Tagged / Office for Students

HE policy update: no 4, 5th February 2024

The update is a bit shorter this week, focussing on the bigger news on research and education.  The next update will be in a couple of weeks.

Research and knowledge exchange

Ref changes: the wheels on the bus go round and round

There’s nothing new in policy and politics.  As the debate rages about research culture and environment, how to measure it and whether we even should, there is a blog on Wonkhe reminiscing about the similar debate in 2009 around impact.

There’s an update from Research England here: Overall, the community has expressed clear support for the principle of an increased emphasis on PCE in the next REF, while outlining concern around the need for careful consideration of the reporting burden on the sector and the potential dangers of metricising culture or prescribing what good looks like.

Plans for taking this forward were confirmed in an update on people, culture and environment from UKRI which said that the extra time used by the postponement of the next REF from 2028 to 2029 would enable them to run a pilot exercise alongside  a project to develop a set of indicators.

  • The PCE indicators project will provide multiple opportunities for the sector to engage with the development of the PCE indicators. Desk-based research will draw on a variety of sources including Environment statements from REF 2021, feedback received through prior engagement and consultations with the sector, and other published reports. The initial consultation during spring 2024 will comprise in-person workshops in each of the four UK nations and a series of online thematic workshops. ….. Once the draft indicators have been developed, and in parallel with the PCE pilot exercise, a second round of consultation with the sector will be conducted gathering feedback through workshops and an open consultation (survey). ..
  • The pilot exercise will focus on a sample of UoAs (we anticipate in the region of 8 UoAs) selected to provide a general insight into the assessment of PCE for similar subject areas and to highlight particular issues or special considerations that may exist for the assessment of PCE. ….
  • Institutions will be invited in March 2024 to apply to participate in the pilot exercise, …. We anticipate selecting around 30 institutions to make submissions to the pilot exercise. …
  • Institutions that take part in the pilot will be expected to produce unit-level submissions for between 1 and 8 UoAs and also an institution-level submission. These submissions will be based on the indicators identified and developed templates emerging from the commissioned work on PCE indicators.
  • Pilot panels will be comprised of academics, research professionals and others with appropriate expertise. Recruitment of pilot panels is anticipated to be in April 2024 and will be through an open process, to a set of tightly defined criteria. …..

Doctoral funding and training

There’s a UKRI update out with a new statement of expectations for Doctoral Training.

Education research areas of interest

You can read about the DfE’s areas of research interest here.  What is this for?

  • In practical terms we hope this ARI document will steer and support researchers in developing relevant evidence and enable them to make stronger funding bids by linking their work to these priorities.

The areas of interest include:

  • Skills: Drive economic growth through improving the skills pipeline, levelling up productivity and supporting people to work. 1a. What are the country’s future skills needs to support growth and prosperity, particularly in STEM and green skills? 1b. What are the organisational challenges and opportunities facing higher education (HE) and further education (FE) institutions? 1c. What are the funding, system and market challenges and opportunities for increasing participation in technical education, apprenticeships and adult training? 1d. What are the drivers of UK and foreign students’ decisions about pathways into and out of FE and HE, including impact of funding, finance and experience
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Technology: Harness the use of AI, technology and data across our sectors to support safe and effective use within education 5a. What are the potential impacts of AI, and how can new technologies be used safely and effectively within education? 5b. How can the impact of digital technology be robustly measured, and implemented in a way that supports teachers and students? 5c. What approaches or innovation are needed to support the efficient handling of data within education settings?

Education

Complaints

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator published its annual report.

  • In 2023 we received 3,137 complaints, our highest ever number. This is 10% more than in 2022, and followed increases in each of the previous six years

They are also consulting on new scheme rules: this consultation closes on 8th March 2024.

The OIA handles individual complaints and deals with complainants and universities quietly, but also publishes anonymised case studies which make interesting reading and a useful reference point.

The latest from January is on complaints relating to accommodation:

  • The case summaries show that students are not always clear about what they have signed up to, or about how to formally raise issues when they have concerns. It is important that providers’ information for students is as clear and easily accessible as possible, keeping in mind that for some students it is the first time they have lived independently away from home, or lived in a different country.
  • Sometimes the issues raised in complaints are about the accommodation itself, and sometimes they involve the student’s behaviour or that of other students in the accommodation. It’s important that the provider investigates the issues, considers the impact on those involved and takes steps to minimise it, and keeps the student informed. ..
  • We encourage early resolution of complaints where possible. In some of the cases we have seen, the provider recognised issues either during its internal processes or in the early stages of the student’s complaint to us and made an offer to the student to put things right. Sometimes complaints to us are settled in this way. Where the student doesn’t accept what we consider to be a reasonable offer, the complaint to us will usually be Not Justified on the basis that a reasonable offer has been made, and the case summaries include some cases with this outcome.

The previous update relates to disciplinary matters.

You can search them all by theme here

Staff/student ratio and student experience

An interesting blog for Wonkhe in Feb 24 demonstrates that there is no correlation between lower SSRs and student experience however you cut the data:

  • Plotting student:staff ratio against NSS fails to show even a non-significant relationship between satisfaction and staff numbers. Looking primarily at NSS question 15 (which relates to the ease of contacting teaching staff and seems most likely to see an impact from staff student ratios) there are no clear relationships between our two variables in any subject area”.

A common narrative when this is discussed is that SSR data is distorted by research only staff, but the Wonkhe data excludes them.

Generative AI and assessments

There’s a new HEPI/Kortext policy note out: Provide or punish? Students’ views on generative AI in higher education.  There are some interesting findings including:

  • More than half of students (53%) have used generative AI to help them with assessments. The most common use is as an ‘AI private tutor’ (36%), helping to explain concepts.
  • More than one-in-eight students (13%) use generative AI to generate text for assessments, but they typically edit the content before submitting it. Only 5% of students put AI-generated text into assessments without editing it personally.
  • More than a third of students who have used generative AI (35%) do not know how often it produces made-up facts, statistics or citations (‘hallucinations’).
  • A ‘digital divide’ in AI use may be emerging. Nearly three-fifths of students from the most privileged backgrounds (58%) use generative AI for assessments, compared with just half (51%) from the least privileged backgrounds. Those with Asian ethnic backgrounds are also much more likely to have used generative AI than White or Black students and male students use it more than female students

Based on these findings, the authors recommend:

  • Institutions should develop clear policies on what AI use is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
  • Where AI has benefits, institutions should teach students how to use it effectively and how to check whether the content it produces is of high quality.
  • To prevent the ‘digital divide’ from growing, institutions should provide AI tools for those who cannot afford them when they have been identified as benefitting learning.
  • The Department for Education (DfE) and devolved administrations should urgently commission reviews to explore how academic assessment will be affected by AI

There’s a Wonkhe article by Jim Dickinson here.

Quality assessments

The Office for Students have published two more quality assessment reports: concerns were found in both of these, to add to the two previous ones where concerns were found.  Most of the reports published so far relate to business and management, the one published so far for computing  confirmed that there were no concerns.  There are a few more expected.

It is helpful to look at some of the themes picked out in the four reports so far that identified regulatory concerns:

Theme Finding
Teaching quality, delivery and learning resources ·       The teaching and learning resources used to teach disciplinary knowledge were not consistently up-to-date.

·       The manner of teaching delivery meant that courses were not consistently effectively delivered.

·       Delivered content was not consistently informed by up-to-date, discipline specific academic theory and research. This meant that courses did not consistently require students to develop relevant skills.

·       The cohort of students recruited by the university required high quality resources to support their independent learning. However, the quality of the virtual learning environment (VLE) was not consistent, with some modules having inadequate learning materials to facilitate the cohort of students’ learning

Course delivery: format and timetable Not enough flexibility in course delivery to support the cohort of students recruited, namely not providing sufficient flexibility when students had to work to finance their studies or have caring responsibilities, having recognised that this was a specific feature of their intake.
Academic support Student academic support needs were not consistently identified, limiting the opportunity for senior and academic staff to enhance the quality of poor-performing modules and improve the academic experience of students.
Monitoring and management of attendance and engagement Inadequate central monitoring and pro-active management of engagement and attendance and over-reliance on individual academic staff to follow up.  Recommendations included:

·       Clear lines of responsibility at faculty and university level regarding who the lead for continuation is, and further channelling of university-level resource, expertise and effort towards the continuation problem in the Business School.

·       Systematic analysis of student failures on modules and historical withdrawals, to provide a more detailed picture and understanding of why students do not continue their studies at the university.

·       Better real-time monitoring of engagement and a university-level set of criteria that can be used to identify a student who may be at risk of dropping out, combined with systematic analysis of student behaviour and non-attendance so that proactive additional support can be offered

Assessment and feedback ·       The format for providing formative feedback on assessments may not have been sufficient for some students across a number of modules reviewed. … the assessment team considered that ensuring consistent access to formative feedback is a step that could have been taken to ensure students have sufficient academic support to succeed

·       A review of examination board processes and module performance criteria to ensure that under-performing modules are being picked up and addressed through the quality assurance and enhancement system.

Allowing up to six attempts to pass an assessment (for those students that resit a module) without a clear underpinning pedagogic rationale, brought into question the rigour of the assessment and diluted the challenge provided that was relevant to the level of the course. The team considered that because those students were permitted to attempt an assessment that was lacking in rigour and challenge, it meant that those students were not assessed effectively
Academic misconduct Support for avoiding potential academic misconduct was not consistently provided in assessment feedback via the online assessment platform at Level 4
Foundation year students Insufficient academic support for foundation year students once they progressed onto the main programme – support should have continued at higher levels
Staffing Insufficient staff to provide adequate support, impacting personal tutoring, assessment and feedback and academic support
There was considerable variability between the pedagogical and teaching skills of different academic staff across business and management courses including an overreliance on PTHP which had an impact on learning and outcomes
Leadership and governance A lack of adequate educational leadership and academic governance was affecting the overall academic experience of students: this included gaps in key leadership roles and no plans or arrangements to cover, and inadequate noting and oversight of key data and action plans

There’s a Wonkhe blog on the latest two reports here.

Why do these matter?  Here is a reminder of the relevant licence conditions invoked by the OfS in relation to these issues

Apprenticeships

It’s National Apprenticeship Week and so a new standard has been announced: this time for teachers.  You can read the Secretary of State’s announcement here.

  • With a TDA, you’ll work in a school while you gain qualified teacher status (QTS), which you need in order to teach in most schools in England. At the same time, you’ll be studying for a degree.
  • It means trainees won’t take on student debt and will earn while they learn, supporting those who may not have the financial means to do a traditional university-based teacher training programme.
  • It will be available for people to train as both primary and secondary teachers.
  • Subject to final approval, schools will be able to start recruiting apprentices from autumn 2024, with the first trainees beginning the programme in 2025.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

The Office for Students have announced that they will launch before the end of the academic year a competitive process to allocate £2m towards projects to “seed new practices and test new ideas” supporting equality of opportunity.

Mental health and duty of care

Wonkhe have the story about a recent coroner’s report.

There is a first report from the Department for Education’s HE Mental Health Implementation Taskforce.  Wonkhe are critical in a blog here.

As a reminder what this was for and a summary of the progress made so far:

Objective: adoption of common principles and baselines for approaches across providers, such as through sector led charters

  • The Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education wrote to all HEPs in June 2023 asking for ownership of mental health at an executive level to drive adoption of best practice. A target was also set for all universities to join the UMHC Programme by September 2024. In October 2023 Student Minds confirmed significant progress had been made, with 96 members now signed up across the UK, representing a greater than 50% increase in membership. Of those, 83 are English members, over two thirds of the cohort in scope of the UMHC Programme target.
  • Student Minds intends to undertake a light-touch review of the Charter and award process to begin early in 2024.
  • Next steps: Understand the means by which HEPs construct their mental health strategies and engage with the sector to understand where additional work may be impactful (particularly with regards to the formulation and oversight of HEP mental health strategies) by May 2024.

Objective: better identification of students in need of support and a clear user journey for accessing that support

Workshops have been held and three broad approaches considered:

  • Staff training and competence
  • Mental health analytics
  • Encouraging early disclosures

Next steps: It is proposed that the following work take place prior to the second stage Taskforce report:

  • Consider the evidence for the effectiveness of different training programmes to raise awareness for non-specialist staff, identify examples of good practice, and share these within HEPs as well as sector agencies which may design and deliver staff accreditation processes (e.g. Advance HE);
  • Work with the sector, and potentially Jisc and system suppliers, to develop and promote guidance for HEPs looking to implement student analytics or other related data systems, paying particular attention to supporting HEPs to improve their data governance; and
  • Work with UCAS to support their developing work around student surveys and references, facilitating discussions between UCAS, HEPs, FECs and schools to understand what additional information might be collected, the means to do so, and how this might be shared with HEPs. Feed into the work of the HE Student Support Champion on understanding and establishing methods of addressing barriers to schools and FECs sharing information with HEPs on students’ previous educational records, including their mental health needs.

Objective: development of more sensitive policies, procedures, and communications within a proposed HE Student Commitment

Sector engagement has uncovered challenges faced by HEPs when endeavouring to make improvements in this area:

  • the need for a broader range of good practice exemplars, in particular compassionate policies;
  • the requirement to adapt existing and emerging practice to the precise requirements of each individual provider;
  • the centrality of creating a consistent, whole institutional approach, where many sources of communications and interactions become mutually reinforcing;
  • the vital role of senior leaders in setting the tone for a compassionate culture;
  • the volume of material to be revised, in the context of resource constraints and competing priorities; and
  • the balance between compassion and the need to be clear about requirements and potential consequences of non-observance.

Next steps It is proposed that the following work take place prior to the publication of the second stage report:

  • Consult with the wider sector and students on the agreed principles;
  • Continue to engage with the sector to identify further examples of embedding compassionate principles into policies, procedures, and communications;
  • Develop material that can be utilised by the OIA;
  • Continue to promote the importance of this area with senior leaders with responsibility for overseeing policies, procedures, and communications, and more broadly with HEPs and their professional bodies; and
  • Deliver a national event to promote the Commitment

Objective: Effective local case reviews and engagement with the National Review of HE Suicides, including generation of insights into mental health services on offer by HEPs, and exploration of the methods for achieving greater timeliness and transparency on suicide data

  • In November 2023 DfE appointed the University of Manchester’s National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH) to conduct the National Review.
  • In scope of the National Review will be suspected suicides and attempted suicides with an initial focus on those that have occurred in the Academic Year 2023/24. HEPs will be encouraged to submit their reviews to NCISH. Guidance to support HEPs to engage with this activity will be shared with the sector in early 2024.
  • HEPs will be able to make use of the template for serious incident reviews set out in the UUK Postvention guidance, published in December 2022, though this template is not mandatory. The National Review’s final report will be published by spring 2025 and will outline lessons around good practice and areas for improvement, drawn out from submitted reviews.

International

International student admissions

Immigration, including the impact of international students, remains a hot political topic.

The big story in the Sunday times on 28th Jan was about international students taking the place of better qualified home students.  The paper is behind a paywall, but the Guardian report is here.  There has been a lot of pushback on the original story which seemed to compare admissions requirements for foundation courses with degree courses.

There’s a UUK update on the story here.

UUK also published on 2nd Feb a statement about what they are going to do in response:

  1. Review the Agent Quality Framework (AQF) and make recommendations to enhance the system. We will:
  • Work with our members and partners to ensure adoption of the AQF across the sector.
  • Make recommendations on how the AQF and wider UK data infrastructure can be enhanced to identify and address bad practice and improve resilience.
  1. Review of quality and comparability of International Foundation Programmes (IFPs) and Foundation Programmes for Home (UK) students. We will: commission the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) to undertake a rapid review of IFPs. The review will compare requirements of International and Home Foundation Programmes, including entry requirements.
  2. Update the Admissions Code of Practice to clearly state its applicability to international recruitment. We will: review the Admissions Code of Practice to signpost where the Code is expected to apply to international recruitment and update the Code if appropriate.

The DfE are also looking recruitment practices: see this Research Professional article.

International student outcomes

This report in the FT talks about data from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.

  • The number of overseas graduates staying on in the UK to work in care rose more than six-fold last year, according to research that puts a spotlight on unintended consequences of the government’s migration policy.
  • More than half of all foreign students who switched from graduate visas to skilled worker visas in the year ending June 2023 went into care work, the Migration Observatory think-tank at Oxford university found via freedom of information requests.
  • Some 26,200 overseas graduates were recruited into the care sector, from 3,900 in the year to June 2022, the data showed.
  • “Most international students graduate from masters programmes in subjects like business, engineering and computer science, so it is striking to see so many take roles in care, which requires few formal qualifications,” Ben Brindle, researcher at the Migration Observatory and co-author of the report, said.
  • Brindle noted that while some graduates taking care roles may want to work in the sector, others will have taken on the work, despite being heavily overqualified, “because it provides a route to stay in the UK”.

There’s a response here on Wonkhe from a former international student.

Of course similar stories appear frequently about the number of home graduates taking less highly skilled work, usually linked to the outcomes and quality discussion, such as this one from July when the government confirmed their approach to student number controls linked to the OfS quality assessments (see above under Education for some context for these).

HE policy update 22nd January 2024

This seemed like a good moment to explain what the Lifelong Learning Entitlement is really about and what it means for universities (spoiler: a lot of administrative work and not much else, in the short term), and this update also includes some horizon scanning by UKRI, some data on staff numbers and applications and a bit more on financial sustainability, as hard to get away from in stories about the sector this month.  And there is more besides.

Politics and Parliament

Lots of time spent this week on the Rwanda bill, with work for local MP Michael Tomlinson in his new role as Illegal Immigration Minister. The two deputy chairs of the Conservative Party resigned their roles yesterday along with a PPS but the Rwanda bill was passed unamended and has gone to the Lords where there will be more challenges.

Meanwhile it isn’t a manifesto but there is a campaign brochure from the Labour Party.   It says “we will be able to seize the opportunities of advances in AI, digital, life sciences and technology as drivers of economic growth”.  It presents again the 5 missions we discussed in issue 1 of this update. On education: this is the closest to a reference to HE: there simply aren’t enough high-quality pathways onto apprenticeships, and technical education. So we will have to keep waiting for the detail.

And if you missed it, constituency boundaries change for this election.  There were originally going to be major changes locally but those were dropped in the last round of reviews, so not much is changing here.  However, there might be implications elsewhere: there is a BBC article here.  One point to note is that Chris Skidmore stood down on environmental issues and there is a by-election planned in February: but his constituency is one of those disappearing.

Ongoing legislation

Research and knowledge exchange

Business and innovation

UKRI have published a position statement on their “commitment to improve the research and innovation environment for businesses seeking to scale up, through enhancing the support that we offer alongside private capital to help them invest, innovate and grow”.

As well as confirming some of the things they already do they will be:

  • launching a new digital guide to help businesses, along with investors and researchers, to make the most of UKRI products and services to commercialise research
  • launching new £20 million proof-of-concept funding in 2024 to support researchers to spin out scientific discoveries into exciting new products and services
  • ensuring that UKRI’s core offer of training to new doctoral research students improves awareness and experience of commercialisation and entrepreneurship, building on existing opportunities that allow students to work with businesses
  • creating a joined-up funding pathway over 2024, working with the British Business Bank and UK Export Finance, to enhance access to finance for scaling businesses

The Science Minister, Michelle Donelan, gave a speech about “scaleups” on 16th January.  It has unicorns, silver bullets, powder kegs and goldmines.  There is a lot in in it apart from those theme park elements, but this bit caught my eye:

  • Regulate to innovate is not just some slogan that I happen to use – I think it is a commitment I make to businesses across the country. 
  • And that is why I am backing the Regulatory Horizons Council report, published today, and committing to reviewing the recommendations to become unapologetically ambitious in our regulatory approach. 
  • And that is also why this year, I will develop a regulatory support service specifically designed to help science and tech companies to navigate rules and regulations.  Because we know that regulation isn’t just about dry ink on the statute books. I believe the behaviour of our regulators and regulatory simplicity is absolutely key.  

What is the Regulatory Horizons Council?  The Regulatory Horizons Council (RHC) is an independent expert committee that identifies the implications of technological innovation, and provides government with impartial, expert advice on the regulatory reform required to support its rapid and safe introduction. Find the membership etc at the link.

Here is the report and its recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: DSIT, working with the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) .. should ensure that regulators are empowered with the tools and resources to better support innovative startups and scaleups.
  • Recommendation 2: DSIT should work with relevant partners to embed a greater understanding of regulation, and earlier engagement with regulatory issues, within the early-stage business community.
  • Recommendation 3: Government and regulators should continue to build the knowledge base on pro-innovation regulation, and particularly the impacts on start-ups and scaleups.

Emerging technologies horizon scan

In December, UKRI published an insights report on Innovate UK’s 50 emerging technologies that could be part of our everyday lives in 2040 and beyond.

Although there are 50, the report is only 39 pages: the list is in the contents page (and it does briefly explain what they all are).  The world has been very focussed on the risks of new technology, AI in particular, in recent months, but this is a very hopeful list, focusing on the problems that can be solved rather than disruption and destruction.  The report does note the ethical challenges (in the context of AI in particular) and sets our five questions to consider:

  • As technology is more embedded in our bodies, will humans turn into something new and different? What makes us human will be increasingly questioned.
  • Should AI be allowed to make decisions on our behalf? All aspects of business and society will be transformed through AI and computing.
  • If humans can expect a century of good health, what does this mean for employment, pensions or housing? The quality and length of our lives will be greater than ever before.
  • Will a shift towards cleaner, affordable energy change the way we live and work? A transformed energy system could help new industries to thrive.
  • What will a vast expansion of our understanding of the world mean for the UK economy? The UK’s ability to draw on its research and business strengths will help us solve big problems and seize opportunities.

Quantum missions

In the context of the above, the government announced 5 “quantum missions” in November: there are likely to be more funding rounds for research and projects in these areas.

  • By 2035, there will be accessible, UK-based quantum computers capable of running 1 trillion operations and supporting applications that provide benefits well in excess of classical supercomputers across key sectors of the economy. 
  • By 2035, the UK will have deployed the world’s most advanced quantum network at scale, pioneering the future quantum internet. 
  • By 2030, every NHS Trust will benefit from quantum sensing-enabled solutions, helping those with chronic illness live healthier, longer lives through early diagnosis and treatment. 
  • By 2030, quantum navigation systems, including clocks, will be deployed on aircraft, providing next-generation accuracy for resilience that is independent of satellite signals. 
  • By 2030, mobile, networked quantum sensors will have unlocked new situational awareness capabilities, exploited across critical infrastructure in the transport, telecoms, energy, and defence sectors. 

And the other Horizon (Europe)

You can’t have missed it, but the UK is now an associate member of Horizon Europe from the start of 2024.  You can read more on the UKRI website here.  The Horizon Europe work programmes are listed here.

Small but beautiful

Research England have also announced the results of the second round of the “expanding excellence in England” fund. Research England is investing £156 million to support 18 universities across England to expand their small, but outstanding research units. The list of projects funded in round two (and round one from 2019) is here.

Regulation

These policy updates so far this year have included a lot of regulatory content, focussing on the OfS, but did you know that many other regulators may have an interest in aspects of education at universities, and this makes for a challenging and potentially burdensome situation.

Research Professional reports on an event sponsored by the Higher Education Policy Institute and AdvanceHE, which Keith attended this week, at which the VC of London South Bank University raised this issue:

  • Phoenix pointed out that if a level 4 or 5 course is taught as part of a degree, then it is regulated by the Office for Students, but if it is a standalone qualification such as a higher national certificate and taught in a college, it is overseen by Ofsted.
  • Similarly, if higher technical qualifications are taught in higher education, they are quality-assured by the OfS in universities but by Ofsted or Ofqual in further education, while level 4 apprenticeships are overseen by Ofsted regardless of where they are offered.

Of course it is even more complicated than that, as apprenticeship funding is overseen by the ESFA (the Education and Skills Funding Agency, part of the Department for Education), making them an important regulator for HE too.  If you haven’t heard of the ESFA, then here is what they do: it isn’t obvious from this that it includes degree apprentices delivered at universities; but it does.

As an executive agency of the Department for Education, and on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education, ESFA is responsible for administering funding to deliver education and skills, from early years through to adulthood.  

ESFA funds education and skills providers, including: 

  • maintained schools and early years institutions, through local authorities 
  • academy trusts 
  • special schools 
  • colleges 
  • independent training providers (ITPs) 
  • high needs institutions 

ESFA is responsible for: 

  • £67 billion of funding for the education and training sector, ensuring timely and accurate allocations and payment to education and training providers 
  • providing assurance to Parliament that public funds are spent properly, achieving value for money for the taxpayer and delivers the policies and priorities set out by the Secretary of State 
  • provides, where necessary, financial support for providers

Outstanding OfS consultations

Just a reminder of the ones that are ongoing or we are expecting outcomes on from the OfS:

  • Consultation on a new free speech complaints scheme: open until 10th March: BU is considering a response
  • Consultation on the approach to regulating students’ unions on free speech matters: open until 17th March
  • Consultation on the inclusion of higher technical qualifications in student outcome measures: closed November 2023
  • Consultation on a new approach to regulating harassment and sexual harassment-this one has been closed since May 23 so there should be an outcome soon

And two Department for Education ones:

Apprenticeships

In the last couple of updates I have mentioned the government focus on apprenticeships, which is being supported by funding provided by the OfS to support the development of new L6 apprenticeships.   On 17th January the outcome of the latest funding competition was announced, with £12 million being allocated.  The list is here (BU is on it).

Applications and admissions

UCAS have published the end of cycle 2023 data.

Sector:

  • Overall applicants fell in 2023, the peak was 2022
  • 18 year olds had grown (slowly in some years) since 2014 when this data starts until 2023 when the number fell back
  • More females than males applied in every age group

As well as the more general picture there is also data for nursing, which shows tor UK applicants there is a fall in application numbers for most age groups since 2021 but applications for 18 year olds and over 35s remain higher than they were in 2019, and the over 35s are now the biggest group, as they were in 2020 (and almost were in 2021).  The proportion of male applicants over 35 is also higher than the other groups.

Midwifery applications have also fallen since 2021 but remain higher than 2019 for 18 years olds and the over 35s, 18 year olds being by far the largest group with the over 35s just squeaking in at second.  The gender data is interesting: tiny numbers of male applicants.

Wonhke have an article and analysis: there are a little over a thousand more English domiciled applicants who have accepted a place at a Russell Group provider this year than last. Everyone else (excluding alternative providers) has lost accepted applicants over 2022, but (as UCAS is always keen to remind us) the “last regular year” comparison to 2019 looks a bit rosier. There are loads of charts and even a map.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

Cost of living: This year’s updates have covered this ongoing issue; the Russell Group published a briefing this week on the impact of inflation on the maintenance loan and what their members are doing to help. The briefing also points out: The shortfall is compounded by the freeze on the parental earnings threshold used to calculate maintenance loans in England. Students with a household income of less than £25,000 are eligible for the maximum loan, but this figure has been frozen in cash terms since 2008. It is estimated that had this threshold increased with earnings, it would now sit at £35,000, making many more students eligible for the maximum support.

Lifelong loan entitlement

This has been a long running story and we have reported for several years on the various legislative changes and consultations but it all still seems a bit remote and confusing: the new funding system will be in place for entrants to HE from September 2025.

This is about two things, really:

  • putting funding arrangements for university degrees and other post 18 higher level courses on an equal footing; and
  • the “lifelong” bit: enabling flexible and modular learning including to support returning or mature learners

The real change is in the mechanics of funding for universities.  In preparation for modules and to support the “LLE personal accounts” the funding basis is switching to a system based on credits, not academic years.

Last week I talked about the OfS funded short course trial that had a microscopic take up.  I wonder if the public accounts committee will be interested in the cost/benefit of that £2m investment?

There’s a blog here that the OfS wrote in October 2024 on the changes for HE that the LLE will bring:

Over time, we think this will lead to some or all of the following changes:

  • Universities and colleges will offer standalone modules from existing courses
  • Students will be able to build a full qualification by completing different modules, across different courses, from different universities or colleges
  • Students could end up studying at several universities or colleges at the same time, or across multiple departments in a single higher education provider
  • Students will be able to study modules that will give them the skills or knowledge they need to progress their career without the intention of building or completing a full qualification.

If there is a growth in LLE funded modular study, we also think there might be a shift to:

  • Universities and colleges changing existing …courses to an LLE fundable modular format
  • …An increase in modular study overall, not only LLE fundable modules
  • A decrease in the number of employers paying for continuing professional development (CPD) related courses as individuals will receive funding for standalone modules; [and] an increase in employers encouraging employees to take up CPD related modules as they will not need to fund them.

But if you are still puzzled about what it is all really about, and what it means in practice for universities, the Department for Education have published a guide in the form of a policy paper this week. sorry this is a bit wordy!

The summary: so far not very revolutionary.

From the 2025 to 2026 academic year, the LLE loan will be available for:

·       full courses at level 4 to 6, such as a degree or technical qualifications

·       modules of high-value technical courses at level 4 to 5

Under the LLE, eligible learners will be able to access:

·       a tuition fees loan, with new learners able to access up to the full entitlement of £37,000, equal to 4 years of study in today’s fees

·       a maintenance loan to cover living costs

Targeted maintenance grants will also be available for some groups such as learners with disabilities, or for support with childcare.

An additional entitlement may be available in certain cases – for example, for some priority subjects or longer courses such as medicine.

Learners will be able to see their loan balance through their own LLE personal account. This will help them make choices about the courses and learning pathways available.

So the devil, as always, must be in the detail.  What is covered, see below, again, fairly straightforward, except the bit about modules. 

But that isn’t coming straight away “The government will take a phased approach to provide modular funding. We expect to expand modular funding to more courses from the 2027 to 2028 academic year.”

Eligibility:

·       The LLE will be available to new and returning learners.

·       For returning learners, the amount they can borrow will be reduced depending on the funding they have previously received to support study.

·       LLE tuition loans will be available for people up to the age of 60. Learners who are over 60 may still qualify for maintenance support, though not a tuition fee loan.

·       Eligibility criteria for the LLE will track existing higher education (HE) student finance nationality and residency rules.

Courses: the LLE will be available for:

·       full years of study at higher technical and degree levels (levels 4 to 6)

·       modules of technical courses of clear value to employers

From the 2025 to 2026 academic year, the LLE will fund:

·       full years of study on courses currently funded by HE student finance including:

o   traditional degrees

o   postgraduate certificates in education (PGCE)

o   integrated master’s degrees (a 4-year programme that awards a master’s degree on top of a bachelor’s degree)

o   the foundation year available before some degree courses start

·       all HTQs, including both full courses and modules of those courses

·       qualifications currently funded by advanced learner loans where there is clear learner demand and employer endorsement

·       modules of some technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5 currently funded through advanced learner loans with a clear line of sight to an occupational map and evidence of employer demand

So what does this mean for students?  The main change is that tuition fee and maintenance loans will be available for a wider range of courses.

The entitlement

New learners (those who have not yet received government support to undertake higher-level learning) will be able to access a full entitlement equal to 4 years of full-time tuition. This is currently equal to £37,000 across 4 years, based on today’s maximum fee limit of £9,250 per year.

This means a student could use their £37,000 to pay for more than 480 credits of learning, depending on the per-credit cost of the course. For example, if a student can borrow £37,000 and they use £7,000 for a 120-credit course, they would have £30,000 of the LLE left for other courses, regardless of the size or duration of the original programme.

Returning learners …who have not used it all will have access to a residual entitlement. For example, a typical graduate who completed a 3-year degree worth £27,750 in today’s fees will have a £9,250 residual entitlement.

An additional entitlement above the core 4-year entitlement will be available for some priority subjects and longer courses such as medicine.

Maintenance loans

Maintenance loans are designed to help learners with living costs while they study. There is a maximum claim amount based on a student’s course, location and personal circumstances.

Under the LLE, the maintenance loan for living costs and targeted support grants, such as the Disabled Students’ Allowance and the Childcare Grant, will be made available for all designated courses and modules that require in-person attendance. Maintenance support will be subject to personal criteria such as income. This will broadly remain the same as the current criteria.

Repayments

The latest repayment arrangements apply as for students who started university this year.

And what does it mean for universities?

There will be a maximum financial amount per credit and a maximum number of credits that can be charged for in each course year, which will be set by the government.

We will treat certain course types under the LLE as ‘non-credit-bearing’. This means that different rules will apply. Non-credit-bearing courses include courses such as medicine and PGCEs, and courses where the provider has not assigned a qualifying credit value.

To support the LLE, the government will introduce a standardised transcript template to ensure a learner’s assessed achievements are always captured under the new modular, credit-based system.

There will be a new process for new providers and new qualifications.  This is properly new stuff and the subject of a lot of the ongoing work listed below, but probably not a lot of interest to readers of this update!

There is a separate paper on how tuition fees will work, from November 2023. This bit is confusing and implementing it will be tricky: lots of new reporting and forms likely to achieve this!

In the LLE system, we’ll set fee limits per credit. Credits are a measurement used by colleges and universities to identify how much learning is in a period of study. One credit generally equals 10 hours of learning by the student. This includes all tuition, assessment and any self-guided study in the student’s own time.

The credit-based system means that providers will only be able to charge for as much learning as they offer. A course containing 60 credits will have half the fee limit of a course containing 120 credits at the same provider.

The LLE system will have different fee limit rates. The limit-per-credit will depend on the type of study. There will be different limits for work placement, study abroad, and foundation years in certain subjects. Each of these limits may be lower if the provider does not have:

·       a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) award

·       an approved access and participation plan (APP).

There will no longer be different limits for part-time study. Instead, each course or module will have a fee limit based on the number of credits it contains. This is subject to a course year maximum and a course maximum. This means that if a course contains 360 credits, its overall fee limit will be the same regardless of how many years it takes to complete.

Some courses will be non-credit-bearing. For these courses, we’ll allocate a default number of credits. For example, we’ll allocate a PGCE course 120 default credits. This is because currently providers do not always allocate the same number of credits to these courses, but the amount of content is always very similar.

Under the LLE system, we’ll calculate fee limits according to the number of credits in a course year, multiplied by a limit-per-credit. For example, if a year of a course contained 120 credits, and its limit-per-credit was £50, its fee limit would be £6,000.

The LLE system will no longer have different fee limits for accelerated study. Instead, the overall fee limit for an accelerated degree will be the same as the overall fee limit for the same degree (full-time or part-time).

There will be a cap on the number of credits for which providers can charge in each type of course. This ensures that credits are not added on to courses simply to increase tuition fees. Providers may offer additional credits beyond the maximum, but are not allowed to charge for them.

If a student repeats part of their course, the repeat study is not counted towards the course cap. For example, if a student on a 360-credit degree fails a 30-credit module and repeats it, the provider can charge them for 390 credits overall.

And those modules?

There are no restrictions on the number of chargeable credits in a module. However, a module must have the same number of credits as it does when it is offered as part of the full course.

Modules offered separately from full courses must contain at least 30 credits. This can include multiple smaller modules bundled together.

So what is next?

In spring 2024, we will:

·       launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding

·       lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in parliament

·       communicate the details on the benefits of the third registration category

In summer 2024, we will: publish further information about the qualification gateway

In autumn 2024, we will: lay the secondary legislation that will set out the rest of the LLE funding system in parliament

In spring 2025, we will: launch the LLE personal account, where users can track their loan entitlement and apply for designated courses and modules

In autumn 2025, we will: launch the qualification gateway, an approval process that allows qualifications to access LLE funding (as noted above, not directly relevant to us)

Who are the staff at UK universities?

HESA published a bulletin about UK HE staff statistics as at 1st December 2022, on 16th January 2023.

  • Research Professional article here.
  • Wonkhe article here

The data shows an increase in the number of academic staff and non-academic staff employed in the sector since the previous year and a small decrease in the number of a-typical academic staff employed.

  • In 2022/23, 103,005 or 43% of academic staff were employed on contracts described as having a teaching and research function. The total for 2021/22 was 100,170 or 43%.
  • A further 36% of academic staff were on teaching only contracts. This percentage has steadily increased year-on-year since 2015/16, when it was 26%.
  • Among academic staff, 71,420, or 30% were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2022/23. Of full-time academic staff, 22% were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2022/23. In contrast, 43% of part-time academic staff were employed on fixed-term contracts, marking an eight percentage point decrease from 2021/22.
  • Of academic staff with known ethnicity, 22% were from ethnic minority backgrounds in 2022/23. This has increased from 16% in 2017/18.
  • Of the 22,345 professors with known ethnicity, 2,865 or 13% were from ethnic minority backgrounds. The majority of professors from ethnic minority backgrounds were Asian.
  • From 2021/22 to 2022/23 there was an increase of 40 Black professors.
  • The number of staff known to have a disability increased by 1,100 compared to 2021/22

Financial sustainability: Scotland

Last week’s update mentioned student number caps, which may soon be applied in specific cases (by provider, by subject) based on quality reviews by the OfS.  The government recently ruled out reintroducing more widespread caps in England after a consultation.  There have caps in Scotland, though, and they are about to be reduced.  Wonkhe reported this week on remarks in the Scottish Parliament:

  • Scottish finance secretary Shona Robison confirmed that at least 1,200 funded university places for Scottish-domiciled students will be cut following the Scottish government’s 2024–25 budget. Her remarks were made a scrutiny session with the Scottish finance committee – Robison told MSPs that the funding for additional places, instituted due to increased demand during the pandemic, was no longer sustainable.

The Scottish caps on home students have had a direct impact on the finances of Scottish institutions and they have turned increasingly to the international market to make up the income as, like in the rest of the UK, the real value of domestic tuition fees falls.   The financial challenges for Scottish universities are described in this recent report from the Scottish Funding Council (4th Jan 24).

You will recall that there is a reason for these caps: the Scottish government funds tuition fees directly in Scotland for Scottish students, there is no tuition fee loan. The actual amount received was £7,610 for each Scottish student this academic year year (see a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies from December 2023), significantly less than the £9,250 capped fee in England.

Institutional failure

Last week I talked about the OfS licence conditions in place to protect students in the context of a university closing down, perhaps as a result of financial issues.

Wonkhe have several blogs this week.

There is one from two members of Public First on what would happen if a large university ran out of money:

  • The DfE (rightly) puts in place lots of warning measures for schools in difficulty, and if a school or group of schools start to find themselves in real trouble, a lot of things kick into place. They can mandate that schools have cost cutters come in; they can prescribe significant changes to operating models; and they can both demand that the school or school group takes an advance from the state, whilst placing (pretty onerous) conditions that are attached to repaying that advance. And given that financial trouble often goes hand in hand with performance trouble, the government has pretty carte blanche to change leadership and management when a poor performance judgement is made….
  • Universities are, of course, not big schools. And it is their fiercely guarded autonomy – as safeguarded in HERA – which means we don’t have a clear set of state interventions. When the Westminster government made its various moves to extend a more market based HE system in England in the early 2010s, it was explicitly envisaged that some providers could exit the market – and that government wouldn’t step in. This was not a bug, but instead a positive virtue of the system…
  • There is no power in today’s legislation for the government to give “extraordinary support” to a particular institution. In a major failure scenario, they could theoretically want to support (or even force) a merger or acquisition. They could also want to support specific institutions financially to keep them open at least for an interim period. But both would likely require new legislation, potentially at speed, and all of this tells against a story of autonomy
  • …. This issue all relies on some very big P political questions. Which institutions might be allowed to fail – and which won’t? What does increased government intervention mean for institutional autonomy, an idea already much eroded in political and policy circles? What does it mean for the status of universities, and could they be reclassified as FE colleges as public sector bodies if the state gains more control over funding or governance? And how much is the sector as a whole willing to trade to save a small, but potentially significant number of institutions?

There is one is from two members of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) talking about what will really happen if a provider fails.

They point out the regime that applies to FE, for which there is no equivalent for universities:

  • the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 established an insolvency regime that applies to further education and sixth form colleges in England and Wales. This introduced a special education administration regime, which protects learner provision for existing students at insolvent colleges with the overarching duty to the learner

They conclude:

  • We have talked before about insurance schemes or a “pot of money” to help students in these situations. We often hear that many providers would not be willing to pay into a system as they do not think such a situation really impacts them.
  • But the impact on the wider sector, students and the reputation of HE must be worth further serious discussion, and we are increasingly finding that there is an understanding that this situation needs to be addressed. …..
  • Whatever the answer, students should not be the collateral damage. A provider closure can leave students significantly disadvantaged, with their experience of and faith in higher education ruined. The potential impact on some students’ mental health cannot be underestimated. The financial impact, in a system where students are at the end of a long list of unsecured creditors, could create significant hardship and may make it unsustainable for a student to complete their studies.
  • We cannot just wait for a large-scale disorderly exit to happen before we engage in a serious discussion.

HE policy update 15th January 2024

Politics and Parliament

The PM has confirmed that 2 by-elections will be held in February. (from the FT)

  • The Conservatives on Thursday moved the writ for by-elections to be held in Wellingborough in the east Midlands and Kingswood, near Bristol, both of which were held by Tory MPs. Peter Bone won Wellingborough in 2019 with a majority of 18,540 over Labour but was forced out of the House of Commons after an inquiry upheld claims of bullying and sexual misconduct against a staff member. … The Wellingborough contest has been given additional interest by the decision of local Conservatives to choose Bone’s partner, Tory councillor Helen Harrison, as their candidate.
  • The Kingswood contest was triggered by the resignation of former energy minister Chris Skidmore in protest at Sunak’s plan to promote North Sea oil and gas drilling. Skidmore secured an 11,220 majority over Labour in 2019.
  • The moving of the writs means the contests must be held within 21 and 27 working days; polling in both constituencies is therefore expected to take place on Thursday February 15.

Education

Lifelong learning

All this is coming soon, including changes to the way that fees are calculated and paid to providers so that they are not based on years but on credits.  This means that there will be no more special arrangements for accelerated programmes.

But will there be any demand for modular programmes?  The OfS ran a big trial:

  • In autumn 2021 the Office for Students (OfS) launched the ‘Higher Education Short Course trial’ Challenge Competition, through which higher education (HE) providers bid for funding to develop short courses of 30 or 40 credits at Levels 4-6 in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), education, digital innovation and healthcare subjects and to help meet skills needs for Net Zero. Employers were to be closely involved in designing and developing the provision.
  • Through this competition, 22 providers received a total of £2 million to develop new short courses. Over 100 new courses were proposed in total, most to commence delivery in autumn 2022, with projections that over 2000 students in total would participate in 2022-23.

And the takeup for loans for the short courses was very small.  Out of 96 courses offered, only 17 were launched by 10 of the 22 providers, and instead of the 2000 participants planned, there were 240 applicants and 125 enrolments; with only 41 taking up the new student loan product.

The paper includes a lot of recommendations.  Wonkhe article here.

Apprenticeships

The government have pledged to increase apprenticeships at the cost, perhaps of “traditional” degrees.

In practice, apart from a lot of bigging them up in speeches and so on, this means that the OfS have been told to fund development of apprenticeships and they have been doing so:

  • The OfS will distribute up to £40 million through a competitive bidding exercise, which is now open for applications from OfS-registered higher education providers. Of the £40 million, up to £16 million will be allocated to projects that will complete before 31 July 2024 and up to £24 million is available for projects that will complete before 31 July 2025.
  • The funding competition aims to:
    • Expand course provision at higher education providers already offering Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Increase the number of students on Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Expand course provision at higher education providers who are new to offering Level 6 degree apprenticeships
    • Increase equality of opportunity within Level 6 degree apprenticeships

Note the focus on L6.  The government have made noises in the past about being unhappy with the volume of L7 apprentices being funded through the levy, especially where these are already senior employees, and this is something that may be addressed through policy changes in the future, e.g. restricting the use of the levy to L6 and below.  As noted last week, Labour have suggested repurposing the levy for apprenticeships and skills, which would also probably result in a reduction of the proportion of levy available for L7 apprenticeships, depending on how the changes were implemented, unless the amount available under the levy was increased.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

We talked about cost of living in last week’s report, there was a December Sutton Trust analysis which makes grim reading.

  • Polling by Savanta for the Trust shows that 62% spend less than £37 a week on food, which is the minimum needed for a single person to buy essential food items, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust.
  • Overall, students living at university in England outside of London have median costs of £11,400 a year on essential spending. These essential costs include accommodation (on average 52% of their spending), groceries (12%), and bills (6%). However, the median total loan in England outside of London of £7,000, equivalent to 61% of spend, does not come near to covering these basic needs.
  • And although the median loan in London is higher at £8,500, this is drastically less than the median spending of £17,287 by students in the capital.
  • To make ends meet, two thirds of students reported taking on paid work, with 20% working 16-30 hours per week. 49% have missed classes as a result, and 23% reported that they had missed a deadline or asked for an extension in order to work.
  • The maintenance package in England is now at its lowest value in real terms for seven years, as maximum loan amounts have not kept pace with inflation. Furthermore, fewer students are eligible for maximum loans as the parental earnings threshold has also been frozen since 2008. To secure the maximum loan, a student’s household must earn under £25,000 per year, which captures far fewer households than it did 15 years ago.

Here is the December Wonkhe story.

What are the characteristics of students?

Alongside the TEF outcomes published last year (and updated with most of the pending awards just before Christmas, were summaries of the characteristics data for students in the UK for the 4 years to 2020-21. This is interesting to consider, and although some of this might seem obvious, does it hold true for our own cohorts and it is that obvious really?

We tend to talk a lot in the sector about student outcomes in the context of student characteristics, achievement gaps and so on.  But the other aspect, which I have been discussing with Shelley recently, is what this means for education practice.  A couple of examples – there is more to think about here and BU’s numbers are different from the sector in some ways:

  • Only 52% of full time undergraduate students come in to HE with only A levels: while that is still a lot, 48% is a lot of students with different learning experiences.
  • 40% of full time PGT students are over 25, which suggests that they have had work or other experience since they completed their UG programmes.

Age on entry:

Part-time students and apprentices are generally older.  In particular there is a much higher proportion of apprentices who are over 31, which is not surprising given that many degree level apprentices at L6 and L7 will be people already in work who are being asked by their employers to upskill via an apprenticeship, and this is consistent with the lifelong learning/skills agenda

Disability:

  • A higher proportion of part-time students have declared disabilities than full time -this may be one of the reasons for students choosing to study part-time.
  • A smaller proportion of PG students, full-time and part-time, have declared a disability.
  • A smaller proportion of apprentices have a disability than full time students (for both UG and PG).
  • Cognitive or learning difficulties is the biggest category of disabilities

Ethnicity:

  • There are large proportions of “unknown” ethnicity for full-time PG students; this may reflect the high proportion of PG international students and makes any comparison between full-time UG and PG unreliable.
  • Part-time students and apprentices are much more likely to be white.

Qualifications on entry (UG only):

  • There is a smaller proportion of part-time students with A levels or BTECs, and a larger proportion of part-time students from access or foundation courses or with no, or unknown qualifications. There is also a large proportion (34%) with HE level qualifications undertaking part-time programmes.
  • 52% of full-time UG students have 3 A levels, and 16% have a BTEC or a combination.
  • There is a larger proportion of apprentices with HE qualifications, and also with no, or unknown qualifications.

HE sector sustainability and change

You will have seen from the policy updates over the last year the negative rhetoric around “poor quality” courses: of course we all agree that we don’t want those.  Some noses were put out of joint by the Autumn Statement’s only reference to HE: “Proposals will be implemented to decrease the number of people studying poor-quality degrees, and to increase take-up of apprenticeships”.

As noted last week, as far as we can tell, this does not mean new measures but continuing to instruct the OfS to use its existing powers of regulation plus a continued focus on funding and promoting apprenticeships.

This House of Commons library research briefing on student number controls from August 2023 is an interesting read.

Here are some extracts from the press release from July 2023 when the final bit of the Augar changes (no sector wide student number caps or minimum entry levels):

  • The UK has some of the world’s leading universities, but a minority of the courses on offer leave students saddled with debt, low earnings and faced with poor job prospects. The government wants to make the system fairer for them, but also for taxpayers – who make a huge investment in higher education and are liable for billions of pounds in unrecovered tuition fees if graduate earnings are low.
  • Figures from the Office for Students show that nearly three in ten graduates do not progress into highly skilled jobs or further study 15 months after graduating. The Institute for Fiscal Studies also estimates that one in five graduates would be better off financially if they hadn’t gone to university. [more on those figures below]

And none of this is helped by the increasing cost to the government of funding the HE system.  The IfS published a report on 9th January: ”higher long-term inters rates and the cost of student loans”.

The debate around funding student loans has largely focused on what share of student loans will be repaid, and what share of the cost will need to be picked up by the taxpayer. Much less attention has been paid to the government cost of financing student loans that do get repaid. In this report, we investigate how the cost of student loans including these financing costs has changed as a result of increases in government borrowing costs over the past two years.

  • The cost of government borrowing as measured by the 15-year gilt yield has risen from 1.2% to 4.0% over the past two years. Relative to expected RPI inflation, this is a 3 percentage point increase. As the interest rate on student loans is now the rate of RPI inflation, this means that the government can expect to pay 1.6 percentage points more in interest on its debt than the interest rate it charges on student loans. Two years ago, just before the most recent student loans reform, it could expect to pay 1.4 percentage points less than the rate of RPI inflation.
  • This increase in government borrowing costs translates to an increase in the expected cost of student loans including financing costs of more than £10 billion per year. With borrowing costs as at the end of 2021, the government could have expected to earn a total net profit of £3.2 billion on student loans to the 2023 university entry cohort, arising from the positive spread between the interest it charged on student loans and the interest it paid on its debt. With today’s borrowing costs, this interest rate spread is negative, and the government can expect to make a loss of £7.3 billion. 
  • Concerningly, this extra cost is not reflected in either of the government’s official measures of the cost of student loans. The ONS measure does not take the cost of government borrowing into account at all. The DfE measure that underlies the so-called RAB charge uses a backward-looking measure of borrowing costs, which does not yet capture the sharp rise in gilt yields over the last two years.

Quality

This crackdown on perceived low quality has so far consisted of several waves of OfS quality assessments, last week I highlighted the first published outcomes of the first waves of assessments in business and management and computing: the regulatory consequences of these assessments are yet to be announced (with concerns only confirmed at 2 of the 6), but where problems are found the OfS can do lots of things including a combination of these:

  • launch a formal investigation;
  • apply more frequent or intensive monitoring;
  • impose specific licence conditions on a provider (i.e. specific action that the provider must take (or not take): to note specifically this could include recruitment limits or student number controls for a provider in general or linked to specific subjects;
  • impose a fine;
  • refuse to renew an access and participation plan (note that has consequences for fee caps);
  • suspend aspects of a providers registration, including access to student support funding or OfS grant funding;
  • vary or revoke degree awarding powers or permission to call itself a university; and/or
  • deregister a provider.

Another interesting point to note: providers have to pay fees to cover the cost of the investigation if they are subject to a regulatory investigation by the OfS unless they are completely exonerated.

This Wonhke article from July 23 describes when the OfS has already imposed licence conditions relating to B3: most of these required improvement plans and most (other than 2) related to colleges or alternative providers rather than universities.

It is worth reading the article which includes a response from Burton and South Derbyshire College.  Their main point is that the OfS is using very old data: the latest OfS dashboard data is for continuation for students starting in 2020-21, and of course graduate outcomes and completion data is by definition for students who started much longer ago than that; and who are following a programme which is likely to have change quite a lot since they started.  Just as a counter-balance to that, for existing providers (rather than newly registered providers) sanctions will usually follow an investigation, so although the outcomes data may be old, the practice and actions taken by the provider that the OfS are reviewing is current.  Before imposing a restriction, the OfS would need to form a view that those current actions and other steps were not likely to be adequate on their own to address the issues flagged by the (old) data.

The latest quality assessments have focussed on two subjects, and have looked at a wide range of student outcomes and experience in the context of the B licence conditions.  Often discussions of the B conditions focus on B3 (minimum absolute levels of student outcomes), but there is a lot more to the B conditions than those.

These were covered extensively when the consultations about these new conditions were ongoing several years ago, but as a lot has happened since then, here is a reminder.

I’ll talk more about the TEF and some of these conditions and other licence conditions in future updates.

Student numbers and admissions

This from Wonkhe in the daily update on Friday 12th January makes interesting reading in the light of all the concerns from the OfS about risky dependence on international student numbers

  • International student recruitment from Pakistan has overtaken the “languishing” Nigerian market for the January 2024 intake, according to the latest data from recruitment platform Enroly – which suggests that deposits are down 37 per cent compared to the same period last year, with a similar fall in the number of Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) issued.
  • The data, based on a sample of 68,000 international students from the firm’s partner institutions, also shows that CAS issuance for students from India looks to have fallen by over 34 per cent, accompanied by a drop of more than 70 per cent in the Nigerian market – survey data suggests “unfriendly government policies” are playing a role in the decrease. But for students from Pakistan, deposits are up by 22.5 per cent, and CAS issuance by 14.2 per cent.

Financial sustainability

There has been a lot of press about financial sustainability and a lot of providers have been in the press for their efforts to manage financial gaps, arising from a whole range of issues as discussed last week.

To add to the doom and gloom here are some articles on the topic:

FT article 11th Jan 24: Senior leaders at four English universities told the FT in December they were experiencing a slowdown in international recruitment, driven in part by renewed competition from the US and Australia, which closed their borders during the Covid-19 pandemic. Data collected by the Enroly web platform that helps international students through the bureaucratic process of joining universities has indicated a sharp drop-off in enrolments from Nigeria and India. The company said a representative sample from more than 68,000 applicants to small and large UK universities found that overall deposit payments were down by 37 per cent for the January 2024 intake when compared with the previous year.

Research Professional article 5th Jan 24: universities at risk of insolvency in 2024

  • “These issues affect individual institutions in different ways and many universities remain financially secure, but we have a big and diverse higher education sector and a minority of universities are undoubtedly under the cosh financially at the moment,” Hillman said.
  • There are very few recent examples of UK higher education institutions closing down. In July 2019, the private provider GSM London—formerly known as the Greenwich School of Management—went into administration, and earlier that year Heythrop College, formerly part of the University of London, closed permanently. There have also been a number of mergers between providers.

ITV news: November 2023 Higher education sector in ‘existential crisis’ as one in four universities make losses

  • Data seen by ITV News paints a bleak picture of the higher education sector, which experts have described as being in an “existential crisis”.
  • One-quarter of universities are currently making a loss and total losses over the entire sector sits at a staggering £2 billion, a huge increase from the £200 million from the year before.
  • Professor Jenny Higham, from Universities UK, the umbrella body which represents 142 universities across the country, told ITV News an urgent solution was needed or the consequences would be severe.
  • “If [universities] continue not to be able to make up that deficit the end result will be universities will close,” Professor Higham said. “We need to work with everybody who has a vested interest in universities and their output to come up to solution for this problem.”

Universities UK report: sustainable university funding, September 2023

  • While it is not true that international students are displacing home students, it is the case that income from international students mitigates losses in teaching domestic students, and in turn helps grow, and make viable, domestic student capacity. Compared with a £1 billion loss in teaching domestic students, teaching international students brings in a £3 billion surplus. Given losses incurred in teaching domestic students, growth in international student income is needed to help grow domestic student capacity, which is needed as there is an increasing number of 18-year-olds projected in the UK population. It is debatable whether further growth in international student income is feasible, given increased competition from other countries, potential geopolitical risks to this income stream and recent government actions. Without this growth, and no further funding for teaching, it is likely that the chance of entering university for future cohorts will be more restricted than for previous cohorts.

The House of Commons library research briefing on student number controls from August 2023 referred to above also describes the upcoming cap on fees for some foundation years from the 2025/26 academic year: we are awaiting a consultation on the detail of this

It’s not easy in Wales or Scotland either, see recent articles from Wonkhe at the links.

There are OfS licence conditions about financial sustainability too: OFS licence conditions: financial sustainability and student protection in the case of a risk of market exit.

Minimum service levels

Something you may have missed in the run up to the holiday was the announcement of a consultation on minimum service levels in education (consultation closes 30th January 2024):

  • Any minimum service levels regulations we might implement following the consultation would apply on days when strike action is taking place in education services, and help minimise disruption to children and learners across education settings.

In the consultation document the section on HE starts on page 27

HE policy update: outlook for 2024

New year, new start for the BU HE policy update.

It’s an election year, so I will be looking at the policies, predictions and plots as the year unfolds alongside the usual news and comment.  I’ll be trying some new approaches this year so let me know what you think.

Alongside all the policy and politics there are the big geopolitical issues that may escalate even more dangerously this year; with luck some of them may creep towards a resolution.  Just to list a few: Ukraine, Israel/Palestine, China/Taiwan, ongoing conflict or issues in Yemen, Afghanistan, North Korea, elections in the US, Mexico, Venezuela, India and Pakistan and a new leader in Peru, a third of African nations have elections this year) alongside climate change and equality issues across the world.  These issues have an impact on domestic politics including through the impact on cost of living and potentially as people seek clarity,  reassurance or perceived strong leadership in a time of fear or uncertainty.  There’s an interesting article here from CIDOB on the issues the world is facing this year.

If you are interested in predictions, IPSOS have a survey of what the public are expecting.

Politics and Parliament

Let’s start with the current government’s pledges and likely priorities: as the year unfolds I will look at some of these in more detail and review the alternatives.

YouGov have a take on the most important issues facing the country: the economy, health, immigration and asylum are at the top

Conservatives seeking re-election

A year ago the PM set out 5 pledges: we can expect to hear a lot more about them.  Reviews here from  the BBC and the New Statesman:

  • Halving inflation by the end of 2023: This has been met, but this will continue to be a focus along with the reason it matters: cost of living (see below).
  • Get the economy growing wages have improved somewhat in real terms but GDP is flat
  • And there is an issue with fiscal drag, as more people pay more tax (see the FT)
  • National debt falling: The pledge was that it would be forecast to fall in 2028/29 (i.e. not yet). The BBC points out:
    • In the Autumn Statement in November, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt claimed to be on track to meet that pledge because the OBR predicted a fall in 2028-29. But it’s going to be tight and will involve challenging spending restraint for some government departments.
    • When will we know? The next debt forecasts will be published alongside the Spring Budget in 2024.
  • Cutting NHS waiting lists: This is not going very well.  The overall waiting list was expected to fall by March 2024: we will know in May 2024 when the figures come out.  The BMA have some data, and the BBC chart uses the same NHS data but helpfully splits it out by how long people have waited. Ongoing strikes will remain a challenge for the government this year.
  • Stopping the boats.  Controversial and difficult.  Chart from the BBC again. Here’s a link to the 2nd Jan update from the Home Office on this one.  Stopping the boats is just part of the larger policy agenda on cutting net migration to the UK (see below).

Things to watch this year: cost of living

The reason inflation mattered so much was the impact on cost of living.  The increases may have slowed but costs are still high:

… food bank charities like the Trussell Trust are helping record numbers of people, and some people are using debt to pay for essentials … The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) collects data on destitution in the UK. Someone is ‘destitute’ when they didn’t have two or more of six essentials in the past month because they couldn’t afford them, or their income is too low to purchase the items themselves. JRF found that 1.8 million households experienced destitution in 2022, a 64% increase since 2019. The rising prices of essentials has contributed to this increase. The essential that most destitute people went without most often was

  • food (61%), followed by
  • heating (59%)
  • clothes (57%),
  • toiletries (51%),
  • lighting (35%) and
  • shelter (which means they slept rough) (14%).

Things to watch this year: net migration:

Despite the focus on the small boats, the real policy issue is the net migration number, going back to the original pledge from more than a decade ago to reduce that number.

There is a useful annual report from the Migration Advisory Committee here (Oct 23).

This report also has a section on student migration which is discussed below in relation to international students.

Other things to watch in 2024 (as well as the general election)

Local elections and by-elections – always interesting in the run up to a general election: Local elections are in May (not in BCP), there is a by-election in February in Wellingborough: another test for the government as the former seat of Peter Bone MP is contested; and another possibly in Blackpool later in the year.

Spring budget: 6th March 2024: likely tax cuts, with a potential to reduce the fiscal drag point noted above, plus possible cut to inheritance tax. Other appeals to the Tory base are likely and there are rumours of “traps” to make life hard for Labour in the election campaign or if they win the election.

Political leadership: this is a mainly post-election consideration, but would Sunak step down if the Tories lose the election and who would replace him? What would happen to Starmer if Labour lose?  What about the SNP and what will happen in Northern Ireland?  Wales will have a new First Minister this year (in the Spring as they are holding leadership elections).

The political fallout from the Covid inquiry: which will continue through this year.

Some parliamentary bills of interest to HE were carried over to the new session, and new ones were announced in the King’s Speech such as:

Labour’s 5 missions

As well as these, Labour have also talked about the possibility of replacing the system of education regulators with one combined regulator, as they are doing in Wales,  Unlike the Conservatives, they do want to encourage more 18 year olds into HE.  See the bold highlights below.

These were set out a while ago:

  • Get Britain building again: not just about home building but this one is about growing the economy more generally: “Secure the highest sustained growth in the G7 – with good jobs and productivity growth in every part of the country making everyone, not just a few, better off.” This includes:
    • A new industrial strategy and a council to implement it
    • A Green Prosperity Plan: private sector investment
    • Changes to planning to help industry
    • Devolution
    • National Wealth Fund
    • Making it easier for universities to develop self-sustaining clusters of innovation, investment, and growth in their local areas
    • “reforming planning rules and arcane compulsory purchase rules, with new protections for renters”
    • “closing the holes in the government’s Brexit deal, cutting the red tape”
    • “Establishing a supply chain taskforce to review supply chain needs across critical sectors”
  • Switch on Great British Energy: this does include a plan for a new energy generation company but also a wider objective to “make the UK a clean energy superpower
    • Act fast to lead the world with clean and cheap power by 2030, backing the builders not the blockers so Britain gets the cheap, clean power we need;
    • Establish GB Energy – a new home-grown, publicly-owned champion in clean energy generation – to build jobs and supply chains here at home;
    • Set up the National Wealth Fund, which will create good, well-paying jobs by investing alongside the private sector in gigafactories, clean steel plants, renewable-ready ports, green hydrogen and energy storage; and
    • Upgrade nineteen million homes with our Warm Homes Plan, so that families have cheaper energy bills permanently, with warm, future-proofed homes.
  • Get the NHS back on its feet: lots in here. for HE the most relevant are:
    • Labour will create 7,500 more medical school places and 10,000 more nursing and midwifery clinical placements per year. We will allocate a proportion of the new medical school places in under-doctored areas, to address inequalities in access to healthcare – because one of the strongest indicators of where doctors practice is where they train. We’ll also train 700 more district nurses each year, 5,000 more health visitors and recruit thousands more mental health staff.
    • Give everyone the opportunity to participate in research if they want to, so we can speed up recruitment and give patients access to treatments faster
  • Take back our streets: “Halve serious violent crime and raise confidence in the police and criminal justice system to its highest levels, within a decade”
  • Break down barriers to opportunity: lots in here, including:
    • urgently commission a full, expert-led review of curriculum and assessment that will seek to deliver a curriculum which is rich and broad, inclusive and innovative, and which develops knowledge and skills
    • Recruit over 6500 new teachers to fill vacancies and skills gaps across the profession.
    • Replace headline Ofsted grades with a new system of school report cards, that tell parents clearly how well their children’s school is performing.
    • Labour wants all young people to complete compulsory education with a firm foundation and will ensure that 80% of young people are qualified to Level 3 (A-Level equivalent) by 2035, with an interim target of 75% by 2030. Labour will reverse the decline in the number of young people moving into sustained education, employment or training after completing their 16 – 18 education. We will aim for over 85% of young people to be in a sustained destination by 2030, including more young people who have completed a level 3 qualification moving onto higher level education and training, with over 70% moving onto higher level opportunities by 2030
    • Labour will establish Skills England, bringing together central and local government, businesses, training providers and unions to meet the skills needs of the next decade across all regions.
    • “Improving the flexibility of the apprenticeship levy, turning it into a ‘Growth and Skills Levy”
    • we will work with universities to ensure there are a range of options on founder-track agreements helping to boost spin-outs and economic growth.
    • Labour will reform this [tuition fee] system to make it fairer and ensure we support the aspiration to go to university. Many proposals have been put forward for how the government could make the system fairer and more progressive, including modelling showing that the government could reduce the monthly repayments for every single new graduate without adding a penny to government borrowing or general taxation. Reworking the present system gives scope for a month-on-month tax cut for graduates, putting money back in people’s pockets when they most need it. For young graduates this is a fairer system, which will improve their security at the start of their working lives and as they bring up families. We will build on the legacy of the last Labour government’s target for 50% of young people to go to university to reverse the trend of declining numbers of adults participating in education and training. We’ll press on and ensure that the ambition for any young person to pursue higher education, regardless of background or geography, is realised.

And that election

Lots of MPS are stepping down: update here from the Institute for Government and a nice interactive map from Cambridgeshire Live here:  makes Scotland look very interesting as they lose standing MPs just as they are in trouble politically on lots of fronts.

Research and knowledge exchange

This will be an interesting year as plans for REF 2029 (as we must now call it) are developed further.  We will be watching for R&D announcements in the Spring budget.

If you missed our coverage of the King’s Speech and the Autumn Statement then you can catch it via the link and here are some highlights relating to RKE:

REF 2029

Announcements made in December including:

  • The next REF will be REF 2029, with results published in December 2029
  • Moves to break the link between individual staff members and unit submissions were welcomed by the community and this principle will be maintained
  • Outputs sole-authored by PGR students, including PhD theses, will not be eligible for submission, nor will those produced by individuals employed on contracts with no research-related expectations
  • The overall Unit of Assessment structure will remain unchanged from REF2021
  • The minimum number of Impact Case Studies that an institution can submit per disciplinary submission will be reduced to one, and the removal of the 2* quality threshold is confirmed

BU’s approach to the REF: the REF Steering Group, led by Professor Kate Welham, is working with the Interim Associate PVC for RKE, Professor Sarah Bate, and with colleagues from across BU on our approach to the REF and Kate is attending UET regularly to discuss developments.  The REF Committee is chaired by Professor Einar Thorsen.

BU has responded to the consultations so far on the REF and will continue to do so: we broadly welcome the changes although we have flagged some concerns about inclusivity and the administrative burden.

Strategic themes and research priorities

The government have a database of their areas of research interest.  These tell us “what policymakers are thinking, what their priorities are and where they need help

UKRI are working through a 5 year strategy and it is helpful to recall their strategic themes:

Education

There is always a lot to talk about on education in the policy updates, but for the first one of the year I wanted to go back to basics and look at the priorities for the OfS and the government and set them in context.  For example, did you know:

  • That the OfS monitors continuation, completion and graduate outcomes against an absolute baseline for ALL students at all levels (including PGRs and apprentices) at an institutional level, by student characteristics and at a subject level? This is licence condition B3 and if you didn’t know, you can look at the OfS dashboard here for sector data and find data relating to our own provision on the Prime SharePoint site.
  • That the OfS have recently published the outcomes of 6 quality assessments for business and management and computing, with more to come in those subjects and other areas, with some important areas highlighted for other providers: see below for more on this.
  • That we have to inform the OfS within 5 days if certain things happen under what they call the “reportable events” regime, and this can include a wide range of academic or other things: please email reportableevents@bournemouth.ac.uk if you become aware of something that might be reportable (even if it might turn out not to be).
  • That the OfS provides funding for educational development and other work in universities including the development of apprenticeships and other programmes: worth checking their website from time to time.

Government education policy

Government policy as it relates to HE does not address the big elephant in the room: in other words they are NOT proposing any changes to fees and funding or maintenance arrangements.   A series of changes to student loan arrangements came into effect in the autumn, including extending the repayment period.

If you missed our coverage of the King’s Speech and the Autumn Statement then you can catch it via the link and here are some highlights relating to education:

  • In October 2023, the Prime Minister announced a strong action plan to ensure every student has the literacy and numeracy skills they need to thrive through the introduction of the Advanced British Standard. This new Baccalaureate-style qualification will bring the best of A-Levels and T-Levels together, creating a unified structure that puts technical and academic education on equal footing. This reform will ensure every student in England studies some form of maths and English to age 18, boosting basic skills and bringing the UK in line with international peers. It will increase the number of taught hours by 15% for most students aged 16 to 19 and will broaden the number of subjects students take. [this means abolishing T levels, which are supposed to be replacing BTECs, as well as A levels]
  • Proposals will be implemented to decrease the number of people studying poor-quality degrees, and to increase take-up of apprenticeships [as far as we can tell, this does not mean new measures but continuing to instruct the OfS to use its existing powers of regulation plus a continued focus on funding and promoting apprenticeships]

Funding priorities:

  • On 14th December the government asked the OfS to run a competitive scheme to allocate funding for 350 new medical student places for 2025: this follows an expansion by 205 for 2024 and supports the NHS long term plan (although they will need to do more).
  • In their latest strategic priorities letter to the OfS (March 23) the focus was on:
    • Choice and flexibility or provision: the changes to enable lifelong learning (i.e. changes to the structure of loan payments etc), technical education, apprenticeships
    • Strategically important subjects: subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy; science, engineering and technology subjects; and specific labour market needs
    • Degree apprenticeships especially at level 6 (i.e. not level 7)
    • L4 and L5 provision: higher technical qualifications
    • Specialist providers
    • Mental health and wellbeing

Read about OfS funding for 2023-24

OfS strategy

The objectives are:

  • Participation: All students, from all backgrounds, with the ability and desire to undertake higher education, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from higher education.
  • Experience: All students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their interests are protected while they study or in the event of provider, campus or course closure.
  • Outcomes: All students, from all backgrounds, can progress into employment, further study, and lead fulfilling lives, in which their qualifications hold their value over time.
  • Value for money: All students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money.

The two areas of focus are quality and standards and equality of opportunity. That results in 11 goals:

  1. Students receive a high quality academic experience that improves their knowledge and skills, with increasing numbers receiving excellent provision [see the section on quality below]
  2. Students are rigorously assessed, and the qualifications they are awarded are credible and comparable to those granted previously. [see the July 23 analysis of degree classifications]
  3. Providers secure free speech within the law for students, staff and visiting speakers [read the latest consultation on the new complaints scheme and their consultation on regulating students’ unions].
  4. Graduates contribute to local and national prosperity, and the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda [measured by progression to highly skilled employment: see below for the outcomes data]
  5. Students’ access, success and progression are not limited by their background, location or characteristics [see the new guidance on access and participation plans].
  6. Prospective students can choose from a diverse range of courses and providers at any stage of their life, with a wide range of flexible and innovative opportunities [linked to the government agenda on higher technical qualifications, apprenticeships, lifelong modular learning etc]
  7. Providers act to prevent harassment and sexual misconduct and respond effectively if incidents do occur [ we are expecting the outcomes of a consultation on this fairly soon, it closed in May].
  8. Providers encourage and support an environment conducive to the good mental health and wellbeing that students need to succeed in their higher education [read their insight brief]
  9. Providers are financially viable and sustainable and have effective governance arrangements [see the section on sustainability below]
  10. Students receive the academic experience they were promised by their provider and their interests as consumers are protected before, during and after their studies.
  11. The OfS minimises the regulatory burden it places on providers, while ensuring action is effective in meeting its goals and regulatory objectives.

Outcomes

The OfS annual review provides some data to set the scene.

The report highlights that continuation is lower for:

  • students from more deprived areas or who were eligible for free school meals,
  • students from most (although not all) black and minority ethnic groups
  • mature students
  • students with reported disabilities, other than those with reported cognitive or learning difficulties (who make up 5.1% of students); and
  • care experienced students.

The report highlights that completion is lower for:

  • students from more deprived areas or who were eligible for free school meals,
  • students from most (although not all) black and minority ethnic groups
  • mature students
  • students with reported disabilities; and
  • care experienced students.

The report highlights that attainment rates are lower for:

  • students from more deprived areas or who were eligible for free school meals,
  • students from most (although not all) black and minority ethnic groups
  • mature students
  • students with reported disabilities with the exception of students with a reported mental health condition (4.5% of students); and
  • care experienced students.

The report highlights that progression rates are lower for:

  • students from more deprived areas or who were eligible for free school meals,
  • students from most (although not all) black and minority ethnic groups
  • students with reported disabilities other than those with reported cognitive or learning difficulties (who make up 5.1% of students); and
  • care experienced students.

In relation to mature students, those aged 31-40 have the highest progression rates while those aged 50 and over have the lowest.

Quality and standards in HE: OfS quality assessments

If you don’t follow the announcements from the OfS closely, you may have missed the trickle of OfS quality reports, so far in two subject areas, business and management and computing.  There are context papers which provide an interesting read and then the investigation reports themselves (so far 5 published for business and management and one for computing).  Concerns were found in 2 of the 5 business and management reports: no sanctions have been confirmed yet.

More detail is given below, but just to flag the priorities for 2024 quality assessments.  With the government already having announced that fee caps will be reduced for some foundation year courses, note the link to foundation year courses below: there will be quality reviews in this area especially as outcomes are lower, as noted in the linked Wonkhe article from October.

OfS sector context papers:

  • Business and Management
    • Growth in numbers (pp5 and 6) which highlights some potential issues which probably triggered these investigations and explain why they picked it as a subject priority
    • The percentage of full-time undergraduate entrants taught through sub contractual arrangements has more than doubled since 2018-19, from 10 per cent to 27 per cent (pp9 and 10)
    • The proportions of full-time undergraduate students that are from deprivation quintiles 1 or 2 are consistently higher in business and management than for all other subject areas (p18)
    • The proportions of full-time undergraduate students who are on courses that include an integrated foundation year are consistently higher in business and management than for all other subject areas (p20)
    • Low continuation for UG (p23), low completion for UG (p25), low progression at UG and PG (pp27 -28)
    • Low NSS for teaching (p30) and some other areas (not learning resources)
  • Computing
    • Low continuation and completion compared to other subjects (pages 23 to 26) at UG and PG
    • Balanced by good progression – but a provider that didn’t have good progression would stand out (pp 27 and 28)
    • Low NSS scores (pp29-34)
    • High proportions of non-permanent staff (p41)

Quality assessments: Business and management

Themes: concerns were found in relation to two of the five published so far and findings included:

  • Insufficient staff to provide adequate support, impacting personal tutoring, assessment and feedback and academic support
  • Not enough flexibility in course delivery to support the cohort of students recruited, namely not providing sufficient flexibility when students had to work to finance their studies or have caring responsibilities, having recognised that this was a specific feature of their intake: licence condition to deliver course effectively was brought into play
  • Inadequate central monitoring and pro-active management of engagement and attendance and over-reliance on individual academic staff to follow up  – licence condition to take all reasonable steps to ensure students receive sufficient academic resources and support.  Recommendations included:
    • Clear lines of responsibility at faculty and university level regarding who the lead for continuation is, and further channelling of university-level resource, expertise and effort towards the continuation problem in the Business School.
    • Systematic analysis of student failures on modules and historical withdrawals, to provide a more detailed picture and understanding of why students do not continue their studies at the university.
    • Better real-time monitoring of engagement and a university-level set of criteria that can be used to identify a student who may be at risk of dropping out, combined with systematic analysis of student behaviour and non-attendance so that proactive additional support can be offered.
    • A review of examination board processes and module performance criteria to ensure that under-performing modules are being picked up and addressed through the quality assurance and enhancement system. While the assessment team acknowledged the new course and unit enhancement planning process, this did not appear to be embedded and should be monitored closely.
  • Support for avoiding potential academic misconduct was not consistently provided in assessment feedback via the online assessment platform at Level 4
  • The format for providing formative feedback on assessments may not have been sufficient for some students across a number of modules reviewed. This concern also relates to condition of registration B2 because the assessment team considered that ensuring consistent access to formative feedback is a step that could have been taken to ensure students have sufficient academic support to succeed
  • Insufficient academic support for foundation year students once they progressed onto the main programme – support should have continued at higher levels

Quality assessment: Computing: no concerns were found in relation to the one report published so far.

Apprenticeships

As noted above these remain a priority for the government (and would likely be for a Labour government too).  In that context a report from the summer by UCAS with the Sutton Trust is interesting:

  • Today, 40% of students (430,000) interested in undergraduate options are also interested in apprenticeships. Despite this growth in demand, the number of starts for young learners remains low – with the number of Level 4 and above starts for under-19 year olds less than 5,000
  • Disadvantaged students are more likely to be interested in apprenticeship options, with 46% from the most disadvantaged areas interested in this route, compared to 41% from the most advantaged areas. Furthermore, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (63%) are more likely to have considered apprenticeships
  • A quarter (24%) of former applicants said that one of the top three reasons why they did not pursue an apprenticeship was because they felt they could not afford to do so.

Student experience, wellbeing and finances

Student finance

The cost of living update from the House of Commons Library Nov 23 has a section on student loan repayments and maintenance support (page 64) which links to this report from September 2023 on the value of student maintenance support.

International

Despite all the negativity about international students in the context of the migration policy (see above) and the OfS’ regulatory concern about the risk of large numbers of international students, there is a positive policy in relation to international students: the government have an International Education Strategy that has two ambitions by 2030:

  • increase education exports to £35 billion per year
  • increase the numbers of international higher education (HE) students studying in the UK to 600,000 per year

According to the annual report from the Migration Advisory Committee here (Oct 23) referred to below, this second target was achieved in 2020/21:

  • according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), this target was met in early 2020/21, with 605,000 non-UK students at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). This has increased further since then, with growth driven by a small cohort of countries, notably India and Nigeria.
  • Non-UK students accounted for almost 30% of first-year enrolments in tertiary education last year, up from 25% before the policy announcement in 2018/19.
  • In a global context the UK is a major market for international students. HEIs in the UK accounted for 9% of all international students in 2020, behind only the US for market share. The UK’s market share had been steadily declining since 2006 having been briefly overtaken by Australia as the second most popular destination for international students in 2019

Student visas

The annual report from the Migration Advisory Committee here (Oct 23) referred to above also has a section on international students.  It includes the policies on stopping dependants which have now been implemented.

There is some interesting data on student numbers: it shows the large number of international student in London and also Scotland (not surprisingly given their student number cap for home students).  Perhaps surprisingly, there are more international than UK students in the East of England and the North East and numbers are more or less equal in Yorkshire and the Humber, although this data includes students on the London campus of universities based outside London.

HE sector sustainability and change

Student numbers and admissions

UCAS projects that there could be up to a million higher education applicants in a single year in 2030, up from almost three quarters of a million today.

But will there be?  Applications and admissions fell last year, but that was after a bumper post-covid year in 2022 and UCAS described it as a return to normality.  Or is it the rhetoric from the government on mickey mouse degrees etc and changes to loan repayments making it more expensive for students in the long run having an impact?  Time will tell: eyes will be on this year’s applications.

Financial sustainability

The OfS annual review provides some context for this. The OfS issued their annual report on financial sustainability in May 2023 and identified the following key risks which are still relevant:

  • The impact of inflation on costs and challenges in growing income to meet increasing costs. In particular, the ‘per student’ income from tuition fees from UK undergraduates is capped and not increasing, while other costs rise.
  • Increasing reliance on fees from overseas students, particularly postgraduates, in some higher education providers’ business plans. (In May 2023, the OfS wrote to 23 higher education providers with high levels of recruitment of students from China. We reminded them of the importance of contingency plans in case there is a sudden drop in income from international students. We asked a subset of those higher education providers most exposed to a short-term risk to provide information about their financial mitigation plans)
  • Challenges in meeting investment needs for facilities and environmental policies

The OfS identifies a number of strategies that they may see to address financial sustainability concerns.

JANE FORSTER, VC’s Policy Advisor

Follow: @PolicyBU on X

HE policy update for the w/e 29th September 23

It was a funny old week. TEF and KEF results popped out with little fanfare, OfS announced a degree apprenticeship push and are getting on with the sexual misconduct survey (finally). We’ve got to hope the Government keep their receipts safe if they wish to claim the Horizon Europe guarantee refund – through a voucher discount for the next scheme (which we may or may not join). UKRI’s PGR new deal scheme gets a pasting and Minister Halfon sneers at the criticism that the Lords Committee dished out to the OfS. It’s a parliamentary recess for conferences so you can expect more politics and less policy in the news for the next couple of weeks!

Teaching Excellence Framework

The new TEF results were announced on Thursday for 228 providers, the remaining 23% (53 providers) are pending appeal. More detail will be provided in November when the provider submissions, panel statements, and student submissions are published (along with the outcome of the appeals). Once this is released we’ll have a fuller national picture of how institutions have engaged with TEF across the nation.

You can search the results here.

If you’re not familiar with TEF it’s changed a lot since BU received the previous silver award – since then there were lots of experiments and interim exercises. Wonkhe have an explainer: TEF now contains two “mini TEFs” – one covering student experience (the NSS metrics plus evidence from submissions) and the other covering student outcomes (continuation, completion, progression, plus evidence from the submissions. You get an award for each, which are then combined into your main TEF award

73 universities and colleges were awarded Gold for at least one aspect.   Of the Gold ratings awarded:

  • Ten are for what the OfS has categorised as “low entry tariff” providers. A further seven low tariff providers have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.
  • Seven are for what the OfS has categorised as “medium entry tariff” providers. A further five have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.
  • Ten are for what the OfS has categorised “high entry tariff” providers. A further eight have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.
  • Nine are for specialist providers in creative arts subjects.
  • Three are for specialist providers in other subjects. A further three have been awarded Gold for one of the two aspects.

It is interesting to see how little the new “requires improvement” award was used in practice – no-one received an overall RI rating and only a few had one aspect rated as requiring improvement.  Which is good, of course.

Prior to the announcement Wonkhe questioned: But what – if anything – does TEF mean in a world of dwindling resources and acute student hardship? The 2015 Conservative manifesto that sparked the exercise was speaking to a different world, and it seems highly unlikely that anyone in power will use these results as a spur to praise the excellence and diversity in the sector.

What does it all really mean – we don’t know until we can read the submissions and the panel assessments.

Blogs:

KEF

Research England published the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF 3) results on Wednesday. If you’re unfamiliar with the KEF the best explainer is on the Research England website. KEF is a series of dashboards which summarise an institution’s performance on seven areas of knowledge exchange (or ‘perspectives’) – public and community engagement, research partnerships, working with business, working with the public and third sector, CPD and grad start-ups, local growth and regeneration, IP and commercialisation. If you scroll down to table 1 (on the webpage) you’ll see what activities are measured to provide the KEF judgement for each of the perspectives listed above. The data for the KEF is pulled from the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction survey.

For the KEF, institutions are grouped into “clusters” and results are compared across the cluster, with every institution being given a rating for each perspective based on which quartile it falls into in its cluster.  Confused?  Well yes, it is confusing!

For more coverage delve into:

  • NCUB blog: What can the KEF tell us about university KE performance and improvement?
  • Wonkhe blog analysing the KEF 2023 results across providers and clusters.
  • Some good (if rather chatty) coverage from Research Professional (suitable for novices to KEF) in At KEF’s door. It begins:
    • some of our readers may be old enough to remember when former universities and science minister Jo Johnson told the Universities UK annual conference that the KEF was “a challenge” that all universities “did not need to rise to”. The fact that the architect of the KEF did not expect all universities to take part in it has not prevented the entire sector from having a go …with the KEF: the large research-intensives of the Russell Group have their own group of death, and the specialist arts providers play among themselves….It’s all in a good cause, we are told, because obviously the Royal College of Music should not be compared with the University of Oxford when it comes to industrial research collaborations. Over the years, the KEF has developed a basket of metrics to allow meaningful comparison, to encourage institutional improvement.
    • …[this] third instalment…leaves us wondering if anyone is enjoying this apart from the people who produced it.
    • …Is the KEF driving improvement in knowledge exchange across the board or has it created another battleground for institutions to compete against one another? At the moment, Research England is sitting on the fence on that one.
  • UKRI article: KEF3 gives insights on emerging trends in performance improvement

Research

Horizon Europe voucher refund. Following intervention from the Lords last week Science|Business have broken the news that the financial guarantee mechanism will only be implemented if the UK participates in the Framework Programme 10 Horizon successor programme (FP10). Underperformance against contributions in Horizon will be ‘refunded’ in the form of a voucher against FP10 participation. The guarantee assures the UK if they pay over 16% more in Horizon costs than they receive credit back through the voucher. Martin Smith, Head of the policy lab at the Wellcome Trust said the rollover clause is good news, because it lays the groundwork for the UK to take part in future framework programmes. “It’s setting up an expectation that participation is a long-term thing, which is great”. Full details here.

Wonkhe blog:  With Horizon association secured, Maëlle Gibbons-Patoure takes us through the challenges, joys and practicalities of working with the world’s largest funding framework.

Quick News

  • Consultations: REF 2028 planning continues to move forward. There are currently two consultations open for contributions – our tracker outlines who to contact if you wish to contribute to BU’s responses. Wonkhe have two blogs on the topic:
  • Business links: Research Professional – the performance of very large universities with a major research focus has dropped slightly when it comes to linking with businesses, according to a major assessment.
  • PGR New Deal: Wonkhe criticise UKRI’s new deal for PGRs, excerpts:
    • If I thought the Office for Students’ work on student voice and engagement was weak, I wasn’t quite prepared for UKRI’s “New Deal” for PGRs…The trifecta of a pretty weak set of rights to start with, institutions that are trying to squeeze every last drop and effort and value from dwindling funding, and an environment in which PGRs think any attempt to enforce the rights that are there will result in perceived reputational damage when trying to build a career means that we really do need to work out how their “voice” can engender protection and change…As such, the “New Deal” for PGRs…is a real let down.
    • …The “baseline” of support it’s thinking of establishing – over everything from supervision standards to mental health – ought to have a real relationship with quality frameworks from OfS and QAA, and government-backed work like the University Mental Health charter. That neither the Quality Code, OfS’ B Conditions nor Student Minds are mentioned doesn’t fill me with hope that PGRs will be properly considered 
    • …A genuine sector collaboration on the issue – drawing in providers, funders, regulators, the unions and actual PGR students – is long, long overdue. Read the short blog in full here.

Try this blog for a rundown on what the new deal includes or read the official version by UKRI.
Meanwhile the Russell Group issued a statement welcoming the new deal for PGRs.

  • PGR stipends: UKRI to review stipend payments to improve support for postgraduate researchers.
  • Spinouts (part 1): Wonkhe – Investment group Parkwalk has releaseda report on equity investment in UK university spinouts, finding that the total amount invested fell from £2.7bn in 2021 to £2.3bn in 2022, and “looks set to fall again in 2023.” However, the figure for 2022 was significantly higher than that of 2020 (£1.5bn) and all preceding years, and the number of spinouts over the last three years has been largely unchanged. Life sciences continues to be the main area for spinouts, though the report also highlights the growing importance of artificial intelligence-related companies. It’s also suggested that since 2021 there has been a decline in the proportion of investments exclusively from UK investors – historically around 80 per cent, but in the last two years at 64 per cent – with an increase in the share of UK-foreign co-investment deals. The Financial Times covers the report.
  • Spinouts (part 2): Wonkhe – The government should introduce standardised agreements with universities regarding the equity shares they take from spinouts, the Social Market Foundation has argued in a new report – the think tank suggests five to ten per cent in companies founded by staff, and no share in student-founded firms. The report also suggests identifying regional hubs for high value industries, and scaling up the local universities with increased investment and research funding. The Times covers the report.

Lifelong Learning Entitlement

The Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) became law last week, closely followed by the DfE publishing the modelling assumptions behind the LLE financial planning. It assumes learner numbers for modular programmes will start small.

Wonkhe say: There are also some very generous assumptions about costs incurred by providers and the modelling on which the Department for Education is basing the business case contains assumptions about staff time that many in the sector will find generous to the point of fantasy. There’s plenty of time for that to change because the LLE is only in the planning stages, it will be implemented from 2025 onwards. Blogs:

Regulatory

Cracking quality: Research Professional report on the announcement in the Sunday Times that Rishi Sunak is planning yet another “crackdown” on low-quality university courses as part of his pre-election reset of Conservative policies. However, they anticipate it to be more bark than bite: The last time the government rattled a sabre over low-quality university courses, the attack was all but abandoned by lunchtime as ministers struggled in media interviews to name a course or university that would be subject to restrictions. We can expect a line or two about Mickey Mouse degrees in Sunak’s conference speech in Manchester next week, but little more in the way of action from a regulator licking its wounds following the Lords select committee report that criticised the Office for Students as too close to government.

Of course, the government already announced how it was tackling low quality courses earlier in September – through the regulatory system.

In favour:  Universities Minister Robert Halfon responded to a comment in the Financial Times defending the university sector and trotting out a reminder of his pet projects (degree apprenticeships, lifelong learning entitlement, cracking down on low quality courses). What was most interesting in the response was Halfon’s dismissive mention of the Lords inquiry which heavily criticised the OfS. Halfon states: while I recognise there is always more to be done to reduce regulatory burdens, the Office for Students is an essential part of our mission to drive up the quality of higher education by holding universities to account, championing students’ interests and improving social justice. It’s a strong indication that the Government’s response to the Lords formal report won’t call for significant change or rebuke the regulator publicly.

Sexual Misconduct: The OfS launched a pilot survey aiming to identify how widespread sexual misconduct in HE is. They’ve commissioned independent research by IFF Research who will work with the 13 HEIs that put themselves forward for the pilot. All students at the HEIs will be invited to complete the survey and answer questions about their experiences of sexual misconduct, how these experiences have affected their lives and studies, and their experiences of using the reporting mechanisms in their university. Note, this is the fieldwork element of the pilot survey announced in January 2023 (here).

Wonkhe highlight a warning for the sector regarding what the pilot may find: this pilot survey should offer some insight into the scale of the issue facing institutions and what kind of support students might need…At a Wonkhe event last week, academic and founding member of The 1752 Group Anna Bull warned that the sector should prepare for the discovery that the scale of sexual misconduct is higher than anticipated – smaller-scale prevalence surveys have indicated that around one in five students in any given year may be affected, and up to two-thirds of students during their time enrolled in higher education. These students are predominantly, though not exclusively, women – and perpetrators are typically other students at the same institution. Replication of these findings could change the picture considerably for how institutions seek to tackle the problem, encourage reporting, support survivors, and handle alleged incidents. 

Blogs on the topic:

Degree Apprenticeships: The OfS have earmarked £40 million (awarded through competitive bidding) for HEIs to expand their Level 6 degree apprenticeship programmes.

Apprenticeship levy: There’s a parliamentary question on the total amount of unspent apprenticeship levy and the funds returned to the Treasury.

Cooperation: the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education has signed a memorandum of understanding with Ofqual agreeing to work together and share information in order to meet their respective responsibilities in the HE sector.

Student News

  • Turing: Parliamentary Question revealing the DfE cannot currently calculate the actual average cost to the public purse per participant supported by the Turing Scheme in each academic year. And that data on the international mobilities delivered in the first year of the Turing Scheme (2021/22) is coming soon.
  • Accommodation: Wonkhe – Cushman and Wakefield’s annual student accommodation report highlights the brewing “student accommodation crisis” – with average private sector rents outside of London now at 77% of the maximum available maintenance loan. Fewer than one in ten spaces are now affordable for the average student, with university cities including Durham and Exeter offering even less affordable housing. Overall average rental costs have risen by more than 8% this academic year – driven by a growth in demand, rising operational and development costs, high inflation, and fewer new spaces available. The Guardian has the story.
  • Student support: Wonkhe have a neat blog looking at student support across the four nations and which students/parents get the best deal for their household income. HEPI also published a paper earlier this month on how different institutions are approaching student support with cost of living.
  • Loan forgiveness: It feels as though one organisation or another calls (or writes about) the need for student loan forgiveness for nursing (and often other allied health disciplines) every week. This week it’s the BBC’s turn covering calls for the loans to be written off once the student has completed 10 years of NHS service, although much of the article focuses on non-completion of training. The research behind the BBC’s article comes from a Nuffield Trust report: Waste not, want not. Nuffield state the estimated cost would be somewhere in the region of £230 million for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals per cohort in England. A similar scheme, or early-career loan repayment holidays for doctors and dentists in eligible NHS roles, should also be seriously considered. We believe this would represent a very sound investment.
  • Meanwhile the Royal College of Midwives highlight a report which finds that midwifery degree apprentices improved accessibility and retention within the workforce. There were lower drop outs (almost 0%) than through a traditional degree route (13%) – likely influenced by the majority of apprentices already holding positions in the maternity support workforce. And the programme was also found to support diversity, both in terms of supporting mature apprentices and those with caring responsibilities, and those from non-white backgrounds.

Admissions

A Levels: The Times reported that Rishi Sunak plans to replace A levels with a British baccalaureate qualification incorporating more subjects including compulsory English and his manifesto committee of maths to age 18. The extension of compulsory maths already has an expert advisory group looking into it. Dods report that the DfE have not denied Rishi’s proposals are being explored but that they had already reformed post-16 education (T levels and apprenticeship changes) and that the baccalaureate policy was a personal mission for Rishi, not the DfE.

Sector response to the possibility of replacing A levels has been dismissive. The concept faces many barriers because it would require significant infrastructure change for the educational curriculum, the overcoming of the maths teacher shortage, and the policy has to convince not only the DfE but also the electorate in the upcoming general election. Even if adopted it may polarise education in the nations further as Wales and Northern Ireland may choose to retain their current systems.

Here’s a comment from Research Professional on the baccalaureate:

  • Just as with the seven recycling bins, all of this can be filed in the category of never going to happen. Even if Sunak were to win a general election, the teacher shortage would make such a curriculum impossible.
  • Universities have not been consulted on replacing A-levels and there are no details on the changes that would need to be made to both GCSEs and higher education admissions to make any of this possible. Given how long it would take for these wholesale reforms of English education, it is almost as if Sunak himself has no real expectations of any of it happening.

What is interesting is the timing of this announcement. We’ve entered conference season and the political parties and party leadership need to be seen to make bold changes for the future demonstrating both their worth and that of their party – positioning it well in the electorate’s eyes for the forthcoming general election.

The party conferences are staggered so we’ll provide coverage across the next few policy updates.

Finally, Lord Willets weighs in on the A level debate in this Conservative Home blog: Why Sunak is right about A-levels and what should be done next.

Quick news

  • Recruitment caps: Wonkhe blog – Northumbria SU’s Tom Wellesley is concerned that the government’s plansfor recruitment caps on “low-quality” courses will restrict opportunities for prospective students.
  • New UCAS Chief: Dr Jo Saxton steps down as Chief Regulatory of Ofqual (in Dec 2023) to become the Chief Executive of UCAS (in Jan 2024 – replacing Clare Marchant). Recruitment for her Ofqual replacement has begun. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: I am hugely grateful to Jo for guiding Ofqual through the challenges that followed the pandemic, ultimately overseeing a smooth return to exams and normal grading. Jo’s knowledge and experience have been invaluable as we’ve navigated the past 2 years and returned to the exam arrangements that best serve young people. I look forward to continuing to work with Jo in her new role at UCAS, supporting students to progress onto university, degree apprenticeships and the world of work.

Access & Participation

Parliamentary Question: Care leavers’ access to HE.

TASO published: Student mental health in 2023 – Who is struggling and how the situation is changing. It highlights more and more students are experiencing (or reporting) mental health difficulties and looks at how gender, LGBTQ+, ethnicity and student background factors interact with poor mental health. It also highlights mental health as the leading reason to withdraw from university. If you don’t fancy reading all 32 pages check out the conclusion starting on page 27 or read Research Professional’s analysis of the TASO paper which also delves into university resources and the Government’s attention to student mental health to provide a rounded picture.

International Recruitment

The Big Issue reports on international recruiters: £500 million is being spent by UK universities on a murky and unregulated industry. Education agents, who are paid a commission for each international student they enlist, are involved in 50% of international student admissions in the UK. In some countries such as China, this number reaches 70%. Twenty years ago the figure was just 10%. So who are they, and why are they now so widespread?  The article is timely given Lord Jo Johnson’s call for international recruiters to be regulated and for HE providers to diversify their international portfolio to reduce financial risk and alleviate security concerns about the influence of overseas nations.

Inquiries and Consultations

Click here to view the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. Email the contact listed against the item you’re interested in (or policy@bournemouth.ac.uk) if you’d like to contribute to any of the current consultations.

Other news

Skills shortages: The DfE published the 2022 employer skills survey demonstrating that 10% of employers have a skill shortage related vacancy. Skills shortages as a proportion of all vacancies rose from 22% in 2017 to 36% in 2022. 15% of employers stated they had an employee (or employees) who lacked the skills for the job and overall 5.7% of the workforce have a skills gap (up from 4.4% in 2017).

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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BU policy update for the w/e 22nd September 2023

Lots of meaty topics for you to chew over this week. The student cost of living debate had a hearing in parliament. The Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Act 2023 has received royal assent and we’ve a pop out summary on the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. The OfS received strong criticism in the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee report. We’ve the latest on visa fee increases, clearing and oodles of research news.

Parliament has now entered conference recess but government business will continue over the next few weeks. There will also be items of interest from the party conferences which will receive closer scrutiny this year given the impending general election.

As always if you need this update, or the pop out summaries, in a different format for accessibility please email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk

Political News

Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill

The Lifelong Learning Bill finished its passage through the Lords and the King has given Royal Assent. You’ll recall this Bill contained limited detail and will be padded out through secondary legislation further down the line – meaning the Government of the day will retain control and be able to tweak the implementation details when they wish.   Note the name change: it is now about lifelong learning not lifelong loan entitlement.

During the debate Baroness Barran, the Government’s representative, thanked the former Education Ministers and Secretaries of State for their insight (Lord Blunkett, Lord Willetts and Lord Jo Johnson).

Baroness Barran stated: The LLE will become the route for people who require student finance for levels 4 to 6 study across higher and further education. In introducing the LLE, we want to do as much as possible to make it accessible and affordable for the most disadvantaged. And confirmed that the Government would monitor the concerns the Lords raised at Report Stage, that the number of learning hours in a credit wouldn’t be changed unless sector standards change, and that the alternative student finance product compatible with Islamic finance principles would be delivered as soon as operationally possible after 2025 (further update coming on this later in 2023).

Labour’s spokesperson, Baroness Twycross, confirmed their support for the Bill’s aim: we support the idea that people can access funding to undertake the learning they need throughout their career. With people undertaking portfolio careers and with continual changes in technology and society, it is no longer the case that what you learn through a traditional three-year degree course is all that you will need in your work for the next 45 years or so. But reminded that the detail (scope) of the Bill was limited and felt a more formal review process for several aspects could have been set to safeguard against unintended consequences.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (representing the Liberal Democrats) highlighted the party remained concerned about how many adults will wish to take on debt in order to improve their learning, and we look forward to hearing updates from the Minister about how many people have done so. From these Benches, we feel that grants would be a much more effective way of persuading adults to learn. But, of course, we are all totally in favour of lifelong learning, and we wish the Bill well.

You may have noted the name change to Lifelong Learning (HE Fees Limits) Act, previously it was called the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. Apparently, the name change was decided upon following engagement with the sector. For those that have been in this game a long time you may harbour a small chuckle at the name change when you recall a rival party proposed a similar policy in the early 2000s based on, and called, Lifelong Learning.

The DfE published a policy paper on the LLE – it provides a useful introduction to the key details of the intended LLE operationalisation. Here are the next steps we can expect from the government, including two consultations:

In autumn 2023:

  • we plan to provide further information about the entitlement
  • we will work with the regulator, awarding organisations and providers of current advanced learner loans (ALLs) funded Ofqual-regulated qualifications to embed changes we set out in HMG’s response to the LLE consultation
  • OfS will launch a consultation on the development and introduction of a new third registration category

In spring 2024:

  • we will launch a technical consultation on the wider expansion of modular funding
  • we will lay secondary legislation covering the fee limits for the LLE in parliament

In autumn 2024 we will lay the secondary legislation that will set out the rest of the LLE funding system in parliament

In spring 2025 we will launch the LLE personal account where users can track their loan entitlement and apply for designated courses and modules

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill: The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill is a controversial bill seen as eroding university autonomy and there was dissent from some parties at the detailed Committee Stage (although other HE sector members agree with its legal principles). You can read a summary of the evidence provided in the early Committee stage sessions here. The bill now awaits a date for Report Stage. Wonkhe also update us that: The Home Office has released draft guidance on the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme (FIRS), designed to monitor foreign influence on UK politics. Sector-specific guidance will follow – supported by consultation panels from the research and higher education sector – but there are a handful of examples given of activities either requiring or not requiring registration under the scheme that make reference to international students or staff.

The future for education policy?

The New Conservatives published a ‘manifesto’: plan to upskill Britain which Research Professional view as an attempt to push Conservative education policies to the right. It’s keen on developing technical routes and reforming the apprenticeship levy and technical skills in general.

It’s less keen on universities stating: Since the reforms of 1992, too many universities have not been fit for purpose. Steps to address skills shortages in Britain and rising student debt should not shy away from one of the main culprits – rip-off universities. And: The false promise of university –  Long gone are the days when university was the hallmark of success. Many young people today could have much more opportunity if they opted for on-the-job training alongside receiving an industry recognised qualification, rather than go to university. But too few school leavers make that choice [apparently because they’re promised higher starting salaries].

The manifesto calls for a crack down on poor quality and less people attending university- redirecting the public funds saved to quality technical and vocational education. And they call for minimum academic grades to qualify for student loans: Introducing minimum grade requirements at GCSE-level would see an approximate reduction of 10 percent in the number of students qualifying for student loans. Although introducing minimum eligibility requirements of Level 4 grades at GCSE English and Maths would close off student loans to around 40 percent of all students… They would also like to ensure student loans are re-paid – although NHS employed graduates would be offered a three year loan repayment exemption.

Research Professional say the ‘manifesto’ is full of holes  – you can read their take down of the manifesto in Blue on blue.

Government role changes: Dehenna Davison MP has stepped away from her post as Levelling Up Minister due to ill health. Jacob Young MP will take over.

Free Speech: Wonkhe highlight that the OfS has published indicative timelines for the introduction of free speech related duties and provisions – under the proposals, 1 August 2024 would see the launch of the new complaints scheme and the coming into force of new statutory duties from providers and students’ unions. Provisions relating to OfS’s monitoring of overseas funding and new conditions of registration around free speech and academic freedom would come into force on 1 September 2025.

Research News

ARIA

The construction of ARIA continues – this week their programme directors announced their key questions and invited input from the R&D community. For colleagues familiar with the expression of Areas of Research Interest this is the ARIA equivalent. Although it’s not clear how universities can feed their research in to answer the questions yet. However, Wonkhe, have their finger on the pulse and inform that each set of programme questions has a budget of £50m. And that most of the programme directors have joined from academia. They are now mandated with developing a concrete programme, based on the “area or set of areas they feel compelled to explore” – these include programmable plants, interfaces with the human nervous system, climate intervention technologies, and robotics. Wonkhe also have a neat blog on how ARIA is taking shape. Excerpts:

The team as a whole tells us some important things about ARIA.
The first is that they are aligned to what the broader scientific community would consider to be some of the world’s greatest threats and challenges. AI, climate change, and food security, would appear at the top of most lists of the most pressing issues facing humanity…

Equally, the team straddles a hinterland between having programme directors that have more conventional academic careers with big interests, academics that have run or built companies, and programme directors that lean more into business and technology worlds but with significant academic credentials…
this [the programme directors] is a group of people who probably ordinarily would never hang out together…The mix of expertise and backgrounds speaks to the fundamental challenge and promise of ARIA. Its whole purpose of existence is to fund the things that funders would not usually fund in ways they would not usually fund them. The challenge is to not only discover new things but to make a new disparate team function with some of the standard practices needed to make scientific breakthroughs…  And a tolerance for constructive failure that will see programmes potentially outlive ministers, funding, and maybe even ARIA itself.

Quick Research News

  • Biosecurity: The UK Biosecurity Leadership Council held its inaugural meeting to build our national resilience to future biological threats, whilst establishing the UK as a world leader in responsible innovation. The Government’s press release mainly focuses on the details about the Council with little on what was discussed.
  • Tech: Dr Dave Smith has been appointed as the Government’s National Technology Adviser taking over from Sir Patrick Vallance.
  • DSIT policies: The Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published a summary of their achievements in the six months since the Department was formed. These include the Science and Technology Framework, the AI White Paper, setting up the Foundation Model Taskforce, the 20-year National Semiconductors Strategy, the 10-year National Quantum Strategy, and the International Technology Strategy. There’s also info on the DSIT Start-Up Board.
  • AI: Research Professional: Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU should work with its partners to develop a global framework for regulating artificial intelligence.
  • Catapult: DSIT published a Catapult Network review update
  • REF: Wonkhe – Research England has “concerns” from stakeholders over the proposed People, Culture and Environment element of the 2028 Research Excellence Framework, both around its suggested weighting (25 per cent) compared to Contribution of Knowledge and Understanding, and around whether “robust indicators” can be developed to fairly assess research environment. There’s a blog from Jessica Corner (Exec Chair of Research England).
  • CaSE: Daniel Rathbone has been appointed as interim executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering.
  • Funding: Research England published the remaining HE grant allocations for 2023-24.
  • R&D spend: The House of Commons Library published a research briefing on R&D spending. It covers the (2022) methodology change in how R&D spend estimate are calculated – leading to the false achievement of the 2.4% of GDP 2027 target. We also learn that of business research in 2021: 23% was spent on research into computer programming and software development, 18% on miscellaneous activities, technical testing and analysis, and 17% on chemicals and pharmaceuticals. For public sector (2021) research: 35% went towards the general advancement of knowledge, 21% to health and 13% to defence. Other items of interest are the R&D spending by region 52% of all R&D resides in London and the South East (£24.4 billion) with the least in Wales. With the new calculations UK R&D spending is equivalent to 2.9%-3% of GDP – above the OECD and EU averages (but less than the USA, Japan and Germany
  • China: Wonkhe – Both OfS and UKRI need to do more to mitigate overreliance on China, for tuition fee income and research capability respectively. This is the conclusion of a report from former universities minister Jo Johnson and others, revisiting past recommendations for “de-risking” higher education given the potential for deterioration in the UK-China geopolitical relationship. The report highlights that Chinese students made up 28 per cent of non-UK PhD student starts in 2021–22, up from 17 per cent in 2017–18, with a growing concentration across the most selective institutions – the authors caution that “there is no next China or EU” in terms of markets for research student recruitment. There’s coverage in The Times, and the Guardian.
  • Confucius diplomatic immunity: A parliamentary question on diplomatic immunity for Chinese nationals working in Confucius institutes in the UK. Helpful answer from Robert Halfon, universities minister.
  • Horizon: The Lords Chamber debated Horizon Europe and Pioneer. Short transcript here. Discussions included the global talent visa. Research Professional (RP) also have a good article: UK in Horizon: money on the table. Researchers can already apply for (2024) Horizon funding, even though the UK officially joins on 1 January 2024. Funding is available across six clusters and three main innovation schemes – there is summary detail in the RP article. Chair of the House of Lords European Affairs Committee, Lord Ricketts, has called on DSIT SoS Michelle Donelan to provide additional detail…about the operation of the corrective mechanism designed to prevent the UK from paying a disproportionate net contribution to the [Horizon] scheme. We also ask you to update us on the expected timetable for the political agreement to be formally adopted by the Specialised Committee on Union Programmes. Lord Ricketts’ letter pulled no punches as he also highlighted the detrimental consequences of the last two years of uncertainty, and asked the government to stop using research as a political football.
  • Case Studies: Wonkhe – The UK Collaborative on Development Research has publishedan analysis of how development research appeared in REF 2021 impact case studies. The report examines which unit of assessment contained most international development impact case studies (business and management), how these were distributed across the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and which countries most often appeared (India, followed by the United States and Kenya).
  • Researcher influx: DSIT Minister Jonathan Berry has stated the UK will need 380,000 new researchers by 2027 to meet the growing need for research and counter retirement numbers. Berry continued that attracting overseas talent will need to be a big part of the growth, however, peers have expressed concern that the visa regime may hamper the influx. Labour peer Stephen Benn called for the global talent visa to be reformed and highlighted how the visa fees were discouraging talent from working in Britain. Research Professional have more on the tussle here.
  • New REF: Wonkhe on the new REF – With the consultation period drawing to an end (the deadline is the first Friday in October), it’s slowly becoming clear that there are two unconnected but influential lines of pushback.
    The first, from within the sector, is the argument that it is the quality of output that matters, and boosting the role of narrative statements and measures of input dilutes the essence of what really matters in the REF.
    Separately is an external climate in which the use of government funds to support anything that can be labelled as “EDI work” provokes tachycardia in the bosom of influential figures. Against this backdrop, Research England (in conjunction with the other UK funding bodies) is going to additional lengths to promote discussion and debate around the prominence and use of research culture measures, with Executive Chair Jessica Corner noting on Wonkhe that the weighting given to different elements of the next REF is still a live question, even if the commitment to assessment that “supports a thriving and healthy research system” remains steadfast.
  • Researcher mobility: Wonkhe – The government should make the mobility of researcher careers a “key design principle” of the research and innovation system, according to a report from the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) Researcher Career Mobility Taskforce. The report argues that researchers need to be “empowered” to move between industry and academia throughout their whole career. The taskforce found that research staff are currently not always aware of opportunities (with existing guidance often focused on academic career pathways), that mobility between sectors is seen by many as high risk, and that institutional recruitment and progression frameworks can undervalue skills and experiences gained in other sectors. Blog.
  • Israel agreement: The UK has signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel committing £1.7 million to support joint research focused on technologies critical to future prosperity and quality of life, like quantum. Details here. Other recent bilateral international science deals the UK has signed include partnerships with India, Switzerland and South Africa. And funds have been committed to the International Science Partnerships Fund (launched last year with an initial £119 million).

International

De-risking international reliance

King’s College London policy institute published The China question revisited: de-risking higher education and research. The report was led by previous Minster for Universities, Lord (Jo) Johnson who has long been a supporter of international students balanced by the need to minimise risks to the nation and financial stability of HE providers, e.g. through diversification of international recruitment to reduce the reliance on some countries, including China.

The report highlights that China has become an increasingly entrenched collaborator on research and a key source of doctoral students crucial to the strength of the UK’s research system. The paper proposes a range of measures to de-risk HE’s relationship with China:

  • Requiring universities to publish an annual statement on their international student recruitment plans, in order to provide greater visibility of current strategies to diversify the international student population.
  • Improving regulation of course quality, given high drop-out rates among students from countries such as India and Bangladesh.
  • Weeding out poor-quality and fraudulent applications by charging an application fee for international students, requiring tuition fees to be paid up front and maintenance funds to be put in escrow at the start of the year.
  • Maintaining a register of recruitment agents and publishing key performance indicators relating to visa refusals, to improve accountability.

If you’ve been following the policy update for a while you may remember our review of a Westminster Higher Education Forum event on this topic earlier this year. The calls to action in the report are exactly those expressed by Johnson previously – he’s nothing if not considered and consistent. Given his influence in the House of Lords, and the strong ex-Ministerial powerhouse of Johnson – Blunkett – Willets, we can expect some pressure from the peers on this and other key HE matters over the next year.

Visas

Legislation to increase the immigration and nationality fees has been laid in Parliament. The changes:

  • the cost for a visit visa for less than six months is rising (by £15) to £115
  • the fee for applying for a student visa from outside the UK will rise +35% (by £127) to £490 (equalling the amount charged for in-country applications).

If approved the new fees will apply from 4 October 2023. Changes to the planned increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge are scheduled to be introduced later in 2023. The Home Office equality impact assessment on the fees is here – its concludes there is no direct or indirect discrimination based on protected characteristics observed for the changes to student fees.

The latest visa letter from Home Secretary Suella Braverman is here. The letter is dated 3 August but it has only just been released to the public via the Lords Science and Tech Committee.

There’s also a parliamentary question on visas granted under the High Potential Individual route.

Finally, from Wonkhe, The Erasmus Student Network has published a report on international student perspectives of the UK, based on polling conducted earlier this year (and with EU students notably overrepresented). Almost 16% of 465 respondents who had studied in the UK reported that obtaining a visa was a significant problem, and almost half disagreed that they received enough support from their host university in finding accommodation. Some 77% would have liked more interaction with local students.

Regulatory

OfS Inquiry

From March 2023 the Lords Industry and Regulators Committee ran an inquiry into the work of the OfS looking closely at its effectiveness as a regulator. The committee published their report: Must do better: the Office for Students and the looming crisis facing higher education. As is clear form the title the Lords concluded that the regulator is performing poorly, even accounting for the extra challenges facing HE today. The report concludes that the OfS has poor relations with both providers and students, a controlling and arbitrary approach to regulation, and a lack of independence from the Government.

On the OfS’ duties and decision making the committee highlight that the OfS has legal duties, but substantial freedom to pick and choose what it prioritises, creating uncertainty. Also the Lords believe the other regulators within the HE sector cause duplication and red tape.

The Lords recommend:

  • When the OfS makes changes to its approach, it should make clear how it has taken its legal duties into account or explain why it has not done so.
  • The Government should set out the steps it is taking to streamline the responsibilities of different regulators in the higher education sector.

On financial sustainability of HE the committee notes the undergraduate tuition fees have been frozen since 2018 with their value further eroded by inflation and that universities are relying more on the income boost provided by international (and postgraduate) fees – which sits uncomfortably with government concerns over the influence of other nations. Bottom line – the committee states that current HE funding is not sustainable and worries about the geopolitical vulnerabilities (in 2021/22 22.3% of student came from China). The peers state we were not convinced that the regulator has paid enough attention to the financial challenges facing the sector.

Recommendations:

  • The Government must review how higher education is funded, setting long-term, sustainable funding and delivery models for the sector
  • Both the Government and the OfS should also clarify whether there is any strategic oversight of the sector’s long-term financial stability.
  • Hold discussions with providers more regularly about their financial situation and ensure it is aware of the systemic challenges facing the sector;

On students the Lords committee highlights that despite the OfS explicitly being set up to regulate in the interests of students it has never defined what these interests are, creating a suspicion that it uses them as a smokescreen for political priorities. And that students often feel their views are not acted upon, especially where they do not match with what the OfS wants to do. The committee gives the example of from the OfS’ Student Panel who stated that when student issues of importance contradicted with the Government’s views the OfS threatened the Panel’s future.

Recommendations:

  • The OfS should conduct work with students, to define student interests and explain how this drives its work.
  • Hold providers to account if they do not ensure prospective students receive clear, digestible information on their course, including its long-term costs and approximate contact hours
  • The OfS must also ensure its Student Panel is free to raise issues of importance to students, whether or not the OfS agrees with them and ensure that there are at least two student representatives on the OfS’ Board and open up more of its work to student involvement.
  • Conduct detailed scoping work, with students, on how it defines “the student interest,” and how this informs its work.

On regulation and sector relations the committee acknowledged evidence from HE sector representatives that found the OfS over controlling in their approach to regulation:

  • We conclude that it [OfS ]has demonstrated little regard either to the autonomy of providers or the impact of its requests and decisions, particularly its onerous requests for data.
  • We also heard that the OfS is both distant and combative in the way it treats providers, giving the impression it seeks to punish them rather than help them to comply.

The peers welcomed the OfS’ focus on value for money for students, however, they felt the OfS did not provide HEIs with value for money because of their regulatory approach and particularly when higher registration fees partly reflect the regulator’s own expanding remit.

Recommendations:

  • The OfS should be more transparent about its approach, making clear why it makes particular requests and decisions.
  • Make clear how it has taken the institutional autonomy of providers into account when it regulates.
  • Build trust with higher education institutions and adopt a more strategic, less combative approach to its work.
  • The Government should reconvene its Higher Education Data Reduction Taskforcein order to reduce unnecessary red tape.
  • Urgently align its framework for quality with international standards, including reinstating an independent Designated Quality Body

On independence from Government the committee questioned whether the OfS really was the independent regulator it claims to be:

  • we found that it lacks both real and perceived independence, with its actions often appearing driven by political priorities. The fact that the OfS Chair continues to take the Conservative Party whip in the House of Lords has not helped.
  • The OfS lacks independence from the Government, and its actions often appear driven by the ebb and flow of short-term political priorities and media headlines.
  • We concluded that the Government has also contributed to this situation, by being too prescriptive in the guidance it sends to the OfS. The situation has been worsened by the fact that the OfS has had to work with seven Education Secretaries and six Universities Ministers since 2018.

Recommendations

  • The Government and the OfS should set out what each of them will do to secure the OfS’ independence.
  • As a first step, the Government should consider requiring serving politicians to resign any party political whip before becoming Chairs of independent regulators.
  • Limit itself to providing higher level, strategic input to the OfS, rather than overly prescriptive guidance.

Lord Hollick, Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee said:

  • At a time when the higher education sector faces a looming crisis caused by financial instability, increased costs, industrial action, and reduced EU research funding, it is vital that the sector’s regulator is fit for purpose.
  • However, it was evident throughout our inquiry that the OfS is failing to deliver and does not command the trust or respect of either providers, or students, the very people whose interests it is supposed to defend. We were surprised by the regulator’s view that the sector’s finances are in good shape, which is not an assessment that we or most of our witnesses share.

The Government must respond to the committee’s report and recommendations by 13 November. It remains to be seen if the Government will throw the OfS under the bus (unlikely) or agree to consider a small number of actions (probable, and most likely those that place the onus on the OfS to deliver) whilst arguing the point on other items. Of course, the Government can completely refute the committee’s report if it wishes too – again this is unlikely because the OfS has already responded to the report conceding improvements are needed in some areas. You can read OfS Chair, Lord Wharton’s, response on the OfS blog and Susan Lapworth’s, OfS Chief Executive, response in Learning lessons – a Research Professional blog.

The report may not be a bad thing for the OfS. They have been willing to concede some shortcomings, and the committee’s recommendations recommend the OfS should be given more freedom and leeway to work outside of the government dictat they currently operate within.

Research Professional (RP) spoke with two members of the Lords committee – Chair Clive Hollick and Ann Taylor (both Labour). RP highlight some of the frank quotes from the Members here.

RP: to what extent do they feel the OfS has fallen short of its objectives, particularly compared with other regulators—and can the trust that has been lost with the higher education sector be regained?

Hollick: It is a relatively new regulator, so it is still finding its feet, if I could put it that way—in response to which, Taylor quips that this is a “very generous” bit of context. Hollick agrees.

They also explore what the Peers think of the OfS denouncement of the QAA:

  • Elsewhere, the Lords expressed concern that the OfS is currently operating not only as England’s regulator but also as its Designated Quality Body, after the Quality Assurance Agency gave up the role over its concerns that the English regulatory framework was now at odds with European standards.
  • The OfS said after the QAA quit as DQB that it wasn’t overly pleased with how the QAA was carrying out its brief anyway.
  • Since that spat, the OfS has said that it sees no problem with keeping the DQB role itself, at least in the medium term. To what extent are Hollick and Taylor concerned about all this?
  • “We’re still trying to find the real reason [why the OfS was unhappy with the QAA],” said Hollick. “Why change something that’s working, that’s trusted, that is actually valuable for the brand, not only nationally but internationally?”
  • He added that the current situation, with the OfS in ostensibly temporary control as DQB, is “a complete muddle, and an unexplained muddle”.
  • Taylor added that the inquiry had heard fears that this was “a power grab” by the OfS, and “unless things are sorted out…that fear remains”.

There was great coverage of the committee report – here are some good sources if you want to read the editorials:

Research Professional: Friends in high places and Lords a-meeting.

Wonkhe blogs:

  • Jim Dickinson reflects on calls to reduce regulation of universities, arguing that the real problem is the way we frame higher education as “big boarding school”.
  • Chair Lord Hollick presents the findings of the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee inquiryinto the work of the Office for Students.
  • Everyone loves to commit to reduce data burden in higher education. Andy Youell asks what it would take to actually do it.
  • The long awaited Industry and Regulators Committee report on the work of the Office for Students is here – David Kernohan sets out everything you need to know.
  • Wonkhe also have a different coverage angle in their Monday summary: Many of its findings and recommendations chime with established concerns about the regulator – distant, opaque, punitive, expensive, politically compromised… But take a step back and what is powerful is the way that the committee’s report situates its critiques in the context of wider financial issues affecting the whole sector. The risks to education quality and to provider sustainability are greater than they were at the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act in 2017. Arguably, the higher education sector needs strong regulation more than ever to address failures where they do occur – but tempered with a sense of proportion about the feasibility of what is expected, and responsibility for the sustainability and success of English higher education. The question, then – with little money around and little prospect of a lot more coming – is what should happen next.

One obvious area for attention is expectations of providers. Even if OfS was seen as credible in its efforts to pursue the interests of students, there is little doubt that some of the “burdens” of regulation might be streamlined to allow the sector to get on with delivering on those interests…

But efficiencies and engagement can only get a reformed regulator and its beleaguered providers so far. There’s a case to be made that expecting one regulator to have a grip of the range of issues affecting students’ university experience and act as a proxy for bodies as diverse as the Charity Commission, the Competition and Markets Authority, and various local authorities is too much to ask. We need bodies looking out for the interests of students, that are worried about their housing and health, and that are capable of causing those things to be discussed and resolved… if the expectations on OfS are just that little bit too large – yet reflect a wider problem of what we ask universities to do while absolving others from ever thinking about over two million citizens.

There is further coverage in the national media: the Mail, the Standard, the BBC, and Byline Times.

For full detail read: the full published committee report on OfS effectiveness.

Quality Regulation

QAA: This week Research Professional highlighted how the House of Lords critique raising concerns over the effectiveness of the OfS is a small victory for the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) which stepped down from the role of Designated Quality Body (April 2023) in protest that the English regulatory framework was at odds with European standards. QAA continues to oversee quality in the other nations of the UK as well as internationally. The Lords report recommends that the OfS urgently aligns its framework for quality with international standards, including reinstating an independent Designated Quality Body.

QAA Chief Executive Vicki Stott stated: We’re really pleased to see that the committee recognises the importance of strengthening the current oversight of quality in England by returning to alignment with international good practice and for quality assessment to be undertaken by an independent body… You can’t simply take a self-assessment review and pass it to the body that is doing the regulation and funding and expect the two of them to mediate the accuracy of that assessment for themselves.

The OfS has responded to the report by saying it will consider the findings carefully over the next few weeks.

You can read the full Research Professional write up here.

On the QAA Wonkhe also inform us that they’ve released a briefing note with a definition of quality in UK higher education, intended for policymakers and other stakeholders internationally. Indicators of quality set out include staff and students thriving professionally and academically, a relevant and challenging learning experience, and external experience being sought and used. And:

This morning, and with impeccable timing, the QAA publishes the first in a new series of briefings on the “future of quality in England”—which it says “builds on” the Lords report. Among other things, it calls for England to “realign” its approach to quality assurance with “internationally agreed good practice”. Read The Future of Quality in England. The paper suggests policymakers commit to:

  1. Realign the English quality system with internationally agreed good practice.This should include honouring the UK’s commitment to the European Higher Education Area by working with QAA and the sector to develop a pathway to alignment that maintains and strengthens international trust while recognising the distinct characteristics of the English sector. This would involve addressing:
  • the independence of quality assessment so that the system operates without fear or favour
  • a periodic touchpoint with all providers to secure up-to-date assessments of their provision
  • student engagement across the full quality system, including as full members of assessment teams
  • the transparency of data, thematic analysis and assessments.
  1. Formally recognise enhancement as part of the quality systemto encourage an approach of continuous improvement where providers are supported by an independent body, such as QAA.
  2. Streamline regulatory requirements from the various bodies with oversight of higher education(Office for Students, Ofsted, Ofqual, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, the Education and Skills Funding Agency and relevant PSRBs) by convening them to align requirements in terms of data requested, format required and relevant deadlines, following the Regulator’s Code principle of ‘collect once, use many times’. This should be achieved through reconvening the Higher Education Data Reduction Taskforce and ensuring all relevant oversight bodies are represented.

Wonkhe blogs:

Students

Cost of living

This week HEPI published on the student cost of living in:  How to Beat a Cost-of-Learning Crisis: Universities’ Support for Students. They find:

  • 76% of universities help their students with food and drink (discounts, food banks and food vouchers), with nearly half (47%) helping with health and more than a third (35%) respectively with travel and digital.
  • Wales, the South West, the North East and the South East were the regions where universities were most likely to operate a food bank.
  • Four-fifths (82%) have an online platform to communicate their support to students.
  • On average, hardship funds are awarded up to £2,470 and institutions commit to get funds to students within four weeks.

Recommendations:

  • All universities should establish a cost-of-living working group streamline their hardship fund, launch an emergency fund and include students throughout their cost-of-living response.
  • Students’ unions should encourage their university to act by mounting an ambitious and practical cost-of-living campaign, founded on strong evidence and excellent relationships with university staff.
  • The Government establishes a cost-of-living taskforce, which consults regularly with students and sector leaders, and urgently reviews the level of maintenance support.

The publication came ahead of this week’s Westminster Hall debate on student cost of living. We have a short summary of the debate cut and thrust here. In the main, Minister Halfon followed the well-worn party line on disadvantage student numbers being up, extra funding for skills, and toughed out the calls for additional hardship funding. He agreed to look into the issue of students taking poorer quality accommodation due to price constraints and explained the government were trying to target hardship funding as there isn’t a consistent national picture. Although it appears the ‘targeting’ is simply the previous redistributed leftover budget that institutions already received.

Research professional also have an excellent summary and analysis on the student cost of living recent publications and debate.

Disciplinary process Pinsent Masons have a blog on disciplinary procedures following the landmark High Court ruling whereby a former student successfully sued their university for breach of contract. It concludes universities should understand the case before making hasty changes to their processes: It is therefore very much about the appropriate training of disciplinary panels and those involved in disciplinary processes, and how they should properly assess and test the evidence put before them – rather than this being a strict process point requiring the need to urgently revise procedures.

Medical Bursaries Vs Loans

While pressure is being applied for allied health professions to reinstate bursaries or receive loan forgiveness the Institute for Fiscal Studies has moved to an opposite position for medical and dental students stating the NHS bursary should be binned and tuition fee loans rolled out. Wonkhe cover the story:

The NHS bursary for medical and dental students should be scrapped and replaced with tuition fee loans, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has argued, with the money saved spent on NHS staff pay. The think tank contends that the bursary “displaces student loan funding” – in some cases leading to less upfront support for those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds – and ultimately benefits high-earning medical graduates who are able to pay off their loans earlier.

It also notes that “Plan 5” student loan reforms in England will benefit medical graduates by around £20,000, undermining one of the original arguments for the bursary which was to protect those who spent many years in training from the effects of high interest rates.

However, the Sutton Trust disagree and call for caution because they believe scrapping the NHS bursary may make medicine less accessible for disadvantaged students. Peter Lampl, Founder of the Sutton Trust, stated:  Any change to the NHS bursary should look at the support provided to students across the NHS professions rather than just for medicine…This is to avoid funnelling less well-off young people towards other health professions and away from medicine for financial reasons. We should also ensure that medical students have adequate access to maintenance support to live on, in whichever form that is provided.

Similarly Wonkhe report on the Union position to move away from tuition fees (across all programmes): The Trades Union Congress has carried a motion in favour of campaigning for the abolition of [all] tuition fees, improved pay and conditions in the higher education sector, and the tackling of education “cold spots”. The motion was proposed by the University and College Union (UCU) to the annual congress.

Loneliness

DCMS published an interesting YouGov survey exploring (young) students’ concerns across a range of areas such as friendships and fitting in, cooking and cleaning for themselves and finding housing, homesickness and loneliness, managing money and the difficulty of their course. It shows the range of intensity of concerns in the above areas. Including that 43% of students worry they’ll be judged if they admit feeling lonely.  The factors students found least helpful to alleviate the loneliness were speaking to university staff and online resources. The Government has launched a loneliness awareness campaign but it’s received criticism from some sector members.

Quick student news

Parliamentary Question: The Government has no remit to intervene in the student housing market (re: overseas students).

Parliamentary Question: tackling anti-Semitic and pro-Iranian messaging in universities.

Parliamentary Question: non-continuation of first year students (2015-2019)

Wonkhe blog: universities can do more to address gambling harms

At-risk Academics

Finally there was a Westminster Hall debate on UK support for At-risk Academics who are working overseas. Julian Lewis MP reflected positively on the work of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and noted that CARA fellows had a (recent) 100% visa application success rate. He called on the Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration to continue to support at-risk academics, and on the government to consider a long-term follow-on scheme. Sarah Dines MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Department, responded on behalf of the Immigration Minister noting the benefits at-risk academics bring to the UK and thanked CARA and the wider university sector for their contribution.  Research Professional has a good article on the record numbers of Ukrainian and Russian academics placed through CARA in the last 18 months.

Admissions

Wonkhe report record numbers secured university places through clearing this year despite a dip in overall recruitment:

16,040 UK 18 year olds found a place through Clearing after releasing themselves from a previous choice this year – 32%  (the largest single pool) of all Clearing placements. Today’s figures come as we reach 28 days after A level results day, usually considered the end of the main application cycle.

Overall recruitment is down by just over 5,000 from last year, though this still represents a growth of 12.9% over 2019 – the last year to feature a comparable results profile immediately prior to Covid-19. Similarly, this year saw a slight decline (around 500) in international recruitment beyond the EU, though this was 25% up on 2019. The BBC and The Evening Standard cover the news.

Savanta have stated the dip in top A level grades drove the increased demand for Clearing this year: early data from UCAS suggests that by the day after results day, 10,400 school leavers had been through Clearing to secure a university place (compared to 6,600 placed at the same point last year), with fewer securing their first or second choice university.

Savanta also have a downloadable report for colleagues interested in how universities approached the marketing and comms around Clearing.

Research Professional has an entertaining and useful read, UCAS pocus, on the UCAS data released for this year’s student intake numbers. It begins: Once more, it is time to release the party poppers and streamers over in Cheltenham. The headline comes with more spin than the average washing machine…. The press release goes on to say that “growing numbers of students that have been placed at their firm choice are using clearing to secure a new choice of university. In total, 16,040 UK 18-year-old applicants found a new course after releasing themselves from a previously held choice. This compares to 14,760 in 2022, and 12,170 in 2019.”…That all sounds wonderful until you pause for a moment to reflect that this must surely mean that “record numbers” of students were therefore denied their first-choice institutions or failed to make the necessary grades.

Some 32 per cent declined their original firm choice—this is the largest single pool. Another 30 per cent did not meet the terms of their offer and were released into clearing on results day, while 38 per cent either applied directly into clearing or held no firm choice.

That is, as Ucas acknowledges, an unprecedented use of clearing, which is surely something that cannot be good for either prospective students or university recruitment planners. It all rather raises the question of whether we should now get serious about a post-qualification admissions process.

Access & Participation

Care leavers

Think tank Civitas published Breaking the Care Ceiling: How many care leavers go to university? In 2022 the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care estimated the lifetime cost of poor outcomes for children with experience of our care system was over £1 million per child. The report argues that graduating university turns the poor outcomes around.

Wonkhe have two blogs:

Other news

Other news

BTEC gap: The Protect Student Choice Campaign published Desperate measures: data and the reform of Level 3 qualifications finding that 155,000 young people – 13% of all sixth form students in England – could be left without a suitable study programme from 2026, given the planned reduction in AGQs [applied general qualifications] and slow growth of T levels. See chart below. They also provide examples of when they believe the government has misrepresented data to suggest AGQs such as BTECs perform poorly. You can read their points on the data here.

HTQs: The Government’s policy line has been to grow Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQ) for several years, and it’s a particular passion for current Universities Minister Robert Halfon. If you’re not quite sure what a HTQ is we’ve got an explainer (below) and the Government has released a policy paper providing an overview of how the funding and approval system works for HTQs.

The key information to understand about HTQs is that they are an alternative qualification to apprenticeships and degrees. They are level 4 or 5 qualifications such as HNCs, HNDs and foundation degrees. They bridge the gap between A/T Levels and degrees and are taught at a range of FE, HE and independent providers. The Government plans to expand the range of HTQ courses by 2025 – there’s a list here (scroll down to Available Subjects).

Creative & Arts round up: An interesting Guardian article noting the disappearance of art schools. Wonkhe also had creative content this week: All political parties should commit to a series of measures in support of creative education, a coalition of sector bodies has urged. The Creative Education Coalition – made up of sector bodies including University Alliance, GuildHE and London Higher, as well as institutions and subject groupings – has set out a manifesto with eight “asks” for revitalising creative arts education from school level onwards, including retention of BTEC qualifications in creative areas and an end to “low value” rhetoric around arts subjects and careers. There’s a Wonkhe blog on the topic too: A manifesto for creative education. Finally, AHRC has announced a reduction in the number of PhD students it funds from 425 to around 300 by 2029–30. There will be an increase in “strategic investments that fill specific sector-related gaps,” with a lower number of studentships through its Doctoral Training Partnerships – these will also be funded through a formula approach, rather than competition, in a move designed to reduce administrative burden (Wonkhe).

Commuters: The COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) study published new analysis of their cohort data and report that this year’s university applicants look more likely to stay at home during term time than previous cohorts.

Midwifery educators: Wonkhe – A lack of senior midwifery educators is severely impacting the UK’s ability to recruit more midwives, a new report has found. The State of Midwifery report from the Royal College of Midwifery (RCM) highlights growing numbers of people leaving midwifery education – with poor working conditions and low pay among the main reasons for the resignations. It says the drop off in educators has increased staff-to-student ratios in the UK, and in the 2022-23 academic year there were fewer recruits than previous years. The number of midwifery students leaving their courses before graduating is also rising, with around 15 per cent of students failing to complete their degree in 2021-22. The Belfast Telegraph has the story.

UUK International published Lessons from the UK higher education sector response to the invasion of Ukraine. Full report here, summary here. UUKi introduce the report: the report highlights how the UK sector was mobilised to support universities in Ukraine and sets out ways in which we might better respond to future crises, while recognising that there is no ‘one size fits all’ model. It reflects on the policy, funding and political levers which have enabled a broadbased response and how these need to be considered when formulating a response to emerging crises at individual, institutional and sector levels. The report sets out a framework that institutions might employ to help develop and tailor such responses, providing a practical tool that can help maximise the effectiveness and impact of university action.

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HE policy update for the w/e 2nd June 2023

This is your half term catch up policy update.

Regulatory

OfS: Freedom of Speech

Following the passage of the new law, the OfS has announced the appointment of Professor Arif Ahmed as the first Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom.  Professor Ahmed chose the Times to write about his appointment, so we turn to Wonkhe for a perspective.  For Wonkhe, Jim Dickinson focuses on the potential conflicts and challenges with balancing free speech and academic freedom with equality rights, and as an example, highlights Professor Ahmed’s previously stated position on the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which conflicts with the government’s position (and specifically the position of the current Secretary of State for  Education).  You will recall Michelle Donelan getting herself in a muddle over this issue too.   It’s going to be interesting to watch this unfold.  As Jane learned a long time ago, hard cases make bad law…and it seems a lot of the cases are going to be hard.

The work of the OfS: Minister Halfon examined

The Lords Industry and Regulators Committee conducted it’s final session examining the work of the OfS by interviewing FE and HE Minister Robert Halfon alongside Anne Spinali, Director of Higher Education Reform and Funding at the DfE. Alongside the probe into the OfS the session is useful to highlight the latest ministerial thinking on the key issues facing the sector today.

HE Financial health

The Chair opened the session by highlighting the concerns the HE sector had reported over financial sustainability, loss of Horizon funding, dependency on international students and how these combine to create other vulnerabilities. Halfon listed the various income sources of HE institutions (e.g. tuition fees, other income, research grants, funding body grants, investment, donations and endowment) highlighting that universities get up to just under £40 billion…among 400 registered institutions. That is not a small sum of money…We also know that 75% of universities are in good financial condition. The question I would ask…is why the vast majority of universities are able to be in good financial health while a few are not… Later in the session he implied this is due to the management and leadership of these particular institutions.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges of Covid, the cost of living, energy bills and so on, on the whole, given the current context that we are in, HE—higher education—is not doing too badly financially. If you…look at the funding that HE has got compared to the funding that further education has got over the last few years, there is no comparison. Halfon also confirmed he thinks the OfS’ risk based approach to monitoring is the right approach and he continued his predecessor’s party line that The priority of the Government when it comes to financial difficulties at universities must be to look after the students. That is where I believe a government intervention would be, if there was severe financial difficulty for a particular higher education institution, to make sure that they had a provider to go to. Halfon also reminded the Committee that during Covid there was precedent through the HE restructuring fund. However, he also implied he didn’t subscribe to the concept that some universities were too big to fail and that he, personally, preferred mobile, agile universities.

Anne Spinali noted that some universities with financial concerns approached the DfE before they took the matter up with the OfS.

Financial sustainability came up time and again throughout the session, however, Halfon held firm that he thinks the sector is in a good position, even if time lags may be masking how many will become unsustainable in the medium term:

  • Given the current circumstances, given that universities get £40 billion from a variety of sources, given that 75% of them have a surplus and given everything else that is going on in the economy and the public sector, HE is in a fairly strong position compared with other parts of the public sector.
  • I will always welcome and champion more resources for HE and FE, of course, but I want more funding for skills… I want to ask, “What’s the best way to ensure that we have more qualified people who get good, skilled jobs at the end of their education?” That is the way I look at it. I look at it not as “university, university, university” but as “skills, skills, skills”.

On the freezing of tuition fees (and real terms decrease in their value): …if the economy improves, we get back into surplus again, we get rid of our deficit, we get down the £2 trillion debt and we pay back the £400 billion that we spent during Covid, maybe…we will have more money and will be able to increase tuition fees. However, I am not an advocate of increasing tuition fees. It would hit the student, importantly, at a time when things are very difficult. That does not mean that they are never going to go up but the approach of the Government has been the right one.

International Students  – a conflicting view?

Halfon stated he is very supportive of international students. I think that they are a good thing…my wife was an international student. Halfon spoke of the benefits international students bring aside from finance they are examples of soft power as well as being worth 25 billion quid to our economy…I do not see having too many international students as a risk.

Halfon also stated he does not believe there is a dependency on international students and that their numbers will not decline:

  • Given that 76% of students are domestic, I do not necessarily think that it is the problem that some people view it as…I do not see this as a problem in the way that may be felt by yourself. It is a good thing, especially given the current financial context we are in.. It is worth £25 billion; the ambition is that it will be worth £35 billion by 2030. That is very significant. If you look at the cost benefit of those international students, it outweighs the issues you may raise, such as that we have an unsustainable model.
  • We also have a cost of living crisis. The last thing I can do is go and tell students that we are going to raise their tuition fees. I feel a lot of pressure in the House of Commons from Members on all sides about why we did not raise the maintenance grant or maintenance loan higher than we did… Nevertheless, you have to be fair to students and to the taxpayer.
  • Given the financial situation that we are in, if universities are getting cross-subsidisation from international students, that is not a bad thing. I agree with you that it is dangerous to rely on one or two countries. We are doing a lot of work on diversification there… I worry about dependency on one or two countries. A lot more work needs to be done.

Halfon reveals his preferred vision for future HE institutions

  • The underlying part of your question is perhaps not even about the loan system but about whether the funding of universities and their business model should be done differently. That may be right. It requires a lot of thinking and work to see whether the current system is sustainable…
  • …my dream university of the future is the Dyson Institute. The reason for that is that it has a business on-site. It does research. It does vocational degree apprenticeships. The people who complete them get jobs in Dyson afterwards. It is very agile; I would like to see a lot more of that. That is a sustainable model for the future. I also want to do more to encourage degree apprenticeships because, again, you then avoid the whole issue of tuition fees.
  • …my dream would be to have 50% of our students doing degree apprenticeships one day. They help the disadvantaged. They build our skills base. They guarantee jobs for people who complete them. Now, we have Russell group universities as well as traditional vocational universities doing them.
  • It is not just for STEM, by the way. You could have one easily in the creative industries. You could have the British Museum doing the same thing, for example, where people can study archaeology or curating or whatever it may be. If I was thinking of universities in the 21st century, it would be more on that model.
  • …the [Halfon’s] vision is clear: it is jobs, skills and social justice. It does what it says on the tin. In my view, apart from the stuff that it does brilliantly already—research, et cetera—the engine of HE should be geared towards those purposes. That is the strategy of the Government.

Regulatory burden

Anne Spinali: There is a difference between institutional autonomy being impinged and regulatory burden…Both the OfS and the department are absolutely clear that institutional autonomy is paramount. Whether the regulatory burden is proportionate is a question for the OfS. It has recognised that it could do more to tackle this and is actively looking at areas where it could reduce its regulatory activity by taking a more risk-based approach. Halfon felt the OfS regulatory requirements were not onerous for a university, but, that universities also fall under the regulation of a range of institutions are regulated by a range of organisations (page 16) whereas Halfon would prefer a more streamlined model. However, Halfon did express disapproval at the OfS digital uploading system: I definitely think that that has to go. On minimising regulatory burden we also heard that the Government are considering a third category of registration for the lifelong loan entitlement which draws on existing material to reduce the regulatory burden.

Halfon: In my view, it [OfS] should be there partially to protect the autonomy of universities. The Government do not always get their way. They [OfS] are perfectly able to refuse to adopt the guidance that we suggest.

Sector relations with OfS: In response to Lord Reay’s question of whether the OfS was distant and often combative and the HE relationship characterised by a lack of trust Halfon stated: there needs to be much more informal engagement between the OfS and HE because, in my six months in the job, that has come up time and again. That would be beneficial. To be fair to the OfS, it does a lot of round tables and a lot of events with universities. It is not perfect but, inevitably, you are going to have some difficulties because of what the OfS is tasked to do.

Value for money: Halfon – I have a really firm view: in terms of HE and value for money, it must be about outcomes and jobs with good skills and progression. Otherwise, if you do not achieve what you should afterwards, what is the point of spending all that time at university and taking out the loan? Halfon also mentioned transparency with fees and ensuring students understand what they are getting for their money on application, including in person teaching.

OfS fees: Halfon refused to be drawn on the 13% OfS fee increase. He stated OfS reduced their fees in 2021-22 but they are inevitably going to have to go up because of the QAA coming in but we are consulting with government and the OfS… We will make an announcement on it in the very near future.

The announcement came shortly after the session – we’ve covered it here.

Robert Halfon has also written to the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee giving further background and justification for Tuesday’s announcement of a sizable increase to OfS registration fees for 2023–24.

We also learnt, from Anne Spinali, that the DfE has quarterly discussions with the OfS on its efficiency, its spend and how it is discharging its responsibilities with regard to the spend. The economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the way in which it discharges its responsibilities, and what it does with its £26 million of fees, are monitored really actively. It is robustly challenged on resources associated with activities. It is a difficult challenge and discussion sometimes in terms of the level of resources needed to carry out the whole breadth of activities that the OfS has to carry out.

For more detail see the – Transcript, watch the session on Parliament TV or review the inquiry information.

Financial sustainability (OfS)

The OfS published their annual financial sustainability report updating on the financial health of the HE sector. If finds that university finances are generally in good order but that there are growing risks to the sector’s finances such as the over-reliance on international student recruitment, sustainability of pension schemes, investment in facilities and environmental policies and inflationary pressures. Belying this headline statement, however, is a more mixed picture of the financial performance of different universities. The OfS also wrote to 23 HEIs who have high student recruitment from China urging them to have contingency plans in place in case recruitment patterns change and there is a sudden drop in income from overseas students.

  • Income – sector growth across the next three years (£40.8 billion in 2021-22 to £50.1 billion forecast in 2025-26).
  • Improved cash flow and surplus, but the sector is forecasting a decline in financial performance and strength in 2022-23, with costs increasing at a faster rate than income and a significant dip in the income and expenditure surplus.
  • In 2021-22 total HE course fees and education contracts were reported at £22.5 billion (+8.8%). Fee income is forecast to increase to £29.3 billion by 2025-26, with a 17.5% forecast rise in student numbers between 2021-22 and 2025-26 across all levels of study. However, this trend varies significantly between different universities and colleges.
  • Total non-EU (overseas) tuition fee income was reported at £7.8 billion in 2021-22 (+25%). This is consistent with strong growth in overseas fees in recent years. Non-EU fee income as a proportion of total income is forecast to increase from 19.3% in 2021-22 to 24% in 2025-26, which the report states highlights the sector’s increasing reliance on fees income from non-EU students to sustain their activities.
  • Overall cash flow and short-term investments are reported as £16.6 billion for 2021-22 (+10% on 2020-21).

The key risks are:

  • impact of inflation on costs and challenges in growing income to meet increasing costs
  • increasing reliance on fees from overseas students in some higher education provider’s business plans, especially students from China or any individual country
  • challenges in meeting investment needs for facilities and environmental policies.

And it’s not all about China, the OfS says:

 … Teaching-intensive providers can be particularly reliant on tuition fees from students. In recent years, many have successfully increased their recruitment of overseas students, particularly from India and Nigeria, onto postgraduate and undergraduate courses. These providers also face significant staff and pensions costs. In the event of a reduction in the total numbers of students coming to the UK from China, it may be that research-intensive providers are able to attract UK and international students away from teaching-intensive providers

In response to these risks and financial pressures the OfS says they anticipate providers may adopt certain behaviours (which they’ll be keeping an eye on if the impact on student choice and experience):

  • closing courses which are less financially sustainable
  • rebalancing recruitment from UK students to overseas students
  • reducing research activity where funding may not cover the full cost of research
  • pursuing strategic mergers and/or collaborations or sharing resources and centralising costs
  • changes to course delivery models – including standardisation in academic subjects, more online and distance learning
  • increases in specialisation – we may see a concentration of more providers with academic specialisms or niches, with the aim of reducing competition risks.
  • Seeking to diversify commercial income streams – from activity that is not teaching or research
  • reducing the size and complexity of estates

Susan Lapworth, OfS chief executive, said: Universities and colleges have weathered storms over recent years, and most remain in good financial health. This new analysis shows that they are confident that income and student numbers will continue to grow. However, cost pressures are having a substantial impact, with an expected reduction in financial performance across the sector in the short-term…‘For a small number of institutions the financial picture is of particular concern and we will continue to focus our attention on those cases. But all institutions will continue to face financial challenges, with a number of risks present at the same time for many.

…we continue to have concerns that some universities have become too reliant on fee income from international students, with students from one country sometimes a significant part of the financial model.

You may also be interested in this Research Professional article: A fine balance.

More coverage in: The Guardiani News, and Wonkhe.

OfS Registration Fee hike

The Government has supported (and legislated for) an 18%[1] fee hike that universities will pay the OfS to maintain their registration as a provider of HE. Many institutions will now pay £170,344 each year and the largest universities will pay £214,485. Across all providers it will generate £4.96 million for the OfS. Universities Minister wrote to the House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee (who are running an inquiry into the work of the OfS) to justify the increase. His justifications stated the OfS will be undertaking significant and important new work, including:

  • The implementation of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023, to ensure that freedom of speech is protected and promoted within higher education (guidance, consultation on complaints scheme, developing new registration conditions and making changes to the regulatory framework)
  • Following the de-designation of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) as the designated quality body under HERA, the OfS has taken on functions relating to the assessment of quality and standards. his fee increase will enable the OfS to fund the infrastructure costs associated with the performance of these assessment functions
  • Preparing for the implementation of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement

Halfon stated: I want to assure you that the government has not taken this decision lightly. I understand the financial pressure the sector is currently facing. As a result, my Department will be providing £1.5 million of additional funding to the OfS this year, to help cover its costs and prevent these from being passed on to the sector in full. Earlier he reminded that the OfS has not had a registration fee increase since 2018, when it was set up, and delivered a 3% reduction in 2021.

Wonkhe say:

  • For a sector facing a real terms freeze in fee income it does feel a little tone deaf to be seeking an increase substantially above the rate of inflation. 
  • To a sector struggling with soaring inflation, rising costs, and income streams that are at best stable this will be a difficult pill to swallow. 
  • There were always limitations to farming the cost of regulation to providers that receive large amounts of their funding from the public purse – it is an inefficient model and one that has never met the running costs of the OfS. Announcing this in the current financial climate pours petrol onto the already flammable state of relations between the regulator and the sector it manages.

Once it’s published we’ll scour the Lords Committee report to see what their reaction to the fee hike is.

[1] Percentage rise in fees: Wonkhe modelling shows 18%, Halfon’s letter states 0-12% per provider

Graduate outcomes

HESA have published the Graduate Outcomes data for students who graduated in 2020/21. The headline is positive on full time employment (up 4%).

Of course, as we know, the OfS metric is “highly skilled employment and further study” – we will have to wait a bit longer for that analysis.  Wonkhe have an article on why comparability of data on employment outcomes is a real issue.

International

International Students: Economic benefits

HEPI and partners published the third iteration of The benefits and costs of international higher education students to the UK economy. The research sought to quantify the economic benefits – less any costs – of international students and family members living and studying in the UK. The report demonstrates growth in the financial worth of international students.

The modelling includes tuition fee income, living expenditure, and indirect income from family and friends visiting the UK – tax revenue, longer-term investment, soft power, and cultural value are not included in the analysis.

  • 4 in 10 first year students in London are international
  • Some areas benefit more financially from international students, outside of London this includes Glasgow, Nottingham and Newcastle.
  • On average, each parliamentary constituency in the UK is £58 million better off because of international students – equivalent to approximately £560 per citizen.
  • Even when accounting for dependants and other costs, international students are a huge net contributor to the UK economy. Every 11 non-EU students generates £1 million worth of net economic impact for the UK economy.
  • The estimated total benefit to the UK economy from 2021/22 first-year international students over the duration of their studies was approximately £41.9bn, while the estimated total costs were £4.4bn. This implies a benefit-to-cost ratio of 9.4.
  • The net economic impact per student was estimated to be £125,000 per EU domiciled student, and £96,000 per non-EU student. In other words, every 9 EU students and every 11 non-EU students generate £1m worth of net economic impact for the UK economy over the duration of their studies.
  • Reflecting the 40% increase in the number of international students between 2018/19 and 2021/22, the net economic impact has increased from £28.2bn for the 2018/19 cohort to £37.4bn for the 2021/22 cohort (a 33% increase in real terms). The impact has also increased by 58% in real terms since 2015/16 (from £23.6bn in 2015/16 to £37.4bn in 2021/22).

The Russell Group published their response to the report.

HEPI also have some short commentary setting out the policy position on each of the areas of contention for international students.

Growth in international student recruitment:

  • The UK is an attractive destination for international students because of the global recognition of UK qualifications, teaching in English, and our one-year Masters courses are particularly popular.
  • Between 2010 and 2016, there was no growth in international student numbers, as Home Office policies worked to limit incoming students.
  • In 2019, the Government launched the International Education Strategy with a national target to increase the number of international students in the UK. The target was exceed well ahead of the deadline.

Post-study work visas: Post-study work rights were introduced in Scotland in 2005, adopted UK-wide in 2008, abolished in 2012, reintroduced in 2021, and the certainty of their future is…well…uncertain. HEPI write: post-study work rights affect the pipeline of talent flowing into the UK as well as the ability of employers to find and recruit the high-level and niche skills they so desperately need.

Diversifying student cohorts: institutions have been expected to widen their geographical base beyond China and East Asia…institutions have sought to broaden their intakes by recruiting more international students from other parts of the world, especially India and Nigeria. Yet the response of policymakers to this shift has not always been positive, for example because students from these regions are typically older and have a higher likelihood of bringing dependants with them.

International Students: Dependants’ visas

It was been trailed for weeks and finally we’ve had the official announcement that taught postgraduate students will not be permitted to bring their dependants into the country. This decision is part of Home Secretary, Suella Braverman’s, measures to reduce net migration. Here are all the measure in brief:

  • Removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes.
  • Removing the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed.
  • Reviewing the maintenance requirements for students and dependants.
  • Steps to clamp down on unscrupulous education agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration not education.
  • Better communicating immigration rules to the higher education sector and to international students.
  • Improved and more targeted enforcement activity.

The restrictions commence in January 2024, impacting the January starters in the 2023/24 academic year.

Braverman stated:

  • Around 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022, a more than eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019, when the Government’s commitment to lower net migration was made
  • We are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK. Therefore, our intention is to work with universities over the course of the next year to design an alternative approach that ensures that the best and the brightest students can bring dependants to our world leading universities, while continuing to reduce net migration. We will bring in this system as soon as possible, after thorough consultation with the sector and key stakeholders.
  • This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK. Now is the time for us to make these changes to ensure an impact on net migration as soon as possible. We expect this package to have a tangible impact on net migration. Taken together with the easing of temporary factors, we expect net migration to fall to pre-pandemic levels in the medium term.
  • …The Government will seek to continue to strike the balance between reducing overall net migration with ensuring that businesses have the skills they need and we continue to support economic growth. Those affected by this package will predominantly be dependants of students who make a more limited contribution to the economy than students… 

Read more: The BBC have coverage of the announcement, Wonkhe have a blog: everything we know about the new plans, i News has an opinion piece and there’s are parliamentary questions – Overseas student visas and adequacy of support for families moving on a student visa.

Research Professional cover the latest Transparent Approach to Costing (Trac) statistics which they state reveal just how reliant higher education institutions are on fees from overseas students in Deficits grow for research and teaching home students. Wonkhe cover the same topic with a different take: David Kernohan is depressed by how little we know about how much it costs universities to provide higher education.  Also, an interesting exchange on the topic during Urgent Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Do give it a read if you’re interested in this area.

More broadly on international student benefits is this Wonkhe blog: International and transnational education bring cultural, economic, and reputational benefits to the UK. University of London vice chancellor Wendy Thomson asks why the government isn’t over the moon.

Finally, the Government has now published the latest migration figures for the year ending March 2023. Total long-term immigration to the UK was around 1.2 million in 2022, and emigration was 557,000, so net migration settled at 606,000 (source). There is quite a lot of information of interest relating to students spread across multiple sources so we’ve popped it into this separate document. It covers the facts on study visas, extensions of temporary stay, and the migrant journey (who arrives, how long they stay, and when they leave). Enjoy!

International: Confucius Institutes

If you followed Rishi’s leadership campaign with an avid eye you’ll have spotted he committed to closing the 30 Chinese state-sponsored Confucius Institutes across the UK. However, the Government have U-turned stating it would be “disproportionate” to ban the institutes. Some Conservative Members have been outspoken in their disapproval of the U turn.

Dods report that Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns hit out in response to the news arguing that powers established recently under the new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 “must be deployed if evidence of free speech stifled by CCP indoctrinators on our campuses.”

The BBC have a write up, including this from the Government:

  • We recognise concerns about overseas interference in our higher education sector, including through Confucius Institutes, and regularly assess the risks facing academia.
  • We are taking action to remove any government funding from Confucius Institutes in the UK, but currently judge that it would be disproportionate to ban them.
  • Like any international body operating in the UK, Confucius Institutes need to operate transparently and within the law, and with a full commitment to our values of openness and freedom of expression.

As we mentioned earlier, this week the OfS wrote to 30 UK HE providers regarding their high recruitment levels of Chinese students. The letter advised contingency planning should a drop in income occur suddenly. Also, the OfS published their annual financial sustainability report (we’ve explored it here.)

Research

Health Security: The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) published a 10-year strategy detailing how science can save more lives and contribute to the UK’s ambition to be a global science superpower. It highlights how UKHSA’s scientific capabilities (including genomics, vaccine evaluation, surveillance, data science, diagnostics and toxicology) will be deployed to prepare for future health security hazards, respond to current threats, protect livelihoods and build the UK’s health security capacity. More here. UKHSA have stated they are actively seeking partners across government, industry and academia in pursuit of the ambitions in this Strategy. 

Concordats: The second phase of the (UUK, UKRI & Wellcome Trust) Concordats and Agreements Review has reported, much shorter info here.

Net zero: The National Audit Office published Support for innovation to deliver net zero. The report addresses the approach in the £4.2 billion investment in research and innovation to deliver net zero. It argues that further action is needed to strengthen governance and delivery mechanisms to achieve value for money.

UKRI: UKRI launched a stakeholder perceptions survey which they state will act as a benchmark for the funding body to understand how their stakeholders perceive UKRI and its role within the system. The survey is here.

Research infrastructure: DSIT and UKRI announced details of the £103 million investment to expand and upgrade the UK’s research infrastructure. It’s not all new money, the funding divides as:

  • £79.3m as part of the £150m announcement, to address the impacts of the ongoing delay in UK association to the EU’s Horizon Europe programme
  • £23.7m as part of the £370m announcement to forge a better Britain through investment in science and technology

The 13 universities who will receive the equipment/lab investment have already been chosen. More on the funding here.

Windsor Framework: Responsibility for the delivery of the Windsor Framework will be transferred from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to sit alongside the existing Northern Ireland Unit in the Cabinet Office. The Foreign Secretary remains responsible for UK/EU relations and will continue as co-chair of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement Partnership Council and Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee – the body that oversees the UK and EU implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Parliamentary question on research infrastructure: increasing public expenditure on R&D to £20 billion per annum by 2024/2025. The total allocation for UK Research and Innovation over the period 2022-2025 is £25.1 billion. This includes £3 billion of investment in infrastructure projects, including £481 million for the new UKRI Infrastructure Fund. This will finance cutting-edge research infrastructure, delivering a step-change in the capabilities available to the next generation of researchers and innovators whilst supporting scientific breakthroughs.

Statutory duty of care for HE students

The House of Commons Petitions Committee held three sessions on the proposed statutory duty of care for HE students. Witnesses included Lee Fryatt, the petition creator, people with lived experience, representatives from Student Minds, NUS, PAPYRUS, AMOSSHE and UUK among others.

The Committee sessions explored whether universities should have a statutory duty of care to protect students at risk of suicide or other serious mental health problems. The sessions included advocacy for the duty of care; the reason for student suicide and views on the proposed statutory duty of care; and questioned sector representatives on their views plus the efficacy and future trajectory of existing suicide prevention and mental health frameworks. We have a summary of all three sessions here.

In advance of the session the House of Commons Library provided a briefing on student mental health.

Also on mental health from Wonkhe: The proportion of higher education providers with a mental health or wellbeing strategy increased from 52 per cent in 2019 to 66 per cent in 2022, according to a report from IFF Research for the Department for Education. 66 per cent of higher education institutions had a policy on student suicide prevention, alongside 54 per cent of FE colleges and just 42 per cent of private providers. On the site today I consider the report in light of calls for a statutory duty of care.

Student loan cap – 7.1%

Following the market rate fluctuation the Government has announced the student loan interest rate cap will now be 7.1% for all plan 2 (undergraduate) and plan 3 (postgraduate) loans, and plan 5 (undergraduate) loans. This applies until 31 August 2023 (or until future market changes prompt an announcement on a new cap level). You can see how 7.1% compares to previous in the written ministerial statement. The student loan interest rates from September 2023 will be announced closer to the time.

Access & Participation

TASO published the summary report Evaluating multi-intervention outreach and mentoring programmes with the aim of advancing the evidence base and improving practice across the sector. Recommendations:

  • Universities should adopt TASO’s Mapping Outcomes and Activities Tool (MOAT),
  • Multi-intervention outreach incorporates multiple elements. To rigorously evaluate the impact of these programmes, HEPs should identify the value of each element by using TASO’s Enhanced Theory of Change tool to map how it is anticipated that individual activities will influence outcomes.
  • Also multi-intervention outreach programmes may be reaching students who are already highly likely to enter HE and highly selective universities. They further suggest that the true value of the programmes may lie in informing student choice about where and what to study, rather than whether to attend. Better pre-entry preparation may also result in higher rates of continuation and success once on the course. HEPs should scrutinise the rationale and assumptions behind their programmes to ensure that evaluation outcomes are well-matched to the activities they run
  • Use behavioural and survey outcomes to mitigate for low response rates/small samples
  • To improve response rates, HEPs should offer appropriate compensation to thank students for their time, such as entry into a prize draw or a small value voucher
  • HEIs should use local evaluations as a blueprint to explore randomised controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs as part of their evaluation approach for multi-intervention outreach

And there’s another report: Understanding online mentoring delivered as part of multi-intervention outreach programmes

Wonkhe summarise both reports: Three randomised controlled trials at universities in England found that the programmes did not have an effect on student enrolment into higher education, though a final evaluation is still forthcoming. A separate study of online mentoring as part of outreach found that engagement with such programmes should not only be measured by the number of messages participants send – number of days engaged was a more robust measure.

Increasing access to HE

The OfS has published two reports on increasing access to HE covering collaborative partnerships and an evaluation of Uni Connect phase 3. You can read a summary of both here.

Labour’s Policy Programme

After the clearest indication yet from Keir Starmer a few weeks ago that the Labour policy  on abolishing fees was going to be dropped, when he announced a “review” with the aim of finding an arrangement that would be fairer, the party have now made an interim announcement that they would reverse the latest changes, which will apply to students who start university in September – the bigger review of policy is still ongoing.

The Guardian piece  quotes from a Times story that is behind a paywall:

  • Labour has promised to reverse changes to the student loan system being plannedby the Conservative government in a way that could reduce monthly repayments for graduates.
  • Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said on Friday the tuition fees system was “broken”, but repeated the insistence by her party leader, Keir Starmer, that Labourwould not be able to afford to scrap fees altogether.
  • Starmer’s decision to drop the promise to end feessparked anger among students and on the Labour left. But Phillipson’s comments in the Times give the first sense of how the party may seek to win those voters back. Phillipson said: “The Conservative tuition fees system has long been broken, and their latest set of reforms will make it worse.”
  • She added: “Plenty of proposals have been put forward for how the government could make the system fairer and more progressive, including modelling showing that the government could reduce the monthly repayments for every single new graduate without adding a penny to government borrowing or general taxation – Labour will not be increasing government spending on this.”
  • Under the plans announced by the Treasury last year, graduates will have to start repaying their loans when they earn £25,000, rather than £27,295, and will have to continue repaying for a maximum of 40 years rather than 30. Interest rates will be cut for new borrowers and tuition fees capped at £9,250 for another two years.
  • The measures are predicted to double the number of graduates who pay off their loans in full, and save the government tens of billions of pounds. But lower earners will have to pay significantly more, thanks to the reduction in the lower repayment threshold.

Labour published their draft policy programme. It’s best thought of as a pre-manifesto but two steps removed. Within it, of interest to HE, is:

Give genuine choice of further and higher education

  • Ensure all learners have a genuine choice of first class further and higher education
  • Encourage a thriving college and independent training sector that can provide high quality vocational courses, including apprenticeships, fosters a love of learning, links students with exciting job opportunities through excellent careers advice, and works with businesses to meet local skills needs.
  • Reform broken tuition fees system for university funding, ensuring that people from every background and all parts of our country have the opportunity to study at Britain’s world-class universities

Work with businesses, workers, and universities to grow the high-tech, competitive industries of the future:

  • Ensure our world-class researchers and businesses have the data and computing infrastructure they need to compete internationally
  • Ensure our intellectual property system is fit for the digital age
  • Look at ways to close the digital divide. Improve digital education in schools and upskill the workforce

Introduce an industrial strategy and support firms

  • Introduce an industrial strategy based on a genuine partnership with businesses, workers, unions and universities, with four central goals: delivering clean power by 2030, caring for the future, harnessing data for the public good and building a resilient economy
  • Aim for at least 3% of GDP across the public and private sectors to be invested in research and development
  • Ensure the funding system can act with the agility, speed and predictability required to win the race for the industries of the future

Deliver landmark shift in skills provision

  • Deliver a landmark shift in skills provision and give people the tools they need in the workplaces of the future
  • Devolve adult education and skills budgets; reform the apprenticeships levy into a ‘growth and skills levy’ across all nations
  • Establish a new expert body – Skills England – to oversee the English national skills effort of the coming decade, which will pull together the expertise of trade associations, employers from large and small companies, representatives of trade unions, central and local government and further and higher education

Tackle NHS staffing issues

  • Double the number of medical school places to 15,000 a year
  • Train 10,000 new nurses and midwives each year
  • Double the number of district nurses qualifying every year
  • Train 5,000 new health visitors a year

Also Labour favours economic devolution, voting for 16 and 17 year olds, and abolishing the House of Lords.

There’s also a relevant Wonkhe blog:  A Labour government may not mean the sector relationship reset that many are hoping for. Public First associate director Jess Lister cautions against raising expectations.

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

Campus fatigue: The QAA published Student experience and expectations of teaching and learning relating to post-pandemic students and trends. Wonkhe have a neat synopsis on part of the report: The pandemic appears to have created a “fatigue” amongst students to proactively engage with enrichment activities traditionally linked to campus life, student halls or SUs. It has also caused many students to feel isolated and to miss out on developing peer group friendships and relationships with academics, triggering an increased demand for mental health and well-being support… half of survey respondents found it not at all or only slightly important to spend time at university outside of timetabled hours – students most commonly were on campus two or three times a week, with 15.1 per cent having a commute of between one and two hours, and 4.4 per cent more than two hours.

Student rentals: Wonkhe – A renter’s reform bill has been published – and given the good news for tenants, some fear landlords will sell up. Jim Dickinson weighs up their case.

Apprenticeships: Wonkhe – The total number of apprenticeship starts has fallen significantly since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, according to new analysis published by think tank Policy Exchange. Since 2015, the number of apprenticeship starts for 16-18 year-olds has fallen by 41 per cent, for 19-24 year-olds by 31 per cent, and 26 per cent for those over 25 years old. The sharpest falls recorded were for those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds… The authors do not believe that the sharp decline in starts is due to a lack of demand… Instead they point to a lack of supply, and a lack of transparency and poor understanding of the levy’s purposes – leading to a significant amount of the Levy returning to the Treasury rather than being spent on apprenticeships. They argue that for businesses to make better use of the levy system, there needs to be more flexibility, shorter courses, and less bureaucracy.

Working conditions: HEPI published a new report benchmarking the pay and benefits of academics and exploring whether academics have better or worse working conditions than other professionals.

Free Speech: Research Professional – News is out on the “chilling effect” of university failures to support free speech on campus. The Office for Students released yesterday its update on institutions’ compliance with the Prevent duty to monitor potential radicalisation on campus. And this includes figures on the number of speakers and events cancelled over the past year. See this Research Professional article: Fewer than 1% of English university speakers ‘cancelled’.

The latest OfS data show that during 2021-22, some 31,545 speakers or events were approved in English universities and colleges, and 260 planned events did not go ahead—just under one per cent of the total. Another 475 went ahead with some mitigation.

Most [of the events that did not go ahead] were rejected for procedural reasons, such as failing to submit a request on time. David Smy, director of monitoring and intervention at the OfS, said: “While this data suggests that the overwhelming majority of events with external speakers went ahead as planned—which is welcome—the data may not provide the full picture. The data does not capture decisions not to invite speakers in the first place or voluntary withdrawal of requests for approval. We recognise that this could be masking cases where event organisers or speakers feel unable to proceed with the event they had planned.” Surely the OfS is not about to make use of new advances in artificial intelligence that make mind-reading a possibility?

Transnational education: OfS published an insight brief on Transnational Education. In 2021-22, 146 English universities and colleges taught 455,000 students outside the UK. 69% were undergraduates, 31% were postgraduates.

  • 27% were taught by overseas partner organisations
  • 25% were taught by distance, flexible or distributed learning
  • 6% studied at English universities’ overseas branch campuses
  • 42% were covered by other arrangements, including collaborative provision.

52% lived in Asia – 61,505 (14% overall) were based in China. Malaysia (9%) and Sri Lanka (8%) had the second highest proportion of students.

Lots more interesting content in the full insight brief.

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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 3rd February 2023

office fNews galore. We cover all the major news and provide short commentary and links on the specialist interest topics.

Party politics: tertiary reform?

The next general election is constantly on the minds of policy makers. Last week Kier Starmer rowed back from Labour’s traditional position of abolishing HE tuition fees. This week attention has turned to what could be learnt from Wales’ review and reform of education which has resulted in a joined up tertiary education system. Andy Westwood writes for Wonkhe suggesting that Wales could be a blueprint for policy and suggesting Labour should prioritise tertiary reform over tuition fees.

Some snippets to whet your interest:

  • While the higher education funding system looks unsustainable in its current form and surely can’t survive the next Parliament without reform, it does not follow that it is sensible to try and fix it in isolation from other parts. 
  • …there is likely to be a series of policy priorities that will affect both colleges and universities as Labour draw up its manifesto, alongside any potential plan to reform tuition fees and higher education funding. But designing centralised policy solutions separately – e.g. by focusing solely on full-time university tuition fees but not on lifelong learning, apprenticeships or day-to-day funding for FE will only bake in the silos and systemic incoherence that cause so many problems for people, places and businesses.
  • The Welsh model, if not perfect, is certainly better than that currently in England…, we have three competing and very different systems – a centralised funding and management body (ESFA) running (and underfunding) FE, as well as schools, a market regulator (OfS) and an entirely separate and different system for apprenticeships (IFATE). Adult learning remains a poor relation and a low priority for each. The three funding systems are also different – direct funding and loans but managed places, uncapped markets with tuition fee loans, employer levies and grants (and limited access across routes to means-tested maintenance)…it is complex and counterproductive. And both in part and overall, it is failing.

Chris Millward (former Director for Fair Access at OfS) agrees with Westwood and is keen to bring technical and academic together in a cohesive tertiary system. He also suggests Government could reduce regulation in the areas that are a priority such as higher and degree apprenticeships, modular (shorter) learning, and advanced technical or research courses. Especially if they’re in geographical areas where the Government wants to drive growth and attract investment by aligning skills and innovation around a university presence. Finally, he suggests increasing fees (only by inflation) where institutions can demonstrate excellence beyond a threshold (I.e. we’re back to TEF related increases – which the House of Lords originally threw out). You can read Millward’s blog for Research Professional in full here.

Lifelong Learning

Earlier this week THE reported the Government were considering uncontroversial legislation surrounding the Lifelong Learning loan entitlements. These loans allow students to borrow up to the equivalent of four years’ worth of student loan funding across their whole life to spend as they will including on shorter or modular courses (more here). The loans are expected to be particularly attractive to mature students who wish to retrain or change careers (assuming they don’t already have a degree). Previous PM Boris Johnson pledged to introduce the LLE by 2025.

The background:

  • In May 2022, the government said in the Queen’s Speech that it would introduce a higher education bill to implement the LLE in England and, “subject to consultation”, a minimum entry requirement (MER) for individuals to be eligible for student loans, as well as student number controls (SNCs).
  • After that consultation [results promised soon], the Department for Education was said to favour capping numbers on courses using outcomes measures including the proportion of graduates going into “managerial or professional employment”, and an MER set at two E grades at A level. However, ministers changed and current HE Minister Halfon is said to be far less supportive of MER plans. Other sector commentators are also opposed: Any move to reopen the door to minimum entry requirements or student recruitment limits would be extremely concerning and against modern universities’ core principles of inclusion, aspiration and the power of education to transform lives (Rachel Hewitt, Chief Executive of MillionPlus).
  • Lord Johnson of Marylebone, the Conservative former universities minister, said Ministers must rethink their approach and allow “much greater flexibility in terms of what courses will be eligible for LLE funding…Learners wanting to access specific skills do not necessarily want or need courses that are simply credit-bearing modules of existing qualifications…The DfE needs to ensure that learners have a much broader choice of courses and credentials – credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing – if the LLE is to fulfil its potential. Lord Johnson was also an opponent to student number controls while he was HE Minister.

The rumours were correct! The Government introduced the Lifelong Learning (HE Fee Limits) Bill on Wednesday. The Bill aims to build upon previous legislation and provides the legal framework to underpin credit-based learning, set fee limits and update legislation in relation to the Access and Participation Plans. It:

  • Introduces a new fee limit method which limits the amount a provider can charge for a course or module based on credits. This means the amount a provider can charge a student is proportionate, whether the student takes up a short course, a module or a traditional full course.
  • Enables the Secretary of State to set maximum chargeable credits per course year, so that students are not being charged disproportionately for whatever course they wish to undertake.
  • Introduces the concept of ‘course year’ as opposed to an ‘academic year’, to allow fee limits to apply with greater precision according to when the course actually starts. This aims to support more flexible patterns of study.

The Bill’s financial commitments remain as expected – students may receive a loan entitlement, equivalent to four years of post-18 study (£37,000 in today’s fees) which can be used over their working lives. This will be available for both modules of courses and full courses, whether in college or at university. If will fund provision between level 4 and 6 so first degrees, higher technical qualifications, HNCs and HNDs.

Wonkhe add: It is recognised that not all courses fit a credit-based modular model – nursing is cited as one example of a “non-credit-bearing” course that will be funded at a “default” level equivalent to a standard number of credits. Prices for all credits will vary depending on institutional registration, TEF award, access and participation plan status, and specific fee limit designation as of now – there will also be separate credit values for placements, study abroad, and credit transfer. Of course, Wonkhe also has a new blog on the topic.

Commenting on the Bill’s introduction Dr Arti Saraswat, AoC HE Senior Policy Manager, makes some good points:

  • Implementing this by 2025 will be challenging and will depend on publishing a detailed rule book, putting the correct systems in place and, most importantly, ensuring programmes are ready so that students can enrol on courses on a more modular basis. Ensuring the scheme has been tested through a thorough pilot process will be vital to building trust in the new system.
  • There is still work needed to explain who will be eligible for the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, where they will be able to use it and how those institutions will be regulated. Colleges already have a track record of teaching HE on a more part-time, flexible and individualized basis to adult learners but this activity has diminished in recent years creating a genuine challenge in rebuilding capacity, at a time when the UK needs higher skills to boost productivity and grow the economy.
  • There are wider challenges involved in reinvigorating adult higher education. The LLE and credit-based student loans are important technical fixes but are not enough on their own. Access to maintenance support is essential to ensure students can afford to study on a flexible basis.

Research

There is lots of research related news. Here are a series of links and blogs which cover the main announcements.

Innovation vision: Last Friday Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set out his goals for the UK. On research and innovation he included:

  • UK world leader in digital and tech, green and clean energy sector, and creative industries
    • Created more tech unicorns than France and Germany combined
    • Fintech in the UK attracted more funding than anywhere in the world outside of the US
    • UK Covid vaccine has saved more than 6m lives around the globe
    • Largest offshore windfarm in the world
  • Golden thread running through industries in the UK – innovation
    • UK ranks 4thglobally in innovation index, responsible for all the productivity growth
  • Hunt asked innovators to the help the UK achieve something both ambitious and strategic
    • He wants the UK to be the next Silicon Valley and for the world’s tech entrepreneurs and life science innovators to come to the UK
    • UK universities, financial sector, and government will back them
    • Government determined to make the UK a tech superpower
  • Confidence in the future starts with honesty in the present
    • UK weakness: poor productivity, skills gaps, over concentration of wealth in the SE
    • Brexit opportunity – make Brexit a catalyst for bold choices
  • Plan for growth – not a series of announcements, but a framework for policies in the future

And lots more:

  • Research Professional: the growing tensions around spinouts at British universities.
  • Impact data contribution to society: The British Academy and the Academy of Social Sciences have launchedresearch into what REF impact study case data can tell us about the contribution of the arts, humanities and social sciences to the wellbeing of society, culture and the economy. The research is intended to provide a robust evidence base on which the higher education sector and policymakers can build to articulate the value of research and its impact on society. (Wonkhe 26/01).
  • The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committeehas published a report on research and development tax relief and expenditure credit
  • 45 UK researchers were successful in winning grants from the European Research Council recent round. UKRI’s Horizon Europe guarantee covers the funds while association is still up in the air
  • Policy influencing: HEPI published a report on how policymakers currently interact with research and how researchers lobby policymakers.
  • Lost money:Top UK economists have criticised £6 million a year in “perverse” quality-related cuts to their field, part of more than £100 million lost in the social sciences more broadly, despite a sharp improvement in Research Excellence Framework ratings. (THE)
  • Women’s Health Strategy for England – implementation.
  • Research security: article in The Times; Wonkhe blog
  • Intellectual Property: The N8 Research Partnership – an alliance of eight universities in the north of England – has delivereda statement on rights retention, strongly recommending that researchers “do not by default transfer intellectual property rights to publishers and instead use a rights retention statement as standard practice.” (Wonkhe)
  • ARIA: We’ve been writing about ARIA for so long that it feels like old news. However, it’s only right to mention the Government has now formally launched ARIA and it was legally established on 25 January. The link contains basic information about the purpose of ARIA and Wonkhe inform that Five new members have been appointed to the board, including former chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce Kate Bingham and new Chief Financial and Operations Officer Antonia Jenkinson and that ARIA also announcedthat it would begin recruiting programme directors in the week of 6 February.
  • NHS Clinical Research at risk: The Lords Science and Technology Committee wroteto the Steve Barclay (Minister for Health and Social Care) warning that the current state of clinical research, pressures on the NHS, and a declining workforce is putting the future of clinical research in the NHS in jeopardy. The committee also emphasised that without urgent action patients will miss out on innovative treatments and the UK will miss out on economic growth. This webpage gives the best summary of the situation and the Committee’s recommendations which include mention of universities. Postdoctoral career insecurity is also mentioned and the Committee recommend offering longer contracts with the expectation of permanent positions to follow.
  • International collaboration: New Wonkhe blog – Becoming a science superpower relies not only on national research capacity but finding reliable international partners.
  • Research catapults: A new blog on Wonkhe – Catapults in context – Catapults are getting more funding and more political attention. But what do they do and what are they for?
  • Innovation: UKRI announced their cross-research council responsive mode pilot scheme which offers funding for interdisciplinary ideas that transcend, combine or significantly span disciplines. The full fund is worth £32.5 million and UKRI intend to make 26 awards.
  • R&D tax credits for small and medium sized enterprises are still contentious and Shadow BEIS Minister Chi Onwurah voiced concerns during oral questions: AMLo Biosciences is a Newcastle University spin-out whose groundbreaking research will save lives by making cancer diagnosis easier and more accurate. AMLo spends millions on research and reinvests all its research and development tax credits into R&D. The Government’s tax credit changes will halve what AMLo can claim, meaning less research and fewer new jobs. Its investors may ask for it to move abroad, where R&D is cheaper. Many Members have similar examples in their constituencies. Will the Minister explain why the Government issued no guidance, gave no support and had no consultation on the changes to SME R&D tax credits? Does he accept that whether in respect of hospitality heating bills or spin-out science spend, the Government are abandoning small businesses? Kevin Hollinrake (Small Business Minister) responded on behalf of the Government suggesting that the Government are trying to fix the problem: Clearly, we have to balance the interests of the taxpayer with the interests of small business. We have to make sure that the money that is being utilised for R&D is properly spent, and there were concerns about abuse of the small business R&D scheme. It is good that the Treasury is now looking into the matter and looking to move towards a simplified universal scheme, which I would welcome and on which there is a consultation. I absolutely agree that we need to make sure we have the right support for research and development in this country, not least for SMEs.

Parliamentary Questions:

  • ARIA funding flexibility.
  • Monitoring the UK’s innovation clusters
  • Confirmation of the total Government spend on R&I in 2018 as £12,765 million, 2019 as £13,542 and 2020 as £15,266
  • Horizon Europe: If the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, the Government will be ready with a comprehensive alternative, including a suite of transitional measures and longer-term programmes, funded from the budget set aside for association to European programmes. As stated in my speech at Onward UK on 11 Jan 2023, these programmes will enable the UK to meet its global Science Superpower and Innovation Nation ambitions. Details of the transitional measures have already been published, and the Department will publish more detailed proposals on the longer-term programmes in due course.

Regulatory: OfS under fire

Matt Western has been demonstrating his worth as Shadow HE Minister recently by asking a series of useful parliamentary questions. This includes Matt questioning Minister Halfon on whether the OfS will increase the registration fee for universities (because the fee is set by DfE). Halfon’s response:

  • No final decision has been made on any fee increase. The department is currently considering the level those fees should be set at for the 2023/24 academic year, to ensure that the OfS can perform its important functions effectively, ensuring students receive high quality education and value for money.
  • This includes continuing investigations to address pockets of low quality HE provision and deliver new duties under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

It’s this last element that’s the kicker because fee increases are expected to be tied to the newer closer regulatory interventions on course quality and free speech.

You’ll recall a couple of weeks ago that the mission groups wrote to a select committee urging them to look how OfS regulate the sector. The Russell Group have spoken out again, on the same issue because the proposed increase in registration fees is of 13-15% whilst student maintenance loans were only uplifted by 2.8%. Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group stated:

  • We’ve been clear with Department for Education that, before any increase in the Office for Students’ fees is considered, the regulator should demonstrate clearly how this extra funding will bring genuine benefit to students and how it plans to show that it is itself operating in the most efficient and effective way… It’s a frankly bizarre move given the perspective of the maintenance loan uplift, and also because it is not clear if the Office for Students has actually asked for this level of increase. Instead, the 13% figure seems to be coming more from political angles and linked primarily to responsibilities the Office for Students may get if and when the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill becomes law.
  • Instead of bumping up its fees…the Office for Students should be cutting them, and substantially…
  • while Parliament wrestles with the closing stages of the Free Speech Bill, maybe it should instead put a little more effort into scrutinising existing legislation and the priorities of the Government, its departments and the regulator with respect to students as they try to stay focused on their studies while their maintenance loans run out.

Dr Tim Bradshaw wrote further on the topic in a HEPI blog and you can also read the Russell Group’s analysis on student losses as maintenance loans fail to keep up with inflation here.

Another corker from Matt Western that the Government slightly sidestepped is whether the OfS Director for Free Speech will commit to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. All HE institutions have been pushed hard in recent years to sign up to the definition. Minister Coutinho stated: … We remain committed to the IHRA definition and our belief that providers should adopt it… The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will require reasonably practicable steps to be taken to secure freedom of speech within the law. The Director will oversee the free speech functions in that context.

The OfS, who haven’t been sitting idly by whilst the Russell Group launched their offensive. On Friday Wonkhe reported that: The Office for Students (OfS) is seen by providers as “seeking conflict”, lacking independence from government, and poor at communicating, according to findings of independent research into its relationship with the sector. As a result it has set out plans to “refresh” its engagement with providers – a blog from chief executive Susan Lapworth sets out actions including better communication channels, careful consideration of consultation lengths, and visits to institutions to “improve mutual understanding”.

The research that Wonkhe mentioned was actually published in July and this entertaining Wonkhe blog picks out the highlights from the research feedback. Seven months passed in which OfS had plenty of time to ruminate on their response/action and on Thursday Susan Lapworth published her own blog setting out what OfS would do. Here’s a comment from ‘Andy’ about Susan’s blog (published on Wonkhe):

  • The blog follows Susan Lapworth’s now traditional approach of apologising for the fact that the sector doesn’t understand the OfS, and promising to try and explain more clearly why everything they do is excellent, while not engaging with any substantive criticisms or issues. Coming across, as always, as someone very much untroubled by doubt.
  • The blog also comes with the function to comment but, as always, even mildly critical comments are not published (which is perhaps why the blogs never have any comments on them).
  • There are, as the article gently implies, no obvious signs that anything is going to get any better.

TEF: Finally the last thing anyone who was involved in the recent TEF exercise will want to read about now is…well…TEF. There is an easy read blog (yes it’s Wonkhe again) which contemplates TEF 4.0 and considers whether to embrace it or firmly place one’s head in the sand. Enjoy!

Students

Student Affordability

  • Reassurance from Paul Blomfield MP who chairs the APPG for Students writing about why students should be a priority in cost of living discussions within Parliament.
  • A useful Commons Library briefing the value of student maintenance support details how student maintenance support levels have changed over time and explores whether it’s enough, parental contributions and eligibility. A key point is that the real terms value of loans reduce by 7% in the current academic year and 4% for 2023/24 with the impact that the reduction is larger than any real cuts seen in student support going back to the early 1960s.
  • Parliamentary question confirming there are no plans to offer a repayment holiday on student loans when a graduate falls on hard times.
  • Scotland have suspended their student rent cap stating it had limited impact on annual rents set on the basis of an academic year.
  • Jersey have confirmed that the previous temporary (2022) increase in student maintenance will become permanent. However, the administration are coming under fire because the funding arrangements for next academic year haven’t yet been released.
  • Wonkhe report that Rising costs are “ruining” the university experience by 54 per cent of students, according to new pollingon the cost of living. Seven in ten have considered dropping out, with 37 per cent of these citing living costs as the main reason. The survey, conducted by Opinium on behalf of higher education software provider TechnologyOne, covered a representative sample of more than 1,000 university students across the UK in December and January.

Additional Hardship Funding: In our recent policy update we covered the announcement of additional student hardship funding for 2022-23. Overall there is £11.1m through full-time student premium, £1.6m through the part-time student premium, and £2.3m through the disabled students’ premium.The OfS has now shared allocations with providers and tasked them to consider how to distribute the additional funds. What is interesting policy wise is that Wonkhe highlight that the money is a redistribution of funds which were originally designed to support preparation for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and “emergent priorities” funding. So, another Government initiative that under Rishi’s administration the brakes have been applied to (just lightly). This slowdown could mean that the PM is taking a more considered approach to previous policy initiatives rather than steamrollering them out…or if could just mean a general election is looming on the who-knows-how distant horizon.

Student Accommodation: Wonkhe cover resistance to the Government’s plan to abolish fixed term tenancies: A group of universities, student accommodation providers, and landlord bodies have written to the government warning against the abolition of fixed-term tenancies for students renting privately. The letter, co-signed by Universities UK chief executive Vivienne Stern, argues that the introduction of open-ended tenancies to the student housing market, as proposed by the government, will “undermine the stability and proper functioning of the sector” which is “dependent on property being available at the start of the academic year”. The Telegraph reports on the letter.

Quick news and blogs

Admissions: BTEC still under threat

  • Opposition to the removal of funding for some vocational qualifications continues. The Lords have been vocal in their opposition and a cross-party group urged Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to withdraw plansto cut funding for recently reformed applied general qualifications, such as BTECs.
  • Recent analysis from the Protect Student Choice campaignrevealed more than half of the 134 qualifications currently available (undertaken by 200,000 pupils) and included in the DfE’s performance league tables would be ineligible for funding from 2025.
  • The letter to Minister Keegan included high profile figures such as previous Education Secretaries of State David Blunkett and Ken Baker, former Education (and HE) ministers David Willetts and Jo Johnson, the Deputy Speaker of the Lords Sue Garden, and Labour peer Mike Watson. The letter highlights that previously they had been assured that only a small proportion of the applied generals would be removed, which is why they had supported the Skills Bill. It also states that qualifications to be defunded, which include health and social care, science, IT and business, are popular with students, respected by employers and valued by universities and states that removing them will have a disastrous impact on social mobility, economic growth and our public services. The Peers call on Keegan to remove the qualifications from the scope of the level 3 review and reforms, which are being cut to streamline the current offering and make way for new T Levels.
  • In other House of Lords news a rather eminent group of Peers has come together to launch a select committee on 11-16 year olds’ Education with reference to the skills necessary for the digital and green economy. Former HE Minister Lord Jo Johnson will chair the Committee and you can view the other Members here. The calibre of Peers participating makes this committee one to watch. They include a former education secretary, a Teachers Union general secretary, the Lords deputy Speaker, president of the Independent Schools Association, co-chair of the engineering APPG, and several party education spokespersons.

HESA statistics | Grade inflation (deflation)

It’s always an interesting half hour to peruse the HESA data releases. This time it’s the first look at the overall 2021/22 student statistics. For ease of reading we’ve popped the overall key points here. They cover student numbers and characteristics including disability, ethnicity, deprivation, religion, and age; by subject (spoiler – languages are down again); and qualifications awarded. HESA also published an insight brief – some interesting points:

  • A decrease in EU enrolment coupled with an increase in non-EU international numbers – unsurprisingly there may be a link with the end of home fee eligibility for EU students and the introduction of the Graduate route visa scheme.
  • A decrease – although not to pre-pandemic numbers – in the number of students being awarded first class honours, following a surge in high grades during the 2019/20 and 2020/21 academic years. The government will be pleased although they want it to go back to pre-pandemic as a start and maybe further.
  • An increase in students studying abroad as pandemic-era travel restrictions were lifted.
  • A decrease – although not to pre-pandemic levels – in students living in their parents’ or guardians’ home, following an increase during the height of the pandemic. (Remember this data is before current cost of living concerns.) This is interesting because we wondered if there would be a permanent shift, it seems not but cost of living may mean this changes again.

Wonkhe have a blog on the data release.

On the topic of grade inflation OfS Chief Executive, Susan Lapworth, stated: Today’s figures show a welcome decrease back towards pre-pandemic levels in the proportion of first class degrees awarded to students graduating in the 2021-22 academic year…Left unchecked, grade inflation can erode public trust and it is important that the OfS can and does intervene where it has concerns about the credibility of degrees. Universities and colleges understand that they must ensure that the degrees they award are credible and properly represent students’ achievement. This is the way to maintain the confidence of students, employers and the wider public in higher education qualifications.

Susan also mentioned the UUK and GuildHE initiative which aimed to increase transparency in degree awards: Last year, members of Universities UK and GuildHE committed to address the rising proportion of first class and upper second degrees and pledged to return to pre-pandemic levels of grading. We welcomed that commitment and will continue to monitor trends in classifications to understand factors that may contribute to the sector’s performance.

UUK has a good explainer about the initiative on their website (stick with it through all the drop down clicks): How universities are turning the corner on grade inflation.

If you’re interested in the latest statistics on HE staff from HESA you can read the analysis here.

ChatGPT

ChatGPT was THE topic of conversation over the last few weeks. Here’s a selection of links which vary in their focus and take on the topic.

Inquiries and Consultations

  • Here is the updated inquiries and consultation tracker. Email us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk if you’d like to contribute to any of the current calls.
  • Other news
  • Targets and measures: Wonkhe blog –  the unique strengths of higher education are at risk from the excessive standardisation of targets and performance measures.
  • Emerging Tech: Previous universities minister Chris Skidmore has been appointed to support Sir Patrick Vallance’s work to accelerate the development of emerging tech. Chris will work on green industries. Skidmore will be stepping down as an MP at the next election
  • Degree apprenticeships: Wonkhe tell us Universities UK has released a ten point plan on how to grow degree apprenticeship provision, calling on government to review the costs and burden of regulation – the scale and complexity of which currently “creates a potential barrier to entry” – and reopen the register of apprenticeship training providers, so that universities new to delivering degree apprenticeships “can take the first step to be able to deliver them”. Also: Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon praised universities’ role in promoting degree apprenticeships – including excellent Ofsted inspection reports, which he noted as confirming his belief that universities “are brilliantly placed to deliver these unique programmes”. And we have a Parliamentary Question: Promoting degree apprenticeships to disadvantaged young people.
  • Health workforce: The Welsh government has announced an expansion in training places for the health professional workforce in Wales, with £281.98 million to be invested in 2023-24, an eight per cent increase from the current year. The funding includes £7.14 million for medical training places. (Wonkhe.)
  • Refugee/asylum access to HE: Wonkhe report that a new online portal has launched to promote opportunities for refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK to access university. The Displaced Student Opportunities UK website – created by Refugee Education UK, Student Action for Refugees, and Universities of Sanctuary – is intended to showcase academic scholarships, grants, short courses and mentoring for displaced students.
  • Minimum entry requirements (or limiting student numbers): there is an interesting THE article Second chances. It covers the Netherlands universities who may revert to using lotteries to decide which students are admitted to fixed-capacity programmes. Supporters say we do believe it would promote equity between students. Interesting, but this approach isn’t (currently) being considered for UK HE policy.
  • THE has an article on the MPs who also work in Universities. It’s mainly concerned with the impact of second earnings but does mention how having an MP on staff, even temporarily, could be a lobbying route. This Evening Standard article quantifies the detail a little more on second earnings noting former PMs within the top earners but unfortunately doesn’t dish on how much universities are paying their parliamentarians.
  • Carbon footprint: The Government wants HE (and FE) to publish carbon footprint data by 2025 but there isn’t a reliable data collection system in place. Wonkhe: Enter the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) and a Standardised Carbon Emissions Reporting Framework agreed in consultation with every relevant sector group you can imagine. It’s a voluntary, consensual requirement that will align with an updated and streamlined HESA estates management record and aims to meet providers where they are in terms of collection and reporting. Here’s the blog.
  • New Uni: Blackpool to receive £40 million to build a new carbon neutral university.
  • Turing troubles: Opinion piece in THE on the problems with the Turing Scheme. The authors recommend offering funding more promptly and flexibly.
  • Contract cheating: Wonkhe blog – Daniel Sokol describes a case of blackmail by an essay mill and proposes a new approach to how universities should handle such cases.
  • Student dropout: Wonkhe blog – What sort of support should be offered when students drop out of university? Stephen Eccles shoots and scores.

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HE policy update for the w/e 9th December 2022

Education oral questions always makes for a busy time in the HE world. As you’d expect international students and the cost of living featured heavily, along with some interesting responses from Skills and HE Minister Robert Halfon. Ex-Universities Minister Chris Skidmore will stand down at the next election, there’s a new regulatory typology of HE institutions, FE colleges are to be reclassified (watch out HE), and the big news is the HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill is back in Parliament with a bang!

Parliamentary News

Fresh blood incoming

Parliamentarians are indicating whether they intend to stand as MPs at the next general election. Previous Universities Minister Chris Skidmore has publicly announced he will not stand for re-election. Research Professional comments: Skidmore was a relatively popular figure in the universities minister role and always sought to use his position to celebrate the good that universities can do, playing down any rhetoric about limiting access to universities for those who wished to attend. Skidmore says he intends to “devote the next stage of my career to delivering a more sustainable future for energy and our environment”.  It’s a loss for the HE sector as Skidmore was a stabilising voice genuinely valuing the benefits that universities bring to individuals and the country as a whole.

Politics Home has a running list and commentary on the MPs who will not contest their seat at the next election. It includes some notable long-standing figures. Since Rishi has assumed the leadership clamour for a general election has calmed however parliamentary rules mean the next election must be ‘called’ by December 2024 (so held by January 2025 at latest). The Conservatives are still behind in the polls and they will attempt to plan an election for the time that gives them the best chance of winning.

Education Questions

In Education Oral Questions last Monday, John Penrose MP raised whether the grades of undergraduate degrees in similar subjects were of an equal standard across all HE courses/providers (“no employer or student thinks a 2:1 in English or chemistry is worth the same from every university.”). Instead of seizing on the opportunity to lecture on grade inflation or low quality courses or passing off responsibility to the OfS, Minister Halfon gave a measured response: Our important sector-recognised standards are agreed by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment to ensure that degrees equip students with the skills and knowledge required for them to succeed. Provider autonomy on what and how they teach is vital, and we must avoid driving standardisation over innovation. The Office for Students regulates to these agreed standards and investigates any concerns.

Halfon also stated: my priority for higher education…it is skills, jobs and social justice, by which I mean ensuring that disadvantaged people can climb the higher education ladder of opportunity.

It’s both nothing new and revealing at the same time.

Education Select Committee: Skills background

Nick Fletcher (Conservative) has been appointed to the Education Select Committee. Previously an electrician, he holds a HNC in electrical engineering. This represents yet another appointee to the Committee with a strong skills background and who did not follow the ‘traditional’ A levels to University route. The Government’s messaging on skills and the importance of technical routes have been clear for some time. They’re not just about achieving parity of esteem but also about drawing students away from the academic pathway into skills focused routes which the Government believes will address business skills gaps and productivity – improving the UK’s economic potential. (Some also believe it’s because student loans and support are so costly to the public purse. However, a longer-term thinker may recognise that skills may travel down the same route in future.)

While he is from the party that formed the current Government (and he will be expected to vote on party lines during divisions) he isn’t a minister and his role on the select committee is to engage and investigate education matters as a parliamentarian. I.e. he can interrogate the Education Minister, challenge Government policy and report alternative recommendations. Select Committees are part of Parliament’s scrutiny and checking function. So is a background that fits so well with current Government policy a coincidence, or are they taking advantage of someone who will clearly understand and support the skills agenda and has less experience of the benefits of HE.

Free Speech – the latest

The HE (Freedom of Speech) Bill returned to the Lords. We provided a rundown of the Bill so far in our last policy update.

Last week the HE commentators pointed out what a rough ride the Bill received at Committee Stage in the Lords and are gleefully trumpeting about the proposed amendments for Report Stage. Wonkhe outline some of the amendments: New amendments laid for the Report stage of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill aim to ensure the publication of guidance for students’ unions, prevent universities having to disclose sensitive commercial information to the OfS, and clarify the OfS free speech director’s duty to report to Parliament.

And:

  • Earl Howe has laid several amendments to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill on behalf of the government, following robust criticism from the Lords at Committee Stage. Should the government get its way, the definition of freedom of speech used in the bill will now be compliant with the definition from the European Convention on Human Rights, alumni will not count as “members” of a university or college for the purposes of the bill, and the statutory tort in Clause 4 will only be exercisable by those who have “sustained loss” and who have had recourse to a complaints scheme – including the ability to complain to the Office for Students (OfS).
  • Though Lords will welcome these changes to the bill, it was notable at committee that many expert observers had fundamental misgivings about Clause 4 – and it is unclear if the government has gone far enough to satisfy them. You can read the latest amendments under “amendment papers” on this page.

Several of these Government sponsored amendments are to ameliorate concerns the Lords raised previously. The concessions are not significant, it’s almost as if they’re doffing a cap towards the Lords in hope the Bill will pass through the Report Stage quickly and without other more fundamental objections being raised which would derail this already delayed legislation. However, there are more meaty amendments tabled – more on these later.

Wonkhe also released a blog before the Bill was considered: Three remaining issues with the Free Speech Bill as we head towards report stage in the Lords. It makes some interesting points about student bodies that aren’t as sizeable and well-resourced as the Bill makers had in mind. And on academic failure – Wonkhe point out how the bill is a route around the academic judgement ruling.

Blogs:

THE- Fighting talk:  House of Lords opposition to the Westminster government’s plans to allow universities and students’ unions to be sued over perceived breaches of free speech shows there is “little support for introducing scope for endless litigation”, peers say.

James Herbert in THE on free speech and the need to challenge students: The University of New England president explains his fearless approach to freedom of speech on campus, including the trans/sport debate. Excerpts: more university leaders should embrace controversy… Herbert considers universities to be “marketplaces of ideas” and says good ideas require conversations between different groups of thinkers. “If students get offended because they’ve been told that they shouldn’t get offended or made to feel uncomfortable – I think they should absolutely be made to feel uncomfortable. That’s what university education is all about…It’s strange for me because we’re at a university. But a few people believe that there’s a correct perspective on whatever the issues may be, and if you don’t adhere to it, you’re wrong and a bigot…”

This week the Report Stage has come and gone and we’ve seen some of those amendments pass. Several amendments refining the definition of free speech were accepted. Two notable amendments were also passed.  We explain the basics of these and have added in Wonkhe’s brief explanation of the implications for the HE sector. For more detail do read this Wonkhe piece, it’s excellent.

  • Universities will no longer be able to use non-disclosure agreements in some circumstances (including sexual misconduct or bullying). There was a campaign about this recently and Michelle Donelan was urging universities to sign up to a very wide ranging pledge.

Wonkhe: Universities in England are to be banned from using non-disclosure agreements to settle complaints on campus. The amendment to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – passed during Report stage for the Bill with cross-party support – will apply to any complaint relating to sexual abuse, harassment or misconduct, and other forms of bullying or harassment. Lord Collins of Highbury, the shadow deputy leader of the Lords, said his amendment would “stop a nasty practice of non-disclosure agreements inhibiting free speech”.

On the passing of this amendment Wonkhe say: It’s a major, significant and somewhat surprising win for student and staff campaigners.

The other amendment related to the right of those claiming that their academic freedom had been limited to bring a claim for damages against a university or a student union in the civil courts.    The main argument was whether this was necessary, given that the OfS has regulatory oversight of this area.  No-one expected the government to concede on this, but the amendment removing it was passed in the Lords. Previous Universities minister Lord Willets and others led the charge.

Wonkhe summarise: Meanwhile, the Bill no longer has Clause 4, following peers deciding to vote for an amendment tabled by Lord (David) Willetts. The controversial clause – a statutory tort which would have given those injured by a restriction of their freedom of speech an absolute right to bring a case to a civil court – was defeated by 213 votes to 172. Former universities minister Lord Willetts had expressed concern at government claims that the tort would be “a backstop”, arguing that “if one of these controversies flares up, there will be a lawyer’s letter in the first 24 hours”. The Telegraphand the Times cover the story, and you can watch the Report stage debate on Parliament TV.

It is always interesting to understand what the amendments that were not accepted would have covered. Here’s a quick run through.

The amendment to avoid inconsistency between the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of expression in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights was NOT adopted. Th amendment recognising threats to academic freedom such as academics being able to say that they disagree or agree with values that are imposed on them by institutions trying to make their name as doing the right thing was NOT adopted. The Baroness expanded on her threats: institutions signed up to “third-party organisations that set targets, codes and charters which, in effect, impose demands, often on the curriculum, research priorities and academic content of academic life, that are determined not by the demands of the discipline or scholarship but by fashionable external ideological diktat.” This was the “real threat” to freedom. An interesting point but it was NOT adopted. However, Earl Howe, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, said the Bill would already protect the freedom of academics to put forward opinions about the curriculum content adopted by their provider or third party organisations with which the provider was affiliated.

The amendment which allows academic staff to seek redress if they felt the likelihood of their securing promotion or different jobs at a provider had been reduced as a result of them exercising their free speech was not moved (therefore NOT adopted).

Next is the third reading, and potentially the ping pong between both houses over the final matters.

Research

Horizon Europe

It feels as if Horizon Europe has been a dead duck for so long even the smell has disappeared now. The UK Government blame Europe, Europe blames the UK Government. There is no association for the UK (currently) and the Government is rolling out alternative support schemes. The Government continues to maintain the party line that association is preferred but plan B is underway. Last week was no exception with Science and Research Minister George Freeman emphasising continued efforts to associate with Horizon Europe: I was in Paris last week negotiating. We are still actively pushing to be in Horizon, Copernicus and Euratom, but we have made provision, and early in the new year Members will start to see that we will be rolling out additional support for fellowships, innovation and global partnerships. If UK scientists cannot play in the European cup, we will play in the world cup of science.

The Minister also confirmed that the £484 million alternative investments will be distributed by existing trusted and experienced UK delivery partners, such as UKRI.

Additional Funding

Wonkhe reports: Research England has confirmed allocations for the additional QR funding and Research Capital Investment Fund (RCIF) grants announced by the government last week. Eligible providers – those already in receipt of QR or RCIF funding for 2022-23 – will receive an allocation in proportion to their current entitlement, though with QR funds capped at £5 million and RCIF at £3 million. UKRI has also outlined the disbursement mechanisms for the new Talent and Research Stabilisation funding, which will be allocated according to historic performance in four Horizon 2020 schemes.

Quick News

Regulatory

Regulatory Quick News

  • THE – Great expectations: Almost two-thirds of English universities could potentially face sanctions for failing to meet new quality thresholds that were introduced last month, analysis suggests.
  • US regulatory signs: THE – Small print:US universities are promising to make clearer to students their actual costs, agreeing through their nationwide leadership associations to create a single standard for understanding and comparing net prices and financial aid offers.
  • Research Professional report that more than 300 people applied to be “boots-on-the-ground” inspectorsfor the Office for Students.

Regulatory Parliamentary questions

OfS typology

The OfS has developed a new typology system for classifying providers. Institutions are categorised by two criteria – by financial attributes and by the make-up of their student population or study characteristics (aka tariff).

The new system is disappointing as a missed opportunity to change the language in this area and move away from the unhelpful Russell Group/everyone else that the press can’t seem to move beyond.  But in practice, the chances of these becoming standard labels in policy circles is very small, given the catchy names they have selected. The OfS specifically state: These typologies have no regulatory status. They do not imply any particular regulatory status or judgement of regulatory risk for providers in one group rather than another, and they will not inform our regulatory decision making.

As such they will sit alongside the other categorisation that Research England have done for the KEF – that has not become mainstream (or at least not so far).

Wonkhe have a blog.

FE reclassification

We’ve seen lots of reclassifications over the last few years. Reclassifying how student loan payments were counted within the national debt resulted in teeth gnashing about the huge outlay on HE students and led to calls for more skills based technical education instead of the academic route. The reclassification of R&D spending resulted in artificially hitting R&D targets early (prompting sector fears the Government would not honour the original spend intention).

Now the Office for National Statistics has ruled that FE colleges should be reclassified as public sector bodies. Research Professional (RP) do a wonderful job at explaining the implications of this. And remind us that the implications for higher education are huge as ONS will also perform a classification review on the HE sector (reporting December 2024 – interesting given the potential election timing).

In short, the review could impact on universities’ ability to borrow money and insidiously impact on Governance. RP say:

  • Suddenly, the direction of travel for government policy on skills does not look so benign for universities. Once, Theresa May spoke about universities working more effectively with schools. Now there is a genuine risk that universities could be taken under the control of the DfE as part of public sector education.
  • Anyone familiar with the onerous principles of the higher education restructuring regime proposed by the DfE during the Covid-19 pandemic as the condition for any government bailout will understand what would be at stake for universities brought under direct control by Whitehall. Everything from executive pay to enforced merger would be on the table.
  • The fact that this is now a possibility through the mechanism of the 2022 Skills bill ought to send alarm bells ringing throughout university boardrooms. Universities will be quickly lawyering up and deploying the lobbyists in force.
  • Some will say this could not possibly happen to universities, there are international treaties that guarantee the autonomy of higher education institutions. The same used to be said about the Free Speech bill, and there are no international treaties that require universities to be designated as part of the private sector.
  • If we consider last week’s news that the government was said to be considering only allowing “elite” universities to recruit international students, is a pattern of intention emerging from the government? For example, might we see a scheme of internationalisation and research intensification for the Russell Group and nationalisation and skills provision for everyone else?

Students

There has been a surprising amount of focus on students’ eating habits last week alongside big coverage of the latest analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which suggests that England’s poorest students will receive £1,000 less support with living costs in real-terms this academic year than they would have in 2020/21 – a significant cut each month. Key points:

  • If inflation forecasts had been accurate, maintenance loan entitlements would have kept rising over the last two years. Students from the poorest families studying outside London and living away from home would now be entitled to £11,190 in living cost support – around £1,500 more than they are actually receiving. Put differently, these students are £125 per month out of pocket merely because of errors in inflation forecasts.
  • These cuts in support will affect students potentially for many years to come. There is no mechanism in place for these cuts ever to be undone, as past forecast errors are not considered when the adjustment in entitlements for the following year is determined.
  • This means that – unless and until policy changes – any cuts will stay in place. Indeed, if the government continues to use out-of-date inflation forecasts for uprating, the IFS expects a small further cut in the real value of entitlements next academic year.
  • Most students fall through the cracks in the government’s ‘cost of living’ support package. They are typically not eligible for benefits, and so are not entitled to targeted payments for those on low incomes. Most households received £400 towards their energy bills this winter but, as others have pointed out, we still do not know whether students living in halls will be eligible for payments through an expansion of that scheme.
  • Government ministers regularly defer to universities’ own ‘hardship funds’ and to the £261 million of funding from the ‘student premiums’. IFS say this overstates the funding available to support students in financial hardship, and the real value of funding being provided has in fact been cut compared with last year.
  • The expectation of financial hardship may prevent prospective students from attending university in the first place. Analysis from the IFS shows a 21-year-old student could earn nearly £1,200 more working in a minimum wage job this academic year than they will receive in maintenance support. This gap is set to increase to more than £2,000 next academic year – the biggest gap since the national minimum wage was introduced in 1999.
  • Correcting the fall in maintenance loan entitlements will be less expensive for the taxpayer than it may at first appear. This is because students can be expected to repay a portion of any extra maintenance support over the coming decades. The IFS estimate that restoring maintenance loan entitlements this academic year to the same real value they had in 2020–21 would cost £0.9 billion for the cohort starting university in 2022, or around 70% of the initial outlay. Completely correcting forecast errors made in the last two years would cost £1.3 billion for this cohort.

Research Professional cover the report: inflation-related cuts to maintenance loans are worse than first appeared. In the playbook they state: On Monday, skills and higher education minister Robert Halfon claimed in parliament that the government was doing “everything possible” to help students during the cost of living crisis. After today’s IFS paper, he may wish to revisit that analysis.

Parliamentary questions

A selection of the best news and articles relating to student matters this week:

  • A short exchange on student cost of living support in last Monday’s oral education questions. Excerpt – Skills Minister Halfon: I reiterate that we are doing everything possible to help students with financial hardship.
  • THE: Government action including more hardship funding, bigger maintenance loans and restored grants would all complement universities’ efforts to help students cope with the cost-of-living crisisargues Sarah Stevens, director of policy at the Russell Group.
  • Universities Minister Halfon provides a comprehensive reply in response how the Autumn Statement (2022) supports students. He also states that a Treasury-led review will be launched to consider how to support households and businesses with energy bills after April 2023 (includes students).
  • Wonkhe: Learning from students – and from their dataearly interventions are key in improving student engagement, so it makes sense that engagement data needs to be used as early as possible in targeting these. Low engagement four weeks into the first term offers an accurate prediction of retention – as engagement rises so too do predicted grades. And it turns out that the traditional “welcome week” may mean that September starts have a better overall experience than those who start in January. See blog: Drawing links between insight, practice, and student success
  • Spiking: Home Secretary Suella Braverman respondedto a letter from the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Spiking yesterday outlining the work the Department for Education and universities have undertaken to tackle spiking in night-time venues which was predominantly a communications campaign aimed at perpetrators. She also promised an update on the need for a specific criminal offence for spiking before Christmas and a statutory report on the nature and prevalence of spiking by April. (Wonkhe)
  • Wonkhe: The Financial Times has a pieceon the student housing crisis.

Alternative Student Finance

The Government has been promising Sharia compliant finance for almost a decade now and this was highlighted in last Monday’s Education Topical Questions. Clearly there still isn’t a solution (yet) and Skills Minister Halfon believes it will be introduced as part of the future Lifelong Learning changes. Here is a similar parliamentary question, and this the actual exchange that took place in the chamber:

Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): It is estimated that 4,000 Muslim young people every year choose, with a heavy heart, not to enter higher education because their faith bars them from paying interest on a student loan. David Cameron said nine years ago that he would fix that. Will the new ministerial team, whom I welcome, commit to introducing alternative student finance and give us some indication of when that will be?

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Robert Halfon): I am strongly committed to introducing alternative student finance, something my Harlow constituents have also lobbied me about. The issue is that we want, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, to introduce the lifelong learning entitlement, and we will introduce alternative student finance in conjunction with that.

The constituency connection that Halfon mentions is important. MPs want to be re-elected (and a General Election is on the not-so-distant horizon. It represents the twin pressure on Ministers – the need to deliver on behalf of the Government and the need to represent and satisfy the views of those that ultimately elect them to parliament. Having a constituency connection may make the matter more pressing for Halfon and therefore may result in a system finally being set it in place.

Admissions

Personal Statements

Last update we mentioned HEPI’s paper on the inadequacies of admissions personal statements. Wonkhe have a rejoiner from a guest blogger: It may well be a good idea to rethink the personal statement, but for Katherine Lloyd Clark there are other admissions issues that are more pressing.

Snippets:

  • Universities themselves and the schools they support conspire to hide the real dynamics of HE admissions from the applicant and parent community. Universities are afraid to reveal that their processes have become progressively impersonal over time.
  • Now we dispatch beautiful branded CRM messages in bulk to inboxes, portals, and apps, praying that we don’t make a mistake affecting thousands. Our offer processes are automated, at least in part, grouping those with the same grades ready for release when the data analysts say it’s safe. 
  • Amid all this, the applicants themselves, quite rightly, just want some agency over their own future and to believe that the application process will deliver it. This is entirely reasonable…But unless you apply to…a discipline that offers an interview, agency will largely escape you. Volume dictates this. UCAS is flagging that there will be a million undergraduate applicants by 2026.
  • Are personal statements a key element of the problem? For the most part, no. Predicated and achieved grades still matter most, sadly.

Admissions Cycle – record numbers

UCAS’ 2022 end of cycle data highlights record numbers of 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas (POLAR4 quintile 1) have been accepted onto a course – 32,420 students compared to 30,910 last year (+4.9%). It narrows the entry rate gap between the most and least advantaged to 2.1 – a record low.

Key points:

  • Growth in demand for places has not discouraged UK 18-year-olds, with 330,780 applicants this year – up from 315,945 in 2021 (+4.7%) and significantly higher than the pre-pandemic number of 280,815 in 2019 (+17.8%).
  • This uptick has translated into 277,315 UK 18-year-olds gaining a place, the highest-ever number to date – an increase on 275,235 in 2021 (+0.8%) and 241,515 in 2019 (+14.8%).
  • This despite more cautious offer-making from universities and colleges, leading to a 54.3% overall offer rate at higher tariff institutions, down from 59.7% last year.
  • The number of UK 18-year-olds securing their firm choice of course (200,615) is second only to last year’s high (214,015) – 72.3% of all placed UK 18-year-olds, compared to 77.8% in 2021.
  • A total of 761,740 applicants of all ages and domiciles applied in 2022 (+2.1% on 2021), of which 563,175 were accepted (+0.2% on 2021).
  • The overall entry rate for UK 18-year-olds is 37.5% this year, the second highest on record (slightly down on 38.3% in 2021 but up from 34.1% in 2019). Broken down by nation, the 2022 entry rates are: 38.4% in England, 40.6% in Northern Ireland, 32.4% in Wales and 30.1% in Scotland.
  • All regions in England bar one saw an uplift in 18-year-olds being accepted onto a course compared to last year. West Midlands saw the biggest increase (+2.5%) while the South West saw the only decline (4.6%) Accepted applicants in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland remained comparative to 2021 figures.
  • In total, 92% of applicants (all ages, all domiciles) received an offer, the same proportion as last year. UCAS analysis found that 21,080 active applicants did not have a place on results day (Free to be placed in Clearing), of which 12,010 were subsequently accepted onto a course (57.0%).
  • There has been a 22.1% increase in the number of apprenticeship views on Career Finder compared to last year.
  • Continued demand among international students of all ages – with the highest number of accepted applicants on record from China (+13.4% on 2021), India (+43.7%) and Nigeria (+32.7%).
  • This was the first year of T-levels results – the vast majority received an offer and 80.2% were placed.

Blog: Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of  UCAS, blogs for Wonkhe: Five key findings from UCAS end of cycle data for 2022.

Access & Participation

Care experienced students

UCAS published Next Steps: What Is The Experience Of Students From A Care Background In Education? stating that while care-experienced students aspire to HE 60% receive no specific support relevant to their circumstances when deciding on their options. Key points:

  • Education disruptions: 19% had moved schools once, 11% had moved schools multiple times.
  • Care-experienced students’ journeys are often longer and nonlinear: one third of applicants were aged 21 or above, compared to one fifth of applicants without a care background. Applicants were more than twice as likely to take the Access to HE Diploma.
  • Applicants have lower average attainment prior to HE and are more likely to attend lower tariff providers. 51% less likely than their non-care-experienced peers to achieve the highest grades and 30% less likely to be accepted at higher tariff providers.
  • Access to specific guidance about going to HE as a care-experienced student is inconsistent: 60% stated they received no guidance specific to being care-experienced during their application journey. Applicants seek advice from a wide variety of trusted people, not all of whom will have had access to the latest information and resources about UCAS applications or the specific support available in HE for care-experienced students.
  • The intersectionality of care experience with other personal characteristics presents additional challenges: these applicants are 38% more likely than non-care-experienced applicants to come from the most disadvantaged areas (POLAR4 Quintile 1), twice as likely to be from Mixed or Black ethnic groups, 79% more likely to identify as LGBT+, almost twice as likely to share a disability, and nearly three times as likely to share a mental health condition.
  • Applicants do not always talk about their circumstances with school staff: only a quarter were always open about their care background, and a third did not discuss this with anyone at school unless they had to.
  • They have positive expectations for support in HE: two thirds expect the pastoral and educational support and student living to be good or very good, and two in five believe the social and extracurricular support will be good or very good.
  • Applicants from a care background are motivated by career prospects, especially in health and social care: they are 179% more likely to apply for health and social care than non-care-experienced students, and 50% more likely to apply for nursing and midwifery.
  • HE choices are strongly influenced by applicants’ individual support needs: over three quarters prioritised access to mental health and wellbeing support, with financial support, accommodation, and pre-entry support also important influential factors.

Recommendations start on page 7 of the report.

UCAS’ Clare Marchant blogs for Wonkhe on the report findings: Bridging the gap between ambitions and access for care experienced students.

Social Mobility Commission: Employer Advisory Group

The Social Mobility Commission announced the membership of its new Employer Advisory Group (EAG) which aims to drive social mobility in the workplace in the UK and support the Commission’s employer focused programme of work. Scroll down on this link to read about the people appointed to the EAG.

You can also read the oral evidence on the work of the Social Mobility Commission examined by the Women and Equalities Committee here.

International

No promises or reassurance to the sector on international students were made in last Monday’s Education topical questions (although there were some weaselly words):

Q: Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con) – …Can my right hon. Friend categorically confirm that the UK will continue to welcome students from across the word to all our universities?

  • A: Robert Halfon: I have good news for my right hon. Friend: we were proud to meet our international target of 600,000 students by 2030; we have actually met that target already. It is currently worth £25.9 billion to the economy and it will be £35 billion by 2030.

Q: Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP) – Reports that this Government could cause monumental damage to higher education by restricting international students to so-called elite universities have been described by former Universities Minister Lord Johnson as a “mindless crackdown”. Can the Secretary of State confirm that this Government will not implement such a mindless policy?

  • A: Gillian Keegan – I can confirm that we have a world-class education system and we will attract the brightest students from around the world. That is good for our universities and delivers growth at home. We were proud to meet our international student ambition earlier this year to attract 600,000 international students per year by 2030. Today that is worth £29.5 billion and we are now focused on bringing in £35 billion from our education exports, which are the best in the world.

They’re both stock government responses which could mean (a) doom and gloom – the Government are making no effort to refute because they are seriously considering a reduction in student numbers (whilst trumpeting support for targets already reached) or (b) they are undecided on which side to come down – and weighing up all the factors (e.g. economics, income vs cost to the country, HE funding that isn’t drawn from the public purse, and the likelihood of  in-party revolt at a change to restricting international student numbers). Cynics would also point out the continued news coverage is distracting away from other Government business so may be serving them well.

Here is the piece that Carol Monaghan MP quotes from by former HE Minister, now Lord Jo Johnson who spoke out against curbs on international student recruitment last week. THE: Backwards step:  It is “hard to imagine” a policy more likely to torpedo the Westminster government’s higher education policy goals than a “mindless crackdown” on international student enrolment, former universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone warns.

The NUS have responded to the Government rhetoric on reducing international student numbers:

  • International students are our friends and colleagues, and benefit our lives at universities, colleges, in workplaces and communities across the UK beyond measure. The government is treating that rich diversity of experience and humanity like a number on a spreadsheet.
  • This is hugely cruel to those students, who have taken the brave step of travelling to pursue their education and sometimes moving their families across the world.
  • This move would be grounded in hypocrisy- the government starves the education sector of funding and forgoes concern for international students and migrant staff. This has encouraged and legitimised institutional strategy to exploit international students as cash cows through astronomical fees and violent visa regimes.
  • Against the backdrop of the UK skills shortage, it is laughable that the government would be actively preventing international students from studying here.

Dods report that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Students are speaking out to raise concerns about the inclusion of international students in net migration figures and reiterating the findings from their 2018 inquiry which called for international students to be removed from the migration figures. The APPG for International Students has consistently argued against international students being counted in net migration figures, not least as international students are temporary immigrants with the overwhelming majority returning to their home countries on completion of their studies. Based on Home Office data from exit checks, the Oxford Migration Observatory reports that at least 98% of non-EU students leave the UK on time and before their visa expires.

Paul Blomfield MP, Co-Chair of the APPG International Students, said: Nobody’s concerned about international students in the debate on net headline migration numbers. They provide a huge benefit bringing nearly £30 billion a year to the UK economy, supporting jobs and businesses in every part of the UK, including those which the Government claims it wants to level up. This student group plays an important role in our universities, enriching our campuses, and they bolster Britain’s place in the world at a time when we need it.

Co-Chair Lord Bilimoria commented: As a former international student myself I know the value of the British university degree, our universities are the finest in the world along with the USA. The APPG for International Students recommended a target for international students which the government listened to and we have now crossed the figure set of 600,000. International students are one of the strongest elements of soft power the UK has, not only enriching the experience of our domestic students but building generation long links and friendships; there are more world leaders educated at British universities than any other country along with the USA.

Paul Blomfield MP: If the Government don’t welcome international students and their families, they’ll simply turn to one of the many countries that will. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary must think again and drop this backwards-looking proposal. Lord Bilimoria agreed and said: We are in a global race and many of our competitor countries do not include international students when calculating net migration figures as the vast majority of international students are not immigrants!

Degree apprenticeships

A Sutton Trust report The Recent Evolution of Apprenticeships: Apprenticeship pathways and participation since 2015 has garnered interest because it finds a greater underrepresentation on higher and degree apprenticeships from low-income background young people (those classified as older are represented in greater numbers. There is also an overall decline in apprenticeship starts over the last few years with this effect exacerbated for individuals from areas of high deprivation. This despite the continued emphasis the Government has placed on technical education and apprenticeships since the last general election, the 2017 Apprenticeship Levy changes, and an increase in apprenticeships as a route to employment from young people. No comparison is made between the levels of deprived young people who access HE degrees (traditional route) and the numbers accessing degree and higher apprenticeships. The report feels as though it misses the point on a number of occasions and the recommendations for change could be seen to be in line with the political approach of the Conservative party.

Recommendations (our comments in blue text):

  1. While the growth of degree apprenticeships in recent years is welcome, action should be taken to further boost the supply of higher and degree level apprenticeships targeted at young people, and advertised externally on portals such as UCAS or Find an Apprenticeship. Yet they don’t seem to consider revising their methodology to examine the effect that younger people from deprived backgrounds may take longer to reach degree level apprenticeships, nor investigate the link between mid-lower GCSE attainment meaning degree apprenticeships are not pursued as the younger ages.
  2. The apprenticeship levy should be reviewed, with social mobility and widening participation as an explicit criterion. The balance of apprenticeships across age groups, levels, those with equivalent qualifications and existing staff versus new starters should be examined.
  3. Measures should be taken to rebalance the profile of apprenticeships back towards those who are younger and more disadvantaged. This could include:
    1. Requiring employers to ‘top up’ levy funding for certain categories of apprentice, or otherwise incentivising the creation of apprenticeships most conducive to increasing opportunities for groups who need it most. A nifty route for the Government to spend less on degree apprenticeships, except for those top GCSE performing degree apprentices who are already making it. Although if skills gaps are the genuine aim one would hope the Government would remove this top up requirement for older degree apprentices (because it takes them longer to get there – otherwise surely this is a negative social mobility double whammy).
    2. A maximum salary ceiling for levy funded apprentices, meaning that limited public funding is concentrated on providing opportunities for those who would not otherwise be able to afford training.
  4. In order to improve transparency and ensure that apprenticeships are delivering for social mobility, levy employers should be required to publish anonymised statistics on the age, level, socio-economic background and salary level of apprentices, along with the proportion of new and existing staff benefiting from apprenticeships. So businesses supporting existing staff already on good salaries who are aspiring higher can be easily picked out of the data. It’s easy to understand the Government’s aim here – to ensure funding is spent on those currently outside of the workforce and train them up to a skilled worker from zero to hero. However, it is slightly at odds with the apprenticeship model of working and training within a company to meet their skills needs and gradually progress up the career ladder to highly skilled labour.
  5. Universities should step up access and outreach activities for degree apprenticeships, working in collaboration with employers and harnessing the experience, skills and resources of both.

Sir Peter Lampl (Sutton Trust): today’s report highlights that there is much work still to be done. Young people and those in deprived areas have not been the beneficiaries so far of this expansion. If we are to harness degree apprenticeships as a driver of social mobility, and as a high quality alternative to university, we need many more of these opportunities open to, and targeted at, 17, 18 and 19 year olds leaving school…we must take this opportunity to build a system that will create genuinely new opportunities for those who will benefit most. We need a step change to really deliver apprenticeships as the engine of opportunity they can be.

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: TASO call for evidence on risks to equality of opportunity | 23 December 2022

Other news

Transnational: THE – Farrar cited:  Universities will play a “critical role” in addressing some of the transnational challenges the world faces in the 21st century, the director of the Wellcome Trust says.

Graduate Mobility: THE article – Returning home after graduation? It’s more complicated than that: Research reveals more detailed picture of where students go to work after finishing their degree. It’s a quick read!

State scholarship: Parliamentary question from Shadow Education Minister Matt Western asking about progress on the establishment of a UK national state scholarship (announced February 2022). Halfon confirmed that the Government are considering the responses to the HE Reform consultation on the matter and will provide further information in due course.

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HE Policy Update for the w/e 17th November 2022

We’re keeping the news as light as possible this week and running a catch-up feature on the important research announcements that didn’t reach you over the summer period.

Autumn statement

You can read the detail behind the headlines on the autumn statement here.

Education Select Committee – new chair

Robin Walker has been elected as the Chair of the Education Committee, beating Caroline Ansell, David Simmonds, and former schools minister Jonathan Gullis. Walker did a stint as Minister of State for School Standards (2021-22) as well as other non-education junior ministerial roles. He’s also participated in APPGs on Apprenticeships, Financial Education for Young People, Youth Employment & Outdoor education, and was recently elected as the vice-Chair for the APPG for Students.

The Education select committee is responsible for scrutinising the work of Government and holding them to account for education matters. In this Walker has stated he is keen to learn from different parts of the UK as well as internationally. He states he will continue Halfon’s (the previous Chair) work on skills, SEN, attendance and levelling up. However, he intends for the Committee to also focus on childcare, safeguarding and the cost pressures facing schools and families. There’s been no mention of HE. Walker has described himself as a constructive critic of the Government and stated he is passionate about creating opportunity for businesses and for people to escape benefit dependency

Walker is from a political family, his father was also an MP. He went to a private school and read history at Oxford, and he interned in a US Congressman’s office. Prior to his political career he ran his own public relations business, staying on as an advisor after his appointment to parliament. Ultimately, he had to resign his advisory position following a complaint that he was contravening lobbying rules. Prior to parliamentary appointment he was also the press agent to previous local Dorset MP Oliver Letwin. He was the first in his family to attend university and his siblings both work in education – one in SEN and the other in a literacy role. He states he is acutely aware of the challenges and costs of childcare. He also supports a rich curriculum and believes schools should teach a wide range of subjects including STEM, creativity, outdoor education, RSHE, languages, and the arts

In his School’s Minister stint he states he: Presided over the return to school after the pandemic; co-wrote the White Paper including the levelling up premium & Education Investment Areas; prioritised deprivation in the funding formula & delivered the largest ever cash increase in schools funding; Co-chaired the Attendance Action Alliance bringing together the Childrens’ Commissioner, schools and councils to tackle severe absence; reformed the National Tutoring Programme to be schools-led; supported early delivery of manifesto pledge on £30k starting salaries for teachers; made preparations for the first successful exam series in 3 years, and previously he launched the Natural History GCSE.

Walker has a clear focus on schools and children. It remains to be seen how quickly he’ll find his feet with the tertiary and skills agenda. The Chair of a select committee is a driving force in what a committee selects for their inquiries. This may mean HE matters feature less or simply continue in the vein Halfon started. Or he may delve into new waters to grasp the agenda. Focussing on deprivation and access to HE would be an obvious starting point.

Research – round up

A round up of the key news and announcements.

Science superpower lacks cape

The Lords Science and Technology Committee published “Science and technology superpower”: more than a slogan?, their report following the inquiry into Delivering a UK science and technology strategy. The report states that the Government’s unfocused strategy means that science policy has been let down by short-termism and a proliferation of disparate strategies without an overarching vision. They go on to state that there are a large number of government bodies with unclear remits and interactions, which means that it is often unclear who owns a specific policy. At the time of writing, there was no science minister, which further blurs lines of accountability. [There is now, although the division of responsibilities between George and Nus has yet to be clarified.]

The report points to the lack of an implementation plan as a key weakness and a barrier to becoming a high-tech, high-growth economy. Of course, with a new PM and even more ministerial changes to come the impetus behind the UK as a science superpower may wane. The Lords call on the incoming Cabinet to maintain the commitment to R&D funding and the focus on science and technology– it will be fundamental to economic growth and improving public services.

The Lords highlight areas of critique:

  • Internationally, the Government’s own-collaborate-access framework was meant to clarify policy on strategic areas of technology, but the Committee thought it was poorly understood and inconsistently applied. The failure to associate with Horizon Europe and cuts to Official Development Assistance have damaged the UK’s reputation as a collaborative partner, and risk damaging its science base.
  • The Government hopes to leverage private sector funding to reach the 2.4% target. It has identified areas for reform, such as public procurement, regulations, and pension rules, but these are perennial suggestions and the Committee was unconvinced that this attempt would more successful. Industry has been insufficiently engaged with the Government’s strategy.

The full recommendations to Government can be read on pages 56-61. The Government was due to respond to the Committee’s report by now. However, given the political disruption it isn’t surprising the response is late.

Baroness Brown of Cambridge Chair of the Committee, reiterates the key points in her statement:

  • The Government has high ambitions for science and technology, which the Committee welcomes…But science policy has been far from perfect. R&D is a long-term endeavour which requires sustained focus and an implementation plan. But we found a plethora of strategies in different areas with little follow-through and less linking them together. There are numerous bodies and organisations with unclear or apparently overlapping responsibilities, and more are being added in the form of the National Science and Technology Council and the Office for Science and Technology Strategy. It is often unclear who is accountable for individual policies, and critically, for delivery. 
  • The Government has suggested areas of reform to increase private sector investment in R&D such as public procurement for innovation, regulatory reform, and R&D tax credits. But these areas are perennial suggestions. New ideas – and specific details – developed with business are needed if this time the outcomes are to be different.
  • “On the international stage, the failure to associate to Horizon Europe, and recent cuts to Official Development] Assistance, have damaged the UK’s reputation. The UK cannot be a science superpower in isolation; relationships must be repaired.
  • UK science and technology remains strong and respected around the world, but they will not deliver their full potential for the UK with an inconsistent and unclear science policy from Government. A new administration must retain the ambition for science and technology and develop a clear plan for delivery.

More superheroes – selecting a cape

Centre-right think tank, Onward, published under the same theme – Rocket science: how can the UK become a science superpower? making recommendations for the UK to become a true “science superpower”. Their researchers identified four characteristics of science superpowers which they say should guide the UK’s own ambitions:

  1. First, science superpowers prioritise academic foundations. That is to say, competitive R&D investment, well-regarded research institutions and strong intellectual property assets.
  2. Second, science superpowers have deep knowledge networks, in that they host the best research, attract the most promising scientists, and lead global regulation of technologies.
  3. The third trait of science superpowers is absorptive capacity: the ability to absorb ideas within the real economy for economic benefit.
  4. Fourth, science superpowers typically exert their scientific influence overseas through technology exports– the sale of high-tech products and services, including intangibles, overseas.

They argue that, to become a science superpower, the UK science ecosystem must be reformed to meet five key tests:

  1. Strategic direction. The Government should be more assertive in deploying R&D funding in areas of UK comparative advantage or to address a strategic weakness.
  2. Applying ourselves. The UK’s higher education system should do much more to encourage application of research, and businesses should respond by increasing their own R&D intensity, increasing demand for scientists within the domestic economy.
  3. Policy certainty. Private investment in R&D should be encouraged by giving businesses simpler, long-term incentives providing a stable policy environment that allows companies to plan investments with certainty.
  4. Relentless adoption.The UK should do more to support businesses and individuals to adopt cutting edge technologies so we can fully realise the benefits of technology.
  5. Exporting influence. UK firms could do much more to export their products overseas, particularly intangibles, and to set standards for future technologies to get ahead of these emerging markets.

Onward’s Head of Science and Technology, Matt Burnett said: The COVID-19 pandemic showed us just how important science is for our health security. We need to seize this moment and invest in science and technology to solve the other problems we face such as climate change and the energy crisis. The new Prime Minister should put science and technology at the top of their agenda, lest we be unprepared for the next global crisis.

Lord Bethell, Minister for Technology, Innovation and Life Sciences (2020-21): Working at the frontline of the pandemic innovation, I realised at first hand the huge power of the science at our great universities, and the lack of depth in our industrial capacity to turn that science into deployable solutions. This report is an excellent start to a conversation about how we can use our traditional strengths at the lab-top to turn Britain emphatically into one of the world’s great science superpowers.

Rt Hon Lord Hague, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (2010-2014): An excellent contribution to what should be our most vital national debate. Ensuring science is at the core of our society and economy is indispensable to the UK’s future prosperity. Failure in this field would be fatal to future growth.

George Freeman, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (2014-16); Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Research and Innovation (2021-22), and now Science Minister again (2022): The path to faster growth and better wages starts and ends with science and innovation. The UK is already a Science Superpower in discovering new ideas and building thriving knowledge networks, but we could do much more to apply them for the benefit of the UK’s strategic and economic priorities. This excellent report sets out a bold plan to lift our scientific ambitions and secure our future – it is essential reading for the new Conservative Prime Minister.

Review of UKRI

The independent review of UKRI, led by David Grant, has been published. The report calls for more effort on realising the benefits of a single body rather than a cluster of research councils. Ministers and UKRI leadership have expressed their support for the review’s 18 recommendations, which include investment in harmonising IT systems, clarifying roles and responsibilities within UKRI and with BEIS, and further focus on demonstrating outcomes from their funding.

Recommendations

  • In delivering its efficiency plan, UKRI should aim for simplicity, integration, harmonisation and agility of its systems. These should be objectives of any monitoring framework or performance indicators used to monitor progress and delivery.
  • In delivering its efficiency plans and developing its operating model, UKRI should clarify the roles and responsibilities between the Corporate Hub and the councils. This process should ask if the right functions are centralised or devolved and should explore appropriate reductions in size, for example in the Corporate Hub.
  • In delivering its efficiency plans, UKRI will need to invest in capability, IT systems and infrastructure in the short term that will improve efficiency in the long term, ensuring that the ambition set out in the UKRI DDaT Strategy 2020-23 is implemented. This will require UKRI to ensure that it retains the right technical and project delivery capability across the organisation.

The interim report was published in January and there’s a thank you letter to David from the Secretary of State. The Government has promised to respond to the specific recommendations within the report later in the year.

Wonkhe have a blog but a reader comment doesn’t agree and believes the blog to be too forgiving of UKRI.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: I welcome Sir David’s recommendations. To support our ambition to establish the UK as a true Science Superpower, we have given UKRI its largest funding settlement ever, with over £25 billion across the next 3 years. Our ambitions for a world-class research and innovation system require a world-class funder, which is why we will work closely with UKRI to deliver these recommendations and ensure they are equipped and ready to support those goals.

Review of Research Bureaucracy

And another independent review, this time led by Professor Adam Tickell (VC, Birmingham) considering Research Bureaucracy. Who was set this agenda:

Unnecessary bureaucracy diverts and hampers research, and the work of individual researchers and research teams. Ultimately, it diminishes the returns from research funding.

You can read a summary of the consultation responses here.

Seven Principles

The Review developed seven principles to cut unnecessary bureaucracy which they state should inform the government response and future action across the sector:

  1. Harmonisation– Reducing the volume of administration through the use of common processes between different funders to make essential work easier.
  2. Simplification– Reducing the complexity of individual processes to address unnecessary bureaucracy.
  3. Proportionality– Ensuring that the obligations placed on researchers and institutions are commensurate with the size of the risk or reward.
  4. Flexibility– Supporting and embracing excellence wherever it is found and not excluding research that does not fit within narrowly defined parameters.
  5. Transparency– Communicating the rationale for systems and processes which have a bureaucratic burden.
  6. Fairness– Developing approaches to systems and processes that support fairness, rather than erode it.
  7. Sustainability– Cutting bureaucracy in ways that avoid destabilising the system to deliver a more efficient system over the long term.

The Review focussed on aspects of the research system where there was consistent feedback on the need and scope for change. As a result the review identified six themes where there is believed to be scope for significant positive change:

  1. Assurance

Information provided to funders and regulators to demonstrate that research is carried out in accordance with funding terms and conditions. The principle of ‘ask once’ should be paramount throughout the assurance system.

Findings

The Review identified the following key issues with regard to assurance bureaucracy:

  • Overall, there are too many requirements relating to assurance bureaucracy and they are often complex and duplicative;
  • Uncertainty in the sector about how to manage assurance issues contributes to risk aversion and over-compliance in institutions’ internal assurance processes;
  • A lack of trust, coordination, partnership working and knowledge exchange on assurance throughout the research sector;
  • An incremental growth of bureaucracy – changing priorities have meant that, over time, new assurance requirements have been introduced. However, few attempts have been made to remove or reduce redundant assurance requirements.

Recommendations

To address these issues they recommend that:

  • Government departments that fund research should work together to ensure there is greater alignment of assurance approaches, removing duplication. UKRI should take forward action to achieve greater alignment and coordination across UKRI Councils;
  • Government should facilitate closer working with other funders, including charity funders, to increase coordination and reduce assurance burdens on the sector;
  • Funders and research organisations should develop collective approaches and resources to support institutions in managing their assurance processes; and
  • Funding bodies should explore the function and benefits of self-certification and/or earned autonomy for institutions with a robust track record of assurance
  1. Applying for Funding

Funding applications were one of the most cited causes of unnecessary bureaucracy by organisations and individuals in the Review’s call for evidence.

Findings

  • The Review heard concerns from researchers and research managers about the length and complexity of application processes;
  • The overall success rates for research grant applications are low – often around 20%. Given this, single stage processes which require applicants to provide all the information at the outset mean that for a majority of applicants this information is unused and ultimately wasteful;
  • Two stage application processes may deliver improvements across the system but may present funders with resourcing challenges or take more time and UKRI and others are piloting these approaches now. The Review received a range of views on how best to manage the prospect that more streamlined application processes could lead to higher numbers of applications;
  • There is already evidence of funders tackling these issues in a variety of ways, but there is scope to go much further. 

Recommendations

To address these issues they recommend that:

  • Funders should experiment with application processes to reduce burdens for applicants, (including two-stage application processes) where the information required increases in line with the likelihood of being funded;
  • Funders should work together to increase standardisation across their application processes in terms of the use of language and the questions they ask where appropriate. UKRI should facilitate this across Research Councils in the first instance;
  • Funders should review what adaptations will be needed to assessment processes to take account of changes to application models. This should include the information necessary for national security assessments alongside innovative approaches from the use of peer reviewer triage to limit the number of applications requiring full peer review to experimenting with new models such as randomly allocated funding;
  • Funders should ensure that application processes support their commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion;
  • Funders should remove the requirement for letters of support from applications in most circumstances.
  1. Grant Implementation and In-Grant Management

Research is inherently unpredictable so the review suggests areas where more flexibilities may be beneficial, once a research project is underway:

Findings

  • The period between issue of award letter and start of a research project can be too short, leaving little time for procurement, recruitment and financial administration;
  • Conversely, the time taken to get agreement from research funding organisations to changes to a project or to the profile of funding can be too long;
  • It is often unclear to funding recipients what the purpose is of information requested in project monitoring;
  • Contracting and collaboration agreements are a major source of delays because many research organisations prefer to use their own version rather than standard formats such as Brunswick or Lambert Agreements.

Recommendations

To address these issues they recommend that:

  • Funders and recipients should ensure there is adequate time for the completion of all necessary tasks (including providing assurance information) between the issue of the award letter and the start of the project;
  • Universities and research organisations should wherever possible use standard templates for contracts and collaboration agreements, recognising that this would not just be faster, but would also facilitate third-party collaborations;
  • Wherever possible, funders should build in flexibilities including no cost extensions within manageable parameters to reduce delays in addressing project changes and the number of queries funders receive;
  • Ethical and other regulatory approvals should be the responsibility of the lead partner on a multi-institution research project and counterparties (including in the NHS) should not require additional duplicative approvals.
  1. Digital Platforms

Every aspect of research bureaucracy depends on digital platforms and the extent of the sector’s reliance on them can heighten the impact of any flaws in their design or function.

Findings

  • There is a challenge in creating digital platforms that are capable of supporting institutional diversity and keeping pace with change in UK research without being overly complex
  • There is scope for greater harmonisation of digital platforms. However, this will also be limited to a degree by the differing nature and objectives of individual funders;
  • Greater inter-operability and data sharing between systems could significantly reduce bureaucracy;
  • There is currently a window of opportunity to deliver vastly improved services across key funders as UKRI, NIHR and Wellcome amongst others move away from older platforms;
  • Funders are continuing to drive forward programmes to reduce bureaucracy in their systems and processes. Through the Simpler and Better Funding programme, UKRI is piloting a new digital platform – UKRI Funding Service – which from 2024 will deliver end to end functionality for all Research Council grant applications.

Recommendations

To address these issues the review recommends that:

  • For the higher education sector, Jisc should lead on the creation of sector-wide groups responsible for overseeing the development and further integration of the research information ecosystem, including research management data;
  • Funders, universities and regulators should ensure interoperability and improved data flows are considered as integral to the design and implementation of any new digital systems;
  • For existing systems, approaches to improving the flow of data between different platforms should be explored using, for example, application programming interfaces, point to point integration and machine learning.
  1. Institutional Bureaucracy

There are strong links between bureaucracy related to requirements of funders, regulators and government and each research institution’s own systems, processes and approaches. Research organisations, particularly universities, need to address their own unnecessary bureaucracy to support the Review’s aim of freeing up researchers to focus on research.

Findings

  • Institutional bureaucracy was the most cited source of unnecessary bureaucracy by individuals in the Review’s call for evidence;
  • There is a culture of risk aversion within universities. Whilst much of this is understandable, it has a negative impact on the processes for decision making;
  • Risk aversion has, in some cases, led to unnecessary approval hierarchies which can cause major delays and operational difficulties;
  • Use of generalist professional services department to provide key elements of research support – for example, legal services – can lead to longer delays because of a lack of familiarity or confidence with handling research grant agreements or contracts.

Recommendations

To address these issues they recommend that:

  • Wherever possible, research organisations should examine the feasibility of delegating research-related approvals to research managers and officers who are closer to research;
  • Universities UK should bring universities together to find new platforms and methods for working together on research management issues such as increasing risk appetite, streamlining burdens including through greater  standardisation;
  • If they do not already have them, research organisations should establish “Trusted Funder” policies to enable projects to proceed at risk, within certain parameters.
  1. Communications

There are a number of communications issues in relation to unnecessary bureaucracy. Funders can address antipathy towards necessary bureaucracy by communicating more clearly why it is required and what they do with the information. A lack of clarity can lead to “gold plating” by institutions who are trying to manage regulatory and other requirements.

Findings

  • Frustration with necessary bureaucratic requirements may be related to how widely the rationale and role of particular R&D funding systems and processes are communicated and understood;
  • There is also scope to increase awareness of existing tools and methods that can reduce bureaucratic burdens, e.g. persistent digital identifiers;
  • Uncertainty about the introduction and approach to implementing new requirements could be addressed through proactive communication and engagement by funders and regulators;
  • In addition, the review heard that government and funders could go further to engage with the sector on the specifics around implementation of new requirements to identify the most efficient approach;
  • There were a series of specific concerns with regard to the approach to communications with the sector including use of jargon and inconsistent language, working to ensure communications are received by the right audiences (for example, not just Vice Chancellors or Pro Vice-Chancellors of Research) and timeliness in relation to submission deadlines

Recommendations

To address these issues they recommend that:

  • Government, funders and regulators should undertake wide ranging consultation with research organisations prior to the introduction of new regulatory or other requirements;
  • Government and funders should proactively communicate on new and emerging regulatory issues. The Research Collaboration and Advice Team (RCAT)i model providing support on national security matters is good practice in this regard;
  • Funders should ensure important messages about research are sent to research office contacts as well as Vice Chancellor/Pro-Vice Chancellor Research.

What’s next?

The Government should formally respond to the review and likely support certain elements while ignoring others.

The review also said that there should be consideration of the governance and other arrangements needed to ensure the longer-term change required to fully deliver on this vision is in place. Alongside ongoing monitoring and evaluation to keep bureaucracy at bay in the future.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: The work of our exceptional researchers will not reach its full potential while the research system is bound up by excessive red tape. The findings of Professor Tickell’s thorough review shine a light on the huge opportunity for improvements in this field. I am confident this report will act as the stimulus needed for institutions, funding bodies, regulators – and for government – to come together and make the progress required.

Author of the Bureaucracy Review, Professor Adam Tickell, said:

UK research is world-leading, however… there are huge opportunities to improve how our research system works. The Review has unearthed excessive bureaucracy across the system.

It will now take a collective effort involving individuals, institutions, funders, regulators and government to realise the potential benefits of change while ensuring the vital checks and balances in the system are not lost. I hope this report signposts the way forward and provides the impetus needed.

Chief Executive of UK Research & Innovation, Ottoline Leyser, said:

We warmly welcome this thoughtful and excellent review…The review’s recommendations, and the principles that underpin them, strongly align with ongoing work at UKRI, such as our Simple and Better Funding Programme. By working in partnership across the UK research and innovation system we can catalyse transformational change, maximising the value from record-breaking levels of public investment in R&D.

The recommended changes will allow essential research – from healthcare development to studies in environmental science – to be delivered unhindered by excessive red tape, supporting the UK’s ambition to maintain its competitiveness, and secure its position as a science superpower.

The Russell Group respond to both independent reviews, Stephanie Smith, Head of Policy (Research and International) at the Russell Group, said:

Freeing up unnecessary bureaucracy will require a joint effort from all parts of the research system, and the Tickell review makes a number of welcome recommendations to improve coordination and standardisation across the sector, streamline the funding application process and free up time for grant holders to focus on research.

Alongside the Grant review of UKRI, it is positive to see a focus on how we can ensure the UK research sector is as efficient and effective as possible so world class research can thrive and we are ready to tackle the major challenges we face, from productivity to climate change. It is vital that we maintain this momentum and we look forward to working with Government and the wider sector to deliver early action to implement these changes, which will benefit researchers, funders and universities.

Blog: James Coe reviews Adam Tickell’s Independent Review of Research Bureaucracy and finds much to admire – while still being filled with questions on how this relates to the future of research.

Not on the Horizon…

It is incredibly unlikely that the UK will associate to Horizon Europe.

There are no signs of any resolution to the political issues which are preventing association. There is no sign that the UK Government has the ability or desire to resolve them.

And there is no sign of any change in position from the European Union to enable association.(Source.)

While this news didn’t come as a shock to anyone in the summer and it still doesn’t now. However, it is still disappointing to have reached this point. During the summer the Government announced the details of the UK’s plan B (assuming affiliation to the EU research programmes doesn’t make it over the Horizon). All the details are here including this suite of temporary transition measures:

  • the Horizon Europe Guarantee – If we are unable to associate, we will fund applications that are submitted to a Horizon Europe funding call with an EU final call deadline date before the point of non-association, are successful in the EU evaluation and meet the eligibility criteria of the guarantee. This includes those where grant signature dates fall beyond the end of 2022. This would pick up where the current guarantee has left off, so there is no gap, and no eligible successful applications would go unfunded
  • funding for successful, in-flight applications – We will support UK entities with eligible in-flight applications to Horizon Europe (to calls that have closed or are open at the point of non-association, where such applications are not being evaluated by the EC), by assessing such applications domestically, to ensure the best get funded should the EC no longer carry out the evaluation
  • uplifts to existing talent programmes – We will increase funding for our best existing talent schemes covering a broad range of disciplines via National Academies and UKRI. This will be followed by the creation of our bold new UK fellowship and award programme, designed to retain and attract top talent in the UK.
  • uplifts to innovation support – We will increase funding for a range of our best innovation schemes targeted at small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), delivered by Innovate UK, and go on to create exciting new mechanisms, ensuring they are bigger, bolder with less bureaucracy and more flexibility
  • the Talent and Research Stabilisation Fund – We will use formula funding to support a range of eligible UK institutions who have been most affected by the loss of Horizon Europe talent funding. The fund will enable eligible research organisations and universities to support talent retention and target funding vulnerabilities at a local level
  • Third Country Participation – Around two-thirds of Horizon Europe calls are open to UK researchers and companies as Third Country applicants, as part of consortia with at least 3 other applicants from EU member states or associated countries, provided they bring their own funding. As this is a priority for businesses and researchers, the government will fund all eligible UK entities participating in any such consortia signing grant agreements before 31 March 2025.The government will consider our approach to funding for Third Country Participation beyond this date and make an announcement by October 2024

Wonkhe have a blog. And there’s a parliamentary question on the topic:

  • (1) the change in the level of collaborative scientific funding for UK organisations if the UK does not participate in the Horizon Europe programme, and (2) reports that the UK is losing out on £100 million as a result of not participating

Student KE involvement

For anyone playing word bingo with today’s policy update we’re approaching a full house on ‘independent’ reviews. The OfS commissioned independent researchers to conduct an evaluation of the ‘Student engagement in knowledge exchange’ programme. The programme aims to support 20 projects to develop and share understanding of effective practice in student engagement in knowledge exchange, and to inform ongoing policy and investment.

OfS have published three summary reports providing interim findings from the evaluation of projects within the competition, for the reporting periods to May 2021, November 2021 and March 2022.

The final evaluation report is expected to be published next summer (2023).

Research England Funding Budgets 2022-25

The Russell Group issued a statement in response to the Research England funding budgets 2022-25: We particularly welcome the stable allocations over the spending review period which give the sector much needed certainty, and the boost to schemes proven to deliver returns, like the Higher Education Innovation Fund… The increase in quality-related (QR) funding will allow universities to plan long term and pursue high-risk high-reward discovery research – which underpinned breakthroughs in graphene, genomics, and laid the foundations to develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine… However, despite this increase, its value has declined in real terms over the past decade. [The value of QR funding declined by 22% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2020/21.]

ARIA top appointees

Ilan Gur and Matt Clifford MBE were appointed as CEO and Chair of new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA). Ilan Gur (CEO) will set the agency’s agenda, direct its initial funding of high-risk programmes and engage the domestic and international R&D sector. As Chair, Matt Clifford will support the work of the CEO as he takes post on 15 August, acting as the steward for ARIA’s effective governance.

Ilan Gur obtained a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He is a Schmidt Futures Innovation Fellow, an advisor to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in support of the Moore Inventor Fellowship, and a judge for MIT Technology Review’s TR35 award

Matt Clifford MBE is co-founder and CEO of Entrepreneur First, an international investor in technical talent that has helped to build technological companies worth over $10 billion. Clifford is also co-founder and non-executive director of Code First Girls, has served as a Council Member at Innovate UK, and is a Trustee of the Kennedy Memorial Trust. Before starting Entrepreneur First, Matt worked at McKinsey & Co and earned degrees from the University of Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kwasi Kwarteng (was Business Secretary) said: The appointment of Ilan Gur as ARIA’s first CEO is a huge victory for the future of the agency, and for the UK. He has a distinguished track record in translating exceptional talent and ideas into commercial success, and his leadership will ensure the funding of high-risk programmes that will continue to push the boundaries of science and technology. Under Dr Gur’s leadership and with the support of the brilliant Matt Clifford, ARIA will ensure the benefits of research and development will be felt in our society and economy over the course of generations. By stripping back unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency has the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow.

ARIA blog: With a new ARIA Chair and Chief Executive in place James Coe argues it’s time for the sector to take a step back and allow the new research funder to succeed or fail on its own terms in a Wonkhe blog. And another blog summing up the key known information about ARIA.

Defence

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the Alan Turing Institute have jointly launched the Defence Centre for AI Research (DCAR), to tackle problems related to advancing artificial intelligence capability.

Research England Executive Chair

Kwasi Kwarteng (was Business Secretary) selected Professor Dame Jessica Corner as the preferred candidate for the role of Executive Chair of Research England. Professor Corner will be responsible for quality related research funding to English universities, largely informed by the results of the Research Excellence Framework exercise, as well as funding for knowledge exchange activities. She will also lead Research England’s role in ensuring the health and stability of English universities in their research and innovation activities. She will be part of the UKRI senior leadership team working closely with UKRI’s Chief Executive, UKRI Board and the other Executive Chairs to collectively oversee UKRI’s strategy, funding programmes and infrastructure.

Professor Corner has a background in nursing and as an academic specialising in cancer palliative care. Recent employment includes Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University of Nottingham. She was awarded a DBE in 2014 for services to Health Care Research and Education and was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2015.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: I am delighted to name Professor Dame Jessica Corner as preferred candidate to steward Research England through the years to come. I look forward to working closely with her and the UKRI leadership team to ensure the continued success of the world leading research carried out by our universities, building on the UK’s reputation as a science superpower.

I would also like to thank Dr David Sweeney for his tireless work for the research sector as inaugural Executive Chair of Research England and previously at HEFCE. I wish him the very best for his retirement.

Professor Jessica Corner said: I am delighted to be chosen as the preferred candidate for the role of Executive Chair of Research England at this time of huge opportunity for the country’s truly outstanding research base…I look forward to supporting our national community of researchers as they continue to explore, discover, and innovate to transform lives across the globe.

Alan Turing Institute: Director of Innovation

Simon Reeve was appointed as Director of Innovation at the Alan Turing Institute. He is the former VP of Technology and Innovation at Lloyd’s Register Group and Director of Commercial Engagement at long-term Turing partner Lloyd’s Register Foundation. He has previously had a relationship with Turing through his work supporting the Foundation-sponsored data-centric engineering programme. As Director of Innovation Reeve will support Turing’s goal to develop solution to problems using AI and data across several areas:

  • Increasing the impact of the Institute in delivering positive change to society through entrepreneurship and commercial application of data science and AI
  • Providing innovation leadership to the Institute’s team and its vibrant partnership network, in cooperation with the executive leadership team, in support of its research and innovation strategy and goals
  • Promoting and facilitating engagement and partnership between the Turing’s community, private and public sector businesses, government, and non-government bodies, to accelerate innovation opportunities, delivering data and artificial intelligence science solutions in support of the Turing’s mission.

Quick research news

  • Government Office for Science – Sir Patrick Vallance to stand down as Government Chief Scientific Adviser at the end of his five-year post in April 2023.
  • Nine new commissioners have been appointed to the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) to serve for four years. Three commissioners, Ms Susan BradfordProfessor Jamie Colemanand Dr Jamie Fraser, whose four-year tenure ended this year, have also been reappointed. The CHM provides independent expert advice to ministers on the safety, quality and efficacy of medicines, and promotes the collection and investigation of information relating to adverse reactions for human medicines. It is an advisory non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care.

The nine new commissioners are:

  • Professor Tony Williams, professor of translational medicine at Southampton University
  • Professor David Hunt, chair of neuroinflammation medicine, Wellcome Trust senior clinical fellow and honorary consultant in neurology, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor David Dockrell, chair of infection medicine/director of the Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Gerri Mortimore, associate professor in post-registration health care, University of Derby
  • Professor Paul Dargan, consultant physician and clinical toxicologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and professor of clinical toxicology at King’s College London
  • Dr Vanessa Raymont, senior clinical researcher, University of Oxford and R&D director and honorary consultant at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Mrs Julia Cons, Independent Chair, National Individual Funding Request Panel for NHS England
  • Professor David Moore, professor of Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Consultant Physician at The Hospital for Tropical Diseases, UCLH.
  • Professor Rui Providencia, associate Professor, Institute of Health Informatics, UCL

Blogs

The QAA released an interesting review of global research and interventions on grade inflation. DK had a read on Wonk Corner.

The first Research England funding allocations since REF 2021 results were published see a welcome increase in income for most providers. James Coe and David Kernohan looked into the details.

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

NEON and the BBC report on the Social Mobility Foundation’s warning that the cost of living could create a “two-tier” university system.

  • The Social Mobility Foundation has said it’s “concerned” those from poorer backgrounds may have to work while affluent peers enjoy the “uni experience”. “It’s never been a level playing field,” Sarah Atkinson, the chief executive says. “But we’re looking at a two-tier system for this cohort,” she adds.
  • Alongside extra work, Sarah says more students from lower socio-economic backgrounds worry about money and live at home while studying .In recent weeks, students’ unions have said they are having to step in to help students cope with the rising costs of food.

Read more from the BBC article here.

Other news & latest reports

Video games degrees: Increasing the number of students studying for a degree in video games.

Graduate underemployment: What is the scale and impact of graduate overqualification in the UK?  looks at how graduate outcomes have changed over the past 30 years, and the job quality of overqualified graduates.

Local Gaps: The Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) has published a report on the educational attainment gap and local economic outcomes, in which they look at how to transform educational opportunities to support inclusive growth.

Economic Growth: UUK published a report exploring ways in which universities can contribute to economic growth, and make several recommendations such as establishing collaborative hubs for skills development, building on the Help to Grow scheme, and the rapid expansion of University Enterprise Zones (UEZ).

Research theft: Research Professional – the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity has warned that cybersecurity researchers will increasingly be at risk of having their findings stolen by third-party actors.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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HE policy update 11th August 2022

This is part 1 of your bumper summer catch up – with a focus on the general political situation and on education – we will come back to you with a mega update on research next week!

Parliamentary News

ICYMI: New ministerial briefs

  • James Cleverly, Secretary of State for Education
  • Brendan Clarke-Smith, Minister for Children and Families
  • Will Quince, Minister for School Standards
  • Andrea Jenkyns, Minister for Skills, Further and Higher Education
  • Baroness Barran, Lords Minister/Minister for the School System
  • Chair – Commons Science and Technology Committee: With Greg Clark appointed as the Secretary of State (SoS) for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities he had to leave his role as Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee. This means a new Chair will be elected after the summer recess, although if the new PM appoints a different Secretary of State Greg may return to Chair the Committee again. The rumour is he doesn’t expect to retain the SoS post once the new PM takes over.

Labour frontbench: Labour have made some shadow Cabinet changes:

  • Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) has been appointed Shadow Minister for Veterans and Defence People. She retains her shadow CO role to reflect the fact that the government veterans position is also cross-departmental.
  • Hopkins takes over from Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) who has been appointed Shadow Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure.
  • Peacock replaces Chris Elmore (Ogmore) who has been appointed to the new post of Parliamentary Lead for the Labour Party Chair. He also continues as an Opposition Whip.

Profiling the new ministers

Andrea Jenkyns MP is (currently) the Minister for HE having replaced Michelle Donelan in the post resignation reshuffle. Previously Ms Jenkyns was a member of the Health committee (2015-17) and two EU focussed select committees (her son is nicknamed Brexit!). Jenkyns entered employment after leaving school and achieved her diploma in economics from the Open University and a BA in international relations and politics (graduated 2014) from Lincoln University later in life. Before politics she worked as an international business development manager(15 years), a councillor for Lincolnshire County Council, a music tutor in three secondary schools (she sings soprano and has a huge vocal range – that should liven up Cabinet!), and worked as a musical theatre director.

Jenkyns is a charity fundraiser and supporter of the charity Antibiotic Research UK. She is a trustee and voluntary regional representative for the charity MRSA Action UK. She has also become a reviewer for the National Institute for Health Research.

When elected to parliament her campaign priorities were the development of brownfield sites, delivering excellent local health services and growing the local economy. She is against repealing the hunting ban. Jenkyns has stated that the death of her father at a local hospital in 2011, from the hospital superbug MRSA, motivated her to stand as an MP, to ensure compassionate care is a priority. In November 2015 she launched a campaign to promote good hand hygiene in schools and hospitals.

Jenkyns received notoriety when she presented her middle finger to the crowd gathered outside of Downing Street calling for Boris’ resignation. She described the crowd as a “baying mob” and said she was standing up for herself.

James Cleverly also went into work after leaving school (he attended a selective school). He joined the army (left due to injury) and still volunteers with the TA. James studied at Thames Valley University graduating with a degree in hospitality and management. Swiftly followed by a move into magazine and digital publishing where he set up his own company.

Cleverly’s political career began as a London Assembly member, he was a board member of the London Development Agency, and unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in 2005. He was finally elected in 2015 and emphasised local business alongside road and internet connectivity. He put forward a Private Members’ Bill in 2015 to give further powers to the Health and Safety Executive (it didn’t succeed – but they rarely do). He was a founding member of Conservatives for Britain (a group calling for fundamental change with the UK’s relationship with the EU), voted to leave the EU and became the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union in April 2019. He was appointed Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party in January 2018. He was then appointed as Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa in both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development in February 2020. North America was added to his responsibilities in December 2021. And he became Minister of State for Europe and North America in February 2022. He has been a member of the APPG Showing Racism the Read Card since 2017. His political interests are stated as local business, technology, trade out of poverty and international trade.

He’s married to his university girlfriend and recognises the importance of family values. He’s President of Bromley District Scouts. He gave a daring interview in November 2015 in which he admitted to trying cannabis at university, and watching online pornography. He also said he would like to become leader of the party. When Theresa May stepped down he announced his candidacy in the leadership content but withdrew a week later as he recognised he was unlikely to make the final cut.

PM Candidates

YouGov released a poll of the leadership race showing Truss currently leads Sunak by 69% to 31% among Tory members. Here are the latest pledges from the prime ministerial candidates relating to education and young people.

Liz Truss:

  • Would lift ban on new grammar schools and replace failing schools with them
  • Pledged to expand high-performing academies and replace failing ones with new free schools and grammars
  • Would focus on literacy and numeracy – stick to the current government target for 90% of primary children to reach the expected standard in literacy and numeracy – as well and post-pandemic catch-up
  • Wants to give working parents access to childcare around the school day and extend the range of providers who accept government childcare entitlements
  • Would also follow through on government plans to change staff-to-child ratios for early years providers
  • All A Level students with three A*s would be automatically offered interview at Oxford or Cambridge. (Wonkhe have a great blog on the topic highlighting that it isn’t the social mobility improvement Liz believes, and really highlights her lack of awareness.)
  • Would look to introduce post-qualification admissions (PQAs) for university entry – purported to be considering moving the start of the university academic year to January, to accommodate PQA reform
  • Pledged to move subsidies from poor quality degree courses to vocational training
  • Would create designated “Investment Zones” to drive innovation

Rishi Sunak:

  • Would create a new British Baccalaureate that would require all 16-year-olds to study core subjects, including maths and English, beyond GCSE up to age 18
  • Would reverse ban on new grammar schools and support expansion
  • Would ask Ofsted to assess the quality of sports and PE in school at every inspection
  • Also pledged to open up school sport facilities over summer holidays
  • Suggested he would reform the curriculum to focus on workplace skills, as well as science, maths and technology
  • Pledged to improve professional development for teachers, as well as introduce AI and technology to the classroom to reduce teachers’ workloads
  • Committed to the plan to open 75 new free schools, as announced by the government in June
  • Would give school trusts an “accountability holiday” for two years after taking on underperforming schools
  • Plans to stop organisations such as Stonewall from delivering sex and relationships education (SRE)
  • Pledged to put SRE on to a statutory footing, providing schools with guidance on what is acceptable, and giving parents the ability to request to see teaching materials, including from external groups (it’s understood this would be done via an amendment to the Schools Bill)
  • Would ban all 30 Confucius Institutes in the UK and force universities to disclose foreign funding partnerships of more than £50,000
  • Would “strengthen networks of technical institutions and their links with industry, as well as giving them powers to award degrees”
  • Would create a “Russell Group of world-class technical colleges” to improve prestige of vocational training (this idea is akin to that within the Northern Research Group pledge card, which Sunak signed)
  • Wants to “clamp down” on some university degrees that don’t lead to good outcomes – assessing their quality through drop-out rates, graduate jobs, and salary thresholds
  • Would expedite the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, currently sitting with the Lords

Lord Hague, the former Conservative leader, has weighed into the leadership race with suggestions on how the PM hopefuls could increase the science and technology prowess of the UK, including the creation of a secretary of state for science and technology.

Voting will close on 2 September. The new PM is still scheduled to be revealed on 5 September.

Overall – we would not expect a major change of direction in relation to HE.  The ferocity of the culture wars will perhaps depend on who the Secretary of State for Education and the Minister for Universities are in a reshuffled government, but Liz Truss looks likely to maintain the current direction if she wins.  Her espousal of PQAs, after the DfE consultation was ditched by Nadhim Zahawi earlier this year, will cause sighs across the sector, but at least the DfE have an oven ready set of consultation responses they can use to inform the next step.

OFS consultations

Consultation outcomes – the outcomes of the three outstanding OfS consultations(which closed in March) have been published – although there is a lot of detail still to come – and we have a new one (with a very tight deadline)

NSS consultation: Following earlier consultations on changes to the NSS, the OfS have just launched another, closing on 1st September.

This has been slightly challenging area for the OfS, with government ministers making bold statements about how the NSS causes “dumbing down” and demanding it be dropped as a metric for regulatory purposes and the TEF – and the OfS resisting on the basis that it provides useful context and informs action on student experience at universities.

The latest consultation, issued on 28th July with a 1st September deadline (what sort of response do they expect?) includes some options for change to the questionnaire, and proposed removing question 27 completely for England (which addresses the dumbing down point).  They ran a pilot of some of these questions this year and have published a review of the pilot which informed this consultation.

Main changes

  • The NSS currently opens in January and runs until the end of April. We are proposing to shorten the survey window by delaying the launch of the survey to mid-February
  • We propose establishing a four-year review cycle for the NSS to ensure the survey can reflect changes in practice and continue to meet the needs of the UK funders and regulators, students and providers. To date, the survey has been reviewed on an ad hoc basis with the last major review conducted in 2015
  • The questionnaire currently uses the Likert scale, which measures student agreement or disagreement with particular statements. 22. We propose to change the questionnaire to more direct questions for 2023 – which would change how questions are asked – to offer students the opportunity to rate different aspects of their experience on a scale designed specifically for a particular question

Some examples are given in the consultation but they have not made final proposals for all of the questions, and are still thinking about the scales in some cases – see Annex D of the consultation.  

 In addition to the changes to existing questions, there are some new proposed questions.

They are proposing to remove the summative question [question 27] for England. A version of the summative question would remain for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The consultation says:

  • There were significant concerns about the wording of the current question. In particular, the term ‘satisfaction’ was regarded as unhelpful as it detracted from the wider findings of the survey and was seen as too consumerist in nature. There were also concerns about the use of the summative question by the media in England when reporting on the outcomes of the NSS each year. The current question 27 on overall satisfaction is the most commonly used metric in league tables, and its removal might make the results less susceptible to ranking. Phase one of the review found that the question was unhelpful for the survey as a whole. Most questions ask students to rate their experience of different aspects of their academic experience, and no other question asks about satisfaction. Yet critics often derogatively dub the NSS as a ‘satisfaction survey’. There was no consensus on what should replace it

There are proposed questions on freedom of expression and a provider’s mental wellbeing provision.

It will be interesting to see what the outcome of this consultation is although we don’t expect an outcry in favour of question 27 and given the timing of this (and the OfS approach to consultations (see below), they are likely to finalise their views on the outstanding questions and plough ahead. Wonkhe have two blogs: one reviewing the proposals, (pithy summary of an interesting blog: “poor show”) and one looking at what else could be considered. A summary of responses to the consultation will be published in Autumn 2022. The OfS anticipate implementing any changes in the 2023 NSS. If you wish to comment on an aspect of the consultation please contact Jane.

Teaching Excellence Framework

The final decisions have now been made about the TEF timetable.  Guidance will be published in late September; the submission window will open at that time and will close in mid-January.  Outcomes will be published in September 2023.  The outcomes are here.  Few changes have been made to the proposals, there is a bit of clarification on the new “educational gain” aspect (which is largely being left to providers to define), to make apprenticeships an optional element in the assessment, to make the provider submission 25 instead of 20 pages, and to clarify the requirements for student submissions.  They have not yet made a decision about how much of the data will be published.

  • Of our 15 proposals most respondents agreed with 11 of them. Views on one proposal were split and a majority disagreed with three proposals
  • Disagreement was most strongly expressed in relation to:
    • proposals 3 and 4 which relate to the categories in the rating scheme (Gold, Silver and Bronze)[ Approximately two thirds of respondents tended to disagree or strongly disagree with this proposal], [no change was made]
    • the use of ‘Requires improvement’ where there is an absence of excellence[ Almost three-quarters of respondents tended to disagree or strongly disagreed with this proposal], [no change was made]
    • proposal 15 which relates to the timeline for implementation [almost nine in ten of respondents disagreeing or strongly disagreeing]

After the publication of a set of new licence conditions earlier this year, which re already in force, the last one, B3, has now been finalised and will come into force on 3rd October.  B3 is the condition that applies minimum thresholds for continuation, completion and progression into highly skilled employment.  These thresholds are absolute, not benchmarked, and will be applied across a range of splits – notably level (including postgraduate) and subject. Some outcome measures were used before in the TEF, split by characteristic – but that was for undergraduate only and at an institutional level, not split by subject, so this is a major change.

Licence condition B3

The B3 proposals were fairly controversial, as is illustrated by the response that the OfS got:

  • Around three-quarters of respondents disagreed with the proposed timing of implementation, almost two thirds disagreed with the approach to constructing the student outcomes indicators and almost half disagreed with the approach to setting numerical thresholds

But they are going ahead anyway, with only minor changes.

  • They have decided to adopt the cohort tracking methodology for constructing the completion outcome measure – two options were proposed in the consultation.
  • The final numerical thresholds will be published in September, and will be no higher than those proposed in the consultation.
  • More information about publication of the B3 data and the TEF data will be available in September.

You can read the final condition B3 here.  For reference, these were the original proposed thresholds (and as noted above, the final ones to be confirmed in September will not be higher than those originally proposed).

The third consultation was about constructing the indicators for both of the above and the outcomes are here.

In a blog, the Director of Quality says:

  • Our revised condition of registration (condition B3) means that students from all backgrounds can achieve positive outcomes and are protected from performance that is below our minimum expectations, whatever, wherever and however they study. At the same time, through the TEF, we want to incentivise universities and colleges to achieve excellence in teaching, learning and their outcomes – above and beyond our minimum expectations and in a way that recognises the full diversity of higher education courses and many ways students study.
  • We’ve carefully considered more than 600 responses to our phase three consultations. We’ve made some changes as a result of those responses, but we remain committed to the policy agenda we set out in January….
  • …Some responses to our consultation asked whether positive outcomes for students should be defined more broadly when students may gain wide-ranging benefits from their studies. We recognise that higher education produces wider value than we have captured in our indicators. This might be a reason to look at additional measures in the future, but it shouldn’t prevent us from measuring and regulating the things we already know matter to students: continuing through to the end of their course and progressing successfully into the next stage of their career or studies. We must be able to protect students from courses which don’t deliver these benefits. 

In a blog for Wonkhe, David Kernohan and Jim Dickinson give their perspectives, including this one, which highlights the key contradiction at the heart of all this:

  • For some time now, OfS has been saying that opportunities for study are not meaningful if students are able to choose or continue on “low quality courses delivering weak outcomes” because the regulatory system has endorsed such performance. But does that mean working over time to improve the quality and outcomes, or killing off those courses – especially if they’re a component of your partnership portfolio? Minister for skills, further and higher education Andrea Jenkyns says “Following on from the first wave of OfS inspections, this consultation response is an important next step to halting dead-end courses.” But the OfS documentation says that it recognises that providers may choose to close courses rather than take steps to improve student outcomes, and if it suspects that’s been happening it will “interrogate whether a provider had taken action to improve its performance” and sought to “evade regulatory action by closing courses with weak performance”. How about if we sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense?

One (cynical) way to read it, in today’s politicised environment – closing a course to avoid regulatory interference is BAD – being made to close it by the regulator is GOOD (for the regulator and the government).

The Russell Group aren’t best pleased with the outcomes. Sarah Stevens, Director of Policy at the Russell Group said:

  • We support the OfS’s efforts to set challenging baselines that will ensure all students are entitled to a minimum quality of provision. However, this needs to be delivered in a proportionate and risk-based manner so low-risk providers can get on with the job of providing students with a high-quality experience. In particular, we are concerned that plans to change the way courses are prioritised for investigation each year will increase the burden on low-risk providers, and hope the OfS can move to a more consistent and transparent approach.
  • The plans to take into account absolute values and the increased weighting of the provider submission when assessing a provider’s performance will help ensure TEF awards are more robust. However, the TEF remains a significantly burdensome activity and we are concerned that the implementation timeline does not give the sector enough time to fully engage with the changes announced. With the TEF submission period beginning in September, it’s also vital that the OfS publish detailed guidance to providers as soon as possible.

Quality of HE courses: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

  • Q – James Grundy (Leigh) (Con): What progress he has made on improving the quality of higher education courses.
  • A – The Minister for Higher and Further Education (Michelle Donelan): For the first time, universities will be subject to stringent minimum thresholds for student outcomes on completion rates and graduate jobs. Boots-on-the-ground inspections have begun, and through our transparency drive to give students all the information that they need and a focus on participation and outcomes, we are driving out the pockets of poor quality in our world-leading higher education sector.

Mini horizon scan

A proper horizon scan, which we would usually do at this time of year, may seem a little bit challenging when the last few years have shown that the priorities and convictions of those in the Secretary of State and Minister for Universities role have had a huge impact on direction: Jo Johnson of course was behind the creation of OfS, the TEF and the new regulatory regime, but to give some more examples, Gavin Williamson ramped up the focus on “poor quality courses” (and tried hard on PQA).  Damien Hinds started the campaign that eventually stopped conditional unconditional offers.   We can thank Michele Donelan for ramping up the culture wars, and leading the charge on free speech.

But a lot of fairly major change is already in hand, things are fairly well developed and therefore unlikely to change.  There may be differences in emphasis and nuance, and additional priorities (PQA for Liz Truss) but we would not expect major shifts in approach to any of the current hot topics.

Of course, there will be a general election at some point – the latest this can be is 24th January 2025 although after the fixed term legislation was repealed the PM can seek an earlier election.  Given the cost of living crisis alone, a newly installed PM this autumn is unlikely to find that appealing, as they will want to make some sort of impression before going back to the people.

Levelling up A flagship Johnson policy. Linked to the access and participation work referenced below.

The Skills and Post-16 Education Act became law in April.  It will be for the new leader and their team to implement this including the local skills improvement plans (chapter 1 of the new act), changes to technical education including continuing the implementation of T-levels (and closing some BTECs), and changes to implement the lifelong learning proposals (see below).

See more in the skills section below on local skills improvement plans.

Levelling up as a headline may not be the branding of choice for a new leader but the policies are likely to stay in place, certainly as regards skills and technical education
Lifelong learning The  Skills and Post-16 Education Act makes provision for modular learning.

LLE was the subject of a DfE consultation which closed in May, and the outcome will presumably be finalised by the new ministerial team.

Read more: policy update 3rd March 2022 and 3rd May 2022

As noted, this is the big flagship HE  policy for the Johnson government and his successor is unlikely to change tack on this.

 

Student number controls This was part of the big release of material in March responding finally to the Augar review.

It is now expected (and Michelle Donelan confirmed, although that might change) that controls will be applied on a university and subject basis to restrict numbers on certain courses that do not meet B£ or other licence conditions.  We await the outcome of this part of the (DfE, not OfS) consultation, which will presumably be in the in-tray of the new universities minister.

Read more: policy update 3rd March 2022

This is unlikely to change under a new team, although there may need to be more work on how it will be implemented in practice.
Minimum eligibility requirements Another part of the Augar response in March, intended to limit access to HE (and control costs}.  They consulted on a requirement for a pass (grade 4) in GCSE in English and Maths, or the equivalent of 2 E grades at A level.  These would not apply to mature students (over 25), part-time students, those with a level 4 or 5 qualification or students with an integrated foundation year or Access to HE qualification.  If they apply the GCSE requirement it would not apply to someone who has subsequently achieved A levels at CCC or equivalent.

Read more: policy update 3rd March 2022

This is unlikely to change under a new team, although there may need to be more work on how it will be implemented in practice – especially if it requires changes to student loan legislation.
Access and Participation Big focus from the OfS now on universities having an impact on school level attainment and supporting disadvantaged students.    The Director for Fair Access and Participation has been clear about the direction:

·       strategic partnerships with schools to raise attainment

·       improving the quality of provision for underrepresented students

·       developing non-traditional pathways and modes of study

Read more: policy updates on 4th April and 14th February

OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.

 

Regulation – quality and outcomes As above, being delivered this year with little change from the original proposals.  Will lead to regulatory intervention based on student outcomes that are below the absolute levels set and these metrics will be applied to PGT and PGR students as well as UG.

Apart from B3, discussed above, the other B conditions introduced earlier this year have a lot of detail about course content and delivery – where there are concern about outcomes, there are complaints or other reasons for the OfS to look this can include investigating whether course content is “up to date”, for example.

 

Linked to this, the OfS announced in the early summer that they would be looking at online delivery in some universities after Michelle Donelan roundly criticised the speed (or lack of it) at which (some) universities had returned to full on campus learning last year.

OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.

 

Note the points about grade inflation below.

 

If online learning is still a story in the new academic year, expect more government and OfS pressure.

 

 

Grade inflation One of Gavin Williamson’s earlier themes which he stopped talking about, but which is now back with a vengeance as a topic for university bashing.  UUK have gone early with a sector commitment to reduce by 2023 the proportion of students achieving firsts and 2:1s to pre-pandemic levels, and a renewed commitment to publishing degree outcomes statements.  The OfS have been making strong statements about “unexplained” grade inflation for some time but have now started to clarify what they might do about it, new condition B4 has a direct reference to the ongoing credibility of awards and so the OfS now have a clearer mandate to intervene in what has always been seen as a question of institutional autonomy.

Read more: 5th July policy update

OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.

 

The OfS will be looking to ramp up intervention in this area and will be examining this year’s degree outcomes statements closely.

 

 

TEF As above, being delivered this year with little change from the original proposals.  Includes a focus on subject level performance and performance across split characteristics and includes a new “requires improvement” rating  – and getting that caps fees at £6000. OfS agenda: not expecting any change with a change of leader or ministerial team.
NSS Following earlier consultations on changes to the NSS, the OfS have just launched another.  See above for more information.
Student information and marketing, admissions One of Michelle Donelan’s signature policies.  There has been discussion of marketing practices before, storied about university marketing budgets etc but the focus was mostly on conditional unconditional offers.   MD went further with the DfE guidance on advertising that came out on 1st July with some frankly bizarre requirements to reference out of date subject level data in all marketing material and advertisements.

Read more: 5th July policy update

This PQ suggests the government are sticking with it for now: Encouraging universities to advertise (1) subject drop-out, and (2) employment, rates for courses

This followed the Fair Admissions Code that was published in the Spring by UUK which outlaws conditional unconditional offers, and talks about incentives and information alongside more general principles.  This was opt in – and most have.

Read more: 10th March policy update

May be less of a priority for a new Minister.  The DFE guidance is bizarre, voluntary and possibly unworkable – and it seems very strange for the DfE to issue such guidance which should really come from the OfS.  It smacks of political campaigning rather than serious regulation and we await the next steps on this with interest.

Fair admissions, though, will remain on the agenda, though the Director of Fair Access, and the OfS.

PQA This was a Gavin Williamson policy.  As noted above, Liz Truss wants to reopen this after Nadhim Zahawi shelved Gavin Williamson’s efforts.  The range of potential outcomes from the DfE consultation are presumably sitting on a shelf somewhere.  The responses to the consultation were:

Two-thirds of respondents (324/489, 66%) were in favour of change to a PQA system in principle, but many respondents were concerned by practical implications of how it could operate, and 60% respondents felt that the models of PQA would be either worse than, or no better than, current arrangements. There were a variety of different models favoured but no consensus as to what change should look like.

If Liz Truss wins she will have a lot on her agenda, but we can expect the new ministerial team to at least brush off the recommendations and have another look.

 

 

Free Speech A key bit of the Michelle Donelan manifesto for future promotion.  As noted below, the OfS data doesn’t demonstrate a significant issue but that does not stop the rhetoric.    The higher Education (Freedom of Speech) bill is now at committee stage in the Lords, having made it through the Commons.  Expect lively debate, amendments and eventual ping pong as the HE informed members of the Lords contest the whole premise of the bill as well as the detail.

Read more: 5th July policy update

Under a Liz Truss government this is very unlikely to be significantly watered down.  Rishi Sunak has demonstrated less appetite for the culture wars so much would depend on the ministerial team.  Expected to pass (eventually) and but practical impact may be low (as the sector have long argued this is a solution looking for a problem)

Skills, skills, skills…

Occupational skills needs: The DfE published independent research examining changing skills needs within certain occupations in the next 5-10 years:

  • managers
  • science and technology
  • skilled trades
  • health

Technical and digital skills

  • The key skills that are, and will continue to be, required are the knowledge and effective use of relevant technologies
  • Digital literacy is already an essential (if basic) requirement, while understanding and use of data will only increase in importance in future
  • Some specific technical skills are (and will be) needed in health and skilled trades (e.g., ability to adapt clinical skills to developments in health and care, knowledge of the technical or scientific basis of work, understanding of relevant standards and legislation)
  • Expected changes in the selected occupations and emerging skills point to: (i) skills needs in using specific new hardware and software; (ii) data science skills; (iii) the need to apply, or adapt, skills to future-related goals such as combatting climate change
  • Participants suggested that the promotion of multiple routes into these professions, along with clear definitions of skills and qualifications and the funding of continuous professional development, should be improved.

Communication and people skills

  • People and communication skills are and will likely remain critical in future with the ability to work in a team being key in addressing complex needs in coordinated way
  • The ability to provide long-term vision, exploit opportunities and manage risks was identified as most important for managers and health professions while awareness of equality, diversity and inclusion emerged strongly across examined occupations, both with a view to current and future skills needs
  • Areas of change and adaptation focused on skills required for modern ways of working as well as communicating and working collaboratively to address climate change, improve sustainability and meet expectations for increased efforts on equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Teamwork skills were also highlighted as a key area for intervention with current teaching and training not seen to impart these skills sufficiently at present.
  • It was also noted that policy intervention on culture change was key to generating the necessary people and communication skills for the above goals but also a long-term process requiring open minds from all stakeholders.

Local Skills Dashboard: The DfE also launched the prototype of its local skills dashboard showing a subset of employment and skills statistics at Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) level to support local skills planning and deliver (including LSIPs). The statistics include:

  • employment rates and employment distribution by occupation
  • online job vacancy units
  • further education aim achievement volumes and achievements by sector subject area

The dashboard has been produced to support the aims of the new Unit for Future Skills, which was a key pledge within the Levelling Up White Paper earlier this year.

Local Skills Improvement Plans: And we’re not done yet – the DfE also published statutory guidance for the development and review of local skills improvement plans (LSIPs). It sets out the process for developing and reviewing an LSIP and the duties placed upon relevant providers once there is an approved LSIP in place.

  • LSIPs set out the key priorities and changes needed in a local area to make post-16 technical education or training more responsive and closely aligned to local labour market needs;
  • an LSIP will provide an agreed set of actionable priorities that employers, providers and stakeholders in a local area can get behind to drive change;
  • the agreed priorities will be informed by evidence of unmet and future skills needs and meaningful engagement between employers and providers;
  • an LSIP should not attempt to cover the entirety of provision within an area but focus on the key changes and priorities that can gain traction and maximise impact;
  • the priorities should look up to three years ahead. It is expected that the LSIP process will be repeated around every three years with interim reviews;
  • duties in respect to LSIPs have been placed upon specific providers that deliver English-funded post-16 technical education or training. These duties apply to Sixth Form Colleges where they deliver post-16 technical education for example T-Levels and BTECs; 3 and
  • the LSIP should describe how skills, capabilities and expertise required in relation to jobs that directly contribute to or indirectly support Net Zero targets, adaptation to Climate Change or meet other environmental goals have been considered.

Parliamentary questions

HE Bursaries (temporary!): Education Secretary James Cleverly has announced new bursaries to support learners taking part in the flexible short courses trials.

  • Learners who could struggle with study-related costs…can now apply for up to £2.5 million worth of targeted bursary funding to help them access new higher education ‘short courses’… 22 universities and colleges across England will be offering over 100 short courses to students from this September as part of a 3-year trial.
  • These courses that could be as short as 6 weeks – or as long as a year if studied part-time –  in subjects vital for economic growth including STEM, healthcare and education.
  • To support this flexible study, learners can now apply for tuition fee loans created especially for the short coursesto support them for the duration of their study and administered by the Student Loans Company.
  • Alongside this, bursary grants will be available for learners who need extra financial support to pay for additional costs associated with study… This includes the costs of learning materials such as books, childcare fees and learning support for disabled students.
  • The bursary is for the time-limited trial only, as broader decisions on the lifelong learning maintenance support are still subject to government policy decisions.

Degrees not required: The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) calls on employers to think strategically about their workforce requirements in new report. New CIPD research highlights that the majority of employers (57%) still mainly look for degrees or post-graduate qualifications when recruiting staff. While a degree is a requirement for certain occupations and roles, the CIPD is warning that too often employers base hiring decisions on whether someone has a degree or not, regardless of its relevance. By doing this, the CIPD says employers could be missing out on key talent, exacerbating skills gaps and reducing employment opportunities for people.

It is calling for employers to ensure that employers are thinking carefully about whether a degree is required for roles when hiring, and to invest in a range of vocational training options to upskill existing staff. The call comes at a time when the UK is facing a tight labour market and firms are struggling to find the skills they need in job candidates and in their own workforces.

Free Speech

The OfS published data on the number of speakers or events that were rejected by English universities and other higher education providers in 2020-21. The data is published alongside sector-wide information on the data universities and colleges return to the OfS as part of their compliance with the Prevent duty.

The data shows that 19,407 events were held by universities and colleges with external speakers in 2020-21, with 193 speaker requests or events rejected. A further 632 events were approved subject to mitigations. In previous years:

  • 53 events or speaker requests were rejected in 2017-18
  • 141 were rejected in 2018-19
  • 94 were rejected in 2019-20.

Commenting on the data, Susan Lapworth, interim chief executive at the OfS, said:

  • This data shows that more than 99% of events and speaker requests were approved in 2020-21 and suggests that – in general – universities and colleges remain places where debate and the sharing of ideas can thrive.
  • However, it is the case that the number and proportion of rejections sharply increased in 2020-21, with almost 200 speakers or events rejected. We would be concerned if those cases suggest that lawful views are being stifled.

Parliamentary questions

International Donors: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

  • Q – Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Do the Government share my concern at the injection of vast quantities of communist cash from countries such as China and Vietnam into our universities—Oxbridge colleges in particular? Will they set up a taskforce to examine the problem and make recommendations?
  • A – Michelle Donelan: We have recently added a further clause to our Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill to ensure that there is more transparency when it comes to the donations that our universities receive.

Quality Changes

The QAA made a surprise announcement that they would cease to be the Designated Quality Body in England from 31 March 2023.

Wonkhe report: In a move that sent shockwaves last week, the agency has chosen to “demit” statutory responsibilities in order to comply with international quality standards, thus remaining eligible for work in other UK nations and overseas. Though there will be no immediate impact on students or (for the most part) providers, the announcement embarrasses the Office for Students – the quality work it has been asking QAA to do deviates from those international standards by not involving student reviewers and not meeting transparency requirements.

More details in the blog – What does QAA walking away from being the designated quality body mean for universities? David Kernohan tries to make sense of it all.

Student Loans

The DfE and Student Loans Company announced that student loan interest rates will be reduced to 6.3% from September 2022 for those on Plan 2 and Plan 3 loans.

In June (in light of a potential 12% interest rate due to inflation) the Government used predicted market rates to cap interest rates to a maximum of 7.3%. The actual market figure is now 6.3%, so the cap has been reduced further to reflect this. The current maximum interest rate is 4.5%.

As we all know, these changes don’t affect actual payments, only the rate at which the amount owned will accrue.  As a consequence, press stories that this reduces the burden on graduates are nonsense, given that the majority will not repay in full.

You can read all the detail here.

Student Loans: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

Q – Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): The number of graduates owing more than £100,000 in student loans has gone up by more than 3,000% in a single year, with over 6,500 graduates now having six-figure balances. Next year, with inflation, things could be even worse. Will the Secretary of State detail what urgent action he is considering to tackle the huge levels of graduate debt?

A – The Minister for Higher and Further Education (Michelle Donelan): As the hon. Member will know only too well, we responded to the Augar report in full a few months ago. We tried to get the right balance in who pays, between the graduate and the taxpayer, so that we have a fair system in which no student will pay back more in real terms than they borrowed. This Government are focused on outcomes, making sure that degrees pay and deliver graduate jobs.

Homelessness, accommodation, mental health, cost of living and community

HEPI published a new report arguing that universities should do more to track and prevent homelessness among their students and could play a wider role in support efforts to end all forms of homelessness.  The report sets out 10 steps that universities can take to address homelessness.

Report author, Greg Hurst, said:

  • Widening access to higher education means broadening the composition of a university’s student body and, therefore, admitting more students whose past experiences and circumstances mean they face a higher risk of homelessness.
  • As we experience a surge in inflation to beyond 9 per cent, this is likely to mean that from the autumn more students struggle to pay higher food and energy costs alongside their rent. Many universities could and should ask themselves if they are doing enough to prevent homelessness among their current and recent students.

FE News reports on a new NUS survey related to the cost of living hike.

  • A third of students are living on less than £50 a month after paying rent and bills
  • Student survey finds over half are cutting back on food with more than one in ten accessing food banks
  • 42% being forced to travel less or can’t make it to campus
  • 41% are neglecting their health as a means to save money e.g. dental appointments
  • 1 in 5 not able to buy toiletries and 1 in 10 unable to buy sanitary products when needed.
  • To bridge the financial gap – 83% of students have sought financial support by other means:
    • a third are using credit cards
    • 24% have turned to buy now, pay later credit schemes
    • 12% have taken out bank loans
    • 53% of students have turned to their families and friends for financial support and 40% have reached out to them for loans
    • a third say the cost-of-living crisis has impacted those who support them.
  • Mental wellbeing: 92% of students reporting a negative impact on their mental health, and 31% reporting this to be a ‘major’ impact due to the financial struggles.
  • Apprentices were similarly affected by cost of living concerns and cutting back on their spending

A range of student focussed Wonkhe blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Mental Health: Oral questions from Monday 4 July

  • Q – What steps his Department is taking to help support students with their mental health.
  • A- The Minister for Higher and Further Education (Michelle Donelan): I have been relentlessly focused on this area, allocating £15 million to student mental health services to support the transition from school to university via the Office for Students. I have worked with the Office for Students to deliver and to keep student space and with the Department of Health and Social Care. I held a summit just last week with the Minister for Care and Mental Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), investing £3 million in bridging the gaps between NHS and university services

Admissions

HE success: Wonkhe blog – the OfS uses student and applicant characteristics to build models of likely success in higher education. With Associations Between Characteristics quintiles coming to Office for Students regulation, David Kernohan sets out to explain the confusing world of the ABCs.

Results Day: The Sutton Trust published new research on A Levels and university access this academic year finding that:

  • In 2021/22 over a third (34%) of students who applied for university this year have missed 11 or more days of school or college over the last academic year for covid related reasons, with 21% missing more than 20 days.
  • 72% of teachers think the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their classmates will widen at their school.
  • Almost half (45%) of teachers involved with exams this year do not think the mitigations in place have gone far enough to account for pandemic related disruption. This figure was higher for those working at state schools (46%) than in independent schools (38%). The research shows concerns about grades among university applicants have increased since 2021.
  • 62% of this year’s applicants felt they had fallen behind their studies compared to where they would have been without the disruption of the pandemic. This figure was higher for students in state (64%) than in private schools (51%).
  • Most A level teachers (80%) were able to cover the vast majority, 90% or more, of the content released in advanced information topics for most subjects. No teachers reported that they covered less than half of the content. A similar proportion (75%) had been able to cover 90% or more of the full syllabus. (But at what cost for students who require a slower pace, e.g. due to SEN?)
  • Most A level students applying to university felt the advanced information was helpful (76%). But only 52% thought the arrangements for exams this year had fairly taken into account the impact of the pandemic on students’ learning.
  • Most teachers (57%) agreed with Ofqual’s approach to grade boundaries this year, but a sizeable minority (29%) felt the approach was too strict. This proportion was higher in state (30%) than in private schools (23%).

Concerns for the future

  • 64% of applicants said they were worried about their grades, 8 percentage points higher than said the same last year. Just over 1 in 4 (27%) are very worried this year.
  • Students from working class backgrounds were 8 percentage points more likely to be concerned about their grades, at 70%, compared to 62% of those from middle class backgrounds.
  • 60% of applicants were worried about getting a place at their first choice university. 71% of working class applicants expressed concern about getting a place, 13 percentage points more than those from middle class backgrounds, at 58%.

Recommendations:

  • Applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have narrowly missed their offer grades should be given additional consideration in admissions and hiring decisions. Universities, employers, colleges and other training providers should consider that young people taking exams this year, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have faced considerable disruption over the last few years, and that the exam system has not taken into account individual learning loss within the pandemic.
  • Schools, colleges, training providers and universities should put adequate support in place for results day. Results day this year is likely to be particularly challenging, with many young people potentially needing to adjust plans if they have not met their offers. Schools, colleges, training providers and universities should work together to ensure adequate support is in place for young people having to make quick decisions on their next steps.
  • Universities should identify key gaps in learning at an early stage in the first term, and provide support if necessary. Students going onto higher education this year will still require additional help and support. Plans should be put in place to support students develop in key areas necessary to succeed in their course.
  • Universities should provide additional wellbeing supports for the incoming cohort. We are still learning the extent of the impacts on young people, and they are likely to have additional need of support for their wellbeing and mental health as they transition to life in higher education.
  • Government should fund additional catch-up support for school and college students. A renewed catch-up plan, with a scale of funding at a level to meet the need caused by the crisis should be put in place by government for future year groups, including those in 16-19 education. This should include extending the pupil premium to students in post-16 education.
  • Ofqual should review the mitigations put in place this year and consider adapting them for 2023, taking into account the views of teachers and young people who have been through the system this year. Next year’s exam students will have had longer back in school and college, but will still have faced considerable disruption due to the pandemic which should be taken into account in the exam process next year. Ofqual should carefully review this year’s approach and use learnings to inform any mitigations in place next year, including re-examining current plans to reduce grade inflation to pre-pandemic levels next year.

Parliamentary Questions:

Scotland: Despite the return to exams a record 60.1% of Scottish students gained a place at their firm choice university, up from the pre-pandemic level of 57.5% in 2019. This figure will rise as more confirmation decisions are made. You can see more of the detail in the UCAS statistical release. Scotland are also reporting continued success in widening access, with a chunk towards closing the gender progression gap for young people in Scotland (19 and under). In 2019, 50% more females progressed to higher education than males; on release day that has narrowed to 39% (from 47% last year).

Participation of young students from the most disadvantaged areas (SIMD40) was also up from pre-pandemic levels, with 23.9% of all acceptances from SIMD40 areas compared to 23.4 last year and 22.4% in 2019.

The overall number of Scottish students accepted is 30,490, up from 28,750 in 2019.
Of those accepted, 29,630 will be studying in Scotland – an increase of 1,740 on 2019.
The number of students accepted on to nursing courses is 2,960 – up by 450 compared to 2019.

Is free tuition in Scotland really capping places for Scottish university applicants? On Wonk Corner Jim takes a critical look at a report from Reform Scotland that calls for tuition fees..

Access & Participation

Summer Schools: TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in HE, the ‘what-works’ centre) published Summer Schools in the time of Covid-19 – interim findings of the impact on widening participation. (Also see the analysis conducted by the Behavioural Research Team here.) It assesses the impact of summer schools on disadvantaged students and finds that the programmes are not reaching those most in need. They concluded that summer schools designed to reduce equality gaps in access to higher education are largely attended by students already destined for university. However, the findings also indicate that attending a summer school may have a positive effect on disadvantaged or underrepresented students’ confidence in their ability to apply to, and succeed at, university, their perception of barriers to entry, and fitting in. This suggests that attendees are likely to start higher education in a better position than those who don’t attend.

In response to the findings, TASO recommends HE providers:

  • Collaborate with schools and colleges to better target and support disadvantaged and underrepresented young people to enrol in higher education.
  • Increase efforts to reach a wider range of young people through summer schools, or develop alternative programmes that effectively support those who are presently less likely to attend higher education.
  • Review attainment-raising activities for school age children, in line with recommendations in TASO’s recent rapid evidence review.
  • Continue to effectively evaluate programmes and generate more causal evidence to understand the impact of outreach activities by following TASO guidance.

Colleagues within this field won’t be surprised by the recommendations which are clearly in line with TASO objectives.  The final summer schools report will be published in 2023/24, and will focus on behavioural findings, including attainment and enrolment in higher education. TASO is running a second evaluation of face-to-face summer schools being delivered between June and August 2022 to compare the effects of online versus traditional delivery.

Free School Meals: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published analysis of free school meal recipients’ earnings, in comparison with their better-off peers. It finds that people who grew up in low-income households have lower average earnings at age 30, even when matching educational level and secondary school attainment.

  • Half of FSM students earned just £17,000 or less at age 30.
  • There is a persistent earnings gap between those who received free school meals in childhood and other students. Part of this overall gap in lower earnings is because of people from income-deprived backgrounds being much less likely to go on to higher education. The size of that overall earnings gap widens between the ages of 18 and 30 years, particularly around university graduation age. But even among those with the same qualification level and similar attainment in secondary school, disadvantaged pupils went on to earn less than their peers.
  • Researchers have explored explanations for the gap: education, experience in the workplace, ethnicity, gender and other possible factors. The earnings gap between free school meals recipients and non-recipients in state-funded schools can be mostly accounted for by these characteristics. However, students who went to independent privately funded schools (who are not eligible for free school meals) typically out earned most other students with a similar qualification level and key stage 4 (KS4) attainment by age 30. A free school meals student with similar characteristics would still earn around 20% less on average than an independent school student.
  • Of independent school students, the top 10% earned £71,000 or more but the top 1% earned upwards of £180,000. By contrast, of state school students not on free school meals, individuals would need to earn over £85,000 a year to be in the top 1%. Their earnings were at least double the salary of 90% of individuals in this group. The top 1% of free school meals students earned around £63,000. By contrast, 50% of people who were on free school meals earned £17,000 or less aged 30 years.
  • At age 18 years, there are only small differences in earnings between this cohort of free school meals recipients, non-recipients and independent school students. Between the ages of 18 and 30 years, the earnings gap widens between the three groups. There is a notable difference in earnings from around age 22 years, which is a common age to graduate university and take up employment.
  • 48% of those eligible for free school meals during their KS4 year completed a qualification above GCSE level. That compares with 71% of state-educated students who were not eligible for free school meals, and 96% of students at independent school who went on to complete a higher qualification than GCSE level.
  • At all levels of qualification, those eligible for free school meals were earning less at age 30 years than their peers who had the same highest level of qualification.
  • At age 30 years, independent school pupils have the highest earnings in almost every group of people with the same highest level of qualification. For example, of everyone who left school after GCSEs, individuals who went to independent school have the highest earnings, likewise for bachelor’s degree and those with no qualifications.
  • The earnings gap is largest for those with level 6 qualifications (which includes degree level).
  • Educational KS4 attainment does not close the earnings gap: How well individuals do at each level of education can also affect their earnings later in life, but this alone does not close the earnings gap between students of different backgrounds.
  • Those with higher KS4 attainment (GCSE level) had higher earnings in all groups, that is, for students on free school meals, state-educated students not on free school meals and independent school students.
  • As the gap in earnings widens over time between these groups, particularly at a typical university leaving age of 22 years, educational attainment at KS4 does not account for differences in future earnings.
  • An independent school student who was in the bottom 20% nationally for GCSE attainment earned an average of around £22,000 at age 30 years. An individual who was from an income-deprived background and on free school meals would typically have to be in the top 40% nationally for KS4 attainment to have similar earnings aged 30 years.

Care Experienced: Hear from care experienced student, Anas Dayeh, on why he has chosen to run for the National Labour Students Committee.

WP Statistics: The DfE published the 2022 Widening participation in HE statistics.  They include estimates of state-funded pupils’ progression to higher education (HE) by age 19 according to their personal characteristics (at age 15) with all the measures you’d expect including FSM, care and SEN. The publication also includes:

  • geographic breakdowns to enable comparisons of HE progression rates between local authorities and regions
  • estimated percentages of A level and equivalent students at age 17, by school or college type, who progressed to HE by age 19
  • progression by POLAR disadvantage and Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework rating
  • breakdowns for high tariff HE providers

Steven Haines, Director of Public Affairs at youth charity  Impetus  said:

  • We’re encouraged to see a historic rate of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds progressing to university and a decrease in the access gap after many years of it growing.
  • However, even with more people entering higher education than ever, the gap remains stubbornly large. It is not enough to rely on Higher Education expansion to close this gap – we need concerted efforts to ensure young people from all backgrounds get the support they need to access and succeed. This means high-quality tutoring, comprehensive contextual offers, and support to overcome additional barriers such as a sense of belonging.

Parliamentary Questions:

Gypsies, Roma and Travellers participating in HE

HEPI published Gypsies, Roma and Travellers: The ethnic minorities most excluded from UK education. Key points:

  • Gypsy, Roma and Travellers of Irish heritage have the widest attainment gap in measures of pupils achieving a good level of development in early years education;
  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils have some of the lowest rates of attendance and the highest rates of permanent exclusion from schools;
  • in 2020/21, 9.1% of Gypsy / Roma pupils and 21.1% of Irish Traveller pupils achieved a grade 5 or above in GCSE English and Mathematics, compared to a national average in England of 51.9%;
  • young people from Gypsy / Roma and Irish Traveller communities are the least likely ethnic groupings to enter higher education by the age of 19 – just 6.3% of Gypsy / Roma and 3.8% of Irish Travellers access higher education by the age of 19 compared to around 40% of all young people;
  • Gypsy and Irish Travellers are the UK’s ‘least liked’ group, with 44.6% of people holding negative views against them – 18.7 percentage points higher than Muslims; and
  • Irish Travellers face a ‘mental health crisis’, with one-in-10 deaths caused by suicide.

Policy recommendations include:

  1. Better data collection: clear and consistent data collection of students and staff who identify as Gypsy, Roma, Traveller, Showman and Boaters at education institutions.
  2. Recognising Gypsy, Roma and Traveller histories: marking Holocaust Memorial Day (January), International Roma Remembrance Day (April) and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller participation History Month (June).
  3. More tailored funding: £60 million Government funding to work with community groups to improve outcomes.

Dr Laura Brassington, said: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller individuals still face exclusion from education. It is tragic that so many avoid identifying by their ethnicity for fear of racial prejudice. It is scarcely believable they still face so many barriers when accessing mainstream education. Education institutions could commit to change this situation by doing more to recognise the challenges and signing the Pledge to tackle them, while policymakers should improve data collection and find the modest sum of money that could make a huge difference.

Undergraduate data skills

The Office for Students (OfS) has published the final report of the National Data Skills pilot programme, which in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The pilot programme was funded as part of an extension to the artificial intelligence and data science postgraduate conversion course programme, which has shown an increase in diversity for groups who are underrepresented in the AI and data science industries, and to fill the skills gap in technology.

Recommendations

  1. DCMS should work with key stakeholders to develop and agree appropriate terminology and definitions for data skills and data literacy, including the extent to which these should be considered ‘foundational’ in the context of HE provision.
  2. The sector should undertake further strategic consultation with industry to establish the types of data skills that employers are seeking from graduates, to ensure that curricula and other data skills learning is as fit-for-purpose as realistically possible.
  3. The sector should consider a focused programme of work to develop a range of materials demonstrating the value of data skills to those working in a wide range of early careers, so that more students appreciate their potential future value.
  4. Providers need to undertake longer-term, substantive evaluation of different approaches to data skills teaching, building on the pilot projects in this study, in order to obtain a more robust evidence base about the effectiveness of approaches.
  5. The sector should consider the potential value of a national programme to upskill noncognate HE teaching staff to build their confidence in delivering data skills teaching, highlight best practice in teaching students with mixed abilities and prior experiences, and share practice and resources

Other news

  • PQ on Nurse training places (universities)
  • PQ on Strategic priorities grant – London weighting
  • PQ on what steps they are taking to ensure sufficient funding for arts and humanities subjects in higher education in the (1) short, and (2) long, term; and what assessment they have made of (a) the potential shortfall in funding after the cessation of funding from the European Research Council ceases, and (b) general pressures on funding for arts and humanities subjects in higher education.

Allied health returnees: New university courses launched to help allied health professionals return to practice.  The short, distance-learning courses are aimed at AHPs including art, drama and music therapists; chiropodists and podiatrists; occupational therapists; dietitians; orthoptists; paramedics; physiotherapists; operating department practitioners; prosthetists and orthotists; diagnostic and therapeutic radiographers; and speech language therapists.

It is hoped the initiative can be extended to support other professions including biomedical scientists, clinical scientists, hearing aid dispensers and practicing psychologists.

Funding of up to £800 is also available to help students with out-of-pocket expenses. More information is available here:-  https://www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/allied-health-professions/return-practice-allied-health-professionals-healthcare-scientists-practising-psychologists/supporting-your-study

Welsh Student Social Workers:  Student led campaign increases financial support for social work students in Wales. Starting from September 2022, the bursary for both undergraduates and postgraduates in Wales will be increased by over 50%

Professional Services: What about professional services staff? Richard Watermeyer, Tom Crick and Cathryn Knight take steps to amplify the voices of a “massive minority” of colleagues on their experiences during the pandemic.

Level 3 courses: The Department for Education has published a report on the findings from an independent evaluation of the level 3 free courses for jobs offer and the impact it has had on adult learners and providers.

Recognising qualifications: UK and India signed an agreement officially recognising each other’s higher education qualifications. The agreement is expected to attract more international students to the UK – with each student estimated to be worth more than £100,000 to the economy This is the first of three elements of the UK-India Enhanced Trade Partnership agreed by the Prime Minister in 2021.

Bust: Wonkhe notes that five years into the life of the Office for Students, we are still no clearer about what happens to insolvent providers.

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HE policy update for the w/e 4th April 2022

The Government has announced the current Parliamentary session will be prorogued in April (date not confirmed yet) (you’ll remember that process from “that” prorogation).  A new session will commence with a State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday 10 May. This means that legislation that is currently incomplete will either be dropped or will need to be allotted parliamentary time for a carry over motion debate (not quite as easy as it sounds). For HE this means the future of the controversial HE Freedom of Speech Bill is less certain although Wonkhe reported that it is likely to be carried over.

Meanwhile the Government has a plethora of consultations and white and green papers out. We can expect expectations for these to feature in the Queen’s Speech. For HE we will be watching for the legislative and regulatory changes required to implement the lifelong loan entitlement and the response to Augar (see our 3rd March update for more info. Consultations on many aspects of these things close on 6th May, so we won’t get definitive announcements on the detail that is being consulted on, and the Queen’s speech itself is very high level and so are the policy statements that come out with it.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The Skills Bill is one they are trying to get through before prorogation.  The Skills Bill parliamentary ping pong continues with MPs rejecting the Lords amendment relating to the changeover from BTECs and T levels. The Lords attempted to delay the defunding of BTECs and force a public consultation but MPs overturned it through their majority in the Commons. Compromises were also made on vocational careers advice provided by schools.

The outcome and more details of all the Skills Bill amendment are available in this Dods summary. The Commons Library also have a useful publication highlighting the changes as the Bill has progressed through the legislative system, shorter version here.

Next: the Bill will pong back to the Lords on Thursday 7 April. The Lords will consider the MPs’ rejection of Lord Blunkett’s BTEC amendment, which attempted to attach conditions to the defunding of BTEC/level 3 technical qualifications. Potential options:

  • The Lords will accept the rejection and will not push for the amendment to added again (at this point, the Bill would have completed its passage and will be sent for Royal Assent)
  • The Government will bring forward a compromise amendment, and the Lords will vote on this (if it passes, it will have to go back to the Commons where it would be agreed)
  • Lord Blunkett will move to disagree with the Commons’ decision on his amendment and re-introduce it again in its current form (this is the least likely option, but it would then ping back to the Commons).

Compromise is the usual solution when there is a hard stop like this.

Levelling Up

Citizenship within Levelling up policy: The Lords Liaison Committee published a follow-up report examining the Government’s progress in  implementing the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement’s 2018 report. While the (new) report focuses on citizenship, including the educational delivery of citizenship, it is worth looking past this because the Lords highlighting the importance of citizenship within the Government’s current flagship levelling up policy. In brief, the Lords criticised:

  • Poor progress in improving Governmental coordination of citizenship and civic engagement policy since 2018. The Lords recommended a Minister with responsibility for Citizenship and Civic Engagement be appointed immediately within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) or the Cabinet Office. The new Minister to be given latitude and authority to facilitate integrated policymaking across the Government departments including a permanent seat on the Domestic and Economic (Levelling Up) Cabinet Committee.
  • The Lords are also concerned that as cabinet committee meeting are not available for public scrutiny that the Levelling Up Cabinet Committee may not be meeting or gaining traction. The related Inter-Ministerial Group leading on similar Citizenship content has not met since 2019: the Committee saw good intent in relation to the Inter-Ministerial Group for Safe and Integrated Communities and yet that group did not meet for three consecutive years. They’ve called for evidence of the scale of the work expected to be undertaken by the Domestic and Economic (Levelling Up) Cabinet Committee.
  • Also the Levelling Up Cabinet Committee is criticised for the lack of cross-departmental members particularly from the Cabinet Office and the DfE.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who was the Chair of the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement commented:

  • Things have gone backwards rather than forwards with citizenship education in the UK since our last report. This is despite the government’s clear commitment to levelling up across the country and an Elections Bill where great stress is being placed on the importance of engagement with our voting system…
  • We were promised a cross-department Minister, we didn’t get one. We were told that Ofsted should treat citizenship education is a core part of the curriculum, the evidence shows they don’t. The government had a chance to put things right in its Schools White Paper. It appears that they have missed the opportunity to do so. There is just one mention of citizenship in the Schools White Paper, and it is mentioned in the context of volunteering. We urge the Government to think again. Otherwise, they risk damaging democracy for generations to come.

Also on levelling up – Wonkhe report: Speaking to Chris Skidmore at a ResPublica event yesterday, Secretary of State for Levelling Up Michael Gove expressed his view that the number of students in higher education should be further extended, and drew links between recruitment and research and development in the creation of local high quality jobs. On the future development of the sector he saw a mixture of national missions and provider aspirations driving future developments. A twitter thread describes the key points of the discussion, and a recording is available.

Research

Dods have this on the research side of the Spring Statement:

In his Spring Statement to the House, the Chancellor also unveiled a new ‘tax plan’, part of which outlines what his focus will be for the Autumn Budget later this year. This included:

  • Considering whether the current tax system, including the operation of the Apprenticeship Levy, is doing enough to incentivise businesses to invest in right kind of training.
  • Reforming R&D tax credits to be more effective, expanding the reliefs to include data, cloud computing and pure maths, and considering whether to make the R&D spending credit more generous.
  • He said he would also cut the tax rates on business investment in Autumn, and would consult with employers and businesses in the run-up to the Budget.

On R&D tax reliefs, the Chancellor announced these would be reformed in the Autumn Budget 2021, following a consultation launched in the Spring Budget earlier that year.

  • “The government set out in the Tax Administration and Maintenance Command Paper that R&D tax reliefs would be reformed to include some cloud and data costs and refocus support on R&D carried out in the UK. The government has listened to stakeholders and can confirm that from April 2023, all cloud computing costs associated with R&D, including storage, will qualify for relief. The government remains committed to refocus support towards innovation in the UK, ensuring that the UK more effectively captures the benefits of R&D funded by the reliefs. The government recognises that there are some cases where it is necessary for the R&D to take place overseas. The government will, therefore, legislate so that expenditure on overseas R&D activities can still qualify where there are:
  • material factors such as geography, environment, population or other conditions that are not present in the UK and are required for the research – for example, deep ocean research
  • regulatory or other legal requirements that activities must take place outside of the UK – for example, clinical trials
  • To support the growing volume of R&D underpinned by mathematical advances, the definition of R&D for tax reliefs will be expanded by clarifying that pure mathematics is a qualifying cost. Where required, legislation will be published in draft before being included in a future Finance Bill to come into effect in April 2023.”

Delivering a UK science and technology strategy: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee heard evidence from NERC, the Medical Research Council and ESRC at the session on delivering a science and technology strategy. They covered funding and the relative responsibilities of the research councils and other delivery organisations. All the key points that you’d expect were touched upon such as 2.4% R&D funding, Horizon, interdisciplinary research promotion, research morale and opinion of UKRI, academic/industry interaction, and how the research councils will interact with Government departments and budgetary implications. Summary here. Your policy team was also happy to hear that incorporating more academic research into government policymaking was addressed and it was suggested that UKRI could do more to coordinate the work with research councils to this end. BU researchers who are interested in sharing their work with policy makers or interested in influencing policy making are encouraged to sign up to our regular influence digest which highlights opportunities, sector policy news and shares top tips to increase influencing success.

Russia research | Ukraine support package: The Government announced a £3m support package to support Ukrainian researchers at risk and the suspension of publicly funded research and innovation collaborations with Russian Universities and companies of strategic benefit to the Russian state. Research Minister George Freeman stated:

  • All payments for projects delivered through UK public research funds with a Russian dimension have been paused. I have commissioned an assessment, on top of the existing and strong due diligence processes of UK public research funders, to isolate and freeze activities which benefit the Russian regime.
  • We will not fund any new collaborative projects with Russia through our research and innovation organisations.
  • We have suspended existing government to government dialogue through our science and innovation network team in Russia including their collaborative science projects.
  • Where the UK is a member of multilateral organisations, we are working at pace with partners to respond appropriately – holding Russia to account for its actions while diminishing and isolating its influence.
  • We are standing up a £3 million package of support for Ukrainian researchers at risk. We stand with Ukraine, its democratically elected government and its brave people at this awful time.

Wonkhe tell us more on the Ukrainian package: The British Academy, UK National Academies, and the Council for At-Risk Academics have announced the Researchers at Risk Fellowship Programme – a new fellowship scheme for Ukrainian researchers who are fleeing the conflict or are already in the UK and unable to return. £3m is being contributed by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, and £0.5m from the Nuffield Foundation. The funding will provide visas, a salary, research costs, and living costs to successful applicants, and will be open to all postdoctoral or those with equivalent experience in all disciplines. Participatory institutions will need to identify six months’ worth of accommodation for recipients and their dependants. 

A parliamentary question asking if universities should take action against academics who promote pro-Putin propaganda (set within the backdrop of the Government’s steer on HE upholding free speech) is met with a beautifully fence sitting answer:  Alongside our allies, we are united in support for Ukraine. Universities, as independent and autonomous organisations, should decide whether to investigate such incidences.

Quick news:

  • Wonkhe – The Economic and Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, have announcedcollaborative UK-Japan projects which have been awarded funding to support international efforts to manage the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • George Freeman (Science, Research and Innovation Minister) provided a written ministerial statement on the Intellectual Property Office performance targets and transformation projects.

Parliamentary Questions

Blogs:

Financial sustainability of the HE sector in England and the Spring Statement

The Public Accounts Committee published the oral evidence from the latest Financial sustainability of the HE sector in England session. The DfE and OfS were called as witnesses. A shorter summary is here. The session covered grade inflation, international students, financial support/Augar, risk modelling, student satisfaction and outcomes, regulation, value for money, student protection plans, minimum entry requirements, and the new loan terms.

In the Spring Statement the Chancellor said that there would be a review of the apprenticeship levy.

Regarding levy reform, last month the CBI challenged the Government to pursue more ambitious growth with new policies – one of which was to replace the Apprenticeship Levy with a new Skills Challenge Fund, to “incentivise more flexible training to meet skill shortages and rewards firms who invest beyond their apprenticeship levy levels”. Leaders across the sector have raised Levy reform for some time, and today’s announcement could represent a step towards this.

PQs:

Education Committee: Universities

The Education Committee ran a session questioning witnesses on the HE sector. Topics included outcomes for disadvantaged students, anti-Semitism and free speech. The NUS was criticised by Committee Chair Robert Halfon as they did not provide a witness for the session. A summary of the committee session is available here provided by Dods and good coverage by Wonkhe is available in: Is OfS asleep or woke at the wheel?

Here are the key discussion points from the session (which at times felt like an echo chamber):

  • 92% of the British public believe antisemitism is a problem in universities.
  • The witnesses presented a number of points to evidence that universities are not upholding free speech.
  • The Committee criticised the OfS for not intervening enough to tackle antisemitism in universities including noting that the rapper Lowkey had been asked to attend the NUS conference, a rapper he said had made antisemitic statements. The committee then went on to criticise the University of Nottingham for revoking the honorary degree award to Tony Sewell following a report on UK institutional racism. Highlighting once again the difficulty of drawing the unclear free speech/antisemitism line with different actors believing it should be drawn in different places.
  • While headline figures suggest more disadvantaged pupils are going to university the number of part time students has dropped. Disadvantaged pupils remain less likely to access the higher tariff institutions, more likely to drop out and less likely to have good employment outcomes. Concern was express that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged is not narrowing.
  • On disadvantaged students witness McKellar (VP at UUK) said disadvantaged students started form a legacy of poorer education, and often had to do part-time work, because they lacked social capital.  There was a need for universities to create Access and Participation Plans (APPs) which supported disadvantaged students. He said in general these plans had worked better in other areas, such as closing the BAME attainment gap.
  • Witness Humphries (Chair, University Alliance) said the availability of more scholarships and support – including grants as low as £500 – would help. She also pointed to the role of peer mentoring and better careers guidance.
  • Dandridge (OfS) stated tackling disadvantage was a core priority as in addition to APPs the OfS looks at post-university progression, as poor progression after university could be a breach of a regulatory condition. Dandridge also stated disadvantaged participation was creeping up but measures not happening fast enough.
  • Careers and the role of research and knowledge exchange with employers were discussed.
  • Old chestnuts such as students not repaying their loans and is attending university really of value to society or enabling social mobility were trotted out. As were courses that were poor value for money (due to strike action, poor mental health support, high costs of tuition and lack of in-person teaching). Pensions were mentioned.
  • Blended learning was discussed with an overall positive tone.
  • BAME students drop out / lower degree classification and staff representation in senior roles were raised. Diversity at Board level was raised. McKellar (UUK) called for quotas for both academic staff numbers and senior representation of BAME staff. Dandridge (OfS) highlighted the UKRI programme on black progression into research careers.
  • On the Government’s implementation of the Augar review Clare Merchant (Chief Executive, UCAS) said recent UCAS analysis on GCSE English and Maths levels suggested that those on free school meals, some BAME communities, and those in certain disadvantaged areas, were less likely to obtain the requisite levels at GCSE. Other concerns about the impact of minimum entry requirements and possible student number caps and their disproportionately disadvantaging effect compounding existing disadvantage were raised by other witnesses.

Related to the above points made during the Education Committee are comments that Emma Hardy (previous Shadow Minister for FE & HE Education) made at an accountability meeting and again at the Treasury Committee Spring Statement session. Wonkhe report: At the Treasury Committee Emma Hardy highlighted the regressive nature of changes to student loans, and the impact of these changes on the national accounts. Rishi Sunak described the reforms as “sensible”, and emphasised that nobody will pay more back in real terms than what they borrowed. Hardy noted that this change would only affect higher earners, with lower earning graduates likely to pay more than under the current system. Sunak rejected Hardy’s characterisation of the changes as “a tax on low earners” despite the evidence presented from Office for Budgetary Responsibility and Department for Education figures. You can watch the committee session on parliamentlive.tv.

There’s also a very short Wonkhe explainer, snippet:

  • Hardy’s argument is that this has a place based effect – graduates earning around the average wage in Hull will pay a lot more than they currently do, graduates earning around the average wage in London will pay less than currently. The opposite – in other words – of “levelling up”.
  • There’s a tendency in expert commentary to see this as a niche issue affecting only a small part of the population – but with participation rates rising (and set to rise further if we take into account both demographic bulging and the LLE opening the loan system to more people) there is a sizable marginal tax rate impact for a large part of a generation.

Graduate Jobs

The Institute of Student Employers has released their 2022 Student Development report which compiles trends following a survey of the Institute’s employer membership base. It’s sat behind a paywall so here is Wonkhe’s synopsis:

  • Every year Institute of Student Employers (ISE) surveys its member employers to get their view of graduate skills – in this year’s Student Development Survey reportwe get the picture of the impact of the pandemic, as well as an update on larger trends in graduate employment, with data drawn from 107 employers. ISE analysis concludes “there is a renewed focus on the soft skills required for a post-Covid workplace.”
  • A third of respondents say their skills needs have changed as a result of Covid-19 – focusing on independence, resilience/growth mindset, adaptability, and confidence. 65 per cent of employers expect their new hires to be able to work remotely, up from 45 per cent in 2021. There is also greater expectation that graduates will arrive with technical skills such as coding and data analysis – or be able to acquire these skills. Expert insight from University of Leeds academic Helen Hughes suggests that early career hires may struggle to access development opportunities and secure visibility of their work if there is more hybrid and remote working.
  • There is a long term downward trend in retention of graduate hires three years post-graduation – down to 72 per cent from 79 per cent in 2011, suggesting that employers may need to work harder to retain early career staff in the post-Covid workplace. 61 per cent reported demand for mental health support has increased during the pandemic and 89 per cent report providing mental health support and counselling particularly for early career hires.

There’s also a blog written by Nicola Thomas of ISE: Never have the skills required to thrive in the workplace shifted so dramatically in a two year period as in the last two years.

Access & Participation

We wrote about UUK’s new Fair Admissions Code of Practice recently – as of 1st April there is a long list of universities who have signed up to it.

The OfS issued some data on their participation performance measures.

As you have seen in our recent commentary on the B3 licence condition consultation and TEF plans, continuation is a key metric for the OfS.  They note from this data that there is a difference of 3.7% for continuation between the most and least represented groups.  These splits will feature in the regulatory and the TEF data and so we can expect scrutiny of this – the Ofs target is “To eliminate the unexplained gap in non-continuation between most and least represented groups by 2024-25, and to eliminate the absolute gap by 2030-31”.

Wonkhe report on the black attainment (degree classification) gap:

  • The gap between the proportion of black undergraduate qualifiers and the proportion of white qualifiers in England achieving a first class degree has almost doubled in a decade, widening to almost 20 percentage points in 2020-21…..Its headline measure on “good honours” attainment, which combines first class and upper second class honours, saw further improvement as a continuation of a long term trend – but masks the significant differential when only considering firsts.

Similar issues apply to the degree outcomes for disabled students.

As well as updating the KPM analysis, OfS has updated its Access and Participation Dashboard with figures for 2020-21, updated sector-level information on student’s qualifications on entry to higher education and their subject of study, and published a report that summarises the key gaps in access, continuation and attainment at a sector level for different student characteristics.

Blogs

Parliamentary Questions

OfS

It is Ministerial letter time.  After the flurries of letters from Gavin Williamson, things had gone a bit quiet, but a letter appeared on 31st March 2022, offering guidance on strategic priorities.  It replaces  the previous guidance up to February 2021, but notably the guidance on teaching grant (strategic priorities grant) stays in place.  The priorities as set out will not surprise you.  Although the encouragement to the OfS to carry out in person inspections of 10-15 institutions is interesting and the instructions on how the new B3 enforcement regime will be carried out.

  • We are clear that HE has an important role to play in delivering the government’s moral, economic and social vision for levelling up: supporting strong regional and economic growth, developing partnerships with Further Education colleges and local employers to improve the skills base nationally, and working with schools to drive up attainment
  • We welcome the OfS’s ongoing engagement on the development of the LLE to date and would like this engagement to continue in 2022-23. Together we need to ensure that the LLE is supported by an appropriate regulatory regime, fully equipped to support radically different, flexible arrangements, measuring quality using metrics that are meaningful in the new system and which interact positively with our admissions regime
  • Cold spots…We would like the OfS to explore ways of encouraging the expansion of HE provision into new areas, while ensuring that high quality provision is maintained
  • We would like the OfS to work with officials to help to grow the uptake of high-quality technical education and degree apprenticeships including, where possible, through the use of access and participation targets, information and guidance, as well as supporting the raising of the profile of IoTs.
  • … it is our clear and firm expectation that the OfS will use the new outcome thresholds to identify providers with unacceptable levels of performance and challenge them. In the event that they cannot convincingly explain and justify their student outcomes data, then this should provide the basis for generating robust regulatory investigation and action. In cases where low and unacceptable quality is confirmed, action should include, where appropriate, financial penalties and ultimately the suspension or removal of the provider from the register (and with it, access to student finance)
  • our priorities for investigation are:
    • larger providers with university title which are below proposed numerical thresholds either for the whole provider, or multiple subject areas; and
    • a set of investigations focused on a major subject grouping with large numbers of students and high variation in outcomes, such as Computer Science or Law, with the intention to drive up the quality of those courses across the sector as a whole; and
    • providers where OfS has long-standing concerns about quality which are confirmed or strengthened by numerical data on student outcomes
  • Our expectation is that the OfS should … implement a visible and effective inspections regime against the other B (Quality) conditions of registration, that will involve on-site inspection of 10-15 providers next year, that will root out pockets of poor provision and will result in regulatory action where appropriate. Through this activity, we would expect the OfS to focus on the following priorities:
    • that online learning should be used to complement and enhance a student’s learning experience, not to detract from it;
    • the provision of sufficient contact hours, particularly where this has been flagged by intelligence from students; and
    • the importance of maintaining rigour in assessment, including appropriate technical proficiency in English necessary to secure a good outcome for all or some students.
  • …., we want to offer our support for the OfS proposals for a refreshed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and, in particular, welcome the proposed introduction of the new ‘Requires Improvement’ category
  • On APP: we would like the OfS to work at pace to publish guidance this spring, calling for providers to bring forward variations to their current A&P plans where these do not currently meet the new expectations. We would like to see these approved this autumn, to take effect from September 2023. Where providers with substandard plans fail to bring forward variations voluntarily, the OfS should not hesitate in calling on those providers to submit a new plan for approval.
  • We endorse the OfS’s proposal to move to a four-year A&P plan cycle, with a full rewrite of new A&P plans at the end of 2023, to come into effect by September 2024
  • We would also like to see providers incorporate data on completion rates and entry into professional employment, or further study, in all their advertising of subjects and courses from the start of the next admissions cycle
  • Anti-Semitism, freedom of Speech bill
  • We welcome the OfS’s publication of the statement of expectations on sexual harassment and misconduct last Spring …. in our view, the OfS should include this in a condition of registration as soon as possible.
  • we would like the OfS to work with officials and sector stakeholders to consider how we can ensure that the student interest is placed at the centre of fair and transparent admissions practices, and that the sector avoids practices where students may feel pressured into making decisions, including through the use of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers

And on funding – a separate letter also came out on grant funding.  Research Professional have a summary:

  • …the ministers set out how funding will be distributed next year after it pledged £750 million over three years last month to support “high-quality teaching and facilities” such as engineering and nursing.
  • The strategic priorities grant will rise by 5 per cent to £1,397m in 2022-23 from £1,330 million in 2021-22. Of the £56m rise, £32m is for strategically important subjects, particularly those connected to health.
  • Capital funding will be £450m between 2022-23 and 2024-25, compared with £150m in 2021-22. There will be up to £4m across the 2022-23 financial year to support Ukrainian nationals and Ukrainian-domiciled students affected by the war, and universities will have £5m to set aside for “emerging priorities”.
  • However, the student outreach programme Uni Connect will lose £10m next year after losing £20m this year, and student hardship funds will go without the £5m pandemic-related boost they received last year. 

More detail from RP here.  And you can find the letter itself here.  Some interesting points:

  • we want to further accelerate the growth of degree apprenticeships and encourage Higher Education Providers to expand their existing offers, or develop new ones, where they are best placed to do so. We will explore options with the OfS for supporting this important provision with up to £8m of funding for this goal
  • To encourage greater provision of level 4 and 5 qualifications we are providing £8m in the 2022-23 financial year to be allocated to providers with eligible learners on level 4 and 5 qualifications, through formula funding
  • we will explore options with the OfS for using an additional £10m of funding in the 2022-23 financial year to increase the amount of skills provision at levels 4 to 6 available in preparation for the launch of the LLE from 2025.
  • Mental Health: We have listened to students and the HE sector and would like the OfS to distribute funding, at a similar level to that disbursed last year, to give additional support for transitions from school/college to university, and through targeting funding to support partnership working with NHS services to provide pathways of care for students
  • No additional student hardship funding for 2022/23
  • Capital funding: We would like the OfS to continue allocating the majority of funds to providers through a competitive bidding process, to continue to target funds at specific projects and activities supporting high-quality, skills-based education but to do so using a multi-year approach.

In the meantime the OfS had published their 2022-2025 strategy focusing on quality and standards, and on equality of opportunity. The strategy aims for:

  • students to receive a high quality academic experience that improves their knowledge and skills, with increasing numbers receiving excellent provision
  • rigorous assessment and for qualifications to be credible and comparable
  • a focus on free speech
  • using incentivisation, regulation and providing a focus so that the subjects graduates study contribute usefully to the economy/industry and the levelling up agenda
  • student access, success and progression is not limited by their background, location or characteristics
  • a diverse range of courses and providers are available for students to choose from; provision is flexible and innovative and access to people at all life stages
  • harassment and sexual misconduct are responded to effectively if they occur
  • the environment supports student mental health and wellbeing to enable success in HE
  • HE providers are financially viable, sustainable and have effective governance
  • the promised academic experience is delivered to students and consumer protection is applied
  • minimising the OfS regulatory burden – action to meet the OfS goals and regulatory objectives

A summary is available here. Full content here.

Details of the latest appointments to the OfS board are here.

PQs:

Education Policies: White and Green

Education: Schools White Paper: The Schools White Paper – Opportunity for All: strong schools with great teachers for your child. Dods summary here (see first 6 pages).
Key aspects of the paper are:

  • Strong teaching (including aspects on teacher training, recruitment and the retention of teachers delivering key subjects in deprived areas through enhanced pay).
  • High standards for the curriculum (English and Maths are key foci, increasing average GCSE grade from 4.5 to 5 by 2030), behaviour and attendance (minimum 32.5 hours in school by 2023). Every school to have access to funded training for a senior mental health lead to deliver a whole school approach to health and wellbeing. New plans for sport, music and cultural education. New modern foreign language network hubs and professional development. More students to take the EBACC.
  • Targeted support for children who are behind in English and maths via a new parent pledge, guidance on the catch up (again with parent communications so parents stay informed) but without labelling and over testing; tutoring expected to be funded out of school core budgets including pupil premium.
  • All schools to be in a ‘strong’ multi-academy trust (MAT) by 2030 with new intervention powers to address MATs that are not strong. (There’s a new consultation on it here.) Plus transparency measures for parents to understand their top slicing of school budgets. Exceptionally schools may be able to move MATs. Local Authorities will receive ‘backstop powers’ to force trusts to admit children, and to object to schools’ published admissions numbers. Lots more on MATs in the summary.
  • A nice section in the summary page 5-6 which highlights the ‘re-announcements’ i.e. the aspects the Government have already released information or funding on. So if you are wondering if some aspects are new money or new interventions the ‘re-announcements’ detail what isn’t new but makes sense to sit under the White Paper umbrella.

SEN Green Paper: Nadhim Zahawi launched the green paper Special Education Needs and Disability Review through a debate in Parliament on Tuesday. Dods summarise the content here or there is a short Government press release: Ambitious reform for children and young people with SEND.

Other news

NUS: The NUS have elected new leadership. Wonkhe – NUS has announced that Shaima Dallali – currently President of City, University of London Students’ Union – was elected UK President for a two year term starting in July. Chloe Field – from Liverpool Guild of Students – was elected Vice President for Higher Education. Jewish News reports on concerns over Dallali’s “historic tweets” (since deleted), and her apology for them.

HE Data Reduction: Yes, you’ve heard it all before. Here’s the news from Wonkhe:  Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan has announced that she will chair a HE Data Reduction Taskforce. The new taskforce will meet every six weeks to “streamline and simplify reporting requirements” on higher education institutions. We understand that representatives from HESA, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the Student Loans Company, OfS, Ofsted, Ofqual, UCAS, and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education – along with experts from the wider sector – will have a particular focus on instances of duplication in data requirements. The Task Force will produce interim recommendations within three months, and a final report after six months.

This announcement comes following a written parliamentary question from Shadow HE minister last week asking Michelle Donelan what steps have been taken to ensure that higher education providers have a good understanding of (a) the reasons for which the Office for Students collects the data it does and (b) how it uses that data.

Turing mobility scheme: PIE news has a good quick read:

  • Improvements proposed for UK Turing scheme. Excerpt: while the new outward mobility program is being praised for the short mobility opportunities it presents and its weighting towards disadvantaged students, improvements could create a more efficient program, they have suggested.
  • UUKi is calling for the current 12-month project cycle to be shifted to a multi-year funding model.
  • “We think [that] would better support, not only the Global Britain agenda and the widening participation goals, but students to apply for actual funding so they can have funding confirmed earlier on,” said UUKi head of Global Mobility Policy Charley Robinson.

More here. And the second year of the Turing Scheme bids has opened.

Graduate shaped learning: Wonkhe – Miriam Firth explains why incorporating graduates’ working experiences into teaching is essential to helping students develop.

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HE policy update for the w/e 18th March 2022

A wide ranging update for you this week!

Parliamentary News

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to deliver his spring statement. Wonkhe predict: tough times are coming for a sector that almost certainly won’t feature in any list of political priorities. For students, thanks to the way these things have been historically calculated, inflation-linked rises to student maintenance will literally come too little, too late – eating into the buffer that funds participation in student life beyond the bare minimum…For universities in England, the announced fee cap freeze, coupled with rising inflation and energy costs, is a serious problem – and there’s little prospect of funding rising in line with inflation in the devolved nations. As providers grow student numbers just to stand still, students and staff will find worsening pay and conditions, and that resources are spread more thinly.

Of course, Wonkhe also have a blog: If the numbers don’t add up, something has to give. With inflation rocketing, cuts are coming. Jim Dickinson reviews the protection for students when the money isn’t there for promises to be met.

Ukraine: HE & FE Minister Michelle Donelan has called upon the HE taskforce to address the issues arising from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill: The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has entered ‘ping pong’ meaning it is at the final stages of its legislative journey. The Lords and Commons bat the Bill back and forth between the two houses as they thrash out the final amendments of details within the Bill. The next sessions will take place on 24 and 28 March so we will see the final form of the Bill shortly.

Research

R&D Allocations: The Government has confirmed the allocations of the 2022-25 £39.8bn research and development budget. Stated aims are to deliver the Innovation Strategy and increase total R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Key points taken from the Government’s news story:

  • R&D spending set to increase by £5bn to £20bn per annum by 2024-2025 – a 33% increase in spending over the current parliament by 2024-2025.
  • A significant proportion of the budget has been allocated to UKRI (£25bn across the next 3 years, reaching over £8.8bn in 2024-2025). This includes an increase in funding for core Innovate UK programmes by 66% to £1.1bn in 2024-2025.
  • Full funding for EU programmes is included. £6.8bn allocated to support the UK’s association with Horizon Europe, Euratom Research & Training, and Fusion for Energy (if the UK is unable to associate to Horizon Europe, the funding allocated to Horizon association will go to UK government R&D programmes, including those to support new international partnerships).
  • BEIS programmes will receive over £11.5bn over the next 3 years, of which £475m is earmarked for the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), £49m is allocated to the Government Office for Science (GOS), and £628m will go toward the Nuclear Decommission Authority (NDA).

In the Levelling Up White Paper, the Government committed to increasing public R&D investment outside the greater South East by at least a third over the Spending Review period, and for these regions to receive at least 55% of BEIS domestic R&D budget by 2024-2025. Also the £100 investment in three new Innovation Accelerators (as we mentioned last week) through the pilots in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and the Glasgow City-Region.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng stated: For too long, R&D spending in the UK has trailed behind our neighbours – and in this country, science and business have existed in separate spheres. I am adamant that this must change. Now is the moment to unleash British science, technology and innovation to rise to the challenges of the 21st century…My department’s £39.8 billion R&D budget – the largest ever R&D budget committed so far – will be deployed and specifically targeted to strengthen Britain’s comparative advantages, supporting the best ideas to become the best commercial innovations, and securing the UK’s position as a science superpower.

On Horizon Europe the Russell Group commented: We are…reassured by the confirmation that any funding required for association to Horizon Europe or an alternative will come from a separate ringfenced budget rather than the central allocation to UKRI and the national academies, which will help protect critical funding for the UK’s research base and provide researchers and academics with the long term stability they need.

UKRI Strategy: UKRI published their first five-year strategy. It outlines how UKRI will support the UK’s world class research and innovation system, fuel an innovation-led economy and society, and drive up prosperity across the UK. The strategy sets out how UKRI will invest in people, places and ideas and break down barriers between disciplines and sectors to tackle current and future challenges – all supporting the Government’s ambitions for the UK as a global leader in research and innovation. UKRI has proposed four principles for change:

  • Diversity– we will support the diverse people, places and ideas needed for a creative and dynamic system
  • Connectivity –we will build connectivity and break down silos across the system, nationally and globally
  • Resilience –we will increase the agility and responsiveness of the system
  • Engagement –we will help to embed research and innovation in our society and economy.

Aspiring to:

  • People and careers –making the UK the top destination for talented people and teams
  • Places –securing the UK’s position as a globally leading research and innovation nation with outstanding institutions, infrastructures, sectors, and clusters across the breadth of the UK
  • Ideas –advancing the frontiers of human knowledge and innovation by enabling the UK to seize opportunities from emerging research trends, multidisciplinary approaches and new concepts and markets
  • Innovation –delivering the government’s vision for the UK as an innovation nation, through concerted action of Innovate UK and wider UKRI
  • Impacts –focusing the UK’s world class science and innovation to target global and national challenges, create and exploit tomorrow’s technologies, and build the high-growth business sectors of the future
  • Underpinned by a strong organisation – making UKRI the most efficient, effective, and agile organisation it can be.

Delivery will be outlined through strategic delivery plans for each of UKRI’s constituent councils and published later this year.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said: Throughout the pandemic, we have seen the transformative power of the UK’s exceptional research and innovation system to navigate an uncertain and fast-changing world. As we emerge from the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to empower our economy and our society, putting research and innovation at their heart. UKRI’s strategy sets out our five-year vision for how we will catalyse this transformation, investing in people, places, and ideas and connecting them up to turn the challenges of the 21st century into opportunities for all.

Quick News:

  • Science and Technology Strategy: The Lords Science and Technology Committee ran a session on delivering a UK science and technology strategy. It focused on the role of the new Cabinet Office group, its purpose and its long-term goals, as well as science diplomacy, engagement and national strategies going forwards. The committee also heard of approaches to international science diplomacy. A summary of the main content in the session is available here. And Wonkhe provide an even shorter synopsis: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee heard evidence on the introduction of a UK science and technology strategy, including from Andrew McCosh, director of the Office for Science and Technology Strategy. McCosh said that funding routes will not be changed for research academics where they are working well, but that the new office will support improvements. In response, Lord Krebs wondered why the government is creating further bureaucratic structures. McCosh also noted that the new National Science and Technology Council will provide a governmental steer in direction to UKRI, but it will remain UKRI’s responsibility to allocate research funding. You can watchthe full session on Parliament TV.
  • Diversity in STEM: The Commons Science and Technology Select Committee heard evidence for its inquiry into Diversity and Inclusion in STEM. Summary here. The session covered: funding and representation, Resume for Research, UKRI and representation, UKRI improvements, short term contracts, diversification, and the idea of a Universal Basic Research Income.
  • Horizon Europe funding guarantee – extended: The Government and UKRI also announced an extension to the financial safety net support provided to Horizon Europe applicants(originally launched in November 2021). It ensures that eligible successful UK applicants for grant awards will continue to be guaranteed funding for awards expected to be signed by the end of December 2022, while efforts continue to associate to Horizon Europe. The funding will be delivered by UKRI and details of the scope and terms of the extension to the guarantee will be made available on their website. You can read the Minister’s announcement letter here.  The Minister, George Freeman, commented: Since becoming Science Minister last year, my priority has been supporting the UK’s world-class researchers, which is why we have been so determined in our efforts to associate to Horizon Europe. Whilst it is disappointing that our association is still held up by the EU, our plans to develop ambitious alternative measures are well underway and I’m pleased Horizon Europe applicants in the UK will still be able to access funding through our guarantee, meaning that researchers will be well-supported whatever the outcome.

Blogs:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student experience and outcomes

The OfS have launched a review of blended learning in universities.  It doesn’t say how they will conduct the review – or which universities they will be reviewing.

  • While most students have now returned to in-person teaching, many universities continue to deliver some elements of their courses (for example, lectures for large groups of students) online. There are no guidelines in place which prevent or restrict any kind of in-person teaching.
  • The review will consider how some universities are delivering blended learning. A report in summer 2022 will set out where approaches represent high quality teaching and learning, as well as approaches that are likely to fall short of the OfS’s requirements.
  • Professor Susan Orr has been appointed lead reviewer. Professor Orr is currently Pro Vice Chancellor: Learning and Teaching at York St John University and is the incoming Pro Vice Chancellor: Education at De Montfort University. A panel of expert academic reviewers will be appointed to work with Professor Orr to examine the way different universities and colleges are delivering blended learning.
  • Commenting, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:
    • ‘With the end of government coronavirus restrictions, students are back on campus and able to enjoy in-person teaching. There are clear benefits to in-person learning and where students have been promised face-to-face teaching it should be provided. This return to relative normality is important, and comes after an enormously challenging two years for students and staff. It remains very important that universities and colleges are clear with their students and their applicants about how courses will be delivered. If universities decide that certain elements are to remain online, this should be made explicit. Whether online or face to face, the quality must be good, and feedback from students taken into account.
    • ‘Our review of blended learning will examine the approaches universities and colleges are taking. There are many ways for blended courses to be successfully delivered and it will be important to harness the lessons learned by the shift to online learning during the pandemic. We are, however, concerned to ensure that quality is maintained, and through this review we want to gain a deeper understanding of whether – and why – universities and colleges propose to keep certain elements online.
    • ‘A report following the review will describe the approaches being taken by universities and colleges and give examples where blended approaches are high quality, as well as those that may not meet our regulatory requirements, providing additional information for universities and colleges, as well as students and applicants.’

On Wonkhe, David Kernohan has a take:

Running it through – in order of unlikeliness – there are three things that Orr could conclude:

  • Blended learning is great, and the complaints are largely without foundation
  • Blended learning is in routine use at a marked detriment to the student experience in order to save universities money.
  • There is a mixed picture on blended learning – there is a lot of great practice but some provision lags behind, and a mixture of enhancement and enforcement needs to be deployed to drive up quality.

None of these endpoints benefit either the Office for Students or the government.

In that context, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has published the latest provider-level statistics of higher education students not continuing into the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

  • For full-time first degree entrants, we see higher rates among mature students than young students.
  • Non-continuation rates among young, and mature, full-time first degree students have observed a further decrease in the percentage of 2019/20 entrants not continuing in HE following the small decrease observed for 2018/19 entrants.
  • With regards to other undergraduate entrants, the non-continuation rate for young, full-time students in the UK has seen a general decrease over the last few years, while for mature entrants there have been fluctuations in the rate.
  • Non-continuation rates two years after entry for part-time first degree entrants are slightly higher among those aged 30 and under than for those aged over 30.
  • Between 2012/13 and 2018/19 the proportion of full-time first degree students expected to qualify with a degree from the HE provider at which they started in the UK was showing a slight decline. In 2019/20 the proportion expected to qualify has increased again.

The Student Loans Company (SLC) has published the latest statistics on early-in-year student withdrawal notifications provided by HE providers for the purpose of student finance from 2018/19 to 2021/22 (Feb 2022).

Research Professional cover the stories.

OfS consultations on regulatory graduate outcomes and the TEF

We wrote about these three very significant consultations in our update on 21st January, and they closed this week.  As you will recall, this includes the consultation about calculating metrics, which is linked to the consultation on new licence condition B3 (the one with the minimum levels of outcomes).

The UUK responses talk about proportionality.  On B3, they raise concerns about outcomes being seen as the only measure of quality, and about how the new rules will be applied, in selecting universities to look at more closely, and specifically by looking at context.  They ask in particular that universities should not face an intervention where they are within their benchmark and that value add, student voice and geographical context should be considered alongside the actual metrics.

Jim Dickinson points out, though:

  • It’s one of the many moments where you can’t quite work out whether UUK knows that the key decision has already been taken here or if it genuinely thinks it will change OfS’ mind – it certainly paints a picture of the sector being stuck on the left-hand side of the Kubler-Ross grief curve.
  • Either way, we can pretty much guarantee that in a couple of months an OfS response will tell the sector that it’s wrong in principle, and anyway hasn’t read the proposals – which to be fair when taken in their totality along with the rest of the B conditions, do measure quality both quantitatively (via outcomes) and qualitatively (through proposals the sector isn’t too keen on ether, with a kind of be careful what you wish for vibe).
  • … It’s the threat of monitoring – with the odd provider made an example of – that should be causing people to both work on improving outcomes where the red lights are, and having “contextual” action plans ready that show that work off if OfS phones you up in September.

There was a separate consultation on the TEF (and the metrics one is related to this too).

On the TEF, UUK disagree with the name of the fourth category “requires improvement”.  As we have said in many TEF consultation responses, they disagree with “gold, silver and bronze” too and would like to redefine them.  They don’t think subcontracted provision should be included and they strongly disagree with the proposed timeline, asking for a Spring submission.

International student experience

The OfS has published an insight brief on international students.  It acknowledges that information about international students is incomplete and announces a call for evidence to “identify effective practice in ensuring that international students can integrate and receive a fulfilling experience in the UK”.  Using the data that they do have, the brief talks about numbers and fees as a proportion of total income.

The brief talks about NSS feedback (international students are generally more positive than home students) and the issues faced by international students, particularly when travel was restricted in the pandemic.

The OfS are concerned, however, that they don’t have enough data about international students, and for that reason they have launched a call for evidence on international student experience.  They are looking for responses on initiatives linked to three themes.  They will filter the submissions to identify case studies to feature in a report.

The themes they have identified are:

  • work to prevent and address harassment and sexual misconduct
  • how responding to the coronavirus pandemic has shaped practice in supporting international students to adapt to and integrate with UK higher education
  • work to ensure the accessibility and effectiveness of wellbeing and support services (such as student services, mental health provision, etc.).

While responding on those themes, institutions can also consider the relationship of their evidence to the following:

  • advancing equality of opportunity for students with one or more protected characteristic
  • partnership with international students
  • intervention that may also benefit home (UK-domiciled) students.

Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities

In April last year Dr Tony Sewell published the findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. The Commission’s findings were criticised and equalities campaigners accused the group of cherry-picking data and pushing propaganda, while the United Nations described it as attempt to normalise white supremacy. Dr Sewell, who lead the inquiry in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations, has recently had his honorary degree from the University of Nottingham withdrawn amidst the controversy. This week the Government published its response to the report and findings of the Commission through the policy paper: Inclusive Britain: government response to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

The Guardian report under the header: Denial of structural racism – Ministers will drop the term black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), more closely scrutinise police stop and search, and draft a model history curriculum to teach Britain’s “complex” past in response to the Sewell report on racial disparities. Launched as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests, the report caused controversy when it was published last year for broadly rejecting the idea of institutional racism in the UK. In the government’s response, called Inclusive Britain, ministers acknowledge racism exists but stress the importance of other factors. Taiwo Owatemi, Labour’s shadow equalities minister, said the report still “agrees with the original report’s denial of structural racism. Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have once again failed to deliver meaningful action.” The report sets out a long list of policies, some new and others already in place.

Relevant key action points follow below. There is nothing new in the HE elements.

Educational success for all communities

  • Action 29: To drive up levels of attainment for under-performing ethnic groups, the Department for Education (DfE) will carry out a programme of analysis in early 2022 to understand pupil attainment and investigate whether there are any specific findings and implications for different ethnic groups to tackle disparities.
  • Action 30: The DfE and the Race Disparity Unit (RDU) will investigate the strategies used by the multi-academy trusts who are most successful at bridging achievement gaps for different ethnic groups and raising overall life chances. The lessons learnt will be published in 2022 and will help drive up standards for all pupils.
  • Action 31: The DfE will investigate the publication of additional data on the academic performance of ethnic groups alongside other critical factors relating to social mobility and progress at school level, in post-18 education and employment after education by the end of 2022.
  • Action 32: The schools white paper in spring 2022 will look at ways we can target interventions in areas and schools of entrenched underperformance.

Targeted funding: Action 34: To maximise the benefits of the pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils, DfE amended the pupil premium conditions of grant for the 2021-2022 academic year to require all schools to use their funding on evidence-based approaches. To the extent possible, DfE will investigate the scale of these benefits.

Higher education

  • Action 43: To empower pupils to make more informed choices about their studies, the DfE will ensure that Higher Education Institutions support disadvantaged students before they apply for university places.
  • Action 44: The DfE will work with UCAS and other sector groups to make available both advertised and actual entry requirements for courses, including historic entry grades so that disadvantaged students have the information they need to apply to university on a fair playing field.
  • Action 45: Higher education providers will help schools drive up standards so that disadvantaged students obtain better qualifications, have more options, and can choose an ambitious path that is right for them.
  • Action 46: Higher education providers will revise and resubmit their Access and Participation plans with a new focus 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.
  • Action 47: To improve careers guidance for all pupils in state-funded secondary education, the DfE will extend the current statutory duty on schools to secure independent careers guidance to pupils throughout their secondary education.
  • Action 52: The government is consulting on means to incentivise high quality provision and ensure all students enter pathways on which they can excel and achieve the best possible outcomes, including exploring the case for low-level minimum eligibility requirements to access higher education student finance and the possible case for proportionate student number controls.
  • Action 53: To help disadvantaged students to choose the right courses for them and to boost their employment prospects, the Social Mobility Commission will seek to improve the information available to students about the labour market value of qualifications and, where possible, the impact of those qualifications on social mobility.

Innovation: Action 56: To equip entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds with the skills they need to build successful businesses, BEIS is supporting HSBC to develop and launch its pilot for a competition-based, entrepreneur support programme in spring 2022. The programme, which will be run in partnership with UK universities, will equip entrepreneurs with the skills they need for years to come.

Apprenticeships: Action 48: To increase the numbers of young ethnic minorities in apprenticeships, the DfE is, since November 2021, working with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and partner bodies and employers to engage directly with young people across the country to promote apprenticeships. This will use a range of mechanisms to attract more ethnic minority starts identified in the Commission’s report, such as events in schools with strong minority representation, relatable role models, employer testimonies, data on potential earnings and career progression. It will also explore the impact of factors that influence a young persons’ career choices.

Alternative provision (AP)

  • Action 37: The DfE will launch a £30 million, 3-year programme to set up new SAFE (Support, Attend, Fulfil and Exceed) taskforces led by mainstream schools to deliver evidence-based interventions for those most at risk of becoming involved in serious violent crime. These will run in 10 serious violence hotspots from early 2022 targeted at young people at risk of dropping out of school: reducing truancy, improving behaviour and reducing the risk of NEET (those not in education, employment or training).
  • Action 38: DfE will invest £15 million in a 2 year-programme to pilot the impact of co-locating full-time specialists in Alternative Provision in the top 22 serious violence hotspots.

Teaching an inclusive curriculum

  • Action 57: To help pupils understand the intertwined nature of British and global history, and their own place within it, the DfE will work with history curriculum experts, historians and school leaders to develop a Model History curriculum by 2024 that will stand as an exemplar for a knowledge-rich, coherent approach to the teaching of history. The Model History Curriculumwill support high-quality teaching and help teachers and schools to develop their own school curriculum fully using the flexibility and freedom of the history national curriculum and the breadth and depth of content it includes. The development of model, knowledge-rich curriculums continues the path of reform the government started in 2010.
  • Action 58: The DfE will actively seek out and signpost to schools suggested high-quality resources to support teaching all-year round on black history in readiness for Black History Month October 2022. This will help support schools to share the multiple, nuanced stories of the contributions made by different groups that have made this country the one it is today.

Further Education: Action 63: The DfE will encourage governing bodies to be more reflective of the school communities they serve and will recommend that schools collect and publish board diversity data at a local level. The DfE will also update the Further Education Governance Guide in spring 2022 to include how to remove barriers to representation, widen the pool of potential volunteers and promote inclusivity.

The Government did not accept the Commission’s Recommendation 18 to develop a digital solution to signpost and refer children and young people at risk of, or already experiencing criminal exploitation, to local organisations who can provide support.

Access & Participation

Wonkhe report on new research from Disabled Students UK: 41 per cent of disabled students believe that their course accessibility improved through the pandemic. However, 50 per cent of respondents report that their course both improved and worsened in different ways. The report recommendations include taking an anticipatory approach to issues, better equipping staff, reducing administration for disabled students, and cultivating compassionate approaches. The Independent has the story.

Academic quality

HEPI published a new policy note, written by the Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for HE exploring what quality means in UK HE today.

There’s a nice explanation of the quality continuum:

  • In many sectors, the notion of quality control is straightforward. Quality control tests a sample of the output against a specification. The required standard is set by identifying measures for outputs, and then testing everything else against those measures. In this way, it is easy to demonstrate how quality requirements are being fulfilled (typically within an acceptable tolerance).
  • No matter the sector, quality control is only part of the picture. To be really efficient, one needs to provide confidence in the cycle of production; to reassure that there are systems and processes in place to ensure that the output consistently meets, if not exceeds, the quality benchmarks that have been set. This is where quality assurance comes in. Quality assurance acts prospectively to provide confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled. Assurance relates to how a process is performed or a product is made. Control is the retrospective, post-production inspection aspect of quality – it focuses on the product or output itself. Arguably, without the underpinning processes, outcomes cannot be guaranteed – they are achieved (or not) by luck. In our sector, assurance gives us the confidence that a provider understands (and self-reviews) how it is producing its outcomes.
  • But in higher education, we are not simply producing identical products for customers. QAA’s definition of academic quality refers to both how and how well higher education providers support students to succeed through learning, teaching and assessment. This is because higher education is not a product, as classically defined. It is an intrinsically co-creative, experiential process. Students and teachers collaborate to progress and reach their potential and, ideally, the learning from that collaboration is mutual as we constantly rethink what we thought we knew. That is why there is an additional dimension to higher education quality. It is not just about checking we are still doing the same thing effectively, it is also about quality enhancement – that drive continuously to improve the processes, both incrementally and transformationally. 

PQs

  • Student Loans: the modelled overall reduction in future costs to taxpayers from student loans…are wholly attributable to the two-year tuition fee freeze and changes to student loan repayment terms, as set out on page 13 of the higher education policy statement & reform consultation, and do not incorporate other elements of the reform package. The savings do include the changes to the Plan 2 repayment threshold for 2022/23 financial year, announced on 28 January 2022, prior to the announcement of the whole reform package.
  • Levelling Up White Paper: which NHS-university partnerships will receive the £30 million in additional funding; and what the criteria is for the allocation of that funding.

Other news

Young Welsh Priorities: The Welsh Youth Parliament chose its areas of focus for the Sixth Senedd.: mental health and wellbeing, climate and the environment, and education and the school curriculum.

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He policy update for the w/e 10th March 2022

A bit of a catch up on a range of issues this week after an education focus in our last couple of updates.

Ukraine – UK HE’s approach

Wonkhe readers will already have seen their round up relating to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Here it is for those who haven’t caught it yet:

  • Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science wrote to the Bologna Follow-Up Group and key organisations across higher education in Europe asking that Russia be expelled from the European Higher Education Area and the Bologna Process, which seeks to achieve comparability in the quality and standards of higher education qualifications across Europe, and as such facilitates cross-border recognition and mobility.
  • Ukraine’s National Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education also issued a statement… appealing to the global higher education community to suspend Russian participation in all European and global higher education networks and organisations. The statement also called on all educators and researchers to stop all collaborations with representatives of the Putin regime, and to stop all cooperation with Russia’s higher education and research institutions and representative associations.
  • The response from European and UK representative bodies has been moderated by a hesitation about whether it is appropriate to punish Russian university staff and students, especially where they oppose the invasion. The European University Association has undertaken to cease contact and collaboration with all Russian central agencies and those who support the invasion, and has advised its members to ensure that any new collaboration with Russian institutions is based on “shared European values.”
  • Universities UK International has taken a similar stance, advising UK universities to risk assess existing partnerships and collaborations and make decisions on a case-by-case basis rather than urging a “blanket academic boycott.”
  • Women and Equalities select committee chair Caroline Nokes proposed in The Times that UK universities coordinate a national programme that would enable students from Ukraine to take up places at UK universities.

PQs:

Research

On Tuesday the Lords Science and Technology Committee ran a session on Delivering a UK science and technology strategy. The Committee received evidence and discussed the UK science and technology strategy, focusing on Government support for research and development, early stage and late stage funding opportunities, the talent pool, and the relationship between universities and industry.

The Chair commented that the Research Excellence Framework could act as an inhibitor. However, Kennett, who was invited to provide oral evidence disagreed. She stated it was important to consider how could business work better with the REF. For example, it was important to consider where there was potential for applied science, which could perhaps be measured in a different way under the REF.

Lord Sarfraz (Con) asked if the UK was indeed the best place to be a founder and launch a start-up. Suranga Chandratillake, Partner at Balderton Capital, commented this was a deceptively simple question. In his opinion, the UK was a very good place to launch a start-up, but it was more difficult to develop it into a large enduring business. The UK punched above its weights from a scientific point of view in terms of technology first start-ups. The data also demonstrated this, as early stage research funding were completed by UK-based funds, whereas the later stage funding included more foreign capital.

Baroness Rock (Con) asked the witnesses a question about the perception that ideas were born in UK universities and commercialised elsewhere. Chandratillake said they worked a lot with universities. In his opinion, today the companies were still being started in the UK, with the innovation remaining in the UK. At the early stage, the UK had a very strong ecosystem of investors public and private. However, issues remained at the stage of scaling up, which meant that many had to go abroad to find later stage capital (with many companies floating abroad).

Toon explained that science was about learning new knowledge, whereas innovation was about solving a problem. The UK was probably number two for discovery science in the world, with some of the world’s leading academic institutions based in the UK. However, the UK struggled with applied research, which fit between the science and innovation.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con) asked the witnesses if the intellectual property (IP) laws were fit for purpose. Toon said that the IP regime was broadly fit for purpose. The challenge, however, was around ensuring that IP was handled appropriately in the innovation and research cycles, without restricting the freedom of businesses to operate

Lord Rees of Ludlow (CB) asked the witnesses a question about the talent pool and links to universities. Toon said that the UK had a massive talent pool in the leading institutions, which should be safeguarded. In his opinion, it was important to continue to create links between academic institutions and industry.

Quick news:

  • The Intellectual Property Office has signed a new declaration of intention with the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property. They intend a co-operative relationship focusing on sharing of best practice in areas of mutual interest and modernising and enhancing services for IP users. The sharing of expertise and know-how between the offices is key and the declaration provides for the potential secondment of staff between the two offices to enhance skills and knowledge. It will help both offices embrace the global challenges and opportunities presented by emerging and future technologies, for the benefit of the wider IP community.
  • Wonkhe – The Russell Group has written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of the Spring Statement to outline how research and development funding could be used moving forward. The letter also calls for “a fully-functional, extended Guarantee” to those who have been accepted for Horizon Europe projects as the current government funding guarantee is too limited. Oral Questions within the House of Lords also touched on Horizon Europe this week: Lord Callanan confirmed that money for Horizon Europe will go to research if association is not possible. Lord Fox highlighted that many institutions are already experiencing a drop in postgraduate research applications. Claiming that “the brain drain is already happening,” he asked about attracting and keeping talent now. BEIS have also updated the Horizon Europe information available online.
  • Also a parliamentary question on Horizon Europe: what steps his Department is taking to support researchers whose funding offers have been revoked due to delays in EU approval of UK participation in Horizon Europe. Answer:  the Government has already committed to support the first wave of successful UK applicants to Horizon Europe who are unable to sign grant agreements with the EU due to these delays… awardees [will] receive the full value of their funding…We encourage the UK sector to continue applying to Horizon Europe calls and to continue forming consortia.
  • Blog: The academic other in research management. There are many researchers in academia who aren’t on research contracts. Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg asks how we can be sure of hearing their voices. Excerpt: If academic and professional management roles are similar in responsibilities – and if increasingly many PhD-qualified staff are joining the ranks of research management due to an absence of employment opportunities within the academic disciplines – what is preventing us from exploring the creation of hybrid roles which make best-use of both a person’s academic skillset as well as their administrative acumen? I suggest it is perhaps our entrenched habit of othering either “those academics” or “university administrators”… Change is afoot, however. Recent UKRI consultations on equality, diversity and inclusion and research bureaucracy have explicitly extended an invitation to research management professionals to respond… I still think the sector is missing a trick. Due to our inclination to other we are under-utilising the skill sets that people have, stifling our ability to make the University sector a better place. As a hybrid or third-space Other, what “managerialism” has taught me is that people-development skills, succession planning and good administrative strategies can lead to research quality, enhanced (academic) staff wellbeing and employee satisfaction.

Parliamentary Questions:

The partnerships will develop plans to accelerate innovation-led growth in their city regions, building on local strengths and opportunities. They will receive dedicated support from the UK Government and will have access to a new £100m fund to support transformational R&D projects that grow R&D strengths, attract private investment, boost innovation diffusion, and maximise the combined economic impact of R&D institutions.

Catapults may be a part of Innovation Accelerators but are sector specific, designed to support innovation and de-risk the transition from research to commercial delivery for small, medium and large businesses. They achieve this through the provision of R&D infrastructure, specialist knowledge and expertise, partnership and collaboration building capabilities and business support.

Parliamentary News

In an effort to shore up Boris’ standing as PM, he has created a series of Conservative policy committees to give backbenchers more of a steer on policy decisions. Guido Fawkes published the chairs and vicechairs of the new MP-led Conservative policy committees. Here’s the list (Chair first, Vice Chair second):

  • Education: Miriam Cates. Miriam formerly taught science in Sheffield, she also continues to run a Finance and Technology business. She’s been an MP since 2019 and her election campaign was strongly supported, in person, by Boris. Her stated political interests are public transport, education, the NHS and communities.
  • DCMS: Philip Davies, Tom Hunt
  • Health & Social Care: Caroline Johnson, Chris Green
  • International Trade: Bob Blackman
  • Treasury: Anthony Browne, Aaron Bell
  • FCDO: Giles Watling, Mark Logan
  • Home Affairs: Tom Hunt
  • Justice: Gordon Henderson
  • BEIS: Andrea Leadsom, Jo Gideon
  • Transport: Chris Loder (MP for West Dorset), Simon Jupp
  • LUHC: Cherilyn MacKrory, Sally-Ann Hart
  • Defence: John Baron, Sarah Atherton
  • Union: Andrew Bowie, Robin Millar
  • DEFRA: Chris Grayling
  • Work & Pensions: Nigel Mills

Richard Harrington has been appointed as Minister for Refugees  with the position co-hosted by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Home Office. Harrington will become a member of the House of Lords, having stepped down as Watford’s MP in 2019. During his time as an MP Harrington served as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State with responsibility for Syrian refugees.

Former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson CBE MP has received a knighthood.

Legislation – The Welsh government has released a written statement criticising the UK government for wanting to imminently move to the report stage of the Professional Qualifications Bill in the House of Commons. This would mean that the devolved governments would not be able to consider the amendments or provide consent to the legislation. (Wonkhe.)

Thoughts are turning to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement – Research Professional have a write up.

The Women and Equalities Committee ran a one-off session on Levelling Up and equalities which focused on protected characteristics within the context of the levelling up agenda and considered assessing gender identity and the ethnicity pay gap. Contact us for a summary of this session.

Admissions

Swiftly following the announcement in February that the government is no longer proceeding with plans to introduce post-qualifications admissions, UUK have published their fair admissions code of practice.  This comes with a request that all universities sign up to it.

The code sets out an overarching guiding principle – that admissions processes must protect and prioritise the interests of applicants, above the interests of the universities and colleges, including that they should support student choice and not create unnecessary pressure.

Behaviours that demonstrate this principle:

  • Above all, universities and colleges put the interests of applicants above their own. This includes an individual’s experience as an enquirer, applicant, and their student experience and ability to succeed should they be admitted to the university or college.
  • Universities and colleges ensure that applicants have all the information they need to make an informed decision about the best course of study for them, and ensure entry requirements mean that applicants who are admitted can succeed on the course.
  • Universities and colleges avoid applying undue pressure through their offer making practices or use of incentives. This means:
  • Universities and colleges do not make ‘conditional’ unconditional offers or offers with significantly lower entry requirements based on the type of choice applicants make (for example, for those who apply through UCAS, whether an offer is made ‘firm’ or ‘insurance’).
  • Universities and colleges only make use of unconditional offers when the applicant:
    • already holds the required grades or qualifications for the course
    • applies to a course where admissions decisions have been substantively informed by an interview, audition, or additional application procedures (such as the submission of a portfolio or skills test)
    • requires special consideration due to mitigating circumstances, such as illness or disability
    • is applying to a university or college where non-selective admissions to undergraduate programmes is a core part of the founding purpose of the university or college
  • Universities and colleges ensure that the use of incentives does not place undue pressure on the decisions that applicants make, or the timescales in which they should make them, meaning:
    • All incentives should be published clearly, consistently and accessibly, and communicated to applicants in a timely manner. This includes in relation to aspects of an offer communicated to applicants within or outside of UCAS that are tied to accommodation and other material and financial incentives.
    • Universities and colleges should review their use of incentives against the revised principles set out in this code of practice.
  • Universities and colleges do not use offer holder events or aspects of the admissions process that are used for assessment (such as interviews or auditions) to put undue pressure on applicant decision making.
  • Universities and colleges value and support the achievement of applicants on their existing studies and develop offer making practices that uphold this value.

There are then additional principles that applicants can expect.

Admissions processes that are transparent

Universities and colleges abiding by this code of practice should provide the information applicants need to make an informed choice (such as information about the admissions process, the entry requirements, and selection criteria) consistently, clearly and efficiently through appropriate mechanisms.

  • Universities and colleges use clear and simple language in admissions policy documents that is accessible to applicants and their advisers. Where possible, they use a common shared language (see the glossary for common examples) and the same language that is used in other guidance resources (such as the UCAS website).
  • Universities and colleges can clearly explain admissions processes (including how qualifications, prior experience, and additional assessment such as personal statements, interviews and auditions are taken into consideration) and why types of offers are appropriate (including the use of contextual offers).
  • As recommended in the Fair admissions review, universities and colleges aim to allow applicants to make use of historic, actual entry requirements to understand where past applicants may have been admitted holding lower grades. They can explain why students might have been admitted with lower entry requirements than advertised.
  • Universities and colleges make the application deadlines clear and ensure they are aligned with relevant sector dates. They do not use deadlines to put undue pressure on applicants. They are also transparent about other relevant deadlines, including for provision of supporting documentation, final certificates, and applying for accommodation.
  • Where possible, universities and colleges give useful feedback on request to unsuccessful applicants.

Admissions processes that enable universities and colleges to select students able to complete a course, as judged by their achievements and potential

  • Universities and colleges give applicants the information they need to make an informed decision about the best course for them including course content, the award given, costs, and the university’s terms and conditions (in line with consumer rights legislation). Marketing and recruitment materials give potential applicants a clear idea of what studying at that university or college will be like.
  • Admissions criteria do not include factors irrelevant to the assessment of merit.
  • Universities and colleges only make use of unconditional offers when the applicant:
  • already holds the required grades or qualifications for the course (this can include Scottish Qualification Authority Highers, where many applicants apply with grades suitable for entry)
  • applies to a course where admissions decisions have been substantively informed by an interview, audition, or additional application procedures (such as the submission of a portfolio or skills test)
  • requires special consideration due to mitigating circumstances, such as illness or disability
  • is applying to a university or college where non-selective admissions to undergraduate programmes is a core part of the founding purpose of the university or college

Admissions processes that use reliable, valid and explainable assessment methods

  • Where decisions are made differently to advertised criteria (such as where a university or college receives a higher than anticipated volume of applications), universities and colleges can explain to the applicant how and why such decisions were made.
  • Universities and colleges indicate ahead of time what other considerations they may take into account in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
  • Universities and colleges make use of the latest research and good practice relating to admissions and adjust their approach accordingly.
  • Universities and colleges monitor and evaluate the link between admissions and student outcomes, such as examining the link between types of offers and retention and attainment.
  • Interviews, auditions, or additional application procedures (such as a submission of a portfolio or skills test) are appropriate and necessary.

Admissions processes that minimise barriers for applicants and address inequalities

  • Universities and colleges ensure admissions processes do not disadvantage applicants and actively seek to address any access gaps related to protected characteristics. Admissions form part of broader institutional equality, diversity and inclusion strategies.
  • Universities and colleges use consistent communication methods, ideally using a single channel such as the UCAS Hub, and take an applicant’s access to resources into account.
  • Where contextual offers are used, they are used in situations where they minimise barriers to entry for applicants and address inequalities, while maintaining standards. Universities and colleges can clearly explain their use of contextual offers, including why contextual offers are made, what evidence is used, how context is taken into consideration, and the benefits of disclosing contextual information. – Universities and colleges aim to use a shared language to talk about contextual offers and make information regarding them clear and readily accessible. They should consider the publication of a shared sector-level statement on their websites as recommended in UUK’s Fair admissions review.
  • Data used to inform contextual admissions is used consistently and makes use of available data sources, as recommended in UUK’s Fair admissions review (such as free school meals status, index of multiple deprivation data, and care experienced status).
  • Universities and colleges monitor their progress against equalities targets and take steps to address any gaps.

Admissions processes that are professional and underpinned by appropriate institutional structure and processes

  • Universities and colleges uphold the highest standards of conduct to support the stability of the higher education sector.
  • Admissions processes are part of a whole institutional approach to providing a high-quality experience for students.
  • Admissions teams are sufficiently resourced and structured as to allow for an efficient and professional service.
  • Admissions processes form part of broader institutional strategies and commitments to ensure equality of opportunity through widening participation or access.
  • Universities and colleges consider how admissions processes and practices can be reviewed as part of wider organisational governance, including evaluating compliance against the principles and behaviours outlined in this code of practice.

Wonkhe have a blog: Conditional unconditionals.

Access and Participation

Universities working with Schools: A Wonkhe blog suggests that generalised support for boosting school attainment may be less effective than specialised partnerships focused on areas of particular need. Excerpt (referring to specialist maths schools):

  • …the central lesson is that these relationships can be effective where partners are supported to do the work they are best at. Equally, there is still more to be done in stimulating academic collaborations between teachers and university academics.
  • It is clear from the time we’ve spent working together that school and university partnerships can be impactful when they are carefully constructed. The university is not an expert in teaching A levels but we nevertheless play a central role in supporting the governance of the school, brokering relationships with partners, providing facilities, supporting widening participation work, and giving advice to the leadership team.
  • Equally, the work of the maths school provides the university with insight it could not otherwise attain. It brings the university closer to students who may apply here or elsewhere, it provides opportunity for sharing advice and practice on changing qualifications, and it exposes University of Liverpool staff to colleagues with different and complementary expertise.

Careers Advice: Wonkhe – The Sutton Trust has published a report highlighting inequality in access to information and guidance on careers and education for students from different socio-economic backgrounds. It also found a disparity between the amount of guidance given to students on academic routes and those on technical routes, with information on apprenticeships reaching just ten per cent of pupils. The report noted a significant difference between the perceptions of headteachers and classroom teachers on career provision with the latter expressing less optimism on the efficacy of career links within the classroom curriculum. FE Week and Tes have covered the report.

Social Mobility: The Social Mobility Foundation responded to the reports that the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) has dropped its 65% target for tuition to go to disadvantaged pupils. Sarah Atkinson, CEO of the Social Mobility Foundation, said:

  • It is deeply worrying that the government has dropped its pupil premium target in the flagship initiative to support education recovery.
  • Re-tendering the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) was an opportunity to overhaul the programme and close the widening attainment gap. This move does the exact opposite. Attempting to cover the NTP’s shortcomings by removing targets for the pupils who would benefit most from tuition is nothing short of shameful.
  • We are increasingly concerned that the government has lost interest in whether its interventions are succeeding.

There was also a social mobility parliamentary question this week: In the Government’s response to the Augar report what assessment they have made of the impact on their (1) social mobility policy, and (2) Levelling Up policy, of (a) the decision not to restore maintenance grants for university students, and (b) the extension of the tuition fee loan repayment period.

APPG University Access and Participation Meeting

The All Party Parliamentary University Group published the notes from its 22 February Access and Participation meeting. Queen Mary University was recognised for the levels of disadvantaged students recruited and its forthcoming Institute of Technology. Professor Colin Bailey, Queen Mary’s President and Principal, stated that it was not solely the responsibility of universities to raise school attainment and that they should play a role but not be held accountable. Queen Mary sponsors two multi-academy trusts and is therefore engaged with 113 schools in London and 60 schools outside of London in known cold spots to support white ‘working-class’ boys under-represented in HE access.

On contextual offers Professor Bailey stated that until the inequalities embedded in schools are addressed, they will continue to be an important part of the admissions process. Explaining how dropping the grade requirements by only 1 or 2 points supported students who come from schools performing below average, had spent time in the care system, were refugees, or had participated in an access scheme.

Professor Bailey was opposed to postcode and proxy measurements stating that free school meals data and other individual indicators are needed. He also said that the ‘bums on seats’ rhetoric often seen in the media was totally incorrect and there is nothing more demoralising for vice chancellors than seeing students fail to succeed.

James Turner, speaking on behalf of the Sutton Trust, agreed that overall universities have been good for social mobility, young people from poorer homes that go to university have much better outcomes than those who do not on average. He said that it was the newer universities that had done a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to social mobility. He felt that it was a critical time for fair access, with questions over whether outcomes from higher education represent good value for money. James reiterated familiar messaging that more needs to be done to widen fair access to the most selective universities as they were still the surest route into influential and highly selective careers. James highlighted inequalities in the opportunity to go to university focusing on attainment as the main reason for this. James was in favour of more radical contextual admissions to rectify this and felt it was something that could be done now and was in the gift of universities but that the complex and long term problem of the attainment gap in schools also had to be addressed. In conclusion he stated while it is right that universities are asked to engage with this agenda, there are limits on what is possible and how long it might take to see change.

James was also in favour of increasing the number of degree apprenticeships and that they should foster a similar culture of widening participation in their recruitment and outreach, to make sure they reach those who stand to benefit most. Finally he called on the APPG to make sure changes to access and participation activities were evidence based to avoid wasting energy and money, and letting down young people.

Susie Whigham, Interim CEO of the Brilliant Club, spoke in favour of collaboration between universities and schools. The minutes state [Susie] felt that universities had an amazing resource of undergraduates and PhD researchers that should be mass mobilised into attainment raising. In her experience, Susie said schools were looking forward to working more with universities but wanted genuine co-production which needed buy-in from senior leaders in both schools and universities.

Finally John Blake, Director of Access and Participation at the OfS, highlighted the conclusions of the review he conducted into access and participation plans (APPs), including:

  • The need to link access and participation together, to ensure disadvantaged young people got value from their degrees once they had got into university
  • The need to make APPs more accessible to students, parents and carers, clearly stating universities’ commitments and evaluation
  • Greater inclusion of degree apprenticeships and non-traditional modes of study in APPs
  • The disproportionate burden of the APP process on smaller providers.

He noted that since the pandemic the attainment gap is widening again.

He stated the OfS review of the quality regime would reframe the way providers think about quality and standards.

John set out his aspirations for access and participation:

  • a significant expansion in the evaluation of what works across the whole sector, seeing providers generate more high quality and more public evidence, with the help of TASO and the Office for Students’ own work on this.
  • greater alignment between the access and quality processes.
  • the significant role of school and university partnerships in raising attainment, and evolution (rather than revolution) of the APP system.

John stated this year’s monitoring round would be risk based and sector guidelines on variations to the access and participation plans to capture and expand the role of school engagement work and evaluative work will be provided.

John Blake also blogged for the OfS this week highlighting his passion for an evidence-led approach to Access and Participation.  The full blog is here.

  • That is what I mean by an ecosystem of evidence-based practice. Those at the frontline do not have to themselves be researchers but need to understand what evidence suggests is best practice and be willing to feed back on their own work. That feedback should go to researchers who are keen to identify and improve best practice, and write with an audience of practitioners in mind. Institutional leaders need to ensure that those involved in widening participation have the clout within the organisation to change direction where the research suggests it is needed, and build the partnerships inside the provider and out which allow the work to be done. Everyone must be open to the possibility that favoured interventions may prove not to be effective, and that activity perhaps previously seen as undesirable, may be more useful.

The OfS also published the fourth evaluation of the Uni Connect partnership programme. On its publication John states: It is clear from the review that partnerships are delivering a huge amount of useful and effective outreach and evaluating their activities. In some cases, activity has not resulted in the improvements we hoped – but that itself is useful in helping us identify future interventions.

And calls on universities to:

  • think more widely about how we build the ecosystem of evidence-based practice we need…we want to see more higher education providers developing and sharing high-quality evidence, and more practitioners plugged directly into useful and practical research to enhance their effectiveness. This will help ensure all those considering higher education get the best possible support, advice and intervention to achieve their aspirations.

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA): The Government has tendered to reform the DSA. On the notification NUS call for disabled students to have a strong voice within the changes.

NUS commented:

  • SLC have announced changes to how DSA needs assessments, assistive technology supply, and assistive technology training will be conducted for the next academic year…Over the pandemic it has become increasingly evident how important it is for changes to have Disabled people at their heart.
  • It is essential that during this tender, SLC and any other decision makers recognise the critical importance of including Disabled students and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) in providing effective, meaningful, and sustainable support within HE. NUS UK and the UK’s Disabled community champion the ethos of “nothing about us, without us”. It is imperative these reforms echo our community’s needs for a DSA that supports our independence, upholds our freedom of choice, and crucially understands and addresses our intersectional experiences.
  • Quality provision is essential for Disabled student continuation and success. We are concerned by the news that a quality assurance framework will only be created after contracts have been awarded. Disabled people cannot have faith in a reform process that is conducted in the absence of an up-to-date quality assurance framework, especially given the last DSA quality assurance audits took place before December 2019. Disabled students have learnt from experience not to place our trust in a process that considers quality last.
  • From PIP to Universal Credit, Disabled people have already experienced many so-called “positive” reforms that prioritise cost reduction over quality. SLC must proactively take steps to rebuild trust with Disabled people and to build Disabled students’ confidence in a system that is supposed to be designed for our benefit. Any changes to DSA must be towards a bespoke service that enshrines students’ choices rather than quashing them.

Wonkhe have commentary on the DSA reforms:

  • Just 29 percent of students in England and Wales with a known disability received Disabled Students Allowance in 2019/20 – and those who have complained of bureaucracy, long delays, inconsistent quality of support and a lack of communication in getting the support, according to a new report from ex-paralympic swimmer Lord Chris Holmes.
  • Describing DSA as “a gem of a policy”, Holmes argues but too many potential recipients are unaware of its existence – and says a 30-page application and lengthy assessment process are daunting, and that the “administrative burden can act as a barrier to study rather than the support intended by the scheme”.
  • The SLC said there were a number of reasons why students may not apply for or be eligible for DSA and said reforms were already under way to improve and speed up the DSA application process. “It will remove key pain points in the customer journey, provide the student with a single point of contact and support throughout the process, and contractual control to ensure consistent quality of service.”

And a Wonkhe blog on the topic: A new report shows disabled students are being failed by the system that is supposed to fund their access. Jim Dickinson finds things getting worse rather than better.

HE financial sustainability and the OfS role as regulator

The National Audit Office (NAO) published Regulating the financial sustainability of higher education providers in England. It reviews the financial situation of the English HE sector along with the performance of OfS and the DfE. The NAO’s aim is to hold government to account and help improve public services through their audits. The report identifies a number of areas in which the OfS should improve.

  • The proportion of providers with an in-year deficit, even after adjusting for the impact of pension deficits, increased from 5% in 2015/16 to 32% in 2019/20.
  • Financial stress is not confined to one part of the sector. Higher education providers are a very diverse group, with different business models and financial performance reflecting wide variations in their numbers and type of students, size and sources of income and extent of research activity.
  • The number of providers of all types that appear to be facing short-term risks to their financial sustainability and viability is small but not insignificant.
  • Short-term financial risks are dominated by COVID-19, but medium- and long-term risks are systemic.

Recommendations:

DfE should:

  • review, improve and agree with the OfS the key performance measures and other indicators it uses to hold the OfS to account, to include measures of the impact of the regulatory regime, rather than measures outside the OfS’s control;
  • make clear what tolerance the government has for provider failure, and the circumstances under which it would or would not intervene; and
  • together with the OfS, assess how redistribution of student numbers between providers, as a result of higher A-level grades awarded in 2020 and 2021, has affected students’ experiences and providers’ finances, and draw on this to understand the likely consequences following release of A-level grades awarded in 2022

OfS should:

  • communicate more effectively with the sector to build trust in its approach as a regulator; improve providers’ understanding of its attitude to risk and how it defines risk-based, proportionate, regulation; and be more ready to share sector insights to improve efficiency and competitiveness in the sector;
  • set out how it will secure provider and stakeholder views of its work;
  • review, improve where necessary and then reauthorise student protection plans for all providers to ensure they remain adequate and can respond to new risks; and
  • prioritise finalising its key performance indicator on how it assesses the value for money students see in their education and set out how its work will reverse students’ declining satisfaction rates.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: While no higher education providers have failed under the regulation of the Office for Students, the number in deficit has risen significantly. Sector-wide issues that were causing financial stress before the impact of COVID-19 have not gone away and will continue to add pressure.

The sector’s financial sustainability can have a profound impact on the value for money of education for twomillion students every year. The Office for Students should improve how it communicates with individual providers to build trust in its approach. As it matures as a regulator, it should also be making better use of its insights to reduce risks that could lead to financial failure.

Nicola Dandridge, outgoing chief executive of the OfS, stated: Universities and other higher education providers are responsible for running their businesses, and the OfS has always been clear that it is not our role to bail out those that would otherwise fail. Where a provider is facing financial challenges, we will intervene to ensure that it takes action to enable students to continue their studies. The data and other intelligence we routinely collect ensures we stay alert to risks and challenges for individual providers and the sector as a whole.

 We are carefully reflecting on the NAO’s recommendations on where we could do more in our engagement with universities, colleges and other providers. So, for example, we are currently taking forward work to capture providers’ perspectives on a range of issues, including financial sustainability, and we will take the NAO’s views into account in that context.

Wonkhe have a blog on the report: Who paid the price for provider survival during the pandemic?

The Research Professional HE Playbook also offers a short insightful commentary  analysing the implications of the report (scroll down to mid-way).

PQs:

  • Student Loans: what plans the Government has to ensure that those who take maternity leave are not penalised with higher-than-average increases in lifetime student loan repayments.
  • A balanced response from the Apprenticeships Minister on the comparative assessment of the average salary of a person who has completed (a) an apprenticeship and (b) a university degree.

Other news

Careers: It’s National Careers Week. FE and HE Minister Donelan wrote to parents and student about education, training and work choices post-GCSE. While the text mentions HE and A levels alongside apprenticeships, Higher Technical Qualifications and T levels, the case studies are all on the technical or traineeships.

HEI gender imbalance: U-Multirank released their analysis of gender balance within HEIs. They find:

  • today there are strong gender imbalances among males and females in academic careers. While women in total count for half or more of bachelor’s (BA) and master’s (MA) students, their share is smaller among PhD students (48%), academic staff (44%) and professors (28%)… at institutions with a majority of graduates in STEM fields, women are underrepresented both at the student level and among academic staff women are still a minority in most of the science and engineering subjects, both among students and academic staff, subjects like nursing, social work, education and psychology are still strongly dominated by women…
  • Among the subjects with the most balanced gender ratio are business studies, economics, political science, agriculture, history and – as the only science subject, chemistry.
  • Findings from the U-Multirank data show that women are particularly underrepresented in research intense universities. Only 23% of professors are women in institutions with high or very high percentages of expenditures on research – compared to 38% in institutions with a low share of research expenditures…

Loan repayments: With the cost of living rising the recent policy changes unfreezing the student loan repayment threshold may be more onerous than the Government initially intended. Two Wonkhe blogs tackle the subject:

The “cost of living” crisis means access to higher education could be about wealth again, says Zahir Irani.

A stealthy change in student loan terms will have huge impacts, finds Jim Dickinson.

FE crisis: The Association of Colleges have reported that the FE sector is experiencing its worst staffing crisis in 20 years and calls for a concerted national push to tackle the recruitment and retention problem before it worsens. The report casts doubt on the Government’s intent to use FE as a major vehicle in levelling up Britain. Learning support roles within FE are a major area of persistent vacancies. Also that the high level of vacancies is increasing the pressure on existing staff and having a significant impact on the amount FE is spending on agency fees to fill the gaps. The Association of Colleges call for comparable pay with the teaching profession highlighting that teachers are paid £9,000 more than college lecturers despite the lecturers specialist knowledge  and industry experience. Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, commented: The report puts the government on notice that skills, T Levels, and the ‘levelling up’ agenda will fail unless it quickly improves its attitude to college funding and urgently changes course. This is essential reading for Boris Johnson, Nadhim Zahawi and Michael Gove.”

NUS call for change: Students Unions have joined 796 signatories to demand that the education sector break their links with companies who uphold colonialism and imperialism. The open letter, which was also signed by Members of Parliament, student officers, and supporters from the wider public, called for universities and colleges to stop investing in and partnering with fossil fuel and arms companies. Instead, signatories demand that money should be reallocated to fund anti-racist initiatives. As well as investments, links between education institutions and colonial companies often include universities platforming companies during career fairs and tailoring courses and research to secure funding.

Health and Social care: Colleagues following the Commons Health and Social Care Committee can read the oral evidence presented for the Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care inquiry. The latest on the Health and Care Bill is here.

Place-based education and skills: The Lifelong Education Commission published a report exploring how a place-based approach to education and skills can transform lifelong learning. It draws on Doncaster’s local Talent and Innovation Ecosystem. Among the recommendations it makes for Government is:

  • Introduce a statutory right to retrain regardless of prior attainment, to support even more working adults in deprived areas to progress along the skills escalator.
  • Remove all restrictions on engaging in training for individuals receiving welfare benefits.
  • Consider both loan and maintenance support for the Lifelong Loan entitlement.
  • Enable the Lifelong Loan Entitlement to provide a single system that can bridge between modules, including micro credentials, at various levels, including post-graduate.
  • Enable a ‘big data’ approach to skills planning by allowing anonymised learner data to be freely accessed and analysed at the local level.
  • Introduce high-quality Career Development Hubs in priority areas for levelling up.
  • Introduce levy flexibilities and tax incentives in high-skilled ‘cold spots’ to address skill gaps in exportable growth sectors.

Extend the scope of the Education Investment Areas to look at wider outcomes for lifelong learning (levels 4-6) and the ‘cradle to career’ journey.

Graduate Outcomes: Wonkhe – 2022 will see HESA release its graduate outcomes data for the 2019-20 cohort as a new single package “Graduate Outcomes 2019/20: data and statistics”, according to a blog published on the site by Director of Data and Innovation Jonathan Waller. Providing an update on upcoming graduate outcomes survey data release, Waller also notes the data will no longer be referred to as “experimental”, and will continue to publish its assessment of the impact of the pandemic on graduate outcomes.

Government Social Media Spend: If you’ve ever wondered how much the DfE spend on social media advertising each year the answer is just under £2.5million! Across Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter and, more recently, YouTube. HE and FE Minister Michelle Donelan stated: Every year, the department runs a range of campaigns to support essential work, including recruiting and retaining teachers and social workers, increasing awareness of the full range of opportunities available for young people when they leave school and for adults looking to retrain or boost their skills. The department uses paid media channels to target audiences who will take up these opportunities or training.

Student satisfaction: Wonkhe blog – Curriculum flexibility is not associated with higher student satisfaction, find Talisha Schilder, Johan Adriaensen and Patrick Bijsmans.

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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 March 2022

The response to Augar – finally

After so many delays that it seemed to have been passed by completely, we finally got the response to the Augar review and the outcome of the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding.

You will recall that the Post-18 review was opened in February 2018 by Theresa May, and the Augar report was published in May 2019.

The reason for the delay is probably that they have been trying to tie it all in with the skills agenda, and the policy paper came out alongside a separate consultation on how to make the lifelong loan entitlement work.  Some big questions in there, including how to drive modularity, sort out credit transfer, which was a Jo Johnson priority, and not least build something that will actually work.

The biggest Augar question of all was whether there would be a headline fee cut.  And the answer is no, although the impact of the multi-year freeze is that there has been a big real terms cut, of course (Wonkhe suggest £9,250 is predicted to be worth a little over £6,000 by the end of the freeze period).  And with the exception of foundation years, which will not be prohibited (as was suggested) but could see a fee cap of £5197, which is a big decrease from £9250.  But a headline fee cut has been dropped at the expense of student number controls, which could be applied by subject at different providers, and could be linked to student outcomes such as earnings or highly skilled employment.  This links directly to the new regulatory and TEF structures which are being consulted on now.

And of course minimum entry requirements, which have been trailed for a long time and are being consulted on now.

Wonkhe told us that there was criticism in the House of Lords of these new proposals: You can read the full debate on Hansard.

There is a House of Commons Library briefing here.

One thing that is interesting is how open the consultations are – with very open questions about how the student number control might apply and the LLE in particular.

The consultations close on 6th May 2022.

The first announcement is that the work on post-qualification admissions or post-qualification applications will not proceed, following the consultation.  The DfE will instead work with UCAS and sector bodies on best practice and steps to ensure fairness in admissions – including reducing the use unconditional offers, improving transparency and reviewing the personal statement.

The second set of announcements, which are not for consultation, relate to changes to student loan arrangements for new students starting in Autumn 2023 and afterwards.  The repayment threshold will be frozen for existing students (post 2012) and postgraduate students and the interest rate will not change

For new HE students commencing study from AY2023/24 onwards:

  • Reducing the rate of interest in and after study to RPI+0% (currently RPI +3%) to ensure that, under these terms, students do not repay more than they borrow in real terms.
  • Reducing the repayment threshold to £25,000 then increasing annually in-line with RPI from FY2027-28
  • Extending the loan repayment term to 40 years (currently 30 years).

The IFS review is interesting in terms of the impact on lower earners.  They have also spotted that there is a subtle change that impacts current borrowers too:

  • After being frozen until the 2026/27 fiscal year, the student loan repayment threshold will in the future be indexed to RPI inflation instead of average earnings.
  • … This change also applies to borrowers under the current system (2012-2022 university starters). It is a massive retrospective change in repayment conditions that will hit middling earners the most.

Announcements on HE funding:

  • Increasing the Strategic Priorities Grant by an additional £300 million, on top of existing recurrent grant funding, as well as providing £450 million of capital funding, including to support high-cost subjects such as sciences, medicine, and engineering; and level 4 and 5 provision.
  • … freezing maximum tuition fees at £9,250, up to and including AY2024/25.
  • Fees for foundation years to be capped at £5197 (currently £9250). This is subject to consultation including on possible exceptions, such as by subject (e.g. medicine).
  • Introducing a new scheme worth £75m for state scholarships for talented disadvantaged students. This is also subject to consultation with questions about how to set eligibility requirements.

Consultation: reintroducing student number controls: The government is considering reintroducing student number controls to “restrict the supply of provision with poorer outcomes”.  They are considering:

  • provider level restrictions as a share of an overall sector cap – as we had before 2015 and briefly considered in the pandemic
  • provider level caps with exceptions for some subjects based on criteria to be agreed
  • provider level caps set for specific subjects based on student outcome metrics
  • provider level caps set for specific subjects based on overall outcomes at that provider
  • exceptions to caps for particular subjects (uncapped or controlled growth) or for types of study (e.g. level 4 and 5 or modular study)

To support this the government is considering using economic outcomes (earnings, highly skilled employment, continuation or completion), societal factors (e.g. subjects with a public benefit such as healthcare or education) or outcomes linked to strategic priorities (such as subjects that support the net zero objective, levelling up or shortage occupations).

Consultation: minimum eligibility requirements: As has been trailed for a long time, the government is consulting on minimum entry requirements to limit access to HE.  They are consulting on a requirements for a pass (grade 4) in GCSE in English and Maths, or the equivalent of 2 E grades at A level.  These would not apply to mature students (over 25), part-time students, those with a level 4 or 5 qualification or students with an integrated foundation year or Access to HE qualification.  If they apply the GCSE requirement it would not apply to someone who has subsequently achieved A levels at CCC or equivalent.

Technical Education

  • The government announced that students studying higher technical qualifications from 2023 will be able to access student finance and maintenance loans.
  • The government has asked the OfS to strongly encourage suppliers to set targets for technical education and part-time study.
  • They are consulting on the barriers to growth in this area, including questions about price differentials between FE and HE and value for money.
  • They are consulting on how to support more modular learning in technical qualifications.

Lifelong Learning Entitlement consultation: This separate consultation incudes questions about how to implement changes to support lifelong learning accounts and support the provision of modules of study at levels 4-6 for this purpose.  The consultation includes questions about how such a system should work, how to ensure that it is fair, what should be covered, how to define a module and set prices according to credit, what restrictions would apply (e.g. linked to age), how to support maintenance costs in such a system, and how to support credit recognition and transfer.

Analysis:

On Wonkhe, Gavan Conlon and Andrew McGettigan look at how the government make it all add up:

  • The proposals are trumpeted as if they generate huge cost savings and put the loan scheme on a sustainable footing. That’s not really the case.
  • Using London Economics’ modelling, under the old discount rate, the current student support arrangements cost the Exchequer £10.63 billion in economic terms. Under the new discount rate, it’s £7.23 billion. The proposals themselves save the Exchequer approximately £539 million (old discount rate), but essentially, when we model the apparent cost savings from the proposals and the change in the discount rate, we get about £4.0 billion of savings combined. That’s really not playing by the rules, especially when an obscure and obscured technical change accounts for approximately 85 percent of the apparent saving.

Also on Wonkhe, Steve West notes the impact of the freeze on the tuition fee cap and SNCs.

Regulatory changes

Student wellbeing

  • There is an interesting article by Myles-Jay Linton on Wonkhe about research on students giving permission for their family to be contacted in a mental health emergency.
  • HEPI have a report on zero-tolerance approaches to drug use at universities, suggesting that such approaches may do more harm than good.

Admissions

Before the announcement that post-qualification admissions is dead (see above) the Universities Minister hinted at the alternative approach set out in the policy announcements – i.e. a big focus on ensuring fairness by other means.  The Minister gave a speech at a UCAS event championing quality, fair access and transparency.  The Minister suggested that the sector was playing a defensive game “we cannot expect to be able to sit back and quietly polish our world-class reputation in a globalised higher education market”.

Which led onto, you guessed it, stamping out complacency.  The usual stat about 25 providers with less than half their students both completing and going into highly skilled employment or study.  But this time we get more:

  • There are 5 providers with drop-out rates above 40% in Business and Management; 8 providers with drop-out rates above 40% in Computing, and 4 providers where fewer than 60% of Law graduates go on to graduate jobs or further study

So far, so familiar.  Except that this time the focus has moved away from arts and humanities, which is interesting.

But “today, I am announcing a further important innovation in our drive toward better quality and transparency to put students in the driving seat enabling them to make informed choices”.

What could this be?  It’s about advertising.

  • one advert I have seen suggests a particular psychology course gives students access to their state-of-the-art research facilities, but it doesn’t state that one third of their psychology students drop out prior to completing their degree.
  • Of course, it is absolutely legitimate and right for a university to promote its best features, whether that is a high NSS score, the friendliness of its campus or its distinctive style of teaching. But that is not a reason not to give applicants the hard facts.
  • This is about focussing on empowering students and recognising that significant financial and time commitments should be sold transparently when it comes to quality.
  • So as of today, I am asking that all adverts in next year’s admissions cycle – whether they are online, on a billboard or in a prospectus – take the simple, easy step of providing comparable data on the percentage of students who have completed that course, and the percentage of them who have gone into either professional employment or further advanced study.
  • …That’s why I will be convening an advisory group, with representatives of UUK, GuildHE, UCAS and the OfS amongst others, so that we can put out guidance on this matter by the end of spring, in time for the coming application cycle.

And there’s more:

  • I have always felt that personal statements in their current form favour the most advantaged students.
  • So I’m pleased that UCAS have confirmed that reform of the personal statement is in their plans so that personal statements works to the benefit of all students. And I look forward to working with them on this important reform.

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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 17th February 2022

As it is Parliamentary recess, we thought we would do a general policy round up this week

Fees, funding and finance

We’ve updated our  separate paper on fees, funding and finance for BU readers while we wait for the final response to the Augar review.

Research and knowledge exchange

Post-Brexit there is still a great deal of uncertainty about whether we will be able to join Horizon Europe and what happens if we don’t.  Science Minister George Freeman has started talking about Plan B domestic funding (£6 billion) to replace it, although that doesn’t deal with issue about collaboration on EU projects.

Linked to productivity and regional economic success, there is a big focus on the “right sort” of research. We will continue to see a focus on industry led rather than university led projects and a downturn in funding for humanities and social sciences research, with priority given to projects that lead directly to improvements in productivity and economic gain, as well as medical or health benefits – rather than “pure” or theoretical research.  The other focus is on “place” – linking research and funding to local and regional needs.

  • The government are pressing ahead with the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA). The Bill is awaiting Royal Assent in February 2022.  The first CEO has been appointed and he has come from DARPA, the US agency on which ARIA was partially modelled.
  • The KEF outcomes and REF outcomes (due in April 2022) will inform this agenda. This explains how to use the KEF dashboards. You can view the dashboards for individual institutions here and compare two providers here. UKRI have consulted on changes to the KEF for the future.  In May 2021 UKRI launched a review of the REF to plan for the future.
  • The House of Commons Library have a useful review of Research and Development funding policy from November 2021.
  • The R&D roadmap announced in July 2020 repeats the commitment to R&D investment of 2.4% by 2027 and public investment will be £22bn by 20204/25.
  • There was a consultation and the outcomes were published on 21st January 2020: “In the coming months, we have committed to publishing a new places strategy for R&Dand we are working across government and with the devolved administrations to develop this”.
  • However, since then there has been a lot of concern about what would be included in this target – whether some of it would be paid to the EU for associate membership of Horizon Europe, and there have been cuts in the development budget with an impact on research (UKRI stated most of its aid-funded research projects are unlikely to be funded beyond 31 July as a result of the Government slashing its overseas aid development budget (from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (BNI) The full UKRI ODA letter is here).
  • Research Professional report that quality related (QR) funding will be cut by £60 million. This is in addition to the cuts to the research relating to the aid budget and the uncertainties surrounding how Horizon association will be funded. See this RP article for far more detail on the various cuts, changes and uncertainties to research related funding streams
  • The Government launched an independent review into UK research bureaucracy led by Professor Adam Tickell, Vice Chancellor, University of Sussex. The last time bureaucracy came up was when they attacked EU research bidding processes as part of the Brexit discussions, announced they were dropping impact statements in UK bidding and then quietly admitted they were just moving them to another bit of the form. It is unclear what new bee they have in their bonnet but anyone applying for the government restructuring funding announced in the summer of 2020 may need to demonstrate the leanness of their professional services functions and internal processes, or at least show that they are willing to tackle them once restructured.  The interim report was published in January 2022 and identified some themes for future work – more is due this Spring.

Education:

We don’t yet have a letter to the OfS from the Secretary of State, Nadhim Zahawi setting out his priorities – in contrast to his predecessor, who wrote many such letters.  We do have a letter about access and participation from November 2021, announcing the new Director of Fair Access and Participation and directing a change in approach.  He has also engaged in the ongoing discussions about antisemitism on campus.

The Universities Minister has taken a much higher profile role now that she is a member of cabinet, writing directly to universities, and even phoning them, apparently.  According to a speech at a UCAS event in February 2022, her priorities include quality, fair access and transparency.  She is actively campaigning on a range of issues including mental health support, the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of bullying and harassment, advertising in HE and the use of personal statements in admissions. And unconditional offers. Just a side note on admissions – speaking to UCAS and not mentioning the DfE consultation on post qualifications admissions really does suggest that it has been kicked into the very long grass.  This was Gavin Williamson’s thing…and once again the complexity of the change required seems to have stopped it progressing.

Access and Participation

In his November 2021 letter, Nadhim Zahawi said:

  • The current system for Access and Participation in HE has had some successes. The proportion of children receiving FSM progressing to higher education by age 19 has increased from 19.8% in 2010/11 to 26.6% in 2019/20; similarly, the proportion of state school entrants to Oxbridge has increased from 59% to 66% between 2015/16 to 2019/20. We want this progress to continue. But the gap between the most and least advantaged students remains stubbornly open. White British young males who received free school meals are amongst the least likely to enter higher education, with just 12.6% progressing to higher education by age 19 by 2019/20. We also see persistent gaps in the attainment of students from different ethnic groups within higher education, with the number of Black students achieving 1st or a 2:1 being 18.3 percentage points lower than for White students. It also cannot be right that some notional gains in access have resulted from recruiting students from underrepresented groups onto courses where more than 50% of students do not get positive outcomes from their degree.
  • We would like to see the whole higher education sector stepping up and taking a greater role in continuing to raise aspirations and standards in education – and we would like to refocus the A&P regime to better support this.

And

  • we welcome a fresh focus from the OfS on the outcomes achieved by disadvantaged and underrepresented groups in higher education. Providers should not be incentivised, nor rewarded, for recruiting disadvantaged students onto courses where too many students drop out or that do not offer good graduate outcomes.
  • Within this A&P refresh, where courses exist on which significant numbers of students who start drop out or do not progress to graduate jobs or further study, the OfS should expect such providers to set clear, measurable targets to improve the outcomes of such courses, hold them to account for meeting those targets, in a similar manner to how the OfS expects to see access targets in high tariff providers.

The OfS has shared more than a hint of what is to come under the new Director for Fair Access and Participation (read more here).

Quality and standards

The big thing in 2022.  We did a detailed review of all of the current proposals in our policy update on 21st January 2022.  It’s all there – absolute numbers for baseline standards on student outcomes metrics (continuation, completion and progression to highly skilled employment or further study), to be published split by subject and a wide range of other criteria including student characteristics, to support the access and participation agenda noted above.  But also a whole load of other licence conditions about keeping courses up to date and coherent, to ensure that they develop relevant skills, that students are supported to achieve high quality outcomes, that students are engaged with course development and that courses are properly resourced.

Building on these “baselines”, we also have a new TEF!  With a new category of “requires improvement”, still using the NSS, and with a new “aspect” of educational gain.  While not a subject level TEF, again, all the data will be published using similar splits to the regulatory data referred to above (including subject and student characteristics) and the way that the ratings are awarded means that problems in subject areas or for particular groups of students could pull down institutional ratings.  The 20 page submission will be expected in mid-November 2022.

And the OfS are still reviewing the NSS.

Skills agenda

This is still a thing, although the white paper that is supposed to define how it will be implemented is still not available so no-one really knows what it all means.  We hear a lot about the lifelong loan entitlement and modular learning.  The Skills Bill itself is at report stage in the House of Commons in February 2022, having been though all stages in the Lords.

We were hoping for more information in the Levelling-Up white paper.  We covered this extensively on 7th February 2022.  As we said, more than a third of the 300 pages is data analysis, and even in the policy sections there’s a lot of waffle and reviewing of previous initiatives to justify the new approach – 12 big “missions for 2030”.  A lot of the policy stuff is in the “things we are already doing or have announced before” box.  There is very little in here for Dorset either.  And there are thin pickings in terms of HE policy.

One thing that is in the bill – a clause aimed at outlawing essay mills.

Financial sustainability

After a big focus on this through the pandemic, worries seem to have subsided.  The last report is from the OfS in June 2021:

  • The sector is forecasting a decline in financial performance and strength in 2020-21, relative to 2019-20, followed by an expected slow recovery from 2021-22.
  • Higher education providers have generally responded to the challenging circumstances brought about by the pandemic through sensible and prudent financial management, including good control of costs and the effective management of cashflow to protect sustainability. There is evidence of prudent management of liquidity, building contingency to accommodate the financial pressure expected from coronavirus. This has been achieved through the generally effective management of cash outflow, including restraint on capital expenditure, where this has been possible.
  • The sector in aggregate experienced stronger student recruitment in 2020-21 than many predicted at the height of the pandemic. 2020-21 saw overall strong demand from UK students, and overseas students held up well, albeit at lower levels than were forecast before the pandemic.
  • Despite this, an overall decrease in income in 2020-21 will reduce the financial operating performance. Net operating cashflow, necessary to support longer term sustainability, fell from 8.4 per cent of total income in 2019-20 to 4.2 per cent in 2020-21. This appears to be manageable in the short term, but at this level will not support sustainability in the longer term.
  • Some higher education providers have applied borrowing instruments, including through some of the government-backed loan schemes, as contingency to safeguard operational cashflows in the event of financial risks. Many of these borrowing instruments remain in place, but are not drawn down and are not forecast to be drawn down.
  • Despite the overall satisfactory findings of our analysis at this time, significant uncertainty remains, and the impact of the pandemic globally could change quickly. Issues that could affect income include restrictions on the movement of students domestically and internationally, higher numbers of students dropping out, and reduced income from accommodation and commercial activities that rely on open buildings and facilities.
  • While the aggregate position is reasonably positive, relative to the risks that have been managed recently, there continues to be significant variability between the financial performance of individual providers, and we expect this will continue as providers adapt to the post-pandemic operating environment. However, we consider that, at this time, the likelihood of multiple providers exiting the sector in a disorderly way because of financial failure is low.
  • Overall, the sector is forecasting continued income growth in the next four years, supported primarily by expectations of strong domestic and international student recruitment. Domestic and international student numbers are projected to increase by 12.3 and 29.5 per cent respectively between 2020-21 and 2024-25, with associated rises of 14.4 and 46.6 per cent for the related income. UCAS data on applications for the 2021 cycle at the January equal consideration deadline indicates increased demand from UK and non-EU students to study at English providers. The forecast growth in fee income from domestic students is based on a broad assumption that there is no material change to level of government funding of teaching, be that through tuition fee loans or OfS grant funding.
  • Net liquidity (net cash holdings) is forecast to be lowest in 2020-21 and 2021-22 as providers manage the financial implications from coronavirus. However, in aggregate, net liquidity remains at reasonable levels and we also know that the banking sector has often provided short-term finance facilities to providers as contingency, in the rare circumstances when this is needed. All tariff groups forecast steady growth in net liquidity from 2022-23, underpinned by expectations of strong student recruitment.
  • While the sector is hopeful of a post-coronavirus recovery in financial performance from 2021-22, there are a number of potentially significant financial challenges to overcome in the forecast period. Examples could include: extended operational restrictions from new variants of coronavirus, which could affect student recruitment; the implications of global economic recovery for spending, business interaction and the employment market; and the need to secure the financial sustainability of pension schemes.

Free speech

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill has made fairly slow progress, at the report stage in the House of Commons as at February 2022, with the whole Lords process still to go.  The culture wars rage around this.  Was xx no platformed or simply not invited?  Did a protest mean someone was “cancelled” or was it a legitimate protest?  Does it depend on the subject matter and whether those opining agree or disagree with the position of those protesting?  Where is the line between legal, but controversial, speech, and speech that breaks the (existing) law.  Which speakers will be protected for their controversial, but legal speech, and which won’t because, although legal, their speech was in some other way deemed to be unacceptable.  Hmm.  There’s a neat summary from February 2022 here.

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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 7th February 2022

Parliamentary news

Michelle Donelan responded to oral questions within the chamber this week. They covered low-quality university courses (including in relation to disadvantaged access) and non-disclosure agreements. Research Professional (RP) has an interesting write up on low quality courses in the playbook. They note how few (41) courses don’t meet the quality threshold and that Russell Group institutions are among those courses. With so few courses of concern the Government’s campaign to prevent this low quality seems more bark than bite. In fact, RP note:

  • Given how many degree courses are on offer across the country —50,000…only 41 in England dip below both a 75% completion rate and a 60% progression rate. More would be captured with a progression metric of 80%, but not so many as to make you think there was a problem that required the full regulatory machinery of the OfS and the political muscle of ministers at the Department for Education.
  • It is hard to imagine that the near 50% non-repayment rate of the student loan book is the result of poor student outcomes on those 41 degree courses. It is also hard to imagine that the OfS will ever have to make a regulatory intervention at the universities where they are taught.
  • …the most likely fate for degree courses that fail to live up to OfS-mandated thresholds is that they will simply be pulled. No university management team worth its salt would allow one or two courses to threaten institutional reputation or access to the student loan book…The most likely result of outcome thresholds will therefore be departmental closures and staff redundancies.

Parliamentary question: Student outcomes approach

Next Donelan tacked HE freedom of speech including a mention on the balance between respect for religious values and freedom of speech. Free speech was also touched upon during the Topical Questions when Jonathan Gullis (Conservative) lamented that the ‘wokerati’ complained and tried to silence a professor’s comments. There is also a freedom of speech parliamentary question.

During the topical questions John Penrose (Conservative) called on Alex Burghart (Education Under-Secretary) to: discuss the universal accreditation scheme proposed in my recently published “Poverty Trapped” paper…It would mean that universities and colleges could give credit for knowledge and skills gained not just in formal education but in work or informal settings, to make it easier, cheaper and faster to switch careers and to level up opportunities so that everyone has a better chance to succeed Burghart responded that FE providers can use discretion, there was no mention of HE.

On Wonkhe: Nadhim Zahawi wants school leavers to get detailed data on in-person teaching, rather than “vague intentions”. Jim Dickinson interprets the signals.

Growth Business Council: Wonkhe – The Prime Minister has launched a new business council to support the government’s Plan for Growth. The Secretary of State for Education will have a standing position on the council to focus on the skills element of the plan, alongside the business and trade secretaries.

Levelling Up

Last week’s big, and long anticipated policy announcement, the levelling up white paper, got a bit lost in the politics of the moment and the big geopolitocal stories.  Has the extra time taken the reason it is so big?  Or, as less kind commentators have said, is it so big to disguise the thinness of the policy initiative?. More than a third of the 300 pages is data analysis, and even in the policy sections there’s a lot of waffle and reviewing of previous initiatives to justify the new approach – 12 big “missions for 2030”.  A lot of the policy stuff is in the “things we are already doing or have announced before” box.  We appreciated the jaunty red, white and blue colour scheme, too.

We are promised more detail on implementation.

I’m using page numbers from the web version below not the printed page numbers.  There’s really very little in here for Dorset – apart from being an Educational Investment Area.  There’s a summary of what they are already doing in the South West from page 314, including the investment from the Towns Fund in regenerating Boscombe.

What is it all about – you have to look at page 120 for the logic.

You can read the “12 missions” at the end of the web page.  They include on reading, writing and maths at primary school and this on skills:

  • By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.

And this on R&D funding:

  • By 2030, domestic public investment in Research & Development outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth
  • The White Paper also announces 3 new Innovation Accelerators, major place-based centres of innovation, centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and Glasgow-City Region. These clusters of innovation will see local businesses and researchers in these areas backed by £100 million of new government funding 

And on devolution:

We will invite the first 9 areas to agree new county deals and seek to agree further MCA deals, extending devolution across England. 

  • The first 9 areas invited to begin negotiations will be Cornwall, Derbyshire & Derby, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, Durham, Hull & East Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire & Nottingham, and Suffolk.
  • The White Paper announces negotiations for a new Mayoral Combined Authority deal for York and North Yorkshire and expanded Mayoral Combined Authority deal for the North East, as well as negotiations for ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to extend their powers – with these deals acting as blueprints for other Mayoral Combined Authorities to follow.
  • By 2030, every part of England that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one.

Looking at the main report, there’s an interesting productivity chart on page 38, the earnings one is on page 40 and the skills distribution is on page 42 and some health charts follow.

The paper uses all this data to conclude where is most left behind. On page 72 it identifies “20 locations in the UK identified as potential priorities for investment and for harnessing existing economic assets for levelling up.”  The Solent area is one of these, along with the area around Exeter, what they call “Cyber Valley”, which is around Cheltenham (GCHQ) and what they call “Western Gateway” – Bristol-Swansea. There are more areas identified for employment and skills linked to net zero on page 86 – again Solent for “Green Finance” and Exeter for onshore wind.

Dorset is highlighted on page 89 as an area with a high proportion of jobs at risk from automation.  There’s a skills map on p93.  Our area is in the middle.

The “so what” starts on page 137, but there are pages and pages of the history of previous policy initiatives and explaining why “missions” are the way to go. It highlights the complexity of funding arrangements (you don’t say – see the chart on page 159).

The proposed devolution deals are on page 166 (not our area or close to it).

You get to the “policy programme” on page 191.  On R&D:

  • “... the UK Government will need to support the growth of R&D hotspots across the UK, including through fostering greater collaboration between national funders, local leadership, the private sector and high-quality research institutions. It also requires a greater focus on innovation alongside research, which will be supported by the 36% real-terms increase for Innovate UK annual core funding between 2021-22 and 2024-25, amounting to a cash total of at least £2.5bn over the SR21 period. While some information is already collected and published, there are currently significant evidence gaps that prevent policy makers from tracking and measuring where public R&D funding is spent. The UK Government will ask the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the UK Government Ofce for Science to work with all departments to collect and publish subnational data on their R&D spending

On education, it is nearly all about schools.  This bit on page 222: “The UK Government will drive further school improvement in England through new Education Investment Areas (EIAs). These will cover the third of local authorities in England where educational attainment is currently weakest, plus any additional local authorities that contain either an existing Opportunity Area (OA) or were previously identified as having the highest potential for rapid improvement.” Dorset is one of these Education Investment Areas.

  • To ensure access to high-quality academic education, including post-16, DfE is opening eleven new specialist 16-19 maths schools, with a commitment to one in each region of England. DfE has opened three so far – King’s College London, Exeter and Liverpool. It will open a further eight in Cambridge, Durham, Imperial College London, Lancaster, Leeds and Surrey, as well as a further two in the East of England and West Midlands. Going further, the UK Government will ensure that talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a college, school sixth form or 16-19 academy, with a track record of progress on to leading universities, such as Harris Westminster Sixth Form and Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form Free School in Norwich. To drive this commitment, DfE will open new 16-19 free schools targeted at areas where they are most needed. The selection process for these schools will prioritise bids located in EIAs, in particular those areas that will benefit from additional support.

Skills come from page 225.  Local Skills Improvement Plans are highlighted (the DfE is piloting these).  Not much new in this area, existing work on apprenticeships and higher technical education.

  • The UK Government has also announced nine new Institutes of Technology (IoT) across England, building on the 12 already established since 2019 and taking the total to 21 – exceeding the UK Government’s manifesto commitment to 20. IoTs are collaborations between colleges, universities and employers, specialising in delivering higher technical education in areas across England. As IoTs are employer-led, they can react quickly to the current and evolving technical skills needs of an area. The lead organisations for the nine new IoTs and the wider areas they will cover are: a. Blackpool and The Fylde College (Lancashire LEP area); b. Cheshire College South and West (Cheshire and Warrington LEP area); c. Chichester College Group (Coast to Capital LEP area); d. DN Colleges Group (Sheffield City Region LEP area); e. Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group (Stoke on Trent & Staffordshire LEP area); f. Solent University (Solent LEP area); g. South Essex College (South East LEP area); h. University of Derby (D2N2 and Leicestershire LEP areas); and i. University of Salford (Greater Manchester LEP area)

Universities finally get a mention on page 229

  • The UK Government will continue to work with the OfS to reform barriers for entry to the English HE sector, so that new high quality HE providers can open across England, joining the 400+ providers already on the register, to increase access to HE particularly in towns and cities without access to this provision.
  • The HE sector has a key role to play in levelling up areas by improving access to opportunity, in addition to supporting regional economies, so that every young person and adult, regardless of their background or geographic location, can get the high level professional qualifications needed to secure rewarding, well-paid jobs benefiting their families and communities. Changes are being made to the role the HE sector plays in levelling up opportunities for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The UK Government has committed to ensuring that HE providers work closely with schools and colleges to raise educational standards and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds in their communities, through refocusing universities’ Access and Participation Plans. The OfS will require all English universities to refocus their Access and Participation Plans on true social mobility, making getting on at university as important as getting in, and emphasising activities which have a direct impact on student attainment. Activities could include tutoring, running summer schools or helping schools and colleges with curriculum development. These changes will help to raise the quality of local education and training providers.
  • From 2025, DfE will transform the student finance system, which helps fund study in level 4 to 6 courses. This will help deliver greater parity between FE and HE, and bring colleges and universities closer together. As part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, a flexible Lifelong Loan Entitlement will provide individuals in England with a loan entitlement equivalent to four years’ worth of fees for post-18 education. It will be available for both individual modules and full years of study at higher technical and degree levels, regardless of whether they are provided in colleges or universities.
  • The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is laying the groundwork to put loans for approved modular courses on a solid statutory footing. 

David Kernohan summarises the relevant bits for universities on Wonkhe.

Wonkhe have an article from James Coe on intergenerational levelling up.

Dods summarise the education parts nicely for us:

 The following are new announcements and plans featured in today’s Levelling Up White Paper:

  • A new online UK National Academy: the new digital education service will support pupils from all backgrounds and provide free, online support for schools’ work, allowing students to acquire additional advanced knowledge and skills.
  • 55 new Education Investment Areas (EIAs) in places where educational attainment is currently weakest:
  • These will cover the third of local authorities in England where educational attainment is currently weakest, plus any additional local authorities that contain either an existing Opportunity Area (OA) or were previously identified as having the highest potential for rapid improvement
  • DfE will launch a consultation on moving schools in these areas with successive “Requires Improvement” Ofsted judgements into strong multi-academy trusts, so that they can better access the support they need to improve
  • DfE will support strong trusts to expand into these areas and offer retention payments to help schools with supply challenges to retain the best teachers in high-priority subjects
  • DfE is opening eleven new specialist 16-19 maths schools, with a commitment to one in each region of England
  • DfE will open new 16-19 free schools targeted at areas where they are most needed (which have been termed ‘elite sixth forms’) to “ensure that talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to a post-16 provider with a track record of progress on to leading universities” – the selection process for these schools will prioritise bids located in EIAs
  • From April 2022, the Free Courses for Jobs programme(where all adults in England who do not have a level 3 qualification are able to take one for free) will be expanded on a trial basis to enable any adult with a level 3 qualification or higher who earns below the National Living Wage or who is unemployed to access a further high-value level 3 qualification for free, regardless of their prior qualifications – MCAs and the GLA will have the flexibility to determine the low wage thresholds in their local areas
  • DfE will set up a new Unit for Future Skills which will work with BEIS and DWP to bring together the skills data and information held across government:
  • The Unit will produce information on local skills demand, future skills needs of business, the skills available in an area and the pathways between training and good jobs
  • This will be a multi-year project, but the Unit will aim to improve the quality of data available within and outside UK Government in the short-term to strengthen the quality of local plans and provision, and their alignment with labour market need, as well as enable the updating of apprenticeship standards, qualifications and accountability measures
  • Its work will also feed into DfE’s commitment to provide a single-source of labour market information to learners to improve their choice of training courses and careers
  • Successful Institutes of Technology will be able to receive Royal Charter status in order to secure their “long-term position as anchor institutions within their region and placing them on the same level as our world-leading historic universities” – DfE will set out the criteria and application process for Royal Charter status this spring.
  • Government will target £100m of investment in three new Innovation Accelerators, private-public-academic partnerships which will aim to replicate the Stanford-Silicon Valley and MIT-Greater Boston models of clustering research excellence
  • These pilots will be centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Glasgow City-Region
  • new devolution framework, providing different powers and functions depending on the level, which could include:
  • Devolution of Adult Education functions and the core Adult Education Budget
  • Providing input into Local Skills Improvement Plans
  • Role in designing and delivering future contracted employment programmes

And also from Dods a list of the things featured, but already previously been announced in either Budget, SR21 or other policy documents/press releases:

  • Nine new Institutes of Technology with strong employer links will be established in England, helping to boost higher technical skills in STEM subjects (this was announced in the 2021 Spending Review)
  • Local Skills Improvement Plans, together with supporting funding, will be set up across England to set out the key changes needed in a place to make technical skills training more responsive to skills needs. (already announced, centrepiece of the Skills Bill)
  • The £1.5bn Further Education Capital Transformation Programme will upgrade and transforming college estates across England (this was announced in the 2021 Spending Review)
  • Nine new Institutes of Technology across England, building on the 12 already established and taking the total up to 21. (already announced in Spending Review 2021)
  • The forthcoming Schools White Paper will focus on improving literacy and numeracy for those furthest behind. It will set out a clear vision for a system in which schools are in strong MATs that are able to drive improvement for all their pupils. DfE will take a place-focused approach, working with local partners to build strong trusts and investing in diocesan trusts to ensure every type of school can benefit (previously announced)
  • Government will invest £300m to build the network of Family Hubs and transform Start for Life services for parents and babies, carers and children in half of local authorities in England, and a further £200m to expand the Supporting Families programme in England (already announced in 2021 Spending Review)
  • Government intends to reform funding and accountability for further education(already announced in Skills for Jobs White Paper)
  • Aim to quadruple the number of places in England on Skills Bootcamps(previously announced in 2021 Spending Review)
  • Encouraging work-based training through apprenticeships in England, increasing funding to £2.7bn by 24/25 (announced in Spending Review):
  • Includes an enhanced recruitment service for SMEs, which are more likely to employ younger apprentices and those living in disadvantaged areas
  • Making it easier for large employers to transfer their Apprenticeship Levy to SMEs to further support apprenticeships in disadvantaged areas
  • Also rolling out higher technical qualifications (HTQs), which are new and existing level 4 and 5 qualifications that have been assessed against employer-led standards
  • Government will bring greater alignment to the delivery of employment and skills interventions in new Pathfinder areas(already announced):
  • Brings together local delivery partners from DWP and DfE, including Jobcentre Plus, careers services, local employers, education and training providers, and local government to respond to intelligence about local employers’ skills needs, supporting people into work and identifying progression opportunities for people in part-time work
  • These employment and skills Pathfinders will help individuals and employers take advantage of the extensive range of skills provision on offer
  • Part of the launch of the £2.6bn UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), adults across the whole of the UK will benefit from the Multiply numeracy programme, offering national and local support for people to gain or improve their numeracy skills, worth £559m over the SR21 period (previously announced in 2021 Spending Review)
  • From 2025, DfE will introduce a flexible Lifelong Loan Entitlement, providing individuals in England with a loan entitlement equivalent to four years’ worth of fees for post-18 education, available for both individual modules and full years of study at higher technical and degree levels (already announced)
  • The Government’s forthcoming Food Strategy White Paper will take forward recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s independent review towards a National Food Strategy to help ensure that everyone can access, understand, and enjoy the benefits of a healthy and sustainable diet
  • In line with Dimbleby’s recommendations, a joint project will be launched between DfE and the Food Standards Agency to design and test a new approach for local authorities in assuring and supporting compliance with school food standards
  • The project will engage with multiple local authorities in March, with pilots expected to go live in September
  • Adopting Dimbleby’s recommendations around eating and learning, the UK Government will invest up to £5m to launch a school cooking revolution, including the development of brand new content for the curriculum and providing bursaries for teacher training and leadership
  • To support this, the UK Government will invest up to £200,000 to pilot new training for school governors and academy trusts on a whole school approach to food
  • Through these interventions, the Government will aim for every child leaving secondary school to know at least six basic recipes that will support healthy living into adulthood.

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

  • “It’s positive that the Levelling Up White Paper recognises that research and innovation is central to the UK’s long term economic, social and environmental wellbeing. Together, universities and businesses across the country are delivering world class innovations and contributing to their local communities and regional economies. We applaud the Government for recognising the central role and important role that research and innovation plays in our future growth, right across the UK.
  • “Today’s White Paper recognises that our research base will be a key building block to drive real change across the UK. NCUB has long called on the Government to establish a network of ‘Innovation Collaboration Zones’ across the UK to help the country level up. The announcement of these three new Innovation Accelerators is therefore particularly welcome. However, the devil will however be in the detail especially around their selection, the expected impact and benefit but also where future ones will be located. What is clear is that the research and innovation that our universities and businesses deliver, is vital to building stronger places and is central to driving growth and opportunity.”

Research

ARIA – Advanced Research and Invention Agency

The ARIA Bill continues within the ‘ping pong’ stage whilst the Commons and Lords agree the final amendments (tweaking) of the Bill. Here’s a summary of the latest changes and those that have been rejected.

Dr Peter Highnam has been appointed as the first CEO of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA). He will lead the formation of the agency and direct its initial funding of high-risk research programmes taking up the post on 3 May 2022 for a 5-year period. Peter will move across from his role as the Deputy Director of America’s DARPA research agency. Previously he has held positions as the Director of Research at National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, as Director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, and he worked at the US Department for Health and Human Services from 2003 to 2009, serving as senior advisor in the National Institute of Health. Peter was born in the UK and studied at Manchester, Bristol and Carnegie Mellon Universities.

The written ministerial statement presented by Kwasi Kwarteng announcing Peter’s appointment is here.

Wonkhe blog: Canadian HE expert Alex Usher shows that when it comes to student loan repayments and moonshot research, other political choices are available.

Horizon Europe: Wonkhe – The House of Lords European Affairs Committee heard evidence on the UK’s association with Horizon Europe. Peter Mason, head of international engagement at Universities UK International, and Robin Grimes, foreign secretary at the Royal Society, advocated for the economic and cultural benefits of the Horizon programme, and its importance to the UK research community. The committee also heard evidence from the Secretary General of the League of European Research Universities Kurt Deketelaere, who noted the positives of collaboration between EU and UK institutions. You can watch the full session on Parliament TV.

REF: Blog – Ahead of the deadline for feedback on the REF2021 process, Phil Ashworth makes the case for radical simplicity in research assessment.

Parliamentary Questions

Access & Participation

EIAs: Wonkhe – The Department for Education has released its methodology for selecting education investment areas, which will be based on pupil outcomes at key stages two and four at local authority level.

Blogs:

Parliamentary Questions

Other news

UK Digital Economy: The Office for National Statistics have published statistics on research into frameworks for defining the digital economy (composition, size, and characteristics).

Student Finance: Provision has been made through a parliamentary statutory instrument to include a new eligibility category for persons who have been granted leave under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and to clarify existing provisions on the Secretary of State’s right to recover overpayments of fee loans from academic authorities. Details here.

HE staff: HESA released their HE staff statistics for 2020/21. Research Professional highlight key points. Wonkhe state: New HESA data shows little movement in the numbers and diversity of academic staff in universities…The number of staff on teaching contracts has not increased in line with student numbers, going from around 100,000 full-time staff with some teaching responsibility in 2019-20 to a little over 106,000 in 2020-21. Overall, women make up 47 per cent of academic staff but just 42 per cent of those on full-time contracts – but 56 per cent of those on part-time ones, and 54 per cent of staff on zero hours contracts. We don’t yet have the full breakdown of staff ethnicity but the number of black professors of the nearly 18,000 professors in the UK remains at just 160.And they have a blog: David Kernohan takes a look at the HESA staff data and comes to the conclusion that workforce expansion is inevitable in the near future.

Technical: Wonkhe – The final report of the Research England funded TALENT Commission on the higher education technical workforce argues that there is a lack of national strategic insight into technical capability and future technical skills needs in UK higher education. Drawing on data analysis, stakeholder insight and research with technical staff, the commission sets out a vision for greater recognition and support for technical staff, roles, skills, and career development. Recommendations include investment in a pipeline of technical talent, facilitation of movement between technical and academic roles, targeted action on specific diversity challenges, expansion of entry routes to technical careers, inclusion of technical experts in recruitment, and new partnerships between employers and training to identify future skills needed to deploy emerging technologies.

Young employment: Wonkhe – A new report from the Resolution Foundation, Leaving lockdownhighlights the experience of young people seeking employment – including full time and part time higher education students – during the pandemic.

Community contributions: Wonkhe – NCUB has published ten case studies from across the UK of examples of universities contributing to their local economies.

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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 21st January 2022

There so much regulatory stuff to talk about, so we are focussing on that this week.  There will be a more normal update next week.

Moving the goalposts  – the OfS proposals for regulating absolute baselines

This is the biggy – the one with the absolute student outcomes metrics.  The 60% metric that was all over the news is for FT first degree undergraduates using the “progression” metric – further study or professional or managerial employment.  But there are continuation and completion baselines too, and they vary dramatically for PG students and a whole bunch of other categories.

These become binding licence conditions, and breaches of them lead to serious regulatory consequences.  Serious breaches could lead to losing degree awarding powers, or not being allowed a TEF rating (and having fees capped at £7500 as a result).  There are lots of lesser actions, including specific licence conditions requiring action to address things, as well.

And the data will be published.  All of it.  Including a lot of split data.  Potentially 48 indicators, all with spits by age, disability, sex, ethnicity, IMD, etc etc…and SUBJECT.  You will recall that there is no subject level TEF.  While that is true, the regulatory baseline data, and the TEF data, will be presented by subject because the OfS want to be able to identify “pockets of poor provision”.  Having these pockets could cause a regulatory problem, and drag a provider down in the TEF.  The data will include taught students, registered students, and “taught and registered”.  So any partner students would count towards our data as well as the partner’s data. It will be based on 4 years of data.

And how will this all work?  There will be an initial review of the first lot of data  – this autumn – and then an annual cycle.  There will be intervention letters for t