Tagged / international staff

HE Policy update for the w/e 4th January 2019

Happy New Year to all our readers! There was a flurry just before Christmas…some of that is here along with the first news of January

Value for money

To start the new year off on the right foot, as we await the Augur recommendations on the post-18 review, Wonkhe have some analysis of a recent poll.

“A poll conducted by YouGov for The Times, and published on January 2nd, sits very much in the instrumentalist camp. It takes the near universal sticker price of £9,250/year, and then cuts and shuts “the standard of education” and “the wages graduates earn” as the things that either do mean it’s “worth the money”, or don’t “warrant the cost”.”

“Do you think too many children in Britain go to university, not enough go to university or the number is about right

  • Too many go to university (40%)
  • Not enough go to university (19%)
  • The number is about right (21%)
  • Don’t know (19%)

“In England, universities can currently charge tuition fees of up to £9,250 a year. Do you think this is or is not value for money?

  • Is value for money – the standard of education and the increased wages graduates earn mean it is worth the money (17%)
  • Is not value for money – the standard of education and the wages graduates earn are not enough to warrant the cost (64%)
  • Don’t know (19%)”

Wonkhe’s view:

  • Looked at internationally the (world class) QAA judgements would suggest that the UK compares well with other national systems of HE. But if you look at individual student experience, the picture may be mixed – though it is difficult to disentangle personal aspects (did said student actually do any work?) with institutional failings (was the teaching actually up to scratch?)
  • We’ve been over many of the return on investment arguments in our coverage of LEO data and related releases. Suffice it to say that the earnings of those who graduated up to a decade ago are of questionable relevance to those starting their study in 2019. Even if you discount the way that the graduate labour market (and the wider economy) has changed in the past and is likely to change in the future, institutions and courses are almost certainly taught in different ways, by different staff, to students from different backgrounds, than they were a decade ago.

And:

  • We could have guessed most of the above already – it’s why May overruled DfE and called the Post 18 review in the first place. The question is whether the sector has the wherewithal to fill in some of the detail – the absence of which allows sloppy polling to fill in the blanks.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any research that asks whether £9,250 a year for a degree place represents good value for money regardless of the balance of the contribution between student (graduate) and state – surely a missed opportunity for the sector to protect (and justify) the unit of resource?
  • We’re still pretty much in the dark about the true “costs” of HE for most undergrads – rent, food, books and travel. How many students are going to take a positive value for money message into their twenties if they couldn’t afford it in the first place?
  • And as long as we have a repayment system whose subsidies only reveal themselves if you are at the end of your career and economically unsuccessful, we shouldn’t be surprised by a negative reaction to a VFM question.

Our view: given these perspectives, and there is no reason to think that the poll is wrong, even if we could argue with the assumptions behind it and the way that the questions are asked, how likely is it that the government will respond to the £12m deficit hit from the accounting changes to student loans (however illusory it is) by saying “oh well, if we’re in for £12m we may as well do the thing properly, and reintroduce maintenance grants, find extra money for FE and adjust the student loan terms further to benefit WP students”.  Not very likely?  2019 will be fun…..

OfS report –evaluation of access and participation outreach interventions

This OfS report – Understanding the evaluation of access and participation outreach interventions for under-16 year olds was published on 13th December

HEPs generally identified similar challenges and barriers to effective evaluation as those highlighted by earlier work (Crawford et al., 2017a; Harrison and Waller, 2017) – e.g. resources, data availability, senior buy-in and staff skills. The principal distinction was that outreach with the pre-16 age group was felt to be considerably harder to evaluate than outreach with post-16 groups due to the long time-lag between activities and desired outcomes (i.e. application to higher education (HE)), including the following epistemological issues:

  • Concerns about the validity of self-report data on long-range attitudes to HE, especially when collected within or soon after an activity;
  • Difficulties collecting meaningful data from younger age groups, especially in primary and lower secondary phases;
  • A shortage of robust metrics or approaches to identify modest learning gains (e.g. below a whole GCSE grade) and their attribution to specific activities;
  • Disentangling the unique contribution of outreach in the complex social field inhabited by young people, with multiple influences and school-led activities;
  • Understanding how individual outreach activities combine over time to influence young people and whether their effects are genuinely additive.

 In addition, the project team identified several potential concerns within the reported evaluation practices, including (a) an over-reliance on descriptive statistics and low use of inferential and/or multivariate analysis (where appropriate), (b) a continuing emphasis on ‘aspiration raising’ as the guiding purpose of outreach activity despite its questionable role in influencing attainment or HE participation, and (c) a conflation of evaluation, monitoring and tracking data, with an unclear engagement with causality.

Evaluation practice was overall found to be somewhat stronger within the third sector organisations (TSOs). In part, this was due to the more focused portfolio of activities provided by these organisations – often a single activity or year group. However, there were also clear elements of good practice that could readily be adopted by HEPs:

  • A clear prioritisation of evaluation as an integral element of delivery, with a culture in which evaluation is foregrounded: well-resourced, with expert staffing and a clear role in both evidencing impact (summative) and honing practice (formative);
  • The use of ‘theory of change’ as a thinking tool to understand and plan how changes in knowledge, attitudes or behaviours might be achieved through specific activities and to challenge underpinning assumptions;
  • A preference for measuring impact through ‘intermediate steps’ towards HE participation (e.g. increased self-efficacy, confidence or career-planning skills) over a focus on long-range aspirations for HE;
  • A stronger engagement with the research literature, especially in evidencing the value of forms of activity (e.g. mentoring) and the use of validated and cognitively tested inventories to measure psychological or sociological constructs.

The project team recommend that the Office for Students (OfS) should promote the elements discussed in point 5 above to guide the future development of evaluation practice. The team believes that these dovetail well with previous work on standards of evidence (Crawford et al., 2017b) by providing a framework for evaluation practice to achieve stronger forms of evidence.

To this end, a separate report for HEPs includes (a) a development tool to suggest incremental improvements to their current practices, and (b) a brief collection of contextualised thinking tools to extend their critical engagement with evidence of impact. An evaluation self-assessment tool has been developed and delivered to the OfS for further development and piloting. These are not intended to form a ‘final word’ in guidance to HEPs, but rather a resource to help to frame the ongoing discussions that the project team have witnessed within the sector.

Major recommendations for the OFS

  1. The OfS should continue with the second phase of work as outlined in the original invitation to tender, comprising work to determine which ‘intermediate steps’ are most appropriate for HEPs to use to plan and evaluate pre-16 outreach activities.
  2. We recommend that HEPs be encouraged to benchmark their evaluation practices against those of their peers with a similar organisational mission and profile of expenditure on access. A proposal for a self-assessment tool has been put forward to the OfS for further development and piloting.
  3. The OfS should make the following changes to its guidance to HEPs about their future Access and Participation Plans:
  4. HEPs should be required to provide separate details through the OfS regulatory processes, covering both pre-16 outreach activities and how they are evaluated;
  5. A minimum expectation of evaluation practice should be made of HEPs based on their overall access spending – this might be based around the 10 per cent ‘rule of thumb’ used more generally in the field of evaluation;
  6. Data on HEPs’ spending on evaluation should be collected, whether or not a minimum expectation is established.
  7. The OfS should encourage HEPs to engage with the tools provided in the accompanying document and especially to promote the use of a ‘theory of change’ approach for planning and evaluating pre-16 outreach.
  8. The OfS should consider working with an HEP to develop a postgraduate certificate (or similar) in outreach evaluation that becomes an expected standard for staff working in HEP outreach teams.

Apprenticeships

The Government have published their response to the Education Select Committee Inquiry report into the quality of apprenticeships and skills training. The Education Committee’s report made a series of recommendations to boost apprenticeships and deliver high quality skills training, including an expanded role for Ofsted inspections and a training cap on new providers. The report also called for more support for apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds, through measures such as the creation of bursaries and help with travel costs.

There were 27 recommendations so we have picked out a few here:

Quality

  • Recommendation 1: Government should monitor bodies responsible for quality and ensure they have requisite resources.

Response: To reflect the growth in the apprenticeships provider market, we agreed additional funding of £5.4 million for Ofsted to undertake monitoring visits of new apprenticeship training providers within their inspection remit (Levels 2 – 5), within 24 months of the provider’s funding start date.

  • Recommendation 6: The Institute should make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority.

Response: We disagree that the growth of degree apprenticeships should be treated as a strategic priority in isolation. We do not prioritise degree apprenticeships over other apprenticeships because the reforms are employer-led, so the apprenticeships developed are those that employers have said they want. This makes sure that the apprenticeships we offer are responsive to the needs of business.

  • Recommendation 9: The Government should conduct pilots with apprentices and businesses to explore the effect of introducing greater flexibility in the amount of off-the-job training required by each apprenticeship standard.

Response: Although some employers would like more flexibility on this, many employers are supportive of the 20 per cent minimum requirement. The 20 per cent minimum requirement is in line with international best practice.

  • Recommendation 10: The transition from apprenticeship frameworks to standards has been mismanaged by successive Governments. Employers have been let down.

Response: Standards are being taken up with enthusiasm by employers across a wide range of sectors, and we are already hearing from employers, providers and apprentices how they are creating a real step up in the quality of apprenticeships across the country.

  • Recommendation 12: The Government should increase the top funding band to better match the full cost of delivery for some apprenticeships. It should also double the time employers have to spend their funds to 48 months and allow them to transfer more of these funds to firms in their supply chain.

Response: There is little evidence to suggest that the maximum funding limit is restricting starts, and while we currently have no plans to change the limit, we will keep funding bands under review. The Committee will welcome the fact that we have already announced an increase to the level of funds an employer can transfer to organisations including those in their supply chain.

  • Recommendation 15: The Government should tighten the requirements on providers who subcontract their provision.

Response: The accountability for outcomes and delivery against the funding contract lies with the main contractor and that is who needs to be held to account. That is why Ofsted cover quality and management of subcontracted provision when they inspect directly funded providers.

Social Justice

  • Recommendation 16: The Government should increase incentive funding for small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises who recruit young and disadvantaged apprentices

Response: We believe that the current model of funding for disadvantaged apprentices provides the most effective means to achieve the recruitment of young and disadvantaged people.

  • Recommendation 18: The Government should introduce bursaries for other disadvantaged groups modelled on the care leavers’ bursary.

Response: We will keep all aspects of apprenticeship funding policy under review to ensure that those from disadvantaged groups are not deterred from starting an apprenticeship for financial reasons, or because their employer is concerned about the cost. Funding alone cannot tackle the disparities in apprenticeship starts.

  • Recommendation 19: The Government should create a social justice fund, using money from the apprentice levy, to support organisations that help disadvantaged people become apprentices.

Response: The apprenticeship levy has been set at a level that raises sufficient funds to support apprenticeship starts; widening its scope would risk our delivery of the target of 3 million high-quality apprenticeship starts.

  • Recommendation 20: The Government should continue to raise the apprentice minimum wage at a rate significantly above inflation. In the long term, it should move towards its abolition.

Response: It is important that the level of the apprentice rate, which applies to those aged under 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship, does not dissuade employers from investing in skills training and realising the benefits of apprenticeships for their businesses.

  • Recommendation 22: The Government should strongly support existing measures to establish a kitemark for good apprentice employers.

Response: Work is ongoing to develop a kitemark indicating a signal of quality for apprentice employers. Using existing quality measures and working with stakeholders, criteria will be developed and, if met, employers will be able to showcase the kitemark.

  • Recommendation 23: The Social Mobility Commission should conduct an immediate study into how the benefits system helps or hinders apprentices. The Government should act on its findings.

Response: Government would welcome the views of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) on how we can continue to develop our policy in this area, though any decision on whether to conduct a review remains a joint decision for the Department’s ministers and the Chair of the SMC.

  • Recommendation 24: The Government must stop dragging its feet over apprentice transport costs. It must set out how it plans to reduce apprentice travel costs.

Response: The Departments for Transport and Education will continue to work together to support discounted travel for apprentices, including through existing apprenticeship funding mechanisms, but given the additional cost to the taxpayer, the focus of this work will now turn to preparing proposals for consideration at the forthcoming spending review.

  • Recommendation 25: The Equality and Human Rights Commission should conduct a monitoring review of apprenticeship participation by gender, ethnicity and by people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities every three years.

Response: The Department is carrying out broader activity to encourage more young people to recognise the value of a STEM career path. To support the Government’s commitment to increase apprenticeship starts by learners from BAME backgrounds by 20 per cent by 2020, we launched the ‘5 Cities Diversity Hubs’ project in February 2018.

  • Recommendation 26: The Government should introduce a proper UCAS-style portal for technical education to simplify the application process and encourage progression to further training at higher levels.

Response: We have carried out extensive research to explore how we could introduce a UCAS-style portal for technical education that works for employers and apprentices alike. While the research indicated that young people would value a central source of information as they make decisions about their next steps, it did not show that they found the current application process challenging.

  • Recommendation 27: Too many students are still not receiving independent and impartial careers advice and guidance about the routes open to them, including apprenticeships. We recommend that the Government, with Ofsted’s support, properly enforces the Baker clause.

Response: Following the introduction of the clause in January 2018, we issued statutory guidance to schools, clearly setting out what is expected of them. A review in the summer of 2018 showed mixed compliance with this guidance by schools. The Department is prepared to intervene in cases of serious non-compliance.

The Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP has commented on the Government’s response:

  • While we welcome the direction of travel from the Government, clearly much more needs to be done. We need to get tough on subcontractors and poor provision. The Government insists its priorities are to ensure more funding makes it to the front line and to improve transparency. But to achieve this, they must strengthen the rules on subcontracting and ensure a more prominent role for Ofsted in inspections to safeguard training quality.
  • We’re not convinced that the Government recognises that degree apprenticeships are special and different to other apprenticeships. They bring together technical and higher education when the two are too often entirely different worlds. We cannot rely on employers alone to drive this forward given the key role which degree apprenticeships can play in fighting social injustice and taking the best from technical and academic education.   
  • Ensuring proper support for apprentices is crucial to delivering social justice. But there are no firm proposals from Government on how to break down the barriers faced by too many young people who would like to take the apprenticeship route. The Government continues to drag its feet on how it will reduce the cost of transport and it must now act on its manifesto commitment and deliver on the promise of significantly discounted bus and train fares.
  • It is not enough to say evading paying the apprenticeship minimum wage is ‘unacceptable’. The Business Secretary has said that the Government has doubled the enforcement budget, but clearly there is more to do to ensure employers comply. Until there are stronger sanctions and tougher enforcement, companies will get away with the mistreatment of apprentices who are making significant financial sacrifices to better themselves.

Brexit update

If you missed them (and who could blame you) the BBC have a useful summary of New Year’s messages from Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable and Nicola Sturgeon

The next few weeks are critical, of course, with a “meaningful vote” in Parliament due in the week commencing 14th January.

So if the government wins the meaningful vote, and Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before 29th March, we leave with a deal and a transition period. If the government wins the meaningful vote and Parliament doesn’t approve the Bill then we leave without a deal.  This is possible but unlikely – although there will be a fight about the Bill, and attempts to amend it, if the government wins the meaningful vote they are likely to get the Bill through eventually.

If the government loses the meaningful vote, then they have to make a statement about their intentions within 21 days and then there is another vote by Parliament.  What could the government propose in this statement?  It is another opportunity to persuade people to support the original deal with some more concessions or reassurance.  Or this could be the moment to ask for an extension to article 50.

If the motion (whatever it says) is not supported, it is then too late for any other major step (such as a second referendum) before we leave without a deal in March.  Everyone has said that the EU takes negotiations to the wire – there may be last minute concessions after the meaningful vote, if the government loses, in which case the government can just try Parliament again.  Or even without EU concessions, as no-deal panic rises, they may try Parliament again.  Or Parliament could revoke Article 50, as was discussed extensively before the holidays.  That seems unlikely – an extension is far more likely.  And presumably the EU would agree to that.  But remember that the withdrawal date is built into UK law so as well as agreeing to an extension, Parliament would also have to approve regulations to amend that legislation – another opportunity for arguments, amendments and disagreements.

The existing EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018:

  • exit day” means 29 March 2019 at 11.00 p.m. (and see subsections (2) to (5));
  • (2) In this Act references to before, after or on exit day, or to beginning with exit day, are to be read as references to before, after or at 11.00 p.m. on 29 March 2019 or (as the case may be) to beginning with 11.00 p.m. on that day.
  • (3)Subsection (4) applies if the day or time on or at which the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union is different from that specified in the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1).
  • (4)A Minister of the Crown may by regulations—
  • (a)amend the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1) to ensure that the day and time specified in the definition are the day and time that the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom, and
  • (b)amend subsection (2) in consequence of any such amendment.

Change of government

Labour have been threatening a no confidence motion “when the time is right”. Before Christmas there was talk of a no confidence vote in the PM – which is not at all the same thing.  In the Independent on 28th December 2018 Jeremy Corbyn was talking about “when, not if” and “signalling” it will be after the meaningful vote.

So what does happen if Parliament pass a motion of no confidence in the Government?  The Parliament website says:

“A motion of no confidence, or censure motion, is a motion moved in the House of Commons with the wording: ‘That this House has no confidence in HM Government’. If such a motion is agreed to, and a new government with the support of a majority of MPs cannot be formed within a period of 14 calendar days, Parliament is dissolved and an early General Election is triggered. A motion of no confidence is one of only two ways in which an early General Election may be triggered under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011”

The Labour party believe that they could form a minority government, and presumably would then hope to persuade Parliament to vote for an extension to give them time to renegotiate.

As we wrote in December, if they fail to form a minority government, we are then in a difficult position, because we could be left with no Parliament to vote for an extension or approve the regulations to the Withdrawal Act, leading back to a no-deal Brexit on 29th March with a general election to follow.  Of course at least some of those potentially voting for the no confidence motion might actually want to leave with no deal….

So, we could leave with the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal, and then hopefully progress will be made on turning the political declaration into a formal agreement.  That won’t be much fun either and it needs to be sorted by the end of the transition period (due to end December 31st 2020 unless it is itself extended – on this see the actual draft Withdrawal Agreement, pages 195 and 206). There are some conditions for an extension, including a contribution to the EU budget to be established by the committee.

Article 126: There shall be a transition or implementation period, which shall start on the date of entry into force of this Agreement and end on 31 December 2020.

Article 132: …the Joint Committee may, before 1 July 2020, adopt a single decision extending the transition period for up to one or two years

Or we leave without a deal.  There has been a huge amount of discussion about this, and we shared the Home Office guidance on mobility in our policy update on 21st December 2018. The official government website is here.  It includes things (many published on or around 21st December) including:

  • Studying in the EU after Brexit
    • The draft EU Withdrawal Agreement means that students in UK-based organisations will be able to continue to participate in Erasmus+ exchanges and placements post-exit until the end of the current Erasmus+ programme in December 2020.
    • In the event of ‘no deal’, the government underwrite guarantee already made(13 August 2016) still stands and successful Erasmus+ bids that are submitted and approved while the UK is still a Member State will continue beyond the point of exit.
  • Preparing for changes at the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit
  • Health and care system operational readiness guidance
  • Providing services as a qualified professional
    • EEA lawyers will be able to practise in England and Wales under the regulatory arrangements and rules that apply to lawyers from other third countries. However, this change will mean:
      • EEA lawyers will no longer be able to provide legal activities normally reserved to advocates, barristers or solicitor under their home state professional title in England/Wales and Northern Ireland. (Reserved activities are: the exercise of a right of audience, the conduct of litigation, reserved instrument activities (conveyancing), probate activities, notarial activities and the administration of oaths)
      • EEA lawyers will no longer be able to seek admittance to the English/Welsh or Northern Irish profession based on experience
    • Guidance for UK nationals
    • Clinical trials
    • Environmental standards
    • Workplace rights
    • Data protection
      • The EU has an established mechanism to allow the free flow of personal data to countries outside the EU, namely an adequacy decision. The European Commission has stated that if it deems the UK’s level of personal data protection essentially equivalent to that of the EU, it would make an adequacy decision allowing the transfer of personal data to the UK without restrictions. While we have made it clear we are ready to begin preliminary discussions on an adequacy assessment now, the European Commission has not yet indicated a timetable for this and have stated that the decision on adequacy cannot be taken until we are a third country.
    • More guidance here

Of course the big argument by Brexiteers is that no deal would not be so bad.

It would certainly involve “some” burden on businesses and individuals – if you look at some of the links above especially on those importing or exporting goods and services.  There have been warnings about gridlock in port towns (including Poole) with a knock on impact on services), shortages of medicines and food.  The government’s planning includes fridges and ferries.

The Week says:

  • There are many senior Leave supporters who think that no deal “would be perfectly acceptable as long as sufficient preparations have been made”, according to the BBC’s Chris Morris.
  • Backbench Brexiteers have sought to present a so-called “cliff edge” Brexit as an opportunity rather than a threat and dismissed criticism as Remainer scaremongering.
  • “It’s Project Fear mark two,” one MP told The Guardian. “Do they think we can’t see that they’re trying to alarm people?”
  • Liz Bilney, CEO of Leave.EU, argues that a no-deal Brexit should be seen as a positive. “It is at worst, benign, at best, a fabulous opportunity for a fairer, more prosperous Britain,” she claims.
  • David Davis even claims there could be advantages if the pound were to fall sharply in value following a no-deal Brexit. 
  • “[The Pound falling] is not a bad thing. The pound’s always been too high from the point of view of industry because of the effect of the City. So, our competitive position with vis-a-vis Europe would be dramatically better even if there are tariffs,” the former Brexit secretary told parliamentary magazine The House in a recent interview.

Or there is an extension to article 50 and we don’t leave in March.  Then what happens?  The current government would be attempting a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement and possibly some advance negotiation of the final trade deal based on the political declaration with a view to getting a version of the withdrawal agreement through before whatever deadline would have been agreed.  As noted above, Parliament would also have had to approve regulations to amend the exit day consistently with whatever the EU had agreed on article 50.

And what could that year or so be used for?

  • A Tory leadership election – only if the PM chooses to stand down as she is now safe from challenge for a year. She might do a David Cameron and fall on her sword if “her” deal is finally voted down in favour of an extension.   Then someone else could try and renegotiate, leading up to a rerun of the current process in 2020 perhaps after another referendum (unless the referendum result was remain).
  • A Labour minority government having another go at the negotiations? As described above, following a no confidence vote in the government, the PM could resign and Jeremy Corbyn could be invited to form a minority government.   He would then try and renegotiate and re-run the current process in 2020 perhaps after another referendum (again, unless the referendum result was remain).
  • A general election? We wrote about this in our policy update on 14th December 2018
    • Remember that the fixed term Parliament legislation requires a 2/3rds majority for an early election. It is very unlikely that Conservative MPs will vote for that unless they think they would win a strong overall majority (and look what happened last time they tried). They will be pressing for a renegotiation. But it will happen automatically if a minority government cannot be formed, or falls, after a no- confidence vote as described above.
  • Go straight to another referendum. This requires Parliamentary support.  The big question that would need to be resolved is what the question on the referendum would be, and whether it would actually need to include a set of different scenarios, transferable votes, a requirement for a super majority etc.  The problem is that many people oppose the current proposal for many different reasons, and so getting all those who don’t want a no-deal Brexit to agree on the alternative would be very difficult.  Options for a referendum question include combinations of the following:
    • The PM’s deal (with whatever changes might have been agreed in the meantime)
    • Remain on current terms (a possibility from an EU perspective, as noted above, if we just revoke article 50)
    • Leave without a deal
    • A different deal? It is hard to ask people to vote for something that is not on the table.  Canada/Norway style deals would have to be negotiated with the EU.  So to get these on the table there are some steps that would need to happen first – postpone article 50, change of leadership/government/approach, attempt to negotiate a completely different deal with the EU and THEN have a referendum.

What is really interesting about this is the discussions about choices and bias.  You’ll remember the debate about the question the first time around.  For more on this:

In a Guardian opinion piece, David Van Reybrouk proposes a “preferednum”

  • The Eurovision song contest uses a similar procedure: rather than picking out the best song, juries are invited to give points to a range of artists, so that the cumulative effect of individual voting gives a final ranking of competing candidates.
  • This procedure could be applied successfully to the UK. In the polling station people would not just receive the classical yes/no question, but a list of 30 proposals on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. They might include ideas such as: “The status of Northern Ireland and the UK should be the same, even if that implies a harder border with the Republic of Ireland”; “Only Britain should be able to regulate who enters the country”; “Migration can only be tackled if Britain works with its European partners”; “Travelling to the EU should not require a passport.” Et cetera.
  • In the run-up to the preferendum every voter would receive a brochure with the arguments for and against each proposal, as is already common practice in Switzerland. In the voting booth citizens would be invited to rate the proposals (to show how strongly they agree or disagree) and rank them (pick a top three).

Peter Kellner in Prospect Magazine in early December offered 7 options focusing less on the possible outcome and more on the question of democratic legitimacy of the process.

So while we can’t see much further than a few days into the future on this one and predictions have been hard this last year or so, here are, we think, the two most likely scenarios.  We are being massively cynical here – this is based on an assumption that no-one (remainder or leaver, left or right) actually really believes that they can do a better deal than the PM has with the EU, or wants to be the person who tries and fails.  Or enough Brexiteers believe that if there is a delay, there might ultimately be a vote for remain.

  • Politicians return from the break having been thoroughly scared by the no-deal guidance and harangued by their local businesses etc, and/or the EU come up with some weasel wording on the backstop at the 11th hour, and Parliament approves the deal.

OR

  • Chaos continues, Labour doesn’t make up its mind and the UK leaves with no deal, leading in the short-ish term to a vote of no confidence and a general election, perhaps in 2020 if no deal turns out to be as bad as people think it might be.

And the university perspective?

On 4th January, the news was that UUK, the Russell Group, GuildHE, Million plus and University Alliance had sent an open letter to all MPs.

Dame Nancy Rothwell was on Radio 4. 

Professor Janet Beer wrote in the Guardian.

  • We have just weeks for the UK government and parliament to find a way to avoid a no-deal scenario. Without this, it is no exaggeration to suggest that this would be an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take our universities and our country decades to recover.

The BBC have some of the inevitable backlash:

  • But the journalist and educationalist Toby Young, who says he backs a “clean Brexit”, dismissed the warning as “the usual ultra-Remainer hysteria”, accusing vice-chancellors of “fear-mongering”.
  • “In the event of a no-deal Brexit, I’m sure the government will use some of that £49bn windfall to compensate British universities for any short-term losses,” said Mr Young, associate editor of the Spectator magazine

And while the coverage seems to focus on research funding, Wonkhe cover the student recruitment story with data from the Russell Group:

  • On average, this data shows a 3% decrease in enrolment, which is the first time a decrease in the overall number of EU students starting courses at Russell Group universities has been reported since 2012-13, when tuition fees increased. And while it’s important to note that this is aggregate data and growth will vary between institution and level of study, it indicates a worrying downturn in appetite from the EU to study in the UK – and will be a concern for the sector.
  • When we performed this data collection exercise across Russell Group universities last year, we saw marginal growth of 1% in EU enrolment between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Before that, HESA data shows that growth in the number of first year EU students at Russell Group universities grew by 5%, 4%, 4% and 7% in each consecutive year between 2012-13 and 2016-17 (latest available data).
  • For us, what was striking about the data on enrolments this year was the decrease seen at postgraduate level: while there was a marginal increase of 1% at the undergraduate level, there was a 5% drop in the number of EU postgraduate taught students and a 9% decrease in the number of EU postgraduate research students.
  • The 9% decline in postgraduate research students enrolling at Russell Group universities this year follows a 9% drop reported by our universities in 2017-18. This means there has been a significant decrease in EU postgraduate research students enrolling on courses at Russell Group universities since the referendum.

The Independent led with the financial risk:

  • A predicted fall in EU student numbers and a potential loss of research funding due to a no-deal Brexit could hit universities’ finances.
  • It is understood some institutions could be forced to seek a government bailout to stay open.
  • …. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) think tank, said he was concerned about the financial future of the university sector because of the negative impact of Brexit, as well as a fall in the number of 18-year-olds and the government’s review into tuition fees.   
  • “A no-deal Brexit would mean even more upheaval than other forms of Brexit for the sector,” he said. Analysis for the think tank has predicted a 57 per cent drop-off in incoming EU students. 
  • … Robert Halfon, Conservative MP and chair of the Education Committee, said: “With the UK leaving the EU, there is all the more reason to ensure that our universities are fit for the future and focused on meeting the country’s skills needs. “Our committee’s report on value for money in higher education outlined how they can play a significant role in filling skills gaps and boosting productivity by promoting degree apprenticeships and improving access for disadvantaged students. “By focusing on a more skills-based future, our universities can ensure they remain among the world’s best performing institutions.”

Taking a longer view

It is easy to be dragged by current uncertainties into taking a short term view of all of this.  But assuming at some point we stop going round in circles on Brexit, what might a future deal with the EU look like for research? Whether there is a deal or  no deal by March, eventually there will have to be at least an attempt to form a future relationship of some sort on research.  We’ve gone taken the circular analogy a bit further back in time to look forward to what might happen next.

There’s an article (by a European) on Research Professional here:  [from November 2017]  In its September 2017 Future Partnership paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation, [the UK government] stated: “Given the UK’s unique relationship with European science and innovation, the UK would also like to explore forging a more ambitious and close partnership with the EU than any yet agreed between the EU and a non-EU country.”

Assuming we don’t end up in EFTA or staying in the EU, the article suggests the obvious options for the UK were either associated status or third country status.  The government of course has always said it wanted a custom deal. The article therefore suggests something different:

  • A possible solution for this dilemma was mooted by the League of European Research Universities and picked up more explicitly by Pascal Lamy’s High Level Group, which recommended in its report that international cooperation be made “a trademark of EU research and innovation”. It suggested that the EU should “open up the R&I programme to association by the best and participation by all, based on reciprocal co-funding or access to co-funding in the partner country”.
  • The official narrative is to bring strong research countries such as Canada and Australia on board for the Framework programme, but it is clear that this also opens the door for a global research power such as the UK. So instead of trying to fit the UK into one of the three categories that would give it associated access, let’s change the rules to ‘association by the best and participation by all’.
  • Obviously, this will lead to a financial contribution from the UK to the EU budget, the use of European Commission contracts, the authority of the European Court of Justice and the decision-making power of the EU 27 concerning research policy. Suggesting a kind of “association +”, whereby strong research countries from outside the EU also have a formal say in EU policy development and decision-making processes, will probably be a bridge too far for the EU 27, but it certainly could have added value in the case of the UK.
  • Anyway, last Friday’s agreement [the one that meant we moved on to the next phase of negotiations in autumn 2017, remember that…] clearly states: “the UK states that it may wish to participate in some Union budgetary programmes of the new MFF post-2020 as a non-Member State.” So we can be hopeful for FP9, although we must remain aware of two basic premises of the negations: no cherry picking and no deal on anything if no deal on everything.

So maybe there is scope for a special deal, one that isn’t just special for the UK but also for Canada and Australia and others too?

The end of the article provokes a wry smile, in the light of current news, though: Surely, UK vice-chancellors, with the explicit support of their continental colleagues, must increase the pressure in the following days, weeks and months to reach an acceptable Brexit deal by autumn 2018. After all, they are one of the few societal forces left that can speak up and guide the country in these extremely challenging times. I guess the news stories this week suggest the sector is still working on that….

That was in November 2017.  What has happened since then?

An article on RP in May 2018 said that our participation in FP9 was dead in the water

  • The UK government needs to make clear that the default position is at least associate membership of EU R&D programmes. It must then reach agreement with the EU over the size of the UK’s financial contribution and level of influence. Researchers should be lobbying strongly on these issues, on which little progress has been made since the referendum in June 2016.
  • Instead, science and universities minister Sam Gyimah has argued that the UK will not participate in the next EU Framework programme, dubbed Horizon Europe, “at any price”. According to the minister, the government’s position paper published in March simply outlines its views on how any future programme could be improved.
  • The European Parliament’s Brexit steering group believes the UK cannot be a net beneficiary from EU research funds post-Brexit, and is unwilling to give the UK a decision-making role in Horizon Europe. Coming from what is arguably the EU’s most democratically representative institution, this is bad but not irreversible news.
  • The government needs to make a move and offer something substantial to the EU in return for the UK’s participation. An attractive financial offer could still make the UK an appealing partner in Horizon Europe. However, with the Commission proposing a €20 billion budget increase compared with Horizon 2020, the UK might need to increase its contribution accordingly.
  • This would mean paying more to participate than it does at present—with no say on the programme’s direction, and no guarantee that it would see a return on its investment. Such a commitment would also have to compete with other post-Brexit spending priorities.

Of course we then had a change of Minister. Vivienne Stern of UUK International was quoted on RP in December urging the new Minister to do something about it:

  • “Deal or no deal, the UK should seek full association to [the EU’s next Framework programme for research and innovation] Horizon Europe as swiftly as possible, to end uncertainty in academic communities across Europe as well as in the UK,” said Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International. “If there is no deal, the minister will need to prioritise planning to mitigate the impact on universities, and press ministers across Europe and the European Commission to decide how they will act to preserve collaboration and student exchange.”

And the Government’s Chief Scientist also intervened (also from Research Professional in December 2018):

  • Appearing in front of a committee of MPs, Patrick Vallance said the government’s desire “is to be fully associated with the European programmes going forward, that’s obviously dependent on a deal”. …EU leaders have repeatedly stressed that a withdrawal agreement must be approved before the EU and the UK can start negotiating their future relationship—to the frustration of the former science minister Sam Gyimah, who told Research Fortnight in October that he wanted to reach a deal on research and innovation at the very beginning of the Brexit negotiations.

And then the European Parliament on 12th December 2018 agreed its position on Horizon Europe (also from Research Professional) – but this didn’t include a position on openness. See this article from 4th December 2018 which suggests it doesn’t look good or that the proposal above will be adopted:

  • The Council agreed on a “partial general approach” to the 2021-27 programme on 30 November, with “promote scientific excellence” listed first in a set of objectives for the programme.
  • Another major issue to be resolved is the budget for the massive research programme. The European Commission originally proposed a budget of €83.5 billion in 2018 prices for Horizon Europe, but the Parliament is seeking €120bn. The Council’s stance has yet to be determined by finance ministers and national leaders.
  • …The Council has also not taken a stance on the participation of non-EU countries, which it says will be part of its budget negotiations. This has added to the fears of Norwegian and Swiss researchers, who were already worried about the position adopted by the Commission on limiting access to parts of the programme, and by MEPs, who want to put greater emphasis on restrictions. Both countries can participate fully at present.
  • …Gunnar Bovim, rector of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told Research Europe that Norwegian researchers are afraid they will be shut out, and that this could fire up Eurosceptic sentiments.  “We look upon ourselves as inside that fence,” he said. “Some voices have been raised saying why do we send this money to Brussels and leave some of it there, why not just divide it in the Research Council of Norway. To me that would be a very bad decision.”
  • Swiss participation could be limited even more, as the country is not in the European Economic Area. Martin Müller, head of Switzerland’s Brussels R&D liaison office SwissCore, says he hopes politicians do not forget that his country has close economic ties with the EU.

Although there is still hope – see this from 4th December:

  • Moedas had a working lunch meeting in Brussels on 3 December with ambassadors and other representatives from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. He said on Twitter that they discussed future international cooperation in Horizon Europe, and that there was a strong commitment that the programme would be “open to the world”.
  • The European Commission has proposed a new way for countries outside the EU to join the programme as associate members, which would give more countries the opportunity to participate substantially. This would be based on them having qualities such as “a good capacity” in R&D, and policies to promote social wellbeing.
  • However, the Commission has proposed caveats, such as that the countries would have to pay in what they take out. Countries that associate via the new route are also likely be excluded from parts of the programme.
  • The European Parliament looks set to demand a further tightening of these proposed restrictions, after its research committee backed a report in November that called for association via the new route to be “based on an assessment of the benefits for the EU”.

So in conclusion, something could be done, but the UK will need to ask, and pay, and the EU will, as they have through all the negotiations so far, put their own interests first.  And it is not all about the UK.  If more openness in research programmes suits the EU, then they will agree to it, not just for the UK but more widely, but expect conditions including contribution to budgets.  Whether the UK can negotiate concessions that put it in a better position than others, or can join with other countries around the world to negotiate on these conditions for everyone’s benefit, remains to be seen.

We might expect that leaving with no deal would put us in a more difficult position for these discussions, although it shouldn’t rule anything out, especially if we end up paying the divorce bill anyway….Just on that:

We think all that suggests that we will end up paying it…if not as part of a withdrawal deal, then as part of a future deal that seeks to sort out some of the mess.  Because why would the EU not insist on that as part of a future arrangement?

You might have missed

Our update from 21st December, covering the Immigration White Paper, grade inflation, accounting for student loans and more.

Consultation on the cost of the Teacher’s Pension Scheme

Nick Gibb, the Minister of State in the Department of Education, announced in a written response on 27th December 2018 that “The Department for Education is launching a consultation in early 2019 to seek views on the impact of the changes to employer contribution costs on state-funded schools, independent schools, further education (FE) colleges and other public-funded training organisations, and universities and other Higher Education institutions (HEI) in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, including which sectors should receive additional funding from the Government. Once the consultation has closed, the Department will make an assessment on the viability of the scheme and the number of institutions participating in the scheme.”

Consultations

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

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HE policy update for the w/e 27th July 2018

Parliament is now in recess until 4 September.  But it has been a busy week nonetheless

Research

2020 Funding Guarantee – This week the Treasury confirmed that funding through EU programmes will be guaranteed by the UK Government until the end of 2020, even if Brexit results in No Deal. Previously the Government had made the guarantee until March 2019, it has now been extended. It also means that funding secured before the end of 2020 will be guaranteed for its full duration – continuing to be paid until the project runs to its scheduled completion. The Government is keen that applicants continue to bid for funding during the turbulent negotiation period and that UK organisation continue to benefit from funding post-Exit. It provides security for funding secured through the European Regional Development Funding and Horizon 2020 projects.

Elizabeth Truss, The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said:

  • “The government is continuing to work towards a deal with the EU and under the terms of the implementation period the UK will continue to participate in the programmes financed by the current EU Budget until their closure. As a consequence, the Treasury is extending the government’s guarantee of EU funding to underwrite the UK’s allocation for structural and investment fund projects under this EU Budget period to 2020. The Treasury is also guaranteeing funding in event of a no deal for UK organisations which bid directly to the European Commission so that they can continue competing for, and securing, funding until the end of 2020. This ensures that UK organisations, such as charities, businesses and universities, will continue to receive funding over a project’s lifetime if they successfully bid into EU-funded programmes before December 2020. In addition to this guarantee, the government will establish a UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The fund will tackle inequalities between communities by raising productivity, especially in those parts of our country whose economies are furthest behind. A departmental Minute providing full details of the liabilities associated with this announcement has been laid in the House of Commons.”

 Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

  • “We continue to make positive steps towards getting the best possible deal with the EU – one that works for the whole of the UK. The guarantee we are making today however means that, even in the unlikely event of a no-deal, our businesses, universities and local authorities can be confident that they will continue to receive the funding they successfully bid for from any EU programme.”

For those with a keen interest the official statistics detailed the UK’s participation in Horizon 2020 are available here. Commenting on the statistics Layla Moran (Lib Dem Education Spokesperson) said:

  • “As these figures show, UK universities have benefited from Horizon 2020 funding to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds – helping to keep them at the forefront of innovation and research, and rated among the best in the world.”

REF 2021

The draft guidance and criteria detailing the arrangements for REF 2021 have been released for consultation with the sector. The consultation can be viewed here. The press release on the consultation states:

  • The four UK funding bodies want to ensure that equality and diversity continue to be supported within the REF and are embedded throughout the exercise. The arrangements for taking account of the effect of staff circumstances on productivity during the assessment period are a key part of ensuring this, and views are invited through the consultation on the proposals set out in the Guidance on submissions. The proposals seek to address concerns raised during the 2016 consultation and the detailed development of measures about how staff circumstances can best be recognised in the new submission process.

BU will be responding to the consultation.

Refreshed research relationship with India – Sam Gyimah co-chaired the Science and Innovation Council meeting in India which resulted in new funding and closer working for nuclear and health, and renewed an agreement on environmental challenges, arts and humanities. The Council was originally formed to strengthen Britain and India’s science, technology and innovation relationship. This year’s meeting focussed on the rapid growth of the UK and India’s joint research portfolio and recognised the strength of the bilateral relationship – India as the fastest growing research power and the UK as a major, high-quality research power. The bilateral research collaboration has seen exponential growth from £1 million in 2008 to £400 million by 2021.

Indian Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Harsh Vardhan said: Technology Cooperation is the key to the future. India and the UK should work on sustainable, affordable, and low energy consumption technologies.

Sam Gyimah said:

  • The UK believes in the power of research and development to tackle global challenges and improve people’s lives for the better. India is the fastest rising research and innovation power in the world, and so I’m excited by the huge potential for enhanced collaboration as we support high-quality, high-impact research that changes lives.

Brexit White Paper

The Brexit White Paper Legislating for the Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union was published. The White Paper confirms that the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will:

  • be the primary means by which the rights of EU citizens will be protected in UK law;
  • legislate for the time-limited implementation period; and
  • create a financial authority to manage the specific payments to be made under the financial settlement, with appropriate Parliamentary oversight

There are specific mentions to trialling immigration for staff and students, recognising professional qualifications, and Horizon Europe.

2A: Rights related to residence (p 12)

  1. Further to the Statement of Intent on the EU Settlement Scheme published on 21 June 2018, the Home Office laid before Parliament on 20 July 2018 the Immigration Rules 34 for a private beta phase, involving the EU citizen employees and students, who choose to take part, of 12 NHS Trusts and three Universities in the North West of England. This will enable the Home Office to test the relevant processes for the Scheme before it is rolled out on a phased basis from later this year. The Scheme will allow individuals to gain immigration status in UK law. This status will not affect in any way the rights of EU citizens and their family members under the free movement directive which will continue to apply during the implementation period. Other aspects of the agreement will be delivered through administration and do not require legislation, such as the commitment for forms to be “short, simple, [and] user friendly”35 which will be implemented through the Home Office’s streamlined digital application process for the EU Settlement Scheme.

2C: Mutual recognition of professional qualifications (p 13)

  1. As set out in the Government’s recent White Paper on the future relationship, the UK has proposed that, after the implementation period, there should be a system for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, enabling professionals to provide services across the UK and the EU. This system would be broad in scope, covering the same range of professions as the Mutual Recognition of Qualifications Directive. These arrangements will be provided for, as necessary, in separate legislation. The recognition of professional qualifications is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, except where the regulation of the profession is reserved to Westminster. As set out above, the UK Government is committed to working closely with the devolved administrations on these matters.

4A: The scope of the financial settlement (p 29)

  1. The financial settlement does not cover any costs that might be associated with the UK’s future relationship with the EU, as these will be part of our future relationship. For example, as the recent White Paper on the future relationship set out, there are some specific European programmes in which the UK may want to participate, such as Horizon Europe. If so, and this will be for the UK to decide, it is reasonable that an appropriate contribution should be made. These decisions are subject to negotiations on our future relationship with the EU, and future decisions of Parliament.

 Participation in the European Union annual budgets in 2019 and 2020 (pp. 31)

  1. Under the financial settlement, the UK will contribute to the EU’s budget in 2019 and 2020, which covers the implementation period following the UK’s withdrawal. The UK will also benefit from the implementation of the budget as if it had remained a Member State over this period.101 This means that the UK will continue to draw advantages from the normal management of projects and programmes funded through the current Multiannual Financial Framework until their closure, whether they are managed by the UK Government (such as the European Regional Development Fund) or directly allocated to beneficiaries from EU institutions (such as Horizon 2020).

Unconditional Offers

With exam results looming unconditional offers hit the press, leading to an inevitable link to standards – and hence to grade inflation. There is a lot to think about, moreover will this year’s admissions cycle bring the whole system into question?

Mary Curnock Cook has written a blog on HEPI suggesting that VCs should agree not to use them (is that an anti-competitive arrangement, which the CMA might have something to say about?)

And Nick Hillman has written a blog pointing out a number of things that commentators often miss when discussing this. highlights below

  • The autonomy of universities over whom to admit is enshrined in primary legislation. ..This means the room for action on restricting unconditional offers is strictly limited without a change to the law. …
  • Moving to a system of post-qualification admissions, as exists in other countries, may have some advantages. I…. But, unless post-qualification admissions were to be accompanied by a minimum entry standard, it wouldn’t automatically tackle the issue of higher education institutions letting people in with lower grades …
  • …one important driver is the falling birthrate 18 years ago…So of course institutions need to fight harder to recruit entrants. The tide will turn again, but not until the early 2020s onwards.
  • There are different sorts of unconditional offers. Some do have strings attached…
  • If, when the exam results roll in, an applicant feels they have accepted an unconditional place a little too rashly or has simply changed their mind, they can ask the institution that has given them an unconditional offer to release them
  • …if unconditional offers counter some of the negatives arising from our hyper-selective university entrance system by delivering more diverse student bodies, they can’t be all bad.

Our personal view @policyBU, for what it is worth, is that this is a bit of a storm in a teacup.

  • It is strange that HE is set up as a market but then participants are criticised for competing – unless they are doing so unfairly. There is no criticism of scholarships, which also have potential to distort choices – I realise that they are incentives to do well at A level instead of incentives (perhaps) to “take the foot off the gas” but even so, they are potentially using fear of student debt to encourage students to make choices in a very similar way?
  • It is also odd to insist that students are consumers who need to make educated choices and then pounce on one particular option because students can’t be trusted to make the right decision. We trust students, in our current system, to pick 5 institutions from many, choose amongst thousands of courses, make complex tactical decisions about which offers to accept so that they have a realistic firm and insurance choice (not easy if most institutions offer at your predicted grades), and then for many, navigate clearing, making tough decisions with little information under great pressure.  So all of that, and then we say that they can’t be trusted to know that an unconditional offer is a marketing tool and factor that into their decisions.  My tiny local focus group of 17-19 year olds said “we’re not stupid!”
  • What are we worried about?
    • Bad choices – remember they picked the institution that gave them the offer as one of their top 5. And as Nick Hillman says, they don’t have to go through with it.
    • Drop in A-level grades – well maybe, for some. My tiny focus group said “A levels are hard.  Taking the pressure off is a good thing”.  I think we need evidence that this affects not just A-levels but drop-out rates, degree outcomes and employment outcomes before we decide how much this really matters.  (And if we’re being really cynical, how much of this argument is driven by schools focussing on A level outcomes for their own league tables?)
    • Sacrificing standards? Really?  An UO made on the basis of predicted grades, even if they go on to get less good A level results as a result, doesn’t reduce university standards.  The students have the same potential as they always had to do well at university.  That seems to be an argument against contextual offers and UOs for reasons related to WP and wellbeing – which is a whole different argument (and not a good one).
    • What did my tiny focus group think was the main problem? “It’s a bit annoying when people have one and you don’t.  Especially if they go on about how they don’t need to work.  But they are the annoying people anyway.  It’s the parents who get stressed about it, because they think it’s not fair.”.  So there.

The UCAS report on unconditional offers says:

Of the 58,385 students receiving at least one unconditional offer, the UCAS report says that “42,100 unconditional offers selected as firm in 2018, with a further 9,185 selected as insurance” – so assuming that students will only accept one unconditional offer, that means that 88% of students who receive at least one unconditional offer accept an unconditional offer as either firm or insurance – around 20% of all applicants.  That suggests that it is working for universities – and that there is unlikely to be reduction in the number of such offers.   Interestingly, it was also noted at ULT last week that there is a rise across the sector in the number of first applicants through clearing – so students who don’t apply in the usual cycle but wait until they have their grades.  There were also reports last year of an increase in the number of students trading up in clearing when they did better than expected.  So looking at all these factors together, there may be some truth in the suggestion that the current system is showing cracks and may not be sustainable in the long term.

The unconditional offers story is often linked to perceptions of falling standards, as you’ll see below: “bums on seats”, “sacrificing standards in a bid to attract students” and so on.  Reform have retweeted their recent report “A degree of uncertainty” today.  We wrote about this in a policy update on 22nd June.

Wonkhe have an article here:

  • “The Department for Education’s “further information” on the ministerial quote says that: “The increase in unconditional offers runs the risk of admitting students who will not benefit from the courses. This rise risks students making the wrong decision for their futures, and is irresponsible of universities.” It could be true, but do we have the evidence? This is a case of anecdote driving policy without a full exploration of whether the problem is a significant one, or what the solutions might be.”

The BBC has the story:

  • How have universities responded?  Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “While there has been a steady growth in the number of unconditional offers made, they still account for a small proportion (7.1%) of all offers made by universities.  Unconditional offers, when used appropriately, can help students and ensure that universities are able to respond flexibly to the range of applicants seeking places. Universities UK will continue to work with Ucas to monitor trends and any impact unconditional offer-making might have on student attainment. It is simply not in the interests of universities to take students without the potential to succeed.”
  • What does the government say?  Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said: “The rise in unconditional offers is completely irresponsible to students, and universities must start taking a lead, by limiting the number they offer.  Places at universities should only be offered to those who will benefit from them, and giving out unconditional offers just to put ‘bums on seats’ undermines the credibility of the university system. Along with the Office for Students, I am closely monitoring the number being issued and fully expect the regulator to take appropriate action. Unconditional offers risk distracting students from the final year of their schooling, and swaying their decisions does them a disservice – universities must act in the interest of students, not in filling spaces.”
  • The University and College Union said unconditional offers made a mockery of exams and put students “under enormous pressure to make snap decisions about their future”.
  • UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “The proliferation of unconditional offers is detrimental to the interests of students and it is time the UK joined the rest of the world in basing university offers on actual achievements instead of on guesswork.  Unconditional offers can also encourage talented students to take their foot off the gas, instead of striving for excellence.”  [UCU published a paper on this recently – see the policy update on 22nd June – but it was very light on the impact on student outcomes]
  • The Association of School and College Leaders urged universities to stop the practice of unconditional offers.

The BBC story goes on

  • UCAS says they have, traditionally, been offered to: mature students who have already achieved their qualifications to meet entry criteria, those applying for creative arts courses, after submitting a portfolio, or following a successful interview or audition. Artistic flair is likely to be viewed as a better indication of potential than traditional grades, reduce the stress some students may feel during the high-pressure exam period, supporting students with mental health difficulties, as one of the many different approaches universities use to attract and retain interest from students in a competitive marketplace.

This last one is the problem – seen by many – including the Minister, it seems – as a sinister way of eroding choice and protecting university finances to the detriment of students.  But of course, as pointed out in the Wonkhe blog – that’s how a market works:

  • [Ouch]: “Rather than cry foul at every new report, and every data release in the sector, the minister should think about why we’re here. And, if he doesn’t like the symptoms, spend more time looking at the causes. The marketisation of higher education has driven the growth in unconditional offers (among other less-than-ideal results): if you don’t like the consequences, offer something different. As for OfS, it could be a more effective regulator if it weren’t buffeted by the latest whim of a minister in search of a headline.”

The argument takes several forms all highlighted above:

  • it’s anti-competitive and leads to poor choices AND falling standards in universities (headlined in the Telegraph and the Independent).
  • the system is broken and we should make offers after grades are known  e.g. the Guardian headline
  • it damages student outcomes because they don’t try as hard at A level (all of the above)

The Daily Mail says: “Experts have previously said the rise is due to oversupply of university places following the lifting of the numbers cap. It means universities are in strong competition with each other, leading admissions tutors to use unconditional offers to snap up as many students as possible.”

Also the Sutton Trust have reposted their report from last year on admissions and access (Rules of the Game).  The Sutton Trust report doesn’t mention unconditional offers, but summary says:

  • In addition, students must make their course choices based on predicted rather than actual A-level exam grades. Evidence shows that the majority of grades are over-predicted, which could encourage students to make more aspirational choices. However, high attaining disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their richer counterparts. This could result in them applying to universities which are less selective than their credentials would permit.
  • Almost 3,000 disadvantaged, high-achieving students – or 1,000 per year – have their grades under-predicted. Additionally, low attaining disadvantaged students are more likely to be matched to courses with similar students, while low attaining but advantaged students are far more likely to be overmatched: to attend courses with higher ability peers.

Apart from A level results, could it have an impact on longer term student outcomes (such as employment)?  Does it in fact affect WP students disproportionately – either because they are predicted lower grades and so don’t get unconditional offers, or because they take a “safe” unconditional option rather than the one that is best for them (I’m trying to avoid the implication that a lower tariff university is a less good one, because that’s another minefield, as we’ve already explored elsewhere, but it is what we think the minister probably means when he talks about wrong decisions).  For more context on this see our policy update on 6th July, on part-time and mature students.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, responded to the criticism of unconditional offer making by stating:

  • While there has been a steady growth in the number of unconditional offers made, they still account for a small proportion (7.1%) of all offers made by universities.
  •  Such offers can be made in a number of circumstances, including offers to applicants who already have qualifications. And to applicants with extensive practical and relevant experience for courses such as music or journalism. They can also be awarded where evidence suggests applicants are clearly on track to exceed the required entry grades, and to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds with the potential to do well at university with additional support.
  • “Unconditional offers, when used appropriately, can help students and ensure that universities are able to respond flexibly to the range of applicants seeking places. Universities UK will continue to work with UCAS to monitor trends and any impact unconditional offer-making might have on student attainment. It is simply not in the interests of universities to take students without the potential to succeed.”

NSS

From DODS.  The Office for Students have published the National Student Survey 2018 results finding that overall satisfaction is 83 per cent in comparison with 84 per cent last year. Eight per cent were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their higher education experience and the remaining eight per cent were dissatisfied. The Survey captures the views of over 320,000 students and is conducted by the OfS and UK higher education funding bodies.

70 per cent of eligible students from 413 universities and colleges across the UK took time to give their feedback on their experience. The results will also be published on the Unistats website in August 2018, providing valuable evidence to inform potential students’ choices about where and what to study.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘While we have seen overall satisfaction fall by one percent, many questions have maintained their satisfaction levels including the student voice, academic support, learning resources and assessment and feedback questions.
  • ‘We run the NSS to help ensure that students’ voices are heard and understood – so that universities and colleges can work to give all students a positive experience of higher education. The NSS is a highly credible and long-established survey which continually achieves a very high response rate. The results are an invaluable tool for universities and colleges to improve students’ experience of higher education.
  • ‘While I am pleased to see the overall satisfaction rate remains high, the data shows that there is more work to be done to ensure all students have a high quality and fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.
  • ‘We will ensure the survey remains a valid and useful resource and review the changes providers are making in response to the survey’s findings.’

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said:

  • ‘The student voice is the most important voice, and the National Student Survey is a vital tool that provides an invaluable insight into the student experience.
  • ‘It is brilliant to see continually high satisfaction rates but we need to keep improving. That is why I want to see universities and colleges using this data to enhance and develop their offer for those choosing to study there.’

National Student Survey results 2018 (Web)

Mental Health / Occupational Therapy

Q – Luciana Berger: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, pursuant to the Answer of 3 July 2018 to Question 158740, on Students: Occupational Therapy, what plans he has to include occupational therapists in the (a) development and (b) introduction of a University Mental Health Charter.

A – Sam Gyimah: The University Mental Health Charter announced on 28 June 2018 will encourage universities to demonstrate a level of excellence in supporting students’ mental health. This will be an important feature of an institution’s offer to prospective students and their families.

The Charter is being driven by Student Minds and will start to go live in 2019/20. Development, led by the sector, will begin this year and will include consultation with institutional leaders and staff from across their organisations, mental health practitioners (including occupational therapists), students’ unions and students.

Student Loans

The House of Commons Library published a briefing overviewing the sale of the student loan book. It gives background to the sale and discusses the impact of the sale on borrowers and whether value for money was achieved by the sale. Some excerpts from the briefing:

  • The first loans which were introduced in 1990 were known as ‘mortgage –style’ loans, these loans were superseded in September 1998 by income-contingent loans. The entire mortgage-style loan book has been sold off to private investors as a result of three separate sales which took place between 1998 and 2013.
  • In December 2013 the Government announced its intention to sell off some of the English income-contingent loan book. Subsequently George Osborne said that the removal of the cap on student numbers in 2015 would be funded by the sale of more student debt to private companies. In the event the expected sale did not occur due to the market conditions at the time and the policy stalled. However, a sale remained Government policy and was referred to in the Autumn Statement 2014, the Budget 2015 and in the March 2016 Budget.
  • Finally in February 2017 it was announced that a sale would go ahead and the first sale of income contingent loans was completed in December 2017. The sale covered loans issued by English local authorities that entered repayment between 2002 and 2006. The sale achieved £1.7 billion from 1.2 million loans with a face value of £3.5 billion held by over 400,000 borrowers. This represented a write off of 51 per cent of the face value of the loans. The briefing goes on to describe issues around the sale concerning the value for money of sales and the impact on borrowers.

Lords Debates

The House of Lords also debated fees this week when the Government’s HE spokesperson, Viscount Younger of Leckie, made a motion to approve the Fee Limit regulations. That the “maximum fees for students undertaking undergraduate courses in the 2019-20 academic year would remain at 2018-19 levels for the second year running, saving students up to £255.” The regulations would ensure the Office for Students had the powers to set maximum fee limits for home students studying at providers in England that are subject to a fee limit condition in 2019-20; while also allowing the Government to implement the new regulatory framework under HERA in full.

Viscount Younger also explained the regulations also amended the Fee Limit Condition Regulations so students already holding an equivalent or higher-level qualification undertaking pre-registration, nursing, midwifery and other healthcare courses will be defined as qualifying persons and benefit from maximum fee limits.

The Opposition’s Education spokesperson, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, called for separate regulations to be brought in. He said the system was “unfair and inefficient” and highlighted the Public Accounts Committee’s criticism that the student loan system was “economically unsustainable and damaging to social mobility”. Lord Watson also questioned whether a Government initiative could reversal of the decline in part-time and distance learning.

In response Viscount Younger raised the Tertiary Fees and Funding Review, assuring “an overarching principle, that the system gives everyone a genuine choice between high-quality technical, vocational and academic routes“.  He said there was a need to ensure value for taxpayers and students and a focus on student experience. He noted the review would conclude early in 2019 and the Government’s response to the review would follow.

The full text of the fees debate is available here.

The Lords also debated the Transparency Duty. The Duty requires HEIs to publish data on application, offer, acceptance, completion and attainment rates of students broken down by ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic background. Viscount Younger announced that the Office for Students would be launching a formal consultation and holding events in August and September in respect of additional data it might request on applicants and students with additional protected characteristics, such as disability and age. These findings would be published in early 2019.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Lib Dem) questioned the minister how much resource it would take universities to supply the information required as there had been no impact assessment conducted. On widening participation she asked if the Government would use “UCAS’s multiple equality measure, which records the multifaceted nature of educational disadvantage.”

Lord Lucas (Con) expressed his dissatisfaction with current WP practice describing a “decade of bad practice” in how universities spent money. In full he said:

  • My Lords, I very much welcome these regulations. For a long time since the introduction of the higher-level fees, there has been a large expenditure by universities on trying to widen access, but to my mind it has been carried out in a most disappointing manner. Universities are mostly research institutions that understand how research works, but a lot of these expenditures have not been accompanied by evaluation, by publication of what does and does not work or by any sharing of expertise between institutions so that this common enterprise can work better.
  • I hope that there are some but I have not seen any examples of universities working with other elements of government or the third sector to try to tackle the underlying problems. A lot of these problems are deep…the principal reason that some of these communities do not send many people to university is not down to what the universities do or do not do; it is down to the problems inherent in those communities. The best way for universities to tackle this problem is by working with other agencies active in those communities to try to achieve something wider and more co-ordinated. I would love to see more examples of that.
  • I really hope that my noble friend can assure me that this decade of bad practice is coming to an end, that we will be able to see exactly how universities are spending this money, that the Government, through the OfS, will expect publication of evaluation, that they will expect collaboration, and that they will expect a sector-wide drive towards better performance with a lot of the collaboration that that requires. I think that everybody is aiming in the same direction in terms of what we want to achieve, and it is very unsatisfactory that such huge expenditures are not being used efficiently and effectively.

Lord Adonis (Lab) said the publication of data would not improve assess itself but was a tool to that end, he raised concern on the role of the OfS in facilitating the establishment of procedures to publish data and not concentrate on changing the culture at universities.

Viscount Younger of Leckie responded to points raised in the debate and stressed that there needed to be transparency at vice-chancellor and senior leadership level and universities should offer value for money to students.

Recess

As Parliament is in recess until 4 September your policy update may change frequency. We’ll bring you a summary of the news once it reaches a critical mass.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • Purpose, remit and scope of Advance HE
  • Arts & Humanities Research Council – strategic delivery plan
  • Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into Balance and effectiveness of research and innovation spending
  • REF 2021 guidance and criteria consultation
  • Cyber security
  • Forensic Science

Other news

  • DfE: The DfE published their annual report for 2017-18. The infographics provide a neat summary of changes from the wider early years to HE sector.
  • Schools funding: A parliamentary question noted that Institute of Fiscal Studies research showed an 8% fall in per pupil school funding since 2009-10. The Government’s spokesperson responded: The IFS have confirmed that per-pupil funding for pupils up to 16 will be more than 50% higher in 2020 than in 2000.
  • Stats: HESA released their Experimental Statistics: UK Performance Indicators 2016/17 detailing participation, non-continuation, DSA and employment rates. It includes data from Alternative Providers.
  • Careers Offer in Schools: A report from the Careers and Enterprise Company, Closing the Gap, notes patchy engagement with industry.
  • IP: Lord Smith of Finsbury has been appointed as the new Chair of IPReg the Intellectual Property Regulation Board from 7 September.  The Government also promoted their IP liaison officers this week who provide help and advice for those reaching out to South East Asia, China, Brazil and India.
  • Which?: Anabel Hoult appointed as Chief Executive from 1st October.
  • STEM: Sam Gyimah responded to a parliamentary question on STEM and ICT HE course uptake since 2012. He said total acceptances to STEM subjects for UK 18 and 19 year olds had increased by 24% between 2012 and 2017 -an increase of 14% for all subjects over the same period.

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

 

HE Policy update for the w/e 13th July 2018

You can’t have missed this

Dominic Raab has been appointed as the new Brexit Secretary. Previously he was the Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) now holds the Housing role). Dominic’s political interests are civil liberties, human rights, industrial relations, and the economy. Alongside Dominic Chris Heaton-Harris MP (Daventry) has been appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Boris Johnson resigned as Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Monday (Politics Home covered his resignation). Local MP Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) has resigned his position as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Boris Johnson at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Boris is replaced by Jeremy Hunt.

As the reshuffle ripples outwards Matt Hancock (previously digital) has been appointed as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, with Jeremy Wright QC appointed as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Geoffrey Cox QC MP (Torridge and West Devon) has been appointed as Attorney General.

Dame Martina Milburn has been confirmed as the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission. She is expected to set out her priorities and strategy for improving the impact of the Commission and championing social justice shortly. Her remit states she should avoid duplicating the work of other organisations and think tanks. The Dame is known to support vocational education and apprenticeships.

Brexit – There has been no escaping Brexit this week with the high profile resignations and the Brexit white paper. UUK International’s response to the white paper to focus on research:

  • “It is encouraging to see that the importance of attracting world class researchers and international students has been acknowledged. We also welcome the UK’s proposed participation in Horizon Europe and the next Erasmus programme, which will benefit EU member states as well as the UK.
  • We urge the government and the EU to engage and reach agreement on these matters as quickly as possible to provide the certainty that university students and staff need on opportunities to study abroad and collaborate in research.” (Vivienne Stern, UUK International)

MillionPlus weren’t quite so magnanimous:

  • The labour mobility proposals in the White Paper indicate a clearer direction of travel from the government but reference to researcher mobility with the EU as ‘temporary’ and without any supporting detail will not reassure many. Maintaining the UK’s world class strengths in science and research will require a comprehensive and ongoing agreement concerning the mobility of academic and research staff. Other key concerns have gone unanswered in the White Paper, such as reciprocal agreement on university fees for EU students post-Brexit. This is a matter that should be a priority for the government, not an also-ran issue.
  • With so much time already lost, it will be challenging for agreement to be reached on the final shape of Brexit in time for the European Council in October. Any delay beyond this would be deeply problematic and expose the UK to a greater risk of ‘crashing out’ of the EU in March 2019. Such an eventuality could bring hugely damaging consequences for UK universities, their staff and students.”                                                                                                             (Greg Walker, MillionPlus)

The Creative Industries Federation stated:

  • “…we need to see stronger commitments on participation in Creative Europe and broadcasting, and more details on intellectual property, the definition of “major events” for the temporary movement of goods, the mobility framework and future immigration rules. It is one thing to permit people to come to the UK, but it is quite another to ensure they are valued and able to contribute to our creative industries.”

There was also an immigration parliamentary question focussed on the Creative Industries this week:

Q – Dr Lisa Cameron: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will take steps as part of the negotiations for the UK leaving the EU to seek the creation of a visa system between the UK and EU countries to meet the needs of the creative sector.

A – Caroline Nokes:

  • The Government is considering a range of options for the future immigration system. We will build a comprehensive picture of the needs and interests of all parts of the UK, including different sectors, businesses and communities, and look to develop a system that works for all. We will make decisions on the future immigration system based on evidence and engagement. That is why we have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the economic and social impacts of the UK’s exit from the EU. When building the new system, various aspects including the creative sector will be taken into account, to ensure the future immigration system works for sectors. We will set out proposals later this year.

This week’s Brexit/Research parliamentary question is:

Q – Tom Brake: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether UK (a) companies and (b) institutions will be able to participate in EU research and development projects after 2020.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • As part of our future partnership with the EU, the UK will look to establish an ambitious future agreement on science and innovation that ensures the valuable research links between us continue to grow.
  • The UK would like to participate in EU research and development projects after 2020 and would like the option to fully associate to the excellence-based European research and innovation programmes, including Horizon Europe (the successor to Horizon 2020) and Euratom Research and Training.

Such an association would involve an appropriate UK financial contribution linked to a suitable level of influence in line with the contribution and benefits the UK brings. The UK looks forward to discussing the detail of any future UK participation with the European Commission.

The Government also published their response to the Science and Technology Committee’s second report into Brexit, Science and Innovation this week.

Admissions

UCAS published their analysis of the national picture of full-time undergraduate applications made by end June 2018 (2018 cycle entrants). Key points:

  • In England, a record 38.1% of the 18 year old population have applied (0.2% up on this point in 2017). This is despite a 2.3% drop in total number of 18 year olds in England.
  • In Northern Ireland and Scotland the applications have dropped slights and Wales is also up by 0.2% against this point in 2017.
  • However, across all ages, there are now 511,460 UK applicants, a 3% decline on this point in 2017. Overall applicants are down across all of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In England there were 421,610 applicants (a decrease of 4%).
  • The number of EU applicants has risen 2% to 50,130.
  • There are a record number of students from outside the EU – 75,380 students applied to study (an increase of 6%).
  • Overall, 636,960 people applied in the current application cycle – a 2% decrease from 2017.
  • Nursing applications continue to drop – there were 48,170 applicants (9% down on last year). The picture for England only is worse – 35,260 applicants – 12% drop against 2017.

It’s likely that nursing applications have fallen so far because of the double whammy of reducing numbers of mature students accessing HE and the removal of the NHS bursary. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has noted that applications to nursing courses have dropped by one third in the two year since the bursary has been removed. They go on to note

  • the independent NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) warned this workforce gap could persist until 2027 unless immediate action is taken, jeopardising patient care for much of the next decade. In the official report to Government last month, the PRB told ministers the removal of the nursing bursary had resulted in a marked drop in applications.

The news on the poor recruitment is a blow for NHS England’s nurse recruitment campaign (launched last week).  The RCN have stated:

  • “We urgently need financial incentives to attract more students into the profession, and nursing students must be encouraged and supported. Our health and social care system is crying out for more nurses and recruitment should be the number one priority for the new Health Secretary.”

Research Integrity

The Science and Technology Committee continue their inquiry into research integrity and published their latest report this week (follow this link  to access a more readable pdf version of the report). The inquiry aims to investigate trends and developments in fraud, misconduct and mistakes in research and the publication of research results.  The recent report looks at problems arising from errors, questionable practices, fraud in research, and what can be done to ensure that problems are handled appropriately. Findings include:

  • Despite a commitment in the 2012 Concordat to Support Research Integrity, a quarter of universities are not producing an annual report on research integrity.
  • This lack of consistent transparency in reporting data on the number of misconduct investigations, and inconsistency in the way the information is recorded, means it is difficult to calculate the scale of research misconduct in the UK.
  • While compliance with Concordat is technically a prerequisite for receiving research and higher education council funding, non-compliance has not led to any funding actions against institutions.
  • There has been a lack of co-ordinated leadership in implementing the Concordat’s recommendations in universities.

The Committee issued this press release: Quarter of universities not reporting on potential malpractice

Norman Lamb, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said:

  • “Research can help tackle some of the world’s great challenges including as disease, climate change and global inequality. The UK is a world leader in research, and our universities are at the forefront of the many of the world’s great scientific breakthroughs. The importance of public confidence in research can’t be overstated.
  • While most universities publish an annual report on research integrity, six years from signing a Concordat which recommends doing so it is not yet consistent across the sector. It’s not a good look for the research community to be dragging its heels on this, particularly given research fraud can quite literally become a matter of life and death.
  • We need an approach to transparency which recognises that error, poor uses of statistics and even fraud are possible in any human endeavour, and a clear demonstration that universities look for problems and tackle them when they arise.”

Plagiarism

A parliamentary question on plagiarism this week:

Q – Tonia Antoniazzi: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to tackle (a) contract cheating services and (b) essay mills in Universities.

And: whether his Department is undertaking a review to establish the extent to which the practices of companies offering (a) essay writing and (b) other cheat services to students in the UK are illegal.

And: if he will bring forward legislative proposals to make it illegal for third party companies to provide exam answers to students.

A – Sam Gyimah: [Same answer to all of Tonia’s questions]

  • Cheating is unacceptable – it undermines the reputation of the sector, and devalues the hard work of those succeeding on their own merit.
  • I welcome the swift action YouTube took to remove videos containing adverts promoting the EduBirdie essay-writing service, in response to recent the BBC Trending investigation on academic cheating, in which I made it very clear that YouTube had a moral responsibility to take action.
  • We are currently focusing on non-legislative options, but remain open to the future need for legislation, and will investigate all options available. We should only legislate where it is absolutely necessary. The government’s preferred approach is to tackle this issue through a sector-led initiative, which is why the department has worked with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), Universities UK (UUK) and the National Union of Students to publish guidance last October for all UK Universities on how best to tackle contract cheating.
  • Time is needed to fully evaluate the effectiveness of the new guidance and this is underway. The QAA is running a series of seminars to evaluate how the sector is using the guidance.
  • Universities themselves are already taking action, and it is right that they should do so, as it is their own reputations and that of the higher education sector that are on the line. UUK played a key role in developing the new guidance.
  • In England, through the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, we have brought forward legislation that gives the new Office for Students (OfS) the power to take action if providers are complicit, which including imposing fines or ultimately de-registration of providers, the highest possible punishment.
  • My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s first ever strategic guidance letter to the OfS made it clear that it is a priority for the OfS to work with the QAA to improve and ensure confidence in the quality and standards of higher education. The OfS has an obligation to report to the Secretary of State, and the department will monitor progress closely.

Contextual Admissions

The Fair Education Alliance (FEA) released Putting fairness in context: using data to widen access to higher education which summarises the full research that they commissioned from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Social Mobility. The FEA state the report

  • seeks to shine a light on how contextual data is used in practice at highly selective universities, and to make recommendations on how to ensure that institutions have access to and use contextual data in ways that will make access to higher education in the UK fairer.

The FEA go on to state:

  • While [contextual admissions] has become more accepted, it is applied in a wealth of ways across HEIs and it is often unclear (particularly for applicants) exactly which practices are undertaken. We believe this is impeding the spread of good practice, and is creating an unacceptable position for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds whereby it is likely they will be considered a ‘contextual’ applicant at some HEIs, and not at others, and will have no way of knowing which universities will take their background into account.

The report goes on to explore how to improve the use of contextualised admissions, the role of data within admissions and current practices.

For a quick read the FEA’s press release covers the main points and background to the report.

Chris Millward (Office for Students Director of Fair Access and Participation) spoke at the launch of the report to urge universities to be more ambitious and extend their contextual admissions practice.  He stated:

  • “We are a long way from equality of opportunity in relation to access to higher education. So in the coming years, I will be expecting universities and colleges to set more ambitious targets in their access and participation plans to narrow the gaps. This will include measures to increase the pool of applicants with the high levels of attainment needed to enter many universities. But if we wait the years this will take to achieve, we will fail the next generation of students.
  • An ambitious approach to contextual admissions must be central to our strategy if we are going to make progress on access at the scale and pace necessary to meet the expectations of government, students and the wider public. A level grades can only be considered to be a robust measure of potential if they are considered alongside the context in which they are achieved.
  • I do not believe that the inequality of access we see currently can reflect a lack of potential, and promoting equality of opportunity must be concerned with unlocking potential for students from all backgrounds.”

Research Professional wrote:

  • Millward will no doubt understand from the experience of his predecessor Les Ebdon that the real power of a regulator lies in the threat to use the sanctions at its disposal, rather than actually implementing them. It will be interesting to see if the new regime at the OfS is prepared to make an example of a university on this topic. Higher education institutions cannot say they have not been warned.

Further media coverage courtesy of Wonkhe:

Researchers’ use of personal data

It’s fines for Facebook and the publication of the Information Commissioner’s report into the Cambridge Analytica scandal (Investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns). One of the report recommendations is

  • that Universities UK work with all universities to consider the risks arising from use of personal data by academics in a university research capacity and where they work with their own private companies or other third parties.

Universities UK have confirmed they will undertake this review of how researchers use personal data, collaborating with the Information Commissioner. Research Professional state:

  • Only yesterday…we urged universities to get ahead of the curve on public perceptions of research integrity. Whoops! Too late. Now every university in the country will be subject to a review brought as a result of a single high-profile case in which it would seem there was insufficient oversight. This is not just any old higher education front-page story—we have become blasé about those. This is a story that involves the vote to leave the European Union and the election of the 45th president of the United States. It makes vice-chancellors’ salaries look like chickenfeed.

Research Professional continue:

  • The commission seems to feel that if this can happen in Cambridge then it can happen anywhere. The report is cutting: “What is clear is that there is room for improvement in how higher education institutions overall handle data in the context of academic research and whilst well-established structures exist in relation to the ethical issues that arise from research, similar structures do not appear to exist in relation to data protection.”

Brain Drain

Last week a study by Grant Thornton UK regions struggling to retain young talent – considered the brain drain student retention crisis across the UK. It found that certain regions struggle to retain their best and brightest young graduates and illustrated a regional divide on whether university students stay or leave the area after graduating. Unsurprisingly London doesn’t struggle to retain its graduates – 69% want to stay and work in London after graduating – more than twice the number of any other region. Next best performing was Scotland (32%) and the North West (28%).

The study also found disparity between the regions when it comes to whether young people choose to go to university close to home or further afield. Again London performed well – 57% chose to stay in London to go to university. The South West had the lowest result of the whole country. Less than one in four young people elected to go to university in the region. While the number of young people from the South West  choosing to move to London was more than double most of the other UK regions.

The research also explored what matters most to students when it comes to choosing where they want to live and work post-graduation. It wasn’t career opportunities or higher pay but having a good work-life balance that was considered the biggest motivator (48% of respondents) – mirroring the trend that’s already being seen across the Millennial and Generation Z workforce. This was followed closely by being somewhere with family and friends nearby (47%).

Time spent travelling (43%), housing affordability (43%), career development (42%) and job availability (42%) also ranked highly, while housing availability (7%), being able to start or grow a business (8%) and, surprisingly, living in a diverse place (13%) or one with a sense of community (14%) were rated as the least important factors.

Students were asked what businesses could do to encourage them to stay in or move to London after graduation, rather than to somewhere in the UK, or abroad. They responded:

  • Financial support – whether to pay for housing, daily essentials or to pay off student loans –ranked highly.
  • ‘Softer’ benefits and support was considered important.
  • Leisure benefits such as gym memberships or tickets to cultural events were seen as worthy contributions from businesses to young talent.
  • The ability to work flexibly also ranked highly, with nearly a quarter of those surveyed believing this would influence their decision about where to live and work.

Grant Thornton stated:

  • “There’s…a clear role for higher education institutions to play in tackling this problem. Universities around the country need to be proactive in fostering stronger links with local businesses and creating a viable and attractive pathway for departing students to enter the local economy. This is especially important with tuition fees being where they are and universities needing to add as much value as possible for students.”

Parliamentary Questions

Scholarships & WP

Q – Jim Shannon: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with representatives of universities on ensuring that (a) scholarships are made available and (b) those scholarships are all taken up; and if he will make a statement.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Providers of higher education are autonomous institutions, and whether to offer scholarships is a matter for each individual provider to decide.
  • Where providers use scholarships and other forms of financial support to help widen access, we have said in our guidance to the Office for Students (OfS), that we expect such financial support to be backed up by evidence that shows the investment is proportionate to the contribution it is expected to make towards widening access. Any provider wishing to charge higher fees has to have an access and participation plan agreed with the OfS, setting out the measures and expenditure it intends to make to widen the access and success of disadvantaged students in higher education.

Gender Pay Gap

Q – Dan Carden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate his Department has made of the gender pay gap in the higher education sector.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The data on the gender pay gap in the higher education sector can be found here. The Higher Education Funding Council for England, which preceded the OfS, commissioned a project that aims to equalise the gender balance and ethnic diversity of higher education governing bodies. This work will include establishing an online exchange to recruit board members. [Response edited, view longer response here]

Please note Parliament updated this response from Sam Gyimah to correct inaccuracies.

T-Levels

Q – Ben Bradley: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of technical education provision for secondary school pupils.

A – Anne Milton:

  • There are currently thousands of technical qualifications available to students at post-16, but some are not of sufficiently high quality. This makes technical qualification options confusing for both students and employers and is why we are introducing new T Levels. Alongside reformed apprenticeships, T Levels will give students a genuine, high quality alternative to A levels. They will give students the skills they need to secure a good job, as well as the knowledge and behaviours that employers value. We are making excellent progress with their development, and recently announced the selected providers who will deliver the first three T Level programmes from September 2020.
  • Students at key stage 4 in any type of school are able to take up to three Technical Awards alongside GCSEs that will count towards their school’s Progress 8 and Attainment 8 scores. Technical Awards focus on the applied study of a particular sector or occupational group, and include the acquisition of associate practical or technical skills where appropriate. Each Technical Award is equivalent to a GCSE in robustness and challenge.

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.

Other news

  • Alternative providers: The HE leavers statistics from alternative providers from 2016/17 has been published by HESA here.
  • Prevent: 97% of HE have satisfied the OfS on the Prevent duty in 2016/17 (news article here).
  • Engaging parents: King College London have published a report on how universities should work with parents to increase access to university. The report finds 95% of parents are concerned about their children attending university because of debt, living costs, support available to the child and employment prospects.

Subscribe!

To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 20th October 2017

OfS Regulation – Free Speech, Compulsory TEF, Student empowerment

The long awaited (and very long) consultation on the role and functions of the Office for Students was published this week. In fact there are several separate consultations (Wonkhe have helpfully grouped them all on one web page):

  • the regulatory framework
  • registration fees
  • Degree awarding powers and university title
  • One about selection of designated quality assessment body for the OfS– QAA is the only candidate
  • One about selection of a designated data body for the OfS – HESA is the only candidate

The consultations are open until 22nd December and BU will be reviewing them and preparing responses – please let policy@bournemouth.ac.uk know if you would like to be involved.

There is a huge amount of detail and a lot of areas for discussion here, but interestingly the Minister and the press chose to focus on freedom of speech yesterday. The Times published an interview with Jo Johnson discussing the proposal that measures to protect freedom of speech should be a condition of OfS registration. The Guardian notes proposed powers for the OfS to fine or suspend the registration of universities that fail to protect the freedom of speech on campus, including student unions that ‘no platform’ controversial speakers. There has been a lot of commentary on this – not least that students’ unions are independent organisations. It is really interesting to note that in the summary of the consultation prepared for students by the Department for Education, freedom of speech is not mentioned.

  • Johnson: “Our young people and students need to accept the legitimacy of healthy, vigorous debate in which people can disagree with one another. That’s how ideas get tested, prejudices exposed and society advances. Universities mustn’t be places in which free speech is stifled.”
  • Sir Michael Barber OfS Chair: “Ensuring freedom of speech and learning how to disagree with diverse opinions and differing views of the world is a fundamental aspect of learning at university. The OfS will promote it vigorously.”

The relevant bit of the consultation starts on page 32 –

  • This consultation includes such a public interest principle, which states that the governing body of an institution must take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured within its institution. This public interest principle will form part of the public interest governance condition…”
  • “The OfS will use ‘indicative behaviours’ to assess compliance with the principles; these are set out in the Guidance on registration conditions. With regard to free speech, for example, one behaviour that would indicate compliance would be to have a freedom of speech code of practice. This should set out the procedures which members, students and employees should follow in relation to meetings or activities, and the conduct which is expected of those individuals. Some of the best examples set out clearly what does and does not constitute reasonable grounds for refusal of a speaker, and the disciplinary actions which would follow a breach of the code of practice. A behaviour that might indicate non-compliance would be where a provider fails to abide by its own freedom of speech procedures”.

There has of course been something of a media/social media storm, with rage from both ends of the political spectrum about those with different views allegedly seeking to stifle or prevent free speech, big disagreements on the role of trigger warnings, safe spaces and “no platforming”, and a number of voices pointing out that universities are already subject to legal obligations on both free speech and the Prevent duty and this is all a bit over-played.

But apart from this issue, the consultation has much broader scope. It sets out the broad objectives for the OfS:

  1. all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education
  2. all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
  3. that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure
  4. that all students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money

The OfS will seek to mitigate the risk that each of these four objectives is not met and:

  • “As it does so, the OfS will also seek to mitigate risk that the sector does not deliver value for money for taxpayers and citizens (who are directly involved through the allocation of public grant funding, research funding by UKRI, and the public subsidy to the student finance system). It will also do so while recognising the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are less likely to access, succeed in, and progress successfully from higher education, even once their entrance characteristics are taken into account.
  • The OfS will also work with UKRI to ensure that the reciprocal risk around the sustainability of providers which contribute to the vibrancy of the research base is monitored and mitigated appropriately. The flow of information between the two organisations will be crucial to achieving this.”

The many other areas covered in detail include

  • Making TEF compulsory for all HEIs with >500 students
  • Publishing justification of high senior staff salaries
  • Transparency about student transfer (between courses)
  • Empowering students through clearer student contracts

We will look at some areas in more detail in the following weeks.

The impact of universities

Meanwhile, Universities UK (UUK) published a report on the Economic Impact of Universities in 2014-15. Some highlights:

  • In total, the economic activity of universities, the international students they attract and their visitors, supported more than 940,000 jobs in the UK in 2014-15.
  • In 2014-15, universities themselves employed 404,000 people, or 1.3 percent of all UK employment
  • UK universities, together with their international students and visitors, generated £95 billion of gross output in the economy in 2014-15.
  • The gross value added contribution of universities’ own operations to GDP, at £21.5 billion in 2014-15, is larger than that made by a number of sizable industries.
  • UK universities, together with their international students and visitors, supported £14.1 billion in tax receipts for the Exchequer in 2014-15.
  • In total, universities in the UK earned £13.1 billion in export receipts in 2014-15.

Student Loans and Value for Money

The Treasury Committee launched an inquiry scrutinising recent changes to the student loan system. This week evidence was received from Dr Helen Carasso (Oxford) and Andrew McGettigan (freelance author and lecturer). Key points:

  • Experts disagree exactly how much raising the repayment threshold will cost the taxpayer. The system is complex and not even understandable to highly-qualified experts
  • The notion that the written off loans will cost to the taxpayer the same amount with the post-92 as the previous £3,000 fees is publically unpopular
  • The post-92 higher fees is believed to have created more teaching resources within the system
  • McGettigan claimed that higher interest rates for students still studying were purely designed to deal with the rarer issue of rich students taking out loans and investing them elsewhere
  • Varying price for tuition fees by programme is nonsensical – students would be discouraged from choosing courses which were priced lower as it has a status implication (McGettigan).
  • The system has created a series of disincentives for universities to charge anything other than the highest fee (Carasso).
  • Carasso stated an overt graduate tax would be a better accounting method than student loans although it would feel like a penalty. McGettigan expanded suggesting it may destabilise recruitment and retention and potentially encourage drop out or emigration
  • On the sale of the loan book McGettigan stated the old mortgage-style loans had already been sold at a profit, but under the new system the sale of loans would not affect public sector net debt, that any price would be lower than fair value and amount to a loss for the government.
  • Re: marketization of HE Carasso stated it was very difficult for an applicant to make a fully-informed decision (in relation to price and net cost).
  • How should the repayment system best be reformed:
    • McGettigan – the main problem is the large graduate debt. A lower starting debt would mean interest rates would not apply in the same way,
    • Carasso – if the system is too complex to understand that’s a problem. Fees are probably too high, and why is there not an employer contribution mechanism?

Meanwhile the Economic Affairs Select Committee is examining if students get value for money (HE, FE and technical education) through oral evidence sessions. Follow it here

Widening Participation

50% of students are First in Family – This week the Telegraph drew on UCAS data to report that half of students who started a degree last year were first in family to attend HE. However, the article is disparaging as many of these students attended ‘low’ or ‘mid-ranking’ universities and few studied the ‘top’ subjects (listed as medicine, maths and science). The article went on to raise the current headline grabbing debate over fees and value for money and stated: “critics said last night that the figures showed that too many students were attending low-performing universities which charge “outrageous” fees but fail to improve social mobility.”

Whole-institution approach to WP – This week OFFA called for universities to create a step change and accelerate social mobility goals by adopting a whole-institution approach to widening participation, embedding fair access at all levels of the organisation, across all areas of work, and senior management. To accompany the call OFFA released the commissioned report: Understanding a whole institution approach to WP

Les Ebdon (Director, OFFA) stated: “Excellent progress has been made in widening access to higher education for the most disadvantaged young people. But for too long, this progress has only been incremental. We now need to see transformational change.

“Adopting a genuine whole institution approach – where access is a key priority at every level – is the biggest thing a university or college could do to make change happen. This research offers a vital opportunity to make the further, faster progress we badly need to see.

International academics

Q – Stephen Gethins (SNP): With reference to the Government’s policy paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation: A Future Partnership Paper, published on 6 September 2017, whether it is her policy to extend visa entitlement to the spouses and dependents of EU academics who can work in the UK after the UK has left the EU.

And

Q – Stephen Gethins (SNP): With reference to the Government’s policy paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation: Future Partnership Paper, published on 6 September 2017, what representations she has received from universities and national academies on the potential effect of changes to freedom of movement on the UK’s ability to attract and retain high quality researchers.

A: Brandon Lewis (Con): The Government recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and we welcome those with the skills and expertise to make our country better still. But we must manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest.

We have been clear that after the UK leaves the EU, free movement will end, but migration between the UK and the EU will continue and we are considering a number of options as to how this might work. We will be setting out initial proposals for our future immigration arrangements later in the year.

The Government recognises that it is important that we understand the impacts on the different sectors of the economy and the labour market and want to ensure that decisions on the long-term system are based on evidence. On July 2017, we commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to advise on the economic and social impacts of the UK’s exit from the European Union and also on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy… The Government will carefully consider any recommendations made to it by the MAC before finalising the details of the future immigration system for EU nationals.

The Government also regularly engages with sectoral bodies – including those in the scientific and academic sectors ¬- to ensure our immigration routes work effectively to enable businesses to access the talent they need. Their views do, and will continue to, inform our decisions on any changes to the system.

Consultations & Inquiries

The Policy team compiles details of the key HE and niche research consultations and select committee inquiries on the consultation tracker. BU responses to HE consultations are managed by Sarah and Jane.

Let us know you’re interested! We invite colleagues across BU to provide response input, however, if there is a consultation in your area of expertise don’t wait for an invite – contact us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk – we’d love to hear from you so we can access all the pockets of expertise across BU. Take a look at the consultation tracker to find out if there is a current inquiry related to your role.

New consultations and inquiries:

  • 5 Higher Education and Research Act consultations
  • International students – social and economic impact (link)
  • Science budget and the Industrial Strategy (link)
  • Intellectual Property
  • Decarbonisation in HE sector
  • Enabling Gypsies, Roma and Travellers
  • Regulation of Nursing Associates in England

(See the consultation tracker for links to all these new consultations and inquiries.)

To view the responses BU has submitted to recent consultations and inquiries across all topics click here.

Other news

Teaching excellence: The University Alliance has published Technical and professional excellence: Perspective on learning and teaching.

TEF Gold: HEPI have released Going for Gold: Lessons from the TEF provider submissions. The report breaks down the influential aspects of the provider submissions which the author suggests may have swayed the panel’s final award decisions. While the report is based on opinion it offers suggestions to providers and Government on how to improve the qualitative aspect of the TEF submission. Spoiler alert: BU features frequently within the document.

Alternative Providers: The National Audit Office has published their Follow-up on alternative HE providers. The report notes several area of progress:

  • Non-continuation rates reduced from 38% to 25% (although still 15% higher than the mainstream HE sector) with DfE action taken against 11 alternative providers where dropout rates are unacceptably high. More regular and reliable monitoring data has been called for.
  • Reduction in paying student loans to ineligible students from 4% to 0.5%
  • DfE have strengthened their oversight framework and are acting on third party reports of non-compliance or under-performance.
  • Positive reports of widening access within disadvantaged or under-represented groups of students

However, early data implies graduates from alternative provider’s progress to further study or employment at a lower rate and lower entry salary than graduates from mainstream HE institutions.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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