consider providing refunds where appropriate.
  • “Students will also be rightly concerned where they are being charged rent for properties they can’t currently occupy. Some universities have decided not to charge full rent in these circumstances. We are encouraging all universities and colleges who are not already doing so to consider carefully what the appropriate response is to these unprecedented circumstances where students have been asked not to return to their accommodation this term. We are also asking universities to consider what discussions they can have in support of their students with private landlords.”

Lots of commentary is available and will continue to emerge (apart from the responses to MD’s tweets) but here are some:

Admissions

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote to Ofqual Chief Regulator, Simon Lebus, setting out the  2021 exam grading contingency options for consultation (including vocational qualifications). The regulator responded the same day with his own letter (its almost as if he knew what Gavin’s letter would say before he received it!).

And then the consultations came out on Friday and run for two weeks.  The main proposal for GCSEs and A-levels as noted above is externally set exams, sat in school and marked by teachers, used as part of a package of evidence for teacher assessed grades, with moderation and quality controls but no forced ranking or overriding algorithm, and a massive appeals process for all students which must be managed by schools.  On vocational exams it is hard to understand what they are proposing – they want assessments to go ahead and where these are practical and need in person attendance “the assessment will need to wait until it can practically be conducted, and the student is ready.”  The position is different because the relationship between Ofqual and the awarding organisations for vocational qualifications is different, so they are largely leaving it to Pearson and the rest to sort out.

Apart from anything else, this is perplexing for school and college students.  The PM told them exams were cancelled – what he actually meant was that “normal” exams would not go ahead but that assessment would continue which might well (read almost certainly) include formal exams which will in many cases be sat in school.  Lots of people and students welcome the opportunity to have exams.  But those who were anxious about them will now be anxious again.  If nothing else it would reduce anxiety levels to be accurate when making significant announcements.  If the detail wasn’t available (and it was, because they say have been working on it for months) then the PM could just have announced it was being looked at.

Consultation: GCSEs, AS and A Levels

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Based on teacher assessment
  • A teacher’s final judgement on a student’s grade ought to be as late as possible in the academic year to maximise remaining teaching time and ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education
  • Consulting on what broader evidence teachers require in setting grades and whether the externally set tasks and papers are required or just recommended.
  • Pupils should be assessed based on what they have learnt, rather than against content they haven’t had chance to study (balanced against good enough coverage of the curriculum)
  • Schools and colleges should undertake quality assurance of the teachers’ assessments and grades and provide reassurance to the exam boards. There will be training and support for this and external checks in place for fairness and to ensure consistency between institutions.
  • Changes to the institutional grades awarded as a result of the external quality assurance are expected to be an exception – the process will not involve second-guessing the judgement of teachers but confirming that the process and evidence used to award a grade is reasonable. Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion. Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.
  • A clear and accessible route for private candidates to be assessed and receive a grade – consultation will consult on these options.
  • A clear route for review and appeal of grades (again ironed out in the consultation).
  • No algorithm will be used nor automatic standardisation of any individual’s grades

 Consultation detail:

  • It proposes externally set papers, possibly modular to allow teachers to choose which papers depending on what has been covered, to be marked by teachers and then included in the assessment along with other evidence. Exams to be sat in schools but with potential for online for students who can’t attend.  One of the consultation questions is whether these papers will be mandatory.
  • The main difference from last year is that there will be no forced ranking of students and while there will be moderation by the exam boards (which is surely going to be algorithm based although they can’t use the A word) any decisions have to be made by people. There will be no formal grade boundaries for the exams.
  • The other thing to note is that all students can appeal and the schools have to manage the appeals – a further appeal to the exam board will be on procedural issues only.  Also on timing – the assessment is to be made as late as possible but results will be published early……

Consultation: Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VQTs)

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Students will be able to progress fairly, irrespective of whether they sat an exam in January
  • Assessments should continue, taking place remotely, as adapted by individual awarding organisations
  • Recognition that level of disruption may mean no all internal assessment can be completed by all students
  • Essential assessments will be held in February and March for some students – i.e. where they must demonstrate the proficiency required to enter directly into employment or are needed to complete an apprenticeship – these will continue with protective measures in place.
  • Written exams will not go ahead. Assessments to be held online where they can, where they can’t alternatives will be consulted upon.

Consultation:

The proposed new alternative regulatory arrangements would:

  • permit awarding organisations to develop an approach to awarding qualifications in scope of the Department’s proposed policy on the basis of incomplete assessment evidence. As part of their approach awarding organisations should consider their minimum evidential requirement for awarding these qualifications to ensure sufficient validity and reliability. They should also consider where they need additional assessment evidence from teachers and what form this should take. For qualifications most similar to GCSEs, AS and A levels we would expect awarding organisations to use similar approaches to assessment and awarding. These approaches are currently being consulted on in parallel with this consultation.
  • expect awarding organisations to be mindful of the burden their approach places on centres and learners, and to provide clear and timely advice and guidance
  • require awarding organisations to issue certificates (where appropriate) as normal and to not refer on the certificate to a result having been determined under the alternative regulatory arrangements
  • require awarding organisations to include private learners in their arrangements as far as possible
  • permit awarding organisations to take the same approach for qualifications taken in international markets, provided that this does not undermine the validity of the qualifications. We would also expect awarding organisations to consider and address the risks around malpractice and the particular needs of the international market

In Lebus’ letter to Williamson a few points stand out:

  • we are fully committed to doing all that we can, including making sure teachers are equipped and making use of awarding organisations’ quality assurance processes, so that students’ results are as fair as possible
  • no assessment arrangements can take account of all the different ways that students have suffered from the pandemic.
  • we have been considering together the potential alternatives to exams and other formal assessments for some time and have learned a number of lessons from last summer. Our thinking is well advanced. It is, though, important that all affected by these arrangements have the opportunity to comment on them.
  • We both wish to ensure that accountability for decisions following the consultation is clear and transparent. We understand your final determinations will be reflected in a formal direction to us under the relevant legislation. We will publicly and formally record the decisions we take in light of your direction. [A ‘don’t blame us’ this time warning?!]
  • we will want the consultation to consider the role of externally set short papers.
  • we also wish to support and incentivise students to engage with their education for the remainder of the academic year, including to continue with any non-exam assessment where possible. We propose that the final determination of a student’s grade should take place as late in the academic year as possible. We believe this will give students a greater sense of agency, which is critical to securing widespread acceptance of the outcomes
  • It is important that the consultation makes clear to all, especially those who rely on the results to make selection decisions, that overall outcomes this year will likely look different from 2020 and previous years. This issue will be important for your work with the post-16 and higher education sectors to secure orderly progression and to protect the interests of disadvantaged students.
  • We are acutely aware that all who have a stake in the results this year, particularly students and their parents and carers and teachers, as well as higher and further education institutions and employers, need certainty about the arrangements to be put in place

A selection of this week’s coverage:

The Petitions Committee agreed to schedule debates for the following e-petitions which reached over 100,000 signatures:

However, as Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) neither will see a debate in the immediate future.

Admissions Reform: Research Professional have an article: There is an “appetite for reform” of the university admissions process, according to the Office for Students’ director for access and participation—but changing the application timetable is not a “magic bullet”.

Research

Kwasi Kwarteng, who was previously minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, has taken over as Business Secretary as Alok Sharma has gone off to head COP26.

  • Research Professional (RP): One of the immediate issues that Kwarteng will be asked to consider is whether the Research Excellence Framework should be further delayed given the pressures put on university staff by the latest lockdown. No-one has yet been prepared to make the case that ensuring REF returns are made by 31 March is a priority for our newly designated critical workers. RP cover this here and here.
  • Also Research Professional: emails seen by Research Professional News have revealed the close ties between prime minister Boris Johnson’s controversial former adviser Dominic Cummings and the UK’s largest public research funding agency.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee held a session on The contribution of Innovation Catapults in delivering the R&D Roadmap you can read a summary of the session here. It included scrutiny of the catapults role in meeting the Government’s 2.4% R&D target.

UKRI announced the winners of the second phase of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s (ISCF) decarbonisation of industrial clusters: cluster plan competition. The six winners sharing the £8 million come from consultancies, development companies, local authorities, partnerships, and consortiums. It is unclear if any have strong links with universities.

NERC appointed four new Science Committee members from the HE sector. And the Wellcome Trust’s new Director of research programmes, Cheryl Moore, will take up the post in May 2021.

Research Fundermentals published their own horizon scan and predictions about what 2021 will mean for research matters.

Research Professional also published these articles:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Concerns

Despite parliamentary petitions and grass roots campaigning students made small progress with the calls to be refunded for tuition fees during online study and receive rent reductions or get out of their letting contracts. The lobbying quietened down for a while but gained momentum in the last week. Towards the end of last week several Labour MPs signed an early day motion (EDM) calling on the Government to scrap tuition fees and cancel student debt. As it was a manifesto pledge for Labour the EDM wasn’t remarkable.

Next the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students launched an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on university students and calls for compensation.  

The number of parliamentary questions relating to student fees and accommodation costs has grown significantly again, including those relating to healthcare tuition fees and nurses working within the NHS as part of the Covid response. This week rent stories exploded across the media and HE specific sources, students initiated rent strikes, Unite Students (a major student accommodation provider announced partial refunds and concessions) and MPs came out in support of student rental concerns.

BBC – students have pledged a rent strike over unused rooms

Research Professional – universities have been warned that they could be breaking the law by refusing to allow students to return to halls; and:

The UCAS Knight Frank survey was released to a very receptive national audience. Wonkhe describe:

  • a survey of more than 70,000 new and current students between February and November last year. The Student Accommodation Survey finds that between March and June, around 75 per cent of students surveyed reported that they had or were planning to move back home, though there were regional variations.
  • Seventy-two percent of last year’s first year students were not paying rent after campuses closed – 71 per cent of students in other years were paying full rent.
  • The survey also offers an insight into who pays for accommodation – 41 per cent of first years, and 49 per cent of those in other years, reported that their parents or guardians were funding accommodation costs. On average, students living in private purpose built student accommodation (PBSAs) paid £7,200 per annum, compared to £6,650 in university accommodation and £5,900 for students in privately rented accommodation.
  • Sixty-nine per cent of students living in university-owned or PBSAs were happy with their landlord’s approach to Covid-19, compared to just 25 per cent of students in houses of multiple occupancy.

Research Professional add: Unsurprisingly, the ability to terminate tenancy agreements and a degree of flexibility on rent were highlighted as factors behind greater contentment with purpose-built accommodation over other settings…Respondents renting in non-purpose-built housing said private landlords were not prepared to make “any allowances for the impacts of the virus” and had “poor communication or lack of understanding and sensitivity around students’ financial situations and job losses”.

On Wednesday a NUS survey highlights student rental concerns. Wonkhe summarise: The most recent iteration of an NUS survey finds that 69 per cent of students are worried about their ability to pay rent, and 22 per cent have been unable to pay their rent in full in past months. The survey of 4,193 students ran between 6 and 23 November. 

An equally well timed YouGov poll surveyed the nation (so not just those with a vested interest as students or parents of students) on accommodation fees. They asked Do you think students who are unable to return to their student accommodation due to lockdown should still have to pay rent as normal or not?  54% of the public respondents felt that students shouldn’t have to pay anything at all; 30% felt they should pay a reduced rate; 5% felt students should continue to pay their rent in full.

Several MPs and Lords have expressed support for students to be offered some form of package or reduction. David Davis MP tweeted his letter to the Government to support university students who are unable to return to their term-time accommodation. He also stated Unite Students are right to provide refunds to students for periods where they cannot return to their properties and calls on the Government to step up.

This cross-party parliamentary support for student rent forgiveness alongside Boris Johnson acknowledging that the issue needs addressing, and Unite Students’ proactive refunds have been significant progress for this student concern. What remains to be seen is what position the Government will take however, no matter how sympathetic they are to the cause, it is still hard to imagine a Government scheme offering blanket refunds (including private landlords).

A selection of parliamentary questions on tuition fees…

And parliamentary questions on other student matters:

Finally the Petitions Committee published their latest decisions on e-petitions which received over 100,000 signatures and agreed to schedule a debate for:

However, Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) so the debate will not take place in the immediate future.

Professional Registration

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) issued a press release stating they’re in discussion with Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, alongside 17 professional, statutory and regulatory body representatives and Universities UK to address new challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The press release states they: discussed a range of barriers affecting progression and graduation in accredited programmes, in order to ensure students are able to complete their awards this summer and progress into the workplace with continued assurance of high standards and competencies.

QAA Chief Executive, Douglas Blackstock said:

  • Throughout the pandemic, QAA has engaged with PSRBs on behalf of our members and with a focus on ensuring students can progress towards the profession they have chosen. These bodies play an important role in protecting public safety and we are grateful that they have been able to adapt flexibly during the pandemic.
  • QAA has worked with professional bodies for many years and will continue to work collaboratively with them, and our members, so that students can achieve professional competencies and learning outcomes and so that standards are maintained.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan said: It is absolutely vital that students are able to graduate from their courses this year and achieve the meaningful qualifications that they need to kickstart their careers. Education has been our priority from the start of this pandemic, and we will continue to work closely with QAA, Universities UK and sector bodies, to identify and address any challenges they face during this difficult time.

Will he stay or will he go?

Speculation about Williamson’s continued tenure as Education Minister continues. On Monday Research Professional reported Boris as stating that the education secretary is doing his job “to his utmost ability”. One doesn’t quite know if that is support or censure. The BBC have: Gavin Williamson: How has he survived? It is well worth a read, it begins: Gavin Williamson’s political obituary has been written so many times he must sometimes feel like the walking dead. So how has England’s under-pressure education secretary survived in his job? Or is there a counter-narrative that he’s been unfairly blamed for decisions not really his own? For example, it has been well trailed that Boris went over Gavin’s head in closing the schools during a meeting he didn’t attend – meaning a U turn in one of Gavin’s flagship policies (that schools would remain open). The question of a reshuffle or even just an ousting of Williamson may come down to the reluctance (stubbornness?) of Boris to sack key staff, despite their mistakes and public unpopularity. Or perhaps as the BBC put it Gavin knows where the bodies are buried.

Gavin Williamson was scrutinised by the Commons Education Committee on Wednesday. Prior to the session Research Professional speculated what he might be questioned on in this brilliant article. It mentions many of the major points and issues facing education and HE at present and with only a couple sentences on each it is a great catch up for anyone still stuck in the Christmas cheese or overcome by home schooling.

In the end the Committee had very little direct HE content. There was strong focus on schools and on matters surrounding the alternatives to the 2021 exams (including BTEC) Williamson’s performance at Committee maintained the Government lines and yielded little new information. He appeared uninformed at times and employed famed political techniques such as not answering the question asked, answering a question that wasn’t asked, avoiding apologising and blaming others (schools mostly). However, he was focussed in his answers and less aggressive in tone than in recent appearances. Dods provide a comprehensive summary of the session here.

If you want the short version, there was one question on HE:

  • Asked about financial sustainability for universities, including the challenge for the newer ones with no reserves, and about student accommodation costs.  Rambles about universities giving additional support (?).  Some institutions may be in financial difficulties, he says the restructuring regime is established and ready to go.  Despite concerns there have been no collapses but contingency is ready.  MP says her local university was offered a loan not a grant and some management consultants that they didn’t want or need and they have had to have major staff cuts.  GW says some will have to restructure what they offer and how they run.  Zero empathy for the sector in these replies.   He doesn’t answer the questions either.

And he mentions us at the end when he thanks everyone working in education, including universities.

Graduate Wellbeing Analysis

The OfS have released data for key performance measure 17 – graduate wellbeing. It shows part timers scoring higher on life satisfaction and for feeling that things done in life are worthwhile.

Note – only the respondents who gave the strongest positive wellbeing response were included in the above analysis. For the data and more information start here. It may seem odd to you that the OfS data release only covers this aspect and limited data. It seems odd to us too. One hopes it isn’t the regulator searching for a new stick to beat HE with or engaging in political point scoring.

Education Policy – research / curriculum development

The Education Policy Institute has published two reviews. Curriculum policy in England has been characterised by frequent change in recent decades. In order to identify lessons about how curriculum systems can be better formulated and revised in England, this evidence review outlines how five leading education nations around the world have developed their curriculum systems in recent years.

The first review aimed to understand how leading education nations around the world develop their education policies and examines the education systems of Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland and South Korea – How Leading Education Nations Develop And Reform Their Curriculum Systems.

The second considers the role of research and evaluation in education policymaking in leading nations including Australia, Finland, Japan, Scotland and Singapore. It focuses on how leading countries organise, focus and fund their education research and evaluation, both in the context of major system change and in terms of how each country assesses the effectiveness of its education system.

Access & Participation

The Education Committee continued hearing evidence into the inquiry on Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dods have provided a summary of last week’s session which covers several aspects relating to HE.

Fair Admissions: The Nuffield Foundation have published Fair Admission to Universities in England: Improving Policy and Practice. Neon describe the report: A new report from the Nuffield Foundation finds that highly selective universities in England are increasingly taking into account the socioeconomic and educational contexts in which applicants achieved their grades when making admissions decisions. However lead author, Professor Vikki Boliver of Durham University argues that universities should be bolder in their approach:

“Universities have taken some tentative steps in a positive direction when it comes to widening access to higher education for students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. This is encouraging but by being bolder we believe that they can further improve the chances of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The report recommends several steps that universities should take including:

  • Reducing entry requirements for contextually disadvantaged applicants by more than just one or two grades.
  • Contextualising all admissions criteria, including GCSE grades, personal statements and interview performances.
  • Ensuring that the new commitments to supporting contextually disadvantaged students to achieve their potential at university are fulfilled.

Overall the report recommends switching from the traditional admissions model, where places go to the highest qualified candidates, irrespective of social background, to a model where prospective students’ qualifications are judged in light of their socioeconomic circumstances. The report also recommends that there is a move towards post qualification admissions and replace POLAR with individual measures of socioeconomic disadvantage which is made available to universities.

Parliamentary Questions:

International & Mobility

Research Professional published: Drop in international first-years made up by other students

On Turing The Times has an opinion piece from Taiwo Owatemi, MP for Coventry North West, on the inadequacies of the new scheme.

Parliamentary Questions

Parliamentary Questions

Sir John Hayes supports the alternatives to HE agenda:

Regulatory

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

Censoring ‘Free Speech’: Students and graduates recruited to work on a free speech campaign have resigned in protest stating their views were censored and they were pushed to conform. There was also anger that they had been signed up without understanding the links between Toby Young’s controversial pressure group the Free Speech Union (FSU) and the project they had been recruited to. The Guardian has the story.

Poverty report: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published its annual report on the nature and scale of poverty across the UK. It covers investment in skills and the retraining agenda.

Mental health: The Government have announced they will reform mental health laws.

T levels: The Government announced a £135 million capital fund for T level providers to bid into. The Government press release states: the multi-million pound investment will ensure T Level students have access to the world class facilities and cutting-edge equipment they need to get ahead.

Tech access for disadvantaged pupils: Commenting on the Department for Education’s supply of laptops and other equipment to enable disadvantaged students to access remote learning, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: It is not credible for Boris Johnson or Gavin Williamson to claim that their priority under Covid is to protect the very same disadvantaged students they have so routinely let down. It is a stain on the Government’s record that they have failed disadvantaged students so badly. The immense disruption in autumn half term, with so many absent from school due to self-isolation or close contact with those in their bubble who were having to self-isolate, was a clear warning that the education secretary needed to properly build the groundwork for a continuity and equity of education for all students. But the warning went unheeded, and in Gavin Williamson ‘s recent announcements on laptop and data roll-out it is abundantly clear he is still weeks away from anything like an adequate response. Schools have been kept waiting for equipment that has been promised to them throughout the pandemic, with last minute delays, changes or retractions of the kit they need becoming an alarmingly normalised response from the Department for Education.  It is surely a no-brainer that schools should be compensated for having to plug the gaps, which are entirely due to governmental sloth. Every child must have access to the equipment they need to ensure they can learn safely from home. When will the government take their responsibility towards these children seriously?  However, speaking at the Education Committee on Wednesday Gavin Williamson painted a very different picture stating the equipment had been sent to schools and some were in line to receive additional items.

Islamophobia: Research Professional published this article Universities fail to see ‘insidious nature’ of campus Islamophobia stating that the report finds improvements are needed by institutions.

EdTech Boom: FE News report that lockdown measures and mandatory school closures in 2020 led to a 71.5% growth of the UK educational technology (EdTech) sector – despite a -11% contraction in GDP overall. Over the course of the pandemic, schools, colleges and universities have had to move lessons online, and many educators, organisations and businesses have developed smarter ways to deliver remote learning. The growth puts the value of the UK EdTech market at almost £3.5bn – with EdTech exports pre-crisis bringing in £170m to the economy, now expected to have topped £292m.

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UK’s participation in Horizon Europe

There was an earlier blog regarding UK participation in EU programmes for research, innovation and higher education last week. As promised, here is more information related to Horizon Europe (HE) Framework Programme.

Based on UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (the TCA) the UK will be HE Associated Country. The association secures participation of UK and EU entities in Horizon Europe Programme on equivalent terms. This will ensure that via the Horizon Europe Programme UK organisations have access to R&I funding, infrastructure and markets; according to the TCA, UK organisations can lead projects and UK experts can take part in evaluations. It also provides association to COST programme and the UK plays an active role in the ongoing governance and development of the HE programme.

UK entities will be able to access grant funding from all parts of HE, including European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, and all application and grant management process will be the same as for Horizon 2020, unless any changes are made for the whole HE programme.

There are certain steps to be completed before the UK formally associates to the HE Programme – EU to ratify HE Regulation (expected in January/February) and to finalise Protocol between UK and EU, which sets out all terms of UK participation.

I believe, this is fantastic news for the whole UK academic community and wish you success in applying for research funding.

For EU funding related questions, contact RDS Research Facilitator International Ainar Blaudums. I will post further information as soon as new information regarding EU programmes becomes available and important decisions are reached.

UK participation in EU programmes for research, innovation and higher education

Horizon Europe

As part of the agreement reached between the UK and the EU, the UK has announced that it will associate to Horizon Europe (2021-27). Association will give UK scientists, researchers and businesses access to funding under the programme on equivalent terms as organisations in EU countries. The next step is for both sides to formally adopt the full text of the agreement taking into account the finalised EU Programme Regulations.

The UK also reached agreement with the EU and Euratom to associate to the next Euratom Research & Training (R&T) Programme 2021-2025 subject to ratification of the overall deal and finalisation of the regulations. This agreement includes UK participation in the ITER fusion collaboration through membership of Fusion for Energy.

A new Turing scheme starting in September 2021 will replace the UK’s participation in Erasmus+. The programme will provide similar opportunities for students to study and work abroad as the Erasmus+ programme and will include countries across the world.

Once the overall deal has been ratified by all sides and the Horizon Europe and ITER programme regulations have been finalised there will be a formal process between the UK and the EU to conclude the association agreement.

Horizon 2020 and ETC (Interreg) 2014-20

Successful UK bids, awarded or to be awarded, will continue to receive EU grant funding from the Commission for the lifetime of individual Horizon 2020 projects. This includes calls that end after 1 January 2021.

The Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU confirms that 2014-20 ETC programmes (includes Interreg) will be able to continue with UK project partners, and UK project partners can continue delivering their projects in line with existing programme rules and timescales. See here for FAQs for existing Interreg award holders.

UK have opted out of the following:

The UK has announced that it will not participate in European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) programmes in 2021-2027, and the UK government will not be pursuing participation in European Territorial Cooperation programmes in 2021-2027, which includes Interreg.

There are a few EU programmes where the UK’s access is excluded, which currently includes:

  • Erasmus student exchange programme (see above)
  • Galileo satellite navigation system’s encrypted military signal
  • European Innovation Council
  • Next Generation EU $750bn Covid-recovery programme
  • European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System (EGNOS) for “safety critical applications”, such as flying aircraft or navigating ships through narrow channels

Further information

More information can be found here:

RDS will provide further information in due course.

UKRO annual 2020 (remote) meeting with BU academics

As usual, RDS will host an annual UK Research Office visit to BU in 2020.

This year’s event has been scheduled for November 18 and is organised in a form of a remote zoom meeting. Please make a note in your diaries – all academic staff interested in EU funding, the new Horizon Europe framework programme and future implications of Brexit are invited to attend the event.

The event will be hosted and run by our UKRO European Advisor Ms Malgorzata Czerwiec from Brussels.

At this point, we have a draft agenda and some input from academics before finalising the agenda, as a minimum to register your interest to attend particular session by 6th November 2020, will be appreciated.

The link to the zoom meeting will be provided after the registration is closed; some of agenda items may be changed or removed depending on your feedback.

Please see the draft agenda below and register your attendance preferences (at the end of the registration, click on DONE button to complete the form).

Draft agenda of the webinar

10:30 – 11:45

UK Participation in Horizon 2020

BU involvement in H2020

Update on Horizon Europe developments

12:00 – 12:40

H2020 Evaluation process and proposal writing hints and tips + questions – session for PIs involved in the Green Deal Call for proposal submission

In the afternoon

Previously booked one-to-one sessions with UKRO representative

Obviously, lunch will not be provided this year, although there will be some flexibility to have a coffee at home or in the office between the sessions.

During registration, academics are welcome to submit any other EU funding related topics for discussion; those may either be included in one of the above sessions or discussed individually during one-to-one meeting.

UKRO delivers subscription-based advisory service for research organisations and provides Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) and European Research Council (ERC) National Contact Point services in the UK. As part of UKRO services, BU members of staff may sign up to receive personalised email alerts and get early access to the EU funding related publications on UKRO portal.

Please contact Research Facilitator International Ainar Blaudums if you have further questions.

Save the date – 18 November 2019 – UKRO Annual Visit to BU

As usual, RDS will host annual UK Research Office visit to BU in 2019. This year’s event has been scheduled for November; the reason is obvious – Brexit. All academic staff interested in EU funding are invited to attend the event starting from noon.

Provisionally, the event will take place in FG04 seminar room; sessions will be delivered by Dr Andreas Kontogeorgos, European Advisor of the UK Research Office.
Agenda will include such topics as post-Brexit situation, remaining Horizon 2020 calls available for UK’s researchers in 2020 and development of the next EU framework programme Horizon Europe.

More information on agenda will be provided in early November. Academics are welcome to submit any other EU funding related topics for discussion to Ainar Blaudums at RDS Funding Development Team by the end of October.

UKRO delivers subscription-based advisory service for research organisations and provides MSCA and ERC National Contact Point services in the UK. As part of UKRO services, BU members of staff may sign up to receive personalised email alerts and get early access to EU funding related publications on UKRO portal.

Update on Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe

The European Commission published the updated 2018-2020 Work Programme of Horizon 2020, which includes details of the last calls for proposals launched under the programme. The last Work Programme is intended to be a bridge between Horizon 2020 and the next EU framework programme for research and innovation – Horizon Europe, which will start on 1 January 2021.

This Work Programme, with a total budget of more than €11 billion, will support the Commission’s political priorities in the following areas:

  • A low-carbon, climate resilient future: €3.7 billion;
  • Circular economy: €1 billion;
  • Digitising and transforming European industry and services: €1.8 billion; and
  • Security Union: €1 billion.

The updated Work Programme parts can be found in the ‘Reference documents‘ section of the Funding & Tenders Portal (to find necessary Work Programme part, use filter ‘Horizon 2020 Framework Programme (H2020)’ and select ‘Work Programmes’ from the menu).

The UK and the EU have agreed a flexible Brexit extension for six months to 31 October 2019. During the extension period, the UK will remain a member of the EU with all the relevant rights and obligations. This means that UK organisations can continue to participate in Horizon 2020 as a Member State, and remain eligible to apply for Horizon 2020 funding. This includes requesting the relevant part of the project’s budget as an EU contribution.

The government’s no deal guarantees remain in place to ensure continuity of funding in a no-deal scenario. The UK government has committed to underwrite competitive UK bids to EU funding submitted before exit, even if they are notified of their success after exit, for the lifetime of the projects.

The UK government Post EU Exit Guarantee Extension would cover funding for successful UK bids to EU calls open to third country participants from the date of exit until end of 2020. The guarantee would cover the lifetime of their projects, even if these last beyond 2020.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has been appointed to manage the UK government’s guarantee and post-EU exit extension.

Update on Horizon Europe and Brexit

Horizon Europe

 According to the Research Professional, Governments in the Council of the EU reached an agreement on the specific programme for Horizon Europe on 15 April. Agreement describes the rules for the structure of new instruments such as the European Innovation Council, areas for R&D missions and the process of “strategic planning” that will produce detailed work programmes for allocating funding.

Much of the content of the specific programme had already been covered by the more overarching partial political agreement on Horizon Europe reached between the Commission, Council and Parliament in March. However, some areas remain to be decided, in particular those setting out the budget for Horizon Europe and the rules of association for non-EU countries.

Brexit

According to the information available on UKRO portal, the UK and the EU have agreed to extend Article 50 until 31 October 2019. During the extension, the UK is an EU Member State, and UK organisations can continue to participate in and submit bids to Horizon 2020 on a Member State basis. This includes requesting the relevant part of the project’s budget as an EU contribution.

If an agreement between the UK and the EU is reached, projects approved during this period will be able to continue with an uninterrupted flow of EU funding. In no-deal scenario, the UK Government has committed to underwrite competitive UK bids to the EU funding submitted before exit, even if they are notified of their success after leaving the EU.

The government is seeking discussions with the European Commission to agree the details of our continued participation in Horizon 2020 as a third country after the exit. BU has informed the UK Government and provided basic data about all on-going Horizon 2020 projects. This will support the continuity of funding flow in case the UK Government’s underwrite mechanism should be implemented.

Please send your questions and other queries related to BU participation in the EU funded grant applications over to Research Development and Support.

 

HE Policy Update for the w/e 15th February 2019

We expect that Philip Augar will publish the report of his independent panel shortly.  The Panel is advising the Department for Education on the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding and the Augar report has been badged by the DfE as an “interim” report.  Although the Augar report will no doubt grab headlines, after much speculation and many alleged leaks over the last few months, it is only an interim report, and we will need to see what the DfE’s final report says.  The Review itself was originally expected to report in March 2019- but may be delayed for other priorities.  The government is expected to consult before implementing any changes, and had previously announced that any significant changes would take at least two years to implement.

Sadly both your resident policy wonks will be out of circulation next week but you can expect a bumper edition including the reaction from across the sector when we return.

You’ll find a link to the report here when it is published.

Brexit

So another string of meaningless votes this week – the next voting the fun will apparently take place in the last week of February.  Having had their half term holiday cancelled next week the focus in Parliament will be on the secondary legislation required for Brexit rather than on the deal itself.  The BBC has this useful explainer on the timing of all of this

The Lords European Union Committee has published their inquiry report on Brexit: the Erasmus and Horizon Programmes.  You will recall that the government have confirmed that in a no deal scenario there is no back up plan for Erasmus, and that while students and staff already receiving funding will be protected, there is likely to be a gap before any new arrangements can be finalised.

The conclusions are set out below:

  • The UK is a respected and important partner in both the Erasmus and Horizon programmes. It is a popular destination for mobility placements and a world leader in research with an exceptionally strong science base. The UK receives substantial amounts of funding from EU programmes, and other less tangible benefits built on decades of international cooperation with European partners. We strongly believe—and it was the unanimous view of our witnesses—that it is in the UK and the EU’s mutual interest to preserve current close levels of cooperation on research and innovation and educational mobility. We are encouraged by positive indications in the Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship that this will be possible.

Educational exchanges

  • The Erasmus programme has played a significant role in facilitating the international mobility of people studying and working in the fields of education, training, youth, and sport in the UK. The programme offers unparalleled financial support and flexibility to enable people from lower income backgrounds, and those with medical needs or disabilities, to take part in educational exchanges. The Government should seek to ensure the UK remains part of this important initiative by seeking full association to the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme.
  • The cost of participating in the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme is likely to be higher than for Erasmus+, as it will have double the overall budget. Nevertheless, we consider this a worthwhile investment to maintain access to Erasmus and the partnerships the UK has built within Europe through the programme over the past 30 years. It is clear, as the Minister himself noted, that the value of Erasmus cannot be measured simply in terms of financial contributions and receipts.
  • As an associated third country the UK would be able to attend Erasmus programme committees but would lose its voting rights, reducing the UK’s strategic influence over the programme. We are reassured, however, that these meetings operate mainly on a collaborative basis and non-EU programme countries are regarded as “valued partners”.
  • As a non-associated third country, the UK would not even have a seat at the table in Erasmus programme committees, and UK participants would have access to less funding and fewer exchange opportunities. We do not consider this to be an attractive option.
  • If association to Erasmus cannot be negotiated, it will be essential to establish an alternative UK mobility scheme. ….Even with comparative financial investment, however, it will be impossible to replicate aspects of Erasmus which are key to facilitating international exchanges, namely, the programme’s strong brand, trusted reputation, common rulebook and framework for partnership agreements, and its established network of potential partners.
  • Launching a new UK mobility scheme—or increasing investment in existing schemes—to extend mobility opportunities beyond Europe would be welcome in addition to continued participation in Erasmus….

Research

  • We note the Government’s commitment to increase spending on research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and look forward to an ambitious new International Research and Innovation Strategy which affirms the centrality of research and innovation to technological progress and the future economic prosperity of the UK.
  • A key part of this strategy should be to prioritise continued access to EU research framework programmes by securing association to Horizon Europe. The Government should ensure UK universities retain full access to EU funding opportunities and can participate in, and lead, collaborative research projects.
  • We note that the UK’s access to Horizon Europe will be commensurate with the financial contribution it is willing to make to the programme. Given the anticipated increase in the budget for Horizon Europe, this is likely to be larger than the UK’s contribution to Horizon 2020. The financial rebalancing mechanism set out in the draft Horizon Europe Regulation would also prevent the UK from being a net beneficiary of EU research funding, as is currently the case. Nonetheless, an increased programme budget means that Horizon Europe will be able to support more grants and collaborative research projects than its predecessor. We urge the Government to agree an appropriate level of financial contributions to ensure the UK can access these opportunities.
  • As an associated third country, the UK would have observer status in Horizon Europe programme committees but no vote and so would not have the same influence over the strategic direction of the programme as an EU Member State. Even so, given the strength of the UK’s science base and the significant role played by scientists in shaping research programmes, witnesses were confident that the UK can still remain an influential player in European research and innovation. We note that it will be important for the UK to “strike the right tone” in this regard, by seeking to ensure appropriate accountability for UK funds spent via Horizon Europe rather than by exercising overt political influence.
  • If the UK participated in Horizon Europe on a ‘non-associated’ third country basis, it would lose access to key funding opportunities—notably European Research Council grants and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions—and would be left without any credible means of influencing the future development and funding priorities of the programme. While limited participation in Horizon Europe would still provide the UK with unique opportunities for collaboration which could not be replicated at the national level, it is clear that full association is the most desirable outcome for UK research and innovation.
  • Additional UK research programmes will be needed to replace EU funding opportunities, if the Government is not willing or able to secure association to Horizon Europe. These programmes should maintain the breadth of funding across different subject areas and institutions provided by EU research programmes, and support advanced scientific research and international collaboration. The Government should work with the research community to determine what key features of EU funding should be retained in UK replacement programmes, such as the excellence-based funding criteria of the European Research Council.
  • We commend UKRI’s willingness to work to develop prestigious domestic alternatives to EU schemes, if the UK loses access to them after Brexit. However, we note that it would take many years to emulate the tried and tested mechanism for international research collaboration provided by the EU framework programmes, the established research partnerships they support, and the EU’s joint infrastructure capabilities.

Cross-cutting issues

  • The ongoing lack of clarity over the future availability of EU funds for mobility and research is causing considerable concern among students and researchers in the UK. Although association cannot be secured until negotiations on the draft 2021–2027 Horizon and Erasmus Regulations are complete, the Government should confirm its intentions regarding future UK participation in these programmes as soon as possible to maximise certainty and stability for potential participants, and enable them to plan for any changes.
  • Whether the UK continues to participate in EU programmes or not, it will be important to ensure the UK’s immigration policy facilitates the frictionless exchange of students and researchers across borders. We welcome the Government’s confirmation in its recent Immigration White Paper that the UK will continue to welcome talented international scientists and researchers. The Government should work closely with the research community to ensure the UK visa system accommodates this ambition. Given the significant positive benefits international students bring to the UK, we also support the Government’s decision not to impose a cap on international student numbers.

Migration

From Dods: Universities UK have called on the Government to lower the proposed salary requirement for EEA workers to obtain a high-skilled visa to £21,000. Giving evidence at the Public Bill Committee on the Immigration Bill, this lays out for the first time the university sector’s specific feedback on the Migration Advisory Committee’s proposals.

Vivienne Stern, Director of UUKi, said: “While we recognise that migration checks and controls are necessary, they must not be at the cost of losing talent and leaving ourselves with a skills shortage at a time when focusing on productivity and growth is more important than ever. The Home Secretary himself has given our sector as an example of one where the higher threshold could be harmful. If the government works towards a threshold of £21,000, we feel this would allow recruitment for most technician and language assistant roles in the HE sector.”

Also from Dods: Migration Watch UK have published a paper arguing that, total net migration to the UK would increase by just over half to about 380,000/year if the proposals in the white paper become the basis of the future immigration system.

  • The inflow of EU workers will continue at two-thirds of the average of the last five years.  In total, therefore, we estimate that EU inflows will be approximately 160,000/year once the new immigration system comes into effect following the end of the transition period.
  • We expect to see a total inflow of about 550,000/year from outside the EU following the end of the transition period. This is an increase of over 20% on the latest five-year period.
  • In effect, EU migrants would be replaced – and more – by migrants from the rest of the world. The Government claim that their policy will restore sovereign control of our borders. In reality it will lead to higher levels of immigration

Civic Universities

From Dods: The UPP Foundation has published a report on strengthening the connection between universities and their places. This argues that the industrial strategy and devolution agenda have presented an opening for universities to pursue a more place based approach.

Recommendations:

  • The Civic University Agreement – Civic Universities should enshrine their analysis and strategy in a Civic University Agreement that is co-created and signed by other key civic partners. .We think that the starting point for Civic University Agreements has to be:
    • Understanding local populations, and asking them what they want.
    • Understanding themselves,
    • Working with other local anchor institutions, businesses and community organisations
    • A clear set of priorities.
  • Measuring and incentivising the success of the civic university. There should be a three-part approach to measuring – and therefore incentivising – the success of the civic university
    • Local measurement
    • Removing perverse measurement. It is clear that some of the current measures of teaching and research – which are often designed by government, rather than universities – mitigate against civic activity. Removing those is vital and in particular:
      • Reducing the reliance of measures such as LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes) in high stakes metrics such as TEF, that penalises universities for releasing graduates into regional labour markets with lower employment outcomes, or into self-employment which often involves a period of low / no wages.
      • Any suggestion – linguistic or otherwise – in things like the REF that ‘local research’ is by definition inferior to international research
    • National measurement. …In particular the KEF (Knowledge Exchange Framework) must be a broad measure of civic impact not purely research innovation
  • Funding the civic
    • A new fund – the Civic University Fund. A new fund should be created that allows universities to bid for resources that will allow them to implement their strategies. We think that the fund should be worth around £500m over a 5 year period, with universities bidding on a competitive basis for multi-year projects
    • Doubling the Strength in Places Fund, As announced in the Industrial Strategy White Paper and run by UKRI. The Fund offers £10m-£50m investments for a small number of place-based consortia to work together on innovative projects that build on existing research and innovation capabilities, with the goal of tackling regional disparities by improving the local economy in specific areas. The Government announced in the Autumn 2018 Budget that there would be another £120m for a second round of SIPF. We recommend that this second wave of funding is doubled.
    • Widening Participation/attainment fund.
  • Spreading good civic practice
    • We recommend that a Network for the Civic University is established.

Lord Kerslake said: The importance of this civic role is also growing. As the United Kingdom grapples with the challenges of low growth, low productivity, the impact of austerity and widening spatial inequalities, universities can be (alongside local authorities and the heath sector), significant ‘anchor institutions’, able to make an enormous impact on the success of their places.

Financial sustainability

There was a debate in the House of Commons on 12th February on the financial sustainability of the sector.  Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner asked the Minister to make an urgent statement on the financial statement of universities in the UK.  You can read the whole debate on Hansard here

Responding for the Department of Education, Universities Minister Chris Skidmore expressed concern but said: “This Government recognises the importance of the higher education sector and the massive contribution it makes to this country. We recognise the multiple challenges the sector is facing and that these will require institutions to adapt to a more competitive and uncertain environment […] But ultimately, as autonomous bodies, the financial viability of universities is a matter for the leadership of the HE providers themselves.”

Angela Rayner asked:

  • The Minister said that he is working with the Office for Students towards establishing student protection plans. Can he clarify how many universities do not have plans in place? When will he ensure that they all do? What will it mean in practice? Will students be left with a refund but no qualification after years of study? HEFCE had a list of universities of financial concern. Can the Minister tell us whether the new regulator has such a list and how many providers are currently of concern? Last year, it granted at least one £1 million emergency loan. Can he tell the House how many others have been issued? The new regulator has now said that “The OfS will not bail out providers in financial difficulty.” Is that Government policy and from when does it apply?
  • Can the Minister confirm that his Government have also handed universities a £200 million pensions bill but no new funding to meet those costs? Is he lobbying the Treasury to change that? The Office for National Statistics has demanded that the Government end the “fiscal illusion” of pretending that all loans for fees are repaid. When will the Government follow that ruling? Given the uncertainty that universities now face, can he tell the House whether the Augar review will be published this year? Will he guarantee that any proposals on tuition fees will not lead to cutting universities’ funding?

And the Minister responded: Ultimately, these are autonomous bodies and leaders of HE providers are responsible for ensuring their institutions’ financial viability. They are not part of the public sector; they are autonomous institutions. During the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, a key point voted on by Labour Members was that universities would remain independent and autonomous. The OfS will therefore work closely with providers in financial difficulty, but neither the OfS nor the Department for Education will prop up failing providers. The OfS may enhance its monitoring or impose a specific condition of registration, requiring a provider to improve its financial performance, but we need providers at risk of any financial difficulties to come forward, so that we and the OfS can work with them on improving those registration conditions, which may require a provider to strengthen its student protection plan.

When asked about student number caps, the Minister said: I am proud to be a member of the Government who reduced the student number cap between 2012 and 2015, and eventually abolished it in 2016, allowing a record number of students to access higher education. We know that, going into the 2020s, we will need a knowledge-based economy, so it is right that we allow more people the opportunity to succeed in their ambition to achieve a degree. Abolishing student finance by looking at fee levels would simply give away a fee freeze to the children of millionaires while capping the number of students who could attend university.

When asked about international student recruitment, the Minister said: When it comes to international students, the Government are absolutely determined to press forward and look internationally at what we can do. Our universities are world-class and world-leading organisations. We have had roughly 460,000 applications from the EU and internationally this year—the highest level of applications ever seen. We will be publishing an international education strategy in the spring. We are clear that we have removed the cap on international student numbers, and we want to do more to ensure that we can increase our ability to compete not just nationally but internationally with other countries that also recognise the value of higher education at the international level.

Widening participation

NEON have published a report about white working class participation. Dr. Graeme Atherton, Director of NEON and co-author of the report states:

  • ‘This report shows that while there is some innovative work being undertaken in the HE sector to address the low levels of participation of this group of students, big variability exists in their chances of participating in HE across providers. We need to know more about why this variability exists and do more to eliminate it’.
  • The report argues that action on a number of fronts is needed. This includes more explicit targets for improvement across HE providers, looking again at the data used to define who is in this group of learners and securing longer term funding commitments to activities to support participation in HE or these students. It also argues for a national initiative to address the educational performance of white learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds which brings together schools, colleges and the HE sector.

From the report:

  • White young people in receipt of free school meals (FSM) are the least likely, next to those from Gypsy/Roma backgrounds, of any group to enter HE. White students make up the majority of those in areas where HE attendance is the lowest.
  • There is huge variability in the participation of the group across higher education providers in England. Exciting work is being undertaken to address this challenge but the strategic commitment to it also appears variable.
  • Most white students from LPN attend larger ‘post 1992’ universities – over 70% of all white students from LPN backgrounds attend these universities
  • But white students are found in the highest percentages in further education colleges – the number of white students from LPN is approaching 50% of the whole student body in some colleges.
  • Big differences in levels of participation for white students from LPN exist by HE provider – In over 50% of university providers less than 5% of their students are white and from LPN backgrounds. If these providers raised the level of participation of HE in their institutions to 5% there would be nearly 10,000 more white students from LPN backgrounds studying in HE.
  • Big differences in the chances of white students from LPN being accepted exist by HE provider – of all applications to HE by students from this background, only 22% are accepted. The chances of being accepted differ greatly by provider, with over 50% of universities accepting less than 20% of the applications they receive from these students
  • Strategic commitment to supporting participation for this group is low – despite many universities only admitting a very small number of these students (and some admitting none at all), less than 20% of HEIs have targets in their Access and Participation Plans (APP) related to white students from LPN.
  • More are trying to address the needs of the group than 3 years ago, but there are limitations in what access work alone can achieve
  • Most HE providers do not target outreach work explicitly at this group. Over 70% of those who responded to the survey are trying to ensure that existing projects reach students from this background. Less than 40% were doing work specifically with male students and less than 12% with female students.

Recommendations

  • Recommendation 1: Set specific targets for white students from lower SEG entering HE
  • Recommendation 2: Re-define widening participation target groups
  • Recommendation 3: Ensure National of Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) investment continues after 2020-21
  • Recommendation 4: Focus equally on working class male and female students
  • Recommendation 5: A national initiative to address the educational performance of white learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds

Dr Graeme Atherton writes on Research Professional here

And in a related story, The Bridge Group have published a report on geographical isolation and progression to Higher Education. This argues that,

  • In the context of thinking about the influence of geographical remoteness, the concentration of policy on ‘fair access’ and ‘widening access’ has taken precedence over more material matters regarding physical access to educational opportunities and the even distribution of resources across the further and higher education sector”.

Professor Danny Dorling (University of Oxford and author of report Foreword): The recommendations in this report will help to initiate the changes required to begin to mitigate some of the worst effects of the opportunity landscape we have created.

Dr Sarah Dauncey (Head of Policy, Bridge Group and lead author of the report): “This report gathers together an array of perspectives and data to identify the barriers to progression faced by young people experiencing financial hardship who live in remote areas. We give voice to the needs and interests of this group of young people who have been overlooked by policymakers, and establish implementable solutions to transform their educational outcomes.”

Key findings

  • The prevailing model of social mobility is widely regarded as unhelpful for remote communities. It places too much emphasis on supporting young people to achieve highly in school in order to leave their local area for higher education and training and secure a graduate job. This means that communities in remote areas are depleted of highly talented young people who have a vital part to play in energising local cultures and economies. …
  • There is a weak evidence base on the relationship between geographical isolation, socio-economic deprivation, school-level attainment, and progression. We have encountered numerous obstacles in trying to redress this deficiency through quantitative data collection and analyses. …
  • Pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds in rural areas have lower levels of attainment compared to their peers in urban schools…
  • A pupil’s distance from school can impact on their capacity to engage in after school enrichment activity; and a school’s isolation from other schools, employers, charities, colleges, and higher education institutions may affect their capacity to offer a diverse range of additional high quality provision. The pressures on resourcing are more keenly felt without the support of external providers.
  • Educational and widening participation interventions are predominantly focused on deprived areas rather than on the location of deprived individuals, often disregarding the dispersed nature of rural poverty. This has a negative effect on those from lower socio-economic backgrounds living in remote areas.
  • Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds living at a distance from higher education institutions, who do not have the option to commute, are faced with more complex decision-making around participation.
  • Deprivation indices have been consistently shown to be dominated by the characteristics of urban populations and are less able to describe rural deprivation.
  • The higher education sector lacks hard evidence on the spatial distribution of outreach activity and there is no imperative for institutions to consider place in their approach to targeting.

There is a long list of recommendations but some are here

  • Social mobility policy – Government and policymakers should weaken the link between geographical mobility and social mobility and recognise the attraction of place. For too long, there has been a connection between ‘moving on’ and ‘moving up’ which involves treating people as ‘a-spatial’ and assumes a narrow, economic idea of mobility. The economic domination of London and large urban centres has meant that the greatest career rewards, in economic terms, are received by those who are mobile and willing to move to large, ‘escalator’ cities. This yoking of social mobility with geographical mobility has a negative impact on those who have a strong attachment to place and choose to remain in more remote areas.
  • Strengthening the evidence base – Government departments must work collaboratively to improve access to the evidence base ….
  • Schools – Schools with average or below average levels of Pupil Premium pupils should work cooperatively to pool expertise and resources to narrow the gap in attainment. Clusters of schools need to be established with shared strategic objectives to develop and offer a range of interventions to better support pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds and ensure on-going professional development. …Schools should monitor participation in ‘enrichment’ activities and make provision to ensure accessibility and inclusivity…. Schools serving sparsely populated areas should have additional, ring-fenced funding to recognise the increased costs associated with supporting progression to further and higher education.
  • Further and higher education –
    • Improve understanding of the geographical distribution of outreach activities, particularly those to raise attainment and promote progression. We need to better understand the way that each higher education institution spends its widening participation budget in terms of place.
    • Increased investment in further education and the creation of a national qualification structure at level 4 and 5. For many young people living in isolated areas who choose to remain at home, the lack of choice, quality, and funding available for sub-degree qualifications has a huge impact on their employment outcomes. Increased funding and status needs to be awarded to further education colleges to recognise the vital role they play in remote parts of the country in providing opportunities for learners of all ages.
  • Third sector – Greater flexibility towards measures of deprivation by grant-awarding bodies and increased recognition of the influence of geographical isolation on educational outcomes. Grant-awarding bodies need to adjust their measures of deprivation to recognise the influence of geographical isolation on attainment and progression to higher education and scrutinise their reliance on Free School Meals (FSM) and POLAR as proxies for economic deprivation. This would encourage more charitable organisations to intervene to narrow the gap in attainment and promote progression in remote areas.
  • Increased recognition should be given to the role that the third sector is already playing in identifying remote areas and working with higher education institutions to deliver impactful outreach programmes. The Office for Students (OfS) could do more to identify organisations with particular expertise in working in remote areas to help higher education institutions to develop new creative partnerships.

Sarah Dauncey also wrote on Wonkhe

Technical Education

From Dods: The DfE and Institute for Apprenticeships have awarded Pearson and NCFE contracts to deliver the first three T-levels from 2020.

  • Awarding Organisation NCFE has been awarded a contract to deliver the Education and Childcare T Level
  • Pearson has been awarded contracts to deliver T Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning as well Digital Production, Design and Development.

Around 50 further education and post-16 providers will teach these T Level programmes from September 2020.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: This is a major step forward in our work to upgrade technical education in this country. T Levels are a once in a generation opportunity to create high-quality technical education courses on a par with the best in the world, so that young people gain the skills and experience they need to secure a good job, an apprenticeship or progress into further training.

Lord Sainsbury, Chair of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, said: I am delighted that we have reached this milestone in the roll-out of the T Levels programme. With the first schools and colleges to offer T Levels in 2020 well advanced in their preparations, and now confirmation of these initial awarding organisations, I am confident that we remain on track to deliver the transformation to technical education that this country so desperately needs

To support the further education sector to deliver the new T Level programmes, the government will provide an additional half a billion pounds every year once they are all fully rolled out.

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, delivered a speech focussing on creating, “an education and training system that genuinely nurtures the talent we need for the future and creates a ladder of opportunity long and strong enough for each and every young person to climb”.

The speech was delivered at The Edge Foundation on 11th February 2019 and you can read more here

  • Replace GCSEs at 16 with a holistic Baccalaureate at 18 which reflects a young person’s academic and creative achievements, alongside skills and personal development
  • Recognise the value of Further Education colleges and ensure they are properly funded
  • Give teachers back autonomy in the classroom; more high quality CPD; enable them to develop projects in partnership with local businesses and community organisations, to bring learning to life
  • Measure schools by completion of the baccalaureate at 18 and the destinations of their pupils in the years after leaving; make apprenticeships a gold standard destination
  • Question the effectiveness and value for money provided by the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) “who are spraying money around like confetti”
  • Despite skills shortage vacancies doubling since 2011 to 226,000, in 2017, latest figure from ONS show in the first quarter of 2018, there were 320,000 young people aged 16-14 who were NEET and unemployed.

There’s a BBC story about it here

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HE Policy update for the w/e 4th January 2019

Happy New Year to all our readers! There was a flurry just before Christmas…some of that is here along with the first news of January

Value for money

To start the new year off on the right foot, as we await the Augur recommendations on the post-18 review, Wonkhe have some analysis of a recent poll.

“A poll conducted by YouGov for The Times, and published on January 2nd, sits very much in the instrumentalist camp. It takes the near universal sticker price of £9,250/year, and then cuts and shuts “the standard of education” and “the wages graduates earn” as the things that either do mean it’s “worth the money”, or don’t “warrant the cost”.”

“Do you think too many children in Britain go to university, not enough go to university or the number is about right

  • Too many go to university (40%)
  • Not enough go to university (19%)
  • The number is about right (21%)
  • Don’t know (19%)

“In England, universities can currently charge tuition fees of up to £9,250 a year. Do you think this is or is not value for money?

  • Is value for money – the standard of education and the increased wages graduates earn mean it is worth the money (17%)
  • Is not value for money – the standard of education and the wages graduates earn are not enough to warrant the cost (64%)
  • Don’t know (19%)”

Wonkhe’s view:

  • Looked at internationally the (world class) QAA judgements would suggest that the UK compares well with other national systems of HE. But if you look at individual student experience, the picture may be mixed – though it is difficult to disentangle personal aspects (did said student actually do any work?) with institutional failings (was the teaching actually up to scratch?)
  • We’ve been over many of the return on investment arguments in our coverage of LEO data and related releases. Suffice it to say that the earnings of those who graduated up to a decade ago are of questionable relevance to those starting their study in 2019. Even if you discount the way that the graduate labour market (and the wider economy) has changed in the past and is likely to change in the future, institutions and courses are almost certainly taught in different ways, by different staff, to students from different backgrounds, than they were a decade ago.

And:

  • We could have guessed most of the above already – it’s why May overruled DfE and called the Post 18 review in the first place. The question is whether the sector has the wherewithal to fill in some of the detail – the absence of which allows sloppy polling to fill in the blanks.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any research that asks whether £9,250 a year for a degree place represents good value for money regardless of the balance of the contribution between student (graduate) and state – surely a missed opportunity for the sector to protect (and justify) the unit of resource?
  • We’re still pretty much in the dark about the true “costs” of HE for most undergrads – rent, food, books and travel. How many students are going to take a positive value for money message into their twenties if they couldn’t afford it in the first place?
  • And as long as we have a repayment system whose subsidies only reveal themselves if you are at the end of your career and economically unsuccessful, we shouldn’t be surprised by a negative reaction to a VFM question.

Our view: given these perspectives, and there is no reason to think that the poll is wrong, even if we could argue with the assumptions behind it and the way that the questions are asked, how likely is it that the government will respond to the £12m deficit hit from the accounting changes to student loans (however illusory it is) by saying “oh well, if we’re in for £12m we may as well do the thing properly, and reintroduce maintenance grants, find extra money for FE and adjust the student loan terms further to benefit WP students”.  Not very likely?  2019 will be fun…..

OfS report –evaluation of access and participation outreach interventions

This OfS report – Understanding the evaluation of access and participation outreach interventions for under-16 year olds was published on 13th December

HEPs generally identified similar challenges and barriers to effective evaluation as those highlighted by earlier work (Crawford et al., 2017a; Harrison and Waller, 2017) – e.g. resources, data availability, senior buy-in and staff skills. The principal distinction was that outreach with the pre-16 age group was felt to be considerably harder to evaluate than outreach with post-16 groups due to the long time-lag between activities and desired outcomes (i.e. application to higher education (HE)), including the following epistemological issues:

  • Concerns about the validity of self-report data on long-range attitudes to HE, especially when collected within or soon after an activity;
  • Difficulties collecting meaningful data from younger age groups, especially in primary and lower secondary phases;
  • A shortage of robust metrics or approaches to identify modest learning gains (e.g. below a whole GCSE grade) and their attribution to specific activities;
  • Disentangling the unique contribution of outreach in the complex social field inhabited by young people, with multiple influences and school-led activities;
  • Understanding how individual outreach activities combine over time to influence young people and whether their effects are genuinely additive.

 In addition, the project team identified several potential concerns within the reported evaluation practices, including (a) an over-reliance on descriptive statistics and low use of inferential and/or multivariate analysis (where appropriate), (b) a continuing emphasis on ‘aspiration raising’ as the guiding purpose of outreach activity despite its questionable role in influencing attainment or HE participation, and (c) a conflation of evaluation, monitoring and tracking data, with an unclear engagement with causality.

Evaluation practice was overall found to be somewhat stronger within the third sector organisations (TSOs). In part, this was due to the more focused portfolio of activities provided by these organisations – often a single activity or year group. However, there were also clear elements of good practice that could readily be adopted by HEPs:

  • A clear prioritisation of evaluation as an integral element of delivery, with a culture in which evaluation is foregrounded: well-resourced, with expert staffing and a clear role in both evidencing impact (summative) and honing practice (formative);
  • The use of ‘theory of change’ as a thinking tool to understand and plan how changes in knowledge, attitudes or behaviours might be achieved through specific activities and to challenge underpinning assumptions;
  • A preference for measuring impact through ‘intermediate steps’ towards HE participation (e.g. increased self-efficacy, confidence or career-planning skills) over a focus on long-range aspirations for HE;
  • A stronger engagement with the research literature, especially in evidencing the value of forms of activity (e.g. mentoring) and the use of validated and cognitively tested inventories to measure psychological or sociological constructs.

The project team recommend that the Office for Students (OfS) should promote the elements discussed in point 5 above to guide the future development of evaluation practice. The team believes that these dovetail well with previous work on standards of evidence (Crawford et al., 2017b) by providing a framework for evaluation practice to achieve stronger forms of evidence.

To this end, a separate report for HEPs includes (a) a development tool to suggest incremental improvements to their current practices, and (b) a brief collection of contextualised thinking tools to extend their critical engagement with evidence of impact. An evaluation self-assessment tool has been developed and delivered to the OfS for further development and piloting. These are not intended to form a ‘final word’ in guidance to HEPs, but rather a resource to help to frame the ongoing discussions that the project team have witnessed within the sector.

Major recommendations for the OFS

  1. The OfS should continue with the second phase of work as outlined in the original invitation to tender, comprising work to determine which ‘intermediate steps’ are most appropriate for HEPs to use to plan and evaluate pre-16 outreach activities.
  2. We recommend that HEPs be encouraged to benchmark their evaluation practices against those of their peers with a similar organisational mission and profile of expenditure on access. A proposal for a self-assessment tool has been put forward to the OfS for further development and piloting.
  3. The OfS should make the following changes to its guidance to HEPs about their future Access and Participation Plans:
  4. HEPs should be required to provide separate details through the OfS regulatory processes, covering both pre-16 outreach activities and how they are evaluated;
  5. A minimum expectation of evaluation practice should be made of HEPs based on their overall access spending – this might be based around the 10 per cent ‘rule of thumb’ used more generally in the field of evaluation;
  6. Data on HEPs’ spending on evaluation should be collected, whether or not a minimum expectation is established.
  7. The OfS should encourage HEPs to engage with the tools provided in the accompanying document and especially to promote the use of a ‘theory of change’ approach for planning and evaluating pre-16 outreach.
  8. The OfS should consider working with an HEP to develop a postgraduate certificate (or similar) in outreach evaluation that becomes an expected standard for staff working in HEP outreach teams.

Apprenticeships

The Government have published their response to the Education Select Committee Inquiry report into the quality of apprenticeships and skills training. The Education Committee’s report made a series of recommendations to boost apprenticeships and deliver high quality skills training, including an expanded role for Ofsted inspections and a training cap on new providers. The report also called for more support for apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds, through measures such as the creation of bursaries and help with travel costs.

There were 27 recommendations so we have picked out a few here:

Quality

  • Recommendation 1: Government should monitor bodies responsible for quality and ensure they have requisite resources.

Response: To reflect the growth in the apprenticeships provider market, we agreed additional funding of £5.4 million for Ofsted to undertake monitoring visits of new apprenticeship training providers within their inspection remit (Levels 2 – 5), within 24 months of the provider’s funding start date.

  • Recommendation 6: The Institute should make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority.

Response: We disagree that the growth of degree apprenticeships should be treated as a strategic priority in isolation. We do not prioritise degree apprenticeships over other apprenticeships because the reforms are employer-led, so the apprenticeships developed are those that employers have said they want. This makes sure that the apprenticeships we offer are responsive to the needs of business.

  • Recommendation 9: The Government should conduct pilots with apprentices and businesses to explore the effect of introducing greater flexibility in the amount of off-the-job training required by each apprenticeship standard.

Response: Although some employers would like more flexibility on this, many employers are supportive of the 20 per cent minimum requirement. The 20 per cent minimum requirement is in line with international best practice.

  • Recommendation 10: The transition from apprenticeship frameworks to standards has been mismanaged by successive Governments. Employers have been let down.

Response: Standards are being taken up with enthusiasm by employers across a wide range of sectors, and we are already hearing from employers, providers and apprentices how they are creating a real step up in the quality of apprenticeships across the country.

  • Recommendation 12: The Government should increase the top funding band to better match the full cost of delivery for some apprenticeships. It should also double the time employers have to spend their funds to 48 months and allow them to transfer more of these funds to firms in their supply chain.

Response: There is little evidence to suggest that the maximum funding limit is restricting starts, and while we currently have no plans to change the limit, we will keep funding bands under review. The Committee will welcome the fact that we have already announced an increase to the level of funds an employer can transfer to organisations including those in their supply chain.

  • Recommendation 15: The Government should tighten the requirements on providers who subcontract their provision.

Response: The accountability for outcomes and delivery against the funding contract lies with the main contractor and that is who needs to be held to account. That is why Ofsted cover quality and management of subcontracted provision when they inspect directly funded providers.

Social Justice

  • Recommendation 16: The Government should increase incentive funding for small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises who recruit young and disadvantaged apprentices

Response: We believe that the current model of funding for disadvantaged apprentices provides the most effective means to achieve the recruitment of young and disadvantaged people.

  • Recommendation 18: The Government should introduce bursaries for other disadvantaged groups modelled on the care leavers’ bursary.

Response: We will keep all aspects of apprenticeship funding policy under review to ensure that those from disadvantaged groups are not deterred from starting an apprenticeship for financial reasons, or because their employer is concerned about the cost. Funding alone cannot tackle the disparities in apprenticeship starts.

  • Recommendation 19: The Government should create a social justice fund, using money from the apprentice levy, to support organisations that help disadvantaged people become apprentices.

Response: The apprenticeship levy has been set at a level that raises sufficient funds to support apprenticeship starts; widening its scope would risk our delivery of the target of 3 million high-quality apprenticeship starts.

  • Recommendation 20: The Government should continue to raise the apprentice minimum wage at a rate significantly above inflation. In the long term, it should move towards its abolition.

Response: It is important that the level of the apprentice rate, which applies to those aged under 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship, does not dissuade employers from investing in skills training and realising the benefits of apprenticeships for their businesses.

  • Recommendation 22: The Government should strongly support existing measures to establish a kitemark for good apprentice employers.

Response: Work is ongoing to develop a kitemark indicating a signal of quality for apprentice employers. Using existing quality measures and working with stakeholders, criteria will be developed and, if met, employers will be able to showcase the kitemark.

  • Recommendation 23: The Social Mobility Commission should conduct an immediate study into how the benefits system helps or hinders apprentices. The Government should act on its findings.

Response: Government would welcome the views of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) on how we can continue to develop our policy in this area, though any decision on whether to conduct a review remains a joint decision for the Department’s ministers and the Chair of the SMC.

  • Recommendation 24: The Government must stop dragging its feet over apprentice transport costs. It must set out how it plans to reduce apprentice travel costs.

Response: The Departments for Transport and Education will continue to work together to support discounted travel for apprentices, including through existing apprenticeship funding mechanisms, but given the additional cost to the taxpayer, the focus of this work will now turn to preparing proposals for consideration at the forthcoming spending review.

  • Recommendation 25: The Equality and Human Rights Commission should conduct a monitoring review of apprenticeship participation by gender, ethnicity and by people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities every three years.

Response: The Department is carrying out broader activity to encourage more young people to recognise the value of a STEM career path. To support the Government’s commitment to increase apprenticeship starts by learners from BAME backgrounds by 20 per cent by 2020, we launched the ‘5 Cities Diversity Hubs’ project in February 2018.

  • Recommendation 26: The Government should introduce a proper UCAS-style portal for technical education to simplify the application process and encourage progression to further training at higher levels.

Response: We have carried out extensive research to explore how we could introduce a UCAS-style portal for technical education that works for employers and apprentices alike. While the research indicated that young people would value a central source of information as they make decisions about their next steps, it did not show that they found the current application process challenging.

  • Recommendation 27: Too many students are still not receiving independent and impartial careers advice and guidance about the routes open to them, including apprenticeships. We recommend that the Government, with Ofsted’s support, properly enforces the Baker clause.

Response: Following the introduction of the clause in January 2018, we issued statutory guidance to schools, clearly setting out what is expected of them. A review in the summer of 2018 showed mixed compliance with this guidance by schools. The Department is prepared to intervene in cases of serious non-compliance.

The Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP has commented on the Government’s response:

  • While we welcome the direction of travel from the Government, clearly much more needs to be done. We need to get tough on subcontractors and poor provision. The Government insists its priorities are to ensure more funding makes it to the front line and to improve transparency. But to achieve this, they must strengthen the rules on subcontracting and ensure a more prominent role for Ofsted in inspections to safeguard training quality.
  • We’re not convinced that the Government recognises that degree apprenticeships are special and different to other apprenticeships. They bring together technical and higher education when the two are too often entirely different worlds. We cannot rely on employers alone to drive this forward given the key role which degree apprenticeships can play in fighting social injustice and taking the best from technical and academic education.   
  • Ensuring proper support for apprentices is crucial to delivering social justice. But there are no firm proposals from Government on how to break down the barriers faced by too many young people who would like to take the apprenticeship route. The Government continues to drag its feet on how it will reduce the cost of transport and it must now act on its manifesto commitment and deliver on the promise of significantly discounted bus and train fares.
  • It is not enough to say evading paying the apprenticeship minimum wage is ‘unacceptable’. The Business Secretary has said that the Government has doubled the enforcement budget, but clearly there is more to do to ensure employers comply. Until there are stronger sanctions and tougher enforcement, companies will get away with the mistreatment of apprentices who are making significant financial sacrifices to better themselves.

Brexit update

If you missed them (and who could blame you) the BBC have a useful summary of New Year’s messages from Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable and Nicola Sturgeon

The next few weeks are critical, of course, with a “meaningful vote” in Parliament due in the week commencing 14th January.

So if the government wins the meaningful vote, and Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before 29th March, we leave with a deal and a transition period. If the government wins the meaningful vote and Parliament doesn’t approve the Bill then we leave without a deal.  This is possible but unlikely – although there will be a fight about the Bill, and attempts to amend it, if the government wins the meaningful vote they are likely to get the Bill through eventually.

If the government loses the meaningful vote, then they have to make a statement about their intentions within 21 days and then there is another vote by Parliament.  What could the government propose in this statement?  It is another opportunity to persuade people to support the original deal with some more concessions or reassurance.  Or this could be the moment to ask for an extension to article 50.

If the motion (whatever it says) is not supported, it is then too late for any other major step (such as a second referendum) before we leave without a deal in March.  Everyone has said that the EU takes negotiations to the wire – there may be last minute concessions after the meaningful vote, if the government loses, in which case the government can just try Parliament again.  Or even without EU concessions, as no-deal panic rises, they may try Parliament again.  Or Parliament could revoke Article 50, as was discussed extensively before the holidays.  That seems unlikely – an extension is far more likely.  And presumably the EU would agree to that.  But remember that the withdrawal date is built into UK law so as well as agreeing to an extension, Parliament would also have to approve regulations to amend that legislation – another opportunity for arguments, amendments and disagreements.

The existing EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018:

  • exit day” means 29 March 2019 at 11.00 p.m. (and see subsections (2) to (5));
  • (2) In this Act references to before, after or on exit day, or to beginning with exit day, are to be read as references to before, after or at 11.00 p.m. on 29 March 2019 or (as the case may be) to beginning with 11.00 p.m. on that day.
  • (3)Subsection (4) applies if the day or time on or at which the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union is different from that specified in the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1).
  • (4)A Minister of the Crown may by regulations—
  • (a)amend the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1) to ensure that the day and time specified in the definition are the day and time that the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom, and
  • (b)amend subsection (2) in consequence of any such amendment.

Change of government

Labour have been threatening a no confidence motion “when the time is right”. Before Christmas there was talk of a no confidence vote in the PM – which is not at all the same thing.  In the Independent on 28th December 2018 Jeremy Corbyn was talking about “when, not if” and “signalling” it will be after the meaningful vote.

So what does happen if Parliament pass a motion of no confidence in the Government?  The Parliament website says:

“A motion of no confidence, or censure motion, is a motion moved in the House of Commons with the wording: ‘That this House has no confidence in HM Government’. If such a motion is agreed to, and a new government with the support of a majority of MPs cannot be formed within a period of 14 calendar days, Parliament is dissolved and an early General Election is triggered. A motion of no confidence is one of only two ways in which an early General Election may be triggered under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011”

The Labour party believe that they could form a minority government, and presumably would then hope to persuade Parliament to vote for an extension to give them time to renegotiate.

As we wrote in December, if they fail to form a minority government, we are then in a difficult position, because we could be left with no Parliament to vote for an extension or approve the regulations to the Withdrawal Act, leading back to a no-deal Brexit on 29th March with a general election to follow.  Of course at least some of those potentially voting for the no confidence motion might actually want to leave with no deal….

So, we could leave with the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal, and then hopefully progress will be made on turning the political declaration into a formal agreement.  That won’t be much fun either and it needs to be sorted by the end of the transition period (due to end December 31st 2020 unless it is itself extended – on this see the actual draft Withdrawal Agreement, pages 195 and 206). There are some conditions for an extension, including a contribution to the EU budget to be established by the committee.

Article 126: There shall be a transition or implementation period, which shall start on the date of entry into force of this Agreement and end on 31 December 2020.

Article 132: …the Joint Committee may, before 1 July 2020, adopt a single decision extending the transition period for up to one or two years

Or we leave without a deal.  There has been a huge amount of discussion about this, and we shared the Home Office guidance on mobility in our policy update on 21st December 2018. The official government website is here.  It includes things (many published on or around 21st December) including:

  • Studying in the EU after Brexit
    • The draft EU Withdrawal Agreement means that students in UK-based organisations will be able to continue to participate in Erasmus+ exchanges and placements post-exit until the end of the current Erasmus+ programme in December 2020.
    • In the event of ‘no deal’, the government underwrite guarantee already made(13 August 2016) still stands and successful Erasmus+ bids that are submitted and approved while the UK is still a Member State will continue beyond the point of exit.
  • Preparing for changes at the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit
  • Health and care system operational readiness guidance
  • Providing services as a qualified professional
    • EEA lawyers will be able to practise in England and Wales under the regulatory arrangements and rules that apply to lawyers from other third countries. However, this change will mean:
      • EEA lawyers will no longer be able to provide legal activities normally reserved to advocates, barristers or solicitor under their home state professional title in England/Wales and Northern Ireland. (Reserved activities are: the exercise of a right of audience, the conduct of litigation, reserved instrument activities (conveyancing), probate activities, notarial activities and the administration of oaths)
      • EEA lawyers will no longer be able to seek admittance to the English/Welsh or Northern Irish profession based on experience
    • Guidance for UK nationals
    • Clinical trials
    • Environmental standards
    • Workplace rights
    • Data protection
      • The EU has an established mechanism to allow the free flow of personal data to countries outside the EU, namely an adequacy decision. The European Commission has stated that if it deems the UK’s level of personal data protection essentially equivalent to that of the EU, it would make an adequacy decision allowing the transfer of personal data to the UK without restrictions. While we have made it clear we are ready to begin preliminary discussions on an adequacy assessment now, the European Commission has not yet indicated a timetable for this and have stated that the decision on adequacy cannot be taken until we are a third country.
    • More guidance here

Of course the big argument by Brexiteers is that no deal would not be so bad.

It would certainly involve “some” burden on businesses and individuals – if you look at some of the links above especially on those importing or exporting goods and services.  There have been warnings about gridlock in port towns (including Poole) with a knock on impact on services), shortages of medicines and food.  The government’s planning includes fridges and ferries.

The Week says:

  • There are many senior Leave supporters who think that no deal “would be perfectly acceptable as long as sufficient preparations have been made”, according to the BBC’s Chris Morris.
  • Backbench Brexiteers have sought to present a so-called “cliff edge” Brexit as an opportunity rather than a threat and dismissed criticism as Remainer scaremongering.
  • “It’s Project Fear mark two,” one MP told The Guardian. “Do they think we can’t see that they’re trying to alarm people?”
  • Liz Bilney, CEO of Leave.EU, argues that a no-deal Brexit should be seen as a positive. “It is at worst, benign, at best, a fabulous opportunity for a fairer, more prosperous Britain,” she claims.
  • David Davis even claims there could be advantages if the pound were to fall sharply in value following a no-deal Brexit. 
  • “[The Pound falling] is not a bad thing. The pound’s always been too high from the point of view of industry because of the effect of the City. So, our competitive position with vis-a-vis Europe would be dramatically better even if there are tariffs,” the former Brexit secretary told parliamentary magazine The House in a recent interview.

Or there is an extension to article 50 and we don’t leave in March.  Then what happens?  The current government would be attempting a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement and possibly some advance negotiation of the final trade deal based on the political declaration with a view to getting a version of the withdrawal agreement through before whatever deadline would have been agreed.  As noted above, Parliament would also have had to approve regulations to amend the exit day consistently with whatever the EU had agreed on article 50.

And what could that year or so be used for?

  • A Tory leadership election – only if the PM chooses to stand down as she is now safe from challenge for a year. She might do a David Cameron and fall on her sword if “her” deal is finally voted down in favour of an extension.   Then someone else could try and renegotiate, leading up to a rerun of the current process in 2020 perhaps after another referendum (unless the referendum result was remain).
  • A Labour minority government having another go at the negotiations? As described above, following a no confidence vote in the government, the PM could resign and Jeremy Corbyn could be invited to form a minority government.   He would then try and renegotiate and re-run the current process in 2020 perhaps after another referendum (again, unless the referendum result was remain).
  • A general election? We wrote about this in our policy update on 14th December 2018
    • Remember that the fixed term Parliament legislation requires a 2/3rds majority for an early election. It is very unlikely that Conservative MPs will vote for that unless they think they would win a strong overall majority (and look what happened last time they tried). They will be pressing for a renegotiation. But it will happen automatically if a minority government cannot be formed, or falls, after a no- confidence vote as described above.
  • Go straight to another referendum. This requires Parliamentary support.  The big question that would need to be resolved is what the question on the referendum would be, and whether it would actually need to include a set of different scenarios, transferable votes, a requirement for a super majority etc.  The problem is that many people oppose the current proposal for many different reasons, and so getting all those who don’t want a no-deal Brexit to agree on the alternative would be very difficult.  Options for a referendum question include combinations of the following:
    • The PM’s deal (with whatever changes might have been agreed in the meantime)
    • Remain on current terms (a possibility from an EU perspective, as noted above, if we just revoke article 50)
    • Leave without a deal
    • A different deal? It is hard to ask people to vote for something that is not on the table.  Canada/Norway style deals would have to be negotiated with the EU.  So to get these on the table there are some steps that would need to happen first – postpone article 50, change of leadership/government/approach, attempt to negotiate a completely different deal with the EU and THEN have a referendum.

What is really interesting about this is the discussions about choices and bias.  You’ll remember the debate about the question the first time around.  For more on this:

In a Guardian opinion piece, David Van Reybrouk proposes a “preferednum”

  • The Eurovision song contest uses a similar procedure: rather than picking out the best song, juries are invited to give points to a range of artists, so that the cumulative effect of individual voting gives a final ranking of competing candidates.
  • This procedure could be applied successfully to the UK. In the polling station people would not just receive the classical yes/no question, but a list of 30 proposals on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. They might include ideas such as: “The status of Northern Ireland and the UK should be the same, even if that implies a harder border with the Republic of Ireland”; “Only Britain should be able to regulate who enters the country”; “Migration can only be tackled if Britain works with its European partners”; “Travelling to the EU should not require a passport.” Et cetera.
  • In the run-up to the preferendum every voter would receive a brochure with the arguments for and against each proposal, as is already common practice in Switzerland. In the voting booth citizens would be invited to rate the proposals (to show how strongly they agree or disagree) and rank them (pick a top three).

Peter Kellner in Prospect Magazine in early December offered 7 options focusing less on the possible outcome and more on the question of democratic legitimacy of the process.

So while we can’t see much further than a few days into the future on this one and predictions have been hard this last year or so, here are, we think, the two most likely scenarios.  We are being massively cynical here – this is based on an assumption that no-one (remainder or leaver, left or right) actually really believes that they can do a better deal than the PM has with the EU, or wants to be the person who tries and fails.  Or enough Brexiteers believe that if there is a delay, there might ultimately be a vote for remain.

  • Politicians return from the break having been thoroughly scared by the no-deal guidance and harangued by their local businesses etc, and/or the EU come up with some weasel wording on the backstop at the 11th hour, and Parliament approves the deal.

OR

  • Chaos continues, Labour doesn’t make up its mind and the UK leaves with no deal, leading in the short-ish term to a vote of no confidence and a general election, perhaps in 2020 if no deal turns out to be as bad as people think it might be.

And the university perspective?

On 4th January, the news was that UUK, the Russell Group, GuildHE, Million plus and University Alliance had sent an open letter to all MPs.

Dame Nancy Rothwell was on Radio 4. 

Professor Janet Beer wrote in the Guardian.

  • We have just weeks for the UK government and parliament to find a way to avoid a no-deal scenario. Without this, it is no exaggeration to suggest that this would be an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take our universities and our country decades to recover.

The BBC have some of the inevitable backlash:

  • But the journalist and educationalist Toby Young, who says he backs a “clean Brexit”, dismissed the warning as “the usual ultra-Remainer hysteria”, accusing vice-chancellors of “fear-mongering”.
  • “In the event of a no-deal Brexit, I’m sure the government will use some of that £49bn windfall to compensate British universities for any short-term losses,” said Mr Young, associate editor of the Spectator magazine

And while the coverage seems to focus on research funding, Wonkhe cover the student recruitment story with data from the Russell Group:

  • On average, this data shows a 3% decrease in enrolment, which is the first time a decrease in the overall number of EU students starting courses at Russell Group universities has been reported since 2012-13, when tuition fees increased. And while it’s important to note that this is aggregate data and growth will vary between institution and level of study, it indicates a worrying downturn in appetite from the EU to study in the UK – and will be a concern for the sector.
  • When we performed this data collection exercise across Russell Group universities last year, we saw marginal growth of 1% in EU enrolment between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Before that, HESA data shows that growth in the number of first year EU students at Russell Group universities grew by 5%, 4%, 4% and 7% in each consecutive year between 2012-13 and 2016-17 (latest available data).
  • For us, what was striking about the data on enrolments this year was the decrease seen at postgraduate level: while there was a marginal increase of 1% at the undergraduate level, there was a 5% drop in the number of EU postgraduate taught students and a 9% decrease in the number of EU postgraduate research students.
  • The 9% decline in postgraduate research students enrolling at Russell Group universities this year follows a 9% drop reported by our universities in 2017-18. This means there has been a significant decrease in EU postgraduate research students enrolling on courses at Russell Group universities since the referendum.

The Independent led with the financial risk:

  • A predicted fall in EU student numbers and a potential loss of research funding due to a no-deal Brexit could hit universities’ finances.
  • It is understood some institutions could be forced to seek a government bailout to stay open.
  • …. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) think tank, said he was concerned about the financial future of the university sector because of the negative impact of Brexit, as well as a fall in the number of 18-year-olds and the government’s review into tuition fees.   
  • “A no-deal Brexit would mean even more upheaval than other forms of Brexit for the sector,” he said. Analysis for the think tank has predicted a 57 per cent drop-off in incoming EU students. 
  • … Robert Halfon, Conservative MP and chair of the Education Committee, said: “With the UK leaving the EU, there is all the more reason to ensure that our universities are fit for the future and focused on meeting the country’s skills needs. “Our committee’s report on value for money in higher education outlined how they can play a significant role in filling skills gaps and boosting productivity by promoting degree apprenticeships and improving access for disadvantaged students. “By focusing on a more skills-based future, our universities can ensure they remain among the world’s best performing institutions.”

Taking a longer view

It is easy to be dragged by current uncertainties into taking a short term view of all of this.  But assuming at some point we stop going round in circles on Brexit, what might a future deal with the EU look like for research? Whether there is a deal or  no deal by March, eventually there will have to be at least an attempt to form a future relationship of some sort on research.  We’ve gone taken the circular analogy a bit further back in time to look forward to what might happen next.

There’s an article (by a European) on Research Professional here:  [from November 2017]  In its September 2017 Future Partnership paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation, [the UK government] stated: “Given the UK’s unique relationship with European science and innovation, the UK would also like to explore forging a more ambitious and close partnership with the EU than any yet agreed between the EU and a non-EU country.”

Assuming we don’t end up in EFTA or staying in the EU, the article suggests the obvious options for the UK were either associated status or third country status.  The government of course has always said it wanted a custom deal. The article therefore suggests something different:

  • A possible solution for this dilemma was mooted by the League of European Research Universities and picked up more explicitly by Pascal Lamy’s High Level Group, which recommended in its report that international cooperation be made “a trademark of EU research and innovation”. It suggested that the EU should “open up the R&I programme to association by the best and participation by all, based on reciprocal co-funding or access to co-funding in the partner country”.
  • The official narrative is to bring strong research countries such as Canada and Australia on board for the Framework programme, but it is clear that this also opens the door for a global research power such as the UK. So instead of trying to fit the UK into one of the three categories that would give it associated access, let’s change the rules to ‘association by the best and participation by all’.
  • Obviously, this will lead to a financial contribution from the UK to the EU budget, the use of European Commission contracts, the authority of the European Court of Justice and the decision-making power of the EU 27 concerning research policy. Suggesting a kind of “association +”, whereby strong research countries from outside the EU also have a formal say in EU policy development and decision-making processes, will probably be a bridge too far for the EU 27, but it certainly could have added value in the case of the UK.
  • Anyway, last Friday’s agreement [the one that meant we moved on to the next phase of negotiations in autumn 2017, remember that…] clearly states: “the UK states that it may wish to participate in some Union budgetary programmes of the new MFF post-2020 as a non-Member State.” So we can be hopeful for FP9, although we must remain aware of two basic premises of the negations: no cherry picking and no deal on anything if no deal on everything.

So maybe there is scope for a special deal, one that isn’t just special for the UK but also for Canada and Australia and others too?

The end of the article provokes a wry smile, in the light of current news, though: Surely, UK vice-chancellors, with the explicit support of their continental colleagues, must increase the pressure in the following days, weeks and months to reach an acceptable Brexit deal by autumn 2018. After all, they are one of the few societal forces left that can speak up and guide the country in these extremely challenging times. I guess the news stories this week suggest the sector is still working on that….

That was in November 2017.  What has happened since then?

An article on RP in May 2018 said that our participation in FP9 was dead in the water

  • The UK government needs to make clear that the default position is at least associate membership of EU R&D programmes. It must then reach agreement with the EU over the size of the UK’s financial contribution and level of influence. Researchers should be lobbying strongly on these issues, on which little progress has been made since the referendum in June 2016.
  • Instead, science and universities minister Sam Gyimah has argued that the UK will not participate in the next EU Framework programme, dubbed Horizon Europe, “at any price”. According to the minister, the government’s position paper published in March simply outlines its views on how any future programme could be improved.
  • The European Parliament’s Brexit steering group believes the UK cannot be a net beneficiary from EU research funds post-Brexit, and is unwilling to give the UK a decision-making role in Horizon Europe. Coming from what is arguably the EU’s most democratically representative institution, this is bad but not irreversible news.
  • The government needs to make a move and offer something substantial to the EU in return for the UK’s participation. An attractive financial offer could still make the UK an appealing partner in Horizon Europe. However, with the Commission proposing a €20 billion budget increase compared with Horizon 2020, the UK might need to increase its contribution accordingly.
  • This would mean paying more to participate than it does at present—with no say on the programme’s direction, and no guarantee that it would see a return on its investment. Such a commitment would also have to compete with other post-Brexit spending priorities.

Of course we then had a change of Minister. Vivienne Stern of UUK International was quoted on RP in December urging the new Minister to do something about it:

  • “Deal or no deal, the UK should seek full association to [the EU’s next Framework programme for research and innovation] Horizon Europe as swiftly as possible, to end uncertainty in academic communities across Europe as well as in the UK,” said Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International. “If there is no deal, the minister will need to prioritise planning to mitigate the impact on universities, and press ministers across Europe and the European Commission to decide how they will act to preserve collaboration and student exchange.”

And the Government’s Chief Scientist also intervened (also from Research Professional in December 2018):

  • Appearing in front of a committee of MPs, Patrick Vallance said the government’s desire “is to be fully associated with the European programmes going forward, that’s obviously dependent on a deal”. …EU leaders have repeatedly stressed that a withdrawal agreement must be approved before the EU and the UK can start negotiating their future relationship—to the frustration of the former science minister Sam Gyimah, who told Research Fortnight in October that he wanted to reach a deal on research and innovation at the very beginning of the Brexit negotiations.

And then the European Parliament on 12th December 2018 agreed its position on Horizon Europe (also from Research Professional) – but this didn’t include a position on openness. See this article from 4th December 2018 which suggests it doesn’t look good or that the proposal above will be adopted:

  • The Council agreed on a “partial general approach” to the 2021-27 programme on 30 November, with “promote scientific excellence” listed first in a set of objectives for the programme.
  • Another major issue to be resolved is the budget for the massive research programme. The European Commission originally proposed a budget of €83.5 billion in 2018 prices for Horizon Europe, but the Parliament is seeking €120bn. The Council’s stance has yet to be determined by finance ministers and national leaders.
  • …The Council has also not taken a stance on the participation of non-EU countries, which it says will be part of its budget negotiations. This has added to the fears of Norwegian and Swiss researchers, who were already worried about the position adopted by the Commission on limiting access to parts of the programme, and by MEPs, who want to put greater emphasis on restrictions. Both countries can participate fully at present.
  • …Gunnar Bovim, rector of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told Research Europe that Norwegian researchers are afraid they will be shut out, and that this could fire up Eurosceptic sentiments.  “We look upon ourselves as inside that fence,” he said. “Some voices have been raised saying why do we send this money to Brussels and leave some of it there, why not just divide it in the Research Council of Norway. To me that would be a very bad decision.”
  • Swiss participation could be limited even more, as the country is not in the European Economic Area. Martin Müller, head of Switzerland’s Brussels R&D liaison office SwissCore, says he hopes politicians do not forget that his country has close economic ties with the EU.

Although there is still hope – see this from 4th December:

  • Moedas had a working lunch meeting in Brussels on 3 December with ambassadors and other representatives from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. He said on Twitter that they discussed future international cooperation in Horizon Europe, and that there was a strong commitment that the programme would be “open to the world”.
  • The European Commission has proposed a new way for countries outside the EU to join the programme as associate members, which would give more countries the opportunity to participate substantially. This would be based on them having qualities such as “a good capacity” in R&D, and policies to promote social wellbeing.
  • However, the Commission has proposed caveats, such as that the countries would have to pay in what they take out. Countries that associate via the new route are also likely be excluded from parts of the programme.
  • The European Parliament looks set to demand a further tightening of these proposed restrictions, after its research committee backed a report in November that called for association via the new route to be “based on an assessment of the benefits for the EU”.

So in conclusion, something could be done, but the UK will need to ask, and pay, and the EU will, as they have through all the negotiations so far, put their own interests first.  And it is not all about the UK.  If more openness in research programmes suits the EU, then they will agree to it, not just for the UK but more widely, but expect conditions including contribution to budgets.  Whether the UK can negotiate concessions that put it in a better position than others, or can join with other countries around the world to negotiate on these conditions for everyone’s benefit, remains to be seen.

We might expect that leaving with no deal would put us in a more difficult position for these discussions, although it shouldn’t rule anything out, especially if we end up paying the divorce bill anyway….Just on that:

We think all that suggests that we will end up paying it…if not as part of a withdrawal deal, then as part of a future deal that seeks to sort out some of the mess.  Because why would the EU not insist on that as part of a future arrangement?

You might have missed

Our update from 21st December, covering the Immigration White Paper, grade inflation, accounting for student loans and more.

Consultation on the cost of the Teacher’s Pension Scheme

Nick Gibb, the Minister of State in the Department of Education, announced in a written response on 27th December 2018 that “The Department for Education is launching a consultation in early 2019 to seek views on the impact of the changes to employer contribution costs on state-funded schools, independent schools, further education (FE) colleges and other public-funded training organisations, and universities and other Higher Education institutions (HEI) in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, including which sectors should receive additional funding from the Government. Once the consultation has closed, the Department will make an assessment on the viability of the scheme and the number of institutions participating in the scheme.”

Consultations

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

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HE Policy Update – w/e 17 August 2018

To read the policy update in full with all the accompanying charts please click here, or continue reading below for the text only version.

 

The build up to A level results day and clearing has dominated this week, amid much talk of the future of technical and vocational education.

Admissions and Clearing

National Picture

HEPI provide a guest blog by Mary Curnock Cook (previous Chief Executive of UCAS).

The blog notes that higher tariff institutions have benefited most from the buyers’ market this year.

 Mary describes the increase in disadvantaged students in detail:

Things also look good for more disadvantaged students, measured by the serviceable but imperfect area-based POLAR4 measure. 

Here we see that participation rates for POLAR Quintile 1 (roughly the fifth of the population living in areas having the lowest participation rates in higher education) has again grown, up 0.3% to 16.4%. 

Quintile 5, from the highest participation areas, is also up by 0.7%.

The most advantaged (Quintile 5) are still 2.4 times more likely to enter higher education than the least advantaged (Quintile 1).

On ethnicity Mary writes:

Although white students are still the largest group of undergraduate students, BAME students have a higher and faster growing appetite for higher education.  Today’s data from UCAS indicate that while the number of placed white students from the UK is down 3%, placed BAME students are up 1%. The entry rate by ethnic group is the lowest for the White group and Asian students are 15% more likely to enter higher education.

Mary’s analysis is based on A level results day data which captures 80% of the End of Cycle data, it cannot be fully comprehensive but is sufficient to indicate trends.

 

Education Secretary of State Congratulatory Speech

Damian Hinds congratulated A level students on results day and welcomed record numbers of 18 year olds who intend to enter university study. The Government’s news story  provides a national picture of the A level results:

  • Maths continues to be the most popular subject at A Level, with the number of entries up 2.5% on last year – up 26.8% compared to 2010;
  • Entries into STEM subjects continue to rise, up 3.4% on last year and up 24% since 2010;
  • An increase in entries to STEM A Levels by girls, up 5.5% from last year and 26.9% since 2010 [see this Financial Times article for a chart illustrating female STEM study programmes];
  • The proportion of entries to art and design, music and modern foreign languages remains broadly stable;
  • In the second year of reformed A Levels, the percentage of UK entries awarded the A* grade remains stable at 8.0% this year, compared with 8.1% in 2010 and the overall UK pass rate remains stable at 97.6%, compared to 97.9% last year.

Damian stated that the reforms to A levels mean students are better prepared for future study or the workplace and reiterated messaging around choice of progression pathway on from A level study:

We’ve worked to improve education for every child – from their early years through to secondary school and beyond. I also want young people to have wider choice, whether that’s going to university, earning through an apprenticeship or in future taking technical qualifications that match the best in the world…As young people receive their results and prepare for the next steps, for the first time National Careers Service advisers will be giving young people information, advice and guidance on skills, learning and work alongside the UCAS clearing service. This will help ensure young people are aware of all the education and training options available to them.

Sam Gyimah said:

Thanks to the support offered by this government, no student with the talent and potential is restricted from studying in our world-class university sector. We have worked with employers to design new high quality apprenticeships – including degree apprenticeships – making them longer, with more off-the-job training and proper assessment at the end so that apprentices are learning the skills that industry really needs.

Wider sector perspectives

CBI Head of Education, John Cope, spoke ahead of the results stating:

There are many great routes to a successful career whether that’s at a university, college, or learning on the job. It’s important that those getting their A-Level results consider the whole range of options available.

University absolutely offers students a great next step but is by no means the only route to a higher-level education. There are a range of different options – a Higher National Certificate or Diploma, a foundation degree, or a ‘degree apprenticeship’, with an apprenticeship offering the chance to gain both a qualification employers value and start earning a salary straight away.

He went on to talk about the rise in the number of unconditional offers:

What’s driving the growth of unconditional offers is complex. To protect the credibility of our world-class sector, universities must ensure that unconditional offers are used carefully, such as helping widen access to university and driving social justice

The Chartered Management Institute’s statement also cites the growing favour for degree apprenticeships quoting a parent survey which found half (49%) of respondents said they would encourage their child to start a degree apprenticeship rather than an academic-only university course. 52% of parents said they were put off the traditional academic route by substantial university costs. In addition, 71% of those surveyed believed degree apprenticeships provide a better chance of getting a job than a traditional university degree, with many considering them to be the best value-for-money option for young people currently. (Note, CMI partners with 12 universities and major corporates to deliver a degree apprenticeship offer.)

Meanwhile the Careers and Enterprise Company have published the myth-busting truth about life after A levels (full report here).

Times Higher report that UK student acceptances are down by 2% on A level results day with lower-tariff institutions continuing to feel the squeeze.

Headlines:

  • The number of placed applicants for nursing continued to drop – down another 2% from last year.
  • There has been a small rise in the percentage of students from the most disadvantaged groups accepted to universities.
  • There was also an increase in EU acceptances (up by 1%) plus a record 31,510 international (non-EU) students.

Nationally, there were 26,000 unfilled places on A level results day

Research Professional published comments from the University and Colleges Union who have refreshed a pitch from earlier this year calling for a post-qualifications admission system. The article also reiterates familiar themes on Government’s concern over the rise of unconditional offers.

The Guardian ran a piece highlighting that some students who missed their grades and had entered Clearing to obtain an alternative university place may need additional support to adjust.

Times Higher pull together statements from key HE sector figures in response to A level results and early UCAS acceptance data.

University – declining as the ‘default’ choice?

The Sutton Trust has published research on young people’s attitudes to university across a 16 year period, conducted by Ipsos MORI. School pupils indicated how likely they were to attend university compared to the previous responses for the last 15 years. Overall figures fluctuate slightly and in 2018 more pupils indicated they were fairly likely to go, but less were certain enough to select ‘very likely’.  Delving into the reasons why pupils were unlikely to attend HE all the major reasons were scored lower than in previous years (period 2013-2017), except for social concerns (friends not attending, teachers advised something else for me, people like me are not expected to go to university) which remains turbulent. See the Sutton Trust news article and report overview for more analysis of the data.

(See link for the tables, chart and Twitter snapshots)

The Guardian reported on the research in: Young people ‘more sceptical about value of university’ – poll

 

Economics of Post-School Education

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee undertook an inquiry into the Economics of Post-School Education, publishing their concluding report on 11 June 2018. You can read a summary of it  in our previous policy update (pages 3 to 5). The Committee report called for immediate reform stating there was too much emphasis on university degrees, with undergraduate study dominating post-school choices, which isn’t in the country’s best interest.  Their report attributes this dominance to the ‘lack of alternative viable, consistent and quality alternatives’ with the guaranteed HE Finance system and the removal of the student number cap acting as enablers.

This week the Government published their official response to the House of Lord’s report. The response continuously acknowledges the current Government Review of Post-18 Education and Funding throughout the replies to the Lords Committee’s calls for change. In general the Government’s response echoes the Lords sentiment for better post-school careers options and alternative technical routes with equal recognition as a degree. This is unsurprising as these are both current policy pushes and set within the context of the reform of technical education which aims to span FE and HE. As expected the Government’s response focuses on pathways to employment, provides a nod to automation, and emphasises all forms of education as a driver of social mobility. However, it disagrees with the Committee’s calls to revisit student finance. In the full response the Government references the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding at the end of each reply –the effect is to set out a firm policy position but allowing room for future manoeuvre.

The key recommendations of the Lords inquiry report are set out below with the Government’s response in blue beneath.

  • Sector rhetoric has long held FE to be the poor cousin of HE and the Lords report called for better distribution of public funding across FE and HE with separate single regulators for level 4 and above (OfS) and sub level 3, including apprenticeships.
    1. The Government response notes the DfE review of classroom-based, level 4 & 5 technical education launched in October 2017 (interim findings here) which it states is ensuring that learners have high quality, accessible and attractive study choices at Levels 4 and 5. The response doesn’t comment on the funding aspect deferring an answer until after the Post-18 Review concludes: Access to loan funding and maintenance support for all courses at Level 4 and above including wider funding for FE colleges will be considered as part of the Review of Post 18 Education and Funding.
    2. On single regulators the Government confirms the role of the OfS as the HE regulator, only for those on the HE register, but with a wider student focussed outlook: In his strategic guidance letter 2018/19, the Minister for Universities asked the OfS to ‘look beyond its register, develop an understanding of providers and students in the currently unregulated parts of the HE sector and consider ways of encouraging such providers to register and engage with good regulatory practice.’
  • Address the decline in part-time and mature students by removing loan restrictions and maintenance support, by introducing innovative methods of learning, working with employers, and cooperation between universities to ensure a flexible credit-based modular system where individuals can learn at their own pace.
    1. The Government response noted the changes already introduced aiming to support part-time and mature students, including the 2018/19 starter part-time maintenance loans, and the Masters and Doctoral loans. The push for accelerated degrees, with the revised finance arrangements to facilitate this (outcome of consultation on this due autumn 2018), and greater ease and transparency for students wishing to transfer credit between institutions were characteristics of Jo Johnson’s stint as HE Minster. While the Government has been quieter on these aspects under Gyimah the impetus for a system that incentivises student choice remains and the Government’s response describes on-going government work to empower people to study at different times in their lives and sets out their commitment to the value of innovative methods of provision as a means of broadening choice available to students. One of which is the growth of new and alternative providers to plug cold spots and increase competition. The feel behind the response is that the Government is genuinely committed to reversing the dearth of mature and part time students and are looking to universities to collaborate, attract, innovate and offer sufficient flexibility to reinvigorate this group of learners to return to HE study, whether they chose a traditional academic programme or follow a higher level technical or employer focussed route.
    2. Specifically on credit transfer systems the response highlights that the Higher Education and Research Act tasks OfS to monitor and report on the availability and utilisation of student transfer arrangements, and confers on the OfS the power to ‘facilitate, encourage, or promote awareness of’ the provision of transfer arrangements’ whilst recognising the autonomy of HE providers in England to determine the content of particular courses and the criteria for the admission of those courses. It also notes that from August 2019 the OfS will require all registered HE providers to publish information about their arrangements for student transfer.
  • Refresh apprenticeships – remove targets to prioritise quality over quantity, focus on the skills employers really need, abolish the Institute for Apprenticeships, increase the status of apprenticeships to be seen as a valid and worthwhile alternative to a degree
    1. The Government response sets apprenticeships within the wider policy vision of a refreshed, high-quality, economically productive technical education and training pathway that delivers the cutting edge skills employers need. Including T levels and the 15 new technical routes, the National Retraining Scheme, Institutes of Technology, National Colleges, the role of Skills Advisory Panels in supporting local skills needs and business growth, and emphasising student mobility across all academic and technical routes and levels. The response also noted the Government wanted to have a positive impact on the progression and earning potential for apprentices over their lifetimes.
    2. The Government confirmed their aspiration for the technical route to have equal status and validity to an academic degree route and cited the introduction and continued growth of degree apprenticeships within the sector:

The development of degree level apprenticeships aims to widen access to the professions and develop the higher-level technical skills needed to improve productivity and make sure businesses compete internationally. Not all occupations will lend themselves to a Degree Apprenticeship and not all people will want to work whilst doing their degree. Sitting alongside… Degree Apprenticeships provide another route for employers and people to gain the skills that they need.

  1. The Government’s response acknowledged the poor quality within current apprenticeship provision: we agree with the Committee that for too long apprentices have not received the quality of training we would expect. Yet resisted the Lords calls to abolish the Institute for Apprenticeships, instead stating the Government has given the Institute for Apprenticeships a clear remit.
  • Alternative viable non-degree routes with parity of esteem – moving away from university undergraduate study as the default post-18 choice. The Lords also recommended a simpler approach to post-school choices through a single UCAS-style portal covering all forms of higher education, further education and apprenticeships.
    1. The Government shares the Lords’ vision for alternative non-degree routes as set out under 1a, 2a, 2b, 3a and 3b above.
    2. With regard to redressing university study as the default choice the Government response acknowledges more could be done to improve information on post-18 options provided in schools and references the Careers Strategy. There is a statutory duty on schools to provide independent and impartial careers guidance on the full range of education and training options, including apprenticeships, and provide pupils with access to the full range of training providers. The Careers strategy also sets out a requirement for schools to facilitate a number of employer encounters for pupils. However, they resisted the Lords call for a single UCAS style entry system:

We agree that it is important that students have the necessary information to consider all of their options, not just the academic route. We are making sure that all Government careers information is available in one place on a new National Careers Service website. Online resources will include information on routes into apprenticeships, including higher and Degree Apprenticeships, and T Levels. We are improving the functionality of the post-16 course directory. This provides information about all the courses that a young person might choose at 16..We will consider what further action might be helpful in ensuring that young people are able to make informed decisions about their education, training or career options.

We have considered whether apprenticeships should be included in a centralised application system (either at age 16+ or at 18+). Our discussions with employers have made it clear that they value having their own recruitment processes and so would not welcome an attempt to standardise the process.

The Review of Post-18 Education and Funding is considering how we can help young people make effective choices between academic, technical and vocational routes after the age of 18.

Again the task of implementing this aspect of the Careers Strategy falls upon OfS shoulders:

The provision of information is one of the OfS’s top priorities. The strategic guidance letter asked the OfS to play a key role in ensuring better information, advice and guidance is provided to students so that they can make the right choices for them. The Government expect the OfS to combine this with the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data on salary outcomes and to reform Unistats, whilst working with students to identify what information they need to make effective informed choices and how to present it most effectively. The OfS are expected to publish an information, advice and guidance strategy by Autumn 2018.

 

  • Structural changes including addressing the high level of interest charged on student loans, criticism of the removal of maintenance grants, and censure for the masking effects in the way the student loan book is calculated and reported
    1. The Government rejected the recommendations surrounding the student finance system. The response notes that cutting the interest rates would be socially regressive as it would primarily benefit the highest earning graduates. This runs counter to Government policy, the introduction of the 2012 higher fees and cessation of student maintenance grants, which states that students who benefit financially should pay for their degree rather than the public. However, there is a slight softening within the Government’s response which references the Review and states [we] will consider the report of the independent panel in this regard.
    2. On maintenance support the response defends the Government’s position stating the move from grants to loans ensures that students contribute to the cost of HE – creating a fair balance of contribution between those who benefit – society and the student. It reiterates the familiar messaging which establishes the non-repayment of loans as a deliberate and conscious investment subsidy in the long-term skills capacity of the economy. Again there is a softening in the now familiar final statement on the Review which provides room for manoeuvre in future policy direction: The Review of Post-18 Education and Funding is considering how disadvantaged students and learners receive maintenance support, both from Government and from universities and colleges.
    3. The Director General of the Office for National Statistics also writes to Lord Forsyth (Chair of Lords Economic Affairs Committee) to respond to the Committee’s recommendation on the way the Office for National Statistics (ONS) accounts for the loan deficit. The letter acknowledges the complexity of the current accounting method and references the ONS’ own review tackling the pros and cons of the various alternative options in calculating the deficit.

Research Professional report on the student finance elements of the Government’s response in: Department rejects interest rate cuts for student loans.

Finally, while the majority of the Government’s official response to the House of Lords inquiry report holds to the current familiar policy lines it consistently acknowledges the importance of the Post-18 Education and Finance Review, including the role of the independent expert panel (chaired by Philip Augar). Perhaps portending movement on some of the key HE issues, such as finance, alongside a shake-up of sub level 4 provision. The independent panel is due to report later in autumn 2018 with the Government concluding the full Review early 2019. Potentially the Review could mean the biggest change in the sector landscape since the Higher Education and Research Act, and all set against the backdrop of impending Brexit.

Parental role in funding university

This week also brought an upsurge of articles on funding the costs of university timed ahead of the A level results.

Times Higher ran: Parents worldwide contribute to the cost of university, finds survey. It compares the differing levels of finance parents provide to facilitate their child’s degree study – UK and French parents contribute the least worldwide. The article also considers variety in global parental opinion on which skills are most important for their children to learn at university.

The Association of Investment Companies ran the article: A-Level results day approaches and parents vastly underestimate student debt.

Educating the world’s leaders

HEPI,  Times Higher and Research Professional cover the news that America has overtaken the UK in the statistics which recognise the country who educates the most world leaders. America has educated one more serving monarch, president or prime minister than the UK to take the top spot. Nick Hillman (HEPI) states:

You build up incredible soft power if you educate the leading lights of other countries. In the past, we have been more successful than any other country in attracting the world’s future leaders. But these new figures suggest our position could be slipping. To ensure this does not become a long-term trend, we need to adopt a bold educational exports strategy, remove students from the main migration target and roll out the red carpet when people come to study here.

One practical way to make all that happen would be to end the Home Office having complete control over student migration and to share it across government departments instead, as they do in other countries.

Technical Education

The Conservative leaning Centre for Policy Studies has published Technically Gifted – How Selection Can Save Technical and Vocational Education. It makes bold suggestions on how to achieve parity of esteem for technical and vocational education through exclusive selection methods. The document’s authors are no strangers to controversial headlines. It is written by Toby Young, the Free Schools guru who resigned from the OfS Board within days of appointment following public outcry at his past inappropriate tweets; with the Foreword by Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s ex-special advisor and Chief of Staff who advised her to call the snap election in 2017 which left the Conservatives without a majority in Parliament.

Toby highlights the growing skills gap in Britain – by 2022 it is anticipated there will be 3.6 million vacancies in skilled technical occupations despite the Government’s technical education policy agenda. He notes that, with a few exceptions, University Technical Colleges, Studio Schools and Free Schools have all failed to thrive and achieve quality outcomes. Toby believes the difficulty lies in student recruitment numbers – for viability the providers accept all applicants including those marginalised or excluded from other local schools and often have higher numbers of pupils with behavioural difficulties or low attainment. This makes the institution unattractive for pupils who excel within the educational specialism the institution provides, creating a negative downward spiral of declining numbers and status.

The document lands at a time when the Government and Lords are striving to engender a culture of parity of esteem between technical and academic education, where a higher level technical or vocational qualification is considered of equal value to a degree. The Government has invested heavily and is introducing T levels reforming vocational education into the 15 new technical routes, and promoting degree apprenticeships;  focusing more on choice for young people and promoting technical and vocational options through the Careers Strategy and the National Retraining Scheme; continuing to provide new funding to invest in Institutes of Technology and the National Colleges; whilst maintaining their support for the Institute for Apprenticeships. The quality and status of vocational education has been an issue throughout successive Governments so it remains to be seen whether the new approach will successfully bring the economic and skill benefits that Britain needs. What has been noticeable in the run up to A level results day this year is the additional volume of media stories and promotions espousing the benefits of degree apprenticeships and alternative choices.

For Toby the answer to both of the above conundrums – high quality technical education and equal status to an academic route – lies within exclusivity through selection. He believes being selected for a technical institution should be a high status achievement (like passing the 11-plus for grammar school entry) rather than a negative decision because the pupil is unsuitable for a standard academic route.

Toby writes:

…if the Government wants England’s technical/vocational schools to survive and thrive, it must cut the Gordian Knot linking technical and vocational education to a lack of aptitude for academic subjects and allow these schools to select pupils according to aptitude for their particular specialisms at the age of 14. Not only would this transform the fortunes of these schools, it would also enable the Department for Education (DfE) to set up new 14-19 technical/vocational schools that would be likely to succeed….This would not require any amendment to primary or secondary legislation. A policy change by the Secretary of State for Education would suffice…. Above all, it would fundamentally improve the life chances, income and well-being of those who have an aptitude for this type of education and would like the opportunity to pursue it, rather than treating them – as we have done for so long – like second-class citizens… Members of the professional class, including headteachers, must stop thinking of this type of education as second best – as only being appropriate for ‘other people’s children’.

Toby goes on to argue that:

  • technical courses should be as intellectually rigorous as academic subjects, including a common core of academic GCSEs
  • specialist schools should commence at age 14 as technical aptitude cannot be measured at age 11; children need time to develop the cognitive skills required by such courses. Moreover the pupils need an interest and passion in the specialist technical area they will study – this comes through experience and maturity
  • technical education should be delivered in specialist schools, not mainstreamed. The requirement for schools to enter 75% of their pupils for the narrowed subject mix of the English Baccalaureate (90% by 2025) means the wider range of subjects needed for vocational education aren’t being delivered
  • Technical education has to start pre-GCSE. He believes the post GCSE T levels will be a bolt on and won’t work because of the prior standard academic content with its narrowing mix of subjects. He calls again for the Government to signal that it regards this type of education as suitable for children of all abilities, not just those who find themselves without the necessary qualifications to do three A-levels
  • Toby notes a school admitting children at age 14 does pose a difficulty because it is not a standard transfer point in England’s schools system. Parents are reluctant to move children who have already settled and established friendships away from their current secondary school, and the middle school system moves children on at the end of year 8 not year 9. Furthermore, secondary head teachers have a financial incentive to retain their current pupil roll. In particular they are motivated to avoid additional funding cuts on top of those expected from pupils leaving to pursue post-16 options elsewhere. Toby highlights that persuading the local multi-academy trust to run a technical school is a potential solution, even better if they worked in partnership with local industry.
  • Selection methods should be commensurate with the type of specialist education delivered (e.g. the one day workshop style auditions common to the BRIT school) measuring interest/passion and technical aptitude rather than standard intelligence testing.
  • Currently there are two successful selective specialist technical schools. Through these Toby highlights that exclusivity doesn’t run counter to social mobility. In these schools both have significantly higher levels of pupils previously eligible for free school meals – 15% and 29% respectively compared to the 7% national average.
  • Abroad, nearly every country that has rolled out successful technical/vocational schools has allowed those schools to select.

 

Nick Timothy’s supports Toby’s proposals, writing in the foreword:

Young has identified why schools providing technical education have struggled in England: too often a pupil’s suitability for technical education is judged by their lack of suitability for an academically rigorous alternative. This is a false choice, and it inevitably means technical education is treated as second best. As a result parents and pupils shun technical schools, which end up being treated as dumping grounds for unruly students who are unwanted elsewhere. If we want to become world leaders in the STEM fields and meet our skills shortages with homegrown talent, this has to change. Young people should be encouraged to study technical subjects, and not only when teachers judge that they are not equipped for a purely academic education. For that to happen, a new generation of prestigious schools – selecting their pupils by aptitude, specialising in technical subjects, and still offering a core of academic subjects – can lead the way.

 

Graham Brady MP writes in Conservative Home in support of selective technical schools:

Wouldn’t it be better, as Young argues, if these schools were able to select those students with a particular aptitude for their specialisms? This should be the starting point in the Government’s efforts to revitalise technical and vocational education – a journey that leads to T-levels (which include a mandatory work placement), a place at an Institute of Technology, before entering a skilled occupation.

The choice, in other words, is not between grammars and comprehensives. It is between a flourishing ecosystem of schools, both selective and not, which do the best possible job of matching pupils and education – and a one-size-fits-all model which is increasingly out of step with the modern world.

Level 4 & 5 Qualifications

On Tuesday the DfE published findings from its ongoing review of level 4 and 5 qualifications. These shorter qualifications such as Foundation Degrees and diplomas are lower than the full undergraduate degree at level 6. However, the Government believes they are becoming a more important part of the employer skills jigsaw and pursuing them will lead to a healthy salary. The initial findings from the review note:

  • Studying at this level can increase earning potential and employability – students achieving a Level 4 or 5 qualification by age 23 had higher median wages by the time they were 26 and were more likely to be in sustained employment than students who achieved a Level 3.
  • A growing demand for qualifications at this level from employers in key sectors such as ICT and Engineering – meaning increased take up could play an important role in the UK economy, helping to plug technical skills gap and boost productivity.
  • Learners at this level often study part-time, and come from diverse backgrounds – highlighting how studying at this level could boost learning and job opportunities for hundreds of thousands more people across the country.

However, only 7% of people in England aged between 18 and 65 are undertaking training at this level, with the majority ceasing study at level 3 or instead pursuing a full degree. These latest findings fit with the Government’s call on the HE sector to offer a wider range of study options and structural flexibility to appeal to a wider audience –progressing social mobility and meeting the UK’s economic ambitions.

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton stated:

We want everyone to be able to access high quality technical education and training so they can get the skills they need. Having these skills can change people’s lives, leading to a rewarding career and fantastic opportunities. These early findings show how learning at Level 4 and 5 can benefit people of all ages and a wide variety of backgrounds, whilst helping employers get the skilled workforce they need. This research will play an important part of our ongoing review of Level 4 and 5 qualifications so we can understand how we can make education at this level work even better for everyone.

Research Professional report on the findings focusing on the low update of the level 4 and 5 qualifications.

 

Global Matters

This week the Government responded to a parliamentary question on visa delays which cause students to miss the start of their course:

Q – Stephen Kerr: How many tier 4 [visa] applications that have not been processed within the timescale set out in the service level agreement for processing such applications have caused students to miss university start dates in the latest academic for year for which figures are available.

A – Caroline Nokes: …The latest available data indicates the vast majority, 98.1% (and 99.8%) of straightforward cases were dealt with within service standards. Information on students who may have missed their university start date is not collated for publication on Home Office visa case-working systems.

International: The Pie News explores the popularity of UK HE delivered in Hong Kong, with 39 institutions delivering programmes. Pie News also reports that international students attending Chinese universities may be permitted to work part time in future to increase the attractiveness of the Chinese education system.

Brexit: On Friday the European Commission and the UK team continue to negotiate the future EU-UK relationship. Here is a helpful chart which sets out the UK and EU key players since the post Chequers cabinet reshuffle.

Buzzfeed News capitalises on a leaked listing of the Brexit technical papers in which the Government explore the consequences of leaving the EU on a ‘no deal’ basis. In part the papers aim to advise individuals and businesses on how to prepare for ‘no deal’ within their operating sphere. You can see the list of topics covered here, however, no content from the papers has been leaked.  The list includes Erasmus, Horizon 2020, Broadcasting, Environmental Standards, EU citizens in the UK, Life Sciences and many more. Buzzfeed report that a Government spokesperson stated the Brexit technical papers will be published for all to see in August and September on www.gov.uk  website.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

Horizon 2020: The Financial Times explore the Horizon 2020 funding figures released last week questioning whether collaboration is the major Brexit concern and noting the stabilisation effect Horizon funding provides for researchers.  Meanwhile this Government Horizon 2020 paper, issued last Thursday, explains the Withdrawal Agreement, the Underwrite and Post EU Exit Extension Guarantees, along with mobility and the Government’s position to Horizon Europe. It is written in plain language and an accessible catch up read.

Horizon Europe: Research Professional report on the Russell Group’s position paper which urges the EU to not seek to focus on closer-to-market projects at the expense of basic research.

Social Mobility Action: With the recent appointment of Dame Martina Milburn to lead the Social Mobility Commission comes a call to the public and industry to get involved with the social mobility movement for change. The news story is here, with a promise to update the page as more opportunities to get involved arise. It also contains details for interested colleagues to join their mailing list.

Masters fee hike: Times Higher report that since the postgraduate loans have been introduced many universities have increased the tuition fee for masters study.

Nursing: Nursing Times writes on the most recent NHS digital data showing the number of practicing learning disabilities nurses has dropped by 40% and that students choosing this form of nursing is decreasing. The article also references the Council of Deans for Health survey which found that 46% of education institutions considered dropping learning disability nursing from 2018/19 due to low student interest meaning courses are not financially viable. In this article the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) criticise the Government for doing too little too late – with the £10,000 golden hello for postgraduate students having little impact on recruitment. In this older news story RCN raise the removal of the NHS bursary for student nurses as a major factor in declining recruitment to degree programmes. It is likely that the decline in mature students contribute to the fall in numbers too. Mature students, with their greater life experience, are more likely to study learning disability or mental health nursing. The Independent also cover the recruitment drop warning of a return to Victorian era practices where patients are moved away from family to institutions because of insufficient trained expertise locally.

Justin Madders MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, said:

“The Royal College of Nursing’s powerful warning must serve as an urgent wake up call to the new Health Secretary. Under this Government learning disability nurses have been cut to the bone, and they appear to have gone quiet on their plans to attract more students into the profession. This unprecedented workforce crisis is completely unacceptable.

£9k fees unjustifiable:  Times Higher report on a YouGov poll which found that although students are satisfied with the quality of their degree they don’t feel the fee level is justified or results in a sufficiently high graduate job pay off.

“The data shows that while students’ satisfaction with the quality of their degree teaching is very high and a large majority still expect to be better off financially and in terms of being able to find a good job, this seems to be in spite of the costs of tuition, which the majority consider unjustified.”

Contract cheating: Wonkhe have a new blog post on essay mills to accompany a forthcoming petition to Parliament to legislate against contract cheating.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                  SARAH CARTER

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