Tagged / national politics

HE policy update for the w/e 23rd August 2019

A quieter week for HE policy, however, there’s news on the KEF and lots of other relevant content.

STEM for Britain

As a member of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee BU’s early career researchers and PhD and post-doc researchers all have the opportunity for exposure of their work through the annual poster competition. Posters are being accepted for the following areas:

  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Mathematical Sciences
  • Physics

Prizes will be awarded for the posters presented in each discipline which best communicate high level science, engineering or mathematics to a lay audience.

Please share this information with ECR, PhD and PDR colleagues and those who work directly with them. This is a rare opportunity to showcase work within parliament at this level. All the shortlisted posters will be shared during a parliamentary reception in March 2020 and there will be the opportunity to talk about the research directly with policy makers.

The poster competition is open now please contact Lisa Andrews, RDS Research Facilitator, for more details and to enter.

www.stemforbritain.org.uk

Mental Health

The House of Commons library has a briefing paper setting out data on the prevalence of mental health conditions in higher education students in England and outlines the action higher education providers, the government and the Office for Students are taking to help students with mental health issues. It also flags up how students can get support.

From the briefing:

  • Student mental health has been the subject of a number of reports as students are increasingly declaring mental conditions and reporting issues with stress and poor mental wellbeing. It has been suggested that student mental health is in ‘crisis’.
  • The proportion of students who disclosed a mental health condition to their university has increased rapidly in recent years.
  • Surveys of students have found much higher rates of mental ill health than those disclosed to universities. A recent survey found that 21.5% had a current mental health diagnosis and 33.9% had experienced a serious psychological issue for which they felt they needed professional help. Survey responses are confidential and are likely to give a better idea of the full extent of mental ill health.
  • Many factors have been suggested as contributing to the rise in cases of mental ill health among higher education students – work pressures, moving away from home, financial worries, or more generally higher education institutions are said to be feeling the impact of the rise in metal health conditions among the 16-25 age population.
  • The effect of mental health issues on students can be serious and can lead to consequences such as: academic failure, dropping out of education, poorer career prospects and in the worst cases suicide.
  • Concern has been expressed about the availability of support for students with mental health conditions and the response of universities and higher education institutions.
  • In 2017 Universities UK, published Stepchange Mental health in higher education. Stepchange provides a framework to help higher education providers embed good mental health across all university activities.

Placement Premium

A Chartered Management Institute commissioned survey finds 3 in 4 parents believe that qualifications that combine with work experience and study are the best way to prepare young people for the workplace.

With record numbers of young people going through university clearing, the survey also shows that:

  • Parents rate degree programmes that combine work and study over traditional university degrees.
  • Nearly two thirds of parents (64%) favoured a degree apprenticeship with a major company like Rolls-Royce over a degree at Oxford or Cambridge (36%).
  • Nearly three quarters (73%) rated a degree that combines full-time work with study over a traditional 3 year university degree based on lectures and seminars alone (27%).
  • 71% of parents also wanted all graduates to have the opportunity to develop management, enterprise and leadership skills.

Rob Wall, Head of Policy at CMI said: “Innovations like degree apprenticeships – which bring together work and study, and allow apprentices to apply their learning in the workplace – are hugely attractive to employers. Our survey shows that they are now increasingly popular with parents, with the vast majority rating a degree apprenticeship with a FTSE 100 corporate over a traditional 3 year degree at a top university. Our message to all those young people receiving their GCSE results this week is that, whatever your results and whatever path you take next, developing those employability skills like self-management and leadership will always give you an edge in a competitive jobs market.”

 FE Funding Push

The Association of Colleges are capitalising on the recent announcement that there will be an accelerated spending round by the end of September. They have issued a paper to the Treasury and the DfE making recommendations for tertiary education. In headline their proposals cover the full remit of college work and request a one-off cash injection of £1,114m in revenue and £240m in capital. The paper capitalises on the Augar Review which discussed the lower funding rates and investment in FE education. It covers the items you would expect such as a higher funding rate for all FE provision, better pay and status for FE teachers. It also suggests a ten year funding plan for education. A larger adult education budget to support retraining, improve skills and develop lifelong learning (at a one-year cost of £250 million).

Of relevance to HE are the apprenticeship funding reforms they suggest (at a one year cost of £200m).

  • Increase funding for non-levy employers and for young people. The non-levy budget should increase by £200 million and all 16-to18 year olds should be funded through the education budget to guarantee their training opportunities.
  • The increase in degree apprenticeship numbers is a concern because these involve high costs and because it appears that obligations previously covered by tuition fees have been shifted onto the apprenticeship budget. It would seem more appropriate for apprenticeships at level 6 and above to be funded from the higher education teaching budget, regulated by the Office for Students and operated with the same rules on equivalent and lower qualifications as loan-supported programmes.

They also suggest a development fund for higher technical education (one year cost of £40m).

  • For students, it would be simple to offer the same tuition fee cap, student finance rules and teaching grant funding as offered for degree-level study. For colleges there needs to be a modest fund to support set-up costs which precede the relevant income because enrolments take time to build.

On regulating to protect students and employers while maximising impact:

  • Colleges spend a growing and disproportionate share of their budgets on administration and compliance and account for themselves to two different parts of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), to the Office for Student (OfS), to Ofsted, to local enterprise partnerships and combined authorities, to the Home Office, to lenders, pension funds and any other funding organisation. Some complexity is unavoidable but there is a case for the DfE group to consider whether there are ways to focus regulation more clearly on activities that benefit students and employers, to cut compliance costs and to place simpler duties on college governing bodies to account for the public investment they receive.

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said:  After making great efficiencies over the last decade, there is a strong consensus now that colleges need major investment to put them in a position to be able to thrive and from that position to be able to maximise the impact they can have. The UK’s industrial strategy identifies skills as an issue across a range of priority sectors and the need for action to avoid shortages. Without thriving colleges, this priority will not be met.

  • Total expenditure on 16-19 education fell by 17.5% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2016-17, while the funding allocated to 16-19 education fell by 13% in real terms between 2013-14 and 2017-18.
  • The funding rate for students aged 16 and 17 in education in 2018-19 has been frozen at £4,000 since 2013-14, while the funding rate for students who are already aged 18 has been frozen at £3,300 since it was cut by 17.5 % in 2014.
  • The government is currently consulting on ambitions to build a “new generation” of higher technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5 for T-level students to progress onto. The introduction date of 2022 has been set to fit with the first cohort of T-level students, who will start their two-year level 3 qualification in 2020.

Labour’s Education Policies

Recent news has detailed Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts to amalgamate enough support that should the autumn vote of no confidence succeed he may be able to form a temporary caretaker Government. Labour are hoping for an early General Election and Wonkhe have covered all their recent Education related announcements into one blog.

KEF

Research England have published the outcomes of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) consultation and pilot exercise. Final decisions on the KEF will follow later in 2019.

  • 72% of responses agreed the KEF should be an annual, institutional-level, metrics driven exercise.
  • The respondents commented on the balance between running a low burden exercise at the expense of losing valuable detail.
  • Significant themes within the report were noted as:
    • The (mostly) output metrics do not necessarily capture the quality of knowledge exchange activity
    • Varied responses on how often the KEF should take place, although the report notes the majority favoured an annual exercise.

Below follow the main points picked out of the KEF report narrative

Clusters The KEF clusters institutions together, BU is in cluster E.

  • “The conceptual framework underpinning the analysis and the variables and methods employed were broadly well received, with the majority of respondents somewhat agreeing or agreeing with these aspects, and the resulting composition of the clusters. There was less consensus on whether the clusters would help fulfil the stated aims of the KEF (Q6.4), and the purpose of allowing fair comparison. Although a majority agreed to some extent, there was a higher level of ‘disagree’ responses than for Q6.1-6.3.”
  • “In regard to the overall approach to clustering (Q6.4) it is worth noting that the majority of negative responses were ‘somewhat disagree’. This is borne out by the associated commentary, with the most common response (105 respondents) welcoming the clustering approach, with only 10 respondents making critical comments on the overall concept. Respondents indicating an overall ‘slightly disagree’ or ‘disagree’ tended to be for very specific reasons. For example, while broadly welcoming the concept of clustering they disagreed with the range of variables used. Other more negative responses were driven by consideration of whether clustering helped the KEF meet its aims (and how businesses and other users might use or interpret them), with more agreement on their positive role in enabling fair comparison between HEIs.”

“There were a substantial number of points in the commentary focussing on the descriptions and presentation of the clusters:

  • There were a significant number of comments relating to the cluster descriptions – e.g. describing a cluster as having HEIs with ‘limited world leading research’ could be seen as negative in itself, and that it may be better to frame cluster descriptions on what the institution does do, rather than what it doesn’t.
  • Multiple requests to provide a brief introduction into what the clustering is for, how the descriptors work and how the cluster names (which are random letters) were assigned. It was noted that this was particularly important for external audiences.
  • Approximately 15% of responses suggested clusters may be confusing for businesses and other users or they suggested that there should be flexibility for users to be able to group institutions in different ways that were more relevant to them.
  • There was some concern that whatever the intent, the clusters will be seen as a hierarchy in their own right (10%).
  • That there is still too much variation within clusters (although we would argue that the KEF proposals include further steps to normalise for size, and the scaling of metrics mitigates this).
  • That specialist institutions are difficult to place in clusters, but most respondents making this point stated that this approach was still preferable to not using clustering or a comparable method to aid fair comparison.”

“There were also multiple comments and suggestions on the variables used to create the clusters, including on the role of professional services staff not being represented, concerns that variables were too heavily skewed towards research activities, and that 3* (as well as 4*) REF outputs should be used.

 “Overall, there was no clear consensus from the responses received on a course of action that would satisfy all and no appropriate alternative models were proposed that would meet the requirements of providing a means of fair comparison. Given that the concept of clustering was well received for those in the main clusters, it is unlikely the fundamental approach to this aspect of the KEF proposals will change….

Perspectives and metrics

“For the proposed perspectives and associated metrics, we asked for feedback on both the overall range and balance, and also views on the metrics proposed under each perspective.

  • A majority agreed that a sufficiently broad range of KE activity was captured (72%), although a sizeable minority of 26% disagreed to some extent”
  • The range of perspectives were welcome with around 40% of responses agreeing that they broadly captured a sufficient variety of KE activity. However, around 15% of responses felt that the individual metrics within the perspectives were too narrow to adequately capture the full range of KE activities undertaken by HEIs.”

“The majority of recommendations for KE activities that could be considered for inclusion in the KEF fell into four key areas:

  • Contribution to public policy
  • International partnerships
  • Partnerships with SMEs
  • HEI-HEI collaboration

Other common themes expressed in the commentary related to:

  • The timing of the HE-BCI review and the subsequent impact on the KEF. …
  • How the quality and sustainability of partnerships with business can be captured e.g. regular student placements, repeat business, voice of the customer.”

On working with business:

“A significant number of responses considered there was a disconnect between the broad nature of the perspective title ‘Working with business’ and the proposed income metrics. The metrics were considered by over a quarter of respondees to be very narrow, and not reflective of the full breadth of knowledge exchange activities undertaken in HEIs. In particular 15% of respondees felt that income from use of specialist facilities and equipment should be included as a useful indicator of interactions with business.”

“The nature of the metrics as income measures brought feedback across a number of points:

  • Some argued that income is not an appropriate proxy for impact and does not well reflect the quality of the interactions. A number of alternative metric areas were suggested such as repeat business, length of relationships or nature or number of strategic partnerships.
  • The opportunities for undertaking consultancy and contract research and the income value of that activity will be impacted by the local economic context, particularly for some types of interactions e.g. with SMEs.
  • Across all disciplines, but especially in the public and third sectors, it was considered that a significant proportion of knowledge exchange activity is not monetised and so not well reflected in the metrics.
  • The role of students is seen as significant by about 10% of respondents, either through the close relationships developed with businesses through degree apprenticeships or placement work, or directly by supervised services delivered as part of their course or extra curricula activity.

About a fifth of respondees provided feedback on the use of ‘academic FTE’ as the denominator for two of the metrics. While 4% expressed support for the use of academic FTE to account for the size of the institution, 10% considered it to be misleading to restrict it to academic staff when a signification proportion of knowledge exchange activity is undertaken by professional services staff or students. Some 5% requested a clearer definition of who is included in ‘academic FTE’ and 2% felt that it would be more relevant to restrict it to research active academic staff.”

On local growth and regeneration:

“We recognise that this metric on its own does not sufficiently capture the breadth of activity in this area and therefore have proposed the use of additional narrative. The feedback from respondents verified this view, with over a quarter expressing support for the use of narrative. The primary areas of concern expressed for the proposed metric were:

  • The metric was considered by over 20% of respondees as unhelpfully focused on income, it was felt that this is a less effective proxy for impact within local growth and regeneration.
  • Around 14% of respondees noted that the metric was very narrow as a standalone metric and needed to be part of a wider basket of metrics. A further 5% of respondees felt that the metric was too poor to be used at all and suggested that the perspective should be ‘greyed out’ until additional metrics could be identified. It was considered that the forthcoming HESA review of the HE-BCI survey may be an opportunity to find additional metrics. …
  • Inconsistency of returns to the HE-BCI survey were believed to impact this metric in particular, ….
  • A small number of respondees felt the use of academic FTE as a denominator was inappropriate, with a wide variety of reasons cited.

A number of alternative or additional metric areas were suggested by respondees:

  • The investment that individual institutions make to their local areas, either through the local supply chain, direct regeneration investment in cash or in kind was viewed by over 10% of respondees as a helpful addition.
  • While 9% suggested that activity and income related to local industrial strategies and related government funding such as city deals, regional growth funds or local growth funds should be included.

A small proportion of respondees (4%) also looked to create links to the strategies and action plans being developed by institutions who have signed up to the Civic University Commission’s Civic University Agreements.”

On IP and commercialisation:

“A wide range of comments concerned timeframes around these metrics including:

  • The concentrated nature of income-generating commercialisation activity within relatively few institutions and its ‘lumpy’ nature (i.e. that volumes vary significantly year-to-year) means the metrics in this perspective may not be relevant to some institutions, and that it would be hard for external audiences to draw conclusions from them (18% of respondees).
  • Whether the proposed three year time series and normalisation by research income was appropriate for measuring spin-out performance, given the long time-lags involved. Would a longer time series of 10+ years be more appropriate?
  • The time lags between research being undertaken and spin-out creation was seen as particularly problematic for the metric of ‘research resource per spin-out’. Several respondees also expressed concern that given the relative ease of creating a spinout that this metric may create a perverse incentive to incorporate spin-out companies too early, or where a more appropriate exploitation route existed.

This question also elicited specific suggestions for new metrics based on other areas of the HE-BCI collection:

  • In addition to licensing income, nearly 10% of respondees argued that the numbers of licenses granted (whether or not they generate income) may also give a useful indication of performance. Numbers of free licenses could (subject to a rigorous treatment that differentiated end-user licenses from other forms) indicate active exploitation of IP (the licensee having gone to the effort to enter a formal agreement) where impact rather than income generation was the primary driver.
  • Other common suggestions focused on proportions of patents or licenses generating income (indicating active exploitation), rates of disclosures, or ratios of disclosures to patents and IP income (indicating effective translation of disclosures).
  • There was also a group of suggestions for metrics which focused less on income and more on capturing results from enterprise structures and IP exploitation strategies that do not focus on income generation, such as social enterprises, open innovation strategies or open source products and software.”

On public and community engagement

‘Public and community engagement’ received the lowest average score when participants were asked to rate their percentage agreement…while the inclusion of the perspective in the KEF was broadly welcomed, there was also a clear message that the metric did not adequately capture the range of activities undertaken by HEIs in this area.

  • Around 17% of respondees suggested that the current metric of time per FTE was not adequate to capture performance or quality of the events recorded, with an additional 12% of respondees suggesting that this risked the role of professional services staff being overlooked.
  • The consistency of reporting in Table 5 of the HE-BCI return (Social, community and cultural engagement: designated public events) was a concern for 15% of respondees, highlighting the need for clearer guidance on how this information should be recorded across the sector.
  • The inclusion of narrative was welcome, but 10% of respondees raised the concern that it was not assessed and would therefore not be viewed as of equal value to metric element of the perspective.

Additional metrics that were suggested included:

  • The number of times that university assets are opened up to the community in some way
  • HEI investment in brokerage
  • Public involvement in research
  • Metrics collected by public relations and marketing departments e.g. the number of academics/professional staff blogging on external sites, social media interactions, media appearances by academics, or coverage of research
  • Number of performances or events and the associated number of attendees.”

Use of Narratives:

The NCCPE concluded that there is strong rationale for adopting and adapting the approach to narrative within the KEF. Whilst the proposed template delivers some effective prompts that elicited useful information, there was considerable variety in the level of specificity and supporting evidence provided in the pilot drafts.

The NCCPE have provided specific recommendations to Research England on how the templates and use of narrative could be improved to draw out more relevant and consistent information. Alongside the consultation responses these recommendations are informing the development of the KEF.

Respondees showed an exceptionally strong preference for the provision of an overarching institutional statement being provided by the HEI with 89% agreeing to some extent (and almost half strongly agreeing). 101. This was echoed through the written responses which expressed the broad view that an overarching narrative would be beneficial and that it should be provided by the institutions themselves. There was also a strong articulation that the local economic context needs to be considered to place knowledge exchange activities in context, and that it may be appropriate for Research England to provide this data in a standardised format

A number of respondees felt that an overarching statement could also be a useful tool to demonstrate an institution’s overall strategic goals in relation the perspectives. This may help mitigate any perceptions of relative ‘poor’ performance in areas that were not of strategic importance to a particular HEI. However, it was recognised that this would be difficult to achieve through the visualisation. Other voices expressed concern that the statements could become marketing tools with little added value.

And finally: We note the concerns expressed in both the consultation and pilot regarding timing of implementation and potential overlaps with the REF and TEF. We will pay regard to this when agreeing implementation timescales.

You can read the report in detail here.

Widening Participation and Access

  • National Care Leavers Week will be held on 24-31 October 2019.
  • Estranged Students Solidarity Week is 25-29 November 2019
  • Former Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced plans for a new body, the Office for Tackling Injustices (OfTI), to monitor government efforts to tackle “deep-seated societal injustice”.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week: Lords inquiry in Ageing: Science, Technology and Healthy Living

Other news

Arts rise: The DfE published information on GCSE entries on results day. It highlights that entries to arts subjects have risen by 3.2% to 320,000. The DfE see this as positive new because previously the EBacc was criticised as squeezing these subjects out of the curriculum because of the opportunity to select them was less than other curriculum models. The news sits alongside a 3.7% rise in entries to EBacc subjects and an increase in foreign language entries (particularly Spanish and French). For more detail, including the key stats for other subjects click here.

T levels: The House of Commons Library have one of their helpful briefing papers on T Levels: Reforms to Technical Education which provides an overview of the proposals to reform the technical education system.

Student Debt Sanctions: the CMA have taken action causing the University of Liverpool to change their student debt penalty policy. They will no longer issue academic sanctions – such as the as the removal of library or email access – for students who have debts which are unrelated to their fees. Susan Lapworth, Director for Competition and Registration, at the Office for Students, said: “We welcome today’s announcement that, following CMA action, the University of Liverpool has formally committed to drop academic sanctions for students with debts, for example for accommodation costs, that are not related to their tuition fees. The fair treatment of students is important to us as a regulator. All universities and other higher education providers should be mindful of today’s CMA announcement and ensure that their debt collection policies comply with consumer law. Our own regulatory framework sets out the need for universities to demonstrate they are complying with consumer protection law, and we will continue to support the important work of the CMA on these issues.”

AI job displacement scheme: On Tuesday new Education Minister, Kemi Badenoch, announced an extension in the roll out of a pilot programme aiming to help adults whose jobs may change due to new technologies – such as automation and AI – to retrain and get on the path to a new career. The Get Help to Retrain digital service will now be rolled out to the West Midlands and the North East following success in Liverpool City during the summer.

Student Grants: The Student Loan Company are raising awareness of their practitioners’ page. They are also sharing information on their grants –  Childcare Grant; the Adult Dependants’ Grant; and the Parents’ Learning Allowance – to ensure those eligible apply for the funds.

Market Signalling: HEPI have a new blog exploring the marketisation of HE alongside the Augar Review and institutional autonomy.

Unconditional Admissions: The most effective and fairest admissions system continues to be debated this week. A provocative Wonkhe article makes the barest nod to grades asking what if all university offers were unconditional? The comments at the end are well worth a read too as sector colleagues suggest other alternatives and admissions tweaks, primarily moving away from the overreliance on A level grades. And The Guardian have an article which suggests social class is a barrier to good A level/exam performance.

PQA: Post qualification admissions. Mary Curnock Cook, ex-CEO of UCAS, explains the factors that made her turn from determined to implement post qualification admissions to remaining with the current system.

OfS Student Tool: The OfS have a new online tool for prospective students which launches in September: Discovering Uni: planning your HE journey.

NEETS: Office for National Statistics published the quarterly stats on 16-24 year olds who are classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training).

  • There were 792,000 young people in the UK who were NEET; this number increased by 28,000 from January to March 2019 and was up 14,000 when compared with April to June 2018.
  • The percentage of all young people in the UK who were NEET was 11.5%; the proportion was up 0.4 percentage points from January to March 2019 and up 0.3 percentage points from April to June 2018.
  • Of all young people in the UK who were NEET, 41.6% were looking for, and available for, work and therefore classified as unemployed; the remainder were either not looking for work and/or not available for work and therefore classified as economically inactive.

The report details examples of specialist projects (Medway, Southwark, Blackpool) which have effectively decreased the NEET population.

Schools Funding: One of Boris’ campaigning objectives was his pledge to increase the minimum per pupil funding level for English schools – this House of Commons Insight Guide has an interactive mechanism which checks which schools within a constituency area will see an increase against the £4k (primary) and £5k (secondary) proposed thresholds.

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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 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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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 26th July 2019

The Policy Update will take a break for a few weeks followed by a bumper edition catching you up with the summer news.  We realise that this is poor timing given everything that is happening but we offer you some great links to use instead:

New PM and administration

The PM gave his first statement to the House of Commons.  Interestingly he did chunks of it facing his own side.  And very fast.

  • The deal is dead
  • The backstop is dead – a time limit is not enough
  • Ready to negotiate an alternative in good faith
  • Does not accept that any of the UK needs to stay in the single market or customs union
  • Steadfastly committed to the Good Friday Agreement
  • Preparing for no deal is a top priority in case it is necessary
  • Absolute commitment to 31st October
  • And repeated a lot of yesterday’s spending pledges on education, health, social care, police etc
  • He has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to come up with a new plan on immigration – referring again to the Australian points based system

You can catch up on the appointments to cabinet via the BBC here, who will presumably also list the more junior roles as they come out over the next few days.

This from Conservative Home: “Remainers and Leavers alike can converge on a shared point.  Vote Leave helped to create Brexit.  Let their leaders now own it.  If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – one can scarcely complain when it’s delivered.”

One of the most interesting from a Brexit point of view is the appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg and leader of the House of Commons, which puts him in pole position to go up against Speaker Bercow over Parliamentary efforts to block a no-deal Brexit.  Rees-Mogg made his first appearance on Thursday.   Lots of laughing as he said pretty much nothing at all.  He said prorogation was an archaic mechanism and the PM has said that he does not want to see archaic mechanisms used.  He was vague on recesses.  He also said that Parliamentary motions cannot overrule legislation – motions of course being the tool that rebels and opposition of all sides have used a lot this last year.  And Theresa May used to take notice of the will of the house as indicated by motion.  I wrote a while ago that those wishing for a change might regret it because the new government are very unlikely to take as much notice.

The press is full of profiles of new PMs and his cabinet, many of them character assassinations, some massively supportive.

And everyone is lobbying – from the EU saying “we already have a deal but we can look at the political declaration” to UUK saying that he needs to look at post-study visas and participation in EU research programmes, and everything in between.  Like he’ll be listening to any of that for the next three days – he has plenty of other things to do.  Let’s get going, dude.

And views of the outcome of all this – either we have an election in short order with a landslide for the Conservatives, or we have an election with a desperately hung Parliament, or we have no election at all.  Either way I still think we are likely to leave the EU without a deal in October.  because even if we have one/call one before October an election is unlikely to change anything as far as the EU are concerned.  And I still don’t see that many Tories voting down the government.  Yet.   Matt Hancock ruled out an election deal with the Brexit Party – of course it isn’t up to him (although he did keep his job).

But the PM also seemed to (more or less sort of) rule it out earlier this week.  And Jo Swinson has ruled out a Lib Dem deal with Labour.  So unless we have a smooth exit (with a deal, or less bad than expected without one), followed by a Tory landslide (still possible), we may be headed for Italian style politics based on minority governments and frequent changes of leader for some time yet.

The new leader of the Lib Dems has asked Jeremy Corbyn to call for a vote of no confidence on Thursday.  This is very unlikely to happen.

Will there be a spending review?  Interesting blog from the Institute for Government:

  • If the spending review had run on Philip Hammond’s time-table then it would already be underway, but it now looks like a very tall order to complete a three-year spending review before an autumn Budget.
  • This is partly because of uncertainty about Brexit. Without knowing when and how it will happen, it is difficult to predict the economic and fiscal consequences – this makes decisions about spending across government departments ever harder to make.  
  • It is also about political head space. Can a new Chancellor, a new Chief Secretary and new Ministers in charge of most spending departments really sort out a spending review in only a few months? Do they even have the time to attempt it while Brexit still dominates their attention morning, noon and night?
  • There has been speculation that the Budget may be brought forward to September. This would make it impossible to undertake a spending review. So an early decision for Sajid Javid will be whether to defer the spending review to 2020 and instead attempt a much more limited exercise this year to patch up public service budgets for 2020/21

It may all change by September but remember that MPs have gone back to their constituencies on Thursday.  No more late night make or break votes.   They are not due back until 3rd September and then they are expected to break again for conferences for three weeks in mid September into October.  The PM doesn’t need to prorogue Parliament – they are hardly meeting.  So all the politics will happen behind closed doors or through the press between now and early September, at least.

The government, of course, will not go on holiday – the PM has said he in a hurry and it will be a busy summer.

Meanwhile with a focus on the sector, Nick Hillman has written for Research Professional a characteristically positive blog about the prospects for HE under a Johnson government, not least a positive attitude to HE and research, a relaxed attitude to immigration and (as a classics graduate) perhaps a less reductionist view of value for money in education.

  • In fact, the traits that have damaged recent prime ministers have all been known before they took office.
  • We knew Blair was too eager to please long before he sought to please George Bush without proper scrutiny. We knew that Gordon Brown lacked the social skills that make for happy teams and electoral victories. We knew Cameron liked to take risks and enjoyed winging it a bit too much. And we knew that Theresa May was inflexible long before she became prime minister.
  • Now we know that Johnson is entering Number 10 famed for his stunts, sunny optimism and constructive ambiguity. Whether these are the characteristics we need to see us through the next few years, only time will tell.

And in terms of the sector appointments?

Jo Johnson is back in what looks like his old job at BEIS and DfE, as Minister for Business, Energy, Industrial Strategy….and Education.  That looks like universities.  Is it called education to reflect a view that the post-18 review and Augar had a point and that the integration of post 18 education will be a real thing (and that at least some of Augar, in that sense, will be implemented?).  Or is it something more broad?

He will report to Andrea Leadsom (grammar school; University of Warwick, Political Science), as business secretary and Gavin Williamson (comprehensive school; BSc in Social Sciences from the University of Bradford) as Education secretary.  And Jo Johnson (Eton; Balliol College, Oxford, Modern History) will sit in cabinet – which this post has not done for some time. We don’t know what Gavin Williamson’s and Andrea Leadsom’s views are on Augar (or anything else related to education). Of course one priority is clear, the promise made outside No 10 yesterday about “levelling up funding for primary and secondary schools”.

Not all the details of junior ministers have been released, the focus has been on the cabinet.   So maybe Chris Skidmore will stay as universities minister under Jo Johnson?  As at the time of writing is still unclear.

Nick Hillman also recommended in a HEPI blog leaving Chris Skidmore in place as Minister.  He has been MUCH less negative than Jo Johnson or Sam Gyimah.  Interestingly different takes on this one on Thursday morning.  The sector generally liked Chris Skidmore.  He was positive and supportive.  He didn’t like talking about “bums on seats” or 3Ds.  He talked a lot about research and research funding.  He seemed to get it.  Some people have welcomed the return of Jo Johnson, who is opposed to Augar and is pro-immigration (Boris is also pro-immigration).

But we seem to have short memories.  Jo Johnson started the bums on seats line of thinking.  He created the interventionist system we have now with its focus on encouraging alternative providers (which many worry about) and in which the OfS will not prop up failing universities.  At the end of this term in office he was very critical and negative of the sector.  Many were pleased to see him go.  He may well support 3D floors on entry – as an alternative way of limiting supply instead of cutting fees (which he has said he opposes).  He invented the TEF and the KEF.  He also invented subject level TEF, which the sector was hoping would be abandoned after Dame Shirley Pearce reports on the TEF (soon?). He got all tangled up the (largely spurious, made-up stories) freedom of speech battle towards the end of his tenure.

Wonkhe have an article by Jim Dickinson, who also reminds us that Jo Johnson also stirred up the snowflake student stuff and grade inflation.

It’s going to be interesting.  But of course it may be that this is a short-lived government and they never get to do anything about the detail.  We’ll see.

Contextual admissions

HEPI have published an opinion poll of students in What do students think of contextual admissions? (HEPI Policy Note 14).

The survey of over 1,000 students shows:

  • three-quarters of full-time undergraduates (73%) think it is harder to achieve good exam results if you grow up in a disadvantaged area – and support is highest at Russell Group, where 81% believe this;
  • most students (72%) also think higher education admissions should take account of applicants’ backgrounds;
  • around half of students (47%) back lower grade offers to those from disadvantaged areas, while nearly as many (45%) oppose the idea – at the most selective universities, a majority (57%) support lower grade offers while 36% oppose them;
  • a minority of students (28%) think contextual admissions would make it ‘harder for students like me’ to get into university, while a majority (53%) disagree;
  • two-thirds (65%) of students do not know if their own university makes contextual grade offers and just 16% are certain that it does; and
  • most students (54%) think those admitted with lower grades would be able to keep up with the course requirements, but four-in-ten students (38%) do not.

Nick Hillman, HEPI’s Director who wrote the Foreword to the report, said:

  • Giving disadvantaged applicants lower entry offers is one of the most controversial things that universities do. But there is a secure evidence base for it, as many people underperform at school and college because of their personal circumstances.
  • Amazingly, despite the controversy about and evidence for, contextualised offers, we haven’t known what students think of them. This, rightly, concerns the Office for Students.
  • Our poll shows the principles behind contextual offers are widely accepted by students, who believe disadvantage applicants need a boost. Yet most students don’t know if their own university awards contextual offers and only half of students think lower entry offers are right.
  • So there is still considerable work to be done on winning over hearts and minds.

Fake news, tribalism and the state of public debate

We thought this period – quieter on specific HE policy although not quiet on national politics, would be a good opportunity to reflect on some bigger issues.  This reflection is a sad one; it took us to fake news, tribalism and the state of public debate.

Starting with public debate – perhaps the state we are in was epitomised by the recent Tory leadership debates.  Shouty people, mostly men, talking over each other, not listening to either questions or responses, trying to make the three points they had on their “must say” list rather than respond to the question.  Despite this, trying to show empathy with the questioner (lots of use of their first names when they could remember them).  Ignoring and speaking over the person trying to run the debate.  Desperately repeating a small number of phrases over and over again (did anyone know Jeremy Hunt was once an entrepreneur?).  Essentially they looked either like a poorly run Oxford Union debate or a dysfunctional family Christmas lunch.  (Maybe that is really what Christmas lunch was like for the Johnson family last year.)

But of course those were staged events, in an unreal situation.  The general public wasn’t really the audience, the electors were.  So perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about them.

So what about the state of public debate more widely?  To say it is polarised would be understating it.

There’s a Conversation article you might find interesting.

I found this US article about fake news in Psychology Today.  And it is terrifying to hear that there are people who don’t believe that the moon landings were real.  But the problem I wanted to think about was the impact of people in the public eye telling lies.  Or at least being economical with the truth.  Or at least making promises they break, and perhaps never intended to keep.  These all suggest that that the person doesn’t care.  It is all about the impact of the statement in the moment.  It assumes that the listener doesn’t care either.  So Trump can say things that are clearly not true, and his supporters don’t care.  He doesn’t care, because it won’t make any difference to the people who don’t support him.  So he can land a message about democratic congresswomen and move on.  It may not gain him any supporters, but it may deepen support amongst his existing base, because one of the things they admire him for, is saying the unsayable.

And he doesn’t really expect people to take it seriously.  All that stuff about the ambassador, and taking him off the invitation list – I don’t know, but it looked to me as if he didn’t really expect him to resign.  It could have blown over.  Are we doing the wrong thing in taking it all too seriously?

But of course we need to take it seriously, because if we don’t this sort of thing will become even more normal.  We will all adopt a cynical approach to everything.  And in fact, we probably already have.  Which brings us back to fake news – because we are more likely to go back over and over again to the same sources who present a view we agree with – where we can stop being uncomfortably cynical and not question the stories we find in our safe spaces.

Do I have a conclusion?  Not really.  It’s just worrying.  It’s good to know that this is something that BU staff are engaged with.  And I went back to the conclusion of that Psychology Today article:

  • Strive to make critical thinking your automatic reaction to online encounters with news and other information. This won’t make you invulnerable and incapable of making missteps, of course.
  • Do not forget for one second that you are under constant threat of intellectual assault from countless throngs of deluded believers pushing endless streams of baloney and madness. There also are countless profit-motivated, agenda-driven, and just plain dishonest companies and people who show up and work hard every day with the aim of fooling you for their own gain. Defend your mind.
  • I find some reason for hope and optimism amid the current explosion of fake news we are experiencing. There is a chance that people finally will be forced, after being suckered one too many times, to recognize and admit the obvious: We must think before we believe. Maybe financial cost, political exploitation, or just plain humiliation will motivate more of us to finally become our own editors and stop trusting every story that comes along. And that would be progress.”

It would.  But alongside that we also need to remember that just because this is true, not everyone is bad.  And maybe trying to understand the perspective of someone we disagree with would also be progress.  Perhaps politicians could try that.  Some people believe that this will be our new PM’s greatest strength.  Let’s hope so.  In his own words “it is time to get on with it”.  Looking at the make-up of the cabinet, though, and the things being said about it already, things haven’t started well.

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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 19th July 2019

The big news this week was the defeat of the Government’s wishes to prevent an amendment which aims to hinder the prorogation of Parliament. Chris Skidmore made what may be his last speech as Universities Minister. Few HE reports were issued and the main thrust this week focussing on skills within industry including apprenticeships and the launch of the national retraining scheme. Have a lovely weekend, refuel and shore yourself up ready for Parliamentary changes next week!

Parliament

When we write next week we’ll have a new Government with (probably) a swift Ministerial reshuffle. The media has few hints about who will get what job, aside from some key Conservatives jostling for ministerial position.

Hints include:

  • Matt Hancock challenging Boris’ stance on energy drinks – Boris wants to remove the sugar tax, Matt want to ban the drinks. Is it enough to boot him out of the Health Secretary role despite his declaring for Boris when he removed himself from the leadership race?
  • Gove (Environment Secretary) has stated Boris would make a ‘great Prime Minister’ and on both Boris and rival Hunt he states: “We can trust them both to do the right thing on every critical issue” whilst warning that time is running out to stop climate change. On this note he described Boris as having been “passionate about the environment for decades… [upon first meeting Boris Gove recalls that Boris] described himself to me without prompting as a passionately green Tory and in every role he has had he has championed the environment”. The media is awash with stories that this is Gove’s pitch to remain as Environment Minister. When Gove was asked if he wished to stay on in the Ministerial spot he stated he had merely been giving in the speech a “personal indication of the way which I would hope policy to develop, whoever does this job”.
  • Amber Rudd has performed a political U turn and dropped her opposition to a no-deal Brexit. The Spectator claims she is a ‘reasonable bet’ for Ministerial office. Interesting, especially as she is backing Hunt for PM.
  • Plus Justine Greening, Sam Gyimah, local Sir Oliver Letwin, Sarah Newton, Minister Margot James all showed their stripes this week and voted against a 3-line whip in the amendment aiming to hinder Boris’ potential prorogation of Parliament (more on this below).
  • Similarly four ministers failed to ingratiate themselves when they abstained on the amendment vote – Rory Stewart, long term Cabinet member Greg Clark, current Chancellor Philip Hammond (long rumoured to already have been off the list anyway) and Justice Secretary David Gauke.
  • And Chris Skidmore gave a speech which he said might be his last as Universities Minister –although he has also said he would like to stay.

Change is inevitable.  Boris (assuming it is him) has said all his Ministers must support a no deal Brexit.

The Guardian has this to say on the Cabinet spots: Johnson is adamant that he has not been offering jobs to anyone before entering No 10, as appears likely to happen next Tuesday. He has even declined to say that Hunt will be allowed to stay in the cabinet. It remains to be seen whether he will forgive Gove for his betrayal in 2016, although senior Eurosceptics believe he will extend the hand of friendship with a cabinet post.

Meanwhile the Lords are trying to safeguard against Boris prorouguing Parliament (assuming Boris becomes PM). In an amendment to legislation the Lords defeated the Government by 272 votes to 169. While we have seen various opposition and backbencher parliamentary challenges aiming to prevent no deal or the prorogation this is the first real success.

Last week former PM John Major spoke out and threatened action against Boris’ refusal to rule out closing down parliament to pass no deal. This week it appears the Lords may have been tipped into action by Boris’ team suggesting that if Boris becomes PM he is considering holding a Queen’s Speech to set out his legislative plans at the start of November – such a move would usually close down Parliament for the preceding two weeks – meaning MPs would be unable to vote against a no-deal in the run-up to the crucial Brexit deadline.

On Thursday afternoon the Commons debated the final stage of the Northern Ireland Bill (considering the Lords above amendment) – this is the legislation the amendments are being made to hindering the prorogation of Parliament for Brexit. Despite a Government 3-line whip the MPs voted to uphold the Lords amendment and this amendment blocks suspension of Parliament between 9 October and 18 December unless a Northern Ireland Executive is formed. It the NI Executive is not in place MPs must be recalled to debate Northern Ireland issues (of which Brexit is the key current issue) at this point. Notable for their vote against their party whip are: Justine Greening, Sam Gyimah, local Sir Oliver Letwin, Sarah Newton and the Minister Margot James who promptly resigned her DCMS ministerial post. Twelve other conservative MPs voted against the Government’s wishes. Four cabinet ministers abstained: International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, Business Secretary Greg Clark, Chancellor Philip Hammond, and Justice Secretary David Gauke. Leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt ‘accidentally’ missed the vote and took to Twitter to say he would have voted based on Government wishes. 30 other Conservative MPs abstained, including local MP Simon Hoare. Universities Minister Chris Skidmore and Education Secretary Damian Hinds voted with the Government’s wishes. See the listings here for the full who’s who details on the votes.

The amendment places another road block against the prorogation of parliament. However, the power to request the Queen to prorogue remains with the PM so it could still happen. What is most interesting is that the Government’s defeat in this vote shows the potential for Conservatives to rebel and vote down the next PM in support of a Labour motion of no confidence.  However, this would be  an extreme action for Conservative MPs as doing so would precipitate a general election with the risk of MPs losing their constituency seats and potentially Labour (or a coalition group) forming a new Government.  Many rebels have been suggested that they would stop short of this.

WP Speech from Universities Minister

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore spoke on widening access and participation on Monday. He visited Birkbeck University which has a big widening participation agenda and classes are held during the evenings only. The Minister visited because he wanted to learn from Birkbeck’s flexible, ‘step-on, step-off’ approach to higher education for the future. And that’s why we’re expanding the range of options available to students today. The Minister states the Government’s agenda is all about students making choices, which are best for them. He goes on to highlight key points:

  • We are putting extra resources into higher technical education and apprenticeships. So, as well as offering a range of world-leading higher education courses, we’d like to ensure that vocational and technical training options of equal quality are available across the entire country, so that all 18-year-olds are able to select the pathway that best suits their aspirations and potential. But…higher level education is not just for 18-year-olds. Here…we see the ultimate in flexible teaching models combined with high impact research, which all goes to show that part-time and mature students are right to expect the highest quality experience and outcomes.
  • This government recognises the importance of studying part-time and later in life, and the huge range of benefits it can bring to individuals, employers and the wider economy. We acknowledge there has been a 57% decline in the number of students in part-time higher education since 2010-11 – many of whom will be mature. And we recognise the need to rectify this since, as the world of work changes, it is important people are able to retrain and reskill as they need, so they don’t get left behind. According to research by the Centre for Social Justice, it is expected that anywhere between 10 and 35% of the UK workforce will need to reskill in the next 20 years. 
  • The Minister goes on to detail the changes aimed to support part time and mature students – access to maintenance loans and access to loans for STEM courses for ELQs (students who already have a degree or equivalent level qualification). But we know we still need to do more – both to encourage students to study part-time and later in life, and to encourage all higher education providers to develop their offers to appeal to those students. The Minister mentions the OfS’ work on Access and Participation Plans and how institutions plan to tackle barriers and problems for mature students.
  • In 2018, for the first time ever, over 20% of English 18-year-olds living in the lowest participation neighbourhoods entered higher education. And the data just released on 2019 applications shows further significant progress… But, we cannot rest on our laurels… we’re still not getting the most disadvantaged students into the best possible courses for them. Our widening participation data shows White boys on free school meals have the lowest progression rates to higher education. And there are still significant regional differences to address across the country.
  • To make sure our efforts to improve access and participation are as effective as they can be, we need to be willing to look at the system as a whole, and to take a whole-system approach to outreach and widening participation activities… we cannot offer just generic support. What we need is support tailored to different student groups – including commuter students, postgraduate students, mature part-time students, international students, care leavers and estranged students, disabled students, students from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds, and students from the poorest parts of our society. And let’s not forget the need to support the inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT+) students… Inclusion needs to be at the heart of all institutional policy. Because it is only when inclusion becomes mainstream that we will deliver a sea change in attitudes – putting an end to the old myth that university is only for a certain type of person, from a certain type of background.
  • That’s why I welcome the review of admissions being undertaken by the Office for Students (OfS)… Experimenting with contextual admissions is one part of this. Contextual admissions involve universities reflecting on the circumstances within which students’ attainment has been achieved; for example, the nature and overall performance of the school they attend, their socio-economic background, or perhaps a difficult personal situation. Most universities already do this to some extent, but I would like the most selective, in particular, to be more ambitious in making contextual offers to recognise the untapped potential that many disadvantaged students have. There is good evidence to show that students who have had offers reduced by several grades can make excellent progress at university, provided the right support has been put in place for them.
  • Ensuring we [institutions] are using the right data, measuring the right things, and using data in the right way is a key priority for me
  • The Minister went on to state a reformed student information resource would be launched in the autumn including LEO data, the innovative digital tools developed through the Open Data Competition and the OfS review of Unistats. The UCAS new student hub to enable applicants more personal searches and advice was mentioned too.
  • And the OfS is promoting and supporting greater and faster progress to support disadvantaged students…all [HEI’s] need to be able to access high quality evidence of what works to enable them to make a step change in closing the gaps between students – in access, experience, and outcomes. This is why the new [OfS] Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes (TASO) is so important.
  • Unpaid internships are mentioned too: let’s not forget the work we can be doing to support graduates into the world of work at the end of their studies… we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the fact that it is at this point of the year that some students and fresh graduates fall prey to unpaid internships to gain experience and get a foot on the jobs ladder.
    Recent research by the Sutton Trust showed that the minimum cost of carrying out an unpaid internship here in London is £1,019 per month. So, we should be doing everything we can to stop these work placements being a privilege of the rich and making careers support more visible on campus to steer students in the right direction.
    Employability needs to be weaved into the system – not just by careers teams but also by academics, who equally have a role to play in making students aware of the transferable skills they are gaining from their higher education. It’s obviously not great news when almost half (49%) of young people aged between 17 and 23 believe their education has not prepared them for the world of work – as revealed by a survey from the CBI in November last year.
  • And, as this may well be my last higher education speech as Universities Minister, I want to thank the sector for all I have seen and for all it is doing in continuing to make our universities and colleges accessible, inclusive and open to all.

 Degree Apprenticeships

Universities UK has launched the Future of Degree Apprenticeships report arguing the qualification  provides significant opportunities for employers to diversify their workforce, increasing the opportunities available to young people, and widening employers’ talent pools. It suggests that the link between apprenticeship policy and the Industrial Strategy needs to be strengthened to ensure provision in key sectors can flourish. This is in line with the recent Government position on focussing degree apprenticeships into specified key sectors and stemming the (expensive) significant growth in higher level apprenticeships which has displaced some lower level provision (see 12 July policy update for more on this). UUK suggest that encouraging development of more level 4 and level 5 apprenticeships and progression pathways will bring flexibility and is a direct appeal to the Government during the Higher Technical Education Reform consultation period.

The report recommendations sound familiar:

  • The Government should lead a campaign to promote the benefits of degree apprenticeships to employers and the public, including better careers information and guidance at an earlier age in schools, and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) should make the application system for degree apprenticeships as straightforward as it is for undergraduate degrees.
  • The Government should invest in initiatives to support social mobility, lifelong learning, and growth in degree apprenticeships among underrepresented groups.
  • The system should develop to meet current and future demand for higher level skills in areas such as digital technology, management, and public services, to boost regional economies.
  • Make it easier for employers to include a degree within their apprenticeships where they see it adding value to their business and to their apprentices, and streamline processes and reduce unnecessary costs in the system.

Professor Quintin McKellar CBE, VC, University of Hertfordshire stated: Degree apprenticeships provide an opportunity for employers to work closely with universities to develop high-quality programmes that meet key skills needs, fill occupations that are experiencing shortages and deliver them in an innovative and flexible way. They provide opportunities for employers to recruit talented staff with potential, and to develop and upskill existing staff.

Industry Skills Focus

The new Peterborough University has surveyed employers in its quest to directly produce graduates which serve national shortages but particularly fit the skills needs of local employers. Retaining graduate talent in the local area is another key priority. The survey is interesting because it provides feedback from employers on what they see as the most useful degree programmes.

  • The most popular areas were business, IT and digital, and sustainability skills. These areas of learning were judged to have been favoured because of their general importance to a range of business sectors.
  • Employers also said that skills in mechanical and structural engineering, mathematics, science and certain health and social care skills were in demand now, and would continue to be so in the future.
  • Newer and rapidly progressing technology featured strongly in the responses, with artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and software development highlighted as likely to be in significant demand in the future.
  • Sustainability, primary environmental management and the circular economy were also identified as areas where skills will be needed in the future.

(Note: employers selected their most useful degree programmes from a slightly limited range, based on what Peterborough is proposing to offer.)

Interesting for the Government’s achievement of the Research Development target is that 83% of the industry respondents stated they would use the university’s research functions with manufacturing, advanced manufacturing and materials companies the most enthusiastic about the prospect.

Peterborough Mayor, James Palmer, said: We have always said that this university will be delivery and should engage with the local business community from development through to operation in order to turn out the kinds of technical skills needed in our local economy. Not only that, but the way skills are delivered is also important, and we can see from the survey that courses which involve work placement or work-based study were revealed to be very popular…We need this university to help retain and attracted talented people to the local area, to drive up the levels of aspiration and to offer a secure, proven educational pathway to better life chances, fulfilling careers and the skills that will be in demand in the 21st Century economy.

Councillor John Holdich, Leader of Peterborough City Council and Deputy Mayor of the Combined Authority said: Our aspiration is for a university for Peterborough which is rooted in the needs of the local economy and supplying the skills demanded by local employers. This in turn will help our young people into well-paid, secure jobs fit for the rapidly evolving 21st Century workplace. Our employers have told us quite clearly what skills they need and the industries likely to prosper in future years which will now be used to shape the curriculum to be offered by the university.

 National Retraining Scheme

The DfE have launched a National Retraining Scheme to support people whose jobs are at risk to adapt to technological change. Current figures suggest that 35% of jobs will change due to automation within the next 20 years. The scheme is starting in the Liverpool City Region with help provided through a new digital service Get Help to Retrain. It aims to support those at risk to identify their existing skills, explore local job opportunities and where to go to find training courses to gain the skills they need to progress. As the scheme is available through an online digital method we hope those needing the support do have sufficient digital literacy to access the service.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

  • “Technologies like AI and automation are transforming the way we live and work and bringing huge benefits to our economy, but it also means that jobs are evolving and some roles will soon become a thing of the past.
  • “The National Retraining Scheme will be pivotal in helping adults across the country whose jobs are at risk of changing to gain new skills and get on the path to a new, more rewarding career.
  • “This is big and complex challenge, which is why we are starting small, learning as we go, and releasing each part of the scheme only when it’s ready to benefit its users

You can read the DfE written ministerial statement on National Retraining Scheme here.

Student Loans Company

You may recall the effectiveness of the Student Loans Company was questioned in 2018 following high profile resignations, their use of social media to determine the estrangement status of students, and the revelation of concerning levels of poor mental health within the workforce.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore issued a Written Ministerial Statement on the Tailored Review of the Student Loans Company stating the organisation remained relatively fit for purpose, despite significant operational challenges which include high turnover of staff, and is meeting the majority of its performance targets.

On moving forward the Minister states: The SLC’s own Transformation Programme seeks to address some of the issues and the Tailored Review provides additional and complementary recommendations. The Department for Education is committed to working with the SLC and other stakeholders to develop and implement an action plan to take forward all 39 recommendations.

Parental financial top up

Which? have released findings revealing the scale of parental support for children studying at university. In a survey of 846 parents of both current and prospective undergraduate students, a quarter admitted to cutting back on big expenses, such as holidays.

  • More than eight in ten parents of current students said they were funding their child in some way while they were studying.
  • Half of parents said that the overall cost of university was more than they expected and it caught them off guard.
  • Some parents took a second job to cover their child’s university expenses. Two thirds of parents manage the extra costs through their normal employment pay levels whereas a quarter fund the child through their savings. Two in five parents state they had to cut down on their day to day spending, not just luxuries such as taking holidays.
  • When asked what expenses they were helping to cover, parents of current students listed accommodation, bills and food (56%), study materials (37%), outings and hobbies (28%), and even tuition fees (10%).
  • Yet one fifth of parents stated they didn’t know exactly what their child was spending their additional top up money on
  • The survey states parents of current undergraduate students in our survey said they are putting their hand in their pocket to the tune of £360 per month, on average.
  • A separate Which? survey to students found nearly half of respondents underestimated the price of accommodation and course expenses.

Which? use the news article to highlight the range of student finance options available and to urge parents of younger children to use the calculators and tools to begin financially preparing in advance of their child commencing university.

Graduate Regional Earnings

The DfE has released the LEO data detailing regional findings in HE graduates earnings.

  • Almost half of all graduates residing in the same region as their HE provider 5 years after graduation. If a graduate now lives outside of the region of their provider they are most likely to have moved to London.
  • Some of the movement away from provider region will be graduates returning to their home region. One year after graduation a very high proportion of graduates (82%) are in the same current region as their original home region (43.7% who studied in the same region and therefore never left their home region and 38.3% who chose to study in a different region and subsequently returned.)
  • Graduate earnings are highest in London but graduates earn more, on average, than non-graduates in all regions of England with the gap in pay relatively similar across the country but greatest in absolute terms in London (around £5,000) and in percentage terms in the South West (around 22%). The report acknowledges that the regional itself has a significant effect on earnings.

Read more here.

Education Committee funding report

The Education Committee has published the report from their inquiry into school and college funding. It calls on the Government to fix the broken education funding system, commit to a multi-billion cash injection for schools and colleges and bring forward a strategic ten-year education funding plan.

See the report for all the school related findings; here we focus on the key points relevant to FE.

  • The report shows that further education has been hardest hit, with post-16 funding per student falling by 16% in real terms over the past decade.
  • The capital funding landscape is becoming increasingly concerning. The Department must make the strongest possible case to the Treasury for a multi-billion pound funding increase in the next spending review, and ensure this is aligned with the requirements for a ten-year plan.
  • The continued underfunding of post-16 education is no longer justifiable. These budget pressures are the result of political decisions that have had enormous impacts on young people’s educational opportunities and undermined attempts to tackle social justice. The Department must make the case to the Treasury for a post-16 core funding rate raise from £4,000 to at least £4,760 per student, rising in line with inflation. This is needed to ensure pupil services can be provided at minimum acceptable levels, and prevent institutions from having to cut back still further on the breadth of subjects offered.
  • It is clear that Pupil Premium is being used to plug holes in school budgets rather than being directed at disadvantaged children.  The Department should also introduce a 16–19 Pupil Premium scheme. The Department should additionally develop a data-sharing system to ensure FE institutions can identify disadvantaged students automatically.
  • A ten-year plan for education funding is essential. It would provide schools, colleges and the Department with much needed strategic direction and financial certainty. The short-termism and initiative-itis that characterises the Department’s current approach cannot afford to continue.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

“Education is crucial to our nation’s future. It is the driver of future prosperity and provides the ladder of opportunity to transform the life chances of millions of our young people. If it is right that the NHS can have a ten-year plan and a five-year funding settlement, then surely education, perhaps the most important public service, should also have a ten-year plan and a long-term funding settlement.

Recess

Parliament will enter recess shortly after the new Prime Minister is announced. We’ll issue a policy update next Friday 26 July, then there will be a break for a few weeks followed by a bumper edition catching you up with the summer news.

Consultations

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

Don’t forget! – There’s still time to response to BU’s internal consultation gathering colleagues view on transparency and openness in health and social care research to inform our response to the HRA Make it Public consultation.

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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 12th July 2019

We focus on the interesting set of reports released as people clear their desks before their summer holidays.

Learning gain

The OfS have published evaluations of the various learning gain projects that have been running for some time.  The OfS website is very clear “The report below is independent research which we have commissioned. As such, it does not necessarily reflect the views or official position of the OfS.”  You will recall that one reason for HEFCE setting up these projects was to see if a learning gain measure could be created for the TEF.  The answer would seem to be “no” although given the disclaimer, that might not stop them having a go.

On the final evaluation of 13 projects, the conclusions are:

  • Learning gain can be defined as the change in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development, as well as enhancement of specific practices and outcomes in defined disciplinary and institutional contexts.
  • embedding measures in curriculum design is the most effective approach for collecting data for measuring learning gain
  • Pilots of standardised tests carried out during the projects have not proven to be robust and effective measures of learning gain due to challenges of student engagement, differential scores across socio-demographic characteristics, subject differences and use of data.
  • Contextual factors such as subject-level differences, institution type and student characteristics differences impact the transferability of measures of learning gain. These differences should be considered when designing and selecting learning gain measures; when analysing and presenting findings. Mediating effects need to be considered.

The report on the National Mixed Methods project  has the following recommendations:

For policy-makers and providers      

  • A one-size-fits-all measure of learning gain (modelled on the NMMLGP questionnaire) should be abandoned as it holds minimal value for the majority of students and is not an influential construct in their present decision-making concerning either choice of institution or impact on the curriculum.
  • Students’ perceptions of learning gain need further exploration in order to move beyond what are acknowledged as impressionistic findings reported here, which are bound by proportionality constraints.
  • The sector needs to consider whose interests are best served by the measurement of learning gain. The evidence gathered here from participating providers and their students indicates that there is a dichotomous view of learning gain: either as a marker of institution positioning within a market-oriented system; or as a process of progression throughout the student journey. The two things are not necessarily synonymous.

For higher education providers

  • All learning gain work needs to be related to students’ own context and clearly embedded at local level within the subject or disciplinary area. Engagement is also highly dependent on whether any initiatives are promoted by trusted sources such as course tutors, rather than unfamiliar contacts.
  • Providers should consider developing a repertoire of approaches, as part of a learning gain toolkit, which can be accessed by students as part of a flexible and adaptable process underpinned by student choice rather than normative comparison. Providers are encouraged to also review the findings of the overall evaluation of the learning gain Pilot Projects for approaches which are most suited to their local contexts.

And finally the report on Higher Education Learning Gain Analysis (HELGA): says:

  • “HELGA set out to explore whether administrative data could be used to create a proxy measure for learning gain. The project has experimented with different techniques, considered different outcomes that could be a proxy for learning gain and different source of data that could be used. Ultimately, the project has developed two methods for measuring value-added in higher education for a subset of the undergraduate population.
  • The two measures have produced different results in their measure of value-added and there is no straightforward way of evaluating which is the most accurate.
  • It should be noted that the ‘value-added’ measured is the difference between the ‘expected’ degree outcomes for students at an institution based on prior attainment (and other student and course characteristics in the case of the multilevel model) and the actual degree outcomes. The measure does not explain what this difference might be caused by. As mentioned in Section 2.3, there is concern about the comparability of degree classifications across institutions. This raises a question of the suitability of this value-added measure for comparing institutions.
  • Neither methodology should be used further without additional sensitivity analyses and serious thought as to what is really being measured and whether it is fair to measure institutional performance in terms of value-added based on the restricted population used.
  • At the outset of HELGA, it was known that it would never be possible to create a single measure of learning gain, encompassing all of the different elements that are understood to make up learning gain. It has necessarily focused on cognitive gain only, although some thought was given to using NSS metadata to measure non-cognitive learning gain, but this was unsuccessful. However, this does not mean that this could not be useful for measuring value-added, but it should be made clear that it should not be adopted to produce a single measure of learning gain”

Grade Inflation

And that brings us nicely to the next item…the OfS have published their latest review of degree classifications:

  • The proportion of first-class honours degrees awarded has increased from 16 per cent to 29 per cent between 2010-11 and 2017-18.
  • The OfS has used statistical modelling to account for factors including entrance qualifications and student characteristics which may influence attainment. When accounting for these factors, they find that 13.9 percentage points’ worth of first class degree attainment remains “unexplained”.
  • In total, 94 per cent of the 148 universities and other higher education providers included in the analysis demonstrated a statistically significant unexplained increase in the proportion of first-class degrees awarded in 2017-18 compared to 2010-11.
  • The report updates data from a report issued in December 2018. Since that report, universities have collectively announced plans to act together to curb grade inflation via the work of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment.
  • Commenting on the report, Susan Lapworth, director of competition and registration at the Office for Students, said:
    • ‘Worries about grade inflation threaten to devalue a university education in the eyes of employers and potential students. So it is essential we regain and maintain public confidence in the reliability of degree classifications.
    • ‘This data shows a further increase in both the rate of first-class degrees awarded, and the proportion of those awards. These increases cannot be fully explained by the factors we have taken into account in our analysis.
    • ‘The performance shown in the new data pre-dates our call for the sector to take action on grade inflation, so we would not expect to see the impact of such actions in today’s report.
    • ‘There are, though, positive signs that the higher education sector has begun to tackle this issue. We welcome the steps taken by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment and the positive response from universities to a recent consultation on the steps universities should take to demonstrate that standards are secure. We recognise that change will take time, but it remains absolutely crucial that students, graduates and the general public can be assured that the value of a degree is maintained. That is why concerted, focused, and sector-wide action is so important.
    • ‘Following today’s publication, the OfS will be contacting those universities and providers with the most significant unexplained increases in degree classifications. We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. In seeking this additional information we recognise that there are factors that could explain the increases – for example improvements in learning and teaching – that we have not been able to measure in our analysis.
    • ‘Given the significant public scrutiny of degree standards we want to understand how universities have assured themselves that they have, and continue to, apply consistent standards. Doing so will help ensure that the degrees that students work so hard for continue to enjoy public confidence.’

The report and Excel versions of the data tables have been published.

The use of the word “unexplained” (again) is shocking given that it means “unexplained by prior attainment and social advantage”.  Inevitably this has been picked up in the media and by the Education Secretary.

BBC story here with a Damien Hinds comment:

  •  “Education Secretary Damian Hinds warned against “unfair practices”.  Mr Hinds said that if universities were giving many more top degrees without a legitimate reason, it was unfair on those who had studied to the same standard in previous years.  “We owe it to the hard-working students and institutions who play by the rules to stamp out this unfair practice,” said the education secretary. “Today’s figures are disappointing and risk compromising the public trust in the high standards of our universities,” he said.”

Wonkhe point out the escalation of threat level here: “Back in December, he said “I am urging universities to tackle this serious issue and have asked the Office for Students to deal firmly with any institution found to be unreasonably inflating grades” – so this feels like threat inflation to us.”

The OfS seem to be totally unaware of the damage that their choice of language may be doing.  In a blog, Susan Lapworth, the Director of competition and registration at the OFS, says about the plan to follow up with universities (emphasis added);

“To ensure that all universities, colleges and other registered providers are playing their part in maintaining the standard of degrees, we are likely to write to those providers that held degree awarding powers in 2010-11 and where the data show the most significant increases in the percentage of first class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2017-18. We’re focusing on providers with:

  • a statistically significant increase in the unexplained percentage of first class degrees awarded in a single year, or
  • a statistically significant overall increase in the unexplained percentage of first class degrees awarded between 2010-11 and 2017-18.

We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. We want to understand, for example, whether a provider has made recent changes to the way it calculates degree classifications, or whether it can point to other evidence – such as investment in staffing, teaching, services or facilities – that would credibly account for the ‘unexplained’ increase. We are also interested in the steps governing bodies have taken to ensure that academic governance arrangements are adequate and effective.

In seeking this additional information, we are not implying that the trends we can see in the published data indicate any form of wrongdoing from these providers – we are trying to understand better the reasons for performance that will be subject to public scrutiny and so are focusing our attention on those providers with the biggest unexplained increases. Given the significant public scrutiny of degree standards we want to understand how providers have assured themselves that they continue to apply consistent standards.

Doing so is essential to maintaining public confidence in degrees.”

General Election?

There has been little to say on Brexit recently because of the speculation and posturing of the Conservative leadership race. The news is all about what the two candidates might actually do (rather than what they say they will do as some promises may turn out to be completely unachievable if the EU or Parliament don’t play ball). The Conservatives, despite bitter Brexit infighting, are keen to retain power and remain in Government, avoiding an election at all costs. However, there has been increasing talk of how a general election may now be inevitable. There is a good article in Politics Home House magazine which explains the election scenarios.

Admissions

UCAS released their analysis of all full time undergraduate applications (made by end June 2019) noting a new record as almost 4 in 10 young people apply to university. Overall the number of young applications has increased by 1%, an additional 2,600 people, (despite the 1.9% fall in the young UK population). Across the UK figures are:

  • 39.5% of all 18 year olds in England submitted a UCAS application, up from 38.1% at the same point last year;
  • in Northern Ireland, 46.9% of 18 year olds applied (down 0.7 percentage points)
  • in Scotland, the 18 year old application rate is 32.7% (down 0.1 percentage point)
  • in Wales, the application rate was 32.9% (up 0.2 percentage points) – a joint record result equalling the peak in 2016

International

  • The volume of EU applicants rose by 1%, to 50,650.
  • There were a record number of applicants from outside the EU – 81,340 students applied to study in the UK, an increase of 8%.
  • China continued its rapid growth, with applicant numbers up 30% to 19,760 – this means that, for the first time, there are more applicants from China than Northern Ireland (18,520).

Disadvantage

For the first time, UCAS utilised the index of multiple deprivation measures to consider applications from disadvantaged communities.

  • In England, the number of young people applying from the most deprived areas has increased 6% to 38,770, while applications from the least deprived areas have fallen.
  • In Northern Ireland, all areas have seen a fall in applications, of between 2% and 7%.
  • In Scotland, young applicants from the most deprived areas have grown by 3%, while all other areas have seen falls.
  • In Wales, applicants from the most deprived areas remained at 1,390, with a mixed picture across different areas.

UCAS have also release a new interactive dashboard should you wish to interrogate the data further.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

The global appeal of UK higher education has never been clearer, with record, demographic beating application rates in England and Wales, and the steep rise in international applications, especially from China.

Today’s analysis shows how attractive undergraduate study continues to be for young people, although university isn’t the only route on offer. Our survey insight shows that around a quarter of students are interested in apprenticeships as an alternative option.

Higher Technical Reform

The DfE has launched a consultation on Higher Technical qualifications and published a Written Ministerial Statement to accompany it. Key points within the statement:

  1. A vision for Higher Technical Education to be a prestigious choice that delivers the skills employers need, encourages more students to continue studying after A levels or T levels and attracts workers of all ages looking to upskill and retrain.
  2. The starting point for reform is to raise the prestige of Higher Technical Education and strengthen its value to employers by putting their needs and quality first. Improving quality now – to demonstrate the value of higher technical qualifications – will lead to increased uptake of Higher Technical Education in the future.
  3. To do this we a new system is proposed to make clear which higher technical qualifications provide the skills that employers want. This will be delivered through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education signalling which qualifications deliver the knowledge, skills, and behaviours set out in employer-led national standards. This will help qualifications at this level command the confidence of students and employers alike.
  4. Alongside this the Government intent to work with the Office for Students to demonstrate the quality of providers, so there is more high-quality provision delivered across higher and further education, including through our flagship employer-led National Colleges and Institutes of Technology.
  5. The Government aims to make Higher Technical Education a positive and more popular choice by raising awareness and understanding of the new suite of Institute-approved qualifications in colleges and universities, and among potential students and employers.

This is very interesting in its own right, but also because of the direction of travel.

  • 29 We will create a clear set of signals that will enable employers and learners to easily identify the best qualifications with national labour market relevance. We want to incentivise providers to gravitate towards approved qualifications rather than those that have not met the Institute’s quality requirements. This will tilt the playing field towards qualifications which have been identified by panels of employers as delivering the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for an occupation.
  • 30 Qualifications approved by the Institute would be clearly identified through a single name or kitemark. ….
  • 31 Approved qualifications will therefore clearly stand out as being high-quality, labour market relevant, and having national currency. These benefits will enhance the offer and credibility of even those existing qualifications that have a relatively good level of employer awareness.
  • In addition, we know it will be very important to ensure that HTE is properly funded. Funding will also form an important incentive for Awarding Bodies to submit their qualifications for approval and discourage provision of rival qualifications that have not been approved by the Institute. The Post-18 Review panel has recommended that only approved HTQs should be entitled to the same tuition fee support and teaching grant, and equivalent maintenance support, as level 6 qualifications. We want to ensure there are clear incentives to deliver reformed qualifications in the future, and we will consider this as part of the ongoing Spending Review and the government’s response to the Post-18 Review.
  • We want to ensure that the very best providers are delivering our approved high-quality HTQs, whilst also considering how providers could specialise, or adjust their offer to address local skills needs. The Post-18 Review has recommended additional capital funding, for FE colleges, with a particular focus on growing specialist HTE provision in specific colleges. We will consider these recommendations, and develop our plans in more detail, as part of the Spending Review.
  • We want the reformed higher technical offer to be the best it can be. We therefore propose taking the requirement to register with the OfS a step further, and to develop with the OfS an additional set of ongoing registration conditions specifically for higher technical provision (technical conditions). Providers would be required to meet these technical conditions, in addition to the general ongoing registration conditions that are applicable to all providers, to be able to deliver the approved HTQs with access to relevant student finance for courses leading to those HTQs, and to be eligible for any additional public funding.
  • We expect this to be a rigorous process that would specifically assess and signal the quality of a provider’s higher technical education provision. Criteria for this would:
  • Specifically indicate high-quality higher technical provision by expanding on the key elements already assessed by OfS as part of the registration process, such as:
    • Suitably qualified and experienced teachers with current, relevant occupational and industry experience and expertise, as well as high quality pedagogical skills. Leaders have the capacity and ability to ensure provision is sustainable and retains a clear focus on quality
    • Strong links with employer networks, thus ensuring the knowledge, skills and behaviours being delivered are valued by, and relevant to, employers who are engaged and investing in training; and
    • Learning environments that provide access to facilities and equipment that are reflective of the workplace, including industry-relevant, up-to-date equipment.
  • Draw from the IoT assessment process, which uses a range of criteria including evidence of support for regional and national economic growth; employer engagement; relevance to occupational skills needs; and quality industry relevant teaching.
  • 67 The panel has also recommended that additional support and capital funding should be provided to grow capacity for, and ensure, high-quality technical provision, and that quality indicators could identify how best to allocate that funding. This could mean that only providers meeting the technical conditions would be eligible for any higher technical capital or grant funding for their HTE provision. For example, this could be to support providers to expand their provision, specialise or tailor their offer to meet local skills needs, or enhance teaching facilities and equipment. As stated above, we will be considering these funding proposals and wider reforms as part of the Spending Review.

International staff

This came up in Parliamentary questions this week.

Q – Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will make it his Department’s policy to exclude scientific research occupations from proposals in the immigration White Paper for a minimum salary threshold.

A – Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North):

  • On 24 June 2019, the Government asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to consider the operation of salary thresholds in the future immigration system, including the impact of exemptions from minimum salary thresholds. The MAC is due to report by January 2020.
  • We recognise the vital contribution that scientists make to the UK. In his spring statement, my Rt Hon Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, confirmed that PhD level occupations would be exempt from the Tier 2 cap. Additionally, researchers applying for settlement are exempt from the rule which states that, there should be no absence from the UK for 180 days if the absence from the UK is for the purpose carrying out research. A number of research roles also appear on the Shortage Occupation List which also exempts them from the settlement salary threshold
  • The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route is also available for internationally recognised leaders and promising future leaders, including in the science and research sector.

The Minister speaks (part 4) – on R&D investment

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, made his fourth (and final) speech in his series on R&D investment focusing on how to bring about major increases in private R&D investment.

The previous speeches covered:

  • Investing in people – ensuring that the best and brightest minds are working on the problems
  • Working collaboratives – across international borders to tackle the greatest challenges facing society
  • Enduring the funding and regulatory systems nurture new technologies and support risk taking

On private R&D investment he said:

  • If we are to deliver on our 2.4% commitment, we must be prepared to go much further and much faster. Overall investment in R&D will need to more than double in nominal terms, from current level of £35 billion per year to around £75 billion per year by 2027.
  • And at least two thirds of this investment will need to come from business. For many industries the need to invest in R&D is a pressing one – vital to competitive advantage. Businesses that thrive on the cutting edge are adept at making the most of basic research. They track down the brightest minds to seek answers to their most pressing problems. And they take the lead on experimental development and innovation, lifting new discoveries out of the lab and into people’s lives, driving economic and social prosperity.
  • That isn’t to say that the government won’t play its part. In fact, we are doing more than ever.

The Minister goes on to set out the additional funding, including a real terms QR funding uplift, and collaborative assistance that has led to successful business gains, such as Jaguar Land Rover committing to produce it’s electric cars in the UK (previously the company had been shedding staff and moving assets due to Brexit complexities).

  • Bold government policy has led to bold business decisions.
  • But to get to 2.4% we need to see significantly more than this. To ramp up from today’s levels to 2027, it is projected we’ll need to see an additional £12 billion each year from business.

To respond to this challenge the minister announced 7 focal areas:

  • Creating opportunity for the spark of creativity to arise through encouraging a vibrant and diverse research system with support for world-class, blue-skies research in universities and institutesintellectual capital ultimately comes from people. So we need to invest confidently into postgraduate study, looking at all levels of our education system to getting more people into exciting R&D careers. This also means working tirelessly to put innovation and creativity at the centre of our education and training system.
  • Turning new ideas into new businesses, products and processes – developing a culture of startups.
  • Creating a scale-up culture with early-stage ventures able to access the funding needed to scale up
  • Driving up demand as well as supply – incentivising business investment into R&D for established businesses. The  Minister states:

I see universities as ‘protagonists’, working with businesses to address problems where others cannot or dare not, and stimulating private investment.

Whether they are spinning out a company, licensing their IP, or undertaking contract or collaborative research with business, universities are remarkably skilled at identifying where they can have the greatest impact – locally, regionally, nationally and globally – and just getting on and doing it.

  • Supporting innovation across the whole UK – playing to local and regional strengths.
  • Focussing on the industrial strategies Grand Challenges
  • Ensuring research and innovation is right at the heart of Global Britain – the UK to be a magnet for foreign direct investment and as attractive a destination as possible for major businesses looking to relocate or scale up their R&D operations. Government policies and funding streams should ruthlessly drive up our global attractiveness.
    • But it is also incumbent on us to be better at marketing ourselves overseas. An important part of this is being open to talent. It is something businesses tell me constantly: the UK urgently needs an immigration system that encourages those with the best ideas and the most innovative minds to come and work here.
  • The evidence is unarguable: skilled immigration drives innovation. We mustn’t lose sight of this as we exit the EU. If we are to thrive, we need a genuinely international approach, a ‘freedom of talent’ approach that allows highly skilled people the flexibility to move and collaborate across borders.
  • That is the purpose of our international education strategy, providing focus and clarity to our ongoing educational exports
  • We cannot duck this challenge. Other nations are adopting aggressive approaches to R&D investment, driving significant increases in both public and private R&D performance. I’m not just talking about Israel and China – 2 obvious outliers. I’m also looking at Germany, who are ramping up public spending on R&D, committing to 3% annual increases every year for the next decade.
  • The technological revolution will stretch horizontally across our economy – every company will become a tech company of sorts. 
  • So to conclude, delivering on 2.4% requires focusing on all parts of the innovation lifecycle, and looking at our policies and investments through multiple lenses. And we must keep a ruthless focus on evidence, to inform the choices we make as a nation.
  • This means we need to access the latest thinking on what works, and ensure we have the best and latest metrics so we know when we have succeeded. And it means listening to what businesses and academics are telling us, and acting accordingly.

Other points made:

  • The UK has the second highest number of doctoral graduate in the EU (Germany has the highest).
  • UK researchers are unusually collaborative in comparison with EU and G20 nations
  • The UK has above-average level of people working in the fastest-growing sectors
  • The UK’s field-weighted citations has beaten all other G7 countries since 2007 with 50% greater citation impact than the world average and 30% higher impact than the EU27. No other comparator nation has a larger proportion of its research among the most widely cited in the world.

Consultations

There are NINE new consultations and inquiries this week!  Click here to view the updated tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Assistive Technology: The Student Loans Company plan to put out a tender for Assistive Technology Equipment and Training, results will be published during autumn 2019.

Industry partnership: Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, announced UK pioneering technologies under development as part of 4 new partnerships between businesses and universities. The projects aim to help UK industry and academia lead the way in bringing new products to market that contribute to tackling the big generational challenges such as climate change and the needs of an ageing society. Skidmore stressed the importance of both government and industry contributing to the Industrial Strategy ambition of raising public and private investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Projects include:

  • Developing new materials that do not make noise underwater, led by BAE Systems with the University of Southampton, the University of Nottingham and Lloyd’s Register.
  • Using AI and machine learning to speed up production of new medicines from vaccines to tablets in order to get them from the lab to the clinic faster, led by GlaxoSmithKline with the University of Strathclyde with University of Nottingham.
  • Developing a new range of fully recyclable ultra-high strength aluminium alloys for the automotive industry, led by Constellium and Brunel University.
  • Creating the next generation of household products using AI to pave the way for robots to complete advanced household tasks, led by Dyson and Imperial.

Student transitions:  Education Secretary Damian Hinds announced ‘Leapskills Workshops’, developed by student accommodation provider Unite Students which offer schools and colleges resources to teach Year 12 and 13 pupils about independent living, managing money and dealing with conflict. The sessions aim to act as a digital interactive masterclass to enhance how schools and colleges teach young people about what to expect and how to prepare for the leap of living away from home for the first time.

  • Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:  For young people leaving school, starting the next chapter of their life should be a positive life-changing experience – but we know that many people struggle with the pressures of moving away from home and living independently for the first time. A huge part of education is preparing young people for adult life and it is right that we teach them what to expect for life after school, whether that’s at university, work or an apprenticeship.
  • Unite Students CEO Richard Smith said: We believe that resilience is vital in young people and that given the right opportunities and experiences, young people can build resilience. The better prepared young people are for the transition to university, the easier they will find managing the highs and the lows often involved in this leap.

Apprenticeships: The DfE have published a summary document giving Apprenticeships and Traineeships figures. The data shows how higher level apprenticeships have boomed (68% growth since last year) with the main decline at the intermediate apprenticeship level. Apprenticeship starts from mature (19+) learners has increased by 13.8%.

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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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