Tagged / Minister for Universities

HE policy update for the w/e 10th September 2020

We thought it might be a quiet week, this week, but we were wrong.  The DfE has started the new academic year with a bang, and the Ofs are going to be busy.

So we are back properly to our weekly schedule although with a bit of flexibility on days of the week.

International student visas

The Home Office have made an announcement about student visas.  The new international student immigration route is opening early, from 5th October to allow the “best and brightest” to apply for a visa under the new points based system.  That includes EU students.  This will mean that “as a result of coronavirus, some overseas students are choosing to defer their entry onto courses in the UK until the spring semester of 2021. Introducing these new routes now means that students will be able to benefit from the new streamlined process whilst still giving sponsors time to adapt after their autumn intake”.

The Secretary of State and the Minister for Universities speak

Gavin Williamson has been speaking to UUK.  He starts with a bouquet of praise and thanks for the sector and almost an apology for the extra work on admissions this year, although not quite.  There was always going to be a “but…”.

First he wanted to “land three key messages” related to the pandemic:

  • Keep going – and he looks forward to working with us all as the situation evolves over the autumn term
  • The importance of collaboration – specifically with local authorities.
  • And to stay alert, which includes comms to students and keeping them at uni rather than sending them home if there are local restrictions

And then the “but”.  It starts nicely:

  • Too often, there can be an implicit narrative that every university needs to measure itself against Oxbridge. That if a university isn’t winning Nobel prizes and taking in triple A students it is somehow second rate.
  • In reality, it is the diversity of our sector which will drive the levelling up agenda that is central to everything this Government does.

But…

  • There are still pockets of low quality. One only has to look at the Guardian subject league tables to see there are too many courses where well under 50% of students proceed to graduate employment.
  • But more fundamentally, in order to create a fairer, more prosperous and more productive country, we need to reverse the generational decline in higher technical education.
  • We have already announced that, over the next few years, we will be establishing a system of higher technical education where learners and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses that provide the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, whether they are taught in a further education college, a university or an independent training provider.
  • Of course, a large proportion of this will be delivered in our great further education colleges, but what I also want to see is for universities to end their preoccupation with three-year bachelors’ degrees and offer far more higher technical qualifications and apprenticeships. These would be more occupation focused and provide a better targeted route for some students, and benefit employers and the economy.

Again, none of this is new, he has been completely consistent.  It will be interesting to see how the sector responds.

Michelle Donelan

There was a double act at UUK this morning, as the Universities Minister also spoke.

Again, lots of thanks and different examples too.  I want to say a special thank you. Thank you for bending over backwards to unlock the dreams and opportunities of this year’s cohort.

Her speech is mostly about the bureaucracy reduction announcements set out below.  But in return for this her speech also has a “but”.  Her but is also consistent with what we have heard before.  She wants:

  • readily accessible bitesized learning for people looking to upskill and reskill…. and also foster a culture of lifelong learning”.

And it comes with a carrot – or a stick – hard to tell which:

  • You will remember that the Augar review looked in detail at flexible learning and argued for widespread changes to the organisation and funding of higher education to enable that flexibility. And we will respond in parallel with the Spending Review. Rest assured, the global pandemic has not and will not throw us off course.”

Her last point was about mental health, and the need for on-going support.

Bonfire of the metrics (and general reduction of bureaucracy)

The OfS were due to review the NSS this year, and of course we are also waiting (and have been waiting for ever, it seems) for the government response to the Pearce review of the TEF.  But the DfE have gone early.  In a move which confirms what we and everyone else has been saying all summer, the DFE have confirmed that they only really care about outcomes (and continuation) and asked the OfS to do a serious review of the NSS by the end of the year.

The announcement is here.  It is much broader than just the NSS, and there are some really interesting developments, so we will set them all out by area.

Starting with the Office for Students

The measures outlined below are a combination of decisions taken by the OfS to help achieve those aims, and changes that DfE would like the OfS to implement. DfE will be following up this policy document with strategic guidance to the OfS,”

  • Enhanced monitoring – the OfS intends to report to the DfE within 3 months on how it is reducing its use of enhanced monitoring
  • Data futures – OfS has agreed to review the proposed termly data collection to make sure it is proportionate – also looking at making data collection more timely. Due by end October with final decisions alongside an OfS data strategy in April.
  • Random sampling – the OfS has suspended this
  • No further regulatory action on student transfers – this was a “big issue” in the original Jo Johnson Green/White Paper – students were being prevented or discouraged from transferring, apparently. The OfS has decided to review their current requirements for monitoring and consult on changes – but the headline suggests they won’t get more onerous.
  • The announcement welcomes the already announced decision to make estates and non-academic data collected by HESA optional.
  • Review of TRAC (T). The Transparent Approach to Costing for Teaching.  This data was used by Augar to attack fees and the announcement recognises that the government have used it to look at efficiency.  The OfS have been asked to review it because the sector have said that it is “disproportionately burdensome”.  This year’s return has been cancelled.  A “way forward” for the review is due by October alongside the UKRI review of the other stream of TRAC (see below).
  • Review of the transparency condition – this is the monitoring data provided to the OfS relating to offers and acceptable, completion and outcomes, including by gender, ethnicity and background. The OfS have said that they will explore if the amount of information requested can be reduced and replaced by other sources, and the DfE are “pleased” with that.  Due by end October.
  • Reduction in OfS fees – the OfS have to review their own efficiency with a view to reducing fees, and to help them along the government’s review of fees (which are set by the Secretary of State) will take place this Autumn instead of next year. The QAA and HESA are expected to reduce their fees too.

So, the NSS.  Hold on to your hats – these statements are bold!

  • We have asked the OfS to undertake a radical, root and branch review of the National Student Survey (NSS)…..Since its inception in 2005, the NSS has exerted a downwards pressure on standards within our higher education system, and there have been consistent calls for it to be reformed. There is valid concern from some in the sector that good scores can more easily be achieved through dumbing down and spoon-feeding students, rather than pursuing high standards and embedding the subject knowledge and intellectual skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace. These concerns have been driven by both the survey’s current structure and its usage in developing sector league tables and rankings. While government acknowledges that the NSS can be a helpful tool for providers and regulators, we believe its benefits are currently outweighed by these concerns. Further, its results do not correlate well with other, more robust, measures of quality, with some of the worst courses in the country, in terms of drop-out rates and progression to highly skilled employment, receiving high NSS scores. Accordingly, the extensive use of the NSS in league tables may cause some students to choose courses that are easy and entertaining, rather than robust and rigorous.
  • The government shares concerns raised by some in the sector that, in its current form, the NSS is open to gaming, with reports of some institutions deliberately encouraging their final year students to answer positively with incentives or messaging about their future career prospects. Academics have also criticised the cost and bureaucracy the NSS creates, arguing that the level of activity it generates can be a distraction from more important teaching and research activities. There is a sense that the level of activity it drives in universities and colleges has become excessive and inefficient. For example, we are aware that some providers employ analysts to drill down into NSS performance, in some cases at module level, and investigate any sub-par performance.
  • Student perspectives do play a valuable role in boosting quality and value across the sector, but there is concern that the benefits of this survey are currently outweighed by the negative behaviours and inefficiencies it drives. Universities must be empowered to have the confidence to educate their students to high standards rather than simply to seek ‘satisfaction’.

Now, many people will agree with at least some of that.  The sector blows hot and cold on the NSS – heavily critiquing its use in the TEF, then worrying that there was no voice for students when it was diluted in later iterations.  Many have criticised it for being subjective and unhelpful (so not so much a criticism of the survey as a tool for driving improvements, as a criticism of its inclusion in the TEF and league tables) – but that was a case of the TEF using the metrics that they had, because there wasn’t anything else.  Lots of people have criticised the methodology, despite the reviews that have been carried out before.  Some universities have had consistent boycotts (Oxbridge).

But don’t think that abolishing it will mean that we can stop worrying about the underlying issues.  The OfS have been asked (by the end of the calendar year!) to:

…undertake a radical, root and branch review of the NSS, which:

  • reduces the bureaucratic burden it places on providers
  • ensures it does not drive the lowering of standards or grade inflation
  • provides reliable data on the student perspective at an appropriate level, without depending on a universal annual sample
  • examines the extent to which data from the NSS should be made public
  • ensures the OfS has the data it needs to regulate quality effectively
  • will stand the test of time and can be adapted and refined periodically to prevent gaming

Expectations are high.  No annual survey and yet reliable data….that reduces the bureaucratic burden, and prevents gaming and avoids lowering standards and grade inflation.  Notably there are no positive suggestions about what a new approach actually will achieve other than “reliable data on the student perspective”.  You might ask perspective on what?  Not satisfaction, it seems, or even experience, but “quality and value”.   It sounds like getting rid of it completely is on the table, replacing it with something else that isn’t a survey at all.  But what?  So this is your moment.  What is the best way to get “reliable data on the student perspective”.  We look forward to engaging with staff across BU on the inevitable OfS call for evidence.

Obviously the OfS have responded to all this.  They seem to think that they will be keeping the survey.  Maybe the requirement to avoid an annual universal sample means just that – not annual, not everyone, just a sample?

  • ‘On the NSS, our review will seek to reduce any unnecessary bureaucracy, prevent any unintended consequences and gaming of the survey, whilst ensuring that the NSS stands the test of time as an important indicator of students’ opinions and experiences at every level.

UKRI and BEIS

UKRI are being asked to make a lot of changes

Selection

  • simplify eligibility criteria for bidding
  • streamline grant schemes
  • streamlined two stage application process for grants – only necessary information provided at each stage
  • single format for CVs
  • “brand new, fully digital, user-designed, applicant-focused and streamlined grants application system with the first pilot launched in August”
  • single information document for a call rather than lots

Assurance and outcomes

  • harmonising reporting
  • reducing the number of questions and making it “minimally demanding”
  • enhance risk based funding assurance approach to reduce the burden and assure an organisation not individual projects
  • review end of award reporting

Other things

  • provide additional independent challenge (on costs and bureaucracy)
  • Stop multiple asks for information that already exists
  • review TRAC (as mentioned above)

NIHR

The NIHR are congratulated for already taking a number of steps to reduce the burden on researchers.  Now there are a set of new commitments to take this further.

  • Will consider ways of making peer review more proportionate
  • “will immediately delete clauses which place obligations on research institutions which add limited value to the general research endeavour and end user from the standard NIHR contract”
  • “review eligibility criteria for all funding streams including requirements for compliance with charters and concordats”
  • Will drop the requirement for Silver Athena Swan – but instead “We will expect organisations that apply for any NIHR funding to be able to demonstrate their commitment to tackling disadvantage and discrimination in respect of the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act (2010). These are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation” [that sounds like more not less bureaucracy….]
  • “NIHR currently obliges researchers, through a standard contractual provision, to notify DHSC of all publications associated with their research. ….This contractual clause will be deleted for almost all new contracts from 1st August 2020 “

Reductions in providers’ internal bureaucracy

What could this mean?  Well:

  • We …expect providers to ensure reductions in government or regulator imposed regulatory activity are not replaced with internal bureaucracy. In addition, we want them to go even further to enable academics to focus on front line teaching and research: stripping out their existing unnecessary internal bureaucracy, layers of management and management processes. [now that interesting, we flagged it a few weeks ago because it featured in the introduction to the financial restructuring document as an objective…but it is still unclear how this should be implemented – and one person’s internal bureaucracy is another person’s sensible internal control measure]
  • There are a wide variety of organisations which offer voluntary membership awards or other forms of recognition to support or validate an organisation’s performance in particular areas. …. Such schemes can be helpful but can also generate large volumes of bureaucracy and result in a high cumulative cost of subscriptions. Where a university believes that membership of such schemes are genuinely the best way of addressing a matter, it is of course free to do so, but in general universities should feel confident in their ability to address such matters themselves and not feel pressured to take part in such initiatives to demonstrate their support for the cause the scheme addresses. [from the points made above, that probably includes Athena Swan – what else?]
  • We will engage with the sector, and in partnership with research funding bodies across the UK, to tackle the broader issues that are often causes of unnecessary bureaucracy. [Like what?]
  • This is also an opportunity to shift the research sector to more modern methods of research, which will help cut red tape too. This means embracing modern methods of peer review and evaluation. It also means tackling the problematic uses of metrics in research and driving up the integrity and reproducibility of research. Crucially, we must embrace the potential of open research practices.

David Kernohan was quick to respond on Wonkhe.  One thing he points out is that the government are correct that the NSS does not correlate with highly skilled employment or outcomes.  But he points out that the government’s favourite two metrics don’t correlate with each other either  – and of course why would they.

Brexit

Have you missed it?

As you know, the trade deal with the EU has to be done by the end of the year because that is when the transitional period ends.  It could have been extended, but the deadline to request an extension was 30th June 2020 – and there was no way this government (with its large majority all signed up to a possible no deal Brexit) was going to ask for an extension.

The deadline for a deal has similarly been a bit flexible – of course, and despite all the talk of dates, the most real deadline is 31st December.  Originally it had been suggested that the deal needed to be done by July to allow for ratification – now both sides are saying that the EU leaders’ meeting on 15th October is the deadline.  But no-one will really be surprised if it carries on after that.  The withdrawal agreement was sorted in October last year, as you will remember and was then approved by Parliament in December 2020, receiving royal assent in January, just days before the UK left the EU on 31st January.  It was close.  The draft legislation wasn’t even published during all the backwards and forwards before the election, because it was such a hostage to fortune for the May government.  Then Boris negotiated changes to the withdrawal agreement and “got it done”, just in time.

So, the government are getting ahead.  Hence all the fuss about the new draft bill. Press coverage has been very excitable, especially as the NI Secretary confirmed in Parliament before it was published that the new law will “breach international law in a specific and limited way”.  As many are saying, that is not usually a defence (“sorry officer, but I only [insert criminal offence of choice here] in a specific and limited way”).  You can read the Hansard extracts here.

The Internal Markets Bill was published yesterday.  If you want to read it, it is here, which is where you will also find all the amendments etc. as it goes through.

The Institute for Government have a short blog here:

  • The bill would give ministers powers to make regulations about state aid and customs procedures for trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and would allow ministers to make regulations inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • The existence of those powers is a breach of Article 4 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which provides that the UK must use primary legislation to give full effect to the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law.
  • However, unless the powers were actually used, the UK would not be in breach of the state aid and customs provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol.

So that answers that question.

And also:

  • Perhaps more extraordinary than the bill’s provisions on international law are those on domestic law. Under s45(4)(g) of the bill, regulations made by the minister on state aid or customs declarations would have legal effect notwithstanding their incompatibility with “any rule of international or domestic law whatsoever”.
  • This appears to be an attempt to oust the jurisdiction of the courts to review the legality of ministerial decisions under these powers at all.
  • Such clauses are rare, and they rarely work. The courts have repeatedly found ways of reviewing government decisions even where similar clauses have tried to keep them out of the picture.
  • That is because the judges consider them an affront both to the rule of law and to parliamentary sovereignty. “It is a necessary corollary of the sovereignty of Parliament,” the Supreme Court said in a case on this issue last year, “that there should exist an authoritative and independent body which can interpret and mediate legislation made by Parliament.”
  • Section 45 of this bill will make uncomfortable reading for anyone who believes in the principle that governments are subject to the law, at home and abroad. It requires careful scrutiny in parliament.

The other concerns are about timing.  We can look forward to the arguments being aired in full over the next two weeks.

So what is the issue?

From the BBC:

  • The UK and EU settled on the Northern Ireland Protocol. This would see Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU customs rules after the transition period – meaning customs declarations would be needed for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, as well as some new checks on goods going from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.
  • It was unpopular with some sections of the Tory backbenches and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which had been supporting the government until that point. But the agreement was passed through Parliament and the Northern Ireland Protocol became part of the international treaty.

You will remember all this, because the PM said there would be no checks, and then the government said well actually there would, etc…..

From the BBC again:

  • Downing Street said one thing it would do is allow ministers to unilaterally decide what particular goods were “at risk” of entering the EU when passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and therefore subject to EU tariffs.
  • The law would also give ministers the powers to scrap export declarations on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and would make it clear that EU state aid requirements – where governments give financial support to homegrown businesses – would only apply in Northern Ireland.
  • But the government insists the bill only introduces “limited and reasonable steps” to “remove ambiguity” – not “overriding” the withdrawal agreement, as government sources had suggested on Sunday.

We will see.  Maybe they are just making sure that there is time for proper Parliamentary scrutiny this time, by publishing something technical in good time rather than waiting for October when the deal is finalised and there is no time to discuss it properly.  Or maybe it is sabre rattling.  And why might they need to sabre-rattle?  Because, apart from the NI border issue, there are also a couple of (unsurprising) issues outstanding in the main trade deal negotiations with the EU.

One is fishing rights, which was always going to be tricky.  You will recall that at one point it nearly derailed the discussions last year when France and Spain demanded extra concessions at the last minute.  There is an Institute for Government article from March and a  Guardian article (from June).

And the other issue is state aid – the rules about supporting domestic businesses, which are seen as anti-competitive.  There is an FT article on that.

We can expect a lot more rhetoric, bitterness, and positioning over the next few weeks.  It is clear that the deal won’t be done until it is done, and also that all the other bits, like research collaboration and participation in Erasmus, are dependent on there being a deal at all.  So we’ll just have to wait and see.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 16th July 2020

This week we have more from the Universities Minister as the post-Covid policy direction becomes clearer, as well as that speech from the Secretary of State abandoning (again) the 50% target for HE participation , some Committee views on the impact of the virus and what to do about it, and in case you have forgotten about Brexit and the new points-based immigration system, we had more detail this week.  There is the NSS  and some other survey news too.  Brace yourself – it’s another bumper edition.

The Universities Minster speaks

A two-for-one offer this week.  Below we will talk about Gavin Williamson’s speech on FE (and related attack on HE).  But before we get to that, we want to share Michelle Donelan’s latest on 15th July when she was questioned by the Education Select Committee.

As we write this the transcript of the session isn’t available, but there is plenty of media coverage.

You should read the Research Professional article in full, but in case you don’t have time we offer some highlights:

  • Donelan was answering a question from Conservative committee member Caroline Johnson, who wanted to know which groups of young people were least likely to go to university, why that might be and what was being done to encourage them.
  • “First of all I want to say that we don’t necessarily want everyone to go to university—that was very much the essence of the secretary of state’s speech last week,” she said [see below for our summary of that]
  • …Whether you are advantaged or disadvantaged, higher education is not necessarily the best route to get to where you want to go in life,” Donelan said. “I really think we need to move away from this focus of how many students get to university because it is such a blunt instrument that isn’t actually very accurate in terms of social mobility,” she added. “If a student gets to university and drops out after year one and has a year’s debt, what does that achieve for their social mobility? Nothing. In fact, it sets them back in life. “It is about them completing high-quality, academically rigorous courses that then lead to graduate jobs—and that is the important measure we should be looking at.”
  • Johnson did not miss the fact that the universities minister had not really addressed her question, so she went back in for a second go. “The question was: Which groups are currently least likely to go to university and is there much talk about helping those groups…to consider it as a career [choice]?” she said.
  • Donelan trotted out the well-worn line about “record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university” (missing out the word “young”, which is crucial here given the decimation of the mature student body) but acknowledged that there were “still challenges within different sections of society, including white working-class students”. “But I actually don’t think it is a good measure to look at,” the minister continued. “It is the wrong question, if you don’t mind me saying, because it doesn’t matter about looking at which groups don’t get to university. It is about making sure that those groups that do go complete, that [their course will] lead to graduate jobs, but also looking at what is in that student’s best interests.”
  • …Donelan’s declaration that this “doesn’t matter” will be confusing for the great many people who work in widening participation. Johnson seemed taken aback, too. “Does that mean no university will be required to have a target of any particular demographic of student?” she asked.
  • Donelan’s response that universities were “individually accountable” for their access and participation plans, and that there were “different issues in terms of demographics” for different universities, will not do much to address that confusion. Nor will her repeated message that “access and participation is not just about getting the student in; it is about making sure they can complete their course” and then go on to get a graduate job.
  • “We need the sector to actually look at their offer…and their messages to prospective students, because they do tend to promote courses too much that don’t offer those graduate outcomes,” the minister concluded.

Jim Dickinson has also done a summary for Wonkhe and we pick out some different points although of course he includes the access and participation stuff too:

  • Remember all that stuff about bite-size, modular learning in Augar? It sounds like that will make it into the response in the Autumn. Donelan said: “Some of the work I’m doing at the moment is looking at potential for modular learning and how we can expand the part time offer as part of our response to Augar, which we will be responding to in line with the spending review.” Whether that Augar response will tackle the widespread disbelief this time last year that the SLC would be able to handle the complexity of loans for tuition and maintenance at module level remains to be seen.
  • That “other half” of the bailout – the “restructuring regime” yin to the research funding yang, if you will, is coming. And we got a preview of the length and thickness of the strings that will be attached here: “So I can’t obviously pre-empt a report that’s going to come out. But what I can say is the driving force behind all of my work and all of the department’s work in HE is to prioritize quality provision that is fit for purpose and that unlocks opportunities for individuals that are making, at the end of the day, a massive investment in their future and one that they do want to see pay off in some form or another. I think too long we’ve let far too many students down by pushing and promoting courses that don’t have that value, don’t lead to those graduate outcomes and jobs. But at the same time, get them into tens of thousands of debt, which I just don’t think is good enough.”  Any funding from DfE would surely have to come through OfS, which was already busy with a funding review and a look at its minimum thresholds for quality. 
  • Lots of people have been concerned about student hardship during the pandemic, and so were the committee. Here the minister stretched credibility beyond all usual limits in her framing of the ability to spend some student premium in a slightly different way – an issue we’ve picked Donelan up beforeon the site: “Students have been affected by the pandemic in terms of finances, that’s undeniable. So most institutions have their own hardship funds and assistance already. And then they receive money every month for access and participation, which we worked with the Office for Students to remove the restrictions around so that they could unlock twenty three million pounds per month for April, May, June and July.  So 23 million pounds each, which is a considerable amount of money that they were able to then access to top up their hardship funds. And we promoted the use of that for things like accommodation, technology costs, system connectivity costs, all of these things. And that’s had a really fantastic impact in terms of trying to direct that support. I think it was right that we channelled that through universities who had these relationships and could identify those students most in need.”  We’re very much looking forward to seeing the evidence for the claim for the “a really fantastic impact” line, which surely must be coming given how much we all like to focus on “what works” and “outcomes” these days.

Levelling up and higher technical education

On Thursday last week Gavin Williamson gave a speech with the Social Market Foundation and then on Tuesday this week, a press release with more of the detail.

The speech set out the Government’s intentions to refocus FE, raising its profile and establishing the higher technical route as a genuine alternative to a degree. The announcement was well trailed in advance as the sector anticipated that the government would abandon Tony Blair’s target for 50% attending university (of course this wasn’t actually the target and it had already been dropped – Blair’s target was not about universities and l technical education for people under 30, as explained by former Minister Chris Skidmore here ). Given we have had several weeks (months?) of anti-HE rhetoric we had an impending sense of doom as we waited for Williamson’s speech. However, while there are the usual digs, it focussed enough on FE to be balanced.  And there is an opportunity for universities. For years the Government has urged HE institutions to work with their local schools and FE provision and received a lukewarm response, and universities will be able to access the higher technical qualification funding in collaboration with FE providers.

There was lots of interesting content in the speech, browse through the below, summarised in places to shorten it:

  • There is so much right with our education system but when it comes to further education, too many people here don’t value it as much as they should.
  • It exasperates me that there is still an inbuilt snobbishness about higher being somehow better than further, when really, they are both just different paths to fulfilling and skilled employment. Especially when the evidence demonstrates that further education can open the doors to greater opportunity, better prospects and transform lives. We must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job.

The Minister mentioned the following sources of financial support mentioned in the budget last week (read more in our update from last week).

  • When I first came into this job, I was firmly of the belief that there needed to be a major shift in how we treat further education. Not just because of its importance in levelling up. But because further education is vital if we want our country to grow economically and our productivity to improve. We need fundamental change, not just tinkering around the edges.
  • …Further education is central to our mission of levelling up the nation. Or quite simply, giving people the skills that they need to get the jobs that they want. If you want to transform many of our left-behind towns and regions, you don’t do it by investing more money solely in universities. You invest in the local college – the beating hearts of so many of our towns.
  • But unfortunately, we’ve not been providing as many of our young people with this opportunity as we should….Since becoming Education Secretary, I was shocked to discover that while the number of people going to university has increased, the total number of adults in education has actually fallen.
  • So what’s driven that fall?… There has been a systemic decline in higher technical qualifications… Within Higher Education Institutes, foundation degrees have declined from a high of 81,000, to approximately 30,000. Undergraduate part-time study in higher education has also fallen significantly, from nearly 250,000 in 2010 to under 100,000. Together, these more than outweigh the increase in young people going to university. And for those who haven’t achieved the equivalent of A-Levels by age 18, the chances of proceeding to higher levels of qualifications is, as Philip Augar’s report puts it, ‘virtually non-existent.’… Only 10% of all adults aged 18-65 hold a Higher Technical Qualification as their highest qualification. This compares to around 20% of adults in Germany and as much as 34% in Canada…We’re writing off people who have a tremendous potential to contribute to our society.
  • For decades, we have failed to give further education the investment it deserves. Of course, we know universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture. But it’s clear that there are limits to what can be achieved by sending ever more people to university, which is not always what the individual or our nation needs. 
  • In February I got sent a copy of the Oxford Review of Education’s special edition, about Higher Education and the labour market…Consistently across countries, there is evidence of filtering down in the labour market. That means that graduates are competing for jobs that used to be – and could still be – done by non-graduates. And a significant proportion of graduates fail to gain much advantage from going to university at all…It reinforces what we already know…that 34% of our graduates are in non-graduate jobs, more than any other countries in Europe except for Ireland and the Czech Republic. And employers say that too often, graduates don’t have the skills they need, whether that’s practical know-how or basic numeracy and literacy. [Here you may wish to read Wonkhe’s alternative take on the 34% underemployed.]
  • ….Skilled trade and professional occupations, in sectors such as manufacturing and construction, report some of the highest skills shortages. Many of these occupations require intermediate or higher technical qualifications – precisely the things that we are not teaching. Simply as a nation we seem to have given up on them when these are the skills we need most to have a chance of competing against other nations.
  • And let’s not pretend these qualifications are in any way inferior to a degree. The outcomes speak for themselves. Five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. I’d like to pause on that point just for a moment. A work-based, technical apprenticeship, lasting around 2 years, gives greater returns than the typical three year bachelor’s degree. For too long, we’ve been training people for jobs that don’t exist. We need to train them for the jobs that do exist and will exist in the future. We have to end the focus on qualifications for qualifications sake. We need fundamental reform: a wholesale rebalancing towards further and technical education. And across our entire post-16 sector, we need a much stronger alignment with the economic and societal needs of the nation.
  • My personal commitment is to put further and technical education at the heart of our post-16 education system. Like the Prime Minister, I believe that talent and genius are expressed as much by the hand and by the eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay.
  • We need to create and support opportunities for those who don’t want to go to university, not write them off – or drive them down a path that, can all too often, end with graduates not having the skills they need to find meaningful work.

The Minister states these reforms as successes (!):

  • Apprenticeship level and move to employer-led standards
  • Introduction of T levels
  • But, we need to go further, we need to go further and we need to go faster: to remove qualifications that are just not fit for purpose; to tackle low quality higher education; and to give colleges the powers and resources that they need to truly drive change.

Germany…

  • This autumn I will be publishing a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities. This will not be about incremental change, but a comprehensive plan to change the fundamentals of England’s further education landscape, inspired by the best models from around the world.
  • It will be centred upon two things. Firstly, high quality qualifications based on employer-led standards. All apprenticeships starts will be based on those standards from August this year and we will be looking to place such standards at the heart of our whole technical education system. Secondly, colleges playing a leading role in developing skills in their areas, driving an ambitious agenda that responds to local economic need and acting as centres for businesses and their development.

The Minister pledged to review the 12,000 level 3 qualifications simplifying the system into a consistently high-quality set of choices with a clear line of sight to study at higher levels.

  • …following our consultation last year we will be bringing forward plans to reverse the decline in higher technical education so that we can begin once more to train people for the jobs that the economy actually needs…And we want to do much more to open up more flexible ways of studying, including better support for modular learning.
  • Reforming and growing higher technical education will be a long-term endeavour. We want to see our great further education colleges expanding their higher technical provision. And although this speech is about further education, universities can be an important part of the solution, if they are willing to significantly step up their provision of higher technical qualifications.
  • Of course, qualifications are only half of the picture. Equally important is where they are taught…how our colleges should look in the future…They should be led by great leaders and governors who are drawn from local communities and businesses, and teaching staff who have already have experience working in and with industry…They should have industry-grade equipment and modern buildings which are great places to learn in and which act as centres for business development and innovation…They should deliver courses that are of the highest quality and which are tailored to the needs of employers and their local economies…They should work with small, local businesses to support the introduction of new technology and processes, and offer training in emerging skills….And there should be a robust system of governance so that every college is financially secure, flexible and dynamic. [That’ll keep the Government/ESFA busy then!]
  • We are also driving forward our network of Institutes of Technology. They will lead the way on delivering higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths – skills that will give this country a competitive edge not just in the industries of today, but, just as importantly, those of tomorrow. The first 12 are being rolled out across the country, ready to deliver the next generation of technicians and engineers, and more will follow soon. [Later this year the government plans to launch a competition to ensure that all of England is covered by an Institute of Technology.]

I think a lot of thought went into Williamson’s speech as he even attempts to change the rhetoric:

  • Some people say that further education and apprenticeships are for other people’s children. Let me be clear: I don’t. I’d be delighted if my children went to college or did an apprenticeship.
  • …No longer can we persist in the view that university is the silver bullet for everyone and everything. The revolution and need for change is long overdue. Education’s purpose is to unlock an individual’s potential so they can get the job and career that they crave. If it fails to do that then education itself has let them down. Today I have laid down a marker for change. A commitment to stand for the forgotten 50%. [You may recall that it was Ed Miliband who first coined the ‘forgotten 50%’ phrase in this context.]

Responses

The Guardian have an article from Berlin Bureau Chief – Philip Oltermann –  Importing Germany’s dual education system is easier said than done stating the German set up is fundamentally different to the UK (for a start it’s a federal nation, and a lot bigger) but also because it has the same ‘issue’ with HE being a preferred option. The Guardian states:

  • it involves complex coordination between the different actors, which the UK would at present struggle to reproduce, but also because it is threatened by the same cultural factors that have made universities so popular in the UK.  
  • ..the German dual system requires a high level of complex coordination between the employers who pay the trainee’s wages, the federal states that fund vocational training schools tailored to the needs of local industry, the unions that feed into the curriculum, and the chambers of trade and industry that carry out the exams at the end.
  • Previous British attempts to build up German-style dual systems – New Labour’s “14-19 Diplomas” and David Cameron’s ambitious apprenticeship targets – struggled to build up the educational infrastructure required to go with it.
  • Most British unions don’t have the capacity to feed expertise into training programmes… there isn’t an equivalent tradition of employers’ umbrella organisations developing training programmes for their entire sector.
  • In addition, not just Britain but Germany too is experiencing a gravitational pull that draws more and more young people towards universities rather than apprenticeships.

And the key point is this –

  • One reason for the trend, labour market experts speculate, is that academic degrees promise more flexibility, which is one of the downsides of the dual system.
  • While Germany’s dual training programmes produce highly specialised workers that can be perfectly matched to a sector’s current needs, they can struggle when digitalisation or globalisation throws that sector into crisis, as German printers, tailors or photo laboratory technicians have discovered in recent years.

Williamson’s speech is all about training young people to fit within specific fields of work, particularly addressing skills gaps – but those gaps will close and educational programmes take longer to respond. Flexibility really is the key here as people expect to need to change professions 5-7 times during their working span (Careers advice online, Financial Times, although this source takes issue with the ‘job hopping millennial’).

Before the Minister made his speech ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote for Conservative Home agreeing with Williamson’s speech but also using his piece to remind about:

  • Step-on, step off, credit based learning, that allows for a personalised education for the 100 per cent, not one that seeks to divide between two systems.
  • we should not turn the clock back – but equally let’s make sure we give everyone, regardless of background, an equal chance to learn. More part-time, flexible learning for adults of every age can help achieve this.
  • My greatest objection to the 50 per cent headline grabbing figure is that it masks some of the truly horrifying, persistent divisions in our country. Still just nine per cent of white boys on free school meals living in the North East access higher education; only six per cent of pupils who have been in care will do so. These divisions are even more acute when the type of university institution is taken into account. In 2018, 17 per cent of students who were eligible for free school meals entered higher education in the UK. Yet only 2.7 per cent of them enrolled at high-tariff providers.
  • It is not acceptable for money to be handed over to institutions without delivering the necessary qualification. So called ‘non-completions’ are an unacceptable waste of talent and resource – which is why we need to create a learning system that prevents young people from dropping through the net.

In what will likely be an interesting summer for policy twists e should not dismiss Skidmore’s remarks simply because he is a backbencher. Currently Donelan is overshadowed by her two predecessors and their recent frequent media pieces…’ as if they are trying to influence from the side lines as they scent the change on the wind.

On the speech Wonkhe say: There are also serious doubts about the government’s capability and capacity to deliver meaningful reform in this area. It seems perennially confused about what it wants from higher education… And the fact that ministers can’t seem to support further education without attacking universities has left many on both sides of the old tertiary divide scratching their heads.

Wonkhe also sum up some of the media and sector responses for us: Greg Walker, CEO of MillionPlus said that some of the rhetoric in the speech missed the mark “as it appears to see HE and FE as alternatives, which they are clearly not”. University Alliance CEO Vanessa Wilson added that it was wrong to suggest that higher education “rarely offers technical qualifications and training”. The speech is covered by the BBC, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independenti News, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Mail. The Spectator also runs an opinion piece from the Social Market Foundation’s Director, James Kirkup, on the “genuinely important” speech, while the Guardian’s Education editor muses on what might come of Williamson’s education “revolution”.

Writing before the speech was released Research Professional made some good points:

  • How the government will actually stop school leavers choosing “popular-sounding courses”, as Donelan put it, remains to be seen.
  • Scarcity of places and repurposing the course offer of universities that get into financial trouble are two tools available, but they are unlikely to have much impact in the short and medium term while the demographic of 18-year-olds in England is at its lowest for several decades and supply outstrips demand.
  • It would seem that not even the coronavirus can dim the desire of young people to go to university, or of their parents to see them there. So what makes the government think it can do what Covid-19 cannot?
  • Even after the government has trebled tuition fees, cut grants and created a market of alternative providers, young people still want to go to university in numbers that continue to grow. The expansion of university participation is driven by the desires of students and their parents, not by irresponsible vice-chancellors looking to put bums on seats, as a former universities minister once put it.
  • …Williamson may rail today against a previous emphasis on increased entry to university, while on the other hand this government might end up making good on New Labour’s 50 per cent participation pledge. That target … was always supposed to include students experiencing higher education on HND and HNC courses. An investment in further education, with a push on lower-level qualifications, might just result in the Conservatives finally realising the ambition of Tony Blair’s government.
  • A canny education secretary who wanted to get things done would incentivise higher education in a further education setting and enable partnerships between universities and local colleges. An education secretary hidebound by ideology will seek to erect obstacles to university attendance, which will prove to be ineffective and counterproductive in the long run.
  • How Williamson chooses to pivot in his speech today will tell us a lot about what the legacy of this government will be for universities. Will it be five years of lobbying against restrictive measures or will it be a period of contributing to national recovery through joined-up thinking across the education system?

Post-speech Research Professional focus on the poor state of the FE sector and suggest that the Government’s reforms are the reason for the numbers decline within the mature population.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of The Sutton Trust, said:

  • Further educationandapprenticeshipshave a crucial role to play in widening opportunity … We would also like to see many more degree and degree-levelapprenticeshipsavailable to young people. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to earn while they learn, graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants. 

Tim Thomas, Make UK Director of Labour Market and Skills Policy said:

  • This is a welcome move to parity between academic and vocational education. For too long vocational education has been seen as the second class option for those who don’t make it to university. An employer-led vocational training system is the only way that we will meet the skills needs of the future and properly train the next generation with the future skills needed by business.
  • High quality engineering apprenticeships can offer better careers than university education and are often seen by employers as a better source of talent and supplying the right skills required by business. We look forward to working with government on their white paper and producing the fundamental changes need to our vocational trading system needed to make these objectives a reality for employers and learners alike.

So what does it all mean?

On Tuesday Gavin Williamson announced the detail of the plans.

Higher technical quals consist of HNCs (Higher National Certificates, level 4) and HND (Higher National Diplomas, level 5) effectively plugging the levels between A level (level 3) and Degree (level 6). Unlike A levels and degrees they usually have a technical focus and the Minister intends for them to focus on the skilled professions particular where the UK needs additional manpower to service industry gaps. The Government intend to:

  • Introduce new higher technical qualifications from as early as September 2022 [digital quals in Sept 2022, health science and construction in 2023] with a Government branded quality mark certifying the qualification as delivering the skills employers need (and using the same occupational standards as T levels and apprenticeships will sit within).
  • Work with Ofsted and the OfS to ensure the course quality is consistently high across HE and FE providers and building on the Institutes of Technology. Wonkhe speculate that the regulatory role will sit with the OfS as the original consultation highlighted an assurance role for the Office for Students that focused more on inputs than outputs – we’re expecting to see a move away from that level of active intervention to a reliance on existing OfS registration requirements in the full announcement.
  • Raise public awareness through a national campaign supported by employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of opportunities that studying a higher technical qualification can open up and making sure students get the right information, advice and guidance to make informed choices. Also: we will raise the profile and understanding of the best higher technical education courses through a government-backed brand, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice and guidance.

The written ministerial statement added some additional context.

The Government certainly means business with the speed they intend to introduce the new qualifications. Many complained that T levels are not ready, and they had a far longer lead time and are being introduced piecemeal. The higher technical qualifications will continue  the Government’s vocational and technical route after T levels, alongside the intended expansion of the Institutes of Technology.

It is expected that the new higher technical quals will focus on STEM and manufacturing at first. What haven’t been mentioned are degree apprenticeships nor topping up a HND to a full degree. It is somewhat conspicuous by its absence as this has always been the focus of previous Government efforts. However, given the current rhetoric about degrees and criticism of the cost of the degree apprenticeships, the absence isn’t surprising. Yet it does create a hole between the Government’s ideal for more applied research to take place in situ within businesses and industry, including PhDs, which need that top up to the full degree and the advanced research skills often learnt on the level 6 top up.

The biggest question is what fee regime the higher technical qualifications will be subject to.

Finally the Government’s press release states the measure announced today will complement the Government’s review of post-18 education to ensure the system is joined up, accessible and encourages the development of the skills the country needs. The Government did review the higher technical level 4 & 5 space last year (it bumbled along quietly against the tertiary education and funding review). The Augar review was Theresa May’s baby and the Government has delayed its response and forthcoming changes for an embarrassingly long while. The Government may also think the lure of the technical route will result in a drop in degree applications – that remains to be seen, particularly given points made earlier about young people wanting flexibility over career choices rather than being channelled into a particular skill set and there is the forthcoming young population boom to accommodate.

Wonkhe have an interactive chart showing where the existing higher technical courses are offered. It describes approximately 1,000 courses currently exist with FE colleges delivering slightly more than HE institutions. Sadly it doesn’t geographically map where these courses are to show national coverage or patchiness, although you can browse through the provider names to get a feel for the national distribution.

There was a parliamentary question on difficulty for young people travelling to their T level placements from rural areas. The Government responds on increased funding to sources that could support the individual.

Finally, Mary Curnock Cook (ex UCAS CEO) blogs for HEPI stating that the technical curriculum needs to be on offer at secondary level too. Excerpt:

  • while I support the government’s aims to overhaul tertiary education options I fear their current approach will further divide society, lethally levelling up the already privileged middle-classes while sorting off the less well off, lower-attaining rest into what will forever seem like poorer options in lesser occupations. If levelling up is the aim, then we need to create broader and meaningful technical and skills pathways for all students, not just for those that do less well at academic GCSEs.

Admissions – use of calculated grades

Much of this week’s education-related parliamentary chatter has been about the use of predicted grades to determine GCSE and A level results. It is slightly surprising it has taken until now – given one of the main reasons for considering an alternative to HE admissions are concerns over the inaccuracy of predicted grades, particularly that disadvantaged students may be underpredicted (reducing their chances of reaching a higher tariff provider), BAME bias may result in underprediction, and SEN children can perform higher than expected in final exams (and mocks may not have incorporated the adjustments they would expect in the finals).

The Education Committee’s latest report Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades addresses the issue. 

  • We consider exams to be the fairest form of assessment, and any alternative will inevitably be an imperfect replacement. Ofqual has stepped up to the immense challenge of devising these exceptional arrangements,
  • We have concerns that the system described by Ofqual as the “fairest possible in the circumstances” could be unfair for groups including disadvantaged pupils, BAME pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND.
  • …We believe it is reasonable to remain aware that the potential for human bias in predicted grades may be replicated in the calculated grade system. We note that teachers and support staff themselves appear sceptical of the fairness of this year’s system of awarding grades
  • We are unconvinced that safeguards—such as additional guidance and practical recommendations—put in place by Ofqual will be sufficient to protect against bias and inaccuracy in calculated grades. In particular, given research evidence on unconscious bias, we are concerned that groups including pupils from low-income families, BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, and children looked after could be disadvantaged by calculated grades.
  • We raised our concerns about fairness for pupils with special educational needs to Ofqual, emphasising the importance of ensuring SEND specialists feed into calculated grades. We are pleased that Ofqual produced guidance on considering evidence from SEND specialists during the calculated grade process. We are concerned, however, that there was no accountability mechanism for ensuring this happened consistently
  • Given the potential risks of bias in calculated grades, it is clear that standardisation will be a crucial part of ensuring fairness. We are extremely concerned that Ofqual’s standardisation model does not appear to include any mechanism to identify whether groups such as BAME pupils, FSM eligible pupils, children looked after, and pupils with SEND have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups…have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards.

On appeals the report says:

  • We took evidence on the system Ofqual has devised for appealing grades. Sally Collier assured us that Ofqual has “spent many hours with very many people trying to come up with the fairest possible appeal system in the circumstances”. Tom Bewick told us that given the circumstances, the 2020 system “is effectively the least worst option”.
  • We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint about their grades. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination. Such a system also favours more affluent pupils and families with resources and knowledge of the system.

Recommendations:

  • We call on Ofqual to make a transparency guarantee—a commitment to publishing details of its standardisation model immediately to allow time for scrutiny. Ofqual should not be afraid of scrutiny or open debate over whether its model offers the fairest outcome for every pupil and provider
  • Ofqual must identify whether there is evidence that groups such as BAME pupils, pupils with SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligible pupils have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades. If this is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of the pupils affected upwards. The Government must extend catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils to ensure this is not a lost generation. This should be done by doubling the disadvantage element in the 16–19 funding formula for pupils in Year 12, for at least the next year.
  • Ofqual’s evaluation must include comprehensive data on attainment, by characteristics including gender, ethnicity, SEND, children looked after, and FSM eligibility, providing full transparency on whether there are statistically significant differences between attainment this year compared with previous years.
  • It is right that pupils should be able to appeal their grade if they believe bias or discrimination has occurred, but Ofqual has not given enough thought on how to make this route accessible to all pupils. [The section within the report on appeals states The appeals process: a process for the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed?] …Without support, proving bias or discrimination would be an almost impossible threshold for any pupil to evidence. Disadvantaged pupils, and those without family resources or wider support, risk being shut out of this route. Ofqual must urgently publish the evidence thresholds for proving bias and discrimination, clearly setting out what evidence will be required. AND Ofqual must collect and publish anonymised data at the conclusion of the appeals process on where it received appeals from, including, as a minimum, type of school attended, region, gender, ethnicity, SEND status, children looked after (including children supported by virtual schools), and FSM eligibility
  • Ofqual must ensure gold-standard advice and support is easily accessible for all pupils unhappy with their grades. Both the helplines provided by Ofqual and the National Careers Service must be freephone lines. These must both be staffed by dedicated professionals with the training to provide sound and impartial step-by-step advice and support on options and appeals.

Paragraphs 30 onwards tackles calculated grades for vocational and technical qualifications.

A HEPI blog, Halfon is right: Ofqual has more to do, agrees with the Education Committee’s outcomes and urges for action to be taken. It make interesting points about the autumn exams too:

  • In the understandable rush to introduce a completely new system, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on 20 March, it probably seemed reasonable at first to invent a system in which dissatisfaction could be tackled by an opportunity to take an autumn examination. Over time this choice has unravelled. If initial results match the allowed national distribution and autumn exam candidates succeed in achieving higher grades, then grade inflation is bound to follow – unless other candidates are downgraded, which is unthinkable. Are autumn exam candidates being set up to fail? Or will the August results be scaled down to allow some headroom in the national distribution?
  • Furthermore, students sitting autumn exams face a compulsory gap year, because the exams will be too late for a 2020-2021 start. This in itself may be discriminatory, especially for disadvantaged students. The impact of autumn-awarded grades on admission prospects for 2021 is uncertain. Some universities are refusing deferred entry for 2021, others will honour offers but with added conditions. The competition for 2021 entry is likely to be much more intense as 2020 students reapply, a larger 2021 cohort apply for the first time, and international students from 2020 and 2021 return in much larger numbers.

Admissions – numbers up

UCAS announced a rise in application numbers last week – up 1.6% on last year and is the highest figure in four years. They state a record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied to HE (last year – 38.9%) despite there being 1.5% fewer in the population because of the birth dip. (And 2020 is the bottom point in the population dip.) Just over a quarter of young applicants were from disadvantaged backgrounds (25.4%) using the participation measure. There is a small drop in EU student applications (down 2%).  And UCAS highlight that nursing applications (between January and June only) was 63% higher than the same period last year. Universities will be keen to ensure these applicants convert into enrolments once the results are out.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: At this moment, we’re seeing an encouraging picture emerge out of national lockdown, with currently more applicants than last year keen to expand their mind, stretch themselves, and seize the opportunities that higher education can offer.

Research Professional comment: This is great news for universities because it suggests that in the teeth of a fierce recession and with the prospect of gap-year travel off the table, even the model of blended learning on offer in institutions next year is proving to be more appealing to young people than continuing to be locked down with mum and dad.

Nursing

Every week the Government receive several parliamentary questions urging for leniency on nursing tuition fees both to cut tuition moving forward and refunds as a response to the coronavirus support work they undertook in hospitals. The House of Commons Library have published a briefing paper exploring the current funding systems for healthcare students, plus medicine, dentistry and paramedics. The nursing section includes the recent impacts on applications to study and the September 2020 new bursary offers. The Government also issued a press release to celebrate that applications to nursing courses are up by 16% (at end of June) and that the NHS is currently employing a record number of nurses and midwives (the largest ever annual increase):

  • Around 18,370 more nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s permanent register to work in the UK compared to a year ago, bringing the total number to 716,607 by 31 March 2020. The number of people trained in the UK leaving the register has also fallen to a five-year low.

 On Studying nursing the press release states:

  • This is the second year in a row that applicant numbers have risen. In 2019 there was a 6.4% increase in people accepted onto nursing and midwifery courses in England compared to 2018.

However, the Royal College of Nursing responded to the increase in nursing applications stating a much larger increase is required if the government is to come anywhere close to its commitment of having 50,000 more nurses in the NHS in England by the end of this Parliament.

Mike Adams, RCN Director for England said:

  • “Application numbers for the nursing degree in England have reduced by 17.4% since 2016, the final year of the bursary. This means even if the all of the latest applications are turned into acceptances and ultimately registered nurses, the large workforce gap will still not close.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the contribution that nurses, and in particular student nurses, make to the entire health and care system. The effort they have shown has to be met with investment in our future nurses.
  • The government must invest properly in our domestic nursing supply and ensure patient need is met in the long term. To achieve this, it must wipe the debt of those who’ve had to take this on to study, provide full tuition fee support for all students and ensure maintenance support reflects students’ actual living costs.
  • The government should aim for an oversupply of nurses to strengthen our profession and keep patients safe.

Tuition fee refunds

Remember that mass petition for tuition fee refunds that was reopened by the Petitions Committee in Parliament? The Committee heard oral evidence and engaged 28,000 students through a survey and online forum (wider inquiry details here). The Committee has reported (key findings here) concluding that there should not be a universal reimbursement but that individuals can claim refunds on an individual basis in certain circumstances. The Committee stated:

  • While students do have a right to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course if the service provided by their university is substandard, we do not believe that there should be a universal refund or reimbursement of tuition fees to all university students.

However, as the Guardian reports, Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP who chairs the petitions committee, said:

  • “Despite the hard work of lecturers and support staff, some universities have been unable to provide courses in a way that students feel is good value for money. Therefore, while we do not consider that a blanket refund for all students is necessarily required, we believe that the government has a role in ensuring any student whose university experience has fallen short is compensated.”
  • The report calls for refund procedures to be streamlined and better publicised, saying the existing complaints process or use of the courts places too much of a burden on individual students and are likely to be overwhelmed by a flood of cases.
  • The MPs also said the government should pay for tuition fee refunds this year, “given the importance of the higher education sector to the UK economy, and the exceptional circumstances”.

Wonkhe have a blog it starts: Should students get a refund? Some should, says a committee – but they won’t. The House of Commons petitions committee is clueless on consumer law and student rights.

The Petitions Committee report recommends that the Government should:

  • work with universities, the Office for Students, and Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to produce guidance on when current and future university students may be entitled to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course;
  • establish a new system which enables all students to easily seek a full or partial refund of their tuition fees, or to repeat part of their course;
  • ensure that all students are advised of their consumer rights and are given clear guidance on how to avail themselves of these if they feel their university has failed to provide an adequate standard of education;
  • consider providing additional funding to universities to enable them to pay any refunds university students are entitled to as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak;
  • consider alternative means for reimbursing students, where an independent process has found that they are entitled to a refund;
  • consider making additional funding available to students who might want to extend their education after the outbreak, and to provide ongoing employment advice and support beyond graduation in what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.

NUS responded to the Committee’s recommendations:

  • NUS has been calling for the Government to provide a Student Safety Net since the scale of the impact on students became clear. The Petitions Committee’s recommendations would go a long way in achieving this aim, with targeted fee reimbursements and debt write-offs. We also welcome the references to support for further study or to redo elements of the course.
  • Although the report highlights some of our key asks for education leavers, the recent Treasury announcements for graduates do not go far enough and we would like to see an extended economic support package put in place.
  • Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated the cracks in a broken higher education system, and hit students from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities the hardest. It is critical that the Government acts on these suggestions, but they must also go further. We are calling for universal compensation, and for the Government to protect our education sector from the failed project of marketisation before they lose the faith of millions of students.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has been on the ball throughout this process and in light of this week’s announcement they have blogged for Wonkhe:

  • We think it’s reasonable to expect providers to try to agree any significant changes with students as this is in everyone’s best interests. Where this is not possible, it’s important to explain to students what their options are. From our perspective, we would not be prescriptive about what this looks like in practice but we would look at whether the provider has taken reasonable steps to consult with students and enable them to make informed decisions.
  • Now that providers have had some time to plan for the longer-term effects of the pandemic, it is in our view unlikely to be reasonable for providers to rely on exclusion clauses that allow the provider to make significant changes to what it has promised, or not to deliver it at all, in the new year.
  • Where it’s not possible to deliver something that is at least broadly equivalent to what was promised, or to meet an individual students’ needs, the provider will need to think about how to put that right. It’s best to do this proactively without waiting for formal complaints to be raised.
  • There are groups of students whose studies are particularly badly affected by Covid-19 disruption and where significant changes are needed to their courses. It’s important to identify those groups and try to address their issues.
  • Providers will also be aware of and looking out for students who are vulnerable or less able to access replacement provision. Some of these students too may feel unable to continue with their studies, for example because their personal circumstances have changed, or they are shielding or very anxious.
  • In such extraordinary times we think it’s reasonable for students to be considering deferring or interrupting their studies, although this may not be their best option. We think providers should be considering requests sympathetically, helping students to understand their options, and should be ready to depart from their normal policy where it is reasonable to do so.
  • We don’t think it’s reasonable to have blanket policies such as refusing to give tuition fee refunds in any circumstances or refusing all requests for deferral, or not engaging with individual students’ concerns. We have already seen a worrying example of this among the first coronavirus-related complaints that have reached us. 
  • When we review a student’s complaint we look at whether the provider has followed fair procedures, and whether it has acted reasonably in the circumstances. We always take into account relevant legislation and guidance… A student’s contractual terms and conditions are important but we look more widely than that, at what is fair.

Research Professional have a short article on the Petitions Committee decision mainly focusing on restitution for students such as a tuition fee loan refund.

International Students

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) published a roadmap for a world-class international student experience. It calls for further visa flexibility, delaying the immigration health surcharge, and aims to build a stronger evidence base of current international students’ experiences, to drive future policy development and support policy asks. UKCISA also hopes to develop an International Student Charter.

Research Professional report on a survey suggesting that a fifth of potential EU students who considered studying in the UK plan to start their course earlier than they originally intended because of the tuition fee changes (the removal of home status).

Pinsent Masons (legal firm) run through all the recent Visa status changes. The Tier 4 content is just below halfway on this link.

Scotland have confirmed they will also end the free tuition for EU students from 2021. HE Minister Richard Lochhead explained it as a Brexit decision made with a heavy heart. He stated the £19 million  (per year) EU fee saving would be retained within Scotland to support more Scottish residents to attend University. To support Scottish universities internationalisation he aims to put a scholarship programme in place to continue to attract EU talent.

Despite last week’s urging from ex-Universities Minister Jo Johnson and Shadow HE Minister Emma Hardy the Government’s response to the international students in the US (who will have their visa rescinded due to their institution offering online study only during the pandemic) will not take a proactive stance. Current Universities Minister Michelle Donelan simply reiterated all the ‘welcoming’ measures for international students that are already in place such as the online study visa exemption and the post study work visa system. No attractive marketing campaign will be launched. This isn’t surprising from the viewpoint of international relations with an America determined to take offence at slights, however, given how well the Government’s aides have been listening and responding to sector chatter recently a warmer response might have been anticipated.

The second half of this Research Professional article gives the perspective of a German student who is anticipating their visa will be cancelled. It reminds that there is more to it than an undergraduate student forced to choose between deferral or switching countries of study:

  • simply studying online at a US institution from Germany is not feasible for many who had plans to stay in the United States for an extended period of time and have made arrangements accordingly, including uprooting family. 
  • “Anyone who—sometimes accompanied by relatives—is completing or planning a stay of several years in the United States, and has temporarily given up his or her centre of life in Germany for this purpose, is faced with existential questions.”

Happily for those international students the point is now moot. Following immense pressure from the Harvard and MIT law suit (which was joined by the tech giants, e.g. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the US Chamber of Commerce) President Trump has dropped the visa cancellation.

Whether international students will be exempt from the mandatory C-19 quarantine period of 2 weeks.  Whereas this IDP Connect survey suggests 77% of international students would happily quarantine if it meant a quicker return to face to face on campus teaching.

Points-based Immigration System

A policy paper on the points-based immigration system was published this week with more detail on the Student, Graduate and Skilled Worker route. There are lots of items with a little more detail, however, the key points remain as we’ve mentioned in previous policy updates. For those with an interest you can read the main elements here. One key change is that universities will need to do more than just monitor attendance – they will need to confirm (keep records as evidence) that international students have fully engaged with the course. Research Professional have a short write up here.

Graduate Outcomes

HESA released the next set of Graduate Outcomes experimental statistics data, this time looking at graduates’ subjective wellbeing. They asked about how anxious/happy the respondent felt, whether they felt the things they do in their life are worthwhile, and whether they are satisfied with their life. The charts are here. The second set of charts examines the above questions by subject studied. Education and subjects allied to medicine stand out as happiest/most pleased with their life currently.

The third chart shows that there isn’t a lot of difference on the questions from students across the range of degree outcomes from pass to first. The fourth chart looks at gender differences – females stated more anxiety but also rate high on the worthwhileness of their life. You can also cut the data by domicile in the final chart.

Wonkhe’s data guru interprets the findings further in a specific blog.

Social Mobility Commission

Sandra Wallace (lawyer) and Steven Cooper (banking) have been appointed as interim chairs of the Social Mobility Commission on a job share basis. Both currently serve on the Commission and will fill the role temporarily until a substantive chair can be appointed. You can read more on the appointees background and the details of the appointments in the Government’s press release.

Bailout push

YouGov have undertaken a poll examining the 30 marginal constituencies (those which swing between parties at the election and aren’t a safe seat) which all have a (10%+) student population and a university within their catchment. The results of the poll aren’t publicly available (currently) so we rely on the reporting in the UCU press release for details. UCU report that voters in these constituencies support additional Government funding to protect their university from the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic. These constituencies MPs include PM Boris Johnson and Science Minister Amanda Solloway. The bottom of the press release contains a table detailing the constituencies and their elected MPs.

  • 76% felt their local university was important in creating local jobs
  • 79% felt the university was important to the local economy
  • 72% university is key in brining in outside investment to the local area
  • 75% the university supplies key skilled staff for local services such as schools and hospitals
  • 33% of those polled who were employed stated the university was important to their own job
  • 42% knew someone studying or working at the university
  • 66% believe there would be a negative impact on the local economy if student numbers dropped at their university due to C-19
  • 75% were concerned of a negative local impact if their university went bust
  • 55% supported a temporary increase in Government financial support for their university to maintain courses and jobs (20% opposed the idea). [Hardy overwhelming support for this question!]
  • 43% want their local MPs to campaign for increased support for universities

NSS Analysis

The OfS have issued a press release on the 2020 National Student Survey additional analysis which examined the impact of the coronavirus on the results. They state that student satisfaction is stable and students continue to be discontented with course organisation and communication of changes.

  • The additional analysis acknowledges variations across the data but no evidence the results have been significantly impacted by the pandemic: The OfS used a statistical model to determine whether there is a significant difference between responses made before and after the 11 March (an ’11 March effect’) when other factors are taken into account. The model found that there is a difference for the majority of questions, but similar variations are also present in 2018 and 2019, so cannot be attributed solely to the pandemic.
  • 83% of students are satisfied with their course (2019 was 84%)
  • 67% feel their course is well organised and run smoothly (2019 = 70%; 2018 = 69%)
  • 62% felt students’ course feedback had been acted on (but only 49% of part time students did)
  • 2020 response levels were lower than in 2019 and 2018
  • Overall comparing against 2019 there is a small negative shift in the agreement rate for some questions.

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Executive, said:

  • This academic year has come with unprecedented challenges for both universities and colleges, and their students. Notwithstanding the impact of both industrial action and the coronavirus pandemic on the students responding to the survey, the results remain remarkably positive.
  • However, for several years, students have reported comparatively lower satisfaction with the organisation and management of their courses, and how effectively changes are communicated. Now more than ever, the survey results demonstrate how important it is for universities to communicate changes effectively, run courses as smoothly as possible, and listen carefully to student feedback. This is even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic …

 Student Number Controls

This week Jo Johnson writes for the Evening Standard. The piece tackles how student number controls and, reading between the lines, possible changes to the funding of certain degree programmes that the Government might be considering (remember Jo himself was in favour of differential fees and tried to bring in through the HERA legislation linked to the quality of the TEF judgement – but the Lords protested) could negatively impact on arts programmes.

  • Up until the Coronavirus struck, they [the creative industries] were growing at five times the rate of the economy and generating around 15 per cent of national gross value-added. Enabling historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema to access emergency grants and loans while their doors are closed is a no-brainer.
  • For policy to be fully joined up, however, the Department for Education must take care over how it operates recently re-imposed domestic student number controls. This risks turning into a crude process to allocate places – and therefore funding – on the basis of flawed measures of graduate earnings. This would unfairly penalise creative arts courses already in the cross-hairs of higher education sceptics in Parliament fired up by Gavin Williamson’s denunciation of the Blair-era target for 50 per cent of young people to go to university. If we have learnt anything lately, it is to value socially useful but lower-earning professions.
  • It would be incoherent to open the door to international talent to work across our economy, while restricting opportunities for domestic students to prepare themselves for careers in the arts. An economic nonsense too: the creative industries were generating £13 million for the economy every hour before Covid-19 – enough to repay the subsidy to arts courses in the student loan book many times over.
  • Our creative industries will only recover if we supply them with the skills and talent vital for their success.

Research

  • A parliamentary question asking whether HE institutions can combine all the sources of Government support.
  • Covid-19 researchers will receive visa relaxation measures.
  • An answer to a parliamentary question we mentioned last week has revealed that UKRI administers 70% of the research public funding (UK sources).
  • Establishing an effective coordination and oversight mechanism to serve the R&D spectrum in the UK – a Science for the Justice System Advisory Group has been established working with UKRI to coordinate forensic science in the UK.
  • Direct air capture R&D funding
  • Institutions eligible for research funding (influence of REF award)
  • Wellcome have a new blog – How could COVID-19 change research culture for the better?
  • Research Professional (RP) report that participation in Horizon Europe is dead in all but name – there are concerns over the terms on which the UK could associate with the EU’s research funding schemes and the cost of the joining fee plus the operational contribution is described as eye-watering. Cost estimates range from 600 million Euros to 12 billion Euros – way beyond the costs UK researchers could win back in funding. The article states that Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, said EU academia remains firmly behind UK association, and said British institutions must pile pressure on their government. If you’re not going to push anymore, nobody is. And that the European Commission has clearly indicated that this [terms/contribution] is still up for negotiation. Deketelaere implies it is the UK Government who are balking at joining Horizon Europe not the European Commission. However, there are question marks over the joining charge – the UK’s fee is being set out whereas it is unclear if the EU will charge other non-EU countries for association. RP report that the Treasury also expect the costs to come out of existing research budgets (previously it was going to be in addition to the science budget) because of the generous sums announced recently (and due to the cost of the pandemic for the Government). RP state:  Government sources now question whether the UK research community will be willing to blow a multibillion-pound hole in research budgets for the sake of access to the prestigious European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Awards.

RP continue:

  • While there are now clouds on the horizon for the UK’s participation in EU research schemes, all of this is subject to the caveat that negotiations over both a Brexit trade deal and the terms of Horizon Europe are still ongoing. Everything could change, but all available evidence suggests that the UK government is now preparing an exit strategy and has its excuse lined up already.
  • Playbook suspects that as Brexit trade deal talks intensify after the summer, UK universities will be presented with a choice between paying over the odds to play in Europe or settling for beefed-up domestic schemes administered by UK Research and Innovation. For vice-chancellors, the wallet will say UKRI although the heart may say EU—is it a price worth paying?
  • But, in the end, this is not a decision that will be made in universities.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Disadvantage: The OfS has published their latest briefing note which considers outreach to disadvantaged students during the coronavirus. It describes online outreach including two case studies of a blended summer school type model, and other approaches targeted towards BAME, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families, mature learners, and other vulnerable or underrepresented groups.

HE Sector Financial Health: The House of Commons Library have published a briefing Coronavirus: Financial impact on HE. It covers the financial health of the sector, the impact of reduced international student numbers, the Government support packages (fee payments and research funding) and the R&D roadmap.

Student Loans: The SLC have launched a new online repayment service – it calculates a student’s up to date remaining loan balance. It aims to avoid over payments as students near the end of their repayments.

Prevent: Wonkhe report on the latest report reviewing Prevent. Wonkhe say:

  • The government’s Prevent strategy has led to the persistence of negative stereotypes of Muslims and “a culture of mutual suspicion and surveillance” on campus, according to a new reportled by Alison Scott-Bauman at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). “Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: perceptions and challenges” recommends that there is a “strong argument” for Prevent to be discontinued in its current form, having curbed freedoms of speech and expression on campus.
  • Though there is ample evidence of widespread tolerance for all forms of religious activity among staff and students (with 88.1 per cent of students agreeing that “The experience of university encourages respect and mutual understanding among people who have different perspectives on life”), the research found a close link between belief in a “narrative of suspicion” about Islam, support for Prevent, and patterns of Islamophobia. The report recommends building awareness of Islamophobia via training and development, consultation, representation, and the encouragement of interfaith dialogue via free and frank debate based on the principle of mutual respect. The report is covered by the Guardian(along with an opinion piece by the report’s author) and the Telegraph.

Research Professional also cover Prevent.

Chinese relations: HEPI published UK Universities and China a series of essays on the challenges and complexities of the relationship between UK universities and China. It includes self-censorship; the importance of UK-China scientific research; and the recruitment and integration of Chinese students

Separately there is a recent YouGov poll which asks about UK/Chineses relationships. The interactive version of the chart is here.

Not just Brexit: Nick Hillman (HEPI Director) writes for UKandEU.com –  Universities and Brexit: past, present and future. It doesn’t just cover Brexit, but highlights that UK students get far less out of Erasmus than the incoming EU students studying in the UK, it even mentions this week’s bingo winner – the Blair 50% target. A longer read and some interesting points.

Student Experience: Pearson and Wonkhe have collaborated to examine students’ experience of learning during C-19 and their expectations for next year (shorter blog here).

  • 41% struggled to manage their wellbeing without in person contact with friends and university staff.
  • 34% found the new ways of learning challenging.
  • 34% struggled to manage their time without an enforced timetable.
  • 29% found the isolation difficult.
  • 34% struggled with lack of space or a quiet enough environment to study within.
  • 49% felt less confident to progress to their next step in their education or career –
    • with 13% of the 49% attributing this to external (non-university) factors (economy, jobs, research funding).
    • The factors relating to university were loss of industry experience, loss of practical skills development, lack of academic contact time, a lower sense of quality of learning experience.
  • 43% (of current students) plan to defer the next academic year to take a year out or look for work experience
  • 20% plan to leave education entirely (its unclear whether these were already final year students)
  • Of those planning to defer/leave 28% was because they didn’t want another semester of online study or the loss of practical experience reduced the value of their degree or because the logistics of travel, accommodation and teaching were too uncertain.
  • 47% of those who felt they had missed out (e.g. lab or studio based work) believe they should receive a fee reduction or refund as compensation. However, a quarter want to make up the missed experience at a safer later date, and 15% were willing to experience online. 10% didn’t feel it was the university’s responsibility to atone for the loss of experience.
  • On welfare the blog states:

One key message from the survey is that while students are clear that their wellbeing is suffering, the action they want universities to take is in the teaching and learning domain, rather than the welfare domain. Responses throughout the survey suggest that wellbeing issues are not simply the result of students being at home and the concerns over Covid-19, but that the way that universities have managed interactions and online learning has increased their anxiety, and had a negative impact on their wellbeing. It’s not simply about putting support mechanisms in place to help students with their wellbeing; it’s about stopping the causes.

  • 59% want universities to offer high quality online teaching as their priority for September rather than social interaction, well being support or access to learning resources.

Graduate outlook: Wonkhe report that research from Adunza finds that the number of graduate jobs available this summer has fallen by 73 per cent since the start of the year. Because larger employers are delaying graduate schemes due to the pandemic just 3,993 jobs are currently available, meaning that 100 graduates could be competing for each available job. FE news has the story.

HE Student Numbers: The House of Commons Library have published a paper on HE student numbers. It states: Headline student numbers have increased to new record levels in recent years following a short dip related to the 2012 reforms in the sector. There have been continued increases in entry rates for different groups of students, including those from disadvantaged areas/backgrounds where rates have also hit new record levels. However, headline numbers tend to focus on full-time undergraduates and there are ongoing concerns about student numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive. This includes part-time undergraduates, particularly those not studying first degrees, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries, especially Nigeria and Malaysia, mature students and some disadvantaged groups.

There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 15th April 2020

Hi all, a short update this week, with a couple of important updates

Office for Students update

The Office for Students issued another update to providers on 14th April.

They confirm the on-going uncertainty on access to government schemes for HE providers – there are hopes that this will be resolved (in a positive way) later this week. The update says:

  • We understand that the two coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Schemes and the COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility are open to higher education providers, although final confirmation about eligibility for these schemes has still to be determined. We will continue to work with the Department for Education and HM Treasury to get further information about eligibility and will provide further information as soon as we can.

 

And this on the TEF:

  • As you will be aware, we were previously planning to develop and consult on a new framework for the TEF during the first half of 2020. The impact of the coronavirus crisis means that we do not currently have a date for the next TEF exercise. We will provide further information as soon as we can. We intend to consult on the future TEF scheme after the government has published the Independent Review and its response to the Review’s recommendations. Publication of the subject-level TEF pilot reports has been delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Some commentators (see Johnny Rich here) are seeing this as a major step – an indefinite postponement of TEF using the virus as cover. After all, there are rumours that the Pearce review is not very positive about the TEF.

But this could be over-egging things. The OfS has postponed all its consultations and hasn’t yet set new deadlines for any of them – so this is just the OfS being consistent. Don’t read too much into the postponement, folks – we would be very surprised if TEF goes away, even though the 2020 data will be weird.

There is comment from Wonkhe here:

  • From the looks of the scant paragraph we get it would seem that this is a temporary measure, and that there would be every expectation that we would get a new date in time. But it is not hard to imagine this indefinite pause as a quiet death for a basket of metrics that has failed to capture the imagination of the audience it sought…..
  • It could, of course, be argued that the current situation suits everyone involved perfectly well. The Government seems in no hurry to publish a review of TEF that is likely to have been less than glowing, the OfS doesn’t need to respond to it or consult on it (making it easier to integrate TEF into the mainstream of regulation), and TEF remains on pause forever. Nobody loses face, the decision to cancel TEF is never explicitly taken (so the government never goes back on a manifesto promise) but it is quietly understood that no future work will be done on an indicator that signally failed to indicate anything.

 

[PS there is still no news from UKRI on the KEF deadline extension]

The Office for Students has a webpage which brings together all their guidance, FAQs and the Ministerial letters, which is a useful resource. They keep adding to the FAQs – what we are all waiting for now is the next news on admissions, due on 20th April

  • We have created a provider guide to coronavirus which includes information about our regulatory requirements, FAQs, and links to all letters and guidance issued by the OfS. There is also a student guide with FAQs and signposting to sources of information beyond the OfS.

 

Support for Universities

Universities UK issued a package of measures to address concerns in the sector – and shared it with Gavin Williamson in a telephone call.

They highlighted the many challenges to the sector, the work that we are doing to support the national effort and our staff and students. They asked for specific confirmation that confirmation that universities are eligible for the Job Retention Scheme (furloughing staff), and the Business Interruption Scheme and the Corporate Financing Facility and recommended a range of actions, including:

  • increasing funding for research and covering the full economic cost for UKRI funded research;
  • introducing a one year “stability measure” in the form of a student number cap equal to the number of UK and EU students forecast for 2020-21 plus 5% and a new sector agreement on fair admissions practices that would, amongst other things, restrict unconditional offers at volume;
  • provide further funding for courses that support key public sector services, including nursing and healthcare and some short and part-time courses;
  • a transformation fund to support universities to reshape and consolidate through federations and partnerships or mergers;
  • bridging loans and support for changes in lending terms, reprofiling funding allocations including the student finance payments towards the beginning of the academic year, and halting the planned cuts in teaching grant; and
  • mitigating the impact on international recruitment by providing flexibility of visa requirements and delaying changes that would apply to EU students after Brexit who would join in the 2021 academic year.
  • We don’t know when there will be a response, if at all.

The Opposition view

Research Professional has an interview with Emma Hardy, shadow Universities Minister. It’s an interesting read:

  • The model of intense competition is failing. Having read Universities UK’s submission to the government, letters from the University and College Union and other higher education organisations and interest groups, what is not surprising is the amount of consensus there is. If we continue down the same path of “unseemly competition” as UCU has warned, then some universities will face financial failure and as it stands the Office for Students has been clear that it will not bail them out.
  • As highlighted by UUK, the likelihood is that ‘cold spots’ will develop, exacerbating the regional inequalities and putting already disadvantaged students at a greater disadvantage.
  • There is a consensus around the need for change, and we should look to create a more collaborative system. UUK has already acknowledged that changes need to be made and that these could include “federations and partnerships”. Labour believes there should be greater collaboration between higher education, further education and adult community learning, to anchor those institutions in their communities and reform their governing structure.
  • Institutions offering similar academic courses in the same region could cooperate with the aim of staff development and educational improvement to benefit students and our national interest.

 

  • There needs to be a collective acknowledgement of the unpalatable idea of asking mature students who find themselves unemployed as a result of this crisis to commit to a lifetime loan of over £27,000 for a degree which the government knows they will never repay. Labour will continue to argue for free education for all as we face of challenge of upskilling our country in a post-Covid-19 world.

 

  • A higher education system funded by government, industry and commerce has the power to hold universities to a higher standard, and it should use this power to radically reform the terms and conditions of university staff and in particular the use of insecure contracts.
  • If we wish the UK to maintain its reputation as a world leader in research, then research grants must be balanced and distributed regionally to create regional institutions of excellence.
  • The Research Excellence Framework has been discredited nearly as frequently as the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework and the space provided by the suspension of the REF due to Covid-19 opens the discussion on what makes for effective accountability. If we are to build a future based on cooperation, and universities acting in the national interest, then market-based accountability measures serve no purpose.

 

This follows an intervention by Rebecca Long-Bailey, the new shadow Education lead, who wrote to Gavin Williamson last week, as reported by Research Professional

  • In a missive dated 9 April, that also addresses schools and further education policy, Long-Bailey—who finished second to Keir Starmer in the recent Labour leadership election—asks Williamson if he believes universities are “likely to require additional financial support” as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, and how decisions on such support will be made? She also asked the Department for Education to protect institutions from closure “for the duration of this crisis”.

 

  • She also asked if overseas staff working in universities would be offered the same one-year visa extension available to NHS staff and sought reassurances that international students’ visas will be extended where required.
  • “I believe in the current circumstances some additional support should be given to students,” Long-Bailey writes. Specifically, she calls for ministers to immediately suspend all interest on loans, waive tuition fees for the period that students are not receiving full tuition, and give students the opportunity to “defer to next academic year without needing to pay extra tuition fees”.
  • There should also be an assurance that students do not have to pay for accommodation that they are no longer able to use, Long-Bailey wrote, while those in receipt of a maintenance grant should be able to return all or part of it in exchange for it being written off.
  • The shadow education secretary also calls for clarity on student assessment practices during the Covid-19 outbreak and asks the government to “urgently consider” creating a student hardship fund for those who encounter financial difficulty as a result of the pandemic.

 

Opportunities

Finally, we are delighted that two members of academic staff have submitted evidence to an All Party-Parliamentary Group this week and we are very proud of the work that staff across BU are doing to support the national effort, and to contribute to the national debate.

If you haven’t done so before, now may be a good time to explore the APPGs active in your area of expertise and see if they are doing interesting work – the full list is here. Look under subject groups and follow the links  Some APPGs don’t update their websites very often (or have them at all) but some are very active.

And if you have a news story or a plan for research, or a solution to a practical problem linked to the virus, speak to the M&C press team or Becca Edwards.

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

HE policy update for the w/e 13th September 2019

Parliament has been prorogued, but did not go quietly and next week will see two court cases on whether it was lawful or not heard together in the Supreme Court.  There were cheers from the sector as Chris Skidmore returned to the University Minister role and Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary also seems to have adopted a more conciliatory role than his predecessor.

Next week sees the start of the party conference season with some interesting HE fringe events for us to report on.  With an election on the horizon, these events take on a heightened significance.

Post Study Work Visa

A Government announcement which outlined new genetics research project also served as the vehicle to announce revised post study work visa arrangements.

Under the scheme, international students to work in the UK for two-years post-graduation. A welcome announcement for the HE sector (although we are awaiting for the full details). The post study work visa was championed by Sajid Javid (in his previous Home Office role) and Jo Johnson.  With Jo Johnson having stepped down, the PM announced it, in a clear break from the approach of his predecessor.  He spoke about ensuring the UK is internationally welcoming and the wisdom of attracting the ‘brightest and best’ to work in the UK. The announcement (so far) overturns the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee. Currently overseas students must leave the UK four months after finishing their degree unless they get a separate work visa.

  • It applies to any subject
  • Apparently there is no restriction on type of work, i.e. it doesn’t have to be “graduate level” jobs.
  • There is no cap on the number
  • It talks about graduates from “trusted” providers – not defined but likely to mean those already approved for Tier 4 visas.
  • Initially the announcements said it would apply to students starting their courses in 2020/21, leading to fears of widespread deferrals, but it seems that it will apply to all students studying in the UK on a Tier 4 visa in 2020/21 – including students who start multi-year courses this September.

Chancellor, Sajid Javid tweeted “about time. Should have reserved this silly policy years ago. Britain should always be open to the best talent from across the world.”

  • BBC: Ministers reverse May-era student visa rules
  • Alistair Jarvis, Chief Exec Universities UK, welcomed the move, suggesting it would benefit the UK economy and reinstate the UK as a “first choice study destination. Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26bn in economic contributions, but for too long the lack of post-study work opportunities in the UK has put us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting those students“.
  • The Scottish Government have welcomed the announcement. Scottish Minister for FE & HE, Richard Lochhead: The Scottish Government has been consistent in arguing for the reintroduction of a post-study work visa following the decision by the UK Government to end the previous route in 2012. This is a welcome step forward but only one of many measures required. It should not have taken seven years for the UK Government to accept the arguments from partners across Scotland and reverse their decision. It is clearer by the day that Scotland urgently needs a migration policy tailored to our distinct needs and for the devolution of powers to develop, deliver and maintain policies that meet the needs of Scotland’s universities, communities, public services and economy.

Two for one – ministerial speeches

After Jo Johnson resigned and left UUK with a big gap in their annual conference programme, they fixed the problem by having both the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP, and the newly (re)appointed Minister for Universities, Chris Skidmore.  Chris Skidmore was welcomed back as Universities Minister on Wednesday after a brief Ministerial stint in the Department for Health (he called it a placement).

The sector is pretty relieved.  Jo Johnson was familiar, and had a positive agenda around international students and participation in EU programmes (see previous story for some of his handiwork), as well as his opposition to the proposed Augar reform of tuition fees but had become rather negative and critical towards the end of his last period in the role.  Chris Skidmore, on the other hand, was positive, constructive and engaging last time round.  Although he wasn’t in the role long he seemed to be genuinely committed to developing research and as a history graduate and former academic he had some credibility amongst those worried for the future of social sciences and humanities in a world where value for money has been paramount (although see below, it seemed to be less of a priority?)

So what did they have to say?

Gavin Williamson went first.

He called the sector as a national treasure

He spoke about “openness to the world”. See the previous section on post-study work visas

  • A recent report by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that after graduation, a single cohort of international students contributes almost £3.2billion in tax over 10 years and plays a key role in filling existing skills shortages in the UK economy. But they bring far more than that. They contribute to the diverse tapestry of our national life; they not only bring the best of the world in, they also help us to look out, and our entire economic and cultural spectrum is the richer for what they bring to our country.
  • In the months and years ahead, the partnerships we make through these international networks will be crucial. Partnerships which I know benefits many of our young people through the exchange of ideas and learning. Many of you are wondering about what’s going to happen to them after we leave the EU. I want to reassure you that my department is open to continuing to be part schemes like Erasmus+. But we have to prepare for every eventuality and it is sensible to consider all options. As such I have asked my officials to provide a truly ambitious scheme if necessary.

He challenged the sector on access and participation – a sign that despite changes of leadership, the big focus on this continues. It was a major part of the Johnson reforms (merging OFFA and HEFCE into the OfS) and key in Theresa May’s social mobility agenda (the current government don’t talk as much about social mobility, but they are still looking for an aspiration story).  The terminology is interesting.  It’s a deal and it isn’t just about access, it’s about working with schools as well.

  • When I took on this job, you told me that you wanted the post-study Graduate visas more than anything else. Indeed whenever I spoke to a vice chancellor the first thing I would hear is visas. Well, we listened and the Prime Minister and I have given you what you asked for, what you wanted most.
  • So I have to ask you for something in return. I see this as a deal. I expect you, in exchange, to drive greater access to your institutions. Young people from deprived backgrounds who have the ability, deserve to benefit from studying for a degree.
  • We cannot forget that ability is evenly spread across this country but opportunity – sadly – is not. We must continue to crusade to put that right.…
  • And I have another challenge for you: I want you to be ambitious in your engagement with the wider education landscape, with schools, colleges, and employers: share your resources and expertise, drive excellence across the sector more widely. You are world leaders but you need to share your expertise with everyone in the country. I’d like to thank those universities like Kings College and Exeter who have set up maths specialist free schools; and other universities that are in the process of doing so. What you are doing will change lives. I encourage others to rise to the challenge. I expect others to rise to the challenge.
  • I see this as a shared effort and I want to work with all of you in the sector to make sure all our children have access to this kind of excellence and expertise….
  • The sector plans to spend around £1billion this year alone on improving access. But we still don’t know enough about what’s working and what isn’t. This is taxpayers money. This is students’ money. This isn’t about virtue signalling. This is about one thing, and one thing only. And that is ensuring that talented young people, from Southend to South Shields, can get on.
  • It is your duty and our duty to make sure that happens. So as a priority, the OfS needs to ensure that evaluation programmes are in place to make sure these schemes are doing what they are supposed to do. I will be watching carefully to see how these are now delivered and I will support the OfS in any action it takes if universities are not delivering against their commitments.

Unconditional offers and grade inflation

  • Unconditional offers have shot up, going from under 3,000 in 2013 to nearly 76,000 this year.
  • Grade inflation has become even more entrenched. When I was at university, you could count the number of students on my course who got firsts on one hand. I am sad to say that I was not one of them. In 1997 – which is when I graduated – 50% of students gained a first or a 2:1; last year 80% of students did so.
  • I’m delighted that some universities have already scrapped making so-called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers and I hope that the rest will soon follow suit.
  • Universities UK and OfS reviews of admissions are an opportunity for the sector to get its house in order here, perhaps by agreeing a minimum predicted grade threshold, or a maximum proportion of students who may be offered one.

[HE Professional explain what that might mean: What he might have meant is that the UUK and OfS reviews on university admissions are looking at options on how to tackle the perceived scourge of conditional offers, and two of the options they are looking at are: reducing the number of unconditional offers made each year to a fixed percentage of total offers; and ensuring everyone is expected to obtain at least a minimum set of grades. The brightest and the best would still be able to get unconditional offers because they would do well in their A levels anyway. Everyone else should at least meet a minimum expectation. “We don’t want to do away with unconditional offers entirely but there is no justification for universities to offer conditional unconditional offers,” he said, looking to his civil servants for help and not finding any. So, in short, conditional unconditional offers are to be unconditionally banned, but unconditional offers are to be conditionally banned. Hope that’s clear.]

  • I want you to know that I will always speak up for your autonomy. I know it’s what helps foster the brilliance of our teaching and our research but I also need to safeguard our reputation, so that everyone knows that they can trust the system. So we need to work together on some of these issues.
  • If we don’t tackle them, your hard-won reputation for excellence will be undermined. Worse still, there is a risk that employers will begin to lose faith in grades and foreign students will think twice about investing their time and money in studying here.

He also mentioned mental health, Institutes of Technology, apprenticeships, civic engagement

Afterwards he told the press that a response on Augar would come “before the end of the winter” (THE article here).  That’s a long way off.

Chris Skidmore’s speech: (apparently he adlibbed a bit)

  • The benefits of the Arts and Humanities
  • Students’ Unions
  • Civic Universities

Research (he gave 4 speeches on this in his last stint in the role)

  • I’ve only been gone from this role less than fifty days, but already we have had key announcements on expanding the government guarantee to fund European Research Council grants, and a crucial restatement of our ambition to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027…. After outlining my vision in a series of speeches before the summer, I am keenly looking forward to getting this detailed roadmap published this autumn. Let me just offer one early reflection, though. If we want to turn the UK into scientific superpower and achieve our ambition to reach 2.4%, then we need to ramp up capacity and capability in our universities. …
  • Connected to this, I am determined to see renewed focus given to basic research. Funding for blue-skies, curiosity-driven research has been dwindling as a proportion of our overall spend. This is a problem. … I want to see further increases to QR and a significant uplift to response-mode research council funding.  Don’t get me wrong. It is of course essential that we should continue to drive application and impact from our research investments – turning great ideas into real benefits for the UK in the form of better jobs, improved products and services, and real action on issues such as climate change. Let me reassure you that I remain firmly committed to the impact agenda and to knowledge exchange, including support via HEIF and implementation of the Knowledge Exchange Framework.
  • But if we want to succeed in the long term, the really long term, then we need to ensure we are doing everything we can to entice and empower our research community to undertake the most ground-breaking, cutting edge work, raising the UK’s international reputation even higher….
  • And as we approach leaving the European Union, I will continue to make the case loud and clear, that while we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving our European friends and research partners behind. We want to get a deal with the EU which will protect our continuation in Horizon 2020, and will continue our participation in Erasmus+. We will be fully exploring the option of participating in the next Erasmus programme, whilst also developing potential alternatives which are ambitious and truly global. We will protect our participation in Erasmus+ and will be working hard to secure full association with Horizon Europe – I personally will be doing everything in my power to achieve this.

On funding

  • But a well-functioning university culture needs sustainable institutions. And when it comes to ensuring that we have a sustainable university landscape, while it is absolutely right that we focus on post-18 education for all, making investment in Further Education that is desperately needed, we must not lose sight of what we have in the HE sector.
  • We cannot afford as a society to pit FE against HE: as I have argued elsewhere, both are crucial to a unity of purpose in our post-18 landscape that needs to be more flexible, more portable, and one that meets the needs of the learner, not simply those of the provider.

And what didn’t really feature?

  • Update on the Pearce review promised “shortly”
  • Apart from unconditional offers and grade inflation, no mention of quality or student experience
  • Not a big focus on value for money

HEPI released a blog this week sweeping aside the political power plays and Brexit turmoil to refocus on the 6 (+3) key issues that will dominate HE this side of Christmas no matter what happens in national politics. The blog succinctly covers Augar, the SoS Education remit, FE (not) vs HE, OfS (and providers going bust), diversity in university governance, the 2.4% research spend targets, plus three bonus items.

Parliament

To extend or not to extend – that is the question

On Monday the bill aiming to prevent the Prime Minister from leaving the EU without a deal (European Union (Withdrawal) (No 6) Act) received royal assent and became law. The PM is currently refusing to consider asking for an extension, which the law requires him to do, so what are his options?

How the PM can wriggle out of asking for an extension:

  • Semantics – if the Government can find a tenable enough loophole in the badly worded, hastily constructed extension bill. Dominic Raab said: We will adhere to the law but also this is such a bad piece of legislation … we will also want to test to the limit what it does actually lawfully require. We will look very carefully at the implications and our interpretation of it.” In response MPs have threatened an emergency judicial review if the Government seek to contest or ignore elements of the Bill.
  • Send 2 letters – as discussed in the media (an unlikely scenario). The extension letter is sent, however, they append an additional letter making clear that the UK Government does not want the additional extension – making it less likely the EU would grant the extension. However, former supreme court judge, Lord Sumption, argued on the Radio 4 Today programme on Monday that that sending two letters – one requesting an extension and the other asking the EU to reject one – would not be legal.
  • Veto – it would be easier for the Government to block an extension via the back door by asking an EU sceptic ally, such as Hungary, to veto any request for extension. Also France are rumoured to have said they will veto an extension request.
  • Step down – if Boris resigned as PM on 19th October (so he wouldn’t personally request the extension) it is likely the Queen would ask the Opposition to try and form an alternative Government. If successful in forming a caretaker Government then they could request the extension. If not, Britain crashes out of Europe without a deal.
  • Get a deal that Parliament approves. Despite all the noise, this is still possible.

General Election: Boris’ motion for an early general election failed on Monday. However, a YouGov poll has ranked Prime Minister Boris as the most popular Conservative politician (31% positive opinion, 47% negative opinion) and the third most famous. Boris’ fans describe him as conservative, humorous, intelligent, charismatic and clever. The poll included: Theresa May (27%), John Major (23%), Ruth Davidson (22%), William Hague (21%), Kenneth Clarke (20%), Jacob Rees-Mogg (18%) and other prominent figures. Boris was most popular with Baby Boomers and Generation X; Millennials were less keen.

Parliament Prorogued

Parliament is prorogued until 14 October. This means Select Committee, APPGs and all other business will cease. MP’s will return to constituency matters and engage in the party conference during this period. Party conference dates:

  • 14 September – Liberal Democrats (at Bournemouth International Centre)
  • 21 September – Labour (Brighton)
  • 29 September – Conservatives (Manchester)
  • 4 October – Green Party (ICC, Wales)

Later this week Boris’ suspension of the UK Parliament was deemed unlawful by judges at the Scottish highest civil court, overturning an earlier ruling that the courts did not have the powers to interfere in the Prime Ministers political decision. The exact consequences of this are unclear. It is unlikely Parliament will be recalled, not least because it couldn’t take place before Conference Recess commences (today). The British government will appeal against the Scottish appeal court’s decision, particularly as it contradicts a decision in Johnson’s favour by senior English judges last week, at the supreme court. The supreme court will hear both Scottish and English cases on Tuesday 17 September, alongside a third challenge brought in the courts in Belfast. In practice, not much will change, unless Boris is found to have behaved unlawfully. iNews have an article in which Boris denies misleading the queen about Parliament’s prorogation (and another classic Boris photo pose).

House of Commons Speaker quits: John Bercow announced he would stand down as a Speaker and MP following a promise to his wife for more family time. He will stand down at close of business on Thursday October 31st, saying he doesn’t want to leave the Commons with an inexperience speaker during such a “lively” period.  A ballot for replacement Speaker will be held on 4th November.

Reshuffle

Chris Skidmore will not attend Cabinet, as Jo Johnson did. Instead Boris has given the ‘attends Cabinet’ seat to Zac Goldsmith (his Twitter acceptance) in his existing ministerial role across Environment and International Trade. Zac is a long term supporter of Boris and has experienced his share of controversy in the past – including accusations linking Sadiq Khan with Islamist extremists.

Edward Argar replaces Chris Skidmore as Minister of State at Department of Health and Social Care. Chris Philp moves to the Ministry of Justice and Helen Whately takes up a junior ministerial post at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The DfE have issued a news story confirming ministerial portfolios on last and this week’s changes here. Last week we told you Michelle Donelan would become Children and Families Minister as maternity cover for Kemi Badenoch. She’ll hold both roles and retain her current position as a Government Whip (Children’s Minister will be additional unpaid role). Michelle was previously a member of the Education Select Committee between July 2015 and October 2018.

The announcement also explained that:

  • Minister of State for School Standards Nick Gibb will take on policy for early education and childcare including funding, support for the early years workforce, curriculum, quality and the early education entitlements. Plus PE, school sport, and the Pupil Premium to his existing portfolio.
  • Minister for the School System, Lord Agnew, will take on responsibility for the FE ‘provider market’, including quality and improvement. He will also lead on EU exit preparation, delivery of the Careers Strategy, the Opportunity Areas programme, school food and safeguarding in schools and post-16 settings, in addition to his existing brief.

Minister for Children and Families Michelle Donelan said:

  • I truly believe that a good education is the key to creating a fair society where everyone, no matter where they come from or their circumstances, has opportunities to succeed.
  • From the earliest years of children’s lives to the point at which they make decisions about their further education or training, I am proud to be joining a department that is focusing its efforts on the most disadvantaged in society.

Given his short stint in the Health Minister role alongside his keen HE interest Chris Skidmore’s response to a parliamentary question on recruiting more nurses is interesting. It sits within party lines, firmly avoids mentioning bursaries but has a different, more collaborative, tone than recent ministers talking of a forthcoming final NHS People Plan which sets out the immediate actions to grow the nursing workforce across the next 5 years.

Access and Success

OfS have published the first 41 approved Access Agreements under their new regime. Wonkhe note that 31 of these 41 are subject to enhance monitoring (but not the pesky B2 additional registration condition). However, this high rate is because these are the early deadline submitters – those with medical schools and conservatoires – so tend the have high entry requirements, and therefore many have poor rates of access by disadvantaged students. And the enhanced monitoring is really just a running check across the year to ensure the institution is delivering on its promises. The OfS announcement – Highly selective universities must follow through on promises to improve access, regulator warns provides more detail, albeit with a positive OfS spin:

 ‘These new plans prove that – following sustained challenge from the OfS – there is genuine ambition and drive among universities to address equality of opportunity. I am pleased they are rising to the challenge…” Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at OfS.

Media coverage on this first tranche of new plans from the Independent, the Daily Mail, and the TES.

What’s the point of university?

Universities UK published polling research revealing that only 34% of students and recent graduates decided to go to university to get a higher salary. While 79% agreed that the government should do more to promote the broader benefits of a degree or university study, irrespective of potential salary.

  • Students and recent graduates say that they decided to go to university for a broad range of reasons, including their interest in their chosen degree subject (56%), enjoying studying and learning (48%) and as a first step in building a career (50%).
  • 84% agreed that their future salary was not the only factor they considered when deciding to go to university.
  • 86% of those surveyed agreed that they have met people from diverse backgrounds and with different views to them at university. Suggesting that university plays an important role in social cohesion in communities in the UK.
  • Future earnings are not the top motivation for choosing a career. Work-life balance was their top consideration (53%), followed by earning potential and financial benefits (42%), with the opportunity to take on a variety of interesting work (39%) coming a close third.
  • 84% would recommend university to others as a worthwhile experience.
  • 86% said university had given them the opportunity to think about what they want to achieve in the future and the same proportion said that university had helped them learn to be independent.

The findings are reported as suggesting a need for greater investment in student information – from better careers advice in schools and colleges, through to clearer, more accessible financial guidance.

  • better career information to help in their choice of subject (39%)
  • career experiences – not just salaries – of past graduates in their subject and institution (38%)
  • information on the cost of living while studying (37%)

The poll backs up UUK’s lobby line that earnings potential is an inappropriate tool for defining the value of university degrees, and making funding decisions. However, the TEF gold, silver, bronze classification and the use of LEO metrics (longitudinal education outcomes) which consider the proportion of graduates in sustained employment that are earning over the median salary for 25-29 year olds are currently key metrics institutions are benchmarked against with a view to quality and value for money. UUK are keen to point out that their findings suggest that a range of considerations are underpinning student motivations.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “These results tell us loudly and clearly that policy makers and politicians have got it wrong when it comes to understanding what motivates today’s students and graduates. Students do not judge the value of universities on their future salaries and neither should policymakers. We should all be asking ourselves if we really want to live in a culture that identifies success by salary alone.  It is time to listen and take notice of what students, graduates and society really value about the university experience and consider how we can ensure prospective students have access to the information they want to inform their future decisions. Only then can we ensure that universities are valued by all.”

Nicola Marsh, Head of Social & Political Research at ComRes, said: “Our research demonstrates that university students and graduates recognise value in the range of benefits gained from attending university, including building independence and confidence, exposure to new experiences, and enjoyment of learning. Future earning potential is amongst the benefits considered by students and graduates, but it is not the most important. Quality of life – for example, work/life balance – is the top priority for students and recent graduates when considering what they look for in a career, suggesting that they take a more holistic approach to their careers.”

Value for money – what do students really think?
A guest blog from SUBU’s Sophie Bradfield

Value for money is a phrase we hear a lot in reference to Higher Education and it’s an important conversation point for students. Value for money should surely not be as crude as looking at graduate earning potential, yet TEF continues to use graduate earnings as a metric to measure student outcomes.

As part of the independent review of TEF earlier this year, SUBU responded to a question on student outcomes noting “the very simplistic measurement of Student Outcomes and the focus on graduate salaries does not foster a healthy approach for provider enhancement. Strategies to support employability such as alumni mentoring and specialist programmes for Widening Participation students to address progression enhance student outcomes for providers and recognise an important aspect for students.” (See SUBU’s full response).

Many voices in the Higher Education sector have shared the same concern and finally the Government has evidence from students themselves that future earning potential is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the value of university. A report on the value of university published this week by ComRes on behalf of Universities UK [see above] surveyed students and recent graduates in the last 5-10 years. The report finds that 5 in 6 students or 84% of those surveyed agreed that “my potential future salary wasn’t the only factor I considered when deciding to go to university.” The report further shows that students and recent graduates decided to go to University for a range of different reasons, including 56% saying it was an interest in their chosen degree subject; 48% saying it was because they enjoyed studying and learning; and 50% saying it was the first step in building a career. Furthermore, future earning potential was not the top priority for students when choosing a career; it came second to students wanting a work-life balance.

Back in December 2017 SUBU hosted Nicola Dandridge, the Chief Executive of the Office for Students, for a roundtable discussion with BU students chaired by the Vice President Education (of the time). Nicola asked students who attended why they chose to go to University and many of the students present stated they felt University was an “expected” next step. Nicola further asked students what made their university experience ‘value for money’. The BU students present spoke of the additional opportunities on offer to them alongside studying, such as the opportunities to join a club or society or to take up a leadership position and gain experience. The conversations were around the opportunities available to build a life around their degree, yet they noted this information was not promoted when making decisions between institutions and instead it was something they realised upon going to University.

The ComRes UUK report expands on this. As noted in a summary of the report by Universities UK:

“The poll also reveals the following skills, facilities and other assets which students benefit from at university, including:

  • developing skills such as time management, social skills and teamwork
  • access to academic tutors and experts and libraries
  • improving levels of confidence and becoming more independent
  • making new friends and developing beneficial social networks
  • awareness of social issues and debates”

Providing students with the information they need to make an informed choice about whether to go to University and which one to pick, is something the Office of Students has taken responsibility for. This month they have launched a new student information website to do just that, called ‘Discover Uni’. This is in line with what students are asking for, with the ComRes UUK report findings suggesting a need for “greater investment in student information” (see UUK). However it was shown that this information should extend to careers advice in schools and colleges as well as clearer financial information and guidance.

That students need more information and guidance on finances was highlighted in a report on value for money back in 2018, which was commissioned by the Office for Students and led by a consortium of Students’ Unions in partnership with Trendence UK (see ‘Value for money: the student perspective’). A more recent poll by YouGov commissioned by the Office for Students also shows this is not just an issue for prospective students as 82% of parents in England and Wales are not sure how student loans work (see Research Professional).

The cost of living is a significant area of interest for prospective and current students as they might not be aware of all costs involved in being at University until arriving, especially if they are the first generation in their family to go to University. As many of us are aware, students often need to top up their finances by taking up part time work. The latest Government’s Student income and expenditure survey (SIES) 2014-2015 results showed that over half of full-time students did some form of paid work during the academic year to contribute to their income. (On average full time students were working just over 10 hours per week to account for 10% of their average total income). The more recent NUS Poverty Commission Report 2018 found a significant financial shortfall for students after comparing student loans with living costs (see NUS, page 67) showing that students need to find other ways to top up their finances, whether through part time work or borrowing from friends or relatives (which is not an option for all). Money Saving Expert by Martin Lewis remains the most comprehensive source of information for students and parents on this matter (see MSE) and it highlights how much more needs to be done by the Office for Students on providing information to students and parents about financing a University degree.

Despite all these findings, and as David Kernohan of Wonkhe notes, it is unclear if OfS’ new student information platform ‘Discover Uni’ will extend to providing students with information beyond finding a course and University. What we do know is that the Office for Students is commissioning a lot of research and is currently running an online consultation and going out to visit universities and colleges to see how they should be engaging students ahead of publishing an overall student engagement strategy early next year (see OfS).

Hopefully there will be further changes to come on information and support for students going into HE, driven by all these findings. Regardless, it seems difficult to have conversations about the value of University and whether future earning potential should have any part to play in decision-making, when reports are showing time and time again that students care more about immediate issues such as the cost of going to University.

Research

The Science and Technology Committee has published 43 recommendations to the Balance and effectiveness of research and innovation spending inquiry report.  The recommendations include the 2.4% target, a big data focus to evaluation, QR funding, central link point for all R&D funding streams and opportunities, the tax credit system, and to quickly action the FCA review of patient capital with a further update at Budget 2020.

The final version of the updated Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers has been launched.  The new one is here.

“It sets out three clear Principles of environment and culture, employment, and professional and career development. The principles are underpinned by obligations for the four key stakeholder groups, funders, institutions, researchers and managers of researchers, to realise the aims of the Concordat.”

In other news, Sir Mark Walport has announced he will stand down as CEO of UKRI in 2020.

Parliamentary Questions

Despite only one Parliamentary sitting day this week a whole tranche of HE relevant parliamentary questions were answered.

The Lords also raised a question on student accommodation rent levies by developers – this one was too late and couldn’t be answered before prorogation, however, it is interesting this angle has been picked up.

Consultations and Inquiries

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. As Parliament is prorogued Committee and APPG work ceases so over the coming weeks there will only be new content from sector bodies. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Joined up schooling: Scotland have announced phase one in a £1 billion replacement programme for 26 schools. Several of the replacement projects will bring together nurseries, schools (including specialist centres for pupils with additional support needs), colleges and universities in multi-purpose campuses for pupils aged from three to 18, with additional facilities that benefit surrounding communities. The first phase projects could open as early as 2022/23. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Modern, state of the art buildings can make a real difference to the lives of pupils, teachers and parents, as well as the wider communities they serve. This investment continues our efforts to improve the condition of our entire learning estate, from early years through to schools and colleges.”

Mental Health: The Welsh Government has published guidance on responding to self-harm and suicidal thought in young people.

Children’s Manifesto: While Parliament hasn’t voted for a general election MPs are quietly lining up their campaign ducks and sector bodies are ramping up their lobbying. This week the Children’s Commissioner for England published ‘Guess How Much We Love You – A Manifesto for Children’ calling on Britain’s political parties to include a six-point plan in their election manifestos to transform the life chances for disadvantaged children and to help all of England’s 12 million children to thrive. The six key themes are: supporting stronger families, providing decent places for children to live, helping children to have healthy minds, keeping children active, providing SEND support for those who need it, and creating safer streets and play areas. The Manifesto is costed and argues that existing statutory services must be put on a sustainable financial footing. Contact Sarah for a summary of the key recommendations and estimated costs – or read the short 12 page document .

Discover Uni: the new OfS service for potential applicants launched this week to general hilarity because of the huge number of bugs and problems.  (The first search your intrepid policy team did said that there were no (as in zero) full time biology degrees on offer in England – some appeared when we re-ran it the search, but even so).  Despite the obvious problem (i.e. don’t actually use it to actually make any choices until it is more reliable), there are some more important points.  Research Professional note  “The UK’s new higher education information website will not include data on the proportion of firsts and 2:1s awarded by universities, because of concerns that doing so could fuel grade inflation”.

Lifelong learning: the Learning and Work Institute have published the findings from their adult (17+) participation survey which examines when they last learnt, their experience, and likelihood to do so again.  The survey shows adults who have not recently taken part in learning are unlikely to say they would be likely to do so in the future. Among adults who have not engaged in learning since leaving full time education, just 16% said they would take part in learning in the future. Among adults currently taking part in education, 77% expect to do so again. With participation at a record low, the analysis states that progress in improving the skills and qualification levels of the workforce has stalled, and that the UK is at risk of falling behind in skills post-Brexit. By 2030, out of the 17 PIAAC countries, the UK is predicted to fall from 10th to 14th for basic literacy, and from 11th to 14th for basic numeracy.

  • Social class – 48% of adults in higher social grades (AB) have taken part in learning in the last three years, compared to 20% of adults in lower social grades (DE). This participation gap has widened by 3 percentage points in the last year
  • Employment status – 40% of full time employees participated in learning in the last three years, compared to 17% of people out of work and not seeking employment

Graduate employment: The Institute of Student Employers published their 2019 annual graduate labour market survey.

  • Almost 22,000 graduate jobs were created. This was mainly driven by significant increases in finance and professional services as well as public sector employers who recruited 35% more graduates, particularly in policing and education.
  • However, employers are cautious and the short-term and temporary hire of graduates through internships or work placements has dropped by 4% and 7% respectively. Employers also anticipate that Brexit and/or a recession will reduce hiring over the next five years.
  • The energy and engineering, and legal industries made small reductions in the number of graduates they recruited, down 1% and 3% respectively (these were the only sectors to show a reduction).
  • The average graduate starting salary offered by ISE members remained competitive at £29,000. Up £750 on last year, however, when indexed to the Consumer Price Index, salaries have still not recovered to pre-recession levels in real terms.
  • The average ISE member is paying £1.225 million annually to the government through the apprenticeship levy. They reported starting 11,224 apprentices this year of which 52% were non-graduates, 25% graduates and 23% existing staff.

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of ISE said:

  • “Although the drop in temporary opportunities is concerning as this offers students the opportunity to gain valuable work experience, employers are mainly resisting the urge to dial down their recruitment in the face of current and future challenges. 
  • Hiring is up, employers are receiving a healthy volume of applications and they are paying more. We hope that this continues and will do everything that we can to support firms as they manage the uncertainty that lies ahead.” 

Wonkhe blogger, Tristram Hooley, suggests that the skills shortage problem is more complicated than it appears

Student loan sale controversy: It’s been a while since the student loan book sale controversy resurfaced but this week Wonkhe report that The London Review of Books published a detailed analysis of government student loan book sales by Andrew McGettigan. He sets out how the government “skewed the test” that made a loss-making loan sale show value for money.

Education Spending: The House of Commons Library has published a report on Education Spending in the UK. Key Points:

  • Education spending peaked in around 2010 at 5.7% of GDP or £104 billion (2018-19 prices).
  • The real level of public spending on education in the UK was static in the early 1980s.
    It increased gradually from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.
    After then it increased to new record levels in each year to the peak in 2010-11.
    The Government has removed spending on the subsidy element of student loans from data from 2011-12 onwards.
    Despite this break in the series there was a clear decline in spending in the five years from 2012-13 onwards.
  • Education spending has fallen as a % of GDP in each year from 2011-12 to 2017‑18. This was the longest continuous period of decline in this measure
  • Almost 80% of education spending went on schools -primary and secondary education. The relatively low share going on tertiary (higher) education reflects the fact that the data exclude the subsidy element of student loans which forms the majority of higher education spending in England.
  • Public spending per head on education in 2017-18 was highest in Scotland at around £1,550, followed by £1,490 in London and £1,440 in Northern Ireland. It was lowest in the South East and South West of England at around £1,200.
  • OECD analysis puts UK public spending on education at 4.2% of GDP in 2016. This was 12th highest out of the 34 OECD members with data on this measure and higher than the OECD average of 4.0%.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

[1] See above

[2] We also cover this in “other news” below

HE policy update for the w/e 16th August 2019

Welcome to a bumper update catching you on the last two weeks in policy land plus Sarah has taken a special in-depth look at post-qualification admissions as it is the hot topic of the week.

Post-qualification Admissions

Labour reinvigorated the post-qualification admissions debate on Wednesday when they declared they would reform the HE system and scrap predicted grades to implement a ‘new fairer system of post-qualification admissions’. Talk of post-qualification admissions (PQA) has been around for a long while, (Schwartz review, 2003; UCAS 2011), and quite recently the UCU have been pushing for PQA because they believe it penalises disadvantaged students. The claim is that capable disadvantaged students are penalised because they may receive under-predicted grades than their stronger, higher grade performance in their final exams. Lower predicted grades restrict their ability to apply to and secure a university place at the most competitive institutions. A focus on ensuring access for disadvantaged students to the highest tariff institutions was championed by Sam Gyimah, (HE Minister of 10 months, 2 Ministers ago) who pressurised Oxbridge to radically improve the number of disadvantaged students they accept and challenged students to think big and trade up to the most competitive institutions (claiming it leads to higher employability returns).  So it is interesting to see a Conservative and Labour policy align, even if they have different solutions.

Labour’s plans would see students applying for their HE place after receiving their A level/other results so they can select the “best” institution that their actual grades will qualify them for. They also address another political hot potato– unconditional offers – Labour want to see an end to unconditional offers and, of course, a PQA system where offers aren’t made in advance has no place for them (more on this below). It also means the end of clearing. Labour say that it will enable students to make better, more accurate decisions, and mean that are not pressurised into accepting an unconditional offer from a lower tariff university.

The last reason that is always trotted out for PQA is that England is the only country where a pre-qualifications admission system is used.

There would be significant practical challenges in implementing a PQA system. Universities are usually criticised as blocking such changes for their own convenience.

Universities have autonomy in this area with control over their admissions processes and the right to choose whom they admit. The Higher Education and Research Act (2017), states: ‘“the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers” means … the freedom of English higher education providers … to determine the criteria for the admission of students and apply those criteria in particular cases’.

We explore the complexities below, but first, is there evidence that disadvantaged students are under predicted? It seems there is:

  • Analysis carried out by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2011) found black students were the most likely to have their grades under-predicted.
  • The Sutton Trust states that poorer students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their wealthier peers.
  • UCL’s Institute of Education found that nearly one in four disadvantaged students who go on to achieve AAB or better in A-Level have predicted grades lower than their final results.

So while there is clearly an issue, what about those grey areas? HEPI have a useful blog. It highlights that if students wish, they can already apply after receiving your grades [and increasing numbers are, although that feels like a risky business especially in future when the demographic dip reverses] Students can also hedge their bets by accepting a firm choice, and then declining this offer to trade up to a better place. So it is possible, but it is complicated and it is unclear whether students really know how to make the system work for them. It is easier to just accept the place you had originally chosen (mere-exposure effect).

What about other countries?

If the UK is an international outlier and comparator countries all have PQA systems, are we missing a trick? They answer is our systems and intentions are quite different. In the British system the majority of students travel away from their home to attend the institution which they believe is most attractive – for all sorts of reasons (not just prestige/ranking of the university) – the programme content, type of course (accelerated, sandwich, traditional), employer links and employability outcomes, institutional prestige, and the desirability of the wider rounded offer and university environment. Students choose and universities select students they believe will thrive. Even if we changed to a PQA system this established cultural approach to student choice and the meritocracy would not immediately change. So how does it work in other countries?

France – students apply post-qualification. All those achieving a pass in the baccalaureate are entitled to go, and most do. Most stay locally. Fees are low.  University is an automatic right and universities have to accept all those that achieve the pass, shutting their doors only when full (and that means really full). Non-continuation rates are huge with many students dropping out during the first year because university just isn’t for them, not to mention the enormous class sizes and relatively poor student experience.    Application processes are generally on-line, anonymous and impersonal.  Universities do not need to sell themselves to students and there is no selection except for a small number of very exclusive universities.

Australia – school leavers apply before they have their results ranking their preferences for their preferred institutions. When they results are known they are converted to a common score (ATAR) and the universities consider the score achieved by the students that have ranked them top and then decide a cut off for acceptances. Students below the threshold repeat the process with their second ranked choice, and so on down the list. However, it is not working well. Those with lower scores struggle to obtain places and universities are starting to move away from relying on their score based system.

America – it’s complicated, drawn out, highly selective, and stressful. First there are fee distinctions between public and private institutions, and they types of degree they issue. The application process itself has multiple steps and deadlines. Separate applications are sent to each institution (although they can use the Common Application process for certain institutions). On four year degree programmes, once accepted, students may be assigned to the entire college, not a particular department or major (focal programme). Entry to the top institutions is fiercely competitive. Students choosing the two-year county and community college route have a less complicated system than the four-year degree schools, as this usually only requires a high school transcript or minimum test score. And the provision of high school counsellors (who help with careers and HE advice) is patchy – private schools often have a dedicated full time post, only 1 in 4 public schools have the equivalent level of resource. Transfers between institutions are more frequent than, currently occurs in the UK too.

UCU have a summary table for 30 countries (see pages 7-8).

So how could the system work? There are two main options. HEPI:

  • The differences between Post-Qualification Applications (when you applyfor a place after receiving your results) [this is Labour’s ideal process] and,
  • Post-Qualification Admissions (where the places are handed out after the results but in which you might have applied, as now, before you know how you have done). [Australian model]

HEPI continue: The oddity of our system is not so much that people apply before receiving their results; the oddity is that huge weight is put on predicted grades, which are notoriously unreliable. Either version of PQA could tackle this, but they are different from one another and it is not always clear which one PQA advocates want.

Exams of prime importance

Whether it is post qualification applications or admissions, changing the system would increase the focus on exam results. Last year there were calls to reduce the reliance on grades as the sole or most major determinant of accepting an applicant (including peripheral interest in comprehensive universities). And many universities acknowledge that grades alone cannot represent an individual’s range of desirable skills and attributes, nor their ability to thrive and achieve on a particular course at a particular institution. So a system which places more emphasis on grades could be a retrograde step. Plus the reality of a post-qualification application process means a more pressurised, shorter, decision turnaround with less time to consider alternatives such as interviews, portfolios, personal statements, and applicant’s background circumstances.

What about those students who have over-predicted provisional grades? They will have applied to a higher tariff institution, which post-qualification may well still accept them (given market pressures). Much of the rhetoric for PQA surrounds extending the aspirations of the most capable disadvantaged students. Yet the mid-ability disadvantaged deserve to secure a place at a good institution, just as their more affluent peers do. Of course this is where contextual admissions could come into play.

Contextual Admissions

Contextual admissions could [and should] still exist in a post-qualification system. However, to truly support social mobility aims they would need to be far more transparent. Disadvantaged students can only aspire to a ‘reach’ university if they know their actual grades plus the contextual leniency that will be applied.  Without this they likely will self-select to a less competitive institution. Students also need assurance that universities value this information and do not use the contextual ‘tick’ to filter out applications.

Universities would need to clearly spell out which disadvantage factors they accept and what grade/points reduction they adjust the advertised tariff by, including any further leniency due to double disadvantage or intersectionality. Providers would need to provide online checkers so a student can input their data and check if they are eligible for a reduced offer. And this needs to be transparent, available not only on the institution’s own website but clear and accessible through the UCAS application process (pre or post qualification).

This suggests a clearer but more automated approach to contextual admissions. However, there may be other important factors that some universities check outside of the standard criteria to provide a further adjusted offer, or an offer that doesn’t decrease the standard tariff but provides other alternatives. Of course, if contextual admissions are more ‘automated’ the process could be national – a standard set of criteria by which a defined reduced was applied cross-institution. However, this is may be a step too far. It is right that universities retain their autonomy to determine what contextual reduction or alternatives can be provided. And this isn’t about ‘bums on seats’, universities have different remits with some experienced in taking very high proportions of disadvantaged students with a strong support infrastructure.  And in some cases this is determined by regional characteristics.

Speed is of the essence

The aspect that strikes me most when considering UCU’s table of countries with post qualification admissions is that the time between application and acceptance is a matter of days or weeks. This is just not possible in the UK if there is to be an element of selection. Either the process becomes more automated with less attention to personal factors (which really does feel like ‘bums on seats’, and would less selection increase drop out?) or the start date for foundation and first year courses is delayed (or A level exams are taken earlier/marked quicker). None of these options are attractive. In particular extending the time between school/exam finish and commencing degree/alternative study is counter to Government aims for a productive workforce (and accelerated degrees).

The knock on effect potentially also polarises choice between degree and other alternative skills/study programmes. Imagine a student unsure whether to choose a traditional degree programme (with confirmation of place mid-September) and an apprenticeship option which commences early September. The timing for post-level 3 options needs to match.

Intensive Careers Support Period

Careers advice came up a lot in the press this week. In a PQA system where students still apply to HE institutions while studying at level 3 (but aren’t accepted until their results are known) students can still access careers support and HE advice through their educational provider. However, in a post qualification application system schools or other agencies would need to be available to guide choices and support with personal statements during the summer closure periods, or early autumn.

Capacity would be an issue – far more staff would be needed to cover all the students needing the same support all at once within a short period. And in a system where students apply before results are known provisional grades are still likely to be used by the institution as an indicator. Even though they’ll only be used internally by the school and the individual they will still be unreliable and have the same effect Labour are trying to curb – they’ll restrict the disadvantaged students’ choice of institution based on what they believe they can attain, negating the intention of changing to a PQA system. Of course there is a watered down hybrid approach whereby careers support and statement preparation would be done while studying the level 3 (and this would work for a system of post-qualification admissions rather than applications). This isn’t really student focussed though, it just makes things easier for schools, and internal predicted grades will still bias the student’s initial choices.

Is it really the end for Clearing?

Labour stated clearing wouldn’t exist. However, this seems dangerous as if students applied with their results and none of their institutions accepted them then they are left without a safety net to rethink their possibilities. A PQA system actually creates more uncertainty for the student. Even if they have the grades they cannot be certain their preferred institution will take them, and everything hinges on results day for the process to even start. Really PQA is one giant clearing round, and as such stages would be required. If we were truly joined up vocational and apprenticeship options would all be part of one giant post qualification application system. Wouldn’t that be an enormous feat!

Unconditional Offers

Labour are also opposed to unconditional offers.  Schools are pressuring the Government to clamp down on unconditional offers as they claim that some students ‘take their foot off the gas’ and underperform when they hold an unconditional offer. Politicians also believe the overuse of unconditional offers is a misuse of recruitment simply aiming to lock students into attending the institution ‘bums on seats’ and doesn’t represent ‘value for money’.  Unconditional offers were introduced to support certain disadvantaged groups, such as providing basic security for care leavers who often have to give up their accommodation before their university place is confirmed. More recently, they have been accepted as valid to support those with proven mental health or additional needs who may underperform at final exam. The point of these unconditional offers is that they provide security and access for the underrepresented groups whose lives are characterised by precarity and who, without the unconditional place, who not access HE or consider a ‘reach’ university.  In cases of accepted or demonstrated need it is feasible that these could still form an early application element, even in a post-results system. Or if that was too unpalatable we could follow the Scottish example and provide some form of guaranteed offer (link).

How would it work in practice – the nitty gritty

Everyone has their own theory about how PQA could work in practice. Universities could commence later, schools or a national careers service could advise during the post-exam crunch periods, campus visits could be undertaken during the year or in the summer period (or virtually). However, don’t all these aspects have an impact on the disadvantaged student? A later degree start means either less/more intensive tuition (less period for adjustment – those coming from poor schools need time to level up, some need time to emotionally settle) or that tuition will finish later in the first year summer (impacting on access to the paid summer jobs needed to top up the student loans). Careers advice depends on the quality of the school and dedicated resources – deprived schools may not have the same resource to spend on careers as a private institution. The cost of campus visits may be prohibitive – and why undertake them pre-results if you are unsure where you might end up? Plus with a squeezed acceptance period would there be time for student’s to visit multiple institutions to experience whether they feel it would be a good fit?

Of course there are implications for the University too. Pre-qualification applications form a large part of the end recruitment picture, and HE institutions are essentially reliant on fee income to function. Particularly in today’s marketised competitive environment. Could no visibility as to recruitment levels make ‘bums on seats’ worse? It also doesn’t provide enough lead time to free up extra resource for unexpectedly popular courses. And, timetabling (groan) unpredictable recruitment levels are a timetabling headache. Plus certain widening access groups, such as parents and carers, need to know their timetable well in advance of the start of the programme so they can arrange alternative care.

At the other end of the spectrum how would universities deal with oversupply? Too many students with the required grade level all wish to attend the university. Would universities have less choice over who they take (French model)? Would the university then have to rely on the personal statement (time issues)? Could unconscious bias come into play? Could oversupply pave the way for the three D’s cut-off grade threshold to be introduced?

There could be a first come, first served model, but this has a hidden equality bias. Disadvantaged students may need more guidance in choice of institution or be slower to apply due to personal circumstances. Would there still be an ‘application’ or decision deadline post results?

In the balance…

Many of the reasons offered for a post qualification admissions system are aspects which need tackling anyway. Furthermore, the Government wants to see more choice and variability in the HE market (accelerated degrees, part time and flexible options) alongside prestigious alternative technical and degree apprenticeship routes. A PQA system swaps the unpredictability of predicted grades for the unpredictability of exam performance, which may still not be a reliable predictor of an individual’s sustained capability.

Commentary

  • Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: “The higher education admissions system isn’t working for students, and radical action is needed to change that…Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions. No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair…We will work with schools, colleges, and universities to design and implement the new system, and continue to develop our plans to make higher education genuinely accessible to all.”
  • Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The Labour party is right to look at overhauling the university admissions system. The current system is based on students’ predicted grades which are wrong most of the time. Moving to a system of post-qualification applications would empower the student to make the best university choice for them. We’d also like to see a greater use of contextual data in the admissions process, as well as a review of the personal statement to see how it could be improved.”
  • Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is a good idea to look at moving to a system of post-qualification admissions for university, but it would represent a significant and complex change to our current admissions systems. t would be extremely difficult to manage the entire applications process in the few weeks between A-level results in mid-August and the beginning of university terms in September or October, and it is likely that we would need to rethink the entire calendar. It might be simpler to return to a system in which AS levels counted towards the first year of the full A-level as this allowed universities to use actual results in considering applications, and for universities to stop the practice of so-called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers – which are unconditional as long as the student makes the university their first choice – simply to put bums on seats.”

Damian Hinds, the previous Education Secretary, announced a review of admissions practices on 5 April 2019. The OfS is expected to launch the review in the autumn. The House of Commons Library has issued a briefing paper on the key issues surrounding admissions. Meanwhile UUK launched their own pre-emptive admissions review on 22 July.

A Level Results

DfE Statistics published on Thursday, A Level results day, showed:

  • Entries to STEM subjects increased for both male and females – overall a 26.2% rise since 2010;
  • More girls now do science subjects – biology, chemistry and physics combined – than boys and overall science entries are up by 7.4%, despite the fall in the population;
  • Entries to Spanish have risen making it the most popular language at A level while there has been a relative increase in entries to German for the first time since 2007;
  • Maths remains the most popular subject at A level;
  • Since 2010, total entries in mathematics and further mathematics have increased by 20.0%, despite a 10.7% fall in the A level cohort population in the period;
  • Entries to both history and geography have increased;
  • Girls narrowly outperform boys at A and A* combined, reversing last year’s trend, but boys did better than girls at A*;
  • The North East has the highest overall pass rate and the biggest percentage improvement at A and A* grades;
  • A drop in the proportion of A-level results at the top grades to the lowest level in more than a decade.
  • There has been a rise in non-EU students coming to the country to study; and
  • A rise in nursing admissions – bucking a recent trend.
  • The gap between boys and girls increased this year with 73.3% of male students achieving a C grade or above compared with 77.2% of females.
  • The gap between boys and girls increased this year with 73.3% of male students achieving a C grade or above compared with 77.2% of females.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: I congratulate everyone receiving their A level results today. The new government will do all we can to improve funding for education and to give schools the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying so that pupils can learn. We also must focus much more attention on providing great apprenticeships for all those who do not go to university.

The new Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, also spoke on A level results day.

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, stated: Congratulations to everyone receiving their A-Level results today. And thank you to parents and carers, education leaders and teachers for their hard work in supporting young people through their education. We need to give more support to our students, so Labour will abolish predicted grades and implement post-qualification admissions. This will allow those studying to make informed choices, and reduce the stress of the transition to higher education. Students should be proud of what they have achieved today, and we are proud of them.”

The Office for Students has A level day commentary and coverage. Among the links are Sir Michael Barber speaking on information, advice and guidance plus fair access. Nicola Dandridge on unconditional offers (iNews picks up on this too, and the Telegraph states the OfS are ‘poised to intervene’ on the issue quoting Dandridge as saying “we can and we will” use regulatory powers to crack down on the worst offenders.)  Dandridge is also covered in the Times on improving the ease for students to transfer between institutions.

The Telegraph report on the busiest clearing even in: More students go straight to clearing as Russell Group universities drop grades to take extra applicants. The Telegraphy also have an article by Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, who returns to ‘bums on seats’ mode in Results day is not a chance to simply get students through the door.

There is always press about exams being too easy or too hard on A level results day. The Financial Times started a day early highlight leaks that A grades for maths, biology and physics would be awarded by some Boards to students achieving 55-59%.

Fans of Wonkhe’s David Kernohan will be delighted with his latest analysis:

  • The Sunday Times splashed on the idea that 48 per cent of (essay-based) A level results are “wrong” – which prompted a delightful correctionfrom Ofqual that could only really be improved if it was written in red ink. For many subjects, marking is based on qualitative criteria that rely on academic judgement. There will be variation, though a well argued and well constructed essay will always win out.
  • And The Times’ Sian Griffiths reportedthat some students would get the highest grade without achieving a particularly high percentage mark. As we all know this is due to the Ofqual quest for “comparable outcomes” if you change the assessment method to one that gives students more trouble, the average marks for each grade will be lower assuming the population taking the exam has broadly the same characteristics. The whole set of boundaries leaked yesterday on social media to generalised merriment.
  • Away from A level performance, the classic “Mickey Mouse” courses articlecame from the Mail this year – an annual failure to understand the idea of niche courses serving a specific local needs, the need to widen participation, and the limited utility of A levels in solving either issue. And – yes – there’s a “Campaign for Real Education” quote.

Which leaves us only with one question – why in today’s digital world is results coverage still depicted by a shock horror/happy face supposedly examining their results on a piece of paper?! (Exhibit A and B!)

Results Day Records: UCAS has welcomed ‘a record number of disadvantaged young people going to university’:

  • A record 17.3% of 18 year olds (18,900 students, which is also the highest on A level results day) from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in England have been accepted (a rise of 0.8% on 2018). This slightly narrows the gap between the most and least advantaged groups. Both Wales and Northern Ireland have new highs in disadvantage acceptances too.
  • Across the UK, 28.2% of all 18 year olds have been accepted through UCAS, also a new record for results day (last year’s figure on A level results day was 27.7%).
  • A new high of 33,630 international students from outside the EU have been accepted, driven by a 32% rise in accepted applicants from China.
  • 26,440 EU students have been accepted to study in the UK, a small rise compared to the 2018 results day.

Clearing: Last year nationally 15,000 students were placed through Clearing on the day after the A level results came out, with 39,000 placed within the first five days. Updates on the national picture of applicants and acceptances is regularly updated through UCAS’ daily clearing analysis page. We wish all BU staff involved in Clearing resilience and fortitude during this busy period!

Widening Access

Scotland are proactively tackling social mobility by guaranteeing offers for care experienced and the most deprived students. Scotland’s 18 higher education institutions have set out a new commitment that care experienced applicants who meet minimum entry requirements will be guaranteed an offer of an undergraduate place from autumn 2020. The move aims to drive a significant increase in the number of care experienced people going to university. This guaranteed offer is crucial because in Scotland, partially because of the funding system, demand for places outstrips supply – on average, only half of applications are likely to result in an offer even for students who meet standard entry requirements. The guaranteed offer is informed by the universities belief in the importance of recognising the context in which care experienced applicants have achieved the entry qualifications needed for university.

Most pioneering is that Scotland has defined ‘care experienced’ without limits. It includes anyone who has been or is currently in care or from a looked after background at any stage of their life, no matter how short, including adopted children who were previously looked after. Different forms of care settings are included (e.g. residential care, foster care, kinship care, or looked after at home with a supervision requirement) and there are no age restrictions (so an adult who was in care 40 years ago can also benefit). The guaranteed offer also applies to people living in the 20% most deprived Scottish areas, known as SIMD20.

Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of the University of St Andrews said: “This is a decisive and, I hope, catalytic step jointly taken by Scotland’s universities. It gives due recognition to the substantial achievement of people with experience of care who are successful in getting the grades for university having overcome very challenging circumstances at a young age. We hope it will enable more people with care experience to feel confident applying to university, knowing that their application is encouraged and will be supported. It is important that all of Scotland’s universities have made this guarantee together. That should provide the greatest possible clarity and visibility of this change to people with care experience wherever they live in Scotland and wherever they want to study.

It’s hoped that that universities’ guaranteed offer of a place based on new minimum entry requirements exclusive to care experienced and MD20 applicants, will be a prove to be a powerful combination of both action and words that together signal the commitment universities have to creating opportunities for those with care experience and encourage a rise in applicants.”

Disability & Disadvantage

The APPG Assistive Technology has published a report into the disabled students’ allowance finding the £200 charge is a significant deterrent for new students. The £200 contribution was introduced by the Government as a fair contribution towards the price of a high powered laptop that is capable of running resource-intensive assistive software. However, students often make do with their existing lower-tech computing equipment and forgo the disability support package of software. Furthermore, the APPG state the cost of the disability assessment is wasted and borne by the taxpayer as the student doesn’t take the package up. The report calls on the government to remove upfront assistive technology costs and open a public consultation on all financial barriers associated with the Disabled Students’ Allowance. Policy Connect, who  publish the report on behalf of the APPG, state:

The increasing number of disabled people reaching university is a major step forward for inclusion and social mobility. More disabled people rightly see university as an option for them and the growing culture of disability inclusion within the UK has encouraged more students to disclose their impairments. Yet when disabled students get to university they still face a persistent gap in experience and outcomes compared to their non-disabled peers.

Policy Connect also manage the HE Commission who are undertaking an inquiry into the university experience of disabled students. It focuses on the three strands of student life: teaching and learning; living and social; and transition and employment. It aims to explore the challenges faced by disabled students and whether current interventions are good practice and effective. Disabled students are less likely to complete their course, are lower paid as graduates and are more likely to experience loneliness. Working age adults with a disability also access university in lower numbers than expected – less than 17.5% of working age adults with a disability access university. The Commission will hold a parliamentary oral evidence session in September. The report is due early in 2020.

The  National Deaf Children’s Society  has published  analysis on deaf children falling behind at school

Social Justice: FACE have a blog establishing that ECRs (Early Career Researchers) are deeply interested in social justice, social mobility and improving the student experience – despite this being primarily outside of their ECR roles. The article talks of how to offer ECRs greater involvement within social solutions for students through their evaluation expertise.

Immigration

Within days of Boris taking the reins he dropped the net migration target and began pursuing a more internationally friendly policy than Theresa May. And this week the one millionth person was granted settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

International STEM talent: The Home Office has launched a fast-track immigration STEM talent scheme building on the existing Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa route.  The new scheme will provide eligible individuals with a three-year visa, during which they can come and go from the UK at will. At the end of three years, those on the scheme would be able apply for indefinite leave to remain (giving a permanent right to reside in the UK and access to benefits and healthcare on the same basis as British citizens). The scheme does not have a minimum salary requirement and individuals do not need to secure a job before arriving in the UK (unlike the existing Tier 2 route for skilled workers). Individuals will be able to bring dependants (spouses/partners and children) and they will be able to work or study while here. Visa fees that are commensurate with existing immigration fees will be charged. A review of funding the immigration system, including fees charged will take place in the future. The talent scheme aims to ensure that those with specialist skills in STEM subjects can come to the UK and make an important contribution to our leading science and research sectors, significantly enhancing the intellectual and knowledge base of the UK. The entire Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route is earmarked for revamp and rebranding over the new parliamentary period.

UK post-study work visa comparison

The Scottish Government have published a comparative report on how the UK’s post-study work offer compares with competitor countries.

  • The popularity of international education continues to grow, and the volume of student mobility is at an all-time high. In 2015, there were an estimated 4.6 million globally mobile higher education students, a massive increase from the 2.1 million students who went abroad in 2001.
  • The US, the UK, China, France, and Australia rank as top host destinations of international students worldwide and collectively host an estimated two thirds of all international students. In terms of student numbers, the US is the global leader for international students with 971,000 students in 2016, followed by the UK which had 432,000 international students in the same year. At the same time, however, international students comprised only 5% of the total student population in the US as compared to 18% in the UK.

The following factors are significant in student destination choice:

  • The academic offer and the international reputation of a given university or a given country’s education system more generally, as well as language of instruction/official language of the country.
  • Ease of meeting formal requirements (fulfilling university recruitment and visa requirements).
  • Finances: affordability of studying and living in the host country; sponsorship opportunities in host country.
  • Presence of networks in the host country; general atmosphere in a given country: attitudes towards international students (and immigrants in general), lifestyle.
  • Work opportunities during and after studies.
  • For those looking to emigrate permanently – the country’s immigration policy and pathways to settlement post-study.

The report concludes that to improve its global competitiveness in terms of attracting and retaining international students, the UK should:

  • Introduce a more competitive post-study work offer taking into consideration ease of application and application timescales, programme length, work entitlement, and opportunities for applying to the programme after leaving the UK.
  • Implement additional measures supporting the longer term retention of international students, such as: language and employability support; integration programmes; provision of information and advice on conditions of stay, employment opportunities, and life in the UK; creating opportunities for establishing professional networks.
  • Ensure systematic monitoring of the programme and its implementation to prevent its potential misuse (and evaluate its effectiveness).

Visa Checking Dissatisfaction

International students are unable to access the visa checking services they are entitled to and are resorting to paying additional fees to gain appointments. Sopra Steria holds the contract for the UK Visa and Citizenship Application services to enrol and check the biometric information on visa applications. UUK are campaigning for Sopra Steria to immediately improve the service they are offering. Currently students are unable to get checking appointments, the online service isn’t accessible or compatible with the use of assistive technology, there are further problems with the online service and an exorbitant telephone support line charge to resolve these problems. Students have resorted to paying additional charges to fast track their appointments and traveling a distance away from their university to attend these. UUK is calling on the company to resolve these issues quickly before the September ‘student surge’ when 40,000+ students will need to register their biometric details.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: Despite constructive engagement between the Home Office, UKVI and universities, the current capacity and level of service being offered by Sopra Steria remains unacceptable. Students and universities cannot be expected to pay to address Sopra Steria’s broken system. We are calling on Sopra Steria to fully address these concerns before the September surge of students so that students can start their courses with the visas they need. International students make a huge cultural and economic contribution to the UK. Sopra Steria should be helping to send a more welcoming message to international students, signalling that the UK is open to talented individuals from around the world, as is the case at our universities.

Elisa Calcagni, a PhD student from Chile studying at the University of Cambridge, thought the service she received from Sopra Steria was very disappointing:  As a non-EEA national I was required to enrol my biometrics through Sopra Steria. I had not expected any additional charges but I found it virtually impossible to find a free appointment. The time window for bookings on the online system only covers two weeks and there were no free appointments available, or any appointments at all in Cambridge. I called the Sopra Steria support line and they suggested to keep checking the website for cancelled appointments. I didn’t want the uncertainty of constantly checking the system with no guarantee of an appointment becoming available, so I selected to pay £100 for an appointment in Croydon, two hours away. Despite booking a timed appointment, there was a waiting time of an hour and then the system wasn’t working properly leading to further delays.

Khalid Elkhereiji, a student at the University of Southampton, said: “I use a screen reader which reads on-screen text aloud. Trying to login in to my UKVCAS account to book the appointment I needed for my visa was very frustrating as none of the screen readers I used were able to detect the checkbox which must be selected to confirm the person logging in is not a robot. I spent hours trying to do this, carefully repeating the same steps as it was not possible to identify the issue. This is not a problem that I face with other websites and it meant I was not able to login without the assistance of a sighted person…I have explained my concerns with the accessibility of the service to Sopra Steria and I believe it is a relatively simple issue to fix, however I have not had any further updates from Sopra Steria and there has been no confirmation that their website is inclusive and accessible to everyone.

HEPI have published Two sides of the same coin? Brexit and future student demand. The report concludes that the best available evidence points in opposite direction for student demand predictions. Nick Hillman, summarises:

  • There is a broad consensus that says Brexit will mean far less demand for UK higher education. When EU students are no longer entitled to taxpayer-subsidised tuition fee loans and face much higher international fees, they are likely to look elsewhere or stay at home. Research we published back in 2017 suggested the number of students who come from the EU could halve.
  • But there is an important historical precedent that tells a rather different story. Until the early 1980s, all international students coming to the UK were subsidised by taxpayers. At the time, the consensus said their numbers would fall off a cliff. In fact, the end of the subsidy laid the foundations for what eventually became a big expansion in international students. Universities realised they could charge fees high enough to cover the full costs of teaching and more. When international students subsidise other activities, such as underfunded research programmes, there is a strong incentive to recruit more of them.
  • No one knows for certain whether the pessimistic economic modelling or the optimistic historical precedent is the better guide to the future. Perhaps the impact of Brexit on student numbers will end up lying somewhere between these two extremes. What happens will depend, to some extent, on whether the new crop of Ministers decide to roll out the red carpet for international students – for example, by streamlining visa procedures, improving post-study work rules and clarifying the rules for EU students after Brexit. It will also depend on how institutions choose to respond to Brexit

Headline Estimates/Findings:

  • 31,000 fewer incoming EU students each year (-57%), representing a loss of fee income of £40 million, as a result of the changes to fee and loan entitlements;
  • 20,000 more non-EU students (+9%) and EU students (+10%) each year, representing an increase in fee income of over £225 million, as a result of the change in the value of the pound.
  • a net drop of roughly 11,000 incoming students but over £185 million more fee income for institutions, as all incoming students would then be paying the full international fees.
  • Institutions foresee the considerable growth of students from non-EU countries continuing, collectively forecasting an increase of over 56,000 by 2022, or 20% (although the Chair of the Office for Students has complained about ‘over-optimistic student recruitment forecasts’)

Policy Takeaways:

  • The best modelling that has been undertaken on changes to fees and loans suggests there will be a big drop in the number of EU students coming to the UK after Brexit.
  • Changes to the value of the pound are also likely to determine the degree to which institutions are affected.
  • Ending subsidies for students from other countries can sometimes provide new financial incentives on institutions to enrol them.

Parliament

We have a refreshed Cabinet (here is a link to a lovely wall chart!) and here is a reminder of Labour’s shadow cabinet.

  • Universities Minister is Jo Johnson, for his second stint in the role, he remains with joint lines of responsibility to both the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). His reappointment to the Universities role has prompted much speculation about unfinished business in the BU policy office and is interesting when taken in context with the new Education appointees, some of which are tough characters or old hands. For the first time ever the Universities Minister will attend Cabinet too.  Jo’s BEIS responsibilities have been set as: science and research, innovation, intellectual property, space, agri-tech, technology.
  • Heading up Education is Gavin Williamson (yes he who was ousted by Theresa May for leaking while he was SoS for Defence) in the chief role of Secretary of State for Education. His responsibilities cover early years, children’s social care, teachers’ pay, school curriculum, school improvement, academies and free schools, further education, higher education, apprenticeships and skills. He has no previous experience in an education role, nor in his non-political career.
  • Nick Gibb is Minister of State (Minister for School Standards) and holds a wide school responsibility remit. He has held an education role almost continually since 2005 both in Government and the shadow cabinet, including school reform and school standards before a brief stint as Equalities Minister (2017-2018). Nick retained this, his previous role, in the Boris reshuffle.
  • Kemi Badenoch is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Children and Families. Among her responsibilities are social care, SEN, race disparity audit, disadvantaged pupils, social mobility and opportunity areas. She has no previous ministerial experience, was only elected to the Commons in 2017, and is heavily pregnant (you can see her views on MP motherhood here).
  • Lord Agnew has an unpaid role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for the School System. His responsibilities include university technical colleges. Within the Lords, since 2017, he held position as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System and Government Spokesperson. He was also a non-executive Director within DfE (2010-15).  Lord Agnew retained this, his previous role in the Boris reshuffle.
  • Engineer and running fanatic Chris Green is the team PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary). He has an interest in education and plethora of relevant APPG memberships including artificial intelligence, life sciences, medical research (and medical devices), engineering, health, youth employment, digital skills and he was a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee (2015-2017).

The Apprenticeships and Skills Minister (Anne Milton’s old role) has been removed. SoS Gavin Williamson has assumed these responsibilities into his brief, with Ministerial support from the new Children’s Minister, Kemi Badenoch. A DfE spokesperson stated: As the Prime Minister has said, further education and skills will be a priority for this government – and the Education Secretary taking the lead for this vital work is a reflection of that commitment.

Previous Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, is now Minister of State for Health and Social Care.

In local news Conor Burns (who was Boris’ PPS) has been promoted to Minister of State for International Trade. Tobias Ellwood has stepped down from his two year stint within the Minister of Defence. And Simon Hoare retains his post as Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs.

Humanities bias within Cabinet: It is unsurprising to note that 67% of the new Cabinet attended a Russell Group university (45% at Oxbridge). However, what is perhaps slightly surprising, given the negative rhetoric and rumblings about downgrading the fee level for certain subjects, is that 87% of the Cabinet studied programmes within the humanities and social sciences field. For more on who studied what and where see this HEPI blog.

UUK lobby new PM:  UUK call on Boris to take action in 5 areas to maximise the role of universities within his domestic and global ambitions:

  1. Recommit to the 2.4% of GDP investment in research and development by 2027. Plus immigration system favourable to bring in the most talented global researchers.
  2. Back the two-year post-study work visa amendment within the Immigration Bill, alongside lowering the salary threshold for international workers to obtain a high-skilled work visa to £21,000.
  3. For domestic success including regional growth, skills workforce, equality of opportunity and social mobility UUK call for secure long term and sustainable funding for universities and students. Including reintroducing maintenance grants and cutting the on-programme interest rate on the loans. Overhauling so students better understand the student finance system.
  4. Acknowledge the importance of the university experience – support mental health, widening access and end the BAME attainment gap.
  5. Avoid no-deal Brexit, retain Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.

And it seems Boris was listening (or more likely had already decided):

Education featured as a core element within a speech Boris made in late July:

  1. We will give every child the world class education they deserve. Which is why we will increase the minimum level of per pupil funding in primary and secondary schools and return education funding to previous levels by the end of this parliament.
  2. And we cannot afford the chronic under-funding of our brilliant FE colleges, which do so much to support young people’s skills and our economy. We have a world class university sector; in fact it is one of the biggest concentrations of higher education anywhere in Europe right here in this city – why should we not aspire to the same status for our further education institutions, to allow people to express their talents?
  3. We will double down on our investment in R&D, we will accelerate the talks on those free trade deals… If we unite our country, with better education, better infrastructure, with an emphasis on new technology, then this really can be a new golden age for the UK.

Other new Education related appointees

  • Ofsted – Julie Kirkbride, Hamid Patel, Martin Spencer, Carole Stott and Baroness Wyld appointed as board members, and John Cridland and Vanessa Wilms reappointed.
  • Ofqual – Susan Barratt, Matt Tee and Mike Thompson appointed as board members, and Roger Taylor reappointed as Chair.
  • Migration Advisory Committee – Madeleine Sumption reappointed as Chair for a further three years. (Relevant because the MAC are looking at the immigration thresholds for post-study work visas.)
  • Royal College of Midwives – Sasha Wells, Neil Tomlin, Natalie Linder, Dee Davies, Keelie Barrett, Janet Ballintine, Sarah Jones have been elected to the Board as members.

Brexit

On Tuesday Parliamentarians hoping to stop a no-deal Brexit through the courts will get a chance to make their case in September. A Scottish judge agree Friday 6 September for the legal case aimed at curbing the Prime Minister’s ability to prorogue Parliament in order to push a no-deal exit past MPs will be heard. The legal bid has been backed by more than 70 MPs and peers, and seeks to get the Court of Session in Edinburgh – which, unlike English courts, sits throughout the summer – to rule that suspending Parliament would be “unlawful and unconstitutional”.  Papers lodged with the court say: “Seeking to use the power to prorogue Parliament to avoid further parliamentary participation in the withdrawal of the UK from the EU is both unlawful and unconstitutional.” Judge Lord Doherty on Tuesday confirmed that a full hearing for the legal petition would now take place on 6 September, just days after MPs return from the summer recess.

However, a poll suggests that Boris Johnson would be backed by a majority of the public if he shut down Parliament in order to achieve Brexit. A ComRes study for The Telegraph  found that 44% of the public agree that the Prime Minister “needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending Parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs from stopping it”.  37% of the public were opposed to the move, while 19% said they did not know. Boris has repeatedly refused to rule out the controversial move,  sparking an outcry from MPs  and warnings it would prompt a constitutional crisis.

No Deal

Political monitoring consultants, Dods, set out seven scenarios by which Parliamentary alliances could prevent a no-deal exit (scroll to page 8). This is a mid-July document, the scenarios are still valid and simply explain the constitutional complexities and assess the likelihood of stopping no deal.

As time progresses and the likelihood of the UK leaving the EU without a deal increases the commentary and analysis of the no deal scenario has proliferated. The House of Commons Library have produced a briefing paper giving links to a range of 2019 publications by private sector organisations, think tanks, research institutes and other academic institutions on a no-deal exit from the EU. The papers consider the general political, constitutional and economic implications of a no-deal Brexit rather than its effects in particular sectors.

And you won’t have missed Corbyn’s bold move to cement no deal opposition by seizing power for a care taking Government to prevent crashing out of the EU, followed closely by a general election.

Trade Deals: Two day visit by John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, has set out that America is keen to make post-Brexit trade deals with the UK. The deals are likely to be piecemeal starting with key quick win sectors and progressively continuing on to encompass other areas.

Degree Apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships are four years old and the OfS conducted research to find out what motivated these earlier adopters to choose a degree apprenticeship instead of the traditional full time undergraduate study route. Their report finds:

  • Achieving a degree whilst earning a salary was the most motivating factor for 90% of level 6 and 92% of level 7 students. The OfS believe this is because degree apprenticeships represent value for money and are a kickback to the cost and level of student debt accrued through the traditional route.
  • 38% of level 6 students would have undertaken the traditional degree if they hadn’t chosen the apprenticeship. OfS state this demonstrates degree apprenticeships are seen as an alternative to traditional HE degrees by many. Two thirds of students (at both levels) determined for themselves that degree apprenticeships would be the best fit for their needs.
  • 90% (L6) and 78% (L7) believe the degree apprenticeship boosted their career by advancing them more quickly than a traditional degree could.
  • Level 6 and 7 respondents have different educational and employment backgrounds and different motivational drivers
    • Level 6 learners tended to be younger, often recently joining the labour market and typically described the degree apprenticeship as a way to kick start their careers. It was also seen as a good route to achieve self-employment.
    • Level 7 respondents tended to be older and were more likely to have different motivations behind attaining a degree apprenticeship, such as retraining to keep pace with the general labour market skill level and achieving career progression.
  • The Level 7 respondents found that the employer was pivotal in providing information on degree apprenticeships but also advice and support. [Interesting given the claims that current careers support signposts to a traditional degree route rather than alternatives.] Whereas Level 6 respondents relied on their friends and family for advice and support. [It seems reasonable that the age profile difference is a factor in where the student sought advice from here.]However, the OfS believe this access to advice reinforces the assumption that workforce development and retraining are important motivators among Level 7 respondents where Level 6 apprentices view it as a way into employment.

The report concluded: With 31% of Level 6 respondents coming to degree apprenticeships directly from schools, sixth form colleges and other education routes there must be information and guidance on degree apprenticeships here as well. This will help to ensure learners understand the available options so maximising the potential of degree apprenticeships. Expanding the number of employers who support degree apprenticeships is also important to not only the supply of degree apprenticeships, but also to ensure this source of information is able to adequately promote degree apprenticeships among potential learners.

Young Aspirations

More recently, the Sutton Trust and Ipsos Mori have published a report following their survey into 11-16 year olds’ University Aspirations and Attitudes to HE.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of young people said they’d be interested in doing an apprenticeship rather than going to university, if one was available for a job they wanted to do. Meanwhile, just under two-thirds (65%) said they think it’s important to go to university. This has fallen from a high of 86% in 2013, with the proportion who feel that going to university is not important rising from 11% in 2013 to 20% in 2019.

Key Findings:

  • Almost nine out of 10 (85%) said it’s important to be confident to do well and get on in life. Three quarters felt that having connections was crucial, with 75% saying that ‘knowing the right people’ is important for success in life.
  • University was deemed less important for young people from the least affluent families (61% compared with 67% in ‘high affluence’ households), and white pupils (62% compared with 75% of young people from a BME background).
  • Three-quarters (77%) of young people think they’re likely to go on to higher education after school. This is a similar rate to the past few years, but slightly below the high of 81% in 2013.
  • Of the young people who said it was unlikely they would go into higher education, the most common set of reasons (62%) was they don’t like the idea or don’t enjoy learning or studying. 43% cited a financial reason, while 41% said that they weren’t clever enough or wouldn’t get good enough exam results to get in.
  • Two-fifths (40%) of young people who are likely to go to university or who aren’t sure either way yet, are worried about the cost of higher education, down from 46% in 2018. However, money worries continue to be pronounced for young people from the least affluent families (50% compared with 32% in ‘high affluence’ households) and for girls over boys (44% vs 36%).

Sutton Trust make the following recommendations:

  • All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers.
  • Maintenance grants, abolished in 2016, should be restored
  • The government should introduce a system of means-tested fees which waives fees entirely for those from low income background
  • There should be more higher and degree apprenticeships, targeted at younger age groups, to give young people a platform for progression to higher level learning and careers, including through university.

Gordon Marsden MP, Labour’s Shadow Higher Education Minister, responding to the downturn in HE aspirations, stating:

These figures show how badly this government has failed young people. As a result, more students are expressing doubts about higher education. Young people are paying the price for a system that burdens them with debt, and doesn’t provide the guidance and support they need. We need to support young people. That’s why Labour will restore EMA, and scrap fees for college and university. We’ll also scrap university offers based on predicted grades and implement a new fairer system of post-qualification admissions.

Labour’s Education Proposals

In addition to stimulating the post qualification admissions debate earlier this month Labour published their interim Lifelong Learning Commission report which informs the Party’s proposals for a national education service from cradle to grave. Interesting are the points they identify as inadequate in the current education and funding system. It mainly picks up on the same themes as the Conservatives have highlighted – FE, disadvantage, retraining due to fourth industrial revolution job changes, and part time students – albeit with stronger emphasis on FE and more flexible/shorter study models. A major departure from Government thinking is their criticism of apprenticeships:

Apprenticeships and Further Education Reforms: The push toward apprenticeships as the primary choice for training has been at the expense of shorter, more flexible modes of training. Not all adults are in a position to be able to commit to the minimum duration required by an apprenticeship, and apprenticeships are often not the most appropriate form of learning for adults who already have substantial employment experience. 

Student Loans

Paula Sussex, the (relatively) new CEO of the Student Loans Company, made an interesting speech to a NUS Conference. It has a clear tone of doing better by their ‘customers’ and explains recent changes made to improve the service and make it more digitally enabled.

Loan Debt

The Labour Party have analysed Government projects and estimate that graduate student debt interest will rise by £4.2bn to £8.6bn by 2024.  DfE figures show this rise is due to the post-2012 undergraduate loans 6.3% interest charge. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that less than 20% of graduate will fully pay back their student loans.

According to the House of Commons Library, the cash value of loans has increased from below £6 billion (2011-12) to £15 billion (2017-18) and is forecast to reach in excess of £20 billion in 2023-24. This increase is driven primarily by higher fees from 2012, but also replacing grants with loans and expansion of loans to part-time and postgraduate students. The ultimate cost to taxpayer is currently thought to be around 47% of the loan value.

What affect could the intentions of the Augar review have on this?

The Augar Review recommended a headline cut to tuition fees, the return to maintenance grants and a cut to interest during study to RPI + 0%. It also suggested a cut to the repayment threshold from £25,000 to £23,000 in today’s money, and an increase in the repayment term from 30 to 40 years. The final change recommended by Augar was a repayment cap equal to 1.2 times the value of the loan.

The IFS estimate that the full package of these reforms would overall create a system that was considerably less “leaky”, with roughly 50% of graduates paying off their loans under the Augar model compared to less than 20% under the current system.

The proposed Augar system has mixed effects for social demographics:

  • Highest earners would see reductions in their repayments of around £30,000 in today’s money (and we know disadvantaged students struggle to access the top paying jobs).
  • Middle earners would see increases of around £15,000.
  • The biggest winners would be those in the top 10% of lifetime earners who grew up in low income households qualifying them for the full maintenance grant; those people could expect to see reductions in lifetime repayments of approximately £40,000

Augar – University funding

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee have published Science research funding in universities considering the Augar Review’s implications for Science Research Funding within HE. The report criticises the Augar review for failing to take a holistic approach to the funding of universities and recognises that the current research system is being cross-subsided by other areas of funding in the higher education ecosystem, including international student fees. The report recommends that if the Government follows any of the recommendations of the review relating to tuition fees, it must implement them as a full financial package, including increasing the teaching grant to cover the loss of tuition fees, to ensure that universities are no worse off than they are now. The report expresses concern that the proposals would erode the autonomy of universities. In particular, the proposal that the Office for Students should determine the value of teaching grant awarded to individual institutions for different subjects.

Funding/Augar:

  • QR funding is vital in allowing universities to cover the full economic cost of research, and in helping universities to fund research infrastructure which is often not covered by other sources of funding. QR funding must rise by at least the rate of inflation and the deficit that has been created since 2010 should be addressed.
  • Reducing the tuition fee cap in England to £7,500 without compensating universities for this loss in full by increasing the teaching grant will result in significant financial consequences for universities. The immediate casualties of such a reduction in income will likely be widening-participation programmes, student experience, infrastructure maintenance and repair, and the hands-on elements of courses.
  • The Augar Review recommends that the social and economic value of different subjects be determined by the Office for Students, taking account of the subject’s relative importance with respect to alignment with the Government’s Industrial Strategy and a range of other factors such as the financial viability of the university and its contribution to the local economy. This recommended process is far from straightforward and is certain to be controversial. We are concerned that it will be fraught with difficulties and that it will remove autonomy from universities.
  • Whoever has the responsibility for determining the value of teaching grant awards must do so using clear metrics to assess the impact on the research base. Given the complex nature of the cross-subsidies universities employ in managing their finances, seemingly small disruptions to inputs could have significant unintended consequences for research.

Brexit:

  • We urge the Government to associate the UK with Horizon Europe as soon as possible, to ensure certainty and stability for researchers in universities and industry.
  • Public funding for research in universities after Brexit should seek to replace not just the amount of funding but the areas it supports, like discovery research and scientific infrastructure and facilities. It is important to the scientific community that the basis for awarding funding is research excellence.
  • Retaining the mobility of researchers after Brexit is vital to ensuring the UK can continue to attract the best researchers and meet its research and development goals. The Government must ensure post-Brexit immigration laws do not hinder the ability of UK universities to recruit and retain the scientific staff they require, including technicians earning below the recommended salary threshold. In doing so the Government must also give consideration to amending immigration laws relating to families and dependants of those scientific staff.

With Jo Johnson back in the Universities Minister hot seat the implementation of (elements of) Augar will be closely watched. Jo was resistant to the review in the first place, often urging the sector to ‘pipe down’ and not call for the HE Review to take place. His refusal to support the review was one of the factors in his step down from the Ministerial responsibilities.  Upon publication Jo remained opposed to the outcome of Augar tweeting: “Looks like Augar (as predicted) will destabilise uni finances, imperil many courses & reverse progress in widening access. Reducing fees to £7.5k will leave funding hole HMT won’t fill + benefit only highest earning grads at expense of general taxpayer. Bad policy, bad politics”.

Changes to fees and loans

The Department for Education has published a Written Ministerial Statement on Higher Education Student Finance:  https://bit.ly/2LAO5cn  Made by: Chris Skidmore (The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation) (The Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation).

Key Points:

  • Maximum tuition fees for the 2020/21 academic year in England will be maintained at the levels that apply in the 2019/20 academic year, the third year in succession that fees have been frozen. This means that the maximum level of tuition fees for a standard full-time course will remain at £9,250 for the 2020/21 academic year.
  • Maximum undergraduate loans for living costs will be increased by forecast inflation (2.9%) in 2020/21. And the same increase will apply to maximum disabled students’ allowances for students with disabilities undertaking full-time and part-time undergraduate courses in 2020/21.
  • Maximum loans for students starting master’s degree and doctoral degree courses from 1 August 2020 onwards will be increased by forecast inflation (2.9%) in 2020/21. And the same increase will apply to the maximum disabled students’ allowance for postgraduate students with disabilities in 2020/21.
  • I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2020/21 late in 2019 or early in 2020. These regulations will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • The Government will consider the recommendations of the independent panel to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, published on 30 May 2019, and will conclude the review at the Spending Review later this year.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New business this week:

Did you know you can view all of BU’s older inquiries and consultation responses here?

Other news

AI: The Financial Times have two interesting articles on AI. First using AI for legal mediation and a second future focussed article which considers implants chips into a young brain to mimic thoughts and behaviour and learn how to simulate the biological brain by adulthood.

Foundation Years: A HEPI blog explores all that is valuable and good for students choosing to undertake a Foundation Year before commencing their degree level study. The blog responds to the dismissive tone of the Augar report which suggested universities were using this extra year to line their pockets at the expense of the student and taxpayers.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 7th June 2019

Is it only just over a week since Augar landed?  Given the volume of commentary, it feels much longer.  We are quite good as a sector at criticism and finding the potential problems and risks in things.  As a HEPI blog says: Last week’s Augar report divided opinion. At HEPI, we were at the more positive end of the spectrum, not least because the report addressed, in a serious way, pretty much all the points we had said it should. We were, and remain, determined not to fall down the biggest rabbit hole that has to be avoided when commenting sensibly on public policy: being unceasingly negative and refusing to recognise serious attempts to address genuine problems.” 

Last week  we stuck to the facts looking at the full set of recommendations and the content of the report, this week we look more at opinions in a report that may well not be implemented in full, but is unlikely to disappear completely.

One thing that everyone can agree on is that the implications of Augar are ominous for the Arts and Humanities – the (historian) Minister for Universities gave a speech on Thursday which we discuss below, with some reflections on what Augar could mean for Arts and Humanities subjects in universities.  This update was getting so big, we have written about that in a separate blog here.

Augar – what next?

On Tuesday the Secretary of State of Education, Damien Hinds, made a statement on the Government’s review of post-18 education and its funding – the first review since the Robbins report in 1963 to look at the totality of post-18 education. Hinds said the Government will carefully consider the independent panel’s recommendations before finalising any spending review announcements.

  • A lot of the attention will be on what this report says about higher education, but the majority of students in post-18 education are not at university. The report identifies the importance of both further and higher education in creating a system that unlocks everyone’s talents. As the Prime Minister said last week, further education and technical colleges are not just places of learning; they are vital engines of both social mobility and economic prosperity. Colleges play an essential part in delivering the modern industrial strategy and equipping young people with knowledge and skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow. We are conscious of the need for reskilling and upskilling at a time when we are all more likely to have multiple careers during our working lives.
  • …Our higher education system transforms lives and is a great contributor to both our industrial success and the cultural life of the nation. It can open up a whole world of opportunities and broaden horizons. Whatever decisions we make about how best to take forward the recommendations in the report, it is vital that we support these institutions to continue to offer world-leading higher education to students in future.

Hinds went on to highlight the general importance of education to society, listing current government policy geared toward improving education. He said that is it right that contributions to the cost of higher education are shared between the taxpayer and the student. The Minister added that although 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are now 52 per cent more likely to go to university than 10 years ago, progress is still required in levelling the playing field in higher education.

In keeping with the continued pressure for Government to improve social mobility Hinds said: The panel’s proposals on support for disadvantaged groups are an important contribution to the debate in this area. I very much welcome the focus that the panel has placed on making sure that all higher education is of high quality and delivers well for both students and the taxpayer. There are very high-quality courses across the full range of subjects—from creative arts to medicine—but there are also courses where students are less well served. I have also spoken in recent months of bad practices not in the student interest, such as artificial grade inflation and so-called conditional unconditional offers.

On implementation: The panel’s recommendations on student finance are detailed and interrelated, and cannot be considered each in isolation. We will need to look carefully at each recommendation in turn and in the round to reach a view on what will best support students and the institutions they study at, and what will ensure value for taxpayers. In considering these recommendations, we will also have regard to students currently in the system or about to enter it to ensure that any changes are fair to current and new cohorts of students.  I am sure the House will recognise that this comprehensive report, with detailed analysis and no fewer than 53 recommendations, gives the Government a lot to consider. We will continue to engage with stakeholders on the findings and recommendations in the panel report, and we will conclude the review at the spending review.

The shadow secretary of state for education, Angela Rayner, responded, arguing the Conservatives have previously made terrible decisions regarding education. She intimated her belief that any adoption of recommendations will be deferred until the spending review, or the appointment of a new chancellor.

  • “Augar is the epitaph for Theresa May’s government…slow, wrong-headed, indecisive and, above all, failing in its central objective, to help level up Britain. As it stands, the Government have now wasted two years on a review to reach the blindingly obvious conclusion that, as the Prime Minister now admits, abolishing maintenance grants was a huge mistake.
  • Decisions need to be made on funding. The outgoing Prime Minister promised that austerity is over, but there is every danger it will continue in tertiary education. Presumably, the Secretary of State accepts that a cash freeze in funding for universities means a real-terms cut. Is the tokenistic fee cut pushed by the Prime Minister not the worst of both worlds, as institutions will have their hands tied on funding while students will still be graduating with tens of thousands of pounds of debt?”

She pushed the Secretary of State to assure the House that maintenance grants will be restored and that the cash-freeze for university’s will not have an equality impact burden – and that an assessment of this would be produced.  She concluded that any shortcomings in the Augar review are a product of the limitations the Government has set on them.

The Secretary of State responded:

  • The hon. Lady asked me to commit to not playing off further education and higher education. I give her that absolute commitment. That principle is at the heart of the independent panel’s report: both routes of higher learning are essential for widening social mobility, for letting young people fulfil their full potential, and indeed for enabling our economy and our society to fulfil theirs.
  • We should not lose sight of the fact that we have a successful system in place, particularly for the financing of higher education. The hon. Lady and her Front-Bench colleagues constantly complain about it, but since the 2012 reforms, resource per student has increased dramatically, the living costs support available to disadvantaged students has risen to its highest ever level, more young people are going to university than ever before, and more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university than ever before.

The Chair of the Select Committee on Education, Robert Halfon, raised the necessity of degree apprenticeships to ensure individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds gain the necessary skills to gain skilled employment. I welcome much of the report, particularly its strong emphasis on further education and technical education. Our Education Committee report talked about value for money in higher education and universities, focusing on skills, employability and social justice. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the real engine of those three things is using funds to boost and put more emphasis on degree apprenticeships? They help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain the skills they need, they help us to meet our skills needs and they ensure that people are employed in properly skilled jobs.

Jo Johnson: The Augar review does not mention the teaching excellence framework. What use does the Secretary of State think the TEF will have in assessing which courses offer value for money for students and the general taxpayer?   [Readers will remember that differential fees based on TEF outcome were thrown out of the HERA by the Lords.]. Hinds: The TEF is a very important reform and is part of the framework from HERA—the Higher Education and Research Act 2017—and the OFS that enables a much more holistic view of quality in higher education. It remains a central part of that architecture.

Carol Monaghan, the SNP Spokesperson for Education questioned whether the Government will make up any funding shortfall associated with a reduction in fees. Hinds responded that education equality in England is better than that of Scotland and all recommendations will be considered carefully.

Several non-Conservative MPs echoed Rayner’s arguments, questioning when grants would be reinstated or whether the Government will fund the shortfall in funding for disadvantaged students.

Thangham Debbonaire (Lab, Bristol West) raised a necessity for free or low-cost high-quality childcare to ensure more women can develop their potential within further education to ultimately close the gender pay gap.  Hinds side stepped a direct response.

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods: “…we want to hear a guarantee from the Minister that those resources will not come from higher education. We also want a guarantee that if tuition fees are reduced, any shortfall of money going to universities will be made up by teaching grant from the Government not just for science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, but for arts and humanities subjects, because they are also very important for our economy. If these proposals will eventually see their way into legislation—it is not clear to any of us how that would happen—is the Minister going to consult the sector widely so that he does not destabilise it further? We need those guarantees so that universities have certainty if they are to compete globally.”

Hinds: “The hon. Lady will shortly meet the universities Minister in her all-party group on universities and will have an opportunity to discuss some of these things further. She mentioned teaching grants. The Augar report recommends precisely that—that there should be top-ups, although not exactly the same for all subjects. Few people realise the extent of the teaching grant. It is £1.3 billion, with some 40%—two in five—of courses attracting some sort of teaching grant. What the report talks about is how we balance that correctly properly to reflect not only value but cost to serve, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien).” [So no guarantee then, despite his earlier commitment to “not playing off further education and higher education”.

Later in response to questions he also says: We must not allow different parts of our education system to be pitted against each other, and I can give him an absolute commitment not to do so. In fact, as he will know through his work, there is already a great deal of cross-over between what higher education institutions do and what further education institutions do, but they are both incredibly important parts of the overall system.

Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): As I learned from the 10 years I chaired the Select Committee, we make most progress in higher education when we find a cross-party consensus, as anyone who looks at the Robbins report or subsequent reports, such as the Dearing report, will know. There is some good stuff in this report. ….let us build a cross-party consensus. I love the part about a new fund for lifelong learning. Tony Blair introduced one in 1997. It failed, but everybody knew we should bring it back to secure the future of further and higher education. So I say well done in part, but if the Secretary of State could keep a higher education Minister for more than a few months we would do a lot better.

Hinds: The hon. Gentleman was right about more than one thing—let us say several. He spoke of the local importance of universities not only to the cultural life of our towns and cities but to, for instance, local economies, business development, innovation, and research and development. He was absolutely right about that, but he was also right to speak of the importance of securing a degree of consensus about these matters. The last two major reports, the Browne and Dearing reports, straddled a change of Government. I hope that that will not happen on this occasion, but I think it right for us to have an opportunity, between now and the conclusion of the spending review, to engage in a good discussion with, among others, representatives of the sector and politicians on both sides of the House and elsewhere, because I think that such discussions help policy making to evolve.

Augar was mentioned in Wed’s Prime Minister’s Questions – Richard Graham (Conservative) made the case that the Government’s review into post-18 education should be “essential reading” for Treasury ministers before the Spending Review. He said that more funding for further education would be “very welcome”. Lidington concurred that further education plays a vital role in equipping young people with skills, but also providing a path towards higher education. He added that the Augar Review “provides a blueprint of how we can make sure that everybody can follow the path that is right for them” and its conclusions should be studied carefully before the Spending Review.

Augar – the critique

Wonkhe have centralised all their analysis and blogs on the Post-18 review and Augar – find it all  here. Including this ‘lessons learned’ blog from crossbench peer Professor Dame Julie King (who was part of the previous Browne review) and says Augar is ‘damaging’ and that it does not propose fundamental transformation.

One concern has been the impact on social mobility.  The Sutton Trust response is here:

  • The Augar Review’s headline proposal to reduce tuition fees to £7,500, alongside the reintroduction of maintenance grants, means that the overall student “debt” figure looks a little less eye watering.  But the review also proposes lowering the repayment threshold from £25,000 to £23,000 (based on 2018 figures) and to extend the lifetime repayment period to 40 years from the current 30 years, all at interest rates which at present are around 6 percent.  This means that lower and middle earners (like teachers and social workers) will end up paying more than they did before  and for longer – and the wealthiest, who can fall back on support from parent or grandparents, can pay the fees upfront, or over a shorter period, and thus contribute far less overall.
  • This is why the Sutton Trust has always argued for means tested fees – so the poorest student are asked to pay less than the wealthiest- and we are disappointed that the Post-18 Review did not adopt this as a policy.   It seems to us fundamentally unfair that, whatever the repayment mechanism, the son or daughter of a cleaner is asked to pay the same as the son or daughter of a stock broker.

Lizzy Woodfield, Policy Advisor at Aston University, wrote for Wonkhe on WP“Government should undoubtedly run with reintroducing maintenance grants, but not so hastily that it overlooks commuter students. The continued freeze in per student funding risks further squeezing universities’ ability to maintain high quality student services, like careers and placements and additional learning support, which support retention, success and good graduate outcomes. Doing away with foundation years would be very ill-advised and would set widening participation back.”

In an article for Wonkhe on 4th June 2019 , David Willets, the former Minister for Universities and Science, points out:

  • The period covered by the LEO data is the ten years since the financial crash. Our research at Resolution Foundation has shown that this post-crash decade has been particularly bad for salaries, and even more so for the pay of young people. The real hourly pay of young people aged 18-29 fell by 9% in the four years after the crash – an unprecedented fall followed by a modest recovery. Unemployment was less bad than in previous recessions but – again – one group which did suffer increased unemployment was young people with lowest educational qualifications. Their unemployment rate increased from 68% to 56% after the crash whereas for graduates it only fell from 91% to 88%. It looks as if graduates traded down to less well-paid jobs, displacing the less qualified.
  • The LEO data excludes unemployed people so the only effect they show is on pay. You would not get any sense from the review that the British economy has just been through its deepest post-war recession – with big effects covering exactly the same period as the LEO data. By contrast that same decade did not see a significant increase in the number of graduates – indeed the rate of increase of people with higher education qualifications slowed down. So it is dangerous to interpret LEO data as telling us much about higher education when it may be telling us more about the post crash labour market.”

There is also a geographical effect.  This has been raised by many in the sector before and I understand that there is some work looking at this in the context of the TEF (which is using median earnings as supplemental data in the subject level TEF pilot). The Office for National Statistics latest report on geographic mobility and young people (2012-2016) shows the change in average earnings growth for young people by local authority (see Figure 6). We wrote about some of these issues in our policy update on 6th July 2018

Augar – what does it mean for the Arts and Humanities

In an interesting choice of headlines, the headline on gov.uk is “Science Minister hails the importance of humanities to society”.  Of course his full title is Minister of State for Universities, Science and Innovation (and currently also Interim Minister of Stage for Energy and Clean Growth.  Like his predecessor , Chris Skidmore has also taken several titles upon himself – Sam Gyimah was famously “minister for students” and Chris Skidmore has called himself “minster for the 2.4% [investment in R&D]” and “minister for EdTEch”.  But most importantly, he adopted the title “Minister for the Arts and Humanities”. So what did this former academic and historian say on this vital topic at the meeting of the Arts and Humanities Research Council?  The full speech is here.

So with all that in mind, we took a look at the implications of Augar for the Arts and Humanities.  One narrative around the Augar Review is that it has embraced, and even validated the popular narrative about “mickey mouse degrees” and universities filling low cost, high volume courses, putting “bums on seats” to subsidise other activities, doing a disservice to “overqualified graduates” who are “saddled with debt” that they can never repay.  This shocking state of affairs means that the government subsidy to higher education, in the form of direct funding and underwriting for the student loan system, in which 83% of students will not repay their loans in full, is misdirected and therefore the taxpayer is receiving poor value for money.  And, the argument goes, it is not only the taxpayer who is being ripped off, but students are too.  They are being tricked into taking courses that will not lead to better paid jobs but will instead leave them with student loans that will hold them back even further.  These are the students who should be doing technical training, apprenticeships.  They should be plumbers and bricklayers.  They have been told that they will achieve social mobility through education, and it isn’t true.  These narratives were not born with the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in February 2018.  They became sharper once the tuition fee cap was increased to £9000 and were heightened when Labour adopted a policy of abolishing fees.  Jo Johnson raised them when launching the Green Paper in November 2015 that led to the Teaching Excellence Framework and the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.  In just one example, many of the arguments were rehearsed by Jo Johnson as Universities Minister in a speech in February 2017.  It all boils down to value for money.

But there is a terrific confusion here, as highlighted by the Minister earlier on.  The talk in Augar is all about value for money subject level.  But when people (including previous Universities Ministers (both Sam Gyimah and Jo Johnson) and the current Education Minister) talk about this, they talk not about the value of whole subjects, but of individual courses at individual universities.  And so they talk about quality.  But they don’t really mean quality either, because they talk about entry tariffs and outcomes and start talking about bums on seats.  Which is the big give away.  What they really mean is that they believe that there are too many students going to universities to do courses which are not aligned with the government’s priorities.  This is about the government wanting to choose not to invest in subjects that they believe do not add value to the economy.  Which is why Augar, which is all about money, has kept in the threat of a 3D threshold and/or a cap on student numbers (for some courses at some universities).

You can read more in our separate blog on this here.

Student Mental Health

The OfS have published details of the 10 winners of their Challenge Competition (investing £14.5 million) which aimed to achieve a step change in mental health outcomes for students.

The OfS new story says:

  • The proportion of full-time UK undergraduate students reporting mental health concerns when they enter higher education has more than doubled over the last five years.
  • Over 87% of students said they struggle with feelings of anxiety, and 1 in 3 experienced a serious psychological issue which required professional help.
  • OfS data shows that full-time students with a declared mental health condition are more likely to drop out, and less likely to achieve a first or 2:1 degree or secure good jobs after graduation.

This week they have released a news story focussing on Northumbria University which aims to reduce student suicide through utilising analytics and mining data (such as social media). Of course the scheme has to be data compliant and students have to opt in. Northumbria state that only 1 in 3 suicide deaths are known to mental health services. In response the researchers have developed an Early Alert Tool identifying students in crisis to sport early warning signs and to target intervention. (A little more information on the data triggers is here.) Northumbria’s project has been picked up by the Telegraph.

Projects in other Universities cover:

  • Transition from school to university – addressing the first year additional vulnerability something mentioned by the Minister in his recent speeches]
  • Mental health needs specific to international students [another thing mentioned by the Minister recently]
  • Advancing HE / NHS partnership working to improve support
  • Embedding mental health within a community approach, holistically incorporating police, local authorities and the NHS.
  • Developing a module for the PGCertHE to ensure that new academics, nationally, have the knowledge and skills to support mental health and learning through their teaching.
  • Creation of a ‘hub’ of qualified therapists and volunteers with mental health experience who will provide brief therapeutic interventions for students in comfortable, open-plan safe-spaces without the need for appointments or waiting lists.
  • Curriculum-based ‘mind management’ skills training (separate UG and PG courses) which use evidence-based approaches for improving emotion regulation and for managing common issues in student life (e.g. anxiety, stress, social isolation, managing expectations, imposter syndrome).

Nicola Dandridge, OfS Chief Exec, said:

  • Whenever I talk to students, improving mental health support is consistently raised as a priority. Universities and colleges are responding to the problem, but in too many cases students are having their experience of higher education blighted by mental ill-health. For many of these students, there is much more that we can do. Taking preventative action to promote good mental health is critical, as is taking a whole institution approach and involving students in developing solutions. In addition, the earlier we can identify issues developing, the more effectively we can give the vital support that is needed.
  • We know that many complex factors impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing, so addressing mental ill health is always going to be challenging. But universities and colleges are uniquely placed to rise to that challenge: through the expertise of their staff, insights from their own students, and their ability to bring groups and other organisations together to tackle complex problems in partnership.

The Independent covers the launch of the projects.

Tory leadership contest

From Dods:

  • Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow has dismissed the idea that Parliament could be prorogued in order to force through a no-deal Brexit. The idea that Parliament could be dissolved by a new Prime Minister, so that MPs could not take any legislative steps to block no-deal, was touted by ERG members and gained attention when leadership contender Dominic Raab repeatedly refused to rule out pursuing it. The Speaker yesterday, however, told MPs that it was “simply not going to happen.”
  • 10 have confirmed that the Commons will be sitting when the new Prime Minister is appointed at the end of July, amid concerns that Parliament could have entered summer recess before this happens which would mean that the new PM could avoid a potential no confidence vote.
  • Theresa May will resign as Conservative Party leader today, but will remain on as Prime Minister until her successor is appointed in late July.
  • Boris Johnson will launch a judicial review today to challenge the private prosecution against him for the alleged offence of misconduct in public office.

Sarah enjoyed this Spectator article on the Tory leadership contest.

  • Parties don’t get rid of their leaders unless things are going very badly. But this Tory crisis is different in scale and size to anything we have seen in recent decades. The question is not whether the Tories can win the next election, but whether they can survive.
  • The dire state that the Tories are in hasn’t put anyone off running to be leader, however. We suddenly have the most crowded field we have ever seen in a leadership race. Whoever wins will become prime minister without having to go through a general election. It’s quite a prize. Given the unpredictability of Tory contests and the frontrunners’ ability to destroy each other, everyone thinks they have a chance.

It divides the candidates into two categories: the ‘full-blooded Brexiteer’ and ‘compromising cabinet members’. Then it explains the four challenges the Conservative leadership will need to deliver on:

The Tory party is attempting to answer four different questions in this contest.

  • The first is who can best get Britain out of the EU. This will require not just an ability to find a way to extract concessions from a recalcitrant EU, but also an understanding of how to get Britain’s departure through parliament.
  • Secondly, the Tories are trying to work out who is best placed to take on Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage. Given the parliamentary numbers, the next election is likely to come sooner than 2022 and so the Tories need someone who can fight on two fronts simultaneously.
  • The next question is who can come up with a new domestic agenda. The failure of Theresa May’s attempt to reinvent the Tories as a Christian Democrat party has resulted in a vacuum where Tory domestic policy should be.
  • Finally, the Tories must ask themselves who could best do the job of being prime minister.

The problem for the party is no one candidate is the best answer to all four questions. The Tories will have to make trade-offs to decide which qualities they regard as the most important.

Apart from their views on Brexit, the candidates are trying to differentiate themselves on other policies too.  We pick out a few of both here but of course there is much more.  Two dropped out this week – James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse.  Nominations (which now require 8 MPs rather than 2) open and close on Monday.  The BBC list is here.   The Express have their take here  Politics.co.uk have a detailed analysis of their policies on Brexit.  And the (Boris Johnson banking) Guido Fawkes shows the state of support amongst Tory MPs .

  • Matt Hancock has pledged to re-implement a form of student nurse bursary if he succeeds as PM.  Huff post reports: he said that he would offer new cash support for mature student nurses, and those specialising in mental health and community work, in a bid to fill staff shortages. However, he is clear it is about nursing dearth areas: ensure…in the areas of shortage we have that sort of targeted support that’s needed – so not across the full nursing training spectrum. He continues: There’s a question of how you make sure the money we’ve got goes as far as possible. There’s an overall shortage of nursing. It isn’t as big as the headline vacancy figures suggest. But there are acute shortages, especially in some specific areas like mental health nurses, and community nursing. And: I want to make sure that the approach we take is to support and incentivise people into those areas where we’ve got shortages.  He also intends to tackle big business care providers for whom profit is a key objective.
  • Michael Gove has said that if it “finally comes to a decision between no deal and no Brexit, I will choose no deal”. However, he would be willing to delay Brexit beyond the 31st October if a deal was in sight, stating it wouldn’t be right to ‘flounce’ out of the EU for a delay of mere weeks. Gove said that the deadline of 31 October was “arbitrary” and he was “not wedded” to it. That any delay would only be sought if a deal or breakthrough was on the horizon. This sets him against the other front runners, Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, who have said that the UK will leave the 31 October under any circumstances.
  • Dominic Raab has repeatedly refused to rule out proroguing (discontinue) Parliament days before 31 October, which would in theory prevent Parliament from blocking a no-deal and see the UK crash out at midnight on the 31st. This move would be completely unprecedented, and arguably unconstitutional. Sky News, Lewis Goodall has said such a move would be “a hand grenade into our constitution” and leadership contender Rory Stewart has said “it would be illegal…it would be unconstitutional and it would be undemocratic.”
  • Sajid Javid has said he supports Jo Johnson’s amendment to the draft immigration legislation to change post-study visas to encourage international students.  He is, after all, Home Secretary, and since his appointment has been less than enthusiastic about TM’s “hostile environment”, dealing with the fallout from the Windrush scandal amongst other things.  The FT article says: “Mr Javid has already announced plans to axe the net migration target — which has never been met — if he becomes the next Conservative leader and is now also supporting the move to let students stay for longer after they finish at university. Mr Johnson has forced the pace on the issue, tabling an amendment to the government’s immigration bill — designed to implement a post-Brexit visa regime — which would take students out of the net migration target. …In 2012 Britain cut the time that students can work after graduating from two years to just four months, although the government this year recognised that the new regime was causing problems and agreed to raise the limit to six months.”
  • Rory Stewart says his competitors’ claims they could negotiate a new Brexit deal before 31 October are “misleading” and there is “not a hope” a new deal can by deadline.
  • Behind its paywall, the Telegraph reports that Boris Johnson plans to spend at least £5000 on every secondary school pupil to “level up” Britain’s education system.

Cost of housing hinders employment prospects

The Resolution Foundation has published: Moving Matters – Housing costs and labour market mobility.  The briefing doesn’t focus on the HE sector but that are some interesting findings that could be transferable.

Nationally changing areas to move for new employment and housing purposes has fallen. Unexpectedly the rate has particularly dropped within the younger age groups. The report notes this is surprising because young people are more likely to be graduates, non-UK born and private renters than in the past, changes that should have increased rather than decreased moves made for work.

Why?

  1. Because moving area isn’t essential to get a job – “the variation between the employment rates observed across local authorities has reduced over time” – so it is possible for young people to obtain some form of employment relatively locally. This is not ideal for graduate outcome statistics as earnings are expected to be lower, the job likely to be less specialised or relevant to the degree. It becomes a compromise option – once that can be difficult to recover from financially in their future career (see this Policy Update page 6 – impact of recession on graduates) .
  2. Moving isn’t as lucrative as it once was – “the ‘pull’ of more buoyant areas has fallen apace.. the difference in the average ‘wage premium’ achieved as a result of such a move has fallen since the turn of the century.”
  3. High housing costs negate the wage premium – “private rents have risen consistently faster in higher-paying areas of England. Rents have risen by almost 90% in the highest-paying 30% of local authorities over the past 20 years, compared to just over 70% among the 30% lowest paying places. As a result, not only has the earnings boost of moving to a more productive area diminished as a result of closing wage differentials; so, too, has the broader living standards uplift once housing costs are taken into account. So for the young graduate quality of housing and lifestyle may well go down as the quality high cost rents are prohibitive.

The report notes that job + housing mobility rate have fallen over time and the number of relocations moving to lower housing cost areas (47%) has increased  6% in the last 15 years. It also highlights a rise in commuting time – which costs the individual both in time and money.

  • With the evidence showing that efficiently matching with job opportunities is especially important for young people at the beginning of their working lives, the intergenerational implications of this briefing note are clear. While two of the reasons we identify that potentially explain the fall in job-plus-residence moves can be viewed as positive, our findings about the way that rising housing costs are determining the behaviour of younger renters in particular is a real cause for concern.
  • ..the evidence is clear that the real boosts to earnings are achieved by moving jobs. Critically, taking a new post in a different firm has a larger pay uplift than simply being promoted within the same organisation, and moving to denser, more productive areas comes with an even bigger pay premium. We know that job mobility is especially important at the start of one’s working life, when progression depends on testing out new roles and developing new skills. Moreover, an agile workforce is generally viewed as good not just for the individuals concerned, but also for the economy as workers ‘match’ more efficiently with business requirements.

You can read the detail of the full report here.

Spending Review

With Teresa May stepping down as PM and the Tory leadership race galloping along the Spending Review will be delayed and likely to be finalised between autumn and Christmas 2019. Liz Truss MP (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) was questioned by the Lords on the Spending Review this week.   this is very important to the Augar review, as the government response will be timed to come out with it.

Here are the most interesting snippets:

  • Truss confirmed the Spending Review preparatory work had ‘already began’ with the Treasury having ‘written to departments asking for initial capital bids, human capital submissions and reform proposals’.
  • Lord Turnbull (Crossbench) asked whether the spending review was likely to prioritise ongoing austerity measures and the reduction of the deficit, or whether spending might be increased or taxes increased. Truss replied that the priorities were likely to continue to be reducing the national debt and maintaining fiscal discipline. However, the main priority was economic growth, and therefore spending and tax reforms would be directed towards that goal.
  • Lord Layard asked for the Treasury’s response to the Augar Review. Truss responded that FE needed reform and that there had been ‘problems with funding’. The Augar Review would be considered within the Spending Review, she said, though given the amount of public subsidy to universities, which was higher than in other areas, better value for money was crucial. She went on to state that she supported the notion of students contributing towards their own education and was not in favour of capping student places.
  • In response the Chair (Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Conservative) voiced concerns that universities and university placements were being judged too narrowly on their value pertaining to economic productivity and not enough on whether they produced good quality of life.

Consultations

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

Other news

Degree Apprenticeships: The Augar Review, the Higher Education Commission, and budget concerns have all cast doubt on the effectiveness of degree apprenticeships during 2019. Concerns that it is not attracting the sections of the population who could benefit most from social mobility,  that existing courses are being rebranded as degree apprenticeships to attract funding and are not truly in the spirit of the alternative route to higher qualification, that higher level provision is counter productively squeezing out lower level apprenticeship starts, that rurality and access remains an issue, and crucially that a high proportion of degree apprenticeship starts are not within areas that will help deliver the Government’s industrial strategy have all come to a head. This Wonkhe blog Post Augar, what will it take to reform degree apprenticeships? takes a gallop through the issues.

Gender employment gap: The BBC report on research which finds gender as the main factor in employment seniority, regardless of whether the female had children or not.

Soft power:  It was good to hear Chris Skidmore publically acknowledge the importance of soft power through educating international students in answering a question on tuition grants for students living in Africa:  Scholarships are a key part of the UK’s soft power, creating lasting positive relations with future leaders, influencers and decision-makers around the world. Many scholars funded by the UK go on to take up senior leadership positions in their home countries, and the strong bond they have formed with the UK enhances our direct and indirect influence abroad. This enhances our diplomatic work, our efforts in promoting increased trade and investment and supports our national security through increased goodwill and cooperation.

School absence policy debate: While it’s not strictly HE related the parents and carers among our readers might like to be aware of a Westminster Hall debate on school absences during term time. Here is the quick summary. Don’t go booking that term time holiday yet though!

HERA:  The House of Lords approved a motion making ‘Uncontroversial’ amendments to the Higher Education and Research Act (HERA) relating to the registration and exemption status of some HE providers. You can read a summary here. As you will see some parliamentarians seized on the opportunity to ask what effects the Augar Review would have on matters under discussion.

FE: Parliament have published The Further Education Loans and the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. There has been a new regulation inserted which allows the Secretary of State to cancel all or part of a (FE) fee loan in certain circumstances.

TEF: Chris Skidmore answered two parliamentary questions on the TEF. He said the independent TEF review lead by Dame Shirley Pearce is expected to report in summer 2019. Also that the second pilot year of subject level TEF is drawing to a close and the OfS will shortly publish the findings. Skidmore confirms Government will await Dame Shirley’s recommendations, and take account of the evidence from the subject-level TEF pilot, before making a decision on the next phase of the TEF.

Sustainability: Transport Minister, Michael Ellis, has announced the new EU-wide fuel labelling system rolling out from this week which identifies how much of the fuel the drivers are using comes from renewable sources. Here is the news story which simply explains the change, and here is the campaign link.

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What does Augar mean for the Arts and Humanities – Policy Update Supplement 7th June 2019

One thing that everyone can agree on is that the implications of Augar are ominous for the Arts and Humanities – the (historian) Minister for Universities gave a speech on Thursday which we discuss below, with some reflections on what Augar could mean for Arts and Humanities subjects in universities.

The Minister speaks

In an interesting choice of headlines, the headline on gov.uk is “Science Minister hails the importance of humanities to society”.  Of course his full title is Minister of State for Universities, Science and Innovation (and currently also Interim Minister of Stage for Energy and Clean Growth.  Like his predecessor , Chris Skidmore has also taken several titles upon himself – Sam Gyimah was famously “minister for students” and Chris Skidmore has called himself “minster for the 2.4% [investment in R&D]” and “minister for EdTEch”.  But most importantly, he adopted the title “Minister for the Arts and Humanities”.

So what did this former academic and historian say on this vital topic at the meeting of the Arts and Humanities Research Council?  The full speech is here.  It is long – and actually quite interesting.  It’s a shame really that given all the other turmoil we can’t read too much into it because he may not remain as Minister for any of this stuff for very long (as he admits in the speech).  [Did you know? The HE sector has had 5 Universities Ministers in the past 5 years. The last time a Minister lasted more than 6 years in the job was 1902 (source: HEPI – scroll to near end). ] Of course, we may be surprised, if suddenly unity breaks out amongst MPs in the face of the possibility of Nigel Farage as PM, and strong and stable government finally returns…in which case there is a lot of hope for the sector and for the Arts and Humanities in this speech.  He starts:

  • “As many of you know, I’ve attempted to try and achieve a work-life balance that involves juggling policy and public service, with a personal passion for exploring the past and continuing to write history. I continue to do so…because, like many of you here this evening, I am drawn by that overwhelming desire to understand, to comprehend, how different, how similar, previous generations are to our own, and to understand them on their own terms, for their own sake.
  • It is not something that can ever be fully measured, or its value codified by some anonymised data collection processor. Indeed, my own graduate outcome data was only salvaged at the last moment, in the final week before I turned twenty nine, when to my surprise I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Kingswood. That brought to a sudden end any hopes I might have had of my first career path of choice, and dream of entering academia.”

On Augar: “Indeed, even before the report was released, I made clear my concerns over some of the initial leaks, such as the speculation over a three-‘D’ threshold to enter university. And I’m pleased to see that proposal didn’t make the cut. If it had done so, it would have been completely regressive, and would have shut the door on opportunity for so many people whose lives are transformed by our world-leading universities and colleges.” [Yes, but it did make the cut – as a recommendation if the sector does not itself cut recruitment to “low tariff, low value” degrees.]

He makes a very important point which has been bothering your policy team: “But we must be careful not to confuse high-quality with high-value, for they are two different concepts, with two very different outcomes.  High Quality is something that we should all aspire to, whether in our work, our research, our teaching….I hope that our reforms to Higher Education, with the establishment of the Office for Students, which will be fully operational from 1 August this year, will help embed and achieve that focus on quality which must be continued.”  [In other words quality is something for the OfS regulatory regime to worry about, using TEF and other things as tools to support it.]

And then he turns to value:

  • “…data, in its current form, cannot measure everything. And until we have found a way to capture the vital contribution that degrees of social value make to our society – degrees like Nursing or Social Care – then we risk overlooking the true value of these subjects. The same goes for the Arts and Humanities.
  • Although some people around us may argue that the contribution of these disciplines to society may be less tangible, their influence is all around us. …Without people who can think outside the box or challenge ideas.  All this comes from the critical thinking that knowing about different cultures, philosophies and languages provides us….What might be ‘low value’ to one man, might to others represent money well spent on acquiring knowledge for its own sake, expanding one’s cultural horizons, learning to empathise and reflect upon the human condition, applying it to the challenges for the future.
  • There is a place for knowing which subjects have the potential to generate higher salaries in the future– not least for those students who want to make sure they make the right choice of subject and institution for them. For those who wish to know this information, it is also important to highlight the economic benefits of studying creative subjects too.
  • And, actually, the story isn’t all negative for those studying creative subjects. The latest Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data show us that women studying creative arts, in particular, can expect to earn around 9% more on average than women who don’t go into higher education at all. And the highest returning creative arts course can significantly increase female earnings by around 79%. So, a creative education can certainly be the right choice for a number of people….After all, our Industrial Strategy recognises the importance of the Creative Sector in the UK economy, as being an absolutely vital one.”

And the role of arts and humanities in innovation:

  • “Today, we live in a world where around 50% of the UK population have a degree by the time they are 30. Still not enough in my opinion, and certainly not enough if we are to compete as a knowledge economy for the future internationally. As Universities Minister, I’m keen that nobody is deterred from pursuing a particular discipline just because it appears that studying it isn’t for people like them. This is a principle, which applies equally to the Arts and Humanities as it does to Science and Engineering. Thankfully, one mitigating factor to this is the fact that our disciplinary landscape is continually evolving. … multi-disciplinary approaches have become more desired – not just within academia itself, but by businesses, industry and government.
  • Part of this is down to our recognition of the fact that we have to tackle the world’s grand challenges now, before it’s too late. And these challenges, themselves, are not constrained within individual disciplinary boundaries. Indeed, the grand challenges we face today are formed at the intersection of the traditional disciplines – where the Arts, Humanities, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences meet…
  • The Arts and Humanities are also what makes science ‘useable’. It’s no good developing a cure for a pandemic like Ebola, for example, if you don’t have the anthropologists, the linguists or the lawyers to make the science work on the ground. To bring the product to market. To win the trust of the people. And at a time when trust in knowledge and expertise is constantly threatened by the lapping tides of populism, we need the humanities more than ever to be able to reach out and communicate the value of science and research more than ever….
  • …it is the inclusion of the humanities, running like a golden thread through all scientific collaborations and projects that will protect the future of Western science, maintaining its focus on excellence, but excellence for a human purpose.”

What does Augar mean for the Arts and Humanities?

One narrative around the Augar Review is that it has embraced, and even validated the popular narrative about “mickey mouse degrees” and universities filling low cost, high volume courses, putting “bums on seats” to subsidise other activities, doing a disservice to “overqualified graduates” who are “saddled with debt” that they can never repay.  This shocking state of affairs means that the government subsidy to higher education, in the form of direct funding and underwriting for the student loan system, in which 83% of students will not repay their loans in full, is misdirected and therefore the taxpayer is receiving poor value for money.  And, the argument goes, it is not only the taxpayer who is being ripped off, but students are too.  They are being tricked into taking courses that will not lead to better paid jobs but will instead leave them with student loans that will hold them back even further.  These are the students who should be doing technical training, apprenticeships.  They should be plumbers and bricklayers.  They have been told that they will achieve social mobility through education, and it isn’t true.

These narratives were not born with the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in February 2018.  They became sharper once the tuition fee cap was increased to £9000 and were heightened when Labour adopted a policy of abolishing fees.  Jo Johnson raised them when launching the Green Paper in November 2015 that led to the Teaching Excellence Framework and the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.  In just one example, many of the arguments were rehearsed by Jo Johnson as Universities Minister in a speech in February 2017.  It all boils down to value for money.

But there is a terrific confusion here, as highlighted by the Minister earlier on.  The talk in Augar is all about value for money subject level.  But when people (including previous Universities Ministers (both Sam Gyimah and Jo Johnson) and the current Education Minister) talk about this, they talk not about the value of whole subjects, but of individual courses at individual universities.  And so they talk about quality.  But they don’t really mean quality either, because they talk about entry tariffs and outcomes and start talking about bums on seats.  Which is the big give away.  What they really mean is that they believe that there are too many students going to universities to do courses which are not aligned with the government’s priorities.  This is about the government wanting to choose not to invest in subjects that they believe do not add value to the economy.  Which is why Augar, which is all about money, has kept in the threat of a 3D threshold and/or a cap on student numbers (for some courses at some universities).

See this bit in Augar (page 88): “A small minority of institutions produce graduates who on average earn significantly less at age 29 than their comparators who did not attend higher education. The IFS estimate that 33 per cent of male students, and 1 per cent of female students – together making 15 per cent of all students – attended universities that had either significantly negative or statistically negligible earnings returns when these are averaged across all students at age 29.”

It goes on: “Altogether 34 per cent of courses – accounting for 29 per cent of male students – were shown to have negative returns for men at age 29 (without taking foregone earnings and interest loan repayments into account), suggesting that one in three male students who took these courses could have earned more if they had chosen a different course of study or not gone to university at all.”

Augar looked at the overall cost for the government of the sector – taking into account direct investment and the subsidy given through student loans.  For this section, Augar relied on the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) analysis published in March 2019 Where is the money going? Estimating the government cost of different university degrees.  They break it down by borrower (i.e. by student, for those that take student loans) and by subject (which takes into account the number of students).  On a student by student basis, the most expensive programmes for the government – in terms of loan write-off plus direct grant are Agriculture and Veterinary Science, and Medicine, driven by teaching grants followed by Creative Arts, which is driven by loan write-offs.  The best “value” course on an individual basis is Economics, with no teaching grant and loans paid off at a higher rate.  Comms and media and other arts and humanities courses sit more in the middle.  But when they overlay the student numbers (figure 5), the picture changes, because of the comparatively large number of students studying some of the subjects with fairly large write-offs or subsidy.  This chart highlights the overall cost of the Creative Arts, but also brings biosciences, subjects allied to medicine, business and social studies to the top. For this table, Social Studies includes Politics, Anthropology, Human and social Geography, Sociology, Social Policy, Social work, Development studies (see footnote 100, page 110 of the Augar Report).  Again the best value is economics, but Veterinary Science and Foreign languages come off relatively well too, because so few students study them.

The Augar report refers to the Graduate outcomes (LEO) data for 2016-17 released in March 2019. It says (pages 87-88):

  • “Among men, the earnings premium for an Economics graduate at age 29 is 33 per cent on average, whereas a graduate in the Creative Arts will, on average, earn 14 per cent less than his peers who did not attend university. Among women, the earnings premium for a medical graduate is 75 per cent, but only 9 per cent for those graduated in the Creative Arts. 
  • The graduate premium for men is low or negative at age 29 for a sizeable minority of subjects. In addition to the Creative Arts, these include English and Philosophy, for which the premium is negative, and Agriculture, Communications, Psychology, Languages, History, Biosciences and Physical Sciences for which it is zero or very small. Women, by contrast, enjoy a graduate premium at age 29 irrespective of the subject they studied, but the premium is small for the Creative Arts, Agriculture, Social Care and Psychology.”

This is interesting but it is not comparing apples with apples.  Looking at the original DfE LEO data report you can see the problem – in that report they compare graduates in a particular subject with median earnings for all subjects.

This ignores the choices made by those students.  Students who choose creative arts degrees, on average, probably do not go on to high earning careers, based on this data.  But there is nothing to say that if they had chosen a different subject, or not gone to university at all, they would have been any higher earning.  To establish whether a creative arts degree is better than no degree at all, it could be argued that you would need to compare the employment outcomes of a creative arts graduate against a cohort of people who did not go to university but have the same background profile and prior academic attainment and are doing the same mix of jobs.  Then you would know what difference a creative arts degree made to the outcomes for that student.

But those who do not go to university undertake a wide range of careers, and on average they may earn more than those undertaking some degrees at some universities.  But that does not mean that those individual students would have earned more if they had not gone to university at all.  That’s possible, but it isn’t proved by this data, even though the data is controlled for background characteristics and prior attainment.  They might not have become plumbers, or bricklayers, they might still have pursued badly paid careers in the creative arts and individually in fact earned less than the creative arts graduates.

If all students were robotic clones, with the same potential and no personal talent, interest or individual motivation, then they would all do economics at university and become bankers or CEOs.  But that would lead to a different problem, because the world does not need that many bankers.

And see this from Tuesday’s Lords Augar discussion: Lord Storey (LD): My Lords, everybody seems to be very much in support of the Augar review. I have real reservations about the funding proposals for higher education. When the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and my noble friend Lady Garden raised the issue of how the funding model, interest charges, the extension and all the rest will favour the rich and not the poor, the Minister kept saying that we will see it in the round. What does “in the round” actually mean? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, but we have to be very careful, because there are degree courses that are undersubscribed. We are seeing those courses cut, but they are courses that we need to develop, such as modern foreign languages. Fewer students are doing modern foreign languages because there are fewer studying them in secondary schools. It is the same with music. Music is hugely important to the creative industries, which is one of the major growth industries in this country, and yet we are seeing music in secondary schools, because of the EBacc, being scaled back and back. That has a knock-on implication for our universities, where music degree courses are declining as well. If we took the idea of the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, all these courses would be cut, much to the detriment of our country.

I have argued before that using LEO to assess subjects is misleading for lots of reasons including because it only really works if all courses are vocational and all students follow their vocation.  If all law students became lawyers, all PPE students became politicians, all history students pursued an academic career (in schools or universities) and all language students became translators, interpreters or teachers then it  would be valid to compare.   Of course for some subjects there is more of a linear connection.  But for many subjects, students will go on and pursue a wide range of careers, using the generic skills that they have learned at university.   Generic skills which they may have learned more effectively because they were following a subject they were passionate about.

[In June 2018 I wrote: “[1] Whether your degree pays for itself is a function of a lot of things – such as what your degree is, and where you do it, but also what you did before you went there, where you live, where you work, the state of the national and local economy, what career path you choose now and in the future, your gender, your age, your ethnic group, your family background, your disabilities, how hard you work at university and at work, the culture, policies and success of the organisation you work for, your other life choices…and many more”]

Just as an experiment, I looked at the 13 candidates for the Tory leadership (as at 3rd June 2019).

University Politics/Economics/PPE Law Other
Oxford – 8 5 (Gyimah, Hunt, Hancock, Harper, Stewart) 1 (Raab) 2

Classics (Johnson)

English (Gove)

Post 92 – 1 1 – Hospitality management University of West London (Cleverly)
Other 3

Exeter (Javid)

Warwick (Leadsom)

Newcastle (Malthouse)

1

Queen Mary (McVey)

So is a politics degree vocational training for a career in politics?  Surely it really just shows an interest in the subject.  Certainly not all politics graduates go into politics.  And these people did not go into politics for the money.  Some of them didn’t need to, but they went into it for other reasons.  Using Wikipedia I looked at their early careers, and only 6 of them “used” their degrees (and that is stretching the point a bit): Michael Gove taking his English degree and becoming a journalist, and 5 of those with an economics aspect to their degree going on to be bankers, accountants or, in the case of Matt Hancock, an economist.

I also looked at the careers of FTSE 100 CEOs in 2017 and being fairly generous in terms of definitions (apart from other things, the choice of degree subject was more limited, looking at their ages), out of the 53 I could easily find information for, only 31 had a link between their degrees and their early career choices.  And these are clearly talented and successful people, 2/5 of whom chose to immediately pursue a career for which they had not been “trained”.

It might be easier to deal with the “problem” if it was defined more honestly.  The problem really is that the government thinks that the cost of HE is becoming unaffordable.  The effort to encourage students to make “better” choices, by giving them more and better data about outcomes and other things hasn’t really been given a chance to work but also very few people were convinced by it – because students make choices based on a whole range of factors.  Even Sam Gyimah (a  huge proponent of transparency) said when asked that students should follow their passion when choosing what to study.  So instead what we are going to get is rationing.  Rationing by subject feels like a blunt instrument, because it leaves it up to the sector to make the “sensible” decision about cutting student numbers when faced with lower fees but it may have odd effects – like making it harder for disadvantaged students to access courses in those subjects which they might have excelled in (and which might have increased their chances of exceeding median earnings in, too).  Or just reducing the quality of those programmes as they are delivered at a lower cost.

So if Augar is implemented, could we get a much more sophisticated methodology.?  Augar already talks about an institutional Student Premium for disadvantaged students.  You could see a world where there is institutional student uplift for those courses that achieve good student outcomes and loan repayment outcomes.  Maybe they could be relative outcomes, subject adjusted not just based on the median and adjusted for geographical factors.  And maybe they will find a way, as Augar suggests that they do, to measure the social value and adjust for that in the teaching grant as well.

HE policy update for the w/e 12th January 2018

Cabinet Reshuffle

Out with the old and in with the new…the cabinet reshuffle this week brings changes for HE. Goodbye to Jo Johnson as he departs from the Universities Minister role to become Minister of State for Transport and Minister for London. Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, reflects on Johnson’s legacy in the Times Higher, and Wonkhe present a more mixed picture in Jexit leaves a mixed legacy in HE.

Sam Gyimah has been appointed as Universities Minister. The role remains under both Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Sam has been a consistent front bencher within the Commons since 2010 in his role as PPS to the Prime Minister, since then he has undertaken roles as a party whip, within the cabinet office, childcare and education (DfE) and prison and probation (Ministry of Justice). Sam voted to remain in the European referendum (his interesting 2016 blog sets out his remain mind set and his identification with the “easyjet generation”) although he has stated he believe Britain will thrive outside of the EU.  A party loyalist, Sam’s education voting record mirrors Government aims. He voted for greater autonomy for schools, establishing more academies and raising undergraduate tuition fees to £9,000. On the tuition fee cap its reported that originally Sam believed the HE system should change so fewer people went to university with grants or lower costs. However, he changed opinion deciding participation was the right way forward stating “we must therefore work out how we can continue to fund that” and voting with the fee rise. Gyimah was also involved in the filibustering to prevent the Opposition’s Compulsory Emergency First Aid Education Bill in 2015. Sam’s political interests are HE, small business and international development.

The title of the role appears to no longer include science, research and innovation. This may just be a product of short form reporting in the breaking news; the below tweet suggests he still expects the same responsibilities as Jo Johnson enjoyed, we’ll be watching closely to see how the job develops!  A 2014 Independent interview with Sam describes his family background, state schooling, and struggles to pay rent whilst at Oxford. A Wonkhe article What’s in Sam Gyimah’s in-tray? speculates about the new Minister’s role within the sector.

Damian Hinds has been appointed as the Secretary of State for Education. His responsibilities cover the full Education remit from early years to HE, apprenticeships, skills and free schools. Damian has a background in social mobility; he previously chaired the APPG on social mobility and was a Member of the Education Select Committee (2010-12). Whilst chairing the APPG in 2012 the committee published Seven Key Truths about Social Mobility – the key messages of which still prevail today. Hinds is known to have criticised how social mobility has stalled within the UK. His political interests are welfare, affordable credit, social mobility, education and financial inclusion. Damian’s previous roles span defence, party whip, the Treasury (Exchequer Secretary, 2015-16), and Minster for State within the Dept for Work and Pensions 2016-18). Sam Gyimah reports to Damian. Hinds is a loyalist and has consistently voted with the Government on education reforms and believes in greater autonomy for schools and establishing more academies. He is a regular speaker within the Commons. He voted to raise the undergraduate tuition fee cap to £9,000 in 2010, he voted against reducing fees to £6,000 in 2012, and voted to end financial support (16-19 year olds in training/FE). In 2014 he led a debate calling on the Government to lift the faith cap preventing the Catholic Church from opening free schools. Interestingly he will now be responsible for the Government’s response to the consultation on lifting the cap. Damian attended a Catholic grammar school before studying his degree at Oxford. Damian campaigned to remain in the European referendum, stating while he saw good points on both sides it was important for economic growth to have more negotiating weight. His constituency is East Hampshire. He supported Theresa May in the Conservative leadership contest.

So the PM has two loyalists in control of the HE sector, already the speculation over the much heralded major review of HE has begun: – a succinct Times Higher article Reshuffle paves way for bold review of English HE funding concurred with this and speculated that the planned knowledge exchange framework may also be doomed?

DfE: The remainder of the DfE roles are: Nick Gibb, Anne Milton, Lord Theodore Agnew, Lord Nash, all of whom remain in post. They’ll be joined by previous backbencher Nadhim Zahawi as DfE Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State.

Education Secretary Justine Greening declined the offered post (Work and Pensions) and has departed from Government. She said: social mobility matters more than a ministerial career.

Strong and stable:

  • Amber Rudd remains the Home Secretary, and will also be the Minister for Women and Equalities.
  • Greg Clarke remains as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Greg is Sam Gyimah’s second boss.
  • Michael Gove remains as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Penny Mordaunt remains as the Secretary of State for International Development
  • Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DEFRA) remains as George Eustice
  • Therese Coffey remains as Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for Environment and Rural Life Opportunities (DEFRA).

And also of interest:

  • Conservative Vice Chair for Training and Development is James Morris (previously a backbencher working as PPS to Damian Green).
  • The Minister of State for Immigration within the Home Office is now Caroline Nokes, and she will attend Cabinet.
  • Minister of State for Digital and Culture (DCMS) is Margot James (previously Margot was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Minister for Small Business, Consumers, and Corporate Responsibility within BEIS).
  • Changes to the Minister of State for Health (2 posts) are Caroline Dineage (previously focused on families) and Stephen Barclay (Treasury).

Locally: Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) remains within the Ministry of Defence retaining his role as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Defence, People and Veterans).

On the reshuffle PM Theresa May stated: [this reshuffle brings] fresh talent into government, boosting delivery in key policy areas like housing, health and social care, and ensuring the government looks more like the country it serves.

The reshuffle provides fresh opportunity for BU staff to engage with the parliamentarians now responsible for their expertise area to impact on policy. Contact the policy team if you need support to begin building relationships with parliamentarians.

Office for Students – Student Panel

The 13 strong OfS student panel members were announced on Monday (see below) with members drawn from under and postgraduate provision, part time study, an international student, a recent graduate, prospective students (at sixth form level and a GCSE student) and the NUS President.  The OfS explain that the student panel will ensure the new regulator’s work “properly engages with, and is relevant to, students from all backgrounds…[acting as] a critical friend” by providing advice to the board and examining the regulator’s relationships with students. Research Professional inform that the Student Panel will also produce research on important issues affecting students. The student panel will first meet later in January. Research Professional

  • Alice Richardson , 6th Form student from the North West of England
  • Benjamin Hunt, President of King’s College London Students’ Union 2016-17
  • Chad Allen, a PHD student at the University of Cambridge, and former President of the Cambridge University Graduate Union
  • Lizzie Pace, a part-time mature student at Birkbeck, University of London, and a former soldier in the British Army.
  • Luke Renwick, President of Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union
  • Megan Dunn, Senior Policy Adviser at the Equality Challenge Unit and President of the Nation Union of Students in 2015-16
  • Ruth Carlson, Civil Engineering student at the University of Surrey. Ruth has also joined the Board of the Office for Students on an interim basis.
  • Shakira Martin, President of the National Union of Students
  • Shraddha Chaudhary, international student, and President, Director and Chair of the Trustee Board at University of Exeter Students’ Guild
  • Sinead Brown, GCSE student from London
  • Stuart Cannell, a part-time postgraduate student at Manchester Metropolitan University and a Student Reviewer for the Quality Assurance Agency
  • Xenia Levantis, President of Norwich University of the Arts Students’ Union
  • Zahra Choudhry, Vice President of Education at University of West London Students’ Union

Panel member, Luke Renwick, stated that “given recent controversies, the OfS has a long way to go to instil faith that it will truly work ‘in the student’s interest’”.

OfS Board Membership

This week saw a barrage of parliamentary questions focused on Toby Young’s appointment to the OfS Board, several MPs were also outspoken in their opposition. An urgent oral parliamentary question by Dawn Butler (Labour) on Tuesday brought the issue to prominence and required Jo Johnson to defend Young’s appointment.  Dawn began by quoting a past Justine Greening speech: “Violent, sexist and homophobic language must have no place in our society, and parliamentarians of all parties have a duty to stamp out this sort of behaviour wherever we encounter it, and condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”  And concluded by stating: “I find it hard to comprehend the appointment; I believe that it leaves the credibility of the Office for Students in tatters.”

Johnson’s defence, while balanced, was met with continued challenge from across the house – on process, suitable and merit grounds. The criticism for Young turned into a mini debate including, criticising the tweets and Young’s “dark and dangerous…progressive eugenics” (Halfon, Conservative), questioning standards at Young’s free school (Powell, Labour/Co-op), querying the due diligence of the appointment panel (Jenkin, Conservative; and Diana Johnson, Labour), and the implication for Muslims (Khan).

Later that day Toby Young resigned from the OfS Board. On his resignation Sir Michael Barber (OfS Chair) stated: “Many of his previous tweets and articles were offensive… he was correct to say that his continuation in the role would have distracted from our important work.” You can also read the Guardian – Toby Young: how barrage of nudges made OfS position untenable which suggests the remaining OfS Board members were gathering forces and Vice-Chancellor pressure brought to bear on Nicola Dandridge through prior UUK connections.  Toby has the final word on his resignation in The Spectator.

It will be interesting to see who replaces Young on the OfS Board, whether they will also be drawn from the alternative provider sector. Although after the controversy Young created on the first official day of the OfS I think we can expect the new appointment to have a squeaky clean background!

Read the Wonkhe article: A beginner’s guide to the Office for Students.

International Students

HEPI and Kaplan have released The costs and benefits of international students by parliamentary constituency. The report uses economic modelling to identify the monetary value international students generate for the UK (after deducting a myriad of costs associated with hosting the student). It quantifies these economic benefits at a national, regional and local constituency level. The report acknowledges the wider positive cultural, societal and soft power impacts that international students bring but does not include these aspects in the value calculations.

In the report both EU and non-EU students are described under the umbrella term ‘international’. The report uses the 2015/16 cohort entry year but adjusts costs and considers the changed HE systems and context to ensure the figures are relevant for today. It takes a conservative approach to the calculations by including every kind of hosting cost to the public purse that is possible. For example, deductions are made for healthcare, housing, community amenities, education and care of dependents, social security, public order and safety, local resources, defence, economic affairs, recreation and culture, religious provision, environmental protection, student non-continuation, non-repayment of EU student loan post-graduation, and so on right up to the nuclear deterrent submarine that circles the UK. This conservative approach means the net value calculation of the income an international student brings is actually an underestimation ensuring its validity for policy making. To understand more on the methodology read the full report pages 10-28.

Key findings:

  • In 2015/16 there were 438,000 international (EU and non-EU) students studying at HE levels across the UK (19% of all students). The most students come from China (1 in every 4 international students came from China), next were the US and India. From the EU Germany came top, closely followed by France and Italy.

Note: recruitment of international students has plateaued since 2009/10

  • International students were roughly evenly split between under and post graduate studies.
  • International students study at institutions throughout the UK. Higher concentrations study in London and the South East, followed by the West Midlands. The South West region has the second lowest concentration (of the English regions) totalling 12,770 international students.
  • The average economic contribution each international student (across their full duration of study) makes to the UK economy is £87,000 (EU students) and £102,000 (non-EU). Aggregating these figures to the national level the UK economy receives £22.6 billion from international students (£5.1bn EU, £17.5bn non-EU).
  • Using the conservative ‘include every cost imaginable’ approach the cost of hosting the international students is £2.3 billion. So each student costs the UK taxpayer £19,000 (EU) and £7,000 (non-EU) over the full duration of their studies. The majority of this cost is their use of public services.
  • This means the 2015/16 starters resulted in a total net economic benefit of £20.3 billion (£4bn EU, £16.3bn non-EU). The value to the economy per student is £68,000 (EU) and £95,000 (non-EU). For every 11 non-EU students the UK economy received £1 million. This means the benefit of hosting non-EU HE students is 14.8 times greater than the total cost. For the South West this equates to £1.21 net impact. As we would expect the highest spending from international students is clustered around the immediate university area, however lower levels of spend ripple out into surrounding areas, meaning the positive impact is experience everywhere (just to a lesser degree).
  • The report takes a sensible methodological approach, however, because aggregate figures are used the values, when translated into parliamentary constituencies, will vary slightly from the average aggregate values applied due to the local context (cost of housing and so on) and because international students were apportioned to a constituency on the basis of UK student residency location census data. Overall, this doesn’t detract from the validity of the values because they are so high and already an underestimation. In the majority of cases, if it were possible to calculate every student precisely it would actually increase the net economic benefit each international student brings. (Read pages 19 and 38 of the full report for a more in depth explanation.)
  • The constituency areas that benefit most from international students are Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford and Manchester. The top earning constituency within the South West is Bristol West (14th out of the top 20). An intriguing political quirk of the top 20 areas that obtain the greatest net income from students is that all but one are Labour seats.
  • Here are the local net impact values:
Parliamentary Constituency Net impact
Bournemouth East £35.0m
Bournemouth West £65.1m
Christchurch £9.1m
Mid Dorset and North Poole £9.6m
North Dorset £9.4m
Poole £14.0m
South Dorset £10.2m

See pages 69-70 of the full report for the values associated with other South West constituencies

  • International students attract friends and relatives to visit the UK. This additional income is included in the figures quoted above. In 2015/16 international students attracted a further 330,000 visitors to the UK (averaged at 3 visitors per EU student, 0.9 per non-EU student). The average EU visitor spent £296, whereas the non-EU on average spent more (£822) per visit. Across the full period of study the value is in the region of £3,000 (per EU student) and £2,000 (non-EU). Totalling £0.6 billion to the UK economy overall (£0.2bn EU, £0.4bn non-EU).
  • The report concludes the costs of educating and hosting international students are modest and far outweighed by the benefits.

Sector mood music

While they are not ‘new’ providers there is increasing news this year of movement within specialist and alternative provision. The sector is hearing the mood music of gradual diversification and extended remits as specialist providers commence a wider offer, mainstream, or join sector bodies. These forward steps for previous fringe dwellers is all part of the current HE atmosphere of change, such as the push for accelerated provision as more standard and universal offer and the OfS registration changes to incorporate and strongly encourage alternative providers.

The Government and civil service are stridently pushing for a diversification of HE providers. Jo Johnson spearheaded the charge through the Higher Education and Research Act and stridently supported the alternative, but ill-fated, appointment of Toby Young for the OfS Board.

Two moves in this direction this week come from specialist providers KPMG and the University College of Estate Management. In recent months KPMG have been particularly noticeable on the university policy circuit and they have just launched a new Digital Degree apprenticeship in conjunction with BPP University. And the University College of Estate Management which provides online education for the Built Environment (apprenticeships, UG and PG provision) has joined GuildHE. On the join Guild HE CEO stated: “Like other GuildHE members UCEM offer vocationally relevant higher education, industry connections and a focus on the student. They help produce the highly skilled workers that industries and professions need – the skills essential to increase productivity and help realise the aspiration to see growth and prosperity in all regions across the UK.”

Learning Gain

Learning Gain is the latest movement in HE but still developing in terms of consensus, measurement and agreed metrics. A HEPI policy note What affects how much students learn? published on Monday utilised statistical analysis of the HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey (2017) question where students self-report their perception of their own personal learning gain. The analysis combined influencing variables from elsewhere in the survey to determine the top factors which had the greatest effects for students to report they’d ‘learnt a lot: and three surprising variables that didn’t influence learning gain.

The key influencers:

  1. Access to high quality teaching (as judged by combining the 10 survey questions relevant to teaching quality) was highly statistically significant. This included aspects such as helpful and supportive staff, useful feedback, how effective staff were in explaining concepts. This was significant across the whole range of student prior attainment (judged by UCAS entry points).
  2. The volume of independent study – students reporting 20+ hours of independent study were significantly more likely to report ‘learnt a lot’
  3. Personal wellbeing was a significant threshold effect – students reporting low wellbeing were negatively associated with having ‘learnt a lot’
  4. More than 17 hours of paid work per week had a negative effect
  5. Students entering with 144+ UCAS points were more likely to report having ‘learnt a lot’
  6. Whether the student hailed from a gold TEF rated institution had a significant independent effect and increased the likelihood the student reported learning a lot. Interestingly there were no step level effects – only a gold rating produced this effect,  silver didn’t result in higher ‘learnt a lot’ ratings than from a bronze level provider.
  7. There were also London effects (negative influence) and coming from a non-graduate family background (negative influence)

“Being at a London institution, at an institution that did not achieve a Gold in the TEF, and having non-graduate parents all appear to depress the odds of reporting having learnt a lot.”

Three factors did not have a significant effect on student’s self-reporting of how much they had learnt: timetabled taught hours (contact time), ethnicity and whether or not students live at home.

The report goes on to speculate what the findings mean for the current Government vogue for accelerated degrees:

  • The findings have implications for the Government’s proposals for more two-year degree programmes as a ‘cheaper’ option to three-year programmes. Currently an undergraduate degree is 360 credits, each credit based on 10 hours of study. Students on accelerated degrees are expected to study for 1,800 hours a year, in excess of the 1,600 hours of many full-time jobs. If they undertake paid part-time work as well, as most students do, the pressure on them is likely to be considerable, with a risk of putting in too few independent study hours and their wellbeing suffering, both potentially leading to doing less well in their degree than pacing their study over three years.
  • So there is a danger that many students will do less well than their potential taking two-year degrees, and that it will be students from less affluent backgrounds who are tempted by the offer. Indeed, if it is more affluent students who choose this route, and who may do so because their higher prior attainment means they can cope with the intensity, that will leave their less affluent peers with the greater debt and loss of earnings from a year less in the labour market.

Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said on the report:

  • We do not know anything like enough about how students learn or how much they are learning. We need a more scientific approach to this issue, which our new report helps deliver.
  • Asking students how much they are learning and cross-referencing this with their personal circumstances is innovative, illuminating and important. Some of the results are intuitive. Good quality teaching matters as does lots of independent study, while low well-being and many hours of paid work have a negative impact. But some of the results are surprising. Contact hours, ethnicity and whether or not students live at home make less difference.
  • Learning gain is likely to be one of the top concepts in higher education in 2018 and beyond. No one can pretend they have all the answers, but this work shows beyond doubt where we should focus.

Mature Students and Employer Skills Gaps

In a blog post Maddalaine Ansell links the drop in mature student numbers with the struggles of employers to fill their skill needs and calls for cooperation, dropping ELQs, and the potential for a more blended learning model:

  • In relation to mature learners, we saw a further drop of 40% in applications this year. As many mature students used to study at Levels 4 and 5, there has been a decline in demand for these courses and an increase in complaints from employers that they cannot recruit sufficient people at this level. In some industries where the current workforce is approaching retirement, this is becoming critical. The government is trying to tackle this through the creation of a small number of Institutes of Technology. While these may turn out to play a useful role in some areas, fundamentally they are solving the wrong problem.
  • We are not short of institutions that are capable of delivering qualifications at this level rather we are short of students who want to study them within the current system. This is likely to be linked to debt-aversion in older learners who are reluctant to take out loans…, lack of careers advice, particularly for people who left school long ago, and insufficient flexibility of provision.
  • if we are serious about offering students genuine opportunity and choice, we should promote collaboration between different institutions. Mature students are likely to be far less mobile than their younger counterparts so it is the local offer that will matter to them.
  • Local industrial strategies could provide a vehicle for other areas to think about how best to use all the resources already in their area more strategically to meet the needs of local people and industry.
  • While we recognise that there has to be some system of rationing the amount of education that is supported by the taxpayer, the time may have come to jettison the principle that people shouldn’t be funded a second time to study at an equivalent or lower level. It is no longer helpful. Higher education funding should be as flexible as possible, allowing for people to study for both academic and technical qualifications and to study at different levels at different times – or even concurrently.
  • Some degree students would benefit from doing a lower level apprenticeship alongside their degree as it would teach them complementary skills and enable them to earn a little money while they learn – but currently, the funding system does not allow for a blended model.
  • The sector has undergone a lot of reform in recent years. If we are going to have a major review of funding, let’s tackle the real problems.

Other news

Pedagogic innovation: HEFCE blog part-way through the catalyst projects to highlight the positives and some pitfalls of engaging students in the pedagogic innovation projects.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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