Tagged / NSS

HE Policy update for the w/e 3rd August 2018

Social mobility

Damien Hinds gave a speech at the Resolution Foundation on 31st July.  The story was widely trailed in the media  – it had a big focus on early years and on access to HE.

Mr Hinds said, in the speech in London, that this early gap had a

  • “huge impact on social mobility”.  “The truth is the vast majority of these children’s time is at home.  Yes the home learning environment can be, understandably, the last taboo in education policy – but we can’t afford to ignore it when it comes social mobility. I don’t have interest in lecturing parents here… I know it’s parents who bring up their children, who love them. who invest in them in so many ways, who want the best for their children. But that doesn’t mean extra support and advice can’t be helpful.”

The Department for Education says 28% of children in England do not have the required language skills by the end of Reception.

Guardian –  Children starting school ‘cannot communicate in full sentences:

  • “The education secretary promised to halve within a decade the number of children lacking the required level of early speaking or reading skills.”  Children with a poor vocabulary aged five are more than twice as likely to be unemployed at age 34 as children with good vocabulary, research shows.

Initiatives announced included:

  • A competition to find technology to support early language development (there’s an app for everything….).
  • An education summit in the autumn to encourage parents to get involved in supporting children
  • An OfS research initiative (see below)

The OfS have confirmed that they are inviting tenders for an independent Evidence and Impact Exchange (EIX) – a ‘What Works Centre’ to promote access, success and progression for underrepresented groups of students.

  • The EIX will be independent of the OfS, but the OfS will fund it up to £4.5 million over three years (£1.5 million per year) and work with it during this time to develop a sustainable funding model for the future.
  • The purpose of the EIX is to provide evidence on the impact of approaches to widening access and successful participation and progression for underrepresented groups of students, and to ensure that the most effective approaches are recognised and shared.
  • It will collate existing research, identify gaps in current evidence and generate its own research to fill those gaps, and disseminate accessible advice and guidance to decision makers and practitioners across the higher education sector.
  • It therefore addresses a need in the sector for a systematic approach to evidence development, sharing and use in informing policy and practice.
  • Tenders must be submitted by noon on Friday 28 September 2018. Tenders will be assessed by a panel of OfS staff and external assessors against published evaluation criteria. The top three tenders will be shortlisted and invited to interview in October 2018, with a decision to be made by November 2018.
  • The EIX is expected to officially launch in spring 2019.

REF – the myths

Kim Hackett, the REF Director at Research England, has written for Wonkhe on REF myths following last week’s publication of the REF 2021 guidance.

She deals with the following myths:

  • Only journal articles can be submitted
  • The discipline-based UOA structure means that interdisciplinary research will be disadvantaged
  • You can’t have a high-scoring impact case study based on public engagement (PE)

And invites comments on other myths that need to be busted.

NSS – the analysis

John O’Leary, Editor of The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, wrote a blog for the Office for Students on NSS.  Some excerpts:

  • Of course the NSS has its faults – even after last year’s introduction of improved questions, it remains an extremely broad brush exercise that unintentionally favours particular types of institutions and makes life difficult for others.
  • The results do not provide the last word in the assessment of teaching quality, any more than the Teaching Excellence Framework as a whole does. But the results give the best available picture of students’ perceptions of their course – and it is difficult to see that being matched by any other exercise.
  • The trends are generally consistent (and overwhelmingly positive) – so much so that politicians and commentators often resort to quoting much smaller, less representative research to support a critical narrative. Satisfaction levels may be down this year, but still 83 per cent were positive about their course and only 8 per cent dissatisfied.
  • That is not to say that the NSS is perfect – in my view, it takes too narrow a view of students’ unions, for example, implying that their sole purpose is to represent their members academically. But more serious criticisms of the survey, that it encourages an ‘intellectual race to the bottom’ with lecturers dumbing down courses and reducing expectations to ensure positive results, are invariably anecdotal.
  • The survey’s outcomes have also provided unique leverage for students to force through improvements to services and facilities. In particular, levels of feedback and assessment practices have been given a focus that would never have been applied without the negative views expressed in successive editions of the NSS.
  • Even last year’s partial boycott of the NSS – now receding further – had more to do with the uses to which the results were being put at national level than dissatisfaction with the survey itself. Applicants would be much the poorer without the insight it provides.

Wonkhe have published some analysis and some interactive visualisations.

Migration and Brexit

The Home Affairs Committee have published an interim report, Policy options for future migration from the European Economic Area, which recommends that the Government should build migration consensus and engage in open debate and warns all those involved in the debate not to exploit or escalate tensions over immigration in the run up to withdrawal agreement.

The Committee is waiting on the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) report in the autumn before making further recommendations, they stress that the Government ideally should not make final decisions on the majority of immigration policy in advance of the

Press Release: Government should build migration consensus and engage in open debate

The Committee has criticised the Government’s failure to set out detail on post-Brexit migration policy or to build consensus on immigration reform despite having over two years since the referendum in which to do so. Continued delays to the publication of the White Paper on Immigration and the Immigration Bill has meant there is little indication of what immigration policy will be. Despite the fact that the issue was subject to heated and divisive debate during the referendum campaigns in 2016 the Government has not attempted to build consensus on immigration reform or consult the public over future migration policy in the two years since. The Committee believes this is a regrettable missed opportunity.

The interim report looks at three broad sets of policy options:

  • Within the EU and during transition there are further measures that could be taken, in particular on registration, enforcement, skills and labour market reform. As witnesses noted, the UK has opted not to take up measures which are possible.
  • Within an EFTA-style arrangement with close or full participation in the single market, the report highlights a range of further measures that might be possible – especially in a bespoke negotiated agreement. These include ‘emergency brake’ provisions, controls on access to the UK labour market, accession style controls and further measures which build on the negotiation carried out by the previous Prime Minister. We conclude that there are a series of options for significant immigration reform that should be explored by the Government.
  • Within an association agreement or free trade agreement, the options in part depend on how close such an agreement is. While any agreement itself may not cover many ‘labour mobility’ measures, the government will still need to make decisions about long-term migration, including for work, family and study.

Interim findings and recommendations include:

  • The net migration target should not be an objective of EU migration policy.
  • Refusing to discuss reciprocal immigration arrangements with the EU will make it much harder to get a close economic partnership. Geography, shared economic, social and cultural bonds between the UK and EU mean we will need a distinct and reciprocal arrangement for EU migration that is linked to our economic relationship.
  • The Government has not considered the range of possible immigration measures and safeguards that could allow the UK to participate in the single market while putting in place new immigration controls. It should immediately do so. Should the Government change its red lines, there are a series of options which could provide a basis for greater control on migration within the single market.
  • Even whilst in the EU and during the transition there are immigration reform measures that the UK has not taken up – in particular on registration, enforcement, skills and labour market reforms to address lack of skills, exploitation or undercutting.
  • Irrespective of the future EU relationship, the Government should seek to improve labour market conditions. Regulation of the labour market, further measures to prevent exploitation and increased funding for enforcement would benefit both domestic and migrant workers, subject to practical arrangements with business.
  • Within a Free Trade Agreement the options depend on how close the agreement is, but it is not the case that an FTA would necessarily mean limited migration. A free trade agreement along the lines of CETA would only require limited immigration provisions, but decisions would still have to be made on long-term migration from the EU and there would still be pressure for educational, high and low skilled, seasonal and family migration that the government would need to address.
  • The DCFTA between the Ukraine and the EU gives a precedent for partial integration in the single market without requiring the free movement of people. The European Commission has said there can be no ‘cherry-picking’ of the four freedoms of the single market, however this is a political judgement rather than a technical or legal obstacle. The Committee notes that the EU-Ukraine package was agreed in the context of Ukraine moving towards the EU, rather than away, and the European Commission has so far insisted that, for the UK-EU negotiations, the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible.
  • Whatever the Government’s intentions for EU migration, it should overhaul immigration arrangements for non-EEA nationals about which the Committee received many complaints. We heard considerable evidence of problems that would arise if arrangements for non-EU migration were applied for EU migration.  The Government should also introduce a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme as soon as possible.

Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP, said:

“Immigration was one of the central issues during the referendum and it divided the country, but sadly there has been no attempt by the Government to hold any kind of sensible debate on it or build any kind of consensus on immigration since. That is deeply disappointing and it has left a vacuum—and it’s really important that people don’t exploit that again.

The misinformation and tensions over immigration during the referendum campaign were deeply damaging and divisive. It is essential that does not happen again, and those who exploited concerns over immigration during the referendum need to be more honest and more responsible when it is debated in the run up to the final deal. We are calling for a measured debate and consultation on immigration options instead.

We found there were a much wider range of possible precedents and options for immigration reform than people often talk about – including options that could be combined with participation in the single market – that we believe the Government should be exploring further now.”

Post-18 review

Nick Hillman has written a blog for HEPI on the cost of the student loans system.

  • Opponents of the student funding model we have, which is characterised by high fees and taxpayer-supported income-contingent loans, regularly point out the shift from the old model to the current one may not save money in the long run. Arguably, HEPI was the first organisation to point this out.
  • It is a clever debating point. It may well be true too, as could soon become much clearer if the way students loans are classified in the national accounts changes, as is widely expected.
  • The danger for the health of our higher education sector comes in failing to recognise that one logical policy response to believing the current funding system could cost more would be to deliver less funding for each student (known as ‘a lower unit of resource’). Another would be to introduce much tougher repayment conditions so that more money comes back to the Exchequer (known as a lower ‘RAB charge’) – if you doubt the likelihood of this, take a look at the new reduction in the student loan repayment threshold in Australia.
  • Are such changes really what opponents of the current funding model want? If not, what is the right policy response to the claim that the costs of higher education might have increased even during the austerity years? If we only deliver problems to politicians without mentioning our preferred solutions, we will not be well placed to complain when they deliver something we dislike. (There may be echoes of some of the arguments on Brexit here…).
  • I said above it may be true that the current system will end up costing more than the old one. It is certainly widely believed and, as pointed out in the previous paragraph, the argument has taken us to a tricky place. Yet, in fact, it is only conceivably true if you intentionally choose to ignore the likely huge extra tax payments from additional graduates. They should provide a boost to the Exchequer that far outweighs any additional long-term costs.

Sector challenges

Mary Stuart, VC of the University of Lincoln, has written for Wonkhe on 21st Century Challenges.  She looks at three drivers of change, technology, geography and globalisation and what she calls a “legitimation crisis” – the rise of populism and ant-establishment movements.

Adam Wright, Deputy Head of Policy (Higher Education and Skills) at the British Academy has written for Wonkhe on the market in HE.

  • It seems unfair to blame institutions for not responding well enough to market conditions. Providers are responding to the perverse incentives and uncertainties that are produced by market competition, and yet their behaviour is characterised as anti-market. Moreover, the responses to policies, regulation, incentives and uncertainties are messy and occur at the micro-political level, the result of competing personalities, different governance processes, and bureaucratic standard operating procedures – as much as anything else…
  • Both Government and the PAC look to the Office for Students (OfS) to make institutions (and students) behave as rational actors. OfS, whether it likes it or not, is now the very visible hand of the market. It’s now going to publish the salaries of vice chancellors and try to curb the excess, ignoring the fact that VC pay is the product of market forces and the encroachment of a corporate mindset on sector governance. This echoes the response to the financial crisis where the failures of unfettered capitalism were personified in individual bankers while the underlying contradictions of the free market were largely ignored.

His conclusion is that we need a new paradigm based on collaboration.

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.

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

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

Research

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

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

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

 Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

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

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

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

REF 2021

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

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

BU will be responding to the consultation.

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

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

Sam Gyimah said:

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

Brexit White Paper

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

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

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

2A: Rights related to residence (p 12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unconditional Offers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The UCAS report on unconditional offers says:

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

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

Wonkhe have an article here:

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

The BBC has the story:

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

The BBC story goes on

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

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

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

The argument takes several forms all highlighted above:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSS

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

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

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

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

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said:

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

National Student Survey results 2018 (Web)

Mental Health / Occupational Therapy

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

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

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

Student Loans

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

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

Lords Debates

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

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

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

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

The full text of the fees debate is available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recess

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

Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

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

Other news

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

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

HE review deadline approaches – the latest on fees and funding

Thank you to the staff and students who responded to the HE review survey that we ran before and after Easter, we are preparing our response and will use the data from the survey to inform it.

We asked respondents for their top 3 concerns and the top concerns were:

  • Funding – 55% of respondents) selected “how students fund their living expenses” and 21%  selected “how students contribute to their tuition fees”
  • Outcomes: 41% said “whether the system delivers the skills, knowledge and attributes that the country needs” and 26% said “how employable a degree will make me”
  • Access and participation: 31% said “ how to widen participation and ensure good outcomes for all students” and 22%  said “how the systems works for part-time and/or mature students”

The large proportion of respondents highlighting living costs reflects concerns raised by the NUS, UUK and others about living costs – several respondents raised concerns elsewhere in our survey not just about disadvantaged students in this context but also students whose parents, although assessed to make a contribution to living expenses, in fact do not or cannot do so, and comments were also made that a full loan is sometimes inadequate.

In the meantime:

Parliamentary Question – Maintenance Loan Increase

Q – David Simpson:  To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has plans to increase the maintenance loan for students to help prevent them going in to overdrafts.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • The government has announced an increase of 3.2% to the maximum loans for living costs for full-time students starting their courses in the 2018/19 academic year – the highest levels on record. In addition, new students attending honours degree courses (and other level six courses) from academic year 2018/19 on a part-time basis will, for the first time, qualify for loans for living costs.
  • The Review of Post-18 Education and Funding will consider how we can provide a joined up system that is accessible to all students. It will consider how learners receive maintenance support, both from government and from universities and colleges. The review will receive input from an expert independent panel who will publish their report at an interim stage, before the government concludes the overall review in early 2019.

Parliamentary Question: Disabled Students’ Allowances

Q – Roger Godsiff: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the £200 self-contribution that disabled students in higher education must make to access funding for computer equipment, if the Government will make an assessment of the potential merits of the British Assistive Technology Association’s suggestion that the contribution is reviewed and students are able to have that charge added to their student loan.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Eligible higher education students are able to access maintenance loans, which are paid as a contribution towards a student’s living costs at university. All students require access to a computer so this is now a mainstream cost to participate in higher education, and we believe it is reasonable for any student to fund the purchase of a standard computer for email and word processing purposes from their maintenance support. The cost of a standard computer has been calculated at around £200. Any disabled student recommended a higher-powered computer to run assistive software is funded for any costs in excess of £200. Students are not expected to fund any assistive software or the training to use it. We do not consider it is necessary to provide an additional £200 in the form of a loan, given that this is a cost all students are expected to fund as part of their maintenance.

Graduate Employability

The Graduate Labour Market Statistics (2017) were released this week.  Wonkhe provide a short summary of the statistics:

  • Graduates continue to earn more than non-graduates (£10,000 more a year, on average), and postgraduates earn more than graduates (around £6000 more). Wages, employment and skilled employment are all rising slowly but surely – and in each case, there is a benefit correlated with higher education. DfE, the minister and Universities UK have all been quick to welcome what reads as a validation of higher study.
  • Looking more broadly at a time series shows us that the long slow climb back to 2008 salary expectations is nearly over. And there are a fascinating series of demographic and study characteristic splits – offering us the counter-intuitive finding that graduates with a first class degree, aged between 16 and 64, earn less than their compatriots with a 2:1 or 2:2.

Delve in here for an interactive chart to take a closer look at the detail.

The statistics were covered by the Financial Times in: ‘Graduate premium’ holds steady despite rising student numbers. UUK also describe the statistics in their blog: Employment data reveals added ‘value’ for graduates stating it dispels the myth that there is an oversupply of graduates with worthless degrees. They go on to say:

  • Yesterday’s data reveals that both graduates and postgraduates of working age have consistently higher employment rates than those without degrees – 16.4 and 16.6% higher respectively – and both working age and younger graduates and postgraduates are three times more likely than non-graduates to be employed in a highly-skilled job.

Meanwhile Celia Hunt (HE Funding Council Wales) blogs on the limitations of LEO data and why applicants shouldn’t let it be the only influence on their choice of institution. And Paul Greatrix of Nottingham University describes the university which guarantees additional tuition or an entry-level professional position to their unemployed leavers.

OFS blogs

The OfS are blogging about a range of issues – one this week on “Five myths about the NSS

  • “The National Student Survey is 13 this year. Like any teenager it has been through many changes (especially recently), has attracted its share of myths and, perhaps, is rather misunderstood!  Some of these myths can be entertaining; others are simply unhelpful and seriously misleading. From a list that could go on, we have come up with a top five to look at.”

There is a different view from Camille Kandiko Howson on Research Professional here.

Widening Participation and Achievement

This week NUS released Class dismissed? The NUS Poverty Commission Report. Shakira Martin (NUS President) blogs for Wonkhe to describe how class and poverty are linked in HE. She aims to smash the barriers both to getting in and getting on. She notes that:

[The poorest students]…pay more directly – like higher interest because they’re more reliant on debt. And they pay indirectly – like higher transport costs because they have to travel longer distances. The impact is to restrict choice, restrict access and increase drop out.

Shakira highlights that even if sufficient money is available to students if the costs continue to rise HE will not remain affordable. Talking on the HE Review she states:

  • “even if NUS can secure all the changes we need at a national level, the FE and HE sectors have got to make changes too. We want providers to ensure the cost of participation is fair, by developing strategies to reduce the costs of studying as far as possible, ensure transparency over the costs that remain, and ensure affordable accommodation for low-income students as part of access and participation plans. We need students to be able to access additional support if they need it too. We also want institutions to develop student employment strategies that help students access high quality work while they study and working-class students access to paid internships so they have the same opportunities as their richer peers. And we want better IAG that starts with the perspective of the student”.

In response to the NUS report UUK called for the reinstatement of maintenance grants and more flexible study options. Layla Moran (Lib Dem Education spokesperson) stated:

  • As this important report makes clear, the factors driving this inequality are varied and complex, but the government must not shy away from trying to tackle them, including by immediately reinstating maintenance grants and exploring options like individual learning accounts to provide more funding support for people during education and training.
  • In a fair and liberal society access to high quality education and training must never be limited by an individual’s background or circumstances, and it should be an absolute priority for the government to address the fundamental unfairness highlighted in this report.

Parliamentary Question: Part time and Flexible Learning

Q – Tulip Siddiq: what steps Government is taking to (a) support people who want to study part-time and (b) encourage flexible learning.

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Studying part-time can bring enormous benefits to the individual, and also to the economy and employers. To enable part-time students meet the full cost of their tuition the government introduced up-front fee loans for the first time in 2012/13. We are further enhancing the student finance package for part-time students by introducing maintenance loans, equivalent to full-time, in 2018/19. We also intend to extend the part-time maintenance loan to eligible students studying distance learning courses in 2019/20, subject to the development of a robust control regime to manage the particular risks and challenges associated with this mode of study.
  • Since 2015/16 graduates starting a second honours degree course part-time in engineering, technology or computer science have qualified for fee loans for their course. The government extended this from 2017/18 to graduates starting a second honours degree course part-time in any science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subject.
  • The government legislated in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 for the Office for Students (OfS) to have regard to part-time study and the OfS has a duty to promote choice and opportunities in the provision of higher education.
  • Accelerated degrees allow students to enter the workplace more quickly than a traditional course would permit. We legislated in the Higher Education and Research Act to allow a specific fee cap to be set for accelerated degrees, removing a key barrier to their wider availability. We recently completed a public consultation about the provision of accelerated degree courses, and will respond later this year.
  • Transfer between courses and providers can also support flexible learning. The OfS will have a duty to monitor and report on arrangements for student transfer, and a power to facilitate, encourage, or promote awareness of such arrangements.

Parliamentary Question – Access to HE

Q – David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what his Department’s policy is on encouraging working class students to attend university?

A – Sam Gyimah:

  • Widening participation to higher education is a priority for this government. It is vital that everyone with the capability to succeed in higher education has the opportunity to benefit from a university education, regardless of background.
  • University application rates for 18-year-olds to full-time study remain at record levels, including those from disadvantaged areas. Our first guidance to the Office for Students, asked them to encourage providers to make further progress in ensuring that students from areas of low higher education participation, low household income and/or low socio-economic status, can access, participate and succeed in higher education.
  • A new transparency condition will require higher education providers to publish application, offer, acceptance, non-continuation and attainment rates by socio-economic background, gender and ethnicity, which will provide greater transparency and help drive fairness on admissions and outcomes

Racial influence in applications

UCAS are undertaking a full investigation following a journalist’s claims that Black applicants to HE are more likely to have their applications investigated for false or missing information than white applicants. UCAS issued a statement here.

Industrial Strategy: Artificial Intelligence

The Government launched the Artificial Intelligence Industrial Strategy sector deal on Thursday. The deal sets out actions to promote the adoption and use of AI in the UK (recognising the recommendations of the independent review: Growing the AI industry in the UK).

The Government list the following actions they’ll take to support AI:

Support AI innovation to raise productivity:

  • Invest up to £20 million in the application of AI in the services sector through the Next Generation Services Industrial Strategy Challenge. This will include a network of Innovation Research Centres and collaborative R&D to develop new applications of AI and data-driven technologies in sectors such as law and insurance5.
  • Invest £93 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund into the robotics and AI in extreme environments programme, towards the research and development of robotics and AI technologies for use in industries such as offshore and nuclear energy, space and deep mining, with the aim of supporting safer working practices for people in extreme environments that could prevent potential harm and increase productivity.
  • The government will work with academia, the broader research community, industry and end users to integrate AI into future Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund challenges.

Stimulate uptake of AI, including within the public sector:

  • Create a £20 million GovTech Fund, supported by a GovTech Catalyst, which will support tech businesses to provide the government with innovative solutions for more efficient public services and stimulate the UK’s growing GovTech sector.
  • Raise overall UK R&D intensity by raising total R&D spending across public and private sectors to 2.4% by 2027, and 3% over the longer term.
  • Increase in the rate of the R&D Expenditure Credit from 11% to 12% from January 2018.
  • Accompanying the deal the Government have reconfirmed their commitment to fund 8,000 computer science secondary school teachers and 1,000 new AL related PhDs by 2025.

A Wonkhe blog discusses the role of universities in the ethical challenges around data and artificial intelligence.

Life Sciences Industrial Strategy report

And while we’re on the Industrial Strategy, the Lords Science and Technology Committee issued a report on Thursday saying the government must do more to implement the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy:

  • “The Committee recommends there should be a single body with complete oversight the implementation of the strategy called the Life Sciences Governing Body. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary and the Health and Social Care Secretary must ensure this Body has the cross-Government backing it needs to do its work.
  • The Government has failed to engage the NHS effectively even though the NHS is critical to the delivery of the strategy. As a result, the NHS’s commitment to the strategy has so far been incoherent, uncoordinated and ineffective. It does not currently have the capacity to rise to the challenge of its implementation and current NHS structures stifle innovation.
  • The Committee urges the NHS to give greater priority to the uptake and spread of innovation and to rewarding clinicians and managers who make such adoption successful. The Government should explore how it can offer financial incentives to those NHS trusts that adopt and spread proven innovations”..

Duty of care to students

During Tuesday’s Value for Money in HE select committee hearing and at the previous Office for Students Conference Sam Gyimah suggested that HE institutions’ should act as if they are in “loco parentis” to students. During the committee he explained his personal view was that universities had a duty of care to protect students’ wellbeing.

Nick Hillman of HEPI has written about this, suggesting that although the idea goes down badly with universities, there are some things work considering in Are universities in loco parentis? The good old days or the bad old days?

HE debate

Shadow secretary of state for education Angela Rayner presented a Humble Address to annul the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (Consequential, Transitional, Transitory and Saving Provisions) Regulations 2018 (S.I., 2018, No. 245) which granted the Office for Students (OfS) regulatory powers of higher education.

She stressed that the Government had ignored criticism during the development of the Office for Students (OfS), through the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 and the controversial appointment and resignation of Toby Young.  During that “shambolic and politicised appointment process” the commissioner for public appointments had “found that the governance code was not followed—itself a breach of the ministerial code,” Rayner stated and asked if the minister would reject this finding or correct the record.  The Government had used the appointment process to “pursue a deeply ideological agenda” which was apparent in the Act itself giving the OfS a duty to promote competition in a free market, she continued.

Michael Tomlinson (Con, Mid Dorset and North Poole) quoted Universities UK in saying that “annulment of the statutory instrument is…not in the interest of either universities or students”.  Rayner responded that the intention was not actually to annul the Act, the vote was “not about annulling; this is about the Government making sure that legislation is fit for purpose. If the motion is passed tonight, the Government can go away and ensure that the Office for Students is fit for purpose.”

She highlighted “serious failings in the legislation” in the OfS “acting as provider and regulator and a conflict of interest in the regulations”, which led to a long series of questions covering: if small providers would be outside of the regulation of the Office for students; if the OfS had the necessary powers it needed to protect students if a provider failed; why the Government were removing the power of the director of fair access to approve or reject access and participation plans and issues around fines for autonomous student unions in no-platforming.

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, stated his support for the OfS as the new regulator and stressed his confidence in its Chair Sir Michael Barber, however, he raised concern “about the lack of further education representatives on the board.”  He pressed for the Government to “make it a priority to recruit a serious representative from further education, from the Association of Colleges or elsewhere, into the vacant position on the board” and to appoint a “panel of apprentices alongside the OfS student panel to inform the work and ensure that the views of apprentices are properly listened to.”

SNP spokesperson for education, Carol Monaghan, raised concern around representation of devolved nations at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), whilst they were currently served by Professor Sir Ian Diamond from the University of Aberdeen, continued representation was not guaranteed in the Act which could have a “negative impact on Scotland’s higher education sector.”

Alex Sobel (Lab/Co-op, Leeds North West) supported the motion and said that the OfS was not fit for purpose. He strongly criticised the Government in creating an institution that prevented vice-chancellors from speaking out and damaged academic freedom.

There was “precious little evidence” of the OfS acting as a “great champion of consumers” said Labour’s Wes Streeting (Ilford North), going on to say that the OfS was the “logical conclusion of a vision of a higher education system” where “the market rules supreme and which seeks to reduce higher education to a commodity for students to purchase as consumers and trade in for future success in the workplace.”

The wider experience and outcomes for students, including well-being and mental health, should be prioritised by the OfS, said Helen Whately (Con, Faversham and Mid Kent).

The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Sam Gyimah, said annulling the legislation before the House was “unviable” due to the large structural changes in the sector since the last “legislative framework for higher education” during which “the sector was smaller and competition was limited.”

The minister made clear that the changes brought in through the statutory instrument under debate were necessary as the previous regulatory system, based on attaching conditions to grant funding, was “simply no longer a viable mechanism to deliver regulatory oversight and to protect students’ interests in the long term.”  He outlined how the OfS encompassed “a new, outcome-driven approach to regulation that seeks to open up university opportunities to all, to enhance the student experience, to improve the accountability and transparency of providers, to promote the quality and flexibility of higher education choices, and, crucially, to protect students’ interests.”

Responding to Paul Blomfield (Lab, Sheffield Central) the minister agreed that there was an issue around student wellbeing that needed to be either tackled by the OfS or other means. He said there was “no going back” to the old system as HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access had ceased to exist on 1 April 2018 and could not be “resurrected without primary legislation.” He concluded that the OfS in delivering “the regulatory functions of HEFCE in relation to teaching in higher education” and the statutory remit of the Director of Fair Access brought “together the powers, duties, expertise and resources under the collective responsibility of the OfS and allows for a smooth and orderly transition.”

The House divided:  Ayes: 211 Noes: 291.  Question accordingly negatived.

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:

  • Special educational needs and disabilities inquiry

Other news

Policy impact and research: – Wonkhe have an article about research and policy.  On this topic, we’re on the look out for BU projects which have been successful in engaging policy makers for an interview series – please contact us if you think this might be you: policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Sense of belonging: The Office for Students published A ‘Flying Start’ to university study this week focusing on building students’ sense of belonging. It describes an induction overhaul (5 full days of intense participative subject specific sessions) stating it exposes the hidden rules of the game and replaces exclusionary practices with inclusive participation. The article lists the research behind the change. The Flying Start project won  the course and curriculum design award at the 2018 Guardian HE awards.

Subscribe!

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update w/e 14th August 2017

NSS results

HEFCE published the NSS results last week. In their press release they highlight the changes to the survey and the fact that the responses are not comparable with previous years – there were 10 new questions and wording changes to 9 questions. The NUS boycott linked to the TEF affected 12 institutions who did not achieve the necessary response rate.

Jo Johnson had made an announcement a few weeks ago about student contracts as one way of addressing student concerns about quality and value for money – there has been a fair amount of comment and the latest from Jim Dickinson on Wonkhe  suggests some practical action universities could take to improve their response to complaints.

Teaching Intensity

Teaching intensity hit the headlines in late July fuelled by the Fiscal Studies journal article on class size, the 2017 HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey, and the announcement that the TEF subject level pilots will contain a teaching intensity measure. The pilot TEF measure will collect data on class size and contact time and consider how these measures might be used to inform a subject-level assessment judgement.

A Times Higher article – Teaching intensity: the key to measuring student learning? – illustrates the diversity of approaches and opinion on class sizes. Applicant choice is a key factor and many also highlight that there is no interrelation between student experience of teaching intensity/quality and fees (yet).

A HEPI guest blog – Measuring teaching intensity: the authors respond to the critics – explains the limitations within HESA data and why the Dearing Report and Brown Review didn’t go far enough.

“We felt that there was a need to collect information than enabled more precise comparison of how teaching is delivered across institutions, accounting for the many ways in which teaching is undertaken. Our findings imply that some students receive much better value for money than others. For a market to function properly, participants must be able to compare what is offered by different providers. The enormous variation in teaching intensity found in our data strongly suggests that in the market for teaching price signals are weak. It was always anticipated the tuition fees would be variable. One of the ways in which it was expected that the fee would vary was by subject (Greeneway and Haines 2000). If the data we have collected had been publically available the uniform fee would not have been possible.”

“Unfortunately, in the absence of information about teaching intensity (as opposed to contact hours alone) school leavers have no way to choose between those universities offering more (or less) of the tuition service they are ultimately paying for. In turn, universities are not incentivised to provide more of the primary service (tuition) paid for by taxpayers and students.”

The authors call for universities to publish teaching intensity data in additional to contact hours in the belief it will create a more competitive environment and therefore drive up teaching quality.

Sarah Stevens, Head of Policy at the Russell Group, responded on Wonkhe disagreeing with the proposal to include teaching intensity in the TEF.

Widening Participation

POSTGRADUATE SUPPORT SCHEME – HEFCE published the 2015/16 postgraduate support scheme evaluation report. This was a one-off scheme designed to widen access to taught postgraduate students (within the first cohorts to pay higher fees) through a bursary of £10,000. This scheme has been superseded by the postgraduate loan scheme. The evaluation note:

  • The bursary did have a modest impact of demand but criticises the scheme’s rushed design and implementation which meant only students already committed to PG study were likely to apply – it acted as an ‘enabler’ rather than a ‘persuader’
  • Higher levels of students from certain underrepresented groups were recruited than in previous years. There was particular success in increasing students from Low Participation Neighbourhoods, NS-SEC groups 4 – 8, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups, disabled students and ‘first generation’ students. The scheme which was designed to remove financial barriers to PG study may have a particular meaning for these groups of students; it will be interesting to cross-reference these groups’ take up of the PG loan scheme.
  • The evaluation concluded that the scheme did not led to substantial change in policy or practice for most institutions and structured obligations (e.g. requirements set by OfS) is needed for genuine change.

RECENT PUBLICATIONS

A Wonkhe blog Universities’ shame – unpicking the black attainment gap discusses the attainment gap between black/white and Asian/white good degree classifications. While this isn’t new news and the gap is acknowledge by the sector Wonkhe suggest the OfS ought to penalise institutions for attainment gaps and states:

Ultimately, TEF has failed in its aim to take account of any significant differences in the quality of teaching and learning experienced by different student groups if it has awarded universities Gold ratings when there are significant racial attainment gaps. The blog sparked a volley of comments from the sector which can be viewed at the end of the article.

Les Ebdon blogs giving advice to the OfS: A real step change for fair access.

I always say that good progress is being made on fair access – that it’s a national success story. Well, I stand by that, but let’s be clear, it’s good progress made from a very low baseline, which means that the overall result is still quite low.

OFFA is publishing a summary briefing on the current situation in fair access – the gains made and the challenges that remain – and it makes sobering reading.

If the OfS is built with the right mission, values, staff and systems, it will be able to drive the transformational change that is needed…OFFA is a tiny organisation and, although we’ve punched a long way above our weight, our size has always limited what we’ve been able to do. The OfS will have much bigger resources – in data analysis, for example – that will enable it to take what we’ve done and do it even more and even better. That means focusing on outcomes, following evidence, and offering support and challenge in ways that respect the wide diversity of institutions.

The OfS must strive as hard as OFFA has striven to keep access and participation on the public agenda. These issues are now embedded in government policy and a key priority for Ministers, but nothing is ever permanent in politics

HEPI have published a collection of essays on widening participation and fair access. Suggestions include bolder contextualised admissions policies for highly-selective universities (with AAA+ offers typically being reduced to CCC), more support for people in care with the potential to benefit from higher education and new Personalised Learning Accounts to meet demand for more flexible lifelong learning.

The National Networks for Collaborative Outreach 2015/16 monitoring report has been published by HEFCE. This covers the final year of the NNCO scheme and reports 98% of academies, schools and colleges were covered by the scheme and ‘genuine innovation took place’.

The Sutton Trust have published their annual Aspirations Polling 2017. They survey asks young people about their aspirations and worries for higher education, and their attitude to tuition fees and student debt. The Sutton Trust report this year’s pool shows a falling trend in likelihood to attend university and an increase in financial concerns. Headlines:

  • The proportion of young people who say they are likely to go into higher education as fallen to its lowest level since 2009.
  • 51% intending to study at university worry about the cost of HE – this is an increase on previous year and is the highest level the Sutton Trust has ever captured through their polls.
  • Young people low affluence households who intend to attend university is the lowest in seven years with the socioeconomic gap in likelihood between high and low affluence households at the highest level it has been.
  • In expectations BAME young people (82%) are more likely than white (71%) to plan to attend HE.
  • Of those not intending to apply to HE 64% cited a financial reason (this was 57% in 2013)

OFFA issued this press release and a quick facts briefing.

Parliamentary Question – MATURE STUDENTS

Q – Mr David Lammy: What plans she has to increase the number of individuals aged 24 and over in part-time and full-time education.

A – Joseph Johnson: The Government is committed to ensuring all individuals have the opportunity to make the most of their potential. The Industrial Strategy Green Paper, published in January, outlined some of the challenges that adults face when considering re-entering education. This year’s Budget therefore committed £40million to fund pilots to test ambitious, new approaches to remove these barriers.

We want to increase participation in higher education by older and part-time students, and we have taken action to support those who choose to study part-time. These measures include: From 2012, the offer of up-front fee loans for eligible part-time students, to level the playing field with undergraduate study. From academic year 2018/19, the introduction of undergraduate part-time maintenance loans, to bring greater parity of support between part-time and full-time. From 2015, the relaxation of Equivalent or Lower Qualification rules, so students who already hold an honours degree qualification and wish to study part-time on a second honours degree course in engineering, technology or computer science, have qualified for fee loans for their course. This is being extended for academic year 2017/18 to graduates starting a second part-time honours degree course in any STEM subject.

In addition, we are extending undergraduate maintenance loans to distance learners from academic year 2019/20, subject to the development of a robust control regime.

We are also removing barriers to accelerated courses. Evidence shows that accelerated courses appeal particularly to mature students who want to retrain and enter the workplace more quickly than a traditional course would permit. We have already made provisions in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 to remove a key barrier to the growth of these courses, and will now consult on implementation and setting a new fee cap specifically for accelerated courses in secondary legislation.

The Office for Fair Access has also asked universities to consider the different barriers mature learners may face in accessing, succeeding in, and progressing from higher education, and to consider what more they can do to attract and support part-time learners across the whole student lifecycle as part of their Access Agreements.

Appointments

Alistair Jarvis has been appointed as Chief Executive of UUK replacing Nicola Dandridge who is now CEO of the Office for Students. Prior to appointment Alistair was the Deputy Chief Executive at UUK and a member of the Wonkhe Board. THE describe his background and reasons for appointment. Janet Beer, UUK president, said:

The challenges and opportunities afforded by the current economic, social and political climate mean that UUK was seeking a chief executive with a strong track record in campaigning, political advocacy, and the ability to connect with a diverse range of stakeholders.”

Parliamentary Questions

FEES – VALUE FOR MONEY

Q – Lord Myners: Whether they intend to take action to limit university course fees which do not represent value for money for students; and if so, on what basis they intend to determine which courses provide value for money.

A – Baroness Sugg: The Government has introduced the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) assessment, to tackle concerns about value for money in Higher Education. Only providers who successfully achieve a high quality rating under the TEF will be permitted to maintain their fees in line with inflation.

The results of the TEF assessment gives students clear information about where teaching quality is best and where students have achieved the best outcomes. This will promote student choice and encourage a stronger focus on the quality of teaching, as higher education providers will need to ensure they are giving students, their parents and the taxpayer value for money.

Furthermore, the Office for Students, once established, has a general duty under section 2 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 to have regard to the need to promote value for money in the provision of Higher Education by English Higher Education providers.

Q – Alex Burghart: What estimate she has made of the cost of abolishing university tuition fees.

A – Joseph Johnson: The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that abolishing tuition fees would increase the fiscal deficit for the 2017/18 student cohort by around £11bn, with the long-term cost of student funding increasing by around £6.5bn.

The major reforms to English higher education in 2012 have significantly increased average per-student funding. Graduates do not start repaying loans until their annual incomes reach £21,000, and loans are written off after 30 years. By enabling English universities to charge current tuition fees, the Government no longer has to ration access to higher education via a cap on student numbers. This enables it to offer more places, including to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are now going to university at a record rate – they are 43% more likely to go to university than they were in 2009 (LINK).

Graduates earn, on average, substantially more than people with A levels who did not go to university. Various pieces of research show that Higher Education graduates earn, on average, at least £100,000 more over their lifetimes than those without a degree but with 2 or more A-Levels. The most recent BIS commissioned research shows that, on average, a male graduate could expect to earn £170,000 more and a female graduate £250,000 more over their lifetimes, than someone without a degree but with 2 or more A-levels, net of tax and other costs (2012 prices). Abolishing tuition fees would be socially regressive: as well as unfairly burdening the general taxpayer, it would benefit mainly those students going on to well-paid jobs, who repay their loans in full.

CAPPING THE STUDENT LOAN

Q – Lord Myners: Whether they intend to place a cap on student loans, in order to prevent any increase in the total debt arising as a result of the interest paid being less than the interest accrued in any one year.

A – Baroness Sugg: The student funding system removes financial barriers for anyone hoping to study and is backed by the taxpayer. A key feature of the scheme is that outstanding debt – including any interest accrued that has not been repaid by the end of the loan term – is written off after 30 years. This means that borrowers are protected if their repayments are less than the interest accruing on their accounts.

Monthly student loan repayments are linked to income, not to interest rates or the amount borrowed. Borrowers earning less than the repayment threshold (£21,000) repay nothing at all.

Once borrowers leave study, those earning less than £21,000 are charged an interest rate of RPI only. Post-study interest rates are variable based on income, tapering up from RPI for those earning less than £21,000 to RPI+3% for borrowers earning £41,000 and above. The system of variable interest rates based on income makes the system more progressive, as higher earners contribute more to the sustainability of the higher education system.

We have a world class student finance system that is working well, and that has led to record numbers of disadvantaged students benefiting from higher education. As ever, we will keep the detailed features of the system under review to ensure it remains fair and effective.

TERTIARY EDUCATION

Q – Mr David Lammy: What assessment she has made of the implications on individual testing entitlement for her policy of the recommendations of Professor Alison Wolf’s report, Remaking Tertiary Education, published in November 2016. [5482]

A – Joseph Johnson: We welcome contributions to our thinking from experts on, and from within, the education sector. We are committed to delivering high performing further, technical and higher education, which represents good value for people throughout their lives.

For example, we have legislated to remove the barriers to the provision of two-year degrees. We are also introducing a new maintenance loan for part-time undergraduate study for academic year 2018/19 and intend to offer maintenance loans to support students on further education courses at Levels 4 and 5 in National Colleges and Institutes of Technology. This year’s Spring Budget committed £40million to fund pilots that will test ambitious, new approaches to removing barriers adults might face when considering re-entering education.

TEF

Q – Lord Jopling: How any higher education provider that does not obtain a Bronze status or higher in future Teaching Excellence Frameworks will be categorised.

A – Baroness Sugg: All providers who successfully meet the eligibility criteria, including the rigorous quality assessments by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education​​, and which have sufficient metrics to be assessed, will achieve a Bronze award, or above, in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Those providers which have met the eligibility criteria but do not have sufficient metrics will instead receive a provisional award.

As noted during the Higher Education and Research Bill process some providers do not meet the eligibility requirements noted for TEF. Providers who do not meet the eligibility requirements, or who chose not to participate, will appear without a TEF award on Unistats and on the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

International students

In last week’s HE policy update we gave statistics on the value of transnational education. This week THE reports that Offshore students are ‘no substitute for UK-based learners’. THE explain that UK universities delivering education overseas accounts for less than 5% of the foreign student income. Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, stated that transnational education could never realistically replace lost income if the number of overseas students studying in the UK declined dramatically. “It has often been argued by government that the UK should, in the face of tough visa restrictions, seek to grow foreign student numbers overseas, largely as an alternative to UK recruitment.” However, HESA 2015/16 figures confirm there are only 701,000 offshore students compared to 450,000 international students studying in the UK. Furthermore, of the 701,000 45% are all on a low-fee accountancy distance learning course at one UK university.

HEFCE respond to last week’s controversial Sunday Times article Universities take foreign students ahead of British. Mario Ferelli, HEFCE’s Director of Analytical Services, explains what the UCAS data really shows and why the statistics the Sunday Times used weren’t appropriate for the young UK population.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

 

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

Effective channels for course or unit communication

Student using smart phone

How and when we communicate course or unit level information with students can impact their perception of course organisation and management and subsequently their student experience.

The Student Communications Team and Student Experience Champion Mark Ridolfo host a workshop, Effective channels for student course communication, on Tuesday 14 October.

The event will explore a range of channels and how to use them effectively. Topics will include:

  • How course communication can impact student experience
  • The current communication environment and managing the expectation of your students
  • Some effective course communication examples from colleagues across BU, including:       
    • Text messages (Students Comms Team)
    • iBU (Amy Blackham, (Student Communications Manager)
    • myBU (Mark Ridolfo, Student experience Champion)
    • Facebook and Twitter (Dr Ana Adi, Lecturer in Corporate and Marketing Communications)
    • Other social media examples (Jasmine Connolly, Social Media Officer)
  • Expert panel discussion / Q&A.

You can find out more and register at the Staff Development and Engagement pages.

Readers of this blog post might also have a particular interest in Julie Northam’s blog post Benefits of research-led learning on the student experience and NSS scores.

Benefits of research-led learning on the student experience and NSS scores

The results of the 2012 National Student Survey are due to be made public shortly and we will be able to see how BU compared to other institutions and the sector average. The NSS data is based on the opinions of final year undergraduates on a number of issues such as how the students rate the universities’ learning resources, quality of personal development support and how intellectually stimulating their courses are.

Traditionally Russell Group universities have had lower response rates but scored more highly (85% satisfaction rate compared to a sector average of 81%). Often these higher scores are attributed to these institutions having a culture of research-led learning where enquiry-based, independent learning in a world-class research environment is at the heart of the student experience. Students report finding research-led learning exciting, and they also help produce graduates who are highly sought-after by employers.

The University of Cambridge’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) enables students to work with academics on live research projects as fully participating members of the project team. UCL is increasing opportunities for undergraduate students to take an active part in research-led learning. There are a number of ways in which undergraduate students can be exposed to research including:

  • Learning about others’ research (research-informed learning)
  • Learning to do research (research skills and methods)
  • Learning in a research mode such as enquiry-based learning

There is a growing body of evidence showing that research-led learning offers significant benefits to the student experience and student development, including:

  • the motivation and development of students as a consequence of exposure to expert subject matter
  • promoting the value of enquiry and deep approaches to learning
  • helping to develop transferable skills through engagement in research tools and processes

Many universities are now taking steps to ensure that all students are taught by research-active academics throughout their studies. There are numerous benefits of being taught of research-active academics including:

  • academics are at the cutting-edge of their field
  • they teach more relevant and up-to-date material
  • they gain enthusiasm for their subject from being research-active
  • they teach from their immediate research experience
  • they offer students a unique experience

Rather than seeing teaching and research as separate activities there are huge benefits to students of combining the two to ensure that teaching and learning are research-led and research-informed. Research-led learning lies at the heart of BU’s concept of Fusion which underpins the BU2018 strategy. If you are already research-active then be creative with your teaching! Encourage students to be involved in your live research projects and use examples from your research findings and experience in your lessons and teaching materials. If you’d like to be research-active then consider joining the University’s Grants Academy which will enable you to develop the skills and knowledge required to embark on a research career.

For more ideas and examples on research-led learning see this report – Research-led learning: the heart of the Russell Group university experience