Tagged / LEO

HE policy update for the w/e 1st March 2019

It’s a big week for TEF and new guidance is out on access and participation.  No real news on the post-18 review but it’s apparently coming “in the Spring”.  Policy watchers will remember that these terms are flexible in government circles – optimists enjoying the recent sunshine and the daffodils will think Spring is upon us but officially we’re still in Winter (and all the snow last year was in March)– and Spring could mean June….when Brexit may still be a big distraction….

With that in mind, we’ve saved Brexit for the end – and it’s only a short comment.

Independent Review of the TEF

1st March was the deadline for the call for evidence for the Independent Review of the TEF.  BU submitted a response which you can read here.

The UUK submission was widely covered in the press, mostly because they were very critical of subject level TEF. Their press release says: In this report, UUK – representing 136 university members – states that overall the TEF is having a tangible effect on the sector, but there is still some way to go to improve the system. In particular, UUK calls on the government to reconsider plans for subject-level assessment following the challenges arising from pilots in 89 universities, and to look again at its value for students, universities and taxpayers.  In it, UUK concludes:

  • The TEF is having an impact on the sector, in teaching and learning strategies and the monitoring of outcome measures.
  • It is however hard to gather conclusive evidence of its contribution to teaching and learning experience and outcomes.
  • Its definition of excellence is weighted heavily towards employment outcomes, without full consideration of a student’s overall study experience and the wider benefits of teaching and learning for students and society.
  • Awareness of the TEF is still low among students while gradual and piecemeal changes have made it complicated for them to understand or to use it most effectively.
  • New governance arrangements should be made to ensure the government, the Office for Students, students and providers have a clear stake in strategic decision-making.
  • A year into piloting subject-level assessment, there is considerable doubt over whether this will drive real value for students, while it is adding significant complexity and cost which could divert resource from other student-focused areas.

UUK believes that plans for subject-level TEF should not proceed until the limitations of the methodology, its resource impact, and the actual value of its contribution to student decision-making, have been fully considered.

Estimates from UUK put the cost of taking part in year two of the TEF at £4 million for participating universities, a figure which would increase significantly with a full roll out of subject-level assessment. UUK is calling for further consideration to be given to whether the aims of subject-level assessment could be met through existing or alternative information sources such as Unistats, university websites and league tables. Further work into this area should also look at the risks of the subject-level TEF; including concerns around the quality of the data and metrics, and their ability to support students in important and complex decisions.

William Hammonds of UUK writes about the UUK response on Wonkhe here:

the focus should be on ensuring institutional TEF makes a positive contribution to teaching, learning and student decision-making before significantly increasing the complexity of the exercise. Our concerns are:

  • Subject-level assessment will be large, complex and costly and won’t produce reliable judgements.
  • It won’t support good quality teaching and learning and instead will encourage universities to chase rankings.
  • It won’t help student decision-making, only adding to the volume of information already out there.

David Morris, formerly of Wonkhe and now of the University of Greenwich, writes on Wonkhe about how to rescue the TEF and make it worthwhile

  •  Part of the government’s problem in persuading the sector, students, and wider public of the need for TEF has been its insistence that it is about enabling better student choice. This is clearly complete tosh, and is being borne out by early data we have on students’ general unawareness and indifference about an institution’s TEF rating.
  • Long-time readers of Wonkhe may well remember that the real genesis of TEF (and indeed the entire new regulatory regime) came as much from government officials’ belief that universities were held insufficiently accountable for teaching quality under the old quality assurance regime, particular compared to research, as much as it came from any Tory ideologues’ insistence of creating a market for student choice.…Greater honesty about TEF’s role in asserting the public as well as student interest in university accountability would also better reflect what we have finally acknowledged about higher education funding: ultimately, the taxpayer is footing most of the bill. Acknowledging this fact, as well as the wider limits of marketisation, could lead to an accountability exercise with greater scope for nuance, recognition of diversity, and more conducive towards actually making teaching and learning better.

He defends benchmarking (which we agree with – although we have concerns about forced differentiation)

  • But we shouldn’t overlook the instances where TEF has pointed us in the direction of a more progressive and fairer assessment of the state of the UK university sector. This is most notable in the instance of benchmarking TEF metrics, by far the biggest leap forward in assessing UK universities’ quality of student experience upon their actual merits rather than irrelevant and archaic qualities such as ancientness, research power, or international prestige. Benchmarking is what distinguishes TEF from the traditional media league tables, by acknowledging that different institutions’ student characteristics give them a different starting point from which to be evaluated.
  • I really hope that the Pearce Review does not abandon this approach. If TEF abandons benchmarking and moves in a more qualitative direction, the spectre of the early-nineties teaching quality assessments might begin to emerge, with judgements on the quality of teaching being made almost concurrently with perceptions of prestige and research quality. This would be a huge step backwards.

And urges the review to drop LEO (something we also agree with – it is interesting but the data can’t tell you anything about current courses, if it can tell you anything about courses at all….what it tells you about is the economic and employment situation of students who graduated a number of years ago, which may or may not have much to do with their university studies…)

  • Regular readers of Wonkhe will know that I am far from a LEO cynic. Indeed, I am really enthused about the power that richer data about graduate employment outcomes for better policy making in higher and further education and about the youth labour-market efforts to make society more just.
  • But beyond ideological objections (which are well documented elsewhere), on a practical level, TEF is not the right place for the DfE to play with its sparkly new toy. The piloted inclusion of two new supplementary LEO metrics in TEF appears to have produced bizarre results. Upon brief examination of the national data, the spread of outcomes once benchmarked across providers appears to be very narrow, with few providers securing either a positive or a negative flag. Under the current flagging system, if a new TEF metric does not show a sufficient spread of performance, it is hard for me to see how it will aid panel decision making or provide much value.
  • Then there is the lag effect of LEO’s inclusion in TEF. If TEF 2020-21 goes ahead as planned, it will include assessment of the graduate employment and salary outcomes of students who entered university in 2008 (i.e. my own fresher year). It will also assess those graduates’ employment outcomes in the 2014-15 tax year. This seems nonsensical, both in fairly assessing institutional performance, and in providing information to applicants.

Post-18 review

After we trailed the Augar report it didn’t come out – and we aren’t now sure when it will.  The PM answered a question about it in PMQs this week – “Philip Augar and his panel are working on the report and we will look seriously at the proposals they bring forward”.

The House of Commons library has published a research briefing on the post-18 education and funding review. The covering note:

  • says that the review is due to report I the Spring 2019 – so presumably that is still the plan.
  • confirms that the Review recommendations will be consistent with the Government’s fiscal policies to reduce the deficit
  • says that the recommendations will not place a cap on the number of students who can access post-18 education.
  • This briefing paper discusses the Review process and gives an outline of the post 18 funding system in England.
  • It includes helpful links to some of the mission group and other influential responses to the original call for evidence – ours is here
  • It suggests possible options for reform that the Review may propose, such as the lowering of higher education tuition fees and analyses the impact of these proposals in detail, including looking at the Treasury Committee and House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee reports, which we have reviewed in this update previously.
  • It includes a summary of impact

The BBC have published this story suggesting the reasons for the delay are Brexit plus a disagreement about the outcomes of the review – which may have pushed it back to the drawing board…

  • But it seems increasingly likely that the all-consuming politics and economic uncertainty of Brexit have pushed back the review.
  • There are also claims of significant differences in what 10 Downing Street, the Treasury and the Department for Education want from the shake-up of fees. According to sources, a headline cut in fees is seen as important for the prime minister’s office – described as being the “retail offer” needed to respond to Labour in a general election.
  • The Treasury does not want to commit to extra direct funding while there is such uncertainty about future public finances. But at the same time, the Department for Education is reluctant to go ahead with a cut in students’ fees until it is clear how that income could be replaced.
  • The debate is said to be “stuck on the roundabout” – and even when the Augar review publishes its findings, there could be delays before the government responds with any decision.
  • This might not be until the autumn or later – in a political calendar full of uncertainties about budgets, elections and leaders.
  • However, other senior university figures say the prime minister might want to push ahead with changing fees as soon as Brexit has been achieved, as a way of showing the government still has a grip on domestic policy.
  • There are also arguments that when the review is so strongly linked to Theresa May, any change at the top could see it disappearing into the long grass. Charles Heymann, a higher education consultant who formerly worked at the DfE, says: “It wouldn’t be the first education review to end up gathering dust on Whitehall shelves.”

In the meantime, the lobbying continues.  Shakira Martin, the NUS president, wrote for Wonkhe.

  • I’m still adamant that maintenance grants need to return, so we support working class students and put an end to the obscene situation whereby they graduate with the highest student loan debts. The Diamond Review in Wales shows this can be done in a way that really ensures the poorest students are properly supported, and we know that the Augar has looked at the findings of Diamond in detail. On top of that, just about every voice in the sector, including UUK, the Russell Group and Million Plus argues they should return, so I remain hopeful.
  • We also need to provide better funding for those on part-time or distance learning courses, or otherwise support flexible learning – this should include targeted support like childcare funding for part-time students and travel grants for commuters. The decision to scrap NHS bursaries for nurses, midwives and other healthcare professions needs revisited as it has clearly failed those students and the health service.
  • There are lots of other changes we have suggested that would make a huge difference to students such as monthly student support payments monthly to help students budget or increasing the threshold for maximum support from £25,000 for the first time in over a decade. And all this is not even to start on adult learning – student support is inadequate in HE – but at least it exists. We need to radically improve the offer for those in FE and I think the Augar panel will recognise that too.

And HEPI have a blog by Andy Nicol, Managing Director at QS Enrolment Solution about a student survey about the perspectives of prospective students:

  • This year’s survey (of 1,700 respondents, mostly aged 16-18) sought to unpack what they believe to be the appropriate balance between their individual investment in their degree and that of the state.”
  • 39% of respondents say that the debt they will take on makes them less likely to apply to university than they otherwise would. It is perhaps not surprising then that overwhelmingly (88%) survey respondents believe that Government should be funding at least half of the teaching cost of an undergraduate degree. These prospective students also said that their tuition fees being spent on student accommodation, course facilities, careers support and links to employers would represent a return on their investment.
  • HEPI’s own research last year found that 74% of students want more information on where their fees go. According to university accounts, the research also found that typically only around 45% of each student’s fee goes on the direct costs of teaching – such as staff salaries. The majority of the remainder is also spent on areas that benefit students. After teaching, the next biggest cost is buildings. Then come other high priorities like information technology, student support services (such as counselling and careers advice), widening participation activities and the students’ union. 
  • … Now is the time for Government to work more closely with universities to ensure it communicates how potential new funding arrangements will represent value for money. With political, economic and demographic challenges facing the sector, it is more important than ever that institutions understand how to engage better with potential recruits. That’s why as part of this report we have published an Action Plan for Domestic Student Recruitment in 2019to help universities and Government do just that.

Widening participation

The OfS published guidance for institutions to produce their new Access and Participation plans for 2020/21. Key points include:

  • The removal of the guideline percentage of how much of the higher fee income an institution should spend on widening participation, success and progression activities.
  • The OfS has stated institutions can expect increased scrutiny, rigour and challenge on their plans, in part to kickstart the stagnation of social mobility. Including consideration of whether institutions are at risk of breaching their conditions of registration with the OfS.
  • Focussed, evidenced, analysis of an institution’s current performance will link with the institution’s strategic aims and priorities for rectifying inequalities in access, student performance and attainment, and progression. The OfS will assess the feasibility of an institution’s aims and the appropriateness and challenge within the chosen targets.
  • All targets should be outcomes based, rather than measuring outputs.
  • A greater focus and breakdown on ‘investment’ (spend) is required for access measures. This fits with current Government rhetoric on ensuring widening access spend is effective and focussed towards the most efficient and successful outcomes (supported by robust evidence of impact).
  • Evaluation, impact and research of widening participation interventions remains important.
  • All providers are expected to use the POLAR measure (number of young local population that progress to HE) to provide a level of consistency and comparability. A national Access and Participation dataset is also expected to be published shortly.

The OfS has also set itself national key performance measures which address the inequalities they are most concerned about – the gaps that remain the most challenging to tackle and affect large student groups. In order to meet these measures all institutions are expected to have a target which contributes towards improving outcomes in these KPI areas.

  1. ENTRY GAP – Eliminate the gap in participation at higher-tariff providers between the most and least represented (POLAR) groups, from a ratio of 5:1 to a ratio of 3:1 by 2024-25.
  2. DROP OUT GAP – Reduce the gap in non-continuation between the most and least represented groups (POLAR) – eliminating the unexplained gap by 2024-25, and eliminating the absolute gap (the gap caused by both structural and unexplained factors) by 2030-31.
  3. ATTAINMENT GAP – Reduce the gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between white students and black students, eliminating the unexplained gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between white students and black students by 2024-25, and eliminate the absolute gap by 2030-31.
  4. ATTAINMENT GAP -Reduce the gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between disabled students and non-disabled students by 2024-25.

The OfS acknowledges that other non-KPI measures remain important too – addressing the decline in the number of mature students in higher education and access, success and progression for care leavers.

Sarah attended a parliamentary reception this week at which Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, emphasised the scrutiny and rigour with which the OfS will be examining the new plans, pushing for ambitious (but realistic) progress, and setting out a commitment to tackle underperformance early on. At the reception there was much discussion of the US universities’ Princeton model of admissions with Chris Millward calling for more English universities to step away from grade based entry and make far more use of contextual admissions, including assessing the personal qualities of grit and resilience which he felt were sure indicators of graduate success within disadvantaged students. Chris confirmed that the OfS’ powers didn’t extend to direct interference in an institution’s admission policy and that the Access and Participation targets would be one of their key methods to push the sector to solve the disadvantage gaps.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, gave his first speech on access and participation on the day the guidance was launched. He spoke during a tour of Nottingham Trent University and praise the institution for its work in advancing social mobility. He announced that Nottingham Trent, alongside Kings College London and the Behavioural Insights Team  have been awarded the OfS contact for the WP Evidence and Impact Exchange. The Minister said: I want to use this occasion today to outline my own five-part vision for the access and participation agenda – to help set a strategic direction for the sector and support the OfS in holding providers to account on these vitally important issues.

  • His speech acknowledged the importance of the removal of the student number caps, spoke about the narrowing of the gap with more disadvantaged young student applying to university, whilst acknowledging: All this is good news and a welcome move away from the days when going to university was just for the fortunate few. Yet, we all know that behind the positive headlines lies a much more complex picture of inequality and progress is not as rapid as it should be. And that takes me on to the first point in my plan – namely that we now need a more nuanced approach to ‘access’ and a greater recognition of the true access gaps. Major themes I want to see the sector and the OfS addressing are geographic disparities and widening access for specific groups, including White working-class as well as Black and minority ethnic students.
  • Sam Gyimah, the previous Universities Minister, wanted disadvantaged young people to aspire to and enter the highest tariff institutions. Chris continues this challenge to the high tariff institutions to become more accessible and think beyond entry grades whilst acknowledging that high tariff doesn’t necessarily mean best: I also want to reverse the trend of students from currently under-represented groups being less likely to apply to high-tariff universities. In 2018, 17% of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7% of them enrolled at high-tariff providers. Now, I’m not saying that high-tariff institutions are necessarily the best option for everyone. Plenty of excellent lower-tariff providers offer students a first-rate education with exceptional graduate outcomes, and are the right choice for many. But what worries me is that some people may not be considering high-tariff providers even when they could clearly benefit from them – showing how prior social and educational experiences can all impact on an individual’s life choices. I am genuinely saddened when I hear people hesitating about applying to one of our world-leading providers because they simply don’t believe that going to a university like that is really for people like them… The UK is blessed to have a diverse, multi-cultural society, and it is simply not right that, despite displaying obvious talent, some people still feel a ‘top’ university education is out of reach for them… This is why I also welcome the fact the Duchess of Sussex recently added public prominence to this issue when expressing shock that too few professors in the UK are from diverse backgrounds. She is right – as she herself said, “change is long overdue”, and if we want our student communities to reflect our wider population, then we have to start thinking seriously about the role models and examples we are setting them.
  • Chris spoke about the Secretary of State for Education’s guidance letter to the OfS setting out the Government’s expectations. They called for greater and faster progress in access and participation, including at the most selective providers, as well as for key target groups, including disabled students and care leavers. He also spoke of the Race Disparity Audit initiative when he called for the OfS to hold universities to account for attainment disparities through their Access and Participation plans and, if necessary, to use its powers to challenge any provider failing to support equality of opportunity.
  • Chris was stern on the effective use of WP monies, particularly making better use of evidence to inform spend:  £860 million [the combined planned spend by universities on WP in 2018/19] is not an insignificant sum and, so, I believe it is essential that this money is used well, and that any future spending is underpinned by clear evidence and evaluation. Although some providers already do this, for too long the sector as a whole has been too slow in using evidence to inform its approaches and to understand what really works.
  • He also wants to see more collaboration across the sector: Despite numerous providers undertaking excellent work in the access and participation space, by and large, the sector has been too piecemeal in its approach and too many providers have got used to doing their own thing. I will be the first to admit that this may well be a logical consequence of policy development – with an emphasis on market-style activity, a lack of data-sharing, and too little infrastructure to encourage collaboration. But now is the time for this to change.
  • Finally, he turned to the importance of data and consistent, reliable measures to track progress in tackling disadvantage. When it comes to data, I know there is a saying that ‘what gets measured, gets managed’…higher education providers have focused less on the outcomes of their disadvantaged students than they should…Differing approaches have not helped. The key measure to drive widening participation in higher education has traditionally been POLAR…The POLAR system has many strengths, and the insight it has provided has helped lead to genuine progress in opening up access to university. Yet, it is also known that POLAR doesn’t always overlap well with other measures of disadvantage – such as eligibility for free school meals…the principal measure used in schools and forms the main basis for extra support and funding. He spoke of UCAS’ work to find new and better predictors of disadvantage in higher education that take account of much more than just where someone grew up. It’s also why I welcome the OfS’s commitment in its access and participation strategy to work with providers to look not just at POLAR, but other aspects of disadvantage to ensure this work can really transform the life chances of young people.
  • He also welcomed the Transparency Duty which requires institutions to publish data on the application, offer, acceptance, completion and attainment rates of students, divided by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background: And on this, I further welcome the OfS’s requirement that providers set out their ambitions for improving access and participation for up to five years and report annually – something which I hope will keep everyone’s eye on the ball and prevent us from becoming complacent. He also spoke about the newly announced formation of a Data Advisory Committee stating it would help me ensure we are not only using the right data to shape the access and participation agenda, but are using it in the right way. I therefore look forward to working with the OfS, this Committee and the wider sector to find ways to refine and advance the data we use.
  • Interestingly he also mentions the (delayed) Augar Review and attempts to reassure the sector as a counterpoint to the leaked snippets and speculation of disastrous cuts for HE within the past press: I know many in the sector have been critical about what could emerge from the Review’s recommendations and its potential impacts on access and participation activities. Let me reassure you today that progressing access and successful participation remains a top focus for this government and it will be a key lens for me and others in government as we decide how to take the Review forward. My key outcome for the Review is that we create a truly joined-up system, which is even better at promoting social mobility and countering childhood disadvantage. I also encourage us to view the post-18 Review as an opportunity to think again about how we view disadvantage, to ensure we are putting our energy and investment where it is most needed. Reading between the lines I’m not sure this is quite as reassuring as Chris intended!

Disadvantage starts early – Universities Minister Chris Skidmore is a believer that disadvantage starts at birth and has committed to working with Nadhim Zahawi (Minister for Children and Families) to tackle disadvantage. He has announced they will be working together to improve support for care leavers throughout the whole education system, noting that only 6% of care leaver attend universities and are the most likely student group to drop out. He urged the OfS to do all they could to support care leavers. Nadhim also announced an additional 1,000 health visitors will be trained to support children’s early language and communication needs this week. Noting that children who start school with poor vocabulary are twice as likely to be unemployed as an adult. The health visitors will detect early signs of speech and language delay and take early action when it can have the most benefit.

Level 4-5 Qualifications Review Outcomes

The DfE have published a research report on the Level 4-5 Qualifications Review. Key points:

  • L4-5 qualifications support a diverse mix of students. The qualifications are undertaken by a slightly higher proportion of ethnic minority and male students than other HE and FE programmes, and there is also a relatively high proportion of older learners and learners with disabilities
  • Nearly all FE colleges (97%) and most HEIs (88%) provide L4-5 qualifications. Nearly 200 private and adult community learning providers deliver L4-5 providers, which includes 48 alternative providers in HE that are not FE colleges.
  • The L4-5 market is diverse. There were 3,368 different L4-5 qualifications that were available to learners in 2016/17, of which 2,633 were developed by HEIs and delivered by FE and HE providers.
  • The size of the L4-5 market is relatively small, compared to HEIs and FE providers’ overall offer. There were 111,420 learners that studied an accredited L4-5 qualification in 2016/17, which comprises only 2% of all vocational qualifications awarded. In HE, there were 75,632 learners that undertook L4-5 qualifications in 2016/17, which accounted for 3% of all HE learners.
  • L4-5 programmes not delivered through apprenticeships are most commonly taken for subjects in health, public services and care (composing 23% of all L4-5 learners); business administration and law (17%); and Engineering and manufacturing technologies (12%).
  • Just under 40% of learners on HE-accredited L4-5 programmes progressed to full-time employment and 26% progressed to full-time further learning. This reflects the dual aims of L4-5 qualifications. The proportion of learners that progress to employment does, however, vary significantly by subject area and qualification type

Recommendations:

  • Support the promotion to providers and learners of L4-5 qualifications that provide direct entry to the labour market, by being actual or de facto licences to practise. Awareness of these qualifications can be low among learners, which reduces take-up.
  • Incentivising HEIs to recognise L4-5 qualifications as providing exemptions from the first or the first and second year of a degree programme and encouraging joint working with HEIs and AOs to harmonise content with degrees and L4-5 provision.
  • Stimulating FE providers and HEIs to expand their L5 provision, as this appears to be provided less comprehensively than L4, despite having higher learner take-up.

Apprenticeships

The DfE have published Apprenticeship and Levy Statistics for February 2019

  • As at 31 January 2019, 122,700 commitments had been recorded for the 2018/19 academic year (114,000 fully agreed and 8,700 pending approval). This compares to 98,000 commitments recorded for the 2017/18 academic year at the equivalent point last year
  • Of the 122,700 commitments recorded so far for 2018/19, 60,800 commitments were for apprentices aged 25 and over. 38,200 commitments were intermediate apprenticeships, and 52,000 were advanced apprenticeships.
  • In 2017/18, there were 48,150 higher level (level 4+) apprenticeship starts, compared to just 3,700 in 2011/12.
    • Between 2015/16 and 2016/17 higher level starts increased 34.7per cent from 27,160 to 36,570.
    • Between 2016/17 and 2017/18 the higher level starts rose 31.7 per cent to 48,150.
  • In contrast, both intermediate (level 2) apprenticeships and advanced (level 3) decreased between 2016/17 and 2017/18 by 38.1 per cent and 15.9 per cent, respectively.

The DfE have published an Apprenticeships Study on non-completion. This is NOT about degree apprenticeships but FE learners and apprentices – but still interesting

  • Non-completers commonly lacked information about the content of their course and how it would be delivered before they began.  Whilst motivated, a lack of upfront information before they started the course meant that expectations tended to be limited to an expectation that the course would be organised, run smoothly, and enable them to work to pass. 
  • Non-completers reported mixed experiences of their courses and apprenticeships. However, they had commonly experienced challenges such as a lack of sufficient flexibility, loss of child care, and employers not allowing them enough time to do their coursework.
  • Non-completers dropped out when one or more of three key areas were not satisfied. They dropped out when core personal issues took priority over learning; with family, health, and finances commonly taking priority. Drop out occurred when learners did not see their course as valuable, meaning the content and level were not appropriate to enable them to pursue their career goals. Finally, learners dropped out when their course or apprenticeship failed to meet their expectations for functional delivery.

This is interesting because of course many of the same issues arise with university non-completions.  Non-completion (or continuation as the TEF calls it) is a key metric for TEF, precisely because the DfE believe that the value of the programme and the functional delivery of it, to use the terms above, are key indicators of the quality of a programme and so continuation is a proxy measure for quality.  Of course that ignores the personal issues.  The report says: “Although learners were generally tipped into non-completion by an issue aligned to one of these areas, they tended to be facing multifaceted issues which overlapped across two or more layers”.  So it’s not that simple.

Key Recommendations:

  • More comprehensive and accurate information up front about the content, structure and expectations for a course
  • Proactive and holistic support and flexibility to ensure they can continue to manage their course alongside their personal priorities
  • Improvements to course delivery so that courses and apprenticeships are more consistently delivered across the country.

The Sutton Trust have conducted a survey of parents with children aged 5-16 on degree level apprenticeships.

  • 75% of parents said they would be confident offering children help and advice were they to apply to a degree-level apprenticeship
  • 27% said they would advise their child to take a degree level apprenticeship over a universities degree course, with 31% indicating they would make the opposite recommendation
  • Of those parents who would advise their children to undertake a university degree course, 68% intimated that this was because they believed it offered better career prospects, whilst 29% said it was because they lacked knowledge about apprenticeships in general

Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)

The DfE and ONS have published statistics on the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training.

  • For quarter four (i.e. October to December) 2018, 11.3% of 16-24 year olds were NEET, a slight increase of 0.2 percentage points from quarter  four of 2017.
  • The age 16-17 NEET rate was 4.2%, an increase of 0.6 percentage points. The 18-24 NEET rate was 13.1%, increasing  by 0.2 percentage points.
  • However, none of these annual changes to the NEET rates were statistically significant

Brexit

It now looks increasingly likely that there will be a short delay to Brexit unless the deal, perhaps amended in some way with concessions from the EU, is passed on 12th March in the newly scheduled meaningful vote.

Resignations and the formation of the Independent Group of MPs don’t really change the arithmetic yet. The shift of the Labour party’s position on a second referendum also does not make much difference either while the vast majority of MPs continue to vote along party political lines.

There will need to be many more resignations or radical changes of position on the deal if it is to pass in March.  That is still possible, but a good number of Conservatives, from both the remain and the leave side, will need to find a way to support it, supported by a good number of Labour Brexiteers seeking to avoid a second vote.  Remember that more than 100 MPs need to change their view on the deal for it to go through.

However, UK citizens worrying about their plans for travel to the EU may therefore find that they don’t need an International Driving Licence or private health insurance for an Easter trip.  No deal is still, however, firmly on the table, so you may need them for the summer.  The overwhelming flood of information from the government has included reissuances for EU colleagues and EU students about travel to the UK after a no deal Brexit – but of course the continued uncertainty is unhelpful. And it’s sobering to note that whatever the result of the current flurry, even if the deal is signed we will have to go through it all again before the end of the transition period in December 2020.  There won’t be proper certainty about anything for a long time.

A delay beyond June still seems impossible – although it might seem a lot more possible by the time we get there.

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

OfS Student Panel: The Office for Students (OfS) has announced five new members of its student panel, which advises the OfS board to ensure student interests are reflected in OfS’ work. Georgia Bell is President of the students’ union at the Northern School of Art; Rose Bennett is Student Experience officer (postgraduate) at the University of Birmingham; Samuel Dedman is vice-president education at the University of Southampton students’ union; Joshua Sanderson-Kirk is president of the student association at the University of Law and Sabrina Mundtazir is a student nurse at the University of Huddersfield.

University enterprise zones:  The Treasury and BEIS have announced a £10 million fund to help develop proposals for up to 10 new university enterprise zones in England. Treasury Minister Robert Jenrick and Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore launched the fund during a visit to Nottingham University, which has piloted a University Enterprise Zone that is supporting start-ups and enterprises in the East Midlands. Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, stated:

Our universities are among the best in the world, and when they join forces with our ambitious and innovative small businesses, they have the potential to meet the grand challenges of the future.

HESA have published stats on staff employed in HE providers for 2017/18

Student sexual harassment/violence: Dig-In have published an infographic on sexual harassment and violence experienced by students based on a survey.

They say:

  • 56% of students have experienced unwanted sexual behaviours (such as inappropriate touching, explicit messages, being cat called, followed and/or being forced into sex or sexual acts)
  • Only 15% of students believe that they are the victims of sexual harassment
  • And only 8% have reported an offence.
  • Only 25% of students who were forced into having sex reported it
  • 53% of incidents were perpetrated by another students and 30% took place on campus

They also say that only 52% of students understand that it is not possible to give consent if you are drunk

HE policy update for the w/e 30th November 2018

Lots of news this week  – and some negative headlines as a result.

TEF update

Have you been following the changes to the TEF announced in February?  Are you up to date with the metrics and proposed structure.  Did you know that year 5 has been postponed?  We have prepared some slides on TEF which will bring you up to date – you can see them via the Policy pages on the intranet.

Unconditional offers – the next phase of the debate

Sarah wrote a long piece on unconditional offers last week, and this week we have this year’s data from UCAS.  The headline of the report is that unconditional offers were made to a third of young applicants in England, Northern Ireland and Wales in the 2018 admissions cycle   The actual report is here.  The report also notes that most unconditional offers (i.e. around two thirds of those made) were made to those aged 19 and over – i.e. post qualification.  This share has fallen since 2013 when it was 98%. (more…)

HE Policy update for the w/e 20th July 2018

Free speech still in the news

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published a report on free speech on campus – Cracking the code: A practical guide for university free speech policies. This is the last report to be written for HEPI by Dr Diana Beech before she goes to work for Sam Gyimah as policy adviser. [Those readers who met Diana when she attended our recent policy meeting or read my blog about the event will know that this is a good thing – Diana is well informed and positive about the sector and open minded rather than partisan –we’re looking forward to seeing her impact.]

HEPI say about the report:

The report finds some worrying loopholes in existing codes of practice, including:

  • overlooking new types of meetings afforded by social media and digital technologies;
  • failing to publish updated policies following internal reviews;
  • neglecting to provide codes in a wide range of accessible formats such as braille or audio;
  • not hosting codes in the public domain; and
  • not linking to necessary supplementary materials such as room booking forms and risk assessment protocols.

This new guide is intended to assist university boards and committees when formulating or updating codes of practice on freedom of speech to ensure policies are as efficient and user-friendly as possible.

The foreword is written by Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, who says:

  • Overall, I find most universities positive, conducive places for healthy debate. When you compare the lively conversations that take place on UK campuses to those that are openly or more subtly squeezed out, or plain banned, in other countries, our universities look like bastions of free speech. And yet … Not everything is perfect. A minority of students do seem remarkably intolerant and unwilling to hear others’ views. It’s not even a left / right split. Sometimes the fiercest disagreements come between people who all regard themselves as progressive. Challenging student meetings can get bogged down in red tape about the rules of debate and their interpretation. It is also sometimes contested who can speak, what they can say and the degree of dissent that is permitted.”
  • And “In my view, bad ideas are most soundly defeated by good ideas. Bigoted opinions should never be given a free pass. They should always be protested and countered. But the best way to do this is usually by subjecting them to open debate, to show why they are factually and morally wrong.”

The recommendations are lengthy, but then this is a complicated area:

  • “To optimise the format of codes of practice on freedom of speech, we recommend universities:
    • include a cover page to the code detailing the document’s history, including key information on the date of its approval, the next date of review and contact information for the responsible officer;
    • consider formulating the codes in other formats (such as braille or audio) to ensure the widest possible readership;
    • enhance the usability of the codes by employing hyperlinks throughout all online versions of the policies, as well as writing out web addresses in full in an appendix to the code (or in footnotes or endnotes) to ensure this information is not lost when the codes are printed out;
    • make use of additional appendices to the codes to host vital supplementary documentation including application forms and additional guidance, so that this information is all housed in one place;
    • visualise application and assessment processes in the form of process flowcharts wherever possible, to allow event organisers to easily understand what is required of them and to ensure the policies are as simple as they can be during the design process;
    • take care to define what the code covers both in terms of meeting size and meeting format; and
    • outline the precise remits of the code if intended, for example, to be applicable to students’ unions, in other countries, in constituent parts of a university with otherwise autonomous governance structures (such as Oxbridge colleges) or in faith-based institutions, where contradictions may occur with religious doctrine (such as Canon Law in Catholic institutions).
  • To optimise the processes surrounding the codes of practice on freedom of speech, we recommend universities:
    • regularly review and update their code, particularly in line with developments in relevant legislation;
    • ensure the latest versions of the code are swiftly approved by relevant university boards and committees, and published accordingly on university websites;
    • keep a visual record of where the code has been disseminated to allow university committees and boards to decide whether this is appropriate and sufficient at the next review meeting;
    • avoid requesting information from speakers or event organisers that could be deemed unreasonable or offputting (such as routinely requesting copies of speeches before they are made);
    • include in the code reasonable timescales for both the initial application to host an event or external speaker and the appeals process;
    • offer in the code assistance to event organisers – such as PA systems or added security provisions – to give an event the best chance of going ahead before considering it for cancellation;
    • consider including a disclaimer in the code to cover more lengthy and complex decision processes over appeals (although every effort should be made to stick to the original timescales outlined as above); and
    • consider employing the expertise of an assessment panel, as opposed to just one accountable officer, to help in the case of deciding whether more complex or controversial events or speakers should go ahead.
  • In addition, higher education institutions – particularly in England – may consider producing additional governance documents, such as statements of commitment to the codes of practice. This will not only help institutions to become clear about what their codes of practice are for, and what purpose they serve, but also help them to prepare for life under the Office for Students and its new Regulatory Framework, which may well require providers of higher education to justify their policies and processes in more detail in the future.”

Sir Michael Barber was on the Today programme on Thursday – he refused to say that stopping organisers requesting speech in advance was going to be OfS policy (the OfS is not a bureaucratic organisation or a rule maker, but a regulator, he said – we aren’t sure about this distinction without a difference either) – but he did say it was a good idea.

Smita Jamdar of Shakespeare Martineau tweeted a response thread which is worth reading:

  • So the JCHR may have said universities should not ask for details of what will be said, but as long as that guidance remains in that form I do not think it is fair to ask universities to carry the risk. Government needs to work out what it wants and make some policy changes.”

Student Loans, RPI & HE Funding

The cost of student loans and how it is presented in public accounting is an issue that has been bubbling for a while. Both the Commons Economic Affairs Committee and the Treasury Committee reviewed the treatment of student loans in the public accounts during 2018. The timing is fascinating in the context of the Government’s current review of post-18 education – often described as the fees and funding review, but as we know, it is not only this. We wrote about this in our policy update on 6th July.  Andrew McGettigan, who spoke at the recent Wonkhe conference eon this, has now published a blog on Wonkhe setting out his argument in full – this is well worth reading.

The debate has now moved on as this week two bodies proposed alternative methods of accounting for student loans, one from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and the other from the Office for National Statistics.

The Times explain the financial trickery:

  • Currently student loans are treated as a normal loan for the purpose of the public finances, which means that the cash transfer does not show up as borrowing but as an asset. Interest payments owed, but not necessarily paid, by former students show up as receipts and reduce the deficit. The effect is to improve the deficit in the early years as interest is capitalised. When students fail to meet repayments and loans are written off 30 years later, the loss is incurred as spending.

It is only at the point of writing off the loans that they count as expenditure and negatively affect public spending statistics. If the government sells off the loans before the write-off is due, that moment of reckoning will never arrive and the government will never, so far as the public accounts are concerned, have had to demonstrate direct public expenditure on student finance. Its benefit is that it provides sustainable funding for HE. Arguably therefore, HE does not have to fight with other departments to secure an adequate share of public funds.

OBR’s chairman Robert Chote speaks of the system saying it:

  • flatters the impact of student loans on the public finances and creates a perverse incentive to sell them, even at a loss…. Capturing the impact of student loans in measures of the public sector deficit and debt is not straightforward, because the full impact of any particular cohort of loans takes more than three decades to fully work through…”

The OBR estimates that the government’s plan to sell £12bn worth of older student loans by 2020-21 “will deprive it of £23bn of future repayments”. 

This article on Research Professional provides more detail on alternatives to the current treatment. It goes on to note that the HE Review has been instructed to make recommendations that do not worsen the spending deficit.  Research Professional explain that:

  • changing the way student loan repayments are presented in the public finances would automatically add to the deficit and would not only hamper Augar’s review but also make it next to impossible for chancellor Philip Hammond to meet his own spending targets. This is before you factor in the money—as yet unaccounted for—promised to the NHS and all the other demands that will be made by Brexit.
  • A degree of collusion is evident between the two reports, with the OBR’s working paper citing the one from the ONS. In short, both put up a range of different accounting models and invite us to pick one, with a strong steer that we should go for a hybrid model that would classify the estimated part of the loan that will be repaid as a loan, and the estimated part that will not be repaid as a grant or direct upfront expenditure.
  • The effect of each of the accounting models is significant, with the hybrid model immediately adding 0.7 per cent to the public spending deficit. All the models considered present the public finances in a less favourable light than the existing system, with a commercial model of revenue and expenditure for loan repayment, as you might find in the banking industry, adding 1.1 per cent to the deficit by the mid-2040s.”

This presents a challenge for the HE Review as it is expected to work within public spending constraints. Research Professional note that any short-term change would almost certainly mean higher education having a negative impact on the public accounts. This could put universities in line for budget cuts.

Retail Price Index

The use of the Retail Price Index (RPI) to calculate the interest owed on students loans is another challenge. RPI has been denounced as an inappropriate statistic that inflates the amount students are required to pay back. The Economic Affairs Committee has investigated the use of RPI and considered its possible reform. The Committee session spanned several topics, including a focus on its use within HE. John Pullinger (Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority) said he did not wish to unilaterally change the RPI as it would result in some parties getting windfall gains and others losses. However, he felt the reform of RPI would definitely happen at some point in the next ten years. He stressed the need for the change to be ‘choreographed‘ with changes by the Treasury and the Bank of England (BoE). It was put to him that it was the role of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to come forward with an alternative proposal (to move away from RPI) for the chancellor for due consideration.

On the use of RPI within student loan accounting Lord Burns highlighted that ONS felt the economic nature of student loans closely matched the definition of a loan in national accounts. Whereas consideration could be given to the proportion of loans not expected to be repaid. John responded within the historical context noting that when student loans first came about they were considered by the national accounts team to be loans, which was how they had appeared in the national accounts since. He said the response to the committee on this issue during the loans enquiry could have been more ‘nuanced’, but this is essentially what happened.

John Pullinger went on to note if student loans will be sold, maybe they should not have been considered as loans at all.  Since April the ONS had been considering how they should be treated, which had resulted in five new options. (Watch the Committee session for more detail on this.) He went on to state the ONS had now ‘opened the box’ and was looking at the issue carefully, he mentioned a decision would be made by December.

He was also asked to comment on the suspicions that the reforms to student finances had constituted a ‘fiscal illusion‘ (see the two reports out this week mentioned above) to reduce the deficit. He confirmed he was observing recent developments with regard to this point.

HE Funding

The House of Commons library regularly produces succinct briefing papers on topics to inform MPs. They have just released one on HE funding (England) which sits alongside more specific papers on student loan statistics, HE finance and the value of student maintenance support (all papers can be accessed here). The HE Funding paper itself covers all the main points in a simple way to draw together the myriad of HE funding changes in the last 6 years. Despite the Brexit furore Parliament is actually winding down towards recess. (Recess being the time when MPs return to catch up on their constituency work and take some time off.) With the release of the HE Funding briefing paper as summer reading just before recess one wonders what is in store for HE when Parliament reconvenes in September.

Cost Effective Universities – Student Spending

New analysis from Which? University reveals how choosing where to study can have huge consequences on the cost of living for students – with a potential disparity of £15,000 over the term of a typical degree between the cheapest and most expensive UK regions. Using data on student expenditure and the average cost of rent, Which? University ranked 12 regions across the UK to reveal the most expensive and cheapest areas for students to live.

Unsurprisingly London was the most expensive region (£14,200 average student living cost per year). Second were the South East and the East of England (both £11,000 per year). Northern Ireland was the cheapest (£8,800), followed by Wales (£9,500). The South West region is mid-table for cost. The student budget calculator on the Which? website shows BU coming in very reasonably at £10,824 per annum (Arts University Bournemouth comes in at £12,120 per year).

The rest of the analysis highlights familiar student finance themes:

  • 31% per cent of students said that money worries have negatively impacted their mental health/stress
  • 20% use their overdrafts to manage the cost of living at university, (10% rely on credit cards)
  • 46% rely on their parents to bankroll their living costs (remember there is an expectation that parents contribute anyway for students from certain household income bands)
  • 40% of students found the cost of university was higher than expected
  • 13% of students considered not continuing their studies due to financial difficulties

Which? use the analysis to advertise their student budget calculator tool which calculates average monthly expenditure, including a breakdown of rent, utilities and transport costs per university selected. It also factors in regional variables to improve accuracy in its predictions. With Clearing fast approaching Which? are keen to ensure students who are forced to change their HE plans have access to fast information on their potential new institutions.

There is an interesting section showing student spending habits.

Category Percentage of students that spent on the category
Water & Energy 99%
Food Shopping 98%
Mobile & Internet 93%
Interest & Hobbies 92%
Coffee & Tea 91%
Transport 88%
Other Expenses 88%
Going Out 83%
Take Away & Snacks 83%
Personal Care 82%
Clothing 66%
Alcohol & Cigarettes 57%
Bank Charges & Fees 54%
Holidays & Flights 42%

Research Commercialisation

There was a dialogue in the House of Commons on the commercialisation of university research during oral questions this week.

Chris Green (Bolton West, Conservative) quizzed Sam Gyimah on what steps he is taking to support the commercialisation of universities’ research.  Sam responded:

  • “we want the UK to be the place where innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality. Our universities have a strong part to play within this, alongside business. That is why we are funding, through United Kingdom Research and Innovation, support for research collaborations between universities and business. We also have the industrial strategy challenge fund, as well as higher education innovation funding and our Connecting Capability funding. All of those will help universities work together with business “

Chris Green took the opportunity to highlight the research partnership between the University of Tokyo and Imperial College London as an excellent example of how the UK can benefit from sharing innovation and technology. He asked Sam:

what more will my hon. Friend do to ensure that we continue to strengthen academic networks and communities post Brexit? Sam responded:

  • our research and innovation collaboration is important in what we do with the EU, but also globally in what we do around the world. That is why UKRI has established a new £110 million fund to explore and develop international partnerships with leading science and innovation regions. We will also bring forward an international science strategy in the autumn.”

Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-op) asked Sam if he would look at universities in the United States, such as Cornell University, which have different ways of paying and incentivising research on those campuses? Gyimah responded:

  • the reason behind UK Research and Innovation, which brings together all the research agencies in the UK, is that, for the first time, we have a strategic brain to direct UK research so that we can allow innovation and ingenuity to flourish in our universities. That is the best way to create returns that benefit the economy but also the best minds in our country.”

Research Funding and Talent

Q – Adam Afriyie (Conservative): How much funding his Department has provided to the UK science base in the last 12 months.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The principal research funding route is through UK Research and Innovation, which in 2018 alone accounts for over £6 billion of investment in research and innovation. I am proud that the Conservative Government have overseen the largest increase in scientific research and development funding that we have ever seen in the UK. We are investing an additional £7 billion in R&D by 2022, as a first step in delivering our ambition of increasing the UK’s R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP.

Q – Adam Afriyie As a former shadow Science Minister, I am very conscious of the increases in funding, particularly in cash terms, but I am also acutely conscious that it is not just cash but the availability of talent that matters when it comes to science, innovation and the industrial base. Given the recent concerns around Brexit and everything else, will the Minister reassure me that the availability of highly talented scientists will still be a priority for this Government?

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The increase in funding is actually in real terms, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right: to succeed here, we have to be open to ideas and open to talent. He will have seen the recent relaxation in the tier 5 visa restrictions for scientists. We are also investing £900 million in UKRI’s flagship future leadership fellowships and a further £350 million for the national academies to expand their prestigious fellowships. When it comes to science, innovation and research, we are open for business.

Q – Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge, Labour): I am sure that the Minister saw the recent report from the Office for Life Sciences, which showed that R&D investment in the pharmaceutical sector fell from £4.9 billion per annum in 2011 to £4.1 billion in 2016—a decline of £800 million per annum. To what does he attribute that, and given that life sciences are so important, what does he plan to do about it?

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • I am aware that everyone in the life sciences sector has welcomed the life sciences sector deal. As part of our work to reach 2.4% of our GDP being invested in scientific research by 2027, we will be working with the pharmaceutical industry along with other industries to increase their research investment in the UK.

Another question clarified that an announcement on the national quantum technologies programme would follow shortly.

LEO

Robert Halfon (Conservative) questioned Sam Gyimah on LEO

Q – Robert Halfon: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what use officials in his Department are making of the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) database.

AND

Q – Robert Halfon: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, when he plans to make data from the Longitudinal Education Outcomes database available to education researchers outside his Department.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The department has published seven statistical first releases and one ad hoc release for graduate employment outcomes using Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data. These cover the employment outcomes for undergraduates and postgraduates one, three, five and 10 years after graduating. Figures are published at institution and subject level as well as national level.
  • Students’ ability to make informed choices is at the heart of the higher education (HE) reform agenda. We are keen that these releases are easily accessible by HE students. We have therefore launched a Higher Education Open Data Competition, which is part of the work we are doing to improve the way we provide information to students. The competition aims to give students full access to valuable data on graduate outcomes – including aggregated, publically available LEO data – on an accessible and innovative digital platform. By supporting the development of new tools, the competition will help all applicants, regardless of their background, make decisions that are right for them and get value for money.
  • We plan to make appropriate extracts of the data available in the ONS Secure Research Service, in late 2018. In addition to this, we currently make data available, under contract, to the following research groups: Centre for Vocational Education Research, Institute for Fiscal Studies, University of Westminster.

Mental Health

A Guardian article this week considered mental health within the university context and noted the rise in wellbeing services. While traditional counselling still has its place within universities it noted some had vastly reduced the availability of counselling. In response The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy publicly voiced their concern at the reduction in traditional counselling sessions.

Meanwhile HEPI published a new guest blog: Could data and analytics help to promote student wellbeing and mental health? by Professor Martin Hall. It considers how learning analytics is already used to improve academic attainment through analysing the students’ digital footprint and engagement with the university. It is used to identify students at risk and triggers supportive interventions where the student may be under engaging to underperforming. The blog describes how this could be extended to identify patterns that may indicate student mental health concerns. Allowing support to be offered before the student reaches crisis point. s

Technical Education

Q – Adam Afriyie: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to put technical courses on parity with academic courses.

A – Anne Milton:

  • The government is transforming technical education to create a high quality system that meets the skills needs of businesses and is held in the same high esteem as our academic option. 15 prestigious technical routes will set a clear path to skilled employment through reformed apprenticeships and the new flagship T Level programmes. T Levels are a central part of the greatest shake-up of technical education for 70 years and builds on the recommendations made by the Independent Panel on Technical Education, chaired by Lord Sainsbury. They will provide a distinctive and rigorous technical alternative to A levels.
  • They are, however, just one strand of our ambitious new technical education offer. We also intend to undertake a review of qualifications at Level 3 and below so that those we fund serve a genuine and useful purpose, are of high quality and enable students to progress to meaningful outcomes.

Despite Anne’s response to the Parliamentary Question she caused a scandal this week by seemingly confirming T levels wouldn’t be fit for purpose at their point of launch. At the Commons Education Committee she was questioned on the timing of the roll-out of the T levels and responded “I’m a parent of four children. If somebody said to me ‘Your children can do this new qualification’, I would say ‘Leave it a year.’”  The Times covered the story: Anne Milton has advised teenagers who are considering taking up T-Levels to “leave it a year”.

Gordon Marsden, Labour’s Shadow Minister for HE stated:

  • “It’s astounding that the Minister doesn’t have confidence in her own Government’s flagship education policy. It is not acceptable for there to be one rule for the Government, and another for everyone else. The Department for Education’s Permanent Secretary has already said that T-Levels cannot feasibly be implemented on time without a serious risk to taxpayers’ money.”

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

STEM: Jenson Button is leading the way for women in STEM in his calls for the motor industry to get more women involved in engineering. He said:

female engineers are already making a big difference in motorsport, but that we need a far higher percentage in order to address imbalances. It is vital to push for more women working in mechanical engineering. Many Le Mans championships have been won by female engineers so there is obviously no reason why more females can’t get involved, including the driving. I’ve worked with very competitive women at the highest levels of engineering, but we need many more to enter the field.”

The UK currently has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe (11%)

Simpler R&D tax credits: The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called on the Government to introduce a new tax credit to tackle the innovation productivity fap within small business in the UK. On Tuesday the FSB published a report revealing that 24% of small firms have not made any significant changes to products or ways of working in the last three years – with many held back by pressures on time and finances. The report noted that as well as improving support for the creation of ‘new to market’ innovations, the complexity of the R&D tax credit and Patent Box Tax relief systems must be simplified.

Research Costs: Research Professional consider the Transparent Approach to Costing report, published by the Office for Students, which says that UK universities received funding that covered less than 75 per cent of the full economic cost of research last year.

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HE Policy update for the w/e 22nd June 2018

Another big week in policy land. We’ve big features on grade inflation and post-qualification admissions to get your brain buzzing.

Brexit news for EU citizens setting in the UK

This week the Government released further details on how EU citizens and their families could apply for settled status through the EU settlement scheme.  The link also contains the draft immigration rules.  The Government issued a news story on the settlement scheme, it sets out the 3 steps applicants will complete – prove identity, demonstrate they live in the UK, declare that they have no serious criminal convictions.

Key information on the scheme:

  • It is proposed that an application will cost £65 and £32.50 for a child under 16. For those who already have valid permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain documentation, they will be able to exchange it for settled status for free.
  • The Home Office will check the employment and benefit records held by government which will mean that, for many, their proof of residence will be automatic. Those who have not yet lived in the UK for five years will be granted pre-settled status and be able to apply for settled status once they reach the five-year point. From April 2019, this second application will be free of charge.
  • The new online application system will be accessible through phones, tablets, laptops and computers. The Government will provide support for the vulnerable and those without access to a computer, and continues to work with EU citizens’ representatives and embassies to ensure the system works for everyone.
  • The settlement scheme will open in a phased way from later this year and will be fully open by 30 March 2019. The deadline for applications will be 30 June 2021.
  • The Home Office will continue to engage with stakeholders, including employers, local authority representatives and community groups, about the detailed design of the scheme before the Rules are laid before Parliament.

Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, said:   “EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and to our society. They are our friends, family and colleagues and we want them to stay. This is an important step which will make it easy for EU citizens to get the status they need to continue working and living here. We are demonstrating real progress and I look forward to hearing more detail on how the EU will make reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals living in the EU.”

Immigration

On Tuesday the Commons Science and Technology select committee debated an immigration system that works for science and innovation. The witnesses highlighted that flexibility and speed of application were essential and advocated for a frictionless reciprocal immigration system between the UK and the EU. Read the full text of the session here.  Key points:

  • Science and Technology to be within the broader immigration system rather than separate special arrangements or a two tier system. A transition period may be necessary.
  • One witness argued for a reciprocal arrangement with EU scientists.
  • It was noted the EU are currently developing a directive allowing free movement within the EU of individuals on science visas from outside the EU.
  • Mobility for short stays is essential, e.g. conferences and discussion groups – these short stays should not require visas.
  • One witness noted the limited ability of small British companies that needed to bring in talent to grow. She raised that this successful navigation of the immigration system was essential and the  needs of small business had to be considered within the general immigration system design.
  • The problems with using salary as a proxy for awarding tier 2 visas was discussed, particularly with the regional variability within the UK
  • One witness argued that research activity needed to be permitted in the indefinite leave to remain rules.
  • The limitations of the shortage occupations list were noted, i.e. retrospective analysis of data created a significant lag within the system and it wasn’t responsive enough. It was postulated that these problems would resolve if the cap was removed.

Parliamentary Questions – Immigration

Sam Gyimah responded to a parliamentary question on visa requirements for students of Indian nationality studying in the UK (full text here) stating there was no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to the UK to study and

  • “we welcome the increase in study related visa applications from Indian students since last year and the fact that over 90% of Indian students who apply for a UK visa get one. This shows that international students continue to recognise the benefits of studying in the UK, and are responding to our excellent higher education offer.”

Commenting on student immigration, Alp Mehmet, Vice Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “Genuine students are, of course, welcome but this is a slippery slope. The last time that the student visa system was loosened in 2009 it took years to recover from the massive inflow of bogus students, especially from India. We cannot afford another episode like that.”

And there was a further question on immigration:

Q – Gordon Marsden: What additional criteria will be used to decide whether (a) India and (b) other additional countries will be eligible for inclusion in the low-risk Tier 4 visa category for overseas students.

A – Caroline Nokes: We have regular discussions with the Indian Government on a range of issues including on visas and UK immigration policy. Careful consideration is given to which countries could be added to Appendix H of the Immigration Rules, taking into account objective analysis of a range of factors including the volume of students from a country and their Tier 4 immigration compliance risk. The list of countries in Appendix H will be regularly updated to reflect the fact that countries’ risk profiles change over time.

There were three further questions on Indian students this week, all received the same response as above.

British Nationals Abroad – home fees?

Q – Paul Blomfield: whether UK nationals resident in the EU who fall within the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement will be treated as home students for the purpose of university fees after December 2020.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • There are currently specific provisions in the rules that provide access to student support for persons who hold settled status in the UK, and who have left England to exercise a right of residence elsewhere in the Economic European Area (EEA) or Switzerland.
  • We have agreed with the EU that equal treatment principles will continue to apply for those covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. This means that UK nationals resident in the EU (and EU nationals resident in the UK) before the end of the implementation period on 31 December 2020 will be eligible for support on a similar basis to domestic students in the relevant member state. It will be for member states to decide how they will implement the citizens’ rights deal in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement. Entitlement to student finance and home fees status after 31 December 2020 for those outside the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement is under consideration.

Grade Inflation

Thursday’s headlines for the sector were all about grade inflation, the actual report is here.  The biggest increases are shown on page 16 – Surrey, East Anglia, Dundee, University of West London, Imperial, Huddersfield, Greenwich, Southampton Solent, Wolverhampton and Aston. These charts showing the absolute highest and lowest proportion are interesting and do raise some questions about whether the call for benchmarks is partly driven by the juxtaposition of our oldest and some of our newer universities in this first group.  The arguments about prestige (made in the context of a discussion about REF and TEF) in this HEPI paper by Paul Blackmore come to mind.  “Although the basis on which graduates and employers make decisions is a complex one, some institutions clearly have more powerful signalling effects than others.”

Research Professional have another helpful summary with responses from Nicola Dandridge, Nick Hillman and others

  • Between 1997 and 2009, the proportion of “firsts” awarded increased from 7 to 13 per cent, and in the next seven years it doubled, reaching 26 per cent by 2017. The percentage of students being awarded a 2:1 has also risen from 40 to 49 per cent since 1995, meaning that the proportion of undergraduates awarded either a first or 2:1 has risen from 47 to 75 per cent in the last 22 years. There are now 40 institutions that award firsts to at least 30 per cent of their students. The report, A degree of uncertainty: An investigation into grade inflation in universities, says that one of the most likely explanations for the grade inflation is a lowering of degree standards by institutions. It states that some academics have reported pressure from senior managers to do so, and says that half of universities have recently changed the way that they calculate their students’ final grade so that the proportion of top grades they award keeps pace with other institutions”….
  • “Harriet Barnes, head of higher education and skills policy at the British Academy—which operates the Humanities and Social Sciences Learned Societies and Subject Associations Network—told HE it was “difficult to see how a national assessment would work without encouraging universities to standardise course content and assessment in some way”. “This would threaten academic diversity, limiting students’ opportunities to fully explore their discipline, and undermining teaching by academics who are leaders in a specialist area,” she said. “We also have concerns about the feasibility of learned societies setting national assessments. Not every discipline is represented by a single body, and many are run by volunteers without the capacity to set and monitor assessments.”
  • Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told HE that asking learned societies to design assessments was “an odd suggestion”, and that it was “surprising to see Reform recommending less autonomy for institutions” “I’ve long been interested in getting learned societies and others more involved in preparing course materials and helping shape courses,” he said, “but it would make most sense to do that for first-year students adapting to higher education rather than those specialising later on in their degree.”
  • Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said in a statement that “if there is artificial grade inflation this is not in the interests of students, employers or the higher education sector”. She added that work was “currently under way by the OfS and other partners to assess the complex issues” tackled in the report.”

The BBC story is here.

With the counter arguments, Jim Dickinson writes on Wonkhe:

  • ““Establishing causality is problematic, yet the correlational evidence suggests that when tuition fees rise, so does the proportion of top degree outcomes”. Maybe that big investment means they’re working harder. Maybe more students are working hard to achieve the standard. Maybe teaching has improved, and assessment has become more diverse. Maybe more students are taking resists. After all, “inflation itself must be driven by factors that directly translate into universities awarding higher marks”.
  • Trouble is, the report then goes on to look at all the other reasons that the sector has cooked up for the miracle. A pro-VC from UEA is mocked for citing improved entry qualifications, though without mentioning the student to staff ratio shift from 18:1 to 13:1 in the rest of his quote. Degree algorithm fiddling is cited, recycling a debunked quote. And without any reference to hard work or student support or assessment techniques, it then finds a handful of academics’ anecdotes to say they’ve been pressured to lower standards. Cue the A-levels chorus of “we worked harder and so did students” from the sector, falling on deaf ears in the press and the think tanks.”

There is an interesting comment in response on the Wonkhe article:

  • “Quick summary of previous responses, querying the assumption that grade inflation is necessarily bad.
  • 1) If attainment gaps have closed (e.g. male/female gap, affluent/deprived student background gap, white/ethnic minority gap) by the under-achieving group catching up with the higher-achieving group, grade inflation is probably a positive thing.
  • 2) If average marks awarded have risen (i.e. it is not just the case that the degree classification proportions have shifted), and if positive skew in the distribution has not been replaced with negative skew, this indicates that grade inflation is not the only potential explanation.
  • 3) Even if grade inflation as conventionally understood has occurred, the cure could be worse than the disease. The cure could take the form of students undermining each other rather than working collaboratively, seeking to manipulate or complain against lecturers, students motivated by mark gain rather than a desire to learn (not the same thing), even higher levels of mental health anxiety than present.
  • 4) In most subjects, students achieving first class degrees do not have better career outcomes than students with lower second class degrees. This suggests that employers do not rely on degree class as a signal and have developed effective recruiting mechanisms”

The sector wasn’t standing still on grade inflation before this week’s announcements. UUK were already tackling the issue:

  • The first element of this work responds to the specific request to clarify how the sector defines degree classifications. This work is on course to produce a reference document by September, and this will aid the transparency and consistency of approaches to degree classification and standards across the sector. The work is founded on the view that students should be assessed against clear criteria rather than setting quotas for the number of students who can achieve a 1st or 2.1. Quotas can demotivate students and devalue the level of knowledge gained over the course of their studies.  The reference document is intended as a practical tool to aid academic practice and to improve understanding of the classification system, including among employers. The reference point will also be useful for new providers who gain degree awarding powers without prior validation by an existing degree body, and the established academic frameworks that come with this relationship. However, it will still be essential for universities to set and maintain their own academic standards, rather than simply marking against an off-the-shelf set of criteria.

This is also discussed on Wonkhe. There is also a need for the sector to take meaningful and timely action to respond to stakeholder concerns on grade inflation, as other contributions to Wonkhe and elsewhere have suggested in recent days. UKSCQA will lead the coordination of a sector response on this issue.”

HEPI have published a guest blog – The hard truth about grade inflation – by Dr Andrew Hindmarsh, Head of Planning at the University of Nottingham, and he also oversees the preparation of data for the Complete University Guide. It busts a number of theories:

  • So-called grade inflation has been greatest at universities with low average tariff scores and least at those with high average tariff scores.  One explanation for this could be that the average tariff score has increased more at universities where the average score was lower to start with. If those low tariff score universities had had entry standards that had been rising faster, then you might expect there to be an impact on the subsequent attainment of the students. See Graph 3 shows that this has not been the case. In fact, the average tariff score of universities in quartiles 1 to 3 have all gone down, while only those in quartile 4 (the highest) have gone up.
  • What about teaching quality – could that explain the pattern of changes?  Could it be that the universities with the best teaching quality have seen outcomes improve the most? One possible measure of teaching quality is the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) outcomes. …the hypothesis fails – it is the Bronze institutions which have seen the biggest changes in degree outcomes.
  • The questions on teaching in the NSS could be an alternative measure of teaching quality and this time there is a run of data so the change in NSS scores can be correlated with the changes in degree classification.However, once again the hypothesis fails: there is no correlation between the change in NSS scores on questions 1 to 4 between 2013 and 2016 and the change in degree classifications
  • So, what is going on?  There are plenty of hypotheses left which our database cannot test. One change that has been happening is an increasing use of the full range of marks, particularly in Arts subjects. In the past, there was a tendency to avoid giving high marks with those above 80 in the Arts being very rare indeed. These high marks are much more common in the Sciences, particularly the numerical sciences, where it is possible to achieve maximum marks on mathematical problems. However, many universities are now actively encouraging all subjects to use the full range of marks with the result that, when an average mark is calculated, this is more likely to fall above a particular class boundary as the higher marks pull up the average. This hypothesis also explains why the proportion of first-class degrees has risen faster than the proportion of 1st/2:1s as you would expect more of the high marks to be obtained by students already at or close to a first-class standard. The conclusion must be that this is a complex subject and, while some explanations for changes in degree classifications can be ruled out, there are plenty more to be considered. The accusation that grade inflation is the cause needs to be justified with evidence rather than simply asserted as if it were a self-evident truth.

We’ll have to wait for the outcome of the OFS work referred to above to see what happens next.

Sam Gyimah gave a reassuring answer to a parliamentary question this week. It was focused on the TEF but if extrapolated into the context of the single national assessment recommended to tackle grade inflation it is reassuring to know the Government doesn’t anticipate going even further to observe ‘classrooms’.

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Office for Students on the merits of observing teaching as an element for assessment in the teaching excellence framework.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Higher Education (HE) institutions, as independent and autonomous bodies, are responsible for the range and quality of the courses they deliver. Assessing the performance of an institution through observation would jeopardise the autonomy of the HE sector.
  • The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) uses a range of existing metrics related to teaching and learning to make an assessment of teaching excellence, alongside a submission of evidence from the providers themselves. The metrics used for the assessment are all well-established, widely used and trusted in the HE sector. The department consulted extensively on the metrics used in the TEF.
  • My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education has not discussed with the Office for Students, the observation of teachers as an additional element within the TEF.

Senior Pay Guidance

The OfS has now issued guidance on VC and senior pay. Universities are required to report and justify the VC’s total remuneration package and details of senior staff paid over £100,000. OfS will publish these details across the sector annually commencing in 2019. Nicola Dandridge commentedThe Office for Students is today setting out our increased expectations around senior pay. Higher education providers will have to give us full details of the total pay package of their vice-chancellor. In addition, they will have to provide detailed justification of this package. As part of this, we will be looking at the ratio between the head of institution’s pay and the pay of the other staff at the institution. This will provide additional visibility and transparency – and enable us all to ask tough questions as necessary.

In response to the guidance UCU general secretary Sally Hunt noted of the OfS requirements: much of the information being called for is already available in universities’ accounts or through freedom of information (FOI) requests.

The guidance was well covered in the media this week: Times, Guardian, THE, Independent.

In the Independent article Michael Barber is reported as stating the OfS will look for salaries that ‘stick out like a sore thumb’… such as … “Like a modest size university, and you are regional and you are not playing globally, and your pay is the same as a top university competing in the global market for research.”

Political Crystal Ball

Dods (political monitoring consultants) have produced a series of short policy lookahead guides contemplating what is coming up politically in the following spheres over the next six months:

Admissions

The Post Qualifications Admissions – how it works across the world report was released on Tuesday comparing the UK’s HE admissions system with that of 29 other countries worldwide. The document critiques the UK’s system of offering a HE place before a student’s final grades are known, particularly noting the unreliability of provisional grades (only 1 in 6 accurately predicted).

The report calls for more than just post-qualification offer making. It outlines enhanced support for choices and decisions and a pre-results preparation week to aid social mobility (see page 17 onwards).  The report does acknowledge the benefits of the current pre-qualifications admissions system: it aids students from under-represented backgrounds because they are often predicted higher grades than they achieve (page 5); changing to a post qualifications system would squeeze teaching as exams would need to move earlier in the year, it would also reduce the time HE providers have to consider applications and decide on whether to offer a student a place.

The report was commissioned by UCU and compiled by Dr Graeme Atherton (Director of social mobility organisation NEON). Given the author’s champion of disadvantage it’s interesting the report has received conflicting responses with no clear consensus of whether a change would support or further hinder underrepresented or disadvantaged groups in society.

UCAS responded to the report stating changing to a post qualifications admission system would force structural change to the school system and stating it would be harder for poorer pupils who would have to make decisions after they had finished their exams and left school. Clare Marchant (UCAS): “students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be less likely to have access to teachers and support in making application choices“.

Meanwhile The Sutton Trust argue that Atherton’s claim that under-represented students receive higher predicted grades is incorrect stating ‘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.’

UCU’s press release leads a further attack on unconditional offer making. Unconditional offers were previously seen as a supportive measure for social mobility, for example, for a young student within the care system who needed stability and security over their university destination prior to giving up their living accommodation.  However, unconditional offers have increasingly received poor press over the last two years claiming students become lazy and don’t try so hard at exams once they have a guaranteed offer or that it pushes an able student towards a lower tariff university when their results would be accepted at a more prestigious institution. Concerns were also raised about unconditional offers last week at Buckingham’s Festival of HE.

The BBC has covered the report.

The report also highlights some of the challenges that the other systems face.  One notable issue in some European countries is that almost automatic admission based on results plus low fees leads to huge dropout rates, e.g. in France.  And if the focus is almost exclusively on grades it’s likely another subset of WP students will be disadvantaged. The report raises some questions but it would be interesting to do an analysis of other metrics such as completion and satisfaction, and WP indicators as well as graduate outcomes.

There are other issues with the current system that have been raised in recent times – e.g. concerns about the role of personal statements and the role of social capital.  Given the author’s day job at the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), there is a focus in the report on equity in the system.

The article below raises the question of conflict of interests – would such a system reduce or increase game playing in the competition for students?  – note last week’s discussions in Buckingham about unconditional offers (which many commentators see as a “bad thing”).

Research Professional have a great article on the report. As the article notes there is unlikely to be a rush to review this given all the other government priorities.  But as new A levels come in, raising uncertainty about grades this year, might there be more applicants choosing to use clearing to trade up or take a year to consider and apply afterwards.  And whether over time this might therefore become more of a priority for review?

Erasmus+

On Thursday there was a debate in the House of Commons on the Erasmus+ programme and discusses the future position of the UK with regard to the scheme post Brexit. The House of Commons Library have produced a briefing note on Erasmus+.

Some fun facts on Erasmus+ taken from the briefing:

  • The EU sees Erasmus+ programmes as a means of addressing socio-economic issues that Europe may face like unemployment and social cohesion.
  • 10,944 students in higher education in the UK participated in the 2016 applications for study placements abroad through the Erasmus+ scheme.
  • In 2015-16, the most popular host countries were France (2,388), Spain (2,131), Germany (1,312), Netherlands (701), and Italy (687).The UK was the 7th highest participating country in the programme in 2015.
  • The total value of all Erasmus+ projects funded in the UK has increased in each year from €112million in the 2014 ‘call’ to €143million in 2017.
  • The Erasmus+ programme is run on run seven yearly cycles and the current cycle will end in 2020.
  • The UK Government has promised to underwrite funding that was due to continue after Brexit and UK citizens are currently encouraged to apply for funding under Erasmus+.
  • On 30 May 2018 the EU Commission announced that it is proposing that for the next cycle starting in 2021 any country in the world will be able to participate if they meet set requirements. It is unclear at present what the UK’s participation in Erasmus+ will be after Brexit but the announcement opens up the possibility of the UK’s continued involvement in the programme.

The Future of the Erasmus+ Scheme after 2020: House of Commons Debate

The Erasmus+ debate span a number of topics: social mobility, UUK’s Go International project, strategy for how students would continue exchanges with EU universities in the event of a Brexit no deal.

Sam Gyimah stated: he recognised that international exchanges were “important to students, giving them social mobility and widening their horizons, and it is valuable to our soft power.”  And to clarify the Government’s position on the future participation of Erasmus+ post 2020 within the uncertainty of Brexit he committed that the Government would “discuss with the EU the options for future participation as a third country, as the Prime Minister has made clear, on the basis of a fair and ongoing contribution. So we have accepted that we will want the option to participate and we know we must pay into the programme, but obviously we want the contribution to be fair and we will have to negotiate the terms.” He reassured the House that the Government were “actively engaged in the discussions on the design of the programme and we have made the EU aware of our desire to participate in the programme, and there is a lot to welcome in the framework proposals.” On cost, he said the Government had noted “the proposal for the budget to be doubled, so we need to discuss our participation based on a sensible and hard-headed assessment of the UK’s priorities and the substantial benefit to the EU should the UK decided to participate.”

Read the full text of the debate here.

STEM skills

The Public Accounts Committee has been running an inquiry into Delivering STEM skills for the economy  and published a report on Friday. STEM is recognised as essential to the future of UK industries and the Government has been running initiatives to improve STEM skills in the workforce including a substantial focus on STEM curriculum in schools. Although some initiatives to address STEM skills shortages have been successful there remain problems:

  • Women remain underrepresented in STEM courses and jobs – only 8% of STEM apprenticeship starts are undertaken by women.
  • In 2016 only 24% of those with STEM degrees were working in a STEM field six months after graduation.
  • The Government has focussed on schools to grow the next generation of skilled STEM workers. However, the report finds that the quality of careers advice in schools is patchy at best, perpetuating misconceptions about STEM careers. In addition, the way that schools are funded will restrict the likelihood of pupils moving to other, more STEM-focused learning providers, such as the new institutes of technology.
  • The Government is also unable to accurately assess the volume of the STEM skills shortage.
  • To make better informed decisions, [Government] departments also need to tackle the apparent lack of industry and commercial experience on their STEM boards and working groups.

Government departments spent almost £1 billion between 2007 and 2017 on initiatives to encourage more take-up of STEM subjects.

The Committee made 8 recommendations:

  1. Following publication of the Migration Advisory Committee report in September 2018, BEIS and DfE should, within six months, set out the further steps they will take to ensure that STEM skills shortages are addressed.
  2. DfE should set out what specific steps it will take to ensure that Skills Advisory Panels are sufficiently aware of national and global skills supply issues to be fully effective.
  3. By summer 2018, the departments should review the membership of all STEM boards and working groups, and address any shortfalls in expertise—for example, in industry knowledge or experience in STEM learning and work.
  4. DfE must identify as soon as possible whether financial incentives for teacher training have delivered value for money, and report its findings to the Committee as promised (i.e. have the teachers remained in the profession).
  5. By the end of 2018, the departments should establish, and start to monitor progress against, specific targets relating to the involvement of girls and women in key STEM learning programmes such as apprenticeships.
  6. DfE should make better use of data on career destinations and salaries to incentivise young people to work towards careers in particular STEM sectors where there is higher need. As part of its plans to improve the quality of careers advice, DfE should work with Ofsted to consider rating the quality of advice provided in schools.
  7. As a matter of urgency, DfE needs to develop a clearer plan for how new types of learning institution, such as the institutes of technology, will attract the numbers of students they need to be viable.
  8. DfE should ensure it has effective monitoring systems in place to quickly identify apprenticeship programmes that are not fit-for-purpose, along with poor quality provision, and the action it will take in each case

Meg Hillier MP chaired the inquiry, she commented:

“Warm words about the economic benefits of STEM skills are worth little if they are not supported by a coherent plan to deliver them. Government must take a strategic view, properly informed by the requirements of industry and the anticipated impact of Brexit on the UK’s skills mix.

But Government also needs to sharpen its focus on the details, from providing sound advice to pupils through to ensuring schools have the right skills in the classroom and STEM-focused institutions are properly supported. Poor-quality apprenticeships must be weeded out and there is still much work required to address the striking gender imbalance in STEM apprenticeships.”

Read the Committee’s press release: Sharper focus needed on skills crucial to UK productivity

STEM Parliamentary Questions

Q – Robert Halfon: what assessment he has made of the potential contribution of students with a qualification in Design and Technology GCSE to filling the skills gap in engineering.

A – Nick Gibb:

The design and technology (D&T) GCSE is a useful qualification for those pupils considering a career in engineering. The Department has reformed the D&T GCSE to ensure that it is a valuable qualification and includes the knowledge and skills sought by leading employers. Content has been aligned with high-tech industry practice with strengthened technical, mathematical and scientific knowledge.

Q – Robert Halfon: what information he holds on the reasons for the decline in the number of entries to Design and Technology GCSE since 2010

A – Nick Gibb:

Design and Technology GCSE entries have declined since before 2010. In 2016/17 over 150,000 pupils in England entered a Design and Technology (D&T) GCSE at the end of Key Stage 4, which is over 25% of all pupils (data source).

Subject experts identified a number of issues with the previous suite of D&T GCSEs. They advised that the GCSEs were out of date, did not reflect current industry practice, and lacked sufficient science, technology, engineering and mathematics content. These issues could have had an effect on take up. One issue was that there were six separate GCSEs focusing on different materials (such as resistant materials and textiles) or particular aspects of D&T (such as product design and systems and control). These did not allow pupils to gain a broad knowledge of the design process, materials, techniques and equipment that are core to the subject. The Department has reformed the D&T GCSE to address these issues. There is now just one GCSE title which emphasises the iterative design processes that is at the core of contemporary practice and includes more about cutting edge technology and processes. The new GCSE now effectively provides pupils with the knowledge they need to progress to further study and careers, including in high-tech industries.

Q – Robert Halfon:  what steps he is taking to revise the national curriculum to ensure that students are prepared for T-levels.

A – Nick Gibb:

  •  T-levels will provide students with knowledge and the technical, practical skills needed to get a skilled job. They will also allow students to progress into higher levels of technical training including degree courses in subjects relevant to their T-level.
  • My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State announced in April that he would make no changes to the National Curriculum within the lifetime of this Parliament; and there should be no need to do so to prepare pupils for T-levels. All state schools are required to teach broad and balanced curricula that will provide young people with the skills and knowledge they need to undertake post-16 education and training; and the design of T-levels will take into account the knowledge and skills that pupils obtain through the current National Curriculum and reformed GCSEs.

TEF

The DfE has published the research report: TEF and informing student choice: Subject-level classifications, and teaching quality and student outcome factors. The report notes that TEF was introduced to measure teaching quality and student outcomes to drive up teaching quality within the HE sector and inform prospective students so they can make more informed choices when choosing a HE institution. The research behind the report consider the methodology behind how subject level TEF could be delivered and gathered applicant and student views on what was important to them. The report will help inform the next iteration of the TEF.

Here are the key conclusions:

  • For subject level TEF CAH2 was preferred due to its accuracy for making subject-level classifications, and is considered most sufficient for providing information to help applicants choose where to study. (See here from bottom of page 39 to understand CAH2.) It was recognised some the CAH2 categories needed rewording, particularly subjects allied to medicine which needs more in-depth consideration. The Broad (7 subject) classification system was not helpful to applicants.
  • The study also highlights a number of teaching quality and student outcome factors that could be considered when further developing subject-level TEF. It’s important to consider teaching quality factors that have a short term impact on student satisfaction whilst at University with those having a longer term impact (such as graduate outcomes). There were a handful of factors that were low on the analyses and potentially, from a student perspective, could be deprioritised from subject-level TEF development. This includes teaching staff contracts, class sizes and the academic qualifications of teachers.
  • The research looked at the awareness and influence of the TEF awards on students currently or about to start at a HE institution.
    • 2/5 (two-fifths) of 2018/19 applicants were aware of what TEF refers to;
    • 1/8 had used the TEF to inform their choice of institution, or intended to do so.
    • 1/4 were aware of the TEF award given to their first-choice institution.

The research stated that as TEF becomes more embedded, we would expect applicant and student awareness and usage of TEF to grow over time, and the results from this research will form the baseline against which future awareness and student engagement can be measured.

The research concluded:

  • The study demonstrates that applicants and students would value the introduction of subject-level TEF ratings. Around three-quarters of all applicants and students (68 -78%) reported that they would find subject-level TEF awards useful while only a tiny minority (3-5%) suggested it was of no use. Applicants that were aware of the provider-level TEF and its purpose were also more likely to consider subject level TEF to be useful.

Some parliamentary questions from this week relevant to the TEF:

Q – Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Office for Students on the adequacy of the metrics for the Teaching Excellence Framework.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • To enable students to make the best decisions about their future, it is important that they have consistent independent information about the courses they are considering. The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) metrics focus on what matters to students: teaching quality, the learning experience, and student outcomes. The development of subject-level TEF will give students more information than ever before. The department has worked collaboratively with the Office for Students (OfS), and the Higher Education Funding Council for England before that, throughout the development of the TEF.
  • The metrics used for TEF assessments are all well-established, widely used and trusted in the HE sector. We consulted the sector extensively on the design of TEF, including the metrics to be used, in 2016. We have recently concluded a consultation on subject-level TEF and the OfS has completed the first year of the pilot of subject-level TEF. Findings from those exercises, including on the operation of the metrics, will be shared between the department and OfS and will inform the further development of the TEF.

Q – Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of efficacy of untrained PhD students being employed by universities to teach undergraduates.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The Higher Education Statistics Agency collects and publishes data on the teaching qualifications of academic staff, but this does not enable an assessment of the efficacy of those staff or any PhD students that are teaching in universities. The Higher Education and Research Act enshrines the principle that higher education institutions are autonomous organisations with freedom to select, appoint, or dismiss academic staff without interference from government. However, the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) recognises and rewards excellent teaching in higher education. The Teaching Quality measure within the TEF core metrics uses data from the National Student Survey, including student views of the teaching on their courses. In addition, the new Office for Students published its regulatory framework in February of this year. This includes a condition that all registered higher education institutions must deliver well designed courses that provide a high quality academic experience for all students – and that providers should have sufficient appropriately qualified and skilled staff to deliver that high quality academic experience.

Science and Innovation Investment

On Thursday Greg Clark (Secretary of State, BEIS) highlighted new investment in UK talent and skills to grow and attract the best in science and innovation.  Key points:

  • £1.3 billion boost to attract and retain world-class talent and guarantee the UK’s position at the forefront of innovation and discovery through the modern Industrial Strategy
  • Prestigious £900 million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme – open to best researchers from around the world the investment will fund at least 550 new fellowships for the brightest and best from academia and business

The inaugural UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme will receive £900 million over the next 11 years, with 6 funding competitions and at least 550 fellowships awarded over the next 3 years. The investment will provide up to 7 years of funding for early-career researchers and innovators, including support for part-time awards and career-breaks, providing flexibility to researchers to tackle ambitious and challenging areas. For the first time ever, this type of scheme will now be open to businesses as well as universities. The scheme aims to help the next generation of tech entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators get the support they need to develop their careers. It is open to best researchers from around the world, ensuring the UK continues to attract the most exceptional talent wherever they may come from.

Complementing the Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme, the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, British Academy, and Academy of Medical Sciences will collectively receive £350 million for the prestigious fellowships schemes. This funding will enhance the research talent pipeline and increase the number of fellowships on offer for high skilled researchers and innovators.

Over the next 5 years, £50 million has been allocated through the National Productivity Investment Fund for additional PhDs, including 100 PhDs to support research into AI, supporting one of the Grand Challenges within the Industrial Strategy and ensuring Britain is at the forefront of the AI revolution.

There was a Parliamentary Question about UKRI this week.

Q – Nic Dakin: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps he is taking to ensure that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) fulfils its mission to push the frontiers of human knowledge and understanding by appointing active research scientists to the UKRI Board.

A – Sam Gyimah: In line with the Higher Education and Research Act (2017), the Government has appointed UKRI Board members with experience across research, innovation and development, and on commercial and financial matters. This enables the UKRI Board to support and hold the organisation to account, ensuring it delivers effectively, rather than to supply discipline-specific expertise. That expertise is provided by the councils, who are uniquely positioned to understand the latest challenges and opportunities in their specific field, and they include a range of experts, including active researchers.

New LEO data

The DfE have issued the Graduate outcomes (LEO): subject by provider, 2015 to 2016, and have also published employment and earnings outcomes of graduates for each higher education provider broken down by subject studied and gender. The longitudinal education outcomes (LEO) data includes information from the Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs. The release uses LEO data to look at employment and earnings outcomes of higher education first degree graduates 1, 3, and 5 years after graduation in the tax years 2014 to 2015 and 2015 to 2016.

Main Document: Graduate Outcomes (LEO): Subject by Provider, 2015 to 2016

Full data release: Official Statistics, Graduate outcomes (LEO): subject by provider, 2015 to 2016

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:

  • Gender stereotypes in advertising
  • Growth in creative industries
  • Home Office immigration charges

Other news

Resignation: The Trade Minister, Greg Hands, resigned this week in protest at the Heathrow expansion. George Hollingbery has been appointed. Previously George was Theresa May’s Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Environment: Research Professional report on the Plastics Pollution Research fund. And there is a parliamentary question on the Environment Plan.

Q – Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to involve scientists, economists and environmentalists in developing a set of metrics to measure the progress of the 25 Year Environment Plan; and when those metrics will be published.

A –  Lord Gardiner of Kimble: We have engaged with scientists, economists and environmentalists from a number of external organisations since January to inform the development of a comprehensive suite of metrics and indicators.We will engage further with interested parties over the summer to canvas views on what this suite of indicators and metrics ought to cover. This will be achieved through a combination of publicly available briefing papers and targeted technical meetings with individual organisations and small groups of interested parties. The package of metrics we propose will then be subject to a further period of formal consultation in order to ensure we get this important measure absolutely right.

HE Sector Finances: The House of Commons Library has released information on HE Finance Statistics.  It considers how the balance and make-up of university income and expenditure has changed over time, particularly since 2012. Summary from Dods: After many years of increased income, expenditure, more staff and students, the higher education sector in England especially faces on ongoing fall in income from the public sector, falling numbers of some types of students, particularly those studying part-time and much less certainty about the future make-up and nature of the sector as a whole. This has meant that the future public/private funding mix, size and role of the sector are the focus of more attention than at any time in the recent past.  This note gives a short factual background on changes in income, expenditure and staffing since the sector took its present form in the mid-1990s. It also gives some information on variations between institutions. It includes data on all Higher Education Institutions in the UK.

Social Impact of Sport: The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee held an evidence session on the social impact of participation in culture and sport this week. The witnesses stated that sports, arts, and cultural provision yielded significant social benefits, including educational and health benefits. However, it was noted that data collection and analysis needed to improve to fully demonstrate this. There was discussion that good programmes were underway but best practice needed to be shared more effectively and communication of what was available needed to improve. It was felt that the Government should link up the various programmes underway and communicate the holistic benefits of sporting and cultural interventions. Contact Sarah for a fuller summary.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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