Tagged / Office for Students

HE policy update for the w/e 8th October 2021

Parliament was still in recess whilst the Conservative Party Conference takes place. We have the news from the Conference, some movement on Essay Mills and several new reports.  And we have a big primer on student finance, ahead of the budget.

Conservative Party Conference

After the first day of the Conservative Party conference Wonkhe speculate what the personalities and lack of fiscal room for manoeuvre mean for HE in the forthcoming spending review (looming on the later October horizon):

  • At last night’s Policy Exchange fringe meeting, new Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi represented a breath of fresh air insofar as he was keen to stress that decisions would be “evidence-led”, that he understood that universities delivered vocational skills and that a consultation is still coming over aspects of Augar. But the spending envelope isn’t his call – and the big question for this spending review remains “What does Rishi Sunak want?” If he wants to balance the books and demonstrate fiscal prudence – and all the signs point to a reining in after the immense scale of public spending during Covid-19 – then universities could be in for a rough ride when stacked up against other pressing priorities. The potential for a fee cut, in particular, will be keeping university finance directors up at night. Without a complete rethink of the funding system, there are few good available options to reduce the overall cost of the system. Thanks to inflation, even maintaining the status quo of the frozen fee level means diminishing funding to higher education over time.
  • It now seems likely that a new financial settlement, aimed at reducing the Treasury’s exposure to higher education, will see changes to graduate repayment terms, perhaps even retrospectively for existing students. Last week, former universities minister David Willetts, in a pamphlet for the Higher Education Policy Institute, suggested that this option is more politically defensible at a time of constrained public spending than reducing funding to universities via tuition fee cuts. Minimum entry standards could also do its bit to cap the supply of students over time, thus saving Her Majesty’s Government a little more money, though with few outside the fringes of the Conservative Party genuinely believing that fewer people benefiting from a higher education is a desirable outcome, and ever-growing numbers of school and college leavers hoping to go – it’s a policy that if implemented could end up coming back to bite the Conservatives in the future.
  • So with so many moving fiscal and political parts around the spending review and Budget, there’s every chance that late deals could lead to unexpected outcomes and changes to what was previously thought to be a direction of travel. As ever in politics, decisions are not made until they are announced in public, and with this prime minister in particular, huge changes of direction can be made on a whim

New Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi gave a keynote address at the Conservative Party Conference. It focussed heavily on schools (including emphasis on English and maths). Nadhim also gave HE a nod in crediting Oxford University for the vaccine development. The Government’s intention towards T levels remains.

  • DfE is investing in maths hubs, while at post-16 there is funding for a further 2m courses. One day soon I want T levels to be as famous as A levels.
  • Zahawi promised a schools White Paper in the new year to focus on illiteracy and innumeracy. I will work tirelessly…to unleash the brilliance of young people in this country.
  • Nadhim added that as Vaccine minister he used evidence to deliver a world-leading vaccines programme and that DfE will deliver the same for education.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised new scholarships in artificial intelligence:

2,000 elite AI scholarships for disadvantaged young people within the Government’s focus on innovative technology which he stated was a sign of the party’s ambition for the future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a particularly colourful rambling speech to entertain the Conference attendees. It was light on HE content. Within the context of levelling up he questioned why York (2 universities) had so many graduates yet Doncaster (a FE/HE college) didn’t. Perhaps not the best example his aides could have chosen.

  • There was also familiar messaging about the alternative routes than university: our universities are world beating, I owe everything to my tutors and they are one of the great glories of our economy but we all know that some of the most brilliant and imaginative and creative people in Britain and some of the best paid people in Britain did not go to university and to level up you need to give people the options the skills that are right for them and to make the most of those skills and knowledge and to level up you need urgently to plug all the other the gaps in our infrastructure that are still holding people and communities back
  • On foreign investment: It was not the government that made the wonder drug it wasn’t brewed in the alembics of the department of health. It was, of course it was Oxford University, but it was the private sector that made it possible behind those vaccines are companies and shareholders and, yes, bankers.

Lots of focussed discussion took place during the Conservative Party Conference fringe events. Here are some summaries of the content prepared by Dods with bold emphasis added so you can pick out the most relevant HE points.

Contract Cheating

On Tuesday the DfE stated it will introduce a ban on ‘essay mills’ via the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament. The Government intends to make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise cheating services for financial gain to students taking a qualification at any institution in England providing post-16 education including universities.

You’ll recall from our regular coverage on contract cheating that Lord Storey has campaigned to this end for a long period, including introducing two Private Member’s Bills (PMB) which the Government was not opposed to but neither succeeded. In contrast to Lord Storey’s PMB the DfE’s intention is to apply the legislation to all post-16 providers including colleges and sixth forms.

Previously the Government urged the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education), UUK and the NUS to collaborate and produce institutional guidance on combatting the threat from essay mills and compiled guidance for students to make them better aware of the consequences to send the clear message that these services are not legitimate.

Minister for Skills Alex Burghart said: Essay mills are completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do. We are taking steps to ban these cheating services. We have also announced a new measure to make sure all young people receive broader careers guidance so everyone can get the advice that’s right for them. [Perhaps meaning to pursue T levels and an alternative route than university.]

Gender Differences in subject choice

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) paper Gender differences in subject choice leads to gender pay gap immediately after graduation highlights how course choice exacerbates the gender pay gap.  IFS notes:

  • In 2019 – before the pandemic disrupted data collection – women were paid 16% less per hour than men on average. The gap in average annual earnings was even larger, at 37%, since women are much more likely to work part-time.
  • The financial return to getting a degree – how much more a graduate earns compared to an otherwise similar non-graduate – varies enormously across subjects. Previous IFS research estimates that studying economics at university boosts women’s pay by 75% by age 30; this is more than ten times the return to studying creative arts (7.2%). However, women make up nearly two-thirds of creative arts graduates but less than a third of economics graduates.
  • In general, women are overrepresented in degree subjects with low financial returns. There are some exceptions – for example, medicine and law both have average or slightly above average shares of female students and very high returns.
  • Differences in degree subject choices explain most of the gender pay gap soon after graduation.
  • Of the 5% gap in annual earnings at age 25, 2.9 percentage points (55%) can be accounted for by university subjects, with A-Level subject choices making up a further 0.2 percentage points (5%).
  • Subject choice continues to contribute between 3 and 5 percentage points to the gender pay gap over graduates’ early careers.
  • But over this period, other factors lead to a widening of the gender pay gap, so that by age 30, subject choice explains only a fifth of the total gender pay gap.
  • Other factors that come into play could include motherhood, gender differences in attitudes towards risk, recognition for group work, hours worked, the propensity to bargain over wages and ask for promotions, and discrimination.
  • We should be concerned if information on the returns to different subjects isn’t easily available to young people, and if the large differences in subject choice (arts for girls, economics for boys) are driven as much by gender stereotypes as by true preferences.
  • When it comes to a subject like economics, which delivers the very highest financial return for female (and male) graduates, there is an additional concern that many students cannot access the subject at all because it is not offered in their school.
  • More needs to be done to educate and inform young people about subject choices at A level and university, particularly in a system like the UK where subject choices narrow at an early stage and where decisions taken early can have long-lasting effects.

Research

Research and innovation review: BEIS published the terms of reference for the Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape. The independent review (announced on 22 July) will be led by Sir Paul Nurse with the final report expected during Spring 2022.  The goals of the Review are to:

  • explore the features and characteristics in the existing ecosystem of RDI-performing organisations across the UK, learning from the best in the world and drawing on transformative examples
  • identify whether improvements to the organisational research landscape are required to deliver the government’s objective for the UK to be a science superpower at the forefront of critical and emerging fields of science and technology, and drive economic growth and societal benefit
  • futureproof the UK landscape of organisations undertaking all forms of RDI, from pioneering, visionary blue-skies research to practical support for innovators to commercialise or implement their ideas, and ensure an agile and sustainable system that can respond to future priorities and developments

The Review will consider the full and varied policy and funding context within which RDI-performing organisations are set up and operate. The Review is focused on the landscape of organisations that deliver research rather than on mechanisms for funding research and will:

  • analyse how the various organisations that contribute to the ecosystem of RDI-performing organisations across different parts of the UK – including universities, institutes and laboratories, across UK government and the devolved administrations, public, private and non-profit sectors – compare to each other and that of other countries with strengths in RDI
  • learning from international examples, consider the role that different mixes of organisations can play in delivering economic and societal impact from RDI, and the mechanisms and business models that will best enable the UK to capitalise on emerging and new fields of science and invention
  • consider how best to secure an organisational landscape now and in the future that delivers high-quality RDI outputs, and which is sustainable and cost-effective
  • consider options to support the UK’s strengths and what targeted interventions in the public sector might enhance the quality and diverse mix of RDI-performing organisations through our policy framework and the policies of the devolved administrations

Research Budget distribution: MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, published a policy briefing calling for the pledged increase of the R&D budget to £22bn to be shared more equitably around the country in the name of the Government’s levelling up goal.  The briefing emphasises the importance of re-balancing the way research in the UK is funded so that modern universities, many of which sit in marginalised areas of the country, and those hit hardest by the pandemic, can do more to support a world-class system of research and innovation, for the benefit of their regions and the country. Recommendations:

  1. Scale up the Higher Education Innovation Fund, so that knowledge exchange makes up a greater proportion of overall grant funding from Research England.
  2. Increase the number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships funded across the UK.
  3. Expand the Strength in Places Fund.
  4. Ensure that the Shared Prosperity Fund is devolved, based on long-term funding cycles, and accessible to universities and local businesses.

MillionPlus also published Innovate and generate: modern universities supporting local businesses aiming to highlight the partnerships that modern universities with local roots and an industry-facing outlook  have with businesses in their regions. The document emphasises their calls for Government to prioritise and dedicate specific R&D funding streams for such relationships and the positive impact it can have on levelling up the UK.

Quick news

  • Incentivising business innovation through taxation – CBI Economics consider the arguments for R&D tax credits
  • Imperial College London announced their new Institute for Infection. The aim of the Institute is to address some of the biggest unanswered questions in the field of infectious disease, such as how is climate change impacting the spread of diseases transmitted by flies and mosquitoes, how can gene-editing technologies help to reduce the spread of disease (such as Dengue and Zika), and how can animal vaccination programmes help to curb diseases which also affect humans.

Access & Participation

Student Hardship funding: Hitting the news last week (from the July OfS Board papers) was that £1.66 million of the additional £70 million hardship funding provided by the Government was unspent and recovered by the OfS.

Wonkhe say: Despite overwhelming evidence that the hardships caused by Covid-19 were near universal, the government was wedded to the idea of individual student problems rather than the systemic issues felt across the whole cohort. There were conditions attached to allocation: providers had to distribute funds to students that expressed a specific need, and all of the money needed to be handed out by 31 July…The complexity of existing hardship fund arrangements at providers (many had to recruit extra staff to administer the process) and the tight deadline (three months for the final tranche) made it difficult to get the money to where it was needed.

Mental Health

The Mental Health Foundation released new research combining evidence with expert opinion and public views. You can read about it here but in short it recommends (in order of popularity):

  1. Be aware of using drugs to cope with difficult feelings
  2. Build money skills and seek financial support if you need it
  3. Get more from your sleep
  4. Develop awareness of your feelings and emotions
  5. Have something to look forward to
  6. Get closer to nature
  7. Speak to someone you trust for support
  8. Stay curious and open to new experiences

Almost as popular (chosen by at least 45% of the public panel) were:

  • Have a healthy diet
  • Help others, contribute to something bigger
  • Engage in physical activity
  • Practice gratitude and cultivate hope
  • Strengthen social connections

Our research shows that it’s the fundamentals of life that protect our mental health: our finances, our relationships and our experiences

Student Finance

The DfE updated the information on who is eligible for undergraduate, postgraduate and further education financial support from Student Finance England. The update includes new policy notes on the rights to home fee status and student support for people covered by the Withdrawal Agreements who make a valid late application to the EU Settlement Scheme, and rights for joining family members under the EU Settlement Scheme:

Possible changes to fees and funding have been in the news a lot over the autumn in the build up to the Comprehensive Spending Review on 27th October when, yet again, we are promised the final response from the government to the Augar report and an outcome for the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, which Augar was meant to inform.

Some changes have already happened:

  • Some OfS funding for “non-strategic” subjects was cut this year – but it was a small cut to a tiny amount of funding. Anxiety was heightened because the former Education Secretary kept saying in the HoC and to newspapers that he was “slashing” funding, but he was exaggerating.  A lot.  The OfS got very defensive about it.  You can read what they did here.  Anyway, it set the tone for what may be more to come.  The OfS were told to stop calling the main funding a “teaching” grant and call it a “strategic priorities” grant.  You get the point.  Let’s hope the updated Ministerial team choose their language more carefully, to avoid future misunderstanding.    Words matter.
  • The OfS decided to distribute a chunk of their capital funding via a competitive bidding arrangement, in a big departure from previous allocation methods. You can read what they did here.  This may well also set the tone for the future, and is consistent with what is expected to happen with some streams of research funding going forwards.

The main pre-announcement that we are expecting to see followed through with a consultation at the end of the month is on minimum entry requirements.  This is a technique to reduce or at least limit the growing cost of the student loan portfolio by applying a floor to the academic entry requirements that applicants must meet in order to qualify for a student loan.  Students could still go to university, if they pay their own way, of course, or are able to borrow the funding another way.  Widely criticised as a cap on aspiration and a retrograde step for social mobility, because of the risk that many of the potential students who will be excluded from university will be those whose prior attainment does not reflect their true potential, and because many of those will be in that position as a result of some form of disadvantage.   We have commented on this extensively before and note that Augar suggested that it be deployed as a last resort if universities did not clean up their act on quality.  We note that we are not convinced that there is necessarily a direct link between “quality” and low entry tariffs and that it feels a bit early in the cycle for last resorts.  But there you are.  The definition of quality debate is a much bigger one that is ongoing now as the OfS looks at its licence conditions.

And there could be many other things announced.  Most of the press coverage recently has been about a potential cut to the repayment threshold (increased by Theresa May in a shock move after the 2017 election that cost the government a lot of money).  This idea has not been well received by students or recent graduates.  We note that retrospective changes to the terms of loans (other than interest rates) are not usually allowed (for banks, for example), and that there is a general feeling that students and recent graduates, who have not had a great couple of years, will be asked to fill a government financial hole “because they don’t vote conservative anyway”.  Given that Theresa May put the floor up precisely because she was worried about the so-called youthquake in the 2017 election, the link seems to be a fair one.  The Tories in 2017 didn’t have the majority that they have now.  And the financial hole is very big.

BU staff can read our May 2021 summary of what else we might have to look forward to here.

Given that there is likely to be a flurry of press stories, better or less-well informed opinion, social media excitement etc, around any changes, we wanted to give you a bit of context.  Apologies to regular readers or those with students in the family who know all this, all too well, but here we go.  And apologies to readers in the devolved nations, we are focussing on England here.  Also we are focussing on undergraduates.

Undergraduate tuition fees

These are capped.  The cap hasn’t moved for a long time.  There is very little prospect of it moving for a long time to come.

They are not tuition fees.  The OfS in their most recent publication on the subject (well worth a read) calls them “course fees”.  They aren’t really that either.

When they were introduced they replaced a big chunk of government funding for universities and, apart from those universities with huge numbers of international or post-graduate students, or huge proportions of research or donor income, these fees are the main source of income for most universities.  They therefore pay for staff, services, loan interest, depreciation, building maintenance, IT, OfS registration fees, and so on – the lot.  They famously cross subsidise research which is generally funded at less than cost.

If a student has a tuition fee loan (most do as otherwise they need to pay up front), the fee is paid by the Student Loan Company directly to the university in three chunks across the year.  The biggest chunk (50%) is paid in the summer AFTER the student has completed most of the year.  This helps avoid a situation where the university gets money for students who don’t stick around.  But it also explains why cash flow across the year is a talking point in universities, and why a temporary change took place last year when the second instalment was paid early because of concerns about financial sustainability of universities in the pandemic.

Maintenance loans

These loans are made available to UK students to help with their living and other costs while at university.  They replaced the grant system.  Before loans were introduced, if students didn’t qualify for a grant they needed parental support or another source of income.  That is still the case.  There is a minimum amount for a maintenance loan, but above that loan eligibility is means tested according to the income of the student’s family.  So the vast majority of students in the UK still need parental support for their maintenance costs, and if that isn’t available, they will need to work or borrow money instead.

You can see more in the SLC document for 2021/22 students.

Maintenance costs are a huge issue for many students.  Unlike the tuition fee, which is paid by the SLC to the university, this is cash the students need to find and spend.  There has been a lot of coverage of the high cost of accommodation in many places (often more than the maximum loan) and of the particular unfairness of the situation over the last two years when students were told by the government not to return to accommodation they had paid for, with money neither they nor their families could afford.  That’s a long and separate story.

Student loans

Although they are called loans, student finance arrangements are very different from the usual loan arrangements we are all used to, and this is where it gets complicated and political.  So apologies again.  This very useful paper from the House of Commons library (September 2021) has lots of context on this.

As noted above, student loans are made up of two items, tuition fees and maintenance loans (you can also use a student loan for postgraduate support but that’s a different story).

Interest starts to accrue on the loan balance straight away, while the student is at university.  Interest rates are very high – compared to some other rates available in the market.  But the interest rate charged varies over time and according to the income of the graduate (not their family, this time).

From an SLC document describing 2021/11 arrangements:

  • While studying and until 6th April after you finish: RPI pls 3%
  • After that:
    • Income £27,295 or less – RPI only
    • Income above £27,295 to £49,130 – Interest applied on a scale from RPI to RPI + 3%
    • Income above £49,130 – RPI + 3%

Martin Lewis explained the latest rate for Money Saving Expert in October 2021:

  • On 1 October 2021, for students from England and Wales who started university in or after 2012, the headline student loan interest rate decreased from 5.6% to 4.1% in line with the current RPI, and the temporary ‘Prevailing Market Rate’
  • Despite the decrease, this rate is still higher than most mortgages, and far higher than for students from prior cohorts. And, the headline rate is expected to increase again, to 4.5%, on the 1 January 2022. 

Repayment arrangements

This is where student loans really start to look different from “normal” loans. The student finance arrangements we have are not really loans at all.  Really what we have here is a graduate tax.  But shhh – it isn’t called that.  Because people don’t like taxes, so it could never be called a tax.

The notional amount of the student finance grows throughout out the time that a student is studying, and interest is added during that time and afterwards.  So far so like a loan.

But – graduates only start to repay it from the April after their course ends, and only when their income reaches a threshold.  Most students are on what is called “plan 2” and we are going to use their data:

  • You’ll only repay when your income is over £524 a week, £2,274 a month or £27,295 a year (before tax and other deductions).
  • G. Your annual income is £28,800 and you are paid a regular monthly wage. This means that each month your income is £2,400 (£28,800 divided by 12). This is over the Plan 2 monthly threshold of £2,274. Your income is £126 over the threshold (£2,400 minus £2,274). You will pay back £11 (9% of £126) each month.

In other words, repayments are means tested, and only the income over the threshold is used to calculate the repayments.  Clearly in a lot of cases that means that the amount you are repaying is not enough to cover the interest that is also still accruing.  So the overall amount just keeps on going up, just as it would with a “normal” loan if you didn’t pay enough off each month.

The other big difference with a “normal” loan, though, is what happens at the end.  The whole thing, interest and all, is written off after 30 years from the April after your course finished.  That is a big and growing cost to the government.  This very useful paper from the House of Commons library (September 2021) gives some context on what this means.

  • The RAB charge is the difference between the amount lent to a cohort of students, and the value of their repayments as graduates. For 2020/21 it is predicted by the Government to be 53%.
  • … repayments for the 2020/21 cohort will range from just over £1,000 on average in decile 1 to almost £63,000 for decile 10. The average lifetime repayment across all borrowers is just over £19,000.
  • “Overall, 22% of borrowers are forecast to repay their loans in full, this rate varies from 0‑2% in the bottom four deciles to 87% in decile 10”

So when students say that they are “paying” tuition fees – they aren’t paying it yet, and in fact most will never pay it all back.  Only the highest earners, mostly men, will pay it all back.  The paper has charts showing the difference for women and men.

We should also note that the loan is not treated like a normal loan when you are taking out a normal loan, either.  Your potential repayments are taken into account when considering your ability to pay, but it is not treated the same way for your credit score as a typical loan would be.  So it is treated more like a mobile phone contract than a car loan.

So it’s really a graduate tax which stops after 30 years.  Or an income dependent contingent loan (which is written off after 30 years).

Potential changes

The government would clearly like to recover more of this money.  It must be noted that it was never intended that it would all be repaid, however.  When the system was set up it was deliberately intended that only the students with higher income would pay it all back.  This was meant to be progressive.

That’s why there has been little sympathy for arguments to reduce the interest rate.  On the face of it, students seem to be “paying” a high interest rate.  But they aren’t in fact paying it at all, and most of them will never pay it.  It accrues at a high rate, and then most of it is written off.  So increasing the interest rate may be an option instead:

  • The impact of a 1 ppt increase in the interest rate would mean that the average repayment per borrower would increase by £1,500 or 5.2%.
  • However, this increase is not spread evenly across borrowers. Only those with higher earnings pay back more. The number of borrowers who repay their loan in full would drop from 22% under the current system to 18%.

For a long time the government was able to keep this cost “off the balance sheet” until the auditing rules were changed and the whole cost was added to the national debt.  That started to change perceptions about it.

And of course, since the scheme was introduced, the number of students going to university has increased, we are just emerging from a demographic dip.  So the potential cost just keeps on going up.

We have already mentioned changes to the repayment threshold may be under discussion.  That has all sorts of consequences – but they are not very progressive (another HoC library paper):

  • Middle earners would see the largest absolute increase of around £4,000 on average, while the highest earners would see their repayments fall slightly.
  • While the increase for lower earners is below average in absolute terms, it represents the largest percentage increase at around 30%. The number of borrowers who repay their loan in full would increase from 22% under the current system to 25%.

There has also been talk of extending the payment term from 30 to 35 years (Augar said 40) and increasing the rate of repayment (different from the interest rate).  Another helpful briefing paper here.

  • both measures result in increased lifetime repayments especially from middle to higher earners.

What next

We’ll see.  But we think there will be some tinkering with repayment arrangements – despite the fact that these would be retrospective changes to the agreed terms.  And there may be other changes that will reduce the number of people eligible to take these loans out in the future – as well as the minimum qualifications requirement.

Or there may a cut in the tuition fee.  The latter would reduce the loan book and the notional interest  – and give the government more direct control of university funding though the use of “strategic priorities” to top up (some of) the difference  – consistent with the current direction as noted at the start of this section.

There could be caps on the numbers of students studying particular subjects, or at particular institutions (if they don’t meet quality thresholds, for example). Note in this context that the government is increasingly linking definitions of quality to “outcomes”, by which they mean highly skilled employment and relative earnings.  And that is a whole different subject which we have discussed before, and will again.

Mature students

The Lifelong Education Commission, supported by ResPublica and chaired by former universities minister Chris Skidmore MP, published The Pathway to Lifelong Education: Reforming the UK’s Skills System. It is the first of 8 reports the Commission has planned on on lifelong learning and the UK’s skills system. The Commission recommends how the barriers to adult learning can be removed; what future investment is needed to support this; and what change is needed to ensure the maximum flexibility that will benefit learners and deliver on the promise of a whole system change for lifelong education.

Recommendations:

  1. All citizens will be able to access the loan entitlement regardless of prior qualifications, or how they choose to study, including: modular or full qualifications; part-time or full-time; via face-to-face or distance learning.
  2. The Lifetime Loan Entitlement should allow funding to be applied to different modules of learning to enable (i) existing qualifications to be unbundled into smaller units (e.g. 30 to 60 credits) and (ii) microcredentials to be stacked as part of larger units.
  3. A more ambitious reform would be to create a unified credit-based funding system that does not distinguish between different modes of study and provides equal access and support for learners regardless of how they learn or where learning takes place.
  4. Alongside the loan entitlement, Government should consider means-tested maintenance grants to provide support with living costs and encourage adult learners to access higher technical qualifications, particularly those for whom debt will be viewed as a disincentive and a barrier to reskill.
  5. Government should: (i) Build on the existing credit framework and regional consortia approach to design a networked system that can guarantee the autonomy of higher education providers while enabling the transfer and accumulation of credit. (ii) Consider reform of the wider regulatory framework to simplify the jurisdiction between various bodies (HEIs, the Institute, QAA, Ofsted, OfS, etc.) regarding higher technical qualifications, which has the scope for duplication and inconsistency. (iii) Consider Scotland’s ‘articulation agreements’, which provide a good model for clearer routes between FE and HE.
  6. There is, especially in England, a need to bring together and better integrate the various parts of the careers system: (i) A single integrated careers service is required for all citizens at all stages of their working life. This will need to provide high level, specialist advice, available in every locality. (ii) A system should be established to regulate and support the continued professional development of careers advisers. As a minimum, all careers advisers should be registered with the Careers Development Institute and have relevant qualifications at Level 4 or above.
  7. Retain part-time student premium funding and make part-time learning an explicit priority for the teaching grant to incentivise lifelong education and training.
  8. Remove the remaining restrictions on ELQs so that available funding (including loans for fees and maintenance) can support those who want to study for a second higher education qualification in a different discipline.
  9. Government should explore options, including a ‘Flexible Skills Levy’ and ‘Tax Credits’ to incentivise employer investment in skills training.
  10. In addition to employers and educational institutions, Mayoral Combined Authorities in England with devolved responsibilities for adult skills should play a central role in the coproduction of local skills plan. Moreover, MCAs should be given genuine power over issues of essentially regional concern. Almost all of the functions currently exercised by the Department for Education could be devolved.

Former universities minister Chris Skidmore said: If there is one policy to deliver ‘levelling up’, it is adult learning and skills. Acquiring new skills is something we all do throughout our lives. Yet the formal process for acquiring them is incredibly constrained. There are too few opportunities to return to learning for those who have left it. And those willing to retrain or re-skill can barely see the wood for the trees; the pathways are so complex.

The government is embracing adult learning at just the right time. The Lifelong Learning Entitlement, combined with the prospect of modular and course-based learning and the expansion of Level 4 and 5 provision, has the potential to create new journeys into learning for those for whom a graduate route was not the way. But if these reforms are to succeed, it is essential that new partnerships are forged between HE and FE providers.

Grammar and spelling – the next stage of the culture war?

The OfS have published an ominous paper on this.

  • This review examines the policies on spelling, punctuation and grammar in written assessment at a small number of higher education providers. It features anonymised examples of approaches that maintain rigour in student assessment, and examples of approaches that do not.
  • The purpose of the review is to highlight to higher education providers which assessment policies are likely to be a cause for regulatory concern, and encourages providers to adjust their policies accordingly.

This supports the position in the recently closed consultation on quality conditions.

New condition B4.2: 

…the provider must ensure that:  …c. academic regulations are designed to ensure that relevant awards are credible;   ….

“credible” means that, in the reasonable opinion of the OfS, relevant awards reflect students’ knowledge and skills, and for this purpose the OfS may take into account factors which include, but are not limited to:  …ii. whether students are assessed effectively and whether assessments are valid and reliable;  ….

Guidance re “Credible”: …identifying circumstances in which it is likely to be concerned about the credibility of a provider’s qualifications:…c. Students are not penalised for poor technical proficiency in written English. For example, for assessments that would reasonably be expected to take the form of written work in English and for which the OfS, employers and taxpayers, would reasonably expect such proficiency, the provider’s assessment policy and practices do not penalise poor spelling, punctuation or grammar, such that students are awarded marks that do not reflect a reasonable view of their performance of these skills. ….

Key bits from the report itself:

  • Because of the importance of these issues, we undertook a short review during summer 2021 to gather evidence and examples of practice from a small number of providers about the extent to which technical proficiency in written English is being assessed. This report summarises our findings and sets out their implications for our ongoing regulation of higher education providers.
  • We sought voluntary cooperation from a small number of providers, selected to allow us to explore a range of assessment practices. The inclusion of a particular provider in the review was not driven by whether or not it had featured in press reporting about its assessment practices, and this report does not identify the providers that were involved in the review
  • The common features we have seen in the small number of cases we have considered in this review suggest that the practices and approaches we have set out in the case studies may be widespread across the sector. We are therefore drawing the attention of all registered providers to our findings, because they highlight matters that are likely to raise compliance concerns, now and in the future.
  • The findings in this report are shared as case studies; we have not conducted a formal regulatory investigation. Any regulatory judgements we make in future would depend on the circumstances of an individual case, and would involve detailed consideration of the impact of a provider’s policies on the marks awarded to students.

If we were to consider compliance with our current regulatory requirements for the practices described in the case studies, we would be likely to have regulatory concerns about the following: 

  • Case studies 1 and 2: In these examples, it seems plausible if not likely that some students are not being assessed on their proficiency in written English. This is because learning outcomes do not include this requirement. In these circumstances we would have concerns about whether the provider’s courses are well designed and provide a high-quality academic experience. We would also have concerns about whether the qualifications awarded to students are valued by employers or enable further study. We would consider whether such qualifications represent value for money for students and taxpayers. 
  • For Case study 2, we would take a particular interest in the effect of the policies on groups of students whose first language is not English
  • Case study 3: In this example, we would have similar concerns as for case studies 1 and 2. We would also consider the adequacy and effectiveness of the provider’s academic governance arrangements, which have the potential to create inconsistencies in the requirements for students in different subject areas.

We are currently consulting on proposals to clarify and strengthen our regulatory requirements for quality and standards. We will consider all consultation responses carefully before reaching a decision about whether or not we should take forward our proposals, in full or in part. For illustrative purposes, if we were to implement the proposals as set out in the consultation document, the practices we have seen would be likely to raise concerns in relation to proposed conditions B1, B2, B4 and B5

If the policies and approaches identified in this report are leading to students getting higher marks than they otherwise would, for instance because poor proficiency in written English is not being routinely assessed, then this not only undermines the rigour of assessment processes, but also contributes to unexplained grade inflation. 55. We will test this hypothesis for individual providers through our investigatory work.

Local Digital Skills Partnerships

DCMS published the findings of an independent Evaluation of the Local Digital Skills Partnerships  which assessed the impact made by six regions operating Local Digital Skills Partnerships (LDSP). LDSPs are designed to build regional capacity to improve digital skills capability at all levels. They bring together and connect partners from the public, private and third sectors to upskill the current workforce, advance digital inclusion, and raise awareness of the importance of digital skills regionally. The evaluation found the LSDP model to be agile and worked effectively. Therefore, DCMS have confirmed they’ll consider the key findings, and look to build on this early success and expand the model to other parts of the country.

Other news

Academic lockdown time recovery: A Wonkhe blog on the impact of lockdown on academic parents with suggestions on how to help them catch up on missed research and professional time:

  • Potential solutions here are: using a different form of annual evaluation, reducing the teaching load in future semesters on academic parents who’ve seen their research completely stalled, providing more teaching assistants or other types of support to reduce the teaching load, temporarily reduce service and administrative burdens, and/or have better parental leave arrangements. One respondent indicated that their university developed a working parent task force, to get input from the working parents and think about solutions together.
  • Taking a step back, we recommend developing a culture of care, and making our universities places where compassion and solidarity are important values.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update – w/e 10th September 2021

Hello everyone!  After a long (not always hot) summer, we are pleased to be back with a catch up of all the summer news to get you ready for the exciting policy things we have to look forward to.  Some of it was highlighted in the Secretary of State’s speech at the UUK conference this week (see more on this below). Back in May we did a horizon scan (here for BU readers) which covers most of it.  A quick reminder of the things we have to look forward to:

  • The two big bills: the Skills bill and the Freedom of Speech bill.
  • Outcome of the PQA consultation run by the Department for Education – GW was not specific about when we can expect it, but it could be relatively soon. Questions still remain about the mechanism for change, as it’s not within the current remit of the OfS, and the plans they were consulting on couldn’t be implemented without a sector wide big bang approach.  “Persuasion” would seem to be the most likely approach, with a threat of legislation if not.  It’s controversial because universities have autonomy (at the moment) on admissions.
  • On that point about autonomy, we can expect the response to Augar (finally) with the Comprehensive Spending Review, which is now planned for 27th And strong hints from GW that minimum entry requirements will be part of that.  Billed as a way of controlling the spiralling cost of the student loan book, they can actually implement that one despite the autonomy thing, by saying that it’s fine, they just won’t fund student loans for those who don’t meet the requirements.  Although headline grabbing, it is unlikely to make a huge difference to actual student numbers across the UK.  And of course it will be challenged as a retrograde step for social mobility and levelling up.
  • So while we’re talking about social mobility, GW had things to say about that too, using had some dodgy data on outcomes to remind us that he believes that the growth in student numbers is supported by recruitment onto low quality courses that just shouldn’t be allowed. The current OfS consultation on licence condition relating to quality is part 1 of two, the second consultation due in the Autumn will be about absolute minimum baseline standards.  Taken together, these changes to the regulatory framework are very significant, not just in the implications for potential future funding arrangements but also in terms of the internal quality assurance and governance implications.
  • And linked to all that, we are also expecting a consultation on a new TEF framework in the Autumn.

You must have missed all this?  No?

Freedom of Speech Bill

Evidence on the HE Freedom of Speech Bill was heard in Parliament as part of the Committee Stage consideration of the Bill. This is a controversial Bill partly because the sector claims there isn’t a significant problem and commonly-cited example are either misrepresentations or overstate the problem. Also, in practice, implementation of the legislation will be very difficult given the scope for conflicts with other bits of legislation.  One person’s legitimate protest might be seen as an attack on another person’s right to speak freely, just as one person’s expression of free speech can be experienced by another person as a hateful attack linked to identity.  Where the lines will fall and who will draw them will be extremely controversial.

If you are interested in some of the thorny difficulties do read Research Professional’s coverage of this week’s sessions here, and this article features an academic who is in favour of the Bill.

There was also a separate parliamentary exchange on freedom of speech – content followed the Government’s favoured lines.

One of the witnesses presenting evidence to Parliament was Smita Jamdar, Partner and Head of Education at a law firm. She has written a short and informative blog calmly highlighting the drawbacks and limitations of the Bill. It is worth a read. Snippets:

  • If there is a dispute whether speech is or isn’t ‘within the law’ how can a body like the OfS judge that? That is and should be a matter for the courts. Interestingly, in the US, when the Trump administration proposed withholding funding from institutions that did not protect the constitutional right to free speech, it ultimately concluded that there would need to be a court decision that the constitutional right had been infringed before a regulatory or funding body could impose a penalty. 
  • …the new Director of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom… [should] be able to demonstrate impartiality…At the moment it will be an appointment of the secretary of state. There should be more safeguards around the appointment process.  
  • The bill defines free speech as the freedom to express views without ‘adverse consequences’, and this is both practically and philosophically absurd to try to enforce by legislation. We cannot legislate human nature, so while universities can facilitate free speech, they cannot and should not police people’s reactions to it, except to the extent that those reactions breach expected standards of conduct.  
  • I think all they [universities] can do is ensure they facilitate the right to speak and to act where anything is done that constitutes a breach of its disciplinary codes. They cannot be responsible for as abstract a concept as ‘adverse consequences’.

Spending Review, Fees & Student Loan rates

On Tuesday the Chancellor launched the 2021 Spending Review (SR21), which will conclude on 27 October 2021 alongside an Autumn Budget. The three-year review will set UK government departments’ resource and capital budgets for 2022-23 to 2024-25 and the devolved administrations’ block grants. Here’s the letter.

The Spending Review is significant for the HE sector as we are awaiting the official Government response to the Augar Review, particularly on which elements might be adopted. Since the report Augar has distanced himself from the fee cuts which made all the headlines, however, the Government is looking to reduce the cost of funding HE and student loans in particular, as well as seeking to refocus its contribution towards its national priorities.

As this parliamentary question highlights changes may come in a number of forms including changing the terms of student loans retrospectively.  Wonkhe have a blog –  Will Westminster ministers dare to lower the student loan repayment threshold after a week of concern about the tax rates facing graduates? Jim Dickinson reads the runes.  As mentioned above, requiring a minimum level of prior achievement to qualify for a student loan has also been on the cards since GW dragged it out of the back of the Augar report in January. Having a GCSE in English may be part of that after stories of a scandalous approach to grammar and spelling in university assessments hit the headlines earlier this year – that has found its way into the OfS quality regime now as well.

If you enjoy the speculation around the Budget you may like to read this Resolution Foundation briefing note which explores the Chancellor’s choices ahead of the autumn spending review.

Returning to student loans, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, has issued a written ministerial statement announcing a temporary reduction in the (Plan 2 & postgraduate) maximum student loan interest rate due to the recent decline in the prevailing market rate for comparable unsecured personal loans. The maximum Post-2012 undergraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate and the postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate will be 4.1% between 1 October and 31 December. From 1 January 2022, the Post-2012 undergraduate and postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rates will revert to the standard rate +3%. Further caps may be put in place should the prevailing market rate continue to be below student loan interest rates. More details in the DfE press release.

Meanwhile the House of Commons Library have published one of their lovely briefings on undergraduate student finance.

If your work interests cover student loans you’ll probably want to take in the full paper. He’s a teaser on living costs:

How much do students spend on living costs?

The 2021 Student Money Survey from Save the Student found that:

  • On average, students across the UK spent £810 per month on living costs. Just over half of this figure was spent on rent.
  • Spending was below average in Scotland (£781 per month), Wales (£800), and Northern Ireland (£756). Within England costs varied from £751 per month in the North West to £896 in London.
  • 66% of students worked part-time to help fund their education. This is lower than in previous surveys due to the pandemic’s impact on businesses.
  • 65% of students received a maintenance loan, 38% received some form of grant scholarship or bursary.
  • 66% of students received some support from their parents. On average this was worth £121 per month.
  • 76% worried about making ends meet, 60% said their maintenance loan was not large enough, and 43% said they had not been made aware of the full range of funding options available to them such as scholarships, grants, and bursaries.

Research

Open Access.  UKRI published its long-awaited Open Access Policy, determining which route to publication the funder will support with its £8 billion annual budget. Under the new rules, any UKRI-funded articles submitted for publication after 1 April 2022 will need to be made openly available with immediate effect on publication. The policy is not without controversy. The announcement follows a two-year consultation period with institutions, researchers and publishers—some of whom have criticised the plan, citing worries about profits and freedom for researchers to publish in their venue of choice. It also includes a new requirement for monographs, book chapters and edited collections published from 1 January 2024 to be made open access within 12 months of publication. UKRI will provide increased funding of up to £46.7m per annum to support the implementation of the policy.

For peer-reviewed research articles, key requirements of the new policy include:

  • immediate open access for research articles submitted for publication on or after 1 April 2022
  • either via the version of record in a journal or publishing platform, or by depositing the authors accepted manuscript (or if permitted by the publisher the version of record) in an institutional or subject repository
  • CC BY licence and CC BY ND by exception, including a requirement to notify publisher of licensing at the point of submission.

Key requirements of the new policy for monographs published on or after 1 January 2024 include:

  • the final version of a publications or accepted manuscript being made open access via a publisher’s website, platform or repository, within a maximum of 12 months of publication
  • CC BY licence preferred, but NC and ND licences are permitted.

To support successful implementation of the policy UKRI will work with the sector to put in place supporting interventions, including:

  • substantially increasing UKRI funding support for open access in recognition that this is required to meet the new policy intent and the extension of our policy to long-form outputs
  • dedicated funding to Jisc in support of sector open access negotiations, with guidance and infrastructure to aid the up-take of UKRI compliant open access options
  • continuing our work to support culture change around publication, in that research should be recognised for its intrinsic merit rather than where it has been published.

R&D Spend. The Office for National Statistics published the annual estimates of research and development performed and funded by business enterprise, higher education, government, UK Research & Innovation and private non-profit organisations:

  • Expenditure on research and development (R&D) that was performed in the UK rose by £1.3 billion (3.4%) to £38.5 billion in 2019; but this was the lowest percentage growth since 2013.
  • The largest components of R&D expenditure were the business sector at £25.9 billion (67% of the UK total), followed by the higher education sector at £9.1 billion (24%).
  • Total R&D expenditure represented 1.74% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019; the long-term trend has been for very small growth over time with the value up from 1.59% in 2008 and 1.72% in 2018.
  • Funding of UK R&D from overseas increased by 4.1% to £5.6 billion in 2019 compared with 2018; this was 0.8% higher than the peak in 2014 of £5.5 billion.
  • The UK spent £577 per head of population on R&D in 2019; this is up from £561 in 2018.

ODA.  Universities UK International (UUKi) published the findings from their ODA survey 2021 which set out to understand the impact of ODA R&D funding on UK universities and how the UK can continue to use ODA R&D with developing countries in support of the UN SDGs and UK strategic priorities.  Recommendations:

  1. There must continue to be significant public funding available for research on global challenges as defined by the UN SDG framework in partnership with LMIC partners, whether as part of the ODA budget or the R&D budget
  • ODA-funded R&D schemes such as GCRF and Newton have helped UK HEIs to engage with global challenges and create partnerships with researchers and institutions in LMICs.
  • Universities and their partners want to continue working to address global challenges. The source of funding is less important than the activity which it supports.
  1. Funding for research programmes, once confirmed by a UK funder, must be guaranteed for the life of the project to ensure that legal commitments are met.
  • Policy and funding stability are critical to developing long-term, sustainable and impactful research partnerships.
  • The impact of mid-project grant terminations or cuts on LMIC partners is acute. The UK’s reputation as a trusted partner is severely undermined by such actions.
  1. Future global challenges funding should include dedicated support for universities to build LMIC partnerships through mobility and other career development opportunities, laying the foundations for successful projects further down the line.
  • Universities have benefitted from a flexible funding mechanism (GCRF QR/institutional/block awards) which has allowed them to build fruitful partnerships through pump-priming and career development activity.
  • These types of activities are a key part of research and development but are now at risk. Funders should consider how these activities will be supported in future allocations.
  1. Equitable partnerships should remain a core principle of any future funding for global challenges.
  • LMIC partners should not be overburdened by administrative requirements.

Quick News

  • The Government announced in injection of £113 million for the UKRI  Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, in total the Future Leaders scheme is promised £900 million over a 3-year period. Science Minister Amanda Solloway: Supported by £113 million, the Future Leaders Fellowships will equip our most inventive scientists and researchers across the country with the tools to develop and bring their innovations to market quickly – all while helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.
  • Wonkhe blog: Alternative metrics that better reflect the attributes of good-quality research are needed.
  • The Regulatory Horizons Council has published a new report on the future of technological innovations and how regulation can act as an enabler. The paper evaluates the future socio-economic context in which technological innovations will be delivered from 2021-30. The results are based on a series of interviews with experts focused on engineering and energy, health and life sciences, and digital data and cyber technologies.
  • UKRI announced support for 200 doctoral students to work on pressing research challenges with UK businesses through a £24 million investment. The studentships are through ICASE –  Industrial Co-operative Awards in Science and Technology.
  • Researcher organisation Vitae, supported by UKRI, has published their latest survey results on the impact of the pandemic on researchers and research activities. Familiar themes emerge – poor mental health, increased bullying and Covid caring responsibilities and shielding had a big negative impact, but regaining the commute time and unexpected opportunities were positives. It also questioned the perception of researchers on their future careers:
    • 24% predicted a very negative impact of COVID-19 on their career prospects (this rises to 34% of postgraduate researchers and 28% of research staff)
    • 60% predicted a negative impact or a very negative impact on their career prospects. This rises to 65% for those with child-caring responsibilities and 62% for female researchers.

UKRI say: One of the key action points highlighted in this survey is for UKRI to drive ahead with our work to improve research culture. We will continue to work collaboratively to promote and support an inclusive, respectful and safe working culture, including through our ongoing implementation of the recently launched People and Culture Strategy.

Williamson speaks…

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, spoke at the UUK annual conference this week. Below are the key points, none of which are new news, although chilling in terms of tone.  The content was as per the Research Professional predictions.

There has been relentless parodying of GW on twitter and in the press after he spoke about the importance of face to face contact – through a video link.   Wonkhe have entertaining coverage of the speech. Post-event Research Professional’s short write up was cynically entertaining too.

Quality:

  • We need to recognise that just sending kids with low academic achievement into universities isn’t going to magically change them into highly mobile graduates – indeed, it’s more likely to lead them to failure and poor outcomes. And that there is no substitute for the hard grind of driving up standards.
  • Quality is what will deliver a meaningful qualification that offers the right skills and preparation for a working life. And quality is what will justify the huge investment that students are making to study. But quality covers more than teaching. Quality extends to the value of the degree. You represent the best of the best but to keep that reputation for excellence, you must be vigilant in showing that the degrees awarded to students are a reliable indicator of academic achievement.
  • Students and employers need to know that a degree means something. And not all degrees are created equal. There have been too many instances where pockets of low quality have undermined the teaching or value for money that students and taxpayers rightly expect.
  • …It is so disappointing to see some in the field of higher education cling to the myth that the quality of a course or degree makes no difference to a student’s outcomes. While it may be comforting for some institutions, what it is actually saying is that they don’t believe in education.

Back to campus: 

  • I think all of us would agree that every student is entitled to expect a high-quality, rich learning experience. As they plan their futures, they will be asking themselves how best they can get it… The [Student Academic Experience Survey] survey shows that in-person teaching is now one of the top three areas singled out for improvement by students. This is something we cannot ignore. While the switch to online teaching was a necessary and vital way of keeping young people learning in as safe a way as possible, we have now moved on and students quite rightly expect that they can study in person alongside other students
  • …What I do want to make clear is that I do not expect to see online learning used as a cost-cutting measure. If there’s a genuine benefit to using technology, then it should be done – and Sir Michael Barber’s Digital Teaching and Learning Review sets out some of the opportunities. But that is not an excuse to not also deliver high quality face-to-face teaching…And let’s face it, in this new era of choice students don’t have to settle for poor value.

Admissions: The last two years have emphasised the importance of delivering on our plans for PQA – not only to stabilise the system but to empower students to have the very best opportunities to succeed. That is why I am determined to accelerate our plans to bring forward this important reform

Access & Participation:

Working with schools is still in favour, higher level technical provision remains a goal – disappointing that Williamson links it with a statement on disadvantage (i.e. it’s for other peoples’ children), and are SpLD students to be further disadvantaged? Note alternatives such as assistive technology are not mentioned by Williamson.

  • …we will shortly be appointing a new Director of Fair Access and Participation…. I’d like to see our access regime re-centred on the principles of equality of opportunity and high standards, and to see higher education providers working in partnership with schools to drive up attainment.

A confusing bit on technical education:

  • I believe more universities should be more willing to carve out expertise in more technical fields, excelling on a different set of axes to those used by the traditional league tables. Too often, this can be interpreted as meaning ‘everyone must have prizes’, or that all universities and courses are equal. This is not what I mean: Professor David Phoenix’s Social Mobility Index demonstrates that some universities, such as my old university of Bradford, Aston and Imperial College and others, perform particularly strongly at transforming students from disadvantaged backgrounds into highly employable graduates. A real-world focus is not about lowering aspirations, but achieving excellence through a focus on STEM, applied research, close links with employers and a ruthless focus on employability.
  • Lowering the bar for certain groups of students serves no one. It is patronising to expect less from some students under the guise of supporting them. Effective academic writing requires good spelling, punctuation and grammar from every student.

Wonkhe on Access:

  • Millward is leaving, and will shortly be replaced by someone that DfE appoints who Williamson is confident will: [From the speech]“See our access regime re-centred on the principles of equality of opportunity and high standards, and to see higher education providers working in partnership with schools to drive up attainment.”
  • That’s code for ‘less equality of outcomes, please’ – handy if your access outcomes would be affected by OfS causing the shuttering of some provision based on the where the baseline is – and to drive home the point, he also said this about subjects with a proceed figure of under 50%: [From the speech]“Students recruited on to such courses should not be able to be counted against a university’s access targets for access.” That’s actually a pretty significant statement. We all know that some subjects ‘carry the weight’ on access in some universities – and it’s long been argued that it’s bizarre that OfS doesn’t publish APP data at subject level by provider, a problem if you’re trying to understand social mobility in medicine or law or whatever. Looks like that will shortly change.

Wonkhe correcting the line on apprenticeships –

  • Williamson’s speech was largely a collection of the government’s greatest hits…and repeats of dodgy lines like this one on apprenticeships: “Five years after completion, the average Higher Apprentice earns more than the average graduate.”
  • That that’s a stat skewed by a very small number of high level apprenticeships in “leadership” that are primarily taken by people already in well-paid jobs – something in other speeches he’s appeared keen to put a stop to – was not mentioned.
  • And confusingly we got both “we need to do something for the 50% that don’t go to university” and “we need to change the choices of many that do”. Young people deserve to have choices, but only ones approved by DfE. Who is it that the government’s reform agenda is designed to address again?

Research Professional weren’t impressed with Williamson: The rest of the speech bordered on incomprehension and mutual contradiction as the education secretary said that “sending kids with low educational attainment to university will not turn them into high-flying graduates” before going on to praise David Phoenix’s social mobility index, which demonstrates precisely the ways in which universities turn disadvantaged entrants with poor results on paper into [checks notes] “high-flying graduates”.

Culture wars:

  • Yet too often, some universities seem more interested in pursuing a divisive agenda involving cancelling national heroes, debating about statues, anonymous reporting schemes for so-called micro-aggressions and politicising their curricula. Vice-chancellors who allow these initiatives to take place in their name must understand that they do nothing but undermine public confidence, widen divisions, and damage the sector.
  • I call on you to help bring our nation together, instead of driving our nation apart. Rather than manufacturing offences from the past, let us instead come together to tackle injustice and promote equality for the students and staff on today.

University spending: The Augar review concluded that the amount spent on teaching seemed low, while around £1,000 was spent per student on corporate activities and around £500 per student on marketing…I remained concerned that the sector isn’t doing enough to shift more of its income towards direct activity that improves learning outcomes or vital services like mental health support, and less on its own administration…As recipients of tens of billions of pounds of public money, universities have a duty to be careful stewards of taxpayers’ money. Our world reputation is built on the confidence we have in our academics, in their passion, their drive and their commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. We need to free them to do what they do best.

Also covered in the full speech: Lifelong loans, short course funding, something confusing about “modules”, antisemitism.

Rethinking HE

Education think tank EDSK published Value-able lessons. Here’s a teaser-

  • The debate over ‘low value’ HE has reached a stalemate. Numerous government ministers both past and present and the independent review of post-18 education…have criticised universities for delivering degree courses that do not offer sufficient ‘value’ – primarily in the form of higher graduate salaries and better employment prospects.
  • … The level of outstanding student loan debt was an eye-watering £161 billion at the end of 2019/20 and is set to grow by £15-20 billion every year for the foreseeable future. It is no wonder, then, that the Government is keen to reduce the cost to taxpayers of the Higher Education (HE) system, which is why bearing down on supposedly ‘low value’ courses is a tempting proposition.
  • … it is difficult to see how an HE institution (HEI) can confidently identify, let alone reduce, the provision of ‘low value’ courses if they are not privy to how ‘value’ is being defined. This may explain why HEIs have largely dismissed the accusations of ‘low value’ degrees while also questioning the metrics and approaches being employed to justify such criticism. In doing so, the HE sector has inadvertently given the impression that they are keener to defend the status quo than they are to put forward any alternative solutions to the Government’s financial predicament.
  • the ‘value’ of an institution or course is ultimately a subjective judgement
  • Neither the HE sector nor the Government are blameless in the debate over ‘low value’. The sector has been quick to criticise the Government’s stance on ‘low value’ courses and institutions without offering alternative solutions. At the same time, the Government has focused too much on what it doesn’t want from HE without explaining what it does want instead. If the Government continues to rail against ‘low value’ HE without describing a clear vision for what a ‘high value’ sector looks like, there can be few complaints from ministers if universities continue down their present path. What’s more, the notion that politicians and civil servants can judge the ‘value’ of any course or institution across the country based on little more than graduate salaries, employment outcomes or drop-out rates is not a tenable proposition from either a policy or statistical perspective. The DfE and OfS should acknowledge that the subjectivity surrounding the concept of ‘value’ is precisely why they must allow the choices of students, employers and other stakeholders to drive out ‘low value’ HE rather than trying to intervene themselves.

If you’ve read this far you’ll probably feel this all seems quite reasonable. Click here and scroll down to a succinct version of Recommendations – they certainly suggest a shake up of the HE sector.

Admissions

Record high numbers of students were accepted for undergraduate full time programmes in 2021-22 – UCAS: This means 37.9% of the entire UK 18 year old population is due to start a full-time undergraduate course, also a new high and surpassing last year’s equivalent figure of 36.4%. The number of disadvantaged students accepted has increased from 22.6% in 2020 to 23.5% in 2021. EU students numbers continue to plummet while non-EU international student numbers are up 5%. Less students (34% less) were placed through Clearing likely because record high grades meant more students were confirmed for their first choice programme. Overall, across all ages and domiciles the volume of students accepted is slightly down (less than 2%) on 2020 – however, Clearing remains open and final figures will be announced before Christmas.

UCAS have updated their interactive stats dashboards with the new data, and if you prefer words to hard numbers there is also a blog from UCAS’ Head of Data on Wonkhe.

Exam results – Education Select Committee (held 7 September)

Schools minister, Nick Gibb, was question by the Education Select Committee about the 2020-21 grade inflation. The Committee Chair asked if the Department was responsible for the widespread grade inflation and wanted to know what the driving factors were. Gibb responded that they were talking about a teacher assessed system, with very clear quality assurance processes in place. They had a lot of long conversations with stakeholders to get the best system that they could for their assessments. Gibb added that all exam results were backed up by the evidence that teachers had produced. He thought that teachers were the best people to estimate what grades their students should get.

On the gender based attainment gap in the exam results Gibb stated they were taking any attainment gap seriously and addressing it. The reasons for the differences were peculiar to this year and last year and were not an attainment trend. Gibb said that he did not think that it was right to draw wider conclusions about the education policies in place based on this attainment gap between boys and girls.

On private versus state education Gibb was questioned whether the grades actually represented the gap between the independent and state sector because of the differential learning loss that happened. Gibb responded that the independent sector was largely selective and was getting very high grades in general. The percentage increase actually showed trends that were existent even pre-pandemic. Gibb finished by saying that they had always tried, through reforms, to make the state sector competitive with the independent one and the gap between the two was narrowing each year before the pandemic.

On future exam results a Committee member asked what process was in place to balance fairness for future cohorts and maintain assessment standards.

Ian Bauckham (Interim Chair of Ofqual) stated that the decisions for 2022 would be slightly different than those taken for 2021. There were a range of risks and considerations that they would take into account, including the significant rise in high grades that they had seen in previous years, as well as fairness towards students. Bauckman ensured the Committee that they would reach a view that balanced all their interests and was cognisant of the risks involved while also being fair. It was stated that decisions on the 2022 exam system would be publicised in October. With a consultation to be launched imminently on what information would need to be gathered in the event that in-person exams cannot go ahead in 022. Gibb stated that his view was to assume exams would go ahead but to also prepare for the worst. Information on current appeals (relating 2021 results) will be published in December. The Chair asked if the grade inflation for 2021/22 would be compared to that in 2019 or that in 2020/2021. Gibb replied that this was a very technical and difficult decision that they would make public in October.

In Education Questions this week Nick Gibb stated the grading system would remain the same and that rumours of A** grades were just rumours.

Exam Results

Statistics from the DfE on A-level results day showed that:

  • Comparison of grades between this year and last year showed no notable changes in historic disparities between groups of students and types of school; 88.4% of grades are A* to C at A level, compared to 87.8% in 2020.
  • There was a 15.8% increase relative to last year in the proportion of grades at A and A* in academies, compared with 15.2% in independent schools. That represents a 5.7pp increase in the proportion of grades at A and A* from last year in academies, compared with a 9.3ppt increase in independent schools.
  • In real terms, this means there are 1.21 times more A and A* grades in academies, compared to 1.17 times more A and A* grades in independent schools, in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • Maths remains the most popular subject at A level with a 3.8% increase in entries this year;
  • 4% increase in STEM subjects, with 1.9% more girls taking A levels in Maths and 8.3% more in Physics, building on significant progress in this area since 2010.
  • Over 340,000 certificates awarded to a wide range of students who have undertaken Level 3 vocational and technical qualifications, with results broadly similar to previous years.

Access and Participation

Research Professional report on the IPPO review – details below.

  • The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to universities’ widening participation initiatives, according to a report commissioned by the Department for Education.
  • “rapid evidence review” carried out by the International Public Policy Observatory, a collaboration between think tanks and universities, found that Black, Asian and minority ethnic school leavers and those from lower socioeconomic groups had achieved lower grades in 2020, after changes to exams caused by the pandemic, than their benchmark cohort in 2016.
  • Working-class school leavers were also more likely, as a result of the pandemic, to be rethinking their plans to attend university, while the training of teachers and healthcare workers has been particularly badly hit by education closures.
  • The study, undertaken after a recommendation by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, is one of four evidence reviews relating to the pandemic’s impact on different levels of education.
  • It suggests that mentoring, plus financial incentives and support with university entrance applications, could help mitigate some of the negative effects on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

You will also be interested in the potential changes ahead for Access and Participation mentioned in Gavin Williamson’s speech above.

Parliamentary Question – what steps he is taking to ensure students from low socio-economic backgrounds can progress to university following the removal of BTEC courses.

International

Parliamentary Questions: International Student vaccinations; International students quarantine hardship: International students facing significant financial hardship as a result of the requirement to quarantine in a managed quarantine facility can apply for hardship arrangements, including deferred payment plans. In exceptional circumstances reductions and waivers may be granted. We will continue to keep our hardship policy under review.

International students were also mentioned several times in this short Q and A debate. Minister Williamson side stepped the questions on quarantine and hardship.

International student recruitment: Why aren’t we second? Part 2: UUK International (UUKi) published analysis stating that UK universities are losing ground in the race for international students because of high costs, visa difficulties and limited marketing in the face of rising competition from other countries. The report makes a series of recommendations for cementing the UK’s global popularity as a study destination and achieving the UK government’s ambitions for international student number growth. UUKi say the analysis draws on in-depth research and focus group interviews with prospective students, alumni, and recruitment agents in eight recruitment markets in three categories: where the UK should maintain its position (Nigeria, Saudi Arabia), regain its standing (India, Pakistan) and develop its recruitment (Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam).

The study reveals that students consider cost effectiveness, return on investment and career options when choosing a study destination abroad. The factors influencing their decision most include affordability (especially scholarship availability), post-study work opportunities, welcome and safety, and the quality of education.

The costs and benefits of International student to the UK economy: HEPI published a major international student report along with Universities UK International (UUKi) this week updating their previous in-depth analysis. Dods summarise the report:

Every part of the UK is financially better off – on average by £390 per person – because of international students.  The research finds that just one year’s intake of incoming international students is worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy.  

 Economic benefits

  • The tuition fee income generated by international students studying in the UK, as well as the knock-on (or ‘indirect’ and ‘induced’) effects throughout the UK economy associated with UK universities’ spending of this international fee income on staff, goods, and services;
  • The income associated with the non-tuition fee (i.e. living cost) expenditure of international students, and the subsequent knock-on effects of this expenditure throughout the wider economy (i.e. the indirect and induced effects); and
  • The income associated with the spending of friends and family visiting international students whilst studying in the UK. Again, this expenditure leads to subsequent knock-on (indirect and induced) effects throughout the UK economy.

Public costs

  • The teaching grant costs incurred by the Office for Students, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council, and the Department for the Economy for Northern Ireland to fund higher education institutions’ provision of teaching and learning activities (for EU students only);
  • The costs associated with the tuition fee support (through loans and/or grants) provided to EU students studying across the home nations; and
  • The costs associated with the provision of other public services to international students or their dependants. This includes the costs associated with public healthcare (net of the NHS Immigration Health Surcharge); housing and community amenities; primary and secondary-level education received by dependent children; social security; public order and safety; defence; economic affairs; recreation and culture; environmental protection, and other general public services. We also include the costs associated with ‘non-identifiable’ public expenditure incurred by the UK Exchequer on behalf of the UK as a whole (e.g. expenditure relating to the servicing of the national debt), as well as expenditure on overseas activities (e.g. diplomatic activities etc.). This approach underestimates the economic benefits and overstates the economic costs associated with hosting international students in the UK. As such, the estimates of the net economic impact and the benefit to cost ratios should be considered at the lower end of the plausible range.

Soft Power: HEPI also published their annual Soft-Power Index for 2021 considering the impact of world leaders who were educated in countries other than their own.

Student Mobility: Turing

The Government has published which institutions will receive funds under the new Turing Scheme for 20212/22:

  • 363 projects funded (out of 412 applications)
  • At a total fund cost of £96,215,683
  • For 40,032 placements
  • 8% of the placements are for participants from disadvantaged backgrounds

Student Voices

Wonkhe have been listening to the incoming Student Union Officers across the country and have an interesting new blog highlighting 7 similarities in the Officers’ manifestos and concerns. They suggest it clues the sector in on key concerns for the current student body. The blog is worth a read and here are the 7 factors to watch out for in short form:

  1. Focus on diversity.
  2. Volume of complaints.
  3. Access to people and things on a “course”.
  4. Consistent standards/fairness – “how is it allowed or tolerated that one module leader can return your email in a week and another six – and nobody even says sorry”. Also there’s renewed interest in the courses that subsidise other courses.
  5. Done to/authoritarianism – the lack of a plan or any meaningful monitoring behind big policy issues at many universities. “I asked what the actual plan was to close the gap and I was told to discuss that ‘offline’” and “the target is two weeks but they never publish the data” are the sorts of comments that have come up with fascinating regularity. 
  6. Students as activist consumersIt is about people responding to emails, tackling pockets of manifestly poor teaching and reducing wait times to see mental health triage. This is the most interested in education – its regulation, its economics and the system that underpins its delivery – I can ever remember SU officers being. Increasingly, it feels more and more like they want students to be treated like humans in a mass higher education system – which will need more than pockets of goodwill and a policy review, and much faster feedback cycles than the NSS.
  7. Deep concern over learning loss, grade inflation and mental health – proactive clubs, reaching out, early identification and academic and mental health support

Meanwhile HEPI have a collection of essaysWhat is the student voice? Thirteen essays on how to listen to students and how to act on what they say. It includes:

  • Students as governors: walking the tightrope and shouting into the void
  • What do students think and how do universities find out?
  • Disabled students: the experts we forget we need
  • Using surveys to represent the student voice and demonstrate the quality of the experience
  • The virtuous loop: capturing the student voice through course and module evaluation
  • The student voice at the heart of the system (but only when they’re thinking what we’re thinking)
  • The Office for Students’ Student Panel in their own words
  • The importance of the NUS for representing the voices of students
  • Restoring the real student voice
  • Students’ voices in curriculum design
  • The student voice and accommodation
  • Mature students: a silent or a silenced voice?
  • International students in the UK – perspectives put in context

Parliamentary Questions

  • Ethnicity degree outcome gap
  • AntisemitismAdoption of the IHRA definition is only a first step, and while the government considers that adoption of the definition is crucial, it is not enough on its own. That is why I will continue to work with the sector to ensure it better understands antisemitism and does more to end it.
  • Students not benefiting from the 30 hours free childcare provision because not classified as working.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

There have been a myriad of new consultations and inquiries over the summer. The above document contains only those relevant to general HE matters. Academic colleagues will likely wish to peruse the wider list of specialist consultations and inquiries that may be relevant to their research interests. This is shared each week through the policy influence digest. Contact us if you are not a subscriber but wish to access this list.

Other news

Online learning: Wonkhe report – Two-thirds of students rated their experiences with online learning positively, but only a third felt that universities were listening to their concerns. That’s according to Jisc’s annual student digital experience insight survey, which found that just over half (51 per cent) of students received support in their transition to digital learning. With a majority of students reporting barriers such as poor wifi connection and a lack of specialist software, Jisc calls on universities to better support students through digital infrastructure and online-specific course design.

Inclusion & academic confidence: The UPP Foundation Student Futures Commission published their interim report – read the key points in this Wonkhe blog which set out priorities for supporting student success post-Covid.

Complaints: The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) published their third set of case studies outlining complaints about changes to course delivery and assessments, accommodation, and disciplinary action arising from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It includes examples where the HE provider has agreed to settle the student’s complaint because of the OIA’s decision in a similar case.

Nursing: Nursing workforce (very short) debate in Parliament (Lords) on 8 September.

Cyber security: Wonkhe blog – Offering flexible working conditions to skilled IT professionals could mean the difference between flunking and surviving a cyber-attack, says John Chapman.

NSS: Wonkhe – The Office for Students has published data for its key performance measure 10, which tracks the proportion of students who responded positively to the National Student Survey question on overall satisfaction. This number dropped 7.4 percentage points compared to the 2019-20 academic year, reaching an all-time low of 74.9 per cent. OfS says it is “working on a target for this measure”.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 9th July 2021

The expected deluge of summer regulatory news is still a trickle, but one outstanding consultation has reported  – the one on monetary penalties, which no-one hopes to have to deal with. The Skills and Post-16 Bill began the Committee stage with interesting debate and the continued criticism of what is lacking; Lord Storey’s essay mills bill was warmly received in its second reading by a small group of attending Lords; UCAS data shows growth in applications and offer making for new entrants; Nicola Dandridge remains as Chief Executive of the OfS (for now); there is Life Sciences news; and the Government announcements unlocking the Covid restrictions permit face to face teaching, for now, anyway.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill entered the Committee stage. You can read the full debate or we bring you the most relevant HE discussion below. All amendments debated were either withdrawn or not moved, however, the content of the discussions is useful and interesting and Government advisers will have taken note of the points raised and general feeling within the Lords chamber.

  • Amendment 1 sought to ensure that the interests of students whose needs were not encompassed by local employers were included within the Bill…a strong link between local business and local skills provision were a good idea, but the interests of potential students were missing.
  • A request that providers of distance learning were taken into account when creating local skills improvement plans…the likes of the Open University had been “a life-changer for many who could not study residentially.”
  • Amendment 22 (Lord Addington) aimed to ensure special education needs provision was included in the initial planning of courses and training…a key benefit…would be in helping them to identify those in high-needs groups, and provide the relevant support. And Amendment 26 sought to ensure those with SEND would be supported to look further afield than their local area, to find appropriate careers that were more comfortable to them.
  • Baroness Fox of Buckley’s major concern with the Bill was that “it focuses too narrowly on the skills required by local employers,” which she said could narrow the options for students. She stated that agreed with the Chief Executive of the Workers’ Educational Association who has stated that Bill was “quiet on support for any qualifications below Level 3″, which “offer many adult learners key progression routes.” Also that the Bill did little to support subjects outside a narrow band of technical disciplines.
  • Defending the Bill on behalf of the Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (DfE and DTI), Baroness Berridge, said the Bill was much wider than just the technical education part that formed the “central plank” of the local skills improvement plan… the Bill did not exclude any particular level of qualification. The limiting was the technical education section of what the providers in a local area would have due regard to when they considered the local skills improvement plan.
  • Lord Aberdare (CB) cited a 2019 report by Future Founders that revealed that 51 percent of British young people aged 14 to 25 had thought about starting, or had already started, a business. He said that the Bill should address their needs, and not focus only on the skills need of existing employers.
  • Lord Young (Lab) said he was fascinated to learn that students applying to UCAS were not just given the opportunity of university places but directed towards apprenticeships.
  • Baroness Berridge (Government representative) added that the designated employer body would need to engage and work closely with providers, which included the Careers and Enterprise Company, local careers hubs, the National Careers Service, area-based contractors and Jobcentre Plus. She continued that they were currently contemplating two study programmes specifically designed to prepare young people for employment: traineeships and supported internships.
  • Baroness Hayman (CB) moved Amendment 3, which would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training was “material” to a specified area, consideration had to also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities or expertise align with the UK’s net zero She added that an estimated 3.2 million workers in the UK needed to increase their skill level or retrain in a new qualification if the UK was to meet its net zero target, and if they were to get the jobs that would be available.
  • Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) moved Amendment 4 (to Amendment 3), which would ensure that when considering whether post-16 technical education or training is “material” to a specified area, consideration must also be given as to whether such future skills, capabilities and expertise aligned with biodiversity targets.

The above two points illustrate the frequent criticism that the Bill did not offer more content linked to the climate and ecological emergency. Moreover:

  • The Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change, Lord Oates, stated that the local dimension was often missing from thinking on net zero. Baroness Wilcox of Newport, there was currently not a single reference to climate considerations in the Bill. Baroness Berridge offered assurance that the Government took net zero skills seriously, and there would not be a green gap in the guidance. She stressed that net zero, green technology and decarbonisation were common themes in the proposals that Government had received from the employer representative bodies seeking to lead the local skills improvement panel trailblazers. She added that the expectation was that the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under Clause 1 would reflect zero-carbon goals as businesses and employers responded to climate change and the biodiversity agenda.
  • Opposition Spokesperson for Education Lord Watson of Invergowrie warned – Although we fully support the principle of employers playing a more active role in driving certain aspects of the skills system, as well as a more specialised role for FE colleges in delivering higher-level technical skills, that must take place within the context of a holistic and objective overview of the whole education, skills and employment support system, to guard against introducing further complexity.
  • Baroness Berridge (Government representative) told the chamber that the local skills improvement plans would set out the key changes needed for post-16 technical education training, and make it more responsive to employers’ needs. Addressing some of the amendments, she said that “the relevant providers will play an important role, working with the employer representative bodies to develop these plans. We have not taken them out of the picture; the duty is there to co-operate.”

Wonkhe explain about the Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs): Though the committee was not divided, speaking on behalf of the government, Baroness Berridge confirmed providers (including distance learning providers like the Open University) will be able to participate in multiple LSIPs. We also learned that the six-to-eight “trailblazer” LSIPs, from 40 bids, would be announced later this month and will run until 2022.

The Bill will be debated at Committee Stage again on 15 and 19 July.

Contract Cheating

Lord Storey’s Private Member’s Bill (PMB), the Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill, completed the second reading stage on 25 June with support and warm words from a small group of peers and the Minister.

Lord Storey currently has an amendment lodged to the Skills Bill, it wasn’t chosen for debate this week. We’ll wait to see if it comes up in the two remaining days of the Bills’ Committee stage. If it is it’ll give us an indication of the wider parliamentary mood for the abolition of essay mills. If his amendment succeeds (in some form) he’ll likely withdraw his PMB. Or it may go the other way, and the amendment be dropped in favour of another measure.  PMBs rarely make it onto the statue book because of shortage of time, but this time government support may help it go further.

The second reading discussion also clarified that while contract cheating may also be taking place during A levels the Minister favours confining the Bill to HE. Whilst the tone of the second reading was favourable there is still a long road the Bill needs to traverse.  You’ll also note in the Minister’s response below that emphasis is placed on HE institutions to addressing contract cheating.

Excerpts from Minister’s response:

  • It is clear that there is a strong case for supporting institutions to address this matter robustly. We have much sympathy with the noble Lord’s aims through his Bill and would welcome further discussion with him about it.
  • Some of the Bill’s provisions need careful attention…he has brought forward the Bill in the spirit of seeking to find a solution to the problem…It has the potential, particularly as part of a wider approach, to reduce the number of essay mills in operation. It would also send a clear sign to students and the companies themselves that this activity is illegal.
  • Some noble Lords mentioned the international action that has been taken…Emerging evidence in both those jurisdictions suggests that those laws are deterring essay mills from providing services to students, and regulators there have reported that having the legislation has provided them with more tools to engage students, higher education providers and cheating services, and that it has given them additional routes to tackle the problem.
  • It is an important and timely Bill that needs to be considered carefully to maximise its effectiveness but, alongside a continued and collaborative effort with the sector to deter, detect and address contract cheating, it is one that could enable us to face the problem head-on.

Meanwhile Research Professional states that universities have been warned that essay mills are targeting institutions’ websites in a bid to reach students, which could put the “reputation and integrity” of universities at risk.

Research

UKRI Chair: The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee supported the appointment of Sir Andrew Mackenzie for the role of Chair of UKRI (report). The Committee concludes that, on the basis of the discussions during the pre-appointment hearing, its consideration of his CV, and the answers he provided to the Committee’s questionnaire, Sir Andrew’s career provides him with the professional competence and many of the skills required for the role of Chair of UK Research and Innovation. The Committee raises concerns that a robust process should be put in place to manage any actual or perceived future conflicts of interest between the role of Chair of UKRI and Sir Andrew’s part-time role as Chair of Shell.

Life Sciences: The Government published a new UK Life Science Vision setting out a 10-year strategy for the sector to build on successes achieved during the pandemic. The Vision outlines 7 critical healthcare missions for Government, industry, the NHS, academic and medical research charities:

  1. Accelerating the pace of studies into novel dementia treatment
  2. Enabling early diagnosis and treatments, including immune therapies such as cancer vaccines
  3. Sustaining the UK’s position in vaccine discovery, development and manufacturing
  4. Treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases and its major risk factors, including obesity
  5. Reducing mortality and morbidity from respiratory disease in the UK and globally
  6. Addressing the underlying biology of ageing
  7. Increasing the understanding of mental health conditions, including work to redefine diseases and develop tools to address them

A central component of the vision is that it contains a focus on cultivating a business environment which will allow UK life science firms to access finance to innovate and grow; and are incentivised to onshore manufacture and commercialise their products.

To support the vision, the Government has launched a £200m Life Sciences Investment Programme and expects the programme to leverage further private sector investment. Dods tell us that new funding will also come from Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company, which has committed to invest £800m to the life sciences industry, working with British Patient Capital.

The Minister may have changed but the content of the speeches hasn’t – new Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: We have made immense strides in health research over the past year – the discovery of the use of dexamethasone and our vaccine rollout have been crucial to saving hundreds of thousands of lives and tackling COVID-19. It’s crucial we continue to harness this enthusiasm and innovation, and map out a new route as we build back better. Today’s bold vision commits to putting the lessons we’ve learnt into action to transform the UK into a life sciences superpower.

Life Sciences Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: We want to bottle up this scientific brilliance, and the Life Sciences Vision provides a roadmap for how we apply this innovation at the heart of our NHS helping to solve major health challenges such as dementia and obesity – all while ensuring the UK remains a global leader in life sciences.

Research Professional blog: Focusing life sciences policy on medicine would miss huge opportunities in other fields, says Neil Hall.

ARIA: Recruitment for the first Chair of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) has begun with a focus on management over research experience. In their scrutiny of the full Bill text, MPs were keen to ensure clear measures of transparency were in place for the head of the new agency, and that there could be no room for conflicts of interest. The chair will act as a “custodian for Aria’s mission and objectives,” and be responsible for supporting overall direction and management, ensuring that the board takes an effective governance role. It adds that it is vital that any applicant is an “experienced board member”, among a list of other management-focused essential criteria. But “experience in public or private sector R&D” is only listed as desirable. It is a 4-5 year appointment (2 days a week, £60k). The ARIA Bill itself is still awaiting a Second Reading date for its procession through the House of Lords, so far a one month delay.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said whoever is appointed “will have the opportunity to make history” as the holder of one of ARIA’s pivotal roles: “We are looking for someone who commands the confidence of academic, business, higher education and policy communities, promote[s] effective stakeholder engagement, guide[s], and challenge[s] the development of Aria’s organisational approach.”

Ethics Appointment: Felicity Burch has been appointed executive director of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

Admissions – applicant data

UCAS released interactive data for applications made to the 30 June 2021 deadline highlighting increased offer making and application levels. Searches for apprenticeships also continue to rise. There were 456,190 18 year old applicants to English institutions. Overall, a total of 682,010 applicants (+4% on 2020) made 2,955,990 applications (+6%), resulting in 1,998,690 offers (+3%).

Also reported is that UCAS’s CareerFinder, which helps students find jobs and degree/higher apprenticeships, saw a record 1.35 million searches in the last 12 months, up 37% from 986,000 in 2020. These searches have resulted in 225,000 job applications, an increase from 181,000 last year (+24%).  You’ll want to play with the data as it offers all these additional granular options.

Research Professional’s Admission Control interprets the data excellently. The piece quickly reminds us of the history of how students bear the financial burden for funding HE institutions and the associated decline in the teaching grant over the year; it touches on grade inflation in school results, explains the jump in applicant numbers, and that applications to the higher tariff and more selective institutions increased – reminding that some institutions will likely be losers despite the greater numbers intending to enter HE. Also:

  • The bigger problem may be shifts within institutions, with healthcare, for example, a growing part of the post-1992 portfolio; while the arts and social sciences are retreating into high-tariff institutions, with corresponding departmental closures elsewhere.

Confirmation and clearing are expected to be different this year:

  • With more cautious offer-making this cycle, higher-tariff universities may well be filling their places with applicants who have made them their firm first choice, and have less room for recruitment of school leavers in clearingIf awarded grades are much closer to predicted grades than in a year when in-person examinations were held, we might anticipate more school leavers’ places being settled in confirmation than in clearing.

Data HE also make an interesting point: because the main Ucas deadline in January was disrupted and moved to a later date, the figures this year give “a fuller picture of demand” than in previous years…while total offers were up, the offer rate to 18-year-olds appeared to be down—which…would be “the first fall of the post-2012 era”…This was “driven by a five-point collapse in the offer rate from higher-tariff providers, probably back to levels we last saw seven or eight years ago”. “These universities are responding the best they can to the twin pressures of surging applications and unprecedented uncertainty in the [A-level or equivalent] awarded grades…Even with their trimming back of offers, and probably harsher offer conditions too, many will be on full alert for results in August, where another strong increase in grades could be hard to honour in full. With no reason at the moment to expect demand to recede in the 2020s, this downward turn in the offer rate might well be the first chill wind of a harsher world for university applicants. Where the balance of supply and demand is no longer in their favour, and greater flexibility on universities and subjects might be needed to get in.”

On this Wonkhe conclude similarly: Last year saw a sizable increase in applications to higher tariff providers, and this trend continues into 2021. However, even though the number of offers made has also grown, the effect is that the offer rate (the proportion of applications that result in an offer) has dropped – from around 73 per cent in 2019 and 2020 to 68 per cent in 2021. My proposed explanation for this would be capacity – many high tariff providers are already above capacity for 2020, taking too much from the fertile pool that is 2021 starts to put serious pressure on estates and available accommodation.

What the coverage doesn’t raise is the Government’s agenda to divert a proportion of students away from HE into a higher technical route which they believe will be more controlled and meet local and national business and skills needs. The government are also very concerned about the rising cost of the student loan book. If record numbers enrol for September the sector will likely need to brace itself for a fresh wave of criticism from Government as they seek to assert more control and value for money.

Wonkhe offer blogs by UCAS – Rich O’Kelly breaks down the data and says the rise in applications is not all down to Covid-19; and everyone’s favourite HE data guru David Kernohan: More eighteen year olds from China have applied to start a UK undergraduate course in 2021 than eighteen year olds from Wales. And just what is happening with Nigerian mature students.

Excerpts from David’s blog: With youth unemployment at a historic high, you’d be wise to expect an uptick in applications to undergraduate higher education in 2021. And you’d be right. It’s testament to the continuing attractions of university study after a sustained period of barely-disguised ministerial attacks – the application rate in England has hit 43.9 per cent. It also notes the continued decline of EU domiciled applications.

And on the best approach to teaching and the student experience the blog says:

  • Playing into a captive market – there’s not many jobs about, placement-related learning and apprenticeships are tricky, travelling is unlikely – we should be wary of complacency regarding the experience of students in a likely Covid-filled autumn. There’ll certainly be no help from government. We should by now have learned what works online and what doesn’t – the planning of contact hours should be the key thing course teams are looking at right now.
  • I would argue that the instinct to shift large lectures online is the right one. A combination of the increasing demand for recorded lectures from students, and the still-a-thing pedagogic trend of the split classroom both play in to shifting the mass transmission of information online to prevent the mass transmission of Covid-19.
  • The trouble will come in… A sensible pedagogic and public health decision can also look like a decrease in value for money. This effect has already played a part in the “contact hours” debate, and it has certainly been the main colour to the arguments about the lack of face to face this year. In person teaching in small groups is what we should be looking for – ditching the big lecture hall events will have a reputational but not a pedagogic impact.

Access & Participation

Importance of Place: Research Professional report – Chris Millward returned yesterday in a blogpost looking at the impact of “place” on university access. Using an analysis of the OfS’s “associations between characteristics of students” measure, he found that “more than 90 per cent of the lowest-participation group are white students who have been eligible for free school meals or come from the lowest-participation neighbourhoods”. “So income is important, but so is place,” he concluded. You can read the blogpost here. It’s an OfS blog.

Wonkhe: The Office for Students blog has a transcript of Director of Fair Access Chris Millward’s contribution to a Sutton Trust webinar on the factors that affect access to higher education.

And you can read the latest about Chris Millward below in Other news.

Parliamentary Questions:

How to be an ally

Our own Toluwa Atilade (SUBU Vice-President Welfare and Community) and Roshana Wickremasinghe (SUBU Policy Adviser) have written a blog for Wonkhe “Where are the black squares now?” on allyship.  They note:

  • With the press coverage of the recent Freedom of Speech Bill, it was clear that students’ unions still have a reputation for upholding “cancel culture” through no-platforming, or the use of safe spaces.
  • Our commitment to creating a culture of allyship hopefully shows that this is not the case, and that we understand that students and staff are willing to learn more and work on their own biases. 

You can find the SUBU allyship hub here.

Post Graduate survey

Wonkhe: The Office for Students has finally published some details about the 2019 trial of a PGT student questionnaire. The regulator learned “valuable lessons” about how the survey operated and how to obtain a robust sample, and has indicated that it will refine the questionnaire to make it more relevant to distance learning and part-time students via some workshops with provider and student representatives. A news story adds that students are keen to share views about course experiences, and that further information will be available by the end of Summer 2021.

More detail is available on the OfS blog: Developing a survey of taught postgraduate students.

International

A parliamentary question: Q – Munira Wilson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will make it her policy to grant cost exemptions to students who need to extend their visas to complete their course in the UK as a result of the duration of their courses being extended due to the covid-19 outbreak.

A – Kevin Foster: We have no plans to exempt students from paying an application fee where they require further time to complete a course of study.

Wonkhe tell us that The Independent has a piece from Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran on support for Hong Kongers arriving in the UK on the British Nationals Overseas scheme – including helping them access higher education.

Covid unlocking

The Government announcements on progression with the Covid roadmap was followed by a House of Commons parliamentary debate on Covid-19 in Education Settings lead by Education SoS, Gavin Williamson. Operational guidance for HE providers was also published. As you’ll likely be aware of the announcement we’ll cover them as quickly as possible. If you’d like more detail do read the transcript of the debate or this Commons’ Library research briefing.

  • From September no restrictions on in-person teaching at universities, unless students were told to isolate or were impacted by local outbreaks.
  • Williamson said a “more proportionate set of controls” would apply to early years, schools, colleges and HE institutions, and that these would maintain their baseline of protective measures, while minimising disruption. Settings will continue to have a role in working with health protection teams in the case of a local outbreak. Where necessary, some measures may need to be reintroduced.
  • Williamson: looking towards 2022 and assessment and the awarding of grades. It is our intention to move back to an exam system, but we recognise that we must ensure that mitigations are in place for pupils taking that assessment in the next academic year. We will look at sharing more information about what those mitigations are before the summer, and we will update his Education Committee and the House accordingly.
  • Emma Hardy (Labour) asked What are the Government doing to prevent the chaos of last year by ensuring that all higher education students can receive both vaccinations before moving around the country to their university? How will the Secretary of State ensure that those turning 18 late in this academic year are offered both vaccinations before they move to university? Williamson stated they were working closely with the university sector to “get the message through about how important it is for youngsters—students—to be out there getting their vaccine: it protects not only them, but their friends, their family and their community.”
  • Williamson: I want to encourage all teachers, educational staff and eligible students to get their vaccines
  • Christian Matheson raised that exam changes were made at the last minute, with very little time for schools and pupils to prepare. If the Secretary of State is considering changes to the exam system, will he have an open consultation with school leaders and teachers, and will he get the plans in place as early as possible, so that there is not the sense of teachers being dumped on at the last minute? Williamson responded: we talk continually to school leaders, teachers and many in the education sector on these issues. I can assure him that…we will be sharing further information on assessment in the next academic year.

A related parliamentary question asks about the resumption of face-to-face lectures in September 2021, Donelan responds, excerpt:

  • There will be no requirement for social distancing or other measures. Providers are, therefore, able to shape their courses without restrictions to face-to-face provision.
  • During the COVID-19 outbreak, many providers have developed their digital offering and, as autonomous institutions, some might choose to retain elements of this approach. However, they will not have to do this because of COVID-19 restrictions, and our expectations are very clear: universities should maintain the quality and quantity of tuition and ensure it is accessible to all students.
  • We expect providers to have contingency plans to deal with any identified positive cases of COVID-19 or outbreaks. HE providers should communicate clearly to their students what they can expect from planned teaching and learning under different circumstances and scenarios, so that they are able to make informed choices.
  • We will continue to keep these measures under review, informed by the latest scientific evidence and advice.

And another parliamentary question this time on Vaccinating young HE starters: If the Government will consider prioritising 17-year-old students [who are classed currently as children and not eligible for the vaccine] planning to start university in September 2021 to receive their first covid-19 vaccine so that those students will be able to be in receipt of two covid-19 vaccinations prior to the start of the 2021-22 academic year. Answer – we’ll be told in due course.

Wonkhe describe the media coverage:

  • The BBC, the Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Independent cover Williamson’s statement, focusing on schools, and the Telegraph has an opinion piece wondering how Gavin Williamson still has a place in the cabinet.
  • The Times also has a comment by the columnist Sarah Ditum that argues students are right to ask for face-to-face teaching in September, while the Mail covers OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge’s comment to universities that lectures should only remain online where “standards are not being compromised”.

Wonkhe also have blogs: Jim Dickinson runs down how the guidance will change after 19 July and David Kernohan looks at the group of students most affected by vaccine age disparities ahead of the new academic year.

Research Professional have a good write up picking out and analysing key points in No limits, for now. Including:

  • In effect, responsibility for infection control is being passed from the Westminster government to higher education institutions in England. The devolved assemblies have yet to announce plans for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • After 16 August, under-18s and fully vaccinated people who come into contact with a positive case of Covid will not be required to self-isolate. What could possibly go wrong? No chance of a general flouting of the rules. It all feels a bit like the prime minister has for now run out of road with his backbenchers—but that we will all be back in lockdown come the autumn.
  • We hope we are wrong. It would be heartbreaking to see another cohort of students recruited on a promise of open campuses only to spend the winter locked down in their rental accommodation.
  • Perhaps the reason a plan for the next academic term is not forthcoming from the Department for Education is because there is no plan for the country.

In addition last Friday Research Professional reported that

  • Johnson released a social media video to students graduating this year. He said that while “most of you faced, in fact, a very low personal risk from the coronavirus…the impact on your studies and on your lives, and in many cases the toll on your mental health, has been immense. I know in many cases it’s not what you signed up for.”
  • In his Twitter commencement speech, Johnson thanked graduating students for the “resilience” they had shown, before urging them to get vaccinated against Covid-19. He concluded by saying: “Thanks to your amazing spirit and dedication over the last 18 months, I know I can count on a whole generation of fantastic people with all the grit and determination and moxie and mojo and general oomph to make [‘building back better’] happen.”
  • Johnson failed to mention the modelling underway in the Treasury and the Department for Education with the aim for graduates to make larger student loan repayments to help cover the post-Covid national debt. Something else that they didn’t sign up for when they started their degrees.

Research Professional say:

  • What it means for universities is that come September, when students are returning to campus to form new households in shared housing and halls of residence—frequently identified as vectors of transmission—there will be little in the way of national planning for infection control. Despite the extension of the rollout to 18-year-olds, it is clear that vaccines on their own are not enough.
  • We still do not have a track-and-trace system up to the job, or financial support for isolation, or adequate border controls, or a strategy for effective local lockdowns. The prime minister and his new health secretary seem to be solely relying on vaccines as an emblem of the UK’s apparent status as a science superpower and are neglecting all the other elements necessary in a comprehensive and coherent strategy for public health.
  • The irreversible roadmap to freedom could yet unravel for the UK. It will certainly test universities this autumn.

Wales – university issues

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee held a one-off session on issues facing the Welsh University sector. It turns out that lots of the issues facing Welsh universities are similar to those facing English universities. Content included Erasmus, Horizon Europe, casualisation of staff, attractiveness of universities and the implications of the immigration system.

Graduate careers

Parliamentary question: Graduate work support and working with local employers to support new graduates into employment

Graduate training: Wonkhe highlight – report published today by the Learning and Work Institute and NOCN found that graduates are four times more likely to have received job-related training than those with lower level qualifications.

Blogs

Wonkhe: In the absence of a steady career ladder and predictable monetary returns for graduates, Zahir Irani says the HE sector will need to rethink how it delivers value for money.

HEPI: Careers Education for the ‘no-collar’ worker.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

As the first part of the regulatory deluge we have been expecting this summer (so far more of a trickle), the OfS have published the outcome of their consultation on monetary penalties.  Hopefully of minority interest, and with no surprises:

Following a thorough consideration of the consultation responses, the OfS has decided:

  • as a general principle, to calculate a monetary penalty by reference to a provider’s ‘qualifying income’ (which broadly includes all relevant fees for relevant higher education courses and OfS grants received by a provider for the relevant year)
  • to apply a five-step approach to the calculation, which takes into account a range of factors, including any mitigating and aggravating circumstances, before deciding on an appropriate penalty
  • to allow a provider to request a ‘settlement discount’ (leading to a discounted monetary penalty) in certain circumstances, where the provider agrees that it has breached a condition and accepts a monetary penalty
  • to recover the OfS’s costs in relation to the imposition of sanctions where appropriate.

Other news

Languages: Research Professional – The University Council of Modern Languages and the British Academy published (kind of) a report on granular trends in recruitment to higher education courses. To read more on Research Professional’s analysis and the limitations of the report scroll to part way down through this article.

OfS leaders: Nicola Dandridge’s contact as Chief Executive of the OfS has been extended for 1 more year until December 2022. Research Professional has the story here. Dandridge was originally appointed on a four-year term in 2017…  Education secretary Gavin Williamson has the option to extend Dandridge’s contract for 10 years, but the OfS said her contract could be extended again at the end of June next year.

Meanwhile Chris Millward Director for Fair Access and Participation will leave his role in December (when his contract ends) however Research Professional report he’ll be taking on a different role in the OfS. Research Professional: Millward has been busy in recent weeks, telling universities to stop using their Teaching Excellence Framework awards to promote themselves, heralding the number of women taking artificial intelligence postgraduate conversion courses and responding to a call from MPs for universities to be targeted on the number of white working-class students accessing higher education.

Open Access: Wonkhe tell us that Jisc has announced a two-year open access pilot agreement with the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Under the agreement, Jisc member institutions will be able to access and publish in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences without incurring any charges.

Decentralisation: Research Professional talk about the artificial divide between FE and HE in England and what more devolution (decentralisation) might offer.

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He policy update for the w/e 25th June 2021

We’re a little late this week, and the sector was firmly back in the fast lane – we’ve a host of reports and activity for you. Monday’s Education Questions provided parliamentarians with the chance to put Gavin Williamson and Michelle Donelan on the spot. The Secretary of State and the CEO of the OfS also spoke to the sector at a HEPI conference, after HEPI published their annual student academic experience survey.

Research news

New National Science and Technology Council: The PM has announced  a new National Science and Technology Council, to provide strategic direction for the use of science and technology to address national and global challenges. Boris will Chair the Council with Sir Patrick Vallance as National Technology Adviser (on top of his other roles!). Vallance will also be responsible for developing a new Office for Science and Technology Strategy, which will be based in the Cabinet Office. The Office will support the ministerial council to strengthen Government insight into science and technology, so it can be placed at the centre of policies and public services. Potential priorities identified for this unified work are “developing technology to reach net zero, curing cancer and not only treating it, and keeping our citizens safe at home and abroad.”

A few days later the Government announced a £50 million upgrade for specific infrastructure projects and scoping studies in line with the new ministerial Council and Office for Science and Technology Strategy. The investment will be delivered through grant funding through UKRI’s Infrastructure Roadmap programme.

Research Professional consider the PM’s leadership of the new Office, the Government’s interference in Science and Vallance’s juggling of the new role with his other significant appointments. Excerpt:

  • The reality of an Office for Science and Technology Strategy run out of the Cabinet Office is that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and UKRI are being sidelined in strategic decision-making. There now has to be an open question over how much of the planned increase in the science budget UKRI can expect to see.
  • That also leads us to ask how much of the budget increase will make its way to the quality-related pot that funds blue-sky research in universities. The appointment of Indro Mukerjee as chief executive of Innovate UK, and the choice of Andrew Mackenzie as preferred candidate for UKRI chair, alongside the emergence of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, suggest that the strategic agenda for science is pivoting away from universities and towards subsidising inward investment and industrial capacity.
  • Is creating parallel offices for science and technology—and multiplying the number of scientific councils advising the prime minister—something we should be “incredibly positive” about? 

Research Professional also have an exclusive interview with UKRI Chief Executive, Ottoline Leyser. A snippet of the interview is here. Ottoline is supportive of the new Office.

It appears the focus on innovation may overlap with ARIA, although presumably the research will be monitored to a greater degree and perhaps less ‘blue-sky’. At this stage it appears a key benefit will be the connect between Government research priorities and policy development. This factor has been welcomed by the sector.

UKRI Chair: The Science and Technology Select Committee held a pre-appointment Hearing with the Government’s Preferred Candidate for the UKRI Chair – Sir Andrew Mackenzie. The committee questioned Mackenzie discussing his credentials for the role, his experience, potential for conflicts of interest, the climate emergency, aspirations for the role, the ongoings of the UKRI, the Asia-Pacific region, COVID-19, investments and incentives, funding priorities across research areas, co-funding, and the Government’s Levelling Up agenda in relation to UKRI.

Specifically on levelling up, Dods summarise:

  • The Chair asked Mackenzie about the Government’s objective to level-up performance across the country; and whether he believed there was over-investment in the Golden Triangle. Mackenzie said there was a placing strategy in UKRI which contributed to the Levelling Up agenda. As universities were evenly distributed in the UK, they could be a critical component to the wellbeing of towns outside of the Golden Triangle. Mackenzie said the UKRI should consider the fabric and health of these universities; and that more funding should go to Innovate UK to stimulate greater technological transfer with the view of levelling up.
  • The Chair asked whether it was a problem that research funding tended to be concentrated in certain geographical areas of the country rather than others. Mackenzie recognised that it should be an area of examination. There could be opportunities to create greater investment if researchers were attracted to certain geographical areas.

Strengthening Clinical Research Delivery: The Department for Health and Social Care has announced £64m funding to support UK-wide plans to strengthen clinical research delivery. A new implementation plan published today sets out the first year of activities to deliver a vision for the Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery.

Following the publication of Saving and Improving Lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery in March, the UK Government and devolved Administrations today set out the first phase of activity to ensure research will have better health outcomes and allow more patients to be involved in research of relevance to them.  The full policy paper on the Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery is available here.

Activity for the coming months will include:

  • the development and trial of new COVID-19 treatments and vaccines
  • making UK clinical research delivery easier through more rapid ethics reviews and faster approval processes
  • boosting clinical research capacity with more virtual and remote trials
  • increasing diversity and participation in research in communities traditionally under-served by research
  • digitising the clinical research process to allow researchers to find patients, offer them places in trials, and monitor health outcomes

The vision is underpinned by five key themes:

  • streamlined, efficient and innovative research– so the UK is seen as one of the best places in the world to conduct fast, efficient and cutting-edge clinical research
  • clinical research embedded in the NHS– to create a research-positive culture in which all health and care staff feel empowered to support and participate in clinical research as part of their job
  • patient-centred research– to make access to, and participation in, research as easy as possible for everyone across the UK, including rural, diverse and under-served populations
  • research enabled by data and digital tools– to ensure the UK has the most advanced and data-enabled clinical research environment in the world, which capitalises on our unique data assets to improve the health and care of patients across the UK and beyond
  • a sustainable and supported research workforce– which offers rewarding opportunities and exciting careers for all healthcare and research staff of all professional backgrounds – across the length and breadth of commercial and non-commercial research.

Key commitments within the plan include:

  • Continuing to deliver on existing commitments to make UK clinical research delivery easier, more efficient and more effective. This includes an offer of HRA Rapid Research Ethics Committee review as part of the roll-out of the Ethics Committee and MHRA combined review of clinical trials of medicines.
  • Reducing the variation and time spent negotiating costsfor commercial research through the National Contract Value Review, ensuring an aligned process for contracting of research across the whole UK.
  • Taking the first steps towards digitising the clinical research processto make it faster and cheaper by beginning to create a holistic data-enabled Find, Recruit and Follow-up service.
  • Expanding flexible workforce and delivery models, including increasing capacity for research in primary and community care.
  • Providing recognition for key groups of staff across the NHS who play a key role in delivering research, including through a new accreditation schemefor Clinical Research Practitioners.
  • Supporting and enabling the delivery and evaluation of innovative modelsof trial delivery such as hub and spoke models, decentralised models and remote participation.
  • As the pressures of the pandemic ease, manage the recovery of research across all phases, therapy areas and treatment types, with COVID-19 becoming one speciality among a diverse research portfolio.

Quick News

  • Brush up on the ARIA Bill in this Lords Library briefing.
    Section 3 is most interesting as it summarises the amendments, critique, and response to the Bill to date. Such as:

    • Following its introduction, many organisations and stakeholders in research, science and technology have welcomed the bill. Some concerns have been raised about the agency’s mandate and whether the Government will fund the agency in the long-term.
    • Greg Clark, Chair of Commons Science and Technology Committee, stated – There remains much that is unclear about what ARIA is meant to be. It’s not clear if it is a new institution that will conduct its own research and attract global scientific talent, or if it is another funding agency for researchers in existing organisations.
    • Stephen Flynn (SNP) had concerns. Describing the bill as “incredibly vague on details”, Mr Flynn queried what the wider mission of the bill would be, as he was unsure whether the bill was trying to achieve better outcomes for health, defence or transport
    • Labour oppose the ARIA Bill’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Ed Miliband highlighted that DARPA in the US had 47 requests for information last year, contending that it is “hardly an obstacle to getting on with the day job
  • The public (78-79%) are supportive of providing equitable access to medicines for sufferers of rare diseases even if it costs the NHS more. 46% also agreed to raise the cost threshold for medicines to enable their use.

Two PQs:

The Secretary of State speaks (several times)

The Secretary of State gave the opening speech at the HEPI conference last week [we discuss the main report discussed at the conference below]  You can read the speech here. There wasn’t much that was new, but some things are worth pulling out.

GW seemed to suggest that the minimum entry requirements might include a requirement for a pass in Maths and English at GCSE.  Possibly as well, or instead of the 3 Ds, he didn’t go into that.  He also said that the cost to the government of media studies shouldn’t be less than maths.

GW pulled out as “unacceptable” the Proceed data for some institutions (not named but mostly identifiable from the OfS data) who were below 40%.  The Proceed metric is a combined metric looking at completion as well as outcomes – except in a very small number of cases very few universities have employment outcomes anywhere near as low as he was talking about.

  • In a very clear signal to universities about a baseline for future quality standards, he said;
  • And while higher education remains a good investment for most, at 25 higher education institutions, fewer than half the students who begin a degree will go on to graduate employment or further study.
  • I want to be clear that this is not an attack on the arts. Many of our arts institutions are world leaders and every subject can be taught well, and so many universities do teach it well, and every subject can lead to good outcomes. But this is not always the case.
  • For example, while there are many are many good psychology courses, at one university only 39% of those who enrol in psychology go on to graduate employment or further study. This is not good enough.
  • While there are many good bio-science courses, at one university only 38% of those who enrol in bioscience go on to graduate employment or further study. This is not good enough.
  • While there are many good computing courses, at one university only 35% of those who enrol in computing go on to graduate employment or further study. Again, this is just not good enough.

GW mentioned the OfS review of assessment practices in response to media stories about “dumbing down” assessments in the name of inclusivity.  This was announced last week with very little detail.  The OfS say that the review is part of a range of activities to drive up the quality of higher education courses and ensure that standards are maintained. Commenting on the announcement on Twitter, WonkHE’s Jim Dickinson said “A cooked up (and for most of the day it ran) incorrect moral panic story in the MoS now becomes major project work for OfS,” citing the review as an example of the OfS priorities having no relation to the priorities of students, and “everything to do with Ministers and newspapers.”

The CEO of the OfS, Nicola Dandridge, also spoke.  Her most interesting point made a clear link between plans for funding and quality.  This is one of the possible “top up” grant options we have been suggesting if there is a headline fee cut.  A version of her speech has made it onto the OfS website as a blog here.

Research Professional have a summary of the event.

Education Committee: GW was questioned by the Education Committee during the regular accountability hearing. Dods summarise the content most of interest to the HE sector.

  • White working-class children: Chair Robert Halfon noted the committee’s recent report on poor educational outcomes for white working-class children when compared to other cohorts. In response, Williamson said the report was right to highlight that there were a variety of problems with WWC children progressing in the post-16 environment, including university entry. When Halfon asked if there should be target solutions for this group alone, Williamson said he favoured targeted solutions but based on the status of any child left behind. Williamson said any change in the terms of reference for the Pupil Premium with regard to additional funding for this cohort could not be done without another spending review. [See the section below on this report.]
  • Baker clause: Halfon asked for comment on the Baker Clause, which stipulated that schools allow colleges and training providers access to all students in years 8- 13 to discuss non-academic routes. In response, Williamson said he supported all schools adhering to the Baker clause. He said most schools were open to this and hoped parents did not have to resort to legal action to force this to happen. Williamson said in the summer the government would be consulting on proposals to strengthen the legislation and that Ofsted should be enforcing it. He said government schools funding could be made conditional on compliance.
  • Undergraduate degree apprenticeships: Asked by Halfon to comment on the idea of a teaching undergraduate degree apprenticeship, Williamson said there was a compelling case for this.
  • University funding: Anderson said in the last financial year universities had lost out on £790m from various problems caused by Covid such as reduce funding for conferences and lack of foreign students. She also suggested the DfE was biased against funding arts and humanities provision. In response Williamson said there had been strong growth in foreign students last year, with more students coming from outsider the EU (though EU students were down). He said the DfE had no bias against arts and humanities funding.
  • Free speech in higher education; antisemitism in universities: Hunt asked whether new free speech legislation might mean people with hateful views could potentially claim compensation if blocked form speaking on university campuses. In response, Williamson said this would not be the case. He said the new legislation was only intended to enforce existing laws and would not permit activities such as holocaust denial. Gullis asked what action was being taken to penalise universities which did not subscribe to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. In response, Williamson said he had been working with Lord Mann to ensure all universities signed up to the IHRA definition. He said if they did not take it up voluntarily the government was looking at a broad range of actions related to funding constriction.

Education questions in the House of Commons

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, responded to Education questions in the House of Commons. From Education Topical Questions:

Q – Andrew Bridgen: Could the Secretary of State update the House on progress on changing A-levels to enable students to apply with known grades rather than predicted grades?

A – Gavin Williamson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The consultation closed on 13 May and we are looking at the response very closely. We really want to bring post-qualification admissions forward as rapidly as possible. We would like to do so without legislation and in co-operation with the sector, but if we are not able to have that co-operation, we will drive this forward. All the evidence, from the Sutton Trust and from so many others, is clear that PQA helps children from the most disadvantaged families more than any others. That is why we will make it happen.

So, the Government signals intent to push ahead with post-qualification admissions no matter what the consultation says or evidence provided by the sector to the contrary.

Q – Rachael Maskell: Will the Secretary of State ensure that, instead of experiencing disruption to a third academic year, universities are able to determine their own return of students in September this year? The University of York and York St John University have advanced plans in place and they do not want to see further delays, including staggered starts. Can they now also have the ability to allow international students to quarantine at their local university?

A: The Minister for Universities (Michelle Donelan): We have every expectation that by the autumn term we will be able to move forward beyond step 4, meaning that there will be no further restrictions on the provision of in-person teaching and learning. During the pandemic, many providers have developed a digital offering and, as autonomous institutions, they might choose to retain elements of that approach, as well as undertaking risk assessments, but our expectation is clear that universities should maintain the quality, quantity and accessibility of provision. In terms of international students, we have been one of the world’s leaders in our visa concessions and flexibilities. I shall continue to work closely with the Home Office and the Department of Health to ensure that the best interests of students are always maintained, as well as public health.

So, no change and no firm answer. The Government will continue to intervene if they feel the national situation warrants it.

The Lords questioned compulsory redundancies in the university sector and their potential impact on teaching and research.

Graduate outcomes

With Gavin Williamson focussing on graduate employment (as presented via the Proceed metric) in his speech, there may have been less focus on salaries recently.  However, the latest version of the LEO data has come out and David Kernohan has a blog on Wonkhe, pointing out all the challenges, including the big problem about part-time work for example, 25% of creative arts graduates and more women than men work part-time, and LEO doesn’t adjust for this.  There are all sorts of interactive graphs if you want to play.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill – amendments

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill continues its way through the House of Lords (it started there and will go to the Commons later).  Committee stage, the detailed review, starts on 6th July 2021. As of 28th June the running list of proposed amendments is here.

Lord Storey has continued his campaign against essay mills by proposing a new Clause as an amendment to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to make it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services. It is in line with his current private Members’ Bill (PMB). The Bill will be considered at the Committee Stage on 6 July 2021, it is unclear whether Lord Storey’s amendment will be addressed. However, his PMB is due for second reading this Friday. At the Education Committee Gavin Williamson said that the government would seek a way to support the PMB (which they would presumably prefer to an amendment to the Skills Bill.

Wonkhe described the amendment from Lord Lucas which proposes a mental health monitoring role for the Office for Students (OfS) that would require the regulator to assess the extent to which the mental health and wellbeing of students are sustained and improved while attending the institution, the quality improvement and response to mental health crises, and the pastoral and academic care of students attending the institution. While the government may seek to reject the amendment on the basis of the focus of the bill, it will face pressure to explain whether and how OfS does oversee that agenda.

Lord Lucas has also proposed other additions that would ensure that the interests of local potential students and an assessment of national skills needs are represented in Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs), and Lord Lingfield has suggested a regular review of how these plans support learners with special educational needs.

Gordon Marsden continues to press the Government to thoroughly think through the modular approach to funding and learning proposed by the Bill. He writes in Research Professional’s Sunday Reading: The arguments over skills, modules and devolved initiatives this summer need to define the outcomes for transformation, not just the rhetoric around it. It’s a decent short article if you want to read more on the importance of getting the modular aspect right.

Other amendments include a requirements to review provision for special educational needs in a local area, reviewing how the apprenticeship levy is being used in the context of local skills plans, a proposal to remove the limits on prior qualifications and restrictions on student numbers (eg for medicine), and a proposal about access to universal credit.  We can expect the list to grow before 6th July.

White working class

The Education Committee has published its final report following its inquiry into left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, which originally opened in April 2020. They say:

  • Early years: In 2018/19, just 53% of FSM-eligible White British pupils met the expected standard of development at the end of the early years foundation stage, one of the lowest percentages for any disadvantaged ethnic group.
  • GCSE performance: In 2019 just 17.7% of FSM-eligible White British pupils achieved grade 5 or above in English and maths, compared with 22.5% of all FSM-eligible pupils. This means that around 39,000 children in the group did not achieve two strong passes.
  • Access to higher education: The proportion of White British pupils who were FSM-eligible starting higher education by the age of 19 in 2018/19 was 16%, the lowest of any ethnic group other than traveller of Irish heritage and Gypsy/Roma.

Among the many factors that may combine to put white working-class pupils at a disadvantage are:

  1. Persistent and multigenerational disadvantage
  2. Placed-based factors, including regional economics and underinvestment
  3. Family experience of education
  4. A lack of social capital (for example the absence of community organisations and youth groups)
  5. Disengagement from the curriculum
  6. A failure to address low participation in higher education

They set out the following solutions:

  1. Funding needs to be tailor-made at a local level to level up educational opportunity. (page 45) A better understanding of disadvantage and better tools to tackle it is needed – starting with reforming the Pupil Premium.
  2. Support parental engagement & tackle multi-generational disadvantage. (page 33) To boost parental engagement and mitigate the effects of multi-generational disadvantage, a strong network of Family Hubs for all families is needed. These should offer integrated services and build trusting relationships with families and work closely with schools to provide support throughout a child’s educational journey.
  3. Ensure the value of vocational training and apprenticeship options while boosting access to higher education. (page 49) Reform the Ebacc to include a greater variety of subjects, including Design & Technology. Ofsted must be stronger in enforcing schools’ compliance with the Baker Clause, to ensure they allow vocational training and apprenticeship providers to advertise their courses to pupils. Where there is non-compliance, schools should be limited to a ‘Requires Improvement’ rating.
  4. Attract good teachers to challenging areas. (page 43) Good teaching is one of the most powerful levers for improving outcomes. Introducing teaching degree apprenticeships and investing in local teacher training centres may support getting good teachers to the pupils who need them most.
  5. Find a better way to talk about racial disparities. (page 14) The Committee agreed with the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that discourse around the term ‘White Privilege’ can be divisive, and that disadvantage should be discussed without pitting different groups against each other. Schools should consider whether the promotion of politically controversial terminology, including White Privilege, is consistent with their duties under the Equality Act 2010. The Department should issue clear guidance for schools and other Department-affiliated organisations receiving grants from the Department on how to deliver teaching on these complex issues in a balanced, impartial and age-appropriate way.

Education Committee member Kim Johnson (Lab, Liverpool Riverside) has sought to distance herself from the report, saying on Twitter it was “deeply depressing that we are seeing a Government that has presided over deep cuts to education diverting attention from that onto a fake culture war.”

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

  • “For decades now White working-class pupils have been let down and neglected by an education system that condemns them to falling behind their peers every step of the way. White working-class pupils underperform significantly compared to other ethnic groups, but there has been muddled thinking from all governments and a lack of attention and care to help these disadvantaged White pupils in towns across our country.
  • “If the Government is serious about closing the overall attainment gap, then the problems faced by the biggest group of disadvantaged pupils can no longer be swept under the carpet. Never again should we lazily put the gap down to poverty alone, given that we know free school meal eligible pupils from other ethnic groups consistently out perform their White British peers. In 2019, less than 18% of free school meal eligible White British pupils achieved a strong pass in English and Maths GCSEs, compared with 22.5% of all similarly disadvantaged pupils. This equates to nearly 39,000 White working-class children missing out.
  • “So far, the Department for Education has been reluctant to recognise the specific challenges faced by the White working class, let alone do anything to tackle this chronic social injustice. This must stop now.
  • “Economic and cultural factors are having a stifling effect on the life chances of many White disadvantaged pupils with low educational outcomes persisting from one generation to the next. The Government needs to tackle intergenerational disadvantage, inbuilt disadvantages based on where people live and disengagement from the curriculum.
  • “What is needed is a tailor-made approach to local funding and investment in early years and family hubs. This should be alongside more vocational opportunities, a skills-based curriculum and a commitment to addressing low participation in higher education.
  • “We also desperately need to move away from dealing with racial disparity by using divisive concepts like White Privilege that pits one group against another. Disadvantaged White children feel anything but privileged when it comes to education.
  • “Privilege is the very opposite to what disadvantaged white children enjoy or benefit from in an education system which is now leaving far too many behind.”

Wonkhe:

The Social Mobility Commission (SMC) have responded to the Education Committee’s latest report, The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it, which found “White working class underachievement in education is real and persistent”. The Committee has called on the government to take steps to ensure disadvantaged White students fulfil their potential:

  • Educational underachievement is only part of the picture. Our report, The Long Shadow of Deprivation, shows that even if students beat the odds and get good qualifications, in the least socially mobile areas of the country they still face a wage gap at age 28 of up to a third. The answer to these issues is about thinking about investment in jobs, transport, housing, welfare and wider opportunities as well as in schools.

Access & Participation

Care duration: Research Professional report on LEO data released at the end of last week which highlights that students who have been in care for more than a year are marginally more likely to take part in higher education than those who have been in care for shorter periods of time. Read more here.  

Disadvantaged pupils’ confidence in A level grade awarding system: The Social Mobility Foundation published new findings which identified how confident disadvantaged students are about the grade-awarding system that will be used in place of exams for this summer’s GCSEs, AS and A Levels. It concludes that disadvantaged young people are not confident they will receive grades that reflect their ability under the teacher assessment system introduced this summer and do not have faith in the appeals process. The majority of the survey respondents were on free school meals.

  • 43% are not confident that they personally will receive fair grades reflective of their ability
  • 52% are not confident that they will be able to appeal grades that they do not think are a fair reflection of their ability
  • 36% of young people who plan to go to university this September are not confident they will receive the grades they need to secure their place.
  • 28% of participants who are sitting GCSE, A-Level or equivalent exams this summer reported that their teachers had not made it clear what pieces of work will be used to determine their final grades.
  • 35% of participants did not have access to reliable broadband during lockdown.
  • 74% of participants agree that: “Every student in Year 12 or S5 or above should have the option to take up a fully funded education recovery year to make up for learning time lost during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
  • 74% of participants felt that not all parts of the country had suffered equally because of the Covid-19 pandemic; highlighting geographical inequality which is a key focus of the government’s levelling-up agenda.

The findings come as the Department for Education and Education Policy Institute published their own research which found further evidence that restrictions to in-person teaching following the pandemic have led to a widening of the disadvantage gap – the gap in school attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. These results received widespread national media coverage yesterday, from print news to television, and you can view a short clip of Social Mobility Foundation Chair, Alan Milburn, chatting to Sky News about the data here.

As a results of these findings, SMF are calling for the appeals process to be re-designed this year, for year 13 to have the right to repeat the year (cost £180 million in England), and for young people opting to take exams in the autumn instead of accepting teacher-assessed grades to do so free of charge.

Universal Credit & Reasonable Adjustment: Wonkhe report on a psychology student that has been granted permission to challenge regulations that prevent him and thousands of other disabled students from claiming universal credit while they are full-time students. Flinn Kays claims that new regulations that stop disabled students having a work capability assessment (WCA) and thus claiming universal credit are unlawful – and is asking the court to quash 2020 regulations on the grounds that the Secretary of State unlawfully failed to consult, that they are discriminatory and that they breach the public sector equality duty.

Meanwhile students with vision impairments experience failure from institutions to put agreed reasonable adjustments for exams and assessments into place, and a lack of expertise in accessibility, according to new research into the post-school experiences of young people with vision impairments from the Vision Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research at the University of Birmingham and the Thomas Pocklington Trust.

Lost in Transition? also found limited understanding of vision impairment by some staff at institutions at the time of application, difficulties with the accessibility of the UCAS admissions system, and various issues with the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), including assessors not having the necessary expertise to assess students, delays in the processing of assessments and equipment being provided that did not meet students’ needs.

Wonkhe blogs:

Access to postgraduate study: The Sutton Trust published a new report on access to postgraduate education in the UK, looking at the level of financial support available across the nations, the impact of the introduction of postgraduate loans on access in England, the growing cost of postgraduate degrees, and the likely impact of those costs on access.

  • Rates of progression from an undergraduate degree to a postgraduate master’s have increased for graduates of all backgrounds since loans were introduced, but they have increased the most for those from socio-economically disadvantaged groups. In 2013/14, just 6% of first-degree holders from working class backgrounds in England progressed to a taught higher degree (i.e. master’s), compared to 8.6% for those from managerial and professional backgrounds. By 2017/18, rates for both groups had risen considerably, and the gap in participation had reduced, with 12.9% for those from working class backgrounds and 14.2% from managerial and professional backgrounds going onto this type of study.
  • But graduates from less privileged backgrounds still appear to be less likely to progress than their better-off counterparts. This is true whether looking at parental occupation (with 18.4% of graduates from professional and managerial backgrounds going onto a taught or research higher degree within 15 months of graduating, compared to 14.4% of graduates from routine or semi routine backgrounds), and education (13.9% for those with at least one parent with a higher education qualification vs 11.6% for those with none), neighbourhood (13.2% for those from high participation areas vs 12.6% for low participation areas) or type of school attended prior to higher education (14.6% for private schools vs 12.5% for state schools).
  • Tuition fee levels at UK higher education institutions for taught postgraduate courses have increased in the past 14 years, well beyond inflation. For example, while average tuition fees for a classroom-based taught postgraduate programme in 2011 were £5,435 at a Golden Triangle university and £4,408 in the other Russell Group universities, by 2020 they had risen to £10,898 (an increase of 101 percent) and £8,744 (a 98 percent increase) respectively.
  • The price differences between the UK’s most prestigious institutions and the rest of the sector have also widened within the same time period. In 2006/07 for classroom-based courses, the difference between the most expensive group of institutions (in the Golden Triangle) and the least costly (interestingly, these were other Russell Group universities) was just £1,404. But in 2020/21, the difference between the most and the least expensive group of institutions, this time between Golden Triangle universities and post-1992 institutions, was 2.5 times higher: £3,532.

Recommendations:

  1. The funding system at postgraduate level in England should be reformed, to remove financial barriers to postgraduate study. …. Instead of being a contribution, the government’s postgraduate financial support system should cover full maintenance costs for students, and the full course fee cost for all but the most expensive courses. This should ideally be through a mix of loans as well as grants for students from lower income backgrounds.
  2. Universities should extend their widening access work to postgraduate level, especially at high-status institutions. This should include efforts to improve the attainment of disadvantaged undergraduate students to allow them to progress to postgraduate level. High status universities especially should look at recruiting students for postgraduate level from a range of different institutions, as well as exploring other ways to widen access, for example running postgraduate summer schools aimed at potential students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Universities should also make use of contextual admissions at postgraduate level, taking into account the potential as well as the prior attainment of applicants.
  3. Data on widening participation to postgraduate study should be regularly published by the Office for Students and/or the Department for Education (for England) and the devolved governments. As is the case at undergraduate level, universities should be required to provide data on access and outcomes, with data regularly published as an official statistical release. ….
  4. In England, The Office for Students should be given strengthened responsibility to ensure fair access to postgraduate study, as it does at undergraduate level. …..
  5. Universities should ensure course fees are fair and appropriate, and they should avoid charging application fees for postgraduate courses. If universities are charging course fees above the increased level of government support outlined above, they should provide adequate financial support themselves to ensure there are no financial barriers to participation. Ideally, universities should not be charging application fees at postgraduate level, but if application fees are charged, they should be as low as possible, with waivers easily accessible to any applicants who are unable to afford them. Oversight from the Office for Students should include looking at both course and application fees, with action taken where these costs are acting as barriers to lower-income students.
  6. The application process for postgraduate courses should be clear and easy to navigate, with information about courses easy to find and the application process simplified where possible. In the short term, all universities should consistently provide information on their postgraduate courses to UCAS, so that it is quick and easy to find for applicants. …..

Access to HE – insecure/unresolved immigration status: King’s College London, has published a new report on access to the higher education for young people with insecure or unresolved immigration status. Higher Education on Hold explores the barriers to HE for young people who:

  • Have refugee status
  • Are seeking asylum
  • Have limited leave to remain or indefinite leave to remain
  • Are undocumented

As well as legal barriers, they find that young people with insecure immigration status are more likely to face a combination of the following additional barriers which limit HE access:

  • A lack of support in school.
  • Increased likelihood of living in poverty.
  • Poor language proficiency and difficulties attaining qualifications.
  • High incidence of mental health issues
  • A lack of high-quality support from HE institutions

As well as campaigning for policy change, the report says universities should review and improve their admissions practices, widening participation programmes and scholarship provision in order to better support young people with insecure immigration status. Specifically, they say institutions should:

  • Provide specialist admissions support.
  • Adopt a flexible approach to language qualifications and provide pre-sessional English language courses.
  • Include young people with insecure immigration status in Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) activities and widening participation programmes.
  • Provide targeted advice and support for young people with insecure status in relation to immigration status and student finance eligibility.
  • Broaden scholarships to include all young people who are not currently eligible for student finance due to their immigration status.
  • Ensure that scholarship application processes do not create additional barriers for young people.
  • Provide ongoing support once young people with insecure status progress to HE, including mental health support and support with debt if a student’s loan application is rejected.

HEPI – Student Academic Experience Survey

The annual Student Academic Experience Survey was published. The data and conclusions from in this report are always worth a detailed read.  The last report showed “no material impact” from the start of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.  That has not carried through to this year, where there is a dramatic change in some of the results compared to the trends over previous years.  The data is therefore not really comparable in terms of longer term analysis of progress in the sector, but of course it will inform the discussion about how the sector can adapt and change for next year.  We will have to wait for next year, and probably also the year after, to see whether for this survey 2021 is a “blip” or a reset.

The main lesson that the authors draw, in the executive summary is that students want in-person, and not online learning.  As many institutions look at blended learning, and the benefits of that for students  (accessibility, flexibility), it is important to consider that, while many students may appreciate those benefits in the longer term, for now they just want to be with people, not in their rooms.  As one student described it to me “I want to have a reason to get up and out, to have somewhere to go and somewhere to be, and to see people”.

  • With all that in mind, it is not surprising that the recent more positive trend of the (in)famous value for money chart has reversed sharply.  Perceptions of value for money for students from Scotland (where students don’t pay fees) have been higher than all the others since 2012, and are still higher, but they are still the lowest (at 50%) than they have ever been.  So it’s not just the fees.
  • There are many reasons given for poor perceptions of value for money, but unsurprisingly, the highest scoring are tuition fees, the volume of in person contact hours, access to in person teaching, and teaching quality.  After that the volume of online contact hours, and cost of living,  as well as one to one tuition time are all 30% or over.
  • There has also been an impact on experience compared to expectations, the proportion saying “better in some ways and worse in others” is stable at 48%, but those saying “better” has flipped (to 13%) with those saying it was “worse” (27%).   These were almost exactly the other way around last year.
  • There are some interesting differences in the questions about making choices.  11% said they would, with hindsight, have deferred.  As we know, deferrals were very low last year. One in three had considered leaving, with 34% of them citing mental/emotional health as the reason.

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

A new report from Accenture and Cibyl, University: The Best Time of Our Lives? Is considered on Wonkhe: Jim Dickinson reviews the new report on student mental health which includes some clear and actionable recommendations.

Prevent: The DfE published new guidance on implementing the Prevent Duty in HE. It consists of training materials on the Prevent duty of care and the wellbeing of staff and students.  Also training materials on assessing risk when implementing the Prevent Duty.

Awards: Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2021: the winners.

Virtual: Times Higher talks about how institutions can work towards effective new teaching models, such as hybrid flexible classes, and how to support and train staff to deliver an increasingly tech-enhanced education. Also Christopher Brighton of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University presents a model of a global virtual exchange that could be easily replicated by any institution wishing to improve students’ intercultural knowledge.

AI & Healthcare: The Health Foundation published Switched on How do we get the best out of automation and AI in health care?

Turning the oil tanker: Successive UK Governments have been pushing at the edges of the UK HE sector for changes in quality/value for money, freedom of speech, and demonstrating value for money. In this vein it is interesting to note Research Professional’s article with the European Commission stating how the European HEIs are slow to change and adapt.

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HE policy update for the w/e 12th June 2021

It might not feel it in the wider world, but it’s the June calm before the July storm in HE policy.  The culture wars are getting silly, the data is showing the challenges for levelling up, and there are yet more suggestions for how to spend more while spending less.  Plus two Cabinet Ministers with varying popularity ratings will be seeking new seats at the next election if constituency boundary changes go through.  Is that how Gavin and Matt will get their marching orders?

Research

Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has named Sir Andrew Mackenzie, Chairman of Shell energy as the preferred candidate for UKRI Chair scheduled to take over during the summer. The Commons Science and Technology committee will hold a pre-appointment hearing to consider Mackenzie’s suitability. Research Professional supply the analysis and responses to Mackenzie’s likely appointment.

The parliamentary protest against the ODA cuts continued in an emergency debate.  The attempts we reported last week to get the cuts reversed using an amendment to the ARIA bill failed when the speaker, as predicted, said the amendment didn’t relate closely enough to the core subject matter of the Bill.  However, the issue will continue to run.

Meanwhile, the UK’s association to Horizon is reported to be under threat: Dods tell us that The Telegraph reported at the weekend that the UK could threaten to pull out of the EU’s €100bn flagship research programme after Brussels was accused on Friday of holding up access in an “act of political vengeance.” ….senior Government sources have claimed that the EU is “purposely going slow” on formalising the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe.  This is a side issue as tensions rise in the government’s “sausage war” with Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Quick News                                                                                                                

  • QAA published Learning From The Experience Of Postgraduate Research Students And Their Supervisors During Covid-19. It makes recommendations on students logging the changes made due to the pandemic, talks about the regularity and use of online induction, support and wellbeing strategies, regular listening sessions with PhD students and regularly reviewing policies and processes rather than falling back on how it has always been done.
  • Research Bureaucracy: A parliamentary question on the intention for a public consultation as part of the review of research bureaucracy. Amanda Solloway responded: The Review of Research Bureaucracy has been engaging broadly across the research sector. The intention is to launch a call for evidence to build on this initial engagement.

Quality

The OfS has given us some more information about timing of the many initiatives that they are working on.

  • In July, … we will consult on a set of revised quality and standards conditions (revisions to Conditions B1, B2, B4 and B5 in our regulatory framework) that relate to students’ academic experience, the resources and support they need to succeed, rigorous assessment practices, and reliable standards.
  • probably in November – we will consult in more detail on a revised approach to regulating student outcomes (Condition B3). … this further consultation will set out our proposed approach to setting minimum numerical baselines, how we will assess providers in relation to those baselines, and how we will take each provider’s context into account.
  • The TEF… in July we will publish an update on the development of our proposals … We will then consult on a proposed new framework for TEF at the same time as the consultation on student outcomes. The two consultations will draw on a shared set of proposed indicators, …

And there is more:

  • we are also looking at assessment practices across the sector in more detail..  We know that universities are looking at various ways of reducing the unexplained gap in outcomes for some groups of students, but that should never result in a reduction in the academic rigour required for successful completion of a higher education course. We expect to announce further work in this area over the next few weeks
  • Later in the year we will also look again at numbers and patterns of classifications awarded to students on undergraduate degree courses. …. we remain concerned about the longer-term trend of increases in classifications, and we plan further investigation to identify the factors that may explain the currently ‘unexplained’ increases [Note: unexplained in OfS-speak means not explained by previous achievement, so could for example, be explained as actually being better outcomes?]
  • … over the next month we’ll be setting out our approach to combating the malign effects of essay mills

Also on TEF:  We are writing later today to providers with TEF awards due to expire this summer, to confirm that their awards will be extended until 2023, and those without an award will be invited to apply for a provisional award to cover the period before the next TEF exercise.

And on essay mills – Lord Storey’s Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill has been scheduled for its second reading (a debate) on 25 June in the House of Lords.

That TEF letter:

  • As extended TEF awards will become increasingly out of date, we consider that they should no longer be promoted or used to inform student choice once the 2021 student application cycle is complete. We are therefore advising providers not to use their TEF awards in marketing or promotional materials from September 2021.
  • TEF awards will be removed from the Discover Uni website in September and UCAS also intends to remove them from its course pages, at our request. We will continue to publish the extended awards on the OfS website, which we will update in September to explain their historical nature. Revised TEF branding guidelines will be available on the OfS website on 22 June, but you may wish to start making arrangements now to remove TEF awards from your marketing materials.

Fees and funding

Interest rates – The Department for Education have published a written ministerial statement by Michelle Donelan confirming a temporary reduction in the maximum student loan interest rate.  It’s complicated, it lasts for a short period, and will have a very small effect (e.g. on anyone paying a tapered rate).

As a reminder, while you are studying interest accrues at the maximum rate (5.6% at the moment), for post 2012 English students, the current interest rates are here. the headline is 5.6% but it’s 2.6% for those earning under £27,295, for example.

Here are the main points of the announcement:

  • …In accordance with the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, where the Government considers that the student loan interest rate is higher than the prevailing market rate for comparable unsecured loans, we will take steps to reduce the maximum student loan interest rate.
  • …. two separate caps will be implemented, one for the period 1 July to 31 August and one for the period 1 to 30 September.
  • The maximum Post-2012 undergraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate and the Postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate will be 5.3% between 1 July and 31 August. [e. reduced from the 5.6% noted above]
  • The maximum Post-2012 undergraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate and the Postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rate will be 2% between 1 September and 30 September.
  • From 1 October 2021, the Post-2012 undergraduate and Postgraduate income contingent repayment student loan interest rates will revert to the standard rate +3%.
  • Further caps may be put in place should the prevailing market rate continue to be below student loan interest rates.

Future options

HEPI have published some modelling by London Economics on changes to student loans that could reduce the cost to the government  and/or fund some new initiatives. We have written about various rumours and ideas for changes to the fee structure over the last few weeks.  Much of this talk was about what universities receive.  The other side of the coin is how it is funded, ie by students, or rather, graduates.

  • One group of people challenge interest rates e.g. the nominal interest rate is too high compared to real debt, most people never pay it all back, making a substantial part of it “monopoly money”, the optics are bad (the full rate is very high, and interest is accrued at the full rate while you are at university and tapered afterwards). Others support raising the interest rate as more progressive than other possible changes (because only the graduates who are better paid will repay it).
  • Others focus on the thresholds, noting that in a sweeping and hugely expensive gesture Theresa May increased the cost to the government by raising it and it has continued to rise since. Recent suggestions in this area include the LE analysis released by student unions last week suggesting that reducing the threshold might pay for a cash grant to students affected by COVID. Others call for it to fall.
  • Lengthening the repayment term to 40 from 30 years was one of the Augar ideas said to be under consideration by the government and another option considered in the students union analysis.

HEPI’s policy note  No easy answers: English student finance and the spending review  looks at modelling for three options – removing real interest charges, increasing the repayment period and reducing the repayment threshold. They start by noting an important fact which has a major impact on all the arguments in this area:

  • Repayments vary substantially by gender – due to the graduate gender pay gap – with male former students repaying just under £35,000 on average while female former students repay just over £13,000. This indicates that an increase in repayments will often affect women proportionately more.”

Highlights:

  • Removing the real rate of interest: .. Abolishing the real rate of interest… would have an annual cost of £1.2 billion. The impact would be regressive, helping only the best-paid graduates. .. It would also benefit men, whose repayments would fall by an average of £6,400, more than women, whose repayments would fall by £1,300.
  • Extending the repayment period from 30 years to 35 years: … Extending the repayment period would have no impact on graduates with the lowest incomes, who would continue to repay nothing, nor on graduates with the highest incomes, who would continue to repay their entire loan balance before even the original 30 years had elapsed. However, it would affect those in between. … we have modelled the more modest change of an increase to 35 years. This offers a saving of just under £1 billion and reduces the RAB charge by around four percentage points to 50%. [there is not much more said about that middle group – but there is on Wonkhe]
  • Reducing the repayment threshold to match the repayment threshold for pre-2012 student loans (from £26,575 to £19,390): … would reduce the cost of one cohort of students by almost £3.8 billion, split by £2.2 billion less on tuition fee loan write offs and £1.6 billion less on maintenance loan write offs. This would have the impact of reducing the loan write off (the RAB charge) from 54% to 33%, … It would also reduce the proportion of former students who do not repay their entire loan from close to nine-in-ten (88%) people to three-quarters (76%), as well as reduce the proportion who never repay a penny by more than half from 33% to 16%. Both male and female graduates would repay an average of around £10,000 more.

Which just goes to show how complicated it is.  Reducing the threshold – on the face of it not a popular solution – may be the fairest (of these options) in the long term.  Jim Dickinson for Wonkhe last week noted another counter-intuitive angle from the earlier LE work, that increasing interest rates after graduation (removing the taper) would be more progressive than increasing the term of the loan or reducing the threshold. This week Jim comments on the HEPI report for Wonkhe and addresses that middle group who are impacted by the extension of the repayment term by looking back at the students’ union work:

  • when those students’ unions asked LE to model a 36 year term a few weeks back, the resource transfer from graduates in the future to now would make middle-income male graduates £3,000 worse off, with higher-earning female graduates up to £11,000 worse off. In this scenario there’s a significant detrimental impact on the “typical” graduate and a relatively minimal impact on the highest earning male graduates”

Until we see what the government has in mind, this is a debate that will run and run.

The Student Loans Company published new statistics on loan outlays, repayments of loans and borrower activity on Thursday.

Foundation Years

Michelle Donelan responds to a parliamentary question about foundation years (which the current Government has previously criticised):

  • We recognise that foundation years can play an important role in enabling students with lower prior attainment, potentially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to access high tariff provision. We also recognise their role in allowing students to switch subjects. Some universities are already using high-quality foundation years in ways which provide good value for these students, and we are pleased to support such universities.
  • We are committed to ensuring that all foundation years continue to provide good value for money and provide a distinct benefit to students.
  • We plan to consult on further reforms to the higher education system, including the treatment of foundation years, in summer 2021, before setting out a full response to the report and final conclusion to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding alongside the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

The subtext to her response seems to be that the Government intend to only support (fund?) foundation years for in very limited circumstances.

Mature Students

The OfS published their May insight brief:  Improving opportunity and choice for mature studentsIt has some interesting insights.

Graduate outcomes

The Government have today published the latest graduate, postgraduate and non-graduate employment rates and earnings for England.

  • Graduates and postgraduates continue to have higher employment rates than non-graduates. However, employment rates for working-age graduates, postgraduates and non-graduates alike were slightly lower in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • In 2020, the employment rate for working-age graduates – those aged 16 to 64 – was 86.4%, down 1.1 percentage points from 2019 (87.5%). For working-age postgraduates the employment rate was 88.2%, for non-graduates it was 71.3%; these data represent falls of 0.5 and 0.7 percentage points from 2019, respectively.
  • 66% of working-age graduates were in high-skilled employment, compared with 78.4% of postgraduates and 24.5% of non-graduates. The graduate rate increased 0.4 percentage points in 2019. The rate for non-graduates was 0.6 percentage points lower than in 2019 while for postgraduates it was 0.5 percentage points down on the previous year.
  • The median salary for working-age graduates was £35,000 in 2020. This was £9,500 more than non-graduates (£25,500) but £7,000 less than postgraduates (£42,000).

At the end of May the DfE analysed Post-16 education and labour market activities, pathways and outcomes (LEO) considering the effects of socioeconomic, demographic and education factors.

The real point is that pathways are diverse.  Given that the government seems to imply that, for HE at least, courses “always” lead to employment in a related field, the data is fascinating.  The key recommendation is do more analysis, especially on intersectional issues.

  • For the 3.6 million individuals taking their GCSEs between 2002 and 2007 there are over 262,000 different pathways. Of these, almost 168,000 pathways are unique, i.e. each only observed for a single individual. Whilst the complexity of pathways is perhaps not surprising, clear and robust evidence on their sheer diversity did not previously exist.
  • Figure 1 shows the 50 most common education and labour market pathways of all those in the sample, representing just under a third (31%) of all individuals
  • Individuals from certain ethnic groups, who have a special education need, have poorer GCSE attainment (at KS4), are from a lower socioeconomic background or attended a state-funded (non-selective) school have worse labour market outcomes than those from more “advantaged” comparator sub-groups. 
  • Higher levels of education lead to better labour market outcomes, for all sub-groups examined and at all levels of qualification…:
    • Higher proportions of individuals completing a degree are in employment, having higher average earnings than those without a degree and with lower proportions claiming out of work benefits.
    • Similarly, for those without a degree, individuals achieving a level 3 qualification are more likely to be employed, earn more when employed and are less likely to claim out of work benefits than those achieving level 2 or below as their highest qualification level.

Outreach: UUK have published a new collection of case studies showcasing outreach style interventions with Year 13s who will transition to HE in the autumn to help bridge the pandemic’s disruption to their recent schooling.

Constituency boundaries

After the last attempt to review constituency boundaries, which would have reduced the number of MPs at Westminster from 650 to 600 was abandoned, another review was planned, and the new proposals have now gone live. As the HoC Library research briefing just out says:

  • The 2013 Review was abandoned in January 2013 before final recommendations were produced. The 2018 Review was completed by all four Commissions and their reports were handed to the Government but was not implemented.
  • In March 2020, the Government announced that it no longer favoured the reduction in the number of seats in the House of Commons to 600. Instead it would introduce a new bill to fix the number at 650. One reason given is that following the UK’s exit from the European Union, MPs will have greater workloads.
  • In 2020, Parliament agreed the new legislation. This fixed the number of seats at 650 and cancelled the 2018 Review.
  • Other changes included allowing for reviews every eight years, instead of five, and moving public hearings to later in the consultation process. The most controversial change was to how a review is implemented – it is now automatic (see more below).
  • Some changes from 2011 were kept. The seats for the four nations of the UK are still allocated by calculating the proportion of the electorate in each. For example, England has 84% of registered voters so it was allocated 84% (543) of the seats for the 2023 Review.
  • The 5% rule remains the primary rule….

The proposals for England are open for consultation until 2nd August 2021.  Last time there were sweeping changes to local boundaries, including merging Christchurch into Bournemouth East and leaving Sir Christopher Chope with no seat, and making consequential changes to Bournemouth West.  This time, as you can see (red is new, blue is existing) the BCP changes are much less significant, with the real changes confined to Mid Dorset and North Poole.  These changes to MDNP are not dissimilar to the ones proposed last time, extending the constituency across a large swathe of Dorset north and West of Wimborne and including the whole of Wareham.  As such, they are likely to be less controversial locally (our local MPs were not impressed last time) but a quick look on twitter suggests that they will be contested in other parts of the country.  There will be more English MPs and fewer in Scotland, Wales and the North.  It is already being called gerrymandering.

You can explore the interactive map by postcode or region here.

The process will be long – and will be implemented at the next General Election after they are adopted, expected to be towards the end of 2023.  As the government in the Queen’s Speech announced that they intend to revoke the Fixed Term Parliaments Act we can’t be sure when the next election will be.

The FT cover the article here (BU staff can use their BU email address to access the FT online), reflecting views on the impact on the changes:

  • Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde university, said the electoral impact of the 2023 boundary review would be limited as a result of population and political shifts over the past decade, with cities expanding and towns shrinking.
  • Lord Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer and polling expert, said the net benefit to the Tories would be between five to 10 seats in total.
  • Several high-profile MPs — including defence secretary Ben Wallace, whose Wyre and Preston North constituency is subsumed into the surrounding area — are expected to lose their seats. The seats of Matt Hancock, health secretary, and Gavin Williamson, education secretary, are also set to disappear.

Equality and Diversity – student data

The Office for Students has issued Equality, diversity and student characteristics data – Students at English higher education providers between 2010-11 and 2019-20.  There is an updated dashboard to illustrate the data.

International

Parliamentary Question: Graduate entrepreneurs (international):  increasing the number of graduate entrepreneurs by amending legislation to (a) encourage and (b) allow international students to be self-employed.

Response: Students can switch into the Graduate or Start-up routes once they have completed their studies; self-employment is permitted under each of these routes. The Graduate route, which launches on 1 July, enables students who successfully complete an eligible qualification to stay and work or look for work for two years (three for PhD students), including self-employment. Those on the Graduate route who establish an innovative, viable and scalable business will be able to switch into the Innovator route subject to securing the required endorsement from a relevant endorsing body. Students can also switch into the Start-up route. The Start-up route is reserved for early-stage, high-potential entrepreneurs starting an innovative, viable and scalable business in the UK for the first time. The restrictions on employment whilst studying on the Student route are designed to ensure their primary purpose for being in the UK is to study as indicated, rather than to work.

Asia Spotlight: Last week’s Times Higher Education (THE) update focussed on learning across Asia. You can find many of the articles the emailed update covered on the main THE site. You’ll need to register with your BU email address to view the full articles. You can access it from: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?authtype=ip,shib&custid=s7547708&direct=true&db=edspub&AN=edp67121&site=eds-live&scope=site or contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

Chinese research collaborations: Dods and The Telegraph covered new research from the Tory bankbencher China Research Group (CRG) on research and funding partnerships between UK HEIs and China. Details and the research data here.  The CRG finds that 20 UK HEIs have collectively accepted more than £40m in funding from Huawei and selected state-owned Chinese companies in recent years.

Culture wars

The culture war has become even more ridiculous this week.  Some sections of the press and various ministers find something to be irate about (usually on the basis of incomplete information) and social media goes mad; various unrelated individuals receive horrific abuse on social media and another myth becomes part of the tapestry of anti-university rhetoric to be cited regularly whenever there is an opportunity.

This week it was the decision of the graduate common room (the MCR, or middle common room) at Magdalen College Oxford, who decided to take down a photo of the Queen. It turns out that this is not really comparable to the removal of the Rhodes statue at Oriel, which would, whatever you think about the statue or its connotations, be a big physical change to a historic building.

Declaring an interest and speaking as a Magdalen alumna (although I think I have only been in the MCR twice), Jane supports the view of the Magdalen College President, as set out in this twitter thread.  Plus, really, storms in teacups or what.  The main lesson for this seems to be not to put pictures on your walls.  You might offend someone putting them up, and you are bound to offend someone if you later take them down.

Of course, the protest isn’t really about the photo, it is about the reasons allegedly given.  Those offended by discussions about safe spaces and decolonisation have been triggered.  That is an issue that the Secretary of State and the Universities Minister feel strongly about.

The other culture war example this week has been about historic (racist and sexist) statements by a cricket player, who is now probably wondering whether he should be pleased that he is being defended by the PM.   Free speech is good…but only if it is the right sort, made in the right circumstances?  Ministers have been careful in their choice of words.  GW said the students’ decision was “absurd”.  Michelle Donelan, commenting on the decision of some staff to withdraw voluntary labour because of the decision not to remove the Rhodes statue, said it was “ridiculous”.  Have they moved consciously from harsh criticism of the sector to ridicule?  Or is it a coincidence?  We live in strange times, and we’re all conspiracy theorists now.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

  • DCMS Safety of journalists: call for evidence closes 11:45pm on 14 July 2021
  • Racial and ethnic stereotyping in advertising – Advertising Standards Authority consultation on establishing whether and, if so, to what extent racial and ethnic stereotypes, when featured in ads, may contribute to real world harms, for example, unequal outcomes for different racial and ethnic groups. Link: Advertising Standards Authority closes: 30 June 2021
  • The Intellectual Property Office has opened a consultation on the UK’s future regime for the exhaustion of intellectual property rights which will underpin the UK’s system of parallel trade. Closes: 31 August 2021, link: Intellectual Property Office

Other news

Graduate Outcomes: Wonkhe analyse a new report from HESA adds to the recent growth in literature about “good jobs” by proposing a Graduate Outcomes based measure of the “design and nature” of the jobs graduates in employment do…  brings an important new perspective to the current debate about graduate jobs. David Kernohan finds it more than “decent”.

Diversity: Research Professional report that the proportion of staff at the Office for Students from an ethnic minority background has reached 10 per cent, a 1 percentage point increase on last year but still “considerably lower” than the student population

Net Zero: The Campaign for Learning published Racing to Net Zero The role of post-16 education and skills. It considers how post-16 education and skills policy can support the UK in reaching the net zero targets and beyond. Points raised in developing a post-16 education and skills response include:

  • The need to differentiate between green jobs and green skills within existing jobs. The post-16 education and skills system will need to respond to both.
  • Upskilling and reskilling to meet the transition to Net Zero is not the sole domain of Level 4-8 Higher Education. Upskilling and reskilling at Level 3 and below will also be required to meet the needs of green jobs and green skills for existing jobs.
  • The government cannot rely solely on apprenticeships for upskilling and reskilling at Level 3 and Level 2 for green jobs. As apprenticeships are employer employer-driven, levy payers may wish to fund non-green jobs through apprenticeships.
  • The need for data on the proportion of green gig jobs as a share of green jobs that will be created. Green gig jobs with insecure income may not be as attractive to young people and adults. Insecure incomes may also prevent young people and adults from upskilling and reskilling if they need to put earning before learning.
  • The need to follow the lead of providers developing strategies to embed education for sustainable development in Level 2 to Level 6 qualification and academic and vocational courses (including T levels and Higher Technical Qualifications).
  • Understanding the role of whole institution strategies for transitioning to Net Zero. Institutions in the post-16 sector are already implementing strategies that cover decarbonising estates, incorporating education for sustainable development in teaching and learning, and providing a voice for learners of all ages to initiate change to reduce global warming.

STEM girls: Teach First published STEMinism: One year on. The paper marks the first anniversary of the publication of their report Missing Elements, in which they set out why it’s a problem that so few girls and women choose STEM routes, as well as some of the measures that could help schools increase the diversity of take-up.

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External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 3rd June 2021

A short update this week in a short week – but we know you’d miss it if we didn’t do an update.  And it’s an interesting one, with gossip and rebellion, and some hard(ish) data too.

Staff changes

It was announced after we published last week that Chris Millward would not be staying on at the OfS as Director for Fair Access and Participation when his contract ends in December.  No reasons are given, but it prompted Research Professional to speculate about Nicola Dandridge’s future as her contract also ends then.  These are political appointments – as RP point out, Chris was appointed in 2017 by then education secretary Justine Greening, then universities minister Jo Johnson and then OfS chair Michael Barber.  Times (and ministers) have changed a lot since then.

Of course there have also been rumours about changes at ministerial level too.  Only recently there was a story about a possible imminent reshuffle (which didn’t happen) in which more women would be promoted, and we have seen stories that Michelle Donelan is tipped for promotion. Meanwhile the Mail reported in April that Gavin Williamson was “desperately pleading” to be reshuffled into the chief whip position.  And that was before this week’s news on catch up funding for schools.

Given that new appointees to all these posts are likely to be very much “party line” people, and the new Chair of the OfS is already in place and setting the tone for the regulator, it would be surprising if changes made a big difference to HE policy.  But we might hope for a change in tone and better communications strategies.  Fewer emails late at night on a Friday, for example.

Development budget rebellion

We haven’t had a good parliamentary bust-up for a while.  Not that we are missing evenings in front of Parliament TV trying to work out how many rebels it would take to pass the various motions on Brexit.  Honestly, we don’t miss it.

The news today was full of a rebellion among conservative MPs over the cuts in the aid budget.  The MPs are using an amendment to the ARIA bill, which starts its report stage on Monday, to reinstate the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid.  These sorts of hijacks are rarely successful, partly because to be successful the speaker would first have to select the amendment, which they often don’t in these circumstances because it is deemed to be “outside the scope” of the bill or because it reopens an issue that has been discussed before in another more appropriate context.  But these sorts of parliamentary shenanigans do sometimes encourage the government to promise a rethink rather than risk a very embarrassing defeat in the House of Commons.  Note local MP Tobias Ellwood, who has been vocal on this issue, is among the rebels with his name on the amendment.

If you are interested, the amendment papers are here (they are likely to be updated before Monday) and as well as the aid one, include amendments about ARIA being carbon neutral, one about Ministerial conflicts of interest in financial matters and one reversing the proposal in the Bill that ARIA should be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and public procurement rules.

Fees, funding and rebates

Augar implementation: Following our coverage over the last couple of weeks on rumours about changes to the fees and funding architecture in England and in particular, the focus on the link between outcomes and funding (see more below on outcomes). HEPI has a blog on “mapping the policy influence of Augar”.  There are some lovely clear graphics which highlight, through their traffic light colour scheme, where government has been focussing.  Not on HE.  Yet.

  • The analysis highlights that the Government has responded in full to 21% (11) of the recommendations with partial responses to a further 30% (16) of them. This leaves 49% (26) that have yet to responded to in public at this current time. When you combine the yes and positive responses you see that we have a slim majority of recommendations that have received some form of response in a policy or practical manner.   

Rebates: The Students’ Unions at LSE and Sheffield University have been leading a campaign for students to receive a rebate for tuition fees for this year.  You can read their letter to Gavin Williamson here.   They commissioned London Economics to review the options.  You can see the analysis here.  It’s complicated, and there are lots of scenarios.  Note that if the rumours are true (see last week’s policy update) and the government are already looking at changing repayment terms to improve their bottom line, adopting these solutions to “pay” for a rebate would reduce their wiggle room to use it to pay for other things.  And one option is increasing the interest rate, when as we reported, there are lots of people arguing to reduce it.

The costs:

  • A notional 30% rebate represents approximately £1.39 billion. Of this total, approximately £0.88 billion is associated with students commencing their studies while £0.51 billion is associated with continuing students.
  • Illustrating the per student estimates, the rebate for a full-time undergraduate and postgraduate international students were estimated to be between £5,200 and £5,300 each.
  • The corresponding estimates for full-time postgraduate English domiciled and EU-domiciled students attending English higher education providers were estimated to be £2,100 and £2,300 respectively.
  • Although eligible for student support (and hence considered in detail in the remainder of the presentation), a 30% rebate for full time English-domiciled and EU-domiciled undergraduate students studying in England corresponds to £2,700 per student (and would total approximately £1.1 billion for all full-time and part-time 1st year students and £1.9 billion for full-time and part-time continuing students).

Some interesting facts:

  • Under the current funding system in 2020-21 (i.e. the Baseline), the Exchequer contributes approximately £10.656bn per cohort to the funding of higher education. In terms of constituent components, given that the RAB charge (i.e. the proportion of the total loan balance written off) stands at approximately 53.9%, maintenance loan write-offs cost the Exchequer £4.019bn per cohort, while tuition fee loan write-offs cost £5.395bn per cohort. The provision of Teaching Grants to higher education institutions (for high-cost subjects) results in additional costs of £1.242bn per cohort.
  • Higher education institutions receive approximately £11.147bn per cohort in net income, made up of approximately £10.093bn in tuition fee income (from undergraduate students), as well as £1.242bn in Teaching Grant income. Against this, institutions contribute approximately £189 million per cohort in fee and maintenance bursaries (predominantly the latter) in exchange for the right to charge tuition fees in excess of the ‘Basic Fee’ (£6,165 per annum for full-time students).
  • From the perspective of students/graduates, the average debt on graduation (including accumulated interest) was estimated to be £47,000 (for full-time undergraduate degree students), while the average lifetime repayments made stood at £34,800 for male graduates and £13,100 for female graduates.
  • We estimate that approximately 88.2% of all graduates never repay their full loan by the end of the repayment period, while 33.0% never make any loan repayment.

Their conclusions:

  • The core cost to the Exchequer of offering a non-means tested tuition fee grant of £2,700 to all undergraduate starting students stands at approximately £1.009 bn (Scenario 2).
  • This can be partially offset (by £782 million) by equivalently reducing tuition fee loans (Scenario 1), or totally offset by extending the repayment period to 36 years (Scenario 3); reducing the repayment threshold to £24,500 (Scenario 4); or increasing the maximum real interest rate to 6.2% (Scenario 5).
  • Depending on the option selected, there are very considerable differences on which graduates are impacted.

Wonkhe covers the proposal, with Jim Dickinson looking at how progressive the proposals are.

  • The important thing that these students’ unions have done for us, via some robust modelling, is to first remind us that maintenance really matters. Putting a cash payment in for students that would hit their actual pocket now would make lots of sense, relieve many of them of some commercial debt, and stimulate economies. And as a gesture of goodwill, it would be inherently fair.
  • But crucially, it also cleverly reminds us that in the debate about making England’s higher education system cheaper that will now follow in the run-up to the Autumn’s Augar response, there are important choices to make about the “balance” between the three options of reducing student numbers, reducing spend per head and making the scheme more efficient – and there are further important choices within “making the scheme more efficient” that would impact different graduates in different ways.
  • Above all, in this Gordian knot shapeshifter of a hybrid system that we have – which presents as a loan one minute and a graduate tax the next – it reminds us that the more we move the system “back” towards a traditional loan scheme, the more regressive such a move would be.

Graduate outcomes

The Ofs have issued new experimental data on local variations in graduate opportunities.  For those of us who have been pointing out for a while that one of the risks of using non-contextualised outcomes data is that it ignores regional differences in employment opportunity and reward, it will come as no surprise that:

  • in England, areas with highest concentration of well-paid graduates (those earning over £23,000) are London, Reading, Slough and Heathrow – where 70 per cent of graduates earn over £23,000 or are in further study three years after graduation
  • areas with the lowest earnings – where 52 per cent of graduates earn over £23,000 or are in high-level study – are mainly in the Midlands, and North and South-West England, with coastal towns facing particular challenges

So, given all this, why is the OfS proposal, energetically supported by the government, to measure quality at university by absolute measures of employment and salary?  It seems bizarre to undermine the messages about levelling up, place-based strategy and local educational needs by encouraging universities through quality measures to send as many graduates as possible away to London or other metropolitan hot spots where they will earn more?  You can explore the data using interactive maps, although they aren’t very interactive (you can zoom, in a clunky way), and hover to check your geographical knowledge.

The full report is here.  It is light on analysis, it is just a presentation of the methodology, but there is one illustration of how the data could be used:

To illustrate how the groupings could be applied, we used the LEO earnings-based grouping to dig deeper into differences in employment outcomes between black and white graduates. We found that:

  • Overall, 60 per cent of white graduates earned above the threshold (around £23,000) or were in higher-level study, compared to 57.5 per cent of black graduates.
  • However, this masks some of the difference between the groups, because black graduates were almost four times more likely to live in the areas with the highest graduate opportunity rates.
  • When only graduates living in top quintile areas were considered, 73.5 per cent of white graduates earned above the threshold or were in higher-level study, compared to 59.9 per cent of black graduates. This gap is significantly larger than the overall gap.
  • Conversely, for black and white graduates in the bottom quintile similar proportions earned above the threshold or were in higher-level study (52.1 per cent compared to 51.9 per cent).

Wonkhe have an article by David Kernohan with graphs, of course.  He starts out with a critique of the data itself and then does what you were probably already doing in your head, and visualising what happens if you overlay the locations of universities on the map.  Overall he concludes that it’s a start for a conversation.

And just because maps are fun to compare, we remind you about this HEPI report on regional policy and R&D from May.  Sadly it doesn’t have any actual maps, but it does have charts of UK R&D and regional business R&D spend (figures 8 and 9).  Not surprisingly the regions in the bottom two thirds on both these tables coincide with the big areas of red on the two previous charts.

Equality of access and outcomes in HE

So while we are on the topic of outcomes, the House of Commons Library has a new research paper on equality of access and outcomes in HE in England. These library reports are written to be politically neutral for the benefit of MPs across the House.  They contain a useful summary of the data, the policy context and a lot of useful links so are a useful reference point.  Here are some of the highlights from the executive summary:

Gender: Women are much more likely to go to university than men and have been for many years. They are also more likely to complete their studies and gain a first or upper second-class degree. However, after graduation, men are more likely to be in ‘highly skilled’ employment or further study just after graduation. Male graduate average earnings are around 8% higher than female earnings one year after graduation. This earnings gap grows substantially over their early careers and reaches 32% ten years after graduation.

Ethnicity:

  • White pupils are less likely than any other broad ethnic group to go to higher education. Pupils from Chinese, Indian and Black African backgrounds have the highest entry rates. Black Caribbean pupils have particularly low entry rates to more prestigious universities.
  • Black students are more likely to drop out from higher education than other ethnic groups and least likely to achieve a first or upper second-class degree. In contrast, White students are least likely to drop out and most likely to achieve a first or upper second-class degree.
  • White graduates have the highest employment rates of any ethnic group. Chinese, Black and graduates from ‘Other’ ethnic groups have the lowest. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean graduates earn the least, whereas Chinese, Indian and Mixed White and Asian graduates earn the most. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said subject choice is important when looking at differences in graduate earnings by ethnic group. It said Asian students tend to choose “higher-return subjects than their Black and White peers.”

Disability: Students with reported disabilities are more likely to drop out from higher education and less likely to achieve a first or upper second-class degree. Those who reported a mental health disability have the highest drop-out rates. Disabled students are also less likely to be in highly skilled employment or higher study soon after completing their first degree. Students who reported a ’social and communication’ disability (such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder) have particularly low rates.

Socio-economic status

  • Pupils eligible for free school meals are much less likely than other pupils to go into higher education, particularly to more prestigious universities. They are also almost twice as likely to drop out before the start of their second year in higher education. Graduates who were eligible for free school meals are slightly less likely to be in employment or further study and they earn around 10% less than other graduates.
  • There is a very clear pattern showing that students from areas with higher levels of deprivation are more likely to drop out of university. There are also clear links between deprivation and achievement of first or upper second-class degrees and progression to highly skilled employment or higher study. Students from areas with higher deprivation levels have poorer outcomes than those from areas with low deprivation.
  • Analysis of entry rates shows a clear link between current and past levels of higher education in the area the pupil comes from. The entry rate in the top (POLAR –‘Participation of Local Areas’) group – the areas with the highest levels of participation in the past – is more than twice that in the lowest one. There are also higher levels of drop out and poorer attainment among those from the lower POLAR areas. These students, however, have slightly higher levels of employment and/or further study, than those from higher POLAR areas. However, this does not continue to average salaries which are 16-18% higher in the top POLAR group than in the lowest one at both one year and ten years after graduation.
  • Intersectional analysis White boys eligible for free school meals are less likely to go to higher education than any other groups when analysed by gender, free school meal eligibility and broad ethnic groups. White boys who were not eligible for free meals (and hence from less disadvantaged backgrounds) are also less likely than average to go to higher education.
  • Drop-out rates are higher among minority ethnic groups (combined) than for White students and this does not change based on the level of deprivation in the local areas they come from. The gap in drop-out rates between male and female students was greater for those from more deprived areas, with male students from more deprived areas more likely to drop out.
  • White students from the lowest POLAR groups have a higher level of attainment at university than students from minority ethnic groups. This is true even for those from the top three POLAR groups (combined). The gap between male and female students was greater for those from less deprived areas.
  • The gaps in progression rates (graduates entering highly skilled employment or higher study) between White and minority ethnic students from similarly deprived areas have fallen over the past five years. Progression rates for minority ethnic students are the same for those from both higher and lower POLAR groups at around 70%. Similarly, around 70% of White students from lower POLAR groups have entered highly skilled employment or higher study. Progression rates for White students from higher POLAR groups were higher at around 74%.

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To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk. A BU email address is required to subscribe.

External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE Policy Update for the w/e 20th May 2021

The expected flurry of activity post Queen’s Speech didn’t disappoint this week. Speculation about fees and funding, the Skills Bill, an OfS quality measure (which is not going to be used for regulation, so what is it for), as the new OfS chair sets out a new list of priorities, hot on the heels of the REF submissions, a new review has been announced to consider what the next REF might look like, in parallel to the existing review of research bureaucracy, and there is more on last week’s Free Speech Bill…. and now we are allowed to sit inside with a coffee to digest it all (and given the weather, there isn’t much temptation to sit outside).  Other beverages are available, of course.

Government support for universities in the pandemic

The IFS have a report out: COVID-related spending on education in England

Research Professional report on the report:

  • It may not surprise folks in universities that higher education seems to have been the poor relation when it comes to government largesse. This is, arguably, a reversal of universities’ past relationship with the Treasury and an ominous sign of things to come.
  • ….The IFS identifies £4.3bn of the £160bn as having been spent on education in England. Of that, only £365 million has been earmarked for higher education—this does not include loans for research allocated by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
  • … Of the £365m directed towards universities, £70m has been new cash for student hardship.
  • ….Of the total earmarked for universities, £300m is for restructuring insolvent institutions, for which, as the IFS points out, the government has received no applications. As the IFS dryly puts it, this suggests that “actual spending might turn out to be quite low”. It is hard to go lower than zero, unless universities were to start paying the Department for Education for the privilege of being ignored by the government.
  • That leaves around £70m of late-in-the-day student hardship money as the only additional cash directed towards universities in England during the pandemic. As has been pointed out, that amounts to around £45 per student, which is £14.20 less than one week’s Jobseeker’s Allowance for someone under the age of 24.
  • In addition, the business department has made £280m available for research funding, £80m of which comes from elsewhere in the department’s budget due to Covid-related underspending. That £280m Sustaining University Research Expertise package went towards extensions to grants covering researcher salary costs and laboratory equipment.
  • Not included here is the amount for government loans covering non-publicly funded research, which readers will recall are tied to structural reforms in universities, such as pay cuts for senior managers. As the IFS puts it, once again, “take-up is likely to be very low”. At present, £32m is set aside for the scheme, of which £22m is for capital expenditure.
  • We also know that some universities have taken out loans from the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, jointly run with the Treasury. …These figures do not appear in the IFS analysis.
  • Then there is the furlough scheme, widely used by universities, through which £77m was spent mothballing 25,000 jobs across higher education employers. Again, these numbers are not part of the IFS calculations.

Fees and funding

After the Queen’s Speech it is not surprising that attention turned to fees and funding over the weekend.  Research Professional have good coverage of what happened: It all started on Friday, when the Conservative Home website published a lengthy blogpost by education secretary Gavin Williamson…“The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt,” Williamson writes in his piece.   For BU readers we’ve done a little summary of how we got here and what might come next.

David Kernohan from Wonkhe has a critique of the Secretary of State’s argument in this blog and looks at just one arts cohort as an example:

  • Sources close to Gavin Williamson suggest in The Sunday Times that some arts graduates earn “as little as £12,000 a year”. …. I’ve gone one better and found 20 female printmaking graduates earning a median salary of £6,200 a year after graduation. Seeing a small group median like that makes the principal flaw of LEO clear – these graduates are almost certainly working part-time. ….. And LEO does not discriminate between full and part time work.
  • Secondly, these are median values. ….The upper quartile is so much higher than the median that earnings may be substantially higher in a couple of cases – suggesting two of our talented young female printmakers had sadly given up on their dreams and gone for a “graduate job”.
  • So which of our female printmakers have hit a dead-end, a year after graduation? The four who aren’t working at all, who may be undertaking further study or making and selling art full time? The eight or so working part-time to support their art? Or the ones that have put their practice on hold (or given up entirely) to work in media sales because our society doesn’t seem to think it needs artists who can work, eat, and pay rent?
  • Should any of them not have done a degree?.  … If the post-18 review started as a way to win the hearts and minds of students and those who have students (or potential students) in their lives, it has ended in a clumsy and misguided attempt to make subjects that people want to study in their thousands economically unviable to teach. Quite what, or who, this is “levelling up” is unclear.

Research Professional continue:

  • The “nothing but debt” phrase also showed up in a Sunday Times article over the weekend. That piece claimed that in line with the recommendations of the Augar review of post-18 education funding, university tuition fees “could be cut from £9,250 to a maximum of £7,500, according to a government consultation which begins next month”. 
  • It seems that even though Augar himself appeared to disown this particular recommendation; it is far from dead in the water—as was previously thought. 
  • The Sunday Times reports: “The cost of science degrees would be topped up by extra government funding, but critics fear arts and humanities subjects, such as languages, philosophy, theology, history and creative arts, would disappear at many universities.” 
  • There is no date yet for the launch of the consultation in question, but the paper says that this follows “growing concern in the Treasury” about the affordability of the student loan scheme given that a large proportion of loans are never paid back. 

Meanwhile ex-Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, who takes a more pro-HE view in some arguments, wrote for Conservative Home on Monday morning: Student finance? It’s the interest rate, stupid. Skidmore gets to the nub of the issue quickly – that changes are coming and have to be paid for somewhere – so HEIs should get on board and place themselves well for the change. And he reminds the Government that the reason fees aren’t repaid is because the interest levels are so high. Tuition fees are a hot spot for the Government because (1) they believe(d) Labour’s no fees policies are attractive and draw voters away from the Conservatives:

  • But if we are to reduce university fees, then there is also an important policy lever which the Government should also be looking to change, which I believe would have far greater impact on individual lives— and in turn far greater support… We need to look again at the interest rate charged on student loans, which any student or parent will tell you is out of all proportion to the reality of current interest rates.

Bear in mind the cost to the public purse for tuition fees became much more of an issue when the Office for National Statistics reclassified the student debt to count it in with the Government’s debt. Prior to this Jo Johnson (ex-Universities Minister) often defended the removal of student grants by explaining that if the student didn’t benefit from their graduate education and couldn’t afford to repay their loan it was written off.  It was a deliberate, progressive subsidy, we were told.  And Jo Johnson didn’t want to restrict choice of subject either.  How things have changed.

Skidmore points out the problems with the new approach:

  • Science degrees cost more than the current £9,250 a year to provide, with most being subsidised by arts, humanities and social science degrees. Unless careful thought is given to the impact of the unit of resource, what seems an attractive headline offer might in fact backfire – especially if it results in a loss of opportunity for future students in regions of the country who find that their local university is no longer able to provide the course provision they wish, not only in the arts and humanities, but in science degrees, too.
  • In addition, out of the current fee level, universities themselves invest around over £800 million a year in improving access and participation from some of the lowest socio-economic groups to attend university. With a reduction in fees, there is also a risk that the ability to reach out to the most disadvantaged in society is also reduced.

And he tells us his ResPublica Lifelong Education Commission is looking into alternatives:

  • … we should be investigating new methods of funding reskilling and upskilling. The success of research and development tax credits in generating this activity points to an opportunity for how companies could be rewarded for investing in the human capital of their employers, especially given the opportunity to close the productivity gap that lifelong learning might offer.

Meanwhile don’t miss the comments to Skidmore’s article even if you don’t read the actual piece. Although perhaps not if you are concerned about your blood pressure.

The Skidmore article triggered some discussion within HE policy circles as it highlighted the oft ignored distinction between tuition and living cost (maintenance) loans: it is one thing to say the loan system is unaffordable, another to say it is unaffordable because too many poor students have to eat while they study. Quite timely given the NUS hardship research published this week, more on this below.

Research Professional speculate about what a fees cut would do to research prospects and the university recruitment portfolio:

  • While a tuition fee cut would mean less income for all universities, it would affect the research effort in post-1992s much less. ….Post-1992s will be badly hit by any cuts and there will be job losses, with remaining staff asked to take on more teaching. However, the islands of research excellence within them—which rely heavily on the quality-related funding they generate—will be less badly affected than in other types of university.
  • ….Russell Group universities may review their own subject mix. With little profit to be derived from classroom teaching, we could see a swing away from the heavy recruitment that has been taking place in these disciplines.
  • …The squeezed middle will be those universities that attract less quality-related and less external funding but that rely on a cross-subsidy for research from teaching. Under these circumstances, there will be pressure to both lose staff and increase teaching loads in the arts because of the fee cut, and to reduce research activity across the board because of the loss of cross-subsidy.
  • The tectonic realignment that would take place as a result of a tuition fee cut might then see greater research concentration in the big civics, with a transfer of students in the opposite direction as those universities loosen their grip on undergraduate recruitment, once more looking to manage reputation and league table position through quality rather than quantity of applicants.
  • ….The big implication here is that the wider research effort in English universities would take a significant knock. Surely this is the opposite of what the government intends through an innovation-led form of levelling up and post-Covid recovery—so much for being a scientific superpower.

The article then goes on to highlight how the student experience wouldn’t necessarily be better nor would students repay their loans more frequently nor quicker. It is worth a read.

Research

Future Research Assessment: UKRI have launched the Future Research Assessment Programme:

  • This significant piece of work will… explore possible approaches to the assessment of UK higher education research performance.
  • Through dialogue with the higher education sector, the programme seeks to understand what a healthy, thriving research system looks like and how an assessment model can best form its foundation. The work strands include evaluation of the REF 2021, understanding international research assessment practice, as well as investigating possible evaluation models and approaches, looking to identify those that can encourage and strengthen the emphasis on delivering excellent research and impact, and support a positive research culture, while simplifying and reducing the administrative burden on the HE sector.
  • This programme of work is expected to conclude by late 2022.

Details – the international advisory group and their terms of reference; the programme board and their terms of reference. Research Professional cover the announcement. While there aren’t any additional details, their content explores the panel and talks about the review.

Horizon Europe: The European Scrutiny Select Committee have requested the Government explain how Horizon Europe will be funded. Press release, report document, committee information.

  • It is estimated that UK association with Horizon Europe would require a financial contribution of £12.7 bn. for the seven years from 2021 to 2027 inclusive. This is a gross figure, before deducting items such as any subsequent inflow of funds back from Horizon into UK scientific projects.
  • UK scientific researchers have expressed concerns that the government might expect much of this funding to come from existing domestic research budgets.
  • The government has made proposals to pay towards some of the costs of Horizon Europe, but not all of them. The European Scrutiny Committee has therefore written to the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway MP, seeking clarity on the government’s proposals. The Committee asked if the Minister could please tell them how the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe would be funded [within 10 days].
  • So no new news but pressure to reveal plans builds within parliament.

Quick News

  • The International Energy Agency (IEA) launched a landmark special report, setting out the world’s first comprehensive roadmap for the global energy system to rapidly boost clean energy deployment and reduce fossil fuel usage. Contact us if you’d like a summary.
  • The BEIS Committee held a session on levelling up and the post-pandemic recovery. The first session covered the industrial strategy, the definition of levelling and key metrics and related policies. The second session focussed on the Government’s industrial decarbonisation strategy and wider decarbonisation issues. Contact us if you would like to read a summary of the session.
  • Record numbers of trademark and registered design applications have been made post-Brexit. There was a dip in numbers at the outset of Covid in spring 2020 but numbers grew substantially by summer 2020.
  • Parliamentary Question: Encouraging international students to complete their PhD in the UK.
  • Research Professional have a blog Know your Audience explaining how to tailor research grant applications to achieve success.
  • COP26 President Alok Sharma speech: The vital role of the academic community in delivering COP26 aims.
  • The Royal Society have set out twelve critical technologies and research areasthat should be prioritised in national roadmaps for achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions. The new briefing reports aim to rapidly accelerate research, investment and deployment in areas that will become increasingly important across the next 30 years.
  • Kit Malthouse, Home Office Minister of State for Crime and Policing, has published a written ministerial statement announcing the Appointment of the Forensic Science Regulator, Gary Pugh OBE.
  • The National Centre for Universities and Business has published a report on the impact of COVID on business R&D. It specifically investigates the impact on businesses’ R&D and innovation activities and their collaborations with universities.
  • Societal impact: A longitudinal research studywill follow babies born in the 2020s over many decades aiming to understand how societal circumstances and events affect them. A £3 million investment, made by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, will allow UCL and other researchers to develop a two-year-long birth cohort feasibility study.  This study will develop and test the design, methodology and viability of a full-scale Early Life Cohort Study that is likely to follow participants for more than 70 years, starting from 2024.
  • Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has appointedVikas Shah and Stephen Hill as non-executive board members at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. They will help to steer the board “as BEIS navigates key issues including the economic recovery from coronavirus [and] efforts to combat climate change and promote science, research and innovation”. There will be another competition in the summer to appoint a board member to lead on energy and climate change policy.
  • Turing Fellowships – the Government has published guidanceon the Turing AI Fellowships, (£46 million initiative aimed at attracting and maintaining the best talent in artificial intelligence).  The full document, including the Turing AI Fellows supported by funding from the UK government, can be accessed here.

Parliamentary News

You can read the full text of the Queen’s speech debate relating to education: A Brighter Future for the Next Generation.

Labour confirmed their shadow line up for Education:

  • Shadow Education Secretary: Kate Green
  • Peter Kyle (Schools)
  • Matt Western (Universities)
  • Toby Perkins (Apprenticeships & life-long learning)
  • Tulip Siddiq (Children & Early Years)
  • Child Poverty Strategy – Wes Streeting

Here is the new Scottish Government Cabinet:

  • Nicola Sturgeon – First Minister
  • John Swinney – Deputy First Minister
  • Kate Forbes – Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy
  • Humza Yousaf – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
  • Shirley-Anne Somerville – Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
  • Michael Matheson – Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport
  • Keith Brown – Cabinet Secretary for Justice
  • Shona Robison – Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
  • Angus Robertson – Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
  • Mairi Gougeon – Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has been introduced  – it will be starting its journey in the House of Lords. We are waiting for a date for the second reading (this is when the actual debate and discussion of the Bill begins); it probably won’t be discussed until June. The Bill will cover:

  • local skills improvement plans;
  • further education;
  • the functions of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and relating to technical education qualifications;
  • to make provision about student finance and fees;
  • to make provision about assessments by the Office for Students;
  • to make provision about the funding of certain post-16 education or training providers.

Here is the Government’s press release:  New legislation to help transform opportunities for all – The Skills and post-16 Education Bill will support vital reforms to post-16 education so more people can gain the skills needed to secure great jobs.

You can read the full text of the Bill, the accompanying explanatory notes and the impact assessment. Or the shorter version is that the Bill provisions currently:

  • Provide for a statutory underpinning for local skills improvement plans, introducing a power for the Secretary of State for Education to designate employer representative bodies to lead the development of the plans with duties on providers to co-operate in the development of and then have regard to the plans

The key policy objectives of local skills improvement plans, as part of the Skills Accelerator, are to:

  • Enable employers to clearly articulate the priority strategic changes they think are required to technical skills provision in a local area to make it more responsive to the skills needs.
  • Enable a process whereby FE providers respond better collectively to the labour market skills needs in their area.

To frame this policy intent in legislation, the Bill measure focuses on:

  • giving the Secretary of State the ability to designate employer-representative bodies (ERBs) to develop local skills improvement plans, ensuring ERBs have regard to written guidance and providing them with the necessary influence to develop local skills improvement plans; and
  • requiring providers to co-operate with the ERB in developing the local skills improvement plan and have due regard to this when considering their technical education and training offer
  • Introduce a duty for all further education corporations, sixth form college corporations and designated institutions to review how well the education or training provided by the institution meets local needs, and assess what action the institution might take to ensure it is best placed to meet local needs. This places a duty for all governing bodies to keep their provision under review to ensure that they are best placed to meet the needs of the local area. This duty will form part of college planning from academic year 2022/23…
  • Introduce additional functions to enable the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (“the Institute”) to define and approve new categories of technical qualifications that relate to employer-led standards and occupations in different ways, and to have an oversight role for the technical education offer in each occupational route, including mechanisms to manage proliferation.
  • Ensure that the Institute and the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (“Ofqual”) maintain a streamlined collaborative system for approval and regulation of technical qualifications.
  • Giving the Institute powers to determine new qualification categories and approve qualifications against associated criteria in the future….Putting the mechanisms in place to ensure the qualifications market delivers high quality technical qualifications based on employer-led standards and employer demand.
  • Giving the Institute powers that could allow it to charge for approval and to manage proliferation.
  • Introduce specific provision reflecting lifelong learning entitlement policy which aims to make it easier for adults and young people to study more flexibly – allowing them to space out their studies, transfer credits between institutions, and take up more part-time study. The proposed legislation modifies the existing regulation-making powers in the Teaching and Higher Education Act (THEA) 1998 so as to:
  • make specific provision for funding of modules of higher education and further education courses, and the setting of an overall limit to funding that learners can access over their lifetime,
  • make clear that maximum amounts for funding can be set other than in relation to an academic year.
  • Enable the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations for the purpose of securing or improving the quality of Further Education (“FE”) initial teacher training;
  • Reinforce the Office for Students’ ability to assess the quality of higher education providers in England, and make decisions on compliance and registration by reference to minimum requirements for quality. [we’ll talk more about this in the section on OfS priorities below]
  • Enable the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations to provide for a list of post-16 education or training providers, in particular Independent Training Providers (“ITPs”), to indicate which providers have met conditions that are designed to prevent or mitigate risks associated with the disorderly exit of a provider from the provision of education and training.
  • Extend statutory intervention powers applicable to further education corporations, sixth form college corporations and designated institutions under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. This measure will enable the Secretary of State for Education to intervene where there has been a failure to meet local needs, and to direct structural change where that is required to secure improvement (such as mergers); and
  • Make amendments to clarify and improve the operation of the FE insolvency regime for further education bodies, relating to the use of company voluntary arrangements, transfer schemes and the designation of institutions.

Wonkhe have a blog picking out matters to note within the Bill – it dismisses the Bill as poorly thought out and without substance. The first comment to the blog (Phil Berry) makes a really important point on the lifelong learning funding– For this to truly work there needs to be a complete rethink of how student funding works with the removal of the distinctions between full-time and part-time and a move to a credit based system. It seems to be a bolt-on at the moment.

More OfS priorities

The new chair of the OfS spoke at a UUK meeting.  You can read the press release here and the full speech here. He set out four key principles:

  • nobody with the talent to benefit from higher education should find that their background is a barrier to their success
  • higher education students from all backgrounds and on all courses should expect a high quality experience, and that high academic standards must be maintained
  • universities must continue to take urgent steps to tackle harassment on campus
  • we should, as an efficient and effective regulator, take steps to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden wherever we can

On widening participation, he said this is key to the levelling up agenda.  You’ll recognise a theme here from a few years ago when there were thoughts of making school sponsorship mandatory…where is this going now?

  • Universities, working with schools, …. need to continue to reach out – especially to those towns and coastal communities where people feel forgotten – and to show people there that university is for them too. By casting their nets wide, searching for talent where opportunity may be in short supply, universities have the power to transform lives. And universities have a critical role in developing that talent also, doing the hard graft with schools and pupils to drive up attainment and achievement from an early age.

On quality, he promised the outcome of the quality consultation shortly.  As expected, quality is defined by outcomes (specifically, employment outcomes) and continuation, and they are “sharpening their regulatory tools”.  That may be a reference to the Skills Bill, which apparently is going to give them new powers to enforce their quality framework.  [In the meantime, the OfS have launched their new metric which uses, guess what, continuation and employment outcomes to provide a single combined score (called, creatively, “Proceed”) – see more in the separate section below.]

  • Let me be clear though. Broadening access to university cannot be done by lowering standards. I do not accept the argument that levelling up can involve any reduction in the academic excellence and rigour of which our higher education sector is rightly proud. It is incumbent on our universities to play their part in raising standards and attainment both at the point of access and throughout the higher education experience.
  • ….When students do begin their degrees, they are right to expect that they will receive high quality teaching and a springboard to a good career. Education for its own sake is to be commended and protected, but in doing so we should recognise that – for most students – securing a rewarding career is one of the most important factors in deciding what, where and how to study.
  • While most higher education teaching in England is good or excellent, good quality is not universal. Nobody embarks on a degree expecting to drop out, or to find themselves no better off months – or even years – after they graduate. Courses with high drop out rates and low progression to professional employment let students down, and we shouldn’t be reticent in saying so, or taking action.
  • …Most universities and other higher education providers offer good quality provision. Many will comfortably out-perform any numerical baselines we set – and will see regulatory burden fall as a result. But, where standards slip we stand ready to intervene. We will set out our next steps on quality shortly, sharpening our regulatory tools as necessary to address these issues and help ensure that students can count on good quality higher education.

[Just to finish the point on the Skills Bill, the relevant bit is section 17:

In section 23 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (assessing the quality of, and the standards applied to, higher education), at the end insert—

“(4) The factors that may be taken into account for the purposes of an assessment…. of the quality of higher education provided by an institution include the student outcomes of the institution.

(5) The student outcomes of an institution may be measured by any means (whether qualitative or quantitative) that the OfS considers appropriate, including by reference to the extent to which—

(a) persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution continue to undertake that course, or another course at the same or a similar level, after a period of time,

(b) persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution are granted an award of a particular description by that institution,

(c) persons who are granted an award by the institution undertake further study of a particular description, or

(d) persons who are granted an award by the institution find employment of a particular description by virtue of that award.

(6) The OfS may, from time to time, determine and publish a minimum level in relation to a measure of student outcomes which all institutions to whom the measure is applicable are expected to meet.

(7) The OfS is not required to determine and publish different minimum levels in relation to a measure of student outcomes in order to reflect differences in—

(a) particular student characteristics; (b) the particular institution or type of institution which is  providing higher education;

(c) the particular higher education course or subject being studied;

(d) any other such factor. …

So we get to harassment. He talked about the new statement of expectations and promised, to look at options for making compliance a regulatory condition.  He did not mention freedom of speech (strange, for such a topical issue and with the OfS being promised sweeping new powers in the new Bill).  He did, however, reconfirm the position on anti-Semitism:

  • One straightforward action to take is for all universities to sign up to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The definition is important in helping us all to interpret and understand antisemitism and I strongly urge any university that hasn’t signed up to do so without delay. Those universities that have signed up must – of course – continue to be alert to antisemitic incidents and have clear measures in place to ensure that Jewish students are free to study and enjoy university life without fear of harassment.

And so to bureaucracy.

  • Reducing unnecessary burden will be a priority for me. [This one is a stretch when the new quality regime proposed onerous new data and reporting requirements, the Freedom of Speech Bill sets up another layer of reporting and monitoring and we are about to be consulted on the next iteration of the TEF.  While the TEF is going to be better than it might have been (no subject level) it will be mandatory and demanding to complete.]
  • We need to get the balance right between ensuring students and taxpayers enjoy the benefits of regulation without universities experiencing an overly bureaucratic process that detracts from their core purpose – delivering excellent teaching and research. [I guess it’s all about perspective – if it’s necessary and beneficial, then it doesn’t matter if, in fact, it increases the overall burden].
  • … as a first step, we will publish next week the details of a new key performance measure that will set out transparently whether our work is reducing or increasing reducing regulatory burden. [Well, that’s ok then].

So with this in mind, Nicola Dandridge (CEO of the OfS) has blogged about their approach to managing the regulatory burden.  She says that they are committed to getting the balance right between the benefits and burden of regulatory and that [be prepared to find some of these underwhelming…]:

  • producing plans for each of the last two years has imposed significant administrative burden. Data released today shows no reduction in burden at this stage. However, this will change in future as we have increased the length of access and participation plans to five years
  • we have reduced our data requirements. We now no longer require data about estates or non-academic staff, and providers were required to submit at most 15 data returns last year, down from 18 the year before
  • We have also successfully reduced – where appropriate – enhanced monitoring requirements. There were a total of 468 conditions subject to enhanced monitoring across all providers in March 2020, and we reduced this to 406 in November 2020, despite increasing the number of registered providers overall.
  • we have suspended random sampling
  • ….and committed to reducing providers’ fees by 10 per cent in real terms over the next two years. Today’s measures show that the combined fees of OfS, HESA and QAA cost providers an average of less than £20 per student last year.

And – tada – the new KPI is revealed.  With only one or two years of data, the graphs are not very exciting, but you might like the ones under (4) “understanding our regulatory approach”.

  1. Submitting data and information.
  2. Complying with enhanced monitoring requirements.
  3. Developing and agreeing access and participation plans.
  4. Understanding our regulatory approach.
    • The OfS published around 420,000 words in regulatory documents in in each of the past two years. Around 60 per cent of these documents met our readability target
  5. Paying regulatory fees.
    • Providers paid an average of under £20 per student to be registered with the OfS in 2019-20 (providers registered in 2019-20 paid an average of £19.91 per student in regulatory fees) [there is a commitment to reduce fees by 10% by 2022-23]

Research Professional ran an article on the regulatory burden. Wonkhe have a blog too: The OfS measures its own regulatory burden.

Proceed: Graduate Prospects Measure

In the context of all this talk about closing down courses and capping fees, if drop out rates and employment statistics aren’t up to scratch, the OfS have published an experimental new measure through which they intend to show students’ likelihood of securing professional level employment or embarked on further study in the year after they graduate. The measure is based on projected data for full-time first degree students who complete their studies (completion rates) and the progression of recent graduates to employment, further study and other activities (graduate outcomes); for short it is called Proceed. This is the second release of the measure as the OfS has tweaked it since its first outing in December in response to cross-sector feedback.

The OfS press release states new measure shows substantial differences in likely job and study outcomes for students stating it reveals substantial differences between individual universities and other higher education providers, in different subjects, and in different subjects at individual universities. The OfS anticipates prospective students will consult the measure to make informed choices about what and where to study and they say they have no intention to use it in regulation.

We know that latter part is probably true – because this data is benchmarked, and the quality consultation and the new provisions in the Skill Bill confirm their intention to use non-benchmarked data to regulate.  So this new metric is a much softer, friendlier approach than the one we are expecting.  It also looks remarkably like something that might crop up in the new TEF – using the government’s favourite metrics and benchmarks that look a lot like TEF3.  Although this new data goes further – it is given at subject level, which the TEF apparently won’t do.

Do we get any idea about what the harder edged version might look like?  Well maybe.  50% seems to be a magic number.  Or 55%.  Or perhaps those were just picked because they illustrated the point nicely.

The accompanying press release notes:

  • significant differences in performance between different universities and colleges. The measure projects that over 75% of entrants at 22 universities and other higher education providers will go on to find professional employment or further study shortly after graduation. At 25 universities and other education providers, less than half of students who begin a degree can expect to finish that degree and find professional employment or further study within 15 months of graduation [this latter comment is a bit confusing. There aren’t 25 institutions which had below 50% scores on both metrics (because there are only 3 that don’t meet 50% on the completion one and only 5 on the progression one) but there are 25 that are under 50% for the combined Proceed metric – and nearly all of them are well over 50% the two separate metrics.  The detail matters.]
  • significant differences at a subject level. For example, 95.5% of medicine and dentistry entrants are projected to find professional employment or further study. Conversely the rates are below 55% in six subjects [again, not really accurate. If you look at the progression rates by subject there are NO subjects where the sector number is below 60%.  There are 6 subjects below 55% on the combined Proceed measure.  Those unimpressed by the SoS’s focus on “slashing” funding for media studies will note this list and also that he studied Social Sciences at Bradford (no progression data on the chart so no combined score). Also, using Medicine and Dentistry as the comparator is a misleading; it is clearly an outlier.  The next one on the list is Veterinary sciences (86.4%) and then Nursing and Midwifery at 78.6% – and again, you would expect employment rates to be high for these courses. The first subject on the list that doesn’t involved almost guaranteed progression to employment in a directly related job is Economics at 75.2%.]. The 6 subjects are: Sociology, social policy and anthropology, Agriculture, food and related studies, Business and management, Psychology, Media, journalism and communications and Sport and exercise sciences.
  • instances where there is varied performance between subjects at individual universities [Well, yes. Shall we look at the University of Oxford? Excluding Medicine and Dentistry for the reasons given above, their top overall Proceed score is 96.5% in Mathematical Sciences and their lowest is 78.8% in History and Archaeology.  The lowest score for Cambridge is for Languages (79.7%).  Proof then that the SoS is right, these subjects lead to dead end jobs, even from Oxbridge?]

As we all know, there are so many other factors that influence employment than the quality of the programme.  Who you recruit and where they come from, what they did before and where they lived before and move to afterwards.  And while on average students studying humanities may do less well in employment (on this measure) than hard science subjects, there are and will be so many individual exceptions to this – including the SoS and Minister for Universities, who are clearly not pursuing a straight line career linked to their degree subjects.  It’s so odd that the Secretary of Stage says that HE is not vocational, while championing measures that would only make sense if it was.

Commenting on the data Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

  • It is important that prospective students have access to good independent information about courses they may be interested in. The report we are publishing today provides a wealth of data which can help students decide which university, and which subject, might be right for them. In publishing this information we recognise that – for many students – finding professional employment after graduation is one of the most important reasons for going to university. But it is not the only reason, and it is important to value all the wider benefits of higher education, including the personal development, the cultural richness and exposure to different people and different perspectives that higher education offers. Nonetheless many universities make significant use of data about the employment outcomes for their graduates when marketing their courses. The publication of this independent data will provide further assistance to students in their decision-making.
  • The data reflects the fact that higher education offers good outcomes, and that graduates can expect to earn, on average, far more than non-graduates over the course of their careers. Indeed, many of the financial benefits of higher education are not realised immediately after graduation.
  • This work demonstrates the continuing priority that the OfS places on the quality of courses. The quality of higher education in England is generally high. But this data brings into sharp focus the fact that there are profound differences in outcomes for students, depending on where they study and the subject they choose. While we have no plans to use this indicator for regulatory purposes, we are determined to tackle poor quality provision which offers a raw deal for students. We are currently consulting on our approach to regulating student outcomes with a view to raising the numerical baselines we have used previously and – subject to the outcomes of the consultation – will set out next steps shortly. But good outcomes are only part of the story and we are also planning further interventions to ensure that all students have a high quality academic experience and are assessed in a rigorous way.

Hardship

NUS published research into student hardship as part of a call for an improved student support package for England. A survey conducted by NUS found that:

  • One in three students have cut back on food for lack of money
  • One in ten students have relied on food banks during the pandemic.
  • Only one in three students find that student loans cover their living costs
  • Only 15% of students have accessed hardship funding
  • 70% of students are worried about their ability to manage financially.
  • One fifth of students stated they had been unable to pay their rent since January
  • Half of the students surveyed stated the income of someone who supports them financially has been impact by Covid-19.
  • One in 10 have taken out bank loans to stay afloat.

NUS say that those most likely to report the greatest suffering are already marginalised groups such as disabled students, students of colour, international students and those with caring responsibilities.

Summer jobs: Three out of four students surveyed have a job for the summer or are looking for one. Of those looking 42% have no confidence at all they will find one.

The NUS is calling on the UK government to increase its student support offer to £700m to match the spending seen in other parts of the UK. However, even in the devolved nations where students have been offered more generous packages the picture is troubled.

Free Speech

Since the publication of the new Bill (see our update from last week) there has been a lot of discussion about it and the issues that it is intended to address.  In one of the more balanced blogs on the topic, Nick Hillman writes for Research Professional about problems both with free speech on campus and with legislation designed to protect it. There is also a HEPI blog covering the same ground: People want free speech to thrive at universities … just not for racists, Holocaust deniers or advocates of religious violence.

The content comes from HEPI polling due to be released over the next month, however, given the Bill and reinvigorated national debate HEPI (and partners UPP) have released this element of the content early. If explores public attitudes towards free speech within the HE context.

  • In principle, the public is in favour of free speech
  • When asked, a majority of people say that people should be allowed to speak to students at university so long as their views are not illegal (55%).
  • A more libertarian perspective, where nobody is prevented from speaking to students because of their opinions is less popular, with only around a quarter (24%) of the public supportive of this position.
  • When asked, based purely on that one piece of information whether in principle such a person ‘should be allowed to speak at a university’, ‘should not’, or ‘don’t know’, people’s opinions range from a net 56% in favour through to a net -49%.
  • It is worth emphasising that between 13% and 22% of respondents answered ‘don’t know’ to the scenarios, showing either the complexity of the issue or an unwillingness to give an opinion.
  • From the scenarios in the polling, the principle of allowing a Holocaust denier the right to speak at university is one of the least supported, with a net percentage of -26% thinking they should be allowed to speak (29% ‘should’, 55% ‘should not’, 16% ‘don’t know’)
  • Conservative voters are more likely to be supportive of free speech for six of the issues, with Labour voters being more supportive of four of them.
  • There are large differences between major party voters on the questions of promoting the Empire, campaigning for reduced immigration levels (although both of these record substantial positive NET scores from Labour and Conservative voters), trans issues and gay marriage.
  • Younger people are more in favour of letting some people speak than older ones (particularly around crime, and communism and Trump supporters). But they are less supportive than older people of someone’s right to speak if they promote a positive role of the empire, are against gay marriage or don’t believe trans women are women (although in each of those cases, there are net positives within all age groups).
  • When split by gender, we can see that men are consistently more pro free speech than women. Across all ten of the examples, men are more likely to want the speaker to speak (though, net, they are also against allowing Holocaust deniers, jihadi advocates and racists to speak).
  • There are limited patterns by socio economic status.
  • When looking at the responses of graduates versus non-graduates, we find that graduates are more pro free speech than non-graduates on 8 of our 10 examples – with non-graduates being more supportive of speakers defending the Empire and (more narrowly) calling for restrictions on immigration.
  • Overall, there are major lessons for both sides of the debate. It is clear that a blanket call in favour of free speech is likely to find popular support. But the real finding is that people will respond very differently depending on the circumstances of the speaker in question.

The blog has the full range of charts subdivided by other factors such as socio economic status and gender.

The OfS also published a free speech blog: Robust but civil debate: how the OfS protects free speech on campus.

  • The Office for Students (OfS) stands for the widest possible definition of free speech – anything within the law…Our starting point is that free speech and academic freedom should be part of the culture of every university and college and be proactively promoted. Free speech and academic freedom are essential elements of higher education teaching and research; they are too precious and too fragile to be taken for granted. Academic staff must be able to undertake teaching and research with confidence and speak out in controversial areas without fear that this will affect their working environment or their careers. That is not always the case now.
  • Students should encounter, and be able to debate, new and discomforting ideas if they are to get the most out of higher education. Universities, colleges and other higher education providers, and their students’ unions and associations, should actively encourage robust, but civil, debate which takes different viewpoints seriously.

Donelan’s pickle

The ripples continue to spread from Michelle Donelan’s comments last week as politicians try to define a non-existent line between free speech and something nasty which isn’t illegal. Unfortunately for the government, if it isn’t illegal, then the Bill makes it very clear it has to be protected.  And gives people the right to compensation if they are prevented (once invited) from saying the nasty thing.  Research Professional have a blog.

Smita Jamdar wrote about the legal issues on Wonkhe.

Prevent/Free Speech parliamentary question: Michelle Donelan bungles her way through another explanation – the Prevent Duty should not be used to suppress free speech. The same response was used to these questions (Q1, Q2) to confirm the Government intend to proactively engage stakeholders with a wide range of interests and backgrounds during and after passage of the [Free Speech] Bill, including Muslim, East Asian and South East Asian students.

It’s all a bit of a muddle, as illustrated by the examples discussed in this Wonkhe article by Jim Dickinson.  What is clear is that there will be a lot of time spent worrying about how to find a way through the maze of conflicting requirements and trying to avoid a complaint through the many different channels available.

Access & Participation

The OfS have a blog by Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, who contemplates the last 20 years of widening participation actions. It’s a snooze fest so you might want to skip it unless you need a short potted history from the Government’s perspective. Chris manages to give the 20 year history without mentioning OFFA or his predecessor Les Ebdon.

Identifying disadvantage for Contextual Admissions: The Sutton Trust has published a report on disadvantaged students.  It finds that commonly-used markers of disadvantage are not effective at identifying low-income students as they enter HE and call for better data to target access work and contextual admissions. The report uses the data from 7,000 young people in the Millennium Cohort Study and explores how different measures of disadvantage relate to long-term family income. It aims identify the most effective measures of disadvantage – particularly to support universities in their outreach work and in using contextual admissions to widen access.

Dods present the key findings:

  • The number of years a child has been eligible for free school meals is the best available marker for childhood poverty (Pearson correlation = 0.69) and is therefore likely to be the best indicator for use in contextual admissions. FSM eligibility also has fewer biases then other measures, particularly for single parent families and renters who are more often missed by other measures. However, verified data on FSM eligibility is not currently available to universities.
  • POLAR, an indicator of university participation by local area, is currently a key measure used in contextual admissions in the UK. However, it was not designed to measure socio-economic disadvantage, and is very poorly correlated with low family-income (correlation = 0.22). It is also biased against key demographic groups, including BAME students.
  • TUNDRA, an experimental alternative to POLAR, is also a poor measure of income deprivation (correlation = 0.17), and suffers from similar biases. Both POLAR and TUNDRA are unsuitable for use in contextual admissions.
  • ACORN is the best area-level measure available, as it measures households at a very localised level (around 15 households), is designed to be comparable across the UK, and has a reasonably good relationship to low household income (correlation = 0.56). It is also slightly less biased than other area-based markers. However, as a commercial indicator, it is not free to use, and the methodology behind is it not openly published.
  • The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is another good option for an area level marker with a moderate relationship with low household income (correlation = 0.47), and the benefit of being publicly available. However, the measure is biased against those who are BAME, live in a single parent household and who rent. IMD is also not comparable across the four constituent countries that form the UK.

Recommendations:

  1. To improve targeting to contextual admissions and widening access schemes, universities and employers need further individual data about the socio-economic background of applicants, in particular Free School Meal eligibility. The creation of a “household-income” database, as suggested by the Russell Group, would be beneficial, but is likely to be difficult to implement. As it is already collected in official datasets, we suggest that information on the proportion of time young people have been FSM-eligible throughout their time at school would be a valuable alternative.
  2. There should be greater transparency and consistency from universities and employers when communicating how contextual data is used. …. The current situation – where different organisations use different indicators in different ways while not being transparent in their use – can lead to confusion.
  3. Universities and employers should prioritise use of the most robust measures for contextualised admissions and recruitment. Where free school meals eligibility is not available, priority should be given to ACORN, the best area-level measure, followed by the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). If a basket of measures is used, these most robust measures should be weighted most strongly.
  4. The POLAR and TUNDRA measures should not be used in contextual admissions for individual students. … its use by universities in their widening access schemes, or as part of contextual admissions should be avoided.
  5. The Office for Students should review the role of POLAR and the inclusion of specific measures of socio-economic disadvantage in advance of the next round of Access and Participation Plans. …. Free School Meal eligibility, as the basis for the official government definition of disadvantage in schools, would be the natural candidate and would enable a more joined-up national policy approach across schools and HE.

International

Dods tell us: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has launched registration for Quality Evaluation and Enhancement of UK Transnational Higher Education (QE-TNE). This is a new, innovative scheme to help UK degree-awarding bodies improve and enhance the quality of their international provision. Follow this link if you want to know more.

Parliamentary Questions

  • The cost for international students to quarantine: international students due to their visa status, that are facing significant financial hardship will have the opportunity to apply for a deferred repayment plan when booking their managed quarantine hotel room. Travellers who access hardship will be referred to a government debt collection agency (“Qualco”), who will perform an independent financial assessment and determine an appropriate payment plan. Several other PQs also specifically asked about international students from India.
  • Whether people on a spousal dependent visa can be given access to student finance.

Parliamentary Questions

  • Graduation: Providers may hold events, as long as they are compatible with COVID-19 regulations… We expect graduation ceremonies to go ahead, either physically in person but delayed in line with the roadmap, or to be held virtually.
  • Further Education Law course/Graduate Diploma funding
  • Labour’s Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has asked several questions on safeguarding mental health and suicide of placement students, and one on general student mental health provision.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Essay Mills Lord Storey has done it again – he’s come up in the Lords private members’ bills ballot again and intends to introduce his Higher Education Cheating Services Prohibition Bill on 24 May. We’ve lost count of which attempt this is to ban essay mills but he certainly is persistent.

AI & data graduates: Research into the UK AI labour market commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has been published. The research aims to create a set of recommendations on policy areas that the government and industry should focus on, to bridge skills gaps in the sector. Contact us if you would like a small summary.  In short, the research found skills shortages within the AI and data science sector with a range of employers reporting difficulties in recruiting the volume of workforce needed, also a lack of female and ethnic minority employees.

National Data Strategy: The Government have published their response following the National Data Strategy consultation. You can read the written ministerial statement and the consultation outcome.

  • Consultation feedback has confirmed that our framework is fit for purpose. Many respondents also recognised the need to rebalance the narrative, moving away from thinking about data use primarily as a threat to be managed, and instead recognising data as an asset that, used responsibly, can deliver economic and public benefits across the UK.  
  • The government response to the consultation builds on the insights we received, and details how we will deliver across our priority areas of action in such a way that builds public trust and ensures that the opportunities from better data use work for everyone, everywhere. This includes setting out our plans to create a National Data Strategy Forumwhich will ensure that a diverse range of perspectives continue to inform the strategy’s implementation. 

Civic Universities: Read the latest including content on the £50k UPP grant for the civic university network.

Cyber: The Government has published a press release on new plans to boost cyber resilience of the UK’s critical supply chains. There’s a policy paper they’re calling for views on too. The Government want input on:

  • How organisations across the market manage supply chain cyber risk and what additional government intervention would enable organisations to do this more effectively.
  • The suitability of a proposed framework for Managed Service Provider security and how this framework could most appropriately be implemented to ensure adequate baseline security to manage the risks associated with Managed Service Providers.

Light relief: Royal Appointment – last week’s Ivory Tower (a spoof column by Research Professional) piece provided a brilliant parody of the Queen’s Speech with many of the HE hot spots touched upon. Read for a little light relief. If you have trouble logging into Research Professional you can contact BU’s eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

And if you’ve ever gnashed your teeth whilst trying to respond to a Freedom of Information request this on is for you. Paul Greatrix highlights on Wonkhe the 30 silliest FOI requests ever to hit his desk. I challenge you to read it without finding one you think you’d like to know the answer to!

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 11th Feb 2021

Lots to talk about this week as we look in some detail at the Education’s Secretary’s latest guidance to the OfS and what it means and doesn’t mean.

We’re taking a break next week but will be back with a round-up of the essential news the following week.

HE Strategic Priorities – Williamson’s letter to OfS

The Secretary of State wrote to the OfS on 8th Feb 2021 with a new set of strategic priorities.

Interestingly, he also said “apart from my guidance letters on 14 September 2020, 14 December 2020, 19 January 2021 and 2 February 2021 which related to delivery of particular time critical issues, this letter replaces all previous guidance.”  So what are the priorities now, and the context for them? and what is no longer a priority?  We quote chunks of the text from Williamson’s letter for colleagues to scan through because the tone of the wording is quite insightful.  We cover those other 4 letters below as well as what is now “off the table”.

Williamson states: my strong view that the OfS should focus on driving up quality, being risk based, minimising bureaucracy, and ensuring that it delivers on equality of opportunity in higher education…this letter replaces all previous guidance [apart from the 4 other letters he mentions which he states relate to delivery of time critical issues of course]..…The OfS will, of course, still need to deliver its functions under HERA and its operational responsibilities, but the replacement of the majority of previous guidance will, I hope, provide clarity on my priorities and allow the OfS to focus its energy and resources on these.  Bottom line – this is an instruction to the OfS to crack on (and crack down on) the sector to ensure progress is made on his top issues.

But before we get to what they are, this made us try and guess what the biggest “problems” are for the SoS:

  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who takes a degree in a creative subject at a “lower quality” university and goes on to pursue a career in creative arts which is relatively low paid compared to the average earnings of students studying that subject.
  • A student (particularly one from a WP background) who studies anything and then struggles to find a “graduate level” job, but particularly if it is a humanities, or media course at a “lower quality” university.
  • A student who doesn’t complete their degree.

Why might these be a problem? In each case the answer is the same: they should never have gone to university at all, and specifically the one they chose.  They should never have incurred loans they probably won’t repay; they should have studied, say, plumbing, on an FE course, because:

  • there is no social mobility – these students have not improved their relative financial position;
  • there is no benefit to the taxpayer – as they have not increased their earnings, they will not make higher tax contributions and are unlikely to repay their student loans – so the subsidy was not value for money;
  • there is no alignment in terms of the UK’s productivity or strategic priorities – given their choice of courses these students are not contributing to the “build back better” vision for the future which is all about STEM, and they are not contributing either to public service and the nation as nurses, teachers or social workers or working in social care (although they might be, but it doesn’t count for this purpose because their first degree wasn’t in those things);
  • the students who fail to complete must have done so because the course was poor quality or there was insufficient support.

Of course this all ignores the fact that many students can’t or don’t leave their local region for employment, that there may be challenging local economic circumstances, and that the jobs and average salaries of their contemporaries at other “better quality” universities may also be influenced by the social capital, school experience, and non-WP background of the majority of their students which makes it easier for them to become lawyers, bankers, captains of industry, politicians (although a minute ago we were only counting careers directly linked to the first degree subject).  Of course the SoS wants these issues to be considered (he mentions socio-economic status and geographical inequality) but only to the extent that more students affected by those issues should go to high tariff institutions.  Because then they will presumably get the same outcomes as every one else who goes there.  Won’t they?

And it ignores the fact that those who dropped out may have done so because of financial pressures, or caring responsibilities, or mental health issues or a whole range of other reasons.

So if those are the problems, and the reasons for them, here are some possible answers.  Then we’ll look at the SoS’s priorities.  You’ll be amazed how aligned they are.

  • outcomes are what count, so define quality by looking at outcomes metrics, and cut funding or close down those that don’t meet your baseline (already in hand but worth reinforcing);
  • link funding to strategically important subjects (that’s only hinted at here, but there has been more before and is more to come);
  • students should really only study arts or creative subjects at prestigious specialist institutions and only study humanities at high tariff institutions (linked to outcomes, see above), and so it might make sense to stop some universities from offering those courses or find another way to reduce the government subsidy for them (there are several ways of doing that and some feature below);
  • ration places at university so that the system costs less but try and level the playing field for applicants including finding a way to ensure that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds get into high tariff universities (where they will surely get better outcomes….yes, that is here too).

Of course there is more, on pet political issues like free speech, and reducing bureaucracy.  There is more on mental health and helping students to complain.  And there is a lot on getting the OfS to support the big skills agenda (i.e. technical education, lifelong learning etc.).

You can read the Wonkhe take on it here.  And Wonkhe also have a blog by Susanna Kalitowski of the University Alliance which sets out another view, considering the conflict between quality = outcomes and flexible learning.

So here we go.

Quality and Standards: The biggie.

  • One of my highest priorities and an important manifesto commitment is to drive up quality and standards in higher education, which is a fundamental part of our levelling up agenda. This is in addition to the work outlined above on the quality of online learning…. would like the OfS to progress rapidly to ensure that a robust enhanced regulatory regime can be operational as soon as possible.
  • I fully support the OfS desire to ensure that decisions on regulatory intervention and registration can be made in relation to minimum absolute standards of quality which apply across the whole of higher education provision. I firmly believe that every student, regardless of their background, has a right to expect a minimum standard of education that is likely to improve their prospects in life…I note that these standards are likely to take account of, though not be confined to, quantitative measures, including measures relating to student outcomes.

And he means business:

  • The OfS should not hesitate to use the full range of its powers and sanctions where quality of provision is not high enough: the OfS should not limit itself to putting in place conditions of registration requiring improvement plans for providers who do not demonstrate high quality and robust outcomes, but should move immediately to more robust measures, including monetary penalties, the revocation of degree awarding powers in subjects of concem, suspending aspects of a provider’s registration or, ultimately, deregistration. It is also my view that the OfS should not be registering providers without rigorous quality and a commitment to robust graduate outcomes, which should be closely monitored once registered.

And related to quality:

  • TEF: He asks the OfS to interpret the Government response to the Independent Review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework. Sub text: sort it out and make it do/measure what the Government want it to do.
  • Student complaints: the phrasing suggest that OfS may be expected to play more of a role in students’ complaints. Using the OIA as the complaint ombudsman has been both a blessing and curse for the Government during the pandemic. Blessing because they can offload it to a different body, and curse because it left them without an arrow to shoot the sector with. Williamson asks the OfS to continue to monitor this closely, and to take swift action where it is clear that quality and academic standards have dropped. I would like the OfS to communicate the findings from their monitoring work and ensure students are aware of the notification process that they can follow to raise any issues.
  • Death knell for NSS: Minister Donelan also asked the OfS in her 14 September letter to carry out a radical review of the National Student Survey (NSS). I can confirm that this remains a high priority, in order to address the downwards pressure that student surveys of this sort may exert on standards. I would like the OfS to take the time it needs to ensure this review is genuinely radical, consider carefully whether there could be a replacement that does not depend on a universal annual sample, and ensure that a replacement does not contribute to the reduction in rigour and standards. It is my strong view that the NSS should play at most a minimal role in baseline quality regulation. It’s interesting to juxtapose this with the paragraph above – don’t ask students about their experience or use that feedback in a quality framework or the TEF – but do encourage them to complain and take action on their complaints.

Fairness and admissions (lumped together, which is telling – concerns about admissions are all in this document about fairness, except minimum entry standards, which are about quality.)

  • 2021: to ensure that admissions this year run as smoothly as possible and students’ interests are fully taken into account.
  • PQA: Central to my plans to improve equality of opportunity is…post qualification admissions…we believe it has the potential to contribute towards improved student outcomes in the longer-term. He asks the OfS to support the Department’s work to develop the evidence base and implementation. And makes the main intent behind the change clear: We want to ensure that any move to post qualification admissions genuinely improves the prospects of disadvantaged students and, in particular, facilitates greater numbers of them accessing the most selective universities.
  • Supporting WP while controlling numbers: It is very important that the OfS’ work on access and participation focuses on delivering real social mobility: ensuring students are able to make the right choices, accessing and succeeding on high quality courses which are valued by employers and lead to good graduate employment. Encouraging more and more students onto courses which do not provide good graduate outcomes does not provide real social mobility and serves only to entrench inequality
  • I would like the OfS to continue to consider broader factors, including socio-economic status and geographical inequality, which are likely to impact on access and participation in higher education. This should include a focus on white boys on free school meals who are currently the least likely group to progress to higher education
  • I would like the OfS to encourage universities to do much more to work with schools in a way which meaningfully raises the attainment of disadvantaged children. Theresa May’s agenda still hasn’t gone away, policy recycling at its best. What does this mean? It’s interesting though, when funding for UniConnect has just been cut (see GW’s letter of 19 January 2021)
  • I would like to remind the OfS that it has a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. The OfS must be a champion for the importance of academic and technical excellence in all aspects of the student lifecycle, from selection to graduation. [Again a reminder that there are other routes than HE and Ministers want to see technical education rise in prominence.]

Funding:

  • I would therefore like you to make arrangements to change the name of the Teaching Grant to the Strategic Priorities Grant[this of course builds on the earlier letter in which he “slashed” the teaching grant allocation for media courses and archaeology (see our 21st Jan 21 policy update here)].
    • Remember the interim response to Augar also said that the upcoming consultation on further reforms will include consideration of minimum entry requirements, which it is expected would restrict the availability of government funding for students who do not meet the requirements. This proposal was mentioned in Augar as a possible step to take to address concerns about low value courses.  It was widely condemned as a cap on ambition and a regressive step against social mobility when it was first discussed in December 2018.  But it also is a way of rationing the government subsidy.

Skills agenda, lifelong learning: The OfS also has to work on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and reforms to occupationally focused higher technical qualifications.

  • I would like the OfS to work with DfE and other stakeholders to consider how to support the accumulation and transfer of credit and to develop a regulatory system that is fully equipped to support radically different, flexible arrangements, measuring quality using metrics that are meaningful in the new system and interact positively with our admissions regime. Delivering our vision will require action from providers to adapt to this new model and providers will need to work towards delivering greater flexibility in the courses they offer. Alongside that work by providers, the OfS should ensure that it, too, is considering how all aspects of its regulatory approach will need to adapt to and support this new model. e. adopt it or else.
  • [Note there is an interesting HEPI blog from 5th February on this: “ Although flexibility is important in the support of learning, a shift in approach will need real care to manage step off to ensure it becomes step off with purpose, at an appropriate time for the learner and as an integral part of the lifelong learning journey”.]
  • [Also note an interesting blog on BTECs by Graeme Atherton of NEON on Wonkhe]

Mental Health: OfS to continue to support initiatives in relation to mental health in the short and long term. This should be through distributing funding to providers in line with my January guidance, and developing and funding challenge competitions to enable providers to develop innovative practice in mental health support. This funding should target mental health support for students transitioning from school/college to university and prioritising the most disadvantaged learners.

Sector stability: OfS to continue to monitor the financial sustainability of the sector – It is important that the OfS maintains a close understanding and oversight of financial issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and shares information where appropriate so that the OfS and Government can work together to provide timely support for providers through the Restructuring Regime and ensure effective protection of students..

All this whilst reducing the regulatory burden:

  • …providers delivering high quality provision and strong outcomes for students should not be adversely affected by additional unnecessary bureaucracy or reporting in relation to quality: I would like the OfS to take a risk-based approach to quality assessment and regulation, focusing its efforts on lower quality providers. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]
  • In Minister Donelan’s guidance letter to the OfS on 14 September 2020, she set out a number of areas where she expected the OfS to reduce the bureaucratic burden on providers. Those areas included enhanced monitoring, termly data collections under data futures, random sampling, student transfer arrangements, estates and non-academic staff data and a review of TRAC and the OfS’ transparency condition… In addition to reducing bureaucracy in the areas outlined in Minister Donelan’s letter, I would like the OfS look across everything that it does to identify further opportunities to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and reporting requirements for providers.
  • Tut tut: In my view, to date, the OfS has not been sufficiently risk-based. A risk-based approach to regulation should consider the overall regulatory burden faced by providers, including data gathering, reporting and monitoring, not just the application of conditions of registration. It is my view that there are further opportunities for the OfS to ensure that providers with consistently strong performance face minimal regulatory burden. I would like the OfS to implement a markedly more risk-based model of regulation, with significant, meaningful and observable reductions in the regulatory burden upon high quality providers within the next 12 months. [Remember quality measures are going to be linked to absolute measures of outcomes]

Free speech & Academic Freedom:

  • We knew free speech would get a mention however its tone is critical of the OfS. While I welcome your powerful speech, Sir Michael, on 20 January on this subject, to date there has been little regulatory action taken by the OfS in relation to potential breaches of the registration conditions relating to freedom of speech and academic freedom, despite a significant number of concerning incidents reported since the full suite of its regulatory powers came into force. This is interesting because sector press states that there are few real incidents where free speech has been curtailed and previous universities ministers have been unable to evidence their claims that there is a problem. Yet the Education Secretary states that OfS is aware of a significant number of incidents.
  • Furthermore, Williamson states: I intend to publish a policy paper on free speech and academic freedom in the near future and I would like the OfS to continue to work closely with the Department to deliver this shared agenda and ensure our work is closely aligned. I would also like it to take more active and visible action to challenge concerning incidents that are reported to it or which it becomes aware of, as well as to share information with providers about best practice for protecting free speech beyond the minimum legal requirements. So Williamson wants the OfS, already known for its bark, poor comms and reputation within the HE sector, to develop far more bite. So far there has been no mention of caning wayward VC’s.
  • …university administrators and heads of faculty should not, whether for ideological reasons or to conform to the perceived desires of students, pressure or force teaching staff to drop authors or texts that add rigour and stretch to a course. The OfS should robustly challenge providers that have implemented such policies and clearly support individual academics whose academic freedom is being diminished.

Antisemitism: Williamson is determined to champion a specific definition of anti-Semitism. In 2020 he gave universities until Christmas to conform and adopt the definition with the threat of action taken against those that didn’t. This stops short of that, but assumes a match between non-adopters with higher levels of incidents and suggests financial penalties.

  • Following my letter to the sector on 9 October 2020 on anti-Semitism and adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism across the HE sector, we have seen positive progress, with at least 31 additional institutions adopting the definition.
    I would like the OfS to undertake a scoping exercise to identify providers which are reluctant to adopt the definition and consider introducing mandatory reporting of anti-Semitic incident numbers by providers. This would ensure a robust evidence base, which the OfS could then use to effectively regulate in this area. If anti-Semitic incidents do occur at a provider, the OfS should consider if it is relevant in a particular case whether the provider has adopted the definition when considering what sanctions, including monetary penalties, would be appropriate to apply.
  • Of course, there are several ways to adopt the definition, including subsuming it within a wider, more comprehensive, policy. It could result in protracted semantic debates as the OfS and a university argue whether decisions were made within the spirit of the definition.

International recruitment:

  • When the sector starts to move past the difficult circumstances created by COVID-19, a key focus of UK higher education providers will understandably be how to sustainably and responsibly recover international student recruitment, given the importance of this group to the financial health of the sector. The Government has updated its International Education Strategy to support that objective, restating its commitment to the IES’ original ambition to increase international higher education student numbers to at least 600,000 by 2030. [see more on this later]
  • In addition, we are doing our utmost to raise awareness within the sector that, where there are international opportunities, there are also risks, including overdependence on income from a single source and security-related issues. At the request of the Minister for Universities, Universities UK produced important guidelines and recommendations to help providers manage risks in internationalisation. I would like the OfS to monitor the adoption of these recommendations by providers and continue to support the sector to manage these risks to the reputation, integrity and sustainability of individual institutions, as well as to the sector as a whole.

Those other letters:

  • 14 September 2020 – this was a long one
    • set out £10m of additional teaching grant funding for high cost subjects to accommodate additional students as a result of the admissions issues in 2020
    • asked the OfS to reduce its enhanced monitoring because of the burden on providers and suggested using specific licence conditions instead – and asked for a report within 3 months
    • supported reduced requirements for data futures and ending random sampling, stopping the collection of non academic and estates data in HESES, reviewing TRAC and ending TRAC (T), and reviewing the transparency data
    • requested the “radical, root and branch review” of the NSS by the end of 2020 and “It is my strong view that the NSS should not be carried out in again in the same format as it was last year.” [oops, it has been]
    • instructed that no further action be taken on student transfer arrangements. That is fine, but of course the relevant issues all come back up again in the context of credit transfer and lifelong learning.   This was originally in an earlier letter in September 2019.
    • Asking the OfS to review its own efficiency and save registration fees by 10% in 2 years.
  • 14 December 2020 – this one was about £20m in hardship funding
  • 19 January 2021 – this was about the teaching grant – including reducing it for some subjects, removing the London weighting, cutting UniConnect etc.
  • Parliamentary question in which Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, defends the decision to remove the London weighting in the HE teaching grant: …it is right for government to re-allocate public money where it is most needed. Universities should not receive additional investment for teaching simply because of where they are located: excellent provision can be delivered across the country. London already has, on average, the highest percentage of good or outstanding schools, the highest progression to HE, and more HE providers than in any other region in England. This government is firmly committed to the levelling up agenda and this reform will invest more money directly into high quality institutions in the Midlands and the North.
  • 2 February 2021 – this one was bout the £50m hardship funding

What he didn’t mention in any of these letters and so is off the table?

  • Accelerated degrees- from an earlier letter in September 2019
  • Student protection plans – this was in the letter in February 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) “I would like the OfS to continue to focus on student protection and consumer rights. In particular, to evaluate and report publicly on the strength of student protection plans and advice available on students’ consumer rights.
  • Student contracts – from an earlier letter in September 2019. You will recall the proposal was for template student contracts with initial recommendations to the government by Feb 2020.
  • Contract cheating and essay mills – this featured in the letter of 7th June 2019 (from Damien Hinds, not GW) which asked the OfS to work with the sector and take firm and robust action
  • Grade inflation –
  • VC pay
  • The September 2019 letter also asked the OfS to make “public transparent data on the outcomes achieved by international students, including those studying wholly outside the UK, such as it does for domestic students”

Research

Place Strategy: In September 2020 the Council for Science and Technology wrote to the Prime Minister to explore how science and technology can contribute to addressing regional disparities and promote equality of opportunity. The Government have published both the letter and the PM’s response here.

The letter proposes 6 recommendations focused on 4 areas:

  1. Leveraging research and development funding for regional growth by scaling up collaborative funding opportunities to foster and enhance partnerships, within and between regions, where there are research and innovation synergies with the potential to contribute to local growth.
  2. Further incentivising the contribution of research, innovation and technology centres to regional growth in funding agreements and in organisational strategies.
  3. Enhancing the availability of information on local innovation strengths and needs, for local and national decision makers to inform effective investment strategies and to evaluate outcomes.
  4. Supporting wider measures needed for research and development investment to act as a driver for local growth, including measures to support skills and to support local leadership and decision-making.

The PM’s response welcomes the Council’s recommendations (which sit well with current Government policy) and mentions BEIS development of the UK Research and Development Place Strategy:

  • The Place Strategy will set out how the Government can build on existing initiatives (such as the Strength in Places Fund) to support research and innovation excellence, and build new centres of high-value economic activity outside of the South East… We also need to get the local governance and delivery structures right so that responsibility and accountability sit at the right level for delivering local growth priorities.
  • And: BEIS and UKRI will continue to engage widely with industry, the scientific community, and civic organisations from across the country to help develop a strategy that supports the priorities of areas and communities across the UK. The new Ministerial R&D Place Advisory Group, which had its inaugural meeting last month, will propose, challenge and test potential policy options.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund: The National Audit Office has published a report on UK Research and Innovation’s management of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund examining the Fund has been set up in a way likely to optimise value for money. By January 2021 the Fund was supporting 1,613 projects, contributing to one of the 24 approved challenges. To date, UKRI has spent around £1.2 billion of the Fund’s eight-year budget of £3 billion.

The report examines:

  • the establishment of the Fund, in particular whether it has attracted sufficient good-quality bids, whether the selection processes have been efficient and whether the budget is managed effectively (Parts One and Two); and
  • the approach to monitoring and evaluating the Fund’s performance, as well as its performance to date (Part Three).

The report finds that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have worked well to generate interest from industry and academia in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (the Fund). However, more needs to be done to reduce the time taken to consider requests for support, so applicants are not deterred from bidding for funding and projects are not delayed.

  • Over the period, government has enhanced its engagement with industry to seek out challenges which might benefit most from taxpayer support.
  • UKRI’s own assessment shows that the Fund’s key components – challenges and projects – are broadly performing well. To sustain this position, the Department and HM Treasury, working with UKRI, need to place more emphasis on the outcomes and impact its funding secures at the Fund level. The increasing number of challenges supported by the Fund, each with their own objectives, and range of different objectives at Fund level risk obscuring priorities and will make the assessment of value for money in the longer term more difficult

R&D Roadmap: Catapults: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report asserting that the Government’s ambitions for research and development are not supported by a detailed plan or sufficient investment in innovation. It details how the Government needs to provide more detail about how it will deliver its R&D Roadmap, including how it will attract substantial private sector investment to meet its target of 2.4% of GDP by 2027. It states the UK’s research and innovation system has the necessary components to be successful, but there is insufficient collaboration between organisations and insufficient scale to deliver the required levels innovation and commercial success.

  • Commenting on the Catapult Network it states it is an integral part of the UK’s innovation system. And that the Government should expand the Catapult Network to support technologies in which the UK excels and that can bring substantial economic benefits – including to assist in the levelling up agenda.
  • Changes are needed to remove barriers that limit the Catapults’ effectiveness: universities, Catapults and industry need to be encouraged (and permitted) to interact more deeply; and rules governing innovation funding should be reformed, to allow greater flexibility for Catapults and their partners.

The Committee set out a range of recommendations for the Government, UKRI and Innovate UK to help deliver the UK’s R&D ambitions, including the changes to enable the Catapults to more effectively achieve their objectives:

  • A clear plan for how public sector resources and private investment can be made to match the scale of ambition in the R&D Roadmap.
  • Prioritisation of scaling up the Catapult Network.
  • Assurance of long-term continuity for the Catapults—including longer-term certainty over funding and a commitment that reviews will be limited to once every five years, to match the five-year funding cycle.
  • Enabling Catapults and universities to work together more easily on innovation projects, and fostering closer links between industry and universities to assist researchers to work at the interface between the two.
  • Allowing Catapults to bid for Research Council funds where there are clear advantages in terms of both research and innovation; more flexibility in permitting public sector bodies to have a larger share of collaborative R&D funding; and supporting translational research and transformative innovation more effectively, including by reducing risks to industry.
  • Supporting the levelling up agenda by developing a more strategic approach across policies for innovation and regional development—such as broadening access to the Strength in Places Fund.

Quick News

  • UKRI has advertised for a new Chair of UKRI. Given the recent spate of appointments where the Government has been criticised for lack of impartiality this, by Research Professional, raised a chuckle this week: The way public appointments have gone under this government, you may be forgiven for wondering if the post might go to the spouse of a Conservative MP who once owned a chemistry set. It will be up to the assessment panel to come up with a shortlist from the applications.
  • The Times dug up an article on research degrees from the depths of their archives. It’s a short and light read. The similarity to a current theme is surprising – that of other nations squeezing out ‘natives’ by taking up their university places: British universities since the war have had much ado to find room for native-born students, but it is to be hoped that they will make all efforts to attract the graduate research students for whom the new degree was instituted.
  • Healthcare knowledge provider the BMJ, and technology provider Jisc, have agreed a publish and read pilot as part of their commitment to help promote knowledge and speed up discoveries to improve healthcare across the UK. It grants Jisc members full read access to the BMJ’s standard collection (28 specialist journals) and offers researchers at the member institutions the opportunity to publish funded articles on an open access basis in the standard collection journals. Under the agreement, research funded by UKRI, Wellcome, and key medical charities in the UK can be published open access, to help to make the research more accessible and sustainable.
  • The Government has set up a new independent body, the UK Cyber Security Council to boost career opportunities and professional standards for the UK’s cyber security sector. Funded by DCMS the organisation will provide a single governing voice for the industry to establish the knowledge, skills and experience required for a range of cyber security jobs, bringing it in line with other professions such as law, medicine and engineering. The council was developed following a 2018 consultation on Developing the UK cyber security profession which showed strong support for the government’s proposals to define objectives for the profession to achieve and to create a new, independent UK Cyber Security Council to coordinate delivery. Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: The fact we are launching an independent professional body for cyber security shows just how vital this area has become – it makes a huge contribution to our thriving digital economy by safeguarding our critical national infrastructure, commerce and other online spaces. The UK Cyber Security Council will ensure anyone interested in an exciting career tackling online threats has access to world-class training and guidance. It will also champion diversity and inclusion, driving up standards while helping the nation to build back better and safer.

Admissions

2021 Admissions juggle: Research Professional has a good romp through the exam related admissions issues for 2021. Here are some excerpts but there is more content in the blog (e.g. on over recruitment).

  • Setting aside for a moment the challenges involved in running an appeals process based on evaluating a teacher assessment without recourse to an externally validated examination, this raises an issue: If students achieve their results directly and the university hasn’t had confirmation through the awarding bodies and Ucas of what those results are, how long will it be before those students are on the phone, email or turning up on campus to request confirmation of a place? And what does the university do? Take each student’s word for it? Ask for validation from their school? Wait for the results to eventually arrive through Ucas?
  • As things stand, we risk receiving Welsh, English, Northern Irish and international A-levels on different days (and several weeks apart), with BTEC and other vocational awards also somewhere in the mix. While we typically get international qualifications over a span of several weeks (from late June through to mid-August), the relatively small numbers are manageable. But to receive the main bulk of the results in a haphazard fashion raises important questions about the fairness and transparency of admissions decisions.
  • The danger is an outcome in which the fastest nation to get its results out will gain a significant advantage in securing places. It is notable that in the many discussions about a post-qualification admissions process, one of the prerequisites for an effective system will be an alignment of UK results; without having a common date for receipt of results this year, we run the risk of having a fragmented and unfair admissions process.
  • No-one underestimates the challenges we face in this admissions cycle to run a system that is fair to applicants and also ensures that students avoid considerable uncertainty and stress in a situation over which they have no agency. 

Student Numbers Cap: Towards the end of last week Research Professional also asked if the student numbers cap should have remained in place for the 2020/21 intake.

  • The data show a 13 per cent rise overall in numbers of students recruited by high-tariff universities—way more than the 5 per cent (plus forecasts) rise that would have been allowed under the proposed number controls, even allowing for generous forecasting. Some research-intensive institutions accepted a third more UK and EU students than they had the previous year, while other institutions saw recruitment slump by more than 15 per cent.
  • Several non-Russell Group institutions also grew their recruitment significantly: at Leeds Trinity University, Buckinghamshire New University, Liverpool Hope University, the University of Buckingham and Soas, University of London, increases in UK and EU student numbers topped 20 per cent. More than 50 universities increased their UK and EU intake by more than the magic 5 per cent.
  • There were no high-tariff institutions among those that saw major falls. And while overall recruitment was up nearly 30,000, for more than 30 institutions it was down—for some substantially.
  • …The original idea for introducing student number controls last year was to protect post-1992 institutions from exactly this kind of trouble. The controls were dropped not because the danger had entirely gone away—as the Ucas figures show, it hadn’t—but because the government had made such a mess over A-levels that it had little choice.
  • …needs are likely to be substantial in September as students arrive at university without normal levels of learning and social interaction and, in some cases, traumatised by an exceptionally tough year.
  • That will put pressure on some high-tariff institutions whose welfare systems are likely to creak under the strain of larger-than-planned-for numbers of students with multiple issues.
  • But there will also be different kinds of pressures on those institutions that would normally be dealing with a proportion of these students but have missed out because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic. It will be ironic if both groups end up struggling to cope because of government-sanctioned grade inflation.

You can read the full blog here.

Harassment

You may recall that about this time last year the OfS launched a consultation on preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct. This was paused during the pandemic and won’t be reopened. Instead the OfS are considering this matter alongside their wider work to review and reset our regulatory requirements. They intend to

  • Publish a statement of expectations relating to providers’ systems, policies and processes to prevent and respond to harassment and sexual misconduct by Spring 2021. The statement will set out the OfS’ expectations and give universities and colleges the opportunity to review and renew their systems, policies and processes before the beginning of the next academic year.
  • Right now the OfS are engaging with student and sector representative bodies and other stakeholders…to understand specifically how the events of this past year may affect the proposed statement of expectations. e. the additional challenges faced by some students because of the pandemic, including online harassment and domestic abuse.

Turing – Student Mobility

The Turing website is live. Research Professional cover the basics:

  • Applications for bids to Turing will open in “the spring”, which in Whitehall speak can run as late as the end of June, although the website promises a March announcement with a window of six weeks for submissions and results known in July. The call will include “higher education projects”, with funding available for “placements during the period from September 2021 to August 2022”.
  • Any student at “an officially recognised higher education provider registered in the UK”—which we assume means registered with the Office for Students—can participate in the scheme, regardless of nationality. The students will be able to attend a non-UK university as well as “any public or private organisation active in the labour market or in the fields of education and training”.
  • This includes businesses, public bodies, research institutes, foundations, non-governmental organisations and “a social partner or other representative of working life, including chambers of commerce, craft and professional associations and trade unions”. Beyond that, details of the scheme are relatively scant, with visitors to the website encouraged to sign up for email alerts
  • We do know that “successful applications will receive funding towards delivering placements and exchanges” and “the rates provided will be broadly in line with what has been on offer under Erasmus+”. Placements can be of any length between 4 weeks and 12 months. Further guidance on specific elements of funding and a list of destination country groupings for cost of living will be published shortly, the website says.
  • Destinations with a high cost of living will attract a £136-a-week or £380-a-month maintenance grant. Countries with a medium or lower cost of living will be funded at the rate of £120 a week or £335 a month.
  • Students who can demonstrate a disadvantaged background will be funded at a higher rate of £490 a month for expensive destinations and £445 a month for less expensive ones. There will also be tariffs for travel based on distance, ranging from £20 a head for projects less than 100 kilometres away to £1,360 for those taking place over 12,000km away.
  • …Some £315 a head for the first 100 participants will be made available for the administration of projects, with that declining sharply to £180 for the 101st student. It would seem that each individual exchange project should be applied for annually, in contrast to Erasmus+ in which partnerships are rolled over from year to year.
  • Turing is being described as an “outward student mobility scheme”…What Turing does not seem to do is fund exchange students to come in the opposite direction, which makes it a hard sell to prospective international partners while also reducing diversity in UK classrooms.

More details are expected in March.

Wonkhe have a Turing blog: For Janet Beer, it is time to accept the opportunities and flexibility that the new Turing scheme can offer.

International

International Education Strategy

The DfE published the 2021 update to the International Education Strategy including measures to boost international study and global opportunities. Press release here. It includes attracting more overseas students, boosting access to global student exchanges for thousands of people, and supporting international education partnerships. reaffirms the Government’s commitment to increase the amount generated from education exports, such as fees and income from overseas students and English language teaching abroad, to £35bn a year, and sustainably recruit at least 600,000 international students to the UK by 2030. For research and development, the strategy confirmed that the UK will participate in Horizon Europe, as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU, subject to finalisation of the programme regulations. The Turing social mobility scheme is also mentioned (more on Turing here). Lastly the Secretary of State’s recent guidance letter also warns institutions to balance recruitment with thought for national security and not to develop an overreliance on recruiting from particular groups or countries.

The Strategy update proposes several areas to help increase the value of education exports and international student numbers:

  • The International Education Champion: this update sets out the priority countries and regions in which the International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, will focus his activity. Sir Steve’s immediate priorities are India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Nigeria. His role will focus on growing export opportunities in these countries. Other important regional markets for the International Education Champion will include: Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China and Hong Kong. The government will also work with Sir Steve and the British Council to identify and resolve barriers which prevent the recognition of online and blended (a combination of offline and online) learning internationally
  • Building lasting global partnerships: there is an important role for the government to facilitate partnerships across the world, including in the Champion’s priority countries, but also beyond these. This includes Europe, the Indo-Pacific region, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Our new Turing scheme will also help ensure we improve mobility between UK students and all regions of the world
  • Enhancing the international student experience from application to employment: the government will work with sector bodies such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Confederation of British Industry on areas such as:
    • the student application process for international students
    • graduate outcomes and employability
    • the academic experience of international students
    • alternative student finance
  • A new international teaching qualification, ‘International Qualified Teacher Status’ (iQTS): the UK government propose to work with teacher training providers to establish a new teaching qualification that will provide an opportunity for teachers around the world to train to world respected domestic standards. There’s a consultation on it here.
  • Increase export opportunities for UK chartered professional bodies and UK special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) providers: DIT will support UK chartered professional bodies and SEND providers to find opportunities to increase their education exports

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan stated: In these unprecedented times, having a proactive global education agenda is more important than ever so we can build back better from the pandemic. Our world-class education is a vital part of our economy and society, and we want to support universities, schools, colleges and all aspects of the education sector to thrive across the globe…I am also pleased to launch initiatives to enhance the experience of international students at our universities, from the moment they apply, to the first steps of their careers.

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, said: I am very supportive of the International Education Strategy, which represents the next step in a joint effort by Government and the education sector to build on the international success of our education system and our attractiveness to international students. This approach has delivered real benefits already, including the introduction of the graduate route, and improvements to the visa system. Despite a very difficult year, interest in UK study has grown as a result…We look forward to continuing to be partners, working with our members, Government and others across the sector, to deliver the strategy.

HESA data: Colleagues with an interest in international matters will be interested in the HESA 2019/20 HE Student Data release mentioned above. There is a sub section exploring recruitment areas for incoming HE students here with useful charts. The transnational data is here.

Access & Participation

Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Education Committee continued to take evidence for its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ministers Nick Gibb and Vicky Ford were questioned. While much of the content focussed on schools it was interested as it touched on several aspects of disadvantage. I was interested to learn that academic resilience (the ability of a child to excel academically regardless of their socio-economic background) has fallen for students from a disadvantaged background. You can read a summary of the session by Dods here.

Meanwhile the Public Accounts Committee have launched a new inquiry into Covid-19: Education. They intend to question DfE Officials on how well the DfE managed its overall response in the first lockdown, including whether it effectively supported schools and pupils in England during this period, whether it managed the move to mainly home-learning effectively and whether it effectively supported vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Questioning revolve around the current National Audit Office assessment.

Care leavers: TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE) published an evidence review: Supporting access and student success for learners with experience of children’s social care.

The literature review finds that activities and interventions aimed to support care leavers are not robustly evaluated: From the 57 studies under review, about half focused on the evaluation of actual support activities while the other half explored potential barriers and facilitators affecting the target group’s trajectory into post-secondary education. However, the small numbers and gaps in data involved with this target group mean establishing causal impact is trickier than evaluating other inventions. Classification of who to include and exclude were also a problem (such as interlinking because care leavers likely to enter HE as mature students). Many studies relied heavily on self-reported evidence through focus groups and interviews (which leads to a self-selecting sample), however, the review concludes that these approaches to support care leavers into and whilst at HE seemed promising:

  • Mentoring activities which also provide positive role models and build a sense of belonging with peers
  • A social network to support, guide and advise care leavers considering HE: A key part of this network is often a trusted adult or mentor who can provide encouragement towards academic and personal goals and emotional support on the journey into and through HE. Several interviewees emphasised the importance of building relationships with a trusted figure, especially in the context of a group of learners who have often built an innate distrust in large bureaucratic institutions.
  • A single point of contact within a provider who can help learners navigate the institution and access the support they need pre-application to post-graduation. The review mentions that HEIs with higher progression and success rates for care students had this role as their sole focus.
  • Links between local authorities, carers, schools and HE providers. In studies where this collaboration was felt to be successful, staff and carers reported better managed transition support, relevant sharing of information between inter-organisational staff and learners who reported of feeling less alone and isolated.

Equality Remit: The Government’s new Equality Hub is explained following a parliamentary question asking about the relationship between the new Equality Hub and the Equalities Office:

  • The new Equality Hub, in the Cabinet Office, brings together the Disability Unit, Government Equalities Office, Race Disparity Unit and, from 1 April, the sponsorship of, and secretariat to, the Social Mobility Commission. The Government Equalities Office’s remit related to gender equality, LGBT rights and the overall framework of equality legislation for Great Britain. The Equality Hub reports to Ministers who have other portfolios outside of the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss.
  • The Equality Hub has a key role in driving Government priorities on equality and opportunity. The Hub has a particular focus on improving the quality of evidence and data about disparities and the types of barriers different people face, ensuring that fairness is at the heart of everything we do.
  • Key to this is looking beyond a focus solely on statutory protected characteristics to ensure we understand how different issues interact, including in socio-economic and geographic inequality. In this way, the Equality Hub is key to driving progress on the Government’s commitment to levelling up opportunity and ensuring fairness for all.

Other recent care leaver relevant resources

OIA – Complaints

In related news the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published revised draft Rules for Large Group Complaints. Undoubtedly driven by Covid, the proposed Large Group Complaints process builds on their existing approach to group complaints by developing a bespoke approach to handling complaints from large groups of students. The proposed process is intended for complaints from large groups of students at a single provider where there is a high degree of commonality between the complaints and where the complaints could be considered collectively.

However, while the process the OIA proposes would be more streamlined than the current process for group complaints, they say their approach to decision making would be the same. I.e. they would still consider what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

The changes require an amendment to their existing Rules and additional Rules for Large Group Complaints so final comments are invited before the change takes place (deadline 12 March).

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

HESA

HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) published the 2019/20 HE Student Data (which includes the first five months of the coronavirus pandemic). Here are HESA’s headline findings:

  • UK students from ethnic minorities made up 27%of all students studying for a first degree in 2019/20 – among students studying for a postgraduate taught qualification (such as a Masters) this proportion was 24% and for postgraduate research qualifications (such as a PhD) the figure was 19%
  • 6% of all students were from a Black African background, but this group represented only 3% of postgraduate research students
  • Students from an Asian Pakistani background were also less representedamong postgraduate research students (2%) compared to representing 4% of all students
  • 17% of UK domicile students reported having a disability, including 5% who reported a mental health condition – within these statistics there was also a difference at different levels of study, with 18% of first degree students reporting a disability compared to 15% of postgraduate taught students
  • 41% of UK domicile students studying medicine and dentistry subjects were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds compared to only 6% in the veterinary science and agriculture, food and related studies groups
  • 5% of all students were studying psychology, and that 81% of psychology students were female
  • The subject groups with the most students in 2019/20 were business and management with 412,815 students (52% male) and subjects allied to medicine with 295,520 students (79% female)

Colleagues may be interested to delve further into the HESA data which includes some great charts and visualisation to break down the student data in these areas:

David Kernohan of Wonkhe doesn’t think the data answers the big question about continuation this year.

Parliamentary News

Students – urgent questions: Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister answered 39 questions relating to HE students as part of an urgent question session on Support for University Students: Covid-19. It covered familiar topics such as rent rebates and tuition quality. The Minister stuck to the party line and there was no new news.

Poor ratings for SoS: Secretary of State Gavin Williamson continues to be perceived negatively by Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home. His net satisfaction rating is -48. We think he’ll be hanging in there though.  Changing now would be unlikely to change much substantively in policy terms anyway, although you have to think that it might improve the ways of doing things and if nothing else, communication (although that’s a problem for the Universities Minister as well as the Education Secretary).

OfS Chair

As expected and following the Education Committee green light, the DfE officially confirmed Lord Wharton’s appointment as Chair of the OfS replacing Michael Barber. He starts on 1 April for a four year period (approximately 2 days per week). Wharton has declared his Conservative interests and party membership within his role as a Peer but not resigned the whip.

  • The Education Committee endorsed the appointment just before it was confirmed. You can read the report here. Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said: The Chair of the OfS has a vital role to play in standing up for the rights of students and ensuring opportunities for all. I congratulate Lord Wharton on his appointment. I look forward to seeing the new Chair use his position to genuinely open doors for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensure that the access and participation funding delivers real change, use his independent voice to rocket boost degree apprenticeships and guarantee everyone has access to high quality skills that benefit both themselves and employers. Halfon’s statement highlights several of his own passions for education, such as the expansion of degree apprenticeships. He seems to be giving Wharton a public steer – interesting as the appointment process wasn’t without controversy.
  • Responding to the appointment, Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, said: This latest appointment adds to the Conservative Government’s growing catalogue of cronyism. Students have been forgotten by this Government which is more concerned about securing jobs for their friends. It’s ridiculous to think James Wharton could make independent decisions while continuing to sit as a Conservative Peer. He must resign the whip without delay. It’s vital for public confidence that concerns surrounding senior appointments are urgently looked at.
  • While Wharton doesn’t commence until April Williamson has written to both Wharton and outgoing Chair, Sir Michael Barber, vehemently stating his strategic priorities for HE.

Research Professional interview Paul Blomfield MP, (Labour, Sheffield Central, Chair of the APPG for Students) who doesn’t mince his words.

Students

The Guardian report that the Government plan to allow some additional university students back to campus when the schools reopen, so potentially from 8 March onwards.

  • The education secretary is expected to announce on 22 February that final-year students in practical subjects will be able to return to face-to-face teaching, with students taking other subjects to follow soon afterwards…Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said universities would follow the same roadmap as schools for reopening
  • Priority is expected to be given to final-year students on undergraduate courses or taught postgraduate degrees in practical subjects including performing arts and lab-based science courses. But many students may struggle to be allowed back before the Easter holidays at the end of March, when teaching in effect ends for many courses before exams.

It is likely this is part of a move to damp down on fee and rent complaints with the Government shifting the onus onto HE providers.

  • While the new higher education timetable was welcomed by senior leaders, they also fear that the education secretary’s waning influence with Downing Street means the Department for Education’s plan may be ignored in favour of other concerns.
  • Some institutions, such as the London School of Economics, have already said students will be taught remotely for the rest of the academic year, but Donelan said the government “will be giving them the option to alter those plans”.

The University and College Union stated: The priority right now must be to keep as much teaching as possible online for the rest of the academic year, and putting staff and student safety first.

And the article suggests that some students are returning anyway:

  • In defiance of the government’s orders to stay at home, several universities report that students are “returning to campus in droves”, even without the prospect of face-to-face teaching or the use of university facilities.
  • One university is said to have about 70% of its usual student numbers on or around campus, in part due to high numbers of students on exempt courses such as nursing. Most others estimate that 30% to 40% of students are back, and some have more than half.
  • “Some students have voted with their feet, it’s been reported by just about all the universities I’ve heard from, Russell Group and elsewhere. It’s interesting, it reflects the fact students start to identify university as their new home,” he said.

TEF

Wonkhe ran a feature on TEF this week with a blog written by Dame Shirley Pearce (who led the TEF review). Wonkhe say:

  • … the government, while claiming to have accepted the majority of the Pearce review’s recommendations, has failed entirely to engage with the spirit of that review, which posits enhancement of the quality of teaching as a delicate balance and interplay of accountability between regulators, providers, and students, and between nationally comparable data and locally produced evidence of quality. Today on the site, Shirley Pearce urges the higher education sector and the Office for Students (OfS) to engage with the recommendations the review makes, and to take seriously the review’s finding that far from being merely burdensome, the subject TEF pilots have sparked useful conversations inside universities, and offered levers to drive enhancement.
  • The Pearce review is grounded in a theory of change that says that if there is to be public confidence in quality, providers must evidence it, but that providers and their students must be empowered to do the enhancement work on the ground according to their distinctive mission and, importantly, at subject level. The elegant proposal that institutions be provided with subject-level data, split by demographic, and be asked to account for differences in outcomes, but that the subject data would not be published as rankings, is characteristic of the balancing act the review executes.
  • The government does not evidence its grasp of this balance in its response, instructing OfS to ground TEF ratings in nationally comparable data, while at the same time taking account of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) critique of the limitations of said data in drawing accurate conclusions about the quality of learning and teaching in higher education providers – and good luck to the English regulator in squaring that circle.
  • In the relatively few years of its existence, the TEF has won few friends, and many enemies. There may be satisfaction to some in seeing the TEF reduced and downgraded. But the version of the exercise that appears to be currently on the table, as Paul Ashwin argues, risks rendering the TEF entirely irrelevant. Better, then, to have a larger exercise that directly engages with the processes of enhancing learning and teaching quality, than a light-touch exercise that does not – and redirects institutions’ energies to gaming the metrics.

Three Wonkhe blogs tackle TEF:

As you’ll have read in the section covering the Secretary of State strategic priorities letter to the OfS Williamson has tasked the OfS to resolve how the TEF will move forward.

Brexit

Dods have summarised the DfE’s research on the effect of Brexit on HEIs in the UK. EU exit: estimating the impact on UK higher education looks at:

  • the effect of changes in the level of tuition fees on international student enrolments at undergraduate and postgraduate level
  • the potential impact on EU student enrolments and associated tuition fee income resulting from:
  • the removal of tuition fee loan and grant support for EU students
  • harmonisation of tuition fees charged to EU and non-EU students
  • changes to post-study work rights for EU students
  • changes to the rights to bring dependants

Across all HEIs, the analysis suggests that:

  • Removing the tuition fee support for EU-domiciled undergraduate students would reduce demand for UK higher education by approximately 13,090 (21%34 of all EU student enrolments) first-year students per year, equating to a loss of £80.7 million in tuition fee income.
  • Removing the Home fee status for EU-domiciled (undergraduate and postgraduate) students would generate additional fee revenue of approximately £114.6 million. That is, the increase in fees charged to EU-domiciled students would more than offset the loss in fee income due to falling demand amongst EU students (15,220 students, 24% of EU-domiciled student enrolments in 2016/17).
  • Restricting the right to work in the UK post-graduation for EU-domiciled students would potentially result in 6,640 (11% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer EU student enrolments, corresponding to a reduction in fee revenue generated by UK HEIs of £88.0 million.
  • Restricting the right to bring dependants for EU-domiciled students would further reduce tuition fee income by approximately £8.4 million, with 590 (1% of EU-domiciled student enrolments) fewer enrolments.
  • Taken together, the estimated combined impact of all of these policy changes would be to reduce tuition fee income from EU sources by approximately £62.5 million, with 35,540 (57%) fewer first-year EU enrolments. However, the aggregate impact on fee income masks significant variation by university cluster (and level of study). In particular, HEIs in Clusters 1 would benefit in aggregate; whereas institutions in Clusters 2, 3 and 4 would be worse-off.
  • The results on student enrolments are insensitive to changes in classification of HEIs by clusters, with the reduction in demand varying from 34,555 (55%) to 35,750 (57%). The total financial loss ranges from £42.5 million to £66.5 million.

There is also the impact assessment here, which Dods summarises below:

The DfE have published an assessment of the effect that changes made to higher education student finance regulations will have on groups with relevant protected characteristics.

  • Expect the proposed amendments will most likely have a negative impact on EU nationals on the basis of their nationality, if they are domiciled in the EEA and Switzerland
  • They will also have a negative impact on older EU national students who are not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements, with those studying at postgraduate level proportionately more affected
  • Do not expect EU students who are female (who are slightly overrepresented as a result of these changes) or who have declared a disability to be significantly impacted by these changes
  • There is a lack of data to predict the impact on other EEA (Norwegian, Icelandic, Liechtenstein) and Swiss students
  • Other EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who do not fall into this category (or one of the other eligibility categories), and who do not have settled status, are not eligible for home fee status and student finance
  • While those not covered by the Withdrawal Agreements will therefore be impacted on the basis of their, or their family members’ nationality, the number of those currently benefiting from student support is very small and as such, the equalities impacts are assessed to be insignificant
  • With regard to EU nationals resident in the overseas territories, their assessment is that although protected groups of EU nationals who will be affected by our proposed position are slightly over represented, namely gender/sex (females), the impact of the amendments will not differ on the basis of these protected characteristics
  • Given the limited numbers of students involved, the equality impacts are likely to be insignificant

Concluding, they say that since these amendments will remove access to student finance for EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals not covered by citizens’ rights, there are number of routes such individuals may choose to adopt:

  1. Proceed: Undertake HE study in England without receiving home fee status or any student support from Student Finance England, but potentially in receipt of funding from other sources such as their own Governments.
  2. Go elsewhere: Take up HE study outside the UK where access to education can be obtained on the same basis as domestic nationals e.g. their own, or another state within the EEA or Switzerland, or the EU overseas territories, or other international countries.
  3. No go: Choose not to participate in HE study

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

  • Intergenerational Fairness: Dods published an interesting briefing on intergenerational fairness.
  • Games degrees: The number of UK graduates in computer games subjects has risen for a seventh consecutive year.
  • Fee Variability: You may remember that last year Australia changed the Government support and fee regime to prioritise support for certain programmes (such as STEMM) and charge more for lower priority courses. The change attracted much interest in the UK because the current Government has long been flirting with the idea of differential programme funding stemming all the way back to Jo Johnson’s tenure as Universities Minister and the introduction of the Higher Education and Research Act legislation (including TEF). Interestingly this week the Guardian have reported that demand for arts and humanities courses is still high in Australia despite fee increases,
  • LGBT+: UUK have a blog: Going the extra mile to embrace LGBT+ equality in higher education.
  • Pensions: HEPI have a trio of blogs on university pensions and in particular on the USS.
  • Dementia Research Funding: The latest news on dementia funding from a parliamentary question response: The Government’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 contained the commitment to spend £300 million on dementia research over the five years to March 2020. This commitment was delivered a year early with £344 million spent on dementia research over the four years to 31 March 2019. We are currently working on ways to significantly boost further research on dementia at all stages on the translation pathway including medical and care interventions.
  • Paramedics ELQ rules: The debate on whether to waive the ELQ rules for paramedical science continues. The Government response states: A decision will be dependent on business planning for the 2021/22 financial year following the outcome of Spending Review 2020.
  • Mental health animation: UKRI report that academics have partnered up with Aardman to tackle the current mental health crisis with the campaign: What’s Up With Everyone? funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The press release states: Although around half of all lifetime mental health problems start by the mid-teens, intervention typically starts much later. Issues include rising suicide rates among young people and unprecedented challenges for young people at school, university, college or the workplace. This points to an urgent need to rethink mental health education to reach and engage young people.
  • What’s Up With Everyone? is a series of five new animated films created with and for young people about dealing with life’s challenges before they impact mental healththe films link to vital information and signposting for how young people can help themselves or seek help for the issues raised through the project’s website. One wonders if it will link to the OfS’ mental health platform.

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HE policy update for the w/e 4th February 2021

Wonkhe and Pearson have collaborated to highlight what students value about remote and flexible learning aspects. The CMA have called out price fixing which may have increased the cost of good and services provided to disabled students. The Government have announced additional hardship funding to be distributed to students although we still don’t know about the methodology the OfS will use to distribute this. There’s a code for free speech proposed by Students’ Unions. And the appointment of the new Chair of the Office for Students, Lord Wharton, continues to be controversial.

New OfS Chair

The Commons Education Committee held a pre-appointment hearing with Lord James Wharton of Yarm who the Government intend to appoint to become the next chair of the Office for Students. Lord Wharton has stated he will not resign the Conservative Whip if he is appointed to the OfS (this means he will vote as directed by the Conservative party in divisions). While in practice as a Lord it is acceptable that Wharton will act according to his personal political stance, this is still unusual.  Similar concerns were raised when Baroness Harding was appointed as head of NHS Test and Trace and also retained the Tory whip..

Wharton was only appointed to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in 2020, the current Government has been recognised (and criticised) for its approach to several high level appointments (e.g. Harding and the new Chair of the BBC).

Wharton has little background or previously stated interest in education. Wonkhe have a great blog on the potential appointment, here’s a snide little snippet:  If being put forward for a government-backed role makes Private Eye, you have a problem. The process itself was notably light on educational expertise and heavy on being mates with Boris, and it clearly generated a nomination where educational expertise was not the primary criteria.  The same Wonkhe blog quickly gallops through the content of the Education Committee hearing – it is worth a read to understand Wharton’s priorities and areas where it seems he has some more background reading to do.

Research Professional also cover the story here:

  • However, responding to a question from Tory committee member David Simmonds about the potential difficulties of holding the whip while chairing an independent regulator, Wharton rejected the idea that such a clear conflict of interest was really a conflict of interest at all—and offered assurance that he had held discussions with the other party whips already.
  • “What I have made clear, and what they have agreed, is that on issues of conflict—if they arise—with my role in the OfS, if I’m appointed, they would give me more latitude and understand that I may need to vote against or speak against some of the things the party in government could bring forward.”
  • It sounds to Playbook rather like the independence of the OfS chair will be underpinned by what might best be described as a gentleman’s agreement. Perhaps England’s regulator will adopt this approach to its formal duties when Wharton takes up his role. It would certainly help with the OfS’s desire to be more ‘light touch’.
  • …Another theme Wharton returned to a number of times during the session was the need for more “risk-based regulation”: reducing the regulatory burden for some, but increasing it when required.
  • “In some ways, some of our top universities will not need and should not need to be monitored as closely on quality of output in terms of academic output, for example,” he said. “But there are other areas in which some of those universities are not doing as well as they should.” This was in response to a question about Black, Asian and minority ethnic student access at “top” universities.

You can read the letter from the Commissioner for Public Appointments to the Education Select Committee here (it briefly touches upon some of the controversial aspects mentioned above such as panel membership). The letter was sent in advance of the Education Committee hearing. The letter states: I note that Lord Wharton was assessed as appointable by the Panel, along with three other candidates. The choice between these appointable candidates is entirely a matter for ministers. Williamson’s (pre-hearing) letter stating Wharton as the strongest candidate is here.

Here is Dods’ summary of the Education Committee pre-appointment hearing for the OfS Chair position.

The Government’s announcement confirming who will hold the OfS Chair position can be expected imminently.

Research

Amanda Solloway, the Science Minister, has done an interview with Research Professional in which she describes her personal experience of sexual harassment and discrimination and sets out her mission to stamp it out.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser has a blog on debunking the Einstein myth and increasing diversity of the workforce.

  • …despite the diverse opportunities, many people do not see themselves working in research and innovation. They don’t see it as a place for them…This is perhaps not surprising since a popular image of researchers and innovators is one of Einstein-like geniuses: superhumanly clever, obsessed with their work and driven by pure logic. They work alone in dusty libraries or in labs full of bubbling liquids doing arcane things that will either save the world or destroy it…But researchers and innovators know very well that they are not geniuses marching toward the truth using pure logic. Rather than helping them deal with the inherent insecurities of their work, the myth ultimately amplifies insecurity, leaving the sector riddled with imposter syndrome…So the lone genius perception segregates research and innovation into a remote and alien corner of society that looks unattractive and unwelcoming to the diverse people that the system needs, and it inhibits the collaborative supportive research culture we need to catalyse creative discovery and innovation…Ultimately, we will relegate research and innovation to the margins of our society, making it much harder to reap the benefits and much harder to identify and prioritise the challenges people really care about. We need to build a truly inclusive system that values and nurtures a much wider range of careers and career paths. A good place to start is to change ideas about who is part of the research and innovation system.
  • To get the ball rolling, I am delighted to be collaborating with the Minister for Science Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway, to find 101 people, doing 101 different jobs that make major contributions to research and innovation, but who are not researchers and innovators. If you are one such person, or work with one and would like to participate in this project please email your suggestion to stories@ukri.org. I am also keen to hear about other ideas and initiatives that could support a more inclusive definition of the research and innovation system.

REF flexibility: At the end of last week the REF team provided more details on the extra support to help universities struggling to complete during lockdown:

  • Universities are no longer required to submit corroborating evidence for impact case studies, however, any evidence should be held by the institution in the event of audit. Uploaded evidence should be submitted by 1 June.
  • Errors can be corrected up to six weeks after the 31 March submission deadline.
  • More information was published on the labelling and delivery of physical outputs and redacting impact case studies for publication.

ARPA

  • UK ARPA ‘should run like a venture capital’ says former Head of Innovate UK. Ruth McKernan, now Chair of the BioIndustry Association, spoke out on 27 January at a Foundation for Science and Technology meeting exploring the UK ARPA which is expected to launch this year with £50 million in seed funding. Ruth advised that the UK ARPA should be designed in the spirit of a venture capital fund in order to reduce red tape and enable the speed and flexibility required to deliver high-risk, high-returns research.
  • Meanwhile on Monday Dods/The Financial Times reported that: new Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is pushing forward with plans to form the anticipated scientific research agency, and that legislation could be drawn up within weeks. As the agency is a standalone organisation, separate from UKRI, it requires its own legislation. The Treasury has authorised £800m of spending on the agency, which will fund “cutting-edge, high-risk, high-reward science here in the UK,” particularly in areas such as AI and data.

JISC – Support research & innovation 2021-23

Towards the end of last week Jisc published their research and innovation sector strategy 2021-23, setting out their seven key theme priorities identified through their engagement with the sector. Dods summarise:

  1. Supporting a new national data infrastructure for research
  • Never before have research and innovation been so dependent on infrastructure, on the capacity of network, security, connectivity and access management. This dependency will continue to grow.
  • Jisc commit to supporting a new national data infrastructure for research, underpinned by their existing Janet Network, cyber security, cloud and data infrastructures and will coordinate the implementation of a flexible set of solutions for institutions and research collaborations.
  1. UK research analytics: understanding systems, cultures, resources and decision-making
  • The data produced through the processes of research management could be used on a greater scale to transform research systems, cultures and decision-making. Exponentially upgraded analytical capacity is needed to build the strategic capabilities of UK research.
  • Jisc will examine the potential for a new UK research analytics platform and service, enhancing their existing analytics capabilities
  1. Recording the UK’s ‘research estate’ in support of a UK-wide research capability
  • The ability to identify, deploy, share and re-use physical and intangible assets that comprise the research estate are central to delivering efficiencies, the civic agenda, levelling up, open research and achieving net-zero. These assets also include the significant infrastructure which gives access to research, including content, library and archival collections.
  • Jisc will explore expanding the well-established digital approaches to the management and use of these assets
  1. Accelerating the achievement, delivery and monitoring of the journey to open research
  • Open research extends beyond the boundaries of open access articles to all research outputs, including metadata, data, code, algorithms and software, as well as the processes of research itself. It will continue to be a high priority for the UK research base, for funders and for Jisc.
  • Jisc commit to helping the UK embrace the full potential of open research by removing barriers, embedding open practices and developing infrastructure to support this potential.
  1. Applied research and knowledge exchange: supporting its commercialisation and deployment
  • The interconnected systems producing world-class research and innovation are increasingly reliant on shared and secure infrastructure to enable their growth. The breadth of academic-industry collaborations and commercial spinouts from academic research is set to grow.
  • Jisc commit to further supporting the acceleration of the impact of and knowledge exchange from research commercialisation through the enhanced use of shared research infrastructure.
  1. Rapid innovation in research management and active research
  • Research integrity, reproducibility and reuse, evaluation and assessment, new and inclusive forms of excellence and the responsible use of metrics are all areas that offer significant potential for greater efficiency and interoperability.
  • Jisc commit to exploring and building on innovative approaches in research management, including enhanced system interoperability, common data repository standards and metrics aggregator models
  1. ‘Research 4.0’: realising the art of the possible
  • Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 5G, quantum computing and biotechnologies are set to impact the UK’s world-leading research and innovation sector in the years ahead in ways yet to be imagined.
  • Jisc propose a technical enablers programme focusing on exemplifying leading-edge specialisms and a ‘research reimagined’ programme to better understand this future potential with and on behalf of our members.

Quick News update

  • The British Academy has submitted its pre-budget report to the Treasury calling for Horizon Europe funding to be ring fenced separately from BEIS research funding:
    • The funds required for Horizon Europe association should be additional to the existing budget for research and innovation, in order that we support and build the UK’s reputation as a global research and innovation leader in this period of uncertainty and upheaval.
    • And on ODA: We also wish to emphasise the importance and value of funding for global research and innovation activities through the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. Any reduction in the levels of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget for research and innovation activity will directly harm the UK’s ability to maintain its global position in terms of science and research. We are extremely concerned that even a temporary reduction in funding for scientific research will compromise the ability of the UK to act as a leader in addressing global challenges and building capacity in research talent, particularly at a time when COVID-19 has demonstrated the critical need for global collaboration. Both the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the £735m Newton Fund come under the aid budget.
    • Press release here.
  • Professor Matt Lambon Ralph has been appointed Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Non-Clinical Training and Career Development Panel. Matt was previously Associate Vice-President for Research at the University of Manchester including a focus on early career researchers. The panel is responsible for assessing applications for non-clinical fellowships across the MRC research portfolio. He is expected to sit on the panel for the standard length of four years.
  • UKRI and the Met Office have appointed Dr Gary Fuller (Imperial College London) as the new Clean Air Champion for the Strategic Priorities Fund Clean Air Programme (£42.5 million R&I investment programme). He joins the existing champions Professor Sir Stephen Holgate and Dr Jenny Baverstock. They will bring together outstanding researchers across atmospheric, medical and social sciences to develop practical solutions for air quality issues… equipping the UK to proactively tackle future air quality challenges related to changing emissions, exposure patterns and impacts on vulnerable groups of people.
  • UKRI has a news story on the Innovate UK £134 million in continuity loans to support small businesses drive on with innovative and exciting new products and services. Loans of between £250,000 and £1.6 million have been made to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and third sector organisations that would otherwise have struggled to continue with research and development activity.
  • The Public Accounts Committee has launched an inquiry into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Fund awards support for research and development projects under the Industrial Strategy four themes – clean growth, the ageing society, the future of mobility and artificial intelligence & the data economy. It constitutes a significant part of the Government’s commitment to spend £4.7 billion on R&D. The Committee will question senior officials at BEIS and UKRI on the management of the Fund, focussing on the design of the Fund and oversight of its implementation, and the approach taken to considering performance and progress in making the awards. The timing and announcement of the inquiry is interesting – we’ll be keeping an eye on this one.
  • Chris Skidmore writes in Conservative Home highlighting how Brexit has enabled the UK to respond faster on issues such as Covid vaccinations. He continues to argue about a focus on research.
    • With a new American President that believes in the power of science and research, the Prime Minister has found an ally and common ground upon which he can transform into a special science relationship. Focus on ‘shared values’ is intended to be a key part of the G7— what better value could there be to focus upon than investment in research and innovation?
    • A new international research fund, a new alliance of research universities, the chance to forge new international science programmes dedicated to transforming and de-carbonising energy supply… the potential is enormous. Yes, we can build back better, but we can do so much more effectively if we research back better too.
  • The Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has set out plans for a new UK subsidy control system: which will be the long-term replacement for the EU’s prescriptive state aid regime, will allow the UK to be more dynamic in providing support to businesses, including in innovative, R&D-focused industries, to encourage job creation and growth across all parts of the UK. [You’ll remember that state aid was a big issue in the Brexit negotiations at the end of the year].
  • The PM has established a new Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) which will identify and develop proposals across a range of areas that will drive innovation and competitiveness, reduce barriers to start-ups and scale-ups, create opportunities for innovation to make the most of cutting-edge technologies, and support growth and dynamism right across the UK economy. In particular:
    • Opportunities which could drive innovation and accelerate the commercialisation and safe adoption of new technologies, cementing the UK’s position as a global science and technology superpower.
    • Opportunities to reduce barriers to entry in specific markets and make markets more dynamic and contestable across the economy.
    • Opportunities to reduce administrative barriers to scaling up productive businesses; and to tailor any necessary processes to the needs of UK start-ups and SMEs while maintaining the Government’s commitment to high environmental standards and worker protections.
    • Opportunities to improve small business’ experience of necessary regulatory requirements.
    • Sectors of the economy or regulatory frameworks which should be prioritised for further regulatory deep dives.

The Taskforce is expected to report back to the PM in April. Their findings will be considered alongside the Government’s broader economic growth and regulatory agenda.  Cynics will remember the “bonfire of the quangos” under the Cameron government (this FT article reports the National Audit Office report that 285 public bodies were abolished but 184 new organsiations were created at the same time).

Parliamentary Questions

  • PhD extensions – I [Amanda Solloway] regularly meet with … the CEO of UKRI…to monitor how the pandemic is affecting UKRI-funded PhD students and the wider research system. We will continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 and UKRI continues to listen and respond carefully as the situation evolves.
  • What effect the 30% reduction in the Official Development Assistance allocation will have on the Government’s ringfenced climate change and R&D funding commitments.

Admissions

There was UCAS data released on 4th February.

Dods summarise the UCAS application and acceptance figures for the 2020 cycle:

There were 2,788,715 applications in this cycle – an increase on the 2019 cycle

  • Across all providers, there were 570,475 accepted applicants
  • There were 156,280 unconditional offers made
  • Providers across the UK had a 71.4% offer rate (72.8% in England, 56.6% in Scotland, 79% in Wales, 77.2% in NI)
  • Among lower tariff providers, this figure was 7%
  • Among medium tariff providers, this figure was 2%
  • Among higher tariff providers, this figure was 9%
  • Offer rates for UK 18 year olds by POLAR4 quintile were:
  • Q1: 78.6%
  • Q2: 78.9%
  • Q3: 79.4%
  • Q4: 79.7%
  • Q5: 80.5%

Key findings and trends:

  • Acceptances to computer science courses have risen by almost 50% (from 20,420 in 2011 to 30,090 in 2020)
  • Acceptances to engineering courses are up 21% from 25,995 in 2011 to 31,545 in 2020 – driven by an increase in demand from UK 18 year olds
  • Acceptances to the newer artificial intelligence (AI) courses have seen a 400% rise in the past decade (from just 65 in 2011 to 355 in 2020)
  • Despite the removal of NHS bursaries in 2017, demand for nursing places is now almost at the same level seen in 2011 (62,920 applicants made a nursing choice in 2020 compared to 63,275 in 2011) and acceptances have grown by 57% – representing an additional 13,635 students
  • With the expansion of medical places in the last few years, acceptances to medicine courses are at the highest level on record, growing 37% since 2017
  • Law increased from 22,720 acceptances in 2011 to 29,105 acceptances in 2020, with substantial increases to both higher and medium tariff providers across this period
  • Business increased from 61,100 acceptances in 2011 to 75,515 in 2020. Growth in acceptances across all provider tariff bands – with by far the largest increase to higher tariff providers
  • Psychology acceptances increase from 16,685 in 2011 to 26,200 in 2020. Again, there were increases across all tariff bands, with medium and higher tariff providers experiencing the largest increases
  • Humanities subjects have decreased in popularity over the last decade. English studies have seen a decrease from 10,020 acceptances in 2011 to 6,980 this year in 2020, and history and philosophical studies from 15,060 in 2011 to 12,870, though the data shows this decline seems to be confined to lower and medium tariff providers
  • Acceptances to modern language degree courses have decreased by 36% – from 6,005 in 2011 to 3,830 in 2020 across all tariff groups. This drop in demand is seen alongside a decrease in language A level entrants over the same timeframe.

Given the reverses in policy (student number controls and centre-assessed grades), the controversy about unconditional offers, last this year was a pretty interesting one for admissions teams.  Some of these things have implications this year too – we still have a ban on unconditional offers, and this year the impact of whatever Ofqual end up with will almost certainly ensure that there are once again more students with higher grades entering university.  The Russell Group are already asking for money to help them take more students in September (again).  And all this is just in time for another huge reversal of approach as the government consult on minimum entry requirements and post-qualification admissions.  Catch up on our policy update from 21st January on minimum entry requirements, and you can read the PQA consultation here (it runs until May, so no rush).

  • A data rich piece by David Kernohan using UCAS data on unconditional offer This was the big story just under a year ago, as despite strong Ministerial and OfS criticism of unconditional offers up to that point, and particularly strong pressure on “conditional unconditional offers”.    When the pandemic hit and exams were cancelled, some universities allegedly made many more unconditional offers, on the basis that it would remove stress for school and college leavers.  Of course, in March, as we went into the first lockdown, Michelle Donelan ordered universities to stop making unconditional offers, in a “moratorium” that later turned into a “time-limited” condition of registration with the OfS that remains in place today.  In their consultation the OfS proposed making the condition retrospective, with a view to penalising those universities who had made offers in the crucial early weeks of March – but this idea was dropped.  We might expect a response to the UCAS data from the OfS, which might not be super positive about it.
  • A piece on subject trends from UCAS data – including what they call the “Chris Whitty effect” as applications increased for health and social care programmes in 2020. This is of course good news for us all, especially given concerns about the impact of the controversial removal of NHS bursaries for these course and the incredible contribution made by many students during the pandemic on placement or starting paid work before the end of their courses.  In the piece, Sander Kristel, Chief Operations Officer at UCAS also looks at numbers for STEM, and the gender divide, and the decline in language students, and in English and humanities subjects too. David Kernohan of Wonkhe contributes some rich data on applications over time, by subject and by provider.
  • And an overview on the overall cycle, again by David Kernohan, with some startling data about winners and losers in terms of student numbers in 2020 and some analysis of student movements. In case you’ve forgotten, as well as a

HEPI has a piece from former universities minister (and former VC) Bill Rammell and education consultant Abhishek Nakhate on the ways that universities can turn knowledge of their applicants into successful recruitment.

Wonkhe also tell us that TES has an opinion piece on the opportunity in the Department for Education’s PQA consultation to uncouple university admissions from A levels completely.

Free Speech

On Monday Wonkhe announced the publication of a collaboration with a group of students leading students’ unions on free speech: Taking the debate forward: A new code to secure and champion freedom of speech and political diversity on campus. Wonkhe also gather together a series of information and recent content on free speech here.

Support for the new code has been given by Adam Clarke, Policy Manager, for the Russell Group. He states:

  • Universities, students and government all want to protect free speech and ensure robust academic debate. Engaging with challenging ideas is a vital element of the academic experience in UK universities.
  • As Wonkhe’s analysis shows, the overwhelming majority of planned students’ union events go ahead, giving speakers the opportunity to present controversial ideas on campus, which students can interrogate.
  • The proposals in this report are intended to help students’ unions broaden the range of views students are exposed to and continue to champion free speech on campus effectively. It sets out sensible additional steps students’ unions can take as independent bodies to protect free speech and how universities can support them in this critical work.
  • The creation of a new free speech code with an explicit goal of increasing the volume and diversity of debates on campuses would help students’ unions go further in their efforts to defend and maintain freedom of expression.

The Minister speaks (and writes, to everyone)

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, announced £50 million of new hardship funding for HE providers (to be distributed by the OfS). The Government press release states: The increased financial support comes as the majority of students have been asked to continue their studies remotely, as part of measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus…The new funding means that universities will be able to help students impacted by the pandemic, for example those facing additional costs for alternative accommodation, loss of employment, or extra costs to access their teaching online. Universities will distribute the funding and will be able to prioritise the funding to those most in need of help. The Government also stated it wanted universities to offer partial refunds for unused accommodation. No doubt the Government are hoping this will head off calls for tuition and rent refunds, at least for a few weeks. The written ministerial statement is here.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

  • This continues to be an incredibly difficult and challenging time for our students, and I am hugely grateful to all the university staff working hard to prioritise their health, wellbeing and learning during this pandemic. The additional £50 million that we are announcing today will mean we have distributed £70m for hardship in this financial year alone – on top of the £256m of government-funded student premium which universities can use for student support this academic year. This additional support will provide real, tangible help for those students struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. We will continue to prioritise a full return to education as soon possible, in line with public health advice. I am also working with universities and professional bodies to ensure students can graduate as planned.
  • On distributing the funds Wonkhe have stated that the DfE tells us the mechanism for doing so is yet to be determined, and we understand that OfS will shortly be writing to provider accountable officers with a proposed distribution methodology.

On Wednesday Donelan made a statement to the House explaining that HE providers will have flexibility in how they distribute funding to students including to masters and international students. There was also an urgent question from Paul Blomfield in the House of Commons on Wednesday and Jim Dickinson (of Wonkhe) has live tweeted the whole debate – very funny but also rather sad.

If you can face it, you can re-read MD’s original set of late on a Friday night tweets (STUDENT MESSAGES 1- 6) that so enraged so many.

Donelan spoke on Radio 4 stating she wanted to ensure students and HE providers understood that hardship support from this funding shouldn’t be just a one-time offer, that students could return to their providers for additional help later on, where appropriate and if required.

Many organisations published their reactions to the announcement. We’ve picked out the key stakeholders who continue to call for the Government to do more:

  • Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: While the additional funding is welcome, the government must also acknowledge that student hardship is just one of many increasingly difficult issues facing students, universities and staff at this time. As the serious mental health impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, universities need further funding to alleviate the substantial increases in demand that university wellbeing and support services are experiencing. Although university staff are making huge efforts to offer high quality online learning, the government should provide support that recognises that students are missing out on the wider student experience that they would benefit from in a normal year.
  • Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: It is good to see…measures further boosted by the Government with additional funds specifically for students facing difficulties with day-to-day living costs. This group is likely to be far wider than those who would normally be eligible for support through OfS student premium funding.
  • NUS National President Larissa Kennedy said: …this will not be enough to tackle the scale of the issue. If Westminster did the right thing and matched the hardship funding being made available in Wales for students the amount needed would be more than £700m…The pandemic has exposed the flaws at the core of our education system – it functions at the expense of students’ mental health and wellbeing, and through our financial exploitation…We also need a long term solution to ensure that no student suffers in this way again. The Government must adopt a new vision for education, starting with a return to maintenance grant funding and a boost in how much students can access, redressing extortionate housing costs, and moving towards fully funded education so students are never pushed into these kinds of dire financial situations

On Thursday the Minister published yet another open letter to students (sent to universities late on Tuesday).  It repeats much of the content of previous letters, including about how to complain.  You can read the full text of the letter it in the Minister’s tweet here.

In an expansion of the now well established DfE practice of sending open letters to students to be shared by providers (usually arriving late at night, often on a Friday), this time in a burst of creative energy the Minister also wrote to staff at providers.  BU readers can find the message here.

Access & Participation

Social Mobility Commission

We learn the reasoning behind the move of the Commission to the Cabinet office here:

  • This move aligns with a recent recommendation by the Chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the Social Mobility Commission’s (SMC) own recommendation about where it would best fit within government, and with a recommendation by the Education Select Committee in 2018.
  • Moving the sponsorship of the SMC to become a key part of the new Equality Hub makes good sense and puts equality and fairness of all kinds at the heart of government. The move shows how serious this government is about acting on these issues, as part of our levelling up agenda.

There’s a parliamentary question on the Social Mobility Commission’s report Changing gears: understanding downward social mobility setting out the Government’s approach to social mobility and it also mentions the move to the Cabinet Office.

The Social Mobility Commission published its annual review and business plan 2020 this week. They state: In this extraordinarily challenging year, we have made significant strides in influencing government policy, while making meaningful connections with employers and embarking upon an ambitious programme of activities. On the move to the Cabinet Office they state: As we prepare to move to the Cabinet Office from 1 April 2021, we look forward to taking a more influential role in addressing social and regional inequality.

The report has a timeline to highlight the key milestones in 2020 (see further below). And they summarise their achievements as:

  • launching an employers’ programme and microsite for businesses to help recruit more people from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • publishing 13 ground-breaking research reports on aspects of social mobility which got widespread media pick-up
  • reaching out to a younger audience
  • In addition we built up our network of Ambassador organisations to help spread our message, held dozens of seminars, webinars, training sessions and masterclasses, and launched a campaign for increased resources on further education

There’s lots more detail in the report including short summaries and links to the key publications.

Disability – price fixing

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has issued advisory letters to some firms supplying goods and services to disabled university students, following concerns that there may have been price-fixing. The Government press release with more detail is here. Excerpts from the press release:

  • Price-fixing is a serious breach of competition law and can cheat people out of a lower price, which could have been available if competition was working properly.
  • The CMA is concerned that SLC [Student Loans Company] – and so ultimately the taxpayer – may have paid over the odds for certain goods and services because some suppliers agreed prices before providing quotations. This alleged activity could also have reduced the overall amount which disabled students have available for purchasing equipment through the scheme.
  • While the CMA has been considering these allegations, SLC has told the CMA that it is making a number of changes to the way it procures goods and services for disabled students. The changes will increase price transparency and competition amongst companies, and should therefore limit the potential for anti-competitive behaviour to take place.
  • The CMA has not made a legal finding as to whether competition law has been broken at this stage, but it will keep this sector under review, 

Wonkhe have a blog – Is a market the best way of supporting disabled students?

And the Student Loans Company have issued a statement following the CMA’s action stating they welcome the advisory action and that they take these allegations of anti-competitive behaviour within the DSA supplier base extremely seriously… Also they have already embarked on a programme of significant reforms, designed to transform the customer experience, improve the provision of DSA and to make the overall processes more efficient. These reforms will also increase transparency of pricing and increase competition thus limiting the potential for any anti-competitive behaviour. SLC has already procured an e-quotation system, which will allow more suppliers to quote for work and will increase transparency of pricing and competition.

Lost learning

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published research on the crisis in lost school learning. Dods have summarised the report. The report sets out the potential long-run costs of lost schooling and finds that, as a result of the pandemic, children across the UK are likely to lose at least half a year of normal, in-person schooling. They conclude that, absent a substantial policy response, the long-run effects of this learning loss are likely to be slow-moving and substantial – arguing that, in the end, we will all be less productive, poorer, have less money to spend on public services, and we may be less happy and healthy as a result. They also say that we will probably also be more unequal, with all the social ills that come with it. Key findings:

  • By February half-term, children across the UK will have lost at least half a year of normal, in person schooling. This would increase to two thirds of a year if schools weren’t to reopen as normal until Easter
  • Early evidence already suggests this loss of schooling is contributing to lower educational progress and skills, particularly for disadvantaged pupils
  • Existing evidence on returns to schooling would imply a long-run loss in earnings of £350bn
  • If, the efforts by schools, teachers, children, parents and charities allowed us to mitigate 75% of this effect, the total loss would still be £90bn
  • A large amount of these negative effects are likely to be borne by children from lower-income families, resulting in a likely rise in inequality over the long-run
  • A massive injection of resources is likely to be required to help pupils properly catch up
  • A useful benchmark to judge these plans is the normal cost of half a year of schooling, about £30 billion across the UK
  • So far, governments across the UK have allocated about £1.5bn towards the cost of catch-up – this is highly unlikely to be sufficient to help pupils catch-up or prevent inequalities from widening.

HEPI has a blog by Gwen Morris on “Closing the attainment gap: how disadvantaged pupils have been impacted by COVID-19

Students in the pandemic

Financial woes

Aside from the hardship funding described above, there is more heat than light on this subject.

The APPG for Students released a report from their inquiry into tuition and accommodation costs during Covid-19 making the case for compensation. (Note – an APPG inquiry does not have the same power within Parliament as an official select committee inquiry and the Government is not compelled to respond to it.)

The APPG state the priority is to provide students with the financial assistance they need now – through an emergency hardship fund and full compensation for rents for unused accommodation due to lockdown measures. Recommendations:

  1. The Government should substantially increase hardship funding to address rental costs for student properties they cannot access, lost income, digital poverty and other unexpected cost.
  2. The Government should consider the introduction of means-tested maintenance grants to assist the ‘Covid cohort’ with the costs they face.
  3. The Government should work with landlords to introduce measures to temporarily increase flexibility for student accommodation to allow students to leave contracts they aren’t using more easily, and to reduce pressure on landlords.
  4. Government should establish a ‘Covid Student Learning Remediation Fund’, to allow lost learning to be addressed through provision of educational opportunities not available through the pandemic.
  5. UKRI studentships for PGR students should be extended to allow research to be finished to usual high standards, in circumstances where lockdown has affected access to facilities and resources. Consideration should also be given to support for self-funded students.

Dods have an impartial and clear article on the call for refunds in The House (parliamentary) magazine. It highlights a difficult factor that the sector is fully aware of:  it is unclear what shape a refund of a loan that most would never fully repay anyway would take.  And other tricky elements:

  • So who should pay when customers (i.e. students) feel they are no longer getting value for money? It would be easy to conclude that it should be down to HE providers themselves. But when we consider that many of the restrictions causing these issues come from government-mandated measures, and ultimately from a global pandemic, where to lay the blame becomes less clear.
  • And what is a customer to do once they’ve received a refund, but are still left with what they believe to be a faulty product? Money in the pockets of students might satisfy their initial gripes, but they still might not get what they set out to achieve when they completed their UCAS application.

Wonkhe have a review article going over it all: Someone has to give in the great tuition fees battle. Who will it be? A light read as Jim Dickinson injects some great examples in there. It covers student consent to changes in the curriculum arising from the pandemic. It concludes: Something – or more specifically, someone – has to give here. And if universities have nothing left, it’s either students or DfE. OfS wagging its finger at universities is just fence-sitting. The actual side that OfS picks in the coming battle will tell us everything we need to know both about its real priorities and its “independence“.

Wonkhe also cover a mini legal hiccup relating to the vacation (Christmas) household and their term time address.

Wonkhe report: Accommodation provider Unite has announced it will extend its 50 per cent rent discount until 8 March 2021. The extension applies automatically to students who successfully applied for the original discount. 

The BBC covered a letter written by the VC’s of seven universities calling for the interest on student loans to be scrapped for 15 months to ease the pressure on graduates. I.e. from lockdown 1 to summer 2021. The BBC state that just for first year undergraduates it would cost £33 million. The Government has stated that this wouldn’t support students now, which the hardship funding they announced (in Access and Participation section) will. The Government also reminded that half of students do not fully pay back their student loan. The VC’s letter also highlighted that demands for hardship funds have increased by over 100% in some universities.

On Tuesday the petitions committee met to consider e-petitions:

Guidance: The DfE published new return to campus guidance for HE students and providers. All remains as expected:

  • All teaching to remain online until at least 8 March except for certain practical subjects (e.g. veterinary, policing, medicine)
  • On accommodation and costsit states: Because of the changing position relating to face to face teaching and occupation of accommodation, students’ loan entitlements for the current term will not be reassessed if they are still incurring accommodation costs away from home, meaning that students in receipt of the ‘living away from home’’ loan will retain the maintenance loans paid at the start of term, which will be repaid in the usual way. This should help to ensure students have the financial support they need during these exceptional circumstances. Students who are no longer incurring accommodation costs away from home (e.g. because they have exited their contracts, or moved home permanently), or who no longer wish to receive the higher rate of loan, should continue to request reassessment.
  • On testing: HE providers should set a clear expectation that all students should access coronavirus (COVID-19) testing immediately on their return to university and on a twice weekly basis thereafter (until the end of March). With students who choose not to get tested on return, to self-isolate for ten days.

Quick News: Meanwhile a review published by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has found that the currently unregulated use of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) products nearly quadrupled to £2.7bn during 2020 and five million people had used them since the start of the pandemic. This has been flagged as a potential student concern because: The trend of younger people moving away from products such as credit cards and towards new offerings, including unregulated BNPL products was regularly raised by respondents to the review. It calls for the market to be properly regulated as there is significant potential for consumer harm. The Treasury confirmed interest-free BNPL agreements will now be regulated by the FCA. It means that providers will need to undertake affordability checks before lending and ensure that customers are treated fairly, especially those who are vulnerable and struggling with repayments.

Parliamentary Questions: No detriment

Student Experience – retaining some online learning

Dods share that Times Higher Education have published the results and subsequent report of their Digital Teaching Survey, which aims to capture an overview of universities’ digital transitions in response to the pandemic, and the effect this has on students and learning outcomes. You can view the report in full here

Carried out in October and November, the survey attracted 520 self-selecting respondents. And although the majority (334) are from the UK, a total of 46 countries are represented in the responses, spread across all continents bar Antarctica.  Among the findings are:

  • More than half of respondents say the initial move to online teaching had a negative effect on their mental health, and nearly six in 10 believe it hit their students’ mental health.
  • Only a fifth believe that their students value remote education as much as face-to-face, but less than a third think tuition fees should be discounted when instruction moves online.
  • Only four in 10 junior academics believe their reopened universities’ planning for Covid outbreaks is robust, compared with seven in 10 senior managers.
  • Less than a fifth of respondents regard the two-track physical and online approach to teaching as sustainable, while two-fifths regard an online-only future as sustainable.
  • Respondents are mostly unsure whether good online teaching results in stronger learning than traditional teaching, but more than twice as many disagree as agree.
  • More than three-quarters would like online meetings to endure beyond the pandemic.

Wonkhe and Pearson published findings from their latest student experience research: Students’ experiences of study during Covid-19 and hopes for future learning and teaching and Pearson have a blog highlighting the key elements here. They work through what aspects of online and blended delivery should be retained in the short term, what are the areas for longer term strategic development, and what can be gratefully consigned to the dustbin of history.

There seems to be a consensus among university leaders of learning and teaching that while the explosion in online and blended learning of the past year didn’t come about in exactly the way the sector would have chosen, there’s now little sense in reverting back to the way things were before.

In the blog Pearson say:

  • What university leaders may consider heartening and daunting in equal measure is that there are very few elements of online learning and teaching that the students we surveyed would not like to see continue after the pandemic.
  • Also: Despite the positive endorsement of many aspects of online and blended learning, these findings should not be taken as an absolute endorsement of the quality of the academic experience as it’s currently being delivered.
  • Our sense from the survey is that students understand – up to a point – the challenges facing universities and teaching staff and genuinely appreciate ongoing efforts to support them. Students were particularly warm about communications with teaching staff, with 82 per cent agreeing that tutors are responsive when they need them.

And on a quality experience:

  • However, when we asked straight out whether students thought their academic experience had been of sufficiently good quality during the autumn term, only 40 per cent said yes. This increased to 56 per cent for those who had reported their course had been delivered through a mixture of face to face and online.
  • You might argue that students don’t have a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the concept of “quality” to be able to answer that question meaningfully. So we also asked about aspects of course delivery.
  • 32 per cent agreed and 41 per cent somewhat agreed that teaching is intellectually stimulating. 31 per cent agreed and 38 per cent somewhat agreed that their course is clear and well organised. This suggests that for the most part the basics are in place in terms of teaching and curriculum. That said, improving the organisation and signposting of courses in the VLE could be a relatively easy way for universities to further support their students in this area.

The blog also highlights (by comparison to earlier June 2020 survey) that access to feedback, support from lecturers, and access to technology and resources have all improved. Where there’s room for further investigation is in providing a consistently engaging online learning experience and bringing curriculum content to life for students. 

Moving forward – continuing to teach remotely during Covid

63% would like more opportunities for interactions with other students
57% would choose more contact time with tutors

Methods to support monitoring their own progress were also highlighted. The blog states:

Only 35 per cent said they have regular indicators about how they are performing on the course. In a context where students are more isolated and have fewer opportunities to compare notes with peers or talk informally to lecturers, building opportunities for self-assessment of progress can be especially helpful to give students academic confidence and self-efficacy, especially given the finding on students’ sense of their own preparedness for formal assessment. 36 per cent said that more frequent assessments and progress reviews would make a difference to their experience.

Pearson say:

  • Where educators aspire to take forward a rich flexible learning environment that blends face to face and online elements, there’s an opportunity to make some of the latent aspects of learning more explicit through the course design. For example, better user experience (UX) design of VLEs could vastly improve signposting and help set expectations around learning. With flexible learning, educators could be much less constrained by scheduled contact hours, and more able to create curriculum structures and processes that enable students to progress in their learning.
  • Interaction between students need not only take place in the classroom but can be supplemented by online discussion and forums. Curriculum content can be broken down into more manageable chunks that can be digested digitally, and the classroom used for more engaging interactive tasks and activities.
  • Academic skills development can be baked explicitly into learning activities with defined tasks designed to be completed during independent learning time. Crucially, students can be encouraged and supported to develop as independent learners through use of formative self-assessment. And all this could be supported with remote check-ins with tutors and online access to wellbeing, careers and academic support services.
  • it’s clear that, now students have recognised the benefits of a more flexible approach,the direction of travel in meeting students expectations for the future of learning and teaching will be towards a more purposefully flexible approach that draws on the best of both online and face to face learning. Although one does wonder whether it is the institutions rather than the students that needed to recognise the benefits of flexible blended learning. The infrastructure and mindset change cannot be underestimated but we can hope the pandemic accelerated the turnaround of the proverbial educational oil tanker.

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

Programmes

  • Increases in students studying video games degrees since 2012/13.
  • A Turing (student mobility) website is coming soon – more information…and setting out the application process in the coming weeks

Augar

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Many of the consultations this year have potential to be transformative for the sector. BU readers can find our response to the OfS consultation on quality and standards here.  You can read the UUK response here and the one from London Higher here.

As we note above, the PQA consultation is live (we are considering a BU response)

Other news

Nick Hillman makes the case that English universities need to cultivate allies – either in wider society or in Whitehall – to prepare for the coming spending review.

Equality: Advance HE published the blog Ensuring continued steps towards gender equality. And Wonkhe report: Advance HE has released the second part of its literature review investigating the prevalence of unconscious bias in teaching and learning in higher education. Bias in the Curriculum brings together best practice from across Advance HE members, recommending that an awareness of curriculum bias be built into teaching, with students invited to co-create interventions to address it.

Youth Mental Health: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made an announcement on appointing Dr. Alex George as a Youth Mental Health Ambassador

Law Programmes: A new Wonkhe blog – A new qualification route will shape future lawyers – the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) offers law schools the chance to radically rethink their course offer.

Careers support: Wonkhe report: A report from the City and Guilds Group and Burning Glass finds that just 16 per cent of working adults understands how their skills would transfer to another career. The survey of just over 1,000 adults finds that 21 per cent lacked knowledge of work in other employment sectors, and 19 per cent described a “lack of confidence” in considering a second career. TES has the story.

Low quality courses: Wonkhe comment on a SRHE blog piece stating it explains how the ministerial complaints around standards and “low quality” courses have only become less coherent over the past ten years.

Brexit: Wonkhe reports that The European University Association has published a short briefing into the implications for universities of the final Brexit agreement. The document covers the UK’s withdrawal from the Eramus scheme, cross-border data sharing and trade in educational services, and travel and residence between the UK and the EU.

Youth Unemployment: In December 2020 the Lords Liaison Committee recommended that the House established a new special inquiry committee to consider youth unemployment, education and skills. This report set out recommendations for the Committee to address. They include:

  • The societal trend of prioritising the A-level/University route, the consequences for the labour market and society and what steps may be taken to address this.
  • The funding and support provided for technical education, including apprenticeships, sector-based skills programmes and the national skills fund.
  • The challenges posed by COVID-19 and Brexit to the employment prospects for young people and how these might be addressed.

The Youth Unemployment Committee has now been established in the Lords, the details are gradually being populated here and this link names the members.

Wellbeing:  Just after we sent last week’s policy update a new report was issued by Jisc and Emerge Education Student and staff wellbeing in higher education. It suggests ways in which universities can address student mental health and wellbeing by embracing technology and embedding wellbeing practices into every aspect of university life.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 28th January 2021

The media and sector are still digesting last week’s policy onslaught. You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

There are new student statistics out, a new independent reviewer of Prevent, the international students’ graduate visa is still unclear and remote learning must continue for most students.

Online teaching continues

Restrictions remain in place for universities who are only permitted to offer remote learning until 8 March at earliest. Students on ‘critical courses’ such as medical, clinical and healthcare subjects will continue with their Covid-secure face to face teaching. Students and staff on campus are instructed to continue to take part in twice weekly testing on offer to help limit transmission and identify asymptomatic cases. The Government’s press release is here.  The position will be reviewed on 22nd February.

Parliamentary News

Former Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, comments on the recent raft of HE policy documents issued by the Government. Chris says:

  • …it is tempting to think that something is happening in the education world. That temptation should be tempered, for nothing really will—or indeed can—happen until the sound of the Treasury till ringing open at the Spending Review later in the year. Samuel Beckett might have titled this particular ongoing saga, ‘Waiting for Rishi’.
  • Still, enough morsels—consultations on consultations—have been thrown out there to keep the higher education policy world busy for now. And those with learned, occasionally bitter, experience of these matters know that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, as the history of white papers and their eventual chrysalis into legislative butterflies demonstrates.

Tuition Fees & Student Loans:

The latest petition to reduce the maximum student fee from £9,250 to £3,000 has been rejected by the Government with this rebuff: Tuition fee levels must represent value for money and ensure that universities are properly funded. Government is not considering a reduction in maximum fee levels to £3,000. There is a full Government response here which closely follows the established party line and ticks all the HE policy bingo boxes you would expect it to.

The Government also confirmed there are no plans to cap the income repayment threshold for student loans.

Research

R&D Roadmap: The Government published the results of their consultation on the proposed UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap.

During the November 2020 Spending Review the Government committed to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science and innovation by investing £14.6 billion in R&D in 2021/22, supporting the R&D Roadmap commitments and helping to consolidate the UK’s position as a science superpower on the road to spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027.  The Government report the research community was overwhelmingly supportive of the ambitions set out in the R&D roadmap (published July 2020). The Roadmap proposals included setting up an Office for Talent and creating an Innovation Expert Group to review and improve how the government supports research; the proposals are expected to be developed into a comprehensive R&D plan.

Dods summarise the responses:

  • Responses emphasised that the sustainability of funding was an important factor in achieving bigger research breakthroughs and for strengthening our research infrastructure and institutions. Specifically, support for a balanced portfolio of research and innovation activities, with a diverse range of funding mechanisms was considered “important to increase the effective application of new knowledge and encourage innovation.
  • Responses also suggested that place-based funding—which is a major priority of the government—could build upon local expertise and existing strengths using both new and existing mechanisms. Increased funding for both research and innovation activities, as well as for public engagement activities, was viewed as important to inspire and support the new generation.
  • The need for an improved research and innovation culture was also emphasised. Responses indicated that improving research and innovation culture through promoting greater diversity in the R&D community, making R&D a more attractive career, and reducing bureaucratic processes were vital factors in achieving bigger research breakthroughs, encouraging innovation, and attracting, retaining and developing diverse people and teams.
  • Responses also suggested that research must be informed by, and partnered with, a wide range of relevant stakeholders to achieve real-world impact. Other key themes that emerged from the survey included greater support for collaboration and knowledge exchange across the R&D landscape, a strategic and long-term approach to set a clear direction for the UK and continued support for education, training and skills.

You can read all the responses in detail here.

Whilst discussing the next steps the Government have committed to publishing a new places strategy for R&D (including the devolved nations). They also continue to explore how we best create an environment where diverse and talented people from all over the world are enabled and encouraged to work to the best of their ability and fulfil their potential in their career of choice.

Innovation slump: The National Centre for Universities and Business published a report on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on how universities contribute to innovation. It found that:

  • nearly 90% of UK universities reported a significant proportion (I.e. over 10%) of their innovation projects had been delayed due to the pandemic.
  • 48% of the universities surveyed reported that the scale and scope of innovation projects were being reduced.
  • 36% reported that more than 10% of their innovation activities and projects with external partners were cancelled. With 45% recognising a decline of at least a 6% in the overall level of innovation activities they have with industrial partners. Aerospace, automotive manufacturing and within the creative industries experience bigger adverse effects.
  • Institutions stated that the lack of financial resources to support collaborations, insufficient government funding to such activities and the inability to access the necessary facilities and equipment for work to continue were the reasons behind the reduction in innovation.
  • It was also recognised that the roles of universities in driving innovation may change as the UK confronts the economic recovery

On moving forward the report finds:

  • Government schemes helped universities continue to contribute to innovation through the crisis
  • More needs to be done to enable universities to contribute fully to economic renewal
  • More funding for core knowledge exchange services, translation and commercialisation, and challenge & outcome driven programmes
  • Supporting place-making
  • Targeted support for place and sector recovery from Covid
  • Improve flexibility, bureaucracy and terms of funding
  • Ensure metrics capture diversity of contributions and reward diversity of universities
  • Ensure long-term sustainability of the university system and its ability to contribute to innovation and economic development

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

  • Covid-19 has brought the importance of collaboration between academia and industry firmly into public awareness. Indeed, breakthroughs such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are only possible because of the advent of collaborative partnerships. This is why the new survey data released today is so worrisome. Nearly 90% of universities have been forced to delay a significant proportion (more than 10%) of new innovation projects with external partners, and over a third have reported that projects have been cancelled.
  • Maintaining these types of innovation projects is vital if we are to boost productivity, improve livelihoods, and drive forward economic recovery. Innovation requires collaboration. And we see time and time again that collaboration requires strong partners. We are therefore urgently encouraging all businesses and UK universities to continue to form these vital partnerships. What’s more, we are also calling on the Government to take proactive steps to help companies stay afloat and investing in R&D through the crisis. This includes extending Covid-19 support schemes and postponing repayment of loans until lockdown restrictions are significantly eased. In no uncertain terms, for the UK to emerge from this crisis stronger, we need to encourage innovation. Driving an innovative economy, through tax incentives, effective regulation and well-targeted support schemes must be a fundamental component of the March 2021 Budget. We need to see action now, before it’s too late.

Tomas Ulrichsen, Director of the University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the study and authored the report said:  The new findings released today show that Covid-19 has had a hugely disruptive impact on universities and their ability to continue to contribute to innovation through the current health and economic crisis. We have seen the transformational effects of universities and businesses working together in finding practical and innovative solutions to wicked societal problems. This is why the findings of our study are so worrying. A strong, resilient and sustainable system of universities, research institutes and technology development organisations, working in close partnership with the private, charitable, and public sectors will be crucial to driving an innovation-led economic recovery and tackling other critical and urgent global challenges. Unless we proactively tackle the many challenges facing universities and their innovation partners to reverse these worrying trends, we risk not only hampering our economic recovery but also the UK’s longer-term competitiveness in key sectors.

Research Professional comment on the significant proportion of innovation projects delayed due to Covid: This is not surprising given that most institutions are still imposing bans on ‘non-essential travel’, labs have been closed periodically during the pandemic and industrial partners have been making extensive use of the furlough scheme. There is a limit to the innovation you can do on MS Teams—it doesn’t even have a ‘breakout rooms’ function, for pity’s sake.

Research Funding Subsidy: Last week’s funding letter cut the additional teaching funding that London institutions receive to cover the additional costs relating to teaching within the capital. This prompted fears from London institutions that they may also lose research subsidies associated with their higher costs (12% inner and 8% outer London) – which would run to significant figures and threaten some London institutions’ stability. Research Professional explore this concern in London Waiting  and explain that Research England have stated they haven’t yet received the funding allocations for 2021/22 so cannot consider the impact on quality related funding.

Quick News

  • Sustainability: The University of Exeter have launched the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Hub (CE-Hub). The hub will work with the five centres recently announced to explore how reusing waste materials in a wide range of industries, including textiles, construction, chemical and metals, could deliver huge environmental benefits and boost the UK economy… It will create a repository of national research, knowledge and tools to inform new research, policy and industry solutions, facilitating collaboration across a wide range of sectors and strengthening a UK-wide community dedicated to delivering a circular economy.
  • Everyone loves a space story. Here is the Government’s press release on the spacewalk to install the British funded Columbus Ka-band Terminal.
  • Research Professional: Horizon Europe ‘will be open to UK researchers from the start’. European Commission encourages applications from, and collaboration with, UK-based researchers
  • The rumours that Scotland and Wales are committee to find a way to stay in Erasmus+ have bounced about ever since the announcement the UK would not take part. Research Professional covers the latest here.

Prevent

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has announced the new Independent Reviewer of Prevent will be William Shawcross. Shawcross will have some time to settle into his role and to adjust the terms of reference and set timescales before he relaunches the Independent Review of Prevent. Originally a call for evidence as part of the review was launched in December 2019 but progress stalled due to the pandemic. Shawcross’ appointment isn’t without controversy. Prior to his confirmation in the role Muslim Engagement and Development expressed concern given his longstanding history of propagating Islamophobic views.

Industrial Strategy

All the way back in November 2017 Theresa May’s Government finally published the Industrial Strategy admist much fanfare and after months of trailing its contents. A flurry of activity and focus on the four grand challenges followed. However, Theresa May was ousted as PM and when Boris assumed the mantle there was an unofficial cooling towards the Industrial Strategy which was never explicitly stated. However, this week Boris’ Government have made a move and updated some of the missions associated with the four grand challenges and laid out further progress updates. You’ll need a keen eye to spot the new material.  It looks much the same.

More engaging was this week’s BEIS Committee session Post-pandemic economic growth: Industrial Strategy which contained various elements relating to HE (quick points below). Dods have provided a fuller summary of both sessions here. The second session included testimony from both Science & Research Minister Amanda Solloway and CEO of UKRI Dame Ottoline Leyser.

  • The scale of ISCF initiatives had led to a remarkable acceleration in collaboration with universities and that increasing the ISCF would be welcome by the university community.
  • The Grand Challenges largely spent money in the right places but there were issues in how this was then used, in particular which risk sharing mechanisms were used and relative spend on pure science/blue sky research vs targeted research.
  • Where there are linkages between universities facilitation of collaboration between academia and business at local level to support local industrial strategies the evidence shows large spillover effects on the local economies. The Researchers In Residence programme which puts academics into industry to solve specific problems was also mentioned.
  • Defining success of the delivery of the industrial strategy – Leyser, stated that defining success was a contested issue. She said proximal measures such as number of patents and jobs created could be used; she said the ISCF metrics on these issues looked positive but there was an issue over whether this translated into long-term productivity.
  • On ISCF delays/ Innovate UK grants Solloway said BEIS needed to work to fund ways to reduce bureaucracy and get grants out quicker.

Access & Participation

White & left behind: This week the Education Committee continued its inquiry into Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (summary of the session here). There was little content on HE aside from witness, Dr Javed Khan, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardo’s, stating that it was important not to over-emphasise the importance of university, compared with other further education pathways when he was questioned on what solutions there were to address the issue of white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds being the least likely to attend university.

Meanwhile Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, has published a new OfS blog – White students who are left behind: the importance of place. It reiterates familiar messages that HE colleagues focussed on access will be very familiar with, alongside hints and mentions of other Governmental priorities such as levelling up and HE institutions working in partnership with schools and colleges. It even tentatively touches on the (slightly controversial but so far has flown under the radar) sudden move of the Social Mobility Commission into the Cabinet office. Below are the best bits from Millward’s blog, but, really, I’d recommend you read the succinct version by the BBC instead.

  • The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them. So they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives. Research suggests that this is not about low aspirations or wanting any less for children; it is about expectations – a realistic assessment of the barriers to getting on. Schools can do a lot to shift expectations, but as recent focus groups have shown, people in left-behind towns feel the decline of local institutions and civic engagement.  The Social Mobility Commission has identified the need to join up educational interventions with other measures to improve local prosperity and it is now better placed  to drive this across government through the Cabinet Office…universities and colleges can bring this together in their local areas through the breadth of their subject interests, their relationships with businesses and public services, and their bridging of education and skills with research and development. This equips them to create pathways through all levels of education, both full-time and while in work, and for adults as well as young people.

From the BBC article, Poor white teens in ‘left behind’ towns not going to uni:

  • …male white British free school meal pupils are the least likely of all the main ethnic groups to progress to higher education (DfE)
  • 59% of youngsters from black African families on free meals went to university and 32% of black Caribbean youngsters eligible for free meals… for white pupils on free meals the figure was 16% – and only 13% for boys.
  • The research emphasises the importance of place, identifying particularly low entry rates in “former industrial towns and cities across the north and midlands, or coastal towns”.
  • But white students on free meals in London seemed to have bucked the trend, with an…entry rate that “has pulled away from that in other parts of the country” – and the capital overall has higher rates of going to university.

TASO: Wonkhe: A report from Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) highlights the lack of good quality evidence for interventions to support care-experienced students in higher education. Summarising 57 published studies, and validating findings with 18 sector practitioners, it calls for the availability of better quality data drawing on agreed definitions. There are also recommendations that each provider should have a named contact for care-experienced students.

Exams: Minster for School Standards Nick Gibb: Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows, we cannot guarantee all students will be in a position to fairly sit their exams this summer.

Disability: Wonkhe: The Disabled Students’ Commission has released guidance for pupils with disabilities when applying for undergraduate courses. The guide aims to highlight potential barriers during the UCAS application process, as well as detailed routes to and eligibility for funding for reasonable adjustment.

Decolonisation: Wonkhe: The National Union of Students (NUS) has launched a library of decolonisation resources. It hosts information on what decolonisation is and links to podcasts, books, videos and articles to help readers explore, and expand skills and knowledge of the decolonising higher education movement.

Parliamentary Questions

International

Graduate Visa Route – Covid Barrier. Research Profession explore the confusion surrounding graduate visas stating it threatens to undermine the government’s message to international students. This stems from the Government’s decision that international students who did not return to the UK by April 2021 might lose their eligibility for the Graduate Immigration Route (i.e. the right to remain in the UK for two years after completing their studies). The Government have stated: It is a core principle of the graduate route that someone must have spent some time studying in the UK…In light of the impact Covid-19 has had on international students, those who began studying overseas in autumn 2020 and who enter the UK before 6 April 2021 to complete their course will be eligible for the graduate route if they meet the requirements. And: Those who begin study overseas in January 2021 will also be eligible for the route if they enter the UK to complete their course before 27 September 2021 and meet the requirements…Any period of distance learning in the current academic year will not count against eligible students who graduate after 2021, providing they complete their course in the UK under the student route. Those who do not complete their studies in the UK will be ineligible.

Research Professional explain that the sticking point is that that government guidance for international students urged them to stay away unless their course required them to be on campus for face to face teaching. A commentator within the article states it is:  highly unreasonable, and from a policy point of view self-defeating, to take fees from international students, advise them to delay travel for health policy reasons and then pronounce that they cannot follow the graduate visa route because they did not return to the UK in time. Particularly when the pandemic’s second wave is raging and they would put themselves at risk by arriving in the UK. Quite!

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, responded: We are working closely with the government, UK universities and sector bodies to support the smooth implementation of the route and to ensure its success. Given the current Covid-related restrictions, we understand that international students are, on the whole, being advised not to travel to the UK at this time, and we continue to work with partners to ensure that students can still benefit from this opportunity. And that Universities UK was “actively working with the Home Office to explore what further flexibilities can be introduced given the ongoing restrictions”.

You can read the full Research Professional article here.

Access to Healthcare: Wonkhe cover the i News report explaining that European students who study in the UK will have to pay more than £1,000 to access healthcare, with the opportunity to claim the cost back a year or more later.

More on last week’s announcements

You can read more in last week’s BU policy update here (for staff) or here on the blog.  We also did a separate 6 page summary of the White Paper for BU readers.

Admissions: Wonkhe have a short and interesting article outlining three options to address differential learning loss arising from pandemic restrictions. You’ll need to read the article to discover the options (worth doing) but these two HE-centric snippets stand out for admissions and student performance:

  • Because our education system, at multiple levels, is both about sorting and learning gain, it all presents two interlocking problems. One is how we fairly assess children and students given the impacts of restrictions have not been felt equally or equitably across society. The other is what we do about overall levels of learning loss which we might reasonably assume matter if we wish our society to be educated.
  • …If nothing else, there is a clear and present danger that universities will underestimate and underfund the support needed to address the problems presented by the intake of 2021. That seems to be a much more pressing educational issue than packing the Russell Group even tighter, destabilizing the rest of the rest of the sector in the process – which will mean no part of the sector will realistically have the time or capacity to address the issues we’re about to receive.

Credit transfer and flexible learning: HEPI have a blog “Can the pandemic bring a new dawn for flexible higher education?” by Luke Myer, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the Quality Assurance Agency, looking at the new enthusiasm for credit transfer described in the Skills White Paper.

  • One major challenge identified by our participants was England’s current regulatory metrics. The importance placed on data for continuation, retention, and completion creates a regulatory disincentive to provide short, flexible higher education programmes. …So, the metrics need to change.
  • A related challenge is regulation from professional bodies on maintaining the currency of knowledge for particular sectors. One solution here may be to differentiate durations on the portability of different qualifications, depending on their relevance.
  • Along with regulation, the funding model in England was identified as a barrier. There is typically no module-based funding under the Student Loans Company’s current model; this is compounded by other limitations including inflexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy and Equivalent and Lower Qualification (ELQ) funding restrictions. 

And some of the solutions?

  • Bringing higher education and further education closer together will require a careful balance between joining up the funding system and avoiding damage to institutional autonomy. Our participants referenced the new tertiary systems which appear to be developing in several Asian and emerging high-income economies, which have strong permeability between ‘academic’ and ‘occupational’ provision. …
  • A key part of this work should be to map the silos which already exist – between higher education and further education, between academic and vocational learning and between different kinds of learners – in order to understand the potential progression pathways for new students….

The pathway to high level skills: a HEPI blog “The Government risks narrowing the path to higher level skills” by Dr Scott Kelly:

  • We are already seeing the negative impact of reducing the number of qualifications available at level 3. Earlier this month Ofqual warned about the scale of the disruption that will be caused by the DfE’s decision to remove funding from Applied General qualifications such as BTECs. As Ofqual noted, the number of students accessing HE with BTECs continues to grow, with the proportion accepted with A levels alone having fallen from 63 per cent in 2017 to around 60 per cent in 2019. Ofqual echo the concerns I raised in my report for HEPI on BTECs in 2017
  • As with previous attempts to overhaul the qualification system, up to and including the introduction of T levels, policy is likely to fail because it falls between two stalls – neither driven by the market nor based on sufficient industry engagement to ensure employers really value the qualifications on offer.

Students

The OfS have published a guide for students, representatives and students’ unions – Office for Students notifications. It explains how the OfS regulates universities, and specifically that the notifications process allows students, staff members and others to let us know about issues within a university. It emphases that the OfS doesn’t have a direct role in in dealing with individual complaints or with disputes between students and their university but they do want to hear about current issues on the aspects they do regulate on. Such as issues that might be affecting particular courses or groups of students (examples are given on pages 4-5) and recognising that students’ unions and representatives often have a great understanding of students’ experiences through their engagement and support

Wonkhe have a blog on the new guide Should students tell tales on their university or college? It states: What the guide doesn’t do is address in any meaningful way why a student, student representative or students’ union would bother. It doesn’t address what doing so might achieve, or what the ideal would be internally before getting this far. And nor does it reveal what OfS’ emphasis on it hides in the process – that the regulator doesn’t have much of a clue about what’s going on in universities.

The blog also explores the cost cutting reduction in OfS monitoring of universities and highlights how students sharing information on their university might be an opportunity for the OfS:

  • … during a pandemic in particular that leaves you in a bit of a monitoring hole – so to the rescue comes a beefing up of reportable events via students, student reps and students’ unions.
  • We’re not sampling. But we are “inviting” students and their reps to tell us stuff.
  • In practice, it is difficult to explain quite how flawed this monitoring sticking plaster really is. But I’m going to try.

The blog then carefully explains why it’s flawed and that it is unlikely students will use the OfS process en masse. Although perhaps they’ll complain to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator instead. This week they published their Operating Plans and we learnt that they received 2,604 complaints in 2020 (a 10% increase compared to 2019). Research Professional highlight:

  • Since student queries take some time before making their way to the OIA (complainants must first exhaust the internal arbitration options at their institutions), the numbers in today’s report will not include all those whose pandemic-related complaints about their universities were made last year.
  • Nonetheless, records have been broken. The OIA says it received 2,604 complaints in 2020—representing a 10 per cent increase on 2019 and marking the highest-ever number in a single year.

It is hard to imagine that this record will still stand when the numbers for 2021 are published next year. The OIA has reported record-breaking complaint numbers in each of the past three years, resulting in a cumulative increase in its caseload of nearly 60 per cent since 2017.

2019/20 student statistics

HESA released statistics on HE student enrolments and qualifications achieved in 2019/20.  We’ve got some extracts for you.

Much of the news in forthcoming weeks will likely focus on the increase in first class honours that were awarded (see below) which it will be argued are linked to the no detriment policies most institutions implemented. Wonkhe have good coverage on this in the first part of this blog. They remind us to:

  • …remember this. Students obtain at least their average grade. To get a first, someone would need to have been averaging a first in the year so far. This is emphatically not a matter of handing out firsts like confetti – this is recognising work that has already been done. Nobody who got a first in 2019-20 did so without working at a first class level for at least the normal part of the academic year. Class of 2020, take your praise.

Grades Achieved

  • The percentage of students achieving a first class honours increased from 28% in 2018/19 to 35% in 2019/20. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, many providers issued public statements that a ‘no detriment’ approach would be adopted when it came to assessment. This typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the most recent provider assessment of their attainment. 
  • The share of students who received a lower second qualification classification fell by 4 – from 19% in 2018/19 to 15% in 2019/20.
  • A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
  • In a continuing trend, full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.

Science Subjects

  • The percentage of qualifiers who gained qualifications in science subjects increased according to age group.
  • Among qualifiers obtaining a first degree, there was a 50% split between males qualifying in science subjects versus those qualifying in non-science subjects. For females, the proportion qualifying in science subjects was 41%.

Qualifications by level

  • There was a decrease in the number of qualifications obtained in all levels for the 2019/20 academic year, despite growth in the overall number of first year students in preceding years. Evidence suggests that some of this decrease is explained by significant numbers of qualifications awarded this year not being reported. This is likely to be linked to the impact on examinations and awards resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded (see 
    figure 15 here). More details of the impact of COVID-19 on the data can be read in the notes.
  • The number of other undergraduate qualifications continued to decline, reflecting the decrease in first year other undergraduate student enrolment numbers.

Numbers

  • The total number of HE students in the UK in 2019/20 was 2,532,385, an increase of 3% from 2018/19. (2,697,380 when including HE students registered at FE providers.)
  • Undergraduate first degree courses account for the overall increase in number from 2018/19 to 2019/20
  • 15% increase (37,605) in first year masters taught course enrolments from 2018/19 to 2019/20. Full time enrolments increased more than part time.
  • During the five year period 2015/16 to 2019/20, masters taught and first degree level course enrolments have seen year on year increases. All other postgraduate and undergraduate level courses have seen year on year decreases in enrolment numbers.
  • Full time postgraduates had the highest level of international students (see Figure 8 here)
  • Business and management attracted the highest number of students overall with 16% of all students enrolling in this subject
  • Among science subjects, subjects allied to medicine was the most popular for students, accounting for a quarter of all science subject enrolments

Protected Characteristics

  • The overall number of students with a known disability is increasing year on year both in enrolment numbers and in proportion of all students – from 2018/19 to 2019/20 the increase was 28,370
  • There were 122,755 students with a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or AD(H)D in 2019/20 – this number accounts for 33% of all students with a known disability
  • A further 105,590 students reported a mental health condition, such as depression, schizophrenia or anxiety disorder.
  • The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years, while the percentage that are Asian, Black and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased
  • In terms of diversity within subjects, 82% of students studying veterinary sciences were female. For engineering and technology and computing, only 20% of students were female

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said [and here is the kick on grade inflation, if you were waiting for it]:

  • This latest set of figures covers students graduating during the early stage of the pandemic. This was a period of intense disruption, with universities needing to move studies online very rapidly. As a result of this many universities implemented ‘no detriment’ policies, and these policies lie behind the significant increase in first class honours awarded to students graduating in 2020.
  • Before the pandemic, OfS analysis found evidence that unexplained grade inflation at our universities had begun to slow. However, there is more to be done to ensure that students, graduates and employers can maintain their confidence in the value of a degree and temporary changes in response to the pandemic should not bake in further grade inflation. This will require careful work which balances the importance of standards being maintained with recognition of – and response to – the exceptional pressures that students remain under this year.

 Student Experience

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the results of their experimental statistics on Coronavirus & HE students in England for January 2021, covering student’s life satisfaction, mental health and accommodation status.

  • Of those students who travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break, 40% have since returned and 60% have not yet returned to their term-time address.
  • Of those students who provided complete travel information, 33% travelled to stay with family or friends over the winter break and 37% stayed in their accommodation; the remaining 30% were already living at their usual non-term address or family home, or in ‘other’ accommodation.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of students indicated that their well-being and mental health had worsened since the start of the autumn 2020 term.
  • A statistically significantly higher number (63%) of students reported a worsening in their well-being and mental health, compared with 57% reporting the same in the previous student survey (20 to 25 November 2020).
  • Average life satisfaction scores of students decreased by 9% from 5.3 to 4.8 out of 10, between 20 to 25 November 2020 and 8 to 18 January 2021.
  • A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), compared with 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020).

The ONS provide some context:

  • The most recent data collected from the Student COVID-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) show a further decrease in students’ average life satisfaction scores, with almost two-thirds of students reporting a worsening of their mental health and well-being.
  • These numbers are not surprising considering the new lockdown measures in place and the fact that many students have not yet returned to their university town or city. This is also reflected in the academic experience scores, with the number of students reporting dissatisfaction showing an increase since the last report.

Specifically on dissatisfaction:

  • A greater proportion of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term (37%), than the 29% reporting the same at the end of November 2020 (20 to 25 November 2020). Of those who were dissatisfied with their academic experience, the most common reasons were learning delivery (75%) and quality of learning (71%).
  • Over half (56%) of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their social experience since the start of the autumn term. The most common given reasons that students were dissatisfied with their social experience were limited opportunities to meet other students (86%) and limited opportunities for social or recreational activity (85%).

Parliamentary Questions

Health care

  • Healthcare students on placement are confirmed as eligible for priority access to the vaccine.
  • Still no answer on decisions re: nurses out of pocket due to course extensions. Which is odd because the Universities Minister has already said they will not have to pay additional tuition fees: Health Education England is working locally with each higher education provider so that placements are available and is supporting healthcare students to ensure that as many as possible graduate on time.

Institutions should not charge nursing students additional tuition fees in circumstances where they need more study time to complete their course as result of undertaking a paid placement in the NHS, or as result of needing to undertake clinical placements over an extended period.

Regulatory

Students

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Budget 2021: You can read the Russell Group’s submission to the 2021 budget here.

Contract cheating: Previous Universities Minister Chris Skidmore intends to try his luck by presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill aiming to make essay mills illegal, including advertising them, in the UK. Skidmore is concerned that the pressures of pandemic learning and being physically distanced from a student’s academic community and usual resources may create vulnerabilities that contract cheating services thrive upon. He has called on the sector to contribute evidence and examples for his Bill presentation. He writes: This bill won’t be the immediate end to essay mills, but it can be the start of a legislative process that can and does influence government to take action. By making the collective case against essay mills, at the very least I hope this is one legislative effort the sector can welcome. For an explanation of the Ten minute Rule Bill see last week’s policy update (page 18) or Chris provides a succinct explanation: the canary in the legislative coalmine. Research Professional cover the story.

Appeals and academic judgement– there’s a HEPI blog on this, linked to the consultations on the new proposals for A levels and vocational qualifications, which close on 29th January.

Careers Resourcing: The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services publishes a report on resourcing higher education careers services. Wonkhe say: More than 90% of careers services experienced a drop in income, related to the inability to host careers fairs. The majority of services have reported a rise in demand from students, with none experiencing a decrease.

Wellbeing: The Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust has published a report on the drop in girls well being during adolescence.  While the wellbeing of all young people (Gen Z) declines by the end of their teenage years, there is a strong gender divide within this: girls see far lower levels of wellbeing and self-esteem than boys – driven by a sharp fall of both during mid-adolescence. Depressive symptoms rise among both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17 but they increase more markedly for girls.  For a summary of the paper including which factors have an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Generation Z contact us.

Also out this week is the Children’s Commissioner for England’s fourth annual report on the state of children’s mental health services in England. Dods tell us it finds that, while there has been an expansion of children’s mental health services over the past four years, such was the poor starting point that services are still nowhere near meeting the needs of many hundreds of thousands of children. With 1 in 6 children estimated to have a probable mental health condition, the Children’s Commissioner calls for a major recovery programme for including an NHS-funded counsellor is every school in England and online wellbeing support.

Young employment: The Office for National Statistics released the latest Labour Market Overview on young employment.

  • The number of 16-24 year olds employed stands at 3,561,077 . This has fallen by 24,487 on the last quarter and by 203,386 on last year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds unemployed stands at 596,400, up 15,403 on the previous quarter, up 114,662 on the previous year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds economically inactive stands at 2,699,569, a decrease of 43,662 on the previous quarter, but up 53,514 on the previous year. This is an economic inactivity rate of 9.4%, down 0.6 ppts on previous quarter but up 1.0 ppt on previous year.
  • The number of 16-24 year olds claiming unemployment related benefits is 515,905. This is an increase of 2,730 or 0.5% in the last quarter and 281,413 or 120% on the previous year.

Student Accommodation: The House of Commons Library has published Coronavirus: Student accommodation issues to brief MPs on the key points prior to participation in parliamentary business. The blurb: Compliance with coronavirus restrictions has meant many students haven’t been able to live in their term-time accommodation for significant periods and many have had a poorer experience at university than expected due to Covid outbreaks and restrictions. This has led to students demanding rent refunds or discounts. How have universities, other accommodation providers and the Government responded to this?

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HE Policy Update w/e 18th January 2021

The Minister for Universities and the OfS ended the week with the opposite of a charm offensive.  Significant interest in student rent reached a head this week with MPs calling for action and supporting student concerns in Parliament. GCSE and Gavin Williamson announced his alternative plans for exams this summer (spoiler alert: the proposal centres on externally set exams, but they will be marked by teachers and other evidence can be taken into account). Perhaps not surprisingly the political gossip centred on whether Gavin Williamson has run out of road.

The Minister takes to Twitter

So perhaps rather late in the day taking a lead from other leaders who (used to) use Twitter to communicate with the masses, and continuing the pattern that both the DfE and the OfS have had since March of communicating with the sector late at night and at weekends, Michelle Donelan took to Twitter on Friday evening (at 7.16pm).  With the “student message” headings left in, which were surely drafting notes, it looks like it was done in a hurry.  It is safe to say that it hasn’t been very well received, with attacks both from across the sector and also from the group it was probably aimed at – parents (ie voters).

It’s a real issue that the Minister is taking this tone and approach, apart from perpetuating the myth of the £256 million.

And the tone is consistent with the tone the OfS are taking.  They wrote to universities on Thursday.

  • They say that universities should do all they can to deliver the teaching they have promised to students and make alternative arrangements where this is not possible – this may include putting on extra lectures, repeating parts of the course, or offering fee refunds.
  • The OfS does not have legal powers to require refunds to be paid, but it has set out actions for universities and colleges to ensure they continue to meet regulatory requirements so that students can continue to benefit from their education.
  • The regulator has asked universities to assess the extent to which they have met the commitments they made to students in relation to teaching and alternative arrangements, and inform the OfS where there are risks that they may not be able to comply with its regulatory conditions.
  • Universities should assess:
    • whether they were sufficiently clear with new and continuing students about how teaching and assessment would be delivered in 2020-21, the circumstances in which changes might be made, and what those changes might entail
    • whether during the 2020 autumn term, students received the teaching and assessment they were promised and might reasonably have expected to receive based on information provided
    • whether current plans for the 2021 spring and summer term will ensure that students receive the teaching and assessment they were promised and might reasonably expect to receive based on the information provided.
  • The OfS will, where appropriate, take action as the result of notifications from students and others, and is likely to request further details of provider assessments where it has additional concerns.
  • Where students are not provided with clear information about how teaching and assessment will be delivered in 2020-21, or where teaching and assessment are not delivered as promised, universities are expected to actively consider refunds or other forms of redress.
  • The OfS expects each university to:
    • inform students of any further changes to teaching and assessment arrangements, such that these are broadly equivalent to those previously offered to students within the requirements of public health advice
    • inform students about their entitlement to seek refunds or other forms of redress – such as the opportunity to repeat parts of their course that were not delivered this year – if they have not received the teaching and assessment promised
    • provide students with clear information, advice and guidance about the implications of the changes and the options available to them.  This must include clear signposting of the route to complain or seek redress.
  • The OfS intends to publish revised guidance by the end of January on protecting quality and standards during the pandemic. These changes will include guidance on the approach to exams and assessments and the appropriate measures universities should take when considering mitigating or exceptional circumstances.

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

  • “The pandemic is having a profound and ongoing impact on students who are still facing exceptional challenges. Universities and colleges have generally worked tirelessly under great pressure to ensure that students continue to receive good quality teaching, albeit now largely delivered remotely. We have consistently emphasised the importance of universities being clear to students about potential changes to course delivery where face-to-face teaching is not possible.
  • “Of course, we understand the tremendous pressures that the new lockdown imposes on universities and colleges, and some may no longer able to deliver the teaching and assessment arrangements that they said they would. This may not be in their direct control. However, in these circumstances they should do all they can to offer students alternatives – for instance by putting on extra lectures or course content later in the year – and where that is not possible, they should consider providing refunds where appropriate.
  • “Students will also be rightly concerned where they are being charged rent for properties they can’t currently occupy. Some universities have decided not to charge full rent in these circumstances. We are encouraging all universities and colleges who are not already doing so to consider carefully what the appropriate response is to these unprecedented circumstances where students have been asked not to return to their accommodation this term. We are also asking universities to consider what discussions they can have in support of their students with private landlords.”

Lots of commentary is available and will continue to emerge (apart from the responses to MD’s tweets) but here are some:

Admissions

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote to Ofqual Chief Regulator, Simon Lebus, setting out the  2021 exam grading contingency options for consultation (including vocational qualifications). The regulator responded the same day with his own letter (its almost as if he knew what Gavin’s letter would say before he received it!).

And then the consultations came out on Friday and run for two weeks.  The main proposal for GCSEs and A-levels as noted above is externally set exams, sat in school and marked by teachers, used as part of a package of evidence for teacher assessed grades, with moderation and quality controls but no forced ranking or overriding algorithm, and a massive appeals process for all students which must be managed by schools.  On vocational exams it is hard to understand what they are proposing – they want assessments to go ahead and where these are practical and need in person attendance “the assessment will need to wait until it can practically be conducted, and the student is ready.”  The position is different because the relationship between Ofqual and the awarding organisations for vocational qualifications is different, so they are largely leaving it to Pearson and the rest to sort out.

Apart from anything else, this is perplexing for school and college students.  The PM told them exams were cancelled – what he actually meant was that “normal” exams would not go ahead but that assessment would continue which might well (read almost certainly) include formal exams which will in many cases be sat in school.  Lots of people and students welcome the opportunity to have exams.  But those who were anxious about them will now be anxious again.  If nothing else it would reduce anxiety levels to be accurate when making significant announcements.  If the detail wasn’t available (and it was, because they say have been working on it for months) then the PM could just have announced it was being looked at.

Consultation: GCSEs, AS and A Levels

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Based on teacher assessment
  • A teacher’s final judgement on a student’s grade ought to be as late as possible in the academic year to maximise remaining teaching time and ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education
  • Consulting on what broader evidence teachers require in setting grades and whether the externally set tasks and papers are required or just recommended.
  • Pupils should be assessed based on what they have learnt, rather than against content they haven’t had chance to study (balanced against good enough coverage of the curriculum)
  • Schools and colleges should undertake quality assurance of the teachers’ assessments and grades and provide reassurance to the exam boards. There will be training and support for this and external checks in place for fairness and to ensure consistency between institutions.
  • Changes to the institutional grades awarded as a result of the external quality assurance are expected to be an exception – the process will not involve second-guessing the judgement of teachers but confirming that the process and evidence used to award a grade is reasonable. Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion. Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.
  • A clear and accessible route for private candidates to be assessed and receive a grade – consultation will consult on these options.
  • A clear route for review and appeal of grades (again ironed out in the consultation).
  • No algorithm will be used nor automatic standardisation of any individual’s grades

 Consultation detail:

  • It proposes externally set papers, possibly modular to allow teachers to choose which papers depending on what has been covered, to be marked by teachers and then included in the assessment along with other evidence. Exams to be sat in schools but with potential for online for students who can’t attend.  One of the consultation questions is whether these papers will be mandatory.
  • The main difference from last year is that there will be no forced ranking of students and while there will be moderation by the exam boards (which is surely going to be algorithm based although they can’t use the A word) any decisions have to be made by people. There will be no formal grade boundaries for the exams.
  • The other thing to note is that all students can appeal and the schools have to manage the appeals – a further appeal to the exam board will be on procedural issues only.  Also on timing – the assessment is to be made as late as possible but results will be published early……

Consultation: Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VQTs)

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Students will be able to progress fairly, irrespective of whether they sat an exam in January
  • Assessments should continue, taking place remotely, as adapted by individual awarding organisations
  • Recognition that level of disruption may mean no all internal assessment can be completed by all students
  • Essential assessments will be held in February and March for some students – i.e. where they must demonstrate the proficiency required to enter directly into employment or are needed to complete an apprenticeship – these will continue with protective measures in place.
  • Written exams will not go ahead. Assessments to be held online where they can, where they can’t alternatives will be consulted upon.

Consultation:

The proposed new alternative regulatory arrangements would:

  • permit awarding organisations to develop an approach to awarding qualifications in scope of the Department’s proposed policy on the basis of incomplete assessment evidence. As part of their approach awarding organisations should consider their minimum evidential requirement for awarding these qualifications to ensure sufficient validity and reliability. They should also consider where they need additional assessment evidence from teachers and what form this should take. For qualifications most similar to GCSEs, AS and A levels we would expect awarding organisations to use similar approaches to assessment and awarding. These approaches are currently being consulted on in parallel with this consultation.
  • expect awarding organisations to be mindful of the burden their approach places on centres and learners, and to provide clear and timely advice and guidance
  • require awarding organisations to issue certificates (where appropriate) as normal and to not refer on the certificate to a result having been determined under the alternative regulatory arrangements
  • require awarding organisations to include private learners in their arrangements as far as possible
  • permit awarding organisations to take the same approach for qualifications taken in international markets, provided that this does not undermine the validity of the qualifications. We would also expect awarding organisations to consider and address the risks around malpractice and the particular needs of the international market

In Lebus’ letter to Williamson a few points stand out:

  • we are fully committed to doing all that we can, including making sure teachers are equipped and making use of awarding organisations’ quality assurance processes, so that students’ results are as fair as possible
  • no assessment arrangements can take account of all the different ways that students have suffered from the pandemic.
  • we have been considering together the potential alternatives to exams and other formal assessments for some time and have learned a number of lessons from last summer. Our thinking is well advanced. It is, though, important that all affected by these arrangements have the opportunity to comment on them.
  • We both wish to ensure that accountability for decisions following the consultation is clear and transparent. We understand your final determinations will be reflected in a formal direction to us under the relevant legislation. We will publicly and formally record the decisions we take in light of your direction. [A ‘don’t blame us’ this time warning?!]
  • we will want the consultation to consider the role of externally set short papers.
  • we also wish to support and incentivise students to engage with their education for the remainder of the academic year, including to continue with any non-exam assessment where possible. We propose that the final determination of a student’s grade should take place as late in the academic year as possible. We believe this will give students a greater sense of agency, which is critical to securing widespread acceptance of the outcomes
  • It is important that the consultation makes clear to all, especially those who rely on the results to make selection decisions, that overall outcomes this year will likely look different from 2020 and previous years. This issue will be important for your work with the post-16 and higher education sectors to secure orderly progression and to protect the interests of disadvantaged students.
  • We are acutely aware that all who have a stake in the results this year, particularly students and their parents and carers and teachers, as well as higher and further education institutions and employers, need certainty about the arrangements to be put in place

A selection of this week’s coverage:

The Petitions Committee agreed to schedule debates for the following e-petitions which reached over 100,000 signatures:

However, as Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) neither will see a debate in the immediate future.

Admissions Reform: Research Professional have an article: There is an “appetite for reform” of the university admissions process, according to the Office for Students’ director for access and participation—but changing the application timetable is not a “magic bullet”.

Research

Kwasi Kwarteng, who was previously minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, has taken over as Business Secretary as Alok Sharma has gone off to head COP26.

  • Research Professional (RP): One of the immediate issues that Kwarteng will be asked to consider is whether the Research Excellence Framework should be further delayed given the pressures put on university staff by the latest lockdown. No-one has yet been prepared to make the case that ensuring REF returns are made by 31 March is a priority for our newly designated critical workers. RP cover this here and here.
  • Also Research Professional: emails seen by Research Professional News have revealed the close ties between prime minister Boris Johnson’s controversial former adviser Dominic Cummings and the UK’s largest public research funding agency.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee held a session on The contribution of Innovation Catapults in delivering the R&D Roadmap you can read a summary of the session here. It included scrutiny of the catapults role in meeting the Government’s 2.4% R&D target.

UKRI announced the winners of the second phase of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s (ISCF) decarbonisation of industrial clusters: cluster plan competition. The six winners sharing the £8 million come from consultancies, development companies, local authorities, partnerships, and consortiums. It is unclear if any have strong links with universities.

NERC appointed four new Science Committee members from the HE sector. And the Wellcome Trust’s new Director of research programmes, Cheryl Moore, will take up the post in May 2021.

Research Fundermentals published their own horizon scan and predictions about what 2021 will mean for research matters.

Research Professional also published these articles:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Concerns

Despite parliamentary petitions and grass roots campaigning students made small progress with the calls to be refunded for tuition fees during online study and receive rent reductions or get out of their letting contracts. The lobbying quietened down for a while but gained momentum in the last week. Towards the end of last week several Labour MPs signed an early day motion (EDM) calling on the Government to scrap tuition fees and cancel student debt. As it was a manifesto pledge for Labour the EDM wasn’t remarkable.

Next the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students launched an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on university students and calls for compensation.  

The number of parliamentary questions relating to student fees and accommodation costs has grown significantly again, including those relating to healthcare tuition fees and nurses working within the NHS as part of the Covid response. This week rent stories exploded across the media and HE specific sources, students initiated rent strikes, Unite Students (a major student accommodation provider announced partial refunds and concessions) and MPs came out in support of student rental concerns.

BBC – students have pledged a rent strike over unused rooms

Research Professional – universities have been warned that they could be breaking the law by refusing to allow students to return to halls; and:

The UCAS Knight Frank survey was released to a very receptive national audience. Wonkhe describe:

  • a survey of more than 70,000 new and current students between February and November last year. The Student Accommodation Survey finds that between March and June, around 75 per cent of students surveyed reported that they had or were planning to move back home, though there were regional variations.
  • Seventy-two percent of last year’s first year students were not paying rent after campuses closed – 71 per cent of students in other years were paying full rent.
  • The survey also offers an insight into who pays for accommodation – 41 per cent of first years, and 49 per cent of those in other years, reported that their parents or guardians were funding accommodation costs. On average, students living in private purpose built student accommodation (PBSAs) paid £7,200 per annum, compared to £6,650 in university accommodation and £5,900 for students in privately rented accommodation.
  • Sixty-nine per cent of students living in university-owned or PBSAs were happy with their landlord’s approach to Covid-19, compared to just 25 per cent of students in houses of multiple occupancy.

Research Professional add: Unsurprisingly, the ability to terminate tenancy agreements and a degree of flexibility on rent were highlighted as factors behind greater contentment with purpose-built accommodation over other settings…Respondents renting in non-purpose-built housing said private landlords were not prepared to make “any allowances for the impacts of the virus” and had “poor communication or lack of understanding and sensitivity around students’ financial situations and job losses”.

On Wednesday a NUS survey highlights student rental concerns. Wonkhe summarise: The most recent iteration of an NUS survey finds that 69 per cent of students are worried about their ability to pay rent, and 22 per cent have been unable to pay their rent in full in past months. The survey of 4,193 students ran between 6 and 23 November. 

An equally well timed YouGov poll surveyed the nation (so not just those with a vested interest as students or parents of students) on accommodation fees. They asked Do you think students who are unable to return to their student accommodation due to lockdown should still have to pay rent as normal or not?  54% of the public respondents felt that students shouldn’t have to pay anything at all; 30% felt they should pay a reduced rate; 5% felt students should continue to pay their rent in full.

Several MPs and Lords have expressed support for students to be offered some form of package or reduction. David Davis MP tweeted his letter to the Government to support university students who are unable to return to their term-time accommodation. He also stated Unite Students are right to provide refunds to students for periods where they cannot return to their properties and calls on the Government to step up.

This cross-party parliamentary support for student rent forgiveness alongside Boris Johnson acknowledging that the issue needs addressing, and Unite Students’ proactive refunds have been significant progress for this student concern. What remains to be seen is what position the Government will take however, no matter how sympathetic they are to the cause, it is still hard to imagine a Government scheme offering blanket refunds (including private landlords).

A selection of parliamentary questions on tuition fees…

And parliamentary questions on other student matters:

Finally the Petitions Committee published their latest decisions on e-petitions which received over 100,000 signatures and agreed to schedule a debate for:

However, Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) so the debate will not take place in the immediate future.

Professional Registration

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) issued a press release stating they’re in discussion with Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, alongside 17 professional, statutory and regulatory body representatives and Universities UK to address new challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The press release states they: discussed a range of barriers affecting progression and graduation in accredited programmes, in order to ensure students are able to complete their awards this summer and progress into the workplace with continued assurance of high standards and competencies.

QAA Chief Executive, Douglas Blackstock said:

  • Throughout the pandemic, QAA has engaged with PSRBs on behalf of our members and with a focus on ensuring students can progress towards the profession they have chosen. These bodies play an important role in protecting public safety and we are grateful that they have been able to adapt flexibly during the pandemic.
  • QAA has worked with professional bodies for many years and will continue to work collaboratively with them, and our members, so that students can achieve professional competencies and learning outcomes and so that standards are maintained.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan said: It is absolutely vital that students are able to graduate from their courses this year and achieve the meaningful qualifications that they need to kickstart their careers. Education has been our priority from the start of this pandemic, and we will continue to work closely with QAA, Universities UK and sector bodies, to identify and address any challenges they face during this difficult time.

Will he stay or will he go?

Speculation about Williamson’s continued tenure as Education Minister continues. On Monday Research Professional reported Boris as stating that the education secretary is doing his job “to his utmost ability”. One doesn’t quite know if that is support or censure. The BBC have: Gavin Williamson: How has he survived? It is well worth a read, it begins: Gavin Williamson’s political obituary has been written so many times he must sometimes feel like the walking dead. So how has England’s under-pressure education secretary survived in his job? Or is there a counter-narrative that he’s been unfairly blamed for decisions not really his own? For example, it has been well trailed that Boris went over Gavin’s head in closing the schools during a meeting he didn’t attend – meaning a U turn in one of Gavin’s flagship policies (that schools would remain open). The question of a reshuffle or even just an ousting of Williamson may come down to the reluctance (stubbornness?) of Boris to sack key staff, despite their mistakes and public unpopularity. Or perhaps as the BBC put it Gavin knows where the bodies are buried.

Gavin Williamson was scrutinised by the Commons Education Committee on Wednesday. Prior to the session Research Professional speculated what he might be questioned on in this brilliant article. It mentions many of the major points and issues facing education and HE at present and with only a couple sentences on each it is a great catch up for anyone still stuck in the Christmas cheese or overcome by home schooling.

In the end the Committee had very little direct HE content. There was strong focus on schools and on matters surrounding the alternatives to the 2021 exams (including BTEC) Williamson’s performance at Committee maintained the Government lines and yielded little new information. He appeared uninformed at times and employed famed political techniques such as not answering the question asked, answering a question that wasn’t asked, avoiding apologising and blaming others (schools mostly). However, he was focussed in his answers and less aggressive in tone than in recent appearances. Dods provide a comprehensive summary of the session here.

If you want the short version, there was one question on HE:

  • Asked about financial sustainability for universities, including the challenge for the newer ones with no reserves, and about student accommodation costs.  Rambles about universities giving additional support (?).  Some institutions may be in financial difficulties, he says the restructuring regime is established and ready to go.  Despite concerns there have been no collapses but contingency is ready.  MP says her local university was offered a loan not a grant and some management consultants that they didn’t want or need and they have had to have major staff cuts.  GW says some will have to restructure what they offer and how they run.  Zero empathy for the sector in these replies.   He doesn’t answer the questions either.

And he mentions us at the end when he thanks everyone working in education, including universities.

Graduate Wellbeing Analysis

The OfS have released data for key performance measure 17 – graduate wellbeing. It shows part timers scoring higher on life satisfaction and for feeling that things done in life are worthwhile.

Note – only the respondents who gave the strongest positive wellbeing response were included in the above analysis. For the data and more information start here. It may seem odd to you that the OfS data release only covers this aspect and limited data. It seems odd to us too. One hopes it isn’t the regulator searching for a new stick to beat HE with or engaging in political point scoring.

Education Policy – research / curriculum development

The Education Policy Institute has published two reviews. Curriculum policy in England has been characterised by frequent change in recent decades. In order to identify lessons about how curriculum systems can be better formulated and revised in England, this evidence review outlines how five leading education nations around the world have developed their curriculum systems in recent years.

The first review aimed to understand how leading education nations around the world develop their education policies and examines the education systems of Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland and South Korea – How Leading Education Nations Develop And Reform Their Curriculum Systems.

The second considers the role of research and evaluation in education policymaking in leading nations including Australia, Finland, Japan, Scotland and Singapore. It focuses on how leading countries organise, focus and fund their education research and evaluation, both in the context of major system change and in terms of how each country assesses the effectiveness of its education system.

Access & Participation

The Education Committee continued hearing evidence into the inquiry on Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dods have provided a summary of last week’s session which covers several aspects relating to HE.

Fair Admissions: The Nuffield Foundation have published Fair Admission to Universities in England: Improving Policy and Practice. Neon describe the report: A new report from the Nuffield Foundation finds that highly selective universities in England are increasingly taking into account the socioeconomic and educational contexts in which applicants achieved their grades when making admissions decisions. However lead author, Professor Vikki Boliver of Durham University argues that universities should be bolder in their approach:

“Universities have taken some tentative steps in a positive direction when it comes to widening access to higher education for students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. This is encouraging but by being bolder we believe that they can further improve the chances of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The report recommends several steps that universities should take including:

  • Reducing entry requirements for contextually disadvantaged applicants by more than just one or two grades.
  • Contextualising all admissions criteria, including GCSE grades, personal statements and interview performances.
  • Ensuring that the new commitments to supporting contextually disadvantaged students to achieve their potential at university are fulfilled.

Overall the report recommends switching from the traditional admissions model, where places go to the highest qualified candidates, irrespective of social background, to a model where prospective students’ qualifications are judged in light of their socioeconomic circumstances. The report also recommends that there is a move towards post qualification admissions and replace POLAR with individual measures of socioeconomic disadvantage which is made available to universities.

Parliamentary Questions:

International & Mobility

Research Professional published: Drop in international first-years made up by other students

On Turing The Times has an opinion piece from Taiwo Owatemi, MP for Coventry North West, on the inadequacies of the new scheme.

Parliamentary Questions

Parliamentary Questions

Sir John Hayes supports the alternatives to HE agenda:

Regulatory

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Censoring ‘Free Speech’: Students and graduates recruited to work on a free speech campaign have resigned in protest stating their views were censored and they were pushed to conform. There was also anger that they had been signed up without understanding the links between Toby Young’s controversial pressure group the Free Speech Union (FSU) and the project they had been recruited to. The Guardian has the story.

Poverty report: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published its annual report on the nature and scale of poverty across the UK. It covers investment in skills and the retraining agenda.

Mental health: The Government have announced they will reform mental health laws.

T levels: The Government announced a £135 million capital fund for T level providers to bid into. The Government press release states: the multi-million pound investment will ensure T Level students have access to the world class facilities and cutting-edge equipment they need to get ahead.

Tech access for disadvantaged pupils: Commenting on the Department for Education’s supply of laptops and other equipment to enable disadvantaged students to access remote learning, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: It is not credible for Boris Johnson or Gavin Williamson to claim that their priority under Covid is to protect the very same disadvantaged students they have so routinely let down. It is a stain on the Government’s record that they have failed disadvantaged students so badly. The immense disruption in autumn half term, with so many absent from school due to self-isolation or close contact with those in their bubble who were having to self-isolate, was a clear warning that the education secretary needed to properly build the groundwork for a continuity and equity of education for all students. But the warning went unheeded, and in Gavin Williamson ‘s recent announcements on laptop and data roll-out it is abundantly clear he is still weeks away from anything like an adequate response. Schools have been kept waiting for equipment that has been promised to them throughout the pandemic, with last minute delays, changes or retractions of the kit they need becoming an alarmingly normalised response from the Department for Education.  It is surely a no-brainer that schools should be compensated for having to plug the gaps, which are entirely due to governmental sloth. Every child must have access to the equipment they need to ensure they can learn safely from home. When will the government take their responsibility towards these children seriously?  However, speaking at the Education Committee on Wednesday Gavin Williamson painted a very different picture stating the equipment had been sent to schools and some were in line to receive additional items.

Islamophobia: Research Professional published this article Universities fail to see ‘insidious nature’ of campus Islamophobia stating that the report finds improvements are needed by institutions.

EdTech Boom: FE News report that lockdown measures and mandatory school closures in 2020 led to a 71.5% growth of the UK educational technology (EdTech) sector – despite a -11% contraction in GDP overall. Over the course of the pandemic, schools, colleges and universities have had to move lessons online, and many educators, organisations and businesses have developed smarter ways to deliver remote learning. The growth puts the value of the UK EdTech market at almost £3.5bn – with EdTech exports pre-crisis bringing in £170m to the economy, now expected to have topped £292m.

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External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 8th January 2021

Happy New Year!

We’re back into busy times, to keep things manageable for colleagues we will try and keep our updates focussed on the main news and keep the wider interest elements short on commentary, with links that can be followed for more detail.

What’s in store for 2021

A New Year often sees predictions made about the shape of the year ahead.  A lot was announced, not least by the OfS, in the last quarter of 2021 so it will be a busy year. BU staff can read our latest horizon scan here.

Research Professional offer EU 2021: eight areas to watch predicting what the next 12 months may mean for research policy.

Horizon Europe research programme access

Four years on and the UK and EU have agreed a post-Brexit trade deal with access to a number of programmes including participation in Horizon Europe through associate membership between 2021-2027. However, the UK has chosen not to participate in the Erasmus student exchange programme due to cost concerns.

While access to the EU programmes has been granted the details still have to be negotiated individually per programme (in part this is because the regulatory aspects of some programmes are still being developed). This Research Professional article has useful detail on the programmes the UK can associate with. And Wonkhe explain: as in everything else to do with the EU from now on the UK may participate in the governance of programmes as an observer, and in expert groups, but will not be included in any formal decision-making processes associated with each programme.

The Horizon Europe budget is valued at 95.5 billion Euros. The budget is bigger than the last round, however, the remit it must cover is bigger too. Research Professional write: Horizon Europe has a fully fledged European Innovation Council for the first time, which will support the growth of R&D-based businesses. The programme will also lead nations and organisations in funding R&D missions intended to achieve objectives in areas such as cancer and climate change.

On the ‘other programmes’ Research Professional report that Besides Horizon Europe and Erasmus+, the EU will launch or continue a variety of other programmes that will support research and innovation. Its regional funds will continue to provide tens of billions of euros for disbursement by local governments, while the launch of dedicated space, digital, defence and health programmes will provide targeted support for these fields in ways that, the bloc hopes, will chime with its main R&D programme.

Boris Johnson: The deal means certainty for our scientists who will be able to continue to work together on great collective projects…Because although we want the UK to be a science superpower, we also want to be a collaborative science superpower. We will be able to set our own standards, to innovate in the way that we want, to originate new frameworks for the sectors in which this country leads the world, from biosciences to financial services, artificial intelligence and beyond.

Research Professional (RP): Analysts will be poring over the texts as soon as they are released to see exactly what kind of access to EU collaboration the deal provides, and how much it will cost the UK. It has previously been suggested that the UK may be up to £3bn out of pocket by paying into the Horizon programme, and that the money to do so would come out of the domestic R&D budget. RP go on to say: even with the deal, there are bound to be setbacks for R&D and education ties.

Turing Mobility Scheme

It was widely trailed by media sources in late December that Erasmus was off the table. Nearly 10,000 UK students participated in Erasmus during 2018-19. The PM stated the Erasmus deal was extremely expensive (costing £2 billion more than we’d receive back) and instead the UK will launch its own Turing scheme supporting study and work placements abroad backed by £100 million.

It is intended to support 35,000 students in schools, colleges and universities for placements and overseas exchanges from September 2021. It has a social mobility aspect and will target students from disadvantaged areas to improve accessibility to the scheme and opportunities. The new scheme offers up a wider range of countries than could be accessed through Erasmus+. Applications will open early in 2021 and organisations are promised funding to administer the scheme as well as grants for the students’ international experience. Providers are told to begin preparation with international partners as soon as possible. Wonkhe: it has already been noted that a standalone scheme that requires individual institutions to negotiate the terms of exchanges with their counterparts in other countries is a much less efficient way of facilitating study abroad than a continent-wide programme – an issue that may be addressed in the terms of reference for the scheme.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, praises the new scheme highlighting the access to new countries and the disadvantaged element, and raising issue with aspects of Erasmus+: Erasmus’s benefits went overwhelmingly to students who were already advantaged. The language barrier meant that it was very hard for students not already studying a modern foreign language to take part, to flourish at their chosen university and get the most out of the academic experience. A 2006 study found that of those taking part in Erasmus from the UK, 51 per cent were from families with a high or very high income. There are no details on proportions of Turing funding to be allocated to disadvantaged backgrounds yet, however, it is assumed there will be a balance. Donelan concludes:  none of this is to decry Erasmus+… the fact is that it is simply too limiting for the global Britain that we aspire to. Of the hundred best universities in the world in the QS World Rankings, only twelve are in the EU. If we have stayed with Erasmus+ it would have cost several hundreds of millions of pounds to fund a similar number of exchanges, not have been global in nature and continued to deliver poor participation rates for young people from deprived backgrounds.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: We have designed a truly international scheme which is focused on our priorities, delivers real value for money and forms an important part of our promise to level up the United Kingdom. These opportunities will benefit both our students and our employers, as well as strengthening our ties with partners across the world.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International: While the announcement that the UK will now not be participating in Erasmus+ is disappointing, we are pleased that the prime minister has committed to a new UK programme to fund global mobility. We now ask the UK government to quickly provide clarity on this Erasmus+ domestic alternative, and that it be ambitious and fully funded. It must also deliver significant opportunities for future students to go global which the Erasmus programme has provided to date.

She also stated: Evidence shows that students who have international experience tend to do better academically and in employment, and the benefits are greatest for those who are least advantaged.

An independent blogger for Wonkhe is more sceptical: It is doubtful that the Turing Scheme could match the success of Erasmus, which is after all, a 33-year-old programme considered by many to be the most positive endeavour to come from the EU. The blog – Will Turing be a good enough exchange?also disagrees with the cost figures – Offsetting these receipts [educational exports revenue] against the entry cost as a non-EU Erasmus Programme country, the UK receives a net return on far more than it contributes. The article states the £100 million won’t go far – It…might just be sufficient for the first year of the scheme while Europe is still suffering the impact of Coronavirus, but in a post Covid world, this will be spread thin at best… this is largely in part to the growing appetite for UK students to study or train abroad… The overall number of mobilities throughout the wider education sector already stands near the 35,000 mark, only made possible through funding, greater than £100 million, that is already allocated to the UK through the Erasmus+ programme. DfE’s allocation for the Turing in 2021 does not account for this.

The blog continues: Turing also does not account for the extra expenses involved in international travel… Expanded opportunities for international mobilities are welcomed in principle, but in practice, heavy promotion of international mobilities may result in astronomical travel expenses, visas fees and in the case of Anglophone destinations, steep cost of living – all which require a far greater investment than DfE’s promised £100 million… What’s also striking is that the total funding isn’t a sufficient amount to fund the additional support mechanisms…needed to encourage students from non-traditional backgrounds… Institutions may be placed in the uncomfortable dilemma of offering fewer overall opportunities to students or targeted places for widening participation students, as a result of the restricted funding. If this is an area of interest do read the full blog as other barriers for both outgoing and incoming students are highlighted.

Finally, Wonkhe note that the UK has historically imported Erasmus+ students from the rest of the EU at twice the rate it exports UK students to other EU destinations.

Parliamentary Activity

These Lords Oral questions on Turing provide some additional clarification. Lord Parkinson stated: We are working directly with educational institutions to make sure that people are able to take up those opportunities and we will provide additional funding for disadvantaged students to cover, for instance, the cost of passports or visas, or for students with disabilities to undertake preparatory visits to make sure that all the necessary accommodations can be made for them. The side-stepping in response to questions on inbound students was notable. This PIE news article also highlights that Turing seems destined to fund outbound opportunities only.

Returning to the Lords oral questions, specifically on the HE sector:
Q – Lord Patel – what assessment have the Government made of the impact on universities of losing a significant amount of finance on inward-bound exchange schemes, because it will now cost money for them to set up exchanges?

A – Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay: We have been liaising with the higher education sector through groups such as the Russell Group and MillionPlus as the negotiations were ongoing and as we developed the Turing scheme, which is the back-up to it.

An Early Day Motion in Parliament championed by the Scottish National Party noted that the Turing scheme will not replicate many aspects of the Erasmus+ scheme such as youth work, adult education, sport, culture and vocational training.

There has been a flood of parliamentary question on the Turing scheme. Below is a small selection – all are due to be answered on Monday 11 January.

Regulatory – OfS Chair

Education Secretary of State Gavin Williamson has earmarked Baron James Wharton to be the next Chair of the Office for Students. If he is approved he’ll commence the role in March 2021.

Wharton currently sits on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords (he was given a life peerage by the PM in September 2020). Previously he was a Conservative MP (2010-17) including roles as an Under-Secretary of State (local Government and international development). After his stint as an MP he was instrumental in Boris’ leadership campaign acting as his Campaign Manager. Prior to his political career Wharton was a solicitor; there is little in his career which suggests an interest in Education. Here Research Professional highlight criticism of the Government that the interview panel was dominated by Conservative leaning. Wharton will appear before the House of Commons education committee who will consider his appointment and publish recommendations (if necessary). Williamson has the final say on the appointment.

Admissions

The UCAS deadline has been pushed back to 29 January to account for Covid disruption and to support applicants with limited access to digital devices.

Most of the admissions related news this week relates to the cancellation of GCSE, A and AS level exams in England and Northern Ireland (Wales and Scotland had already abandoned exams). Teacher assessment will form the basis of final grades. The DfE and Ofqual have collaborated to plan the alternative arrangements and contingency options and the DfE have promised a consultation to fine-tuned the details with the sector. Dods have provided a summary of the main points in the Commons debate on the cancellation of exams here.

Vocational and technical qualification assessment will continue in January where it is safe to do so. The DfE and Ofqual will make arrangements for those unable to hold the January assessments and agree an approach to vocational and technical qualification final assessments moving forward.

During the Commons statement Education Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon, asked Gavin Williamson to confirm that the centre-assessed grading (CAG) system would maintain standards and provide a level playing field for disadvantaged children, with a fair appeals process. He also asked if the Department would make sure independent assessors – perhaps retired teachers and Ofsted inspectors – were available to provide a check and balance on CAGs.

Dods have a podcast – Teacher’s pet or Class Clown – on the school closure.

Williamson responded – he would be happy to work with Halfon and the Education Committee on any additional actions that can be taken to ensure fairness, and would certainly take on board his idea to bring in retirees as independent assessors

Robert Halfon (Chair, Education Committee) also made the news earlier in the week when he spoke frankly about the Government’s performance during Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Tuesday. Asked why the sudden school closure one day after pupils returned he stated he didn’t know – he’d received messages throughout the weekend on schools, mainly being assured that they would remain open, transmission rates were marginal and the risk to teachers was low. He went on to say that Government needed to have a consistent policy that didn’t change every few days. When asked whether the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was fit for the role, Halfon said he made a point of not getting drawn on particular personalities but commented that it’s “the whole Government,” and described it as “a shambles”.

Some sources this week have noted that the Government’s Skills White paper (one of Williamson’s flagship ministerial pieces) still hasn’t been published and suggested that the Government is biding its time as Williamson’s competence is questioned from some quarters.

Finally, many students improved their A and AS level grades during the autumn 2020 exams.

Research

Science, Research and Innovation Minister, Amanda Solloway, announced £213 million for UK science facilities upgrades, including microscopes, super computers and testing facilities for innovative technologies and blast labs for terror attacks. The fund aims to enable researchers to respond to global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change. The funding is part of the Government’s R&D Roadmap sources and allocated against specific projects with facilities with Scotland receiving a good proportion of the funding. Breakdown:

  • £29m to upgrade and replace UK scientific equipment
  • £25m to support the installation of highly sophisticated testing facilities at leading UK universities
  • £34m for data and digital research infrastructure relationships
  • £33.5m to upgrade facilities of UK scientific councils
  • £15m for the Capability for Collections Fund

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: The response from UK scientists and researchers to coronavirus has been nothing short of phenomenal. We need to match this excellence by ensuring scientific facilities are truly world class, so scientists can continue carrying out life-changing research for years to come as we build back better from the pandemic.

From the world’s most detailed microscopes tracking disease to airborne drones monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, our investment will enhance the tools available to our most ambitious innovators across the country. By doing so, scientists and researchers will be able to drive forward extraordinary research that will enable the UK to respond to global challenges such as achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Artificial Intelligence: The UK AI Council (an independent expert committee) published the AI Roadmap which makes recommendations to inform the  Government’s strategic direction on Artificial Intelligence, including a National AI Strategy. They call on Government to ‘double down’ on the AI recent investment and look to the horizon and be adaptable to disruption. The 16 recommendations are here.

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Student Poll: A YouGov poll of students describes Coronavirus as negatively effecting motivation and self-discipline for some, alongside familiar messages for mental health and loneliness. Also:

  • Despite many news stories of universities imposing draconian measures on students, or failing to provide adequate nutrition to those forced to isolate, a majority of students (58%) say their university has handled student safety and wellbeing well during the coronavirus crisis. Just over a third (36%) say their university dealt with the issue badly.
  • By contrast, over four in five students (85%) say the UK government’s response has been poor, while only one in nine (11%) say it has done a good job.
  • Full results here, with University/Government judgements starting from page 28.
  • Note – students were surveyed late December, before the current lockdown announcement.

Youth opportunity: The Learning and Work Institute’s final Youth Commission Report (Number 6) – Unleashing Talent: Levelling up opportunity for young people was published. It examines how to improve education and employment opportunities for 16-24 year olds and calls for a 10 year strategy. Recommendations relevant to HE are:

  • three quarters of young people to gain A level equivalent qualifications by age 25 (currently two thirds do)
  • Reversing the decline in apprenticeships – aiming for one in three young people to take part in an apprenticeship and for this to galvanise action in the same way the 50% target for higher education did
  • Diversify HE routes – Focus on growing Higher Technical routes and HE access at all ages. Widen access by introducing maintenance grants of around £3,000 per year and evaluating access initiatives
  • Supporting young people to combine work and study through a new Youth Allowance in Universal Credit

The reforms would cost an extra £4.6bn per year, focusing on investing more in technical education and employment opportunities. Before the pandemic, half of the £20bn spent each year on education and employment went on higher education.

Non-continuation: HEPI published A short guide to non-continuation in UK universities. Summary here.

HE for the Future: Advance HE blog on reshaping HE for the future. The blog discusses how the fourth industrial revolution, growth of artificial intelligence and the pandemic are significantly changing the employment landscape.

  • Thought leaders have recognised that the emerging skills landscape cannot be supplied by a one-directional pipeline between secondary education and professional work.
  • The ‘art of the possible’ has been transformed over the last nine months. Engaging, participatory high quality higher education has been taking place across disciplinary, institutional and geographical boundaries, demonstrating that it is possible to motivate and engage students and develop the competencies for virtual working and the habits of mind required for life-long learning in an online environment. This has raised questions about whether the three-year on-campus residential degree is fit for purpose and provides value for money. The proliferation of alternative opportunities including degree apprenticeships and flexible modes of accredited delivery, as well as open access courses and certificated programmes from ‘big-tech’ companies, such as Google, Amazon and Apple is encouraging students to question the cost and the value of the predominant model of higher education.
  • The pandemic has highlighted that most higher education institutions need to enhance their capacity to deliver flexible and resilient education systems that would meet student expectations and the accelerating social and economic transformations that wider society anticipates. This requires a ‘rethink’ not only of what and how we teach but also what shape HEIs need to take to deliver on the changing demands of students, employers and society.

The blog goes on to promote Advance HE’s work and online seminars on the topic.

Medical training expansion: The Royal College of Physicians call on the Government to expand the number of medical training opportunities. Our summary is here.

Significant appointments: This link details all the recent appointments to key bodies such as the Student Loans Company board, OfS, Ofqual, Children’s Commissioner, social mobility, FE, and apprenticeships.

Online skills: The Government has launched the ‘An Hour to Skill’ campaign aiming to help more people boost their skills from home, support their mental wellbeing and help build a better working future. It urges people to set aside one hour a week for online learning by taking a free course from The Skills Toolkit. Demos research shows that one in three people have used online learning to help them get a better job, and that on average, online learning can boost annual pay by £3,640 too. The campaign builds on the Government’s Plan for Jobs and initiatives aiming to shrink the skills gap across the UK, and allowing Brits to re-skill and up-skill for the future of work.

Subscribe!

To subscribe to the weekly policy update simply email policy@bournemouth.ac.uk. A BU email address is required to subscribe.

External readers: Thank you to our external readers who enjoy our policy updates. Not all our content is accessible to external readers, but you can continue to read our updates which omit the restricted content on the policy pages of the BU Research Blog – here’s the link.

Did you know? You can catch up on previous versions of the policy update on BU’s intranet pages here. Some links require access to a BU account- BU staff not able to click through to an external link should contact eresourceshelp@bournemouth.ac.uk for further assistance.

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

HE policy update for the w/e 17th December 2020

HE finances, a tidal wave of regulatory consultations and information from the OfS, and the Minister responds to student questions.  Wishing all our readers a lovely break and a happy new year!

Latest government COVID news and guidance

Of course we will have an update from Jim if there is local news that we need to know.  The latest guidance from the government on Christmas rules, from Wednesday, is here.

You will recall that despite the focus on infection rates, the original tiers were set on the basis of 5 tests:

  • case detection rate (in all age groups and, in particular, among the over 60s)
  • how quickly case rates are rising or falling
  • positivity in the general population
  • pressure on the NHS – including current and projected (3 to 4 weeks out) NHS capacity – including admissions, general/acute/ICU bed occupancy, staff absences
  • local context and exceptional circumstances such as a local but contained outbreak.

What next for 2021

We have updated our horizon scan as there has been a rush of OfS regulatory announcements and consultations and also quite a lot of other news over the last 6 weeks or so.  We don’t recommend reading it when you are meant to be relaxing but you might want to bookmark it for your return.

There may well be more next week as the OfS seem to be clearing their desks before the end of the year – but it is already clear that 2021 is going to be an important year in terms of tougher rules and interventions from the OfS drive by the government agenda.

Meanwhile, the government have announced that the budget will be on 3rd March.  Is that the date we will hear about the response to Augar and plans for the TEF?

And of course Brexit.  Who knows what is going to happen there.  MPs are starting their Christmas recess on Thursday – but they are likely to be recalled if a deal is achieved (from PoliticsHome).

The Institute for Government published a blog on the time needed to ratify a deal:

  • The UK government is planning to fast-track a new bill through parliament to ratify the deal. If the alternative was no deal on 1 January, it is unlikely either the Commons or the Lords would stand in the government’s way.
  • But this is likely to mean MPs and peers approving a deal which they have hardly had a chance to look at, and in doing so would risk storing up problem. When the government introduced the controversial clauses relating to implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in the UK Internal Market Bill, it claimed these were necessary to address new concerns about what it had signed up to in the Withdrawal Agreement last year. Although this may have been disingenuous, the debate in the Commons suggested many MPs really didn’t know what they had agreed to in January when they rushed through the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
  • …The process is more complicated on the EU side. First there would need to be a decision about who actually needs to be involved in ratification. Will the deal be a “mixed” agreement on which national parliaments have a vote, or can the process be limited to the Council and the European Parliament? And even if only the Council and European Parliament need to vote, there will be little time for the usual processes of consultations by member state governments with their own national parliaments and debates in the European Parliament.
  • Whether or not the deal is a mixed agreement, the Council does have the power to provisionally apply many aspects of it, including those dealing with tariffs. Legally speaking, it could even do so without the European Parliament voting on the deal until a later date. But this by-passing of MEPs could worsen tensions between the Council and the European Parliament at a time when member states need MEPs’ votes on a number of key issues. Michel Barnier has suggested that there may be a period of ‘no deal’ in January while the European Parliament considers a deal, but this would be deeply damaging for traders. However, it would be a mistake to assume MEPs will definitely acquiesce.

Constituencies review

The Parliamentary Constituencies Act has become law meaning the 650 individual constituencies across the UK will be redefined to have a more equal number of voters in each. The Government’s press release states: The updated constituencies will reflect significant changes in demographics, house building and migration – the current ones having been defined using outdated data from two decades ago.

Previously a 2018 review recommended reducing the number of MPs to 600; it was expected to have a big impact on our local constituencies (amongst other things, Mid-Dorset and North Poole was going to be radically changed and the separate constituency of Christchurch was expected to disappear). Instead a new review of the constituencies will commence in 2021, based on the number of registered voters at 1 December 2020.

Reviews of UK parliamentary constituencies are undertaken by four judge-led and independent bodies – the Boundary Commissions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This review will have to be completed by the Boundary Commissions by 1 July 2023. The Government have also committed to ensuring reviews take place every eight years and the subsequent proposals are implemented automatically. This will stop any potential for political interference or further delays to updating constituencies, protecting fair representation of the British people for the future. There will be three periods of consultation on the proposed new electoral maps. The updated constituencies will reflect significant changes in demographics, house building and migration – the current ones having been defined using outdated data from two decades ago.

It is fair to say that the last process was very delayed and very political, so in theory these look like positive changes, but local issues will still make this very controversial in practice when changes happen.

OfS Christmas Bonus

It seems it’s not just us trying to clear the decks before Christmas. Happy Christmas HE, there’s nothing quite like a bit of regulatory shenanigans to look forward to in the New Year!

The Office for Students have issued three new consultations on reportable eventsinformation sharing, and a new take on the previously paused monetary penalties consultations.

At the time of publishing this week’s policy update The Office for Students has not yet released the updated National Student Survey results. You can look out for updates on this here and on Twitter.

They’ve also issued two sets of new guidance on regulatory monitoring and intervention and on third party notifications (i.e. what counts as a notification for regulatory reasons). Finally there is a student guide for students to report on the progress their university or college has made in delivering its 2019-20 access and participation plan. The OfS press release is here: Regulator sets out how students can register concerns. Wonkhe have a blog on it all here.

On 16th the OfS published lots of data on access and continuation by ethnicity, provider tariff group and subject group.  The report is only 10 pages and worth reading.  Their press release says:

The report finds that, between 2013-14 and 2018-19:

  • There was an increase in the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic students entering higher tariff universities (those with higher entrance requirements). This is consistent with data from the Department for Education, which shows that these students have higher rates of entry to higher education than white students.
  • There was a higher proportion of Asian, white and mixed ethnicity students at higher tariff universities compared with other providers, but only 5.3 per cent of entrants to these universities were black, compared with 12.0 per cent at other providers.
  • Whatever their ethnicity, students at higher tariff universities were the most likely to continue with their studies. In 2017-18, the continuation rate for white students at higher tariff providers was 96.1 per cent, 7.0 percentage points higher than for white students at other providers (89.1 per cent). For other groups, this difference was even larger:
    • 3 percentage points for black entrants (94.3 per cent per cent at higher tariff compared with 83.0 per cent at other providers)
    • 7 percentage points for mixed ethnicity entrants (95.8 per cent at higher tariff providers compared with 86.1 per cent at other providers)
    • 3 percentage points for students of other ethnicity (94.1 per cent at higher tariff providers compared with 85.8 per cent at other providers)
    • 2 percentage points for Asian entrants (95.7 per cent at higher tariff providers compared with 87.5 per cent at other providers).
  • Black entrants to non-higher tariff providers had the lowest continuation rates of any ethnic group in 2017-18 (83.0 per cent).
  • In non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects across all providers, white students had the highest continuation rates (91.3 per cent in 2017-18), while Asian students were most likely to continue in STEM subjects (90.8 per cent).
  • For both STEM and non-STEM entrants across all providers, in every academic year from 2013-14 to 2017-18, black students were least likely to continue into a second year of study.

HE Financial Health

The OfS have also published Higher Education financial sustainability – an update. It reports strong cash balances, increased but sustainable borrowing including through government-backed loans, and the fall in income from international students’ fees being less than feared, have combined to leave the sector in a reasonably stable financial position. Yet it recognises significant variation in the position of different providers across the sector.

  • The sector is expecting to report broadly similar levels of income of £35 billion across all three years, albeit with an expected decline in 2020/21 to below the levels achieved in 2018-19
  • Total HE course fees were reported at £18.5 billion in 2019/20, an increase of 7.2% compared with 2018-19 (£17.2 billion)
  • HE providers have forecast that fee income will fall by 1.7% in 2020/21, although this would still be above 2018/19 levels
  • Total Non-EU (overseas) tuition fee income was reported at £6bn in 2019/20, an increase of 16.4% compared with 2018/19 (£5.2 billion)
  • HE providers anticipate this to decrease by 10.4% in 2020/21 to £5.4bn, but this would also still be above 2018/19 levels
  • At the end of 2019/20, sector borrowing was £13.7bn (38.4% of income), a rise of £0.7bn compared to 2018/19
  • Forecasts show that the sector is projecting borrowing to continue to rise to £14.2bn by the end of 2020/21 (40.6% of income) – this is a slower increase in borrowing than in previous years

The analysis concludes that although there is currently a low chance of a significant number of unplanned closures of universities, colleges or other providers, there remain considerable uncertainties in the future.

Wonkhe: As the numbers start to come in we offer silent thanks that some of the worst-case scenarios about institutional collapse and sector-wide carnage have not come to pass. New analysis from the Office for Students offers the sector a decent bill of health, and throws light on the many adaptations and measures adopted by providers since the start of the pandemicagainst many expectations, the quality of the sector shone through; recruitment largely held up, planning was proportionate, and mitigations were well managed. In such a complex and chaotic environment, not every call the sector or providers made was right, but a lot of them were. On aggregate – HE is in a good place.

It’s good news, but, as we allude above, not for everyone – this Wonkhe blog speaks of the HE providers which are under closer monitoring due to a more precarious financial position, concluding: those providers under close monitoring will remain a worry – there’s a lot of variables but it seems as if structural weaknesses remain. This next year will be less tolerant of these than any other time in recent history.

Commenting on the OfS report, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive OfS, said:

  • There are many reasons for this relatively positive picture. Universities entered the pandemic in reasonably robust shape. England continues to be a popular destination for international students. And universities have been able to access significant support from the government, including via access to government-backed loans. All of this means that English higher education finds itself in reasonable financial shape, and the grave predictions of dozens of university closures have not materialised.
  • There are a number of uncertainties which will continue to affect finances both now and into the future, not least the fact that it is still not clear what the overall impact of the pandemic will be. Where universities have immediate concerns about their finances, they must let us know straight away. The OfS will work constructively with any university in financial difficulties, with our overarching priority being to protect the interests of students. At this point in time, though, we believe that the likelihood of significant numbers of universities or other higher education providers failing is low.

Assessments – Additional Considerations

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has published a new section within the Good Practice Framework: Requests for additional consideration. It sets out some good practice guidance on requests for additional consideration (i.e.  “mitigating”, “extenuating” or “special circumstances” procedures, or “factors affecting performance”). OIA state that a quarter of recent complaints relate to the handling of students’ requests for additional consideration when ill health or personal circumstances affected their exam/assessed performance.

The new guidance will apply from the 2021/22 academic year, however, providers are encouraged to consider the relevance it has to learning during Covid times. Providers are urged to consider flexibility and adaptations that they can implement in their approach (particularly evidence requests) for students requesting additional consideration now due to the pandemic.

Felicity Mitchell, Independent Adjudicator OIA, said: Students who need to submit a request for additional consideration may be experiencing significant difficulties and distress. It’s important that the process for considering such requests is fair and proportionate, and that students have a proper opportunity to show that they can reach the necessary academic standards.

Ofqual – online assessments

Ofqual have published the report of their review into the barriers to online and on-screen assessment for high stakes qualifications such as GSCEs and A Levels. IT provision, security and staffing issues are some of the barriers to the adoption of online and on-screen assessments in England. The review was, in part, a response to suggestions from some stakeholders that these assessment methods could be used to mitigate risks around disruption to summer 2021 exams. Dods have summarised the key points here.

Research

R&D Places Strategy: The transcript from the Science Minister’s speech on the Government’s ambition for research and innovation, and progress on developing the R&D Places Strategy is now available here.

Horizon Europe: Research Professional report: legislators have said financial contributions from non-European Union countries participating in Horizon Europe through association agreements will be channelled preferentially to the parts of the programme they won funding from, while EU negotiators have agreed a deal on Erasmus+, the bloc’s 2021-27 education and training mobility programme, which they say could broaden and even triple participation in it.

UKRI Ethnicity Data: Wonkhe report: UK Research and Innovation has published ethnicity data for all funding applicants and awardees, highlighting disparities between different ethnic groups. While the proportion of ethnic minority fellowship awardees has risen from 12 to 18 per cent between 2014-15 and 2018-19, large gaps still exist between ethnic groups, with fewer than one per cent of fellows being black. In addition, the proportion of ethnic minority principal investigators is still lower than the general proportion of ethnic minorities in teaching or research roles. The data is aggregated for UKRI’s seven research councils and is presented both by specific ethnicity and by broader ethnic group.

State of the Relationship: The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) published their State of the Relationship report, which outlines the results of their Collaboration Progress Monitor, examining and tracking university-business collaboration over time.  The analysis uses 2017/18 data, compared to a five-year average.

Headline findings for Research and Innovation:

  • 85,218 interactions between universities and SMEs – a growth of 11.9% from the previous year
  • Almost 13,000 interactions between universities and businesses, increasing by 10.2% on the previous year
  • 27,645 interactions with large businesses – a growth of 5.5%
  • Investment by UK businesses in university R&D grew by 8.7%, taking total investment to £389m
  • 881 Innovate UK academic grants were awarded to universities – an increase of 41 and the highest number since the monitor began
  • Increase of 7.4% in foreign funds into HE, but growth is decelerating
  • £144m income from licencing, representing an increase of 39%
  • 44 spinout companies were still active for at least three years – an increase of 4.8%
  • Licences granted by universities decreased by 16.9% down to 7,075 – the first drop in six years
  • 1,770 patents were granted to UK universities, representing an increase of 27.7%

Headline findings for Skills and Talent collaboration:

  • Learner days delivered by universities to businesses was 1,313 days lower in 2017/18 than the five-year average of 25,027 days
  • 72 universities offered higher of degree apprenticeships in 2017/18, whereas five years prior this number was only four
  • 6,360 degree apprenticeships started, with 10,497 people participating in a higher of degree apprenticeship provided by a university
  • 7,605 HE leavers ran their own business in 2017/18
  • 69% of undergraduates and 78% of postgraduates were in full-time or part-time employment
  • Just over one quarter of undergraduates had enrolled on a sandwich course – an increase of 3.5% on 2014/15
  • 69% of undergraduates agreed or strongly agreed that they were using what they learnt during their studies
  • 80% of postgraduates agreed of strongly agreed that they were using what they learnt during their studies

Translational Research: UKRI and Zinc have launched a new programme researchers turn ideas into products and services that help people live longer, healthier lives. The programme is designed to support early career and other researchers with their applications for funding and will open with a series of workshops in January 2021. Researchers will be offered a nine-month package of support provided by Zinc including coaching and mentoring from an active network of experts and partner organisations and assistance in using design-led, impact-focused approaches to developing their ideas. It aims to help researchers with the most innovative ideas, who normally wouldn’t consider this kind of grant, to apply for up to £62,500 per project

Parliamentary Questions & Blogs

  • The £15 billion for R&D – will it replace EU funds?
  • Wonkhe have a new blog – Knowledge exchange and the arts: Evelyn Wilson introduces a new centre focused on capturing and recording the many benefits of knowledge exchanges between universities and the cultural sector.
  • Research Professional have a good blog from ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore which argues that postgraduate research policy needs attention and recalls why he abandoned postgraduate study. Excerpts:

Salaries over study

As to the value of a PhD and a career as a researcher, we champion its international appeal and encourage visa applications to improve access to global talent, rightly seeking to bring researchers to this country to establish themselves in our brilliant universities. Yet when it comes to domestic students, we create algorithms called LEO that deliver the harsh message that UK students should not think about any subject that might have a long-term and uncertain outcome—that risk factor we praise start-ups for encouraging—so why not chase a salary instead? It’s a message that makes postgraduate study a no-no. 

If we want to become a global science superpower, we need to value research—all of it

Qualification reform 

What would different look like? In an increasingly fast-paced economy and society, the idea of taking three to four years out of your life to research and write an 80,000-word thesis that 10 people might read seems a waste of a huge amount of potential and productivity. The Viva, too, belongs to an age that we might politely admit has passed. 

Much has already been done to expand the potential crossover between academia and industry, but the greatest barrier of qualification reform for postgraduate study remains. The question is, who in Whitehall understands this? It is an essential prerequisite for an R&D strategy that the level 8 qualification route is expanded and opened up

UCAS

UCAS have published their 2020 End of Cycle Report focusing on widening access and participation and student choice (data dashboard here). What happened to the COVID cohort? Lessons for levelling up in 2021 and beyond is the easy summary read of the end of cycle data.

Research Professional do a great job at interpreting the meaning behind the main points. Their (short) blog is well worth a read if this topic interests you.

Overall UCAS report progress on widening participation, although it remains slow meaning it would take 332 years to close the gap on the current trajectory. Highly selective universities were urged to admit 70 more disadvantaged students per year to close their admissions gap by 2030.

The recommendations are on page 4 and divide into short term 2021 recommendations, and medium-longer term 2022-2025. Here are just a few of interest:

Short Term

  • Maintain the uplift in capacity in HE places and improved support for employers to take on apprentices or offer T Level placements
  • Adopt UCAS’ MEM as the default mechanism for measuring participation, providing a true sense of progress
  • Promote sharing of information at the application stage, including that related to disability, learning difference and mental health, by building confidence in students to trust that UCAS and universities and colleges will use this information to arrange appropriate support and inform future improvements

Medium to long-term, 2022-25

  • Increase the number of HE places and apprenticeships to reflect the growing 18 year old population and ensure disadvantaged students do not miss out as a result of increased competition
  • Consider how a post-qualification admissions system might improve the application experience and outcomes for disadvantaged students. HE admissions reform should be used as an opportunity to explore how technical education and apprenticeships could be integrated into the UCAS application process
  • Explore the benefits of a UK shared apprenticeships admissions service to enable students to consider and connect to all post-secondary education options in a single location

Further insight into the 2020 cohort including the analysis of students’ choices and motivations is due to be published end January 2021.

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

  • Through the access and participation plans they have agreed with the Office for Students, universities have committed to ambitious targets to improve access over the next five years. This UCAS data shows universities taking the first steps towards meeting these commitments… It is crucial that universities follow through on these commitments to reduce barriers for students from the most disadvantaged parts of the country, and we will closely monitor their progress.
  • Access is, though, only one part of the picture. It’s promising that a record number of applicants have been accepted from the most underrepresented groups, but these students also need good support once they get into university. That will be crucial for ensuring that they are able to continue with their studies, particularly through the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, and have an equal opportunity to achieve the top grades. It will also equip them with the skills and knowledge they will need if they are to thrive in the industries and public services of the future.

Access & Participation

Ethnic Disparities: Wonkhe tell us: letter from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to equalities minister Kemi Badenoch seeking an extension to a reporting deadline highlights an approach to identifying disparities based on finer grained data. One section suggests that analysis has shown that white “working class” boys are the group least likely to go to university, and that many girls from a Bangladeshi background choose not to go to a university outside of London for family and cultural reasons.

Parliamentary Questions

Student Hardship funding: Following the announcement of £20 million to HE providers to contribute to student hardship for 2020-21 the DfE has begun distributing and monitoring the fund. Wonkhe: Michelle Donelan asks that funding split between full-time, part-time, and disabled student premiums is available to students as quickly as possible, and allocated by the end of the financial year. OfS will publish details of an allocation later this week.

During the APPG for students it was raised that £20m for hardship is approximately £13 per student. Minister Michelle Donelan Reiterates that this fund is not going to be accessed or required by every student, and it is there to support students who need support most.

International

Employment & Skills

The Lords Economic Affairs Committee published Employment and Covid-19: time for a new deal it includes:

  • Expand the number of social care workers by increasing funding in the sector with stipulations that funding should be used to raise wages and improve training and conditions;
  • Prioritise green projects that can be delivered at scale, quickly, and take place across the country
  • Government should introduce a new job, skills and training guarantee, available to every young person not in full-time education or employment for one year
  • The Government’s disparate skills and training policies, spread across many departments, should be joined up and be managed and coordinated at a regional local level
  • The Government should also consider incentives to help young people move towards jobs with opportunities to develop skills in digital and other growing sectors
  • The most significant barrier to hiring apprentices is cost – faced with falling numbers of apprenticeship starts and reduced recruitment, the Government should consider raising the level of hiring subsidies for apprentices
  • The DWP should include a greater emphasis on skills profiling in its employment support offer – it should examine successful examples of employment services in other countries, such as Sweden and Austria, which intervene early to support declining businesses and sectors and quickly transition and retrain workers into more viable employment

2020 Spending Review Priorities

Following the Chancellor’s 2020 Spending Review announcements the Treasury has published the provisional priority outcomes and metric document. We have a summary of the aspects related to education here.

APPG for Students

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Students met this week questioning Universities Minister Michelle Donelan on HE student issues. As an interest based parliamentary group the meetings aren’t recorded and transcribed like other parliamentary business. However, the APPG has done a fantastic job in capturing the Minister’s statements on their Twitter feed (you have to keep clicking ‘show replies’ to view the full range of topics the Minister responded to.

Most of Donelan’s responses are the standard Government HE policy stock, however a few stood out.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

There are three new consultations from the Office for Students this week:

  • Monetary penalties
  • Reportable events
  • Publication of information about individual providers

Other News

Nursing: Care Minister Helen Whately has made an announcement on the record numbers of students accepted places to study nursing and midwifery in England this year based on the UCAS data released this week. The press release begins:

The final figures from this year’s admission cycle show there were 29,740 acceptances to nursing and midwifery courses in England, 6,110 more than last year and an increase of over a quarter (26%). This year, 23% (6,770) of acceptances were from students aged 35 years and older, a 43% increase on last year.

Net zero: The Government published the Energy white paper: Powering our net zero future this week.

Government Education Policy Commitments: In the traditional spirit of the end of year review Dods have published Boris Johnson: One Year On reviewing how the Government have fared in delivering their cornerstone policy commitments. There’s a short section on Education and Skills on page 9 which is worth a quick skim. The key reminder in relation to HE is: The promised assessment of student loan interest rates has yet to materialise – though some in Whitehall might argue that it’s a low priority on the list of problems facing the HE sector at the moment.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 3rd December 2020

The Government has announced the requirements for universities to prepare plans for students to return to campus safely in January, flexibilities for 2021 level 2/3 exams have been confirmed, there’s a new report about higher technical education, and the attainment and continuation gap for estranged students is of concern.

Parliamentary News

Local Rebels: The Government experienced a rocky ride as Parliament passed the Covid tier legislation on Tuesday. The Conservative rebels that voted against the Government can be seen here. Notably several local MPs voted against or abstained from the vote. Chope and Drax voted against, Syms said he would vote against (but was unable to vote as he acted as a teller for the no votes), Tobias Ellwood abstained.

WMS – Skills Bootcamps: The DfE published a Written Ministerial Statement from Gavin Williamson (Education SoS) giving an update on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. It announced the extension of the skills boot camps including to the ‘Heart of the South West’ covering digital skills (software development, digital marketing, and data analytics) and technical skills training such as welding, engineering, and construction. A further £43m will be invested through the National Skills Fund to extend Skills Bootcamps further across the country in 2021.

January Restart

The DfE released the January restart guidance explaining the rules and priorities universities should adhere to for the safe return of students. (Press release here)

  • The return of students should be staggered over 5 weeks – this is to minimise transmission risks from the mass movement of students
  • There is a priority order for students to return with medical, practical and placement students returning first (4 to 22 January) to access their essential face to face tuition. Those with external (e.g. professional body) exams that cannot be moved are also permitted to return.
  • Other students will receive online tuition and return to campus in a staggered manner between 25 January and 5 February. The Government set out a priority order for those in the second phase of return e.g. postgraduates first, new starters last.
  • All students should be offered (the asymptomatic) testing on return to university before tuition recommences, social contact to be curtailed whilst awaiting the results of both tests (3 days apart)
  • Students who returned home over the winter break should not be encouraged to return to their term-time accommodation until their face-to-face teaching is scheduled to resume
  • Students who remained in their term time accommodation over the winter break or those for whom an early return is essential (e.g. those without study space or connectivity within their domicile, international students, students without other suitable accommodation, those who need to return sooner for health reasons). Students who return early due to these reasons and commuter students are expected to be able to access campus facilities such as the library during the period.
  • International students returning from outside of a travel corridor must self-isolate for 14 days, although they can pay for a private test which if negative will reduce the isolation to 5 days.
  • Students who spend the winter break within tier 3 should take a test before they travel, if this is available locally.

In her letter to Vice-Chancellors Donelan stated:

  • We do not underestimate the work that will need to be done to accommodate this plan including moving exams or putting them online and creating more online materials and lessons.
  • This plan is the best way to ensure all students can return and blended learning can resume whilst reducing the risks of mass movement and also ensuring all students can be tested.
  • We continue to support the blended learning model that universities have been using and still consider you, in collaboration with local public health teams, to be best-placed in determining the proportion of online/in-person teaching working that works for your setting. However, where it is deemed safe to do so, we would encourage as much face-to-face learning as possible, recognising the benefits this brings to student experience.

Financial Hardship: The Minister also announced there would be £20 million allocated on a one-off basis to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students. They will work with OfS to produce the detail on this.

One shot: Earlier in the week the Government stated that students would be counted within the ‘home’ household numbers for calculating visitor numbers during the Christmas window. It also confirmed that students are only permitted one visit home between 3 December 2020 and 8 February 2021.

Wonkhe have a blog delving into the detail of the Government’s statutory instrument which covers the student related aspects here.

No plans to cancel A-levels  in 2021 in England

On Thursday Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced extra measures to support students during the 2021 exams:

Students sitting exams and other assessments next year will benefit from a package of exceptional measures to make them as fair as possible and manage the disruption caused by Covid-19

In recognition of the challenges faced by students this year, grades will be more generous, students will be given advance notice of some topic areas, and steps will be taken to ensure every student receives a grade, even if they miss a paper due to self-isolation or illness.

  • exam aids – like formula sheets – provided in some exams giving students more confidence and reducing the amount of information they need to memorise;
  • additional exams to give students a second chance to sit a paper if the main exams or assessments are missed due to illness or self-isolation; and
  • a new expert group to look at differential learning and monitor the variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country.

Students taking vocational and technical qualifications will also see adaptations to ensure parity between general and vocational qualifications

Where a student has a legitimate reason to miss all their papers, then a validated teacher informed assessment can be used, only once all chances to sit an exam have passed

Test and exam results will not be included in performance tables this year, and instead will be replaced by attendance information, and student destinations and the subjects taken at key stage 4 and 5

And on remote education within schools and colleges there are updated expectations:

  • Primary schools are expected to provide a minimum of three hours a day on average; secondary schools expected to provide at least four hours’ worth
  • Similar expectations will apply for colleges and other further education providers which take into account the sector’s role in delivering both academic and technical provision

A Government news story tells us that the Social Mobility Commission is contributing to DfE planning process for the 2021 exams. They have recommended the Government:

  • Suspend school performance tables for 2021, as they fail to take account of the disproportionate learning loss experienced by students in areas of deprivation.
  • Work with schools and colleges to develop a clear and consistent system for collecting centre assessed grades that can be used as a contingency measure if individual students are unable to take exams.
  • Offer students the opportunity to take exams in Autumn 2021, without this being considered a ‘resit’. The results would need to be made available in time for UCAS applications for 2022 entry.
  • Support schools with extra resources, such as additional staff and venues, so that they can provide Covid-secure examination environments.
  • Mitigations in content and structure of exams benefit all candidates, and so do not address gaps between those who have struggled with remote learning due to home circumstance and those who have not. As such, while some adjustment (like the reduction in content of English Literature) may be practically necessary and useful, it should not be regarded as a solution.
  • Generosity in grading for 2021 should aim for a midpoint between 2019 and 2020, but following a normal mathematical distribution, rather than replicating the anomalies of 2020.
  • Arrangements for students isolating at the time of exams have to take into account the vast difference in personal and socio-economic circumstances. Home invigilation should be avoided.

For the students progressing to university:

  • Arrangements providing grants and opportunities for gap years for those with fewer familial resources should be retained.
  • At the moment, some courses prejudice those who have done an extra year, and some institutions struggle to accommodate retakes of years because of funding reductions for older students – this could easily be addressed.

Their recommendations aim to ensure equity in the 2021 exam system: Most recognise that there is a widening achievement gap in the nation’s schools and that the impact of coronavirus has disproportionally hit pupils in areas of deprivation.

The Social Mobility Commission statement included:

  • Schools must not ambushed at the last minute on this – they need time to adjust their teaching and their focus in ways that allow them to provide an effective education for the most vulnerable…We must also not fall into the trap of thinking that solutions that benefit all students will address the widening achievement gap. In a competitive exam system like ours, the key worry is that disadvantaged students will be outperformed by their peers whose experience of lockdown has been far smoother and more productive.
  • The key question the commission has considered in setting out our advice is ‘What constitutes a good outcome for the students who have been most disadvantaged this year? Are they better with weaker grades in more subjects, or better grades in the subjects they need?’ We firmly believe that if we can free up schools by taking away some of the pressure of performance tables that we think are unlikely to tell us anything useful about the system this year, then we can allow deprived students who have often suffered the most to be given tailored solutions.

The Government’s invitation to the Social Mobility Commission sits a little awkwardly with the outcomes of Ofqual’s analysis of the 2020 GCSE and A level awards (published late last week) which and concluded that there was “no evidence” that the system systematically disadvantaged poorer pupils or those with protected characteristics. However, the report suggests that there was “some evidence that some 6,300 GCSE entries by low prior attainers with unknown socioeconomic status (most of whom are at independent schools) may have received disproportionately overestimated grades.” The same effect was not seen for A levels.

Ofqual also pointed out that although poorer pupils saw a bigger drop in grades B to E as a result of standardisation, the proportion achieving A* and A grades actually fell by less than it did for pupils from better-off backgrounds.

The new report looked at the centre-assessment grades, calculated grades and final grades issued to pupils. It found that had calculated grades been issued, the results would have been more closely in line with the established relationships between student characteristics and outcomes seen in previous results.

Admissions

A Wonkhe blog explains Ireland’s university admissions system: The CAO [Central Applications Office] is best understood as an application clearing house, rather than a strict comparator to UCAS. The system in Ireland is what the UK is now terming PQO: post qualification offers. 

  • …With up to 20 choices to play with, however, students can choose to be very ambitious with some of their choices
  • Students applying to university will have a sense of what they may achieve in the Leaving Certificate, and thus can apply to courses that cover this range, though predicted grades don’t exist in the Irish system…there’s very little penalty to being speculative.
  • …points mean places. Rather than being entry requirements, they specify the lowest points score that gained a place in the previous cycle. When looking at options, students thus need to be aware that this grade can vary wildly from year to year, as the process is based on supply and demand. 

It’s not quite that simple… The nature of the supply and demand system means that the order of preference becomes all important. In Round One, students will be given a place on the course that ranks highest on their list of preferences, with all places below automatically denied. Then, as the rounds progress throughout August and early September, students can be made offers from their higher-ranked preferences, if they open up based on the decisions of other students.

There’s a blog on the Australian system here.

Parliamentary Questions: Universities expected to be flexible in admissions at high ranking institutions so students don’t miss out on places due to Covid related schooling disruption

HE Student Experience

HEPI published the policy note – Students’ views on the impact of Coronavirus on their higher education experience in 2020/21. Findings show students’ increasing satisfaction with online learning and positivity with how institutions ensure the Covid risks are minimised. The survey also shows that some students are spending the majority of their time in their accommodation the majority of students have experienced a decline in their mental wellbeing since the outset of the pandemic.

  • 59% UG students satisfied with online learning (was 42% June 2020, 49% March 2020)
  • 58% of students report poorer mental health than at the beginning of the pandemic (14% better mental health, 28% report no change to their mental health state)
  • 42% of students are satisfied with the university’s mental health services, 16% are unsatisfied
  • 50% are satisfied with the HEI’s other (non-mental health) support services, e.g. careers support.
  • 44% satisfied with student union support
  • 56% happy with how the institution has handled outbreaks of the coronavirus
  • 79% say their HEI experience feels safe (see chart below)
  • 33% of students spend all or most of their time in their accommodation. (Note 51% of students are receiving some face to face teaching nationally.)
  • 60% understand the (Government’s) end of term & Christmas travel window guidance
  • 54% have concerns about the return to university in January 2021

There are colourful charts in the full policy note.

No detriment: Nationally students have been calling for no detriment policies to apply in 20/2021. Wonkhe have a blog. Snippet:

  • I can see a growing number of students signing petitions and commenting on SU forums that they are amazed that “no detriment” policies have generally not survived the summer, and are angry that poor performance this term might end up framed in institutional terms as something that is individual – and somehow their fault.
  • When we say we are maintaining “quality and standards” we may be hiding debates – about whether we mean the standard of that which universities might reasonably provide during a massively disruptive global pandemic, or the standard of attainment we might reasonably expect students to achieve during a massively disruptive global pandemic.
  • …What’s very clear is that the comments from students on the forums and petitions should be seen as coalmine canaries – cries for help and exhortations for some empathy. Complex procedures to address individual failure caused by specific circumstances increasingly look tone deaf to a cohort whose only real shared experience is how miserable it’s all been.
  • Pure “No Detriment” policies may well not fit the bill if there’s not enough pre-pandemic academic performance evidence to establish a floor over. But we’re going to need something…

There’s the usual parliamentary question and response on HE student mental health. And the Universities Minister confirms the Government anticipates using mass testing as students return to university in January.

Research

HEPI have a new blog written by a PhD student who experienced burn out. To support PhD students well-being she recommends:

  • Fostering cohesive online cohorts
  • Strong dedicated representation (Students Union) systems to raise and address issues
  • Hands on training (not virtual) to improve access to and experience of a range of career pathways beyond academia

The blog concludes: PhD funders need to recognise that, with the current financial provision, increasing mental health support services won’t stop the pressures that undermine researcher wellbeing.

£61m boost for Europe’s largest ‘flying lab’

  • Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) have been awarded £61m by the NERC
  • Spread over 10 years, the funding will help to uncover causes behind rising methane in the Arctic, understanding the effect of biomass burning and monitor volcanic gases
  • The Airborne Laboratory will provide ‘world-class’ measurements for the benefit of the UK government, businesses and research community

EoI: Manufacturing Made Smarter innovation hub

  • The Digital Supply Chain Innovation Hub should focus on manufacturing supply chains, looking to digitally optimise and integrate these supply chains from end to end. UK registered businesses and research organisations can apply for up to £10m from ISCF to set up and run a digital supply chain innovation hub

UK-German collaborative research projects announced – the AHRC and German Research Foundation have announced 18 collaborative research projects, bringing together arts and humanities researchers to conduct outstanding research projects which span a wide range of subjects. UK budget of £4.8m matched by €5m for research teams in Germany. Projects will start in early 2021 and are expected to run for at least three years until 2023

UKRI Global coronavirus research and innovation network pre-announcement

  • Individuals of lecturer level (or equivalent) can apply to establish a single international network for research into coronavirus. The network may run for up to 4 years
  • The total fund and maximum grant are £500,000. Applicationsopen on 4 January 2021, and close on 23 February 2021.

Improving health in low and middle income countries pre-announcement – no size or funding limited, proposals that combine expertise from more than one sector to meet a global health challenge particularly welcome. Applications open on 1 February 2021, and close on 8 April 2021.

UKRI formally recognises the contributions of reviewers

  • UKRI will be the first funder to formally credit contributions of reviewers through the Orcid system
  • Reviewers will be issues with a ‘review credit’, which will be publicly displayed in their Orcid profiles

Concerns over future of international development research. In the Spending Review, Sunak said they will reduce the aid budget to 0.5% of GNI from 0.7%. Concerns have been raised that this could represent a missing £4bn a year

Medical Research Council calls for more collaboration to get the most out of key research opportunities. The call comes following the MRC’s independent review

Changing the UK’s intellectual property regime to attract investment in life sciences.

Research Professional writes that just one more formal three-way talk among the European Union institutions should be enough to reach an agreement on the remaining parts of the legislation for Horizon Europe

Withdrawals

The Student Loans Company published in-year statistics on the number of notifications of student withdrawals.

  • The Student Loans Company (SLC) does not routinely publish data on the withdrawal notifications it receives from Higher Education Providers (HEPs). However, during Academic Year (AY) 2020/21 to date, there has been significant public interest in this data in order to contribute towards an understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting students. Therefore, SLC has taken the decision to publish this on an ad hoc basis as experimental statistics.
  • Based on this data, SLC has not seen any increase in student withdrawal notifications for the purpose of student finance in this academic year, compared to the previous two years. In this respect, withdrawal notifications are currently slightly lower than the previous two years for UK & EU students funded by Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales and Student Finance Northern Ireland. Some of this reduction may be explained by the irregular start to the current academic year.

Access & Participation

Estranged students: The OfS released a