Tagged / lifelong learning

HE policy update 15th January 2024

Politics and Parliament

The PM has confirmed that 2 by-elections will be held in February. (from the FT)

  • The Conservatives on Thursday moved the writ for by-elections to be held in Wellingborough in the east Midlands and Kingswood, near Bristol, both of which were held by Tory MPs. Peter Bone won Wellingborough in 2019 with a majority of 18,540 over Labour but was forced out of the House of Commons after an inquiry upheld claims of bullying and sexual misconduct against a staff member. … The Wellingborough contest has been given additional interest by the decision of local Conservatives to choose Bone’s partner, Tory councillor Helen Harrison, as their candidate.
  • The Kingswood contest was triggered by the resignation of former energy minister Chris Skidmore in protest at Sunak’s plan to promote North Sea oil and gas drilling. Skidmore secured an 11,220 majority over Labour in 2019.
  • The moving of the writs means the contests must be held within 21 and 27 working days; polling in both constituencies is therefore expected to take place on Thursday February 15.

Education

Lifelong learning

All this is coming soon, including changes to the way that fees are calculated and paid to providers so that they are not based on years but on credits.  This means that there will be no more special arrangements for accelerated programmes.

But will there be any demand for modular programmes?  The OfS ran a big trial:

  • In autumn 2021 the Office for Students (OfS) launched the ‘Higher Education Short Course trial’ Challenge Competition, through which higher education (HE) providers bid for funding to develop short courses of 30 or 40 credits at Levels 4-6 in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), education, digital innovation and healthcare subjects and to help meet skills needs for Net Zero. Employers were to be closely involved in designing and developing the provision.
  • Through this competition, 22 providers received a total of £2 million to develop new short courses. Over 100 new courses were proposed in total, most to commence delivery in autumn 2022, with projections that over 2000 students in total would participate in 2022-23.

And the takeup for loans for the short courses was very small.  Out of 96 courses offered, only 17 were launched by 10 of the 22 providers, and instead of the 2000 participants planned, there were 240 applicants and 125 enrolments; with only 41 taking up the new student loan product.

The paper includes a lot of recommendations.  Wonkhe article here.

Apprenticeships

The government have pledged to increase apprenticeships at the cost, perhaps of “traditional” degrees.

In practice, apart from a lot of bigging them up in speeches and so on, this means that the OfS have been told to fund development of apprenticeships and they have been doing so:

  • The OfS will distribute up to £40 million through a competitive bidding exercise, which is now open for applications from OfS-registered higher education providers. Of the £40 million, up to £16 million will be allocated to projects that will complete before 31 July 2024 and up to £24 million is available for projects that will complete before 31 July 2025.
  • The funding competition aims to:
    • Expand course provision at higher education providers already offering Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Increase the number of students on Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Expand course provision at higher education providers who are new to offering Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Increase equality of opportunity within Level 6 degree apprenticeships

Note the focus on L6.  The government have made noises in the past about being unhappy with the volume of L7 apprentices being funded through the levy, especially where these are already senior employees, and this is something that may be addressed through policy changes in the future, e.g. restricting the use of the levy to L6 and below.  As noted last week, Labour have suggested repurposing the levy for apprenticeships and skills, which would also probably result in a reduction of the proportion of levy available for L7 apprenticeships, depending on how the changes were implemented, unless the amount available under the levy was increased.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

We talked about cost of living in last week’s report, there was a December Sutton Trust analysis which makes grim reading.

  • Polling by Savanta for the Trust shows that 62% spend less than £37 a week on food, which is the minimum needed for a single person to buy essential food items, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust.
  • Overall, students living at university in England outside of London have median costs of £11,400 a year on essential spending. These essential costs include accommodation (on average 52% of their spending), groceries (12%), and bills (6%). However, the median total loan in England outside of London of £7,000, equivalent to 61% of spend, does not come near to covering these basic needs.
  • And although the median loan in London is higher at £8,500, this is drastically less than the median spending of £17,287 by students in the capital.
  • To make ends meet, two thirds of students reported taking on paid work, with 20% working 16-30 hours per week. 49% have missed classes as a result, and 23% reported that they had missed a deadline or asked for an extension in order to work.
  • The maintenance package in England is now at its lowest value in real terms for seven years, as maximum loan amounts have not kept pace with inflation. Furthermore, fewer students are eligible for maximum loans as the parental earnings threshold has also been frozen since 2008. To secure the maximum loan, a student’s household must earn under £25,000 per year, which captures far fewer households than it did 15 years ago.

Here is the December Wonkhe story.

What are the characteristics of students?

Alongside the TEF outcomes published last year (and updated with most of the pending awards just before Christmas, were summaries of the characteristics data for students in the UK for the 4 years to 2020-21. This is interesting to consider, and although some of this might seem obvious, does it hold true for our own cohorts and it is that obvious really?

We tend to talk a lot in the sector about student outcomes in the context of student characteristics, achievement gaps and so on.  But the other aspect, which I have been discussing with Shelley recently, is what this means for education practice.  A couple of examples – there is more to think about here and BU’s numbers are different from the sector in some ways:

  • Only 52% of full time undergraduate students come in to HE with only A levels: while that is still a lot, 48% is a lot of students with different learning experiences.
  • 40% of full time PGT students are over 25, which suggests that they have had work or other experience since they completed their UG programmes.

Age on entry:

Part-time students and apprentices are generally older.  In particular there is a much higher proportion of apprentices who are over 31, which is not surprising given that many degree level apprentices at L6 and L7 will be people already in work who are being asked by their employers to upskill via an apprenticeship, and this is consistent with the lifelong learning/skills agenda

Disability:

  • A higher proportion of part-time students have declared disabilities than full time -this may be one of the reasons for students choosing to study part-time.
  • A smaller proportion of PG students, full-time and part-time, have declared a disability.
  • A smaller proportion of apprentices have a disability than full time students (for both UG and PG).
  • Cognitive or learning difficulties is the biggest category of disabilities

Ethnicity:

  • There are large proportions of “unknown” ethnicity for full-time PG students; this may reflect the high proportion of PG international students and makes any comparison between full-time UG and PG unreliable.
  • Part-time students and apprentices are much more likely to be white.

Qualifications on entry (UG only):

  • There is a smaller proportion of part-time students with A levels or BTECs, and a larger proportion of part-time students from access or foundation courses or with no, or unknown qualifications. There is also a large proportion (34%) with HE level qualifications undertaking part-time programmes.
  • 52% of full-time UG students have 3 A levels, and 16% have a BTEC or a combination.
  • There is a larger proportion of apprentices with HE qualifications, and also with no, or unknown qualifications.

HE sector sustainability and change

You will have seen from the policy updates over the last year the negative rhetoric around “poor quality” courses: of course we all agree that we don’t want those.  Some noses were put out of joint by the Autumn Statement’s only reference to HE: “Proposals will be implemented to decrease the number of people studying poor-quality degrees, and to increase take-up of apprenticeships”.

As noted last week, as far as we can tell, this does not mean new measures but continuing to instruct the OfS to use its existing powers of regulation plus a continued focus on funding and promoting apprenticeships.

This House of Commons library research briefing on student number controls from August 2023 is an interesting read.

Here are some extracts from the press release from July 2023 when the final bit of the Augar changes (no sector wide student number caps or minimum entry levels):

  • The UK has some of the world’s leading universities, but a minority of the courses on offer leave students saddled with debt, low earnings and faced with poor job prospects. The government wants to make the system fairer for them, but also for taxpayers – who make a huge investment in higher education and are liable for billions of pounds in unrecovered tuition fees if graduate earnings are low.
  • Figures from the Office for Students show that nearly three in ten graduates do not progress into highly skilled jobs or further study 15 months after graduating. The Institute for Fiscal Studies also estimates that one in five graduates would be better off financially if they hadn’t gone to university. [more on those figures below]

And none of this is helped by the increasing cost to the government of funding the HE system.  The IfS published a report on 9th January: ”higher long-term inters rates and the cost of student loans”.

The debate around funding student loans has largely focused on what share of student loans will be repaid, and what share of the cost will need to be picked up by the taxpayer. Much less attention has been paid to the government cost of financing student loans that do get repaid. In this report, we investigate how the cost of student loans including these financing costs has changed as a result of increases in government borrowing costs over the past two years.

  • The cost of government borrowing as measured by the 15-year gilt yield has risen from 1.2% to 4.0% over the past two years. Relative to expected RPI inflation, this is a 3 percentage point increase. As the interest rate on student loans is now the rate of RPI inflation, this means that the government can expect to pay 1.6 percentage points more in interest on its debt than the interest rate it charges on student loans. Two years ago, just before the most recent student loans reform, it could expect to pay 1.4 percentage points less than the rate of RPI inflation.
  • This increase in government borrowing costs translates to an increase in the expected cost of student loans including financing costs of more than £10 billion per year. With borrowing costs as at the end of 2021, the government could have expected to earn a total net profit of £3.2 billion on student loans to the 2023 university entry cohort, arising from the positive spread between the interest it charged on student loans and the interest it paid on its debt. With today’s borrowing costs, this interest rate spread is negative, and the government can expect to make a loss of £7.3 billion. 
  • Concerningly, this extra cost is not reflected in either of the government’s official measures of the cost of student loans. The ONS measure does not take the cost of government borrowing into account at all. The DfE measure that underlies the so-called RAB charge uses a backward-looking measure of borrowing costs, which does not yet capture the sharp rise in gilt yields over the last two years.

Quality

This crackdown on perceived low quality has so far consisted of several waves of OfS quality assessments, last week I highlighted the first published outcomes of the first waves of assessments in business and management and computing: the regulatory consequences of these assessments are yet to be announced (with concerns only confirmed at 2 of the 6), but where problems are found the OfS can do lots of things including a combination of these:

  • launch a formal investigation;
  • apply more frequent or intensive monitoring;
  • impose specific licence conditions on a provider (i.e. specific action that the provider must take (or not take): to note specifically this could include recruitment limits or student number controls for a provider in general or linked to specific subjects;
  • impose a fine;
  • refuse to renew an access and participation plan (note that has consequences for fee caps);
  • suspend aspects of a providers registration, including access to student support funding or OfS grant funding;
  • vary or revoke degree awarding powers or permission to call itself a university; and/or
  • deregister a provider.

Another interesting point to note: providers have to pay fees to cover the cost of the investigation if they are subject to a regulatory investigation by the OfS unless they are completely exonerated.

This Wonhke article from July 23 describes when the OfS has already imposed licence conditions relating to B3: most of these required improvement plans and most (other than 2) related to colleges or alternative providers rather than universities.

It is worth reading the article which includes a response from Burton and South Derbyshire College.  Their main point is that the OfS is using very old data: the latest OfS dashboard data is for continuation for students starting in 2020-21, and of course graduate outcomes and completion data is by definition for students who started much longer ago than that; and who are following a programme which is likely to have change quite a lot since they started.  Just as a counter-balance to that, for existing providers (rather than newly registered providers) sanctions will usually follow an investigation, so although the outcomes data may be old, the practice and actions taken by the provider that the OfS are reviewing is current.  Before imposing a restriction, the OfS would need to form a view that those current actions and other steps were not likely to be adequate on their own to address the issues flagged by the (old) data.

The latest quality assessments have focussed on two subjects, and have looked at a wide range of student outcomes and experience in the context of the B licence conditions.  Often discussions of the B conditions focus on B3 (minimum absolute levels of student outcomes), but there is a lot more to the B conditions than those.

These were covered extensively when the consultations about these new conditions were ongoing several years ago, but as a lot has happened since then, here is a reminder.

I’ll talk more about the TEF and some of these conditions and other licence conditions in future updates.

Student numbers and admissions

This from Wonkhe in the daily update on Friday 12th January makes interesting reading in the light of all the concerns from the OfS about risky dependence on international student numbers

  • International student recruitment from Pakistan has overtaken the “languishing” Nigerian market for the January 2024 intake, according to the latest data from recruitment platform Enroly – which suggests that deposits are down 37 per cent compared to the same period last year, with a similar fall in the number of Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) issued.
  • The data, based on a sample of 68,000 international students from the firm’s partner institutions, also shows that CAS issuance for students from India looks to have fallen by over 34 per cent, accompanied by a drop of more than 70 per cent in the Nigerian market – survey data suggests “unfriendly government policies” are playing a role in the decrease. But for students from Pakistan, deposits are up by 22.5 per cent, and CAS issuance by 14.2 per cent.

Financial sustainability

There has been a lot of press about financial sustainability and a lot of providers have been in the press for their efforts to manage financial gaps, arising from a whole range of issues as discussed last week.

To add to the doom and gloom here are some articles on the topic:

FT article 11th Jan 24: Senior leaders at four English universities told the FT in December they were experiencing a slowdown in international recruitment, driven in part by renewed competition from the US and Australia, which closed their borders during the Covid-19 pandemic. Data collected by the Enroly web platform that helps international students through the bureaucratic process of joining universities has indicated a sharp drop-off in enrolments from Nigeria and India. The company said a representative sample from more than 68,000 applicants to small and large UK universities found that overall deposit payments were down by 37 per cent for the January 2024 intake when compared with the previous year.

Research Professional article 5th Jan 24: universities at risk of insolvency in 2024

  • “These issues affect individual institutions in different ways and many universities remain financially secure, but we have a big and diverse higher education sector and a minority of universities are undoubtedly under the cosh financially at the moment,” Hillman said.
  • There are very few recent examples of UK higher education institutions closing down. In July 2019, the private provider GSM London—formerly known as the Greenwich School of Management—went into administration, and earlier that year Heythrop College, formerly part of the University of London, closed permanently. There have also been a number of mergers between providers.

ITV news: November 2023 Higher education sector in ‘existential crisis’ as one in four universities make losses

  • Data seen by ITV News paints a bleak picture of the higher education sector, which experts have described as being in an “existential crisis”.
  • One-quarter of universities are currently making a loss and total losses over the entire sector sits at a staggering £2 billion, a huge increase from the £200 million from the year before.
  • Professor Jenny Higham, from Universities UK, the umbrella body which represents 142 universities across the country, told ITV News an urgent solution was needed or the consequences would be severe.
  • “If [universities] continue not to be able to make up that deficit the end result will be universities will close,” Professor Higham said. “We need to work with everybody who has a vested interest in universities and their output to come up to solution for this problem.”

Universities UK report: sustainable university funding, September 2023

  • While it is not true that international students are displacing home students, it is the case that income from international students mitigates losses in teaching domestic students, and in turn helps grow, and make viable, domestic student capacity. Compared with a £1 billion loss in teaching domestic students, teaching international students brings in a £3 billion surplus. Given losses incurred in teaching domestic students, growth in international student income is needed to help grow domestic student capacity, which is needed as there is an increasing number of 18-year-olds projected in the UK population. It is debatable whether further growth in international student income is feasible, given increased competition from other countries, potential geopolitical risks to this income stream and recent government actions. Without this growth, and no further funding for teaching, it is likely that the chance of entering university for future cohorts will be more restricted than for previous cohorts.

The House of Commons library research briefing on student number controls from August 2023 referred to above also describes the upcoming cap on fees for some foundation years from the 2025/26 academic year: we are awaiting a consultation on the detail of this

It’s not easy in Wales or Scotland either, see recent articles from Wonkhe at the links.

There are OfS licence conditions about financial sustainability too: OFS licence conditions: financial sustainability and student protection in the case of a risk of market exit.

Minimum service levels

Something you may have missed in the run up to the holiday was the announcement of a consultation on minimum service levels in education (consultation closes 30th January 2024):

  • Any minimum service levels regulations we might implement following the consultation would apply on days when strike action is taking place in education services, and help minimise disruption to children and learners across education settings.

In the consultation document the section on HE starts on page 27

HE policy update 27th November 23

Autumn Statement

You can find the full autumn statement and all the associated papers here.

Somewhat acerbic summary from Research Professional here,

Some extracts from the statement

Science and Innovation:

  • Scientific breakthroughs are a crucial driver of long-run growth and play a critical role in improving lives and helping to tackle societal challenges. The UK hosts many of the world’s leading universities and the government provides the most generous support for business R&D in the OECD as a share of GDP through tax relief and public investment. The government is now going even further to ensure the UK remains at the cutting edge of science, innovation and technological development.
  • The Prime Minister has negotiated excellent terms for the UK to associate to Horizon Europe and Copernicus, getting great value for taxpayers while maximising opportunities for researchers. As a result, the government can now announce ambitious investments of over £750 million in UK R&D this financial year. These investments include transformative new programmes, including £250 million for long-term world-class Discovery Fellowships, £145 million for new business innovation support, and support to establish a National Academy focussed on mathematical sciences. The government is also ensuring the research, development and innovation organisational landscape is diverse, resilient, and investable, in response to Sir Paul Nurse’s review. The government will also continue to cut bureaucracy in grant applications.
  • University spin-outs are some of the UK’s most innovative companies and play a hugely important role for the UK economy, with investment increasing almost five-fold since 2014. To capitalise on this strength, the government is accepting all the recommendations of the Independent Review of Spin-outs and setting out how it will deliver them. Several universities and investors have already endorsed the recommendations of the review, and the government will provide £20 million for a new cross-disciplinary proof-of-concept research funding scheme, to help prospective founders in the UK’s universities demonstrate the commercial potential of their research.
  • Also published: government response to the independent review: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-review-of-university-spin-out-companies
  • Also published: government response to the Paul Nurse independent review of research, development and innovation landscape: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-development-and-innovation-organisational-landscape-an-independent-review
  • The government is committed to staying at the forefront of new technology. For example, this Autumn Statement provides £121 million for the UK’s space sector. This investment will pave the way for new space clusters and infrastructure, make progress towards the government’s climate goals by supporting the earth observation industry and deliver new capabilities in low earth orbit satellite communications technology. The government is also building on the £2.5 billion ten-year National Quantum Strategy by publishing an ambitious set of quantum missions, including a mission to have accessible, UK-based quantum computers capable of running 1 trillion operations by 2035. Other missions focus on quantum networks, medical applications, navigation, and sensors for infrastructure.

Life Sciences

  • Life sciences is a strength of the UK economy, with the sector critical to the country’s health, wealth and resilience. In May 2023, the government committed £121 million in funding as a first response to Lord O’Shaughnessy’s recommendations on improving the UK’s commercial clinical trial offer. The government has published its full response to the review, supported by an implementation plan, to make the UK one of the best places in the world to conduct clinical research. Up to £20 million of this funding will launch the first Clinical Trial Delivery Accelerator, focused on dementia, to help innovation reach NHS patients even faster.
  • To build resilience for future health emergencies and to capture and capitalise on the UK’s R&D strengths, the government is providing £520 million in funding from 2025-26 to support transformational manufacturing investments in life sciences. It is also backing UK innovation by investing £10 million, with an additional £10 million from Scottish Enterprise, in a world class Manufacturing Centre of Excellence in Oligonucleotides. Tackling antimicrobial resistance will be essential for future health resilience, so to mark the 2028 centenary of the discovery of penicillin, the government is granting £5 million seed funding to help launch  the Fleming Centre. A collaboration led by Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, the Centre will support the next generation of world changing health innovations.
  • The UK is uniquely placed to harness the power of health data to improve patient outcomes. In England the NHS has 1.6 million patient interactions every 24 hours generating real world experience and insights at scale.72 The government is therefore announcing a further £51 million for the Our Future Health (OFH) programme, a world-leading resource for health research, to genotype their first 1 million participants and to recruit hundreds of thousands of new volunteers, supporting the development of better ways to prevent, detect and treat diseases. The COVID-19 vaccine showed the UK is one of the best places to launch lifesaving therapies. Building on this legacy, Genomics England, along with a consortium of partners, is announcing the launch of a world first Rare Therapies Launch Pad, generating evidence on whether a pathway for new individualised therapeutics could be implemented in the UK for children with ultra-rare disease.

Creative industries

  • The UK has world-leading creative industries at the heart of an increasingly digital world. The sector grew at over one and a half times the rate of the wider economy between 2010 and 2019,73 contributing £126 billion in GVA in 2022. In June 2023, the government published its Sector Vision which set ambitions to grow the creative industries by £50 billion and deliver a creative careers promise to support a million more jobs by 2030. This included £77 million in new government spending, bringing the total announced since the 2021 Spending Review to £310 million. The sector also continues to be supported by significant tax reliefs, which were worth £1.66 billion in the year ending 2022.75
  • The government expects further growth and a rise in employment as creative industries embrace new technologies. To maximise the benefits of this, the government will further boost the international competitiveness of tax incentives for the UK’s world-leading visual effects sector. The government intends to increase the generosity of the Audio-Visual Expenditure Credit for visual effects expenditure, and will work with industry on how best to design this with the intention of implementing changes to the tax relief from April 2025.
  • To support the production of film and high-end TV across the UK, the government will provide £2.1 million of new funding next year for the British Film Commission and the British Film Institute Certification Unit. Furthermore, the government will review public investment in R&D spending for the creative industries to a Spending Review timeframe

Making a long-term investment in skills by delivering a world-class education system

  • A crucial part of securing Britain’s prosperity for future generations is building a world-class education and skills system. Long-term investment in human capital is crucial for growth and productivity: changes in labour quality contributed to around 15% of growth in labour productivity between 2001 and 2007, and the majority of labour productivity growth in the years after. This is why the government continues to make year on year increases to school funding in England, boost opportunities for adults to train, upskill and retrain, and, from 2025, transform the student finance system through the Lifelong Learning Entitlement.
  • In October 2023, the Prime Minister announced a strong action plan to ensure every student has the literacy and numeracy skills they need to thrive through the introduction of the Advanced British Standard. This new Baccalaureate-style qualification will bring the best of A-Levels and T-Levels together, creating a unified structure that puts technical and academic education on equal footing. This reform will ensure every student in England studies some form of maths and English to age 18, boosting basic skills and bringing the UK in line with international peers. It will increase the number of taught hours by 15% for most students aged 16 to 19 and will broaden the number of subjects students take.
  • The government is funding a down payment of over £600 million over the next two years. This will give teachers in key shortage academic and technical subjects – who are in the first five years of their career – a payment of up to £6,000 per year tax free, including further education colleges for the first time; support students to achieve their maths and English GCSEs where they did not pass first time; improve the quality of maths teaching; and build a deeper understanding of what works in 16-19 teaching and training with a £40 million capital investment into the Education Endowment Fund.
  • Beyond 16-19 education, the government is supporting employer based training in England so that adults of all ages can access high quality apprenticeships. The government has transformed apprenticeships to offer a prestigious and high quality alternative route to higher education. In 2021-22, almost a third of all starts were at Level 4 and above compared to only 4% in 2014-15.
  • The government continues to work closely with businesses to improve the apprenticeship system to meet the needs of learners, employers and training providers. The government is supporting plans to catalyse the growth sectors by committing £50 million to deliver a two-year apprenticeships pilot to explore ways to stimulate training in these sectors and address barriers to entry in high-value standards.

King’s Speech

King Charles III delivered his first King’s Speech to open the new parliamentary period on 7 November 2023. The speech is written by the government, not the King, and delivered within Parliament in a ceremony with all manner of pomp and tradition. If you’re interested in the history this article looks at how the custom developed and what themes were apparent in previous monarch’s first state opening speeches.

Onto business, the speech highlighted the broad areas the government intends to move in the forthcoming year. None were a surprise as the government has been announcing them across the last few weeks.

Of most interest to HE:

  • Steps will be taken to create the Advanced British Standard qualification, bringing technical and academic routes together.
  • Proposals will be implemented to decrease the number of people studying poor-quality degrees, and to increase take-up of apprenticeships. [There’s no new legislation for this so it will be a continuation of the OfS using existing powers and the proposal to include salary (by subject) in the graduate outcomes baselines in licence condition B3.  It’s not clear at this stage if there will be more proactive work to increase apprenticeships.]
  • Encourage innovation in new technologies such as machine learning and continue to lead international discussions to ensure AI is delivered safely.
  • Proposals will be published to reform welfare and support more people into work.
  • New legislation to empower police to tackle digital crime, including child sexual abuse.
  • New legislation to create a smoke-free generation, by restricting sale of tobacco, as well as the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children.
  • New legislation to promote the creative industries and support journalism.

Wonkhe also highlight this legislation which will impact on the HE sector:

  • A new Terrorism (Protection of Premises Bill) – known as “Martyn’s Law” – will require UK venues including universities to have preventative plans against terror attacks.
  • The new Data Protection and Digital Information (no. 2) Billis intended in part to “clarify and improve rules around using data for scientific research.”

The background briefing on these forthcoming Bills is available here.

In addition to the new legislation some Bills of interest to HE were carried over, such as:

Anything that wasn’t officially carried over is now defunct. This includes any parliamentary questions and Private Members’ Bills you may have been following.

If you’d like to read more delve into content from the House of Lords Library on the 2023 King’s Speech.

The King’s Speech was followed by several days of debate. Secretary of State Gillian Keegan led Friday’s  debate failed to answer Labour ex-Shadow HE Minister Emma Hardy’s question about how the government would identify low quality courses while controlling for local and regional differences in graduate salaries. Emma Hardy quoted the words of Lord Willetts to argue from research evidence that parental background also has a huge effect on graduate outcomes. The full transcript is here.

Cabinet Reshuffle

Although headline grabbing in a general sense there wasn’t much change for HE.

George Freeman resigned as Science Minister, replaced by Andrew Griffith:

The minister is responsible for:

Nick Gibb resigned as the long standing Schools Minister, replaced by Damien Hinds (another returner after a long period of absence),

Research

UKRI EDI Advisory Group

We mentioned this in the last update but there’s been significant sector interest, and some more movement on the UKRI EDI Advisory Group.  On 28 October DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan wrote to UKRI with concerns that individuals appointed to the UKRI EDI advisory group had expressed inappropriate views on social media which weren’t in keeping with their public responsibilities. Michelle recommended for UKRI to immediately close the group and undertake an urgent investigation into how this happened.’

Michelle also suggested that UKRI were overstepping their boundaries by going beyond the requirements of equality law in ways which add burden and bureaucracy to funding requirements, with little evidence this materially advances equality of opportunity or eliminates discrimination.

Wonkhe consider Donelan’s interventions and succinctly explain whether (in their opinion) she has the right to intervene or not. You can read Donelan’s letter and the two Wonkhe blogs: Michelle Donelan writes to UKRI over “jobs for Hamas terrorist sympathisers” and Can the Secretary of State tell UKRI what to do?

In response to the SoS letter UKRI immediately stated they would:

  • Suspend operations of the Research England Equality Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group with immediate effect.
  • Launch an investigation into the specific areas of concern.
  • Use the findings to come to a conclusion about the ultimate future of the RE EDI advisory group, and how best to ensure its purpose is fulfilled, as advised by the Research England Council.
  • The Board would review advisory structures to ensure that they are fit for purpose. This will include the processes for their establishment and operation.

Most recently UKRI Chief Executive, Ottoline Leyser, highlighted that only the EDI Expert Advisory Group’s work had been suspended. All other UKRI EDI initiatives continue their work programmes. And: We are fully committed to the principles of freedom of speech within the law and equality, diversity and inclusion. These are the foundations on which research and innovation excellence is built. I am determined to uphold these principles through the actions we are taking, despite the heightened emotions surrounding these debates at the current time…In line with the principles we espouse, we understand that different people will take different views about the best way to act and we respect their decisions.

REF2028 – overload and dilution?

HEPI published a Policy Note by former Warwick VC Nigel Thrift: REF 2028: Outputs Matter expressing concern that research outputs will be reduced from 60% to 40% and outputs will not be directly tied to individuals. He argues the REF is becoming overloaded and this is diluting its core purpose and putting Britain’s science superpower status at risk.

Last week Sarah was at a research sector gathering and noted a clear divide between those who are extremely concerned with the REF changes including the strong voice of Professor Dinah Birch (who led main panel D in REF2021) and those in favour of progress and changes such as Helen Cross from the Scottish Funding Council who was involved in the FRAP. It feels the tussle for REF 2028 isn’t yet over, not least because Professor Birch is advocating delaying REF past 2028 if the assessment changes are implemented.

The very quick read of Thrift’s policy note is here or read the full seven pages here.

An analysis of REF 2021 impact case studies was published last week exploring the pathways to research impact, and the practices that enable it. Wonkhe report:

  • The team identified 79 “impact topics” that highlight the diverse range of areas where UK research is making a difference to policy, practice, and people’s lives. Notably, 72 per cent of impact case studies linked to two or more disciplinary areas. Of the 79 impact topics, those associated with “grand challenges”, such as environmental conservation and food policy, are more likely to be underpinned by interdisciplinary research than those for which disciplinary and professional practice are more closely linked, such as clinical medicine. Research collaboration also features prominently in generating research impact.
  • What lessons should be learned from this data? The one that the sector most hopes will be clear is that funding research generates societal benefit – there can be no doubt about that. Some might argue you don’t need an “impact agenda” to know that, but on a purely pragmatic level it really helps to have the evidence.
  • The second lesson might be about the links between research culture and excellence – the current debate over the extent to which research culture should form part of the REF is interrogating the extent to which inclusive, cooperative research culture is associated with excellence, and there are almost certainly links to be made around research collaboration, cooperation with non-academic partners, and the engagement of diverse disciplinary perspectives as being research practices that actively support research impact.
  • …to what extent should REF incentivise universities to align their research agendas to local challenges as well as grand global challenges? Some would say that it doesn’t matter how far away the impact occurs as long as the research is excellent and impactful. Others might point out that the relative “place-blindness” of research funding until recently has led to a situation in which R&D spend is not very evenly distributed across the country, and that part of universities’ social compact involves deploying their resources for the benefit of their places.
  • Universities will, in many cases, already be considering these questions in light of a new focus on place from funders, some of which will materialise in the next iteration of REF. But it is always worth considering the extent to which local research impact forms part of a university’s agenda and how that ambition might be realised in time for the next big assessment.

Blogs:

AI news

Similar to previous weeks, there’s a significant amount of artificial intelligence (AI) related news. We’ve kept content as brief as possible so do click the links for more information if this is your interest area.

Medical diagnostics (AI): The House of Lords published part two of their Current Affairs Digest: Science. It looks at how advances in AI are changing medical diagnostics. Once trained on vast datasets of images and research AI tools have been designed to interpret scans, refine images for clinical review, and map anatomy ahead of treatment. It looks at whether AI can save clinician time, costs and workload. Thes briefing presents a range of studies on applications, accuracy and challenges.

£118m AI Package: The Government announced a £118m “boost to skills funding”, including a new grant scheme and confirmation of a further 12 Centres for Doctoral Training in AI (£117 million), funded through UKRI. The remaining £1 million creates the AI Futures Grants scheme to help the next generation of AI leaders meet the costs of relocating to the UK- it’s currently being designed and will launch in 2024. The British Council and UK universities are also funding 15 GREAT scholarships for international students to come to the UK to study Science and Technology courses, including subjects related to AI or life sciences. The ‘Backing Invisible Geniuses’ (BIG) scholarship pilot is being launched. It’s led by the Global Talent Lab and champions outstanding high-school performers in International Science Olympiads, setting them on a path to excel in maths, science, and AI. Funded by XTX Markets and in partnership with DSIT. The government intends to create a new dedicated visa scheme for the world’s most talented AI researchers to come to the UK on internships and placements, early in their careers, to encourage them to build their careers, ideas and businesses.

AI Safety Summit: For weeks the government has been building up to the AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park. You can read a summary of the Summit’s discussions provided by DSIT and the summaries of the eight roundtables are here.

Announcements:  

  • Michelle Donelan announced the government’s Frontier AI Taskforce and leading British researchers will be equipped with supercomputers to analyse the safety of advanced AI models.
  • The investment into the AI Research Resource has been tripled to £300m, up from £100m announced in March 2023, in a bid to further boost UK AI capabilities. This will bolster Isambard-AI (Bristol University) announcement and will connect Isambard-AI to the newly announced Cambridge supercomputer called ‘Dawn’.
  • The connection of the two new supercomputers means researchers will be able to analyse advanced AI models to test safety features and drive breakthroughs in drug discovery and clean energy (from summer 2024). The Frontier AI Taskforce will have priority access to the connected computing tools to support its work to mitigate the risks posed by the most advanced forms of AI. The resource will also support the work of the AI Safety Institute, as it develops a programme of research looking at the safety of frontier AI models and supports government policy with this analysis.

AI safety institute: DSIT published further information about the new AI Safety Institute. The creation of the Institute was announced by the Prime Minister in a speech at The Royal Society. It will focus on advanced AI safety for the public interest, minimising surprises to the UK and humanity from rapid and unexpected advances in AI. It will work towards this by developing the sociotechnical infrastructure needed to understand the risks of advanced AI and enable its governance. Read more about its three core functions here:

  • Develop and conduct evaluations on advanced AI systems
  • Drive foundational AI safety research
  • Facilitate information exchange.

The Frontier AI Taskforce has been subsumed within the AI Safety Institute to continue its safety research and evaluations. The other core parts of the Taskforce’s mission will remain in DSIT as policy functions: identifying new uses for AI in the public sector; and strengthening the UK’s capabilities in AI. Ian Hogarth continues as Chair of the AI Safety Institute and the External Advisory Board for the Taskforce will now advise the AI Safety Institute. A Chief Executive of the Institute will be recruited.

Quick research news round-up

Ex-Science Minister George Freeman announced the recipients of over £14 million funding for the UK’s quantum sector. He described how the government is continuing with its ambition to become a quantum-enabled economy by 2023 and broke the £14+ million down into the following elements:

  • The launch of a UK Quantum Standards Network Pilot that will help to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of establishing global standards for quantum
  • Over £10m in funding for 6 projects to accelerate the development of components and systems for quantum network technologies
  • Over £4m to strengthen collaborative research and development through Canada-UK partnerships to develop real-world quantum technologies for commercial use
  • The National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) closing its £30m competition to provide quantum computing testbeds, alongside a partnership with IBM to provide users cloud access to IBM’s full fleet quantum machines
  • A new science and innovation agreement with the Netherlands to deepen collaboration on quantum which will see closer cooperation covering research and development, commercialisation, investment, and skills

Full details here.

Horizon Europe PQ: Shadow Universities Minister Matt Western asked the government to assess the potential impact on the (a) finances and (b) reputation of individual universities of not having participated in the Horizon programme for two years; and to publish the 10 most affected universities. The government stated that the Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme meant no UK researchers has been left out of pocket, and that 2,600 grant offers (£1.39 billion) had been made by end September 2023.

RIF allocations: At the end of October UKRI released the 2023-24 Regional Innovation Fund (RIF) grant allocations to institutions (total £48.8 million for England). All HE institutions receiving HEIF will receive a RIF allocation. More detail here.

Spinouts: Wonkhe – The government should push universities to offer a two-track system for spinouts, with a “light touch” option taking a small equity stake for those who do not want additional support from technology transfer offices. This is according to a report from the Tony Blair Institute, Onward and the Startup Coalition on the need to harness artificial intelligence. The report also recommends reform to the High Potential Individual Visa so that it applies to graduates from a wider range of universities internationally, in particular institutions with a specialism in technology.

REF 2028 Parliamentary Question: Q – Ben Lake – will the SoS for DSIT meet with representatives of the Universities Policy Engagement Network to discuss the implications for Departments of the REF2028 requirement that universities demonstrate (a) impact and (b) engagement.
Answer – George Freeman: The design and implementation of the REF 2028 is being carried out by the devolved funding bodies of the UK nations, including Research England in England. During this process the funding bodies have engaged widely with stakeholders, including many of the members of the Universities Policy Engagement Network (UPEN), on the design of the next REF. This engagement, including a currently open opportunity to provide written comments, will continue through the autumn and the final design of the REF will take full account of stakeholders’ contributions to the engagement process. [Note, the consultation mentioned is actually closed now.]

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Prior to the prorogation for the King’s Speech, the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill 2022-23 was debated in the House of Commons at Report Stage against the backdrop of increased tension in the Middle East. Labour called for the Bill to be delayed or withdrawn due to the geopolitical context. Margaret Hodge MP (Labour) also criticised the Bill stating it was flawed and would not solve the problem of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and accused the Conservative party of introducing it for party political point scoring. She was also concerned it would inflame recent community tensions on university campuses and in workplaces.

During the debate several MPs spoke about the antisemitism and Islamophobia following the 7 October attacks and examples of antisemitism on campus were cited.

Previous Secretary of State for Education, Kit Malthouse (Conservative), introduced his amendment which requested universities were exempted from the Bill. He believes that aspects of the Bill run contrary to the recent HE Free Speech Act and the work of the new OfS Free Speech tsar. Kit also felt including universities would be another step towards universities being classed as public bodies – which he was opposed to – because the Treasury had taken on significant debt when FE colleges had become public bodies and the government risked greater debt should they bring universities into the fold. He requested his amendment be considered and did not present the amendment for a vote.

Chris Stephens (SNP) spoke to Clause 4 stating the Bill would, in effect, prevent elected councillors and university Vice-Chancellors from publishing public statements indicating intention to act in ways that would contravene the ban. He highlighted that anti-boycotts laws in the US had curbed freedom of expression. Angela Rayner (Labour) also spoke to the Clause 4 gagging clause and stated Labour believed it was incompatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – she called on MPs to remove or amend the Clause. David Jones (Conservative) also spoke out against Clause 4 again highlighting the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023; he stated the Clause was an unacceptable constraint on free speech and a deeply un-conservative measure – he called for the removal of the Clause from the Bill.

Angela Rayner also outlined her amendment which would allow public bodies to produce a document setting out their policy on procurement and human rights. She said this could ensure that ethical considerations could be applied equally to all countries rather than singling out individual nations, adding consistency and avoiding the critique from some around Israel having special treatment.

John McDonnell (Labour) argued that BDS actions should be seen as an overall tactic rather than solely in the current Israel/Palestine context, citing BDS actions throughout history including for apartheid South Africa, and more recently for Russia and Iran. MPs from both sides of the House raised concerns that the only states and territories explicitly named on the face of the Bill, were Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), and the Golan Heights. Angela Rayner said that this showed how the government were failing to treat Israel like any other state or nation, despite the Secretary of State previously claiming the Bill would be non-country specific. Angela highlighted how the Bill would apply as much to China, Myanmar and North Korea, as it does to Israel and this would have significant impact on the ability for e.g. communities to support Uyghur minorities in China.

George Eustice (Conservative) stated including the OPTs and the Golan Heights alongside Israel on the face of the Bill could send a signal that the UK had changed its longstanding position of a two-state solution and that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were illegal. He warned the government against equating Israel with those territories.

Kit Malthouse outlined his cross-party amendment which sought to remove the prohibition on the government specifying Israel, the OPTs or the Occupied Golan Heights as a country or territory to which the prohibition on boycotts does not apply. He said that this was seeking to ensure that Israel was treated like any other country in the world and avoid adding fuel to the argument that it receives special treatment, which he said gave rise to antisemitism.

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, responded on the government’s behalf stating he appreciated the debate came at a sensitive time, but that the House was united in their horror of terrorism, their desire for peace and belief in a two-state solution. He highlighted that the Bill was introduced following a manifesto commitment, made prior to the current conflict in the Middle East. [This is significant because when the Bill reaches the House of Lords, while they can amend and offer challenge protocol dictates they should not deliberately oppose manifesto commitments.] Gove acknowledge the debate concerns but felt they had misunderstood the provisions and intention of the Bill. He said the Bill did not prevent any individual from articulating their support for the BDS campaign, rather it prevented public bodies and public money from being used to advance these ideals. On free speech, again he said the Bill would not affect individuals right to free speech but prevent public bodies themselves from making their own foreign policy. Finally, he said that the Bill did not prevent human rights considerations from being taken into account by public bodies, and that the Bill made it clear that legitimate human rights considerations, provided that they are noncountry-specific, should be taken into account.

All amendments were rejected and the Bill passes to the House of Lords unamended.

Education Questions

The DfE ministerial team answered Education Questions. Here is the content most relevant to HE:

  • Rosie Duffield (Labour) highlighted the regular use of food banks among the student community, questioning what the government were doing to support students and staff that were forced to turn to food banks. Halfon, Universities Minister, stated the Government had frozen tuition fees and provided £276 million student premium funding. He added that it was important to provide a system that was fair for students and the taxpayer, and that prioritised the most disadvantaged.
  • Lilian Greenwood (Labour) highlighted that the maintenance loan had fallen £1,500 in real terms since 2020/21. She said the cost-of-living crisis was affecting students’ education and physical and mental health; she challenged the Minister on whether this was acceptable. Halfon responded that the government were doing everything possible to support the most disadvantaged.
  • Matt Western, Shadow HE Minister, highlighted the increased level of paid work among students, and the negative impact it was having on their studies. He asked Minister Halfon whether he expected students to balance paid employment with university work, and to acknowledged it was forcing many students out of higher education. In his reply, Minister Halfon stated: Actually, the opposite is true. We have a record number of students going to university. Disadvantaged students are 71% more likely to go to university now than they were in 2010. We have a huge package of support. I have mentioned the £276 million for disadvantaged students. We are doing everything we can to help disadvantaged students. The hon. Gentleman criticises the money we are giving but does not come up with a figure of his own. Warm words butter no parsnips.
  • Carol Monaghan MP, SNP spokesperson (Education): The Minister mentions some things that are maybe trying to help these students, but recent Higher Education Policy Institute analysis shows that students who previously received free school meals are less likely to complete their degree and those who do are less likely to get a first or a 2:1. Support cannot stop once they get to university. She asked the Minister to detail what support he is giving those students at every stage of their journey to make sure they really do have the same opportunities as those from more privileged backgrounds. Halfon responded: Many universities offer bursaries to students…we are doing everything possible to ensure that students who do courses get good skills and good jobs at the end. That is the purpose of our higher education reforms…

There were also a number of questions on Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) – you can read the content here (scroll down the page to locate the HTQ questions).

Growth for the sector

Lord Willetts (and the Economy 2030 inquiry*) published How higher education can boost people-powered growth. The report notes the success of HE and rejects the claim that there are too many university degrees. It calls for reforms to the system to properly fund HE and to support new innovative universities to enter the market. The report recommends:

  • An open, evidence-based debate about the calibration of the graduate repayment scheme so the system is adjustable and reflects changing political judgements. Via a once every five years review of fees and loan terms so the system can be modified without tearing it all up and starting again.
  • Banks could be invited to partner with universities to buy the debt of a university’s graduates from the Student Loans Company.
  • The DfE could launch a competition inviting applications to create a new university with a particular focus on places that do not currently have one.

If you prefer the short version Lord Willetts wrote about the recommendations in Conservative Home: This is the moment to seize the opportunity for growth in apprenticeships and higher education.

* The Economy 2030 inquiry is not a Select Committee or a Select Committee inquiry – it’s the name of a collaboration between the Resolution Foundation and the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.

Rip off degrees

Minister Halfon dodged responding to a parliamentary question requesting the Government state which degree courses they plan to increase controls for to prevent rip-off university degrees (reference: Crackdown on). Halfon used the Prorogation of Parliament to state they wasn’t enough time to respond to the question before the parliamentary session closed. Let’s hope Charlotte Nichols (who tabled the question) reintroduces it in the new session so we can receive the official government word on the matter.

Meanwhile Wonkhe have managed to find the time and have highlighted that OfS published prioritisation criteria for its 2024 quality round, stating where it (OfS) sees the greatest risk to student outcomes. The OfS areas for quality focus for the year ahead are as expected: business and management courses, foundation year provision, and franchised provision. There’s a blog: England’s higher education regulator has announced its areas of focus for its next round of inspections. Snippet: What is OfS getting at? The combination of mentions of integrated foundation years, business courses and subcontracting is very interesting – partly because a good hypothesis is that all three characteristics make up a good chunk of the story in the DfE figures on foundation years that were released recently. Wonkhe suggest universities for whom all three areas of focus intersect should prepare for the ‘boots on the ground’.

Mental health

The Minister for HE has suggested that he might ask the OfS to consider a licence condition to require universities to take more action to address mental health. In a speech to a UUK conference, Robert Halfon said:

  • I’d like to begin by paying tribute to all the student services staff who work on the frontline, day in, day out, to support students. You are there for them on their hardest days at university. You strive to help them find a way through. You do it because you care – because you want the best for your students.
  • … In my year as Minister for Higher Education I have made this an absolute priority. There are 3 pillars to our approach: Funding vital services and projects; spreading and implementing best practice; and clear responsibilities for providers and protection for students.
  • The first pillar is about investing in the wellbeing of students. To provide nationwide access to free mental health resources and confidential support, we provided Student Minds with £3.6 million to set up Student Space. Over 450,000 students have now benefitted from this service, including those who recently braved the “freshers” experience… We are backing university wellbeing services to support these students as part of this year’s £15 million investment in mental health by the Office for Students (OfS)
  • Our second pillar is about best practice. We need to create the right conditions on campus for students to thrive through a whole-university approach to mental health. This means not just relying on student wellbeing services. It means everyone, from the Vice Chancellor down to the librarian takes responsibility for creating an environment and culture that supports positive mental health and wellbeing. The principles for achieving this are laid out in the University Mental Health Charter. ..Thanks to the hard work of university staff, and the backing of your leaders, you have delivered an incredible 50% increase in University Mental Health Charter Programme membership over the summer. We’re now at 96 universities, which is a big step – perhaps even a giant leap – closer to our target of all universities joining by September 2024. 
  • Clear responsibilities for providers and protection for students:…
    • I wrote to university leaders in June to ask them to take ownership of mental health at an executive level. The sector needs to come together to finish the job of embedding the guidance that has been set out.
    • I now want to turn to the work of Professor Edward Peck, and take this opportunity to thank him for all the progress he has made since his appointment as HE Student Support Champion. This summer I asked Edward to build on that work and chair the Higher Education Mental Health Implementation Taskforce – a vehicle for delivering real change… The taskforce will conclude its work in May next year, providing an interim update in early 2024.

He ended:

  • As I’ve said before, I am confident we have a strong plan in place, but I don’t rule out going further if needs be. If we do not see the improvements we need, I will not hesitate to ask the Office for Students to look at introducing a new registration condition on mental health.
  • Ultimately, we must do what it takes to provide the safety net that students and their loved ones expect and deserve as they embark on the amazing privilege of university life.

Not off the hook yet…

The House of Lords has continued their theme of inquiring into regulation. They’ve published a new inquiry into UK regulators. It’s described as a short and cross-cutting inquiry into UK regulators as a whole (including the OfS), with a specific focus on roles, remit, independence and accountability.

The inquiry will examine whether regulators as a whole have been given a clear job to do and whether their roles and remits are sufficiently discrete from one another. The inquiry will also examine whether regulators are appropriately independent of Government, including whether the right balance is being struck between strategic and political input from government and preserving regulators’ operational independence.

The inquiry will further examine how regulators should be held to account for their performance, and by whom – including the respective roles of the Government and of Parliament.

Lord Hollick, Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee, said: The committee has recently conducted scrutiny of regulators including Ofwat, Ofgem, and the Office for Students. A common area of concern arising from all these inquiries is the relationship between the regulator and the Government, and the level of independence and accountability regulators have. Many regulators are public bodies funded by the taxpayer and have significant powers; it is therefore vital that they are scrutinised and held to account.

Quality

UUK report on the QAA’s (Quality Assurance Agency for HE) latest policy paper in the Future of Quality in England series: The right ambition, the wrong solution? How the Lifelong Learning Entitlement can deliver a high-quality learning experience.

UUK: The paper argues that the eligibility and scope of modules included within the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) is too narrow, and that pathways for progression throughout a learner’s lifetime are unclear. It outlines ways in which the learning experience will need to be adapted for modular learners and how this will impact the way quality is measured. The paper recommends that policymakers should:

  • Balance the option of working towards a full qualification with accessing a suite of standalone modules.
  • Facilitate greater collaboration with the sector.
  • Use evidence to determine how quality is measured. You can read the full policy paper.

Short summary available from QAA here.

Modules

UUK published their response to the OfS call for evidence on positive outcomes for modular study. The response includes:

  • Welcoming the OfS’ approach to policy development.
  • Agreeing with the OfS that the approach to regulation will need to change because of the LLE.
  • Supporting the exploration of completion measures for modular study.
  • Recognising the importance of understanding where students go after studying, whether that’s through further study or employment.
  • Considering how the reflective questions in the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) graduate outcomes dataset could inform what successful study looks like for modular learners.

Student Finance

The Minister for the School System and Student Finance, Baroness Barran, announced the introduction of regulations to allow plan 2 (undergraduate), plan 3 (postgraduate) and plan 5 (undergraduate) student loan interest rates to be capped automatically each month, where they would otherwise exceed comparable prevailing market rates.

There’s also to be a change to the calculation of the overseas fixed instalment repayments for plan 1 student loans (1998 to 2012) with the amended fixed instalment rate increasing to be equivalent to the monthly repayments of a plan 1 student loan borrower earning twice the median working age graduate salary in England. The Minister stated that this would remove a perverse incentive whereby higher earning borrowers residing overseas may have chosen not to submit their earnings information to the SLC in order to reduce their monthly payments.

Student loans:  Wonkhe – The Student Loans Company has posted provisional figures for its student finance dispersals in the current academic year – over £5bn in total, of which £2.06bn are tuition fee payments to providers.

Quick Student News

Commuter students: Shadow universities minister Matt Western: asked for an estimate of the number of domestic students commuting to university campuses in each of the last five years. HE Minister Halfon stated the closest approximation of commuter students shows the proportion remains at around one in four between 2018/19 and 2021/22.

Grades: Wonkhe report – Graduate employers are less inclined to focus on grades when looking for suitable employees – just 44 per cent of the 169 organisations surveyed by the Institute of Student Employers asked for a 2:1 or above, down from 76 per cent a decade ago…This year’s ISE Recruitment Survey also reveals that graduate vacancies are up six per cent on last year, but the average organisation receives 86 applications per vacancy (up 23 per cent on last year). It describes graduate employers as “cautiously optimistic”, but notes that less is being spent on recruitment. Overall, 92 per cent of employers were either “often” or “almost always” able to find the graduate employees they need. The Telegraph covers the report. Blog: The chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers shares the findings of this year’s survey of student recruiters.

Student deaths: Wonkhe – The government’s review of student suicides has come in for criticism from #ForThe100, the campaign in support of bereaved families. On Wonk Corner, Jim Dickinson goes over the issues.

Healthcare courses: Wonkhe – Recent UCAS data indicates that healthcare-related courses are not as attractive to applicants as they used to be. If the last time you looked at this area of provision was during the pandemic’s peaks of aspiration, more recent data will make it clear that all Universities UK, the Medical Schools Council, and the Council of Deans of Health have responded to the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan with a call for thoughtful reform of medical and healthcare provision and funding.

And UUK published Universities Powering the NHS: Working together to deliver future health skills. The paper sets out actions to meet the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan goals. Snippets: Universities fully recognise the challenges involved in such a radical expansion and transformation of health education system capacity…Success will depend on cross-party commitment to support and fund the plan across the next 15 years, which includes general elections and spending reviews.

UUK recommendations:

For universities and the NHS to work together successfully, five system conditions need to be addressed:

  1. a strategic shift within higher education to dramatically expand health education capacity
  2. a culture shift within the NHS to value and support learners and educators and improve the working environment
  3. implementation must be co-produced to an agreed roadmap
  4. funding must be sustained across the plan’s 15-year horizon
  5. regulation must be aligned, outcomes-based and adaptive

There are also five threshold conditions that need urgent attention:

  1. student recruitment including widening participation
  2. the educator and clinical academic pipeline
  3. capital investment to boost system capacity
  4. extending and diversifying placements and practice-learning
  5. health student and early career attrition

BU’s medical simulation game is featured under case studies.

Regional graduate premium: blog – Data on the graduate premium in the UK’s regions suggests some struggle to make the most of graduate-level skills. Debbie McVitty tries to work out what’s going on.

Political News

Dods provide a roundup of the Labour Party’s recent policy statements in The Labour Policy Roadmap – post-conference update. A sectoral breakdown of the party’s pledges and ambitions. Of interest to HE is their commitment to ban unpaid internships, however, it’s not a blanket policy as they caveat their policy commitment to allow unpaid internships when part of an education or training course.

They also commit to:

  • Reform university tuition fees system to lower pay-back costs for graduates.
  • Increase private and public R&D spending to 3 percent of GDP, improve collaboration between universities, business and local economic institutions, enable universities to develop self-sustaining local clusters of innovation and investment, and Introduce 10-year R&D funding settlements to support innovation.
  • Create more medical school places.
  • Create 7,500 more medical school places, 10,000 more nursing and midwifery clinical placements per year, and train 5,000 more health visitors.
  • Include a creative or vocational subject as one of the non-EBacc subjects in pupil’s Progress and Attainment 8.

HE statistics

The DfE published the education and training statistics with the most recent data on schools, attainment, qualifications gained, education expenditure, further education and higher education in the UK.

For HE there were 2,972,33 higher education (HE) students in 2021/22, of which 72% were undergraduates and 28% were postgraduates.

  • More females than males made up the overall student population (57%) and females made up a greater share at every level.
  • The most popular subject was Business and Management with 18% of all students enrolled (over half a million students), followed by Subjects allied to Medicine (12%) and Social Sciences (10%).
  • The majority of students studied full-time but proportionally more females than males studied part-time (23% vs. 19% respectively across all course levels).
  • In 2021/22, 23% of all HE students were from overseas (681,600 students).
  • Overall, 4% of 19 to 64-year-olds held a NQF level 4 or above in 2022 – 67% had level 3 or above, and 83.1% had level 2 or above.
  • Total UK government expenditure on education across the UK increased by 5.1% from financial year 2021-22 to financial year 2022-23.
    • Primary and secondary education saw an increase in spend of 2.2% and 7.1% respectively, while tertiary education saw a 3.6% decrease in spend.
    • Expenditure on education in real terms decreased by 1.3% from financial year 2021-22 to financial year 2022-23. Expenditure on education as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 0.1 ppts.

DfE also published the statistics which measure HE participation by school cohorts, calculating the proportion of the population aiming to complete a qualification at HE level (measured at age 15, excludes apprenticeship HE hopes).

Full data here.

Applicants

UCAS published the first statistical release of the 2024 undergraduate cycle highlighting applicant numbers for HE courses (with the early October deadline). Dods highlight the key findings:

  • The number of UK 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas (POLAR 4 quintile 1) is at a record high, with 3,160 students having applied, up by 7% from the 2023 cycle (2,950). 17,080 of the most advantaged (POLAR4 quintile 5) have applied this year compared with 16,720 last year, up by 2%.
  • A total of 72,740 have applied to start an undergraduate course with an October application deadline in 2024, down by 2% from last year (74,090), but up by 6% from 2020 (the October 2019 application deadline, for autumn 2020 entry) – the last pre-pandemic cycle (68,690).
  • In total, there have been 39,310 UK 18-year-olds apply by the deadline, the second highest number on record. This is up by 2% since 2023 (38,660) and up by 11% since 2020 (35,290).
  • The total number of UK 18-year-olds who have applied to medicine is 11,750, which is down by 7% since last year (12,700), but up by 8% since the October deadline for 2020 entry (10,930).
  • The number of UK students aged 35 and over applying to medicine for the first time (230) is up from 170 in 2023 (+31%), down from the record of 260 in 2021. This is the largest year on year percentage increase since 2021 (up 39%).
  • There has been a 18% decrease in the total number of UK 19-year-old applicants – which is 5,580 this year, but down from 6,770 in 2023.
  • The total number of international students (all ages) who have applied is 20,850, which is down from 2023 (20,970) but up from 2019 (20,280).
  • China remains the largest source market for international applicants; however the number of applicants from China is down 1% from 2023 (but up 31% against the October deadline for 2020 entry). The USA and Singapore have had the largest growth in applicants since last year, with applicants from USA increasing by 9% and Singapore by 6%.
  • There has been a 6% increase in UK domiciled applicants declaring receipt of free school meals. This is in the context of rising numbers of pupils in England receiving free school meals.

Access & Participation

The House of Commons Library briefing paper Support for care leavers provides an overview of the government’s policies to support care leavers.

The Women and Equalities Committee has endorsed the appointment of Alun Francis as chair of the Social Mobility Commission, following a pre-appointment hearing.

Wonkhe blog: Universities are often failing to enable disabled doctoral students to access their education. Pete Quinn explains a new research report on what can be done to change things.

Wonkhe also outline a new report from TASO examining the effectiveness of four interventions at universities in England – either intended to support disabled students, or improve employability – as well as making recommendations on the evaluation methods used. It notes that evaluations of the “scope and calibre” of those considered in the report are “time-consuming and resource-intensive”, and recommends institutions invest in further evaluation capacity and consider whether academics can provide support with evaluation.

The Sutton Trust published 25 Years of University Access – How access to HE has changed over time. They state it reveals persistent gaps for poorer students, particularly at the most selective universities. Key findings:

  • Over the last 25 years there has been a substantial increase in the number of young people going to university, with 50% of young people going on to higher education by age 30 for the first time in 2017.
  • Proportional gaps in access to university by under-represented neighbourhoods (POLAR) have narrowed over that time, though the gap itself remains significant.
  • Russell Group share of disadvantaged and low participation area students has declined since 1997 compared to the rest of the sector.
  • 4,700 state school students and 1,000 students from areas of the country with low historic participation ‘missing’ from 30 most selective universities each year – these students have the required grades but don’t get places.
  • Students from London are considerably more likely both to apply and to go on to attend higher education, with the rest of the country falling further behind each year.
  • Male students have fallen further behind female students and entry rates for White young people have lagged behind other ethnic groups.
  • These stubborn gaps persist despite considerable efforts from universities, government and the third sector to improve access rates. This emphasises the scale of the challenge in tackling access gaps in an environment with substantial social inequalities, and increasing demand for a limited resource (places at the most prestigious universities).
  • Widening participation efforts have likely prevented POLAR gaps from growing further. Groups promoting widening access in some senses have been ‘running to stand still’. In contrast, where access efforts have had less focus, for example on region, ethnicity or gender, gaps have widened.

Recommendations:

  • Tackling the access gap is likely to become more, rather than less challenging in the medium term, as a population bulge goes through the higher education system.
    • Universities should make greater use of contextual offers, taking into account the wider circumstances of applicants when accessing their potential.
    • It is also vital that universities are properly monitored and held to account on their progress in widening participation.
  • Findings show the importance of looking at how several different aspects of someone’s background and identity can impact on their likelihood of going onto university, and that it is important to look at these factors in combination, as well as overall trends for each group.
  • In the longer-term, we cannot tackle access issues at university level without also tackling the education attainment gap earlier on in a young person’s journey. This should start from the early years onwards, with efforts made at every part of the education system to ensure all young people can fulfil their potential.

International

Parliamentary question what assessment the government has made of the impact of changes to student visas on international students coming to the UK.

The International Higher Education Commission published Is the UK developing global mindsets? The challenges and opportunities for Internationalisation at Home in driving global engagement The report suggests a decline in the international diversity of UK campuses with the loss of incoming Erasmus+ exchange students and UK students’ decline in foreign language studies contributing. To address this the report recommends actions to enhance the advantages of internationalisation at home, including strengthening capacity and capability across various aspects of internationalisation.

The QAA published another policy paper within the Future of Quality in England series. Instilling international trust in English HE – a quality perspective argues that England’s HE international reputation is integral to its role as one of the UK’s biggest assets. It highlights that this reputation is built on trust, which is at risk of being undermined by divergence from international commitments in quality, unhelpful political rhetoric, and a lack of collaborative global outlook.

The briefing contends that, if steps aren’t taken to reinforce international trust, there are potential risks to international student recruitment, international research funding and mutually beneficial international partnerships. To reinforce international trust, the paper recommends that:

  • Policymakers should publicly champion the higher education sector on the world stage.
  • The Government should adopt a collaborative global outlook.
  • Make changes to England’s external quality system to increase international trust.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Good relations: Advance HE updated their guidance on promoting good relations in HE.  Covering how to prevent intolerance and develop a culture where relationships between diverse groups and individuals enhance the learning experience, protect freedom of speech and academic freedom, tackle harassment, and contribute to an inclusive society. It supports institutions to take a proportionate approach in decision making and suggests immediate, medium and long-term strategies for promoting good relations within the present legal framework. It is recommends that institutions should consider any incidents of hate and intolerance or situations where free speech and good relations intersect on a case-by-case basis within the framework of agreed policies, seeking specific legal advice where necessary.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 29th September 23

It was a funny old week. TEF and KEF results popped out with little fanfare, OfS announced a degree apprenticeship push and are getting on with the sexual misconduct survey (finally). We’ve got to hope the Government keep their receipts safe if they wish to claim the Horizon Europe guarantee refund – through a voucher discount for the next scheme (which we may or may not join). UKRI’s PGR new deal scheme gets a pasting and Minister Halfon sneers at the criticism that the Lords Committee dished out to the OfS. It’s a parliamentary recess for conferences so you can expect more politics and less policy in the news for the next couple of weeks!

Teaching Excellence Framework

The new TEF results were announced on Thursday for 228 providers, the remaining 23% (53 providers) are pending appeal. More detail will be provided in November when the provider submissions, panel statements, and student submissions are published (along with the outcome of the appeals). Once this is released we’ll have a fuller national picture of how institutions have engaged with TEF across the nation.

You can search the results here.

If you’re not familiar with TEF it’s changed a lot since BU received the previous silver award – since then there were lots of experiments and interim exercises. Wonkhe have an explainer: TEF now contains two “mini TEFs” – one covering student experience (the NSS metrics plus evidence from submissions) and the other covering student outcomes (continuation, completion, progression, plus evidence from the submissions. You get an award for each, which are then combined into your main TEF award

73 universities and colleges were awarded Gold for at least one aspect.   Of the Gold ratings awarded:

  • Ten are for what the OfS has categorised as “low entry tariff” providers. A further seven low tariff providers have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.
  • Seven are for what the OfS has categorised as “medium entry tariff” providers. A further five have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.
  • Ten are for what the OfS has categorised “high entry tariff” providers. A further eight have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.
  • Nine are for specialist providers in creative arts subjects.
  • Three are for specialist providers in other subjects. A further three have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.

It is interesting to see how little the new “requires improvement” award was used in practice – no-one received an overall RI rating and only a few had one aspect rated as requiring improvement.  Which is good, of course.

Prior to the announcement Wonkhe questioned: But what – if anything – does TEF mean in a world of dwindling resources and acute student hardship? The 2015 Conservative manifesto that sparked the exercise was speaking to a different world, and it seems highly unlikely that anyone in power will use these results as a spur to praise the excellence and diversity in the sector.

What does it all really mean – we don’t know until we can read the submissions and the panel assessments.

Blogs:

KEF

Research England published the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF 3) results on Wednesday. If you’re unfamiliar with the KEF the best explainer is on the Research England website. KEF is a series of dashboards which summarise an institution’s performance on seven areas of knowledge exchange (or ‘perspectives’) – public and community engagement, research partnerships, working with business, working with the public and third sector, CPD and grad start-ups, local growth and regeneration, IP and commercialisation. If you scroll down to table 1 (on the webpage) you’ll see what activities are measured to provide the KEF judgement for each of the perspectives listed above. The data for the KEF is pulled from the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction survey.

For the KEF, institutions are grouped into “clusters” and results are compared across the cluster, with every institution being given a rating for each perspective based on which quartile it falls into in its cluster.  Confused?  Well yes, it is confusing!

For more coverage delve into:

  • NCUB blog: What can the KEF tell us about university KE performance and improvement?
  • Wonkhe blog analysing the KEF 2023 results across providers and clusters.
  • Some good (if rather chatty) coverage from Research Professional (suitable for novices to KEF) in At KEF’s door. It begins:
    • some of our readers may be old enough to remember when former universities and science minister Jo Johnson told the Universities UK annual conference that the KEF was “a challenge” that all universities “did not need to rise to”. The fact that the architect of the KEF did not expect all universities to take part in it has not prevented the entire sector from having a go …with the KEF: the large research-intensives of the Russell Group have their own group of death, and the specialist arts providers play among themselves….It’s all in a good cause, we are told, because obviously the Royal College of Music should not be compared with the University of Oxford when it comes to industrial research collaborations. Over the years, the KEF has developed a basket of metrics to allow meaningful comparison, to encourage institutional improvement.
    • …[this] third instalment…leaves us wondering if anyone is enjoying this apart from the people who produced it.
    • …Is the KEF driving improvement in knowledge exchange across the board or has it created another battleground for institutions to compete against one another? At the moment, Research England is sitting on the fence on that one.
  • UKRI article: KEF3 gives insights on emerging trends in performance improvement

Research

Horizon Europe voucher refund. Following intervention from the Lords last week Science|Business have broken the news that the financial guarantee mechanism will only be implemented if the UK participates in the Framework Programme 10 Horizon successor programme (FP10). Underperformance against contributions in Horizon will be ‘refunded’ in the form of a voucher against FP10 participation. The guarantee assures the UK if they pay over 16% more in Horizon costs than they receive credit back through the voucher. Martin Smith, Head of the policy lab at the Wellcome Trust said the rollover clause is good news, because it lays the groundwork for the UK to take part in future framework programmes. “It’s setting up an expectation that participation is a long-term thing, which is great”. Full details here.

Wonkhe blog:  With Horizon association secured, Maëlle Gibbons-Patoure takes us through the challenges, joys and practicalities of working with the world’s largest funding framework.

Quick News

  • Consultations: REF 2028 planning continues to move forward. There are currently two consultations open for contributions – our tracker outlines who to contact if you wish to contribute to BU’s responses. Wonkhe have two blogs on the topic:
  • Business links: Research Professional – the performance of very large universities with a major research focus has dropped slightly when it comes to linking with businesses, according to a major assessment.
  • PGR New Deal: Wonkhe criticise UKRI’s new deal for PGRs, excerpts:
    • If I thought the Office for Students’ work on student voice and engagement was weak, I wasn’t quite prepared for UKRI’s “New Deal” for PGRs…The trifecta of a pretty weak set of rights to start with, institutions that are trying to squeeze every last drop and effort and value from dwindling funding, and an environment in which PGRs think any attempt to enforce the rights that are there will result in perceived reputational damage when trying to build a career means that we really do need to work out how their “voice” can engender protection and change…As such, the “New Deal” for PGRs…is a real let down.
    • …The “baseline” of support it’s thinking of establishing – over everything from supervision standards to mental health – ought to have a real relationship with quality frameworks from OfS and QAA, and government-backed work like the University Mental Health charter. That neither the Quality Code, OfS’ B Conditions nor Student Minds are mentioned doesn’t fill me with hope that PGRs will be properly considered 
    • …A genuine sector collaboration on the issue – drawing in providers, funders, regulators, the unions and actual PGR students – is long, long overdue. Read the short blog in full here.

Try this blog for a rundown on what the new deal includes or read the official version by UKRI.
Meanwhile the Russell Group issued a statement welcoming the new deal for PGRs.

  • PGR stipends: UKRI to review stipend payments to improve support for postgraduate researchers.
  • Spinouts (part 1): Wonkhe – Investment group Parkwalk has releaseda report on equity investment in UK university spinouts, finding that the total amount invested fell from £2.7bn in 2021 to £2.3bn in 2022, and “looks set to fall again in 2023.” However, the figure for 2022 was significantly higher than that of 2020 (£1.5bn) and all preceding years, and the number of spinouts over the last three years has been largely unchanged. Life sciences continues to be the main area for spinouts, though the report also highlights the growing importance of artificial intelligence-related companies. It’s also suggested that since 2021 there has been a decline in the proportion of investments exclusively from UK investors – historically around 80 per cent, but in the last two years at 64 per cent – with an increase in the share of UK-foreign co-investment deals. The Financial Times covers the report.
  • Spinouts (part 2): Wonkhe – The government should introduce standardised agreements with universities regarding the equity shares they take from spinouts, the Social Market Foundation has argued in a new report – the think tank suggests five to ten per cent in companies founded by staff, and no share in student-founded firms. The report also suggests identifying regional hubs for high value industries, and scaling up the local universities with increased investment and research funding. The Times covers the report.

Lifelong Learning Entitlement

The Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) became law last week, closely followed by the DfE publishing the modelling assumptions behind the LLE financial planning. It assumes learner numbers for modular programmes will start small.

Wonkhe say: There are also some very generous assumptions about costs incurred by providers and the modelling on which the Department for Education is basing the business case contains assumptions about staff time that many in the sector will find generous to the point of fantasy. There’s plenty of time for that to change because the LLE is only in the planning stages, it will be implemented from 2025 onwards. Blogs:

Regulatory

Cracking quality: Research Professional report on the announcement in the Sunday Times that Rishi Sunak is planning yet another “crackdown” on low-quality university courses as part of his pre-election reset of Conservative policies. However, they anticipate it to be more bark than bite: The last time the government rattled a sabre over low-quality university courses, the attack was all but abandoned by lunchtime as ministers struggled in media interviews to name a course or university that would be subject to restrictions. We can expect a line or two about Mickey Mouse degrees in Sunak’s conference speech in Manchester next week, but little more in the way of action from a regulator licking its wounds following the Lords select committee report that criticised the Office for Students as too close to government.

Of course, the government already announced how it was tackling low quality courses earlier in September – through the regulatory system.

In favour:  Universities Minister Robert Halfon responded to a comment in the Financial Times defending the university sector and trotting out a reminder of his pet projects (degree apprenticeships, lifelong learning entitlement, cracking down on low quality courses). What was most interesting in the response was Halfon’s dismissive mention of the Lords inquiry which heavily criticised the OfS. Halfon states: while I recognise there is always more to be done to reduce regulatory burdens, the Office for Students is an essential part of our mission to drive up the quality of higher education by holding universities to account, championing students’ interests and improving social justice. It’s a strong indication that the Government’s response to the Lords formal report won’t call for significant change or rebuke the regulator publicly.

Sexual Misconduct: The OfS launched a pilot survey aiming to identify how widespread sexual misconduct in HE is. They’ve commissioned independent research by IFF Research who will work with the 13 HEIs that put themselves forward for the pilot. All students at the HEIs will be invited to complete the survey and answer questions about their experiences of sexual misconduct, how these experiences have affected their lives and studies, and their experiences of using the reporting mechanisms in their university. Note, this is the fieldwork element of the pilot survey announced in January 2023 (here).

Wonkhe highlight a warning for the sector regarding what the pilot may find: this pilot survey should offer some insight into the scale of the issue facing institutions and what kind of support students might need…At a Wonkhe event last week, academic and founding member of The 1752 Group Anna Bull warned that the sector should prepare for the discovery that the scale of sexual misconduct is higher than anticipated – smaller-scale prevalence surveys have indicated that around one in five students in any given year may be affected, and up to two-thirds of students during their time enrolled in higher education. These students are predominantly, though not exclusively, women – and perpetrators are typically other students at the same institution. Replication of these findings could change the picture considerably for how institutions seek to tackle the problem, encourage reporting, support survivors, and handle alleged incidents. 

Blogs on the topic:

Degree Apprenticeships: The OfS have earmarked £40 million (awarded through competitive bidding) for HEIs to expand their Level 6 degree apprenticeship programmes.

Apprenticeship levy: There’s a parliamentary question on the total amount of unspent apprenticeship levy and the funds returned to the Treasury.

Cooperation: the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education has signed a memorandum of understanding with Ofqual agreeing to work together and share information in order to meet their respective responsibilities in the HE sector.

Student News

  • Turing: Parliamentary Question revealing the DfE cannot currently calculate the actual average cost to the public purse per participant supported by the Turing Scheme in each academic year. And that data on the international mobilities delivered in the first year of the Turing Scheme (2021/22) is coming soon.
  • Accommodation: Wonkhe – Cushman and Wakefield’s annual student accommodation report highlights the brewing “student accommodation crisis” – with average private sector rents outside of London now at 77% of the maximum available maintenance loan. Fewer than one in ten spaces are now affordable for the average student, with university cities including Durham and Exeter offering even less affordable housing. Overall average rental costs have risen by more than 8% this academic year – driven by a growth in demand, rising operational and development costs, high inflation, and fewer new spaces available. The Guardian has the story.
  • Student support: Wonkhe have a neat blog looking at student support across the four nations and which students/parents get the best deal for their household income. HEPI also published a paper earlier this month on how different institutions are approaching student support with cost of living.
  • Loan forgiveness: It feels as though one organisation or another calls (or writes about) the need for student loan forgiveness for nursing (and often other allied health disciplines) every week. This week it’s the BBC’s turn covering calls for the loans to be written off once the student has completed 10 years of NHS service, although much of the article focuses on non-completion of training. The research behind the BBC’s article comes from a Nuffield Trust report: Waste not, want not. Nuffield state the estimated cost would be somewhere in the region of £230 million for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals per cohort in England. A similar scheme, or early-career loan repayment holidays for doctors and dentists in eligible NHS roles, should also be seriously considered. We believe this would represent a very sound investment.
  • Meanwhile the Royal College of Midwives highlight a report which finds that midwifery degree apprentices improved accessibility and retention within the workforce. There were lower drop outs (almost 0%) than through a traditional degree route (13%) – likely influenced by the majority of apprentices already holding positions in the maternity support workforce. And the programme was also found to support diversity, both in terms of supporting mature apprentices and those with caring responsibilities, and those from non-white backgrounds.

Admissions

A Levels: The Times reported that Rishi Sunak plans to replace A levels with a British baccalaureate qualification incorporating more subjects including compulsory English and his manifesto committee of maths to age 18. The extension of compulsory maths already has an expert advisory group looking into it. Dods report that the DfE have not denied Rishi’s proposals are being explored but that they had already reformed post-16 education (T levels and apprenticeship changes) and that the baccalaureate policy was a personal mission for Rishi, not the DfE.

Sector response to the possibility of replacing A levels has been dismissive. The concept faces many barriers because it would require significant infrastructure change for the educational curriculum, the overcoming of the maths teacher shortage, and the policy has to convince not only the DfE but also the electorate in the upcoming general election. Even if adopted it may polarise education in the nations further as Wales and Northern Ireland may choose to retain their current systems.

Here’s a comment from Research Professional on the baccalaureate:

  • Just as with the seven recycling bins, all of this can be filed in the category of never going to happen. Even if Sunak were to win a general election, the teacher shortage would make such a curriculum impossible.
  • Universities have not been consulted on replacing A-levels and there are no details on the changes that would need to be made to both GCSEs and higher education admissions to make any of this possible. Given how long it would take for these wholesale reforms of English education, it is almost as if Sunak himself has no real expectations of any of it happening.

What is interesting is the timing of this announcement. We’ve entered conference season and the political parties and party leadership need to be seen to make bold changes for the future demonstrating both their worth and that of their party – positioning it well in the electorate’s eyes for the forthcoming general election.

The party conferences are staggered so we’ll provide coverage across the next few policy updates.

Finally, Lord Willets weighs in on the A level debate in this Conservative Home blog: Why Sunak is right about A-levels and what should be done next.

Quick news

  • Recruitment caps: Wonkhe blog – Northumbria SU’s Tom Wellesley is concerned that the government’s plansfor recruitment caps on “low-quality” courses will restrict opportunities for prospective students.
  • New UCAS Chief: Dr Jo Saxton steps down as Chief Regulatory of Ofqual (in Dec 2023) to become the Chief Executive of UCAS (in Jan 2024 – replacing Clare Marchant). Recruitment for her Ofqual replacement has begun. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: I am hugely grateful to Jo for guiding Ofqual through the challenges that followed the pandemic, ultimately overseeing a smooth return to exams and normal grading. Jo’s knowledge and experience have been invaluable as we’ve navigated the past 2 years and returned to the exam arrangements that best serve young people. I look forward to continuing to work with Jo in her new role at UCAS, supporting students to progress onto university, degree apprenticeships and the world of work.

Access & Participation

Parliamentary Question: Care leavers’ access to HE.

TASO published: Student mental health in 2023 – Who is struggling and how the situation is changing. It highlights more and more students are experiencing (or reporting) mental health difficulties and looks at how gender, LGBTQ+, ethnicity and student background factors interact with poor mental health. It also highlights mental health as the leading reason to withdraw from university. If you don’t fancy reading all 32 pages check out the conclusion starting on page 27 or read Research Professional’s analysis of the TASO paper which also delves into university resources and the Government’s attention to student mental health to provide a rounded picture.

International Recruitment

The Big Issue reports on international recruiters: £500 million is being spent by UK universities on a murky and unregulated industry. Education agents, who are paid a commission for each international student they enlist, are involved in 50% of international student admissions in the UK. In some countries such as China, this number reaches 70%. Twenty years ago the figure was just 10%. So who are they, and why are they now so widespread?  The article is timely given Lord Jo Johnson’s call for international recruiters to be regulated and for HE providers to diversify their international portfolio to reduce financial risk and alleviate security concerns about the influence of overseas nations.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. Email the contact listed against the item you’re interested in (or policy@bournemouth.ac.uk) if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Skills shortages: The DfE published the 2022 employer skills survey demonstrating that 10% of employers have a skill shortage related vacancy. Skills shortages as a proportion of all vacancies rose from 22% in 2017 to 36% in 2022. 15% of employers stated they had an employee (or employees) who lacked the skills for the job and overall 5.7% of the workforce have a skills gap (up from 4.4% in 2017).

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External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

BU policy update for the w/e 22nd September 2023

Lots of meaty topics for you to chew over this week. The student cost of living debate had a hearing in parliament. The Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Act 2023 has received royal assent and we’ve a pop out summary on the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. The OfS received strong criticism in the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee report. We’ve the latest on visa fee increases, clearing and oodles of research news.

Parliament has now entered conference recess but government business will continue over the next few weeks. There will also be items of interest from the party conferences which will receive closer scrutiny this year given the impending general election.

As always if you need this update, or the pop out summaries, in a different format for accessibility please email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Political News

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

The Lifelong Learning Bill finished its passage through the Lords and the King has given Royal Assent. You’ll recall this Bill contained limited detail and will be padded out through secondary legislation further down the line – meaning the Government of the day will retain control and be able to tweak the implementation details when they wish.   Note the name change: it is now about lifelong learning not lifelong loan entitlement.

During the debate Baroness Barran, the Government’s representative, thanked the former Education Ministers and Secretaries of State for their insight (Lord Blunkett, Lord Willetts and Lord Jo Johnson).

Baroness Barran stated: The LLE will become the route for people who require student finance for levels 4 to 6 study across higher and further education. In introducing the LLE, we want to do as much as possible to make it accessible and affordable for the most disadvantaged. And confirmed that the Government would monitor the concerns the Lords raised at Report Stage, that the number of learning hours in a credit wouldn’t be changed unless sector standards change, and that the alternative student finance product compatible with Islamic finance principles would be delivered as soon as operationally possible after 2025 (further update coming on this later in 2023).

Labour’s spokesperson, Baroness Twycross, confirmed their support for the Bill’s aim: we support the idea that people can access funding to undertake the learning they need throughout their career. With people undertaking portfolio careers and with continual changes in technology and society, it is no longer the case that what you learn through a traditional three-year degree course is all that you will need in your work for the next 45 years or so. But reminded that the detail (scope) of the Bill was limited and felt a more formal review process for several aspects could have been set to safeguard against unintended consequences.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (representing the Liberal Democrats) highlighted the party remained concerned about how many adults will wish to take on debt in order to improve their learning, and we look forward to hearing updates from the Minister about how many people have done so. From these Benches, we feel that grants would be a much more effective way of persuading adults to learn. But, of course, we are all totally in favour of lifelong learning, and we wish the Bill well.

You may have noted the name change to Lifelong Learning (HE Fees Limits) Act, previously it was called the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. Apparently, the name change was decided upon following engagement with the sector. For those that have been in this game a long time you may harbour a small chuckle at the name change when you recall a rival party proposed a similar policy in the early 2000s based on, and called, Lifelong Learning.

The DfE published a policy paper on the LLE – it provides a useful introduction to the key details of the intended LLE operationalisation. Here are the next steps we can expect from the government, including two consultations:

In autumn 2023:

  • we plan to provide further information about the entitlement
  • we will work with the regulator, awarding organisations and providers of current advanced learner loans (ALLs) funded Ofqual-regulated qualifications to embed changes we set out in HMG’s response to the LLE consultation
  • OfS will launch a consultation on the development and introduction of a new third registration category

In spring 2024:

  • we will launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding
  • we will lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in parliament

In autumn 2024 we will lay the secondary legislation that will set out the rest of the LLE funding system in parliament

In spring 2025 we will launch the LLE personal account where users can track their loan entitlement and apply for designated courses and modules

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill: The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill is a controversial bill seen as eroding university autonomy and there was dissent from some parties at the detailed Committee Stage (although other HE sector members agree with its legal principles). You can read a summary of the evidence provided in the early Committee stage sessions here. The bill now awaits a date for Report Stage. Wonkhe also update us that: The Home Office has released draft guidance on the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme (FIRS), designed to monitor foreign influence on UK politics. Sector-specific guidance will follow – supported by consultation panels from the research and higher education sector – but there are a handful of examples given of activities either requiring or not requiring registration under the scheme that make reference to international students or staff.

The future for education policy?

The New Conservatives published a ‘manifesto’: plan to upskill Britain which Research Professional view as an attempt to push Conservative education policies to the right. It’s keen on developing technical routes and reforming the apprenticeship levy and technical skills in general.

It’s less keen on universities stating: Since the reforms of 1992, too many universities have not been fit for purpose. Steps to address skills shortages in Britain and rising student debt should not shy away from one of the main culprits – rip-off universities. And: The false promise of university –  Long gone are the days when university was the hallmark of success. Many young people today could have much more opportunity if they opted for on-the-job training alongside receiving an industry recognised qualification, rather than go to university. But too few school leavers make that choice [apparently because they’re promised higher starting salaries].

The manifesto calls for a crack down on poor quality and less people attending university- redirecting the public funds saved to quality technical and vocational education. And they call for minimum academic grades to qualify for student loans: Introducing minimum grade requirements at GCSE-level would see an approximate reduction of 10 percent in the number of students qualifying for student loans. Although introducing minimum eligibility requirements of Level 4 grades at GCSE English and Maths would close off student loans to around 40 percent of all students… They would also like to ensure student loans are re-paid – although NHS employed graduates would be offered a three year loan repayment exemption.

Research Professional say the ‘manifesto’ is full of holes  – you can read their take down of the manifesto in Blue on blue.

Government role changes: Dehenna Davison MP has stepped away from her post as Levelling Up Minister due to ill health. Jacob Young MP will take over.

Free Speech: Wonkhe highlight that the OfS has published indicative timelines for the introduction of free speech related duties and provisions – under the proposals, 1 August 2024 would see the launch of the new complaints scheme and the coming into force of new statutory duties from providers and students’ unions. Provisions relating to OfS’s monitoring of overseas funding and new conditions of registration around free speech and academic freedom would come into force on 1 September 2025.

Research News

ARIA

The construction of ARIA continues – this week their programme directors announced their key questions and invited input from the R&D community. For colleagues familiar with the expression of Areas of Research Interest this is the ARIA equivalent. Although it’s not clear how universities can feed their research in to answer the questions yet. However, Wonkhe, have their finger on the pulse and inform that each set of programme questions has a budget of £50m. And that most of the programme directors have joined from academia. They are now mandated with developing a concrete programme, based on the “area or set of areas they feel compelled to explore” – these include programmable plants, interfaces with the human nervous system, climate intervention technologies, and robotics. Wonkhe also have a neat blog on how ARIA is taking shape. Excerpts:

The team as a whole tells us some important things about ARIA.
The first is that they are aligned to what the broader scientific community would consider to be some of the world’s greatest threats and challenges. AI, climate change, and food security, would appear at the top of most lists of the most pressing issues facing humanity…

Equally, the team straddles a hinterland between having programme directors that have more conventional academic careers with big interests, academics that have run or built companies, and programme directors that lean more into business and technology worlds but with significant academic credentials…
this [the programme directors] is a group of people who probably ordinarily would never hang out together…The mix of expertise and backgrounds speaks to the fundamental challenge and promise of ARIA. Its whole purpose of existence is to fund the things that funders would not usually fund in ways they would not usually fund them. The challenge is to not only discover new things but to make a new disparate team function with some of the standard practices needed to make scientific breakthroughs…  And a tolerance for constructive failure that will see programmes potentially outlive ministers, funding, and maybe even ARIA itself.

Quick Research News

  • Biosecurity: The UK Biosecurity Leadership Council held its inaugural meeting to build our national resilience to future biological threats, whilst establishing the UK as a world leader in responsible innovation. The Government’s press release mainly focuses on the details about the Council with little on what was discussed.
  • Tech: Dr Dave Smith has been appointed as the Government’s National Technology Adviser taking over from Sir Patrick Vallance.
  • DSIT policies: The Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published a summary of their achievements in the six months since the Department was formed. These include the Science and Technology Framework, the AI White Paper, setting up the Foundation Model Taskforce, the 20-year National Semiconductors Strategy, the 10-year National Quantum Strategy, and the International Technology Strategy. There’s also info on the DSIT Start-Up Board.
  • AI: Research Professional: Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU should work with its partners to develop a global framework for regulating artificial intelligence.
  • Catapult: DSIT published a Catapult Network review update
  • REF: Wonkhe – Research England has “concerns” from stakeholders over the proposed People, Culture and Environment element of the 2028 Research Excellence Framework, both around its suggested weighting (25 per cent) compared to Contribution of Knowledge and Understanding, and around whether “robust indicators” can be developed to fairly assess research environment. There’s a blog from Jessica Corner (Exec Chair of Research England).
  • CaSE: Daniel Rathbone has been appointed as interim executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering.
  • Funding: Research England published the remaining HE grant allocations for 2023-24.
  • R&D spend: The House of Commons Library published a research briefing on R&D spending. It covers the (2022) methodology change in how R&D spend estimate are calculated – leading to the false achievement of the 2.4% of GDP 2027 target. We also learn that of business research in 2021: 23% was spent on research into computer programming and software development, 18% on miscellaneous activities, technical testing and analysis, and 17% on chemicals and pharmaceuticals. For public sector (2021) research: 35% went towards the general advancement of knowledge, 21% to health and 13% to defence. Other items of interest are the R&D spending by region 52% of all R&D resides in London and the South East (£24.4 billion) with the least in Wales. With the new calculations UK R&D spending is equivalent to 2.9%-3% of GDP – above the OECD and EU averages (but less than the USA, Japan and Germany
  • China: Wonkhe – Both OfS and UKRI need to do more to mitigate overreliance on China, for tuition fee income and research capability respectively. This is the conclusion of a report from former universities minister Jo Johnson and others, revisiting past recommendations for “de-risking” higher education given the potential for deterioration in the UK-China geopolitical relationship. The report highlights that Chinese students made up 28 per cent of non-UK PhD student starts in 2021–22, up from 17 per cent in 2017–18, with a growing concentration across the most selective institutions – the authors caution that “there is no next China or EU” in terms of markets for research student recruitment. There’s coverage in The Times, and the Guardian.
  • Confucius diplomatic immunity: A parliamentary question on diplomatic immunity for Chinese nationals working in Confucius institutes in the UK. Helpful answer from Robert Halfon, universities minister.
  • Horizon: The Lords Chamber debated Horizon Europe and Pioneer. Short transcript here. Discussions included the global talent visa. Research Professional (RP) also have a good article: UK in Horizon: money on the table. Researchers can already apply for (2024) Horizon funding, even though the UK officially joins on 1 January 2024. Funding is available across six clusters and three main innovation schemes – there is summary detail in the RP article. Chair of the House of Lords European Affairs Committee, Lord Ricketts, has called on DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan to provide additional detail…about the operation of the corrective mechanism designed to prevent the UK from paying a disproportionate net contribution to the [Horizon] scheme. We also ask you to update us on the expected timetable for the political agreement to be formally adopted by the Specialised Committee on Union Programmes. Lord Ricketts’ letter pulled no punches as he also highlighted the detrimental consequences of the last two years of uncertainty, and asked the government to stop using research as a political football.
  • Case Studies: Wonkhe – The UK Collaborative on Development Research has publishedan analysis of how development research appeared in REF 2021 impact case studies. The report examines which unit of assessment contained most international development impact case studies (business and management), how these were distributed across the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and which countries most often appeared (India, followed by the United States and Kenya).
  • Researcher influx: DSIT Minister Jonathan Berry has stated the UK will need 380,000 new researchers by 2027 to meet the growing need for research and counter retirement numbers. Berry continued that attracting overseas talent will need to be a big part of the growth, however, peers have expressed concern that the visa regime may hamper the influx. Labour peer Stephen Benn called for the global talent visa to be reformed and highlighted how the visa fees were discouraging talent from working in Britain. Research Professional have more on the tussle here.
  • New REF: Wonkhe on the new REF – With the consultation period drawing to an end (the deadline is the first Friday in October), it’s slowly becoming clear that there are two unconnected but influential lines of pushback.
    The first, from within the sector, is the argument that it is the quality of output that matters, and boosting the role of narrative statements and measures of input dilutes the essence of what really matters in the REF.
    Separately is an external climate in which the use of government funds to support anything that can be labelled as “EDI work” provokes tachycardia in the bosom of influential figures. Against this backdrop, Research England (in conjunction with the other UK funding bodies) is going to additional lengths to promote discussion and debate around the prominence and use of research culture measures, with Executive Chair Jessica Corner noting on Wonkhe that the weighting given to different elements of the next REF is still a live question, even if the commitment to assessment that “supports a thriving and healthy research system” remains steadfast.
  • Researcher mobility: Wonkhe – The government should make the mobility of researcher careers a “key design principle” of the research and innovation system, according to a report from the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) Researcher Career Mobility Taskforce. The report argues that researchers need to be “empowered” to move between industry and academia throughout their whole career. The taskforce found that research staff are currently not always aware of opportunities (with existing guidance often focused on academic career pathways), that mobility between sectors is seen by many as high risk, and that institutional recruitment and progression frameworks can undervalue skills and experiences gained in other sectors. Blog.
  • Israel agreement: The UK has signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel committing £1.7 million to support joint research focused on technologies critical to future prosperity and quality of life, like quantum. Details here. Other recent bilateral international science deals the UK has signed include partnerships with India, Switzerland and South Africa. And funds have been committed to the International Science Partnerships Fund (launched last year with an initial £119 million).

International

De-risking international reliance

King’s College London policy institute published The China question revisited: de-risking higher education and research. The report was led by previous Minster for Universities, Lord (Jo) Johnson who has long been a supporter of international students balanced by the need to minimise risks to the nation and financial stability of HE providers, e.g. through diversification of international recruitment to reduce the reliance on some countries, including China.

The report highlights that China has become an increasingly entrenched collaborator on research and a key source of doctoral students crucial to the strength of the UK’s research system. The paper proposes a range of measures to de-risk HE’s relationship with China:

  • Requiring universities to publish an annual statement on their international student recruitment plans, in order to provide greater visibility of current strategies to diversify the international student population.
  • Improving regulation of course quality, given high drop-out rates among students from countries such as India and Bangladesh.
  • Weeding out poor-quality and fraudulent applications by charging an application fee for international students, requiring tuition fees to be paid up front and maintenance funds to be put in escrow at the start of the year.
  • Maintaining a register of recruitment agents and publishing key performance indicators relating to visa refusals, to improve accountability.

If you’ve been following the policy update for a while you may remember our review of a Westminster Higher Education Forum event on this topic earlier this year. The calls to action in the report are exactly those expressed by Johnson previously – he’s nothing if not considered and consistent. Given his influence in the House of Lords, and the strong ex-Ministerial powerhouse of Johnson – Blunkett – Willets, we can expect some pressure from the peers on this and other key HE matters over the next year.

Visas

Legislation to increase the immigration and nationality fees has been laid in Parliament. The changes:

  • the cost for a visit visa for less than six months is rising (by £15) to £115
  • the fee for applying for a student visa from outside the UK will rise +35% (by £127) to £490 (equalling the amount charged for in-country applications).

If approved the new fees will apply from 4 October 2023. Changes to the planned increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge are scheduled to be introduced later in 2023. The Home Office equality impact assessment on the fees is here – its concludes there is no direct or indirect discrimination based on protected characteristics observed for the changes to student fees.

The latest visa letter from Home Secretary Suella Braverman is here. The letter is dated 3 August but it has only just been released to the public via the Lords Science and Tech Committee.

There’s also a parliamentary question on visas granted under the High Potential Individual route.

Finally, from Wonkhe, The Erasmus Student Network has published a report on international student perspectives of the UK, based on polling conducted earlier this year (and with EU students notably overrepresented). Almost 16% of 465 respondents who had studied in the UK reported that obtaining a visa was a significant problem, and almost half disagreed that they received enough support from their host university in finding accommodation. Some 77% would have liked more interaction with local students.

Regulatory

OfS Inquiry

From March 2023 the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee ran an inquiry into the work of the OfS looking closely at its effectiveness as a regulator. The committee published their report: Must do better: the Office for Students and the looming crisis facing higher education. As is clear form the title the Lords concluded that the regulator is performing poorly, even accounting for the extra challenges facing HE today. The report concludes that the OfS has poor relations with both providers and students, a controlling and arbitrary approach to regulation, and a lack of independence from the Government.

On the OfS’ duties and decision making the committee highlight that the OfS has legal duties, but substantial freedom to pick and choose what it prioritises, creating uncertainty. Also the Lords believe the other regulators within the HE sector cause duplication and red tape.

The Lords recommend:

  • When the OfS makes changes to its approach, it should make clear how it has taken its legal duties into account or explain why it has not done so.
  • The Government should set out the steps it is taking to streamline the responsibilities of different regulators in the higher education sector.

On financial sustainability of HE the committee notes the undergraduate tuition fees have been frozen since 2018 with their value further eroded by inflation and that universities are relying more on the income boost provided by international (and postgraduate) fees – which sits uncomfortably with government concerns over the influence of other nations. Bottom line – the committee states that current HE funding is not sustainable and worries about the geopolitical vulnerabilities (in 2021/22 22.3% of student came from China). The peers state we were not convinced that the regulator has paid enough attention to the financial challenges facing the sector.

Recommendations:

  • The Government must review how higher education is funded, setting long-term, sustainable funding and delivery models for the sector
  • Both the Government and the OfS should also clarify whether there is any strategic oversight of the sector’s long-term financial stability.
  • Hold discussions with providers more regularly about their financial situation and ensure it is aware of the systemic challenges facing the sector;

On students the Lords committee highlights that despite the OfS explicitly being set up to regulate in the interests of students it has never defined what these interests are, creating a suspicion that it uses them as a smokescreen for political priorities. And that students often feel their views are not acted upon, especially where they do not match with what the OfS wants to do. The committee gives the example of from the OfS’ Student Panel who stated that when student issues of importance contradicted with the Government’s views the OfS threatened the Panel’s future.

Recommendations:

  • The OfS should conduct work with students, to define student interests and explain how this drives its work.
  • Hold providers to account if they do not ensure prospective students receive clear, digestible information on their course, including its long-term costs and approximate contact hours
  • The OfS must also ensure its Student Panel is free to raise issues of importance to students, whether or not the OfS agrees with them and ensure that there are at least two student representatives on the OfS’ Board and open up more of its work to student involvement.
  • Conduct detailed scoping work, with students, on how it defines “the student interest,” and how this informs its work.

On regulation and sector relations the committee acknowledged evidence from HE sector representatives that found the OfS over controlling in their approach to regulation:

  • We conclude that it [OfS ]has demonstrated little regard either to the autonomy of providers or the impact of its requests and decisions, particularly its onerous requests for data.
  • We also heard that the OfS is both distant and combative in the way it treats providers, giving the impression it seeks to punish them rather than help them to comply.

The peers welcomed the OfS’ focus on value for money for students, however, they felt the OfS did not provide HEIs with value for money because of their regulatory approach and particularly when higher registration fees partly reflect the regulator’s own expanding remit.

Recommendations:

  • The OfS should be more transparent about its approach, making clear why it makes particular requests and decisions.
  • Make clear how it has taken the institutional autonomy of providers into account when it regulates.
  • Build trust with higher education institutions and adopt a more strategic, less combative approach to its work.
  • The Government should reconvene its Higher Education Data Reduction Taskforcein order to reduce unnecessary red tape.
  • Urgently align its framework for quality with international standards, including reinstating an independent Designated Quality Body

On independence from Government the committee questioned whether the OfS really was the independent regulator it claims to be:

  • we found that it lacks both real and perceived independence, with its actions often appearing driven by political priorities. The fact that the OfS Chair continues to take the Conservative Party whip in the House of Lords has not helped.
  • The OfS lacks independence from the Government, and its actions often appear driven by the ebb and flow of short-term political priorities and media headlines.
  • We concluded that the Government has also contributed to this situation, by being too prescriptive in the guidance it sends to the OfS. The situation has been worsened by the fact that the OfS has had to work with seven Education Secretaries and six Universities Ministers since 2018.

Recommendations

  • The Government and the OfS should set out what each of them will do to secure the OfS’ independence.
  • As a first step, the Government should consider requiring serving politicians to resign any party political whip before becoming Chairs of independent regulators.
  • Limit itself to providing higher level, strategic input to the OfS, rather than overly prescriptive guidance.

Lord Hollick, Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee said:

  • At a time when the higher education sector faces a looming crisis caused by financial instability, increased costs, industrial action, and reduced EU research funding, it is vital that the sector’s regulator is fit for purpose.
  • However, it was evident throughout our inquiry that the OfS is failing to deliver and does not command the trust or respect of either providers, or students, the very people whose interests it is supposed to defend. We were surprised by the regulator’s view that the sector’s finances are in good shape, which is not an assessment that we or most of our witnesses share.

The Government must respond to the committee’s report and recommendations by 13 November. It remains to be seen if the Government will throw the OfS under the bus (unlikely) or agree to consider a small number of actions (probable, and most likely those that place the onus on the OfS to deliver) whilst arguing the point on other items. Of course, the Government can completely refute the committee’s report if it wishes too – again this is unlikely because the OfS has already responded to the report conceding improvements are needed in some areas. You can read OfS Chair, Lord Wharton’s, response on the OfS blog and Susan Lapworth’s, OfS Chief Executive, response in Learning lessons – a Research Professional blog.

The report may not be a bad thing for the OfS. They have been willing to concede some shortcomings, and the committee’s recommendations recommend the OfS should be given more freedom and leeway to work outside of the government dictat they currently operate within.

Research Professional (RP) spoke with two members of the Lords committee – Chair Clive Hollick and Ann Taylor (both Labour). RP highlight some of the frank quotes from the Members here.

RP: to what extent do they feel the OfS has fallen short of its objectives, particularly compared with other regulators—and can the trust that has been lost with the higher education sector be regained?

Hollick: It is a relatively new regulator, so it is still finding its feet, if I could put it that way—in response to which, Taylor quips that this is a “very generous” bit of context. Hollick agrees.

They also explore what the Peers think of the OfS denouncement of the QAA:

  • Elsewhere, the Lords expressed concern that the OfS is currently operating not only as England’s regulator but also as its Designated Quality Body, after the Quality Assurance Agency gave up the role over its concerns that the English regulatory framework was now at odds with European standards.
  • The OfS said after the QAA quit as DQB that it wasn’t overly pleased with how the QAA was carrying out its brief anyway.
  • Since that spat, the OfS has said that it sees no problem with keeping the DQB role itself, at least in the medium term. To what extent are Hollick and Taylor concerned about all this?
  • “We’re still trying to find the real reason [why the OfS was unhappy with the QAA],” said Hollick. “Why change something that’s working, that’s trusted, that is actually valuable for the brand, not only nationally but internationally?”
  • He added that the current situation, with the OfS in ostensibly temporary control as DQB, is “a complete muddle, and an unexplained muddle”.
  • Taylor added that the inquiry had heard fears that this was “a power grab” by the OfS, and “unless things are sorted out…that fear remains”.

There was great coverage of the committee report – here are some good sources if you want to read the editorials:

Research Professional: Friends in high places and Lords a-meeting.

Wonkhe blogs:

  • Jim Dickinson reflects on calls to reduce regulation of universities, arguing that the real problem is the way we frame higher education as “big boarding school”.
  • Chair Lord Hollick presents the findings of the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee inquiryinto the work of the Office for Students.
  • Everyone loves to commit to reduce data burden in higher education. Andy Youell asks what it would take to actually do it.
  • The long awaited Industry and Regulators Committee report on the work of the Office for Students is here – David Kernohan sets out everything you need to know.
  • Wonkhe also have a different coverage angle in their Monday summary: Many of its findings and recommendations chime with established concerns about the regulator – distant, opaque, punitive, expensive, politically compromised… But take a step back and what is powerful is the way that the committee’s report situates its critiques in the context of wider financial issues affecting the whole sector. The risks to education quality and to provider sustainability are greater than they were at the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act in 2017. Arguably, the higher education sector needs strong regulation more than ever to address failures where they do occur – but tempered with a sense of proportion about the feasibility of what is expected, and responsibility for the sustainability and success of English higher education. The question, then – with little money around and little prospect of a lot more coming – is what should happen next.

One obvious area for attention is expectations of providers. Even if OfS was seen as credible in its efforts to pursue the interests of students, there is little doubt that some of the “burdens” of regulation might be streamlined to allow the sector to get on with delivering on those interests…

But efficiencies and engagement can only get a reformed regulator and its beleaguered providers so far. There’s a case to be made that expecting one regulator to have a grip of the range of issues affecting students’ university experience and act as a proxy for bodies as diverse as the Charity Commission, the Competition and Markets Authority, and various local authorities is too much to ask. We need bodies looking out for the interests of students, that are worried about their housing and health, and that are capable of causing those things to be discussed and resolved… if the expectations on OfS are just that little bit too large – yet reflect a wider problem of what we ask universities to do while absolving others from ever thinking about over two million citizens.

There is further coverage in the national media: the Mail, the Standard, the BBC, and Byline Times.

For full detail read: the full published committee report on OfS effectiveness.

Quality Regulation

QAA: This week Research Professional highlighted how the House of Lords critique raising concerns over the effectiveness of the OfS is a small victory for the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) which stepped down from the role of Designated Quality Body (April 2023) in protest that the English regulatory framework was at odds with European standards. QAA continues to oversee quality in the other nations of the UK as well as internationally. The Lords report recommends that the OfS urgently aligns its framework for quality with international standards, including reinstating an independent Designated Quality Body.

QAA Chief Executive Vicki Stott stated: We’re really pleased to see that the committee recognises the importance of strengthening the current oversight of quality in England by returning to alignment with international good practice and for quality assessment to be undertaken by an independent body… You can’t simply take a self-assessment review and pass it to the body that is doing the regulation and funding and expect the two of them to mediate the accuracy of that assessment for themselves.

The OfS has responded to the report by saying it will consider the findings carefully over the next few weeks.

You can read the full Research Professional write up here.

On the QAA Wonkhe also inform us that they’ve released a briefing note with a definition of quality in UK higher education, intended for policymakers and other stakeholders internationally. Indicators of quality set out include staff and students thriving professionally and academically, a relevant and challenging learning experience, and external experience being sought and used. And:

This morning, and with impeccable timing, the QAA publishes the first in a new series of briefings on the “future of quality in England”—which it says “builds on” the Lords report. Among other things, it calls for England to “realign” its approach to quality assurance with “internationally agreed good practice”. Read The Future of Quality in England. The paper suggests policymakers commit to:

  1. Realign the English quality system with internationally agreed good practice.This should include honouring the UK’s commitment to the European Higher Education Area by working with QAA and the sector to develop a pathway to alignment that maintains and strengthens international trust while recognising the distinct characteristics of the English sector. This would involve addressing:
  • the independence of quality assessment so that the system operates without fear or favour
  • a periodic touchpoint with all providers to secure up-to-date assessments of their provision
  • student engagement across the full quality system, including as full members of assessment teams
  • the transparency of data, thematic analysis and assessments.
  1. Formally recognise enhancement as part of the quality systemto encourage an approach of continuous improvement where providers are supported by an independent body, such as QAA.
  2. Streamline regulatory requirements from the various bodies with oversight of higher education(Office for Students, Ofsted, Ofqual, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, the Education and Skills Funding Agency and relevant PSRBs) by convening them to align requirements in terms of data requested, format required and relevant deadlines, following the Regulator’s Code principle of ‘collect once, use many times’. This should be achieved through reconvening the Higher Education Data Reduction Taskforce and ensuring all relevant oversight bodies are represented.

Wonkhe blogs:

Students

Cost of living

This week HEPI published on the student cost of living in:  How to Beat a Cost-of-Learning Crisis: Universities’ Support for Students. They find:

  • 76% of universities help their students with food and drink (discounts, food banks and food vouchers), with nearly half (47%) helping with health and more than a third (35%) respectively with travel and digital.
  • Wales, the South West, the North East and the South East were the regions where universities were most likely to operate a food bank.
  • Four-fifths (82%) have an online platform to communicate their support to students.
  • On average, hardship funds are awarded up to £2,470 and institutions commit to get funds to students within four weeks.

Recommendations:

  • All universities should establish a cost-of-living working group streamline their hardship fund, launch an emergency fund and include students throughout their cost-of-living response.
  • Students’ unions should encourage their university to act by mounting an ambitious and practical cost-of-living campaign, founded on strong evidence and excellent relationships with university staff.
  • The Government establishes a cost-of-living taskforce, which consults regularly with students and sector leaders, and urgently reviews the level of maintenance support.

The publication came ahead of this week’s Westminster Hall debate on student cost of living. We have a short summary of the debate cut and thrust here. In the main, Minister Halfon followed the well-worn party line on disadvantage student numbers being up, extra funding for skills, and toughed out the calls for additional hardship funding. He agreed to look into the issue of students taking poorer quality accommodation due to price constraints and explained the government were trying to target hardship funding as there isn’t a consistent national picture. Although it appears the ‘targeting’ is simply the previous redistributed leftover budget that institutions already received.

Research professional also have an excellent summary and analysis on the student cost of living recent publications and debate.

Disciplinary process Pinsent Masons have a blog on disciplinary procedures following the landmark High Court ruling whereby a former student successfully sued their university for breach of contract. It concludes universities should understand the case before making hasty changes to their processes: It is therefore very much about the appropriate training of disciplinary panels and those involved in disciplinary processes, and how they should properly assess and test the evidence put before them – rather than this being a strict process point requiring the need to urgently revise procedures.

Medical Bursaries Vs Loans

While pressure is being applied for allied health professions to reinstate bursaries or receive loan forgiveness the Institute for Fiscal Studies has moved to an opposite position for medical and dental students stating the NHS bursary should be binned and tuition fee loans rolled out. Wonkhe cover the story:

The NHS bursary for medical and dental students should be scrapped and replaced with tuition fee loans, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has argued, with the money saved spent on NHS staff pay. The think tank contends that the bursary “displaces student loan funding” – in some cases leading to less upfront support for those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds – and ultimately benefits high-earning medical graduates who are able to pay off their loans earlier.

It also notes that “Plan 5” student loan reforms in England will benefit medical graduates by around £20,000, undermining one of the original arguments for the bursary which was to protect those who spent many years in training from the effects of high interest rates.

However, the Sutton Trust disagree and call for caution because they believe scrapping the NHS bursary may make medicine less accessible for disadvantaged students. Peter Lampl, Founder of the Sutton Trust, stated:  Any change to the NHS bursary should look at the support provided to students across the NHS professions rather than just for medicine…This is to avoid funnelling less well-off young people towards other health professions and away from medicine for financial reasons. We should also ensure that medical students have adequate access to maintenance support to live on, in whichever form that is provided.

Similarly Wonkhe report on the Union position to move away from tuition fees (across all programmes): The Trades Union Congress has carried a motion in favour of campaigning for the abolition of [all] tuition fees, improved pay and conditions in the higher education sector, and the tackling of education “cold spots”. The motion was proposed by the University and College Union (UCU) to the annual congress.

Loneliness

DCMS published an interesting YouGov survey exploring (young) students’ concerns across a range of areas such as friendships and fitting in, cooking and cleaning for themselves and finding housing, homesickness and loneliness, managing money and the difficulty of their course. It shows the range of intensity of concerns in the above areas. Including that 43% of students worry they’ll be judged if they admit feeling lonely.  The factors students found least helpful to alleviate the loneliness were speaking to university staff and online resources. The Government has launched a loneliness awareness campaign but it’s received criticism from some sector members.

Quick student news

Parliamentary Question: The Government has no remit to intervene in the student housing market (re: overseas students).

Parliamentary Question: tackling anti-Semitic and pro-Iranian messaging in universities.

Parliamentary Question: non-continuation of first year students (2015-2019)

Wonkhe blog: universities can do more to address gambling harms

At-risk Academics

Finally there was a Westminster Hall debate on UK support for At-risk Academics who are working overseas. Julian Lewis MP reflected positively on the work of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and noted that CARA fellows had a (recent) 100% visa application success rate. He called on the Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration to continue to support at-risk academics, and on the government to consider a long-term follow-on scheme. Sarah Dines MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Department, responded on behalf of the Immigration Minister noting the benefits at-risk academics bring to the UK and thanked CARA and the wider university sector for their contribution.  Research Professional has a good article on the record numbers of Ukrainian and Russian academics placed through CARA in the last 18 months.

Admissions

Wonkhe report record numbers secured university places through clearing this year despite a dip in overall recruitment:

16,040 UK 18 year olds found a place through Clearing after releasing themselves from a previous choice this year – 32%  (the largest single pool) of all Clearing placements. Today’s figures come as we reach 28 days after A level results day, usually considered the end of the main application cycle.

Overall recruitment is down by just over 5,000 from last year, though this still represents a growth of 12.9% over 2019 – the last year to feature a comparable results profile immediately prior to Covid-19. Similarly, this year saw a slight decline (around 500) in international recruitment beyond the EU, though this was 25% up on 2019. The BBC and The Evening Standard cover the news.

Savanta have stated the dip in top A level grades drove the increased demand for Clearing this year: early data from UCAS suggests that by the day after results day, 10,400 school leavers had been through Clearing to secure a university place (compared to 6,600 placed at the same point last year), with fewer securing their first or second choice university.

Savanta also have a downloadable report for colleagues interested in how universities approached the marketing and comms around Clearing.

Research Professional has an entertaining and useful read, UCAS pocus, on the UCAS data released for this year’s student intake numbers. It begins: Once more, it is time to release the party poppers and streamers over in Cheltenham. The headline comes with more spin than the average washing machine…. The press release goes on to say that “growing numbers of students that have been placed at their firm choice are using clearing to secure a new choice of university. In total, 16,040 UK 18-year-old applicants found a new course after releasing themselves from a previously held choice. This compares to 14,760 in 2022, and 12,170 in 2019.”…That all sounds wonderful until you pause for a moment to reflect that this must surely mean that “record numbers” of students were therefore denied their first-choice institutions or failed to make the necessary grades.

Some 32 per cent declined their original firm choice—this is the largest single pool. Another 30 per cent did not meet the terms of their offer and were released into clearing on results day, while 38 per cent either applied directly into clearing or held no firm choice.

That is, as Ucas acknowledges, an unprecedented use of clearing, which is surely something that cannot be good for either prospective students or university recruitment planners. It all rather raises the question of whether we should now get serious about a post-qualification admissions process.

Access & Participation

Care leavers

Think tank Civitas published Breaking the Care Ceiling: How many care leavers go to university? In 2022 the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care estimated the lifetime cost of poor outcomes for children with experience of our care system was over £1 million per child. The report argues that graduating university turns the poor outcomes around.

Wonkhe have two blogs:

Other news

Other news

BTEC gap: The Protect Student Choice Campaign published Desperate measures: data and the reform of Level 3 qualifications finding that 155,000 young people – 13% of all sixth form students in England – could be left without a suitable study programme from 2026, given the planned reduction in AGQs [applied general qualifications] and slow growth of T levels. See chart below. They also provide examples of when they believe the government has misrepresented data to suggest AGQs such as BTECs perform poorly. You can read their points on the data here.

HTQs: The Government’s policy line has been to grow Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQ) for several years, and it’s a particular passion for current Universities Minister Robert Halfon. If you’re not quite sure what a HTQ is we’ve got an explainer (below) and the Government has released a policy paper providing an overview of how the funding and approval system works for HTQs.

The key information to understand about HTQs is that they are an alternative qualification to apprenticeships and degrees. They are level 4 or 5 qualifications such as HNCs, HNDs and foundation degrees. They bridge the gap between A/T Levels and degrees and are taught at a range of FE, HE and independent providers. The Government plans to expand the range of HTQ courses by 2025 – there’s a list here (scroll down to Available Subjects).

Creative & Arts round up: An interesting Guardian article noting the disappearance of art schools. Wonkhe also had creative content this week: All political parties should commit to a series of measures in support of creative education, a coalition of sector bodies has urged. The Creative Education Coalition – made up of sector bodies including University Alliance, GuildHE and London Higher, as well as institutions and subject groupings – has set out a manifesto with eight “asks” for revitalising creative arts education from school level onwards, including retention of BTEC qualifications in creative areas and an end to “low value” rhetoric around arts subjects and careers. There’s a Wonkhe blog on the topic too: A manifesto for creative education. Finally, AHRC has announced a reduction in the number of PhD students it funds from 425 to around 300 by 2029–30. There will be an increase in “strategic investments that fill specific sector-related gaps,” with a lower number of studentships through its Doctoral Training Partnerships – these will also be funded through a formula approach, rather than competition, in a move designed to reduce administrative burden (Wonkhe).

Commuters: The COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) study published new analysis of their cohort data and report that this year’s university applicants look more likely to stay at home during term time than previous cohorts.

Midwifery educators: Wonkhe – A lack of senior midwifery educators is severely impacting the UK’s ability to recruit more midwives, a new report has found. The State of Midwifery report from the Royal College of Midwifery (RCM) highlights growing numbers of people leaving midwifery education – with poor working conditions and low pay among the main reasons for the resignations. It says the drop off in educators has increased staff-to-student ratios in the UK, and in the 2022-23 academic year there were fewer recruits than previous years. The number of midwifery students leaving their courses before graduating is also rising, with around 15 per cent of students failing to complete their degree in 2021-22. The Belfast Telegraph has the story.

UUK International published Lessons from the UK higher education sector response to the invasion of Ukraine. Full report here, summary here. UUKi introduce the report: the report highlights how the UK sector was mobilised to support universities in Ukraine and sets out ways in which we might better respond to future crises, while recognising that there is no ‘one size fits all’ model. It reflects on the policy, funding and political levers which have enabled a broadbased response and how these need to be considered when formulating a response to emerging crises at individual, institutional and sector levels. The report sets out a framework that institutions might employ to help develop and tailor such responses, providing a practical tool that can help maximise the effectiveness and impact of university action.

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HE policy update – summer catch up September 2023

The best bits from the summer period!

To keep the overall size of this policy update smaller we have included several linked documents to provide further detail on some items. These documents are in pdf format and accessed through a hyperlink in the text. If you would like the original documents (in Word) for accessibility purposes, please email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Parliamentary News: Reshuffle, no kerfuffle

Rishi has reshuffled his Ministers and you can find all the Cabinet members here.  All the junior ministers and their portfolios for both departments are here.

It’s stability in the main for both departments. David Johnston OBE joins the DfE as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (mainly care, SEND and schools focussed but with free speech in education within his brief too), replacing Claire Coutinho, who was promoted). Johnson was previously Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation (a charity which runs a range of programmes that incorporate mentoring, internships, university application support and skills development to help young people from low-income backgrounds enter universities and professions). Johnson has been active in the media on education, generally supportive of technical education, and tweets about social mobility factors a lot.

Labour has reshuffled the Shadow Cabinet appointments – I’ve put all the appointments (both new and those that have remained in post) here. Of most interest are:

  • Matt Western remains as the Shadow Minister for HE
  • Seema Malhotra is appointed as the Shadow Minister for Skills
  • Peter Kyleappointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

Horizon Europe

Finally!!! The Government has announced that the UK has made a deal and will associate with the Horizon Europe and Copernicus programmes through a bespoke agreement with the EU. Researchers can apply for grants and bid to take part in projects under the Horizon programme, as a fully associated member from now until the end of this Horizon programme in 2027. Once adopted, the UK will also be able to join the governance of EU programmes – which the UK has been excluded from over the last three years.

The UK will also associate to Copernicus, the European Earth Observation programme. This will provide the UK’s earth observation sector with access to specialist data, e.g. to help with early flood and fire warnings, and be able to bid for contracts (we’ve been excluded for the last three years).

It may be a case of the devil is in the detail however, the Government’s press release sets out the financial protections that have been agreed for the UK:

  • We will not pay for the time where UK researchers have been excluded from since 2021, with costs starting from January 2024This will also provide breathing space to boost the participation of UK researchers in open calls for grants before we start paying into the programme. [Because it’s expected it’ll take UK researchers some lead time before the UK begins securing a volume of successful bids.]
  • The UK will have a new automatic clawback that protects the UK as participation recovers from the effects of the last two and a half years. It means the UK will be compensated should UK scientists receive significantly less money than the UK puts into the programme. This wasn’t the case under the original terms of association.

UUKI state the agreement must be adopted by the EU-UK Specialised Committee on Union Programmes. They also clarify:

  • UK researchers will be able to carry out European Research Council and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action projects in the UK while retaining their status as ERC or MSCA grantees.
  • UK researchers can once again lead collaborative projects as coordinators.
  • UK research entities will count towards the consortium eligibility requirements as one of the three required partners from EU Member States or Associated Countries (nb. consortia will still need one partner from an EU Member State).

From Minister Donelan’s written statement:

  • From today, UK scientists can bid and participate confidently in the world’s largest programme of research cooperation – alongside their EU, Norwegian, New Zealand and Israeli colleagues – and with countries like Korea and Canada looking to join…UK academics and industry will be able to bid, secure funding for, and, crucially, lead, the vast majority of new calls that will be opening throughout the autumn. UK researchers and businesses can be certain that all successful UK applicants will be covered through the UK’s association for the rest of the programme (or through the remainder of the UK’s Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme as we transition to these new arrangements). All calls in Work Programme 2024 will be covered by association and the UK guarantee scheme will be extended to cover all calls under Work Programme 2023. UK scientists and researchers can lead project consortia under Work Programme 2024 – a key ask of the sector – allowing them to shape the next generation of international collaboration.
  • Under the previous programme the UK established over 200,000 collaborative links, and we will now play a leading role in a range of ground-breaking industry collaborations such as the AI, Data and Robotics Partnership worth over £2 billion, or the Cancer Mission aiming to help more than 3 million people by 2030.
  • Access to Horizon Europe was a top ask of our research community. We have listened to our sector and in this deal delivered collaboration where it is most valuable to UK science. This provides our scientists with a stable base for international collaboration and makes sure we are on track to deliver on the ambition to make the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030.
    Euratom (nuclear) association is out, rumoured because the UK believes we’re further ahead than Europe. Donelan: The UK will not join the Euratom programme. The UK fusion sector has communicated a preference for an alternatives programme that would involve direct investment in the UK sector. We are pleased to announce that we will be doing exactly that. We plan to invest up to £650 million to 2027 in a programme of new, cutting-edge alternative programmes subject to business cases, and will announce further details shortly.

Links: Government press announcement; EU/UK joint statement; FAQs on the deal (provided by EU)

Press: Guardian. Research Professional: charm offensive, plan B still on cards (Minister Freeman), implications for Switzerland. UUK warm welcome

FRAP

The Future Research Assessment Programme (FRAP) is gradually wrapping up following the latest publications. The FRAP addressed how research might be measured (and rewarded) in 2028 and proposed a number of changes to the current REF. The reports that informed the planned changes have been released. This Research Professional article is a good quick read, it begins:  we learned what had influenced the thinking behind these changes, with the publication of a summary of stakeholder engagements, an analysis of equality, diversity and inclusion in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework and another analysis, commissioned from the policy-advice group Technopolis, of how much that exercise had cost to run.

  • …the starkest numbers appeared in the examination of costs. It showed that the overall cost for higher education institutions reached £430 million for REF 2021, up from £237m for the 2014 exercise. The four UK national funding bodies spent a further £17m, while the cost to the panels that assessed submissions was £24m.
  • The total average cost for each university or research institute rose from £2m in REF 2014 to £3m in REF 2021, with the average cost per researcher submitted amounting to £6,000—up from £4,000.
  • institutions had also been doing a lot of work that they weren’t asked to do because they wanted to optimise the REF process—hardly surprising…
  • the interesting thing for 2028 is how can we reach a kind of settlement with the sector to say how much of this do we really need to do?”…“And how much can we stand back from in the interests of reducing the burden on everybody?”
  • by removing the association between individual staff and outputs, the changes suggested by the Frap would make a big difference—particularly for institutions without a large infrastructure, such as smaller specialist institutions.
  • Implementing the Frap recommendations is expected to save institutions an estimated £100m and…. the research funders would use the Technopolis report to make calculated reductions in costs.

You can find all the reports here and the stakeholder engagement summary here.
Wonkhe have a blog too: REF is expensive because it’s good value.

Research – Quick news

The Science and Technology Committee published their interim report into the governance of AI: summary here. There’s a world first summit on AI safety to be held 1-2 November. International governments, leading AI companies and experts in research will unite for crucial talks and agree a set of rapid, targeted measures for furthering safety in global AI use. Matt Clifford and Jonathan Black have been appointed as the Prime Minister’s Representatives.

  1. Announcements: UKRI announced the creation of four new research facilities, and a survey has found that “extreme measures” are needed to help some European research infrastructures deal with the “severe” impact of higher energy costs (Research Professional).
  2. Peer Review: Research Professional have an article on UKRI’s Review of Peer Review: UKRI report suggests AI could improve grant reviews.
  3. Overall: UKRI has published its annual report and accounts for financial year 2022–23. The year saw it assess over 22,300 applications for funding, and make 6,118 awards (as well as support 1,897 Horizon Europe Guarantee grants). (Wonkhe.)
  4. QR Funding: Research England has notified institutions that it is “not yet in a position” to confirm quality-related research (QR) funding or Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) allocations for 2023–24, “due to the complete replacement of our analytical system and associated quality-assurance processes.” It plans to publish an overview of its budget later this month, and individual allocations from late summer. (Wonkhe.)
  5. Parliamentary Question: Strengthening UK-Africa science and tech research and partnerships.
  6. Life Sciences sector: OLS, DSIT and DHSC have jointly published the life sciences sector data for 2023 covering the research environment, domestic market, production environment, international collaboration, investment environment, and access to skilled labour. Links:

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: life science ecosystem

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: user guide

Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2023: data tables

Foundation year fee caps & student number controls

Read more about the government’s latest plans to incentivise quality below.  In that context, the outcomes of the first two of the OfS investigations into quality related matters – 2 of the 8 business and management investigations – were reported this week.  The OfS haven’t announced any sanctions yet, but number controls could be in their toolbox.  The VC of London South Bank University (no concerns were found after the investigation) wrote for HEPI about the experience.

Way back (February 2018) PM Theresa May announced a review of post-18 education and funding whereby the Government consulted on HE reform, and the Augar report (2019) resulted. There was a lot of change on the table for consideration and the Government launched further consultation concluding in January 2021 and February 2022. The Government introduced piecemeal changes since the Augar report, most recently laying the legislation for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (implemented from 2025). This Government response document is the latest in these piecemeal changes and continues to focus on changes to ensure high quality HE provision across the sector. The Government states:

We have set out…what more government will do to continue to drive up the quality of higher education. This includes asking the Office for Students (OfS) to use recruitment limits to help drive out provision which is not delivering good student outcomes, a sharp focus on franchising arrangements, and a reduction in the maximum fee and loan limits for classroom-based foundation years. We will also ask the OfS to consider how they can take graduate earnings into account in their quality regime. We know many factors influence graduate earnings – but students have a right to expect that higher education will lead to improved employment opportunities and commensurate earnings… These reforms represent the start, and not the end, of our determination to drive out low-quality provision. We are confident that this will be successful with the support of the sector. The Government has decided not to proceed with a minimum eligibility requirement at this point in time, but if the quality reforms set out here do not result in the improvements we seek, we will consider further action if required.

Student Number Controls: The government believes that as most HEIs charge the maximum fee, combined with no student number controls, it has incentivised providers to expand student numbers on courses that are less expensive to teach, but which may only provide limited benefits to graduates and the wider economy.

There was a consultation on whether to introduce student number controls to prevent ‘the growth of low quality provision’. Instead the Government decided to task (via statutory guidance) the OfS to consider ‘recruitment limits’ for courses not delivering positive outcomes for students – this is already in train because the OfS is already permitted to impose recruitment limits on providers. However, the Government’s newly announced plans concern the OfS’ existing powers and regulatory framework, including the B3 condition of registration on student outcomes (continuation rates, course completion, and graduate progression). Recruitment limits won’t be applied to a course without a prior investigation, and providers will have opportunities to set out contextual information for why a course might not be delivering the student outcomes required by the B3 condition.

The OfS is expected to consider how it can incorporate graduate earnings into its regulatory regime for quality purposes too.

Foundation Year Fee Caps: Foundation years are a route in for students that do not meet the entry requirement for a particular course. However, the Augar report questioned how effective and necessary they were for students. And with the introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement the Government does not want the full lifelong entitlement to be taken by one degree course entered through a foundation year. They have also been vociferous in their questioning of foundation year costs and urged for some time for the fees charged to be lower. Through the document the Government has stipulated the from 2025/26 the maximum fee and loan limit for foundation years will be lowered to £5,760 for classroom-based subjects whilst the maximum fee and loan limits of £9,250 will remain for all other subjects.

Here’s a little more detail:

  • ‘classroom based foundation years provision’ means the subjects currently in OfS Price Group D …the government will issue detailed guidance to the higher education sector on the subjects that the £5,760 fee cap will apply to in due course. While we’re waiting, we do know the challenge is to law, business and management (not tourism, transport or travel), social sciences (not health studies), and humanities (English, historical, philosophical and religious studies (exception is archaeology) including publicity studies. Although it really depends which HECoS code the course falls within as to whether it’s in or out.
  • The Government means business on the foundation year clamp down: We will keep fee and loan limits for foundation years under review, particularly where growth is concerning, and will not hesitate to impose further reductions if necessary. We encourage providers to ensure their business model is not reliant on income from foundation years.

Throughout the Government’s campaign to reduce foundation years undertaken, and reduce their costs where there do continue has been the push back from the access and participation community who state foundation years remove barriers and allow non-traditional or disadvantaged students to enter HE and ultimately achieve a degree.

Finally, other consultation questions covered plans for a new national scholarship scheme and how to grow the provision of high-quality level 4 and 5 courses. The Government document didn’t contain any detail on the scholarship scheme, however, they have confirmed they will not change the maximum fee limits for level 4 and 5 courses from £9,250 at this time.

Students

  • Cost of living: The Commons Library have a briefing on Cost of living support for students
  • Student struggles: The National Union of Students (NUS) Wales has published survey findingswhich show that a quarter of students in post-16 education were unable to find suitable housing last year as rent and bills increased, and 8% had experienced homelessness.

The research on the impact on students of the cost-of-living crisis also found that 1 in 5 students were working more than 20 hours a week alongside their studies, with 64% of those with jobs saying it negatively impacted their students.

Accommodation

PwC and StudentCrowd published Student accommodation: Availability and rental growth trends July 2023 for privately-owned Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) across the UK.

While demand outstripping supply creates an investment opportunity, particularly for private capital, it also represents a challenge for both universities and students. If left unresolved, it is likely to adversely impact affordability of accommodation, the student experience, university reputation and, ultimately, future recruitment of students. With students facing rising costs of living, without a corresponding increase in maintenance loan levels, the cost of accommodation will, for some, become a prohibitive factor in higher education (HE) participation, impacting those from under-represented groups the most.

There are illustrative charts and more detail along with recommendations for colleagues particularly interested in student accommodation – see the full report.

Healthcare students – pay and childcare

There are three petitions currently in front of parliament relating to pay and financial support (childcare) for healthcare students including student midwives, nurses and paramedics. The petitions call for healthcare students to be paid at least minimum wage for their placement hours and for the 30 hours free childcare offer to be extended to the students. Pay and conditions for healthcare students has been a constant rumble in the background since 2017 when the NHS Bursary and free tuition fees were abolished and students were switched. The strong public support shown for the petitions means a debate has been scheduled and a Government representative will be asked to respond to the petitions.

For colleagues who would benefit from dipping into the full history and detail behind healthcare student’s pay and financial support there is an excellent briefing provided in advance of the parliamentary debate.  You can view the petitions here: 610557616557 and 6196409.

Student Loans – what the policy makers are reading

The House of Commons Library has updated their briefing on student loan statistics. The content is the same as we’ve outlined in recent policy updates. However, what is of interest to the sector is that these briefings are how many non-ministerial policy makers obtain their in-depth information on topics (because they don’t have a departmental team briefing them on the topic). The briefings are impartial (i.e. don’t side with one political party over another) but the content the brief focuses on may lead to debate focusing on these topics in the House. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation and the reinforcement of the focus can lead to a self-fulfilling circle – hence why it’s useful for the sector to be aware of the information the parliamentarians are reading.

For more detail and other student loan statistics you can read the full briefing.

Parliamentary Question: The Plan 5 reforms will make the student loan system fairer for taxpayers and fairer for students, helping to keep the system sustainable in the long term.

Other sources on debt: The cost of student loan debt has been picked up again recently by media. The Times and Martin Lewis ran features on whether it’s better (or not) for parents who can afford to pay upfront for university costs rather than burden their children with long term debt. CAPX wants to replace student loans with ISAs. And Wonkhe report on the small but significant number of students…taking out maintenance loans but not fee loans – in 2021–22 this amounted to £281.2m across 51,000 students. Or 6% of full time English undergraduates. This blog explores the group and considers reasons nicely. There’s a data heavy section in the middle, do skip past it if you’re not keen, and read on further through the blog for more context. Here’s a quick summary of the data elements: The providers where maintenance loans outnumber those with fee loans are mostly connected by a strong access and participation role – that and a recent strategic focus on franchise and partnership arrangements. Wonkhe explain: One possible explanation is that students, agents recruiting students, or some providers are taking advantage of the time period between when students are to access and spend the maintenance loan and when they become liable for the fee loan. We don’t know for sure, but it is certainly one possibility that regulators and those responsible for university partnerships may wish to keep in mind.

Graduates – university boost

UUK report that 73% of UK graduates credit going to university with enabling them to find the job they wanted in under 1 year. In addition the report finds that 79% of graduates say going to university enabled them to build skills that have proved professionally valuable, and 71% of first in their family UK graduates said that going to university opened doors to companies for them.

Employment

  • During a cost-of-living-crisis – two-thirds (64%) say that going to university has improved their job security
  • 97% of senior managers polled revealed that graduates reach managerial positions faster, as a result of going to university
  • 73% of business leaders surveyed believe that going to university introduces graduates to peers who can help them build their careers
  • UK graduates see their salary increase by 8.2% on average with their first promotion
  • 61% of business leaders say that going to a UK university puts candidates at an advantage in comparison with other international candidates when applying for a job at their company

Industry knowledge and skills

  • 76% of UK graduates going to university helped to build their self-confidence
  • Over a quarter (28%) of UK graduates first gained employment through a direct connection to their university or degree course

Increasing social mobility

  • Those who were the first in their family to go to university had a slightly higher average starting salary than those who were not the first to attend; £30,111 versus £27,754
  • 51% of business leaders who were the first in their family to go to university said it helped them fast track their career, compared to 46% of business leaders who weren’t

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

  • This new research clearly demonstrates the value that graduates benefit from when they go to university in the UK. The benefits captured by this research are numerous – from job security and career ambitions, to earnings and social mobility. They highlight how highly UK universities are regarded not just by those who attend them, but also by those who hire their graduates and benefit from their skills.
  • It is clear that Universities play a huge role not only in preparing graduates for employment, but also in teaching them crucial, transferable life skills that will serve them throughout their career. Ultimately, what this research demonstrates is that our universities play a powerful role in helping graduates forge successful career paths that can help return the UK economy to growth and continue to power our public services.

LEO

The LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data for 2020-21 has been released. Quick reminder – the LEO data looks at the employment and earnings outcomes of graduates and postgraduates at 1, 3, 5 and 10 years after graduation. One aspect of a university’s performance that the regulator watches with their quality hat on is their graduate outcomes.  If you’re interested in graduate outcomes I’d recommend you engage with the short, simple explanations here and there’s plenty to capture your attention further down the page where you can drill down into charts and summaries by student characteristics such as subject, prior attainment, ethnicity, and disadvantage (POLAR). The provider level data is also well worth a browse through. There’s too much of interest for us to cover it all here so do dive in at source.

What we will mention is where media focussed their attention – on the widening pay gap for graduates previously receiving fee school meals. The data shows that at one, three and five years after graduation, graduates whose families claimed free school meals (FSM) were less likely to be in sustained employment, further study or both than graduates whose families did not claim FSM…and their median earnings were lower – 10% lower at 5 years post-graduation. It continued a trend seen in previous years – that the earnings gap increases as the years after graduation increase. You can see the charts and read more of the detail on the gap here.

If you’d prefer a very quick overall here’s what Wonkhe have to say: This latest iteration of the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset shows that the impact of Covid-19 as measured by subject area and by industrial area varied widely. Overall, the experience was a negative one for graduate and postgraduate earnings – though in most cases these remained relatively stable in real terms. At a subject level, there appeared to be a greater impact by provider in computing, law, and business and management subjects. This year’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data drop refers to the 2020–21 tax year – a period during which you may recall that the global economy was subject to a number of shocks. The fascinating thing about what we see from our heavily-caveated data on graduate salaries is how little impact this appears to have had. In most cases graduates could expect a similar level of pay, in real terms, to every other year LEO covers.

And what they read into the politics: All this prompts us to ask what LEO is really for, and what it really shows us. It’s gone from being a central feature of the government’s armoury of tools to identify and destroy “low-quality” courses – thus driving down the cost of the loan system – to featuring only on the data graveyard that is Discover Uni. Even the people who write those “best course for a big salary” articles rely on aggregated CVs rather than an actual government release. One wonders if Wonkhe will change their opinion on this given the weekend’s announcement on the role of graduate data in student number controls.

Plus a blog: LEO – it promised much, but in regulatory terms has delivered little. David Kernohan wonders what went wrong. And another: however, it does offer a useful corrective to the use of provider- and subject-level outcomes measures.

Note: the LEO data is different to the DfE 2022 Graduate labour market statistics (see Graduate Employability section for coverage of the DfE statistics).

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published an article on the data released exploring the educational attainment of pupils in English towns, using data from the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset. It examines how educational attainment differs by town size, deprivation level and the average qualification levels of residents in the previous generation, using LEO data, and focusses on pupils who sat their GCSEs in the 2012 to 2013 school year. A summary provided by Dods Political Intelligence is available here.

Sharia-compliant student finance

This Parliamentary Library paper on Sharia-compliant alternative student finance is a good catch up on the basics and latest news for the alternative student finance system which the Government plan to introduce from 2025. There haven’t been any further developments since this was announced at the beginning of the summer period.

Students: Quick News

Cost of living: Wonkhe blog –  Eighteen months into the biggest cost of living crisis the UK has seen in decades, Jim Dickinson tries to work out if university advice on the costs that students will face has improved.

Mental Health: Wonkhe – Some 30 per cent of undergraduates starting university this September will have a history of missing education due to their mental health, the Unite Students 2023 Applicant Index suggests, drawing on a survey of 2,141 applicants for 2023–24 entry conducted by Savanta in May (and weighted to be broadly representative of the applicant population as a whole). Of these, 24 per cent have missed 20 days or more due to mental health issues. The survey also found that 18 per cent of applicants with a disability say they have no plans to disclose it to their university.

Harassment: The Women and Equalities select committee report Attitudes towards women and girls in educational settings concluded that sexual harassment and abuse of female students and staff is a serious problem in education. They call on the Government to support the following recommendations for implementation in universities

  • OfS should implement a new condition of registration to place mandatory obligations on universities to tackle sexual harassment and sexual violence
  • Develop a nationwide sexual harassment and sexual violence awareness campaign that particularly targets male university students
  • Compulsory intervention programmes (evidence-based bystander intervention) for all first-year university students

Transport: Parliamentary Question – the cost of public transport on students’ finances and mobility.

Parliamentary Question: Students cost of living (grant question).

Apprenticeship Barriers

The UCAS and Sutton Trust report What influences the choices of would-be apprentices looks at the choices and barriers students face on the journey to an apprenticeship, such as when discovering, applying for and entering a role. Here’s the press release if you prefer the quick read version: Three in five do not pursue apprenticeships because they cannot find one, or here’s an impartial succinct summary of the key points prepared by Dods.

Of note for HE in the report are the recommendations for degree apprenticeships (below) and the recommendation for parity between degrees and apprenticeships (see page 7).

Parliamentary Question: Incentivising universities to provide more higher apprenticeships

Admissions:

The Government responded to the House of Commons Education Committee’s report on The future of post-16 qualifications. Committee report here; Government response here. The Government’s response does not depart from the same party lines you’d expect – rationalising qualifications, the study of maths to age 18, skills bootcamps and is primarily focussed on T levels and apprenticeships. Halfon’s priorities are apparent – HTQs, apprenticeships/skills, and careers advice (especially as relates to T levels).  One concession is that the Government does ‘note’ or acknowledge the Committee’s interest in Baccalaureate models.

We’ve three major data releases included in this policy update. This one is the 2023 cycle application data (at 30 June deadline). The June deadline is when students have to apply for (up to 5) choices of HE provision (and make their conditional firm and back up selection) so this data snapshot provides a good look at the application rates.

We cover the high level data below, but for those who want more interpretation of the implications we recommend reading Research Professional’s (slightly irreverent) Ucas’d a spell on me – What’s the difference between reality and spin in this year’s application data? It begins: It is one of the perennial puzzles of higher education in the UK: why does the university application service Ucas insist on trying to spin good news stories about higher education entry data when the available evidence points to the contrary?

Here’s the top level data:

Note: All data relates to UK applicants unless we specify otherwise.

  • 18-year-old applicant numbers are 319,570; down -2% from 326,190 in 2022, but up on 2021 (311,010, +2.8%).
  • 37,410 18-year-olds from POLAR4 Quintile 1 (i.e. the lowest rate of participation) have applied – this is down from the record of 38,310 in 2022 (-2.3%), but an increase on 2021 when numbers stood at 34,840 (+7.4%).
  • The number of international applicants (all ages) stands at 138,050, up from 134,870 in 2022 (+2.4%), and 130,390 in 2021 (+5.9%). This is driven by interest from India (+ 8.7), the Middle East (+20.8%) and Africa (+3.9%). Meanwhile, applicants from China are down by 2.2% (UCAS says most likely due to Covid-19 restrictions and disruption to learning).
  • The number of UK 18-year-olds applicants who have declared their ethnicity as Asian, Black, Mixed or other has increased by 4.4% – 104,160 in 2023, versus 99,770 in 2022, and 89,560 in 2021 (+16.3%).
  • A total of 1,740 people with predicted T Levels have applied to higher education, up from 490 last year (252%).

Admissions – quick news

  • Parliamentary Question: Foundation Degree enrolments (national data).
  • Clare Marchant reflects on her time as Chief Executive, and the progress UCAS has made in this Research Professional blog.
  • Finally, an entertaining parliamentary question asking reasons for the difference in the number of men and women entering university was answered by Minister Halfon who managed to link together the male gender underrepresentation in HE and the gap in progression rates with prior attainment concluding that universities should have a more direct role in driving up the standards in schools. He even mentions degree apprenticeships and skills related courses and the OfS Equality of Opportunity Risk Register as a key marker for social justice to ensure that no student groups are left behind. So there you go, it’s up to universities to do more to fix the systemic issues behind the lower number of men entering HE provision. One wonders if the staffer who wrote the response to this parliamentary question was after promotion or on a whim to win the office keyword bingo.

International

HEPI published their annual soft-power index (where the world’s countries are headed by someone educated in the UK or another country other than their own). America still leads the field but the UK has taken a step closer to America’s top numbers.

  • In the first year of the Index (2017), there were more world leaders who had been educated in the UK tertiary sector than in any other country, including the US. But the US overtook the UK in 2018 and extended its lead in each of the four subsequent years – in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
  • The new results for 2023 show, in contrast, that the gap between the number of current world leaders educated in the US and the UK has shrunk for the first time since the Index began: compared to last year, there are two more countries with a leader educated in the UK and two fewer countries with a leader educated in the US, reducing the gap by four.
  • There are 195 countries in the world and around one-quarter of them (54 or 28%) have at least one very senior leader who was educated in the US while a similar number (53 or 27%) have at least one very senior leader who was educated in the UK. As there is some overlap, with a handful of leaders being educated in both the UK and the US, the total number of countries with a very senior leader who has been educated at a higher level in the US and / or the UK is 84 (43% of the world’s countries).

Research Professional verge dangerously close to stating that the recruitment of international students for financial sustainability is/will impact on the number of domestic UK students recruited when they report on this Telegraph article and this opinion piece. Read the Squeezed Middle (meaning middle class students are/will be pushed out by international recruitment and outreach targets to recruit disadvantaged students) to see if you agree with the reasoning presented. Of interest is that the number of unplaced applicants (presumably domestic applicants) rose by 46% last year to 20,000 (was 14,000 the previous year), that’s quite a jump.

Quick news from Wonkhe:

Parliamentary Question: Cost of living support for international students.

Access & Participation

The Research Professional article Squeezed Middle may be of interest.

TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education – one of the Government’s what works centres) published a project report – Addressing gaps in the participation of sandwich courses. Project partners were:

  • University of Surrey who focused on the intention to apply for and complete a sandwich course.
  • Nottingham Trent University (NTU) who focused on converting this intention to successful completion of the sandwich course.

Findings – intention to apply and participate

  • There was a perception that disabled students, students from low-income families, and black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students were underrepresented on sandwich courses. However, few providers were able to provide specific statistics about their sandwich course cohorts nor identify whether those taking up sandwich courses were representative of the wider student population.
  • Both staff and students identified several factors that influence a students’ ability to apply to and complete a sandwich course such as a perceived lack of support from providers and challenges associated with travelling considerable distances for a work placement.
  • Staff referenced a variety of activities, some of which had already been implemented, to remove the barriers (financial and otherwise) that WP students experience when accessing sandwich courses, such as students attending a budgeting meeting to ensure they would be able to cope financially.
  • There was a consensus from both staff and students that participating in a sandwich course had a positive influence on employment outcomes for students.

Findings – successful completion of sandwich course

  • Students, employers and staff identified confidence and resilience as important for helping students navigate challenges that arise throughout the process of applying to, securing and completing a sandwich course.
  • They also reported that biases remain against students from disadvantaged backgrounds that can influence their experiences of navigating the process of applying to and securing a placement as part of their course.
  • A lack of placement opportunities, and lack of opportunities in geographically convenient areas, were identified by students as a factor in whether they could secure a placement.
  • The requirement for money and resources was also reported as a challenge for their participation in the course.

Recommendations for HE providers:

  • Develop Enhanced Theories of Change (ToCs) to plan, and rigorously evaluate, the impact of support for WP students accessing sandwich courses.
  • Make more use of their institutional data and administrative datasets, such as the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset, to track students into the labour market and evaluate employment outcomes.
  • Consider implementing specific support on student finances for learners intending to take part in a sandwich course.
  • Provide comprehensive and tailored support to WP students considering a sandwich course, as well as those who have already enrolled in the course, at multiple points to ensure students are supported to start and complete the course.
  • Take a strategic approach to employability support, developing and evaluating programmes specifically designed for disadvantaged students in order to address the gaps between more and less advantaged students.

High potential students

The Sutton Trust published: Stories from the Class of 2023 – Education experiences of high potential students from different backgrounds as part of its new Social Mobility: The Next Generation series. The report sets out key differences and similarities between high attainers from different socio-economic backgrounds:

Differences

  • Overall, the major areas in which socio-economic background drove differences in young people’s experiences were the quality of and access to education. Quality was defined by staff turnover, lack of teachers and generally poor quality of (online) teaching, whereas access to education was limited or enabled on the basis of technological access.
  • Socio-economic background also informed differences in the role and level of engagement of parents.
  • Differences in socio-economic backgrounds were also associated with a varying consistency of motivation and the varying degree in the perceived importance of hard work.
  • Experiences of the COVID pandemic were mainly shaped by the quality of and access to education, as well as differences between state and private education.

 Similarities

  • Regardless of socio-economic background, young high attainers also shared similarities such as the importance of relationships with parents, teachers and friends as well as an intrinsic motivation to perform well at school.
  • They also shared the importance of disruptive life events such as COVID-19 or experiences of bullying and its detrimental effect on motivation, mental health & wellbeing.
  • Inequalities stemming from (mental) health, sexuality, gender or race could be intertwined or go across socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Across socio-economic backgrounds, high attainers were guided by their personal interests in their future plans.

Recommendations include a national strategy to close the attainment gaps that have opened since the pandemic, reform of school admissions for a better socio-economic mix of pupils across schools (those who attend more socially mixed schools progress more at GCSE), universities to recognise the disruption faced by students and support their transition and success (universities to identify key gaps in learning at an early stage in the first term, and provide continuing support if necessary, as well as support for student mental health and wellbeing).

There’s a short blog on the report if you don’t fancy reading the full content.

Place, Privilege and Prestige

HE Minister Halfon spoke at the NEON Summer Symposium. The key element of his speech focussed on social justice, structured around his three ‘P’s of Place, Privilege and Prestige. His passion topics of skills, FE, apprenticeships and careers advice were all explored in the speech.

As far as I am concerned, social justice is fundamental to higher education. Universities should exist to facilitate the studies, progression and graduation of all students – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds – so they can go on to get good jobs and pursue worthwhile careers.

On Privilege:  the Office for Students recently launched the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register, with 12 key risks to equality of opportunity across the student lifecycle. These have used evidence to determine where interventions can really move the dial on social justice. They’ll be an important tool for designing future initiatives to broaden access to HE, and I look forward to providers rewriting their upcoming Access and Participation plans to incorporate them.

On Prestige:

  • I want technical education and training routes to have parity of prestige with academic routes…For students to be excited at the prospect of learning a real technical skill that can get them a job. And for teachers to value pupils’ success equally, whether they accomplish a T Level or three A levels.
  • I really believe degree apprenticeships can bridge this gap in a way that other initiatives haven’t managed…HE needs to allow FE to leverage some of its prestige. At this point Halfon announced a bidding process for universities on degree apprenticeships to come later in the year (through OfS). He continued:
  • I also want to end the perception that FE colleges are somehow second-rate institutions. And that to finally emerge from the shadow of academia, there must be a ‘Skills Oxbridge’ we can point to. I have great respect for the academic excellence of Oxford and Cambridge, but we need to stop using them as a benchmark for everything else.

You can read the official (as written, not necessarily exactly as Halfon delivered it) speech here.

However, NEON report that the audience was unimpressed and even angered by Halfon’s speech. One attendee, Jessica Newton, felt compelled to blog and give voice to her frustrations. Excerpts:

  • Was it the halls of residence pillow causing a twinge in my neck or was it the physical cringe when he was so unaware of his contradicting messages when addressing his already unimpressed audience? His feeble attempt to be one of the people ‘I too come from a working-class background’ was instantly discredited when he followed that by ‘but I went to an independent school’ and ‘my father gave me no choice but to go to university’. The lack of awareness that it is the independent schools and the encouraging parents that elevate one student above another almost sent my neck into spasm.
  • How dare Robert Halfon sit there and express how joyous his time at university was and how free he felt and then explain that for the disadvantaged students there’s some really incredible vocational choices out there for them. How dare Robert Halfon say how free he felt at university when I speak to 13-year-olds that are making plans for their future so they can financially support the rest of their family. How dare Robert Halfon say how free he felt free at university and have the severe lack of awareness young people are raised with no safety net, there is simply no room for feeling free.
  • …How dare Robert Halfon have his moment in the spotlight and have the ‘best time of his life’ but expect the working-class, unrepresented future generations [to] spend their career only ever behind the curtain.

Widening Participation

The DfE published the 2021/22 widening participation in HE statistics. The statistics explore young progression to HE study by a range of student characteristics such as free school meals, ethnicity,

Parliamentary Question: Accreditation scheme for universities to demonstrate the gold standard in the care leaver provision.

Blogs: Wonkhe – To meet legal responsibilities to disabled students, the sector must address the overwhelming workloads of disability services staff, says Hannah Borkin.

Lifelong Learning Bill

The House of Lords debated the Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill. Despite the vigorous debate no changes prevailed as all amendments were either withdrawn or not moved. Baroness Barran as Minister for the School System and Student Finance was able to bat away most of the opposition. She emphasised that the policies behind the Bill had been designed in consultation with relevant HE sector stakeholders and there would be further consultation to come.

The Government intend to set most of the detail of the Bill through secondary legislation. In essence this means that Parliament passes the Bill so it becomes an Act. Then the Government backfill the nitty gritty detail which sets out the operation and how things run. The positive of secondary legislation is that it can flex with the times – fee limits can be raised, new clauses can be brought in to respond to the unexpected and keep the sector functioning well and responding to change. The negative is that it hands full power to the Government of the time to set these items with very little parliamentary scrutiny or power to change the Government’s will – it could result in a bad deal for the HE sector being forced through. In practice, while the Bill is passing it means that Parliamentarians, and the Bill is currently with the House of Lords, can raise objections and call for certain things to be changed and the Government’s representative can simply provide reassurances without conceding or changing the wording of the Bill. Likely the Government will listen to the amendments and speeches made and may make concessions or adapt to points raised through the secondary legislation (as suits their policy ideals). But there is no guarantee of this. There is little detail for the Lords (who now have a very well informed, experienced and powerful HE faction, with several ex-Universities Ministers) to take a stand on and force a change. Meaning the Bill may pass quite quickly as it is so bland. Short of the unexpected this Bill will become law before the next general election (and is planned to be implemented in 2025).

Distance learning fees: the Government have no intention of differentiating fee limits between distance and in-person learning under the LLE. The per-credit fee limits will be the same for full-time, part-time, face-to-face and distance learning…Distance learning courses will remain in scope for tuition fee loan support under the LLE.

Distance maintenance: The Baroness stood firm against calls for maintenance support for distance learners although will continue current arrangements for distance learners with a disability to qualify for maintenance loans and disabled students’ allowance. The disabled students’ allowance will be extended to all designated courses and modules.

More reading:

Free Speech Act

This parliamentary question reveals there is still no set date for the free speech Act to come into play:  The timeline will involve working in collaboration with the OfS on the creation of new registration conditions and a complaints scheme dedicated to handling freedom of speech complaints, which will be operated by the OfS. The OfS will also develop guidance on how to comply with these duties, in consultation with providers, constituent institutions and students’ unions.  Another related parliamentary question asks whether freedom of speech in the UK includes the right to criticise ideas around gender identity. Answer – it’s defined in case law and in the HE (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 and the Government has no plans to outline the specific content of freedom of speech on an issue-by-issue basis.

Russell Group Yardstick

Finally, Wonkhe report: At the House of Lords Education for 11–16 Year Olds Committee yesterday, schools minister Nick Gibb was on the end of a grilling from committee chair Lord Johnson of Marylebone over the Department for Education’s use of Russell Group entry rates as a performance indicator for schools in England. The former universities minister suggested that the government was “fixated” on the Russell Group and disincentivising schools from sending students to other universities. Gibb replied that the term “high tariff” could have been used instead. You can watch the session back online.

HEPI

HEPI celebrated their 20th Birthday by releasing UK higher education – policy, practice and debate during HEPI’s first 20 years. Fifteen contributors cover a wide range of HE policy matters including governance, research, student learning, funding and finances, and the relationship between HE providers and Government. One thing HEPI haven’t learnt in 20 years is that not many people enjoy the thought of reading a 184 page document, so do use the contents page to jump to the section you’re most interested in.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. There isn’t much of interest at present but things will pick up over the autumn period. You can email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you spot a consultation or inquiry that you’d like to contribute to.

Other news

Turing: The House of Commons Library has a comprehensive briefing on the Turing scheme which funds international study and work placements. At 51 pages it’s a bit long but there is a useful 2 minute read summary here.

Cyber employment: DSIT published Cyber security skills in the UK labour market 2023. It sets out the skills needs and job vacancies across the UK cyber security sector.

Findings:

  • 50% of all UK businesses have a basic cyber security skills gap, while 33% have an advanced cyber security skills gap. These figures are similar to 2022 and 2021.
  • There were 160,035 cyber security job postings in the last year. This is an increase of 30% on the previous year. 37% of vacancies were reported as hard-to-fill (down from 44% in 2022, but same as 2021).
  • Only 17% of the cyber sector workforce is female (down from 22% last year, but similar to 2021 and 2020) and 14% of senior roles are filled by women.
  • There is an estimated shortfall of 11,200 people to meet the demand of the cyber workforce (down from 14,100 last year, largely due to slower growth of the sector).

DAPs: The OfS has published new operational guidance for providers to apply for (or vary existing) degree awarding powers (DAPs). The OfS’ powers mean they can authorise HEIs to grant different types of degrees, including:

  • foundation degrees only (up to and including Level 5 qualifications)
  • awards up to, and including, bachelors’ degrees (up to and including Level 6)
  • all taught awards (up to and including Level 7)
  • research awards (research masters’ degrees at Level 7 and doctoral degrees at Level 8).

Full details here.

Digital Education ID: The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change published The Future of Learning: Delivering Tech-Enabled Quality Education for Britain. There are a number of recommendations mainly aimed at schools. Of interest is their recommendation to introduce a digital learner ID for every pupil that would:

  • contain all educational information, including formal test results, attendance records, week-by-week assessments, marked homework, records of non-academic achievement and more;
  • become a hub of digital learning, connecting learners with apps to supplement traditional teaching;
  • give pupils and parents control of their data and provide them with useful insights from the information, such as suggestions for further study or employment opportunities, or assistance in the selection of schools or nurseries.

A digital ID implemented as described may have implications for the HE admissions system and for student data interface, particularly as the expectation would be to continue this regular feedback model direct to the student throughout their HE study.

Parliamentary Question: Evaluating the interventions aimed at increasing boys’ learning in educational settings.

HE Net Zero: Wonkhe – Achieving a net zero higher education sector will cost £37.1bn based on current decarbonisation costs, according to a report from the Association of Higher Education Directors of Estates, the British Universities Finance Directors Group and the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education. A “cost of net zero calculator” has also been released, designed to allow individual institutions to estimate the financial resources required to reach net zero. Also from UKRI:

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HE policy update 28th June 2023

Some major areas covered in this policy update. We summarise all the latest parliamentary action on duty of care and consider what’s next for the sector more generally. Lots if research news, including the House of Lords being grumpy about the UK’s plans (and progress) to become a science and technology superpower. Horizon Europe guarantees have been extended (again). There’s the latest on free speech and the CMA requirements relating to course changes. Finally, an in-depth look at the future of international students from two authoritative figures in the sector.

The outlook for the sector

In a speech at an event hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute, the Secretary of State outlined his 3 priorities for the sector, to meet skills needs, advance social justice and deliver high quality qualifications. He talked extensively about apprenticeships and wanting the sector to do more in this are, as these programmes not only help with skills needs but also support disadvantaged students to earn while they learn, enhancing his social justice agenda too. He also made reference to mental health and wellbeing and the importance of student support.

  • The government has yet to provide the outcome to the Department for Education consultation on minimum entry requirements and student number caps – these have been outstanding since last year. In his speech the Secretary of State for Education, Robert Halfon said that he hoped we would get them soon.
  • Here is a Wonkhe blog covering Halfon’s speech.

Shadow Secretary of State for Education Matt Western also spoke at the event. He wouldn’t be drawn on detailed plans ahead of the work that Labour have to do on their manifesto.  Labour have already indicated they want to replace the current system with something “fairer and more progressive,” including reversing the changes being implemented this year which will increase the payment term and lower the threshold for student loan repayments, meaning that some lower paid graduates will pay more (because of interest and the longer term) than higher paid ones who pay it back earlier. It does sound increasingly like a graduate tax arrangement. He noted that the sector needed to be financially sustainable, but there are no promises about increased income under the new government. The Shadow Minister was also supportive of the LLE.

  • The Shadow Minister noted the cost of living issues impacting students, criticised the negative rhetoric about the value of a degree, and talked about social and educational inequality. He was highly critical of the regulatory burden in the sector, with multiple and overlapping regulators. He expressed admiration for what is happening in Wales, where the Welsh government are in the course of setting up a new combined regulator and funding body for tertiary education, which includes FE and HE, apprenticeships and skills training. Note that in Wales there are means-tested grants available for maintenance costs. The Welsh have also not extended the student loan repayment term to 40 years.
  • Research Professional have a piece Muddied red water which argues the fit with the wider UK isn’t clear, particularly because the Welsh arrangements do not address the issue of financial sustainability as the value of the tuition fee falls.
  • Iain Mansfield (ex- SpAd to Michelle Donelan and Director of Research and Head of Education and Science at Policy Exchange) writes for Wonkhe stating that while a return to real interest rates would be more progressive and seem intuitively fair he’s not sure the claims and the numbers stack up. Mansfield has his own political agenda and if you read the full blog you’ll spot he favours this argument pattern: stating ‘this looks nice…but it won’t work because…’
    • On public perception of fee fairness and the tax system Mansfield states: A system where interest rates are no higher than inflation, so that no-one will pay back more, in real terms, than they paid in is intuitively felt to be fair. Tony Blair, arguably the most canny political operator of our time, understood this, and it was a fundamental concept that underpinned the system of student loans in the New Labour era. Introducing swingeing rates of interest in 2013 toxified the system – and it is no coincidence that fees have only been raised once since then… If you want to deliver more progressive taxation, changing income tax rates is far better targeted than introducing arbitrarily high rates of interest into your higher education funding system – not least because you can target the whole population, rather than the minority who are graduates.
    • On the numbers: There’s a second big problem, and it’s that you can’t use a future asset – the additional money you will hypothetically receive from graduates in 30-40 years’ time – to directly pay for a current expense, such as reduced repayments or new maintenance grants… additional cash now requires additional borrowing. I’m going to go out on a limb, therefore, and say that the claim that reducing monthly payments can be done without additional borrowing will end up being incorrect.
    • On grants Mansfield foresees consequences for universities: …it seems that the poorest students may get a maintenance grant… Restoring maintenance grants is a very reasonable thing to want to do – but it has consequences… For universities rightly worried about their finances it means that maintenance grants and lower repayments look likely to be prioritised over any increase in the funding per student…it shows where Labour’s priorities lie: and that is with graduates and low-income students, not with universities.
    • Mansfield also reminds that Labour’s tax cut messaging didn’t work out for Theresa May when she raised the repayment threshold from £21k to £25k – graduates saved £360 per year but it cost the Treasure £2.3 Billion and had no impact on political gain in the polls
  • Following Labour’s announcements that they will not abolish tuition fees NUS Scotland campaigned Scottish Labour who have confirmed they continue to support free tuition in Scotland.

To note: All together now: An independent report into tertiary education in Scotland (the Withers report) – Fit for the Future: developing a post-school learning system to fuel economic transformation – advocates for a single organisation to provide the funding, strategy (and presumably operationalisation) of all tertiary education in Scotland. This in an interesting one to watch how it plays out because while Westminster haven’t been bold enough to suggest this for England’s tertiary education it fits well with the Government’s ideals of a rationalised and coherent post-compulsory sector where the different routes through education have a parity of esteem. Also, FE and HE Minister Halfon is on a crusade to tackle the systemic underfunding of FE provision. Such a change in England would require a major upheaval, however, it’s an interesting one to watch for the medium to long term. That is, if Scotland even decides to adopt it (Scottish HE Minister Graeme Day has made encouraging noises but stopped short of committed support). If you’re interest in the topic Wonkhe have a blog but the detail is here.

Susan Lapworth, Chief Executive of the OfS also spoke at the HEPI event and talked about the two priorities of the OfS: quality and standards and equality of opportunity, alongside the enabling and underpinning matters such as governance and financial sustainability. The OfS recently published its annual report and accounts.

Student Experience

Ahead of the NSS, which it has now been confirmed will be published on 10th August, the annual HEPI/Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey was published in June.

  • 76% of students feel that the cost of living crisis has affected their studies. 50% state that their studies were impacted “a little” and over a quarter (26%) state that their studies were affected “a lot”.
  • There has been a major increase in the number of students in paid employment, from 45% to 55%.
  • The proportion of students whose experience exceeded expectations increased from 17% to 19%.
  • 37% of students said they received good or very good value for money.

The reasons for these perceptions are interesting as are the relative changes – generally, the % for each reason has fallen for each category, both in the positives and negatives, even below the 2020 cohort (generally completing pre-covid).  The industrial action category was new this year after being highlighted in the open text replies previously. Note:

  • A fall in positive responses linked to course organisation (11 ppts) although a drop in negative comments too
  • A fall in positive responses to teaching quality but negative comments have also fallen
  • A fall in positive responses to level of challenge
  • Positive change in relation to quality of feedback
  • A fall in the positive and a rise in the negative from 2020 and 2021 on accessibility of teaching staff

As usual, there is a lot more content including analysis by characteristic, and the report is worth reading in full.

Here’s the Wonkhe blog on the survey.

Horizon Europe Guarantee – extended

Following on from the not-new-news Viscount Camrose set out above the Government has announced the extension of support for UK Horizon Europe applicants until the end of September 2023. The extension continues to guaranteed funding for successful UK Horizon applicants. End May figures note that £1.1 billion of grant offers have been made.

  • The guarantee will be in place to cover all Horizon Europe calls that close on or before 30 September 2023. Eligible, successful applicants to Horizon Europe will receive the full value of their funding at their UK host institution for the lifetime of their grant.
  • Successful awardees do not need to leave the UK to receive this funding, which will provide reassurance for future collaborations, and support UK researchers whether association is confirmed, or otherwise.

Full information on the Government announcement here. Operational detail on the UKRI website.

UK as Science and Technology Superpower

The Lords met to discuss Science and Technology Superpower, following the publication of the Science and Technology committee report. Leading the debate Baroness Brown of Cambridge was disdainful about aspects of the Government’s performance including:

  • the “science superpower by 2030” slogan was vague;
  • that numerous sectoral strategies existed across government, but they did not appear to fit into a clear, prioritised plan, and without international collaboration;
  • concerns over the scale of investment and that the Government should adopt a new, appropriate, target for R&D investment.

The Baroness called for better definition on the Government’s strategy, for a Science Minister to sit in Cabinet and for the UK to rebuild its reputation as an international pattern, starting with association with Horizon Europe.

Other Peers raised:

  • that regulation is important to support the sector and where do specific sectoral strategies, such as the AI strategy, fit into an overall coherent approach across all sectors.
  • questioned how the Government were tracking what other countries did; the importance of researchers from abroad and whether scientific visa applicants were subsidising other functions of the Home Office.
  • the need to develop global science partnerships, also that many, such as the Wellcome Trust, the ABPI, and the Royal Society, had highlighted that the UK needed to articulate more clearly its policies of global co-operation to attract science talent to the UK. Immigration policy popped up several times during the debate.
  • that the report could have gone further in articulating how the UK could harness its advantages of agility, expertise and a focus on global impact to overcome disadvantages of scale, such as the Vaccine Taskforce.
  • That ecology and social innovation were missing from the five critical technologies identified in the science and technology framework.

Lord Rees of Ludlow on HE: there are some worrying trends. The labour involved in grant applications was diminishing chances of success while research was still strongly concentrated in universities the encroachment of audit culture and other pressures are rendering universities less propitious environments for research projects that demand intense and sustained effort. Dedicated, stand-alone labs might become preferable, such as the biomedical science labs which allowed for longer-term research, supplemented by the Wellcome Trust, the cancer charities and a strong pharmaceutical industry. He said we needed this in energy, AI and other crucial technologies.

Viscount Hanworth stated concern over the systematic underestimation of the percentage of GDP that the UK devoted to research and development highlighting that it was still well below the OECD average and far behind that of most research-intensive nations. He added that the UK could not become a scientific superpower if it lacked a basis of scientific and technological industries that were ready to call upon the skills of the research workers.

The Government’s representative, Viscount Camrose, responded that the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) would promote a diverse research and innovation system, connecting discovery science to new companies, growth and jobs. Camrose said the science and technology framework challenges every part of government to put the UK at the forefront of global science and technology. Action will focus on creating the right environment to develop critical technologies; investing in R&D, talent and skills; financing innovative science and tech companies; creating international opportunities; providing access to physical and digital infrastructure; and improving regulation and standards.

Camrose tacked the funding calls by remind of the Government’s committed spend:

  • £2.5bn over the next decade for quantum tech
  • £1bn strategy for the UK’s semiconductor sector
  • Government had recommitted to increasing public expenditure on R&D to £20bn per annum by 2024-25, representing a one-third cash increase and the largest ever increase in public R&D spending over a spending review period.

On Horizon, Camrose stated that the Government continued to be in discussions, in good faith, with their European counterparts on the UK’s involvement in Horizon Europe and hope that their negotiations will be successful. Pioneer will become the default if the Government is not able to secure Horizon association on fair and appropriate terms.

Camrose also updated on ARIA’s progress – it has been established and is still in its early stage of development. ARIA is recruiting its first cohort of programme directors, who will help to shape and inform the agency’s first set of research programmes. None the less, funding transformative research with long-term benefits will require patience, as prepared for in the agency’s design.

On the risks of precarity for research careers, Camrose said the Government is looking at how to support through a new deal for PGRs and mentioned UKRI’s sector consultation as a first phase of this long-term programme of work, and the results would be published soon, in 2023.

Quick Research News

REF changes: Nature have a lovely gentle editorial into the changes to REF2028. While the ‘how’ detail isn’t known yet we do know that the weighting will be changed:

  • Output (now named contribution to knowledge and understanding) weighting is reduced from 60% to 50% of the overall score.
  • The environment weighting (now known as people, culture and environment) increases from 15% to 25%.
  • Everyone’s favourite – Impact – (now renamed engagement and impact) will remain at 25% of the overall score

Read the article for more on intentions for change around equality and diversity, quality PhD mentorship, and the expansion of the definition of excellence.

Wonkhe also have blogs on REF2028 and more background delving including the FRAP (Future Research Assessment Programme) is in this blog, and there’s a guest blog by the University of Liverpool – REF 2028: A Quiet Transformation.

Research infrastructure: Wonkhe report that – UKRI has announced £72m of investment into research infrastructure, including funding for wind tunnels and digital infrastructure for biomedicine. An independent report into progress with UKRI’s infrastructure programme has also been published, finding the programme has generally delivered its intended outputs and outcomes. However, the report observes that business case development and approval processes are still “overly complicated, duplicative and lengthy,” while noting that these processes sit outside the Infrastructure Fund’s remit and involve decision makers beyond UKRI.

Moonshots: Wonkhe highlight that UKRI and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) have opened a call for submissions for “moonshots” – “bold, ambitious, and transformative ideas” across the research and innovation landscape. The call for ideas will be followed by discussion events and shortlisting, with chosen proposals set to receive funding through the government’s Horizon Europe alternative Pioneer – or possibly through alternative sources of funding if the UK does associate to Horizon.

Defence innovation: Wales has committed £5 million funding for Defence and Security acceleration across several streams. More detail here.

AI mitigation: Rishi announced the UK will host the first major global summit on AI safety (following polling show public concern over the safety of AI). Also announced were:

  • The Government will increase the number of scholarships the UK Government funds for students undertaking post-graduate study and research at UK and US universities, enhancing our shared expertise in STEM subjects. Under the scholarship uplift announced today, the number of Marshall scholarships will increase by 25%, to 50 places a year. The Marshall scheme was established 70 years ago to give high potential Americans the opportunity to study in the UK for two years.
  • The UK will also fund five new Fulbright scholarships a year – up from the 25 currently funded. The Fulbright programme is predominantly funded by the United States to sponsor international students to study in the US and vice versa. These new scholarships will focus on STEM-related subjects, boosting the UK and US’ shared expertise in the technologies of the future.

Research Security: Wonkhe – Scientists at least 11 British universities have helped the Iranian regime develop technology that can be used in its drone programme and fighter jets, the Jewish Chronicle reported yesterday. Politicians expressed “deep concern” over the findings, with the government saying that Britain would “not accept collaborations which compromise our national security.” The story is picked up in the Telegraph.

Canadian Cooperation: Wonkhe – Science minister George Freeman has announced a range of agreements covering collaboration on science and innovation issues with Canada. These include £20m for a joint programme on biomanufacturing, deeper collaboration on quantum and climate change research, and Canada becoming a partner to the International Science Partnership Fund.

NERC: NERC interim executive chair has been confirmed as Peter Liss (of University of East Anglia).

Research culture: Wonkhe blog – A recent parliamentary committee report called for the REF to incentivise reproducibility – but more fundamentally the issue is about promoting openness and transparency. Grace Gottlieb explains.

Life Science: Jeremy Hunt announced £650 million package to drive growth and innovation in the Life Sciences sector. The government is committed to making the UK the most attractive destination for life sciences companies and has developed a comprehensive package of policies spanning regulation, research and development (R&D), infrastructure, skills and planning which is aimed at driving investment, growth and innovation. Full details here.

Innovation economy: The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) published The Skills Opportunity: Building a more innovative UK (summary here) it covers the challenges for education and skills provision in the UK, with recommendations for building a more research and innovation-intensive economy.

AI research: The Government announced (UKRI funded) research investments to develop trustworthy artificial intelligence (AI) research with £13 million going to 13 universities for developing AI technologies to have more sustainable land management, accelerate energy efficient CO2 capture, and improve resilience for natural hazards and extreme events. Also £31 million to create a UK and international research and innovation ecosystem for responsible and trustworthy AI. The consortium led by the University of Southampton will fund multi-disciplinary research and work across academia, business, and the public sector. Plus £2 million for 42 projects’ feasibility studies in businesses as part of the BridgeAI programme. These projects will look at developing a range of tools to facilitate assessment of AI technologies through governance, fairness, accountability, transparency, and privacy, and security. And, finally, £8 million for 2 Turing AI Researcher Fellowships, funding ground-breaking research on some of artificial intelligence’s biggest challenges including its application across drug and food design, and healthcare imaging.

Diversity in STEM: Dods summarise – The Science, Innovation and Technology Committee has published the government response to their report on diversity and inclusion in STEM, which it describes as “disappointing” and has urged the Government to adopt a more purposeful strategy. In its response the Government said it is preparing a cross-Government action plan, led by the Department for Education, to “drive wider participation in STEM” and see “a more diverse range of people enter the science and technology workforce by 2030”. The Chair of the Committee, Greg Clark MP, has said that “without any specific commitments or timings this amounts to a plan to have a plan.”

Duty of Care

Dominating parliamentary time on HE matters recently has been the call for universities to hold a specific duty of care for the wellbeing of students. The impetus for change has been driven by a group of parents who tragically lost a child to suicide whilst at university. Their campaign has been mentioned in Prime Minster’s Questions and formally entered parliamentary business through a petition which reached the required threshold for the matter to be debated (see here for the volume of individuals that signed the petition in the constituencies surrounding BU). The Petitions Committee also ran an evidence session on the statutory duty of care (our shorter summary of the evidence session is here).

Ahead of the Westminster Hall Debate the Petitions Committee ran an online survey on the proposal for a statutory duty of care for HE students to gauge public opinion on the matter. The survey revealed:

  • 27% of students who experienced poor mental health said their university was supportive/very supportive of their mental health.
  • 40% said the university was unsupportive/very unsupportive.
  • 86% of current students said they had suffered with poor mental health at university.
  • 77% of parents or guardians of a current student said that their child was suffering or had suffered with poor mental health whilst at university. Of those, 91% had not been contacted by the university about their child’s mental health
  • More statistics here.

Outside of the headline statistics are a number of quotes the Committee has included in the survey report.

  • University staff member: “The university I work at has implemented some measures, but they are not ‘joined up’ and most staff don’t know what they are. There is no clear guidance on who should do what.”
  • University student: “with the ‘trusted contact,’ I have had the opportunity to put someone down which I did when I started at university. However, when I experienced a mental health crisis and told the student wellbeing team I was suicidal, they did not contact my ‘trusted contact’ or ask if they could. They also did not offer me any support other than telling me to go to A&E if I hurt myself. So while it’s good for a university to have the ‘trusted contact’ option it’s also important that they use it
  • Parent: “Although University has various contacts, like student support, counselling, there is no way to actually speak to someone as a parent when you have concerns about a student…In an urgent situation as a parent you need to know there is a way of escalating your concerns.”

At the Westminster Hall Debate Nick Fletcher, member of both the Education Committee and the Petitions Committee, and chair of the Issues Affecting Men and Boys APPG, opened the session by noting between 2017 and 2020 that 202 male students and 117 female students had died by suicide. Here are some of the main contributions made by Members during the debate:

  • Hilary Benn stated that where a student attempted suicide, it was inexplicable that the university would not contact the parents and questioned whether the UUK suicide prevention guidelines should be made compulsory.
  • Nick Fletcher stated that many universities cited GDPR issues regarding contacting parents but that, in his view safeguarding always overrides GDPR. He also questioned why universities were still to sign up to the UUK guidelines or the university mental health charter [Helen Grant MP later stated only 61 universities have signed the Charter, only 5 had achieved Charter status and no universities had reached the higher merit and distinction levels of accreditation].
  • Nick Fletcher also stated that the witnesses they’d heard from in the committee’s evidence session – such as PAPYRUS and the student services organisation, AMOSSHE – had agreed that a duty of care would not be the best approach.
  • Nick Fletcher: questioned why universities were still carrying out bad practice such as telling students they must leave by email, without any thought of the inevitable emotional and mental impact. He asked why institutions weren’t coming together to find common themes in coroners’ reports of the 319 students.
  • Nick Fletcher: urged the Government: a statutory duty of care would ensure that all parties knew where they stood, but until we have one, please use the levers you have to make the universities do better at helping our young people. If they do not, do what the petitioners ask and legislate so that they must.
  • Paul Blomfield, Chair of the Students APPG: noted UCAS estimates that over 70,000 students entered higher education every year with a mental health condition, but around half of them told UCAS in a survey that they had not shared that information prior to entry. Also that universities could not be the only post of call for students who were struggling – students should be able to access NHS services, but were struggling to do so.
  • Paul Blomfield: stated he was not convinced that a duty of care would do the job those advocating it wanted, and could have unintended consequences. However, he said there still needed to be clear expectations on universities to up their game across the sector. He urged the Minister to acknowledge the other factors contributing to the mental health crisis, and asked what he would do, along with DHSC colleagues, to make support available to those working alongside universities.
  • Helen Grant: a statutory duty of care would set the bar to level up… a standard that required all higher education providers to do what might reasonably be expected, while maintaining their autonomy in deciding exactly how that would be achieved.
  • Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Matt Western, had met many families from the LEARN network and stated their diversity and number were a painful reminder that no family was immune from the consequences of the mental health crisis that affected many students on campuses. He stated he appreciated the time and money that many universities gave to providing mental health support for students and staff but said the gap between the expectations of students and parents and the reality of mental health provision in universities was far too great. He acknowledged that demand for services and support was clearly rising, with one in four student respondents to one survey reporting a diagnosed mental health issue. Many of those issues were also starting earlier in students’ lives. He also expressed disappointment that so few universities were signatories to the University Mental Health Charter.
  • Matt Western highlighted that in Wales, the Commission must ensure it’s satisfied with the effectiveness of registered education providers’ arrangements for supporting and promoting the welfare of their students and staff. Western noted Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce such a requirement for FE & HE providers and asked if the Minister would consider something similar in England.

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon, responded on behalf of the Government to the debate. He stated:

  • he owed it to the memories of the young people to collectively take strong and effective action that prevented further tragedies.
  • the Government’s approach would rely on funding services, spreading best practice and having clear responsibilities for providers and protection for students.
  • the suicide-safer universities framework provided guidance on suicide prevention for university leaders. There was also now postvention best practice on providing compassionate and timely support after a suspected suicide. The associated charter programme was not a panacea but a process which enabled continuous improvement.
  • if the response is not satisfactory from universities then the Department would ask the Office for Students to look at the merits of a new registration condition on mental health.
  • Professor Edward Peck was appointed as the first ever student support champion in 2022 and is chairing a new higher education mental health implementation taskforce, with its outputs reporting directly to Ministers. By the end of this year, the taskforce would be asked to put in place an interim plan for better early identification of students at risk and for delivering the university student commitment as well as clear targets for improvements by providers. By May 2024, it should follow with a final report outlining the next steps, including how the sector will publicly report on the progress measures over the coming years.

Halfon declined to introduce legislation to create a statutory duty of care: I absolutely get the arguments and hope I have demonstrated that I share the petitioners’ fundamental aims, which are to protect those who study at university and to prevent future tragedies. If creating a duty for higher education providers towards their students was the right way to achieve that, it would absolutely have the Government’s backing. There are reasons why we believe that it may not be the most effective intervention.

Halfon stated there was already a sufficient general duty of care in common law as part of the law of negligence, plus further protections for students within the Equality Act 2010 to protect students with disabilities, including mental health conditions. He expressed concern that if a framework was too overbearing people will recoil even further and avoid any natural intervention that they would ordinarily make.

Halfon:

  • setting aside the legal position, we do not believe that the most effective way to improve student mental health is to introduce new legislative requirements when the sector is making progress on a voluntary basis. Although the sector absolutely could and should do more…providers are still innovating and improving, and there is not yet consensus on which interventions are most effective…It is no excuse for not doing anything or for inaction, but it does mean that the one-size-fits-all approach may not achieve the best results and support for students suffering from mental health difficulties, which is what we all want to see…
  • I expect universities, as organisations with an obligation to do the right thing for their students, to rise to the challenge that we have set for them today…if we do not see the expected improvements I will not hesitate to ask the Office for Students to introduce a new registration condition on mental health. It is vital that the whole sector takes this call to action seriously.
  • I hope that I have been clear that we are not standing by and letting things continue as they are. I am determined that all universities will sign up to the mental health charter

In conclusion, Nick Fletcher said it was disappointing that progress was not being made faster but if there was not an improvement after 2024 when all universities had signed up to the mental health charter then he would be back to ask for the issue to be looked at again.

For more coverage here are some media sources:

So what’s next?

While the Minister has turned down the request for a statutory duty of care the matter is very much of national interest and the parent group’s campaign has brought greater focus and national coordination from the previous reporting of isolated student suicides that occurred across various institutions.

Halfon has remained true to his word and aims for the sector to provide consistent support with improvements where necessary. His expectation is that matters will progress and he is serious about intervening with licence or other conditions if action isn’t sufficient or fast enough. Halfon immediately wrote to universities setting out a range of actions (below). Of course, we have to mention the potential disruptive factor – the impending general election. Halfon has set a timeline to 2024, however the general election must take place by 28 January 2025. Even if the current Government wins Halfon isn’t certain to remain as Universities Minister and the policy focus changes as Minister’s change. That said, this is a matter of interest to all major parties and the media and while the specifics may alter with electoral changes the thrust of the matter will remain (and presumably so will the OfS).

Halfon’s Letter: Halfon tweeted the contents of his letter stating I am not closing the door on future legislation if that is what is required but I am confident the sector will rise to the challenge of the action plan I have set out below. The message is clear do it voluntarily, with some flexibility to apply it within own institutional context or be dictated to by the regulator/legislation.

Also important to mention is that there is a new NSS question on access to mental health support. It’ll be closely watched and if results are low the OfS may act (even though their regulatory remit does not apply to student welfare or support systems).

There is also a Duty of Care Bill introduced by Tim Farron (Lib Dem, Westmorland and Lonsdale). As expected, it’s a PMB (Presentation Bill), it’s nothing but a title – no Bill text, no explanatory notes. A Bill to provide that higher education institutions have a duty of care for their students; and for connected purposes. It was presented for First Reading on Wed 21 June and will (may!) receive Second Reading on Fri 24 November. Of course, there are LOADS of them scheduled for Second Reading, and being a Presentation Bill it’s at the bottom of the pile.

Mental Health debate

There was also a recent debate on mental health treatment and support.
Aaron Bell MP:

  • Aaron highlighted that many universities have a professional counselling and mental health team to support its students.
  • He spoke of HESA data: In 2021-22 19% (416,000) of UK students declared a disability—and within that, 119,500 said they had a mental health condition (5.5% of all UK students). He stressed the growth in number – That number is three and a half times higher than it was in 2014-15 and noted higher rates are found among women, undergraduates, full-time students and those in their second or later years. He stated: there is an issue here that we have to address
  • He believes the pandemic is partly to blame.

Layla Moran also focussed on students withing the debate:

  • It will come as no surprise that the Mental Health Foundation found that 40% of students are not coping well with their anxiety.
  • In Oxfordshire…82% of students at Oxford Brookes University had self-medicated with drugs or alcohol to cope with mental health issues.
  • Where students know that they cannot rely on the NHS, an added burden is put on university staff. Tutors increasingly find themselves acting as therapists or counsellors for their overburdened, ill or anxious students.
  • …the students I have spoken to have made it clear that “University wellbeing services are not and cannot be a substitute for adequate mental health care”
  • On the duty of care Layla stated: It is just common sense. It already exists between employers and employees. All we are asking is for the same duty of care to apply to students.
  • we all know, the problems in young people’s mental health services are not restricted to those at university. So many people tell me the system is broken: parents, teachers, educational psychologists and clinical psychologists all identify the same failings. One parent wrote to me:
    • I am breaking my heart listening to my son saying horrible things about himself, threatening to take his life, and struggling with his mental health in general. Next year we would have been on the waiting list for four years and nothing will probably happen.
  • We know how to fix this; it is about more funding. A senior healthcare professional in Oxfordshire told me that “every pound spent on a child’s mental health saves thousands in the future.”

Regulatory

Wonkhe report that the OfS will publish a review highlighting concerns about some assessment and awarding practices in higher education providers. We’re also waiting for consultations on freedom of speech and the lifelong learning entitlement.

If you fancy some light relief read Research Professional’s irreverent take down of the OfS under the banner of commenting on the OfS annual report.

  • Excerpts: As a bureaucracy, the OfS, now in its fifth year, seems to exist to defend the act of regulation rather than to actually represent the interests of students.. Questions are being asked about the OfS, such as why it cannot complete a single investigation… The regulator’s inquiry into the graduate outcomes of university business schools has been going on—shrouded in secrecy—for a year. An investigation into grade inflation in English higher education began in September 2022 and is yet to report. There is a lot of regulation going on but precious little regulatory outcomes. In March of this year, the OfS announced plans to bill universities found guilty in an investigation for the cost of their investigation. To date, no one has been sent an invoice. The investigations continue.
  • the OfS has become an inertial and litigious organisation, but one oddly enough prone to legal mishap. The regulator lost its legal fight against the Bloomsbury Institute and as a result embarked on an odyssey of consultation and reform that has resulted in ever-greater monitoring and reporting for universities.

The article reminds that the fees universities pay to OfS be registered HE providers are being increased substantially. Yet the OfS currently has reserves of £6.2 million—more than some universities. Although overall for the OfS reserves are down which is mostly due to the decline in the value of direct grants from central government. Research Professional (RP) question Does that mean regulatory fees are increasing for providers to make up for cuts in funding from the DfE? RP also provide a nice comparison: The OfS does seem to cost an awful lot to run. The staff bill for the regulator last year was £25.9m. If the OfS were a university, it would be roughly the size of the University of Chichester.

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

The Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill had an airing in Parliament. It was debated in the House of Lords at Second Reading stage and has progressed to Committee Stage where rigorous scrutiny will commence. The Bill is the legislative support for the Government’s lifelong loan entitlement (LLE) which will introduce a credit-based method to calculate maximum tuition fee limits based on the delivery of modules, short and full courses across a ‘course year’ rather than an ‘academic year.’ It only applies to England and provides a personal post-18 funding pot which students can chose to spend in flexible ways across their lifetime.

The Government intends to set the detail of the fees and credit information through secondary legislation so that each time changes are required it does not need to go through the full legislative process again. The downside of this is it hands greater power to the Government and reduces parliamentary scrutiny and intervention. Concerns over the lack of detail in the current Bill on these important aspects was raised by Baroness Wilcox of Newport, the Shadow Education Spokesperson. She stressed that Labour broadly supported the introduction of the LLE and the credit-based method to determine fees, but called for a definition of credits and what the yearly minimum and maximum  credits would be. She also questioned if different per-credit limits would be set based on the intensity and duration or based on the subject (topic) and level of study, and whether all 2025 students would automatically fall under the LLE or if it would be a gradual transition. She also raised the current part time student premium and wanted this flexibility to be retained, and for distance learning maintenance support to be introduced for access purposes.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Liberal Democrat) wanted to know the criteria by which modules would be determined to be eligible, spoke up on the uncertainties for disabled students, and suggested that if high-cost modules did not attract pro-rata teaching grants it would disincentivise modularisation in disciplines where there were particular skill shortages.

Lord Stevens of Birmingham highlighted the DfE short course trial hadn’t attracted much interest and suggested that the LLE fee support may not be attractive, Baroness Garden agreed with this stating she felt the debt was unlikely to be attractive to mature learners. Lord Stevens also raised  maintenance support for distance learners.

Lord Willetts (Conservative) called for more detail on how the new third category of OfS registration, which would enable new providers to supplement existing provision from established universities, would work. Highlighting policy inconsistencies he also asked the Minister to reconcile that the policy encouraged learners to dip in and out of courses whereas the OfS’ monitor and criticise universities with high drop-out rates.

Lord Rees of Ludlow (emeritus professor at Cambridge University) argued that post-18 education needed to be much more flexible and open and offer everyone the opportunity to enter or re-enter, maybe part-time or online, at any stage in their lives.

Lord Johnson of Marylebone (Conservative, previous Universities and Science Minister) stated the Bill addressed an important problem with the current funding system for HE (i.e. the impact it had on lifelong and adult learning) which Johnson believes has been in crisis for a decade. He also noted another problem was that the system had not allowed tuition fees to rise with inflation stating this has led to the progressive defunding of universities. And the consequential increased dependence of universities on international student income to cross-subsidise domestic tuition and research was an issue. Johnson declared disappointment that the Bill did not address the problems he noted and that modular degree wouldn’t commence until 2027-28 (almost a decade since the Augar report was commissioned). He also called on the Government to make modular funding available for level 7 provision.

Baroness Barran, Minister for the School System, speaking on behalf of the Government, said that the Government would not impose credit transfer arrangements and would facilitate credit transfer through other methods, including through the introduction of the requirement for providers to produce a standardised transcript on the completion of individual modules. She also confirmed the number of learning hours in a credit would remain as now, unless standards in the sector changed.

On rollout the Baroness explained 2025-26 would roll out higher technical qualifications and modules at levels 4 and 5. And that maintenance loans would be available for part-time study below level 6.

You can read the full cut and thrust of the debate here.

Free Speech

King’s College London (KCL) announced that UUK will reconvene a previous advisory group for free speech and academic freedom, with KCL’s President and Principal, Shitij Kapur, Charing the group. KCL state:

  • The primary role of the Advisory Group will be to shape the implementation of the Freedom of Speech Act and provide advice and recommendations to the UUK Board, which will include shaping UUK’s engagement with the OfS in relation to free speech and academic freedom.
  • Alongside responding to the immediate policy environment, the Advisory Group will also play an important role in providing guidance on the approach UUK should be taking to the wider free speech and academic freedom debate, including how the sector should respond over the medium-to-long-term and where UUK can further support members to meet their new duties.

Student news

Course changes

Wonkhe have a blog on the updated CMA (Competition and Market Authority) guidance which strengthens students’ rights when teaching is significantly changed. Wonkhe say: The guidance warns providers over giving a “misleading impression” about whether a course is accredited, who is involved in its delivery, and how many optional modules are available – it advises that students’ express agreement must be obtained for deviations from the pre-contract information which informs their decision-making, including information about teaching. The CMA also cautions that contractual clauses excusing providers from liability due to industrial action may not be regarded as fair, as this is something which “could be within [an institution’s] control.” Here’s the blog: Making major changes to courses just got a lot harder.

There’s some good detail with clear interpretation on the legal requirements in this Pinsent Masons blog: Updated CMA guidance adds to universities’ obligations and enhances students’ consumer rights.

And, most recently, the OfS has published an Insight Brief setting out the scope of consumer protection law and how OfS regulation protects consumer (student) rights.

Loan rates:

Plan 1 (pre-2012) student loans have increased to 5.5%.

Admissions | Personal statements

HEPI published a policy note – How do Admissions Professionals use the UCAS personal statement? Context: UCAS plans to reform the personal statement to short questions covering the six themes of motivation; preparedness for course; preparedness through other experiences; extenuating circumstances; preparedness for study; and learning styles. HEPI surveyed admissions professionals to explore how they use undergraduate person statements and what implications this has for UCAS’ plans. Here are the key stats:

  • While the majority of personal statements are read, the average time spent on each statement is two minutes. 39% are read for one minute or less.
  • Personal statements are mainly used to assess applicants’ interest in a course (88%), or to gather contextual information (65%), assess academic potential (40%) and assess work experience (29%).
  • The majority of admissions professionals feel that decisions are primarily made on the basis of grades
  • The personal statement is considered to be important for vocational or highly selective courses.

HEPI says the results have implications for UCAS’ proposed changes:

  • There is little evidence that ‘preparedness for study’ and ‘preferred learning styles’ are used in admissions – therefore, these themes should be removed from UCAS’s proposals.
  • There should be space within the UCAS form for applicants to discuss extenuating circumstances, as admissions professionals do consider this information.
  • There is little evidence to support the division of ‘preparedness for the course’ and ‘preparedness through other experiences’ into two separate questions – only 6% of personal statements for non-vocational subjects were used to assess applicants’ transferable skills.

Caring – life chances

Parliament has launched its first APPG ‘inquiry’ (investigation) into the impact of caring responsibilities on the life chances of young adult carers. UCL research shows young carers and young adult carers were 38% less likely to get a degree than others their age. Carers aged 23 or over were also less likely to get a job. Those caring for 35 hours or more a week are 46% less likely to enter employment than non-carers. And a Carers Trust survey finds greater demands on their time than previously – 56% of young and young adult carers are spending more time caring than the year before, while 47% are looking after more people than they used to. The inquiry will look into include access to education among other caring issues. It will also focus on how caring affects young people into adulthood such as the impact on further education and employment prospects. A report is expected in November 2023 and may contain recommendations for HE providers on supporting carers.

Free school meals – educational outcomes comparison between providers

HEPI published a paper on educational outcomes across different universities for students formerly eligible for Free School Meals: The disconnect between quality and inequality: An analysis of the gaps in educational outcomes achieved by free school meal-eligible students in English higher education. Quick points:

  • Institutions with a TEF Gold Award recruit significantly fewer Free School Meal pupils as a proportion of their overall intake compared to Bronze and Silver universities.
  • Universities that recruit a smaller number of Free School Meal students have a higher entry tariff and are disproportionally more likely to receive a Gold award under the TEF. Not a single provider with more than 30% of their students having been eligible for Free School Meals was awarded a Gold in the TEF.
  • There are no significant correlations between the proportion of Free School meal pupils and the size of any outcome gaps (Continuation, Completion, Attainment or Progression). Gold providers, despite having far fewer Free School Meal students, do not achieve comparatively better Continuation, Completion, Attainment or Progression for these students compared to Silver and Bronze providers.

Ethnicity Degree Awarding Gap

TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education) published the report Approaches to addressing the ethnicity degree awarding gap – Contextualising the landscape and developing a typology. The project:

  • Reviewed APPs (Access and Participation Plans) to produce a typology of approaches.
  • Interviewed sector stakeholders on institutional infrastructure, attitudes, barriers, and enablers.
  • Established an Expert Reference Group.

The analysis of APPs found 16 different types of approaches to addressing the ethnicity degree awarding gap (EDAG) – see pages 18-19 for the list and explanations of the types and this chart shows how frequently they’re found:

Key findings:

  • Despite the sector being broadly aware of the EDAG, they lack confidence about how to address the gap.
  • While the report shows a real commitment to addressing the gap, HE providers need to do more to consider approaches based on contextual factors – such as institutional student data – to bring about meaningful change.
  • One-of-a-kind individuals were hailed as catalysts for effective progress when addressing the EDAG therefore there is concern that meaningful work may stagnate or cease if these individuals were to move roles.
  • The sector has a good awareness of the need for evidence-informed practice, and the need to evaluate approaches to addressing the EDAG. However, capacity and capability for evaluation vary greatly between HE providers.
  • Working with students is central to addressing the EDAG, therefore there is a need for HE providers to consider how they work with students to ensure their voices are sought and valued.

In response to the findings, TASO recommends HE providers:

  • Develop Theories of Change (ToCs) and associated evaluation plans which make clear links between proposed activities and desired outcomes. This will allow providers to consider the barriers and facilitators to carrying out an approach successfully.
  • Consider the different elements of approaches and how these would work at their organisation so they are better placed to develop interventions that are tailored to their organisational context.
  • Reflect on organisational structures and allocate accountability and responsibility for addressing this gap so providers can best determine what systemic changes can be implemented to support these challenges.
  • Use data to inform action taken to address this gap. By including data analysis as a stage in their ToC, providers can highlight the importance of this and use findings to inform later stages of the approach.
  • Include students in their work to address this gap and develop models for student co-creation, moving away from a model that only consults students on plans to address these inequalities.

TASO are now tendering for providers to receiving evaluation support to develop Theories of Change for interventions aimed at addressing the ethnicity degree awarding gap.

International

The future of international students in the UK

Lord Jo Johnson, former Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister (2016-19), gave the keynote address on the Future of International Students at the Westminster Higher Education Forum. Johnson is a supporter of international students and the economic and wider benefits they bring to the UK and our education system. He was instrumental in establishing the graduate work visa during his time in office.

Johnson spoke of the gradual weakening of the political consensus for the graduate work route and the growth of international student numbers. He highlighted three key concerns that the HE sector should resolve to satisfy and reverse the Government’s cooling of support for international students. Johnson urged the HE sector to engage with these concerns rationally and make visible changes where needed.

  1. Address the false narrative that international students are displacing domestic student and/or taking ‘their’ graduate jobs. Emphasise that international and domestic students are symbiotic and reliant on each other. Ensure the cross-subsidy from international fees is seen as a positive as they increase choice and broaden the range of courses available to domestic students making what would otherwise be loss m7aking courses viable.
  2. The Government’s concern that some institutions are seen to be selling immigration into the UK rather than education is genuine and one of the factors behind the changes to the dependants visa policy. Johnson intimidated that these institutions are ruining it for the majority and that the practice needs to be immediately and publicly curtailed to address the Government’s concerns. Johnson stated he supports the cessation within visas for international students to switch to work mid-stream (and felt it never should have been an option). The second element within the immigration concerns that Johnson felt strongly about is that universal systems need to be in place to check and ensure that international students really have the funds needed and declared to gain their visas. Johnson highlighted examples of a London food bank which is providing for 1,000 international students per week and overcrowded housing where up to 15 students are sharing a small flat. Johnson stated that these issues were exacerbated by the pandemic as students were not able to access sufficient work. Johnson called on the sector to address these concerns to achieve a sustainable international student model.
  3. Johnson’s third concern focused on (lack of) diversity within the international student body. The overreliance on certain nations of international students leaves universities vulnerable to geopolitical changes and Johnson argues limits the experience for other students. For example, the reliance on China within post graduate courses and India for masters students (particularly in a specific set of post-92 universities) was a concern for Johnson. Johnson highlighted that the Government has stated it wants diversity in the international student body but the dominance of certain countries is creating difficulties. In addition, to head off Government concerns, Johnson urged universities to raise the quality of students entering the system.

Johnson gently sang the praises of the DfE and their work representing the value of international students to the Home Office stating if not for their efforts the package of measures introducing restrictions for international students and their dependants could have been much worse. Johnson felt the DfE intervention protected the international graduate route architecture. However, he believed the days of government support for rapid international growth are over and cited technicalities in the wording of the Government’s current policy documents to demonstrate this. Johnson felt this position was inescapable because of the abuses creeping in at the edges – and believes that if these been dealt with at the time today’s restrictions could have been avoided. To this end Johnson recommended four reforms which we set out below.

It’s worth a mention at this point of how influential Johnson remains within Parliament. You’d be wrong to assume his influence is diminished because he now sits as a Peer, not an MP, and because his brother, Boris, has resigned his position under a recent cloud. Jo, as a previous long-standing education minister has established authority, is well connected, and he joins a powerful group of other ex-Ministers and education sector experts within the House of Lords that have demonstrated (e.g. during the Freedom of Speech Act’s passage and the recent Lords select committee inquiry into the OfS) that they’re willing to show their teeth and fully engage with their role to bring scrutiny to bear on the Government and operate the checks and balance functions within Parliament.

Back to Johnson’s four recommendations/reforms for the university sector:

  • Regulatory – universities are tightly regulated for domestic students but not international. Johnson believe the B3 conditions should be applied (and regulated) to international students too. Johnson suggested universities take not of the work which highlights the drop-out rates from certain countries – because the Government is taking note of this, and action may follow.
  • Universities should publish their international student recruitment plans as an annual counterpart to their domestic APP (Access and Participation Plan). This would allow the regulator (the OfS) to gain insight into the risks relating to international students and provide projections forecasting the national picture for international students across the HE sector. It felt it would also provide reassurance that the widening of international participation does not limit (or push out) domestic students.
  • Institutions and sector bodies should do more, through collection action, to weed out poor quality and fraudulent applications. Johnson felt universities need to urgently address this across the sector. He believes universities should raise the quality of applications by
    1. charging an application fee for international students (Johnson stated the evidence is that higher fees result in higher enrolment rates and successfully counter the loss of time/money/staff resource tied up in processing applications for those that don’t ultimately enrol/turn up
    2. that international fees should be paid up front
    3. that international students should place their maintenance money into a specific type of account and draw it down across the year. Johnson believes this would address the fraud and lack of diversification in the system. Johnson also spoke of the low risk countries on the register and overcoming the issue of losing visa awarding powers due to number of refusals.
  • Finally, Johnson wants to see greater accountability for recruitment agents, to weed out the unscrupulous factions. Johnson suggests using VI data and requiring universities to publish non-continuation route and visa refusals by recruitment agent to identify, across the sector, the agents with concerning practices and performance. He felt this would allow institutions to gravitate towards agents supporting the UK university reputation. As Johnson spoke on this topic there was an undercurrent of expectation and onus on the university to be required to do this and a hint that it may be an area for future regulation/OfS scrutiny.

Throughout Johnson demonstrated that he was aware that universities may be reluctant because they don’t want to suffer a ‘first to move’ disadvantage. However, in his opinion the sector needs to urgently address his points and recommendations to stave off less favourable international student reforms in the future.

Baroness Diana Warwick who chaired the session stated she supported the international fee subsidisation of the teaching and how it enables a wider range of courses for domestic students without which institutions wouldn’t be able to support.

A second presentation at the conference by Matt Robb, from EY Parthenon, on Financial Sustainability was equally compelling. He highlighted that across the world there is a once-in-a-lifetime expansion in tertiary enrolment and, therefore, a strategic imperative to capture a significant enough proportion of the market share for international students before the expansion matures. Robb felt the UK needed to establish itself as a  leading provider during this growth as the UK would not be able to regain its share once the maturation slow down begins.

highlighted that multiple countries are facing these issues. Alongside this he recognised the significant costs of transitioning to digital materials, which the UK was less prepared for. He highlighted how universities tend to respond when facing cost pressures, e.g. trimming the course portfolio, which is fine for a small financial squeeze but Robb suggested that over sustained time it led to underinvestment leading to weaker offers and poorer performance. He also highlighted how providers adapt e.g. strategic distinctiveness.

Robb made two key points for student planning. First, The medium to long term growth for the sector is in international students because the UK tertiary enrolment isn’t as high (or growing as much) as other countries – so there will be surplus demand in certain countries internationally. Robb reinforced the need to debunk the myth that international students are displacing domestic students to ensure policies remain favourable for international recruitment.

Second, the concentration of international students from particular countries will be really difficult for the sector to address. Robb gave the example of how affordable international education is within China currently (the Chinese economy is growing and limitations on the number of children mean two generations of a family’s income are available to support the one child to study abroad). Robb also address the elephant in the room – that outside of China one of the reasons why international students come to the UK is to secure work after graduation, and part time work to fund themselves while they are studying. He highlighted that those who are financially affluent already have access to their own very high quality domestic education – so few would want to study overseas. Robb stated that universities often limit recruitment to strong economies which further compounds the diversification issue  and isn’t an access friendly policy. Robb felt a solution would be to use more agents to work into further and newer markets. However, he noted that the further flung the agent network the harder it would be to ensure receiving genuine and quality applications – so running counter to Johnson’s maintaining quality objective. Robb also acknowledged that Brexit continues to exacerbate the concentration (lack of diversity) issue.

Quick International News:

Minister Halfon commits via a Parliamentary Question (PQ) to ensure the visa changes relating to international students and their dependants will be watched to ensure the UK remains competitive in the international market for students. Halfon stated: The Department for Education will work closely with the Home Office, the Department for Business and Trade, and across other government departments, to assess the impact of these changes on research, science and arts in the UK.

Plus two more PQs confirm an equality impact assessment was carried out for the reform package, and that the Government cannot confirm the [overall] value of the immigration health surcharge fee,

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week: Generative artificial intelligence in education.

Other news

Universities had a letter from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. Newly introduced, this is intended to fulfil “an important manifesto commitment to “ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries”.”

Student Loans: Martin Lewis, from Moneysavingexpert.com, has published a new blog:  New student loans to cost many 50% more: 6 need-to-knows about ‘Plan 5’ English student finance running through the changes for English students commencing in September 2023 in his usual what-it-means-in-practice style.

HTQs: The DfE announced the second round of the Higher Technical Education Skills Injection Fund committing £48 million for higher technical qualifications (HTQs) across areas such as digital, engineering and manufacturing, and protective services in the 2024-25 and 2025-26 academic years. An additional 66 qualifications have also been approved as HTQs. Government press release here.

Short course trial: An update from Wonkhe – The Department for Education has updated its list of courses included in the higher education short courses trial, with two new courses added and two no longer running removed.

Policy campus: The DfE, Cabinet Office, Home Office and DWP are all cooperating to establish a Civil Service Policy Campus based in Sheffield. All the details are here, but in short it’ll pilot a regional fast stream, provide policy apprenticeships at level 4, offer policy internships and research projects for regional students, and work with Sheffield universities on policy research.

Creative: The Government published  its creative industries sector vision. It plans to grow the creative industries by £50bn and support a million more jobs by 2030.

Graduate outcomes: HESA released the outcomes data for 2020-2021’s graduates.

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HE policy update w/e 12th May 2023

There is a renewed focus on funding for the sector amidst talk about elections.  Student visas are back on the agenda and UKRI have been reviewing arrangements to support knowledge exchange.

Elections

Local elections were held in England on 4 May.  Dorset Council did not have an election.  Locally, BCP issued an update:

“The Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council local elections have resulted in no overall control, with the largest number of seats held by the Liberal Democrat party. Liberal Democrats won 28 seats, the next largest party was Conservatives with 12 [down from 34], followed by Labour, Christchurch Independents, the Green Party, Poole People, Poole Engage and five Independent candidates….The new leader of BCP Council will be elected at a meeting on the 23 May, and a new Cabinet formed.” 

With the general election looming before January 2025 the local results were being watched very closely to predict outcomes, but of course as always it is very hard to tell and there is time for lots to change before then.

Impact of requiring voter ID

This was also the first election where photo ID was required and pre-election concerns centred on voters being turned away at the polls, particularly the young, old and marginalised groups. There will likely be discussion of the impact of voter ID (and its potential to bias the election outcome through the groups that will find providing ID easier) over the next week. The impact of the photo ID requirement is being formally reviewed, initial findings are due in June and the report is scheduled for September.

However, early indications come from the Guardian who say: Anecdotal evidence of issues, but no clear picture of impact yet…Peter Stanyon, the chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said there had been “no reported incidents of any major concern” as the UK rolled out new voter ID requirements for the first time. And Peter Walker and Jessica Murray report that fears of widespread chaos did not materialise. But by the end of the day, there were anecdotal reports of a number of people, many from marginalised groups, being unable to cast their ballots. The Electoral Reform Society said there were “countless examples”. ITV News reported that polling station tellers in Oxfordshire estimated that 10-25% of would-be voters had been turned away. The Electoral Commission said that the election was “well run” overall but “some people were regrettably unable to vote”.

The Financial Times reported last night (£) that ministers plan to widen the forms of photo identification that will be valid in future if turnout is shown to have fallen – a U-turn in government policy.

The Telegraph has a more positive spin on the success of the photo ID requirement.

Student Voting

Earlier this week HEPI published political polling of current full time UK undergraduates on voting intention.

  • 85% expect to vote at the next general election
  • 89% are registered to vote, and 64% who are registered to vote say they are registered only at their home address (so less influence of the young vote in election towns than has previously been claimed).
  • 78% understood they will needed photo ID to vote (and 61% think this is a good idea)
  • 46% of students would vote Labour if there were a general election ‘soon’, 11% would vote Green and 7% would vote Conservative

On student fees and funding (see also below), the polling shows student opinion:

  • Tuition fees:
    • 28% of students domiciled in England want Labour to commit to abolishing tuition fees in England,
    • 23% want Labour to reduce fees to £6,000,
    • 20% want Labour to back the current system of fees capped at £9,250,
    • 15% want Labour to cut fees to £3,000,
    • 4% want Labour to introduce a graduate tax, and
    • 3% want Labour to let the current fees rise with inflation
  • Living costs:
    • 52% of students think living costs should be covered by targeted grants and top-up loans, while
    • 25% want a mix of grants, loans and parental contributions
  • Maintenance support:
    • 46% of students think maintenance support should be between £10,000 and £12,500 each year
    • 19% think it should amount to under £10,000 and
    • 18% think it should be between £12,501 and £15,000
  • Student opinion priorities: 77% of students say the NHS is a high priority for them, 58% rate education as high priority, 46% reducing poverty, but few students give priority to defence (6%), migration (5%) or international development (2%)

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

  • Our poll suggests it is wrong to think of students as apathetic or disengaged from party politics. Most students plan to vote and they care about the same issues as other voters, most notably the NHS.
  • The results won’t make happy reading for the Conservative Party, who now have minimal support among undergraduates. While they will make happier reading for Labour, it is clear there is no single student funding model that would be overwhelmingly popular with students. This will make the Opposition’s job harder as they firm up their policies in the run up to the next election.

International Student visa restrictions

The press report the Government are considering visa restrictions to prevent postgraduate students’ dependants from accompanying them. Financial Times:

  • The surge in legal net migration is boosting the size of Britain’s workforce but the issue is politically problematic for the prime minister….
  • Students have been one of the main drivers of the the…surge in migration…with 135,788 visas granted to dependants in 2022, up from 16,047 in 2019.
  • The Department for Education, the Home Office, and the Treasure are finalising a plan that would stop dependents from travelling with master’s students on one-year courses…
  • The Treasury, which normally favours higher migration, has accepted the political need to restrict the number of dependants of overseas students, while Gillian Keegan, education secretary, has also agreed to the plan.
  • But government insiders said Keegan was insisting that master’s students should be able to bring family members to the UK if they stay to work in the country after completing their studies.

UUKi’s response: we recognise that the growth in the number of dependents may have exceeded planning assumptions and that this has created some concerns for government, and indeed challenges in some areas of the UK – for example, around access to suitable family accommodation. We are committed to working with Government to understand these issues and to find solutions that ensure the UK continues to welcome international students and that we are able to grow numbers in a sustainable way that protects both the quality of the student experience and the UK’s global competitiveness.

Wonkhe coverage: Dependants of international PGTs won’t be able to get a visa

Fees & Funding

Closely tied to electoral outcome is the wicked problem of HE fees and funding. Here’s a round up of the latest news on the different elements surrounding fees and funding.

We start with a couple of interesting Wonkhe blogs:

Labour’s HE Fee Policy

In last week’s policy update we reported that Labour were reviewing their policy for HE tuition fees giving a clear indication in an interview on BBC Radio 4 that the previous policy of abolishing fees will not survive because of costs concern. This week the media is widely reporting on Labour’s ‘U turn’ on tuition fees i.e. that fees will not be abolished and paid for by the public purse. From the coverage we’ve seen this hasn’t been formally announced but Keir Starmer continues to caveat his interview responses to nudge in this direction, perhaps a soft announcement then. Here is the latest coverage:

  • Research Professional: Channel 4 News looks at what Labour leader Keir Starmer has said about the party’s tuition fees plan.
  • Wonkhe – The Independent, theBBCChannel 4, the MirrorITV, and the Sun all have pieces examining the Labour Party’s – and others parties’ – stance on tuition fees.
  • Research Professional: In The Guardian, Labour is to begin consulting on new ways to fund university education,
  • Wonkhe – Labour leader Keir Starmer yesterday told the BBC’s Today programme that Labour is “likely to move on” from its commitment to free university tuition. The Times had earlier reportedcomments from a senior party source that Starmer will later this month deliver a speech on the party’s move away from its 2019 manifesto commitment. The BBCthe Independentthe Telegraphthe Guardianthe Mirror and the National all cover the remarks. There’s also a sketch in the Guardian.
  • NEON – Labour leader Keir Starmer announced yesterday that the party is abandoning its commitment to abolish university tuition fees in England. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme he said “We are likely to move on from that commitment because we do find ourselves in a different financial situation”. He was critical of the current system describing it as “unfair” and arguing that it doesn’t work for either students or universities. He promised that Labour would set out a “fairer solution” in the coming weeks. The move has drawn criticism from both Labour Students and Momentum.
  • Wonkhe blog on the topic: Jim Dickinson runs the numbers.

Wonkhe also reported this morning that Polling company Public First and think tank Progressive Britain have…announced a major national poll and extensive focus group work to test public attitudes to university funding reform. The research will be published prior to party conference season in October, and Public First expects its findings “to play a significant role in the ongoing debate about the future of tuition fees, university funding, and student finance.”

Also from Wonkhe, earlier this week: London Economics has published further modelling on options for the English fees and funding system, building on work conducted in December for the University of the Arts London. The models include an estimate of the impact of Plan 5 reforms – updated due to forthcoming ONS changes in inflation measurements, which significantly reduce the cost to the Exchequer – and two alternative “stepped repayment” models, with repayment rates varying depending on income level.

Landmark divergence in Welsh HE policy

Wales has announced they will retain their current student finance repayment system (despite changes to the English system). This is a break in tradition as historically the Welsh repayment system mirrors England. However, Jeremy Miles, Welsh Minister for Education, is concerned that the new English system would mean Welsh students would repay loans over a longer period of time (England 40 year repayment; Wales 30 years) with higher earners paying less and middle- and lower-income earners paying back more than at present. The Welsh system is more progressive than the English system -Welsh undergraduate students generally repay less as Wales has some non-repayable grants and there is a guaranteed level of maintenance support irrespective of a student’s household income.
The Welsh system will be reviewed annually to ensure sustainability.

Jeremy Miles said: “…the new system in England is not a good deal. The reforms benefit the highest earners and worsen the position for middle and lower earning graduates. Women are also disproportionately affected. We certainly shouldn’t be asking teachers, nurses and social workers to pay more, while the highest earners pay less. I can therefore announce today that we will not move to the system adopted in England but will retain the current system.”

The BBC cover the announcement.

How should universities be funded?

YouGov polling reveals the public do not have a clear consensus on how universities should be funded.

It’s worth looking at the interactive chart on the YouGov site to drill down into the results by different groups (e.g. political affiliation, age, social grade, region, gender).

Parliamentary News

HE (Freedom of Speech) Act

It’s been nearly two years since its first reading and now – three Prime Ministers and six education secretaries later the Government have finally got the legislation over the line and in the form they wanted. The Government played hard ball during the final stage parliamentary ping pong over the contentious tort in the HE (Freedom of Speech) legislation. The Lords weren’t happy, however, their hands were tied by the parliamentary convention that they do not block legislation that the elected Government included within their manifesto.

Wonkhe report on the disgruntlement: Peers agreed to the government’s latest version of the statutory tort, which included language clarifying the availability of redress for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, and the possibility of seeking an injunction, without a vote. However, the changes were not universally popular – in particular, Lord Grabiner described the government plans as “blowing away” the previous compromise that saw the tort reserved only for when other avenues had been exhausted, and Lord Willetts raised the spectre of interventions such as this bringing higher education into the public sector.

Cambridge’s Professor Arif Ahmed has been appointed as the OfS Director of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom. The role will have the power to investigate universities and student unions in England and Wales that ‘wrongly’ restrict debate. The director will also advise the sector regulator on imposing fines for free speech breaches.

Lifelong Learning

The Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill has completed its initial journey through the House of Commons and is awaiting a date for the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords. The Second Reading stage is the first opportunity for members of the Lords to debate the key principles and main purpose of the Bill and they will flag up concerns or highlight areas where they believe amendments need to be made. After the Second Reading the Bill will progress to Committee Stage. This is when it is examined in detail, line by line, with discussion and close scrutiny. MPs did not make any amendments to the Bill and it proceeds to the Lords in its original form.

HEPI published Does the Lifelong Loan Entitlement Meet its own Objectives? Spoiler alert: not for part time and distance students – inhibiting it’s transformative effect. Questions still to be answered include:

  • How will the credit-transfer mechanism work?
  • What will be the rules for students building their own degree?
  • How will a wide range of providers be incentivised to provide flexible learning?
  • How will the needs of employers be met?

Regulatory – OfS

The Lords Industry and Regulators inquiry into the work of the Office for Students heated up this week when Susan Lapworth (Chief Executive) and Lord Wharton of Yarm (Chair) were called to give evidence. You can read a summary of the session here.

Wonkhe report:  In a revealing hearing, we learned that the student panel is being reformed, that quarterly online meetings for vice chancellors are one part of the regulator’s strategy to improve communications, that 30 providers are currently subject to enhanced financial monitoring, and that two thirds of the quality assurance reports submitted by the QAA were not deemed usable for regulation when first submitted.

Wonkhe also have a short blog: Lapworth and Wharton face the committee – But don’t expect answers to everything that previous witnesses have brought up

Concerns over Wharton’s impartiality as a member of the Conservative party were raised. When suggested that senior figures often resign their political affiliations when they take up office Wharton replied Some do…I chose not to. It’s not a requirement.

HE Minister, Robert Halfon, is expected to be questioned next in this high profile inquiry before the proceedings wrap up and the Committee publishes its report.

Research

Research England (RE) published their Review of knowledge exchange funding.

The main themes within the review are data and metrics:

  • a key issue to unlock the potential for long-term and more fundamental changes to our methods, including the use of KEF as a basis for allocating HEIF, is the availability of better data, metrics and evidence.
  • our current metrics set does not capture the full achievements, nor help describe the ambitions, of HE KE. Better evidence is also a theme in DSIT’s priorities, particularly related to better evidence on HE performance in commercialisation and business collaboration.
  • Better metrics are then critical to make more significant changes to our methods in the long run. The issue of better metrics is a theme running through the feedback received and also a central issue in our decisions.
  • A major decision of the review then relates to our commitment to a significant work programme to improve metrics and evidenceThis is with the intention to have the tools available to make more fundamental changes to our approaches in the longer run.

The bulk of knowledge exchange (KE) related funded (KEF and HEIF) is based on the Higher Education: Business and Community Interactions (HE-BCI) survey. HESA are reviewing the HE-BCI and this report informs that UKRI will piggy back to build upon and widen the review for KE purposes.

…it is essential to add new classes of data, beyond improving the quality of guidance and definitions of existing data fields as is currently being done through the review …we and HESA are agreed that more effort is needed, particularly in the longer-term design of new data collection.

UKRI intend to develop a national capability to be a centre for knowledge exchange and impact evidence, metrics and data.

UKRI will:

  • Over 2 years develop UKRI as a national capability centre for university knowledge exchange, impact evidence and metrics, partnering with HESA.
  • Present a blueprint (for the national capability) in Spring 2023 at a major metrics conference and establish the blueprint by Spring 2025.
  • Our long-term aim following successful culmination of our work on the national capability and centre is to have available the appropriate data to make more fundamental changes to our approaches. Specifically, we aim to bring forward proposals for consultation on the development of KEF for use in funding. As this is necessarily a long-term endeavour, we would not expect to bring forward such proposals before 2025/26 at the very earliest. We note that any subsequent implementation and a phased roll out of an evolved funding method may take several further years.

KEF: Review feedback sees the KEF as having a positive impact on raising the profile of knowledge exchange (KE) and incentivising strategic approaches within HEIs and across the sector, with overall beneficial effects of improving HE KE performance. RE state there is broad agreement that the KEF has been useful within HEPs as a novel tool for benchmarking performance, making useful comparisons, giving greater accountability, and as a prompt to starting discussions on future areas of strategic focus.

However, KEF is not well understood beyond the KE sector and particularly by external users.

KEF will continue in a consistent and stable form in the short term because UKRI see worth in how the KEF provides HEIs with data to understand, benchmark and improve their own performance until at least KEF5 in 2025. RE will drop the KEF aim/purpose to meet the information needs of external (non-HE) partners but will continue to use it for public information purposes. In the long-term RE will bring forward proposals for consultation on development of KEF for use in funding.

HEIF: The review suggested that there is a good degree of confidence in [the] current HEIF approach, including balancing government priorities with HEI funding flexibility (getting the best out of the sector to meet the priorities).

Research England (RE) note points raised:

  • Our definitions and scope of HEIF were generally regarded as appropriate. There were a range of views on whether additional activities should be included, but generally it was felt that RE was not getting it wrong. The drivers from research and teaching were flagged and there were discussions as to whether our approaches fully address both.
  • There were a range of views put forward on how to measure success, including qualitative approaches. Our substantial work programme on metrics and evidence addresses the need to provide the more sophisticated tools needed to achieve all our objectives.

There are no major changes planned (now) – formula funding and accountability will remain.

However, RE will consider how to manage:

  • Problems for HEIs caused by year-on-year fluctuations in HEIF allocations – limiting long-term strategic decisions.
    • RE note they cannot commit funding past a government spending review period but could fix allocations for the full spending review period rather than recalculate each year.
    • There would be winners and losers to this approach and they note reverting to a less dynamic approach could also depress prompt rewards for improvement (including HEPs below the allocation threshold for the entire SR period).
    • The impending general election also pushes any change to the allocation methodology into the medium/long term. However, RE state they will look into this for the future.
  • Within the work on improving metrics Research England will look into activities that still generate impact but are not qualifying income-generating.
  • We recognise a potential opportunity to be more ambitious to identify and reward all forms of KE achievements in the longer run.
  • They will also look at the £250k allocation threshold (tricky as the threshold is a government policy priority handed down to RE), implementation from 2024-25 at earliest.

KE Concordat: The approach to the Concordat is to remain relatively stable.

Feedback showed strong agreement that the KE Concordat processes of self-evaluation and consideration of principles had been a useful exercise for HEPs, raising the profile of KE within their institution and encouraging engagement from across the institution

RE will look into suggestions for process improvement (more on page 11)

Forthcoming actions

  • Summer 2023 – publish KEF3, allocate 2023-24 formula funding, consult on eligibility
  • Later 2023 – publish HEIF threshold work
  • Spring 2024 – Host major metrics conference and launch national capability blueprint
  • Summer 2024 – publish KEF 4, allocate 2024-25 formula funding, publish work on dynamism/predictability of HEIF allocations with implementation in 2025/26 if spending review allows. (Note – potential disruption due to general election.)
  • Spring 2025 – the national capability and centre for university KE and impact evidence and metrics will be operational
  • Summer 2025 – allocate 2025-26 HEIF funding (in whatever form it takes), publish KEF 5.

Useful links:

Research integrity

The Science, Innovation and Tech Committee published a report on Reproducibility and Research Integrity. The background to this report are the increasing concerns that the integrity of some scientific research is questionable because of failures to be able to reproduce the claimed findings of some experiments or analyses of data and therefore confirm that the original researcher’s conclusions were justified.

This report finds and recommends:

  • while there are many reports of problems of non-reproducibility, there has been no comprehensive and rigorous assessment of the scale of the problem in the UK, nor which disciplines are most affected and therefore the extent to which this is indeed a ‘crisis’.
  • While we welcome the establishment of the new Committee on Research Integrity and note that one of its so-called strategic pillars is to “define the evidence base”, we are concerned about the absence of reproducibility as a priority in the new organisation’s strategy. We recommend that a sub-committee focussed solely on questions of reproducibility in research should be established.
  • Evidence to our inquiry raised important concerns about the academic publishing industry in—however unintentionally—giving rise to pressures that can undermine research integrity. To be successful, academics need to establish a strong list of publications in highly-rated learned journals. We heard a widespread view that journals favoured for publication original—rather than repeated—research and work which had striking or new outcomes. This meant that the value of conducting repeated or confirmatory studies was much reduced, and that there were strong incentives to obtain striking research findings. We call upon publishers to commit to publishing without prejudice confirmatory studies and those whose findings turn out not to be novel or striking.
  • the short-term tenure of early career academic contracts and research grants provide insufficient time for researchers to ensure that their work is reproducible by others. We call upon funders, including UK Research and Innovation, to consider whether its grants provide the resources necessary to ensure that work that it funds is reproducible, and we recommend that it requires reproducibility as a condition of grants awarded.
  • Training researchers in research integrity and the need to ensure reproducibility is inconsistent and often absent. We recommend mandating the provision of such training at undergraduate, postgraduate and early career researcher stages.
  • We welcome UKRI’s policy of requiring open access to research that it funds, but we recommend that this should go further in requiring the recipients of research grants to share data and code alongside the publications arising from the funded research.
  • We believe that a wider set of measures of academic success than lists of publications should be encouraged. The Future Research Assessment Programme, being carried out by UKRI, should address this and funders should also consider wider use of the ‘resume for researchers’ format in funding calls.

Further information links:

Research – quick news

  • AI: MPs Warn Against “Sleepwalking” Into AI Danger Without Rapid Regulation– PoliticsHome
  • Business collaboration: The National Centre for Universities and Business published Artificial Intelligence: the present and future of technology to showcase 8 university-business collaborations to address human challenges through AI partnerships
  • Parliamentary Question: Whether the Government is taking steps to help ensure that cities and towns which do not have a research-intensive university (a) benefit economically from innovation and (b) create innovation-driven jobs. Answer: to support places across the UK to fulfil their potential for innovation, the Government has pledged to increase domestic public investment in R&D outside the Greater South East by at least 40% by 2030, and by at least a third over the spending review period. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) invests across the UK with £25.1 billion allocated for 2022-2025. Innovate UK’s Launchpad programme is an innovation cluster development programme with up to £7.5 million funding available for each Launchpad for business-led innovation projects, such as the pilot in Tees Valley. Additionally, UKRI’s Strength in Places Fund provides opportunities for innovation across the UK.
  • Doctoral stipend: UKRI announced the minimum doctoral stipend for UKRI funded students will rise to £18,622 for 2023/24. The minimum fee that universities can draw from UKRI training grants will also increase, to £4,712. Research Professional coverage: Sophie Inge reports that campaigners have welcomed plans to increase the minimum stipend for doctoral studentsfunded by UK Research and Innovation to £18,622. And Wonkhe has a blog: UKRI’s work on the PGR new deal.
  • Postgraduate childcare: Wonkhe report – The N8 Research Partnership of eight universities in the north of England has writtento the government raising concerns over the ineligibility of postgraduate researchers for government-backed childcare subsidies. This follows a similar call from GW4 Alliance at the beginning of April.
  • Health & Wellbeing: Wonkhe report that Wellcome has announced£73m in funding for eight “discovery research platforms” aimed at addressing barriers holding up progress in areas related to health and wellbeing – seven of the platforms will be at universities in England and one at the University of Cape Town.

Students: Parliamentary Questions

  • Timely assessment referral and diagnosis of ADHD
  • Q: Whether the Government will implement the recommendations made in the APPG for Students report on the impact of the cost of living crisis on students. Answer (excerpt): Together with the HE sector, the department is doing all that it can to support students facing hardship. However, decisions on student finance have to be taken alongside other spending priorities to ensure the system remains financially sustainable and the costs of HE are shared fairly between students and taxpayers, not all of whom have benefited from going to university.

Other news

The University of Exeter and UPP Foundation have published a new guide on university-led tutoring, encouraging other universities to take up the practice, including practical lessons around quality and scale.

The petition for HEIs to hold a statutory duty of care for students will be heard in an evidence session (held by the Petitions Committee) on 16 May. There will also be a debate in the House on 5 June.

Parliamentary Question – the cost of training doctors and nurses.

QAA published advice for providers on how to manage the rapidly increasing use of Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) in HE settings. HEPI also have a new blog on the topic: How are HE leaders responding to generative AI?

Publishing: Wonkhe blog – As a new sector agreement with Springer Nature is reached, Libby Homer reminds us that we all have a duty to seek value for money in research publishing.

EO: Wonkhe – The Office for Students has published an independent analysis of the responses received to its consultation on regulating equality of opportunity. The analysis, conducted by Pye Tait Consulting, saw respondents generally welcome the Equality of Opportunity Risk Register (EORR) but seek more clarity on how it would work. Small and specialist providers also stressed data limitations and the need to avoid resource burden.

Turing: Wonkhe – The House of Lords European Affairs Committee has called for an increase in engagement between the UK and EU. In a wide-ranging report, it recommends that the government consider adding a reciprocal student exchange programme to the Turing scheme, pointing at Wales’ Taith programme as a good model – the committee does, however, praise the Turing scheme’s flexibility and emphasis on widening participation. The report also highlights the administrative barriers faced by EU students wishing to study in UK universities.

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HE policy update for the w/e 28th April 2023

Tuition fees – here to stay?

Sir Keir Starmer has announced that Labour are reviewing what to do about tuition fees if they win the general election next year (widely expected in autumn 2024, latest it can be is January 2025) giving a clear indication in an interview on BBC Radio 4 that the previous policy of abolishing fees will not survive because of costs concern.  The narrative was all about replacing it with something fairer – does that mean a graduate tax is the most likely outcome (which is, arguably what we already nearly have).  He also acknowledged that the current system is not working for universities, although a blanket freedom to raise fees, or even an increased cap, might not be what he meant.  They will be doing a review ahead of publishing their manifesto – so more news to follow.

Nurse Review: RDI organisational landscape report

The Government published Sir Paul Nurse’s final report on his Research, development and innovation (RDI) organisational landscape: an independent review. It’s a 163 page behemoth that was commissioned in 2021 to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to make recommendations for improvement of the RDI landscape, with a primary focus on researchers and RDI funded by the public purse. It also comments on how the various RDI organisations interact with and support industry, commerce, and society more generally.

It speaks of a patchwork of funders and sometimes short-term public policy priorities and initiatives. These are part of the significant problems that the Nurse Review identifies and Sir Paul calls for the governance to step away from further piecemeal changes and urges Government to consider the Review as a whole rather than a pick and mix assortment to be selected from. Government has a very important long-term role to play in bringing this about. It will require increased investment, reduced policy volatility, a clear focus on optimising and implementing change, good data collection, and a long-lasting, consistent, systematic approach to policy development and safeguarding of the RDI landscape.

Concerns include

  • underinvestment in R&D (confirmation of R&D spend figures due late 2023).
  • ensuring the pursuit of research is the pursuit of truth. Recommendations aim to strengthen: high research quality; agility and flexibility in approach; permeability between sectors, disciplines and organisations; transparency and navigability for those seeking to engage with R&D; a skilled workforce; inspirational leadership; a good research culture embracing ethical behaviour; strong international collaboration; and financial sustainability.
  • political interest can have the unintended consequence of driving policy volatility and short-term policymaking, and recent years have seen an increasing turnover of new initiatives, schemes and programmes which are not always properly integrated with one another. This undermines development of RDI, particularly within the application part of the research spectrum, which can have a negative effect on private investment.
  • The UK RDI landscape is hard to navigate – defects in permeability and inter-sectoral collaboration may be contributing to the UK’s present weak productivity.
  • the financial sustainability of public research funding – The future success of UK RDI is explicitly contingent upon the Government’s commitment to grow investment in RDI. There is a pressing need for more complete ‘end-to-end’ funding of research activities beyond Independent Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape 8 direct research costs, including adequate support for administrative services, sophisticated technical cores and facilities, and for ‘well-found’ laboratories
  • university research has been sustained partly through increasing reliance on cross-subsidy from commercial sources – The excellent UK universities should receive increased support for the outstanding research they can deliver, to ensure that they are competitive with universities in other countries
  • Excessive bureaucracy – Checks and balances on organisations using public research funding are important, but the operations of research funders and RPOs are hindered by excessive bureaucracy, with too much emphasis on audit-oriented reviewing and reporting rather than the quality of the research being produced…Much of this bureaucracy has its origin in Government controls and rules, particularly from the Treasury…These ways of working, combined with deficiencies in ‘end-to-end’ research funding have led to long-standing inefficiencies, wasting both money and researchers’ time. The problem of excessive bureaucracy has also been independently verified by the 2021 Review of Research Bureaucracy, led by Professor Adam Tickell, and the 2022 Review of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), led by Sir David Grant.

The report concludes:

The financial sustainability of the public research funding for universities needs to be urgently addressed. ‘End-to-end’ research support has four components: direct research costs; administrative services; technical facilities; and laboratory facilities. The present funding arrangements do not provide adequate support for all these components, and need to be overhauled to ensure that they do so. Proper ‘end-to end’ funding is required in universities to fully support research activities with mechanisms that do not have perverse incentives or outcomes, and that better consider the quality and not just the quantity of research delivered. There needs to be a detailed review of response-mode and competitive grants, full Economic Costing (fEC) and Quality-related Research Funding (QR), and where necessary, these funding mechanisms should be reformed or replaced. The present underpinning of UK university research by other commercial income sources, notably fees paid by international students, is valuable, but care is needed as such sources are not always reliable and sustainable.

Government response

Michelle Donelan wrote to Sir Paul to warmly welcome the report:

  • the importance of this Review cannot be understated. You have eloquently demonstrated the potential that science, innovation and technology have to change our world and improve all of our lives. To maximise these benefits you make a strong case for the vital role of effective leadership and co-ordination. I strongly agree, and this is why the Prime Minister has recently established a new department in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. I am delighted to have the privilege of leading the department to deliver on the UK’s mission to become the most innovative economy in the world and a Science and Technology Superpower. I am confident that this Review will play a foundational role in shaping and delivering that vision. I look forward to working with you to ensure the UK can be at the forefront of critical and emerging fields of science and technology.
  • My department will swiftly respond with a package of measures that take account of your advice and I hope to publish that shortly. I am confident that the report’s recommendations offer important ways to further support the world-leading research organisations based in the UK, future-proofing the existing system and helping to support important societal goals around net zero and improving the nation’s health.

The Government also confirm here that they will respond to the [Nurse] Review’s recommendations in the coming months.

Recommendations – full list

  1. Government should take account of the true cost of ‘end-to-end’ research activity to generate a sustainable RDI endeavour.Government, working with UKRI and the UK higher education funding bodies, should review and when necessary reform competitive and response-mode grant funding, QR (and Devolved Administration equivalents), and full economic costings (fEC), and replace them with improved mechanisms. Overall objectives should be to optimise research delivery, remove perverse incentives and outcomes, and ensure the longer-term sustainability of the research system.
  2. Universities should develop plans to optimise their operationsin support of research, to empower researchers and reduce their administrative loads, and to improve the quality of support services, core technical facilities, and well-found laboratory buildings and infrastructures. Government, working with UKRI, the UK higher education funding bodies and the wider sector, should consider more transparent mechanisms to provide assurance and accountability on QR funding.
  3. Government departments should clarify the missions of their individual public sector research establishments (PRSEs), allow them greater freedom of action, and ensure their effectiveness.Departments should improve internal awareness of PSREs’ capabilities, and use PSREs to inform RDI strategy and policy making, working within and across departments. Permeability and agility would be further improved by increasing the visibility, interactions and partnerships between PSREs, and between PSREs and the rest of the RDI landscape, including commercial organisations. Funding streams for PSREs need to be protected and reformed to ensure long-term sustainability. Constraints, which appear to have their origins in the Treasury, over funding, pay and other conditions of working should be reduced. The reforms of funding proposed for the universities should also be applied to PSREs. PSREs should be stringently reviewed, and those that have outlived their purpose or are not working effectively should be reformed, reduced or closed, and any savings generated recycled into Government R&D budgets.
  4. Institutes and units need sustained financial support, including un-hypothecated funding, to ensure ‘end-to-end’ research support.The funding arrangements of recently established institutes and units, particularly the ‘hub and spoke’ models, must be reviewed to make sure that they are fit for purpose. The reforms of funding proposed for the universities should also take account of the needs of institutes and units. Institutes and units need a well-defined mission and purpose, and should be given the autonomy and funding necessary to achieve their objectives, which may be time limited. There need to be clear and agreed mechanisms by which institutes and units can be adapted, reduced or closed when necessary.
  5. Institutes and units must have high quality administrative as well as scientific leadership.They generally benefit from being co-located with other research performing organisations (RPOs), but if their overall administration is the responsibility of another co-located or funding organisation, rigorous contractual arrangements must be in place to ensure independence of operation and quality of service.
  6. New research institutes and units should be considered when strategic RDI priorities best supported by focused research missions are identifiedby Government, UKRI and other funders. Possible examples include enhanced activities in climate change and its mitigation, antimicrobial resistance, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence. Themes should be identified through mapping and reviewing, taking account of emerging technologies, scientific areas, and Government priorities. Pre-existing institutes and units could be merged and expanded to create new institutes, and consideration should be given to co-location and co-funding with other RPOs. Establishment of new institutes and units should follow the principles outlined in the Review.
  7. Government and the charitable sector should work togetherto ensure that ‘end-to-end’ funding is provided for research supported by philanthropy.
  8. Support for research undertaken by galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and the heritage and cultural sectors should be increased, and support for long-neglected collections-based research put in place.
  9. Coherence between translational research organisations, including those embedded within other RPOs, and the rest of the landscape should be increased.Government is advised to optimise translational research organisations by increasing their number, widening access and promoting the benefits of translational research capability, including regionally. Government should explore routes by which RPOs across the RDI landscape, including PSREs, can contribute to translational activities.
  10. Government should use its convening power to create a favourable environment for business to invest in RDI, tackling causes identified by this Review as holding back further business investment, and where expedient, providing financial support. Examples of such support are funding which leverages private investment or promotes collaboration between industry and the rest of the RDI landscape.
  11. To understand the benefits of RDI for commercial activities and the economy, a culture change promoting openness, mutual respect, closer interaction, collaboration, and permeability of ideas, technologies and people has to occurin both business and academia. Government has a role in conveying the benefits of RDI investment to businesses, shareholders and academia, embracing practices from countries with high business RDI investment rates. Mechanisms to deliver this should be explored and implemented.
  12. Government should take particular responsibility for driving RDI that provides societal benefit as well as economic growth.Examples are health care delivery, equitable regional economic growth throughout the UK, and the delivery of net zero. Where appropriate, public-private partnerships should be encouraged.
  13. Government and RPOs should partner with local communities to support RDI relevant to their needs, to bring about more equitable regional economic growth based on local expertise and demands and driven by community benefit as well as academic criteria. Universities and other RPOs should support their local community and economy by enhancing their role as an information nexus and by helping local industries link to research capabilities wherever they are in the UK.
  14. There is an urgent problem with the current mechanisms for clinician scientists to effectively develop and undertake their research careers.The Government, taking into account devolved competencies, must rectify this to both improve the ability of the NHS to deliver more effective health care and to help the UK economy.
  15. Government must work with UKRI and the wider RDI community toconsider more stable and properly costed funding structures, aimed at ensuring the quality of the existing landscape and its sustainability.
  16. Government must increase its long-term commitment to invest more in RDI.In addition to reviewing incentives in public funding for university research, Government should review the balance of funding across the landscape, and explore how planned increases in RDI public funding can provide more un-hypothecated core funding for RPOs to allow them to deliver their mission more effectively, to promote collaboration and interaction across RDI sectors, and to empower local RPO leadership and researchers.
  17. Government should ensure that international collaboration is protected and encouraged, and should resolve problems damaging the UK RDI landscape’s international links. This is particularly relevant to our close scientific collaborators in the EU, and it is essential that the UK associates with Horizon Europe. Government should take action, including consultation with devolved administrations, if its broader policy objectives on areas such as immigration, ODA and education are hindering wider objectives for long-term RDI policy. The UK should consider opportunities to hostnew intergovernmental multinationally funded institutes and international research infrastructures.
  18. DSIT should define the overall architecture and governance for cross-Government RDI policy, setting out accountabilities from Cabinet and below. This should include the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), as well as other key RDI spending departments, UKRI and other funders, to ensure roles are complementary, and to improve alignment on policies.
  19. From Cabinet level downwards, all interested parties in Government must take responsibility for the high level and effective safeguarding of the future success of the UK RDI landscape.This oversight should include an authoritative working group set up by DSIT, operating across Government, the RPOs and the funding organisations, which will take long-term responsibility for implementation of the recommendations of this Review.
  20. Government should establish a research vision and strategy including long-term programmatic, infrastructure and technological initiatives, which is especially relevant at the applied end of the research spectrum. This will give RPOs, investors and global companies the confidence to invest, operate and interact with the UK RDI landscape.
  21. Government needs to develop effective mapping of UK RDI, covering the missions, financial investment in different sectors, research capabilities, and locations of RPOs, and also monitor international RDI activities to identify successful features and models. DSIT, working with UKRI and other interests across Government, could carry out this function. An agreed shared picture of the RDI landscape should be produced, together with a commitment to regularly update it.
  22. Government should increase efforts to link the different elements of the UK RDI landscape together with the commercial, industrial and societal components that benefit from research.To spread the benefits of research through communities across the UK, partnerships, collaborations and interactions must be built so that all components are mutually aware, and permeable with respect to ideas, information, technologies and people.
  23. Government must replace frequent, repetitive, and multi-layered reporting and audit by Government departments and UKRI with a culture of confidence and earned trust, as also referenced by the Independent Review of Research Bureaucracy. Reporting and reviewing of RPOs should focus on the quality and appropriateness of the research being carried out. The framework by which ARIA will operate should be applied to other components of the RDI landscape.
  24. Public sector controls which reduce the agility and performance of RPOs need to be reformed.Salaries must be internationally competitive. Where Government-imposed pay limitations are damaging the mission of an RPO, they must be revised, and the decision-making mechanisms made more flexible.
  25. Government should ensure that there is a well-trained RDI workforce available at all levels, and long-term educational planning to ensure a future pipeline of researchers and technicians.Career pathways for those roles that underpin effective research delivery, including technicians and project and programme managers, should be strengthened so the importance of these roles is better recognised. Training and career structures for early career researchers, including PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and starting faculty, need to be reviewed and reformed. Career path diversity and permeability between different RPOs should be encouraged.

Blogs:

Parliamentary News

Ministerial Change: Michelle Donelan has temporarily stepped away from her role as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology for her maternity leave. On leaving Donelan tweeted a series of items to highlight the achievements she and colleagues have accomplished whilst she has been in role. It’s a quick reminder on the latest Government policies within science and tech.

Donelan’s SoS role is being covered by Chloe Smith (former work and pensions secretary). Chloe is the daughter of a teacher (mum) and furniture designer (dad). She is a graduate of York University and has held school governance roles. Chloe worked as a Business Consultant for Deloitte UK. She sees herself as a progressive Conservative and is a member of the Tory Reform Group (more on the Left of the Party), voted to Remain in the EU and has announced she will not seek re-election as a MP at the next general election.

Free Speech – imminent: The Free Speech Bill will return to the Commons following the latest Lords amendments on Tuesday 2 May. At a Westminster event last Wednesday a Parliamentarian indicated that this could be it and the Bill may well soon become an Act. There is still widespread concern about the Bill within the sector, primarily because it is unclear how the different provisions within the Bill, such as academic freedom, will play out in practice. The Westminster event highlighted that even Parliamentary Members, expert sector and legal bodies, and University representatives do not interpret aspects of the Bill in the same way. The Bill adds to a complex legislative background where many other Acts influence the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ should the Free Speech Bill be enacted in its current form. The first few cases brought under the legislation will be crucial in determining how the potential Act will change behaviour in the sector.

As a recap the final stages (ping pong) of the Bill centred on the argument over the inclusion of the statutory tort allowing those who think their free speech rights have been infringed to bring a legal claim for damages against a university or a students’ union. The Lords removed it, the Commons added it back in. Currently a compromise has been reached with the tort as a watered down backstop – included in the Bill as a means of last recourse after complaints processes have been exhausted.

Education Committee: Mohammad Yasin has joined the Education Select Committee. Mohammad is a Labour MP who has demonstrated a keen interest in securing better funding for education, social services and healthcare provision. Chair of the Commons Education Committee Robin Walker has announced his decision to stand down from Parliament at the next General Election. New Chairs of select committees are elected after each general election so this isn’t big news. We simply know there won’t be any continuity between the Chairs and therefore the focus of the business will likely change to a greater degree as a new Chair with new priorities will be selected.

DSIT is being beefed up with three additional ministers:

  • Julia Lopez Minister of State for Data and Digital Infrastructure, she also retains her role in DCMS (media, tourism and creative industries). Her responsibilities include Digital infrastructure/ telecoms; data, including Data Protection and Digital Information Bill; data security; Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO); Ofcom.  However, she is about to go on maternity leave, so her role will be covered by John Whittingdale. Whittingdale was a DCMS Minister during 2021.
  • Viscount Camrose (Jonathan Berry) appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for AI and Intellectual Property and Government Spokesperson in the Lords. This is his first ministerial position. He has sat in the Lords since his by-election win in March 2022.
  • Stuart Andrew MP appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Gambling and Civil Society; Minister for Equalities covering: sport; gambling and lotteries; civil society and youth; ceremonials, including Coronation; major events, including Eurovision and City of Culture.

Select Committees will reform (from 26 April) to model the new Government departmental structure:

  • The International Trade Committee will be dissolved – its scrutiny function will transfer to the BEIS Committee.
  • The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee will become the Business and Trade Committee, and will scrutinise the work of DBT.
  • The Science and Technology Committee (not currently a departmental select committee) will now be renamed the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, and will now scrutinise the work of DSI (i.e. now be a departmental select committee).
  • The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee will become the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and will scrutinise the work of DCMS. Which makes one wonder why DCMS is retaining its former name. Incidentally if you’re interested in the forthcoming policy priorities check out their newly published ARI.
  • A new Energy Security and Net Zero Committee will be established as the Trade Committee is being abolished the SNP will Chair this new committee.

Financial health of HE sector: Wonkhe report on the House of Lords debate on financial pressures in higher education. Lord Knight of Weymouth opening proceedings with the observation that “it appears that the university business model is teetering.” For the government, Baroness Barran argued that “we know that the finances of HE providers are sound when we look at this at a sector level,” though recognised the uneven impact of cost pressures. She drew attention to OfS’ forthcoming report on the financial health of the sector, due next month. You can read the report on Hansard.

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

It’s a busy time for HE in Westminster because the Lifelong Learning Bill will proceed through the final legislative Commons stages shortly. We wrote about this Bill extensively in this policy update in March and this is the one that is intended to fundamentally change how the HE sector delivers or packages their provision.

Upon completion the Bill will move to the House of Lords for their scrutiny. Two key amendments have been tabled for the final Commons stages. One seeks to prevent variable fees being changed based on course or subject. The second proposes that one credit equates to 10 learning hours.

For a catch up on the Bill this Library briefing is useful. The briefing also sets out a timeline for the next steps for implementation:

  • The roll-out of the LLE will include:
    • From 2025, full courses formerly funded by the higher education student finance system and full courses formerly funded through Advanced Learner Loans that can demonstrate learner demand and employer endorsement.
    • From 2025, modules of some “job-specific” technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5, including Higher Technical Qualifications.
    • From 2027, modular student finance will be extended to levels 4 to 6where the Government “can be confident of positive student outcomes”.
  • In autumn 2023, the Government will publish details on the courses eligible for additional entitlement under the LLE, and the principles for calculating the residual entitlement for returning eligible learners.
  • In December 2023, the Government will review qualifications currently funded by Advanced Learner Loans (ALLs) to determine which ones should be included within the scope of the LLE.
  • By “late 2023”, the Government will provide an update on Sharia-compliant student finance.
  • The Office for Students (OfS) will consult “in due course” on the development and introduction of a new third registration category for providers offering LLE-funded course and modules.

Source

The sector reaction to the Bill has been cautiously positive. The Library reports:

  • The planned removal of ELQ restrictions and the expansion of maintenance support for living costs to level 4 and 5 subjects was welcomed by many across the education and employment sectors as an important way to ensure learners could access funding to retrain, develop their careers, and fill skills gaps in the economy.
  • The Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), David Hughes, welcomed the LLE as a potential “game changer”. However, he argued modular learning needs to become more mainstream, and the LLE alone would not change the behaviours and priorities of the vast majority of learners focussed on achieving a traditional undergraduate degree above all else.
  • The decision to cap eligibility for the LLE at age 60 has also been described as an “ageist strategy”, while the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), Jo Grady, has said more funding was neededso learners could stay in their studies and not leave because of financial reasons, and to ensure providers can adapt courses for modular learning.

For more on the full ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ at each stage of parliamentary consideration of the Bill see this separate briefing.

Wonkhe Blog: Including postgraduate study in the LLE could be expensive, but leaving it out carries risk. Mark Bennett weighs up the potential options and outcomes.

Research

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published making Innovation Matter: How the UK can benefit from spreading and using innovative ideas. It aims to bring together insights and analyse innovation enablers and barriers. Here are the most relevant key points:

  • Innovation diffusion and adoption (IDA) takes place within a fragmented, complex and poorly intra-connected ecosystem. There are many different stakeholders, organisations and structures influencing IDA. Funding, praise, status and incentives are often centred around having and owning an idea as opposed to its successful application at scale.
  • A lack of incentive is compounded by the different skillsets required to support an idea through the early majority stage of innovation. Academic know-how must be combined with entrepreneurial vision, appetite for risk, investment, marketing, sales, logistics and customer service. Taken together otherwise successful innovations fail to make it beyond early adoption because stakeholders are not properly incentivised to go to market and/or do not have the skills to do so.
  • Government and Business have already acted to address this issue with a wide range of institutions, accelerators, funds and initiatives to support innovation. Whatever the merits of existing and planned initiatives it is clear from both international experience and domestic data that more can be done, particularly around identifying priorities and challenges, setting out roadmaps with clear direction, using its buying power as anchor customers, and creating the right funding and regulatory environment to enable innovation to thrive.

Opportunities to better understand and improve IDA include:

  1. Inspire stakeholders and communities to address key innovation challengesin an open and inclusive way, giving them freedom to experiment, with Government taking more of the lead by setting concrete direction.
  2. Invest in skills(both innovation skills and specialist skills such as in STEM, business, research and professional expertise) and drive collaboration at all levels, including leadership and skills development.
  3. Broaden the diversityof participation and perspectives and build trust.
  4. Develop a more joined-up ‘supply chain’ approach, with cross-sector fertilisation of ideas and technologies, and place-based specialisms, creating ‘hubs’.
  5. Increase funding for diffusion and adoption activitiessuch as improving public sector procurement with multi-year grants for innovations that ensure emphasis on IDA.
  6. Target supportfor IDA activities, including better metrics.

Science and Technology Framework (and friends)

Recent weeks have seen the publication of a melting pot of various Government strategies, funding initiatives and policy declarations. We try to bring them all together (relatively) simply under the banner of the new Science and Technology Framework.

Published a couple weeks ago the Government’s Science and Technology Framework for the UK sets out the vision for the UK to be a science superpower by 2030. It seeks to identify critical technologies, invest in R&D, develop talent, build international relationships, and do better in communicating the UK’s R&D strengths. The new measures sitting alongside the framework are backed by £500 million of funding.

The Framework is owned by DSIT but will be a coordinated cross-government approach. Here are the 10 key actions:

  • identifying, pursuing and achieving strategic advantage in the technologies that are most critical to achieving UK objectives
  • showcasing the UK’s science and technology strengths and ambitions at home and abroad to attract talent, investment and boost our global influence
  • boosting private and public investment in research and development for economic growth and better productivity
  • building on the UK’s already enviable talent and skills base
  • financing innovative science and technology start-ups and companies
  • capitalising on the UK government’s buying power to boost innovation and growth through public sector procurement
  • shaping the global science and tech landscape through strategic international engagement, diplomacy and partnerships
  • ensuring researchers have access to the best physical and digital infrastructure for R&D that attracts talent, investment and discoveries
  • leveraging post-Brexit freedoms to create world-leading pro-innovation regulation and influence global technical standards
  • creating a pro-innovation culture throughout the UK’s public sector to improve the way our public services run

Here’s the funding and policy breakdown:

  • £250 million in 3 transformational technologies (AI, quantum technologies and engineering biology) to support industry to tackle the biggest global challenges
  • (e.g. climate change and health care). Also part of the framework are semiconductors and future telecoms. More detail on these priorities can be found within the related International Technology Strategy.
  • The Nurse Independent Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscapeand implementing the recommendations to make the most of the UK’s research organisations, ensuring they are effective, sustainable and responsive to global challenges.
  • Testing different models of funding science, to support a range of innovative institutional models, such as Focused Research Organisations (known as FROs), working with industry and philanthropic partners to open up new funding for UK research. For example, this could include working with a range of partners to increase investment in the world leading UK Biobank, to support the continued revolution in genetic science
  • £50 million co-investment in science from the private sector to drive the discoveries of the future.
  • £117 million of existing funding to create new PhDs for AI researchers and £8 million to find the next generation of AI leaders around the world to do their research in the UK.
  • £50 million uplift to World Class Labs funding to help research institutes and universities to improve facilities so UK researchers have access to the best labs and equipment they need to keep producing world-class science, opening up entirely new avenues for economic growth and job creation.
  • £10 million uplift to the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund, totalling £50 million, to boost the UK’s next tech and science start-ups.
  • Set up an Exascale supercomputer facility – the most powerful compute capability which could solve problems as complex as nuclear fusion – as well as a programme to provide dedicated compute capacity for important AI research, as part of the response to the Future of Compute Review.
  • £9 million to support the establishment of a quantum computing research centre by PsiQuantum in Daresbury in the North-West.
  • Also within this overall policy context is the UKRI’s International Science Partnerships Fund which will support close working with international partners to address global challenges, build knowledge and develop the technologies of tomorrow. More info here; the four themes: resilient planet; transformative technologies; healthy people, animals and plants; tomorrow’s talent. Also the Japan-UK research collaboration in neuroscience, neurodegenerative diseases and dementia; clean energy and climate change with Australia, Canada and the US; and partnership with South Korea for digital health, clean energy, advanced manufacturing and materials, future mobility and smart cities.
  • Horizon Europe doesn’t get a mention in the framework – and the Opposition asks why in this parliamentary question.
  • Here is Donelan’s Written Ministerial Statement providing a Science and Technology update. It covers the framework and wider policy matters.
  • Finally, Sir Patrick Vallance’s Pro-innovation Regulation of Technologies Review: life sciences – while currently at interim findings stage the Government committed to supporting all of Patrick’s recommendations in the March 2023 budget, including providing clarity on the Intellectual Property rules. If you need a refresher browse through our write up in this policy update.

Not particularly insightful, but nonetheless entertaining, was the Opposition’s response to the publication of the Science and Technology Framework. Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, highlighted the turnover of nine science ministers in the last five years and stated the country deserved a science framework “with a longer shelf-life than a lettuce”.

Horizon

Always in the news but no real movement is the latest on Horizon association. The Windsor Framework resuscitated hope in what had become a Horizon dead duck. The rhetoric from the research associated Government departments continues to indicate progress and the assumption that association is still on the table and desired by both sides.

Here’s the short version of all the recent noise:

  • The Government announced another extension (until 30 June 2023) to the financial guarantee to the UK’s Horizon Europe scheme so that eligible and successful bids for calls closing by the deadline will continue to be guaranteed funding. (The particulars are on the UKRI website.) It’s a short extension so speculation (and hope) abounds about what might happen afterwards – June isn’t far off on the horizon.
  • Greg Clark (Chair of Science and Tech Committee, and ex-BEIS long standing Secretary of State) is feeling impatient and spoke out urging the Government to accelerate negotiations leading to Horizon Europe association (after the Committee received a dreary letter from DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan following the clawback of £1.65 billion of research funds to the central Government pot in February).
  • Following the funding clawback Clark challenged Donelan during the Science and Technology Framework announcements. He called on Donelan to confirm when fresh negotiations for Horizon association would begin and how long until the Government throws in the towel and falls back on Plan B. Finally, he questioned what mechanisms were in place to ensure that, in areas such as batteries, that there was a united and coherent approach across Government, so investors know what the policy is and who to get deal with. Donelan responded to confirm the same level of funding would be available to researchers if Horizon association isn’t achieved: …funding remains available to finalise association with EU programmes. In the event that we do not associate, UK researchers and businesses will receive at least as much as they would have through Horizon over the spending review period. (Hansard.)
  • Wonkhe tell us that (then) Scottish Minister for HE & FE Jamie Hepburn made some good point in his letterto Michelle Donelan urging for Horizon Europe association to be secured. He expresses concern that the UK government “appears to be working on the assumption that if we succeed in associating to the Horizon Europe programme, participation will be costed from the point of re-entry,” arguing that this has never been guaranteed. A good point!
  • For completeness here are the transitional measures the Government put in place during July 2022 to stop UK research falling into the lack of Horizon abyss.
  • Finally, Horizon featured in the first ever DSIT oral questions. Discouraging, but not unexpected, was confirmation that the government’s position was unchanged, and discussions are ongoing.

Parliamentary Questions:

Quick Research News

  • UKRI has publishedits EDI strategy, setting out four strategic objectives to achieve its aim of fostering a research and innovation system “by everyone, for everyone”. (Wonkhe)
  • (Not) Levelling up: The R&D funding ecosystem just isn’t designed to level up the country. James Coe investigates where R&D funding is spent and what that means for levelling up. (Wonkhe Blog.)
  • Recognition: Wonkhe report that Science Europe, which represents research organisations around Europe including UKRI, has released recommendations on recognition systems in research and case studies of good practice. It has also become a signatory of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).
  • India cooperation: Wonkhe report that the UK signed a memorandum of understanding with India at yesterday’s UK-India Science Innovation Council meeting in Parliament. The agreement is intended to “remove red tape” to enable more efficient and effective joint research projects into major issues such as climate change, decarbonisation, pandemic preparedness, and artificial intelligence – among other programmes. Science Minister George Freeman believes this move will create skilled jobs and drive economic growth. India was also named as a partner for the UK’s International Science Partnerships Fund which will see £5 million UK funding – to be matched by India – for research into Farmed Animal Diseases and Health, and £3.3 million UK funding – also to be matched by India – towards a technology and skills partnership programme.
  • AI: The Government has announced the creation of a new Foundation Model Taskforce which will be responsible for accelerating the UK’s capability in a rapidly emerging type of artificial intelligence (AI). The Taskforce will be backed by £100m in funding, and modelled on the success of the COVID-19 Vaccines Taskforce – its main aim will be to develop the safe and reliable use of these AI systems across the economy to ensure the UK is globally competitive in this technology. Foundation models – including large language models such as ChatGPT and Google Bard – are a category of AI trained on huge volumes of data such as text, images, video or audio to gain broad and sophisticated capabilities across many tasks. The Government say that, in areas such as healthcare, this technology has potential to speed up diagnoses, drug discovery and development, and that in education it could transform teachers’ day-to-day work by freeing up more time. The Taskforce, announced as part of the Integrated Review Refresh last month, will bring together government and industry experts and report directly to the Prime Minister and Technology Secretary. The Taskforce’s expert Chair is yet to be appointed (announcement due summer 2023).
  • Horizon Europe related parliamentary questions: UK funding share; the costs of Pioneer (the alternative programme); where the Pioneer funding is coming from; the negotiating position for UK contributions to Horizon Europe. On this last question Minister George Freeman stated: The Government are discussing association to Horizon Europe with the EU and hope our negotiations will be successful. That is our preference. We will not be providing a running commentary on these discussions. Association would need to be on the basis of a good deal for the UK’s researchers, businesses and taxpayers. If we are not able to secure association on fair and appropriate terms, we will implement Pioneer – our bold, ambitious alternative.
  • George Freeman’s (Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation) responsibilities have been confirmed. They include:
    • international science and research
    • domestic science and research ecosystem, including university research and public sector research establishments (PSREs)
    • Horizon Europe
    • R&D People and Culture Strategy
    • Innovation Strategy
    • space sector
    • life sciences
    • quantum
    • engineering biology
    • place and levelling up
    • regulation of innovation​​, including the Regulatory Horizon Council
  • Research Professional has a quick read on the links between universities, place and inward investment (particularly in light of the Budget’s Investment Zones announcements).
  • REF: The Research Excellence Framework (REF) encourages “higher quantity and lower quality” of academic output, according to a study from a group of researchers led by Queen Mary, University of London’s Moqi Groen-Xu. The research found that papers published in the run-up to REF deadlines generally received fewer citations and were more likely to be retracted than those published after REF assessments. The authors call for better support for long-term exploratory research. (Wonkhe.)
  • The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has published a report on diversity in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In the report Dods tell us that MPs highlight the underrepresentation of people from Black Caribbean backgrounds, and others, across all STEM subjects throughout education and work. A low uptake of physics and computer science in girls at school as well as persistent issues with women’s career progression in STEM also stand out. MPs say it is “sadly notable” that many of the conclusions from a predecessor Committee’s 2014 report on women in science could still apply today. The Committee recommends a series of changes to education policy, following the Prime Minister’s commitment to grow STEM pupil numbers. MPs call on the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to make improving diversity and inclusion in STEM part of its mission, and to set out how it intends to achieve this.
  • Michelle Donelan introduced the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill
  • AI & Data Science Scholarships: The OfS confirmed £8.1 million new funding from DSIT and the Office for Artificial Intelligence for universities to deliver AI and data science scholarships to underrepresented groups. The funding runs from April 2023 for one year, with a possible additional one year extension. The programme has run before and the interim report found the scholarships attracted a diverse student profile. However, the in the previous iteration more scholarships were awarded to international students as the scheme progressed and recently UK students received less than half of scholarships. On outcomes most students quickly secured jobs that specialise in or use data and/or AI. DSIT also published an AI regulation white paper. Secretary of State, Michelle Donelan, made a ministerial statement here.

Parliamentary Questions:

Students

Sharia Compliant Finance

Previously DLUHC appointed an Independent Faith Engagement Adviser to review how the Government should engage with faith groups in England. The Adviser, Colin Bloom, recently published the review report. The report includes a recommendation for Sharia compliant finance and places a firm timescale on the Government:

  • Government should accelerate proposals to introduce Sharia-compliant student loanson equalities grounds. Faith-sensitive student finance should be made available from the beginning of academic year 2024-25.

Sharia compliant finance feels like one of the slowest progress policy priorities within HE. The Government first proposed a student finance product consistent with Muslim beliefs regarding interest-bearing loans in 2013. The Higher Education Research Act, passed in 2017, allows the Government to introduce such a product in England, but it has yet to do so. The issue has been raised in Parliament a number of times, with the delay described as “shameful” by Lord Sharkey.

Following the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) Consultation the Government announced Sharia compliant finance would not be ready as part of the LLE launch in 2025 but that the Government remained committed to delivering such a product “as soon as possible after 2025”. A parliamentary Library briefing on the topic informs that findings from the Muslim Census study suggest over 12,000 students per year are affected (deterred from taking out loans which acts as a barrier to entering HE or causes financial hardship).

It remains to be seen whether Bloom’s timescale will be met by the Government – it seems unlikely given the Government have already ruled out including Sharia compliant finance within LLE in 2025.

On other student finance matters Wonkhe have a new blog – As the state reduces its support for students in real terms, Jim Dickinson considers the role of institutional student finance measures in addressing the cost of living crisis.

Spiking

The Labour party intend to make spiking a specific offence if they are elected to government. It would form part of several measures aiming to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG) and broaden the Labour party’s “tough on crime” credentials. Dods report that the Home Affairs Committee previously recommended the creation of a new standalone offence, however the Government’s response to the inquiry’s findings suggested this wasn’t necessary as there were already measures and guidance in place to improve reporting, data collection and police response to incidents. The Committee’s inquiry focused heavily on night-time venues, and heard from many in the university sector about the prevalence and nature of spiking on campuses. UUK also published a practice note for HEIs to support their response to spiking.

Student Accommodation

Wonkhe – Over half of students living in the private rented sector have experienced damp or mould on walls or ceilings, and half say their accommodation is poorly insulated, according to a new report from SOS-UK in partnership with Universities UK. Homes Fit for Study 2023. Universities UK has published a note on how universities can support students facing fuel poverty. ITV news has some experiences from students up on YouTube.

Duty of Care

The petition to Parliament for universities to have a legal duty of care for students (started by the families of student’s who took their own lives) has reached a significant threshold and the matter will be debated on Monday 5 June.  Previously the Government responded to this petition:

  • Higher Education providers do have a general duty of care to deliver educational and pastoral services to the standard of an ordinarily competent institution and, in carrying out these services, they are expected to act reasonably to protect the health, safety and welfare of their students. This can be summed up as providers owing a duty of care to not cause harm to their students through the university’s own actions.
  • Over the last decade, higher education providers have devoted considerable resources to their student support services, and a good deal of support is now widely provided to students who struggle with their mental health. However, tragically suicides do still occur in higher education, and investigations into the circumstances of such deaths have sometimes shown the support offered by the university was not all it might have been. We have encouraged universities to learn from such cases and redouble their prevention efforts. 

We’ll bring you the outcome of the debate after it takes place.

Cost of living

The APPG for Students published their Report of the Inquiry into the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on students. They conclude that most students are facing significant financial pressures, with some groups particularly hard hit, risking academic outcomes and participation in the extra-curricular activities that are so valuable for future careers. We are concerned that this is unfair on a generation of students already affected by the pandemic, and risks widening inequality.

Alongside reports of students cutting back on meals and other essentials, as many other people, we were struck by evidence of the additional hours many students were working to cover their costs and the development of a ‘grab and go’ approach to their qualifications, as they can no longer invest time and energy in participating in all the other aspects of student life that prepare them for employment, having an impact not just on the tertiary education sector, but on a generation of working adults.

The inadequacies of relying on current hardship measures are acknowledged:

…we must not only provide students with the necessary immediate financial assistance – through increased hardship funding and restoring maintenance loan entitlements – but also to address issues in the student funding system which have seen student support incrementally reduced in real terms over several years and reduced resilience as inflation has risen sharply over the last two years. We have noted the increase in university support and believe that there is more that could be done to ensure all students are helped but recognise that current services are designed to help small numbers of students in emergencies, and not hardship experienced by a large proportion of the student body.

The APPG calls on the Government to provide a financial solution:                                                                                                                

We recognise the demands and pressures across every area of government spending but feel that our recommendations for both an immediate spending commitment to support students who have been placed in significant financial hardship, as well as longer-term changes are needed for both current and prospective students.

The OfS published an insight brief – Studying during rises in the cost of living. They conclude: Universities, colleges and students’ unions have worked innovatively and at speed to help alleviate these pressures, with additional help from government for their hardship funds. These responses have been diverse, and the support available has varied from university to university. The mitigating activities…may not all be sustainable over a long period. It’s worth a scan through to read the box sections covering actions by universities (financial needs, warm spaces, food needs).

  • Part time work dramas: 30% of students are unsuccessful in finding part-time work because of their scheduled classes.
  • 72% report that their timetable stopped them securing more hours at work.
  • 76% found it challenging to attend scheduled teaching on time – due to classes scheduled at inconvenient times of the day, not having enough time to get from one class to another, not being able to find the lecture room or seminar location.
  • Asked why they had a job, 52% of student said it was to fund their basic lifestyle (pay for rent, utilities, food, etc.), 49% blamed the rising cost of living, 33% wanted to fund a comfortable lifestyle (pay for night outs, clothes, holidays, etc) – given the percentages don’t tall presumably students could select multiple categories for the reason to work.
  • 53% of students have a part time job alongside their studies. 32% do not have a job but would like one and 5% full time.
    Source – FE News

Cost of living blogs:

Students: Quick links

Wonkhe content:

Parliamentary Questions

Admissions

Wonkhe report on the House of Commons Education Committee’s latest report – The future of post-16 qualifications which calls on the government to pause the withdrawal of funding for existing level 3 technical qualifications (such as BTECs) until evidence is available that T Levels are more effective at meeting student and employer needs and promoting social mobility. The report notes that universities are often requiring applicants to offer A levels alongside T levels (the latter being nominally equivalent to three A levels), and calls on DfE to work with universities to avoid “unreasonable” entry requirements. The report is covered on BBC News.

Wonkhe: Fewer significantly disadvantaged and economically precarious students are entering higher education in England – and they are less likely to complete their degree and progress to skilled employment or further study than their peers, new data from the Office for Students (OfS) shows. CEED, one of its new and updated key performance measures, shows that 53.6 per cent of the most significantly disadvantaged students progress to further study or skilled jobs, compared with 68.4 per cent of students who are neither “significantly disadvantaged” nor “economically precarious”. 49,600 students categorised as significantly disadvantaged entered in 2021/22, a decrease from 51,100 in the previous year. KPM 8, which measures the proportion of subjects taught and the number of higher education providers (relative to population) in each English region, shows that the North East has the lowest level of subject diversity in the country for full time students, and KPM 7 on Degree attainment by ethnicity shows that students receiving first class degrees in 2021-22 was 15 percentage points lower than the proportion for all students.

Access & Participation

Advance HE has published the Disabled Student Commitment which was developed by the OfS funded independent strategy group the Disabled Students’ Commission. The Commitment draws on three years of consultation with disabled students and sets out a framework of 43 recommendations for HEIs, Government, funders, agencies, regulators and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies. It highlights expectations for information sharing and consent and offers guidance on key touchpoints of the HE journey, outlining the commitments that HEIs and others should make to give disabled students confidence their needs and expectations will be met.

Professor Geoff Layer, chair of the Disabled Students’ Commission, said: We have developed this Commitment because disabled students have told us they want communication, consistency, certainty and choice. The Commitment is a call to the sector and sector bodies to make the step-change required to create a more inclusive environment. We need to create a sense of belonging in which students are able to focus on what they went into higher education for, and not spend untold hours fighting their way through the system.

Professor Layer said the Commission was asking providers to work in partnership with their disabled students on a statement of commitment which should be updated annually and published on their website, alongside a logo of the Disabled Student Commitment so that disabled students and applicants have confidence in the system, allowing them to get on with their education.

New data dashboard and risks plan for A&P

OfS published new data on HE access and participation. The completion rates data highlight:

  • 6% of students from the most deprived backgrounds completed their course (92% from the most advantaged group)
  • 5% of students eligible for free school meals completed their course (91% non-free school meals)
  • 7% of black students completed their course (88.5% of white students)

There is lots more to explore in the data dashboard.

OfS also published their new Equality of Opportunity Risk Register (EORR) and expect universities to consider the listed range of equality risks when planning. It includes risks relating to the perception that HE might not be right for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, or concerns about academic and personal support for those at university, students’ mental health, the continuing impact of the pandemic on education opportunities, and pressures on living costs.

OfS has also published the outcome and analysis of responses to their consultation on a new approach to regulating equality of opportunity plus a commentary from OfS Fair Access and Participation Director.

Impact of online teaching on student outcomes

TASO published online teaching and learning – lessons from the pandemic. Executive summary here; rapid evidence review here.

Here are their key findings:

  • Existing evidence is mixed; there are a small number of studies which suggest online teaching and learning can maintain or improve outcomes for some groups, but overall, the move to online learning appears associated with worse student outcomes.
  • Pre-pandemic literature (compared to purely online learning) suggests ‘blended’ learning (e.g., a combination of face-to-face and online learning) is more likely to improve student attainment. Whereas the literature produced during the pandemic demonstrates that the rapid shift to an online format had a negative impact on student outcomes.
  • In the post-pandemic literature, there is some evidence that, prior to applying any type of ‘no detriment’ control in an attempt to account for the impact of the pandemic on students’ performance, learners from low-income backgrounds and academically at-risk students may be most likely to be negatively impacted by the shift online. However, this was not universal in the case studies they reviewed.
  • Course design is an important factor to consider when planning online learning, as its efficacy is highly dependent on a number of design choices. However, this planning was not possible with the emergency switch to remote learning, where the priority was to adapt promptly to unforeseen crisis circumstances.
  • Design features – the existing evidence suggests that courses which encourage active engagement through planned student-student interactions and opportunities for feedback between teaching staff and students increase student attainment.
  • Digital poverty is thought to be the largest barrier to the success of online teaching and learning and will most likely disproportionately impact disadvantaged groups. Students from more privileged backgrounds may have better access to the internet and more sophisticated devices.

Recommendations:

  1. The design of online courses is important: A concerted effort should be made to design online courses rather than simply moving face-to-face materials into the online environment. Effective design features include:
    1. Coordinated student-to-student interaction via discussion boards and chat rooms.
    2. Feedback between teaching staff and students.
    3. Appropriate frequency and timing of online teaching and assessment to avoid student fatigue.
  2. HEIs should make use of their institutional data and differing pedagogical approaches to design and conduct evaluations that allow us to draw strong conclusions about what works in the UK context. Our data analysis provides a foundation and blueprint for future work of this sort.
  3. As students from disadvantaged backgrounds may be more likely to be adversely impacted by the shift to online teaching, learning and assessment, future research should focus on their experiences and outcomes.

A & P Blogs:

Graduate Careers

Wonkhe report on the Institute of Student Employers’ annual report on development programmes for graduates and apprentices. 54% of employers surveyed agreed that graduates were “career ready” at the point of hire (31% unsure). The report covered 162 responses from student employers who collectively hired over 26,000 graduates in 2021–22.

HESA published National Careers Week: Career trends of graduates from the class of 2019/20

Careers: Wonkhe blog – The idea that a postdoc is a route to an academic career downplays other career possibilities. Lucy Williams and James Howard have been helping postdocs prosper with tailored advice and support.

International

Wonkhe report that:  there has been a 65% increase in the number of international students at English higher education providers over the past four years, with growth of over 100,000 in the past year alone. The figures come from the delayed Office for Students’ Higher Education Students Early Statistics survey (HESES), which provides an early indication of the number of higher education students studying in 2022-23.

They also show that the home v international split for postgraduates in the English system is now roughly 50:50, and that providers are forecasting that circa 320k students will not complete by the end of the year, up from 300k a year ago.

Blog: New English student numbers figures show how rapidly universities are changing size and shape. David Kernohan and Jim Dickinson consider if the regulation can keep up

Scottish Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training Jamie Hepburn answered questions on international students and accommodation.

Wonkhe: Home Office proposals to limit the number of international student dependant visas are receiving a “major pushback” from the Treasury, i News reports. It says Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is resisting Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s proposals, arguing they would inflict “major damage” on the British economy.

HEPI

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published a range of interesting blogs and briefings recently. You may be interested in:

Degree Apprenticeships

  • The OfS confirmed £16m of recurrent fundingto expand the development and delivery of HE qualifications, of which £8m will support the development of Level 6 degree apprenticeship training programmes and £8m to increase the provision of Level 4 and 5 qualifications.  Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said: Degree apprenticeships offer people of all backgrounds an alternative route to achieving their career goals than doing a traditional three-year degree. They enable students to earn while they learn the skills needed to build a successful career. I’m delighted that the OfS is continuing to support and encourage HE providers to expand their degree and degree level apprenticeship offer…This investment will help us continue to build a skills and apprenticeship nation and extend the ladder of opportunity to even more people.
  • Wonkhe report that the Independent has been investigatinghow some universities are still using the apprenticeship levy to part-fund MBAs.
  • The Science Industry Partnership published a manifesto for skills in the science industries. The report outlines four priorities for technical education and workplace learning. It includes making the apprenticeship levy work for employers and increasing equity through diverse career pathways.
  • The UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities published their evidence-led policy priority calls which they believe are essential to equalising opportunities in society. They call for:
    • reform to apprenticeship rules to ringfence a proportion of the levy for young people with lower qualification levels, they also entertain that if other changes were made levy funds could be entirely ringfenced for school leavers. This to reduce the number of apprenticeships going to existing employees instead of other internal training.
    • Expand accountability to all providers of post-16 education to help reduce NEET rates. To make these metrics meaningful and minimise ‘gaming’, providers should be compared against other providers offering similar courses, in areas with similar socio-economic characteristics.
    • Introduce an annual “Social Mobility Scorecard” for universities, showing the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending each university, and the earnings associated with each degree. This should be released by the government to confer official status…There is wide variation in earnings across different degrees, and disadvantaged students are less likely to attend those with high labour market returns, even when they have the qualifications to get in. If we judge universities and courses based only on their outcomes, rather than their intake, their contribution to social mobility will be limited.
    • Introduce a post-qualification applications (PQA) system for post-18 education (including further education) so that students would make applications after they sit exams and receive the results. A PQA system could be achieved with minimal disruption to the school year (or college/university start date), by condensing the exam period to four weeks (as was planned during the pandemic), and accelerating marking to 7-8 weeks. Examinations would take place in early May. Students would then return to school, receiving results in mid-July, in time for an in-school ‘applications week’. Universities and colleges would have over a month to process and make offers at the end of August, and students would then have time to accept their favoured choice… allowing students to make these life changing applications based on full information.
  • Finally, UCAS stated they’re collaborating with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) to enable apprenticeships to qualify for UCAS points. They anticipate UCAS points may be attached to apprenticeships by the end of 2023. Dods report: The plans represent another step on UCAS’ bid to give parity between apprenticeships and other post-16 study routes, however it is not yet clear how many points apprenticeships may be eligible for, or whether they will secure as many as other level 3 routes. The Department for Education said that offering the ability to apply for apprenticeships through UCAS from 2024 is part of a wider ambition to develop a “one-stop-shop” for education and training options that it hopes will eventually include apprenticeships, T Levels, skills bootcamps, higher technical qualifications and degree apprenticeships.

Other news

The DfE published a policy paper on the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI), including large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT or Google Bard, within the education sector. Snippets:

  • Although generative AI is not new, recent advances and public access to the technology mean that the general public can now use this technology to produce AI-generated content. This poses opportunities and challenges for the education sector.
  • When used appropriately, technology (including generative AI), has the potential to reduce workload across the education sector, and free up time, allowing a focus on delivering excellent teaching.
  • Schools, colleges and universities, as well as awarding organisations need to continue to take reasonable steps where applicable to prevent malpractice, including malpractice involving use of generative AI and other emerging technologies.
  • The education sector must continue to protect its data, resources, staff and students, in particular:
    • Personal and sensitive data must be protected and therefore must not be entered into generative AI tools.
    • Education institutions should review and strengthen their cyber security, particularly as generative AI could increase the sophistication and credibility of attacks.
    • Education institutions must continue to protect their students from harmful content online, including that which might be produced by generative AI.

Strategic Skills planning: The DfE Unit for Future Skills published the UK labour market projections up to 2035 (national, regional and local). You can display the data by LEP or other choices and it provides information to support local skills plans, careers guidance, and provides a projected picture of the type of jobs in the UK labour market (and the skills needed) up to 2035. Data here.

Carbon capture curriculum: The Scottish Affairs Committee has published a report on hydrogen and carbon capture in Scotland. It warns that the UK will fail to meet its net zero targets, and transition away from fossil fuels, unless carbon capture is rolled out at scale. The report calls for the UK and Scottish Governments should jointly set out work they are undertaking to ensure that colleges, training providers and businesses within the hydrogen and CCUS sectors are able to offer appropriate routes into employment and training, and providing this information should be viewed as a priority.

President UUK: UUK announced that Professor Dame Sally Mapstone FRSE, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of University of St Andrews, has been elected as its next President. The role runs for two academic years from 1 August 2023 and is elected through a ballot of UUK’s 140 members. Dame Sally will succeed current President, Professor Steve West CBE, Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol. Before her appointment as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews in 2016, Dame Sally lectured and held several leadership roles at the University of Oxford, including Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Personnel and Equality and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education. She has served as a Board Member of UUK since 2016 including currently as Vice-President for Scotland, by virtue of being Convener of Universities Scotland.

Late retirement: The Times reports that graduates could work longer under plans to allow people in manual jobs to claim their state pensions earlier (Wonkhe).

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 3rd February 2023

office fNews galore. We cover all the major news and provide short commentary and links on the specialist interest topics.

Party politics: tertiary reform?

The next general election is constantly on the minds of policy makers. Last week Kier Starmer rowed back from Labour’s traditional position of abolishing HE tuition fees. This week attention has turned to what could be learnt from Wales’ review and reform of education which has resulted in a joined up tertiary education system. Andy Westwood writes for Wonkhe suggesting that Wales could be a blueprint for policy and suggesting Labour should prioritise tertiary reform over tuition fees.

Some snippets to whet your interest:

  • While the higher education funding system looks unsustainable in its current form and surely can’t survive the next Parliament without reform, it does not follow that it is sensible to try and fix it in isolation from other parts. 
  • …there is likely to be a series of policy priorities that will affect both colleges and universities as Labour draw up its manifesto, alongside any potential plan to reform tuition fees and higher education funding. But designing centralised policy solutions separately – e.g. by focusing solely on full-time university tuition fees but not on lifelong learning, apprenticeships or day-to-day funding for FE will only bake in the silos and systemic incoherence that cause so many problems for people, places and businesses.
  • The Welsh model, if not perfect, is certainly better than that currently in England…, we have three competing and very different systems – a centralised funding and management body (ESFA) running (and underfunding) FE, as well as schools, a market regulator (OfS) and an entirely separate and different system for apprenticeships (IFATE). Adult learning remains a poor relation and a low priority for each. The three funding systems are also different – direct funding and loans but managed places, uncapped markets with tuition fee loans, employer levies and grants (and limited access across routes to means-tested maintenance)…it is complex and counterproductive. And both in part and overall, it is failing.

Chris Millward (former Director for Fair Access at OfS) agrees with Westwood and is keen to bring technical and academic together in a cohesive tertiary system. He also suggests Government could reduce regulation in the areas that are a priority such as higher and degree apprenticeships, modular (shorter) learning, and advanced technical or research courses. Especially if they’re in geographical areas where the Government wants to drive growth and attract investment by aligning skills and innovation around a university presence. Finally, he suggests increasing fees (only by inflation) where institutions can demonstrate excellence beyond a threshold (I.e. we’re back to TEF related increases – which the House of Lords originally threw out). You can read Millward’s blog for Research Professional in full here.

Lifelong Learning

Earlier this week THE reported the Government were considering uncontroversial legislation surrounding the Lifelong Learning loan entitlements. These loans allow students to borrow up to the equivalent of four years’ worth of student loan funding across their whole life to spend as they will including on shorter or modular courses (more here). The loans are expected to be particularly attractive to mature students who wish to retrain or change careers (assuming they don’t already have a degree). Previous PM Boris Johnson pledged to introduce the LLE by 2025.

The background:

  • In May 2022, the government said in the Queen’s Speech that it would introduce a higher education bill to implement the LLE in England and, “subject to consultation”, a minimum entry requirement (MER) for individuals to be eligible for student loans, as well as student number controls (SNCs).
  • After that consultation [results promised soon], the Department for Education was said to favour capping numbers on courses using outcomes measures including the proportion of graduates going into “managerial or professional employment”, and an MER set at two E grades at A level. However, ministers changed and current HE Minister Halfon is said to be far less supportive of MER plans. Other sector commentators are also opposed: Any move to reopen the door to minimum entry requirements or student recruitment limits would be extremely concerning and against modern universities’ core principles of inclusion, aspiration and the power of education to transform lives (Rachel Hewitt, Chief Executive of MillionPlus).
  • Lord Johnson of Marylebone, the Conservative former universities minister, said Ministers must rethink their approach and allow “much greater flexibility in terms of what courses will be eligible for LLE funding…Learners wanting to access specific skills do not necessarily want or need courses that are simply credit-bearing modules of existing qualifications…The DfE needs to ensure that learners have a much broader choice of courses and credentials – credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing – if the LLE is to fulfil its potential. Lord Johnson was also an opponent to student number controls while he was HE Minister.

The rumours were correct! The Government introduced the Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill on Wednesday. The Bill aims to build upon previous legislation and provides the legal framework to underpin credit-based learning, set fee limits and update legislation in relation to the Access and Participation Plans. It:

  • Introduces a new fee limit method which limits the amount a provider can charge for a course or module based on credits. This means the amount a provider can charge a student is proportionate, whether the student takes up a short course, a module or a traditional full course.
  • Enables the Secretary of State to set maximum chargeable credits per course year, so that students are not being charged disproportionately for whatever course they wish to undertake.
  • Introduces the concept of ‘course year’ as opposed to an ‘academic year’, to allow fee limits to apply with greater precision according to when the course actually starts. This aims to support more flexible patterns of study.

The Bill’s financial commitments remain as expected – students may receive a loan entitlement, equivalent to four years of post-18 study (£37,000 in today’s fees) which can be used over their working lives. This will be available for both modules of courses and full courses, whether in college or at university. If will fund provision between level 4 and 6 so first degrees, higher technical qualifications, HNCs and HNDs.

Wonkhe add: It is recognised that not all courses fit a credit-based modular model – nursing is cited as one example of a “non-credit-bearing” course that will be funded at a “default” level equivalent to a standard number of credits. Prices for all credits will vary depending on institutional registration, TEF award, access and participation plan status, and specific fee limit designation as of now – there will also be separate credit values for placements, study abroad, and credit transfer. Of course, Wonkhe also has a new blog on the topic.

Commenting on the Bill’s introduction Dr Arti Saraswat, AoC HE Senior Policy Manager, makes some good points:

  • Implementing this by 2025 will be challenging and will depend on publishing a detailed rule book, putting the correct systems in place and, most importantly, ensuring programmes are ready so that students can enrol on courses on a more modular basis. Ensuring the scheme has been tested through a thorough pilot process will be vital to building trust in the new system.
  • There is still work needed to explain who will be eligible for the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, where they will be able to use it and how those institutions will be regulated. Colleges already have a track record of teaching HE on a more part-time, flexible and individualized basis to adult learners but this activity has diminished in recent years creating a genuine challenge in rebuilding capacity, at a time when the UK needs higher skills to boost productivity and grow the economy.
  • There are wider challenges involved in reinvigorating adult higher education. The LLE and credit-based student loans are important technical fixes but are not enough on their own. Access to maintenance support is essential to ensure students can afford to study on a flexible basis.

Research

There is lots of research related news. Here are a series of links and blogs which cover the main announcements.

Innovation vision: Last Friday Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set out his goals for the UK. On research and innovation he included:

  • UK world leader in digital and tech, green and clean energy sector, and creative industries
    • Created more tech unicorns than France and Germany combined
    • Fintech in the UK attracted more funding than anywhere in the world outside of the US
    • UK Covid vaccine has saved more than 6m lives around the globe
    • Largest offshore windfarm in the world
  • Golden thread running through industries in the UK – innovation
    • UK ranks 4thglobally in innovation index, responsible for all the productivity growth
  • Hunt asked innovators to the help the UK achieve something both ambitious and strategic
    • He wants the UK to be the next Silicon Valley and for the world’s tech entrepreneurs and life science innovators to come to the UK
    • UK universities, financial sector, and government will back them
    • Government determined to make the UK a tech superpower
  • Confidence in the future starts with honesty in the present
    • UK weakness: poor productivity, skills gaps, over concentration of wealth in the SE
    • Brexit opportunity – make Brexit a catalyst for bold choices
  • Plan for growth – not a series of announcements, but a framework for policies in the future

And lots more:

  • Research Professional: the growing tensions around spinouts at British universities.
  • Impact data contribution to society: The British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences have launchedresearch into what REF impact study case data can tell us about the contribution of the arts, humanities and social sciences to the wellbeing of society, culture and the economy. The research is intended to provide a robust evidence base on which the higher education sector and policymakers can build to articulate the value of research and its impact on society. (Wonkhe 26/01).
  • The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committeehas published a report on research and development tax relief and expenditure credit
  • 45 UK researchers were successful in winning grants from the European Research Council recent round. UKRI’s Horizon Europe guarantee covers the funds while association is still up in the air
  • Policy influencing: HEPI published a report on how policymakers currently interact with research and how researchers lobby policymakers.
  • Lost money:Top UK economists have criticised £6 million a year in “perverse” quality-related cuts to their field, part of more than £100 million lost in the social sciences more broadly, despite a sharp improvement in Research Excellence Framework ratings. (THE)
  • Women’s Health Strategy for England – implementation.
  • Research security: article in The Times; Wonkhe blog
  • Intellectual Property: The N8 Research Partnership – an alliance of eight universities in the north of England – has delivereda statement on rights retention, strongly recommending that researchers “do not by default transfer intellectual property rights to publishers and instead use a rights retention statement as standard practice.” (Wonkhe)
  • ARIA: We’ve been writing about ARIA for so long that it feels like old news. However, it’s only right to mention the Government has now formally launched ARIA and it was legally established on 25 January. The link contains basic information about the purpose of ARIA and Wonkhe inform that Five new members have been appointed to the board, including former chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce Kate Bingham and new Chief Financial and Operations Officer Antonia Jenkinson and that ARIA also announcedthat it would begin recruiting programme directors in the week of 6 February.
  • NHS Clinical Research at risk: The Lords Science and Technology Committee wroteto the Steve Barclay (Minister for Health and Social Care) warning that the current state of clinical research, pressures on the NHS, and a declining workforce is putting the future of clinical research in the NHS in jeopardy. The committee also emphasised that without urgent action patients will miss out on innovative treatments and the UK will miss out on economic growth. This webpage gives the best summary of the situation and the Committee’s recommendations which include mention of universities. Postdoctoral career insecurity is also mentioned and the Committee recommend offering longer contracts with the expectation of permanent positions to follow.
  • International collaboration: New Wonkhe blog – Becoming a science superpower relies not only on national research capacity but finding reliable international partners.
  • Research catapults: A new blog on Wonkhe – Catapults in context – Catapults are getting more funding and more political attention. But what do they do and what are they for?
  • Innovation: UKRI announced their cross-research council responsive mode pilot scheme which offers funding for interdisciplinary ideas that transcend, combine or significantly span disciplines. The full fund is worth £32.5 million and UKRI intend to make 26 awards.
  • R&D tax credits for small and medium sized enterprises are still contentious and Shadow BEIS Minister Chi Onwurah voiced concerns during oral questions: AMLo Biosciences is a Newcastle University spin-out whose groundbreaking research will save lives by making cancer diagnosis easier and more accurate. AMLo spends millions on research and reinvests all its research and development tax credits into R&D. The Government’s tax credit changes will halve what AMLo can claim, meaning less research and fewer new jobs. Its investors may ask for it to move abroad, where R&D is cheaper. Many Members have similar examples in their constituencies. Will the Minister explain why the Government issued no guidance, gave no support and had no consultation on the changes to SME R&D tax credits? Does he accept that whether in respect of hospitality heating bills or spin-out science spend, the Government are abandoning small businesses? Kevin Hollinrake (Small Business Minister) responded on behalf of the Government suggesting that the Government are trying to fix the problem: Clearly, we have to balance the interests of the taxpayer with the interests of small business. We have to make sure that the money that is being utilised for R&D is properly spent, and there were concerns about abuse of the small business R&D scheme. It is good that the Treasury is now looking into the matter and looking to move towards a simplified universal scheme, which I would welcome and on which there is a consultation. I absolutely agree that we need to make sure we have the right support for research and development in this country, not least for SMEs.

Parliamentary Questions:

  • ARIA funding flexibility.
  • Monitoring the UK’s innovation clusters
  • Confirmation of the total Government spend on R&I in 2018 as £12,765 million, 2019 as £13,542 and 2020 as £15,266
  • Horizon Europe: If the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, the Government will be ready with a comprehensive alternative, including a suite of transitional measures and longer-term programmes, funded from the budget set aside for association to European programmes. As stated in my speech at Onward UK on 11 Jan 2023, these programmes will enable the UK to meet its global Science Superpower and Innovation Nation ambitions. Details of the transitional measures have already been published, and the Department will publish more detailed proposals on the longer-term programmes in due course.

Regulatory: OfS under fire

Matt Western has been demonstrating his worth as Shadow HE Minister recently by asking a series of useful parliamentary questions. This includes Matt questioning Minister Halfon on whether the OfS will increase the registration fee for universities (because the fee is set by DfE). Halfon’s response:

  • No final decision has been made on any fee increase. The department is currently considering the level those fees should be set at for the 2023/24 academic year, to ensure that the OfS can perform its important functions effectively, ensuring students receive high quality education and value for money.
  • This includes continuing investigations to address pockets of low quality HE provision and deliver new duties under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

It’s this last element that’s the kicker because fee increases are expected to be tied to the newer closer regulatory interventions on course quality and free speech.

You’ll recall a couple of weeks ago that the mission groups wrote to a select committee urging them to look how OfS regulate the sector. The Russell Group have spoken out again, on the same issue because the proposed increase in registration fees is of 13-15% whilst student maintenance loans were only uplifted by 2.8%. Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group stated:

  • We’ve been clear with Department for Education that, before any increase in the Office for Students’ fees is considered, the regulator should demonstrate clearly how this extra funding will bring genuine benefit to students and how it plans to show that it is itself operating in the most efficient and effective way… It’s a frankly bizarre move given the perspective of the maintenance loan uplift, and also because it is not clear if the Office for Students has actually asked for this level of increase. Instead, the 13% figure seems to be coming more from political angles and linked primarily to responsibilities the Office for Students may get if and when the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill becomes law.
  • Instead of bumping up its fees…the Office for Students should be cutting them, and substantially…
  • while Parliament wrestles with the closing stages of the Free Speech Bill, maybe it should instead put a little more effort into scrutinising existing legislation and the priorities of the Government, its departments and the regulator with respect to students as they try to stay focused on their studies while their maintenance loans run out.

Dr Tim Bradshaw wrote further on the topic in a HEPI blog and you can also read the Russell Group’s analysis on student losses as maintenance loans fail to keep up with inflation here.

Another corker from Matt Western that the Government slightly sidestepped is whether the OfS Director for Free Speech will commit to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. All HE institutions have been pushed hard in recent years to sign up to the definition. Minister Coutinho stated: … We remain committed to the IHRA definition and our belief that providers should adopt it… The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will require reasonably practicable steps to be taken to secure freedom of speech within the law. The Director will oversee the free speech functions in that context.

The OfS, who haven’t been sitting idly by whilst the Russell Group launched their offensive. On Friday Wonkhe reported that: The Office for Students (OfS) is seen by providers as “seeking conflict”, lacking independence from government, and poor at communicating, according to findings of independent research into its relationship with the sector. As a result it has set out plans to “refresh” its engagement with providers – a blog from chief executive Susan Lapworth sets out actions including better communication channels, careful consideration of consultation lengths, and visits to institutions to “improve mutual understanding”.

The research that Wonkhe mentioned was actually published in July and this entertaining Wonkhe blog picks out the highlights from the research feedback. Seven months passed in which OfS had plenty of time to ruminate on their response/action and on Thursday Susan Lapworth published her own blog setting out what OfS would do. Here’s a comment from ‘Andy’ about Susan’s blog (published on Wonkhe):

  • The blog follows Susan Lapworth’s now traditional approach of apologising for the fact that the sector doesn’t understand the OfS, and promising to try and explain more clearly why everything they do is excellent, while not engaging with any substantive criticisms or issues. Coming across, as always, as someone very much untroubled by doubt.
  • The blog also comes with the function to comment but, as always, even mildly critical comments are not published (which is perhaps why the blogs never have any comments on them).
  • There are, as the article gently implies, no obvious signs that anything is going to get any better.

TEF: Finally the last thing anyone who was involved in the recent TEF exercise will want to read about now is…well…TEF. There is an easy read blog (yes it’s Wonkhe again) which contemplates TEF 4.0 and considers whether to embrace it or firmly place one’s head in the sand. Enjoy!

Students

Student Affordability

  • Reassurance from Paul Blomfield MP who chairs the APPG for Students writing about why students should be a priority in cost of living discussions within Parliament.
  • A useful Commons Library briefing the value of student maintenance support details how student maintenance support levels have changed over time and explores whether it’s enough, parental contributions and eligibility. A key point is that the real terms value of loans reduce by 7% in the current academic year and 4% for 2023/24 with the impact that the reduction is larger than any real cuts seen in student support going back to the early 1960s.
  • Parliamentary question confirming there are no plans to offer a repayment holiday on student loans when a graduate falls on hard times.
  • Scotland have suspended their student rent cap stating it had limited impact on annual rents set on the basis of an academic year.
  • Jersey have confirmed that the previous temporary (2022) increase in student maintenance will become permanent. However, the administration are coming under fire because the funding arrangements for next academic year haven’t yet been released.
  • Wonkhe report that Rising costs are “ruining” the university experience by 54 per cent of students, according to new pollingon the cost of living. Seven in ten have considered dropping out, with 37 per cent of these citing living costs as the main reason. The survey, conducted by Opinium on behalf of higher education software provider TechnologyOne, covered a representative sample of more than 1,000 university students across the UK in December and January.

Additional Hardship Funding: In our recent policy update we covered the announcement of additional student hardship funding for 2022-23. Overall there is £11.1m through full-time student premium, £1.6m through the part-time student premium, and £2.3m through the disabled students’ premium.The OfS has now shared allocations with providers and tasked them to consider how to distribute the additional funds. What is interesting policy wise is that Wonkhe highlight that the money is a redistribution of funds which were originally designed to support preparation for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and “emergent priorities” funding. So, another Government initiative that under Rishi’s administration the brakes have been applied to (just lightly). This slowdown could mean that the PM is taking a more considered approach to previous policy initiatives rather than steamrollering them out…or if could just mean a general election is looming on the who-knows-how distant horizon.

Student Accommodation: Wonkhe cover resistance to the Government’s plan to abolish fixed term tenancies: A group of universities, student accommodation providers, and landlord bodies have written to the government warning against the abolition of fixed-term tenancies for students renting privately. The letter, co-signed by Universities UK chief executive Vivienne Stern, argues that the introduction of open-ended tenancies to the student housing market, as proposed by the government, will “undermine the stability and proper functioning of the sector” which is “dependent on property being available at the start of the academic year”. The Telegraph reports on the letter.

Quick news and blogs

Admissions: BTEC still under threat

  • Opposition to the removal of funding for some vocational qualifications continues. The Lords have been vocal in their opposition and a cross-party group urged Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to withdraw plansto cut funding for recently reformed applied general qualifications, such as BTECs.
  • Recent analysis from the Protect Student Choice campaignrevealed more than half of the 134 qualifications currently available (undertaken by 200,000 pupils) and included in the DfE’s performance league tables would be ineligible for funding from 2025.
  • The letter to Minister Keegan included high profile figures such as previous Education Secretaries of State David Blunkett and Ken Baker, former Education (and HE) ministers David Willetts and Jo Johnson, the Deputy Speaker of the Lords Sue Garden, and Labour peer Mike Watson. The letter highlights that previously they had been assured that only a small proportion of the applied generals would be removed, which is why they had supported the Skills Bill. It also states that qualifications to be defunded, which include health and social care, science, IT and business, are popular with students, respected by employers and valued by universities and states that removing them will have a disastrous impact on social mobility, economic growth and our public services. The Peers call on Keegan to remove the qualifications from the scope of the level 3 review and reforms, which are being cut to streamline the current offering and make way for new T Levels.
  • In other House of Lords news a rather eminent group of Peers has come together to launch a select committee on 11-16 year olds’ Education with reference to the skills necessary for the digital and green economy. Former HE Minister Lord Jo Johnson will chair the Committee and you can view the other Members here. The calibre of Peers participating makes this committee one to watch. They include a former education secretary, a Teachers Union general secretary, the Lords deputy Speaker, president of the Independent Schools Association, co-chair of the engineering APPG, and several party education spokespersons.

HESA statistics | Grade inflation (deflation)

It’s always an interesting half hour to peruse the HESA data releases. This time it’s the first look at the overall 2021/22 student statistics. For ease of reading we’ve popped the overall key points here. They cover student numbers and characteristics including disability, ethnicity, deprivation, religion, and age; by subject (spoiler – languages are down again); and qualifications awarded. HESA also published an insight brief – some interesting points:

  • A decrease in EU enrolment coupled with an increase in non-EU international numbers – unsurprisingly there may be a link with the end of home fee eligibility for EU students and the introduction of the Graduate route visa scheme.
  • A decrease – although not to pre-pandemic numbers – in the number of students being awarded first class honours, following a surge in high grades during the 2019/20 and 2020/21 academic years. The government will be pleased although they want it to go back to pre-pandemic as a start and maybe further.
  • An increase in students studying abroad as pandemic-era travel restrictions were lifted.
  • A decrease – although not to pre-pandemic levels – in students living in their parents’ or guardians’ home, following an increase during the height of the pandemic. (Remember this data is before current cost of living concerns.) This is interesting because we wondered if there would be a permanent shift, it seems not but cost of living may mean this changes again.

Wonkhe have a blog on the data release.

On the topic of grade inflation OfS Chief Executive, Susan Lapworth, stated: Today’s figures show a welcome decrease back towards pre-pandemic levels in the proportion of first class degrees awarded to students graduating in the 2021-22 academic year…Left unchecked, grade inflation can erode public trust and it is important that the OfS can and does intervene where it has concerns about the credibility of degrees. Universities and colleges understand that they must ensure that the degrees they award are credible and properly represent students’ achievement. This is the way to maintain the confidence of students, employers and the wider public in higher education qualifications.

Susan also mentioned the UUK and GuildHE initiative which aimed to increase transparency in degree awards: Last year, members of Universities UK and GuildHE committed to address the rising proportion of first class and upper second degrees and pledged to return to pre-pandemic levels of grading. We welcomed that commitment and will continue to monitor trends in classifications to understand factors that may contribute to the sector’s performance.

UUK has a good explainer about the initiative on their website (stick with it through all the drop down clicks): How universities are turning the corner on grade inflation.

If you’re interested in the latest statistics on HE staff from HESA you can read the analysis here.

ChatGPT

ChatGPT was THE topic of conversation over the last few weeks. Here’s a selection of links which vary in their focus and take on the topic.

Inquiries and Consultations

  • Here is the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current calls.
  • Other news
  • Targets and measures: Wonkhe blog –  the unique strengths of higher education are at risk from the excessive standardisation of targets and performance measures.
  • Emerging Tech: Previous universities minister Chris Skidmore has been appointed to support Sir Patrick Vallance’s work to accelerate the development of emerging tech. Chris will work on green industries. Skidmore will be stepping down as an MP at the next election
  • Degree apprenticeships: Wonkhe tell us Universities UK has released a ten point plan on how to grow degree apprenticeship provision, calling on government to review the costs and burden of regulation – the scale and complexity of which currently “creates a potential barrier to entry” – and reopen the register of apprenticeship training providers, so that universities new to delivering degree apprenticeships “can take the first step to be able to deliver them”. Also: Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon praised universities’ role in promoting degree apprenticeships – including excellent Ofsted inspection reports, which he noted as confirming his belief that universities “are brilliantly placed to deliver these unique programmes”. And we have a Parliamentary Question: Promoting degree apprenticeships to disadvantaged young people.
  • Health workforce: The Welsh government has announced an expansion in training places for the health professional workforce in Wales, with £281.98 million to be invested in 2023-24, an eight per cent increase from the current year. The funding includes £7.14 million for medical training places. (Wonkhe.)
  • Refugee/asylum access to HE: Wonkhe report that a new online portal has launched to promote opportunities for refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK to access university. The Displaced Student Opportunities UK website – created by Refugee Education UK, Student Action for Refugees, and Universities of Sanctuary – is intended to showcase academic scholarships, grants, short courses and mentoring for displaced students.
  • Minimum entry requirements (or limiting student numbers): there is an interesting THE article Second chances. It covers the Netherlands universities who may revert to using lotteries to decide which students are admitted to fixed-capacity programmes. Supporters say we do believe it would promote equity between students. Interesting, but this approach isn’t (currently) being considered for UK HE policy.
  • THE has an article on the MPs who also work in Universities. It’s mainly concerned with the impact of second earnings but does mention how having an MP on staff, even temporarily, could be a lobbying route. This Evening Standard article quantifies the detail a little more on second earnings noting former PMs within the top earners but unfortunately doesn’t dish on how much universities are paying their parliamentarians.
  • Carbon footprint: The Government wants HE (and FE) to publish carbon footprint data by 2025 but there isn’t a reliable data collection system in place. Wonkhe: Enter the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) and a Standardised Carbon Emissions Reporting Framework agreed in consultation with every relevant sector group you can imagine. It’s a voluntary, consensual requirement that will align with an updated and streamlined HESA estates management record and aims to meet providers where they are in terms of collection and reporting. Here’s the blog.
  • New Uni: Blackpool to receive £40 million to build a new carbon neutral university.
  • Turing troubles: Opinion piece in THE on the problems with the Turing Scheme. The authors recommend offering funding more promptly and flexibly.
  • Contract cheating: Wonkhe blog – Daniel Sokol describes a case of blackmail by an essay mill and proposes a new approach to how universities should handle such cases.
  • Student dropout: Wonkhe blog – What sort of support should be offered when students drop out of university? Stephen Eccles shoots and scores.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

 

HE policy update 11th August 2022

This is part 1 of your bumper summer catch up – with a focus on the general political situation and on education – we will come back to you with a mega update on research next week!

Parliamentary News

ICYMI: New ministerial briefs

  • James Cleverly, Secretary of State for Education
  • Brendan Clarke-Smith, Minister for Children and Families
  • Will Quince, Minister for School Standards
  • Andrea Jenkyns, Minister for Skills, Further and Higher Education
  • Baroness Barran, Lords Minister/Minister for the School System
  • Chair – Commons Science and Technology Committee: With Greg Clark appointed as the Secretary of State (SoS) for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities he had to leave his role as Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee. This means a new Chair will be elected after the summer recess, although if the new PM appoints a different Secretary of State Greg may return to Chair the Committee again. The rumour is he doesn’t expect to retain the SoS post once the new PM takes over.

Labour frontbench: Labour have made some shadow Cabinet changes:

  • Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) has been appointed Shadow Minister for Veterans and Defence People. She retains her shadow CO role to reflect the fact that the government veterans position is also cross-departmental.
  • Hopkins takes over from Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) who has been appointed Shadow Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure.
  • Peacock replaces Chris Elmore (Ogmore) who has been appointed to the new post of Parliamentary Lead for the Labour Party Chair. He also continues as an Opposition Whip.

Profiling the new ministers

Andrea Jenkyns MP is (currently) the Minister for HE having replaced Michelle Donelan in the post resignation reshuffle. Previously Ms Jenkyns was a member of the Health committee (2015-17) and two EU focussed select committees (her son is nicknamed Brexit!). Jenkyns entered employment after leaving school and achieved her diploma in economics from the Open University and a BA in international relations and politics (graduated 2014) from Lincoln University later in life. Before politics she worked as an international business development manager(15 years), a councillor for Lincolnshire County Council, a music tutor in three secondary schools (she sings soprano and has a huge vocal range – that should liven up Cabinet!), and worked as a musical theatre director.

Jenkyns is a charity fundraiser and supporter of the charity Antibiotic Research UK. She is a trustee and voluntary regional representative for the charity MRSA Action UK. She has also become a reviewer for the National Institute for Health Research.

When elected to parliament her campaign priorities were the development of brownfield sites, delivering excellent local health services and growing the local economy. She is against repealing the hunting ban. Jenkyns has stated that the death of her father at a local hospital in 2011, from the hospital superbug MRSA, motivated her to stand as an MP, to ensure compassionate care is a priority. In November 2015 she launched a campaign to promote good hand hygiene in schools and hospitals.

Jenkyns received notoriety when she presented her middle finger to the crowd gathered outside of Downing Street calling for Boris’ resignation. She described the crowd as a “baying mob” and said she was standing up for herself.

James Cleverly also went into work after leaving school (he attended a selective school). He joined the army (left due to injury) and still volunteers with the TA. James studied at Thames Valley University graduating with a degree in hospitality and management. Swiftly followed by a move into magazine and digital publishing where he set up his own company.

Cleverly’s political career began as a London Assembly member, he was a board member of the London Development Agency, and unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in 2005. He was finally elected in 2015 and emphasised local business alongside road and internet connectivity. He put forward a Private Members’ Bill in 2015 to give further powers to the Health and Safety Executive (it didn’t succeed – but they rarely do). He was a founding member of Conservatives for Britain (a group calling for fundamental change with the UK’s relationship with the EU), voted to leave the EU and became the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union in April 2019. He was appointed Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party in January 2018. He was then appointed as Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa in both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development in February 2020. North America was added to his responsibilities in December 2021. And he became Minister of State for Europe and North America in February 2022. He has been a member of the APPG Showing Racism the Read Card since 2017. His political interests are stated as local business, technology, trade out of poverty and international trade.

He’s married to his university girlfriend and recognises the importance of family values. He’s President of Bromley District Scouts. He gave a daring interview in November 2015 in which he admitted to trying cannabis at university, and watching online pornography. He also said he would like to become leader of the party. When Theresa May stepped down he announced his candidacy in the leadership content but withdrew a week later as he recognised he was unlikely to make the final cut.

PM Candidates

YouGov released a poll of the leadership race showing Truss currently leads Sunak by 69% to 31% among Tory members. Here are the latest pledges from the prime ministerial candidates relating to education and young people.

Liz Truss:

  • Would lift ban on new grammar schools and replace failing schools with them
  • Pledged to expand high-performing academies and replace failing ones with new free schools and grammars
  • Would focus on literacy and numeracy – stick to the current government target for 90% of primary children to reach the expected standard in literacy and numeracy – as well and post-pandemic catch-up
  • Wants to give working parents access to childcare around the school day and extend the range of providers who accept government childcare entitlements
  • Would also follow through on government plans to change staff-to-child ratios for early years providers
  • All A Level students with three A*s would be automatically offered interview at Oxford or Cambridge. (Wonkhe have a great blog on the topic highlighting that it isn’t the social mobility improvement Liz believes, and really highlights her lack of awareness.)
  • Would look to introduce post-qualification admissions (PQAs) for university entry – purported to be considering moving the start of the university academic year to January, to accommodate PQA reform
  • Pledged to move subsidies from poor quality degree courses to vocational training
  • Would create designated “Investment Zones” to drive innovation

Rishi Sunak:

  • Would create a new British Baccalaureate that would require all 16-year-olds to study core subjects, including maths and English, beyond GCSE up to age 18
  • Would reverse ban on new grammar schools and support expansion
  • Would ask Ofsted to assess the quality of sports and PE in school at every inspection
  • Also pledged to open up school sport facilities over summer holidays
  • Suggested he would reform the curriculum to focus on workplace skills, as well as science, maths and technology
  • Pledged to improve professional development for teachers, as well as introduce AI and technology to the classroom to reduce teachers’ workloads
  • Committed to the plan to open 75 new free schools, as announced by the government in June
  • Would give school trusts an “accountability holiday” for two years after taking on underperforming schools
  • Plans to stop organisations such as Stonewall from delivering sex and relationships education (SRE)
  • Pledged to put SRE on to a statutory footing, providing schools with guidance on what is acceptable, and giving parents the ability to request to see teaching materials, including from external groups (it’s understood this would be done via an amendment to the Schools Bill)
  • Would ban all 30 Confucius Institutes in the UK and force universities to disclose foreign funding partnerships of more than £50,000
  • Would “strengthen networks of technical institutions and their links with industry, as well as giving them powers to award degrees”
  • Would create a “Russell Group of world-class technical colleges” to improve prestige of vocational training (this idea is akin to that within the Northern Research Group pledge card, which Sunak signed)
  • Wants to “clamp down” on some university degrees that don’t lead to good outcomes – assessing their quality through drop-out rates, graduate jobs, and salary thresholds
  • Would expedite the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, currently sitting with the Lords

Lord Hague, the former Conservative leader, has weighed into the leadership race with suggestions on how the PM hopefuls could increase the science and technology prowess of the UK, including the creation of a secretary of state for science and technology.

Voting will close on 2 September. The new PM is still scheduled to be revealed on 5 September.

Overall – we would not expect a major change of direction in relation to HE.  The ferocity of the culture wars will perhaps depend on who the Secretary of State for Education and the Minister for Universities are in a reshuffled government, but Liz Truss looks likely to maintain the current direction if she wins.  Her espousal of PQAs, after the DfE consultation was ditched by Nadhim Zahawi earlier this year, will cause sighs across the sector, but at least the DfE have an oven ready set of consultation responses they can use to inform the next step.

OFS consultations

Consultation outcomes – the outcomes of the three outstanding OfS consultations(which closed in March) have been published – although there is a lot of detail still to come – and we have a new one (with a very tight deadline)

NSS consultation: Following earlier consultations on changes to the NSS, the OfS have just launched another, closing on 1st September.

This has been slightly challenging area for the OfS, with government ministers making bold statements about how the NSS causes “dumbing down” and demanding it be dropped as a metric for regulatory purposes and the TEF – and the OfS resisting on the basis that it provides useful context and informs action on student experience at universities.

The latest consultation, issued on 28th July with a 1st September deadline (what sort of response do they expect?) includes some options for change to the questionnaire, and proposed removing question 27 completely for England (which addresses the dumbing down point).  They ran a pilot of some of these questions this year and have published a review of the pilot which informed this consultation.

Main changes

  • The NSS currently opens in January and runs until the end of April. We are proposing to shorten the survey window by delaying the launch of the survey to mid-February
  • We propose establishing a four-year review cycle for the NSS to ensure the survey can reflect changes in practice and continue to meet the needs of the UK funders and regulators, students and providers. To date, the survey has been reviewed on an ad hoc basis with the last major review conducted in 2015
  • The questionnaire currently uses the Likert scale, which measures student agreement or disagreement with particular statements. 22. We propose to change the questionnaire to more direct questions for 2023 – which would change how questions are asked – to offer students the opportunity to rate different aspects of their experience on a scale designed specifically for a particular question

Some examples are given in the consultation but they have not made final proposals for all of the questions, and are still thinking about the scales in some cases – see Annex D of the consultation.  

 In addition to the changes to existing questions, there are some new proposed questions.

They are proposing to remove the summative question [question 27] for England. A version of the summative question would remain for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The consultation says:

  • There were significant concerns about the wording of the current question. In particular, the term ‘satisfaction’ was regarded as unhelpful as it detracted from the wider findings of the survey and was seen as too consumerist in nature. There were also concerns about the use of the summative question by the media in England when reporting on the outcomes of the NSS each year. The current question 27 on overall satisfaction is the most commonly used metric in league tables, and its removal might make the results less susceptible to ranking. Phase one of the review found that the question was unhelpful for the survey as a whole. Most questions ask students to rate their experience of different aspects of their academic experience, and no other question asks about satisfaction. Yet critics often derogatively dub the NSS as a ‘satisfaction survey’. There was no consensus on what should replace it

There are proposed questions on freedom of expression and a provider’s mental wellbeing provision.

It will be interesting to see what the outcome of this consultation is although we don’t expect an outcry in favour of question 27 and given the timing of this (and the OfS approach to consultations (see below), they are likely to finalise their views on the outstanding questions and plough ahead. Wonkhe have two blogs: one reviewing the proposals, (pithy summary of an interesting blog: “poor show”) and one looking at what else could be considered. A summary of responses to the consultation will be published in Autumn 2022. The OfS anticipate implementing any changes in the 2023 NSS. If you wish to comment on an aspect of the consultation please contact Jane.

Teaching Excellence Framework

The final decisions have now been made about the TEF timetable.  Guidance will be published in late September; the submission window will open at that time and will close in mid-January.  Outcomes will be published in September 2023.  The outcomes are here.  Few changes have been made to the proposals, there is a bit of clarification on the new “educational gain” aspect (which is largely being left to providers to define), to make apprenticeships an optional element in the assessment, to make the provider submission 25 instead of 20 pages, and to clarify the requirements for student submissions.  They have not yet made a decision about how much of the data will be published.

  • Of our 15 proposals most respondents agreed with 11 of them. Views on one proposal were split and a majority disagreed with three proposals
  • Disagreement was most strongly expressed in relation to:
    • proposals 3 and 4 which relate to the categories in the rating scheme (Gold, Silver and Bronze)[ Approximately two thirds of respondents tended to disagree or strongly disagree with this proposal], [no change was made]
    • the use of ‘Requires improvement’ where there is an absence of excellence[ Almost three-quarters of respondents tended to disagree or strongly disagreed with this proposal], [no change was made]
    • proposal 15 which relates to the timeline for implementation [almost nine in ten of respondents disagreeing or strongly disagreeing]

After the publication of a set of new licence conditions earlier this year, which re already in force, the last one, B3, has now been finalised and will come into force on 3rd October.  B3 is the condition that applies minimum thresholds for continuation, completion and progression into highly skilled employment.  These thresholds are absolute, not benchmarked, and will be applied across a range of splits – notably level (including postgraduate) and subject. Some outcome measures were used before in the TEF, split by characteristic – but that was for undergraduate only and at an institutional level, not split by subject, so this is a major change.

Licence condition B3

The B3 proposals were fairly controversial, as is illustrated by the response that the OfS got:

  • Around three-quarters of respondents disagreed with the proposed timing of implementation, almost two thirds disagreed with the approach to constructing the student outcomes indicators and almost half disagreed with the approach to setting numerical thresholds

But they are going ahead anyway, with only minor changes.

  • They have decided to adopt the cohort tracking methodology for constructing the completion outcome measure – two options were proposed in the consultation.
  • The final numerical thresholds will be published in September, and will be no higher than those proposed in the consultation.
  • More information about publication of the B3 data and the TEF data will be available in September.

You can read the final condition B3 here.  For reference, these were the original proposed thresholds (and as noted above, the final ones to be confirmed in September will not be higher than those originally proposed).

The third consultation was about constructing the indicators for both of the above and the outcomes are here.

In a blog, the Director of Quality says:

  • Our revised condition of registration (condition B3) means that students from all backgrounds can achieve positive outcomes and are protected from performance that is below our minimum expectations, whatever, wherever and however they study. At the same time, through the TEF, we want to incentivise universities and colleges to achieve excellence in teaching, learning and their outcomes – above and beyond our minimum expectations and in a way that recognises the full diversity of higher education courses and many ways students study.
  • We’ve carefully considered more than 600 responses to our phase three consultations. We’ve made some changes as a result of those responses, but we remain committed to the policy agenda we set out in January….
  • …Some responses to our consultation asked whether positive outcomes for students should be defined more broadly when students may gain wide-ranging benefits from their studies. We recognise that higher education produces wider value than we have captured in our indicators. This might be a reason to look at additional measures in the future, but it shouldn’t prevent us from measuring and regulating the things we already know matter to students: continuing through to the end of their course and progressing successfully into the next stage of their career or studies. We must be able to protect students from courses which don’t deliver these benefits. 

In a blog for Wonkhe, David Kernohan and Jim Dickinson give their perspectives, including this one, which highlights the key contradiction at the heart of all this:

  • For some time now, OfS has been saying that opportunities for study are not meaningful if students are able to choose or continue on “low quality courses delivering weak outcomes” because the regulatory system has endorsed such performance. But does that mean working over time to improve the quality and outcomes, or killing off those courses – especially if they’re a component of your partnership portfolio? Minister for skills, further and higher education Andrea Jenkyns says “Following on from the first wave of OfS inspections, this consultation response is an important next step to halting dead-end courses.” But the OfS documentation says that it recognises that providers may choose to close courses rather than take steps to improve student outcomes, and if it suspects that’s been happening it will “interrogate whether a provider had taken action to improve its performance” and sought to “evade regulatory action by closing courses with weak performance”. How about if we sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense?

One (cynical) way to read it, in today’s politicised environment – closing a course to avoid regulatory interference is BAD – being made to close it by the regulator is GOOD (for the regulator and the government).

The Russell Group aren’t best pleased with the outcomes. Sarah Stevens, Director of Policy at the Russell Group said:

  • We support the OfS’s efforts to set challenging baselines that will ensure all students are entitled to a minimum quality of provision. However, this needs to be delivered in a proportionate and risk-based manner so low-risk providers can get on with the job of providing students with a high-quality experience. In particular, we are concerned that plans to change the way courses are prioritised for investigation each year will increase the burden on low-risk providers, and hope the OfS can move to a more consistent and transparent approach.
  • The plans to take into account absolute values and the increased weighting of the provider submission when assessing a provider’s performance will help ensure TEF awards are more robust. However, the TEF remains a significantly burdensome activity and we are concerned that the implementation timeline does not give the sector enough time to fully engage with the changes announced. With the TEF submission period beginning in September, it’s also vital that the OfS publish detailed guidance to providers as soon as possible.

Quality of HE courses: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

  • Q – James Grundy (Leigh) (Con): What progress he has made on improving the quality of higher education courses.
  • A – The Minister for Higher and Further Education (Michelle Donelan): For the first time, universities will be subject to stringent minimum thresholds for student outcomes on completion rates and graduate jobs. Boots-on-the-ground inspections have begun, and through our transparency drive to give students all the information that they need and a focus on participation and outcomes, we are driving out the pockets of poor quality in our world-leading higher education sector.

Mini horizon scan

A proper horizon scan, which we would usually do at this time of year, may seem a little bit challenging when the last few years have shown that the priorities and convictions of those in the Secretary of State and Minister for Universities role have had a huge impact on direction: Jo Johnson of course was behind the creation of OfS, the TEF and the new regulatory regime, but to give some more examples, Gavin Williamson ramped up the focus on “poor quality courses” (and tried hard on PQA).  Damien Hinds started the campaign that eventually stopped conditional unconditional offers.   We can thank Michele Donelan for ramping up the culture wars, and leading the charge on free speech.

But a lot of fairly major change is already in hand, things are fairly well developed and therefore unlikely to change.  There may be differences in emphasis and nuance, and additional priorities (PQA for Liz Truss) but we would not expect major shifts in approach to any of the current hot topics.

Of course, there will be a general election at some point – the latest this can be is 24th January 2025 although after the fixed term legislation was repealed the PM can seek an earlier election.  Given the cost of living crisis alone, a newly installed PM this autumn is unlikely to find that appealing, as they will want to make some sort of impression before going back to the people.

Levelling up A flagship Johnson policy. Linked to the access and participation work referenced below.

The Skills and Post-16 Education Act became law in April.  It will be for the new leader and their team to implement this including the local skills improvement plans (chapter 1 of the new act), changes to technical education including continuing the implementation of T-levels (and closing some BTECs), and changes to implement the lifelong learning proposals (see below).

See more in the skills section below on local skills improvement plans.

Levelling up as a headline may not be the branding of choice for a new leader but the policies are likely to stay in place, certainly as regards skills and technical education
Lifelong learning The  Skills and Post-16 Education Act makes provision for modular learning.

LLE was the subject of a DfE consultation which closed in May, and the outcome will presumably be finalised by the new ministerial team.

Read more: policy update 3rd March 2022 and 3rd May 2022

As noted, this is the big flagship HE  policy for the Johnson government and his successor is unlikely to change tack on this.

 

Student number controls This was part of the big release of material in March responding finally to the Augar review.

It is now expected (and Michelle Donelan confirmed, although that might change) that controls will be applied on a university and subject basis to restrict numbers on certain courses that do not meet B£ or other licence conditions.  We await the outcome of this part of the (DfE, not OfS) consultation, which will presumably be in the in-tray of the new universities minister.

Read more: policy update 3rd March 2022

This is unlikely to change under a new team, although there may need to be more work on how it will be implemented in practice.
Minimum eligibility requirements Another part of the Augar response in March, intended to limit access to HE (and control costs}.  They consulted on a requirement for a pass (grade 4) in GCSE in English and Maths, or the equivalent of 2 E grades at A level.  These would not apply to mature students (over 25), part-time students, those with a level 4 or 5 qualification or students with an integrated foundation year or Access to HE qualification.  If they apply the GCSE requirement it would not apply to someone who has subsequently achieved A levels at CCC or equivalent.

Read more: policy update 3rd March 2022

This is unlikely to change under a new team, although there may need to be more work on how it will be implemented in practice – especially if it requires changes to student loan legislation.
Access and Participation Big focus from the OfS now on universities having an impact on school level attainment and supporting disadvantaged students.    The Director for Fair Access and Participation has been clear about the direction:

·       strategic partnerships with schools to raise attainment

·       improving the quality of provision for underrepresented students

·       developing non-traditional pathways and modes of study

Read more: policy updates on 4th April and 14th February

OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.

 

Regulation – quality and outcomes As above, being delivered this year with little change from the original proposals.  Will lead to regulatory intervention based on student outcomes that are below the absolute levels set and these metrics will be applied to PGT and PGR students as well as UG.

Apart from B3, discussed above, the other B conditions introduced earlier this year have a lot of detail about course content and delivery – where there are concern about outcomes, there are complaints or other reasons for the OfS to look this can include investigating whether course content is “up to date”, for example.

 

Linked to this, the OfS announced in the early summer that they would be looking at online delivery in some universities after Michelle Donelan roundly criticised the speed (or lack of it) at which (some) universities had returned to full on campus learning last year.

OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.

 

Note the points about grade inflation below.

 

If online learning is still a story in the new academic year, expect more government and OfS pressure.

 

 

Grade inflation One of Gavin Williamson’s earlier themes which he stopped talking about, but which is now back with a vengeance as a topic for university bashing.  UUK have gone early with a sector commitment to reduce by 2023 the proportion of students achieving firsts and 2:1s to pre-pandemic levels, and a renewed commitment to publishing degree outcomes statements.  The OfS have been making strong statements about “unexplained” grade inflation for some time but have now started to clarify what they might do about it, new condition B4 has a direct reference to the ongoing credibility of awards and so the OfS now have a clearer mandate to intervene in what has always been seen as a question of institutional autonomy.

Read more: 5th July policy update

OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.

 

The OfS will be looking to ramp up intervention in this area and will be examining this year’s degree outcomes statements closely.

 

 

TEF As above, being delivered this year with little change from the original proposals.  Includes a focus on subject level performance and performance across split characteristics and includes a new “requires improvement” rating  – and getting that caps fees at £6000. OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.
NSS Following earlier consultations on changes to the NSS, the OfS have just launched another.  See above for more information.
Student information and marketing, admissions One of Michelle Donelan’s signature policies.  There has been discussion of marketing practices before, storied about university marketing budgets etc but the focus was mostly on conditional unconditional offers.   MD went further with the DfE guidance on advertising that came out on 1st July with some frankly bizarre requirements to reference out of date subject level data in all marketing material and advertisements.

Read more: 5th July policy update

This PQ suggests the government are sticking with it for now: Encouraging universities to advertise (1) subject drop-out, and (2) employment, rates for courses

This followed the Fair Admissions Code that was published in the Spring by UUK which outlaws conditional unconditional offers, and talks about incentives and information alongside more general principles.  This was opt in – and most have.

Read more: 10th March policy update

May be less of a priority for a new Minister.  The DFE guidance is bizarre, voluntary and possibly unworkable – and it seems very strange for the DfE to issue such guidance which should really come from the OfS.  It smacks of political campaigning rather than serious regulation and we await the next steps on this with interest.

Fair admissions, though, will remain on the agenda, though the Director of Fair Access, and the OfS.

PQA This was a Gavin Williamson policy.  As noted above, Liz Truss wants to reopen this after Nadhim Zahawi shelved Gavin Williamson’s efforts.  The range of potential outcomes from the DfE consultation are presumably sitting on a shelf somewhere.  The responses to the consultation were:

Two-thirds of respondents (324/489, 66%) were in favour of change to a PQA system in principle, but many respondents were concerned by practical implications of how it could operate, and 60% respondents felt that the models of PQA would be either worse than, or no better than, current arrangements. There were a variety of different models favoured but no consensus as to what change should look like.

If Liz Truss wins she will have a lot on her agenda, but we can expect the new ministerial team to at least brush off the recommendations and have another look.

 

 

Free Speech A key bit of the Michelle Donelan manifesto for future promotion.  As noted below, the OfS data doesn’t demonstrate a significant issue but that does not stop the rhetoric.    The higher Education (Freedom of Speech) bill is now at committee stage in the Lords, having made it through the Commons.  Expect lively debate, amendments and eventual ping pong as the HE informed members of the Lords contest the whole premise of the bill as well as the detail.

Read more: 5th July policy update

Under a Liz Truss government this is very unlikely to be significantly watered down.  Rishi Sunak has demonstrated less appetite for the culture wars so much would depend on the ministerial team.  Expected to pass (eventually) and but practical impact may be low (as the sector have long argued this is a solution looking for a problem)

Skills, skills, skills…

Occupational skills needs: The DfE published independent research examining changing skills needs within certain occupations in the next 5-10 years:

  • managers
  • science and technology
  • skilled trades
  • health

Technical and digital skills

  • The key skills that are, and will continue to be, required are the knowledge and effective use of relevant technologies
  • Digital literacy is already an essential (if basic) requirement, while understanding and use of data will only increase in importance in future
  • Some specific technical skills are (and will be) needed in health and skilled trades (e.g., ability to adapt clinical skills to developments in health and care, knowledge of the technical or scientific basis of work, understanding of relevant standards and legislation)
  • Expected changes in the selected occupations and emerging skills point to: (i) skills needs in using specific new hardware and software; (ii) data science skills; (iii) the need to apply, or adapt, skills to future-related goals such as combatting climate change
  • Participants suggested that the promotion of multiple routes into these professions, along with clear definitions of skills and qualifications and the funding of continuous professional development, should be improved.

Communication and people skills

  • People and communication skills are and will likely remain critical in future with the ability to work in a team being key in addressing complex needs in coordinated way
  • The ability to provide long-term vision, exploit opportunities and manage risks was identified as most important for managers and health professions while awareness of equality, diversity and inclusion emerged strongly across examined occupations, both with a view to current and future skills needs
  • Areas of change and adaptation focused on skills required for modern ways of working as well as communicating and working collaboratively to address climate change, improve sustainability and meet expectations for increased efforts on equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Teamwork skills were also highlighted as a key area for intervention with current teaching and training not seen to impart these skills sufficiently at present.
  • It was also noted that policy intervention on culture change was key to generating the necessary people and communication skills for the above goals but also a long-term process requiring open minds from all stakeholders.

Local Skills Dashboard: The DfE also launched the prototype of its local skills dashboard showing a subset of employment and skills statistics at Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) level to support local skills planning and deliver (including LSIPs). The statistics include:

  • employment rates and employment distribution by occupation
  • online job vacancy units
  • further education aim achievement volumes and achievements by sector subject area

The dashboard has been produced to support the aims of the new Unit for Future Skills, which was a key pledge within the Levelling Up White Paper earlier this year.

Local Skills Improvement Plans: And we’re not done yet – the DfE also published statutory guidance for the development and review of local skills improvement plans (LSIPs). It sets out the process for developing and reviewing an LSIP and the duties placed upon relevant providers once there is an approved LSIP in place.

  • LSIPs set out the key priorities and changes needed in a local area to make post-16 technical education or training more responsive and closely aligned to local labour market needs;
  • an LSIP will provide an agreed set of actionable priorities that employers, providers and stakeholders in a local area can get behind to drive change;
  • the agreed priorities will be informed by evidence of unmet and future skills needs and meaningful engagement between employers and providers;
  • an LSIP should not attempt to cover the entirety of provision within an area but focus on the key changes and priorities that can gain traction and maximise impact;
  • the priorities should look up to three years ahead. It is expected that the LSIP process will be repeated around every three years with interim reviews;
  • duties in respect to LSIPs have been placed upon specific providers that deliver English-funded post-16 technical education or training. These duties apply to Sixth Form Colleges where they deliver post-16 technical education for example T-Levels and BTECs; 3 and
  • the LSIP should describe how skills, capabilities and expertise required in relation to jobs that directly contribute to or indirectly support Net Zero targets, adaptation to Climate Change or meet other environmental goals have been considered.

Parliamentary questions

HE Bursaries (temporary!): Education Secretary James Cleverly has announced new bursaries to support learners taking part in the flexible short courses trials.

  • Learners who could struggle with study-related costs…can now apply for up to £2.5 million worth of targeted bursary funding to help them access new higher education ‘short courses’… 22 universities and colleges across England will be offering over 100 short courses to students from this September as part of a 3-year trial.
  • These courses that could be as short as 6 weeks – or as long as a year if studied part-time –  in subjects vital for economic growth including STEM, healthcare and education.
  • To support this flexible study, learners can now apply for tuition fee loans created especially for the short coursesto support them for the duration of their study and administered by the Student Loans Company.
  • Alongside this, bursary grants will be available for learners who need extra financial support to pay for additional costs associated with study… This includes the costs of learning materials such as books, childcare fees and learning support for disabled students.
  • The bursary is for the time-limited trial only, as broader decisions on the lifelong learning maintenance support are still subject to government policy decisions.

Degrees not required: The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) calls on employers to think strategically about their workforce requirements in new report. New CIPD research highlights that the majority of employers (57%) still mainly look for degrees or post-graduate qualifications when recruiting staff. While a degree is a requirement for certain occupations and roles, the CIPD is warning that too often employers base hiring decisions on whether someone has a degree or not, regardless of its relevance. By doing this, the CIPD says employers could be missing out on key talent, exacerbating skills gaps and reducing employment opportunities for people.

It is calling for employers to ensure that employers are thinking carefully about whether a degree is required for roles when hiring, and to invest in a range of vocational training options to upskill existing staff. The call comes at a time when the UK is facing a tight labour market and firms are struggling to find the skills they need in job candidates and in their own workforces.

Free Speech

The OfS published data on the number of speakers or events that were rejected by English universities and other higher education providers in 2020-21. The data is published alongside sector-wide information on the data universities and colleges return to the OfS as part of their compliance with the Prevent duty.

The data shows that 19,407 events were held by universities and colleges with external speakers in 2020-21, with 193 speaker requests or events rejected. A further 632 events were approved subject to mitigations. In previous years:

  • 53 events or speaker requests were rejected in 2017-18
  • 141 were rejected in 2018-19
  • 94 were rejected in 2019-20.

Commenting on the data, Susan Lapworth, interim chief executive at the OfS, said:

  • This data shows that more than 99% of events and speaker requests were approved in 2020-21 and suggests that – in general – universities and colleges remain places where debate and the sharing of ideas can thrive.
  • However, it is the case that the number and proportion of rejections sharply increased in 2020-21, with almost 200 speakers or events rejected. We would be concerned if those cases suggest that lawful views are being stifled.

Parliamentary questions

International Donors: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

  • Q – Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Do the Government share my concern at the injection of vast quantities of communist cash from countries such as China and Vietnam into our universities—Oxbridge colleges in particular? Will they set up a taskforce to examine the problem and make recommendations?
  • A – Michelle Donelan: We have recently added a further clause to our Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill to ensure that there is more transparency when it comes to the donations that our universities receive.

Quality Changes

The QAA made a surprise announcement that they would cease to be the Designated Quality Body in England from 31 March 2023.

Wonkhe report: In a move that sent shockwaves last week, the agency has chosen to “demit” statutory responsibilities in order to comply with international quality standards, thus remaining eligible for work in other UK nations and overseas. Though there will be no immediate impact on students or (for the most part) providers, the announcement embarrasses the Office for Students – the quality work it has been asking QAA to do deviates from those international standards by not involving student reviewers and not meeting transparency requirements.

More details in the blog – What does QAA walking away from being the designated quality body mean for universities? David Kernohan tries to make sense of it all.

Student Loans

The DfE and Student Loans Company announced that student loan interest rates will be reduced to 6.3% from September 2022 for those on Plan 2 and Plan 3 loans.

In June (in light of a potential 12% interest rate due to inflation) the Government used predicted market rates to cap interest rates to a maximum of 7.3%. The actual market figure is now 6.3%, so the cap has been reduced further to reflect this. The current maximum interest rate is 4.5%.

As we all know, these changes don’t affect actual payments, only the rate at which the amount owned will accrue.  As a consequence, press stories that this reduces the burden on graduates are nonsense, given that the majority will not repay in full.

You can read all the detail here.

Student Loans: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

Q – Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): The number of graduates owing more than £100,000 in student loans has gone up by more than 3,000% in a single year, with over 6,500 graduates now having six-figure balances. Next year, with inflation, things could be even worse. Will the Secretary of State detail what urgent action he is considering to tackle the huge levels of graduate debt?

A – The Minister for Higher and Further Education (Michelle Donelan): As the hon. Member will know only too well, we responded to the Augar report in full a few months ago. We tried to get the right balance in who pays, between the graduate and the taxpayer, so that we have a fair system in which no student will pay back more in real terms than they borrowed. This Government are focused on outcomes, making sure that degrees pay and deliver graduate jobs.

Homelessness, accommodation, mental health, cost of living and community

HEPI published a new report arguing that universities should do more to track and prevent homelessness among their students and could play a wider role in support efforts to end all forms of homelessness.  The report sets out 10 steps that universities can take to address homelessness.

Report author, Greg Hurst, said:

  • Widening access to higher education means broadening the composition of a university’s student body and, therefore, admitting more students whose past experiences and circumstances mean they face a higher risk of homelessness.
  • As we experience a surge in inflation to beyond 9 per cent, this is likely to mean that from the autumn more students struggle to pay higher food and energy costs alongside their rent. Many universities could and should ask themselves if they are doing enough to prevent homelessness among their current and recent students.

FE News reports on a new NUS survey related to the cost of living hike.

  • A third of students are living on less than £50 a month after paying rent and bills
  • Student survey finds over half are cutting back on food with more than one in ten accessing food banks
  • 42% being forced to travel less or can’t make it to campus
  • 41% are neglecting their health as a means to save money e.g. dental appointments
  • 1 in 5 not able to buy toiletries and 1 in 10 unable to buy sanitary products when needed.
  • To bridge the financial gap – 83% of students have sought financial support by other means:
    • a third are using credit cards
    • 24% have turned to buy now, pay later credit schemes
    • 12% have taken out bank loans
    • 53% of students have turned to their families and friends for financial support and 40% have reached out to them for loans
    • a third say the cost-of-living crisis has impacted those who support them.
  • Mental wellbeing: 92% of students reporting a negative impact on their mental health, and 31% reporting this to be a ‘major’ impact due to the financial struggles.
  • Apprentices were similarly affected by cost of living concerns and cutting back on their spending

A range of student focussed Wonkhe blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Mental Health: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

  • Q – What steps his Department is taking to help support students with their mental health.
  • A- The Minister for Higher and Further Education (Michelle Donelan): I have been relentlessly focused on this area, allocating £15 million to student mental health services to support the transition from school to university via the Office for Students. I have worked with the Office for Students to deliver and to keep student space and with the Department of Health and Social Care. I held a summit just last week with the Minister for Care and Mental Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), investing £3 million in bridging the gaps between NHS and university services

Admissions

HE success: Wonkhe blog – the OfS uses student and applicant characteristics to build models of likely success in higher education. With Associations Between Characteristics quintiles coming to Office for Students regulation, David Kernohan sets out to explain the confusing world of the ABCs.

Results Day: The Sutton Trust published new research on A Levels and university access this academic year finding that:

  • In 2021/22 over a third (34%) of students who applied for university this year have missed 11 or more days of school or college over the last academic year for covid related reasons, with 21% missing more than 20 days.
  • 72% of teachers think the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their classmates will widen at their school.
  • Almost half (45%) of teachers involved with exams this year do not think the mitigations in place have gone far enough to account for pandemic related disruption. This figure was higher for those working at state schools (46%) than in independent schools (38%). The research shows concerns about grades among university applicants have increased since 2021.
  • 62% of this year’s applicants felt they had fallen behind their studies compared to where they would have been without the disruption of the pandemic. This figure was higher for students in state (64%) than in private schools (51%).
  • Most A level teachers (80%) were able to cover the vast majority, 90% or more, of the content released in advanced information topics for most subjects. No teachers reported that they covered less than half of the content. A similar proportion (75%) had been able to cover 90% or more of the full syllabus. (But at what cost for students who require a slower pace, e.g. due to SEN?)
  • Most A level students applying to university felt the advanced information was helpful (76%). But only 52% thought the arrangements for exams this year had fairly taken into account the impact of the pandemic on students’ learning.
  • Most teachers (57%) agreed with Ofqual’s approach to grade boundaries this year, but a sizeable minority (29%) felt the approach was too strict. This proportion was higher in state (30%) than in private schools (23%).

Concerns for the future

  • 64% of applicants said they were worried about their grades, 8 percentage points higher than said the same last year. Just over 1 in 4 (27%) are very worried this year.
  • Students from working class backgrounds were 8 percentage points more likely to be concerned about their grades, at 70%, compared to 62% of those from middle class backgrounds.
  • 60% of applicants were worried about getting a place at their first choice university. 71% of working class applicants expressed concern about getting a place, 13 percentage points more than those from middle class backgrounds, at 58%.

Recommendations:

  • Applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have narrowly missed their offer grades should be given additional consideration in admissions and hiring decisions. Universities, employers, colleges and other training providers should consider that young people taking exams this year, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have faced considerable disruption over the last few years, and that the exam system has not taken into account individual learning loss within the pandemic.
  • Schools, colleges, training providers and universities should put adequate support in place for results day. Results day this year is likely to be particularly challenging, with many young people potentially needing to adjust plans if they have not met their offers. Schools, colleges, training providers and universities should work together to ensure adequate support is in place for young people having to make quick decisions on their next steps.
  • Universities should identify key gaps in learning at an early stage in the first term, and provide support if necessary. Students going onto higher education this year will still require additional help and support. Plans should be put in place to support students develop in key areas necessary to succeed in their course.
  • Universities should provide additional wellbeing supports for the incoming cohort. We are still learning the extent of the impacts on young people, and they are likely to have additional need of support for their wellbeing and mental health as they transition to life in higher education.
  • Government should fund additional catch-up support for school and college students. A renewed catch-up plan, with a scale of funding at a level to meet the need caused by the crisis should be put in place by government for future year groups, including those in 16-19 education. This should include extending the pupil premium to students in post-16 education.
  • Ofqual should review the mitigations put in place this year and consider adapting them for 2023, taking into account the views of teachers and young people who have been through the system this year. Next year’s exam students will have had longer back in school and college, but will still have faced considerable disruption due to the pandemic which should be taken into account in the exam process next year. Ofqual should carefully review this year’s approach and use learnings to inform any mitigations in place next year, including re-examining current plans to reduce grade inflation to pre-pandemic levels next year.

Parliamentary Questions:

Scotland: Despite the return to exams a record 60.1% of Scottish students gained a place at their firm choice university, up from the pre-pandemic level of 57.5% in 2019. This figure will rise as more confirmation decisions are made. You can see more of the detail in the UCAS statistical release. Scotland are also reporting continued success in widening access, with a chunk towards closing the gender progression gap for young people in Scotland (19 and under). In 2019, 50% more females progressed to higher education than males; on release day that has narrowed to 39% (from 47% last year).

Participation of young students from the most disadvantaged areas (SIMD40) was also up from pre-pandemic levels, with 23.9% of all acceptances from SIMD40 areas compared to 23.4 last year and 22.4% in 2019.

The overall number of Scottish students accepted is 30,490, up from 28,750 in 2019.
Of those accepted, 29,630 will be studying in Scotland – an increase of 1,740 on 2019.
The number of students accepted on to nursing courses is 2,960 – up by 450 compared to 2019.

Is free tuition in Scotland really capping places for Scottish university applicants? On Wonk Corner Jim takes a critical look at a report from Reform Scotland that calls for tuition fees..

Access & Participation

Summer Schools: TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE, the ‘what-works’ centre) published Summer Schools in the time of Covid-19 – interim findings of the impact on widening participation. (Also see the analysis conducted by the Behavioural Research Team here.) It assesses the impact of summer schools on disadvantaged students and finds that the programmes are not reaching those most in need. They concluded that summer schools designed to reduce equality gaps in access to higher education are largely attended by students already destined for university. However, the findings also indicate that attending a summer school may have a positive effect on disadvantaged or underrepresented students’ confidence in their ability to apply to, and succeed at, university, their perception of barriers to entry, and fitting in. This suggests that attendees are likely to start higher education in a better position than those who don’t attend.

In response to the findings, TASO recommends HE providers:

  • Collaborate with schools and colleges to better target and support disadvantaged and underrepresented young people to enrol in higher education.
  • Increase efforts to reach a wider range of young people through summer schools, or develop alternative programmes that effectively support those who are presently less likely to attend higher education.
  • Review attainment-raising activities for school age children, in line with recommendations in TASO’s recent rapid evidence review.
  • Continue to effectively evaluate programmes and generate more causal evidence to understand the impact of outreach activities by following TASO guidance.

Colleagues within this field won’t be surprised by the recommendations which are clearly in line with TASO objectives.  The final summer schools report will be published in 2023/24, and will focus on behavioural findings, including attainment and enrolment in higher education. TASO is running a second evaluation of face-to-face summer schools being delivered between June and August 2022 to compare the effects of online versus traditional delivery.

Free School Meals: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published analysis of free school meal recipients’ earnings, in comparison with their better-off peers. It finds that people who grew up in low-income households have lower average earnings at age 30, even when matching educational level and secondary school attainment.

  • Half of FSM students earned just £17,000 or less at age 30.
  • There is a persistent earnings gap between those who received free school meals in childhood and other students. Part of this overall gap in lower earnings is because of people from income-deprived backgrounds being much less likely to go on to higher education. The size of that overall earnings gap widens between the ages of 18 and 30 years, particularly around university graduation age. But even among those with the same qualification level and similar attainment in secondary school, disadvantaged pupils went on to earn less than their peers.
  • Researchers have explored explanations for the gap: education, experience in the workplace, ethnicity, gender and other possible factors. The earnings gap between free school meals recipients and non-recipients in state-funded schools can be mostly accounted for by these characteristics. However, students who went to independent privately funded schools (who are not eligible for free school meals) typically out earned most other students with a similar qualification level and key stage 4 (KS4) attainment by age 30. A free school meals student with similar characteristics would still earn around 20% less on average than an independent school student.
  • Of independent school students, the top 10% earned £71,000 or more but the top 1% earned upwards of £180,000. By contrast, of state school students not on free school meals, individuals would need to earn over £85,000 a year to be in the top 1%. Their earnings were at least double the salary of 90% of individuals in this group. The top 1% of free school meals students earned around £63,000. By contrast, 50% of people who were on free school meals earned £17,000 or less aged 30 years.
  • At age 18 years, there are only small differences in earnings between this cohort of free school meals recipients, non-recipients and independent school students. Between the ages of 18 and 30 years, the earnings gap widens between the three groups. There is a notable difference in earnings from around age 22 years, which is a common age to graduate university and take up employment.
  • 48% of those eligible for free school meals during their KS4 year completed a qualification above GCSE level. That compares with 71% of state-educated students who were not eligible for free school meals, and 96% of students at independent school who went on to complete a higher qualification than GCSE level.
  • At all levels of qualification, those eligible for free school meals were earning less at age 30 years than their peers who had the same highest level of qualification.
  • At age 30 years, independent school pupils have the highest earnings in almost every group of people with the same highest level of qualification. For example, of everyone who left school after GCSEs, individuals who went to independent school have the highest earnings, likewise for bachelor’s degree and those with no qualifications.
  • The earnings gap is largest for those with level 6 qualifications (which includes degree level).
  • Educational KS4 attainment does not close the earnings gap: How well individuals do at each level of education can also affect their earnings later in life, but this alone does not close the earnings gap between students of different backgrounds.
  • Those with higher KS4 attainment (GCSE level) had higher earnings in all groups, that is, for students on free school meals, state-educated students not on free school meals and independent school students.
  • As the gap in earnings widens over time between these groups, particularly at a typical university leaving age of 22 years, educational attainment at KS4 does not account for differences in future earnings.
  • An independent school student who was in the bottom 20% nationally for GCSE attainment earned an average of around £22,000 at age 30 years. An individual who was from an income-deprived background and on free school meals would typically have to be in the top 40% nationally for KS4 attainment to have similar earnings aged 30 years.

Care Experienced: Hear from care experienced student, Anas Dayeh, on why he has chosen to run for the National Labour Students Committee.

WP Statistics: The DfE published the 2022 Widening participation in HE statistics.  They include estimates of state-funded pupils’ progression to higher education (HE) by age 19 according to their personal characteristics (at age 15) with all the measures you’d expect including FSM, care and SEN. The publication also includes:

  • geographic breakdowns to enable comparisons of HE progression rates between local authorities and regions
  • estimated percentages of A level and equivalent students at age 17, by school or college type, who progressed to HE by age 19
  • progression by POLAR disadvantage and Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework rating
  • breakdowns for high tariff HE providers

Steven Haines, Director of Public Affairs at youth charity  Impetus  said:

  • We’re encouraged to see a historic rate of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds progressing to university and a decrease in the access gap after many years of it growing.
  • However, even with more people entering higher education than ever, the gap remains stubbornly large. It is not enough to rely on Higher Education expansion to close this gap – we need concerted efforts to ensure young people from all backgrounds get the support they need to access and succeed. This means high-quality tutoring, comprehensive contextual offers, and support to overcome additional barriers such as a sense of belonging.

Parliamentary Questions:

Gypsies, Roma and Travellers participating in HE

HEPI published Gypsies, Roma and Travellers: The ethnic minorities most excluded from UK education. Key points:

  • Gypsy, Roma and Travellers of Irish heritage have the widest attainment gap in measures of pupils achieving a good level of development in early years education;
  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils have some of the lowest rates of attendance and the highest rates of permanent exclusion from schools;
  • in 2020/21, 9.1% of Gypsy / Roma pupils and 21.1% of Irish Traveller pupils achieved a grade 5 or above in GCSE English and Mathematics, compared to a national average in England of 51.9%;
  • young people from Gypsy / Roma and Irish Traveller communities are the least likely ethnic groupings to enter higher education by the age of 19 – just 6.3% of Gypsy / Roma and 3.8% of Irish Travellers access higher education by the age of 19 compared to around 40% of all young people;
  • Gypsy and Irish Travellers are the UK’s ‘least liked’ group, with 44.6% of people holding negative views against them – 18.7 percentage points higher than Muslims; and
  • Irish Travellers face a ‘mental health crisis’, with one-in-10 deaths caused by suicide.

Policy recommendations include:

  1. Better data collection: clear and consistent data collection of students and staff who identify as Gypsy, Roma, Traveller, Showman and Boaters at education institutions.
  2. Recognising Gypsy, Roma and Traveller histories: marking Holocaust Memorial Day (January), International Roma Remembrance Day (April) and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller participation History Month (June).
  3. More tailored funding: £60 million Government funding to work with community groups to improve outcomes.

Dr Laura Brassington, said: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller individuals still face exclusion from education. It is tragic that so many avoid identifying by their ethnicity for fear of racial prejudice. It is scarcely believable they still face so many barriers when accessing mainstream education. Education institutions could commit to change this situation by doing more to recognise the challenges and signing the Pledge to tackle them, while policymakers should improve data collection and find the modest sum of money that could make a huge difference.

Undergraduate data skills

The Office for Students (OfS) has published the final report of the National Data Skills pilot programme, which in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The pilot programme was funded as part of an extension to the artificial intelligence and data science postgraduate conversion course programme, which has shown an increase in diversity for groups who are underrepresented in the AI and data science industries, and to fill the skills gap in technology.

Recommendations

  1. DCMS should work with key stakeholders to develop and agree appropriate terminology and definitions for data skills and data literacy, including the extent to which these should be considered ‘foundational’ in the context of HE provision.
  2. The sector should undertake further strategic consultation with industry to establish the types of data skills that employers are seeking from graduates, to ensure that curricula and other data skills learning is as fit-for-purpose as realistically possible.
  3. The sector should consider a focused programme of work to develop a range of materials demonstrating the value of data skills to those working in a wide range of early careers, so that more students appreciate their potential future value.
  4. Providers need to undertake longer-term, substantive evaluation of different approaches to data skills teaching, building on the pilot projects in this study, in order to obtain a more robust evidence base about the effectiveness of approaches.
  5. The sector should consider the potential value of a national programme to upskill noncognate HE teaching staff to build their confidence in delivering data skills teaching, highlight best practice in teaching students with mixed abilities and prior experiences, and share practice and resources

Other news

  • PQ on Nurse training places (universities)
  • PQ on Strategic priorities grant – London weighting
  • PQ on what steps they are taking to ensure sufficient funding for arts and humanities subjects in higher education in the (1) short, and (2) long, term; and what assessment they have made of (a) the potential shortfall in funding after the cessation of funding from the European Research Council ceases, and (b) general pressures on funding for arts and humanities subjects in higher education.

Allied health returnees: New university courses launched to help allied health professionals return to practice.  The short, distance-learning courses are aimed at AHPs including art, drama and music therapists; chiropodists and podiatrists; occupational therapists; dietitians; orthoptists; paramedics; physiotherapists; operating department practitioners; prosthetists and orthotists; diagnostic and therapeutic radiographers; and speech language therapists.

It is hoped the initiative can be extended to support other professions including biomedical scientists, clinical scientists, hearing aid dispensers and practicing psychologists.

Funding of up to £800 is also available to help students with out-of-pocket expenses. More information is available here:-  https://www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/allied-health-professions/return-practice-allied-health-professionals-healthcare-scientists-practising-psychologists/supporting-your-study

Welsh Student Social Workers:  Student led campaign increases financial support for social work students in Wales. Starting from September 2022, the bursary for both undergraduates and postgraduates in Wales will be increased by over 50%

Professional Services: What about professional services staff? Richard Watermeyer, Tom Crick and Cathryn Knight take steps to amplify the voices of a “massive minority” of colleagues on their experiences during the pandemic.

Level 3 courses: The Department for Education has published a report on the findings from an independent evaluation of the level 3 free courses for jobs offer and the impact it has had on adult learners and providers.

Recognising qualifications: UK and India signed an agreement officially recognising each other’s higher education qualifications. The agreement is expected to attract more international students to the UK – with each student estimated to be worth more than £100,000 to the economy This is the first of three elements of the UK-India Enhanced Trade Partnership agreed by the Prime Minister in 2021.

Bust: Wonkhe notes that five years into the life of the Office for Students, we are still no clearer about what happens to insolvent providers.

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HE policy update w/e 3rd May 2022

Parliament was prorogued on Thursday 28 April. The State Opening of Parliament will take place on 10 May and the Queen’s Speech will set the agenda for the forthcoming Parliament.

Research

Tech transfer: The Government has announced that Dr Alison Campbell OBE has been hired as CEO of the new Government Office for Tech Transfer which will support the Government to manages and commercialise its (estimated) £104bn worth of knowledgeable assets. Dr Campbell was previously the Director of Knowledge Transfer in Ireland’s national office helping businesses to benefit from access to public sector research expertise and technology. She started her career in the biotech industry and previous positions include interim CEO of the Medical Research Council’s technology transfer company (MRCT), and leading technology transfer and research support at King’s College London.

Technology transfer is the broad term applied to the transfer of assets, such as intellectual property rights, technology or new knowledge, from one organisation to another, with the aim of stimulating the development and adoption of new products, processes and services that benefit society.

The new government unit will sit within BEIS and is being developed to ensure that the public sector is maximising the value of its knowledge and innovation assets including intellectual property, software, processes and data. The unit will launch later in 2022 to provide specialist skills to support the way government manages its knowledge assets.

R&D Expenditure: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest figures on R&D and related expenditure by UK government departments, UKRI and HE funding bodies in 2020. Main points:

  • The UK government’s net expenditure R&D reached a new high of £15.3 billion in 2020. An increase since 2019 of £1.7 billion (in current prices), representing the largest percentage increase in current or constant prices since 2013.
  • Total net expenditure on R&D and knowledge transfer activities reached £15.5 billion in 2020 and represented 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP), which was in-line with the long-term trend of 0.6% to 0.7% since 2009.
  • UKRI contributed the most to net expenditure on R&D and knowledge transfer activities in 2020, at £6.1 billion, 40% of the total.
  • In constant prices (adjusted for inflation), civil net expenditure on R&D and knowledge transfer activities (excluding EU R&D budget contributions) increased by 28.9% over the long term, from £10.2 billion in 2009 to £13.2 billion in 2020.
  • Defence R&D expenditure was £1.1 billion in 2020 compared with £1.0 billion (in current prices) in 2019; a 4.8% increase.
  • UK contributions to EU R&D expenditure decreased to £1.3 billion in 2020, down from the peak of £1.4 billion (in current prices) in 2019.

Quick News

  • ECRs: The British Academy announced the third (and final) hub of the Early-Career Researcher (ECR) Network – a two-year pilot programme for UK-based postdoctoral researchers in the humanities and social sciences. It will be in Scotland and co-led by the universities of Stirling and Glasgow. The pilot ECR hubs will run until March 2023 and aim to establish an inclusive, UK-wide Network for ECRs in the humanities and social sciences, providing opportunities for skills development and networking across the whole country. The hubs previously launched are located in the Midlands and South West of England. Researchers join the ECR Network via the British Academy’s Registration Form . All humanities and social sciences researchers who identify as early career are eligible to join, regardless of their funding source or background. This includes those working outside of academia, in independent research organisations and other policy or third sector institutions, and those not in employment but with relevant links into Scotland, the Midlands and South West research communities.
  • Innovation Fellowships: The British Academy has unveiledthe projects that have received funding as part of the BEIS funded Innovation Fellowships (Route A: Researcher-led) scheme. The funding will facilitate projects which encourage collaboration between researchers, organisations, and business. (Wonkhe)
  • Horizon Europe deadline: Research Profession reports that UK researchers awarded some Horizon Europe grants have been given two months to move their projects to a European Union institution or risk having their funding cut. Full details are here. In response UKRI stated: We sympathise with researchers who receive this message from the European Research Council, but can reassure them that the Horizon Europe guarantee funding provided by BEIS via UKRI will allow them to receive the full value of their funding and continue their research in the UK. Awardees do not need to move abroad to an EU Member State or to an Associated Country to Horizon Europe to access this funding. There is detailed guidance on our website at ukri.org/HorizonEU. However, Caroline Rusterholz (Cambridge University) highlighted that even if UKRI steps in, the prestige of the ERC grant will be lost. The Guardian has coverage.
  • Student Engagement: Wonkhe – The Office for Students (OfS) and Research England have publishedinterim evaluation reports from projects funded by the Student Engagement in Knowledge Exchange challenge competition. The evaluation finds that student engagement improved students’ skills, strengthened students’ networks, increased students’ employability, and strengthened relationships between higher education providers and partner organisations and businesses. They also found that effective engagement required a mix of in-person and online attendance to enhance accessibility, pre-event briefings to minimise poor attendance, and regular and accessible communications to maintain momentum and student interest.

Parliamentary Questions:

Question: Ensuring UK educational institutions avoid relationships with non-UK organisations that (a) hold or (b) host items taken from Ukrainian territory.
Answer: Michelle Donelan – I…have recently written to the higher education sector to outline our expectation that universities review their partnerships with Russia and take appropriate action…This includes taking action on research partnerships as well as asking universities to review their broader investments arrangements… I am continuing to ask that all universities conduct due diligence when entering into all international partnerships and accepting foreign investment, in line with Universities UK guidance on ‘Managing risks in Internationalisation’.

Lifelong learning

UUK have published their response: University leaders support much-needed flexible learning revolution (universitiesuk.ac.uk)

Our response has five key messages:

  1. Universities are ready and willing to deliver on the LLE ambition
  2. The new system must appeal to potential learners of all ages and have wide course eligibility
  3. We need a greater understanding of the level of demand for modular study
  4. Information, advice and guidance will be at the heart of the LLE
  5. We should use existing regulatory and quality mechanisms to avoid new overly complex regulation

Full response is here: Our response to the Department for Education (DfE) consultation on the lifelong loan entitlement (LLE) (universitiesuk.ac.uk)

On the first point, which is a big deal:

  • The study of modules should allow progression to full qualifications, with exit points at levels 4, 5 and 6. Many higher education institutions will adapt how they deliver modular study to meet learner needs, such as changing study timetables. They will also give tailored wrap-around support and advice on progression routes. Higher education institutions can build on existing best practice and partnerships to collaborate to support transfer and credit recognition.
  • ….we recognise that the design and length of some courses may mean some are more appropriately funded per-academic year. We think that providers are best placed to decide this as they respond to learner and employer demand.
  • …The cost of modular delivery will exceed that of full-time provision for providers. This is partly due to the additional administration required. We also know individuals re-entering formal study may require additional academic and study skills support upon entry. This includes wrap around support such as careers guidance, counselling, and access to facilities
  • …High-cost courses and modules would need further support. For example those that use labs or specialist equipment. Therefore, deriving a fee from the qualification may not completely compensate where the take up of particular modules is more prevalent than others. A high level of unpredictability initially about learner demand for short courses could impact the cross-subsidy model that higher education providers operate. There is a risk that providers are disincentivised from offering expensive courses. We think these challenges could be mitigated through the strategic priorities grant, over developing models for differential fees
  • .. A learner’s previous assessment and module marks are not normally carried over at the point of transfer and institutions typically rely on marks received post-transfer. Some institutions require a certain percentage of a student’s learning to be completed in a single institution at level 6 to calculate the final classification. The regulation around the LLE will have to consider the implications of different practice across the sector when calculating classifications and assessing student outcomes and how these can be mitigated or managed.

And this:

  • The OfS should consult and review on the appropriateness of student outcome measures for learners studying under the LLE.
  • The non-completion measure would need revising and/or a clause added to accommodate modular learning. Leaving a provider without completing a full degree cannot in itself be regarded as an indicator of failure, either for the student or the institution, but particularly not in the case where a ‘step on step off’ approach is proactively encouraged. Employment and further study outcomes would also need to be reconsidered to account for non-linear work and flexible study patterns of learners, and/or the possibility that individuals already in ‘professional jobs’ are reskilling or up-skilling.

They raise an interesting concern about placement years: It is unclear from the proposals how the funding for sandwich programmes would work. This must be considered to avoid any unintended consequences for the learners. We believe that sandwich years should be funded and not draw from elements of the loan entitlement. Placement years attract a fee but at a lower rate reflecting that students are mostly with their employer but do receive support from academics and professional staff and can use facilities. Depending on the design of the LLE there is a risk that students who choose a 4 year degree may use up all their entitlement in one go, and that students who come to year 1 having studied a foundation year would be disincentivised from choosing a 4 year degree with placement to progress onto. We do not believe the DfE intends to restrict sandwiches years – after all these courses support graduates to be work ready and meet employer needs – but this needs clarifying.

The rest of this is worth reading too – but let’s not underestimate how huge a change this would be across the sector.

Student Loans

The Lords have expressed concerns over the lack of information on the impact of changes to student loans legislation. The Regulations have been laid by the Department for Education (DfE) and make changes which mean the current repayment thresholds for student loans that applied in the 2021-22 financial year will be maintained and continue to apply in the 2022-23 financial year. This avoids an automatic 4.6% increase of these thresholds on 6 April 2022. However, the Lords are concerned about the impact on those who have student loans. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (36th report) highlights that while DfE made it clear…that the changes made by this instrument will generate an expected £3.7 billion of savings in public sector net borrowing… [to] 2024-25, it is silent on any additional costs those with student loans might incur as a result of these changes.

Lord Hutton of Furness, Member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said:  In this instance, we are particularly concerned that while these changes will affect a large portion of the student population and possibly their families, the EM only emphasises the savings Government will make and is silent on the costs to those who have student loans.  This is unsatisfactory and the House may wish to raise this omission with the Minister. 

There are also several student loan related parliamentary questions:

  • The impact of the rise in inflation on the purchasing power of the average size maintenance loan
  • The impact on graduate disposable incomes of the increase in student loan interest rates. Michelle Donelan responded: The government has not yet made a decision on what interest rates will be applied to student loans from September 2022. We will be considering all options over the coming months and will confirm in due course the rates to apply from 1 September.
    Changes to student loan interest rates will not increase monthly student loan repayments…
    Over a lifetime, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has made clear that changes in interest rates have a limited long-term impact on repayments… We announced in February 2022 that we will be reducing interest rates for new borrowers and so from 2023/24, new graduates will not, in real terms, repay more than they borrow. Alongside our wider reforms, this will help to make sure that students from all walks of life can continue to receive the highest-quality education from our world-leading HE sector.
    Note that Donelan states limited long term effects – for the short term impact you may wish to read this short article from the IFS – High inflation set to cause interest rate rollercoaster for student loans which touches on the short term 12% contribution expected by the highest earners.
  • Student loan rates exceeding mortgage rates
  • Nurses repaying student loans & independent NHS pay review

Access & Participation

APPs: Wonkhe report on John Blake’s (OfS Director Fair Access and Participation) request that variations 2023/24 access and participation plans be submitted by 31 July. The variations need to address new key priorities – making APPs more understandable and accessible to students and key stakeholders, partnering with local schools, and creating more routes into higher education through expanding degree apprenticeships and flexible level 4 and 5 qualifications. But given where inflation is at and the wider cost of living crisis, Jim Dickinson argues on Wonk Corner that revisions may well also need to consider student financial support.

Parliamentary Question: National scholarship scheme – Government are currently considering the design of the scheme and to set a roll out date after this – As part of the higher education reform consultation, we welcome views on how the eligibility for a national scholarship scheme should be set to support students and address ongoing financial barriers that can restrict high achieving, disadvantaged students from achieving their full academic potential whilst studying in higher education.

Degree classification – what, where & grade impact on earnings

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), commissioned by the DfE, published Higher degree classes are associated with substantially higher earnings examining the financial benefits associated with different degree classifications. After controlling for student characteristics, higher degree classes are associated with substantially higher earnings. Degree class seems to matter most for those attending the most selective universities and studying subjects where future earnings are highest. Suggesting that access to ‘elite jobs’ is governed by what you study, where you study and how well you do at university.

  • The average premium for gaining a first class degree over an upper second (2.1) is 4% for women and 7% for men.
  • The penalty for getting a lower second (2.2) as opposed to a 2.1 is 7% lower earnings for women and 11% lower earnings for men.
  • Obtaining a lower class (below 2.2) degree is associated with 15% lower earnings for women and 18% lower earnings for men, again compared with a 2.1.

Main findings from the report:

  • The share of university students obtaining different degree classes varies substantially by subject studied and institution attended. Among the 2012–2015 cohorts of graduates, around 20% obtained first class degrees; just over half received upper second class degrees; around 20% received lower second degrees; and around 5% received lower class degrees. Subjects involving maths have a more even spread of awards across degree classes than other subjects. More selective universities tend to award higher class degrees.
  • There has been a long-term trend towards higher degree classes awarded in all subjects and at all levels of university selectivity, which accelerated around the 2010 graduation year. The share of people getting first class degrees more than trebled between the 1999 and 2015 graduating cohorts. Meanwhile, the share of 2.1s remained fairly flat; the biggest declines were in the share of people getting 2.2s.
  • Earnings differences between those graduating with different degree classes are large. Five years after graduation, median annual pre-tax earnings for both women and men who obtained a lower second class degree in 2013 were around £3,800 lower than for those who received an upper second class degree (or around 15% lower for women and around 13% for men). Women who obtained first class degrees earned around £2,200 (8%) more than women with upper second class degrees, and men with first class degrees earned £4,100 (14%) more than men who obtained upper second class degrees.
  • Payoffs for a higher degree class vary hugely by subject. For some subjects, degree class matters a lot for earnings, while for others it does not matter at all. For men and women studying law or economics, getting a lower second class degree rather than an upper second is associated with more than 15% lower earnings, whereas there is no significant difference for those studying education or English. Subjects with high labour market returns tend to have high degree class premiums and subjects with low labour market returns tend to have low degree class premiums. This suggests that even students of high-return subjects typically need to get at least a 2.1 in order to access highly paid jobs (except medicine, a high-return subject which does not usually award degree classifications).
  • Achieving at least a 2.1 has a much bigger payoff at more selective universities. Controlling for observable characteristics, both men and women who obtain a lower second class degree from the most selective universities earn 20% less on average at age 30 than those who achieve an upper second class degree, compared with around 6% for women and 8% for men who got lower second class degrees from the least selective universities.
  • There are stark gender differences in the payoff to achieving a first class degree at a very selective university. At the most selective universities (Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London and the London School of Economics), the average payoff to a first class degree versus a 2.1 is near zero for women, but very large at around 14% for men.
  • Despite substantial increases in the average grades of graduates during the period there are no large changes in degree class premiums over time. Median graduate earnings five years after graduation fell by more than £5,000 between the 2002 and 2009 graduation cohorts in all degree classes for both women and men. Yet earnings gaps between degree classes have been constant throughout the period. This is consistent both with improvements in overall student attainment and with lower academic standards.

Ben Waltmann, Senior Research Economist at IFS and a co-author of the report, said: The findings imply that degree classification may matter as much as university attended for later life earnings. Other things equal, going to a more selective university is good for future earnings, and the fact that few students from disadvantaged backgrounds attend the most selective universities is a barrier to social mobility. But that being said, many graduates who get a 2.2 from a highly selective university might have got a higher-paying job had they attended a slightly less selective university and got a 2.1. Prospective students, parents and policymakers should take note.

More HE, more graduates, more jobs?

UUK have weighed in on the topic publishing Busting graduate job myths. They tackle four ‘myths’:

That everyone goes to university nowadays

This delves into technical data a little stating that using a more nuanced and accurate measure no cohort examined has reached a participation rate in higher education of 50%. Although 40% do and, over time, it looks likely that there will be a cohort of young people of which the majority will go through higher education or an equivalent of some kind. Which includes vocational and technical routes:

  • Even if half of the 18-year-olds from 2021 achieve a higher education qualification, many will do so later in life, or take unconventional and diverse routes.
  • Many critics of the current system suggest that it would be better for more people to achieve qualifications through routes other than the ‘conventional’ pathway of taking a traditional bachelor’s degree at university directly from school. The data shows that it would take only a small change in the way it is reported to show that this is already happening.

There aren’t enough graduate jobs

  • It’s hard to tell how many graduate jobs there are or how many graduates are in graduate jobs, in part because it depends on how you measure what a graduate job is.
  • There have been fewer graduate jobs during periods of high unemployment, such as during recessions. Institute of Student Employers (ISE) data shows that the number of graduate vacancies is now 20% higher than in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic. Job vacancies for graduates are expected to increase by more than a fifth (22%) in 2022 compared to 2021.
  • Data shows that most graduates are in jobs for which a degree is an appropriate qualification… There is little clear evidence that there existed a period in the past when the graduate labour market was considerably stronger.
  • The ONS Annual Population Survey estimates that there were 15,053,100 people with degree or equivalent qualifications working in the UK at the end of 2020. By looking at the data from the OfS’ graduate employment metrics in the same time period we see that in the UK in 2020 there were 15,978,200 employees in SOC categories 1 to 3.
    The gap is almost a million jobs. Graduate supply still does not meet demand.
  • The number of jobs for which graduates are suitable compared to the number of graduates seem reasonably well matched. There are both shortages of graduates in some fields, and obvious areas of graduate underemployment in others. The UK is not unusual in any of these respects.
  • It’s crucial to remember that longitudinal studies of graduates show that just because a certain proportion of graduates do not secure graduate-level work early in their career, does not mean that this proportion of graduates will never get a good job. In fact, most of those early underemployed graduates will not be underemployed for the rest of their careers.
  • How many graduates have a graduate job? The honest answer is that nobody knows. It looks to be a comfortable majority, but that depends on how you define what a graduate job is

Some degrees have little value to employers

  • If the data shows that the number of graduates and the number of graduate jobs available seem well-matched, why do we have underemployed graduates and skills shortages elsewhere?
  • Almost twice the percentage of the UK workforce are underqualified for their role than overqualified for their role. This might be due to low investment in adult skills training in the UK.
  • The labour market and jobs themselves are also constantly changing. At least a quarter of new graduates do jobs that did not exist 50 years ago. Many non-graduates may be in graduate jobs because the jobs themselves have changed over time.  The below chart – Figure 4 – shows the change in graduate market entry in the last 50 years.
  • In the UK, your degree subject matters less. Many employers are looking for well-rounded graduates with transferable skills, rather than specific degree subjects

All the best graduate jobs are in London

UUK suggest graduates are less mobile than actually believed with many choosing to work in places where they already have a connection. Only 20% work in an area where they do not already have a connection. Those than return home to their home area are the most likely to be in non-graduate jobs. Pages 23-24 (listed as pages 20-21 on the document) has a chart and further analysis explaining this. UUK conclude that the link to place (and therefore the levelling up agenda) is crucial: The levelling up agenda will need to take into account that graduates will tend to stay linked to places they know. A local university makes it much easier to attract and retain graduate talent.

  • Looking to the future UUK predict that Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to increase graduate demand further with healthcare, IT and marketing expected to see particularly steep rises.

More HE: The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change published We Don’t Need No Education? The Case for Expanding Higher Education arguing that the UK needs more graduates to counter a slowdown in growth and productivity over the past decade. Prior to publication Tony Blair pushed one of the report’s main recommendations – that the UK should aim to raise HE participation to 60% by 2030, and to 70% by 2040.

The research outlined in the report demonstrates how the expansion of HE over the past generation has become a progressively more important source of prosperity and the mainstay of economic growth since the global financial crisis. The analysis also suggests that if seven in ten young people completed HE, this would significantly raise the rate of productivity growth and boost the size of the economy by almost 5% over the next generation compared to allowing educational attainment to stagnate.

Former (Conservative) universities minister Lord (Jo) Johnson argues in the report’s foreword that the country needs more skills and that the skills we need are defined by future flexibility, rather than current employment needs. Jo Johnson:

  • the popular notion that “too many go to university” is rooted in the view that we churn out more graduates than befits our economy, and that public money is wasted on low-value courses.
  • As this paper acknowledges, we do need to tidy up some of the rough edges that lead to poor outcomes in some instances, and there are lower-level skills gaps in our economy that do not require higher education. But neither of these mean that we have reached “peak grad”.
  • The first reason is that we still don’t have enough highly skilled individuals to fill many vacancies today, for instance in professional occupations.
  • The second reason – and this is arguably the report’s most important message – is that we cannot just think about skills demand in a static way; we must also plan for a future economy that will look very different to the one we currently occupy
  • High-innovation economies, like South Korea, Japan and Canada, understand this and have boosted higher education; participation rates in these countries are already between 60 per cent and 70 per cent. We cannot afford for policy to remain steeped solely in today’s challenges, and our ambition should be to join them.

The report recommends:

  1. Aim to raise participation in HE at levels 4 and aboveto 60% by the end of this decade and 70% by 2040
  2. The goal would need to be paired with the policies and resources to improve school and pupil attainment
  3. Non-traditional routes into HEwould also need to be improved
  4. The government would also need to monitor the effect of recent moves to recalibrate student-loan repaymentsto ensure more debt-averse candidates have not been inadvertently discouraged from pursuing HE
  5. There is more to be done to make entry into HE an attractive decision to students from lower-income backgrounds, including reintroducing maintenance grants

Batting for the Government, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, responded in the Times criticising New Labour’s previous 50% target, and the new 70% figure proposed by Blair last week, as a “one-size-fits-all” approach and “condescending”. Adding that we should hear “a little less from Tony Blair, and a little more from Euan Blair” (Tony’s son who set up an apprenticeship-focused tech firm). The Blair Vs Donelan stance is perhaps not as polarised as it might seem. Higher level technical skills are a key part of the Government’s agenda. It remains to be seen whether HEIs delivery quality higher technical learning will be welcomed and whether the HE numbers reduction is really about the cost to the Treasury.

Wonkhe have a blog – The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change makes a case for (even) more graduates, while the Institute for Fiscal Studies argues there may be a graduate oversupply. David Kernohan tries to pull it all together

Freedom of Speech

There was notable criticism of the lack of progress on the HE Freedom of Speech Bill from Shadow Education Minister Matt Western:

  • What a palaver! This is less a carry-over motion and more of a carry on, if I may say so—”Carry On Regardless” being probably the most apt title…it is 358 days since the Bill was introduced to the House. Announced in the last Queen’s Speech, the Second Reading was debated nine months ago and the Public Bill Committee concluded its work over seven months ago. Since then, nothing—so is there a problem? The lack of urgency suggests it is really not that important after all. Certainly, the Secretary of State has not mentioned it once in the Chamber since his appointment five months ago, and the legislation would certainly have no effect on cancel culture, according to lawyers, media commentators and the sector itself. The Government now want another year to resolve their own problem—a problem of their making—which is more time that could be better used to address the immediate and pressing issues faced by the great British public…

FE & HE Minister Michelle Donelan responded:

  • Let me be crystal clear: the Government remain committed to delivering on our manifesto pledge by strengthening freedom of speech in higher education. We have not changed, and never will change, our position, because we recognise that free speech is the absolute cornerstone of democracy and a liberal society. Our universities should be centres of inquiry and intellectual debate, and places of new and independent thinking from which will grow the knowledge, learning and science that we need to tackle future global challenges. The reintroduction of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill reaffirms our manifesto commitment…

Research Professional also discuss the continuation of the HE Freedom of Speech Bill. Questioning why the Government is continuing with it given the isolated incidents and limited evidence there is actually a free speech problem within HE. They also highlight that a

  • Ministry of Justice consultation on a Modern Bill of Rights for the UK—which features its own specific reference to protecting free speech and academic freedom—concluded last week. Potentially, the legislation it trails could subsume the higher education-specific proposals.

Research Professional also state:

  • For Donelan, passing the bill is probably as much about advancement within Johnson’s Conservative Party as it is about reform of university culture. Frankly, we doubt that Donelan really believes very strongly in this nonsense.
  • …The bill as written survives and may yet make it to legislation. There is, however, a journey to be undertaken—and it seems unlikely that the House of Lords will take kindly to proposed legislation that is specific in its targets but vague in its actions.

Michelle Donelan  spoke on free speech at a Policy Exchange event. On the free speech ‘problem’ within HE Donelan said:

  • sadly, where once we found critical debate and arguments were won on their merits, today we see an upsurge in physical threats and complete intolerance of opposing ideas.
  • We witness examples of professors being harangued and hounded out of their jobs. We see prominent, well-respected, guests no platformed. We find academics self-censoring themselves out of fear.
  • Progress is no longer considered progress unless it conforms to an increasingly narrow ideology. And let’s be honest for a moment, successive governments have not put up enough of a fight. There has been a lot of talk and warm words, but not nearly enough solid action.
  • I am here today to tell you that this government is different. We are putting pen to paper in legislative action to once and for all challenge the forces that shut debate down… I will make sure each of our universities remains a fortress of ideas, putting an end to the nonsense of cancel culture by wielding the crucial majority that the British people gave us [i.e. Donelan suspects the Lords will oppose the Bill but intends to push it through using a 3 line whip in the House of Commons].

On the Bill Donelan said:

  • The Bill will put a duty on universities to promote free speech and academic freedom, not just protect it. It will put a duty directly on Students’ Unions to protect free speech.
  • And it will establish a new Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom on the Office for Students Board – with the power to fine universities, colleges and students’ unions and recommend real redress for those who have had their speech unlawfully restricted. And it will provide a new legal tort as a critical backstop, offering a direct route to redress for individuals who have suffered loss due to a breach of the freedom of speech duties.
  • We need to effect a culture change that will reverberate through the sector, from the SU bar right up to the Vice Chancellor’s office. And let me be clear, this is not an issue for Vice Chancellors to shy away from. Frankly, this is not an issue that they will be allowed to shy away from.

Skills – attracting international investment

Following on from Dr Campbell’s appointment to head up Tech Transfer a new report from World Skills UK Wanted: skills for inward investors warns that the UK needs an investment strategy with skills at its heart to not miss out on foreign investment. It finds that if the UK fails to recognise the importance of technical and vocational skills it will be left behind as other countries reap the rewards of lucrative foreign direct investment (FDI). Key points:

  • The UK has been overtaken by France as Europe’s top destination for foreign investment. It argues that the UK needs a better integrated strategy on skills and inward investment to attract international firms to more parts of the UK.
  • The UK currently does not have an investment strategy and the Department for International Trade needs to develop one with skills and regional opportunities at its heart.
  • Almost half (46 percent) of foreign firms said they would move their operations abroad if they couldn’t get the skills they needed, compared to just over a fifth (22 percent) of domestic firms.
  • When asked about expanding their operations 61 percent of foreign firms said they would expand overseas if they couldn’t get the skills they needed in the UK, compared to just a third (32 percent) of domestic firms.
  • The UK’s FDI is too concentrated in the already economically dominant areas of London and the South East. It argues that delivering FDI to more parts of the UK is vital in creating the higher-skilled and better-paid jobs needed to drive the government’s levelling up agenda.
  • A post-Brexit vision of Global Britain needs to showcase the UK’s excellence in skills. It says WorldSkills UK should use its unique knowledge of world-class skills to work with more parts of the UK’s technical education sector to improve skills levels right across the UK.

Skills Taskforce for Global Britain Chair John Cridland CBE says: The countries successfully bringing in foreign investment have a sophisticated skills offer to attract investors. Put bluntly, if you want to attract investment you need high-quality skills, and if you want high-quality skills you need inward investment. We need the Department for International Trade to develop a coherent investment strategy that will deliver FDI throughout the UK and not just in London and the South East. Competition is becoming fiercer and the UK simply cannot afford to miss the opportunity to add skills to its international calling card. If the Government’s levelling up agenda is to be realised, the UK has to develop and promote the skills that will deliver a high-skill, high-wage economy and attract foreign investors.

Also on skills Wonkhe report that the DfE published new strategic guidance for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education for the 2022-23 financial year. One of the central aims of the strategy is to involve the institute in forecasting what skills will be needed in the future and working with the government as part of the new Unit of Future Skills. The strategy also calls on the institute to have oversight over the quality of T levels, contribute to economic recovery, and to improve the quality of apprenticeship assessments.

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

Spiking: The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has published a report on spiking. 81% of spiking victims were noted as students. We have a short summary of the report – contact us if you wish to read it. Wonkhe also have two blogs:

Prevent: Policy Exchange has published a report on the prevent counter terrorism strategy. Dods summarise: The report argues that Prevent has been undermined by anti-Prevent narratives and misinformation that has been spread by “Islamist groups” and allies. The groups named include the Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim Engagement and Development and CAGE. Policy Exchange accuses these groups of running disinformation campaigns to undermine Prevent, with university campuses being a key arena in which anti-Prevent activism has been particularly vocal.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund: The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities  announced the allocations of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) amounting to £2.6bn of funding in total between 2022 and 2025. The government says the UKSPF matches the average spend from the European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund, replacing the pots after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. It will be increased from £400m in 2022/23 to £1.5bn in 2024/25, at which point the government says it will match the EU funds it has replaced. England has been allocated £1.58bn. Each English Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area will receive the same in real terms as it used to under EU funding, and within each LEP area an index of need will be used to allocated funding to each local authority. In addition to the funds allocated to nations, £129m of the UKSPF funding will be used for Multiply – the new UK-wide digital platform for adult numeracy. The DfE has also provided links to trailblazers’ Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) here.

And there is a Parliamentary Question on the topic: How will the Shared Prosperity Fund maintain Research and Innovation funding at a level matching funding available through the European Regional Development Fund? Answer – the UKSPF is not intended as a direct replacement for ESIF funds. The Fund’s policy and delivery structure significantly differs, with a focus to deliver more tangible Pride in Place benefits across the UK. Read more here.

Universities UK have announced that Vivienne Stern will succeed Alistair Jarvis as its chief executive

Careers: Wonkhe blog – Students often have an amazing story to tell, but low confidence can prevent students from accessing the careers support they need. Jon Down thinks through what can be done.

Online learning: Research Professional note that:

  • According to a report in The Mail on Sunday, Donelan wants to send Office for Students inspectors into 15 universities to take a look at what is going on. The inspectors—whoever they are—had better hurry up, since teaching has already finished on many campuses and will be all over bar the shouting everywhere else within a couple of weeks.
  • If The Mail is to be believed, university bosses “risk huge financial penalties” as the minister has thrown “down the gauntlet to the ‘stubborn minority’ of vice-chancellors and lecturers who are still working remotely”. Donelan has signalled “her intention to ‘put boots on the ground’ by sending teams of inspectors to investigate staff attendance rates on campuses across Britain”.
  • The reality of online teaching is also that we all know no-one is going to be fined for it, let alone incur “huge financial penalties” or be denied access to the student loan book. The Mail on Sunday interview is just the latest in a long line of ministerial grandstanding against the sector Donelan is supposed to have under her care.
  • Why might that be the case? Is the minister motivated by ensuring quality public institutions and looking after the interests of young people, or is she thinking about how her reputation stands within the Conservative Party at a time when a cabinet reshuffle might be on the cards?
  • If it is the latter rather than the former, Donelan will not be the first and probably not the last minister to think universities are easy game on the way to political advancement. Recent history shows, however, that universities ministers do not necessarily prosper politically once they have left their avowed ‘dream job’.

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