Tagged / Office of the Independent Adjudicator

HE Policy Update for the w/e 22nd November 2019

Election fever!!  There is some other news- sector organisations continue to consider the power of the student (young) vote, and social mobility is up for debate.

If you’re interested in the detail of the manifestos, we have done a separate version of our update for BU readers this week. We will update it next week when we have another bunch to report. And here’s a link to the list of parliamentary candidates running for election in the local areas.

Social Mobility

The  Sutton Trust has published analysis  on social mobility in the UK following polls carried out on their behalf by YouGov. Most reported has been the story that (47%) think that today’s young people will have a worse life in comparison with their parents. This negative opinion increased to 1 in 5 responses for respondents aged 25-34

Sutton Trust say the poll counters last week’s report by Civitas which argued that social mobility in the UK is now the ‘norm’ rather than an exception and that 65% of working-class parents have moved up in social class. Civitas’ author, Peter Saunders, Professor of Sociology at Sussex University, said in that report:

‘The failure of our politicians to grasp the truth about social mobility is resulting in damaging policies designed to rectify problems we do not have. Our top universities are not biased against working class applicants, for example; nor do they unfairly favour those educated at private schools. Imposition of targets and quotas is undermining what is currently a meritocratic system.’

Other aspects of the poll revealed that to get ahead in life people believe the most important factors today are a good education, knowing the right people and having well educated parents. And, having ambition was seen as essential. The analysis says that an increasing proportion of the population think that factors beyond talent and drive are vital with coming from a wealthy family seen as important to success, up 14% since the 2009 survey, and ‘knowing the right people’ increased by 21%.

The respondents were also asked to choose which education policy measures would be the most effective in improving social mobility and help disadvantaged young people get on in life. Over a quarter (26%) said focusing on developing ‘life skills’ like confidence and resilience in state schools was key, while 18% thought more high-quality apprenticeships opportunities were important. The third most common answer (13%) was fairer admissions to state schools, so that the best schools are open to those from all backgrounds.

Intergenerational Social Mobility – Wonkhe report that the Centre for Economic Performance has published a pre-election briefing on intergenerational social mobility, calling for radical reform to enable individuals to fulfil their potential and improve living standards for all, irrespective of social background.

Reports issued

The Institute for Public Policy Research North has published a report on devolving Parliament regionally speaking out against centralised Government and addressing regional inequalities ‘that have created such a divided country.’

Carers UK  has published a  report on adults that care unpaid for a loved one

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry  has published  a report on the challenges faced by UK clinical research  it considers how the UK has built on its legacy of medical innovation to become one of the most competitive global hubs for clinical research and how we compare against Europe and the rest of the world.

Size of the sector

David Kernohan has written for Wonkhe on the size of the sector: “The sector in England is growing (and also shrinking)”.

  • The whole idea of the new English regulatory system was to bring new providers into the HE system, to grow choice and competition. But as well as market entry, we are seeing a fair amount of market exit.
  • So far the only view we’ve had of this is via the OfS’ own updates to the register. We know which institutions have made it on to the register, but we only have a partial glimpse of the providers that have either chosen not to register or have refused registration. Thanks tonew data from the Student Loans Company, we can take a closer look.
  • …In February of this year arevised impact assessment predicted 10 less alternative providers and 40 less FECs than the initial prediction in July 2018. At that point the prediction was for 508 providers on the (Approved, or Approved (Fee Cap) parts of the) OfS register, in February 2019 it was 464 – but by November 2019, long after the start of term, OfS have registered only 388 HE providers.
  • …A smaller-than-expected sector means a failure in DfE policy making and OfS implementation. Registered providers are paying more than is expected on mandatory registrations to OfS, and the registration system is proving complex and difficult to negotiate. And, most damningly of all, the legions of high quality alternative providers seeking to disrupt the market – the “Byron Burgers” in Jo Johnson’s once again apt metaphor – simply do not appear to exist.

Complaints

HEPI have a blog by Felicity Mitchell, Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), on student complaints and value for money in HE. The OIA’s role is to review student complaints once they have been through the provider’s internal complaints process. They report an increase on the usual 2,000 complaints per year. In general 23% are ‘service issues’ (consumer-type complaints about things that were promised but not delivered, poor teaching, supervision and facilities).

On value they say:

  • Value is in the eye of the beholder. It means something different for undergraduates and postgraduates, home and international students, students with jobs, degree apprentices, students living at home, students with support needs, students struggling to meet their living costs, in fact for every individual. It is not just value for money. Students value being listened to, treated as an individual and getting help and support when they need it, as well as contact hours, quality teaching, resources and facilities.
  • Even students who are not paying can still feel they did not get good value if the course did not deliver what was promised or what they expected it to deliver.
  • …students need sufficient, clear and accurate information upfront about what they can expect and when. Providers come unstuck if they overpromise and cannot deliver. But they also get into difficulties if they are too vague, so students have to fill in the details themselves.
  • Students in the same cohort sometimes complain to us as a group…At the most serious end, students have missed out on a crucial part of the programme: they have not been taught a specific skill, or the course does not deliver expected professional accreditation.
  • Some students will be more seriously affected than others by things like changes to course structure, assessment methods, teaching venue or supervision arrangements. They might have chosen a course because it was delivered close to home. They might not be able to travel distances, afford extra transport costs or spend more time away from work or caring responsibilities. These are all things we need to consider when looking at whether changes have affected the value of the course for an individual student.

The OIA recommend practical steps for matters to be put right. If this is not possible they may recommending a refund of some or all of the student’s tuition fees and/or compensation for the distress and inconvenience that the student has suffered.

  • This may be because the provider has not communicated effectively, or the student has had to fight hard to make their complaint and the provider has missed opportunities to put things right. We also make ‘good practice’ recommendations, for example to change the programme information or advertising, or to improve the provider’s internal procedures.
  • Value for money is important, but it is not the whole story. We have found that students’ perception of value is more nuanced than a straightforward consumer perspective might suggest. It is influenced by students’ expectations and their individual circumstances and perspectives. Of course providers need to be clear about what they are offering and deliver what they have promised. But they also need to listen and respond to their students’ individual needs to give them a truly valuable higher education experience.

Strike Action: The OIA blog also aims to inform providers how they deal with complaints related to industrial action (in light of the forthcoming sector planned strikes):

  • The complaints we received about last year’s industrial action were more than usually closely related to tuition fees. This may have been influenced by publicity encouraging students to claim compensation for missed teaching. Students tended to present these complaints in overtly consumerist language: ‘I did not get the teaching I paid for and so I want a refund’. From what we have seen, providers tried to make sure that their students were not disadvantaged academically, for example, by changing the content of exams or assessment methods, and giving exam boards discretion to make allowance for unusually poor performance.
  • We also looked at whether the providers had made up for lost learning opportunities. Some delivered missed teaching by other methods, through online resources or allowing students to attend different seminar groups or sit in on later sessions. But some interpreted the student contract very narrowly and decided that they were not obliged to provide a specific number of taught sessions, so the students had suffered no loss. The logical conclusion of that line of argument is that it does not matter what the students have been taught as long as they come out with a degree at the end of it.
  • Our view is that if a student reasonably expects to learn about a specific topic, then the provider cannot make up for not delivering that learning simply by not examining the student on it. They consider the individual: what the provider has done to make up for what has been missed, and whether that has been enough for the individual student. A change in timetabling or assessment or teaching methods may have disadvantaged the student, for example because they have a disability or caring responsibilities. An international student or working student may not be able to attend extra teaching sessions.

And yes…the election

The most important thing: register to vote – the deadline is 26th November.

If you’re interested in the education and research related detail of the manifestos, we have sent a separate e-mail version of our update for BU readers this week (link). We will update it next week when we have another bunch to report.

At the time of writing the Conservative manifesto has not been published.

  • The Green Party were first to publish their GE2019 Manifesto.
  • The Liberal Democrats were next to publish their manifesto (on Wednesday) you can read it in full here or dip into the bitesize version which is arranged topic by topic.
  • Labour published their manifesto on Thursday
  • The Conservative and Unionist Party have not finalised the publication date for their manifesto however it is anticipated to be published over the weekend
  • Plaid Cymru’s manifesto came out on Friday but we haven’t had time to digest it yet – there’s a BBC summary here
  • The Brexit Party announced they aren’t having a manifesto – instead they are offering a contract, also launched on Friday

In terms of commentary, Research Professional covered the Labour plans in the 8am Playbook on22nd November and the Lib Dem plans on 20th November.

Wonkhe have an article by Jim Dickinson on the Labour plans for maintenance grants.

Welsh Electoral Reform: The Welsh Government intends to introduce a bill giving 16 and 17 years olds the right to vote at local council elections (once every 5 years). They intend to automatically add people to the voting register and will allow councils to decide the type of voting system they will use, e.g. first past the post or single transferable vote.

Hung Parliament: Dods have produced a good briefing exploring the what ifs should the election result in a hung parliament. It covers the likelihood and policy alignment of potential cross-party alliances. Worth a 5 minute read.

Campaigning organisations call for action

In the run up to the election period many organisations issue their own statements or manifesto aiming to influence the Government to consider supporting their requests. Last week we mentioned MillionPlus and the British Academy.   Here follows a small selection of organisations that published their calls to action this week.

Impetus: WP organisation Impetus ask that all political parties put the needs of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds at their heart of their commitments. This includes:

  • Schools – entitlement to extra tutoring for those who fall too far behind at primary. They say small group tutoring is one of the most impactful interventions.
  • Universal breakfast provision in primary school
  • FE – extend the pupil premium up to 18
  • HE – protect £900m of widening participation funding
  • OfS to clamp down on marketing tactics that encourage university applicants to pick a specific institution. The OfS should also set an expectation on long term attainment and aspiration raising measures in schools.

NUS: Sunday 17 November was International Students Day and the NUS urged British student voters to think of international students when they make their electoral choices (because international students cannot vote). NUS suggest fair policy proposals to support international students would be:

  • A fair immigration system for all migrants, with an expedited legal guarantee of a post-study work visa lasting at least two years for international students
  • Abolition of the health surcharge levied on international students
  • Protection of inward and outward mobility post-Brexit, with participation in Erasmus+ or any successor schemes

NUS quote UCAS statistics which say that over 500,000 international students study in the UK every year – diversifying our campuses, revitalising our communities and contributing to the social fabric of our society, international students contribute massively to UK higher and further education.

Commenting, NUS UK President Zamzam Ibrahim said:

  • “International students come in their hundreds of thousands to make our education the best, most diverse and enriching system possible. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  This upcoming general election is our chance to achieve just that. We have had enough of a hostile immigration system that disregards student welfare and potential, limiting our ability to attract the brightest and best to study in the UK. 
  • History shows that when students lead, society wins. We’re asking for students in this election to make sure our campuses remain diverse places into the future, with an expedited legal guarantee of a post-study work visa lasting at least two years for international students, with sweeping reforms to humanise our immigration system, and much more.”

Adult Education: The Centenary Commission on Adult Education has published “Adult Education and Lifelong Learning for 21ST Century Britain”. It recognises that funding for adult learning and apprenticeships has fallen by 45% in real terms since 2009-10 with massive drops in adult education participation. It sees adult education as a national necessity (particularly to address the huge societal divisions and challenges to democracy we currently face). It calls for a Minister for Adult Education and Lifelong Learning, a Government gap reduction participation target, and an annual progress report to Parliament. There are many more recommendations encompassing funding, basic skills, innovation, individual learning accounts and paid time off for learning. You can read a summary and comments from sector figures here.

AgeUK  has published  its general election manifesto 

The Sutton Trust: The Sutton Trust’s Mobility Manifesto outlines practical policies from early years to the workplace which they believe will address Britain’s stubborn social mobility problem. The 10 key recommendations are:

  • Better access to the best early years’ education for disadvantaged pupils by ensuring that early years’ practitioners are well-qualified.
  • Fairer admissions to state schools across the system, with consideration given to ballots and priority for disadvantaged pupils.
  • Independent schools should be opened up, on a voluntary basis, to pupils of all backgrounds.
  • A greater focus on supporting the development of essential life skills in young people, both in and out of the classroom, with time and funding allocated for their development, through the curriculum and extracurricular activities.
  • A significant increase in the number of degree and higher-level apprenticeships available as an alternative to university, and a focus on ensuring young people from low and moderate income backgrounds can access them.
  • A greater – and more transparent – use of contextual admissions by more highly-selective universities to open up access to students form less privileged backgrounds.
  • Post Qualification Applications (PQA) to university should be implemented to allow young people to make an informed choice based on their actual rather than predicted grades.
  • The restoration of maintenance grants for students to at least pre-2016 levels to provide support for those who need it most and reduce the debt burden of the least well-off.
  • A ban on unpaid internships that are over four weeks long so that young people who can’t afford to work for free aren’t excluded from the most competitive career paths

Student Voting Power / Electoral Uncertainties for HE

HEPI have an interesting policy note, Election Briefing.

In the 2017 snap election results the young vote was seen as disrupting the Conservatives majority and HEPI highlight that much has surrounded the student vote for the 2019 election – from the debates over the timing of polling day, through the push for more tactical voting, to the focus on education at the start of the campaign. The policy note highlights that students don’t necessarily prefer to vote labour and in 2014 they favoured the Conservatives and the Greens.

The policy note discussed the complexities in registering students to vote. In 2015 halls were prevented from registering students en masse and recognises how universities have made a huge push (alongside their local councils) to ensure students are aware and do register. HEPI go on:

  • Electoral law relating to students is complicated and poorly understood. Students may register to vote at their home address and their term-time address. At local elections, they can even cast two separate votes, so long as the addresses are in different local authority areas. But general elections count as a single electoral event, so each individual voter may only cast one vote.

On the power of the student vote HEPI highlight the many factors that have to be aligned for students to make a difference:

Overall, however, the impact of student voters is often exaggerated. To make a difference to the result in any individual constituency, students must:

  • be registered to vote;
  • use their vote;
  • reside in a marginal seat;
  • vote as a meaningful bloc;
  • vote differently to how the constituency would vote anyway; and
  • be present in sufficient numbers to make a difference.

The number of seats where students are likely to determine the outcome is therefore limited but, at a very close election, the student vote could affect the overall outcome, such as making the difference between a hung Parliament or a clearer result.

Moreover, while the electoral impact of so-called student issues may have less impact on how students vote than is often supposed, student issues can affect other voters too. For example, student loan repayment rules directly affect graduates and students’ parents and carers are affected by the means-testing of student maintenance support.

On Brexit HEPI highlight that the overwhelming majority of students want the UK to remain in the EU and there is evidence that a large minority of students are prepared to vote tactically over Brexit at the 2019 election.

On fees HEPI suggest a slightly different picture to previous sector rhetoric: Polling of students by HEPI and YouthSight suggests students do not have a strong preference for either the current system of fees capped at £9,250 with a 30-year repayment term or for the Augar report’s preferred model of fees capped at £7,500 with a 40-year repayment term. They do highlight that none of the major parties have suggested reintroducing student number controls. Pages 4-5 track the rise and fall of the real terms per undergraduate funding level since the 1990’s, and Augar’s recommendations would see the student resource frozen resulting in 11% real terms drop against 2018/19. HEPI’s opinion is that universities need to strap in for an upcoming bumpy ride no matter who is elected and remind that if Government subsidy is increased due to a drop in student fee payment it would also change the nature of the sector’s relationship with the Office for Students who were set up as a market regulator not a funding body.

HEPI also say that with widening access gains and the forthcoming population boom 300,000 more full time HE places will be needed by 2030. And this is interesting:

  • The high-fee model in place in England has not led to the drop-off in young full-time entrants that was widely predicted. This has led some policymakers to imply that there is now a record number of people at university. However, this is false. The total number of students remains much lower than the high point achieved in Labour’s last year in office (2009/10). This fall is driven by part-time undergraduate student numbers.
  • If the number of adult learners and part-time learners were to increase, it would diversify the student body. In particular, it could mean higher education institutions educating more local students… if higher education institutions are to educate more mature, part-time and adult learners, then we may need to rebalance away from the expectation that students should change to fit their universities and do even more to recognise that institutions must sometimes need to change to fit their students.

On research HEPI remind that the major parties are all committed to increasing the investment in research (UK currently spends less on R&D than other countries) however current forecasts suggest the target spend level won’t be reached based on the current rate of progress. HEPI say: renewed commitments to such extra research and development activity are necessary to remain competitive. And there have been calls to rebalance research funding by directing more funds towards research institutes and business.  Page 9 lists the key unanswered questions surrounding the increased research spend pledge.

Lastly, it highlights a drop in international students will reduce the level of research that can be undertaken (because the higher international fees cross subsidise Universities’ research spend). Which leads neatly on to internationalisation and the contradictions in Conservative policy. The relaxation of policy to provide post-study work visas has been welcomed, however, this is accompanied by Home Secretary Priti Patel’s points based immigration system which intends to reduce immigration levels (wisely they have learnt not to state a net migration target!). Of course if the value of the pound drops it makes studying in the UK cheaper for international currencies.

HEPI finish their policy note by reminding what was said in last week’s policy update – that election manifestos tend not to cover the entirety (or much!) of the incoming party’s plan for HE.

Nick Hillman, the Director of HEPI said:

  • ‘Every election matters for higher education institutions but this one matters more than most. The main political parties are offering radically different proposals on student fees, loans and grants for English students, which would have knock-on consequences throughout the UK.
  • Politicians across the political spectrum have backed more research and development spending, a high proportion of which is spent in universities. But the UK continues to lag far behind our main competitors and the election could determine if, and how, we raise our game. In particular, there are big unanswered questions on how any extra spending will be distributed.
  • The future vitality of our higher education sector relies not only on positive new commitments but also on policymakers limiting the fallout from any unwise election promises.’

Rachel Hewitt, HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy said:

  • ‘Recent political uncertainty has led to an ever-changing environment for universities. While this may be the “Brexit election”, it is important that the outcome clarifies the fog on higher education policy. Prospective students need certainty on the fees they will pay and the support available to them, as do university leaders. In a post-Brexit world, staff need to know how they can research across borders and how universities will recruit international students. For all stakeholders, including the general public, it is important this election provides some certainty about the role universities will continue to play in society.’

TV Debates & Polling

As we write this, the BBC are preparing for their Question time special with 4 party leaders on Friday evening.

In the end the Lib Dems and SNP were not permitted to take part in the ITV debate earlier in the week. Unsurprisingly, each party felt their leader had ‘won’ the debate.  The post-debate snap polls conducted directly after the leadership debate are interesting (and very close). Viewers gave their opinions on each leader’s performance. YouGov found that when asked who had performed best, on the whole, Boris Johnson came out on top with 51% with Jeremy Corbyn in second with 49%. Contrastingly, the ITV poll on Twitter believed Labour won 78% to 22%. When YouGov asked viewers to rate how well and badly each individual had done. Corbyn came out on top with two thirds believing the opposition leader had been a success and Boris Johnson trailing behind with 59%.

We think it is fair to say that it is unlikely that many people will have changed their minds based on the debate performances.

Target seats: The Guardian has an interactive map of the top target seats for each party and seats to watch on election night.  The BBC has a map of marginal seats too, and the FT has a good round up.  Dorset seats don’t feature…

NHS overtakes Brexit as the most important issue: A poll conducted by Ipsos Mori has shown that the NHS has overtaken Brexit as the most important issue for voters. 1,140 British adults were asked which issues would be very important in helping them decide which party to vote for. 60% of people selected healthcare/NHS/hospitals as the most important issue when thinking about which party to vote for in the election, followed by Brexit (56%). This is a 6% increase prioritising the NHS since last week.

Other news

Exam Diversity: A new Wonkhe blog questions whether Muslim students need exam adjustments during Ramadan, and whether they are supported to the same extent as their non-Muslim peers. The article suggests that the 13% BAME attainment gap can only be addressed by peeling back the layers of intersectionality and considering the additional levels of disadvantage that ‘can complicate a student’s experience’.

Roma: The BBC has an article about the difficulties faced by Roma in accessing higher education due to racial abuse.

Mental Health: The Financial Times has a piece on how academics are acting as a “fourth emergency service” for students dealing with stress and mental health difficulties at university.

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

Policy Advisor                                                                     Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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