Tagged / maintenance grants

HE policy update for the w/e 31st May 2019

We’re going early again this week as we have a big focus on this week’s big report, and we’re sure you all want to know (although there is a lot of coverage).  There is other news as well.

Augar recommendations for the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding

So finally, the long awaited report has landed.  Either it changed quite a lot in the last few weeks (no minimum threshold based on 3 Ds at A-level) or the leaks were inaccurate.  Actually the leaks were pretty inaccurate, because although the £7500 tuition fee loan cap is there, there are recommendations to make up the difference.  And that part was very badly trailed, probably because the recommendations are not simple and don’t make an easy soundbite.

The commentary will be extensive and you can read it for yourselves, we’ll give you some links below and recipients of Wonkhe and the Research Professional HE updates will get more in the coming days.  In the meantime:

We think that there is a risk with summarising and cherry picking the “most interesting” bits so we give you the whole set of recommendations below – with a little bit of commentary in places.  There’s some context and narrative first, so skip down to the big table if you want to go straight to the recommendations.

The report defines the purposes of post-18 education – nicely pulled out in a tweet by Mike Ratcliffe.

And the principles:

In setting about our task, we have been guided by a set of principles. Some of these were self-evident to us at the start, others have been developed in the light of emerging evidence during the panel’s life. The principles and their rationale are set out below.

Principle 1. Post-18 education benefits society, the economy, and individuals. The potential benefits of an increasingly educated adult population have guided our work. But increasing the sheer volume of tertiary education does not necessarily translate into social, economic and personal good. That depends on the quality, accessibility and direction of study.

Principle 2. Everyone should have the opportunity to be educated after the age of 18.We have noted the disparity of resources between higher and further education and the steep decline in opportunities for education and training in later life. We have this in mind in seeking to create an integrated and sustainable post-18 system with opportunities for the whole population.

Principle 3. The decline in numbers of those getting post-18 education needs to be reversed. In many developed economies, increased participation in tertiary education has been associated with productivity growth over the past half century but in England – where attention has focused largely on degree-level study – the total number of people involved in post-18 education has in fact declined. This decline needs to be reversed urgently.

Principle 4. The cost of post-18 education should be shared between taxpayers, employers and learners. This was the defining principle of the seminal Dearing Report (1997) and continues to have resonance: the alternatives are simply inconceivable. Getting the taxpayer to pay for everything is unaffordable. Getting learners to pay all their own costs is unfair to those of limited means. Getting employers to pay for the whole system would put too much emphasis on economic value alone. A shared responsibility, in our view, is the only fair and feasible solution.

Principle 5. Organisations providing education and training must be accountable for the public subsidy they receive. The receipt of taxpayer funding, whether this is directly through grants or indirectly through forgiveable loans, carries with it the expectation of transparency and accountability for the purposes to which it is put and the outcomes that it delivers. There should be no sense of entitlement.

Principle 6. Government has a responsibility to ensure that its investment in tertiary education is appropriately spent and directed. The government should consider public spending on tertiary education alongside its spending on other parts of the public sector and should hold the sector accountable whilst respecting its intellectual freedom and academic autonomy.

Principle 7. Post-18 education cannot be left entirely to market forces. The idea of a market in tertiary education has been a defining characteristic of English policy since 1998. We believe that competition between providers has an important role to play in creating choice for students but that on its own it cannot deliver a full spectrum of social, economic and cultural benefits. With no steer from government, the outcome is likely to be haphazard.

Principle 8. Post-18 education needs to be forward looking. The future challenges of technological innovation, artificial intelligence and shorter job cycles will require greater labour market flexibility. The post-18 education system needs to respond to this: doing more of the same will not be enough.

Here is the summary of the proposals from the front of the report itself:

  • Strengthening technical education – England needs a stronger technical and vocational education system at sub-degree levels to meet the structural skills shortages that are in all probability contributing to the UK’s weak productivity performance. Improved funding, a better maintenance offer, and a more coherent suite of higher technical and professional qualifications would help level the playing field with degrees and drive up both the supply of and demand for such courses.
  • Increasing opportunities for everyone – Despite the very large increase in participation in higher education by young people, the total number of people involved in tertiary education has declined. Almost 40 per cent of 25 year olds do not progress beyond GCSEs as their highest qualification and social mobility shows little sign of improvement. Our recommendations seek to address these problems by reversing cuts in adult skills provision and encouraging part time and later life learning.
  • Reforming and refunding the FE college network – Further education colleges are an essential part of the national educational infrastructure and should play a core role in the delivery of higher technical and intermediate level training. Our recommendations are intended to reform and refund the FE college network by means of an increased base rate of funding for high return courses, an additional £1bn capital investment over the coming spending review period and investment in the workforce to improve recruitment and retention. Rationalisation of the network to even out provision across over-supplied and under-supplied areas, funding for some specialised colleges and closer links with HE and other providers would help establish a genuinely national system of higher technical education.
  • Bearing down on low value HE – There is a misalignment at the margin between England’s otherwise outstanding system of higher education and the country’s economic requirements. A twenty-year market in lightly regulated higher education has greatly expanded the number of skilled graduates bringing considerable social and economic benefits and wider participation for students from lower socio-economic groups. However, for a small but significant minority of degree students doing certain courses at certain institutions, the university experience leads to disappointment. We make recommendations intended to encourage universities to bear down on low value degrees and to incentivise them to increase the provision of courses better aligned with the economy’s needs.
  • Addressing higher education funding – Generous and undirected funding has led to an over-supply of some courses at great cost to the taxpayer and a corresponding under-supply of graduates in strategically important sectors. Our recommendations would restore more control over taxpayer support and would reduce what universities may charge each degree student. Universities should find further efficiency savings over the coming years, maximum fees for students should be reduced to £7,500 a year, and more of the taxpayer funding should come through grants directed to disadvantaged students and to high value and high cost subjects.  [see CHAPTER 3 and in particular 3.2 to 3.5 below]
  • Increasing flexibility and lifetime learning – Employment patterns are changing fast with shorter job cycles and longer working lives requiring many people to reskill and upskill. We recommend the introduction of a lifelong learning loan allowance to be used at higher technical and degree level at any stage of an adult’s career for full and part-time students. To encourage retraining and flexible learning, we recommend that this should be available in modules where required. We intend that our proposals should facilitate transfer between different institutions and we make proposals for greater investment in so-called ‘second chance’ learning at intermediate levels. We endorse the government’s National Retraining Scheme, which we believe to be a potentially valuable supplement to college based learning.
  • Supporting disadvantaged students – Disadvantaged students need better financial support, improved choices and more effective advice and guidance to benefit fully from post‑18 education. Our recommendations would provide them with additional support by reintroducing maintenance grants for students from low income households, and by increasing and better targeting the government’s funding for disadvantaged students.
  • Ensuring those who benefit from higher education contribute fairly – Most graduates benefit significantly from participating in higher education – as does the economy and wider society. We therefore endorse the established principle that students and the state should share the cost of tertiary education. We support the income-contingent repayment approach as a means of delivering this fairly, with those benefitting the most making the greatest contribution. However, public misunderstanding is high and better communication is required, including a new name, the Student Contribution System. We believe that more graduates should repay their loans in full over their lifetimes, and recommend extending the repayment period for future students and effectively freezing the repayment threshold. These changes – with the reduction in fees – would apply only to students entering higher education from 2021-22 at the earliest: students starting before then would not be affected. Some aspects of the present system appear to be unfairly punitive and we recommend reducing students’ in-study interest charges and capping graduates’ lifetime repayments.
  • Improving the apprenticeship offer – Apprenticeships can deliver benefits both for apprentices and employers but there is evidence of a mismatch between the economy’s strategic requirements and current apprenticeship starts. Our recommendations, together with recent government reforms, look to make further improvements in the quality of the apprenticeship offer by providing learners with better wage return information, strengthening Ofsted’s role – and thus the quality of providers – and better understanding and addressing the barriers SMEs face within the apprenticeship system. We have considered how best to use the finite funding which is available for apprenticeships and recommend that apprenticeships at degree level and above should normally be funded only for those who do not already have a publicly-funded degree.

And the actual recommendations are at the back:

CHAPTER 2: SKILLS

2.1 The government should introduce a single lifelong learning loan allowance for tuition loans at Levels 4, 5 and 6, available for adults aged 18 or over, without a publicly funded degree. This should be set, as it is now, as a financial amount equivalent to four years’ full-time undergraduate degree funding. [This will be widely welcomed but has the potential to be very expensive if these loans turn out to be written off at high levels over time – the hope will be that these courses will directly lead to improved earnings and so there will be a better chance of repayment?]

2.2 Learners should be able to access student finance for tuition fee and maintenance support for modules of credit-based Level 4, 5 and 6 qualifications. [“bitesize” learning will also be welcomed as a solution for mature students to replace traditional part-time study which has collapsed]

2.3 ELQ rules should be scrapped for those taking out loans for Levels 4, 5 and 6. [this will be widely welcomed]

2.4 Institutions should award at least one interim qualification to all students who are following a Level 6 course successfully. [this is interesting]

2.5 Streamline the number and improve the status of Level 4/5 qualifications.

2.6 The OfS should become the national regulator of all non-apprenticeship provision at Levels 4 and above.

2.7 Government should provide additional support and capital funding to specific FE colleges in order to ensure a national network of high quality technical provision is available. Government should work with the OfS to determine how best to allocate this using, for example, quality indicators and analysis of geographic coverage. [this will be welcomed although the targeting and the suggestions of metrics (a TEF for FE?) may not be so welcome]

2.8 From 2021-22 the fee cap for Level 4 and 5 qualifications currently prescribed by the OfS should be £7,500 – the same as that proposed for Level 6 qualifications and in line with current arrangements for prescribed HE qualifications. Longer term, only kitemarked Level 4 and 5 qualifications that meet the new employer-led national standards should be able to charge fees up to the Level 6 cap and be eligible for teaching grant. From that point, any other Level 4 and 5 courses should have a lower fee cap.

2.9 The current age cap should be removed so that a first ‘full’ Level 3 is available free to all learners whether they are in work or not.

2.10 Full funding for the first ‘full’ Level 2 qualification, for those who are 24 and over and who are employed should be restored.

2.11  The careers strategy should be rolled out nationally so that every secondary school is able to be part of a careers hub, that training is available to all careers leaders and that more young people have access to meaningful careers activities and encounters with employers.

CHAPTER 3: HIGHER EDUCATION

3.1 The average per-student resource should be frozen for three further years from 2020/21 until 2022/23. On current evidence, inflation based increases to the average per-student unit of resource should resume in 2023/24.  [the interesting part here is not the freeze, as that was expected, but the proposal for an increase in 2023/24.  See page 93 of the report – “We believe that the gradual effects of a funding freeze would give HEIs time to rise to the challenge of greater efficiency and redesigned business models, whilst maintaining the quality of provision.  However on current evidence we believe that attempts to generate further savings over this proposed funding freeze would jeopardise the quality of provision”.

3.2 The cap on the fee chargeable to HE students should be reduced to £7,500 per year. We consider that this could be introduced by 2021/22. [so no cliff edge this year, may affect student numbers next year as some defer. They say on page 210 that ALL policies embed in 2021/22 for new students so although it isn’t clear in the section, this would be for new students only.  Also worth noting on page 205 they note that actually students may not be better off under the current scheme in the long run because of changes to repayments (see below) – but explaining that to students (and parents) will be a nightmare – the headline reduction will be what many people see]

3.3 Government should replace in full the lost fee income by increasing the teaching grant, leaving the average unit of funding unchanged at sector level in cash terms. [page 95 “We firmly believe that the total reduction in resources from the fee cut must be matched with an equivalent increase in average per student grant funding from the government, so that the average per student resource to the sector stays level in cash terms]

3.4 The fee cap should be frozen until 2022/23, then increased in line with inflation from 2023/24. [see 3.1 above]

3.5 Government should adjust the teaching grant attached to each subject to reflect more accurately the subject’s reasonable costs and its social and economic value to students and taxpayers. Support for high-quality specialist institutions that could be adversely affected should be reviewed and if necessary increased.

  • [The link to cost was well trailed in the press, but the Secretary of State focussed on the part about social and economic value to students and taxpayers – actually the report covers both. This is worth looking at in more detail – page 95/96 says that the current “system under-funds certain high cost subjects to the detriment of the economy in general and the government’s Industrial Strategy“, that “the current long-term taxpayer subsidy is poorly directed” and that “Government currently has very limited control over the substantial taxpayer investment in higher education”. 
  • There is more detail of the analysis that they did on page 72.
  • They propose that the OfS should carry out a review of the funding rates for different subjects, having “regard to economic and social value and consider support for socially desirable professions such as nursing and teaching”, and then rebalance funding towards high cost and strategically important subjects and to subjects that add social as well as economic value”.
  • They go on: “we would expect some subjects to receive little or no subject specific teaching grant over the £7500 base rate” – and this is where they add in about specialist institutions offering the highest quality provision.
  • This is really interesting stuff – but it is not at all clear how this would work and how economic and social value would be evaluated.  Anyone thinking that the debate over use of raw salary data in this process might be answered one way or the other by Augar will be sadly disappointed – the issue is put firmly into the hands of the OfS.  See also pages 104 and 105 for the things they rejected
  • Critics of using LEO in this context will like this bit on page 87: ““Limitations of the IFS early-career earnings analysis….
    • The data do not distinguish between full and part-time work, which is likely to affect comparisons of earnings between men and women, and they also do not cover the self-employed.
    • The results we discuss are for earnings up to the age of 29 whereas the principal benefit in earnings for graduates tends to arrive in the following decade and thus we would expect full lifetime earnings for most graduates to generate higher premiums than those shown.
    • However, the current data excludes the cost of foregone earnings during study and loan repayments after graduation which need to be taken into account for a full assessment of lifetime returns.
    • Earnings are largely a product of the labour market for particular skills and qualifications and should not be regarded as a measure of teaching quality. They also vary according to location: a graduate working in an economic cold spot is likely to earn less than her or his counterpart working in a hot spot.
    • However, if analysed with care, the data provide an insight into the early career financial consequences of degree study and will be a useful source of information for students, government and HEIs alike.”]

3.6 Government should take further steps to ensure disadvantaged students have sufficient support to access, participate and succeed in higher education. It should do this by:

  • Increasing the amount of teaching grant funding that follows disadvantaged students, so that funding flows to those institutions educating the students that are most likely to need additional support.
  • Changing the measure of disadvantage used in the Student Premium to capture individual-level socio-economic disadvantage, so that funding closely follows the students who need support.
  • Requiring providers to be accountable for their use of Student Premium grant, alongside access and participation plans for the spend of tuition fee income, to enable joined up scrutiny.

[Page 97 says that the current system prioritises access over successful participation, “fails to resource adequately those institutions that admit a large proportion of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds, relies on too limited an evidence base of what works best”.  They want to “discard measures or prior academic attainment and area-based measures of participation” (goodbye POLAR) and look at individual measures of socio-economic disadvantage to ensure that support is better directed.  They want a pupil premium style minimum sum for each student.  They also say that all the other changes should not mean a cut in the overall levels of spend on disadvantaged students.]

3.7 Unless the sector has moved to address the problem of recruitment to courses which have poor retention, poor graduate employability and poor long term earnings benefits by 2022/23, the government should intervene. This intervention should take the form of a contextualised minimum entry threshold, a selective numbers cap or a combination of both.

  • [Here’s a threat, then.  So 3Ds are not dead (see page 100 for the research), and neither are numbers caps.  But imposed on a course by course basis for students that “persistently manifest poor value for money for students and the public”.  They mention indicators such as employment, earnings and loan repayments.  They suggest the caps would be time limited – capping the numbers of students eligible for financial support who could be admitted to the course” (see page 102). 
  • So three years for the sector “to put its house in order”.  That gives the government time to sort our technical alternatives and the impact would be offset but the uptick in demographics from 2021.]

3.8 We recommend withdrawing financial support for foundation years attached to degree courses after an appropriate notice period. Exemptions for specific courses such as medicine may be granted by the OfS. [People are asking questions about this – it’s odd at first glance.  They say (page 103) that “it is not hard to conclude that universities are using foundation years to create four-year degrees in order to entice students who do not otherwise meet their standard entry criteria”.  But is that a bad thing?  The report concludes that it is a bad thing because of the fee and loan implications, and so it would be better to have access courses (usually in partnership with FE) on lower fees, better loan terms and a standalone qualification.  They say have a two year delay on implementing this recommendation]

CHAPTER 4: FURTHER EDUCATION

4.1 The unit funding rate for economically valuable adult education courses should be increased. [no-one will disagree but it will be expensive.  There’s a chart on page 124 which suggests what they mean by “economically valuable”.  It means higher level courses, it seems]

4.2 The reduction in the core funding rate for 18 year-olds should be reversed.

4.3 ESFA funding rules should be simplified for FE colleges, allowing colleges to respond more flexibly and immediately to the particular needs of their local labour market.

4.4 Government should commit to providing an indicative AEB that enables individual FE colleges to plan on the basis of income over a three-year period. Government should also explore introducing additional flexibility to transfer a proportion of AEB allocations between years on the same basis.

4.5.1 Government should provide FE colleges with a dedicated capital investment of at least £1 billion over the next Spending Review period. This should be in addition to funding for T levels and should be allocated primarily on a strategic national basis in-line with Industrial Strategy priorities.

4.5.2 Government should use the additional capital funding primarily to augment existing FE colleges to create a strong national network of high quality provision of technical and professional education, including growing capacity for higher technical provision in specific FE colleges.

4.5.3 Government should also consider redirecting the HE capital grant to further education. [that’s interesting – they suggest that £1billion needs to be invested.]

4.6.1 The structure of the FE college network, particularly in large cities, should be further modified to minimise duplication in reasonable travel to learn areas.

4.6.2 In rural and semi-rural areas, small FE colleges should be strongly encouraged to form or join groups in order to ensure sustainable quality provision in the long term. [consistent with the pressure on schools and academies to combine]

4.7 Government should develop procedures to ensure that – as part of a collaborative national network of FE colleges – there is an efficient distribution of Level 3, 4 and 5 provision within reasonable travel-to-learn areas, to enable strategic investment and avoid counterproductive competition between providers.

4.8 Investment in the FE workforce should be a priority, allowing improvements in recruitment and retention, drawing in more expertise from industry, and strengthening professional development.

4.9 The panel recommends that government improve data collection, collation, analysis and publication across the whole further education sector (including independent training providers). [As noted above, perhaps an equivalent of TEF for FE and all the other related metrics  – on top of Ofsted requirements where they apply.  They compare this critically with schools as well as HE (see page 137)]

4.10 The OfS and the ESFA should establish a joint working party co-chaired by the OfS and ESFA chairs to align the requirements they place on providers and improve the interactions and exchange of information between these bodies. The working party should report to the Secretary of State for Education by March 2020. [These will be interesting interactions.  The OfS is meant to be “light-touch” and “risk-based”, remember.  But it would be good to see them take a more similar approach – as universities registering with the ESFA to provide apprenticeships are aware, the requirements are different]

4.11 FE colleges should be more clearly distinguished from other types of training provider in the FE sector with a protected title similar to that conferred on universities.

CHAPTER 5: APPRENTICESHIPS

5.1 The government should monitor closely the extent to which apprenticeship take up reflects the priorities of the Industrial Strategy, both in content – including the need for specific skills at Levels 3 through 5 – and in geographic spread. If funding is inadequate for demand, apprenticeships should be prioritised in line with Industrial Strategy requirements.

5.2  The government should use data on apprenticeships wage returns to provide accessible system wide information for learners with a potential interest in apprenticeships.

5.3  Funding for Level 6 and above apprenticeships should normally be available only for apprentices who have not previously undertaken a publicly-supported degree.  [ELQ by the back door?]

5.4  Ofsted become the lead responsible body for the inspection of the quality of apprenticeships at all levels.

5.5  No provider without an acceptable Ofsted rating should receive a contract to deliver training in their own right (although a provider who has not yet been inspected could sub-contract from a high-quality provider pending their own inspection).

5.6  The IfATE and the DfE (through the ESFA) should undertake a programme of work to better understand the barriers that SMEs face in engaging with the apprenticeship system and put in place mechanisms to address these, including raising awareness of the programme and making the system easier to navigate.

5.7  The IfATE improve transparency when processing standards that have been submitted for approval. Trailblazer groups and providers should have a clear indication of progress, available on-line, so they can start to plan, recruit and invest within workable timelines.

5.8  All approved providers of government-funded training, including apprenticeship training, must make clear provision for the protection of learners in the case of closure or insolvency.

CHAPTER 6: STUDENT CONTRIBUTIONS

6.1 Continue the principle of loans to cover the cost of fees combined with income-contingent contributions up to a maximum. [NB they have not looked at PG loans – see page 166]

6.2 Set the contribution threshold at the level of median non-graduate earnings so that those who are experiencing a financial benefit from HE start contributing towards the cost of their studies. This should apply to new students entering HE from 2021/22.Adjust the lower interest threshold to match, with the higher interest threshold moving by the same amount. This should apply to new students entering the system from 2021/22. [That’s a reduction from £25,000 to £23,000 at current rates.  Note it went up to £25,000 from £21,000 in 2018 in a hasty attempt by the PM to appeal to the “youth vote” in a move welcomed by many (because the promised indexation for the threshold was abandoned) but also said to be regressive (because it reduced the total amount repaid by the highest earners).  The proposal is that it should be a floating threshold, linked to median earnings, and not implemented until 2021/22, so they expect it would be £25,000 then and when the first cohort of students start repaying it would be around £28,000 (see page 170)]

6.3 Extend the repayment period to 40 years after study has ended so that those who have borrowed continue to contribute while they are experiencing a financial benefit. This should apply to new students entering the system from 2021/22. [This is the big change and is why the main headline fee cut does not save many students much overall]

6.4 Remove real in-study interest, so that loan balances track inflation during study. This should apply for new students entering the system from 2021/22. [This is a tweak, but an important one, because this is one of those optical things that makes students really cross, as they incur interest at 3% plus inflation while studying.  A student on a maximum maintenance loan incurs £3800 in interest while studying on a three year course (see page 172)] 

6.5 Retain the post-study variable interest rate mechanism from inflation to inflation plus 3 per cent. [Many have called for this to be scrapped but the report thinks that’s a trade-off not worth making.  They also don’t adopt the arguments about moving away from RPI to CPI – some will be disappointed]

6.6 Introduce a new protection for borrowers to cap lifetime repayments at 1.2 times the initial loan amount in real terms. This cap should be introduced for all current Plan 2 borrowers, as well for all future borrowers. [This hasn’t been much covered in the press coverage so far – but it is interesting.  It addresses the “squeezed middle” who pay back more slowly and thus pay back more than the highest earners.  As the 40 year period makes that problem worse, this is a mitigation for it (see pages 174/5)]

6.7 Introduce new finance terms under the banner of a new ‘student contribution system’. Define and promote the system with new language to make clearer the nature of the system, reducing focus on ‘debt’ levels and interest and emphasising contribution rates. [Hurray, the rebranding.  Widely anticipated although it will take a mammoth effort to change national cultural expectations on this after everyone from the PM down has banged on about student debt.  This is a huge job.]

CHAPTER 7: MAINTENANCE

7.1 The government should restore maintenance grants for socio-economically disadvantaged students to at least £3,000 a year.

[This is really interesting, has been widely welcomed including by the PM who has taken the credit for it and blamed George Osborne and Sajid Javid for a mistake” in her statement this morning. The report says that this is a particular problem because of the assumption of parental support and that it impacts the choices that disadvantaged students make.   But…is £3000 enough?  The report says (page 192 “Combined with the reduction in the level of tuition fee recommended in chapter 3, this recommendation would see the maximum debt for a disadvantaged student on graduation from a 3 year degree decrease by £15,000, from approximately £60,000 to approximately £45,000”.  They looked at the Welsh system and  said it was not a priority for investment to make such a significant (and expensive) change).

7.2 The expected parental contribution should be made explicit in all official descriptions of the student maintenance support system. [Yes, alongside the other comms challenges, this is a big and important one.]

7.3 Maximum maintenance support should be set in line with the National Minimum Wage for age 21 to 24 on the basis of 37.5 hours per week and 30 weeks per year. [That’s a small cut outside London “We do not believe that students, who in practice are often studying for less than 37.5 hours, should receive a higher income than the minimum received by young people in full-time employment” (see page 193)]

7.4 In delivering a maintenance system comprising a mix of grant, loan and family contribution, the government should ensure that:

  • The level of grant is set as high as possible to minimise or eliminate the amount of additional loan required by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The income thresholds within the system should be increased in line with inflation each year.

7.5 The new post-18 maintenance support package should be provided for all students taking Level 4 to 6 qualifications. The government should take steps to ensure that qualifications which are supported through the maintenance package are of high quality and deliver returns for the individual, society, economy and taxpayer.

7.6 The OfS should examine the cost of student accommodation more closely and work with students and providers to improve the quality and consistency of data about costs, rents, profits and quality.

[Interesting comments on page 196:

  • “We believe that HEIs retain a responsibility for overall student welfare and delivering value for money and that this extends to university accommodation, whether or not they are the direct provider.”
  • And “The public subsidy of student maintenance, much of which is spent on accommodation, gives the OfS a legitimate stake in monitoring the provision of student accommodation in terms of costs, rents, profitability and value for money”
  • Also “We suggest a detailed study of the characteristics and in-study experience of commuter students and how to support them better.”(page 195)]

7.7 Funding available for bursaries should increase to accommodate the likely growth in Level 2 and Level 3 adult learners.

7.8 The support on offer to Level 2 and Level 3 learners should be made clearer by both the government and further education colleges so as to ensure that prospective learners are aware of the support available to them.

And there’s more

There are also other bits that are not reflected in the many, many recommendations but may be seized on by Ministers and others.  In the section on Market Competition, page 78, the report says that “‘post-18 education cannot be left entirely to market forces’.81 We have already established that England’s market in HE has produced substantial social, economic and personal benefits but have noted that price competition has not developed as was originally expected. This is rational behaviour in a market where price is taken as a signal of quality.”

It goes on:

It is of concern to us that these marketing approaches sometimes include cash and in-kind inducements to prospective students to accept a place. It would be an unacceptable use of public funds for universities to recycle tuition fees, funded by state-subsidised income contingent loans, as gifts over which the state has no recourse. A recent study for Universities UK found “… perceptions that universities are becoming more like commercial businesses, driven by profit” and we would not be surprised if over-enthusiastic marketing had contributed to this perception. We further note three aspects of academic practice that could be interpreted as being a consequence of market competition.

  • Grade inflation. The growth in the proportion of first and upper second-class degrees awarded (see box) has been too great to suggest plausibly that it can be entirely attributed to a genuine improvement in the quality of students’ academic performance. It is not unreasonable to assume that part of the explanation is that academic assessment has become a means of reputational enhancement, albeit how this has happened is unclear.84 We note the intervention in March 2018 on this matter by the Secretary of State for Education.
  • Lower entry requirements. An increasing proportion of students with lower prior attainment are now attending university. We welcome this but not at any price. Low prior attainment, measured by A level and BTEC grades, is associated with dropping out from university studies, to the financial and often emotional cost of the student. From the 2016/17 cohort, as many as 12.8 per cent of students with UCAS tariff points between 0 and 100 (equivalent to D and E at A-level in the old tariff scheme), and 11.6 per cent of students with BTECs at any level, did not progress past their first year of a degree. This is about double the 6.3 per cent drop out rate for students as a whole. For the lowest attaining BTEC students the drop-out rates are well above 15 per cent. At fourteen UK universities, projections of the number of students likely to obtain a degree is below 70 per cent; the lowest has a degree projection rate of 51.7 per cent with 28.1 per cent of its students dropping out entirely rather than transferring or obtaining another award such as a Level 4 or Level 5 qualification.
  • Unconditional offers. Responsibly used, unconditional offers can have benefits, particularly in attracting students from disadvantaged backgrounds – but the emphasis has to be on ‘responsible’. We agree with the OfS that “Universities must not resort to pressure selling tactics in promoting unconditional offers”87 and we note the intervention in April 2018 on this matter by the Secretary of State for Education.

They don’t have a recommendation in this area, but they do use these examples as justification for why the system needs to change – and government given back more control through grants and targeting of funding.

There’s also a kick at TEF: “the use of metrics in the TEF process must be robust and command confidence. The Royal Statistical Society has raised concerns about the statistical validity of the current approach and the risk of the system being “gamed”.72 We await the outcome of the on-going independent review of the TEF, led by Dame Shirley Pearce, which is examining this and other issues.”  It is really interesting to think about what, given this, they think will be the basis for their cost and value-based assessment for the top-up funding.  They manage not to suggest anything.  All they say about it is on page 75: “We expect this assessment to be contested within the sector. Typically, it has been resistant to measures of performance based on inputs (contact hours), outputs (student satisfaction) and outcomes (graduate salaries). There are undoubtedly weaknesses in all of these metrics, including the TEF framework which brings them together, but they give universities important information about their own performance and we encourage the sector to use them constructively.”

And what of employers?  When interviewed during the process, Philip Augar made a lot of the role of employers in the system.  In the opening principles, Principle 4 is “the cost of post-18 education should be shared between taxpayers, employers and learners”.  But there is nothing new here for FE, lots of references to employers working with FE, and of course the apprenticeship levy.

They also address the unintended consequences in terms of the cross-subsidy for research funding (see page 93): “Universities in the UK educate the graduates, especially in STEM fields, needed to achieve this target. Our proposals on rebalancing funding towards high‑cost and high‑value subjects, discussed below, are intended to encourage this and are likely to result in more funding going to institutions with a strong research base. We also make recommendations to protect high quality specialist institutions. We recognise that there will be concerns about the impact of the resource freeze on some institutions with pockets of research excellence. We are of the view that it is for government, business and other interested bodies to fund research adequately and directly.

So what now?  The coverage will be excited and excitable.  Justine Greening has already condemned the whole thing as regressive and called for a radical new student contribution system.  But will a new leader of the Tory party take it up?  Will it get lost in party politics and Brexit?  Will it be too unattractive in terms of cost (remember the spending review) and not attractive enough in terms of attracting voters (young and older)?. They have costed it all (page 204).

We’ll just have to wait and see.  But the main thing is that, despite several menacing bits, when taken as a whole it is not the nightmare scenario for HE that some were predicting, but neither is it a silver bullet.  It’s complex, subtle and intended to work as a package – if existing or new leaders start cherry picking, there is plenty of potential for the nightmare to materialise.  And the OfS have a LOT of work to do.

At a speech launching the review, Theresa May said: “I was not surprised to see the panel argue for the reintroduction of means-tested maintenance grants both for university students and those studying for higher technical qualifications. Such a move would ensure students are supported whichever route they choose, and save those from the poorest backgrounds over £9,000. It will be up to the Government to decide, at the upcoming Spending Review, whether to follow this recommendation. But my view is very clear: removing maintenance grants from the least well-off students has not worked, and I believe it is time to bring them back.”

On reforming tuition fees, she argued: “There is much to be said for the panel’s proposal to cut fees and top up the money from Government, protecting the sector’s income overall but focussing more of that investment on high-quality and high-value courses. I know there are some, including the Labour Opposition, who will reject this finding because they want to abolish fees altogether. Such a move would be regressive and destructive – hurting our institutions and limiting the opportunities for our young people.”

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner commented: “The report alone does nothing to address the burning injustices facing our education system. With no formal Government response, no extra funding and no guarantee that the recommendations will be implemented by her successor the Augar review epitomises May’s legacy as Prime Minister and this shambolic Tory government –  all talk, empty promises and very little action.”

Speaking on LBC earlier, Chancellor Philip Hammond warned: “We won’t be able to prioritise every area. If we want to be able to spend some of that fiscal headroom that I have accumulated, we first have to get the Brexit issue resolved.”

By the way, as well as the report, there is a whole lot of supporting material including the outcomes of the call for evidence that informed the review. Some nuggets:

  • For student finance, more than half of students responding thought fees should be reduced or abolished. There was a mix of views from providers over whether the fees charged to students at present covered the cost of courses, with views further split about the advantages and disadvantages of applying differential fees for different subjects and how this might work. Student loans were seen by many as burdensome and off-putting, in particular for part-time and mature students. Many respondents suggested that means-tested maintenance grants should be reintroduced.
  • Respondents and respondent groups had a range of views of what constituted value for money in post-18 education including student experience, employability and commercial terms, as well as the wider benefits to society. Some questioned the need for the concept. HE providers and HE employees tended to favour value in terms of student experience and qualifications achieved, whereas students and graduates valued employability and the earnings advantage of a degree, seen as a return on their investment.
    • Overall employability was perceived as the most important measure of value for money, followed by value to society and the student experience.
    • Value for money was considered to be improved either if the cost of education to students is reduced, or if the quality of education and its contribution to the economy and to society is increased.
  • Respondents identified financial barriers as the most common difficulty for disadvantaged students, including debt (both real and the prospect of it), covering costs out of term time and inadequate maintenance support.

And the Tory leadership contest?

New potential candidates are joining the fray all the time.  There are so many it is hard to work out what they all stand for.  The whittling down process can’t start until after 10th June.  Until then we will have to put up with remarkably similar soundbites and some startling announcements as they try to be distinctive.  11 (or 12, or more) views to canvas on every issue that comes up from Augar to football to British Steel.  Oh dear.

This internal squabble really matters – because whoever it is, is going to try and sort out Brexit and nothing else will get done until they do.  The solution might be trying to create a cross party consensus to pass the Withdrawal Agreement legislation and leave with the PM’s deal in October (seems vanishingly unlikely).  Or by going back to Brussels with a backstop unicorn and trying to renegotiate (surely even more unlikely than it was when Parlaiment voted on it).  Or throwing the whole thing up in the air and asking for a long extension for a people’s vote (exceptionally unlikely because any candidate who would go for this will surely not be selected unless they are the last person standing).  Or going for a no-deal Brexit by default, with no legislation if Parliament won’t play ball – surely very unlikely indeed given that this is the only thing Parliamnet agrees on.  Any hint of this would surely spark another Letwin-style rebellion enabled by the Speaker (leading to what, though – there’s no time.  And surely the EU wouldn’t grant an extension in these circumstances).  The timing is critical, because the summer recess takes Parliament to the middle of September, unless they come back early.

And it may all be irrelevant.  If the new leader faces a vote of no confidence fairly early on, and is someone that enough Tories can’t work with (whichever approach they are taking), will enough rebels back it and force a general election?  Then surely the EU would grant an extension.  And all bets would be off, although it seems pretty likely that a general election would lead to another hung Parliament, probably very hung indeed, with a fair number of MPs for the Brexit Party (unless the new Tory leader wins them over) and more Lib Dems and Greens.  So then it would all be about coalitions.  Tricky.

So who could it be?  The BBC have a list although Philip Hammond hasn’t ruled himself out and isn’t on the list yet.  There are some predictions and some more details on The Week here

EU student fees and finance after Brexit

After the recent storm when it was pointed out that EU students would at some point after Brexit stop being eligible for tuition fee loans and “Home” fee status, Chris Skidmore this week confirmed that the current arrangements would continue for students starting courses in 2020-21, continuing the “one year at a time” approach that has been adopted since the EU referendum.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said: We know that students will be considering their university options for next year already, which is why we are confirming now that eligible EU nationals will continue to benefit from home fee status and can access financial support for the 20/21 academic year, so they have the certainty they need to make their choice.”

“Work to determine the future fee status for new EU students after the 2020/21 academic year is ongoing as the Government prepares for a smooth and orderly exit from the EU as soon as possible. The Government will provide sufficient notice for prospective EU students on fee arrangements ahead of the 2021/2022 academic year and subsequent years in future.”

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 23rd February 2018

It has been a busy week with the launch of the “major review of HE fees and funding” (except it may not be…) on Monday and a deluge of commentary and calls for change to follow. And other things happened too.

Major Review of HE

The much announced, long postponed HE “major” review is finally happening. And following the early start during last summer’s “national conversation” there is a lot to say – and it is being said. So we will try to help you navigate the many, many arguments and angles over the next year .

To start with the facts

  • The review has been announced, it has a panel and terms of reference (these are very short and high level). There are links to the speeches and press releases on the gov.uk website. The PM’s speech is here: The right education for everyone
  • The review will run for a year with an interim report (not sure when) – and will be concluded in early 2019.

Panel (from the website):

  • Chaired by Philip Augar, a leading author and former non-executive director of the Department for Education
  • Bev Robinson – Principal of Blackpool and The Fylde College. She has over 20 years’ experience in Further and Higher education colleges in England and has been Awarded an OBE for her services to FE.
  • Edward Peck – Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University since August 2014. Previously, Professor Peck worked at the University of Birmingham as Director of the Health Services Management Centre and subsequently became Head of the School of Public Policy in 2006.
  • Alison Wolf – (Baroness Wolf of Dulwich) a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords, and author of the influential Wolf Review of Vocational Education, published in 2011. She has advised the House of Commons select committee on education and skills as well as the OECD, the Ministries of Education of New Zealand, France and South Africa, and the European Commission among others.
  • Sir Ivor Martin Crewe – Master of University College, Oxford and President of the Academy of Social Sciences. He is the former Chair of the 1994 Group and President of Universities UK.
  • Jacqueline De Rojas – President of techUK and the chair of the Digital Leaders board. She also serves on the government’s Digital Economy Council and was awarded a CBE for Services to International Trade in Technology in the Queen’s New Year Honours list 2018.

The terms of reference

After that there is much less detail – it all becomes less about facts and more about politics.  Firstly – the review is a DfE review not an independent review – the external panel is advisory – the website says:

  • The wide-ranging review will be informed by independent advice from an expert panel from across post 18 education, business and academia”.

There is a total absence of process in any of the materials published so far. So what will the process be? Will there be a consultation? Surely there will be – but this does not look like the sort of review that has led to major review in the past.

Then there is the timing. The review will run for a year with an interim report at some point– and will be concluded in early 2019. Which, as has been pointed out, coincides with Brexit (we are due to leave and start the “transition” period on 29th March 2019) – and has also been pointed out, may coincide with a leadership change or a general election in the UK – depending on how things are going with Brexit including how things go with the parliamentary “meaningful vote” on Brexit.

The Minister for Universities was very open on this subject the question of timing early after his appointment (see our policy update from 2nd Feb)– he said it would not be “credible” to expect changes before the 2018/19 intake. On the announced timing, the changes may not be in time to take effect before the 2019/20 intake either – although less significant changes to the current system, such as interest rates, repayment thresholds, small changes to fee caps, would be possible. If maintenance grants are part of the change they could be in place for 2019/20 entry although they may not affect access that year as most students will already have applied or made other plans – unless plans are trailed very heavily in the interim report and clear indication is given that they will be in place. But we are leaping ahead.

After much discussion about the need to review funding for Further Education as well, and people talking about a post-16 review, the terms of reference call it a “Review of Post-18 Education and Funding”. So it does apply to FE but only applies to post-18 provision.

So it is a major review of fees and funding?

The title is important – it is a review of “Education and Funding”. The speech and the terms of reference were revealing – at least as it has been announced, this is not primarily a review of tuition fees and university funding. What it is (from the terms of reference) is “a major review across post-18 education and funding to ensure a joined up system that works for everyone”.

  • It’s a review of the “system”.
  • Its objectives are:
    • accessibility of the education system
    • a funding system that “provides value for money and works for students and taxpayers”
    • choice and competition
    • skills development

But isn’t this already happening anyway?

So the review is about choice, competition, flexible provision, accelerated degrees, degree apprenticeships, technical education. We already have:

  • the changes put in place by the Higher Education and Research Act
  • the arrangements for the Office for Students and new regulatory system to promote choice and accessibility
  • a new regime for alternative providers
  • an consultation on accelerated degrees which has just closed
  • arrangements for degree apprenticeships and Institutes of Technology
  • a plan for better careers advice (see our policy update from 8th December)

The two areas that have not been addressed by existing initiative are part-time and life-time education.

Might the review therefore make new recommendations to take these initiatives and priorities forward?

In her speech the PM said:

  • This is a review which, for the first time, looks at the whole post-18 education sector in the round, breaking down false boundaries between further and higher education, so we can create a system which is truly joined-up.  Universities – many of which provide technical as well as academic courses – will be considered alongside colleges, Institutes of Technology and apprenticeship providers. There are huge success stories to be found right across the sector, at every level, and by taking a broad view, Philip and his expert panel will be able to make recommendations which help the sector to be even better in the future.”

So it seems not. It is about “joining up” and “breaking down false barriers between further and higher education”. What does that mean? Changing admissions policies after recent press relating to BTECs? (see a recent HEFCE publication here), doing something to support pathways from FE to HE. From the terms of reference it seems to be about transparency and choice for students in relation to funding.

That’s really interesting. Degree apprentices not only don’t pay (or borrow) tuition fees, but they also receive a salary while completing their apprenticeship. That will be a real incentive and as more apprenticeships become available over time is likely to have an impact on enrolments for traditional degrees. So is this just about making sure that more students realise the financial implications of apprenticeships?

Or is this something different – is this hinting at having one single system of funding for all post-18 education at whatever level? If based on loans, that would reduce the value of the current apprenticeship offer – and it would not help with recruitment to achieve the government’s target. But there could be – the government is piloting a flexible lifetime learning fund.

It is interesting that the two quotes alongside the PM’s on the website are from the CBI and David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, who said:

  • “I am very pleased that the Review is looking at the whole system of post-18 education funding. The growth in higher education numbers and the widened access has almost exclusively been for young people taking traditional 3 year undergraduate degrees. That is good news for our economy and for society, and must not be damaged going forward.
  • However, that very growth has been at the expense of adequate and fair investment in the 50% of young people who leave education at 18 and who want to study to higher levels later. Their opportunities have been hampered because of the lack of attention, leading to fewer chances, less funding and a lack of support for them to learn whilst working.”

It will be interesting to see what questions the review starts to ask and where this goes.

It’s all about skills

Consistent with the Industrial Strategy, the term of reference talk about skills.  The Industrial Strategy has a focus on skills which is supported by a whole raft of educational policies, some before 18, such as the new T-levels, and some mentioned already, such as Institutes of Technology and degree apprenticeships.  This is another area where it will be interesting to see what more the review will do beyond the policies already announced. After all, Baroness Wolf was the author of the review on vocational education for 16-19 year olds.

Of course, there is also the potential link between skills and differentiated fees or funding (see below).

It’s about fairness and access

The first point is about access, progression and success for people from disadvantaged backgrounds – a consistent theme from the PM since her appointment – the “great meritocracy” and a focus on social mobility. This is enshrined in the rules of engagement for the Office for Students, and we are eagerly awaiting the first set of guidance from the Office for Students on the next round of fair access agreements. So the review might look at how this is going and what more could be done – although it seems a bit early as this the first opportunity the OfS will have had since taking over.

The second point is very important.   You won’t have missed the many calls from students, the NUS, UUK and others to remember that tuition fees are not the whole story – and that day to day, the real worry for many students is their living costs.

  • Unlike tuition fees, which for undergraduate students are covered in full by loans paid directly to universities, so that they never see the money or the bill until much later, concerns about maintenance costs directly affect students while they are at university.
  • Maintenance loans are means tested based on family income. They therefore fluctuate each year, leaving parents to make up the difference. Not all parents are able, or willing to do that, especially when the assessment depends on last year’s income – which may have changed.
  • The cost of living for students can be extremely high, especially in London, but also depending on the available accommodation – so even students with a full loans are unlikely in many cases to have enough money to cover all their living expenses.
  • Students may have to work to support themselves, which can have an impact on their studies.
  • There are concerns about the impact that this pressure has on the wellbeing and mental health of students.

So many have called , not least UUK, to look at a reintroduction of maintenance grants for disadvantaged students. Could this be the big change that this review will recommend?

Before anyone gets carried away, though, the terms of reference refer to support from the government and from universities and colleges. Is this a reference to the question of bursaries – OFFA have for a long time questioned the effectiveness of bursaries in supporting access and with the new focus on participation and outcomes this area may now be looked at again.

According to OFFA, in 2015/16, universities spent:

  • £447.5 million on financial support, of which:
    • £428.8 million on bursaries, scholarships and fee waivers (discounts) for lower income students and other under-represented groups. The vast majority of this money (87 per cent) went to the poorest students i.e. those with a household income under £25,000
    • £18.7 million on hardship funds for students experiencing severe financial difficulties.

Could universities be directed to increase bursary funding (and presumably not reduce other fair access expenditure)? That seems unlikely given the OFFA view that bursaries don’t necessarily improve access – OFFA have recently challenged institutions to collect evidence about impact. Maybe there are different ways of organising bursaries.

There are already concerns expressed in the new regulatory framework about universities gaming the system to improve outcomes by cutting back on WP students but the conflict would be even greater if universities have to fund maintenance costs for WP students. So universities may be calling for incentives and support if the funding is to come from them and not in the form of grants.

So it’s about fees and funding?

So while we have said above that the review is about the system, about skills and about social mobility, of course fees and funding are at the heart of the review. Aren’t they?

What the PM said was:

  • But the review will also look more widely, and examine our whole system of student funding.  There are many aspects of the current system which work well.  Universities in England are now better funded than they have been for a generation. And sharing the cost of university between taxpayers as a whole and the graduates who directly benefit from university study is a fair principle. It has enabled us to lift the cap on the number of places – which was in effect a cap on aspiration – so universities can expand and so broaden access.
  • But I know that other aspects of the system are a cause for serious concern – not just for students themselves, but parents and grandparents too. This is a concern which I share. The competitive market between universities which the system of variable tuition fees envisaged has simply not emerged. All but a handful of universities charge the maximum possible fees for undergraduate courses.
  • Three-year courses remain the norm.
  • And the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course. We now have one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world.  We have already begun to take action to address some of these concerns. We scrapped the increase in fees that was due this year, and we have increased the amount graduates can earn before they start repaying their fees to £25,000.
  • The review will now look at the whole question of how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies including the level, terms and duration of their contribution. Our goal is a funding system which provides value for money for graduates and taxpayers, so the principle that students as well as taxpayers should contribute to the cost of their studies is an important one. I believe – as do most people, including students – that those who benefit directly from higher education should contribute directly towards the cost of it. That is only fair. 
  • The alternative – shifting the whole burden of university tuition onto the shoulders of taxpayers as a whole – would have three consequences.
  • First, it would inevitably mean tax increases for the majority of people who did not go to university, and who on average earn less than those who did.
  • Second, it would mean our universities competing with schools and hospitals for scarce resources, which in the past meant they lost out, putting their international pre-eminence at risk.
  • And third, it would mean the necessary re-introduction of a cap on numbers, with the Treasury regulating the number of places an institution could offer, and preventing the expansion which has driven wider access in recent years.
  • That is not my idea of a fair or progressive system.”

So no major review of the funding system, then. Instead it will look at “the whole question of how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies including the level, terms and duration of their contribution”. That’s not a shift away from loans to government funding of HE although it may be a shift towards renaming and changing the current system as a graduate tax of some form. It suggests a review of interest rates, and of the 30 year repayment term. Many will argue that this is not the “whole question” at all. And of course the review may be faced with overwhelming evidence that there is more to the issue than this, despite the assumptions made at the start.

And the Prime Minister herself chose to describe the system as broken:

  • “…we must have an education system at all levels which serves the needs of every child. And if we consider the experience which many young people have of our system as it is, it is clear that we do not have such a system today.”

This is a direct response to the argument that young people turned to Labour partly as a result of the Labour position on fees – see my blog for the Lighthouse group on this. More recent research has questioned whether young people really did turn out in force after all.

It is worth mentioning here that the idea that the PM has just realised that tuition fees are high is odd – but apart from the point that this is a result of her own party’s policy in the coalition government there is a real point here – i.e. that nearly all courses cost the same. Many of those involved in the changes to tuition fees – including David Willetts, have said that was not what was expected. I have heard, but have not seen any analysis, that although fees generally replaced HEFCE funding (so no windfall), there was an uplift in university income because the modelling did not assume that the full amount would be charged for all courses. Of course the change in the student number cap has meant an increase in income as well – but with associated costs.

The news over the weekend was all about differentiated fees. There is nothing about that as an outcome in the terms of reference.   They do however refer to the problems that might drive the review towards differentiated fees

  • the fact that most universities charge maximum fees for their courses (implication is that this may not be value for money – but the value for money section doesn’t refer to it
  • the fact that graduate debt has increased but salaries haven’t
  • the issues raised by the PM in her speech “…the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course”.

There are various ways that fees could be differentiated, on cost, on quality, on outcomes, or by having differentiated fees for different groups of students, different fees for course that support the skills agenda, for example, or a combination of all of them. Read some of our earlier analysis of this in my blog for the Lighthouse Group in October. See what students think about this idea in the section about the HEPI report below.

We’ll be watching and reporting on the next steps and the main ideas raised be commentators over the next months.

Differential tuition fees

Talk of differential tuition fees has been constant over the last year and as described above this is a likely feature of the review. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) have responded by publishing a report Differential tuition fees: Horses for courses? summarising the debate and results from a relevant student survey.

Here are excerpts from HEPI’s briefing on the report’s contents:

  • around two-thirds of students (63%) think full-time undergraduate courses should all have the same fees while one-in-three disagree (33%)
  • when asked to state a preference, students prefer higher fees for ‘courses that cost more to teach’ (57%) than ‘courses that lead to higher earnings’ (17%) or ‘courses at more famous universities’ (7%)
  • when questioned about the possibility of introducing higher fees for some subjects, more than half of students (52%) say higher fees might be justified for Medicine but just 7% think they could be justified for Arts (such as History or English) and only 6% for Modern Languages
  • when questioned about the possibility of introducing lower fees for some subjects, 39% say lower fees might be justified for Arts (such as History or English), but just 9% think they could be justified for Law and only 8% for Physics
  • most students (59 per cent) oppose lower fees for poorer students, although a substantial minority (38 per cent) back the idea

The survey was conducted using YouthSight’s Student Omnibus survey, which is the UK’s largest panel of young people, and there were 1,019 full-time undergraduate respondents. Quotas were set on gender, university type and year of study and weights were applied to ensure a balanced sample. Respondents received a £1 Amazon gift voucher

There is a lack of consensus among those who favour greater differentiation in fees for undergraduate students:

  • some want lower fees for science and engineering courses;
  • some want lower fees for disadvantaged students;
  • some want lower fees for less prestigious universities;
  • some want lower fees for courses that tend to deliver poorer outcomes;
  • some want lower fees for courses that tend to deliver higher earnings;
  • some want lower fees for less intensive courses; and
  • some want a free for all with no fee caps.

The possibility of introducing greater price differentiation for undergraduate degrees has been under discussion for at least 20 years, since the Dearing report appeared in 1997. Variable fees for undergraduates were the most controversial aspect of Tony Blair’s Higher Education Act (2004), the main recommendation of the Browne review (2010) and promised by the Coalition.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

  • ‘Different degrees are already meant to cost different amounts but, in England, fees have bunched up at the maximum price of £9,250 a year. Moving to a system of truly differential fees has many influential supporters. Some people seem to think having different fees for different degrees is inevitable. But the supporters of differential fees are deeply split on who should pay less and who should pay more, while most students reject the whole idea. At first glance, differential fees appear to have some advantages. It seems they could help poorer students, send signals about the value of different courses or help satisfy labour market needs. But, on closer inspection, these benefits prove to be largely illusory. Students are not price sensitive when choosing courses and differential fees are not even guaranteed to bring extra resources to universities. There are sound reasons why course fees have bunched at the level of the current fee cap. In opposing differential fees, students appear – yet again – to understand the logic of the current funding system better than many of its critics. It is vital the Government’s funding review takes the whole picture in to account.’

Treasury Committee Student Loan Review

Before the major review of HE was announced the Treasury Committee published the outcome report of its review into student loans.

  • The report found no justification for student loan interest rates to be above the market or inflation rate and called for the Government to ditch the ‘flawed’ RPI method of interest calculation.
  • It criticised the accumulation of loan interest pre-graduation.
  • The committee concluded that reducing tuition fees would be regressive (only the highest earning graduates benefit and university funding would reduce).
  • The report criticised the replacement of grants with maintenance loans inferring the government was creating additional barriers for the very students they were trying to encourage to attend University.
  • A fundamental rethink of part time funding should take place
  • Sharia-compliant student loans should be introduced as soon as possible
  • Simplify the system to ensure that student finance is better communicated
  • The report recommended the Government consider transferring responsibility for loans away from the Student Loans Company to HMRC.

Reported in Research Professional the Treasury Committee said:

  • …it welcomes the planned major review of student financing and university funding, initially announced in October 2017. However, it said it hoped that the universities and science minister Sam Gyimah would keep more of an “open mind” than his predecessor Jo Johnson, who “regrettably” ruled out radical change to the system through the review.

Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)

Read John Vinney’s blog KEF: the missing HE accountability link, or an unnecessary distraction? published by Wonkhe. The blog considers how a discipline level KEF with a wider set of benchmarked metrics supplemented by qualitative assessment would benefit the sector. It calls for Government to reconsider the limitations of the current KEF proposals:

  • One of the often-repeated strengths of the REF is that it allows excellence to be highlighted and celebrated (and funded) wherever it is found. The KEF could do the same for knowledge exchange. But not without a much broader view of knowledge exchange, and a much wider, more meaningful, and fairer assessment. The definition phase for the KEF seems to have been skipped in a rush towards more metrics – we hope that it will be reconsidered.

Widening Participation

A parliamentary question focussed on low household income applicants:

Q – Dan Carden: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to increase the number of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds applying to university.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Widening participation is a central priority for this government….The independent Office for Fair Access, led by the Director of Fair Access (DfA), is the regulator currently responsible for widening access to higher education (HE) in England (a function that will soon transfer to the Office for Students). HE providers wishing to charge tuition fees above the basic fee level must have an Access Agreement, setting out their targets and planned expenditure to improve access for disadvantaged and under-represented groups, and approved by the DfA.
  • The department is introducing sweeping reforms through legislation. The Office for Students (OfS) will have a statutory duty to promote equality of opportunity, across the whole lifecycle for disadvantaged students, not just access. As a result, widening access and participation will be at the core of the OfS’ functions. The department’s reforms will introduce a Transparency Duty requiring HE providers to publish application, offer, acceptance, dropout and attainment rates of students by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background. This will help to hold the sector to account for their record on access and retention of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Consultations

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy update for the w/e 17th November 2017

Welcome!

There’s a veritable feast of HE policy for you to enjoy this week – lots on the budget and fees and funding, another section of the OfS consultation including quality, consumer protection, student protection plans and student transfers, and an update on engagement with schools.

Fees, loans, funding – and the Budget

Philip Hammond’s imminent delivery of the Budget on Wednesday 22 November has caused a mini flurry of organisations releasing reports and evidence aimed to influence. Here’s UUK’s.

It may be too late. Speaking at Wonkfest on 6 November Jo Johnson’s tone of certainty suggested plans were already ready. Of course it wouldn’t be the first time Johnson’s opinion has diverged from the government on expected policy, nor the first time the Prime Minister makes a last minute policy changing decision….

A Budget snippet that Johnson trailed at Wonkfest, to the consternation of the audience, was the suggestion that universities may pick up the tab for the repayment threshold reduction in the student loan repayment rate. While it may be unwise to speculate, your fearless Policy team will once again have a go:

Option 1: The Government could cut all tuition fees down to a lower level without replacing the lost income universities receive.

  1. This reduces the Government’s subsidy for student loans, however it is socially regressive, because it mostly helps those students who go on to earn most. .
  2. However, that is a purely economic analysis – there are many in the sector and politicians who believe that the impact of loans is not purely financial but has effect on behaviour, discouraging those from poorer backgrounds or who don’t expect to have high earnings from applying at all. That argument is of course countered by those who rely on the data that shows that student participation from low income backgrounds is going up steadily – and that at least until last year, there was a strong upward trend in applications overall (which may now have stalled). Note that OFFA do not support direct financial help as a method for increasing participation (they are usually talking about bursaries but the same may hold true for grants)

Option 2: The Government could reduce or abolish tuition fees for a specific group, such as students most in financial need.

  1. This would reduce the Government’s subsidy for student loans
  2. It is a socially progressive policy which supports the Government’s social mobility aims by tackling the debt adversity of the most disadvantaged students. It would help them to attack Labour’s (regressive) 2017 general election promise to abolish tuition fees – and winning back lost voters is of paramount importance to the Conservatives.
  3. It would be easy for the Government to implement this change quickly – as soon as the 2018/19 intake.

Under this scenario it would unlikely that the Government would replace the lost income to universities – so the impact of this would be to force efficiencies within the sector (Johnson is renowned for saying that HE institutions haven’t experienced austerity and have ‘had it good’ for a long time).

In effect, the fees from richer students would be subsiding the poorer students. Universities with the largest number of low income students would be most affected (with the Russell Group relatively unscathed).

This may be a well-planned long game – the Office for Students will have increased power to interrogate and publish admissions statistics to highlight “gaming” and the new Director of Access and Participation can sanction universities through the TEF for a fall in recruitment of low income students. The use of contextual admissions has also been debated widely in the media in recent weeks.

Option 3: The Government could decide to differentiate tuition fees based on subject, allowing subjects with the highest graduate earnings, employment rates and value added to charge the highest fees. The subject level TEF pilots have recently commenced (over 2 years), so such a decision would seem to be premature. However, a consultation in conjunction with the subject-level TEF outcomes ready for swift implementation in 2019 seems plausible. This approach might also mean that high cost subjects (e.g. STEMM) could remain at the highest chargeable fee, but the government could remove the current funding top ups and so reduce the overall cost (and reduce university income still further). See this Sunday Times article on differentiated fees per subject and institution.

Option 4: There have been suggestions of controlling the number of places for certain subjects based on the jobs needed by the economy. The Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee has been conducting a series of oral evidence sessions to investigate The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education. There is much more from this debate in the section below but this exchange is interesting:

  • Willetts: Essentially, there is a group of high-earning courses: law, economics and management. There is a group of middle-earning courses, mainly STEM subjects. There are less well-paid graduates. The worst paid are in the performing arts. That is another reason why it proves very difficult to get into differential fees. We could charge more for graduates doing courses with high pay but how then would we exempt fees or justify charging higher fees for skills shortage areas such as STEM or medicine.
  • Adonis: Tiered fees of that kind are precisely what the Australians have.
  • Willetts: Yes, and it is not satisfactory. Australia is in a mess; it has static levels.

Option 5: Continuing in this vein the Government may reconsider the original TEF proposal to set limits on which institutions can charge the higher tier of fees. You will recall that the TEF proposal was to let Gold and Silver rated institutions raise their fees each year- linked to a percentage of the inflation cap, but this idea was postponed in response to feedback from the House of Lords. Using new employability and earnings data (to be included in the TEF from this year) the argument may now be that students studying at an institution likely to result in a highly paid job could reasonably be expected to pay more upfront. And a recent student opinion surveys suggest students would be willing buy into such a ‘guarantee’ (see UPP, page 17). Earlier in the term some institutions within the Russell Group were lobbying for this. However, given that far fewer WP students currently apply or are admitted into the Russell Group institutions this would negatively impact the Government’s social mobility agenda. Of course the government may believe that the OfS provisions on WP will address this.

Option 6: And of course other options that do not hit tuition fees are also available. The Sutton Trust (see later in this Policy Update) would like to see a return to grants. The IFS have published a paper on “options for reducing the interest rate on student loans and introducing maintenance grants” – as two key options for the government, which are being called for – including by UUK. they conclude that both of these options could be done at a reasonable cost in some circumstances but that both would benefit high earning graduates most and make very little difference to the rest. As with an across the board reduction in fees (see above) this would therefore be regressive, but might have a beneficial effect in terms of increasing participation.

Option 7: The current Office for Students regulatory consultation (see below) considers the future use of the teaching grant (the grant to universities topping up high cost subjects, specialist support and innovation). It states the OfS will continue the current approach “but it will also wish to deploy the teaching grant strategically, taking into account Government priorities. This will enable it to influence sector level outcomes…” Could this mean government inadvertently pushing institutions to conform to a similar set of ideals (to attract the money) at a time when institutions need to differentiate themselves to compete successfully for students in a squeezed market? If so it could also be contrary to the regional specialities (responding to place) within the industrial strategy.

And more: Differentiated caps and varying loans might seem unattractive to Government due to its complexities to both administer and communicate to the electorate. It is also poor timing given the significant press covering Steve Lamey’s dismissal from the Student Loans Company after claiming it was a “mess” and badly run.

In last week’s policy update we wrote about HEPI’s paper which revealed the extent to which it can be argued that tuition fees from all students, but particularly international students, subsidise research costs. Jo Johnson has long been rumoured to be vexed at the cross-subsidisation that exists within the sector. So will we see a shake-up aimed at research funding too? Given the instability associated with Brexit, the Government’s focus on industrial strategy to boost the economy, in particular their aim to capitalise on innovation and the commercialisation of research, and the recent cash injections announced for R&D might research survived unscathed? It is not a stretch to imagine that this would disproportionately benefit some institutions more than others given the current rhetoric around outcomes (outputs) and institutional status.

Lastly, Conservative think tank Bright Blue have proposed that universities themselves should contribute financially to the sustainability of the student-loans system by repaying the Government subsidy for student loans. This subsidy is currently estimated as 20-30p for each £1 lent. Bright Blue is quick to remind that the cost of such a subsidy wouldn’t be so high if universities didn’t all charge the highest fee. Bright Blue continues:

  • “Certainly, there are an awful lot of expensive institutions producing graduates with earnings that mean their student loans must be subsidised, costing the taxpayer a lot of money…Thanks to the new Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset., which uses HMRC and Student Loans Company data to accurately link nearly all graduate salaries to institutions attended, it is now possible to expose such universities. Institutions producing a disproportionate number of graduates who will need their student loans subsidised should contribute a levy to government.”

They go on to suggest that should universities charge less/contribute financially to the write-off subsidy this would enable the Government to better fund lower (FE) qualifications or more modular methods of study.

Delve into the detailed background and some other options in Jane’s blog on the Lighthouse Policy Group: Fees, loans and debt – an Autumn update.

In retrospect, after our dark musings on the Budget, Jo Johnson’s repeated reminder that the sector should not clamour for May’s announced review of HE (as it risks a less advantageous settlement than present) seem like wise words.

IFS – student loans and maintenance grants

As mentioned above, The IFS have published a paper on “options for reducing the interest rate on student loans and introducing maintenance grants” .  Key findings are (our emphasis added):

Interest rates

  • Positive real interest rates on student loans increase the debt levels of all graduates but only increase the lifetime repayments of higher-earning graduates. Removing them does not affect up-front government spending on HE, but it does slightly increase the deficit (due to the slightly confusing treatment of interest accrued on student debt in the government finances). More significantly, it also increases the long-run costs of HE due to the associated reduction in graduate repayments.
  • Reducing the interest rates to RPI + 0% for everyone would reduce the debt levels of all graduates. Debt on graduation would be around £3,000 lower on average, while average debt at age 40 would be £13,000 lower. However, because of the link between income and interest in the current system, this cut would reduce the debts of the highest-earning graduates the most: the richest 20% of graduates would hold around £20,000 less debt at age 40 as a result of this policy, while the lowest-earning 20% of graduates would be just £5,500 better off in terms of debt held at the same age. This policy of switching to RPI + 0% would have no impact on up-front government spending on HE, but would cost the taxpayer £1.3 billion per year in the long run. It would be a significant giveaway to high-earning graduates, saving the richest 20% more than £23,000 over their lifetimes.
  • A less costly policy would be to reduce interest rates to RPI + 0% while studying and leave rates unchanged after graduation. This would reduce the debt levels of all graduates at age 40 by around £5,000. It would be a significantly cheaper reform, costing around £250 million per year in the long run. Again, there is little impact on the repayments of low- and middle-earning graduates, while the highest-earning graduates would be around £5,000 better off over their lifetimes.

Maintenance grants

  • Reintroducing maintenance grants in place of loans also has no impact on up-front government spending on HE, but it results in a large increase in the government cost of HE as measured by the current deficit, due to the differential treatment of loans and grants in government accounting. The long-run cost of this type of policy is typically much lower as a large proportion of the loans that grants would replace are not expected to be repaid anyway.
  • Reintroducing grants of £3,500 under a similar system to that before 2016 would increase deficit spending by around £1.7 billion, but the long-run cost is only around £350 million. This reform would reduce the debt on graduation of students from low-income backgrounds taking a three-year degree by around £11,000.
  • The beneficiaries from this change in terms of actual lifetime loan repayments are students from low-income backgrounds who go on to have high earnings. We estimate that students eligible for the full maintenance grant who are in the lowest-earning 60%of graduates would experience little or no change in lifetime repayments, while those who have earnings in the top 10% of graduates would save around £22,000.

Sutton trust – fairer fees

In contrast to the IFS paper above, The Sutton Trust, a social mobility foundation, has released Fairer Fees which proposes using a sliding scale of means-tested fees and the reintroduction of maintenance grants. This focuses not on the economic effect of changing the structure (which the IFS says is regressive) but on the psychological impact of reducing debt.

They state that implementing these measures would cost the Treasury the same amount as October’s reduction to the student loan repayment threshold. The benefits of the approach are that they would cut average student debt by 50% (psychological benefit encouraging the debt adverse to reconsider HE) but with the greatest beneficial effects on students from low household income backgrounds “it would slash debt among the 40% poorest students by 75%, from £51,600 down to £12,700, and mean those from the poorest backgrounds emerged with two thirds less debt than their better-off counterparts”. The report claims changing to the proposed fee policy would also benefit the Treasury as it would reduce the proportion of graduates never repaying their full loans from 81% to 56% with the overall proportion of debt not paid back to 35%. However, the Treasury may consider these figures in a different light as there would be fewer graduates required to repay their loans because of the reintroduction of maintenance grants. The report makes the following five recommendations:

  1. The government should implement its promised review of higher education funding. While the October reforms were welcome, there needs to be a thorough review of deeper reforms to the system. In particular, the crisis in part-time numbers should be addressed and bespoke solutions explored.
  2. Our proposed solution would be to introduce a system of means-tested fees which waives fees entirely for those from low income backgrounds, and increases in steps for those from higher income households. Significant ‘cliff edges’ between income bands should be avoided as much as possible.
  3. Maintenance grants, abolished in 2016, should be restored, providing support for those who need it most and reducing the debt burden of the least well-off, so that they graduate with lower debt than those from better-off backgrounds.
  4. Losses to higher education institutions through lower fee income should be replaced by increased teaching grants. While this involves greater upfront costs to the Exchequer, it also provides a lever by which government could promote the provision of courses in certain areas such as STEM. This teaching grant compensation would be adjusted to ensure that universities admitting intakes with lower average fee levels would not suffer any drop in income.
  5. Reducing access gaps to university, especially top universities, should be at the heart of government higher education policy. There needs to be a joined-up effort to tackle the persistent access gap for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds across all aspects of higher education, from student finance to the UCAS application process to the use of contextual data by universities in admissions.

Returning to the Sutton Trust’s recommendations it is interesting to note that it doesn’t tackle Lord Willetts’ (ex-Universities and Science Minister) calls for a differentiated loan system for mature and part time students. Willett believes an alternative loan scheme coupled with more diverse degree models would tackle the part time and mature falling student number crisis by ruling out both psychological and financial deterrents. We’ll await the Budget with baited breath to find out if the Sutton Trust (and their accompanying press attention: Huff Post, Independent, Metro) will influence Government spending.

The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education

The Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee has been conducting a series of oral evidence sessions to investigate The Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education. The aim of the investigation is to consider whether the funding of post-school education is focused sufficiently on the skills the British economy needs. The transcripts of a particularly interesting session held on 10 October were released this week revealing a stimulating debate. The witnesses were Lord Willetts, Lord Adonis and Paul Johnson (Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies). Some interesting bits are below:

One third of graduates won’t end up in a graduate job.

  • Willetts: while they may not be in graduate employment when young they have a higher chance of securing graduate employment eventually..   Jobs considered non-graduate in the official standard occupational classifications are becoming more demanding, furthermore graduates seem to change the nature of the work they do just by virtue of their additional skills

Does what the HE system is trying to achieve match labour market outcomes, and how does it relate to other routes people could take?

  • Adonis: due to high fee levels some careers that previously required graduates are now moving to take non-graduates. [Examples given were big accountancy firms and the Civil Service who are recruiting high-level apprentices into graduate roles]. Graduates who previously would have gone to university are “now seizing prestigious high-level apprenticeship opportunities as a way of going straight into careers without having to take degrees and take on debt. I see no reason in principle why that could not go a lot further.” “I see no reason in principle why accountancy, and even the law, which, if you go back two generations, were not graduate careers for many of those participating in them, could not once again become much more vocational careers, where people can train on the job, get qualifications that are recognised in their profession and not have to take on high levels of debt. That is much more the case in German-style economies where the number of graduates is much lower to start with.”

Is student debt discouraging people from attending university and will our economy suffer?

  • Adonis: If you talk to sixth formers and those making decisions at 18 or 19, it is undoubtedly true that they are looking at alternatives to university in a way they were not a few years ago. As the number of high level apprenticeships increases they will become increasingly attractive. I suspect that we will see trends in both directions over the next few years. It will not by any means be just a trend towards more graduates.
  • Paul Johnson: there is no evidence in the data that the fee system has had much effect on the numbers of people going into higher education. There may be an effect later on, and a group of young people may be making different choices, but overall, as far as we can tell, the numbers have not been affected.

Given that many graduates will not repay debt is there any argument to forgive debt in public sector shortages areas (teachers, doctors, nurses)?

  • Adonis: “I tried hard to persuade the Treasury of the virtues of that argument. I did not get very far because it was convinced that… it would be left with almost no debt to collect.”
  • Baroness Kingsmill: In the US debt is forgiven relative to the number of years worked in the dearth sector – for 5 years work you’re forgiven half the debt; for 10 years, you are forgiven the whole lot.
  • Paul Johnson: rather than forgiving debt it’s more effective just to pay them more. Why do it in a roundabout way by forgiving debt?

On technical and vocational training – see the apprenticeships section below for more on this

University – seen as the only option

  • The discussion turned to suggesting young people choose university because it’s the most obvious and easiest to understand route, that there is limited information or advice to support young people who might choose an alternative route.
  • Willets responded: I agree with your point that other routes need to be clearly signalled, but I expect that in a modern western economy the managed transition to adulthood via three years of higher education is the mainstream route people will take. The danger of some people going down the alternative route is that I know who they will be. Eton will not be sending 25% of its kids on apprenticeships. You will reopen the social divide in participation by advantaged and disadvantaged groups.

Discussion of university place number controls was peppered through the committee hearing.

  • Adonis argued against controlling numbers based on the jobs needed by the economy (referencing Robbins): How should we think of universities? Should we try to predict the jobs that people are going to do in 20 or 30 years’ time and allocate places at university in accordance with our predictions? He said, “No, we cannot know”. Instead, he wanted an open, flexible system, heavily influenced by the number of people with the capacity to benefit from higher education.

Decline in part time students – a different loan system needed

  • Willets stated the decline in part time students was one of his greatest regrets in his time as Minister. He continued: The lesson I learn from it is that, rather than the seductive idea that you can have a single pot per person to pay for their education, you need different models for different groups. We extended loans to part-time students thinking it would have the same beneficial effect on them as the loans for full-time students, and all would be fine. The evidence is that the loans for part-time students have not worked. There has been low take up and people have been put off. We need new mechanisms for helping adults to study part-time, and I accept that the loan model has not delivered for them… If at any point we were looking at how to spend limited public money and what public spending would do, rather than spending it on compensating universities for a general reduction in fees, I have a list of things where I think there is a need. Certainly, a public spending package for adult learners, including helping mature students with the cost of tertiary education, be it university or not, would be a high priority.

International Students Fees/Cross-subsidisation

  • Discussion on whether it was right to charge international students a greater fee took place -asking whether the international students were getting value for money.
  • Adonis: if we were overcharging international students they would quite rapidly start to go elsewhere. We seem to be pretty price competitive with other major international education providers, and less expensive than many of the providers in the United States.

Charging differential fees – see the fees section above for this bit

On sandwich courses:

  • Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted: We often hear from companies that the graduates they recruit are not job-ready…do we have the right approach in what we are looking for from university education? Is it delivering?
  • Willetts: I have a sneaking regard for…the extra year sandwich course. We should remember that, now, about half of all university students are doing vocational technical training courses that include time with an employer. We could have taken a different route, but Britain has ended up with a large amount of our professional and technical education now happening in a university context, and that is why university students are absolutely entitled to know which of those routes lead to good, well-paid jobs.

Flexible Degree Models

  • Baroness Harding of Winscombe: How do we get more flexible university education. It feels better with one year or two-year courses and courses you can dip into through a decade, not just three years. That seems to me, from a business perspective, to be a more effective means of building the skills we might need in the modern economy than assuming that all institutions doing three-year courses from the age of 18 to 21 is the right answer.
  • Lord Adonis: The failure to offer two-year degrees is a serious one on the part of universities. One of the effects of stuffing their mouths with money, which is what we have done over the last five years, has been to reduce significantly the incentives on them to do so. The Minister for higher education, in what I think was a very surprising change in the rules, is now allowing universities to charge the equivalent of three years’ worth of fees, taking out state loans over two years, as a way of encouraging them to offer two-year degrees when, surely, the rationale for two-year degrees ought to be that they should be at lower cost and at lower fees for the students.

Evolution of Apprenticeships

Wonkhe have published the blog: How apprenticeships can help productivity and social mobility which considers the evolution of apprenticeship policy. The article favours current government apprenticeship policy and on social mobility states: we have a unique once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop exciting work-based apprenticeship routes for new and underrepresented cohorts of learners. This will call for new patterns of apprenticeship delivery, new partnerships and new thinking.

There was some debate at the Economic Affairs Select Committee on this (see above for the rest);

  • Willets: Sometimes the higher education debate is just the lightning rod for a debate about what kind of structure we think the British economy should have. The German educational and industrial models are closely linked. In a highly regulated labour market, with a large amount of licence to practise that you need to secure to do a whole range of jobs, and apprenticeship routes into those jobs, and provincial banks funding the companies that protect those jobs—in other words, a much more corporatist model—you can also have a whole series of regulated training routes into specific types of vocational employment.
  • Adonis: “…if you are pretty clear what you want to do and which direction you want to go in and it is a commercial occupation, it is better to learn on the job and not accumulate between £60,000 and £100,000 of debt and be less work-ready at the age of 21 than you would be if you started at 18.”

And later on:

  • Lord Layard: I should declare that I work in a university, and I know that the rate of return for university education is reasonable, but the rate of return for apprenticeship and further education is generally found to be a lot higher. Is it not peculiar that we have not put more resources and effort into developing that side of it?…Failure to develop the non-university vocational education route, both at lower and higher levels, is a major cause of the inequality of wages in our country. What is being done about the alternative?
  • Adonis: I do not think that, somehow, we have a weak apprenticeship stream because we have a strong graduate stream. We have a weak apprenticeship stream because the state has not devoted resources, energy and commitment to creating a strong apprenticeship stream. Many of the countries that have them also have very strong universities. It is not a question of regulation; it is a question of proper funding streams, proper qualification systems and a commitment by employers to foster skills among their workforce, which historically has not happened here.
  • Willetts: It is absolutely right that we should promote technical education; we find it in universities, and, by and large, around the world the places that do it well tend to seek university title in the end.
  • Paul Johnson: We still do a very poor job for too many young people in vocational education. We need to focus more on apprenticeships. A serious issue is that Governments have tried, to some extent in the past, and have continually failed serially to make changes happen in an effective way. The serious question is why. Is it about political focus? Is it about resource? We certainly put a lot less resource into apprenticeships than we do into the university system.

Widening Participation – Schools

School Sponsorship

UUK have published Raising attainment through university-school partnerships, a good practice booklet of case studies detailing successful collaborative partnerships between universities and schools to raise pupil attainment and appetite for HE. The case studies are diverse and the booklet concludes that preserving flexibility of arrangements is a key aspect of the sector’s drive to raise standards in schools and remove the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils. Two recommendations are made:

  • focus should be on ends rather than means, with great flexibility over how HE can support schools based on local context and need whilst meeting the Government’s objectives
  • universities and their school partners need access to information on ‘what works’ – the Evidence & Impact Exchange (proposed by the Social Mobility Advisory Group) would support this by evaluating and promoting the evidence on social mobility, and assisting the direction of future partnerships to support attainment, access and student success

At the UUK Access and Student Success summit on Tuesday a Government representative made clear that broader (and effective) forms of partnership working are welcome but that they expect more universities to be involved in a school sponsorship style model.

Background: In December 2016 the Government made clear that they expected universities to be more interventionist proposing that all universities sponsor or set up a school in exchange for charging higher HE tuition fees. The Schools that work for everyone consultation garnered responses to the Government’s aim to harness universities’ expertise and resources to drive up attainment through direct involvement. (Note: the Government has not yet published a response to the consultation feedback.) When the snap election was announced the school sponsorship agenda featured in the Conservative’s manifesto. However, recently there has been little additional push from Government.

Working quietly in the wings throughout this period, OFFA have been urging institutions to make progress against a more diluted version of the Government’s aim – that universities take measures to support school pupils’ attainment and increase school collaboration through the Fair Access Agreements. In this they are acting on the strategic priorities the Government set out for them (originally in February 2016). While the push from OFFA has been to consider school sponsorship they appear to concur with the sector that this ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate. Furthermore, it may run counter to social mobility objectives as encouraging an institution to focus the majority of its required WP spend on just one local school disadvantages pupils in other schools who will no longer receive the university’s support. This approach has faced much criticism from the education sector and from some MPs.

OFFA’s 2018-19 strategic guidance to institutions: It is now imperative to progress and scale up work with schools and colleges to accelerate the sector’s progress….[we are] asking you to increase the pace and scope of your work with schools to raise attainment, so that the teaching and learning outcomes for schools that work with universities are enhanced.  The guidance went on to request detailed information on the specific attainment-focused cohorts, success criteria, and how the work is planned to grow over time.

What will the New Year bring?  It seems unlikely that Government intend to drop the school sponsorship agenda. In spring/summer 2018 the Office for Students will come into its full powers, with a new Director, Chris Millward, at the Fair Access helm. We’ll see of this is a priority then.

Office for Students regulatory consultation

Continuing our series of updates on the OfS consultation – three weeks ago we looked at widening participation, this week we look at quality and standards, and protecting students as consumers. This section includes extensive quotes from the consultation document, reordered and edited to make it easier to follow.  BU will be preparing an institutional response to this consultation. Policy@bournemouth.ac.uk will work with colleagues across BU and collate our response. (Wonkhe have helpfully grouped them all on one web page)

  1. Objective 2: all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
Consultation question:: Do you agree or disagree that a new Quality Review system should focus on securing outcomes for students to an expected standard, rather than focusing on how outcomes are achieved?

Consultation question:: Would exploring alternative methods of assessment, including Grade Point Average (GPA), be something that the OfS should consider, alongside the work the sector is undertaking itself to agree sector-recognised standards?

The quality conditions are:

  • B1: The provider must deliver well-designed courses that provide a high quality academic experience and enable a student’s achievement to be reliably assessed.
  • B2: The provider must support students, including through the admissions system, to successfully complete and benefit from a high quality academic experience.
  • B3: The provider must deliver successful outcomes for its students, which are recognised and valued by employers, and/or enable further study.

Quality code: “In parallel to this consultation, the UK wide Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) has issued a consultation on revised expectations for the Quality Code.. The UKSCQA is working to conclude its consultation, and to finalise a revised set of expectations during Spring 2018. ….The new Quality Review system will provide a sound basis for the assessment of the quality and standards conditions, and be able to evolve with the increasing diversity of providers.”

New providers: “To facilitate greater diversity in provision and student experience, the OfS will make it easier for high quality providers to enter the sector. ….The OfS will also reduce the emphasis on a provider’s track record, which risks shutting out high quality and credible new providers.”

Grade inflation: “The OfS will annually analyse and arrange for the publication of information on grade inflation, directly challenging the sector where there is clear evidence of grade inflation”.

It was recently announced that the TEF will also include a new grade inflation metric on the proportion of students awarded different classifications over time. ….The TEF will therefore provider a counterweight to traditional ranking systems, some of which inadvertently encourage grade inflation by giving providers credit for the number of high-class degrees they award without further scrutiny.

A new condition will address this: C1: The provider must ensure the value of qualifications awarded to students at the point of qualification and over time, in line with sector-recognised standards.

Freedom of speech: Much heralded in the press around the launch of the consultation, there is actually very little about this (and it is not mentioned at all in the student summary). There is a lot more detail about the public interest proposal (see the section on the Public Interest Principles below), but this bit is relevant in this context:

  • the provider has set up a code of practice to ensure compliance with the statutory duty in section 43 of the Education (No.2) Act 1986 and compliance with any other applicable obligations in relation to freedom of speech
  • the provider ensures that its governing documents consider its obligations in relation to freedom of speech, and do not contain any provisions which contradict these obligations
  • the governing body abides by its governing documents in practice with respect to any issues around freedom of speech

Objective 3: that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure

“Consumer rights are not limited to protecting students from the very worst situations where their provider or course closes entirely. It is also important that students understand what they can expect of their providers in terms of issues such as teaching hours and support available.”

  • Condition D: “The provider must be financially viable and financially sustainable and must have appropriate resources to provide and fully deliver the higher education courses as advertised ….and enable the provider to continue to comply with all conditions of its registration.”
  • Condition E4: “Providers must demonstrate in developing their policies and procedures governing their contractual and other relationships with students that they have given due regard to relevant guidance as to how to comply with consumer law.”
  • Condition G: “The provider must cooperate with the requirements of the student complaints scheme run by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education including the subscription requirements and make students aware of their ability to use the scheme.”

Consumer law: “The provider is expected to submit a short self-assessment, describing how, in developing its policies and procedures governing their contractual and other relationships with prospective students (and relationships once those students have become current students), it has given due regard to relevant guidance about how to comply with consumer law.”

“In terms of the initial students’ contracts and consumer rights registration condition, the OfS will look at steps taken by providers in relation to prospective students i.e. it will look at policies and procedures governing contractual and other relationships with students who are commencing their studies from the academic year 2019/20, ensuring the policies and procedures are sound to govern the contractual and other relationships with those students once they have become current students.”

“The provider’s self-assessment should be accompanied by supporting evidence, demonstrating how it meets the condition. “

“In order to determine whether or not a provider is complying with the students’ contracts and consumer rights registration condition on an ongoing basis, the OfS’s judgement will be informed by the provider’s behaviour, information submitted by the provider, and any other information available to the OfS, such as whistleblowing / public interest disclosure reports submitted to OfS, or information from other relevant bodies, such as OIA, CMA or Trading Standards.”

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree that a student contracts condition should apply to providers in the Approved categories, to address the lack of consistency in providers’ adherence to consumer protection law?

Student transfer: “Students should have, and be aware of, the option to transfer. For individual students, like the new parent changing to a part-time course so they can spend more time with family, or the carer who needs to move to another part of the country, but doesn’t want to give up their studies, transfer has the potential to improve their lives dramatically. For students collectively, the availability of student transfer empowers choice and helps drive competition. The OfS will work to ensure students are able to transfer fluidly within and between providers wherever it best meets their needs and aspirations.”

Condition H: “The provider must publish information about its arrangements for a student to transfer. If the provider lacks such arrangements, it must explain how it facilitates the transfer of a student.”

“The OfS will monitor whether providers have procedures in place to facilitate student transfer, along with information about students transferring into courses delivered by their institution …The OfS will use this reporting to raise the profile of student transfer for students, and highlighting successes, best practice, and areas where further work is needed for providers. If necessary, the OfS will go further to promote student transfer and raise awareness among students to help individuals make the choices that are right for them, or even commission research into the means by which transfer could be most effectively encouraged.”

Consultation question: Do you agree or disagree with the proposed general ongoing registration condition requiring the publication of information on student transfer arrangements? How might the OfS best facilitate, encourage or promote the provision of student transfer arrangements?

Student protection plans

“The OfS will be a market regulator, and as such it should not have to be in the business of having to prop up failing institutions, and neither should Government. The possibility of exit is a crucial part of a healthy, competitive and well-functioning market, and such exits happen already – although not frequently – in the higher education sector.”

“However, the OfS’ regulatory framework, and in particular the financial viability and sustainability condition and the OfS’s early warning approach to monitoring, are designed to prevent sudden and unexpected closures. This does not mean departmental, campus or even institutional closures will never occur. Higher education providers are autonomous institutions, and as such are entitled to make their own decisions about any future business model or viability of any particular course or subject.”

“The OfS’ interest is in ensuring that such changes and closures do not adversely affect students and their ability to conclude their studies and obtain a degree. This is why it will be a registration condition for all providers in the Approved categories to have an agreed student protection plan in place (see condition F) – the core purpose of which will be ensuring continuity of study.”

Condition F: “The provider must have in force a student protection plan which has been approved by the OfS (which sets out what actions they will take to minimise any impact on the students’ continuation of study should the provider discontinue the course, subject, discipline or exit the market completely) and the provider commits to taking all reasonable steps to comply with the provisions of that plan.”

“Student protection plans will set out what students can expect to happen in the event of course, campus or department closure, or if an institution exits the market. The plans must be approved by the OfS, and be easily available to current and prospective students. Providers with a low risk of unplanned closure would be required to have light-touch plan “

“Any measures must be feasible and practicable, and be backed up by clear implementation plans. When agreeing SPPs with the OfS the provider may be expected to provide some sort of reassurance on the financial position, which may include additional measures such as financial guarantees, or escrow type arrangements where a higher risk of market exit specifically is identified.”

Electoral registration – The HERA included a provision that the OfS could require providers to take steps to facilitate electoral registration. This is a provider level requirement that does not fit easily under the headings. The consultation says that:

“A healthy democratic society is one which has social justice at its heart. It is also dependent on the active participation of its citizens. The Government is, therefore, committed to helping ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote is able to do so, including students. However, people cannot vote until they have registered to vote and higher education providers have a major part to play in achieving this.“

“The condition will require higher education providers to cooperate with EROs, in accordance with such steps as the OfS considers appropriate. The Secretary of State will issue guidance under section 2(3) of HERA…subject to the outcome of this consultation, we expect this Ministerial Guidance is likely to:

  • reinforce the requirement for higher education providers to co-operate with EROs’ requests under Regulation 23 of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 for information on students for the purposes for electoral registration. We want providers to understand that they have a legal obligation to co-operate with these requests
  • include a direction for higher education providers to work in partnership with their local electoral services team to actively promote electoral registration amongst their student populations”

“The Government proposes to review and evaluate the overall effectiveness of this condition, once it has been implemented over a sufficient period to facilitate the gathering of appropriate data in terms of numbers of students who have registered. The evaluation will examine how effective the condition has been at helping increase successful applications from students to join the electoral register. “

More to follow on other aspects of the consultation

Brexit – Parliamentary Question

Q – Dr Matthew Offord: What assessment he has made of the capacity within UK universities and research institutes to continue to investigate the European geo-political area after the UK leaves the EU.

A – George Eustice: The Department has made no such assessment but the Prime Minister explained in her Florence Speech that the UK will continue to take part in those specific policies and programmes which are greatly to the UK and the EU’s joint advantage, such as those that promote science, education and culture.

Other news

Advertising Standards: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld disputes with six universities claiming to be top or within a top percentage for student satisfaction, graduate prospects, academic discipline, and global or national ranking. Leicester, East Anglia, Strathclyde, Falmouth, Teesside and the University of West London have all been instructed to remove their misleading content. The ASA has stated universities should substantiate such comparative statements by ensuring that the data behind the claim is sufficiently robust and can stand up to impartial interrogation. New guidance for universities on the required standards has been published here.

Press coverage of the ASA’s decisions: BBC, Guardian, and the Times.

Wonkhe have a guest blogger, Charles Heymann, who argues for universities to radically rethink their marketing straplines focusing on the institution’s values.

It remains to be seen if the ASA decisions, which threaten all top claims, will affect the sector’s preoccupation with rankings or influence student and parental opinion of the validity of such rankings.

Undergraduate employment: The Office for National Statistics has been researching undergraduate students’ employment whilst studying. In 2014/15 72.7% of students were in paid employment. Interestingly the South West had the highest employment percentage (77.6%) and London the lowest. Particularly notable for BU is that in East Dorset 9 out of 10 students were counted within the employment figures.

Konfer: This week saw the official launch of phase 2 of Konfer – a collaborative initiative from the National Centre for Universities and Business, the Research Councils, and HEFCE. It aims to open up research, researchers, and services within UK universities to businesses and other organisations looking for collaboration or new ideas, and to translate the research into jobs, innovation and economic growth. Described as ‘Google meets LinkedIn for university collaboration’ it utilises a search facility (search for an expert, a paper, a piece of equipment, a business or charity partner) to connect with the supplier.

David Sweeney, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE and Executive Chair Designate of Research England, said: “konfer promotes stronger commercialisation, business and policy links and wider societal engagement with publicly funded research. It opens out what universities and research institutes do to a wider audience and I’m delighted to see it reaching full launch stage following development work with universities and businesses of all sizes.”

BU’s Research and Knowledge Exchange Office engaged with Konfer during its early development and continue to develop our involvement.

Immigration: The Home Office has doubled the number of Tier 1 visas, available to those with exceptional talent or promise in the technology, arts, creative and sciences industries. Two thousand visas will now be made available for those endorsed by Tech City UK, the Arts Council of England, the British Academy, the Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Engineering. (WONKHE)

Policy Research Principles: The National Audit Office (NAO) has published their review Cross-government funding of research and development concluding that a more joined up approach is needed for some science based cross-departmental research areas within leadership, research principles and coordinated, prioritised funding arrangements. It concludes that BEIS and UKRI will play leading roles.

Government needs a coherent view of the UK’s research strengths relative to other nations and analysis of funding in key areas of research, so that it can prioritise areas where activity is lagging behind and ensure the UK is investing in the right areas…there is a risk that funders do not have coherent data across research areas on capability, funding gaps, or outcomes of research and development to inform decisions on national priorities and strategic direction..” (Amyas Morse Head of NAO)

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update for the w/e 8th September

Well, Parliament is back and we have had a lively start to the autumn.

REF 2021

On 1st September 2017 HEFCE published the initial decisions on REF 2021. This does not include decisions regarding submitting staff, output portability or the eligibility of institutions to participate in the REF. There is another consultation on those issues and BU’s response is being prepared by RKEO – please contact Julie Northam if you would like to be involved. Thanks to Julie for these highlights of the announcement:

Assessment weightings:

  • Outputs 60% (down from 65%)
  • Impact 25% (up from 20%)
  • Environment 15% (same but now includes impact strategy)
  • HESA cost centres will not be used to allocate staff to UOAs. Responsibility for mapping staff into UOAs will therefore remain with institutions.

UOA structure:

  • Total UOAs reduced from 36 to 34
  • Engineering will be a single UOA – UOA 12
  • REF 2014 UOA 17 will be restructured to form UOA 14: Geography and Environmental Studies and UOA 15: Archaeology
  • ‘Film and Screen Studies’ will be located and included in the name of UOA 33: Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies
  • HEFCE will continue consulting with the subject communities for forensic science and criminology to consider concerns raised about visibility. A decision is expected this autumn.

Timetable:

  • Impact: Underpinning research must have been produced between 1 Jan 2000 – 31 Dec 2020 andimpacts must have occurred between 1 Aug 2013 – 31 Jul 2020.
  • Environment: Environment data (such as income and doctoral completions) will be considered for the period 1 Aug 2013 – 31 Jul 2020.
  • Outputs: The assessment period for the publication of outputs will be 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Dec 2020.
  • The draft REF 2021 guidance will be published in summer/autumn 2018 and the final guidance will be published in winter 2018-19. The submission will be in autumn 2020.

Outputs:

  • Interdisciplinary research:Each sub-panel will have at least one appointed member to oversee and participate in the assessment of interdisciplinary research submitted in that UOA. There will be an interdisciplinary research identifier for outputs in the REF submission system (not mandatory).There will be a discrete section in the environment template for the unit’s structures in support of interdisciplinary research.
  • Outputs due for publication after the submission date: A reserve output may be submitted.
  • Assessment metrics: Quantitative metrics may be used to inform output assessment. This will be determined by the sub-panels. Data will be provided by HEFCE.

Impact:

  • Impact will have a greater weighting in REF 2021 (25% overall plus impact included in the environment template and therefore weighting).
  • The guidance on submitting impacts on teaching will be widened to include impacts within, and beyond, the submitting institution.
  • Impacts remain eligible for submission by the institution in which the associated research was conducted. They must be underpinned by excellent research (at least REF 2*).
  • The number of case studies required – still not confirmed – HEFCE are exploring this in relation to the rules on staff submission and the number of outputs.
  • Case studies submitted to REF 2014 can be resubmitted to REF 2021, providing they meet the REF 2021 eligibility requirements.
  • The relationship between the underpinning research and impact will be broadened from individual outputs to include a wider body of work or research activity.

Institutional-level assessment (impact case studies): HEFCE will pilot this in 2018 but it will not be included in REF 2021.

Environment: The UOA-level environment template will be more structured, including the use of more quantitative data to evidence narrative content. It will include sections on the unit’s approach to:

  • supporting collaboration with organisations beyond HE
  • enabling impact – akin to the impact template in REF 2014
  • supporting equality and diversity
  • structures to support interdisciplinary research
  • open research, including the unit’s open access strategy and where this goes beyond the REF open access policy requirements

Institutional-level assessment (environment):

  • Institution-level information will be included in the UOA-level environment template, assessed by the relevant sub-panel.
  • HEFCE will pilot the standalone assessment of institution-level environment information as part of REF 2021, but this will not form part of the REF 2021 assessment. The outcomes will inform post-REF 2021 assessment exercises.

Jo Johnson’s UUK speech – the next steps for regulation

Jo Johnson gave a speech at the Universities UK annual conference on Thursday –prefaced by a deluge of press coverage. See the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, for a sample.  He started with a summary of the current state of the national debate on universities:

Recent criticisms of higher education in the UK fall into two distinct camps: we might call them the Statists and the Pessimists. The Statists direct their criticism at student finance. They argue that the most important thing we can do is to abolish tuition fees.” and “The second group of critics, the Pessimists, have an altogether bleaker view of Higher Education. They argue that university is inappropriate for many students, that student numbers should be significantly reduced and that students should pursue other types of post-18 education”.

The Minister rejected the calls for a change to the fee structure, consistent with other speeches over the summer (see the Policy Update for the w/e 21st July 2017).   He said that the “Statist” approach is “bad for social mobility, bad for university funding, bad for taxpayers”. [ See the UUK announcements on this below. In the FT on 8th September, it is reported that Theresa May is soliciting views on tuition fees policy in an attempt to close the generational gap, with Lord Willetts attending a meeting at No 10. So despite the regular assurances of no change, this is still one to watch.] To the Pessimists, his message was that “Post-18 education is not a zero-sum game, where to improve further education we must restrict and ration higher education to a privileged few”. But he said that there must be a strong economic return from a “mass system of higher education”. He highlighted graduate salaries, an increase in GDP and national productivity. [see below for the UUK position on fees and funding]

The Minister referred to concerns about value for money and used the same words as when launching the Green Paper, talking about “patchy teaching”. He also attacked the sector for grade inflation: “There has been a significant increase in the proportion of people receiving firsts and 2:1 degrees over the past five years that cannot be explained by rising levels of attainment. Grade inflation is tearing through English Higher Education. On the face of it, the facts are shocking.Grade inflation can fuel disengagement on both sides – if students know that 80-90 per cent will get a 2:1 or first from a high-reputation provider, there is less incentive to work hard – and less incentive by the provider to focus on teaching.” The Minister attacked league tables for encouraging grade inflation by using first degrees as a metric.

And he listed 5 measures that would deliver value for money:

  • The TEF – including subject level TEF (see more below in the TEF update)
  • A focus on grade inflation – as part of the TEF (see below), and be requiring the OfS to report on degree classifications and challenge providers to explain any data that suggested grade inflation, and calling on the sector to take action themselves, for example by developing a sector-recognised minimum standard. This is something that will no doubt be the subject of debate in the months to come. This could have parallels in some PSRB accreditation systems – an analogy that may be worth exploring.
  • Student contracts -this was also discussed in the July speech (see the Policy Update for the w/e 21st July 2017). This time, the Minister said that the Competition and Markets Authority guidance was only “patchily observed”. The OfS will be asked to “embed in the system student contracts that are clear, quantifiable and fair”. There is a consultation to follow on making this a registration condition.
  • Accelerated degrees – we are waiting for the formal response to the call for evidence last year but a consultation will be taking place on the new fee cap that would be required to support this – allowing providers to charge more than £9250 per year (but with a lower overall cost for the whole programme).
  • VC Pay – the OfS to introduce a new condition of registration that they publish salary data for the top earners and provide a justification, supported by guidance. The OfS will analyse and publish this data. The Minister called for the Committee of University Chairs to develop a new Remuneration Code.

UUK position

In a blog on 5th September 2017, Chris Hale, the Director of Policy of UUK responded to the debate over the summer, referring to a report from UK2020 that was published this week and repeated allegations of the sector operating a cartel to fix prices for degrees.  In a speech presumably written without advance knowledge of what the Minister was going to say, and trailed in the press on Tuesday, the new President of UUK, Professor Janet Beer, VC of Liverpool University did call for changes to undergraduate funding. She referred to “vexed issues and opportunities” and gave a staunch defence of the sector and its contribution to health, happiness and the economy.

On student finance, Professor Beer said that the system was not broken but that it needed to feel fairer, and highlighted three areas for action:

  • Targeted maintenance grants
  • Lower interest rate for low and middle-income earners. [On this point it is interesting to note that this is how it already works – see the blog from Martin Lewis on MoneySavingExpert.com which he tweeted again to respond to this story and the clip below]
  • Ensuring that the benefits of the current system are better understood – e.g. 35% of the cost of educating students is contributed by the government and 75% of students have some of their debt written off.

UUK have now published a Parliamentary briefing on the funding issues.

On senior pay:

  • “It’s understandable that high pay is questioned and it is right to expect that the process for determining pay for senior staff is rigorous and the decision-making process is transparent. It is also reasonable to expect that decisions are explained and justified.”, and continuing:
  • However, the current debate has lost sight of the facts and shows little understanding of the role that present-day vice-chancellors play not only in their own university, but in their communities, regions and on the national and international stage. The role of the vice-chancellor has evolved from leading a community of scholars, to leading large, complex, global organisations; organisations with multi-million pound turnovers, with thousands of staff working in a variety of roles, and which play an increasingly prominent role in the economic prosperity of our regions and nations. First-rate leadership is necessary for a university to be successful, and competitive remuneration is needed to attract the best leaders with the skills to lead these complex global organisations.
  • There have also been questions raised about the pay of our leading researchers and senior professional staff. We should remember that senior staff are choosing to work at our universities to deliver public good when they might otherwise choose to work in the private sector, attracting far higher remuneration. We must not let them be put off by comments that they are not worth it or their contribution is not valued.”

Nick Hillman of HEPI also writes in response that autonomy is more important than regulation in this area: “Just a few months ago, when the Higher Education and Research Act was still in short trousers, there was widespread concern that the Office for Students would not have due regard to university autonomy. Insisting they tackle vice-chancellors’ pay as one of the most urgent priorities (and before they have taken charge) will not assuage such concerns.”

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) update

In his speech at the Universities UK annual conference on Thursday, Jo Johnson referred to a lessons learned exercise that the government has carried out on year 2 of TEF. This used the UK survey we referred to in the Policy Update w/e 1st September 2017 as well as feedback from a range of stakeholders and desk based research of the metrics. The full report plus the specification are due to be published later in September 2017. These changes will also be included in the subject level TEF pilot. The UUK review is also discussed on Wonkhe here.

  • A new metric on grade inflation (see context in Jo Johnson’s speech above). This will be a supplementary metric which will not form part of the core metrics and the process of assessing the initial hypothesis, but will be considered by the assessors while considering Rigour and Stretch (TQ3). This will be based on a provider declaration and will “record the proportion of firsts, 2:1s and other grades as a percentage of all classified degrees at that provider 1, 2, 3 and 10 years before the year of assessment”.   If the data shows that there has been grade inflation the provider will presumably have to use their written submission to demonstrate how it is being addressed. Also, the number of firsts and 2:1s cannot be considered as evidence for the quality of teaching.
  • Changes to the NSS weighting – these are interesting – particularly as there was no formal weighting for any metrics in the TEF guidance before, and no specific weighting for metrics v the written submission either. That was why there was so much interest when the Chair of the TEF Panel, Chris Husbands, suggested that the role of the NSS in the decisions on TEF should be downplayed. The paper describes this in more details in Annex B – this is a change to the way that the “initial hypothesis” (based on metrics) will be formed.
  • Changes to address the NSS boycott, by averaging the scores across the three years or simply omitting 2017.
  • Part-time providers (those with over 35% part-time students) will also be able to provide additional information relating to their part-time students and a separate assessment will be formed for part-time students.
  • Absolute values: in a change which has been flagged as a nod to the Russell Group providers who received Bronze awards in the TEF (and who, in some cases, complained about the benchmarking process), alongside the benchmarking, the top and bottom 10% values for each metric will also be highlighted (with stars and exclamation marks). This will reinforce a positive or negative flag but can also be taken into account by the assessors – although a star will be ignored if there is a negative flag or a negative flag for a split metric (so that high performing institutions with negative flags for disadvantaged groups cannot benefit). Exclamation marks will be ignored if there is a positive flag.
  • Longitudinal Education Outcomes data (LEO) will be included as “supplementary” data – this will not affect the initial hypothesis but will be considered alongside the submission. The metrics to be included are the proportion of graduates in sustained employment or further study three years after graduation and the proportion of graduates in sustained employment earning over the median salary for 25 – 29 year olds (currently £21,000) or in further study
  • Gaming” – the Director for Fair Access will be given an opportunity to comment on “gaming” has taken place (defined as “a significant alteration in a provider’s student profile since the last TEF assessment, that involves a reduction in the proportion of students from disadvantaged groups”. In extreme cases, this might lead to disqualification.

Separate from all this a research paper by Camille Kandiko Howson of Kings College and Alex Buckley of the University of Strathclyde has been published which looks at the UK Engagement Survey – something that was tipped to be a potential metric for TEF if it was more widely adopted.

Widening Participation

Justine Greening announced that the new Director of Fair Access and Participation when the Office for Students if formed will be Chris Millward, who has been Director of Policy at HEFCE. The new role will have a focus on progression and outcomes as well as access for disadvantaged and under-represented groups in Higher Education.

Brexit

In the meantime, the Brexit negotiations continue and a flurry of papers have been published by the UK government and the EU.  The most interesting one is the one on Collaboration on Science and Innovation. The paper has lots of warm words on collaboration but little detail on what a future arrangement with the EU might look like.  On Horizon 202, the paper suggests that the UK will be seeking “associated” status (it says “associated countries have the same level of access to Horizon 2020 as EU Member States. Associated countries do not have a formal vote over the work programme, but can attend programme committees, which provides them with a degree of influence. Terms of association (including financial contributions) vary, and are determined by international agreements with the EU.“)

The overall conclusions are:

  • The UK wants to continue playing a major role in creating a brighter future for all European citizens by strengthening collaboration with European partners in science and innovation.
  • To this end, the UK will seek to agree a far-reaching science and innovation agreement with the EU that establishes a framework for future collaboration. There are a range of existing precedents for collaboration that the UK and the EU can build on, but our uniquely close relationship means there may be merit in designing a more ambitious agreement. The UK hopes to have a full and open discussion with the EU about all of these options as part of the negotiations on our future partnership.
  • The UK would welcome dialogue with the EU on the shape of a future science and innovation agreement, reflecting our joint interest in promoting continued close cooperation, for the benefit of UK and European prosperity”

Of course, the other interesting Brexit story was the paper we weren’t meant to see – the leaked draft on migration (read more in the Guardian report). The draft proposed work permits for EU citizens with a two year limit, language tests for EU students and ensuring that they have sufficient funds before they come to the UK (which implies that they will not qualify for student loans). None of these things is particularly surprising even if unwelcome – essentially the same type of restrictions would apply as apply currently to international students. What is most interesting about this is the reaction and the timing – Amber Rudd has only just announced a review of the impact of international students and a review into the social impact of Brexit – both of which will not report until September 2018. Damien Green on the Today programme said that the real paper would be launched “in a few weeks” – at the Conservative Party Conference?

Other interesting reading

The Higher Education Policy Institute published:

  • a blog on graduate entrepreneurs and what universities could do to support them
  • a report on the crisis in the creative arts in the UK – looking at what has happened in schools and suggesting that the increased and simplistic focus on graduate employment outcomes will impoverish education and damage outcomes (see the TEF report above).

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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