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HE Policy Update w/e 14th July 2017

Learning gain pilot projects – HEFCE published the first annual report looking at the 13 pilot projects that are looking at how to measure learning gain and the value of the data that such measurements will produce.  The final reports won’t be for a while – and then it will be interesting to see what happens.

  • Learning gain has been suggested by many as a better measure of student outcome and teaching quality than the current metrics used in the TEF. However, to become a core TEF metric there would need to be a national standard measure that was implemented across the sector.  The current position is that institutions are free to include learning gain in their TEF submissions.
  • Of course the QAA or the OfS might start to be interested in any one particular model that they want to become standard.  To make it work nationally there would either have to be mass testing (like SATs for university students) or another national survey alongside NSS and the new Graduate Outcomes  survey (the new name for NewDLHE) – with surveys on enrolment and at other points across the lifecycle.
  • The report suggests embedding measurement “in the standard administrative procedures or formal curriculum” – which means a survey or test through enrolment and as part of our assessment programme.
  • The report notes that some institutions are already using the data that they are getting – for personalised support, in reviewing pedagogy and curriculum, to support promotional work for careers services or with alumni.

Industrial strategy – Greg Clark gave a speech on 10th July about the industrial strategy – notes have not been published, but there has been some tweeting – the main news is that there will be a formal green paper in the autumn. There was a mention of “self-reinforcing clusters that embed productivity via competition and collaboration”, and a repeat of the focus on place. It will be interesting to see what these self-reinforcing clusters look like and how they will be created and supported.

Social Mobility and Widening Participation

Sutton Trust Reports  – The Sutton Trust have published reports on the State of Social Mobility in the UK, Social Mobility and Economic Success, and What the Polling Says

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said Britain had very low social mobility compared with other countries. “Our research shows that if social mobility were brought up to the western European average, GDP would increase by 2.1%, equivalent to a monetary value of £39bn. The government should make improving social mobility a top priority. Alongside other initiatives there needs to be a concerted effort to… provide fairer access to schools and universities and address the numerous social barriers which exist.” Source

Key points include:

  • Public sentiment that people in the UK have’ equal opportunities to get on’ has dropped and only 29% believe today’s youth will have a better quality of life than their parents
  • When asked which measures would most likely improve social mobility and help disadvantaged young people get on in life, almost half of respondents (47%) chose ‘high quality teaching in comprehensive schools’, ahead of two social mobility policies adopted by the main parties in the recent election: ‘lower university tuition fees’ (cited by 23%) and more grammar schools (8%).
  • Without concerted effort, social mobility could deteriorate further due to trends shaping the future of work, including the rise of disruptive technologies, new ways of working, demographic changes and globalisation. Additionally we may see less stable full-time employment, greater demand for technical skills, and an increased value of essential life skills (such as confidence, motivation and communication). This will advantage those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, who typically have greater opportunities to develop these skills.
  • There has been a large increase in demand for STEM jobs. Studies show that there is a greater proportion of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in STEM subjects than in other subjects such as law and medicine. This could be positive for social mobility as the demand for STEM skills grows. In addition, technology could also create more opportunities for individuals to re-skill themselves through the use of free/low cost online learning platforms (such as MOOCs).
  • A modest increase in the UK’s social mobility (to the average level across Western Europe) could be associated with an increase in annual GDP of approximately 2%, equivalent to £590 per person or £39bn to the UK economy as a whole (in 2016 prices). One factor driving this relationship is the fact that improved social mobility should lead to an improvement in the match between people and jobs in society. Greater mobility means both that the talents of all young people are recognised and nurtured, and that the barriers to some jobs are reduced—these entry barriers exist because of biases in recruitment processes or inequality of educational opportunity.

Recommendations:

  • State schools must do more to develop “soft” or “essential life skills” in less advantaged pupils, through a richer programme of extra-curricular activities.
  • Promotion of the apprenticeship model and vocational tracks, including the new ‘T-levels’ will be needed to ensure the supply of skills meets the demand in the labour market. Apprenticeships should combine workplace training with off-site study, and lead to a professional accreditation. There should be a focus on higher and advanced apprenticeships, along with automatic progression.
  • More should be done to increase the study of STEM subjects (particularly among women) to ensure young people are equipped for the changing world of work.

Mary Stuart blogs for Wonkhe: Social mobility can be much more than just widening HE access. Excerpt:  what does this all mean for the work of universities to support upward social mobility? The focus on social mobility already grows our remit beyond widening access towards considering added value and employment. Our role as anchor institutions takes this further, to incorporate the wider economic and societal environment into which our students will graduate. Drawing together the breath of university activities in this way is particularly important for institutions operating in those areas that are seeking to catch up: it can include our work with schools, the design of new courses to meet employer demand, and expanding our provision into further education and more diverse delivery of higher education.

Schools – Justine Greening’s speech at the Sutton Trust Social Mobility Summit 2017 as (reported on the BBC):Education Secretary Justine Greening has announced the creation of an “evidence champion” who will make sure that decisions on improving schools in England are based on real evidence.  “We have a lot of evidence about what works in schools, but it’s not spread within the school system,” she said. Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, will be the first to take the role. Ms Greening said her top priority would be to improve social mobility

Widening ParticipationIn a compelling article, “I went from care to Cambridge University. Let me show you where the barriers are”, a care-leaver student writes about the cultural and psychological barriers she faced at university and urges institutions to do more than just facilitate access and bursaries to HE for WP students. She touches on the persistence of unhelpful messages about “not for the likes of us”, discouragement, peer attitudes and lack of awareness, alongside the general challenges a child in care has to overcome.

  • “Many solutions have been proposed, such as lowering entry grades for students from marginalised backgrounds, which I support. But such remedies will only ever help the tiniest fraction of those targeted, as so few care leavers even get to the point where a lower grade requirement may allow them to apply. Instead, what is needed is a radical overhaul of the way we conceive of social mobility in this country: from the merely economic, to the cultural. And the government needs to ensure that everyone – no matter their postcode or budget – has access to culture, literature, art, politics and science: not just at school, but in their neighbourhood and community. Studying these subjects needs to feel possible for children and young people from all backgrounds. There’s a reason why I’ve succeeded where others like me have stumbled: a reason that’s not related to my hard work, tenacity, or intellect … for most of my childhood I was surrounded by books, art and culture. It was not a lofty dream for me to apply to university. In my experience, nobody gets anywhere worth going without some degree of privilege. Our most important job is not to celebrate those who might have “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps”, but to ensure that those born with little social privilege have access to the information and cultural advantages that most people reading this can probably take for granted.”

Applications – the national picture

UCAS statistics have confirmed a 4% drop in full time applications nationally within the 2017 cycle. Particularly notable is the 19% reduction in nursing applications (attributed to the removal of bursaries and new fee paying status), alongside a 96% fall in EU nurses seeking to work in the UK.

They  also report a 5% decrease in EU applications to HE institutions, offset slightly by the predicted slight rise in overseas applications. Applications from mature students continues to fall, which has also shows up in the nursing applications.

Media coverage

Independent Providers – The Independent HE Survey 2017 highlights few changes to the make-up of independent providers. They remain relatively small organisations that are industry-focussed and often deliver specialist programmes through varying models and durations. The survey found that 55% of independent providers believe the Higher Education and Research Act changes will benefit their institution and only 3% do not plan to register with the Office for Students. The independent sector with their specialist business focussed delivery are well placed to capitalise on the parliamentary drive for industrial strategy, productivity and competitiveness, alongside the reviews of tertiary education and the ripple effects from the shake up of apprenticeships. 22% of independent providers plan to apply for Taught Degree Awarding Powers. The majority of independent providers support a different funding model across tertiary education, with 60% pressing for funding based on academic credit, not the academic year. Of the independent providers surveyed 50% offer part-time and flexible learning (a current government and OFFA priority), 40% offer online, distance and blended learning, 16% run accelerated degree programmes and 10% offer apprenticeships – all of which the Government are pressing traditional HE institutions to do more of.

Graduate outcomes – On Thursday HESA published their Experimental Statistical First Release on Destinations of UG leavers from alternative providers (in 2015/16).

EU (Repeal) Bill – The EU (Repeal) Bill was presented at Parliament on Thursday. See BU’s policy pages for the background and controversial aspects of this element of Brexit legislation.   It is described by the government as “technical in nature rather than a vehicle for major policy changes”.  It repeals the European Communities Act 1972, but as so much UK legislation and rules are dependent on (and cross refer to) EU rules, there are two more controversial aspects.  Firstly, it converts EU law into UK law – preserving existing law as it is, un-amended (but ready to be amended later in the usual way – and then, most controversially, it gives ministers “temporary powers” to “correct” the transposed law if it does not function effectively.  These changes will be made in statutory instruments subject to parliamentary oversight (but these generally get less debate than primary legislation, and the likely volume of them will make long debate very difficult – estimated at 800-1000 statutory instruments).   There is a great deal of concern about the correcting powers in particular, but a few practical examples will be needed to see what this means in practice – these will not doubt emerge in the debates on the bill.  The notes say:

“The correcting power can only be used to deal with deficiencies that come as a  consequence of the UK leaving the EU. Deficiencies might include:

  • Inaccurate references. These could include references to EU law or to the UK as a member state.
  • Law that gives the Commission or EU institution a function to provide services or regulate, if the UK and EU agree these arrangements won’t continue.
  • Law that gave effect to a reciprocal or other kind of arrangement between the UK and the European Commission or EU member states. If these arrangements do not continue to exist in practice, the law that gave effect to them will be deficient”

There are specific fact sheets on a number of areas including:

There’s a helpful BBC article here

Tuition fees, student loans etc.  – The debate on tuition fees has continued, read Jane’s updated blog for the Lighthouse Policy GroupThe BBC had a story  summing up the status of the debate.

Select Committee News – On Wednesday MPs voted for select committee chairmanship using the alternative vote method. The number of committees a political party can chair is proportional to the number of seats they hold within the House of Commons. The news surrounding the chairs appointment speculates that Theresa May will face renewed challenge as many of the MPs elected to chair these powerful committees voted to Remain in the Brexit referendum.

  • Robert Halfron (Conservative, Harlow) has been appointed Chair of the Education Select Committee.
  • Rachel Reeves (Labour, Leeds West) has been appointed Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee.
  • Nicky Morgan (Conservative, Loughborough) has been appointed Chair of the Treasury Committee.
  • Normal Lamb (Lib Dem, North Norfolk) has been appointed Chair of the Science and Technology Committee.
  • Damian Collins (Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe) has been appointed Chair of the Culture Media and Sport Committee.
  • Hilary Benn (Labour, Leeds Central) has been appointed Chair of the Exiting the EU Committee.
  • Dr Sarah Wollastone (Conservative, Totnes) has been appointed Chair of the Health Committee.
  • Yvette Cooper (Labour, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) has been appointed Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.
  • Neil Parish (Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton) has been appointed Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee).
  • Stephen Twigg (Labour and Co-operative, Liverpool and West Derby) has been appointed Chair of the International Development Committee.
  • Maria Miller (Conservative, Basingstoke) has been appointed Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.

Parliament enters recess next week (Commons on Thurs 20, Lords on Fri 21). This is the period when MPs return to their constituencies and focus primarily on local matters. Although the select committee chairs are now in place due to recess its likely little business will occur until parliament reconvenes mid-way through the first week of September.

Parliamentary Questions

Thangam Debbonaire (Labour, Bristol West) has tabled a parliamentary question due for answer next week: What recent assessment has been made of the effect of changes in immigration policy on levels of university recruitment?

Lord Jopling has asked: How any higher education provider that does not obtain a Bronze status or higher in future Teaching Excellence Frameworks will be categorised and which HE providers declined to participate in the TEF? (due for response Wed 26 July).

 

Jane Forster                                               Sarah Carter

VC’s Policy Adviser                                    Policy & Public Affairs Officer

 

HE policy update w/e 23rd June 2017

Two items have dominated this week – the Queen’s Speech at the state opening of Parliament, and the TEF results.

Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech sets out the government’s legislative agenda for the session of parliament. In a rare departure this year the parliamentary legislative session is planned to last for two years, instead of one, to accommodate Brexit and the Repeal Bill. Both the Commons and Lords will debate the planned legislative programme for six working days.  Education will be debated on Tuesday 27 June by the Commons and Thursday 29 June by the Lords. Usually during the final days of debate two Opposition amendments are considered and one is voted upon – it will be interesting to see what they pick. The Commons vote on the final motion takes place on Thursday 29 June. The government must win this vote  -although the DUP are likely to support the government, Labour are hovering in the wings ready to capitalise on any opportunity.

The significance of the Queen’s Speech for HE was more about what it did not contain. Across the board many manifesto commitments were absent or lacked detail, but that is not unusual.

Schools were addressed with a commitment to increase the schools budget further and to make schools funding fairer. Furthermore, of importance to HE, in line with the ‘Schools that work for everyone’ consultation, the Queen’s Speech makes reference to encouraging more people, schools and institutions to come forward to help to create more good school places. This falls short of promising legislation to force universities or independent schools to sponsor or open free schools, as mentioned in the manifesto. However, legislation isn’t required to force universities into sponsorship.  We await the next steps in the response to the Schools consultation.  Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner, has tabled the parliamentary question: What her policy is on the involvement of universities in academy sponsorship and the founding of free schools and charging maximum tuition fees. We’ll bring you the response in next week’s policy update. Grammar schools were not mentioned. While the policy has not been officially dropped the BBC cite a DfE source who stated ”the Queen’s Speech was an unambiguous decision not to go ahead with creating more grammar schools”.

The commitment remains to refreshing technical education, funding and delivering the new Institutes of Technology as part of the Industrial Strategy. Angela Rayner has also tabled a parliamentary question on reviewing funding across tertiary education. HEPI published a report on technical and professional education this week.

Immigration – the government pledged “A Bill to establish new national policies on immigration, completed by legislation to ensure that the UK makes a success of Brexit”. The new factor in this debate is the role of the DUP which has indicated it wants a policy that meets the skills needs of Britain. This may not completely dovetail with May’s commitment to the net migration target. In the election aftermath there have been rumours that the government will soften their immigration stance. However, the migration cap was confirmed again by Damien Green on Wednesday.

The Queen’s Speech also addressed Social Care, Mental Health and the tech sector. Please contact Sarah for a summary if these areas interest you.

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

Relish or rubbish it TEF is one of the most significant policy initiatives in recent years. Despite sector opposition and Lords legislative amendments, Jo Johnson’s drive to bring teaching excellence into focus survived largely intact with a review promised in 2019. The categorisation of universities into a single label of Gold, Silver or Bronze gives a highly visible message to the public. A debate rages on how much influence TEF will have on prospective students’ choices and their parents’ opinion. However, including the awards on unistats, and UCAS course pages means that  TEF is a force to be respected.  Jane’s blog for Wonkhe gives a personal perspective – the good outweighs the bad.

What is TEF?

TEF is a government endorsed evaluation of teaching excellence. Wonkhe have a useful beginner’s guide to the TEF which sets out the component parts within the three categories of Teaching Quality, Learning Environment and Student Outcomes and Learning (also see diagram, and explanation of  TEF flags). Controversy within the sector (and Lords debate during the HE and Research Bill) centred on the metrics- which use measures of student experience, retention, and outcomes as a proxy for teaching excellence. In May Jo Johnson stated that TEF was ‘an iterative process’ and would ‘evolve and develop’ over the years. New metrics including LEO will be considered for inclusion as TEF matures.

The government’s aims for TEF are to:

  • Inform prospective student choice
  • Recognise, reward and drive excellent teaching (balancing a research focus at the expense of teaching experience)
  • Inform and meet employer, business and industry needs

Read Wonkhe’s interesting political history of the methods successive policy makers have attempted to drive progress. And HEPI’s (short!) idiots guide to the arguments for and against the TEF.

Participation in TEF was voluntary but most (nearly all in England, fewer in the devolved administrations) chose to participate. TEF is linked to the raising of the higher fee cap.  However, to allow the HE and Research Act to pass swiftly the government agreed to postpone the further link which differentiated the fee cap based on TEF ratings. This has been postponed until 2020 and can only be reinstated after an independent review of TEF has been conducted. Read John Vinney’s research blog which highlights the Lords unease over the TEF fees link as the HE and Research Bill made its way through parliament.

TEF also aligns with the government’s social mobility agenda. The metrics deliberately split out widening participation indicators such as BME and part time students to ensure consideration of these groups at institutional level.

TEF – the outcome

As the data that underlines the metrics are widely published, he sector already had a ball park idea of where institutional ratings would fall, although the subtlety of the individual benchmarking process did make it hard to predict with confidence.  For some the TEF heralds a refreshing shake up of the sector, a move away from research influenced league tables.  For pre-results release comment see TEF will check the most complacent and privileged and Performance management is here to stay, but TEF needs a rethink.

The TEF results for all participating providers were released by HEFCE on Thursday 22 June. At the time of writing the HEFCE TEF webpages were very slow, as an alternative see this Times Higher page which lists all institutions results but not the provider results statements. The Times Higher page also compares each provider’s TEF result with their THE World University Ranking and REF GPA.

As the policy wonks digest the national results picture, questions emerge about the relative influence of the provider statement against metrics, and a good article by Wonkhe provides volumes and information on institutions that were up or downgraded against their initial metric based ranking. There are interesting results analysis tweets and diagrams by the University of Huddersfield.  Chris Husbands, the chair of the TEF, has responded to the reaction with a strong defence of the system on Wonkhe.

Jo Johnson, in the TEF results release, harks back to the original TEF objectives:  “These results, highlighting the extraordinary strengths of our higher education system, will help students choose which university or college to study at. The Teaching Excellence Framework is refocusing the sector’s attention on teaching – putting in place incentives that will raise standards across the sector and giving teaching the same status as research. Students, parents, employers and taxpayers all have a shared interest in ensuring that higher education equips the next generation of graduates for success.”  He also tweeted “Kudos to all 295 institutions that volunteered for the first Teaching Excellence Framework assessment”.

BU’s approach

BU’s continuing approach to TEF reflects our fundamental commitment to Fusion. Read John Vinney’s HEPI blog which addresses the importance of both research and teaching in inspiring learning excellence, and the comments from Professor Holley on this research blog: “BU is unusual in the sector in drawing together preparation for both REF and TEF, mirroring their Fusion agenda of excellence in research, education and professional practice. It is exciting to be at the centre of these policy opportunities, to build synergy in a way that will further enhance the student experience. At BU we pride ourselves on delivering innovative teaching and learning that works for all of our students, regardless of background.”  If you missed it, you can read about BU’s silver award here.

The Future

Amid the excitement of ‘results day’ it is easy to forget that TEF is still evolving. There will be an extended two-year subject level pilot in 2017/18 and 2018/19, with a final version rolled out in 2019/20 (TEF year 5). Despite extensive sector consultation and comment over the past year few decisions have been made about the complexity and level of detail that will dictate the subject level structural framework.  The approach based on many categories of disciplines will most genuinely reflect the learning experience of students but could be  burdensome and costly – some say broader groups will be easier and less time consuming to manage but will have a masking effect by grouping together subjects that don’t really belong together. For example, subjects as diverse as geography and nursing could banded together under a social sciences heading. Subject level TEF will also make labelling harder. How will a silver institution with a range of gold and bronze subject judgements market themselves effectively but unambiguously? Will parents and prospective students (who need clear, simple branding to make decisions) pay more attention to the Gold rating for their intended subject or an overall Bronze for the intended institution? If that doesn’t have you reaching for the headache medication read Wonkhe’s article which delves further into the complexities of subject level TEF.

Also don’t forget postgraduates. Postgraduate TEF was scheduled for TEF year 4 (assessed in 2018-19 based on 2017-18 data); however, many speculate that given the extension of the subject level TEF pilot and the independent review of TEF, as well as everything else, postgraduate TEF may be shelved until further notice.   See Wonkhe’s TEF article about postgraduate TEF.

But with the Bill passed, what will the Universities Minister do during this parliament? Perhaps focus more on the Science and Research part of his portfolio, with the Industrial Strategy and Brexit issues to deal with.

Lastly, at a June Wonkhe TEF conference Mark Jones (HEA) called on the sector to ‘take back control’ of teaching excellence and play a part in developing teaching metrics rather than simply critiquing them. He advocated engaging with Gibbs (2010) Dimensions of quality research and looking at international initiatives as part of potential metric development.  Chris Husbands repeated this call in his blog this week.

Media Coverage

Times Higher has a hub page where they gather together key articles and comment on the TEF, and Wonkhe gather together many articles and blogs whilst also providing key results analysis. You may like eight first lessons from the TEF results.

Media coverage has focussed mostly on the mixed ratings achieved by Russell Group members:

Sector response

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:  ‘The Teaching Excellence Framework would have comprehensively failed if it had simply replicated existing hierarchies. It was always designed to do something different to other league tables and rankings – namely, to show where there are pockets of excellence that have been ignored and to encourage improvements elsewhere.

‘So the fact that some of the results seem surprising suggests it is working. I visit around 50 universities a year so know the Gold ratings have been hard won by committed staff and students and are very well deserved.

‘Nonetheless, in this early guise, the TEF is far from a perfect assessment of teaching and learning. While it tells us a lot of useful things, none of them accurately reflects precisely what goes on in lecture halls. I hope university applicants will use the results in their decision making but they should do so with caution, not least because the ratings are for whole universities rather than individual courses.’

 

Jane Forster                                   Sarah Carter

VC’s Policy Adviser                                    Policy & Public Affairs Officer