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

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

The Universities Minster speaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levelling up and higher technical education

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

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

Germany…

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

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

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

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

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

Responses

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

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

And the key point is this –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

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

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

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions – use of calculated grades

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

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

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

On appeals the report says:

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

Recommendations:

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

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

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

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

Admissions – numbers up

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

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

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

Nursing

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

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

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

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

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

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

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

Tuition fee refunds

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

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

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

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

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

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

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

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

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

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

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

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

International Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points-based Immigration System

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

Graduate Outcomes

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

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

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

Social Mobility Commission

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

Bailout push

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

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

NSS Analysis

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

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

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

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

 Student Number Controls

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

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

Research

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

RP continue:

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

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HE Policy Update 1st July 2020

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

Parliamentary News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Value

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

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

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

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

Disadvantage

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

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

She goes over similar points later:

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

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

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

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

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

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

FE & Apprenticeships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They made several recommendations to improve apprenticeships:

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

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

Student Survey

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

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

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

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

Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy responded to the report:

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

Graduate Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

Research

R&D Roadmap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifically on HE the roadmap states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec UUK, stated:

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

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

Business Secretary Alok Sharma stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

Disability

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

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

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

Graduate Internships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions

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

Parliamentary Questions

Students

HE Sector The importance of good indoor ventilation.

Student Number Controls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HE Sector Finances

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

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

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

Lords Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 3rd June 2020

Parliament has returned from recess and happily so has your policy update. Here are the main stories from the last two weeks.

Parliamentary News

The FT reports that ministers are preparing to unveil a stimulus package in July, with money expected to go into training schemes and infrastructure projects plus support for technology companies. “With unemployment rising rapidly, the prime minister is also due to make a major speech in June aimed at encouraging Britons into work”. The fiscal event is not expected to constitute a Budget. Some No 10 officials are reportedly pushing for the national infrastructure strategy to be repackaged as spending to fuel the economic recovery after the Covid-19 crisis.

House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle  wrote to MPs   to outline new voting arrangements  after hybrid proceedings were ended. Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has tabled a Government motion on proposals for voting, which could include socially distanced queues through the halls of Parliament.

The Labour Party and other opposition parties tabled an amendment to the Government motion on voting in the Commons, which they lost.  Valerie Vaz  MP, Shadow Leader of the House, said

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg‘s discriminatory proposals would result in two classes of  MPs. Those who can physically attend and those unable to owing to the Government’s own rules, including having an underlying health condition or shielding responsibilities.   The abolition of the hybrid remote parliament which allowed all MPs to take part regardless of their personal circumstances is discriminatory and would not be acceptable in any other workplace.   We remain ready to work with the Government and all parties to reach a consensus that would allow all MPs to participate on an equal basis.”  

In Wednesday’s PMQs, the PM appeared to say that proxy votes would be allowed, which contradicted the statement from Rees-Mogg – this debate will probably continue.

Apprenticeships

The DfE published an update to their Apprenticeships and Traineeships (England) statistics paper.  In 2019/20 (up to March) higher level apprenticeships made up 24.1% of all starts (62,600). In the March – April 2020 (C-19 and lockdown period) 33.8% of starts were on higher apprenticeships – nearly double the proportion for the same period in 2018/19 (which was 17.1%). Overall the number of apprenticeships starting in this period were much lower meaning the almost doubled proportion of higher starts overtook the proportion of intermediate apprenticeships.

Postgraduate LEO data

The Government published statistics on the employment and earnings outcomes of postgraduates.

UK Postgraduates

2017/18 saw an increase in Level 7 (Masters level) postgraduate earnings one, three and five years after graduation, although earnings ten years after graduation saw no change in nominal terms.

For 2014/15 to 2017/18 tax year median earnings for the most recent postgraduates (one year after graduation) increased by £1,400 (5.6%) and by £1,200 (3.9%) for the five years after graduation cohorts. However, in real terms recent postgraduates saw no increase in their median earnings and those five years after graduation saw a fall of £500.

Five years after graduation, level 7 postgraduates earn more than first degree graduates (£32,200 compared to £26,600). However those who continue onto postgraduate study are a non-random subset of the first degree population and these figures do not control for differences in the characteristics of those who continue to postgraduate study.

The absolute increase in earnings between 2014/15 and 2017/18 for Level 7 postgraduates five years after graduation is largely equal for males and females but the gender gap is larger than that seen for first degree graduates. Five years after graduation male Level 7 graduates earn 19.1% more than females compared to first degree graduates where males earn 14.3% more than females.

International graduates

For EU domiciled graduates, those who completed a Level 8 qualification were more likely to be in sustained employment and/or further study in the UK after graduation compared to those who completed a Level 7 (taught) qualification. For example, 43.9% of Level 8 graduates were in sustained employment and/or further study one year after graduation compared to 35.3% of Level 7 (taught) graduates. This pattern is also true for Non-EU graduates where 28.9% of Level 8 graduates were in sustained employment and/or further study one year after graduation compared to 13.0% of Level 7 (taught) graduates.

Overall, within each study level, Non-EU domiciled graduates were less likely to be in sustained employment and/or further study in the UK than EU domiciled graduates. However, when looking at those who graduated with a Level 7 (taught) qualification ten years after graduation, nearly the same proportion of EU (18.1%) and Non-EU (17.6%) domiciled graduates were still working and/or studying in the UK.

Median earnings five years after graduation for Non-EU domiciled Level 7 graduates are in line with those for UK domiciled graduates (£32,100 compared to £32,200).  Whereas earnings for EU graduates are higher at £35,000.

However, this pattern varies by English region.  London has a similar picture to the overall national data but in a number of regions UK domiciled graduates have the highest regional earnings. This is particularly noticeable in the more northern regions. For example, in the North West median earnings for UK domiciled graduates are £29,600 compared to £27,400 for EU graduates and £26,600 for Non-EU graduates.

International Students

Immigration statistics

The Home Office published  immigration statistics for the year ending March 2020.

  • In the year ending March 2020, there were 299,023 Sponsored study (Tier 4) visas granted (including dependants), a 23% increase on the year ending March 2019, and the highest level since the year ending June 2011.
  • Chinese nationals were the most common nationality granted Tier 4 visas in the year ending March 2020, up 18% compared with the year ending March 2019 to 118,530 (accounting for 40% of the total).
  • The number of grants to Chinese students is now more than double the number in 2012.
  • Indian nationals also saw a notable increase in the number of Tier 4 visas granted, more than doubling (up 136% to 49,844) compared with the year ending March 2019, continuing an increase seen since 2016
  • Those coming on Tier 4 visas bring relatively few dependants, with 94% of the visas issued being to main applicants, compared with 71% for Work visas.
  • The vast majority (97%) of those with Tier 4 visas expiring in the year ending March 2019, were known to have departed from the UK before their visa had expired. In 2018, 46,782 former Tier 4 visa holders extended their leave in the UK, either for further study or to remain in the UK for other reasons, such as for marriage or work.

Sponsored study visa applications                                                                                    

In the year ending September 2019 sponsored study visa applications rose 13% to 258,787. The majority (86%) of these were for study at higher education (university) institutions, whose number increased by 14% to 222,047, the highest level on record.

Applications per sector: higher education (86%), independent schools (5%), further education (5%), English language schools (3%), other (1%)

Frank words

Jo Johnson writes for the Spectator on movement in the role international students will play within the universities of the world. Some of the content is the same old but it is worth a read to hear the Ex-Universities Minister speaking frankly and adding nuance to newer aspects. Excerpts:

  • The UK’s ability to bounce back will be gravely impaired if international students are no longer around to underpin the foundations of institutions central to our performance as a knowledge economy. A drop in international student numbers of potentially 50 to 75 per cent will threaten the vitality of dozens of mid-sized British university towns from Chichester to Newcastle and send into reverse one of the great boom businesses of the globalised economy.
  • ..The £7 billion they bring in fees provides an annual cross-subsidy that compensates for losses incurred in research and the teaching of high-cost subjects. These include not just laboratory-based sciences but also courses vital for our creative industries.
  • ..So far, a plea from lobbyists Universities UK for a sector-specific bailout package has gone largely unanswered. Barring a £100 million dollop of research funding and the bringing forward of £2.6 billion of tuition fee payments, universities have been told to manage their financial risks with the same grant, loan and furlough schemes available to others.
  • To say the sector feels unloved is an understatement….It is a victim of its own relentless growth, itself a function of the poor quality of the alternatives, a demand-led higher education funding model and, above all, the changing occupational structure of the workforce.
  • But the message to the sector from government is clear: any university approaching the Treasury for special treatment can expect to emerge in a very different shape following a rigorous debt workout. Forced mergers and the closure of programmes deemed to be offering low quality or poor value for money will be the order of the day, even if measuring this objectively will prove to be immensely challenging.
  • The return of domestic student number controls, ostensibly on a temporary basis to prevent an unseemly scramble to backfill places left empty by international students this September, will in time turn into a tool to dial back the expansion of the sector. It will make international students more keenly sought after than ever.
  • Those institutions that have the financial reserves to ride out the storm this coming academic year will find that pessimism about the medium-term future for international education is overblown. …As developing countries seek to improve their own league table performance and welcome overseas students themselves, international education will cease to be considered in terms of a mainly Western and English-speaking archetype.

Parliamentary questions relating to international students:

Research

Ministerial Research Taskforce

The Ministerial University Research and Knowledge Exchange Taskforce has published its membership, terms of reference and ways of working confirming it will be a time limited endeavour.

The purpose of the taskforce is to provide an advisory forum for ministers at BEIS and DFE to engage with university research and knowledge exchange stakeholders with the aim of sustaining the university research base and its capability to contribute effectively to UK society and economy in the recovery to coronavirus (COVID-19) and beyond.

It will:

  • share information and intelligence about the health of the university research and the knowledge exchange carried out by and within higher education institutions (HEIs)
  • identify potential impacts on the sustainability of university research and knowledge exchange directly arising from the response to COVID-19
  • share intelligence on government and other sources of support or funding that may be available and develop approaches that building on these to address the impacts of coronavirus and protect and sustain HEI research capability and capacity
  • where possible share evidence of the impacts on university research and knowledge exchange of the taskforce’s advice

The taskforce will have an advisory role, providing views on these topics alongside a range of other sources of advice.

Regional Research & Development Funding Imbalance

NESTA have taken a look at the geographical location of R&D investment. It states Innovation drives economic growth. It makes people and places better off by creating modern, productive businesses and higher paid, more meaningful work. Research and Development makes innovation possible. Businesses and governments spend money on R&D to create and test new ideas. There’s a lovely little map which highlights how badly the South West does on R&D funds compared to other locations. And their Design the Future tool is interactive allowing you to adjust the priorities based on your view of their importance and see what impact it has on the regions. Maybe you can find the right combination of policy options for the South West’s prospects to improve but I found there wasn’t much movement even with extreme policy combinations! NESTA’s report: The Missing £4 Billion calls for things to be done differently. Excerpt:

  • The current situation is the result of a combination of deliberate policy decisions and a natural dynamic in which these small preferences combined with initial advantages are reinforced with time. For example, of a series of major capital investments in research infrastructure between 2007 and 2014, 71 per cent was made in London, the East and South East of England, through a process criticised by the National Audit Office. The need for continuing revenue funding to support these investments lock in geographical imbalances in R&D for many years. Imbalanced investment in R&D is, at most, only part of why the UK’s regional economic divides widened in the past and have failed to close in recent decades. But it is a factor that the government can influence. It has failed to do so. Where attempts have been made to use R&D to balance the UK’s economic strengths, they have been insufficient in scale. They describe the South West’s position as: low levels of public investment but slightly higher private sector spending on R&D, similar to Northern Ireland.

NESTA report summary from Wonkhe Monday – A report for Nesta by Tom Forth and Richard Jones, which explores the regional imbalance in research and development funding, estimates that it would take an additional £4 billion in funding for regions, cities, and nations to be funded at the same rate as London and the South East of England. Though stuffed with technical detail at its core, the report is calling for a review of political priorities in the allocation of research and development funds, incorporating an overt agenda for economic growth whose benefits are spread across the nation. An accompanying online tool allows users to explore the relative impact of a series of possible priorities for research and development funding. Though released with relatively little fanfare, we shouldn’t underestimate the likely influence of the report, which goes very much with the grain of current government policy thinking.

Research Budget

BEIS have announced the 2020-21 R&D budget allocations. Research Professional cover it here, and state on the face of it, the proposed science budget of £10.36 billion looks as if it has been trimmed from a previously promised £11.4bn.  And there is no mention of the much-vaunted Advanced Research Projects Agency backed by Cummings—unless it is coming from within the UKRI budget.

Recent research parliamentary questions

UCAS Plus

UCAS blog about Clearing Plus on Wonkhe:

Clearing Plus works by suggesting courses to students that are typically favoured by similar applicants, and that they are eligible for.

Two critical factors are involved:

  • Available courses and a university’s own recruitment criteria.
  • A match score of students and courses based on historical acceptances.

From early July, those not holding an offer or place can see their individual list of matched courses in Track (their online UCAS account) by clicking a button. From there, they can easily send an expression of interest to their chosen universities. After a conversation, the student can decide whether to officially add them to their application. As ever, admissions teams have the final say over who they admit onto their courses

University of X wants to recruit to their physics course, and therefore submits physics to Clearing Plus, stipulating that it is only visible to applicants with a confirmed A level grade B in maths. They will then receive the details of all unplaced applicants who have clicked on their course to register interest. Applicants won’t see the course if they don’t have the required B (or higher) grade, so admissions teams can have confidence in those registering interest. This means that the applicant’s achieved regulated grade is used, as it would be in any other year.

The widening participation opportunities are obvious. Admissions teams can also choose to use POLAR and SIMD as part of their criteria to effectively reach underrepresented applicants, helping them achieve a diverse student population.

The article goes on to explain matched scores and clusters and promises:

…by basing matches on clusters of students who have been previously placed on courses, using factors mentioned earlier (e.g. grades and not sex), students will discover courses which may not have been on their radar in the past, but are qualified to succeed on.

Admissions

Student number controls were announced on Monday with the regulatory adjustments presented to Parliament on Tuesday. Here is the written ministerial statement. A reminder of the main points:

  • Introduced to help maintain the overall health and stability of the higher education sector in these unprecedented times. Time limited as direct response to C-19 and the potential financial instability facing HE institutions. Student number controls aim to prevent large swings in the number of students between providers, with much higher levels of recruitment at some providers potentially leaving others in financial difficulty. They also aim to prevent recruitment practices which are against students’ best interests because they may encourage them to accept an offer from a provider that is not best suited to their needs.
  • Aim to prevent excessive recruitment. Allow for planned growth (based on submitted institutional plans). Grumbles within the sector state the cap favours the highest tariff institutions/those who normally recruit high levels of international students because they will be able to replace lost international students with more domestic students plus still have growth room. It remains to be seen if this will widen access at the highest tariff institutions. The other variable is whether international recruitment really turns out to be as dire as predicted.
  • Institutions who recruit above the cap will be penalised financially by a reduction in the fee level the following academic year (penalties on page 15 here). A loophole is institutions who already have confirmed offers above the cap level before they received their capped value.
  • Part time, most postgraduate and international students are not included within the capped numbers count. Foundation years are. Students with a family income above the level to access student loan funding are not included within the cap. On this Wonkhe say: providers that recruit many students from well-to-do backgrounds can, seemingly, fill their boots.
  • The number cap placed on each institution will not be published as it is considered commercially sensitive, but the methodology for calculation has been published.
  • Institutions can apply for a share of the additional 5000 places for nursing and allied health once the planned numbers plus 5% have been filled (and assuming enough clinical placements can be offered) . Alongside this an additional 5000 for ‘strategically important subjects’ (see annex B here for the list). For example, STEM, architecture, teacher training, social work, veterinary but not medicine. Institutions can bid for 250 of these places. There are other conditions such as a continuation rate of 90+% and 75% go onto highly skilled work/further study. Providers scoring highest on these two conditions are most likely to succeed in securing the additional places, this is the Government’s high-quality agenda.
  • For HE institutions in the devolved nations recruitment of English domiciled students is capped with 1.5% growth. You likely won’t have missed the arguments raging in the early part of the week from the devolved nations who feel their different funding rules and situations shouldn’t be subject to imposed restrictions. Penalties for devolved nations that go over their share of English domiciled students are set out at page 15-16 here. And if you’ve lost the threads of what is up and down within the devolved nations HE policies Wonkhe have a beginner’s guide.

There is a good article from Wonkhe here it critiques the approach and points out several loopholes, including students retaking exams in autumn and January starters.  And a commenter on the Wonkhe article says: A topic that hasn’t had so much attention is that the fact that it’s Department for Education managing these rules rather than the Office for Students. Presumably the HE regulator felt it lacked the time and the legal authority to take quick action. Just two years after OfS started work and the department is stepping in to regulate where the regulator can’t.

Research Professional have the usual coverage of the cap and some interesting points on how the over recruitment penalties which reduce the fee levels the providers can charge in future years will make the ‘naughty provider’ more attractive to students who wish to pay a lower fee in the following academic year. Although it isn’t clear if students would be expected to take and pay the higher fee with the Government pocketing the difference between what the institution is allowed to charge. A dangerous policy for the Government’s PR! There are also the arguments equating a drop in income with lower quality teaching.

And a parliamentary question with a different admissions focus: Increasing the number of students enrolling on courses with a public service focus.

Returning to Campus

There has been much talk about returning to campus and how it affects recruitment and the student experience in recent weeks. Refreshingly. Wonkhe have a new blog looking at it more from the professional services perspectives of estates space requirements and timetabling. The blog also refers to this briefing paper produced by consultants which: explores the impact of Covid-19 on the process of timetabling, the timetable itself, and the way that academic space is used, both in transition and in the “new normal”.  We include our thoughts on the impact of wider space use, including a challenge to institutions to think about space as enablers of activities, as places where people come together to co-produce something. This extends to digital space as a place where people come together and links both to digital education and other work that we are doing on digital service delivery.

The Times reports on Dublin City University which is offering flexible accommodation options – booking accommodation for just a few days or a week at a time.

Wonkhe report that Advance HE has published guidance on creating socially distanced campuses, with communication, humanity, inclusion, and partnership with SUs as four key principles.

Student Perspective

UCU and Youthsight surveyed (only 516) students due to start in September 2020:

  • 32% of students are worried their university will go bust
  • 71% support a delay to the start of term if it means they’ll receive more face to face teaching rather than online content
  • 72% are concerned pandemic related funding cuts will negatively impact their education
  • A previous survey estimated that 120,000 students may defer this academic year. The deferral figures are interesting because it is unclear what prospective students would do instead – travelling abroad is limited, work opportunities are limited and there are high levels on unemployment, internships have been slashed, apprenticeships are disrupted and mean a longer term perspective change. Of course the danger is the student defers and then never returns to HE study. And ITV news have a short piece on the perspective of two students who are opposed to online study and considering deferring instead.

On their survey UCU General Secretary, Jo Grady, said:

  • It is hardly surprising that students are anxious about what the future holds for universities and for their education. Given the impact this uncertainty is having on students, it is now critical that government agrees to provide increased financial backing to the sector. Students need to be confident that they will get a high quality education, despite the hugely damaging impact of the pandemic.
  • Without increased support, our research has shown that thousands of jobs could go in a £6bn shock to the economy. While university staff and students will bear the brunt of this, higher education is also important to many local businesses around the UK who will be fatally damaged by this contraction.

Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President (Higher Education), commented:

  • COVID-19 has shown that university management is not prioritising staff or students at this time, but is forced instead to focus on how to bring money into an institution because the government refuses to sufficiently underwrite the higher education sector.
  • It is no surprise that university management would like to continue as if it is ‘business as usual’ for fear of losing out on the income students provide – but students and staff are not just figures on a balance sheet. Bringing students and staff members back onto campuses too early could result in deaths that are entirely preventable.
  • The government must underwrite the higher education sector to ensure its survival as a vital public good and integral part of our economic recovery. This should include a student safety net and funds to allow all students to redo this year at no extra cost, or have their tuition fees reimbursed or written off.

A parliamentary question on reopening with the response we’d expect:

Q – Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has for the re-opening of universities in autumn 2020. [48283]

A – Michelle Donelan:

  • We expect universities to be open for the autumn term, with a blend of online teaching and in-person tuition that they consider appropriate, taking account of the need to minimise risk to staff and students.
  • We are working with the higher education sector to identify guidance and best practice that will be needed for universities to make informed decisions about their provision. This will help them to decide when and how they can make facilities accessible again for staff and students in a way that minimises the risks and in line with public health advice.
  • Universities have remained open throughout lockdown and have applied their research expertise to finding solutions to the COVID-19 outbreak in this unprecedented period. They have also delivered some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning, and now the sector is working hard in preparation for the new academic year.

Summary of Intentions

The Student Crowd website is amalgamating a list of the type of learning providers plan to offer from September.

Strategic Guidance

On Wednesday UUK, QAA and UCEA released strategic guidance on factors to consider for HE providers to move forward as the UK slowly emerges from lockdown. The principles have been released rather late – BU finalised our principles three weeks ago. Here are our Major Incident Group planning principles for how we are planning our return to campus if you haven’t already read them. And all three sets of guidance cover what you would expect with nuanced differences relating to their organisational missions.

UUK published Principles and considerations: emerging from lockdown stating it is imperative that its universities can emerge from lockdown safely and in line with guidance from governments, public health advice and health and safety legislation. They offer 9 priority areas that HE institutions can use as a framework…to adapt to their own institutional settings and contexts. Here are the 9 principles in brief:

  1. The health, safety and wellbeing of students, staff, visitors, and the wider community will be the priority in decisions relating to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in universities.
  2. Universities will make appropriate changes to university layout and infrastructure in accordance – at minimum – with public health advice, including guidelines on social distancing.
  3. Universities will review their teaching, learning and assessment to ensure that there is the required flexibility in place to deliver a high-quality experience and support students to achieve their learning outcomes in a safe manner.
  4. Universities will regularly review the welfare and mental health needs of students and staff, and take steps to ensure preventative measures and appropriate support are in place and well communicated as restrictions are eased.
  5. Universities will develop effective processes to welcome and support international students and staff, including throughout any self-isolation period.
  6. Universities will regularly review their hygiene and cleaning protocols in all university spaces, and adapt them in response to changing public health advice and risk levels, to ensure students, staff and visitors have confidence in their safety.
  7. Following appropriate risk assessment, universities will introduce measures to enable research to be conducted in a safe and responsible manner, following government guidance specifically designed to protect researchers in laboratories and other research facilities and spaces.
  8. Universities will engage with students and staff, including consultation with recognised trade unions, to ensure the transition from lockdown both protects the wellbeing of staff and students and enables the safe resumption of university activities.
  9. Universities will work with civic or local partners wherever appropriate including councils, local resilience forums (in England) and community groups.

The full 21 page document pads out these headline principles with further details to guide institutions.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association worked with the major HE unions to publish: Principles for working safely on campus during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. It covers health & safety, risk assessments and, as you would expect, a focus on consulting with unions, communicating with staff and assessing the impact of different staff groups alongside a close eye on equality. It advocates for reasonable actions to mitigate possible adverse impacts on specific group/s including those, or those living with, people who are shielding or vulnerable. The UCEA press release is here.

QAA published Preserving Quality And Standards Through A Time Of Rapid Change: UK Higher Education In 2020-21 it focuses more on ensuring the quality of curriculum delivery alongside the familiar messages of ensuring any onsite delivery is safe, engaging with and providing flexibility for staff and students whilst maintaining quality. Page 5 looks in more detail at the 3 possible models of attendance. And they have an interesting fact for onsite delivery: early sector-wide studies suggest that incorporating an approved physical-distancing requirement per student reduces useable capacity to 10-20% of actual space. There is a comprehensive section from page 8-13 on how changes to delivery will affect quality and standards.  QAA’s press release launching their guidance report is here.

HEPI are also of a quality mindset and have a new blog on the topic: How can we assure quality in online higher education?

Wonkhe blog on the principles. And Research Professional have a lighter hearted and different perspective in their coverage of what was said in the pre-launch conference of the UUK proposals on Tuesday.

On the release of the UUK guidance Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy stated:

  • The coming academic year will be a very different experience for students and staff alike and producing a clear set of principles on which to proceed, with a focus on the wellbeing of staff and students, is exactly what is needed.
  • At a time when leadership is called for it is a matter of regret that the Government has so far remained on the sidelines, introducing heavy handed powers to the Office for Students and allowed uncalled-for caps on English student numbers on the devolved regions.
  • Labour urges the Government to take this opportunity to work with UUK to ensure all universities are adequately supported through this crisis.

Mental Health

Student Minds have published Planning for a Sustainable Future – the important of university mental health in uncertain times.

Parliamentary Questions

Students

HE Sector

Outreach

The PM was questioned by the Liaison Committee last week:

Q – Robert Halfon: Cambridge University has announced it would move all courses online while Nottingham Trent said it would have a mix of campus and online learning. Which example should HE institutions follow? And second question: Should every student working in the NHS be reimbursed this academic year at the very least?

A – Johnson: I will come back to you on the question regarding the NHS students. On your point on Cambridge and Nottingham Trent, it is a matter for universities but clearly I think the implication of your question is that face to face tuition is preferable. I hope all universities understand that this is also important for their students and for social justice.

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 Accommodation (Scotland): The Scottish Bill allowing students to terminate their accommodation contracts has passed and is now law.

Nursing fees: The Royal College of Nursing is still pushing for the Government to abolish nursing tuition fees. The Government has not responded to their letter.

International Students: OfS have a briefing note containing advice and best practice examples in relation to international students.

Student Panel: The OfS will open a call to seek students to sit on their student panel from 8 June. Information will appear here on the 8th.

Graduate Skills: Gradconsult has published a series of resources including developing skills and experience in a time of reduced employment; connecting students and employers in a virtual world, and planning your early careers strategy (this one is basic – a jumping off point resource). You can access a wider range of resources here.

DSA: Wonkhe have a new blog on the additional assistance (non-medical help) utilised by students in receipt of Disabled Students’ Allowance during C-19.

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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 6th March 2020

Pre-budget week has been as we’d typically expect with organisations releasing a hoard of reports, evidence and lobbying papers aiming to influence Government funding decisions. We’ve summarised the main reports and added links for the reports which say similar things. Graduate outcomes and apprenticeships& technical education were the loudest shouters, and this week also saw University Mental Health day and the beginning of British Science Week.

Select Committees

All but one of the select committees has now confirmed their MP membership. You can see the members and brief details on the role and future outlook of the committees most relevant to BU in our committee special edition here.

Immigration

The Immigration Bill has now been published.  Dods report that the Office for Budget Responsibility is preparing to downgrade the UK’s economic growth prospects in next week’s budget because of the country’s proposed post-Brexit “points” based immigration model. The OBR will forecast that a smaller population will lead to lower economic growth and detriment public finances, restricting the new Chancellor’s abilities to spend more money on key public services such as the NHS as well as the Government’s wider programme to “level up” the economy.

The economic impact of the new immigration system has led to tensions between the Treasury and Number 10 Downing Street. The Treasury favours a looser migration regime, without a cliff edge at the end of 2020, when the Brexit transition period ends.

Importantly, a reduction in migration rates have little to no effect on living standards because while economic growth might slow overall, gross domestic product per person was remain unchanged. The Migration Advisory Committee estimated a rise in GDP per person but added that this was very uncertain.

Science

Gavin Williamson and Business SoS Alok Sharma announced £179 million funding package for science, maths and engineering on Friday (which is the first day of British Science Week):

  • £179 million for PhDs (up to 2,200 students) within the 40+ UK universities in Doctoral Training Partnership institutions. Students will commence 2020 and 2021 academic years within the subject areas of physical sciences, maths and engineering to develop the skills for ground-breaking research and high-tech industries like cyber security and chemical manufacturing. Part of the investment will go into pilots looking at how best to attract and support those from non-academic backgrounds to undertake this type of training.
  • Encourage more young people, particularly girls, to study STEM subjects at school and university, and pursue a STEM-related career.
  • £8.9 million to continue funding science education programmes including Science Learning Partnerships and Stimulating Physics Networks, which aim to improve science teaching and increase the take up of science at GCSE level and A level and ultimately encourage young people to pursue a STEM-related career.

And on Thursday the PM hosted the Council for Science and Technology at Downing Street. The Council is comprised of senior science civil servant officials, the VC of Manchester University and attended by the Science Minister (Amanda Solloway). It advises the PM on science and technology policy matters. The official account of the meeting states the PM set out his priorities for science, research and innovation; championed science as a key part of his levelling up agenda, and emphasised the role of scientists in tackling the policy challenges of the coming decades. He challenged the Council to define their “moon-shots” for UK science, their ideas for where the UK should aim high, for example across healthcare, transport, energy and robotics. He restated the government’s pledge to invest in science and significantly boost R&D funding.

Ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore has two articles in TES: UK Universities must embrace the future and Skidmore rejects ‘university-bashing’ and urges funding stability. The first looks at the Universities Minister role and Chris reflects on what he achieved and his approach to the role:

  • I arrived with a mission. Put simply, I felt that I had to try to steer the relationship between government and the sector into a better place. No more university-bashing for the sake of a few cheap headlines. What would be the point? 
  • Of course, that still means challenging the sector to do even better, but with a change in approach and a change of tone, I knew that I was more likely to enact real change, to encourage reform and to work productively on actual solutions, rather than simply sending out press releases calling for them.
  • So much good work is already taking place – one of my rules for every speech I made was to highlight best practice
  • I wish my successors, both in universities and science, the very best. They have an opportunity to fashion and lead an exciting agenda that is at the centre of the prime minister’s vision. Of course I would have loved to have been part of this, but I hope I have played my small part in helping to steer the sector through a difficult year and helping it recognise the huge opportunities that can lie ahead – if the initiative is seized, and university leaders are prepared to tell a positive, forward-facing narrative, rather than being always on the defensive.
  • Universities are not part of the problem, they are part of the solution. We need to hear more of that message, and I, for one, will continue to do everything I can to make sure that it is voiced – and heard. 

Graduate Premium

The Institute for Fiscal Studies and DfE have published The impact of undergraduate degrees on lifetime earnings. It paints a mixed picture confirming and quantifying the graduate premium across the lifespan for today’s workforce. It also digs down into the variables highlighting the effects that current age/life stage, gender, programme choice, and institutional status have on pay levels. There has been lots of media interest alongside the Government’s keen focus on the value for money agenda. Plus some acknowledgement of the other personal benefits from studying at HE level, particularly in light of the headline grabber of male creative arts graduates who experience a negative financial return.

  • “while about 80% of students are likely to gain financially from attending university, we estimate that one in five students – or about 70,000 every year – would actually have been better off financially had they not gone to university.
  • … Other personal and social benefits may be as or more important. We also only consider the effect of each student’s choices on their ownearnings holding constant the choices of others”
  • Median earnings of male graduates grow strongly throughout their 30s, and this earnings growth far outstrips that of non-graduates. For male graduates who were 30 in 2016, we predict earnings to rise by £15k from age 30 to age 40, compared with a rise of just £5k in the median earnings of non-graduate men. The gap in median earnings between graduate and non-graduate men continues to grow strongly until individuals’ mid-40s.
  • Median earnings growth for female graduates in their 30s is moderate, but still higher than that of non-graduates. We predict median real earnings of female graduates who were 30 in 2016 to rise by around £5k from age 30 to age 40, compared with no growth for non-graduate women. Among degree subjects, law and medicine stand out in that their female graduates do see large growth in median earnings between ages 35 and 40.
  • Accordingly, the causal effect of undergraduate degrees on earnings grows after age 30 for both men and women, but much more strongly for men.  Average pre-tax returns for men at a given age increase from around 5% on average at age 30 to more than 30% on average at age 40, after which they increase more slowly to reach around 35% from age 50. For women, average pre-tax returns increase from around 25% at age 30 to more than 40% at age 40, but then fall again to between 30% and 35% at ages 50 and 60.
  • The average lifetime earnings gain from undergraduate degrees is substantial for both men and women, but much smaller than the difference between the gross earnings of graduates and non-graduates. The discounted difference in lifetime earnings between graduates and non-graduates is £430k for men and £260k for women. Once we account for differences in characteristics between those who do and do not attend HE, we obtain a discounted lifetime increase in gross earnings of £240k for men and £ 140k for women as a result of attending HE.
  • The average gain in net lifetime earnings is even smaller due to the progressivity of the tax system. Once taxes and student loans have been taken into account, the earnings premium declines to around £130k for men and £100k for women (£350k and £230k with no discounting). In percentage terms, this represents a gain in average net lifetime earnings of around 20% for both men and women.
  • The subject studied at university is hugely important. Net discounted lifetime returns for women are close to zero on average for creative arts and languages graduates, but more than £250k for law, economics or medicine. Men studying creative arts have negative financial returns, while men studying medicine or economics have average returns of more than half a million pounds.
  • However, studying a subject with high average returns is no guarantee of high returns. While average returns to law and economics are high, many students will see much lower benefits from studying those subjects, and a few will see much higher returns. In contrast, subjects such as education and nursing do not have very high returns on average, but women who study these subjects almost universally achieve positive returns.
  • Overall, we expect 85% of women and around three-quarters of men to achieve positive net lifetime returns. This means that around one in five undergraduates would have been better off financially had they not gone to university. At the other end of the spectrum, the 10% of graduates with the highest returns will on average gain more than half a million pounds in discounted present value terms.
  • Financing undergraduate degrees is expensive for the taxpayer, but on average increased tax revenues more than make up for it. Overall, we estimate that the expected gain to the exchequer of an individual enrolling in an undergraduate course is around £110k per student for men and £30k per student for women.
  • However, these gains are driven mainly by the highest-earning graduates. We expect the exchequer to gain more than half a million pounds on average from the 10% of graduates with the highest exchequer returns, but to make a loss on the degrees of around 40% of men and half of women. This means that nearly half of all students receive a net government subsidy for their degrees, even after tax and National Insurance payments have been taken into account. The selectivity of the institution has an influence too:

Michelle Donelan (Universities Minister) writes for the TelegraphUniversities minister announces crackdown on ‘low quality’ courses.  The below excerpts are interesting because they seem to suggest the Minister gets the point that earnings aren’t everything, and that low quality means poor teaching [measured somehow] AND relatively low returns for graduates (compared to other courses at other universities in the same subject that have higher earnings). Hopefully it also means ‘adjusted for background and prior attainment’!

  • We know that medicine and law, for example, will generally lead to higher earnings than languages but that does not mean to say that one degree is better than another. Its value extends far beyond what anyone is likely to earn during their lifetime and is merely one of the things to add to the mix when planning this stage of your life. 
  • There will always be some courses which do not lead to increased earnings for graduates. Value is relative and for many people their degree will lead to an immensely rewarding career even though the financial returns may be lower and society as a whole is the better for it.
  • What concerns me most are those courses that deliver neither the high-quality teaching students deserve, nor the value for money that they and the taxpayer rightly expect. In some subjects there is a very high variability in returns depending on where that subject is studied, which students need to be aware of.
  • This is one of the reasons why we created a new regulator, the Office for Students, to make sure standards throughout the sector can stand comparison with the best in the world. I fully back the regulator to step in and use its powers where providers are falling short, and am determined to crack down on low-quality courses. They do nothing for the reputation of universities and they will do even less for students who sign up for them.
  • And for those universities who are providing a world-class education, I expect them to continue offering a world-class experience. The time spent at university will help shape an individual, adding layers to their character through independence, knowledge, experiences and friendships – and no amount of data crunching can put a figure on that.

HEPI – Careers Service view on Graduate Outcomes driving institutional change

The Higher Education Policy Institute has also published a graduate outcome related report although this one contemplates change from a different angle. Getting on: graduate employment and its influence on UK HE is a more discursive paper addressing whether recent years’ policy changes (TEF and the new Graduate Outcomes survey accompanied by the tracking of graduate salary data through LEO) has changed the nature of HE institutions. It examines the sector by drawing on the views of Heads of Careers Services via the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services survey. Key points:

  • 76% of careers services have seen a change in student engagement with careers in the last three years (24% no change).
  • 93% of careers services see the increased policy focus on graduate outcomes as positive (2% negative; 5% neither positive nor negative).
  • The new Graduate Outcomes survey and the OfS Access and Participation plans are having the greatest impact on how careers services operate, rather than graduate salary data.
  • 69% say Graduate Outcomes has the most impact
  • 19% say Access and Participation plans has the most impact.
  • 2% say the LEO (Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data) has the greatest impact.
  • 45% of careers services have seen an increase in funding to cover additional demand on their services; 55% haven’t.
  • The report also covers qualitative analysis of the views of careers services, including how they, their university and students classify a successful outcome from university.

Rachel Hewitt (report author), HEPI,  said: ‘Policy changes in recent years have led to employability being a mainstream activity across all universities, rather than the specialism of a few. While some may rail against the ’employability agenda’, it is clear that universities are now better serving the interests of their students by supporting them through their transition into the workplace.’

Responding to the HEPI report NUS (Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President for HE) said:

  • “The focus on employability and graduate outcomes is not having a positive effect on students. We see this through the increased levels of stress and anxiety that they experience. Since the tripling of tuition fees, the burden of debt hangs heavily over students entering higher education and this explains why there is a greater focus among some on their future careers. As careers services have received more funding it is a natural step that they will see more use from students.
  • But this change in focus shifts attention from many of the most important benefits of studying and the transformative nature of education. Graduate outcomes is a reductive measure for whether someone has had a perceived ‘successful’ education and the report highlights the disparities between the measures institutions and students care most about.
  • It would be more insightful to look at the impact the focus on employability has had on students and their wellbeing.”

Part time study

Ahead of the budget UUK have written to ministers to urge them to reconsider the cut off points for part time learners to access student finance. The current restrictions are that students must study at least 25% of a full time equivalent per year and must commit to an approved qualification up front. Changes to these requirements would allow fractional learners to engage with HE level study in smaller bite sized chunks. UUK argue this would encourage more learners to engage or reskill, including those with commitments such as caring responsibilities or disabilities. Previous UUK publication Lost Learners (2018) highlights the three main reasons potential students chose not to enrol are:

  • 44% unable to afford tuition fees
  • 42% cannot afford the cost of living whilst studying
  • 26% course is not flexible enough to fit alongside their other life commitments

The Augar Review also highlights that having to study at 25% intensity and follow a specified qualification has been a major factor in the decline of part-time adult study. The Learning and Work Institute state that adult learning participation is as a 23 year low point with participation fallen to a record low the last three years in a row.

UUK call on the Government to run a pilot scheme targeting funding at communities with skills shortages.   Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK, said:

  • We know this government is committed to investment in regional economies and to helping people of all ages and backgrounds to reskill and retrain. Universities have an important role to play in that, but the current system counts against many would-be learners by restricting access to the financial support they need to develop their skills. There should be more than one accepted path to progress in higher education, to recognise that aspiring students of all ages have different circumstances and different needs. 
  • It is time for universities and government to work together on bold new ideas to resolve the long-term skills challenges of our changing economy. Breaking down barriers to studying shorter courses would not only help students to build-up qualifications over time but boost productivity across diverse regions, target local skills needs and support economic and social regeneration.

Technical Education

Degree Apprenticeships

Education Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, has written to the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education to ask them to review their approval for a level 7 apprenticeship which includes an MBA or other masters level qualification in management. The DfE state:

  • In his letter, the Secretary of State reiterated his determination to ensure levy funds are used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or those from disadvantaged backgrounds, rather than paying for staff who already have a degree and are highly qualified to receive an MBA.

You’ll recall when Theresa May’s Government set out to reinvent technical education there was a big push for degree apprenticeships. Universities were urged to embrace and offer the qualifications in areas which served local or national industrial and economic priorities. Meanwhile the Government’s introduction of the apprenticeship levy was unsuccessful and instead of improving quality and opportunity it resulted in declining levels of new starts, amid reports of some apprenticeship providers gaming the system. Overall the profile of apprenticeship provision changed as the higher and degree level apprenticeships took off. The Government became concerned that the cost of the higher level provision was significant alongside the reduction in availability or lower numbers of level 2 and 3 apprenticeship starts. Gavin’s letter represents the Government trying to regain control over the apprenticeship system. They still want degree level provision within the genuine apprenticeship form and we may see either Government or the Institute tightening control over the programme areas in the future. Requiring the qualification to be an essential regulatory or professional requirement also provides the Government with wriggle room. Here is an excerpt from Gavin’s letter:

  • I am absolutely determined to make sure levy funds are being used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or helping more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead, and that we ensure good value for money in the apprenticeships offer…In that context, [I] am unconvinced that having an apprenticeship standard that includes an MBA paid for by the levy is in the spirit of our reformed apprenticeships or provides value for money. I question whether an MBA is an essential regulatory or professional requirement to work in this field…I am of the view that we absolutely need to safeguard the integrity of the apprenticeship brand and value for money of the levy.

Investing in Higher Technical Education

Millionplus published Levelling up: investing in higher technical education at universities in England this week . Amongst the content it covers the same argument as UUK above – that the lack of financial support for part time students and the introduction of higher tuition fees have resulted in a reduction of Level 4 and 5 study. Dods go into detail on why level 4 and 5 technical education has declined:

  • In 2008 support for Equivalent and Lower Qualifications were withdrawn, barring students who had previously experienced higher education funding from studying programmes to support retraining or for re-entering the workforce
  • The long-term impact of the 2008 financial crash on the training budgets of public and private sector employers also contributed to the sharp decline in higher technical education.
  • The level of provision has been declining since 2008, with a sharp drop taking place after the 2012 university fee changes in England introduced by the then coalition government.
  • The government has, through the Sainsbury Review and the introduction of the 15 [T level, technical] routes, recognised that this area of education needs a new focus and targeted attention. However, those reforms are not going to be enough.

In Scotland, there is a much greater level of integration between bachelor and sub-bachelor levels of study than in England. In Scotland 14% of the whole of the HE system is made up of students studying HNCs and HNDs, in England it is 0.4%.  However, a decline of 45% in the number of students engaged in “other sub-degree” mirrors English trends– provision has been shrinking in Scotland as well.

There is discussion on how students are categorised in England, i.e. undertaking a level 6 programme despite years 1 and 2 being level 4 and 5 study. They argue this misleads thinking when examining level 4 and 5 study in technical areas that only standalone level 4/5 provision is appropriate (rather than the same as provision on the level 6 journey).  I.e. there is no “missing middle” of sub-degree qualifications in the English HE system. The report suggests that the Augar review understood this. Moreover:

This data should suggest to policymakers that the fundamental challenge is not a trade-off between progressing younger people either to level 4/5 or to level 6, but how we can best enable 16-25 year olds, and those later in life, to successfully complete level 3 study which can provide them with a gateway of opportunity for progression into higher education or directly into employment.

There are a host of report recommendations which we’ll avoid covering in detail. In short:

  • Level 4 and 5 (L4/5) should receive full maintenance grant support (to increase the take up of work-focused higher education).
  • All L4/5 providers to register with OfS to guarantee high quality provision and access to student finance.
  • Universities are as much a key players in the provision of higher technical education as colleges.
  • Sort the L4/5 data out to better understand nature and scope of technical education across college and university providers.
  • All level qualifications should enable progression at any life stage and financially support level 3 students to remove barriers to study.

The DfE consulted on higher technical education reform (July-Sept 2019). Like the Augar Review the Government’s response is notably late. Most likely technical changes will sit alongside however, the Government decide to implement elements of Augar, T levels will undoubtedly be of influence, and some thinkers suggest TEF changes could also be wrapped up within this surprise parcel.

Education Policy Institute (EPI)

The EPI has published a report questioning what England can learn from other nations in designing technical education funding systems. The report finds that T levels are a significant step in the direction of high performing countries, however, there is a way to before English upper secondary technical provision resembles the model and success of other nations. EPI suggest tackling the necessary issues would require substantial levels of additional government investment.

  • UK has historically funded upper secondary technical education at lower rates than academic education (23% less per student in 2016, lower than the OECD average) – this is not the case in most other countries.
  • In other countries subsidies are provided to employers to compensate for the time that an apprentice is training outside the job or to compensate for disadvantaged intakes that drive costs up. In England, subsidies are concentrated on small and medium companies.
  • More generous financial support is available in other countries. In England support funding to students has fallen by 71% per student in real terms between 2010/11 and 2018/19.
  • While over a half of students in England follow the technical pathway in upper secondary, only 16% do so through apprenticeship training. In EU its 27%.
  • English technical upper secondary education is a shorter duration (2 years, even 1 for some apprenticeships).  In high performing countries it takes 3-4 years.
  • 15% of English students are in the highest-cost groups of subjects (including engineering, manufacturing, and construction); in OECD countries its 34%.
  • The curriculum in England is relatively narrow. In the other countries many technical students  continue to study their local language, a foreign language, maths and other general subjects to equip them with a sound knowledge base.

The introduction of T levels and other proposed reforms will bring England closer to technical provision in high performing countries:

  1. Funding will be rebalanced towards more technical subjects and funding levels will increase compared to the status quo with a corresponding increase in teaching hours.
  2. Students starting from lower levels will receive an additional funded year to prepare them for the T level study programme.
  3. Industry placements will improve students’ readiness for entry to the labour market..
  4. The requirement to pass English and maths at GCSE level will result in more young people studying these subjects.

However, important gaps will remain:

  1. Most students will study T levels over just two years.
  2. Only those not achieving the level expected at 16 will continue to study English and maths and the curriculum will remain narrower than in other countries.
  3. Industry placements will remain less substantial than elsewhere.
  4. These improvements largely only apply to those taking T levels, and it is still unclear how dominant these qualifications will become.

Recommendations:

  • Funding for technical pathways: The government should provide the 16-19 phase with a more enduring financial settlement to sustain quality provision in the long term.
  • Increase the number of starts for younger apprentices:  The government should consider the options to increase apprenticeship uptake among young people, including further redistribution of levy funding towards younger apprentices, or other incentives for employers to hire younger learners.
  • Government should review the adequacy of student support, particularly whether recent changes have left disadvantaged students worse off.
  • Review curriculum breadth and programme length: The government should commission an independent review to consider whether the breadth of upper secondary study, for all students, is properly providing the basic and technical skills that young people need for the labour market and for progression to further study. Where this leads to increased provision, this must be matched by appropriate funding rates.

Working life longevity

The Social Market Foundation has published Work, education, skills and the 100-year life exploring the policy changes needed to ‘ensure the workforce is ready for extreme longevity.’ It touches on the need to retrain for an extended working period during an individual’s lifetime.

  • As life expectancy continues to rise, the number of years spent working is likely to increase.
  • The 50-year career will become the norm.
  • The career chosen at 18 or 21 is not likely to be the career of the individual when they retire. Changes to the labour market, technology and the wider environment could mean that at various points in a person’s working life they need to change careers and retrain. [So would the restrictions on studying another equivalent level qualification place graduates at a disadvantage? Currently the rules bar access to fees and finance funding (in all but priority areas), this would prevent retraining at an equivalent high level in a different subject for existing graduates.]
  • EPI estimate people should plan for five careers in their lifetime. Yet 40% of 34-54 year olds are unwilling to change careers.
  • Longer working lives will affect employers too. Employers are concerned about increased pension contributions, time out of the workforce due illness. Needing to reskill and train staff was split but overall employers were less worried about this factor.

EPI lobby for the following to address working life longevity:

  • Individual Learning Accounts  (they suggest Singapore as an example)
  • Modular learning and an inquiry into the fall of mature and part-time students.
  • Reallocate the money earmarked for the National Skills Fund for retraining those aged over 40 particularly in industries where there is a risk of automation or industrial decline.
  • Reduce Employer National Insurance contributions for certain workers over 50.
  • Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and GPs should proactively enable people to work for longer through advice, support, and social prescribing of workplace health support.
  • Create a Minister for Lifelong Learning and Training who has responsibility over longer lives, work and skills, positioned between DfE, BEIS and DWP.

Access and Participation

Social Mobility effect of school admissions: The Sutton Trust released their fairer school admissions report at the end of February. In it they raise social mobility questions by highlighting that there is a wealth divide between low and middle income families accessing state comprehensive schools. They state that the best performing comprehensives only take half the number of disadvantaged pupils as an average state school would. And that it costs £45,700 more to buy a house in the catchment area serving a top comprehensive. The Sutton Trust wants to see a fairer system where access to schools is not as closely linked to income stating it would have benefits in terms of overall attainment, teacher recruitment and retention and social cohesion. They are calling for more balanced intakes overall, with every high-performing school committed to admitting more poorer pupils. They state comprehensives should pledge to prioritise applicants eligible for the pupil premium, to create more socially balanced intakes. Schools who are responsible for their own admissions should introduce ballots, with an inner catchment area based on proximity and the remainder of places allocated by ballot. On grammar schools they would like to give priority to applicants eligible for the pupil premium who meet the entrance criteria. They should provide a minimum ten hours test preparation for all pupils to provide a level playing field for the 11-plus and improve their outreach work to families from disadvantaged backgrounds. More details in the second Sutton Trust report: School Places: A Fair Choice?

Lords Debate – Working Classes Educational Opportunities

Baroness Morris lead a debate within Lords to take note of the educational opportunities available to children and young people from working class backgrounds. It critiqued Government initiatives including catch up clubs and the abolition of Sure Start. The Baroness said that the working class and middle class were generally pursuing different post-16 routes, with disadvantaged children entering a sector that had experienced a 20% reduction in funding.

Lord Woolley commented on disparities in outcomes between students, stating white working-class students outside big cities experienced a bottom-up lack of investment in good jobs, or in schools, contributing to communities having low expectations. Conversely, education, for the BAME community was often seen as a route out of disadvantage. However, BAME working-class students face the race penalty disadvantage that their white counterparts do not. (This comes from UCL data highlighting that BAME young people were  58% more likely to be unemployed and 47% more likely to have a zero-hours contract.)

Lord Knight of Weymouth asserted that that could be no change in working class communities without regeneration through education:

  • “that system must be designed for a long life of continuous reskilling—one that prepares people for a working life of 60 years, multiple careers, being great at interacting with machines as well as humans, but also out-competing machines at being human. It must be one that accepts that analytics will replace qualifications and that universities will have to innovate to deliver lifelong learning rather than a debt-loaded rite of passage, as at present”.

Baroness Wilcox: Those on free school meals and receiving the pupil premium are 27% less likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C (grades 9 to 6).

Lord Livermore said that getting a degree from a leading university was one of the surest paths to social mobility. She was concerned that working class students receive a lack of advice, guidance and support in navigating the university application process. She lamented that this lack of support seemed to be permeating the HE sector, with disadvantaged students disproportionately more likely to not return as second year students. Concluding, she endorsed the Sutton Trust’s proposed policies of; contextual admissions, post-qualification applications, greater evaluation of university outreach activities, increased numbers of degree and higher-level apprenticeships, and the restoration of maintenance grants for students to reduce the debt burden on the least well off.

Lord Storey (Lib Dem Education spokesperson) spoke of post- 16 education stating that there should be clear signposting about the best vocational opportunities and apprenticeship schemes available: “This would help to increase parity of esteem with academic routes”.

Lord Bassam (Opposition spokesperson for FE &HE) highlighted the Sutton Trust tuition fee research which suggests that student debt may be having an impact on the aspirations of children before they even take their GCSEs and asserts that the removal of maintenance grants in favour of loans was deterring working-class young people. He also criticised the impact of predicted grades and conditional offers on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, insisting that, “poor predictions can blight young people’s life chances, often becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moreover, young people with huge potential but low predictions stand little chance of proper consideration from the top universities”.

He also raised concerns over UCAS personal statements and references as a method in assessing an individual’s aptitude and ability, and intimated that was following the OfS university admissions review closely. On admissions diversity he said: “At present, half of all children in receipt of free school meals are educated in just a fifth of all schools, and more than half of universities in England have a white working-class student intake of less than 5%, despite the fact that 75% of universities, including the Russell Group institutions, claim to use “contextual information” to admit students from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

Baroness Berridge spoke for the Government and praised the role of the OfS in ensuring that universities produced ambitious access and participation plans. On contextual admissions she said that the Government “will look in appropriate circumstances at the background of students”, whilst stating that post-qualification applications could cut disadvantaged young people.

Admissions Review: Research Professional has a thoughtful article delving into contextual admissions which is well worth the quick read.

HE stats

HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) published income and expenditure data for HE institutions.

Income

  • Tuition fees and education contracts: £18,875bn in 2017/18, up from 15,541bn in 2014/15
  • Funding body grants: £5,112bn in 2017/18, down from £5,345bn in 2014/15
  • Research Grants and Contracts: £6,225bn, up from £5,968bn in 2014/15
  • Other income: £7,203bn in 2017/18 up from £5,902bn in 2014/15

Expenditure

  • Staff costs: £20,071bn in 2017/18, up from £18,210bn in 2014/15
  • Other operating expenses: £13.8bn in 2017/18, up from £11,770bn in 2014/15
  • Depreciation: £2,467bn in 2017/18, up from £1,986bn in 2014/15

Mental Health

Thursday was University Mental Health Day. Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, – in conjunction with the DfE and the Department of Health and Social Care – announced a funding competition: £1million for innovative student mental health projects.

  • Students identified as being at high risk of poor mental health will benefit from a £1m funding boost. Research has identified such groups as including black/ethnic minority students, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, those with disabilities, and those identifying as LGBTQ+.
  • Successful projects will also target groups of students who might face barriers in accessing support, like carers, part-time and international students and those on placements as part of their course.
  • The projects will also be judged on how they use innovative and technological approaches to addressing mental health issues, in line with the new NHS drive for improvement in digital support.

OfS will hold the money and approve proposals.

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

  • “All students deserve the opportunity to thrive at university and college, but for too many mental ill-health remains a significant barrier. We know that there are many factors which can impact the wellbeing of students and situations where students may be or feel more vulnerable. Through this funding we want to support innovative and strategic solutions that can help ensure that all students, regardless of their background or how they study, get the support they need.
  • By working together with partners including the NHS and charities, universities and colleges have the power to address the complex issues associated with student mental ill-health. We will be sharing the effective practice that comes from this funding and driving improved mental health support for all students.”

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “Going to university can be a really challenging time, especially if you face added pressures or if you are balancing studies alongside other commitments like carers and mature students. It is vital no student is put at risk by not getting the help they need. Universities must step up to this challenge, and this funding will help them and the sector by looking at ways support can be better targeted and improved.”

Despite the fresh announcement the funds are the same as those announced in June 2019, the change is that the bidding is now open. Research Professional cover the announcement here.

The NUS spoke out on University Mental Health Day. Eva Crossan Jory, NUS Vice President Welfare commented:

  • “Through my two years as Vice President Welfare I have seen the incredible work students and student’s unions have done to lobby for better mental health care on our campuses, but it shouldn’t be this way: we shouldn’t have to campaign for colleges and universities to do this work.
  • Universities need to acknowledge the structural barriers they create that lead to poor mental health. Our poor mental health cannot be separated from the intense pressure and competition that is deemed as a necessary aspect of our educational experience. From the spiralling costs of accommodation to the need for a better system of student funding, the student mental health crisis won’t be stopped until the problems are tackled at the root.
  • There is also intense pressure put on staff, from precarious contracts to over work, we cannot demand better mental health support for students without also fighting for better mental health care for staff in our universities.
  • Although we have seen significant movement in the sector on student mental health we must ensure that signing up to charters is not where this work stops. We need real investment made into both university services but also the NHS which is being criminally underfunded. We must also ensure the services we campaign for and win are culturally competent. That they acknowledge the structural inequalities that exist. We need a support system that understands students are not one homogeneous group.
  • We’re urging our members and students to have those hard conversations with senior leaders and challenge them, to start talking honestly and openly about the whole of student mental health. Only that way can we reach the goals of a truly mentally healthy whole university.”

Research

There were a series of  research focussed oral questions in Parliament this week. Here’s the edited version:

Julian Sturdy: What steps he is taking to increase investment in research and development.

  • Alok Sharma (SoS BEIS):The Government are already increasing public spending on research and development by £7 billion over five years, the biggest increase in public funding for R&D on record. Every pound of public expenditure on R&D leverages a further £1.40 of additional private investment, generating even greater returns for the UK.

Julian Sturdy: Given that nearly 50% of the core science budget currently goes to just three cities in southern England, can the Secretary of State assure me that the increase in R&D funding will do more to favour the regions outside the south, so that in future both my city…and other regional hubs across Yorkshire…will receive their fair share for the purposes of research and innovation?

  • Alok Sharma: I absolutely agree that that is part of our levelling-up agenda. We want to support centres of excellence across the country… we will set out our ambitious play strategy for R&D in the second half of this year.

Bim Afolami: [Mentions agritech start ups and incubators – asks Minister to endorse Rothamsted Research  and visit].

  • Alok Sharma:[Agrees to] meet him to discuss how the Government can support his proposals.

Mrs Drummond: .. what further action is being taken on the proposal for a UK advanced research projects agency, following the departmental meeting last year?

  • Alok Sharma: The UK is ranked fifth in the global innovation index, and our strengths in R&D mean that we are well placed to develop a new funding body to specialise in high-risk, high-reward projects. … I am absolutely determined that the UK should be a global science superpower, and my Department is making good progress on a UK advanced research projects agency. We are engaging with a wide range of researchers and innovators, and we will set out further plans in due course.

Chi Onwurah (Lab) (Newcastle upon Tyne Central):…European research programme.. For every £1 we put into the European Union programme, we got £1.30 back, and such funding is essential if we are to retain our place as a global science superpower, so will the Secretary of State boost UK science by confirming that we will be going for full associate membership?

  • Alok Sharma: Of course I want the UK to be a science superpower, and we have set out our views on expanding the R&D budget. On Europe, our EU negotiating objectives are very clear: the UK will consider participation in Horizon Europe and Euratom, but this will be part of the wider negotiations.

Geraint Davies (Lab/Co-op) (Swansea West): [Unclean air and electric cars, subsidies]

  • Alok Sharma: ..We currently have 460,000 green jobs in this country, and we want to push that to 2 million. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the specific point that he has raised.

Jim Shannon (DUP) (Strangford):Across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, universities have played a critical role in research and development. [Requests specific help for two local institutions.]

  • Alok Sharma: Of course, UKRI provides funding for a whole range of universities. Again, if the hon. Gentleman has specific ideas for projects, perhaps he would come forward with them.

Mr Richard Bacon (Con) (South Norfolk): It is possible to build a house that costs nothing to heat, but that is not happening at scale at the moment. Does my right hon. Friend consider it part of his Department’s responsibilities to support research into making this more widespread, which would be hugely beneficial for the planet?

  • Alok Sharma: I know that my hon. Friend is an authority on the house building sector..he raises an important point. We know that 15% of emissions are from housing, and we are looking to see how we can bring that down as part of the net zero target.

And a written question on levelling up:

Q – Neil O’Brien (Harborough): What steps he is taking with UK Research and Innovation to increase funding allocated to projects in regions of lower productivity.

  • A – Amanda Solloway (Derby North): We will publish an ambitious place strategy for R&D in the next few months. This will build on existing and emerging research and innovation capabilities across the country, enabling areas to ‘level up’ and reach their economic potential. This is an important part of our ambition to increase R&D investment across the economy.

Research Professional have an article how Greg Clark (Chair) is keen to incorporate social sciences, arts and humanities within the remit of the Commons Science and Technology select committee.  RP also have a piece covering Germany’s statistics announcing they have hit 3% R&D spending target. And an article on the importance of metrics and measuring impact within research.

HE focussed Parliamentary Questions

PG Fees

Q – Dr Rupa Huq: what assessment he has made of the potential merits of abolishing application fees for postgraduate students; and if he will make a statement.

A – Michelle Donelan: Higher education providers in England are autonomous bodies and therefore have discretion over the application fees they charge for postgraduate courses.

Strikes

A question asking what guidance the Department has issued on tuition fee refunds as a result of cancelled lectures during industrial action.

Apprenticeships

Q – Sir David Evennett: What steps his Department is taking to promote apprenticeships as an alternative to university.

The full answer is here. Excerpts below:

A – Gillian Keegan:… We are continuing to promote all apprenticeships as a genuine, high-quality alternative to traditional academic only study for people of all ages and from all backgrounds. We launched the third phase of our apprenticeships marketing campaignFire it Up, in January, which promotes how apprenticeships can provide opportunities for ambitious young people.

… In January 2018 we introduced a legal requirement for schools to give training providers the opportunity to talk to pupils about technical qualifications and apprenticeships, so that young people hear about the alternatives to academic routes. We also offer a free service to schools through the Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge (ASK) project to ensure that teachers have the knowledge and support they need to enable them to promote apprenticeships, including higher and degree apprenticeships, to their students.

…We have also worked with the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) to support employers to raise awareness of their apprenticeship opportunities to prospective employees through an online higher and degree apprenticeship vacancy listing.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 24th January 2020

There are five reports touching on social mobility this week, lots of education statistics released, and we’ve almost Brexited.  After all the focus on Parliamentary process over the last two and a half years, the ping pong was over before it really started.  There is scope for more before the end of the year, although given the government majority are seemingly united on Brexit, we are going to have to look elsewhere for Parliamentary excitement.  Perhaps HS2, Heathrow’s third runway and some of the other big projects up for debate in 2020 will have us all watching Parliament TV again.  Or maybe not.

Research policy developments

There have been a lot of announcements over the weekend and the Minister gave a big speech on Friday, so for BU staff we have summarised the latest developments for you here.

Global Talent Visa:

  • “A new Global Talent Visa, increased investment in mathematical sciences and commitments to strengthen and simplify the research and innovation funding system have been announced by the Prime Minister.
  • A new fast-track visa scheme to attract the world’s top scientists, researchers and mathematicians will open on 20 February. The bespoke Global Talent route will have no cap on the number of people able to come to the UK, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to supporting top talent.
  • It replaces the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route and UK Research and Innovation will endorse applicants from the scientific and research community.”

Maths funding:

  • “Also announced by the Prime Minister was a significant boost to the UK’s world-leading mathematical sciences community, increasing support for this key discipline and expanding the pool of trained mathematicians.
  • Up to £300 million of additional funding will more than double the current funding for the mathematical sciences delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)”.

Research Professional say:

  • It is also “subject to business case”, so it might never see the light of day. Nonetheless, the £60m commitment in principle is to be welcomed, and will provide £19m of additional funding for PhD studentships (double the existing funding, ministers say). There is also £34m of additional funding for “career pathways and new research projects”, and £7m a year extra to be shared between Bristol’s Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research, the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge and the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences in Edinburgh.

Reduction of research bureaucracy

  • “In line with the commitment to reduce administration for researchers and innovators, UKRI has also announced that applicants to UKRI will no longer be required to provide a ‘Pathways to Impact’ plan or complete an ‘Impact Summary’ within grant applications from 1 March 2020.
  • The impact agenda remains incredibly important and UKRI exists to fund the researchers who generate the knowledge that society needs, and the innovators who can turn this knowledge into public benefit.
  • Pathways to Impact has been in place for over a decade and we recognise the research and innovation landscape has changed since its implementation and impact is now a core consideration throughout the grant application process.
  • The move supports UKRI’s ambition to create a stronger research and innovation environment that is focussed on supporting talented people and realising the full potential of their work.”

Research Integrity paper: See the paper here:

Research Professional say:

  • Universities should be doing more to ensure the integrity of their research and to retain the trust of society at large, says a paper from League of European Research Universities.
  • The Leru paper published on 24 January is co-authored by Antoine Hol, a law professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and Inge Lerouge, an ethics and integrity coordinator at KU Leuven in Belgium, with an input from its thematic group on the issue.
  • “Universities should be at the forefront of developing and implementing new approaches to research integrity that will maintain and strengthen the confidence of the public, governments, research funders and end users,” say Hol and Lerouge in the paper.
  • Among their recommendations are that universities should devise and share research integrity guidelines, appoint specialist personnel on the issue, and make integrity education mandatory for students.

Chris Skidmore speech on research and innovation (24th Jan)

Parliamentary News

  • Education Appointments  – Scott Mann (Conservative, Wadebridge) has been appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Education Minister Gavin Williamson. Previously he was a PPS within the Dept for Work and Pensions. Chris Green (Conservative, Manchester Withington) retails his pre-election role as the DfE PPS. Innes Taylor has been appointed as Gavin Williamson’s SPAD (special advisor).
  • Labour Leadership Contest – Jess Phillips dropped out of the Labour leadership contest this week. Lisa Nandy has been endorsed by the GMB union and already had the support of the National Union of Mineworkers. Scroll halfway through this article to read the BBC’s analysis of all the candidates chances (spoiler – Sir Kier Starmer is still in the lead).
  • Brexit – The Lords amended the Withdrawal Bill this week starting the ping pong process. The Government threw out the amendments and the Lords acquiesced, so passing the Bill. So 4 years on from the referendum, after 2 general elections, 3 Prime Ministers, 3 extensions, and 4 exit days…The European Union Withdrawal Act 2019 has now had Royal Assent and is on the statute book. Boris has (almost) delivered (phase 1 of) his Brexit and the UK will leave the EU on 31st January 2020 (next Friday).

Longitudinal education outcomes  (LEO)

The Department for Education has published experimental statistics showing employment and earnings outcomes of HE graduates by provider and current region of residence based on the LEO (longitudinal education outcomes) data.

  • Graduates earn a median annual salary of £19,900 one year after graduating, £23,300 after three years, £26,000 after five, and £30,500 after ten years.
  • Graduates in all regions of the country earn on average around 20% more than their peers in the same region who did not go to university.
  • After adjusting for region, there is still variation in the median earnings outcomes between HE institutions, with 25% of institutions having average adjusted graduate earnings of £23,200 or below and 25% of institutions having adjusted graduate earnings of £28,500 or above.
  • At the individual institution level, controlling for regional destination can make a significant difference for some institutions; 16.9% of institutions see a change of 10% or more in their median earnings.
  • When looking at HE institutions whose graduates now live in London, half had median earnings of £29,400, five years after graduation – the highest across all current regions.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

  • It’s great to see that all over the country, it pays to have a degree from our world-leading universities, and they are bringing benefits to all of the regions. This data is a milestone for the thousands of future students, helping them to work out whether university is for them, and where to study and work. I hope this will particularly help students from disadvantaged backgrounds to see the benefits, who are often more likely to stay in their home region. Of course earnings potential is just one factor for students, but we believe they should have all the facts to make their decision. It is important for young people to know that they will not only get a rich education at university, but that their degree will be good value for money.

Wonkhe have an analysis by David Kernohan:

  • The region a graduate lives in has an impact on provider level medians. DfE use a weighted median in their top level data (which I haven’t plotted here for reasons that will become clear), and gleefully reports significant differences between median salary by provider even after a graduate region-based weighting is applied.
  • Of course, a gold standard LEO would absolutely need take into account subject of study and provider alongside current region (or indeed, local authority) of residence – alongside the sex of a graduate, their GCSE performance, and a suitable measure of inequality. However, such a nuanced examination would provide numbers too small to publish without identifying individuals.
  • There is hopefully a point in the middle, where LEO gives us enough information to be usable while remaining publishable. This release is not at that point, but I feel like we are gradually iterating around it.
  • The publication itself is clear on the limitations:
  • It should be noted that the data presented here does not control for many other factors that can influence graduate outcomes e.g. prior attainment, subject studied and other characteristics. It should also be noted that a higher education will have a range of personal and societal benefits that extend beyond earnings, which by its nature are not captured in the statistics presented here.”
  • So how useful is the weighted median? If we’re not controlling by subject or by sex, not very.

David has, of course, done a chart and you can play with where students studied (by region) and where they are currently based.  How useful is it – well, as with all these things, it depends what you are looking for.  What will be interesting will be to see what it means for the new TEF, where they included LEO as additional data in the last pilot and have long said that they would like to reflect regional differences in the metrics, but have previously only supported that with some high level maps and an opportunity to make your case for regional differences in your provider submission.  So we’ll see.

Staff in HE

DfE and HESA released the Higher Education Staff Statistics 2018/19. Key points:

  • There were 439,955 staff (excluding atypical staff) employed in the HE sector, showing an increase of 2% from 429,560 on 1 December 2017.
  • HE staff employed on academic contracts made up 49% of the population. This percentage has remained the same since 2013/14.
  • There were 296,185 staff employed on full-time contracts. This is an increase of 2% from 289,730 in 2017/18.
  • The number of staff on part-time contracts increased by 3% from 139,830 in 2017/18 to 143,765 in 2018/19.

Again, Wonkhe were quick off the mark with analysis from David Kernohan looking at data about senior BME staff in HE following headlines that there are no Black senior academics” – it seems it’s a rounding issue:

  • “..in the 2014/15 academic year there were between 0 and 2 Black senior academics in UK HE – a state of affairs that continued until 2016/17. At that point there were between 3 and 5 Black senior academics in the UK… which continued until 2018/19 when the number once again dropped below 3.
  • As Chris Skidmore put it: “It is unacceptable that the number of black academic staff in senior positions has fallen, as this does not represent our British society. Universities need to make more progress and I urge all vice-chancellors to address the barriers that are holding back black and ethnic minority staff from senior positions.”
  • He actually worded that fairly well – others in and around the sector went for the shocking (if less accurate) “no Black senior academics” framing….
  • So where does this leave Chris Skidmore (and the many journalists that have gone along with the ministerial line)? He’s right to be concerned about the poor representation of Black academics at the top of our academic providers, and he’s right that the situation needs to be improved.”

The Times Higher Education chose a different angle:

  • Teaching-only contracts up again as REF approaches.  Almost a third of staff in UK higher education are now classed as teaching-only
  • The Hesa data were released as Research England published figures showing that 22,500 more academics – measured by full-time equivalent – are set to be entered into the 2021 REF because of new rules that require all staff with “significant responsibility for research” to be submitted.
  • In practice, anyone with a teaching-only contract will not have to be entered, a key reason why it has been suggested that institutions are moving staff perceived to be underperforming in research to teaching-only contracts.
  • Last year, an analysis by Times Higher Education based on 2017-18 figures found that about a fifth of universities had substantially increased their share of academics on teaching-only contracts, while 12 institutions had a quarter of full-time staff on teaching-only terms.
  • Elsewhere, the latest Hesa staff statistics showed that the rise in the share of professors who are female increased by a percentage point again in 2018-19 to reach 27 per cent, while for “other senior academics” the female share rose to 38 per cent from 36 per cent. Overall numbers of black academics grew by 11 per cent, but they still represent just 2 per cent of all academic staff.
  • …The number of part-time contracts was up a percentage point more than full-time contracts, while the share of full-time academic staff on fixed-term contracts also rose slightly, to 25.3 per cent from 24.9 per cent.
  • The number of staff classed as “atypical” – which includes those employed for one-off tasks, for a short amount of time or in roles “that involve a high degree of flexibility” – also increased, by 2 per cent, after having fallen in previous years.
  • But specific figures on the number of zero-hours contracts, which include only “typical” staff, showed a drop, from about 11,400 in 2017-18 to 7,000 in 2018-19.
  • With Brexit now imminent, the data also showed that the share of academics from other European Union countries remained stable in 2018-19 at 17.5 per cent of total numbers.

At the same time, Wonkhe report: The REF 2021 team at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) reports that nearly 75,000 academic staff are expected to be submitted to REF 2021, a 43 per cent increase, according to the results of a preliminary survey. All subject areas are projected to increase, especially the social sciences. This is due to the implementation of the recommendation of the Stern review that all research-active staff should be submitted to the exercise. A reduction in the number of outputs to 2.5 appears to have ensured that the overall number of outputs to be assessed remains roughly the same as the 2014 REF.

And Research Professional focussed on gender:

…What is the problem?

  • First, it’s money. While women, as a majority of students, are contributing a large part of what institutions get in fees, the salaries those fees help to fund seem to be going, in large part, to men.
  • The median gender pay gap was 13.7 per cent on average in UK universities in 2018, with men working in higher education earning £7,220 more on average each year than women.
  • One reason is that while the overall number of staff working in higher education may be mainly female, the number working in (more highly paid) academic roles is mainly male. The HESA stats show that 27 per cent of professors are women—just one percentage point higher than last year—and women comprise just 38 per cent of staff employed on other senior academic contracts. These numbers have been improving, but at a glacial pace.
  • More women are also employed part-time, including 55 per cent of employees in part-time academic roles.
  • Recent studies have also shown gender gaps for researchers in success rates for grant applications and in amounts awarded.

The other problem is that it is not just about numbers of women or the size of their salaries. Speaking at yesterday’s conference, Ruth Sealy, associate professor in management and director of impact at the University of Exeter, said it was also important to consider the nature of the roles women were taking on.

  • She cited the problem of the “glass cliff”—the idea that women tend to be offered leadership positions at a time of crisis, when it often turns out to be a poisoned chalice. (Think Theresa May after David Cameron’s resignation as prime minister following the Brexit referendum.)
  • …Another speaker at the conference, Norma Jarboe, external adviser to the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University, has been studying diversity among university boards and their chairs, vice-chancellors, leadership teams and heads of academic departments. She has found that 55 per cent of higher education institution boards are gender balanced, compared with 19 per cent in 2013. More than 27 per cent of university governing body chairs are now women—more than twice as many as in 2013, although still low—and in 2018, women made up 29 per cent of vice-chancellors and 37 per cent of all executive team members.
  • But she said that pairs of female vice-chancellors and board chairs were still rare, and her greatest concern was the low number of female heads of academic departments—31 per cent—and the fact that this had not moved in the past two years.
  • Jarboe said a major problem was the low number of female professors, as a professorial role is often a prerequisite for gaining positions of senior responsibility. “We aren’t going to shift in a big way the numbers in executive teams unless we do something about professorial roles and paths to head into that,” she argued.

Meanwhile, the culture in some university departments remains one in which female staff and students find it difficult to thrive. Launching a consultation on harassment and sexual misconduct earlier this month, Dandridge said the OfS felt that while many institutions were improving their policies in this area, more needed to be done.

  • Writing for HE, Antonia Sudkaemper, a researcher at OCR Cambridge Assessment, suggested that men were crucial to creating a more inclusive departmental culture for women.
  • What makes all this important—beyond simply being fair—is that higher education has a particularly transformative effect on women.
  • Yesterday’s release of post-university earnings data, which focused on how median earnings vary for graduates from different institutions by the region in which they end up working, did not include a breakdown by gender. But previous releases of Longitudinal Education Outcomes have shown that the graduate premium is significantly higher for women than for men—a 28 per cent boost to salaries, compared with just 8 per cent for men, when moderated for social class.”

A levels and progression to HE

DfE released A Level and Other 16 to 18 Results.

Attainment is lower for disadvantaged students compared to non-disadvantaged students across all level 3 qualification types

  • The average grade for A levels was C for disadvantaged students (increased from C- in 2018), and C+ for all other students (the same as in 2018).
  • The average grade for Tech Levels and Applied General qualifications was Merit+ for all students, regardless of their disadvantage status. This is an increase from Merit to Merit+ for Tech Level disadvantaged students compared to 2018.

English and maths progress increased for students who did not achieve at least GCSE grade 4 or equivalent at the end of key stage 4.

  • In 2019, average progress was 0.13 and 0.08 for English and maths respectively. Average progress has steadily increased each year since the measure was introduced in 2016

Level 3 Value Added for A-level disadvantaged students continues to decrease

  • Over the last three years, the Level 3 value added scores for A-level disadvantaged students have decreased, from -0.06 to -0.12, at a rate of -0.03 per year. This contrasts with a stable score of 0.00 for non-disadvantaged students.

Read more on gender, ethnicity and disadvantage (including free school meals) breakdowns and the most popular subjects here.

DfE statistics on the destinations of Key stage 4 and 16 to 18 (Key stage 5) students:

  • Overall, 94% of pupils were in sustained education, employment or apprenticeships in the year after key stage 4, unchanged from 2016/17.
    • With 86% of this total in sustained education, up 4% since 2010/11 and unchanged from 2016/17
  • Apprenticeships and employment destinations rose slightly
  • Overall, 88% of students who took mainly level 3 qualifications went to a sustained education, apprenticeship or employment destination. Students taking qualifications at level 2 and below were less likely to have a sustained destination overall. However, they were more likely to enter apprenticeships and employment.

You can read about  progression to HE here.

  • Figure 4 shows the progression into HE/training by type of school or college. Selective schools have the highest progression rate at 88%. Non-selective schools situated in highly-selective areas have a much lower progression rate (56%) which remains low after influencing factors are controlled for. You can read more on this interesting phenomenon on page 8.
  • Figure 5 highlights the huge disparity between the regions in progressing to HE. London 16-18 year olds are 17% more likely to progress to HE/training than students in the south west (even when controlling for prior attainment and qualification type).  The report questions if this is due to the lack of local easy to access HE institutions within the south west.

Health Maintenance Grants

A Government news story released the detail on the health professions that will benefit from the non-repayable £5,000 (per year) maintenance grant reintroduction (announced in December). The bursary will be in addition to existing support so students will still receive the same loan entitlement. Students on the following programmes will benefit from the grant:

  • paramedicine
  • midwifery
  • nursing (adult, child, mental health, learning disability, joint nursing/social work)
  • occupational therapy
  • physiotherapy
  • operating department practitioner (level 5 courses)
  • dietetics
  • dental hygiene or dental therapy (level 5 courses)
  • orthoptics
  • orthotics and prosthetics
  • podiatry or chiropody
  • radiography (diagnostic and therapeutic)
  • speech and language therapy

There are three more additional payments worth £1,000 each (per year) for students meeting special criteria:

  • £1,000 towards childcare costs
  • £1,000 if studying in a region that is struggling to recruit
  • £1,000 if they’re a new student studying a shortage specialism important to delivering the NHS Long Term Plan (mental health nursing, learning disability nursing, radiography (diagnostic and therapeutic), prosthetics and orthotics, orthoptics and podiatry).

So a learning disability nurse with children (who qualify) and who is studying in a problem recruitment area would receive £8,000 per year in addition to eligibility for student loans.

This is part of the Government’s drive to increase numbers of nurses by 50,000 by 2025. The press release says the Government expects the £5,000 maintenance grants to benefit 100,000 students each year.

Unpaid Internships

Lord Holmes of Richmond was successful in the Lords Private Members Bill ballot (again!) that was held in December. He continues his campaign to tackle unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks and has reintroduced legislation to ban unpaid internships over four weeks (with the intent that they will become paid at a reasonable rate). Lords legislation, and private members bills, often fail to progress through Parliament and become law. However, we’ll be keeping a close eye on this Bill. The date for the second reading has yet to be announced.

Social and Geographic Mobility

The Sutton Trust, in partnership with the LSE Inequalities Institute published a report on social mobility, geographic mobility, and elite occupations. This comes from a summary provided by Dods. The report presents a systemic study of whether elites in the UK are pulling away, economically and socially. Elites here are defined in two senses;

  • firstly ‘economic elites’ , a group of the most economically, culturally and socially advantaged in society, and
  • ‘occupational elites’ , a much larger group comprising of those who work in professional and managerial jobs, the most privileged group of occupations.

The report finds that becoming socially mobile – moving into a higher professional or managerial job from a working-class background – doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from where you grew up. The report also comments on the elites’ consolidation of London, finding that, for the younger generation (aged 30-36), moving to London and working in an elite occupation is largely the preserve of those from a privileged background in the first place.

  • Elites are likely to justify their position through beliefs in meritocracy. However, these meritocratic views are also largely endorsed by the wider population and thus the elite exaggerate rather than repudiate wider common sense perspectives on social mobility.
  • Although the impact of private schooling on access to elite universities and firms remains important, their power has slightly waned over the very long run.
  • Occupational elites, those employed in higher managerial and professional occupations, have not become more geographically segregated over the period 1981-2011. In fact, outside London, such segregation has declined.
  • Over two-thirds of the most socially mobile people born in 1965-1971 and 1975-1981 have never made a long-distance move (69% and 68% respectively). Instead they’ve built careers near to where they grew up in sectors like law, medicine and academia, aided by the growth in professional jobs across the country in the latter part of the century.
  • For the younger generation, moving to and living in London at age 30-36 and working in an elite occupation is overwhelmingly associated with being from a privileged background in the first place, and this holds even more true than for older generations
  • Those from privileged backgrounds that are most able to migrate to, and remain in London, and can therefore take advantage of the most sought-after career opportunities in Britain’s elite occupations. Therefore, there is an association between geographic mobility and the reproduction of social class advantage, rather than social mobility.
  • Conversely, ‘ordinary’ Londoners who move into elite occupations actually tend to move away from London in order to accomplish their ascent.

Recommendations:

  • Unpaid internships are a significant barrier to those from less well-off backgrounds outside big cities and exclude those who cannot afford to work for free. To ensure access to opportunities are fair, internships over 4 weeks should always be paid at least the minimum wage. [See our coverage of the Bill here.]
  • There needs to be a significant increase in the number of degree and higher-level apprenticeships available across the country, and a focus on ensuring young people from low and moderate income backgrounds can access them.
  • Admissions to the best schools and universities should be more equitable, with increased use of contextual admissions by more selective universities, and opening up the best comprehensive, grammar and independent schools to young people of all backgrounds.

Social Mobility Barometer

The Social Mobility Commission’s  annual social mobility barometer which assesses public attitudes to social mobility in the UK. The report underlines stark regional differences in people’s perceptions of their life prospects:

  • 31% of people living in the north-east (and 48% in north-west) think there are good opportunities to make progress in their own region, whereas
  • 74% believe this in the south-east, and
  • 78% in London.

Dame Martina Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said:

  • This year’s Social Mobility Barometer gives a clear message to the new Government. It shows that more than half of people feel that government does not give enough support to those who are struggling or to the least well off. It should be doing much more both at national and local level.
  • This year the Barometer reveals a worrying divide between opportunities in education and what follows – work, income and job security. Overall 63% of people felt they were better off than their parents in terms of the education they had received, but only 45% felt they had a better standard of living. Less than a third felt they had better job security.
  • This suggests that the focus on improving educational opportunities may have started to pay off but much more attention is needed on training, jobs, and pay levels. The majority of people continue to feel there are fewer opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to better-off peers. Almost half of people (44%) say that where you end up in society is largely determined by your background, while twice as many people feel it is becoming harder rather than easier to move up in society. This poll is a ‘call to action’ for this new Government to do more to help social mobility. Politicians must listen to it. This is a great moment to start reversing inequities of generations.

Delving into the detail behind the headlines is the finding that apprenticeships were considered to offer better career progression than HE study. However, there is a stark age difference with the younger generation plumping for HE to pursue a successful career (see page 12 for the full breakdown).

  • 77% felt that poorer people have less opportunity to attend a top university with 65% believing poor people’s chances were reduced to attend any university. 49% believed it would also be harder for poorer people to obtain an internship. Interestingly 57% believed poor people had equal opportunity to obtain an apprenticeship.
  • Those surveyed who were aged under 50 believed they received a better education than their parents but scored lower on all other factors with the 18-24 and 25-49 age groups particularly negative in their opinion.
  • Those born in the 1980s and 1990s were rated highest for the best educational opportunities (despite the fact the tuition fee loan system was in place for this cohort).

Dods report that the Social Mobility Commission poll coincides with the publication of the commission’s research report into further education and recommends that the government set up an independent What Works Centre for Further Education and Adult Learning (proposed budget £20 million over the next 5 years) to act as a knowledge and research hub; translating the best available evidence and testing a variety of approaches to ensure resources for poorer students, who make up the bulk of students in further education, are targeted more effectively.

The NUS responded to both social mobility reports and the FE report but were not in favour of a What Works centre – NUS Vice President (Further Education) Juliana Mohamad-Noor said:

  • We welcome the publication’s focus on how to improve education attainment among disadvantaged students and the report can provide a useful evidence base for this. However students have told us that what they need to best help them succeed is more direct investment into further education (FE) rather than investing in a £20 million What Works Centre. FE is in a funding crisis due to cuts since 2010, with students bearing the brunt of these cuts. The government must raise the rate to at least £4,760 per student as a priority if they are to improve attainment.

I believe there are a number of initiatives which could make life better for disadvantaged students. They include:

  • Travel passes: City of Liverpool College had travel passes for students with a household income of less than £25,000 who lived more than two miles away and had good attendance.
  • Bursary Grants: City of Liverpool College also had a small pot of funding for students who met a similar criteria. I benefitted from this when I was a business student at the College and was granted £200 to buy a laptop so that I could do my coursework outside of the classroom and not be dependent on limited library resources in College or at home.
  • Free School Meals. At City of Liverpool only 2 or 3 centres were funded to be able to provide free food at lunchtime. This lack of support meant many students had to spend time travelling to another college where their ID cards would allow them access to the meal allowance, or use their own limited resources to buy food elsewhere.
  • Nurseries, such as the one provided at City of Liverpool College for students with young children. This allows both access to education for the students as well as reliable and safe childcare for their young ones.
  • Direct investment in response to real student needs in their day-to-day lives is what’s needed to close the education attainment gap among disadvantaged students

Interventions to widen access to HE – impact evaluation

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) has published a report on the impact of interventions for widening access to HE. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are still less likely than their more privileged counterparts to progress to HE. The report finds that, despite considerable investment and many years of widening participation policy, progress has been modest and there appears to be limited evidence on the effectiveness of the interventions carried out. The paper also describes interventions that have proved most effective.

These are the key findings as described by the EPI:

  • Overall, there is still a lack of available evidence on the impact of outreach interventions on actual enrolment rates. Much of the existing evidence focusses on intermediate outcomes such as increased aspirations and awareness which may not always translate into actual enrolments.
  • Most of the studies analysed found positive but modest effects. There are still some gaps in the research base, and the evidence often does not demonstrate causality; however, there has been an increased focus on robust evaluations.
  • Much of the evidence is concentrated on students in their final years of secondary school and post-16 learners (A levels students in particular). Given that differences in attainment can explain much of the participation gap, and that these arise early, there is a lack of evidence on the impact of interventions happening earlier in the student life cycle.
  • Most widening participation initiatives analysed were black box interventions combining several outreach components. These combined interventions seem to be associated with improvements in higher education outcomes but drawing definitive conclusions on the effectiveness of the single components is challenging.
  • Providing financial aid to disadvantaged students is a high-cost widening participation intervention that has a small but positive effect on enrolment. The literature suggests that financial support is most successful when it is relatively easy to understand and apply for and efforts are made to raise awareness amongst potential beneficiaries.
  • Interventions in the area of mentoring, counselling and role models has generally positive association with the outcomes considered. Qualitative and quantitative evidence suggests an increase in students’ confidence to succeed in higher education, higher aspirations and a better understanding of the world of university, especially when the mentors can act as relatable role models for the mentees. Again, much of the literature analyses only changes to intermediate outcomes such as increased aspirations, confidence or awareness, rather than actual enrolments.
  • Providing information, advice and guidance to underrepresented students during secondary school is a low-cost, light-touch tool to widen participation. The literature is largely based on fully scalable randomised control trials and indicates limited effects on both aspirations and actual enrolment. The more promising interventions are those that are tailored to the students, start early and are integrated into other forms of support, such as career advice and guidance.
  • Summer schools are high-cost interventions that appear to be positively correlated with an increase in confidence and aspirations, but evidence on their effects on application to and acceptance by higher education institutions shows mixed results.

EPI make the following recommendations: [some very familiar messages here!]

  • To avoid overestimating the effectiveness of widening participation interventions, it is crucial to provide more causal evidence on the capacity of interventions to translate increased aspirations and awareness into a higher enrolment rate.
  • There is a need for more robust research on the impact of black box interventions, with a focus on teasing out the separate effect of each component. Robust monitoring and evaluation should be built into these interventions from the start.
  • There is not enough research focused on vulnerable but overlooked groups, such as mature students, carers and care leavers, some ethnic minority students and vocational students.
  • More causal evidence on the effectiveness of summer schools should also be carried out. Where randomised control trials are not practical, other quasi-experimental techniques should be applied.
  • More research on financial aid is recommended to ensure relevance to the English and UK context.
  • The government and its delivery bodies must facilitate greater tracking of the progression outcomes of participants in widening participation interventions over time and between the school, college and the higher education sectors. This would provide improved evidence based on actual enrolments to higher education rather than on self-reported aspirations and attitudes only, and would allow for the development of more research on interventions happening

NCOP (National Collaborative Outreach Programme)

A report on the future of the NCOP (National Collaborative Outreach Programme): Voices: What next for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme? Last week OfS announced they would need to make savings in the HE recurrent funding budgets. They have confirmed they will not cut NCOP allocations, however, they will clawback and repurpose any underspend. Voices is a responsive briefing written by 17 leaders of the 29 regional NCOP consortia on the future of the programme based on this statement:

  • “The Office for Students has signalled its intention to financially support the Outreach Hubs to 2025. What recommendations would you, as NCOP Leads, make to OfS decision makers for a national programme to run alongside the Outreach Hubs to ensure that some element of nationally-funded collaborative widening access work continues once NCOP ends in 2021, drawing on your expertise and your own local context?”

The South West leads had this to say in response:

  • NCOP partnerships are neatly taking care of collaborative outreach targets, and implicit impartiality. This does not exonerate HE providers from their obligations to provide high-quality institutional WP Outreach, with the potential student as the focus of their work, not the potential recruitment of that student to their institution. The success of the Outreach Hubs will depend, in part, on their ability to signpost to a coherent, broad-ranging institutional WP Outreach offer. HE providers should be supported to build this now, in preparation for meaningful continued collaborative working post July 2021.

Here Dods summarise how the NCOP Consortia see the Future:

  • Collaboration is crucial but fragile: Strong relationships between schools, higher education, and further education are being formed but without continued funding
  • Commitment to collaboration has to be long term: A recurring theme of the responses was the need for a stable long-term commitment to a funded collaborative infrastructure. This commitment needs to be until 2025 to at least match the APP cycle.
  • Starting earlier is key: A strong theme running through the responses was the need to engage with learners earlier, as soon as primary level if possible. A strong theme running through the responses was the need to engage with learners earlier, as soon as primary level if possible.
  • Institutional Outreach will not ‘replace’ NCOP targeted activity: If NCOP targeted funding is removed then large groups of learners will lose their support if they do not fit with the priorities of providers in that area, and the risk is that all learners will have what they can learn about HE restricted. This will include those who need greater, more extensive support to progress to HE.
  • Direct school involvement matters: Even if funding is to be scaled down there could be a case for transitional support in those areas most badly affected by such a scaling.
  • Targeting is important, but targeting who?: There were voices which questioned the present area based approach and whether an individual-level approach would have greater merit. It would possibly assist the Office for Students in understanding what range of approaches to defining disadvantage and educational disadvantage could be the most appropriate in widening access work.
  • Fund national but deliver local: The recent interest in civic universities is welcome but will not represent any kind of replacement for a coherent funded commitment made by the HE sector to engaging with the local areas for whom HE does not seem relevant.

You can read the (relatively short) full document here.

Grammar Schools

Arguments over the abolition, taxing, and expansion of grammar schools were features of GE2019 and they’re still topical in 2020. In January 2019 HEPI published an occasional paper by Iain Mansfield The Impact of Selective Secondary Education on Progression to HE which found that attending a grammar school increased the likelihood of attending a highly-selective university for disadvantaged pupils. However, this week HEPI have published a collection of essays – Social Mobility and HE: Are grammar schools the answer? refuting Iain’s claims that grammar schooling has a positive effect for deprived pupils. In short:

  • The data used by Iain Mansfield was flawed – the exclusion of (missing) income data from higher income families makes it appear more grammar students come from poorer households that is actually the case.
  • Any positive benefits for individuals from attending grammar schools are outweighed by negative effects on those who do not pass the 11+. Furthermore, selection depresses overall educational achievement and harms the chances of the poorest children. There are also moral arguments against the social segregation that is the consequence of selective secondary education. At a time of increasing social division and inequality in England, authors argue that a high-quality and comprehensive system which educates all pupils effectively is needed.
  • Grammar schools thrive as a result of having highly selective universities, and because of their diverse classroom learning experience which matches well with university study.
  • There are geographical differences in areas which have grammar schools – generally they’re more affluent. This means it is not possible to attribute all differences in progression rates between selective and non-selective areas to grammar schools rather than differences in the pupil population or other factors.
  • Personal ideologies have not coloured the academic debate on grammar schools as Mansfield suggests.

Contributors, John Furlong & Ingrid Lunt, Emeritus Professors of Education, University of Oxford said:

  • Increased mobility that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s did not come about as a result of grammar schools but because of structural changes that brought about substantially increased opportunities for social mobility. There literally was ‘more room at the top’ that had to be filled whether or not there were grammar schools at the time…In a society that aspires to greater social equality and equality of opportunity there can be little justification for the continued existence of grammar schools today, let alone their expansion. They are the product of educational thinking from a very different era from our own. They are part of our educational history; that does not mean they should be part of our educational future.

Iain Mansfield blogged for HEPI in response to the latest paper both welcoming it for the contribution it makes to the body of evidence on the topic but also raising concerns on factors not addressed. He re-highlights his original points on unconscious bias and speaks out against the comprehensive university model. He concludes:

  • Academic selection is a fundamentally complex subject, involving complex trade-offs that impact on different individuals in society in diverse and varied ways. Selection may be applied at different ages, on a general or a specialist basis, and both between and within schools, for example with streaming and setting. It may be applied with differing degrees of flexibility or movement between schools and under a wide variety of different funding frameworks, from the highly inequitable one prevailing in the 1950s to one significantly more progressive, in which greater resources are provided to those most in need. There are no easy answers to any of this – but it is a matter which deserves to be discussed and researched by a diverse group of individuals with different perspectives, not a closed circle of those who have already made up their minds.

Immigration

This week The Times reported PM Boris has confirmed he will axe the £30,000 minimum salary threshold for immigrants arriving after Brexit through the planned Australian-style points system. The Times state:

  • Under Mr Johnson’s plan migrants’ earnings will be taken into account as part of their application to enter the UK. Other criteria could include English proficiency, educational qualifications, occupation and willingness to work in particular areas of Britain.
  • While the prime minister is understood to have the support of his cabinet, ditching the £30,000 criteria will still be controversial in the Tory party.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Eurosceptic MP and former Conservative leader, said they should be cautious about ditching the £30,000 threshold. They will need to have very strong checks in place to ensure that they deliver on their pledge to control immigration.  Anti-immigration campaign group Migration Watch UK are reported as warning that the number of migrants coming to Britain could rise sharply under a points-based system.

The Migration Advisory Committee will publish a report next week on how the new points-based system would work and the Government is expected to publish an immigration white paper in March 2020. The Government intends for the new immigration system to be introduced immediately at the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020.

Assistive Technology

Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister  Chris Skidmore  has made an announcement  on technology to support pupils with special education needs.  From Dods: Chris Skidmore’s EdTech related speech at the BETT show has now been published.

  • The government’s EdTech testbed programme launched with Durham University, will match schools and colleges with leading EdTech products created to tackle specific educational challenges, like homework marking, or parental engagement.
    I’m pleased to announce today that in 2020 we intend to achieve a world-first, and develop a new Assistive Technology testbed aimed at transforming learning for pupils with special educational needs and disability. 
  • At the school level, we’ve put more than £80 million to create the National Centre for Computing Education, to improve the quality of computing teaching across England and to encourage more girls to take the subject.
  • On the college level, we’ve established the National College of Digital Skills, better known as Ada. We have also started to open the first 12 Institutes of Technology (IoTs), backed by £170m of government funding, to offer higher technical education in key sectors including digital. 

The Education Minister speaks

Gavin Williamson spoke to more than 100 education ministers from around the globe at the Education World Forum, setting out his vision for British education.  HE commentators were disappointed about the (lack of) priority given to HE in the speech.  There’s a transcript of the speech here.

  • …For the first time, the latest PISA results show 15-year-olds in England achieving scores above the OECD national averages in reading, maths and science.
  • …Last year we set up a £2.5 million programme to help encourage international exchanges, with a particular focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thanks to that programme, children from 138 schools have or are planning to travel to countries as far-ranging such as Austria and Zambia. Today, I’m thrilled to announce a one-year extension to this International School Exchange programme, and its expansion to include primary school children in Years 5 and 6.
  • We truly do hold the tools to make a global difference and a global change. So many people turn to us to provide them with a chance to succeed in life. To free themselves sometimes from the poverty they’ve known, or the lack of ambition that others have experienced. We have that ability to level up, to give people, young people, the chance for them to succeed, for our nations to succeed, and for every generation to be able to contribute more to their nations but also to the globe. That is what we can, and that is what we will do.

On HE:

  • We recognise for our higher education institutions to remain the best in the world, that is done through international collaboration, working with others, making sure that research and study is always an international endeavour.
  • Of course, a traditional academic education isn’t the be all and end all, and we’re all rapidly finding this out. It’s 2020, and we all live in a modern global economy—one that is set to be transformed by AI, automation and other technologies, and which will require a new and constantly changing skillset for our workforce. And those might not be the kind of skills that we can necessarily always develop within universities or traditional academia.
  • As a result, every country across the world is now putting a much bigger focus on further and technical education, so that we can build a workforce that’s fighting fit for the future and able to deal with the new challenges and opportunities that the globe faces.

Other news

  • Strong growth: The Open Innovation team have published Cautionary Tales from History an economics focused blog examining Britain’s exponential economic success during the 16th  and 17th Centuries. The blog considers the influence of policy and questions whether the growth enabling elements could be harnessed today to address left behind regions in the UK. The blog concludes that in the past strong Government with an efficient system of taxation and public finance alongside strong markets which were not manipulated by special interest groups (guilds, landlords, the church, etc) and a strong civil society were the social conditions behind the success of the industrial revolution.
  • Care Leavers: The Care Leaver Progression Partnership have promoted the latest Stand Alone report What Happens Next? which explores care leavers transitioning out of HE. And Care Day will be held on 21 February.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

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

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

Measuring Up the Educational Manifestos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade Inflation

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

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

Student Finance & Accommodation

Clear Accessible Finance Information throughout the Student Lifecycle

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

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

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

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

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

Accommodation

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

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

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

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

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

Social Mobility

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

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

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

Other recommendations:

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

On Contextual Admissions the report states:

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

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

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

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

On the place lottery:

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

The policy note concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration

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

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

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

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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Growing wealth of migration publications at Bournemouth University

Yesterday saw the latest publication based on Bournemouth University (BU) migration research.  The international journal BMC Public Health published our quantitative paper ‘Psychological morbidity in Nepali cross-border migrants in India: a community based cross-sectional study’ [1].  This scientific article highlights that since Nepali migrants can freely cross the border with India and hence work and stay there, they are largely undocumented. The majority of these Nepali migrant workers is involved in semi-skilled or unskilled jobs with limited labour rights and social security, which predisposes them to psychological distress. The paper assessed the prevalence of and factors associated with psychological morbidity among Nepali migrants upon their return from India.

Just a few days ago the UN Migration Agency in Nepal IOM (International Organization for Migration) published ‘Research on the Health Vulnerabilities of the Cross-Border Migrants from Nepal‘, an online report to which BU academics (Aryal, Regmi & van Teijlingen) had contributed [2].  Just recently we had published the qualitative sister paper on Nepali migrants working and living in India. [3].  Whilst Dr. Nirmal Aryal was the lead author on a paper highlighting the need for more research specifically focusing on adolescents left behind by migrant workers [4]. Earlier this year BU PhD graduate Dr. Pratik Adhikary published his latest paper from his thesis, the paper is called ‘Workplace accidents among Nepali male workers in the Middle East and Malaysia: A qualitative study’ and was published in the Journal of Immigrant & Minority Health [5].

Last year was also a very good year for BU migration research, including a systematic review on sex trafficking (perhaps the worst kind of migrant workers) [6], an earlier research paper by Dr. Adhikary with his PhD supervisors [7], and one paper on Nepali female migrants workers in the Middle-East & Malaysia [8].  Earlier BU academics published on general health issues and accidents among Nepali migrant workers in Malaysia, Qatar & Saudi Arabia [9-10], Nepali migrants in the UK [11-12] , other papers included: a call for action on Public Health [13]; a systematic review [14]; a paper on migrant workers’ spouses [15]; migrant health workers in the UK [16-17]; migration and tourism industry [18-20]; migrants and space in Italy [21-22]; an anthropological perspective on migration [23]; a media studies’ perspective [24]; and archaeological perspective [25]; and a socio-economic perspective [26].  No doubt there are several other publications I have forgotten or I am simply unaware missed in this list.

 

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health

 

References:

  1. Dhungana, R.R., Aryal, N, Adhikary, P., KC, R., Regmi, P.R., et al. (2019) Psychological morbidity in Nepali cross-border migrants in India: A community-based cross-sectional, BMC Public Health 19:1534
  2. International Organization for Migration (2019) Research on the Health Vulnerabilities of the Cross-Border Migrants from Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal: International Organization for Migration.
  3. Regmi, P., van Teijlingen, E., Mahato, P., Aryal, N., Jadhav, N., Simkhada, P., Syed Zahiruddin, Q., Gaidhane, A., (2019) The health of Nepali migrants in India: A qualitative study of lifestyles and risks, Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health 16(19), 3655; doi:10.3390/ijerph16193655.
  4. Aryal, N., Regmi, P.R., van Teijlingen, E., Simkhada, P., Mahat, P. (2019) Adolescents left behind by migrant workers: a call for community-based mental health interventions in Nepal. WHO South East Asia Journal of Public Health 8(1): 38-41.
  5. Adhikary P, van Teijlingen E., Keen S. (2019) Workplace accidents among Nepali male workers in the Middle East and Malaysia: A qualitative study, Journal of Immigrant & Minority Health 21(5): 1115–1122. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10903-018-0801-y
  6. Simkhada, P., van Teijlingen, E., Sharma, A., Bissell, P., Poobalan, A., Wasti, S.P. (2018) Health consequences of sex trafficking: A systematic review, Journal of Manmohan Memorial Institute of Health Sciences, 4(1): 130-149.
  7. Adhikary P, Sheppard, Z., Keen S., van Teijlingen E. (2018) Health and well-being of Nepalese migrant workers abroad, International Journal of Migration, Health & Social Care 14(1): 96-105. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMHSC-12-2015-0052
  8. Simkhada, P.P., van Teijlingen, E.R., Gurung, M., Wasti, S. (2018) A survey of health problems of Nepalese female migrants workers in the Middle-East & Malaysia, BMC International Health & Human Rights 18(4): 1-7. http://rdcu.be/E3Ro
  9. Adhikary, P, Sheppard, Z., Keen, S., van Teijlingen, E. (2017) Risky work: accidents among Nepalese migrant workers in Malaysia, Qatar & Saudi Arabia, Health Prospect 16(2): 3-10.
  10. Adhikary P., Keen S., van Teijlingen E (2011) Health Issues among Nepalese migrant workers in Middle East. Health Science Journal 5: 169-75. www.hsj.gr/volume5/issue3/532.pdf
  11. Adhikary, P., Simkhada, P.P., van Teijlingen E., Raja, AE. (2008) Health & Lifestyle of Nepalese Migrants in the UK BMC International Health & Human Rights 8(6). Web address: www.biomedcentral.com/1472-698X/8/6
  12. van Teijlingen E, Simkhada, P., Adhikary, P. (2009) Alcohol use among the Nepalese in the UK BMJ Rapid Response: www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/339/oct20_1/b4028#223451
  13. Aryal, N., Regmi, PR., van Teijlingen, E., Simkhada, P., Adhikary, P., Bhatta, YKD., Mann, S. (2016) Injury and Mortality in Young Nepalese Migrant Workers: A Call for Public Health Action. Asian-Pacific Journal of Public Health 28(8): 703-705.
  14. Simkhada, PP., Regmi, PR., van Teijlingen, E., Aryal, N. (2017) Identifying the gaps in Nepalese migrant workers’ health & well-being: A review of the literature, Journal of Travel Medicine 24 (4): 1-9.
  15. Aryal, N., Regmi, PR., van Teijlingen, E., Dhungel, D., Ghale, G., Bhatta, GK. (2016) Knowing is not enough: Migrant workers’ spouses vulnerability to HIV SAARC Journal of Tuberculosis, Lung Diseases & HIV/AIDS 8(1):9-15.
  16. Scammell, J., 2016. Nurse migration and the EU: how are UK nurses prepared? British Journal of Nursing, 25 (13), p. 764.
  17. Sapkota, T., Simkhada, P., van Teijlingen, E. (2014) Nepalese health workers’ migration to United Kingdom: A qualitative study. Health Science Journal 8(1):57-74.
  18. Janta, H., Ladkin, A., Brown, L., Lugosi, P., 2011. Employment experiences of Polish migrant workers in the UK hospitality sector. Tourism Management, 32 (5): 1006-1019.
  19. Dwyer, L., Seetaram, N., Forsyth, P., Brian, K. (2014) Is the Migration-Tourism Relationship only about VFR? Annals of Tourism Research, 46: 130-143.
  20. Filimonau, V., Mika, M. (2017) Return labour migration: an exploratory study of Polish migrant workers from the UK hospitality industry. Current Issues in Tourism, 1-22.
  21. De Martini Ugolotti, N., 2016. ‘If I climb a wall of ten meters’: capoeira, parkour and the politics of public space among (post)migrant youth in Turin, Italy. Patterns of Prejudice, 50 (2), 188-206.
  22. De Martini Ugolotti, N., 2015. Climbing walls, making bridges: children of immigrants’ identity negotiations through capoeira and parkour in Turin. Leisure Studies, 34 (1), 19-33.
  23. Mai, N., Schwandner-Sievers, S. (2003) Albanian migration and new transnationalisms, Journal of Ethnic & Migration Studies 29(6): 939-948.
  24. Marino, S., Dawes, S., 2016. Fortress Europe: Media, Migration and Borders. Networking Knowledge, 9 (4).
  25. Parker Pearson, M., Richards, C., Allen, M., Payne, A. & Welham, K. (2004) The Stonehenge Riverside project Research design and initial results Journal of Nordic Archaeological Science 14: 45–60.
  26. Chowdhury, M., 2014. Migration, Human Capital Formation and the Beneficial Brain Drain Hypothesis: A Note. Migration & Development, 3 (2), 174-180.

HE Policy Update for the w/e 25th October 2019

Brexit

So an extension (or flextension) to article 50 has been granted, no-one has died in a ditch and a general election has been called for 12th December. So now what? It is all up to the electorate.

And 10 of the 21 Tory rebels have been reinstated and can stand as Conservative candidates in the election.

Research

New PhDs: BEIS and CDMS have announced investment in new PhDs and researchers as part of a £370 million pledge to transform healthcare, improve mental health diagnosis and build more sustainable transport. Government and private investment means 2,700 new PhD places split between  biosciences and AI will be created.

£200 million will fund 1,000 new PhD places over the next 5 years to study AI which they suggest could help diagnose life threatening diseases like cancer earlier and make industries, including aviation and automotive, more sustainable. The students will work with businesses including AstraZeneca, Google, Rolls-Royce and NHS Trusts.

£170 million will fund 1,700 places to study PhDs in biosciences. These projects are intended to help to tackle issues such as feeding the world’s growing population, developing renewable, low-carbon sources of energy, and helping people stay healthier for longer.

  • PM Boris Johnson said: “The UK has educated, trained and developed some of the best scientists in the world – and we must continue to lead the world in AI and technology with our incredible talent and innovative breakthroughs. That’s why we’re investing millions of pounds to create hundreds of new AI and bioscience PhDs, so new research and development can thrive here in the UK and solve the biggest challenges that face us – from climate change to better healthcare.”
  • Digital Minister Matt Warman said: “The UK has a long-standing reputation for innovation. We are the birthplace of artificial intelligence and home to technology pioneers such as Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace. We are determined to see this continue. “Today we are announcing a bumper investment in skills training to strengthen our workforce and attract, nurture and retain the best talent so we can lead the world in research and development. AI is already being used to improve lives by helping detect fraud quicker and diagnose diseases more accurately. With the brightest minds at the helm we will be able to explore this cutting-edge technology further.”

Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore also confirmed the first 5 AI Turing Fellowships. The projects include the impact of digital technologies on mental health and building a sustainable aviation industry. (Link – scroll to bottom to view details on the projects and 5 Fellows from Cambridge, Exeter, Oxford, Warwick and Manchester.) The Minister also called for further top, international academic talent to join these researchers, with £37.5 million in further funding available.

Furthermore,

  • The government is investing £13 million in innovative Postgraduate programmes, so more people can develop fruitful careers in AI. The new AI conversion courses will allow 2,500 more people to study AI from backgrounds other than science or maths at undergraduate level. This also includes 1,000 new scholarships for people from underrepresented backgrounds, including women, ethnic minorities and low-income families.
  • Leading technology companies like Accenture, DeepMind, QuantumBlack and Amplyfi, are already sponsoring AI Masters students. The new courses will help build-up a highly skilled workforce in the UK and provide new opportunities for industry and universities to collaborate, ensuring new innovations are transforming industries”

[More detail on the sponsorship of the Industrial AI Masters is at the bottom of this link.]

Ministerial Questions

Select Committees regularly quiz Ministers on their departmental business. This week Chris Skidmore, Universities Minister. was questioned. Here are the key excerpts:

Carol Monaghan MP highlighted the Royal Society report (published last week) which suggested the number of applications to Horizon 2020 had dropped by 40%.

Skidmore responded that said the baseline by which this figure was compared to, was debatable, saying that whilst there was a significant reduction, the UK still gained substantially more grants than the next three countries (Spain, France and Italy) on the list.

Vicky Ford MP asked if associate membership of Horizon Europe was still the government’s preferred option post-Brexit.

Skidmore said that whilst the government (Treasury) formally wanted to assess the value for money case when the project appeared (which he said would be some time next year), his personal view was that Horizon Europe was the future of collaboration for British science. He also disagreed with the Chair’s comments that others in government were less enthusiastic about Horizon Europe collaboration than he was and stated that, in particular, the prime minister was supportive. Although he went on to state, it would be prudent to prepare for a situation where the UK was not part of Horizon Europe. In response to a further question (the target date as to when certainty on Horizon Europe would be reached) Skidmore said it depended on the European Parliament agreeing the overall financial budgets, which could happen as late as Q2 of 2020.

The Minister was asked when the Smith Review on future frameworks for international research collaboration would be published, and how quickly findings could be implemented. Skidmore said he was still discussing final timings for publication but hoped it would be published within the next four weeks. He explained that while it had been submitted in August as it has potentially significant spending implications there was a need to attach it to a budgetary process. He continued that a working group was attempting to ensure all recommendations were possible, including alternatives even if associate membership of Horizon Europe isn’t achieved.

You may remember that when Boris Johnson appointed his brother Jo to the Universities Minister post he was permitted to attend Cabinet. However, this attendance was passed to another Minister when Chris Skidmore took over. The Chair asked Skidmore if he felt the lack of a Cabinet position was downgrading his position. Skidmore diplomatically responded that whilst he would like to attend Cabinet, he noted the prime minister and Dominic Cummings were both highly supportive of science in government.

Stephen Metcalfe MP asked why the Queen’s Speech had suggested an ‘ARPA-style’ funding mechanism, at the expense of UKRI. Skidmore replied that there was still going to be a significant uplift in the science budget, on which UKRI would be the main beneficiary. However that there were also a number of bodies outside of the UKRI model, which he described as a catalyst’ and ‘engine of disruption’ focused on blue-sky research. He added that an ARPA-style model would be a significant addition to the overall funding landscape and that given its focus it would have to sit outside UKRI, to distinguish itself from traditional grant-led application processes. How much money it would have and when it would be established, were all to be decided and the Minister stated there would be a full sectoral consultation before decisions were made around a new ARPA body.

On Tier 1 fast-track visas – the system is in design and any scheme would be implemented in Jan 2021 within the context of the wider points-based system. Furthermore it would be multi-disciplinary e.g. social science as well as STEM. He stated he was not aware of any Government plans to restrict the scheme to non-STEM subjects.

Lastly, on longer degrees which would outstay the three-year temporary leave to remain visa and require a move to a tier 4 visa mid-course the Minister confirmed he had personally written to the Home Secretary to highlight this issue, which may put off international students. However, he has yet to receive a reply from the Home Secretary.

Erasmus – work on a UK-wide scheme has begun, but this would focus on UK students going out rather than EU students coming in (which would have to be determined bilaterally).

An MP raised that the Government’s target to increase research and development spending to 2.4% was not backed up by a firm plan to achieve this. Skidmore responded that the government was working towards a long-term funding plan for science and the pathway to 2.4% would be informed by the Smith Review and UKRI reports. When questioned when firm plans would be available, Skidmore said this was a “live topic” and said BEIS was working with Treasury to develop a funding envelope, with the goal of producing a pathway to 2.4% by “this autumn“.

The questions also covered data-sharing post Brexit (e.g. withdrawal from GDPR) and commenting on the new Aryton Fund Skidmore stated it would cover clean tech and business strategies for climate mitigation in developing countries (and that it was new money on top of the existing budget).

Tuition fees – Chair, Norman Lamb MP, asked if there were any plans to cut HE tuition fees (following Augar’s report) with Universities concerned about reductions to research funding if there is a fee cut. Skidmore replied that the government was still considering the review, and decisions would only be taken when the next Spending Review took place. Adding that if there was any fee reduction, he would strongly make the case that a “way to compensate for that” would have to be found.

Graduate Premium

New research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and Warwick University shows a reduction in the ‘graduate premium’. The project analysed how the financial return to a degree has changed across two decades in which there has been a large expansion in higher education participation. The research found that graduates born in 1990 earned 11% more than non-graduates at age 26, compared to the 19% graduate premium enjoyed by graduates born in 1970. The research examined the hourly pay and found the impact was most significant on those born after 1987.

Follow up research is planned to examine cohorts born after 1990 to determine whether the reduction is a short-term dip or the beginning of a more general decline. They also plan to continue the study examining earnings as graduates progress through their careers. This is because graduates tend to grow their earning potential more sharply over time compared to non-graduates.

The research partnership also intends to examine financial return by class of degree awarded following the grade inflation debate in future work.

This research is a statistical study and when you read the full report it is unclear if national factors have been fully accounted for despite the carefully controlled analysis. First, there is the impact of the recessions on students graduating within the selected period. Previous national research suggests that graduating in times of recession may permanently damage an individual’s earning prospects. Secondly, there is no mention of the current context of intergenerational fairness – that the younger generations will not have it as ‘easy’ or ‘good’ as older generations in terms of housing and job security. There is also the potential, given the Government’s agenda to get more people into or returning to work and the recent benefits reforms which have led to reduced employment, that more women are entering the workplace (with women receiving 9-12% less in the pay gap compared to men). Plus this finding is set within a national context of stalling social mobility and increased levels in the number of children in poverty. Alongside this more disadvantaged students are accessing HE, with findings that while HE helps they do still have an earnings gap compared to their more advantaged peers on graduation.

While these are current issues, and more recent than the cohorts the study examines, the social inequalities leading to these current topics were brewing (just less prominent) in the years studied. For example, there were more graduates from less disadvantaged backgrounds with greater social capital and class earning potential than in more recent years. A careful read of the full study is important before drawing conclusions solely based on HE expansion, particularly given the Government’s agenda on oversupply of graduates doing non-graduate level roles and the financial investment an individual makes to study at degree level now.

On the study Tej Nathwani, econometrician at HESA stated:

  • “Whilst the benefits of a degree are not solely financial, higher education remains a significant investment decision for young people. Changes in fees and funding have resulted in increased reliance on student loans, which are now treated differently in public sector finances. Consequently, graduate earnings continue to be an important area of research in higher education. This study adds to the available information about the financial benefits that individual students can expect from a degree. We hope to explore this area further in forthcoming years, as new data is released into the public domain.”

Hate, harassment and misconduct

OfS Chief Exec Nicola Dandridge has blogged about the devastating impact that harassment, hate crime, and sexual misconduct can have on students, and the OfS’s role in driving improved prevention and support. The blog covers the history from the 2010 NUS report to the sector’s work in this field (UUK’s  taskforce and Changing the Culture report) concluding that while progress has been made more needs to be done to achieve the necessary culture change. Nicola sees the OfS role as galvanising change – by raising the profile of this issue, targeting funding to address it and sharing effective practice across the sector (alongside intervening if HE provisions are likely to breach registration). The blog goes on to highlight the £10 million student safeguarding catalyst fund which has spawned 119 projects (reports here) focussed on sexual harassment, online harassment, hate crime (including religious hate crime).

The OfS blog was in response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report following their inquiry into racial harassment in HE. The Commission states:

  • Our inquiry report Tackling racial harassment: universities challengedhas revealed that with racial harassment occurring at an alarmingly high rate across British universities, many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are not only unaware of the scale of the issue but are overconfident in their ability to handle it.
  • The inquiry found that 24% of ethnic minority students have experienced racial harassment on campus.
  • Universities are over confident that individuals will report harassment, with 43% of universities believing that every incident of racial harassment against students was reported, and 56% believing that all incidents against staff were reported. However, two thirds of students who responded to our survey and had experienced racial harassment said that they had not reported the incident to their university. Less than half of all staff who responded to our call for evidence because they had experienced racial harassment, said that they had reported it to their university. Students and staff suggested that they did not come forward about their experiences because they had no confidence that the incident would be addressed. Others said that fear of reprisals also played a part, as two thirds of staff said that better protection from personal repercussions would have made it easier for them to bring a complaint.
  • Despite universities being keen to encourage international students to choose their courses, the research unearthed a strong theme of international students feeling unwelcome, isolated and vulnerable. Some even described feeling like commodities and only wanted for the fees that they bring. Half of the international students who responded to our call for evidence because they had experienced racial harassment, said that they had been made to feel excluded, over half said they had experienced racial micro aggressions, and 44% said they had experienced racist abuse, but 77% of respondents did not report it to the university.

The report notes that 8% of student experiencing racial harassment felt suicidal, and 1 in 20 dropped out because of the harassment, with 3 in 20 staff members leaving their jobs due to harassment.

The report recommends:

  • mandatory duty on employers: the UK Government must reinstate third party harassment protections and introduce a mandatory duty on employers to increase protections for staff from harassment
  • adequate powers for regulators: governments across Britain should ensure the sector regulator and funding councils have adequate powers and that these are used to hold universities to account on their performance to prevent and tackle harassment
  • effective complaints procedures: higher education providers must enable students and staff to report harassment and ensure their complaints procedures are fit for purpose and offer effective redress
  • senior-level action on inclusive cultures: senior leaders should take steps to embed an inclusive culture where staff and students feel confident and supported when making complaints.

The report has led to several MPs asking parliamentary questions on abuse this week (both of below are due for answer after this policy update is issued – the links provided will show the response once it has been published).

Q – Mr Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps the Minister is taking to ensure that universities investigate all complaints made by students and staff about racism at universities.

Q – Steve McCabe: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps the Government is taking to protect university staff from racial abuse.

Q – Paul Farrelly: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report entitled, Tackling harassment: universities challenged; and what steps he is taking to ensure that university staff receive adequate training to deal effectively with racial harassment.

And more questions raised here and here in the same vein.

Crime

Extending prison sentences and being tough on crime are two of PM Boris Johnson’s priorities. Interestingly, there is already a Lords’ inquiry into how conditions in prison were not designed for the increasing numbers of older people now incarcerated, and the problems this is causing. In addition, this week HEPI published a policy note urging politicians to reconsider the barrier which prevents inmates from accessing student loans to undertake HE study until they are within six years of release. The note argues that HE study calms the fractious prison environment, and that the studying prisoners become role models, in addition that HE study reduces the likelihood of reoffending.

Private Members’ Bills

Two weeks ago (see page 2 of link) we mentioned the Common’s Private Members Bills (PMB) and highlighted that they are a way for individuals to make legislation on matters dear to their hearts.

The following MPs were successful in the ballot to table a PMB:

  • Nigel Mills (Conservative, Amber Valley) As the number one in the PMB lottery, Nigel Mills will be very much in demand from a variety of groups vying his attention. However, as someone who has wedded himself closely to the new regime in Downing Street, it is likely that Mills will find his favourable ballot position used for a Government sponsored Bill. Mills may still request an area for which he has an interest, however. As a long-term backbencher, he is prominent on a number of All-Party Parliamentary Groups and his position on APPGs for both Dementia and Pensions could hint at something concerning elderly groups. Alternatively, he could continue his long-held focus on tax issues – prior to his election to Parliament Mills was an accountant and he maintained an interest in the area in the time since.
  • John Stevenson (Conservative, Carlisle)
  • Annelise Dodds (Labour, Oxford East) – Dodds has a wide range of issues she focuses on in Parliament: ranging from taxation; welfare and inequality; to foreign affairs and climate change. She is a firm opponent of a no deal Brexit. Her recent questions in Parliament have focussed heavily on energy provision in housing. Dodds has also raised significant concern around the lack of action taken to prevent anti-abortion campaigners from protesting outside clinics. Dodds has focussed on and taxation since her election – particularly the need to tackle tax avoidance, and offshore or dormant companies. Given her brief in the shadow treasury team, it is possible that a PMB might focus on closing loopholes in existing legislation with regards to this.
  • Anne Marie Morris (Conservative, Newton Abbot) – Chair of the APPG on Access to Medicine and Medical Devices, Anne Marie Morris has been vocal on issues surrounding health. In June 2017 she won a chance to put forward her own Bill, in the Private Members’ Bill ballot (but was too far down the list) it is possible that she would re-table this Bill which called for the regulation of Physician Associates, and to make it a protected title. She regularly tables questions to the Department of Health and Social Care on the Genomic Healthcare Strategy and accessibility of health services for rural populations. Her She has also campaigned against high water charges in the South West and called for a Government subsidy to help householders with their bills. She has also spoken on flooding, accident and emergency services and transport issues including rural bus services and clamping in private car parks. She voted to relax the smoking ban after the closure of thousands of pubs and clubs. She takes a particular interest in small business. She chaired the All-Party Group on micro-businesses and held office on groups on entrepreneurship, life sciences and flood prevention, as well as local enterprise, first aid and pro-bono work. In the past she initiated a debate urging more government help for micro-businesses.
  • Lisa Forbes (Labour, Peterborough) – A relative unknown Lisa only took her Parliamentary seat following a June 2019 by-election. Her interests in her non-political career include the Strong and Supportive Communities Scrutiny Committee, and she campaigned against the closure of local Children and Play Centres as well as residential homes for the elderly. She also worked for Thomas Cook prior to her election to Parliament and has tabled a number of written regarding the collapse of the company and support for employees. Other questions include school uniforms.
  • James Brokenshire (Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup) – Previously Brokenshire held Government positions for most of his time in Parliament where he has been able to push for including the lifting the housing revenue borrowing cap. Yesterday we spoke during the Queen’s Speech NHS debate about the importance of an early diagnosis when it comes to cancer, which is a personal interest matter. His key interests are violent crime, building safety, domestic abuse and health.
  • Sir Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat, Twickenham) – Sir Vince has tweeted he is “inclined” to use his Bill on furthering the debate on assisted dying or lowering the voting age to 16.
  • Frank Field (Independent, Birkenhead) – Frank Is the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee and has used the private members bill mechanism to raise a number of issues in the past including welfare benefits, priority in the housing queue to those with exemplary tenancy record, to automatically register eligible children for free school meals and post-Brexit EU citizens rights. In September 2019 Field used the presentation Bill procedure to introduce a Bill on equality of access to justice. Field said he had wanted to call it “Gina Miller (Poor People’s Access to Courts) Bill” to highlight the differences between the contrast between “poor people waiting to get into benefit appeal tribunals and Gina Miller’s ability to get into court within a week”. Most notable is his longstanding interest in welfare issues. He holds office in several all-party groups in parliament including Conception to Age Two – The First 1001 Days, Listed Properties, Anti-Corruption, Medical Cannabis under Prescription Group, and Young Disabled People.
  • Tracey Brabin (Labour, Batley and Spen) – Is the Shadow Minister for early years. She has been calling for legislation to make the reporting of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults mandatory across all institutions. She has also previously called for an audit of crime in towns detailing the levels of resolutions in comparison to cities, and for greater transparency on where money is spent. She has also signed an Early Day Motion calling for the Government to bring forward legislation to require companies with more than 250 employees to publish their policies on parental leave and pay. Her political interests are Education, Internet safety, and Parental leave.
  • Sir Michael Fallon (Conservative, Sevenoaks) – Ex Defence Secretary is the Vice-Chair of the British Museum APPG and may choose to use his PMB to influence the ongoing debates within the museum sector. Notable topics include the discussion over the potential repatriation of cultural objects and the slashing of public funding available to smaller museums nationwide. Education is one of Sir Michael’s stated interests.
  • Damien Moore (Conservative, Southport)
  • Anna Turley (Labour, Redcar) – Her priority, which she says is the number one issue on doorsteps, is the lack of jobs in particular for youths. She says there needs to be investment in jobs but also in training and apprenticeships to prepare people for jobs.
  • Damian Hinds (Conservative, East Hampshire) – Dods suggest it is difficult to predict what Hinds might table because he was a long-standing minister with his parliamentary time dictated by Government commitments. However, he is interested in the Catholic education sector and the admissions rules that apply to faith free schools. He has also been a longstanding advocate for social mobility, previously chairing the APPG. Since leaving Government he has been vocal on climate change and critical of motorists for leaving engines on outside schools. Hinds was the Secretary of State for Education before Boris made his appointments.
  • Preet Kaur Gill (Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston)
  • Kirstene Hair (Conservative, Angus)
  • John Woodcock (Independent, Barrow and Furness)
  • Caroline Flint (Labour, Don Valley)
  • Naz Shah (Labour, Bradford West)- Naz is a disability rights advocate and women’s rights campaigner. She is concerned about domestic abuse especially around services dedicated to women from BAME backgrounds. Another issue she cares about is compelling companies to publish their race pay gap and she could propose a bill to enact that.
  • Vicky Ford (Conservative, Chelmsford)
  • Jim Fitzpatrick (Labour, Poplar and Limehouse) – With thanks to Dods Political Consultants who have analysed the interests of the MPs successful in the ballot to speculate on the Bill topic they may introduce. Only those relevant to BU’s interest and research have been included.

This week the Lords ballot also took place and two items were listed that are relevant to HE. Lord Storey was selected first and will present the HE Cheating Services Prohibition Bill on Thursday 17 October. Much further down the list is Lord Holmes of Richmond who will present the Unpaid Work Experience (Prohibition) Bill on Wednesday 6 November. Lords Bills are even less likely than those of the Commons to be enshrined in law. Furthermore, the current parliamentary disruption may result in them not even getting off the starting blocks. However, both are topics the Lords have been raising since before the 2017 snap election and the respective Lord seems determined to make a difference and pass legislation on the topic.

Mental Health

This week in our guest blog Sophie Bradfield, SUBU, talks mental health.

There’s been a recent spotlight on mental health following World Mental Health Day last week. In recognition of this, the Department for Education published a report into children and young people’s wellbeing called ‘State of the Nation 2019’. The report looked at children and young people split into two age brackets: 10-15 years old and 16-24 years old. Looking at themes with the data for the older age group, there were overall high levels of life satisfaction however this was in conjunction with a fifth having recently experienced high levels of anxiety. The biggest marker for wellbeing was age; being older was associated with having lower wellbeing (lower average life satisfaction and happiness). Reflecting on other research, this was partly attributed to employment stability, health, family experiences and the quality of friendships. It was also noted that further research could be done into the extent to which decreasing levels of wellbeing with age is linked to biological factors i.e. transitioning into adulthood, or changing social and environmental factors.

Other trends with the older age group (16-24 year olds) found that young women reported higher recent levels of anxiety than young men but also had slightly higher ratings of feeling life was worthwhile than young men. There was also a trend of lower anxiety yet lower life satisfaction in young people from Black/African/Caribbean/Black British backgrounds compared to those young people from white backgrounds however it was noted to interpret this particular trend with caution due to limited comparator sizes.

Looking constructively at how Universities can respond to the recent mental health crisis by creating “safe and supportive environments” to maximise wellbeing, Vice explores a number of recommendations based on consultation with medical professionals, charity workers and other experts including Dr Bridgette Bewick, a psychologist and associate professor in health research at the University of Leeds and Faraz Mughal, a GP in Birmingham and Solihull and clinical fellow in mental health at the Royal College of General Practitioners. Some of these are explored in more detail below along with a quick snapshot of what BU and SUBU currently does in these areas.

Design campuses that support positive wellbeing

Mughal recommends a “campus-wide approach” linking healthy food, exercise and enough sleep to wellbeing. Recommendations for Universities include having food available to students which is nutritious and low cost; accessible exercise on campus; and education around the importance of sleeping well. These are really important staples for wellbeing and BU students often give us feedback about wanting affordable, healthy food and cheap gym membership. These are both things that continue to be worked on by SUBU and BU in response to student feedback.

Develop mindful curriculums

Bewick suggests that University’s look at “how to embed wellbeing into the university curricula”. Specifically, this is around teaching and assessment practices which support positive health and wellbeing as well as future employment. BU’s changes to the 6C policy on Principles of Assessment which SUBU was involved with seek to do just this, underpinned by a ‘principle of assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning’ in line with other good practice in the sector. Student attendance is also no longer linked to attainment, ensuring things such as poor mental health impacting on attendance do not also directly impact on the mark students get.

Don’t keep libraries open 24/7 and Model positive behaviours

Bewick states “we need to ensure people are thinking about how their actions are impacting their wellbeing and mental health. Choice is a positive thing but we need to arm students with the information they need to make informed decisions about how they want to structure and manage their university experience.” This is a really interesting concept as BU students have been calling for 24 hour access to libraries for a long time and we’re not sure imposing restrictions like this is the healthy choice it is framed to be. This seems to be making assumptions around particular working hours being ideal rather than accessible working hours around other time commitments.

Improve living conditions in halls

This is a key issue for the sector at the moment and is not just limited to halls. We’ve all heard the horror stories around the quality of some student accommodation around the UK. In Bournemouth there has been lots of work around the accommodation offerings to students, with new halls being built at Bailey Point for example. Lots of thought is being put into the whole student experience in halls, including alternative and non-alcohol focussed social events. There is however more work to be done around issues with private accommodation.

Teach staff how to talk about mental health problems

The roll-out and support for the Mental Health First Aid programme of training in BU means that over 200 students and staff have been trained (as of May this year). As discussed at the refresher and celebration event in May, it would be fantastic if this number could increase. So many members of BU/SUBU staff present shared stories of how they have used the course to help students and fellow staff members with issues around mental health. Education and conversation on mental health is so important.

Listen to students

Bewick notes the importance of listening to students about the support they receive and how it can be improved. There’s work on this within BU and SUBU but with fewer students declaring whether they have a mental health issue to their University (see ‘The New Realists’ Unite report) perhaps changes to the NSS can help with this. The Office for Students has announced this week that they are exploring new survey questions in the NSS to look at student mental health and wellbeing provisions. Consultation on shaping the NSS ‘for the future’ can be expected in spring 2020.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Demographic leap: We are all aware of the current demographic dip impacting on recruitment of students, however, birth rates have risen and a demographic spike is expected by 2030. Wonkhe have a new blog by NEON’s Director examining the spike and how it won’t impact on all regions equally. For example, the South West will have the fourth biggest rise with a project 21% change in the number of 18 years old in 2030 and the northern regions will see the least growth. In the article, the author argues that students tend to study in their own region or the one closest to it so the uneven spike will have recruitment implications. It also notes that increases in entering HE are being driven by those from BAME backgrounds. It highlights that London and the South East (which have the biggest regional growth in birth rates) will experience infrastructure pressure and the diversity of students will mean universities need to work harder to ensure students get the rich experience needed. On disadvantage the blog states:

  • There is a silver lining for access as the areas of lowest participation also tend to be the areas where 18 year-olds will increase the least making it, in theory, easier than it could have been to achieve their target to eliminate the geographical gaps in access and student success within 20 years. What demographic changes risk doing though is further divide an already divided system. The crisis that some may experience in coping with the demand for higher education will be one others may look on with envy, as their growth is far more modest.

It is worth reading the comments at the end of the blog as commenters quibble the figures. Although the overall nuance is the same, the alternative figures do predict smaller growth for the South West region.

UTCs: The Council for the Defence of British Universities has a blog on why the set up and comparisons made of University technical colleges is causing them to fail.

Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning: The House of Lords Education Select Committee considered the state of the UK adult education sector and the reduction in available provision over the last 20 years. Read a summary prepared by Dods here. The session specifically mentions the ‘total eradication of adult education departments in universities’.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 27th September 2019

What a week! Parliament is sitting (but not quietly) and there is lots of coverage from the Labour Party conference including the fringe events.

Fresher loneliness

Fresher loneliness: The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and Louise Knowles (Sheffield University) have spoken out on tackling loneliness during the first few weeks when starting university.

  • For many, the thought of Freshers’ Week conjures up images of non-stop partying, a whirlwind introduction to university life and new places, opportunities and friendships. But for some students it also brings a feeling of anxiety, isolation and the start of a long battle against homesickness.
  • Fresher’s Week can be a culture shock. Some students relish this and enjoy the excitement, but others are like a rabbit caught in headlights.
  • Being isolated affects your psychological wellbeing. When they start at university, many students have lost the comfort of home, someone to cook for then, that structure they had, their community of family and friends for support.
  • It’s especially true for marginalised students – such as international, disabled or mature students. They can feel at a loss. They will wonder ‘is there anyone else like me here?’ or ‘where can I get support?’

Having a sense of community can be key to helping a student overcome homesickness.

Sense of belonging

  • “They need to build up that sense of community, that sense of belonging.
  • “Some students can be very reserved. They might not be comfortable in large social groups or going out clubbing all the time with lots of new people. They might find it easier to join smaller, informal groups, and look for activities on a smaller scale to join in.
  • “We have to push ourselves a little bit to put ourselves out there and build a new community, but not to the depths of despair.”

There are university societies to pretty much cover every interest and hobby, as well as for specific groups of students, and they can often help people form a much-needed community to help them settle in.

Preparation

  • “Some students haven’t had much preparation for university. If they’ve accepted a place through clearing they may not even known where they were going until a few weeks before. It does help to familiarise yourself with where you’re going and what life’s going to be like before it’s thrust on you in the first week of term.

Freshers’ Week and the following few weeks can be a bit of a blur. Some people want to jump in and do everything. Others want to familiarise themselves with university life more slowly. “It’s important students remember to take it at a pace that they are comfortable with.”

Wonkhe have a fresher related blog: Are freshers the new realists when it comes to mental health support?

Initiations: UUK have published a briefing, Initiations at UK Universities, to raise awareness of the dangers associated with initiation tasks and excessive drinking among students. The briefing sets out recommendations and actions they suggest universities should take to prevent and respond to dangerous behaviours and aim to drive a change in attitudes towards these events.

The briefing includes a consensus statement on the best way forward from stakeholders across the university and health sectors and examples of emerging good practice. Here are the key recommendations:

  1. Adopt a clear definition of what constitutes an initiation which focuses on prohibited behaviours
  2. Foster cross-working and a whole university approach. This means including work to prevent initiations as part of strategies to tackle harassment and promote good wellbeing and mental health
  3. Evaluate new initiatives and share knowledge and good practice, continuously assessing progress being made
  4. Update or develop policies and practices to explicitly refer to initiation events and the problems that arise from them
  5. Ensure proportionate disciplinary processes and sanctions are in place, noting that a “zero tolerance approach” is unhelpful as it implies initiations do not happen
  6. Provide clear reporting systems and advertise support available to students
  7. Raise awareness of initiations and their risks among students and staff
  8. Organise appropriate staff training, identifying the levels of training needed for different staff. First responders will need the most training, for example.
  9. Work with the local council, licensees and partners to ensure the campus environment promotes responsible behaviours towards drinking
  10. Work with alumni to encourage an increased sense of responsibility for the safety of student groups and societies of which they were a part

Wonkhe have a new blog exploring the complexities for universities to walk the right balance over initiation.

Parliament is back

The supreme court ruled that PM Johnson was unlawful in his advice to the Queen to prorogue parliament. A summary of the court’s decision is here. In essence:

  • For present purposes, the relevant limit on the power to prorogue is this: that a decision to prorogue (or advise the monarch to prorogue) will be unlawful if the prorogation has the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive. In judging any justification which might be put forward, the court must of course be sensitive to the responsibilities and experience of the Prime Minister and proceed with appropriate caution.

The court ruled that Parliament was frustrated and its ability to debate the Brexit change curtailed:

  • This was not a normal prorogation in the run-up to a Queen’s Speech. It prevented Parliament from carrying out its constitutional role for five out of the possible eight weeks between the end of the summer recess and exit day on 31st October. Proroguing Parliament is quite different from Parliament going into recess. While Parliament is prorogued, neither House can meet, debate or pass legislation. Neither House can debate Government policy. Nor may members ask written or oral questions of Ministers or meet and take evidence in committees. In general, Bills which have not yet completed all their stages are lost and will have to start again from scratch after the Queen’s Speech.
  • This prolonged suspension of Parliamentary democracy took place in quite exceptional circumstances: the fundamental change which was due to take place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom on 31st October. Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons as the elected representatives of the people, has a right to a voice in how that change comes about. The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme. No justification for taking action with such an extreme effect has been put before the court.
  • The Court is bound to conclude, therefore, that the decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.
  • The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 Justices.

So all bills that were previously passing through parliament are resumed and Parliament is sitting again. A recess for the Conservative Conference was not approved.  Next week will be another interesting one.

Fees and funding

Meanwhile, on Monday, Wonkhe reported that the Sunday Times confirmed that ministers have “shelved” implementing the Augar recommendation to cut full-time undergraduate English tuition fees to £7,500. Wonkhe continue:

  • This does not mean that higher education finance will not make its way into a future Conservative election retail offer to students and young people – maintenance grants, expansion of higher technical and apprenticeship qualifications, and interest rates on student loans could all plausibly feature – and would generate fewer direct comparisons to Labour’s free tuition offer. Though other parts of the Augar recommendations will perhaps make it through the month, the “big difference” that education secretary Gavin Williamson claimed the Augar review is making to his thinking, now looks quite a bit smaller.

And there is a new Wonkhe blog on the topic.:

  • The Sunday Times reports that ministers felt there was no parliamentary majority for any legislation. However:
  • Making changes to the fee cap would just require a statutory instrument. From the way HERA has been drafted it is difficult to see what the precise process would be to lower fee caps… but there is no indication that lowering fees would require such a vote.
  • The blog suggests Jo Johnson killed off the fee reduction “Six weeks would be plenty for him to kill off the idea of ill-considered tweaks to his 2017 legislation. He lost his job over opposition to the post 18 review, so given a second chance he was always going to take the opportunity to render it harmless.”

Voter registration

Electoral Registration: With the prospect of an election before the end of 2019 looming an Electoral Commission report holds particular interest for the student voter registration hurdle. They find that local government registers are only 83% complete (so between 8.3 and 9.4 million people are not correctly registered). The greatest risk factors for non or inaccurate registration are:

  • Aged 18-24 years
  • Having lived at current address for less than two years
  • Renting from a private owner
  • Being of ‘other ethnic background’ or ‘mixed background’ ethnicity

Several of the risk factors chime with the HE student demographic, which also has the additional hurdles of understanding the electoral registration process given their dual (home/study address) residence status. Alongside the de-prioritisation of registering to vote against the many other items competing for their attention when they start or return to university.

KEF is coming – and more money for knowledge exchange

A couple of significant announcements were made this week by the Universities Minister.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore has today announced a new strategic direction for university knowledge exchange funding to drive the high performance needed to deliver the government’s commitment to raise research and development investment to 2.4% of GDP.

The measures announced at the Research England Engagement Forum event in London today, Thursday 26 September, include:

  • Confirmation that Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) will rise to £250 million by 2020/21
  • Roll-out of the first iteration of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), with the first results anticipated in 2020
  • A comprehensive Research England-review of the current HEIF funding method, aiming to put the KEF at the heart of the approach
  • The launch of a joint call with the Office for Students (OfS), making £10m available for projects that evidence the benefits to students of being involved in knowledge exchange

You can find more detail here: Research England

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, spoke to celebrate the broad range of topics and internationalism within the Future Leaders Fellowships second wave. He also spoke about early career researchers:

  • I also want to highlight what I’ve referred to as the ‘Cinderella subject’ of education and research policy: that surrounding early career research. How can we create an environment that ensures early career researchers are not only better paid, but feel valued, that their work is properly recognised and rewarded?

And on the academic juggle:

  • I also am acutely aware that for all Future Leaders Fellows, the ability to conduct your research unhindered and free from the constraints of what should I say, ‘normal academic life’, is just as important as some of the financial investment that has been made today.
  • Pressure is experienced by us all, but I know myself as a historian, writing books late into the night, that there are few disciplines such as the process of academic thought and research creativity, that can be so adversely affected by the impositions of the outside world.
  • So I’m keen to do all I can to help investigate how to reduce these pressures, to understand where we need to refine our processes and minimise unnecessary paperwork, and find out where additional flexibilities need to be created, to clear the path for researchers to be free to conduct the research they need to.
  • This includes looking again at our various research funding models, ensuring that we are doing everything we can to unlock the creativity and imaginations of everyone working in research, whether they work in universities, research institutes or in industry.
  • It also means focussing on our efforts on that critical point in a researcher’s early career, when they feel most precarious, and when the strictures of an academic career can seem so burdensome that most choose simply to take a different path in life, away from research altogether. 

More detail on the Future Leaders projects can be found here.

Skidmore also spoke on Space and the importance of small business innovation this week.

Lastly, PM Boris visited a school and the BBC captured his talk with the children when he reminisced that he didn’t do enough work at university and frittered too much time at university. He advised them to use their time productively: “Don’t waste your time at university, don’t get drunk…use it well”.

HE Data

The OfS have released a new area based measure of access named TUNDRA (tracking underrepresented students by area). As the name suggests it is a data source derived from the tracking of 16 year old state funded mainstream school pupils in England on an area basis who participate in HE at age 18 or 19. They have also updated the POLAR4 postcode data which measures how likely a young person is to participate in HE based on their postcode. Note: POLAR 4 covers all schooling types as it is an area based measure. However, questions of the validity of any postcode based metric remain due to start discrepancies which mask disadvantage within postcode areas. And Minister Chris Skidmore has been open within his criticism over the shortcomings of this measure. The Government (and OfS) are rumoured to be quietly investing more time in understanding whether the index of multiple deprivation has potential for greater use in the future. Back on the OfS site are also interactive maps selectable by each of the four types of recognised young participation measures (TUNDRA, POLAR 3 & 4, NCOP) and the calculation methodologies for each type of measure are here.

Data guru David Kernohan of Wonkhe gallops through the main features, issues and oddities of TUNDRA in A cold spot on the TUNDRA.

OfS data – Changes in Healthcare Student Numbers

The OfS have published data on healthcare student number changes following the removal of the bursary system (2017 entrants). The data compares 2016-17 to 2017-18 highlighting:

  • An 11% drop in the number of students starting nursing courses (19,790 down to 17,630). Students aged over 21 dropped by 17%
  • A 3% increase in students starting midwifery courses
  • Little overall change in the number of entrants to allied health courses, with some courses growing and others decreasing. E.g. physiotherapy increased by 19% (250 students), while podiatry decreased by 19% (45 students)
  • Overall, the number of young entrants to healthcare courses increased by 8%, BUT the number of mature students decreased by 30%
  • Overall, there was a slight increase in entrants from the lowest POLAR4 quintiles (areas of lowest participation).

They said that the full impact of the reforms will not be evident until more years of data are available.

Yvonne Hawkins, Director of Teaching Excellence and Student Experience, said:

  • The reduction in nursing and healthcare students is a concern for the health workforce of the future. We are working in partnership with universities, Health Education England, NHS England and representative bodies to increase the numbers of healthcare students and there is emerging evidence that this work is starting to have an impact.
  • The OfS is supporting a number of innovative projects to boost take-up and development of specialist healthcare courses – as well as providing direct additional funding for the delivery of high-cost healthcare subjects. This data will help universities to identify gaps and opportunities to increase recruitment and ensure that the country is provided with the next generation of highly-trained health professionals’

Immigration: The Tier 4 Visa list which catalogues the institutions licensed to sponsor migrant students has been updated. It includes information about the category of students a provider is licensed to sponsor and their sponsorship rating.

Students

UCAS have launched the UCAS Hub which aims to bring together all a student’s research about their next steps into one place including HE and apprenticeships. UCAS describe it as: a personalised, digital space for young people considering their post-18 choices, as well as anyone thinking about returning to education.

It seems it is a week for one-stop shops as UK music have launched their own to help students and parents consider a career in the creative industries. Excerpt:

DiscoverCreative.Careers is designed to help students and their parents, guardians and teachers find out more about the careers in industries including advertising, architecture, fashion, film and television, museums and galleries, performing arts and publishing – and the routes to them.

The creative industries are growing three times faster than the UK economy as a whole and to meet the predicted growth, there is a need for more young people to choose a career in one of the UK’s most dynamic sectors. The new site will signpost users to the full range of jobs available to counter an historic dearth of good careers information for the creative sector.
The initiative is part of the Creative Careers Programme being delivered by ScreenSkills, Creative & Cultural Skills and the Creative Industries Federation supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports as part of the Government’s industrial strategy. The lead partners have worked with organisations covering the 12 subsectors of the creative industries to provide expert information on the range of jobs. (More content here.)

HE Participation Stats

The DfE has published statistics on Participation Rates in HE from 2006 to 2018 (and this link gives previous years of data). It shows rise in the Higher Education Initial Participation rate, a stable gap between male and female HE participation and a highest rate of 18 year olds accessing HE.  The detail is explained here.

New Insight: See the OfS press release in our WP and Access section on their new Experimental Statistics which group disadvantaged student demographic characteristics to, hopefully, provide answers to tricky questions such as why certain groups of students are more likely to drop out or encounter difficulties whilst studying.

Widening Participation and Access

Experimental Statistics: The OfS highlight new experimental statistics which consider the interaction of demographic characteristics. Imaginatively named ABCS (Associations Between Characteristics of Students) the OfS state the statistics could offer important insights on the combining factors which leader to non-access or poorer outcomes for disadvantaged students. The OfS press release says:

Associations between characteristics of students’ (ABCS) is a new, experimental set of analyses that seeks to better understand how multiple characteristics – like age, sex, ethnicity and area background – interact to affect students’ outcomes in higher education, including whether they get in to university and, if so, whether they continue beyond their first year.

The methodology could also be used in future to look at the results students achieve and whether they progress to graduate employment, and across all levels of higher education.

The kinds of findings that can be explored using the ABCS methodology include:

  • black Caribbean students aged 21-25 are at higher risk of dropping out than other students, and this risk increases dramatically when looking at those who also report having a mental health condition
  • although young female students are, on the whole, much more likely to go to university than male students of the same age, those who received free school meals were far less likely to go than those who did not.

Chris Millward, OfS Director for Fair Access and Participation, commented:

  • Our guidance encourages universities and other higher education providers to address combinations of characteristics when they are setting targets, choosing measures and evaluating their work to close equality gaps.
  • Our hope is that, in the future, measures such as these will help them better understand these interactions, and therefore target their work more effectively.
  • This work is experimental, so we are looking to users to provide feedback on all aspects of the methodology and measures. This will be crucial to any future development and use of these analyses.

Power of the Parent: FE Week has an article stating the truism that every WP practitioner knows – the power of the influencing parent on a young person considering their HE prospects. Towards the end of the article are some suggestions on how to bring parents on board.

Differentiated Fees: Colin McCaig (Sheffield Hallam) has a policy paper explaining how differentiated fees (e.g. based on higher fees for higher tariff entry points to a course) would significantly undermine widening access for underrepresented social groups. In particular they find that applicants from low income households would gravitate towards lower cost provision rather than accessing the prestigious, high tariff, high cost institutions.

Tricky Target Decisions: The Times letters to the editor contains Degrees of Privilege (scroll to half way down the page to find it) which explores the complexities (and hints towards a fairness question) in widening access targets.

Private Tuition

The Sutton Trust and Ipsos MORI surveyed schools and found that 24% of secondary teachers have offered paid for private tuition, two-thirds did so after direct approach by parents of pupils. In primary school it is 14%.  The survey also found that in 2019 27% of 11-16 year olds have received private tuition at some point during the last four years, up from 18% in the 2005 survey. The duration of the tuition isn’t stated but looking at the data it appears around 10% of the 2019 27% had tuition across multiple years in the last four years.

24% accessed the private tuition for a school entrance exam, and 37% for a specific GCSE subject, 4% because their school doesn’t offer a particular subject they wish to study.

The increase in private tuition is contentious because, unsurprisingly, the young people who receive it come from better off backgrounds (34% from high affluence households, 20% from low affluence households). The Sutton Trust’s press release says:

  • The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), the Sutton Trust’s sister charity, has identified one-to-one and small group tuition as a very cost-effective way to boost attainment. To level the playing field outside the classroom, schools should consider prioritising one-to-one and small group tuition in their Pupil Premium spending. The government should also look at ways of funding access to such tuition sustainably, for example through a voucher scheme.
  • The Trust would also like to see more private tuition agencies provide a certain proportion of their tuition to disadvantaged pupils for free, as well as an expansion of non-profit tuition programmes that connect tutors with disadvantaged schools. Agencies like Tutorfair, MyTutor and Tutor Trust operate innovative models in this area.

The Sutton Trust’s other recommendations are available here.  The survey results are available here.

This was a limited scope survey designed to provide a yearly update to the two key questions of how many mainstream teachers are offering private tuition and how many young people are being tutors. The research does not answer questions behind the increase in private tuition, such as whether the Government’s raising of curriculum standards may have been a factor in compelling parents that can afford additional tuition to do so. However, the data shows that accessing private tuition has increased at a steady rate since 2005.

The next challenge – continuation

The Ministers have made a big WP student success speech this week. SoS Education, Gavin Williamson, and Universities Minister Chris Skidmore both spoke out to compel universities to do more to reduce dropout rates, particularly within the disadvantaged student body. The Government news story highlights how the Government are looking to the Access and Participation Plans that all registered providers are required to have as a vehicle for sector movement to improve the drop out disparity. While more disadvantaged students now access university (although students from advantaged areas are still 2.4 times more likely to access HE) there is a gap with students from lower income backgrounds more likely to drop out of university. In 2016/17 6% of advantaged students dropped out compared to 8.8% of disadvantaged. Of concern is that the drop out gap has become wider from the previous year. The news story says:

  • Ahead of… the publication of new statistics on access and participation by university regulator the Office for Students, Mr Williamson has underlined his determination to take action and ensure every student choosing to go to university – regardless of background – is supported to get the most out of the experience….[he will]…say that more needs to be done to make progress on access and participation at our world-class institutions. He will urge all universities to follow in the footsteps of institutions like Kings College and improve their offer for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Education Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, said:

  • It is not good enough that white working class boys are far less likely to go to university and black students are far less likely to complete their courses than others. We cannot let this wasted potential go unchecked any longer.
  • I want all universities, including the most selective, to do everything they can to help disadvantaged students access a world-class education, but they also need to keep them there and limit the numbers dropping out of courses. My message is clear – up your game and get on with it.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

  • Progress is being made to ensure that more disadvantaged young people are going to university than ever before, but it’s not enough to get students through the door – they must then get the right support to complete their courses too.
  • Dropouts will be a key focus of mine as Universities Minister and I will be watching carefully to see how universities respond to this challenge. I fully support the OfS in taking action if providers fail to do all they can to deliver their commitments.

The Government news story concludes:  The Government’s wide-ranging reforms to higher education has led to the publication of access and participation plans…The OfS will closely monitor all these providers to make sure they follow through on their plans.

UUK have responded to the speech – Julia Buckingham, UUK President, said: “there is more work to do” and called on the government to “quicken the progress” by “reintroducing maintenance grants for students most in need”.

Media coverage can be found in iNews and ITV.

Labour Party Conference

32 hour working week: At the Labour Party conference John McDonnell said the next Labour government will reduce the average full time working week to 32 hours within a decade. A shorter working week with no loss of pay. HEPI have a short new blog on what this might mean for university staff and whether it also applies to students who work long hours as part of their course load (medicine, health, architecture and education).

Abolishing Student Fees: Jim Dickinson from Wonkhe highlights the unknowns within Labour’s commitment to abolish student fees:

  • Blimey. Do you remember when the most interesting that happened at Labour Party Conference was Cherie Blair mouthing “the chancellor’s a liar” on her way out of Tony’s speech?
  • For higher education, the inclusion of “no fees” in Labour policy has never really been in doubt, and popped up several times in Brighton. The question is the deeper complexity – would existing debt be wiped? Would the unit of resource be protected? Would more students in England be discouraged from doing higher education in universities rather than FE colleges? What kinds of incentives will get the adults back? Will OfS be scrapped or reformed? The party is unforgivably vague or refreshingly open to ideas, depending on your perspective.
  • Labour’s Lifelong Learning Commission is expected to provide some answers, but has not produced its findings in time for conference. Gordon Marsden is furious that Gavin Williamson has announced subject TEF before the independent review has even been presented to Parliament. But given that every delegate agrees that the system is too “marketised”, the thorniest question was on student numbers. Say out loud that you’d have number caps and you look like an enemy of opportunity. Say you wouldn’t and you rule out the thing that has caused the intensification of competition in the first place. Marsden said neither, of course.

MillionPlus call for maintenance grants to be reinstated: Professor Lynn Dobbs, VC London Metropolitan University was a key speaker at a Labour fringe event. She said under a National Education Service (NES) a Labour government should restore student maintenance grants and guarantee investment, in order to deliver a well-funded tertiary education system for all. She said:

  • Guaranteeing sustainable investment across tertiary education can foster collaboration rather than competition between universities and colleges.
  • Shifting money around within education only moves problems from one part of the sector to the other, and from one set of students to other, does not address the critical issue of a real-terms reduction in investment in all of our students – none of us should EVER settle for that.

She urged for part-time and mature students to become a priority: The need to focus on part-time and mature students is much needed … Despite the populist narrative of ‘too many students’, fewer than 50% of 30 years olds in the UK have had the opportunity to experience any form of higher education – this is a low bar that we should be seeking to leap over. 

Abolishing Ofsted: There were tweets (and another tweet) and news stories from the Guardian and Politics Home on scrapping Ofsted to be replaced by a teaching standards support system. Angela Rayner: Schools will no longer be reduced to a one-word grade or subjected to a system that hounds teachers from the classroom. 

Further Education and the Fair Economy: The Social Market Foundation and the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) ran the Further Education and the Fair Economy fringe event. The panel discussed further education and the opportunities it opened for elderly people, as well as disabled students. Time was also spent discussing the impact it had on social mobility and the future economy.

  • Chair James Kirkup, director, Social Market Foundation said that further education was pivotal to the future economy and insisted that politicians needed to increase their engagement in FE considerably.
  • Opinium’s research manager, Priya Minhas provided an overview of public perceptions of vocational qualifications, noting that they were well perceived in terms of practicality. However, she noted that most people saw university degrees as more useful for future careers and linked university education with more than just a skillset – they had an intellectual and social aspect too. Yet, vocational qualifications did have a reputation for helping people get into a job. She discussed the potential for “Nimbyism”, wherein people spoke positively about vocational qualifications but would not want them for their own child. However, the data did not simply support this hypothesis.
  • Lord Bassam of Brighton expressed disappointment at the gradual erosion of funding for FE, which had served to destabilise the sector and restrict access to FE for many people. He praised the Augar Review and said that it was through the review that the Government had realised that they needed to improve their work in the sector. He concluded by emphasising that if the Government truly believed in improving the quality of manufacturing in the UK, then it needed to increase support for FE.
  • Caireen Mitchell of Croydon College said that many colleges, including her own, had been forced into mergers due to financial pressures. She welcomed the announcement of £400m for the FE sector but said that far more was required. The implications of the funding shortage could be extensive, with far lower hours for a “full-time” programme compared to other European countries the primary concern for Mitchell. She also noted that health and mental health support was stretched, and extra-curricular activities were being slashed in favour of other priorities. The college could provide qualifications, Mitchell said, but a wider breadth of education was simply not possible. She linked the lack of funding to a lack of social mobility and productivity, with many low-income students unable to afford to continue in education. She said people on low-incomes needed free access to a rounded education, including subjects that were not “core” such as English and Maths.
  • Gordon Marsden MP (Shadow Minister for HE, FE & Skills) referenced the House of Lords Committee on seaside towns, noting the challenges that people in those areas had in accessing higher education and said that the educational challenges in those areas was “palpable”…The economic and political context was that skills were no longer siloed – the rise of technology meant that skillsets were far more fluid and varied than before. This, Marsden believed, made FE more vital than ever.
  • A representative from the Deaf Children’s Society noted that FE was often a better route for disabled children and asked what more could be done to assist disabled people get the careers they wanted. Gordon Marsden said that Labour had wanted to make provisions in law to put a special emphasis on disabilities generally in education and apprenticeships. The Government had not been willing to work with them so far, he said.

Immigration – What should be in Labour’s manifesto?: The session focussed on immigration policies as a whole and didn’t specifically cover HE.

  • Shadow home secretary Diane Abbot said that there was a lot of interest in immigration and that (following her own experience working in the Home Office after university) it was essential that the culture of the Home Office changed and the language it was having around migration. She highlighted a poll which suggested that in the last few years the UK had had an increasingly positive view of the benefits of immigration, with a poll this year showing that 22% of people believed immigration provided a net benefit to the UK.
  • Abbot said that Labour would look to unpick those policies introduced by both Labour and Conservative governments that tied into the hostile environment, principally that immigrants could not have access to resources once in the UK. Labour would not seek to impose salary limits for access to the UK as the £30,000 figure excluded valued professions like nurses. And that Labour would also entitle family members to join people already in the UK.
  •  Abbot criticised the Home Secretary’s commitment to end freedom of movement from day one and explained that it had to be reserved quickly because it was illegal. Abbot said that Labour would take a more liberal approach to immigration which she said had become increasingly popular.
  • Thom Brooks, professor at Durham University, offered his views on immigration, stating that an EU citizen amnesty should be introduced because the current EU settlement scheme was inadequate. He said he would like the 2014 Immigration Act to be repealed and reviewed with the view that immigration was positive for the UK overall. He also said that the Migration Advisory Committee was too small and should be expanded so there would be more expertise. He called for a Royal Commission to be conducted on immigration, which could form the basis of future immigration policies.
  • Kate Green, chair of the APPG on Migration, said that Ministers in the Home Office should be giving their civil servants a positive message about immigration and affirmed that immigration should be viewed as being beneficial to the UK. Green said that migration would rise across the world because of conflict and climate change and said that it was a shame the UK was leaving the EU because this was an important institution the UK could use to influence global issues.

Industrial Strategy, Skilled Jobs and Education; Run by the Fabian Society and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry this event focused on assessing on how places, communities and regions can all see good work grow. The panel questioned what methods can be undertaken to ensure not only high employment, but also high skilled jobs. There was consensus that stronger regional strategy for providing skilled jobs is needed but also a strategy which guarantees that jobs remain “good” with the implementation of automation and new technology.

Shadow Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Chi Onwurah MP opened the discussion on the topic of skilled jobs everywhere which she said is driving part of the industrial strategy. [Note – Labour have their own version of the Industrial Strategy.]  Key points are:

  • strong cross sector investment and a strong focus on investing in infrastructure so that people have sufficient access to jobs.
  • delivering skilled jobs as part of an industrial strategy, this would allow for some divisions to be healed amongst regions, prosperity would be delivered
  • innovation needs to be a part of the “cultural DNA of our country” and the UK needs to become an “innovation nation”; if this remains a key goal then access to skilled jobs can be broadened to those who are currently excluded
  • there should be the implementation of a National Education Service that champions adult education and enables people to reskill.
  • both the industrial strategy and education strategy should be combined and work alongside each other so that individuals can “realise their dreams”.
  • international talent is vitally important and even those who earn less than £30,000 should have access to work in the UK

Labour’s Anti-Private Schooling Motion:  At the Labour Party Conference a motion was passed intending to dismantle the private school system should Labour win the next general election. Previously Labour said they intended to close the tax loopholes available to elite private schools, redistributing this money to ‘improve the lives of all children’.  However, the motion, spearheaded by the Momentum faction, said the next Labour manifesto should include a: “commitment to integrate all private schools into the state sector…[and]…withdrawal of charitable status and all other public subsidies and tax privileges, including business rate exemption. Plus: “endowments, investments and properties held by private schools to be redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions”.  It also said that universities only admit 7% of students from private schools, to reflect the proportion of all pupils who attend them. More details are in this Politics Home article. Laura Parker, Momentum’s national co-ordinator, said: “This is a huge step forward in dismantling the privilege of a tiny, Eton-educated elite who are running our country into the ground.

The Letters to the Editor of the Times on Labour’s proposed abolition of private schools provide some interesting questions on how beneficial it would be to society to carry this policy through.

From the Labour NASUWT fringe event on valuing teachers:

  • Dr Patrick Roach, Deputy General Secretary of NASUWT – in some instances, teachers only had a single GCSE in the subject area they were responsible for, which had led, he added, to a culture where “as long as you are one-page ahead in the textbook of the pupils that you are teaching then that is good enough.” He lamented that this is not good enough.
  • Mike Kane, shadow schools minister, said that the Labour Party would bring an end to “toxic testing” and ensure that teachers had proper qualifications in a bid to bring “hope” back to the profession. He proceeded by highlighting how Conservative cuts to university budgets and training courses had led to an influx of unqualified teachers entering schools. He said “far too many teachers in our system are absolutely unqualified. It isn’t a profession, it is becoming more of a trade which you learn on the job”. Kane continued emphasising that forcing teachers to “teach to the test” coupled with a litany of legislation had resulted in plummeting morale.

The Class Ceiling: Barriers to Social Mobility in the UK today.  This event run by Demos and The Investment Association focused on the challenges facing social mobility today. In particular, how aspirations, access to jobs and attitudes can be altered amongst those who have the least opportunity and come from backgrounds that traditionally limits how far people go in life.

  •  Duncan Exley, former director of the Equality Trust, said that during the 20th Century there was more social mobility than in the 21st Century with the odds now greater that individuals will have a lower level job than their parents. He also said that no matter how much individuals are trained and educated, there needs to be an increase in supply of good jobs and homes if social mobility is going to occur. Finally, Exley said that there is a need to support collective wellbeing to encourage social mobility, as this in turn unleashes individual opportunity.
  • Claire Ainsley, Executive Director Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that the perceived social mobility problem is particularly worrying – younger people are less likely to believe that it is hard work and talents that gets them on in life, as most see background and parents as responsible for where they end up. Ainsley argued that this is a problem that needs to be tackled if levels of social mobility are going to improve. She continued that in order to properly address social mobility problems, bright young people from deprived backgrounds aren’t the only ones that need to be given attention, but maybe those who are older too; the lens on social barriers and mobility needs to shift.
  • Seema Malhotra, MP for Feltham and Heston, framed her remarks on social mobility about “creating conditions for success”. She said that there needs to be an increased readiness to learn amongst people, the opportunity to dream and a desire to achieve. Malhotra commented that not only do attitudes towards young people need to change if social mobility is to improve, but she also said that attitudes within families and communities that traditionally hold people back when there is an attempt to create opportunity need to be altered. She explained that young people are experiencing cumulative impact effects, whereby they are absorbing their parents’ anxieties about housing and this in turn is limiting their own mobility; Malhotra attributed this whole issue to poverty and austerity. Malhotra discussed what she called “the pillars of prosperity” –  she said that the education system needs to create conditions for success and that the levers and relationships within communities and society need to assist in creating opportunity.  To conclude she spoke on how there is a “fundamental” issue about human flourishing and providing mechanisms that support this; this is something that must start early in life and should be sustained if social mobility is to improve. Whilst this isn’t really a policy goal currently, she argued that it should be a central approach to the creation of policy.
  • CEO of the Investment Association, Chris Cummings, said industry should be prioritizing ‘potential’ over ‘polish’. Cummings said that financial services specifically has a bad habit of employing the “best” people – those that have good academic qualifications, perform very well at interview and have a high degree of social capital. However, Cummings said that this often leads to a “group thinking” attitude, instead of prioritizing diversity of thought, which in turn can be highly beneficial, and give overall better outcomes and returns. He said that if industry isn’t diverse in the way it thinks then decisions can often become constrained. Cummings described his own organisation as implementing an hour glass model, rather than a pyramid, to provide opportunity to those who can bring a “different dimension” to the world of work.

Labour’s cradle to grave careers service and the quality of careers advice was also discussed.

A guest blog from SUBU

Our guest blog series by Sophie Bradfield of SUBU continues this week

With a new cohort of students joining us this week, Unite’s recent report with HEPI on ‘The New Realists’ can help us gain some insights about prospective students, students enrolling and already enrolled at BU.  The aim of the report is to “investigate young people’s transition to university, their expectations and their experiences in the first year, looking at both academic and non-academic aspects.” There are 4 stages to the research: desk research, online communities, friendship triads, and a quantitative survey. (You can download the full methodology here). Respondents are diverse with a range of genders, nationalities, ethnicities, grades achieved, sexualities and abilities, ensuring a reflective view of the student mind set. 5,108 students were surveyed, with a fairly even split between applicants (2,535) and first year students (2,573). The majority of these respondents are in the 16-19 age bracket (86%) with the remaining 14% in 20+ age bracket. The report has 3 key themes which I have unpicked below.

Key Theme 1: University Provides a Bridge to a Stable Future

One of the key findings from the report is the general belief carried by generation Z that University is a way to foster stability in an unstable world where their futures are otherwise uncertain. 69% of respondents agreed “going to University is the only way to make sure I’ll get the life I want”. 68% felt they would face more challenges than their parents in becoming successful in life which may be because 59% felt there is more “chaos and risk in the world than there was 20 years ago”. ‘Independent but not adults’ is a term used in the report to explain how students felt. I’ve heard BU students refer to themselves as feeling ‘adultish’ which links to the findings of this report and shows how widespread it is. University is a place where students can try new things, challenge themselves and develop their future selves. For many students, University is a key development time to ‘become adults’.

Key Theme 2: Students are more Diverse than ever

The report finds that more than ever, students have diverse individual identities dispelling the myth that there is a ‘typical student’. For example over a fifth (22%) of students in the research study identified as being teetotal, demonstrating a shift away from the drinking culture often associated with the student experience. As noted in the report, this means it is essential that students are continuously listened to so their education experience meets their needs.

With the research depicting a rise in students declaring a disability (including mental health); a higher proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic students (BAME); a rise in students from lower participation neighbourhoods; and a higher proportion of students identifying as LGBT+, higher education institutions are fantastically diverse places for students to develop and grow as open-minded and progressive individuals. Nevertheless, the report finds that respondents from minority and under-represented groups are slightly less likely to see themselves as successful which shows there is still some way to go to level the playing-field for all students, through empowerment and liberation.

The report also finds that over 80% of respondents combined either don’t follow trends or don’t pay attention. We can see this in the political world too; 40% of respondents didn’t identify with a particular political party. Labour came top being supported by 19% of respondents, followed by 8% supporting the Green party; 7% the Conservatives and the remaining gaining 1-3%. We’ve seen this move away from tribal politics over the last few decades but these latest results show how pertinent it will be for political parties to attract the student vote in the anticipated General Election.

Key Theme 3: Peers Play a Pivotal Role in a Successful Student Experience

The report asks students about successful aspects of their student experience.

In SUBU we’ve been asking BU students a similar question for the last 7 years in an annual student experience survey: ‘When you graduate from BU, what are the 3 most important things that will determine whether your time at BU has been as good as it could have been for you?’ With an open text response, students have always chosen the same three themes: Degree Grade, Friends Made; and Employability Prospects. This shows similar themes to the Unite report above.

The report finds that the majority of students report feeling lonely occasionally with a further 22% saying they feel lonely often and 4% saying they feel lonely all the time. The BBC loneliness experiment reported in 2018 found a higher proportion of 16-24 year olds were lonely compared with the oldest in society. Wonkhe reported on this issue earlier in the year too making the link between loneliness, student activities and mental wellbeing. The Unite report also shows that students understand that they can increase their wellbeing through socialising, making friends and taking part in activities, demonstrating the importance of balancing the academic experience with the non-academic experience whilst at University. ‘Freshers’ Week’ events are highlighted as specifically making a positive difference to the experience of students who are estranged from their parents or have been in care. Yet, more can be done ‘to help students connect, make friends and integrate when they first come to University’.

The research shows that students feel ‘pressure to solve their own problems independently or with peers’ connected to ‘transitioning to adult life’. This belief is reflected in their approach to mental health too as despite an increase in students identifying as having a mental health condition, many want to manage it themselves rather than seeking support from University services. Only half of students report their condition to their University and trust their peers far more than their University to reach out to for support. The report found that 47% of respondents considered their mental health condition to be part of who they are, forming part of their identity, however 46% also acknowledge there is still a stigma around mental health. This reluctance to seek support due to stigma and trust is something that continues to be a key area for Universities’ to address in the midst of an ongoing national debate about whose responsibility it is to ensure students get support for mental health issues.

Conclusions

The Unite/HEPI report highlights some very interesting insights from the student perspective, some of which are detailed above. Ultimately it all relates to conversations around transitions and support. There has been lots of research and work around improving the transition of students into University, for example Michelle Morgan developed the Student Engagement Transitions Model for Practitioners to demonstrate the importance of transition at all stages of University. This Unite report highlights this too; the whole University experience is a transitionary experience for many students into ‘adulthood’. As director of HEPI Nick Hillman notes, “Today’s students are not, in the main, going to university because they want to be rich; they are going because they want to absorb the lifelong transferable benefits that degrees continue to confer.” Therefore it seems Universities and Students’ Unions should continue to do all they can to shape and nurture a diverse and malleable University community for students to share, experiment and grow into progressive, engaged citizens of the future.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. There aren’t any new inquiries and consultations this week however, email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the open inquiries or consultations.

Other news

Climate Change Funding: At the United Nations General Assembly on Monday PM Boris announced £1 billion aid funding to develop and test new technology targeted at tackling climate change in developing countries. The innovative new Ayrton Fund to give developing countries access to the latest cutting-edge tech to help reduce their emissions and meet global climate change targets.

The UK is home to some of the world’s best innovators in clean energy technology. Through the Ayrton Fund they and other scientists from around the world can work in partnership with developing countries to transform their energy sectors and reduce emissions by:

  • providing affordable access to electricity for some of the 1 billion people who are still off the grid, including through innovative solar technology for their homes
  • enhancing large-scale battery technology to replace polluting diesel generators and ensure clean energy can be stored and not lost
  • designing clean stoves like electric pressure cookers for some of the 2.7 billion people who still rely on firewood – with the smoke damaging their health as well as the environment
  • working with factories in major polluting industries like iron and steel, petrochemicals and cement to reduce their carbon output
  • improving the technology behind cooling systems so energy isn’t wasted – residential air conditioning alone is expected to raise global temperatures by 0.5°C in the years ahead; and
  • designing low-emission and electric vehicles to cut pollution and make transport systems cleaner and greener

Meanwhile Labour seem to have interwoven the environmental crisis through all their policy areas during their Party Conference this week. For example, when speaking of planned NHS reforms they said their: Green New Deal for our NHS – A Labour government will deliver the greenest health service in the world. As we rebuild our hospitals we’ll invest in solar panels and energy efficiency schemes. We’ll move to a fleet of low emission ambulances. And we’ll guarantee patients and staff a right to green space with an ‘NHS Forest’ – 1 million trees planted across our NHS estate – a tree for every member of staff.

Graduate Employment: The Times describe the biggest graduate recruiters in Top 100 Graduate Employers: bright young things flock to prison careers. In 2019 the Civil Service was the biggest graduate recruiter followed by PwC, Aldi, Google and the NHS. You’ll need to follow another link to find out about the variety of work within the prison service, however, this article talks about how young designers are influencing the prison environment.  And WONKHE have a quick and interesting new blog: Who is responsible for getting a graduate a graduate level job.

Positivity towards TEF (or not): Steven Jones (Manchester) speaks of how to harness TEF for positive gains during the SRHE conference:

  • [The Conference] was full of new ideas. Opposition to metrics wasn’t based on change-resistance and ideological stubbornness. Indeed…we urgently need to measure, understand and close differential attainment gaps in many areas, such as ethnicity. But there was consensus that current proxies for ‘excellence’ were incomplete, and creative thoughts about how they could be complemented. What about capturing graduates’ long-term well-being instead of their short-term satisfaction? Or encouraging institutions to develop their own frameworks based on their specific mission and their students’ needs? How about structural incentives for collaboration rather than competition? And a focus on teaching processes, not teaching outcomes?
  • The argument that the TEF is less about changing pedagogies than manipulating wider discourses shouldn’t bring any comfort to the sector. I tried to show how the dominant logic of teaching excellence primes the sector for more fundamental policy shifts, such as for-profit providers receiving taxpayer subsidy on pedagogical grounds. One delegate spoke to me at the end of the event to offer another example, explaining how employability-minded managers within his institution were squeezing out critical engagement with cultural theory to allow for further skills-based, professional training. The TEF may not change practice directly, but it retains the power to nudge the sector away from its core public roles towards more privatised and instrumental practices.
  • The challenge for us is to articulate a confident and robust defence of all kinds of university teaching. We need to explain how our pedagogies bring lifelong gains both to our students and to wider society, even if initial encounters can be difficult and unsettling. Policy has taken us a long way down the market’s cul-de-sac, but what’s reassuring is that we’re now moving on from TEF-bashing towards a coherent counter-narrative. This event confirmed that universities have more meaningful things to crow about than their fleeting goldenness against a bunch of false proxies.

Apprenticeships Access: The OU surveyed 700 employers in England and have published their Access to Apprenticeships report. Wonkhe describe the report contents: [the report]

  • concludes that many employers need more funding, training and information to support apprentices with declared disabilities. 24 per cent of companies surveyed find it challenging to fund training and development for apprentices with disabilities and 34 per cent of employers surveyed report an increase in entry-level applications from people with declared mental health conditions.
  • The report recommends that the government support employers through providing clearer guidance around hiring apprentices with disabilities, urges the Department for Education to simplify its funding model for providing additional learning support, and advocates the introduction of a training programme for employers recruiting apprentices with disabilities – akin to a Mental Health First Aid course.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

New BU paper: Health of Nepali migrants in India

Today the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health accepted our paper ‘The health of Nepali migrants in India: A qualitative study of lifestyles and risks’ [1].  The research in this paper was funded through Connect India is Bournemouth University’s Hub of Practice for the Indian subcontinent.  It brought together a community of researchers, educators, practitioners and students, both at Bournemouth University and across the Indian subcontinent.

The lead author, Dr. Pramod Regmi, is lecturer in International Health in the Department of Nursing & Clinical Science.  His co-authors are based in the UK, Nepal and India.  BU authors are: Pramod Regmi, Edwin van Teijlingen, Preeti Mahato and Nirmal Aryal as well as BU Visiting Faculty Prof. Padam Simkhada.  The  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health is an interdisciplinary Open Access journal, hence when published this paper will be freely available to readers across the globe, including India and Nepal.

Reference:

  1. Regmi, P., van Teijlingen, E., Mahato, P., Aryal, N., Jadhav, N., Simkhada, P., Syed Zahiruddin, Q., Gaidhane, A., (2019) The health of Nepali migrants in India: A qualitative study of lifestyles and risks Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health (forthcoming)

 

 

HE policy update for the w/e 16th August 2019

Welcome to a bumper update catching you on the last two weeks in policy land plus Sarah has taken a special in-depth look at post-qualification admissions as it is the hot topic of the week.

Post-qualification Admissions

Labour reinvigorated the post-qualification admissions debate on Wednesday when they declared they would reform the HE system and scrap predicted grades to implement a ‘new fairer system of post-qualification admissions’. Talk of post-qualification admissions (PQA) has been around for a long while, (Schwartz review, 2003; UCAS 2011), and quite recently the UCU have been pushing for PQA because they believe it penalises disadvantaged students. The claim is that capable disadvantaged students are penalised because they may receive under-predicted grades than their stronger, higher grade performance in their final exams. Lower predicted grades restrict their ability to apply to and secure a university place at the most competitive institutions. A focus on ensuring access for disadvantaged students to the highest tariff institutions was championed by Sam Gyimah, (HE Minister of 10 months, 2 Ministers ago) who pressurised Oxbridge to radically improve the number of disadvantaged students they accept and challenged students to think big and trade up to the most competitive institutions (claiming it leads to higher employability returns).  So it is interesting to see a Conservative and Labour policy align, even if they have different solutions.

Labour’s plans would see students applying for their HE place after receiving their A level/other results so they can select the “best” institution that their actual grades will qualify them for. They also address another political hot potato– unconditional offers – Labour want to see an end to unconditional offers and, of course, a PQA system where offers aren’t made in advance has no place for them (more on this below). It also means the end of clearing. Labour say that it will enable students to make better, more accurate decisions, and mean that are not pressurised into accepting an unconditional offer from a lower tariff university.

The last reason that is always trotted out for PQA is that England is the only country where a pre-qualifications admission system is used.

There would be significant practical challenges in implementing a PQA system. Universities are usually criticised as blocking such changes for their own convenience.

Universities have autonomy in this area with control over their admissions processes and the right to choose whom they admit. The Higher Education and Research Act (2017), states: ‘“the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers” means … the freedom of English higher education providers … to determine the criteria for the admission of students and apply those criteria in particular cases’.

We explore the complexities below, but first, is there evidence that disadvantaged students are under predicted? It seems there is:

  • Analysis carried out by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2011) found black students were the most likely to have their grades under-predicted.
  • The Sutton Trust states that poorer students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their wealthier peers.
  • UCL’s Institute of Education found that nearly one in four disadvantaged students who go on to achieve AAB or better in A-Level have predicted grades lower than their final results.

So while there is clearly an issue, what about those grey areas? HEPI have a useful blog. It highlights that if students wish, they can already apply after receiving your grades [and increasing numbers are, although that feels like a risky business especially in future when the demographic dip reverses] Students can also hedge their bets by accepting a firm choice, and then declining this offer to trade up to a better place. So it is possible, but it is complicated and it is unclear whether students really know how to make the system work for them. It is easier to just accept the place you had originally chosen (mere-exposure effect).

What about other countries?

If the UK is an international outlier and comparator countries all have PQA systems, are we missing a trick? They answer is our systems and intentions are quite different. In the British system the majority of students travel away from their home to attend the institution which they believe is most attractive – for all sorts of reasons (not just prestige/ranking of the university) – the programme content, type of course (accelerated, sandwich, traditional), employer links and employability outcomes, institutional prestige, and the desirability of the wider rounded offer and university environment. Students choose and universities select students they believe will thrive. Even if we changed to a PQA system this established cultural approach to student choice and the meritocracy would not immediately change. So how does it work in other countries?

France – students apply post-qualification. All those achieving a pass in the baccalaureate are entitled to go, and most do. Most stay locally. Fees are low.  University is an automatic right and universities have to accept all those that achieve the pass, shutting their doors only when full (and that means really full). Non-continuation rates are huge with many students dropping out during the first year because university just isn’t for them, not to mention the enormous class sizes and relatively poor student experience.    Application processes are generally on-line, anonymous and impersonal.  Universities do not need to sell themselves to students and there is no selection except for a small number of very exclusive universities.

Australia – school leavers apply before they have their results ranking their preferences for their preferred institutions. When they results are known they are converted to a common score (ATAR) and the universities consider the score achieved by the students that have ranked them top and then decide a cut off for acceptances. Students below the threshold repeat the process with their second ranked choice, and so on down the list. However, it is not working well. Those with lower scores struggle to obtain places and universities are starting to move away from relying on their score based system.

America – it’s complicated, drawn out, highly selective, and stressful. First there are fee distinctions between public and private institutions, and they types of degree they issue. The application process itself has multiple steps and deadlines. Separate applications are sent to each institution (although they can use the Common Application process for certain institutions). On four year degree programmes, once accepted, students may be assigned to the entire college, not a particular department or major (focal programme). Entry to the top institutions is fiercely competitive. Students choosing the two-year county and community college route have a less complicated system than the four-year degree schools, as this usually only requires a high school transcript or minimum test score. And the provision of high school counsellors (who help with careers and HE advice) is patchy – private schools often have a dedicated full time post, only 1 in 4 public schools have the equivalent level of resource. Transfers between institutions are more frequent than, currently occurs in the UK too.

UCU have a summary table for 30 countries (see pages 7-8).

So how could the system work? There are two main options. HEPI:

  • The differences between Post-Qualification Applications (when you applyfor a place after receiving your results) [this is Labour’s ideal process] and,
  • Post-Qualification Admissions (where the places are handed out after the results but in which you might have applied, as now, before you know how you have done). [Australian model]

HEPI continue: The oddity of our system is not so much that people apply before receiving their results; the oddity is that huge weight is put on predicted grades, which are notoriously unreliable. Either version of PQA could tackle this, but they are different from one another and it is not always clear which one PQA advocates want.

Exams of prime importance

Whether it is post qualification applications or admissions, changing the system would increase the focus on exam results. Last year there were calls to reduce the reliance on grades as the sole or most major determinant of accepting an applicant (including peripheral interest in comprehensive universities). And many universities acknowledge that grades alone cannot represent an individual’s range of desirable skills and attributes, nor their ability to thrive and achieve on a particular course at a particular institution. So a system which places more emphasis on grades could be a retrograde step. Plus the reality of a post-qualification application process means a more pressurised, shorter, decision turnaround with less time to consider alternatives such as interviews, portfolios, personal statements, and applicant’s background circumstances.

What about those students who have over-predicted provisional grades? They will have applied to a higher tariff institution, which post-qualification may well still accept them (given market pressures). Much of the rhetoric for PQA surrounds extending the aspirations of the most capable disadvantaged students. Yet the mid-ability disadvantaged deserve to secure a place at a good institution, just as their more affluent peers do. Of course this is where contextual admissions could come into play.

Contextual Admissions

Contextual admissions could [and should] still exist in a post-qualification system. However, to truly support social mobility aims they would need to be far more transparent. Disadvantaged students can only aspire to a ‘reach’ university if they know their actual grades plus the contextual leniency that will be applied.  Without this they likely will self-select to a less competitive institution. Students also need assurance that universities value this information and do not use the contextual ‘tick’ to filter out applications.

Universities would need to clearly spell out which disadvantage factors they accept and what grade/points reduction they adjust the advertised tariff by, including any further leniency due to double disadvantage or intersectionality. Providers would need to provide online checkers so a student can input their data and check if they are eligible for a reduced offer. And this needs to be transparent, available not only on the institution’s own website but clear and accessible through the UCAS application process (pre or post qualification).

This suggests a clearer but more automated approach to contextual admissions. However, there may be other important factors that some universities check outside of the standard criteria to provide a further adjusted offer, or an offer that doesn’t decrease the standard tariff but provides other alternatives. Of course, if contextual admissions are more ‘automated’ the process could be national – a standard set of criteria by which a defined reduced was applied cross-institution. However, this is may be a step too far. It is right that universities retain their autonomy to determine what contextual reduction or alternatives can be provided. And this isn’t about ‘bums on seats’, universities have different remits with some experienced in taking very high proportions of disadvantaged students with a strong support infrastructure.  And in some cases this is determined by regional characteristics.

Speed is of the essence

The aspect that strikes me most when considering UCU’s table of countries with post qualification admissions is that the time between application and acceptance is a matter of days or weeks. This is just not possible in the UK if there is to be an element of selection. Either the process becomes more automated with less attention to personal factors (which really does feel like ‘bums on seats’, and would less selection increase drop out?) or the start date for foundation and first year courses is delayed (or A level exams are taken earlier/marked quicker). None of these options are attractive. In particular extending the time between school/exam finish and commencing degree/alternative study is counter to Government aims for a productive workforce (and accelerated degrees).

The knock on effect potentially also polarises choice between degree and other alternative skills/study programmes. Imagine a student unsure whether to choose a traditional degree programme (with confirmation of place mid-September) and an apprenticeship option which commences early September. The timing for post-level 3 options needs to match.

Intensive Careers Support Period

Careers advice came up a lot in the press this week. In a PQA system where students still apply to HE institutions while studying at level 3 (but aren’t accepted until their results are known) students can still access careers support and HE advice through their educational provider. However, in a post qualification application system schools or other agencies would need to be available to guide choices and support with personal statements during the summer closure periods, or early autumn.

Capacity would be an issue – far more staff would be needed to cover all the students needing the same support all at once within a short period. And in a system where students apply before results are known provisional grades are still likely to be used by the institution as an indicator. Even though they’ll only be used internally by the school and the individual they will still be unreliable and have the same effect Labour are trying to curb – they’ll restrict the disadvantaged students’ choice of institution based on what they believe they can attain, negating the intention of changing to a PQA system. Of course there is a watered down hybrid approach whereby careers support and statement preparation would be done while studying the level 3 (and this would work for a system of post-qualification admissions rather than applications). This isn’t really student focussed though, it just makes things easier for schools, and internal predicted grades will still bias the student’s initial choices.

Is it really the end for Clearing?

Labour stated clearing wouldn’t exist. However, this seems dangerous as if students applied with their results and none of their institutions accepted them then they are left without a safety net to rethink their possibilities. A PQA system actually creates more uncertainty for the student. Even if they have the grades they cannot be certain their preferred institution will take them, and everything hinges on results day for the process to even start. Really PQA is one giant clearing round, and as such stages would be required. If we were truly joined up vocational and apprenticeship options would all be part of one giant post qualification application system. Wouldn’t that be an enormous feat!

Unconditional Offers

Labour are also opposed to unconditional offers.  Schools are pressuring the Government to clamp down on unconditional offers as they claim that some students ‘take their foot off the gas’ and underperform when they hold an unconditional offer. Politicians also believe the overuse of unconditional offers is a misuse of recruitment simply aiming to lock students into attending the institution ‘bums on seats’ and doesn’t represent ‘value for money’.  Unconditional offers were introduced to support certain disadvantaged groups, such as providing basic security for care leavers who often have to give up their accommodation before their university place is confirmed. More recently, they have been accepted as valid to support those with proven mental health or additional needs who may underperform at final exam. The point of these unconditional offers is that they provide security and access for the underrepresented groups whose lives are characterised by precarity and who, without the unconditional place, who not access HE or consider a ‘reach’ university.  In cases of accepted or demonstrated need it is feasible that these could still form an early application element, even in a post-results system. Or if that was too unpalatable we could follow the Scottish example and provide some form of guaranteed offer (link).

How would it work in practice – the nitty gritty

Everyone has their own theory about how PQA could work in practice. Universities could commence later, schools or a national careers service could advise during the post-exam crunch periods, campus visits could be undertaken during the year or in the summer period (or virtually). However, don’t all these aspects have an impact on the disadvantaged student? A later degree start means either less/more intensive tuition (less period for adjustment – those coming from poor schools need time to level up, some need time to emotionally settle) or that tuition will finish later in the first year summer (impacting on access to the paid summer jobs needed to top up the student loans). Careers advice depends on the quality of the school and dedicated resources – deprived schools may not have the same resource to spend on careers as a private institution. The cost of campus visits may be prohibitive – and why undertake them pre-results if you are unsure where you might end up? Plus with a squeezed acceptance period would there be time for student’s to visit multiple institutions to experience whether they feel it would be a good fit?

Of course there are implications for the University too. Pre-qualification applications form a large part of the end recruitment picture, and HE institutions are essentially reliant on fee income to function. Particularly in today’s marketised competitive environment. Could no visibility as to recruitment levels make ‘bums on seats’ worse? It also doesn’t provide enough lead time to free up extra resource for unexpectedly popular courses. And, timetabling (groan) unpredictable recruitment levels are a timetabling headache. Plus certain widening access groups, such as parents and carers, need to know their timetable well in advance of the start of the programme so they can arrange alternative care.

At the other end of the spectrum how would universities deal with oversupply? Too many students with the required grade level all wish to attend the university. Would universities have less choice over who they take (French model)? Would the university then have to rely on the personal statement (time issues)? Could unconscious bias come into play? Could oversupply pave the way for the three D’s cut-off grade threshold to be introduced?

There could be a first come, first served model, but this has a hidden equality bias. Disadvantaged students may need more guidance in choice of institution or be slower to apply due to personal circumstances. Would there still be an ‘application’ or decision deadline post results?

In the balance…

Many of the reasons offered for a post qualification admissions system are aspects which need tackling anyway. Furthermore, the Government wants to see more choice and variability in the HE market (accelerated degrees, part time and flexible options) alongside prestigious alternative technical and degree apprenticeship routes. A PQA system swaps the unpredictability of predicted grades for the unpredictability of exam performance, which may still not be a reliable predictor of an individual’s sustained capability.

Commentary

  • Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: “The higher education admissions system isn’t working for students, and radical action is needed to change that…Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions. No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair…We will work with schools, colleges, and universities to design and implement the new system, and continue to develop our plans to make higher education genuinely accessible to all.”
  • Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The Labour party is right to look at overhauling the university admissions system. The current system is based on students’ predicted grades which are wrong most of the time. Moving to a system of post-qualification applications would empower the student to make the best university choice for them. We’d also like to see a greater use of contextual data in the admissions process, as well as a review of the personal statement to see how it could be improved.”
  • Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is a good idea to look at moving to a system of post-qualification admissions for university, but it would represent a significant and complex change to our current admissions systems. t would be extremely difficult to manage the entire applications process in the few weeks between A-level results in mid-August and the beginning of university terms in September or October, and it is likely that we would need to rethink the entire calendar. It might be simpler to return to a system in which AS levels counted towards the first year of the full A-level as this allowed universities to use actual results in considering applications, and for universities to stop the practice of so-called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers – which are unconditional as long as the student makes the university their first choice – simply to put bums on seats.”

Damian Hinds, the previous Education Secretary, announced a review of admissions practices on 5 April 2019. The OfS is expected to launch the review in the autumn. The House of Commons Library has issued a briefing paper on the key issues surrounding admissions. Meanwhile UUK launched their own pre-emptive admissions review on 22 July.

A Level Results

DfE Statistics published on Thursday, A Level results day, showed:

  • Entries to STEM subjects increased for both male and females – overall a 26.2% rise since 2010;
  • More girls now do science subjects – biology, chemistry and physics combined – than boys and overall science entries are up by 7.4%, despite the fall in the population;
  • Entries to Spanish have risen making it the most popular language at A level while there has been a relative increase in entries to German for the first time since 2007;
  • Maths remains the most popular subject at A level;
  • Since 2010, total entries in mathematics and further mathematics have increased by 20.0%, despite a 10.7% fall in the A level cohort population in the period;
  • Entries to both history and geography have increased;
  • Girls narrowly outperform boys at A and A* combined, reversing last year’s trend, but boys did better than girls at A*;
  • The North East has the highest overall pass rate and the biggest percentage improvement at A and A* grades;
  • A drop in the proportion of A-level results at the top grades to the lowest level in more than a decade.
  • There has been a rise in non-EU students coming to the country to study; and
  • A rise in nursing admissions – bucking a recent trend.
  • The gap between boys and girls increased this year with 73.3% of male students achieving a C grade or above compared with 77.2% of females.
  • The gap between boys and girls increased this year with 73.3% of male students achieving a C grade or above compared with 77.2% of females.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: I congratulate everyone receiving their A level results today. The new government will do all we can to improve funding for education and to give schools the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying so that pupils can learn. We also must focus much more attention on providing great apprenticeships for all those who do not go to university.

The new Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, also spoke on A level results day.

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, stated: Congratulations to everyone receiving their A-Level results today. And thank you to parents and carers, education leaders and teachers for their hard work in supporting young people through their education. We need to give more support to our students, so Labour will abolish predicted grades and implement post-qualification admissions. This will allow those studying to make informed choices, and reduce the stress of the transition to higher education. Students should be proud of what they have achieved today, and we are proud of them.”

The Office for Students has A level day commentary and coverage. Among the links are Sir Michael Barber speaking on information, advice and guidance plus fair access. Nicola Dandridge on unconditional offers (iNews picks up on this too, and the Telegraph states the OfS are ‘poised to intervene’ on the issue quoting Dandridge as saying “we can and we will” use regulatory powers to crack down on the worst offenders.)  Dandridge is also covered in the Times on improving the ease for students to transfer between institutions.

The Telegraph report on the busiest clearing even in: More students go straight to clearing as Russell Group universities drop grades to take extra applicants. The Telegraphy also have an article by Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, who returns to ‘bums on seats’ mode in Results day is not a chance to simply get students through the door.

There is always press about exams being too easy or too hard on A level results day. The Financial Times started a day early highlight leaks that A grades for maths, biology and physics would be awarded by some Boards to students achieving 55-59%.

Fans of Wonkhe’s David Kernohan will be delighted with his latest analysis:

  • The Sunday Times splashed on the idea that 48 per cent of (essay-based) A level results are “wrong” – which prompted a delightful correctionfrom Ofqual that could only really be improved if it was written in red ink. For many subjects, marking is based on qualitative criteria that rely on academic judgement. There will be variation, though a well argued and well constructed essay will always win out.
  • And The Times’ Sian Griffiths reportedthat some students would get the highest grade without achieving a particularly high percentage mark. As we all know this is due to the Ofqual quest for “comparable outcomes” if you change the assessment method to one that gives students more trouble, the average marks for each grade will be lower assuming the population taking the exam has broadly the same characteristics. The whole set of boundaries leaked yesterday on social media to generalised merriment.
  • Away from A level performance, the classic “Mickey Mouse” courses articlecame from the Mail this year – an annual failure to understand the idea of niche courses serving a specific local needs, the need to widen participation, and the limited utility of A levels in solving either issue. And – yes – there’s a “Campaign for Real Education” quote.

Which leaves us only with one question – why in today’s digital world is results coverage still depicted by a shock horror/happy face supposedly examining their results on a piece of paper?! (Exhibit A and B!)

Results Day Records: UCAS has welcomed ‘a record number of disadvantaged young people going to university’:

  • A record 17.3% of 18 year olds (18,900 students, which is also the highest on A level results day) from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in England have been accepted (a rise of 0.8% on 2018). This slightly narrows the gap between the most and least advantaged groups. Both Wales and Northern Ireland have new highs in disadvantage acceptances too.
  • Across the UK, 28.2% of all 18 year olds have been accepted through UCAS, also a new record for results day (last year’s figure on A level results day was 27.7%).
  • A new high of 33,630 international students from outside the EU have been accepted, driven by a 32% rise in accepted applicants from China.
  • 26,440 EU students have been accepted to study in the UK, a small rise compared to the 2018 results day.

Clearing: Last year nationally 15,000 students were placed through Clearing on the day after the A level results came out, with 39,000 placed within the first five days. Updates on the national picture of applicants and acceptances is regularly updated through UCAS’ daily clearing analysis page. We wish all BU staff involved in Clearing resilience and fortitude during this busy period!

Widening Access

Scotland are proactively tackling social mobility by guaranteeing offers for care experienced and the most deprived students. Scotland’s 18 higher education institutions have set out a new commitment that care experienced applicants who meet minimum entry requirements will be guaranteed an offer of an undergraduate place from autumn 2020. The move aims to drive a significant increase in the number of care experienced people going to university. This guaranteed offer is crucial because in Scotland, partially because of the funding system, demand for places outstrips supply – on average, only half of applications are likely to result in an offer even for students who meet standard entry requirements. The guaranteed offer is informed by the universities belief in the importance of recognising the context in which care experienced applicants have achieved the entry qualifications needed for university.

Most pioneering is that Scotland has defined ‘care experienced’ without limits. It includes anyone who has been or is currently in care or from a looked after background at any stage of their life, no matter how short, including adopted children who were previously looked after. Different forms of care settings are included (e.g. residential care, foster care, kinship care, or looked after at home with a supervision requirement) and there are no age restrictions (so an adult who was in care 40 years ago can also benefit). The guaranteed offer also applies to people living in the 20% most deprived Scottish areas, known as SIMD20.

Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of the University of St Andrews said: “This is a decisive and, I hope, catalytic step jointly taken by Scotland’s universities. It gives due recognition to the substantial achievement of people with experience of care who are successful in getting the grades for university having overcome very challenging circumstances at a young age. We hope it will enable more people with care experience to feel confident applying to university, knowing that their application is encouraged and will be supported. It is important that all of Scotland’s universities have made this guarantee together. That should provide the greatest possible clarity and visibility of this change to people with care experience wherever they live in Scotland and wherever they want to study.

It’s hoped that that universities’ guaranteed offer of a place based on new minimum entry requirements exclusive to care experienced and MD20 applicants, will be a prove to be a powerful combination of both action and words that together signal the commitment universities have to creating opportunities for those with care experience and encourage a rise in applicants.”

Disability & Disadvantage

The APPG Assistive Technology has published a report into the disabled students’ allowance finding the £200 charge is a significant deterrent for new students. The £200 contribution was introduced by the Government as a fair contribution towards the price of a high powered laptop that is capable of running resource-intensive assistive software. However, students often make do with their existing lower-tech computing equipment and forgo the disability support package of software. Furthermore, the APPG state the cost of the disability assessment is wasted and borne by the taxpayer as the student doesn’t take the package up. The report calls on the government to remove upfront assistive technology costs and open a public consultation on all financial barriers associated with the Disabled Students’ Allowance. Policy Connect, who  publish the report on behalf of the APPG, state:

The increasing number of disabled people reaching university is a major step forward for inclusion and social mobility. More disabled people rightly see university as an option for them and the growing culture of disability inclusion within the UK has encouraged more students to disclose their impairments. Yet when disabled students get to university they still face a persistent gap in experience and outcomes compared to their non-disabled peers.

Policy Connect also manage the HE Commission who are undertaking an inquiry into the university experience of disabled students. It focuses on the three strands of student life: teaching and learning; living and social; and transition and employment. It aims to explore the challenges faced by disabled students and whether current interventions are good practice and effective. Disabled students are less likely to complete their course, are lower paid as graduates and are more likely to experience loneliness. Working age adults with a disability also access university in lower numbers than expected – less than 17.5% of working age adults with a disability access university. The Commission will hold a parliamentary oral evidence session in September. The report is due early in 2020.

The  National Deaf Children’s Society  has published  analysis on deaf children falling behind at school

Social Justice: FACE have a blog establishing that ECRs (Early Career Researchers) are deeply interested in social justice, social mobility and improving the student experience – despite this being primarily outside of their ECR roles. The article talks of how to offer ECRs greater involvement within social solutions for students through their evaluation expertise.

Immigration

Within days of Boris taking the reins he dropped the net migration target and began pursuing a more internationally friendly policy than Theresa May. And this week the one millionth person was granted settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

International STEM talent: The Home Office has launched a fast-track immigration STEM talent scheme building on the existing Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa route.  The new scheme will provide eligible individuals with a three-year visa, during which they can come and go from the UK at will. At the end of three years, those on the scheme would be able apply for indefinite leave to remain (giving a permanent right to reside in the UK and access to benefits and healthcare on the same basis as British citizens). The scheme does not have a minimum salary requirement and individuals do not need to secure a job before arriving in the UK (unlike the existing Tier 2 route for skilled workers). Individuals will be able to bring dependants (spouses/partners and children) and they will be able to work or study while here. Visa fees that are commensurate with existing immigration fees will be charged. A review of funding the immigration system, including fees charged will take place in the future. The talent scheme aims to ensure that those with specialist skills in STEM subjects can come to the UK and make an important contribution to our leading science and research sectors, significantly enhancing the intellectual and knowledge base of the UK. The entire Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route is earmarked for revamp and rebranding over the new parliamentary period.

UK post-study work visa comparison

The Scottish Government have published a comparative report on how the UK’s post-study work offer compares with competitor countries.

  • The popularity of international education continues to grow, and the volume of student mobility is at an all-time high. In 2015, there were an estimated 4.6 million globally mobile higher education students, a massive increase from the 2.1 million students who went abroad in 2001.
  • The US, the UK, China, France, and Australia rank as top host destinations of international students worldwide and collectively host an estimated two thirds of all international students. In terms of student numbers, the US is the global leader for international students with 971,000 students in 2016, followed by the UK which had 432,000 international students in the same year. At the same time, however, international students comprised only 5% of the total student population in the US as compared to 18% in the UK.

The following factors are significant in student destination choice:

  • The academic offer and the international reputation of a given university or a given country’s education system more generally, as well as language of instruction/official language of the country.
  • Ease of meeting formal requirements (fulfilling university recruitment and visa requirements).
  • Finances: affordability of studying and living in the host country; sponsorship opportunities in host country.
  • Presence of networks in the host country; general atmosphere in a given country: attitudes towards international students (and immigrants in general), lifestyle.
  • Work opportunities during and after studies.
  • For those looking to emigrate permanently – the country’s immigration policy and pathways to settlement post-study.

The report concludes that to improve its global competitiveness in terms of attracting and retaining international students, the UK should:

  • Introduce a more competitive post-study work offer taking into consideration ease of application and application timescales, programme length, work entitlement, and opportunities for applying to the programme after leaving the UK.
  • Implement additional measures supporting the longer term retention of international students, such as: language and employability support; integration programmes; provision of information and advice on conditions of stay, employment opportunities, and life in the UK; creating opportunities for establishing professional networks.
  • Ensure systematic monitoring of the programme and its implementation to prevent its potential misuse (and evaluate its effectiveness).

Visa Checking Dissatisfaction

International students are unable to access the visa checking services they are entitled to and are resorting to paying additional fees to gain appointments. Sopra Steria holds the contract for the UK Visa and Citizenship Application services to enrol and check the biometric information on visa applications. UUK are campaigning for Sopra Steria to immediately improve the service they are offering. Currently students are unable to get checking appointments, the online service isn’t accessible or compatible with the use of assistive technology, there are further problems with the online service and an exorbitant telephone support line charge to resolve these problems. Students have resorted to paying additional charges to fast track their appointments and traveling a distance away from their university to attend these. UUK is calling on the company to resolve these issues quickly before the September ‘student surge’ when 40,000+ students will need to register their biometric details.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: Despite constructive engagement between the Home Office, UKVI and universities, the current capacity and level of service being offered by Sopra Steria remains unacceptable. Students and universities cannot be expected to pay to address Sopra Steria’s broken system. We are calling on Sopra Steria to fully address these concerns before the September surge of students so that students can start their courses with the visas they need. International students make a huge cultural and economic contribution to the UK. Sopra Steria should be helping to send a more welcoming message to international students, signalling that the UK is open to talented individuals from around the world, as is the case at our universities.

Elisa Calcagni, a PhD student from Chile studying at the University of Cambridge, thought the service she received from Sopra Steria was very disappointing:  As a non-EEA national I was required to enrol my biometrics through Sopra Steria. I had not expected any additional charges but I found it virtually impossible to find a free appointment. The time window for bookings on the online system only covers two weeks and there were no free appointments available, or any appointments at all in Cambridge. I called the Sopra Steria support line and they suggested to keep checking the website for cancelled appointments. I didn’t want the uncertainty of constantly checking the system with no guarantee of an appointment becoming available, so I selected to pay £100 for an appointment in Croydon, two hours away. Despite booking a timed appointment, there was a waiting time of an hour and then the system wasn’t working properly leading to further delays.

Khalid Elkhereiji, a student at the University of Southampton, said: “I use a screen reader which reads on-screen text aloud. Trying to login in to my UKVCAS account to book the appointment I needed for my visa was very frustrating as none of the screen readers I used were able to detect the checkbox which must be selected to confirm the person logging in is not a robot. I spent hours trying to do this, carefully repeating the same steps as it was not possible to identify the issue. This is not a problem that I face with other websites and it meant I was not able to login without the assistance of a sighted person…I have explained my concerns with the accessibility of the service to Sopra Steria and I believe it is a relatively simple issue to fix, however I have not had any further updates from Sopra Steria and there has been no confirmation that their website is inclusive and accessible to everyone.

HEPI have published Two sides of the same coin? Brexit and future student demand. The report concludes that the best available evidence points in opposite direction for student demand predictions. Nick Hillman, summarises:

  • There is a broad consensus that says Brexit will mean far less demand for UK higher education. When EU students are no longer entitled to taxpayer-subsidised tuition fee loans and face much higher international fees, they are likely to look elsewhere or stay at home. Research we published back in 2017 suggested the number of students who come from the EU could halve.
  • But there is an important historical precedent that tells a rather different story. Until the early 1980s, all international students coming to the UK were subsidised by taxpayers. At the time, the consensus said their numbers would fall off a cliff. In fact, the end of the subsidy laid the foundations for what eventually became a big expansion in international students. Universities realised they could charge fees high enough to cover the full costs of teaching and more. When international students subsidise other activities, such as underfunded research programmes, there is a strong incentive to recruit more of them.
  • No one knows for certain whether the pessimistic economic modelling or the optimistic historical precedent is the better guide to the future. Perhaps the impact of Brexit on student numbers will end up lying somewhere between these two extremes. What happens will depend, to some extent, on whether the new crop of Ministers decide to roll out the red carpet for international students – for example, by streamlining visa procedures, improving post-study work rules and clarifying the rules for EU students after Brexit. It will also depend on how institutions choose to respond to Brexit

Headline Estimates/Findings:

  • 31,000 fewer incoming EU students each year (-57%), representing a loss of fee income of £40 million, as a result of the changes to fee and loan entitlements;
  • 20,000 more non-EU students (+9%) and EU students (+10%) each year, representing an increase in fee income of over £225 million, as a result of the change in the value of the pound.
  • a net drop of roughly 11,000 incoming students but over £185 million more fee income for institutions, as all incoming students would then be paying the full international fees.
  • Institutions foresee the considerable growth of students from non-EU countries continuing, collectively forecasting an increase of over 56,000 by 2022, or 20% (although the Chair of the Office for Students has complained about ‘over-optimistic student recruitment forecasts’)

Policy Takeaways:

  • The best modelling that has been undertaken on changes to fees and loans suggests there will be a big drop in the number of EU students coming to the UK after Brexit.
  • Changes to the value of the pound are also likely to determine the degree to which institutions are affected.
  • Ending subsidies for students from other countries can sometimes provide new financial incentives on institutions to enrol them.

Parliament

We have a refreshed Cabinet (here is a link to a lovely wall chart!) and here is a reminder of Labour’s shadow cabinet.

  • Universities Minister is Jo Johnson, for his second stint in the role, he remains with joint lines of responsibility to both the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). His reappointment to the Universities role has prompted much speculation about unfinished business in the BU policy office and is interesting when taken in context with the new Education appointees, some of which are tough characters or old hands. For the first time ever the Universities Minister will attend Cabinet too.  Jo’s BEIS responsibilities have been set as: science and research, innovation, intellectual property, space, agri-tech, technology.
  • Heading up Education is Gavin Williamson (yes he who was ousted by Theresa May for leaking while he was SoS for Defence) in the chief role of Secretary of State for Education. His responsibilities cover early years, children’s social care, teachers’ pay, school curriculum, school improvement, academies and free schools, further education, higher education, apprenticeships and skills. He has no previous experience in an education role, nor in his non-political career.
  • Nick Gibb is Minister of State (Minister for School Standards) and holds a wide school responsibility remit. He has held an education role almost continually since 2005 both in Government and the shadow cabinet, including school reform and school standards before a brief stint as Equalities Minister (2017-2018). Nick retained this, his previous role, in the Boris reshuffle.
  • Kemi Badenoch is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Children and Families. Among her responsibilities are social care, SEN, race disparity audit, disadvantaged pupils, social mobility and opportunity areas. She has no previous ministerial experience, was only elected to the Commons in 2017, and is heavily pregnant (you can see her views on MP motherhood here).
  • Lord Agnew has an unpaid role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for the School System. His responsibilities include university technical colleges. Within the Lords, since 2017, he held position as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System and Government Spokesperson. He was also a non-executive Director within DfE (2010-15).  Lord Agnew retained this, his previous role in the Boris reshuffle.
  • Engineer and running fanatic Chris Green is the team PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary). He has an interest in education and plethora of relevant APPG memberships including artificial intelligence, life sciences, medical research (and medical devices), engineering, health, youth employment, digital skills and he was a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee (2015-2017).

The Apprenticeships and Skills Minister (Anne Milton’s old role) has been removed. SoS Gavin Williamson has assumed these responsibilities into his brief, with Ministerial support from the new Children’s Minister, Kemi Badenoch. A DfE spokesperson stated: As the Prime Minister has said, further education and skills will be a priority for this government – and the Education Secretary taking the lead for this vital work is a reflection of that commitment.

Previous Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, is now Minister of State for Health and Social Care.

In local news Conor Burns (who was Boris’ PPS) has been promoted to Minister of State for International Trade. Tobias Ellwood has stepped down from his two year stint within the Minister of Defence. And Simon Hoare retains his post as Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs.

Humanities bias within Cabinet: It is unsurprising to note that 67% of the new Cabinet attended a Russell Group university (45% at Oxbridge). However, what is perhaps slightly surprising, given the negative rhetoric and rumblings about downgrading the fee level for certain subjects, is that 87% of the Cabinet studied programmes within the humanities and social sciences field. For more on who studied what and where see this HEPI blog.

UUK lobby new PM:  UUK call on Boris to take action in 5 areas to maximise the role of universities within his domestic and global ambitions:

  1. Recommit to the 2.4% of GDP investment in research and development by 2027. Plus immigration system favourable to bring in the most talented global researchers.
  2. Back the two-year post-study work visa amendment within the Immigration Bill, alongside lowering the salary threshold for international workers to obtain a high-skilled work visa to £21,000.
  3. For domestic success including regional growth, skills workforce, equality of opportunity and social mobility UUK call for secure long term and sustainable funding for universities and students. Including reintroducing maintenance grants and cutting the on-programme interest rate on the loans. Overhauling so students better understand the student finance system.
  4. Acknowledge the importance of the university experience – support mental health, widening access and end the BAME attainment gap.
  5. Avoid no-deal Brexit, retain Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.

And it seems Boris was listening (or more likely had already decided):

Education featured as a core element within a speech Boris made in late July:

  1. We will give every child the world class education they deserve. Which is why we will increase the minimum level of per pupil funding in primary and secondary schools and return education funding to previous levels by the end of this parliament.
  2. And we cannot afford the chronic under-funding of our brilliant FE colleges, which do so much to support young people’s skills and our economy. We have a world class university sector; in fact it is one of the biggest concentrations of higher education anywhere in Europe right here in this city – why should we not aspire to the same status for our further education institutions, to allow people to express their talents?
  3. We will double down on our investment in R&D, we will accelerate the talks on those free trade deals… If we unite our country, with better education, better infrastructure, with an emphasis on new technology, then this really can be a new golden age for the UK.

Other new Education related appointees

  • Ofsted – Julie Kirkbride, Hamid Patel, Martin Spencer, Carole Stott and Baroness Wyld appointed as board members, and John Cridland and Vanessa Wilms reappointed.
  • Ofqual – Susan Barratt, Matt Tee and Mike Thompson appointed as board members, and Roger Taylor reappointed as Chair.
  • Migration Advisory Committee – Madeleine Sumption reappointed as Chair for a further three years. (Relevant because the MAC are looking at the immigration thresholds for post-study work visas.)
  • Royal College of Midwives – Sasha Wells, Neil Tomlin, Natalie Linder, Dee Davies, Keelie Barrett, Janet Ballintine, Sarah Jones have been elected to the Board as members.

Brexit

On Tuesday Parliamentarians hoping to stop a no-deal Brexit through the courts will get a chance to make their case in September. A Scottish judge agree Friday 6 September for the legal case aimed at curbing the Prime Minister’s ability to prorogue Parliament in order to push a no-deal exit past MPs will be heard. The legal bid has been backed by more than 70 MPs and peers, and seeks to get the Court of Session in Edinburgh – which, unlike English courts, sits throughout the summer – to rule that suspending Parliament would be “unlawful and unconstitutional”.  Papers lodged with the court say: “Seeking to use the power to prorogue Parliament to avoid further parliamentary participation in the withdrawal of the UK from the EU is both unlawful and unconstitutional.” Judge Lord Doherty on Tuesday confirmed that a full hearing for the legal petition would now take place on 6 September, just days after MPs return from the summer recess.

However, a poll suggests that Boris Johnson would be backed by a majority of the public if he shut down Parliament in order to achieve Brexit. A ComRes study for The Telegraph  found that 44% of the public agree that the Prime Minister “needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending Parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs from stopping it”.  37% of the public were opposed to the move, while 19% said they did not know. Boris has repeatedly refused to rule out the controversial move,  sparking an outcry from MPs  and warnings it would prompt a constitutional crisis.

No Deal

Political monitoring consultants, Dods, set out seven scenarios by which Parliamentary alliances could prevent a no-deal exit (scroll to page 8). This is a mid-July document, the scenarios are still valid and simply explain the constitutional complexities and assess the likelihood of stopping no deal.

As time progresses and the likelihood of the UK leaving the EU without a deal increases the commentary and analysis of the no deal scenario has proliferated. The House of Commons Library have produced a briefing paper giving links to a range of 2019 publications by private sector organisations, think tanks, research institutes and other academic institutions on a no-deal exit from the EU. The papers consider the general political, constitutional and economic implications of a no-deal Brexit rather than its effects in particular sectors.

And you won’t have missed Corbyn’s bold move to cement no deal opposition by seizing power for a care taking Government to prevent crashing out of the EU, followed closely by a general election.

Trade Deals: Two day visit by John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, has set out that America is keen to make post-Brexit trade deals with the UK. The deals are likely to be piecemeal starting with key quick win sectors and progressively continuing on to encompass other areas.

Degree Apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships are four years old and the OfS conducted research to find out what motivated these earlier adopters to choose a degree apprenticeship instead of the traditional full time undergraduate study route. Their report finds:

  • Achieving a degree whilst earning a salary was the most motivating factor for 90% of level 6 and 92% of level 7 students. The OfS believe this is because degree apprenticeships represent value for money and are a kickback to the cost and level of student debt accrued through the traditional route.
  • 38% of level 6 students would have undertaken the traditional degree if they hadn’t chosen the apprenticeship. OfS state this demonstrates degree apprenticeships are seen as an alternative to traditional HE degrees by many. Two thirds of students (at both levels) determined for themselves that degree apprenticeships would be the best fit for their needs.
  • 90% (L6) and 78% (L7) believe the degree apprenticeship boosted their career by advancing them more quickly than a traditional degree could.
  • Level 6 and 7 respondents have different educational and employment backgrounds and different motivational drivers
    • Level 6 learners tended to be younger, often recently joining the labour market and typically described the degree apprenticeship as a way to kick start their careers. It was also seen as a good route to achieve self-employment.
    • Level 7 respondents tended to be older and were more likely to have different motivations behind attaining a degree apprenticeship, such as retraining to keep pace with the general labour market skill level and achieving career progression.
  • The Level 7 respondents found that the employer was pivotal in providing information on degree apprenticeships but also advice and support. [Interesting given the claims that current careers support signposts to a traditional degree route rather than alternatives.] Whereas Level 6 respondents relied on their friends and family for advice and support. [It seems reasonable that the age profile difference is a factor in where the student sought advice from here.]However, the OfS believe this access to advice reinforces the assumption that workforce development and retraining are important motivators among Level 7 respondents where Level 6 apprentices view it as a way into employment.

The report concluded: With 31% of Level 6 respondents coming to degree apprenticeships directly from schools, sixth form colleges and other education routes there must be information and guidance on degree apprenticeships here as well. This will help to ensure learners understand the available options so maximising the potential of degree apprenticeships. Expanding the number of employers who support degree apprenticeships is also important to not only the supply of degree apprenticeships, but also to ensure this source of information is able to adequately promote degree apprenticeships among potential learners.

Young Aspirations

More recently, the Sutton Trust and Ipsos Mori have published a report following their survey into 11-16 year olds’ University Aspirations and Attitudes to HE.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of young people said they’d be interested in doing an apprenticeship rather than going to university, if one was available for a job they wanted to do. Meanwhile, just under two-thirds (65%) said they think it’s important to go to university. This has fallen from a high of 86% in 2013, with the proportion who feel that going to university is not important rising from 11% in 2013 to 20% in 2019.

Key Findings:

  • Almost nine out of 10 (85%) said it’s important to be confident to do well and get on in life. Three quarters felt that having connections was crucial, with 75% saying that ‘knowing the right people’ is important for success in life.
  • University was deemed less important for young people from the least affluent families (61% compared with 67% in ‘high affluence’ households), and white pupils (62% compared with 75% of young people from a BME background).
  • Three-quarters (77%) of young people think they’re likely to go on to higher education after school. This is a similar rate to the past few years, but slightly below the high of 81% in 2013.
  • Of the young people who said it was unlikely they would go into higher education, the most common set of reasons (62%) was they don’t like the idea or don’t enjoy learning or studying. 43% cited a financial reason, while 41% said that they weren’t clever enough or wouldn’t get good enough exam results to get in.
  • Two-fifths (40%) of young people who are likely to go to university or who aren’t sure either way yet, are worried about the cost of higher education, down from 46% in 2018. However, money worries continue to be pronounced for young people from the least affluent families (50% compared with 32% in ‘high affluence’ households) and for girls over boys (44% vs 36%).

Sutton Trust make the following recommendations:

  • All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers.
  • Maintenance grants, abolished in 2016, should be restored
  • The government should introduce a system of means-tested fees which waives fees entirely for those from low income background
  • There should be more higher and degree apprenticeships, targeted at younger age groups, to give young people a platform for progression to higher level learning and careers, including through university.

Gordon Marsden MP, Labour’s Shadow Higher Education Minister, responding to the downturn in HE aspirations, stating:

These figures show how badly this government has failed young people. As a result, more students are expressing doubts about higher education. Young people are paying the price for a system that burdens them with debt, and doesn’t provide the guidance and support they need. We need to support young people. That’s why Labour will restore EMA, and scrap fees for college and university. We’ll also scrap university offers based on predicted grades and implement a new fairer system of post-qualification admissions.

Labour’s Education Proposals

In addition to stimulating the post qualification admissions debate earlier this month Labour published their interim Lifelong Learning Commission report which informs the Party’s proposals for a national education service from cradle to grave. Interesting are the points they identify as inadequate in the current education and funding system. It mainly picks up on the same themes as the Conservatives have highlighted – FE, disadvantage, retraining due to fourth industrial revolution job changes, and part time students – albeit with stronger emphasis on FE and more flexible/shorter study models. A major departure from Government thinking is their criticism of apprenticeships:

Apprenticeships and Further Education Reforms: The push toward apprenticeships as the primary choice for training has been at the expense of shorter, more flexible modes of training. Not all adults are in a position to be able to commit to the minimum duration required by an apprenticeship, and apprenticeships are often not the most appropriate form of learning for adults who already have substantial employment experience. 

Student Loans

Paula Sussex, the (relatively) new CEO of the Student Loans Company, made an interesting speech to a NUS Conference. It has a clear tone of doing better by their ‘customers’ and explains recent changes made to improve the service and make it more digitally enabled.

Loan Debt

The Labour Party have analysed Government projects and estimate that graduate student debt interest will rise by £4.2bn to £8.6bn by 2024.  DfE figures show this rise is due to the post-2012 undergraduate loans 6.3% interest charge. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that less than 20% of graduate will fully pay back their student loans.

According to the House of Commons Library, the cash value of loans has increased from below £6 billion (2011-12) to £15 billion (2017-18) and is forecast to reach in excess of £20 billion in 2023-24. This increase is driven primarily by higher fees from 2012, but also replacing grants with loans and expansion of loans to part-time and postgraduate students. The ultimate cost to taxpayer is currently thought to be around 47% of the loan value.

What affect could the intentions of the Augar review have on this?

The Augar Review recommended a headline cut to tuition fees, the return to maintenance grants and a cut to interest during study to RPI + 0%. It also suggested a cut to the repayment threshold from £25,000 to £23,000 in today’s money, and an increase in the repayment term from 30 to 40 years. The final change recommended by Augar was a repayment cap equal to 1.2 times the value of the loan.

The IFS estimate that the full package of these reforms would overall create a system that was considerably less “leaky”, with roughly 50% of graduates paying off their loans under the Augar model compared to less than 20% under the current system.

The proposed Augar system has mixed effects for social demographics:

  • Highest earners would see reductions in their repayments of around £30,000 in today’s money (and we know disadvantaged students struggle to access the top paying jobs).
  • Middle earners would see increases of around £15,000.
  • The biggest winners would be those in the top 10% of lifetime earners who grew up in low income households qualifying them for the full maintenance grant; those people could expect to see reductions in lifetime repayments of approximately £40,000

Augar – University funding

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee have published Science research funding in universities considering the Augar Review’s implications for Science Research Funding within HE. The report criticises the Augar review for failing to take a holistic approach to the funding of universities and recognises that the current research system is being cross-subsided by other areas of funding in the higher education ecosystem, including international student fees. The report recommends that if the Government follows any of the recommendations of the review relating to tuition fees, it must implement them as a full financial package, including increasing the teaching grant to cover the loss of tuition fees, to ensure that universities are no worse off than they are now. The report expresses concern that the proposals would erode the autonomy of universities. In particular, the proposal that the Office for Students should determine the value of teaching grant awarded to individual institutions for different subjects.

Funding/Augar:

  • QR funding is vital in allowing universities to cover the full economic cost of research, and in helping universities to fund research infrastructure which is often not covered by other sources of funding. QR funding must rise by at least the rate of inflation and the deficit that has been created since 2010 should be addressed.
  • Reducing the tuition fee cap in England to £7,500 without compensating universities for this loss in full by increasing the teaching grant will result in significant financial consequences for universities. The immediate casualties of such a reduction in income will likely be widening-participation programmes, student experience, infrastructure maintenance and repair, and the hands-on elements of courses.
  • The Augar Review recommends that the social and economic value of different subjects be determined by the Office for Students, taking account of the subject’s relative importance with respect to alignment with the Government’s Industrial Strategy and a range of other factors such as the financial viability of the university and its contribution to the local economy. This recommended process is far from straightforward and is certain to be controversial. We are concerned that it will be fraught with difficulties and that it will remove autonomy from universities.
  • Whoever has the responsibility for determining the value of teaching grant awards must do so using clear metrics to assess the impact on the research base. Given the complex nature of the cross-subsidies universities employ in managing their finances, seemingly small disruptions to inputs could have significant unintended consequences for research.

Brexit:

  • We urge the Government to associate the UK with Horizon Europe as soon as possible, to ensure certainty and stability for researchers in universities and industry.
  • Public funding for research in universities after Brexit should seek to replace not just the amount of funding but the areas it supports, like discovery research and scientific infrastructure and facilities. It is important to the scientific community that the basis for awarding funding is research excellence.
  • Retaining the mobility of researchers after Brexit is vital to ensuring the UK can continue to attract the best researchers and meet its research and development goals. The Government must ensure post-Brexit immigration laws do not hinder the ability of UK universities to recruit and retain the scientific staff they require, including technicians earning below the recommended salary threshold. In doing so the Government must also give consideration to amending immigration laws relating to families and dependants of those scientific staff.

With Jo Johnson back in the Universities Minister hot seat the implementation of (elements of) Augar will be closely watched. Jo was resistant to the review in the first place, often urging the sector to ‘pipe down’ and not call for the HE Review to take place. His refusal to support the review was one of the factors in his step down from the Ministerial responsibilities.  Upon publication Jo remained opposed to the outcome of Augar tweeting: “Looks like Augar (as predicted) will destabilise uni finances, imperil many courses & reverse progress in widening access. Reducing fees to £7.5k will leave funding hole HMT won’t fill + benefit only highest earning grads at expense of general taxpayer. Bad policy, bad politics”.

Changes to fees and loans

The Department for Education has published a Written Ministerial Statement on Higher Education Student Finance:  https://bit.ly/2LAO5cn  Made by: Chris Skidmore (The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation) (The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation).

Key Points:

  • Maximum tuition fees for the 2020/21 academic year in England will be maintained at the levels that apply in the 2019/20 academic year, the third year in succession that fees have been frozen. This means that the maximum level of tuition fees for a standard full-time course will remain at £9,250 for the 2020/21 academic year.
  • Maximum undergraduate loans for living costs will be increased by forecast inflation (2.9%) in 2020/21. And the same increase will apply to maximum disabled students’ allowances for students with disabilities undertaking full-time and part-time undergraduate courses in 2020/21.
  • Maximum loans for students starting master’s degree and doctoral degree courses from 1 August 2020 onwards will be increased by forecast inflation (2.9%) in 2020/21. And the same increase will apply to the maximum disabled students’ allowance for postgraduate students with disabilities in 2020/21.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2020/21 late in 2019 or early in 2020. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Government will consider the recommendations of the independent panel to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, published on 30 May 2019, and will conclude the review at the Spending Review later this year.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New business this week:

Did you know you can view all of BU’s older inquiries and consultation responses here?

Other news

AI: The Financial Times have two interesting articles on AI. First using AI for legal mediation and a second future focussed article which considers implants chips into a young brain to mimic thoughts and behaviour and learn how to simulate the biological brain by adulthood.

Foundation Years: A HEPI blog explores all that is valuable and good for students choosing to undertake a Foundation Year before commencing their degree level study. The blog responds to the dismissive tone of the Augar report which suggested universities were using this extra year to line their pockets at the expense of the student and taxpayers.

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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 26th July 2019

The Policy Update will take a break for a few weeks followed by a bumper edition catching you up with the summer news.  We realise that this is poor timing given everything that is happening but we offer you some great links to use instead:

New PM and administration

The PM gave his first statement to the House of Commons.  Interestingly he did chunks of it facing his own side.  And very fast.

  • The deal is dead
  • The backstop is dead – a time limit is not enough
  • Ready to negotiate an alternative in good faith
  • Does not accept that any of the UK needs to stay in the single market or customs union
  • Steadfastly committed to the Good Friday Agreement
  • Preparing for no deal is a top priority in case it is necessary
  • Absolute commitment to 31st October
  • And repeated a lot of yesterday’s spending pledges on education, health, social care, police etc
  • He has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to come up with a new plan on immigration – referring again to the Australian points based system

You can catch up on the appointments to cabinet via the BBC here, who will presumably also list the more junior roles as they come out over the next few days.

This from Conservative Home: “Remainers and Leavers alike can converge on a shared point.  Vote Leave helped to create Brexit.  Let their leaders now own it.  If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – one can scarcely complain when it’s delivered.”

One of the most interesting from a Brexit point of view is the appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg and leader of the House of Commons, which puts him in pole position to go up against Speaker Bercow over Parliamentary efforts to block a no-deal Brexit.  Rees-Mogg made his first appearance on Thursday.   Lots of laughing as he said pretty much nothing at all.  He said prorogation was an archaic mechanism and the PM has said that he does not want to see archaic mechanisms used.  He was vague on recesses.  He also said that Parliamentary motions cannot overrule legislation – motions of course being the tool that rebels and opposition of all sides have used a lot this last year.  And Theresa May used to take notice of the will of the house as indicated by motion.  I wrote a while ago that those wishing for a change might regret it because the new government are very unlikely to take as much notice.

The press is full of profiles of new PMs and his cabinet, many of them character assassinations, some massively supportive.

And everyone is lobbying – from the EU saying “we already have a deal but we can look at the political declaration” to UUK saying that he needs to look at post-study visas and participation in EU research programmes, and everything in between.  Like he’ll be listening to any of that for the next three days – he has plenty of other things to do.  Let’s get going, dude.

And views of the outcome of all this – either we have an election in short order with a landslide for the Conservatives, or we have an election with a desperately hung Parliament, or we have no election at all.  Either way I still think we are likely to leave the EU without a deal in October.  because even if we have one/call one before October an election is unlikely to change anything as far as the EU are concerned.  And I still don’t see that many Tories voting down the government.  Yet.   Matt Hancock ruled out an election deal with the Brexit Party – of course it isn’t up to him (although he did keep his job).

But the PM also seemed to (more or less sort of) rule it out earlier this week.  And Jo Swinson has ruled out a Lib Dem deal with Labour.  So unless we have a smooth exit (with a deal, or less bad than expected without one), followed by a Tory landslide (still possible), we may be headed for Italian style politics based on minority governments and frequent changes of leader for some time yet.

The new leader of the Lib Dems has asked Jeremy Corbyn to call for a vote of no confidence on Thursday.  This is very unlikely to happen.

Will there be a spending review?  Interesting blog from the Institute for Government:

  • If the spending review had run on Philip Hammond’s time-table then it would already be underway, but it now looks like a very tall order to complete a three-year spending review before an autumn Budget.
  • This is partly because of uncertainty about Brexit. Without knowing when and how it will happen, it is difficult to predict the economic and fiscal consequences – this makes decisions about spending across government departments ever harder to make.  
  • It is also about political head space. Can a new Chancellor, a new Chief Secretary and new Ministers in charge of most spending departments really sort out a spending review in only a few months? Do they even have the time to attempt it while Brexit still dominates their attention morning, noon and night?
  • There has been speculation that the Budget may be brought forward to September. This would make it impossible to undertake a spending review. So an early decision for Sajid Javid will be whether to defer the spending review to 2020 and instead attempt a much more limited exercise this year to patch up public service budgets for 2020/21

It may all change by September but remember that MPs have gone back to their constituencies on Thursday.  No more late night make or break votes.   They are not due back until 3rd September and then they are expected to break again for conferences for three weeks in mid September into October.  The PM doesn’t need to prorogue Parliament – they are hardly meeting.  So all the politics will happen behind closed doors or through the press between now and early September, at least.

The government, of course, will not go on holiday – the PM has said he in a hurry and it will be a busy summer.

Meanwhile with a focus on the sector, Nick Hillman has written for Research Professional a characteristically positive blog about the prospects for HE under a Johnson government, not least a positive attitude to HE and research, a relaxed attitude to immigration and (as a classics graduate) perhaps a less reductionist view of value for money in education.

  • In fact, the traits that have damaged recent prime ministers have all been known before they took office.
  • We knew Blair was too eager to please long before he sought to please George Bush without proper scrutiny. We knew that Gordon Brown lacked the social skills that make for happy teams and electoral victories. We knew Cameron liked to take risks and enjoyed winging it a bit too much. And we knew that Theresa May was inflexible long before she became prime minister.
  • Now we know that Johnson is entering Number 10 famed for his stunts, sunny optimism and constructive ambiguity. Whether these are the characteristics we need to see us through the next few years, only time will tell.

And in terms of the sector appointments?

Jo Johnson is back in what looks like his old job at BEIS and DfE, as Minister for Business, Energy, Industrial Strategy….and Education.  That looks like universities.  Is it called education to reflect a view that the post-18 review and Augar had a point and that the integration of post 18 education will be a real thing (and that at least some of Augar, in that sense, will be implemented?).  Or is it something more broad?

He will report to Andrea Leadsom (grammar school; University of Warwick, Political Science), as business secretary and Gavin Williamson (comprehensive school; BSc in Social Sciences from the University of Bradford) as Education secretary.  And Jo Johnson (Eton; Balliol College, Oxford, Modern History) will sit in cabinet – which this post has not done for some time. We don’t know what Gavin Williamson’s and Andrea Leadsom’s views are on Augar (or anything else related to education). Of course one priority is clear, the promise made outside No 10 yesterday about “levelling up funding for primary and secondary schools”.

Not all the details of junior ministers have been released, the focus has been on the cabinet.   So maybe Chris Skidmore will stay as universities minister under Jo Johnson?  As at the time of writing is still unclear.

Nick Hillman also recommended in a HEPI blog leaving Chris Skidmore in place as Minister.  He has been MUCH less negative than Jo Johnson or Sam Gyimah.  Interestingly different takes on this one on Thursday morning.  The sector generally liked Chris Skidmore.  He was positive and supportive.  He didn’t like talking about “bums on seats” or 3Ds.  He talked a lot about research and research funding.  He seemed to get it.  Some people have welcomed the return of Jo Johnson, who is opposed to Augar and is pro-immigration (Boris is also pro-immigration).

But we seem to have short memories.  Jo Johnson started the bums on seats line of thinking.  He created the interventionist system we have now with its focus on encouraging alternative providers (which many worry about) and in which the OfS will not prop up failing universities.  At the end of this term in office he was very critical and negative of the sector.  Many were pleased to see him go.  He may well support 3D floors on entry – as an alternative way of limiting supply instead of cutting fees (which he has said he opposes).  He invented the TEF and the KEF.  He also invented subject level TEF, which the sector was hoping would be abandoned after Dame Shirley Pearce reports on the TEF (soon?). He got all tangled up the (largely spurious, made-up stories) freedom of speech battle towards the end of his tenure.

Wonkhe have an article by Jim Dickinson, who also reminds us that Jo Johnson also stirred up the snowflake student stuff and grade inflation.

It’s going to be interesting.  But of course it may be that this is a short-lived government and they never get to do anything about the detail.  We’ll see.

Contextual admissions

HEPI have published an opinion poll of students in What do students think of contextual admissions? (HEPI Policy Note 14).

The survey of over 1,000 students shows:

  • three-quarters of full-time undergraduates (73%) think it is harder to achieve good exam results if you grow up in a disadvantaged area – and support is highest at Russell Group, where 81% believe this;
  • most students (72%) also think higher education admissions should take account of applicants’ backgrounds;
  • around half of students (47%) back lower grade offers to those from disadvantaged areas, while nearly as many (45%) oppose the idea – at the most selective universities, a majority (57%) support lower grade offers while 36% oppose them;
  • a minority of students (28%) think contextual admissions would make it ‘harder for students like me’ to get into university, while a majority (53%) disagree;
  • two-thirds (65%) of students do not know if their own university makes contextual grade offers and just 16% are certain that it does; and
  • most students (54%) think those admitted with lower grades would be able to keep up with the course requirements, but four-in-ten students (38%) do not.

Nick Hillman, HEPI’s Director who wrote the Foreword to the report, said:

  • Giving disadvantaged applicants lower entry offers is one of the most controversial things that universities do. But there is a secure evidence base for it, as many people underperform at school and college because of their personal circumstances.
  • Amazingly, despite the controversy about and evidence for, contextualised offers, we haven’t known what students think of them. This, rightly, concerns the Office for Students.
  • Our poll shows the principles behind contextual offers are widely accepted by students, who believe disadvantage applicants need a boost. Yet most students don’t know if their own university awards contextual offers and only half of students think lower entry offers are right.
  • So there is still considerable work to be done on winning over hearts and minds.

Fake news, tribalism and the state of public debate

We thought this period – quieter on specific HE policy although not quiet on national politics, would be a good opportunity to reflect on some bigger issues.  This reflection is a sad one; it took us to fake news, tribalism and the state of public debate.

Starting with public debate – perhaps the state we are in was epitomised by the recent Tory leadership debates.  Shouty people, mostly men, talking over each other, not listening to either questions or responses, trying to make the three points they had on their “must say” list rather than respond to the question.  Despite this, trying to show empathy with the questioner (lots of use of their first names when they could remember them).  Ignoring and speaking over the person trying to run the debate.  Desperately repeating a small number of phrases over and over again (did anyone know Jeremy Hunt was once an entrepreneur?).  Essentially they looked either like a poorly run Oxford Union debate or a dysfunctional family Christmas lunch.  (Maybe that is really what Christmas lunch was like for the Johnson family last year.)

But of course those were staged events, in an unreal situation.  The general public wasn’t really the audience, the electors were.  So perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about them.

So what about the state of public debate more widely?  To say it is polarised would be understating it.

There’s a Conversation article you might find interesting.

I found this US article about fake news in Psychology Today.  And it is terrifying to hear that there are people who don’t believe that the moon landings were real.  But the problem I wanted to think about was the impact of people in the public eye telling lies.  Or at least being economical with the truth.  Or at least making promises they break, and perhaps never intended to keep.  These all suggest that that the person doesn’t care.  It is all about the impact of the statement in the moment.  It assumes that the listener doesn’t care either.  So Trump can say things that are clearly not true, and his supporters don’t care.  He doesn’t care, because it won’t make any difference to the people who don’t support him.  So he can land a message about democratic congresswomen and move on.  It may not gain him any supporters, but it may deepen support amongst his existing base, because one of the things they admire him for, is saying the unsayable.

And he doesn’t really expect people to take it seriously.  All that stuff about the ambassador, and taking him off the invitation list – I don’t know, but it looked to me as if he didn’t really expect him to resign.  It could have blown over.  Are we doing the wrong thing in taking it all too seriously?

But of course we need to take it seriously, because if we don’t this sort of thing will become even more normal.  We will all adopt a cynical approach to everything.  And in fact, we probably already have.  Which brings us back to fake news – because we are more likely to go back over and over again to the same sources who present a view we agree with – where we can stop being uncomfortably cynical and not question the stories we find in our safe spaces.

Do I have a conclusion?  Not really.  It’s just worrying.  It’s good to know that this is something that BU staff are engaged with.  And I went back to the conclusion of that Psychology Today article:

  • Strive to make critical thinking your automatic reaction to online encounters with news and other information. This won’t make you invulnerable and incapable of making missteps, of course.
  • Do not forget for one second that you are under constant threat of intellectual assault from countless throngs of deluded believers pushing endless streams of baloney and madness. There also are countless profit-motivated, agenda-driven, and just plain dishonest companies and people who show up and work hard every day with the aim of fooling you for their own gain. Defend your mind.
  • I find some reason for hope and optimism amid the current explosion of fake news we are experiencing. There is a chance that people finally will be forced, after being suckered one too many times, to recognize and admit the obvious: We must think before we believe. Maybe financial cost, political exploitation, or just plain humiliation will motivate more of us to finally become our own editors and stop trusting every story that comes along. And that would be progress.”

It would.  But alongside that we also need to remember that just because this is true, not everyone is bad.  And maybe trying to understand the perspective of someone we disagree with would also be progress.  Perhaps politicians could try that.  Some people believe that this will be our new PM’s greatest strength.  Let’s hope so.  In his own words “it is time to get on with it”.  Looking at the make-up of the cabinet, though, and the things being said about it already, things haven’t started well.

Subscribe!

To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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