Tagged / Horizon Europe

HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th May 2021

The expected flurry of activity post Queen’s Speech didn’t disappoint this week. Speculation about fees and funding, the Skills Bill, an OfS quality measure (which is not going to be used for regulation, so what is it for), as the new OfS chair sets out a new list of priorities, hot on the heels of the REF submissions, a new review has been announced to consider what the next REF might look like, in parallel to the existing review of research bureaucracy, and there is more on last week’s Free Speech Bill…. and now we are allowed to sit inside with a coffee to digest it all (and given the weather, there isn’t much temptation to sit outside).  Other beverages are available, of course.

Government support for universities in the pandemic

The IFS have a report out: COVID-related spending on education in England

Research Professional report on the report:

  • It may not surprise folks in universities that higher education seems to have been the poor relation when it comes to government largesse. This is, arguably, a reversal of universities’ past relationship with the Treasury and an ominous sign of things to come.
  • ….The IFS identifies £4.3bn of the £160bn as having been spent on education in England. Of that, only £365 million has been earmarked for higher education—this does not include loans for research allocated by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
  • … Of the £365m directed towards universities, £70m has been new cash for student hardship.
  • ….Of the total earmarked for universities, £300m is for restructuring insolvent institutions, for which, as the IFS points out, the government has received no applications. As the IFS dryly puts it, this suggests that “actual spending might turn out to be quite low”. It is hard to go lower than zero, unless universities were to start paying the Department for Education for the privilege of being ignored by the government.
  • That leaves around £70m of late-in-the-day student hardship money as the only additional cash directed towards universities in England during the pandemic. As has been pointed out, that amounts to around £45 per student, which is £14.20 less than one week’s Jobseeker’s Allowance for someone under the age of 24.
  • In addition, the business department has made £280m available for research funding, £80m of which comes from elsewhere in the department’s budget due to Covid-related underspending. That £280m Sustaining University Research Expertise package went towards extensions to grants covering researcher salary costs and laboratory equipment.
  • Not included here is the amount for government loans covering non-publicly funded research, which readers will recall are tied to structural reforms in universities, such as pay cuts for senior managers. As the IFS puts it, once again, “take-up is likely to be very low”. At present, £32m is set aside for the scheme, of which £22m is for capital expenditure.
  • We also know that some universities have taken out loans from the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, jointly run with the Treasury. …These figures do not appear in the IFS analysis.
  • Then there is the furlough scheme, widely used by universities, through which £77m was spent mothballing 25,000 jobs across higher education employers. Again, these numbers are not part of the IFS calculations.

Fees and funding

After the Queen’s Speech it is not surprising that attention turned to fees and funding over the weekend.  Research Professional have good coverage of what happened: It all started on Friday, when the Conservative Home website published a lengthy blogpost by education secretary Gavin Williamson…“The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt,” Williamson writes in his piece.   For BU readers we’ve done a little summary of how we got here and what might come next.

David Kernohan from Wonkhe has a critique of the Secretary of State’s argument in this blog and looks at just one arts cohort as an example:

  • Sources close to Gavin Williamson suggest in The Sunday Times that some arts graduates earn “as little as £12,000 a year”. …. I’ve gone one better and found 20 female printmaking graduates earning a median salary of £6,200 a year after graduation. Seeing a small group median like that makes the principal flaw of LEO clear – these graduates are almost certainly working part-time. ….. And LEO does not discriminate between full and part time work.
  • Secondly, these are median values. ….The upper quartile is so much higher than the median that earnings may be substantially higher in a couple of cases – suggesting two of our talented young female printmakers had sadly given up on their dreams and gone for a “graduate job”.
  • So which of our female printmakers have hit a dead-end, a year after graduation? The four who aren’t working at all, who may be undertaking further study or making and selling art full time? The eight or so working part-time to support their art? Or the ones that have put their practice on hold (or given up entirely) to work in media sales because our society doesn’t seem to think it needs artists who can work, eat, and pay rent?
  • Should any of them not have done a degree?.  … If the post-18 review started as a way to win the hearts and minds of students and those who have students (or potential students) in their lives, it has ended in a clumsy and misguided attempt to make subjects that people want to study in their thousands economically unviable to teach. Quite what, or who, this is “levelling up” is unclear.

Research Professional continue:

  • The “nothing but debt” phrase also showed up in a Sunday Times article over the weekend. That piece claimed that in line with the recommendations of the Augar review of post-18 education funding, university tuition fees “could be cut from £9,250 to a maximum of £7,500, according to a government consultation which begins next month”. 
  • It seems that even though Augar himself appeared to disown this particular recommendation; it is far from dead in the water—as was previously thought. 
  • The Sunday Times reports: “The cost of science degrees would be topped up by extra government funding, but critics fear arts and humanities subjects, such as languages, philosophy, theology, history and creative arts, would disappear at many universities.” 
  • There is no date yet for the launch of the consultation in question, but the paper says that this follows “growing concern in the Treasury” about the affordability of the student loan scheme given that a large proportion of loans are never paid back. 

Meanwhile ex-Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, who takes a more pro-HE view in some arguments, wrote for Conservative Home on Monday morning: Student finance? It’s the interest rate, stupid. Skidmore gets to the nub of the issue quickly – that changes are coming and have to be paid for somewhere – so HEIs should get on board and place themselves well for the change. And he reminds the Government that the reason fees aren’t repaid is because the interest levels are so high. Tuition fees are a hot spot for the Government because (1) they believe(d) Labour’s no fees policies are attractive and draw voters away from the Conservatives:

  • But if we are to reduce university fees, then there is also an important policy lever which the Government should also be looking to change, which I believe would have far greater impact on individual lives— and in turn far greater support… We need to look again at the interest rate charged on student loans, which any student or parent will tell you is out of all proportion to the reality of current interest rates.

Bear in mind the cost to the public purse for tuition fees became much more of an issue when the Office for National Statistics reclassified the student debt to count it in with the Government’s debt. Prior to this Jo Johnson (ex-Universities Minister) often defended the removal of student grants by explaining that if the student didn’t benefit from their graduate education and couldn’t afford to repay their loan it was written off.  It was a deliberate, progressive subsidy, we were told.  And Jo Johnson didn’t want to restrict choice of subject either.  How things have changed.

Skidmore points out the problems with the new approach:

  • Science degrees cost more than the current £9,250 a year to provide, with most being subsidised by arts, humanities and social science degrees. Unless careful thought is given to the impact of the unit of resource, what seems an attractive headline offer might in fact backfire – especially if it results in a loss of opportunity for future students in regions of the country who find that their local university is no longer able to provide the course provision they wish, not only in the arts and humanities, but in science degrees, too.
  • In addition, out of the current fee level, universities themselves invest around over £800 million a year in improving access and participation from some of the lowest socio-economic groups to attend university. With a reduction in fees, there is also a risk that the ability to reach out to the most disadvantaged in society is also reduced.

And he tells us his ResPublica Lifelong Education Commission is looking into alternatives:

  • … we should be investigating new methods of funding reskilling and upskilling. The success of research and development tax credits in generating this activity points to an opportunity for how companies could be rewarded for investing in the human capital of their employers, especially given the opportunity to close the productivity gap that lifelong learning might offer.

Meanwhile don’t miss the comments to Skidmore’s article even if you don’t read the actual piece. Although perhaps not if you are concerned about your blood pressure.

The Skidmore article triggered some discussion within HE policy circles as it highlighted the oft ignored distinction between tuition and living cost (maintenance) loans: it is one thing to say the loan system is unaffordable, another to say it is unaffordable because too many poor students have to eat while they study. Quite timely given the NUS hardship research published this week, more on this below.

Research Professional speculate about what a fees cut would do to research prospects and the university recruitment portfolio:

  • While a tuition fee cut would mean less income for all universities, it would affect the research effort in post-1992s much less. ….Post-1992s will be badly hit by any cuts and there will be job losses, with remaining staff asked to take on more teaching. However, the islands of research excellence within them—which rely heavily on the quality-related funding they generate—will be less badly affected than in other types of university.
  • ….Russell Group universities may review their own subject mix. With little profit to be derived from classroom teaching, we could see a swing away from the heavy recruitment that has been taking place in these disciplines.
  • …The squeezed middle will be those universities that attract less quality-related and less external funding but that rely on a cross-subsidy for research from teaching. Under these circumstances, there will be pressure to both lose staff and increase teaching loads in the arts because of the fee cut, and to reduce research activity across the board because of the loss of cross-subsidy.
  • The tectonic realignment that would take place as a result of a tuition fee cut might then see greater research concentration in the big civics, with a transfer of students in the opposite direction as those universities loosen their grip on undergraduate recruitment, once more looking to manage reputation and league table position through quality rather than quantity of applicants.
  • ….The big implication here is that the wider research effort in English universities would take a significant knock. Surely this is the opposite of what the government intends through an innovation-led form of levelling up and post-Covid recovery—so much for being a scientific superpower.

The article then goes on to highlight how the student experience wouldn’t necessarily be better nor would students repay their loans more frequently nor quicker. It is worth a read.

Research

Future Research Assessment: UKRI have launched the Future Research Assessment Programme:

  • This significant piece of work will… explore possible approaches to the assessment of UK higher education research performance.
  • Through dialogue with the higher education sector, the programme seeks to understand what a healthy, thriving research system looks like and how an assessment model can best form its foundation. The work strands include evaluation of the REF 2021, understanding international research assessment practice, as well as investigating possible evaluation models and approaches, looking to identify those that can encourage and strengthen the emphasis on delivering excellent research and impact, and support a positive research culture, while simplifying and reducing the administrative burden on the HE sector.
  • This programme of work is expected to conclude by late 2022.

Details – the international advisory group and their terms of reference; the programme board and their terms of reference. Research Professional cover the announcement. While there aren’t any additional details, their content explores the panel and talks about the review.

Horizon Europe: The European Scrutiny Select Committee have requested the Government explain how Horizon Europe will be funded. Press release, report document, committee information.

  • It is estimated that UK association with Horizon Europe would require a financial contribution of £12.7 bn. for the seven years from 2021 to 2027 inclusive. This is a gross figure, before deducting items such as any subsequent inflow of funds back from Horizon into UK scientific projects.
  • UK scientific researchers have expressed concerns that the government might expect much of this funding to come from existing domestic research budgets.
  • The government has made proposals to pay towards some of the costs of Horizon Europe, but not all of them. The European Scrutiny Committee has therefore written to the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway MP, seeking clarity on the government’s proposals. The Committee asked if the Minister could please tell them how the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe would be funded [within 10 days].
  • So no new news but pressure to reveal plans builds within parliament.

Quick News

  • The International Energy Agency (IEA) launched a landmark special report, setting out the world’s first comprehensive roadmap for the global energy system to rapidly boost clean energy deployment and reduce fossil fuel usage. Contact us if you’d like a summary.
  • The BEIS Committee held a session on levelling up and the post-pandemic recovery. The first session covered the industrial strategy, the definition of levelling and key metrics and related policies. The second session focussed on the Government’s industrial decarbonisation strategy and wider decarbonisation issues. Contact us if you would like to read a summary of the session.
  • Record numbers of trademark and registered design applications have been made post-Brexit. There was a dip in numbers at the outset of Covid in spring 2020 but numbers grew substantially by summer 2020.
  • Parliamentary Question: Encouraging international students to complete their PhD in the UK.
  • Research Professional have a blog Know your Audience explaining how to tailor research grant applications to achieve success.
  • COP26 President Alok Sharma speech: The vital role of the academic community in delivering COP26 aims.
  • The Royal Society have set out twelve critical technologies and research areasthat should be prioritised in national roadmaps for achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions. The new briefing reports aim to rapidly accelerate research, investment and deployment in areas that will become increasingly important across the next 30 years.
  • Kit Malthouse, Home Office Minister of State for Crime and Policing, has published a written ministerial statement announcing the Appointment of the Forensic Science Regulator, Gary Pugh OBE.
  • The National Centre for Universities and Business has published a report on the impact of COVID on business R&D. It specifically investigates the impact on businesses’ R&D and innovation activities and their collaborations with universities.
  • Societal impact: A longitudinal research studywill follow babies born in the 2020s over many decades aiming to understand how societal circumstances and events affect them. A £3 million investment, made by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, will allow UCL and other researchers to develop a two-year-long birth cohort feasibility study.  This study will develop and test the design, methodology and viability of a full-scale Early Life Cohort Study that is likely to follow participants for more than 70 years, starting from 2024.
  • Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has appointedVikas Shah and Stephen Hill as non-executive board members at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. They will help to steer the board “as BEIS navigates key issues including the economic recovery from coronavirus [and] efforts to combat climate change and promote science, research and innovation”. There will be another competition in the summer to appoint a board member to lead on energy and climate change policy.
  • Turing Fellowships – the Government has published guidanceon the Turing AI Fellowships, (£46 million initiative aimed at attracting and maintaining the best talent in artificial intelligence).  The full document, including the Turing AI Fellows supported by funding from the UK government, can be accessed here.

Parliamentary News

You can read the full text of the Queen’s speech debate relating to education: A Brighter Future for the Next Generation.

Labour confirmed their shadow line up for Education:

  • Shadow Education Secretary: Kate Green
  • Peter Kyle (Schools)
  • Matt Western (Universities)
  • Toby Perkins (Apprenticeships & life-long learning)
  • Tulip Siddiq (Children & Early Years)
  • Child Poverty Strategy – Wes Streeting

Here is the new Scottish Government Cabinet:

  • Nicola Sturgeon – First Minister
  • John Swinney – Deputy First Minister
  • Kate Forbes – Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy
  • Humza Yousaf – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
  • Shirley-Anne Somerville – Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
  • Michael Matheson – Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport
  • Keith Brown – Cabinet Secretary for Justice
  • Shona Robison – Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
  • Angus Robertson – Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
  • Mairi Gougeon – Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has been introduced  – it will be starting its journey in the House of Lords. We are waiting for a date for the second reading (this is when the actual debate and discussion of the Bill begins); it probably won’t be discussed until June. The Bill will cover:

  • local skills improvement plans;
  • further education;
  • the functions of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and relating to technical education qualifications;
  • to make provision about student finance and fees;
  • to make provision about assessments by the Office for Students;
  • to make provision about the funding of certain post-16 education or training providers.

Here is the Government’s press release:  New legislation to help transform opportunities for all – The Skills and post-16 Education Bill will support vital reforms to post-16 education so more people can gain the skills needed to secure great jobs.

You can read the full text of the Bill, the accompanying explanatory notes and the impact assessment. Or the shorter version is that the Bill provisions currently:

  • Provide for a statutory underpinning for local skills improvement plans, introducing a power for the Secretary of State for Education to designate employer representative bodies to lead the development of the plans with duties on providers to co-operate in the development of and then have regard to the plans

The key policy objectives of local skills improvement plans, as part of the Skills Accelerator, are to:

  • Enable employers to clearly articulate the priority strategic changes they think are required to technical skills provision in a local area to make it more responsive to the skills needs.
  • Enable a process whereby FE providers respond better collectively to the labour market skills needs in their area.

To frame this policy intent in legislation, the Bill measure focuses on:

  • giving the Secretary of State the ability to designate employer-representative bodies (ERBs) to develop local skills improvement plans, ensuring ERBs have regard to written guidance and providing them with the necessary influence to develop local skills improvement plans; and
  • requiring providers to co-operate with the ERB in developing the local skills improvement plan and have due regard to this when considering their technical education and training offer
  • Introduce a duty for all further education corporations, sixth form college corporations and designated institutions to review how well the education or training provided by the institution meets local needs, and assess what action the institution might take to ensure it is best placed to meet local needs. This places a duty for all governing bodies to keep their provision under review to ensure that they are best placed to meet the needs of the local area. This duty will form part of college planning from academic year 2022/23…
  • Introduce additional functions to enable the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (“the Institute”) to define and approve new categories of technical qualifications that relate to employer-led standards and occupations in different ways, and to have an oversight role for the technical education offer in each occupational route, including mechanisms to manage proliferation.
  • Ensure that the Institute and the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (“Ofqual”) maintain a streamlined collaborative system for approval and regulation of technical qualifications.
  • Giving the Institute powers to determine new qualification categories and approve qualifications against associated criteria in the future….Putting the mechanisms in place to ensure the qualifications market delivers high quality technical qualifications based on employer-led standards and employer demand.
  • Giving the Institute powers that could allow it to charge for approval and to manage proliferation.
  • Introduce specific provision reflecting lifelong learning entitlement policy which aims to make it easier for adults and young people to study more flexibly – allowing them to space out their studies, transfer credits between institutions, and take up more part-time study. The proposed legislation modifies the existing regulation-making powers in the Teaching and Higher Education Act (THEA) 1998 so as to:
  • make specific provision for funding of modules of higher education and further education courses, and the setting of an overall limit to funding that learners can access over their lifetime,
  • make clear that maximum amounts for funding can be set other than in relation to an academic year.
  • Enable the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations for the purpose of securing or improving the quality of Further Education (“FE”) initial teacher training;
  • Reinforce the Office for Students’ ability to assess the quality of higher education providers in England, and make decisions on compliance and registration by reference to minimum requirements for quality. [we’ll talk more about this in the section on OfS priorities below]
  • Enable the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations to provide for a list of post-16 education or training providers, in particular Independent Training Providers (“ITPs”), to indicate which providers have met conditions that are designed to prevent or mitigate risks associated with the disorderly exit of a provider from the provision of education and training.
  • Extend statutory intervention powers applicable to further education corporations, sixth form college corporations and designated institutions under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. This measure will enable the Secretary of State for Education to intervene where there has been a failure to meet local needs, and to direct structural change where that is required to secure improvement (such as mergers); and
  • Make amendments to clarify and improve the operation of the FE insolvency regime for further education bodies, relating to the use of company voluntary arrangements, transfer schemes and the designation of institutions.

Wonkhe have a blog picking out matters to note within the Bill – it dismisses the Bill as poorly thought out and without substance. The first comment to the blog (Phil Berry) makes a really important point on the lifelong learning funding– For this to truly work there needs to be a complete rethink of how student funding works with the removal of the distinctions between full-time and part-time and a move to a credit based system. It seems to be a bolt-on at the moment.

More OfS priorities

The new chair of the OfS spoke at a UUK meeting.  You can read the press release here and the full speech here. He set out four key principles:

  • nobody with the talent to benefit from higher education should find that their background is a barrier to their success
  • higher education students from all backgrounds and on all courses should expect a high quality experience, and that high academic standards must be maintained
  • universities must continue to take urgent steps to tackle harassment on campus
  • we should, as an efficient and effective regulator, take steps to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden wherever we can

On widening participation, he said this is key to the levelling up agenda.  You’ll recognise a theme here from a few years ago when there were thoughts of making school sponsorship mandatory…where is this going now?

  • Universities, working with schools, …. need to continue to reach out – especially to those towns and coastal communities where people feel forgotten – and to show people there that university is for them too. By casting their nets wide, searching for talent where opportunity may be in short supply, universities have the power to transform lives. And universities have a critical role in developing that talent also, doing the hard graft with schools and pupils to drive up attainment and achievement from an early age.

On quality, he promised the outcome of the quality consultation shortly.  As expected, quality is defined by outcomes (specifically, employment outcomes) and continuation, and they are “sharpening their regulatory tools”.  That may be a reference to the Skills Bill, which apparently is going to give them new powers to enforce their quality framework.  [In the meantime, the OfS have launched their new metric which uses, guess what, continuation and employment outcomes to provide a single combined score (called, creatively, “Proceed”) – see more in the separate section below.]

  • Let me be clear though. Broadening access to university cannot be done by lowering standards. I do not accept the argument that levelling up can involve any reduction in the academic excellence and rigour of which our higher education sector is rightly proud. It is incumbent on our universities to play their part in raising standards and attainment both at the point of access and throughout the higher education experience.
  • ….When students do begin their degrees, they are right to expect that they will receive high quality teaching and a springboard to a good career. Education for its own sake is to be commended and protected, but in doing so we should recognise that – for most students – securing a rewarding career is one of the most important factors in deciding what, where and how to study.
  • While most higher education teaching in England is good or excellent, good quality is not universal. Nobody embarks on a degree expecting to drop out, or to find themselves no better off months – or even years – after they graduate. Courses with high drop out rates and low progression to professional employment let students down, and we shouldn’t be reticent in saying so, or taking action.
  • …Most universities and other higher education providers offer good quality provision. Many will comfortably out-perform any numerical baselines we set – and will see regulatory burden fall as a result. But, where standards slip we stand ready to intervene. We will set out our next steps on quality shortly, sharpening our regulatory tools as necessary to address these issues and help ensure that students can count on good quality higher education.

[Just to finish the point on the Skills Bill, the relevant bit is section 17:

In section 23 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (assessing the quality of, and the standards applied to, higher education), at the end insert—

“(4) The factors that may be taken into account for the purposes of an assessment…. of the quality of higher education provided by an institution include the student outcomes of the institution.

(5) The student outcomes of an institution may be measured by any means (whether qualitative or quantitative) that the OfS considers appropriate, including by reference to the extent to which—

(a) persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution continue to undertake that course, or another course at the same or a similar level, after a period of time,

(b) persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution are granted an award of a particular description by that institution,

(c) persons who are granted an award by the institution undertake further study of a particular description, or

(d) persons who are granted an award by the institution find employment of a particular description by virtue of that award.

(6) The OfS may, from time to time, determine and publish a minimum level in relation to a measure of student outcomes which all institutions to whom the measure is applicable are expected to meet.

(7) The OfS is not required to determine and publish different minimum levels in relation to a measure of student outcomes in order to reflect differences in—

(a) particular student characteristics; (b) the particular institution or type of institution which is  providing higher education;

(c) the particular higher education course or subject being studied;

(d) any other such factor. …

So we get to harassment. He talked about the new statement of expectations and promised, to look at options for making compliance a regulatory condition.  He did not mention freedom of speech (strange, for such a topical issue and with the OfS being promised sweeping new powers in the new Bill).  He did, however, reconfirm the position on anti-Semitism:

  • One straightforward action to take is for all universities to sign up to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The definition is important in helping us all to interpret and understand antisemitism and I strongly urge any university that hasn’t signed up to do so without delay. Those universities that have signed up must – of course – continue to be alert to antisemitic incidents and have clear measures in place to ensure that Jewish students are free to study and enjoy university life without fear of harassment.

And so to bureaucracy.

  • Reducing unnecessary burden will be a priority for me. [This one is a stretch when the new quality regime proposed onerous new data and reporting requirements, the Freedom of Speech Bill sets up another layer of reporting and monitoring and we are about to be consulted on the next iteration of the TEF.  While the TEF is going to be better than it might have been (no subject level) it will be mandatory and demanding to complete.]
  • We need to get the balance right between ensuring students and taxpayers enjoy the benefits of regulation without universities experiencing an overly bureaucratic process that detracts from their core purpose – delivering excellent teaching and research. [I guess it’s all about perspective – if it’s necessary and beneficial, then it doesn’t matter if, in fact, it increases the overall burden].
  • … as a first step, we will publish next week the details of a new key performance measure that will set out transparently whether our work is reducing or increasing reducing regulatory burden. [Well, that’s ok then].

So with this in mind, Nicola Dandridge (CEO of the OfS) has blogged about their approach to managing the regulatory burden.  She says that they are committed to getting the balance right between the benefits and burden of regulatory and that [be prepared to find some of these underwhelming…]:

  • producing plans for each of the last two years has imposed significant administrative burden. Data released today shows no reduction in burden at this stage. However, this will change in future as we have increased the length of access and participation plans to five years
  • we have reduced our data requirements. We now no longer require data about estates or non-academic staff, and providers were required to submit at most 15 data returns last year, down from 18 the year before
  • We have also successfully reduced – where appropriate – enhanced monitoring requirements. There were a total of 468 conditions subject to enhanced monitoring across all providers in March 2020, and we reduced this to 406 in November 2020, despite increasing the number of registered providers overall.
  • we have suspended random sampling
  • ….and committed to reducing providers’ fees by 10 per cent in real terms over the next two years. Today’s measures show that the combined fees of OfS, HESA and QAA cost providers an average of less than £20 per student last year.

And – tada – the new KPI is revealed.  With only one or two years of data, the graphs are not very exciting, but you might like the ones under (4) “understanding our regulatory approach”.

  1. Submitting data and information.
  2. Complying with enhanced monitoring requirements.
  3. Developing and agreeing access and participation plans.
  4. Understanding our regulatory approach.
    • The OfS published around 420,000 words in regulatory documents in in each of the past two years. Around 60 per cent of these documents met our readability target
  5. Paying regulatory fees.
    • Providers paid an average of under £20 per student to be registered with the OfS in 2019-20 (providers registered in 2019-20 paid an average of £19.91 per student in regulatory fees) [there is a commitment to reduce fees by 10% by 2022-23]

Research Professional ran an article on the regulatory burden. Wonkhe have a blog too: The OfS measures its own regulatory burden.

Proceed: Graduate Prospects Measure

In the context of all this talk about closing down courses and capping fees, if drop out rates and employment statistics aren’t up to scratch, the OfS have published an experimental new measure through which they intend to show students’ likelihood of securing professional level employment or embarked on further study in the year after they graduate. The measure is based on projected data for full-time first degree students who complete their studies (completion rates) and the progression of recent graduates to employment, further study and other activities (graduate outcomes); for short it is called Proceed. This is the second release of the measure as the OfS has tweaked it since its first outing in December in response to cross-sector feedback.

The OfS press release states new measure shows substantial differences in likely job and study outcomes for students stating it reveals substantial differences between individual universities and other higher education providers, in different subjects, and in different subjects at individual universities. The OfS anticipates prospective students will consult the measure to make informed choices about what and where to study and they say they have no intention to use it in regulation.

We know that latter part is probably true – because this data is benchmarked, and the quality consultation and the new provisions in the Skill Bill confirm their intention to use non-benchmarked data to regulate.  So this new metric is a much softer, friendlier approach than the one we are expecting.  It also looks remarkably like something that might crop up in the new TEF – using the government’s favourite metrics and benchmarks that look a lot like TEF3.  Although this new data goes further – it is given at subject level, which the TEF apparently won’t do.

Do we get any idea about what the harder edged version might look like?  Well maybe.  50% seems to be a magic number.  Or 55%.  Or perhaps those were just picked because they illustrated the point nicely.

The accompanying press release notes:

  • significant differences in performance between different universities and colleges. The measure projects that over 75% of entrants at 22 universities and other higher education providers will go on to find professional employment or further study shortly after graduation. At 25 universities and other education providers, less than half of students who begin a degree can expect to finish that degree and find professional employment or further study within 15 months of graduation [this latter comment is a bit confusing. There aren’t 25 institutions which had below 50% scores on both metrics (because there are only 3 that don’t meet 50% on the completion one and only 5 on the progression one) but there are 25 that are under 50% for the combined Proceed metric – and nearly all of them are well over 50% the two separate metrics.  The detail matters.]
  • significant differences at a subject level. For example, 95.5% of medicine and dentistry entrants are projected to find professional employment or further study. Conversely the rates are below 55% in six subjects [again, not really accurate. If you look at the progression rates by subject there are NO subjects where the sector number is below 60%.  There are 6 subjects below 55% on the combined Proceed measure.  Those unimpressed by the SoS’s focus on “slashing” funding for media studies will note this list and also that he studied Social Sciences at Bradford (no progression data on the chart so no combined score). Also, using Medicine and Dentistry as the comparator is a misleading; it is clearly an outlier.  The next one on the list is Veterinary sciences (86.4%) and then Nursing and Midwifery at 78.6% – and again, you would expect employment rates to be high for these courses. The first subject on the list that doesn’t involved almost guaranteed progression to employment in a directly related job is Economics at 75.2%.]. The 6 subjects are: Sociology, social policy and anthropology, Agriculture, food and related studies, Business and management, Psychology, Media, journalism and communications and Sport and exercise sciences.
  • instances where there is varied performance between subjects at individual universities [Well, yes. Shall we look at the University of Oxford? Excluding Medicine and Dentistry for the reasons given above, their top overall Proceed score is 96.5% in Mathematical Sciences and their lowest is 78.8% in History and Archaeology.  The lowest score for Cambridge is for Languages (79.7%).  Proof then that the SoS is right, these subjects lead to dead end jobs, even from Oxbridge?]

As we all know, there are so many other factors that influence employment than the quality of the programme.  Who you recruit and where they come from, what they did before and where they lived before and move to afterwards.  And while on average students studying humanities may do less well in employment (on this measure) than hard science subjects, there are and will be so many individual exceptions to this – including the SoS and Minister for Universities, who are clearly not pursuing a straight line career linked to their degree subjects.  It’s so odd that the Secretary of Stage says that HE is not vocational, while championing measures that would only make sense if it was.

Commenting on the data Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • It is important that prospective students have access to good independent information about courses they may be interested in. The report we are publishing today provides a wealth of data which can help students decide which university, and which subject, might be right for them. In publishing this information we recognise that – for many students – finding professional employment after graduation is one of the most important reasons for going to university. But it is not the only reason, and it is important to value all the wider benefits of higher education, including the personal development, the cultural richness and exposure to different people and different perspectives that higher education offers. Nonetheless many universities make significant use of data about the employment outcomes for their graduates when marketing their courses. The publication of this independent data will provide further assistance to students in their decision-making.
  • The data reflects the fact that higher education offers good outcomes, and that graduates can expect to earn, on average, far more than non-graduates over the course of their careers. Indeed, many of the financial benefits of higher education are not realised immediately after graduation.
  • This work demonstrates the continuing priority that the OfS places on the quality of courses. The quality of higher education in England is generally high. But this data brings into sharp focus the fact that there are profound differences in outcomes for students, depending on where they study and the subject they choose. While we have no plans to use this indicator for regulatory purposes, we are determined to tackle poor quality provision which offers a raw deal for students. We are currently consulting on our approach to regulating student outcomes with a view to raising the numerical baselines we have used previously and – subject to the outcomes of the consultation – will set out next steps shortly. But good outcomes are only part of the story and we are also planning further interventions to ensure that all students have a high quality academic experience and are assessed in a rigorous way.

Hardship

NUS published research into student hardship as part of a call for an improved student support package for England. A survey conducted by NUS found that:

  • One in three students have cut back on food for lack of money
  • One in ten students have relied on food banks during the pandemic.
  • Only one in three students find that student loans cover their living costs
  • Only 15% of students have accessed hardship funding
  • 70% of students are worried about their ability to manage financially.
  • One fifth of students stated they had been unable to pay their rent since January
  • Half of the students surveyed stated the income of someone who supports them financially has been impact by Covid-19.
  • One in 10 have taken out bank loans to stay afloat.

NUS say that those most likely to report the greatest suffering are already marginalised groups such as disabled students, students of colour, international students and those with caring responsibilities.

Summer jobs: Three out of four students surveyed have a job for the summer or are looking for one. Of those looking 42% have no confidence at all they will find one.

The NUS is calling on the UK government to increase its student support offer to £700m to match the spending seen in other parts of the UK. However, even in the devolved nations where students have been offered more generous packages the picture is troubled.

Free Speech

Since the publication of the new Bill (see our update from last week) there has been a lot of discussion about it and the issues that it is intended to address.  In one of the more balanced blogs on the topic, Nick Hillman writes for Research Professional about problems both with free speech on campus and with legislation designed to protect it. There is also a HEPI blog covering the same ground: People want free speech to thrive at universities … just not for racists, Holocaust deniers or advocates of religious violence.

The content comes from HEPI polling due to be released over the next month, however, given the Bill and reinvigorated national debate HEPI (and partners UPP) have released this element of the content early. If explores public attitudes towards free speech within the HE context.

  • In principle, the public is in favour of free speech
  • When asked, a majority of people say that people should be allowed to speak to students at university so long as their views are not illegal (55%).
  • A more libertarian perspective, where nobody is prevented from speaking to students because of their opinions is less popular, with only around a quarter (24%) of the public supportive of this position.
  • When asked, based purely on that one piece of information whether in principle such a person ‘should be allowed to speak at a university’, ‘should not’, or ‘don’t know’, people’s opinions range from a net 56% in favour through to a net -49%.
  • It is worth emphasising that between 13% and 22% of respondents answered ‘don’t know’ to the scenarios, showing either the complexity of the issue or an unwillingness to give an opinion.
  • From the scenarios in the polling, the principle of allowing a Holocaust denier the right to speak at university is one of the least supported, with a net percentage of -26% thinking they should be allowed to speak (29% ‘should’, 55% ‘should not’, 16% ‘don’t know’)
  • Conservative voters are more likely to be supportive of free speech for six of the issues, with Labour voters being more supportive of four of them.
  • There are large differences between major party voters on the questions of promoting the Empire, campaigning for reduced immigration levels (although both of these record substantial positive NET scores from Labour and Conservative voters), trans issues and gay marriage.
  • Younger people are more in favour of letting some people speak than older ones (particularly around crime, and communism and Trump supporters). But they are less supportive than older people of someone’s right to speak if they promote a positive role of the empire, are against gay marriage or don’t believe trans women are women (although in each of those cases, there are net positives within all age groups).
  • When split by gender, we can see that men are consistently more pro free speech than women. Across all ten of the examples, men are more likely to want the speaker to speak (though, net, they are also against allowing Holocaust deniers, jihadi advocates and racists to speak).
  • There are limited patterns by socio economic status.
  • When looking at the responses of graduates versus non-graduates, we find that graduates are more pro free speech than non-graduates on 8 of our 10 examples – with non-graduates being more supportive of speakers defending the Empire and (more narrowly) calling for restrictions on immigration.
  • Overall, there are major lessons for both sides of the debate. It is clear that a blanket call in favour of free speech is likely to find popular support. But the real finding is that people will respond very differently depending on the circumstances of the speaker in question.

The blog has the full range of charts subdivided by other factors such as socio economic status and gender.

The OfS also published a free speech blog: Robust but civil debate: how the OfS protects free speech on campus.

  • The Office for Students (OfS) stands for the widest possible definition of free speech – anything within the law…Our starting point is that free speech and academic freedom should be part of the culture of every university and college and be proactively promoted. Free speech and academic freedom are essential elements of higher education teaching and research; they are too precious and too fragile to be taken for granted. Academic staff must be able to undertake teaching and research with confidence and speak out in controversial areas without fear that this will affect their working environment or their careers. That is not always the case now.
  • Students should encounter, and be able to debate, new and discomforting ideas if they are to get the most out of higher education. Universities, colleges and other higher education providers, and their students’ unions and associations, should actively encourage robust, but civil, debate which takes different viewpoints seriously.

Donelan’s pickle

The ripples continue to spread from Michelle Donelan’s comments last week as politicians try to define a non-existent line between free speech and something nasty which isn’t illegal. Unfortunately for the government, if it isn’t illegal, then the Bill makes it very clear it has to be protected.  And gives people the right to compensation if they are prevented (once invited) from saying the nasty thing.  Research Professional have a blog.

Smita Jamdar wrote about the legal issues on Wonkhe.

Prevent/Free Speech parliamentary question: Michelle Donelan bungles her way through another explanation – the Prevent Duty should not be used to suppress free speech. The same response was used to these questions (Q1, Q2) to confirm the Government intend to proactively engage stakeholders with a wide range of interests and backgrounds during and after passage of the [Free Speech] Bill, including Muslim, East Asian and South East Asian students.

It’s all a bit of a muddle, as illustrated by the examples discussed in this Wonkhe article by Jim Dickinson.  What is clear is that there will be a lot of time spent worrying about how to find a way through the maze of conflicting requirements and trying to avoid a complaint through the many different channels available.

Access & Participation

The OfS have a blog by Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, who contemplates the last 20 years of widening participation actions. It’s a snooze fest so you might want to skip it unless you need a short potted history from the Government’s perspective. Chris manages to give the 20 year history without mentioning OFFA or his predecessor Les Ebdon.

Identifying disadvantage for Contextual Admissions: The Sutton Trust has published a report on disadvantaged students.  It finds that commonly-used markers of disadvantage are not effective at identifying low-income students as they enter HE and call for better data to target access work and contextual admissions. The report uses the data from 7,000 young people in the Millennium Cohort Study and explores how different measures of disadvantage relate to long-term family income. It aims identify the most effective measures of disadvantage – particularly to support universities in their outreach work and in using contextual admissions to widen access.

Dods present the key findings:

  • The number of years a child has been eligible for free school meals is the best available marker for childhood poverty (Pearson correlation = 0.69) and is therefore likely to be the best indicator for use in contextual admissions. FSM eligibility also has fewer biases then other measures, particularly for single parent families and renters who are more often missed by other measures. However, verified data on FSM eligibility is not currently available to universities.
  • POLAR, an indicator of university participation by local area, is currently a key measure used in contextual admissions in the UK. However, it was not designed to measure socio-economic disadvantage, and is very poorly correlated with low family-income (correlation = 0.22). It is also biased against key demographic groups, including BAME students.
  • TUNDRA, an experimental alternative to POLAR, is also a poor measure of income deprivation (correlation = 0.17), and suffers from similar biases. Both POLAR and TUNDRA are unsuitable for use in contextual admissions.
  • ACORN is the best area-level measure available, as it measures households at a very localised level (around 15 households), is designed to be comparable across the UK, and has a reasonably good relationship to low household income (correlation = 0.56). It is also slightly less biased than other area-based markers. However, as a commercial indicator, it is not free to use, and the methodology behind is it not openly published.
  • The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is another good option for an area level marker with a moderate relationship with low household income (correlation = 0.47), and the benefit of being publicly available. However, the measure is biased against those who are BAME, live in a single parent household and who rent. IMD is also not comparable across the four constituent countries that form the UK.

Recommendations:

  1. To improve targeting to contextual admissions and widening access schemes, universities and employers need further individual data about the socio-economic background of applicants, in particular Free School Meal eligibility. The creation of a “household-income” database, as suggested by the Russell Group, would be beneficial, but is likely to be difficult to implement. As it is already collected in official datasets, we suggest that information on the proportion of time young people have been FSM-eligible throughout their time at school would be a valuable alternative.
  2. There should be greater transparency and consistency from universities and employers when communicating how contextual data is used. …. The current situation – where different organisations use different indicators in different ways while not being transparent in their use – can lead to confusion.
  3. Universities and employers should prioritise use of the most robust measures for contextualised admissions and recruitment. Where free school meals eligibility is not available, priority should be given to ACORN, the best area-level measure, followed by the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). If a basket of measures is used, these most robust measures should be weighted most strongly.
  4. The POLAR and TUNDRA measures should not be used in contextual admissions for individual students. … its use by universities in their widening access schemes, or as part of contextual admissions should be avoided.
  5. The Office for Students should review the role of POLAR and the inclusion of specific measures of socio-economic disadvantage in advance of the next round of Access and Participation Plans. …. Free School Meal eligibility, as the basis for the official government definition of disadvantage in schools, would be the natural candidate and would enable a more joined-up national policy approach across schools and HE.

International

Dods tell us: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has launched registration for Quality Evaluation and Enhancement of UK Transnational Higher Education (QE-TNE). This is a new, innovative scheme to help UK degree-awarding bodies improve and enhance the quality of their international provision. Follow this link if you want to know more.

Parliamentary Questions

  • The cost for international students to quarantine: international students due to their visa status, that are facing significant financial hardship will have the opportunity to apply for a deferred repayment plan when booking their managed quarantine hotel room. Travellers who access hardship will be referred to a government debt collection agency (“Qualco”), who will perform an independent financial assessment and determine an appropriate payment plan. Several other PQs also specifically asked about international students from India.
  • Whether people on a spousal dependent visa can be given access to student finance.

Parliamentary Questions

  • Graduation: Providers may hold events, as long as they are compatible with COVID-19 regulations… We expect graduation ceremonies to go ahead, either physically in person but delayed in line with the roadmap, or to be held virtually.
  • Further Education Law course/Graduate Diploma funding
  • Labour’s Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has asked several questions on safeguarding mental health and suicide of placement students, and one on general student mental health provision.

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

Essay Mills Lord Storey has done it again – he’s come up in the Lords private members’ bills ballot again and intends to introduce his Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill on 24 May. We’ve lost count of which attempt this is to ban essay mills but he certainly is persistent.

AI & data graduates: Research into the UK AI labour market commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has been published. The research aims to create a set of recommendations on policy areas that the government and industry should focus on, to bridge skills gaps in the sector. Contact us if you would like a small summary.  In short, the research found skills shortages within the AI and data science sector with a range of employers reporting difficulties in recruiting the volume of workforce needed, also a lack of female and ethnic minority employees.

National Data Strategy: The Government have published their response following the National Data Strategy consultation. You can read the written ministerial statement and the consultation outcome.

  • Consultation feedback has confirmed that our framework is fit for purpose. Many respondents also recognised the need to rebalance the narrative, moving away from thinking about data use primarily as a threat to be managed, and instead recognising data as an asset that, used responsibly, can deliver economic and public benefits across the UK.  
  • The government response to the consultation builds on the insights we received, and details how we will deliver across our priority areas of action in such a way that builds public trust and ensures that the opportunities from better data use work for everyone, everywhere. This includes setting out our plans to create a National Data Strategy Forumwhich will ensure that a diverse range of perspectives continue to inform the strategy’s implementation. 

Civic Universities: Read the latest including content on the £50k UPP grant for the civic university network.

Cyber: The Government has published a press release on new plans to boost cyber resilience of the UK’s critical supply chains. There’s a policy paper they’re calling for views on too. The Government want input on:

  • How organisations across the market manage supply chain cyber risk and what additional government intervention would enable organisations to do this more effectively.
  • The suitability of a proposed framework for Managed Service Provider security and how this framework could most appropriately be implemented to ensure adequate baseline security to manage the risks associated with Managed Service Providers.

Light relief: Royal Appointment – last week’s Ivory Tower (a spoof column by Research Professional) piece provided a brilliant parody of the Queen’s Speech with many of the HE hot spots touched upon. Read for a little light relief. If you have trouble logging into Research Professional you can contact BU’s eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

And if you’ve ever gnashed your teeth whilst trying to respond to a Freedom of Information request this on is for you. Paul Greatrix highlights on Wonkhe the 30 silliest FOI requests ever to hit his desk. I challenge you to read it without finding one you think you’d like to know the answer to!

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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MSCA 2021 Postdoctoral Fellowships Information Sessions – Slides Available

​The UK Research Office (UKRO), in its capacity as UK National Contact Point for the Horizon Europe 2021 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), were holding a series of information webinars to support potential applicants applying for the 2021 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Postdoctoral Fellowships call (expected call opening 18 May 2021, proposed call deadline 15 September 2021).

The webinar series aimed to provide participants with comprehensive overview of the scheme, including the budget, how to develop your proposal, the submission process, and tips on how to address the evaluation criteria. UKRO have kindly provided the presentation slides from those webinars; staff of UKRO subscribing organisations may access them on UKRO website (registration is required). Please follow the links below to see more:

Session 1: Overview and Eligibility Rules

Session 2: MSCA PF: Practical Matters

Session 3: MSCA PF: Process for Submission and Evaluation and Expert Evaluator Presentation

BU is one of the UKRO’s subscriber organisations and every BU employee may use their  services – sign up to the UKRO portal and subscribe for email newsletters to receive the latest information on EU funding and policy directly to your inbox; for more information visit UKRO website.

If you have any further queries related to either EU/international funding in general, Horizon Europe Framework Programme or MSCA scheme specifically, please contact BU Research Facilitator International Ainar Blaudums.

Update on Horizon Europe

This blog post is prepared based on an article published by UKRO.

The European Parliament has adopted the legal basis of Horizon Europe. MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of both the Horizon Europe Regulation and the Specific Programme on Tuesday night last week. This paves the way for the final adoption and publication of the legislation – followed by the publication of the first Horizon Europe Work Programme with calls for proposals, budgets and deadlines.

Following the Parliament’s consent, the Specific Programme for Horizon Europe and the Euratom Regulation will now need to be adopted by the Council of Ministers within the next two weeks. The Horizon Europe Regulation, the Specific Programme and the Euratom Regulation are then expected to be published in the Official Journal of the EU on 12 May and become law, allowing for the first Horizon Europe Work Programme to be published once the drafting process is completed. The Regulation will apply retroactively from 1 January 2021, thus covering the early Horizon Europe calls launched so far.

UKRO understands that due to a further delay in the drafting process, unusually, the main Work Programme will not be published on the same day the programme’s legal basis enters into force – its publication and launch of the first calls is now expected to take place in late May, with the possibility that some of the first deadlines may need to be adjusted accordingly.

The Parliament’s approval of Horizon Europe also brings the formal UK association process a step closer to completion. In the meantime, UK entities can be included in consortia, as if the UK were already associated to the programme, in accordance with the Commission’s guidance.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions: Postdoctoral Fellowships 2021

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) are part of the First Pillar within Horizon Europe (HEU) framework programme. They operate on a completely bottom-up basis, with no pre-defined priority areas.

These actions are open to all research areas and support fundamental research through to near market activities. In HEU, MSCA will continue to provide grants for all stages of researchers’ careers with a strong emphasis on encouraging international, intersectoral and interdisciplinary mobility.

Postdoctoral Fellowships (formerly Individual Fellowships) are aimed at individual fellows who already have a doctoral degree and wish to enhance the creative and innovative potential of researchers holding a PhD, wishing to acquire new skills through further research.

The MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships call 2021 is expected to open on 18 May 2021; proposal submission deadline – 15 September 2021. RDS is prepared to support BU academics wishing to supervise incoming fellows as usual. We encourage to get in touch with RDS Funding Development Team as soon as possible; we will not require submitting Intention to Bid form before August, however it will allow us to efficiently plan resources for supporting academics.

This article has been prepared based on information prepared by UK Research Office (UKRO). UKRO, in its capacity as UK National Contact Point for the MSCA, provides useful and up to date information to their subscribers. UKRO supports the R&I community in the UK and Europe.

BU is one of the UKRO subscriber organisations and every BU employee may use their  services – sign up to the UKRO portal and subscribe for email newsletters to receive the latest information on EU funding and policy directly to your inbox; for more information visit UKRO website.

In a case of further queries related to either EU funding in general, Horizon Europe Framework Programme or MSCA scheme specifically, please contact BU Research Facilitator International Ainar Blaudums.

EU RD and space programmes signed off

According to the latest news published on Research Professional, Members of European Parliament (MEPs) have formally signed off on the EU’s 2021-27 R&D and space programmes, as well as the post-Brexit EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement through which the UK will associate to the R&D programme, Horizon Europe.

Horizon Europe and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, which draws funding from the R&D programme to support innovation but has separate legislation, were both approved by enormous majorities in European Parliament votes on 27 April.

Horizon Europe will have a budget of €95.5 billion, of which the EIT will get about €3bn. The legislation for both programmes was designed so they could start working from 1 January, although their formal sign-off will pave the way for grants to start being awarded.

The Parliament also voted by 660 votes to five in favour of the trade and cooperation agreement that defines the terms for the future EU-UK relationship. It was agreed by negotiators in December and had already provisionally entered into force.

Only the formality of a further behind-the-scenes sign-off is now needed to complete UK association to Horizon Europe, which will grant the country near-full participation rights in exchange for full provision of the funding for any grants won, as well as an administration fee.

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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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 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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