Tagged / mental health

HE policy update for the w/e 8th March 2019

And it’s a bumper version this week, with a lot of really interesting new data, a super-critical TEF response from the Royal Statistical Society and we continue the speculation on fees and funding and Brexit.

Mental Health

Damian Hinds, Secretary of State, for education has launched a new taskforce to help students with the transition to University within these areas:

  • independent living (budgeting, cooking, managing living independently)
  • independent learning
  • healthy relationships (including new peer groups)
  • general wellbeing

The taskforce will be known as the Education Transitions Network and Universities UK, the Association of Colleges, OfS, NUS, Student Minds, and UCAS are all expected to be involved. Sky news covers the announcement. UUK have a blog from UWE’s VC, Steve West, on supporting students through the transition and risk factors. This excerpt highlights resources available:

The more that universities can do to get students prepared before they arrive, the better. Student Minds, in partnership with Southern Universities Network, has published a guide to the first few weeks of term, designed to help students prepare through workbook activities and practical case studies. At UWE Bristol we have developed an enhanced induction programme for new students, which signposts available support and includes a new parent and carer advice section on our website, to advise on how best to support loved ones while at university.

And Wonkhe have several blogs to contribute to University Mental Health Day:

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, has been tweeting about a mental health charter with Student Minds and acknowledge the student voice is essential as universities look to improve the provision from student mental health. Welsh Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, announced £2 million new funding for Welsh Universities to support mental health initiatives.  And there is new guidance out on preventing student suicides.

IFS report on the cost of HE

An IFS report was issued on 4th March on the cost of different degrees.  There’s an IFS blog here with the predictable headline “Creative Arts degrees cost taxpayers 30% more than engineering degrees”.  It’s long but it is complicated and important, so worth setting out in some detail (sorry):

These are among the results of new analysis which for the first time estimates the distribution of government spending, taking account of grants and unrepaid student loans, across subjects studied and institutions attended. It is important to understand these are not estimates of returns to the different degrees: some subjects and institutions may therefore receive large loan subsidies even if they are positively impacting the earnings of their graduates, because they happen to attract students that have very low earnings potential. Since the final costs will depend on actual earnings over the next 30 years, there is inevitably uncertainty about these estimates. But they are based on new administrative data giving precise details on actual earnings of previous cohorts of graduates and are likely to be the best estimates possible at the current time.

Our main findings include:

  • There is considerable variation in loan subsidies by subject. For many subjects the government expects to write off around 60% of the loans it issues. For economics, however, write-offs are likely to be just a quarter of loans issued and for medicine and dentistry only a fifth. For creative arts, write offs are likely to amount to around three quarters of the value of loans issued. This variation in loan subsidies is primarily driven by differences in repayments rather than differences in loan sizes.
  • The highest government spend typically goes towards graduates of the subjects with the highest loan write-offs, as loan write-offs account for more than 90% of total government spending on undergraduate HE. The cost to government is around £11,000 per economics student who borrows from the government to help with tuition fees and maintenance loans, while it is more than £35,000 per creative arts borrower. Medicine is an exception – despite its graduates repaying most of their loans, it is one of the highest-cost subjects, at £45,000 per borrower, due to large teaching grants.
  • The government cost per student also varies by institution type. While total funding received by universities is extremely similar, the government contribution per student at each institution varies massively. Each borrower at Russell Group institutions – where graduates are typically high earning – costs the government less than £25,000. Costs are more than 20% higher for ‘post-1992’ and ‘other’ universities, where the average graduate earns much less.
  • The reforms since 2011 have shifted the allocation of spending from high-cost degrees to those with the lowest graduate earnings. Spending per borrower on students doing economics and engineering degrees is likely to have fallen by around £8,000 as a result of reforms between 2011 and 2017, while increasing by more than £6,000 for creative arts degrees. Similarly, spending on borrowers at Russell Group universities – which tend to offer more high-cost subjects – has fallen by £6,000, while increasing by more than £2,000 for borrowers at ‘post-1992’ and ‘other’ universities.
  • Consequently, the share of total government spending on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses has fallen from 57% to 48% as a result of policy changes between 1999 and 2017. If we had the 1999 system in place today, only 30% of spending would go to arts and humanities (AH) subjects. Under today’s system, this figure is 37%, and roughly 13% of the £9 billion the government spends on HE per cohort now goes to creative arts courses.

The report also considers what these figures mean for policy options:

  • Lowering the fee cap from £9,250 to £6,000 could give the government more flexibility to target spending. This would free up around £7,000 per borrower to be targeted more directly towards priority areas, with the savings coming mostly from subjects that have low-earning graduates. Any cuts to tuition fees would, however, benefit the highest-earning graduates most.
  • Variable fee caps would be another option to regain flexibility in targeting spending. Reducing the fee cap for AH subjects to £6,000 would reverse some of the increase in funding these subjects have seen over the last couple of decades. This policy may, however, increase demand for those courses, or perversely reduce funding for STEM achieved through within-university cross-subsidisation.
  • One policy that might resolve some of these issues would be for government to charge universities a fee for charging tuition fees above a certain level in areas where it wants to reduce spending. A ‘negative teaching grant’ of £3,000 for AH courses would mean government allocates less money to those courses, without affecting the fees students face or their repayments. Savings could be targeted towards priority areas. However, the impact on, and responses of, universities are unpredictable.

You can find the full report here.

It is important to keep in mind that this variation in government subsidy is not the same as variation in funding levels. This is because graduates also contribute to the cost of their education by repaying their student loans. Once this is accounted for, the variation in overall funding per university is very small due to the lack of variation in tuition fees.

Fees & Funding – what is the state of play?

With the Chancellor’s Spring Statement due on 13th March, which might give more detailed timing for the Comprehensive Spending Review (he said “summer” on Radio 4 on 7th March), we thought it would be helpful to summarise the state of play…like Brexit, this is getting harder and harder to call….although the IFS report noted above will no doubt be considered carefully.

We don’t know when we will know more, because the advisory panel chaired by Philip Augar, originally due to report in November 2018, has delayed its report again – the latest official statement is “Spring” – which could be anytime from now (according to the Met Office, although 21st March is the usual first day of Spring) to June.  Research Professional suggest June and cite a BBC insight that it the final outcome could be in the Autumn.

One of the challenges is that this is a two stage review – the “independent” advisory panel report and then the DfE led review itself.  The final DfE report (in the form perhaps of a green or white paper, accompanied by a consultation) will be when we see what the outcome really might be.

Philip Augar has said that he wants to make recommendations that will be accepted (presumably by the department/government, rather than the sector?) and it may be getting that consensus which is causing the delay. Research Professional today report that there is a draft doing the rounds in government but not everyone likes the recommendations.

The timing of other things is important – when it was originally announced, the Augar recommendations were due in November 2018, with the final report due out by the end of March – even at the time that sounded unlikely given the coincidence with the UK leaving the EU.  Now of course Brexit may be delayed until May or June, and the effort involved in Brexit may be one of the reasons for the delays with the review.  It has also been suggested that the government may be waiting because they want some big policy announcements to make after Brexit.

The most relevant dependencies are linked to government funding priorities.  The outcome of any review of fees and funding needs to be affordable.  The terms of reference say “its recommendations must be consistent with the Government’s fiscal policies to reduce the deficit and have debt falling as a percentage of GDP”.   The first delay to Augar was because of the Office for National Statistics review of accounting for student loans that came out in December 2018 (You can read about this in more detail in our analysis in the HE policy update for the w/e 21st December 2018).  The latest delays may be linked to the Chancellor’s Spring statement (due on 13th March 2019 – a day when other things are happening).  But the Spring statement is only a holding position – partly because Philip Hammond has said it might all change depending on what happens with Brexit, and partly because the real story about spending is the comprehensive spending review.  This is a full review of all government spending but the dates have not been confirmed.  They may be confirmed as part of the statement on 13th March.

All this matters because while there are lots of other things at stake, including the “young vote” and perhaps more importantly, the votes of parents and other contributors to student budgets and the government’s social  mobility agenda, this review is largely driven by money.  Many have called for investment in FE, in support for disadvantaged students and, in particular, for maintenance grants.  Against the other pressures on the economy, and a narrative of bad news about the sector (grade inflation, pay differentials, free speech, poor quality courses etc.), an overall increase in investment in HE looks unlikely.  The ONS accounting changes on student loans don’t change the cost of HE but they increase its visibility in the deficit.

So just a quick reminder – what are the possible recommendations of Augar and/or the final DfE report, whatever form it takes?

Tuition fee cuts – widely trailed as a leak from Augar, repeated again last weekend.  Apparently the original figure that Augar will propose of a cap on tuition fee loans of £6500 a year has been increased to £7500 because of sector resistance.  Such a cut would be likely to have far reaching consequences in terms of services and SSR.  It might mean drastic cuts in spend on WP activities, now financial targets will not form part of the OfS review of access and participation.  It could mean changes to the profile of programmes offered across the sector as institutions abandon high cost subjects in favour of lower cost subjects, increasing competition in these areas at a time when we are still approaching the bottom of a demographic dip (and when EU student numbers are falling).

Of course there might be top ups.  If they happen at all they would almost certainly be conditional. They might be linked to certain subjects or meeting access or other targets.  They might be linked to student outcomes (defined in terms of employment, probably), or to regional needs (such as value add in regions of low employment or access).  It may be that there would be continued support for STEM subjects, for example, or additional grants to institutions seen to be making a substantial difference to their regional economy by helping social mobility.  After all, the terms of reference for the review say that it must “support the role of universities and colleges in delivering the Government’s objectives for science, R&D and the Industrial Strategy”.

It might be that employers could provide top-ups to the capped fees – directly to institutions or through some sort of centrally organised fund.  Again, if organised centrally, this funding would most likely be conditional – probably linked to certain subjects and outcomes.  If done directly it would essentially mean growth in employer sponsored degrees.  There is a real conflict with the apprenticeship agenda there – how do employers choose?  And how do small and medium sized businesses get involved?

Student numbers cap/limit – another way to reduce long term costs is to reduce numbers.  The terms of reference for the Post-18 review rule out a direct cap on numbers.  But there are other ways of doing it.  Alleged leaks about the proposal to stop students with grades lower than DDD at A-level from accessing student loans have been widely discussed.  See our policy update for 21st December 2018 when this story first broke.  Current comment includes a blog from Nick Hillman on the HEPI website.

The headline focusses on A levels.  Many students enter HE with other qualifications.  Unless, as some have commented, there is a plan to not only have a floor on a-level results but also say that only students with A-levels can go to university then there would have to be an equivalent system for BTECs and other qualifications.  Messy but surely possible. Given the government focus on technical education, it is not impossible that they would try to force more people down a technical route – but using entry to university as a lever would surely have the opposite effect, pushing students back to A-levels, at least in the short term if only to keep their options open.

The big focus has been on how this (like a reduction in the fee cap) would be bad for social mobility.  It is also potentially bad for some universities with a large proportion of lower-grades students – ironically, these are likely to be the universities with a big impact on their region and on social mobility.  This sort of rationing as social engineering just doesn’t seem to make sense, but of course it plays well with those who like to talk about “mickey-mouse courses”, “bums on seats”, and “too many people at university”  – whose conclusion is usually that “other people’s children should do technical qualifications”.

So what next?

  • The Minister was on Twitter over the weekend to say:  “Worth stating today that the Augar post-18 review is an independent one which will reach its independent conclusions. We will then consider these when published—working with HE/FE sectors on an evidence-based approach to deliver a joined-up post-18 education landscape.”
  • He went on to say: “But I have always been clear that the government’s priority is to ensure that we focus efforts on widening participation and access, across all communities and WP groups, centred on value and outcome for the learner journey. We want to build bridges—not pull up drawbridges.”

So back to where we started – we don’t know what or when.  But the story will run and run and provide a distraction from Brexit in the meantime…

And more lobbying on fees

Alistair Jarvis (Chief Exec) wrote a UUK blog expressing his belief that Augar is finished – but awaiting a good launch date:

  • “I have good reason to believe that the ink is rapidly drying on the Augar panel’s recommendations, though the date of publication of the report itself is subject to the ongoing vicissitudes of political events.…when parliamentarians and educational experts judge the panel’s recommendations it must be on the basis of what is most likely to enable Britain to thrive, not on political ideology or electoral expedience. With Brexit mere weeks away, and our collective economic future uncertain, the country simply cannot afford to risk damaging universities, our most reliable source of innovation, skills and global connections.”

He goes on to say there are five tests that can be applied to the Augar recommendations – all of which highlight elements of strength, excellence or aspiration within the current HE system. In short the tests are:

  1. Whether Augar’s proposals will enhance or impede access to HE (widening participation and social mobility) – whereas the talk of reintroducing student number caps or perhaps a minimum DDD grade threshold would create access barriers
  2. Graduate skills gaps – Jarvis argues Universities need to expand and provide more highly skilled workers, not cut back and downsize.
  3. The combination of in-depth subject knowledge, co and extra curricular provision, 1:2:1 academic support, online learning, engagement in current research, all backed by robust regulatory system are strengths that should be maintained. “Cutting the fee level, without a commitment to make up the shortfall with public funding, will see bigger class sizes, poorer facilities, and less advice, support and choice for students.”
  4. Cuts will hit the local communities and civic life: “Any MP knows intimately how their local university is woven through the fabric of civic life, contributing to health, sport, culture, charitable endeavour and local economic growth. Much of this activity is not formally funded; universities do it because it matters and because they have a responsibility to their local community. In areas where traditional industries have declined the university is always at the heart of regeneration efforts, providing the research, innovation and skills to stimulate business growth and attract external investment”.
  5. Students should be free to make their own choices on what to study and where Our current system is shaped by students’ choices by design. To suggest that a civil servant in Whitehall knows better than a prospective student what sort of course they should study and where, is clearly nonsense…fundamentally we should respect and support students’ choices – as it is they who will have to live with the consequences.” Jarvis does go on to acknowledge that IAG could be better, and the funding system needs to be clearer.

During this week’s Science and Technology Committee session examining the work of the Universities Minister Skidmore responded that any reduction in fees for universities would have to be mitigated through alternative measures and the voice of universities properly heard.

Meanwhile the Stephen Hammond, Minister of Health and Social Care, remains adamant nursing bursaries will not return:

  • The Government has no plans to reinstate the bursaries for nursing degrees and is committed to increasing uptake of the additional places these reforms have made available.
  • The intention of the funding reforms was to unlock the cap which constrained the number of pre-registration nursing training places, and to allow more students to gain access to nurse degree training courses, creating a sustainable model for universities and securing the future supply of homegrown nurses to the National Health Service. In support of the reforms, we announced additional clinical placement funding to make available 5,000 more nurse training places each year from September 2018 and 3,000 more midwifery training places over the next four years.
  • Students on the loans system are at least 25% better off than they were under the previous bursary system. In recognition of the additional costs that the healthcare students incur in order to attend the mandatory clinical placement, the Government introduced the Learning Support Fund, a £1,000 per student, per year for child dependent allowance, reimbursement of all travel costs above their usual daily travel and up to £3,000 per year for exceptional hardship. These payments are in addition to the allowances on the student loans system.
  • On 7 February, the University and College Admissions Service published full-time undergraduate nursing and midwifery applications made by the 15 January deadline. This data showed a 4.5% increase in applicants to undergraduate nursing and midwifery courses at English providers. We are working with Health Education England and the university sector to ensure students continue to apply for these courses this year and in future years.

TEF, metrics and more

As you are aware, last week was a big week for TEF as the call for views closed.  You can read more in our policy update for w/e 1st March here.This week we have seen more about the metrics used for TEF.

The Royal Society of Statistics wrote an explosive submission., which builds on their previous submissions to the year 2 and subject level consultations (there are links in the document), which they say have been largely ignored.  They say:

  • the TEF “appears to transgress…the..UK Statistics Authority Code of Practice for Statistics
  • the data is potentially deceptive and misleading for students – it should be communicated to students that “the TEF is observational in nature and that TEF differences are likely not solely due to teaching quality differences”
  • “The use of the same TEF award, and the same TEF logo, for all types of university seems highly misleading. The literature and communication around TEF should make it clear that TEF awards are not comparable across the board.”
  • the presentation of data in the TEF and the way that is benchmarking may encourage game playing by universities (eg to improve their metrics)
  • the TEF benchmarking is flawed from a statistical point of view and many flags will have been awarded incorrectly “far too many flags are being raised, erroneously alerting the downstream human TEF panels to effects that are just not there. Our conclusion is that the previous TEF awards are not valid”
  • It shouldn’t be called TEF because it doesn’t assess teaching quality [that’s an old chestnut, but one that Dame Shirley will hear a lot]
  • And this: “TEF also does not appear to capture the time series nature of teaching quality. We have made this point previously in our consultation responses. What is the evidence to say that a teaching quality mark now will result in a student getting a good experience in several years’ time?”
  • TEF is oversimplifying the data, in a way which is unhelpful – and misleading. Students should be able to assess the detailed data themselves on a more granular basis through a revamped unistats. “…. It might be argued that the TEF’s philosophy that distils diverse institutions into three categories, underestimates the intellectual ability of prospective students and other stakeholders”

Some more detailed quotes below because they really are worth reading:

On uncertainty:

  • Ultimately, the RSS judges it to be wrong to present a provider/subject as Gold/Silver/Bronze without communication of the level of uncertainty. The current TEF presentation of provider/subjects as Gold, Silver, Bronze conveys a robustness that is illusory. A prospective student might choose a TEF Silver subject at one provider instead of a TEF Bronze at another institution. If they had been told that, statistically, the awards are indistinguishable, then their choice might have been different and, in that sense, TEF is misleading.
  • The uncertainty is likely to be higher for subject-level assessment than for provider-level assessment….
  • Accurate and coherent uncertainty assessment is also vital to understand the value and cost-effectiveness of the TEF. If it turns out that the uncertainty swamps the mean level award (Gold, Silver, Bronze), then this calls into question whether it is even worth continuing with the TEF.

On comparability

  • Is a TEF Gold at one university the same as TEF Gold at any other university? The answer has to be no. …Statistically, TEF Gold at one institution can not necessarily be compared with TEF Gold awarded to another. This is potentially deceptive and misleading for stakeholders, particularly students…The use of the same TEF award, and the same TEF logo, for all types of university seems highly misleading. The literature and communication around TEF should make it clear that TEF awards are not comparable across the board.

On benchmarking

  • We are extremely worried about the entire benchmarking concept and implementation. It is at the heart of TEF and has an inordinately large influence on the final TEF outcomes. (i) The RSS has referred to benchmarking in the past as a ‘poor person’s propensity analysis’…. differences in TEF metric scores might be due to unobserved characteristics unrelated to teaching quality. So, attributing the differences to teaching quality is unscientific and wrong
  • TEF benchmarking does not include important characteristics such as amount of course content, diversity (in its broadest sense) or difficulty/challenge of material. Surely, this has an enormous effect on what is measured? This seems wrong in itself. We are concerned that omissions of this sort will lead to game playing by institutions. One might improve NSS scores, for example, by ‘dumbing down’ the syllabus and there is strong anecdotal evidence that this is already happening in the sector.  (Indeed, OfS already has evidence of unexplained grade inflation which might be evidence of ‘dumbing down’ or related behaviours. How much of this is stimulated by exercises such as TEF or NSS?)
  • …At Dame Shirley’s listening session, the RSS enquired of the DfE/OfS representatives whether multiple testing without adequate size control was occurring and the answer seemed to be yes. Since this seems to be the case, then this lack of overall size control is a serious statistical mistake and means that many (previous) TEF flags should not have been so flagged.

Transparency and reproducibility

  • At a minimum, we would expect the entire TEF data process pipeline to be published, including as much data that can be released ethically. We have reports of people (in and outside the RSS) trying to understand the TEF data release, but find the accompanying instructions impenetrable. There is a lack of transparency, which is fuelling a perception of lack of integrity.

Conclusions

  • Fundamentally, do the metrics input to TEF measure quality of teaching? Do the provider submissions measure teaching quality? We are sceptical. There may be some distant indirect association, but what robust research been carried out to assess this? Alternatives might be to rename TEF (to remove ‘teaching excellence’), or actually carry out some evaluation of teaching quality (which would be expensive).
  • We do think it is useful for students to see the metrics that underpin TEF, relating to their potential course choice. The Unistats website already does this and seems to be useful and well-used by potential students. The RSS could imagine an upgraded Unistats site containing well-chosen and well-communicated metrics being valuable for prospective students and other stakeholders.

Continuation data

And HESA have published experimental data about continuation, one of the metrics used in TEF.  As we have written before, non-continuation is linked to a whole lot of different factors, but in the TEF of course the implication is that students leave because the course is poor quality or they do not believe that carrying on will make enough difference to their employment prospects afterwards.

Arthi Nachiappan and David Kernohan from Wonkhe have helpfully looked at the data to see what it says about who leaves HE.  Of course there are interactive data views to play with too.

  • We tested a common variation on the above theory – that non-continuation rates are lower at the Russell Group and higher at post-92 institutions due to the latter taking higher proportions of first degree young undergraduate students from low participation backgrounds…
  • Among Russell Group institutions, students who didn’t continue were more likely than average to transfer to another provider than to leave higher education altogether. Russell Group institutions tended to have a lower proportion of students from low participation backgrounds than the average provider, but non-continuation rates for those students from low participation backgrounds at Russell Group universities tended to be lower than 8%.
  • The equivalent figure for post-92 institutions is in the range of 5-20%. When we look at students from other backgrounds, this range narrows to between 4 and 12% at post-92 institutions, while at the Russell Group it is between 1-7%, but generally – with the exception of Queen Mary University of London – below 4%. The proportions of those from low-participation backgrounds who do not continue in their studies is higher at both groups of institutions than the equivalent figures for students from other backgrounds.
  • ….But any idea that alternative providers are currently reaching students that would otherwise not access HE, much less offering them a successful student experience, should be abandoned.

They also look at subject level:

  • … the overall rate for all students leaving computer science (for instance) is 9.8%. But among students who enter following a HE foundation course, the rate is 4.2%. What students come in with is a huge predicting factor of their course outcome.
  • Among students entering with at least some tariff points, mass communications and documentation sees the largest percentage of non-continuation (20.40%), but the largest number of students not completing their course (6,341) are on social studies.
  • For those with BTECs – to give another example – the subject area with the largest number of non-completions is biological sciences (5,738), but the subject area with the highest percentage of non-completions is engineering and technology. The overall preferred subject of study for BTEC students is business and administration.

And what’s next?

  • … once again it is Damian Hinds rather than Chris Skidmore that supplies our comment. Inflammatory “bums on seats” language will do little to endear him to the sector, and once again the threats of Office for Student action are wheeled out.
  • His substantive point is unlikely to surprise anyone: “No student starts university thinking they are going to drop-out and whilst in individual circumstances that may be the right thing, it is important that all students feel supported to do their best – both academically and in a pastoral sense. Today we have announced a new taskforce to help universities support students with the challenges that starting university can involve, but universities need to look at these statistics and take action to reduce drop-out rates.”

Apprenticeships

It’s been National Apprenticeships Week with lots of news and releases. The Federation of Master Builders published their survey which states that (marginally) more parents in the UK want to see their child undertake an apprenticeship than a university degree.

  • 25% preferred their children to undertake apprenticeship
  • 24% preferred their children to study a university degree
  • 50% had no preference

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “We’re finally seeing the shift in attitudes with more people understanding the value of undertaking a vocational apprenticeship rather than a university degree. For too long, apprenticeships were looked down on and seen as the alternative route if children weren’t bright enough to follow the more academic route. With university fees in England going through the roof, and with apprenticeships offering an ‘earn-while-you-learn route to a meaningful job, it’s no wonder that the penny has finally dropped.”

These findings contrast (slightly) with the Sutton Trust findings below (note these only asked about degree apprenticeships – parents seem to be preferring the traditional degree model rather than a degree apprenticeship for their children with the capability to study at this level).

The Sutton Trust surveyed parents (with children aged 5-16) about on degree level apprenticeships. Key Findings:

  • 27% said they would advise their child to take a degree level apprenticeship over a universities degree course, with 31% indicating they would make the opposite recommendation, Of which:
  • 68% intimated that this was because they believed it offered better career prospects, whilst 29% said it was because they lacked knowledge about apprenticeships in general

The National Audit Office published a report assessing the apprenticeship programme considering  whether it provides value for money, addresses poor productivity, and employer investment in training. It wasn’t great news for the Government. Key conclusions:

  • The DfE has not set out clearly how it measures whether the programme is boosting economic activity
  • Since funding reforms were introduced, apprenticeship starts have fallen substantially.
  • Employers are not using the apprenticeship levy to pay for new apprenticeships (just 9% of funds used, £191 million of the available £2.2 billion)
  • The average cost of training an apprentice is double what was expected, as employers are choosing more expensive standards at higher levels than expected. This could inhibit the growth in the number of apprenticeships once frameworks are withdrawn and all apprenticeships are on standards.
  • To meet the target of 3 million new apprenticeships by March 2020, the rate of starts would need to double for the remainder of the period
  • The Department’s targets for widening participation among under-represented groups lack ambition and levels of apprentices from the most disadvantaged areas are actually going down.
  • The introduction of standards has increased the number of higher-level apprenticeship starts, and the trend looks set to continue. But its not all good news some levy paying employers are replacing professional development programmes with apprenticeships – meaning no additional value to the economy.
  • Inspection grades are still low with many inadequate or requiring improvement and the 20% off the job training rule doesn’t appear to be adhered to across the board.

Just a few of the most relevant recommendations:

  • The Department should set out clearly how it measures the impact of the programme on productivity, and indicate the level of impact that it is aiming to achieve.
  • The Department should strengthen the programme’s performance measures relating to participation among under-represented groups.
  • The Department and the ESFA should assess whether they would secure better value for money by prioritising certain types of apprenticeship, rather than delivering a programme for apprentices at all levels, in all sectors.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: Today’s report confirms what employers already know – that the Apprenticeship Levy is not yet working as intended and is holding back the Government’s welcome efforts to modernise the skills system. Companies are committed to apprenticeships, so what’s needed now is a second wave of reform. The Government must use its review of the apprenticeship levy to work with business and the sector to build a system that supports, rather than frustrates, employers offering a first step to people in their career.’

The OfS have released one of their Insight Briefs on degree apprenticeships to try to raise awareness and increase both supply and demand for degree apprenticeships. This link also has the data on level 6 and 7 apprenticeship starts (2017/18) and this looks at the disadvantage profile of young apprentices on higher level apprenticeships. The chart below highlights that as the level of apprentice rises more places are taken up by the more advantaged students (quintiles 4 and 5).

Research

Research Professional have an interesting article on the government’s plans to prepare for the impact of no-deal Brexit on research.

  • With three weeks to go before Brexit day, the UK government is in talks to create an international research funder to mitigate the loss of access to the coveted European Research Council….As reported by Cristina Gallardo, a project to craft a UK-based global research agency is being led by Adrian Smith, director of the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national centre for data science.  …In the spirit that hard problems are not to be shirked, today’s Playbook draws attention to three questions that will be high on Team Smith’s list of considerations.
  • Size matters  How much funding should researchers expect? That’s the billion-pound question and one in which UKRI chief executive Mark Walport, BEIS secretary Greg Clark and chancellor Philip Hammond have shares. According to data compiled by the Royal Society, in the previous European Framework programme (2007 to 2013), the UK received €1.67 billion in ERC grants, around a fifth of the entire budget. The UK also received just over €1bn in Marie Skłodowska-Curie grants, a quarter of the total.  Former Royal Society president Paul Nurse reiterated last week that the UK receives between £500 million and £1bn more in European grants annually than the government puts into the EU science budget, and he isn’t confident that this extra funding will be replaced. Assuming that the government pays separately for the UK to associate to eligible parts of Horizon Europe, the new global fund should still be worth at least in the region of €350m to €400m annually, and likely more if it also absorbs the Global Challenges Research Fund and what remains of the Newton Fund….
  • Housing decisions  We know that the new funding agency cannot be a like-for-like replacement for the ERC, as it is designed to support UK-international collaborations. But that prompts questions about its institutional home and its organisational architecture. It will almost certainly sit inside UKRI. But what happens if UKRI chooses to reduce or streamline its nine-council structure? …A permanent home will take time to decide on. In the interim, BEIS and UKRI could potentially extend their relationship with outside bodies such as the British Council and the British Academy. ..
  • What price autonomy The ERC’s great attraction for researchers—something that the UK fought hard to achieve—is that it is both generous with its funding and unashamedly investigator-led.   Nick Talbot, a plant geneticist at the University of Exeter, told us in an interview that his success in obtaining an ERC Advanced Grant was down to his track record as a scientist and the power of his idea—not necessarily the foremost criteria for conventional grant schemes. But we’re in a vastly different world from 2004, when Ian Halliday, then chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, was happy to remark: “There is an awful flavour in Europe of: ‘Let’s give everybody something.’ It has to be possible for the best guy in Cambridge to run away with all the money.” It isn’t possible today to establish a funding agency without proper regard to equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion. Funders can no longer disregard the importance of place as well as public engagement in how they make decisions. Creating a wholly new research funding body in the midst of the Brexit drama presents plenty of challenges and it should not be rushed. The chance to create a global research funding agency doesn’t turn up every day.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, responded to a parliamentary question to highlight the Government’s hopes for Horizon Europe:

  • The Department has worked closely with UKRI and engaged with wide range of stakeholders on no deal planning for the Horizon 2020 programme. This includes via the High Level Group on Science and Research. Further updates will be provided on Horizon 2020 no deal planning in due course.
  • The Government remains committed to ongoing collaboration in research and innovation and wants to work with the EU on a mutually beneficial outcome beyond 2020. The Government wants to have the option to associate to Horizon Europe, depending on the outcome of negotiations.
  • In the event that the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, the Government is committed to continuing to back UK researchers and innovators by supporting measures to enable world-class collaborative research, including support for small businesses. We will be seeking independent advice from Sir Adrian Smith on these measures.

He also includes research within his top priorities when he spoke within the Committee meeting that scrutinises his work:

  • Skidmore informed the committee that the UK was rated one of the most innovative nations in the world and was home to three of the world’s top ten universities. He argued that 2019 was a critical year for science and innovation due to Brexit and the CSR. It would be pivotal to establish a clear roadmap that demonstrated where public investment would be made as well as demonstrating how private investment would be leveraged to reach the new target of research and innovation spend at two-point four percent of GPD.

He went on that

  • it was important to maintain close ties with European institutions after Brexit, including participation in programmes such as Horizon 2020, Euratom and the European Space Agency.
  • His priorities, Skidmore advised the committee, were to ensure maximum certainty on relationships with Europe, ideally through a deal on Brexit, meeting the target of 2.4% spend and to maintain strong international collaboration.

Meanwhile Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Advisor, who was also examined informed the committee that he had been focused on [amongst other work] improving the absorptive capacity of science among policy makers. Perhaps good news for those academics hoping Parliament will take their research on board within policy development.

SUBU says: Gender in HE – graduate outcomes

Here’s the latest from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield.

As its International Women’s Day, it’s interesting to take a brief look at gender in Higher Education; specifically graduate outcomes. There are lots of factors that can influence outcomes and this update only looks at gender, but when you add characteristics such as ethnicity or disability alongside gender, the picture changes again.

First a caveat; I was disappointed when researching data that the most reputable sources only separate graduates by sex and not gender or perhaps they have even confused the two; so on a day where we are actively celebrating gender equality, I’d like to share the Genderbread Person, which is a great infographic to understand the concept of gender and why it’s important that we don’t use it interchangeably with sex.

The number of graduates has increased steadily over the past decade and it is widely known that females are more likely to enter Higher Education than their male counterparts (see UCAS applicant figures). However when looking at the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report on Graduates in the UK labour market, the outcomes of female graduates compared to male graduates highlight a disparity in employment attainment after leaving Higher Education.

The research defines a graduate in broad terms as: “a person who is aged between 21 and 64, not enrolled on any educational course and who has a level of higher education above A level standard.” With this definition, it looks at all graduates and not just recent graduates, therefore using a data set of 14 million people in the UK who were graduates from July to September 2017.

Delving deeper into the report, employment rates differ between male and female graduates, with 86% of male graduates in employment compared to 79% of female graduates (figure 13a). Further to this, the research also finds that male graduates are more likely to have high or upper-middle skilled employment (figure 14a). It’s important to note that in this research, high-skilled employment involves use of skill acquired from a degree or equivalent; upper-middle skilled employment involves skills developed from post-compulsory education but not degree level; lower-middle skilled employment involves skills developed from compulsory education with a combination of work experience; and low skilled employment involves skill attained from compulsory education.

The data shows female graduates are almost twice as likely to have lower-middle skilled employment compared to male graduates, which goes some way to explain why the median gross hourly pay differs, with male graduates receiving £17 an hour on average, compared to female graduates receiving £14 an hour.

33% of female graduates work part-time, compared to only 8% of male graduates (figure 14b) and 47% of all part-time workers are employed in lower-middle skilled jobs (figure 14c). The statistics show that the lower-skilled jobs seem to offer more opportunities to work part-time; which is a need that can be influenced by a number of factors including family commitments, which as 11% of female graduates, compared to 2% of male graduates, are ‘inactive due to looking after the family and/or home’ (figure 13b), is a factor which has a greater impact on female graduates than male graduates.

Figure 11 shows that STEM degrees lead to higher salaries and Figure 15b shows that the subjects that lead to the highest average salaries are mainly dominated by male students. According to WISE: “Women make up 23% of those in core STEM occupations in the UK”. Because of this, there are fewer female role models working in these areas and/or going on to teach STEM subjects; something which is vital to move towards a gender-balanced workforce and also increase the earning potential of female graduates.

There are initiatives such as Athena SWAN which seek to address gender equality in Higher Education and you can read more about how this is working in the recent Wonkhe article ‘No more steps. It’s time for a leap on gender equality.

Ultimately, despite females making up 58% of the overall figure of applicants (see UCAS), they are less likely to apply for the subjects that lead to the greatest earning potential and are also less likely to achieve employment utilising the skills developed from undertaking a degree. This is something that needs to be looked into if we want to achieve this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #BalanceforBetter.

Failing Universities

A new HEPI poll was released showing student attitudes to financial concerns at their institutions

The survey of over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students, undertaken for HEPI by the polling company YouthSight, shows:

  • most students (83%) are confident their own institution is in a strong financial position;
  • over three-quarters of students (77%) believe government should step in if their university were threatened with closure;
  • more than half of students (51%) think fees should be refunded in the event of their university closing, while only one-third (32%) back merger with another institution;
  • nearly all students (97%) want to know if their university is in financial difficulty – in contrast with current practice which hides financial problems from students;
  • most students (84%) say they would have been less likely to have applied to their university if they had known it was in financial difficulty; and
  • the overwhelming majority of students (89%) do not know what Student Protection Plans are, while even more have not seen their own university’s Plan (93%).

Lots of renewed media interest in the financial sustainability of universities and the polling results:  BBC, iNews, FE News, and Mail Online.

Brexit

We have a big week coming up for Brexit, maybe, but in the meantime…

The Institute for Government have published a report on Immigration Post-Brexit. This criticises the Government’s “incoherent position” over student migration, with the DfE on the one hand wanting to increase education exports to £30 billion by 2020, but simultaneously counting students in the net migration target. “The policy remains simultaneously to reduce student migration while also wanting to boost it”.

This, from James Blitz in the FT, summarises the position nicely.

The Russell Group are calling on the Government to change their post-Brexit immigration plans as the salary threshold is too high for mid level scientific, teaching and technician posts, and it discriminates against part time posts (many of which are taken up by women). ITV news covers the story.

Student Loans – another way of presenting them

MoneySavingExpert.com and the Russell Group of universities are piloting a proposed redesign of the student loan statement and are calling on parents, students, graduates and those in the higher education sector to test it and give feedback.  The consultation runs until 12th March

  • MSE and the Russell Group, which represents 24 UK universities, believe that this change should substantially enhance understanding of the student loan system for graduates and their families. We plan to present our findings to Government in the hope it will change the current student loan statements.
  • Currently, students simply receive a statement of their outstanding ‘debt’ and the interest that is being added. As an example, a low-earning graduate on a Plan 2 loan (for students in England and Wales who started university after 2012) would receive a statement with £50,000 of ‘debt’ on it, and would see it growing by £1,500 a year in interest. But in reality, a graduate earning under £25,000 would not have to make any repayments at all.
  • Instead, the redesigned Plan 2 statement focuses on the actual repayments that students have made, and what they are likely to repay in the future.

You can see a full pilot of the proposed redesign on this link.

Consultations

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

Other news

Health dominates part time provision: Wonkhe report that an independent report published by the OfS which tackle part-time provision for underrepresented students finds that allied health subjects are the most prevalent part time subject area. The report argues that decline in participation among part-time students is driven partly by cost of study and partly by lack of provision. It goes on to notes that the proportion of disadvantaged students has remained at around 10 per cent. Wonkhe go on to explore a second independent OfS report focussing on mature allied health students. They highlight that although applications from mature students have declined, enrolments have stayed stable, and the report recommends improvements to information provision and diversification of pathways into allied health courses. As ever, the questions surrounding the decline of part time provision, and the dominant programmes and part time groups remain a question of chicken or egg. It is hard to sort cause and effect out from one another.

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

 

HE Policy Update for the w/e 1st February 2019

This week we bring you the latest on unconditional offers, Parliament give the nod to accelerated degree funding, the wonk-press frenzy in dissecting Chris Skidmore’s first formal speech, and a little on the B-word.

Universities Minister speaks out

Chris Skidmore gave his inaugural formal speech as Universities Minister on Thursday which set out his vision for the higher education sector. He began by raising the uncertainties of Brexit and the knock on effect on recruitment, staffing and funding. He acknowledged the Post 18 HE Review added to this uncertainty and strove to reassure:

  • I hear your concerns and I am keen to work with you during this difficult period.
  • My vision for our universities and colleges is a positive one. I’m not going to be a Minister who comes in and beats up or needlessly berates the sector. Instead, I want to restate my commitment to you today to work in partnership with you to ensure our higher education sector remains one that works for everyone and of which we can be proud in generations to come.
  • Given the extent of recent regulatory changes, I understand the prospect of increased government intervention may raise alarm bells in the sector. But let me reassure you today that, as a former academic myself, I fully appreciate the concept of institutional autonomy. And I believe so much of what is good about our universities today has come about because of the freedom they have been able to exercise.

He continued on to talk of the TEF and the independent review which is “an important opportunity to take stock of the TEF from a constructively critical perspective”. On accelerated degrees he acknowledged they weren’t for everyone but were “just one way that the sector can expand its offerings for those who are looking for something different from their higher education experience”.

Value for money, the LEO data, and student mental health got a mention and there were hints in there that Skidmore feels passionately about students who drop out of university.

  • On LEO: I also realise the LEO data could be developed further. So I am keen to engage with the sector to explore how to make the most of this data going forwards. For one, I want to look at ways of making this data more readily available to the academic research community to allow for more in-depth analysis. I also intend to set up a Data Advisory Committee to help me ensure, as Minister, that we are making the most of the opportunities thrown up by these rich new datasets and that they are being used in the best way possible – to ensure they are reaching those who could benefit from them; that they are being used in context; and that their insights and implications are being fully understood. 

And perhaps positive thoughts for a balanced sector amid the differential fees rumours of late:

  • As much as I see the value of more data, I am also aware of concerns it has given rise to about the value for money of certain courses, disciplines and institutions. On this, I believe we need to take a step back and ask what exactly value for money means in the context of higher education. Successful outcomes for students and graduates are about much more than salary: if we are to define value purely in economic terms, based on salary levels or tax contributions, then we risk overlooking the vital contribution of degrees of social value, such as Nursing or Social Care, not to mention overlooking the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – the very disciplines that make our lives worth living.
  • How you define value for money depends heavily on how you envisage the kind of world you want to live in. For my part, a society without people to care for each other; to support each other; to teach the next generation; or to step in selflessly in times of crisis is a very sad society indeed. Equally, although I am officially Minister for Science, I take great pride in wanting to be Minister for the Arts and Humanities as well – disciplines which enrich our culture and society, and have an immeasurable impact on our health and wellbeing.
  • As we move forwards into the future, the last thing I want to see is value judgements emerging which falsely divide the Sciences and Engineering from the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. To do so would be a travesty. Our future success depends on all these disciplines being completely intertwined.  

Although perhaps celebrations should be tempered by the fact Chris gave his speech at the Royal Academic of Dramatic Arts.

He concluded: In my vision for the sector, people should be free to embark on higher education at any time that is right for them. We should build bridges to make this happen. By 2030, I want us to have built a post-18 education system that gives people the flexibility they need – so that no-one who has quit higher education, for whatever reason or circumstance, has to feel they have dropped out with no routes back in later in their lives.

However, Wonkhe were not convinced by the Minister, they say:

  • Talk was that RADA auditions were being held on the day a nervous Chris Skidmore took to a small stage in the bar to address a critical audience of wonks and journalists. But did he pass?
  • I’d have to say….no. Not on the lack of strength in his own performance, but on the blandness of his material. It was a crop of sector pleasing bromides that failed to hold attention and gave him little to work with. There were no popular press-pleasing pot shots at universities – so that’s the good news. He’s pitching himself more as late Sam Gymiah, less as Jo Johnson. But as a former history lecturer and pop-punk agitator, you expect the well-struck aside and the fascinating digression to be a part of Skidmore’s armoury – first time out he played it straight. I sat there for 30 minutes, and my abiding memory was him repeatedly hedging statements with the world “overwhelmingly”.
  • But there was little chance of the select audience being overwhelmed – the most interesting thing we learned was that Skidmore had already visited ten universities (naming most of them in the speech), and enjoyed responding to Radio 4 tweet prompts. There were no questions, and no huddle afterwards for journalists – though THE apparently has an exclusive interview. Good luck to them.

Research Professional said: Chris Skidmore may not be in office for long, but his choice of setting and conciliatory tone in yesterday’s inaugural speech suggest there will be changes from the Johnson/Gyimah era. Not since David Willetts in 2010 has a universities minister arrived in post waving an olive branch rather than a brickbat.

They continue:

  • Inaugural speeches from ministers also need to be looked at for what they do not contain. In the case of Skidmore’s outing yesterday, there was little about science, engineering or research. The phrase “world leading” cropped up many times as you would expect, but there was also no mention of the Russell Group, although Oxford and Cambridge did get a line.
  • There was the ritual nod to his predecessors—and every sign that the emphasis on mental health under Sam Gyimah will continue—but in other respects, we should expect some clearing out.
  • One of the most revealing sections of the speech was on the TEF. Skidmore began by appreciating that there is disquiet over the TEF but then added that “no university should shy away from it”. He mentioned that Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review “provides an important opportunity to take stock of the TEF from a constructively critical perspective”. And then came the killer line: “Dame Shirley has commissioned the Office for National Statistics to carry out an analysis of the statistical information used in TEF assessments and its suitability for generating TEF ratings.”
  • Thanks to evidence from the Royal Statistical Society and the views of the Department for Education’s own office of the chief scientist, we already know that statisticians are singularly unimpressed with the TEF’s lack of statistical rigour. It is not beyond possibility that the Pearce review might precipitate the beginning of the end for the TEF. Skidmore ended with a call for universities to help twist the knife: “I hope that you will take the opportunity to make your views known to Dame Shirley over the consultation period ahead.”
  • Skidmore also went out of his way to praise the UK’s modern universities, something that ministers rarely do.

Here’s the link if you want to read more of Research Professional’s take on the Minister’s speech.

Post-18 review

This from Research Professional: Augar leaks have substance, says Sussex vice-chancellor who claims that many of the rumours about the Review of post-18 Education and Funding are true (lower fees, barring lower grades from accessing loans, higher fees for medicine and science).

The House of Commons library has produced a briefing overview on the state of part time undergraduate education in England, discussing the decline in numbers and the impact this has on the HE sector. Traditionally the view has been that part time student numbers have dropped because of the introduction of higher tuition fees, the lack of viable loan funding and the influence of not funding a second degree for a student who has previously studied at the same level. The timing of the Commons briefing release this week coincides with an announcement from the Welsh Government of a 35% increase in part time undergraduates from Wales. Welsh post-grads have been were eligible for dedicated bursaries and support from Welsh universities since 2018/19.  With means-tested grants and loans to be introduced from September 2019. The news story attributes the success through increased numbers to the new Welsh student support system. Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams said:

  • “This is fantastic news and a real vote of confidence in our student support package, the first of its kind in the UK or Europe.
  • We have always said that high living costs are the main barrier for students when thinking about university. Our package of support was specifically designed to address these concerns, making it easier for people to study part-time, especially if they have work or family commitments.
  • Our radical approach to supporting part-time study is essential to improving social mobility, employment outcomes, access to the professions and delivering on our commitment to lifelong learning.”

The DfE published analysis on the importance of financial factors in decisions about higher education.

Key Findings:

  • Some groups do express greater debt aversion than others, especially:
    •  those planning to live at home whilst studying (35%),
    •  those of a non-white ethnicity (30%), and
    • those from lower socio-economic group (26%).
  • 63% of applicants expected to use parents or 62% savings as a source of income whilst at university (particularly applicants from higher socio-economic groups (75% and 70% respectively).
  • University was the only option considered by the majority of applicants (75%), (this increases to 78% for Russell group applicants). This was consistent across socio-economic backgrounds. Getting a job and travelling were the main alternatives considered by applicants
  • The course offered (82%), university reputation (58%), and potential for high future earnings (41%) were the most commonly cited major influences on applicants’ choices about where to study.
  • Around half of applicants (54%) said they were ‘put off’ to some extent by the costs associated with university.

Accelerated Degrees

This week the Lords approved the statutory instrument which makes provision for the elevated fee level (and accompanying loan arrangements) to facilitate and prompt more universities to offer faster intensive degree programmes. The BBC reports on the decision. Ex-Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, pushed for the accelerated degrees calling on universities to shake up their offer and provide more flexibility, included accelerated provision, to meet the needs of a wider range of students and businesses. While there can be inertia inherent within large, established organisations who know their recruitment draw well the sector did not offer opposition to the push for accelerated degrees. The welcome to the new arrangements has been similar to that for degree apprenticeships, perhaps slower uptake overall than the Government wanted and often for good reason – the devil is in the delivery detail. Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, sums it up:

  • “Greater choice for students is always good but I would caution ministers against ‘over-promising’. The government’s own projection for the likely take-up of these degrees is modest and we actually hear many students calling for four-year degrees, for example, to spend a year on a work placement or studying abroad. I wouldn’t want disadvantaged students to rule out a traditional three-year course because they didn’t believe they could afford it. Doing a more compressed degree also reduces the opportunity for part-time work, potentially increasing short-term financial pressure.”

It will be interesting to watch how many programmes are actually launched and the eventual outcomes for students.

Unconditional Offers

UCAS published data on unconditional offers on Thursday detailing the significant rise in unconditional offers nationally. There were no new messages and we’ve already shared the details with you in the recent policy updates. The only change is that the OfS now have an ‘independent’ and reliable national data set from which to push for the sector to reduce its overuse of unconditional offers to support recruitment requirements. With the threat of sanctions from the Competition and Markets Authority as a harbinger of doom for any institutions who fail to heed warnings and curb their excessive overuse. Smita Jamdar dissects the threat below.

The OFS responded:  Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

  • ‘I welcome the publication of this data by UCAS, and the increased transparency it brings around the use of unconditional offers.
  • ‘We are especially concerned about ‘conditional unconditional offers’. These are offers where a student has to commit to making a particular university their first choice before the offer becomes unconditional. The risk is that this places undue pressure on students to reach a decision which may not be in their best interests.
  • ‘As we made clear when we published our insight brief on this topic last week, there are some good reasons why universities might make unconditional offers. However, for a number of universities this data will make uncomfortable reading – where they cannot justify the offers they make they should reconsider their approach.’

The OfS also issued a news story warning universities against indiscriminate use of unconditional offers stating it ‘is akin to pressure selling and could put them in breach of consumer law’. The statement accompanies the launch of a new series of Insight briefs on ‘priority policy issues’ you can read the first research paper on unconditional offers here.

Wonkhe ran an article by Smita Jamdar of Shakespeare Martineau, on the OFS’s allegations that some practices in offer making could amount to “pressure selling”.  Smita says that there are several ways that unconditional offers could be relevant to consumer law:

  • The first is falsely stating that an offer will only be open for acceptance for a particular time, or will only remain available on certain terms for a certain time. The second is providing distorted information about market conditions to get a consumer to purchase the service on terms that are less favourable than market conditions. So cases where students are put under pressure to accept quickly, or to accept because they won’t get a better offer elsewhere, might amount to a banned practice.
  • Depending on the facts and circumstances, there may be other features of unconditional offers that constitute “aggressive practices”. A practice is aggressive if it significantly impairs a consumer’s freedom of choice through coercion or undue influence and it leads to the consumer entering into a transaction where he or she would not otherwise have done so. Persistence, and exploiting any vulnerability on the part of the consumer, are examples of factors that could lead to a practice being regarded as aggressive.
  • Finally, the regulations also make unlawful a broader range of “unfair practices”. A practice is unfair if it contravenes the requirements of professional diligence and materially distorts or is likely to distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer (average in the context of the regulations means taking into account any particular vulnerabilities of the consumer group targeted, so in the case of many prospective students, their youth and inexperience).

Of course, any case will depend on its particular facts.  Action might be taken in court for a criminal offence, by the Competition and Markets Authority seeking assurances about compliance, or by a student seeking redress – including withdrawing from their programme and getting their course fees back.

Here are some press links: The GuardianThe TelegraphDaily MailThe TimesTESFinancial Times and the Belfast Telegraph highlights Northern Ireland’s two universities who between them only made 10 unconditional offers for the last cycle.

Prior to the UCAS data release Dean Machin from Portsmouth wrote a thought provoking HEPI blog on UCAS as the gate keeper of admissions data and how their previous reluctance to release data may actually have implications for the Competitions and Market Authority too.

This story will run and run and we can expect more from the OfS in the coming months.

Admissions  – and access to HE

Meanwhile a new blog on Wonkhe rounds up the end of the 2018 application cycle to give a national comparative perspective. Wonkhe also comment: For the 2018 cycle overall, the relentless rise of the Russell Group seems to have slowed, with post-92 institutions the big winners in terms of year on year growth in acceptances. There’s also some surprises in those seeing large year-on-year shrinkage

Lastly, the HESA 2017/2018 release reports that the number of students in higher education in 2017/18 is at a five year high (2,343,095 students), and reflects a steady increase since 2012/13. The increased numbers also reflect increased diversity within the student body with a growing proportion of black, Asian, and mixed background students, as well as those from other ethnicities, and increased levels of students with a disability.

However, David Lidington MP, is not encouraged by the increased diversity within the HESA statistics and spoke out via a Government news story on Friday. The story announces measures to improve outcomes for ethnic minority students in higher education… [which are] part of a bold cross-government effort to “explain or change” ethnic disparities highlighted by the Prime Minister’s Race Disparity Audit website, so people can achieve their true potential, whatever their background and circumstances.

The figures from the Race Disparity Audit and OfS show that while record numbers of ethnic minorities are attending university, only 56% of black students achieved a First or 2:1 compared to 80% of their white peers in 2016/2017, and black students are the most likely to drop out of university. In the workforce, only 2% of academic staff are black. White British low-income males remain the least likely to attend higher education.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, said he expected universities’ access and participation plans: to contain ambitious and significant actions to make sure we are seeing material progress in this space in the next few years…It is one of my key priorities as the Universities Minister to ensure… we redouble our efforts to tackle student dropout rates. It cannot be right that ethnic minority students are disproportionately dropping out of university and I want to do more to focus on student experience to help ethnic minority students succeed at university.

The carrot and stick measures include:

  • Holding universities to account through their Access and Participation plans – with the OfS using their powers to tackle institutions who do not fulfil their promises
  • Including progress in tackling access and attainment disparities within league tables to pressurise institutions to make better progress
  • OfS to develop a new website replacing Unistats with a particular mindset to ensuring the needs of disadvantaged students are taken into account. The website will provide better information to students so they can make informed choices.
  • Reducing ethnic disparities in research and innovation funding – UK Research and Innovation is commissioning evidence reviews on challenges for equality and diversity and how they can be addressed.
  • Gathering evidence on what works to improve ethnic minority access and success – through the OfS Evidence and Impact Exchange
  • Reviewing the Race Equality Charter. Advance HE will look at how the sector charter can best support better outcomes for both ethnic minority staff and students.
  • Encouragement for institutions to address race disparities in their workforce – using tools such as the Race at Work Charter and Race Equality Charter.
  • Scrutiny of each universities published data on admissions and attainment broken down by ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic background with a focus on all institutions to make progress, not just providers who have the poorest records.

The OfS have also published their commissioned research into Understanding and overcoming the challenges of targeting students from under-represented and disadvantage ethnic backgrounds. WP Wonks will recognise some familiar names from the sector within the authors of the report. There are also guidance and case studies available on the OfS page.

The OfS have published a case study of a successful academic study skills support service programme implemented in three northern FE colleges for non-traditional HE learners to support their transition and success at HE level. The study found engineering and IT students the hardest to reach with few self-accessing the service. The case study describes changes made to scheduling, flexibility in approach and embedding core elements within the programme induction. The programme’s success was partly measured using the Duckworth’s GRIT questionnaire. Which looks at confidence levels and the ability to sustain interest in and effort towards long-term goals, such as academic study.

In other WP news the Social Mobility Commission expect to issue their regular publication State of the Nation updated for the 2018 year in the spring.

Preparing and supporting students in the transition to University

Here is our regular student feature from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield…

On Wednesday 23rd January I attended a Westminster Briefing on behalf of SUBU, on supporting students into Higher Education (HE) which focused on how to prepare students with realistic expectations to help them transition into University life. The current generation (Z) is the most likely to go into Higher Education with almost half going to University, but student expectations aren’t always an accurate picture of reality and this is a problem for transitions. Unrealistic student expectations of Higher Education can be linked to access for widening participation students; student mental health; retention; progression and success. Alongside the importance of helping students to have realistic expectations of University, a key theme identified by each speaker was the significance of students developing a sense of belonging to help them transition into HE. Below are a few key thoughts from the day.

The briefing began with a presentation from Dominic Kingaby, the Student Experience Policy lead at the Department for Education (DfE), who emphasised the way that mental health affects incoming and current students. The Office for National Statistics’ work around Measuring National Wellbeing shows that prospective and current students have lower mental health than the general population. The 2017 ‘Reality Check’ report from HEPI and Unite Students found that around 1 in 8 applicants to University have pre-existing mental health conditions, which they often won’t disclose to their University. Mental Health can be exacerbated by a number of pressures which are part of University life, for example money issues, accommodation issues, assignment pressures etc. The report also found that when facing issues, 85% of prospective students would feel most comfortable talking to their friends/course-mates and flatmates about it, showing the importance of peer support and students establishing good friendships whilst at University.

It was reflected by the group that the pressures of going to University and the academic workload itself hasn’t necessarily changed that much in the last ten years however the mind sets of students have. Of course class sizes are bigger; students have more information at their fingertips and financing a degree is at the forefront of most students’ minds, which is intensified by social media and the news. Yet more than ever before, students are coming to University suffering with ideals of ‘perfectionism’ cultivated through years of their educational progress being monitoring and tracked from a very early age. (Dominic noted that he was feeding these unintended consequences of monitoring into the DfE). This ‘perfectionism’ then deepens a mantra of University just being for “a degree” and students having a sense that they don’t “have time” to take part in and be transformed by the whole experience. Consequently they are missing out on the vital extra-curricular elements which foster skills for progression and success. Students are also increasingly suffering with ‘Imposter Syndrome’ leading to sentiments of not belonging at University which impacts retention.

Students who aren’t prepared for HE will have very different expectations to the reality as FE is very different. The Government’s work on a strategy for tackling loneliness notes that “Students and those in higher education can be at risk of loneliness, especially when starting their course, and this can lead to greater feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and poor mental health.” On the academic side of things alone they will be challenged by the difference in student-staff ratios and going from fixed curriculums to independent self-study. It was agreed in the briefing that more needs to be done for students before they are even old enough to apply to University but there is also a lot that can be done in the period between an offer being given and coming to campus. There were a whole range of good practices from different institutions; from linking up incoming students with current students for peer support; to providing a portal for incoming students with all the information they would need on life at University (not just the academic side of things); and also a trial at Plymouth University of the whole of the first year being a transitionary period.

Other noteworthy aspects of the briefing include the impact that going to an Insurance choice rather than a 1st choice can have on delaying the ‘sense of belonging’ that a student has. It was also discussed that with a diverse student body with many different identities, transition needs to be a whole institutional and partnership approach. Universities need to work alongside their Students’ Unions to offer a diverse package of support and activities for students. An example of how this can help is; one student may speak to their academic advisor because they know them from one of their units and therefore feel comfortable seeking support on an issue with them, whereas another student facing the same issue may instead get the support and information they need when speaking to their peers at their academic society. Both students have the same support needs but their identities and ‘sense of belonging’ are different, therefore they get this support from different places. This shows how a whole institution-collaborative approach is needed for transitions and student support.

Brexit

From Research Professional:

  • Tuesday night’s vote on Graham Brady’s amendment to require the government to reopen negotiations with the European Union over the withdrawal agreement was one of the more bizarre moments of theatre in the Brexit process, with the prime minister voting for a backbencher’s amendment against the deal she had spent two years negotiating.
  • You may be wondering how the cavalcade of MPs with a significant interest in higher education voted. Former science ministers and second-referendum advocates Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah both abstained from the vote. Universities minister Chris Skidmore and his boss Damian Hinds voted with (sorry, against, but really with) the government. Gordon Marsden and Chi Onwurah of Labour voted against the amendment, naturally. Greg Clark and other business ministers voted for the amendment.
  • Eight Conservative MPs voted against the amendment but not Johnson and Gyimah, which is curious.

From Dods: On Monday morning the Exiting the European Union Committee have published their twelfth report of session 2017-2019 on ‘Assessing the Options.’ The report is the first published since the defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement and covers a number of outcomes and assessments:

  • No deal: The report says that there is deep concern about the readiness of business for a no-deal exit and that the “Government’s belated efforts to engage with business and provide some form of guidance is unlikely to be sufficient to mitigate the worst effects of a no-deal exit.” It also highlights that the Government’s no-deal technical notices “place significant weight on assumptions about how the EU will respond in the event of no-deal”,  and that the maintenance of goodwill depends on a settlement of financial obligations and a generous guarantee of the rights of EU citizens.
  • Renegotiation of the deal: The report argues that a renegotiation of the Political Declaration would, most likely, require a limited extension of the Article 50 process; a deal that would enable frictionless trade to continue is not possible under a CETA-style free trade agreement with the EU and under such rules N Ireland would have to trade under different rules from the rest of the UK as set out in the backstop; A Norway Plus relationship between the UK and the EU would enable frictionless trade on the condition that the UK continued to adhere to EU rules – including the Single Market and remain in a UK-EU customs union.
  • A second referendum: The report acknowledges that a second referendum would be logistically and politically complex, but not unobtainable if the will existed in UK Parliament. However, there is now insufficient time to hold a referendum before 29 March 2019 and so if the will for one did exist then Article 50 would have to request an extension to Article 50.  The report highlights that under the Wightman Judgement there is a possibility of the UK unilaterally revoking the notification to leave under Article 50 but makes the distinction that this would not be a mechanism to buy time and would instead bring the withdrawal process to an end.
  • Conclusion: The report says there is no majority in the House for the Prime Minister’s deal in its current form and repeats the recommendation of the eleventh report that “it is vital that the House of Commons is now given the opportunity to identify an option that might secure a majority.” It says that there does not appear to be a majority for no deal exit but acknowledges that this remains the default outcome if the House is unable to approve the deal or pass legislation required to implement it in domestic law. It concludes that the final options remaining are for re-negotiation, legislate for a referendum, or the revoking or extension of Article 50.

Process – from the BBCThe next steps and the various alternative scenarios are set out nicely here with an exploration of each of the different possibilities

 From HEPI:

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has worked with polling company YouthSight to survey  FT UG students’ attitudes towards Brexit. Students are overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the European Union:

  • 76% opt for remaining in the EU
  • 6% back Theresa May’s recently rebuffed deal
  • 7% for no deal
  • 11% undecided.

However, opinion divides further when the option to remain is removed:

  • 37% opt for Theresa May’s deal
  • 36% ‘don’t know’
  • 27% choose no deal

Student opinion is interesting because only 43% were eligible to vote in the 2016 referendum (93% are eligible now). Some facts:

  • 69% want a second referendum
  • 21% are willing to work through their MP to demonstrate their voice within the Parliamentary voting
  • 8% of students who did vote in the referendum said they would change the way they voted if there was another referendum. With Leave voters more likely to change the way they voted in a second referendum (34%) than Remain voters (2%).
  • If students were given the choice between remaining in the EU and no deal:
  • 80% of them would choose to remain
  • 10% no deal
  • 10% unsure
  • 75% of students believe Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU (14% believe it was right to vote to leave, 12% unsure).

And separately:

  • 74% believe the Government is doing badly at listening and engaging effectively with young people over Brexit.
  • 77% of students believe their future prospects will be worsened by the decision to leave the European Union (13%  expect improved prospects, 11% believe it makes no difference).

Student opinion on the political parties: support for Labour is strongest but has dropped 10% since the previous HEPI poll, Theresa May as a leader is unpopular amongst students while student’s choosing to vote Conservative or for the Liberal Democrats remains relatively stable. You can read more on student party opinions in the full blog here.

Students say they would turn out to vote in high numbers should there be a General Election (81% would vote). HEPI note this supports recent trends, as it was estimated that 64% of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2017 election, the highest turnout for this age group since the 1992 election.

Science Salaries

The Minister also gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee this week noting concern that the recommended minimum salary thresholds for EU workers after Brexit would be detrimental to science.

Temporary leave to remain

The Government have updated their policy issuing details of Temporary leave to remain as a Brexit no deal stopgap solution.  This relates to new arrivals after March if there is no deal – students and staff already in Britain should be fine as long as they can demonstrate their residency prior to Brexit. There is a three year limit on the temporary leave to remain which may have implications for students on 4 year courses, who may need to apply for a visa mid-course to complete their programme.

Here is the detail from Dods:

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 received its Second Reading on 28 January and has passed into Committee stage. On the same day, the Secretary of State for the Home Office, Sajid Javid, announced a new ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain in the UK’ as part of the Government’s no-deal Brexit planning.

The Government plans to implement the Immigration Bill and end free movement from 30 March 2019 in the event of a no-deal Brexit.  This means that for the most part, EU citizens and their family members who come to the UK from 30 March 2019 will require immigration permission to enter the UK. The Government and the Home Office will need rules in place to grant immigration leave to enter and remain to EU citizens.

However the Government has said that the new immigration rules, as set out in the White Paper, will “take some time to implement.” This means there will be a gap in immigration law and policy between the end of free movement and the implementation of the new immigration rules for EU citizens. To fill this gap, the Home Office has announced it will implement the new ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain in the UK,’ subject to parliamentary approval.

The main features of European Temporary Leave to Remain

EU citizens (including EFTA citizens) will be able to enter the UK as they do now (i.e. without the need for a visa/immigration permission) for a period of up to three months. During this time EU citizens will have the right to work and study in the UK.

EU citizens who wish to remain in the UK for more than the initial three months will need to apply for ‘European Temporary Leave’. The Home Office has explained that this will be done through an online application where the applicant will need to prove their identity and declare any criminal convictions. This sounds similar to the application process for ‘settled status’.

European Temporary Leave will allow the holder to remain in the UK for 36 months from the date of their application. EU citizens with this type of leave will have the right to work and study in the UK. It will be temporary and cannot be extended, nor will it lead to settlement in the UK. Holders of this type of leave would be required to apply for further leave to remain under the UK’s new immigration rules when implemented in the future. As the Home Office explains: “there may be some who do not qualify under the new arrangements and who will need to leave the UK when their leave expires.”

There will be an application fee and family permits will be required for non-EEA ‘close family members’. The Home Office explains in further detail:

  • “European Temporary Leave to Remain will allow EEA citizens arriving in the UK after 29 March 2019 to live, work and study in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal.
  • “EEA citizens who are granted European Temporary Leave to Remain will be able to stay in the UK for 36 months from the date of their application. European Temporary Leave to Remain will be a temporary, non-extendable immigration status. It will not give indefinite leave to remain (ILR), lead to status under the EU Settlement Scheme or make EEA citizens eligible to stay in the UK indefinitely. If EEA citizens want to stay in the UK for more than 36 months, they will need to apply for an immigration status under the new immigration system, which will come into effect from 1 January 2021. Those who do not qualify will need to leave the UK when their European Temporary Leave to Remain expires.”

Those who don’t need to apply

The following people will not be required to apply for European Temporary Leave:

  • EU citizens and their family members with settled or pre-settled status.
  • Irish citizens.

Those who are a “serious or persistent criminal or a threat to national security” will not be eligible and the UK’s deportation threshold will apply.

EU citizens can enter the UK with either their passport or a valid nationality identity card.

The Home Office explains that employers and landlords conducting right to work and rent checks for EU citizens will not be required “to start distinguishing between EU citizens who were resident before exit and post-exit arrivals.” Until 2021, EU citizens can continue to rely on their passports or national identity cards.

Settled status and no-deal

The introduction of European Temporary Leave does not affect those eligible for the settled status scheme. EU citizens living in the UK prior to 29 March 2019 can still apply for settled status in a no-deal Brexit, as European Temporary Leave is a status for those who arrive after 29 March 2019. For more information on this, see the Library’s Insight ‘What does the Withdrawal Agreement say about citizens’ rights?’.

The settled status scheme has completed its restricted pilot testing phases and is now open for applications from all eligible EU citizens. The Prime Minister Theresa May announced on 21 January 2019 that the £65 fee for settled status will be abolished. People who have already applied and paid the fee will be refunded.

The Home Office has further said that EEA citizens who arrive in the UK after 29 March 2019, but who had lived in the UK prior to 29 March 2019, will be eligible to apply for settled status. It is not clear what the specific eligibility requirements will be for people with these circumstances who wish to apply for settled status.

Further reading

Erasmus & Brexit

Erasmus+ and EU Solidarity Corps in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, funding is available from the government to underwrite all successful bids for UK applicants submitted to the Erasmus+ programme and EU Solidarity Corps while we are still in the EU, where planned projects can continue. The DfE have updated guidance.

The Government continue to recommend that applications are submitted to the European Commission or UK National Agency for the 2019 Erasmus+ and ESC Call for Proposals as normal. In the event that the UK leaves the EU with a withdrawal agreement in place, the UK will participate in Erasmus+ and the ESC until the end of the current cycle in 2020.

In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK will engage with the European Commission with the aim of securing the UK’s continued full participation in Erasmus+ and ESC until 2020. There are a range of options for the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus+ and ESC, including programme country status, partner country status or another arrangement. Partner country access to Erasmus+ varies between different regional groups.  In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the government’s underwrite guarantee will cover the payment of awards to UK applicants for all successful Erasmus+ and ESC bids.

The European Commission have also adopted a final set of contingency proposals in the area of the Erasmus+ programme.

Today’s measures would ensure that in the event of a “no-deal” scenario:

  • Young people from the EU and the UK who are participating in the Erasmus+ programme on 30 March 2019 can complete their stay without interruption;
  • EU Member State authorities will continue to take into account periods of insurance, (self) employment or residence in the United Kingdom before withdrawal, when calculating social security benefits, such as pensions;
  • UK beneficiaries of EU funding would continue to receive payments under their current contracts, provided that the United Kingdom continues to honour its financial obligations under the EU budget. This issue is separate from the financial settlement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Research

Research England have published the final guidance for the REF 2021.

Timeline:

  • In early 2020, the four UK higher education (HE) funding bodies will invite UK HEIs to make submissions to REF 2021.
  • Each submission in each UOA will contain a common set of data comprising information on all staff in post with significant responsibility for research on the census date, 31 July 2020; and information about former staff to whom submitted outputs are attributed
  • The deadline for submissions is 27 November 2020.
  • Submissions will be assessed by the REF panels during the course of 2021. Results will be published in December 2021, and will be used by the HE funding bodies to inform research funding from the academic year 2022–23.

Wonkhe discuss the key changes:

  • Some of the key changes in REF 2021 includes identifying more clearly staff who have significant responsibility for research in institutions and providing a consistent approach to interdisciplinary research. The guidance distinguishes between identifying staff who have significant responsibility for research from selecting those staff whose work is to be submitted for expert review.
  • Additionally, Dianne Berry, the chair of the REF Equality and Diversity Advisory Panel has released a statement to address the concern that “measures put in place to promote inclusion and support equality and diversity might be used by institutions as a mechanism for excluding staff in order to concentrate quality in their submission,” and pressures on researchers to disclose sensitive information. The revised guidance references the importance of voluntary declaration of individual circumstances and decoupling staff circumstances from research output.

Catriona Firth writes the following blog for Wonkhe:, Head of Policy at Research England highlights the key features of REF 2021 and the REF Steering Group’s ongoing quest for injecting clarity in the review process.

Consultations & Inquiries

Click here to view the updated consultation tracker. There are lots of new updates to past inquiries and consultations, links to reports issued and Government responses to the reports. Currently we are working on:

  • Proposed changes to the degree classification system
  • EHRC inquiry into Racial harassment in HE
  • The TEF review
  • Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) proposals

We have recently submitted responses to:

  • Institutional cost of the current Tier 4 processing system
  • OfS’ approach to IAG

Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Insolvent FE providers: The Government has published guidance on changes to the statutory regulation of insolvency and interventions regimes for FE colleges. It aims to ensure that there is legal clarity about what will happen in the exceptional event of an FE or sixth-form college becoming insolvent. It will also aim to ensure that in the event of insolvency current students are protected – it includes a special administration regime for the sector called education administration, with the objective of avoiding or minimising disruption to the studies of the existing students of the FE body as a whole.  In March 2019, the DfE will publish full details setting out what is changing within the FE college intervention regime, ahead of the new insolvency regime coming into operational effect on 1 April 2019.

Apprenticeships: The CBI have published the first in a series of reports in 2019 on the apprenticeship and skills system. Getting Apprenticeships Right: Next Steps recommends that the Government gives the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) the independence and clout it needs to reform and regulate the English skills system. It calls for a new wave of Government action to ensure apprenticeships lead to high-skilled, high-paid jobs, which fit firms’ needs now and in the future. The Financial Times reported that the CBI has called for the creation of an independent apprenticeship body to “fix the failings” of the government’s reforms to workplace training. It goes on to say that CBI said:

the apprenticeship levy, which was introduced in April 2017 and forces organisations to set aside money for workplace training, had proved frustrating for many employers, which would like to train more staff but feel prevented from doing so by the system’s rules. The CBI argue that more independence should be given to the Institute for Apprenticeships, which oversees all workplace training schemes, adding that businesses had complained that the system gave too little time to spend the money.

The CBI’s report’s key recommendations include:

  • The Government must make clear that the Institute is the principal body for vocational skills in England with the clout to hold policymakers and the skills sector to account.
  • The Institute must take further steps to speed up the apprenticeship standards approval process so that businesses can start using them.
  • Given employer levy funds are due to start expiring from April 2019, the Government must urgently set up an appeals system that gives employers longer to spend their money where apprenticeship standards remain in development.
  • With the IfA assuming responsibility for T-levels and higher T-levels, they must set out how these routes will work in practice to give employers and the public confidence in them.

NEON report on Policy Connect’s/HE Commission Degree Apprenticeships: Up to Standard? report, stating: Findings are released by the Higher Education Commission which show that degree apprenticeships may be good in theory but they’re not delivering for small employers or disadvantaged students. The new report ‘Degree Apprenticeships: Up to Standard?’ reveals that of 51 approved degree apprenticeship standards, 43% have no providers that are delivering to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME), this is despite over 99% of UK businesses being SMEs.

Engineering: Education for Engineering has published a report arguing that the UK education system cannot produce enough engineers to support the economy, especially with increasing reliance on home grown talent post-Brexit. The report concludes that if the industrial strategy is to achieve its aims, government must nurture and grow its skilled engineering workforce to improve productivity and economic growth. Since the original Perkins Review, the report found that scant progress in addressing the UK’s chronic engineering skills gap has been made and calls on government and the engineering community to take urgent action. Report recommendations:

  • Government should review the issues affecting recruitment and retention of teachers and go beyond plans announced this week by introducing a requirement for 40 hours of subject-specific continuing professional development for all teachers of STEM subjects, not just new recruits, every year.
  • An urgent review of post-16 academic education pathways for England is needed. Young people should have the opportunity to study mathematics, science and technology subjects along with arts and humanities up to the age of 18, to attract a broader range of young people into engineering.
  • Government must ensure engineering courses are adequately funded with increased top-up grants for engineering departments if tuition fees are to be reduced.
  • Government should give employers greater control and flexibility in how they spend the Apprenticeship Levy, including to support other high-quality training provision in the workplace, such as improving the digital skills of the workforce.
  • Professional engineering organisations and employers should address the need to up-skill engineers and technicians to prepare for the introduction of disruptive digital technologies into industry.
  • Employers should take an evidence-based and data driven approach to improve recruitment and increase retention and progression of underrepresented groups within organisations, including by introducing recruitment targets for underrepresented groups.

Dame Judith Hackitt, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Chair of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: In particular, there is a need to radically reform technical education – creating an Apprenticeship Levy system that is fit for the future and genuinely meets employers’ needs. We also need to ensure T Levels do not face the same fate as the Levy but are employer-led and driven and, sufficiently funded in disciplines such as manufacturing and engineering.

Videoing lectures: A Research Professional article looks at the use and misuse of recorded lectures and the ethical and legal position surrounding this.

Finding the right disability support: The Guardian ran a thought provoking article by Ellie Drewry on the hurdles she faces at her university because of her disability.

Mental health: A relevant parliamentary question was answered this week –

Q – Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to support the mental health and well-being of postgraduate students in universities.

A – Chris Skidmore:

  • Mental health is a priority for this government, which is why the government is working closely with Universities UK on embedding the Step Change programme within the sector. Step Change calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority. Step Change also advocates a whole-institution approach to transform cultures and embed mental health initiatives beyond student services teams.
  • The former Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund also provided £1.5 million for 17 projects to improve the mental health of postgraduate research students. The Office for Students (OfS) is working with Research England to deliver this scheme.
  • This investment and the ongoing work of the OfS will support a range of activities. It will develop new practice for the pastoral support of postgraduate research students, and enhance training for their supervisors and other staff. Postgraduate research has different expectations and working practices to undergraduate work, so it will also help students adjust to the change.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

Parliamentary business of interest w/e 11 Jan 2019

Parliamentary items of interest this week include:

  • Immersive entertainment
  • How mental health services are failing the young and the mental health workforce crisis
  • The use of AI in the education sector

Immersive entertainment

The Government has issued a press release on immersive entertainment:

Innovate UK: UK takes centre stage in immersive entertainment revolution

New projects will use £18 million funding to create cutting-edge immersive experiences in sports entertainment, visitor experience and live performance.
A total of £18 million government and industry funding has been awarded to projects developing the next generation of immersive experiences. Using virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality, the projects will create cutting-edge immersive experiences which will be tested at scale on real audiences.

The projects are part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s audience of the future programme, delivered through UK Research and Innovation. Through this programme, government is helping the most talented storytellers across the UK create engaging immersive experiences.
Immersive sports, performance and visitor experiences

The demonstrator projects will develop immersive experiences in 3 areas; sports entertainment, performance, and visitor experience.
Performance

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will lead a consortium of 15 specialist organisations from the theatre, music, video production, gaming and research industries to create a live performance unbound by location. Audiences will use mobile phones, extended reality headsets and live streams to experience live performance like never before.
Visitor experience

Factory 42’s consortium will create 2 multi-sensory, interactive worlds in London’s Natural History Museum and Science Museum. At the Science Museum, visitors will take part in a mixed-reality detective experience featuring high-resolution 3D scans of robots. The Natural History Museum will bring dinosaurs to life through the story of a palaeontologist’s discoveries. Shorter versions of both experiences will tour shopping centres across the UK.
Sport entertainment

Esports – video games played competitively in front of a live audience – has the fastest growing audience for live sports globally. This project will create new esports platform called WEAVR that uses gameplay data to transform how remote audiences experience first esports, and further down the line physical sports.

WEAVR will be developed by a consortium that includes ESL, the largest esports content producer in the world, as well as academics and innovators across immersive technologies, data-driven content production and broadcast.
Leading digital and creative talent

Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries Margot James said: The UK is home to some of the world’s leading digital and creative talent. Through our modern Industrial Strategy and multi-million-pound creative industries sector deal, we are bringing them together to give audiences a truly unique experience. The growth of immersive technology has the power to transform the way in which we watch theatre, play games or go to the cinema, and these new projects will demonstrate how we can take people closer than ever before to the live action.

A new era of entertainment

Science and Innovation Minister Chris Skidmore said: We are now in a new era of how we consume entertainment, and these projects announced today could see us walking with dinosaurs and experiencing being in the stands of major football matches from our own living rooms. We have an impressive reputation of producing outstanding sport, cultural institutions and visual entertainment. That is why, through our modern industrial Strategy, we are building on these strengths to make the areas even more accessible and enjoyable to people, whilst supporting high-skilled jobs across the UK.

Changing cultural experiences

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: New technologies being pioneered in the UK, such as virtual and augmented reality, are fundamentally changing the way we participate in cultural experiences, from watching dramatic performances and visiting museums to playing video games. Through investments such as the projects announced today, the government and UK Research and Innovation will support the creative industries to innovate in exciting ways that will deliver new experiences for audiences of the future with accompanying economic benefits.

Global opportunity for the UK

Professor Andrew Chitty, UKRI’s Challenge Director for Audience of the Future said: The market for immersive content is a global opportunity. The presence of international partners in these ground-breaking projects is a massive vote of confidence not only in UK research and innovation but in our creative companies who will ensure that the UK becomes a world-leading destination for immersive content production bringing the new jobs and investment that is central to the Industrial Strategy and the Creative Industries Sector Deal.

Mental Health / Mental Health Workforce

The Public Accounts Committee have released a report on Mental health – poor NHS provision is failing young people

The report found that:

– Most young people with a mental health condition do not get the treatment they need

 – Government should step up action to increase staff numbers and develop required skills

 – Cross-departmental planning must improve, with focus on prevention and early intervention

 

REPORT SUMMARY

In 2017-18 only three in ten children and young people with a mental health condition received NHS-funded treatment, and many more faced unacceptably long waits for treatment. The government has committed to providing ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical health services, but it is still unclear what it means by this in practice. It also has no comprehensive, long-term plan for how it will fulfil its commitment to implement Future in Mind, which set out a cross-sector vision for how to support children and young people’s mental health. There is now a welcome focus on improving NHS mental health services for children and young people, but there are still significant gaps in the data to monitor progress. Recently published figures have underlined the scale of the task faced: one in eight (12.8%) 5-19 year olds have a mental health disorder. There has also been a marked increase in the number of 5-15 year olds who suffer from an emotional disorder: the figure now stands at 5.8% in comparison to 3.9% in 2004.

Work to increase mental health staff numbers and develop the right skills has also progressed more slowly than planned. The recurring issues with relation to the recruitment and retention of NHS staff remain unchanged and it is clear that the government’s inability to increase the number of mental health nurses is a roadblock to progress in this area. New and important ways of supporting young people’s mental health through prevention and early intervention, particularly in schools, are now being developed. The government must make urgent headway on all these fronts if it is to provide the mental health services and support that young people need.

COMMENT FROM PAC CHAIR MEG HILLIER MP: “Children and young people with mental health conditions are being failed by the NHS. Provision is far below required levels and many people who do get help face long waits for treatment. This can be devastating for people’s life chances; their physical health, education and work prospects. The NHS must accelerate efforts to ensure it has the right staff with the right skills in the right places. But there is a broader role for Government in better supporting children and young people. Effective action on prevention and early intervention can help young people more quickly, as well as relieve pressures on health services. We will be keeping a close eye on the real-world impact of the measures proposed in the Government’s 10-year plan for the NHS.”

 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

 Most young people with a mental health condition do not get the treatment they need, and under current NHS plans this will still be true for years to come, while many face unacceptably long waits for treatment. The NHS’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (Forward View) aims to increase the proportion of children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition who access NHS-funded treatment from an estimated baseline of 25% to 35% by 2020-21: this would still leave two-thirds of young people in need without NHS treatment. Similarly, the Green Paper plans to introduce new mental health support in schools will only cover up to a quarter of the country by 2022-23. The NHS estimates that just 30.5% of children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition accessed NHS-funded treatment in 2017-18. We heard numerous examples of families unable to access the treatment they need or having to wait too long for treatment. Preventing and intervening early in mental health conditions is thought to reduce the need for more specialist services and reduce future costs. Yet children and young people are being turned away from NHS services because their condition is not considered severe enough to warrant access to overstretched services. There is a clear risk that young people reach crisis point if they do not get help but the NHS has limited sight on what happens to children and young people turned away from NHS services.

 

Recommendation: From April 2019 to April 2022, the Department and NHS England should provide annual updates to the Committee on: 

  • the number of young people who:  

o        request or are referred for treatment (i.e. number of young people who request a CAMHS appointment),  

o        whose requests/referrals are accepted and  

o        who subsequently receive treatment, and how long they had to wait; 

  • the proportion of young people with a diagnosable condition who receive NHS-funded mental health services;  
  • waiting times across the range of children and young people’s mental health services; and 
  • progress in implementing and evaluating the pilot schemes for the Mental Health Support Teams in schools. 

The first update should also include current understanding of the financial and human cost, and longer-term impacts, of providing no, or delayed, treatment for children and young people, and the steps being taken by the Department and NHS England to address these impacts. 

Getting the right workforce in place is the biggest barrier to the government’s ambitions for children and young people’s mental health services. NHS England says that workforce is the single biggest risk to achieving its Forward View ambitions, and other stakeholders have raised similar concerns. Health Education England has limited information to develop its mental health workforce plan, which include an ambition to increase the children and young people’s mental health workforce of around 11,300 by a further 4,500 staff.  It still has no data specifically for the children and young people’s mental health workforce to measure progress against expansion plans. Available data on the overall mental health workforce suggests little change in numbers since Future in Mind was published in March 2015, with just a 1% increase overall between April 2015 and September 2017. Given the length of training times (a minimum of 3-4 years), Health Education England’s short-term focus is on retaining current staff and re-recruiting staff who have left the NHS. It estimates that, if the retention of nurses had remained at the 2012 level, then 50% of current nursing vacancies would not exist today. A range of factors, for example the removal of the nursing bursary and the cost of living in some areas, are affecting both recruitment and retention. In addition to increasing numbers, there are challenges in increasing the skill set of the existing workforce: for example, the Royal College of Nursing says that the removal of continuing professional development for nurses has made it harder to provide them with mental health training.

Recommendation: As part of the annual update to the Committee, the Department, NHS England and Health Education England should report on its progress in expanding the children and young people’s mental health workforce, setting out any changes they may have made to plans or targets and knock-on effects to other parts of the Five Year Forward View. It should also include an update on recruitment and retention rates for the mental health workforce and make an assessment on any knock-on effect on other professions e.g. nursing and midwifery. 

 

Tackling mental health issues among children and young people requires significant cross-departmental co-operation, but current approaches do not ensure that this co-operation happens in practice. The government is committed to delivering the cross-departmental vision set out in Future in Mind but has not set out the actions and budget required to deliver it in full, or any measurable objectives or targets. In practice a number of separate work programmes, largely NHS-led, are implementing parts of Future in Mind. There are no cross-departmental accountability arrangements in place for delivering it, or for children and young people’s mental health support more generally. The Department does not intend to revisit Future in Mind when planning future improvements for children and young people’s mental health services, although NHS England is developing a ten-year plan which is likely to prioritise mental health services for children and young people. The Department does not intend to create a corresponding cross-departmental plan but says it will instead take a similar approach to its joint working on the Green Paper with the Department for Education, working on a one-to-one basis with at least five departments. It is not clear how certain cross-departmental issues, for example housing for mental health staff, will be addressed.

Recommendation: By April 2019, the Department should lead on co-ordinating a comprehensive, practical and long-term cross-departmental plan which sets out how the government will achieve the improvements to children and young people’s services and support, as envisaged in Future in Mind. This does not need to be delivered as a single programme of work but should clearly set out what each department is responsible for and be specific enough to hold the contributing departments to account for the delivery of the plan. 

 

 Action to improve prevention and early intervention, which are vital in tackling mental health problems among children and young people, have been slower than work to improve NHS treatment. Preventing mental health conditions, or tackling them earlier, is thought to be better for young people and their families and more cost effective since it can reduce the need for more intensive services later. However, many areas of government that provide preventative or early intervention services, for example schools and local government, face significant funding challenges and so have reduced non-statutory support in recent years. For example, the number of school nurses, which are local authority-funded, has declined significantly, despite the fact that NHS England sees them as important to the mental health system. There is limited information about what support is available outside the health sector or understanding about the impact of cuts to such support on the demand for NHS services. A further challenge to implementing prevention and early intervention initiatives is the limited knowledge about which approaches are most effective. The Green Paper aims to improve prevention and early intervention but, as it will only be rolled out from 2019, this will come too late to make a significant difference to the current programme to improve NHS services.

Recommendation: As part of its cross-government planning, the government, led by the Department, should prioritise specific improvements in prevention and early intervention, including, and in addition to, the work currently being undertaken on the outcomes of the Green Paper, taking an evidence-based approach.  They should also monitor changes in other departments policies (for example, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions) to anticipate their impact on children’s mental health. 

 

 The NHS has committed to achieving ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical health services, but has not defined what the practical, meaningful outcomes are in terms of access to services, waiting times, or patient outcomes. For example, it has not yet determined what percentage of young people in need would access mental health services under full ‘parity’. So far, the Department and NHS England have taken a pragmatic approach to identify what they think they can achieve with available funding, rather than considering what improvements are required to support all children and young people in need of mental health support. New estimates, published in November 2018, show that the number of children and young people (5-15 year olds) with a mental health condition increased from 10.1% in 2004 to 11.2% in 2017. This will impact how long it will take and cost to achieve full ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health. The NHS will be producing its ten-year plan by the end of 2018 and mental health services for children and young people is expected to be one of the priorities in this plan.

Recommendation: In or alongside its ten-year plan, the NHS must set out clearly what it wants to achieve for children and young people’s mental health services, including defining clearly what ‘parity of esteem’ means in practice, the criteria it will use to measure progress and what data/information it requires. 

 

 Significant data weaknesses hamper the NHS’s understanding of progress against its current improvement programmes. At the start of the Forward View, the NHS lacked the necessary baseline information to measure progress against its plans, for example, on the number of children and young people receiving NHS treatment. The NHS intended that the new Mental Health Services Data Set would provide much of this information but this is behind schedule: for example, reliable data on patient outcomes are not expected until 2019. NHS England commissioned a one-off data collection for 2017-18 to understand how many children and young people were accessing NHS services, but it still does not have the data to understand growth rates in patient access to services. It now intends to repeat the one-off collection for 2018-19. In 2014 and 2015, the government committed to providing an additional £1.4 billion of funding specifically to transform children and young people’s mental health services, but a lack of reliable financial data up to 2016-17 means that NHS England cannot be sure that clinical commissioning groups spent all their additional funding as intended. It has since worked to improve financial information and spending controls, and gave us its commitment to ensuring that the £1.4 billion will be spent as intended by 2020-21.

Recommendation: By April 2019, the NHS should set out to the Committee what arrangements are in place to collect the data it needs to:  

  • Set up a robust baseline, and monitor progress on children and young people’s mental health services in the ten-year plan for the NHS; 
  • Reliably measure patient outcomes;  
  • Fully evaluate approaches in the Green Paper pilot areas to inform the national roll-out of services, including information from outside the NHS.

 

Use of AI in the education (mainly school) sector

The Education Committee continued their inquiry into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The first session saw the witnesses explain the benefits of using AI in the education sector, explaining how its use could assist teachers in working more effectively and provide children with more bespoke methods of teaching. They explained the barriers they faced in introducing the technology, highlighting a risk aversion to technology amongst teachers and schools, issues around training teachers, and poor infrastructure in schools.

Excerpts from the session follow:

Government on AI

Opening the session chair Robert Halfon (Con, Harlow) asked whether the government understood AI in education. Professor David Brown, professor of interactive systems for social inclusion, Nottingham Trent University, described government as being “slow on the uptake”. Vinous Ali, head of policy, techUK, replied they were aware of it and were looking at international examples of its use. Martin Hamilton, futurist, Jisc, gave the example of the Welsh Government promoting AI’s use at universities. He said more could be done if government acted in a concerted way.

Priya Lakhani, founder and ceo, CENTURY Tech, argued that the government didn’t understand AI in education. She said government failed to comprehend what made AI different and its potential implications, explaining this lack of comprehension had been made evident in a recent technology report from the Department for Education (DfE). As to why this was the case, she said there was a struggle to grasp the nuance of the technology and the ability for machines to make decisions.

Teachers

Asked what should be done to assist teachers, Brown explained that teachers were often concerned that technology would be used to replace them. He added there were also concerns at schools about the need for regular training and costs. Ali said there was an issue with technology not being integrated into systems, resulting in it not being properly used.  Hamilton spoke of there being an issue with digital skills amongst teachers, using the positive example of Wales and Scotland, he said they were embedding it into their teacher training. Lakhani said teachers were often time constrained and which impacted on their ability to undertake training. She also called for technology companies to make a concerted effort to ensure proper training.

Role of DfE

The chair asked whether an DfE had given any strategic direction on the issue, Lakhani said they hadn’t and would welcome it if they did. Hamilton welcomed that department having an education technology policy unit, highlighting that they were in the process of developing a strategy. Ali said a strategy was needed to ensure technology was embedded.

 

Please note: The above summaries are for BU staff and student use only, they are provided by Dods Monitoring Consultants.

HE policy update for the w/e 7th December 2018

Another lively week in HE policy – starting late last Friday night when the Minister resigned..and we had to wait several days for the new one to be appointed.

New Minister

For those watching HE twitter late on a Friday night, the big news was Sam Gyimah’s resignation over Brexit (amid some whispers from the HE conspiracy theorists that fee cuts are nigh and Sam may have been exiting before the blame falls).  The new HE Minister is Chris Skidmore. We’ve compiled a profile on him here.

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HE policy update for the w/e 2nd November 2018

The Budget

As previously trailed in the media the Autumn Budget was focused on demonstrating the end of austerity. There wasn’t much in the way of HE announcements, however paperwork released with the budget confirms that the Government intends to continue to freeze the maximum tuition fees at the current £9,250 level (UUK report this means £200 million less funding for the sector by 2023-24). Previously announced increases to research and development funding (£1.6 billion more) were reiterated:

  • £1.1 billion through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund
  • £120 million through Strength in Places fund
  • £150 million for research fellowship schemes
  • Funding for 10 university enterprise zones, and for catapult centres

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 19th October 2018

Policy impact – some steps you can take and why it’s a good idea (despite appearances)

We wrote a blog on this topic  – you can read it here.

Choosing a university

The Ofs have published a survey that shows the role of parents and friends in applicant decision making.  There’s a big research paper by CFE Research.  

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HE Policy update for the w/e 7th September 2018

Access and participation

OfS have launched a consultation: A new approach to regulating access and participation in higher education which closes on 12th October.

The main proposed changes are:

  1. Five year plans (where appropriate): The OfS will place the approval of access and participation plans on a more strategic timescale.
  2. Providers will be required to publish and submit an impact report to the OfS each year.
  3. Access and participation plans must include a set of strategic, outcomes focused targets.
  4. The OfS will collect predicted access spend disaggregated by pre-16 activity, post16 activity and work with adults and communities in access and participation plans.
  5. Providers will need to complete a self-assessment of their evaluation activities.
  6. OfS will undertake further work to explore whether providers should publish transparency data by age and disability
  7. OfS will create, publish and maintain an access to participation dataset providing an accurate picture across the sector and at individual providers.

The story is covered in Research Professional:

  • Progress on five-year targets will be submitted by universities each year and scrutinised by the OfS. Universities which are deemed to be at risk of falling short will have to submit plans every three years.
  • Other proposals include dropping requirements for universities to report on student success and progression spend, and plans to publish a dataset showing success rates for individual institutions on access and participation.

On Wonkhe: Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation, outlines what OfS has published as part of its consultation on access and participation today, and the rationale behind it.

  • I am just finishing assessing the first round of access and participation plans. They show significant investment and increasingly well thought-out activity. However, the ambition I hear in meetings often isn’t matched in these plans, either by aspirational targets or progress on the ground.
  • There are still significant challenges that need to be acknowledged in plans, for example, poorer outcomes that go hand in hand with particular groups of students. We need universities and colleges to be rigorous in their self-reflection and use of evaluation and evidence. Many of the first drafts of plans we read were weak in these areas. Some self-assessments gloss over the problems, sometimes seeking to assign blame to others, or hide behind sector-wide patterns. It is, frankly, not the sort of practice that should pass muster in knowledge-based organisations.
  • As we signalled in the regulatory framework, institutions will need to publish data on applications, offers, admissions, and outcomes split by gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background. The consultation suggests we go further, including data by age and disability status. The OfS will also launch an access and participation data set. This will show the extent to which progress is being made across the sector and at individual providers. These measures will cast a brighter spotlight than ever before on institutional performance. It will be evident which institutions are helping to close stubborn gaps in participation and outcomes, and which aren’t. 

David Kernohan analyses OfS’s consultation documents on its approach to regulating access and participation, and explains why it is the biggest change in the realm of widening access since the 2004 genesis of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

Equality and Diversity – metrics

 Advance He have issued their annual report giving data on age, disability, ethnicity and gender of staff and students for 2016/17.

  • The degree attainment gap between BME undergraduate qualifiers and white undergraduate qualifiers decreased from 15.0 percentage points in 2015/16 to 13.6 percentage points in 2016/17.
  • Overall, 12.0% of UK students disclosed as disabled in 2016/17, with one in five of disabled students reporting a mental health condition.
  • Since 2003/04, the proportion of HE staff disclosing as disabled has more than doubled from 2.2% in 2003/04 to 4.9% in 2016/17.
  • Only one in four professors were women; of these female professors, 91.6% were white, with only 8.4% identifying as BME.
  • More than 1 in 10 students disclosed as disabled in 2016/17 (12.0%)
  • The attainment gap between white and black students qualifying with a First/2:1 degree was 24.0%
  • The majority of academics on fixed-term contracts were aged 40 and under (64.6%)
  • only 1 in 5 female academics earned over £50,000 (22.5% of female academics, compared to 35.6% of male academics)

Where next?   UUK Annual Conference

The Ministerial speech to the annual UUK conference has been used to make major policy announcements in the past but not this year – more of a resetting of tone and relationship.  It seems to have gone down well.  Although when you read it he isn’t actually rowing back from much of the negative stuff he has said recently – just putting it in a more positive context.  Fluff?  Or a genuine change of approach?  We’ll see.

Research Professional have published their usual brilliantly scathing annotated version of the speech.

Some quotes from the actual speech (and we have covered other bits below in the relevant sections).

  • When I took office in January, I said that we were now in the Age of the Student. Since then I’ve made it a priority to visit campuses and listen to students. I’m going to keep on doing this.
  • Let me start by setting out what I hope I have made obvious in the past 9 months: I love our universities.
  • Going to university is worth it.
  • A good degree [note the caveat] is worth the investment, both the investment that students make through fees, and the investment that the government makes through the T-grant and through the student loans system. Research still demonstrates that the graduate still earn a premium over their lifetime. What is more, university can be a ‘rite of passage’ – with an important opportunity to learn and grow as a person.
  • …it is a good time to challenge other myths that surround our universities.  Like the idea that universities provide only academic education, rather than a vocational one. One only needs to look at the list of courses at some at some of our oldest universities to realise the idea that degrees are academic, not vocational is mistaken.  Let’s also challenge the false dichotomy between Higher Education and Further Education that dominates the public debate on post 18 education. In fact, we have further and technical education being taught in the Higher Education sector, and higher education qualifications being awarded in the Further Education sector. This is not a zero-sum game. If the UK is to thrive we need more technical skills and more general analytic and creative skills; more vocational education and more academic education; more Level 4 and 5 skills and more degrees, both undergraduate and graduate level.
  • [here’s the caveat] This is not to say that every degree at every university is as good as it can be. I have spoken before about the importance of understanding which degrees do not offer value for money, and making sure students have the information to make the choices that are right for them. But it is right that we make a full-throated defence of the value of university education as a whole.
  • That is not to say that the political debate that universities find themselves in can be ignored. If universities want to play an active role in the public realm, you and the Government collectively have a duty to earn and retain the public’s trust.  There are two particular areas where we need to be vigilant.  The first is value for money. I’ve spoken before about the need to ensure that students get a quality education in return for the investment they make. If the perception grows that universities are offering threadbare courses, or prioritising getting bums on seats [so he hasn’t dropped that rhetoric either] over quality, the credibility of the HE sector as a whole will suffer. Likewise if universities see applicants as commodities, and neglect the student experience or their mental health needs. Or if universities are seen as hotbeds of unjustified high salaries.  This is why we have pushed ahead with the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework and Longitudinal Educational Outcomes dataset. And it is why I have been vocal on issues like the growth of unconditional offers, mental health on campus and the rise of essay mills.  The other big risk for universities is becoming disconnected from the wider world. If universities are seen as ideological echo chambers; if research is seen as disconnected from the wider world; if universities are seen as distant from their communities, again, their mission will be compromised and their credibility will suffer.  I know that many of you work hard to prevent this kind of turning inwards. Our best universities are not ivory towers. Still less are they “left-wing madrassas”, as one controversialist chose to describe them. But ideological diversity, strong research cultures, engagement with the wider world, and fair access are ongoing battles – and the price of failure will be very high.
  • It may not be fashionable to say it, but at times like this, we need experts more than ever. This is not the time for our universities to shrink back and sulk. We need our universities to engage and lead in these debates publicly, because you are the connective tissue to the next generation. 
  • We will need to make the most of universities’ direct contribution to the economy too.
  • Our vision must be local as well as global. The great universities of the nineteenth and early twentieth century were founded with a clear civic vision. They promoted not just the republic of knowledge, but also their local town and community.

The President of UUK,  Dame Janet Beer, also spoke.

Fees and funding

The Minister spoke at UUK this week (see above) and so did Philip Augar.  No firm news on the Post-18 review but there were some hints. The Minister said:

  • We should also be clear-eyed about the advantages of our Higher Education funding system. The English system of funding undergraduate study through fees and loans has allowed us to remove student number caps, made access fairer, and kept our universities adequately funded to pursue their mission…Our student finance system is not perfect. But it has some major advantages. And I can assure you, I am deeply aware of them.

Research Professional quote Philip Augar:

  • “The taxpayer’s contribution to higher education is largely concealed from the public eye; it’s largely concealed by the current method of accounting for student loans,” Augar told the conference.
  • “We don’t know what the ONS will say; we don’t even know exactly when they are going to say it. But the working assumption has to be that things will change, and presumably will change at the most extreme end in terms of bringing…more of the debt write-off onto the balance sheet, and presumably some change in the manner of accounting for interest received. This will lead, we think, to much more public scrutiny of the taxpayer subsidy for higher education, in particular to the cliff edge in debt that crystallises in the 2040s.”
  • Commenting on the timetable for the review, set to be published in early 2019, Augar said that the ONS review made it more complex. He added that the interim report would be released “hopefully before the end of this year, it’s possible that could slip, it depends entirely on the timing of the ONS review and in fact it is a decision for government.” 

The President of UUK, Dame Janet Beer, also spoke:

  • As you heard last night from Lord Willetts, there is a sense of déjà vu when considering university funding policy. Once again, we have a major post-18 review of HE and FE funding in England – and we will hear more from its chair, Philip Augar, later today.
  • While political pressures arguably triggered this review, the government should aspire to outcomes which are long-term and far-reaching, and avoid short-term fixes which may ultimately backfire.
  • Fee differentiation, by subject of study or graduate earnings, is not without risk. A cut in the headline fee, for example, will not solve the widespread misunderstanding of the student finance system. Nor will it eradicate the deep-rooted fears around debt. Returning to an era when student numbers in England were capped would be a backward step which government should avoid.
  • The Augar review – and its subsequent implementation – provides a fantastic opportunity to improve the system for students in a number of ways.
  • It should offer solutions to address the long-term decline in part-time and mature student numbers. It should increase financial support for those most in need through targeted maintenance grants to reduce fears about the cost of living. It should help students move more easily between further and higher education according to their needs. And it should strive to improve understanding of the progressive nature of student loans and the value of a degree for students.

Government priorities – migration

UUK are calling for a new post-study work visa scheme to help the UK increase global market share.  The press release is here.  Although there has been modest growth in international student numbers, the concern is market share: Since 2011, countries such as Australia, Canada, and the US have seen high growth in international demand for study, while the total number of enrolled international students in the UK has stayed flat, leading to lost market share.

The Minister responded to this in his speech to UUK:

  • The forthcoming report of the Migration Advisory Committee on student migration offers us an opportunity to ensure our policy on student migration recognises the contribution that overseas students make to our universities, our balance of trade and our communities. We can build on the global perspective of UKRI’s £1 billion Future Leaders Fellowship programme and the UKRI visa regime.  I welcome the fresh thinking behind UUK’s proposals on an expanded post study work offer for overseas students. Certainly, if we want our universities to win globally, our actions must match our ambition.

UUK also link to a new survey from ComRes showing that people support this: “The call comes as a new poll from ComRes (findings attached) reveals increased support for international students and graduates in the UK. Nearly three quarters (72%) of British adults polled think that international students should be able to stay in the UK post-graduation for one year or more to gain work experience.”

The detailed proposal is here.

  • We are proposing that the UK introduces a new, temporary Global Graduate Talent Visa. Under this visa, all Higher Education Institutions registered as Tier 4 sponsors would be able to sponsor their graduates to search for and gain work experience in the UK for up to two years on a more flexible basis than currently permitted by the Tier 2 visa, without restrictions on job level or salary, and without an employer sponsorship requirement.
  • This new visa would give international graduates a longer period to search for a Tier 2 eligible role and allow a wider range of employers to benefit from access to talented graduates from around the world including small and medium employers who do not have Tier 2 sponsorship licences.
  • In line with competitor economies (USA, Canada, Australia), this visa category would permit graduates to search for work and report all changes in their employment or address to their university using an online system similar to that used in the USA for the F-1 OPT migration route. Time spent on the new visa would not count towards settlement in the UK. Once a graduate has found a job which enables them to switch into Tier 2 as a ‘new entrant’, they would be expected to do so, and those who did not find a job offer sufficient to move into Tier 2 would be required to leave at the end of the period covered by the visa. Graduates of any programme of study at an eligible UK university lasting longer than 11 months would be eligible to remain on this visa for up to two years. Universities would have the flexibility to manage the licence for the new visa system separately from their Tier 4 licence, through a new but linked corporate entity to remove the risk of disruption if the Home Office has concerns about either licence.
  • Alongside the proposed new visa, Universities UK will work with member universities to support local SMEs to hire international graduates under the existing Tier 2 route by informing them about the Tier 2 sponsorship system and the process for applying to be a Tier 2 sponsor. This will help to increase the number of Tier 2 sponsoring employers across the UK. Together these measures will enable more regional SMEs to benefit from the skills of international graduates, including in shortage areas like engineering and business services.
  • We are also calling for the current £20,800 Tier 2 ‘new entrant’ salary threshold to be nuanced, in light of differences between this threshold average in UK/EU graduate salaries across different regions of the UK, and for female graduates. The Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Survey (DLHE), which surveys all UK graduates six months after graduating, found that first (bachelors) degree graduates only achieve the required salary level in six regions of the UK, while female graduates only achieve the required level in London, the South East, and Scotland. We are proposing £19,500 as a reasonable level. This is higher than the salary threshold required for a UK citizen to bring over a non-EU spouse (£18,600) and in line with graduate starting salaries across the UK as reported in the DLHE.

The survey press release is here: “three quarters (72%) of British adults think that international students should be able to stay and work in the UK post-graduation for one year or more”

And the data is here

The majority of the British public would like to see the same number or more international students:

  • Only 26% of the British public think of international students as immigrants when thinking about Government immigration policy.
  • Two thirds (64%) of British adults think international students have a positive impact on the local economies of the towns and cities in which they study.
  • Three quarters (75%) of the British public also believe that international students should be allowed to work in the UK for a fixed time after they have graduated, rather than returning immediately to their home country after completing their studies.

Press:

Mental Health

UUK has issued guidance for universities on preventing student suicides, working with PAPYRUS, the UK’s national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide.

At least 95 university students took their own lives in the last academic year. Although new data published by the Office for National Statistics shows that there is a significantly lower rate of student suicide among university students in England and Wales compared with the general population, university leaders have said that there is no room for complacency.

The guide includes advice on developing a strategy focused specifically on suicide prevention, covering the following areas:

  • Steps to prevent student suicide
  • Intervening when students get into difficulties
  • Best practice for responding to student suicides
  • Case studies on approaches to suicide prevention through partnership working
  • Checklist highlighting steps university leaders can take to make their communities safer

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has launched eight new Mental Health Networks that will bring researchers, charities and other organisations together to address important mental health research questions.

The new £8m Networks, funded by UKRI and the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy for four years (one for three), will progress mental health research in themes such as the profound health inequalities for people with severe mental ill health, social isolation, youth and student mental health, domestic and sexual violence, and the value of community assets.

  • MARCH: Social, Cultural and Community Assets for Mental Health, Led by: Dr Daisy Fancourt, UCL
  • Loneliness and social isolation in mental health, Led by: Professor Sonia Johnson, UCL
  • Violence, Abuse and Mental Health: Opportunities for Change, Led by: Professor Louise Howard and Dr Sian Oram, King’s College London
  • Transdisciplinary Research for the Improvement of Youth Mental Public Health (TRIUMPH) Network, Led by: Professor Lisa McDaid, University of Glasgow
  • SMARtEN: Student Mental Health Research Network, Led by: Dr Nicola Byrom, King’s College London
  • The Nurture Network: Promoting Young People’s Mental Health in a Digital World, Led by: Professor Gordon Harold, University of Sussex
  • Emerging Minds: Action for Child Mental Health, Led by: Professor Cathy Creswell, University of Reading
  • Improving health and reducing health inequalities for people with severe mental illness: the ‘Closing the Gap’ Network+, Led by: Professor Simon Gilbody, University of York

OfS and UKRI sign collaboration agreement

The Office for Students (OfS) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have signed a collaboration agreement confirming how the two organisations work together on shared priorities across research and teaching.

It is intended to promote:

  • Effective working and communication between the two organisations
  • Clarity of understanding about our respective roles and responsibilities
  • Compliant sharing of information and intelligence between the two organisations

The detail is all in the schedules – the headings are:

  • Liaison (2 meetings a year)
  • Governance
  • Regulatory Framework/Assurance:

Covers:

  • Financial health and sustainability analysis
  • TRAC (System)
  • Sustainability and funding of the collective ‘HE system’
  • Gateways to HE (RDAP) [you’ll remember this as a hot topic from the HERA discussions in 2017]
  • Quality and standards
  • Specific research funding initiatives to English HE Providers. (e.g. UKRPIF)
  • Data sharing arrangements/ Designated Data Body
  • HE Policy shared interests

Covers

  • Skills and the industrial strategy
  • Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in higher education
  • Healthcare
  • Knowledge Exchange
  • REF, TEF and KEF
  • Joint funded initiatives

Those of you who have read this blog for a while will be aware that at BU we have written before about the way that REF and TEF work together and have raised this in numerous consultation responses for both REF and TEF.  We are disappointed to see that the statement in this agreement waters down even further the language we have seen before in responses on this and we look forward to seeing what this actually means in practice – probably not very much.

  • We will work to ensure that the TEF, the KEF and the REF are mutually reinforcing in how they recognise and reward the delivery of excellent research, teaching, knowledge exchange. We will be proactive in sharing and consulting on intended developments.

Brexit

On Brexit the President of UUK, Dame Janet Beer, spoke at the UUK conference:

…for universities, the uncertainty is as damaging as a difficult outcome.

  • We need greater certainty that we will be able to recruit EU students and staff, collaborate easily with our European partners, and continue to grow outward student mobility to Europe and beyond
  • We need the continued mutual recognition of professional qualifications – for our doctors, nurses, lawyers and architects to name but a few
  • We need a satisfactory agreement on the Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland border that protects and promotes collaboration with our nearest neighbour, and
  • We need government to engage more meaningfully with devolved administrations to ensure an effective settlement can be achieved UK-wide.

Since the referendum result, our sector has worked constructively with government. Our academics have shared their expertise, our staff and students have highlighted issues which must be addressed, and collectively we have attempted to provide solutions rather than snipe from the sidelines.

But, in common with organisations such as the CBI, we must now prepare for the possibility of ‘no deal’ and the disruption this will bring. UUK’s Board therefore calls on the government to boost stability over the coming months. This means:

  • Committing to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals working, studying or entering the UK as of 31 December 2020
  • Ensuring that any substantive changes to EU migration rules are preceded by a period of two years to allow universities and prospective staff and students to prepare for any new system; and
  • Setting out contingency plans for replacing access to Erasmus+ so that UK students do not miss out on the transformational experience of spending time studying, volunteering or working abroad.

Students’ Unions

HEPI have published a new report “David versus Goliath: The past, present and future of students’ unions in the UK”.

The paper sets out a historical perspective, and provides interesting context for those of us who have always been a bit puzzled about the antipathy some politicians seem to feel for elected student representatives, probably dating from their own experiences of SU’s at university.  This antipathy seems to have coloured the recent debates about student participation in the new regulatory structures – leading to the successful campaign in 2016/17 by the NUS to persuade Jo Johnson to give students more of a voice in the OfS.

Looking forward there is a long list of recommendations , some interesting ones below:

  • The Office for Students, the Quality Assurance Agency, the Competition and Markets Authority and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator should consider how they might best enable students’ unions to be more effective, particularly in the arena of academic governance. This must go beyond briefing materials for student sabbatical officers or strategies that engage students in their work. It should consider how different aspects of students’ union capacity might be supported to hold providers to account, understand data, influence quality and cause students to know and be able to enforce their rights
  • The Office for Students should also develop a direct relationship with student representative bodies – if the water regulator (OFWAT) is able to champion independent consumer groups to be actively involved in the development of water supply and liaise directly with it as a regulator, that kind of relationship should not worry us in higher education.
  • AdvanceHE might usefully consider how it might contribute to the capacity of students’ unions to be effective, particularly in relation to leadership, equality and diversity and student engagement.
  • Traditional providers, on the other hand, should take care to ensure that their unions are funded properly, and that cultures in leadership are demonstrably appreciative of, responsive to and able to articulate with confidence the outcomes of student representation. Crucially, providers of all character should ensure that their students have access to professional, well-funded independent advocacy in the event of a complaint or appeal.
  • . As governing bodies begin to consider their own accountability – to communities, staff and students, their practice in involving students should develop too. This should go beyond the engagement of one or two members of the governing body being drawn from the student body. 80 David versus Goliath: The past, present and future of students’ unions in the UK Instead it should involve students’ unions in the facilitation of student involvement in university strategy, educational character and mission and assessment of institutional performance.
  • Above all, the practice observed most commonly in institutional cultures – the induction of student leaders into the culture, practice and workings of universities – could usefully be turned on its head. Student leaders occupy a unique position in emerging adulthood, where aspects of youth mix with rapidly developing concepts of responsibility….Perhaps we should do more to induct higher education leaders into that culture rather than attempting to do the opposite.

On Wonkhe, the report’s authors set out the history of students’ unions and discuss their current place in higher education.

International Research

A parliamentary question on international research:

Q – Rebecca Long Bailey: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with reference to page 89 of the Industrial Strategy, whether his Department has launched the new international research and innovation strategy.

A – Mr Sam Gyimah: … we intend to publish the International Research and Innovation Strategy in autumn this year.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week: A new approach to regulating access and participation in higher education

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

 Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

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

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

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

REF 2021

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

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

BU will be responding to the consultation.

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

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

Sam Gyimah said:

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

Brexit White Paper

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

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

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

2A: Rights related to residence (p 12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unconditional Offers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The UCAS report on unconditional offers says:

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

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

Wonkhe have an article here:

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

The BBC has the story:

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

The BBC story goes on

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

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

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

The argument takes several forms all highlighted above:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSS

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

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

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

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

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said:

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

National Student Survey results 2018 (Web)

Mental Health / Occupational Therapy

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

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

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

Student Loans

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

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

Lords Debates

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

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

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

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

The full text of the fees debate is available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recess

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

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

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

Other news

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

66724                                                                                 65070

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

 

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

Free speech still in the news

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

HEPI say about the report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Loans, RPI & HE Funding

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

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

The Times explain the financial trickery:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retail Price Index

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

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

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

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

HE Funding

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

Cost Effective Universities – Student Spending

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

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

The rest of the analysis highlights familiar student finance themes:

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

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

There is an interesting section showing student spending habits.

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

Research Commercialisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Funding and Talent

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

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

LEO

Robert Halfon (Conservative) questioned Sam Gyimah on LEO

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

AND

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

A – Sam Gyimah:

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

Mental Health

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

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

Technical Education

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

A – Anne Milton:

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

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

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

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

Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

Subscribe!

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

66724                                                                                 65070

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

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

Fees & Funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Later sessions focussed on a discussion about value for money – most of which has been well rehearsed in other contexts, but there was a good level of debate and some interesting points. Amongst them were the point that the government is with one hand telling students not to worry about student debt (because it is income contingent) and on the other hand raising concerns about responsible lending.  The squeeze on living costs and cap on maintenance loans is driving students to take out other loans for sums or to work too many hours.  The focus in the public debate on debt and interest, and on tuition fees, is unhelpful.  Living costs are the real practical day to day challenge for students –  which is why most of the panellists agreed that maintenance grants should be a priority

It does feel as there is a perfect storm coming – and while the timing might suggest that this review is headed for the filing cabinet, the costs involved will mean that something will have to be done.

Immigration – borders open for science

Sam Gyimah spoke at a science park opening on Thursday to announce a relaxation of the immigration regulations which will allow an influx of scientific talent to the UK. Gyimah stated

  • it was only the first step towards a liberalisation of visa restrictions on scientific talent amid concerns that Brexit could damage the UK’s ability to attract bright academics from overseas.

The Government coverage of the speech states the relaxation is Britain’s new unique selling point and aims to establish Britain as the ‘go-to place for science and innovation’.

The new scheme will allow non-EEA researchers, scientists and academics to reside in the UK for up to two years. It forms a new element within the Tier 5 (Government authorised exchange temporary worker) visa route. UKRI and 12 other approved research organizations (including Natural History Museum) have the ability to directly sponsor individuals to train and work in the UK.

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, stated:

  • I recognise the crucial contribution science makes to the UK economy and society and I am determined that the UK will continue to welcome leading scientific and research talent from around the world…We must have an immigration system that makes sure we can attract leading international talent and benefit from their knowledge and expertise.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will monitor this new scheme with UKRI regularly to ensure it meets the criteria for a Tier 5 scheme.

In his speech Gyimah stated:

  • “we…face a longer-term question: what should our post-Brexit economy look like? And we cannot wait till the Brexit deal is done to answer it… With the City less profitable today than it once was, and North Sea output naturally declining, the search is on for the next wave of world-leading British businesses… We need new sources of growth, and a vision of how to succeed. And we need to set a direction that will sustain us not just for the next 9 months, but for the next 30 years…The businesses of the future will be based on science, research and technology. The world is changing, and the UK needs to take advantage of this… To tackle the grand challenges our society faces, and to move up the economic league table, we need to double down on our strengths in science, technology and innovation.
  • This is partly a matter of investment. A decade ago, they idea that government investment had a role to play in fostering innovation was contentious, even controversial… investment is about much more than just public money. For every pound of public R&D in the UK, business contributes 2. And it takes more than R&D to build successful businesses. That’s why we are also working hard to create the conditions for greater long term private investment.
  • Now is the right time to ask ourselves some big questions when it comes to our public R&D investment. How can we do more to ensure our investment crowds in private money? Have we struck the right balance between funding for basic and applied research?
  • We should be proud that so many of the best and brightest from other countries choose to bring their knowledge and skills to Britain, and we should recognise that our economy is stronger for it. I don’t believe that the vote for Brexit was a vote for the UK to close ourselves off from the world.
  • We also need to make the most of our openness to ideas. We should learn from the sharp-eyed heroes of the Industrial Revolution and think not just how we commercialise our own technology, but what we can learn and borrow from the best research around the world.”

Gyimah went on:

  • “It is also time to ensure our institutions are playing the most effective role they backing innovation…Our universities are an intrinsic part of our innovation economy. Our best universities are not just powerhouses of research – they are also deeply connected to their local and national businesses, and to their community. There is an important geographical angle to consider. It is no surprise that many of the UK’s most successful publicly funded labs and institutions are in the Oxford-Cambridge-London triangle, because we rightly fund research on the basis of excellence and not political patronage, and one corollary of that is that the most successful universities have consistently punched above their weight in winning further research funding. But it is important that we recognise that, when it comes to innovation, there is life outside the Golden Triangle. Indeed, sometimes the private sector seems quicker to realise it than public research funders.
  • I want to see to N8 Alliance of Northern Universities become powerhouses of economic growth in their area, and to ensure we back innovation wherever it may be… But universities are not the only institutions that are can drive innovation. We should also consider how our regulatory systems can encourage innovation, by making sure that our rules keep up with the pace of technology and business change.”

Gyimah went on to:

  • Launch the new £10 million Regulators’ Pioneer Fund, as an integral part of the Industrial Strategy. The fund will invest in initiatives to support businesses that are bringing innovative products to market
  • Announce the Government Office for Science will work with UKRI and the Better Regulation Executive to develop standards for new technologies and their applications (to build on work for self-driving car testbeds).
  • State: “We need to consider whether we have struck the right balance between encouraging spin-outs and maximising university revenues.”

He concluded by stating: “By drawing on our national strengths of openness, entrepreneurship and strong institutions, we can make the UK a true platform for innovation. This in turn will help establish the UK’s place in the world, and our future prosperity.”

Gyimah’s speech was covered in The Times: UK opens door to gifted foreign scientists.

Mature students and cold spots

UCAS published a report into admissions patterns for mature applicants: Full report

“Research published by UCAS shows that mature students are more likely to apply to universities and colleges close to home, primarily for a limited selection of vocational subjects, and when there are fewer jobs available.  Our analysis also shows significant regional variations in entry rates to full-time higher education among mature students, and these differ notably from the patterns in entry to university among applicants of different age groups.

The report  Admissions patterns for mature applicants (5.37 MB) compares the characteristics within groups of mature students aged 21 and over, to those aged 18, applying for full-time undergraduate courses. The key findings are as follows:

  • Living at home – mature students are more likely to live at home while studying full-time, and this likelihood increases with age. Half of 21 to 25 year olds live at home while studying, compared to nearly 80% of those aged 30 and over. In comparison, 18 year olds are more likely to attend a university over an hour away from their home, with over 50% having a drive time of 70 minutes or more.
  • Vocational subject choices – mature students are typically drawn to a small range of courses, with subjects allied to medicine (including nursing), education, and social studies the most popular. As more female students typically apply for these courses, this may explain why more than 70% of mature students over the age of 31, accepted to full-time degrees, are female.
  • Entry rates by region – in 2017, for mature students aged 21 to 50, entry rates to higher education by UK country and region are highest in Scotland, followed by London. However, due to differences in age distribution across the regions, entry rates vary by region for different age groups of mature applicants, with London having the highest entry rates for those aged 36 to 50.
  • Applications are higher when the job market is weaker – there appears to be a relationship between applications and the number of job vacancies. When the number of UK employment opportunities was at its lowest, between 2009 and 2011, application rates for full-time undergraduate courses from mature students peaked. Since 2015, the number of job vacancies has increased, while application rates for full-time study have declined. This suggests mature students look to the employment market when jobs are plentiful, and apply to higher education when jobs are sparse.”

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

  • Mature students have different motivations, expectations, and needs compared to their younger counterparts.  Entering full-time higher education as an older student is a life-changing commitment, reflected in the focused choices many older students make to pursue highly vocational subjects.”

This was written up on Wonkhe by David Kernohan,  and reported in the Times Higher a

The same day a report was issued by IntoUniversity at a conference looking at the geography of higher education, access and participation.  Chris Millward, the Director of Fair Access and Particpation gave a speech:

So far, so not very surprising.  So what were the remedies that he proposed?

“Strategic and sustained work to:

  • engage with local communities, schools and colleges on expectations, pathways and attainment before HE
  • recognise background within admissions and support transition into HE
  • develop skills and attributes for employment and absorptive capacity for graduates in local areas”

Meanwhile the OfS is going to ensure:

“Pressure for individual universities and colleges to:

  • demonstrate continuous, year-on-year improvement through their access and participation plans by:
    • reducing the gaps in access, success and progression for underrepresented groups among their own students
    • improve practice, including through better evaluation and sustained engagement with schools from early years and with employers.

Sector-wide support for:

  • availability and use of more common and rigorous data and evidence to target and evaluate access and participation work
  • collaborative working between different universities and colleges and with schools and employers, e.g. NCOP
  • advancement and sharing of innovative and effective practice, e.g. Barriers to Student Success”

And Chris Millward also wrote a blog:

  •  ‘To ensure the benefits of higher education flow back into local economies and public services throughout the country, there need to be better opportunities and support for people who want to study close to home and later in life, as well as for young people who live on campus.
  • ‘The Office for Students is challenging higher education providers to reduce the gaps in access and outcomes for mature students through access and participation plans, which universities and colleges must have approved if they wish to charge higher tuition fees.”

We were puzzled by some of the analysis of this – which seems to imply that mature students are first deciding to go to university and then choosing a course, which happens often to be a vocational one, and happens often to be close to home.  And then of course the implication is that graduates of “vocational” courses are less well paid, see the headline story on fees and funding , and that by choosing local courses they may be choosing less good courses.  This was the line taken by Chris Parr on Research Professional.

In our view, this analysis is upside down – if mature students are choosing vocational courses, it is likely to be because they have a vocation – and have decided that they want to pursue it.  They may study locally because they may have family or other ties, or financial concerns that make it difficult to travel.  And they may choose low-tariff courses – but in some cases that may be because one of the reasons they are mature students is that they didn’t get very high grades at school but are now coming back to education.  Those local, low tariff vocational programmes may be an important means of allowing mature students with potential to gain life changing experience and qualifications that will enable them to give back to their communities as well as improve their own lives.

So the OfS focus on access, participation and outcomes is important, but once again, we need to be careful to challenge views that success is only measured in terms of entry tariffs and graduate salaries.  And too much focus on improving choice may miss the point for many mature students who can’t take advantage of the options.

Part Time Students and ELQs

As well as the decline in mature students, the decline in the numbers of part-time students has also been widely discussed as a challenge for the Post-18 review, and of course many mature students will also be part-time, so the same issues may apply.

This week the House of Lords held a debate on part-time and continuing education. Criticism for ELQs featured heavily in the debate. An ELQ (Equivalent and Lower Qualification) is when a student already holds a qualification at the same or a higher level than the programme they intend to study. A student with an ELQ cannot access student maintenance loan or tuition fee funding from the Student Loan Company – meaning they, or their employer, has to fully self-fund. There are a small number of courses that the Government considers a priority where the ELQ rule doesn’t apply and students can access student finance. Furthermore, a student with an ELQ can actually be charged above the £9,250, up to £13,000 (BU does not charge this higher fee for ELQ students).

Baroness Bakewell led a debate on part-time and continued education,  in particular the future of the Open University (OU). She said the OU’s purpose was to promote greater equality of opportunity and widen access to the highest standards of education. There had been a fall in part-time and mature students and the OU had been hit particularly hard by this drop. According to universities, she said, the cause had been the rise in the cap on part-time fees to £6,750 a year and the introduction of maintenance loans had not alleviated the issue significantly.  The post-18 review were welcomed by the Baroness, but she warned that this should not be a missed opportunity. She urged the minister to ensure that the post-18 review addressed a major review of student finance and that it considered different policy responses for different types of students.

  • “It must reappraise the availability of maintenance grants and the restrictions on maintenance loans, and it must further relax restrictions on equivalent or lower qualifications, ELQs. I ask, above all, that it prioritises mature students and lifelong learning.”

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con) thought that the ELQ rule was a major cause in the decline of part-time education. Bakewell agreed this was contributing factor.

Baroness Bakewell spoke highly of Birkbeck University, of which she has been head for 10 years. She insisted the main cause of the decline in part-time students was the rise in tuition fees, which explained in part why mature students were no longer willing to take the risk of more debt. She asked the Government to provide a part-time premium to universities and colleges to promote the supply of part-time courses and stop relying on maintenance loans for part-time students, as the latter would increase their debt. She called for the reduction of fees in line with any premium provided for universities.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD) spoke highly of the work and the opportunities that the two universities offered. She called on the Government to release colleges from the tortuous and pointless demands of GCSE maths and English resits

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab) suggested the establishment of a “learning nation fund” to go to the parts of the country where there are no opportunities.

Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (CB) thought that there was a need to build wider partnerships into different communities, with employers and with government, with the skills needed to build a modern and resilient society. She added she would do her best to ensure that OU was fit for the future and asked what funding plan the Government had.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean spoke critically about the ELQ rule, adding that at one point 50% of Birkbeck’s students had an ELQ and now it was 5%.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab) noted that the Welsh Government was introducing a student support package to offer parity of support for full time and part time students alike and the university there was experiencing substantial increases in early registrations for study in the coming year.

Lord Addington (LD) argued that the Open University had a tremendous the capacity for credit transfer. “It is a conduit between different skills being credited in another institution.”. He thought ELQ decision and fees should be removed.

Lord Haskel (Lab) asked about the national retraining scheme, which was promised by the end of the Parliament and talked about the importance of retraining and continuing the relationship between universities and their alumni.

Viscount Hanworth (Lab) spoke critically of the current offerings of FutureLearn – “threadbare and compare unfavourably with the traditional course materials of the Open University”. He noted that large industrial enterprises were no longer as keen as they once had been to sponsor the education of their workforce.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford called for proactive investment in part-time, continuing, lifelong education, accessible in every place and to every part of society. “This new deal needs to be means tested, as we have heard, at the point of delivery, to prevent the stagnation of much of our economy”.

Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con) criticised the current student finance system and interest rates.

Lord Shipley (LD) asked the Government to look urgently at whether it was justifiable for tuition fees for part-time students in England to be two and a half times higher than in the rest of the UK. He also reminded the Government that around 20 million adults in the UK did not have level 4 qualifications, which he considered a huge untapped resource.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton (Lab) argued for more flexibility in education and spoke about the need to provide progressive pathways: “It is desperately important that people can move from one sector of education and one type of qualification approach, and we need credit accumulation and credit transfer to become an integral part of all we offer to part-time and mature students.”

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab) suggested a single national portal showing career opportunities with available jobs, apprenticeship options and links to training requirements and a strategy for retraining and upskilling at all levels. He also called for flexibility.

Government Whip, Viscount Younger of Leckie, talked about the steps the Government had taken to address the fall in part time students, such as the Higher Education and Research Act.  He noted that in 2016-17, 47,000 OU students were able to benefit from a tuition fee loan for undergraduate courses and the Government had removed the so-called ELQ restrictions. He mentioned that HEFCE—now replaced by the Office for Students—targeted an element of the teaching grant in recognition of the additional costs of part-time study.  He added that the Government had tabled regulations that would allow part-time students on higher education courses to access maintenance loans similar to those received by their equivalents on full-time courses.

Viscount Younger of Leckie noted that:

  • the Government was committed to seek to introduce maintenance loans for part-time distance learning courses.
  • on credit transfer, he said the Section 38 of the Higher Education and Research Act allows such arrangements
  • on the post-18 review, he said the panel would publish its report at an interim stage at some point this year, before the Government concluded the overall review in early 2019. He noted the word flexible “was very much in there”.
  • according to the findings of the work that the Economic Affairs Committee, he noted the Government had overhauled apprenticeships to focus on quality and are fundamentally transforming technical education.
  • on the national retraining scheme, which would be set up by the end of the Parliament, he said that the strategic direction of the scheme was set by the National Retaining Partnership.

Motion agreed.

Digital Accord

On Thursday Matt Hancock (Secretary of State for Digital) visited Paris to announce a new agreement to strengthen ties between the UK and France’s digital industries.  The five-year accord aims to boost both countries’ digital economies and forge closer links between the leading companies in France and the UK. It forges closer working between each country’s leading digital research centres to deepen collaboration. The UK’s Alan Turing Institute signed the agreement with the French institute DATAIA. The two organisations will pursue collaborative research in areas of shared interest, e.g. in fairness and transparency in the design and implementation of algorithms. They will share expertise and visiting researchers will spend time at each Institute and hosting joint workshops and funding calls.

At the UK-France Digital Colloque – a summit of more than 350 businesses, researchers and officials from both countries – Mr Hancock and Mr Majoubi signed an accord on digital government committing UK and France to extending their cooperation in the digital sector on innovation, artificial intelligence, data and digital administration.

Digital Secretary Matt Hancock said:

  • “The UK is a digital dynamo, increasingly recognised across the world as a place where ingenuity and innovation can flourish. We are home to four in ten of Europe’s tech businesses worth more than $1 billion and London is the AI capital of Europe. France is also doing great work in this area, and these new partnerships show the strength and depth of our respective tech industries and are the first stage in us developing a closer working relationship. This will help us better serve our citizens and provide a boost for our digital economies.
  • Because throughout history, the nations who get the technology right in their era are the nations who succeed. And in our era, our challenge is these data-driven technologies that are transforming our economy and society beyond recognition. If we get them right, and work with other nations to do so, it will lay the path for productivity, prosperity, and a better quality of life. That is why this colloque is so important. Bringing together some of our greatest minds, to discuss the big issues and opportunities that lie ahead. So please keep creating, innovating and making the impossible possible. Because technology was forged by humankind. So we need to make it work for humankind.”

Read Matt Hancock’s speech in full here, it’s a lovely opportunity to brush up on your French.

 LEO data accessible through Unistats

The LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data is now available on Unistats through a user friendly interface. Applicants can access data on their chosen course to find out the national average salary for a graduate of that type of course. They can also select a HE institution and see the salary range of its graduates across all disciplines.

The OfS consulted prospective students on what graduate outcome information they would find useful. OfS report that applicants said they wanted to consider a range of factors when making decisions about future study and OfS expected earnings to play a role in decisions made by many students and be a key factor for some. The OfS expect to expands access to this dataset for prospective students in the future by incorporating responses from the new Graduate Outcomes record when this becomes available in 2020. Read the OfS press release here.

Conor Ryan, Director of External Relations at OfS, said:

  • “Adding the LEO earnings data to Unistats provides more valuable information to assist students in their course decision making. It comes as the Office for Students is developing our Information, Advice and Guidance strategy to help prospective students find and understand the information they need to make decisions about what and where to study…The Office for Students will take a leading role in ensuring the availability of unbiased information to help all students make informed choices. This should put students in a better position to make the most of their education experience and future careers.”

Parliamentary questions

STEM – Mr Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has had recent discussions with the Minister for Women and Inequalities on increasing the number of girls who choose to study STEM subjects at school; and if he will make a statement. [158682]

Nick Gibb:

  • The Government has taken focused action to increase the take-up of STEM subjects amongst all teenagers, and since 2010 there has been an 18 per cent increase in the number of entries by girls to STEM A levels in England. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, plans to meet the Minister for Women and Equalities in the coming months to discuss how to build on this so that more girls are taking STEM subjects at all levels.
  • The Department funds the Institute of Physics to deliver an intervention to increase the number of girls studying physics at A level. The Department also funds a number of other programmes to improve the quality of teaching STEM subjects and to encourage take up. For instance, the Department is investing £84 million to improve the teaching of computing and increase participation in computer science. This includes a programme to identify effective approaches to increase participation in computer science amongst girls.

STEM: Equal Pay – Jim Shannon: To ask the Minister for Women and Equalities, what steps she is taking to tackle the gender pay gap in STEM industries. [158753]

Victoria Atkins:

  • In 2017 we introduced ground breaking regulations requiring large employers from all sectors, including STEM industries, to report gender pay gap information annually.
  • This increased level of transparency highlights where women are being held back in the workplace, and is motivating employers to tackle their gender pay gaps.
  • Government will be engaging with businesses and educators over the coming months to understand more about the barriers for women in the STEM workforce.

International Students

Lord Watson Of Invergowrie : Further to the Written Statement by the Minister for Immigration on 15 June (HCWS768), what criteria were used to determine which countries were included in the expanded low-risk Tier 4 visa category for overseas students; and why India was not amongst them. [HL8807]

Baroness Williams Of Trafford :

  • Careful consideration is given to which countries could be added to Appendix H of the Immigration Rules, taking into account objective analysis of a range of factors including the volume of students from a country and their Tier 4 immigration compliance risk.The list of countries in Appendix H will be regularly updated to reflect the fact that countries’ risk profiles change over time.

Mental Health

Q – Preet Kaur Gill: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent discussions he has had and with whom on funding for mental health services at universities; and if he will make a statement.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Mental health is a priority for this government. This is why the Department for Health, together with the Department for Education, have published a joint green paper on Children and Young people, which sets out plans to transform specialist services and support in education settings and for families.
  • In higher education, there is already much work underway to improve the quality of mental health services for students, alongside services provided by the NHS, including through the NHS programme Improving Access to Psychological Therapies.
  • In addition, we are in the process of introducing a University Mental Health Charter, backed by the Government and led by the sector. This will drive up standards in promoting student and staff mental health and wellbeing.
  • Higher education institutions (HEIs) are autonomous bodies, independent from government. HEIs are not only experts in their student population but also best placed to identify the support needs of their particular student body.
  • Universities UK published its ‘Minding Our Futures’ guidance on 10 May 2018 which recommends: Links between NHS providers and student services to create ‘student mental health teams’ will help support students within the university provision and facilitate timely and seamless referrals for those who need specialist help.

Health

NHS Recruitment Drive

NHS England has launched an £8 million recruitment campaign following their research which showed although nurses and doctors are the most trusted and respected professionals in society the majority of the public don’t know the wider range of careers available. Under the banner ‘We are the NHS’ the recruitment drive aims to education and highlight the vast range of opportunities available to work within the NHS. It will initially focus on nursing, prioritising key areas (mental health, learning disability and community and general practice nurses) that are essential to deliver the long term plan for the NHS. While it will primarily target school children aged 14-18 aiming to increase the total number of applications into the NHS by 22,000, it also hopes to double the numbers of nurses returning to practice and improve retention of staff in all sectors.

The campaign hopes to improve the skills shortage the NHS is currently experiencing. In a 6 month period in 2017 there were over 34,000 nursing vacancies reported, with over 6,000 in mental health and 1,500 in community nursing. The campaign also hopes to work with parents to address gender stereotyping and address the perception that while nurses are ‘caring’ they can also be leaders, innovative and academic.

Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “The NHS is our country’s most loved institution and that is down to the expert skill, dedication and compassion of its brilliant staff.

  • “There are over 350 careers available within the NHS giving young people an astonishing range of options. Nursing and midwifery make up the largest part of the workforce and as I know from personal experience, provides a unique opportunity to make a real difference to peoples’ lives in a way that simply cannot be matched.
  • “Nurses and midwives provide expert skilled care and compassion, and they are highly talented leaders in the NHS. This campaign is all about inspiring young people and others who want a change of career to come and work for the NHS and have a rewarding and fulfilling career that makes a real difference.”

The autumn will see the recruitment drive expand when  the Department of Health and Social Care will run a national adult social care recruitment campaign to raise the profile of the sector and attract people to consider it as a career.

Applied Health Research – The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has announced £150 million of funding for applied health research aiming to tackle the key issues with the healthcare system. The funding will cover the pressures caused by our ageing population, the increasing demands on the NHS, and multimorbidity alongside the need to increase research in public health, social care and primary care. Of the new funding £135 million will be for new NIHR Applied Research Collaborations which will undertake applied health and care research and support implementation of research into practice.

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

  • “As the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday, more people than ever before are living longer lives thanks to the dedication of hardworking staff. It is therefore vital we harness technology to develop the next generation of innovative treatments as part of the Government’s long term plan for the NHS.
  • That’s why I want our world-leading academics, researchers and technology experts to work with frontline staff to develop the innovations which not only allow people to live longer, but also to lead healthier lives, so the NHS can continue to provide world-class care to all.”

Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy stated:

  • “With a growing and ageing population, maintaining a world-class NHS depends on harnessing the discoveries of cutting edge research and rapidly bringing them into every day healthcare…The UK has a proud tradition of ground-breaking medical R&D and this funding means our country can continue to lead the world.”

Recess

Parliament enters recess on Tuesday 24 July so the volume of announcements and news will likely slow. We’ll continue to send a shorter policy update through the recess period on the weeks when there is sufficient content to share. Parliament reconvenes on Wednesday 5 September.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Zulfiqar Khan is the first BU academic to submit an elevated pitch to the Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges. Read his engaging posts on Clean Growth and Future of Mobility. Log in and leave a comment on his research to promote BU and support his ideas.

There is still time to submit your ideas and research to the Grand Challenges – deadline 21 July. This could be your first step towards policy influence and societal impact! Contact Sarah if you need support.

There have also been outcomes published to several items:

Other news

Finance Education: 70% of students state they wish they’d been better education in managing their finances before starting university. 50% acknowledge that when they are short of money their diet suffers, and 46% said that their mental health suffers, with 78% worrying about making ends meet. Read more in The 2018 Student Money Survey. The BBC covered the survey noting that poorer families often contribute to their children’s finances whilst at university than richer parents. Cosmopolitan magazine examines a student’s outgoings and questions when the maintenance loan is generous enough.

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

 

HE Policy update for the w/e 29th June 2018

Mental health – the next policy frontier

Sam Gyimah, the self-styled “Minister for Students” has been campaigning this week on student mental health.

You can read the government press release here.  “The plans include, As part of a new package of measures announced by Sam Gyimah on student mental health:

  1. The announcement of a University Mental Health Charter will see the development of new standards to promote student and staff mental health and wellbeing.
  2. The set-up of a Department for Education-led working group into the transition students face when going to university, to ensure they have the right support, particularly in the critical in their first year transition.
  3. Exploring whether an opt-in requirement for universities could be considered, so they could have permission to share information on student mental health with parents or a trusted person.”

The Charter is being developed by Student Minds, who have covered it on their website here:

  • A Charter is a voluntary award and quality improvement scheme which will recognise universities with exceptional approaches to promote and support the mental health and wellbeing of students and the university community.
  • To develop the Charter, Student Minds will lead a formative partnership of the UPP Foundation, Office for Students (OfS), National Union of Students (NUS) and Universities UK. This partnership supports the national view, and we will be inviting wider collaboration. …A wider advisory group will be announced in Autumn 2018.
  • …The Charter will recognise and reward those institutions that demonstrate good practice, make student and staff mental health a university- wide priority and deliver improved student mental health and wellbeing outcomes.
  • … we will invite universities to achieve recognition for high standards of practice in areas established in University UK’s Step Change, such as leadership, early intervention and prevention, data collection and high quality services, and will stretch institutions in their approach to co-producing with students and members of the university community and reducing inequality by ensuring the needs of all students, including BAME, LGBTQ+ and widening participation groups, are met by excellent services.
  • …We anticipate that the charter will take a banded approach, setting out basic, advanced and aspirational goals. Training and expert support will be provided to support the change and assessment process. We will take an outcomes-focused approach.“

The Minister was on Radio 4 and the BBC story is here.  The story from Thursday is in The Guardian:

  • The government has issued an ultimatum to vice-chancellors on student mental health, warning them it is not good enough to suggest that university is about academic education and nothing else. With as many as one in four students seeking help from counselling services at some institutions, the universities minister, Sam Gyimah, is calling on vice-chancellors to prioritise student mental health and take a personal lead on the issue.
  • The minister, announcing plans for a new deal on mental health for students, said: “There are some vice-chancellors who think that university is about training the mind and all of these things are extra that they don’t have to deal with.
  • “They can’t do that, they’ve got to get behind this programme. It can’t be something that belongs to the wellbeing department of the university. This requires sustained and serious leadership from the top.”
  • One of the key measures now being considered is asking students if they want to opt in to an alert system authorising their university to contact their parents in an emergency if they find themselves in a mental health crisis at some point during their studies. Until now universities have been unable to share a student’s private information because of data protection restrictions, but parents of students who have killed themselves have complained of being kept in the dark about their child’s illness when they might have been able to help had they known sooner.
  • Under the proposed scheme, outlined by Gyimah, students arriving in their first week at university would be asked if they would like to opt in to the system by nominating either a family member or friend to be contacted in case of serious mental health problems. The minister said it would be entirely voluntary and any students would be entitled to withhold information from their parents or change their preferences at a later date.
  • Gyimah was due to outline his plans on Thursday at a student mental health summit in Bristol where the issue has come under the spotlight with the deaths of 10 University of Bristol students since October 2016. A further two students from the University of the West of England (UWE) in the city have also died. A number have been confirmed as suicides.

The BBC have the link to this week’s Office for National Statistics report – interestingly this showed that the proportion of student suicides is lower than in the general population for the same age group – but of course suicides are, as the Minister says, only part of the problem:

And on Friday, Nicola Barden from the University of Winchester has written for Wonkhe on the role of parents in supporting students:

  • Parents and carers are the people we want to see when students need a helping hand that is beyond the university’s power to deliver. This could be financially (the bank of mum and dad), emotionally (going home for some TLC after a bad week), and in emergencies (who else will come out at midnight?) – but the law is clear that students are autonomous adults and have a right to be in control of their own information and choices. Universities are not in loco parentis, but they do have a duty of care to their students. So how, as HE institutions, can we view and engage with parental involvement, and consider the possibility that they too can be partners in education, while also respecting the rights of students to lead their own adult lives?
  • For the purposes of this discussion I will use the word ‘”parents”, but actually mean all those with parental responsibilities, as patterns of family life are now so varied that the role is no longer restricted to just two biological relationships….
  • Should parental contact be a default arrangement? As a policy suggestion, this has implications needing some serious thought. How informed is a student when they enrol at university about the sorts of things that may come under this rubric – would they really know what they were consenting to? How would they say no, if pushy parents wanted them to say yes? How would we explain to the parent that permission had not been given if they thought it had been, potentially worsening an already difficult situation? It is not simple – if it was, it would already have happened.

Race Equality and the Race Equality Charter

Race equality has also been in the HE headlines.  There was an article in the THE about the “onerous” red tape requirements of the Race Equality Charter.

  • “…the Race Equality Charter has struggled to win the same support from universities, with only two further universities achieving awards since the inaugural eight winners were named almost three years ago. At the same stage, Athena SWAN had managed to more than treble its initial number of award holders. Some university equality officers have complained that the race charter award is far more difficult and time-consuming to achieve than an Athena SWAN award. That is because it requires universities to collect information on staff, as Athena SWAN does, but also for students, with institutions required to create policies to address the fact that ethnic minority undergraduates often score lower than their white classmates of similar ability.…
  • Others have claimed that it is more complex to create policies for ethnic minority staff than for female academics, given the different challenges faced by different groups, such as black female staff, Asian men or international faculty.
  • Speaking at a forum organised by the Higher Education Race Action Group (HERAG) in London, Alison Johns, chief executive of Advance HE, which now has responsibility for the charter scheme, said she would undertake a review of the scheme next year after a similar examination of Athena SWAN had concluded.
  • Ms Johns told Times Higher Education that Advance HE was “incredibly proud” of the race equality charter scheme and, given that it was aimed at “tackling many centuries of ingrained racial inequality”, it was “unrealistic to think the process will be easy”.
  • The review would ensure that the scheme “is not unnecessarily burdensome and ensure higher education institutions are able to spend time advancing race equality, rather than applying for charter marks”, she added.

Wonkhe have had a series of articles this week on the issue.

Jess Moody of Advance HE writes about definitions and ownership:

  • Despite the diversity of institutions across the UK, the debate about ensuring diversity in institutions tends to be narrowly focussed, particularly in the mainstream press.
  • Time and again the public is invited to look at a couple, maybe a handful, of “top” institutions as undisputed symbols of national academic excellence and employability. Stories almost always focus on full-time undergraduate provision, and on school-leavers. When it comes to “race” and ethnicity, different identities tend to be aggregated into “BAME” (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) experiences: terminology with both strengths and limitations.
  • Such a narrow focus can draw attention to a problem in a powerful way: it can be a way to draw a line in the sand about expectations of a wider complex HE system in tackling injustices, lost voices, talents and opportunities. It can also lead to greater accountability, self-assessment and hard questions about white privilege. All this is wholeheartedly acknowledged, and discussed elsewhere in Wonkhe today. The following is meant as an “and” and not a “but”.
  • If we’re going to move forward on race (in)equality amidst a focus on who gets a place at university, what lessons can we draw from all these media and policy narratives about “convincing the unconvinced” that structural inequality even exists (let alone requires action)? There are some common barriers seen by those who do “diversity work” to moving forward as a sector, even in the middle of a (stumbling) national conversation on ‘race’.

Amatey Doku, the VP (HE) of the NUS, writes on the Black attainment gap:

  • There are issues at all levels of post-compulsory education where race is a determinant factor in students’ experiences of education, and yet Black students’ experiences have been routinely minimised, dismissed, or ignored by those able to make change.
  • These issues should be tackled simply to make sure our education systems are fair to Black students, although often they highlight the structural and systemic issues affecting all students that plague our institutions.
  • I am delighted to have just launched a project in partnership with Universities UK and Valerie Amos designed to gather and audit best practice on what institutions – and students’ unions – can do to begin to eradicate the “Black attainment gap”.
  • The sector has made some inroads in tackling the attainment gap. One of these is thanks to Advance HE – previously the Equality Challenge Unit – and its Race Equality Charter. Bronze awards in the REC demonstrates institutional commitment to racial justice – in itself, demonstrating commitment to race equity is a challenge and not one that most universities in this country have managed. In addition, under HEFCE, grants were given to groups of institutions under the Catalyst Fund to begin work on this area.
  • Race, in the context of equality, diversity and inclusion, is now firmly in the remit of the Access and Participation Plan framework – a development this year thanks to the Higher Education and Research Act, on which NUS lobbied extensively. I hope the recommendations from the audit we are conducting with UUK will also steer future access guidance. But access, retention and success at institutions has always been relatable to race. The new regulations merely reflect the existing reality.

Arthi Nachiappan writes about the lived experience:

  • It is always difficult to build arguments from lived experience rather than indisputable “facts”, especially when not everyone engaging with your argument has lived those experiences. It involves a level of trust to take someone’s experience as true and to draw wider conclusions from it – but when it comes to understanding systematic problems, experience is necessary.

And she looks at data before concluding:

  • I found when analysing data on black applicants to higher education earlier this year that there are few strong trends across mission groups, TEF awards, or regions. Institutional trends were more notable: there are a handful of institutions that have placed among the highest number of black applicants over the last few years and many others that traditionally place very few black applicants.
  • When challenged about institutional culture, small year-on-year variations mean that pointing to an incremental increase in recruitment of ethnic minority students in the previous year might just do enough for an institution to be seen as welcoming to ethnic minorities. But it does not do a lot to reach out to prospective students to show them any level of recognition that there is a culture that needs tackling. I, like Gopal, am tired of us all coming together to put pressure on organisations of all sectors to publish reactive written statements detailing how much they “abhor” racism, without making real cultural changes.
  • The communicative function of these instances and the wider experiences of staff, along with their visibility in higher education, all contribute to prospective and current students’ perceptions of their own place in these institutions. What it will take to deal properly with these issues is sensitivity towards experiences that are not universally understandable, and an understanding of the messages communicated to prospective students about institutional culture.

David Morris of the University of Greenwich writes about admissions:

  • A couple of years ago, UCAS took a substantial step forward in opening the admissions debate by releasing the rather un-sexily titled “Undergraduate reports by sex, area background, and ethnic group”.
  • In my previous life as Wonkhe’s resident data-digger we managed to publish some of the most comprehensive analysis of that dataset. We were able to demonstrate the continued substantial variance in university entry by both ethnicity and social class and, more importantly, point to where the data suggested that there might be bias operating in admissions.
  • I say “suggested”, because the data provided by UCAS is by no means conclusive proof of bias.

He goes on:

  • Simply looking at the offer-rate – the percentage of a group of applicants made an offer by a university – is insufficient, as it tells does not let us discern between differences in the entry grades of different groups of applicants. It also tells us nothing about the subject which applicants are applying to, as different subjects within universities tend to have very different entry criteria, patterns of offer-making, and demographics of applicants.

Free speech

The discussion, anecdotes and arguments about free speech at universities continue – there is no real agreement about whether there is an issue or not.  What seems clear is that even if there is no actual free speech problem on university campuses, enough people think there is, and there is enough confusion, it seems, about what the rules are and whose responsibility it is to (a)} ensure free speech and (b) stop illegal hate speech or radicalisation to mean that something needs to be done.  Student Unions think they need safe space policies to stop hate speech (or protect snowflakes from potentially offensive views, depending on your perspective).  Universities have to implement Prevent.  Many commentators forget that universities don’t control Students’ Unions.  And the Minister and others keep talking about being “nearly” censored, about self-censorship (I decided not to go because they wanted to see my speech in advance) etc. etc.

Research Professional report:

  • “As recently as Monday, the universities minister Sam Gyimah told Rachel Sylvester of The Times that “there’s a culture of censorship. At one institution when I turned up to speak to students they read the safe-space policy and it took 20 minutes. I’m all for safe spaces for vulnerable people, but the entire university can’t be a safe space. No-platforming just because you disagree with someone’s views is unacceptable. The lack of diversity of thought and a tendency towards a monoculture on campus is a problem. If universities are not for free speech, then what are they for?”
  • “Reading the safe-space policy” could become an idiom in English. Just as constables read the riot act in front of angry mobs in the 18th century, today—if the minister is to be believed—university administrators read the safe-space policy in front of bored audiences of students as a warning to moderate their language.
  • It is a ludicrous image, and in the absence of a named university we cannot confirm if this incident actually took place. However, it does show that the minister continues to double down on his claims about censorship on campus, even if his remarks demonstrate his own lack of familiarity with the government’s Prevent strategy and his inability to tell the difference between the unpopularity of the Conservative Party in universities and a crisis in Enlightenment values.”

[NB, Ed ; it wasn’t at BU]

And then we have a survey by YouGov. 

Research Professional report, using this research:

  • “that students are more likely to want to see speakers banned than the general public. 
  • The polling agency asked 1,004 students and 1,636 members of the public “whether they found each of nine controversial views offensive, and then whether or not they believed a speaker with each of those views should be allowed to give a speech at a university”.
  • The results provide no evidence that students are any more censorious or intolerant than the public at large. In five of the nine cases, there is essentially no difference between the percentage of students and of the general public who would ban a speaker. Three speakers were more likely to be banned by students, while the public were more likely to ban a speaker in one case.”

However, the reporting of this story seems to demonstrate our opening point – that this debate all depends on your perspective.  The Telegraph use the same data to say:

  • The “snowflake” generation of students’ hostility to free speech on campus has been revealed in a new survey which shows that the majority want controversial speakers to be “no-platformed”.
  • Students were presented with a list of hypothetical speakers holding a spectrum of contentious views, ranging from someone believes climate change is not caused by humans, to someone want to ban religion.
  • Assuming the speaker had already been invited to give a talk at their university, students were asked whether or not a talk should be allowed to go ahead.
  • More than two-thirds of students (68 per cent) said that talks by Holocaust deniers should not be allowed to take place, according the a YouGov poll of 1,004 British students.[Ed,as noted above,  the data shows that 61% of members of the public agreed with this]
  • Meanwhile 64 per cent said they would ban speakers who believe that terrorist attacks in the UK can be justified.[that one is 63% for the general population]
  • One in ten students said that speakers who want to Royal Family to be abolished should be no-platformed.[it was 23% of the general population]
  • And a fifth said speakers should be banned if they believe that God literally created the universe in six days.[that one is 19% for the public]

Conclusion: at least we are all free to say what we believe about all of this.  More serious conclusion: the debate seems really to be really about this (from the Telegraph article):

  • Sam Gyimah warned that universities must stamp out their “institutional hostility” to unfashionable views as he prepares to issue new guidance on free speech.  His intervention came after a series of attempts to censor gay rights activists, feminists and Conservative politicians due to concerns from students that their views may cause offence. 

So is this really about the perception that universities are monocultures (left-wing, remain voting ones)?  And therefore not really about safe spaces or free speech at all?.  It might be argued that this is more about the government shaking up an academic establishment which it believes is home to a lot of people who disagree with its views, and who have a dangerously high level of influence on impressionable students.  That may be true, of course.

And what will be impact of all this be?  There may be some clearer guidance.  But generally, those who believe in snowflakes will become further entrenched in their views as this goes on, and the reputation of the sector will continue to be diminished in the minds of those people and also others who only catch the headlines.

And it all sits very oddly besides the focus on mental health – which is one of the reasons behind safe spaces.  Politics can get a person into some very sticky paradoxical situations, it seems.

Social media, apps and student information

The Quality Assurance Agency has published a report on whether social media reviews can identify poor courses in higher education.

  • The study—called The Wisdom of Students: Monitoring quality through student reviews—compares publicly available online feedback through Facebook, Whatuni and StudentCrowd with the results of the NSS, the Teaching Excellence Framework and external reviews of the quality of provision.
  • It finds that in the main, online feedback about UK universities is positive. Universities were assigned a star rating out of five based on the combined social media rating. The average score of the 210,000 online reviews was a highly impressive 4.18 stars. This chimes with high rates of student satisfaction in the NSS, and the ratings in the report mapped onto institutions awarded gold, silver and bronze in the TEF.
  • The report’s authors (Alex Griffiths, Meghan Leaver and Roger King) encourage universities to engage with real-time online feedback as a good way of capturing concerns about course quality. To test if the report’s findings hold true over time, the QAA will undertake a pilot with 10 higher education providers this autumn.
  • As a co-regulator of UK higher education, the QAA seems to have faith in the wisdom of students. It is a shame that the government would like to use the conditions of registration at the Office for Students to send the message that it is more ambivalent when it comes to the common sense of young people.

Wonkhe also have an article on this topic by Alex Griffiths

  • A couple of years ago I was highly sceptical about the value of user reviews. Tiring of hearing the perennial promises that the Care Quality Commission (CQC), England’s health and social care regulator, would look at social media posts to identify poor quality care, my colleague and I decided to investigate. Much to our surprise, we found that patient reviews and social media posts were good predictors of the outcome of CQC’s in-depth inspections. When the data from multiple sources was combined, it proved even more effective than any of the individual data sources. Collectively, despite the majority having no clinical training and only interacting with a fraction of the services offered by a hospital, we found that patients provided meaningful insights into quality….
  • This “wisdom of students”: means the collective-judgement score is an effective predictor of other quality measures, but it also has a number of other attractive qualities. Collective-judgement is available in a more timely manner than many existing data sets, often at a more granular-level, offers new insights at different stages of the student experience, and adds no burden to providers’ existing duties.
  • It does of course have drawbacks too. Measures such as APR, TEF and NSS are not without their critics, and one must question whether agreeing with them to varying degrees is a positive.
  • In our research we have been careful only to use reviews that students have actively made public (e.g. we have not searched individuals’ Facebook profiles), and any future use of this metric must be mindful to maintain the privacy of reviewers. Finally, there is the clear incentive for providers to enter their own reviews to project a positive image. Steps can be taken to identify and reduce the impact of (or penalise) such activities, and the impact will always be limited by the large and growing volume of genuine feedback, but it cannot be wholly discounted.

This comes as The Minister promotes his app development competition

Wonkhe have an article by Sue Attewell from JISC:

  • Helping applicants choose the right course is a complex problem – our members tell us – and we welcome the potential use of this LEO data as a way students can make informed decisions about sustainable careers which also meet their expectations for future earnings… The benefit of this competition from DfE is that it brings bright minds from beyond the sector to tackle a very real problem. Using current data to design a tech-based solution should help students make informed decisions, so long as they too can inform the design process of an app that makes sense of their own data.

You’ve seen our views on this in previous issues of this update

Industrial Strategy

The government have issued responses from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report “Life Sciences Industrial Strategy: Who’s driving the bus”.  They respond to each recommendation, but the headlines are:

  • The views and recommendations expressed within the report have in many instances now been superseded by Government action. This reassures us that we have the support of the Committee for actions we are taking to support and grow the life sciences sector in the UK and we are grateful for their detailed scrutiny.
  • In terms of headline progress, only 12 weeks after the publication of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, the Government published the initial stage of implementation in the form of the first ever Sector Deal. The Life Sciences Sector Deal (herein referred to as the Sector Deal) committed £500m of Government funding to the UK life sciences sector and was backed by investment from 25 organisations across the sector. It was secured through extensive collaboration between Government and the sector, working together strategically to enhance the attractiveness of the UK. Our globally-renowned NHS will be a key partner in delivering the deal.

Since the publication of the Sector Deal in December, the Government has:

  • Set up the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC), held its first meeting and is on track to launch the full pathway this year.
  • Issued a £30m contract for a Vanguard Study, the first phase of a programme to whole genome sequence all 500,000 participants of UK Biobank.
  • Worked with industry stakeholders and the NHS to fully scope the competition for a digital pathology and radiology programme with artificial intelligence (AI), launched on 6thJune 2018.
  • Allocated £146m in support for medicines manufacturing from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund(ISCF), with £130m awarded so far.
  • Announced the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, a £56m UK innovation centre, which will revolutionise how medicines are manufactured, located in Renfrewshire.
  • Appointed Health Data Research UK to lead the delivery of Digital Innovation Hubs and agreed an outline vision and delivery plan to form the basis for the programme.
  • Announced the mission, as part of the AI and Data Grand Challenge, to use data, artificial intelligence and innovation to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia by 2030.
  • Convened , alongside NHS and sector partners, the inaugural meetings of the Life Sciences Council (a strategic partnership between Government, NHS and the life sciences sector) and the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy Implementation Board (which oversees implementation of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy including the first Sector Deal)

The government have issued their response to the Industrial Strategy: Intellectual Property Call for Views: Proposals:

  • First, as per the Chancellor’s Autumn statement of 22 November 2017 and the Industrial Strategy White Paper the IPO will work with businesses, lenders, insurers, the British Business Bank and HM Treasury to overcome the barriers to high growth, intellectual property-rich firms, using their intellectual property to access growth funding.
  • Secondly the IPO is working with Local Enterprise Partnerships and universities in the West Midlands to introduce an ‘Innovation Enabler’ fund. The fund is a pilot and it will provide financial and advisory support to help local SMEs develop and implement an IP strategy. In doing so, the fund will enable innovation and business growth.
  • Thirdly, the IPO will review the IP Finance Toolkit. The toolkit was launched in March 2015 in response to the IPO commissioned “Banking IP” report which highlighted the barriers IP-rich SMEs face when accessing finance. The report recommended that a resource be introduced to support a better dialogue between businesses and financial services professionals.
  • In addition to the interventions highlighted above, a strong theme throughout the responses was that whilst the IP system is strong and fit for purpose, there needs to be more work done to help users of the IP system to understand and navigate it, to ensure they get the most out of their IP. To that end the IPO will look to consolidate and enhance its suite of educational tools and services, focussing on the strategic protection and commercialisation of IP.

Consultations

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

Other news

Think tank Localis have produced the report Monetising Goodwill: empowering places for civic renewal following a public survey. The survey finds that many people would be willing to pay more in council tax or voluntary one-off levies to better fund certain local services across the country, in particular (and in order of popularity): public health, fire, police, adult social care and children’s social care. The survey uncovered six issues with majority support for paying some extra cash as a voluntary one-off levy: helping older people to live independently for longer; support for local homeless people; improving disability access; repairing potholes; reducing loneliness and reducing anti-social behaviour.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

New BU mental health publication

Congratulations to Faloshade Alloh (PhD student in Faculty of Health and Social Science), Dr. Pramod Regmi (Lecturer in International Health), Abe (Igoche) Onche (BU  graduate MSc in Public Health) and Dr. Stephen Trenoweth (Principal Academic and Leaded for BU iWell Research Centre) on the timely publication of their paper on mental health in developing countries [1]. 

Despite being globally recognised as an important public health issue, mental health is still less prioritised as a disease burden in many Low-and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). More than 70% of the global mental health burden occurs in poorer countries. The paper addresses mental health issues in LMICs under themes such as abuse and mental illness, cultural influence on mental health, need for dignity in care, meeting financial and workforce gaps and the need for national health policy for the mental health sector.  This exciting paper has 51 references including several linking to BU publications on research in Africa [2-3] and several papers related to South Asia [4-6], particularly highlighting the recently completed THET project that was led by BU [4-5].

The authors highlight that although mental health education and health care services in most LMICs are poorly resourced; there is an urgent need to address issues beyond funding that contribute to poor mental health. In order to meet the increasing challenge of mental health illness in LMICs, there is a need for effort to address cultural and professional challenges that contribute to poor mental health among individuals. The authors suggest that mental health should be integrated into primary health care in LMICs. Creating awareness on the impact of some cultural attitudes/practices will encourage better uptake of mental health services and increase the ease when discussing mental health issues in these countries which can contribute to reducing the poor mental health in LMICs.

 

Well done!

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen

Centre for Midwifery, Maternal and Perinatal Health (CMMPH)

 

Click here to view the full publication.

 

References:

  1. Alloh, F.T., Regmi, P., Onche, I., van Teijlingen E., Trenoweth, S. (2018) Mental health in low- and middle income countries (LMICs): Going beyond the need for funding, Health Prospect 17 (1): 12-17.
  2. Alloh F, Regmi P, Hemingway A, Turner-Wilson A. (2018) Increasing suicide rates in Nigeria. African Health Journal  [In Press].
  3. Alloh FT, Regmi PR. (2017) Effect of economic and security challenges on the Nigerian health sector. African Health Sciences. 17 (2):591-2.
  4. Acharya DR, Bell JS, Simkhada P, van Teijlingen ER, Regmi PR. (2010) Women’s autonomy in household decision-making: a demographic study in Nepal. Reproductive Health. 7 (1):15.
  5. Simkhada B, Sharma G, Pradhan S, Van Teijlingen E, Ireland J, Simkhada P, et al. (2016) Needs assessment of mental health training for Auxiliary Nurse Midwives: a cross-sectional survey. Journal of Manmohan Memorial Institute of Health Sciences. 2:20-6.
  6. Mahato, P., van Teijlingen, E., Simkhada, P., Angell, C., Ireland, J. on behalf of THET team (2018) Qualitative evaluation of mental health training of Auxiliary Nurse Midwives in rural Nepal. Nurse Education Today 66: 44-50. https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1Wu2axHa5G~S-
  7. Regmi PR, Alloh F, Pant PR, Simkhada P, van Teijlingen E. (2017) Mental health in BME groups with diabetes: an overlooked issue? The Lancet389 (10072):904-5.

Policy Update w/e 1 June 2018

Research Collaboration

Research/Horizon Europe

The Guardian draws on a leaked document to report that the UK will only have limited access to Horizon Europe through a costly ‘third countries’ deal, despite the PM’s intentions for full participation.

Theresa May’s appeal for a special Brexit deal on science and research collaboration, worth billions to the British economy, is being stonewalled by Brussels as it prepares to offer an arrangement less privileged and more expensive than that given to non-EU states such as Israel… the UK is set to join Canada and South Korea in the category of countries that will have to pay a higher price for the privilege of collaborating, while being barred from a particular raft of programmes designed to encourage innovation.

According to the draft paper, so-called “third countries” will not have a seat on the new European Innovation Council, which sets priorities, and their companies will not have the opportunity to apply for “fast, flexible grants and co-investments” designed to “bridge the ‘valley of death’ between research, commercialisation and the scaling-up of companies”.

The Guardian reports that Thomas Jørgensen, the senior policy coordinator at the European University Association (EUA) working on Brexit-related issues, stated: the commission was acting to protect its interests in the face of the emergence of the UK as a rival economic power. He said: “It is entirely understandable that you would want to help small countries in your neighbourhood, but why would you do that for small and medium-size enterprises in South Korea or other third countries such as the UK?”

The Guardian also report that on Wednesday the EU confirmed the UK could take part in Erasmus (for a fee) but would not allow the UK to influence programme’s design. More detail is provided in the Times Higher: In its proposal for the Erasmus+ programme for the period 2021-27, published on 30 May, the European Commission said that countries outside the EU and the European Economic Area would be able to participate fully as long as they do not have a “decisional power” on the programme and agree to a “fair balance” of contributions and benefits.

Research Professional also cover the EU’s decision to open Erasmus to other countries, and the requested significant boost to the Horizon budget (€20 billion).

Earlier this week Sam Gyimah discussed how international collaboration strengthens research excellence: The UK values international cooperation. That is why we will remain a leading power in science and innovation, and why our Industrial Strategy has a target that 2.4% of our GDP will go to R&D funding by 2027. We are committed to ensuring that this investment leads to real results for everyone.

We are also committed to remaining a place for scientists. Our success is built in part on the contribution of researchers and innovators who come to the UK from across the world to study, to research and to do business. Over half of the UK’s researchers come from outside the UK. And, as the Prime Minister said, we will ensure that this does not change.

Although we are leaving the EU, it’s important to remember that science is an international enterprise and discoveries know no borders. We are all strengthened by our collaborative links.

On the European research access Sam stated:

Full association would mean a particular amount – of course it’s too early in our discussions to put a figure on what this would be but based on existing precedents it would be billions of euros. Anything less than full association and we would need to consider whether this was a fair ask. I am accountable to the UK Parliament and would need to demonstrate that the amount contributed actually is fair.

Latest News

The latest news on our regularly featured topics.

 

OfS

  • OfS Board Member Carl Lygo has resigned (moving to new role in Germany).
  • OfS have a new blog: The ‘value’ of a degree is academic and vocational.
  • Just in case you missed it previously OfS released information showing an increase in masters’ student numbers since the introduction of the postgraduate loans.
  • The OfS Board met on Wednesday. OfS have committed to sharing the papers from the Board meeting soon.

 

Loans

A parliamentary question from Peter Dowd on the accrual of debt interest on student loans had Sam Gyimah clarify that the Student Loans Company does not apply interest to accounts until the information about repayments is received from HMRC. This means that borrowers are not disadvantaged by the time taken to exchange the data between HMRC and SLC…The government is taking steps to develop systems to allow the sharing of student loan repayment information more frequently between HMRC and SLC from April 2019. This will allow for repayments to be credited and for interest calculations to be undertaken regularly throughout the year.

 

Freedom of Expression

Q – Baroness Deech: How they propose to include representatives of student victims of (1) inhibition of freedom of speech, and (2) disruption of meetings, in the preparation of new guidance to promote freedom of speech at universities.

A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: At the free speech summit on 3 May 2018….it was agreed that the report from the Freedom of Speech in Universities inquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) would be used as the foundation for a shared approach to free speech. The JCHR inquiry included evidence from a number of groups including those who had experienced disruption of events and student representatives with a range of experiences related to free speech. The new guidance will be drafted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who will work with a number of groups including the National Union of Students.

Research Professional report on Sam Gyimah’s latest Free Speech interview with Spiked stating: He [Sam] suggested that UK academics were marking down students whose political opinions they disagreed with…In what is attributed as a direct quote from Gyimah, the minister said that “there seems to be the development of a political monoculture” in which students are afraid to speak up in class because “80 per cent of the class disagrees with you…and [one of] them is going to be the one who gives you your grades”.

Gyimah has not tried to distance himself from the quote…Jack Grove of Times Higher Education wrote…“Is Sam Gyimah really claiming…that students should be genuinely afraid that their left-leaning lecturers are marking them down because they disagree with their politics? Extraordinary.”

Gyimah replied to Grove: “Nothing extraordinary. We need real diversity of thought on campus, and to be mindful that in some cases a monoculture means students and lecturers with legitimate but maybe unpopular views self-censor for fear of opprobrium. This is what I’m hearing on campus.”

The minister’s evidence for campus inhibitions on free speech has moved some distance: from claims of systematic censorship by students’ unions and masked gangs closing down events to unsubstantiated anecdotes about reluctance to speak up in class. Very different things are being lumped together here… For a minister to accuse academics of political bias in assessing students—without a scrap of evidence—is totally irresponsible.

 

Value for Money

A short article in Times Higher this week discusses the four myths surrounding value for money. It digs below the surface to explain why the four factors can’t really be used to determine value for money. A clear and simple read. If you continue to read the comments section you’ll find some alternative viewpoints too.

 

Degree Apprenticeships

A parliamentary question tabled by Rehman Chishti established that there are 102 universities listed on the register of apprenticeship training providers and all are eligible to deliver anywhere in England.

A further question from Barry Sheerman asked: whether there are any requirements that must be satisfied in order for bachelor’s degrees pursued at an institution of higher education to be described by that institution as a degree apprenticeship.

Anne Milton responded: In England, providers who want to deliver apprenticeship training, including higher education institutions (HEIs) offering degree apprenticeships, must be on the register of apprenticeship training providers…Employers must choose a provider from the register to deliver their apprenticeship training. A degree can be included in an English apprenticeship if the degree meets the mandatory qualifications criteria laid out in the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) guidance. The IfA website lists the degree level apprenticeships that include a degree. The Enterprise Act 2016 protects the term ‘apprenticeship’ to make sure that training providers cannot brand their products as apprenticeships if they do not meet our core quality requirements.

 

Student Immigration

The Independent ran the editorial If Theresa May wants to improve the quality of our universities, she must begin by addressing the disastrous effects of her immigration policy.

 

Accelerated Degrees – no news yet

Lord Luce questioned the government this week asking What decisions have been made about the provision of accelerated degree courses in higher education following their public consultation completed on 11 February. The Government responded: The Department for Education received a range of detailed and comprehensive responses from providers, organisations and individuals across the higher education sector. We are currently considering these responses and will respond to the consultation in due course.

 

Widening Participation and Achievement

National Collaborative Outreach Programme

OfS have released their first annual report on the National Collaborative Outreach Programme’s (NCOP) delivery. NCOP is a collaborative network endeavour between HE, schools, colleges and local businesses. It delivers a sustained, tailored outreach programme within geographically targeted areas and aims to rapidly improve progression to HE for school pupils in areas where the numbers accessing HE are lower than expected by the young people’s GCSE success. The current NCOP commenced in January 2017 and consists of 29 partnerships to pupils in Years 9 to 13.

The report states that NCOP has actively engaged 12% (52,878 pupils) of the identified target population. This is forecast to increase to 114,700 pupils (25%) by the end of 2018. It emphasises that the first year of the programme has been focused on creating local partnership infrastructures and with these now established OfS expect to see significant increases in the numbers of young people engaged over the next year. Demonstrating impact is integral to the NCOP programme. OfS require clear evidence to continue with the programme in the future and a comprehensive evaluation framework including longitudinal tracking, analysis of national datasets, and randomised controlled trials is in place. The report concludes that progress is promising (see page 14 for details) although at present: “it is too early to evidence the causal impact of the programme in terms of which interventions have the most impact on students progressing to higher education.”

NCOP is expected to significantly contribute to the Government’s social mobility action plan (launched Dec 2017) which ‘places social mobility at the heart of education policy and seeks to provide a framework for action to help transform equality of opportunity. It emphasises the importance of leaving no community behind with resources targeted at the people and places that need it most’.

 

The social mobility goals are to:

  • double the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education by 2020
  • increase by 20 per cent the number of students in higher education from ethnic minority groups
  • address the under-representation of young men from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, said:

“We know that sustained and targeted outreach is key to reducing the gaps in higher education participation…So I am very pleased to see the progress made by the OfS-funded NCOP… In its first year of operation, NCOP is already showing signs of success…It has reached significant numbers of schools, colleges and young people and looks set to increase its reach even further in the next year. And the early signs are that NCOP activities are contributing to improved information, advice and guidance for young people at key milestones in their education…NCOP is a great example of the kind of outreach activity we need – evidence-based, targeted, robustly evaluated, bringing local partners together and harnessing university resources and expertise to meet the needs of schools and teachers, students and their families. The OfS will ensure that this learning drives improvements to higher education outreach in the future.”

Gareth Oliver, Careers Lead at Broad Oak Sports College, said:

“Without the valuable support of [NCOP partner] GM Higher, both in terms of experience and one-to-one support, we would not have had the opportunity to access resources and programmes to aid the aspiration of our pupils. Already the number of pupils wanting to aspire to higher education has increased, but more importantly, the programmes and resources have allowed our pupils to have an ‘I can do it’ attitude. Schools like Broad Oak need organisations like GM Higher to ensure we break the mould that ‘higher education is only for the affluent families’.”

Next week (4-8 June) is an NCOP week of action aiming to spotlight the range of outreach activities occurring from motivational talks and role model sessions to live social media FAQs.

A timely blog by Stuart Billingham, Emeritus Professor of Lifelong Learning at York St John ponders the progress made in the 40 years Stuart has worked within the social mobility sphere. He urges patience from the Government, reviewing the initiatives they tried and dropped before they fully came to fruition, and noting that collaborative results take longer:

If quick returns are the priority, then learn the lessons of history and stop calling for greater collaboration and partnership working to widen participation. If, however, the real priority is to significantly and permanently change the social and economic student profile in our universities and colleges, then collaboration/partnership working is essential – but please don’t look always, or only, for quick wins.

 

School League Tables Outcry

The BBC ran an article on the new method by which secondary school league tables are devised stating it unfairly stigmatises schools in white working-class areas. Head teachers are opposed to the Progress 8 methodology calling it “toxic” for schools with a combination of high levels of deprivation and lower numbers of pupils speaking English as a second language. The DfE have responded: “Far from being unfair, our Progress 8 measure means that schools are now recognised for the progress made by all pupils, as every grade from every pupil contributes to the school’s performance – taking into account their ability when they started school.

 

Mental Health

A Debut study publicised on the Royal College of Midwives News site has demonstrated widespread reluctance to disclose mental health issues to potential employers amongst students in order to avoid negative impact on their career progression. 70% of the 1,000 full time employed graduates that were sampled would not inform their employer and 88% stated they believed there is still a negative stigma attached to admitting to suffering from a mental health issue.

Of the 70% who said they would avoid telling an employer about their mental health issues, 83% said they would be more inclined to seek mental health support if their employer offered an ‘off-the-record’ or fully anonymous service that would be kept separate from their employment record. Their preference for off the record support methods were: face-to-face meeting (61%), WhatsApp, or other instant online chat (19%), email (10%), via video call (7%), SMS/text-messaging (3%).

The study states that graduates don’t feel their workplaces are properly equipped to support workers with mental health issues. The graduates described their employer’s support system as: 15% – good; 51% – adequate; 34% – poor.

The study states: It appears that while mental health concerns are being discussed more openly in wider society, there is still work to be done in regards to the stigma associated with admitting to suffering from mental health issues and support offered to those transitioning from university to work.

CEO of Debut, Charlie Taylor, said that supporting new graduates as they transition from university to work should be a major consideration of progressive employers.  ‘If graduate recruitment specialists want to attract – and more importantly keep – the best talent as they emerge from education, they need to know what issues students and graduates are facing, and how best to support themGraduate programmes can be fiercely competitive, which can exacerbate mental health issues and employers need to ensure they are providing anonymous, ‘off the record’ support for this future workforce.”

 

Meanwhile in iNews Bristol’s VC has said poor mental health among students is the “single biggest public health issue” affecting universities and feels the perfectionism culture perpetuated through social media is a causal factor.

 

Disabled Students’ Allowances

The parliamentary questions pertaining to disabled students continue.

Q – Angela Rayner:

  1. what the evidential basis is for his statement that students spend on average £250 on computers.
  2. what costs Disabled Students’ Allowances are planned to cover.

 

A – Sam Gyimah:

  1. This figure comes from the most recent student income and expenditure survey …This shows that the average spend on computers by full-time students across the academic year was £253. The average spend on computers by part-time students across the academic year was £243.
  2. Disabled Students’ Allowances are available to help students with the additional costs they may face in higher education because of their disability. There are four allowances available and for 2017/18 these are: a specialist equipment allowance of up to £5,358 for the duration of the course, a non-medical helper allowance of up to £21,305 for each academic year, a general allowance of up to £1,790 for each academic year and a uncapped travel allowance for each academic year. They can be used for the purchase of specialist equipment, to pay for a non-medical helper to support students with their studies, for other assessed disability related costs and for travel.  As noted in the Oral Answer, the £200 student contribution is for computer hardware only. Students are not expected to pay for recommended specialist software or for training to use it.

Part Time Students

Welsh Universities will now be able to claim a full premium when recruiting part time students. Wales also enjoys a fee-waiver allocation for students in receipt of certain benefits when studying at less than 25%. It will be interesting to watch these developments in comparison to England’s declining part time student population.

 

HEPI

HEPI continue to share ideas and blog related to their prior report: Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director for Fair Access and Participation.

 

Sonia Sodha (The Observer) states:  If we were really committed to improving access to top universities, we would bite the bullet and introduce class-based quotas. Progress on this front has been pathetically slow: yes, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to universities in greater numbers than before, but they remain disproportionately shut out of the highest-ranking institutions. The Office for Students should reintroduce a cap on student numbers…and introduce hard quotas for students from working- class backgrounds for each university. This would help break down the unfair and stubborn middle- class lock on privilege. It would also force more middle-class students down a vocational route – surely the only way we are ever going to get parity of esteem between post-18 vocational and academic qualifications.

 

Rosemary Bennett (The Times): [There should be] a universal system in transferrable credits so bright students who really take to their studies at university can trade up to a better institution after a year. If there is thriving competition between universities, as we are often told, it should not stop at the point of admission. Users need to be able to switch supplier.

 

Nik Miller (Bridge Group): The creation of the Office for Students is an important opportunity to… also look outwards; to convene influencers across sectors to deliver coherent approaches, and to dismantle prevailing contradictions….Employers play a critical role in determining students’ prospects. This demands greater scrutiny. For example, many employers continue to attract students from a limited list of the least diverse institutions, refuse to consider students below a certain A-Level tariff – as university contextual admissions opens the door for many students, it is slammed shut once more upon graduation – and offer unpaid and unadvertised internships.

 

Lorraine Dearden (Institute for Fiscal Studies): The Office for Students needs to fully link…data in one place. IFS research linking schools and Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data shows that students who get the same GCSE results at age 16 are equally likely to progress to higher education, irrespective of their socio-economic status. However, there are socio-economic gaps in access to elite universities and the types of subjects studied, even allowing for school outcomes. We do not know fully whether this is because (i) bright disadvantaged students are less likely to apply for these courses, and/or (ii) they do, but do not get accepted, and/or (iii) their predicted grades and/or subject choice have some role. There are also socio-economic differences in drop-out rates, completion rates and outcomes once a person starts university. Good data would not only help us find out why these things are happening, but which access programmes are best at tackling them.

Read more sector change suggestions on the HEPI blog here.

 

T Levels

Damian Hinds, Education Secretary, has announced progress towards the commencement of T levels. T levels will be two year courses combining technical education and workplace experience making an important contribution to economic skills gaps and forming the third route for post-16 study (alongside apprenticeships and A levels).  The BBC report that the new two-year courses will have more teaching hours than most current technical programmes and will include a compulsory work placement of 40-60 working days. The Government have committed to learn from countries, work in partnership with business and the course content will be developed by expert employer panels. T Levels will commence from 2020 (construction, digital, and education and childcare) and be expanded into other sections from 2021 (finance, hair and beauty, engineering, and the creative industries). Controversy has dogged the announcement as earlier in the month a DfE official stated a 2020 start would be rushed and questioned whether the teaching would be of a high standard. These concerns were rejected and Hinds pushed ahead to unveil the 52 approved providers.

The Times article T levels have employers scratching their heads notes only 16% of employers  understand T levels: Business owners, who will be essential to the success of the new regime, say that they are not prepared for it. Just one in 12 employers at present provided placements of the duration required for T levels, and four in every five felt that financial support would be needed to enable them to offer the number of work placements needed.

Meanwhile Stage 2 kicks off for the 16 hopefuls (3 of which are universities) aiming to become Institutes of Technology. Research Professional also has a short article on it here.

Admissions

Next week the House of Lords will hold a one-hour debate on equality of opportunity in university admissions.

 

Fraudulent UCAS Applications

Previously The Independent challenged UCAS stating black students were 22 times more likely to have their university applications investigated for fraud than white students. UCAS investigated the issue and have published a report. Read the key points here. The story is covered by The Times and The Guardian.

 

Criminal Convictions

UCAS have also made news this week following their decision to not require applicants to declare criminal convictions when they apply for most courses.

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“Unlock very much welcomes the removal of the main criminal conviction box from the UCAS form. This is a significant change that has the potential to help many people with convictions see a university education as a positive way forward in their lives. For far too long, universities have operated arbitrary, unfair admissions practices towards those who ticked the box. Unlock has seen first-hand how people have been put off from applying to university as a result.

If universities are committed to widening participation, they should be considering the widest number of potential applicants. The change by UCAS provides a strong signal to universities that criminal records shouldn’t feature in their assessment of academic ability.

Many institutions are now rightly looking at how to amend their policies and practices. We look forward to working with UCAS and individual universities in developing fairer admissions policies towards students with criminal records.”

Nina Champion, Head of Policy at Prisoners’ Education Trust, said:

“People with convictions who are applying to university are showing a huge commitment to turning their lives around. As a society, we should be doing all we can to support them. The chance to go to university helps people to move fully away from crime, build careers and contribute to our communities. Their presence is also hugely beneficial for universities, which gain highly committed students, who help create a more diverse and inclusive learning environment for everyone. “We look forward to working with universities at revising their own admissions procedures in light of UCAS’ decision, ensuring fair chances for every student.”

Peter Stanford, Director of the Longford Trust, said:

“We…urge that, whatever arrangements universities now decide to put in place around risk assessment for those with criminal convictions, they do so in a manner that learns from the mistakes of the recent past, and enables the widest possible levels of participation”

 

Alternative Admissions

Jackie Labbe from De Montford University blogs for Wonkhe on the changes her university has made in Admissions to rely less on tariff based selection. Jackie states the changes have had a positive effect:

We support them [new students] via transitions programmes bridging their course of study and student services, so that any obstacles they have encountered in the past don’t continue to impede them.

We have seen success in our students’ improving outcomes, particularly our black and minority ethnic (BAME) students. We are now more than 50% BAME, and consider (in common with the sector) that the attainment gap is an unacceptable element of the status quo. We’re proud that our attainment gap is closing, and aim to continue to reduce it exponentially over the next few years.

 

Nursing – fall in Access course registrations

Nursing recruitment takes another hit as QAA data confirmed registrations onto the Access to HE Diplomas for nursing and health care fell by 18% (20,050 registrations) in 2016/17. Overall Access courses are down by 10%

Dr Greg Walker, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, calls on the HE Review panel to take the drop seriously:

“The news that registrations to these diplomas have dropped by almost a fifth in the space of a year is deeply concerning. The withdrawal of bursaries now appears to be impacting further down the supply chain for nursing degree students. A stalling pipeline of potential nursing students will offer no assurance to NHS employers as they struggle to fill vacant nursing posts…now is the time to review the impact of the shift away from bursaries.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

Other news

Gender Gap: Using data from a French study Times Higher discusses how automatically considering women for senior positions would reduce the gender gap at the top.

Teaching excellence: Times Higher talk on how linking promotion to quality teaching may work better than the TEF!

Civic University: Read the latest from the Civic University forum.

Poaching: PIE news has an article on the poaching of international students that takes place in the US.

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

New BU mental health paper published

Congratulations to FHSS students Folashade Alloh and Igoche Onche who found out today that their ‘Mental health in low-and-middle-income countries (LMIC): Going beyond the need for funding’ has been accepted for publication by the editors of Health Prospect.  The paper is co-authored by FHSS staff Dr Pramod Regmi, Prof Edwin van Teijlingen and Dr Steven Trenoweth. Health Prospect is an Open Access journal.

More than 70% of the global mental health burden occurs in many low-and middle-income countries (LMIC). The paper discusses mental health issues in LMIC under different themes such as abuse and mental illness, cultural influence on mental health, need for dignity in care, meeting financial and workforce gaps and the need for national health policy for mental health sector. The paper highlights that mental health education and health care services in most LMIC is poorly resourced; however, there is an urgent need to address issues beyond funding that contribute to poor mental health. In order to meet the increasing challenge of mental health illness in LMIC, there is a need for effort to address cultural and professional practices that contribute to poor mental health among individuals. The authors argue that mental health should be integrated into primary health care in LMIC. Creating awareness on impact of some cultural attitudes/practices will encourage better uptake of mental health services and increase the ease of discussing mental health issues in these countries which will contribute to reducing stigma faced by mental health patients.

Political Updates

 A smorgasbord of content for you this week – rifle through to find the topics most of interest to you. We’ve got: pollinators, research integrity, mental health, nursing news, plastic waste, several new funded competitions from the Government, praise for the arts and creative sectors, smart energy systems, immersive technologies, the Industrial Strategy’s Grand Challenges, tackling social challenges, Guidance from Innovate UK and on Horizon 2020, an important survey on international students, new Royal Society Fellows, an article on the AI brain drain, and the forthcoming Environmental Principles and Governance Bill. Enjoy!

 

Pollinators

On Tuesday Ben Bradley (Conservative, Mansfield) made his case for a Private Members’ Bill to make provision about the protection of pollinators. Permission to progress the Bill was granted and our regional MP Oliver Letwin will take part in presenting the bill.

 

Research Integrity

Sam Gyimah was interviewed for the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee investigation into research integrity. The committee heard that universities should be held responsible for the full compliance of upholding standards of research integrity but the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation declined to assert that funding should be dependent on this. Other topics covered included concordant sign up, self-assessment and disclosure in clinical trials. Read the full summary of the session provided by Dods Consultants here.

 

Mental Health

The Commons Education, Health and Social Care Committees have published their response to the inquiry on young people’s mental health: The Government’s Green Paper on mental health: failing a generation.   An oral parliamentary question was also asked on the topic on Tuesday:

Q – Helen Whately: I welcome the Green Paper on mental health in schools, which was published earlier this year, but it does prompt a question about the mental health of students in further and higher education. Does my right hon. Friend have any plans to look into that issue? If he does not, may I urge him to do so?

A – Jackie Doyle-Price: I thank my hon. Friend for her question and her continued industry on these matters. As she mentioned, the Green Paper outlined plans to set up a new national strategic partnership focused on improving the mental health of 16 to 25-year-olds. That partnership is likely to support and build on sector-led initiatives in higher education, such as Universities UK’s #stepchange project, whose launch I attended in September. The strategy calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority, to take a whole-university approach to mental health and to embed it across policies, courses and practices.

 

Nursing Places

Nursing has been in the news again this week. A series of oral parliamentary questions reveal the Government’s unwavering approach towards nurse training and on Wednesday there was a debate on the Government’s plans to remove funding from post-graduate converters into nursing (announced in February). The removal affects the two-year course for those who hold degrees in other subjects. It is controversial as this is the fastest way to train a registered nurse and there is currently a shortage of 40,000 nurses in England. The change brings the post-graduate courses in line with the undergraduate nurse training which has already lost the NUS bursary and now falls under the student loan system.

The Commons debate was secured as a result of opposition pressure, following a report by the Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which referenced evidence submitted by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). The RCN arranged for a number of student nurses, who currently receive post-graduate funding, to visit parliament during April to meet MPs and peers and explain what financial support has meant for them.

 

Michael Lawton, who received the NHS post-graduate bursary and is currently working as a registered nurse, said: “Without the bursary I couldn’t have applied and I wouldn’t be in a career I love, giving patients the great care they deserve. I know I make a difference every day.

MPs I’ve spoken to are shocked at how many hours we do in clinical placement. By removing the bursary, the Government is asking people to pay to work on placements to keep the NHS afloat and that isn’t right.

Current post-graduate nursing student Georgie Ellmore-Jones said:

“After my undergraduate degree I was already in a lot of debt. When I looked at pursuing a career in nursing and saw it was funded, it made it more certain in my mind that I wanted to do it. At post-graduate level many of the students have families and children to look after so adding more debt will only discourage potential students.”

 

On Tuesday there were a series of oral questions on nursing to the Minister for Health (Stephen Barclay), his answers reveal the Government’s thinking towards nurse training.

Q – Gill Furniss (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) & (Lab) Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op) & Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the effect of the withdrawal of NHS bursaries on applications for nursing degrees.

A – The Minister for Health (Stephen Barclay): Nursing remains a strong career choice, with more than 22,500 students placed during the 2017 UCAS application cycle. Demand for nursing places continues to outstrip the available training places.

Q – Gill Furniss: Figures from the Royal College of Nursing show that applications have fallen by 33% since the withdrawal of bursaries. At the same time, the Government’s Brexit shambles has led to a drastic decline in EU nursing applications. How many years of such decline do we have to see before the Secretary of State and the Minister will intervene?

A – Stephen Barclay: What matters is not the number of rejected applicants, but the increase in places—the number of people actually training to be a nurse. The reality is that 5,000 more nurses will be training each year up to 2020 as a result of the changes.

Q – Stella Creasy: The NHS already has 34,000 nursing vacancies. Given that there has been a 97% drop in nursing applications from the EU and that studies show that nearly half of all hospital shifts include agency nurses, will the Minister at least admit that cutting the bursary scheme has been a false economy for our NHS?

A – Stephen Barclay: It is not a false economy to increase the supply of nurses, which is what the changes have done. Indeed, they form part of a wider package of measures, including “Agenda for Change”, pay rises and the return to practice scheme, which has seen 4,355 starters returning to the profession. More and more nurses are being trained, which is why we now have over 13,000 more nurses than in 2010.

Q – Grahame Morris: I respectfully remind the Minister that this is about recruitment and retention. The RCN says that we can train a postgraduate nurse within 18 months, which is a significant untapped resource, so why are the Government planning to withdraw support from postgraduate nurses training, too?

A – Stephen Barclay: We have a debate involving postgraduate nursing tomorrow, but the intention is to increase the number of such nurses by removing the current cap, which means that many who want to apply for postgraduate courses cannot find the clinical places to do so. That is the nature of tomorrow’s debate, and I look forward to seeing the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber.

Q – Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con):  Will my hon. Friend, on top of the degree nursing apprenticeships, rapidly increase the nursing apprenticeship programme so nurses can earn while they learn, have no debt and get a skill that they and our country need?

A – Stephen Barclay: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to signpost this as one of a suite of ways to increase the number of nurses in the profession. As he alludes to, there will be 5,000 nursing apprenticeships this year, and we are expanding the programme, with 7,500 starting next year.

Q – Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): With every reputable independent body showing very clearly that we have a staffing crisis in the NHS nursing profession, can the Minister explain how cutting bursaries actually improves the situation?

A – Stephen Barclay: I am very happy to do so. We are removing the cap on the number of places covered by the bursaries and increasing the number of student places by 25%, which means that there will be 5,000 more nurses in training as a result of these changes.

Q – Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): The Secretary of State’s removal of the nursing bursary and introduction of tuition fees have resulted in a 33% drop in applications in England. In Scotland, we have kept the bursary, a carer’s allowance and free tuition, which means that student nurses are up to £18,000 a year better off, and indeed they also earn more once they graduate. Does the Minister recognise that that is why applications in Scotland have remained stable while in England they have dropped by a third?

A- Stephen Barclay: The hon. Lady speaks with great authority on health matters, but, again, she misses the distinction between the number of applicants and the number of nurses in training. It is about how many places are available, and we are increasing by 25% the number of nurses in training. That is what will address the supply and address some of the vacancies in the profession.

Q – Dr Whitford: Workforce is a challenge for all four national health services across the UK, but, according to NHS Improvement, there are 36,000 nursing vacancies in England, more than twice the rate in Scotland. The Minister claims that more nurse students are training, but in fact there were 700 fewer in training in England last year, compared with an 8% increase in Scotland. The key difference is that in Scotland we are supporting the finances of student nurses, so will the Government accept that removing the nursing bursary was a mistake and reintroduce it?

A – Stephen Barclay: The distinction the hon. Lady fails to make is that in England we are increasing the number of nurses in training by 25%; we are ensuring that nurses who have left the profession can return through the return-to-work programme; and we are introducing significant additional pay through “Agenda for Change”. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) said, we are also creating new routes so that those who come into the NHS through other routes, such as by joining as a healthcare assistant, are not trapped in those roles but are able to progress, because the Conservative party backs people who want to progress in their careers. Healthcare assistants who want to progress into nursing should have that opportunity.

Q – Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): When defending the decision to scrap bursaries, the Secretary of State said that, if done right, it could provide up to 20,000 extra nursing posts by 2020. Well, that figure now looks wildly optimistic, with applications down two years in a row. Is it not time that Ministers admitted they have got this one wrong and joined the Opposition in the Lobby tomorrow to vote against any further extensions to this failed policy?

A – Stephen Barclay: If Members vote against the policy tomorrow, the reality is that they will be voting for a cap on the number of postgraduate nurses going into the system, and therefore they will be saying that more people should be rejected—more people should lose the opportunity to become nurses—because they want to have a cap that restricts the supply of teaching places.

 

Plastics

The Government have announced a new research and innovation hub to tackle plastic waste in the oceans.

 

Arts Projects Support for the North

The PM spoke on Tuesday to praise Britain’s arts sector:

But of course, the value of culture and creativity lies not only in its economic strength. Just as important is the less tangible contribution that it makes to our national life. The work you do brings joy to millions. It fosters unity, gives us a common currency. It helps to define and build our sense of national character.

“Without culture […] society is but a jungle”. Your work is a vital part of our national life and our national economy, and I am absolutely committed to supporting it.

Our ambitious sector deal for the creative industries, announced just before Easter, will see a further £150 million invested by government and industry, spreading success and making the sector fit to face the future.

She also announced a £3 million fund of new money to support creative projects within the Northern Powerhouse region on Tuesday. Offering a mix of grants and loans, the social investment fund will be open to non-profit, community-based organisations that deliver a positive social impact.

Full speech here.

 

Smart Energy Systems

The Government announced £41.5 million funds for design and trial of of new business models that intelligently link supply, storage and demand in heating, power and transport. Thee Innovate UK competition has two elements: up to £40 million is available for 3 smart energy system demonstrators, while up to £1.5 million is available for studies into new, smarter approaches to local energy.

 

Audiences of the Future – Commercial opportunities in the creative industries

The Government has announced a funding competition – Audience of the future: demonstrators opening Monday 21 May. £16 million will be invested in 4 large scale creative industries demonstrator projects (£5-£10 million each) through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. It aims to explore future global, mass market, commercial opportunities in the creative industries. Primarily this will be through pre-commercial collaboration at scale. Projects should significantly improve the current state of art in their field. The projects must explore new ways of communication with mass audiences (100,000+) using new immersive technologies and experiences that are a significant advancement on the state of art in the chosen area. The high level of innovation and scale should be capable of transforming the sector and replicable across the creative industries. The project should generate audience and consumer information that could be used to test the viability of new business models. The Government suggests that areas with strong potential could include moving images, access to live sporting events, visitor experiences in museums and galleries, and music and theatre performance.  See here for more information.

A further £1 million is available for early-stage projects (£20-60k) that seek to understand customer needs for immersive experiences and the tools needed to deliver them. Early-stage projects should use human-centered design and look at audience behaviour to develop ideas for new products and services. Particular areas could include:

  • advancing the state-of-the-art with immersive experiences that are desirable and fit-for-purpose
  • producing high-quality immersive content cheaper, faster and in a way that is more accessible
  • improving physical devices such as eyewear and controllers, or haptic feedback
  • new digital platforms and services to deliver immersive content

See here for more information on the early-stage projects.

Resolving Social Challenges

On Thursday Oliver Dowden (Minister for Implementation) announced a series of competitions for tech firms to develop solutions tackling current social challenges.  While the initiatives focus on the business sector some of the topics are interesting. Each contributes to the Government’s Grand Challenges – the data economy; clean growth; reducing plastic waster, tackling loneliness and healthy ageing and the future of mobility – the competition is designed to incentivise Britain’s tech firms to come up with innovative solutions to improve public services.

The forthcoming challenges:

  • Identifying terrorist still imagery (Home Office). Home Office research shows that more than two-thirds of terrorist propaganda disseminated online is still imagery. This project will support both Government analysis of, and broader efforts to remove, this harmful material.
  • Tracking waste through the waste chain, submitted by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). A new technological approach could help record, check and track waste, helping boost productivity, reduce costs, and protect both human health and the environment.
  • Tackling loneliness and rural isolation, submitted by Monmouthshire Council. The government recognises that rural transport is vital to local communities, and businesses. A technological solution, exploiting vehicles with spare capacity could support rural economies.
  • Cutting traffic congestion, submitted by Department for Transport (DfT). Greater collection and new analysis of data could help target interventions to cut congestion.
  • Local authorities have large numbers of council vehicles crossing their areas every day. If they can be equipped with innovative data capture systems, they could understand potholes, litter, recycling, parking, air quality and more in real-time, every day, for no added cost. This could mean reduced service delivery costs and better local services.

The first of these competitions opens on Monday 14 May and runs for six weeks, with the remaining competitions being launched in subsequent months. Tech firms bidding to the fund will have free rein to create truly innovative fixes. Winning companies will be awarded up to £50,000 to develop their ideas.

 

Guidance

Innovate UK have released general guidance for grant applicants, including applying for a business innovation grant, funding rules and participation levels.

The Government have released guidance on Horizon 2020: what it is and how to apply for funding.

International Students

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has been tasked by the Government to assess the impact of international students. Previously they asked for evidence of impact from the HE sector with much response from HE institutions but little response from international students themselves. To redress this evidence gap the MAC have issued a survey directly to students. Universities have been asked to disseminate this survey and encourage their students to complete it. Here is the link.

Environmental Principles and Governance Bill

Michael Gove has announced the introduction of the Environmental Principles and Governance Bill, which will “ensure environmental protections will not be weakened as we leave the EU.” It will introduce a new body to hold the Government to account for environmental outcomes. Subject to consultation, the new body could specifically be responsible for:

  • providing independent scrutiny and advice on existing and future government environmental law and policy;
  • responding to complaints about government’s delivery of environmental law; and
  • holding government to account publicly over its delivery of environmental law and exercising enforcement powers where necessary.The Government is also consulting on an intention to require minister to produce a “statutory and comprehensive policy statement setting out how they will apply core environmental principles as they develop policy and discharge their responsibilities”. The new Bill will also ensure Government’s continue to have to regard environmental principlesRoyal SocietyArtificial Intelligence
  • The Financial Times has an article: UK universities alarmed by poaching of top computer science brains.
  • Wonkhe report that: 50 new Royal Society Fellows and Foreign Members have been elected to join the existing c.1,600. They are all scientists, engineers, and technologists who are from, or living and working in, the UK and the Commonwealth. New additions include Jim Al-Khalili, Michelle Simmons and Elon Musk, with David Willetts the Honorary Fellow,. Of the 50 12 are women.
  • The consultation will run for 12 weeks, closing on Thursday 2 August. The draft will be published in the Autumn, and the Bill will be introduced in the second session of this parliament.

Best wishes,

Sarah

HE Policy Update for the w/e 4th May 2018

A bumper policy update for you packed full of political changes and arguments, and BU gets a mention in the House of Commons. Enjoy the sunny bank holiday weekend!

Political News

Amber Rudd resigned on Sunday. Replacing her are Penny Mordaunt and Sajid Javid.

Penny Mordaunt (Secretary of State for International Development) will replace her as Women and Equalities Minister. Penny’s pre-UK political career is varied ranging from magician’s assistant, working in Romanian hospitals and orphanages, and as Head of Foreign Press for George W Bush. Previously she was the Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health. Her political interests are care and quality of life for the elderly, healthcare, defence, the arts, and space.

Sajid Javid will replace Amber as Home Secretary. (James Brokenshire will replace Sajid as Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary). Sajid’s political interests are civil liberties, free enterprise, defence, and welfare policy. Sajid has held a string of parliamentary roles including  Economic Secretary 2012-13, Financial Secretary 2013-14; Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 2014-15; Minister for Equalities 2014; Secretary of State for: Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade 2015-16, and Communities, Local Government and Housing Secretary 2016-18. Times Higher took to Twitter to remind the HE world that Sajid believes international students shouldn’t stay on to work in Britain post-graduation.

#BUProud – Sam Gyimah praised BU in a recent Education select committee meeting. Questioned on whether the three year full time degree is an outdated dinosaur and whether accelerated or non-standard degrees are the future Sam replied:

  • I will start off, before saying what I think the answer is, by saying that there is some good practice in the sector that is often not acknowledged. For example, 42% of degrees are currently vocational. If you look at what some universities are doing, Bournemouth University, where I was a few weeks ago, is a most effective place at training people for media and film studies. Most people would dismiss some of these things, but if you want to work at Universal Studios, one of the best universities in this country to go to is Bournemouth. They have a focused university curriculum.  

Office for Students (OfS) Strategy and Business Plan

The OfS have published their strategy and business plan.  They set out their familar 4 objectives ( participation, experience, outcomes and value for money). The OfS will deliver their strategy by:

  • Ensuring providers meet the quality threshold (the 24 conditions of registration)
  • Supporting informed student choice about courses and careers
  • Taking action to ‘ensure that the sector is working effectively in the interests of students, employers, and society’.
  • The OfS will publish key performance indicators in the summer to measure the business plan.
  • Being an efficient and effective regulator

The OfS will also measure contributory progress against these cross cutting strategic outcomes:

  • Public trust and confidence in HE
  • National social mobility
  • Equality & diversity within HE and beyond
  • A dynamic national workforce

There is more detail in the Business Plan 2018-19, including:

  • The intention to evaluate the return on investment on access and participation plans and impact work; develop, address cold spots and evaluate IAG; and increase transparency data in relation to access and participation.
  • New providers – address barriers to entry; facilitate alternative forms of provision and develop measures of diversity of provision and innovation (including a work placement measure beyond sandwich placements and the ‘Higher education – business and community interaction’ survey data; also to support growth in technical routes.
  • Deliver NSS and explore new measures and monitoring tools.
  • Develop the OfS approach to student welfare and wellbeing.
  • Remove barriers to student transfer.
  • Continue the TEF, KEF and REF.
  • Develop strategy and processes surrounding student protection and managing market exit.

And much more!

The Knowledge Exchange Framework

Research Professional published a mock Knowledge Exchange rankings table  based on three years of data from the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction surveys.  Hamish McAlpine, senior policy adviser for knowledge exchange at Research England, has written a progress report on work towards the real KEF.  We have been a bit sceptical about the KEF at BU – because something with great potential to measure something of great benefit (going beyond REF impact) looks like being a way to channel more money to those who make money already from commercialisation….

The article is interesting because it is clear that thinking is still evolving – this sentence gives some hope about the value of the framework:

  • “To this end we are looking at creating clusters of institutions with similar capabilities. These include not just staff numbers, but also things such as disciplinary mix, research strengths and intensity, income, student numbers and capital investments.” 

And they haven’t yet decided on the link to funding…..but it still looks as if income is the driver:

  • “Income is only a proxy for impact, but it is the best measure we have at present. Income is also robust and relatively easy to audit. It is not in anyone’s interest to distribute lots of public money based on unsound metrics”

Income is a very unreliable proxy for impact outside STEM.  In her previous role at BU Jane supported a number of projects with HSS that have limited potential to make money (because they help the NHS) but have potential to make a real difference to care and outcomes.  And what about all the work in social sciences – and knowledge exchange projects in FoM and FMC?  So we’re still sceptical about the KEF – but it might be a bit less pointless than it was looking a few months ago.  I’ve added a comment to the article – we’ll see what the response is.

Major review of post-18 education (fees and funding)

We have submitted BU’s response to the HE review and you can read it here.  SUBU’s response is here.

There is a useful article by Gordon McKenzie of GuildHE on Wonkhe.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published their 10 points for the HE review – a useful round up of some of the issues based on HEPI’s own research over the last few years.  Their 10 points relate to:

  • Part-time learners
  • Differential fees
  • Maintenance grants
  • Mixed funding model
  • Uses of tuition fees
  • Misunderstanding among applicants
  • Outreach versus spending on bursaries
  • Accounting treatment of student loans
  • Level 4 and Level 5 qualifications
  • Student number controls

UUK have blogged on their response to the review calling for the review to address confusion about the tuition fees system. UUK note that while the funding system hasn’t deterred young people from full time study (and is beneficial in creating stability for universities) ‘there is a lack of public confidence and understanding of how it delivers value for money for students’. They note those wishing to study flexibly, or part time, or young students who wish to earn whilst they learn aren’t serviced adequately by the existing funding system. They also call for maintenance grants to be restored.

The Universities UK submission makes a number of recommendations, including:​

  • government should, in partnership with universities, provide more targeted information to prospective students on the costs and benefits of higher education
  • universities could develop their value for money statements, to better explain how pricing decisions for undergraduate courses are arrived at. These should explain how the university uses income from tuition fees, and other sources of income, to fund the student experience and other activities such as research
  • to deal with students’ concerns about living costs, new funding should be introduced to restore maintenance grants for those most in need
  • to help address students’ fears of debt, government should remove the interest rate that starts building from the start date of the course, and deliver better financial advice, especially on the difference between student loan debt and conventional debt
  • greater exploration of ways that learners can study more flexibly and piloting preferential loan repayment terms for subjects that address national skills shortages

You can read Baroness Wolf in the TES on what the review is about (not just HE).

From March – the OfS report on student perceptions of value for money: – not providing a definition but see below 

  • Funded by OfS, our SUs led some research into what students think. The purpose was not to definitively answer the question of what ‘value for money’ means in higher education but, rather, to explore value for money from the student perspective. Do students feel they are receiving value for money? Do student perceptions of value for money evolve as they go from school to higher education, and then into the world of work? What can higher education providers – and the OfS – do to help improve the value students perceive they are getting from the considerable investment they have made in higher education?”

Factors that demonstrate value for money:

Maintenance Grant Raid – David Morris wrote for the Guardian this week stating: The government has hinted it will reintroduce maintenance grants, but that there will be no extra money to pay for it. David believes this will take the political pressure out of the tuition fee conundrum because ‘expensive rent is probably far more of a barrier to widening access than expensive fees, since students don’t repay these until after graduation.’ David believes the Government might solve the issue of funding maintenance grants by utilising the current teaching grant. He states: ‘This time around, universities will have to convince government to find additional spending, or it will be their pockets that are raided.’

Political Battles – Martin Lewis (MoneySavingExpert) tackles Chi Onwurah (Labour MP) in BBC Question Time. In essence his fiery response blames both Government and Opposition for making Fees and Student Loans a political battlefield – serving only their own political ends and leaving prospective students bewildered about affordability. He states in itself this is what is putting off even more students because they believe they can’t afford to attend University.

  • Martin: “Look politicians do this all the time and you’re making your political points and you’re doing it and you put off young people from underprivileged backgrounds going to university with a fear of debt by framing it as debt when you know it doesn’t work like that.”
  • “Politicians need to take responsibility, your political football that you and all the parties have used student finance to be has miseducated a generation about how student finance works and it is an abomination you should all hang your heads in shame.
  • Chi comes back to argue that fees are a psychological barrier:  “It is psychological but a lot of the world is psychological Martin, how things are perceived is what informs peoples choices.”
  • Martin: “Then let’s re-educate.”

Watch the short (1 minute) clip here, the Express also covered the argument.

Higher Earning Graduates – Sam Gyimah avoided responding to a parliamentary question on higher earning graduates this week.

  • Q – Jim Cunningham: What estimate he has made of the number of graduate students who are earning over £50k and have begun repaying their student loan since 2010.
  • A – Sam Gyimah: This is a matter for the Student Loans Company (SLC). I have asked the SLC’s Interim Chief Executive, Peter Lauener, to write to the hon. Member for Coventry South and a copy of his reply will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Student Loan Overpayments  –Another parliamentary question revealed that 55% of the nursing, midwifery and allied health professions students who were overpaid by SLC (leading to concerns about how the money would be clawed back), were overpaid by more than £1,000. And the non-repayable support has been confirmed

  • Q – Baroness Thornton: Whether, given that the Student Loans Company (SLC) has accepted responsibility for overpayments to healthcare students and that the SLC told students that they were not being overpaid, the SLC will write off overpayments to physiotherapy and other healthcare students.
  • A – Viscount Younger Of Leckie: The government announced on 18 April 2018 that the Student Loans Company (SLC) will provide support to ensure that none of the students affected by the error suffer hardship. Students affected by this will be eligible to apply for additional, non-repayable, support of up to £1,000 for the remainder of this academic year, and should contact the SLC. In addition, repayment of overpaid maintenance support will be deferred for all students affected until they have finished their courses and can afford to repay. Repayment of overpaid maintenance loans will happen via HM Revenue and Customs in the normal way, which is how students will have expected to repay their loans when they took them out.

Loan Terms – Another week, another student loan parliamentary question – this time Sam’s answer fails to confirm whether the Government will change the loan terms for the post-2012 students, leading to worry over how students may be affected if the post-2012 loans are sold off.

  • Q – Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he retains the legal power to revise the terms and conditions of student loans, including those sold to the Student Loans Company; and whether his Department has any plans to standardise those terms and conditions irrespective of the higher education start date of those loans.
  • A – Sam Gyimah: Key student loan repayment terms are set out in legislation, and can therefore be amended through the applicable parliamentary processes. It is important that, subject to this Parliamentary scrutiny, the government retains the power to adjust the terms and conditions of student loans. However, the government has no plans to change, or to consider changing, the terms of pre-2012 loans, including those sold recently.Student loans are subsidised by the taxpayer, and we must ensure that the interests of both borrowers and taxpayers continue to be protected. The review of post-18 education and funding will look at how we can ensure a joined-up education system that works for everyone.

Paramedic Student Loans – A parliamentary question on reclassifying paramedic degrees for existing graduates to access the student loan whilst retraining:

  • Q – Peter Kyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, pursuant to the Answer of 19 April 2018 to Question 135158, if he will classify paramedic science as an exception course to allow those who study it as a second degree to obtain a student loan.
  • A – Stephen Barclay: Since the decision taken by the Health and Care Professions Council on 21 March 2018 to move paramedic programmes to a degree level, the Department of Health and Social Care has been working with Health Education England and the Department for Education to actively review the position of students wishing to study a paramedic programme. This review will consider aligning paramedic courses with other healthcare courses reviewed during the recent healthcare education funding reforms.

Freedom of Speech

The Universities Minister gave a speech on Thursday at a free speech summit calling for new guidance for organisations and students on freedom of speech. Covered by The Times Sam is portrayed as championing free speech way beyond his predecessor (Jo Johnson’s) intent to ‘enforce existing measures’. Sam plans for the OfS to name and shame or fine institutions for failing to uphold his view of free speech. He has announced the intention to create a single set of guidelines ‘to clarify the rules and regulations around speakers and events to prevent bureaucrats or wreckers on campus from exploiting gaps for their own ends’. The NUS is permitted to input into the new rules. See the Government’s press release here.

  • UUK commented:  “Tens of thousands of speaking events are put on every year across the country. The majority pass without incident. A small number of flashpoints do occasionally occur, on contentious or controversial issues, but universities do all they can to protect free speech so events continue.”
  • Sector press has noted that the Joint Committee on Human Rights report (March 2018) did not believe there to be a problem with free speech at universities: we did not find the wholesale censorship of debate in universities which media coverage has suggested. And on the ‘chilling’ (deterrent) effect ‘which is hard to measure’: A much broader survey of students’ opinion would be needed to assess levels of confidence amongst the student body as a whole. Source
  • Free Speech does get a (very limited) mention in the OfS’ new Business Plan – one mention (page 7) ‘Incentivise positive student experiences beyond the conditions of registration – Define and begin to deliver the OfS’ role to promote and protect free speech.’
  • THE also reported on Sam’s speech, ironically noting it was delivered at a ‘behind-closed-doors’ event.
  • Sam wrote for The Times Red Box on Thursday: The time I was almost censored on campus. There is an entertaining range of reader comments following Sam’s piece, only overshadowed by the Twitter glee that the quote Sam opens his article with is misattributed. Whoops.

HEPI Free Speech blog

On Tuesday HEPI got the last word in on Free Speech ahead of Sam’s speech. See their blog Six points about free speech at universities. Nick Hillman commenced with HEPI’s survey statistics on free speech. Most of his six points are familiar:

  1. The current law is ‘in about the right place’ on free speech issues – and notes the need for legitimate limits (terrorism influence, inciting violence, risking safety of others)
  2. Universities have the expertise, the time and resources to debate issues freely
  3. Debate and expose bad ideas to defeat them (not hide away)
  4. HEPI refer to their detailed study of free speech. The blog suggests a quarter of students are illiberal wanting to ban some extreme positions, and HEPI interpret mixed results as confusion amongst students (saying yes to almost any question on free speech, whether supporting free speech, backing trigger warnings or supporting Prevent). It could be confusion, it could be students repeating back the social ideal they may not genuinely sign up to, or it could be poor questionnaire design! But on the confusion the blog goes on to recommend…
  5. Universities need to help students through the complexities of free speech issues (and avoid too much red tape when putting on events)
  6. HEPI don’t believe the situation is as bad as the media portray, however, they note if the sector continues to provide contentious ‘juicy’ examples of threats to free speech then the media will seize on them and further blow the debate out of proportion.

International Students

False Deportation – On Tuesday the Financial Times broke the news of 7,000 international students falsely deported in: Home Office told thousands of foreign students to leave UK in error.  Wonkhe have provided a summary:

  • The Financial Times reports that the Home Office may have ordered up to 7,000 international students to leave the country on the basis of false accusations that they “faked” their proficiency in English. The error allegedly occurred when US-based organisation Educational Testing Services (ETS) carried out an investigation on behalf of the Home Office into cheating in their Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) in 2014. The investigation results led the Home Office to revoke the Tier 4 visas of around 35,870 students studying in the UK who were suspected to have used proxies to sit the test.  An immigration tribunal heard in 2016 that the computer analysis used to identify fraud had been correct in only 80% of cases, meaning that 7,000 students had been deported in error.  The Home Office told us “the Government took immediate robust action, which has been measured and proportionate and so far 21 people have received criminal convictions for their role in this deception” and noted that courts had consistently found in their favour that evidence in these cases was enough to act on. However, the FT cites a judgement published in 2017 that said that the Home Office’s behaviour was “so unfair and unreasonable as to amount to an abuse of power”.

The Guardian also has the story, noting that new Home Secretary Sajid Javid has been urged to conduct a review.

International Post-Doc Researchers – Earlier in the year HEPI released their report The costs and benefits of international students ahead of the Migration Advisory Committee’s consultation on international students (outcomes expected autumn 2018). At the HEPI launch event there was strong argument for the sectors which need international talent to fulfil economic and business needs but which have low graduate starting salaries. An oral question this week extended this debate to cover post-doc employment:

  • Q – Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I declare an interest as a trustee of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Post-doctoral research fellows are a vital part of this country’s research base, and they come from all over the world, including from the EU. What discussions are my right hon. and hon. Friends having with the Home Office to ensure that our future immigration policy is based not on salaries—post-docs often receive pretty miserly salaries compared with their qualifications—but on the skills that we really need in this country.
  • A – Robin Walker: I regularly attend the higher education and science working group chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, where we discuss these issues, and we have been feeding into the work being done by the Migration Advisory Committee and the Home Office on that front. The Prime Minister made clear that we will want to continue to attract key talent from around the world, and Britain will want to continue to be a scientific superpower in the years to come. It is essential that we get our policies right on this.

Widening Participation & Achievement

New Fair Access Tsar, Chris Millward, blogs for UUK on the ‘OpportUNIty for everyone’ campaign aiming to promote the work done by universities on social mobility. Chris’ entry into the sector as Director for Fair Access and Participation has had WP buffs pondering whether there will be an entirely different fair access landscape with new directives. Perhaps unintentionally Chris’ blog continues to repeat Les Ebdon’s constant calls for ‘faster change’:  ‘Opportunity for everyone’ shows how universities are opening their doors, but they must build on this for faster change. It perhaps favours a focusing of the WP target groups by specifically mentioning:

  • Young people from identified low participation neighbourhoods (LPN) – concern: access and successful completion
  • White boys from low income families (also within LPN and in receipt of free school meals) – concern: access
  • Mature students – concern: falling numbers accessing HE
  • Black and Asian, and Disabled students – concern: parity of numbers receiving good degree and/or successfully securing a graduate level job
  • Students reporting mental health concerns – concern: better support to complete degree

It notes all universities are expected to narrow their gaps in all these areas. Chris promises the OfS will ‘develop evidence and effective practice guidance, and create opportunities to promote its use’ through a national Evidence and Impact Exchange. You can follow the Opportunity for everyone campaign on Twitter via: #YesUniCan

Brexit – Science & Innovation

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have published Brexit, science and innovation (fifth special report of session 2017-19). This gives the Government’s response to the Committee’s previous paper. Here are excerpts from the introduction:

  • The Government welcomes the Science and Technology Select Committee’s report ‘Brexit, Science and Innovation’, and is grateful for the Committee’s positive view on the Government’s input to the EU’s consultation on the shape of Framework Programme 9 (FP9). The Committee’s report highlights key issues that will need to be considered as we leave the European Union and continuing to build the broadest and deepest possible partnership with the EU on Science and Innovations remains a top priority.
  • As made clear in the UK’s position paper on Framework Programme 9, a continued focus on excellence is essential, and the EU and its Member States should facilitate and strengthen collaborative working with other countries on shared priorities for mutual benefit. The principles of excellence and competitiveness that underpin European collaboration drive up the quality of research outputs and contribute to higher skills levels.
  • The Government’s commitment to underwrite Horizon 2020 funding has provided clarity and assurance to UK businesses and universities.
  •  The Government has been consistently clear that the UK is, and will continue to be, a place that welcomes talented scientists and researchers from across the globe to work or study here.
  • We value the strong collaborative partnerships that we have across the EU in the areas of science, research and innovation and recognise the important contribution they make to the UK.

Read the Government’s response to the four recommendations here.

Life Sciences

And just in case you missed it last week here is the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report – Life Sciences Industrial Strategy: Who’s driving the bus?

Mental Health

OfS blog on the HE partnership who are trialling new strategic methods to support good mental health through the Catalyst funding. The approach is based on UUK’s Step Change framework. Student suicides were in the news this week and there is a parliamentary question asking about national student suicide figures due for answer next week.

Strike law suits

Wonkhe report that some students intend to sue their universities over the strike action. In line with the wishes of the self-appointed “Minister for Students”, some students are now seeking compensation for teaching time lost at the 65 institutions affected by the 14 days of recent USS pension strikes.

Over 100,000 students have signed petitions to complain about the issue and request refunds. However, widespread media coverage has focused on Tel-Aviv/London-based English law firm Asserson, a “disputes” specialist, which has set up a website encouraging UK, EU, and non-EU students to sign up to a class action lawsuit to potentially claim “hundreds of pounds each”. Apparently, it now has over 1,000 signatures, enough to apply for a group litigation order. If the firm can secure funding from a specialist litigation funder for the no-win-no-fee claim, get insurance against a failed claim, and work out how to distribute claimants across institutions, we may see a landmark case. Shimon Goldwater of the firm said this could cost universities “millions of pounds”.

Some institutions have put unspent pay in hardship funds, and those with student contracts will be checking the wording carefully. At the time, Universities UK (UUK) advised students to start with institutional complaints procedures, then if necessary escalate them to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) in England and Wales. The OIA’s annual report came out on Thursday, showing a slight increase in complaints in 2017 – 1,635 compared to 1,517 the previous year. The student-as-consumer trend continues.

Wonkhe’s website also explains how group litigation works and a blogger warns that calls for money back could result in them becoming victims of another compensation scam.

No pause for Purdah

Research Professional explores how a Purdah period needn’t be a gag order. They confirmed that scientists are permitted to make public statements during election campaigns. On 11 April, the Cabinet Office issued revised election guidance for civil servants permitting scientists to continue with their work in the run up to an election.  During the 2017 general election, the UK Research Councils “strongly” advised against issuing press releases about new research. Jeremy Heywood, Head of the Civil Service, stated: the [purdah] principles are not, and have never been about restricting commentary from independent academics.

Fiona Fox (Chief Executive of the Science Media Centre) writes in Research Professional to urge all to get the message out:

This is an important moment for the scientific community, but only if we shout about it. We must make sure that the new guidance is to hand the next time someone tries to use purdah as a reason to restrict scientists from speaking publicly about their research during election time.

UK Research and Innovation in particular has an important role here to ensure that all the academics it funds know about and understand these positive changes. The multiple sets of guidance on guidance, which emphasises what scientists cannot say in elections, should be replaced with a simple statement of what academics should continue to do as normal.

Purdah was never intended to silence scientists, but in the absence of real clarity, some allowed that to happen. Now that we have the clarity there is no excuse to let it happen again.

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • The House of Commons Education Committee has launched an inquiry into the challenges posed and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As outlined in the inquiry press release, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by the emergence of a range of new technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things. The changes are likely to have a major impact on both productivity and the labour market, with low and medium skilled jobs most at risk.  The inquiry will examine how best to prepare young people to take advantage of future opportunities by looking at the suitability of the school curriculum. It will also look at the role of lifelong learning and how best to help people climb the ladder of opportunity in the future. Please see further details and links below:

Interesting news

  • If you’re a bit rusty on the different elements of parliament this 1 minute You Tube Video may be for you: Why does the House of Commons Chamber look empty?
  • Trans experience: Wonkhe bloggers examine the experience of trans and gender diverse staff in HE and how matters can move forward more positively.
  • Alumni & data protection: BU’s own Fiona Cowrie writes for Research Professional on how the imminent data protection changes will affect universities’ relationships with their alumni.
  • Personal statements: A role for school’s to supplement second-hand cultural capital by supporting students through tailored super-curricular experiences. A simple read setting out what makes the difference in successful UCAS personal statements.
  • Influencing policy through research: We’ve mentioned this previously and Wonkhe have a new blog post on getting parliament to pick up research and translate it into policy. It lists 10 simple steps to make connections and present your research effectively for policy makers.
  • Useful complaints: A blogger from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator blogs on the impact listening to and acting on complaints can have in: Complaints – student engagement in its rickets form?
  • BTEC students: BTEC students are more likely to fail and not progress to their second year, although the non-continuation rate varies with subject choice. Overall patterns of progression show more BTEC students fail the end of first year examination as compared to entrants with other qualifications. One possible explanation for this is that they are at a different starting point in terms of academic preparedness and understanding assessment expectations in HE. Interventions may therefore need to target support around learning and progression of BTEC students during first year in HE or even earlier to encourage transferable learning.  Subject-wise patterns of progressions for BTEC students show they are less successful in Computer Science and Business Studies as compared to Sports. Interventions and academic support in HE need to be tailored across subject-areas in line with course structure and programme requirements to help BTEC students achieve better educational outcomes. It might be the case that not just inclusive pedagogies across universities, but a collaborative approach between higher education providers and FE colleges, can support the progression of these students better. This is all the more important as BTEC qualifications are acknowledged as contributing to widening HE access.   Read How successful are BTEC students at university? for more detail and interactive charts.

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 JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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