Tagged / Office for Students

HE policy update for the w/e 20th October 2017

OfS Regulation – Free Speech, Compulsory TEF, Student empowerment

The long awaited (and very long) consultation on the role and functions of the Office for Students was published this week. In fact there are several separate consultations (Wonkhe have helpfully grouped them all on one web page):

  • the regulatory framework
  • registration fees
  • Degree awarding powers and university title
  • One about selection of designated quality assessment body for the OfS– QAA is the only candidate
  • One about selection of a designated data body for the OfS – HESA is the only candidate

The consultations are open until 22nd December and BU will be reviewing them and preparing responses – please let policy@bournemouth.ac.uk know if you would like to be involved.

There is a huge amount of detail and a lot of areas for discussion here, but interestingly the Minister and the press chose to focus on freedom of speech yesterday. The Times published an interview with Jo Johnson discussing the proposal that measures to protect freedom of speech should be a condition of OfS registration. The Guardian notes proposed powers for the OfS to fine or suspend the registration of universities that fail to protect the freedom of speech on campus, including student unions that ‘no platform’ controversial speakers. There has been a lot of commentary on this – not least that students’ unions are independent organisations. It is really interesting to note that in the summary of the consultation prepared for students by the Department for Education, freedom of speech is not mentioned.

  • Johnson: “Our young people and students need to accept the legitimacy of healthy, vigorous debate in which people can disagree with one another. That’s how ideas get tested, prejudices exposed and society advances. Universities mustn’t be places in which free speech is stifled.”
  • Sir Michael Barber OfS Chair: “Ensuring freedom of speech and learning how to disagree with diverse opinions and differing views of the world is a fundamental aspect of learning at university. The OfS will promote it vigorously.”

The relevant bit of the consultation starts on page 32 –

  • This consultation includes such a public interest principle, which states that the governing body of an institution must take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured within its institution. This public interest principle will form part of the public interest governance condition…”
  • “The OfS will use ‘indicative behaviours’ to assess compliance with the principles; these are set out in the Guidance on registration conditions. With regard to free speech, for example, one behaviour that would indicate compliance would be to have a freedom of speech code of practice. This should set out the procedures which members, students and employees should follow in relation to meetings or activities, and the conduct which is expected of those individuals. Some of the best examples set out clearly what does and does not constitute reasonable grounds for refusal of a speaker, and the disciplinary actions which would follow a breach of the code of practice. A behaviour that might indicate non-compliance would be where a provider fails to abide by its own freedom of speech procedures”.

There has of course been something of a media/social media storm, with rage from both ends of the political spectrum about those with different views allegedly seeking to stifle or prevent free speech, big disagreements on the role of trigger warnings, safe spaces and “no platforming”, and a number of voices pointing out that universities are already subject to legal obligations on both free speech and the Prevent duty and this is all a bit over-played.

But apart from this issue, the consultation has much broader scope. It sets out the broad objectives for the OfS:

  1. all students, from all backgrounds, are supported to access, succeed in, and progress from, higher education
  2. all students, from all backgrounds, receive a high quality academic experience, and their qualifications hold their value over time in line with sector-recognised standards
  3. that all students, from all backgrounds, have their interests as consumers protected while they study, including in the event of provider, campus, or course closure
  4. that all students, from all backgrounds, receive value for money

The OfS will seek to mitigate the risk that each of these four objectives is not met and:

  • “As it does so, the OfS will also seek to mitigate risk that the sector does not deliver value for money for taxpayers and citizens (who are directly involved through the allocation of public grant funding, research funding by UKRI, and the public subsidy to the student finance system). It will also do so while recognising the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are less likely to access, succeed in, and progress successfully from higher education, even once their entrance characteristics are taken into account.
  • The OfS will also work with UKRI to ensure that the reciprocal risk around the sustainability of providers which contribute to the vibrancy of the research base is monitored and mitigated appropriately. The flow of information between the two organisations will be crucial to achieving this.”

The many other areas covered in detail include

  • Making TEF compulsory for all HEIs with >500 students
  • Publishing justification of high senior staff salaries
  • Transparency about student transfer (between courses)
  • Empowering students through clearer student contracts

We will look at some areas in more detail in the following weeks.

The impact of universities

Meanwhile, Universities UK (UUK) published a report on the Economic Impact of Universities in 2014-15. Some highlights:

  • In total, the economic activity of universities, the international students they attract and their visitors, supported more than 940,000 jobs in the UK in 2014-15.
  • In 2014-15, universities themselves employed 404,000 people, or 1.3 percent of all UK employment
  • UK universities, together with their international students and visitors, generated £95 billion of gross output in the economy in 2014-15.
  • The gross value added contribution of universities’ own operations to GDP, at £21.5 billion in 2014-15, is larger than that made by a number of sizable industries.
  • UK universities, together with their international students and visitors, supported £14.1 billion in tax receipts for the Exchequer in 2014-15.
  • In total, universities in the UK earned £13.1 billion in export receipts in 2014-15.

Student Loans and Value for Money

The Treasury Committee launched an inquiry scrutinising recent changes to the student loan system. This week evidence was received from Dr Helen Carasso (Oxford) and Andrew McGettigan (freelance author and lecturer). Key points:

  • Experts disagree exactly how much raising the repayment threshold will cost the taxpayer. The system is complex and not even understandable to highly-qualified experts
  • The notion that the written off loans will cost to the taxpayer the same amount with the post-92 as the previous £3,000 fees is publically unpopular
  • The post-92 higher fees is believed to have created more teaching resources within the system
  • McGettigan claimed that higher interest rates for students still studying were purely designed to deal with the rarer issue of rich students taking out loans and investing them elsewhere
  • Varying price for tuition fees by programme is nonsensical – students would be discouraged from choosing courses which were priced lower as it has a status implication (McGettigan).
  • The system has created a series of disincentives for universities to charge anything other than the highest fee (Carasso).
  • Carasso stated an overt graduate tax would be a better accounting method than student loans although it would feel like a penalty. McGettigan expanded suggesting it may destabilise recruitment and retention and potentially encourage drop out or emigration
  • On the sale of the loan book McGettigan stated the old mortgage-style loans had already been sold at a profit, but under the new system the sale of loans would not affect public sector net debt, that any price would be lower than fair value and amount to a loss for the government.
  • Re: marketization of HE Carasso stated it was very difficult for an applicant to make a fully-informed decision (in relation to price and net cost).
  • How should the repayment system best be reformed:
    • McGettigan – the main problem is the large graduate debt. A lower starting debt would mean interest rates would not apply in the same way,
    • Carasso – if the system is too complex to understand that’s a problem. Fees are probably too high, and why is there not an employer contribution mechanism?

Meanwhile the Economic Affairs Select Committee is examining if students get value for money (HE, FE and technical education) through oral evidence sessions. Follow it here

Widening Participation

50% of students are First in Family – This week the Telegraph drew on UCAS data to report that half of students who started a degree last year were first in family to attend HE. However, the article is disparaging as many of these students attended ‘low’ or ‘mid-ranking’ universities and few studied the ‘top’ subjects (listed as medicine, maths and science). The article went on to raise the current headline grabbing debate over fees and value for money and stated: “critics said last night that the figures showed that too many students were attending low-performing universities which charge “outrageous” fees but fail to improve social mobility.”

Whole-institution approach to WP – This week OFFA called for universities to create a step change and accelerate social mobility goals by adopting a whole-institution approach to widening participation, embedding fair access at all levels of the organisation, across all areas of work, and senior management. To accompany the call OFFA released the commissioned report: Understanding a whole institution approach to WP

Les Ebdon (Director, OFFA) stated: “Excellent progress has been made in widening access to higher education for the most disadvantaged young people. But for too long, this progress has only been incremental. We now need to see transformational change.

“Adopting a genuine whole institution approach – where access is a key priority at every level – is the biggest thing a university or college could do to make change happen. This research offers a vital opportunity to make the further, faster progress we badly need to see.

International academics

Q – Stephen Gethins (SNP): With reference to the Government’s policy paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation: A Future Partnership Paper, published on 6 September 2017, whether it is her policy to extend visa entitlement to the spouses and dependents of EU academics who can work in the UK after the UK has left the EU.

And

Q – Stephen Gethins (SNP): With reference to the Government’s policy paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation: Future Partnership Paper, published on 6 September 2017, what representations she has received from universities and national academies on the potential effect of changes to freedom of movement on the UK’s ability to attract and retain high quality researchers.

A: Brandon Lewis (Con): The Government recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and we welcome those with the skills and expertise to make our country better still. But we must manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest.

We have been clear that after the UK leaves the EU, free movement will end, but migration between the UK and the EU will continue and we are considering a number of options as to how this might work. We will be setting out initial proposals for our future immigration arrangements later in the year.

The Government recognises that it is important that we understand the impacts on the different sectors of the economy and the labour market and want to ensure that decisions on the long-term system are based on evidence. On July 2017, we commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to advise on the economic and social impacts of the UK’s exit from the European Union and also on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy… The Government will carefully consider any recommendations made to it by the MAC before finalising the details of the future immigration system for EU nationals.

The Government also regularly engages with sectoral bodies – including those in the scientific and academic sectors ¬- to ensure our immigration routes work effectively to enable businesses to access the talent they need. Their views do, and will continue to, inform our decisions on any changes to the system.

Consultations & Inquiries

The Policy team compiles details of the key HE and niche research consultations and select committee inquiries on the consultation tracker. BU responses to HE consultations are managed by Sarah and Jane.

Let us know you’re interested! We invite colleagues across BU to provide response input, however, if there is a consultation in your area of expertise don’t wait for an invite – contact us on policy@bournemouth.ac.uk – we’d love to hear from you so we can access all the pockets of expertise across BU. Take a look at the consultation tracker to find out if there is a current inquiry related to your role.

New consultations and inquiries:

  • 5 Higher Education and Research Act consultations
  • International students – social and economic impact (link)
  • Science budget and the Industrial Strategy (link)
  • Intellectual Property
  • Decarbonisation in HE sector
  • Enabling Gypsies, Roma and Travellers
  • Regulation of Nursing Associates in England

(See the consultation tracker for links to all these new consultations and inquiries.)

To view the responses BU has submitted to recent consultations and inquiries across all topics click here.

Other news

Teaching excellence: The University Alliance has published Technical and professional excellence: Perspective on learning and teaching.

TEF Gold: HEPI have released Going for Gold: Lessons from the TEF provider submissions. The report breaks down the influential aspects of the provider submissions which the author suggests may have swayed the panel’s final award decisions. While the report is based on opinion it offers suggestions to providers and Government on how to improve the qualitative aspect of the TEF submission. Spoiler alert: BU features frequently within the document.

Alternative Providers: The National Audit Office has published their Follow-up on alternative HE providers. The report notes several area of progress:

  • Non-continuation rates reduced from 38% to 25% (although still 15% higher than the mainstream HE sector) with DfE action taken against 11 alternative providers where dropout rates are unacceptably high. More regular and reliable monitoring data has been called for.
  • Reduction in paying student loans to ineligible students from 4% to 0.5%
  • DfE have strengthened their oversight framework and are acting on third party reports of non-compliance or under-performance.
  • Positive reports of widening access within disadvantaged or under-represented groups of students

However, early data implies graduates from alternative provider’s progress to further study or employment at a lower rate and lower entry salary than graduates from mainstream HE institutions.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update w/e 6th October 2017 (belated)

As the focus of the conference season for HE has been fees, loans and debt, we have a slightly delayed policy update with a catch up on this complicated issue, with a few hints of other things to come in our regular update at the end of the week.

Discussions about student finance have dominated the news and chat across the higher education sector consistently since the early summer, with a “national conversation” and now calls for a “major review” – which may or may not be happening. So it seemed like a good time to look at the problem, some of the proposed solutions and what might happen next.

Although of course concerns about student debt, the cost of the government subsidy for student loans and whether university degrees provide “value for money” have been a consistent theme, the general election really brought focus, because of the Labour pledge to abolish tuition fees for new students and the desire to forgive existing student debt. The latter was interpreted by some as a “promise” and others as a “wish”, but the combination allegedly swayed young people in huge numbers to (a) vote, and (b) vote Labour. I have written about this elsewhere – students and young people did turn out in large numbers and many of them did vote Labour – but it is highly unlikely (at least in my view) that this was down to a single issue.

The immediate effect of all this was that in the summer the government postponed the announcement of the anticipated inflation increase to the tuition fee cap in 2018/19 for universities with Year 2 TEF awards (i.e.most universities but not some new or alternative providers). The delay prompted speculation that the rise would be cancelled (despite already being provided for in legislation), and sure enough, just before the Conservative Party conference the Prime Minster announced that there would be no increase in 2018/19 – and also that the repayment threshold for tuition fee loans will go up (from £21k to £25k) from 6th April 2018. The written ministerial statement that confirms all this was issued on 9th October 2017. Note that the upper threshold is also going up and that this only applies to those with loans since 2012.

So what next? The PM announced a “major review” – but did she mean it? The ministerial statement (as the most recent indication) says: “The Government will set out further steps on HE student financing in due course”. In the meantime, Sheffield University have announced their own review.

We will consider some of the options, some of the implications, and make an unwise effort to predict what might happen next.

Option 1: Tinker with the current system

The repayment threshold rise was long overdue, for many, as it was part of the original deal for student loans that was reversed, because the impact of the freeze in the threshold was regressive. This is not just a tweak. The Institute for Fiscal Studies have assessed the cost as over £2.3billion per year in the long run – a “big (and expensive) giveaway to graduates”.

Postponing the inflation based fee cap increase could have implications for the Teaching Excellence Framework. Fee cap increases were a “carrot” to encourage universities to improve their teaching and earn an increased fee through better TEF awards (on hold since the House of Lords pressure on the Higher Education and Research Act before the election meant that plans for differentiated fee caps linked to TEF were postponed).

Those hoping that dropping fee increases (at least for now) means that the TEF isn’t necessary are (at least for now) going to be disappointed – the link to fees was to support the TEF, not the other way around – and so on 9th October 2017, alongside the fee notification referred to above, the Department for Education issued the year 3 TEF specification. The changes were anticipated in the Minister’s big speech at Universities UK on 7th September, and here it is, now renamed the “Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework” (TESOF). So no sign of that being abandoned.

[Notes on TEF: The name change is interesting after so much feedback from everyone that the one thing that the TEF doesn’t measure was teaching quality. The metrics changes this time are limited to including LEO data – longitudinal educational outcomes (employment and salary) and a self-assessment on grade inflation. The subject level pilot is also starting this year, along with a pilot of new metrics on teaching intensity. Remember also that there is a possibility that subject level TEF might also be linked to fees – something that some in the House of Lords thought was a good thing at the time that they threw out the link between TEF and fees – they said it was meaningless at an institutional level but more meaningful at a subject level.]

Changing the interest rate – read the myth busing article from MoneySavingExpert on why this isn’t as obvious as it sounds. There is no question that the headline rate is high but the article points out that different rates apply to students once they graduate according to what they are earning. Nevertheless, students at university right now are accruing interest at 6.1%. And (to the extent that it is repaid) that is helping to fund those who don’t repay.

Give it a new name. This is potentially a flier – after all the TEF has been renamed after the Minister insisted at length that the name was not important and what counted was what the TEF actually did. In a debate with Martin Lewis (of MoneySavingExpert) on 3rd October, Jo Johnson agreed that there was a problem with terminology. Instead of a “student loan” he offered a “time-limited, income-linked, graduate contribution” – which doesn’t trip off the tongue. However cumbersome as a name, this does make it clear the Minister’s position, which is that the fact that the government writes off a lot of debt is not accidental, or a sign that the system is broken, it is a deliberate investment in the cost of education which supports those who cannot afford later to repay it. [

[While we are talking about names, could there be a reconsideration of the name of the Office for Students as well?]

Add more conditions. There has already been a bit of this. In the Minister’s speech to UUK referred to above, Jo Johnson said that the government would:

  • consult on: “making it a condition of joining the register of higher education providers that institutions clearly set out in this way how they will provide their courses so that there is full compliance with consumer law”
  • Introduce a new ongoing condition of registration requiring the governing bodies of [Approved and Approved (fee cap)] providers to publish the number of staff paid more than £100,000 per year and to provide a clear justification of the salaries of those paid more than £150,000 per annum.

So there is an option to add other conditions too – such as giving bursaries, fee waivers for students with financial difficulties etc. But the Office for Fair Access don’t think that bursaries and direct funding are the best way to increase participation – see the blog by Les Ebdon on Wonkhe. And there is still a question about how these are funded (see below).

Option 2: Just cut the cap – or introduce variable caps

One proposal trailed in the newspapers recently as being under serious consideration by the Chancellor as a plan for the November budget, was that the fee cap should just be cut. This is linked in some quarters to the argument (by Lord Adonis and some others) that universities are operating a cartel by (mostly) all charging the maximum fee. The Times Higher Education did an analysis of this:

“According to an article in The Sunday Times on 17 September, Mr Hammond is considering a plan to scrap the current fee cap of £9,250 for home undergraduates and replace it with a maximum of £7,500. The government would then top up the fee with some direct funding per student for those studying higher-cost science and technology subjects. But such a move could mean universities losing £1,750 for students enrolled on any other course.”

Apart from caps linked to TEF outcomes, described above, one solution that has been proposed in a range of forms is that there should be different fees – perhaps enforced by different caps, for different courses. There’s an interesting history lesson here. Of course, this could be more subtle than just allowing the universities with the highest earning graduates to charge the highest fees – the Economist looked at value add recently. Caps could be linked to cost – the Times Higher Education showed an analysis of costs at a subject level in an article on 5th October. This is a very complex argument, because of issues about cross subsidisation across the sector, including for bursaries and research.

Lower fees overall, or lower fees for some courses could lead to courses being cut as well as a big focus on cost savings in institutions. The UUK statistics show that UK undergraduate tuition fees were 27% of total income in 2014-15. Universities spent £14.42 billion on teaching and research, 69% of it on staff costs. Cost cutting will be difficult.

As noted above, Lord Adonis has claimed that universities are running a cartel – opening the door to legal remedies that would force differentiation in fees – but there has been a strong response to this argument.

Option 3: Make someone else pay for HE

The government

The Labour Party’s preferred option is to go back to the old days – scrap tuition fees and centrally fund HE. Many commentators have poured cold water on this idea for two main reasons – affordability, and because they argue that this policy is regressive compared to the current system. If lower paid graduates don’t have to repay their loans, they benefit most from that “income linked, time limited government contribution”, while higher paid graduates do repay (and subsidise the others through the interest rate). There is an IFS report on the impact of the Labour manifesto pledge here.

The affordability discussion is linked to the other objection to this policy – that because it would otherwise be unaffordable, it is inevitable that student numbers will have to be limited – either by the reintroduction of the Student Number Control system or some version of it. It appears that Labour do not agree that this is inevitable.

Many have looked at Scotland – where there are still controls on numbers, and pointed out that free tuition associated with a cap on numbers has had a negative impact on participation amongst lower participation groups.

Of course, it is also government policy to increase the number of young people pursuing technical qualifications, including apprenticeships – which may push down the total number of students at universities, and so may make that less of an issue.

There is a strange potential Brexit bonus here for the government, if not for universities or for the wider economy. It is anticipated that EU students will have to pay international fees after Brexit, and will cease to be eligible for student loans. A Higher Education Policy Institute paper suggested that this will reduce the number of EU students substantially, by up to 31,000 students in one year. Some of these students have loans they don’t repay – so there is scope for a saving in the up front loan funding and a smaller write-off later– although it is limited.

Before the referendum, a House of Commons briefing paper on student loans estimated that 65% of EU students took up fee loans in 2013/14. Some of these students may be taking loans because they can, rather than because they need to (according to UUK, more EU borrowers than English ones repay in full or make large repayments). It has been hard to recover debt from some of these students, although the overall default number is smaller than for UK students; the government’s student loan repayment strategy (Feb 2016) aims to improve collection rates.  For more information about student loans to EU students read the Student Loans Company Statistical First Release – Student Loans in England for the financial year 2015-16

Business

David Green, the VC of the University of Worcester, wrote in the Guardian in July that there should be a return to the pre-2012 system with a twist:

“The pre-2012 system was a reasonable compromise, with students paying approximately one third of the total fees through an interest-free, index-linked government repayment scheme.

Since there are three beneficiaries of higher education, there should be three principal sources of funding: taxpayers, companies and the individual. As well as tuition fees and general taxation, there should be a payroll tax or levy on enterprises with the proceeds earmarked for higher education. Introducing a contribution from companies will ensure that philanthropic funding provides a vital boost without serving as a substitute. “

The levy route is being used to fund apprenticeships – it seems likely that the government will want to see how that works before trying another direct tax on businesses – especially as the link to employment is less direct for HE than it is for apprenticeships.

Universities

In a variation on this theme, Ryan Shorthouse of Conservative think tank Bright Blue suggested that universities should pay towards the cost of funding student loans: “Institutions producing a disproportionate number of graduates who will need their student loans subsidised should contribute a levy to government.

  • That’s an interesting idea, but there are some problems with it. In other markets, suppliers can pay a levy towards the “greater good” e.g. green levies paid by energy companies – these are funded either by increased prices for consumers or reduced profits (and reduced dividends for shareholders).
  • The parallels in higher education don’t work in the same way – fees are capped, so the consumer won’t pay more, and as most universities do not have shareholders and do not pay dividends, the cost would therefore be funded by cutting investment in something else. That seems unlikely to help improve outcomes for students (as was argued by the NUS in relation to differential fees linked to TEF, the outcome is that poor performers have less money to invest in improving performance). There is an interesting Wonkhe article with a US perspective that supports that view here).
  • What this would probably mean over time is that those courses with worse outcomes on salary would be cut. Perhaps that is the desired policy outcome – remove courses that are not “profitable” for society from government funding altogether. And that opens another whole debate about the value of education beyond salaries.

Graduates

There is also the graduate tax option. There’s a 2016 article by Martin McQuillan here and one by Will Cooling here. This could just be a name change for student loans – or something more drastic – one policy trailed recently was that all graduates should pay the tax – regardless of when they studied (but of course, if they didn’t have loans, no-one knows who they are…). The graduate tax still seems to be Lib Dem policy. There is a more recent review of the idea here.

Option 4: Leave tuition fees – focus on maintenance grants

This is UUK’s flagship policy in this area. The most recent article is by Alistair Jarvis for the Telegraph which covers other ground but also refers to their views on maintenance. This was described by Janet Beer, the UUK president, in a speech to UUK’s annual conference on 7th September and in the Guardian here. In a recent THE article, Professor Beer also suggests that the Welsh model of maintenance support alongside fees might be worth looking at for England.

So what’s next?

It is very hard to see where this might go. The hint in the ministerial announcement could suggest there is more to come – the promised review or more tinkering? Certainly no-one will believe anyone who suggests that nothing else will change – the two changes that have been announced were denied energetically until quite recently.

The obvious tinkering option that is still available is interest rates. That might change in the budget – but on top of the repayment threshold change it will be expensive (even though much of the accrued interest is monopoly money – it isn’t repaid so it was never real in the first place). Andrew McGettigan explains how the government accounting works in a blog here.

The Chancellor might announce a more dramatic shift in policy in the budget – but it seems unlikely that he would announce a reduction in the fee caps without more work to understand the implications. He might announce a limited programme of maintenance grants.

And he might announce a review. That would push the issue into the long grass for a while. It seems incredible that there could be another new idea that no-one has thought of yet, given all the words on this subject over the last year.  But there could be.

And if there is a review – a graduate tax of some sort – whether a renaming with other tinkering or a more fundamental change that means graduates pay more than just their own loans– does seem to be a possibility.

And given the context described above, it seems likely that any more fundamental change would be accompanied with a change to the current single fee cap. If the government is going to pay more of the cost of HE –or make business or graduates pay- it is unlikely to accept that all courses should be funded at top of the cap. It is inevitable that the value for money concept would feature somewhere, whether linked to quality, outcomes or costs.  So those who hope for a review need to be prepared for a differentiated fee or funding caps.

Next stop – the budget.

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update for the w/e 15th September 2017

REF 2021

As we noted last week, on 1st September 2017 HEFCE published the initial decisions on REF 2021. This does not include decisions regarding submitting staff, output portability or the eligibility of institutions to participate in the REF. There is another consultation on those issues and BU’s response is being prepared by RKEO – please contact Julie Northam if you would like to be involved.  This week, the four UK funding bodies published a summary of the responses to the previous consultation. The document summarises the 388 formal responses to the consultation.

Consultation responses welcomed an overall continuity of approach with REF 2014 and recognised that this would reduce the burden on institutions and panels. Broad support was expressed for the principles behind Lord Stern’s recommendations. There were mixed responses to some of the proposed approaches to implementing the changes, in particular:

  • all-staff submission
  • non-portability of outputs
  • institutional-level assessment
  • open access and data sharing.

Feedback on these areas included concern about their effects on different disciplines or types of institution, their impact on specific groups, in particular early career researchers and those with protected characteristics, and the burden of implementation.

Some highlights:

  • Over a third of respondents suggested that the proposal might result in changes to contractual status, with some staff being moved to Teaching-only contracts. A small number of HEI respondents suggested that they would make such contract changes if the proposal is implemented.
  • “the predominant suggestion (by one-fifth of respondents addressing this issue) was that HEIs should retain a key role in identifying staff with significant responsibility for research”.
  • Many respondents stressed the importance of research independence as a criterion, especially for staff employed on Research-only contracts. The majority of respondents argued for a nuanced approach to the inclusion of research assistants where they could demonstrate research independence. There was some support for using the REF 2014 independence criteria, although many requested clearer guidance to limit the burden on HEIs.
  • Of those who commented on question 9c., asking for views on the minimum number of outputs per staff member, over half supported setting a minimum requirement of one output per person. Over one-third were in favour of no minimum at all. This support was often linked to the use of contracts to determine research-active status and concern about the ability to submit large numbers.
  • Of those who provided a clear view, around three-quarters did not support the introduction of non-portability rules.
  • Just over 50 per cent of respondents to Question 38 agreed in principle with the introduction of an institutional element to the environment template; this support came with a lot of caveats.
  • Almost half of the responses to Question 26 supported the principle of maintaining the volume of impact case studies overall. The majority recognised that this would affect the ratio of case studies required per FTE when applied alongside the submissions of all staff with significant responsibility for research. Respondents were keen to know the multiplier as soon as possible, to enable HEIs and submitting units to plan the number of case studies required.
  • A third of responses agreed that the minimum number of impact case studies per submission should be reduced to one. This was felt to be of particular benefit to smaller submitting units. However, a number of respondents discussed the risks associated with a minimum of one case study.
  • A small number of respondents drew attention to the Teaching Excellence Framework, which was mentioned in the context of incentivising research-led teaching and minimising burden on HEIs. It was stressed that an aligned approach is necessary to avoid creating a division between teaching and research

Office for Students

Higher Education Commission launched its report: ‘One size won’t fit all: the challenges facing the Office for Students’ The report makes recommendations for the OfS, following hot on the heels of those made by the Minister last week – it looks at alternative and niche provision. There’s a Wonkhe article here

Strategic challenges for the OfS:

  • The unintended consequences of policy reform and funding continue to favour the offer of certain modes of study and undermines choice for students
  • The balance between upholding quality and encouraging innovation is not achieved, either damaging the sector’s reputation or meaning the sector does not keep pace with changes in technology and the labour market
  • Innovation and growth in the sector does not effectively align with the industrial strategy or aspirations for regional growth
  • Price variation and two tier provision result in greater segregation across the system damaging social mobility
  • The student experience of higher education is undermined as some providers struggle with competition and funding challenges
  • Institutional decline, and ultimately failure, reduces choice and the quality of provision in certain areas, or damages the student experience or the perceived value of their qualification
  • The Office for Students in its new role as the champion of ‘choice for students’ and ‘value for the tax payer’ must address these challenges. It is hoped that the findings in this report and the recommendations outlined below will aid the new regulator in ensuring the continued success of the sector.

The report includes an interesting overview of how we got to where we are now, and then moves on to look at some knotty issues facing the sector, including alternative models, and a number of themes that arise in that context (such as access, support for students and progression). They look at class and course size, which is interesting given the new TEF focus on “teaching intensity”, practitioner lecturers, industry experience, sandwich degrees and apprenticeships. There is a chapter on funding, costs and fees and of course the report looks at part-time and accelerated courses, also another hot topic for universities as well as alternative providers.   The report also examines some of the perceived barriers to innovation which were cited in government papers – validation (which is described a barrier to innovation rather than entry) and retention being a problematic measure for alternative providers.

The consequences lf all this start in chapter 4 (page 55) where the report turns to recommendations for the OfS as the regulator.

The recommendations are:

  • Universities should learn lessons from the further education sector to create an environment that feels more accessible to students from low participation backgrounds.
  • The OfS should work with HEIs and alternative providers to identify how personalised and industry-orientated provision can be scaled up and replicated across the system.
  • The OfS, as a principal funder and regulator of the HE sector, should develop ways of incentivising industry practitioner involvement in universities.
  • Universities should consider flexible models of placements for sandwich degrees in order to meet the needs of SMEs.
  • The OfS should closely monitor the impact of degree apprenticeships on sandwich courses and other work based learning provision.
  • The OfS should address cost issues around part-time study and accelerated degree programmes, so as to support wider provision of these non-standard modes.
  • We recommend that the OfS monitors the implications of different delivery costs between HE and FE, not least in terms of enabling entry to part-time and mature students.
  • Research should be commissioned by the OfS to better understand how students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, can be encouraged to use sources of information more critically in their HE choices.
  • The Office for Students should provide Parliament with an annual report mapping the diversity of provision across the higher education sector, commenting on trends and explanations for changing patterns of provision.
  • The DfE and the EFSA should consider the viability of allowing employers to use the apprenticeship levy to fund work-relevant part-time HE
  • The DfE should consider the extent to which accelerated and flexible programmes could be supported by changes to the funding based on credit.

Fees and funding

There was a debate in the House of Commons this week on an Opposition motion to reverse the legislation on tuition fees – these debates are non-binding and after the DUP said they would support them the government declined to have a formal vote – so they were passed. The same thing happened on a motion about the pay cap in the NHS.   As they were non-binding, this is largely symbolic, but much has been made about the “anti-democratic” implications of this..

Meanwhile, the Resolution Foundation hosted a lively debate on fees and funding – you can see the (very long) recording on YouTube, and the Times Higher did their own short version. Rumours persist that despite Jo Johnson’s staunch defence of the system, No. 10 may be getting cold feet, and the new fee cap for 2019/20 has still not been announced….

And Philip Hammond contributed to the speculation while giving evidence at the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (reported widely, here is the Telegraph link):

“I do think there’s a significant difference between a graduate who leaves university with a, perhaps, quite significant level of debt and a well-recognised degree in an area which is known to provide strong employment opportunities; and a graduate on the other hand who perhaps has a very similar level of debt but who may not have a degree that is going to enhance his or her employment opportunities in the same way..

“We need to look at…the information we provide to students to enable them to make value-for-money assessments about what they are buying and what it’s going to cost them.”

And to contribute to the debate, the Commons Education Committee have launched an inquiry into value for money in HE. They are inviting written submissions on the following issues by 23rd October 2017:

  • Graduate outcomes and the use of destination data
  • Social justice in higher education and support for disadvantaged students
  • Senior management pay in universities
  • Quality and effectiveness of teaching
  • The role of the Office for Students

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

65111                                                                                 65070

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

HE policy update w/e 7th July 2017

Office for Students

Nicola Dandridge (currently Chief Executive of Universities UK) has been appointed as the Chief Executive of the Office for Students (OfS).

  • Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, said: “Nicola Dandridge’s knowledge and experience will be key for this important role…The OfS will replace an outdated regulatory system with a framework that can truly respond to the challenges of our 21st Century and ensure the university system meets the needs of the students.”
  • Jo Johnson, Universities Minister, stated: “I am delighted that Nicola Dandridge is taking up this crucial role. Her knowledge and experience of the higher education system makes Nicola an excellent choice to work alongside Sir Michael Barber at the helm of the OfS…The new regulator will rightfully put the interests of students at the heart of regulation and play a pivotal role in reforming one of our nation’s greatest assets – the higher education sector.”
  • Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access, has also welcomed and commended Nicola and emphasised her connection to social mobility: “…she is ideally placed to take up this important post. I know from the leadership Nicola showed when she chaired the Social Mobility Advisory Group that she has a strong personal commitment to fair access.”

UUK anticipate announcing their new chief executive in September.

Michael Barber is the Chair of OfS, Martin Coleman is the deputy chair, and five other OfS Board members have been confirmed – two Board spots remain open, including the seat for student experience, which was advertised this week.

In other people news, Chris Husbands (VC of Sheffield Hallam and Chair of the TEF panel) has been appointed as the new chair of HESA. Chris stated: “HESA is a jewel in the crown of UK higher education: a trusted source of insightful data and analysis across the higher education landscape in the UK, which helps to shape policy and promote wider understanding and confidence in the sector. High quality data and data analysis is increasingly critical to successful organisations.”

On Tuesday, Sir Mark Walport, the Chief Executive Designate of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) made a speech outlining his vision for the future of UKRI, which you can watch here.

Focus on tuition fees

Labour’s promises to abolish tuition fees (and forgive loans for graduates) have been credited in some quarters as leading to an increase in turn-out amongst young people at the election, and a consequent increase in the Labour vote. Speculation is building about a government response to this. As a result, tuition fees and the loan system have been all over the press this week, with Jo Johnson on Newsnight and the Today programme, and active on twitter.

The voting problem

Did young people turn out in massively increased numbers as claimed immediately after the election? Some suggested more turn out figure above 70%.

  • The BBC reality check uses two polls – a YouGov poll released on 13th June and an Ipsos Mori poll released on 20thYouGov found that about 58% of people between the age of 18 and 24 voted, while Ipsos Mori estimated that it was 54%. Both of those figures are a proportion of all 18- to 24-year-olds, not just those who are registered to vote.
  • That is compared to an Ipsos Mori poll for the 2015 election showing 28% turnout amongst that group, 43% of those registered to vote. The piece adds “The overall turnout (and these are actual figures – not based on polling) was 69%, compared with 66% in 2015, so it appears that the youth vote increased by considerably more than the overall turnout.”
  • See also the Full Fact article

Of course, we don’t trust polls as much as we used to. There’s an interesting pre-election piece on the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) blog and BU’s Darren Lilleker asked about the impact of polls on voting. After the 2015 general election, an inquiry was commissioned into election polls, which concluded that the main issue in 2015 was unrepresentative samples. Accuracy was an issue again during and after the EU referendum. And the same issues arose in the General Election, although the final BBC poll was remarkably close. The House of Lords have appointed a new committee to look at Political Polling and Digital Media, which will report by March 2018 – so maybe that will give us more confidence.

Did the increased number of young voters vote Labour? The BBC reality check says all the polls show a substantial swing to Labour amongst younger voters (18-24).

So was the swing to Labour amongst the young a result of tuition fee promises? That’s a very reductive perspective – surely, students are interested in the same issues as everyone else? And, of course, many among that group do not attend university. HEPI had a piece on student voting intentions in May based on a YouthSight poll. At BU, the Students’ Union (SUBU) organised the only local hustings for parliamentary candidates with all five candidates present. The audience was mostly students and the debate was wide ranging. It covered public sector pay, Brexit, immigration, the economy, housing, security and local matters amongst other things. Tuition fees barely got a mention.

The tuition fees problem

The debate about tuition fees is complex, and highly political. So some key points:

What had happened before the election?

During the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, issues with fees and loans, and the repayment threshold in particular were regularly discussed, in both houses. There was a debate on a “motion to regret” on 5th April in the House of Lords.

The government amended the bill so that inflation based tuition fee increases (already permitted under legislation, but requiring a statutory instrument to implement each change), now require positive approval by both houses. The inflation-based increase in the cap for students starting in 2018/19 should be announced relatively soon – and is likely to be more than the £250 that takes effect this September.

The government also delayed the differentiated fee cap linked to TEF – see more in our HE policy update from a couple of weeks ago. As I wrote on Wonkhe recently, the link between fee increases and TEF has caused all sorts of problems with the TEF – it isn’t the only reason that the NUS are opposed to TEF and called for a boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) but it is one of the reasons – apparently 25 student unions supported the boycott, and at least some will not have valid NSS data for the TEF next year.

In the election campaign there was a great deal of debate about the affordability of the Labour commitment to abolish tuition fees – one analysis on Wonkhe here.

Media coverage:

And what is happening now?

Damian Green, the First Secretary of State, called for a “national debate”. Michael Gove explained and defended the current position, and Jo Johnson appeared on Newsnight to defend it.

Jo Johnson argues that the fees improve access to HE for deprived students because of the removal of the student numbers cap, that it provides sufficient funding for universities to offer world-class teaching and research, and is fairer to the tax-paying public. And on Radio 4 today’s programme said that the unpaid written-off debts are the government’s contribution to higher education funding.

There has been speculation that a Conservative manifesto commitment to review Further Education funding will lead to a massive shakeup of university funding – if that is added to a review of tuition fees then change is really on the horizon.

Amongst many blogs and articles on the subject, David Phoenix has written for Wonkhe about why it is time for a review. He argues that while Labour’s abolition of tuition fees isn’t progressive the Conservative alternative doesn’t work either and calls on the sector to find a balanced solution. He writes:  “The majority of students do not object to making a contribution to the cost of their education, but it’s the scale of the contribution that matters. A better balance between the student (or graduate) and state acknowledges that students will benefit financially from their degree, whilst also acknowledging the wider public good of higher education: social mobility, civic engagement, productivity, and innovation.”  Speaking of the recent election result, he states: “It’s clear to me is that young people have, in large numbers, rejected continuity of the current system. We also know that the current funding structure is being quietly rejected by potential mature applicants. The job is now for the universities sector and policy makers to work together to rebalance the system to meet the needs of learners, our economy, and our public services.”

And the Wonkhe article noted above quotes the Dearing Review of 20 years ago, which started the move to debate on tuition fees: “One backbencher in the debate on Dearing nearly 20 years ago presciently remarked: “There is real concern that the Government’s decision not to follow Dearing’s proposal to introduce tuition fees while maintaining the maintenance grant, but rather to abolish the maintenance grant and replace it with loans will, far from widening access, narrow it.” Theresa May – for yes, it was she – hit the nail on the head. Discussions about affordability and access have to take place while looking at the entire student support and HE funding package. Taking a report (as happened with both Dearing and Browne) and cherry-picking politically or economically attractive aspects is not a recipe for a fair or sustainable system.”

Realistically – what might happen now?

Labour are sticking to their policy, despite affordability questions and the regressive nature of the change, and criticism of the repeated – an inaccurate- claim that fewer people from poor backgrounds are going to university.

Looking at the statistics above, it seems unlikely that this policy had as big an impact on the outcome of the election as was initially claimed. Apart from students, the policy may also have been popular with parents – but unlikely to have been a game changer in its own right.

So what will the government do?

  • There might be some sort of review/consultation – it is hard to see that this will result in major changes to the structure but it would look like doing something
  • There might be a change to the interest rate – to delay or reduce the rise that will otherwise happen in September
  • There might be a relenting on the repayment threshold freeze – passed in 2015 for 5 years, so perhaps it won’t be extended
  • They could choose not to increase fees by inflation at all in 2018/19. There is no rule that says they have to; even though they announced that they plan to as part of the White Paper/TEF implementation.
  • There might be more consideration given to maintenance funding arrangements. As noted above, these add hugely to student loans, and disproportionately so for students from lower income families.

It is hard to see more drastic changes than that at a time when there are so many calls on the “magic money tree”. Although I’m still not making predictions in this uncertain world…

International staff and students

Hotcourses insights Brexit report compares global demand for HE over the last 12 months. It finds that international student interest has decreased from 28% to 25.6%, although EU student interest has dropped more substantially from 36.9% to 30.7%. The USA share of the student interest has also dropped, whilst Canada and Ireland have both gained.

Jo Johnson announced the Ernest Rutherford Global Talent Research Fund (£100 million) which aims to attract highly skilled researchers to the UK. Johnson stated: “Rutherford and his immense contributions to science exemplify our vision of a Britain that is open to the best minds and ideas in the world, and stands at the forefront of global collective endeavours to understand, and to improve, the world in which we live…We look forward to welcoming these talented Rutherford research fellows to the UK. The Rutherford Fund will send a strong signal that, even as we leave the European Union, we are open to the world and will reinforce our ambition of making the UK the go-to country for innovation and discovery.”

Widening participation

OFFA and the Open University published a joint report and evaluation tool arguing for more ambitious outreach for mature students

Parliament

As parliament begins to bed down the select committees will re-form and appoint their new chairs.

TES report that Nick Boles, Robert Halfon and Tim Loughton are all contesting for the Education select committee chair. FE week also covers the story.

This week relevant Parliamentary Questions have dovetailed the media interest in tuition fees. Angela Rayner has tabled two PQs (due for answer next week). The first asks the government for a statement on whether they intend to privatise the student loan book. The second asks what estimate has been made of potential revenue in privatising the student loan book.