Tagged / industrial strategy

HE policy update for the w/e 25th March 2021

Welcome to your catch-up edition of the policy update. We bring you all the news from last week and from this week so far – it’s doom and gloom for research funding.

Parliament rises for Easter recess on 25 March so the Policy Update will be back to its regular slot from w/c 19 April. If there are major HE happenings during recess we’ll bring you a short Easter special!

Research

There’s been a lot of research news in the last ten days. The biggest announcements follow.

FUNDING

The House of Commons Library have a useful research briefing: The future of research and development funding; the webpage also summarises the recent Government funding commitments and announcements made in relation to research funding.

Aid funded projects: Previously UKRI stated most of its aid-funded research projects are unlikely to be funded beyond 31 July as a result of the Government slashing its overseas aid development budget (from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (BNI) exacerbated by a fall in GNI as a result of the pandemic). UKRI wrote to universities with further details about the impact of its £120m budget shortfall. The letter appears to confirm that grants which have been awarded but not started will be cancelled.

Dods report: Christopher Smith, UKRI’s international champion, wrote that the funder will work with the institutions “to maximise the benefits from the limited funding we have available” but that it is “unavoidable that some grants will need to be terminated”. He also said that by reprofiling and reducing grants, UKRI would look for ongoing longer-term awards to remain active. But the situation looks bleak for a many grant holders. “It is our current assessment that we would be unable to provide funding for the majority of awards beyond the amount currently agreed up to 31 July 2021,” Smith wrote, adding that UKRI “will not be liable for the cost of new activities entered into after receipt of this letter”. “The reduction in Official Development Assistance spend also means that we are unable to initiate any new awards where proposals have been submitted but have not reached the grant award stage,” Smith added.

Even the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which provides ODA funding for UKRI, had its allocation halved by the foreign secretary Dominic Raab, from £1.4bn in 2020-21 to £706m for 2021-22. UKRI’s allocation has been almost halved to £125m for the upcoming financial year, despite Raab saying R&D funding is ringfenced. The cuts will also affect large numbers of researchers and project staff overseas who collaborate with UK institutions on ODA-funded projects.

The full UKRI ODA letter is here.

Research Professional report that 10 more UK R&D funders will also see their aid budgets slashed, including:

  • Royal Society
  • Academy of Medical Sciences
  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • British Academy
  • British Council
  • UK Space Agency
  • Met Office

QR funding: Research Professional report that quality related (QR) funding will be cut by £60 million. This is in addition to the cuts to the research relating to the aid budget and the uncertainties surrounding how Horizon association will be funded. See this RP article for far more detail on the various cuts, changes and uncertainties to research related funding streams.

Funding cuts overall:  Greg Clark, ex-BEIS Secretary of State and the current Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Chair, has written to the PM expressing his concern over the funding cuts to scientific research. He states that it is deeply concerning that at the very moment when the whole country recognises the importance of scientific research and when a Government has been elected with a promise to double the budget for research, that the science budget should be facing immediate and substantial cuts involving the cancellation of current research.

He states that leading scientists have expressed alarm at the consequences of:

  • The suggestion that Horizon Europe (£2 billion per year) will be funded from the BEIS science budget instead of additional to the budget as it was whilst the UK was a member of the EU. He highlights it would reduce the UKRI budget to a quarter which would reverse two years of intended increases and mean that the ambition for Britain to be a Science Superpower would be deferred for much of this Parliament
  • The reduction of the ODA budget and that this would have whole-system impacts in the UK and overseas
  • The lack of support for medical research charities suffering fundraising income falls of 41% as a result of the pandemic (other non-research frontline charities have received Government support). He states: It is clearly of huge public importance that medical research that can save millions of lives should not have to be cancelled. The Association of Medical Research Charities proposed a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund to use the Government’s existing commitments to increase science funding to allow these research programmes to continue, but the Government has not yet taken this or something similar forward.

He concludes: In the midst of a global pandemic, where we owe so much to science, and at a time when the Government has rightly chosen to double our national commitment to science, it would be paradoxical if science funding were cut. Knowing how personally important the UK’s strength in science is to you and to the Government, and at this moment of maximum recognition of its impact, I would appreciate your personal attention to resolving this urgent situation.

2.4% GDP research funding target will be missed: Dods: The UK is likely to miss its target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027, analysts have warned, as funding cuts cast doubt on a key pillar of the government’s strategy to rebuild the post-pandemic economy.  A new study published today, accompanied by a blog from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) has shown that governments consistently fail to hit R&D targets linked to GDP and suggested economic uncertainty and progress so far showed the UK was on course to do the same.

BEIS Oral Questions – a non-update on research funding but telling in its own manner. At Oral Questions both Carol Monaghan (SNP Spokesperson for Education) and Chi Onwurah (Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Digital) asked when the UKRI budget would be confirmed, and if funding for association with Horizon Europe would come out of this budget, or a separate pot. Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway, stated that details would be announced “in due course”.

Research Bureaucracy

The Government launched a new independent review into UK research bureaucracy aiming to identify new ways to free up researchers to pursue world-class research by removing unnecessary red tape that wastes the time of UK researchers. It will look to identify practical solutions to bureaucratic issues faced by researcher such as overly complicated grant forms that quire in-depth factual knowledge, a lack of clarity over funding available to researchers, and having to provide the same data multiple time in different formats to different funders. The review will be led by Professor Adam Tickell, VC at University of Sussex. The system-wide review will conclude by early 2022, with interim findings due to be published in autumn 2021. It will involve broad engagement with the whole UK research community, with a particular focus being placed on research undertaken in higher education institutions. Tickell has stated that he is open minded about the outcomes of the review but he does not expect it to result in the abolition of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). We anticipate a call for evidence will be issued as part of the review process. Here are the review’s terms of reference.

Research Professional dive in with their usual welcome irreverent analysis and unpicking of the review details in greater depth here. Their piece begins: Sophocles’s tragedy of Oedipus is the story of a man who sets out to discover who committed the terrible crime that has brought misery to his city, only to find that he was the perpetrator of the deed. The Westminster government has announced a review of university research bureaucracy—could it be about to discover that excess bureaucracy might have something to do with the party that has been in government for the past 10 years? Read on here.

Amanda Solloway, Science & Research Minister, said: As we build back better by unleashing innovation, it’s crucial that we create a research environment that harnesses this same scientific speed and endeavour. This review will identify how we can free up our brightest minds from unnecessary red tape so they can continue making cutting edge discoveries, while cementing UK’s status as a science superpower. The Minister’s words are interesting as they sound more suited to the ARIA announcements.

Ottoline Leyser, CEO of UKRI, commented with warm words too: UKRI welcomes this independent and system-wide review to enable a reduction in unnecessary research bureaucracy, wherever it is found. The goal is to free up time for researchers and innovators to devote to their many vital roles at work and outside it. We are already making strides within our Simpler and Better Funding programme, which aims to make the funding process as user-friendly as possible for applicants, peer reviewers and awardees, as well as those who work with them. We look forward to supporting BEIS in delivering this review and working with them to create a research and innovation system that delivers for everyone.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of UUK: We very much welcome the opportunity to challenge the parts of the research system which can restrict university staff and students from delivering impactful research.

ARIA: The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published the rationale and intended purpose for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) outlining its design principles and financial backing. The new funding agency aims to cement the UK’s position as a science superpower. The full report is available here. The ARIA bill will travel through 3 more hurdles of parliamentary detail before you read this update (there’s even a Library paper summarising the Bill). And the Government means to see this one through as they have even tabled a carry-over motion which would allow the Bill to be carried over to the next parliamentary session if not completed in this session (Parliament is due to be prorogued due to the local elections). So far ARIA has received its second reading and will now be scrutinised line by line at a Public Bill Committee. A shorter summary can be read here.  The Committee will report by 27 April 2021. The Government have not announced where the new agency will be located.

Well worth a read is Wonkhe’s reading-between-the-lines content analysis on what was said during Dominic Cumming’s appearance before the select committee during their examination of ARIA last week. And former science and universities minister Chris Skidmore writes in ConservativeHome advocating for the high-risk-high-reward ARIA model and stating that the shift in the UK’s research model is overdue. He says that projects will undoubtedly fail and there will be accusations of money being wasted, but that these are crucial for the UK’s advancement toward being a science superpower

It is clear that MPs from both sides are broadly supportive of ARIA but questioning where the cost (cuts) will come from to fund the new agency. Research Professional have succinct pithy coverage of this, excerpts: Ed Miliband (Shadow Business Secretary): “[Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to the prime minister] was also at the select committee meeting…saying that Aria would solve the problems of civilisation. That is all very well, but I fear that these cuts seem to be coming right here, right now; and we cannot launch a successful moonshot if we cut off the power supply to the space station.” And: “We support Aria but it deserves clarity. These are people’s jobs. This is incredibly important work and I hope he is fighting with his friends in the Treasury as hard as he can to give people that clarity and avoid the cuts.”

Clinical research: Matt Hancock announced the Government’s vision for the future of clinical research delivery. The NHS will be encouraged to put delivery of research at the heart of everything they do, making it an essential and rewarding part of effective patient care. This means building a culture across the NHS and all health and care settings that is positive about research, where all staff feel empowered and supported to take part in clinical research delivery as part of their job.

More detail here.

Mobility

Welsh Erasmus: The Welsh Government has announced plans for their own new scheme to replace Erasmus+. The new International Learning Exchange will start next year and aims to enable 15,000 participants from Wales to go overseas over the first four years, with 10,000 reciprocal participants coming to study or work in Wales. The Welsh Government is backing the scheme with a £65 million investment starting in academic year 2022/23 with commitment to 2027. The scheme will be developed by Cardiff University in collaboration with education and youth sector partners ahead of its launch. The Welsh programme is intended to:

  • Enable reciprocal exchanges (whether based on physical mobility or co-operation remotely) between educational and training institutions as well as youth work settings in Wales and internationally
  • Support, as far as possible, the entire range of activities which have been available to learners in Wales under the EU’s Erasmus+ programme 2014 – 2020
  • Build on the success of Global Wales in developing links with priority countries across the world, including the US, Vietnam and India, and supporting an ambitious range of scholarships that will attract the best and brightest students from across the world to study in Wales;
  • Ensure that opportunities are available to the widest range of learners and young people, including underrepresented groups, those with additional learning needs and protected characteristics
  • Include additional flexibilities, notably allowing for shorter exchanges involving higher education and support the capacity building necessary to facilitate a wide range of participation.
  • Potentially, it will also support exploratory exchanges to broker international research partnerships
  • Align closely with the Welsh International Strategy

The full written statement from the Welsh Government is here.

So while Welsh institutions will be able to participate in the Turing Scheme in 2021-22, they will also continue to benefit from Erasmus+ exchanges deferred from last year due to the pandemic and the new scheme. The Welsh Government said its scheme would fill the gaps Turing leaves. There is a comparison of the schemes on Twitter which makes the similarities and contrasts stark. Of course Scotland has been particularly vocal in their consternation of the Turing scheme and has been campaigning to rejoin the EU Erasmus+ programme. However, the EU appear to have turned Scotland’s hopes away  with Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen stating that as a “constituent nation” of the UK, Scotland could not associate independently with the scheme.

The BBC, the Guardian and the Independent cover the Welsh scheme, and Wonkhe have a blog –  replacement for Erasmus puts Welsh higher education firmly on the map.

Turing Troubles

The Friday before last the window for institutions to apply for funding for 2021/22 through the Turing scheme opened up. The programme guide is here. Grumbles abound for the financial (lack) of coverage for the scheme – see the Independent, and the latest programme guidance from the Government notes that there may be less financial support overall through Turing than there was through Erasmus.

Meanwhile last week English universities floundered at the complexities involved in drawing down the Turing funding within the very short window of opportunity – this Research Professional article highlights the difficulties:

  • [After the release of information and webinars]…leaving just 16 days to complete the form, including one weekend and the Easter holidays—it’s actually nine working days, including the day of submission.
  • Only one submission can be made per institution. The application form requires some poor soul to list every single student exchange activity across every discipline in their university for the next 12 months. So, for example, if one student in geography is heading out to Prague in October, that has to be logged alongside the cohort of 40 engineers heading to Toulouse in December. It all has to be based upon projections—including coming up with a number for how many disadvantaged students will be involved—and will be subject to revision during reporting of how many of those engineering students actually made it on to the plane.
  • It would be fair to say that there were more questions than answers at the webinars. As one clearly frustrated participant posted in the Teams chat: “The whole application seems like an enormous amount of work. The word count for the first section is 8,500 words, plus 500 words for every month students start, plus a breakdown by country. This was advertised as less administratively burdensome than Erasmus, but that doesn’t seem to have been the outcome.”
  • … Apart from the obvious weakness in the scheme—it does not have much of the functionality of Erasmus and will fund fewer people—the rollout of the scheme is proving to be both a rushed job and a burden for universities.
  • That is not unexpected. It is an obvious outcome of trying to replace a genuinely ‘world-class’ international exchange scheme with a cut-price domestic alternative in three months

Turing is not the popular replacement scheme the Government intended.

Parliamentary News

New Shadow Universities Minister: Research Professional (RP) have interviewed new shadow universities minister Matt Western. Confirming the job offer was a surprise and acknowledging his lack of professional HE prior focus. However, RP state they see evidence of passion from the shadow universities minister. Read the interview in more depth here. Some excerpts:

  • “I have a real concern about where this government wants to take the higher education sector,” he says. “The question is: What is their ideology? What is the belief about the value of higher education?
  • He questions the recent research cuts – I’m extremely worried about it, because we have a sector which is not just regarded globally as excellent but which actually has huge scientific research, cultural and social value—and which makes a massive contribution to us as a nation. In all those senses, it’s something we should be building on, not cutting,” he says. And goes on to confirm support for ARIA but fears a zero sum game: “The government wants to put money into the Aria scheme, which I’m not against—actually, I’m positive about the Aria scheme—but my concern is that this is going to be a substitutional [investment] and the money is going to be found from elsewhere.”
  • He criticises the Government’s obsession with free speech on campus as poor prioritisation: “This is a government that seems to be unable to get its priorities right, other than making attacks on ideology,” Western says. “[Williamson] is a secretary of state in a government that has no appreciation of the value of our universities and has decided to go on the attack in some sort of culture war.”

The article states Western is cognizant of student concerns (Warwick University and many students reside within his constituency) and he wrote to private landlords to urge leniency in rent rebates (to no effect), is a supporter of the blended learning approach universities have provided throughout the pandemic, worries for student mental health and believes more hardship funding should be provided by the Government. He confirms Labour’s manifesto position to abolish tuition fees.

On Turing: “The Turing scheme sounds…like not even a half-baked idea at the moment,” he says. “The amount of coordination and work that needs to go in to deliver it…It is almost as if the government has deliberately designed it so that they’ll get very few people taking up the scheme.” And on Turing’s short deadlines: “How on earth you’re supposed to turn that round in [such a short time], goodness only knows,” Western says. “Just the administration and bureaucracy of it will, I think, impact very negatively and you could see very few people taking it up as a result—and I think that is shocking.”

Adult Skills & Learning Response: The Education Committee  published the Government response to its report on adult skills and lifelong learning (A plan for an adult skills and lifelong learning revolution).  The Committee called for an ambitious and long-term strategy and identified four key pillars to revolutionise the adult education system. In short, the Government response mainly defers to the Skills for Jobs White Paper, and Lifetime Skills Guarantee. Big recommendations, such as retaining the Union Learning Fund, or removing restrictions on ELQ funding were a ‘no’.

Augar: Research Professional:

  • The government has published letters exchanged late last year between the Council for Science and Technology and prime minister Boris Johnson on implementing the 2019 review of post-18 education and funding.
  • The letter from the council, signed by its co-chairs Patrick Vallance and Nancy Rothwell, declines to comment on the funding aspect of the review but notes that any reduction in funding would “seriously damage the government’s important goals in research and development” and warns against “unintended consequences”.
  • It suggests the government should focus on building incentives that support greater diversity and coherence in the education system. “The government should aim for complementarity and mobility between the further and higher education sectors,” it says, with “well-aligned pathways” that are easy for students to navigate and employers to understand.
  • Johnson responds by saying the government wants higher education to “focus relentlessly on outcomes for the individual, on skills for the nation and on rigorous academic standards”.

Admissions

The OfS have published stern words on admissions and confirmed that unconditional offers are still banned:

  • We expect universities and colleges to do their part to admit and support the most disadvantaged students by continuing to meet commitments in their access and participation plans. In some cases, this will mean looking beyond grades to identify potential by understanding the context in which those grades have been achieved.
  • All prospective students should be able to make decisions that are right for them. Last year we banned ‘conditional unconditional’ offers – offers which only become unconditional once an applicant accepts them as their firm choice instead of offers from other institutions. This was to ensure that students were not being put under unfair pressure to accept offers which may not be in their best interests. Universities have started making offers to students who will start courses in the autumn and this ban remains in place for this year’s admissions cycle.
  • We have already seen potential evidence that some universities and colleges may not be complying. For example, cases have been drawn to our attention where large numbers of unconditional offers are being made or where offers are based solely on predicted grades – rather than the grades students go on to achieve. We will be investigating these instances further and have powers to impose fines where our rules have been breached. I welcome the update Universities UK has made to their agreement on fair admissionspractices which will help guide universities and colleges in this admissions cycle.
  • Most importantly, it is vital that students starting this autumn do not face further disappointment because the quality of their course is reduced by over-recruitment and poor organisation. Universities and colleges need to plan wisely to ensure that all students have a high-quality experience. The Office for Students (OfS) will also use its powers to step in where this is not the case.
  • The burgeoning demand for higher education is a vote of confidence from students in the potentially life-changing benefits that – at their best – universities and colleges can provide. Universities and colleges must not abuse this trust by sacrificing quality for inflated intakes. 

There is a trap in here for universities, not linked to unconditional offers but more generally.  We mustn’t be “swamped” at the cost of quality, but we must also make sure that we admit high potential disadvantaged students who might not get the grades.  In other words, if the Government’s policy on exams this year again results in disadvantaged students getting lower grades and privileged ones getting higher grades, it will be the sector’s fault if we don’t somehow stop that playing out in university admissions.

Wonkhe writes:

  • Office for Students (OfS) chief executive Nicola Dandridge has written to inform the sector that the regulator still keeps a gimlet eye on admissions practice. There have been reports of an increase in unconditional offers made to avoid the coming examnishambles 2.0, and some naughty providers are making offers based on barely moderated teacher-generated predicted grades available in January rather than unmoderated teacher-generated actual grades available in June. You may well laugh, but OfS can and will intervene. Jim Dickinson got into the detailon Wonk Corner.
  • The forced removal of the all-important final level 3 exams would, in a normal world, have prompted serious questions about the seemingly inevitable march of post-qualification admissions of some sort. Deciding to put all of our admissions eggs in a single basket is a curious choice in a year when the basket is on fire. Last week also saw an important intervention from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), in the form of a collection of essays that cast doubt on the simplistic idea that post-qualification admissions would solve equality problems. And, in the OfS board papers, we learned that the OfS consultation on admissions could yet be reanimated.

You can read the HEPI essays here.

Research Professional expand on the OfS Board papers element: board papers from the Office for Students have revealed that 67 institutions asked for extra cash to help them cope with an increase in student numbers following the exam results chaos last summer. Wonkhe have a helpful short dissection of the recent board papers here.

More generally on admissions Research Professional also have a blog from a vice-chancellor which argues that shifting university admissions to be based on actual rather than predicted grades is likely to be impossible in the window between A-level results day and the start of term. He states A-levels  “simply don’t work” as a university entrance system—should be replaced with an SAT-style system, involving studying more subjects and being assessed at more points throughout the course than with A-levels. This would give students more time for learning and offer greater breadth and depth than A-levels. What is needed is a bolder approach which would transform learning, assessment and university admissions.

In the meantime, UCAS have published a report on the latest admissions cycle “Where next?  What influences the choices schools leavers make?”.  The executive summary sets out some conclusions:

  • The age at which students start thinking about HE varies: One in three applicants report first thinking about HE at primary school. Disadvantaged students are more likely to consider HE later, which can limit their choices, especially for more selective subjects and higher tariff providers. This suggests that careers information, advice and guidance (CIAG) should be embedded within primary education.
  • Students choose their degree subject before they think about the university or college they want to attend: 83% of students told us they decided on their degree subject before their university or college. This highlights the role of subject-specific outreach.
  • Decisions are most influenced by enjoyment, but employability is increasingly important post-COVID: 99% of students report making choices at school based on their enjoyment of a subject, and this is also the primary driver of degree choice. Over 50% report that high graduate employment rates have become more important to them since the start of the pandemic. Understanding what is important to individuals will help improve support for their decision-making.
  • Some HE subjects require more forethought than others: One in five students report they could not study an HE subject that interested them because they did not have the relevant subjects for entry – with medicine the most commonly cited. Students should be made aware of how choices made in school can affect later options.
  • Post-16 choices strongly influence students’ futures: 49% of English 18 year olds with post-16 vocational qualifications enter HE, but are significantly less likely to attend higher tariff providers than those with general qualifications (entry rate of 3% vs. 27%). As the roll-out of T Levels accelerates, it is vital that students know where all pathways lead when making choices in school.
  • There is a need for earlier, broader, and personalised careers information, advice and guidance (CIAG): Two in five students believe more information and advice would have led to them making better choices, and almost one in three students report not receiving any information about apprenticeships from their school.

There is a set of recommendations too.

2022 Exams: In Wales, changes will be made to how A-levels, AS and GCSEs are assessed next year, but Qualifications Wales say they hope exams can go ahead in summer 2022.

Access & Participation

Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission published a guide for disabled students on applying for postgraduate courses in the UK. The guidance covers decisions over where to study, how to pre-empt barriers students may face in applying, and provides information on available funding to ease transition into postgraduate study. For successful applicants, there is also guidance on providing information on a students’ condition, help for assessments, and advice on maintaining good mental wellbeing.

Wonkhe also talk technology in outreach: …the impact of widening participation initiatives driven by the use of technology. An attempt to support local schools around Lancaster by providing laptops and internet connectivity only started to bear fruit after schools began to provide wrap-around support services including technical support. Before this, school participation rates – as monitored by the University of Lancaster – stayed at the same rate, and only a quarter of mobile internet connections were set up.

Nik Marsdin at Lancaster and Alex Blower at Portsmouth conclude that moving outreach work to online workshops failed to take into account the disparity in digital participation. They found that work based on an understanding of community needs should support student ambassadors to provide support to help young people get online, and partnership working with other organisations can help to offer wrap-around support. Their blog: technology is not a simple fix for complex societal needs, and does not benefit participation by itself.

Mental Health

UUK describe how university mental health services are plugging the gaps that the NHS doesn’t address. Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

  • Universities have worked extremely hard to transform support services to meet the challenges of the pandemic, moving counselling and advice online, building digital communities and developing new services to meet new needs. However we are continuing to see significant increases in demand for university-funded support services, which were already plugging the gaps resulting from the lack of NHS resources and funding.
  • The differing level of mental health support for students depending on their location remains a concern. We need a substantive focus on students’ mental health and wellbeing from the government, alongside student-facing NHS services to match the commitment made in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Prevent

The Government have published the new Terms of Reference for the Independent Review of Prevent.

William Shawcross, Independent Reviewer of Prevent, said:

  • These Terms of Reference will enable me to lead a collaborative and evidence-based examination of the Prevent programme to help ensure we have a robust and effective strategy to protect vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism. I am grateful to those who commented on the previous terms of reference. Those views are reflected in these new Terms of Reference.
  • I want to find out whether there are any parts of the Prevent strategy that need particular focus or change, and I want to ensure this Review is both broad and non-partisan and engages a wide range of opinion. I look forward to assessing how Prevent works, what impact it has, and what can be done better – or differently – to safeguard individuals from all forms of terrorist influence. I look forward to hearing from many voices, particularly those who have had experience of Prevent in practice.

There is opportunity for colleagues working in this area to comment on the review.

Industrial Strategy

While the current Government are stepping away from the Industrial Strategy developed under Theresa May’s premiership it still remains influential among some parliamentarians.

Immigration

The Home Office published their New Plan for Immigration and invited views on their proposals through a consultation. The proposals include the asylum system, modern slavery, and addressing the criminal networks behind people smuggling. Dods have a short summary including Priti Patel’s introductory statement in the Commons.

Transnational Education

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) have published the new handbook for the enhancement of the quality of UK transnational education (TNE).

QAA also confirmed that the three countries participating in the QE-TNE programme for the 2021/22 academic year will be the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Germany. These countries were selected based on criteria stipulated in the new handbook including factors such as the existing strong links they have with UK universities, as well as the size or growth of their higher education systems.

Fundamental to the new method is collaboration between QAA and local HE bodies. The approach to the quality evaluation and enhancement of UK TNE provision outlined in the handbook applies to all degree-awarding bodies across the UK on a voluntary basis and operates over the academic years 2021/22 to 2025/26.

The method maintains a UK-wide approach to the quality enhancement of TNE and supports the UK Government’s International Education Strategy, which seeks to grow the opportunity and support available to UK TNE as a key UK export.

Cyber Security Workforce

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published Understanding the Cyber Security Recruitment Pool research report, which quantifies and explores the supply of cyber skills in the UK. It covers:

  • The size and geographic location of the recruitment pool
  • The types of skills and experience that are prevalent in the pool
  • Recommendations on how employers can effectively recruit from the pool

DCMS also published Cyber Security Skills in the UK Labour Market 2021. The report explores the nature and extent of cyber security skills gaps (people lacking appropriate skills), skills shortages (a lack of people available to work in cyber security job roles) and job vacancies in the UK.

You can read a summary of the key findings and recommendations for both reports here.

Parliamentary Questions

Many of the parliamentary questions over the last two weeks repeat the same themes we’ve brought you recently with no new answers. Here are those we promised you answers on previously:

Academic Engagement in Policy

The International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO) is advertising for topic specialists for their new social impact observatory. They hope to develop a network of topic specialists who can advise on, review and author IPPO’s various content streams – ranging from blogs and ‘rapid answers’ to in-depth evidence briefs and systematic reviews. If you wish to join the IPPO topic specialist network, or sign up for its newsletter and other communications, colleagues should fill in this very short survey  by 30 April.

The IPPO is a collaboration of UK academic institutions and other global networks, established to help policymakers throughout the UK address the social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other Opportunities

  • International Conference on Science Advice to Governments (30 Aug – 2 September). Register for this virtual and free event here.
  • BEIS Consultation survey– Get your voice heard on energy policy – BEIS are keen to understand how to more effectively engage experts and stakeholders in policy making process.
  • 27 April – Universities Policy Engagement Event: Academic engagement with UK Legislatures – register here. The event will be based on a report by Dr Marc Geddes and Dr Danielle Beswick on Evaluating Academic Engagement with UK legislatures, and supported by the University of Edinburgh.
  • The latest select committee inquiries are here. Colleagues are asked to engage with the policy team when preparing their response to a select committee inquiry.

Blog: The hard labour of connecting research to policy during COVID-19 (LSE Impact Blog) – Professor Annette Boaz and Dr Kathryn Oliver. Read

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

LEO data: the Department for Education have published the Longitudinal Education Outcomes data for 2015 to 2016

Nurses: The DHSC announced a £25m investment in nurse training, for a new national critical care qualification for nurses and expanded virtual training:

  • Up to £15m will go to universities to invest in new simulated training facilities and technology. This will be in the form of virtual reality technology, manikins, computers and tablets, all to help nursing students practice clinical skills.
  • £10m will go to help develop a new, nationally recognised critical care qualification for qualified nurses. This will be rolled out immediately so to increase the number of people able to work in critical care.

Minister for Care Helen Whately said: We are committed to training more nurses for the NHS and supporting professional development, and this £25 million investment will provide more innovative training opportunities for nurses. Whilst there is no substitute for face to face training on wards, simulated training is a vital part of the curriculum and provides a safe space for students to develop their skills. Thanks to our investment, more nursing and other healthcare students will be able to benefit from the latest innovations and new technologies to better support their learning at this time. The funding will also recognise our critical care nurses, who have played a crucial role during this pandemic, with a new nationally recognised qualification.

Student Protests: Jim Dickinson (Wonkhe) reviews the threats to student protest posed by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Harassment: Research Professional’s blog Harassment at home considers the erosion of professional boundaries that can occur through online teaching.

UUK: Professor Steve West has been elected as the next President of Universities UK (UUK) following a members ballot. Professor West has been the Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol since 2008. He will succeed the current President, Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, from 1 August 2021 and will hold the post for two years. Alongside being a vice-chancellor, Professor West has served on the Boards of HEFCE, UUK and the Office for Students, and Chaired the University Alliance, South-West CBI, West of England Academic Health Science Network and West of England Local Enterprise Partnership. He has chaired UUK’s Health Policy Network and continues to champion the sector’s work to address a wide range of mental health and wellbeing issues as chair of UUK’s mental health in higher education advisory group.

OfS Board Papers: Wonkhe provide real insight into the OfS Board papers in a very short and digestible form.

Wonkfest: A virtual Wonkfest is taking place on 9-10 June, colleagues planning to attend should be aware they are eligible for the lower Wonkhe Plus/partner rate. Please let us know if you are planning to attend! Here’s the blurb: We’ll have sessions about the changes that universities have had to make at speed – what’s worked, what hasn’t and what we want to keep after the pandemic. From the leadership challenge, to the digital pivot to the many innovations in teaching. Inspired by our amazing community, we’ll learn from some of the best ideas that have already shaped universities for the better this year, despite the circumstances. We’ll have journalists and politicians from outside the sector to help put it all in context. We’ll look to the next several years of higher education policy – from skills to fees to quality and try and work out what’s going to happen and how to influence it. And much, much more besides.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 11th Feb 2021

Lots to talk about this week as we look in some detail at the Education’s Secretary’s latest guidance to the OfS and what it means and doesn’t mean.

We’re taking a break next week but will be back with a round-up of the essential news the following week.

HE Strategic Priorities – Williamson’s letter to OfS

The Secretary of State wrote to the OfS on 8th Feb 2021 with a new set of strategic priorities.

Interestingly, he also said “apart from my guidance letters on 14 September 2020, 14 December 2020, 19 January 2021 and 2 February 2021 which related to delivery of particular time critical issues, this letter replaces all previous guidance.”  So what are the priorities now, and the context for them? and what is no longer a priority?  We quote chunks of the text from Williamson’s letter for colleagues to scan through because the tone of the wording is quite insightful.  We cover those other 4 letters below as well as what is now “off the table”.

Williamson states: my strong view that the OfS should focus on driving up quality, being risk based, minimising bureaucracy, and ensuring that it delivers on equality of opportunity in higher education…this letter replaces all previous guidance [apart from the 4 other letters he mentions which he states relate to delivery of time critical issues of course]..…The OfS will, of course, still need to deliver its functions under HERA and its operational responsibilities, but the replacement of the majority of previous guidance will, I hope, provide clarity on my priorities and allow the OfS to focus its energy and resources on these.  Bottom line – this is an instruction to the OfS to crack on (and crack down on) the sector to ensure progress is made on his top issues.

But before we get to what they are, this made us try and guess what the biggest “problems” are for the SoS:

  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who takes a degree in a creative subject at a “lower quality” university and goes on to pursue a career in creative arts which is relatively low paid compared to the average earnings of students studying that subject.
  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who studies anything and then struggles to find a “graduate level” job, but particularly if it is a humanities, or media course at a “lower quality” university.
  • A student who doesn’t complete their degree.

Why might these be a problem? In each case the answer is the same: they should never have gone to university at all, and specifically the one they chose.  They should never have incurred loans they probably won’t repay; they should have studied, say, plumbing, on an FE course, because:

  • there is no social mobility – these students have not improved their relative financial position;
  • there is no benefit to the taxpayer – as they have not increased their earnings, they will not make higher tax contributions and are unlikely to repay their student loans – so the subsidy was not value for money;
  • there is no alignment in terms of the UK’s productivity or strategic priorities – given their choice of courses these students are not contributing to the “build back better” vision for the future which is all about STEM, and they are not contributing either to public service and the nation as nurses, teachers or social workers or working in social care (although they might be, but it doesn’t count for this purpose because their first degree wasn’t in those things);
  • the students who fail to complete must have done so because the course was poor quality or there was insufficient support.

Of course this all ignores the fact that many students can’t or don’t leave their local region for employment, that there may be challenging local economic circumstances, and that the jobs and average salaries of their contemporaries at other “better quality” universities may also be influenced by the social capital, school experience, and non-WP background of the majority of their students which makes it easier for them to become lawyers, bankers, captains of industry, politicians (although a minute ago we were only counting careers directly linked to the first degree subject).  Of course the SoS wants these issues to be considered (he mentions socio-economic status and geographical inequality) but only to the extent that more students affected by those issues should go to high tariff institutions.  Because then they will presumably get the same outcomes as every one else who goes there.  Won’t they?

And it ignores the fact that those who dropped out may have done so because of financial pressures, or caring responsibilities, or mental health issues or a whole range of other reasons.

So if those are the problems, and the reasons for them, here are some possible answers.  Then we’ll look at the SoS’s priorities.  You’ll be amazed how aligned they are.

  • outcomes are what count, so define quality by looking at outcomes metrics, and cut funding or close down those that don’t meet your baseline (already in hand but worth reinforcing);
  • link funding to strategically important subjects (that’s only hinted at here, but there has been more before and is more to come);
  • students should really only study arts or creative subjects at prestigious specialist institutions and only study humanities at high tariff institutions (linked to outcomes, see above), and so it might make sense to stop some universities from offering those courses or find another way to reduce the government subsidy for them (there are several ways of doing that and some feature below);
  • ration places at university so that the system costs less but try and level the playing field for applicants including finding a way to ensure that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds get into high tariff universities (where they will surely get better outcomes….yes, that is here too).

Of course there is more, on pet political issues like free speech, and reducing bureaucracy.  There is more on mental health and helping students to complain.  And there is a lot on getting the OfS to support the big skills agenda (i.e. technical education, lifelong learning etc.).

You can read the Wonkhe take on it here.  And Wonkhe also have a blog by Susanna Kalitowski of the University Alliance which sets out another view, considering the conflict between quality = outcomes and flexible learning.

So here we go.

Quality and Standards: The biggie.

  • One of my highest priorities and an important manifesto commitment is to drive up quality and standards in higher education, which is a fundamental part of our levelling up agenda. This is in addition to the work outlined above on the quality of online learning…. would like the OfS to progress rapidly to ensure that a robust enhanced regulatory regime can be operational as soon as possible.
  • I fully support the OfS desire to ensure that decisions on regulatory intervention and registration can be made in relation to minimum absolute standards of quality which apply across the whole of higher education provision. I firmly believe that every student, regardless of their background, has a right to expect a minimum standard of education that is likely to improve their prospects in life…I note that these standards are likely to take account of, though not be confined to, quantitative measures, including measures relating to student outcomes.

And he means business:

  • The OfS should not hesitate to use the full range of its powers and sanctions where quality of provision is not high enough: the OfS should not limit itself to putting in place conditions of registration requiring improvement plans for providers who do not demonstrate high quality and robust outcomes, but should move immediately to more robust measures, including monetary penalties, the revocation of degree awarding powers in subjects of concem, suspending aspects of a provider’s registration or, ultimately, deregistration. It is also my view that the OfS should not be registering providers without rigorous quality and a commitment to robust graduate outcomes, which should be closely monitored once registered.

And related to quality:

  • TEF: He asks the OfS to interpret the Government response to the Independent Review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework. Sub text: sort it out and make it do/measure what the Government want it to do.
  • Student complaints: the phrasing suggest that OfS may be expected to play more of a role in students’ complaints. Using the OIA as the complaint ombudsman has been both a blessing and curse for the Government during the pandemic. Blessing because they can offload it to a different body, and curse because it left them without an arrow to shoot the sector with. Williamson asks the OfS to continue to monitor this closely, and to take swift action where it is clear that quality and academic standards have dropped. I would like the OfS to communicate the findings from their monitoring work and ensure students are aware of the notification process that they can follow to raise any issues.
  • Death knell for NSS: Minister Donelan also asked the OfS in her 14 September letter to carry out a radical review of the National Student Survey (NSS). I can confirm that this remains a high priority, in order to address the downwards pressure that student surveys of this sort may exert on standards. I would like the OfS to take the time it needs to ensure this review is genuinely radical, consider carefully whether there could be a replacement that does not depend on a universal annual sample, and ensure that a replacement does not contribute to the reduction in rigour and standards. It is my strong view that the NSS should play at most a minimal role in baseline quality regulation. It’s interesting to juxtapose this with the paragraph above – don’t ask students about their experience or use that feedback in a quality framework or the TEF – but do encourage them to complain and take action on their complaints.

Fairness and admissions (lumped together, which is telling – concerns about admissions are all in this document about fairness, except minimum entry standards, which are about quality.)

  • 2021: to ensure that admissions this year run as smoothly as possible and students’ interests are fully taken into account.
  • PQA: Central to my plans to improve equality of opportunity is…post qualification admissions…we believe it has the potential to contribute towards improved student outcomes in the longer-term. He asks the OfS to support the Department’s work to develop the evidence base and implementation. And makes the main intent behind the change clear: We want to ensure that any move to post qualification admissions genuinely improves the prospects of disadvantaged students and, in particular, facilitates greater numbers of them accessing the most selective universities.
  • Supporting WP while controlling numbers: It is very important that the OfS’ work on access and participation focuses on delivering real social mobility: ensuring students are able to make the right choices, accessing and succeeding on high quality courses which are valued by employers and lead to good graduate employment. Encouraging more and more students onto courses which do not provide good graduate outcomes does not provide real social mobility and serves only to entrench inequality
  • I would like the OfS to continue to consider broader factors, including socio-economic status and geographical inequality, which are likely to impact on access and participation in higher education. This should include a focus on white boys on free school meals who are currently the least likely group to progress to higher education
  • I would like the OfS to encourage universities to do much more to work with schools in a way which meaningfully raises the attainment of disadvantaged children. Theresa May’s agenda still hasn’t gone away, policy recycling at its best. What does this mean? It’s interesting though, when funding for UniConnect has just been cut (see GW’s letter of 19 January 2021)
  • I would like to remind the OfS that it has a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. The OfS must be a champion for the importance of academic and technical excellence in all aspects of the student lifecycle, from selection to graduation. [Again a reminder that there are other routes than HE and Ministers want to see technical education rise in prominence.]

Funding:

  • I would therefore like you to make arrangements to change the name of the Teaching Grant to the Strategic Priorities Grant[this of course builds on the earlier letter in which he “slashed” the teaching grant allocation for media courses and archaeology (see our 21st Jan 21 policy update here)].
    • Remember the interim response to Augar also said that the upcoming consultation on further reforms will include consideration of minimum entry requirements, which it is expected would restrict the availability of government funding for students who do not meet the requirements. This proposal was mentioned in Augar as a possible step to take to address concerns about low value courses.  It was widely condemned as a cap on ambition and a regressive step against social mobility when it was first discussed in December 2018.  But it also is a way of rationing the government subsidy.

Skills agenda, lifelong learning: The OfS also has to work on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and reforms to occupationally focused higher technical qualifications.

  • I would like the OfS to work with DfE and other stakeholders to consider how to support the accumulation and transfer of credit and to develop a regulatory system that is fully equipped to support radically different, flexible arrangements, measuring quality using metrics that are meaningful in the new system and interact positively with our admissions regime. Delivering our vision will require action from providers to adapt to this new model and providers will need to work towards delivering greater flexibility in the courses they offer. Alongside that work by providers, the OfS should ensure that it, too, is considering how all aspects of its regulatory approach will need to adapt to and support this new model. e. adopt it or else.
  • [Note there is an interesting HEPI blog from 5th February on this: “ Although flexibility is important in the support of learning, a shift in approach will need real care to manage step off to ensure it becomes step off with purpose, at an appropriate time for the learner and as an integral part of the lifelong learning journey”.]
  • [Also note an interesting blog on BTECs by Graeme Atherton of NEON on Wonkhe]

Mental Health: OfS to continue to support initiatives in relation to mental health in the short and long term. This should be through distributing funding to providers in line with my January guidance, and developing and funding challenge competitions to enable providers to develop innovative practice in mental health support. This funding should target mental health support for students transitioning from school/college to university and prioritising the most disadvantaged learners.

Sector stability: OfS to continue to monitor the financial sustainability of the sector – It is important that the OfS maintains a close understanding and oversight of financial issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and shares information where appropriate so that the OfS and Government can work together to provide timely support for providers through the Restructuring Regime and ensure effective protection of students..

All this whilst reducing the regulatory burden:

  • …providers delivering high quality provision and strong outcomes for students should not be adversely affected by additional unnecessary bureaucracy or reporting in relation to quality: I would like the OfS to take a risk-based approach to quality assessment and regulation, focusing its efforts on lower quality providers. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]
  • In Minister Donelan’s guidance letter to the OfS on 14 September 2020, she set out a number of areas where she expected the OfS to reduce the bureaucratic burden on providers. Those areas included enhanced monitoring, termly data collections under data futures, random sampling, student transfer arrangements, estates and non-academic staff data and a review of TRAC and the OfS’ transparency condition… In addition to reducing bureaucracy in the areas outlined in Minister Donelan’s letter, I would like the OfS look across everything that it does to identify further opportunities to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and reporting requirements for providers.
  • Tut tut: In my view, to date, the OfS has not been sufficiently risk-based. A risk-based approach to regulation should consider the overall regulatory burden faced by providers, including data gathering, reporting and monitoring, not just the application of conditions of registration. It is my view that there are further opportunities for the OfS to ensure that providers with consistently strong performance face minimal regulatory burden. I would like the OfS to implement a markedly more risk-based model of regulation, with significant, meaningful and observable reductions in the regulatory burden upon high quality providers within the next 12 months. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]

Free speech & Academic Freedom:

  • We knew free speech would get a mention however its tone is critical of the OfS. While I welcome your powerful speech, Sir Michael, on 20 January on this subject, to date there has been little regulatory action taken by the OfS in relation to potential breaches of the registration conditions relating to freedom of speech and academic freedom, despite a significant number of concerning incidents reported since the full suite of its regulatory powers came into force. This is interesting because sector press states that there are few real incidents where free speech has been curtailed and previous universities ministers have been unable to evidence their claims that there is a problem. Yet the Education Secretary states that OfS is aware of a significant number of incidents.
  • Furthermore, Williamson states: I intend to publish a policy paper on free speech and academic freedom in the near future and I would like the OfS to continue to work closely with the Department to deliver this shared agenda and ensure our work is closely aligned. I would also like it to take more active and visible action to challenge concerning incidents that are reported to it or which it becomes aware of, as well as to share information with providers about best practice for protecting free speech beyond the minimum legal requirements. So Williamson wants the OfS, already known for its bark, poor comms and reputation within the HE sector, to develop far more bite. So far there has been no mention of caning wayward VC’s.
  • …university administrators and heads of faculty should not, whether for ideological reasons or to conform to the perceived desires of students, pressure or force teaching staff to drop authors or texts that add rigour and stretch to a course. The OfS should robustly challenge providers that have implemented such policies and clearly support individual academics whose academic freedom is being diminished.

Antisemitism: Williamson is determined to champion a specific definition of anti-Semitism. In 2020 he gave universities until Christmas to conform and adopt the definition with the threat of action taken against those that didn’t. This stops short of that, but assumes a match between non-adopters with higher levels of incidents and suggests financial penalties.

  • Following my letter to the sector on 9 October 2020 on anti-Semitism and adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism across the HE sector, we have seen positive progress, with at least 31 additional institutions adopting the definition.
    I would like the OfS to undertake a scoping exercise to identify providers which are reluctant to adopt the definition and consider introducing mandatory reporting of anti-Semitic incident numbers by providers. This would ensure a robust evidence base, which the OfS could then use to effectively regulate in this area. If anti-Semitic incidents do occur at a provider, the OfS should consider if it is relevant in a particular case whether the provider has adopted the definition when considering what sanctions, including monetary penalties, would be appropriate to apply.
  • Of course, there are several ways to adopt the definition, including subsuming it within a wider, more comprehensive, policy. It could result in protracted semantic debates as the OfS and a university argue whether decisions were made within the spirit of the definition.

International recruitment:

  • When the sector starts to move past the difficult circumstances created by COVID-19, a key focus of UK higher education providers will understandably be how to sustainably and responsibly recover international student recruitment, given the importance of this group to the financial health of the sector. The Government has updated its International Education Strategy to support that objective, restating its commitment to the IES’ original ambition to increase international higher education student numbers to at least 600,000 by 2030. [see more on this later]
  • In addition, we are doing our utmost to raise awareness within the sector that, where there are international opportunities, there are also risks, including overdependence on income from a single source and security-related issues. At the request of the Minister for Universities, Universities UK produced important guidelines and recommendations to help providers manage risks in internationalisation. I would like the OfS to monitor the adoption of these recommendations by providers and continue to support the sector to manage these risks to the reputation, integrity and sustainability of individual institutions, as well as to the sector as a whole.

Those other letters:

  • 14 September 2020 – this was a long one
    • set out £10m of additional teaching grant funding for high cost subjects to accommodate additional students as a result of the admissions issues in 2020
    • asked the OfS to reduce its enhanced monitoring because of the burden on providers and suggested using specific licence conditions instead – and asked for a report within 3 months
    • supported reduced requirements for data futures and ending random sampling, stopping the collection of non academic and estates data in HESES, reviewing TRAC and ending TRAC (T), and reviewing the transparency data
    • requested the “radical, root and branch review” of the NSS by the end of 2020 and “It is my strong view that the NSS should not be carried out in again in the same format as it was last year.” [oops, it has been]
    • instructed that no further action be taken on student transfer arrangements. That is fine, but of course the relevant issues all come back up again in the context of credit transfer and lifelong learning.   This was originally in an earlier letter in September 2019.
    • Asking the OfS to review its own efficiency and save registration fees by 10% in 2 years.
  • 14 December 2020 – this one was about £20m in hardship funding
  • 19 January 2021 – this was about the teaching grant – including reducing it for some subjects, removing the London weighting, cutting UniConnect etc.
  • Parliamentary question in which Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, defends the decision to remove the London weighting in the HE teaching grant: …it is right for government to re-allocate public money where it is most needed. Universities should not receive additional investment for teaching simply because of where they are located: excellent provision can be delivered across the country. London already has, on average, the highest percentage of good or outstanding schools, the highest progression to HE, and more HE providers than in any other region in England. This government is firmly committed to the levelling up agenda and this reform will invest more money directly into high quality institutions in the Midlands and the North.
  • 2 February 2021 – this one was bout the £50m hardship funding

What he didn’t mention in any of these letters and so is off the table?

  • Accelerated degrees- from an earlier letter in September 2019
  • Student protection plans – this was in the letter in February 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) “I would like the OfS to continue to focus on student protection and consumer rights. In particular, to evaluate and report publicly on the strength of student protection plans and advice available on students’ consumer rights.
  • Student contracts – from an earlier letter in September 2019. You will recall the proposal was for template student contracts with initial recommendations to the government by Feb 2020.
  • Contract cheating and essay mills – this featured in the letter of 7th June 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) which asked the OfS to work with the sector and take firm and robust action
  • Grade inflation –
  • VC pay
  • The September 2019 letter also asked the OfS to make “public transparent data on the outcomes achieved by international students, including those studying wholly outside the UK, such as it does for domestic students”

Research

Place Strategy: In September 2020 the Council for Science and Technology wrote to the Prime Minister to explore how science and technology can contribute to addressing regional disparities and promote equality of opportunity. The Government have published both the letter and the PM’s response here.

The letter proposes 6 recommendations focused on 4 areas:

  1. Leveraging research and development funding for regional growth by scaling up collaborative funding opportunities to foster and enhance partnerships, within and between regions, where there are research and innovation synergies with the potential to contribute to local growth.
  2. Further incentivising the contribution of research, innovation and technology centres to regional growth in funding agreements and in organisational strategies.
  3. Enhancing the availability of information on local innovation strengths and needs, for local and national decision makers to inform effective investment strategies and to evaluate outcomes.
  4. Supporting wider measures needed for research and development investment to act as a driver for local growth, including measures to support skills and to support local leadership and decision-making.

The PM’s response welcomes the Council’s recommendations (which sit well with current Government policy) and mentions BEIS development of the UK Research and Development Place Strategy:

  • The Place Strategy will set out how the Government can build on existing initiatives (such as the Strength in Places Fund) to support research and innovation excellence, and build new centres of high-value economic activity outside of the South East… We also need to get the local governance and delivery structures right so that responsibility and accountability sit at the right level for delivering local growth priorities.
  • And: BEIS and UKRI will continue to engage widely with industry, the scientific community, and civic organisations from across the country to help develop a strategy that supports the priorities of areas and communities across the UK. The new Ministerial R&D Place Advisory Group, which had its inaugural meeting last month, will propose, challenge and test potential policy options.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund: The National Audit Office has published a report on UK Research and Innovation’s management of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund examining the Fund has been set up in a way likely to optimise value for money. By January 2021 the Fund was supporting 1,613 projects, contributing to one of the 24 approved challenges. To date, UKRI has spent around £1.2 billion of the Fund’s eight-year budget of £3 billion.

The report examines:

  • the establishment of the Fund, in particular whether it has attracted sufficient good-quality bids, whether the selection processes have been efficient and whether the budget is managed effectively (Parts One and Two); and
  • the approach to monitoring and evaluating the Fund’s performance, as well as its performance to date (Part Three).

The report finds that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have worked well to generate interest from industry and academia in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (the Fund). However, more needs to be done to reduce the time taken to consider requests for support, so applicants are not deterred from bidding for funding and projects are not delayed.

  • Over the period, government has enhanced its engagement with industry to seek out challenges which might benefit most from taxpayer support.
  • UKRI’s own assessment shows that the Fund’s key components – challenges and projects – are broadly performing well. To sustain this position, the Department and HM Treasury, working with UKRI, need to place more emphasis on the outcomes and impact its funding secures at the Fund level. The increasing number of challenges supported by the Fund, each with their own objectives, and range of different objectives at Fund level risk obscuring priorities and will make the assessment of value for money in the longer term more difficult

R&D Roadmap: Catapults: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report asserting that the Government’s ambitions for research and development are not supported by a detailed plan or sufficient investment in innovation. It details how the Government needs to provide more detail about how it will deliver its R&D Roadmap, including how it will attract substantial private sector investment to meet its target of 2.4% of GDP by 2027. It states the UK’s research and innovation system has the necessary components to be successful, but there is insufficient collaboration between organisations and insufficient scale to deliver the required levels innovation and commercial success.

  • Commenting on the Catapult Network it states it is an integral part of the UK’s innovation system. And that the Government should expand the Catapult Network to support technologies in which the UK excels and that can bring substantial economic benefits – including to assist in the levelling up agenda.
  • Changes are needed to remove barriers that limit the Catapults’ effectiveness: universities, Catapults and industry need to be encouraged (and permitted) to interact more deeply; and rules governing innovation funding should be reformed, to allow greater flexibility for Catapults and their partners.

The Committee set out a range of recommendations for the Government, UKRI and Innovate UK to help deliver the UK’s R&D ambitions, including the changes to enable the Catapults to more effectively achieve their objectives:

  • A clear plan for how public sector resources and private investment can be made to match the scale of ambition in the R&D Roadmap.
  • Prioritisation of scaling up the Catapult Network.
  • Assurance of long-term continuity for the Catapults—including longer-term certainty over funding and a commitment that reviews will be limited to once every five years, to match the five-year funding cycle.
  • Enabling Catapults and universities to work together more easily on innovation projects, and fostering closer links between industry and universities to assist researchers to work at the interface between the two.
  • Allowing Catapults to bid for Research Council funds where there are clear advantages in terms of both research and innovation; more flexibility in permitting public sector bodies to have a larger share of collaborative R&D funding; and supporting translational research and transformative innovation more effectively, including by reducing risks to industry.
  • Supporting the levelling up agenda by developing a more strategic approach across policies for innovation and regional development—such as broadening access to the Strength in Places Fund.

Quick News

  • UKRI has advertised for a new Chair of UKRI. Given the recent spate of appointments where the Government has been criticised for lack of impartiality this, by Research Professional, raised a chuckle this week: The way public appointments have gone under this government, you may be forgiven for wondering if the post might go to the spouse of a Conservative MP who once owned a chemistry set. It will be up to the assessment panel to come up with a shortlist from the applications.
  • The Times dug up an article on research degrees from the depths of their archives. It’s a short and light read. The similarity to a current theme is surprising – that of other nations squeezing out ‘natives’ by taking up their university places: British universities since the war have had much ado to find room for native-born students, but it is to be hoped that they will make all efforts to attract the graduate research students for whom the new degree was instituted.
  • Healthcare knowledge provider the BMJ, and technology provider Jisc, have agreed a publish and read pilot as part of their commitment to help promote knowledge and speed up discoveries to improve healthcare across the UK. It grants Jisc members full read access to the BMJ’s standard collection (28 specialist journals) and offers researchers at the member institutions the opportunity to publish funded articles on an open access basis in the standard collection journals. Under the agreement, research funded by UKRI, Wellcome, and key medical charities in the UK can be published open access, to help to make the research more accessible and sustainable.
  • The Government has set up a new independent body, the UK Cyber Security Council to boost career opportunities and professional standards for the UK’s cyber security sector. Funded by DCMS the organisation will provide a single governing voice for the industry to establish the knowledge, skills and experience required for a range of cyber security jobs, bringing it in line with other professions such as law, medicine and engineering. The council was developed following a 2018 consultation on Developing the UK cyber security profession which showed strong support for the government’s proposals to define objectives for the profession to achieve and to create a new, independent UK Cyber Security Council to coordinate delivery. Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: The fact we are launching an independent professional body for cyber security shows just how vital this area has become – it makes a huge contribution to our thriving digital economy by safeguarding our critical national infrastructure, commerce and other online spaces. The UK Cyber Security Council will ensure anyone interested in an exciting career tackling online threats has access to world-class training and guidance. It will also champion diversity and inclusion, driving up standards while helping the nation to build back better and safer.

Admissions

2021 Admissions juggle: Research Professional has a good romp through the exam related admissions issues for 2021. Here are some excerpts but there is more content in the blog (e.g. on over recruitment).

  • Setting aside for a moment the challenges involved in running an appeals process based on evaluating a teacher assessment without recourse to an externally validated examination, this raises an issue: If students achieve their results directly and the university hasn’t had confirmation through the awarding bodies and Ucas of what those results are, how long will it be before those students are on the phone, email or turning up on campus to request confirmation of a place? And what does the university do? Take each student’s word for it? Ask for validation from their school? Wait for the results to eventually arrive through Ucas?
  • As things stand, we risk receiving Welsh, English, Northern Irish and international A-levels on different days (and several weeks apart), with BTEC and other vocational awards also somewhere in the mix. While we typically get international qualifications over a span of several weeks (from late June through to mid-August), the relatively small numbers are manageable. But to receive the main bulk of the results in a haphazard fashion raises important questions about the fairness and transparency of admissions decisions.
  • The danger is an outcome in which the fastest nation to get its results out will gain a significant advantage in securing places. It is notable that in the many discussions about a post-qualification admissions process, one of the prerequisites for an effective system will be an alignment of UK results; without having a common date for receipt of results this year, we run the risk of having a fragmented and unfair admissions process.
  • No-one underestimates the challenges we face in this admissions cycle to run a system that is fair to applicants and also ensures that students avoid considerable uncertainty and stress in a situation over which they have no agency. 

Student Numbers Cap: Towards the end of last week Research Professional also asked if the student numbers cap should have remained in place for the 2020/21 intake.

  • The data show a 13 per cent rise overall in numbers of students recruited by high-tariff universities—way more than the 5 per cent (plus forecasts) rise that would have been allowed under the proposed number controls, even allowing for generous forecasting. Some research-intensive institutions accepted a third more UK and EU students than they had the previous year, while other institutions saw recruitment slump by more than 15 per cent.
  • Several non-Russell Group institutions also grew their recruitment significantly: at Leeds Trinity University, Buckinghamshire New University, Liverpool Hope University, the University of Buckingham and Soas, University of London, increases in UK and EU student numbers topped 20 per cent. More than 50 universities increased their UK and EU intake by more than the magic 5 per cent.
  • There were no high-tariff institutions among those that saw major falls. And while overall recruitment was up nearly 30,000, for more than 30 institutions it was down—for some substantially.
  • …The original idea for introducing student number controls last year was to protect post-1992 institutions from exactly this kind of trouble. The controls were dropped not because the danger had entirely gone away—as the Ucas figures show, it hadn’t—but because the government had made such a mess over A-levels that it had little choice.
  • …needs are likely to be substantial in September as students arrive at university without normal levels of learning and social interaction and, in some cases, traumatised by an exceptionally tough year.
  • That will put pressure on some high-tariff institutions whose welfare systems are likely to creak under the strain of larger-than-planned-for numbers of students with multiple issues.
  • But there will also be different kinds of pressures on those institutions that would normally be dealing with a proportion of these students but have missed out because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic. It will be ironic if both groups end up struggling to cope because of government-sanctioned grade inflation.

You can read the full blog here.

Harassment

You may recall that about this time last year the OfS launched a consultation on preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct. This was paused during the pandemic and won’t be reopened. Instead the OfS are considering this matter alongside their wider work to review and reset our regulatory requirements. They intend to

  • Publish a statement of expectations relating to providers’ systems, policies and processes to prevent and respond to harassment and sexual misconduct by Spring 2021. The statement will set out the OfS’ expectations and give universities and colleges the opportunity to review and renew their systems, policies and processes before the beginning of the next academic year.
  • Right now the OfS are engaging with student and sector representative bodies and other stakeholders…to understand specifically how the events of this past year may affect the proposed statement of expectations. e. the additional challenges faced by some students because of the pandemic, including online harassment and domestic abuse.

Turing – Student Mobility

The Turing website is live. Research Professional cover the basics:

  • Applications for bids to Turing will open in “the spring”, which in Whitehall speak can run as late as the end of June, although the website promises a March announcement with a window of six weeks for submissions and results known in July. The call will include “higher education projects”, with funding available for “placements during the period from September 2021 to August 2022”.
  • Any student at “an officially recognised higher education provider registered in the UK”—which we assume means registered with the Office for Students—can participate in the scheme, regardless of nationality. The students will be able to attend a non-UK university as well as “any public or private organisation active in the labour market or in the fields of education and training”.
  • This includes businesses, public bodies, research institutes, foundations, non-governmental organisations and “a social partner or other representative of working life, including chambers of commerce, craft and professional associations and trade unions”. Beyond that, details of the scheme are relatively scant, with visitors to the website encouraged to sign up for email alerts
  • We do know that “successful applications will receive funding towards delivering placements and exchanges” and “the rates provided will be broadly in line with what has been on offer under Erasmus+”. Placements can be of any length between 4 weeks and 12 months. Further guidance on specific elements of funding and a list of destination country groupings for cost of living will be published shortly, the website says.
  • Destinations with a high cost of living will attract a £136-a-week or £380-a-month maintenance grant. Countries with a medium or lower cost of living will be funded at the rate of £120 a week or £335 a month.
  • Students who can demonstrate a disadvantaged background will be funded at a higher rate of £490 a month for expensive destinations and £445 a month for less expensive ones. There will also be tariffs for travel based on distance, ranging from £20 a head for projects less than 100 kilometres away to £1,360 for those taking place over 12,000km away.
  • …Some £315 a head for the first 100 participants will be made available for the administration of projects, with that declining sharply to £180 for the 101st student. It would seem that each individual exchange project should be applied for annually, in contrast to Erasmus+ in which partnerships are rolled over from year to year.
  • Turing is being described as an “outward student mobility scheme”…What Turing does not seem to do is fund exchange students to come in the opposite direction, which makes it a hard sell to prospective international partners while also reducing diversity in UK classrooms.

More details are expected in March.

Wonkhe have a Turing blog: For Janet Beer, it is time to accept the opportunities and flexibility that the new Turing scheme can offer.

International

International Education Strategy

The DfE published the 2021 update to the International Education Strategy including measures to boost international study and global opportunities. Press release here. It includes attracting more overseas students, boosting access to global student exchanges for thousands of people, and supporting international education partnerships. reaffirms the Government’s commitment to increase the amount generated from education exports, such as fees and income from overseas students and English language teaching abroad, to £35bn a year, and sustainably recruit at least 600,000 international students to the UK by 2030. For research and development, the strategy confirmed that the UK will participate in Horizon Europe, as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU, subject to finalisation of the programme regulations. The Turing social mobility scheme is also mentioned (more on Turing here). Lastly the Secretary of State’s recent guidance letter also warns institutions to balance recruitment with thought for national security and not to develop an overreliance on recruiting from particular groups or countries.

The Strategy update proposes several areas to help increase the value of education exports and international student numbers:

  • The International Education Champion: this update sets out the priority countries and regions in which the International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, will focus his activity. Sir Steve’s immediate priorities are India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Nigeria. His role will focus on growing export opportunities in these countries. Other important regional markets for the International Education Champion will include: Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China and Hong Kong. The government will also work with Sir Steve and the British Council to identify and resolve barriers which prevent the recognition of online and blended (a combination of offline and online) learning internationally
  • Building lasting global partnerships: there is an important role for the government to facilitate partnerships across the world, including in the Champion’s priority countries, but also beyond these. This includes Europe, the Indo-Pacific region, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Our new Turing scheme will also help ensure we improve mobility between UK students and all regions of the world
  • Enhancing the international student experience from application to employment: the government will work with sector bodies such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Confederation of British Industry on areas such as:
    • the student application process for international students
    • graduate outcomes and employability
    • the academic experience of international students
    • alternative student finance
  • A new international teaching qualification, ‘International Qualified Teacher Status’ (iQTS): the UK government propose to work with teacher training providers to establish a new teaching qualification that will provide an opportunity for teachers around the world to train to world respected domestic standards. There’s a consultation on it here.
  • Increase export opportunities for UK chartered professional bodies and UK special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) providers: DIT will support UK chartered professional bodies and SEND providers to find opportunities to increase their education exports

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan stated: In these unprecedented times, having a proactive global education agenda is more important than ever so we can build back better from the pandemic. Our world-class education is a vital part of our economy and society, and we want to support universities, schools, colleges and all aspects of the education sector to thrive across the globe…I am also pleased to launch initiatives to enhance the experience of international students at our universities, from the moment they apply, to the first steps of their careers.

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, said: I am very supportive of the International Education Strategy, which represents the next step in a joint effort by Government and the education sector to build on the international success of our education system and our attractiveness to international students. This approach has delivered real benefits already, including the introduction of the graduate route, and improvements to the visa system. Despite a very difficult year, interest in UK study has grown as a result…We look forward to continuing to be partners, working with our members, Government and others across the sector, to deliver the strategy.

HESA data: Colleagues with an interest in international matters will be interested in the HESA 2019/20 HE Student Data release mentioned above. There is a sub section exploring recruitment areas for incoming HE students here with useful charts. The transnational data is here.

Access & Participation

Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Education Committee continued to take evidence for its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ministers Nick Gibb and Vicky Ford were questioned. While much of the content focussed on schools it was interested as it touched on several aspects of disadvantage. I was interested to learn that academic resilience (the ability of a child to excel academically regardless of their socio-economic background) has fallen for students from a disadvantaged background. You can read a summary of the session by Dods here.

Meanwhile the Public Accounts Committee have launched a new inquiry into Covid-19: Education. They intend to question DfE Officials on how well the DfE managed its overall response in the first lockdown, including whether it effectively supported schools and pupils in England during this period, whether it managed the move to mainly home-learning effectively and whether it effectively supported vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Questioning revolve around the current National Audit Office assessment.

Care leavers: TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) published an evidence review: Supporting access and student success for learners with experience of children’s social care.

The literature review finds that activities and interventions aimed to support care leavers are not robustly evaluated: From the 57 studies under review, about half focused on the evaluation of actual support activities while the other half explored potential barriers and facilitators affecting the target group’s trajectory into post-secondary education. However, the small numbers and gaps in data involved with this target group mean establishing causal impact is trickier than evaluating other inventions. Classification of who to include and exclude were also a problem (such as interlinking because care leavers likely to enter HE as mature students). Many studies relied heavily on self-reported evidence through focus groups and interviews (which leads to a self-selecting sample), however, the review concludes that these approaches to support care leavers into and whilst at HE seemed promising:

  • Mentoring activities which also provide positive role models and build a sense of belonging with peers
  • A social network to support, guide and advise care leavers considering HE: A key part of this network is often a trusted adult or mentor who can provide encouragement towards academic and personal goals and emotional support on the journey into and through HE. Several interviewees emphasised the importance of building relationships with a trusted figure, especially in the context of a group of learners who have often built an innate distrust in large bureaucratic institutions.
  • A single point of contact within a provider who can help learners navigate the institution and access the support they need pre-application to post-graduation. The review mentions that HEIs with higher progression and success rates for care students had this role as their sole focus.
  • Links between local authorities, carers, schools and HE providers. In studies where this collaboration was felt to be successful, staff and carers reported better managed transition support, relevant sharing of information between inter-organisational staff and learners who reported of feeling less alone and isolated.

Equality Remit: The Government’s new Equality Hub is explained following a parliamentary question asking about the relationship between the new Equality Hub and the Equalities Office:

  • The new Equality Hub, in the Cabinet Office, brings together the Disability Unit, Government Equalities Office, Race Disparity Unit and, from 1 April, the sponsorship of, and secretariat to, the Social Mobility Commission. The Government Equalities Office’s remit related to gender equality, LGBT rights and the overall framework of equality legislation for Great Britain. The Equality Hub reports to Ministers who have other portfolios outside of the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss.
  • The Equality Hub has a key role in driving Government priorities on equality and opportunity. The Hub has a particular focus on improving the quality of evidence and data about disparities and the types of barriers different people face, ensuring that fairness is at the heart of everything we do.
  • Key to this is looking beyond a focus solely on statutory protected characteristics to ensure we understand how different issues interact, including in socio-economic and geographic inequality. In this way, the Equality Hub is key to driving progress on the Government’s commitment to levelling up opportunity and ensuring fairness for all.

Other recent care leaver relevant resources

OIA – Complaints

In related news the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published revised draft Rules for Large Group Complaints. Undoubtedly driven by Covid, the proposed Large Group Complaints process builds on their existing approach to group complaints by developing a bespoke approach to handling complaints from large groups of students. The proposed process is intended for complaints from large groups of students at a single provider where there is a high degree of commonality between the complaints and where the complaints could be considered collectively.

However, while the process the OIA proposes would be more streamlined than the current process for group complaints, they say their approach to decision making would be the same. I.e. they would still consider what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

The changes require an amendment to their existing Rules and additional Rules for Large Group Complaints so final comments are invited before the change takes place (deadline 12 March).

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

HESA

HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) published the 2019/20 HE Student Data (which includes the first five months of the coronavirus pandemic). Here are HESA’s headline findings:

  • UK students from ethnic minorities made up 27%of all students studying for a first degree in 2019/20 – among students studying for a postgraduate taught qualification (such as a Masters) this proportion was 24% and for postgraduate research qualifications (such as a PhD) the figure was 19%
  • 6% of all students were from a Black African background, but this group represented only 3% of postgraduate research students
  • Students from an Asian Pakistani background were also less representedamong postgraduate research students (2%) compared to representing 4% of all students
  • 17% of UK domicile students reported having a disability, including 5% who reported a mental health condition – within these statistics there was also a difference at different levels of study, with 18% of first degree students reporting a disability compared to 15% of postgraduate taught students
  • 41% of UK domicile students studying medicine and dentistry subjects were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds compared to only 6% in the veterinary science and agriculture, food and related studies groups
  • 5% of all students were studying psychology, and that 81% of psychology students were female
  • The subject groups with the most students in 2019/20 were business and management with 412,815 students (52% male) and subjects allied to medicine with 295,520 students (79% female)

Colleagues may be interested to delve further into the HESA data which includes some great charts and visualisation to break down the student data in these areas:

David Kernohan of Wonkhe doesn’t think the data answers the big question about continuation this year.

Parliamentary News

Students – urgent questions: Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister answered 39 questions relating to HE students as part of an urgent question session on Support for University Students: Covid-19. It covered familiar topics such as rent rebates and tuition quality. The Minister stuck to the party line and there was no new news.

Poor ratings for SoS: Secretary of State Gavin Williamson continues to be perceived negatively by Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home. His net satisfaction rating is -48. We think he’ll be hanging in there though.  Changing now would be unlikely to change much substantively in policy terms anyway, although you have to think that it might improve the ways of doing things and if nothing else, communication (although that’s a problem for the Universities Minister as well as the Education Secretary).

OfS Chair

As expected and following the Education Committee green light, the DfE officially confirmed Lord Wharton’s appointment as Chair of the OfS replacing Michael Barber. He starts on 1 April for a four year period (approximately 2 days per week). Wharton has declared his Conservative interests and party membership within his role as a Peer but not resigned the whip.

  • The Education Committee endorsed the appointment just before it was confirmed. You can read the report here. Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said: The Chair of the OfS has a vital role to play in standing up for the rights of students and ensuring opportunities for all. I congratulate Lord Wharton on his appointment. I look forward to seeing the new Chair use his position to genuinely open doors for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensure that the access and participation funding delivers real change, use his independent voice to rocket boost degree apprenticeships and guarantee everyone has access to high quality skills that benefit both themselves and employers. Halfon’s statement highlights several of his own passions for education, such as the expansion of degree apprenticeships. He seems to be giving Wharton a public steer – interesting as the appointment process wasn’t without controversy.
  • Responding to the appointment, Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, said: This latest appointment adds to the Conservative Government’s growing catalogue of cronyism. Students have been forgotten by this Government which is more concerned about securing jobs for their friends. It’s ridiculous to think James Wharton could make independent decisions while continuing to sit as a Conservative Peer. He must resign the whip without delay. It’s vital for public confidence that concerns surrounding senior appointments are urgently looked at.
  • While Wharton doesn’t commence until April Williamson has written to both Wharton and outgoing Chair, Sir Michael Barber, vehemently stating his strategic priorities for HE.

Research Professional interview Paul Blomfield MP, (Labour, Sheffield Central, Chair of the APPG for Students) who doesn’t mince his words.

Students

The Guardian report that the Government plan to allow some additional university students back to campus when the schools reopen, so potentially from 8 March onwards.

  • The education secretary is expected to announce on 22 February that final-year students in practical subjects will be able to return to face-to-face teaching, with students taking other subjects to follow soon afterwards…Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said universities would follow the same roadmap as schools for reopening
  • Priority is expected to be given to final-year students on undergraduate courses or taught postgraduate degrees in practical subjects including performing arts and lab-based science courses. But many students may struggle to be allowed back before the Easter holidays at the end of March, when teaching in effect ends for many courses before exams.

It is likely this is part of a move to damp down on fee and rent complaints with the Government shifting the onus onto HE providers.

  • While the new higher education timetable was welcomed by senior leaders, they also fear that the education secretary’s waning influence with Downing Street means the Department for Education’s plan may be ignored in favour of other concerns.
  • Some institutions, such as the London School of Economics, have already said students will be taught remotely for the rest of the academic year, but Donelan said the government “will be giving them the option to alter those plans”.

The University and College Union stated: The priority right now must be to keep as much teaching as possible online for the rest of the academic year, and putting staff and student safety first.

And the article suggests that some students are returning anyway:

  • In defiance of the government’s orders to stay at home, several universities report that students are “returning to campus in droves”, even without the prospect of face-to-face teaching or the use of university facilities.
  • One university is said to have about 70% of its usual student numbers on or around campus, in part due to high numbers of students on exempt courses such as nursing. Most others estimate that 30% to 40% of students are back, and some have more than half.
  • “Some students have voted with their feet, it’s been reported by just about all the universities I’ve heard from, Russell Group and elsewhere. It’s interesting, it reflects the fact students start to identify university as their new home,” he said.

TEF

Wonkhe ran a feature on TEF this week with a blog written by Dame Shirley Pearce (who led the TEF review). Wonkhe say:

  • … the government, while claiming to have accepted the majority of the Pearce review’s recommendations, has failed entirely to engage with the spirit of that review, which posits enhancement of the quality of teaching as a delicate balance and interplay of accountability between regulators, providers, and students, and between nationally comparable data and locally produced evidence of quality. Today on the site, Shirley Pearce urges the higher education sector and the Office for Students (OfS) to engage with the recommendations the review makes, and to take seriously the review’s finding that far from being merely burdensome, the subject TEF pilots have sparked useful conversations inside universities, and offered levers to drive enhancement.
  • The Pearce review is grounded in a theory of change that says that if there is to be public confidence in quality, providers must evidence it, but that providers and their students must be empowered to do the enhancement work on the ground according to their distinctive mission and, importantly, at subject level. The elegant proposal that institutions be provided with subject-level data, split by demographic, and be asked to account for differences in outcomes, but that the subject data would not be published as rankings, is characteristic of the balancing act the review executes.
  • The government does not evidence its grasp of this balance in its response, instructing OfS to ground TEF ratings in nationally comparable data, while at the same time taking account of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) critique of the limitations of said data in drawing accurate conclusions about the quality of learning and teaching in higher education providers – and good luck to the English regulator in squaring that circle.
  • In the relatively few years of its existence, the TEF has won few friends, and many enemies. There may be satisfaction to some in seeing the TEF reduced and downgraded. But the version of the exercise that appears to be currently on the table, as Paul Ashwin argues, risks rendering the TEF entirely irrelevant. Better, then, to have a larger exercise that directly engages with the processes of enhancing learning and teaching quality, than a light-touch exercise that does not – and redirects institutions’ energies to gaming the metrics.

Three Wonkhe blogs tackle TEF:

As you’ll have read in the section covering the Secretary of State strategic priorities letter to the OfS Williamson has tasked the OfS to resolve how the TEF will move forward.

Brexit

Dods have summarised the DfE’s research on the effect of Brexit on HEIs in the UK. EU exit: estimating the impact on UK higher education looks at:

  • the effect of changes in the level of tuition fees on international student enrolments at undergraduate and postgraduate level
  • the potential impact on EU student enrolments and associated tuition fee income resulting from:
  • the removal of tuition fee loan and grant support for EU students
  • harmonisation of tuition fees charged to EU and non-EU students
  • changes to post-study work rights for EU students
  • changes to the rights to bring dependants

Across all HEIs, the analysis suggests that:

  • Removing the tuition fee support for EU-domiciled undergraduate students would reduce demand for UK higher education by approximately 13,090 (21%34 of all EU student enrolments) first-year students per year, equating to a loss of £80.7 million in tuition fee income.
  • Removing the Home fee status for EU-domiciled (undergraduate and postgraduate) students would generate additional fee revenue of approximately £114.6 million. That is, the increase in fees charged to EU-domiciled students would more than offset the loss in fee income due to falling demand amongst EU students (15,220 students, 24% of EU-domiciled student enrolments in 2016/17).
  • Restricting the right to work in the UK post-graduation for EU-domiciled students would potentially result in 6,640 (11% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer EU student enrolments, corresponding to a reduction in fee revenue generated by UK HEIs of £88.0 million.
  • Restricting the right to bring dependants for EU-domiciled students would further reduce tuition fee income by approximately £8.4 million, with 590 (1% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer enrolments.
  • Taken together, the estimated combined impact of all of these policy changes would be to reduce tuition fee income from EU sources by approximately £62.5 million, with 35,540 (57%) fewer first-year EU enrolments. However, the aggregate impact on fee income masks significant variation by university cluster (and level of study). In particular, HEIs in Clusters 1 would benefit in aggregate; whereas institutions in Clusters 2, 3 and 4 would be worse-off.
  • The results on student enrolments are insensitive to changes in classification of HEIs by clusters, with the reduction in demand varying from 34,555 (55%) to 35,750 (57%). The total financial loss ranges from £42.5 million to £66.5 million.

There is also the impact assessment here, which Dods summarises below:

The DfE have published an assessment of the effect that changes made to higher education student finance regulations will have on groups with relevant protected characteristics.

  • Expect the proposed amendments will most likely have a negative impact on EU nationals on the basis of their nationality, if they are domiciled in the EEA and Switzerland
  • They will also have a negative impact on older EU national students who are not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements, with those studying at postgraduate level proportionately more affected
  • Do not expect EU students who are female (who are slightly overrepresented as a result of these changes) or who have declared a disability to be significantly impacted by these changes
  • There is a lack of data to predict the impact on other EEA (Norwegian, Icelandic, Liechtenstein) and Swiss students
  • Other EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who do not fall into this category (or one of the other eligibility categories), and who do not have settled status, are not eligible for home fee status and student finance
  • While those not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements will therefore be impacted on the basis of their, or their family members’ nationality, the number of those currently benefiting from student support is very small and as such, the equalities impacts are assessed to be insignificant
  • With regard to EU nationals resident in the overseas territories, their assessment is that although protected groups of EU nationals who will be affected by our proposed position are slightly over represented, namely gender/sex (females), the impact of the amendments will not differ on the basis of these protected characteristics
  • Given the limited numbers of students involved, the equality impacts are likely to be insignificant

Concluding, they say that since these amendments will remove access to student finance for EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals not covered by citizens’ rights, there are number of routes such individuals may choose to adopt:

  1. Proceed: Undertake HE study in England without receiving home fee status or any student support from Student Finance England, but potentially in receipt of funding from other sources such as their own Governments.
  2. Go elsewhere: Take up HE study outside the UK where access to education can be obtained on the same basis as domestic nationals e.g. their own, or another state within the EEA or Switzerland, or the EU overseas territories, or other international countries.
  3. No go: Choose not to participate in HE study

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

  • Intergenerational Fairness: Dods published an interesting briefing on intergenerational fairness.
  • Games degrees: The number of UK graduates in computer games subjects has risen for a seventh consecutive year.
  • Fee Variability: You may remember that last year Australia changed the Government support and fee regime to prioritise support for certain programmes (such as STEMM) and charge more for lower priority courses. The change attracted much interest in the UK because the current Government has long been flirting with the idea of differential programme funding stemming all the way back to Jo Johnson’s tenure as Universities Minister and the introduction of the Higher Education and Research Act legislation (including TEF). Interestingly this week the Guardian have reported that demand for arts and humanities courses is still high in Australia despite fee increases,
  • LGBT+: UUK have a blog: Going the extra mile to embrace LGBT+ equality in higher education.
  • Pensions: HEPI have a trio of blogs on university pensions and in particular on the USS.
  • Dementia Research Funding: The latest news on dementia funding from a parliamentary question response: The Government’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 contained the commitment to spend £300 million on dementia research over the five years to March 2020. This commitment was delivered a year early with £344 million spent on dementia research over the four years to 31 March 2019. We are currently working on ways to significantly boost further research on dementia at all stages on the translation pathway including medical and care interventions.
  • Paramedics ELQ rules: The debate on whether to waive the ELQ rules for paramedical science continues. The Government response states: A decision will be dependent on business planning for the 2021/22 financial year following the outcome of Spending Review 2020.
  • Mental health animation: UKRI report that academics have partnered up with Aardman to tackle the current mental health crisis with the campaign: What’s Up With Everyone? funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The press release states: Although around half of all lifetime mental health problems start by the mid-teens, intervention typically starts much later. Issues include rising suicide rates among young people and unprecedented challenges for young people at school, university, college or the workplace. This points to an urgent need to rethink mental health education to reach and engage young people.
  • What’s Up With Everyone? is a series of five new animated films created with and for young people about dealing with life’s challenges before they impact mental healththe films link to vital information and signposting for how young people can help themselves or seek help for the issues raised through the project’s website. One wonders if it will link to the OfS’ mental health platform.

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HE policy update for the w/e 4th February 2021

Wonkhe and Pearson have collaborated to highlight what students value about remote and flexible learning aspects. The CMA have called out price fixing which may have increased the cost of good and services provided to disabled students. The Government have announced additional hardship funding to be distributed to students although we still don’t know about the methodology the OfS will use to distribute this. There’s a code for free speech proposed by Students’ Unions. And the appointment of the new Chair of the Office for Students, Lord Wharton, continues to be controversial.

New OfS Chair

The Commons Education Committee held a pre-appointment hearing with Lord James Wharton of Yarm who the Government intend to appoint to become the next chair of the Office for Students. Lord Wharton has stated he will not resign the Conservative Whip if he is appointed to the OfS (this means he will vote as directed by the Conservative party in divisions). While in practice as a Lord it is acceptable that Wharton will act according to his personal political stance, this is still unusual.  Similar concerns were raised when Baroness Harding was appointed as head of NHS Test and Trace and also retained the Tory whip..

Wharton was only appointed to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in 2020, the current Government has been recognised (and criticised) for its approach to several high level appointments (e.g. Harding and the new Chair of the BBC).

Wharton has little background or previously stated interest in education. Wonkhe have a great blog on the potential appointment, here’s a snide little snippet:  If being put forward for a government-backed role makes Private Eye, you have a problem. The process itself was notably light on educational expertise and heavy on being mates with Boris, and it clearly generated a nomination where educational expertise was not the primary criteria.  The same Wonkhe blog quickly gallops through the content of the Education Committee hearing – it is worth a read to understand Wharton’s priorities and areas where it seems he has some more background reading to do.

Research Professional also cover the story here:

  • However, responding to a question from Tory committee member David Simmonds about the potential difficulties of holding the whip while chairing an independent regulator, Wharton rejected the idea that such a clear conflict of interest was really a conflict of interest at all—and offered assurance that he had held discussions with the other party whips already.
  • “What I have made clear, and what they have agreed, is that on issues of conflict—if they arise—with my role in the OfS, if I’m appointed, they would give me more latitude and understand that I may need to vote against or speak against some of the things the party in government could bring forward.”
  • It sounds to Playbook rather like the independence of the OfS chair will be underpinned by what might best be described as a gentleman’s agreement. Perhaps England’s regulator will adopt this approach to its formal duties when Wharton takes up his role. It would certainly help with the OfS’s desire to be more ‘light touch’.
  • …Another theme Wharton returned to a number of times during the session was the need for more “risk-based regulation”: reducing the regulatory burden for some, but increasing it when required.
  • “In some ways, some of our top universities will not need and should not need to be monitored as closely on quality of output in terms of academic output, for example,” he said. “But there are other areas in which some of those universities are not doing as well as they should.” This was in response to a question about Black, Asian and minority ethnic student access at “top” universities.

You can read the letter from the Commissioner for Public Appointments to the Education Select Committee here (it briefly touches upon some of the controversial aspects mentioned above such as panel membership). The letter was sent in advance of the Education Committee hearing. The letter states: I note that Lord Wharton was assessed as appointable by the Panel, along with three other candidates. The choice between these appointable candidates is entirely a matter for ministers. Williamson’s (pre-hearing) letter stating Wharton as the strongest candidate is here.

Here is Dods’ summary of the Education Committee pre-appointment hearing for the OfS Chair position.

The Government’s announcement confirming who will hold the OfS Chair position can be expected imminently.

Research

Amanda Solloway, the Science Minister, has done an interview with Research Professional in which she describes her personal experience of sexual harassment and discrimination and sets out her mission to stamp it out.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser has a blog on debunking the Einstein myth and increasing diversity of the workforce.

  • …despite the diverse opportunities, many people do not see themselves working in research and innovation. They don’t see it as a place for them…This is perhaps not surprising since a popular image of researchers and innovators is one of Einstein-like geniuses: superhumanly clever, obsessed with their work and driven by pure logic. They work alone in dusty libraries or in labs full of bubbling liquids doing arcane things that will either save the world or destroy it…But researchers and innovators know very well that they are not geniuses marching toward the truth using pure logic. Rather than helping them deal with the inherent insecurities of their work, the myth ultimately amplifies insecurity, leaving the sector riddled with imposter syndrome…So the lone genius perception segregates research and innovation into a remote and alien corner of society that looks unattractive and unwelcoming to the diverse people that the system needs, and it inhibits the collaborative supportive research culture we need to catalyse creative discovery and innovation…Ultimately, we will relegate research and innovation to the margins of our society, making it much harder to reap the benefits and much harder to identify and prioritise the challenges people really care about. We need to build a truly inclusive system that values and nurtures a much wider range of careers and career paths. A good place to start is to change ideas about who is part of the research and innovation system.
  • To get the ball rolling, I am delighted to be collaborating with the Minister for Science Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway, to find 101 people, doing 101 different jobs that make major contributions to research and innovation, but who are not researchers and innovators. If you are one such person, or work with one and would like to participate in this project please email your suggestion to stories@ukri.org. I am also keen to hear about other ideas and initiatives that could support a more inclusive definition of the research and innovation system.

REF flexibility: At the end of last week the REF team provided more details on the extra support to help universities struggling to complete during lockdown:

  • Universities are no longer required to submit corroborating evidence for impact case studies, however, any evidence should be held by the institution in the event of audit. Uploaded evidence should be submitted by 1 June.
  • Errors can be corrected up to six weeks after the 31 March submission deadline.
  • More information was published on the labelling and delivery of physical outputs and redacting impact case studies for publication.

ARPA

  • UK ARPA ‘should run like a venture capital’ says former Head of Innovate UK. Ruth McKernan, now Chair of the BioIndustry Association, spoke out on 27 January at a Foundation for Science and Technology meeting exploring the UK ARPA which is expected to launch this year with £50 million in seed funding. Ruth advised that the UK ARPA should be designed in the spirit of a venture capital fund in order to reduce red tape and enable the speed and flexibility required to deliver high-risk, high-returns research.
  • Meanwhile on Monday Dods/The Financial Times reported that: new Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is pushing forward with plans to form the anticipated scientific research agency, and that legislation could be drawn up within weeks. As the agency is a standalone organisation, separate from UKRI, it requires its own legislation. The Treasury has authorised £800m of spending on the agency, which will fund “cutting-edge, high-risk, high-reward science here in the UK,” particularly in areas such as AI and data.

JISC – Support research & innovation 2021-23

Towards the end of last week Jisc published their research and innovation sector strategy 2021-23, setting out their seven key theme priorities identified through their engagement with the sector. Dods summarise:

  1. Supporting a new national data infrastructure for research
  • Never before have research and innovation been so dependent on infrastructure, on the capacity of network, security, connectivity and access management. This dependency will continue to grow.
  • Jisc commit to supporting a new national data infrastructure for research, underpinned by their existing Janet Network, cyber security, cloud and data infrastructures and will coordinate the implementation of a flexible set of solutions for institutions and research collaborations.
  1. UK research analytics: understanding systems, cultures, resources and decision-making
  • The data produced through the processes of research management could be used on a greater scale to transform research systems, cultures and decision-making. Exponentially upgraded analytical capacity is needed to build the strategic capabilities of UK research.
  • Jisc will examine the potential for a new UK research analytics platform and service, enhancing their existing analytics capabilities
  1. Recording the UK’s ‘research estate’ in support of a UK-wide research capability
  • The ability to identify, deploy, share and re-use physical and intangible assets that comprise the research estate are central to delivering efficiencies, the civic agenda, levelling up, open research and achieving net-zero. These assets also include the significant infrastructure which gives access to research, including content, library and archival collections.
  • Jisc will explore expanding the well-established digital approaches to the management and use of these assets
  1. Accelerating the achievement, delivery and monitoring of the journey to open research
  • Open research extends beyond the boundaries of open access articles to all research outputs, including metadata, data, code, algorithms and software, as well as the processes of research itself. It will continue to be a high priority for the UK research base, for funders and for Jisc.
  • Jisc commit to helping the UK embrace the full potential of open research by removing barriers, embedding open practices and developing infrastructure to support this potential.
  1. Applied research and knowledge exchange: supporting its commercialisation and deployment
  • The interconnected systems producing world-class research and innovation are increasingly reliant on shared and secure infrastructure to enable their growth. The breadth of academic-industry collaborations and commercial spinouts from academic research is set to grow.
  • Jisc commit to further supporting the acceleration of the impact of and knowledge exchange from research commercialisation through the enhanced use of shared research infrastructure.
  1. Rapid innovation in research management and active research
  • Research integrity, reproducibility and reuse, evaluation and assessment, new and inclusive forms of excellence and the responsible use of metrics are all areas that offer significant potential for greater efficiency and interoperability.
  • Jisc commit to exploring and building on innovative approaches in research management, including enhanced system interoperability, common data repository standards and metrics aggregator models
  1. ‘Research 4.0’: realising the art of the possible
  • Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 5G, quantum computing and biotechnologies are set to impact the UK’s world-leading research and innovation sector in the years ahead in ways yet to be imagined.
  • Jisc propose a technical enablers programme focusing on exemplifying leading-edge specialisms and a ‘research reimagined’ programme to better understand this future potential with and on behalf of our members.

Quick News update

  • The British Academy has submitted its pre-budget report to the Treasury calling for Horizon Europe funding to be ring fenced separately from BEIS research funding:
    • The funds required for Horizon Europe association should be additional to the existing budget for research and innovation, in order that we support and build the UK’s reputation as a global research and innovation leader in this period of uncertainty and upheaval.
    • And on ODA: We also wish to emphasise the importance and value of funding for global research and innovation activities through the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. Any reduction in the levels of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget for research and innovation activity will directly harm the UK’s ability to maintain its global position in terms of science and research. We are extremely concerned that even a temporary reduction in funding for scientific research will compromise the ability of the UK to act as a leader in addressing global challenges and building capacity in research talent, particularly at a time when COVID-19 has demonstrated the critical need for global collaboration. Both the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the £735m Newton Fund come under the aid budget.
    • Press release here.
  • Professor Matt Lambon Ralph has been appointed Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Non-Clinical Training and Career Development Panel. Matt was previously Associate Vice-President for Research at the University of Manchester including a focus on early career researchers. The panel is responsible for assessing applications for non-clinical fellowships across the MRC research portfolio. He is expected to sit on the panel for the standard length of four years.
  • UKRI and the Met Office have appointed Dr Gary Fuller (Imperial College London) as the new Clean Air Champion for the Strategic Priorities Fund Clean Air Programme (£42.5 million R&I investment programme). He joins the existing champions Professor Sir Stephen Holgate and Dr Jenny Baverstock. They will bring together outstanding researchers across atmospheric, medical and social sciences to develop practical solutions for air quality issues… equipping the UK to proactively tackle future air quality challenges related to changing emissions, exposure patterns and impacts on vulnerable groups of people.
  • UKRI has a news story on the Innovate UK £134 million in continuity loans to support small businesses drive on with innovative and exciting new products and services. Loans of between £250,000 and £1.6 million have been made to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and third sector organisations that would otherwise have struggled to continue with research and development activity.
  • The Public Accounts Committee has launched an inquiry into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Fund awards support for research and development projects under the Industrial Strategy four themes – clean growth, the ageing society, the future of mobility and artificial intelligence & the data economy. It constitutes a significant part of the Government’s commitment to spend £4.7 billion on R&D. The Committee will question senior officials at BEIS and UKRI on the management of the Fund, focussing on the design of the Fund and oversight of its implementation, and the approach taken to considering performance and progress in making the awards. The timing and announcement of the inquiry is interesting – we’ll be keeping an eye on this one.
  • Chris Skidmore writes in Conservative Home highlighting how Brexit has enabled the UK to respond faster on issues such as Covid vaccinations. He continues to argue about a focus on research.
    • With a new American President that believes in the power of science and research, the Prime Minister has found an ally and common ground upon which he can transform into a special science relationship. Focus on ‘shared values’ is intended to be a key part of the G7— what better value could there be to focus upon than investment in research and innovation?
    • A new international research fund, a new alliance of research universities, the chance to forge new international science programmes dedicated to transforming and de-carbonising energy supply… the potential is enormous. Yes, we can build back better, but we can do so much more effectively if we research back better too.
  • The Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has set out plans for a new UK subsidy control system: which will be the long-term replacement for the EU’s prescriptive state aid regime, will allow the UK to be more dynamic in providing support to businesses, including in innovative, R&D-focused industries, to encourage job creation and growth across all parts of the UK. [You’ll remember that state aid was a big issue in the Brexit negotiations at the end of the year].
  • The PM has established a new Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) which will identify and develop proposals across a range of areas that will drive innovation and competitiveness, reduce barriers to start-ups and scale-ups, create opportunities for innovation to make the most of cutting-edge technologies, and support growth and dynamism right across the UK economy. In particular:
    • Opportunities which could drive innovation and accelerate the commercialisation and safe adoption of new technologies, cementing the UK’s position as a global science and technology superpower.
    • Opportunities to reduce barriers to entry in specific markets and make markets more dynamic and contestable across the economy.
    • Opportunities to reduce administrative barriers to scaling up productive businesses; and to tailor any necessary processes to the needs of UK start-ups and SMEs while maintaining the Government’s commitment to high environmental standards and worker protections.
    • Opportunities to improve small business’ experience of necessary regulatory requirements.
    • Sectors of the economy or regulatory frameworks which should be prioritised for further regulatory deep dives.

The Taskforce is expected to report back to the PM in April. Their findings will be considered alongside the Government’s broader economic growth and regulatory agenda.  Cynics will remember the “bonfire of the quangos” under the Cameron government (this FT article reports the National Audit Office report that 285 public bodies were abolished but 184 new organsiations were created at the same time).

Parliamentary Questions

  • PhD extensions – I [Amanda Solloway] regularly meet with … the CEO of UKRI…to monitor how the pandemic is affecting UKRI-funded PhD students and the wider research system. We will continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 and UKRI continues to listen and respond carefully as the situation evolves.
  • What effect the 30% reduction in the Official Development Assistance allocation will have on the Government’s ringfenced climate change and R&D funding commitments.

Admissions

There was UCAS data released on 4th February.

Dods summarise the UCAS application and acceptance figures for the 2020 cycle:

There were 2,788,715 applications in this cycle – an increase on the 2019 cycle

  • Across all providers, there were 570,475 accepted applicants
  • There were 156,280 unconditional offers made
  • Providers across the UK had a 71.4% offer rate (72.8% in England, 56.6% in Scotland, 79% in Wales, 77.2% in NI)
  • Among lower tariff providers, this figure was 7%
  • Among medium tariff providers, this figure was 2%
  • Among higher tariff providers, this figure was 9%
  • Offer rates for UK 18 year olds by POLAR4 quintile were:
  • Q1: 78.6%
  • Q2: 78.9%
  • Q3: 79.4%
  • Q4: 79.7%
  • Q5: 80.5%

Key findings and trends:

  • Acceptances to computer science courses have risen by almost 50% (from 20,420 in 2011 to 30,090 in 2020)
  • Acceptances to engineering courses are up 21% from 25,995 in 2011 to 31,545 in 2020 – driven by an increase in demand from UK 18 year olds
  • Acceptances to the newer artificial intelligence (AI) courses have seen a 400% rise in the past decade (from just 65 in 2011 to 355 in 2020)
  • Despite the removal of NHS bursaries in 2017, demand for nursing places is now almost at the same level seen in 2011 (62,920 applicants made a nursing choice in 2020 compared to 63,275 in 2011) and acceptances have grown by 57% – representing an additional 13,635 students
  • With the expansion of medical places in the last few years, acceptances to medicine courses are at the highest level on record, growing 37% since 2017
  • Law increased from 22,720 acceptances in 2011 to 29,105 acceptances in 2020, with substantial increases to both higher and medium tariff providers across this period
  • Business increased from 61,100 acceptances in 2011 to 75,515 in 2020. Growth in acceptances across all provider tariff bands – with by far the largest increase to higher tariff providers
  • Psychology acceptances increase from 16,685 in 2011 to 26,200 in 2020. Again, there were increases across all tariff bands, with medium and higher tariff providers experiencing the largest increases
  • Humanities subjects have decreased in popularity over the last decade. English studies have seen a decrease from 10,020 acceptances in 2011 to 6,980 this year in 2020, and history and philosophical studies from 15,060 in 2011 to 12,870, though the data shows this decline seems to be confined to lower and medium tariff providers
  • Acceptances to modern language degree courses have decreased by 36% – from 6,005 in 2011 to 3,830 in 2020 across all tariff groups. This drop in demand is seen alongside a decrease in language A level entrants over the same timeframe.

Given the reverses in policy (student number controls and centre-assessed grades), the controversy about unconditional offers, last this year was a pretty interesting one for admissions teams.  Some of these things have implications this year too – we still have a ban on unconditional offers, and this year the impact of whatever Ofqual end up with will almost certainly ensure that there are once again more students with higher grades entering university.  The Russell Group are already asking for money to help them take more students in September (again).  And all this is just in time for another huge reversal of approach as the government consult on minimum entry requirements and post-qualification admissions.  Catch up on our policy update from 21st January on minimum entry requirements, and you can read the PQA consultation here (it runs until May, so no rush).

  • A data rich piece by David Kernohan using UCAS data on unconditional offer This was the big story just under a year ago, as despite strong Ministerial and OfS criticism of unconditional offers up to that point, and particularly strong pressure on “conditional unconditional offers”.    When the pandemic hit and exams were cancelled, some universities allegedly made many more unconditional offers, on the basis that it would remove stress for school and college leavers.  Of course, in March, as we went into the first lockdown, Michelle Donelan ordered universities to stop making unconditional offers, in a “moratorium” that later turned into a “time-limited” condition of registration with the OfS that remains in place today.  In their consultation the OfS proposed making the condition retrospective, with a view to penalising those universities who had made offers in the crucial early weeks of March – but this idea was dropped.  We might expect a response to the UCAS data from the OfS, which might not be super positive about it.
  • A piece on subject trends from UCAS data – including what they call the “Chris Whitty effect” as applications increased for health and social care programmes in 2020. This is of course good news for us all, especially given concerns about the impact of the controversial removal of NHS bursaries for these course and the incredible contribution made by many students during the pandemic on placement or starting paid work before the end of their courses.  In the piece, Sander Kristel, Chief Operations Officer at UCAS also looks at numbers for STEM, and the gender divide, and the decline in language students, and in English and humanities subjects too. David Kernohan of Wonkhe contributes some rich data on applications over time, by subject and by provider.
  • And an overview on the overall cycle, again by David Kernohan, with some startling data about winners and losers in terms of student numbers in 2020 and some analysis of student movements. In case you’ve forgotten, as well as a

HEPI has a piece from former universities minister (and former VC) Bill Rammell and education consultant Abhishek Nakhate on the ways that universities can turn knowledge of their applicants into successful recruitment.

Wonkhe also tell us that TES has an opinion piece on the opportunity in the Department for Education’s PQA consultation to uncouple university admissions from A levels completely.

Free Speech

On Monday Wonkhe announced the publication of a collaboration with a group of students leading students’ unions on free speech: Taking the debate forward: A new code to secure and champion freedom of speech and political diversity on campus. Wonkhe also gather together a series of information and recent content on free speech here.

Support for the new code has been given by Adam Clarke, Policy Manager, for the Russell Group. He states:

  • Universities, students and government all want to protect free speech and ensure robust academic debate. Engaging with challenging ideas is a vital element of the academic experience in UK universities.
  • As Wonkhe’s analysis shows, the overwhelming majority of planned students’ union events go ahead, giving speakers the opportunity to present controversial ideas on campus, which students can interrogate.
  • The proposals in this report are intended to help students’ unions broaden the range of views students are exposed to and continue to champion free speech on campus effectively. It sets out sensible additional steps students’ unions can take as independent bodies to protect free speech and how universities can support them in this critical work.
  • The creation of a new free speech code with an explicit goal of increasing the volume and diversity of debates on campuses would help students’ unions go further in their efforts to defend and maintain freedom of expression.

The Minister speaks (and writes, to everyone)

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, announced £50 million of new hardship funding for HE providers (to be distributed by the OfS). The Government press release states: The increased financial support comes as the majority of students have been asked to continue their studies remotely, as part of measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus…The new funding means that universities will be able to help students impacted by the pandemic, for example those facing additional costs for alternative accommodation, loss of employment, or extra costs to access their teaching online. Universities will distribute the funding and will be able to prioritise the funding to those most in need of help. The Government also stated it wanted universities to offer partial refunds for unused accommodation. No doubt the Government are hoping this will head off calls for tuition and rent refunds, at least for a few weeks. The written ministerial statement is here.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

  • This continues to be an incredibly difficult and challenging time for our students, and I am hugely grateful to all the university staff working hard to prioritise their health, wellbeing and learning during this pandemic. The additional £50 million that we are announcing today will mean we have distributed £70m for hardship in this financial year alone – on top of the £256m of government-funded student premium which universities can use for student support this academic year. This additional support will provide real, tangible help for those students struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. We will continue to prioritise a full return to education as soon possible, in line with public health advice. I am also working with universities and professional bodies to ensure students can graduate as planned.
  • On distributing the funds Wonkhe have stated that the DfE tells us the mechanism for doing so is yet to be determined, and we understand that OfS will shortly be writing to provider accountable officers with a proposed distribution methodology.

On Wednesday Donelan made a statement to the House explaining that HE providers will have flexibility in how they distribute funding to students including to masters and international students. There was also an urgent question from Paul Blomfield in the House of Commons on Wednesday and Jim Dickinson (of Wonkhe) has live tweeted the whole debate – very funny but also rather sad.

If you can face it, you can re-read MD’s original set of late on a Friday night tweets (STUDENT MESSAGES 1- 6) that so enraged so many.

Donelan spoke on Radio 4 stating she wanted to ensure students and HE providers understood that hardship support from this funding shouldn’t be just a one-time offer, that students could return to their providers for additional help later on, where appropriate and if required.

Many organisations published their reactions to the announcement. We’ve picked out the key stakeholders who continue to call for the Government to do more:

  • Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: While the additional funding is welcome, the government must also acknowledge that student hardship is just one of many increasingly difficult issues facing students, universities and staff at this time. As the serious mental health impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, universities need further funding to alleviate the substantial increases in demand that university wellbeing and support services are experiencing. Although university staff are making huge efforts to offer high quality online learning, the government should provide support that recognises that students are missing out on the wider student experience that they would benefit from in a normal year.
  • Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: It is good to see…measures further boosted by the Government with additional funds specifically for students facing difficulties with day-to-day living costs. This group is likely to be far wider than those who would normally be eligible for support through OfS student premium funding.
  • NUS National President Larissa Kennedy said: …this will not be enough to tackle the scale of the issue. If Westminster did the right thing and matched the hardship funding being made available in Wales for students the amount needed would be more than £700m…The pandemic has exposed the flaws at the core of our education system – it functions at the expense of students’ mental health and wellbeing, and through our financial exploitation…We also need a long term solution to ensure that no student suffers in this way again. The Government must adopt a new vision for education, starting with a return to maintenance grant funding and a boost in how much students can access, redressing extortionate housing costs, and moving towards fully funded education so students are never pushed into these kinds of dire financial situations

On Thursday the Minister published yet another open letter to students (sent to universities late on Tuesday).  It repeats much of the content of previous letters, including about how to complain.  You can read the full text of the letter it in the Minister’s tweet here.

In an expansion of the now well established DfE practice of sending open letters to students to be shared by providers (usually arriving late at night, often on a Friday), this time in a burst of creative energy the Minister also wrote to staff at providers.  BU readers can find the message here.

Access & Participation

Social Mobility Commission

We learn the reasoning behind the move of the Commission to the Cabinet office here:

  • This move aligns with a recent recommendation by the Chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the Social Mobility Commission’s (SMC) own recommendation about where it would best fit within government, and with a recommendation by the Education Select Committee in 2018.
  • Moving the sponsorship of the SMC to become a key part of the new Equality Hub makes good sense and puts equality and fairness of all kinds at the heart of government. The move shows how serious this government is about acting on these issues, as part of our levelling up agenda.

There’s a parliamentary question on the Social Mobility Commission’s report Changing gears: understanding downward social mobility setting out the Government’s approach to social mobility and it also mentions the move to the Cabinet Office.

The Social Mobility Commission published its annual review and business plan 2020 this week. They state: In this extraordinarily challenging year, we have made significant strides in influencing government policy, while making meaningful connections with employers and embarking upon an ambitious programme of activities. On the move to the Cabinet Office they state: As we prepare to move to the Cabinet Office from 1 April 2021, we look forward to taking a more influential role in addressing social and regional inequality.

The report has a timeline to highlight the key milestones in 2020 (see further below). And they summarise their achievements as:

  • launching an employers’ programme and microsite for businesses to help recruit more people from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • publishing 13 ground-breaking research reports on aspects of social mobility which got widespread media pick-up
  • reaching out to a younger audience
  • In addition we built up our network of Ambassador organisations to help spread our message, held dozens of seminars, webinars, training sessions and masterclasses, and launched a campaign for increased resources on further education

There’s lots more detail in the report including short summaries and links to the key publications.

Disability – price fixing

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has issued advisory letters to some firms supplying goods and services to disabled university students, following concerns that there may have been price-fixing. The Government press release with more detail is here. Excerpts from the press release:

  • Price-fixing is a serious breach of competition law and can cheat people out of a lower price, which could have been available if competition was working properly.
  • The CMA is concerned that SLC [Student Loans Company] – and so ultimately the taxpayer – may have paid over the odds for certain goods and services because some suppliers agreed prices before providing quotations. This alleged activity could also have reduced the overall amount which disabled students have available for purchasing equipment through the scheme.
  • While the CMA has been considering these allegations, SLC has told the CMA that it is making a number of changes to the way it procures goods and services for disabled students. The changes will increase price transparency and competition amongst companies, and should therefore limit the potential for anti-competitive behaviour to take place.
  • The CMA has not made a legal finding as to whether competition law has been broken at this stage, but it will keep this sector under review, 

Wonkhe have a blog – Is a market the best way of supporting disabled students?

And the Student Loans Company have issued a statement following the CMA’s action stating they welcome the advisory action and that they take these allegations of anti-competitive behaviour within the DSA supplier base extremely seriously… Also they have already embarked on a programme of significant reforms, designed to transform the customer experience, improve the provision of DSA and to make the overall processes more efficient. These reforms will also increase transparency of pricing and increase competition thus limiting the potential for any anti-competitive behaviour. SLC has already procured an e-quotation system, which will allow more suppliers to quote for work and will increase transparency of pricing and competition.

Lost learning

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published research on the crisis in lost school learning. Dods have summarised the report. The report sets out the potential long-run costs of lost schooling and finds that, as a result of the pandemic, children across the UK are likely to lose at least half a year of normal, in-person schooling. They conclude that, absent a substantial policy response, the long-run effects of this learning loss are likely to be slow-moving and substantial – arguing that, in the end, we will all be less productive, poorer, have less money to spend on public services, and we may be less happy and healthy as a result. They also say that we will probably also be more unequal, with all the social ills that come with it. Key findings:

  • By February half-term, children across the UK will have lost at least half a year of normal, in person schooling. This would increase to two thirds of a year if schools weren’t to reopen as normal until Easter
  • Early evidence already suggests this loss of schooling is contributing to lower educational progress and skills, particularly for disadvantaged pupils
  • Existing evidence on returns to schooling would imply a long-run loss in earnings of £350bn
  • If, the efforts by schools, teachers, children, parents and charities allowed us to mitigate 75% of this effect, the total loss would still be £90bn
  • A large amount of these negative effects are likely to be borne by children from lower-income families, resulting in a likely rise in inequality over the long-run
  • A massive injection of resources is likely to be required to help pupils properly catch up
  • A useful benchmark to judge these plans is the normal cost of half a year of schooling, about £30 billion across the UK
  • So far, governments across the UK have allocated about £1.5bn towards the cost of catch-up – this is highly unlikely to be sufficient to help pupils catch-up or prevent inequalities from widening.

HEPI has a blog by Gwen Morris on “Closing the attainment gap: how disadvantaged pupils have been impacted by COVID-19

Students in the pandemic

Financial woes

Aside from the hardship funding described above, there is more heat than light on this subject.

The APPG for Students released a report from their inquiry into tuition and accommodation costs during Covid-19 making the case for compensation. (Note – an APPG inquiry does not have the same power within Parliament as an official select committee inquiry and the Government is not compelled to respond to it.)

The APPG state the priority is to provide students with the financial assistance they need now – through an emergency hardship fund and full compensation for rents for unused accommodation due to lockdown measures. Recommendations:

  1. The Government should substantially increase hardship funding to address rental costs for student properties they cannot access, lost income, digital poverty and other unexpected cost.
  2. The Government should consider the introduction of means-tested maintenance grants to assist the ‘Covid cohort’ with the costs they face.
  3. The Government should work with landlords to introduce measures to temporarily increase flexibility for student accommodation to allow students to leave contracts they aren’t using more easily, and to reduce pressure on landlords.
  4. Government should establish a ‘Covid Student Learning Remediation Fund’, to allow lost learning to be addressed through provision of educational opportunities not available through the pandemic.
  5. UKRI studentships for PGR students should be extended to allow research to be finished to usual high standards, in circumstances where lockdown has affected access to facilities and resources. Consideration should also be given to support for self-funded students.

Dods have an impartial and clear article on the call for refunds in The House (parliamentary) magazine. It highlights a difficult factor that the sector is fully aware of:  it is unclear what shape a refund of a loan that most would never fully repay anyway would take.  And other tricky elements:

  • So who should pay when customers (i.e. students) feel they are no longer getting value for money? It would be easy to conclude that it should be down to HE providers themselves. But when we consider that many of the restrictions causing these issues come from government-mandated measures, and ultimately from a global pandemic, where to lay the blame becomes less clear.
  • And what is a customer to do once they’ve received a refund, but are still left with what they believe to be a faulty product? Money in the pockets of students might satisfy their initial gripes, but they still might not get what they set out to achieve when they completed their UCAS application.

Wonkhe have a review article going over it all: Someone has to give in the great tuition fees battle. Who will it be? A light read as Jim Dickinson injects some great examples in there. It covers student consent to changes in the curriculum arising from the pandemic. It concludes: Something – or more specifically, someone – has to give here. And if universities have nothing left, it’s either students or DfE. OfS wagging its finger at universities is just fence-sitting. The actual side that OfS picks in the coming battle will tell us everything we need to know both about its real priorities and its “independence“.

Wonkhe also cover a mini legal hiccup relating to the vacation (Christmas) household and their term time address.

Wonkhe report: Accommodation provider Unite has announced it will extend its 50 per cent rent discount until 8 March 2021. The extension applies automatically to students who successfully applied for the original discount. 

The BBC covered a letter written by the VC’s of seven universities calling for the interest on student loans to be scrapped for 15 months to ease the pressure on graduates. I.e. from lockdown 1 to summer 2021. The BBC state that just for first year undergraduates it would cost £33 million. The Government has stated that this wouldn’t support students now, which the hardship funding they announced (in Access and Participation section) will. The Government also reminded that half of students do not fully pay back their student loan. The VC’s letter also highlighted that demands for hardship funds have increased by over 100% in some universities.

On Tuesday the petitions committee met to consider e-petitions:

Guidance: The DfE published new return to campus guidance for HE students and providers. All remains as expected:

  • All teaching to remain online until at least 8 March except for certain practical subjects (e.g. veterinary, policing, medicine)
  • On accommodation and costsit states: Because of the changing position relating to face to face teaching and occupation of accommodation, students’ loan entitlements for the current term will not be reassessed if they are still incurring accommodation costs away from home, meaning that students in receipt of the ‘living away from home’’ loan will retain the maintenance loans paid at the start of term, which will be repaid in the usual way. This should help to ensure students have the financial support they need during these exceptional circumstances. Students who are no longer incurring accommodation costs away from home (e.g. because they have exited their contracts, or moved home permanently), or who no longer wish to receive the higher rate of loan, should continue to request reassessment.
  • On testing: HE providers should set a clear expectation that all students should access coronavirus (COVID-19) testing immediately on their return to university and on a twice weekly basis thereafter (until the end of March). With students who choose not to get tested on return, to self-isolate for ten days.

Quick News: Meanwhile a review published by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has found that the currently unregulated use of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) products nearly quadrupled to £2.7bn during 2020 and five million people had used them since the start of the pandemic. This has been flagged as a potential student concern because: The trend of younger people moving away from products such as credit cards and towards new offerings, including unregulated BNPL products was regularly raised by respondents to the review. It calls for the market to be properly regulated as there is significant potential for consumer harm. The Treasury confirmed interest-free BNPL agreements will now be regulated by the FCA. It means that providers will need to undertake affordability checks before lending and ensure that customers are treated fairly, especially those who are vulnerable and struggling with repayments.

Parliamentary Questions: No detriment

Student Experience – retaining some online learning

Dods share that Times Higher Education have published the results and subsequent report of their Digital Teaching Survey, which aims to capture an overview of universities’ digital transitions in response to the pandemic, and the effect this has on students and learning outcomes. You can view the report in full here

Carried out in October and November, the survey attracted 520 self-selecting respondents. And although the majority (334) are from the UK, a total of 46 countries are represented in the responses, spread across all continents bar Antarctica.  Among the findings are:

  • More than half of respondents say the initial move to online teaching had a negative effect on their mental health, and nearly six in 10 believe it hit their students’ mental health.
  • Only a fifth believe that their students value remote education as much as face-to-face, but less than a third think tuition fees should be discounted when instruction moves online.
  • Only four in 10 junior academics believe their reopened universities’ planning for Covid outbreaks is robust, compared with seven in 10 senior managers.
  • Less than a fifth of respondents regard the two-track physical and online approach to teaching as sustainable, while two-fifths regard an online-only future as sustainable.
  • Respondents are mostly unsure whether good online teaching results in stronger learning than traditional teaching, but more than twice as many disagree as agree.
  • More than three-quarters would like online meetings to endure beyond the pandemic.

Wonkhe and Pearson published findings from their latest student experience research: Students’ experiences of study during Covid-19 and hopes for future learning and teaching and Pearson have a blog highlighting the key elements here. They work through what aspects of online and blended delivery should be retained in the short term, what are the areas for longer term strategic development, and what can be gratefully consigned to the dustbin of history.

There seems to be a consensus among university leaders of learning and teaching that while the explosion in online and blended learning of the past year didn’t come about in exactly the way the sector would have chosen, there’s now little sense in reverting back to the way things were before.

In the blog Pearson say:

  • What university leaders may consider heartening and daunting in equal measure is that there are very few elements of online learning and teaching that the students we surveyed would not like to see continue after the pandemic.
  • Also: Despite the positive endorsement of many aspects of online and blended learning, these findings should not be taken as an absolute endorsement of the quality of the academic experience as it’s currently being delivered.
  • Our sense from the survey is that students understand – up to a point – the challenges facing universities and teaching staff and genuinely appreciate ongoing efforts to support them. Students were particularly warm about communications with teaching staff, with 82 per cent agreeing that tutors are responsive when they need them.

And on a quality experience:

  • However, when we asked straight out whether students thought their academic experience had been of sufficiently good quality during the autumn term, only 40 per cent said yes. This increased to 56 per cent for those who had reported their course had been delivered through a mixture of face to face and online.
  • You might argue that students don’t have a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the concept of “quality” to be able to answer that question meaningfully. So we also asked about aspects of course delivery.
  • 32 per cent agreed and 41 per cent somewhat agreed that teaching is intellectually stimulating. 31 per cent agreed and 38 per cent somewhat agreed that their course is clear and well organised. This suggests that for the most part the basics are in place in terms of teaching and curriculum. That said, improving the organisation and signposting of courses in the VLE could be a relatively easy way for universities to further support their students in this area.

The blog also highlights (by comparison to earlier June 2020 survey) that access to feedback, support from lecturers, and access to technology and resources have all improved. Where there’s room for further investigation is in providing a consistently engaging online learning experience and bringing curriculum content to life for students. 

Moving forward – continuing to teach remotely during Covid

63% would like more opportunities for interactions with other students
57% would choose more contact time with tutors

Methods to support monitoring their own progress were also highlighted. The blog states:

Only 35 per cent said they have regular indicators about how they are performing on the course. In a context where students are more isolated and have fewer opportunities to compare notes with peers or talk informally to lecturers, building opportunities for self-assessment of progress can be especially helpful to give students academic confidence and self-efficacy, especially given the finding on students’ sense of their own preparedness for formal assessment. 36 per cent said that more frequent assessments and progress reviews would make a difference to their experience.

Pearson say:

  • Where educators aspire to take forward a rich flexible learning environment that blends face to face and online elements, there’s an opportunity to make some of the latent aspects of learning more explicit through the course design. For example, better user experience (UX) design of VLEs could vastly improve signposting and help set expectations around learning. With flexible learning, educators could be much less constrained by scheduled contact hours, and more able to create curriculum structures and processes that enable students to progress in their learning.
  • Interaction between students need not only take place in the classroom but can be supplemented by online discussion and forums. Curriculum content can be broken down into more manageable chunks that can be digested digitally, and the classroom used for more engaging interactive tasks and activities.
  • Academic skills development can be baked explicitly into learning activities with defined tasks designed to be completed during independent learning time. Crucially, students can be encouraged and supported to develop as independent learners through use of formative self-assessment. And all this could be supported with remote check-ins with tutors and online access to wellbeing, careers and academic support services.
  • it’s clear that, now students have recognised the benefits of a more flexible approach,the direction of travel in meeting students expectations for the future of learning and teaching will be towards a more purposefully flexible approach that draws on the best of both online and face to face learning. Although one does wonder whether it is the institutions rather than the students that needed to recognise the benefits of flexible blended learning. The infrastructure and mindset change cannot be underestimated but we can hope the pandemic accelerated the turnaround of the proverbial educational oil tanker.

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

Programmes

  • Increases in students studying video games degrees since 2012/13.
  • A Turing (student mobility) website is coming soon – more information…and setting out the application process in the coming weeks

Augar

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.

Many of the consultations this year have potential to be transformative for the sector. BU readers can find our response to the OfS consultation on quality and standards here.  You can read the UUK response here and the one from London Higher here.

As we note above, the PQA consultation is live (we are considering a BU response)

Other news

Nick Hillman makes the case that English universities need to cultivate allies – either in wider society or in Whitehall – to prepare for the coming spending review.

Equality: Advance HE published the blog Ensuring continued steps towards gender equality. And Wonkhe report: Advance HE has released the second part of its literature review investigating the prevalence of unconscious bias in teaching and learning in higher education. Bias in the Curriculum brings together best practice from across Advance HE members, recommending that an awareness of curriculum bias be built into teaching, with students invited to co-create interventions to address it.

Youth Mental Health: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made an announcement on appointing Dr. Alex George as a Youth Mental Health Ambassador

Law Programmes: A new Wonkhe blog – A new qualification route will shape future lawyers – the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) offers law schools the chance to radically rethink their course offer.

Careers support: Wonkhe report: A report from the City and Guilds Group and Burning Glass finds that just 16 per cent of working adults understands how their skills would transfer to another career. The survey of just over 1,000 adults finds that 21 per cent lacked knowledge of work in other employment sectors, and 19 per cent described a “lack of confidence” in considering a second career. TES has the story.

Low quality courses: Wonkhe comment on a SRHE blog piece stating it explains how the ministerial complaints around standards and “low quality” courses have only become less coherent over the past ten years.

Brexit: Wonkhe reports that The European University Association has published a short briefing into the implications for universities of the final Brexit agreement. The document covers the UK’s withdrawal from the Eramus scheme, cross-border data sharing and trade in educational services, and travel and residence between the UK and the EU.

Youth Unemployment: In December 2020 the Lords Liaison Committee recommended that the House established a new special inquiry committee to consider youth unemployment, education and skills. This report set out recommendations for the Committee to address. They include:

  • The societal trend of prioritising the A-level/University route, the consequences for the labour market and society and what steps may be taken to address this.
  • The funding and support provided for technical education, including apprenticeships, sector-based skills programmes and the national skills fund.
  • The challenges posed by COVID-19 and Brexit to the employment prospects for young people and how these might be addressed.

The Youth Unemployment Committee has now been established in the Lords, the details are gradually being populated here and this link names the members.

Wellbeing:  Just after we sent last week’s policy update a new report was issued by Jisc and Emerge Education Student and staff wellbeing in higher education. It suggests ways in which universities can address student mental health and wellbeing by embracing technology and embedding wellbeing practices into every aspect of university life.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 28th January 2021

The media and sector are still digesting last week’s policy onslaught. You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

There are new student statistics out, a new independent reviewer of Prevent, the international students’ graduate visa is still unclear and remote learning must continue for most students.

Online teaching continues

Restrictions remain in place for universities who are only permitted to offer remote learning until 8 March at earliest. Students on ‘critical courses’ such as medical, clinical and healthcare subjects will continue with their Covid-secure face to face teaching. Students and staff on campus are instructed to continue to take part in twice weekly testing on offer to help limit transmission and identify asymptomatic cases. The Government’s press release is here.  The position will be reviewed on 22nd February.

Parliamentary News

Former Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, comments on the recent raft of HE policy documents issued by the Government. Chris says:

  • …it is tempting to think that something is happening in the education world. That temptation should be tempered, for nothing really will—or indeed can—happen until the sound of the Treasury till ringing open at the Spending Review later in the year. Samuel Beckett might have titled this particular ongoing saga, ‘Waiting for Rishi’.
  • Still, enough morsels—consultations on consultations—have been thrown out there to keep the higher education policy world busy for now. And those with learned, occasionally bitter, experience of these matters know that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, as the history of white papers and their eventual chrysalis into legislative butterflies demonstrates.

Tuition Fees & Student Loans:

The latest petition to reduce the maximum student fee from £9,250 to £3,000 has been rejected by the Government with this rebuff: Tuition fee levels must represent value for money and ensure that universities are properly funded. Government is not considering a reduction in maximum fee levels to £3,000. There is a full Government response here which closely follows the established party line and ticks all the HE policy bingo boxes you would expect it to.

The Government also confirmed there are no plans to cap the income repayment threshold for student loans.

Research

R&D Roadmap: The Government published the results of their consultation on the proposed UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap.

During the November 2020 Spending Review the Government committed to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing £14.6 billion in R&D in 2021/22, supporting the R&D Roadmap commitments and helping to consolidate the UK’s position as a science superpower on the road to spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027.  The Government report the research community was overwhelmingly supportive of the ambitions set out in the R&D roadmap (published July 2020). The Roadmap proposals included setting up an Office for Talent and creating an Innovation Expert Group to review and improve how the government supports research; the proposals are expected to be developed into a comprehensive R&D plan.

Dods summarise the responses:

  • Responses emphasised that the sustainability of funding was an important factor in achieving bigger research breakthroughs and for strengthening our research infrastructure and institutions. Specifically, support for a balanced portfolio of research and innovation activities, with a diverse range of funding mechanisms was considered “important to increase the effective application of new knowledge and encourage innovation.
  • Responses also suggested that place-based funding—which is a major priority of the government—could build upon local expertise and existing strengths using both new and existing mechanisms. Increased funding for both research and innovation activities, as well as for public engagement activities, was viewed as important to inspire and support the new generation.
  • The need for an improved research and innovation culture was also emphasised. Responses indicated that improving research and innovation culture through promoting greater diversity in the R&D community, making R&D a more attractive career, and reducing bureaucratic processes were vital factors in achieving bigger research breakthroughs, encouraging innovation, and attracting, retaining and developing diverse people and teams.
  • Responses also suggested that research must be informed by, and partnered with, a wide range of relevant stakeholders to achieve real-world impact. Other key themes that emerged from the survey included greater support for collaboration and knowledge exchange across the R&D landscape, a strategic and long-term approach to set a clear direction for the UK and continued support for education, training and skills.

You can read all the responses in detail here.

Whilst discussing the next steps the Government have committed to publishing a new places strategy for R&D (including the devolved nations). They also continue to explore how we best create an environment where diverse and talented people from all over the world are enabled and encouraged to work to the best of their ability and fulfil their potential in their career of choice.

Innovation slump: The National Centre for Universities and Business published a report on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on how universities contribute to innovation. It found that:

  • nearly 90% of UK universities reported a significant proportion (I.e. over 10%) of their innovation projects had been delayed due to the pandemic.
  • 48% of the universities surveyed reported that the scale and scope of innovation projects were being reduced.
  • 36% reported that more than 10% of their innovation activities and projects with external partners were cancelled. With 45% recognising a decline of at least a 6% in the overall level of innovation activities they have with industrial partners. Aerospace, automotive manufacturing and within the creative industries experience bigger adverse effects.
  • Institutions stated that the lack of financial resources to support collaborations, insufficient government funding to such activities and the inability to access the necessary facilities and equipment for work to continue were the reasons behind the reduction in innovation.
  • It was also recognised that the roles of universities in driving innovation may change as the UK confronts the economic recovery

On moving forward the report finds:

  • Government schemes helped universities continue to contribute to innovation through the crisis
  • More needs to be done to enable universities to contribute fully to economic renewal
  • More funding for core knowledge exchange services, translation and commercialisation, and challenge & outcome driven programmes
  • Supporting place-making
  • Targeted support for place and sector recovery from Covid
  • Improve flexibility, bureaucracy and terms of funding
  • Ensure metrics capture diversity of contributions and reward diversity of universities
  • Ensure long-term sustainability of the university system and its ability to contribute to innovation and economic development

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

  • Covid-19 has brought the importance of collaboration between academia and industry firmly into public awareness. Indeed, breakthroughs such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are only possible because of the advent of collaborative partnerships. This is why the new survey data released today is so worrisome. Nearly 90% of universities have been forced to delay a significant proportion (more than 10%) of new innovation projects with external partners, and over a third have reported that projects have been cancelled.
  • Maintaining these types of innovation projects is vital if we are to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery. Innovation requires collaboration. And we see time and time again that collaboration requires strong partners. We are therefore urgently encouraging all businesses and UK universities to continue to form these vital partnerships. What’s more, we are also calling on the Government to take proactive steps to help companies stay afloat and investing in R&D through the crisis. This includes extending Covid-19 support schemes and postponing repayment of loans until lockdown restrictions are significantly eased. In no uncertain terms, for the UK to emerge from this crisis stronger, we need to encourage innovation. Driving an innovative economy, through tax incentives, effective regulation and well-targeted support schemes must be a fundamental component of the March 2021 Budget. We need to see action now, before it’s too late.

Tomas Ulrichsen, Director of the University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the study and authored the report said:  The new findings released today show that Covid-19 has had a hugely disruptive impact on universities and their ability to continue to contribute to innovation through the current health and economic crisis. We have seen the transformational effects of universities and businesses working together in finding practical and innovative solutions to wicked societal problems. This is why the findings of our study are so worrying. A strong, resilient and sustainable system of universities, research institutes and technology development organisations, working in close partnership with the private, charitable, and public sectors will be crucial to driving an innovation-led economic recovery and tackling other critical and urgent global challenges. Unless we proactively tackle the many challenges facing universities and their innovation partners to reverse these worrying trends, we risk not only hampering our economic recovery but also the UK’s longer-term competitiveness in key sectors.

Research Professional comment on the significant proportion of innovation projects delayed due to Covid: This is not surprising given that most institutions are still imposing bans on ‘non-essential travel’, labs have been closed periodically during the pandemic and industrial partners have been making extensive use of the furlough scheme. There is a limit to the innovation you can do on MS Teams—it doesn’t even have a ‘breakout rooms’ function, for pity’s sake.

Research Funding Subsidy: Last week’s funding letter cut the additional teaching funding that London institutions receive to cover the additional costs relating to teaching within the capital. This prompted fears from London institutions that they may also lose research subsidies associated with their higher costs (12% inner and 8% outer London) – which would run to significant figures and threaten some London institutions’ stability. Research Professional explore this concern in London Waiting  and explain that Research England have stated they haven’t yet received the funding allocations for 2021/22 so cannot consider the impact on quality related funding.

Quick News

  • Sustainability: The University of Exeter have launched the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Hub (CE-Hub). The hub will work with the five centres recently announced to explore how reusing waste materials in a wide range of industries, including textiles, construction, chemical and metals, could deliver huge environmental benefits and boost the UK economy… It will create a repository of national research, knowledge and tools to inform new research, policy and industry solutions, facilitating collaboration across a wide range of sectors and strengthening a UK-wide community dedicated to delivering a circular economy.
  • Everyone loves a space story. Here is the Government’s press release on the spacewalk to install the British funded Columbus Ka-band Terminal.
  • Research Professional: Horizon Europe ‘will be open to UK researchers from the start’. European Commission encourages applications from, and collaboration with, UK-based researchers
  • The rumours that Scotland and Wales are committee to find a way to stay in Erasmus+ have bounced about ever since the announcement the UK would not take part. Research Professional covers the latest here.

Prevent

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has announced the new Independent Reviewer of Prevent will be William Shawcross. Shawcross will have some time to settle into his role and to adjust the terms of reference and set timescales before he relaunches the Independent Review of Prevent. Originally a call for evidence as part of the review was launched in December 2019 but progress stalled due to the pandemic. Shawcross’ appointment isn’t without controversy. Prior to his confirmation in the role Muslim Engagement and Development expressed concern given his longstanding history of propagating Islamophobic views.

Industrial Strategy

All the way back in November 2017 Theresa May’s Government finally published the Industrial Strategy admist much fanfare and after months of trailing its contents. A flurry of activity and focus on the four grand challenges followed. However, Theresa May was ousted as PM and when Boris assumed the mantle there was an unofficial cooling towards the Industrial Strategy which was never explicitly stated. However, this week Boris’ Government have made a move and updated some of the missions associated with the four grand challenges and laid out further progress updates. You’ll need a keen eye to spot the new material.  It looks much the same.

More engaging was this week’s BEIS Committee session Post-pandemic economic growth: Industrial Strategy which contained various elements relating to HE (quick points below). Dods have provided a fuller summary of both sessions here. The second session included testimony from both Science & Research Minister Amanda Solloway and CEO of UKRI Dame Ottoline Leyser.

  • The scale of ISCF initiatives had led to a remarkable acceleration in collaboration with universities and that increasing the ISCF would be welcome by the university community.
  • The Grand Challenges largely spent money in the right places but there were issues in how this was then used, in particular which risk sharing mechanisms were used and relative spend on pure science/blue sky research vs targeted research.
  • Where there are linkages between universities facilitation of collaboration between academia and business at local level to support local industrial strategies the evidence shows large spillover effects on the local economies. The Researchers In Residence programme which puts academics into industry to solve specific problems was also mentioned.
  • Defining success of the delivery of the industrial strategy – Leyser, stated that defining success was a contested issue. She said proximal measures such as number of patents and jobs created could be used; she said the ISCF metrics on these issues looked positive but there was an issue over whether this translated into long-term productivity.
  • On ISCF delays/ Innovate UK grants Solloway said BEIS needed to work to fund ways to reduce bureaucracy and get grants out quicker.

Access & Participation

White & left behind: This week the Education Committee continued its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (summary of the session here). There was little content on HE aside from witness, Dr Javed Khan, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardo’s, stating that it was important not to over-emphasise the importance of university, compared with other further education pathways when he was questioned on what solutions there were to address the issue of white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds being the least likely to attend university.

Meanwhile Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, has published a new OfS blog – White students who are left behind: the importance of place. It reiterates familiar messages that HE colleagues focussed on access will be very familiar with, alongside hints and mentions of other Governmental priorities such as levelling up and HE institutions working in partnership with schools and colleges. It even tentatively touches on the (slightly controversial but so far has flown under the radar) sudden move of the Social Mobility Commission into the Cabinet office. Below are the best bits from Millward’s blog, but, really, I’d recommend you read the succinct version by the BBC instead.

  • The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them. So they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives. Research suggests that this is not about low aspirations or wanting any less for children; it is about expectations – a realistic assessment of the barriers to getting on. Schools can do a lot to shift expectations, but as recent focus groups have shown, people in left-behind towns feel the decline of local institutions and civic engagement.  The Social Mobility Commission has identified the need to join up educational interventions with other measures to improve local prosperity and it is now better placed  to drive this across government through the Cabinet Office…universities and colleges can bring this together in their local areas through the breadth of their subject interests, their relationships with businesses and public services, and their bridging of education and skills with research and development. This equips them to create pathways through all levels of education, both full-time and while in work, and for adults as well as young people.

From the BBC article, Poor white teens in ‘left behind’ towns not going to uni:

  • …male white British free school meal pupils are the least likely of all the main ethnic groups to progress to higher education (DfE)
  • 59% of youngsters from black African families on free meals went to university and 32% of black Caribbean youngsters eligible for free meals… for white pupils on free meals the figure was 16% – and only 13% for boys.
  • The research emphasises the importance of place, identifying particularly low entry rates in “former industrial towns and cities across the north and midlands, or coastal towns”.
  • But white students on free meals in London seemed to have bucked the trend, with an…entry rate that “has pulled away from that in other parts of the country” – and the capital overall has higher rates of going to university.

TASO: Wonkhe: A report from Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) highlights the lack of good quality evidence for interventions to support care-experienced students in higher education. Summarising 57 published studies, and validating findings with 18 sector practitioners, it calls for the availability of better quality data drawing on agreed definitions. There are also recommendations that each provider should have a named contact for care-experienced students.

Exams: Minster for School Standards Nick Gibb: Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows, we cannot guarantee all students will be in a position to fairly sit their exams this summer.

Disability: Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission has released guidance for pupils with disabilities when applying for undergraduate courses. The guide aims to highlight potential barriers during the UCAS application process, as well as detailed routes to and eligibility for funding for reasonable adjustment.

Decolonisation: Wonkhe: The National Union of Students (NUS) has launched a library of decolonisation resources. It hosts information on what decolonisation is and links to podcasts, books, videos and articles to help readers explore, and expand skills and knowledge of the decolonising higher education movement.

Parliamentary Questions

International

Graduate Visa Route – Covid Barrier. Research Profession explore the confusion surrounding graduate visas stating it threatens to undermine the government’s message to international students. This stems from the Government’s decision that international students who did not return to the UK by April 2021 might lose their eligibility for the Graduate Immigration Route (i.e. the right to remain in the UK for two years after completing their studies). The Government have stated: It is a core principle of the graduate route that someone must have spent some time studying in the UK…In light of the impact Covid-19 has had on international students, those who began studying overseas in autumn 2020 and who enter the UK before 6 April 2021 to complete their course will be eligible for the graduate route if they meet the requirements. And: Those who begin study overseas in January 2021 will also be eligible for the route if they enter the UK to complete their course before 27 September 2021 and meet the requirements…Any period of distance learning in the current academic year will not count against eligible students who graduate after 2021, providing they complete their course in the UK under the student route. Those who do not complete their studies in the UK will be ineligible.

Research Professional explain that the sticking point is that that government guidance for international students urged them to stay away unless their course required them to be on campus for face to face teaching. A commentator within the article states it is:  highly unreasonable, and from a policy point of view self-defeating, to take fees from international students, advise them to delay travel for health policy reasons and then pronounce that they cannot follow the graduate visa route because they did not return to the UK in time. Particularly when the pandemic’s second wave is raging and they would put themselves at risk by arriving in the UK. Quite!

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, responded: We are working closely with the government, UK universities and sector bodies to support the smooth implementation of the route and to ensure its success. Given the current Covid-related restrictions, we understand that international students are, on the whole, being advised not to travel to the UK at this time, and we continue to work with partners to ensure that students can still benefit from this opportunity. And that Universities UK was “actively working with the Home Office to explore what further flexibilities can be introduced given the ongoing restrictions”.

You can read the full Research Professional article here.

Access to Healthcare: Wonkhe cover the i News report explaining that European students who study in the UK will have to pay more than £1,000 to access healthcare, with the opportunity to claim the cost back a year or more later.

More on last week’s announcements

You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

Admissions: Wonkhe have a short and interesting article outlining three options to address differential learning loss arising from pandemic restrictions. You’ll need to read the article to discover the options (worth doing) but these two HE-centric snippets stand out for admissions and student performance:

  • Because our education system, at multiple levels, is both about sorting and learning gain, it all presents two interlocking problems. One is how we fairly assess children and students given the impacts of restrictions have not been felt equally or equitably across society. The other is what we do about overall levels of learning loss which we might reasonably assume matter if we wish our society to be educated.
  • …If nothing else, there is a clear and present danger that universities will underestimate and underfund the support needed to address the problems presented by the intake of 2021. That seems to be a much more pressing educational issue than packing the Russell Group even tighter, destabilizing the rest of the rest of the sector in the process – which will mean no part of the sector will realistically have the time or capacity to address the issues we’re about to receive.

Credit transfer and flexible learning: HEPI have a blog “Can the pandemic bring a new dawn for flexible higher education?” by Luke Myer, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the Quality Assurance Agency, looking at the new enthusiasm for credit transfer described in the Skills White Paper.

  • One major challenge identified by our participants was England’s current regulatory metrics. The importance placed on data for continuation, retention, and completion creates a regulatory disincentive to provide short, flexible higher education programmes. …So, the metrics need to change.
  • A related challenge is regulation from professional bodies on maintaining the currency of knowledge for particular sectors. One solution here may be to differentiate durations on the portability of different qualifications, depending on their relevance.
  • Along with regulation, the funding model in England was identified as a barrier. There is typically no module-based funding under the Student Loans Company’s current model; this is compounded by other limitations including inflexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy and Equivalent and Lower Qualification (ELQ) funding restrictions. 

And some of the solutions?

  • Bringing higher education and further education closer together will require a careful balance between joining up the funding system and avoiding damage to institutional autonomy. Our participants referenced the new tertiary systems which appear to be developing in several Asian and emerging high-income economies, which have strong permeability between ‘academic’ and ‘occupational’ provision. …
  • A key part of this work should be to map the silos which already exist – between higher education and further education, between academic and vocational learning and between different kinds of learners – in order to understand the potential progression pathways for new students….

The pathway to high level skills: a HEPI blog “The Government risks narrowing the path to higher level skills” by Dr Scott Kelly:

  • We are already seeing the negative impact of reducing the number of qualifications available at level 3. Earlier this month Ofqual warned about the scale of the disruption that will be caused by the DfE’s decision to remove funding from Applied General qualifications such as BTECs. As Ofqual noted, the number of students accessing HE with BTECs continues to grow, with the proportion accepted with A levels alone having fallen from 63 per cent in 2017 to around 60 per cent in 2019. Ofqual echo the concerns I raised in my report for HEPI on BTECs in 2017
  • As with previous attempts to overhaul the qualification system, up to and including the introduction of T levels, policy is likely to fail because it falls between two stalls – neither driven by the market nor based on sufficient industry engagement to ensure employers really value the qualifications on offer.

Students

The OfS have published a guide for students, representatives and students’ unions – Office for Students notifications. It explains how the OfS regulates universities, and specifically that the notifications process allows students, staff members and others to let us know about issues within a university. It emphases that the OfS doesn’t have a direct role in in dealing with individual complaints or with disputes between students and their university but they do want to hear about current issues on the aspects they do regulate on. Such as issues that might be affecting particular courses or groups of students (examples are given on pages 4-5) and recognising that students’ unions and representatives often have a great understanding of students’ experiences through their engagement and support

Wonkhe have a blog on the new guide Should students tell tales on their university or college? It states: What the guide doesn’t do is address in any meaningful way why a student, student representative or students’ union would bother. It doesn’t address what doing so might achieve, or what the ideal would be internally before getting this far. And nor does it reveal what OfS’ emphasis on it hides in the process – that the regulator doesn’t have much of a clue about what’s going on in universities.

The blog also explores the cost cutting reduction in OfS monitoring of universities and highlights how students sharing information on their university might be an opportunity for the OfS:

  • … during a pandemic in particular that leaves you in a bit of a monitoring hole – so to the rescue comes a beefing up of reportable events via students, student reps and students’ unions.
  • We’re not sampling. But we are “inviting” students and their reps to tell us stuff.
  • In practice, it is difficult to explain quite how flawed this monitoring sticking plaster really is. But I’m going to try.

The blog then carefully explains why it’s flawed and that it is unlikely students will use the OfS process en masse. Although perhaps they’ll complain to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator instead. This week they published their Operating Plans and we learnt that they received 2,604 complaints in 2020 (a 10% increase compared to 2019). Research Professional highlight:

  • Since student queries take some time before making their way to the OIA (complainants must first exhaust the internal arbitration options at their institutions), the numbers in today’s report will not include all those whose pandemic-related complaints about their universities were made last year.
  • Nonetheless, records have been broken. The OIA says it received 2,604 complaints in 2020—representing a 10 per cent increase on 2019 and marking the highest-ever number in a single year.

It is hard to imagine that this record will still stand when the numbers for 2021 are published next year. The OIA has reported record-breaking complaint numbers in each of the past three years, resulting in a cumulative increase in its caseload of nearly 60 per cent since 2017.

2019/20 student statistics

HESA released statistics on HE student enrolments and qualifications achieved in 2019/20.  We’ve got some extracts for you.

Much of the news in forthcoming weeks will likely focus on the increase in first class honours that were awarded (see below) which it will be argued are linked to the no detriment policies most institutions implemented. Wonkhe have good coverage on this in the first part of this blog. They remind us to:

  • …remember this. Students obtain at least their average grade. To get a first, someone would need to have been averaging a first in the year so far. This is emphatically not a matter of handing out firsts like confetti – this is recognising work that has already been done. Nobody who got a first in 2019-20 did so without working at a first class level for at least the normal part of the academic year. Class of 2020, take your praise.

Grades Achieved

  • The percentage of students achieving a first class honours increased from 28% in 2018/19 to 35% in 2019/20. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, many providers issued public statements that a ‘no detriment’ approach would be adopted when it came to assessment. This typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the most recent provider assessment of their attainment. 
  • The share of students who received a lower second qualification classification fell by 4 – from 19% in 2018/19 to 15% in 2019/20.
  • A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
  • In a continuing trend, full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.

Science Subjects

  • The percentage of qualifiers who gained qualifications in science subjects increased according to age group.
  • Among qualifiers obtaining a first degree, there was a 50% split between males qualifying in science subjects versus those qualifying in non-science subjects. For females, the proportion qualifying in science subjects was 41%.

Qualifications by level

  • There was a decrease in the number of qualifications obtained in all levels for the 2019/20 academic year, despite growth in the overall number of first year students in preceding years. Evidence suggests that some of this decrease is explained by significant numbers of qualifications awarded this year not being reported. This is likely to be linked to the impact on examinations and awards resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded (see 
    figure 15 here). More details of the impact of COVID-19 on the data can be read in the notes.
  • The number of other undergraduate qualifications continued to decline, reflecting the decrease in first year other undergraduate student enrolment numbers.

Numbers

  • The total number of HE students in the UK in 2019/20 was 2,532,385, an increase of 3% from 2018/19. (2,697,380 when including HE students registered at FE providers.)
  • Undergraduate first degree courses account for the overall increase in number from 2018/19 to 2019/20
  • 15% increase (37,605) in first year masters taught course enrolments from 2018/19 to 2019/20. Full time enrolments increased more than part time.
  • During the five year period 2015/16 to 2019/20, masters taught and first degree level course enrolments have seen year on year increases. All other postgraduate and undergraduate level courses have seen year on year decreases in enrolment numbers.
  • Full time postgraduates had the highest level of international students (see Figure 8 here)
  • Business and management attracted the highest number of students overall with 16% of all students enrolling in this subject
  • Among science subjects, subjects allied to medicine was the most popular for students, accounting for a quarter of all science subject enrolments

Protected Characteristics

  • The overall number of students with a known disability is increasing year on year both in enrolment numbers and in proportion of all students – from 2018/19 to 2019/20 the increase was 28,370
  • There were 122,755 students with a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or AD(H)D in 2019/20 – this number accounts for 33% of all students with a known disability
  • A further 105,590 students reported a mental health condition, such as depression, schizophrenia or anxiety disorder.
  • The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years, while the percentage that are Asian, Black and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased
  • In terms of diversity within subjects, 82% of students studying veterinary sciences were female. For engineering and technology and computing, only 20% of students were female

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said [and here is the kick on grade inflation, if you were waiting for it]:

  • This latest set of figures covers students graduating during the early stage of the pandemic. This was a period of intense disruption, with universities needing to move studies online very rapidly. As a result of this many universities implemented ‘no detriment’ policies, and these policies lie behind the significant increase in first class honours awarded to students graduating in 2020.
  • Before the pandemic, OfS analysis found evidence that unexplained grade inflation at our universities had begun to slow. However, there is more to be done to ensure that students, graduates and employers can maintain their confidence in the value of a degree and temporary changes in response to the pandemic should not bake in further grade inflation. This will require careful work which balances the importance of standards being maintained with recognition of – and response to – the exceptional pressures that students remain under this year.

 Student Experience

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the results of their experimental statistics on Coronavirus & HE students in England for January 2021, covering student’s life satisfaction, mental health and accommodation status.

  • Of those students who travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break, 40% have since returned and 60% have not yet returned to their term-time address.
  • Of those students who provided complete travel information, 33% travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break and 37% stayed in their accommodation; the remaining 30% were already living at their usual non-term address or family home, or in ‘other’ accommodation.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of students indicated that their well-being and mental health had worsened since the start of the autumn 2020 term.
  • A statistically significantly higher number (63%) of students reported a worsening in their well-being and mental health, compared with 57% reporting the same in the previous student survey (20 to 25 November 2020).
  • Average life satisfaction scores of students decreased by 9% from 5.3 to 4.8 out of 10, between 20 to 25 November 2020 and 8 to 18 January 2021.
  • A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), compared with 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020).

The ONS provide some context:

  • The most recent data collected from the Student COVID-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) show a further decrease in students’ average life satisfaction scores, with almost two-thirds of students reporting a worsening of their mental health and well-being.
  • These numbers are not surprising considering the new lockdown measures in place and the fact that many students have not yet returned to their university town or city. This is also reflected in the academic experience scores, with the number of students reporting dissatisfaction showing an increase since the last report.

Specifically on dissatisfaction:

  • A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), than the 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020). Of those who were dissatisfied with their academic experience, the most common reasons were learning delivery (75%) and quality of learning (71%).
  • Over half (56%) of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their social experience since the start of the autumn term. The most common given reasons that students were dissatisfied with their social experience were limited opportunities to meet other students (86%) and limited opportunities for social or recreational activity (85%).

Parliamentary Questions

Health care

  • Healthcare students on placement are confirmed as eligible for priority access to the vaccine.
  • Still no answer on decisions re: nurses out of pocket due to course extensions. Which is odd because the Universities Minister has already said they will not have to pay additional tuition fees: Health Education England is working locally with each higher education provider so that placements are available and is supporting healthcare students to ensure that as many as possible graduate on time.

Institutions should not charge nursing students additional tuition fees in circumstances where they need more study time to complete their course as result of undertaking a paid placement in the NHS, or as result of needing to undertake clinical placements over an extended period.

Regulatory

Students

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Budget 2021: You can read the Russell Group’s submission to the 2021 budget here.

Contract cheating: Previous Universities Minister Chris Skidmore intends to try his luck by presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill aiming to make essay mills illegal, including advertising them, in the UK. Skidmore is concerned that the pressures of pandemic learning and being physically distanced from a student’s academic community and usual resources may create vulnerabilities that contract cheating services thrive upon. He has called on the sector to contribute evidence and examples for his Bill presentation. He writes: This bill won’t be the immediate end to essay mills, but it can be the start of a legislative process that can and does influence government to take action. By making the collective case against essay mills, at the very least I hope this is one legislative effort the sector can welcome. For an explanation of the Ten minute Rule Bill see last week’s policy update (page 18) or Chris provides a succinct explanation: the canary in the legislative coalmine. Research Professional cover the story.

Appeals and academic judgement– there’s a HEPI blog on this, linked to the consultations on the new proposals for A levels and vocational qualifications, which close on 29th January.

Careers Resourcing: The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services publishes a report on resourcing higher education careers services. Wonkhe say: More than 90% of careers services experienced a drop in income, related to the inability to host careers fairs. The majority of services have reported a rise in demand from students, with none experiencing a decrease.

Wellbeing: The Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust has published a report on the drop in girls well being during adolescence.  While the wellbeing of all young people (Gen Z) declines by the end of their teenage years, there is a strong gender divide within this: girls see far lower levels of wellbeing and self-esteem than boys – driven by a sharp fall of both during mid-adolescence. Depressive symptoms rise among both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17 but they increase more markedly for girls.  For a summary of the paper including which factors have an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Generation Z contact us.

Also out this week is the Children’s Commissioner for England’s fourth annual report on the state of children’s mental health services in England. Dods tell us it finds that, while there has been an expansion of children’s mental health services over the past four years, such was the poor starting point that services are still nowhere near meeting the needs of many hundreds of thousands of children. With 1 in 6 children estimated to have a probable mental health condition, the Children’s Commissioner calls for a major recovery programme for including an NHS-funded counsellor is every school in England and online wellbeing support.

Young employment: The Office for National Statistics released the latest Labour Market Overview on young employment.

  • The number of 16-24 year olds employed stands at 3,561,077 . This has fallen by 24,487 on the last quarter and by 203,386 on last year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds unemployed stands at 596,400, up 15,403 on the previous quarter, up 114,662 on the previous year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds economically inactive stands at 2,699,569, a decrease of 43,662 on the previous quarter, but up 53,514 on the previous year. This is an economic inactivity rate of 9.4%, down 0.6 ppts on previous quarter but up 1.0 ppt on previous year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds claiming unemployment related benefits is 515,905. This is an increase of 2,730 or 0.5% in the last quarter and 281,413 or 120% on the previous year.

Student Accommodation: The House of Commons Library has published Coronavirus: Student accommodation issues to brief MPs on the key points prior to participation in parliamentary business. The blurb: Compliance with coronavirus restrictions has meant many students haven’t been able to live in their term-time accommodation for significant periods and many have had a poorer experience at university than expected due to Covid outbreaks and restrictions. This has led to students demanding rent refunds or discounts. How have universities, other accommodation providers and the Government responded to this?

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 9th October 2020

The virtual Conservative Party Conference took place – we’ve coverage of the relevant fringe events below; the Science and Technology Committee ran an interesting session on ARPA, and university adoption of the definition of anti-semitism is back on the agenda.

What next for HE policy?

Jonathan Simons of Public First writes Ambitious Minds for Research Professional aiming to provide insight into the Government’s thought processes behind their HE agenda. The quick read is illuminating (even if you aren’t a policy geek).

Technical education

The Lords debated the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Post-16 Education on Tuesday (we mentioned Boris and Gavin’s announcements for this in the policy update last week). Debate followed similar lines as last week plus University Technical Colleges and parity of esteem were discussed.

Lord Storey triggered a chuckle in his enthusiasm for extra funding for FE colleges:  My Lords, this is very good news. I do not have to sit on the Bishops’ Bench to say hallelujah. Later he raises: There is no mention of university technical colleges, which have done an excellent job. Does the Minister see an enhanced role for them?

Lord Baker of Dorking echoed this:  I am very grateful for the mention of the colleges that I support, the university technical colleges. At the moment, they are by far the most able and successful technical schools in the country. We are having a record year in recruitment and we have incredible destinations. Last year, one of our colleges on the north-west coast of England produced 90% apprentices, which is absolutely incredible when the national average is 6%.

He continued: The trouble is that, since 1945, there has been a huge drive to send people to universities, which is good for social mobility but it means that graduates have had disproportionate esteem, disproportionate political influence and disproportionate reward compared with those who make things with their hands. This is the time when we have to elevate the intelligent hand: to train not only the brain but the hand as well.

Baroness Berridge (Minister for Schools): My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that there is no snobbery in the Department for Education; we want to promote parity of esteem for vocational and technical qualifications across our sector. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are behind this.

Maintenance Support

Meanwhile the Centre for Progressive Policy has published Beyond hard hats – What it will take to level up the UK and some of the recommendations chime with delivering the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. The report calls for a Learners’ Living Allowance to support those undertaking part- or full-time training, as an equivalent to maintenance loans available for higher education students, to be paid back under the same conditions upon employment.

HE at the Conservative Fringe

There was a Conservative Party fringe event: Back in business: what can modern universities do to support Britain’s recovery? (sponsored by HEPI and MillionPlus). Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, was on the panel. The event discussed changes within the FE and HE, the recent Lifetime Skills Guarantee announcement, and how universities can provide quality education in a post-Covid world. Also: technical qualifications, up-skilling and re-skilling, the Augar review, and institutions’ roles within their local community.

The Education Policy Institute (and Sheffield Hallam University) ran Higher and further education in post Covid recovery: Competitors or Collaborators?  Former HE minister Jo Johnson was on the panel along with the CEO of the Association of Colleges (David Hughes), the public policy editor of the Financial Times (FT), Sheffield Hallam university, Sheffield College and EPI.

The level 4 & 5 ‘regulatory jungle’ was discussed, FE & HE working collaboratively, the FT pointed out that the forthcoming demographic bulge meant there was no shortage of students to go around, and suggested that ensuring a blend of FE and HE was the best way to meet the rising need. Skills were discussed with Jo stating he’d pushed for both credit transfer and modular funding during his HE Minster tenure, but neither are easy to achieve nor implement well. He also called for the removal of the ELQ rule across all subject areas. You can read the rest of the session coverage in this summary.

Wonkhe report specifically on Jo Johnson’s speech: Speaking on an Education Policy Institute panel yesterday, former minister Jo Johnson reported that snobbery about further education was an “artefact”, and there was currently an “aggression” towards higher education in the media. He also noted he had experienced “push back” from some more established universities in developing a national credit transfer framework. TES has the story. The recognition of the media aggression was a welcome acknowledgement from a former minister.

There was also an event on engineering.

Education Committee – HE Minister

The Education Committee held two accountability sessions this week (these are a regular occurrence and question a Minister or senior public figure on the handling of current business). Colleagues interested in disadvantaged school children, catch up, county lines, and educational inequalities will be interested in the summary of the first session here (prepared by Dods).

The second session questioned Michelle Donelan, sadly it was more watery than juicy. She stated that she did not know how many students were currently under lockdown at universities in England instead highlighting that C-19 rates were still relatively low at universities. Donelan said that most students were abiding by the guidelines but that a minority were socialising in a way that was driving spikes in infection. She confirmed the Government was committed that all students could return home at Christmas and various measures were under consideration as to how this would be achieved. Recent sector press has speculated that the DfE were completely unprepared for the guidance the Secretary of State promised would be issued to the sector guiding institutions on how to achieve this. And Wonkhe have confirmed the DfE will launch a Covid-19 helpline for both institutions and students. Donelan was unclear if this would be an automated system or a real person on the end of the line. On the guidance Research Professional report that Donelan was reticent, stating it was being drawn up and will contain a “robust” Q&A session, but it is not quite ready for publication yet….but that one approach being looked at was the quarantining of students in the two weeks before the end of the winter term

Donelan also commented on the perennial fee refund topic stating it was a matter for individual universities, rather than the government, to determine whether students should receive refunds, however she stated that online and blended learning was working well. She also took a strong stance and stated that universities that had not yet adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism would ultimately be forced to do so by Government (more on this below).

Wonkhe have a blog covering the Committee session and considering some of the aspects arising within a sector context. David Kernohan writes: the hearing was just more evidence that DfE is not on top of the situation when it comes to keeping students safe. Guitarists will find fine resonance with the beginning of the blog.

Drop the boo boo

Labour didn’t want to drop the Secretary of State’s mistaken statement last week (that £100 million was available to universities for digital access – it isn’t, it’s for schools) and raised a Point of Order because the mistake hadn’t been corrected in Hansard. Gavin Williamson managed to weasel out of outright confirming he’d got it wrong instead he said: As the House will know, the Government have made available more than £100 million for electronic devices. Those youngsters who are in care and going on to university can access that funding to enable them to have the right type of devices, whether that is a laptop or a router. If a student’s family circumstances change while they are at university, they can go to the Student Loans Company to have their maintenance grant re-assessed. Although the original record hasn’t been amended Kate Green has raised this enough now to have made her point about Gavin’s mistake.

Anti-Semitism Definition

The House of Commons debated universities (not) adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism on Tuesday. Ahead of the debate the Telegraph reported that only one fifth of universities have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Sarah has added some key snippets from the full debate below. You’ll spot from the summary that parliament were disdainful of the reasons the sector has given for not adopting the definition.

  • …in January this year, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local …(Robert Jenrick) wrote to all universities demanding that they adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism or face funding cuts…. This debate—and, indeed, previous requests by Members to universities—is intended not to be a stick with which to beat the higher education sector… (Christian Wakeford)
  • I am disgusted that we stand here today, in 2020, to condemn the ways in which universities have not only refused to engage with or listen to students…The institutional hijacking of freedom of speech that is currently being used as a façade for universities and professors to scurry behind is appalling. (Jonathan Gullis)

Vicky Ford (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State) stood in for Michelle Donelan to give the ministerial perspective on the debate:

  • Universities have a big role to play. We expect them to be welcoming and inclusive to students of all backgrounds, and the Government continue strongly to encourage all higher education providers to adopt the IHRA definition, which would send a strong signal that higher education providers take those issues seriously. However, they are autonomous institutions and that is also set out in law. As such, the decision on whether to adopt the definition rests with individual providers… The Government will continue to call on providers to adopt that important definition. It is a decision for vice-chancellors, but I urge them all to listen to their staff and students, as well as to the wider community and, indeed, our proceedings.
  • Without doubt, the university experience of many Jewish students is overwhelmingly positive. However, the number of antisemitic incidents in the UK remains a cause for concern…in the first six months of this year, the number of incidents of antisemitism involving universities rose by an alarming 34%…That is absolutely unacceptable and shows how much further the sector has to go to tackle the issue.
  • Our universities should be inclusive and tolerant environments. They have such potential to change lives and society for the better. I am sure that our universities are serious in their commitment to tackle racism and hatred, but much more work remains to be done

At the end of this week’s Education Committee session Chair, Robert Halfon, stated:

  • It was “strange”, Halfon said, that so many universities had not adopted the definition when they were so quick to “pull down statues” that were deemed offensive. He posited that many institutions “seem to turn a blind eye” to antisemitism. 
  • There was no lack of clarity in Donelan’s response to this. “I want every university to adopt this definition. So did my predecessors, who have written several times to universities on this matter.” Williamson had also written, she said, but it had “not shifted the dial”.
  • “We are not seeing enough…universities adopting the definition and it is simply not good enough,” Donelan continued, adding that she and her department were looking at “other measures…to make it happen”.
  • “I urge universities to do this,” she said, or the Department for Education will find ways “to ensure that you do so”.

Research news

ARPA – The Science and Technology Committee held a particularly juicy session on the potential new ARPA style research funding agency. A summary of the two sessions is here and the full session content will shortly be available here.

In the first session the witnesses thought it right that Government should set broad strategic goals and research direction for the agency, particularly those centred on specific challenges (such as health, energy and defence policies). A witness suggested there was no need to wait for consultation outcome on ARPA – that set up could run parallel. Neither witness felt UKRI should run ARPA – that it should sit at a high Government cross-sector level, and that UKRI don’t currently have a challenge-setting role. Walport railed against this statement in the second session stating UKRI could be guided towards a more ARPA-like model without the need for a new body by giving UKRI more freedom and money to work on specific challenges.

The second session witnesses were Sir Mark Walport (UKRI’s previous CEO) and Jo Johnson (previous Universities Minister). Both were responsible for setting up UKRI and both were concerned that an ARPA body would be beneficial. Johnson stated a new body could work but it would have to complement the existing organisations. Furthermore, that there was still no clarity over what purpose a UK ARPA would serve and a new green or white paper should establish this. Overall, he was in favour of ARPA becoming a part of UKRI. Hosting ARPA outside UKRI could fragment the coherence and oversight of the UK research sector. The geographical location of where to locate ARPA was discussed.

Do read the summary here as the above only touches on part of the discussion.

Life Sciences – Two Conservative party fringe events touched on Life Sciences. Here are the summaries:

The Future of Life Sciences – panellists spoke on levelling up in the context of life sciences and the future impact that the sector could have the on the health and wealth of the UK. Data access within the NHS and speeding up access to new and innovative medicines were also mentioned.

Healthy Boost: Putting Life Sciences innovation at the heart of Levelling Up – panellists discussed the need to effectively integrate the life sciences in any future plans to rebuild the UK economy. The unequal effect of Covid on areas was discussed, alongside improving health outcomes and living healthier lives through prevention and Government investment. Manufacturing within the life sciences was mentioned alongside maintaining progress with medicines and medical devices. Universities were mentioned as anchor institutions.

Research Professional also cover the Life Sciences sessions.

REF Review – UKRI have publicised the REF Review which will consider researcher’s perceptions and experience in preparing and submitting to REF 2021. It aims to understand attitudes towards REF 2021 and the affect it has on the academic environment. It also intends to capture views on the challenges and opportunities; whether REF is a driver of research behaviours and culture; and reflection on the practical preparations for REF 2021 at the institution, including lessons learned and changes from REF 2014.

REF Modifications Survey – During lockdown REF was put on hold while new dates were agreed and a survey proposed modifications to the REF exercise. REF have published the summary of the 164 responses to the survey which examined the appropriateness of the modifications for outputs, impact and the environment. A majority of respondents were happy with the modifications although many felt further detail was needed.

REF have also updated information on:

Global Research – Wonkhe tell us about the Wellcome Trust’s Global Research report:

  • The Wellcome Trust has released a new report – “The UK’s role in global research”. Among 24 recommendations to government, it calls for the full implementation of the BEIS R&D Roadmap, an increase in QR and other funding that promotes research flexibility, and measures to improve the experience of international researchers and collaborators in working with and in the UK.
  • Research Professional also covered the report (from half way down this link): The terms ‘science superpower’ and ‘Global Britain’ are now used frequently by the government as a shorthand for its ambitions for research.
  • International collaboration is not restricted to universities…and must also hold for industries with a strong research focus, such as the pharmaceuticals and aerospace. This is how Global Britain will stay competitive.
  • The UK must also be strategic and not waste resources on duplicating infrastructure that is available elsewhere. The country should use its reputation in science “for good”, combining research and diplomatic strengths to work with multinational organisations such as the UN, the World Health Organization and the G7.
  • To put it bluntly, if not upfront because the reference appears 10 pages into the report: “Full association to the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme must therefore be at the heart of the research strategy for Global Britain.” However, the country should also forge partnerships beyond Europe, says Wellcome, and this could be financed out of quality-related funding dedicated to international collaboration.
  • The research funder wants to see the government “commission an ‘international’ equivalent of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s R&D Roadmap that sets the overall vision for Britain’s place in the world for research. This should become the ‘North Star’ for government decision-making, based around clear goals.”
  • There is a lot to unpack in the Wellcome report, including the idea of a “single front door” for investment in UK science; bilateral funding schemes; and making the UK a champion of “regulatory diplomacy”. The funder wants to see the cost of visas reduced for researchers and provision for research collaboration written into free trade agreements.

Postgraduate Research Students – UUK, OfS, UKRI and Vitae have published their collaboration – Supporting mental health and wellbeing for postgraduate research students which consider the 17 projects addressing PGR wellbeing that were supported by Catalyst funding. They describe the programme reach: The 17 successful projects covered a wide range of activities targeted at PGRs and supervisors, including workshops, mentoring programmes, peer networks and training embedded into induction events. Co-production was a positive theme, with 171 PGRs directly involved across 11 projects… A variety of resources have been developed for use by the sector available on the OfS website: these range from training materials to wellbeing apps, blogs, online hubs and videos… Fifteen projects have provided case studies that outline their activities, impact and challenges.

Two-thirds of the projects reported improved mental health from their PGRs involved including that PGRs were more aware of how to support and improve their own mental health, and had improved knowledge of where to get help and support. You can read more on the projects here, and the recommendations are on pages 8-9. The report concludes that while the quality of the supervisory relationship is key, all university and college staff have a part to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of PGR students.

This week’s research related parliamentary question:

Areas of Research Interest to policy makers

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) have released a new opportunity for research colleagues:

In April POST ran a survey of experts on the COVID-19 outbreak expert database that resulted in the publication of syntheses about the future effects of COVID-19 in different policy areas. From this survey POST developed Parliament’s first Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) which are lists of policy issues or questions that policymakers are particularly interested in.

Currently only the ARIs which are linked in some way to Covid have been released. However, they are not all health based and touch on a range of themes from Crime, economics, inequalities, trade, supply chains, mental health, education, sustainability across several sectors, and so on.  Do take the time to look through the full question list to see if it touches upon your research area. Non-researcher colleagues can share the list with academic colleagues within their faculty.

Alongside the publication of the ARIs is an invitation to experts to add current or future research relevant to the topics to a repository that Parliament may use to inform future policy making and Parliamentary work. Research with relevant research across any of the disciplines are invited to submit their work.

BU colleagues are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this rare opportunity to present their research to policy makers The Policy team is here if you need any help.

R&D Place Advisory Group

The Government have announced the R&D Place Advisory Group that will advise Ministers on the R&D places strategy which will build upon the R&D Roadmap and deliver the levelling up strategy across the public, private and voluntary sectors. The press release states that the aim is to build on local potential so that all regions and nations of the UK benefit from a R&D intensive economy. The Place Advisory Group support this by:

  • proposing, challenging & testing potential policy options to make the most of R&D potential to support local economic impact in areas across the UK, including how best to increase the place focus in public R&D investment, factor place into decision-making across the R&D system, and foster greater local and national co-creation and collaboration to make better decisions on R&D
  • contributing to the evidence base, including identifying priorities for long-term development
  • exploring other relevant issues as requested by the Minister

The press release also states the group will advise the ministers in confidence. So proceedings may be hard to come by.

The group will be chaired by Amanda Solloway as Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. You can read her speech launching the group here. The secretariat function will also be provided by her department – BEIS.  The group is expected to meet monthly while the Government develops the place strategy.

Admissions – Level 2/3 Exams

In Scotland the National 5 exams are to be cancelled for 2021 and replaced with teacher assessments and coursework. Higher and Advanced Higher exams will go ahead but will commence 2 weeks later than usual on 13 May. The BBC explain it as: like using coursework and tests for GCSEs while carrying on with slightly later exams for A-levels.

Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney stated that going ahead with all exams during the continuing Covid pandemic was “too big a risk”…it couldn’t be “business as usual” for exams but also “there will be no algorithm”. And if Highers cannot be taken, there would be a contingency plan to use grades “based on teacher judgement”.

There are rumours the Government is less certain that exams will go ahead in England. This week they stated universities could start later in Autumn 2021 to accommodate a delay to A level exams. An announcement from the Government on exams is expected later in October. This was confirmed in response to a Parliamentary Question calling for clarity before students submit their UCAS applications.  Donelan also confirmed a statement was forthcoming. During her Education Select Committee hearing when she commented that it would be inappropriate if she were to pre-empt and “steal his [Williamson’s] thunder” by making any announcement. And on potential disruption to the start dates for the 2021-22 academic year, the minister added that “if term time needs to be moved slightly to accommodate any potential change in examinations, that is something that can be done quite straightforwardly”. (Source.)

In their article the BBC pose the two key questions:

  • How can exams be run fairly when so much teaching time has been lost because of the pandemic?
  • And how do you make a definite plan for such an indefinite situation – where it’s impossible to know how much more disruption might lie ahead?

Concluding that the Government really does need to get its skates on!

International

Wonkhe report that: Government information on sponsoring an international student has been updated to reflect the new student visa route. There’s also detailed technical guidance on the new route, and a guide for sponsors with material on English language requirementscertificates of sponsorship and record keeping provisions.

UUK also blogged on the topic: Government must act now or risk losing European students for years to come outlining 5 steps they want policymakers to adopt to stabilise demand for UK HE:

  1. Continuing to promote the new student route so that all international students are aware of the changes being introduced. This is particularly important for EU / EEA students.
  2. Improving and extending the Study UK campaign into key markets in Europe by coordinating existing campaigns currently in European markets and increasing investment in Study UK to £20 million a year.
  3. Providing targeted financial support for EU students such as through an expanded or newly developed EU scholarship offer.
  4. Lowering immigration route application costs so they are in line with the UK’s international competitors.
  5. Committing to continually reviewing immigration requirements in light of the Covid-19 pandemic

Disability

The Higher Education Commission convened by Policy Connect have published Arriving at Thriving – Learning from disabled students to ensure access for all. It highlights that despite higher numbers of disabled students accessing HE the barriers they face when they get here are still numerous and unacceptable in today’s inclusive society. The report makes 12 recommendations to improve disabled students’ experience of HE and have a positive knock on effect on their attainment, continuation and graduate outcomes. The report states:

  • Many of our findings make hard reading, and we cannot shy away from the fact that our evidence demonstrates an unhappy situation for many disabled students. Much progress has been made over the past few decades… However, our findings make clear that the road to progress has not ended, and it is vitally important to continue to call attention to the needs and experiences of disabled students.
  • There are numerous practical changes that HEPs can and are implementing themselves to improve disabled students’ experiences…the focus of the majority of our recommendations is on what the government and the Office for Students can do to create and ensure improvement across the HE sector.

In setting out the key information here we focus on what is lacking, however, the report contains case studies and examples of success too aiming to share and spread good practice throughout the sector.

Key findings:

  • Teaching and learning isn’t accessible enough – e.g. regularly being physically unable to get to or sit in lecture theatres or other academic spaces; unable to access learning materials; not receiving lecture capture where it has been promised; and not receiving other reasonable adjustments set out in their support plans, including adjustments to assessments. Student support services professionals are frustrated at the lack of change and adjustments they can enact within their institution – and not for lack of trying. Some students reported they felt there was no accountability, including at senior level, for ensuring access to learning.
  • The bureaucratic burden of applying for funding and support is too much – the Disabled Students’ Allowance admin and timeliness was particularly criticised. Complaints processes were also seen as working against some disabled students. Funding doesn’t cover enough of the additional costs a disability entails when studying at HE level.
  • The lack of accessibility occurs across social activities, clubs and societies too. The report finds there is a widespread lack of awareness or care among the wider student cohort for the existence of disabled students and their needs. Although some Students Unions are recognised for their awareness and culture changing work.
  • Disclosing the disability to the HE institution remains a barrier which impedes the transition to HE.

The report concludes:

All of our twelve recommendations – and we could have made many more – require implementing in their own right if we are to achieve lasting change. The ideal would be for this to take place as part of the system transformation we set out in recommendation five – for the government to create a new system to support disabled people from the classroom to the workplace.

Former HE Minister Chris Skidmore, who set up the Disabled Students Commission in 2019, blogs for Wonkhe to launch the HE Commission’s report. He states:

  • This report provides welcome evidence for the Disabled Students’ Commission’s work, not just by illuminating the obstacles that exist, but also by promoting the wealth of good practice already taking place in the sector. During this time when it has become necessary to rethink modes of higher education delivery, the sector must harness the opportunity to embed accessibility into course design, and to make consideration of disabled students’ needs the norm.
  • I know that many of us share a vision for disabled students to have a positive experience in higher education, able to expand the horizons of their knowledge and to develop social capital which will support them to succeed in life. To achieve this, we must break down the barriers which have been uncovered by this inquiry, and work to create a future of equal access and inclusion for all students. I hope that this report will help to provide the momentum needed to carry us into that future.

Professor Geoff Layer, Chair of the Disabled Students’ Commission, praised the report. He stated:

  • The Disabled Students’ Commission welcomes the findings of this report. The issues and challenges raised in the Disabled Students’ Inquiry report are consistent with the work of the Commission and highlight the need to improve access to higher education and the experience of disabled students.
  • The Commission will be using the findings of the report to move forward with plans to inform and advise higher education providers about improving support for disabled students.

Students

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS Vice President for Higher Education spoke at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students on Tuesday warning MPs not to repeat previous mistakes by ignoring students during this pandemic. She raised the safety of students returning to campus, being locked into tenancy contracts and a lack of access to online learning. She called on the Government to give students the right to leave their course or accommodation without financial detriment and address the financial pressures within the education system (see this). Hillary said:

  • Students have been ignored time and time again during this pandemic, whether it was not providing them with hardship funding when they were in financial need or denying them the A-Level grades they deserved because this government were more concerned with grade inflation than social justice.
  • And now we are in the worst of all scenarios. Students are being forced en masse to return to campuses across the UK, without adequate procedures in place to keep them safe and coronavirus infection rates rising. It seems like every day we hear a new report of a mass outbreak on a university campus. But this is not the fault of students, who have been following the advice they have been given and abiding by the rules. This is the failure of government and university leadership to keep us safe.
  • I want you as MPs, and even those of us that are student leaders and students here to reflect on 2010, for a moment. Students were outside parliament marching together because they felt let down and betrayed by the government of that day. They were a generation who felt unheard, unseen and uncared for. Students today are feeling the same. They are fed up of being ignored, but now, just like in 2010, they are unmistakably fired up. Students are more politically engaged than ever and they are willing to take action to fight for the education they deserve. Students deserve better.

The APPG for Students Twitter feed highlights the other issues that were raised including digital poverty and the shift to online learning, Muslim students concerned about Test and Trace, and quality of teaching on courses which don’t suit digital delivery.

Student Fees

Research Professional talk of the continued policy intent to not charge HE fees or a graduate contribution in Scotland.

On calls for fee refunds due to Covid teaching changes the Office of the Independent Adjudicator has published an update. The key message that a blanket ban on fee refunds is unacceptable continues and the site has FAQs for students on whether a partial refund might be appropriate or not.

Also making news this week was the decision by the University of St Andrews which means first-year students can leave at any point before December without paying any course fees (accommodation fees are still accumulated). Research Professional speculate the decision could lead to a string of similar demands at other UK universities.

Governance

Advance HE published Diversity of Governors in HE. (Press release here.)

  • 9% of governing board members were women, compared to 54.6% of staff members overall.
  • Around nine in ten governors were white (89.2%), 5.3% were Asian and 2.6% were Black.
  • 4% HE governors were disabled, and a long-standing illness or health condition was the most commonly reported impairment among disabled governing board members.
  • In general, the age profile of governors was higher than for staff overall, but a higher proportion of governors were age 25 and under (reflecting the inclusion of student members on the majority of HEI boards).
  • A higher proportion of HE governors were UK nationals compared to staff overall (93.2% compared to 79.0%), and nearly 1 in 5 BAME governors (18.9%) were non-UK nationals.
  • A fifth (21.7%) of boards had 50% women members or more. In over two in five, 41.6%, women made up fewer than 40% of governors.
  • A fifth (21.1%) of governing boards had no BAME members, and over a third (35.6%) of boards had no disabled members

 PQs

Please note – several parliamentary questions haven’t been answered within the required Parliamentary. If a link is not showing an answer check it again in 3 working days. The link is good, the Government are just slow in responding this week.

Students

Covid

And from Prime Minister’s questions this week:

Matt Western (Lab, Warwick and Leamington) said that universities were struggling to contain the coronavirus, with 5,000 cases reported in recent weeks. More local and immediate access for communities was needed, he said. In Leamington, he was told that Deloitte would not deliver testing facilities until the end of this month, weeks after students would have arrived in the town. He asked the PM if the Government was not expecting students to return to universities.

The PM responded it was important that students returned to universities and praised students for complying with the new regulations. There were particular problems in certain areas and the Government would be pursuing measures to bring the virus down, he added.

HE Sector

  • The affordability and availability of academic ebooks
  • Potential merits of introducing an immigration checking service for Student Finance to check student eligibility similar to that of the employer checking service.
  • Whether funding is available for new applications from students or education institutions for support with digital access. (Emma Hardy, Shadow Universities Minister, asked this one so it is probably just a political point score after the Secretary of States gaffe on the tech funding last week.) And a similar one here.
  • If you’re interested in the number of study visas granted in 2020 the answer is given as a link within this parliamentary question.
  • The Government will present the TEF report (and their response will be published at the same time) in due course.

On social mobility from Prime Minister’s Questions this week: David Johnston (Con, Wantage) said that just 12% of journalists and chief execs came from a working class background and  just  6% of  doctors and barristers.  He called for a renewed focus on social mobility to make better use of all of the country’s talent.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

There are no new consultations and inquiries relevant to HE this week.

Other news

Midwifery: The Royal College of Midwives has published a report on supporting midwifery students through a global pandemic and beyond.

Mental Health Nursing: Despite 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental or neurological condition at some point during their life mental health nursing remains an unpopular profession (despite making up one third of the UK mental health workforce). A new research report Laying foundations Attitudes and access to mental health nurse education by the Nuffield Trust considers how to attract more people to study mental health nursing and the reasons behind why numbers are currently limited.

C-19 student test results: The BBC raises the issue whereby new students C-19 test results are going to their home GP rather than the university area in which they now reside. This topic has been mentioned several times in Parliament this week with the Opposition pushing the Government to respond.

Dyslexia: The Data & Marketing Association (DMA) has published an employer guide to inclusivity in the workplace. They highlight that dyslexia in the workplace remains misunderstood and the guide aims to help employers support a diverse workforce. They state:

  • Our Dyslexia Employer Guide is the latest instalment in our neurodiversity guidance series, offering organisations free advice on how to create a positive, supportive, and flexible workplace culture that permeates all levels of the business.
  • The guide provides comprehensive guidance and recommendations on reasonable adjustments that employers can make to recruitment processes, the workplace environment, support networks, and most importantly, how to treat employees as individuals.
  • In addition, it features case studies offering advice for dyslexic people written by dyslexic professionals, from junior marketing executives all the way to managing director level, on useful coping mechanisms they apply on potentially problematic areas and how their skillsets have helped them to thrive in the creative industries.

Balance: Wonkhe report that The Women’s Higher Education Network has published research into the experiences of parents working in higher education professional services during the lockdown. Drawn from a survey of 1074 parents, the report found that traditional gender roles still influence the division of domestic responsibilities. The report recommends that employers provide guidance to parents on workloads and expectations, and encourage them to work flexibly.

Similarly, HEPI has a piece on the difficulties student parents face studying at home during the pandemic.

Teaching via social media: Wonkhe have a blog about the wins and pitfalls of utilising the tech that students prefer and teaching through sites such as WhatsApp with notifications through Twitter. The comments are a must read for both sides of the discussion.  There are also two other blogs on the adjustment HE lecturers underwent to teach online during Covid – one from a healthcare educator and one charting the human experience.

DfE: The Information Commissioner’s Office reviewed the DfE (who cooperated fully) and have found them in direct breach of data protection law. A DfE spokesperson said:

  • We treat the handling of personal data – particularly data relating to schools and other education settings – extremely seriously and we thank the ICO for its report, which will help us further improve in this area.
  • Since the ICO completed its audit, we’ve taken a number of steps to address the findings and recommendations, including a review of all processes for the use of personal data and significantly increasing the number of staff dedicated to the effective management of it.

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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 as at 25th March 2020

Welcome to your new mid-week update! If you missed our admissions special last week, you will also not have seen that we are moving away from Friday afternoon e-mails because we want to support your wellbeing. Nothing much has changed on admissions yet, by the way, so that one is still worth reading.

 Government Updates

Parliament is commencing recess early today (at close of business on Wed 25 March). This will allow MPs to return to their homes and self-isolate with their families. In normal circumstances, recess would end and parliamentarians would return on Tuesday 21 April, however they are not expected to return this year. The Houses of Parliament are ill-equipped to continue normal business remotely. The beautiful, old buildings are crumbling and do not have the high-tech infrastructure to manage remote voting systems. There was much talk of a need for electronic voting in the tight votes over Brexit (with MPs coming in from hospital in wheelchairs or appearing a very few days after having babies) but they haven’t found a way yet. Select committees may be able continue remotely via video link. Home broadband is so much more reliable than trying to get a Wifi signal in Parliament!

The Coronavirus Bill 2019-20 has completed its stages in the House of Lords (just after 4pm on 25th March) and has gone for Royal Assent. The Coronavirus Bill gives the executive wide ranging and unprecedented powers, which will allow them to continue to govern without Parliament over the next few months if necessary.

The House of Commons Library has published a research briefing covering the education provisions in the Coronavirus bill in more detail. The Explanatory Notes and Impact Assessment explain more on the financial implications of the Government’s powers to close educational institutions. Should the government decide to compensate providers, it may be able to provide funds to “approved (fee cap)” institutions using powers under s39 of the Higher Education and Research Act (“Financial support for registered higher education providers”). For “approved” providers these powers could not be used – it is assumed that wider powers for the government to deploy public funds would apply, but this is not certain.

The impact assessment also suggests that, should a provider be sued for breach of contract or under customer protection rules regarding the provision of accommodation or education, force majeure is believed to apply. The Bill also gives the Office for Students a specific power to disregard its conditions of registration for providers.

Research Professional report that the Government’s response to the Augar review:  “has been kicked even further down the path after chancellor Rishi Sunak told cabinet that the 2020 comprehensive spending review, due this summer, would be delayed because of the pandemic. The Augar response is expected to be published alongside the review.

University education in the pandemic

Monday night announced the lockdown for the UK population, meanwhile three Ministerial letters winged their way to English HE and FE institutions and apprenticeship providers. The Universities Minister wrote (link on Wonkhe here):

  • to curtail the practice of unconditional offers
  • to offer DfE support as institutions move towards online provision
  • clarification on Tier 4 visa issues which will arise from shifting to online provision
  • mitigation for enrolment difficulties (with support from the Home Office, the British Council, UCAS, and Ofqual)
  • student residences and support services particularly for students who are unable to return ‘home’ such as care leavers, estranged students, and international students.

Within the FAQs it was stated that DfE will be working closely with the HE sector and OfS, as regulator, to ensure that we understand the potential financial implications of the issues and risks Covid-19 is bringing to bear on the sector, and to keep abreast of developments.

Summer Exams

The Minister issued a Written Ministerial Statement on the impact of Covid-19 on summer exams. Below is the sector stakeholder reaction to the impact of summer exam cancellations: 

The heads of University Alliance, the Russell Group, GuildHE, and MillionPlus  put out a joint statement confirming that universities will do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to university:

  • We know many students are anxious about what the cancellation of exams and assessments might mean. Our message to students is: we understand and universities are here for you. Universities are committed to doing all they can to support students and applicants and ensure they can progress to university. This will involve being flexible and responsive in their admissions processes. We want to reassure students who have applied to university, or are thinking of doing so through clearing, that every effort will be made to ensure they are not disadvantaged in any way by the decision not to go ahead with exams this summer.

Association of Colleges (AoC), Chief Executive, David Hughes said:

  • “The cancellation of the 2020 summer exam series is the right decision. However, it will have unsettled the many thousands of students who were preparing for exams and assessments in the full range of qualifications and they will need reassurance about alternative arrangements which support their progression plans. The whole education system will need to work together to ensure that no young person is disadvantaged as a result of the cancellation. There are many challenges to overcome to achieve that, but this is also an opportunity to reconsider some aspects of our high-stakes exam regime. We are working with the Department for Education and Ofqual to ensure that the particular challenges faced by colleges and students are understood. Any decisions about assessment and accreditation for the students affected need to take into account the college context because nearly two thirds of all 16-19 year old students study in colleges. Colleges are determined to play their part in helping to safeguard the educational and progression opportunities of every student affected.”

The AoC also made the following recommendations:

  • The guarantee of a place in post-16 education for every student affected by the cancellation of the 2020 summer exam series.
  • Additional resources to increase teaching time for all 16-19 year olds in 2020/21, make up for the lost teaching time in 2019/20 and support catch-up classes and skills development.
  • A national record of achievement and reference system for recording students’ capabilities and achievements in a common and comprehensible way as they transfer between institutions.
  • The development of national online tests in English, maths and other subjects, to support receiving post-16 institutions in advising and guiding students to make appropriate choices for 2020/21.
  • A revision of the English and maths condition of funding in light of the cancellation of GCSEs this summer.
  • Employer agreed skills standards and accreditation requirements for entry-level employment in various sectors and the use of nationally approved skills tests to provide the evidence of students’ skills that employers need.

Teach First wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, calling for:

Support for disadvantaged children to learn at home

  • Internet providers to lift data caps for vulnerable households.
  • Technology firms to provide safe devices for children most in need to be able to study.
  • Energy companies to provide electricity for disadvantaged pupils to learn from home.

Fair exam grades

  • Many young people face uncertainty about their exam grades and futures. We must ensure that steps are taken to award grades fairly and prevent further increases in inequality. Marks linked to past performance could disadvantage hard working pupils, teachers and improving ‘turnaround’ schools.

Long-term support to recover

  • When schools return support must be weighted towards those serving disadvantaged communities. This must be a priority to prevent the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils from growing.

Finally HEPI have a blog – School performance tables are cancelled – should university league tables be cancelled too?

Unconditional offers

On unconditional offers, the Minister’s letter on 20th March followed our update last Friday and, as predicted, criticised those providers who had switched offers to unconditional in reaction to the news about exams.  It was followed by a request on 23rd March to put a two week moratorium on any unconditional offers.

As Research Professional report the Government was unprepared for this quick response from some within the sector. During the pause period the DfE will continue to develop the methodology of how grades will be awarded to students not sitting exams and consider how the application process should be run. The Minister has threatened that any institutions not complying with the ban will undergo regulatory interventionWe will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.  UUK have supported the intervention.

On practical matters UCAS have extended the admissions deadline. Students usually have to decide which university offers to accept by early May. UCAS have confirmed the deadline will be extended by two weeks. UCAS states: Universities and colleges will also have additional time to assess applications and adjust their processes in these unprecedented times… We will email students this week with information on their new May decision deadline, and ensure they understand they have additional time over the coming weeks to make their decisions.

Research Professional (RP):

  • The government is clearly not on top of the situation. On 18 March, rather than mandate the closure of universities, Williamson said that he would support the decisions of vice-chancellors. Less than a week later, universities are being threatened with regulatory action… Vice-chancellors will have acted not out of malice but with the best of intentions to offer comfort to anxious applicants—that’s what comes of sending mixed messages.
  • Donelan says that switching offers to unconditional “risks destabilising the admissions system, increasing financial uncertainty and volatility for all institutions at a time when universities are already facing significant pressures”. The minister wants universities to “avoid actions which might not be in students’ best interests simply to maximise their intake over other universities”.
  • That was probably not the idea behind the switch to unconditional offers, but in a sign of how quickly the world is changing…

The Government’s edict that no new unconditional offers can be made has stimulated debate. Some speculate they may capitalise on the pause to take future action banning all or most unconditional offers (the OfS Admissions consultation has been understandably paused for now). Many lament the impact of the ban on the disadvantaged students who were always intended to be the main recipients of unconditional offers to alleviate some of the turbulence in their lives.

Meanwhile the DfE has reminded students and parents that they are not obliged to accept an unconditional offer and even if they have they can release themselves to explore other options during clearing. DfE state that the release process was introduced last year to support student choice and promote flexibility, and nearly 30,000 students used this functionality.

The OfS press release language is very interesting – they have assumed right up front that NO unconditional offer is in the best interest of a students – they may relax that when they come up with their guidance, but we shall see.

  • ‘Universities and colleges must stop making offers that are not in the best interests of students. They should not make any unconditional offer or amend existing offers for at least two weeks while Ofqual develops the details of the new system.
  • ‘Many universities and colleges have been responding to the enormous challenges of coronavirus with innovation and ingenuity. But it is critical that every university and college puts the student’s interest first in these difficult times. 
  • ‘So, I want to make it very clear to any university or college – and its leaders and governors – that if any university or college makes unconditional offers or adjusts any offer to students during this two week moratorium we will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.

So although they have not done anything about it yet, except issue a review and now a short-term suspension – you could read this as them having already made up their mind and expecting to judge the sector retrospectively against the outcome.

We will let RP have the final word: As higher education pauses admissions activity, it is time now for the government to come up with a workable solution. No more mixed messages: some clarity is needed. As the government has realised on the economy and social distancing, a laissez-faire approach will not see us out the other side of this crisis.

Media coverage: The BBC, The Times and FE Week.

Research in the pandemic

The Under-Secretary of State for Science, Amanda Solloway issued a letter thanking the HE sector for the Covid-19 research and urging institutions to prioritise supporting colleagues (employment terms and conditions) who are working on mitigating this crisis. Skills Minister Gillian Keegan wrote to colleges and training providers and Scottish HE minister Richard Lochhead also issued a letter.

REF 2021 will be pushed back to adjust for the effects of Coronavirus. Currently, the 31 July 2020 census date will be retained. However, the final submission deadline will be delayed. No date for the submission has yet been set but universities have been told they can expect an 8 month notice period when the new date is announced. BU is continuing with the mock REF exercise but will review future timelines as appropriate.

Student Loans

The Student Loans Company has confirmed third term payments will be made as normal even with most teaching moving online.

Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS National President, commented:

  • NUSis pleased that the Department for Education and the Student Loans Company have responded to the strong concerns that we and our member students’ unions have raised in the last week by confirming third term payments will be made as normal, despite the many changes to teaching arrangements made by universities in response to the pandemic. We will continue to work with them to ensure clear communication to students and to ensure students are treated fairly. 
  • Where a students’ family income falls significantly in the year of study, they can ask for a reassessment of their student finance if they are not already receiving the maximum levels of support, and so students should contact the relevant student finance agency as they may be able to receive more support.
  • Students’ income will already be affected as many rely on part-time jobs in hospitality and retail – while we welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to support those who lose employment income we are concerned that those students who are self-employed or who work in the gig economy will not be supported, and most full-time students cannot claim benefits. We need to ensure a safety net is in place for these students, either by extending the wage protections or ensuring access to hardship funding in universities and colleges.

Several parliamentary questions relating to student loans repayments were asked this week. Most have already been superseded in the Government’s announcement that repayments will continue as normal but be reassessed and cease if an individual’s income drops below the repayment threshold.

Last, Peter Lauener was appointed as Chair of the Student Loans company. He replaces Andrew Wathey who was in the role on an interim basis.

The Student Loans Company has announced the temporary closure their contact centre. They state:

  • [We are] closing our customer contact centres temporarily for new and existing students, and for any customer in repayment.
  • The closure of our customer contact centres will not impact summer term maintenance payments to students or tuition fee payments to education providers. These payments will be made as normal. New and existing students in England and Wales can continue to apply for student finance and we will continue to process any applications that have been received as quickly as we can.
  • We are working to restore service at our contact centres as soon as we can and we will provide further information on this over the coming days.

Brexit

A poll on Coronavirus set out to measure the public’s support for the Government’s actions to limit the spread of the virus. It shows favour for a practical potential policy U turn on extending the Brexit end of transition phase. You Gov say: despite it being one of the most dramatic debates in British politics just weeks ago, a majority of the public (55%) would now support extending the Brexit transition period as negotiations have now had to be delayed. A quarter (24%) are still opposed, while 21% say they don’t know.

You can read the full poll analysis here.  An interesting further point is made about the need for the Government to appeal to the young to ensure they understand the seriousness of the crisis and follow social distancing (and now lockdown) requirements. You Gov say: While Boris is still divisive, the public are warming to Rishi Sunak and Chris Witty. Because of this, the Government needs think carefully about its messengers to make sure they are best cutting through with the public.

Parliamentary Questions

Covid-19 Support for Universities

Q – Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support universities during the covid-19 outbreak. [32182]

A – Michelle Donelan: The Department for Education has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

Covid-19 – Student Accommodation/Online Learning (both due for answer on Thursday)

Q – Rosie Duffield: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will take steps to ensure that universities allow students to terminate their accommodation contracts early without incurring financial penalties during the covid-19 outbreak.

This is due for answer on Thursday – here is the link to follow the response. If you have trouble accessing the response (sometimes they change the link when they add the answer) contact us and we’ll locate it and send it over to you

Q – Stuart Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he is taking steps to ensure that online access to learning is put in place for pupils and students at schools and higher education institutions that have not developed online resources; and if he will make a statement. [34409]

Disability: Q – Sharon Hodgson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect on the health and wellbeing of students in higher education with visual stress of the removal of colorimetry funding for those students.

A  – Michelle Donelan: The department is in discussion with the Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education as to whether any additional types of assistance would be appropriate for students with a diagnosis of visual stress.

And there is one on brain injuries disability funding.

Access: Q – Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Viscount Younger of Leckie on 6 November 2018 (HL10959), whether they are now in a position to ensure that higher education providers have access to free school meals data at the start of the undergraduate admissions cycle as part of measures to widen access to higher education.

A – Baroness Berridge:

  • Everyone with the talent and capability to succeed in higher education should have the opportunity to benefit from a high-quality university education, regardless of age, background or where they grew up.
  • So that providers are identifying talent in areas of disadvantage, they need to use good-quality and meaningful data. We encourage higher education providers to use a range of measures including individual-level indicators, area data (such as Participation of Local Areas, Index of Multiple Deprivation or postcode classification from ACORN), school data, intersectional data such as Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’s (UCAS) Multiple Equality Measure, and participation in outreach activities.
  • We are actively considering how we can make available free school meals data, taking in to account relevant data protection legislation, and will continue to work closely with UCAS and the Office for Students to this end. In general, we are looking to make data as illuminating as possible.
  • The government believes that every young person with the potential should have the opportunity to access higher education, if it is right for them. A person’s background or start in life should not determine their future.

Disability Employment Gap: Q – Marco Longhi: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps she is taking to support people with mental disabilities (a) into and (b) to remain in employment. [30042]

A – Justin Tomlinson:

  • The Government is committed to reducing the disability employment gap and seeing a million more disabled people in work by 2027.We help disabled people, including those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities, return to and stay in work through programmes including the Work and Health Programme, the new Intensive Personalised Employment Support Programme, Access to Work and Disability Confident.

Mental Health: Q – Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, pursuant to the oral statement of 18 March 2020, what steps he is taking to ensure that children and young people whose educational institution is closed are able to access mental health services provided through those institutions. [32157]

A – Vicky Ford (Chelmsford):

  • The department is working with NHS England and Public Health England who are providing guidance on seeking mental health support, including guidance for parents and carers of children and young people on addressing mental health and wellbeing concerns during the COVID-19 outbreak. Where in place, mental health support teams are also actively considering how they continue to deliver a service to support children and young people.

Industrial Strategy: Q – Alex Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what progress has been made on meeting the objective in the Ageing Society Grand Challenge to ensure that people can enjoy at least 5 extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035. [29943]

A – Helen Whately:

  • Delivering the Ageing Society Grand Challenge (ASGC) mission will require complex systems thinking across a number of areas and we are already working closely across Government, industry, academia and the voluntary sector to do this.
  • We have invested £98 million through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Healthy Ageing programme to enable businesses, including social enterprises, to develop and deliver services and products to support people as they age. We have also announced Andy Briggs as the ASGC Business Champion and our plans to establish the UK Longevity Council.
  • In 2019, the Department published the consultation document ‘Advancing our Health: Prevention in the 2020s’, which has the ASGC mission at its core and sets out the commitments to contribute towards achieving it.

Skills Gaps: A question on skills gap vacancies and whether qualifications and apprenticeships can fill the gaps.

Free Speech: Q – Marco Longhi (Dudley North): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to protect freedom of speech and promote diverse debate within universities. [30031]

A – Michelle Donelan (Chippenham):

  • This government has committed to strengthen free speech and academic freedom and ensure our universities are places where debate can thrive. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education has made it clear that if required he will look at changing the underpinning legal framework. We have made it clear that if universities do not uphold free speech, the government will.

Student Accommodation

Safely managing student accommodation through the crisis is a tricky process for the HE sector. Thorny issues include: ensuring adequate safeguards where students are self-isolating and moving back to the family home is not possible or inappropriate; requirements for students to continue paying for accommodation or pay retainers whilst not in residence; student evictions as providers close down student residences; concerns over 2021-22 contract pressures. Here are two blogs on student accommodation. On Research Professional Fiona McIntyre reports that universities have been told to pressure firms in charge of private halls of residence to make sure no student is left without a place to stay during the coronavirus epidemic, while the Student Loans Company has said that third-term payments will proceed as planned.

And on Wonkhe Eva Crossan Jory from NUS describes the crisis facing student rents resulting from coronavirus, and what universities, private halls operators and government should do to avert it.

Wonkhe also report that: Student accommodation providers Unite and Liberty Living have promised not to charge students for accommodation for term three if email notification is received before 10 April. Arrangements will be made to support students who need to stay on in accommodation through term three and beyond.

Student Trust

HEPI have a blog from Mary Curnock Cook on Connectedness, Trust and Student Engagement. Excerpts:

  • A new report from Enlitened, part of the Student Room Group, looks at how ‘connected, engaged and supported’ undergraduate students are in the UK. In a classic virtuous circle, the report suggests that feeling connected is highly correlated with trust, and trust increases with awareness of and confidence in university resources. Addressing these areas quite directly could help universities significantly improve theirstudents’ overall experience, as well as helping prepare them better for the world of work. It goes without saying that in the current coronavirus crisis, universities resorting to remote working and online learning will soon feel the pinch if they don’t have some connectedness-credit in the bank.
  • The research suggests that only just over half of students feel ‘connected’ to their university. Connectedness is a wider and more nuanced concept than student experience because it signals a whole range of propensities from supporting the university more generally, being prepared to help it out or give it the benefit of doubt when things go wrong, to getting actively involved in the university’s success. But it goes further than this because this new research indicates that connected students are more likely to trust their university, and when they trust their university, they will be more likely to seek support with emotional and wellbeing issues as well as more prosaic issues such as academic or financial support. 
  • Feeling connected and trusting the university will also help overcome the lack of confidence and shyness that respondents cited as some of the key barriers that stop them from accessing support. This is important as 63 per cent of respondents reported to have kept their mental wellbeing concerns to themselves in the last year, without seeking help from their university. With the findings showing that third year respondents are more likely than both second and first year students to keep concerns around anxiety, stress, depression, and academic and financial issues to themselves, trust and self-confidence seems to erode rather than deepen as students progress through their courses. Unsurprisingly, students with disabilities are even more likely to hold back from asking for help.

Also buried in the report is an astonishingly low engagement level with student unions (which also score relatively poorly on the National Student Survey). Given that peer support is often the first port of call for students in distress, it’s worrying that only 12 per cent of respondents said they trusted their student union and only 3 per cent would go to them for information and support.

Friends and family remain the most trusted source of support for students for a range of anxieties and concerns but it’s worth noting that students are also likely to turn to online resources. The anonymity of online help is often a draw for students shy or lacking in confidence to seek face to face help… With universities across the sector reporting huge increases in demand for student support services, online resources and apps can be vital in making sure that students know about and connect with their university services when they need help.

BU has two 24/7 anonymous online platforms and support services – the Employee Assistance Programme for staff and Big White Wall which supports staff and students. There is also a wellbeing section on the staff intranet.

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.

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

Student Nurses: Next week student nurses will join the ‘front line’ to support the NHS as the nation battles Covid-19. The Times covers whether they should be paid.

Home Working: As the majority of the nation converts to home working on a more regular basis than usual the Office of National Statistics have published their research which investigates to what extent different people within the labour market work at home, either on a regular or occasional basis (pre-crisis).

Of the 32.6 million in employment, around 1.7 million people reported working mainly from home, with around 4.0 million working from home in the week prior to being interviewed for the survey.

  • Around 8.7 million people said that they have worked from home; this is less than 30% of the workforce.
  • Some industrial sectors, such as transportation and storage, accommodation and food services, and wholesale, retail and repair provide relatively few opportunities for people to work from home.
  • Other industrial sectors, such as information and communication, professional, scientific and technical activities, financial and insurance activities, and real estate activities, provide far more homeworking opportunities.
  • Occupations requiring higher qualifications and experience are more likely to provide homeworking opportunities than elementary and manual occupations.
  • Younger workers are the least likely to be working from home, whereas those who continue to work beyond State Pension age are increasingly likely to be working from home.

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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 18th October 2019

Nationally, of course, this week has been dominated by Brexit and the Queen’s Speech. The biggest HE story has been OfS’ launch of their Value for Money Strategy.  We have missed out Brexit because it is dating too quickly and other sources are available!

NSS – more change to come?

The OfS have announced that they are reviewing the NSS (again).

  • In the next few months, detailed analysis of recent trends will be published: areas for which levels of satisfaction have increased, and where the survey results indicate that more work needs to be done to improve students’ experience. We will also be looking at some of the key themes emerging from the student comment sections, which offer respondents the opportunity to comment on an open-ended question.
  • Like all such surveys, however, the NSS has its limitations. It only surveys final year undergraduate students: those on shorter courses, or in other years, are currently excluded.
  • The survey also has its critics. There have been mixed views about its role in the TEF, with some querying whether NSS provides a proxy for teaching quality, and others disappointed that it doesn’t carry enough weight in the TEF. Some have questioned the design of the survey – for example, its use of a five point ‘Likert’ scale. Others have queried its timing. Students are asked to complete it at a stage in their final year when many will be doing their assessments.
  • ..this review…will include:
    • Plans to pilot an expanded survey for all undergraduates – not just those in their final year, as at present – phased over the next two years. Expanding the NSS in this way will give a voice to all students and will provide a much richer picture of the student academic experience.
    • Comprehensive review and testing of the survey questions (and scales) to ensure they remain fit for purpose, making changes where appropriate.
    • Plans to explore new survey questions around student mental health and wellbeing provision – something we are hearing strongly from students they wish to see.
  • There will be opportunities for you to have your say in the course of a consultation to be launched in spring 2020. More detail on the consultation will follow later this year.

Outcomes for Disabled Students

The OfS have had a busy week. They have published a new Insight Brief on outcomes for disabled students.

  • Disabled students are now a vital and significant part of campus life. However, challenges remain. Disabled students are less likely to continue their degrees, graduate with a good degree, and progress onto a highly skilled job or further study. This Insight brief asks what universities and colleges are doing to rectify these problems. What can the data tell us about the extent of these access and participation gaps? Are teaching and learning practices inclusive enough? Are funding changes exacerbating the difficulties that disabled students face?
  • The OfS is concerned about persistent gaps in access, success and progression for disabled students. We are looking to ensure that universities and colleges close these gaps through our regulation of providers’ access and participation plans and our funding and promotion of effective practice.
  • Teaching and learning in higher education is becoming more inclusive, but these positive developments are uneven. Universities and colleges could go further by, for example, offering alternative formats of course materials as standard, and ensuring more buildings are accessible.
  • Through the Disabled Students’ Commission, we will bring together a range of experts and educators, including a student representative, to highlight the barriers which remain and explore ways to dismantle them.

The brief cites “Effective practice for universities and colleges [taken from the Institute for Employment Studies, ‘Review of support for disabled students in higher education in England’, p5]

To better support disabled students and progress towards a more inclusive environment, universities and colleges need:

  • their senior management to commit to inclusive practice and culture
  • to involve all university staff in encouraging students to disclose an impairment.
  • more comprehensive written policies detailing inclusive support
  • to take a whole institution approach to inclusive support
  • build considerations of inclusivity and accessibility into curriculum design and programme review
  • to offer alternative formats of lectures and course materials as standard practice
  • to build considerations of inclusivity and accessibility into purchasing of services and equipment
  • better sharing of good practice internally and across the sector
  • better advice, guidance and training on digital accessibility for staff.

Queen’s Speech

Her Majesty has read her speech, wearing full robes and crown (last time she was in a suit and hat). You can read the Speech in full and the background briefing which provides a bit more detail and sets out a summary of the 26 bills. Not all the changes are legislation. The contents page contains links (useful because it is 130 pages long).

There is a nice explainer from the Institute for Government.

  • The Queen’s Speech can be voted down. This would be of major political significance, as it would clearly call into question the ability of the government to command the confidence of Parliament. Historically, a defeat on the address has been treated as an implicit loss of confidence in a government as it suggests that there is no majority to be found in the Commons for its programme for government.
  • It is rare for the government to be defeated on the address in the Commons – as governments usually have a majority in the House. But it has happened – most recently in 1924, when Stanley Baldwin’s minority government was defeated. Baldwin then resigned as prime minister, and the opposition went on to form a new government.
  • As no government has been defeated on the address since the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) in 2011, it is unclear what would happen if such a situation were to arise. This is because a defeat on the address would not meet the requirements under the FTPA to trigger an election. But any defeat might encourage the opposition to then table a formal vote of no confidence, under the FTPA, in the government. There would also be intense political pressure on the government.

The PM has already said if the Government is defeated on the Queen’s Speech vote he does not intend to step down.

On HE specifically, the briefing notes say:

  • We are committed to making sure that higher education funding reflects a sustainable model that supports high quality provision, maintaining our world-leading reputation for higher education and delivering value for money for both students and the taxpayer.
  • We want to ensure we deliver better value for students in post-18 education, have more options that offer the right education for each individual, and provide the best access for disadvantaged young people.
  • We want to establish the UK as a global science superpower, building on our existing world-excellence. We will boost public R&D funding, launch a comprehensive UK Space Strategy, introduce a fast-track immigration scheme for top scientists and researchers and develop proposals for a new funding agency.
    • Backing a new approach to funding emerging fields of research and technology, broadly modelled on the US Advanced Research Projects Agency. We will work with industry and academics to finalise this proposal
    • Reducing bureaucracy in research funding to ensure our brilliant scientists are able to spend as much time as possible creating new ideas, not filling in unnecessary forms.
  • The R&D funding plans we will unveil in autumn 2019 will help accelerate our ambition to reach 2.4 per cent of GDP spent on R&D by 2027. This boost in funding will allow us to invest strategically in cutting-edge science, while encouraging the worlds most innovative businesses to invest in the UK.
  • There will be a Medicines and Medical Devices Bill to “Allow the UK to take a lead role in global research to find cures for rare diseases and improve treatments for patients around the world”.

Other relevant highlights:

  • An immigration bill, ending free movement, will lay the foundation for a fair, modern and global immigration system. My Government remains committed to ensuring that resident European citizens, who have built their lives in, and contributed so much to, the United Kingdom, have the right to remain. The bill will include measures that reinforce this commitment [Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill]. 
  • Measures will be brought forward to support and strengthen the National Health Service, its workforce and resources, enabling it to deliver the highest quality care. New laws will be taken forward to help implement the National Health Service’s Long Term Plan in England, and to establish an independent body to investigate serious healthcare incidents [Health Service Safety Investigations Bill].
  • My Government will bring forward proposals to reform adult social care in England to ensure dignity in old age. My Ministers will continue work to reform the Mental Health Act to improve respect for, and care of, those receiving treatment.
  • My Ministers will ensure that all young people have access to an excellent education, unlocking their full potential and preparing them for the world of work. 
  • A white paper will be published to set out my Government’s ambitions for unleashing regional potential in England, and to enable decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level.
  • My Government is committed to establishing the United Kingdom as a world-leader in scientific capability and space technology. Increased investment in science will be complemented by the development of a new funding agency, a more open visa system, and an ambitious national space strategy.
  • My Government will take steps to protect the integrity of democracy and the electoral system in the United Kingdom.

Plus: criminal justice, longer sentencing, sustainable fiscal strategy allowing investment in economic growth, post-Brexit regimes for fisheries, agriculture and trade, financial services, domestic abuse, divorce, pension regulation, national infrastructure strategy, a Drones bill, railway reform and broadband, environmental protection, animal welfare, defence.

During the parliamentary debates on the Queen’s Speech this week Labour’s Angela Rayner (shadow Education Secretary) called for the restoration of university maintenance grants and the implementation of a system of post qualification admissions. There has been a reinvigorated wave of parliamentary questions surrounding research and outward mobility programmes. And the Royal Society published their analysis of Brexit’s harm to UK science research. Finally, Wonkhe dissect the mention of research funding within the Queen’s speech.

OfS Value for Money Strategy

I think I was expecting something new.  But no.  Read their news story here

According to a 2018 survey commissioned by the OfS, just 38 per cent of students believe their course offers good value for money.

The value for money strategy, published by the OfS today, identifies the ways in which the OfS will deliver better value for money for students and taxpayers – in line with the priorities identified in the 2018 student survey. The strategy also defines the OfS’s regulatory role in these areas and outlines how it will measure its success.

Among the priorities identified are:

  • improving teaching quality – over 90 per cent of students responding to the OfS survey felt that the quality of teaching, assessment and feedback are very important in demonstrating value for money
  • promoting transparency around fees and funding – 88 per cent of respondents said that seeing a breakdown of how fees are spent would be helpful in judging value
  • protecting students as consumers and improving consumer information – 24 per cent said they were not informed or prepared for the level of costs that came with being a student
  • securing positive employment outcomes – 65 per cent of respondents said getting a job and earning more were important factors in judging value for money.

The OfS will continue to survey students and graduates to measure student perceptions of value for money, the outcomes of which will form one measure of its progress in this area. The OfS will also consider measures of student experience and outcomes, including the National Student Survey, the Graduate Outcomes Survey, and data on graduate earnings.

The actual strategy is here but you’ve pretty much got it in the bullets above.

This is their definition of value for money:

  • Students receive value for money when they experience the full benefits of higher education – both during their studies and afterwards – in exchange for the effort, time and money they invest.
  • Taxpayers receive value for money when higher education providers use public money and student fees efficiently and effectively to deliver graduates, from all backgrounds, who contribute to society and the economy.

In the document, they also say:

  • We recognise that value for money means different things to different students. Tracking students’ perceptions of the value for money of their education will allow us to monitor progress without imposing our own definition on students.

So they are going to measure something that is not defined, when they know it means different things to different people at different stages?  And if it doesn’t improve they will hold universities to account for not improving something that is not defined? Is that unreasonable?

To be fair, they are also going to

  • assess value for money for students and taxpayers by analysing data on the benefits that have been delivered – for example positive student outcomes – and comparing this with data on the costs incurred”.

And this:

  • While our focus is on student outcomes, we make sure that providers use any income from taxpayers appropriately in delivering these outcomes. Providers receiving funding from the OfS or UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) must comply with our conditions of registration. This includes demonstrating that they have adequate and effective arrangements in place to manage public money appropriately and in accordance with the principle of value for money – it must be used economically, efficiently and effectively. These requirements apply even if a provider passes funds to another entity to deliver teaching or research. We will issue further guidance for providers about how they can meet these requirements.
  • We collect Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) data from providers in receipt of OfS funding to establish the cost of their various activities18. The data is benchmarked so providers can understand the cost of their activities in comparison with other similar providers. This helps them to determine where they can improve the value for money they offer to students and taxpayers.

How is BEIS getting on?

The National Audit Office has published a Departmental Overview for BEIS, describing what it does, its spending, recent and planned changes, and what to look out for across its main business areas and services. A summary of their overview prepared by Dods is below – it acts a good lookahead for certain projects and the likelihood of targets being met.

Specifically of interest are details on delivering an industrial strategy and investing in science, research and innovation. It recommends keeping an eye on whether the Department is stimulating additional investment from private sector companies in research and development to support the government’s target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027. This has been a key area of concern, given that the uplift required from Government to reach 2.4% without private sector support would be huge. It is widely expected that reaching 2.4% will rely very heavily on private sector investment. Key developments identified in this area are as follows:

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

  • The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is a key part of the government’s Industrial Strategy. The Fund, which is administered by UKRI, provides investment in projects that seek to address the grand challenges. The Fund is organised in waves.
  • In 2018-19, £325 million was invested across Waves 1 and 2. The Fund is also a key part of the government’s aim for 2.4% of GDP to be spent on research and development by 2027.

Productivity review

  • In May 2018, the Department launched a call for evidence to review the actions that could be most effective in improving the productivity and growth of small and medium-sized businesses. The Department has yet to publish the results of its review.

Things to look out for:

  • How the Department is monitoring the progress of the projects that were awarded funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and the extent to which they help to address the four grand challenges.
  • Whether government support is stimulating additional investment from private sector companies in research and development to support the government’s target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027.
  • Whether the Department and other government departments are coordinating effectively to deliver the Industrial Strategy, including the actions taken by the Industrial Strategy Council.

The report outlines the 5 objectives of the Department:

  1. Deliver an ambitious industrial strategy; increase UK economic performance and earning power, whilst promoting scientific innovation and local growth.
  2. Maximise investment opportunities; increase investment and employment following Brexit and maintain business and investor confidence amidst deal preparations/ exiting the EU.
  1. Promote competitive markets and responsible business practices; Secure better outcomes for consumers by creating a more competitive environment for businesses and improve corporate governance.
  1. Ensure the UK has a reliable, low-cost and clean energy system; Provide clean, secure and affordable energy supplies for consumers and businesses and support clean growth and promote global action on climate change .
  1. Build a flexible, innovative, collaborative business-facing department; Elevate the Department to an exceptional standard and enable digital, data and technology to deliver services for staff, people and businesses.

Education Statistics

The DfE have released lots of statistics

  • Destinations of KS4 and 16 to 18 KS5 students (2018) remains static with 94% of pupils were in sustained education, employment or apprenticeships in the year after key stage 4, unchanged from 2016/17. 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.
  • A level and other 16 to 18 results (2018) – A level attainment increased for students at the end of 16-18 study in comparison to 2018.

A schools funding announcement was also made this week.

Other news

Brain retain: An early day motion in Parliament congratulated Glasgow which resume.io have recognised as the top graduate destination.

Commuter Students: HEPI have a blog on commuter students arguing that a student centred model is essential for both residential and commuter students. However, the blog, written by the VC of Manchester Met says three overarching strands of support would compensate commuter students for their lack of residential experience:

  • The first is to ensure that we use data on the journey of individual students to inform the support that we give them. We are investing in a Student Journey Transformation Programme that aims to ensure we have a clear picture of each student and their needs. The approach uses technology in an innovative way to support students and enable staff to identify any potential issues at an early stage.
  • The second dimension is campus design, where even simple things such as lockers can make a difference. Lockers mean commuter students do not have to carry around a day’s worth of materials. This removes a practical barrier to taking part in activities and events. Access to plug sockets means they can charge laptops and phones, supporting them to work on campus.
  • We are also working to provide more areas for students to spend time between timetabled sessions and to build their academic community. If the only options are studying in the library or sitting in a catering outlet where there is an expectation to buy something, there is a greater likelihood that students will drift off campus.
  • Thirdly, clear, sensible timetabling helps students plan their week, including travel, work and family commitments. While we have long provided personalised timetables for each student, we are looking at what more we can do. In one faculty, we have identified programmes with high numbers of students with caring responsibilities and scheduled lectures for a restricted number of days with start and finish times that accommodate these responsibilities. We need to understand the effects of this pilot, especially how well it supports students, before extending it.

Student Carers: Wonkhe have a new blog: Carers need more visibility in HE.

Student Votes: Wonkhe detail a piece by i News reporting that the number of students and young people registered to vote has spiked by around 50 per cent when compared to a similar period before the last general election.

Apprenticeships/Disability: HEPI have a blog on the new apprenticeship system and whether it works for disabled students.

Trust: The OfS blog on how leaders can rebuild public trust.

Lecture alternatives: The Wonkhe blog Is the lecture dead? considers an alternative learning model.

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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 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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HE policy update for the w/e 19th July 2019

The big news this week was the defeat of the Government’s wishes to prevent an amendment which aims to hinder the prorogation of Parliament. Chris Skidmore made what may be his last speech as Universities Minister. Few HE reports were issued and the main thrust this week focussing on skills within industry including apprenticeships and the launch of the national retraining scheme. Have a lovely weekend, refuel and shore yourself up ready for Parliamentary changes next week!

Parliament

When we write next week we’ll have a new Government with (probably) a swift Ministerial reshuffle. The media has few hints about who will get what job, aside from some key Conservatives jostling for ministerial position.

Hints include:

  • Matt Hancock challenging Boris’ stance on energy drinks – Boris wants to remove the sugar tax, Matt want to ban the drinks. Is it enough to boot him out of the Health Secretary role despite his declaring for Boris when he removed himself from the leadership race?
  • Gove (Environment Secretary) has stated Boris would make a ‘great Prime Minister’ and on both Boris and rival Hunt he states: “We can trust them both to do the right thing on every critical issue” whilst warning that time is running out to stop climate change. On this note he described Boris as having been “passionate about the environment for decades… [upon first meeting Boris Gove recalls that Boris] described himself to me without prompting as a passionately green Tory and in every role he has had he has championed the environment”. The media is awash with stories that this is Gove’s pitch to remain as Environment Minister. When Gove was asked if he wished to stay on in the Ministerial spot he stated he had merely been giving in the speech a “personal indication of the way which I would hope policy to develop, whoever does this job”.
  • Amber Rudd has performed a political U turn and dropped her opposition to a no-deal Brexit. The Spectator claims she is a ‘reasonable bet’ for Ministerial office. Interesting, especially as she is backing Hunt for PM.
  • Plus Justine Greening, Sam Gyimah, local Sir Oliver Letwin, Sarah Newton, Minister Margot James all showed their stripes this week and voted against a 3-line whip in the amendment aiming to hinder Boris’ potential prorogation of Parliament (more on this below).
  • Similarly four ministers failed to ingratiate themselves when they abstained on the amendment vote – Rory Stewart, long term Cabinet member Greg Clark, current Chancellor Philip Hammond (long rumoured to already have been off the list anyway) and Justice Secretary David Gauke.
  • And Chris Skidmore gave a speech which he said might be his last as Universities Minister –although he has also said he would like to stay.

Change is inevitable.  Boris (assuming it is him) has said all his Ministers must support a no deal Brexit.

The Guardian has this to say on the Cabinet spots: Johnson is adamant that he has not been offering jobs to anyone before entering No 10, as appears likely to happen next Tuesday. He has even declined to say that Hunt will be allowed to stay in the cabinet. It remains to be seen whether he will forgive Gove for his betrayal in 2016, although senior Eurosceptics believe he will extend the hand of friendship with a cabinet post.

Meanwhile the Lords are trying to safeguard against Boris prorouguing Parliament (assuming Boris becomes PM). In an amendment to legislation the Lords defeated the Government by 272 votes to 169. While we have seen various opposition and backbencher parliamentary challenges aiming to prevent no deal or the prorogation this is the first real success.

Last week former PM John Major spoke out and threatened action against Boris’ refusal to rule out closing down parliament to pass no deal. This week it appears the Lords may have been tipped into action by Boris’ team suggesting that if Boris becomes PM he is considering holding a Queen’s Speech to set out his legislative plans at the start of November – such a move would usually close down Parliament for the preceding two weeks – meaning MPs would be unable to vote against a no-deal in the run-up to the crucial Brexit deadline.

On Thursday afternoon the Commons debated the final stage of the Northern Ireland Bill (considering the Lords above amendment) – this is the legislation the amendments are being made to hindering the prorogation of Parliament for Brexit. Despite a Government 3-line whip the MPs voted to uphold the Lords amendment and this amendment blocks suspension of Parliament between 9 October and 18 December unless a Northern Ireland Executive is formed. It the NI Executive is not in place MPs must be recalled to debate Northern Ireland issues (of which Brexit is the key current issue) at this point. Notable for their vote against their party whip are: Justine Greening, Sam Gyimah, local Sir Oliver Letwin, Sarah Newton and the Minister Margot James who promptly resigned her DCMS ministerial post. Twelve other conservative MPs voted against the Government’s wishes. Four cabinet ministers abstained: International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, Business Secretary Greg Clark, Chancellor Philip Hammond, and Justice Secretary David Gauke. Leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt ‘accidentally’ missed the vote and took to Twitter to say he would have voted based on Government wishes. 30 other Conservative MPs abstained, including local MP Simon Hoare. Universities Minister Chris Skidmore and Education Secretary Damian Hinds voted with the Government’s wishes. See the listings here for the full who’s who details on the votes.

The amendment places another road block against the prorogation of parliament. However, the power to request the Queen to prorogue remains with the PM so it could still happen. What is most interesting is that the Government’s defeat in this vote shows the potential for Conservatives to rebel and vote down the next PM in support of a Labour motion of no confidence.  However, this would be  an extreme action for Conservative MPs as doing so would precipitate a general election with the risk of MPs losing their constituency seats and potentially Labour (or a coalition group) forming a new Government.  Many rebels have been suggested that they would stop short of this.

WP Speech from Universities Minister

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore spoke on widening access and participation on Monday. He visited Birkbeck University which has a big widening participation agenda and classes are held during the evenings only. The Minister visited because he wanted to learn from Birkbeck’s flexible, ‘step-on, step-off’ approach to higher education for the future. And that’s why we’re expanding the range of options available to students today. The Minister states the Government’s agenda is all about students making choices, which are best for them. He goes on to highlight key points:

  • We are putting extra resources into higher technical education and apprenticeships. So, as well as offering a range of world-leading higher education courses, we’d like to ensure that vocational and technical training options of equal quality are available across the entire country, so that all 18-year-olds are able to select the pathway that best suits their aspirations and potential. But…higher level education is not just for 18-year-olds. Here…we see the ultimate in flexible teaching models combined with high impact research, which all goes to show that part-time and mature students are right to expect the highest quality experience and outcomes.
  • This government recognises the importance of studying part-time and later in life, and the huge range of benefits it can bring to individuals, employers and the wider economy. We acknowledge there has been a 57% decline in the number of students in part-time higher education since 2010-11 – many of whom will be mature. And we recognise the need to rectify this since, as the world of work changes, it is important people are able to retrain and reskill as they need, so they don’t get left behind. According to research by the Centre for Social Justice, it is expected that anywhere between 10 and 35% of the UK workforce will need to reskill in the next 20 years. 
  • The Minister goes on to detail the changes aimed to support part time and mature students – access to maintenance loans and access to loans for STEM courses for ELQs (students who already have a degree or equivalent level qualification). But we know we still need to do more – both to encourage students to study part-time and later in life, and to encourage all higher education providers to develop their offers to appeal to those students. The Minister mentions the OfS’ work on Access and Participation Plans and how institutions plan to tackle barriers and problems for mature students.
  • In 2018, for the first time ever, over 20% of English 18-year-olds living in the lowest participation neighbourhoods entered higher education. And the data just released on 2019 applications shows further significant progress… But, we cannot rest on our laurels… we’re still not getting the most disadvantaged students into the best possible courses for them. Our widening participation data shows White boys on free school meals have the lowest progression rates to higher education. And there are still significant regional differences to address across the country.
  • To make sure our efforts to improve access and participation are as effective as they can be, we need to be willing to look at the system as a whole, and to take a whole-system approach to outreach and widening participation activities… we cannot offer just generic support. What we need is support tailored to different student groups – including commuter students, postgraduate students, mature part-time students, international students, care leavers and estranged students, disabled students, students from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds, and students from the poorest parts of our society. And let’s not forget the need to support the inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT+) students… Inclusion needs to be at the heart of all institutional policy. Because it is only when inclusion becomes mainstream that we will deliver a sea change in attitudes – putting an end to the old myth that university is only for a certain type of person, from a certain type of background.
  • That’s why I welcome the review of admissions being undertaken by the Office for Students (OfS)… Experimenting with contextual admissions is one part of this. Contextual admissions involve universities reflecting on the circumstances within which students’ attainment has been achieved; for example, the nature and overall performance of the school they attend, their socio-economic background, or perhaps a difficult personal situation. Most universities already do this to some extent, but I would like the most selective, in particular, to be more ambitious in making contextual offers to recognise the untapped potential that many disadvantaged students have. There is good evidence to show that students who have had offers reduced by several grades can make excellent progress at university, provided the right support has been put in place for them.
  • Ensuring we [institutions] are using the right data, measuring the right things, and using data in the right way is a key priority for me
  • The Minister went on to state a reformed student information resource would be launched in the autumn including LEO data, the innovative digital tools developed through the Open Data Competition and the OfS review of Unistats. The UCAS new student hub to enable applicants more personal searches and advice was mentioned too.
  • And the OfS is promoting and supporting greater and faster progress to support disadvantaged students…all [HEI’s] need to be able to access high quality evidence of what works to enable them to make a step change in closing the gaps between students – in access, experience, and outcomes. This is why the new [OfS] Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes (TASO) is so important.
  • Unpaid internships are mentioned too: let’s not forget the work we can be doing to support graduates into the world of work at the end of their studies… we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the fact that it is at this point of the year that some students and fresh graduates fall prey to unpaid internships to gain experience and get a foot on the jobs ladder.
    Recent research by the Sutton Trust showed that the minimum cost of carrying out an unpaid internship here in London is £1,019 per month. So, we should be doing everything we can to stop these work placements being a privilege of the rich and making careers support more visible on campus to steer students in the right direction.
    Employability needs to be weaved into the system – not just by careers teams but also by academics, who equally have a role to play in making students aware of the transferable skills they are gaining from their higher education. It’s obviously not great news when almost half (49%) of young people aged between 17 and 23 believe their education has not prepared them for the world of work – as revealed by a survey from the CBI in November last year.
  • And, as this may well be my last higher education speech as Universities Minister, I want to thank the sector for all I have seen and for all it is doing in continuing to make our universities and colleges accessible, inclusive and open to all.

 Degree Apprenticeships

Universities UK has launched the Future of Degree Apprenticeships report arguing the qualification  provides significant opportunities for employers to diversify their workforce, increasing the opportunities available to young people, and widening employers’ talent pools. It suggests that the link between apprenticeship policy and the Industrial Strategy needs to be strengthened to ensure provision in key sectors can flourish. This is in line with the recent Government position on focussing degree apprenticeships into specified key sectors and stemming the (expensive) significant growth in higher level apprenticeships which has displaced some lower level provision (see 12 July policy update for more on this). UUK suggest that encouraging development of more level 4 and level 5 apprenticeships and progression pathways will bring flexibility and is a direct appeal to the Government during the Higher Technical Education Reform consultation period.

The report recommendations sound familiar:

  • The Government should lead a campaign to promote the benefits of degree apprenticeships to employers and the public, including better careers information and guidance at an earlier age in schools, and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) should make the application system for degree apprenticeships as straightforward as it is for undergraduate degrees.
  • The Government should invest in initiatives to support social mobility, lifelong learning, and growth in degree apprenticeships among underrepresented groups.
  • The system should develop to meet current and future demand for higher level skills in areas such as digital technology, management, and public services, to boost regional economies.
  • Make it easier for employers to include a degree within their apprenticeships where they see it adding value to their business and to their apprentices, and streamline processes and reduce unnecessary costs in the system.

Professor Quintin McKellar CBE, VC, University of Hertfordshire stated: Degree apprenticeships provide an opportunity for employers to work closely with universities to develop high-quality programmes that meet key skills needs, fill occupations that are experiencing shortages and deliver them in an innovative and flexible way. They provide opportunities for employers to recruit talented staff with potential, and to develop and upskill existing staff.

Industry Skills Focus

The new Peterborough University has surveyed employers in its quest to directly produce graduates which serve national shortages but particularly fit the skills needs of local employers. Retaining graduate talent in the local area is another key priority. The survey is interesting because it provides feedback from employers on what they see as the most useful degree programmes.

  • The most popular areas were business, IT and digital, and sustainability skills. These areas of learning were judged to have been favoured because of their general importance to a range of business sectors.
  • Employers also said that skills in mechanical and structural engineering, mathematics, science and certain health and social care skills were in demand now, and would continue to be so in the future.
  • Newer and rapidly progressing technology featured strongly in the responses, with artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and software development highlighted as likely to be in significant demand in the future.
  • Sustainability, primary environmental management and the circular economy were also identified as areas where skills will be needed in the future.

(Note: employers selected their most useful degree programmes from a slightly limited range, based on what Peterborough is proposing to offer.)

Interesting for the Government’s achievement of the Research Development target is that 83% of the industry respondents stated they would use the university’s research functions with manufacturing, advanced manufacturing and materials companies the most enthusiastic about the prospect.

Peterborough Mayor, James Palmer, said: We have always said that this university will be delivery and should engage with the local business community from development through to operation in order to turn out the kinds of technical skills needed in our local economy. Not only that, but the way skills are delivered is also important, and we can see from the survey that courses which involve work placement or work-based study were revealed to be very popular…We need this university to help retain and attracted talented people to the local area, to drive up the levels of aspiration and to offer a secure, proven educational pathway to better life chances, fulfilling careers and the skills that will be in demand in the 21st Century economy.

Councillor John Holdich, Leader of Peterborough City Council and Deputy Mayor of the Combined Authority said: Our aspiration is for a university for Peterborough which is rooted in the needs of the local economy and supplying the skills demanded by local employers. This in turn will help our young people into well-paid, secure jobs fit for the rapidly evolving 21st Century workplace. Our employers have told us quite clearly what skills they need and the industries likely to prosper in future years which will now be used to shape the curriculum to be offered by the university.

 National Retraining Scheme

The DfE have launched a National Retraining Scheme to support people whose jobs are at risk to adapt to technological change. Current figures suggest that 35% of jobs will change due to automation within the next 20 years. The scheme is starting in the Liverpool City Region with help provided through a new digital service Get Help to Retrain. It aims to support those at risk to identify their existing skills, explore local job opportunities and where to go to find training courses to gain the skills they need to progress. As the scheme is available through an online digital method we hope those needing the support do have sufficient digital literacy to access the service.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

  • “Technologies like AI and automation are transforming the way we live and work and bringing huge benefits to our economy, but it also means that jobs are evolving and some roles will soon become a thing of the past.
  • “The National Retraining Scheme will be pivotal in helping adults across the country whose jobs are at risk of changing to gain new skills and get on the path to a new, more rewarding career.
  • “This is big and complex challenge, which is why we are starting small, learning as we go, and releasing each part of the scheme only when it’s ready to benefit its users

You can read the DfE written ministerial statement on National Retraining Scheme here.

Student Loans Company

You may recall the effectiveness of the Student Loans Company was questioned in 2018 following high profile resignations, their use of social media to determine the estrangement status of students, and the revelation of concerning levels of poor mental health within the workforce.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore issued a Written Ministerial Statement on the Tailored Review of the Student Loans Company stating the organisation remained relatively fit for purpose, despite significant operational challenges which include high turnover of staff, and is meeting the majority of its performance targets.

On moving forward the Minister states: The SLC’s own Transformation Programme seeks to address some of the issues and the Tailored Review provides additional and complementary recommendations. The Department for Education is committed to working with the SLC and other stakeholders to develop and implement an action plan to take forward all 39 recommendations.

Parental financial top up

Which? have released findings revealing the scale of parental support for children studying at university. In a survey of 846 parents of both current and prospective undergraduate students, a quarter admitted to cutting back on big expenses, such as holidays.

  • More than eight in ten parents of current students said they were funding their child in some way while they were studying.
  • Half of parents said that the overall cost of university was more than they expected and it caught them off guard.
  • Some parents took a second job to cover their child’s university expenses. Two thirds of parents manage the extra costs through their normal employment pay levels whereas a quarter fund the child through their savings. Two in five parents state they had to cut down on their day to day spending, not just luxuries such as taking holidays.
  • When asked what expenses they were helping to cover, parents of current students listed accommodation, bills and food (56%), study materials (37%), outings and hobbies (28%), and even tuition fees (10%).
  • Yet one fifth of parents stated they didn’t know exactly what their child was spending their additional top up money on
  • The survey states parents of current undergraduate students in our survey said they are putting their hand in their pocket to the tune of £360 per month, on average.
  • A separate Which? survey to students found nearly half of respondents underestimated the price of accommodation and course expenses.

Which? use the news article to highlight the range of student finance options available and to urge parents of younger children to use the calculators and tools to begin financially preparing in advance of their child commencing university.

Graduate Regional Earnings

The DfE has released the LEO data detailing regional findings in HE graduates earnings.

  • Almost half of all graduates residing in the same region as their HE provider 5 years after graduation. If a graduate now lives outside of the region of their provider they are most likely to have moved to London.
  • Some of the movement away from provider region will be graduates returning to their home region. One year after graduation a very high proportion of graduates (82%) are in the same current region as their original home region (43.7% who studied in the same region and therefore never left their home region and 38.3% who chose to study in a different region and subsequently returned.)
  • Graduate earnings are highest in London but graduates earn more, on average, than non-graduates in all regions of England with the gap in pay relatively similar across the country but greatest in absolute terms in London (around £5,000) and in percentage terms in the South West (around 22%). The report acknowledges that the regional itself has a significant effect on earnings.

Read more here.

Education Committee funding report

The Education Committee has published the report from their inquiry into school and college funding. It calls on the Government to fix the broken education funding system, commit to a multi-billion cash injection for schools and colleges and bring forward a strategic ten-year education funding plan.

See the report for all the school related findings; here we focus on the key points relevant to FE.

  • The report shows that further education has been hardest hit, with post-16 funding per student falling by 16% in real terms over the past decade.
  • The capital funding landscape is becoming increasingly concerning. The Department must make the strongest possible case to the Treasury for a multi-billion pound funding increase in the next spending review, and ensure this is aligned with the requirements for a ten-year plan.
  • The continued underfunding of post-16 education is no longer justifiable. These budget pressures are the result of political decisions that have had enormous impacts on young people’s educational opportunities and undermined attempts to tackle social justice. The Department must make the case to the Treasury for a post-16 core funding rate raise from £4,000 to at least £4,760 per student, rising in line with inflation. This is needed to ensure pupil services can be provided at minimum acceptable levels, and prevent institutions from having to cut back still further on the breadth of subjects offered.
  • It is clear that Pupil Premium is being used to plug holes in school budgets rather than being directed at disadvantaged children.  The Department should also introduce a 16–19 Pupil Premium scheme. The Department should additionally develop a data-sharing system to ensure FE institutions can identify disadvantaged students automatically.
  • A ten-year plan for education funding is essential. It would provide schools, colleges and the Department with much needed strategic direction and financial certainty. The short-termism and initiative-itis that characterises the Department’s current approach cannot afford to continue.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

“Education is crucial to our nation’s future. It is the driver of future prosperity and provides the ladder of opportunity to transform the life chances of millions of our young people. If it is right that the NHS can have a ten-year plan and a five-year funding settlement, then surely education, perhaps the most important public service, should also have a ten-year plan and a long-term funding settlement.

Recess

Parliament will enter recess shortly after the new Prime Minister is announced. We’ll issue a policy update next Friday 26 July, then there will be a break for a few weeks followed by a bumper edition catching you up with the summer news.

Consultations

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

Don’t forget! – There’s still time to response to BU’s internal consultation gathering colleagues view on transparency and openness in health and social care research to inform our response to the HRA Make it Public consultation.

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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 12th July 2019

We focus on the interesting set of reports released as people clear their desks before their summer holidays.

Learning gain

The OfS have published evaluations of the various learning gain projects that have been running for some time.  The OfS website is very clear “The report below is independent research which we have commissioned. As such, it does not necessarily reflect the views or official position of the OfS.”  You will recall that one reason for HEFCE setting up these projects was to see if a learning gain measure could be created for the TEF.  The answer would seem to be “no” although given the disclaimer, that might not stop them having a go.

On the final evaluation of 13 projects, the conclusions are:

  • Learning gain can be defined as the change in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development, as well as enhancement of specific practices and outcomes in defined disciplinary and institutional contexts.
  • embedding measures in curriculum design is the most effective approach for collecting data for measuring learning gain
  • Pilots of standardised tests carried out during the projects have not proven to be robust and effective measures of learning gain due to challenges of student engagement, differential scores across socio-demographic characteristics, subject differences and use of data.
  • Contextual factors such as subject-level differences, institution type and student characteristics differences impact the transferability of measures of learning gain. These differences should be considered when designing and selecting learning gain measures; when analysing and presenting findings. Mediating effects need to be considered.

The report on the National Mixed Methods project  has the following recommendations:

For policy-makers and providers      

  • A one-size-fits-all measure of learning gain (modelled on the NMMLGP questionnaire) should be abandoned as it holds minimal value for the majority of students and is not an influential construct in their present decision-making concerning either choice of institution or impact on the curriculum.
  • Students’ perceptions of learning gain need further exploration in order to move beyond what are acknowledged as impressionistic findings reported here, which are bound by proportionality constraints.
  • The sector needs to consider whose interests are best served by the measurement of learning gain. The evidence gathered here from participating providers and their students indicates that there is a dichotomous view of learning gain: either as a marker of institution positioning within a market-oriented system; or as a process of progression throughout the student journey. The two things are not necessarily synonymous.

For higher education providers

  • All learning gain work needs to be related to students’ own context and clearly embedded at local level within the subject or disciplinary area. Engagement is also highly dependent on whether any initiatives are promoted by trusted sources such as course tutors, rather than unfamiliar contacts.
  • Providers should consider developing a repertoire of approaches, as part of a learning gain toolkit, which can be accessed by students as part of a flexible and adaptable process underpinned by student choice rather than normative comparison. Providers are encouraged to also review the findings of the overall evaluation of the learning gain Pilot Projects for approaches which are most suited to their local contexts.

And finally the report on Higher Education Learning Gain Analysis (HELGA): says:

  • “HELGA set out to explore whether administrative data could be used to create a proxy measure for learning gain. The project has experimented with different techniques, considered different outcomes that could be a proxy for learning gain and different source of data that could be used. Ultimately, the project has developed two methods for measuring value-added in higher education for a subset of the undergraduate population.
  • The two measures have produced different results in their measure of value-added and there is no straightforward way of evaluating which is the most accurate.
  • It should be noted that the ‘value-added’ measured is the difference between the ‘expected’ degree outcomes for students at an institution based on prior attainment (and other student and course characteristics in the case of the multilevel model) and the actual degree outcomes. The measure does not explain what this difference might be caused by. As mentioned in Section 2.3, there is concern about the comparability of degree classifications across institutions. This raises a question of the suitability of this value-added measure for comparing institutions.
  • Neither methodology should be used further without additional sensitivity analyses and serious thought as to what is really being measured and whether it is fair to measure institutional performance in terms of value-added based on the restricted population used.
  • At the outset of HELGA, it was known that it would never be possible to create a single measure of learning gain, encompassing all of the different elements that are understood to make up learning gain. It has necessarily focused on cognitive gain only, although some thought was given to using NSS metadata to measure non-cognitive learning gain, but this was unsuccessful. However, this does not mean that this could not be useful for measuring value-added, but it should be made clear that it should not be adopted to produce a single measure of learning gain”

Grade Inflation

And that brings us nicely to the next item…the OfS have published their latest review of degree classifications:

  • The proportion of first-class honours degrees awarded has increased from 16 per cent to 29 per cent between 2010-11 and 2017-18.
  • The OfS has used statistical modelling to account for factors including entrance qualifications and student characteristics which may influence attainment. When accounting for these factors, they find that 13.9 percentage points’ worth of first class degree attainment remains “unexplained”.
  • In total, 94 per cent of the 148 universities and other higher education providers included in the analysis demonstrated a statistically significant unexplained increase in the proportion of first-class degrees awarded in 2017-18 compared to 2010-11.
  • The report updates data from a report issued in December 2018. Since that report, universities have collectively announced plans to act together to curb grade inflation via the work of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment.
  • Commenting on the report, Susan Lapworth, director of competition and registration at the Office for Students, said:
    • ‘Worries about grade inflation threaten to devalue a university education in the eyes of employers and potential students. So it is essential we regain and maintain public confidence in the reliability of degree classifications.
    • ‘This data shows a further increase in both the rate of first-class degrees awarded, and the proportion of those awards. These increases cannot be fully explained by the factors we have taken into account in our analysis.
    • ‘The performance shown in the new data pre-dates our call for the sector to take action on grade inflation, so we would not expect to see the impact of such actions in today’s report.
    • ‘There are, though, positive signs that the higher education sector has begun to tackle this issue. We welcome the steps taken by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment and the positive response from universities to a recent consultation on the steps universities should take to demonstrate that standards are secure. We recognise that change will take time, but it remains absolutely crucial that students, graduates and the general public can be assured that the value of a degree is maintained. That is why concerted, focused, and sector-wide action is so important.
    • ‘Following today’s publication, the OfS will be contacting those universities and providers with the most significant unexplained increases in degree classifications. We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. In seeking this additional information we recognise that there are factors that could explain the increases – for example improvements in learning and teaching – that we have not been able to measure in our analysis.
    • ‘Given the significant public scrutiny of degree standards we want to understand how universities have assured themselves that they have, and continue to, apply consistent standards. Doing so will help ensure that the degrees that students work so hard for continue to enjoy public confidence.’

The report and Excel versions of the data tables have been published.

The use of the word “unexplained” (again) is shocking given that it means “unexplained by prior attainment and social advantage”.  Inevitably this has been picked up in the media and by the Education Secretary.

BBC story here with a Damien Hinds comment:

  •  “Education Secretary Damian Hinds warned against “unfair practices”.  Mr Hinds said that if universities were giving many more top degrees without a legitimate reason, it was unfair on those who had studied to the same standard in previous years.  “We owe it to the hard-working students and institutions who play by the rules to stamp out this unfair practice,” said the education secretary. “Today’s figures are disappointing and risk compromising the public trust in the high standards of our universities,” he said.”

Wonkhe point out the escalation of threat level here: “Back in December, he said “I am urging universities to tackle this serious issue and have asked the Office for Students to deal firmly with any institution found to be unreasonably inflating grades” – so this feels like threat inflation to us.”

The OfS seem to be totally unaware of the damage that their choice of language may be doing.  In a blog, Susan Lapworth, the Director of competition and registration at the OFS, says about the plan to follow up with universities (emphasis added);

“To ensure that all universities, colleges and other registered providers are playing their part in maintaining the standard of degrees, we are likely to write to those providers that held degree awarding powers in 2010-11 and where the data show the most significant increases in the percentage of first class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2017-18. We’re focusing on providers with:

  • a statistically significant increase in the unexplained percentage of first class degrees awarded in a single year, or
  • a statistically significant overall increase in the unexplained percentage of first class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2017-18.

We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. We want to understand, for example, whether a provider has made recent changes to the way it calculates degree classifications, or whether it can point to other evidence – such as investment in staffing, teaching, services or facilities – that would credibly account for the ‘unexplained’ increase. We are also interested in the steps governing bodies have taken to ensure that academic governance arrangements are adequate and effective.

In seeking this additional information, we are not implying that the trends we can see in the published data indicate any form of wrongdoing from these providers – we are trying to understand better the reasons for performance that will be subject to public scrutiny and so are focusing our attention on those providers with the biggest unexplained increases. Given the significant public scrutiny of degree standards we want to understand how providers have assured themselves that they continue to apply consistent standards.

Doing so is essential to maintaining public confidence in degrees.”

General Election?

There has been little to say on Brexit recently because of the speculation and posturing of the Conservative leadership race. The news is all about what the two candidates might actually do (rather than what they say they will do as some promises may turn out to be completely unachievable if the EU or Parliament don’t play ball). The Conservatives, despite bitter Brexit infighting, are keen to retain power and remain in Government, avoiding an election at all costs. However, there has been increasing talk of how a general election may now be inevitable. There is a good article in Politics Home House magazine which explains the election scenarios.

Admissions

UCAS released their analysis of all full time undergraduate applications (made by end June 2019) noting a new record as almost 4 in 10 young people apply to university. Overall the number of young applications has increased by 1%, an additional 2,600 people, (despite the 1.9% fall in the young UK population). Across the UK figures are:

  • 39.5% of all 18 year olds in England submitted a UCAS application, up from 38.1% at the same point last year;
  • in Northern Ireland, 46.9% of 18 year olds applied (down 0.7 percentage points)
  • in Scotland, the 18 year old application rate is 32.7% (down 0.1 percentage point)
  • in Wales, the application rate was 32.9% (up 0.2 percentage points) – a joint record result equalling the peak in 2016

International

  • The volume of EU applicants rose by 1%, to 50,650.
  • There were a record number of applicants from outside the EU – 81,340 students applied to study in the UK, an increase of 8%.
  • China continued its rapid growth, with applicant numbers up 30% to 19,760 – this means that, for the first time, there are more applicants from China than Northern Ireland (18,520).

Disadvantage

For the first time, UCAS utilised the index of multiple deprivation measures to consider applications from disadvantaged communities.

  • In England, the number of young people applying from the most deprived areas has increased 6% to 38,770, while applications from the least deprived areas have fallen.
  • In Northern Ireland, all areas have seen a fall in applications, of between 2% and 7%.
  • In Scotland, young applicants from the most deprived areas have grown by 3%, while all other areas have seen falls.
  • In Wales, applicants from the most deprived areas remained at 1,390, with a mixed picture across different areas.

UCAS have also release a new interactive dashboard should you wish to interrogate the data further.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

The global appeal of UK higher education has never been clearer, with record, demographic beating application rates in England and Wales, and the steep rise in international applications, especially from China.

Today’s analysis shows how attractive undergraduate study continues to be for young people, although university isn’t the only route on offer. Our survey insight shows that around a quarter of students are interested in apprenticeships as an alternative option.

Higher Technical Reform

The DfE has launched a consultation on Higher Technical qualifications and published a Written Ministerial Statement to accompany it. Key points within the statement:

  1. A vision for Higher Technical Education to be a prestigious choice that delivers the skills employers need, encourages more students to continue studying after A levels or T levels and attracts workers of all ages looking to upskill and retrain.
  2. The starting point for reform is to raise the prestige of Higher Technical Education and strengthen its value to employers by putting their needs and quality first. Improving quality now – to demonstrate the value of higher technical qualifications – will lead to increased uptake of Higher Technical Education in the future.
  3. To do this we a new system is proposed to make clear which higher technical qualifications provide the skills that employers want. This will be delivered through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education signalling which qualifications deliver the knowledge, skills, and behaviours set out in employer-led national standards. This will help qualifications at this level command the confidence of students and employers alike.
  4. Alongside this the Government intent to work with the Office for Students to demonstrate the quality of providers, so there is more high-quality provision delivered across higher and further education, including through our flagship employer-led National Colleges and Institutes of Technology.
  5. The Government aims to make Higher Technical Education a positive and more popular choice by raising awareness and understanding of the new suite of Institute-approved qualifications in colleges and universities, and among potential students and employers.

This is very interesting in its own right, but also because of the direction of travel.

  • 29 We will create a clear set of signals that will enable employers and learners to easily identify the best qualifications with national labour market relevance. We want to incentivise providers to gravitate towards approved qualifications rather than those that have not met the Institute’s quality requirements. This will tilt the playing field towards qualifications which have been identified by panels of employers as delivering the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for an occupation.
  • 30 Qualifications approved by the Institute would be clearly identified through a single name or kitemark. ….
  • 31 Approved qualifications will therefore clearly stand out as being high-quality, labour market relevant, and having national currency. These benefits will enhance the offer and credibility of even those existing qualifications that have a relatively good level of employer awareness.
  • In addition, we know it will be very important to ensure that HTE is properly funded. Funding will also form an important incentive for Awarding Bodies to submit their qualifications for approval and discourage provision of rival qualifications that have not been approved by the Institute. The Post-18 Review panel has recommended that only approved HTQs should be entitled to the same tuition fee support and teaching grant, and equivalent maintenance support, as level 6 qualifications. We want to ensure there are clear incentives to deliver reformed qualifications in the future, and we will consider this as part of the ongoing Spending Review and the government’s response to the Post-18 Review.
  • We want to ensure that the very best providers are delivering our approved high-quality HTQs, whilst also considering how providers could specialise, or adjust their offer to address local skills needs. The Post-18 Review has recommended additional capital funding, for FE colleges, with a particular focus on growing specialist HTE provision in specific colleges. We will consider these recommendations, and develop our plans in more detail, as part of the Spending Review.
  • We want the reformed higher technical offer to be the best it can be. We therefore propose taking the requirement to register with the OfS a step further, and to develop with the OfS an additional set of ongoing registration conditions specifically for higher technical provision (technical conditions). Providers would be required to meet these technical conditions, in addition to the general ongoing registration conditions that are applicable to all providers, to be able to deliver the approved HTQs with access to relevant student finance for courses leading to those HTQs, and to be eligible for any additional public funding.
  • We expect this to be a rigorous process that would specifically assess and signal the quality of a provider’s higher technical education provision. Criteria for this would:
  • Specifically indicate high-quality higher technical provision by expanding on the key elements already assessed by OfS as part of the registration process, such as:
    • Suitably qualified and experienced teachers with current, relevant occupational and industry experience and expertise, as well as high quality pedagogical skills. Leaders have the capacity and ability to ensure provision is sustainable and retains a clear focus on quality
    • Strong links with employer networks, thus ensuring the knowledge, skills and behaviours being delivered are valued by, and relevant to, employers who are engaged and investing in training; and
    • Learning environments that provide access to facilities and equipment that are reflective of the workplace, including industry-relevant, up-to-date equipment.
  • Draw from the IoT assessment process, which uses a range of criteria including evidence of support for regional and national economic growth; employer engagement; relevance to occupational skills needs; and quality industry relevant teaching.
  • 67 The panel has also recommended that additional support and capital funding should be provided to grow capacity for, and ensure, high-quality technical provision, and that quality indicators could identify how best to allocate that funding. This could mean that only providers meeting the technical conditions would be eligible for any higher technical capital or grant funding for their HTE provision. For example, this could be to support providers to expand their provision, specialise or tailor their offer to meet local skills needs, or enhance teaching facilities and equipment. As stated above, we will be considering these funding proposals and wider reforms as part of the Spending Review.

International staff

This came up in Parliamentary questions this week.

Q – Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will make it his Department’s policy to exclude scientific research occupations from proposals in the immigration White Paper for a minimum salary threshold.

A – Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North):

  • On 24 June 2019, the Government asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to consider the operation of salary thresholds in the future immigration system, including the impact of exemptions from minimum salary thresholds. The MAC is due to report by January 2020.
  • We recognise the vital contribution that scientists make to the UK. In his spring statement, my Rt Hon Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, confirmed that PhD level occupations would be exempt from the Tier 2 cap. Additionally, researchers applying for settlement are exempt from the rule which states that, there should be no absence from the UK for 180 days if the absence from the UK is for the purpose carrying out research. A number of research roles also appear on the Shortage Occupation List which also exempts them from the settlement salary threshold
  • The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route is also available for internationally recognised leaders and promising future leaders, including in the science and research sector.

The Minister speaks (part 4) – on R&D investment

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, made his fourth (and final) speech in his series on R&D investment focusing on how to bring about major increases in private R&D investment.

The previous speeches covered:

  • Investing in people – ensuring that the best and brightest minds are working on the problems
  • Working collaboratives – across international borders to tackle the greatest challenges facing society
  • Enduring the funding and regulatory systems nurture new technologies and support risk taking

On private R&D investment he said:

  • If we are to deliver on our 2.4% commitment, we must be prepared to go much further and much faster. Overall investment in R&D will need to more than double in nominal terms, from current level of £35 billion per year to around £75 billion per year by 2027.
  • And at least two thirds of this investment will need to come from business. For many industries the need to invest in R&D is a pressing one – vital to competitive advantage. Businesses that thrive on the cutting edge are adept at making the most of basic research. They track down the brightest minds to seek answers to their most pressing problems. And they take the lead on experimental development and innovation, lifting new discoveries out of the lab and into people’s lives, driving economic and social prosperity.
  • That isn’t to say that the government won’t play its part. In fact, we are doing more than ever.

The Minister goes on to set out the additional funding, including a real terms QR funding uplift, and collaborative assistance that has led to successful business gains, such as Jaguar Land Rover committing to produce it’s electric cars in the UK (previously the company had been shedding staff and moving assets due to Brexit complexities).

  • Bold government policy has led to bold business decisions.
  • But to get to 2.4% we need to see significantly more than this. To ramp up from today’s levels to 2027, it is projected we’ll need to see an additional £12 billion each year from business.

To respond to this challenge the minister announced 7 focal areas:

  • Creating opportunity for the spark of creativity to arise through encouraging a vibrant and diverse research system with support for world-class, blue-skies research in universities and institutesintellectual capital ultimately comes from people. So we need to invest confidently into postgraduate study, looking at all levels of our education system to getting more people into exciting R&D careers. This also means working tirelessly to put innovation and creativity at the centre of our education and training system.
  • Turning new ideas into new businesses, products and processes – developing a culture of startups.
  • Creating a scale-up culture with early-stage ventures able to access the funding needed to scale up
  • Driving up demand as well as supply – incentivising business investment into R&D for established businesses. The  Minister states:

I see universities as ‘protagonists’, working with businesses to address problems where others cannot or dare not, and stimulating private investment.

Whether they are spinning out a company, licensing their IP, or undertaking contract or collaborative research with business, universities are remarkably skilled at identifying where they can have the greatest impact – locally, regionally, nationally and globally – and just getting on and doing it.

  • Supporting innovation across the whole UK – playing to local and regional strengths.
  • Focussing on the industrial strategies Grand Challenges
  • Ensuring research and innovation is right at the heart of Global Britain – the UK to be a magnet for foreign direct investment and as attractive a destination as possible for major businesses looking to relocate or scale up their R&D operations. Government policies and funding streams should ruthlessly drive up our global attractiveness.
    • But it is also incumbent on us to be better at marketing ourselves overseas. An important part of this is being open to talent. It is something businesses tell me constantly: the UK urgently needs an immigration system that encourages those with the best ideas and the most innovative minds to come and work here.
  • The evidence is unarguable: skilled immigration drives innovation. We mustn’t lose sight of this as we exit the EU. If we are to thrive, we need a genuinely international approach, a ‘freedom of talent’ approach that allows highly skilled people the flexibility to move and collaborate across borders.
  • That is the purpose of our international education strategy, providing focus and clarity to our ongoing educational exports
  • We cannot duck this challenge. Other nations are adopting aggressive approaches to R&D investment, driving significant increases in both public and private R&D performance. I’m not just talking about Israel and China – 2 obvious outliers. I’m also looking at Germany, who are ramping up public spending on R&D, committing to 3% annual increases every year for the next decade.
  • The technological revolution will stretch horizontally across our economy – every company will become a tech company of sorts. 
  • So to conclude, delivering on 2.4% requires focusing on all parts of the innovation lifecycle, and looking at our policies and investments through multiple lenses. And we must keep a ruthless focus on evidence, to inform the choices we make as a nation.
  • This means we need to access the latest thinking on what works, and ensure we have the best and latest metrics so we know when we have succeeded. And it means listening to what businesses and academics are telling us, and acting accordingly.

Other points made:

  • The UK has the second highest number of doctoral graduate in the EU (Germany has the highest).
  • UK researchers are unusually collaborative in comparison with EU and G20 nations
  • The UK has above-average level of people working in the fastest-growing sectors
  • The UK’s field-weighted citations has beaten all other G7 countries since 2007 with 50% greater citation impact than the world average and 30% higher impact than the EU27. No other comparator nation has a larger proportion of its research among the most widely cited in the world.

Consultations

There are NINE new consultations and inquiries this week!  Click here to view the updated tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Assistive Technology: The Student Loans Company plan to put out a tender for Assistive Technology Equipment and Training, results will be published during autumn 2019.

Industry partnership: Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, announced UK pioneering technologies under development as part of 4 new partnerships between businesses and universities. The projects aim to help UK industry and academia lead the way in bringing new products to market that contribute to tackling the big generational challenges such as climate change and the needs of an ageing society. Skidmore stressed the importance of both government and industry contributing to the Industrial Strategy ambition of raising public and private investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Projects include:

  • Developing new materials that do not make noise underwater, led by BAE Systems with the University of Southampton, the University of Nottingham and Lloyd’s Register.
  • Using AI and machine learning to speed up production of new medicines from vaccines to tablets in order to get them from the lab to the clinic faster, led by GlaxoSmithKline with the University of Strathclyde with University of Nottingham.
  • Developing a new range of fully recyclable ultra-high strength aluminium alloys for the automotive industry, led by Constellium and Brunel University.
  • Creating the next generation of household products using AI to pave the way for robots to complete advanced household tasks, led by Dyson and Imperial.

Student transitions:  Education Secretary Damian Hinds announced ‘Leapskills Workshops’, developed by student accommodation provider Unite Students which offer schools and colleges resources to teach Year 12 and 13 pupils about independent living, managing money and dealing with conflict. The sessions aim to act as a digital interactive masterclass to enhance how schools and colleges teach young people about what to expect and how to prepare for the leap of living away from home for the first time.

  • Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:  For young people leaving school, starting the next chapter of their life should be a positive life-changing experience – but we know that many people struggle with the pressures of moving away from home and living independently for the first time. A huge part of education is preparing young people for adult life and it is right that we teach them what to expect for life after school, whether that’s at university, work or an apprenticeship.
  • Unite Students CEO Richard Smith said: We believe that resilience is vital in young people and that given the right opportunities and experiences, young people can build resilience. The better prepared young people are for the transition to university, the easier they will find managing the highs and the lows often involved in this leap.

Apprenticeships: The DfE have published a summary document giving Apprenticeships and Traineeships figures. The data shows how higher level apprenticeships have boomed (68% growth since last year) with the main decline at the intermediate apprenticeship level. Apprenticeship starts from mature (19+) learners has increased by 13.8%.

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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 28th June 2019

Although after the frantic weeks in early Spring we seem now to be in a political limbo, when nothing is achieved except an escalation in rhetoric and an increase in polarisation, actually, there’s quite a lot going on.  Some of it looks like political legacy building, but hey, if it works…

Sharing access to health and social research in the UK

BU is gathering views internally on the consultation “Make it Public” by the Health Research Authority.  Responses to an internal survey will inform BU’s institutional response.

The HRA’s consultation gives everyone involved an opportunity to influence the Health Research Authority’s future strategy to improve public access to information about health and social research in the UK. Please read the strategy before you answer the questions.

The BU survey is anonymous, however we have asked about your role at BU to inform our response. We have taken the content and questions directly from the HRA’s consultation. Please take time to complete it if you have experience in this area.

New Commission for Students with Disabilities

The Minster has announced a new body to speak out for students with disabilities…or actually, has renamed an existing group and confirmed he supports its work. Chris Skidmore announces new Commission to improve support for disabled students: 27th June 2019.  The OfS is setting it up:  [The Minister] ”has instructed the Commission to identify and promote good practice which helps those with disabilities have a positive experience at university. The Commission, formerly Disabled Students’ Sector Leadership Group (DSSLG), will use the DSSLG’s existing guidance for providers on supporting disabled students inclusively and look at what more needs to be done.”

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

  • Living with a disability should never be a barrier to entering higher education and as Universities Minister, I am determined to ensure disabled students get the support they need to have a positive, life-changing university experience.
  • There are a record number of students with a disability going to university, but we must do more to level the playing field and improve the experience and outcomes for disabled students.
  • It’s my personal priority that those living with a disability have an equal chance to succeed in higher education. I want to see all universities face up to their responsibilities and place inclusion at the heart of their access and participation agenda.
  • The Commission will look at approaches which work well to improve support for disabled students, such as more inclusive curricula, restructuring support for students and enhancing learning and teaching environments.

Brexit

All those who backed Boris on the basis that he would flunk a hard Brexit (eg George Osborne at the Evening Standard) seem to have their bluff called.  This week Boris Johnson has written to Jeremy Hunt saying that leaving on 31st October is a “do or die” thing.  So it looks like he has been nobbled by the Brexiteers , perhaps spooked by the reaction stories of his private life into thinking that his lead with the membership was slipping away.  He looks pretty committed now.  But he has also made lots of speeches suggesting it is all going to be very straightforward….(there’s a million to one chance of not getting a deal, apparently).

Jeremy Hunt meanwhile has refused to make such a robust commitment but continues to challenge Boris on a number of fronts and to present himself as the experienced negotiator.

Both of them sound like the US President from time to time. And they are both making huge spending commitments.  They were both at the Pavilion on Thursday evening, and the local news showed Boris giving BU a tiny plug and also repeating his commitment (as we noted last week) to removing international students from the immigration cap.

Last week we talked about the possibilities for recess being cancelled – that seems unlikely, so we are likely to have an announcement of the new PM on 22nd July, a frantic couple of days in Parliament and then a recess that will probably end earlier than usual, with EU negotiations taking place in the background – if they can find anyone to negotiate with in what is likely to be a long hot European summer.

Local MP Tobias Ellwood was mentioned on Monday’s Radio 4 Today programme talking about the ‘nuclear’ Brexit option of taking down Boris Johnson’s Government through a vote of no confidence should he intend to push through a no deal Brexit to ensure exit from the EU on 31 October. Tobias states a group of 12 backbencher and ministerial Conservatives are already in talks and prepared to risk their careers, including losing their Conservative candidacy, to bring Boris premiership down if he pursues a no deal Brexit. This would be done either through ministers joining backbencher dissidents to vote against the Government (and party whip) or a larger group of MPs abstaining en masse so the Government loses the vote. Tobias also featured on BBC’s Panorama programme talking about this potential rebellion. If the Government lost a no confidence vote it would pave the way for a general election.

REF

Research England have published the Real-Time REF Review evaluating perceptions and attitudes towards the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

  • Views on the REF are not as polarized or as extreme as is commonly believed, or reflected in coverage of the REF in the media. Extremely negative views were in the minority, while a majority of respondents had neutral or moderately negative attitudes about the REF.
  • REF has both positive and negative influences on research activity. The REF is seen to increase engagement outside academia and the use of open research activities, whereas game playing and impacts on creativity are deemed to be the most negative influences.
  • Open access and research practices was the most consistently positive and impactful influence of the REF on both researchers’ own work and UK academic culture. Survey data suggested the move to encourage more open research practices was seen as the most positive change in REF 2021.
  • Researchers generally saw the changes to REF 2021 in a positive light. Increased emphasis on open research practices was seen as the most positive change.
  • It may be fruitful for institutions to share best practices in REF readiness rather than attempting to ‘reinvent the wheel’ as the REF process approaches the submission stage and as the new rules are more widely embedded

And interestingly:

  • Notably, women and independent early and mid-career researchers reported that changes made to REF 2021 were more likely to influence the expectations placed on them, although it was not clear whether these changing expectations would be positive or negative ones. The finding that early-career researchers report more influence is consistent with interviews, in which managers highlighted a disproportionate influence of the REF on early-career academics. The difference across genders is also noteworthy and merits future consideration
  • Although not assessed in the survey data, analysis of the interviews conducted with university managers revealed some negative impacts upon the health and well-being of the research community with respect to the REF. With respect to the changes to REF 2021 where equality and diversity considerations are taken more plainly into account, most managers felt that this would have a positive impact upon the well-being of academics for whom equality and diversity issues were faced in the previous REF 2014. Analysis suggests that the new approaches to equality and diversity and reduction in outputs may lessen anxiety and stress caused by the rules of the previous REF cycle.
  • However, notable findings are: that those who identified as submitting to Panel B – engineering and physical sciences – reported the most beneficial influences on research activities in academic culture, and that those from Panel D – arts and humanities – reported the least beneficial influence of the REF on research activities.
  • Further, in survey data, Panel C participants reported a greater influence of the REF on the quantity, quality, scope, and prestige of outputs they produced. This may suggest a challenge to meet expectations of the REF, particularly as interdisciplinary research is often located within this group of cognate disciplines.

Immigration

Home Secretary Sajid Javid formally requested the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review and advise on salary thresholds for the 2021 immigration system. All the details remain as we’ve already informed in previous policy updates, this simply triggers the requirement for the MAC to carry out the review (again) and report back to the Government in January 2020.

Sajid stated: “It’s vital the new immigration system continues to attract talented people to grow our economy and support business while controlling our borders. These proposals are the biggest change to our immigration system in a generation, so it’s right that we consider all of the evidence before finalising them. That’s why I’ve asked independent experts to review the evidence on salary thresholds. It’s crucial the new immigration system works in the best interests of the whole of the UK.”

In their last review the MAC advised the Government to continue with the existing minimum salary thresholds for the future immigration system. This means international entrants would need to be paid at least £30,000 (for an ‘experienced’ role) and new entrants (including recent graduates) at least £20,800.

The new review asks the MAC to

  • consider how future salary thresholds should be calculated
  • what levels to set salary thresholds at
  • If there is a case for regional salary thresholds for different parts of the UK
  • whether there should be exceptions to salary thresholds, e.g. newly started occupations or work shortage occupations.

Free Speech

HEPI have published Free Speech and Censorship on Campus defending free speech in Universities.

  • HEPI say:the report recognises the concerns of those who wish to restrict free speech as a way of protecting others, but concludes that restrictions on free speech usually end up being counter-productive. Despite the UK’s Government’s strong rhetoric supporting free speech in universities, the paper claims the current single biggest threat to free speech on UK campuses currently comes from the Government’s own Prevent programme.
  • Corey Stoughton, the author of the report, states:“…honest confrontation of legacies of discrimination and unequal distribution of power allow us to see how censorship replicates those problems and to focus on the real threats – like the UK Government’s ill-conceived Prevent strategy, which has had a demonstrable chilling effect on free speech in universities.”
  • Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:  ‘We are delighted to be publishing this nuanced but firm defence of free speech. It challenges students, universities and, above all, Government Ministers to be more careful when they are tempted to impose new restrictions on free expression.There are few justifications for limiting free speech beyond current laws. That is true whether it is students wanting to block provocateurs from speaking or Government Ministers mixing up the prevention of terrorism with blocking legitimate free expression.’

Raising aspirations

In a debate on raising aspirations of secondary school pupils Dr Matthew Offord MP (Conservative) urged the Government not to view academic and technical education routes as two simplistic alternatives. He insisted that permeability and flexibility between different types of learning, throughout the academic journey would be crucial in underpinning increased social mobility and productivity. He also argued that HEIs must develop an understanding of T-levels to communicate entry requirements to prospective students and level 3 providers. He pushed the Government to drive collaboration between schools, universities and local Government. To raise aspirations within school age pupils he set out three elements to be addressed:

  • interventions that focus on children’s parents and families
  • interventions that focus on teaching practice
  • out-of-school interventions or extracurricular activities

Shadow HE Minister Gordon Marsden (Labour) suggested the Government should pursue sustained and dedicated programmes, with children from a much earlier age, and with particular social and ethnic groupings. He also argued for the need to enact a robust, independent and wide-ranging review of admissions processes to higher education, removing unconditional offers and investigating the value of post-qualification admissions.

Nick Gibb (Minister for School Standards) stated “For the good of our economy, we need more young people to pursue degrees and careers in the sciences, including computer science. We have already seen excellent progress, with entries to STEM A-levels increasing by 23% since 2010”. The Minister reassured members that views expressed during the debate had been taken into account as part of the Post-16 review process.

Staff Mental Health

Q – Sir Mark Hendrick: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the report by the Higher Education Policy Institute entitled Pressure Vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff, what assessment he has made of the reasons behind the increase in poor mental health among academics and the increasing numbers of university staff being referred to counselling and occupational health services.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • Mental health is a priority for this government which is why last week (17 June 2019) my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister announced measures which overhaul the government’s approach to preventing mental illness. These measures include £1 million to the Office of Students for a competition to find innovative new ways to support mental health at universities and colleges.
  • The Department for Education is also working closely with Universities UK on embedding the Step Change programme, which calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority and take a whole-institution approach to embed a culture of good mental health practice.
  • The university Mental Health Charter announced in June 2018 will drive up standards in promoting mental health and wellbeing, positive working environments and excellent support for both students and staff.
  • The Independent Review of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers led by Professor Julia Buckingham has recognised issues of wellbeing and the challenges that arise from the use of short and fixed term contracts. Recommendations are currently under review and a revised concordat is expected by the end of June.
  • However, universities are autonomous institutions and it is the responsibility of Vice Chancellors to give due consideration to the way their policies and practises impact on staff. This includes responsible use of performance management, workload models and other metrics to assure both student and staff success.

Changing nature of future work

The Learning and Work Institute has published Tomorrow’s World – Future of the Labour Market highlighting the shifts in employment culture and adaptive skills that young people will need for the future labour market. It suggests that young people will be increasingly likely to be self-employed, in busier jobs, need to adapt and more frequently update their skills because of the pace of technological changes and their longer working lives (50 years due to higher retirement age).

Some points from the report:

Young people will need a rising bar of skills needs and a wider pool of skills to enter and progress at work and to adapt to change. Changes in sectors and occupations, coupled with changes within existing jobs, imply an increased demand for interpersonal skills, cognitive skills, customer and personal service, English language, literacy, numeracy, digital, communication, team working, and management.

  1. A more diverse range of young people will participate in the labour market, with further increases in participation among women, people with disabilities, and other groups. This makes it even more important to tackle education and employment inequalities among young people, or these will have long-lasting impacts.
  • Higher occupations and sectors such as health and social care are likely to continue to grow, and the nature of work will continue to change.
  • There will be more opportunities for young people to work flexibly, with policy helping determine if this benefits both people and employers. Employment laws and the tax and benefit system need to support flexibility and security for young people. More workers in the workforce with caring responsibilities means employers will need to offer more flexible options. 
  • Longer working lives and economic change mean young people will need to be adaptable and flexible. A wider and deeper core set of skills will help young people adapt. Learning and social security systems must reflect this ‘new normal’.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of the Learning and Work Institute, stated:

“Young people are going to face huge changes during 50 year careers. Attention often focuses on the risk of robots replacing jobs, but further growth in self-employment and changing skills requirements in most jobs could perhaps have bigger impacts. Young people must get the support they need to prepare for this future. It is no good just focusing on the skills needed for jobs today, we also need to give young people the skills they need to adapt to future changes, many of which cannot be predicted accurately.”

Social Mobility

The Sutton Trust has published Elitist Britain 2019.

The nature of Britain’s ‘elite’ is higher in the national consciousness than ever, with a series of events, including 2016’s vote to leave the European Union, putting a focus on the strained trust between significant sections of the population and those at the highest levels of politics, business and the media.

Social mobility across the UK is low and not improving, depriving large parts of the country of opportunity. This contributes strongly to this sense of distance. This study, conducted for the first time by both the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission, looks at the backgrounds of around 5,000 individuals in high ranking positions across a broad range of British society, and provides a definitive document of who gets to the top in Britain in 2019.

The report paints a picture of a country whose power structures remain dominated by a narrow section of the population: the 7% who attend independent schools, and the roughly 1% who graduate from just two universities, Oxford and Cambridge.

Key findings:

  • Politics, the media, and public service all show high proportions of privately educated in their number, including 65% of senior judges, 59% of civil service permanent secretaries and 57% of the House of Lords.
  • 39% of the cabinet were independently educated, in stark contrast with the shadow cabinet, of which just 9% attended a private school.

However:

  • Significant is decline of grammar school alumni among the elite (20%), down about 7 percentage points in five years, and a consequent rise in those educated at comprehensives (40%, up 9%). This reflects the abolition of the selective system in most of England during the 1960s and 70s, and the rise of the comprehensively educated generation to positions of power.

Access to professions

  • Law, defence and the academic world had the highest level of these “elites”.
  • University Vice Chancellors had relatively low levels of private school and Oxbridge educated members among their number
  • Media – Britain’s media, including newspaper columnists, and high-profile editors and broadcasters, had some of the highest rates of attendance at independent schools and elite higher education institutions. Newspaper columnists, who play a significant role in shaping the national conversation, draw from a particularly small pool. Only 5% of newspaper columnists attended a non-Russell Group University.
  • Police and Crime Commissioners were more likely than those elected at local council level to have attended independent school, 29%, the same as MPs.
  • Civil service permanent secretaries (59%), Foreign Office diplomats (52%), and Public Body Chairs (45%) have among the highest rates of independently educated in their ranks. Despite recent efforts to overhaul entry into the Civil Service, its highest levels remain highly exclusive, with 56% of permanent secretaries having graduated from Oxford or Cambridge, and 39% having attended both a private school and Oxbridge.
  • The chairs of public bodies were more likely than their CEOs to have come from exclusive educational institutions; 45% from independent schools compared to 30%. This may reflect the age of such post-holders as well as their social class background.
  • Women are under-represented across the top professions (5% of FTSE 350 CEOs, 16% of local government leaders, 24% of senior judges, 26% of permanent secretaries and 35% of top diplomats). Socio-economic class and gender can often combine to create a ‘double disadvantage’, with women from lower socio-economic backgrounds less likely to be socially mobile. Interestingly for women who do make it to the top, their journeys do not always look the same as those of their male peers. In a variety of sectors, women at the top are less likely to have attended Oxbridge than their male counterparts.
  • The Creative Industries had the lowest levels of these groups; however, among the wealthiest members of the TV, film and music industries, university attendance was higher (42%), with about a quarter attending Russell Group institutions. Also 38% of independent school attendees, although the number attending comprehensives has risen by 18% since 2014.

Policy recommendations from the report:

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation, stated:

“Britain is an increasingly divided society. Divided by politics, by class, by geography. Social mobility, the potential for those to achieve success regardless of their background, remains low. As our report shows, the most influential people across sport, politics, the media, film and TV, are five times as likely to have attended a fee-paying school.

“As well as academic achievement an independent education tends to develop essential skills such as confidence, articulacy and team work which are vital to career success. The key to improving social mobility at the top is to tackle financial barriers, adopt contextual recruitment and admissions practices and tackle social segregation in schools.  In addition, we should open up independent day schools to all pupils based on merit not money as demonstrated by our successful Open Access scheme.”

The Association of School and College Leaders released this statement:

“We need to do many things to break this cycle but a good start would be for universities and industry to do more to recognise the background of candidates through the greater use of contextual recruitment and admissions practices, as the report recommends.

Industrial Strategy developments – tourism sector deal

The government have published the Tourism sector deal  – the latest in a string of sector specific plans linked to the Industrial Strategy.  They have also published an International Business Events Action Plan outlines how government will support the events industry in attracting, growing and creating international business events.

We have pulled out the actions from the sector deal below:

People

  • The government will work closely with industry on the rollout of two new T Level courses to help deliver the hospitality and tourism workers of the future.
  • The government will continue working with industry, through ‘Fire It Up’ and other campaigns, to promote apprenticeship and the opportunities for careers in the hospitality and tourism sector.
  • The government will engage fully with industry during its Post-16 Qualifications review to ensure the sector has an opportunity to feed into future policy development.
  • `The Department for Work and Pensions will continue its partnership agreement with the hospitality industry to help provide its customers with a structured route into work in the Sector.

Sector action to support tourism

  • The sector will create 30,000 apprenticeship starts each year by 2025, covering all grades, from entry-level roles up to degree-level apprenticeship, and across a range of disciplines.
  • Employers will commit over £1m of funding to an ambitious retention and recruitment programme to revolutionise the pipeline of talent that joins the sector.
  • A new industry mentoring programme will be developed to support 10,000 employees each year. This will aim to enhance careers as well as helping to ensure talented people remain within the sector.
  • The sector will increase the percentage of the workforce receiving in-work training to 80 per cent.

Places

  • The government will pilot up to five new Tourism Zones to increase visitor numbers across the country. More information about the bidding process will be released later in the year, with a view to commencing projects in 2020.
  • Tourism Zones will also receive a range of support co-ordinated by central government.

Sector action to support tourism

  • Tourism Zones will be developed and delivered by businesses local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (in England) who will determine the specific priorities of an area.
  • A range of larger businesses have offered training and support for small and medium enterprises within Tourism Zones.

Business Environment

  • Alongside the Sector Deal the UK government’s International Business Events Action Plan 2019-2025 has been published and sets out the steps the UK government will take to support the UK to maintain its position as a leading destination for hosting international business events in Europe.
  • The UK government will achieve this by providing support in relation to the six key drivers that event decision makers consider when determining where to host an event, from providing government advocacy to financial support.

Sector action to support tourism

  • The Events Industry Board, set up to advise government, has identified two priority areas which they can help and support – skills and infrastructure. These priorities are being considered by working groups set up by the Board and will report later in the year.

Infrastructure

  • The UK government will make travel to the UK and around the UK easier for tourists through the development of its Maritime and Aviation strategies, as well as a number of rail policy developments.
  • The UK government is investing in a number of projects across the Museums, Heritage and Arts sectors that will enhance visitor’s experience. These include supporting the conservation work at Wentworth Woodhouse, the development of a new interpretation centre at Jodrell Bank and the development of England’s Coast Path, the world’s longest coastal path.
  • The UK government will launch a new £250k competition to improve broadband connectivity in conference centres. This will be a UK wide competition.
  • The UK will build on its excellent existing offer, to become the most accessible destination in Europe.
  • The British Tourist Authority will increase their publicity about accessible travel and provide inbound visitors with increased information about the accessibility offer in the UK through a brand new website.

Sector action to support tourism

  • Industry will create an extra 130,000 bedrooms across the UK by 2025 – a significant increase of 21 per cent in accommodation stock.
  • Industry will continue to invest in tourism attractions and innovative products, to remain a global leader in the experiences the UK offers visitors.
  • The sector will support the UK government’s ambition to be most accessible destination in Europe. They will take forward a number of measures, including better coordination of accessible itineraries online, and increasing the visibility of people with accessibility issues in promotion and marketing campaigns

Ideas

  • The government has supported the British Tourist Authority development of Tourism Exchange Great Britain. Launching in June 2019, this is an online business-to-business platform, which will connect tourism suppliers to global distributors.
  • The UK government has provided £40k to the Tourism Alliance in England to carry out further research on how, where and why businesses within the sector obtain advice on compliance, which will inform the shape of further advisory services including Primary Authority.

Sector action to support tourism

  • The industry and British Tourist Authority will work together to create a new, independent Tourism Data Hub, which can help the sector across the UK to better understand visitors’ preferences for location, activities and products in real time. It will also enable the sector for the first time to gather better data about the people choosing not to holiday in the UK

Action plan

“The Action Plan lists a set of criteria that events will need to meet in order to qualify for the UK Government’s support. This includes criteria on the minimum number of delegates and the proportion of those travelling from overseas. It then outlines the UK Government’s support offer across a number of areas. Key actions include:

  • Government advocacy – A comprehensive advocacy package will be offered – ranging from Ministers being available to write letters of support in order to help with bidding for events to offers of hosting delegates in historical Government property;
  • Financial support – We will continue funding the VisitBritain led Business Events Growth Programme,and look at opportunities for expanding it, especially where business events are identified as critical to meeting the UK’s key economic sector objectives; and,
  • Arrivals and welcome – The Border Force and UK Visas and Immigration will offer a relevant support offer to delegates.”

Lifelong learning

Life Transition Point Learning: The Learning and Work Institute published Learning at Life Transitions focussing on the importance of understanding the needs of adult learners particularly at the key points in their lives when they might be more or less likely to take up learning opportunities. In particular, these points can be parents returning to work after caring for young children and also people preparing for retirement.

Transition back to work after caring for children:

  • Adults, and in particular women, with caring responsibilities who are outside of the labour market are under-represented in learning
  • Taking parental leave or returning to work can act as a trigger to engage in learning. This can result from greater time or a change in attitude or perspective.
  • Returners also face a range of barriers to learning. Adults returning to work after caring for children tend to face significant challenges in relation to work and time pressures, primarily related to childcare

Transition into and through retirement:  Participation in, and decisions about, types of learning opportunities alter as adults retire. Although participation in learning tends to decline with age, those approaching retirement have higher levels of participation than the national average.

  • Moving into retirement can create space to consider learning for enjoyment for the first time. The perceived value of learning can often be greater than at previous life stages, with many adults placing greater value on the role of learning, particularly in relation to providing intellectual and social stimulation.
  • Adults facing retirement experience a range of barriers to engaging in learning. Attitudinal factors, such as feeling too old, not wanting to learn or the perception that their skills and capabilities may have deteriorated can be common.

The report’s recommendations for Policy:

  • National lifelong learning strategy – It is vital that every effort is made to harness the opportunities presented by the 4th Industrial Revolution, while ensuring that no one – including those seeking to leave or return to the labour market – is left behind.
  • Increase investment in lifelong learning – Government should reverse the decade-long fall in real-terms investment in lifelong learning to drive economic growth, promote social justice and support inclusive communities
  • Personal learning accounts – Government should develop and trial a personal learning account model, as a mechanism to both stimulate greater engagement in learning and provide a vehicle through which investment in learning by the state, employers and individuals can be aligned and optimised.
  • As part of the wider development of the National Retraining Scheme, the government should give particular attention to how returners can be supported to upskill and retrain to re-enter the labour market.
  • Access to apprenticeships. Flexible timetabling and blended learning options to facilitate part-time and flexible apprenticeship models should be developed and promoted.

Dame Ruth Silver, President of the Further Education Trust for Leadership

The changing nature of work and of retirement mean that these transitions are changing in nature and need to be rethought. People are more likely to move between jobs, or to need to re-skill or up-skill, than they were 20 or 30 years ago. They are also much more likely to continue working after ‘retirement’, or to seek different ways of combining work and life, and not only when approaching the sort of age traditionally associated with retirement. Transition is increasingly a part of our everyday life; an ongoing consideration.

Other news

The leaders of every general further education college in England have written an open letter to the Chancellor and Secretary of State for Education urging them to “answer the calls from business” and respond to the “challenges of technological change and Brexit”  by urgently investing in the country’s technical and vocational education system by implementing the main recommendations of the government’s recent Post-18 Education Review. The Augar Review called for, amongst other things, an end to the 17.5% cut in education funding for 18-year-olds, support so that everybody, regardless of age, to achieve to at least level three, and a rebalancing of the traditional post-18 educational landscape.

  • In many respects the Augar Review represents a wider emerging consensus across England. We are sure that you will agree with us and other key stakeholders that further education colleges have been neglected, and that there is now a growing appreciation of their unique role, value and potential. What we now need are decisions and commitments: with your political leadership, support and resolve, colleges will be able to build on what they already do to reach more employers and more adults and make the differences our economy and society need.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges said: It is extraordinary to have every leader in every general further education college in the country collaborate like this. But then these are extraordinary times. These college leaders are uniquely placed at the hearts of their communities, working closely with local, national and international business, supporting individuals to get on in life, and driving the social mobility agenda. Government needs to listen to them if they’ve got any chance of tackling the major issues this country faces, now and in the future.

Welsh Digital Skills: the Welsh Government have published a strategic framework for post-16 digital learning to increase the continuity of learning experiences and transition from compulsory to post-compulsory learning provision.  Vision and aims:

  • Clear, nationally agreed standards for digital skills are in place to enable learners and staff to meet industry, private and public sector requirements, building on the digital competences developed during compulsory schooling
  • The coherence and accessibility of digital learning is increased through a range of curriculum delivery methods that are appropriate to learner and employer needs
  • The benefits of digital technology, and possible barriers to their achievement, are understood by all staff including senior leaders
  • A culture of collaboration ensures that information and best practice are shared to drive effective use of digital skills to support leadership, learning and business processes
  • Staff, learning and business resources are aligned to enable efficient support of the continually evolving digital requirements of post-16 education

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Education Minister, stated: Our Economic Action Plan highlights the importance of businesses adapting to the opportunities and the challenges presented by new technologies in order to grow the Welsh economy and pursue our aim of prosperity for all. We can’t predict exactly how technology will evolve over the next decade, but we can equip our post-16 learners with the confidence and capability they will need to use digital tools in their work and their everyday lives.

What’s your favourite subject?

The British Academy published a YouGov Poll revealing the nation’s favourite school and university subjects. The study, entitled, ‘a nation of enquiring minds’ reveals that:

  • Given the opportunity to start a university degree tomorrow, UK adults were most likely to choose a subject in the humanities and social sciences –
    • 28% would opt for either the humanities (14%) or social sciences (14%),
    • engineering and technology (10%)
    • mathematics and computing (10%)
    • medicine (9%) .
    • English (17%) and history/classics (15%) topped a list of the nation’s favourite school subjects,

The report finds that arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) graduates look forward to strong employment prospects. It states AHSS graduates are as likely to have a job, as resilient to economic downturn, and just as likely to avoid redundancy as STEM graduates. However, AHSS graduates are more flexible (more likely than STEM graduates to voluntarily change job or sector).

Professor Sir David Cannadine, President of the British Academy, said: “The humanities and social sciences help us to make sense of the world in which we live so it is little wonder that the desire to study these subjects at school and university is so great. We not only love the humanities and social sciences in the UK but we also excel at them. Graduates from these disciplines are highly employable and able to weather the changes of a fluctuating job market, while our researchers are disproportionately successful in international funding competitions, punching well above their weight on the world stage.

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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 24th May 2019

We usually post these early on a Monday morning so you can all catch up before you start the week, but we write them on a Friday – these days they can be out of date within 10 minutes, let alone after a weekend.  So this week we are going early!

  • EU election results will be announced on Sunday.  In BCP the turnout was 36%.  In Dorset it was 41.2%.  While these are not spectacular turnouts, they are higher than some were expecting.
  • The PM has announced that she will step down and that the leadership contest will start on 10th June (which means the positioning etc that had already started will now intensify massively and candidates will only start being eliminated formally after 10th June).  We have more below.
  • And in “legacy” territory – the Augar review may be published next week.
  • Expect “ground-softening” over the weekend – probably as painful as it sounds.

Augar rumours – the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding.

The Augar review may be published next week.  Remember, it’s the review of an advisory panel.  The Department for Education will have to respond (was planned for the Autumn) and it is dependent to a certain extent on the Comprehensive Spending Review (not yet started).  Whoever gets the top job may have other priorities than implementing its recommendations.  And if whoever gets the top job really messes things up, there might be a general election  before the end of the year.

However, once the recommendations are out, it will be very hard to put them back into the box, so hold on to your hats.  Personally I’m expecting a very complex and detailed set of recommendations – not just a simple cut to headline tuition fee loan amounts (although that may be the starting point).

Damien Hinds is already positioning.  How to read this?

  • “universities that are shown to offer a poor economic return for their degrees will not be able to charge £9,250 a year”….” Instead, a lower fee of around £7,500 is expected to be announced by Philip Augar’s review” [note it’s a recommendation not an announcement]
  • “the Education Secretary argued that under the current £9,250 a year tuition fee system there is “no distinction” between courses that offer a high return for graduates and the economy and those that do not”…targeting “low value, low quality” university degrees – “the move is likely to crack down on creative arts and media studies courses from lower tariff universities”

So does this mean fees set by subject?  But it sounds more complex than that – how do you address the low quality, low value bit of this?

  • This could imply an uplift on a £7500 base for the “high value, high quality programmes” within a subject based on a metric linked to either “quality” [defined how?] or outcomes [aka graduate salaries or a basket of outcomes measures?]. If so, let’s hope it is based on data that takes into account background, context (eg geography and the state of the economy) and prior attainment of students, and not just raw salaries. 
  • Any uplift could be in the form of a government grant or an increased fee cap funded by a tuition fee loan. The latter seems to add a level of complexity for applicants and a set of strange incentives [pay more for sciences] so a government grant/loan to the provider seems more likely – perhaps with further strings attached? 
  • Or does it mean something else? “he said too many universities were being “incentivised” to expand courses that cost little and offer poor prospects to students in a bid to generate income”

This is the “bums on seats” argument.  So that sounds like instead of being based on outcomes, a fee cap might be linked to cost?  Probably not, it probably means quality and outcomes again.  There will just be [slightly] less incentive to offer these courses and pack the bums onto seats once the fee cap is reduced.  This is playing to the proponents of the “too many students are going to universities” argument by linking high volume and low cost to poor quality – which doesn’t necessarily hold true. 

  • But on top-ups, the article says: “Universities have argued that any cut in tuition fees should be topped up by the Government, but Mr Hinds suggested the sector had not been forced to bear the brunt of cuts as other areas of the public sector had since 2010.” “If you look back since the financial crash in 2007/08…it has been difficult for the public finances. We’ve protected the five to 16 schools budget, we’ve protected the health budget but for everywhere else there have been tight times. For universities they haven’t had that same tough, tight times,” he said.”

So no top ups then?  But if that is the case, how is the Minister going to achieve the differentiation that he seems to want?  I think this is just an argument against universal top ups – and there will be some, just limited, linked to metrics and with strings attached as described above.

It’s all a bit of a muddle.  We may see as early as Sunday….

Grade Inflation

In November 2019 QAA ran a consultation on degree classification and academic standards (here is BU’s response). You can read an analysis of the consultation responses here, and this week the outcome report has been published: Degree Classification transparency, reliability and fairness – a statement of intent. It sets out a statement of intent by which HE institutions will ensure academic standards are protected. It also calls on English universities to publish a degree outcomes statement. The statement should report on an internal institutional review which will self-judge whether the Quality Code and the OfS’ registration conditions relating to qualifications are being met.

A common degree classification framework, which will act as a reference point for providers by describing high-level attributes expected of a graduate to achieve a particular degree, is also in development. The descriptions formed part of the consultation and are currently being refined ready for publication by the UKSCQA in the summer.

Finally the report sets out the sector level actions to ensure the conventions and practices are refreshed and remain current.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Exec of OfS, welcomed the report and said: “This is a welcome statement of intent which shows that universities recognise the need to ensure that degree standards are maintained, and can be trusted by students and employers alike…Our own research on this issue showed that there has been significant and unexplained grade inflation in recent years. The Office for Students has been clear that measured but decisive action is necessary to ensure that students, graduates and employers have confidence in the manner in which degrees are awarded.”

Brexit and the government….

Well, this is out of date the minute it’s written.  The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is now completely irrelevant until after the Tory leadership contest.  There is time for one of those and then who knows what before Hallowe’en and the default date for leaving the EU without a deal.  Everyone assumes that either a no-deal advocate will win – and ignore the wishes of Parliament and let us default out of the EU – or that whoever wins will have to ask for yet another extension while they sort out a new arrangement or try to persuade the EU to change the backstop etc.

Key EU figures have spoken out against the Conservative leadership squabbles restating that the EU will not reopen negotiations with the new Conservative Prime Minister. Ireland’s deputy PM, Simon Coveney, said: “the personality might change but the facts don’t”. Coveney said: “The danger of course, is that the British system will simply not be able to deal with this issue…even though there’s a majority in Westminster that want to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and that is why over the summer months we will continue to focus significant efforts and financial resources on contingency planning to prepare for that worst case scenario.”

The BBC explain the process here:

  • Candidates need two MP proposers to back them for leader;
  • Tory MPs then vote and the candidates with the lowest votes are eliminated until two candidates remain;
  • A postal vote ballot is then held on these two candidates with the rest of the Tory membership. The winner of this becomes Conservative leader.

Current likely candidates: Jeremy Hunt, Amber Rudd, Liz Truss, Sajid Javid, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom, Matt Hancock, Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat, Michael Gove, Esther McVey, Sir Graham Brady, James Cleverly, Kit Malthouse, Mark Harper, Rory Stewart.   A recent YouGov poll reveals Boris Johnson is the most popular Conservative candidate among the party members with a lead of 18 points.

With a change of party leadership and PM we may see some policies being pushed and others dropped.  The Times have an interesting piece sharing a survey of 858 Conservative members’ opinion on key manifesto pieces such as same-sex marriage, HS2, economic policy, and avoiding an early general election.

Finally, a cascade reshuffle has been announced to replace Andrea Leadsom:

  • Mel Stride,the current Treasury minister, will become leader of the Commons replacing Andrea.
  • Jesse Norman, currently the transport minister, will replace Mel Stride as financial secretary to the Treasury and paymaster general.
  • Michael Ellis, currently a culture minister, replaces Jesse Norman as transport minister.
  • Rebecca Pow joins the government to replace Michael Ellis as culture minister.

T Levels

The Government have announced the package of measures to support employers to deliver T-level industry placements. The T Level placement will be at least 315 hours (approximately 45 days) allowing students to build the knowledge and skills they need in a workplace environment. The package includes:

  • New guidance to support employers and providers to offer tailored placements that suit their workplace and the needs of young people. This will include offering placement opportunities with up to 2 employers and accommodating students with part time jobs or caring responsibilities.
  • A new £7 million pilot scheme to explore ways to help cover the costs associated with hosting a young person in their workplace such as equipment and protective clothing.
  • Bespoke ‘how to’ guides, workshops and practical hands-on support for employers – designed alongside industry bodies to make it as easy as possible for them to offer placements.

T levels begin rolling out in across the first three study areas in September 2020 (digital, education, construction). The announced pilot scheme will start prior to the 2020 roll out. From 2021 Health and Science T levels will be introduced, followed by legal, finance/accounting, engineering and manufacturing, creative and design in 2022. Bournemouth and Poole College are listed as one of only 20 providers who will run the first T level projects. The Government also aims to attract 80 industry experts to teach within the T levels sector.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: T Levels represent the biggest shake up to technical education in a generation…Industry placements will provide businesses with an opportunity to attract a diverse range of talent and build the skilled workforce they need for the future. To make a success of T Levels, we need businesses working in partnership with us and colleges. Industry placements will help young people build the confidence and skills they need to get a head start in their careers and they’ll help businesses maximise their talent pipeline for the future.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: There has long been a need for an increase in prestigious technical options after GCSEs that parents, teachers, and businesses understand. This package of measures to help employers deliver placements is welcome, because if T Levels are going to be a success they will require long-term commitment from Government. Support will be most needed for small and medium-sized businesses, so special attention should be paid to these firms.

Mature Foundation Year Phenomenon

Last week we told you about how access courses are declining whilst foundation years are on the rise and explored the student outcomes for these differing routes (see here, pages 9-10).

HESA have analysed data from 2010/11 to 2017/18 to find clues about disadvantaged students who undertake a foundation year. Foundation years have taken off in increasing numbers since 2014/15, in particular London sees significant growth in foundation year numbers.  Click here for the interactive chart to explore the interactions between disadvantage and young/mature.

The analysis uses the index of multiple deprivation to measure disadvantage and find that across England the number of entrants to a foundation year from the most disadvantaged areas has grown by 7%  – making it 32% of the total entrants. However, the effect is greater when only the most disadvantaged mature students are explored up by 12% to 41% of the total entrants. Mature students seem to account for the significant rise in foundation years – it can be seen most prominently in the London only data.

HESA say:

  • The Office for Studentshas said that reversing the decline in entry into higher education among mature students and especially those from less privileged backgrounds is a vital part of ensuring more equality in access to higher education. Much of the current debate has been around what modifications are required within part-time study and student finance to help achieve this, given such courses are taken predominantly by older students.

The above narrative suggests that foundation years could also be a useful way of helping disadvantaged mature learners return to study. In both countries, we found that much of the increase in mature entry in recent years is accounted for by a small number of institutions. Hence, future research may wish to explore how these universities have managed to buck the wider trend of decline, as this may improve sector understanding of what is needed to support mature and/or disadvantaged individuals into higher education.

Graduate Outcomes

Wonkhe report on the graduate recruitment company who have published Working with class: The state of social immobility in graduate recruitment. Wonkhe state the report finds over a third of 18-25 year olds are put off joining a business if they perceive the workforce to be made up predominantly of middle and upper-class employees – equating to 2.5 million young people. The report argues that this is costing businesses and the wider economy £270 billion per year. The research also found two thirds (66%) of graduates felt they had to change “who they are” to “make a good impression” during an interview and the majority (64%) said they weren’t able to express themselves as individuals during application processes.

Wonkhe also have an interesting and short blog on what the graduate outcomes metrics aren’t measuring despite the data being available. What about graduate job satisfaction? explores the old DLHE question examining why the graduate chose the job they were doing and the nearest equivalents in the Graduate Outcomes survey which asks whether the graduate’s current activity fits with their future plans, is meaningful, and utilities their degree learning. The author calls for TEF and league table compilers to pay more attention to this richer source of graduate outcome information.

Disadvantage – access, participation and success

A parliamentary question on opening up disadvantage data to support university admissions receives the usual ‘not yet’ response:

Universities: Disclosure of Information

Q – Ben Bradley: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Office for Students on the transmission of data on applicants’ pupil premium status and ethnicity directly to universities in order to support universities’ work on widening participation and access.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • Widening access and participation in higher education is a priority for the government. This means that everyone with the capability to succeed in higher education should have the opportunity to participate, regardless of their background or where they grew up.
  • We have made real progress in ensuring universities are open to all, with record rates of disadvantaged 18-year-olds in higher education. However, we know there is further to go to maximise the potential of the talent out there, so it is vital that we build on this progress.
  • Higher education providers need to use good quality and meaningful data to identify disadvantage in order to effectively address disparities in access and participation in higher education. We encourage institutions to use a range of measures to identify disadvantage, including individual-level indicators, area data (such as Participation of Local Areas, Index of Multiple Deprivation or postcode classification from ACORN), school data, intersectional data such as Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’s (UCAS) Multiple Equality Measure, and participation in outreach activities. To this end, we are working with the Office for Students (OfS), UCAS and sector representatives to further explore how we can support universities to improve and enhance access to data.
  • We want institutions to consider a broad range of information in their offers, including the context in which a student’s results were achieved. We are committed to helping universities progress in their efforts to improve access and successful participation for under-represented groups.

And while we’re talking of Chris Skidmore, he has had a temporary promotion to cover for Claire Perry, Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth. Chris will retain his Universities Minister portfolio whilst attending Cabinet on Claire’s behalf.

Minimum salary threshold

Politics Home reports that Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, will remove the £30,000 minimum salary threshold for EU migrants wishing to work within the UK. All media sources are drawing on a letter than The Sun obtained in which Sajid wrote to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommending they reconsider the wage threshold and address regional wage discrepancies. The Sun report Sajid also said he wants EU migrants to receive exemptions for a range of professions and for new entrants and inexperienced works to be paid less.

The MAC’s £30k policy brought the wage requirement for EU in line with that required to be achieved by international migrants and said it would also help to boost wages for UK workers. Prior to the £30k policy announcement (see Immigration white paper, Dec 2018) it was reported that there was heated opposition to the policy in the cabinet from both the Chancellor and the Business Secretary (Greg Clark). As a concession to the opposition it was agreed the Minister (Sajid Javid) would consult with business on the final level of the salary threshold. Politics Home state: “Saj is basically telling the MAC to go away and do their work all over again. He knows Theresa is off and he’s cashing in.”   

The leaked letter states: “The Government is committed to engaging extensively over the course of this year before confirming the level of the minimum salary threshold.”  It is believed the MAC are due to reopen the salary threshold discussions and report back to Sajid Javid at the end of 2019.

Apprenticeships

The Public Accounts Committee have published a progress review on the apprenticeships programme, raising concerns over low take-up, unambitious targets and poor-quality training.

It argues that the DfE has failed to make the predicted progress when launching apprenticeship reforms in 2017. The number of apprenticeship starts fell by 26% after the apprenticeship levy was introduced and, although the level is now recovering, the government will not meet its target of 3 million starts by March 2020.  The committee moreover concludes that the department’s focus on higher-level apprenticeships and levy-paying employers increases the risk that minority groups, disadvantaged areas and smaller employers may miss out on the benefits that apprenticeships can bring.

The report also finds that the Department underspent the programme’s budget by 20% in 2017-18, but employers’ preference for higher-cost apprenticeships means that the programme is expected to come under growing financial pressure in the coming years.

Other news

Smart dorms: Accommodation provider UPP are considering trialling new technology and research initiatives as part of a smart property technology push. UPP said:  “We have an aspiration to create smart communities within our bedrooms and our accommodation, and we want to support universities’ smart agendas…One of the ideas that we’re following at UPP is, how can we get virtual assistants into our rooms? How can we use smart technology in the lights and so on?”  UPP state that students want more control over their accommodation, such as how much energy they use, and that new technology could help monitor student wellbeing, for example registering how often students leave their rooms. They are encouraging suppliers to see university accommodation as a “testbed for…their new gadgets”, which could help keep down costs for students renting the rooms. Research Professional have the full article here.

FE funding: Education Select Committee Chair Robert Halfon joins the call for FE providers to be funded fairly. Writing in Politics Home he states:

  • When delivered well, skills, education and apprenticeships provide a ladder of opportunity that allows anyone, no matter what their background, the opportunity to secure jobs, prosperity and security for their future. This is important for two reasons: to address social injustices in our society and to boost productivity in our country. Getting this right benefits everyone, and colleges are the vanguard in our fight to achieve this.
  • Despite delivering fantastic outcomes for their learners and meeting our skills needs, colleges get a raw deal in funding terms. According to the IFS, 16-18 education “has been the biggest loser”, with spending per student falling by eight per cent in real terms since 2010/2011. For too long, Further Education has been considered the ‘Cinderella Sector’.

The Education Select Committee has been: examining the potential for a long term, ten-year vision for education investment that recognises the vital contribution from our collegesThe benefit that colleges bring to individuals, communities and our country transcends party politics and referendum lines.

Antisemitism: Universities were reminded of their responsibilities to tackle religious-based hate at the end of last week. This Government news story tells of potential indirect discrimination after a University Jewish society was expected to fund a £2,000 security bill to run an event.

Careers Hubs: Dorset LEP has been successful in a bid to establish a Careers Hub. In 2018 Careers Hubs were trialled through first wave providers who reported over performance against the measured careers education targets:

  • outperforming the national average on all 8 Gatsby Benchmarks of good careers guidance;
  • 58% of Careers Hubs provide every student with regular encounters with employers;
  • 52% provided every student with workplace experience (work experience, shadowing or workplace visits).
  • Improvements were strongest in disadvantaged regions.

The press release describes the Careers Hub model:

Careers Hubs bring together schools and colleges with employers, universities, training providers and career professionals to improve outcomes for young people. There is a focus on best practice and schools and colleges have access to support and funding, including an expert Hub Lead to help coordinate activity and build networks, a central fund to support employer engagement activities, and training for a Careers Leader in each school and college. Employers are vital to the Hub model’s success, with all Hubs required to demonstrate strong engagement amongst local businesses and a clear plan for increasing employer engagement

Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the CBI, said:“Firms can sometimes struggle to engage with the schools and colleges that need their support. It’s therefore hugely encouraging to see more Careers Hubs on the way. There is no doubt they will play a pivotal role in helping employers get more involved.”

Poverty: The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, published his final report into extreme poverty and human rights (including taking account of 300 written consultation responses). You can read the full report here, or you can contact Policy for a shorter summary and recommendations if this topic is of interest. The report sets out a bleak picture of poverty levels in the UK and draws a direct parallel between the rise in poverty and the Government’s austerity agenda:

“Close to 40 per cent of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021. Food banks have proliferated; homelessness and rough sleeping have increased greatly; tens of thousands of poor families must live in accommodation far from their schools, jobs and community networks; life expectancy is falling for certain groups; and the legal aid system has been decimated”

“The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.

The Government have responded pushing back on the report calling it a “barely believable documentation of Britain” and stating that “all the evidence shows that full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life.”

Industrial Strategy: The 5 universities in the West Midlands have jointly published a report raising awareness of the value and contribution they make to the Government’s Industrial Strategy. Deborah Cadman, CEO of the West Midlands Combined Authority, said:  “The West Midlands is the first region to work with the UK Government to develop a Local Industrial Strategy and the region’s universities are at the forefront of the vital link between innovation and industry. Their research and development reaches far beyond the laboratory and lecture theatres. By driving the local economy and improving everyone’s lives, they are already addressing the UK’s future challenges.”

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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

Technical assistance for grant applications – workshop places available!

In the UK, £4.7 billion is being expected to be invested in R&D over the next 4 years. Will you be ready to apply?

Much of this funding will be available to academia, in partnership with business, through Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund competitive grants. Writing these grants is an art in itself, because word counts are tight and the demand for detail high. And then there is the human factor – convincing five under-pressure assessors that your idea is novel, experimental, leading edge, etc. These are the people who will score you and ultimately decide whether you make it to the fundable zone…

BU’s Research & Knowledge Exchange Office is hosting a technical writing workshop, where the art of writing these grants will be unpacked by a successful bid writer, who has won them, spoken with the assessors to learn how to win even more of them, and is almost in daily contact with the funder, Innovate UK.

The workshop, on 10th December 2018, will include discussions on:

• Knowing your funder – vital background on what makes Innovate UK tick…
• Knowing your assessors – vital tips to improve your score…
• Unpacking the application questions – what you must write and how you must write…

After the workshop attendees will have the opportunity to have a one-to-one session with the bid writer to discuss project ideas and to explore suitable grants.

This workshop directly supports and is targeted towards those academics proactively working within the context of BU2025 Actions: 28, 29 and 30.

To attend, please see further information available on the BU staff pages and review the calendar of events for further opportunities.

HE Policy update for the w/e 6th July 2018

Fees & Funding

The Government has announced that from 2019/20 EU nationals will continue to be eligible for home fee status for undergraduate, postgraduate and advanced learner financial support from Student Finance England for the full duration of their course as per current rules. Sam Gyimah said:

  • EU students, staff and researchers make an important contribution to our universities. I want that contribution to continue and am confident – given the quality of our HE sector – that it will.”

UK (home) student fees will remain frozen at £9,250 (full time) and £6,935 (part time) for 2019/20. The maximum fees for accelerated courses have not yet been confirmed. The student loan repayment threshold will remain at £25,000.  These arrangements will be laid before Parliament for confirmation in early 2019.

Meanwhile the post-18 education and funding review continues. Jane attended the Wonkhe “Proceed with Caution” event on Tuesday, and it was a lively and stimulating affair, as you will have seen if you follow @policyBU on Twitter (if you don’t, try it, we won’t sulk if you later unfollow us).

Wonkhe were live blogging during the day and you can read it here.  They have all the links to the materials referenced.

The first part of the day focussed on data and context for the discussion about fees.

  • Anna Vignoles, one of the authors of the infamous IFS report on LEO graduate earnings data that we reported on a few weeks ago, talked about what the research showed and why it was important. Anna acknowledged that the data told us something about government subsidy, might be useful to [some] students, and then more controversially, might highlight where programmes could be developed to improve employability.  It does not tell us anything about current course quality [please take note, politicians and media commentators]. Anna also pointed out that, as the data was adjusted for prior attainment, and showed socio-economic gaps in earnings after graduation means that the expansion of HE has not consistently supported social mobility.

Our thoughts: importantly on the subsidy point, there are other relevant issues – the government may decide to subsidise courses because they do, or they don’t, on average increase earnings – but they may also decide to do so because they meet a societal or economic need.  Or they might subsidise people not courses – ie choose who to subsidise not what.  Or they might of course choose which institutions to subsidise – as they do for research.

  • Andrew McGettigan gave a brilliantly clear exposition of the current accounting position for student loans and the perverse incentives for government that it creates, by hiding the true impact of the loan system on the economy – the “fiscal illusion”. To quote Wonkhe: “Accounting conventions make it look like our loan system creates a surplus – flattering the headline deficit figures. In reality, it does not. And the terms of reference of the post-18 review precludes any modification of this practice”.  

This is going to change, because the Office for National Statistics are undertaking a review, after being told off by their EU counterpart.  His main message is that this needs to be sorted out, because accounting should not drive policy – but he pointed out that an accounting change is more likely to leave the government with less, not more, money to spend on implementing the outcomes of the HE review.  That change to the repayment threshold earlier this year suddenly looks even more like a strange way to prioritise government spending on HE.

  • In one of the most through provoking sessions of the day, London Economics presented a model and then moved swiftly on to some options for the HE review. Their slides are here and are well worth a look. The  recommendations are controversial – some of this was prompted by the Diamond review of funding in Wales.
  • Up next was Philip Augar, Chair of the independent advisory panel to the review. He didn’t give much away – positively declining to answer two questions and ducking or giving very general answers to many.  Some potential leads:
    • He is very focused on simplifying the system so everyone can understand it. Or maybe improving the way it is explained so everyone can understand it.  The first would require some major change.  The second less so, it would be more about labels (graduate contribution not a loan)
    • He mentioned employers a lot. Might there be an apprenticeship levy type contribution for degrees?  He did talk about skills shortages and graduates doing non-graduate jobs, and referred to strengths – and weaknesses  – in the sector, but refused to be drawn on the latter.

What is most interesting is  what he described as his remit – to come up with some interesting options for the government to pick from.  They will be practical, realistic and simple and build on existing initiatives.  And may be ignore by a government that in March will be stuck with the outcome of the ONS review and dealing with Brexit?  The BBC review of the speech is here.  There’s another twitter thread from Rosemary Bennett of the BBC here

  • Later sessions focussed on a discussion about value for money – most of which has been well rehearsed in other contexts, but there was a good level of debate and some interesting points. Amongst them were the point that the government is with one hand telling students not to worry about student debt (because it is income contingent) and on the other hand raising concerns about responsible lending.  The squeeze on living costs and cap on maintenance loans is driving students to take out other loans for sums or to work too many hours.  The focus in the public debate on debt and interest, and on tuition fees, is unhelpful.  Living costs are the real practical day to day challenge for students –  which is why most of the panellists agreed that maintenance grants should be a priority

It does feel as there is a perfect storm coming – and while the timing might suggest that this review is headed for the filing cabinet, the costs involved will mean that something will have to be done.

Immigration – borders open for science

Sam Gyimah spoke at a science park opening on Thursday to announce a relaxation of the immigration regulations which will allow an influx of scientific talent to the UK. Gyimah stated

  • it was only the first step towards a liberalisation of visa restrictions on scientific talent amid concerns that Brexit could damage the UK’s ability to attract bright academics from overseas.

The Government coverage of the speech states the relaxation is Britain’s new unique selling point and aims to establish Britain as the ‘go-to place for science and innovation’.

The new scheme will allow non-EEA researchers, scientists and academics to reside in the UK for up to two years. It forms a new element within the Tier 5 (Government authorised exchange temporary worker) visa route. UKRI and 12 other approved research organizations (including Natural History Museum) have the ability to directly sponsor individuals to train and work in the UK.

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, stated:

  • I recognise the crucial contribution science makes to the UK economy and society and I am determined that the UK will continue to welcome leading scientific and research talent from around the world…We must have an immigration system that makes sure we can attract leading international talent and benefit from their knowledge and expertise.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will monitor this new scheme with UKRI regularly to ensure it meets the criteria for a Tier 5 scheme.

In his speech Gyimah stated:

  • “we…face a longer-term question: what should our post-Brexit economy look like? And we cannot wait till the Brexit deal is done to answer it… With the City less profitable today than it once was, and North Sea output naturally declining, the search is on for the next wave of world-leading British businesses… We need new sources of growth, and a vision of how to succeed. And we need to set a direction that will sustain us not just for the next 9 months, but for the next 30 years…The businesses of the future will be based on science, research and technology. The world is changing, and the UK needs to take advantage of this… To tackle the grand challenges our society faces, and to move up the economic league table, we need to double down on our strengths in science, technology and innovation.
  • This is partly a matter of investment. A decade ago, they idea that government investment had a role to play in fostering innovation was contentious, even controversial… investment is about much more than just public money. For every pound of public R&D in the UK, business contributes 2. And it takes more than R&D to build successful businesses. That’s why we are also working hard to create the conditions for greater long term private investment.
  • Now is the right time to ask ourselves some big questions when it comes to our public R&D investment. How can we do more to ensure our investment crowds in private money? Have we struck the right balance between funding for basic and applied research?
  • We should be proud that so many of the best and brightest from other countries choose to bring their knowledge and skills to Britain, and we should recognise that our economy is stronger for it. I don’t believe that the vote for Brexit was a vote for the UK to close ourselves off from the world.
  • We also need to make the most of our openness to ideas. We should learn from the sharp-eyed heroes of the Industrial Revolution and think not just how we commercialise our own technology, but what we can learn and borrow from the best research around the world.”

Gyimah went on:

  • “It is also time to ensure our institutions are playing the most effective role they backing innovation…Our universities are an intrinsic part of our innovation economy. Our best universities are not just powerhouses of research – they are also deeply connected to their local and national businesses, and to their community. There is an important geographical angle to consider. It is no surprise that many of the UK’s most successful publicly funded labs and institutions are in the Oxford-Cambridge-London triangle, because we rightly fund research on the basis of excellence and not political patronage, and one corollary of that is that the most successful universities have consistently punched above their weight in winning further research funding. But it is important that we recognise that, when it comes to innovation, there is life outside the Golden Triangle. Indeed, sometimes the private sector seems quicker to realise it than public research funders.
  • I want to see to N8 Alliance of Northern Universities become powerhouses of economic growth in their area, and to ensure we back innovation wherever it may be… But universities are not the only institutions that are can drive innovation. We should also consider how our regulatory systems can encourage innovation, by making sure that our rules keep up with the pace of technology and business change.”

Gyimah went on to:

  • Launch the new £10 million Regulators’ Pioneer Fund, as an integral part of the Industrial Strategy. The fund will invest in initiatives to support businesses that are bringing innovative products to market
  • Announce the Government Office for Science will work with UKRI and the Better Regulation Executive to develop standards for new technologies and their applications (to build on work for self-driving car testbeds).
  • State: “We need to consider whether we have struck the right balance between encouraging spin-outs and maximising university revenues.”

He concluded by stating: “By drawing on our national strengths of openness, entrepreneurship and strong institutions, we can make the UK a true platform for innovation. This in turn will help establish the UK’s place in the world, and our future prosperity.”

Gyimah’s speech was covered in The Times: UK opens door to gifted foreign scientists.

Mature students and cold spots

UCAS published a report into admissions patterns for mature applicants: Full report

“Research published by UCAS shows that mature students are more likely to apply to universities and colleges close to home, primarily for a limited selection of vocational subjects, and when there are fewer jobs available.  Our analysis also shows significant regional variations in entry rates to full-time higher education among mature students, and these differ notably from the patterns in entry to university among applicants of different age groups.

The report  Admissions patterns for mature applicants (5.37 MB) compares the characteristics within groups of mature students aged 21 and over, to those aged 18, applying for full-time undergraduate courses. The key findings are as follows:

  • Living at home – mature students are more likely to live at home while studying full-time, and this likelihood increases with age. Half of 21 to 25 year olds live at home while studying, compared to nearly 80% of those aged 30 and over. In comparison, 18 year olds are more likely to attend a university over an hour away from their home, with over 50% having a drive time of 70 minutes or more.
  • Vocational subject choices – mature students are typically drawn to a small range of courses, with subjects allied to medicine (including nursing), education, and social studies the most popular. As more female students typically apply for these courses, this may explain why more than 70% of mature students over the age of 31, accepted to full-time degrees, are female.
  • Entry rates by region – in 2017, for mature students aged 21 to 50, entry rates to higher education by UK country and region are highest in Scotland, followed by London. However, due to differences in age distribution across the regions, entry rates vary by region for different age groups of mature applicants, with London having the highest entry rates for those aged 36 to 50.
  • Applications are higher when the job market is weaker – there appears to be a relationship between applications and the number of job vacancies. When the number of UK employment opportunities was at its lowest, between 2009 and 2011, application rates for full-time undergraduate courses from mature students peaked. Since 2015, the number of job vacancies has increased, while application rates for full-time study have declined. This suggests mature students look to the employment market when jobs are plentiful, and apply to higher education when jobs are sparse.”

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

  • Mature students have different motivations, expectations, and needs compared to their younger counterparts.  Entering full-time higher education as an older student is a life-changing commitment, reflected in the focused choices many older students make to pursue highly vocational subjects.”

This was written up on Wonkhe by David Kernohan,  and reported in the Times Higher a

The same day a report was issued by IntoUniversity at a conference looking at the geography of higher education, access and participation.  Chris Millward, the Director of Fair Access and Particpation gave a speech:

So far, so not very surprising.  So what were the remedies that he proposed?

“Strategic and sustained work to:

  • engage with local communities, schools and colleges on expectations, pathways and attainment before HE
  • recognise background within admissions and support transition into HE
  • develop skills and attributes for employment and absorptive capacity for graduates in local areas”

Meanwhile the OfS is going to ensure:

“Pressure for individual universities and colleges to:

  • demonstrate continuous, year-on-year improvement through their access and participation plans by:
    • reducing the gaps in access, success and progression for underrepresented groups among their own students
    • improve practice, including through better evaluation and sustained engagement with schools from early years and with employers.

Sector-wide support for:

  • availability and use of more common and rigorous data and evidence to target and evaluate access and participation work
  • collaborative working between different universities and colleges and with schools and employers, e.g. NCOP
  • advancement and sharing of innovative and effective practice, e.g. Barriers to Student Success”

And Chris Millward also wrote a blog:

  •  ‘To ensure the benefits of higher education flow back into local economies and public services throughout the country, there need to be better opportunities and support for people who want to study close to home and later in life, as well as for young people who live on campus.
  • ‘The Office for Students is challenging higher education providers to reduce the gaps in access and outcomes for mature students through access and participation plans, which universities and colleges must have approved if they wish to charge higher tuition fees.”

We were puzzled by some of the analysis of this – which seems to imply that mature students are first deciding to go to university and then choosing a course, which happens often to be a vocational one, and happens often to be close to home.  And then of course the implication is that graduates of “vocational” courses are less well paid, see the headline story on fees and funding , and that by choosing local courses they may be choosing less good courses.  This was the line taken by Chris Parr on Research Professional.

In our view, this analysis is upside down – if mature students are choosing vocational courses, it is likely to be because they have a vocation – and have decided that they want to pursue it.  They may study locally because they may have family or other ties, or financial concerns that make it difficult to travel.  And they may choose low-tariff courses – but in some cases that may be because one of the reasons they are mature students is that they didn’t get very high grades at school but are now coming back to education.  Those local, low tariff vocational programmes may be an important means of allowing mature students with potential to gain life changing experience and qualifications that will enable them to give back to their communities as well as improve their own lives.

So the OfS focus on access, participation and outcomes is important, but once again, we need to be careful to challenge views that success is only measured in terms of entry tariffs and graduate salaries.  And too much focus on improving choice may miss the point for many mature students who can’t take advantage of the options.

Part Time Students and ELQs

As well as the decline in mature students, the decline in the numbers of part-time students has also been widely discussed as a challenge for the Post-18 review, and of course many mature students will also be part-time, so the same issues may apply.

This week the House of Lords held a debate on part-time and continuing education. Criticism for ELQs featured heavily in the debate. An ELQ (Equivalent and Lower Qualification) is when a student already holds a qualification at the same or a higher level than the programme they intend to study. A student with an ELQ cannot access student maintenance loan or tuition fee funding from the Student Loan Company – meaning they, or their employer, has to fully self-fund. There are a small number of courses that the Government considers a priority where the ELQ rule doesn’t apply and students can access student finance. Furthermore, a student with an ELQ can actually be charged above the £9,250, up to £13,000 (BU does not charge this higher fee for ELQ students).

Baroness Bakewell led a debate on part-time and continued education,  in particular the future of the Open University (OU). She said the OU’s purpose was to promote greater equality of opportunity and widen access to the highest standards of education. There had been a fall in part-time and mature students and the OU had been hit particularly hard by this drop. According to universities, she said, the cause had been the rise in the cap on part-time fees to £6,750 a year and the introduction of maintenance loans had not alleviated the issue significantly.  The post-18 review were welcomed by the Baroness, but she warned that this should not be a missed opportunity. She urged the minister to ensure that the post-18 review addressed a major review of student finance and that it considered different policy responses for different types of students.

  • “It must reappraise the availability of maintenance grants and the restrictions on maintenance loans, and it must further relax restrictions on equivalent or lower qualifications, ELQs. I ask, above all, that it prioritises mature students and lifelong learning.”

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con) thought that the ELQ rule was a major cause in the decline of part-time education. Bakewell agreed this was contributing factor.

Baroness Bakewell spoke highly of Birkbeck University, of which she has been head for 10 years. She insisted the main cause of the decline in part-time students was the rise in tuition fees, which explained in part why mature students were no longer willing to take the risk of more debt. She asked the Government to provide a part-time premium to universities and colleges to promote the supply of part-time courses and stop relying on maintenance loans for part-time students, as the latter would increase their debt. She called for the reduction of fees in line with any premium provided for universities.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD) spoke highly of the work and the opportunities that the two universities offered. She called on the Government to release colleges from the tortuous and pointless demands of GCSE maths and English resits

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab) suggested the establishment of a “learning nation fund” to go to the parts of the country where there are no opportunities.

Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (CB) thought that there was a need to build wider partnerships into different communities, with employers and with government, with the skills needed to build a modern and resilient society. She added she would do her best to ensure that OU was fit for the future and asked what funding plan the Government had.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean spoke critically about the ELQ rule, adding that at one point 50% of Birkbeck’s students had an ELQ and now it was 5%.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab) noted that the Welsh Government was introducing a student support package to offer parity of support for full time and part time students alike and the university there was experiencing substantial increases in early registrations for study in the coming year.

Lord Addington (LD) argued that the Open University had a tremendous the capacity for credit transfer. “It is a conduit between different skills being credited in another institution.”. He thought ELQ decision and fees should be removed.

Lord Haskel (Lab) asked about the national retraining scheme, which was promised by the end of the Parliament and talked about the importance of retraining and continuing the relationship between universities and their alumni.

Viscount Hanworth (Lab) spoke critically of the current offerings of FutureLearn – “threadbare and compare unfavourably with the traditional course materials of the Open University”. He noted that large industrial enterprises were no longer as keen as they once had been to sponsor the education of their workforce.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford called for proactive investment in part-time, continuing, lifelong education, accessible in every place and to every part of society. “This new deal needs to be means tested, as we have heard, at the point of delivery, to prevent the stagnation of much of our economy”.

Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con) criticised the current student finance system and interest rates.

Lord Shipley (LD) asked the Government to look urgently at whether it was justifiable for tuition fees for part-time students in England to be two and a half times higher than in the rest of the UK. He also reminded the Government that around 20 million adults in the UK did not have level 4 qualifications, which he considered a huge untapped resource.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton (Lab) argued for more flexibility in education and spoke about the need to provide progressive pathways: “It is desperately important that people can move from one sector of education and one type of qualification approach, and we need credit accumulation and credit transfer to become an integral part of all we offer to part-time and mature students.”

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab) suggested a single national portal showing career opportunities with available jobs, apprenticeship options and links to training requirements and a strategy for retraining and upskilling at all levels. He also called for flexibility.

Government Whip, Viscount Younger of Leckie, talked about the steps the Government had taken to address the fall in part time students, such as the Higher Education and Research Act.  He noted that in 2016-17, 47,000 OU students were able to benefit from a tuition fee loan for undergraduate courses and the Government had removed the so-called ELQ restrictions. He mentioned that HEFCE—now replaced by the Office for Students—targeted an element of the teaching grant in recognition of the additional costs of part-time study.  He added that the Government had tabled regulations that would allow part-time students on higher education courses to access maintenance loans similar to those received by their equivalents on full-time courses.

Viscount Younger of Leckie noted that:

  • the Government was committed to seek to introduce maintenance loans for part-time distance learning courses.
  • on credit transfer, he said the Section 38 of the Higher Education and Research Act allows such arrangements
  • on the post-18 review, he said the panel would publish its report at an interim stage at some point this year, before the Government concluded the overall review in early 2019.