Tagged / Horizon

HE policy update for the w/e 8th January 2021

Happy New Year!

We’re back into busy times, to keep things manageable for colleagues we will try and keep our updates focussed on the main news and keep the wider interest elements short on commentary, with links that can be followed for more detail.

What’s in store for 2021

A New Year often sees predictions made about the shape of the year ahead.  A lot was announced, not least by the OfS, in the last quarter of 2021 so it will be a busy year. BU staff can read our latest horizon scan here.

Research Professional offer EU 2021: eight areas to watch predicting what the next 12 months may mean for research policy.

Horizon Europe research programme access

Four years on and the UK and EU have agreed a post-Brexit trade deal with access to a number of programmes including participation in Horizon Europe through associate membership between 2021-2027. However, the UK has chosen not to participate in the Erasmus student exchange programme due to cost concerns.

While access to the EU programmes has been granted the details still have to be negotiated individually per programme (in part this is because the regulatory aspects of some programmes are still being developed). This Research Professional article has useful detail on the programmes the UK can associate with. And Wonkhe explain: as in everything else to do with the EU from now on the UK may participate in the governance of programmes as an observer, and in expert groups, but will not be included in any formal decision-making processes associated with each programme.

The Horizon Europe budget is valued at 95.5 billion Euros. The budget is bigger than the last round, however, the remit it must cover is bigger too. Research Professional write: Horizon Europe has a fully fledged European Innovation Council for the first time, which will support the growth of R&D-based businesses. The programme will also lead nations and organisations in funding R&D missions intended to achieve objectives in areas such as cancer and climate change.

On the ‘other programmes’ Research Professional report that Besides Horizon Europe and Erasmus+, the EU will launch or continue a variety of other programmes that will support research and innovation. Its regional funds will continue to provide tens of billions of euros for disbursement by local governments, while the launch of dedicated space, digital, defence and health programmes will provide targeted support for these fields in ways that, the bloc hopes, will chime with its main R&D programme.

Boris Johnson: The deal means certainty for our scientists who will be able to continue to work together on great collective projects…Because although we want the UK to be a science superpower, we also want to be a collaborative science superpower. We will be able to set our own standards, to innovate in the way that we want, to originate new frameworks for the sectors in which this country leads the world, from biosciences to financial services, artificial intelligence and beyond.

Research Professional (RP): Analysts will be poring over the texts as soon as they are released to see exactly what kind of access to EU collaboration the deal provides, and how much it will cost the UK. It has previously been suggested that the UK may be up to £3bn out of pocket by paying into the Horizon programme, and that the money to do so would come out of the domestic R&D budget. RP go on to say: even with the deal, there are bound to be setbacks for R&D and education ties.

Turing Mobility Scheme

It was widely trailed by media sources in late December that Erasmus was off the table. Nearly 10,000 UK students participated in Erasmus during 2018-19. The PM stated the Erasmus deal was extremely expensive (costing £2 billion more than we’d receive back) and instead the UK will launch its own Turing scheme supporting study and work placements abroad backed by £100 million.

It is intended to support 35,000 students in schools, colleges and universities for placements and overseas exchanges from September 2021. It has a social mobility aspect and will target students from disadvantaged areas to improve accessibility to the scheme and opportunities. The new scheme offers up a wider range of countries than could be accessed through Erasmus+. Applications will open early in 2021 and organisations are promised funding to administer the scheme as well as grants for the students’ international experience. Providers are told to begin preparation with international partners as soon as possible. Wonkhe: it has already been noted that a standalone scheme that requires individual institutions to negotiate the terms of exchanges with their counterparts in other countries is a much less efficient way of facilitating study abroad than a continent-wide programme – an issue that may be addressed in the terms of reference for the scheme.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, praises the new scheme highlighting the access to new countries and the disadvantaged element, and raising issue with aspects of Erasmus+: Erasmus’s benefits went overwhelmingly to students who were already advantaged. The language barrier meant that it was very hard for students not already studying a modern foreign language to take part, to flourish at their chosen university and get the most out of the academic experience. A 2006 study found that of those taking part in Erasmus from the UK, 51 per cent were from families with a high or very high income. There are no details on proportions of Turing funding to be allocated to disadvantaged backgrounds yet, however, it is assumed there will be a balance. Donelan concludes:  none of this is to decry Erasmus+… the fact is that it is simply too limiting for the global Britain that we aspire to. Of the hundred best universities in the world in the QS World Rankings, only twelve are in the EU. If we have stayed with Erasmus+ it would have cost several hundreds of millions of pounds to fund a similar number of exchanges, not have been global in nature and continued to deliver poor participation rates for young people from deprived backgrounds.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: We have designed a truly international scheme which is focused on our priorities, delivers real value for money and forms an important part of our promise to level up the United Kingdom. These opportunities will benefit both our students and our employers, as well as strengthening our ties with partners across the world.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International: While the announcement that the UK will now not be participating in Erasmus+ is disappointing, we are pleased that the prime minister has committed to a new UK programme to fund global mobility. We now ask the UK government to quickly provide clarity on this Erasmus+ domestic alternative, and that it be ambitious and fully funded. It must also deliver significant opportunities for future students to go global which the Erasmus programme has provided to date.

She also stated: Evidence shows that students who have international experience tend to do better academically and in employment, and the benefits are greatest for those who are least advantaged.

An independent blogger for Wonkhe is more sceptical: It is doubtful that the Turing Scheme could match the success of Erasmus, which is after all, a 33-year-old programme considered by many to be the most positive endeavour to come from the EU. The blog – Will Turing be a good enough exchange?also disagrees with the cost figures – Offsetting these receipts [educational exports revenue] against the entry cost as a non-EU Erasmus Programme country, the UK receives a net return on far more than it contributes. The article states the £100 million won’t go far – It…might just be sufficient for the first year of the scheme while Europe is still suffering the impact of Coronavirus, but in a post Covid world, this will be spread thin at best… this is largely in part to the growing appetite for UK students to study or train abroad… The overall number of mobilities throughout the wider education sector already stands near the 35,000 mark, only made possible through funding, greater than £100 million, that is already allocated to the UK through the Erasmus+ programme. DfE’s allocation for the Turing in 2021 does not account for this.

The blog continues: Turing also does not account for the extra expenses involved in international travel… Expanded opportunities for international mobilities are welcomed in principle, but in practice, heavy promotion of international mobilities may result in astronomical travel expenses, visas fees and in the case of Anglophone destinations, steep cost of living – all which require a far greater investment than DfE’s promised £100 million… What’s also striking is that the total funding isn’t a sufficient amount to fund the additional support mechanisms…needed to encourage students from non-traditional backgrounds… Institutions may be placed in the uncomfortable dilemma of offering fewer overall opportunities to students or targeted places for widening participation students, as a result of the restricted funding. If this is an area of interest do read the full blog as other barriers for both outgoing and incoming students are highlighted.

Finally, Wonkhe note that the UK has historically imported Erasmus+ students from the rest of the EU at twice the rate it exports UK students to other EU destinations.

Parliamentary Activity

These Lords Oral questions on Turing provide some additional clarification. Lord Parkinson stated: We are working directly with educational institutions to make sure that people are able to take up those opportunities and we will provide additional funding for disadvantaged students to cover, for instance, the cost of passports or visas, or for students with disabilities to undertake preparatory visits to make sure that all the necessary accommodations can be made for them. The side-stepping in response to questions on inbound students was notable. This PIE news article also highlights that Turing seems destined to fund outbound opportunities only.

Returning to the Lords oral questions, specifically on the HE sector:
Q – Lord Patel – what assessment have the Government made of the impact on universities of losing a significant amount of finance on inward-bound exchange schemes, because it will now cost money for them to set up exchanges?

A – Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay: We have been liaising with the higher education sector through groups such as the Russell Group and MillionPlus as the negotiations were ongoing and as we developed the Turing scheme, which is the back-up to it.

An Early Day Motion in Parliament championed by the Scottish National Party noted that the Turing scheme will not replicate many aspects of the Erasmus+ scheme such as youth work, adult education, sport, culture and vocational training.

There has been a flood of parliamentary question on the Turing scheme. Below is a small selection – all are due to be answered on Monday 11 January.

Regulatory – OfS Chair

Education Secretary of State Gavin Williamson has earmarked Baron James Wharton to be the next Chair of the Office for Students. If he is approved he’ll commence the role in March 2021.

Wharton currently sits on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords (he was given a life peerage by the PM in September 2020). Previously he was a Conservative MP (2010-17) including roles as an Under-Secretary of State (local Government and international development). After his stint as an MP he was instrumental in Boris’ leadership campaign acting as his Campaign Manager. Prior to his political career Wharton was a solicitor; there is little in his career which suggests an interest in Education. Here Research Professional highlight criticism of the Government that the interview panel was dominated by Conservative leaning. Wharton will appear before the House of Commons education committee who will consider his appointment and publish recommendations (if necessary). Williamson has the final say on the appointment.

Admissions

The UCAS deadline has been pushed back to 29 January to account for Covid disruption and to support applicants with limited access to digital devices.

Most of the admissions related news this week relates to the cancellation of GCSE, A and AS level exams in England and Northern Ireland (Wales and Scotland had already abandoned exams). Teacher assessment will form the basis of final grades. The DfE and Ofqual have collaborated to plan the alternative arrangements and contingency options and the DfE have promised a consultation to fine-tuned the details with the sector. Dods have provided a summary of the main points in the Commons debate on the cancellation of exams here.

Vocational and technical qualification assessment will continue in January where it is safe to do so. The DfE and Ofqual will make arrangements for those unable to hold the January assessments and agree an approach to vocational and technical qualification final assessments moving forward.

During the Commons statement Education Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon, asked Gavin Williamson to confirm that the centre-assessed grading (CAG) system would maintain standards and provide a level playing field for disadvantaged children, with a fair appeals process. He also asked if the Department would make sure independent assessors – perhaps retired teachers and Ofsted inspectors – were available to provide a check and balance on CAGs.

Dods have a podcast – Teacher’s pet or Class Clown – on the school closure.

Williamson responded – he would be happy to work with Halfon and the Education Committee on any additional actions that can be taken to ensure fairness, and would certainly take on board his idea to bring in retirees as independent assessors

Robert Halfon (Chair, Education Committee) also made the news earlier in the week when he spoke frankly about the Government’s performance during Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Tuesday. Asked why the sudden school closure one day after pupils returned he stated he didn’t know – he’d received messages throughout the weekend on schools, mainly being assured that they would remain open, transmission rates were marginal and the risk to teachers was low. He went on to say that Government needed to have a consistent policy that didn’t change every few days. When asked whether the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was fit for the role, Halfon said he made a point of not getting drawn on particular personalities but commented that it’s “the whole Government,” and described it as “a shambles”.

Some sources this week have noted that the Government’s Skills White paper (one of Williamson’s flagship ministerial pieces) still hasn’t been published and suggested that the Government is biding its time as Williamson’s competence is questioned from some quarters.

Finally, many students improved their A and AS level grades during the autumn 2020 exams.

Research

Science, Research and Innovation Minister, Amanda Solloway, announced £213 million for UK science facilities upgrades, including microscopes, super computers and testing facilities for innovative technologies and blast labs for terror attacks. The fund aims to enable researchers to respond to global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change. The funding is part of the Government’s R&D Roadmap sources and allocated against specific projects with facilities with Scotland receiving a good proportion of the funding. Breakdown:

  • £29m to upgrade and replace UK scientific equipment
  • £25m to support the installation of highly sophisticated testing facilities at leading UK universities
  • £34m for data and digital research infrastructure relationships
  • £33.5m to upgrade facilities of UK scientific councils
  • £15m for the Capability for Collections Fund

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: The response from UK scientists and researchers to coronavirus has been nothing short of phenomenal. We need to match this excellence by ensuring scientific facilities are truly world class, so scientists can continue carrying out life-changing research for years to come as we build back better from the pandemic.

From the world’s most detailed microscopes tracking disease to airborne drones monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, our investment will enhance the tools available to our most ambitious innovators across the country. By doing so, scientists and researchers will be able to drive forward extraordinary research that will enable the UK to respond to global challenges such as achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Artificial Intelligence: The UK AI Council (an independent expert committee) published the AI Roadmap which makes recommendations to inform the  Government’s strategic direction on Artificial Intelligence, including a National AI Strategy. They call on Government to ‘double down’ on the AI recent investment and look to the horizon and be adaptable to disruption. The 16 recommendations are here.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Student Poll: A YouGov poll of students describes Coronavirus as negatively effecting motivation and self-discipline for some, alongside familiar messages for mental health and loneliness. Also:

  • Despite many news stories of universities imposing draconian measures on students, or failing to provide adequate nutrition to those forced to isolate, a majority of students (58%) say their university has handled student safety and wellbeing well during the coronavirus crisis. Just over a third (36%) say their university dealt with the issue badly.
  • By contrast, over four in five students (85%) say the UK government’s response has been poor, while only one in nine (11%) say it has done a good job.
  • Full results here, with University/Government judgements starting from page 28.
  • Note – students were surveyed late December, before the current lockdown announcement.

Youth opportunity: The Learning and Work Institute’s final Youth Commission Report (Number 6) – Unleashing Talent: Levelling up opportunity for young people was published. It examines how to improve education and employment opportunities for 16-24 year olds and calls for a 10 year strategy. Recommendations relevant to HE are:

  • three quarters of young people to gain A level equivalent qualifications by age 25 (currently two thirds do)
  • Reversing the decline in apprenticeships – aiming for one in three young people to take part in an apprenticeship and for this to galvanise action in the same way the 50% target for higher education did
  • Diversify HE routes – Focus on growing Higher Technical routes and HE access at all ages. Widen access by introducing maintenance grants of around £3,000 per year and evaluating access initiatives
  • Supporting young people to combine work and study through a new Youth Allowance in Universal Credit

The reforms would cost an extra £4.6bn per year, focusing on investing more in technical education and employment opportunities. Before the pandemic, half of the £20bn spent each year on education and employment went on higher education.

Non-continuation: HEPI published A short guide to non-continuation in UK universities. Summary here.

HE for the Future: Advance HE blog on reshaping HE for the future. The blog discusses how the fourth industrial revolution, growth of artificial intelligence and the pandemic are significantly changing the employment landscape.

  • Thought leaders have recognised that the emerging skills landscape cannot be supplied by a one-directional pipeline between secondary education and professional work.
  • The ‘art of the possible’ has been transformed over the last nine months. Engaging, participatory high quality higher education has been taking place across disciplinary, institutional and geographical boundaries, demonstrating that it is possible to motivate and engage students and develop the competencies for virtual working and the habits of mind required for life-long learning in an online environment. This has raised questions about whether the three-year on-campus residential degree is fit for purpose and provides value for money. The proliferation of alternative opportunities including degree apprenticeships and flexible modes of accredited delivery, as well as open access courses and certificated programmes from ‘big-tech’ companies, such as Google, Amazon and Apple is encouraging students to question the cost and the value of the predominant model of higher education.
  • The pandemic has highlighted that most higher education institutions need to enhance their capacity to deliver flexible and resilient education systems that would meet student expectations and the accelerating social and economic transformations that wider society anticipates. This requires a ‘rethink’ not only of what and how we teach but also what shape HEIs need to take to deliver on the changing demands of students, employers and society.

The blog goes on to promote Advance HE’s work and online seminars on the topic.

Medical training expansion: The Royal College of Physicians call on the Government to expand the number of medical training opportunities. Our summary is here.

Significant appointments: This link details all the recent appointments to key bodies such as the Student Loans Company board, OfS, Ofqual, Children’s Commissioner, social mobility, FE, and apprenticeships.

Online skills: The Government has launched the ‘An Hour to Skill’ campaign aiming to help more people boost their skills from home, support their mental wellbeing and help build a better working future. It urges people to set aside one hour a week for online learning by taking a free course from The Skills Toolkit. Demos research shows that one in three people have used online learning to help them get a better job, and that on average, online learning can boost annual pay by £3,640 too. The campaign builds on the Government’s Plan for Jobs and initiatives aiming to shrink the skills gap across the UK, and allowing Brits to re-skill and up-skill for the future of work.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE finances, a tidal wave of regulatory consultations and information from the OfS, and the Minister responds to student questions.  Wishing all our readers a lovely break and a happy new year!

Latest government COVID news and guidance

Of course we will have an update from Jim if there is local news that we need to know.  The latest guidance from the government on Christmas rules, from Wednesday, is here.

You will recall that despite the focus on infection rates, the original tiers were set on the basis of 5 tests:

  • case detection rate (in all age groups and, in particular, among the over 60s)
  • how quickly case rates are rising or falling
  • positivity in the general population
  • pressure on the NHS – including current and projected (3 to 4 weeks out) NHS capacity – including admissions, general/acute/ICU bed occupancy, staff absences
  • local context and exceptional circumstances such as a local but contained outbreak.

What next for 2021

We have updated our horizon scan as there has been a rush of OfS regulatory announcements and consultations and also quite a lot of other news over the last 6 weeks or so.  We don’t recommend reading it when you are meant to be relaxing but you might want to bookmark it for your return.

There may well be more next week as the OfS seem to be clearing their desks before the end of the year – but it is already clear that 2021 is going to be an important year in terms of tougher rules and interventions from the OfS drive by the government agenda.

Meanwhile, the government have announced that the budget will be on 3rd March.  Is that the date we will hear about the response to Augar and plans for the TEF?

And of course Brexit.  Who knows what is going to happen there.  MPs are starting their Christmas recess on Thursday – but they are likely to be recalled if a deal is achieved (from PoliticsHome).

The Institute for Government published a blog on the time needed to ratify a deal:

  • The UK government is planning to fast-track a new bill through parliament to ratify the deal. If the alternative was no deal on 1 January, it is unlikely either the Commons or the Lords would stand in the government’s way.
  • But this is likely to mean MPs and peers approving a deal which they have hardly had a chance to look at, and in doing so would risk storing up problem. When the government introduced the controversial clauses relating to implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in the UK Internal Market Bill, it claimed these were necessary to address new concerns about what it had signed up to in the Withdrawal Agreement last year. Although this may have been disingenuous, the debate in the Commons suggested many MPs really didn’t know what they had agreed to in January when they rushed through the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
  • …The process is more complicated on the EU side. First there would need to be a decision about who actually needs to be involved in ratification. Will the deal be a “mixed” agreement on which national parliaments have a vote, or can the process be limited to the Council and the European Parliament? And even if only the Council and European Parliament need to vote, there will be little time for the usual processes of consultations by member state governments with their own national parliaments and debates in the European Parliament.
  • Whether or not the deal is a mixed agreement, the Council does have the power to provisionally apply many aspects of it, including those dealing with tariffs. Legally speaking, it could even do so without the European Parliament voting on the deal until a later date. But this by-passing of MEPs could worsen tensions between the Council and the European Parliament at a time when member states need MEPs’ votes on a number of key issues. Michel Barnier has suggested that there may be a period of ‘no deal’ in January while the European Parliament considers a deal, but this would be deeply damaging for traders. However, it would be a mistake to assume MEPs will definitely acquiesce.

Constituencies review

The Parliamentary Constituencies Act has become law meaning the 650 individual constituencies across the UK will be redefined to have a more equal number of voters in each. The Government’s press release states: The updated constituencies will reflect significant changes in demographics, house building and migration – the current ones having been defined using outdated data from two decades ago.

Previously a 2018 review recommended reducing the number of MPs to 600; it was expected to have a big impact on our local constituencies (amongst other things, Mid-Dorset and North Poole was going to be radically changed and the separate constituency of Christchurch was expected to disappear). Instead a new review of the constituencies will commence in 2021, based on the number of registered voters at 1 December 2020.

Reviews of UK parliamentary constituencies are undertaken by four judge-led and independent bodies – the Boundary Commissions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This review will have to be completed by the Boundary Commissions by 1 July 2023. The Government have also committed to ensuring reviews take place every eight years and the subsequent proposals are implemented automatically. This will stop any potential for political interference or further delays to updating constituencies, protecting fair representation of the British people for the future. There will be three periods of consultation on the proposed new electoral maps. The updated constituencies will reflect significant changes in demographics, house building and migration – the current ones having been defined using outdated data from two decades ago.

It is fair to say that the last process was very delayed and very political, so in theory these look like positive changes, but local issues will still make this very controversial in practice when changes happen.

OfS Christmas Bonus

It seems it’s not just us trying to clear the decks before Christmas. Happy Christmas HE, there’s nothing quite like a bit of regulatory shenanigans to look forward to in the New Year!

The Office for Students have issued three new consultations on reportable eventsinformation sharing, and a new take on the previously paused monetary penalties consultations.

At the time of publishing this week’s policy update The Office for Students has not yet released the updated National Student Survey results. You can look out for updates on this here and on Twitter.

They’ve also issued two sets of new guidance on regulatory monitoring and intervention and on third party notifications (i.e. what counts as a notification for regulatory reasons). Finally there is a student guide for students to report on the progress their university or college has made in delivering its 2019-20 access and participation plan. The OfS press release is here: Regulator sets out how students can register concerns. Wonkhe have a blog on it all here.

On 16th the OfS published lots of data on access and continuation by ethnicity, provider tariff group and subject group.  The report is only 10 pages and worth reading.  Their press release says:

The report finds that, between 2013-14 and 2018-19:

  • There was an increase in the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic students entering higher tariff universities (those with higher entrance requirements). This is consistent with data from the Department for Education, which shows that these students have higher rates of entry to higher education than white students.
  • There was a higher proportion of Asian, white and mixed ethnicity students at higher tariff universities compared with other providers, but only 5.3 per cent of entrants to these universities were black, compared with 12.0 per cent at other providers.
  • Whatever their ethnicity, students at higher tariff universities were the most likely to continue with their studies. In 2017-18, the continuation rate for white students at higher tariff providers was 96.1 per cent, 7.0 percentage points higher than for white students at other providers (89.1 per cent). For other groups, this difference was even larger:
    • 3 percentage points for black entrants (94.3 per cent per cent at higher tariff compared with 83.0 per cent at other providers)
    • 7 percentage points for mixed ethnicity entrants (95.8 per cent at higher tariff providers compared with 86.1 per cent at other providers)
    • 3 percentage points for students of other ethnicity (94.1 per cent at higher tariff providers compared with 85.8 per cent at other providers)
    • 2 percentage points for Asian entrants (95.7 per cent at higher tariff providers compared with 87.5 per cent at other providers).
  • Black entrants to non-higher tariff providers had the lowest continuation rates of any ethnic group in 2017-18 (83.0 per cent).
  • In non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects across all providers, white students had the highest continuation rates (91.3 per cent in 2017-18), while Asian students were most likely to continue in STEM subjects (90.8 per cent).
  • For both STEM and non-STEM entrants across all providers, in every academic year from 2013-14 to 2017-18, black students were least likely to continue into a second year of study.

HE Financial Health

The OfS have also published Higher Education financial sustainability – an update. It reports strong cash balances, increased but sustainable borrowing including through government-backed loans, and the fall in income from international students’ fees being less than feared, have combined to leave the sector in a reasonably stable financial position. Yet it recognises significant variation in the position of different providers across the sector.

  • The sector is expecting to report broadly similar levels of income of £35 billion across all three years, albeit with an expected decline in 2020/21 to below the levels achieved in 2018-19
  • Total HE course fees were reported at £18.5 billion in 2019/20, an increase of 7.2% compared with 2018-19 (£17.2 billion)
  • HE providers have forecast that fee income will fall by 1.7% in 2020/21, although this would still be above 2018/19 levels
  • Total Non-EU (overseas) tuition fee income was reported at £6bn in 2019/20, an increase of 16.4% compared with 2018/19 (£5.2 billion)
  • HE providers anticipate this to decrease by 10.4% in 2020/21 to £5.4bn, but this would also still be above 2018/19 levels
  • At the end of 2019/20, sector borrowing was £13.7bn (38.4% of income), a rise of £0.7bn compared to 2018/19
  • Forecasts show that the sector is projecting borrowing to continue to rise to £14.2bn by the end of 2020/21 (40.6% of income) – this is a slower increase in borrowing than in previous years

The analysis concludes that although there is currently a low chance of a significant number of unplanned closures of universities, colleges or other providers, there remain considerable uncertainties in the future.

Wonkhe: As the numbers start to come in we offer silent thanks that some of the worst-case scenarios about institutional collapse and sector-wide carnage have not come to pass. New analysis from the Office for Students offers the sector a decent bill of health, and throws light on the many adaptations and measures adopted by providers since the start of the pandemicagainst many expectations, the quality of the sector shone through; recruitment largely held up, planning was proportionate, and mitigations were well managed. In such a complex and chaotic environment, not every call the sector or providers made was right, but a lot of them were. On aggregate – HE is in a good place.

It’s good news, but, as we allude above, not for everyone – this Wonkhe blog speaks of the HE providers which are under closer monitoring due to a more precarious financial position, concluding: those providers under close monitoring will remain a worry – there’s a lot of variables but it seems as if structural weaknesses remain. This next year will be less tolerant of these than any other time in recent history.

Commenting on the OfS report, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive OfS, said:

  • There are many reasons for this relatively positive picture. Universities entered the pandemic in reasonably robust shape. England continues to be a popular destination for international students. And universities have been able to access significant support from the government, including via access to government-backed loans. All of this means that English higher education finds itself in reasonable financial shape, and the grave predictions of dozens of university closures have not materialised.
  • There are a number of uncertainties which will continue to affect finances both now and into the future, not least the fact that it is still not clear what the overall impact of the pandemic will be. Where universities have immediate concerns about their finances, they must let us know straight away. The OfS will work constructively with any university in financial difficulties, with our overarching priority being to protect the interests of students. At this point in time, though, we believe that the likelihood of significant numbers of universities or other higher education providers failing is low.

Assessments – Additional Considerations

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published a new section within the Good Practice Framework: Requests for additional consideration. It sets out some good practice guidance on requests for additional consideration (i.e.  “mitigating”, “extenuating” or “special circumstances” procedures, or “factors affecting performance”). OIA state that a quarter of recent complaints relate to the handling of students’ requests for additional consideration when ill health or personal circumstances affected their exam/assessed performance.

The new guidance will apply from the 2021/22 academic year, however, providers are encouraged to consider the relevance it has to learning during Covid times. Providers are urged to consider flexibility and adaptations that they can implement in their approach (particularly evidence requests) for students requesting additional consideration now due to the pandemic.

Felicity Mitchell, Independent Adjudicator OIA, said: Students who need to submit a request for additional consideration may be experiencing significant difficulties and distress. It’s important that the process for considering such requests is fair and proportionate, and that students have a proper opportunity to show that they can reach the necessary academic standards.

Ofqual – online assessments

Ofqual have published the report of their review into the barriers to online and on-screen assessment for high stakes qualifications such as GSCEs and A Levels. IT provision, security and staffing issues are some of the barriers to the adoption of online and on-screen assessments in England. The review was, in part, a response to suggestions from some stakeholders that these assessment methods could be used to mitigate risks around disruption to summer 2021 exams. Dods have summarised the key points here.

Research

R&D Places Strategy: The transcript from the Science Minister’s speech on the Government’s ambition for research and innovation, and progress on developing the R&D Places Strategy is now available here.

Horizon Europe: Research Professional report: legislators have said financial contributions from non-European Union countries participating in Horizon Europe through association agreements will be channelled preferentially to the parts of the programme they won funding from, while EU negotiators have agreed a deal on Erasmus+, the bloc’s 2021-27 education and training mobility programme, which they say could broaden and even triple participation in it.

UKRI Ethnicity Data: Wonkhe report: UK Research and Innovation has published ethnicity data for all funding applicants and awardees, highlighting disparities between different ethnic groups. While the proportion of ethnic minority fellowship awardees has risen from 12 to 18 per cent between 2014-15 and 2018-19, large gaps still exist between ethnic groups, with fewer than one per cent of fellows being black. In addition, the proportion of ethnic minority principal investigators is still lower than the general proportion of ethnic minorities in teaching or research roles. The data is aggregated for UKRI’s seven research councils and is presented both by specific ethnicity and by broader ethnic group.

State of the Relationship: The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) published their State of the Relationship report, which outlines the results of their Collaboration Progress Monitor, examining and tracking university-business collaboration over time.  The analysis uses 2017/18 data, compared to a five-year average.

Headline findings for Research and Innovation:

  • 85,218 interactions between universities and SMEs – a growth of 11.9% from the previous year
  • Almost 13,000 interactions between universities and businesses, increasing by 10.2% on the previous year
  • 27,645 interactions with large businesses – a growth of 5.5%
  • Investment by UK businesses in university R&D grew by 8.7%, taking total investment to £389m
  • 881 Innovate UK academic grants were awarded to universities – an increase of 41 and the highest number since the monitor began
  • Increase of 7.4% in foreign funds into HE, but growth is decelerating
  • £144m income from licencing, representing an increase of 39%
  • 44 spinout companies were still active for at least three years – an increase of 4.8%
  • Licences granted by universities decreased by 16.9% down to 7,075 – the first drop in six years
  • 1,770 patents were granted to UK universities, representing an increase of 27.7%

Headline findings for Skills and Talent collaboration:

  • Learner days delivered by universities to businesses was 1,313 days lower in 2017/18 than the five-year average of 25,027 days
  • 72 universities offered higher of degree apprenticeships in 2017/18, whereas five years prior this number was only four
  • 6,360 degree apprenticeships started, with 10,497 people participating in a higher of degree apprenticeship provided by a university
  • 7,605 HE leavers ran their own business in 2017/18
  • 69% of undergraduates and 78% of postgraduates were in full-time or part-time employment
  • Just over one quarter of undergraduates had enrolled on a sandwich course – an increase of 3.5% on 2014/15
  • 69% of undergraduates agreed or strongly agreed that they were using what they learnt during their studies
  • 80% of postgraduates agreed of strongly agreed that they were using what they learnt during their studies

Translational Research: UKRI and Zinc have launched a new programme researchers turn ideas into products and services that help people live longer, healthier lives. The programme is designed to support early career and other researchers with their applications for funding and will open with a series of workshops in January 2021. Researchers will be offered a nine-month package of support provided by Zinc including coaching and mentoring from an active network of experts and partner organisations and assistance in using design-led, impact-focused approaches to developing their ideas. It aims to help researchers with the most innovative ideas, who normally wouldn’t consider this kind of grant, to apply for up to £62,500 per project

Parliamentary Questions & Blogs

  • The £15 billion for R&D – will it replace EU funds?
  • Wonkhe have a new blog – Knowledge exchange and the arts: Evelyn Wilson introduces a new centre focused on capturing and recording the many benefits of knowledge exchanges between universities and the cultural sector.
  • Research Professional have a good blog from ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore which argues that postgraduate research policy needs attention and recalls why he abandoned postgraduate study. Excerpts:

Salaries over study

As to the value of a PhD and a career as a researcher, we champion its international appeal and encourage visa applications to improve access to global talent, rightly seeking to bring researchers to this country to establish themselves in our brilliant universities. Yet when it comes to domestic students, we create algorithms called LEO that deliver the harsh message that UK students should not think about any subject that might have a long-term and uncertain outcome—that risk factor we praise start-ups for encouraging—so why not chase a salary instead? It’s a message that makes postgraduate study a no-no. 

If we want to become a global science superpower, we need to value research—all of it

Qualification reform 

What would different look like? In an increasingly fast-paced economy and society, the idea of taking three to four years out of your life to research and write an 80,000-word thesis that 10 people might read seems a waste of a huge amount of potential and productivity. The Viva, too, belongs to an age that we might politely admit has passed. 

Much has already been done to expand the potential crossover between academia and industry, but the greatest barrier of qualification reform for postgraduate study remains. The question is, who in Whitehall understands this? It is an essential prerequisite for an R&D strategy that the level 8 qualification route is expanded and opened up

UCAS

UCAS have published their 2020 End of Cycle Report focusing on widening access and participation and student choice (data dashboard here). What happened to the COVID cohort? Lessons for levelling up in 2021 and beyond is the easy summary read of the end of cycle data.

Research Professional do a great job at interpreting the meaning behind the main points. Their (short) blog is well worth a read if this topic interests you.

Overall UCAS report progress on widening participation, although it remains slow meaning it would take 332 years to close the gap on the current trajectory. Highly selective universities were urged to admit 70 more disadvantaged students per year to close their admissions gap by 2030.

The recommendations are on page 4 and divide into short term 2021 recommendations, and medium-longer term 2022-2025. Here are just a few of interest:

Short Term

  • Maintain the uplift in capacity in HE places and improved support for employers to take on apprentices or offer T Level placements
  • Adopt UCAS’ MEM as the default mechanism for measuring participation, providing a true sense of progress
  • Promote sharing of information at the application stage, including that related to disability, learning difference and mental health, by building confidence in students to trust that UCAS and universities and colleges will use this information to arrange appropriate support and inform future improvements

Medium to long-term, 2022-25

  • Increase the number of HE places and apprenticeships to reflect the growing 18 year old population and ensure disadvantaged students do not miss out as a result of increased competition
  • Consider how a post-qualification admissions system might improve the application experience and outcomes for disadvantaged students. HE admissions reform should be used as an opportunity to explore how technical education and apprenticeships could be integrated into the UCAS application process
  • Explore the benefits of a UK shared apprenticeships admissions service to enable students to consider and connect to all post-secondary education options in a single location

Further insight into the 2020 cohort including the analysis of students’ choices and motivations is due to be published end January 2021.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at OfS, said:

  • Through the access and participation plans they have agreed with the Office for Students, universities have committed to ambitious targets to improve access over the next five years. This UCAS data shows universities taking the first steps towards meeting these commitments… It is crucial that universities follow through on these commitments to reduce barriers for students from the most disadvantaged parts of the country, and we will closely monitor their progress.
  • Access is, though, only one part of the picture. It’s promising that a record number of applicants have been accepted from the most underrepresented groups, but these students also need good support once they get into university. That will be crucial for ensuring that they are able to continue with their studies, particularly through the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, and have an equal opportunity to achieve the top grades. It will also equip them with the skills and knowledge they will need if they are to thrive in the industries and public services of the future.

Access & Participation

Ethnic Disparities: Wonkhe tell us: letter from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to equalities minister Kemi Badenoch seeking an extension to a reporting deadline highlights an approach to identifying disparities based on finer grained data. One section suggests that analysis has shown that white “working class” boys are the group least likely to go to university, and that many girls from a Bangladeshi background choose not to go to a university outside of London for family and cultural reasons.

Parliamentary Questions

Student Hardship funding: Following the announcement of £20 million to HE providers to contribute to student hardship for 2020-21 the DfE has begun distributing and monitoring the fund. Wonkhe: Michelle Donelan asks that funding split between full-time, part-time, and disabled student premiums is available to students as quickly as possible, and allocated by the end of the financial year. OfS will publish details of an allocation later this week.

During the APPG for students it was raised that £20m for hardship is approximately £13 per student. Minister Michelle Donelan Reiterates that this fund is not going to be accessed or required by every student, and it is there to support students who need support most.

International

Employment & Skills

The Lords Economic Affairs Committee published Employment and Covid-19: time for a new deal it includes:

  • Expand the number of social care workers by increasing funding in the sector with stipulations that funding should be used to raise wages and improve training and conditions;
  • Prioritise green projects that can be delivered at scale, quickly, and take place across the country
  • Government should introduce a new job, skills and training guarantee, available to every young person not in full-time education or employment for one year
  • The Government’s disparate skills and training policies, spread across many departments, should be joined up and be managed and coordinated at a regional local level
  • The Government should also consider incentives to help young people move towards jobs with opportunities to develop skills in digital and other growing sectors
  • The most significant barrier to hiring apprentices is cost – faced with falling numbers of apprenticeship starts and reduced recruitment, the Government should consider raising the level of hiring subsidies for apprentices
  • The DWP should include a greater emphasis on skills profiling in its employment support offer – it should examine successful examples of employment services in other countries, such as Sweden and Austria, which intervene early to support declining businesses and sectors and quickly transition and retrain workers into more viable employment

2020 Spending Review Priorities

Following the Chancellor’s 2020 Spending Review announcements the Treasury has published the provisional priority outcomes and metric document. We have a summary of the aspects related to education here.

APPG for Students

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Students met this week questioning Universities Minister Michelle Donelan on HE student issues. As an interest based parliamentary group the meetings aren’t recorded and transcribed like other parliamentary business. However, the APPG has done a fantastic job in capturing the Minister’s statements on their Twitter feed (you have to keep clicking ‘show replies’ to view the full range of topics the Minister responded to.

Most of Donelan’s responses are the standard Government HE policy stock, however a few stood out.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

There are three new consultations from the Office for Students this week:

  • Monetary penalties
  • Reportable events
  • Publication of information about individual providers

Other News

Nursing: Care Minister Helen Whately has made an announcement on the record numbers of students accepted places to study nursing and midwifery in England this year based on the UCAS data released this week. The press release begins:

The final figures from this year’s admission cycle show there were 29,740 acceptances to nursing and midwifery courses in England, 6,110 more than last year and an increase of over a quarter (26%). This year, 23% (6,770) of acceptances were from students aged 35 years and older, a 43% increase on last year.

Net zero: The Government published the Energy white paper: Powering our net zero future this week.

Government Education Policy Commitments: In the traditional spirit of the end of year review Dods have published Boris Johnson: One Year On reviewing how the Government have fared in delivering their cornerstone policy commitments. There’s a short section on Education and Skills on page 9 which is worth a quick skim. The key reminder in relation to HE is: The promised assessment of student loan interest rates has yet to materialise – though some in Whitehall might argue that it’s a low priority on the list of problems facing the HE sector at the moment.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

Policy Update w/e 1 June 2018

Research Collaboration

Research/Horizon Europe

The Guardian draws on a leaked document to report that the UK will only have limited access to Horizon Europe through a costly ‘third countries’ deal, despite the PM’s intentions for full participation.

Theresa May’s appeal for a special Brexit deal on science and research collaboration, worth billions to the British economy, is being stonewalled by Brussels as it prepares to offer an arrangement less privileged and more expensive than that given to non-EU states such as Israel… the UK is set to join Canada and South Korea in the category of countries that will have to pay a higher price for the privilege of collaborating, while being barred from a particular raft of programmes designed to encourage innovation.

According to the draft paper, so-called “third countries” will not have a seat on the new European Innovation Council, which sets priorities, and their companies will not have the opportunity to apply for “fast, flexible grants and co-investments” designed to “bridge the ‘valley of death’ between research, commercialisation and the scaling-up of companies”.

The Guardian reports that Thomas Jørgensen, the senior policy coordinator at the European University Association (EUA) working on Brexit-related issues, stated: the commission was acting to protect its interests in the face of the emergence of the UK as a rival economic power. He said: “It is entirely understandable that you would want to help small countries in your neighbourhood, but why would you do that for small and medium-size enterprises in South Korea or other third countries such as the UK?”

The Guardian also report that on Wednesday the EU confirmed the UK could take part in Erasmus (for a fee) but would not allow the UK to influence programme’s design. More detail is provided in the Times Higher: In its proposal for the Erasmus+ programme for the period 2021-27, published on 30 May, the European Commission said that countries outside the EU and the European Economic Area would be able to participate fully as long as they do not have a “decisional power” on the programme and agree to a “fair balance” of contributions and benefits.

Research Professional also cover the EU’s decision to open Erasmus to other countries, and the requested significant boost to the Horizon budget (€20 billion).

Earlier this week Sam Gyimah discussed how international collaboration strengthens research excellence: The UK values international cooperation. That is why we will remain a leading power in science and innovation, and why our Industrial Strategy has a target that 2.4% of our GDP will go to R&D funding by 2027. We are committed to ensuring that this investment leads to real results for everyone.

We are also committed to remaining a place for scientists. Our success is built in part on the contribution of researchers and innovators who come to the UK from across the world to study, to research and to do business. Over half of the UK’s researchers come from outside the UK. And, as the Prime Minister said, we will ensure that this does not change.

Although we are leaving the EU, it’s important to remember that science is an international enterprise and discoveries know no borders. We are all strengthened by our collaborative links.

On the European research access Sam stated:

Full association would mean a particular amount – of course it’s too early in our discussions to put a figure on what this would be but based on existing precedents it would be billions of euros. Anything less than full association and we would need to consider whether this was a fair ask. I am accountable to the UK Parliament and would need to demonstrate that the amount contributed actually is fair.

Latest News

The latest news on our regularly featured topics.

 

OfS

  • OfS Board Member Carl Lygo has resigned (moving to new role in Germany).
  • OfS have a new blog: The ‘value’ of a degree is academic and vocational.
  • Just in case you missed it previously OfS released information showing an increase in masters’ student numbers since the introduction of the postgraduate loans.
  • The OfS Board met on Wednesday. OfS have committed to sharing the papers from the Board meeting soon.

 

Loans

A parliamentary question from Peter Dowd on the accrual of debt interest on student loans had Sam Gyimah clarify that the Student Loans Company does not apply interest to accounts until the information about repayments is received from HMRC. This means that borrowers are not disadvantaged by the time taken to exchange the data between HMRC and SLC…The government is taking steps to develop systems to allow the sharing of student loan repayment information more frequently between HMRC and SLC from April 2019. This will allow for repayments to be credited and for interest calculations to be undertaken regularly throughout the year.

 

Freedom of Expression

Q – Baroness Deech: How they propose to include representatives of student victims of (1) inhibition of freedom of speech, and (2) disruption of meetings, in the preparation of new guidance to promote freedom of speech at universities.

A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: At the free speech summit on 3 May 2018….it was agreed that the report from the Freedom of Speech in Universities inquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) would be used as the foundation for a shared approach to free speech. The JCHR inquiry included evidence from a number of groups including those who had experienced disruption of events and student representatives with a range of experiences related to free speech. The new guidance will be drafted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who will work with a number of groups including the National Union of Students.

Research Professional report on Sam Gyimah’s latest Free Speech interview with Spiked stating: He [Sam] suggested that UK academics were marking down students whose political opinions they disagreed with…In what is attributed as a direct quote from Gyimah, the minister said that “there seems to be the development of a political monoculture” in which students are afraid to speak up in class because “80 per cent of the class disagrees with you…and [one of] them is going to be the one who gives you your grades”.

Gyimah has not tried to distance himself from the quote…Jack Grove of Times Higher Education wrote…“Is Sam Gyimah really claiming…that students should be genuinely afraid that their left-leaning lecturers are marking them down because they disagree with their politics? Extraordinary.”

Gyimah replied to Grove: “Nothing extraordinary. We need real diversity of thought on campus, and to be mindful that in some cases a monoculture means students and lecturers with legitimate but maybe unpopular views self-censor for fear of opprobrium. This is what I’m hearing on campus.”

The minister’s evidence for campus inhibitions on free speech has moved some distance: from claims of systematic censorship by students’ unions and masked gangs closing down events to unsubstantiated anecdotes about reluctance to speak up in class. Very different things are being lumped together here… For a minister to accuse academics of political bias in assessing students—without a scrap of evidence—is totally irresponsible.

 

Value for Money

A short article in Times Higher this week discusses the four myths surrounding value for money. It digs below the surface to explain why the four factors can’t really be used to determine value for money. A clear and simple read. If you continue to read the comments section you’ll find some alternative viewpoints too.

 

Degree Apprenticeships

A parliamentary question tabled by Rehman Chishti established that there are 102 universities listed on the register of apprenticeship training providers and all are eligible to deliver anywhere in England.

A further question from Barry Sheerman asked: whether there are any requirements that must be satisfied in order for bachelor’s degrees pursued at an institution of higher education to be described by that institution as a degree apprenticeship.

Anne Milton responded: In England, providers who want to deliver apprenticeship training, including higher education institutions (HEIs) offering degree apprenticeships, must be on the register of apprenticeship training providers…Employers must choose a provider from the register to deliver their apprenticeship training. A degree can be included in an English apprenticeship if the degree meets the mandatory qualifications criteria laid out in the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) guidance. The IfA website lists the degree level apprenticeships that include a degree. The Enterprise Act 2016 protects the term ‘apprenticeship’ to make sure that training providers cannot brand their products as apprenticeships if they do not meet our core quality requirements.

 

Student Immigration

The Independent ran the editorial If Theresa May wants to improve the quality of our universities, she must begin by addressing the disastrous effects of her immigration policy.

 

Accelerated Degrees – no news yet

Lord Luce questioned the government this week asking What decisions have been made about the provision of accelerated degree courses in higher education following their public consultation completed on 11 February. The Government responded: The Department for Education received a range of detailed and comprehensive responses from providers, organisations and individuals across the higher education sector. We are currently considering these responses and will respond to the consultation in due course.

 

Widening Participation and Achievement

National Collaborative Outreach Programme

OfS have released their first annual report on the National Collaborative Outreach Programme’s (NCOP) delivery. NCOP is a collaborative network endeavour between HE, schools, colleges and local businesses. It delivers a sustained, tailored outreach programme within geographically targeted areas and aims to rapidly improve progression to HE for school pupils in areas where the numbers accessing HE are lower than expected by the young people’s GCSE success. The current NCOP commenced in January 2017 and consists of 29 partnerships to pupils in Years 9 to 13.

The report states that NCOP has actively engaged 12% (52,878 pupils) of the identified target population. This is forecast to increase to 114,700 pupils (25%) by the end of 2018. It emphasises that the first year of the programme has been focused on creating local partnership infrastructures and with these now established OfS expect to see significant increases in the numbers of young people engaged over the next year. Demonstrating impact is integral to the NCOP programme. OfS require clear evidence to continue with the programme in the future and a comprehensive evaluation framework including longitudinal tracking, analysis of national datasets, and randomised controlled trials is in place. The report concludes that progress is promising (see page 14 for details) although at present: “it is too early to evidence the causal impact of the programme in terms of which interventions have the most impact on students progressing to higher education.”

NCOP is expected to significantly contribute to the Government’s social mobility action plan (launched Dec 2017) which ‘places social mobility at the heart of education policy and seeks to provide a framework for action to help transform equality of opportunity. It emphasises the importance of leaving no community behind with resources targeted at the people and places that need it most’.

 

The social mobility goals are to:

  • double the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education by 2020
  • increase by 20 per cent the number of students in higher education from ethnic minority groups
  • address the under-representation of young men from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, said:

“We know that sustained and targeted outreach is key to reducing the gaps in higher education participation…So I am very pleased to see the progress made by the OfS-funded NCOP… In its first year of operation, NCOP is already showing signs of success…It has reached significant numbers of schools, colleges and young people and looks set to increase its reach even further in the next year. And the early signs are that NCOP activities are contributing to improved information, advice and guidance for young people at key milestones in their education…NCOP is a great example of the kind of outreach activity we need – evidence-based, targeted, robustly evaluated, bringing local partners together and harnessing university resources and expertise to meet the needs of schools and teachers, students and their families. The OfS will ensure that this learning drives improvements to higher education outreach in the future.”

Gareth Oliver, Careers Lead at Broad Oak Sports College, said:

“Without the valuable support of [NCOP partner] GM Higher, both in terms of experience and one-to-one support, we would not have had the opportunity to access resources and programmes to aid the aspiration of our pupils. Already the number of pupils wanting to aspire to higher education has increased, but more importantly, the programmes and resources have allowed our pupils to have an ‘I can do it’ attitude. Schools like Broad Oak need organisations like GM Higher to ensure we break the mould that ‘higher education is only for the affluent families’.”

Next week (4-8 June) is an NCOP week of action aiming to spotlight the range of outreach activities occurring from motivational talks and role model sessions to live social media FAQs.

A timely blog by Stuart Billingham, Emeritus Professor of Lifelong Learning at York St John ponders the progress made in the 40 years Stuart has worked within the social mobility sphere. He urges patience from the Government, reviewing the initiatives they tried and dropped before they fully came to fruition, and noting that collaborative results take longer:

If quick returns are the priority, then learn the lessons of history and stop calling for greater collaboration and partnership working to widen participation. If, however, the real priority is to significantly and permanently change the social and economic student profile in our universities and colleges, then collaboration/partnership working is essential – but please don’t look always, or only, for quick wins.

 

School League Tables Outcry

The BBC ran an article on the new method by which secondary school league tables are devised stating it unfairly stigmatises schools in white working-class areas. Head teachers are opposed to the Progress 8 methodology calling it “toxic” for schools with a combination of high levels of deprivation and lower numbers of pupils speaking English as a second language. The DfE have responded: “Far from being unfair, our Progress 8 measure means that schools are now recognised for the progress made by all pupils, as every grade from every pupil contributes to the school’s performance – taking into account their ability when they started school.

 

Mental Health

A Debut study publicised on the Royal College of Midwives News site has demonstrated widespread reluctance to disclose mental health issues to potential employers amongst students in order to avoid negative impact on their career progression. 70% of the 1,000 full time employed graduates that were sampled would not inform their employer and 88% stated they believed there is still a negative stigma attached to admitting to suffering from a mental health issue.

Of the 70% who said they would avoid telling an employer about their mental health issues, 83% said they would be more inclined to seek mental health support if their employer offered an ‘off-the-record’ or fully anonymous service that would be kept separate from their employment record. Their preference for off the record support methods were: face-to-face meeting (61%), WhatsApp, or other instant online chat (19%), email (10%), via video call (7%), SMS/text-messaging (3%).

The study states that graduates don’t feel their workplaces are properly equipped to support workers with mental health issues. The graduates described their employer’s support system as: 15% – good; 51% – adequate; 34% – poor.

The study states: It appears that while mental health concerns are being discussed more openly in wider society, there is still work to be done in regards to the stigma associated with admitting to suffering from mental health issues and support offered to those transitioning from university to work.

CEO of Debut, Charlie Taylor, said that supporting new graduates as they transition from university to work should be a major consideration of progressive employers.  ‘If graduate recruitment specialists want to attract – and more importantly keep – the best talent as they emerge from education, they need to know what issues students and graduates are facing, and how best to support themGraduate programmes can be fiercely competitive, which can exacerbate mental health issues and employers need to ensure they are providing anonymous, ‘off the record’ support for this future workforce.”

 

Meanwhile in iNews Bristol’s VC has said poor mental health among students is the “single biggest public health issue” affecting universities and feels the perfectionism culture perpetuated through social media is a causal factor.

 

Disabled Students’ Allowances

The parliamentary questions pertaining to disabled students continue.

Q – Angela Rayner:

  1. what the evidential basis is for his statement that students spend on average £250 on computers.
  2. what costs Disabled Students’ Allowances are planned to cover.

 

A – Sam Gyimah:

  1. This figure comes from the most recent student income and expenditure survey …This shows that the average spend on computers by full-time students across the academic year was £253. The average spend on computers by part-time students across the academic year was £243.
  2. Disabled Students’ Allowances are available to help students with the additional costs they may face in higher education because of their disability. There are four allowances available and for 2017/18 these are: a specialist equipment allowance of up to £5,358 for the duration of the course, a non-medical helper allowance of up to £21,305 for each academic year, a general allowance of up to £1,790 for each academic year and a uncapped travel allowance for each academic year. They can be used for the purchase of specialist equipment, to pay for a non-medical helper to support students with their studies, for other assessed disability related costs and for travel.  As noted in the Oral Answer, the £200 student contribution is for computer hardware only. Students are not expected to pay for recommended specialist software or for training to use it.

Part Time Students

Welsh Universities will now be able to claim a full premium when recruiting part time students. Wales also enjoys a fee-waiver allocation for students in receipt of certain benefits when studying at less than 25%. It will be interesting to watch these developments in comparison to England’s declining part time student population.

 

HEPI

HEPI continue to share ideas and blog related to their prior report: Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director for Fair Access and Participation.

 

Sonia Sodha (The Observer) states:  If we were really committed to improving access to top universities, we would bite the bullet and introduce class-based quotas. Progress on this front has been pathetically slow: yes, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to universities in greater numbers than before, but they remain disproportionately shut out of the highest-ranking institutions. The Office for Students should reintroduce a cap on student numbers…and introduce hard quotas for students from working- class backgrounds for each university. This would help break down the unfair and stubborn middle- class lock on privilege. It would also force more middle-class students down a vocational route – surely the only way we are ever going to get parity of esteem between post-18 vocational and academic qualifications.

 

Rosemary Bennett (The Times): [There should be] a universal system in transferrable credits so bright students who really take to their studies at university can trade up to a better institution after a year. If there is thriving competition between universities, as we are often told, it should not stop at the point of admission. Users need to be able to switch supplier.

 

Nik Miller (Bridge Group): The creation of the Office for Students is an important opportunity to… also look outwards; to convene influencers across sectors to deliver coherent approaches, and to dismantle prevailing contradictions….Employers play a critical role in determining students’ prospects. This demands greater scrutiny. For example, many employers continue to attract students from a limited list of the least diverse institutions, refuse to consider students below a certain A-Level tariff – as university contextual admissions opens the door for many students, it is slammed shut once more upon graduation – and offer unpaid and unadvertised internships.

 

Lorraine Dearden (Institute for Fiscal Studies): The Office for Students needs to fully link…data in one place. IFS research linking schools and Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data shows that students who get the same GCSE results at age 16 are equally likely to progress to higher education, irrespective of their socio-economic status. However, there are socio-economic gaps in access to elite universities and the types of subjects studied, even allowing for school outcomes. We do not know fully whether this is because (i) bright disadvantaged students are less likely to apply for these courses, and/or (ii) they do, but do not get accepted, and/or (iii) their predicted grades and/or subject choice have some role. There are also socio-economic differences in drop-out rates, completion rates and outcomes once a person starts university. Good data would not only help us find out why these things are happening, but which access programmes are best at tackling them.

Read more sector change suggestions on the HEPI blog here.

 

T Levels

Damian Hinds, Education Secretary, has announced progress towards the commencement of T levels. T levels will be two year courses combining technical education and workplace experience making an important contribution to economic skills gaps and forming the third route for post-16 study (alongside apprenticeships and A levels).  The BBC report that the new two-year courses will have more teaching hours than most current technical programmes and will include a compulsory work placement of 40-60 working days. The Government have committed to learn from countries, work in partnership with business and the course content will be developed by expert employer panels. T Levels will commence from 2020 (construction, digital, and education and childcare) and be expanded into other sections from 2021 (finance, hair and beauty, engineering, and the creative industries). Controversy has dogged the announcement as earlier in the month a DfE official stated a 2020 start would be rushed and questioned whether the teaching would be of a high standard. These concerns were rejected and Hinds pushed ahead to unveil the 52 approved providers.

The Times article T levels have employers scratching their heads notes only 16% of employers  understand T levels: Business owners, who will be essential to the success of the new regime, say that they are not prepared for it. Just one in 12 employers at present provided placements of the duration required for T levels, and four in every five felt that financial support would be needed to enable them to offer the number of work placements needed.

Meanwhile Stage 2 kicks off for the 16 hopefuls (3 of which are universities) aiming to become Institutes of Technology. Research Professional also has a short article on it here.

Admissions

Next week the House of Lords will hold a one-hour debate on equality of opportunity in university admissions.

 

Fraudulent UCAS Applications

Previously The Independent challenged UCAS stating black students were 22 times more likely to have their university applications investigated for fraud than white students. UCAS investigated the issue and have published a report. Read the key points here. The story is covered by The Times and The Guardian.

 

Criminal Convictions

UCAS have also made news this week following their decision to not require applicants to declare criminal convictions when they apply for most courses.

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“Unlock very much welcomes the removal of the main criminal conviction box from the UCAS form. This is a significant change that has the potential to help many people with convictions see a university education as a positive way forward in their lives. For far too long, universities have operated arbitrary, unfair admissions practices towards those who ticked the box. Unlock has seen first-hand how people have been put off from applying to university as a result.

If universities are committed to widening participation, they should be considering the widest number of potential applicants. The change by UCAS provides a strong signal to universities that criminal records shouldn’t feature in their assessment of academic ability.

Many institutions are now rightly looking at how to amend their policies and practices. We look forward to working with UCAS and individual universities in developing fairer admissions policies towards students with criminal records.”

Nina Champion, Head of Policy at Prisoners’ Education Trust, said:

“People with convictions who are applying to university are showing a huge commitment to turning their lives around. As a society, we should be doing all we can to support them. The chance to go to university helps people to move fully away from crime, build careers and contribute to our communities. Their presence is also hugely beneficial for universities, which gain highly committed students, who help create a more diverse and inclusive learning environment for everyone. “We look forward to working with universities at revising their own admissions procedures in light of UCAS’ decision, ensuring fair chances for every student.”

Peter Stanford, Director of the Longford Trust, said:

“We…urge that, whatever arrangements universities now decide to put in place around risk assessment for those with criminal convictions, they do so in a manner that learns from the mistakes of the recent past, and enables the widest possible levels of participation”

 

Alternative Admissions

Jackie Labbe from De Montford University blogs for Wonkhe on the changes her university has made in Admissions to rely less on tariff based selection. Jackie states the changes have had a positive effect:

We support them [new students] via transitions programmes bridging their course of study and student services, so that any obstacles they have encountered in the past don’t continue to impede them.

We have seen success in our students’ improving outcomes, particularly our black and minority ethnic (BAME) students. We are now more than 50% BAME, and consider (in common with the sector) that the attainment gap is an unacceptable element of the status quo. We’re proud that our attainment gap is closing, and aim to continue to reduce it exponentially over the next few years.

 

Nursing – fall in Access course registrations

Nursing recruitment takes another hit as QAA data confirmed registrations onto the Access to HE Diplomas for nursing and health care fell by 18% (20,050 registrations) in 2016/17. Overall Access courses are down by 10%

Dr Greg Walker, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, calls on the HE Review panel to take the drop seriously:

“The news that registrations to these diplomas have dropped by almost a fifth in the space of a year is deeply concerning. The withdrawal of bursaries now appears to be impacting further down the supply chain for nursing degree students. A stalling pipeline of potential nursing students will offer no assurance to NHS employers as they struggle to fill vacant nursing posts…now is the time to review the impact of the shift away from bursaries.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

Gender Gap: Using data from a French study Times Higher discusses how automatically considering women for senior positions would reduce the gender gap at the top.

Teaching excellence: Times Higher talk on how linking promotion to quality teaching may work better than the TEF!

Civic University: Read the latest from the Civic University forum.

Poaching: PIE news has an article on the poaching of international students that takes place in the US.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                   SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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