Tagged / OFS

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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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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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 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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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 those with problems in October 2022.  The data already exists, so no need to wait.  They are consulting on how to prioritise the challenges – not everyone with a breach in a small pocket will get one.  They will look at context – a bit, but note:

  • We do not consider that a provider’s mission or strategy is relevant to our consideration of whether it is delivering positive outcomes for students 
  • We do not consider that the level of funding a provider receives is relevant to whether it should meet the minimum requirements set by the OfS 
  • We do not agree that lower entry tariffs should be a reason for performance below our minimum requirements 
  • We do not consider that a provider with New DAPs should be exempt from satisfying minimum regulatory requirements 
  • We do not consider that a provider’s resources are relevant to whether it should be expected to meet the OfS’s minimum requirements 
  • We do not consider that a provider’s reputation is relevant to our consideration of whether it is achieving positive outcomes for students 

Worried about regulatory burden – too bad.  They think it is proportionate.  And they aren’t telling us to change our internal monitoring to look at all this.  But we might want to – and it has the potential to be very onerous indeed.

Supporting documents:

Wonkhe have coverage in an article by Jim Dickinson which is worth reading.

Teaching Excellence Framework – it’s ALIVE

The TEF had become a zombie – the walking dead scheme where awards were still in force (because apart from anything else they are required as a licence condition) but shhh, providers aren’t allowed to talk about them because they are so out of date as to be potentially seriously misleading.  And the OfS has been talking about a new TEF for a very, very long time.  And finally, linked very closely to the new absolute baselines but with some exciting new bits as well, here it is.  Hold on to your hats, it is going to be a busy summer and autumn, especially as we won’t get the guidance until June!  They were already given feedback about timing in their consultation events and this is therefore probably the best we are going to get.  Submissions by mid-November 2022.

So it’s back, bigger and better.  Still called the TEF (not the TESOF).  Still gold, silver and bronze.  There is a new category of “requires improvement” for those who don’t get one-  they are asking for input on how to communicate that one.  As noted above, institutional level only, although we get (and have to address) all the subject level data.  There is an institutional submission that will be 20 pages, and a separate student one of 10 pages.  It will happen every 4 years, dropping the annual cycle we had before, when you could try again for a higher grade.  The data will be published annually though.

It will still use NSS, as well as the three outcomes measures referred to above (professional employment or further study, completion and continuation).

The “aspects” of measurement are new: student experience (academic experience and assessment, and resources, support and student engagement) and student outcomes (positive outcomes, as above, plus a whole new one – educational gains).  So far so familiar, but the educational gains is fascinating.  No data for this one – “these features should relate to a provider’s articulation of the gains it intends its students to achieve; its approach to supporting these educational gains; and evidence of the gains achieved”.

And the much challenged benchmarking is different (can’t say yet if it is better) and there are no “flags”.  Just a very complex graphical representation. One thing that veterans of the last process will be pleased to hear is that providers will receive the initial conclusion and evidence and have 28 days to make representations.

Supporting documents:

  • Materiality and high benchmark values to use in interpretation – not yet published

Wonkhe cover this one too, in an article by David Kernohan: Frankly, it’s better than it has been in the past, but still probably not as good as it could have been. It’s certainly better than the B3 proposals.

Research Professional also have an article and it featured in the 8am Playbook too.

And last, but definitely by no means least

All of these things need data.  There is a separate 195 page consultation on how the data for the B3 conditions and the TEF will be calculated.  Along with all of you, we look forward to working out the detailed implications of all of that.  Consultation on constructing student outcome and experience indicators for use in OfS regulation (with a video)

  • Comparison of completion methods
  • Technical documents
    • Description and methodology
    • Core algorithms
    • Subject code mappings
    • Instructions for rebuilding the datasets
    • Description of statistical methods
  • Data dashboards (illustrative and using fictional data)

If nothing else, please have a look at the dashboards.  They show the new world in glorious technicolour.

Other changes – the proposed licence conditions you might have missed

There was a previous consultation over the summer (closed at the end of September) that set out the other new proposed B conditions.  This one had an ambitious implementation timeline which has not stuck.  What it said was “we intend to make a decision on whether to impose the conditions in Annexes A, B and C and revise the regulatory framework, as set out in these proposals, in autumn 2021. The new ongoing conditions would come into effect for registered providers on the date of publication of that decision“.  Assuming that they don’t make any changes to what was proposed (and they don’t make many, usually), this lot could be imposed imminently.  Or, the delay may be because they are revising it substantially.  Either way, a  bit of notice would be helpful.  Not because we aren’t doing this stuff, but because we need to make sure we have the monitoring and audit trails in place to prove it if we are asked.  Which we could be, either as part of a review linked to the outcomes data, or because other OfS monitoring suggests that there may be an issue with some of these.

Yesterday’s announcements referred to the fact that this previous consultation had happened, but said nothing about next steps on that.  So maybe it will all come together in June.  Or we might get the first lot earlier.  So what are they?  You need to know, because if implemented as proposed, they are very wide ranging.

B1 …. the provider must ensure that the students registered on each higher education course receive a high quality academic experience.   

B1.3 For the purposes of this condition, a high quality academic experience includes but is not limited to ensuring all of the following: – that each higher education course:

  1. a. is up-to-date;  
  2. provides educational challenge;  
  3. is coherent;  
  4. is effectively deliveredand
  5. as appropriate to the subject matter of the course, requires students to develop relevant skills.  

Those highlighted definitions are worth looking at.  There is a lot more about these in the guidance which is summarised in the attachment. One question is how the OfS will assess all these things – see below.  And of course there are lots of other questions – if the rumoured next steps on Augar are true, which is a push to modular learning to support the lifetime learning objective, how does that fit with “coherence”.  And just note – students and courses include PGR programmes of study.

“up-to-date” means representative of current thinking and practices in the subject matter to which the HE course relates…

“educational challenge” means a challenge that is no less than the minimum level of rigour and difficulty reasonably expected of the HE course, in the context of the subject matter of the course [this seems circular to me!]

coherent” means a HE course which ensures:

  1. there is an appropriate balance between breadth and depth of content;
  2. subjects and skills are taught in an appropriate order and, where necessary, build on each other throughout the course; and

iii. key concepts are introduced at the appropriate point in the course content.

“effectively delivered”, ….means the manner in which it is taught, supervised and assessed (both in person and remotely) including, but not limited to, ensuring:

  1. an appropriate balance between lectures, seminars, group work and practical study, as relevant to the content of the course; and
  2. an appropriate balance between directed and independent study or research, as relevant to the level of the course.

“relevant skills” means:

  1. knowledge and understanding relevant to the subject matter and level …; and
  2. other skills relevant to the subject matter and level …including, but not limited to, cognitive skills, practical skills, transferable skills and professional competences.

B2.  ….the provider must ensure:  ..each cohort of students registered on each HE course receives resources and support and effective engagement with each cohort of students, in both cases to ensure:  

  1. a high quality academic experience for those students; and
  2. those students succeeding in and beyond higher education; and

“resources” includes but is not limited to:

  1. the staff team … being collectively sufficient in number, appropriately qualified and deployed effectively to deliver in practice; and
  2. physical and digital learning resources that are adequate and deployed effectively to meet the needs of the cohort of students.

“support” means the effective deployment of assistance, as appropriate to the content of the HE course and the cohort of students, including but not limited to:

  1. academic support relating to the content of the HE course;
  2. support needed to underpin successful physical and digital learning and teaching;
  3. support relating to avoiding academic misconduct; and
  4. careers support, but for the avoidance of doubt, does not include other categories of non-academic support.

“engagement” means routinely building into the course delivery opportunities for students to contribute to the future development of the HE course in a way that maintains the academic rigour of that course…. 

Other new conditions: As the summary document sets out, there are conditions on assessment, the credibility of awards, and lots more, including the requirement to keep copies of assessed work so that the credibility and reliability of awards can be assessed by the OfS if it needs to be.

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

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

JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

 

 

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

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

Conservative Party Conference

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

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

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

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

Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised new scholarships in artificial intelligence:

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

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

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

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

Contract Cheating

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

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

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

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

Gender Differences in subject choice

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick news

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

Access & Participation

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

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

Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

Student Finance

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

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

Some changes have already happened:

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

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

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

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

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

Undergraduate tuition fees

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

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

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

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

Maintenance loans

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

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

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

Student loans

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

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

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

From an SLC document describing 2021/11 arrangements:

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

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

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

Repayment arrangements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What next

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

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

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

Mature students

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

Recommendations:

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

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

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

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

The OfS have published an ominous paper on this.

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

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

New condition B4.2: 

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

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

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

Key bits from the report itself:

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

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

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

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

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

Local Digital Skills Partnerships

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

Other news

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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

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

Research news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifically on levelling up, Dods summarise:

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

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

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

Activity for the coming months will include:

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

The vision is underpinned by five key themes:

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

Key commitments within the plan include:

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

Quick News

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

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

Two PQs:

The Secretary of State speaks (several times)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Professional have a summary of the event.

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

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

Education questions in the House of Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graduate outcomes

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

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill – amendments

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

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

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

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

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

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

White working class

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

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

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

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

They set out the following solutions:

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

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

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

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

Wonkhe:

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonkhe blogs:

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

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

Recommendations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEPI – Student Academic Experience Survey

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

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

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

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

PQs

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

Awards: Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2021: the winners.

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

Quick News                                                                                                                

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

Quality

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

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

And there is more:

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

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

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

That TEF letter:

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

Fees and funding

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

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

Here are the main points of the announcement:

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

Future options

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

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

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

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

Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

Foundation Years

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

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

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

Mature Students

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

Graduate outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constituency boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Equality and Diversity – student data

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

International

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

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

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

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

Culture wars

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

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

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

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

New consultations and inquiries this week:

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

Government support for universities in the pandemic

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

Research Professional report on the report:

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

Fees and funding

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

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

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

Research Professional continue:

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

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

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

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

Skidmore points out the problems with the new approach:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

Quick News

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

Parliamentary News

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

Labour confirmed their shadow line up for Education:

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

Here is the new Scottish Government Cabinet:

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

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More OfS priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(d) any other such factor. …

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

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

And so to bureaucracy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proceed: Graduate Prospects Measure

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

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

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

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

The accompanying press release notes:

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

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

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

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

Hardship

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

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

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

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

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

Free Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donelan’s pickle

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

Smita Jamdar wrote about the legal issues on Wonkhe.

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

Dods present the key findings:

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

Recommendations:

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

International

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                              Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

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

HE Strategic Priorities – Williamson’s letter to OfS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here we go.

Quality and Standards: The biggie.

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

And he means business:

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

And related to quality:

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

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

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

Funding:

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

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

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

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

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

All this whilst reducing the regulatory burden:

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

Free speech & Academic Freedom:

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

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

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

International recruitment:

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

Those other letters:

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

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

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

Research

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

The letter proposes 6 recommendations focused on 4 areas:

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

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

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

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

The report examines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick News

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

Admissions

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

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

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

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

You can read the full blog here.

Harassment

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

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

Turing – Student Mobility

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

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

More details are expected in March.

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

International

International Education Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access & Participation

Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other recent care leaver relevant resources

OIA – Complaints

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

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

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

Wonkhe have a blog by Jim Dickinson.

HESA

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary News

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

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

OfS Chair

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

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

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

Students

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

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

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

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

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

And the article suggests that some students are returning anyway:

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

TEF

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

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

Three Wonkhe blogs tackle TEF:

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

Brexit

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

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

Across all HEIs, the analysis suggests that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

New OfS Chair

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

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

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

Research Professional also cover the story here:

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

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

ARPA

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

JISC – Support research & innovation 2021-23

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

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

Quick News update

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

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

Admissions

There was UCAS data released on 4th February.

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

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

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

Key findings and trends:

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

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

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

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

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

Free Speech

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

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

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

The Minister speaks (and writes, to everyone)

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

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access & Participation

Social Mobility Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disability – price fixing

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

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

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

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

Lost learning

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

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

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

Students in the pandemic

Financial woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions: No detriment

Student Experience – retaining some online learning

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

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

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

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

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

In the blog Pearson say:

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

And on a quality experience:

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

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

Moving forward – continuing to teach remotely during Covid

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

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

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

Pearson say:

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

Parliamentary Questions

Regulatory

Programmes

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

Augar

Inquiries and Consultations

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

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

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

VC’s Policy Advisor                                                             Policy & Public Affairs Officer

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

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

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

Online teaching continues

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

Parliamentary News

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

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

Tuition Fees & Student Loans:

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

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

Research

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

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

Dods summarise the responses:

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

You can read all the responses in detail here.

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

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

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

On moving forward the report finds:

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

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

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

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

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

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

Quick News

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

Prevent

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

Industrial Strategy

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

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

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

Access & Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary Questions

International

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

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

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

You can read the full Research Professional article here.

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

More on last week’s announcements

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

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

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

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

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

And some of the solutions?

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

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

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

Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019/20 student statistics

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

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

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

Grades Achieved

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

Science Subjects

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

Qualifications by level

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

Numbers

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

Protected Characteristics

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

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

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

 Student Experience

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

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

The ONS provide some context:

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

Specifically on dissatisfaction:

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

Parliamentary Questions

Health care

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

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

Regulatory

Students

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JANE FORSTER                                            |                       SARAH CARTER

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HE Policy Update w/e 18th January 2021

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

The Minister takes to Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admissions

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

And then the consultations came out on Friday and run for two weeks.  The main proposal for GCSEs and A-levels as noted above is externally set exams, sat in school and marked by teachers, used as part of a package of evidence for teacher assessed grades, with moderation and quality controls but no forced ranking or overriding algorithm, and a massive appeals process for all students which must be managed by schools.  On vocational exams it is hard to understand what they are proposing – they want assessments to go ahead and where these are practical and need in person attendance “the assessment will need to wait until it can practically be conducted, and the student is ready.”  The position is different because the relationship between Ofqual and the awarding organisations for vocational qualifications is different, so they are largely leaving it to Pearson and the rest to sort out.

Apart from anything else, this is perplexing for school and college students.  The PM told them exams were cancelled – what he actually meant was that “normal” exams would not go ahead but that assessment would continue which might well (read almost certainly) include formal exams which will in many cases be sat in school.  Lots of people and students welcome the opportunity to have exams.  But those who were anxious about them will now be anxious again.  If nothing else it would reduce anxiety levels to be accurate when making significant announcements.  If the detail wasn’t available (and it was, because they say have been working on it for months) then the PM could just have announced it was being looked at.

Consultation: GCSEs, AS and A Levels

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Based on teacher assessment
  • A teacher’s final judgement on a student’s grade ought to be as late as possible in the academic year to maximise remaining teaching time and ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education
  • Consulting on what broader evidence teachers require in setting grades and whether the externally set tasks and papers are required or just recommended.
  • Pupils should be assessed based on what they have learnt, rather than against content they haven’t had chance to study (balanced against good enough coverage of the curriculum)
  • Schools and colleges should undertake quality assurance of the teachers’ assessments and grades and provide reassurance to the exam boards. There will be training and support for this and external checks in place for fairness and to ensure consistency between institutions.
  • Changes to the institutional grades awarded as a result of the external quality assurance are expected to be an exception – the process will not involve second-guessing the judgement of teachers but confirming that the process and evidence used to award a grade is reasonable. Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion. Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.
  • A clear and accessible route for private candidates to be assessed and receive a grade – consultation will consult on these options.
  • A clear route for review and appeal of grades (again ironed out in the consultation).
  • No algorithm will be used nor automatic standardisation of any individual’s grades

 Consultation detail:

  • It proposes externally set papers, possibly modular to allow teachers to choose which papers depending on what has been covered, to be marked by teachers and then included in the assessment along with other evidence. Exams to be sat in schools but with potential for online for students who can’t attend.  One of the consultation questions is whether these papers will be mandatory.
  • The main difference from last year is that there will be no forced ranking of students and while there will be moderation by the exam boards (which is surely going to be algorithm based although they can’t use the A word) any decisions have to be made by people. There will be no formal grade boundaries for the exams.
  • The other thing to note is that all students can appeal and the schools have to manage the appeals – a further appeal to the exam board will be on procedural issues only.  Also on timing – the assessment is to be made as late as possible but results will be published early……

Consultation: Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VQTs)

The Secretary of State’s letter says:

  • Students will be able to progress fairly, irrespective of whether they sat an exam in January
  • Assessments should continue, taking place remotely, as adapted by individual awarding organisations
  • Recognition that level of disruption may mean no all internal assessment can be completed by all students
  • Essential assessments will be held in February and March for some students – i.e. where they must demonstrate the proficiency required to enter directly into employment or are needed to complete an apprenticeship – these will continue with protective measures in place.
  • Written exams will not go ahead. Assessments to be held online where they can, where they can’t alternatives will be consulted upon.

Consultation:

The proposed new alternative regulatory arrangements would:

  • permit awarding organisations to develop an approach to awarding qualifications in scope of the Department’s proposed policy on the basis of incomplete assessment evidence. As part of their approach awarding organisations should consider their minimum evidential requirement for awarding these qualifications to ensure sufficient validity and reliability. They should also consider where they need additional assessment evidence from teachers and what form this should take. For qualifications most similar to GCSEs, AS and A levels we would expect awarding organisations to use similar approaches to assessment and awarding. These approaches are currently being consulted on in parallel with this consultation.
  • expect awarding organisations to be mindful of the burden their approach places on centres and learners, and to provide clear and timely advice and guidance
  • require awarding organisations to issue certificates (where appropriate) as normal and to not refer on the certificate to a result having been determined under the alternative regulatory arrangements
  • require awarding organisations to include private learners in their arrangements as far as possible
  • permit awarding organisations to take the same approach for qualifications taken in international markets, provided that this does not undermine the validity of the qualifications. We would also expect awarding organisations to consider and address the risks around malpractice and the particular needs of the international market

In Lebus’ letter to Williamson a few points stand out:

  • we are fully committed to doing all that we can, including making sure teachers are equipped and making use of awarding organisations’ quality assurance processes, so that students’ results are as fair as possible
  • no assessment arrangements can take account of all the different ways that students have suffered from the pandemic.
  • we have been considering together the potential alternatives to exams and other formal assessments for some time and have learned a number of lessons from last summer. Our thinking is well advanced. It is, though, important that all affected by these arrangements have the opportunity to comment on them.
  • We both wish to ensure that accountability for decisions following the consultation is clear and transparent. We understand your final determinations will be reflected in a formal direction to us under the relevant legislation. We will publicly and formally record the decisions we take in light of your direction. [A ‘don’t blame us’ this time warning?!]
  • we will want the consultation to consider the role of externally set short papers.
  • we also wish to support and incentivise students to engage with their education for the remainder of the academic year, including to continue with any non-exam assessment where possible. We propose that the final determination of a student’s grade should take place as late in the academic year as possible. We believe this will give students a greater sense of agency, which is critical to securing widespread acceptance of the outcomes
  • It is important that the consultation makes clear to all, especially those who rely on the results to make selection decisions, that overall outcomes this year will likely look different from 2020 and previous years. This issue will be important for your work with the post-16 and higher education sectors to secure orderly progression and to protect the interests of disadvantaged students.
  • We are acutely aware that all who have a stake in the results this year, particularly students and their parents and carers and teachers, as well as higher and further education institutions and employers, need certainty about the arrangements to be put in place

A selection of this week’s coverage:

The Petitions Committee agreed to schedule debates for the following e-petitions which reached over 100,000 signatures:

However, as Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) neither will see a debate in the immediate future.

Admissions Reform: Research Professional have an article: There is an “appetite for reform” of the university admissions process, according to the Office for Students’ director for access and participation—but changing the application timetable is not a “magic bullet”.

Research

Kwasi Kwarteng, who was previously minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, has taken over as Business Secretary as Alok Sharma has gone off to head COP26.

  • Research Professional (RP): One of the immediate issues that Kwarteng will be asked to consider is whether the Research Excellence Framework should be further delayed given the pressures put on university staff by the latest lockdown. No-one has yet been prepared to make the case that ensuring REF returns are made by 31 March is a priority for our newly designated critical workers. RP cover this here and here.
  • Also Research Professional: emails seen by Research Professional News have revealed the close ties between prime minister Boris Johnson’s controversial former adviser Dominic Cummings and the UK’s largest public research funding agency.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee held a session on The contribution of Innovation Catapults in delivering the R&D Roadmap you can read a summary of the session here. It included scrutiny of the catapults role in meeting the Government’s 2.4% R&D target.

UKRI announced the winners of the second phase of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s (ISCF) decarbonisation of industrial clusters: cluster plan competition. The six winners sharing the £8 million come from consultancies, development companies, local authorities, partnerships, and consortiums. It is unclear if any have strong links with universities.

NERC appointed four new Science Committee members from the HE sector. And the Wellcome Trust’s new Director of research programmes, Cheryl Moore, will take up the post in May 2021.

Research Fundermentals published their own horizon scan and predictions about what 2021 will mean for research matters.

Research Professional also published these articles:

Parliamentary Questions:

Student Concerns

Despite parliamentary petitions and grass roots campaigning students made small progress with the calls to be refunded for tuition fees during online study and receive rent reductions or get out of their letting contracts. The lobbying quietened down for a while but gained momentum in the last week. Towards the end of last week several Labour MPs signed an early day motion (EDM) calling on the Government to scrap tuition fees and cancel student debt. As it was a manifesto pledge for Labour the EDM wasn’t remarkable.

Next the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students launched an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on university students and calls for compensation.  

The number of parliamentary questions relating to student fees and accommodation costs has grown significantly again, including those relating to healthcare tuition fees and nurses working within the NHS as part of the Covid response. This week rent stories exploded across the media and HE specific sources, students initiated rent strikes, Unite Students (a major student accommodation provider announced partial refunds and concessions) and MPs came out in support of student rental concerns.

BBC – students have pledged a rent strike over unused rooms

Research Professional – universities have been warned that they could be breaking the law by refusing to allow students to return to halls; and:

The UCAS Knight Frank survey was released to a very receptive national audience. Wonkhe describe:

  • a survey of more than 70,000 new and current students between February and November last year. The Student Accommodation Survey finds that between March and June, around 75 per cent of students surveyed reported that they had or were planning to move back home, though there were regional variations.
  • Seventy-two percent of last year’s first year students were not paying rent after campuses closed – 71 per cent of students in other years were paying full rent.
  • The survey also offers an insight into who pays for accommodation – 41 per cent of first years, and 49 per cent of those in other years, reported that their parents or guardians were funding accommodation costs. On average, students living in private purpose built student accommodation (PBSAs) paid £7,200 per annum, compared to £6,650 in university accommodation and £5,900 for students in privately rented accommodation.
  • Sixty-nine per cent of students living in university-owned or PBSAs were happy with their landlord’s approach to Covid-19, compared to just 25 per cent of students in houses of multiple occupancy.

Research Professional add: Unsurprisingly, the ability to terminate tenancy agreements and a degree of flexibility on rent were highlighted as factors behind greater contentment with purpose-built accommodation over other settings…Respondents renting in non-purpose-built housing said private landlords were not prepared to make “any allowances for the impacts of the virus” and had “poor communication or lack of understanding and sensitivity around students’ financial situations and job losses”.

On Wednesday a NUS survey highlights student rental concerns. Wonkhe summarise: The most recent iteration of an NUS survey finds that 69 per cent of students are worried about their ability to pay rent, and 22 per cent have been unable to pay their rent in full in past months. The survey of 4,193 students ran between 6 and 23 November. 

An equally well timed YouGov poll surveyed the nation (so not just those with a vested interest as students or parents of students) on accommodation fees. They asked Do you think students who are unable to return to their student accommodation due to lockdown should still have to pay rent as normal or not?  54% of the public respondents felt that students shouldn’t have to pay anything at all; 30% felt they should pay a reduced rate; 5% felt students should continue to pay their rent in full.

Several MPs and Lords have expressed support for students to be offered some form of package or reduction. David Davis MP tweeted his letter to the Government to support university students who are unable to return to their term-time accommodation. He also stated Unite Students are right to provide refunds to students for periods where they cannot return to their properties and calls on the Government to step up.

This cross-party parliamentary support for student rent forgiveness alongside Boris Johnson acknowledging that the issue needs addressing, and Unite Students’ proactive refunds have been significant progress for this student concern. What remains to be seen is what position the Government will take however, no matter how sympathetic they are to the cause, it is still hard to imagine a Government scheme offering blanket refunds (including private landlords).

A selection of parliamentary questions on tuition fees…

And parliamentary questions on other student matters:

Finally the Petitions Committee published their latest decisions on e-petitions which received over 100,000 signatures and agreed to schedule a debate for:

However, Westminster Hall debates have been suspended (as a Covid safety measure) so the debate will not take place in the immediate future.

Professional Registration

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) issued a press release stating they’re in discussion with Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, alongside 17 professional, statutory and regulatory body representatives and Universities UK to address new challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The press release states they: discussed a range of barriers affecting progression and graduation in accredited programmes, in order to ensure students are able to complete their awards this summer and progress into the workplace with continued assurance of high standards and competencies.

QAA Chief Executive, Douglas Blackstock said:

  • Throughout the pandemic, QAA has engaged with PSRBs on behalf of our members and with a focus on ensuring students can progress towards the profession they have chosen. These bodies play an important role in protecting public safety and we are grateful that they have been able to adapt flexibly during the pandemic.
  • QAA has worked with professional bodies for many years and will continue to work collaboratively with them, and our members, so that students can achieve professional competencies and learning outcomes and so that standards are maintained.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan said: It is absolutely vital that students are able to graduate from their courses this year and achieve the meaningful qualifications that they need to kickstart their careers. Education has been our priority from the start of this pandemic, and we will continue to work closely with QAA, Universities UK and sector bodies, to identify and address any challenges they face during this difficult time.

Will he stay or will he go?

Speculation about Williamson’s continued tenure as Education Minister continues. On Monday Research Professional reported Boris as stating that the education secretary is doing his job “to his utmost ability”. One doesn’t quite know if that is support or censure. The BBC have: Gavin Williamson: How has he survived? It is well worth a read, it begins: Gavin Williamson’s political obituary has been written so many times he must sometimes feel like the walking dead. So how has England’s under-pressure education secretary survived in his job? Or is there a counter-narrative that he’s been unfairly blamed for decisions not really his own? For example, it has been well trailed that Boris went over Gavin’s head in closing the schools during a meeting he didn’t attend – meaning a U turn in one of Gavin’s flagship policies (that schools would remain open). The question of a reshuffle or even just an ousting of Williamson may come down to the reluctance (stubbornness?) of Boris to sack key staff, despite their mistakes and public unpopularity. Or perhaps as the BBC put it Gavin knows where the bodies are buried.

Gavin Williamson was scrutinised by the Commons Education Committee on Wednesday. Prior to the session Research Professional speculated what he might be questioned on in this brilliant article. It mentions many of the major points and issues facing education and HE at present and with only a couple sentences on each it is a great catch up for anyone still stuck in the Christmas cheese or overcome by home schooling.

In the end the Committee had very little direct HE content. There was strong focus on schools and on matters surrounding the alternatives to the 2021 exams (including BTEC) Williamson’s performance at Committee maintained the Government lines and yielded little new information. He appeared uninformed at times and employed famed political techniques such as not answering the question asked, answering a question that wasn’t asked, avoiding apologising and blaming others (schools mostly). However, he was focussed in his answers and less aggressive in tone than in recent appearances. Dods provide a comprehensive summary of the session here.

If you want the short version, there was one question on HE:

  • Asked about financial sustainability for universities, including the challenge for the newer ones with no reserves, and about student accommodation costs.  Rambles about universities giving additional support (?).  Some institutions may be in financial difficulties, he says the restructuring regime is established and ready to go.  Despite concerns there have been no collapses but contingency is ready.  MP says her local university was offered a loan not a grant and some management consultants that they didn’t want or need and they have had to have major staff cuts.  GW says some will have to restructure what they offer and how they run.  Zero empathy for the sector in these replies.   He doesn’t answer the questions either.

And he mentions us at the end when he thanks everyone working in education, including universities.

Graduate Wellbeing Analysis

The OfS have released data for key performance measure 17 – graduate wellbeing. It shows part timers scoring higher on life satisfaction and for feeling that things done in life are worthwhile.

Note – only the respondents who gave the strongest positive wellbeing response were included in the above analysis. For the data and more information start here. It may seem odd to you that the OfS data release only covers this aspect and limited data. It seems odd to us too. One hopes it isn’t the regulator searching for a new stick to beat HE with or engaging in political point scoring.

Education Policy – research / curriculum development

The Education Policy Institute has published two reviews. Curriculum policy in England has been characterised by frequent change in recent decades. In order to identify lessons about how curriculum systems can be better formulated and revised in England, this evidence review outlines how five leading education nations around the world have developed their curriculum systems in recent years.

The first review aimed to understand how leading education nations around the world develop their education policies and examines the education systems of Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland and South Korea – How Leading Education Nations Develop And Reform Their Curriculum Systems.

The second considers the role of research and evaluation in education policymaking in leading nations including Australia, Finland, Japan, Scotland and Singapore. It focuses on how leading countries organise, focus and fund their education research and evaluation, both in the context of major system change and in terms of how each country assesses the effectiveness of its education system.

Access & Participation

The Education Committee continued hearing evidence into the inquiry on Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dods have provided a summary of last week’s session which covers several aspects relating to HE.

Fair Admissions: The Nuffield Foundation have published Fair Admission to Universities in England: Improving Policy and Practice. Neon describe the report: A new report from the Nuffield Foundation finds that highly selective universities in England are increasingly taking into account the socioeconomic and educational contexts in which applicants achieved their grades when making admissions decisions. However lead author, Professor Vikki Boliver of Durham University argues that universities should be bolder in their approach:

“Universities have taken some tentative steps in a positive direction when it comes to widening access to higher education for students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. This is encouraging but by being bolder we believe that they can further improve the chances of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The report recommends several steps that universities should take including:

  • Reducing entry requirements for contextually disadvantaged applicants by more than just one or two grades.
  • Contextualising all admissions criteria, including GCSE grades, personal statements and interview performances.
  • Ensuring that the new commitments to supporting contextually disadvantaged students to achieve their potential at university are fulfilled.

Overall the report recommends switching from the traditional admissions model, where places go to the highest qualified candidates, irrespective of social background, to a model where prospective students’ qualifications are judged in light of their socioeconomic circumstances. The report also recommends that there is a move towards post qualification admissions and replace POLAR with individual measures of socioeconomic disadvantage which is made available to universities.

Parliamentary Questions:

International & Mobility

Research Professional published: Drop in international first-years made up by other students

On Turing The Times has an opinion piece from Taiwo Owatemi, MP for Coventry North West, on the inadequacies of the new scheme.

Parliamentary Questions

Parliamentary Questions

Sir John Hayes supports the alternatives to HE agenda:

Regulatory

Inquiries and Consultations

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

Other news

Censoring ‘Free Speech’: Students and graduates recruited to work on a free speech campaign have resigned in protest stating their views were censored and they were pushed to conform. There was also anger that they had been signed up without understanding the links between Toby Young’s controversial pressure group the Free Speech Union (FSU) and the project they had been recruited to. The Guardian has the story.

Poverty report: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has